Representation in Action
From the 7 January 2008 edition of The House parliamentary magazine
"Less than two years have gone by since Parliament began to discuss the idea of an Armed Forces Federation. It was raised during the consideration of the tri-service Armed Forces Act 2006, when the alarming spectre was raised of an unnamed foreign contingent which had “laid down its arms” in Bosnia “over a pay deal”. This, the Bill Committee heard from my respected former Corps Commander, was “the sort of trouble you get into when there is a representative body who are fighting back at home, your soldiers are at the front and they do not appear to be achieving.”
Later the same year another distinguished soldier, Field Marshal Lord Inge, posed this question in the Upper House: “Whether those who have federations and unions have ever won?” This is, indeed, the first and most important question to ask about any form of representation for armed forces personnel. Unfortunately, it was only raised in the closing moments of the debate.
We have been unable to find any example of operational disruption in any military force of any advanced country, anywhere in the world, as a result of lawful staff representation. Arguments against staff representation tend not to withstand close scrutiny. It has been said that some of the fiercest ex-military opponents of representation tend to have served in the 1970s.
Most of our treaty and coalition allies have long recognised some form of staff representation for their armed forces personnel. Australia has both Regular and Reserve representative associations, which are fully recognised by the national Chain of Command. Danish personnel fighting alongside British troops in Helmand province have three separate representative organisations for different rank ranges. With the greater luxury of scale which they enjoy, US forces have a range of recognised military staff associations, notably the influential Association of the United States Army - founded in 1950.
The sky has not fallen in for any of these allies as a result of having some form of recognised professional staff representation. Nor has the discipline, loyalty and cohesion of Her Majesty’s Forces suffered in the slightest from having the support of the British Armed Forces Federation.
At the time of writing numerous Federation members are deployed on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Two of my fellow committee members took part in the recent Musa Qala operation. At least one other member has been wounded in action, and was able to give a positive verdict on the casualty evacuation process. This was duly reflected in our evidence to the Defence Select Committee’s Inquiry into medical care for the armed forces.
BAFF will continue to liaise with parliamentarians of both Houses on a cross-party basis. Reassuringly, no party and no politician to whom we have spoken would condone representative arrangements which in any way jeopardised the fighting efficiency or compromised the Chain of Command of British Forces. That is our perspective also.
The British Armed Forces Federation has exceeded many expectations in the first year since its launch. It has yet to achieve formal recognition, but the Chain of Command has already made it clear that it is legal and acceptable for personnel of any rank to join. BAFF will continue to go forward, listening carefully to the Chain of Command, to politicians, and to our members, and expecting to be listened to also."
British Armed Forces Federation
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