I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a Second time.
The main aim of the Bill is to continue in force for a further five years the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957. Without such legislation those Acts would all lapse at the end of 1986 at the latest, with consequences for the armed forces that would, at the very least, be unpredictable. At the same time, we are taking the opportunity to revise and improve the Acts where necessary in order to keep the rules regulation service discipline as closely in line with those applicable to civilians as is possible, but taking into account the special circumstances of military life.
I shall highlight the main clauses in the Bill. The House will recall that the present procedure was instituted in 1955 when the Army and Air Force Acts were enacted, those Acts were made for five years' maximum duration, subject to annual continuation orders after the affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament. In 1971 the Naval Discipline Act, hitherto a permanent Act, became subject to the same procedure. Clause 1 of the Bill provides for the three Acts to continue for up to five years, subject to Parliament approving annual continuation orders as previously.
Clauses 2 and 3 are necessary to keep sevice law abreast of developments in technology. Clause 2 creates a new offence of intentionally interfering with or impairing the efficiency of service equipment, or of modifying or interfering with signals being received or transmitted by such equipment.
We can pursue in Committee the appropriateness of the maximum penalty. The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to it as the maximum penalty because it is, but obviously there is no obligation to impose the maximum penalty. We shall cetainly be happy to develop further our thinking as to why that particular maximum penalty is appropriate.
Clause 2 also makes it an offence to do something which is likely to produce the results that I mentioned. The clause is designed primarily to cover interference with computers in ways that might not constitute actual physical damage—for example, the unauthorised alteration of a computer's program. At present, it is an offence under service law to damage public or service property, and in those circumstances compensation can be recovered from the offender's pay. However, it is far from clear that the sections creating this offence would cover the type of interference short of damage that might take place. Given the high degree of reliance within the armed forces on computers for both operational and administrative purposes, it is clear that such interference could have potentially serious results, and must carry an appropriate penalty.
Clause 3 amends the provisions of the services' discipline Acts concerning the offences which can be committed in relation to official documents. Like Clause 2, this clause also reflects advances in technology. Its main aim is to make it clear that official documents comprise not only written ledgers and papers, but include computer programs and also all other present-day means of recording data, such as photographs, tapes, disks, and films.
Clause 7 removes the three-year time limit within which proceedings under service law must commence. The time limit applies to almost all offences under service law, whether before a court martial, a standing civilian court or in summary proceedings. Although in the general criminal law certain statutes impose time limits for proceedings on certain specified offences, no general time limit exists in criminal law equivalent to the three-year limit on service proceedings. The three-year restriction has caused some difficulties in the past—for example, in fraud cases where the offence has not come to light for some time and the complexity of the case has meant lengthy preparation before it could come to court. We are therefore proposing to abolish the general three-year time limit, but where there is a specific time limit applying to any particular indictable offence, the time limit will equally apply in service law. I should also make it clear that there is no question of reviving cases where the three-year time limit has already expired.
Some parts of the service discipline Acts apply in certain circumstances to civilians overseas—for example, when they are employed by or serve the armed forces or when they are family members or employees residing with someone who is himself subject to service law. Offences committed by such civilians may be dealt with by court martial or by summary proceedings, or, in the case or military and air force law, by standing civilian courts in north-west Europe. It is our firm aim to ensure that the provisions in service law governing civilians are as close as possible to those governing civilians in courts in the United Kingdom. Clauses 9, 10 and 11 make certain changes to achieve that.
Clause 9 empowers standing civilian courts to defer sentence on a civilian for up to six months—for example, to allow the offender a chance to prove his good behaviour in the intervening period. It also sets out the powers and procedures for re-arrest should this prove necessary. To enable standing civilian courts to defer sentence—something that they are unable to do now—will be a useful extra facility for matching sentences to the circumstances of individual cases, and, as I have already said, will match the power that has already been granted to civilian courts in the United Kingdom.
Clause 10 deals with service community supervision orders. These orders can at present be imposed under service law on young civilian offenders, but only on those under 21 years of age. They have no single direct equivalent in the civilian courts in the United Kingdom, but they contain elements of probation, community service and supervision orders. Service community supervision orders require the offender to perform a certain amount of useful work and also put him or her in touch with a professional social worker. However, service courts overseas regularly deal with offenders who are over rather than under the age of 21. Many of these cases are concerned with offences of dishonesty, when the offenders are often experiencing some form of domestic or personal upset. A service community supervision order would often be an appropriate sentence in such cases.
These are sentences that might be imposed on civilians serving with the services overseas—for example, a member of a service man's family serving with him on an accompanied posting overseas.
Yes, in some circumstances. We are referring to relatively minor offences. I do not believe that there would be any stoppage of pay. If I am wrong, I shall write to my hon. Friend.
There is no upper age limit in criminal law for probation or community service orders in the civil courts in the United Kingdom, and there appears to be no justification for retaining the limit of 21 for service community supervision orders. Clause 10, therefore, empowers courts martial and standing civilian courts to impose such orders on civilians, regardless of age. I hope the House will agree that this extra flexibility is sensible.
May we assume that, in considering these actions, the Minister will take account of the travesty of the Cyprus case in which great reliance was placed on confessions? Will he confirm that in peace time the natural rights of legal representation will apply to members of the armed forces and their dependants under both military and civil law?
As the hon. Gentleman will recall, if he was in the House when I made my statement on 9 Signals Regiment, I said the requirements that are imposed on the service police authorities should be in accordance with the judges' rules, which are the standard rules for interviews. It is a clear obligation upon them. I can make no further comment on that case until Mr. David Calcutt has completed his inquiry.
I regret to say that that is not possible. Mr. Calcutt has started his inquiry and, as the hon. Gentleman will know, he has been asked to complete it as quickly as is practicable. The length of time taken is a matter for him. He has started quickly and is most anxious to bring his report to as rapid a conclusion as he can, commensurate with the important duties that he has to discharge.
Can my right hon. Friend assure me that those who serve on courts martials or civil courts are fully aware that no prejudice should be shown towards an officer or a rating who is legally represented?
I should be surprised if any such prejudice entered the minds on anybody presiding in a courts martial or civilian court. It would be contrary to natural justice and the independence of the court if any account were taken of a person who is professionally represented. I have received no complaints on that score.
Clause 11 deals with punishments available to service courts for those under the age of 17. At present, unless a young person under 17 commits a very serious offence, which in the case of an adult would be punishable in the Crown court by imprisonment for 14 years or more, the only punishment available to a service court is the imposition of a reception order under which he or she would be transferred into care in the United Kingdom and perhaps be kept in care until reaching the age of 18 or 19.
I do not wish to give the impression that there is much serious crime amongst young people with service families overseas. Nevertheless, there has been a small number of cases where the service authorities were not satisfied that appropriate powers were available to deal with more serious crimes, particularly crimes of violence, committed by those under 17. Clause 11 seeks to rectify that problem. It allows the imposition of custodial orders on young men of 15 or 16 for not more than a total of 12 months. Such sentences would be served in the same United Kingdom detention or youth custody centres to which young civilian offenders of the same age are sent by United Kingdom courts if sentenced under detention centre or youth custody orders. I assure the House that under our proposals, which go no further than the equivalent provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1982, such young offenders will be in no way disadvantaged by being dealt with under service rather than United Kingdom criminal law.
I shall refer back to the primary legislation on the civilian side. I understand that the provision reflects accurately the provision that applies in the civil courts. I believe I am right in saying that these forms of custodial sentences apply to males rather than to females. That is the basis upon which the legislation has been constructed. There is an attempt to keep in line with civilian legislation. I shall examine the matter further. If I need to correct what I have said or to elaborate upon it, I shall write to the hon. Member.
The Minister has indicated that the sentences would be served in the same institutions as if the young people had been sentenced by a United Kingdom court. Does he accept that if the children of service families stationed abroad are put in a place of detention or custody in the United Kingdom they will not be in the same country as their parents and opportunities for visiting will be fewer? Does he not regard that additional penalty as somewhat harsh?
The hon. Gentleman will realise that there might not be an appropriate place of detention in the overseas country where the individual could serve the sentence. The hon. Gentleman may reflect that it might be preferable for the young person to serve the sentence in the United Kingdom where other relatives or members of the family would have ready access rather than to be placed in an unsatisfactory detention or custodial environment in the overseas country. Before a standing civilian court would reach such a conclusion, it would no doubt consider closely the issue of access by the accused person's family. The court would doubtless take that into account.
If the legislation is passed, will my right hon. Friend consider the posting back to this country of the member of the armed forces whose child is incarcerated in the United Kingdom gaol?
There is always provision in our management of the services to deal with the postings of individual service men or women on compassionate grounds. That factor can always be taken into account in such circumstances.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have made important points that we shall want to consider further. I want to underline what I said previously about a small number of cases being involved. Happily, the number of occasions when these provisions are likely to be used is very small.
Clause 13 is primarily the result of a recommendation made by the Select Committee which examined the Armed Forces Act 1981. That Act gave certain officers the power to make place of safety orders where children overseas are considered to be at risk. Where there was a longer-term problem which could not be solved within the currency of the service place of safety order, it was the intention that the children should be transferred administratively back to the United Kingdom and into the care of the local welfare authorities, and that has happened in a small number of cases. However, the 1981 Select Committee asked us to consider giving statutory backing to such transfers to the United Kingdom. We agree that this should be done. Clause 13 therefore provides the necessary statutory authority for the transfer. It further allows the service place of safety order to run for up to 24 hours after the child has arrived at the place of safety in the United Kingdom to allow time for the local welfare authorities to make the necessary arrangements to receive the child.
I welcome the clause. It is a sensible provision in the interests of children. One small matter does not seem to be covered by Army, Navy or Air Force regulations. When a place of safety order is being made, it is important that the child should be represented by a guardian ad litem or a legal representative so that the child's cause may be put either to the officer making the place of safety order in the overseas country or to the juvenile court on the child's return to the United Kingdom. Will the Minister consider the further protection of the child's interests in that way?
