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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Before dealing with the substance of the Bill, I should like to thank the Select Committee on Defence for finding the time to consider the Bill and for publishing its report in such a timely fashion. I shall address some of the issues concerning the Bill that have been raised in the report. However, I should first like to address a couple of more general points on which the report comments.
The Committee recommends that the consolidation of service legislation should proceed with more urgency. I appreciate its concern—the project has been gestating for some time. However, as we told the Committee last week, we need to review the best approach to consolidation in the light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Those are that we are making quite significant though necessary changes to the legislation in the present Bill. It seems likely that we shall make further changes in the quinquennial armed forces Bill in the next Session. In the strategic defence review, the Government indicated their wish to move from three single service Acts to a single Act covering the three services. That will be an important project.
Taking all the elements of current and prospective legislation into account, we need to take stock of the best way forward. We hope to make an announcement shortly. In the meantime, I assure the House that coherent texts of the individual discipline Acts are available to commanding officers and others who need them, and that they are kept updated as the law changes, for example, with this Bill. We accept it as a legitimate concern that that should be the case.
The Committee mentioned the desirability of early progress in the development of the tri-service Act. I fully agree, but we should not underestimate the scale of the task if the end result is to be greater than the sum of the present parts. It is a matter not just of rolling the three existing Acts into one, but of seeing how we can develop legislation that best meets the needs of the services in the 21st century.
We agree with the Committee about the benefits of pre-legislative scrutiny. As it points out, it is Government policy to publish as much legislation as is practicable in draft. For future legislation that is sponsored by the Ministry of Defence, we shall consider means of making our intentions known to the Committee in advance.
The Bill has already been subjected to substantial debate and scrutiny in another place. I put it in its broader context. We in the United Kingdom are rightly proud of our armed forces. As Minister for the Armed Forces, I am proud of the enormous esteem in which they are held here, everywhere they serve and even beyond those immediate areas.
We place great demands on our armed forces. That is a function of our leading role on the international stage and of the Government's view that defence is about making the world a safer place for us all. We invariably have great expectations that the services will fulfil those demands. The House will know that we are never disappointed. We in turn have a responsibility to ensure that our service men and women are properly looked after. The Government do not shirk that responsibility.
We all recognise that the nature of the demands that we place on the services has altered with the changing world order in the last decade or so. There is a measure of continuity in some of the places where we have standing commitments; elsewhere—for example, the Balkans, East Timor and the Gulf—the commitments have been less predictable. That we have been able to deploy forces to those places is evidence of the flexibility and adaptability of our defence capability. We are committed to developing that flexibility by modernising our forces to give them the means to deal with tomorrow's threats as effectively as they have dealt with those of the recent past. That is what our strategic defence review, which is now being implemented, was all about.
As ever, however, much rests on the quality of our people, on their training, and on the sense of discipline that is instilled into them as an essential part of that training. As the Bill's title makes clear, the Bill is about the system of discipline in the armed forces. As we debate the Bill, the House will keep in mind the vital importance of maintaining an effective service discipline system which, as we all recognise, is essential to the cohesion and effectiveness of the services.
There is a fundamental difference between discipline in the armed forces and discipline in other working environments. Good order and discipline is of course important in any organisation, but, in the services, it is backed by a code, the effect of which is that an individual who commits a disciplinary offence may be liable to receive a penal sanction.
I warmly endorse my hon. Friend's fine tribute to the men and women in our armed services. I believe that they are among the finest of the United Nations peacekeeping and peacemaking forces. However, the discipline Acts apply not only to members of the armed forces, but to civilians. What guidelines are given to commanding officers on, for example, detention of a civilian who is accused of an offence? Would such a person be placed in military detention?
The outcome will, obviously, depend on immediate events and the circumstances prevailing in the place where the offence was committed and the individual is located. The Bill will make amendments, which I shall deal with later in my speech, that have been designed to make necessary changes, including to the overall scope of the legislation. Some of the issues that my hon. Friend has just raised will be addressed when we discuss the quinquennial review of the overall legislation. This Bill is about making amendments made necessary by legal decisions, which form the backdrop to the type of decision that he mentioned.
We recognise the unique demands of service life. We are talking about men and women who work long hours, under often difficult, dangerous and uncomfortable conditions. We are talking about asking men and women frequently to undertake tasks that may involve the risk of injury or death, in the cause of achieving the common objective. We are talking about asking them to subordinate their interests to the collective interest.
In the United Kingdom, the links between the armed forces and the rest of society are close and valued on both sides. Indeed, our services make a great contribution not only to their local communities, but more generally. We are committed to services that properly reflect the values of the society from which they are drawn and which they exist to serve. However, the extreme demands that we can place on the members of the armed forces necessarily differentiate them from workers in other parts of society. In the armed forces, the effective enforcement of discipline can, as we know, mean the difference between life and death.
The services need to be able to ensure compliance with lawful orders, potentially in the most demanding and dangerous operational circumstances, and that habit of obedience has to be instilled in peacetime. Therefore, there has to be legal authority for the chain of command to give such orders, and that authority has to apply in operational and non-operational circumstances alike. That is the fundamental purpose of the three service discipline Acts—the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957.
It is also helpful to understand that the system for administering discipline is not simply about providing a means of dealing with those who disobey orders or who turn up late for parade. Such a system provides the legal structure for the services to deal with a wide range of offences both here and overseas, some of which would otherwise be dealt with by civilian courts. The procedures for courts martial and the like are therefore very properly subject to constraints similar to those applicable to the civilian courts.
Accordingly, just as procedures for dealing with offences in the civilian courts are adapted in accordance with the needs of the time, so the discipline system in the services is kept under review, not least to reflect relevant changes in the civilian system and in the legal framework.
The key here is to maintain the balance between keeping in step with the broader legal framework and wider society and preserving those aspects of the procedures that are key to operational effectiveness. That is why the service chiefs and their staffs were fully involved in drawing up the proposals in the Bill and recommending them to Ministers.
There is, of course, a regular parliamentary process for reviewing the discipline system, with the five-yearly armed forces Bills. The House will be aware that we require a Bill on this regular basis in order to continue the existence of the service discipline Acts. This procedure is in turn subject to the annual continuation orders. The five-yearly Bills also provide the main opportunity to update the service discipline Acts.
Traditionally, Parliament has approached the continuation and review of service discipline legislation on a consensual basis. I believe that this is an appropriate acknowledgement of its importance to us all.
Accordingly, in opposition, we were pleased to support the important reforms to the system of service discipline included in the last quinquennial Armed Forces Act in 1996. As the House will recall, the more important of these arose in response to the European convention on human rights.
As I have mentioned, there will be a quinquennial armed forces Bill in the next session, but the present Bill introduces some changes in procedure that we do not believe can wait until then. The proposals in the Bill are intended to ensure compliance with the European convention on human rights.
Is not the true reason for the Bill's being introduced at this point the fact that the Human Rights Act 1998 stipulated that its provisions should take effect from 2 October 2000, so the Bill had to be introduced before the quinquennial review next year? Does the Minister agree that it would have been far better to wait a year before introducing the Bill and that the fact that the Human Rights Act was ill-drafted has caused it to be brought forward precipitately?
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's latter premise. A legal judgment—the Hood case—at the European Court of Human Rights would have left the position unsatisfactory from the point of view of service discipline. Another year's delay would have been quite unsatisfactory for commanding officers and could have undermined the effective system of service discipline. Having considered not only the judgment but subsequent legal advice, we thought it right and prudent to introduce the legislation in order to make the necessary changes that would mean that our discipline system was compliant with the ECHR and that there was therefore a robust defence for the position of commanding officers within that discipline system. That is why we are introducing the legislation now, ahead of the quinquennial review.
Can the Minister specify which portion of the Hood judgment led him and his advisers to believe that we needed to introduce the appeal system for those dealt with summarily by their commanding officers? He will be aware that that issue is causing the greatest concern in the armed forces.
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise a point, I am happy for him to do so. We considered both the Hood judgment, with its implications for whether the current procedures were compliant with the European convention on human rights, and the subsequent legal advice. I recall that when the previous Administration introduced the 1996 legislation, Findlay was the appropriate case. We also considered legal advice on the direction in which the European Court was moving in the Hood judgment. I shall come to the details subsequently.
The Minister knows that I support the main thrust of what he is saying, especially the human rights element, but the Minister for Defence Procurement wrote to Lord Burnham to confirm that commanding officers would be given effective manuals to cover the period between this Bill and the armed forces Bill next year. Is the Minister convinced that that will be sufficient for commanding officers, or does the Ministry plan to give them some specific training to update them on matters relating to the European convention so that they are better able to stop cases ending up in the European Court in the intervening period?
It is not the decisions of commanding officers but the actual legislation that we are advised is potentially not in compliance. The manuals are a standard part of our custom and practice. As the legislation has been updated—the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957—it has formed the basic framework for commanding officers. As a result of the Bill, further training will be needed for existing commanding officers and others who will be involved in the process, and those modules will be incorporated into the normal training programme. That is the normal and sensible response to any change in legislation.
What effect does the Bill have on the remarks by the Lord Chancellor during the passage of the Human Rights Act 1998? He said:
I urge your Lordships to be of the view that the convention is a flexible instrument. It poses no threat to the effectiveness of the Armed Forces. I have given an indication about willingness to consider designating military courts as the appropriate forum for the consideration of complaints on convention grounds by Armed Forces personnel. On that basis I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 February 1998; Vol. 585, c. 768.]
Therefore, in a sense, the Bill makes a monkey out of the Lord Chancellor. The undertakings that he gave in 1998 have been shown to be worthless.
The Human Rights Act 1998 has no impact in that respect, contrary to the assertion of the hon. Member for Gosport. The Bill is a result of decisions taken under the European convention on human rights and, therefore, the need for us to ensure that our procedures were compliant with that convention. As I pointed out to the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) in the Defence Committee hearings, without the Bill, commanding officers could have been placed in the invidious position of operating under a framework that we already knew had been deemed to be non-compliant and, therefore, their decisions could be challenged in court. We thought that it would have been remiss to allow them to remain in that situation when we were fully aware of the court's decision and the legal advice. That is the straightforward reason behind the Bill.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) invoked correspondence between Lord Burnham and the Minister for Defence Procurement. The Defence Committee's report says that the Army estimates that about 20 per cent. of cases will be taken to the summary appeal court and that the Army intends to continue to review that process to ensure that the judgments of the appeal court are in line with the judgments of the commanding officers. Does not that make the important point that in the rush to produce the legislation so early, we are left with a sapping process whereby commanding officers will, almost de facto, have to look over their shoulders in concern about their own judgments and worry about the review process? That will undermine their assured concept of their own authority in front of the accused.
The situation that I described earlier would have had commanding officers looking over their shoulders at a judgment that had been made when they were operating a procedure that both they and the accused knew was non-compliant. That is precisely why we are taking action to deal with problems such as the hon. Gentleman described, in which commanding officers might be uncertain of their area of authority. As I recall, the Army spokesman told the Select Committee that dramatically wide variations in levels of sentence between units could create anomalies in the appeal process. Interestingly, the Navy spokesman said that for about 40 years the manual issued by the Navy had prescribed a range of options rather than precise penalties. He said that the aim had been to overcome any perceived unfairness in that regard.
It has always been slightly inappropriate to use the Navy as an example, as it has a completely different culture. The Army is made up of regiments and smaller units, and has a very different approach. The Minister says that the Government will hold a review, in which judgments by commanding officers will be compared with those achieved through the appeal process. However, the problem is that the commanding officers will be the ones asked to change their opinions and positions, so the Minister's earlier statement that the aim is to achieve conformity rather than uniformity must be incorrect.
The evidence to the Select Committee made it clear that the goal was not uniformity but the establishment of a range within which decisions will be made. The Navy said that it did not employ a uniform table of sentencing and penalties, but that the range of options available to officers gave them considerable discretion. I also recall from the evidence to the Select Committee that the Army had been examining that possibility in any case. I think that the hon. Gentleman is tilting at windmills in this regard. He is right to say that the matter was raised in the Select Committee hearings, but the response from the services was quite robust.
I can confirm that the word "consistency" was used in the Select Committee's discussions. Does my hon. Friend agree that the danger that might arise if any great inconsistencies were allowed to persist would be that future legal challenges would render us unable to deal with the problem? Does he agree that the Government would not have had to introduce this Bill if the previous Conservative Government had got their legislation right in 1996?
My hon. Friend invites me to go down a tempting path, but I fear that to do so would tempt providence in respect of possible future legal decisions. No Minister would be wise to claim that he had achieved the final, definitive version of legislation on this matter.
Given that the European Court of Human Rights is constantly inclined to introduce more and more restrictions on what we in this country may do, will the Minister say whether there are any limits on the Government's willingness to accept its impositions? Is he aware of any other matters that the court is likely to bring forward in the lifetime of this Parliament?
The hon. Gentleman responds to the mere mention of Europe as if he were the hon. Member for Pavlov, East. I remind him—as I reminded the Select Committee—that the 1996 legislation was passed in response to decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights. This Government, like all their predecessors since 1951, have taken account of such decisions and have shaped legislation to ensure that it is compliant. If the hon. Gentleman wants to take that matter further, he should do so with the people who were Conservative Ministers in 1996, or even much further back in time.
We believe that our proposals reinforce the fairness that is at the heart of the services discipline system. They do not imply any criticism of the way the present procedures are operated or of those who have responsibility for operating them.
The proposed changes, like those in the Armed Forces Act 1996, are concerned with establishing checks and balances, in a way proportionate to the need, in two areas not fully addressed in 1996. The first area covers arrangements for the pre-trial custody of persons being investigated or awaiting trial for alleged offences under the service discipline Acts. The second area is summary disciplinary proceedings—cases that are heard by the accused's commanding officer.
Some uncertainty about the need for the Bill was expressed in the other place. As was said in response to interventions, the measure is concerned with modifying certain procedures where there are concerns about compatibility with the European convention on human rights, as described in the explanatory notes. However, the House should be in no doubt that the European Court of Human Rights has already found—in the Hood case in 1998—against the United Kingdom in relation to the present arrangements for pre-trial custody. It did so on the basis that the commanding officer did not have the requisite degree of perceived independence to decide questions of extended custody. The convention article in play on this issue is article 5—the right to liberty and security.
There is no scope for arguing that summary proceedings are, on their own, compatible with article 6 of the convention—which provides the right to a fair trial. Again, that is largely because of the lack of independence of the commanding officer who hears such cases. Given that summary proceedings on their own do not provide a fair trial in convention terms, the question arises of what other procedures we should put around summary dealings to make them compliant. The firm advice is that the combination of the right of election to be tried by court martial and the right to appeal from summary hearings provide a set of procedures that are, in the round, compatible with the convention.
The Select Committee report suggested that providing a right of appeal in addition to a right to elect trial by court martial from the outset may be a form of over-insurance against future court rulings. That is not the case. Without a right of appeal, anyone choosing to be dealt with summarily would be denied the possibility of eventual recourse to a compliant court. Although it may be argued that that is the individual's choice, the advice is that procedures should not rely too heavily on the individual creating conditions that are compatible with the convention. In any event, the new right of appeal will remove a disincentive to choosing to be dealt with summarily. Removing that disincentive will help to preserve the effectiveness of summary discipline.
We are anxious not to add unreasonably to the already extensive burden of responsibilities shouldered by commanding officers—who are the key figures in maintaining and administering discipline in the armed forces. The Bill is designed with that in mind and provides the flexibility that commanding officers will need.
The substance of the Bill is in four parts. The first deals with pre-trial custody, the other three with summary proceedings. Clauses 1 to 10 contain our proposals relating to pre-trial custody. At present, the commanding officer has the main responsibility for deciding whether a suspect or the accused should be held in custody pending charge or trial. There are already safeguards to ensure that responsibility is exercised appropriately and that no one is held in custody unnecessarily—but they are all internal, involving the chain of command within the services.
The Bill strengthens these internal checks and formalises them in primary legislation. It requires the commanding officer to review the need for continuing custody no later than 12 and 36 hours after the time of arrest, applying Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 criteria. The Bill introduces external and independent checks in those relatively few instances where there may be a case for detaining an individual longer. In most cases, there will be sufficient information to determine whether there is a basis to prefer a charge before 48 hours have elapsed. However, if a commanding officer considers that continuing custody in excess of 48 hours is necessary while investigations continue, it is proposed that that should be subject to the approval of a judicial officer—on the basis of a custody hearing with the individual concerned present.
The judicial officer will reach his decision on criteria similar to those used by magistrates in the civil courts. PACE criteria relate to the need to demonstrate that inquiries are being conducted diligently and expeditiously and that more time is genuinely required to obtain and preserve evidence. If the judicial officer is not satisfied that those conditions are fulfilled, the individual must be released. In any event, the judicial officer may not approve custody beyond 96 hours.
Would the Minister keep it in mind that the armed forces exist to fight? These matters need to be considered in the light of operational circumstances and the turmoil and heat of battle. At times, a period in excess of 48 hours may be wholly appropriate, but there will be no possibility of a legal officer getting to the scene or conducting a hearing. Ministers must bear in mind the reality that service men face in the conduct of their operational responsibilities.
The hon. Gentleman might be surprised by the availability of video conferencing links between our many theatres of operation and the United Kingdom. [Interruption.] If he would wait a moment, I could cover the areas that he raised. Many theatres of operation are in daily, broadband transmission contact with the UK. There have been dramatic changes in that area.
Secondly, it is easy to describe the circumstances of battle in general terms, as the hon. Gentleman did. However, specific cases might make it a little harder to sustain the hon. Gentleman's argument. For example, questions were raised in the Defence Committee about personnel in the middle of a conflict, and a service representative pointed out that holding someone in custody would not necessarily be desirable. In a battle for survival, every individual would be wanted, armed and ready, to fight the enemy.
In other circumstances, it might be possible to move someone in custody away from the front and to a more secure position in the rear. That is quite traditional behaviour. We have to consider individual cases, and once the hon. Gentleman's arguments are considered in detail the requirements that we are placing will not seem as onerous as he thinks.
Our procedures provide that a judicial office may come not only from the individual's own service, but from the others. In addition, the officer may come from a jurisdiction in which the legal system is similar to ours. In many cases, joint operations take place with other forces. We have discussed this point with the services, and the provisions have been examined by them. They believe that our proposals are compliant with operations, as well as being compliant with the convention.
If the individual has not been charged after 96 hours, he must be released. Investigations into the alleged offence would continue, if necessary, after the 96-hour point. Neither the 48 nor 96-hour periods will be regarded as norms. The aim will remain either to charge or to release an individual as soon as possible.
