Examination of Witnesses (Questions 900
TUESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2001
900. I cannot answer for Labour politicians
as to what they said before they were elected because I am a Liberal
(Mrs Gwyntopher) Liberal Democrats were represented
on the 1991 Committee and Liberal Democrats enthusiastically endorsed
the statement that the conditions for under-18s were unjust. I
admit you have no responsibility for 1996 and you are excluded
after Paddy Ashdown made a certain speech about homosexuality,
I believe, so you are not responsible for the Labour Party but
in almost the same words you have just said to us would it be
alright if they were allowed to leave at 18. When Dr John Reid,
admittedly representing Labour and anticipating representing the
Labour Government, asked us the same question our answer was yes,
that would be an improvement on the present situation, and we
have come back to ask for it again. We asked for this in 1986,
we asked for this in 1991, we asked for this in 1996, and we are
now asking for it again. The laws which you people represent do
not allow anyone under 18 to hold the tenancy of a council house,
to have a hire purchase agreement, to go into certain films, to
drink in a pub, but they can sign a contract entering an obligation
to the age of 40. How do you justify that? We are not saying do
not recruit at 16 and 17, you will not find that anywhere in our
document, but if a young person comes to the AT EASE Advisory
Service to say, "I want to join the Army", we do not
try to dissuade them but we make certain that at least they are
able to give informed consent unlike in any military or now civilian
careers service where they are not being briefed to warn people
about their contracts. I have been told this by two senior civilian
careers officers (which have now been privatised and used to be
under the Education Department), that they have been briefed by
the Ministry of Defence that when they get young recruits, they
check their immigration status, their medical status and their
criminal status, but they have not been told to draw attention
to the severity of their contract. There is no other occupation
that has such severe contracts and there is no warning. At the
moment particularly when the publicity is being made about the
educational opportunities, and this is causing so much hardship,
they do not warn them that if they have education in the Army
they cannot even leave at 22, they are keeping them until 25.
Can you justify that? Most of you laughed when I said if you were
stuck with what you wanted to do when you were 16. Any young person
who does any education or training they do not let them leave
at 22, they make them stay until 25. How in the 21st century can
you justify these vicious contracts and they are, we allege, bonded
servitude. Members of the Forces of Britain have no more freedom
than an 18th century indentured labourer.
Chairman: Can I just remind Members that
we are due to adjourn at 1 o'clock. We can carry on but some of
us would then have to make some rapid phone calls to tell people
to wait for us for our next meeting. Mr Key?
901. Mrs Gwyntopher, I do accept responsibility
for the previous Armed Forces Bill because I served on it and
I have been refreshing my memory as to the evidence you gave our
Committee back in March of 1996. I wonder if you could give us
your view as to why it is that in spite of the recommendations
of the Armed Forces Bill Select Committee in 1991 and of the Committee
in 1996 that this situation should be reviewedand quite
specifically in 1996 we said: "We recommend that the working
group considering the position of under-18 year olds should give
careful consideration to the desirability of requiring minors
to commit themselves to a period of service no longer than that
of adults" the Ministry of Defence been so reluctant
to take what seems to me to be perfectly sensible action?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) I would think the explanation in
military terms is that they are very, very committed to the concept
that you need adults, you need long term people who are suitable
for promotion, but you only need a few of those, you need the
elite. For ranking soldiers you need preferably young, conformist
recruits and you need a lot of them. This is a peculiarly British
conceptionand we are very, very different from the rest
of Europe in thisin that they do not really like having
adults in the most junior ranks. They feel that they will get
bolshie and will not be so easy to discipline and so forth. The
idea is if you recruit large numbers and they are tied to a contract
which is now 22, it was 21, because they are not having supervisory
responsibility it does not matter how unhappy they are provided
you compel their attendance, you keep them in. Once they get to
22 the majority can be allowed to leave but you have had the long
service and, of course, they continually point out how much more
efficient this is than European conscription where you get people
in who are civilians who are older, who have already got ideas
from their other civilian employment and you have to let them
go after two years and train another lot. In this system you have
people for five years. They are highly trained by that time. Then
you let the majority go. The ones who cannot leave, the ones who
have done education and training, are the ones who are promotion
material and you can have the pick of those. You can allow to
go the ones that are less able and retain the more able because
they give up their right to leave at 22 if they have any education
or training. So the ones that are free to go are the ones who
if they have not done any training in five years they are not
going to be suitable for promotion. You have your select lot and
they are then, in theory, committed to a 22-year engagement. So
as they reach each age they pick out the best, let the others
go, so the structure is you have your less able majority and this
is the way to select the cream, with long-term training and so
forth. And on the idea of age I have suggested, perhaps rather
facetiously, that it is the fixation of the public schools that
the big boys have to be the prefects and the little boys had to
be the fags. We got a bit sidetracked on the soldiers' union.
