On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, our records show that there are around 30 new claims each year. He asked about the data related to the incidents. However, I will reflect on the points that he and other noble Lords raised on this. I shall, of course, read and respond to the letter that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, sent me. As regards his criticism of my department, I am sure he will know that medical research is the responsibility of the Department of

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Health and the National Institute for Health Research, led very ably by Professor Dame Sally Davies. It is not part of the remit of the Ministry of Defence. My answer to the noble Lord was merely intended to reflect that fact, although we are co-operating fully with my colleagues in the Department of Health and will continue to.

I hope, on that basis, that the noble Lord, Lord West, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Tunnicliffe: The Minister mentioned necessary legislative changes. Is it the Government’s intention to use the Bill as a vehicle?

Earl Howe: My Lords, my understanding is that this can be done by secondary legislation.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank all those who have spoken. It shows the concern that we all have about this dreadful disease. There has been a lack of understanding about it. The efforts of so many are beginning to make people more aware. I would very much like to be included in the letter of response about the central analysis of research, which the Minister was going to send to the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I am sure he will send it to all Members here, because it would be interesting to know whether that LIBOR funding is available and whether it is going ahead. That would be very useful.

In among all this, this is a most happy outcome for the 60 people who have fallen through the cracks. This is good news and it is so lovely to have unadulterated good news. That so seldom happens. It was urgent, because between four and five of these men die every month. I am glad that this change is happening quickly. It will therefore have an impact and make a real difference. It is in the spirit of the Armed Forces covenant as well. I know that the Minister personally really understands that issue and how important it is. I thank him for that. It is the right result and I congratulate the Government on recognising the justice of the claim and for taking this action. I know that there is still a lot more to be done in other ways, but that is all very good news and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 21 withdrawn.

Amendment 22 not moved.

Clauses 16 and 17 agreed.

Amendment 22A

Moved by Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

22A: After Clause 17, insert the following new Clause—

“Reporting obligation on overseas deployments (civilian casualties)

(1) The Royal Air Force Commander responsible for review of reports on civilian non-combatant casualties submitted to the Ministry of Defence in connection with UK deployments overseas shall report to the Minister for the Armed Forces, at least once every quarter or at

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any more frequent intervals as the Secretary of State may specify, on—

(a) the number of reports on civilian non-combatant casualties submitted by independent bodies during the period since his or her last report;

(b) the number of reports on civilian non-combatant casualties submitted by the civilian casualties tracking unit in that period;

(c) the number of reviews on civilian non-combatant casualties carried out in that period;

(d) the outcome of such reviews; and

(e) the sum and allocation of funding for any awards made as a result of the civilian casualty review procedure in that period.

(2) A report under subsection (1) shall include—

(a) a copy of the relevant civilian casualty review procedure;

(b) working definitions of the terms “civilian” and “combatant”; and

(c) the standard operating procedures in place to enable the review of reports of civilian non-combatant casualties.

(3) In this section “UK deployment” includes any airstrikes carried out by UK personnel operating manned or unmanned aircraft remotely from the United Kingdom or United States.

(4) On receipt of any report under subsection (1), the Minister for the Armed Forces shall—

(a) lay a copy of the report before Parliament, and

(b) lay a copy of the Government’s response to the report before Parliament, making particular reference to the operation of the civilian casualty review procedure, and any relative increase in reports, reviews or awards.”

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con): My Lords, I sense that the horse is heading for the stable, and at an increasing rate, so I will be as brief as I can. I apologise to the Committee for not having taken part in proceedings before, but I have a particular interest in this area. The Committee should be aware of my involvement with the All-Party Group on Extraordinary Rendition and the All-Party Group on Drones.

In that connection, I ask my noble friend to thank his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence for arranging for us to go to RAF Waddington to see the operation of the drones there. It was exceptionally impressive. I took away three important things. One was the care being taken, with the forces on the ground calling in the strikes being balanced by people in the cooler atmosphere of RAF Waddington, who were able to provide the right balance.

Another was the stress on personnel, in the sense that personnel left their homes on the base, where the children were not doing their homework and the dog had to go to the vet, and went to the place they operated the drone from. They might, over the course of the next six or eight hours, have had to do some exceptionally unpleasant things that might result in the death of a fellow human being, then drive home again and, 10 minutes later, be back with the dog still needing to go to the vet and the kids’ homework still not being done. It is a very stressful situation, and the care that the ministry was taking to make sure that everyone’s mental health and well-being were being properly looked after was impressive. Last of all was the international nature of the operation in the sense that the operations at RAF Waddington are then

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passed to the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. As the RAF officer explained to us, if you are being asked to get up at 2.30 am to sit in a hut and make these sorts of decisions, it is quite destructive for your mental health: it is much better if it can be passed to somebody in another part of the world. It means that there is this rotating situation which has its own issues, stresses and strains.

