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Some weeks ago, the judge looked over his desk to counsel for the MOD and asked whether counsel would like to reflect on the matter and return in January. We need to know what the Secretary of State is thinking. I raise the issue now because I believe that the Bill's long title, and clause 151, give me an opportunity to table amendments giving effect to a private Member's Bill that I have tabled in the past—it commanded support from all parts of the House—to grant a posthumous pardon to those 300-odd soldiers who were executed during the first world war. It would be much better if Her Majesty's Government took the initiative on this matter. To anyone who says that they will not do so, I have to say that, for reasons that I shall explain, they are thinking about it again.

The New Zealand Parliament has unilaterally granted pardons to members of the Otago Regiment who were executed. Strictly speaking, in respect of our constitution, that is constitutionally irregular. The only Government or Parliament with responsibility for this issue is based at Westminster, because it applies to what were British empire forces. To its credit, I believe, the New Zealand House of Representatives in Wellington decided unilaterally to grant pardons.

The third point—the first being the Harry Farr case, to which the Secretary of State will have to respond in the not too distant future, and the second being the New Zealand case—relates to the Taoiseach who, more than a year ago, made a submission to the Ministry of Defence, arguing that the Irish soldiers among the 300 should be pardoned. Given that the Secretary of State for Defence, when he was Minister of State for Defence, stood before Parliament and said, "No, regrettably, it cannot be done", one might think that he would have sent off a letter to Dublin saying the same thing. However, he has not done so, as I have ascertained from a parliamentary question during the last couple of weeks. The reply said that a response would be given to the Government of the Irish Republic in due course.

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The Under-Secretary, currently in his place, has some competence in this matter. I hope that he will not consider it offensive for me to say it, but when I approached him about this matter informally, he suggested that dealing with it was above his pay grade. I can understand that and I took it that he was not necessarily unsympathetic, but I expect someone somewhere to respond to the issue. A response must be given to the Irish Republic—[Interruption.] I see the Secretary of State assuming his place. From the bottom of my heart, I hope that he will accept that a compelling case has been made and that public opinion has not abated but grown in support of granting pardons. Consistent with "Erskine May" and our Standing Orders, I believe that either the Bill can be amended to provide for pardons for the 300 or we can establish an independent review panel, as distinct from the Secretary of State, to look into the cases. Now would be great opportunity for him to acknowledge that he is considering the matter.

John Reid: I listened to my hon. Friend's contribution from my office while I was attending another meeting. He will know that, seven years ago, I spent 15 months examining these 306 cases. In 114 cases, I read the files myself. I came up against an apparently immovable obstacle to the granting of a legal pardon. My hon. Friend will also know that I interpreted and extended the word "pardon" to mean forgiveness and understanding. I allowed the names of people who were executed to be put back into memorials and cenotaphs, I abolished the death penalty and I went as far as I could without making a specifically legal case. As I understand it, I am now being asked to consider not a full pardon, but a conditional pardon relating to the sentence. When that matter reaches me, I will reflect on it seriously, but I cannot give my hon. Friend any guarantee that, while looking at the issue sympathetically, I will be any more successful than I was last time.

Andrew Mackinlay: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that and I hope that he will understand how strongly I feel about this matter. What he said seems to me to leave the door slightly open. He was clearly referring to the court case of Harry Farr, but he cannot ignore the fact that the Taoiseach wrote a formal submission about a year and a half ago. Clearly, the Irish Government expect, and are entitled to expect, a reply in respect of what are loosely called "the Irish soldiers"—soldiers among the 306 who fought in the Irish regiments.

I acknowledge the Secretary of State's work in personally reviewing those cases, but I invite him to consider setting up a judicial inquiry, or appointing a judge or someone of that category to review those cases, rather than a Minister. [Interruption.] I have to say to those Members who consider this a matter of levity that there is growing and widespread support in this country for such an idea. We should not deal with this issue just because it is popular, but the fact remains that it is, and I intend—if I am able to do so—to table amendments relating to it, unless the Secretary of State decides, in the spirit of what has been said, to take it on board himself.
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9 pm

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), who can be counted on to find a royal angle in most Bills that come before us—congratulations to him on that.

As has been said, this Bill is the most radical revision of military law in almost 50 years, and the Bill team and the Minister should be congratulated on introducing this ambitious set of measures. It provides an opportunity to restore public confidence in the military justice system, which, as we have heard, has been called into question, whether as a result of allegations of abuse in Iraq or at home. Cases have collapsed and some have taken years to be brought to trial; others have been closed because of the inadequacy of the initial investigation. Several successful challenges have been made, moreover, to the military justice system in the European Court of Human Rights.

Whether we are idealists or realists, it is our responsibility as a society, as the Secretary of State said, to find a new consensus on the military justice system that all can unite behind. I should like to propose two general principles. In a modern democratic society, it is no longer acceptable for the military to investigate itself behind closed doors. Secondly, there has to be a timely and effective public investigation by an independent official body, and defendants and victims' families must be kept informed throughout the entire process. We can argue about how to put those principles into action in the particular operational context of military law, but they are the basic ones that I want to propose for our deliberations.

Many elements of the Bill are to be welcomed. It places a clear duty on commanding officers to ensure that cases are appropriately investigated, and it requires that service police be informed about serious cases and that they refer them to an independent director of service prosecutions, who may come from a civilian background. Those important measures are to be welcomed and they are in line with the general trend. In 1996, the previous Conservative Government created Army and other prosecuting authorities that were independent of the chain of command, and this Bill makes some important changes to the role of commanding officers.

As we have heard, however, there is continuing concern about the grievance procedures. The Bill provides a streamlined grievance procedure for members of the armed forces, but it is not clear that it provides one for their relatives or for civilians affected by military action, whether at home or abroad. There is a modernised system for internal service inquiries, but where in the Bill is provision made for an independent inquiry into matters of public concern? Although the Bill continues the trend toward greater independence, it is at its weakest on grievance procedures.

On the commanding officer's role, human rights lawyers have claimed that more than 20 inquiries into alleged abuse have been blocked by Army commanders. It would be useful to have some information on the number of alleged serious offences that have been
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dismissed at a commanding officer's request. There certainly appears in at least one case to be prima facie evidence of

That is not my contention; I am quoting directly from the Attorney-General's letter to the then Secretary of State for Defence. Indeed, the Attorney-General went on to say:

the commanding officer's powers—

It therefore appears that there is a strong case for the proposed changes to the commanding officer's role.

Other concerns have been expressed by the Attorney-General and others about the quality of initial investigations. We are told that at least six prosecutions have collapsed because of inadequate investigations, and we have also heard about the case of seven members of the Parachute Regiment. We should remember that in that case the judge found that there might be

the victim in question—

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