The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Anna Soubry)
I am pleased to lay before Parliament today the Service Complaints Commissioner’s sixth annual report on the fairness, effectiveness and efficiency of the service complaints system.
I would like to thank the commissioner for her latest report, and for the outstanding contribution she has made in improving the service complaints process during her six years in post. More recently, her involvement in the work to draw up the proposals announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on 13 March, Official Report, column 34WS, has been pivotal.
The report recognises the progress made by the services in 2013, including the introduction of a new monitoring and reporting process to identify and mitigate undue delay in the system. It also raises issues of concern, in particular the apparent increase in bullying and harassment complaints within the Army. I will respond formally to the commissioner once the MOD has considered fully the findings of the report and the recommendations made.
I can also inform the House that I have proposed, and Dr Atkins has accepted, that she should continue in office beyond her currently scheduled leaving date of the end of June. There are two reasons for this. First, it is now clear that the proposals announced on 13 March, including the creation of a service complaints ombudsman, will transform the role of the commissioner. Dr Atkins’ successor will, subject to Parliament approving the necessary legislation, need the right skills and experience to deliver that vision. I have therefore decided to restart the recruitment process, which means that it will not be possible to appoint a new commissioner by the end of June. Secondly, it will be important for the success of the proposed changes that we continue to draw on the considerable expertise and experience which Dr Atkins brings to this area, as plans are worked up in more detail over the coming months. I am grateful to her for her willingness to remain in post, to work in partnership to establish the role of the service complaints ombudsman on a sound and secure footing.