House of Lords

A challenge by former military chiefs against a move to allow British troops to serve part-time has been defeated by the government.

Peers rejected an amendment proposed by a number of ex-military figures which would have stripped the term "part-time" from the Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill.

Former defence chiefs criticised the phrase, arguing it would be viewed by those in the Armed Forces as "derogatory and belittling".

However, this was disputed by the government, which said that the change would help to modernise the military.

Former chief of the defence staff and independent crossbencher Lord Craig of Radley was among those to propose the amendment at the bill's report stage.

He argued it focused on "taking breaks from full-time service rather than on working weekly on a part-time basis". Lord Craig said:

"Our amendment avoids any danger of labelling these prized individuals as statutory part-timers, exposing them and their service to inappropriate and demoralising treatment by some colleagues or by those who might to seek to disparage the good name and full commitment of the Armed Forces.

"Of course it can be argued that this shouldn't happen, but the issue surely is not whether it does, rather than the risk that it might is not run."

Lord Boyce, an independent crossbencher who served as Chief of the Defence Staff from 2001 to 2003, said he "remained to be convinced" of the need for the Bill.

While there were those who argued the move would improve quality of life and so help stop personnel leaving, he said:

 "Retention would be markedly improved if the men and women of our services are not profoundly depressed by a defence budget that is totally inadequate."

The peer went on: "There is no way that labelling this part-time will be remotely attractive.

"It may be that such an expression is viewed with equanimity, if not honour, in civilian life, but I am astonished that there are those who consider being in civilian life is the same as serving in the Armed Forces.

"There, in the Armed Forces, this will be viewed as an unpleasant epithet."

Lord Boyce also argued it risked damaging relations with military allies, including the US:

"When they hear that we are to have a part-time Navy, Army and Air Force ... they will think we have lost the plot."

Former Met Commissioner Lord Condon, an independent crossbencher, said in the uniformed services job descriptions "carry weight beyond just normal civilian meaning".

"Notions of part-time can be seen to dilute notions of operational prowess, commitment, sense of duty and so on," he added.

Former Army chief and crossbench peer Lord Dannatt said:

"The point at issue here is the use of the word part-time."

Pointing out one of the Army's six core values was selfless commitment, he added: "That selfless commitment is not divisible, it cannot be on a part-time basis."

Defence Minister Earl Howe rejected the arguments raised by peers. He said:

 "The measures in this bill are part of a series of steps we are taking to modernise the Armed Forces in terms of service.

"We must continue down this path if we are to be truly representative of the people whom we serve."

Highlighting the support of the current defence chiefs, he said the use of the term part-time was "absolutely deliberate". Lord Howe said:

"The meaning of statute has to be clear. We want to be clear ... that part-time working is indeed what we are introducing, albeit with certain constraints to protect operational capability."

He disagreed that the use of the term part-time would "denigrate" an individual or the services.

He also said it was arguable a person choosing to work part-time rather than leave the military "displays an admirable commitment to serving their country".

Lord Howe added: "I would suggest this is precisely the calibre of person we need to retain and recruit in today's armed forces.

"Times move on. Working part-time is a modern, widely recognised and practised working pattern."

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