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Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware of the particular difficulties faced by discharged prisoners who cannot enter into commitments to take on a tenancy without the certainty of being able to get housing benefit, but they cannot get housing benefit until after they have been discharged? Will she look into that matter and try to do something about it?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, that is a real problem. Prisoners and their support organisations could press local authorities much harder to use the exceptional hardship payment scheme. In the past year, for example, the Government made available 20 million to local authorities for individuals in exactly the kind of position that the noble Lord has described. Some 10 per cent of local authorities spent not a penny of that money; 60 per cent spent less than 50 per cent of their allocation. Well over half of that allocation is unspent. As a result, people in extreme need such as former prisoners and young women who may be pregnant who could get additional help in high demand areas are not being given it. I hope that your Lordships will join me in pressing local authorities to spend the money they have been allocated for such cases and not to spend it on other things.

Business

Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend Lord Whitty will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place in answer to a Private Notice Question on the work of the Rural Task Force with regard to the foot and mouth crisis.

International Development Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Armed Forces Bill

3.10 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Much of the Bill is concerned with the statutory framework for the system of discipline in the Armed Forces. Discipline is an essential ingredient of the operational effectiveness of the Armed Forces. Everyone in the Armed Forces fully understands that to be the case.

In this country we properly take pride in the fact that our forces are disciplined. We rightly take pride in their excellence. The connection between sound discipline and excellence is a very real one. It is vital, therefore, for us to ensure that the discipline part of the equation is right.

The statutory basis for discipline in the Armed Forces is the Army and Air Force Acts 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957--collectively known as the service discipline Acts. They have to be renewed every

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five years, otherwise they would expire. The single most important purpose of Armed Forces Bills is to effect that renewal.

The service discipline Acts were last renewed by the Armed Forces Act 1996 and will expire at the end of this year. The present Bill, when passed into law, will give them a further five-year lease of life.

I know that the Government's commitment to move towards a tri-service Act is of interest to your Lordships. At Second Reading of this Bill in another place, my honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, John Spellar, set out our intentions on that. We intend to have the necessary provisions included as part of the five-yearly Bill that we expect to be introduced in the 2005-06 Session. It was never the intention to use the present Bill for that purpose.

The present legislation has served the Armed Forces well. However, there is scope for improvement, not least to facilitate the administration of discipline in a joint service environment. That will need a new legislative framework, in the form of a single discipline Act.

Developing that is a substantial and important task. The new Act, covering all three services, needs to be more than the sum of the present parts. It will be vital to get it right, and that will take time. Our Armed Forces deserve no less. As Sir Michael Boyce, the Chief of the Defence Staff, told the Select Committee that considered the Bill in another place, we need,


    "to make sure that we did not lose the baby with the bathwater".

The Select Committee recommended that the tri-service legislation should be brought before Parliament within three years. The Government will, of course, examine the feasibility of doing so, but it will remain our overriding objective to ensure that the legislation will form an appropriate basis for the services' discipline requirements in the future. I am sure that your Lordships would not expect us to do otherwise.

Returning to the Bill, Clause 1 allows the life of the service discipline Acts to be extended for a further five years, until the end of 2006. As now, that will be subject to annual renewal in the intervening period by the affirmative continuation orders debated in both Houses.

Like previous five-yearly Armed Forces Bills, the Bill before your Lordships proposes a number of changes to existing legislation--the service discipline Acts and other Acts. Those changes are proposed because, in the light of experience, we believe that they will help to make the system operate more effectively.

It has been the policy of successive administrations to aim to keep in step with developments in the civilian system as far as many procedures relating to the investigation, trial and punishment of offences are concerned. That is eminently sensible. Many of those developments are designed to secure the proper balance between the rights and duties of the prosecution and the accused. It is right that, where possible and provided that they are relevant, such

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developments should be reflected in the Armed Forces' procedures. Much of the rest of the Bill is about that.

The more serious offences under the service discipline Acts are investigated by the service police. I should make it clear here that I am referring to the Royal Navy Regulating Branch, the Royal Marines Police, the Royal Military Police and the RAF Police. We shall come to the Ministry of Defence Police later in the Bill. We are not talking about it now.

The service police generally operate in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, much in the way that civilian police do. Indeed, some provisions of PACE, such as those dealing with fingerprinting, already apply to the service police. However, in certain areas the service police investigate offences on the basis of commanding officers' inherent powers rather than on any statutory basis. We consider that the basis on which service police exercise those functions needs to be clarified by being put on to a statutory footing. That will enable the service police and those with whom they deal to have a clear understanding of the limits of those powers. That is dealt with in Clauses 2 to 16. Clause 2 defines the circumstances in which a member of the service police may stop and search someone subject to service law, or stop and search service and certain other vehicles, such as when there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that a search will reveal items such as stolen goods or controlled drugs.

Service police are to be found in most major units, but they are not everywhere. It may sometimes be necessary for a search to be undertaken when they are not available. Clause 4 therefore provides residual powers for commanding officers to exercise the powers described in Clause 2 through members of the Armed Forces who are not service police, but only if the timely assistance of the police cannot be secured. Inevitably, the investigation of an offence may call for a search of someone's living accommodation. In such circumstances, Clause 5 will require a member of the service police to apply for a warrant from a judicial officer.