I shall be glad to examine the question of representation. I hope that, either within the regulations or by way of administrative practice, proper provision for representation can be made. That is necessary and right in the child's interests. I should like to respond further to the hon. Gentleman. I may be able to do so when I close the debate, with the leave of the House. If not, I shall write to him.
So that we keep the issue of service children at risk in perspective, the House will be glad to know that in the period from June 1984 to September 1985, only four place of safety orders were made on service children. Nevertheless, despite the small scale of the problem, it is imperative that the interests of such children, and indeed of their families, are protected. The 1981 Act laid the foundations of a system which has worked well in the few cases which have so far arisen, but it is clear that some improvements could be made. I hope the House will agree that clause 13 represents a useful contribution in this important area of service law.
Clause 14, which is the last provision I shall highlight, deals with a rather different problem concerning service women in the Regular forces. Part I of the Army Act 1955 contains a number of provisions relating to service in the Regular Reserve at the end of a period of Regular Army service. However, the Army Act currently precludes such provisions from applying to service women. The effect is that, to all intents and purposes, it is not possible to impose a compulsory Reserve liability on service women in the same way as is the case with men.
Service women now fill many vital roles in the Army, and in some of these important areas there are shortages in the Reserves. One solution to such shortages is to make provision for women to be obliged to accept a Reserve liability on the same terms as their male counterparts when they join the Army. The purpose of clause 14 is to allow this to happen. The main impact will be on new entrants with skills in the areas of shortages in the Reserves, but some existing service women may also be invited to accept a Reserve liability. There is, of course, no question of obliging existing service women to accept such a liability; in their case it will be on a purely voluntary basis
To complete the picture, I should explain that statutory provision already exists to enable a Reserve liability to be placed on RAF airwomen. This has not hitherto been imposed, but a statutory instrument will shortly he laid before the House for an amendment to RAF Terms of Service Regulations in this respect and from next year such a liability will be imposed. The Navy has no requirement to impose a Reserve liability on its service women it prefers in time of emergency to rely on redeploying existing service women and on the services of the Women's Naval Volunteer Reserves.
For the rest, the Bill consists largely of amendments designed to correct minor deficiencies in the service discipline Acts which have become obvious since the last review in 1981. As many of these are highly technical, I do not intend to go over them in detail at this moment. There will, of course, be ample opportunity to discuss these in Committee.
Lastly, I turn to the matters raised by the 1981 Select Committee which the Committee asked to be considered for the 1986 Bill. The Government's response to all these matters has been given in the intervening debates on the annual continuation order, with the exception of three. I shall now respond to the three matters that are outstanding.
First, the 1981 Select Committee asked us to give further consideration to the definition of "the enemy" in the context of the death penalty provision in the service dicipline Acts. We have reviewed that definition at length and in great detail. We have concluded, however, that all the alternative definitions are less satisfactory than the present definition. Indeed, we have found that nearly all the alternative definitions would be likely to define "the enemy" with less precision and could therefore widen the prospective ambit of the death penalty which would be contrary to the 1981 Select Committee's intentions. I assure the House that we have given the matter very careful consideration, but we have not been able to devise a definition that would constitute an improvement on the one now on the statute book.
Secondly, the 1981 Select Committee asked the Department to consider altering the composition of courts martial to include those below commissioned rank. This question was, of course, thoroughly reviewed by the Lewis committee in 1946, which concluded that such a proposal would not tend to improve the quality of the court nor the prospect or appearance of justice being done. We have now carefully considered the matter once again, but can find no grounds for departing from the conclusions of the Lewis report.
Moreover, there is no evidence of any desire from within any of the three services for the composition of courts martial to be altered in this way. As hon. Members on both sides of the House will be aware, one of the greatest strengths of our armed forces is that they are managed in small units—the ship, the battalion, the squadron. This ensures that, if there is a significant complaint or anxiety, it is known about rapidly and, certainly in my experience, at a very senior level. It is clear from our continuous contact with service men and service women that there is no pressure for the composition of courts martial to be extended to those below commissioned rank. Indeed, I believe that the present system of courts martial and summary proceedings enjoys a very high degree of confidence from those in the services at all ranks.
If the hon. Gentleman has not already done so, he will want to look at the detailed study that was made by Mr. Justice Lewis. The report is still well worth reading. It brings out, for example, the basic difference in concept between courts martial and civilian courts with the jury system.
The litmus test is whether there is confidence in courts martial proceedings. I believe that most hon. Members who carry out service visits will agree that it is not an issue in the services. The services have a high degree of confidence in the manner in which matters are investigated by courts martial, because they make their decisions on a fair, objective and reasonable basis. In the absence of any degree of pressure or any material concern of which I am aware, I do not believe that there is justification for altering a very well tried and proven system.
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt want to hear the question argued more fully in Committee. Other aspects that he may want to consider are, for example, the relationship between summary proceedings and courts martial. There is no suggestion that summary proceedings should be handled other than by officers. I believe that is right. It would be somewhat anomalous to establish different methods of determining and dispensing justice as between summary proceedings and courts martial. That relationship would need to be looked at and considered.
From my experience of visits to naval and military establishments and my time in the service, I can confirm that I have found no wish on the part of NCOs for a change in the composition of courts martial. Indeed, it is sometimes forgotten in this House that many of the officers who serve on courts martial came up from the lower ranks. There is considerable confidence and respect in the composition of the court.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments.
The final matter raised by the 1981 Select Committee concerned the service legal staffs. The Committee asked us to consider whether the Army and RAF could benefit from the Navy's system of recruiting volunteers from among their serving officers to read for the Bar and subsequently to perform their legal duties on a part-time basis. We were also asked to review the question of employing civilian rather than service prosecutors at courts martial.
We have considered both issues raised by the 1981 Committee, but do not propose to make any change at this time. However, as part of my right hon. Friend's review of the organisation of the Department that we set in hand last year, a full examination of the Department's legal services is being carried out by an independent legal consultant. That examination will include both issues.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House regularly pay tribute to the professionalism, skill and very high standing that our armed services enjoy at home and overseas. A firm, fair and modern framework of discipline is fundamental to maintaining the very high professional and personal standards found in the three services. The Bill will help to ensure that those standards are maintained. I commend it to the House.
I join the Minister of State for the Armed Forces in his praise of the armed forces, for which we all have a high regard. It is the first duty of a Parliament and a Government to support and sustain the armed forces, as it is to protect the integrity of the kingdom. Among the many sins of our late sovereign James II—apart from losing the battle of the Boyne—which are listed in the Declaration of Rights in the No Lobby, is the fact that he was accused by Parliament
of raising and keeping a standing army in the Kingdom in time of Peace without the consent of Parliament and of quartering soldiers contrary to law.
For that reason, for many years we had annual Army Acts legitimising the Army and later the RAF. The Navy was under the royal prerogative. The annual Army Acts were replaced by quinquennial Acts and yearly affirmation orders. The quinquennial Acts and, since the beginning of the century, the Army Acts were always preceded by special Select Committee proceedings to hear the Bill, take evidence and summon persons and papers. Last year,
the Select Committee recommended that it travel outside the realm, especially to BAOR, to take evidence on matters of importance to the morale and welfare of our armed forces.
The Bill deals not only with discipline in the Army, but with the armed forces in relation to the civilian population and the powers that the Executive, through Parliament, seek to give to the armed forces to carry out their manifold tasks. It is important to maintain the balance between the civilian population's view of the armed forces' role in society and the armed forces' position in their disciplined society.
The work of the Select Committee has been honoured and observed by the Government of the day. The many recommendations and criticisms made by the Select Committee, apart from the three mentioned by the Minister, were generally accepted. That says a great deal for the composition of the Select Committee and for the wisdom of the Government.
My hon. Friends the Members for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) and for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) referred to the courts martial. We regret that the Government did not believe that it was possible to introduce senior NCOs and warrant officers on to the courts. The Government said that there was no pressure or demands from the armed forces. I shall consider how the armed forces can express their interest later. However, we believe that courts martial would be strengthened by the inclusion of senior NCOs and warrant officers.
As the hon. Member who represents more service personnel than any other, I am not aware of any pressure for representation of non-commissioned ranks on courts martial. A more substantial point in terms of law is that officers are specifically trained to fulfil that function. Non-commissioned officers do not have that advantage. This is not a class or seniority matter. One third of those who serve as officers in the Royal Navy have served before the mast. I believe that officers' training is appropriate and that of non-commissioned ranks is not.
I think it surprising that so many officers in today's Royal Navy have served before the mast. However, I shall return to the hon. Gentleman's point later. There should be an opportunity for non-commissioned ranks to express properly their opinion about these matters. In a disciplined service such as we have at present, it is difficult for them to do so. There should be a body through which existing procedures could be challenged.
It is more appropriate to discuss not the training already received, but the training that NCOs should receive, given their experience in Northern Ireland and the excellent job that they have done in command. In many areas, such as cruise missile sites, possible discipline charges arise involving forces of different powers. In those circumstances, members of our forces would like to be represented by their warrant officers who, in my experience, do more to run the armed forces than do the commissioned ranks.
My hon. Friend has made an excellent point. If this is a matter of training, senior non-commissioned officers should receive training to gain the required skills.
My recollection is that about 40 per cent. of the commissioned ranks in the Royal Navy gained their early experience on the lower decks, which is somewhat different from what the hon. Gentleman said. No doubt when my right hon. Friend the Minister replies he will confirm that figure or alter it to make it completely accurate. It is a significant proportion.
It is a significant proportion, but they are commissioned officers, not non-commissioned officers.
