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My first objection to the clause is that it is not modernising legislation; it simply translates the life
22 May 2006 : Column 1242
sentence from earlier legislation. As for my second objection, I respect the views that have been expressed—along with many others today, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) for bringing to the Chamber his professional experiences on the ground—but we should look again at the process for dealing with conscientious objection. The process that the hon. Gentleman described, as he has seen it, is not the process described in the evidence submitted to the Committee by the successor to the original consultative body, the Peace Pledge Union, which is meant to advise the Government on these matters. Its view is that the conscientious objection process as it stands is not accessible, does not give adequate information to individuals who wish to gain access to it, and therefore undermines the process overall.

The third issue, on which there is some agreement across the Committee, is the issue of severity. I think there is a general view that life imprisonment is currently the exception. I thought that we heard earlier from the Liberal Democrats that they did not support the inclusion in this clause of the sanction of life imprisonment. I should be grateful for clarification.

Nick Harvey: I said at the start of the debate that in almost no circumstances could I envisage life imprisonment being a suitable penalty. I agreed with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), who said earlier that we should have debated a provision that brought the life sentence punishment down to an intermediate level. Had there been such a provision, I could have supported it, but as we have heard, the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington would shift us toward a two-year sentence.

John McDonnell: Best to end when one is winning. The message for the Government is that a significant body of Members in Committee, regardless of party, believe that life imprisonment is a disproportionate sanction in such cases. [Interruption.] I said that a significant body agree; there will of course be others who disagree. I am not asking for consensus—yet.

The discussion has centred on the argument that this is a modern, volunteer and professional Army. My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham said that if it was a conscript Army, that would be a different matter altogether and life imprisonment most probably would not be appropriate. There is no difference between us, and if we ever move toward a conscript Army, we will need to debate the matter, because I agree that such a sentence would not be appropriate. However, a modern, volunteer, professional Army should not be motivated by fear of the sanction of life imprisonment, either.

This legislation fails to show a modern understanding of why people desert. They desert because of fear or trauma, or out of conscience, and we should accept that. We should not penalise them with life imprisonment; we should accept that it is a disproportionate sanction, not the appropriate one.

It has been argued that we cannot allow individual soldiers to exercise a right of veto over action, but the reverse is the case.

22 May 2006 : Column 1243

Mr. MacNeil rose—

John McDonnell: Let me finish this point. In human rights legislation, we require individual soldiers to exercise their own judgment as a duty. Mention has been made of Nuremberg, but this was an issue before then, and it goes well beyond Nuremberg. There is a duty placed on each of us, as individuals in a democratic society—but in particular on soldiers and members of the military—to exercise judgment about whether what we do is right and lawful. I reiterate the point that, whatever debates take place in this or any other Parliament, they do not override that individual duty.

Amendment No. 8 clarifies the situation concerning military occupation. More importantly, amendment No. 9 emphasises the fact that life imprisonment is a disproportionate sentence that does not relate to the reality of a modern Army—an Army that is based upon volunteers and professionals, and which, as we all agree, is in most instances motivated by moral courage. Such an Army should not be motivated by, or threatened by, fear of such a sanction. On that basis, I shall press amendment No. 9 to a Division. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 9, in page 5, line 18, leave out from ‘offence' to ‘must' in line 20. —[John McDonnell.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 19, Noes 442.
Division No. 245]
[6.14 pm


Austin, John
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Cohen, Harry
Corbyn, Jeremy
Etherington, Bill
Flynn, Paul
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Hosie, Stewart
Jones, Lynne
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
McDonnell, John
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Simpson, Alan
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Wishart, Pete
Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Neil Gerrard and
Kelvin Hopkins

Abbott, Ms Diane
Afriyie, Adam
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Alexander, Danny
Alexander, rh Mr. Douglas
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Austin, Mr. Ian
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Balls, Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Baron, Mr. John
Barrett, John
Bayley, Hugh
Bell, Sir Stuart
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benton, Mr. Joe
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Betts, Mr. Clive
Binley, Mr. Brian
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Bone, Mr. Peter
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Bottomley, Peter

Brady, Mr. Graham
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Breed, Mr. Colin
Brooke, Annette
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Browning, Angela
Bruce, Malcolm
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, Andy
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burt, Alistair
Burt, Lorely
Butler, Ms Dawn
Butterfill, Sir John
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Caton, Mr. Martin
Challen, Colin
Chaytor, Mr. David
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clark, Greg
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clegg, Mr. Nick
Clelland, Mr. David
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Conway, Derek
Cook, Frank
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, Yvette
Cousins, Jim
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cruddas, Jon
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Curry, rh Mr. David
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs. Claire
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice and Howden)
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine
Drew, Mr. David
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Farrelly, Paul
Farron, Tim
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Field, Mr. Mark
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, Caroline
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Don
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Francois, Mr. Mark
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Gilroy, Linda
Goldsworthy, Julia
Goodman, Helen
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Grayling, Chris
Greening, Justine
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hall, Patrick
Hammond, Stephen
Hancock, Mr. Mike
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harris, Mr. Tom
Harvey, Nick
Havard, Mr. Dai
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Healey, John
Heath, Mr. David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Henderson, Mr. Doug
Hendry, Charles
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Herbert, Nick
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia

Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hillier, Meg
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Holmes, Paul
Hope, Phil
Horam, Mr. John
Howarth, David
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hunter, Mark
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Glenda
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Mr. David
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Kawczynski, Daniel
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keetch, Mr. Paul
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kennedy, rh Mr. Charles
Kennedy, rh Jane
Khabra, Mr. Piara S.
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lamb, Norman
Lammy, Mr. David
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Lepper, David
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Loughton, Tim
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Luff, Peter
MacDougall, Mr. John
Mackinlay, Andrew
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Marris, Rob
Marshall, Mr. David
Martlew, Mr. Eric
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonagh, Siobhain
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McFall, rh Mr. John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
McNulty, Mr. Tony
Meale, Mr. Alan
Mercer, Patrick
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, Edward
Miller, Andrew
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Moore, Mr. Michael
Moran, Margaret
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Morley, Mr. Elliot
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, Mr. George
Mulholland, Greg
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Oaten, Mr. Mark
Olner, Mr. Bill
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, Mr. George
Osborne, Sandra
Owen, Albert
Paice, Mr. James
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Prescott, rh Mr. John

Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pritchard, Mark
Prosser, Gwyn
Pugh, Dr. John
Purnell, James
Rammell, Bill
Randall, Mr. John
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Rennie, Willie
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, John
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Rogerson, Mr. Dan
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Ruddock, Joan
Ruffley, Mr. David
Russell, Bob
Russell, Christine
Ryan, Joan
Salter, Martin
Scott, Mr. Lee
Seabeck, Alison
Selous, Andrew
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Sheridan, Jim
Simmonds, Mark
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Slaughter, Mr. Andrew
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Smith, John
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline
Spink, Bob
Stanley, rh Sir John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Stewart, Ian
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swinson, Jo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Tami, Mark
Taylor, David
Taylor, Matthew
Teather, Sarah
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Thurso, John
Timms, Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Twigg, Derek
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Ussher, Kitty
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Vaz, Keith
Viggers, Peter
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Webb, Steve
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Williams, Mr. Roger
Williams, Stephen
Willott, Jenny
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Winterton, Ms Rosie
Woodward, Mr. Shaun
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Jeremy
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Michael Foster and
Huw Irranca-Davies
Question accordingly negatived.
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22 May 2006 : Column 1245

22 May 2006 : Column 1246

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 9 to 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

22 May 2006 : Column 1247

Clause 35

Annoyance by Flying

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

6.30 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I want to raise a small technical point that has arisen since our lengthy discussions in the Select Committee. I want to express some of my concerns, and those of others involved in flying activity, about the clause. The provision states:

We can all conceive of a great many people who would consider any form of flying as an annoyance, so the number of prosecutions could be extensive. In the Select Committee, I was assured that no such prosecution would lie unless the conditions set out in paragraphs (b) and (c) of subsection (1) applied, in particular that the person flew recklessly or intentionally to annoy.

It is important that the Royal Air Force has protection for its low-flying training, which is critical so that our pilots can be trained to carry out the operations that they have undertaken with such spectacular and conspicuous gallantry and effectiveness. If they cannot fly low without the risk of arraignment, the provisions are not right. I am assured by people well-versed technically in such matters that RAF pilots are safe.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): They are safe from prosecution.

Mr. Howarth: We have it from the lips of the Secretary of State so I hope that message will go out to all RAF pilots—

Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): And the Fleet Air Arm.

Patrick Mercer: And the Army Air Corps.

Mr. Howarth: Indeed. I can assure my hon. Friend that I am about to speak at greater length about the Army Air Corps.

An ex-military aviator—a soldier of 35 years’ standing, who is now the airfield manager at Middle Wallop, but has 5,000 hours as a helicopter pilot in the Army Air Corps—has drawn to my attention an anomaly in paragraph (b), which deals with punishments. An officer guilty of causing an annoyance by flying can be punished only by loss of seniority or by a fine, but a non-commissioned officer may be sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. As many Members know, the pilots of the Army Air Corps are predominantly NCOs, as was the case in the RAF during the second world war, although not nowadays. It has been suggested that the penalty for a proven offence may discriminate against NCOs in the Army Air Corps. Can the Minister comment on that? I realise that that may be difficult as he is new to his post.

22 May 2006 : Column 1248

Mr. Watson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his eagle-eyed egalitarianism. Perhaps I could describe the clause, which preserves a long-standing offence whose effect remains unchanged. It operates where a service pilot flies an aircraft in such a way that he annoys, or is likely to annoy, any person but he could reasonably have avoided doing so. Intent, recklessness or negligence by the pilot in relation to the annoyance caused must also be proved.

Unlike the offence of low flying, the annoyance offence can be committed where the pilot is flying the aircraft in accordance with regulations and in an authorised flight plan. For example, the last RAF prosecution, which was in 1996, involved a pilot who was authorised to fly low in a particular area. He flew over his parents’ house several times, allegedly, and understandably, causing annoyance to their neighbours. The offence is considered to serve a valuable purpose in deterring such conduct, which might bring the services into disrepute with the general public.

I recognise the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. If it is an issue, perhaps we can revisit it in another place if we have to do so.

Mr. Howarth: I am grateful to the Minister for that sympathetic view. He said that in addition to the annoyance there has to be an intentionally reckless or negligent aspect. It is important that it is understood that those conditions must apply, too.

I am grateful to the Minister for his willingness to look at the point relating to the Army Air Corps. Perhaps it could be considered when the Bill goes to another place.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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