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Lord Renton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. Does the advice she was given provide guidance as to what happens when the appeal court, which she mentioned and which arises under the Bill, finds that there is a conflict between the needs of military discipline and the application of human rights?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I assume that the noble Lord means the summary appeal courts. The appeal courts would have to take into account the balance of arguments. I do not believe we are in a position to give advice to appeal courts in that way. The advice we would be giving is advice to commanding officers about what they must take into consideration. If there is anything further that I can say, it will be in advice that we shall put out. We hope to be able to move forward as quickly as possible on giving such advice, which is why I feel that the most expeditious conclusion to this will be best for everyone in the Armed Forces. If there are any further written points that I can give to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I undertake to do so.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, that nothing we are doing now is contrary to what my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said in consideration of the 1998 Act. As the noble Lord reminded us, my noble and learned friend spoke of a willingness to consider military courts. We have considered them but feel that the mechanisms we need are there in the way that I described in my opening remarks to your Lordships on the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway.

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Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, said, a trifle teasingly I thought, that I made the point that life had moved on. However, he said that it was about compliance with the Human Rights Act. I do not believe that the two are in contention. Life has moved on. One example of how it has done so is that we have taken the convention into domestic law. That is one of the ways in which we have moved on, because it was felt right and proper, by all sides of the House, that we should take that action in bringing the convention into domestic law, as we have.

I suggest that nothing in what I have said in any way takes away from the point about, on the one hand, trying to have law that is compliant and, on the other hand, the development in human and civil rights. I am pleased that we have moved on considerably in those respects since 1951. I believe that most noble Lords will be able to agree.

We have given careful consideration to the noble Lord's amendment. I thank him for giving us the opportunity to look at the matter again and for the courteous way in which he approached the issue, both in the House today and in some of the private conversations we have had. I do not believe that the amendment is necessary and hope that on reflection he will feel able to withdraw it.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, for the spirit in which she took the amendment and for understanding the spirit and purpose for which it was tabled. However, as yet no specific breach of any article of the convention has been identified which requires this massive amendment to the service discipline Acts. If one were to take the sense of the House, it has been a good debate and according to my card the majority opinion, the sense of the House, is that we should continue to seek a compromise and a middle way. I am prepared to continue to do that.

I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Craig of Radley and Lord Bramall, for what they said. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Renton and my noble friend Lord Kingsland, who was quite right in his interpretation of why I tabled the amendment. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Burnham; it is quite a change of experience. I was delighted to have such valid support from my own Front Bench.

I mean it when I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, that I am grateful for all the trouble he took and the expertise which he deployed before the House. It was perhaps unfortunate that in the mass of expertise and exposition he somehow misunderstood the spirit and purpose of the amendment. The noble Baroness did not, but he did. I am grateful to all noble Lords. I wish to read the debate in Hansard and have the opportunity to think again. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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4.15 p.m.

Lord Burnham moved Amendment No. 2:

    Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause--


(" . On the day on which this Act comes into force, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a copy of the following Service Discipline Acts consolidated into a single Act and including all the changes with respect to military discipline made following the passing of the Human Rights Act 1998--
(a) Army Act 1955;
(b) Air Force Act 1955; and
(c) Naval Discipline Act 1957.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am not now, nor was I on a previous occasion, teasing the noble Baroness when I say that a perspicacious Minister--and I rank her as one--would note that the wording of the amendment is similar to that moved in Committee by my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil. The reason it has not changed is that I could not better it. I wish to make a point and I hope that I can obtain succour from the noble Baroness.

We noticed in Committee that with all amendments there were the Bill is not made easier by the three service disciplinary Acts, which are marginally different. That means that virtually each amendment has had to be put down three times. As the Minister pointed out in Committee, there is also the Manual of Military Law, which is inclined to weigh down the right-hand side of my noble friend Lord Attlee.

That makes life difficult. The addition, on top of that, of the Bill, the Human Rights Act and all it implies makes life for the military commander and anyone else who has to enforce military discipline very difficult. I hope, therefore, that the Government will be able either to accept the amendment or, if they cannot do so, to give me more than just hope, an assurance, that in the quinquennial Act that we expect in the year 2001 we shall have a reconciliation into one Act of all matters of discipline which affect the Armed Forces. I beg to move.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it may be convenient to the House if, in responding to Amendment No. 2, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 5 to 7. I am grateful for the opportunity to add to my remarks in Committee in responding to the amendment on the subject of consolidated texts tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil. At that stage I sought to reassure noble Lords that up-to-date texts of the service discipline Acts, having been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, were available to Parliament to assist in consideration of the present Bill.

However, it emerged during debate on the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that there was probably as much concern about the availability of up-to-date texts of the legislation outside Parliament. It is possible that I did not address this legitimate area of interest as fully as I might have done at Committee stage. I have subsequently written to a number of noble Lords to clarify the position, and I am happy to do so again today.

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We ensure that those who have most need of the discipline Acts--members of the Armed Forces--have ready access to them in their current state. Since Committee stage I have been reassured that in all three services commanding officers and others are provided with a manual--for example, the Manual of Military Law in the case of the Army--containing updated texts of all relevant service law, with explanatory footnotes and textual commentary. A number of copies are available within units at all times. Clearly, it is essential that that should be the case, and I hope that the information I have provided reassures noble Lords. The manuals will be updated further after the enactment of the present Bill.

However, this amendment goes rather further than that tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil. It appears to suggest that the three service discipline Acts should be merged into one. There are two approaches to this. There is the approach implied in the amendment which simply wraps the texts of the three current Acts into a single cover. That does not appear to be very attractive to us. It would produce a piece of legislation for the services to work with which was three times as large as that which each has to operate today. Alternatively, the Government's approach, which is set out in the Strategic Defence Review, is to work towards a genuine tripartite service discipline Act. We believe that this offers very real benefits in an environment where the services work ever more closely together. It will produce a disciplinary regime to match that joint environment. Unfortunately, such an Act cannot be developed overnight or even, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, suggested at Committee stage, during the Christmas Recess.

Our priority is the present Bill. In the next Session we shall consider the quinquennial Armed Services Bill. Both Bills will alter the service discipline Acts. After the quinquennial Bill is enacted in 2001, we shall start substantive work on the major project of creating a new framework for service discipline with the development of a new tri-service Act. Obviously, we shall want Parliament to consider that as soon as an appropriate Bill is ready and parliamentary time is available.

I have difficulty in understanding Amendments Nos. 5 to 7. The intention appears to be to prevent a day being appointed for a particular purpose until the manuals of service law containing copies of the updated service discipline Acts have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses. My difficulty lies in knowing to what the words

    "no day shall be appointed for this purpose"

refer. The amendment is attached to the provisions of the Bill which deal with the arrest of an accused during his trial by court martial. It appears, therefore, that the intended effect of the amendments is to prevent these provisions alone from having an effect until the manuals of service law have been deposited in the Libraries. In speaking to Amendment No. 2, I hope that I have made clear the position as to the availability of the updated texts of the service discipline Acts.

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We believe it is of the utmost importance that those concerned with the administration of discipline should be aware of both the changes in service law and their significance. I can assure noble Lords that everything will be done to ensure that the changes in procedures envisaged in the Bill are fully understood by the chain of command; that is, commanding officers and all who need to be aware of what is in train. The manuals will be amended and training will be provided. Whatever the purpose behind Amendments Nos. 5 to 7, I can assure the House that everything will be done to meet what I believe is their benign intention; namely, to make the new law known to all. I hope that, on the basis of the assurances that I have given, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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