With that background, I turn to my amendment and the reasons for it. It is, of course, a probing amendment. Casualties are an inevitable and ghastly by-product of war. Every casualty is a tragedy, but civilian, non-combatant casualties are probably doubly so. I say that for two reasons. First, the long-term damage to the fabric of society if women and children are traumatised takes generations to recover from. Therefore, we need to be particularly careful of the damage that we might be doing to those groups. Secondly, and no less importantly, mistakes—casualties among civilians—are one of the best, possibly the best, recruiting sergeants for the extremists. People who have seen their village wrecked, their families or communities blown apart, are unlikely to be sympathetic to the cause that has resulted in this unfortunate episode.

We have now reached the three-month anniversary of the commencement of Parliament’s authorisation of military activity in Syria. We were promised a quarterly progress report to update both Houses, as a way of providing some form of parliamentary oversight of the mission against Daesh. I am not sure that that has yet been provided, but no doubt my noble friend could tell me when he comes to wind up.

Accountability and transparency are important aspects of this country’s military activities in the Middle East. They play a critical role in ensuring continuing public support at home for a policy that is bound to have its controversial aspects, particularly in the maintenance of popular support in our minority communities. However, accountability and transparency are also important for the maintenance of this country’s reputation abroad. We should be giving an example by setting standards that our allies will emulate, that will shame our enemies and that will give third parties caught up in the crossfire some confidence that these terrible events—which have, in many cases, shattered their lives—have not been undertaken capriciously or without due thought.

This amendment seeks to build on the commitment made by Penny Mordaunt in the other place on when she said that Airwars, the NGO that provides surveillance or information about civilian casualties,

“has been proactive in submitting written reports of civilian casualties and we are grateful for its efforts and for the value that they add. Each case has been individually reviewed and it has been demonstrated that the civilian casualties were not caused by UK activity. Our targeting processes are extremely robust in this respect and in others, but I would welcome any further ideas about how value may be added. I have committed to review any reports of civilian casualties and I have oversight of the whole process, including compensation”.—[

Official Report,

Commons, 29/2/15; col. 672.]

She gave further reassurance in reply to a Written Question on 2 February this year when she said:

“Any credible concerns or evidence relating to the possibility of civilian casualties caused by air strikes may be submitted to the Ministry of Defence Ministerial Correspondence Unit”,

and gave an address and email address.

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This need to clarify and commit to a UK standard is particularly important as it appears that yet another remote engagement—in Libya—is getting under way. Further, there are also indications of new collaborative working with partners, in particular the United States, which have emerged in recent weeks. Most recently, as has been reported in the press, the Secretary of State has authorised the use of RAF Lakenheath for US air strikes in Libya on the—I have to say uncertain—legal basis that “it makes us all safer”.

The UK can and should lead here in forging a model civilian casualty review procedure and a model procedure for dealing with compensation claims as well as in standards of transparency to show how this is working in practice. This might act as a model for Russia or, more likely, for other EU states and the United States in and outside the traditional battlefield.

The UK has carried out 600 air strikes in Syria and Iraq and flown more than 2,100 combat missions against Daesh. The Defence Secretary has stated that the UK is probably the second most important part of coalition air activity in strikes as well as in surveillance and intelligence activity. According to the NGO Airwars, there are credible reports that up to 952 civilian casualties have been caused by coalition air strikes, excluding Russia. The NGO puts that figure at between 3,200 and 3,800. Eleven out of 12 coalition members, including the United Kingdom, deny any civilian casualties. This is unprecedented in a major military engagement and naturally invites questions about how civilians are being classified, what the onus of proof is, how battle damage assessments are being undertaken in the absence of ground troops, what sort of procedures are in place to make sure that credible allegations of civilian casualties are reviewed rigorously with sufficient independence, what discussions and agreements there have been about these matters with coalition partners, whether there is a realistic chance of a co-ordinated or collective response, what are the implications of joint operations and whether the UK has a non-combatant casualty cut-off value like the US.

As far as the UK is concerned, we have a good record on civilian casualties and the disclosure of relevant information. The UK has second place in Airwars’ transparency table, which is a matter on which the MoD deserves congratulation. However, I am not sure that it is enough to announce that there have been no civilian casualties caused by 600 air strikes for which we have been directly responsible—and there will be many more which we have supported—without additional information and disclosure of relevant policies and procedures.

Subsection (1) of the proposed new clause would impose a new quarterly reporting obligation on the responsible commander to report to the Minister in order that she can report to Parliament. The report need not be long—it can be quite short—but it must include the basic statistics outlined in the amendment.

