Mr. Mackinlay: Can my hon. Friend tell me whether, with regard to the miscellaneous provisions under part V, there has been an approach from the New Zealand House of Representatives or the New Zealand Government to use this measure to regularise the Act of Parliament that they passed in relation to British empire forces, over which only this Parliament can have jurisdiction? My hon. Friend will be aware that, to its eternal credit, the New Zealand Parliament unilaterally, but unconstitutionally, passed an Act of Parliament that could only be passed here to grant pardons to people in the Otago regiment who were executed in world war one. They were not New Zealand soldiers as such, but soldiers in the British empire forces over which, constitutionally, only this place has jurisdiction. In view of the fact that the New Zealand
Returning to schedule 7, I shall not dwell on the anomalies that the Bill is intended to rectify today, except to mention one. At present, of the children of members of the armed forces, only daughters are eligible to be married in service chapels. The Bill proposes that sons and stepchildren should also be eligible. I am sure that the House will welcome that modest liberalising measure.
At the beginning of my speech I referred to the excellence of this country's armed forces. I do not want to conclude without paying tribute to them in more explicit terms. Indeed, I am sure that all hon. Members will want to join me in acknowledging the part that our armed forces play in maintaining Britain's place and reputation on the international stage. Around the world, they have shown consistently that they can make a real and positive difference to people's lives. That is because our forces as institutions, and the people who serve in them, are second to none. The Bill continues to maintain their effectiveness. I commend it to the House.
Part IV would extend the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence police. We broadly welcome that, although we will want to examine in depth the interface between the MOD, Home Office and military police and how the proposals will affect those relationships. The alignment of the forces discipline procedures with those of Home Department police forces has taken a long time to achieve. We will need to ensure that the procedures will be satisfactory.
Those of us who served on the Committee on the previous quinquennial Bill, military lawyers and other defence buffs may have been under the impression that that was the whole purpose of the five-yearly armed forces Bill--and the Minister alluded to this. When civilian and military laws have got significantly out of kilter, the House redresses the balance through primary legislation. Sometimes the Secretary of State can use existing powers to remedy imbalances, which inevitably occur from time to time. However, clause 33 appears to change the whole process so that, rather than the House deciding every five years the extent to which military law and civilian law concur, the Secretary of State may, if he thinks fit, change military law by order to bring it into line with civilian law. I can think of circumstances where that might be sensible and beneficial; I can think of others where the reverse is the case. We will need to tease out Ministers' motives in seeking to make that change.
Clause 33 appears to encapsulate much of what the Chief of the Defence Staff flagged up in his presentation to the Royal United Services Institute last December. He ended that speech by warning that if we hamstring our fighting services with inadequate funding, poor equipment, undermanning and inappropriate legislation, we will create a generation of sailors, soldiers and airmen who are little more than a gendarmerie. He said:
Many people believe that, to ensure that Her Majesty's forces represent a cross-section of society, Ministers should impose changes on the military to ensure that they comply. We disagree. Such decisions should be for the chiefs of staff and the chain of command.
Some people believe that the argument about the emergence of a European defence force is only about north Atlantic power politics; it is not. It is also about the motives, the capability and the military effectiveness of our potential partners in the enterprise.
I note in passing that some hon. Members think we have an exclusive prerogative to express views on those subjects. Apparently, some of those with military experience--particularly if they hold senior ranks and are members of the royal family--should be excluded from commenting, even in private to their friends. I regret very much that the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) is not present. It had not crossed my mind for a moment that he would not be here, but I understand that he has had to run off to another BBC studio. We should not be surprised that the Liberal Democrats' official spokesman on foreign affairs and defence who, only last week, joined the Foreign Secretary in saying that our existing political culture is not conducive to consensus-building and that the adversarial approach to debate promotes polarisation of opinion, and who called for constructive discussions, was the same party politician who, just before Christmas, told the Prince of Wales "to mind his own bloody business" when he dared discuss defence issues at a private dinner party, the conversation at which was subsequently leaked.
Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): I am sure that if my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) had been aware that the hon. Gentleman would mention him in such detail during his opening remarks he would have ensured that he was here. In his defence--although he needs none from me--it is a constitutional point that the Prince of Wales of any day should not become involved in discussing party politics. I speak as a "friend" of His Royal Highness--[Interruption]--but the way in which His Royal Highness became involved was wrong.