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Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): This has been a fascinating debate. It is to the great credit of the House that it has been able to conduct such an informed and well-argued debate despite the fact that this 375-clause, 250-page, 15-schedule Bill was made available to us only 10 days ago and the explanatory notes only last week. The debate has been better than we might have anticipated.

In a spirit of generosity, I thank the Under-Secretary for making available himself and his Bill team to brief some hon. Members last Thursday. I should like to add to the compliments that have been extended already to those in the Bill team for the work that they have done. However, it is worth making the point that the Government have had a long time in which to prepare the Bill, that the Defence Select Committee has not had a draft of the Bill and that the Opposition have had even less time.

However, we have had a good debate with a lot of contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) welcomed the proposals on the redress of grievances, but she did not think that they went far enough. She, like many other hon. Members who have spoken today, supports the reinstatement of the annual review.

The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) broadly supports the Bill. He was concerned that we must not undermine the armed forces. Nevertheless, he thought that a few provisions might be needed that some hon. Members might feel would lead to that effect. He, too, is in favour of an annual review.
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The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), with whom I had the privilege of serving on the Defence Committee of which he was an assiduous member, argued the case for creating an independent commission, which is very much in line with what the Select Committee has been proposing.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot)—a former distinguished Minister for Defence Procurement, now the even more distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence—faithfully argued the cause espoused by his Committee in saying that he wanted an independent commission and an annual report, two things of which the Committee has been strongly in favour. He drew on his own experience of the Mull of Kintyre issue as evidence to support his case.

My right hon. Friend made an interesting point about the tri-service nature of the Bill. It is accepted that a 50 per cent. increase in courts martial is likely in respect of the Royal Navy, as a result of the changes to that service. As a number of right hon. and hon. Members have pointed out, the Royal Navy is the service that is most affected by the proposals. A matter of keen further debate in the Select Committee is likely to be whether we have got the arrangements right and whether the prize of harmonisation, as Captain Crabtree described it in evidence to the Defence Committee, is worth the price that is being paid by the Royal Navy. The jury is out on that issue, and we must examine it in more detail later.

My right hon. Friend drew further on the importance of the Defence Committee being represented on the Committee that will consider the Bill, and I am sure that that will be the case.

The hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) duly praised the Select Committee—always a good start—expressed her concern for the parents who have lost their children as a result of tragedies in the armed services and referred to the need to remove what she called the stain of Deepcut. I do not intend to dwell very much on the Deepcut issue, but I am well aware that it is of very great concern on both sides of the House. Of course, Deepcut lies just over the border of my constituency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) made a very spirited contribution. I am extremely grateful to him for the very detailed work that he has done on the Bill and for drawing my attention to clause 35, on annoyance by flying. As an aviator, I have to say that he is absolutely right about the risks that the Royal Air Force could be exposed to by a literal interpretation of that clause. I am sure that that matter will be explored in even greater detail—it certainly will be if I have anything to do with it because, as I read it, even in Farnborough, I have constituents who are likely to be annoyed by anything that flies in the air, and I am sure that the situation is even worse in other constituencies. I think that we will have to revisit that one. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend noticed this, but interestingly enough the penalty for a person found guilty of the
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offence would be up to and including dismissal from the service. There is thus a pretty draconian penalty attached to the offence.

My hon. Friend drew attention to the crucial role of chaplains. As a churchwarden of the Royal Garrison church in Aldershot, I have the privilege of working with military chaplains. It is entirely right and proper to put on the record the fantastic work that is being done by chaplains, especially Army chaplains, in the difficult theatre of Iraq.

The hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) welcomed the tri-service aspect of the Bill. He wants it to restore morale, which he says has taken a knock on the question of whether a military or civilian approach should apply.

I was sorry that I missed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). I gather that he made a typically trenchant speech, and he certainly gave me encouragement during my earlier interventions. He apparently said that behind the Bill lies what he called an ugly trend of civilianising the armed services, and he was right to issue such a warning. He also expressed concern about removing the powers of commanding officers, which is a matter to which I hope to return in a moment. I gather that he would like us to vote against the Bill on Third Reading, but that will depend on the progress that is made during the Select Committee proceedings.

John Reid: On the speech made by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), may I clear up something that he has repeated several times that is factually inaccurate? It is not for us to comment in any way on the merits of a case before the courts. However, it is quite wrong to suggest that the charges laid against Colonel Mendonca arise from the International Criminal Court Act 2001—they do not. They arise from section 29A of the Army Act 1955. The offences of which the soldiers are charged in the case pre-exist the International Criminal Court Act because inhumane treatment has been in English law since the adoption of the Geneva conventions into English law in 1957. Manslaughter has been in English law for decades. The fact that the offences were rolled into the International Criminal Court Act does not mean that they were introduced by that Act. I want to place the factual record before hon. Members because there has been repeated inadvertent misleading of the House on the matter.

Mr. Howarth: I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has noted the Secretary of State's comments. Obviously, I was not in the Chamber when my hon. Friend made his speech.

Mr. Brazier: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Howarth: I will be delighted to give way to my hon. Friend in a moment, but may I tell the Secretary of State that in the briefing—I am sorry to make the point again that we had no other briefing—titled "Background to the Forthcoming Armed Forces Bill", the House of Commons Library, to which people have
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rightly paid tribute, referred to the case of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment and the Intelligence Corps? The briefing said:

Mr. Howarth rose—

John Reid: There is nothing inconsistent between that and my accurate description of the fact that the offences of inhumane treatment and manslaughter for which charges were brought were of long standing in English law—both military and civilian—and existed long before the International Criminal Court Act 2001. In the case of Colonel Mendonca, the charges were brought under section 29A of the Army Act 1955. That is the accurate position. It is up to hon. Members to regret, perhaps, that the offences were incorporated in the International Criminal Court Act, or that the Act was passed, but it is quite wrong to imply that the offences would not have been extant in English law if the Act had not been in force. They would have been in law under the Army Act, English law and the Geneva conventions that were brought into our law in 1957—incidentally, under a Conservative Government.

Mr. Howarth: I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has heard that. He might wish to intervene.

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