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Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that response. I was not so concerned about the gap between the imposition of the sentence and the summary dealing. The problem for all officers
The amendment was designed to be helpful in seeking another way to reduce the period of uncertainty. I am slightly disappointed that the Minister did not like the thrust of the amendment, although I can understand her dislike of the drafting. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, the Minister has claimed that the ECHR and the Human Rights Act are not the only reasons for the Bill. I hope that the belief that these are the reasons is correct, for if they are not this is an even worse Bill than we thought. The argument that one of the reasons for the Bill is to fall in line with modern thought is a poor one. It fails to recognise that the military ethos is different from the civilian. In signing on to join any of the Armed Forces, a man or woman voluntarily gives up a number of rights as a citizen in favour of military efficiency and the ability to do his or her job in the way that is expected. A serviceman is entitled to his rights under the Human Rights Act, but he must also be expected to give up some of his freedom of action.
That being the case, it is essential that the Bill fulfils its main function; namely, to ensure the military discipline comes into line with the terms of the Human Rights Act. It is clear that the Chiefs of Staff have been convinced that that is the case; the Minister has told us so. However, a number of officers with great experience of the Armed Forces and of military discipline are not so convinced; nor are some of my noble and honourable friends who are learned in the law. My noble friends would no doubt say so were they not exercising their legal expertise elsewhere. I seem to suffer from that.
The Government have made it clear that they are in a hurry: they want to have the Bill in place and enacted by the time the Human Rights Act comes into force in October. My honourable friends in another place, who have yet to have the opportunity to debate the Bill, recognise the timing problem, but are far from happy
My noble friends and some noble and gallant Lords have at various stages during the passage of the Bill moved amendments which have attacked its worst features. But, having got to the end, we are still deeply worried, having failed to persuade the Government to make any substantial changes to the principles which govern it.
The Bill may damage the Armed Forces in a way that is irrecoverable. It introduces changes which will strike at the ethos of military discipline. When an individual is on a charge which renders him liable to face a court martial and a custodial sentence, it may well be that in some cases--it will not arise in every case, or possibly even in the majority of cases--he is a bad man. If such a man can taunt his commanding officer or defy the requirements of discipline without danger of immediate retribution, it must damage discipline and the morale of the whole unit.
One has in mind the old adage: act in haste, repent at leisure. The deadline of 1st October is clear, but if, as we believe, much of the Bill is unnecessary it is better to withdraw it and re-examine it fully. I am not so nai ve as to believe that the Government will agree to that just because I suggest it, but they may do so before the Bill reaches another place. There are many flaws in the Bill as we have pointed out during its passage through your Lordships' House. The Opposition's case is that it is only common sense to withdraw the Bill for further examination. If that happens and the aims of the Bill can be shown to be fulfilled, I believe that it will be given a speedy passage through both this House and another place. The Bill has too many flaws, which I shall not reiterate because they have been debated at every stage.
As a general point, it has been made clear that the various service discipline Acts are a hotchpotch which even the Manual of Military Law (in the case of the Army) cannot disentangle. At Report stage I moved an amendment which sought to reconcile the Acts. I did so deliberately, knowing that it would not be accepted, nor with any intention that it should be, but in the hope that the Minister would give us comfort by agreeing that this would be done in the quinquennial Act next year. This she sadly failed to do, saying only that her department would get down to what was an undoubted problem after that legislation had been introduced. Clearly, the Government need time.
A number of my noble friends, including my noble friends Lord Kingsland and Lord Campbell of Alloway, have drawn attention to the words of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor during Third Reading of the Human Rights Bill. His assurances that the ECHR posed no threat to the effectiveness of the Armed Forces have clearly been ignored in this Bill. It would have been agreeable to hear from the noble and learned Lord what he had to say on the subject, but we have not heard from him. Clearly, the Government need time to consider what he said then.
All these points combine to cast doubt upon the effectiveness of the Bill and reinforce the suggestion that the Government would be well advised to wait and look at it again. As I began by saying at Second Reading and have said ever since, this is a bad Bill and I hope that the Government will put a wet towel round their head and think again. In the mean time, reluctantly I am content that this Bill should be passed to another place.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, as this Bill passes I acknowledge with gratitude the constructive and courteous manner in which the noble Baroness has dealt with it. I also respectfully ask that the Government reconsider the amendment moved at Report stage to set up an Armed Forces human rights court when the services Acts are amended by primary legislation for consolidation. That amendment had the support of my noble friend Lord Kingsland, who pointed out that it was wholly consistent with the proposals of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor at the Third Reading of the Human Rights Bill. It also had the support of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, my noble friend Lord Renton and my noble friend Lord Burnham on the Opposition Front Bench. The object of the amendment was not, as stated rather ungenerously by my noble friend Lord Burnham,
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend Lord Wallace would wish me to thank the Minister on his behalf for the courtesy that she has extended to everyone who has taken part in the Bill, both in this Chamber and outside. The House will be aware that we have supported the passage of this Bill in general and in particular. For my part, the time that I have spent on the Bill has been extremely educational. I have learnt things that I never thought I would learn under any circumstances, and I am sure that I am the better for it. We wish the Bill well.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, with the leave of House perhaps I may rise to speak again. I have been more than ungenerous to the noble Baroness--I make no political point of any kind--in failing to mention the immense help that she has given during the passage of this Bill, for the letters that she has written on various points and her assistance throughout. I hope that the whole House will join with me in thanking her for all that she has done.
Having studied this matter and listened to all else that has been said in your Lordships' House during various stages of the Bill, I remain worried. I am concerned that the conflict between the Service discipline Acts and the Bill on the one hand and the Human Rights Act 1998 on the other does not appear to have been resolved. If it is the hope and expectation of the Government that somehow a finding by a commanding officer, court martial or appeal committee clearly shows that there has been a breach of military discipline and the accused person points to the relevant provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998, confusion will result.
I agree that these provisions would give rise to conflict and confusion only occasionally, and perhaps I may identify them. They are Article 10, Freedom of expression; Article 11, Freedom of assembly and association; and, if one considers it carefully, Article 14, Prohibition of discrimination. Article 14 states:
Despite all the Minister has done, I hope that the noble Baroness will listen to my noble friends' remarks about the need for further thought on the Bill. It would be terrible for us to risk giving rise to a conflict. When two Acts of Parliament are abundantly plain but in conflict, they must be reconciled with each other. It has happened in the past time and again. It will happen from time to time always. When national security is at stake, the conflict must be dealt with.
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