Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, is the Minister really saying that the reorganisation of what is genteelly known as "MoD Plod" is being done solely for the benefit of the public and that it will in no way benefit the Ministry of Defence Police? That is the implication of her remarks. Serious criticisms have been raised in this regard. I find it hard to believe that we should give legislative time to the consideration of reforms that are solely for the benefit of the public and that might involve, for example, a dog fouling the pavement.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the reason for advancing the changes is to secure better policing. I know that the nomenclature that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, used has common currency but it does not go down terribly well with the Ministry of Defence Police. If the noble Earl can bear to do so, it would be a kindness to refrain from using it.

The changes are being made to secure better policing but not for the benefit, as the noble Earl put it, of the MoD. They will allow the relevant powers to be used to better effect. I have given a couple of examples--helping with missing persons and with the floods that we saw in recent months. I am sure that the noble Earl will debate this matter further during the Bill's later stages.

There are two key provisos in relation to the assistance that I described. First, such assistance will quite rightly be triggered only if there is a request from the relevant chief constable. Agreement to the request will be a matter for the judgment of the chief constable of the MDP. Secondly, we intend that assistance of this nature should be found from within the force's own resources. There will be no additional resources for the MDP simply to enable it to help Home Department constabularies. I hope that that will help to put that aspect of our proposals into perspective and to refute the suggestion that there is an agenda to develop the MDP as some form of national gendarmerie.

I assure the House that there is no intention to duplicate the role of Home Department forces or to turn the MDP into a general police force. Its role will continue to be to police the defence estate and the defence community. The extensions that I have described are tightly circumscribed. In our view, they are the minimum that will enable the force to operate effectively and to collaborate with Home Department forces.

There is one further proposal in the Bill that I wish to discuss in some detail. I refer to Clauses 34 and 35, which deal with testing for alcohol and drugs. The

23 Apr 2001 : Column 20

Armed Forces' drug-testing programmes, which are conducted on a random basis, are a useful tool in deterring and combating the use of controlled drugs, which is, of course, unacceptable. There are no provisions to allow testing for alcohol. The services have education programmes that are designed to promote a responsible attitude towards alcohol. However, because alcohol does not have the same unlawful status as controlled drugs, it would obviously be inappropriate to test for it on a random basis.

The Bill seeks to enable the Armed Forces to test for alcohol and drugs in certain specified circumstances. They will involve incidents that have caused death, serious injury or serious damage, or which could have done so. Anyone who is subject to service law and who may have contributed to the incident may be required to provide breath or urine samples to allow testing for alcohol or drugs. It will be an offence to refuse. The results of such tests will be used to assist in establishing the cause of the incident and therefore to inform a subsequent board of inquiry. They will not be usable in a subsequent service prosecution. However, the results could be used as a basis for any administrative action that is aimed at preventing an individual creating similar risks in future. That reflects the intention behind the provision.

The Bill also includes several minor changes to the legislation affecting the Armed Forces, which are intended to rectify anomalies and so on. Changes of some substance are mostly contained in Schedule 7.

I am sure that those noble Lords who have expressed concern about the retirement ages of public servants will welcome the proposal that a Judge Advocate General should not be required to retire until attaining the age of 70. That will bring them into line with members of the civilian judiciary.

A further very positive proposal will amend the Marriage Act 1949. That Act currently requires that, of the children of members of the Armed Forces, only daughters are eligible to be married in service chapels. The Bill proposes that sons and step-children should also be eligible. I hope noble Lords will welcome that small but important liberalising measure.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, like all Armed Forces Bills, this measure is important to the services. I know that noble Lords will give the Bill their customary careful consideration. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)

3.38 p.m.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords will join me in offering our warmest congratulations to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, on his appointment as a Knight of the Garter.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear.

23 Apr 2001 : Column 21

Lord Burnham: My Lords, that signal and high honour is very well deserved by the noble and gallant Lord.

I thank the Minister for her customary clear exposition of the Bill's contents. I have just around the corner from the Chamber a large sheaf of amendments, which we are ready to table as soon as we finish today's debate. It cannot be said that she has not told us exactly what is in the Bill, and I thank her for that.

The Bill will continue the parliamentary authority for the Armed Forces under the Bill of Rights 1688. Such a requirement is covered in Part 1. If we table amendments to Part 1, I assure noble Lords that they will not be designed to disturb the balance of the constitution. Rather, they will focus the Government's mind on the urgency of replacing the structure of the service discipline Acts.

The Bill will ensure the continuance of the Armed Forces with the requisite parliamentary authority and it serves to remind us that the Armed Forces are the armed services of the Crown. Members of the Armed Forces serve by reason of their duty to the Crown and not at all in the way that a commercial employee owes a duty to his employer, as was suggested in another place.

As they stand, the Armed Forces are a constitutional compromise. They are the,


    "armed forces of the Crown approved by Parliament".

Other countries and other times have tried to do it differently--Cromwell, the Dutch, Hitler, the Russians. All have failed. However, unfortunately, we face the mission creep of the politically correct. My noble friend Lady Thatcher made some robust remarks on that matter when she accepted the Chesney Gold Medal at the Royal United Services Institute recently. She said:


    "I notice trends which threaten the core of military culture and the whole ethos which sustains it. The values of a risk averse civilian society are being imposed on a military community to which they are essentially unsuited".

Later, she said:


    "A refusal to understand the realities of service life leads to unrealistic ideas taking root about how armed forces should be organised. The British armed forces are one of this country's greatest assets. Through their courage and commitment they defend our freedom. We for our part must give them the framework and the means to do their difficult and dangerous job. They deserve nothing less".

Political correctness and soft beds are not what the Armed Forces are for. John Major recalls in his autobiography, which I am reading at the moment, that when he visited elements of the Army shortly before the land stage of the Gulf War started, they told him, "It is why we joined. It is our job". That is the Army.

We are entitled to hope that the quinquennial Bill will provide the framework that my noble friend Lady Thatcher requires. However, I fear it does not always do so. It portrays the insidious effect of creeping political correctness in undermining the military ethos. It fails yet again to use this opportunity to move positively towards a single tri-service disciplinary

23 Apr 2001 : Column 22

statute. My noble friend Lord Attlee will cover that point later in the debate. And it does not address the ability of Parliament to scrutinise effectively the subordinate legislation and quasi- legislation which is essential to give working effect to primary legislation of this kind.

Creeping political correctness tending to undermine the military ethos may take several forms: first, in relation to recruitment and those who may be recruited, of which we have heard much in recent months; secondly, in relation to duties and who should be allowed to do what--grafting into the necessary disciplines of military life the easy-going privileges of civil society. We must accept that in signing on, men or women voluntarily give up many of the rights and freedoms that they possessed before. Military life is different. It is no good pretending otherwise.

Lastly, in relation to the restatement of the laws of war and conflict, the politically correct behave as though those matters can be conducted by negotiation between consenting parties.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, is it possible to define political correctness? It is not a term that I entirely understand in the way that it has been explained.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page