Premier On Plans To Eliminate Conscription

July 11, 2014

In the House of Assembly today [July 11], Premier Michael Dunkley spoke about the steps being taken to eliminate conscription, highlighting the issues that need to be taken into consideration during the shift to an all-volunteer force.

Premier Dunkley said, “The public discussion around the issue of conscription has its ebbs and flows. In spite of this, the Government has continued to work on the fulfillment of our promise to eliminate conscription.

“I [previously] indicated that, ‘The elimination of conscription will not be done in a haphazard fashion but will be an orderly transition designed to preserve the strength of the Bermuda Regiment without prejudice to the role and responsibility it is required to discharge.’

“That debate was on the 14th of May. I am pleased to advise that in the two short months since that debate, a considerable amount of the required planning has been underway. In consultation with the Commanding Officer, Cabinet has considered a plan which has the potential to shape the Regiment for the future.

“The move to an all-volunteer force will not be without its challenges and the means by which the Government proposes to mitigate those challenges is through a phased end to conscription working towards the last ballot for recruits in 2015 for 2016’s Recruit Camp and a completion of service for those soldiers in 2019.”

The Premier’s full statement follows below:

Mr. Speaker, the public discussion around the issue of conscription has its ebbs and flows. In spite of this, the Government has continued to work on the fulfillment of our promise to eliminate conscription.

Both sides of the aisle agree with this course and in light of our common experience in governing I suspect we might agree that it cannot be done at the stroke of a pen.

With that in mind, Mr. Speaker, I think it is necessary to indicate to this Honourable House the consistent message from this Government on how this issue is to be handled and to frame the crux of this statement today against that background.

Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members will recall that this Session started with the debate on the report of the Security and Defence Review. In the course of opening that debate I indicated to this Honourable House that:

“...the elimination of conscription will not be done in a haphazard fashion but will be an orderly transition designed to preserve the strength of the Bermuda Regiment without prejudice to the role and responsibility it is required to discharge.

Additionally, Mr. Speaker, I also advised Honourable Members that:

“...this change will take time, money and planning and no amount of campaigning to the contrary will make it happen any sooner.

Mr. Speaker, that debate was on the 14th of May. I am pleased to advise this Honourable House that in the two, short months since that debate a considerable amount of the required planning has been underway.

In consultation with the Commanding Officer, Cabinet has considered a plan which has the potential to shape the Regiment for the future.

Mr. Speaker, the move to an all-volunteer force will not be without its challenges and the means by which the Government proposes to mitigate those challenges is through a phased end to conscription working towards the last ballot for recruits in 2015 for 2016’s Recruit Camp and a completion of service for those soldiers in 2019.

Achieving the number of volunteers required to maintain “fitness for role” capability will take some investment in enlistment and retention, as well as in advertising and recruiting.

Honourable Members should take note that the experience of other affluent countries is to provide significant joining incentives as they are competing with diverse job markets and opportunities.

Mr. Speaker, our aim will be to provide funding for the Regiment to allow it to have some ability to provide incentives such as a joining bonus.

We will also aim to provide the resources for a dedicated member of staff to handle the full ambit of recruitment of volunteers.

A significant part of this role will be to develop a system of enhanced benefits for soldiers in volunteer service to including expanding the current discounts for local goods, wider employability and incentives for recruiters themselves. These and other proposals will continue to be developed.

Mr. Speaker, the fulfillment of our principled pledge to eliminate conscription must be tempered by the realities of life in modern Bermuda. The demographics of our island indicate that the pool of individuals from which we would ideally seek to draw volunteers in this context is small.

In spite of this economy there is still competition for reliable, keen employees. Mr. Speaker, I have stated on numerous occasions and I will reiterate the position again: This Government will not eliminate conscription in a manner that leaves the Regiment unable to fulfill their mission.

As I indicated during the debate on the Report of the Security & Defence Review Committee:

Mr. Speaker, I will introduce into this House amendments to the Defence Act 1965 to provide for the end of conscription but with a Commencement Notice which will permit the Minister responsible for the Regiment to bring the provisions into force at the appropriate time.”

Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members will recall that an amended Defence Act was tabled in this Honourable House in November 2012 just prior to the General Election. That Bill will be further refined to take account of these proposals to eliminate conscription.

The new Bill will retain those provisions that introduce a disciplinary system that is fully compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Further to changes recommended as part of a 2010 legal review of the Regiment’s Standing Orders, the Bill will also do the following:

  • Remove confusing and gender-biased terminology
  • Remove references to the repealed UK Army Act 1955 and where necessary replace it with reference to the UK’s Armed Forces Act 2006
  • Give all those charged with a military offence the right to elect for trial by a court of summary jurisdiction instead of a hearing with the Commanding Officer
  • Regularize the fines and punishments to be imposed in the event of disciplinary hearings

Mr. Speaker, these changes provide a modernized disciplinary process and an important legislative platform for an eventual all volunteer Regiment.

