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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Armed Forces, Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 2007

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Jim Hood
Bailey, Mr. Adrian (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op)
Battle, John (Leeds, West) (Lab)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) (Lab)
Dorrell, Mr. Stephen (Charnwood) (Con)
Drew, Mr. David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
Fabricant, Michael (Lichfield) (Con)
Farrelly, Paul (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab)
Hamilton, Mr. David (Midlothian) (Lab)
Harvey, Nick (North Devon) (LD)
Howarth, Mr. Gerald (Aldershot) (Con)
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard (North Essex) (Con)
Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert (Medway) (Lab)
Pritchard, Mark (The Wrekin) (Con)
Rennie, Willie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD)
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab)
Twigg, Derek (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence)
Wyatt, Derek (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab)
Mr. G. McKee, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):
Mercer, Patrick (Newark) (Con)

Second Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 13 June 2007

[Mr. Jim Hood in the Chair]

Draft Armed Forces, Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 2007

2.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Armed Forces, Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 2007.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Armed Forces (Alignment of Service Discipline Acts) Order 2007 and the draft Armed Forces (Service Police Amendments) Order 2007.
Derek Twigg: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Hood, and I look forward to this afternoon’s debate. The draft orders were laid before the House last month, and, as is customary, I should like to say a few words in support of each of them. I begin with the draft Armed Forces, Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 2007.
Although it is a small item of business for Parliament to consider, the continuation order is vital, because it ensures that the Armed Forces Act 2006 and the three service discipline Acts will remain in force for a further 12 months. As some hon. Members will know, in most years Parliament is asked to consider an order of that kind as part of the process by which the service discipline Acts are kept in force. The order that we are considering today breaks new ground, however, because it provides for the continuation in force for another year of the three service discipline Acts—the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957—and of the Armed Forces Act 2006. When the 2006 Act was considered by Parliament, it was expected to replace the three service discipline Acts. Although that remains our intention, the Government need to continue the service discipline Acts in force until the 2006 Act is fully in operation. That is why the three Acts are covered by the Order.
For some years now, debates such as the present one have provided an opportunity for the House to be given a progress report on the forthcoming legislation. This year's debate is different, because we now have an Act in place. That is not the end of the story, however, because having received Royal Assent for the Armed Forces Act last November, the Government have shifted their focus to the significant amount of work that will be needed to deliver a single system of service law for our armed forces. Foremost in that work is the huge amount of secondary legislation that will, in a manner of speaking, put flesh on the bones of the Act. The officials at the Ministry of Defence have been hard at work producing that legislation since the Act received Royal Assent last year.
Although it is too soon to say precisely how many will finally be needed, we expect to produce in the region of 65 statutory instruments altogether. Many of those will contribute to the single system of service discipline that we intend to have in place by 1 January 2009. As it is not possible to introduce some parts of this disciplinary system in advance of others, we plan to bring them all in together, and our target date for that is January 2009. At that point, the armed forces will move from the three separate systems that are in place at present to the single one that will replace them.
The change will have consequences for, among other procedures, police investigations, summary dealings, prosecutions and court martial trials. As well as statutory instruments, we shall need manuals, guidance, instructions and training for a wide range of personnel and organisations to ensure that the change happens efficiently and with the minimum of fuss for our armed forces.
We expect to lay almost all of the 65 or so statutory instruments before Parliament during the course of 2008. We recognise that it would not help the House if they were all laid at the same time, or even if they were laid one at a time. So we will consider how they might be most sensibly grouped together to assist Parliament in its considerations.
Towards the end of this year, officials propose to seek views from staff working for the Defence Select Committee, the Merits Committee and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. It goes without saying that our officials will be very happy to talk to other Committee officials and staff who might be involved in that work. By doing that, we hope that we shall be able to present the information in a way that assists parliamentary scrutiny and avoids the system being overloaded.
