The next quinquennial Armed Forces Bill is due in 2021. In 2017 the Ministry of Defence commissioned a review of the service justice system in preparation for the Bill. This paper explains what the Service Justice System is, the main outcomes of the review and the Government’s response.
Documents to download
The Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill 2017-19 (671 KB, PDF)
A new briefing paper, written for the Bill’s Second Reading on Monday 30 October 2017, is now available: Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill 2017-19 which replaces this briefing paper.
What did the Queen’s Speech say?
The Queen’s Speech itself gave little away about the contents of an Armed Forces Bill:
My ministers will continue to invest in our gallant Armed Forces, meeting the NATO commitment to spend at least two per cent of national income on defence, and delivering on the Armed Forces Covenant across the United Kingdom.
However the accompanying Cabinet Office background briefing notes says the Bill’s purpose is to “support recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces by enabling flexible working arrangements for regular Service personnel”. The main elements of the Bill are:
to amend the Armed Forces Act 2006 to enable forms of part-time service and limited geographic employment within the Regular Armed Forces. New flexible working provisions will enable Service personnel returning from special leave including maternity, shared parental and adoption leave to have more options to support an easier transition back into duty.
What is the Armed Forces Act 2006?
The Armed Forces Act 2006 provides the legal basis for the armed forces to continue to exist as a disciplined force. In the past the Act has also been used to introduce any new measures relating to the armed forces that fall outside the Act’s traditional remit of service discipline. An Act is required every five years and the most recent received Royal Assent on 12 May 2016. The Armed Forces Act 2016 amended the 2006 Act. The proposed Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill will amend the 2006 Act.
Section 329 (terms and conditions of enlistment and service) provides for the Defence Council to make regulations regarding the terms and conditions of enlistment and service of persons enlisting.
There are four separate statutory instruments that set out the terms and conditions of service in the armed forces. Four are required to reflect the different needs of each Service. All four statutory instruments have affect as if made under section 329 of the Armed Forces Act 2006. The links below are to the Legislation.gov.uk website:
- The Royal Navy Terms of Service (Ratings) Regulations 2006
- The Royal Marines Terms of Service Regulations 2006
- The Army Terms of Service Regulation 2007
- The Royal Air Force Terms of Service Regulations 2007
In the past amendments have been made by secondary legislation. Most recently, the Armed Forces (Terms of Service) Amendment Regulations 2014 (SI 2014/3068) amended all four instruments.
The Explanatory Notes to the Bill, when published, will provide further information on the proposed the proposed amendments to the 2006 Act.
What does the MOD mean by flexible working?
The Ministry of Defence has already introduced some measures designed to provide greater flexibility for personnel. These were introduced in autumn 2015 and focus on flexible working hours and flexible leave.
Full details of the proposals are not yet known but some elements have been discussed. These include:
- Giving temporary protection to personnel from deployment on long exercises or operations far away from their home unit. The MOD has used the phrases ‘limited geographic employment’ and ‘limits to separated service for periods of a few years only’ to describe this proposal
- Part-time working
- Flexible working provisions for personnel returning from special leave, including maternity, shared parental and adoption leave – this is to provide personnel with “more options to support an easier transition back into duty”.
All proposals will be subject to operational requirements and personnel would still be required to deploy on operations, at any time, should the need arise.
Why is the Ministry of Defence focusing on flexible working?
Ministers and senior officers have talked at length over the last few years of the need to make the armed forces an attractive place to work to both retain personnel and attract new recruits. The impact of Service life on family and personnel life has repeatedly been the top reason given by personnel who have put in their notice. The Army Families Federation reports Army families complain an unforgiving work schedule creates added strain to family life and causes many soldiers to consider leaving the Army.
Providing more opportunities for flexible working may alleviate some of these concerns by enabling those with children or other caring responsibilities the opportunity to reduce their hours and limit their time away from home.
The head of the Army, General Sir Nick Carter, spoke in 2015 of the need to enable soldiers to work flexibly. He said: “if you are working in a job that is not at high readiness in an operational unit there is absolutely no reason why you should not perhaps be able to parade a bit later in the morning so that you [sic] children will be able to be dropped at the school.”
Attracting new joiners is also a key motivator. The Cabinet Office background notes on the Bill says providing personnel will more choice in the way they live and work “will be crucial in retaining and attracting key skills and in diversifying the makeup of the Armed Forces.” Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, said flexible working will “help attract and keep the talent we need to keep Britain safe”. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has similarly said introducing more family-friendly regulations will help recruitment.
Views of personnel
The Armed Forces Continuous Attitudes Survey 2017 found:
- The ‘impact of Service life on family and personal life’ remains the top reason for leaving among all personnel
- The majority of personnel state that having the option to work part-time (63%) or have reduced separated Service (61%) has no effect on their intentions to stay or leave
- However 32% of personnel said a working part-time option increases their intention to stay, with similar levels responding across all services
- Likewise 33% of personnel said an option for reduced separated service (including operational deployment) increases their intention to stay
Implementing the SDSR…
The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review explicitly committed to make changes to “enable our Armed Forces to work flexibly, reflecting the realities of modern life”.
The SDSR also set the armed forces a target of recruiting at least 15% women by 2020. Currently just over 10% of regular personnel are women. General Carter has said the Army needs to do more to ensure that women don’t leave the armed forces: “we have a career structure at the moment that is fundamentally a male career structure. It has in it a number of break points which sadly encourage women to leave, rather than encouraging them to stay”.
…and the Conservative party manifesto
The Conservative Party manifesto for the general election 2017 said:
We will attract and retain the best men and women for our armed forces, including by engaging them on a flexible basis.
What has the reaction been so far?
At the time of writing there has been limited reaction to the proposed Bill. However the Mail On Sunday obtained information on the Flexible Hours Trial in early 2017 and reported it under the headline “Take a pay cut to duck war: Soldiers are offered a three day week and a pay deal to dodge frontline fighting and make the Army more ‘family friendly’ (and even the SAS can sign up)”. The article included a quote from Colonel Richard Kemp who described it as an “ill-considered, headline-chasing policy which will turn our armed forces into a semi-reserve force”.
What else is the MOD looking at?
The Ministry of Defence (MOD) began looking at revising the terms and conditions of service under the 2010-15 Government. This was under the New Employment Model, first announced in the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010. Other elements already introduced or underway include changes to allowances; a Help to Buy scheme; a new charging system for Service Families Accommodation; a Future Accommodation Model (background and reaction to these proposals can be found in Library briefing paper Armed Forces Housing, 15 June 2017) and a New Joiners Offer to apply from 2020.
A survey of defence personnel will be launched on 10 July 2017 and run for three weeks. The survey will be available via the Defence Intranet. It is not clear whether it will be made available on the gov.uk website.
The measures are due to come into effect in 2019.
Documents to download
The Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill 2017-19 (671 KB, PDF)
This paper provides details and links for ministerial statements and parliamentary debates (from both Houses of Parliament) that cover international affairs and defence.
After transition the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) provisions no longer apply to the UK and formal cooperation in these areas does not form part of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement reached at the end of December 2020. Instead, the UK Government envisages a flexible, ad hoc approach that will make use of channels of broader dialogue with the EU. How this will work in practice remains to be seen.