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Bullying (Armed Forces)

Volume 497: debated on Monday 12 October 2009

The Petition of those concerned about bullying in the Armed Forces,

Declares that bullying in the British Army should be stopped once and for all.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Defence to take a firm and positive action to ensure that bullying in the British Army is once and for all put a stop to now.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Parmjit Dhanda, Official Report, 29 June 2009; Vol. 495, c. 136 .]

[P000384]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Defence, received 18 August 2009:

All personnel have the right to live and work in an environment free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination. These principles are enshrined in values and standards that reject any form of harassment, intimidation or discrimination and call for respect and appropriate behaviour at all times. These values and standards are introduced in recruit training and continuously reinforced throughout an individual’s service.

There is a policy of zero tolerance of bullying or ill-treatment and we encourage any allegation of inappropriate behaviour to be raised to the attention of the Commanding Officer to be investigated accordingly.

All allegations of mistreatment are taken very seriously and all substantive allegations are investigated, including by Service Police such as the Royal Military Police if appropriate. For the purposes of investigations Service Police are independent of the Ministry of Defence.

There are robust procedures for dealing with all forms of unacceptable behaviour. All those who are found to fall short of the Service’s high standards or who are found to have committed an offence under the various Service Acts are dealt with administratively (up to and including dismissal) or through the disciplinary process, as applicable.

All Commanding Officers are made fully aware of their responsibility to protect others from the differing forms of harassment, physical and mental intimidation and discrimination, and any suspicion of bullying is dealt with immediately. These principles are reinforced throughout all military training.

All personnel have access to the full range of welfare and well-being support. Every unit has a comprehensive welfare system, which is widely publicised. This starts with Officers and non-commissioned officers, who have a line management welfare responsibility to individuals. Within the unit, personnel also have direct access to Unit Welfare Officers, pastoral, medical and welfare staff. A further secondary level of welfare support is provided which can either be accessed directly or through unit welfare staff. An example of this is the Army Welfare Service which provides a confidential professional support service and a Confidential Support Line telephone service. Personnel also have access to the Samaritans helpline.

There is no evidence to suggest that Absent Without Leave is a problem because of widespread bullying. However, all those returning from unauthorised absence are asked whether they wish to report any concerns.

In addition, the Secretary of State for Defence has established the statutory appointment of the Service Complaints Commissioner to provide an alternative point of contact for individuals (either Service personnel or a third party who wishes to make an allegation on behalf of a Service person) who feel unable to approach the chain of command to make an allegation that a Service person has been wronged in relation to discrimination, harassment, bullying or other inappropriate behaviour. The Commissioner will refer an allegation to the person considered appropriate to receive it. Normally, this will be the Commanding Officer of the Service person who is alleged to have been wronged. However, the Commissioner may refer the case to another officer if, for example, the Commanding Officer is the subject of or implicated in the complaint.