MP speaks sense about soldiers shock


I don't know if this has been posted on here before but I would vote for him as SOS for Defence..........

Published Works
Who Will Defend The Defenders?
The structures needed to uphold the military ethos are impaired through the ignorance of parliamentarians, lawyers and civil servants.

The survivors of the Second World War and the bulk of the subsequent National Service generation have retired. As a result, experience of the armed forces in Parliament and other centres of decision making in Britain, including the Judiciary, the Civil Service and business, has declined. Decline in knowledge has progressively eroded understanding of the ethos of Britain's armed forces and the structures needed to uphold that ethos.

Dodd's Parliamentary Companion shows a striking transformation in a single generation. In 1970, 216 out of 630 MPs elected to the new Parliament recorded military service, over a third of the total House. In contrast, at the most recent General Election (May 1997) only 63 out of 658 members, less than one tenth, recorded any military service. Furthermore, exactly two thirds of those 63 come from the approximately one quarter of members born before 1942 who, in the case of the men, would have belonged to the National Service generation. In other words, only 21 MPs under the age of 55 in 1997 had served, well below five per cent of that age segment. Yet people born after 1942 make up three quarters of the House of Commons and will eventually compose it all. ‘The position in the Lords is better but will alter drastically, in the post-national service generation, if hereditary peers are excluded as the present Government plans.

This decline in military experience has had a profound impact on our armed forces' treatment by the civilian world although that impact has been largely by imperceptible stages.

The unintended consequences of Mr Major

A small but revealing example of the civilian mind failing to understand what makes the forces different is furnished by the changes in military decorations introduced byJohn Major's Government in 1993. As part of a wider move towards a so-called ‘classless society', it was decided that all decorations awarded to members of the armed forces, both for gallantry and for wider peacetime work should be standardised between officers and ‘other ranks'. Hitherto, for example, an officer could win a Military Cross (MC) for gallantry and an MBE for a peacetime contribution whereas the counterparts for non-commissioned personnel were a military medal (MM) and the BEM (although the MBE was also open to other ranks). Instead, it was decided that all ranks would qualify for one set of decorations for gallantry and one for peacetime service. Whatever the effect of the amalgamation of the MBE and the BEM in the civilian world, on the military side it was exactly the reverse of that intended, as the statistics show.

Just before the ‘reforms', in the 1993 New Year's Honours List, the three Services awarded a total of 61 MBEs to officers and 120 corresponding decorations to other ranks. After the reforms, in the 1997 New Year's Honours List, for example, they awarded 58 MBEs to officers and a mere 50 to other ranks. The greatly reduced total number of awards reflects the reduction in the size of the armed forces. The shift, however, from other ranks gaining two thirds of the decorations in the MBE/BEM category, in 1993, to well below half, four years later, shows a considerable weakening of recognition for other ranks. It illustrates how fashionable change, grounded on a misapplied civilian principle, can perversely affect the forces.The more prominent nature of the officers' jobs will inevitably ensure that they are more likely to be identified and decorated, particularly in peacetime. Removing the two-tier structure simply denied other ranks a target they could aim for without competition from officers.

Leadership and comradeship undermined by the blanket application of civilian law to military affairs

Much more important is the growth in the application of civilian employment legislation to the military environment. The effects of this are felt in three main ways: through individual actions brought through tribunals or the civil courts for injuries, through criminal prosecutions against members of the armed forces themselves, and through the imposition of widespread bureaucratic procedures on the armed forces in their day to day working. There has been a sevenfold increase in negligence claims against the MoD since 1991 to £18 million in 1996.

These trends are now threatening both traditional leadership, based on common sense and. weighing of risks, and the bonds of military comradeship. The latter are inevitably undermined when military personnel sue the Service to which they belong — and by implication each other — for negligence.

