Select Committee on Defence First Report


1. The Armed Forces Bill, introduced in the House of Commons on 30 November 2005, replaces and consolidates the three existing Service Discipline Acts (SDA). The SDA provide statutory authority for the UK's system of military law and require renewal by primary legislation every five years.[1] This Armed Forces Bill differs from its predecessors in that it harmonises and consolidates the system of military law into a unified and cohesive Tri-Service system, which was recommended by the 1998 Strategic Defence Review.[2]

2. Following Second Reading it is proposed that the Bill will be committed to a specially appointed select committee, which will take evidence on the substance of the Bill, scrutinise the detail of the legislation, and make such amendments as it thinks necessary.[3]

3. Previous Defence Committees have contributed to parliamentary scrutiny of military law both through their own inquiries and through overlapping membership with the ad hoc Armed Forces Bill select committees. In the last Parliament, our predecessor Committee produced a report on the draft Tri-Service Armed Forces Bill.[4] At that stage, there was no draft text for the Committee to consider and that inquiry was based on a memorandum provided by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) covering the Government's intentions for certain parts of the Bill. The Committee's report covered a range of issues including the renewal process and the method of scrutinising the Bill.[5] Our predecessor Committee also considered issues relevant to the Bill during its inquiry into Duty of Care. In particular, the report of that inquiry, published in March 2005, recommended the establishment of an independent military complaints commission.[6]

4. This report is intended to draw the attention of the House to two issues prior to the Second Reading of the Bill: the degree of independence in the complaints process proposed by the Government; and the Government's proposal to remove the requirement for annual renewal of the legislation. Given the limited time available for us to produce this report, we have focussed on these two important issues rather than attempting an extensive critique of the legislation, or following up all of the issues considered by our predecessors. We trust that the House and the Armed Forces Bill select committee will have an opportunity to range more widely over the Bill; and will keep the work of the previous Defence Committee in mind during scrutiny of this legislation.

1   The Armed Forces Bill 2005, Bill 94, replaces the three Service Discipline Acts-Army Act 1955, Air Force Act 1955 and Naval Discipline Act 1957. Before 1955 the Army and Air Force Acts were subject to annual renewal by Act of Parliament. Since 1961 the Army and Air Force Acts have been renewed by primary legislation every five years and renewed annually in the intervening years by secondary legislation approved in draft by both Houses of Parliament. The Naval Discipline Act which was originally a permanent act was put on the same basis as the other two in 1971.  Back

2   Ministry of Defence, The Strategic Defence Review, Supporting Essays, 1998, p 9-11. Back

3   Previous quinquennial Armed Forces Bills have been committed to an ad hoc select committee with the power to amend the Bill. See, for example, Special Report from the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Session 2000-01, HC 154-I. Back

4   Defence Committee, Second Report of Session 2004-05, Tri-Service Armed Forces Bill, HC 64. Back

5   Ibid, paras 116-124. Back

6   Defence Committee, Third Report of Session 2004-05, Duty of Care, HC 63-I, see paras 411-427. Back

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Prepared 8 December 2005