We recognise that in a very few cases it will not be possible for the suspect and the judicial officer to be brought together for a custody hearing within 48 hours. The flexibility rightly built into the Bill will allow these hearings to be conducted by live television links or similar means. We envisage that these will, in some cases, be the most convenient method of conducting custody hearings, and developments in technology have convinced us of their feasibility. However, where it is genuinely not possible to meet the 48-hour requirement, the Bill provides leeway for the judicial officer to hear an application for extended custody after the 48-hour point.
I fully understand the advantages of video links and so forth. However, the Minister is surely not suggesting that a video link—even broadband, or at different times of day, or when a ship is moving—is any substitute for a face-to-face hearing at which body language may be transmitted. Negotiations cannot be held over video links; they might as well be done by phone.
Given some of the hon. Gentleman's other contributions to debates in the House, I am surprised that he is so dismissive of technology. However, we take the point—not just about body language, but about other potential influences in the room. Part of the modus operandi for video linkage would be to get as wide a picture as possible, so as to obviate any suggestion of undue influence. Much of the work between theatre and joint headquarters is now undertaken by video linkage. Much of the world operates in that way and the services are increasingly doing so. Those facilities are more and more available in theatre.
May I remind my hon. Friend that, for some years, the video linking of evidence—especially for the cross-examination of child witnesses—has been an established procedure in civilian courts?
I very much take that point. The procedure is also used in further remand hearings. There may be some scope for its extension in this country, instead of transporting individuals to courts.
If an individual is charged, the need for continued custody pending trial must be assessed anew. As before, it will be for the commanding officer to take the initial view on that, but now applying criteria similar to those laid down in the Bail Act 1976. These include such issues as an assessment of the likelihood of an offence being committed or the possibility of witnesses being interfered with if the individual is not held in custody.
If the commanding officer considers that there is a case for continued custody, the issue must be referred as soon as practicable to the judicial officer, who will also apply criteria similar to those laid down in the Bail Act. As I said, the Bill provides that that must happen "as soon as practicable". That gives the services the flexibility they need if, for operational reasons, it is not possible to arrange an immediate hearing.
If the judicial officer decides that the accused should be held in custody, he may order custody only for a maximum of eight days, or for 28 days if the accused has consented to that longer period. The question must thereafter be readdressed by a judicial officer at intervals of no more than eight or 28 days as appropriate. However, after the first review, a hearing, as such, need be arranged only if the accused has new arguments to advance; otherwise, the judicial officer will conduct a paper review.
In any event, arranging such subsequent hearings, where required, will pose few problems because an accused being held in extended custody prior to trial would, as now, invariably be returned to the United Kingdom, were he overseas in the first place. If, for any reason, that had not occurred, the option of using a video link would be available.
Understandably, the Select Committee probed those procedures at some length and, in their report, suggested that the Committee stage will be an opportunity to confirm that the Bill covers all reasonable eventualities. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence and I look forward to that.
Clearly, the judicial officer is a key player in all the procedures that I have just described. Clause 7 describes who may be appointed as a judicial officer for that purpose, normally a judge advocate or a naval judge advocate—in other words, one of the figures who exercise independent judicial functions at courts martial. Judge advocates also have a role in other aspects of the Bill's proposals.
The remainder of the Bill concerns the changes that we want to make to summary discipline procedures. For most purposes, as I said, an individual's commanding officer deals with the alleged offence. As we know, there are certain differences between the procedures in the Army and the RAF on the one hand and the Royal Navy on the other. Today, it may be easier if I refer mainly to Army and RAF procedures, referring to differences in the Royal Navy only where necessary.
The House needs to understand that summary discipline is an effective means of dealing with minor problems quickly. The overwhelming majority of disciplinary cases are heard in that way. The three services need to be able to continue to deal with the present range of day-to-day disciplinary issues summarily.
At present, those facing summary proceedings in the Army and RAF have the invariable right to elect to be tried by court martial instead. That right is slightly qualified in the Royal Navy because of the need to be able to deal quickly with minor disciplinary problems at sea, and because of the problems of convening a court martial on board ship.
The increased right to choose to be tried by court martial was introduced in the Armed Forces Act 1996 because of concerns that summary proceedings, on their own, may not be compatible with the European convention on human rights. In the Army and the RAF, the right for an accused to choose to be tried by a court that complies with the convention can be exercised only after the commanding officer has found the charge proved. At present, if the case is heard summarily, the accused has no right of appeal to a higher court. Instead, he may ask for the matter to be reviewed by a higher service authority than his commanding officer. That is a safeguard, but it is not a judicial process.
We believe that the procedures now need to be changed in two main ways. We intend to introduce a right of appeal from summary hearings to an independent and impartial court. That will provide an assured right of access to a court that complies with the convention. The Bill therefore proposes the establishment of a new summary appeal court for this purpose. That is covered in clauses 14 to 25. The new court will consist of a judge advocate and two independent officers, generally from the appellant's service but from outside his chain of command. There will, of course, be safeguards to ensure that no one hearing the appeal has been involved in the case previously.
The procedure at appeal hearings in the summary appeal court will, as far as possible, mirror that of the Crown court hearing an appeal from a magistrates court. The summary appeal court will not be able to award a sentence more severe than that imposed by the commanding officer, so as not to provide a disincentive to accused wishing to exercise the right to have their cases heard by a court that complies with the convention.
We wish to avoid any confusion that may arise from the introduction of this right of appeal. As I explained earlier, at present an accused in the Army being dealt with summarily is given the option of trial by court martial after his commanding officer has determined that the charge has been proved, but before sentence is passed. That procedure can easily be confused with an appeal, in that the accused has some idea of what his fate may be when he decides whether to involve a higher court. However, it is not an appeal because, for the subsequent court martial to be a proper appeal, the accused would also need to know what sentence he had been given by his commanding officer.
We acknowledge that, within that procedure, there is room for confusion. We therefore consider it more sensible to alter the arrangements so that an accused will make the choice between being dealt with summarily or by court martial before the summary hearing. Indeed, that is already the position in the Royal Navy, and it seems to work there.
I might touch here on another observation in the Select Committee's report. It suggested that the changes in the Armed Forces Act 1996 have led to a doubling of the percentage of Army discipline cases being dealt with by court martial. The Select Committee drew attention to the figures for 1996 and 1999. In those two years, the number of cases dealt with by court martial was more or less constant, approaching 400 in both years. In the same two years, the recorded number of cases dealt with summarily reduced from some 3,500 in 1996 to about 2,100 in 1999.
However, as we told the Select Committee, the centrally recorded information about Army discipline cases is incomplete because it includes data only about cases that have to be recorded on a soldier's regimental conduct sheet. Most cases have not needed to be recorded centrally but, as we also told the Select Committee, a survey for 1998-99 showed that, in that year, 24,000 cases in all were dealt with summarily in the Army. If nothing else, that demonstrates that we need to be very careful about drawing conclusions from the partial figures that were understandably highlighted by the Select Committee. We certainly would not conclude that they demonstrate that an extended right to elect trial by court martial has led to a higher proportion of courts martial.
We concluded that our statistics in relation to discipline need to be more comprehensive in future. We recognise that there have been problems in the past and we intend to do better in the future. That point will help me greatly in answering questions from the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key).
The Select Committee also registered concern that delays arising from individuals electing for trial by court martial might lead to rough justice being meted out by aggrieved colleagues of the accused. We do not accept the premise that the changes will create additional delays, any more than the 1996 changes did. However, it hardly needs saying that neither the services nor the Government would tolerate matters being dealt with in that way. Indeed, I am not aware of any evidence that that has happened in the wake of the 1996 changes.
I acknowledge that great progress has been made—for example, by providing more courts in which courts martial are held. Is it envisaged that the new summary appeal courts will sit in the same courts around the country and use the same facilities? If it is, that will surely have great resource implications. Will the Minister also reassure us that he has visited the courts and seen a court martial in session?
No, I cannot reassure the hon. Gentleman on that point. However, we have taken extremely good advice from those who are deeply involved in the system of service discipline at all levels. I take his point that we need to examine the work undertaken in the courts to ensure that justice is not only fair, but speedy and effective. As he graciously acknowledged, we have been making progress—not sufficient, but considerable—in that regard, but we certainly need to take similar measures for the appeals system, because if those procedures are dragged out it is bad not only for the individuals, but for the service.
The change concerning the point of election for court martial is covered in clauses 11 and 12. I appreciate that I have departed from the sequence of the Bill, but those particular proposals are more readily understood in the context of the introduction of a right of appeal. Should the accused decide to be tried by court martial, the sentencing powers of the court will be limited to the maximum that the commanding officer could have awarded had he dealt with the case. That is to ensure that there is no disadvantage, real or perceived, for the accused in choosing to be tried by a court that is independent of his commanding officer and the chain of command.
That limitation is not a formula for the accused to get off with an inappropriately light sentence. If the commanding officer is of the view that the offence is serious, he will still be able to recommend court martial in the first place. However, the decision on whether a case should be tried by court martial ultimately rests not with the commanding officer, but with each service's prosecuting authority, which broadly fulfils functions akin to those of the Crown Prosecution Service.
Clause 13 and schedule 2 make the necessary procedural adjustments to the powers of the prosecuting authority under the new arrangements for electing trial by court martial. Once a case is referred to it, the prosecuting authority may consider that the original charge is inappropriate. Those provisions describe the procedures to be followed if the authority proposes to alter the charge.
If the proposed new charge is of greater seriousness than the original, it may not be appropriate to give the accused the option of summary proceedings or trial by court martial. It will be clear that the matter should be dealt with by court martial. In other cases, however, there will be provisions to allow the altered charge to be dealt with as if new, with the accused being given the opportunity to be dealt with summarily or by court martial, or for the commanding officer to decide to dismiss the charge.
For the convenience of the House, I have described the procedural changes in the Bill in some detail, but we should not let the detail obscure the reason for the Bill. Faced with the Strasbourg Court's decision on pre-trial custody and the unequivocal advice that summary dealings, on their own, cannot be argued to be compatible with the convention, no responsible Government could have failed to act. The Government are acting responsibly with the Bill, and the House would not have expected otherwise.
There are no unnecessary frills in the Bill. Our aim has been to preserve the ability to deal with discipline cases summarily. The Bill achieves that. Where it provides alternative means of trial, these remain within the service system. That is a good outcome for service discipline.
The detailed procedures in the Bill are the result of many months of detailed work with the services to ensure not only that the arrangements are compatible with the convention, but that they work. The services are confident that they will work without impeding operational effectiveness. The Government are confident that they will work and determined that they will not impede operational effectiveness.
The Bill also delivers rights to the men and women who serve in the armed forces. It strikes the right balance between establishing those rights and preserving the vital system of discipline in the services. I commend the Bill to the House.
I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Armed Forces Discipline Bill [Lords] because it adds unnecessary administrative burdens and costs to Her Majesty's Forces, proposes hasty and impractical solutions to the administration of military law for forces on active service, transfers to civilians powers which rightly lie with the chain of military command, and, furthermore, because it fails to address urgent issues affecting the fundamental human rights of military personnel and their dependants, including deficiencies in the provision of legal aid and delays in the processes of military law, such as redress of grievance procedures, and because it has the effect of postponing yet again both consolidation of the Army, Navy and Air Force Discipline Acts and consideration of a single tri-service Discipline Act.
I start by recording my great admiration for the world-beating standards of discipline and personal behaviour which continue to be the hallmark of Her Majesty's forces. As we embark on consideration of the Bill, we should remember that only a few go astray.
Almost exactly two years ago, on 16 February 1998, I visited Trenchard Lines at Upavon, the headquarters of the Adjutant-General, for a briefing by the director of personnel services for the Army and others on the Army disciplinary system and the challenges that it was facing. Those challenges included personal behaviour and issues such as homosexuality, mixed-sex postings on increasingly purple operational tours and the consequences of changes to the service discipline Acts as a result of the Armed Forces Act 1996. They included also the anticipated changes that would be forced on the services as a result of European Court judgments and the proposals to incorporate the European convention on human rights into domestic law.
I was reminded of that last month, when I was visiting NATO headquarters in Brussels, when we drove past the site of the battle of Waterloo. The connection is that, in his briefing to me—which was clearly exceptional, because I can still remember it—the director of personnel services, then Brigadier Peter Curry, opened the day by reminding me that the Army exists to engage in war. He pointed out that Napoleon said "The moral is to the physical as three is to one." It is a good soundbite, and I am glad that he said it. He also learned the truth of it the hard way when he lost the battle of Waterloo. There are many reasons for that defeat, including Wellington's superior knowledge of the lack of undergrowth in the woods thereabouts, which was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith). Above all, Napoleon underestimated the moral strength of the British and their allies.
Morale arises from conviction in what we are doing and confidence in our leaders. Anything that undermines that conviction and confidence leads to a breakdown of trust. As Brigadier Curry put it, conviction and confidence are held together with the glue of discipline.
The first priority must be confidence in the chain of command. That is particularly important in the Army. Land operations are very different from naval and air operations: there is more friction, operations take longer, every soldier carries a weapon and must use it.
During the course of that briefing, I was struck by the open-mindedness of those tasked with the challenges facing the Army. There was a great deal of new thinking in the military community. There was also a recognition of the tri-service differences. That was manifest in the tri-service working group, which had discovered that it had to rely on logic rather than prejudice when it ran into inevitable differences of ethos and working practices between the three services. The very small number of dedicated men and women of all three services who have squared up to those intractable problems deserve our congratulations and thanks. A great deal has beenachieved.
Two years ago, the Army had promised a new standards of discipline paper. Ministers, service chiefs and lawyers were wringing their hands, and who can blame them? That is why it is a triumph that, two years on, the chiefs of the defence staff have been able to introduce a code of social conduct in the armed forces which sets out a revised policy for all three services on personal relationships involving service personnel. The ultimate test is the service test which, quite rightly, focuses not on political correctness but on the operational effectiveness of the services. The test is short and straightforward: have the actions or behaviour of an individual adversely impacted, or are they likely to impact, on the efficiency or operational effectiveness of the service? As my hon. Friend said when the Secretary of State announced that change, we cannot be sure whether the test will work, nor of the effect that it will have on operational effectiveness, and we will therefore ask the chiefs of staff to review the effects of the introduction of the service test.
It was clear to us that the Government were reluctantly pushed into making this change. What else could explain the change in tone of the Labour party from Opposition to Government? Many of us were present at the Report stage of the Armed Forces Bill on 9 May 1996, when the then hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid)—now Secretary of State for Scotland—who was leading for the Labour Opposition, said of the Currie amendment to lift the ban on homosexuals in the forces:
There are logical, objective grounds for qualifying what is a very valuable civil right to preserve effectiveness. However, it is honourable and legitimate to say that the weight of the civil liberties argument is sufficiently great to overcome both the operational reduction in effectiveness and the case for privacy for heterosexuals. There is nothing dishonourable in making that balance and in arriving at a judgment that is different from mine, but the Labour Members of the Select Committee were not persuaded that that change was necessary.
He said later:
Whatever happens, the people who will then be asked by us to remain the ultimate defender of both those liberties and those lives will be the men and women of our British armed forces."—[Official Report, 9 May 1996; Vol. 277, c. 503–051
That was fighting talk, and it clearly convinced the hon. Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar), who voted with the then hon. Member for Motherwell, North and myself in the same Lobby.
And the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), of course, along with many others.
I only wish that such focus and clarity were identifiable in the Government's attempt to incorporate into the three service Acts the consequences of putting the European convention on human rights into domestic law. It is because they have not made a sufficiently compelling case, either today or in another place, that I shall invite the House to vote for our reasoned amendment.
In another place, one by one, the noble and gallant Lords expressed their dismay. Field Marshal Lord Carver said on 16 December 1999:
I contend that the present system under the Army and Air Force Acts is perfectly fair and can be defended in the courts as consistent with the convention.
Field Marshal Lord Bramall said:
More is being put into this Bill than is strictly necessary for compliance.
Indeed, even the Minister, the Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, said when, discussing the right of appeal against a summary sentence, that to continue with the present arrangements might not be "compatible with the Convention". I am sure that her words were carefully considered. She continued that the provisions would allow the possibility—not the probability—of a challenge to the powers of the commanding officer. Then the distinguished Scottish lawyer, Lord Campbell of Alloway said:
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, put the matter very clearly; there is much provision in the Bill which is unnecessary. To put the proposition round the other way… which precise articles of the convention does the existing regime—the discipline Acts—breach?
The best the Minister could do for an answer was to say:
We need to consider what would happen if we did not make these changes. Failure to do so would render the system for service discipline vulnerable to challenge in our domestic courts. The risk of frequent and successful challenges to the system would create an untenable position. That would undermine service discipline and the authority of the commanding officer.
She went on to say:
At that point, the disciplinary system would certainly lose credibility, as would commanding officers.
We contend that the Bill will make a difficult position worse. It seems we are agreed that there is a risk that the chain of command will be undermined, one way or another.
The arguments did not convince the noble and gallant Lords. Field Marshal Lord Carver went on to say:
I am sorry to say that the Minister used somewhat extravagant language: that the CO's judgment would be open to constant challenge by the courts. I do not believe that it would. The existing Army and Royal Air Force legislation is perfectly fair. The man has his choice when he knows the decision of the commanding officer. To force the individual to make up his mind prior to that is less fair and less just.
I hope that the Minister will think again on the issue. There is talk that the chiefs think that the provision is marvellous; I know that they do not. They seek to make the best of a bad job."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 December 1999; Vol. 608, c.366–72.]
Lord Bramall continued the charge on Report, saying:
As has been said many times, the Bill will slow and confuse the administration of justice; it will undermine the authority of the commanding officer; it will be extremely difficult to administer, particularly on active service; and it will greatly add to the workload of the commanding officer and the various staffs involved at a time when they are already extremely stretched.
Also on Report, Lord Campbell of Alloway said:
However, as yet no specific breach of any article of the convention has been identified which requires this massive amendment to the service discipline Acts."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 January 2000; Vol.608, c. 989–95.]
On Third Reading, there was no Division. My noble Friend, Lord Burnham, who leads on defence matters for us in the House of Lords, said:
My hon. Friends in another place, who have yet to have the opportunity to debate the Bill, recognise the timing problem, but are far from happy about the way in which the Bill has been framed. Irrespective of what is resolved today in this House, they are likely to argue against it in principle."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 January 2000; Vol.608, c.1340.]
Yes, absolutely—because of the traditions of another place. There are still some traditions in the other place, despite the Labour Government's attempt to change them. Unlike the Labour party, the Conservative party does not interfere in the workings of the other place. That is why the decision was taken by the Front Bench in the other place.
Even if the chiefs of the services will have to make do with the Bill if it is enacted, does my hon. Friend agree that the opportunity to consolidate the three single service discipline Acts has been missed?
My hon. Friend is right. He will recall the many years spent on the Select Committee trying to move that process forward. I shall deal with that in detail later.
