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Mr. Kevan Jones: I, too, visited the Coldstream Guards, and undertook other such visits relating to the
22 May 2006 : Column 1280
Bill with the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth). In my four visits to Iraq and on the various visits that I undertook with the Select Committee, I did not come across anyone—be it an infantry person or someone in a more senior position—who said that they were risk-averse in the way that has been described. Unfortunately, even when evidence is put before the hon. Gentleman, he cannot come to terms with it.

Mr. Watson: The only example that I have seen of someone being prepared to go on the record on this issue is Lord Boyce.

Let me try to reassure the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) with another quotation about the rules of engagement:

Those are the words of the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key), who, sadly, cannot be here tonight. They are on his website, and if I can feel reassured by those words, I hope that the hon. Member for Aldershot can.

Mr. Howarth: I think that there has been a slight misunderstanding. There is no dispute about the nature of the rules of engagement. Indeed, one of our proposals was to include them in the Bill, so that compliance with them would be sufficient protection against prosecution. There are certain issues in that regard, which I have raised with the hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), but the serious question is whether people will be prosecuted. Concern that they might have exceeded the rules of engagement could damage them psychologically and affect their ability to be operationally effective; at worst, it could risk their losing their lives.

Mr. Watson: That concern is obviously not borne out by the hon. Member for Salisbury. The Coldstream Guards to whom I talked last week did not share it, either, so the hon. Member for Aldershot and I will have to disagree on this issue.

Mr. Brazier: My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) quoted the survey leaked by The Sunday Telegraph. Does the Minister believe that that survey was properly founded? Why did that survey have to be leaked? When we had a Conservative Government, the regular surveys of a range of attitudes were available at any time on request by Members.

8.45 pm

Mr. Watson: The hon. Gentleman will know that I cannot comment on that survey. I have not seen it and, if it was leaked, we do not comment on leaked documents. However, I will try to review the press article after the debate and if I can learn something from it I will contact him.

The hon. Member for Aldershot made several points about the role of the prosecuting authority and the
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commanding officer. I know that he has expressed concern that if a serious offence were alleged, it would be investigated by the service police and the case passed to the service prosecuting authority without an opportunity for the commanding officer to explain the service context to the prosecuting authority. In fact, the Bill will not substantially change the present position, which hon. Members seek to preserve. I do not underestimate the seriousness with which hon. Members have made the point, but the service police will of course be able to consult the CO.

I shall explain why the concerns expressed, especially by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), are not founded. He said that the Bill would strip away a statutory obligation. To take the Army as an example, nothing in the Army Act 1955 provides a right for COs or higher authority to submit a report to the Army Prosecuting Authority setting out the military circumstances that prevailed. That right is covered by regulation.

Mr. Brazier: We are now in a much more litigious era, with a well-briefed enemy who is clever at working out fresh ways to make life difficult for our armed forces. The Bill will change the situation from one in which the CO has the powers to dismiss charges to one in which he is merely expected to be consulted. The Minister and his predecessor have been happy to make promises on the Floor of the House, so what is stopping the Government providing the comfort of putting them in the Bill?

Mr. Watson: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s argument—he has made it on three or four occasions. I shall try to answer that point. At present, there is provision in regulations for the commanding officer to submit to higher authority any information in his possession, in addition to other details, which—in his opinion—may be material to the institution of court martial or other proceedings. The higher authority is required to forward that material to the prosecuting authority when forwarding a case from the commanding officer. What use it makes of that information, if any, is entirely a matter for the prosecuting authority.

Under the Bill, there is no prohibition on commanding officers providing the same information as they do now. They will be aware of police investigations and we would expect a similar provision to be in the regulations made under the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) said to the Select Committee, we acknowledge that in such cases a commanding officer may have valuable information that could assist the director in the test that he must apply before proceeding to charge individuals. A commanding officer will have to be made aware of such a case, because it will affect one of his people and the operational efficiency of his unit. Written guidance will set out the standard operating procedures under which the service police will be obliged to act in that regard. Even now, the service police send daily reports to commanding officers notifying them of all cases that they have begun to investigate. Notifying them of a case that has gone
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directly to the prosecuting authority will be a matter of course and we do not need to legislate for that process.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: One benefit of these proceedings is that all those comments are being written into the record, but I cannot understand why the Minister and his advisers are so loth to put something prescriptive into the Bill when they are perfectly prepared to include the words:

Why not put on the face of the Bill that the commanding officer shall be informed of the outcome of the investigation, or that the commanding officer may—permissive, not mandatory—inform the director of service prosecutions of the military context?

Mr. Watson: There is no need to include such a provision, as I shall explain. It is inconceivable that a commanding officer would not want to take up their right to submit circumstances to a prosecuting authority.

In the remaining time available, I want to deal with some of the more detailed points that the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) made so powerfully. He spoke of the need for powers to deal with serious offences during operations, which is probably the most serious point in our debate on these matters. Perhaps my explanation of the current situation will inform his conclusions in the Lobby later.

UK forces developed a shooting investigation policy for high-tempo operations in Iraq that was so successful that they adopted the same model in Afghanistan. It has led to fewer but better targeted service police investigations. It allows COs to decide that there is no suggestion of an offence and to delay service police investigation until the operational tempo permits it. Nothing in the Bill is inconsistent with that procedure.

Under the Bill, the CO will still have to make the service police aware of serious offences as soon as is possible and reasonably practicable. I hope that that assures the hon. Gentleman that we will not draw people away from high-tempo operations during important tours of duty.

