Military instructors who have sex with their students face criminal prosecutions under new plans being drawn up by Ben Wallace.
The Defence Secretary said such cases require a “severe response and sanction”, possibly including a custodial sentence.
The proposal comes amid a number of recent allegations of sexual misconduct by military personnel towards soldiers and officers under training, including at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate.
An instructor at the college is due to appear before a court martial in Jan 2023 charged with more than 20 offences, including at least five counts of alleged sexual assaults of 16-year-old girls.
The proposed law, which Mr Wallace hopes will be brought in during the next parliamentary session in 2023, is designed to protect soldiers both in phase one basic training and when undergoing initial specialist instruction in their particular military field, known as phase two training.
'No one is to walk on by'
Speaking to The Telegraph on a trip to Italy, the Defence Secretary said: “I intend to bring forward a military offence for instructors [proven to be] having sexual relations with [students] in phase one and phase two training.
“Parents entrust their young people to us and for any student to be put in that position … is not only appalling but needs a response.
“We have strengthened administrative action and the power to discharge as a result of that type of behaviour.
“It is now easier to throw people out of the Armed Forces for that type of behaviour towards the people they are in charge of and it is going to be easier to prosecute them.”
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) introduced a new zero tolerance policy in July this year, provisions of which related to relationships between instructors and trainees.
The new policy states: “Instructors or personnel in a position of authority, who engage in sexual relationships with trainees or recruits, are abusing their position of trust.
“Unacceptable sexual behaviour of any kind should be challenged and potential sexual offences or instructor-trainee sexual relationships reported to the police.
“No-one is to ‘walk on by’.”
The new policy makes dismissal from the Armed Forces mandatory, even if an individual has been found guilty of such an offence at court martial but the board chooses not to kick the instructor out.
'Severe response and sanction'
Mr Wallace intends for the new law to go further and said anyone convicted of such a military offence could receive a custodial sentence.
“If you’re an instructor and it’s a young 16-year-old vulnerable girl or vulnerable boy … that is something that warrants a severe response and sanction," he said.
The MoD is soon to establish a new Defence Serious Crime Unit and make amendments to the Service Justice System, in a bid to improve standards of serious crime investigation throughout the Armed Forces.
The new unit will start work this month and will pull together the investigative capability for serious offending of the existing three service police forces into an independent unit.
An MoD spokesman said: “Young recruits, who are often confined to training camps, deserve to be cared for and treated with respect, not taken advantage of.
“That’s why, this year, ministers made it a dismissible offence for military instructors to begin sexual relationships with new recruits in phase one or two training.
“Luckily these relationships rarely happen, but when they do, the Defence Secretary believes taking sexual advantage of military recruits from a position of power should face a punishment more severe than dismissal.
“That’s why he is bidding for legislation that would make it a formal offence in military law, meaning the act would lead to a court martial and an appropriate custodial sentence for those found guilty.”