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Lord Burnham: My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me, I said that there was enough in Clause 31 to allow us to support it, but there was also much in it that we would criticise and would want to amend.
I read the proceedings of the Select Committee in another place. They provided another useful source of information on these matters in addition to the material which appeared in the Sunday Observer. They perhaps set out the issue rather more fully than the interesting article to which the noble Earl referred. Of course, in a number of cases that could be valuable and useful.
However, as raised by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, in his questions to the Minister, it is extremely important to see precisely what protocols will be developed. I believe that we shall need to consider this clause as it comes out of Committee before we are able to say whether or not we can support it. A number of serious matters must be clarified further along the lines mentioned by a number of noble Lords in this debate.
As has been said, this is a constitutional Bill of some importance. We shall not oppose it tonight, but we hope to have an opportunity to return to it and to deal in particular with the matters to which I have referred.
My noble friend Lord Burnham was not sure whether he welcomed all the Bill. Of course, what is welcome is that our Armed Forces are under full parliamentary control, and our debate today is part of that process. Many of the provisions described by the Minister are very welcome. That is, of course, the main purpose of the Bill--a routine service, as it were. I am sure, too, that Schedule 7(31) will be welcome to some service families.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said that the Bill had been thoroughly examined in another place. It was certainly examined, but I do not believe that the Select Committee there has the experience of your Lordships, particularly that concentrated on the Cross Benches--a point emphasised by my noble friend Lord Renton.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, referred to the difficulties of the commanding officer. He also said that he was sorry for the service policemen. My thoughts turn to the difficulties facing the commanding officers of the future. I am sorry for them. The noble and gallant Lord expressed his concern regarding the ECHR and the Human Rights Act.
My noble friend Lord Monro questioned whether servicemen would understand the Bill if it were put before them. The fact is that even commanding officers and their adjutants are hazy about some of the precise details of the legislation. However, I hasten to add that good advice is always available to them. I have brought into the Chamber the Queen's Regulations for the RAF, but it is too heavy for me to hold in one hand.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, shared the concerns of his noble and gallant friend Lord Craig regarding the erosion of the powers of the commanding officer. He also referred to the opt-out of the fast-moving target of the ECHR that is enjoyed by the French. It seems that the military experts--I do not count myself as one of them--are becoming increasingly concerned about the ECHR, the ICC et al.
My noble friend Lord Freeman referred to the fact that volunteer reserve officers always come under the SDAs. Although that is, indeed, an anomaly, it is also an advantage. A while ago I was travelling on the Tube and saw a group of soldiers enjoying, shall we say, a night on the town to the full. One growl from me in "officer mode" was enough for them to pipe down a little. Knowing that it was my duty made it possible for me to do so; if it had not been my duty, I should not have bothered.
My noble friend Lord Freeman also touched on the allocation of cost associated with military assistance to the civil community. Sometimes the training value of such assistance to the TA unit can be immeasurable, but it can be stopped by an accountant, who can measure the cost precisely.
My noble friend Lord Burnham articulated his concerns regarding the new powers of the MoD Police. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred to conservative concerns regarding the possible emergence of a national MoD-based police force and poured water on the idea. He then went on to explain, far better than I could, the potential dangers of such a development. His noble friend Lord Roper then amplified those concerns.
My noble friend Lord Burnham referred to political correctness. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, challenged my noble friend to define political correctness. My noble friend asked for a little time to reply, but I can do so now in my own humble way. "Political correctness" is being marked by or adhering to a typically progressive orthodoxy, often involving issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, ecology and the environment. When applied to the Armed Forces by those with no relevant experience, there is usually a failure to recognise the realities of warfare involving significant casualties and personal sacrifice.
We expect our Armed Forces to operate to the highest moral standards because of, and not in spite of, the tasks that they might have to undertake. Indeed, the demands of such tasks may be more than the human mind and body can stand without suffering permanent damage.
My noble friend Lord Monro drew attention to the valuable activities of women in the Armed Forces. Further use of women in the Armed Forces is under review. Women have much to offer the services, but a decision on their future role must be a military one and not a matter of political correctness.
Many noble Lords welcomed the new role for warrant officers in courts martial. I believe that to be a positive development. However, I want to follow on from the hint given by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge. Warrant officers are much tougher and more unforgiving than junior officers. As I believe the Minister said, they are also more experienced. They will also be able to relieve a load from commissioned officers.
Clause 25 will compel witnesses to attend a court martial. I have no difficulty with that, but I have a related concern. I believe that there is no compulsion on a member of the volunteer reserves to attend a court martial as a defendant. If he or she delayed matters long enough, time would run out for the proceedings and the volunteer could continue with his or her service. I am not convinced that that is proper and I may return to that matter in Committee.
My major concern about the Bill, and that of the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Roper, is that the Minister has failed to deliver a tri-service discipline Act. The Minister stated that it was never the intention to introduce a tri-service Act at this point. However, that does not alter the fact that a tri-service Act is desirable. Noble Lords will recall that during the passage of the Armed Forces Discipline Act
Surely the first stage should involve a consolidation process bringing together the three service discipline Acts as amended into a single Act but making no substantial changes to the law in the process. I do not necessarily suggest using the consolidated Bill procedure because there may be difficulties if simple minor changes are required. However, I do not regard that as being terribly difficult. Such an exercise would, however, be exceptional, because it would involve the horizontal consolidation of a set of parallel Acts rather than the usual process of the vertical integration of a series of Acts. It should not be forgotten that the Army Act and the Air Force Act are very similar. The principal difference involves the ranks that are quoted.
