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An update on the national changeover plan was asked for. The third outlying national changeover plan was published in June 2003 and sets out the possible timetable for changeover, its management and the impact on consumers, business, financial services, and the voluntary and public sectors. Since then, the EPU has worked with stakeholders from across the economy to develop a suite of supporting planning documents, including a draft management transition plan and a draft consumer protection framework. Details of these can be found on the website.

On banks, the UK is committed to encouraging competition in both the UK and EU markets. EU competition authorities are currently looking at the state of competition in retail banking markets, and will be reporting shortly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, posed some questions about the Government’s position on the euro, and I think I have set that out. She referred to the Chancellor continuing to be wise, and I can confirm that I am sure he will. I have dealt with when the next assessment is due. No assessment has been made in relation to the last Budget, and the matter will be reviewed at the next. The position on the referendum remains unchanged: we would not go into the euro without one.

The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, raised issues about public finances. UK public finances are fully consistent with a prudent interpretation of the stability and growth pact, which takes into account the economic cycle, long-term sustainability of public finances and the role of public investment. Both the Treasury and Commission projections show that the UK deficit will reach the reference value of 3 per cent in 2006-07, and fall thereafter.

I am reminded that time is up, so I shall briefly summarise. Although Europe is currently bouncing back, enjoying a cyclical recovery and, encouragingly, some of the major European economies are seen to be turning a corner, many problems remain. Europe continues to lose ground in comparison with key developed economies. Structural problems persist. Unemployment remains high, particularly long-term and youth unemployment, while productivity and innovation is low. Europe’s recent growth record and its marked lack of resilience to shocks are worrying. The underlying factors contributing to Europe’s slow growth and economic performance stem from structural policy weaknesses. The right policy response is therefore the pursuit of structural reform to promote employment, raise productivity and increase flexibility in labour, product and capital markets.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 2.39 pm.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 2.33 to 2.39 pm.]

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Armed Forces Bill

2.40 pm

House again in Committee.

Clause 334 [Composition and procedure of service complaint panels]:

Lord Garden moved Amendment No. 165:

( ) an independent member (see subsection (7));”

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 165 and the other amendments in my name in this group are designed to ensure that there is always at least one independent member on a service panel. We welcome the Government’s response to the Blake report’s recommendation for an independent panel member, but we are disappointed that the Bill is phrased so that an independent member is optional rather than part of the system. These amendments ensure that the recommendations that resulted from the Deepcut inquiry come into being. I beg to move.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): Amendments Nos. 165 to 169 require an independent member on all redress panels and allow the Secretary of State to require more than one in prescribed cases.

Our starting point is that at the heart of the relationship between service personnel and the chain of command is that the chain of command is responsible for investigating wrongs and remedying them. In some cases, the balance moves in favour of an independent element, particularly where the need for transparency is paramount or where outside expertise is beneficial. We have already identified the key areas where an independent element is needed: where a complainant alleges unlawful discrimination or harassment, bullying, which can amount to harassment in some instances, or a wrong done involving bias or other improper behaviour. We do not intend to limit the cases to these. There will certainly be other cases in which expertise or independence calls for an independent element. Moreover, we propose to ensure independent oversight of the working of the system by the appointment of a statutory service complaints commissioner, who will report directly to the Secretary of State.

We think that in this way we shall achieve the right balance between, on the one hand, independence and outside areas of expertise and, on the other hand, the need for the services to respond to complaints and for complaints to be considered with an understanding of the service context. I hope that, on the strength of my response to the proposals, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Garden: I am grateful to the Minister for his response. It does not really answer the concerns of the Deepcut inquiry because we need an assurance that an independent panel member will be available to provide consistency through all such complaints. I was surprised that the Minister referred to,

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Are there occasions when the Ministry of Defence would rather not be transparent? I shall not press this matter in Committee, but I give notice to the Minister that I shall return to it on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 166 to 169 not moved.]

Clauses 334 and 335 agreed to.

