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Lord Burnham: My Lords, unfortunately, I do not have three-and-a-half hours so I do not think that I can even start on such a matter. I am afraid that the noble Lord has his tongue just slightly in his cheek when asking that question.

There is little in the Bill to improve the morale of the Armed Forces. Morale is not just a matter of longer telephone calls, increased pay or better preparation for civilian life. Such tangible steps are good but they leave out of account important intangible difficulties, some of which are of the Government's own making.

Those matters are intangible and difficult. Members of the Armed Forces must respect what they are doing and how they are doing it; and those outside must respect them for doing it, politically correct or not.

The follies that I have enumerated run as a theme, I am afraid to say, through the Armed Forces discipline Bill which we recently debated and the International Criminal Court Bill. We see those matters again in this Bill. Senior officers, by the nature of their appointment, become more and more agents of government rather than advocates for the armed services. Nevertheless, both the current Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Boyce, and the recently retired General Guthrie have warned of the dangers inherent in such policies even though they said--and I shall say this before the noble Baroness says it--that they have so far experienced no difficulties with recent legislation.

Having thus criticised the ethos of the Bill, it is necessary to say that we accept it in general. A number of matters are welcome: the authority to continue to operate, of course; and matters like, as the noble Baroness explained carefully, giving warrant officers the authority to sit on courts martial. I am glad that the

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Government were robust in another place in their opposition to certain matters in connection with warrant officers proposed by certain of their adherents.

As the noble Baroness explained, the Bill contains a considerable number of detailed changes to military law and its application. None of those is trivial but they are all minor. As I said, we shall undoubtedly move a number of amendments in Committee in the hope that we may be able to improve the Bill and retrieve some of the ground lost in the earlier legislation, to which I referred. We shall probably be looking for a declaration to exclude the Armed Forces from the application of Article 8 of the International Criminal Court statute.

But the main problem with the Bill lies, as the noble Baroness clearly recognised, in Clause 31. It is inconceivable that Her Majesty's Government should have thought it a good thing to include the highly contentious provisions designed to increase the powers of the Ministry of Defence Police in otherwise generally non-contentious--given the acceptance of the creeping political ethos--matters in the Bill. Those matters in Part 4 deserve a Bill of their own, as clearly demonstrated in the evidence given for the special report of the Commons Select Committee--269 pages of evidence.

We might think again about this matter, depending on what we hear from the Government, but we are unlikely to oppose, at least from these Benches, the Question that Clause 31 shall stand part of the Bill. I say that it is unlikely because a number of my noble friends may think differently. But we shall have much to say about the clause, as did my honourable friends in another place. They would have had a great deal more to say had the debate not been totally curtailed by the Government.

Clause 31 relates to a detailed and potentially far-reaching enlargement of the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence Police, which is seen by some, as their evidence to the Select Committee shows, as pointing towards a total redefinition of the role of the force. That was supported in the words of the Minister.

But it is ridiculous to add those police matters to an Armed Forces Bill. The Ministry of Defence Police is a police force, the tenth largest in the country. It is not one of the armed services or part of the armed services, nor is it the same, as the noble Baroness so clearly pointed out, as the Royal Military Police. That is demonstrated by the fact that its members wear blue police-style uniforms, not the red caps and white gaiters of the Royal Military Police, although my noble friend Lord Attlee, who is more up to date, says that the white gaiters are no longer worn.

The activities of the Ministry of Defence Police, as stated, are governed by the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987. Yet Her Majesty's Government have chosen to tack amendments to that Act on to this Armed Forces Bill, rather than to bring in a separate Bill to amend the 1987 Act. In evidence to the Select Committee, military authorities, civil police,

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journalists and others expressed concern about what was proposed. I accept that something has to be done as at present there is considerable doubt about the extent of the powers of the Ministry of Defence Police and who controls them. To put it kindly, the Secretary of State was unclear about the extent of his powers, nor was it at all clear where overall control lay.

For those and other reasons we shall probably not oppose Clause 31, or perhaps I should say Part 4 of the Bill. However, clearly something is wrong if, when the second permanent under-secretary asks the Ministry of Defence Police to escort oil tankers during the fuel crisis, he is told that the force does not have the power to do so. It is also not right that a Ministry of Defence policeman should have to pass by an accident because he has no more powers than an ordinary citizen. In that context I keep muttering to myself, "The Good Samaritan".

The Ministry of Defence Police must not look for trouble, as it is feared they may. The fact that they are usually armed or have arms in their vehicles is bound to cause trouble if they are out and about more, as is likely under the terms of the Bill and as the Minister made clear in her definition of their duties.

I have put a number of questions in writing to the Minister relating to the protocols that govern the activities of the Ministry of Defence Police. Four and a half of the six questions that I asked have been answered. We now know more about what the Ministry of Defence Police should and should not do and how they should behave, but such matters should appear on the face of a Bill--not this Bill--to regulate the force.

