This House Would Reintroduce National Service

National Service: A breach of freedom or a solution to unemployment?

8th November

  • Lord Guthrie (former Head of the UK armed forces)
  • Lieutenant General Brims (Commander of UK ground forces in Iraq)

In a return to a motion which was last addressed by the participants in the Second Chance Project in December 2012, this Friday in the Union the guest speakers will debate the ever-controversial topic of national service. In the United Kingdom the National Service Act of 1948 originally required all healthy young men aged between 17 and 21 years old to spend eighteen months serving in the armed forces, a time period which increased to two years during the Korean War, and to then remain on the reserves list for several more months. However, this system was phased out from 1957, with the last men called up in 1960 and the last group of National Service troops leaving the armed forces in 1963. Yet in recent months the scheme has come back into the public consciousness as early next year a Bill is set to be debated before Parliament proposing a reintroduction of the one-year programme, albeit with the option of charitable or volunteering work rather than military service. This sparked a petition against the Bill progressing, stating that young people ‘should be able to choose their own futures’. Yet with one million UK 16- to 24-year-old remaining out of education and employment, does society need to find a new means to give our young people the skills and experience to make this choice?

The first speaker to take to the floor will be Charles Guthrie, Baron Guthrie of Craigiebank, who served as the head of the British Army between 1994 and 1997 before taking on the role of Chief of the Defence Staff from 1997 to 2001. Lord Guthrie began his career with the Welsh Guards in 1959 before progressing through the ranks, serving in locations as diverse as the Persian Gulf and Northern Ireland, and eventually advising the British Government on major conflicts such as Bosnia and Kosovo. As a member of the House of Lords he has occasionally caused controversy, speaking out against servicemen in Iraq being taken to the International Criminal Court for their actions and being accused by George Monbiot of lacking an understanding of international law for apparently condoning ‘surprise war’ which is against the UN charter. What can be certain though is that his vast experience of both frontline service and inner government is sure to give him a uniquely broad perspective from which to view the issue of national service, and from which to decide whether it represents a step forward for our country and for our young people.

Lieutenant General Robin Brims will then deliver his speech, surely drawing on his experience gained from his role as the Commander of the UK ground forces during the war in Iraq. His military career began in 1970 and he was involved in the conflicts in Bosnia and Northern Ireland before deploying to Iraq in 2003. There he achieved the Distinguished Service Order for his actions during the battle of Basra and eventually became the Senior British Military Representative and Deputy Commanding General, Multinational Force, Iraq in 2005. He is now a trustee of the Oswin Project, which aims to support ex-offenders in finding employment through assisting in their search for work and providing apprenticeships, and a board member of Norcare, which helps the most vulnerable groups of society through housing and other services. These roles should lend him an interesting viewpoint from which to consider national service as a means to deal with the current levels of unemployment and to provide opportunities to those within society who otherwise may never be offered them, ensuring a discussion which is able to draw on a wealth of specialist knowledge.

The direction in which the house will vote this week will not be determined until Friday, but what we can look forward to until then is a lively evening of debate on a topic which could have a resounding impact on the lives of future generations of young people.

More Information:

UK National Service

National Service Bill 2013–14

Lord Guthrie

Lieutenant General Brims

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