GROUPS representing armed forces families have dismissed an attempt to set up a “union” for personnel.

West Dunbartonshire MP Martin Docherty-Hughes is behind a bid to establish a staff association for those in the army, navy and air force.

The Armed Forces Representative Body Bill was supposed to undergo its second reading in the House of Commons on Friday, but this has now been postponed.

Docherty-Hughes, whose father, brother and nephew have served in the armed forces, says such a body would provide personnel with a voice on pay, conditions and other issues. Like the Police Federation, it would not allow strike action.

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Launching the Bill last June, Docherty-Hughes said: “My Bill is entirely focussed on the interests of service personnel and their families – which I believe are best represented when they speak with one strong voice, and on issues like the 1% pay freeze, or ongoing worries about the state or service accommodation, it would be a vital step to ensure that armed forces personnel can improve their working and economic conditions.”

However, support for the proposal is mixed. ForcesWatch, which scrutinises armed forces recruitment practices, backed the idea.

Calling for the body to have stronger powers, spokesperson Joe Glenton, an army veteran who served in Afghanistan, told The National: “At this early stage the idea of an Armed Forces Representative Body Bill looks like a positive move which could serve to expand and deepen service personnel’s much-neglected rights and start to guarantee their working conditions, something that politicians and generals have consistently failed to do.

“While something along the lines of the Police Federation would be welcome, any discussion should centre on the scope for an actual trade union for service personnel.

In that way soldiers, sailors and airmen would be able to democratically organise to defend themselves like other public sector workers.”

Meanwhile, the Naval Families Federation said: “There are a number of mechanisms in existence outside the armed forces that advocate on behalf of serving personnel such as the Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB), the Service Complaints Ombudsman (SCO), the Forces Pension Society (FORPEN), the Royal British Legion (RBL) and the Families Federations (FamFeds).

“During regular engagement with serving personnel and their families the need for an overarching statutory representative body has not been raised with us.”

The Army Families Federation declined to comment, but the RAF Families Federation said: “We understand Martin Docherty-Hughes’s focus on giving forces personnel an opportunity to make their views heard.

“It is worth noting however that the key issues for personnel are not always the same across all three armed forces, which is why separate Families Federations were established.

“The Families Federations work closely on issues that are common (such as accommodation), and get large numbers of serving personnel engaged in responding to us on these issues.

“It is also probably worth noting that we are independent, outside the chain of command, and allowed access to personnel of all ranks to understand their concerns and conduct workshops to articulate these to ministers, Parliament and senior officers.”

Meanwhile, writing in The National today, former soldier and defence commentator Stuart Crawford, who calculated the impact of independence on the armed forces for thinktank RUSI, said: “I cannot for the life of me see what there is not to like.

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“Senior ex-military scaremongers in the UK may talk anecdotally of troops from other armies downing tools because they haven’t been paid and holding soldiers’ meetings to decide whether to obey orders, but it doesn’t happen with our police, firefighters, doctors and nurses so why should it happen in our armed forces?”