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Mr. Redwood: Has my hon. Friend noticed that there is a provision for quinquennial review of the scheme? Does he believe that the Minister will take the review seriously? What would be the criteria for an effective review?
Dr. Murrison: Yes, I welcome the fact that the measure will be reviewed. It is the Opposition’s job to welcome reviews of legislation, but I do so wholeheartedly in respect of this measure. It will be interesting to find out how many minors were recruited into British armed forces and, indeed, how many recruiting officers needed to rely on the defence that the Minister has built into the legislation. I do not want to make a big deal of this, but the Minister raised the issue. It is clearly a sensitive point, because it is specifically covered in the legislation. We need to tread extremely carefully.
There are even more difficulties concerning those who seek to join with parental consent. If we cannot establish people’s age accurately, it will be even more difficult to get parental consent when that is necessary, and to ensure that the consent is legitimately that of a parent, and the relevant parent at that. I mention that because I believe that there will be some problems with the measure, particularly as it looks likely that we are going to continue to recruit a significant number of soldiers from other countries to serve in the British armed forces.
4.57 pm
Mr. Jones: I agree totally with the comments made by the hon. Member for Westbury in support of our armed forces. He is a strong advocate, and I wanted to put that on the record.
Having dealt with this legislation for so long, I am reminded of the film “Groundhog Day”, in which someone relives the same day over and over again. The same arguments keep coming back. The issue of commanding officers was dealt with at great length by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) in Committee.
Some 90 per cent. of disciplinary matters will not be affected by the proposals. The 2006 Act—I said this when the Committee considered it—strengthens and protects the commanding officer. It does not take the responsibility away from the individual because, at the end of the day, he or she will be the person who eyeballs the potential recruit, even with the involvement of the service police.
The measure protects the commanding officer. The Defence Committee, on which I served, held a review into Deepcut. The early collection of evidence and the early recollection of events would have helped the situation tremendously. Likewise, the measure would have strengthened the role of, and protected, the commanding officer in some of the cases that we have seen in Iraq. The service police would have been involved at an early stage, ensuring that witnesses were interviewed and that evidence was gathered so that we knew what happened. Trying to go back and do that at a later stage is difficult. I do not see that this will weaken the role of the commanding officer. I agree with the hon. Member for Westbury. I do not want an explosion of lawyers or law in this area, and I have said that on the record before. This will lead to support for commanding officers to ensure that the facts and information are gathered at an early stage.
In terms of manuals and training, one of the criticisms of the last statutory instrument I was involved in was the issue around why the Bill has taken so long. It is the complexity that has led to the delay. I am told the manual will be produced by July. It is being drawn together by service personnel and will be in the form of a booklet in plain English. One of the issues that the Committee quite rightly raised is that it is okay to have this new Act, but it is important that the people on the receiving end understand what it means for them individually.
Bob Russell: I think I heard the Minister say that it will be ready by July, which is one week away. Will it be available in a week’s time?
Mr. Jones: I asked for that assurance. However, as the hon. Gentleman has dealt with the MOD for a number of years, he knows that delays sometimes occur. I want to make sure it is in place. I am sure that once we get it, the hon. Gentleman will be free to study it and then, perhaps we can test him on the implementation of it.
I am also told that once the manual is produced in July, there will be regional road shows to ensure that the training is in place. That will go alongside career courses for servicemen and women to ensure that the implications of the Act are pushed out among our armed forces.
Dr. Murrison: I am slightly concerned. We may or may not get this publication in the next week, but the armed forces traditionally have a period over the summer when a lot of people take leave, so things tend not to be programmed in. If we are talking about road shows, briefings and so on, it leaves very little time between now and 31 October when the measure is meant to come into force. Does he realistically think that people will be adequately briefed on this—he has admitted that it is complex and that that is why we now have it in plain English evidently—so that we do not mess up, or does he perceive any difficulties?
Mr. Jones: I understand that the Director of Service Prosecutions and the Judge Advocate are also making sure that separate arrangements are in place to ensure that staff are trained. It would be remiss to go away with the impression that nothing has been going on for the last 12 months. Work has been done, not just messaging the armed forces internally, but also with those who will be responsible for this, in terms of making sure that people are brought up to speed on the broader issues in this case. Clearly, commanding officers are the key area that will be targeted. I am assured that that will take place. As someone who has spent the past four or five years on that Act, I think it is important. During its passage through the House, I made the point that it was not just a matter of getting it through this place, but that it was important that those on the receiving end who would be using the new provisions got that information.
The hon. Member for Westbury referred to the human rights issue. When the right hon. Member for Wokingham, who has now left the room, also raised the issue, I thought I might throw the red meat of Europe across the table. I am sure that no other European country has any significant exemptions from the human rights legislation. I understand that even Russia has now accepted the benefits for its armed forces. None the less, it is important for the Ministry of Defence to ensure that as this type of case law grows, we monitor it to ensure that it does not impact on the operational efficiency of our armed forces.
Finally, with regard to the recruitment of 16-year-olds, I would not like to give the idea that somehow we are recruiting individuals to Her Majesty’s armed forces, whether in this or in Commonwealth countries, without making the issue of age very clear, and investigating people’s ages. The regulations cover the issue when a mistake is made. It gives protection to the recruitment officer, which is needed—I do not think we can have a situation whereby we do not give that protection.
I reassure hon. Members that the situation is quite clear—we do recruit 16-year-olds and many benefit from the service life. Certainly, anyone who has been to the defence college at Harrogate will have seen the tremendous benefits that 16-year-olds get from joining the armed forces. But it is important that we protect vulnerable young people. I am satisfied that there are safeguards in the legislation to do that, and that is somebody who has spent nearly a year on the duty of care inquiry on the Select Committee on Defence in the last Parliament, ensuring that 16 and 18-year-olds—that vulnerable group—have the right protection. I did that along with my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Hamilton), who helped to introduce the service complaints commissioner. With those comments, I commend the regulations to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,
That the Committee has considered the draft Armed Forces (Enlistment) Regulations 2009.

DRAFT ARMED FORCES (PART 5 OF THE ARMED FORCES ACT 2006) REGULATIONS 2009

Resolved,
That the Committee has considered the draft Armed Forces (Part 5 of the Armed Forces Act 2006) Regulations 2009.—(Mr. Kevan Jones.)

DRAFT ARMED FORCES, ARMY, AIR FORCE AND NAVAL DISCIPLINE ACTS (CONTINUATION) ORDER 2009

Resolved,
That the Committee has considered the draft Armed Forces, Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 2009.—(Mr. Kevan Jones.)
5.9 pm
Committee rose.
 
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