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Mr. Spellar: I will write to the hon. Gentleman about that. As I said in my statement, part of the assessment that we are undertaking involves the latency of possible impacts and the time scale within which leukaemia may be expected to appear from any possible causation. From studies of the various related groups who were affected by radioactive dust, that does not seem to increase the incidence of leukaemia, but we are conducting further work in that regard, and we are mindful of the delays that can take place. I will look into the detail of the provisions and write to the hon. Gentleman.


The following Member took and subscribed the Oath:

Eric Joyce Esq., for Falkirk, West.

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Points of Order

4.24 pm

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on a point of order of which I have given you some advance notice. As you will know, it relates to the conduct of yesterday's first Programming Sub-Committee of the Vehicles (Crime) Bill. Specifically, a number of my hon. Friends and I, and the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell), were gravely concerned to discover two facts at that meeting yesterday. I recognise that it might not be possible to give an immediate ruling, but some guidance would be appreciated.

The first fact is that we were told that the meeting was along the lines of a Select Committee, with no verbatim account of the meeting's proceedings or even a set of minutes, although it was not clear that there was any evidence in the Sessional Orders that it was to be constituted as a Select Committee and there was no resolution of the House to that effect.

Secondly, we were told that, on the principle of the model of a Select Committee meeting without a witness, the proceedings were to be held in private, although, again, there was no evidence as to why that is so.

Furthermore, we were very concerned because a Minister, a shadow Minister and two Whips were on the Sub-Committee. That did not seem coincidental and bore no resemblance to a Select Committee, but rather to a Standing Committee of which the Programming Sub-Committee was a sub-set.

Given that the Sessional Orders, part I, section C (3), specify that all members of the Sub-Committee should be members of the Bill Committee, it is clear that there is no resemblance whatever to a Select Committee. I and my hon. Friends should much appreciate guidance, on the

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basis of that arrangement, on when and where and under whose authority it was approved, and whether it is up for consideration in the future.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to give me some notice of the matter. Perhaps I can look into his point relating to membership. On his other points, it is the practice of the House that proceedings of Business Sub-Committees under Standing Order No. 120 are analogous to those of a Select Committee. While deliberating, therefore, Business Sub-Committees sit in private. Programming Sub-Committees under the Sessional Order should, in logic, follow the same rules as their task is similar.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Another matter that arises concerns the motion offered to such a Programming Sub-Committee by the Government and any opportunity, or lack of it, by other members of the Sub-Committee to submit amendments. Could you give some consideration to whether ground rules should be laid down as to the notice given of such a resolution and, therefore, the opportunity given for hon. Members properly to submit amendments, preferably in writing, so that the Sub-Committee can give the matter proper consideration? That seems so far not to have been the case.

Mr. Speaker: Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to think about that matter.


Capital Allowances

Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by Mr. Secretary Byers, Mr. Andrew Smith, Dawn Primarolo, Mr. Stephen Timms and Miss Melanie Johnson, presented a Bill to restate, with minor changes, certain enactments relating to capital allowances: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 10].

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Orders of the Day

Armed Forces Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

4.28 pm

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill is principally concerned with the statutory framework for the system of discipline in the armed forces. That system of discipline is an essential ingredient of operational effectiveness. For everyone in the armed forces, that is axiomatic.

In civil society, the vital importance of discipline is perhaps not so readily understood. However, while even in the Ministry of Defence Machiavelli is not everyone's role model, we would do well to heed his observation that

We take it for granted in this country that our forces are disciplined. We also take their excellence for granted. Those two statements are intimately and inextricably linked. It is Parliament's responsibility to ensure that the disciplinary framework remains fixed for the vital purpose of contributing to that excellence.

The statutory bases for discipline in the armed forces are the Army and Air Force Acts of 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957--the service discipline Acts. Those have to be renewed every five years; otherwise they would expire. The single most important purpose of the Armed Forces Bill is to effect that renewal.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): I have often suspected that Machiavelli may be at work in the Ministry of Defence, but I accept the Minister's personal assurance that that is not so. However, what progress has been made in the Ministry on the question of combining the three service discipline Acts in a single Act? The increase in joint operations must surely make it desirable that there should be one code of discipline covering all three armed services.

Mr. Spellar: The right hon. and learned Gentleman is suffering from premature intervention. I shall deal with his question a little later.

The service discipline Acts were last renewed by the Armed Forces Act 1996, and are due to expire at the end of the year--hence the need to introduce the Bill in the current parliamentary Session. When passed into law, the Bill will give the Acts a further five-year lease of life. If that was all the Bill was seeking to achieve, it would not, of course, run to 41 clauses. However, like previous five-yearly armed forces Bills, this Bill proposes a number of changes to the existing legislation, mostly to the service discipline Acts, which need to be kept up to date. That is not out of modishness--something to which service discipline should never be susceptible--but for a variety of sound reasons.

Introducing a Bill every five years and generally having little expectation of any other legislative opportunity in between is a useful discipline, albeit of a different kind, for the armed forces and the Ministry of Defence. It spurs

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us to review our procedures which, of course, can lead to the conclusion that some adjustments may be necessary, not for their own sake but to make the system work better. Although the services are operating an essentially separate justice system, we need to keep an eye on developments in the civilian system, but not so that we can then slavishly copy it. There will necessarily remain key differences in the two systems, given their different purposes.

However, for many procedures relating to the investigation, trial and punishment of offences, it is right that we should aim to keep in step with developments in the civilian system, since many of them are designed to secure the proper balance between the rights and duties of the prosecution and the accused, and it is appropriate that, when possible and relevant, those should be reflected in the armed forces' procedures. It has been the policy of successive Administrations that that should be so.

Much of the Bill is therefore about bringing service procedures more closely into line with those in the civilian system. I shall now describe the main proposals in the Bill, but I hope the House will understand that time will not allow me to cover them all. We propose that the Bill be committed to a Select Committee, as is normal with these five-yearly Bills, and I am confident that the detail of the Bill will then receive the customary close attention.

Clause 1 allows the life of the service discipline Acts to be extended for a further five years, until the end of 2006. As now, that will be subject to annual renewal in the intervening period by the affirmative continuation orders debated in both Houses. The present legislation serves the armed forces well. It works, but it can still be improved. One area where we believe that to be the case relates to the administration of discipline in the growing joint service environment, to which the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) alluded. That area needs a new legislative framework, which is why the Government have made clear their commitment to moving from the three present Acts to a single piece of discipline legislation.

We aim to have the necessary legislation ready for introduction as part of the five-yearly Bill that we expect to be introduced in the 2005-06 Session. I realise that that will cause some understandable disappointment. However, it should be recognised that it will be no small task to produce a new Act covering the needs of all three services. Indeed, the strategic defence review White Paper, which proposed the tri-service Act, stated that it

It was recognised from the outset that that could not be achieved in time for the current quinquennial Bill.

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