However, we have before us a Bill, a significant part of which refers to the Ministry of Defence Police and the House will have to make the best of it. Like Marvell,


    "But at my back I always hear

Time's winged chariot hurrying near".

We do not know whether there will be time for further stages of the Bill before a general election is held, or whether the next Conservative government will have to take it on. If so, this part of the Bill will be amended heavily or possibly dropped from further consideration. If we carry the matter further now we shall table many amendments. Central to those amendments is one that was moved in another place to limit the occasions when Ministry of Defence Police may become involved in any crime investigation.

In Committee and on Report our amendments to Part 4 will be designed to limit the powers of the Ministry of Defence Police, although clarifying their position which, in my opinion, the Bill fails to do. Today we shall give the measure a Second Reading. There is enough in it that is either essential or good to ensure that. Even if there were not the convention to give all Bills a Second Reading unless they are absolute horrors, we support the main principles of this Bill.

3.53 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, in extending our

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congratulations to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, on becoming a Member of the Order of the Garter. I also congratulate the Minister on taking the occasion of the Easter break to join what I understand from some newspapers is the current trend within Britain and to get married. I offer her my warmest congratulations. I have been happily married for far too long. I am also in the happy situation that for a considerable period my wife has earned more than I have. That seems to me to be entirely as it should be. On that basis I trust that we shall all be able to survive in this remarkably underpaid, unsupported House.

For the first time in several months I find myself taking part in a debate in which there are not only more noble Lords on the Conservative Benches than on the Liberal Democrat Benches--that has not been so in recent debates in which I have taken part--but also more Conservative noble Lords are due to speak. In recent months there have been occasions when I have felt that the Liberal Democrats should ask to be accepted as the Official Opposition because of the sheer absence of noble Lords on the Conservative Benches.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, then why does the noble Lord always vote with the Government?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I do not always vote with the Government. I am conscious that I am about to lose the greatest expert on defence on the Liberal Democrat Benches, my noble friend Lord Roper, who is about to become the Whip. I have told him that I opposed his nomination as our party's Whip on the ground, as several of my colleagues have said, that it is good at last to have someone on our Benches who understands something about defence and that it would be dangerous to lose him. However, I am glad that he will wind up the debate for the Liberal Democrats.

This Bill has had thorough consideration in another place. We may be under some constrained time limits in considering it here, but I hope that we shall be able to find a consensus with the Government on some of the most contentious elements. The Select Committee on the Bill in another place said in paragraph 64 that,


    "few of the Bill's clauses are controversial, but those relating to the Ministry of Defence police are".

Clearly it is to those that we shall need to pay most attention.

I want to touch on a number of other points and to reiterate, as the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, has, that a move towards a tri-service Armed Forces Act is far overdue and that we should not need to wait another five years. The Select Committee suggested that that should take place within the next three years. Perhaps we may ask the Minister for a clear commitment that by the time that the Order in Council comes up--before the year 2003 at the latest--we should have a clear indication from the Government of when we shall have a well and thoroughly drafted tri-service Bill for scrutiny in both Houses.

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I note that in Clause 2 the interesting and delicate new question of service discipline Acts and civilian contractors under service discipline is flagged. As public private partnerships extend into all three services, I suspect that that will be an area that both Houses will need to look at in more detail over the next two years. It is the beginning of a widening and complicated set of issues in which the gap between public and private and civil and military becomes more difficult to define.

On these Benches we shall want to look again at the matter of special procedure material and excluded material, and in particular at access to journalist sources touched on in Clauses 5 to 7, particularly in Clause 6. It is extremely important to protect journalists' sources, particularly as journalists can find themselves in conflict areas where there are the extraordinarily complicated problems of peacekeeping and peacemaking which often involve more than two different, antagonistic groups.

I also note that almost every Bill with which we deal in this House has an odd clause that tries to explain which parts of the Bill will apply to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man--Clause 38 in this Bill. At some stage in the next two years I hope that the House or a Select Committee will be allowed to look at the position of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man is in this country. The last time I asked a question on this matter in the House the Minister referred me to a statement made in 1204 which I was assured defined the matter correctly. I have looked at that statement and it appears to me to be a little out of date.

On these Benches we welcome the moves to reconcile military procedures with parallel civilian procedures, which is one of the main themes of this Bill, and the need to take into account the European Convention on Human Rights and its incorporation into domestic law. I was slightly puzzled by the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, on this subject. I remember a novel that I read as a boy in which it was said of one of the characters that he knew what he thought about progress and he was against it. The mission creep of the politically correct appears to be a statement that says, "I don't like progress and I don't really like modernisation".


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