Patrick Mercer: The Minister has generously answered my point, as far as it goes. I am grateful for his indication that it is at the heart of the debate, because the crux of the matter is that in operational circumstances such as those which prevailed for the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, the case of Trooper Williams, until it was satisfactorily dealt with—by the CO in that case—seriously worried the rest of the regiment and caused operational ineffectiveness. If the powers to deal with such things during high-tempo operations were stripped away from COs, it could interfere with the operational effectiveness of units at that level.

Mr. Watson: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I would rather not be drawn into discussion of the case of Trooper Williams, which is extremely detailed. The
22 May 2006 : Column 1283
point that I was trying to make is that we will not be drawing people away from their immediate operational effectiveness.

I cannot comment on individual cases, but I suspect that one feature of the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Canterbury was the delay in resolving the matter. Service chiefs and all members of the armed forces share concern about such delays. The regime that we are introducing will ensure that matters that ought to go to the prosecuting authority move far more quickly than at present. The closer relationship between the service police and the prosecuting authority should help to improve the quality of the investigation. All those factors will contribute to reducing such delays.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that the clause would prevent service police from consulting a CO.

Mr. Brazier: I did not suggest that the clause would prevent service police from consulting COs, but that it says that they should refer a case directly, which means that they could shove it on without consulting the CO.

Mr. Watson: Let me explain what currently happens. The clause will not prevent any service police from consulting the CO about the case in deciding whether there is sufficient evidence of an offence before sending the case to the director of service prosecutions. Where the service context is relevant to whether an offence has been committed, the service police not only may, but should, ensure that they understand that context. However, if they decide that there is sufficient evidence, the CO should not be able to stop the DSP considering the case.

I have tried to answer as many of the detailed points about the clause as I possibly can. Obviously, I will review Hansard tomorrow, and if I can help hon. Members further when I have looked at it, I will. With those assurances, I vainly attempt to reassure the hon. Member for Aldershot that the clause is not worth dividing the Committee.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I made it clear at the outset, as did my hon. Friends, that the clause goes to the heart of the Bill and reflects some of the most significant changes to our procedures under the existing individual service Acts. We have sought not only to set out some of the concerns that we feel exist, but to make the case that if the Government feel so strongly that what we are saying is already current practice, it ought to be stated in the Bill.

I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Gentleman on his first outing as the Minister, but I feel very strongly about the issue. I have made the case in the Select Committee, I have the support of my hon. Friends, and we are disappointed that the Government feel unable to make such a change or, indeed, to offer us any possible change, not even further consideration before the Bill goes to another place. Therefore, I am afraid to say—with no personal disrespect to the Minister—that I am not satisfied and that I will invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the clause standing part of the Bill.

22 May 2006 : Column 1284

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. I am not clear whether that was an intervention.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Sir Michael, can I help?

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. Has the Minister finished his contribution?

Mr. Watson indicated assent.

The Second Deputy Chairman: I see.

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

The House divided: Ayes 323, Noes 122.
Division No. 246]


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Alexander, Danny
Alexander, rh Mr. Douglas
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Austin, Mr. Ian
Austin, John
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Balls, Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barrett, John
Battle, rh John
Bayley, Hugh
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Breed, Mr. Colin
Brooke, Annette
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Bruce, Malcolm
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, Andy
Burt, Lorely
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Caton, Mr. Martin
Challen, Colin
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Cook, Frank
Cooper, Rosie
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs. Claire
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Drew, Mr. David
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Farrelly, Paul
Farron, Tim
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Don
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda

Goldsworthy, Julia
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hall, Patrick
Hancock, Mr. Mike
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr. Tom
Harvey, Nick
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, John
Heath, Mr. David
Henderson, Mr. Doug
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hillier, Meg
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Hosie, Stewart
Howarth, David
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hunter, Mark
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keetch, Mr. Paul
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kennedy, rh Jane
Khabra, Mr. Piara S.
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
MacDougall, Mr. John
Mackinlay, Andrew
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Marshall, Mr. David
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, John
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McFall, rh Mr. John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, Mr. Tony
Meale, Mr. Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, rh David
Miliband, Edward
Miller, Andrew
Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Moore, Mr. Michael
Moran, Margaret
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Morley, Mr. Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, Mr. Jim
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, Sandra
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Prescott, rh Mr. John
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Pugh, Dr. John
Purnell, James
Rammell, Bill
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Rennie, Willie
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Rogerson, Mr. Dan
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank

Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob
Russell, Christine
Ryan, Joan
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Seabeck, Alison
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Short, rh Clare
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Alan
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andrew
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Swinson, Jo
Tami, Mark
Taylor, David
Teather, Sarah
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Timms, Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Twigg, Derek
Ussher, Kitty
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Webb, Steve
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Stephen
Willott, Jenny
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, Ms Rosie
Wishart, Pete
Woodward, Mr. Shaun
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. John Heppell and
Steve McCabe

Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baron, Mr. John
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Binley, Mr. Brian
Bone, Mr. Peter
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Browning, Angela
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burt, Alistair
Butterfill, Sir John
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clark, Greg
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Conway, Derek
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Field, Mr. Mark
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francois, Mr. Mark
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gray, Mr. James
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Horam, Mr. John
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael

Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Mercer, Patrick
Milton, Anne
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Paice, Mr. James
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pritchard, Mark
Randall, Mr. John
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Ruffley, Mr. David
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Syms, Mr. Robert
Tredinnick, David
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Wright, Jeremy
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Tellers for the Noes:

Angela Watkinson and
Mr. Crispin Blunt
Question accordingly agreed to.
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