Select Committee on Defence First Report


13. Clause 371 of the Bill relates to the duration and renewal of Service Discipline legislation. The clause restates the requirement for quinquennial renewal of the Acts by primary legislation, but does not continue the current practice of annual renewal in the intervening years by Order in Council approved in draft by both Houses of Parliament.

14. The annual renewal of Service Discipline legislation, which the Bill proposes to remove, is part of the constitutional arrangements, which have their roots in the turbulent relationship between Parliament and the Crown in the 17th century.[17] Parliament's control of the Armed Forces is exercised through annual authorisation of Armed Forces' funding, numbers of serving personnel, and disciplinary legislation. The history of these arrangements for parliamentary control is well documented.[18]

15. In its report on the Tri-Service Bill, our predecessor Committee concluded that the mechanism of annual renewal should continue.[19] The constitutional basis for that conclusion is well understood. The rationale for removing the requirement for annual renewal is not clear. There is little benefit to the business managers in the House of Commons in removing a delegated legislation standing committee debate once a year, and the annual debates in the House of Lords have, we understand, provided a widely welcomed opportunity for a focussed debate on discipline and military law.[20]

16. We believe the House should be aware of this significant proposal to end annual renewal of Service Discipline legislation, which will diminish democratic accountability of the Armed Forces. We do not believe Parliament should agree to cede this aspect of its control over the nation's Armed Forces to the Executive, particularly at a time when military law and discipline are of considerable political concern.

17. We urge the Government to reverse its proposal to end annual renewal of Service discipline legislation by tabling the necessary amendments at Committee stage.

17   Since 1689 the House of Commons has passed an annual vote setting limits on army numbers. The passing of this vote became an established part of the work of the Committee of Supply. Prior to 1955, that vote, when reported from the Committee of Supply and agreed to by the House, gave rise to an annual Act authorising the system of army discipline and the preamble to such Acts referred to the limits on numbers. The same practices were adopted in respect of the Royal Air Force following its creation. In 1955 the direct relationship between discipline for land forces and parliamentary control over their numbers was severed by new provision for armed forces discipline acts subject to annual renewal by secondary legislation and quinquennial review and renewal through primary legislation. Back

18   See Report from the Select Committee on the Army Act and Air Force Act, Session 1953-54,HC 223; and evidence thereto. Special Report from the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Session 2000-01, HC 154-I, Erskine May (8th Edition), pp 611-612; Erskine May (14th Edition), p 706. Until 1879, the relevant Act for the Army was the annual Mutiny Act and there was also a Marine Mutiny Act relating to the regulation and discipline of the marines while on shore. The Army Discipline and Regulation Act 1879 made permanent provision for army discipline, subject to renewal by an annual Army Act. Back

19   HC (2004-05) 64, para 121. Back

20   See Stg Co Deb, Fifth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, Naval Discipline Act 1957 (Remedial) Order 2004 and Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 2004, 29 April 2004; Stg Co Deb, Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, Draft Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 2003 and Draft Armed Forces (Review of Search and Seizure) Order 2003, 25 June 2003. See HL Deb, 7 July 2005, Col GC77; HC Deb, 12 May 2004, Col 363. Back

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