Safety and the inherently unsafe business of war

At the purely financial level, health and safety legislation is incurring unnecessary costs. For example, most new military buildings are now required to contain lifts against the possibility of the unit in question employing a disabled civilian. While this may be appropriate in most civilian contexts, it is surely unnecessary in buildings where most users are members of a profession that prides itself on the physical fitness of its members. New regulations require the armed forces to appoint a plethora of officers and senior NCOs with the responsibility for fire, environmental health, heat and light, road safety, safety in the workplace and other responsibilities. Those responsible are obliged to undertake special courses - incurring a substantial financial cost and even more time away from their families. The passage of units through unaccompanied tours in Ulster, Bosnia and elsewhere, superimposed on exacting training requirements, is leaving many units and personnel overstretched, without these unnecessary extras.

Still more remarkably, the Ministry of Defence has decided to comply with civilian drivers' hours legislation, although neither EU nor UK legislation requires it to do so. The rules apply even in areas like Bosnia. As a consequence, an officer may now be faced with abandoning his mission or breaking highly detailed regulations. The implications are serious, not just for operations, but also for training. If important exercises are cancelled because they will involve a breach of regulations, professional standards and morale may be undermined. If, on the other hand, the exercise goes ahead, and an accident occurs, the officer responsible risks being severely disciplined — even if the cause of the accident is unrelated to the issue of drivers' hours.

The need for calculated risk-taking v health and safety rules

Objections to bureaucratic regulation are common across the military /civilian divide. Two things are different about the military, however. First, there must be a willingness to take calculated risks during training for war, the most chaotic, dangerous and frightening activity known to man. Secondly, effective fighting forces must display a spirit of self-sacrifice — that is a readiness to subordinate the interests of the individual to the duty to the unit and to country.

The training of large numbers of heavily equipped personnel involves some inherent dangers. If the training programme is to be halted every time there is a risk that a regulation may be broken, training will not be realistic and the responsibility to prepare our armed forces for the brutal realities of warfare will have been neglected. In the words of one serving commander: 'We are learning bad habits during a prolonged period of so-called "peace" and these could be hard to shake off. Inappropriate procedures could result in undue reliance being put on unsuitable structures which are being created to meet the demands of peace but not those of [wartime] operations.'

Military cohesion threatened by a 'safety first' mentality and the rise of selfishness

In practice, the British armed forces' safety record is among the best in the World. But current levels of professionalism cannot be maintained if more and more bureaucratic controls are imposed. Over-stretch, under-recruiting, a shortage of training areas and a range of peacetime duties are already greatly reducing our forces' ability to train. Officers doing their best to make the training challenging and realistic for their units are further frustrated by the growth of a ‘safety-first' mentality arising from a wider climate of opinion. Worse still, the selfishness which encourages litigation is eroding the moral bonds of comradeship.

Up until 1987, Section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 simply prevented members of the armed forces from bringing civil actions against the Crown for injuries sustained in uniform. When that section was repealed, service personnel were placed on broadly the same footing as civilians vis a vis their employers. A range of previous measures had been framed without the armed forces in mind. Most important of these was the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) 1974.This provided criminal sanctions against employers but also the basis for civil actions to be brought. Other relevant laws included the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1977 and the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978. The armed forces have progressively been opened up to the full range of civilian legislation, under all circumstances, except actual conflict. More and more civilian regulations have been introduced, either from Parliament (in some cases as a result of Euro legislation) or from rulings from tribunals. At each stage the armed forces have had to try to predict their impact on their own situation, without having had any substantial voice in the original formulation.

The goal posts continue to move, driven alternately by parliamentary measures aimed at the civilian community and their interpretation by a legal structure ignorant of the armed forces.

The pursuit of civilian-style redundancy payments by senior officers has undermined custom and morale

Perhaps the worst single example of selfish pursuit of individual rights ahead of Service needs has been the successful demand for golden handshakes by senior officers during the Options for Change programme, For many years it had been accepted that the Services owed officers, on regular commissions up to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, a full career. Nonetheless, it was equally understood that promotion beyond Lieutenant Colonel (and RN/RAF equivalents) was on the basis of ‘up or out'. Acceptance of higher rank involved giving up job security.

