Session 2010-11
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General Committee Debates
Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order 2010

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Philip Davies 

Barron, Mr Kevin (Rother Valley) (Lab) 

Campbell, Mr Ronnie (Blyth Valley) (Lab) 

Donaldson, Mr Jeffrey M. (Lagan Valley) (DUP) 

Drax, Richard (South Dorset) (Con) 

Ellwood, Mr Tobias (Bournemouth East) (Con) 

Eustice, George (Camborne and Redruth) (Con) 

Francois, Mr Mark (Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household)  

Hendrick, Mark (Preston) (Lab/Co-op) 

Hopkins, Kris (Keighley) (Con) 

Johnson, Joseph (Orpington) (Con) 

Jones, Mr Kevan (North Durham) (Lab) 

Knight, Mr Greg (East Yorkshire) (Con) 

Munt, Tessa (Wells) (LD) 

Raynsford, Mr Nick (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab) 

Robathan, Mr Andrew (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence)  

Roy, Mr Frank (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab) 

Stringer, Graham (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab) 

Williams, Roger (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD) 

Eliot Wilson, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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First Delegated Legislation Committee 

Monday 13 September 2010  

[Philip Davies in the Chair] 

Draft Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order 2010

4.30 pm 

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Andrew Robathan):  I beg to move, 

That the Committee has considered the draft Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order 2010. 

I am pleased to speak to the Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order 2010, Mr Davies. I look forward to you guiding our proceedings today with your customary wisdom—it says here. 

The purpose of the order is to continue the legislation governing the armed forces for a further period of one year, until November 2011. Before we reach that date, the Ministry of Defence needs to introduce primary legislation to keep the legislation in force for a further period. With your leave, Mr Davies, I should like to say a few words about the legislation that the order is set to continue—the Armed Forces Act 2006. The Act introduced, for the first time, a single system of service law. That system applies to all members of the armed forces wherever in the world they are serving. Today’s debate is the first that has taken place since the 2006 Act was fully implemented and came into force on 31 October 2009. As a direct result of that Act, the three service discipline Acts—the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957—have all been repealed. This year, the continuation order is not, therefore, concerned with the service discipline Acts. 

The 2006 Act represents a significant change. Relevant service personnel were trained in advance so that they were ready for the change to the new regime. We have had feedback from the services since implementation. They tell us that the 2006 Act is doing a good job. I am pleased that it has taken root so quickly and I hope that it will serve the armed forces well for many years to come. 

I shall now say a few words about the forthcoming armed forces Bill. As might be expected following the major changes in the 2006 Act, the next armed forces Bill will be more modest in scale. It will have a wide range of provisions, largely because the MOD normally has primary legislation only every five years. As well as renewing the current legislation, the Bill will make changes to the powers of the service police and make provisions to strengthen the structural independence of service police in carrying out investigations. The Bill will also contain a number of provisions related to service personnel policy and make changes to the service justice system. It will make a number of provisions in connection with other defence matters, including new regulations governing prisoners of war. 

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Mr Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con):  The explanatory memorandum to the order states that 

“statutory instruments made under the 2006 Act have been subjects of consultation with a range of stakeholders (including…the Services themselves)”. 

At what level did that consultation take place? 

Mr Robathan:  That was dealt with by normal procedures through the MOD and went to each single relevant service. Indeed, they have made representations on various issues. I might—though not in the Committee—tell my right hon. Friend later about one thing that I insisted was taken out. But we have consulted. 

Mr Knight:  The explanatory memorandum also refers to the guidance that is available. Paragraph 9.1 states: 

“A new Manual of Service Law has been produced” 

and that this 

“is intended for commanding officers and those who administer the service justice system”. 

What about the junior ranks who may be the subject of a disciplinary procedure? Are they entitled to a copy of that manual if they request one? 

Mr Robathan:  I stand to be corrected if I am wrong, but I am quite sure that this will be on the internet. My right hon. Friend will be amazed at the ability with which all junior ranks now manage the internet—much quicker perhaps than I can, and perhaps even him. There is certainly no intention to exclude junior ranks from the knowledge of the service disciplinary procedures. 

In contrast to media reporting around the time of the Queen’s Speech, the next armed forces Bill will not include provisions to rebuild the military covenant. That work is already being taken forward through policy development by the Ministry of Defence, working in concert with a number of other Government Departments. Primary legislation will not be required to achieve the majority of the improvements the Government wish to deliver for our armed forces and their families. Our aim is to introduce the Bill toward the end of this year. We plan to secure Royal Assent in good time before the legislation expires in November 2011. I very much look forward to taking the Bill through its parliamentary stages in due course. 

4.35 pm 

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab):  It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I sometimes think that this Act is stalking me. I was on the original Bill Committee, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw. I then became a Minister and, lo and behold, found I was responsible for implementing some of the related statutory instruments and also for giving authorisation to the new Bill. I have now come into opposition and I find that it is following me here too. 

This is not a contentious measure. It is very sensible continuation order and so the Opposition will support it. I should like to say two things. First I should like to thank the Bill Committee staff who worked on the Act and who will draw up the new Bill too. They worked tremendously hard. As the Minister will learn, they are dedicated individuals who manage the complexities of this matter, certainly in terms of merging the previous three service Acts. Secondly, the Minister said that he

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would explain to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire what he had taken out of the consultation. I would appreciate it if he could share that with the rest of the Committee. 

4.36 pm 

Mr Robathan:  May I join the hon. Gentleman in thanking hard-working civil servants? They do not get thanked very much. Today’s Sun leader, which the Committee will be surprised to hear that I read this morning, talks about civil servants downing their gin and tonics in London clubs. I have not seen that happening much around my office or anywhere else for that matter. Civil servants do a great deal of hard work in the public service. As for what is not in the Bill, I do not think I am duty bound to tell the hon. Gentleman that but I will tell him outside the Committee when it is not on the record. 

Joseph Johnson (Orpington) (Con):  Will the Minister join me in also applauding the efforts of the hard-working fund raisers in my constituency who have worked tirelessly on behalf of Help for Heroes? I recently attended a fete at Chelsfield village which raised no less than £6,000. It was its greatest total ever: half went to the headline charity Help for Heroes and the rest went to a number of other worthy local causes. 

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Mr Robathan:  I certainly will join my hon. Friend in congratulating the people in his constituency. Bryn Parry, who started Help for Heroes not three years ago, has been what can only be described as dynamic in moving this forward. He has captured a mood in this country which is exemplified by my hon. Friend’s constituents. People want to help our armed forces who tragically have an extremely high profile at the moment, not least because of the number of deaths. I congratulate Help for Heroes, my hon. Friend’s constituents and Bryn Parry. 

Finally, it may seem that this is an unnecessary piece of parliamentary procedure. As a former soldier and a politician for a few years now, I think it is essential that the Houses of Parliament retain their control over armed forces Acts as we are doing today with this continuation order for one year. Otherwise we forget that the armed forces are controlled by the Houses of Parliament, which is vital. Those with a sense of history will know why it is that we do that. I think I have now said quite enough. 

Question put and agreed to.  

4.39 pm 

Committee rose.