At present, we plan to introduce a number of statutory instruments—those that stand alone andare therefore capable of being dealt with separately from those which go together to underpin the single disciplinary system—before most of the others. They will make provisions in two particular areas. The first deals with service complaints, which might be better known by some hon. Members as redress of individual grievance. The second is in relation to service inquiries, which will replace the present boards of inquiry. The second is in relation to service inquiries, which will replace the present boards of inquiry.
Two other orders are before us today. They are the Armed Forces (Service Police Amendments) Order 2007 and the Armed Forces (Alignment of Service Discipline Acts) Order. The first provides for the consequential amendments to nine statutory instruments in the name of the Royal Navy Regulating Branch and changing it to the Royal Navy Police. The change in name is to provide clarity so that the role of the organisation is understood by all those with whom it will do business. Various provisions in primary legislation have already been amended to reflect the change of name. The affected primary legislation is set out under schedule 16 of the 2006 Act, the relevant paragraphs of which were brought into force on 10 May by the first commencement order under the Act.
The Ministry of Defence has carefully considered the implications of the judgment and we believe that the ability to have all civilian panels when civilians are being tried provides the remedy. The judge advocates who provide legal direction at courts martial are all civilian judges. In a wider context, the changes demonstrate once again the Government’s determination to ensure that the military justice system and the legislation that underpins it are compliant with the European Convention.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Obviously we understand the logic of the Minister’s argument, given the case of Martin. Will there be provision fora mixed panel to be convened in, for example, a case of a person who had previously served, but was now in a civilian capacity, when it might be appropriate in such circumstances to have a military person on the panel? Who will decide the composition of the panel?
Derek Twigg: I will come back to that point.
I wish first to make a further observation about the orders. The Government have given an undertaking that Ministers moving instruments that are subject to the affirmative procedure will tell the House whether they are satisfied that the legislation is compatible with the rights provided under the European convention on human rights.
The first order is a brief document that raises convention issues only, in that it maintains in force the three Acts, which, as they have been amended over the years, reflect the convention rights. As for the Armed Forces Act 2006, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State declared last year, we consider that its provisions are compatible with convention rights. Of the remaining two orders, the second has no bearing on convention rights. The third will help to preserve those rights, in particular under article 6—the right to a fair trial—as they extend to civilians subject to legislation.
Before I turn to the issue raised by the hon. Member for Aldershot, I hope that members of the Committee will find it useful if I provide a summary of my Department’s progress on implementing the Armed Forces Act 2006. I have touched on part of it, but will now give a slightly fuller picture. As I mentioned earlier, a large number of orders, rules and regulations are to be drafted under the 2006 Act. Without them, it cannot fully come into force as they underpin its operation. With the exception of a few Defence Council regulations that are not subject to parliamentary procedure, all of them will be laid before Parliament. About15 orders are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and thus will be debated by both Houses.
I have mentioned that we will be commencing some discrete areas of the 2006 Act early. The first is service complaints or the redress of individual grievance, which includes the appointment of the service complaints commissioner. Hon. Members might have noticed the recent advertisement in the national press for that post. It is a useful reminder that there are many issues aside from drafting secondary legislation that need to be resolved before we can fully implement the Act. We intend to introduce these important provisions in early 2008. Therefore, the statutory instruments should be laid in the autumn.
The hon. Member for Aldershot asked whether there will be a mixed panel and who makes that decision. It is the court administration officer who will decide on the composition of the panel.
Mr. Howarth: That implies that there can be a mixed panel. Can the Minister state that categorically?
Derek Twigg: Yes, I can say that to the hon. Gentleman.
I will give a quick prĂ(c)cis of where we are and the statutory instruments that we plan to bring forward. I can reassure the Opposition that they will be briefed and consulted before the issues are considered by Parliament.
2.40 pm
Mr. Howarth: First, I thank the Minister for giving us a thumbnail sketch of the orders and for telling us how he plans to prepare us for the number of sittings that will be necessary to deal with the secondary legislation that was always going to flow from the Armed Forces Act 2006. I am grateful that we are not going to have 65 statutory instruments all in one go, or even individually. It would be useful if the hon. Gentleman and I had a chat about how we group the instruments. Perhaps the usual channels on our behalf could negotiate a sensible arrangement for that to take place.