As to the review of the services' legal staffs, I hope that any measures taken will not result in their privatisation. They should be retained within the armed forces and should be properly trained. The problem with the Bill is that it does not deal with matters that the Opposition have raised in the past. The first of those is homosexuality. In the recent Cyprus spy case, the prosecution suggested that secrets by the sackful were being handed by seven men from 9 Signals Regiment to the enemy, whoever he or she may have been, because they were threatened with blackmail after indulging in homosexual orgies. It was suggested that those men were susceptible to blackmail because of their alleged homosexuality, but one must ask why that is the case.
Why do the armed forces regard homosexuality much more harshly than we do in civilian life? Would it not be more sensible and realistic to approach the problem of homosexuality in the armed forces, as our amendments to the last Bill stated, by saying that it should be regarded as a punishable offence only where it was prejudicial to good conduct and discipline? Had we adopted such an attitude, many of the terrible things that happened to the men in the Cyprus treason trials would not have arisen, and we should have maintained the dignity of the individuals involved. It might also have prevented the recent case of a 20-year-old private soldier in the King's Regiment, who was jailed for life after strangling a friend who had threatened to reveal to officers that they were having a homosexual affair.
Sentences of nine months' imprisonment merely for having a homosexual affair in the armed forces are not uncommon. Such conduct would not be punishable under the general law. We should try to make military law as compatible as possible with civil law. The Opposition want those alterations to the military law.
I do not condone homosexuality. Indeed, I regard it as indulging in a grave sin, but that is a question of my private morality. It is not the way in which society regards homosexuality. Provided that we can maintain good discipline and order, it should not be necessary to hold the crime of homosexuality over the heads of many of our service men and make them subject to the sort of blackmail that was alleged in the Cyprus trial. I hope that the Select Committee and the Standing Committee will consider the matter.
It does not surprise me that the Bill does not provide a better definition of "enemy" in the clauses dealing with the death penalty. Crimes that attract the death penalty include communicating with the enemy, obstructing operations, mutiny or incitement to mutiny, and surrender of a place to an enemy without lawful excuse and as a deliberate attempt to assist the enemy. If those young men had been found guilty in a court martial in Cyprus during a war, they may all have been subject to the death penalty. We could not allow that sort of thing to happen.
There does not seem to be any real evidence, other than a Catch-22 situation, to show that the death penalty is a deterrent even on the battlefield. It does not properly apply at present to our own Army and Air Force. Those are volunteer forces with volunteer reserves, and they know what they are letting themselves in for, unlike the conscript armies of some of our allies.
I am not suggesting that the definition of enemy should be changed. For the sake of the present argument I am prepared to accept that because we are stuck with it, as the Minister has said. I am saying that the death penalty should be dropped from the category of sanctions in terms of military discipline. That is not only because of the different nature of our armed forces, but because there is no need for it. The last thing that a soldier thinks about on the battlefield is whether, if he takes a particular course of action, he will be put up against a wall and shot. To make that sort of suggestion is an insult to the nature of our armed forces.
While the death penalty is there and while we have the possibility of what can arise in a court martial—given the problems that exist and have been shown in the evidence in the Cyprus case—we should be careful of having any sort of punishment that is so final that there can never be a review of the case to help the person sentenced. When I was dealing with the matter of the representation at courts martial of non-commissioned ranks, I alluded briefly to another matter. If there was a trade union in the services many of the problems arising from the Cyprus incident would possibly not have arisen. Most of our European allies have trade unions or trade union representation. Most of our continental allies have some sort of representation and some sort of proper way by which non-commissioned ranks and, in some cases commissioned ranks, can deal with problems.
Does my hon. Friend agree that what he and many of our hon. Friends are saying is that the dictum of Lord Justice Mansfield in 1812 in the case of Burdett and Abbot is still as applicable today as it was then? He said:
a person does not, by enlisting in the armed forces, thereby cease to enjoy his rights as a citizen, or to be exempt from his liabilities under the ordinary law of the land.
In other words, a service man is equally a citizen with equal rights and equal responsibilities. By retaining things such as the death penalty, we deny service men that equality.
I accept what my hon. Friend says, although I did not put it as succinctly as Lord Mansfield, whose dicta at one time were my usual bedtime reading. I was trying to make the same point at the start of my speech. If we look at our NATO allies we shall see that trade unions are established for the armed forces in Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, where they have the right to be consulted but not negotiate. In Demark, professional organisations have negotiating rights. That is not granted in Greece, France and Italy. It exists but it is not exercised in Ireland.
Many of the problems we had in the Cyprus trial would never have arisen if there had been a proper organisation through which those young men could have been properly represented. Nobody is forced to join one of these organisations, but when we come into power we shall investigate the possibility of such organisations. People should feel that there is a way in which they can somehow ventilate their grievances among themselves and through their elected representatives. Hon. Members say, "Non-commissioned ranks have never come up to us and voiced that opinion," but, of course, they would not. If we want a fine example of exactly the way in which that matter can be dealt with, we have only to look at the way in which the Police Federation works. The police are a disciplined force and on some occasions some people might say they are almost a paramilitary force. But it is worth looking at the way in which the federation deals with the issues concerning its members.
Another matter that should be part and parcel of this Bill and which should be part of the debates in the House, is section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act which gives the Government total immunity against legal action for negligence that results in the death or serious disability of any service man during his day-to-day activities in peace time. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) has raised this matter in the past in the House, and I feel duty bound to raise it today so that we can have it on record and perhaps look at it in Committee. It is a matter that ought to be brought up to date so that we can deal with it in some detail.
In looking at the Army we are looking at two unique regiments, the Gurkhas and the Ulster Defence Regiment. Despite the press statement made earlier this year by the Secretary of State about the Gurkhas when he announced the disbandment of one battalion, for reasons we understand, there is still some uncertainty about the Gurkhas' strength and future size. We know that the Gurkhas will be maintained after 1997, but we are entitled to know to what extent they will be maintained. We need to know their size and how changes will affect the great dependence that the Kingdom of Nepal has upon this country in terms of remittances and the health of the traditional ties that exist between this country and Nepal through the establishment of the Gurkha regiments.
We should also look at the Ulster Defence Regiment, the largest regiment in the British Army. It is unique in that it was raised to serve only in the six counties of Northern Ireland. It is subject to violent passions, enormous support and enormous hatred. If we look at the Anglo-Irish declaration to be debated next week and which is being debated this week in Dail Eireann, we see that among the matters that the conference between the two Governments will consider is:
The two Governments agree that there is a need for a programme of special measures in Northern Ireland to improve relations between the security forces and the community, with the object in particular of making the security forces more readily accepted by the nationalist community.
It then goes on to say in article 7 that the conference shall consider,
improvements in arrangements for handling complaints".
That is important and fundamental and one would like to know the limits to which that applies. Does it apply to all regiments which from time to time would be taking part in security matters in Northern Ireland, or does it apply just to the Ulster Defence Regiment? What are the relationships to be?
When Parliament originally insisted that we should be able to control our forces, considerable concern was expressed about the part that they would play in peace time and in the period leading up to war. That matter has now received fresh ventilation and has been given fresh importance as a result of the activities of the member Governments of NATO about the special procedures that shall be followed in peace time leading up to possible aggression and being prepared, if necessary, to repulse it.
The provisions to be proposed will contain important emergency powers that the military will have over the civilian population. We gather that these measures have been subject to revision in recent years, and we know that copies of them exist. There are three such measures, entitled the Emergency Powers (No. 1) Bill, the Emergency Powers (No. 2) Bill and the Emergency Powers (No. 3) Bill, titles that could be invented only by someone with that ingenuity for which the Civil Service is well known.
The Emergency Powers (No. 1) Bill creates defence zones around key points, to be known as "ground defence areas"—to be declared so by the Home Secretary—and ordinary residents of those areas may be expelled and their houses may be destroyed to make way for clear fire zones. The Home Secretary may also make orders for people to be detained without charge or trial, and demonstrations can be contained.
The Emergency Powers (No. 2) Bill enables the Government to extend those powers throughout the country and provides for a degree of priorities which would be understandable in time of war. The Emergency Powers (No. 3) Bill is more draconian. It does away with the existing legal system, allows for summary courts martial and trials, including provision for the death penalty, and provides for many and varied regulations to be enforced.
We should be debating those provisions as part of the military discipline measures that we are discussing now. I find it hard to accept the Government's attitude, and that of the Prime Minister in particular, that such matters should be left until circumstances arise which would cause them to be discussed; in other words, when we are moving into a period of war or crisis, a time when temperatures are likely to be raised internationally and, indeed, in the House.
In such a situation there is fear of a threat, when a sense of panic enters even the most phlegmatic of debating chambers. Hon. Members who were here at the time of the introduction of the original Prevention of Terrorism Act will recall the Government saying, in effect, "We have a problem which must be dealt with now." In such a situation, legislation can go through in 36 hours, with a major Bill affecting the civil liberties of the nation coming into force.
We would be better employed spending our time considering the threat and the content of the legislation. I do not believe, in the circumstances outlined by the Prime Minister in her letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), it is
for the Government … of the day to determine the content and introduction of any such measures
because there are other ways to go about it.
Surely, only the Government of the day and Parliament will know the circumstances appertaining at the time. Because we cannot know those circumstances, we would be dealing with a hypothetical situation.
West Germany has emergency legislation, the Netherlands has similar legislation passed by the Dutch Parliament and, of our NATO allies, Norway, Canada, Belgium, Greece, the United States, Portugal, Iceland, Spain, Turkey, Italy, France and Luxembourg all have legislation designed to deal with precisely the circumstances about which I am talking.
The best thing that Her Majesty's Government could do would be to publish those measures in a White Paper. The measures exist and we know what they are about. We should then at least be in a position to debate the contents of the White Paper. Unless they are published, the Government will be making a gift to their enemies by allowing them to suggest that they have something really evil to hide.
An enemy could suggest that they were taking powers so draconian that even this Parliament, with its ability to question the Executive, will be gone. It could be said that we were not able to defend the individual and that the very rights that NATO existed to defend had been thrown out of the window. That is a dangerous and foolish position for Her Majesty's Government to adopt. Do they have something to hide? If not, why not publish the details?
