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The Countess of Mar: My Lords, how can we be assured that the IT systems that are being set up will not follow the same pattern as the systems provided for the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Home Office’s Immigration Service?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it would be fair to say that over the past few years the passport service has had a very good track record on the use of modern technology. I am sure that I am not alone in admiring the speed with which passport applications are processed and the way in which the administration works. As I indicated in my initial response, we are making sure that the IT for the new interview offices is properly tested and rigorously worked through before the scheme is implemented next year.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, how will the service work in Scotland’s four island groups? The locations that the Minister listed in response to the question asked by my noble kinsman are all very definitely on the mainland. How much do the Government regard it as reasonable for islanders to have to pay to get to one of these offices, bearing it in mind that the use of the ferry may well involve an overnight stay?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I could have read out another list of the remote locations in the highlands and islands of Scotland, but I shall not. I am more than happy to provide the noble Earl with a full explanation of how the remote locations will operate with webcams so that the remote interviews can take place. I think that the noble Earl will be fairly satisfied with the arrangements that we have come up with.

Lord Richard: My Lords, my noble friend referred to a map as far as Scotland is concerned. Does he have one for Wales?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Yes, my Lords, and I am happy to share it with the noble Lord.

Water and Sewerage Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006

Rates (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006

Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006

Electricity Consents (Planning) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006

11.35 am

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, I beg to move the four Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the orders be referred to a Grand Committee.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Education and Inspections Bill

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Adonis.

Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 6,

Schedule 1,Clauses 7 to 17,Schedule 2,Clauses 18 to 30,Schedule 3, Clauses 31 to 36, Schedule 4, Clauses 37 to 54, Schedule 5, Clauses 55 to 67, Schedule 6, Clause 68, Schedule 7, Clauses 69 to 74, Schedule 8, Clause 75, Schedule 9, Clauses 76 to 82,Schedule 10, Clauses 83 to 108, Schedule 11, Clauses 109 to 111, Schedule 12, Clauses 112 to 145, Schedule 13, Clauses 146 to 152, Schedule 14, Clause 153, Schedule 15, Clauses 154 to 156, Schedule 16, Clauses 157 to 165, Schedule 17, Clauses 166 to 174, Schedule 18, Clauses 175 to 181.—(Lord Grocott.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Armed Forces Bill

11.36 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD SPEAKER in the Chair.]

Clause 162 [Court Martial rules]:

Lord Astor of Hever moved Amendment No. 132:

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The noble Lord said: There is nothing in the Bill to ensure that the majority of a court martial panel should be drawn from the defendant’s own service. I understand that there are differences of opinion on this issue. For example, the former Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mike Jackson, said in evidence to the Select Committee on this Bill in another place that he would prefer to see a defendant tried by a panel drawn from the defendant’s own service. On the other hand, the Judge Advocate General stated a preference for mixed-composition panels. Officials in the MoD confirm that the default position for cases involving a single service offence is that a panel should be drawn from a defendant’s own service. They also indicate that the MoD will come forward with proposals about situations in which the panel is an appropriate arrangement. I would welcome an update from the Minister on how far these proposals have been developed.

This issue is of such importance that something must be in the Bill. In support of this, I quote the recommendation of the Select Committee of another place, which stated at paragraph 86 that,

I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I apologise for my intervention: I shall be brief. I have put down my name in support of my noble friend’s amendment because I was very impressed by the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce. He explained the wholly disparate set-up in the Navy and the Army—I do not know about the Air Force. In the Navy, no one other than the commander, and perhaps the navigator on the bridge, sees the enemy. It is a wholly different discipline, and a wholly different life. I feel that in those circumstances, a majority of those who are accustomed to a wholly different system should sit as a majority of the court.

Earl Attlee: I strongly support my noble friend. I am unhappy about mixed panels, with the obvious exception of where there are defendants from more than one service. Although it is normal for all the services of the Armed Forces to work together, each service maintains a very different ethos. Personally, I would be unhappy to sit on a court martial dealing with the flying conduct of an RAF pilot; I would be out of my depth. Equally, I would not be happy for an RAF officer to deal with, say, a fighting incident among junior soldiers in the Army; RAF airmen are more intelligent and of much higher quality than some Army soldiers, and it would be very difficult for them to understand what it is like in an Army unit.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: Members of the Committee will appreciate from the speeches I made yesterday that I am against this amendment. An opportunity is being lost completely to restructure the court martial system. We ought to have a system of justice that is concerned with convicting those who are guilty and protecting those who are innocent. Many of the reforms contained in this Bill—some of

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which are very good—are coloured by the past. Service traditions come into it, as does what happened 50 or 100 years ago. We in this House are used to dealing every year with a criminal justice Bill of one sort or another whereby the procedures and practices of the criminal courts are constantly reviewed and updated in the light of changing circumstances. However, every change that is extracted in the court martial system is, as I said yesterday at some length, the result of trips to the European Court at Strasbourg to point out on more than one occasion that the court martial system is not consonant with the covenant.