May I say from the outset that the order is not a formality? The continuation order is the means by which Parliament is able to review annually the disciplinary conditions that apply to our armed forced. All of us are very conscious that today’s debate is not an academic issue. Our fellow citizens are in uniform and fighting on two fronts. One is a high-intensity war-fighting operation and the other an equally dangerous operation in Iraq. Therefore, what we are discussing today closely affects them, their morale and how they conduct their operations. I would not like anyone to think that this was just another statutory instrument Committee in which we wave things through and then disappear. The orders are something that all of us, I hope, take very seriously.
Derek Twigg: I am conscious of what he has said. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that we consider the matter to be important. I have said that we will be happy to brief the Opposition on the key issues before the legislation comes before Parliament. As he rightly says, our armed forces do a tremendous job. We think about their welfare all the time. The matter is very important and we will give due consideration to it and the points that the Opposition raise.
Mr. Howarth: I am grateful to the Minister and much appreciate his offer of consultation. It was right and proper for the Government to accede to the request by the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill—very strongly supported in another place—to replace the original proposal of a five-year review with our recommendation of an annual review. Although we are complying with the three individual Acts of Parliament which require an annual review, we are also undertaking the first annual review of the Bill that he steered through the House at the end of last year.
The issue of the legality of operations remains extremely important. It is absolutely imperative that our armed forces understand that what they are doing is lawful and what it is that they are entitled to do within the law. An interesting report in yesterday’s Daily Mail—I accord a degree of reliability to that newspaper, as I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the Committee do—suggested that Sir Alan West, a former First Sea Lord, was concerned about the legality of operations in Iraq, a view also held by a former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Boyce. The report states:
“According to senior military insiders, Sir Alan’s serious unease over the legal basis for the invasion was shared by his fellow top commanders in the armed forces...At one meeting, his Army counterpart General Sir Mike Jackson reportedly voiced concerns that he could end up in a prison cell in the Hague alongside former Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic.”
I mentioned that to reinforce the point that we are not discussing an academic issue. Members of our armed forces must feel that what they are doing is lawful and that they understand clearly the constraints in which they operate.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): The shadow Cabinet of which I was a member took legal advice on the legitimacy of the invasion of Iraq, and we had no doubts about its legality. However, I do not wish to detract from my hon. Friend’s point that it is the armed servicemen on the front line who could finish up being subject to disciplinary proceedings, court infractions and even international court infractions if they are found to be in breach of international law.
Mr. Howarth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course, the spectre of the International Criminal Court lurks behind the matter, but I shall not rehearse my previous arguments about that.
The Minister and the Committee will know of a number of court martial cases, but I shall refer only to two: the case of Trooper Williams, which was a travesty that caused grave unease and damage to the morale of the armed forces; and that of Colonel Mendonca.The Conservatives strongly support a recent statement made by the Chief of the General Staff, GeneralSir Richard Dannatt, who said:
“Discipline and the rule of law are core to everything we do, and are not optional extras appended to the functions of our armed forces.”
He is absolutely right and we thoroughly agree with him, as I am sure all members of the Committee do. Our armed forces are not a bunch of mercenaries; they operate under clear rules. It is the Committee’s job to ensure that those rules are clear and fair, so that they recognise and reflect the difficulties that our armed forces face in the field as they confront an enemy of a kind that they have not before faced. The suicide bomber is a wholly new phenomenon and it is right that we should, whenever possible, give members of the forces the benefit of the doubt.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring(Dr. Fox), the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, is not here because, as the Minister will know, he is privileged to be on duty in the Falkland Islands to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the magnificent recovery of British sovereign territory from the hands of the invaders, for which we should thank the outstanding courage, determination and integrity of Her Majesty’s armed forces. When Colonel Mendonca was acquitted, my hon. Friend said:
“The whole affair has resulted in enormous expense to the taxpayer and unnecessary damage to the reputation of the British Army. Those responsible for bringing these charges need an urgent reappraisal of their procedures and perhaps even their motives...A whiff of political correctness hangs heavy over the case against Colonel Mendonca, with law officers determined to have military officers prosecuted.”