My question to the hon. Gentleman was whether we could at this time determine all the circumstances under which we would need to use such measures. If they cannot be determined now—because those circumstances may modify the Bill that is finally brought before the House—why publish it? So long as we have the framework of the measure, we have all that is needed.
But we do not even have the framework of the measure. All our allies in NATO, with the exception of Denmark, have the framework of their legislation and know where the powers will lie, including the powers of the military. What will be the powers of the military over the civil population of this country? Let us not forget that those powers in relation to the civilian population have been the essence of the debates on the Army that have taken place in this House for the last nearly 300 years.
Why are the Government not prepared to publish those measures? Is it because secret arrangements have been made between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the United States determining the amount of help that would be given to the United States in a build-up of hostilities or in relation to the great flood of American troops coming to Britain as our main battle army goes to northern Germany and our marines to Norway?
In connection with the power that such foreign troops might have over our civilian population and the degree to which they would be able to conscript that population, there is already in existence
An agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany concerning host nation support during crises or war.
That exists between us and the Germans. I hold in my hand another entitled:
The relationship on host nation support … between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany.
However, no agreement has been published of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States concerning the powers that would be given to our military and to their military. Those details should be in the measure that we are discussing tonight and should be spelt out to the United Kingdom population.
If it is good enough for the Germans to know what we would do to them and for the Germans to know what the Americans would do to them, why cannot we know what the Americans would do to us? I cannot see the logic behind the Government's reluctance to provide that degree of information. We should know what the powers of the military will be.
This is an important Bill, but it has enormous gaps in terms of the nature of what we—the country and its citizens—should know about what is going on. As our treaty with Germany is public, as is the United States treaty with Germany—and that is very detailed, as an examination of the documents show—the details of a similar treaty between Britain and the United States should be made known.
Matters that arose out of the Cyprus trial are now the subject of an inquiry by Mr. Calcutt. That matter was raised earlier, and the Minister said that he could not give a precise timetable about it. I wonder whether hon. Members should, in Committee on the Bill or in a Select Committee, complete their work before they receive the findings from Mr. Calcutt's inquiry, because his findings will be fundamental to discipline in the armed forces.
Hon. Members may have seen an article in the Daily Mirror about the way in which different people were dealt with by the military, how confessions were obtained and the methods under which the interrogators were trained. All prisoners of war should be treated in accordance with the 1949 Geneva convention, which was signed and ratified by this country and most other powers. Contained within the convention is a provision that influences the instruction given to our own armed forces' police and interrogators, which states:
Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatement
are prohibited. That may apply to the treatment of enemy prisoners, but is it the way we treat our own people during interrogation in internal security operations?
A close consideration of the rules and regulations governing these matters raises the question of application of the judges' rule. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) raised that matter earlier and received a reply from the Minister. It appears that the judges' rule does not apply to the training of people involved in these interrogations. The guidelines state:
In an internal security operation military interrogators may deal with a wide variety of types of prisoner. These may vary
from members of student organisations acting as part of the propaganda or recruiting structure to members of the paramilitary or terrorist groups. Prisoners will normally be under police control and military interrogators will operate in conjunction with or as part of Special Branch. Ideally joint teams or centres should be formed.
What is the relationship between interrogators from the armed forces and special branch and other organisations? Are there many of these joint teams, and do they follow the various procedures laid down in the Geneva convention?
The interrogators are trained to follow Pavlovian techniques of interrogation, which may explain why they obtain many confessions but very few convictions. Included in those techniques are basic approaches that are hard, soft and neutral. The hard method of interrogation includes teasing and lowering the dignity of a detainee, thereby lowering his self-respect, and personal attacks on a detainee's physical and mental attitude and capabilities. It also includes taunts and goads. Such interrogation comes under the heading of "malicious humiliation"—so much for the prohibition of outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliation and degrading treatment as laid down in the Geneva convention.
Another harsh method of interrogation involves uncontrolled fury with associated ploys of "Mutt and Jeff", threat and rescue, which includes cynical derision, disestablishing one's identity and disorientation of time. All these methods of interrogation have been adopted in this country and interrogaters are trained at the Ashford training centre, Templer barracks, Kent. We cannot accept such methods as proper in a civilised society and they should be the subject of Mr. Calcutt's inquiry. They must be examined very closely. Service men are suffering from them, and they result in the creation of apparent confessions that are thrown out when they come before an Old Bailey jury.
How were British service men previously trained to deal with questions of internal security? Should there be a system of interrogation based upon Pavlov to protect the integrity of the realm? Mr. Calcutt must consider these matters, and I am indebted to the Daily Mirror for bringing them to light. That is not hearsay evidence or the comments of people who claim to have been subjected to "Mutt and Jeff' and told to co-operate or else. The evidence is in the broadsheets and they reveal the training methods. That is not good enough. A special Select Committee and the Standing Committee will have to consider them.
The hon. Gentleman is under a serious misapprehension and I should like to correct him.
He referred to military interrogation training carried out at Ashford. That training is for specialist groups and is intended to train them in resistance to interrogation methods practised by those who may be hostile to us. There is also a limited amount of interrogation training carried out for military personnel in wartime conditions which would be carried out within the ambit of the Geneva convention.
I must stress that the hon. Gentleman's reference to interrogation training at Ashford bears no relationship to the different and separate training in interviewing techniques given to service policemen. That training is not conducted at Ashford but is carried out elsewhere, in accordance with the judges' rules. The hon. Gentleman has confused two different types of training of two distinct groups for different purposes.
If the Minister thought it important to make that point, why do I see reference in my notes to interrogation in internal security operations relating to members of student organisations? There is also reference to joint action that may be taken with the police and service inquiry teams. Why is it necessary to have three different interrogation methods? Why have the Government not denied the stories that appeared in the Daily Mirror?
The service men in Cyprus were subjected to interrogation methods such as I have described. Mr. Calcutt will investigate the circumstances surrounding the interrogations, including sensory deprivation, long periods of sleeplessness and being kept for long periods without access to solicitors or lawyers. The details are contained in the documents in my possession and I shall place them in the Library where hon. Members may see them and judge for themselves. Perhaps the matter can be investigated in more detail in the Select Committee.
These important matters must be examined very carefully. The Bill is significant because of its omissions. Important matters relating to the safety of the realm, the dignity of the individual and the proper treatment of citizens are omitted. They should be discussed in the House and be subject to annual review. The Government could implement such reviews if they had nothing to hide. So long as they are not prepared to do that, or to allow us to see the proposed legislation in a White Paper or to put the matters before Committees or even publish the agreements with the United States and elsewhere, we must have the gravest suspicion. We should pursue these matters with considerable care and courage. I hope to get some answers in Committee.
I cannot agree with two of the points made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). The first relates to the agreement between ourselves and the United States on discipline. Secondly, he was a little confused, as my right hon. Friend the Minister pointed out, about interrogation, to which we all attach considerable importance. There are differences between the methods—if I am wrong, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will correct me—that are allowed under the Geneva convention for the wartime questioning of a captured enemy and the peacetime interrogating of troops. This fundamental point is accepted throughout NATO. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a great patriot, but I cannot agree with him on those points.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman could not see the distinction between the new and the old definitions of "enemy". It is extremely difficult. Those who have been looking into the matter have the same view. I cannot think of an example, except someone who "threatens the security of the state".
We all praise the dignity and professionalism of our services and their adherence to discipline. Naturally, we need an Armed Forces Bill to make sure that discipline is preserved. I welcome the amendments that are to be made to the Act. The revision will bring the armed forces more into line with modern conditions and with the civilian law. The definition of "enemy" is important, and we shall probably have to go into that carefully in Committee.
I asked my right hon. Friend the Minister about custodial orders. I did not put my question clearly, but I am grateful for his answer. Such introductions in the Bill will bring it more into line with our civil law. It is difficult to deal with such factors. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) asked my right hon. Friend the Minister about children sent over here for custodial sentences, and parents' ability to visit. My right hon. Friend rightly said that there is discretion because there is power to transfer the child. Again, there are differences between the armed forces and the ordinary civilian.
Clause 14 deals with the Reserve liability of women. I am not sure about this, but my right hon. Friend seemed to say that women in service now will not be compelled to sign a declaration, but that in future all new women entrants will be subject to the rule that applies to men. I am not certain whether this applies to their liability not only to recall after their service but to the definition of "secrecy", their previous access to documents and secrets, and the knowledge that they have acquired during their service. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be kind enough to clear up this point.
As my right hon. Friend knows, I regard the home service force as an essential part of our country's defence in war time. At what stage is it liable to come under the Act? I shall now put in a plug. I hope that we can ensure that the force's numbers are increased substantially. I know that it is doing a good job, but there are too few in it to meet the enormous demands that it will be required to undertake if hostilities break out—for example, the protection of power stations and ammunition dumps and the many other duties that it will have to perform.
My right hon. Friend referred also to the office of the Judge Advocate General. My service was a long time ago, during and after the war, so I may be wrong, but I found then that those in the Judge Advocate General's office tended not to be in touch with civilian law, to have qualified a long time ago, and not to have practised in the courts. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North mentioned this point. To be a good advocate, it is no good just getting called to the Bar. I am a qualified barrister, but I am not an advocate. One must keep in touch with the procedures and the changes in the law. One has to be up to date if one wants to be a good advocate. That point requires examination, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me.
A number of important changes are introduced by the Bill. The laws under which the American forces operate is their business. This point is not terribly important, and it is another on which I disagree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North. It is not important for us to know the detail about this. American laws apply to American troops, under the Visiting Forces Act, if they are stationed in this country. That law applies to all United States service personnel wherever they serve, unless they break the civilian law, in which case there is machinery for them to be handed over. We operate under our disciplinary code, whether military, naval or air force, and they operate under theirs.