The then government was quite right to honour its commitment by offering generous redundancy terms but wrong to permit top officers ~some with only two or three years' service remaining to benefit so spectacularly. Instances of senior generals and admirals demanding huge pay-offs set a lamentable example in selfishness. The success of their demands effectively destroyed the ‘up or out' principle, leaving all three services today with a promotion blockage — the avoidance of which was an important aim of the original scheme.

As in the US the interests of the Services have been subordinated to women's rights

There is a parallel with the position of women in uniform. The aspirations of women had been taken into account in opening up fields, over a generation, where the Services could benefit from their involvement.

More recently, however, the test for employment of women in particular roles has been revised with the interests of the Service subordinated to the rights of the woman. The way in which the Services now deal with pregnancy provides an illustration. A female building worker, or brain surgeon, who chooses to resume her occupation after childbirth makes a free choice to return to work. A woman soldier who returns to the Service is not in a comparable situation. Her organisation's main purpose is to prepare for war, not to carry out the peacetime training which she chooses to return to. But can the mother of a small child be expected to go to war? The Services are now forbidden to take a view as to the likely commitment of a mother of young children should a war — the eventuality with which she has been trained to deal — actually occur. It is as if reality has been put on hold — until, that is, saner times force a recognition of the problems arising from keeping young mothers in uniform.

The ignorance of Parliament about military affairs compounded by that of lawyers

In my view, it would be feasible to base practice on a policy which strikes a sensible balance between the needs of the Service and the aspirations of individual women. Instead, practice has been partly driven by a series of rulings from industrial tribunals and partly by political posturing. The new government has even opened up the possibility of extending the remaining posts - such as in the infantry - to women following 'two to three' year trials of 'combat-effectiveness' in other areas.

In all these areas a parliament increasingly bereft of military experience has interacted with industrial tribunals and courts suffering from the same deficiency. The result is a progressive weakening of comradeship, as the rights of individuals are put before the needs of the service.

This was colourfully illustrated for one serving officer when he attended a brigade command group meeting to discover that the first four items on the agenda were race and sex discrimination, other employment matters, general budgetary issues and the prospects for resource accounting — all presented by civil servants. Mere military flatters such as training and discipline had to be squeezed in at the end.

As former Adjutant-General Sir Michael Rose has put it:

Fundamental ... has been the recognition that soldiers are not merely civilians in uniform: they form a distinctive group within our society that needs a different set of moral values in order to succeed in circumstances which greatly differ from those prevailing in civilian life. For no other group in society is required either to kill other human beings, or expressly to sacrifice their lives, for the nation. Today, our military ethos, on which the moral component of fighting power depends, ... is being actively destroyed by a mixture of cultural change within our own society and new national and international legislation.

To the problems of health and safety legislation referred to earlier must be added the feelings of grievance brought about because servicemen can now expect better treatment if they received their wounds in a peacetime accident rather than as a result of enemy action. While the latter are compensated for actual injuries, the former can aim for punitive damages for negligence, too. Not surprisingly, war veterans bitterly resent this.

The case for a special legislative framework of forces' law

What is needed, and has been so conspicuously absent, is a serious attempt to provide a separate legal framework for employment rights and responsibilities in the armed forces taking account of their special circumstances. The issue was addressed in the Quinquennial armed forces Act 1996 but most of the relevant clauses simply put into law existing tribunal rulings, together with a European ruling on aspects of courts martial and (British) legal advice on relevant European directives.

Criminal sanctions bite in other quite different ways. Soldiers serving in Northern Ireland have always been subject to the full rigours of the civilian criminal law. What has changed is the decline in understanding of matters military among a judiciary, inevitably, recruited and trained in the post-war era. In the 1970s, the late Lord Diplock, established the system of non-jury courts to hear cases in a province where systematic intimidation of witnesses prevented certain normal trial procedures. Sitting with colleagues in the House of Lords, he made the following comment on cases involving members of the armed forces:

the postulated balancing of risk against risk, harm against harm, by the reasonable man, is not undertaken in the calm, analytical atmosphere of the courtroom after counsel with the benefit of hindsight have expanded at length the reasons for and against the kind and degree of force that was used by the accused: but in the brief second or two which the accused had to decide whether to shoot or not and under all the stresses to which he was exposed.

