What is the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme?

1.0 Introduction

This article provides an overview of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme.

2.0 What is the Purpose of the Scheme?

“The objective of the scheme is to help parliamentarians understand the work of the armed forces and foster genuine personally informed contributions to participate in defence debates.” (AFPS, 2015).

A really good outline of the purpose of the scheme can be found at the Thin Pinstriped Line.

3.0 Who Can Attend the Scheme?

The following can attend the scheme:

  • Members of Parliament (MP’s) and peers in the United Kingdom;
  • Members of devolved assemblies;
  • Members of Tynwald (Parliament of the Isle of Man);
  • British Members of the European Parliament (MEP’s); and
  • House of Commons staff and civil servants.

4.0 Where does the Scheme take Place?

The Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme takes place at various units/establishments in the UK and abroad.

5.0 Brief History

The Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme was founded by Sir Neil Thorne, a former Conservative MP, in 1989 (Hansard, 2007) as a private organisation. It was originally open to members of both houses (i.e. MP’s and peers) from all parties.

The scheme “…is financed by defence contractors and uses MoD resources…” (Calvert & Rowell, 2008). Three defence companies – BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, and Augusta Westland – sponsor the scheme, with each giving approximately “£45,000 a year” since 2002. (Hansard, 2007; Calvert & Rowell, 2008). Capgemini is also a sponsor (AFPS, 2015).

Key dates include (Hansard, 2013; AFPS, 2015):

  • 1989: Scheme established as a private organisation with just one level (graduate).
  • 1997: Scheme expanded in response to a request of the then Secretary of State for Defence.
  • 2000: Level 2 of the scheme introduced (post-graduate).
  • ?2001: Level 3 of the scheme introduced (advanced post-gradaute).
  • ?2001: Level 4 of the scheme introduced (further advanced post-graduate).

Sir Neil Thorne also established two other schemes:

  • Fire Service Parliamentary Scheme; and
  • Police Service Parliamentary Scheme.

In 2013, the scheme was (Hansard, 2013; Charity Commission, 2017):

  • Re-established as a charitable trust, the Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust.
  • Brought within Parliament.
  • In the process of appointing a chief executive/chief clerk (title was still undecided), a former Army Reserve Major was selected to head the trust.

The trust was registered with the Charity Commission in “November 2014” (Private Eye, 2018, p.10).

The trust now also has a chief of staff (All Party Notice, 2017) and deputy chief of staff.

As part of the change further industry sponsors were sought and gained (Hansard, 2013).

6.0 Key Personalities of the Scheme

Prior to 2013, key personalities involved in the scheme included (AFPS Brochure 2011):

  • Council:
    • The Speaker and President of the Scheme.
    • Chairman and Director of the Scheme.
    • Council members (a mix MP’s and peers)
    • Representatives of the sponsors.
  • Secretariat:
    • Minister of State for The Armed Forces with ministerial responsibility for the Scheme.
    • Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (ACDS).
    • Military Assistant to the ACDS.
    • Co-ordinators for the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, British Army, and RAF programmes.
  • Support:
    • There were a number of support roles including editor, graphic designer, and printer.

The following post holders also provide support to the Scheme:

  • Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS).
  • The First Sea Lord.
  • Chief of the General Staff (CGS).
  • Chief of the Air Staff (CAS).
  • Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff (VCDS).
  • Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence (a civil servant).

Since 2013, the scheme has been run by nine trustees (with one as chairman), consisting of two MP’s, two peers, two from the MOD, two from industry, and Sir Neil Thorne (who also became the life president of the scheme) (Hansard, 2013).

7.0 Outline of the Scheme

“Each year a two-day introduction to Defence is held at the Defence Academy at Shrivenham where MPs get to experience the nuts and bolts of military life. They learn about the role of the military in a democracy, the strategic context for defence, and how forces are generated to achieve military strategic objectives.” (MOD, 2012).

Those wishing to participate in the scheme must “have first had a satisfactory health screen medical. This is carried out by SHWS, and is followed by a short fitness test in Westminster Gym.” (House of Lords, 2013, p.17)

Participants are given a uniform to wear which comes with a specially-designed badge decorated with a portcullis, the symbol of Parliament (Calvert & Rosewell, 2008; Mendick & Sawer, 2010). However, by 2018 participants were wearing a rank slide with the letters ‘AFPS’.

There is an expected commitment to spend a minimum of 15 days with the Service of their choice during a 12 month period, annually (Churchill, 2015; All Party Notice, 2017).