Mr. Speaker, as the Commanding Officer indicated in his interview carried in Wednesday’s Royal Gazette, it is this Government’s policy to transfer the Regiment to a volunteer force and he is working hard to make that happen.

I am grateful for the careful planning and regular updates provided by the Commanding Officer and I have also found useful the views and advice of the Defence Board and its Chairman Mr. Wendall Hollis.

While we approach this issue from different sides, I am confident that working together the Regiment will go from strength to strength as we implement these changes.

Mr. Speaker, let me say in closing that one area of potential expansion for the Regiment, which has been mentioned over several years, is the inshore maritime patrolling responsibility.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the skill of those members of the Regiment’s Boat Troop as they trained and rehearsed drills in the area of the Great Sound.

Mr. Speaker, during this season of increased boating and water-related activity, the people of Bermuda will see The Regiment hard at work alongside the Bermuda Police Service providing support in this maritime role.

This practical engagement will provide the support for a fuller, written Brief that I expect to receive from the Commanding Officer on how we can make the assumption of the inshore maritime role by the Regiment a working reality.

Mr. Speaker, this statement today is the forerunner to substantive legislation which will be tabled on our return in the next Session and at that time, I look forward to the support of Honourable Members as we shape the Bermuda Regiment for the future.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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Comments (11)

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  1. Unbelievable says:

    This is good news. Well done OBA!

    If the OBA just continues to do what the PLP dilly-dallied over during their time in office, we should be on our way.

    That’s the point, OBA, right?

    • Kunta says:

      Deep down he’s saying “What a waste of F@#%ing time !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. PBanks says:

    “Mr. Speaker, I have stated on numerous occasions and I will reiterate the position again: This Government will not eliminate conscription in a manner that leaves the Regiment unable to fulfill their mission.”

    What I take from this is that Government
    (a) believes the Regiment is of vital importance to Bermuda (for defense or recovery reasons, etc, we’re not specified)
    (b) wants to ensure jobs aren’t lost via the Regiment having to disband.

    Thoughts? Is phasing out conscription the right way to do this?

  3. Coffee says:

    Mr,Dunkley , if you continue to handle this situation like a yo yo , don’t be surprised when the string snaps on the upward momentum …

  4. GOD1ST says:

    This is a political game going on here. Don’t you know that these parliamentarians are full of fluff ?

  5. William says:

    well hurry up! i’m not going this year nor the next. most others should do the same. if no one turns up for recruitment then they have no choice but to cease, not to mention the money that will be saved!

    Its time Bermuda gets rid of its old conservative archaic systems and welcome us into the new world of today.

    • Peter says:

      Wiiiam, ( or whoever you are )

      As I have said before,If you cannot stand our island and our people, and our traditions, as David Lopes says on his morning show,

      There are flights leaving L F Wade airport every day, and there is one that must go to your country.

      Get on it…..I will buy your ticket and even give you a ride to the airport to make sure you get on.

      And that goes for all of your mates too.

      • William says:

        Bermuda’s traditions? How does that come in to the fold? Conscription is an outdated practise (not unlike most things here) and needs to be done away with. By all means keep the regiment but offer competitive salaries and career building opportunities for those interested instead of forcing young men to comply with an age old institution.

        ps, My name is William and the country that i am from in which you wish me to return is in fact Bermuda. Family has been here for centuries. Good bye.

        • Peter says:

          Geez Billy, what a complete turnaround from your original statement.

          I must have touched a nerve!

          Now,I certainly agree with your new statement.Yes, the Government and the head people up at the Regiment have to do exactly what you say.

          Make it worthwhile not only to the volunteer, but to Bermuda as well.

          Oh, by the way.I checked the history books.You must be an Outerbridge.

          They are the only Bermuda family to have been here for centuries.

          Take care Bill.

  6. James says:

    Of course it can be done at the stroke of a pen!
    Just stop it. It serves no purpose apart from introducing some good kids to some bad kids.
    All they do is a few parades and cut some trees down in a hurricane and they have not even done that for years.
    The last time we had a blow it was Portuguese guys on trucks out with chain saws that did all the work.
    So we spent several million on the regt. last year and we didn’t have a hurricane.
    Shut it down and sell that prime real estate off. Make millions on the sale of that land and millions saved
    on not playing soldiers.
    How difficult is this?

  7. Peter says:

    James,

    Boy what a tantrum and hissy fit.Very impressive!

    Let me give you a word of advice, because you have absolutely no clue what you are ranting about.

    I would watch labeling people.

    You label the Portuguese as landscapers

    To quote you ” introducing good kids to some bad kids”

    Please tell me, and all of the other people who are writing about this article, who exactly are the bad kids you mention?”

    You come across as some spoilt child who will probably have mommy and daddy hide you in the family apartment in New York,or Boston until the intake for the Regiment is complete ,and then you can return safely “home”

    And finally.Do you really think that, what you term as “Portuguese guys on trucks with chain saws”
    are driving around after a hurricane cleaning up the streets?

    What do you think the Unions, and Government would say?

    Get a life James!