If an American service man commits an offence that can be tried under their military law—for example, a driving offence—which is also a civilian offence, such a case is normally dealt with by the civilian courts. I stand to be corrected by my right hon. Friend the Minister if that is not so. The Army does not deal with essentially civilian offences, although in law it has certain powers to deal with them. Once they have been dealt with by a military court and sentenced, that is the end—they cannot be tried again.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that under the Visiting Forces Act 1952 one of the main problems, especially with regard to American service men involved in fatal motoring accidents, has been that they have tended to be tried by their own courts martial within their own jurisdiction? The decisions reached and sentences imposed have, in many cases, been offensive to the United Kingdom population, particularly when the victims have been United Kingdom citizens.
The hon. Gentleman is correct. Some cases which have been dealt with by the military forces should have been dealt with by the civilian authorities. In some cases, the soldiers have been sent back to their own country. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that that has happened in a small minority of cases. The visiting forces law has been used when the civilian law could have been used. I do not think there are sufficient cases to need any alteration to the Armed Forces Bill.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the visiting forces law may need to be clarified, because American troops might be ordered to fire on British forces? I give as an example the recent incident in Italy where Italian and American soldiers were eyeball to eyeball over the Palestinian hijackers of the Achille Lauro. That could have resulted in a firing match. It could occur in this country. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is a serious matter and that the law should be clarified?
The hon. Gentleman's intervention is rather far-fetched. There is little likelihood of the United States forces having to do that. I can think of only one possible case that the hon. Gentleman may have in mind. It relates to cruise missiles. If the American forces were obstructed, our forces might fire. As the Americans and ourselves work together, I do not believe that that could possibly occur, because the senior officers would be co-operating and not fighting. I can see what is behind the hon. Gentleman's fears, and I accept the premise upon which he bases his point.
We all recognise that the Visiting Forces Act 1952 has operated reasonably well. I am happy to see it continued, provided that its provisions are carefully administered and watched by both sides of the House.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the progress that has been made over the Victoria barracks in my constituency. They have been completely demolished. I also thank him for the co-operation that I have received. We look forward to the rebuilding programme and the barracks' occupation by Guards battalions so that Windsor will once again be a complete garrison town.
This is the first occasion on which I have been in the House when this measure has come up for its five-yearly renewal. I therefore looked at what had taken place previously to see what the tone of the debate was.
In 1981, the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) intervened, showing his interest in a matter which relates to his constituency. I saw that on that occasion it was mentioned that in 1976 the Minister described the Bill as a "Brigadoon" Bill—it appeared occasionally but regularly in the House. In 1981, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) described it as more a naval refit. As a member of the Church of Scotland, may I suggest that it is akin to a quinquennial visitation, when members of the presbytery visit the kirk and review the spiritual welfare of the congregation and the fabric of its building.
On this occasion we are giving the measure its five-yearly check-up. It has perhaps attracted more attention than usual because of the cracks which may be appearing and which were evidenced by the events that culminated in the acquittal of the seven service men last month.
It would be wrong to prejudge anything that might come out of the investigation being undertaken by Mr. Calcutt. It is not unfair to say, however, that a considerable amount of public anxiety has been generated by that case. Some people may feel that, because of the nature of their operations, procedures in the forces tend to be somewhat rough and ready. It does not mean that by enlistment one loses one's civil rights. The opportunity should be taken during the Bill's passage to assess whether the present procedures for summary proceedings and courts martial, as they presently operate, are efficient and operate well enough to guarantee service men's civil rights.
We must consider also the matter of legal representation at various levels and eligibility for legal aid. The subject of the questioning and treatment of suspects has inevitably been raised because of the events of recent weeks. Section 99 of the Army Act 1955 and the Air Force Act 1955 state:
The rules as to the evidence to be observed in proceedings before courts-martial shall be the same as those observed in civil courts in England".
That reference clearly imports the judges' rules into the proceedings. Perhaps the Minister will confirm this point when he replies, but I understand that an exception can be made with regard to service men overseas. Nevertheless, the judges' rules are supposed to apply to courts martial here. The judges' rules are not binding; they have no statutory force. Anxiety has been expressed that judges advocate have not been as rigorous in applying the judges' rules as their opposite numbers in the civilian courts.
We understand that the Ministry of Defence is drafting its own code of practice under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. It is important to train those undertaking interrogation to ensure that they know the judges' rules and the code of practice and their implications.
In addition to the important point that the hon. Gentleman has made, one of the factors which has arisen from the Cyprus trial, in which one of my constituents was involved, is that service men are cut off from their units and seem to be deprived of welfare and access to information and advice from people with whom they are familiar. Does he agree that it is important that they keep in touch with a familiar background, particularly when they are involved with the legal advice to which he has referred?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is even more important when one is considering the quality of confessions which have been obtained under questioning. The background must be studied. A relevant factor is that men may have been cut off from their families and from surroundings with which they are familiar.
I wonder whether the Minister can tell us whether the Ministry of Defence code of practice will be ready in time for consideration by the Committee. It may be some time before it can be published, and, if so, what opportunities will hon. Members have to scrutinise it?
The concern that has been expressed about the applicability of the judges' rules must inevitably arise from concern that some unfair interrogation practices have taken place. The concern is not confined to Cyprus. When my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) learnt that I was to contribute to the debate, he handed me a dossier of papers containing an allegation of harassment on the part of someone serving in the Royal Air Force in West Germany. The dossier came into my hon. Friend's hands only during the past day or two and I have no doubt that it will be passed on to the Minister. As an appeal is pending, I do not wish to say any more about the matter. However, the allegation has been made and the matter is indicative of public concern about interrogation techniques.
If an individual is under arrest, especially close arrest, the interrogation which takes place and the evidence which appears in a statement of confession must be scrutinised carefully and with some degree of suspicion. As a Scots lawyer, I am very much aware of the case of Chalmers v. Her Majesty's Advocate, which I believe is often quoted in the English courts. The case came before the Scottish criminal courts and Lord Justice General Cooper described a police station as being a "sinister venue" for the questioning of a suspect. He said that that had to be taken into account as it could well taint any confession.
The interrogation of a suspect in close custody, which involves the deprivation of all liberty and constant supervision, is all the more suspect. It will be worth considering in Committee whether there is a need for a new clause to provide that any service personnel or police who behave oppressively in obtaining evidence or statements from suspects should be subject to a specific disciplinary offence.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) has mentioned the continuation of the death penalty. As one who opposes the penalty, especially in peace time, it is important in my view that we review again the necessity to continue to have the death penalty available in certain cases.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North referred also to the fact that homosexual activity is illegal and a disciplinary offence in the armed forces. If such activity were undertaken and conducted in civilian life it would attract no penalty. In 1981, the Select Committee took the view that the official argument that the legalising of homosexual activities would make homosexuals more open to blackmail was a weak one. The official line in the prosecution of the service men from Cyprus, however, was that the existence of homosexual activities made them more open to blackmail. It appears that the argument is being pressed in two ways. When the Bill is in Committee we should consider again whether there should be any relaxation of the law in this context to bring it more into line with civilian life, but in a way that is consistent with the maintenance of good order and discipline.
I shall address myself to the new clauses that the Bill seeks to import. I wonder whether the type of behaviour which is sought to be caught by the provisions contained in clause 2 should be subject to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. I know that the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) will deal with this issue at greater length if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall not pursue the issue to ensure economy of debate.
I welcome the provisions in clause 10 on community supervision orders. I accept that clause 11 applies to only a minority of cases but I feel that the court martial procedure is inappropriate for those as young as 15 years of age. If the clause is accepted and a new section is incorporated, it will provide for jurisdiction over civilians. The Minister has explained that the purpose is to keep the law as close as possible to that which applies in the courts in the United Kingdom.
In one part of the United Kingdom—the part from which I come—the courts system for cases that would be otherwise deemed offences does not apply to children under 16. Instead, there are children's hearings. I am not advancing a narrow and specious argument to make a point on behalf of the cause of nationalism. However, it is important that we remember that the law of Scotland is safeguarded. It is upheld by the Treaty of Union to which the House owes its present existence. There must be children who might be affected by these provisions who belong to Scottish families and whose domicile is in Scotland. These young people might be with a Scottish regiment and thereby have had no link with England. It is important that the Scottish provisions for children's hearings, which have been an important development in juvenile justice, are given greater recognition.
There is some recognition for children's hearings within the current Act. Indeed, the Bill refers to the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 and the system of children's hearings. However, I do not think that that Act applies in this instance. If the Minister explains why this is so when he replies, I shall be grateful.
We are now considering the outcome of the Geneva talks, and perhaps our minds are more often on greater issues of defence than those which are set out in the Bill. That may cause us to think that we are dealing with a less important measure than others which come before us. However, the Bill deals with the civil liberties of those who serve the nation in the armed forces. I echo the tribute that has been paid to the armed forces by the Minister and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North. They perform their duties in the defence of the nation and they carry out a valuable and professional service. It is important that their civil liberties are safeguarded carefully, and that is a proper role for the House. I am sure that in Committee and subsequently the House will give the Bill the careful scrutiny and attention that it deserves.
I am glad to agree with the tribute that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) so rightly paid to our armed forces. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow in detail the tenor of his speech, which was confined largely to matters relating to the area north of the border. We shall all be interested to hear the response of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces to the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I am glad that he paid tribute to our armed forces. Indeed, tributes have been paid to them by Members on both sides of the House and they are entirely justified. I am glad that there is near-unanimity across the Floor of the House on these matters.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and I have paid frequent service visits, thanks to the help of my right hon. Friend and his Ministry. The hon. Gentleman and I have visited many parts of the world to see our armed forces, to examine their discipline and to admire the way in which they carry out their tasks. We have done so in Belize and in BAOR. Some time ago, the hon. Gentleman and I went to the Falkland Islands.