There are four potential levels (now down to three I believe) that parliamentarians can undertake:

  • Level One:
    • Spend 22 (now 15) days in a year looking at Service life from the perspective of an OF-3 level officer (Major, Lieutenant Commander, or Squadron Leader).
    • Runs from September to July.
    • 30 places each year, 10 for each single Service.
    • Initial commitment is the two-day ‘An Introduction to Defence’ seminar delivered at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom (DAUK), Shrivenham.
    • Receive one of the honorary ranks, dependent on Service working with.
    • Issued with a uniform.
    • Receive badge of rank “to help our hosts at all levels identify their guests and to put them into a proper junior context.” (AFPS, 2015).
    • Graduation certificate.
  • Level Two:
    • 20 days to demonstrate a little of the life of an OF-4 level officer (Lieutenant Colonel, Commander, or Wing Commander).
  • Level Three:
    • 20 days to demonstrate a little of the life of an OF-5 level officer (Colonel, Captain, or Group Captain).
  • Level Four:
    • Based on a course at the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS), located in London and part of the DAUK.
    • The RCDS instructs the most promising senior officers of the British Armed Forces, Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service and Civil Service in national defence and international security matters at the highest level, to prepare them for the top posts in their respective services.
    • Parliamentarians receive the honorary rank of an OF-6 level officer (Brigadier, Commodore, or Air Commodore).

The type of activity parliamentarians will be engaged in depends on their seniority. Initial activities, or “temporary placements” (Letts, 2019), provide an introduction to the work of the Service they are involved with. Those at the post graduate level will be involved in joint working, doctrine, and strategic matters relating to Defence. Parliamentarians will visit units/establishments in the UK and abroad.

“I hear, though, that they award themselves their own medals when they go on the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, in which they are embedded with the military.” (Letts, 2019).

Graduates can also receive medals for 10 or more year’s membership of the scheme, although this has received criticism from some ex-Service personnel (Mendick & Sawer, 2010). The AFPS medal is made of silver and is attached to a crimson, gold and green ribbon representing the colours of the Lords, the Queen and the Commons. It is an unofficial medal, is worn by recipients on the right breast, and is frequently presented by senior military officers (Mendick & Sawer, 2010).

There is also an annual graduation dinner hosted by the Speaker of the House of Commons, “sometimes with royal attendance”, where participants receive their graduation diplomas (The Times, 2012; Letts, 2019). Senior military officers may also present a speech (Carter, 2018).

8.0 Useful Publications

  • Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme Brochure 2011.
  • Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme Report and Accounts 2013/2014.
  • House of Lords Handbook on Facilities and Services for Members and their Staff. March 2013.

9.0 Useful Links

10.0 References

AFPS (Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme). (2015) Welcome to the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.af-ps.info/afps/. [Accessed: 24 July, 2019].

All Party Notice. (2017) Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme 2017-18. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.bgipu.org/media_manager/public/155/All%20Party%20Notice%20W%20C%2003%2007%202017%20(002).pdf. [Accessed: 24 July, 2019].

Calvert, J. & Rowell, A. (2008) Tory MP Douglas Carswell ‘punished’ for damning army kit. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/tory-mp-douglas-carswell-punished-for-damning-army-kit-7p8g3m0g7jb. [Accessed: 24 July, 2019].

Carter, N. (2018) General Nick Carter: The Strategic Context and What is Means for the Armed Forces. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/defence/house/house-magazine/99760/general-sir-nick-carter-strategic-context-and-what-it. [Accessed: 24 July, 2019].

Charity Commission. (2017) Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust. Available from World Wide Web: https://beta.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity-details/?subid=0&regid=1159312. [Accessed: 24 July, 2019].

Churchill, J. (2015) Jo Churchill MP Travelled to Cyprus with the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.jochurchill.org.uk/news/jo-churchill-mp-travelled-cyprus-armed-forces-parliamentary-scheme. [Accessed: 24 July, 2019].

Hansard. (2007) Written Answers to Questions: Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. Available From World Wide Web: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmhansrd/cm070322/text/70322w0001.htm. [Accessed: 24 July, 2019].

Hansard. (2013) Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. Available from World Wide Web: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2013-09-11/debates/13091135000001/ArmedForcesParliamentaryScheme. [Accessed: 24 July, 2019].
House of Lords. (2013) Handbook on Facilities and Services for Members and their Staff. London: House of Lords.

Letts, Q. (2019) Mr Bean’s Up In Arms. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1214525/QUENTIN-LETTS-Can-Leather-weather-Tory-cut-throats.html. [Accessed: 24 July, 2019].

Mendick, R. & Sawer, P. (2010) MPs Criticised for Accepting ‘Mickey Mouse’ Medals. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/onthefrontline/7006304/MPs-criticised-for-accepting-Mickey-Mouse-medals.html. [Accessed: 24 July, 2019].

MOD (Ministry of Defence). (2012) Scheme Connects Politicians with Military Life. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/scheme-connects-politicians-with-military-life–2. [Accessed: 24 July, 2019].

Private Eye. (2018) Stealth Sponsors. Available from World Wide Web: https://dralexmay.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/private-eye-1478.pdf. [Accessed: 24 July, 2019].

The Times. (2012) Service Dinner: The Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/service-dinner-the-armed-forces-parliamentary-scheme-rddx2c6fdrc. [Accessed: 24 July, 2019].


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