Proposed new subsection (2) goes a little further. So that we can make sense of the report in proposed new subsection (1) and to promote the principles of transparency and accountability to which, no doubt, the MoD is committed, the report must include three key sets of documents: a copy of the relevant civilian casualty review procedure; working definitions of the

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terms “casualty” and “combatant” and the standard operating procedures in place to enable the review of reports of civilian casualties. Most of these terms are drawn from the ISAF model used in Afghanistan and do not come from the MoD commitment in relation to the mission against Daesh.

Several parliamentary Questions have been tabled in the House of Commons which suggest that a policy or procedure is under way, or at least is at an advanced stage of development. For example, the Minister for the Armed Forces has said that the Ministry will “analyse the risks” in any potential air strike in advance and,

“every strike is subject to careful post-mission scrutiny”.

However, it seems likely that the information I am seeking already exists, although possibly under a different or updated name. I would welcome my noble friend’s clarification on this point.

5.30 pm

Proposed new subsection (3) makes it clear that the air strikes carried out by UK personnel in the UK Reaper Squadrons 13 and 3, those at RAF Waddington and at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada are caught by the term “UK deployment”. This should reflect an up-to-date interpretation of the parliamentary convention requiring a debate in circumstances when we become involved in a conflict or potential conflict situation. The term “deployment” should not overlook RAF drone operators in Lincolnshire or elsewhere.

To conclude, the evolving nature of modern remote warfare puts new temptations and demands on us. Remote warfare makes our obligations to civilian casualties harder and, perhaps, more important to honour. The UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson has said that,

“in any case in which civilians have been, or appear to have been, killed, there is an obligation on the State responsible to conduct a prompt, independent and impartial fact-finding inquiry and to provide a detailed public explanation”.

General McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, told a conference on 25 November last year that the advanced capabilities inherent in drones operated remotely could cause decision-makers to lower the threshold for intervention and make it less likely that the second or third order effects are considered properly. A clear and transparent casualty review procedure reflecting the highest standards of British practice and international law may be one way to understand and counter the second and third order dangers referred to by General McChrystal. I suggest that these issues deserve careful consideration about how we implement this obligation in current and future remote wars and how we might best encourage our partner states to do the same. I look forward to my noble friend’s response and I beg to move Amendment 22A.

Baroness Smith of Newnham: My Lords, I welcome the probing amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. He is absolutely right to raise one of the issues that upsets huge numbers of the British population in any military intervention—the danger of civilian casualties. The idea that that should be added to the report that is brought quarterly is clearly welcome.

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I very much hope that the Minister will be willing to look into that. One advantage of the United Kingdom entering into the war in Iraq and over Syria was precisely that we have precision weapons. The suggestion that we have not caused any civilian casualties in the past three months is clearly welcome.

I realise that this is only a probing amendment, but I am slightly concerned that the noble Lord suggested that for the quarterly report there should be working definitions of the terms “civilian” and “combatant”. How do the UK Government define those terms? I would hope that it would be something in the glossary, not something that would be redefined every three months. There is a suggestion that perhaps the United States has a rather more generous definition of combatant that we would in the United Kingdom, and that males over the age of 15 are seen as combatants if they are in certain areas. I would very much hope that that is not a definition we would ever consider.

This is a welcome probing amendment, and we would very much like the definitions. My noble friend Lady Jolly has also asked whether the Minister could tell us what work has been done to assemble figures so far.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: The Minister will recall that I asked a Question on this topic two or three weeks ago. I support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. There is a danger, when we are concerned with a definition of UK deployment that includes,

“any airstrikes carried out by UK personnel operating manned or unmanned aircraft”,

that we may forget that we are part of a coalition under joint command. It is a joint operation and, in such a situation, we cannot say that we are responsible only for these bombs but not for other bombs dropped by other countries under the same command as ourselves. This country is bound legally and morally by the activities of all those operating in the coalition. We carry that responsibility for the deaths and maiming of civilians, whoever’s bomb it is. Civilians do not care whose bomb it is if they are maimed. If it is under joint command, we have a responsibility.

Lord Touhig: My Lords, living as we do in a time when news reporting is constant, continuous and around the clock, the public rightly expect Governments to be the same, especially when reporting on conflicts in which our Armed Forces are engaged. Parliament and the British people have the right to be kept informed about not only what happens to our forces but also the impact our actions might have on civilians in the conflict zone. The Government currently report on civilian casualties in a number of different conflicts that we are involved in, including Iraq, Syria, west Africa—the Ebola response—and Afghanistan. That is the right thing to do. It demonstrates openness, transparency and proper regard for the loss of life that inevitably occurs in conflict, whether military or civilian deaths.

None of us who supported the Government’s decision to use air strikes against ISIL in Syria did so lightly. I have not spoken to a single person who did not have

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concerns that there would be casualties among the civilian population. To date, the Government have stated that there have been no reports of civilian casualties as a result of our air strikes. Having said that, I look forward to hearing from the Minister what guidelines the Government set themselves for collecting data and reporting on casualties, whether military or civilian, in any conflict in which we are currently engaged.