Instead of looking at the situation as a whole, as an entity, we are simply tweaking at the edges. One thinks of the enormous reforms of the civil courts of this country by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and the revisions that have gone on under him. On the civil side, courts are being updated and the whole system is looked at. Here, we are back to service rivalry: it is impossible for officers in the RAF to understand a fight between two soldiers, or for Army officers to understand that flying at 100 feet is dangerous. That is ridiculous. The purpose of the Bill is to bring the services together into a whole. It ought to be possible to widen the panel by drawing members from all the services, rather than simply sticking to the service to which the particular defendant belongs. I am against this amendment.

Lord Boyce: I support this amendment. I comprehensively disagree with the assessment of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that these boards should be mixed in order to update and keep ourselves modern. It is only sensible to follow his line blindly if one has no comprehension at all of the different environments in the land, air and naval forces.

However, my biggest worry concerns the defendant. I believe that a naval defendant in front of a court martial on a technical charge would be thoroughly dismayed if he found that it was manned by people who did not understand the environment in which he works. The same applies to defendants in the land and air services. This is a very important amendment. It would give the defendant confidence that he was being judged by people who understood the operating environment in which he worked. Courts martial are not the same as courts in the civil sector. Service environments are very different and we must have people on the panel who understand the circumstances in which a person is alleged to have done something wrong.

11.45 am

Viscount Slim: I, too, disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. If a soldier, sailor or airman commits, or is accused of committing, a crime, whatever happens in civilian life the overall ethos of the military is that he expects to be judged and looked after by his peers. As the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, has said, we should go for the single service court martial. But if for various technical or other operational reasons, a sailor or an

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airman is required on an Army court martial, surely we could agree—the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, might just agree to this—that we have a major proportion of members from the service concerned.

I hear the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, with great respect for his enormous experience, particularly of courts martial, but I get the impression—never mind inter-service rivalry—that he wants to civilianise the whole process. That would be disastrous. I hope that he understands what military ethos is. People in the military are not civilians. We want to look after ourselves and we should look after ourselves. I was very perturbed by some of the statements of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. Even among government circles, there is a big push to civilianise much of the military. The one thing I hope that they will leave us with is our own ethos, discipline and law.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: As we are in Committee, I hope that I may briefly intervene. I agree with everything that the noble Viscount has said. I find myself in the same difficulty: I am unable to agree with the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. We return to the fundamental question that we discussed yesterday—are we to have a military law that is distinct and separate from the civil system? The backbone of this Bill and the answer to that is yes. It is what noble and gallant Lords and an odd noble and learned Lord said on Second Reading. We cannot get away from that. Which way are we going? The Bill goes the way of a distinct military system. Therefore, with the greatest sorrow, in a way, I have to disagree with the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford.

Lord Garden: I support my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford, from my own military perspective. I am slightly surprised by the way the debate has gone. The amendment does not talk about civilianising; it talks about keeping the single service ethos of courts martial. Yet the whole Bill is about bringing the service discipline Acts together. There is not a lot of point in having the Bill if we are going to keep our own separate systems.

It is a spurious argument to say that an Army officer cannot judge a fast jet pilot on the panel of a court martial, or that an air force officer does not know the circumstances of soldiers who fight. Those of us who have taken charges of airmen who fight do not think there is necessarily that much difference. That does not matter. In any court martial system, even when it is single service, the members of the panel will be specialists in their own right and not necessarily specialists in what the accused has as their specialisation. We are asking for an informed panel who know about military operations. If we continue to stay in stove pipes by service, we will continue to differ in the way that we treat people between the three services. That does not seem sensible in a world where we are going forward into joint operations.

Lord Vincent of Coleshill: I strongly support the amendment. With respect, I disagree with the noble Lords, Lord Garden and Lord Thomas. The reason is

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that this is not just about service ethos. It is about having members of a court martial who have a true understanding of the differences that surely exist in the operational environment, and in training for it, between the three services. When I became Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, I found myself flying in fast combat aircraft and being sent on patrol in a nuclear submarine, which highlighted the enormously different environments in which each of the services has to operate. If a fair judgment is to be exercised by the members of the court martial, surely there must be enough of them who are aware of the service environment in which the person on trial is operating and in which he is being accused of some offence.

