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Baroness Turner of Camden: I thank the Minister for that response. We shall certainly look at it when we have Hansard to see whether we need to do something at Report stage. I am very grateful for his assurance that he will look at what has been said to see whether anything needs to be done to strengthen the rights of the individual. That is what I am concerned about--the rights of the individual employee. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 30 agreed to.

Clause 31 agreed to.

Clause 32 [Call-out notices]:

6 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 20:

Page 15, leave out lines 9 to 11.

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 28 and 45. Call-out notices are served which require somebody of high readiness--I am reading from the text of the Bill as drafted,

We have discussed the possibility that the pool of those available is perhaps rather more limited than we think. I wonder whether the noble Earl can help me on this matter? It does seem to me to be rather curious, to say the least, to expect somebody even in high readiness, having signed an agreement and having received a call-out notice, not to know whether he is going to be

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accepted for service. By remaining at that place, which could be for an indeterminate period of time, he could lose whatever preferment he had in his employment. He could be simply, as it were, sitting around and not moving house or whatever it might be. Am I right in interpreting it in that way, and, if so, is that really what the Government seek to achieve? I beg to move.

Earl Howe: The noble Lord, Lord Williams, has expressed concern that the placing of a legal requirement to remain at the place to which he is due to report may be somewhat onerous. I do not accept that. The clause and the corresponding clauses in Part V--Clause 43--Part VI--Clause 58--and Part VII--Clause 70--all make clear what has always been implicit in a call-out or recall notice. It is only commonsense that where an individual is required to present himself for service, he should be expected to remain there until the necessary administrative processes that enable him to be accepted into service can be completed, and he is told that he is or is not accepted. Having said that, the services will always endeavour to process personnel as quickly as possible. If there is a serious delay, it will be possible under Clause 32(5) for them to be told to come back at a later date. So I do not believe in practical terms there need be a difficulty here. I quite understand the general concern that the noble Lord has expressed but in practice I do not believe that this will be a problem. I hope in the light of what I have said the noble Lord will feel a little less anxious.

Lord Williams of Elvel: Let me take the position of an accountant. We have discussed the possibility of partners under a partnership agreement or whatever it is. Let me take the case of an accountant in one of the Big Six accounting firms. He has signed up because there is a requirement for accountants, let us say, at a particular point and we do not know what that requirement might be. He then is served with a call-out notice. You are required to come to wherever it is in, say, Chelmsford, when he works in London but lives in Chelmsford, and you are required, according to the words of the Bill, to remain at that place for an unspecified period of time until the bureaucracy of the armed forces, if I may put it like that, has decided whether or not you are accepted for service. In the meantime this chap, who is earning larger sums of money than either the noble Earl or I earn, is just sitting around doing nothing.

That is an extreme example and I accept that. All I am trying to get from the Minister is an understanding that within the pool of people who are liable to sign up for high readiness reserve, there may be some very experienced people earning large sums of money, who would be disadvantaged unless the procedure of acceptance or non-acceptance is accelerated beyond what is apparent in the Bill.

Earl Howe: As I have said, the services will always endeavour to process the flow of personnel as quickly as they possibly can. The call-out process inevitably involves a medical check and examination, completion of documentation and so on, and one would expect that

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process to be completed in a matter of hours. Many formalities could be settled in advance for those on special agreements, so there is nothing to preclude that.

I take the noble Lord's point that there may be cases where there is an undue delay. Let us suppose that if between the time a man presents himself for service and the time he is formally accepted into service there is a delay, and in that time he leaves the place concerned because he cannot afford to stay there any longer, technically he would be committing an offence under Clause 95(1)(b). But there is a defence of reasonable excuse to that offence, as there is to all the offences in Clause 95, of "leave lawfully granted or reasonable excuse". "Reasonable excuse" requires the defendant to prove that on the balance of probabilities, which is the lowest standard of proof, what he did was reasonable in the circumstances, so you would have to show that there was a good, overriding reason for him to leave the place he had been ordered to remain in.

I think that is taking the case to an extreme. I only mention it because it is informative to the Committee, but the main point is that I do not believe such considerations are likely to arise in practice.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am very grateful to the noble Earl, and I admire his optimism that such situations are not liable to arise. I myself remember, as I said at Second Reading, the recruitment of the Z reservists at the time of Suez, and the delays involved for people going through exactly the routine that the noble Earl has described--the medical check-ups and filling in the forms. It was not a question of hours--it took weeks. I am worried that someone will put forward the reasonable excuse, "I am earning £100,000 a year with an accounting firm and I cannot go on sitting here just because you do not have a doctor to do my ECG" or whatever it is, "I am really rather worried and I have to go on working". That is not actually a reasonable excuse and I do not believe it would be granted.

I put this point because we have to reflect on this. I do not wish to press it, obviously, but we ought to be fairly realistic about what happens if these high readiness reserves are served with call-out notices--not in the theoretical world but in the real world.

Earl Howe: There is a substantive point that I can add to this, because if a man is kept waiting for a long period and is someone who would otherwise be earning a large salary, there is the opportunity for him to apply there and then for exemption or deferral under Part VIII of the Bill. He could take that course, and one would suppose that in the circumstances I have described there would be every reason for that application to be supported.

Earl Attlee: In a mobilisation call-up situation, my expectation would be that if the volunteer came along he would stay at the appointed place for as long as it was necessary. I would expect that would be probably at least a week. The reason is that there has to be flexibility. The staff will decide how many people they want to call up and we know that they will not get everyone they want. If they want 500 men, they will call up 700 and see how many arrive. Therefore, it is bound to take them a week to find out how many they actually

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have who are fit on that particular day and have no valid reason for seeking deferment. I think the Minister is being very optimistic about how long it would take. Furthermore, if someone absented himself from a call-out situation, he would be in very serious trouble indeed. His decision just to leave would have all kinds of repercussions.

Earl Howe: Certainly a decision to leave could have all kinds of repercussions. I would just say that in our recent experience, when we had the call-out to Bosnia, those individuals were processed in a single day. It can be done and it is done.

Earl Attlee: I should like to support what the noble Earl said about that. The people who have been sent to Bosnia were processed very quickly and without any inconvenience.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I think we have pushed this matter far enough. The noble Earl is aware of our concerns. They are purely practical and we are trying to help. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 21:

Page 15, line 42, leave out subsection (7).

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment it may be for the convenience of the Committee if at the same time I speak to Amendment No. 29.

These amendments cover the same points in both clauses. There seems to have possibly been a small slip-up in all that has been happening on the Bill in the past few days in that Amendment No. 21 should, I think, have referred to subsection (6) as well as to subsection (7). Amendment No. 29 does, of course, refer to the matters covered in subsections(6) and (7) in Clause 21.

I do not want to make heavy weather of our concern in this area, but I do not think we should let it go by default. We live in an age of increasingly rapid mobility. What if suddenly someone was called away on a professional assignment or to a sick relative or indeed, in the case of younger people, what if somebody was--as is often the situation these days--travelling and arrangements made in good faith to notify their whereabouts, if known, had somehow gone awry? Before action was taken, it might be just as well, it has occurred to us, to have some provision for establishing whether indeed some kind of arrangements had been made in good faith, but which had just not stood the test. This part of the Bill is perhaps a little stark and I would just be reassured if the noble Earl could say how it would actually be applied in the circumstances which I have described, which are not altogether unlikely.

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