The performance of our armed forces is set out in the White Paper. The White Paper, with superb Tory British logic, has a blue cover, which I am glad to see. An omission is an analysis of the matters that we have been discussing. I do not think that there is available—it is certainly not available in the White Paper but it might be available in other Government documents—information corresponding to the criminal statistics that are produced by the Home Office annually. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider whether it would be appropriate to insert in future White Papers an analysis of courts martial—for example, the number of charges that have been brought and their outcome. That would enable us to determine what the trend is, which would be extremely relevant in considering the Bill. The statistics may be available elsewhere but I do not think so. I recommend that my right hon. Friend considers making this information available and I hope that he will be kind enough to take the recommendation on board. He might choose to make the information available when we come to consider these issues in Committee.
If the statistics are made available, I recommend that they should be broken down so that we may know, for example, how many offences took place in BAOR and how many in Belize. I recall a marvellous heading that I came across once at a Tory party conference. It read, "Tory vote broken down by age and sex". I suggest a more appropriate heading for a breakdown of where offences have taken place so we can ascertain whether a particular problem is developing within a certain military establishment. I suggest that the breakdown should separate the three services.
This is the first time for many years that we have not had available to us the great wisdom of the former Judge Advocate of the Fleet, Ewen Montagu, who has died since we last considered these matters. It is appropriate, when we are considering amending the service discipline Acts, to pay tribute to him. He gave tremendous support to the Royal Navy. His contribution went way beyond the discipline side. He was the author of "The Man Who Never Was", which was a outstanding intelligence coup during the war. It was a fascinating and interesting book he wrote on this. It is sad that he is no longer with us. I know that my appreciation of his wisdom is shared by the Royal Navy. He did an enormous amount of work over many years for the Royal Navy as Judge Advocate of the Fleet.
We welcome the Bill. Not much can be said about it on Second Reading because it clearly commands the support of both sides of the House. We shall want to give detailed consideration to many aspects in Committee. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister will take seriously the valid points made by hon. Members. It will be right for the Committee to consider whether it is appropriate to retain the death penalty and to consider the difficult questions relating to homosexuality. I voted in favour of legalising homosexual acts between consenting males of full age, but I think that we would all concede that different considerations apply to the armed forces. Service men often live in tents or confined cramped quarters. Quarters on many of Her Majesty's ships are still small. Legalislation of homosexual acts could have deleterious effects on good conduct and military discipline. Those are legitimate matters for the Committee to consider.
I do not think that anyone would disagree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. Why should it be a criminal offence for a person in barracks or service quarters to engage in such action while someone else employed by the Ministry of Defence in similar circumstances would not be committing a criminal offence? Equally, a person who was drunk on board a ship would be engaging in conduct prejudicial to good discipline and should be punished. But if someone is drunk in his own quarters, so what?
No doubt it will be the hon. Gentleman's happy fate and, if I am very lucky, my fate too, to serve on the Committee, when we can consider those matters. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson) is taking out his pen with alacrity to write my name down. Sometimes one has cause to regret what one says in response to the Opposition. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North has made a valid point. I look forward to considering it in greater detail. To impose the death penalty, even as a last resort, is to me anachronistic.
The Bill will put disciplinary matters on a regular and more sensible basis. It warrants detailed Committee scrutiny rather than long Second Reading speeches. It is concerned with the minutiae of service life rather than the broad brush approach. I am glad that we have this opportunity to consider service matters at this time. Remembrance Day has just passed. That is the most evocative time for our armed forces. This debate allows us to pay tribute to them.
It is especially appropriate to consider this legislation now because of the visit to the far east by the families of service men. I think that I am just in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in noting the position of people under the services umbrella visiting far-flung parts of the world. Would they be brought within the framework of the Bill? The welcome visits have been organised by the Ministry of Defence, and I should like to know how those people stand with respect to military discipline and protection.
We welcome this thoroughly sensible measure. It is gratifying that it seems to have all-party support.
I begin where I left off in an intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). I quoted the words of the late Lord Mansfield, who talked about a citizen having equal rights whether he was a serving officer, ranking or rating or just an ordinary citizen. The test of any society must surely be whether there is equality for all before the law. My voice appears to be one of the few dissenting voices on the Bill.
About 100 people are effectively serving sentences of imprisonment in the Colchester military corrective training centre, but their offences are not known to criminal law; they are offences against the military code. Has not the time come for us to recognise that, just as serving in the police force or in the professions is a form of service to society, so is serving in the armed forces? I declare an interest as a practising barrister because much of what I have to say will relate to the legal implications of the Bill, especially clauses 2, 4, 9 and 13. Whatever one's walk in life, one serves society. I would strongly argue that anyone who joins the armed forces serves society.
It is difficult to understand how in the 1980s we can say to men who volunteer to serve in one of the three services, "You shall be subject to a completely different set of rules and regulations. There will be acts that will not be punishable in society in large but will be punishable in your world." The hon. and learned Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) said that the time had come to consider whether it was appropriate to retain the death penalty. I believe that we must move towards a standard behavioural pattern and a set of laws that is the same for everyone.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will wish to pursue the matter in Committee. I am glad that he mentioned Colchester military corrective training centre. Superb work is done by the staff there and we look forward to the new building being opened.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is appropriate for there to be a different standard of discipline for the armed forces with regard to going absent without leave. That can be dealt with on a civilian basis, but since it is within the armed forces it is appropriate that it should be dealt with in a manner different from that for companies such as Shell or ICI. In those companies persistent absence would mean dismissal. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that there should be differences in dealing with problems of that type.
I do not agree. If one does something in civilian life that does not merit a criminal penalty but leads to the deprivation of liberty—which is what we are talking about in a corrective training establishment—the same ought to apply for those in the armed forces. If somebody flagrantly walks out, he is in breach of contract and there are other ways of dealing with that rather than locking him up. That is another point that we can consider in Committee.
Perhaps we can look again at representation before various tribunals, whether before courts martial or any other of the summary jurisdictional courts in the Army, Navy and Air Force. It is argued by some that, if legal representation is allowed, it complicates and delays matters. However, it also creates a greater sense of justice in the result.
Clause 2, frankly, is draconian. It makes it a criminal offence to interfere with a signal or anything else, to interfere with a piece of machinery or any other material matter within the armed services. If the aggrieved mechanic deliberately leaves a spanner in the engine of a Centurion tank, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment, imposed by a court martial. At this stage I shall not enter into the argument about courts martial and whether they should be widened in their context. I made my point to the Minister in an intervention. If I am lucky enough to serve on the Committee, I shall make that point more forcefully and lengthily.
I do not want to cut across Mr. Calcutt's inquiry on the Cyprus trial—I await the outcome of that with interest—but I ask a question about clause 2. Under that clause, it is an offence intentionally to intercept or interfere with signals or other matters transmitted or received by wireless telegraphy equipment. The heart of the Cyprus case was whether signals had been intercepted and passed on. As clause 2 is drafted, all those men could have been tried before a court martial with the power, to sentence them to life rather than by a judge and jury at the Old Bailey.
I do not seek to criticise courts martial too heavily. I have been involved in one or two of them over the years and I have seen the results of them. I sometimes wondered whether a court martial, even with the Judge Advocate General's division present, would have come to the same decision as a jury of modern man's peers. I suspect, sadly, that the decisions would not have been the same.
Justice is an important privilege in a civilised society. I want to see justice for every service man serving under the colours. I do not believe that allowing courts martial to expand their powers and expand the type of offences that can be tried before them necessarily serves the best interests of justice and the British service man.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a soldier who abandons his post or does something of that nature, thereby endangering the lives of some of his comrades, should be treated differently from somebody who simply leaves his job in a factory or elsewhere?
That is a poor analogy. I say that with great respect to the hon. Gentleman. Any man who endangers the life of another commits a criminal offence, and he suffers the punishment of society for doing so. Whether he is a soldier, an employer, an employee or anybody else, that should make no difference. The penalty should be the same.
When one considers military justice, one should apply to those who are subject to it the same standards, tests and responsibilities, the same penalties and opportunities, as exist in a civilian court. That is the point that I seek to make in saying that clause 2 is dangerous and needs redrafting.
For example, when a man deliberately damages the engine of a bus or a transport vehicle in a factory, he commits an offence of criminal damage. As the Bill is drafted, the penalty for carelessness can amount, even if intentional, to a severe penalty. Surely we are not saying that that person should suffer more for being the careless mechanic in the army workshop. Why should there be a difference in penalty? In other words, there must be standardisation in justice in both civilian and forces life.
I am much obliged. As a solicitor of many years' standing and a member of the Bar, does not the hon. Gentleman feel that when a soldier is involved in military service, and must consider the lives of others under fire, ordinary criminal law for the private person in the street does not apply? As a consequence, entirely different rules of discipline must apply. People are interdependent. Accordingly it must not be forgotten that people in the forces are volunteers. When they sign on, they accept the disciplinary code introduced by an Act of Parliament.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. If he had paid more attention to what I said instead of other matters, he would know that I have already answered that point when I said that, just as in civilian life people whose actions jeopardise the lives of others are subject to the criminal law, people in service life whose actions jeopardise the lives of others are equally subject to the criminal law.
The point that I sought to make was simple. The penalties to be imposed should always be the same. It matters not whether one jeopardises someone's life as a civilian or as someone in the forces—one is jeopardising the life of somebody else. That is the test. The penalties under military law should be the same as under civilian law. I am not saying that there should be a higher price because someone volunteers to be paid rather than to join the Army, the Air Force or the Navy. We can consider the matter in Committee.
No, with great respect; I would rather move on.
Clause 2 concerns me considerably. I make exactly the same point about clause 4, but we can analyse it later.
I ask the Minister, before the Bill goes into Committee, to look again at clause 6, which concerns the right to re-examine a sentence. It removes the power of reconsideration of sentences of imprisonment or detention provided by section 114 of the Army Act 1955 and of the Air Force Act 1955. The power of review is useful because often when sentences are imposed people feel that perhaps they are not right. Perhaps that could be reconsidered before the Bill goes to Committee.
