Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

First, I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Astor, about those responsible for drafting the Explanatory Memorandum. It is no mean task to explain these regulations in anything like simple English. When I was in another place, I made changes to the Explanatory Memorandum system that came before Parliament because those documents used to be as technical as the Bills. I do not underestimate the challenge that often faces those responsible for translating legalese into language that we can understand, and therefore I welcome the reminder of that work.

With regard to the points that the noble Lord, Lord Astor, made about the continuation order, we absolutely accept that Parliament has a role. In my opening remarks, I tried to outline the degree to which we had attempted to involve Parliament and committees such as the House of Commons Select Committee and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments to ensure that there was sufficient consultation about the way in which we went about getting authority and approval for these very complex issues.

On the comments about our duty of care—the issues of pay and conditions, equipment and deployment—all in the Ministry of Defence accept those responsibilities directly. We talk about them on many occasions. On accepting responsibility, noble Lords will be aware that in another place today my right honourable friend Bob Ainsworth, Minister for the Armed Forces, made in his Statement on “Tireless” a direct acknowledgement that the Ministry of Defence had been at fault. He issued an apology. We are not slow to accept responsibility where mistakes are made, even though our first priority should be to avoid incidents that require apology. We need to maintain our systems as highly as possible.

On service complaints procedure and worries about the intermingling of service law and civilian law, I can reassure the noble Lord that a great deal of care has been taken on this issue. This is one reason why all these SIs are so complex and there are so many of them. We have to make sure when it comes to complaints that those in the Armed Forces have the right balance of rights and responsibilities, just as anybody would in a civil court. There are many parallels. The safeguards in the system should be appropriate.

The noble Lords, Lord Astor and Lord Lee, raised similar points about the need to make sure that everybody is informed about the complex changes taking place. At the end of the day the process will be simplified because we will have some more common systems, but it is right to say that we will have to be careful to ensure that people are aware of the changes that take place. I mentioned in my opening remarks that we will have written guidance. We will be drawing information together. As well as a new manual of service law, we will have to have extra training for those who are involved so that they are completely aware of what the new system entails. We are aware of that.

I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Lee, mentioned service complaints and welcomed the move that we are making from three strands to one single approach. That should work in the end. He referred to complainants going to an employment tribunal where their issue is

12 Jun 2008 : Column 759

one of discrimination, equal pay or something of that nature. There will be an opportunity to go to an employment tribunal in those cases. Other issues can go to the courts only by way of judicial review—for example, if relevant evidence has been ignored. It is important to make that distinction at this stage.

On resources, the noble Lord, Lord Lee, mentioned comments from last year. I have not been aware of any problems with resources from the prosecuting authorities. I have not got the figures on the balance of courts martial between different services, but going down the path of courts martial is not something that people do lightly. All the services will take a lot of factors into account before anybody goes down that route. Those involved in both complaints and discipline take their responsibilities seriously. The new regulations that we are introducing are based on being fair to everybody. We are making sure that we have regulations that are easily understood, comprehensible and fair. I accept that we still have some work to do to make sure that everybody realises that, but I am grateful for the general welcome for the direction in which we are going.

On Question, Motion agreed to.



12 Jun 2008 : Column 760

Armed Forces (Service Complaints) (Consequential Amendments) Order 2008

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, that the draft order laid before the House on 21 May be approved. 21st report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Baroness Taylor of Bolton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Armed Forces (Alignment of Service Discipline Acts) Order 2008

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, that the draft order laid before the House on 21 May be approved. 21st report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Baroness Taylor of Bolton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page