Britain Defense Chief Worried by Pressure to Let Disabled Serve in Army

Published December 20th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Britain's most senior military officer has warned that the army's effectiveness was threatened by European Union plans to let disabled people serve as soldiers. 

General Sir Charles Guthrie said in a speech on Tuesday night that proposed European Union legislation on equal opportunities would put the army in breach of the law unless it allowed the disabled to serve in non-combat roles. 

Those proposals were "ill-conceived" and "detrimental," Chief of the Defense Staff Guthrie told the Royal United Services Institute in London. 

He said other legislation covering health and safety, working time directives and human rights risked turning Britain's military into a "gendarmerie," which is only equipped for "cuddling babies and delivering tea." 

On the issue of disabled people serving in the armed forces, Guthrie said: "Our defense ministers do understand our position and have been robust in the defense of our case during the recent European debate on ending employment discrimination on grounds of and disability." 

"I fully understand that those proposing this aspect of employment law were acting with good intentions and for entirely laudable aims." 

"But if left unchecked (it would have) a detrimental effect on the forces by insisting that disabled people had a right to serve. We need to guard against such ill-conceived ideas in future." 

A Ministry of Defense spokeswoman said Wednesday the government had no plans to permit the disabled to serve in the armed forces. 

General Guthrie's comments were attacked as patronizing on Wednesday by disabled peoples' group Radar. 

"He has completely misunderstood the concept of equal opportunities," said spokeswoman Agnes Fletcher. "He seems to think that giving jobs to disabled people is a charitable act." 

"Equal opportunities is about getting the right person for the job, and why cut out great swathes of people who might have something very important to contribute?" 

Guthrie, who retires next year, said that because of its unique function and the extreme conditions in which it sometimes has to operate, the military should be made exempt from some aspects of civilian legislation. 

"The modern concern for the rights of the individual sometimes has to be sacrificed in the military for the collective good of the team," he said. 

"Our profession requires a degree of decisiveness, flair and courage which sits badly with some of the more restrictive practices of modern employment legislation" -- LONDON (AFP)  



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