It is vital to understand that the desire for a tri-service discipline Act is not a way of moving to a single armed service. It is even essential to maintain the separate ethos and, most importantly, the traditions of each service. Noble Lords will recognise that ethos and tradition cannot be legislated for. Over the years, noble Lords on all sides of the House have made the case for a single Act that gives a clear framework of discipline for all service personnel, who nowadays find themselves working alongside and under the command of--or even in command of--personnel from other services.
During the passage of the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000, the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and my noble friends Lord Peyton and Lord Campbell of Alloway and others made it clear that new primary legislation was required. It would simultaneously bring together the separate service discipline Acts and complete the process of updating the legislation into a single whole.
The Queen's Regulations for each service are very detailed but many matters are repeated for each service. For instance, chapter 16 of the Queen's Regulations for the RAF has 27 pages covering courts martial, and chapter 45 has 47 pages on baggage allowances! I cannot see why there should be any difference with regard to those two matters across the services. I accept that we are some way off having tri-service Queen's Regulations.
The previous administration did not succeed in introducing a tri-service Act. I point out that the Army and the RAF legal services between them have two two-star officers, two one-star officers and about eight full colonels or equivalent. Given that those officers are also lawyers, is there just too much inertia for Ministers--even for the noble Baroness--to move, whatever the advantages of doing so? We have proposals that we hope to advance in Committee which, if agreed to, would ensure that the same thing does not happen again.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as is usual during the passage of legislation affecting the Armed Forces, we have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate. Such debates invariably benefit from the wealth of experience and knowledge that is available in your Lordships' House, but which is not found there exclusively. However, we have the advantage of the wisdom of the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Inge and Lord Craig of Radley. I, too, congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, on his well-deserved honour.
Noble Lords have heard about the variety of measures that the Bill will introduce. They are designed to improve the Armed Forces discipline system. Some of those measures are adapted from practices that already operate in the civilian criminal system but others are only of relevance to the Armed Forces. In all cases, they have been the subject of careful consideration by the services. As Sir Michael Boyce, the Chief of the Defence Staff, assured the Select Committee in another place, there is nothing in the Bill that would make discipline more difficult to maintain. It would clearly be of concern to noble Lords, Ministers and chiefs of staff if the Chief of the Defence Staff had felt otherwise. However, he told that Select Committee that he was satisfied that the Bill will, in some areas, improve the way in which discipline is conducted. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, for acknowledging that.
The noble Lords, Lord Burnham, Lord Wallace and Lord Freeman, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, raised the issue of a tri-service Act. They rightly pointed out that the Select Committee in another place wanted such an Act within three years. However, I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, who rightly said that one must be careful not to lose anything of value when drawing up a tri-service Act. The important point is to get such an Act right, not simply to have it as quickly as possible. In my opening speech I said that we should examine the feasibility of bringing forward such an Act in the way in which the Select Committee in another place asked us to do. We will consult, as we did with the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000, which recently passed through your Lordships' House.
The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, discussed a joint Select Committee. I find that an attractive idea, not least because there is such expertise in your Lordships' House. I see the merit in the proposal but, as the noble Lord knows, that is a matter not for me but for the usual channels. I am sure that he will make his representations accordingly.
Many noble Lords--notably the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, who was strongly supported by his noble and gallant friend Lord Inge--discussed the reasons that the Bill is so important. Part 2 establishes for the first time the key powers of military and other service police and of commanding officers to investigate offences by members of the Armed Forces. In doing so, it covers two main areas, which are of great importance: first, the stopping and searching of members of the services and of service
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, wants us to look further at the accommodation issue; I am sure that we shall return to it in due course. It would be of great assistance to service police and commanding officers if they had a clear statement of what their powers were. That would also be much fairer to members of the services because everyone would know clearly where they stood.
The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, was extremely concerned about what he described as a creeping political correctness. Although he did not use the same language, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, was also concerned about what might be described as the civilian system being unnecessarily imported into military discipline. There are key differences between the civilian criminal justice system and the discipline procedures operated by the Armed Forces. Trial by court martial rather than by jury is perhaps the most obvious, but the chain of command's responsibility for the maintenance of discipline is also important. We are considering importing only those aspects of civilian procedures that are relevant to the services. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, that our policy in that regard is very much in line with that of the previous administration. On Second Reading of the last five-yearly Armed Forces Bill, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said:
We believe that it is essential to define the powers of the service police and of commanding officers in investigating offences for two major reasons. First, it will enable the service police and commanding officers to carry out their investigations with greater confidence. That greater confidence also implies a better understanding of their authority among those with whom they are operating. Secondly, it will ensure that people subject to service law can see for themselves that they are being treated fairly.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, remains concerned about the impact on commanding officers. Of course, we can and shall discuss that in Committee. But as I indicated in my opening remarks, we must recognise that, although the Armed Forces are indeed in a different position, as the noble and gallant Lord said, and although the group is more important than the individual, as he said, the curtailment of an individual's rights must be only what is necessary so as not to impair the operational effectiveness of the Armed Forces.
The point is that that operational effectiveness must not be compromised. But the individual's rights should not be curtailed if that operational effectiveness is not compromised. If it is not, surely the rights of an individual should not be any less than those of any other individual.
Many noble Lords concentrated their remarks on Clause 31. I look forward as much as any of your Lordships to debating that more fully in Committee. However, I remind the House that the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, said that something must be done. He said that it is not clear where the powers lie. He said that the powers should be clarified. I agree with that and we must now look at the best way of achieving it.
On Clause 31, the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said that we had some very ambitious pretensions as regards a national police force. He was quite eloquent, as he is on many occasions, in persuading us that there was some perfidious reasoning behind the Government putting forward that clause. The purpose of the clause is nothing like as ambitious as the noble Earl wishes to persuade your Lordships that it is.
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