Lord Drayson: I have listened carefully to the contributions that have been made this morning across the Committee, and I have taken into account the very strong feelings that have been expressed. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in his usual style, went to the heart of the matter when he summed it up, that this whole question revolves around one of the fundamental principles of the Bill, which aims to give a separate system of law for the Armed Forces.

It is also important for us to recognise that the Bill has been drafted with great care by the Ministry of Defence in a way that takes into account the pragmatic realities of the nature of operations today. I do not accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that this is a missed opportunity. To the contrary, we are producing in the Bill a modern system that meets the needs of the Armed Forces in so many ways. That is why the Bill is so important. We owe the military a Bill that is effective and meets the needs of our modern Armed Forces.

The service courts are compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Bill includes important developments such as a single system of service law for the first time. There are many other changes that do not depend on legislation, including some of the changes that have been introduced by the Judge Advocate General. We have listened very carefully in the development of the Bill to the Armed Forces and to the ex-Chiefs, with their deep experience in this matter.

It is important that we recognise the need for a defendant generally to be tried by a court made up of members of the defendant’s own service and one which takes into account the particular nature of the differences between the services, as has eloquently been expressed in this debate. However, Amendment No. 132 is unnecessary because, in the joint environment that often occurs, there are situations which require flexibility.

In the evidence before the Select Committee, service chiefs expressed their support for the presumption that single service boards would be appointed; indeed, General Sir Mike Jackson indicated in his evidence that a defendant would generally be more comfortable if tried before members of his own service. That point was echoed by Mr James Mason, a civilian defence advocate, in his evidence. However, we also need to be able pragmatically to respond to a situation.

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I have mentioned joint operations. We also need to take into account a situation whereby there may be two defendants on trial who come from different services or, perhaps, when a criminal offence has been committed overseas in no particular service context; those would be amenable to a mixed panel, as could a court martial of a civilian.

Building on what I said in Committee yesterday, I am happy to stress our presumption, but there may be a compelling and appropriate reason for lay members of the court to be appointed from different services. In the light of such cases, it would not be appropriate to agree to this amendment, which would require the members to come from a single service.

Earl Attlee: The Minister said that we should take a pragmatic view of the nature of operations. He talked also about the joint environment. I presume that he is not proposing that we should undertake courts martial in an operation theatre.

Lord Drayson: No. I am stressing the growing importance of joint operations—for example, the joint helicopter force operates very effectively. We need a system of service law that takes into account the reality that people undertaking joint helicopter training in the UK come from different services.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: In view of the support of noble and gallant Lords, who, let’s face it, know far more about this matter than anyone else in the House, will the Minister reconsider and assure us that the spirit of the amendment should be observed?

Lord Drayson: I have listened carefully and will reflect further on this matter. I hope that when noble Lords read Hansard they will reflect on what I have said about the presumption towards a single service board but maintaining the ability to vary in appropriate circumstances. I will see whether I can do anything further to meet the valid concerns expressed.

Lord Boyce: I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying his presumption, which has been helpful, but perhaps I might lay down one myth, which the noble Lord, Lord Garden, has raised again: the assumption that “joint” means everyone is working together. I have said previously in this House that the vast majority of soldiers, sailors and airmen will go through their entire career without operating jointly: sailors will work at sea, airmen will work in airplanes or on airfields and Army men will work on land operations. We must not assume that, because we are moving in terms of joint operations, which are headquarter functions, the vast majority of our people will be in a joint environment. They will operate within their own single-service environments under a joint command.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: In support of the Minister’s position, although I do not entirely agree with it, one can see the anomalies that can arise, as he pointed out. What if there was a fight between a member of the Air Force and a member of the Army?

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I come from a garrison town where, in my youth, the Royal Welch Fusiliers were always having a fight with the Pioneer Corps—so there can be cross-service issues. What do you do? Before whom are those two charged together? Do they appear in front of the RAF officers or the Army officers? Let us suppose that there are two youngsters on a base, one the child of an RAF service man and the other the child of a member of the Army. Which board would adjudicate in such a situation? If there is any validity to the arguments put forward, no doubt the Air Force family would feel aggrieved to have their child tried by the Army officers, and vice versa.

The aim of the Bill is to bring the services together in a single system of justice. I support that. I have to say to the noble Lord that I have not opposed that concept at all. The proper role of the court martial is to deal with disciplinary matters, but that is another argument that I shall leave. However, I support the bringing together of the services and their prosecuting authorities into one whole, and it seems anomalous that there is an attempt to maintain these rigid divisions between the services when appointing the panel. I can only assume that it comes from tradition and service pride, both of which I respect, but there are other issues which should be considered.

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