I want to make the important point to the Minister that there is an impression that the Attorney-General was keen to have an officer, rather than privates, put in the dock.
Derek Twigg indicated dissent.
Mr. Howarth: The Minister shakes his head and that is entirely understandable, but the fact is that the case backfired. The judge concluded that there was no evidence fit to go even before the panel, so people throughout the armed services and in this House asked themselves why on earth the case was brought. The Minister knows that there has been a pretty adverse reaction from a number of people.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): As my hon. Friend is probably aware, I gave evidence in the Mendonca court martial. I found it extraordinary that once the court martial had finished, he went on to face action under AGAI, the Adjutant-General’s administrative instructions, which underlines the point that my hon. Friend made. We have been told by the armed forces that it is a perfectly routine action. In the many dozens of courts martial in which I was involved while serving, I knew of it being used only once. I would be interested in his views on that.
Mr. Howarth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his authoritative intervention. He has flatly contradicted the Ministry of Defence, which issued a statement that said:
“It is entirely normal for administrative action to be considered after a Court Martial.”
He has served on courts martial and has not found that to be the case. I do not want to over-egg the issue, butI want to say to the Minister that appearance is everything, as Oscar Wilde said. There is an appearance, first, of determination to get an officer at all costs, and secondly, of a man being hounded out of the military. We are talking about a man who holds a Distinguished Service Order, awarded for gallantry in the Iraq campaign, yet having been acquitted he would have faced further administrative action if he was not going to resign.
Derek Twigg: Can I just be clear about the words that the hon. Gentleman is using? He talked about appearances. What is his party’s position? Is it that there was a deliberate attempt and that the due process for such situations was not followed? Or is it that it was all about appearances and how it looked?
Mr. Howarth: I am saying that we all have to be aware of how it looks. What we do here is based on how we perceive things; what matters is what appears on the television tonight. That is what the public think is happening, regardless of what we understand. [ Interruption. ] I will explain to the Minister. There are concerns in many quarters that there was a political element to the matter. He needs to be aware of that. He is the Minister, so he has access to the papers, which I do not, and he might feel, or have evidence, that there is absolutely no justification whatsoever for the claims. He needs to ensure that the Government do not give the appearance that they are anxious to ensure that an officer is put in the dock.
Derek Twigg: Can I be clear that the Conservative party position is that it was not a political decision and that due process was followed?
Mr. Howarth: Our position is that we were not responsible for seeing the evidence and judging whether an action should take place. My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) is not the Attorney-General; the Attorney-General was part of the decision-making process. I want an assurance, on behalf not only of my constituents in Aldershot, but of all those in this House who have constituents servingin our armed forces, that there is not a political consideration on the part of the Government that an officer should be brought to trial. I have it on reasonably good authority—I would not have raised it otherwise—that that is what the Attorney-General was about. I think that it is important that that has not happened.
I also make the point that, not only in this case but in others, these cases failed. A huge of amount of public money was involved. His hon. Friend, the noble Lord Drayson, told the other place on Monday that the total cost of the Mendonca case and the others involved from the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, is nearly£7.5 million. That is a huge amount of money.
We know that The Mirror fabricated some pictures, which caused immense damage, and that newspaper, apart from issuing an apology, should have been taken to the Tower of London to our armed forces. That was absolutely despicable and I am sure that my view is shared by others.
We all need to be very careful about the matter. If the Minister can enlighten us on what my hon. Friend the Member for Newark was saying about administrative action under the AGAI. I would be grateful if he responded. On that subject, we have the ruling today from the House of Lords on the Baha Musa and we clearly need to look at that judgment and ensure that we understand exactly what the judgment says. However, I understand that one of the Law Lords was of the view, not shared by the others, that the British Government could not possibly have been responsible for the control of Iraq at the time that that tragic incident took place. That was the Government’s argument and, personally, I think that they were absolutely right. Unfortunately, only one Law Lord agreed with the Government. However, it will raise widespread concerns across the country if there is any suggestion that wherever British forces are involved, regardless of the extent to which they control the territory, their actions are going to be subject to second guessing by the courts.