If only the judge had heeded this in the case of Lee Clegg!

The case of Private Clegg has left soldiers uncertain about when they may open fire

Cars, sometimes packed with explosives have frequently been used in Northern Ireland as lethal weapons against British soldiers manning roadblocks. A soldier from B company of the 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment was killed when a car scooped him up onto its bonnet, drove for several hundred yards and then sadistically crushed him to death.

A few months later a patrol from B~Company including Private Lee Clegg set up a roadblock in a country lane. A pair of teenage car thieves drove through the road block and the patrol opened fire. The passenger, Karen Riley, died in the incident.

In convicting Private Clegg of murder, the judge ruled that the first three of Private Clegg's bullets were legal while the car was coming towards him but the firing of the fourth at the car disappearing away from him amounted to murder. The ruling was upheld in the Northern Irish Appeal Court and subsequently by the House of Lords.

Clegg received a life sentence although he was released after four years. This case has left soldiers in Northern Ireland extremely unclear as to when they can fire.

In battle the soldier is answerable to military authority alone

In 1992, as a result of a book published by a Falklands war veteran, the then Secretary of State for Defence, Malcolm Rifkind, decided to initiate an investigation by civilian police into allegations that Argentinian prisoners of war had been massacred. The murder of prisoners is an atrocity impinging on military honour as well as humane considerations. The British Army is rightly proud of its record of respecting international law. What has always been accepted, however, is that allegations against British soldiers in combat zones (as distinct from rear areas in war or the civil jurisdiction of the Northern Ireland troubles) are investigated and handled by the military authorities alone, through the courts martial structure.

The chain of command had already heard and considered these allegations at the time. The events to which the accusations referred, took place on the battlefield, immediately after a major battle in which there were well substantiated allegations of the abuse of white flags by the enemy. At the time of the alleged incident, our soldiers were under fire from enemy artillery, after clearing a number of trenches by means of bayonet charges. The view of the military authorities was that, under such circumstances, a court martial could not fairly be held.

Mr Rifkind's decision breached the unwritten principle that the soldier who risks his life for his country on the battlefield itself is answerable to military authorities alone.

Had the independent civilian investigation decided to bring charges against the soldiers in question they would, unlike Lee Clegg, have enjoyed a jury trial. The Director of Public Prosecutions waived the possibility of charges but not on the usual grounds of insufficient evidence or public interest. Instead she declined to give a reason. It seems likely that she realised that a jury of ordinary people was less likely to pass an armchair judgement on soldiers under fire than politicians or judges.

The application of civil law to military matters frustrates training programmes and undermines standards

Just as civil law is progressively making it harder and harder for commanders to carry out tough realistic training, so the criminal law makes soldiers less and less willing to open fire. These trends cannot continue without damaging professional standards in our armed forces.

If the lawyers have done the most damage to the military ethos over the last decade the accountants look set shortly to rival them. The issue here is not just the level of resourcing for defence. That will always be set by the cabinet of the day in the light of perceived threats, strategic aims and public opinion. Nevertheless, the mechanisms whereby expenditure is allocated and controlled are critically important.

Financial control versus military efficiency

The decision to break the defence budget down into major budgets, each controlled by a budget holder, was right in theory, and has allowed some devolution of decision making. What has gone wrong, however, has been the tendency at lower levels to account for every penny spent in financial terms, instead of seeking to control the number of expendables. Thus, instead of making calculations on the basis of broad assumptions about likely expenditure commanders are having to work out detailed costs and to produce balances even in the case of those items where there is no flexibility or choice. As long ago as 1988, a parliamentary question revealed that in one small area alone, service training establishments, this had resulted in an increase of 122 posts, civilian and military, wholly or mainly engaged in the ‘processing and interpretation of management information'. So while our armed forces have dwindled, the accounting demands of the Treasury have become more voracious, with the result that the number of people counting and measuring relatively small flows of money has expanded. All this is about to enter a fresh dimension with the introduction of resource accounting.

