New powers threaten chain of command, warn peers

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The Armed Forces Bill passed committee stage without amendment on 9 July 2014, despite criticism from former heads of the services.

The bill aims improve the Army's complaint handling including introducing a new Service Complaints Ombudsman to replace the existing Service Complaints Commissioner.

But Admiral Lord Boyce and Marshal of the RAF Lord Craig of Radley, both former chiefs of the defence staff, warned the measures would undermine the chain of command and called for the Government to rethink the proposals.

The bill will give the new Ombudsman powers to compel witnesses to produce documents and other information and report cases of obstruction to the High Court.

But Lord Boyce said the power against obstruction "could be seen to be violating the integrity of the command chain".

"The armed forces are different" from other organisations due to its "emphasis on disciplinary processes" Lord Boyce told peers.

Lord Craig of Radley said the ombudsman would be given "the power of command over an individual even though the ombudsman is not within or forming any part of the chain of command".

He urged the Government to instead require the Defence Council to prevent obstruction.

The current Service Complaints Commissioner, Dr Susan Atkins, has criticised the Army's complaints handling as ineffective and overloaded.

Despite the protests the bill was passed unamended and will now pass to report stage. Lord Boyce said he would consider the issue further before the next stage of the Bill.

The bill also includes a clause which allows the government to give financial assistance to charitable institutions and other third sector or public bodies which support the armed forces community.

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