I have already made a point about clause 13. I concede that only four cases were involved last year, but an important step has been made and I welcome it.
All that I have sought to say can be encapsulated in a simple phrase. Every five years we are allowed to reconsider forces discipline. Time moves on, and just as Mr. Justice Lewis's report in 1946 dealt with the composition of courts martial, in 1985–86 it is right that we should reconsider in depth forces discipline. In 1986 are we to say to men and women, "Because you have chosen to serve the country in a certain way, you must be subject to penalties which we do not seek to impose and punishments which we do not seek to give to others who serve the country in other ways."? Surely justice should be the same for all who serve, regardless of where they serve.
I am the fifth consecutive lawyer to speak in the debate. The Committee will be a collector's piece, as and when it comes. For those who have nothing else to do during December 1985 and the early months of 1986, it will indeed be a memorable occasion.
The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) is wrong in his approach to discipline in the forces. He does not fully understand the commitment to discipline which is an inherent part of the life of those who serve in the armed forces. Those who volunteer know exactly what they are doing, and they take pride in their discipline. It would be wrong to think that they resent or should be resenting discipline as something which is imposed on them in excess of the discipline imposed on citizens. We can undoubtedly return to that point in Committee.
I listened with particular attention to the comments made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). He is always thoughtful and thought-provoking. However, I disagree with three main points that he made. First, he criticised the Government for not exposing through a White Paper the prospective or potential emergency powers which might be required in a state of emergency. We can take pride in the fact that we have peace, because we have the armed forces which enable us to remain a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. We can also be confident in the continuation of peace and in the fact that it is not necessary for us to expose this country to the emergency powers which might be necessary should we be subject to attack or internal emergency. Therefore, I take pride that it has not been necessary for the Government to produce a draft emergency powers White Paper.
I also take issue with the hon. Gentleman about representation at courts martial. His view derives from a fundamental misunderstanding of the way in which the courts martial system and armed forces operate. Nowadays men in the armed forces are not trained at Dartmouth for flag rank. The training is now given at each stage. In the Navy each sub-lieutenant is trained as a lieutenant, each lieutenant as a lieutenant-commander, and so on. It would be wrong to imagine that a non-commissioned rank who has not been trained in the specific duties of serving on a court martial could serve as a full member of a court martial. Moreover, there are many so-called "offences" for which a man can be court-martialled. An officer in the Royal Navy can be court-martialled for hazarding his ship. Is it suggested that non-commissioned ranks should serve on the court martial of the commanding officer of a ship who has been charged with hazarding that ship? The hon. Gentleman is thinking along the lines of having non-commissioned ranks present at courts martial to act as some sort of employees' or workers' representatives. That is not sensible.
Is it wrong that, for example, someone who works as a cashier in a supermarket should sit on a jury trying a man who has defrauded a large business as its managing director? No one would question that. Why should an ordinary seaman with plenty of experience not be allowed to serve on a court martial trying an officer?
I return to my initial point. The hon. Gentleman does not understand the wholly different system of discipline which operates and needs to operate in the armed forces, and in which those who serve take pride. It is not possible to equate the two examples.
Perhaps I could draw a good analogy. Does my hon. Friend agree that often in the trial of major fraud cases in Crown courts a jury of ordinary citizens flounders among the miasma of accounts and paper work? Does that not demonstrate that the jury system may not be as strong as it needs to be? Likewise, a man who has never been in control of a ship is not as well equipped to judge a superior officer who is charged with putting a ship in danger as a man who has controlled a ship. Bearing that in mind, my hon. Friend is absolutely right.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. As many hon. Members wish to speak, I prefer not to take it further now. We shall have ample opportunity in Committee to consider the point ad nauseam.
The third point on which I disagree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North relates to homosexuality and its effect on discipline should there be a relaxation in the present services rule. I cannot conceive of homosexuality being allowed within service establishments without it having a profound effect on discipline. That is another matter that we can undoubtedly discuss in Committee. No doubt one's view derives substantially from one's own approach to that subject generally.
Not one hon. Member has opposed Second Reading of the Bill. The main purpose of the annual discipline Acts has been to enable the Executive—previously the King—to have a standing Army. It is clearly no longer necessary for us to have annual debates to decide whether we should permit the armed forces to be maintained year by year. Therefore, from a legislative point of view, it is no longer necessary for us to have annual debates on the subject, although I note that a statutory order needs to be passed every year. Therefore, Parliament will not lose control.
The main reason why one might hesitate before voting for Second Reading is that it may affect parliamentary control. We can be reassured on that. There is a tradition, not a rule, that each year the House will have one day for a full debate on each of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force. That has given hon. Members sufficient opportunity to contribute on a broad range of subjects relating to the armed forces. Therefore, I do not see that by passing the Bill and depriving ourselves of a full debate on discipline on the Floor of the House, we will lose any control. For that reason, I support Second Reading.
I could make many other points, but they are Committee points, and there will be ample opportunity to discuss them there. Therefore, without further comment, I support my right hon. Friend in approving Second Reading.
I am not a lawyer so I will give a different perspective to this issue. My experience of military discipline is more dated than that of the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers). I was a military policeman and I have had some experience of military discipline and courts martial. I should have thought that the aim of the Bill was the introduction of a reasonable and fair service disciplinary procedure which accords with the requirements of military discipline. I welcome the Bill, but with serious reservations. It may meet the perceived needs of senior military officers, officials at the Ministry of Defence and Ministers, but what of the expectations and needs of service men?
Clause 11 reduces the lower age limit from 17 years to 15 years for male offenders upon whom a court martial may impose a custodial order. I have serious reservations about that and agree with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). The military ritual and procedure of a court martial is intimidating even for the toughest veteran let alone a boy of 15½. The court martial is entirely different from a hearing in the sheriff's court in Scotland or in a similar court in England and I am glad that that point was made so eloquently by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland.
The Select Committee of 1981 on the Armed Forces Bill said on the issue of courts martial and young people in paragraph 7, page V:
One source of concern to the Committee however, was whether a court-martial, in sentencing a young offender in this way, would enjoy as full an understanding of the background to the offender's case as a civil court.
That is a serious qualification. The Committee went on to say:
We appreciate the Services' view that reports by social workers on young Service offenders can be superfluous".
That can be said of any social worker's report for any court. The report continues:
since within the intimate confines of a unit everything relevant about those offenders would be known to their commanding officers.
I do not share the Minister's confidence in the omnipotence of commanding officers, even in small units. Young military offenders need more comprehensive guidance than can be offered by officers. The senior non-commissioned officer has a major role to play. The report says:
At present, there is an obligation for the prosecution under Army Rules of Procedure to call an officer as a witness whenever possible to give evidence to a court martial about an accused's social background, etc. This officer can make use of the work of professional social workers in preparing his evidence, although it is not incumbent upon him to do so. A safeguard exists against such an officer being in any way negligent in the preparation of his evidence in that the court can be adjourned pending more complete social knowledge of the accused.
Although my experience is severely dated, it was that the sergeant or the company sergeant major has a greater understanding of battalion life than a young officer who has recently joined the regiment. That is no criticism of the officers. However, senior NCOs, and I stress senior, have an important role to play.
Senior NCOs could act as witnesses, especially for the very young soldiers who will come within the Bill's scope. In a court martial trying young soldiers it would be helpful to have a senior NCO sitting with a judge advocate and three or four officers. I am not suggesting that an NCO should be on a court martial of an officer—I am concerned only about young military offenders.
Another anxiety raised by the Bill is its seeming denial of legal representation. The National Council for Civil Liberties, has, I believe, sent every hon. Member a briefing, page 3 of which says:
At present there is no right to legal representation on summary trial. Some offences are dealt with by summary trial. Before a court martial, or before the court martial appeal court someone charged may defend himself or may be represented by a defending officer of his/her choice, or by a civilian lawyer.
The NCCL's criticism is that the defendant often does not see a lawyer until shortly before the court martial. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response to that criticism.
The NCCL also criticises the rules governing the punishment of those who have become ill or have been absent without leave. Why does such action lead automatically to imprisonment? Why can we not consider instituting financial penalties? Young men, especially if they have domestic problems, will sometimes decamp without seeking guidance from a senior NCO or officer.
We should also consider premature voluntary release. Contracts of engagement in the forces are for terms of three, six, or nine years. Like the NCCL, I believe that long-term engagement should not be made for people under the age of 18. Similarly, there should be more frequent opportunity of discharge and a review of the discharge machinery.
I have had some experience of questioning accused personnel, although I was no hard case. I would argue that I was Mr. Nice. I never interrogated but always interviewed people. When interviewing service men or women, military policemen are expected to observe the judges' rules and administrative directions to the police. Paragraph 3 of appendix B of those rules provides protection for accused persons and, under the heading "Comfort and refreshment", says:
Reasonable arrangements should be made for the comfort and refreshment of persons being questioned. Whenever practicable both the person being questioned or making a statement and the officers asking the questions or taking the statement should be seated.
My experience is severely dated, but I suspect that some of my colleagues ignored that rule. Paragraph 4 of appendix B applies directly to clause 11 and the court-martialling of boy soldiers of 15. Under the heading
Interrogation of children and young persons
As far as practicable children and young persons under the age of 17 years (whether suspected of crime or not) should only be interviewed in the presence of a parent or guardian or in their absence, some person who is not a police office and is of the same sex as the child.
I put it to the Minister that, under those circumstances, and if the judges' rules are to be adhered to, a senior NCO could play an important role when a youngster is being interviewed. Will the Ministry of Defence be drafting a code of practice under the legislation concerning the interrogation or interviewing of accused persons? If so, will all hon. Members be given an opportunity to examine that?
The Minister said in his opening speech that we seek a fair, firm and modern system of discipline. I agree that that is precisely what we need in the armed forces. I said earlier that I had serious reservations about the Bill but I welcome the procedure and the fact that a Select Committee is to be set up. It can scrutinise in depth the reservations that are shared by some of my hon. Friends.
