Armed Forces (Federation)

Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 4:21 pm on 13th May 2008.

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 4:21 pm, 13th May 2008

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the establishment of a Federation for the Armed Forces;
and for connected purposes.

I am pleased to be able to introduce this Bill. Many hon. Members will remember that I tabled a similar Bill in the last Parliament. However, there has been a groundswell of opinion among the public and members of the armed forces on the need for an independent voice to represent their interests.

The controversies surrounding the standard of accommodation, injured personnel and the terrible incidents at Deepcut barracks have increasingly led to ordinary members of the armed forces coming forward to say that they need an organisation to make their voice heard. There is also a growing need for members of the armed forces to have independent legal advice. I served on the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, where I moved an amendment to establish a federation for the armed forces. The Government resisted my amendment, but I strongly believe that there is now an overwhelming case for the armed forces to have an independent federation.

I should point out to those who oppose the move that I propose not a trade union, but a federation similar to the Police Federation. I would also like to build on the excellent work done by the British Armed Forces Federation. That organisation was established in October 2006. I pay tribute to Douglas Young and his team at the federation, who have got that vital initiative off the ground. The Bill does not seek to put in place a federation, but to put the federation that already exists on a formal footing that is recognised by the Ministry of Defence.

The aims of the federation would continue to be those set out in its statement, which are

"to represent, foster and promote the professional welfare, and other legitimate interests of all members of the federation in their capacity as serving or retired personnel of the fighting services of the United Kingdom".

The activities of the federation would be: first, to put forward professional and career development through the provision of education and information to its members; secondly, to liaise and monitor developments within the armed forces and Parliament, and in the provision of public services or in the commercial sector affecting members of Her Majesty's armed forces; and thirdly, to act as an advocate for members of the armed forces in areas such as pay, accommodation, medical services, welfare provision, resettlement and all other areas relating to personnel support. Fourthly, the federation would be seen as a way of supporting personnel who were facing legal action and other issues connected with their service in the armed forces. Lastly, I would also argue that it should be an organisation that could put in place a range of benefits, including insurance, financial benefits, discounts and other affinity deals for members of the armed forces.

The federation would not be beholden to any political party or pressure group, or to any defence industry interests. It is important that it should be seen to be an independent federation representing members of our armed forces. It would not routinely comment on the adequacy, robustness or cost-effectiveness of defence expenditure, although it would obviously have to comment on issues that directly affected its members. It would certainly not be a defence pressure group, however. It would be seen as an organisation that gave a voice to the men and women who serve on our behalf in Her Majesty's armed forces.

There is a contention that the federation would in some way control or interfere with the chain of command. I want to make it quite clear that it would not conduct or condone any form of industrial action or insubordination in our armed forces. Its role in relation to the chain of command should be subject to a code of conduct. That is not new; the chain of command already accepts information from and the involvement of organisations such as Daniel's Trust, which deals with Army training and the interests of new recruits at Catterick. I would therefore argue that the organisation would enhance rather than interfere with the chain of command. The federation would protect individual members in relation to their living conditions and general well-being, as well as reinforcing the point that members of the armed forces are an important part of society and promoting the good work that they do.

It has been suggested that this proposal is somehow radical and new, and that we would be out of step with our major allies if we were to adopt it. I have looked at some of the overseas examples, including the Association of the United States Army, which works in three main areas. It provides a voice for all members of the US army, fosters public support for the army's role in national security and provides professional, educational and information programmes. There are three other such organisations in the United States alone. One is the Non-Commissioned Officers Association, which was set up in 1966. The Military Officers' Association of America does similar work for commissioned officers, and the oldest organisation, the Reserve Officers Association, was set up by General Pershing in 1922 to advocate and lobby for the interests of national guards and reservists. There are also a number of European examples of similar federations, which come together under the umbrella of the European Organisation of Military Organisations—EUROMIL—which was set up in 1972. It now comprises 36 associations from 24 countries across Europe, representing nearly 500,000 individuals. The latest additions are Malta and Romania.

In conclusion, the Bill will not set up an armed forces federation; there is already one in existence. It will, however, allow the British Armed Forces Federation to be recognised by the MOD and to be valued for providing a voice for ordinary members of the armed forces. The BAFF has already stated that, if the legislation were introduced, it would seek to work with the Government and other stakeholders to develop an appropriate structure. The Bill gives the Government an opportunity to recognise that, in an ever-changing world, the members of our armed forces need a voice. I urge the Government to take on board the provisions that I am proposing today.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Kevan Jones, Mr. David Crausby, Mr. Mike Hancock, Mr. Dai Havard, Helen Jones, Jim Sheridan, David Wright and Andrew Mackinlay.

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