A substantial part of the Armed Forces Bill 1996 was taken up with amendments to the Army, Navy and Air Force discipline Acts in order to make them compliant with the European convention. In taking evidence from the Ministry of Defence on 27 February 1996, the Armed Forces Bill Committee interrogated a distinguished list, including civil servants, the judge advocate general, the chief naval judge advocate, the deputy director of legal services, RAF, and others, including the legal adviser to the Ministry of Defence.
The hon. Member for Walsall, South, now Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, asked the legal adviser:
Are you satisfied that these proposed reforms will go far enough to satisfy the European Court of Human Rights particularly given the views expressed by the European Commission on Human Rights?
He went on to ask:
Can you give me something rather more than a belief or perception? Upon which evidence is your perception based?
The legal adviser replied:
None of the criticisms made in the Commission's Report made any suggestion that the military system of justice should be dismantled so I do not think we have got any fears on that score. We do believe it is appropriate to have a military tribunal and we have had no indication that there is anything wrong with that.
What has happened between 1996 and now? Not a lot of preparation for this rushed Bill, for sure. If the Government are to make fundamental changes to the system of military discipline—no one seriously believes that this is just a little tidying-up matter—Parliament might expect that a great deal of preparation had been undertaken, and that there could be no doubt about the facts of the matters that would be reformed. Some hope!
Over recent weeks, as the Minister suggested, I have asked a number of straightforward factual questions. I am still waiting for some of the answers—I make no complaint about that. However, many of the answers give us no grounds to suspect that Ministers have the facts at their fingertips. If it is proposed to change the system in favour of the client, I should have thought it not unreasonable that basic information about the client base should be available.
It was truly astonishing that the Minister for Defence Procurement told my noble Friend Lord Attlee that, over the past six years, no records have been kept that show how many soldiers elected trial by court martial. I am relieved to hear that work is in hand to assure that better records will be kept in future.
Back to the Trenchard lines: morale arises from conviction in what one is doing and confidence in one's leaders. Conviction and confidence are held together with the glue of discipline. Where is the real conviction on the part of the Government that the Bill is necessary?
It has been illuminating to hear the Minister today, and some weeks ago the Minister for Defence Procurement in another place, setting out the reasons why the Bill is being introduced, but not a single example has been given of service men and women's rights being abused through the current system of military discipline. In truth, the Bill has little to do with the fairness of military discipline. The system works. The argument that the Bill protects against abuses is weak.
We are considering a Bill that will not improve our military discipline system. We contend that it will only make matters worse. It is, perhaps, a little ironic that, at the same time as the Government are introducing legislation to gold-plate our armed forces discipline system against a possible action in the European Court of Human Rights, they are seeking to curb a defendant's automatic right to trial by jury in the Criminal Justice (Modes of Trial) Bill.
We hold the view that serious questions remain about the need for the Bill. During the passage of the Human Rights Bill in February 1998, assurances were given by the Lord Chancellor about its provisions applying to the armed forces. He said that
the convention is a flexible instrument. It poses no threat to the effectiveness of the Armed Forces. I have given an indication about willingness to consider designating military courts as the appropriate forum for the consideration of complaints of convention grounds by Armed Forces personnel."—[0fficial Report, House of Lords, 5 February 1998; Vol. 585, c. 768.]
It was, as the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) said, in 1951 that the United Kingdom acceded to the European convention. The noble Lord Renton told the other place on 29 November 1999:
I am one of the few people still living who attended the European Council when the European Convention on Human Rights was being considered. Indeed, I was closeted with M. Rolin, the Belgian lawyer, who represented Dr Mossadek at The Hague in order to agree with him—and eventually it was agreed by all concerned—the powers of the European Court of Human Rights.
I feel obliged to mention that at that time—it was just a few years after the war—I do not believe that members of any party in this country gave a moment's thought to the effect of the convention on military discipline. But now we must consider it. I believe that the Government must review the convention and our acceptance of it in order to ensure that military discipline is maintained."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 November 1999; Vol. 607, c. 691.]
Last week, in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), the Minister for the Armed Forces told the Defence Committee that it was "a theoretical possibility" that the Government might withdraw from the convention and immediately re-apply, asking for a derogation to protect our vital defence interests. When the Minister winds up the debate, will he tell us whether at any time the Government have considered that course of action?
Does my hon. Friend agree that at no time has any hon. Member accused the French of not being communautaire? Have not the French always supported the European convention on human rights, yet do they not have a derogation for the application of military discipline? Should we not be equally communautaire?
I fear that, in 1951, we missed a trick but, as I was only six at the time, I am not prepared to accept responsibility. My hon. Friend is right. The French do not have such problems, because they have a derogation. Member states that have joined the convention in recent years have decided to opt out and to have that derogation in place.
There are others, as distinguished as Lord Renton, who believe that the Bill is not necessary. The noble Lord Alloway, a senior lawyer, told the other place on 18 January:
This convention does not require any signatory state to enact legislation, such as proposed by this Bill, which would inhibit the maintenance of good order and discipline in its armed forces.
He went on to state his opinion that
assuredly the convention does not require amendment to the service discipline Acts or the setting up of a summary appeal court, as proposed by the Bill. It is wholly implicit that convention rights and obligations imposed on civilians should suffer substantial erosion and limitation. The extent of such limitation has not, as yet, been examined by the Commission or the Court. The Court would not strike down the service discipline acts as such."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 January 2000; Vol. 608, c. 981.]
The central problem with the Bill is that in it, the Government are bending over backwards to comply with the provisions of the European convention on human rights. They are doing the maximum necessary to comply, and they seem hell bent on doing so.
We do not consider that the current system is non-compliant with the convention. Indeed, it was argued convincingly in the other place that amendments made to the discipline system as a result of the Armed Forces Act 1996 made our courts martial convention compliant. The changes were made in response to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that a court martial convened and presided over by a higher military authority was not "independent and impartial".
In the other place, Lord Bramall, a former chief of the defence staff, reasoned that if
a soldier can have free and direct access to a European Convention on Human Rights compliant court—that is, a court martial, with its own right of appeal—the right of appeal against the commanding officer's summary sentence to a special court would seem to be superfluous."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 December 1999; Vol. 608, c. 366.]
We are minded to agree with that view.
Irrespective of whether the Government consider the Bill to be absolutely necessary, we believe that it has fundamental flaws. Our main concern is that it undermines the integrity of those who command. It is an invitation to the barrack-room lawyer. The disciplinary system that we have at present clearly demonstrates that unit morale is supported and bolstered by the application of quick and firm justice.
The procedures set out in the Bill remove part of the control of a commanding officer, and the timing leads to delays in getting a problem dealt with and finished. It is also damaging to put in place a disciplinary process which allows soldiers to complain about their commanding officers, thereby reducing their authority.
No one can doubt that the upholding of a commanding officer's authority and trust is vital to the efficiency and morale of a unit. That is especially so in active and combat operations. The Bill, a so-called technical measure, strikes at the heart of operational effectiveness. Our fears were echoed by yesterday's Defence Committee report.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I confess that it is a long, long time since I was involved with summary charges and courts martial, but I recall my unit being inspected by a very young Brigadier Carver.
With reference to the redress of grievance procedure, is it not the case that any person coming in front of his or her commanding officer has the right to challenge a decision taken in a grievance case? If so—some Conservative Members have much more military experience than I do—surely the right of appeal in the grievance procedure does not damage the standing of a commanding officer.
The hon. Gentleman is right for the second time this afternoon. I shall come to the redress of grievance. That is an important point, but the problem is one of a sin of omission. The Bill should tackle the redress of grievance. It is deficient. It could be much more efficient.
The Bill provides for summary appeal courts to be established, but the accused will already have been given the choice of deciding whether to be tried by his commanding officer or by court martial. The accused will now be allowed to say that he or she does not agree with the commanding officer's decision, and can cause either the finding or the sentence, or both, to be referred to the summary appeal court. That will obviously undermine the commanding officer's authority, draw out disciplinary proceedings and undoubtedly incur further expense. The burden of work on all those involved will also increase.
The Bill also introduces changes to the procedure for election for court martial trial, and that will encourage elections for trial by court martial rather than by commanding officers, which will also impact adversely on the commanding officer's authority.
Several hon. Members have talked about the practicality of the enforcement of discipline in the field. The armed forces are deployed all over the world in a variety of different operations and security circumstances. That was the reason for a body of military law in the first place. The Bill may be workable in the UK's garrison towns and bases, but it would often be unworkable when our forces are operating in the most basic and possibly dangerous conditions in the field, perhaps thousands of miles away from Britain and its military legal apparatus.
Under the Bill, detention must be authorised by a judicial officer after a certain time. How would such authorisation be given if, for example, a unit were cut off under siege conditions? That is not fanciful. Such conditions can exist in modern peacekeeping operations. One has only to think of the situation of the Dutch army in Srebrenica to envisage how disciplinary problems in the field can put matters in a new and dangerous light.
The Government have argued that there is flexibility in the Bill to allow for such situations, and that, in such cases, an individual would be brought before a judicial officer "as soon as practicable". However, on 18 January, Baroness Symons, speaking in the other place, said that the Bill will not be set aside even in the "most extreme operational circumstances". Therefore, the Government are saying that, in most cases, that flexibility is worthless. Either that or they are telling us that they have engineered by stealth an effective derogation from the ECHR.
Ministers have put much faith in modern communications to circumvent those logistical difficulties. In particular, Ministers have said that video links will be used to enable hearings with judicial officers. The Defence Conrunittee was intrigued to be told last Thursday about video conferencing. The director of personnel services for the Army explained that video conferences happen already, and such conferences take place daily with Pristina. He said that he had himself spoken to a judge advocate on a video conference facility as part of a trial. The judge advocate will have a portable system at home so that he can be dialled up literally at any time. That is probably just as well if one considers the time differences between East Timor and Belize.
There will be static video conferencing suites. Portable systems can be taken home so that a duty judicial officer can be wired up to pretty well anywhere in the world because, as we were told,
IT-wise now, wherever our soldiers go, we have the IT systems.
One or two people might not agree. That is not quite so convincing if the home football team cannot be viewed in real time or if "EastEnders" or "Brookside" cannot be watched live. We are unconvinced about the potential of video conferencing.
The Government have decided that it is in the interests of justice, and compliant with human rights legislation, that video links should be used to enable hearings with judicial officers. We challenge that on two counts. The Bill does not say how that will work. Clause 8(2) says that the Secretary of State may make rules about that, but I think that he will have to do much more. First, he must address the technical challenges involved. There is no tried and tested system operating over long, even intercontinental, distances, and the Lord Chancellor's Department, which is ultimately responsible for such courts, has said in reply to parliamentary questions that it has no links with any commercial companies in that area.
However, there are people who work with the military on satellite links. Has the Minister talked to the company that does the satellite transmission for the British forces broadcasting system, whose programming is generated from the company's studio production facilities near London? That company produces broadcast quality results based on a transmitted data rate of 8 Mb a second. If Her Majesty's forces rely on Inmarsat, the maximum data rate available is a mere 128 Kb a second. That may support low-quality video conferencing, which is, of course, bidirectional, but to achieve broadcast quality links a second path would have to be booked if bi-directional pictures were required. The lower power gives a poor and jerky image with feeds costing several pounds a minute.
For broadcast quality live pictures, the existing technology requires that a portable satellite news-gathering terminal is sent to the source of the feed—a military unit somewhere in the world. Such units cost about £350,000 each. An SNG terminal costs approximately £1,500 a day to rent. That includes an engineer, but a second engineer will probably be needed at £250 a day, excluding travel and accommodation expenses. The space segment cost is dependent upon region and varies from around £350 to £400 an hour for Europe and the middle east to £500 an hour in remote regions of the world, such as East Timor. How will the defence budget bear those costs?
My hon. Friend simplifies the situation. Is he aware that, at certain times of the year and on occasions such as the world cup, it might be impossible or very expensive to hire a satellite? Can the Government guarantee that a satellite link will always be available during the Olympic games, the world cup, the European cup, or any other such occasion?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I should not like to be on the lower deck of an aircraft carrier when the choice is between watching the world cup and the holding of a judicial review on the satellite uplift.
My hon. Friend has read out a catalogue of costs that are attributable to the Bill. I understand that the Government have estimated a total cost of £6.5 million a year. Are the costs that my hon. Friend has just invited the House to consider additional to, or included in, that figure?
I do not think that the Government know, and I certainly do not know. So far, there has been no suggestion of any of the costs associated with video links, which we have been told happen already as a matter of everyday business in the services. My hon. Friend raises an important point, which we will have to probe in Committee.
There is a mystery surrounding the £6.5 million of costs. That was the Government's original estimate of the cost of dealing with between 850 and 900 appeals to the summary appeals court each year, being in part the cost of the 50 Royal Military Police investigators that would be required. Now they have increased their estimate of the number of likely appeals to 1,500, without any change in the cost. That was a mystery to the Select Committee and it is a mystery to me too. Perhaps when the Minister replies he will give us the answer.
My hon. Friend is right. It has been suggested that this is a double bluff as part of the Treasury round whereby the Ministry of Defence will say that it cannot implement the Act without a substantial increase in the defence budget. The problem is that no one knows about the costs.
Let us leave costs for a moment, because our second concern goes deeper. We are talking here about justice. In the UK under civilian conditions and in parallel circumstances, a solicitor would be sitting in court with his client. That proximity is essential if proper advice is to be given. That could not be achieved in a remote interview over a video link.
I have read the transcript of the Select Committee's proceedings last Thursday. I know that we were told that advice had been taken and that wide-angled lenses will be used so that the sergeant major cannot stand behind the camera and threaten that the right answers must be given, or else. However, many judges and lawyers argue that the interests of justice cannot be served by a poor-quality, jerky video link, which could not give a judicial officer thousands of miles away a proper grasp of the circumstances and demeanour of an accused man or woman.
If the Government were serious about improving the human rights of members of Her Majesty's forces, they should have turned their attention to the substantial delays in the military legal process compared with the civilian process. For many years, legal aid claims for existing members of the armed forces, some of their dependants and service police abroad have been met by the English Legal Aid Board. The hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde was right to raise that matter earlier. It is almost unbelievable that the Legal Aid Board secretariat published new guidance in December, which stated that the board proposed to end that practice. It is astonishing that the Government are bent on incorporating improved human rights provision in the service discipline Acts while cutting the availability of professional legal advice to members of the armed forces. Civilian solicitors will no longer be able to give advice to, for example, soldiers in Germany. There has been no sign of any reciprocal increase in the number of service legal advisers. Indeed, the Government have said that there is no plan to increase them.
The Bill also fails to tackle the discrepancies in the judicial processes between the civilian and military systems. It is not too late to do that. We were heartened when the Minister for the Armed Forces told the Select Committee on Defence last Thursday that the Department would examine discrepancies in punishment systems and tariffs between the regiments of the British Army. We welcome that. The Government need to go much further. Redress of grievance procedures leave much to be desired. There are countless examples of justice being delayed literally for years. Apart from the injustice, there is the lack of common courtesy to one's employees, and standards of employment practice in the services that would be unacceptable in civilian life. It is good news that the Army intends to sharpen up its procedures. However, the problem is wider than that.
Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending a day at sea on HMS Sandown. Have you ever wondered, Mr. Deputy Speaker, what people on Her Majesty's ships do all day? They were just as curious about what Members of Parliament do all day. From the moment that I left the naval base at 8 am until the moment that we returned at 4 pm, there was a ceaseless round of sometimes intense activity. There was a fire drill, a man overboard exercise, a great deal of intense routine work, which involved highly skilled electronic observation and full use—for real—of much of the ship's capability.
A great deal of hard work was done. However, I was able to spend time with ratings, senior ratings and officers to listen to what was on their minds as well as trying to answer questions about everything from NATO and the role of HMS Sandown in the wider strategic picture to the real mysteries of parliamentary procedure. I wanted to know how on earth the chef fed the ship's complement on less than £2 per head a day.
The senior ratings wanted to talk about military discipline. There will always be a big difference between the standards of discipline expected in the military, especially on one of Her Majesty's ships, and the more laid-back approach—as some perceive it—to life ashore. That is taken as read. HMS Sandown is a fine ship with a fine crew; no doubt part of that quality is achieved by the maintenance of tight discipline. However, those with no experience of the military should realise that the consequences of comparatively minor misdemeanours in the military are altogether more serious than those for an equivalent misdemeanour in civilian life.
It is right to argue that a minor misdemeanour in the course of high intensity warfare puts at risk the life of the perpetrator and the crew. However, as was pointed out to me, oversleeping by 10 minutes on board ship leads to a serious financial penalty on a fixed tariff with the possibility, if matters do not improve, of derating and future career consequences.
Matters are different in the Army. Any hon. Member whose constituency includes a garrison town knows that Friday and Saturday nights can be lively. I have been out with a Wiltshire constabulary night shift and observed off-duty soldiers in, we shall say, high spirits. If the civil police arrested them, they would spend the night in the cells. If they subsequently appeared before a magistrate, they would receive a verbal rap over the knuckles and a conditional discharge. However, that does not happen. The Wiltshire police inform the soldiers that they will radio for the Royal Military Police, whereupon the soldiers miraculously evolve into Olympic athletes. They know that if the RMP haul them back to their garrison and march them in front of the commanding officer in the morning, there will be a standard tariff fine of £750.
When the Minister replies to the debate, will he tell us more about the anticipated timetable for consolidating the three service discipline Acts and introducing a single, tri-service Act?
I am not entirely clear about the line that my hon. Friend is pursuing. Is he suggesting that magistrates courts could benefit from the example set by commanding officers?
That is an intriguing and tempting possibility. The answer might be yes. However, as my hon. Friend knows, if a Member of Parliament dares to suggest to magistrates that they are not tough enough, consequences ensue.
I hope that we can receive more guidance on the reforms and the introduction of a tri-service Act. The Ministry of Defence has a duty of care but the fact remains that those brave men and women who join the forces are ultimately prepared to lay down their lives for their country.
Civilian life will never be the same as military life. This Government—and, indeed, the previous Government—expressed an intention to enact changes. However, there is a growing credibility gap. The Government managed to make major constitutional changes swiftly. They destroyed the House of Lords as we knew it, and established a devolved Parliament in Scotland and an Assembly in Wales. However, there seems no serious intention to make progress on consolidating the service discipline Acts. All we have are aspirations. That will not do.
The Secretary of State for Defence is a distinguished lawyer. He understands the relevant issues very well. We look to him to tackle the matter on behalf of all those who serve in Her Majesty's forces. We are considering more than a sin of omission. Failure to consolidate symbolises much of what is wrong with the Bill.
The Government believe that the Bill is simply a technical measure, which tidies up bits and pieces to keep them out of trouble. If only that were so. The Bill represents the most fundamental challenge to military discipline and military effectiveness for many years. Hidden in the undergrowth of guesswork lie some good intentions. However, I remind the Government that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
There is a fundamental difference between the Opposition and the Government. Conservative Members believe that the Bill could damage the authority of a commanding officer and therefore fighting effectiveness. The prime responsibility of the armed forces is defence of the realm and the human rights of the people of these islands. It is vital that they should be able to discharge that duty above all else. When judges are called upon to interpret relevant articles of the convention, they must use common sense by recognising the fundamental difference between military and civil institutions.