This is a narrow debate when we think of what has been happening in Geneva. Very little time is given in the House to debates on the nuclear arms race. In the future I may be able to place on record my views on that important matter.
The Bill deals with service discipline. If there were a nuclear war the disciplinary code would be largely irrelevant. In the panic and hysteria, Army discipline will be about widespread summary executions. After the bomb no one will be left. Cetainly there will not be a recognised command structure or the sort of discipline referred to in the Bill.
The Bill still allows the death penalty to be imposed in the armed forces. The same arguments in regard to the death penalty should apply to the armed forces as to society in general. There is a danger of an innocent person being executed. It is barbarous sentence. Cold-blooded state murder should not be countenanced by a civilised society. There is no place in our society for the death sentence, and that should include the armed services. The services are not so special as to be above the rest of us. They should not be immune from general laws nor should they receive punishments that are not applicable to the rest of society.
The Bill still denies to service men and women trade union representation. Everyone should have the right to join a trade union. That should be a fundamental freedom. The armed services are a closed shop where no one can join a union. Service men and women do an important job of work and workers need trade unions. Trade unionism has greater relevance to the armed forces because of their structure. There is a hierarchical direct line management structure which gives rise to great dangers of injustice. Trade unions are vital to the disciplinary process and to grievances being properly channelled. Service men and women should have someone they can trust to represent them.
The headline is:
Did Army cover up gay suicide?
The article says:
An ex-corporal in the British Army has alleged that a senior officer in Northern Ireland killed himself after being named as a homosexual. Corporal John Fanning claims that the officer involved was attached to the Military Police—whose plain-clothed arm, the Special Investigations Branch, is responsible for weeding out gays and alleged wrongdoers. … It was the SIB which was at the centre of allegations of malpractice during the recent Cyprus secrets trial. … Fanning claims the army hushed up the death. An inquest recorded a verdict of misadventure.
Corporal Fanning is a homosexual. Referring to his treatment by the special investigations branch the article quotes him as saying:
It all happened within hours. At 11 o'clock I was having tea, and at a quarter past I was somehow a monster with five legs and three heads.
The article says:
According to Fanning the officer"—
that is the officer who committed suicide—
was confronted by his own subordinates during the week of January 21. Then on Saturday January 26 the officer died while on a training exercise in the south of England.
There were mysterious circumstances. The article later says, in regard to Corporal Fanning:
'I was flown back to Northern Ireland and given a court martial. During the hearing all reference to the officer was deleted. I made a statement 80 pages long and only one and a half pages were read out.' He"—
that is, Fanning—
believes the officer committed suicide because, as a senior officer with a wife and family, he could not bear the disgrace of being named as a homosexual.
I hope the Minister will investigate that article and ensure that there was not a cover-up.
That raises the issue of bad treatment of homosexuals in the armed services. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) referred to the serious danger of blackmail. Some of us who have enlightened views on these matters consider that macho mateyness and Ramboism have distinct homosexual connotations, albeit repressed. Much of that is inevitable in the armed forces. It probably takes place on a large scale.
It is time to stop the hounding of homosexuals by the special investigations branch. It should concentrate on more serious offences such as drug abuse and crimes of violence in the community and against fellow members of the armed forces. The hounding by the special investigations branch is contrary to civil liberties. It generates greater repression and fear among individuals. Homosexuality, if in private between consenting adults, should not lead to discrimination or disciplinary action anywhere, and certainly not in the armed forces.
I apologise for speaking in the debate when I was not present for the first three hours. I have a good excuse in that I have just returned with the Select Committee on Defence from a visit and was unable to be here for the earlier part of the proceedings.
Despite the sparse attendance, the debate is very important from a constitutional standpoint. The Bill is the lineal descendant of the epochal legislation following the Civil War and the Restoration, when Parliament tried to establish supremacy over the military. Supremacy was not achieved then. It was only in the 18th and 19th centuries that there was genuine parliamentary supremacy over the armed forces.
The Bill, and the Select Committee that is to be set up later, are part of the process by which we, as elected representatives, ensure that we control the internal discipline of the armed forces. The legislation is of critical importance not just in legislative-Executive relations or in civil and military relations but in the whole nature of parliamentary democracy.
If the Select Committee that is to be established takes the same form as the last one, of which I was a member, I shall not be entirely happy. That Committee was formed and the great enthusiasm for it lasted a week, after which it waned. At some meetings the Select Committee was barely quorate. On some occasions the witnesses outnumbered the Committee by four or five to one. I have never seen so many witnesses appearing before a Select Committee. On one occasion I counted 23. I do not think that it is right to have a sort of Select Committee procedure first, before examining such an important Bill line by line.
I shall not he diverted by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), who raised the question of homosexuality in the armed forces. A person can be thrown out of the armed forces for being homosexual, without having necessarily committed a homosexual act. It was fortunate for Macedonia and Rome that their great leaders were not barred in that respect, as British generals and privates would be. I am not arguing that being a homosexual should be a prerequisite for anyone holding the post of admiral or general, but there seems to be some correlation between sexual orientation and genius as a commander.
A good deal of nonsense emerges from debates such as this. I recall reading what General Westmoreland said in opposing the presence of women in the armed forces. He said that in a crisis they would be more likely to make love than war. I should have thought that being imprisoned in an NBC suit in a trench with a Russian T72 tank bearing down on one, would be anything but an aphrodisiac.
It was thought that the last Select Committee on which I served would prove to be very boring, but, far from being boring, we dealt with what I call the "Queeg phenomenon"—how to deal with captains who go bananas in the course of duty. We dealt with drug-taking, murder and homosexuality. Never has my liberal conscience been exercised so frequently to so little avail as in those proceedings.
My view may not be applauded by my colleagues, but I regard the quinquennial Select Committee, brought together merely to examine legislation of this sort, as an unfortunate procedure. The Committee should not be an ad hoc one that disappears almost as swiftly as it is established. I ask the Minister and the Leader of the House to remember that there is a Committee—the Select Committee on Defence—already in situ.
There are precedents for legislation of this type being referred to a Select Committee, but I do not think that the members of the present Select Committee should be the only people to have the privilege—if that is what it is—of sitting on the Committee. There are precedents for adding Ministers to a Committee. The further precedent could be set of adding an Opposition spokesman. My suggestion is that the illustrious Minister of State should join the Select Committee on Defence. It would be a classic case of a gamekeeper turned poacher, or vice versa.
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that, when the Select Committee on Defence was set up the argument from the Liberal Bench was that the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) should be part of it? He is not, and no alliance Member is on the Committee. Would the hon. Gentleman wish the Select Committee to proceed without having a member of the alliance on it?
The point that I was seeking to make was that the Committee should not consist only of the present members but that it should be added to. That would be better than the unsatisfactory procedure of having three sessions of evidence and then going through the procedure of an ordinary Standing Committee. Having seen the lack of enthusiasm for such a procedure, I can assure the hon. Member that it is not satisfactory.
I ask the House to consider my suggestion, for which there are precedents. I believe that if it is accepted, this vital piece of legislation is more likely to be dealt with in a manner commensurate with its importance.
With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to speak again.
I do not wish to follow too closely the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), except to say that I thoroughly disagree with him. He started by saying that it was an important constitutional matter of concern to all hon. Members. That is correct. Therefore, it is not a matter which concerns only the excellent Select Committee on Defence, with its expertise. All hon. Members should have an opportunity to take part in the debate. Defence is not simply a matter for the Select Committee on Defence, nor is it of interest only to the two main parties in this House. Every hon. Member has a right to be heard on this most important constitutional matter.
Nevertheless, I congratulate my hon. Friend on getting here in time for the debate. He was the only member of the Select Committee who was able to get here.
With regard to the speech of the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn), we do not want American law applying to British citizens. The Visiting Forces Act 1952 effectively removes foreign forces from British courts of law, even in regard to ordinary civil acts of wrongdoing.
Those are matters which will have to be considered in the Special Select Committee. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South will volunteer to be the Whip for both sides of the Committee. Then we can assure ourselves of 100 per cent. attendance and an excellent relationship. In addition, as a Whip he will not be able to speak so much.
With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to make the shortest wind-up speech that I have ever made on the Second Reading of a Bill. Hon. Members will understand that in the time available I shall not be able to answer all the points, but we shall be able to pursue them in detail in Committee. I will try to respond briefly to a few of them.
I did not cover in my opening remarks the provisions in service law governing homosexuality. The matter was mentioned by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and several other hon. Members. It is an issue that we shall be able to discuss at length in the Select Committee. I endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) and other hon. Members—that this area of service law has to be seen first and foremost against the backcloth of the service environment. There are fundamental differences between the civilian and the service environment.
One of the key facets of the service environment is that service men in a unit must conduct themselves professionally, often in circumstances of high stress when they have to be able to depend absolutely on their fellow men with whom they are in a professional relationship. There has to be absolute confidence and trust between them. I hope that hon. Members will ask themselves whether that sort of professional relationship, in operational circumstances, is compatible with the existence of active sexual relationships between certain members of a unit. That is a serious question to which hon. Members should address themselves.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) for what he said about pressing on with the work on the Victoria barracks. On his remarks about the Visiting Forces Act 1952, I commend to him the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department on 19 December 1983, which spells out the legal implications extremely well.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) seemed to be under the impression that the judges' rules may not apply overseas. I assure him that service police are required to act, wherever they may be, according to the judges' rules. There is no foundation for the suggestion that they do not apply overseas.
The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) raised an important point about the make-up of the Committee. I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North that there is widespread interest on both sides of the House that has been reflected in the broad width of contributions from members of the Select Committee, my hon. Friends and from hon. Members who have chosen to contribute to the debate, although their interests are wider than purely defence matters. I believe that an ad hoc Committee is the appropriate way to proceed. I commend the Bill to the House.