At a time when the private sector increasingly sees accrual accounts simply as a legal requirement and many companies are now basing business decision-making on cash flow alone, resource accounting is the means by which the Treasury intends to introduce them in the public sector. This means that public sector assets will have to be valued and depreciation on them accrued in accounts covering most activities. In theory, this will provide ministers and commanders, at modest cost, with a better overview of how much things ‘really' cost, on a basis which is comparable from year to year. In fact, a few examples illustrate a large potential increase in accounting costs. How much is a tank to be valued at and at what rate of depreciation? If the book value is to be the cost price, how much of the research and development proportion of the cost is included? Is depreciation to be based on the expected life of the tank, on the guaranteed maintenance contract with the manufacturer or on the time to the next refit? Supposing new data comes along, who will be responsible for monitoring it?

Any government department needs to identify and sell surplus land and buildings but fitting property into accounts will create another complex headache for commanders. Given the shortage of countryside in Britain, it is possible to argue that almost any training area is an extremely valuable asset providing, of course, that government is prepared to abuse its position as landlord by granting permission to build. Conversely, if areas are protected from building for environmental reasons then land may have a negative value once maintenance costs are allowed for. On what basis are buildings to be depreciated? If commanders focus on training their forces and lose sight of developing accounting practice, suddenly some will find that their operations are being exposed as costly and capital intensive (compared to identical counterparts) because different assumptions have been made about their assets. A whole fresh horizon opens up for non-military activities in which commanders, and growing financial staffs, will have to engage.

Accrual accounting provides scope for creating a blizzard of paperwork in the Ministry of Defence on a scale which may make the worst bureaucratic features of the internal market in Britain's National Health Service look modest. Unlike the internal market, however, it is hard to see that any benefit of any kind will be obtained from this exercise which could not be obtained from a simple valuation of surplus land and buildings and a few key stocks kept financially separate from delegated budgets.

Attempting to bridge the cultural divide

The growing cultural isolation of the armed forces, as knowledge of its affairs in Parliament, the Law and in wider society gradually declined has been acknowledged through the creation of three specialist schemes. The first of these is the Short Service Limited Commission (SSLC), set up in 1970, which takes a small number of students for their ‘gap year' between school and university and attaches them as commissioned officers to the armed forces. Secondly, since the 1980s, each of the three Services has had a presentation team which tours the country explaining its role to the public. Finally, there is the Parliamentary Armed Forces' Trust which takes a number of MPs each year for 30 days' attachment to one of the services.

These three schemes do have some merit. The armed forces have supported the Parliamentary Trust schemes well, and MPs who have participated have often subsequently contributed to defence debates showing enthusiasm as well as some knowledge of the subject, if only for a short time. The enthusiasm of the Chiefs of Staff in bringing in their teams to exchange ideas in open forum with MPs has been more mixed. It has ranged from some who have done this each year (including all the recent heads of the Royal Navy) to others who have avoided it altogether. The SSLC scheme has yielded some positive results: one early SSLC intake (on which this author served) included one member who became the youngest partner in the country's biggest accounting firm, and another a top ITN journalist. The scheme has, however, been greatly reduced in size.

In reality, these are three worthwhile but very slender bridges over a yawning and widening divide. The principal link whereby the United States keeps the connection going is through its reserve forces. Although Britain's small reserves do provide some link (including eleven of the 21 younger MPs with military service) the position there is not mirrored over here for three reasons.

The importance of reserve forces

First, our reserve forces are proportionately much smaller than their American counterparts, representing less than one per thousand head of population, against one per two hundred and fifty in the USA. Incredibly the Government plans still further cuts in Britain's shrunken volunteer reserves halving the remaining combat units. Once lost, these would take many years to rebuild.

Secondly, the regular forces here have consistently opposed any senior reservist advice in their counsels; reservists have been resolutely excluded from two star rank in the British armed forces in peacetime since 1945. Despite the efforts of some ministers, this has largely ensured that citizen soldier counsels are kept at the periphery of regular policy making — whereas in America every state has a two star officer commanding its National Guard with direct access to the Governor; the (reservist) national heads of the individual Service reserves all have access to their own Minister. Australia has two two star reservist generals, both with civilian jobs.