I refer to remarks made yesterday by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Cox). He said, in the connection with the Serious Crime Bill:
“Is it surprising that people in the judiciary and the wider society are saying that they can no longer trust the House of Commons to stand up for their liberties? That must be done by the judiciary. That argument is always used to justify the power of judges to take away from the House its role as a vigilant defender of human rights and liberties.”—[Official Report,12 June 2007; Vol. 413, c. 396.]
That is very important. We, not the judges, are the ultimate guarantor of the liberties of the people of this country. It is our responsibility, and I am sure that every Member of this House takes it extremely seriously.
So far as the other two orders are concerned, the Minister has responded to my concern about mixed panels. As to changing the name to the Royal Navy Police, if the Royal Navy is happy with it, that is fine so far as I am concerned. I welcome the opportunity to debate these matters. It is important that our armed forces know that we in this House want to do our best by them, and that we will seize this opportunity to debate how best to deliver for them the conditions that will enable them to do the extraordinarily difficult task that we have laid upon them, which they discharge with such commendable ability on behalf of our nation.
3.1 pm
Mr. Jenkin: Thank you, Mr. Hood. It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship on a Committee that is dealing with such sensitive matters in relation to the welfare and legitimacy of our armed services. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot points out, they are at this minute carrying out dangerous and hazardous tasks, at great personal risk. Indeed, they have already made very great sacrifices.
I am struck by the fact that this instrument is born of an Act of Parliament dating back to 1955, when the world was a very different place. The Armed Forces Act 2006 is merely an extrapolation of the previous legislation, but it reflects the changed legal environment in which our armed forces have to operate. It is that aspect of the instrument that I wish to address.
Many concerns have been expressed about the integrity of the chain of command. Back in 1955, there would have been little doubt that an armed serviceman refusing to obey orders would have been disciplined, and the discipline against that armed serviceman would have been upheld. We no longer operate in that environment. I am struck by the fact that the two servicemen who refused to deploy to Iraq have never been brought to trial. I suspect that that is because the Government did not wish the legitimacy of the armed conflict in Iraq, and our engagement in it, to be exposed to legal argument in a court of law. Although I believe that any such argument would have been overturned and the Government’s position upheld, that was a place to which the Government did not wishto go.
Since that deployment, there have been innumerable cases of armed servicemen brought to book over their actions while on operations. Some of those actions were reprehensible, some of them were shameful and some were deeply counterproductive. In the so-called war on terrorism—the campaign for the west to achieve the ascendancy not of its own power but of its legitimacy—we are sorely undermined by people who, acting on our behalf, let us down when it comes to the highest standards of legality and legitimacy. Those who perform illegal acts are undermining the legitimacy of the war on terrorism—although I am always wary of calling it that.
The problem is that we have adopted a legal system under which it is not the commanding officer—nor even the armed forces as a whole—who acts as the final judge of legitimacy. It is the international legal system. Our Government have signed a treaty under which we adhere to the International Criminal Court. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot points out, that is why it is possible for a British chief of staff to submit that he may finish up in a court in The Hague alongside war criminals such as Slobodan Milosevic, arraigned for war crimes on the basis of international jurisdiction rather than the jurisdiction of our own country. That causes great problems and dilemmas for our armed forces.
It severely undermines the chain of command upon which the integrity of our armed forces depends. I invite the Minister to deny this if it is not true, but I understand that the joint command and staff college is now teaching an 11th principle when it comes to the conduct of military operations. That principle is legitimacy, and it has to be applied by everyone in the command chain. All have to apply a test of legitimacy to the orders that they are given. Although few people in the armed forces do not do so, I would expect it to be drilled into the ethos of the British armed forces in any case. However, we are now legally required to imprint that ideology into the doctrine of the armed forces; if we fail to do so, we could somehow be failing in our duty to ensure that every order and every action carried out by our armed forces, in any theatre of operations, is legitimate.