The problem is that the Government, as Baroness Symons said, have made the Bill part of their human rights agenda. In doing that, they have chosen to risk the capability of the armed forces against the possibility of an adverse judgment after some possible future legal challenge.
The system of armed forces discipline works. The Bill does nothing to improve that system and has the potential to harm it significantly. In the words of Lord Craig of Radley, former Chief of the Defence Staff during the Gulf war:
We should be bending over backwards to protect the Armed Forces from any derogation of their strength and quality rather than bending over backwards, as the Bill seems to do, to knock the armed forces into line with every detail of the convention at any cost"— [Official Report, House of Lords, 29 November 1999; Vol. 607, c. 680.]
Many people share those views.
I remind the House of articles 2 and 5 of the convention, which cover the rights to life, liberty and security. Without effective and efficient armed forces, the nation's ability to uphold those rights will be compromised. The Bill is not good enough. I urge hon. Members to vote for our reasoned amendment in the Lobby tonight.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who was a distinguished member of the Defence Committee, and I note that six other ex-members have been present this afternoon. However, I am a little sad that he has moved from his positive role to this backwater, which he endures with a smile and fine rhetorical flourishes. He performs gracefully, although his role is negative compared with his previous activity, and I am pleased that he remembers one of my rare incisive questions. However, he did not recall other remarks that he and I made and noted in the delightful series of Armed Forces Bill Committee meetings and I shall remind him of them in a moment.
I am sad that the Bill is a party political issue. I do not think that it should be. The word "Europe" appears somewhere in the documentation, if one looks hard enough, and to display their anti-Europeanism the Opposition have to continue their tradition of receiving large sums from wealthy donors.
I admit that the donations are drying up. I have driven behind one of Eddie Stobart's vehicles many times and believe that he still contributes to a dying cause.
The hon. Member for Salisbury was a little unfair and I am sad that he led Conservative opposition to the Bill. There is no fundamental difference between us, but a difference of interpretation and I cannot believe that his Government would have acted differently. They supported the European convention on human rights and had a reasonable human rights record so the idea that they would have withstood the inevitable had they remained in office is fanciful and erroneous.
Reading the Conservatives' amendment, I am touched by their apparent affection and support for leadership, particularly in the light of the fact that they collectively disposed of virtually every leader they had in the 20th century. At this very moment, the knives for the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), whose name is first on the list of those who tabled the amendment, are probably being sharpened. The Conservative party supports discipline, of which it has little, and the principle of command.
The leaders that the Conservative party got rid of first proved themselves to be first-rate successes and changed the country for the better, but I want to pick the hon. Gentleman up on the reasons for our opposition, which were so well put by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key). We have to judge whether the authority of commanding officers will be enhanced or reduced by the Bill. We judge that it will be reduced so surely it is our job to say that the Bill should not go any further until that criticism is met.
I am not trying to evade the question and I promise the hon. Gentleman that I shall return to it, but there is a higher goal. Although the Opposition might not want to empathise with the Government, they should—in the light of their activities during recent events in Kosovo—show people outside that there are no basic differences between us on defence and security policy. Objections could have been made in Committee, as they were by Conservatives in the other place. The Opposition should not give the impression that there is a schism between them and the Government. That is unfortunate.
The amendment's criticism of Government prevarication over the consolidation of the single service Acts amuses me enormously. The hon. Member for Salisbury kindly reminded me of the question that I asked during the Armed Forces Bill Committee proceedings, which were chaired by the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers)—a former member of the Defence Committee who I hope will return to it. We had a little bet on how long it would take before the Ministry of Defence went on the back foot and I think that I won with two minutes and 10 seconds or three minutes. It was put on the defensive when I asked what happened to the recommendations on consolidation in the 1996 Select Committee report. After all, they followed from the recommendations of the 1991 report. We are talking about prevarication and the previous Government prevaricated over consolidation so, "Physician heal thyself." However, I shall not go too far and rub it in by discussing Army medical services. I recall the questioning vividly and we asked why there was prevarication. The explanation was that a parliamentary counsel who had been loaned to the MOD spent two years working hard on consolidation, but went back to his previous job. The process fell apart. Those who appeared before us in 1996 said, "Sorry, we have not taken it any further."
The Defence Committee does not always support the Government, but the problems of delay in consolidation have been exacerbated by the Strasbourg ruling. I hope that the leader of the team that deals with armed forces law will be given sufficient staff to create some rationality in service discipline by the time that the Armed Forces Bill Committee meets in 2001. Consolidation is part of that process. I thank the Minister for his kind remarks about the Defence Committee and the speed with which the evidence session was printed. He recognises that MOD legislation is rare. When it is introduced, I hope that there will be pre-legislative scrutiny and that that task will fall to the Defence Committee.
I agree with a number of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Salisbury. There are fat manuals of service law and Parliament spends a lot of time on the subject. It is considered by a Select Committee of the House of Lords and the Armed Forces Bill Committee meets quinquennially. The other place dealt with the Bill competently a few months ago, we are considering it now and it may return to the other place, so the outsider would say, "Isn't the situation in the armed forces sufficiently grave, because of criminal behaviour and misbehaviour, to merit so much time?" Many people think that the armed forces are Leicester City, Manchester United and Chelsea writ large, but we all know that they are not like that. When we consider the misbehaviour and the crimes that are committed and dealt with, we should bear in mind the number of service personnel—they are equivalent to a small city—and the fact that they are subject to service discipline. When I became a Member of the House the number of people in the armed forces was the same as the population of a large city, but I shall not criticise the Opposition in great detail at this juncture. I am trying to be bipartisan.
We should pay tribute to the members of our armed forces—and their dependants—because despite the fact that they enter a career in which one assumes that they are encouraged to show a great deal of physical aggression, in most cases that is canalised in the right direction. There is no correlation between the time that we and civil servants devote to armed forces law and the purpose of that law, which, in fact, is fairly limited because our personnel are so well-behaved.
The hon. Member for Salisbury may have gone to Colchester at the same time as me. When I went there, we were taken around by a very articulate young man. We were gobsmacked to discover later that he was not one of the instructors, but one of those undergoing temporary incarceration. He went AWOL—not after we met him, of course—and set up a successful business. Only when the business took off did he feel that it was better to go back and receive the punishment that he admitted that he deserved. His progress towards millionaire status—and, if I remember rightly, an appearance on "Gladiators"—was deferred, if only temporarily.
Meeting people who are in the glasshouse is not like visiting Strangeways prison in Manchester. These are not your criminal classes; they are people who committed acts that would have gone unnoticed in a place like this. We are talking about the misbehaviour of soldiers in garrison towns. I do not visit the Strangers' Bar often, but anyone who goes there—I issue an invitation now—will see rather noisy colleagues of mine letting off steam. If they were subject to service discipline, their conduct would no doubt lead to an inflation of the criminal behaviour statistics.
The Bill, which has been rather disparaged by certain Members of the House of Lords, has had an eventful genesis. We should look abroad, to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg—although I should not mention that name, because it is European. The court upholds a tradition of human rights that is decades old; moreover, it confronts another tradition going back hundreds of years—the tradition of preserving human rights while also achieving the objectives set by Government, which involve the use of military force.
There is clearly a clash. Justices coming, in some instances, from countries with a less than strong martial tradition are imbued with a set of legal principles that clearly cause difficulties for the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces. In recent years, history has shown that when there is a clash between Strasbourg and the Ministry of Defence in court, the Ministry—as I have said in the Select Committee—has the same success as the district attorney in "Perry Mason", Hamilton Burger, who, on Sunday nights, lost every case on which he embarked. [Interruption.] I will tell the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) about that later, but I think that he is older than he looks. Indeed, there are probably repeats of "Perry Mason", in colour.
As I have said before, problems are involved. Some would argue that the main purpose of the military is to fight and win wars, rather than to constitute an active microcosm of society. However, in 1951 a Government—I am not sure whether they were Labour or Conservative—signed a treaty by which we are bound. I have not heard Opposition Members or their predecessors urge us to extricate ourselves, in full or in part, from a convention that whoever it was willingly signed.
I think that a Labour Government signed it, but I know that, whichever Government did so, Ministers at the time were determined to be convinced before signing that our existing legislation was wholly compatible with the convention. Since then, there has been so much reinterpretation of the original convention that we are experiencing an endless stream of invitations to adjust our laws accordingly.
I think that, in this respect, the French were either wiser or stupider than us—probably the former rather than the latter—in not signing until 1974. As the hon. Gentleman knows, once a country has signed, it is difficult for it to extricate itself from what binds signatories, and we were a signatory in 1951.
I appreciate the Government's dilemma, which would have been a dilemma for the last Government. Whatever brave face the Government may put on it, the Bill may affect a commanding officer's ability to maintain respect. In my view, however, there was no alternative. We kept losing cases. Conservative Members, given their interest in business efficiency and their desire to reduce expenditure, would surely ask, "Why should we continue to lose cases? Why should we spend money on expensive lawyers, before losing cases and running up bills for the taxpayer?" I suspect that the Government had no real choice, and I would have expected some sympathy, if not support, from Conservative Members.
Our lawyers have regularly been beaten around the head by their European counterparts. Even if the Bill becomes law, as it should and presumably will, there are no guarantees for those who have lost cases as often as my local football club has lost matches this season—although I still have faith in it. The Bill has been described as gold-plating, over-insurance and over the top, but even if compensatory measures that may not appear entirely necessary now are introduced, a Government who have lost so many cases in Strasbourg would surely be prudent to say much more than "We lost in the past; our new legislation will ensure that we do not lose in the future".
As a military man, the hon. Gentleman can respond to that when he makes his own speech.
The trouble with the military, it is said, is that they are too keen on fighting battles that they have won and lost. The trick is to anticipate the next battle, and it strikes me as prudent to gold-plate. We have been given examples of the next bunch of cases that are being dealt with, or are about to be dealt with, in Strasbourg. I think that the Bill is an instance of commendable efficiency and far-sightedness, a quality for which the Ministry of Defence is rarely known and to which the Opposition have never succumbed.
The hon. Gentleman is much respected on both sides of the House, not just for his position but for his interest in military matters over the years. He spoke of the genuine and serious difficulties caused by the inter-operation of the convention and the concept of command of the military by an elected Government. Let us put aside either party's concerns about Europe—or, perhaps, lack of concerns. Does he not believe that a serious issue is involved, which needs to be addressed in a larger forum in conjunction with other Governments: how far the operation of the convention can be allowed to interrupt a Government's obligations to those who elected them, in terms of the defence of the realm? Is that not a bigger issue?
Order. It probably is a bigger issue, but today we are debating the Bill. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should not argue with me from a sedentary position when I am on my feet. I am merely reminding the House that this is principally a debate about the Bill. Allusion to the convention is in order, but this is not a debate about the convention.
I was about to reply, but I shall now leave it until the end of my speech.
By the end of the year, the Select Committee will have undertaken a wide-ranging inquiry into personnel matters in the armed forces, including discipline and grievance procedures. Paragraph 29 of the report, which was published yesterday, states:
We anticipate examining the ways in which Service personnel have access to rights which are considered appropriate and necessary for civilians in the UK, and the extent to which differences are necessary for the special circumstances of military life.
We hope to report before the next quinquennial review is undertaken. I assure hon. Members that I have concerns, but I sympathise with the Government, who simply had no option. I would have hoped that Opposition Members appreciated that.
The Bill went through the Lords and I read the speeches with some interest. In the Defence Committee, I asked my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces to congratulate Baroness Symons, a civilian, on withstanding the charges of the Third Shock Army of the Warsaw treaty organisation—virtually every living retired chief of defence staff. I said that, despite the pressure, the "thin fur line held". Not only did it hold, but by the end of the debate the assailants were in rapid retreat and did not vote. That was not because of a tradition of not voting against the House of Commons—that is a fairly recent tradition from my reading of the Lords Hansard. The reason why they flew in the opposite direction was that someone had pointed out existing legislation to them. They realised that the wind had been taken out of their sails. As good military men, they realised that, when on a loser, it is wise to get out of the way before there is a rout. That was why they hauled up the white flag: they had lost the argument. Opposition Members should use different advisers this time, otherwise, they will have the same bump on the nose in front of the House of Commons Committee as their colleagues in the House of Lords in December.
Is not the heart of the matter the legitimacy of proceedings that are undertaken against someone who is alleged to have committed an offence? Much concern has been voiced by Opposition Members about the need to protect the integrity of commanding officers, but I remind my hon. Friend of the observations of the Director of Personal Services (Army) when giving evidence to the Committee; they appear on page x of the report:
Genuinely, I believe, and I think this is the experience of most commanding officers, good soldiers will entirely accept that they have done wrong, they will be in front of the commanding officer and they will take their punishment".
That was my experience all those years ago. I talk to young soldiers now. As long as they have trust and respect for their commanding officers, it will be fine.
It is not in any sense a party political point, but may I say, representing as I do a garrison town, that, although the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) rightly pointed out that young service men will accept summary punishment, when they get home, their wives may be pretty upset and say, "If there is an appeal procedure, why not follow it through?"? I suspect that there may be such pressure.
In giving evidence, the MOD discussed the extent to which it thought that that appeal system would be activated. It was fairly reassuring. We formed a coalition to maintain the hon. Gentleman's town as a garrison town, at least with regard to the hospital there. We share many views, but people talk about a licence for barrack-room lawyers. For God's sake, it is institutionalised barrack-room lawyering.
If people cannot have easy recourse to professional lawyers, they may seek advice from fellow soldiers, sailors or airmen, which might put an additional burden on the system that is being created, or re-created. I can see that being a problem, but, as a devotee of Kipling, who wrote much on barrack-room lawyers, perhaps I do not perceive it with the repugnance that other people might.
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that Brigadier Ritchie, speaking for the Army, was questioned at length about the right of appeal, the way in which sentencing would be handled and the keeping of regimental traditions on how punishment was dished out, but said that the key thing was that, under the Bill, for the first time, there would be some consistency, which would be recognised and understood throughout the armed forces? That was the crucial change, which was essential to make the system work.
I am glad to be reminded of the content of our questioning of MOD witnesses.
Looking at the Committee report, I hope that, when the next legislation is introduced, the Government will avoid sending it to the House of Lords first—thereby providing justification for the four-star generals who were ennobled to prove that they still exist—and send it to the House of Commons first. I hope that they will activate the advice of the Leader of the House and the Select Committee on Modernisation that legislation be issued in draft, especially if it is basically uncontentious. I cannot believe, despite the rhetoric of Opposition Members, that it is a truly contentious Bill. When the next legislation is introduced, I hope that it will conform to that advice.
The House of Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation warned the House of Lords that certain rules and regulations in the Bill could be modified without parliamentary scrutiny. It referred to clauses 8 and 22. It said:
the time may come when Parliament will wish to consider whether the more important provisions should be subject to Parliamentary control.
The powers of the Defence Council to make, in essence, statutory or subordinate legislation should come before the House properly. The Defence Committee will watch for anything that comes out of the MOD that takes the form, in essence, of subordinate legislation and then seek the MOD's views, even though perhaps the House as a whole will have abandoned the principle of scrutiny.
Hon. Members will be pleased to know that I am almost at the end of my speech. Some Opposition Members to whom I have spoken thought foolishly that the European Court of Human Rights was part of the European Union and were going to vote against the measure on principle. I remind them that it is not part of the EU.
When people talk about anything European, their eyes glaze over. It is just like what happens with a full moon. A similar metamorphosis is contained in Lon Chaney's "Wolfman", where it was said:
Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms and the moon is shining bright.
When the moon shines bright and Europe is mentioned, people descend to a plain of rationality that is almost certifiable. The fact that the court is in France and almost in Germany should not lead to its condemnation out of hand.
It is important to accept—the Minister and Mr. Woodhead explained it in some detail—the distinction between a reservation and a derogation. The horse has bolted. There is nothing we can do about it. As I have said, the French came into it late. To alter what we signed would require an immense effort.
I hope that the Minister will do some legal research and explain the position to the Committee. I am sure Opposition Members will be interested, although hardly any of them are here. I will not be on it; absolutely not. I have done my bit for military justice until the 2001 Bill is introduced. As I said, I hope that the Minister will do that research, and explain to the wolfmen on the Opposition Benches what difficulties there would be in trying to secure a renegotiation of the convention.
The wheels of the Ministry of Defence, like those of the millennium wheel, turn slowly. As I said, I do not think that the Ministry should be blamed completely for its rather retarded process of consolidation—which is something that it will have to do.
Video-conferencing is one of the detailed matters dealt with in the Bill. Since we got out from east of Suez, British troops have not served in a vast number of places with jungles. Although I accept that there might be some difficulty in inserting a plug into a socket in some parts of the world, I should have thought—the Committee was given an explanation that should satisfy any rational person—that if there is any difficulty in charging someone immediately, it should not happen immediately. The person should be charged when the unit returns home.
There was some nonsense on that point in the House of Lords. The fact is that, if someone aboard a Trident is suspected of an offence, the submarine will not surface so that the person can be taken ashore by Ministry of Defence police. It will not happen like that. If there is a crisis, the person will be charged later. I cannot see the problem with that.
When the Defence Committee visited the Walter Reed hospital, in Washington, we saw an operation being performed in which a surgeon, in Washington, was advising a medic who was 8,000 miles away. Although I would not like to be a recipient of that type of operation, if it is possible to perform major medical operations in that manner, it should not be beyond the wit of even the Ministry of Defence to devise a similar technical system. The Committee considered such technical issues.
I reiterate that I very much hope that, by the time that the Select Committee on the Armed Forces. Bill is constituted, we shall have a better idea of whether Opposition Members' rather fearful prognostications are justified. Perhaps there will be an opportunity in that Committee to do any necessary fine tuning.
I have one request, which may not be popular, and on which I have not approached the Defence Committee, so I have no authority to make it, although the Committee has made it previously. Will the Minister give some consideration—in which he will certainly have to consult the Opposition—to constituting the Committee that eventually examines the Armed Forces Bill so that it includes not only the Defence Committee, but is augmented by a Minister, a shadow Minister and, if necessary, one or two other hon. Members? There is logic in that arrangement, and I hope that the Minister will consider agreeing to it.
The Select Committee will examine in detail many of the issues that have been raised by Opposition Members, and we shall have far more time to deal with them than we had in our cursory analysis of the Armed Forces Discipline Bill. However, I assure the House that we shall examine them in considerable detail. I hope that we—if we on the Defence Committee are burdened with the task, which I am pretty confident that we would be more than prepared to accept—will then be able to formulate some recommendations on them.