As many of your Lordships know, Clause 6 generated some interest in another place, because it provides powers for the service police in relation to warrants for certain sensitive materials, including journalistic materials. However, it came to be seen as part of the package, reflecting the civilian provisions needed to instil certainty in this general area of service police investigations. In particular, once it was understood that the clause provides the additional safeguards applicable to such materials as are available in the civilian system, the Select Committee in another place noted Clause 6 as, "a positive step".

Clause 7 provides a residual power for a commanding officer to authorise a search of living accommodation by members of the Armed Forces who are not service police, or by service police without a warrant, but only if calling on the service police or obtaining a warrant is not practicable. The power is not exercisable in relation to Clause 6, when a warrant will always be required.

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Clause 8 makes the exercise of the commanding officer's powers to authorise a search subject to retrospective review by a judicial officer if anything has been seized during the search.

Clause 9 defines the powers to enter premises without a warrant for the purpose of effecting an arrest. Those powers may generally be exercised only by a member of the service police. However, if the arrest is in respect of a serious offence and if the delay in waiting for the police is likely to frustrate the purpose of the entry, the commanding officer may authorise another member of the Armed Forces to enter the premises concerned.

Clause 10 deals with the powers of search exercisable following arrest. It allows an arrested person to be searched if there are reasonable grounds for believing that he or she may be a danger to himself or herself or to others. It also provides for searches for evidence or for things that may aid an escape.

The principles underlying the proposals in Part 2 are clear. They provide a sound basis for an important area of service police activities, modelled on civilian procedures. They define the circumstances in which police powers may be exercised, making them subject to judicial supervision where appropriate. However, they also recognise the realities of service life. An investigation should not be paralysed because the assistance of the service police cannot be secured in time. Instead, there will be a clear framework within which the commanding officer will be able to authorise action.

Part 3 makes a number of proposals for the reform of the procedures for the trial and punishment of offences under the service discipline Acts. Clause 17 will make it possible to deal summarily with relatively minor offences committed by naval officers. Essentially, this will bring the Royal Navy into line with the other two services.

At present within the services only officers may sit as courts-martial members. The Select Committee in another place, which examined the previous Armed Forces discipline Bill, considered whether other ranks should also be eligible. However, it did not reach any firm conclusions. The previous administration subsequently established a review of the issue.

Following that, in 1998 Ministers announced that we wished courts martial to benefit from the wisdom and experience of warrant officers. Therefore, Clause 19 proposes changes to the legislation to allow warrant officers to sit as courts-martial members in cases where the accused is of a lower rank.

Clause 20 provides a power to extend membership of the summary appeal courts to warrant officers. That is in recognition of the views expressed by Opposition Members in another place during the passage of the Armed Forces discipline Act in the previous Session. We do not believe that it would be appropriate to make warrant officers members of the summary appeal courts immediately. Before taking a view in due course as to whether they should be eligible to sit on the summary appeal courts, we want, first, to obtain more

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experience of those new courts in operation and to gain experience of warrant officers as courts-martial members.

The remainder of Part 3 proposes adjustments to bring certain of our trial procedures into line with those of the civilian courts. Some of those are intended to assist the service courts to operate more effectively. Others aim to help in getting the right balance between the prosecution and the accused and between the wrongdoer and the community. For example, Clause 21 will enable the Attorney-General to invite the Courts-Martial Appeal Court to review a sentence passed by a court martial if he considers that the sentence is unduly lenient. That reflects a similar power in relation to sentences of the civilian courts and, indeed, will apply only to the type of offences dealt with by civilian courts; in other words, the new power will not apply to purely service offences, such as disobedience.

I know that some of your Lordships have expressed concerns about Clause 21. But nothing in this proposal will affect the authority of courts martial any more than do the existing rights of the accused to appeal. However, in the very few cases where we expect the new power to be used, the aim will be to see that justice is done and that the authority and credibility of the system as a whole are upheld.

Also with regard to sentencing, it has always been the intention that courts martial should be subject to the same requirement as the civilian courts to impose mandatory or minimum sentences in certain circumstances. That will apply where such courts are dealing with an offender who has previously been convicted of specified serious offences and who is being sentenced for a further, similar offence. In that respect, Clause 22 puts the service courts on the same footing as civilian courts.

The conduct of courts martial in hearing cases can be impeded if, during the trial, the defence seeks judicial review of a decision of the courts martial. Where that happens, the trial must stop until the High Court has dealt with the application for judicial review. That can, and on occasions does, mean a long delay.

Where cases are tried on indictment in the Crown Court, there is no right to seek judicial review. If the defence is unhappy with any aspect of the way in which the trial has been conducted, it has the right to appeal. Similarly, there can be appeal from the decisions of a court martial. Where appeal is possible, there is no need to have access to judicial review. Therefore, by removing trial proceedings from the scope of judicial review, Clause 23 brings courts martial into line with the Crown Court.