A Slovenian official in the Ministry of Defence explained that
in their country they operate the opposite policy. Because they
are a small country, they are afraid of being invaded at any time
by Serbia, they have got their powerful neighbour, so they insist
on having older troops. They have conscription at a minimum age
at 18 but if anybody is doing any kind of industrial training
or education they like them to complete it. They conscript up
to the age of 27 and for medical personnel up to the age of 30.
902. Are you in favour of conscription which
the majority of European forces use?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) Can I make my point because I got
903. I know but I was going to ask you to be
a little briefer in your responses.
(Mrs Gwyntopher) I will answer your point, Madam Chairman.
What I am saying is that the Slovenian officer said, "Because
our country could be invaded, we need adults who know their trade.
The military give the military training but we have engineers
who are trained engineers, we have people who have completed their
education. We do not have to train them. Our country would be
terrified if we had your little boys in the front line."
He is speaking from the base line, he has seen the British Army
in action. "With these little boys that are always running
away we could not defend our country." That is the opinion
of an official of the Ministry of Defence of another country.
I will come back to this country. When you say am I in favour
of conscription, not in favour, but I would point out that in
terms of civil rights conscription is less oppressive than the
British six-year trap system. One reason is because conscription
is right across the class structure. Those who are conscripted
include the sons of journalists, lawyers, politicians and so forth.
They are also going to be free in two years' time. When I say
conscription I am not referring to Russia, Chechnya or Georgia
where they have a very long conscription and they have problems
of bullying and so forth similar to ours, but in Western Europe
conscription is a maximum of two years. There is a limit to how
much you can ill-treat people who are not only going to be free
in two years but include people who are very articulate, so you
would never have the extremes. We are deliberately targeting under-achievers.
This is particularly true in Newham, Sandwell and Liverpool where
they are currently targeting. The kids who are being brought in
are the ones with less than As to Cs in GCSEs, school leavers.
They go through the whole process before their 16th birthday so
they only have to come in and sign. I say that, yes, conscription
is the lesser evil to bonded servitude.
Chairman: I am sorry, I want to give
you a chance to make the points that you want to make but you
are covering a lot of the ground we have already had in considerable
documents ranging from yourself and Amnesty International and
others and I am anxious to let every member of the Committee that
wants to to come in with questions. Any further points, Mr Key?
904. Can I turn to Queen's Regulation 9.086b.
This Regulation, if I understand it, means that members of the
Armed Forces who undergo a course of instruction of more than
two weeks will lose their right to 12 months' notice. You have
said in your evidence to us that it is common practice for young
soldiers to be offered a choice of educational training opportunities,
but just before the course is due to start up they are told they
have got to sign a document or give up the course and the document
they are forced to sign states that in return for the educational
course they voluntarily surrender their right to give 12 months'
notice. Is that correct?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) That is what 9.086b is all about.
905. Could I ask you to expand on your view
then that the situation has got worse since the last Select Committee
in 1996 because part of the thrust of the Army recruiting campaign
has been precisely to say that now the Services will offer you
an educational opportunity as well. So young people come into
the Army in particular and they anticipate that they will get
NVQs or other kinds of training but before they go on the course
they have to sign this disclaimer. Is that correct?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) When I say it has got worseand
there is a similar Regulation with the Navy and Air Forcein
the past we used to get it quite a lot with the Navy and Air Force
but usually it was for substantial training, people who had done
degrees, people who had done substantial engineering courses.