2.45 pm

Lord Drayson moved Amendments Nos. 169A and 169B:

“Role of Service Complaints Commissioner (a) is subject to service law and has been wronged in a prescribed way; or (b) was wronged in such a way while he was so subject. (a) inform the person that the allegation has been so referred; (b) ensure that the person is aware of- (i) the procedure for making a service complaint; and (ii) the effect on the making of service complaints of any regulations made by virtue of section 332(5)(b) (time limits for service complaints); and (c) ascertain whether he wishes to make a service complaint in respect of the alleged wrong. “prescribed” means prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State; “relevant officer” means the officer to whom a service complaint made by the person in respect of the alleged wrong is (under regulations made under section 332) to be made; “service complaint” has the same meaning as in that section.” (a) the efficiency, effectiveness and fairness with which the system under this Part for dealing with service complaints has operated during that period; (b) the exercise by the Commissioner during that period of his function under section (Referral by Service Complaints Commissioner of certain allegations) of referring allegations; and (c) such other aspects of the system mentioned in paragraph

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(a), and such matters relating to the function mentioned in paragraph (b), as the Commissioner considers appropriate or the Secretary of State may direct. (a) would be against the interests of national security; or (b) might jeopardise the safety of any person. (a) any aspect of the system mentioned in subsection (1)(a); (b) any matter relating to the function mentioned in subsection (1)(b). “relevant period” means a period of one year beginning with- (a) the date this section comes into force; or (b) an anniversary of that date; “service complaint” has the same meaning as in section 332.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 170 not moved.]

Clauses 336 to 339 agreed to.

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 171:

The noble Earl said: Recently, there has been concern, inside and outside Parliament, about the casualty rate in current operations. We are told that figures are not available or not collected, which is convenient. I have resisted the temptation to table suitable Written Questions using inside knowledge of the system; in other words, I have not asked the right questions. How can Ministers balance the benefits of current operations against the human costs, when they do not know how many casualties we are sustaining and their severity? We know perfectly well that our servicemen have been sustaining serious, life-changing injuries. It is not healthy for our democracy if we do not know the extent of those injuries, so this amendment requires the Secretary of State to keep records.

At Question Time on Tuesday, the Minister claimed that on average 50 members of the Armed Forces are hospital inpatients. Is he absolutely confident of those figures, and do they include people staying at Headley Court? I beg to move.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: Amendment No. 172, tabled in my name, is grouped with Amendment No. 171, although it deals with an entirely different subject. It deals with an issue raised by Nicholas Blake QC in the Deepcut review. Recommendation No. 30 of that review was that there should always be an inquest or, in Scotland, a fatal accident inquiry, into the sudden death of a soldier, wherever the death occurs, and my amendment reflects that recommendation. However,

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the Minister wrote to my noble friend Lord Garden on 9 October and pointed out that work is being done on that recommendation, that it has not yet reached fruition, and that it should be more properly considered under the Coroners Bill that is to be brought before Parliament. If I can have an assurance to that effect this afternoon, I do not think it will be necessary for me to pursue my amendment further.

Lord Astor of Hever: With Amendment No. 171 my noble friend Lord Attlee raises an important point about the maintenance of records. I support his amendment. There has been considerable concern in the country about the casualty figures, and it is vital that records are kept.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: I support this amendment because I remember that at the beginning of the Gulf War inquiries many details of records had vanished because the IT arrangements were not effective. I sincerely hope that there is now no danger that important records could be lost, through no ill will but a failure to control the IT aspect of record-keeping.

Viscount Slim: In war, if you are killed, you are killed; if you are wounded, you are wounded; and if you are injured, you are injured. Occasionally, there is a bit of a muddle in reports from the MoD about wounded and injured. You can be injured in an operational area; you can also be injured playing soccer for your team in England. It is perhaps convenient, to put it politely, that these days many injury figures are given but not many are given for the number wounded—and there are quite a lot of wounded servicemen.

Lord Drayson: I have listened carefully to noble Lords and I recognise absolutely the deep importance of recording casualty figures.