Witnesses who fail to attend courts martial can delay or frustrate the administration of justice. At present, there are no effective means of ensuring the attendance of civilian witnesses. Clause 25 seeks to remedy that by giving judicial officers or judge advocates powers similar to those available to civilian courts. They would be able to order the arrest of witnesses who they have good reason to believe will fail to attend proceedings or who actually fail so to attend.

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Civilian courts have powers to award costs against parties in a criminal case or against their legal representatives. That applies where the court considers that the case has been conducted in a way that results in the other side incurring unnecessary expenditure. However, there are no corresponding powers available to service courts, and there is now evidence that they are needed. Therefore, Clauses 26, 27 and 28 give appropriate powers to service courts, similar to those which are already available to civilian courts.

Clause 30 will enable procedures to be introduced to allow an accused to apply for bail pending the outcome of an appeal against a custodial sentence awarded by service courts. There is no reason for the services to continue to differ from civilian procedures in that regard.

Before I move on to Part 4, I want to mention Clause 33. This clause is of a piece with much of what has already been discussed in your Lordships' House with regard to the Armed Forces discipline Bill. It aims to bring service procedures further into line with relevant changes in the civilian criminal justice system.

One way in which to do so is to ensure that criminal justice legislation extends to the services where appropriate. Sometimes legislation immediately applies to the Armed Forces, but that is not always achievable. The complexity of much criminal justice legislation and the sometimes substantial differences between service and civilian arrangements can make it difficult to provide the necessary provision for the services in civilian legislation.

Some Acts, such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, provide powers which allow certain of their provisions to be extended to the Armed Forces by secondary legislation. In this case, the power is generally couched in terms that the provisions may be modified to cater for the special requirements of the services. However, we still find instances where the civilian procedures have been altered but where we have no powers to follow suit, even though we wish to do so. We must wait for the next five-yearly Bill.

Clause 33 provides a means for enabling us to respond in a more timely manner. It will allow the Secretary of State to use statutory instruments to apply future changes in civilian criminal justice legislation--and only criminal justice legislation--to the services. That will be on the basis of making equivalent provision with modifications.

It is important to bear in mind that the provisions that we shall seek to extend to the services by virtue of Clause 33 will already have been scrutinised by Parliament. Nevertheless, I know that the House will expect the power to be used sensibly, and I can assure your Lordships that that is exactly what we intend.

Part 4 deals with the Ministry of Defence Police. This is a civilian police force, some 3,500 strong, within the Ministry of Defence. Its purpose is to provide effective policing of the defence estate and community. At the risk of labouring the point, I remind your Lordships that the force should not be confused with the service police, whom I discussed earlier.

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The Ministry of Defence Police is defined in the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987. It became an executive agency within the Ministry of Defence in April 1996. The House will wish to note that shortly we intend to announce its formal quinquennial review. The review will examine whether the MDP should remain as an agency and ways in which its performance can be improved. The review will range widely in pursuing that remit and, among other issues, will address the role and composition of the Ministry of Defence Police Committee. That is a matter in which I know that a number of your Lordships are very interested, and it was, of course, considered by the Select Committee of the Bill in another place.

MDP officers possess constabulary powers. Their training is very similar to that of Home Office police officers. The force is subject to inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, and the Bill now proposes that it should be put on to a statutory footing. Its officers provide for the security of a range of defence assets, especially where there is a likelihood of contact with the public or with civilian employees.

The image of the MDP as an essentially static force based at defence establishments no longer holds true. The force now includes mobile teams responsible for a number of establishments. Inevitably, transiting from one defence establishment to another brings such MDP officers into greater contact with the public than was the case previously.

That has consequences for our expectations about the way in which members of the force will act. If a member of the public is, for example, the victim of an assault, he or she may expect a passing police officer in uniform to assist. It is of no concern to the victim whether the police officer belongs to the MDP or the local constabulary.

However, the current law does not allow an MDP officer to exercise constabulary powers when intervening in such circumstances, except near defence land and at the request of a Home Department police officer; otherwise, he or she has the same standing in relation to the incident as any other citizen. That is not at all satisfactory. It can inhibit the officer from assisting effectively, because he or she knows that any actions may subsequently be challenged.

The Bill seeks to remedy that. Clauses 31 and 32 and Schedule 5 make a number of changes to the jurisdiction of the MDP. A key change is that which will enable MDP officers to act on their own authority in an emergency in cases involving violence or the threat of violence, or where there is a risk of death or injury. That addition to individual MDP officers' powers is tightly circumscribed, essentially to cases in which it is clear that the timely assistance of a Home Department police officer will not be available.

The Bill will also broaden the ability of individual officers to respond to requests for assistance from local police officers. At present, that is limited to the vicinity of defence land.

The Bill's proposals will enable individual MDP officers to make a more effective contribution to the policing of the community. Other proposals will make

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it easier for the force as a whole to co-operate with Home Department forces. They will allow the MDP to enter into standing arrangements if a local police force requests assistance in the longer-term policing of land in the vicinity of defence land. They will also allow the force to meet requests for the provision of personnel or other resources to assist other police forces anywhere in the country, in order to meet special demands on their resources. That would have arisen, for example, during the floods in recent months or in the search for a missing person.


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