I am most grateful to my successor as Chairman of the Defence Committee for giving way. Will he give an undertaking that, when the Select Committee considers the Armed Forces Bill, it will seriously examine consolidating the three service discipline Acts into one Act? Not only the current Select Committee, but the previous Select Committee and the one before that have recommended that the Acts be consolidated. The recommendation was made also in the strategic defence review.
I have read the evidence available to us today, but have seen no reference to the detailed reasons why the Government have not accepted the recommendation. The excuse has been given that there was simply not sufficient time to consolidate the Acts, but that is not good enough. Ministers will have to identify the stumbling blocks, and I hope that the Select Committee will consider the issue.
If the Ministry of Defence is short of lawyers, I heard a very good programme last week on what citizens advice bureaux are doing to provide legal assistance. The Ministry of Defence might contemplate taking that course. However, the Select Committee will certainly consider the matter. As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises, he made a grave mistake in leaving the Defence Committee. If there is an opening, perhaps he will decide to return.
I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who speaks from vast knowledge and a real sympathy and concern for the armed services. I do not follow him in his almost complete happiness with the Bill as it is currently constructed, but I do welcome his comment that the next armed forces Bill should be examined very carefully in advance by an expanded Select Committee. I hope that his idea finds favour with the Minister to whom it was directed.
It is a pity that this debate is not about what disciplinary procedures best ensure the armed forces' high morale, sense of fairness and military effectiveness. In the past, those responsible for the armed services have not always been the first to realise what change, and when, is needed to the punishments that can be meted out to service men, or to the procedures by which they are imposed. I should be very surprised if there were not desirable improvements that are no part of this Bill and have not as yet been properly discussed. Times change, and the services increasingly need intelligent, educated and resourceful people who can take responsibility in very stressful situations, in which restraint is needed as much as aggression.
Those people require an appropriate disciplinary environment of which reason, justice and open procedures are the hallmark. The need is magnified now by the fact that so much of their current duty involves defending the lives and rights of civilians who are being denied their rights, even the right to life.
Despite what I said earlier, I believe that service officers are usually far ahead of leaders in other parts of national life in grasping the totality of what is involved in maintaining group morale and imposing constructive discipline whereby those who are punished for its infringement feel that they have been dealt with fairly and promptly—promptness being a very large part of fairness.
It is no surprise to me that the chief inspector of prisons—a former general—and the recently retired prisons ombudsman—a former admiral—had a far greater and more imaginative and complete idea of what relationships between prisoners and prison staff should be than did those who looked to them to provide support for simple punitive solutions to the endemic and complex problems of the Prison Service.
Alas, we are discussing not the optimum disciplinary procedures for the services, but something considerably more restricted—how to put the armed services disciplinary and judicial processes on all fours with the procedures required by the European convention on human rights, and how to do it with the least damage to the effectiveness of the three services.
Therefore, unless we are saying—here I agree with the hon. Member for Walsall, South—that the United Kingdom should withdraw from the convention permanently, which we are not, or that we should withdraw temporarily in order to rejoin with a suitable reservation—like the French did when they first joined in 1974, but which would be a very hard exercise to pull off—it is clear that matters cannot simply be left as they are if, indeed, we really are out of line with the convention.
As the hon. Member for Walsall, South animadverted, the MOD lost a series of sex discrimination cases after a European Court ruling, to the embarrassment of the MOD, at great cost to the taxpayer and with considerable damage to morale in the services. As the hon. Gentleman said, we do not want to go through that again, so I am sure that the Government are right to want to make certain that there are no effective grounds for challenge under the convention.
I suspect, however, that the Government, mildly traumatised by what happened to their predecessors over sex equality, are determined to follow the more usual British tradition exemplified by the way in which we zealously apply an unnecessarily demanding interpretation of the requirement of EU directives. So I wonder whether the Government have not done exactly that and proposed changes which exceed what is necessary to bring us into line with the ECHR.
Do the Government really have to give a service man charged with a summary offence the choice of a court martial before proceedings start; then, if he decides to submit to the judgment of the commanding officer, does he really have to have a second right of appeal to a court martial if he does not like the CO's conclusion or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) said, if his wife does not like it? That is certainly a more cumbersome procedure than the current one, but I would have thought that most service men on a charge would have preferred the current procedure—to see what evidence there was and what the CO made of it before deciding whether to opt for the full court martial.
I would have thought that, in practice, the rights and convenience of everyone, not least the offending service man, would be at least as well served by retaining the present arrangements. However, I take it that it is the MOD's legal advice—the advice that has been given to the Minister—that, despite the manifest fairness and utility of those arrangements, the European Court of Human Rights would never be persuaded to endorse them. Perhaps in his reply to the debate, the Minister will explain more fully why not. It is an absolutely crucial point that lies at the heart of the Bill and it requires a full explanation. We also need answers to the excellent questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) at the start of the debate.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend who is making some extremely wise observations. The Government really have to decide which is more important: adherence to the principles set out in the European convention on human rights as adumbrated by those who are charged with its implementation, or the prime responsibility—I would say the overriding one—of Her Majesty's armed forces to maintain such good order and military discipline as to ensure morale and ultimate victory.
In the last analysis, my hon. Friend is absolutely right, but I do not think that we have reached that point. I am not yet convinced that the current arrangements are not on all fours with the convention and I am trying to tease that out of the Minister. It is a central point. I do not expect him to intervene on me now, but I hope that he will give it a great deal of attention when he replies to the debate.
At the same time, I would be grateful if the Minister would explain why, under the new procedures, if a summarily convicted service man appeals, the court martial will not be able to impose a heavier sentence than his CO has available to him. I know that the sentence of a court might well be heavier than the CO actually gave if that sentence was below the maximum, but why should the services not follow the civilian practice whereby, if the defendant elects for trial in a higher court, he runs the risk of a higher penalty than the lower court can impose? Why is the practice in civilian courts not at risk from the convention if it is judged to be unacceptable in the military process, or is it just a matter of belt and braces copper-bottoming of the military procedures—a course on which I suggested the Government had embarked? Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us.
The matter is important because so much services opinion is concerned. I have to take that second hand as the extent of my military career was serving in my school combined cadet force, and I am not sure that all my right hon. and hon. Friends who have been career officers or have been in the services in some other capacity will be convinced that that provides me with a fundamental knowledge. However, I have spoken to a great many people in the services, I have listened to what some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, and I have read the debates in the House of Lords.
It is clear that much service opinion is concerned that the new procedures will undermine the authority of commanding officers. We should not take that risk lightly. Anything that diminishes the commanding officer—in particular his ability to settle less serious disciplinary matters appropriately, firmly, without delay and in-house—will diminish a unit's morale and cohesion. It is on those qualities that much of a unit's effectiveness and the safety of all its members rely.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his characteristic courtesy in giving way. As I said earlier, my experience is very dated, but there is a substantial difference between the prospect of an offending soldier facing his commanding officer and the ordeal of appearing in front of a court martial. In my view, which is based on terribly dated experience, the vast majority of soldiers would rather face their commanding officer than appear before a court martial.
That was the point that I was seeking to make. It is much more satisfactory all round, and it is now the law, that the service man should have the option. Why do we need to complicate that option and make it rather more difficult for the service man to know how best to use it in his own interest?
I have been listening carefully. Having heard what my right hon. Friend said about his own experience in the CCF, let me reassure him that many of us have had that happy experience. I was a member of what was originally the very first school combined cadet force in the country, and benefited hugely from that experience—I come from a services family—so I do not think that my right hon. Friend should be at all reticent in expressing his views. Does he agree that the crucial question that we are addressing is whether the officers themselves feel that their place in the chain of command and the effectiveness with which they carry out their functions will be adversely affected? If, as my right hon. Friend believes, as I believe and as the officers to whom we have spoken believe, that is the case, there is a problem.
That proposition sounds convincing. I am looking for the Government to say either that it is not so and reassuring us, or, as I was arguing earlier, that it is not necessary to make these changes to put the law as it affects military discipline on all fours with the convention. It is a crucial point because the only reason for introducing the Bill at this time is to make it convention-proof. We need to ensure that the Government have got it right, but I fear that, in trying to make it convention-proof, they have gone much further than they needed and risk the adverse consequences to which my hon. Friend refers.
Another concern is the role of the proposed judicial officer who must endorse the detention of a service man if he is to be held for longer than 48 hours. That is an example of bureaucracy being added to the system, and it could further undermine the commanding officer. However, unlike some of my hon. Friends, I do not believe that it need do so. If tactfully and sensibly handled by the judicial officer and the CO, such oversight could be a useful resource for the CO, and it could also enhance the sense of fairness with which the summary proceedings are conducted from the point of view of the service man.
I cannot see that there will necessarily be problems with the procedure in Aldershot or Gutersloh, but they may arise when units are engaged in active operations overseas or in demanding peacekeeping roles. That is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) made well in his intervention. The Minister claimed in reply to my hon. Friend that modern means of communication could resolve the problem, and I am sure that it will be theoretically possible in most situations to maintain the necessary contact and secure the necessary approvals via electronic links. However, I should not like to have to rely on them on all occasions. I am more concerned that a senior officer, who should be devoting all his attention to the mission in hand could, and would on occasion, be distracted by the demanding procedures in the Bill. That should not be allowed to happen.
It is not practical to have two sets of rules—one for home and one for abroad.
We went over that point at great length in the Defence Committee. It was very hard for any member to pinpoint an incident that would correspond to the problem you foresee of a commanding officer in the field being unable to follow the procedures to deal with a difficult problem. If a soldier had done something so bad, he would have been out of the unit and gone. There is no conceivable scenario in which someone would be left in that situation. The commanding officer would get on and do what he was paid to do and justice would take its course in the normal way. No one can present a single example that supports your argument.
I always understood that war and active operations produced the most unexpected circumstances. The hon. Gentleman may be right—he was on the Defence Committee and heard the evidence given. I am willing to concede that it may be rare that such problems occur, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that he cannot speak ex cathedra and say that they will never happen.
I wish to draw to the attention of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), who is my colleague on the Defence Committee, the conclusion that we reached on the custody issue:
We remain concerned that the legislation should cover all eventualities, and look forward to the government clarifying this issue during the Committee stage of the Bill.
That is right; I invite the Minister to comment when he winds up the debate. I have given him a lot to do, but the Bill raises several important points and I hope that he will be able to respond to them. It is much better that the rules are sufficiently flexible for the relevant officer to be able to take action appropriate to the exigencies that he and his men may face. The legislation needs to be flexible so that the circumstances can be taken into account, whether they are common, rare or will never happen at all, as the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) suggests. I hope that the Minister can reassure us in detail that that flexibility is in the Bill and, if it is not and if the Bill receives its Second Reading, it will be added in Committee.
I, for one, will be brief. As has been said on both sides of the House, we are proud of our armed forces. They have gained a worldwide reputation for being among the best—and, in some cases, the best in the world. They uphold values of democracy, liberty and justice—the very values that form the core of British society. When tested in difficult operational circumstances in the Gulf, the Balkans and, most recently, East Timor, our armed forces carried out their duties in a manner that has consistently upheld such democratic values.
The importance in the armed forces of a unique discipline system and a chain of command cannot be underestimated. It instils in our armed forces an overriding sense of duty, loyalty and discipline that builds both co-operation and professionalism, enabling them to maintain their effectiveness in peacetime and in conflict. In short, it means that, when they fight, they win.
Our armed forces have to be prepared to move with a world that is changing at a lightning pace. They have to be able to respond to situations quickly, in a post-cold war situation that is characterised by globalisation and increasing interdependence between countries and regions, as well as the resurgence of nationalism, ethnic violence and regional instability. We need, therefore, to ensure that our armed forces operate in the most modern and effective way possible. We expect our forces to represent and uphold British values, and if they are to continue to do so, we must adapt to changing times. I believe that the Bill seeks to do that.
The publication yesterday of the Defence Committee's report raises important issues relating to the passage of the Bill which need to be debated in more detail in Committee—I am sure that the Government will do that—although I have felt at times this afternoon that we might already be in Committee. Discipline in the armed forces must be kept under constant review. We all know that we return every four or five years to the Armed Forces Act, but discipline should not just be examined and then returned to the cupboard; it should be constantly refreshed and changed.
The Conservatives argue that the Bill fails to address issues of fundamental human rights, but it seeks to do just that, and does it well. The Bill will ensure that the personnel of the armed forces will be treated like citizens and entitled to the fundamental human rights encompassed in the Human Rights Act 1998.
The most recent review of discipline that we considered was the Armed Forces Act 1996, which my party supported as a positive step to bring discipline into line with the European convention on human rights. The reforms reinforced the independence of courts martial and extended the right to choose a court martial to establish checks and balances on the chain of command. The reforms in the Bill are a necessary extension of that Act and they are welcome because they create external as well as internal checks, which is a good thing.
Some reference has been made to the cost of the Bill and the figure of £6.5 million has already been mentioned. There is a cost in getting legal systems and services right, but there is also a cost to getting them wrong. Let us not forget that our armed forces budget has been severely tested in recent years by compensation paid out when successive Governments got things wrong—for example, compensation for women discharged because they were pregnant cost £60 million. I would rather get the system right than pay later if we get it wrong.
The main effect of clauses 1 to 10 are to make provision for a judicial officer to determine whether a suspect or accused should be held in custody. At present, the main responsibility for deciding whether the accused is kept in custody is in the hands of the commanding officer. Although the commanding officer has to review custody regularly, he cannot be seen as an independent figure when authorising the detention of a suspect. There are already checks on the commanding officer's powers, but the possibility of someone enduring up to eight days in custody without a review by an independent person is unacceptable.
The European Court of Human Rights concluded in the case of Hood v. the United Kingdom, which has been mentioned already, that both internal and external checks on decisions affect civil liberty. We believe that our armed forces are made up of citizens and that, as a basic human right, they should be able to expect the same rights as everyone else.
The new procedures will require a commanding officer to review custody every 12, 36 and 48 hours. After that, the commanding officer may apply to a judicial officer for continued detention. Applying that procedure in Britain's garrison towns is different from applying it in operational circumstances, but it will be possible to meet the requirement thanks to modern technology. The Bill also examines the practical difficulties involved, and I hope that the Government will return to that matter in Committee.
Conservative Members have argued that our forces might be out of touch with command for long periods, and that the Bill will therefore be impractical. My noble Friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire discussed that matter in another place, but he could find only one example—of a submarine under the polar ice cap—in which that might happen. Although there might be other circumstances in which that eventuality might come about, are we really saying that our entire system of armed forces discipline should be based on such exceptions? I do not believe so.
I returned late last night from three days in Kosovo, where I spent time with our armed forces. I know that the hon. Members for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) also visited there recently, and made a favourable impression. I found that our commanders in the region see no problem with this Bill. There has been a real revolution in military matters over the past few years. The technology that enables instant, global communication now exists. Even in the jungles of East Timor, our forces will not be out of touch, so we see no problem with the proposals.
The Select Committee report expresses the concern that the Bill should cover operational eventualities, and it is important that the question be debated both here and in Committee. However, we consider that the Bill establishes a system that will cover the norm and that exceptions can be dealt with.
As I have pointed out already, the role of our volunteer and professional Army is to protect our democratic values. We expect our services to represent Britain and British values overseas. If we retain our leading role in defence diplomacy, and if we are to send our forces into eastern Europe and Africa to train military forces to accept the principle that the military is the servant of the state and not its master, we must ensure that our services continue to represent those values. We must ensure that we remain proud of our services and that our disciplinary procedures are an example to others.
The harsh disciplinary regime of 200 years ago, which was necessary to maintain order among troops who were largely illiterate and uneducated, no longer exists. In our highly skilled and professional armed forces, the changes proposed in the Bill will be successful. They represent the basis for a more highly trained and more professional armed forces. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches support the Bill.
The Government do not really care about defence, and their Defence Ministers have no experience in the armed forces. The result is this ill-considered, expensive and damaging Bill. I shall justify that accusation. There was a long delay before the Government introduced the strategic defence review, and there was a lack of urgency in its implementation. A number of important items identified in that review, such as the need to introduce heavy-lift capacity, were defined as high priority, but nothing has happened with them.
There is a shortfall in Army personnel of 5.3 per cent. and there is a crisis in the Defence Medical Services. For the first time, defence expenditure has fallen below 3 per cent. of gross domestic product, and the empty Labour Benches show how much the Government care about defence.
The Bill is untimely. The correct timing would have been to introduce it next year, in the Select Committee's quinquennial review of the Armed Forces Bills procedure. People outside the House may not know how that procedure works. Many years ago, it was proposed that a Bill that was essentially uncontroversial should go through a Select Committee stage. That meant that, after Second Reading, instead of going into the confrontational arena of a Standing Committee, it would go upstairs to a Select Committee. The members of that Select Committee—usually 11 of them—would consider the Bill and would have powers to take evidence
That has been the procedure since 1961, during which time there have been eight Armed Forces Bills. I chaired the Select Committee twice, in 1986 and 1996. We took our responsibilities very seriously: the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill in 1996, for example, met 11 times. We were anxious that the changes being made to military discipline should be correct and acceptable to the armed forces and to those civilians—such as those serving with the armed forces in Germany—who in some circumstances were affected by military law. We took evidence in this country and in Germany, and we heard from civilian representatives and from people, such as probation officers, who might be affected by the implementation of the Bill.
Such scrutiny is the best way to deal with Bills relating to armed forces discipline. It is a mistake for the Government to introduce this Bill now, in this manner, rather than waiting for 2001. It would have been so easy to delay its introduction for 11 months, as the Select Committee to consider the next Armed Forces Bill will be appointed in January 2001. That Committee would then have been able to scrutinise this Bill in as much detail as the 1996 Committee scrutinised the Armed Forces Act 1996.
Does not the hon. Gentleman appreciate that the inevitable consequence of the delay that he has recommended to the House would be that more challenges to our military discipline would be mounted in the European courts? That would cause more expense to the Ministry of Defence and greater problems throughout the armed forces.
That is a fair question. I shall deal with it when I come to the second paragraph of my notes, whose heading uses the phrase "ill-considered" in connection with the Bill.
Baroness Symons said:
The main provisions of the Human Rights Act will come into force in October 2000. The proposals in this Bill are intended to address concerns about compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights before that date."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 November 1999; Vol. 607, c. 668.]
I have looked into the Human Rights Act 1998 to discover why it was decided to implement its provisions from 2 October 2000. I am convinced that the Ministers who took the 1998 Act through Parliament did not realise that it would have implications for the armed forces. They did not understand that the deadline that they gave the 1998 Act would require the Ministry of Defence to introduce provisions for changes in armed forces discipline before that date.
That was a major blunder. The Human Rights Act 1998 should not have specified that date; the deadline should have been left open, or delayed. Alternatively, provision should have been made to cover the armed forces. We are here today because the Home Office—I presume that was the Department responsible—failed to realise the implications for the Ministry of Defence of setting the 2 October 2000 deadline.