Our argument that Amendment No. 171 is unnecessary and inappropriate for primary legislation is based on our belief that we are collecting and communicating the data on the casualty figures appropriately. Nevertheless, I understand the concern raised this afternoon. I will provide the Committee with further information on initiatives being undertaken in the department. For example, we will be introducing a defence medical information capability programme to strengthen the processes in this area. Given that I make that commitment this afternoon, I ask the noble Earl to withdraw his amendment.

The noble Earl asked about the answer I gave during Starred Questions. Our data show that, on any given day throughout the year, in the United Kingdom the Ministry of Defence has on average fewer than 50 inpatients in any type of care facility. If the noble Earl wishes me to give further information on that, I would be happy to do so.

The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, makes a strong point about the potential for confusion in describing those who are wounded and those who are injured.

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That is a very important point. In some of the debates I have seen in the media about this there has been confusion. The Ministry of Defence needs to do everything it can to make it absolutely clear where people have been killed in action, where they have been wounded and to differentiate between those who may have been injured for another reason.

On Amendment No. 172, I am happy to give the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, the assurance he seeks. I ask him, on that basis, not to press the amendment.

Earl Attlee: I thank the Minister for his response to the short debate. My only observation is that if the MoD is collecting and communicating the data, why is there so much concern in Parliament and the media? I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 172 not moved.]

Clauses 340 to 344 agreed to.

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 173:

(a) in the arrangements he makes for determining who should be offered that employment; (b) in the terms on which he offers him that employment; or (c) by refusing or deliberately omitting to offer him that employment. (a) in the terms of employment which he affords him; (b) in the way he affords him access to opportunities for promotion, transfer or training, or to any other benefits, facilities or services, or by refusing or deliberately not offering him access to them; or (c) by dismissing him, or subjecting him to any other detriment.

The noble Earl said: Our reserves, regular or volunteer, are a vital component of our Armed Forces. As we know, they are used regularly and continuously on operations. It seems to me that pregnant mothers enjoy superior employment protection compared to reservists returning from compulsory mobilisation. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are serious recruiting problems in parts of the volunteer reserves, particularly for officers, where the situation is best described as “dire”.

Take Sergeant Knight, for example. He returned from Operation TELIC in 2003. He was offered menial employment with his old employer, so he took it to the reinstatement committee provided for under the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act. He had to pay for his own legal team and advice. There were no MoD observers at the reinstatement

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committee; he was on his own. Interestingly, earlier today the Minister said that, during a prosecution, a serviceman will invariably be accompanied by an officer, but in a reinstatement committee, where the volunteer is trying to get back his proper employment prospects, he gets no help. I always thought that if I were compulsorily mobilised for an operation and I did not get my job back the employer would be in some difficulty because he would have the MoD on his back; but it does not seem to be that way.

Largely due to the lack of support from the MoD, Sergeant Knight was unsuccessful in getting his job back. He is now out of pocket several thousands of pounds of legal expenses. The support of the MoD, particularly the Director of Reserve Forces and Cadets, to this excellent volunteer has been pathetic. What is the Minister going to do about it? I beg to move.

Lord Astor of Hever: My name is on this amendment and I wholeheartedly support it. Since 1 April 2004 new recruits to the volunteer Reserve Forces are required to permit their units to inform their employers about their membership. They must also consent to any new employer being informed. At the same time no steps have been taken to prevent what is admittedly a very small minority of employers from discriminating against them as a result of this information.

We owe our full support to our reserve and Territorial Army members who have been serving their country in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is extraordinary that a small number of them have returned to find their jobs taken or their employment opportunities limited. It also seems quite wrong that a significant proportion of those who leave the Reserve Forces give pressure from employers as a reason for doing so. For those reasons I ask the Government to give this amendment serious consideration.

Lord Garden: I am deeply sympathetic to the tales told us by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. Of course his amendment does not address the Ministry of Defence’s lack of support to individuals who found themselves with job problems when they returned from service. That is a question of implementation rather than new legislation.

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