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Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors

Volume 566: debated on Tuesday 16 July 2013

On 22 March 2013, I announced to Parliament through a written ministerial statement, Official Report, column 60WS, the commencement of the triennial review of the Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors (ACCO). I am now pleased to announce the completion of the review.

The Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors is an advisory non-departmental public body (NDPB), sponsored by the Ministry of Defence. It provides advice to the Secretary of State for Defence on appeals from service personnel whose applications to leave the armed forces on the ground of conscience have been rejected.

The triennial review was conducted in accordance with Government guidance for reviewing NDPBs. Accordingly, stage 1 of the review considered whether there continues to be a need for the function, which the ACCO currently undertakes, to be delivered and whether the function could be more effectively delivered through a vehicle other than a NDPB. Stage 2 of the review scrutinised the current governance arrangements of the ACCO to ascertain whether it complies with the principles of good governance.

The review concluded that there continues to be a need for a body, independent of the chain of command, to provide informed advice to the Secretary of State about the status of service personnel who are seeking discharge from the armed forces, on grounds of conscience but whose application to leave on this basis has been rejected by the chain of command. The review considered that the most effective method of delivering this function is through a NDPB. Finally, the review considered that the ACCO complies with the principles of good governance, but made five recommendations, which the MOD will now consider.

The five recommendations are:

Recommendation 1 —The departmental board must strengthen its corporate governance arrangement and monitor the performance of the relevant advisory bodies appropriately in accordance with their nature, size and role.

Recommendation 2—The sponsoring department should strengthen the terms of reference by stating clearly that they are responsible for assessing the effective performance of the Committee.

Recommendation 3—The sponsoring department in consultation with the Ministry of Justice on behalf of the Lord Chancellor, to consider whether the chair should become involved with lay member appointments or reappointment, including the skills and experience required by the Committee.

Recommendation 4—The chair should be asked to confirm the members’ reappointment to ensure that no question of cause for non-renewal is raised, and this is then put to the Lord Chancellor to make the re-appointment. It would be unnecessarily burdensome to do this every year.

Recommendation 5—That the Register of Interests should be reviewed and regularly updated.

The report of the review will be now published in full in accordance with Government guidance.