The problem is that that creates a potential conflict between what military officers and military personnel are required to do and what they may feel. It also means that we are faced with the Government having to demonstrate that they have exhausted every opportunity to prosecute a potential breach of that legitimacy, whether or not they believe that there has been a genuine breach. Indeed, failure to exhaust domestic remedies will itself allow a case to be brought before the ICC.
I bring before the Committee the case of Trooper Williams of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, whom I believe I met when the regiment was on the armed forces parliamentary scheme about 12 months before the regiment was deployed on the invasion of Iraq.He was court-martialled subsequent to the invasion. He had been exonerated by his commanding officer. He had been through all the disciplinary procedures that one would expect of his regiment. But that was no longer good enough for the Ministry of Defence and possibly no longer good enough under the auspices of the International Criminal Court. He had to be brought before a military tribunal, his career wrecked and his life ruined before he could be exonerated under the proposals we are debating today.
Mr. Howarth: What actually happened is that the Attorney-General said that the military process had failed and there was no other way in which the case could be reopened. That is why the Attorney-General said that it should be heard in a civilian court. Fortunately, the judge threw it out, lock, stock and barrel. It was ultimately a civilian court that tried a man who was out on a war-fighting operation.
Mr. Jenkin: I apologise if my memory is at fault, or my knowledge is inadequate. My hon. Friend amplifies the point, that somehow the legal procedures afforded by the military were inadequate, so we are trying today to ameliorate the military’s legal procedures in order to satisfy the disciplines imposed on our legal system by the International Criminal Court.
I repeat, I fully understand why it is desirable for our military discipline procedures to have the maximum legitimacy, but if they are to be regarded as inadequate at the outset, there is nothing we can do. In the final analysis, we should stick up for our armed servicemen rather than kowtow to an International Criminal Court on which judges will serve who have no comprehension or willingness to understand the national interests that have decided we should put our men in harm’s way in these theatres of operation.
I am reminded of the death on the rock case—a cause celebre in the armed forces—in which members of our armed forces gunned down people who were known to be terrorists. There was no doubt in their minds that they thwarted a terrorist operation and saved lives, but although the case was heard by the European Court of Human Rights, the same argument applies: that judges were adjudicating on a matter in which they could not conceivably have understood the complexity of the national interest that was involved. It finished with European judges requiring the British Government to compensate the families of IRA terrorists for their supposed murder.
An assumption at the heart of the international legal system is behind these proposals: that legality is an absolute and that it can be internationalised in a totally impartial way. There is a fundamental failure in the Government’s understanding of international legality, that that is what we should be concerned with and that armed servicemen should be ordered, disciplined and prosecuted according to international procedures. We should have confidence in our national procedures without needing to submit them to international procedures, which are making the running of military operations, the discipline of the armed forces and, ultimately, the welfare of armed servicemen very much more difficult to deliver.
3.14 pm
Derek Twigg: This has been an interesting and enlightening debate. I hope we will still have the Committee’s full support for the proposals.
Of course, we recognise the tremendous work that our armed forces do in difficult circumstances. They are the best in the world and we want to ensure that they are supported in the best possible way; there is no difference between the parties in that respect. I have been in this job for only a few months, but the more I see of our armed forces, the more impressed I am. They do a tremendous job for us.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Falklands—briefly, and slightly off the track. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has been out there to represent the Government. I am sure that he will play an important role in the commemorations, which start here tomorrow when we have the main veterans event in Horseguards and on the Mall. It is right that we play proper tribute to our Falklands veterans and what they achieved.
The hon. Member for Aldershot mentioned a number of issues that I should like to deal with briefly. I tried to determine the exact position of the Opposition with regard to Colonel Mendonca. They say that there is an impression that a political decision has been made, but when I pushed the hon. Gentleman he was not prepared to say that that was his view orthe view of the Conservative party. I can absolutely refute that any political decision was taken. The army prosecuting authority considered that there was sufficient evidence to bring the case.