Thirdly, and important from a media angle, reservists have played a large scale role in all American wars except Vietnam, including 90,000 who were sent to the Gulf War, mostly in formed units under reservist commanders. Indeed, a National Guard artillery brigade operating in support of the British division was praised by Britain's Brigadier Hammerbeck. In Britain, limited use of individual volunteer reservists has increased (ten per cent of our deployment in Bosnia compared with 25 per cent of Americans there) and it is now backed by well-constructed legislation. With the exception of two medical units which were sent to the Gulf War no formed units of British reserves have been called out for over 30 years.

Besides the huge cut in the remaining Territorial Army, the Government plans to turn most of the remaining combat units into training organisations designed to provide individual reinforcements. In the infantry, for example, battalions are to lose their HQ companies (essential if a battalion is ever to be deployed as a formed unit) and rifle companies are to be structured in a manner making deployment even as formed sub-unit very difficult.

Career sacrifice and the allure of command

High quality personnel will only make the sacrifices to their civilian careers inherent in part-time military service if they feel that they are joining a worthwhile organisation with its own distinct identity, and with opportunities for senior command. When the now very small Royal Naval Reserve lost its remaining vessels early in the 1990s, and became a gap-filling organisation for the Royal Navy, there was an exodus of many of the best people; it remains poorly recruited. The destruction of the identity of most of the best elements remaining in the Territorial Army will help to ensure that very few of the next generation of decision makers have any military experience.

Five years ago, Britain's last Chief of Defence Staff to have served in the Second World War, Field Marshal Bramall, warned that the regular armed forces simply cannot escape ‘cultural isolation' unless they take their reserve forces more seriously.

For their part, the central staffs of the Ministry of Defence must recognise that, while the armed forces are special, they can also learn something from the civilian world. A greater recognition of the cost effectiveness of reserve units, a more elevated place for reservists in the hierarchy and a greater willingness to listen to them, would improve relations between our increasingly isolated professional forces and civilian decision-makers.

© 2001 - 2006 Julian Brazier MP TD. This web site is the responsibility of Julian Brazier MP TD and is paid for from his incidental expenses provision.


War Hero
One hell of a read my dear
Much of which makes sense - So somehow I don't think he will ever get the job - its just too obvious!



Book Reviewer
Good stuff, until he gets to the bit about the TA - he will realise one day that the '80s are over, and that we simply have no justification for keeping Inf Bns as 'deployable' Units (if they ever were!). The TA is there to provide Individual and small-Unit reinforcements, that's what we're for, and pretty good at now as well.
Much obliged! A good read.


OldSnowy said:
Good stuff, until he gets to the bit about the TA - he will realise one day that the '80s are over, and that we simply have no justification for keeping Inf Bns as 'deployable' Units (if they ever were!). The TA is there to provide Individual and small-Unit reinforcements, that's what we're for, and pretty good at now as well.

"Julian Brazier ..............served as an officer in the Territorial Army for thirteen years, six of them in Airborne forces. "

He is right: lack of voices like his in Parliament and a general lack of basic understanding throughout the official world is a huge disadvantage.

Better get some ARRSE candidiates up for the next elections then


Book Reviewer
Blogg said:
"Julian Brazier ..............served as an officer in the Territorial Army for thirteen years, six of them in Airborne forces. "

He is right: lack of voices like his in Parliament and a general lack of basic understanding throughout the official world is a huge disadvantage.

Better get some ARRSE candidiates up for the next elections then

He has no current - or even recent - knowledge of the Armed Forces, or of the TA, apart from that he gains from talking to members - the same as anyone else could. The fact that he was in the TA in the '70s does not necessarily make him an expert.
At first I thought the punctuation in the thread title had gone t1ts up - then I realised it hadn't but this would work equally well:
MP speaks sense about soldiers - Shock!!

:D [/align]