Other hon. Members have mentioned the matter of consolidation. The Select Committee considering the Armed Forces Act 1996 made much of that question, and
I think it appropriate to cover that point also in connection with this Bill. The 1996 special report stated at paragraph 36 on page xiv:
It was undertaken by a senior draftsman from the Parliamentary Counsel Office on secondment to the Law Commission… This draftsman returned to the Parliamentary Counsel Office in summer 1993 when the consolidation was at 'an advanced stage'. Since then, he has not had the time needed to complete the work.
Clearly that is not a party political point because that was during a Conservative Administration. We concluded, at paragraph 37:
This is unacceptable. To allow the two years' work by a highly skilled Parliamentary draftsman to be abandoned is a disturbing indictment of resource management in the Law Commission…We recommend that the Government ensures that the necessary resources and Parliamentary time are made available to allow for the consolidation of Service law before the passage of the next Armed Forces Bill.
That will be in 2001.
I will quote one section of the Bill at random, to show the mess without consolidation. Schedule 1(4)(1) states:
Section 209(3) of each of the 1955 Acts (application of Act to civilians) is amended as follows.
(2) After paragraph (c) there is to be inserted—
`(ca) section 75J(2)(b) above shall have effect with the omission of the words from the beginning to "of this Act";
(cb) section 75K(6) above shall have effect with the omission of paragraph (a));'".
It is a jungle: for those who practise law to have referential law of that kind is extremely difficult. Earlier, it was said that commanding officers have been issued with the law drawn into one booklet, so that they will not have to make cross-references. We cannot allow the Bill to pass without another heartfelt plea or demand by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House that armed forces disciplinary legislation be consolidated.
It has been said that the Bill is necessary because of various cases before the European Court of Human Rights, the leading case being Hood. The House may recall that Mr. Hood went absent without leave for the fourth time and maintained before the European Court that he did not, under article 6.1 of the convention, have
a fair public trial before an independent impartial tribunal.
I am baffled by that claim. The word "impartial" does not appear in article 5—under which Mr. Hood brought his case. That article deals with liberty and security, whereas article 6 deals with the right to a fair trial. How can it conceivably be held that Mr. Hood did not have the right to a fair trial under article 5, when that deals not with trials but with custody and detention and does not contain the word "impartial"? That is beyond my comprehension and I cannot understand why that legal advice was given to Ministers.
Opening the debate, the Minister said that it was necessary to change the law and he was satisfied that the law would become compatible with the European convention. He did not use the word "compliant". Almost anything can be compatible. Is it fully compliant? We are changing the law to make it compatible when we should be sufficiently confident to say that it is compliant. In that sense, the legislation is ill-considered.
The measure will also be expensive. We enter a strange world, reminiscent of government accounting—full of smoke and mirrors. We were told that the cost would be £6.5 million a year. The Select Committee thought it curious that cost would remain consistent even though the original estimate of a modest number of appeals had greatly increased. The unconvincing reply from the Ministry of Defence spokesman was that the estimate had not increased because the original figure assumed that 50 additional Royal Military Police investigators would be needed to provide appropriate evidence to appeal courts. The revised view, said the spokesman, was that appeals would be more likely against sentences rather than the findings in summary proceedings, so significant additional investigative work would not be necessary.
That explanation is wholly and completely unpersuasive. Perhaps the Minister can provide a breakdown of that £6.5 million estimate and say how much is accounted for by salaries. The average industrial wage is £20,000 a year, and the accepted business criterion is that one doubles or trebles the wage to take account of the employee's full cost, including his accommodation and pension. The 80 individuals required to implement the measure would take up £3.2 million, assuming they receive only the average industrial wage. The former Attorney-General, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), is in his place and will know, as we all do, that it is most unusual to find even a modest lawyer such as myself on the average industrial wage. 1 suspect that many of those recruits will be paid several times that average wage. How will that budget be found within the figure of £6.5 million, with £1.75 million start-up costs? The Government may have been on a trip that I have seen before, during the two years when I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Treasury—where the Government put forward an estimate that they think will be acceptable rather than one that completely and accurately reflects the costs.
My fourth charge was that the Bill would be damaging. Reference was made to undermining the morale and standing of commanding officers, who will be able to hold a person in custody for 12 hours—extending to 24 hours—after which a review by a judicial officer will be necessary. Only a judicial officer will allow an individual to be held in custody for longer.
I am reminded of a true story that illustrates the case. On their way by road between hospitals, two surgeons, a consultant anaesthetist and a senior nurse came across a road accident. They stopped their car and went to see if they could help the driver, who was seriously injured. While they were contemplating what to do, another driver stopped his car, rushed over and shouted, "Stand back! I am a blood donor."
My right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) asked about circumstances that might cause difficulties for the armed forces. Let us take the example of the fight at Mount Tumbledown, just above Port Stanley at the extreme western end of the Falklands—inaccessible except by yomping and, later, helicopter. One might have found it necessary to take a judicial officer to that location to see someone in custody, or to return the individual because it would not have been possible for the commanding officer to keep him in custody any longer.
British forces are deployed in places where the distance between the front and back lines are great. Travel may be inconvenient, with bad roads. In those circumstances, a commanding officer might find it quite difficult to have to ship a man from the front line, bring up a judicial officer, or implement video conferencing. Imagine the situation—"Stand back, we must bring up the judicial officer. We need space on the next helicopter up to the front for the judicial officer and the video conferencing kit."
I am curious about the view taken by the hon. Gentleman and other Conservative Members that British soldiers are so terrible that they will, in the midst of battle—even at Port Stanley or Tumbledown—commit a crime for which they must be detained or sent back. It is total nonsense. Of how many occasions on which that has happened at the height of battle is the hon. Gentleman aware? He and his colleagues seem to be suggesting that it is a regular event. I think not.
Of course it is not a regular occurrence. I have not yet paid tribute to our armed forces, who are absolutely superb. Having served for seven years in the Royal Air Force and the Army, I pay tribute to the standards of discipline and self-discipline that the forces maintain.
However, we are legislating to cover every eventuality. That is why the Bill should have been scrutinised by the Select Committee rather than coming before us. We have the Defence Committee's extremely valuable report, but the Committee met for only a day, not having the chance to go into the field to find out what circumstances might arise in which it would be inconvenient for the armed forces to apply the Bill's provisions. I urge further scrutiny.
Indeed it is not. I do not know how much service experience the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) has had, but the armed forces may face periods of intense strain. An out-of-context example is the number of individuals who deserted or committed crimes at the front during the first world war. Even individuals of the very highest quality, such as those in our own armed forces, may, when under extreme pressure of battle, behave as they would not normally behave. A further example is the case of Lance-Sergeant Findlay, a man of exemplary character who ran amok. It was necessary to change the law in 1996 to cover that situation. The example of Mount Tumbledown was not completely fanciful. Such a case could happen.
May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the evidence given to the Defence Committee by a highly decorated soldier, Brigadier Andrew Ritchie, who was wearing more medal ribbons than many senior service personnel whom we have questioned before? The brigadier had first-hand experience of commanding in the field, and, when questioned at length, he made it clear that he could not conceive of a situation in which a commanding officer would be required to act in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lye11) suggests that the examples given are not fanciful, but the evidence to the Defence Committee made it clear that no senior service men could come up with a scenario to match the case that the hon. Gentleman is making.
That is reassuring. However, I cannot prove a negative. The procedure that the Government are adopting means that hon. Members will not be able to cross-examine senior personnel in the Select Committee. As a member of the Defence Committee, the hon. Gentleman has had his opportunity to do so, albeit at only one sitting, but those of us who do not serve on the Select Committee have not had that opportunity. The Government's precipitate introduction of the Bill is what leaves me unreassured.
Indeed. One of the great advantages held by Select Committees is their development of expertise over years of talking to individual service men and their families. The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who chairs the Defence Committee, is a notable exponent of that. The Committee gains extended knowledge of how matters work on the ground. As a representative of a garrison town, I know that if senior officers—colonels, majors or admirals—go round asking, "Is everything all right?", the men will say yes. They are tasked to do so. The programme "Yes, Minister" was correctly titled because Ministers receive that answer when they ask if all is well. Our duty to probe legislation requires us to go further.
The new right to appeal is also damaging. An individual may be heard by his commanding officer or go to court martial. If he does not like his CO's decision, he has a right of appeal. The hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman), who is not in his place, made the valid point that, in his experience, most service men accept the judgment of their commanding officer. They stand up straight, are told their punishment, say, "Yes, sir," salute, walk out, and that is that. They accept that that is how the system works.
However, and I do not believe that this serious point is fanciful, my experience in constituency surgeries and from talking to members of the armed forces suggests that a service man may accept summary jurisdiction and justice, but his wife may think it unfair. He will go home and tell her that he was fined f100, and she will ask why that should be, feeling that it is terrible and that he should appeal. There will be marital disharmony, and the man will look strange if he does not appeal. If he does, it will cost more money.
My hon. Friend's point touches on one of the many weaknesses of the Bill. He has mentioned the wives of young soldiers, sailors and airmen, but he should remember that unmarried personnel may live in block accommodation or on a ship. There will be 14 days in which the barrack-room lawyers who live with them may ask whether they intend to accept the commanding officer's decision and lie down and take it when there is a chance to appeal. There will be a vast increase in the number of appeals—far more than Ministers expect—because of the influence of colleagues on soldiers, sailors and airmen during those 14 days.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose service experience enables him to make wise judgments on these matters. I am sure that he is absolutely right.
One might seek a derogation from the European convention on human rights under article 15, but it is specified that derogation may be sought only
in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation.
When those words were written, it was thought that they took all eventualities into account. However, the writers did not realise that, increasingly, nations would not actually declare war. We did not declare war in the Falklands; we did not do so over Kuwait and Iraq; nor in Kosovo and in Bosnia. We are increasingly involved in military exercises in areas that are well away from the United Kingdom, which could not possibly be described as
a public emergency threatening the life of the nation".
As we probably will not declare war in those cases either, we can envisage that our military forces increasingly will be used in circumstances that are not covered by the derogation of article 15; that is not available to us.
For all those reasons, the Bill is untimely, ill-considered, expensive and damaging. I shall vote against it with relish.
Perhaps it is appropriate that I should follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) on the day that the Order Paper includes a motion that discharges me from the Defence Committee and appoints him in my place.
The Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), has already spoken in the debate; we enjoyed a rumbustious relationship. One line of questioning that he cut off ruthlessly when we were under pressure was what would happen, under the measure, when one tried to put soldiers, sailors and airmen in custody. Many lines of questioning on that matter were robustly interrupted by the hon. Gentleman. I hope that a more pleasant fate awaits me on the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, whither I am bound.
I declare an interest—indeed, experience—I was a regular soldier for 12 years. I served as assistant prosecuting officer and assistant defending officer on district and general courts martial. I administered the summary justice process as an officer commanding—squadron leader of A squadron, 13th/18th Hussars. I was also on the receiving end of the procedure as an officer cadet at Sandhurst. I have some experience to contribute to the debate.
We need to set the Bill in the context of the debate between individual rights and the rights of state and society. Historically, both the state and the Church have asked, encouraged or forced individuals to subordinate and surrender their individual rights for the greater good of the organisation. An example is offered by Government Members. The Government Benches are hardly packed at the moment; new Labour Members appear to have surrendered their individual interest to the corporate good. We do not hear a squeak of the individual views or beliefs of Labour Members who support the Government, if those views and beliefs dissent from the corporate, new Labour view. Individual rights have been surrendered to the rights of the party in government.
The armed services offer the ultimate example of individuals who surrender their rights to the organisation. In 1994, Captain Harry Shapland was killed in an American air force helicopter which was shot down by an American fixed-wing aircraft; it was a tragic accident. His commanding officer said:
Every soldier signs a blank cheque on his life and he never knows when it will be cashed.
The most fundamental right of all is laid at the service of the armed forces. That is unique. I agree with the Minister for the Armed Forces, who made that clear when he opened the debate. The point was also made clear by Brigadier Ritchie in his evidence to the Defence Committee about the balance between the rights of the individual in the summary justice system administered in the armed forces and the interests of the armed forces as a whole. He said:
the ability of a Commanding Officer to maintain good order and military discipline is fundamental to his ability to command his troops. Maintaining the system of summary discipline is our vital ground.
That brings us to the problem with the Bill. There is an irreconcilable clash between the rights of the individual and the rights of the state—in this case, expressed through the need to surrender those individual rights in order for the armed forces to be effective. Those rights are largely surrendered through the summary justice system. The administration of that process is what keeps the armed forces coherent.
The problem was made clear by the Minister. The whole summary justice system is not compliant with the European Court of Human Rights and with the European convention on human rights. Article 6 of the convention makes that clear. It states:
In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.
The whole point of the summary justice system is that it is not independent. The commanding officer is likely to know extremely well the soldiers who come before him for punishment. The fact that they know him and that they know that the chain of command is administering justice in those circumstances is the "vital ground" of the armed forces to sustain their effectiveness.
We cannot take out of context the examination of individual rights by the European Court and the development of jurisprudence and the notion of individual rights in the minds of soldiers, sailors and airmen and in the society from which they come. In 1951, no one expected the armed forces to be affected by the UK's accession to the European convention.
By 1974, the debate had moved on. When France acceded to the convention, it was clear that its armed forces would be affected, so France put down a reservation when its National Assembly ratified the treaty accession. France is not alone. Several other countries have made a reservation about their armed forces—including some of our NATO allies, such as Spain and the Czech Republic.
By 1998, with the incorporation of the convention in UK law, there had been developments in jurisprudence—especially through the Findlay and Hood cases. The convention produced a fundamental effect on human rights—developed under case law, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport pointed out. Judges with little military experience have wholly undermined the summary justice system. They have made explicit that it does not comply with the convention that is being operated by the European Court.
If we do not examine what is happening generally before we consider the Bill, we will not be able to understand how damaging it is. The measure must be set into that context as well as in the context of the Armed Forces Act 1996. That was the means by which the armed forces tried to address the judgment in the Findlay case and to make the summary justice system compliant.
We need now to pay careful attention to what has happened to the court martial system since the 1996 Act came into force in 1997. A fairly limited change was made to the rights of defendants to elect for trial by court martial but, since 1997, the number of cases going to court martial appears to have doubled. However, as the Minister for the Armed Forces pointed out, that number is related to cases in which the findings appear on a individual's regimental conduct sheet. That suggests that commanding officers are becoming less willing to impose serious punishments through the summary justice system. They are more likely to push a case up the line to a court martial. That is a sign that their confidence in using the summary justice system has been undermined.
Of the main elements of the Bill, the first is the change to the custody rules. As far as I can determine, it is the only element of the Bill that is driven by the latest judgment of the European convention on human rights in the Hood case. The Select Committee had a lengthy discussion about the circumstances in which custody rules would be impossible to enforce, and it must be admitted that trying to identify such circumstances is difficult. It is unlikely that we shall ever find ourselves in them. However, it is not good enough to base the argument on that point. The armed forces should expect this place to be able to introduce legislation that will cover all the eventualities that they face.
The Ministry of Defence will face extreme difficulty in drafting a satisfactory statutory instrument—it has yet to be published even in draft form—about the use of video links, which will be a key element in the procedure. None the less, the provision for custody forms the strongest part of the Government's case for introducing the Bill. If it were limited only to the rules of custody and procedure, it would be tiresome, expensive and bureaucratic, but it would arguably not make too much difference to the system of custody before and after charge that we have today. If a Conservative Government were reconsidering the matter, they would probably come to the same judgments that they came to when they introduced the 1996 Act to comply with the European convention on human rights.
The other elements of the Bill are more damaging. I do not understand—I hope that the Minister will explain this when he winds up or at a later stage—what it was in the Hood judgment that has forced the change to trial by court martial. Why do we have to change the point at which a defendant in the Army or the Royal Air Force can elect for court martial, so that he can elect for trial by court martial at a beginning of a case rather than after a commanding officer has deemed that the charge against him is proven? My right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) said that there does not seem to be any reason for the change, and I found his arguments convincing.
The Bill's provisions for the summary appeal court are thoroughly damaging. After a commanding officer has reached his finding, there will be a 14-day period in which a defendant can decide to appeal. In that time, all sorts of forces—his mates, his wife and his wider family—may get to work on him. They may tell him that he has been unfairly treated, should not take his medicine and should explore the appeal process. What would he have to lose, particularly if the commanding officer had decided to hand down the maximum sentence? Any commanding officer who hands down a maximum sentence will find that it is appealed against, because the defendant will have absolutely nothing to lose.
The burden of the Bill on the internal administration of the armed forces becomes really apparent in those circumstances. One of the justifications for the extra 55 royal military policemen that the Government have proposed is that they will improve the quality of evidence collection for commanding officers' orders, so that their decisions will be less open to appeal.
I think that my hon. Friend has conceded a point that he need not have. Although he is on the Select Committee and I am not, it is my understanding that the Bill would mean that an appeal tribunal could not increase a sentence. To that extent, a defendant would have nothing to lose from appealing.
That is indeed the case. The point that I failed to make clearly enough was that the appeal process cannot increase the sentence that a commanding officer has given; it can only reduce it.
One reason for the additional 55 royal military policemen is to make watertight a case on commanding officer's orders against the soldier, sailor or airman who is before him. At present, the justice system, as administered by commanding officers, is reasonably rough and ready, but it is seen as just. In the normal course of events, their decisions are not appealed against. If one adds to it the bureaucratic necessity that the case against individuals must be watertight when it is taken before a judge advocate at a summary appeal court, we shall find that the bureaucratic burden placed on the adjutant, the regimental sergeant major and the chief clerk in organising the paperwork for ordinary commanding officer's orders will have a seriously deleterious effect on the administration of discipline in a unit.
When the Select Committee tried to obtain information from the Ministry of Defence, we were told that the figures for the number of cases that go to summary court martial related only to those that resulted in a report on a individual's regimental record. Those numbers have dropped to 2,000 in 1999, and, when I heard that figure, I thought, "Good Lord. My regiment must have taken a good proportion of all the summary justice cases in the armed services." However, the wider figure is much greater. There are 24,000 cases a year of the ordinary process of soldiers appearing in front of their squadron leaders, company commanders or, for more serious offences, their commanding officers.
In the evidence given by Brigadier Ritchie, we were told that 20 per cent. Of those 24,000 cases would be appealed to the summary appeal court. Therefore, the number of cases handled by a summary appeal court is not 1,500, but nearer 5,000. That suggests that the Ministry of Defence has seriously miscalculated the amount of work that will be created for the court and the financial consequences that will flow from that.