There is a general issue here. Credible allegations of serious wrongdoing have to be and are investigated, and where evidence is independently assessed it can justify a prosecution. The application of robust and fair justice must then follow. I can do no better than to reiterate the quote that the hon. Member for Aldershot gave before. As the Chief of General Staff said, the discipline and rule of law lie at the core of what the armed forces do.
Mr. Jenkin: I half-endorse what the Minister says. We do not argue that military discipline must not be enforced, but the question is whose law is it? Is it the law decided by Parliament in the national interest or is it law that reflects the national interests of other nations? The problem with the Mendonca case is not that it was prosecuted for political motives, but that the international legal requirements now require the case to be prosecuted way beyond what would have been considered reasonable under the British disciplinary procedures before the International Criminal Court or the European Court of Human Rights, and way beyond what is reasonable in order to satisfy judges who have no interest in our own national interest.
Derek Twigg: The hon. Gentleman started his contribution earlier by referring to the fact that we mentioned the 1955 Act. That was some time ago. He described how things were then. He said that the service chiefs and the chain of command seemed to be able to more in terms of discipline than what they could today. The point is that the 2006 Act is a modern Act. It has been subjected to significant scrutiny in both Houses. It is an Act for the future working the law as we operate today. That is the key point here.
This is not about throwing the baby out with the bathwater and getting rid of traditions or procedures that work well today. It is about having an Act that is fit and well for the 21st century. The other thing that I should like to say to the hon. Gentleman concerns the case of Trooper Williams. The general point that I would make here is that a person who has an honest belief of an immediate threat to life and acts reasonably in the circumstances as he sees them, will not have acted unlawfully. The hon. Member for Aldershot will remember that there was quite some play on the issue of the rules of engagement during the debate in the other House and which I, again at his invitation, put on the record in the House of Commons too. We made that clear during the proceedings onthe Bill.
Derek Twigg: I repeat that the issue of disciplinary matters in the armed forces, including the decision whether to prosecute and go to court martial, is not a political decision; it follows a proper lawful procedure. The hon. Gentleman makes the point again about the obligations that we have internationally. The fact is that we have obligations under international treaties and conventions, including the Geneva convention for one. It is important that we make that point. The prosecution of Colonel Jorge Mendonca was under the Army Act 1955, which is our own law. So I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s argument.
Mr. Howarth: The Minister suggested that I am somehow raising a matter that is not backed by evidence. What I am saying is that there is evidence about the case of Colonel Mendonca. The Daily Telegraph reported that, since investigations started against Colonel Mendonca:
“there have been claims that he was charged because Army chiefs and politicians wanted officers on trial alongside their men. The claims were backed by documents written by a senior Army commander and obtained by The Daily Telegraph which suggested that there was a determined effort to identify officers who could be put on trial for the misconduct of their troops in Iraq.”
I am not saying that that evidence is of biblical quality, but I am saying that these are the views that have been expressed. Colonel Black, who was previously the commanding officer of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, said:
“The wrong people faced charges and Jorge...was made to appear because the Army wanted to put an officer on trial.”
The Chairman: Order. I have been super-generous in allowing interventions to become parts of speeches and contributions. I call the Minister.
Derek Twigg: I again note with interest that the hon. Gentleman does not bring forward any evidence; he quotes what he has read in a newspaper. I can only repeat what I said before. We have a robust system of justice, which follows due process and if there are credible allegations made against someone, they need to be investigated. I cannot be much clearer than that.
Mr. Hood, I do not want to test your patience any longer. We have had a reasonable discussion about some of these issues. I believe that the measures being proposed today are the right way forward and follow on from the Armed Forces Act 2006. I repeat my assurance to the Committee to keep them informed and to brief them on the issues as they come up.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Armed Forces, Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 2007.—[Mr. Twigg.]


That the Committee has considered the draft Armed Forces (Alignment of Service Discipline Acts) Order 2007.—[Mr. Twigg.]


That the Committee has considered the draft Armed Forces (Service Police Amendments) Order 2007.—[Mr. Twigg.]
Committee rose at twenty-four minutes past Three o’clock.

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