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Last Updated: Friday, 13 January 2006, 16:22 GMT
Peer calls for forum for troops
British soldiers
Soldiers are debating the merits of forming a body to protect their interests
Calls for a new body to defend soldiers' interests have been backed by an influential defence expert.

Supporters of the proposed national defence association said it could raise concerns with government ministers and provide legal support.

Former Assistant Chief of Defence Staff Lord Garden said the organisation could function along similar lines to the police federation.

The Ministry of Defence said there was no statutory basis for the body.

More backing

Colonel Tim Collins, who became well known for a stirring speech to troops in Iraq which won him many admirers, has also backed the plan.

Colonel Tim Collins
Colonel Collins backs the plan for a body to provide legal advice
The colonel was himself investigated, after a false claim that he had mistreated civilians and prisoners of war in Iraq, and was later cleared of any wrongdoing.

He said: "I think such an organisation is needed at the moment because confidence in the chain of command and general morale has collapsed across the army.

"Senior officers don't represent the interests of subordinates at all, not just in terms of accusations involving legal or disciplinary action but also health care or even simply finding accommodation for the families of personnel."

He added: "In my case, it could have helped me defend the false accusations against me, instead of having to do it completely on my own."

Serious debate

Lord Garden, who is now a Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: "There is serious debate at the moment in the Armed Forces among members who want to see an association that could provide legal advice, look after the interests of members and so on.

"There seems to be a need for this as it's very difficult for the chain of command to work upwards to its political masters while at the same time representing the needs of subordinates, as should be the role of senior officers."

The peer added: "Sometimes there's a distinction between these two roles with regard to conditions of service and budgetary constraints that lead to issues over the quality of equipment provided to troops or where soldiers are faced with legal charges."

Lord Garden, a former RAF marshal and 1991 Gulf war veteran, has already tabled a written question to be debated in the House of Lords, asking if there is "any bar to serving members of the Armed Forces forming an association along the lines of the Police Federation".

The plan comes after concerns over failed prosecutions involving alleged abuse or unlawful killing by British soldiers in Iraq.

A case involving seven members of the parachute regiment which lasted more than a year collapsed in November because Iraqi witnesses admitted they were lying.

Military campaigners on the Army Rumour Service website have dispelled any idea such a forum would be a move towards a trade union, which is illegal under Queen's Regulations.

MoD 'letting down armed forces'
13 Oct 05 |  UK Politics

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