Will my hon. Friend consider another strange anomaly in the Government's approach? In the Bill, they propose to give those who are subject to service discipline an automatic right to go not to the commanding officer, which would be the equivalent of going to a magistrates court, but to court martial, which would be the equivalent of going to the Crown court. However, they want to take away the right of ordinary civilians to go to the Crown court and insist that they go the magistrates court. Is that not anomalous?
Of course it seems anomalous, but one would have to wait a long time for consistency from the Government. This is the most important part of the Bill and the most destructive, particularly to the commanding officer's authority. It is not needed under the Hood judgment, and I beg the Minister to examine it.
We are not going to be in a position to test this thesis. If the Minister's legal advice is that a case will be brought that shows that a summary appeal court is required under the European convention on human rights, we should at least let that case happen. It is not as though the Government are not preparing enough opportunities to change armed forces legislation in the future. We shall be going round the buoy next year with the quinquennial Act. The Government tell us that there is not enough time, in the next 18 months, to put together a tri-service discipline Act, so we shall be going round the buoy again, presumably between 2001 and 2006, when the quinquennial Act will come round again.
We shall therefore have opportunities to put this right, but the damage that the Bill will do is far too great to be worth the risk of gold-plating the legislation on the legal advice that it might otherwise be liable to a finding against it in the European Court of Human Rights.
The point that flows from that is that, in his evidence to the Select Committee, the Minister told us—this was also made clear by Baroness Symons in another place—that he cannot guarantee that the Bill is bomb-proof against a future ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.
Suppose the European Court decides that the judicial officers who are now being appointed to look after the custody arrangements are not independent of the chain of command because they are being paid by the chain of command and they owe their duties to the chain of command. The court might then think that the summary appeals court is also staffed by officers who are not independent of the chain of command. That would simply require a definition of the chain of command that is wider than the officer who has direct command of the soldier, sailor or airman in question.
In reinforcing my hon. Friend's excellent point, I put it to him that part of the problem is the huge influx of judges into the European Court of Human Rights from countries that regard the state in general and the military in particular as oppressors. There is something faintly ridiculous in the idea that the court is now able to affect our armed forces, when many of the judges come from countries from which many of the asylum seekers who are now before our domestic courts have come.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.
The final and most absurd point about this wretched legislation is the cost to the armed forces. The Ministry of Defence estimates that it will cost some £6.5 million. I am not remotely confident that that is anything other than a grotesque underestimate, not least because the Ministry's figure for appeals from summary justice cases is only 20 per cent. What are we getting for that money? We are getting 55 more military policemen; 35 more civilians, most of whom are lawyers; and the benefit of regularly paying highly priced lawyers to deal with the Bill's custodial provisions and to advise the summary appeal courts in commanding officers' jurisdiction.
I am sure that those people will be a fine body of men and women, but, when one considers that the cost of that little lot—as a company, it would probably not give too clever an account of itself in action—is about the same as the salary bill for an infantry battalion, one wonders where the money is to come from. Will they be paid for out of the Lord Chancellor's budget or further taxation from the Treasury? No, it was made absolutely clear in the other place that the amount is coming out of the defence budget.
The cost of the measures is equivalent to that of the manpower of an infantry battalion. Will it add to, or subtract from, the effectiveness of our armed forces? It will undermine their operational effectiveness. Not only will a shocking arrangement be forced on the armed forces concerning appeals in the summary justice process and the process of choosing court martial without that being required under case law as it now stands, but the armed forces themselves will have to pick up the bill. Frankly, that is the last obscenity in the Bill.
I urge Ministers to consider the two particular measures that I have described, if they will not consider the course of action that I shall now recommend.
I must say how sad I am that the hon. Gentleman is leaving the Defence Committee, even though his replacement will be a most capable addition to our team of 11. I want to correct a misapprehension. The hon. Gentleman implied that I had behaved in an authoritarian manner in cutting him off in his prime during the questioning session a few days ago. I did extensive research, by counting, and I found that, of the 123 questions asked of my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces and his colleagues, 54 were asked by the hon. Gentleman. People will not criticise me for being too authoritarian; they will ask why I did not cut off the hon. Gentleman earlier.
I have no idea why I was so stupid as to allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene when he has, as Chairman of the Defence Committee, been so mean as to interrupt me.
At the beginning of that session, the Chairman was, for the first time, extremely anxious not only that I should be there but that I should take a leading part in the questioning because he did not expect too much interest from his hon. Friends. I fear that he was right to do so. This afternoon, the only speech by a Labour Back Bencher was that of the hon. Gentleman himself. I suspect that, if the Select Committee had not considered the matter, even he might not have graced the debate with his presence. The fact that Labour's contribution to this debate has been so limited is a shocking indictment of its interest in defence.
I return to what the course of action should be. The Government should at least drop the two parts of the Bill that are not required under ECHR case law. That would be a satisfactory compromise, although it would leave the custodial provisions, which I hope will be sorted out in Committee, ludicrously flawed and difficult to implement. We should be saying that the French have got it right, and that the Bill is irreconcilable in terms of individual rights and the rights of the state, particularly given the way in which the European Court of Human Rights has developed.
Brigadier Ritchie told us that the summary justice system is the vital ground that has to be defended. The Armed Forces Act 1996 and the Bill both chip away significantly at the effectiveness of the summary justice system that sustains the armed forces discipline, cohesion and morale. Therefore, the time has come to face the fact that we will have to get that reservation to protect our armed forces. This is the vital ground of our armed forces and, by extension, a vital interest of the United Kingdom. I see no other solution but to withdraw from the European convention on human rights and immediately reapply, obtaining the necessary reservation to protect our armed forces, their vital ground and our vital interests.
The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, deplored the fact that, having tabled a reasoned amendment on the Order Paper, we were treating the Bill in a strictly non-bipartisan way. I argue that when these disciplinary provisions are manifestly damaging to service discipline, we are duty bound to do as we have done. The hon. Gentleman was a lone, siren voice—although, looking at him, I am not sure whether he has the physiognomy of a siren; nor is he, unlike the sirens, among a fair collectivity.
I have the problem of following three speeches of rare distinction. One was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt). How fortunate we are to have the benefit of his recent military experience. The speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) benefited from his ministerial outlook and fair-mindedness. He has the characteristic typical of Home Office training of trying to judge whether the measure will work in practice. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), my predecessor and successor as Chairman of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, also spoke. Like him, I deplore the fact, as does Her Majesty's Opposition in general, that we have not had pre-legislative scrutiny of this measure. The pre-legislative Select Committee is an invaluable procedure, especially for service matters.
The House today has a paucity of expertise on service issues. It was not so when I first came to the House. We tried to remedy the deficiency with the armed forces parliamentary scheme but, in a sense, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The wartime experience of the generation that I met when I first came to the House would have been invaluable. Luckily, the other place has not been reformed root and branch. We still have the contributions of the former chiefs of staff and other people with long military experience.
In concept, the Bill is wrong. The very idea of human rights for the armed forces is, per se, a delusion. People joining the armed forces forswear their human rights. They do not have human rights. As my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate put it, they sign a blank cheque. They are then subject to discipline, and this is the overriding consideration for the rest of their life in uniform.
Does not the hon. Gentleman have difficulty getting his head round the suggestion that people joining the United Kingdom armed forces forgo their human rights, yet are expected to travel the world defending other people's human rights? Many of our soldiers, men and women, are putting their lives on the line as he speaks, defending human rights. Surely the House has a responsibility to defend theirs.
It is not so much a question of abstractions or what is written in conventions. Human rights are a function of individual example and behaviour. That is what has characterised our armed forces. The commanding officer sets the pattern and the example. He imposes the discipline because earlier in his career, he was subject to discipline. A good commanding officer will not ask his men to do anything that he cannot do himself. That is the groundwork of good discipline. It is not a question of conventions.
I am listening most carefully to my hon. Friend, and I think that I know what he is getting at. Would he agree that perhaps it could be put like this? People joining the armed forces do not necessarily forswear all their human rights, but they expect to have a legal framework that takes account of the need for human rights legislation to adapt itself to the requirements of good order and military discipline necessary for the operation of any armed forces.
Exactly so. I now understand why my right hon. and learned Friend is deemed learned in this place.
We must consider the matter in a contemporary context. That was an important factor in making the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate so telling. We must judge the Bill in the context of the armed forces' lack of resources, the constant diminution of their regular and reserve manpower, and the growing technology gap vis-a-vis the Americans, which was plain to see in the Kosovo war.
Those deficiencies can be redressed to some degree by the very best discipline and training. The moral quality always transcends the material in warfare. It behoves us to pass measures that enhance our capability through an effective disciplinary system in the armed forces, rather than degrading it.
We should follow the example of the Spartans or the Prussians in placing discipline and training first. The Prime Minister had a phrase at the general election—"education, education, education". For the armed forces, it must be training, training, training and drill, drill, drill, so that the response is instinctive and the reaction to command is unquestioning.
Those are not attributes which flow naturally from the litigiousness inherent in the Bill. It encourages litigiousness and, in the armed forces, that can easily become insubordination. If a service man questions the judgment of his commanding officer in a summary case, or believes that his commanding officer is wrong in allocating a particular sentence to him, he demonstrates a fundamental lack of respect for his qualities as a leader, an individual and an officer.
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the commander of British land forces in Kosovo, General Sir Michael Jackson, was right to question the authority of his commanding officer, General Wesley Clark, in connection with the Russian takeover of the airport at Pristina?
I am in no position to comment on the operational decisions of general officers commanding in the field. It would be ludicrous for me to do so, but I always have sympathy for senior officers who have Nelsonian flair.
The idea of summary appeal courts is wrong and I bitterly regret it. I also regret the idea that people can opt for a court martial before they even have a summary hearing. It is utterly wrong, too, that after a 48-hour period of detention, judicial officers should be able to overrule the judgment of a commanding officer.
My intervention early in the debate was belittled, but in the field, in operational circumstances, it may be absolutely necessary to keep someone in detention for 48 hours or more. There may be no alternative. It is wrong that in such circumstances the commanding officer should have to refer to a judicial officer.
The Bill is a thoroughly retrograde piece of legislation. I presume that it is intended to last, but thank God we have the opportunity to review it in the usual quinquennial process when the three armed service Acts are reviewed next year.
We should recognise, first, that the training periods for our personnel are now shorter than they have ever been. The time taken to go through Sandhurst and the training schools is far shorter than it used to be.
Secondly, more work is being put upon the Territorial Army. For example, formed units are to go out to Kosovo. That is good, but reserve soldiers, sailors and airmen do not have the training background of regulars.
Lastly, the Bill may well have to apply to conscripts. We cannot for ever assume that our troops will have only a peacekeeping role and be engaged in humanitarian operations.
The profession of arms is a wholly unnatural process. It makes wholly exceptional demands upon those who embrace it. Therefore, we must understand that we are legislating for war as well as for all the lower gradations of potential conflict, peacekeeping and so on. In so doing, we are diminishing the capability of our armed forces to operate as effective fighting formations. I regret the legislation and I shall vote against it.
I had not expected to speak today. My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) was due to speak on behalf of the Liberal Democrats and he did so in an exemplary way. He said that the legislation was needed to bring us into line with our allies and that we had to live up to our obligations; but as the debate progressed it became slightly surreal. Some hon. Members were unable to come up with the worst-case scenario for which they were suggesting we had to legislate. It is bizarre that hon. Members should criticise a Bill without being able readily to identify the issue that they are addressing.
I am proud to be a member of the Defence Committee. I enjoyed the speech of its Chairman, the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), and that of the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt). I did not much enjoy his contribution in the Select Committee because his 54 questions turned on virtually the same point and were repetitive. Had the Chairman been a little less generous, he might have shut him up. We were all becoming a little bored because the hon. Gentleman was hammering home the same point. He would have done justice to a Jack Russell terrier or the SAS on a difficult operation. However, today's debate proves conclusively that blood can be squeezed from a stone.
If we have to be here until 7 o'clock, we might as well join in.
I read the Bill with great interest, but I have strong reservations about it. I listened with great interest to at least two of the four debates in the other place on the Bill and the contributions of some of the distinguished former chiefs of staff. So far no one has come up with a reason why they backed off. They were sure that the Bill was wrong but, when push came to shove, they did not pursue the matter to a vote. At the end of the day, they did not clearly support the line being pursued by the current Chief of the Defence Staff who said that to attempt to embody in the Bill a distinction between normal and active service circumstances was unnecessary and would quite probably be counter-productive, and therefore would not be welcomed by the services themselves.
I stand corrected, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Had I been in his position with nothing much good to say about the Bill, I would have tried to intervene with such a comment. I am sure that General Guthrie will be pleased that his name has been mentioned in the Chamber this afternoon due to the—for me, unwelcome—intervention by the hon. Gentleman.
It is clear from the comment that I quoted that the former chiefs of staff and many Members from all parties in the other place decided that it was not right to pursue the matter. The other place examined the Bill four times in meticulous detail. They went over the same examples that hon. Members have drawn to the House's attention today.
The hon. Gentleman rests his case on the first part of the Bill, which covers custodial circumstances. He is right to point out that it is difficult to establish the exact circumstances in which various provisions will be found wanting. However, the comments of the Chief of the Defence Staff that Lady Symons quoted related to his anxiety that, according to advice he had received, the summary justice system would not comply with the European convention on human rights if the Bill was not passed. The current service chiefs therefore wanted the Bill to be passed on those grounds. However, the fact is—
I was grateful for that intervention because the hon. Member for Reigate made a fair point. Again, it establishes clearly that civilians, legal advisers and senior defence chiefs believed that it was important for our disciplinary procedures to comply with the European convention on human rights, that bringing them into line was necessary and that any intervention that forced a delay on that would be unwelcome and would lead to an escalation of cases before the European Court of Human Rights.
I agree that the Bill tries to achieve three objectives: it covers loss of liberty and custody—many hon. Members have discussed that; it provides that decisions of a judicial nature should not be made by persons who hold appointments that depend on the Executive or, in military terms, the chain of command; and it prevents the same person from acting as prosecutor and judge and provides for the right to choose between summary trial and small-scale judicial procedures.
It is interesting that many Members of the House of Lords also serve as judges. Many of them have served as appeal judges when cases have been brought against legislation, for or against which they voted. That is hardly fair. Our current Lord Chancellor is nervously considering the latest European Court of Human Rights decision on a case in Guernsey. The Bailiff of Guernsey has been ruled out of order for voting for legislation and subsequently sitting in judgment on an appeal by a Guernsey citizen against part of its enactment. That poses great problems for the Lord Chancellor and any judge who sits in the second Chamber.
Some hon. Members claim that our armed forces are second to none—I share that view. They say that the men and women who serve in them go about their business in a lawful and proper manner, yet they are worried that many of them will be guilty of some sort of offence—
In the heat of battle, as my hon. Friend says. Some hon. Members seem to be worried that service men and women will suddenly disregard their training, esprit de corps and whatever else motivates people to do the right thing, and, in the heat of battle, commit wanton acts that are so serious that the perpetrators will have to be jailed, and other people will have to be taken out of the front line to serve as custody officers night and day. I simply do not believe that that will be the case.
My neighbour, the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), said that all service personnel play the game and stick to the line when they appear before officers, but I have made Defence Committee visits with Ministers and my experience is that the last thing members of our armed forces are is reluctant to speak their minds and tell us the truth—warts and all—about the problems that they face. I represent a huge number of service personnel and their families and come from a family with long service traditions, so I know only too well that the person who is subject to military justice is not always the main instigator of an appeal. That instigation comes from the family. I remember more than one family debate about whether justice had been served and whether the sentence fitted the crime.
I fully understand that the hon. Gentleman has a great interest in service matters and of course he is interested in service history. Does he recall the sad but nevertheless true cases of people who were involved in courts martial in the heat of battle? Does he not think that his recommendation would cause injustice because of unnecessary delays?
I can only think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to situations in the first world war. Many hon. Members have recognised that injustice. There have not been many such situations since, and no one is suggesting that we have such a system today.
The Defence Committee heard a presentation by three senior officers—Brigadier Andrew Ritchie, Commodore David Humphrey and Air Commodore Rick Charles—two of whom had been in command and one of whom had been in command in the circumstances that have been described today. All three stressed that the Bill is a step in the right direction and all sought one thing—consistency. All wanted the rights of the individual to be protected, the Army's regimental traditions to be kept up and the rights of the individual to be incorporated into the services. None raised serious objections to the Bill.
However, I had reservations. I asked a number of questions, like the hon. Member for Reigate, and would have run him a close second had the Chairman of the Committee done another count. The officials of the House have me down as tabling a lot of questions, but I am not down as being present when the Committee met. That anomaly is beyond me, but they achieved it. The evidence went more than half way to meeting the objections of those in the other place who had not been satisfied by the Minister for Defence Procurement, who speaks on these matters there, and the rest of the way to satisfy the rigorous and robust questioning of the Defence Committee.
My first reservation concerned the MOD's ability to recruit personnel of the required standard. The Defence Committee and the House are well aware of the problems of retention—the military's medical services, from which qualified staff are haemorrhaging, are a classic example. Despite our best efforts to retain people, we are losing pilots hand over fist and cannot hold on to technicians of any grade in any of the three services with any degree of surety. I doubted whether we could recruit, but the brigadier—speaking on behalf of the general with responsibility for legal services—once again assured us that more than half the necessary personnel had already been recruited. He believed that the quota would have been filled by the time the Bill came into operation.
My second reservation has been referred to by many hon. Members, who have mentioned my questions to officers and to the Minister of State in the Select Committee about cost. How on earth could they explain the sudden escalation from 850 persons who would seek to appeal to 1,500, nearly double the original figure? Like the hon. Member for Reigate, I am still worried about whether 1,500 is the right figure; I suspect that it should be higher. In any event, those who have actually had to deal with the matter made it clear that most appeals, as constituted, would concern sentencing rather than a guilty verdict, if such a verdict had been returned. Very few people challenge verdicts, but many challenge the length and severity of sentences. Those whom I consulted did not consider that major financial increases would be involved, over and above £6.5 million.
Like other hon. Members, I sense that £6.5 million is an optimistic figure. I was sad that, when asked, the Minister of State told the Select Committee that it would not be new money. For once, he attempted no elusion—that is, there was no elusion when the Government were talking about money—although he did suggest that the money was in last year's budget, which was earmarked for this year. He did not attempt to disguise the fact that the £6.5 million would have to be found within the existing resources of the Ministry of Defence. We can therefore only imagine that something or other will not happen—perhaps equipment or training will suffer as a result.
The answers to the Committee's questions were fairly robust, and I felt that they hit the targets at which they were aimed. I was prepared to give the Government the benefit of the doubt, and I wish the Bill a good passage through the House. Thankfully, I shall not be on the Standing Committee; I sense that those who are will experience some long sittings, arguing about the technicalities of the surreal. That is not easy to come to terms with.