It has always been a theoretical possibility, but it is now being
used all the time. We are not getting those coming up to 22 because
anyone who joined before November 1999 can still give 12 months'
notice at 20, but we are getting the 20-year olds who have waited
and waited marking it off on the calendar, they reach 20 and three
months and put in their notice and are now being told about the
education trap. It is very, very unfair because the interpretation
of what is an educational qualification can be very, very close
to military training. For instance, we had a recent case of a
man who did a course as a Spanish interpreter. He was used by
the Armed Forces as a Spanish interpreter before in the Falklands
and he was used after so as far as he was concerned the training
he did was directly related, and that is what he is still doing.
He is a Spanish interpreter, that is his trade. He went on a course
and got a qualification. He was then told that he would not be
allowed to leave. In his case, fortunately, there was a technicality
in that somebody forgot to get him to sign the bit of paper and
we have been able to challenge it on that alone. In the normal
course of events if there had not been a technical slip-up that
person would not be able to leave. The worst case I had was a
bandsman in a Highland Regiment who did a six-month course in
bagpiping and they claimed that was an educational qualification
obtained by payment of the Army and therefore he was not free
to go. Have you ever seen a job centre advertising posts for full-time
bagpipers? There is no other employer other than the Duke of Atholl
maybe. The Duke of Atholl and the British Army are the only employers
of full-time bagpipers but that boy was told he had forfeited
his right to leave because he did a course in bagpiping. They
are doing it all the time for little courses in catering, electricians
courses, plumbers courses, bricklaying courses. I had to tell
a lad that he had lost it for a six-week bricklaying course.
Chairman: You have made your point. Mr
Key, we have a few minutes left.
906. How do you advertise your counselling service
to Servicemen and women?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) With difficulty. We are very, very
small. We are on the directories of a lot of other advice services,
the Citizens' Advice Bureaux, the Samaritans, and so on. We distribute
leaflets, we put adverts in papers, but we certainly cannot compete.
We send leaflets to people like youth advice services, counselling
907. How many counsellors do you have?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) In the country, 23.
908. Are they all volunteers or are they paid?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) We have no paid staff at all.
909. How do you pay for the advertising? What
is your source of income?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) This is why I say there is not much
because we cannot afford it. Things like the Big Issue
only charge £30 and certain papers like the gay press will
print for free.
910. Are you a charitable company?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) No, we are not a charitable company.
911. What is the nature of your legal constitution?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) Our legal constitution is we are
simply a voluntary organisation.
912. Mrs Gwyntopher, I very much object to your
citing, apparently with approval, some hearsay statement describing
the British Army as "little boys who always run away".
That is complete nonsense, is it not?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) I was quoting what was said to me
by an MoD official of another country.
913. If you know anything at all about the British
Army then you know that is complete nonsense, do you not?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) Similar remarks
914. You are not going to spend a quarter of
an hour answering this question, Mrs Gwyntopher. It is complete
nonsense, is it not?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) They are not little boys
915. Have you ever heard of the British Army
(Mrs Gwyntopher) Certainly. We deal with AWOL soldiers
almost every week.
916. The British Army running away?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) Ask the Ministry of the Defence how
many people are absent without leave. There are as many as 2,000
absent at any one time. Yes, they run away. If you do not believe
me, ask the Ministry the Defence how many people are absent without
leave today. They are running away.
917. And you maintain that we have more people
absent without leave than other armies?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) Yes, because other armies have a
regular procedure of leaving.
918. Do you have any factual basis for these
assertions, Mrs Gwyntopher?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) One of the previous Armed Forces
Bills, I think, did comparative bases. When you say we do not
haveI do not know the AWOL rates in other countries because
obviously we are a service to Britain.
919. So you are making a comparative judgment
without knowing the facts.
(Mrs Gwyntopher) I am not makingthe representative
of Slovenia claimed that their AWOL number was virtually nil because
they only recruited adults, they recruited people who were already
trained, they took care to see if there was any objection before