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9 Dec 1998 : Column 296

Major Eric Joyce

1.30 pm

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): I am grateful for the opportunity to have this Adjournment debate concerning Major Joyce. I requested the debate because, over the past 16 months, my hon. Friends and I have failed to gain satisfactory answers from Ministers about the Major's future and because his case strikes at the heart of the important principle that our armed forces do not actively participate in party politics.

As the House will recall, in August 1997, Major Eric Joyce of the Adjutant-General's Corps published a Fabian Society pamphlet under the heading, "Labour in Action", entitled, "Arms and the Man--Renewing the armed services". He did so without first seeking permission from the Ministry of Defence, as is required by a serving officer under Queen's regulations. As Major Joyce said in an interview in The Times on 4 August 1997:

The Ministry of Defence was rightly concerned about what Major Joyce had done, and Members of Parliament should also be concerned. Much was made at the time by Major Joyce, through media interviews, of the fact that he was criticising senior Army officers as being class-ridden public school products.

I read his pamphlet with great interest. He touched on many issues, including recruitment, training, ethnic minorities and civil liberties. Much of what he said was controversial; some of it was interesting; some of it was obviously plain wrong and some of it was eccentric. It was really a political polemic.

We should ask two questions. Why was it necessary for Major Joyce, a serving Army officer, to publish his views in a Labour party publication? Why not use, for example, one of the in-house Ministry of Defence journals or one of many academic journals? The Major's action meant that the issue immediately became party political.

In the few months leading up to autumn 1997, we heard more from Major Joyce about his case and the possibility that he would face disciplinary charges. His wife was reported in The Sunday Telegraph on 12 October 1997 as saying that, if he was threatened with court martial, he would take the Army to the European Court of Human Rights. What emerged from those exchanges--it seemed that Major Joyce was hardly out of the media--was the fact, that despite being repeatedly warned not to speak to the media about his views, Major Joyce continued to do so.

I understand that Major Joyce believes that he has a basic right to air his views and that the Army was being old-fashioned and restrictive, but he is not living in the real world. Most public and private organisations maintain official and unofficial codes of conduct for their employees or members. Major Joyce continued to criticise senior officers and expected to have the right to do so. I put it to the House that most organisations, after giving warnings, would tell an employee that, if he continued his actions, they would reluctantly have to "let him go", to use the current management jargon.

In late October 1997, we learned through the press that Major Joyce could keep his job, provided that he did not again breach disciplinary codes, and was to keep his views

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on the state of the Army to himself. He was given permission--for which he had urged very strongly in his pamphlet--to publish a journal called "The Armed Services Forum".

Why did the Army and the Ministry of Defence make that decision? We learned, once again through the press, that the Lord Chancellor had written to the Secretary of State for Defence advising him not to take action against Major Joyce because of the fear that, if the officer took his case to the European Court of Human Rights, any ruling would come up in the run-up to the next election, which

Whatever right the Lord Chancellor has to involve himself across the board in departmental matters concerning the law, the letter has, to say the least, a party political spin, which is totally objectionable.

Ministers appeared to back Major Joyce when the Secretary of State for Defence said at a Fabian Society seminar--some coincidence there--on 13 November 1997 that he wanted to increase the number of officers from state schools. The Daily Telegraph on 14 November said:

There is an irony about the background of officers, MPs and Ministers and what kind of school they attended. Given Major Joyce's criticism that senior officers were out of touch with people because so many of them went to public schools, it is ironic that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence and the Minister for Defence Procurement--50 per cent. of the Ministers in the MOD--attended public schools. So what? We judge Ministers on how competent they are, not by their background, and it seems ironic that Major Joyce should not have taken that into account.

By the end of 1997, Major Joyce had successfully and repeatedly contravened Queen's regulations, but the Lord Chancellor had intervened on his behalf, there had been sympathetic noises from the Secretary of State for Defence and the Major had been told that he could continue his career and publish a journal but that he had to refrain from further public utterances. A number of his friends would have said that that was a reasonable compromise and, in many respects, from his perspective, he had won a political victory.

At that point in the case, party politics raised its head. When Major Joyce published his Labour party pamphlet in August 1997, he was already known by many Army friends at Upavon as a supporter of the Labour party. Indeed, he had helped the party during the general election. He told people at Upavon that he had thought about standing as a Labour parliamentary candidate in Scotland. In response to a question, the then Minister for the Armed Forces admitted that he had met Major Joyce twice before the general election.

From the new year onwards, Major Joyce's activities became less covert and more overtly party political. Despite being told not to speak to the media, he was quoted in The Sunday Times on 1 February 1998 as saying that he was definitely new Labour. On 14 June 1998, The Sunday Times told us that Major Joyce had been selected for a shortlist of Labour candidates for the Scottish Parliament. Through parliamentary questions in the summer, I learned that, despite blatantly breaking Queen's regulations, which state that service personnel should not take an active part

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in party politics and should resign if they want to stand as parliamentary candidates, no application to resign had been received from Major Joyce.

In November, Major Joyce appeared on Scottish television, where he was named as speaking on behalf of the Scottish Labour party. We learned in The Times on 25 November 1998 that Major Joyce is to be summoned before the Army Board and might face administrative discharge. On 29 November, in The Sunday Times, a rather emotional Major Joyce said that he might well take his case to the European Court of Human Rights. At that point, he lost not only his script, but any support or sympathy that he might have received from service personnel.

I suspect that Major Joyce would like to portray himself as the "Upavon one" or a latter-day Captain Alfred Dreyfus. He is neither. Even when given the benefit of the doubt when he published his pamphlet, he had his own political agenda. As a serving officer, he has openly been a Labour party supporter and, for the past four months, he has been actively seeking to become a parliamentary candidate. Not only has he repeatedly and blatantly broken every agreement that he has ever made, but he has become party politically partisan. He is honour bound to leave the Army and pursue his political career.

The case not only raises fundamental questions about the armed services not becoming involved in party politics, but casts serious doubts on ministerial judgment. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) has written to the Secretary of State for Defence asking why Major Joyce has been able to flout the rules and regulations and openly participate in party politics. I know that the Minister took up his appointment only in the summer of this year, but I emphasise to him that many members of the armed services believe that Major Joyce has had "political top cover". That may not be true, but that is the impression among many service personnel.

I ask the House to consider what would have happened last year if a serving Army officer who had openly talked about becoming a Scottish National party candidate for the Scottish Parliament had written an article in a Scottish newspaper questioning the relevance of our nuclear deterrent. I suggest that he would have been out of the Army forthwith.

What would have happened this summer to a serving Army officer who intended being a Conservative Euro-candidate but who wrote an article for The Spectator criticising cuts in the Territorial Army? He would have been out. We know that for a fact because, in November, General Sir Michael Walker, Commander-in-Chief Land Command, wrote a letter warning all service men that, if they were caught leaking any information about the TA, they would be court-martialled. It seems that there is one rule for one act of indiscipline, and perhaps none for Major Joyce.

Ministers have got themselves into a mess. Service men are now somewhat bewildered about what they can and cannot do. There has been political interference in the Army by the Lord Chancellor. The Government are in danger of losing--

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