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Earl Howe: I note with concern what the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has said. For my own part, I can see no better way of introducing a proposal such as this than in primary legislation. If we had attempted not to do that, I believe that the complaints would have been equally vociferous. It offers an opportunity for both Houses of Parliament to consider the proposals in some depth and, as the noble Lord will know, the Defence Select Committee in another place did exactly that in considerable detail.

I do not believe that the Government are rushing anything through. As I have said, there will be checks and balances. We are not going headlong into the main scheme; we want to see whether the pilot scheme will work. We will report back to the Defence Committee in another place on whether it has worked, and no doubt we shall be asked some very searching questions at that time. It is, of course, open to your Lordships at any time to put down a Motion for debate on those matters. As always, the Government will listen carefully.

I am sorry that the noble Lord feels as he does, although I am reassured that he has no objection in principle to the idea. I am grateful for that. I shall reflect on what he has said between now and Report, and if I can offer him any more comfort I shall obviously do so.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Discharge certificates]:

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, line 22, leave out ("authorised by them") and insert ("acting on their behalf").

The noble Lord said: We are dealing with the significant issue of discharge certificates. I am always rather intrigued about the kind of wording with which we are confronted. A discharge certificate is significant;

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it is significant for the forces and it is significant for the individual concerned. When I encounter wording that says that,

    "particulars ... are required to be included in the certificate by directions of the Defence Council or an officer authorised by them",

I cannot help dwelling on those words because an officer authorised by them might decide on his own initiative that this was something that he wanted to do. He would not necessarily be thinking all the time that he was doing it on behalf of the Defence Council. Therefore, while in no way challenging what this part of the Bill is about--it is a very essential part of the Bill--could we not have a type of wording that would keep clear all the time that anybody who is acting in this way is acting on behalf of the Defence Council?

I should have thought that this was an eminently sensible and reasonable amendment. I know the noble Earl is always open to helpful suggestions and I thought that on this occasion he might accept what I am proposing. I beg to move.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Mottistone: Having served in the Admiralty over 30 years ago, when I was taking various actions and making various recommendations, I was always conscious of the fact that I was doing it on behalf of their Lordships, the Lords of the Admiralty, of whom the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, was the First Lord later--not that I was serving in the Admiralty at that time. There is no doubt in anybody's mind that any officer who is serving in a defence ministry is acting on behalf of his superiors. No doubt it also applies to other ministries although I have never served in one. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, made that somebody might take action on their own account, forgetting that they were acting on behalf of the defence ministry is absolutely incredible. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will not accept the amendment.

Earl Attlee: Before speaking to the amendment, perhaps I may remind the Committee that I have an interest as a serving officer in the Territorial Army. Last year, I was involved in recruiting for an international aid organisation. Ex-Regular Army, Royal Navy and RAF personnel are a good source of recruits. The difficulty is to determine whether or not they have a good service record. Normally the discharge papers say "Conduct--Exemplary". If you are not familiar with the service paperwork you think you have a very good citizen when, in fact, his conduct in the services could have been less than perfect. I wonder whether the Minister can suggest any way of improving that so that a prospective employer can see the quality of a potential recruit. I appreciate that he cannot be given a confidential report on a soldier, but perhaps we could have some better paperwork when soldiers are discharged from the services.

Lord Vivian: I would like to support my noble friend Lord Mottistone. He is perhaps a more recent member of the regular forces, now retired, but I have a current interest as honorary colonel of a regiment, so I am perhaps a little more up to date. A commanding officer

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is responsible for signing discharge papers. When one has in mind the fact the individual being discharged may be affected by his discharge book, one treats the matter with extreme diligence. I do not believe that at any time in my career I have ever thought that I was acting on my own; I was always authorised by the Defence Council.

Viscount Slim: I would also like to say, as someone who has spent some time in the military, that I cannot recall ever having acted on my own. I find the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, quite inconsistent with the loyalty of an officer. The fact that an officer is authorised to act means that he is very carefully briefed. He is generally briefed in writing or by some more modern means today. I take what was said as a slight slur on officers of all three of Her Majesty's services. It is perhaps being a little semantic, but I take rather an exception on this occasion to what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said. I support the last two noble Lords who have spoken.

Lord Judd: The last thing that I would want to do is to cast slurs on officers, having had the honour of holding the Queen's Commission myself. With respect, I personally would always like to take pride in the fact that I was taking action--that I was not only authorised to take action, but that people sufficiently trusted me and respected me to feel and to know that I was acting on behalf of the Defence Council. That seems to me to underwrite the significance, honour and integrity of the officer concerned. Therefore, I do not understand the misapprehension--if I may put it that way--of some noble Lords although I greatly respect their experience.

It is not just a matter of what the officer concerned may know; it is not even just a matter of what the service concerned may know or of what the Defence Council may know; it is also a matter of the perception of the general public because presumably the certificate is there to be used by people who have not been part of the military culture. I should have thought that if they knew that the certificate had been signed on behalf of the Defence Council and not just, as might well happen elsewhere in civilian life, by a line manager because he had the authorisation, that would have tremendously enhanced significance for those reading the document.

The amendment is designed to enhance and recognise the status of the officer and the significance of the document and also to reassure the public. I am very sorry but I do not think the noble Lords who have spoken could have read exactly what is being proposed. I cannot understand how they have drawn the deduction they have.

Earl Howe: I fully appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, intends to be helpful in tabling these amendments. Having said that, I am not sure that I have warmed to them particularly. The importance of discharge certificates lies in enabling men and women who have left the Armed Forces to show prospective employers and others that they have been legally discharged from the forces. The present legislation requires that the information to be included in the certificates shall be prescribed in Defence Council regulations. Clause 3 alters that by specifying the

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minimum details--the core particulars, in other words--which the services are required to include in the certificate. It also increases the flexibility to add to or change the other information included, without requiring changes in primary legislation or regulations, which may well be cumbersome to bring about. The flexibility introduced by the change could make more information available, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has suggested might be desirable. It could do so if it were clear that it would help men and women leaving the services in finding suitable employment.

Discharge certificates are important in that context but what the Committee should bear in mind is that in previous legislation the Defence Council had to prescribe the contents of these certificates. All we have done is to ensure that the major items are now to be laid down in legislation, and it is only the less important matters which the clause gives flexibility to incorporate or remove; for example, what particulars are to be given about somebody's conduct or matters of that kind.

Although we consider this to be a useful change we have to keep it in perspective. It is essentially a technical change, having come about as a result of a review of the regulations about enlistment and discharge, and the main result of that review is that the proposed rationalisation of regulations in Clause 4 looks to be a useful one. When Clause 4 is brought into force all the regulations will in future be subject to parliamentary scrutiny except for this matter, where we consider that the sensible way to proceed is as provided for in the clause.

I cannot agree with the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. We do not see any merit in making the alterations to the clause that he has proposed. As far as we can see, those alterations would simply change the wording but would not have much practical effect on the clause. Before an officer could act on behalf of the Defence Council in exercising the statutory power conferred on it, he would need in any event to be authorised by it and know that he had been authorised by it. The noble Lord's amendment would be change for change's sake.

In the light of what I have said, I wonder whether the noble Lord feels a little more relaxed about leaving the wording of the Bill as it is.

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