On this side, we certainly welcome the aspirations that motivated this amendment but we have doubts that it is the best way to deal with the issue of reporting on civilian casualties—I am grateful for the excellent briefing on this that I was given earlier today. For example, the amendment addresses the matter of reporting civilian casualties caused by air strikes but says nothing about reporting civilian casualties caused by ground forces. Often, ground operations are in play as well as air strikes. More than that, if we are to enshrine in primary legislation the reporting of civilian casualties in conflict, this is not the right vehicle to do so. Some might argue that reporting on civilian casualties is not simply an Armed Forces issue alone but has wider foreign affairs and international development implications. If that argument were accepted, we would need a cross-government input and approach to legislation to achieve the objectives that would be set out.

We certainly welcome the opportunity that this amendment gives us for debate and we have had some important and useful contributions. I look forward to the Minister’s reply and hope that we will have regular reports to Parliament on the conflicts, especially details of the number of casualties—even where there are none. That is very important. We welcome the opportunity for debate that the amendment affords but in its present form we would not support it.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Hodgson for introducing his amendment, which would, as he explained, create a legislative obligation on the department to report civilian casualties following RAF operations, including sharing the details of investigations with Parliament. I recognise that this is a probing amendment but I hope to show my noble friend that his concerns are recognised and being properly addressed.

I make it clear at the outset that the MoD takes very seriously—and always will—any allegations of civilian casualties. The Defence Secretary committed to review all claims of this nature. We have robust processes in place to review reports of civilian casualties and to launch investigations where appropriate, and we will continue to consider all available credible evidence to support such assessments.

It is important for me to emphasise that the Ministry of Defence takes all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties when conducting any form of military operation. All missions are meticulously planned to ensure that every care is taken to avoid or minimise civilian casualties, and our use of extremely accurate precision guided munitions supports this.

We have a robust process in place to authorise air strikes that is tried and tested. All military targeting is governed by strict rules of engagement in accordance

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with both UK and international humanitarian law. Of course, the men and women of our Armed Forces are highly trained, including in the law of armed conflict. I should also make it clear that we will not use force unless we are satisfied that the use of force is both necessary and lawful. When we carry out a strike, we carry out a full assessment to determine the damage that has been caused, specifically checking very carefully whether there are likely to have been civilian casualties.

I can assure the Committee, lest there is any doubt, that the Ministry of Defence is committed to transparency as far as possible. We have been very open and transparent about the strikes conducted in Iraq and Syria. They are reported regularly online two or three times a week. These reports explain where the action has taken place and what effect has been achieved in the fight against Daesh. However, I hope that the Committee will agree that it is also paramount that we maintain personnel and operational security. This can include not revealing details about our targeting process, which may endanger personnel and our ability to operate.

Furthermore, while a requirement in primary legislation to publish data on a regular basis may be seen as a means of holding the current Government to account—and, for that matter, future Governments—it may also on occasions be a very inflexible tool, which is soon out of date and redundant. As I have made clear, the MoD has clear processes and procedures to limit civilian casualties, and the principle of openness and transparency on this issue is something which the MoD and I strongly support. Where information is not disclosed, it is for very good operational reasons.

The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, asked about regular reports on Operation Shader which, as he knows, is the counter-Daesh operation in Iraq and Syria. The Government’s first quarterly report on Syria was provided to the House of Commons by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on 16 December last year. The Secretary of State of DfID, my right honourable friend Justine Greening, provided a second quarterly report on 8 February this year. I cannot be specific about the date of the next report but it will be issued in due course.

I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, on the particular question she raised and to my noble friend in respect of those of his questions that I have not covered. In the light of what I have said on this matter, I hope my noble friend will agree to withdraw his amendment at this stage.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, I am grateful to all who have participated in this short debate—the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. Apropos of his comment, I of course understand that this is a coalition, but I am thinking, “Physician, heal thyself”. We start by trying to make sure that the unpleasant things that our personnel are doing on our behalf are properly corrected first, and then by setting standards that maybe our allies will follow.

I thank my noble friend very much for his full reply and his promise to follow up on the points that he has been unable to answer now. I hope that I made it clear that from our visit to RAF Waddington we were well

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aware of the very considerable care that has been taken to make sure that those on the ground were balanced by the cooler heads further away from the point of action. I understand the question of inflexibility. This is a probing amendment, but it was helpful for us to have a debate this afternoon, and I look forward to hearing the follow up in due course. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 22A withdrawn.

Clause 18 agreed.

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Clause 19: Commencement and transitional provision

Amendment 23 not moved.

Clause 19 agreed.

Clauses 20 to 22 agreed.

Bill reported without amendment.

Committee adjourned at 5.44 pm.