I think that the Minister of State took on board the Committee's suggestions about how we could consider legislation in the future. He admitted under questioning that he would welcome the opportunity to subject any future legislation to pre-scrutiny. I hope that that constitutes a determined endeavour on the part of Government, not only in the context of this Bill but in the context of future Bills.
The Bill will not produce a perfect solution, but I cannot agree that men and women who join the United Kingdom armed forces should sign away their rights under European law, however elaborately the existing provision is reworded. That notion—which was dressed up in a slightly different way by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), a former Attorney-General—is one that most reasonable people, inside and outside the services, would consider wrong.
As I said in an intervention, it is not good enough to suggest that our service personnel should sign away their human rights while spending most of their time trying to win back or defend the human rights of others across the globe. That simply does not wash. Those who serve in our armed forces are entitled to justice.
The Bill is not perfect, because the system that we have had over the centuries is not perfect, but it gives us an opportunity to move the justice system in our armed forces a step further. I hope that in a year's time, when we have a chance to examine the matter again—in fact, we shall have to do so because the review will be due—we shall again refine the way in which the armed forces can be disciplined from within, and the way in which their members can protect their rights. It is as important to defend those rights as it is to defend any person whom the armed forces are sent to defend.
I hope that hon. Members will resist the temptation to vote for the amendment, because it would do nothing. We know that what we have now is not acceptable: it is inoperable and will be challenged time and again later in the year if we do nothing now. The Bill makes an attempt to introduce some justice to the discipline of our armed forces, and that should be welcomed.
On a serious point, does my hon. Friend not find it extraordinary that it is Government business, which they say is important, yet we see acres and acres of empty green leather on the Government side? It is a Government Bill on which, effectively, no Labour Members have been put up to speak. Does it not show again how little interest Labour Members take in defence issues?
My hon. Friend makes the point forcefully. The debate's other distinguishing feature has been the fact that, despite the fact that many of us lack military experience, the contributions have been extremely well informed and serious. They bear testimony to the fact that the Defence Committee, rightly, commands respect throughout the country and throughout the military, whether it be the forces, or the industrial defence industries.
In what was an absolute tour de force, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) made a devastating case against the Bill. It is hardly surprising that so few Labour Members are present, given the vehemence and intellectual rigour with which he advanced his cause. I entirely support what he said.
I do not want to go over a number of the points that my hon. Friend and other Conservative Members have made, but I will say—I raised the point with my hon. Friend when he was drawing attention to the many significant costs that will be involved in implementing the Bill—that £9 million, or thereabouts, of additional public money will be needed to finance the Bill. That should ring alarm bells not just in the House, but throughout the country.
I and my hon. Friends the Members for Salisbury and for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) represent constituencies that have substantial military activity. The hon. Members for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) and for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) are in the same boat, as is one Member on the Labour Benches: the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson). We all know the substantial effect that overstretch is having on our forces. We have seen the problems with equipment, the lack of fuel and so on. The fact that the Government will take the money to fund the Bill from the defence budget seriously damages their claim to have their priorities right in defence matters.
The whole defence budget is under threat. There is a serious situation in our armed forces. The Government are requiring them to do more and more with less and less. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will not provide the necessary funding to do that. We are told that we must enact the Bill—with no support on the Labour Benches—and commit more public funds to it.
It is a question not just of the actual cost, but increased manpower. We must find not 80, but 90 people—55 service personnel, all of whom will have to be, in some respects, legally qualified, or qualified in forensic science, and 35 civilians—together with all the equipment on which my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury elaborated in his convincing speech.
The House should establish disciplinary procedures for our armed forces. The House has long had a role in that matter, which has generally not occupied much of our time. It certainly did not occupy much of our time when I was an hon. Member between 1983 and 1992. Indeed, it was only when I absented myself from the House, from 1992 to 1997, that the House busied itself with the Armed Forces Act 1996, to which I was not party. Nevertheless, the cause of that legislation and the cause of this Bill are the same.
Military discipline should broadly follow the principles that apply to the civilian community, except that, as we have to recognise, the services not only are different, but need to be different. If we fail to recognise our services' need to be different, we shall be doing a disfavour not only to them, but to our country, as we shall not be providing the means by which this nation has been as effectively defended as everyone reckons it to be.
Although the hon. Gentleman is unquestionably right to say that the services should be treated slightly differently because of their different complexion, different treatment cannot apply in the matter of justice. Justice must be applied equally.
Unfortunately, the hon. Lady has not been in the Chamber for the debate. I say that not to chastise her, but to point out to her that, had she been here, she would have understood the myriad reasons given by my right. hon. and hon. Friends why it is necessary to resist the Bill. It is not a question of whether the Bill will provide greater justice, but an assertion that the Bill will fundamentally damage service discipline. That is the case that Opposition Members are advancing. We believe that, as the Bill will undermine armed forces discipline, ultimately, it is likely to lead to less justice, and certainly to less efficient fighting forces—which, as we all should remember, is what our armed services are about.
The hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) should bear in mind that, unlike any other group in society, our armed forces are required—as my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) made absolutely clear—to write a blank cheque with their lives. They never know when that cheque will be called in. It is a part of a contract that no other group or profession in society has to sign. Even police officers—who, of course, put themselves at risk in the line of duty—do not make their contract in the same way as members of our armed services do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate made the point that service men and service women accept that different rules apply to them. If one talks to soldiers, male or female, as I do in Aldershot, one is often told that they have joined the services because the services are different from the rest of society. As I have said in the House before, in many ways, service men and service women reject some of the values prevailing in wider society. The values of the services—loyalty, commitment, duty and obligation to country—which are regarded as somewhat old-fashioned in other parts of society, are very much a part the reason why service people joined the services initially. We have to understand that men and women in the service are different people and do not accept the same obligations that apply to those who join Marks and Spencer.
As many hon. Members have said in the debate, soldiers are increasingly being persuaded by their wives or families that they should appeal against a summary judgment. Moreover, the trend is likely to continue in future as, increasingly, service men's wives are now working in the civilian community, where the idea of giving orders is not only much less fashionable, but distinctly unfashionable. Some wives question why their husbands are accepting a legal arrangement that would never by countenanced by anyone in their own place of work. So if we enact the legislation, we shall be in danger of corroding the cohesion of our service life. That is an extremely damaging prospect.
I have covered the background but, when the Minister of State announced the Bill on 17 November 1999, he stated in a press release:
This is essentially technical legislation. The reforms in the Armed Forces Discipline Bill will preserve the essential structure of the current system, while bringing it into line with the 1998 Human Rights Act.
That is the essence of the Bill. It is not being introduced because the Government suddenly felt that there was a lack of justice for our service men which had hitherto gone unnoticed or because it had suddenly hit upon the Government that service men were going to see their Members of Parliament and writing anonymous letters saying, "We don't get enough justice. We need to reform the system of discipline in the armed forces." The origin of the Bill, like that of the 1996 Act, was absolutely clear from the outset. It is before the House today not because the Government necessarily believe in it—of course they will say that they do—but because they feel that they have no option but to accept the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.
I am sorry to bore the House again, but the public must understand that day in, day out, the powers of this place are haemorrhaging away, not least because of the way in which the European Court of Human Rights is seeking to exercise ever-greater powers over our lives. It is no good Labour Members shaking their heads; it is a fact of life that every week we find that the European Court of Human Rights has pronounced some other aspects of our law as being incompatible with the convention.
Our laws have stood the test of time and, as I said to the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), we signed up to the European convention on human rights in 1951 only after Ministers were absolutely crystal clear that the provisions of our law were unlikely to conflict with the convention. Our laws were compliant then, as was our military discipline, so what has changed? Our military discipline remains the same; what has changed is the desire of the European Court of Human Rights to interfere in the way in which we compose our armed forces and the way in which we organise our laws. The proper place to decide the balancing issues of the rights of individuals and groups of people vis-a-vis each other and the rights of individuals versus the state is here, in this building—in the House and in the other place. Ultimately, if we have not made the laws clear enough, they should be tested down the road by our courts, so that if we get it wrong we can put it right. People out there do not realise the extent to which this country is becoming powerless. Here we have the Government introducing a measure, not because they necessarily believe in it, but because they have been told to do so by the European Court of Human Rights.
I am sorry to intervene on my hon. Friend when he is being so eloquent and making such a good case. I wish only to amplify it. Of course, the threat goes wider because the European Court could arrogate to itself the capability to interfere in British service affairs and the MOD might cave in, fearing that it might be invoked in respect of the equal opportunities directive. Retrospectively, the MOD paid out £60 million in compensation to service women who knew when they joined the armed forces that they would not be able to retain their position in the services if they had children. The European Court, as well as the European convention on human rights could be a threat.
My hon. Friend makes an important point that is another facet of the way in which the power of the House is being diminished and asserted by other authorities. We accept that supinely, and I resent that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), who is not in his place at the moment, is a most decent man, but I disagree with him. He was right to say that we have no option but to accept the Bill as things stand at the moment, but I stand with Lord Renton, who said on Second Reading in the other place:
I believe that the Government must review the convention"—
the 1951 convention on human rights—
and our acceptance of it in order to ensure that military discipline is maintained."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 November 1999; Vol. 607, c. 691.]
It has been made clear that we cannot enjoy the advantage that our friends in France enjoy because they delayed signing up to the convention until 1974. They saw which way the wind was blowing even then—they were more perceptive than some of us—and they ensured that they got a derogation. The Minister of State has said that we cannot now go back and get a derogation, but I cannot continue to accept that we must simply follow the rulings of the European Court and change the laws of these islands.
We are accountable to our constituents, not to the European Court of Human Rights. It is essential that at some time we stand up to it. How far is the Minister prepared to go? How many other cases are in the pipeline? That question was put by the Defence Committee and the Minister confirmed that no one could guarantee that no further amendments to the service discipline legislation would be necessary in the future to ensure compliance with the ECHR. No one can guarantee that the European Court will not come forward with further measures, and then the Minister will come back—having spent vast amounts of public money putting sound and appropriate arguments before the court in Strasbourg, but losing the case—and say that we have to implement them. What is this Parliament for? Will we just roll over and accept that happening for the foreseeable future? I think that the time has come to make a stand.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way with such good humour. Is he saying that his bizarre stance on Europe is appreciated by those service personnel whom he represents, to whom he would deny the same opportunities under law that are available to civilians living next door? Few of those service personnel would understand or accept his argument.
I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman because it is clear that he did not hear what I said earlier when I said that people join the services because they are different and they subscribe to concepts that are not generally followed by the rest of society. Who else would accept being bawled at on a parade ground? It is essential for service discipline that people accept orders unquestioningly. The armed forces cannot be operated on any other basis. It is possible to organise Marks and Spencer or BP on an endless round of consultation, but that does not apply to the armed forces.
I feel that I am in tune with my constituents. Every opinion poll on Europe shows that I am more in tune with my constituents than the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South is with his, that I am getting more so as time goes by, and that he is getting less. The Conservative party has alerted people to what is going on, and people understand that only the Conservative party cares about preserving the integrity and independence of our country.
We have also asserted the independence of our Parliament, and have insisted that we should not roll over every time the European Court of Human Rights comes up with a fanciful new idea. Its ideas are produced by a bunch of judges whose home countries' record on human rights would not stand up to scrutiny by candlelight, let alone by searchlight. This Parliament has fought for nearly 1,000 years to get right the balance between the rights of individuals and those of the state.
Much has been made of the Bill's technicalities. I have explained why I believe that the Bill is wrong in principle. It has been introduced for the wrong reasons. Other Conservative Members have shown how it will be deeply damaging to service morale and discipline. I therefore hope that the House will fill up with hon. Members supporting my hon. Friends on the Front Bench in voting against a Bill whose damaging effects will be felt nowhere more deeply than in my constituency of Aldershot—the home of the British Army.
There is a memorable moment in the film "Casablanca" when Humphrey Bogart, the proprietor of Rick's Café, loses a friend with black market connections and finds that his ex-girlfriend—played by Ingrid Bergman—has replaced him in her affections. He says, "One out, one in." I congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie), on his appointment in replacement of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle). It is easy to see that the Government are determined that a substantial body of evidence will always be present in the discharge of the duties associated with that office.
At first glance, the case that I want to bring to the House's attention is reminiscent of the case involving the Admiralty and the Archer-Shee family, in which a young cadet at Osborne, George Archer-Shee, was alleged to have stolen a five-shilling postal order. The case was the subject of a memorable book by Rodney Bennett, and was later dramatised by Terence Rattigan as "The Winslow Boy". The young man was eventually cleared of the theft, but the charge almost certainly cost him his life. Having lost his naval career, the young Archer-Shee enlisted in the Army at the outbreak of the first world war and went to the western front, where he died leading his platoon against the enemy. Had he remained in the Navy, the chances are that he would have escaped with his life.
In reality, the case that I want to bring to the House's attention is perhaps closer to the plot of "Les Misérables". It arises from a report in The Southern Daily Echo on 29 January, which bore the headline "Army disgrace led to suicide". The report states:
A devastated Hampshire soldier gassed himself in his car after he was kicked out of the Army for asking new recruits to pay for swimming lessons.
Father-of-two Corporal Gavin Henry, 33, of Kingsley Green, Havant"—
my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) has given me his blessing in raising this case of his late constituent—
kissed his children goodbye and drove to the remote Quagg Farm, near Stockbridge, where he committed suicide.
An inquest at Winchester heard he had been court-martialled and discharged after demanding money from new recruits when he took them to a local swimming pool, because the military baths were shut.
Recording a suicide verdict, coroner Graham Long said: 'Gavin obviously enjoyed life as a soldier a great deal. He must have been devastated when court martialled and discharged. As a result of his discharge from the Army his marriage came under strain and his wife divorced him.
The divorce was not the cause of his final act but may have been the final straw'.
As to the relevance of that incident to the Bill, I refer to the previous changes to military discipline law as a consequence of a European Court of Human Rights finding.
The Select Committee's report states at paragraph 16:
At present, disciplinary cases may be heard in two ways: summarily or by court-martial. Cases dealt with summarily are heard by the accused's Commanding Officer. Courts-martial were previously reserved for more serious offences, but substantial changes were made by the Armed Forces Act 1996 to reflect the provisions of the ECHR.
Later, the report notes—in relation to the Army—possible concern that the 1996 Act appears to have led to the proportion of cases dealt with by court martial rising between 1996 and 1999, from 10 to 20 per cent.
Although my investigations are too recent to allow the full details, I suspect that Corporal Henry's case would in former times have been dealt with summarily. Superficially, the ECHR's ruling was applied to give greater rights to a person facing discipline in the armed forces, but this ended up as badly as possible for Corporal Henry.
I wrote to General Sir Roger Wheeler, Chief of the General Staff, expressing my concern. I wrote of my shock at reading the newspaper story about the suicide of Corporal Henry and explained that although he was not one of my constituents, anyone with a close interest in the services must feel deep concern about a person's career being ended because, according to the story, he ordered new recruits to pay for the use of a swimming pool when the military baths were shut—apparently culminating in a chain of events leading to the young man's self-destruction. I put it to the Chief of the General Staff that to be court martialled and discharged in those circumstances was grossly disproportionate to the offence.
I know from a previous occasion that General Wheeler is an admirably prompt correspondent. He replied by return, saying that the matter would be investigated. Just today, I had faxed to me a response dated 11 February
from M.A. Piper, deputy chief executive at Headquarters, Army Training and Recruiting Agency in Pewsey, Wiltshire. He states:
As in many such instances the report in the newspaper falls well short of the full facts. Henry was found guilty in 1997 by District Court Martial of 14 counts of theft.
That sounds bad, but those counts all concern the same offence relating to the swimming baths incident—and, as I strongly suspect that they all relate to the same action taken in respect of 14 people, hon. Members will understand why I continue to be concerned. General Wheeler continued:
In brief, he had asked the recruits in his charge to pay for entrance to the local swimming baths, used when the military facilities at the Army Training Regiment (ATR) at Lichfield were closed, and then fraudulently obtained repayment of the sums involved from the Unit. He pleaded guilty to all the charges.
That is, of course, he pleaded guilty 14 times to the same charge relating to each of the 14 cadets.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is giving us a detailed individual case, but the debate is on the Second Reading of a Bill. He may wish to come to the point. How does what he is saying relate to the Bill? I am aware that he is discussing the case of a man who was court martialled, but to go into such detail is, to put it no stronger, not usual.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
My problem is that the Bill seems, on the face of it, to be a lawyer's measure, but its application to the armed forces will translate in reality into cases such as the one to which I have referred. Those who oppose the increasing intrusion of the European convention on human rights must show how something done with the best of intentions—the Bill—may translate into individual cases with fatal results. I shall bear your strictures in mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I have almost finished the detail. I promise not to overburden the House.
The letter continues:
The Assistant Judge Advocate General, who was asked to review the decision of the Court-Martial stated that although the sum of money involved was small (a total of £16)"—
less than £1.15 for each offence—
there was not only a breach of trust involved, but also an abuse of a position of authority. He considered that the sentence reflected a proper balance between the mitigating and aggravating factors. He therefore declined to uphold Henry's petition against the sentence.
That is the end of the detail, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We know what the result was. That man lost his career and his marriage. Ultimately, he took his own life. The House may see that my comparison with the plot of Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables" was by no means fanciful.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) talked of the right of the services to be different. I entirely agree with him, and with my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who pointed out the iniquities of the compensation culture that is creeping into society and transferring into the administration of discipline in the armed forces. When Labour Members ask why people in the armed forces should be denied the protection that others have at law in civil society, the answer must be that we must be concerned with how litigious a person is. There is no absolute principle; it is a question of how far litigiousness is allowed in our dealings.
We all know that what happens in America tends to be reflected in Britain a few months or years later. We have all heard of the case of the lady in America who drove into a takeaway McDonalds, purchased a mug of boiling coffee, placed it between her thighs as she drove away, scalded herself, and successfully sued the company for having served a beverage that was dangerously hot. Most people would say that that was something she was entitled to do at law, but that the law was an ass in upholding her claim.
We all know that it is possible to apply the law literally or with common sense; there are no absolutes. The danger of bringing the ECHR directly to bear on individual cases is that it will give perverse results. If I had time to go into the matter more fully, it would be seen that the application of the ECHR in 1996 led to a top-heavy procedure. If the soldier, whose sad circumstances I related, had received summary punishment from his CO—or had he chosen to do so rather than opting for a court martial—his case might have had a happier outcome. Although it seemed that the court martial presented a greater opportunity—an extra right—it turned out to be a fatal disadvantage.
One of the reasons for my absence from part of the debate was because I was discussing defence developments in the Royal Navy with a recently retired senior officer. I asked him for his views on the case that I have just outlined. He said that in the armed forces one had to allow for different levels of trial and punishment, according to different circumstances—war or peace, deployment on operations or in society back home. He pointed out that a court martial was the last thing that one should have considered in such an offence—or rather 14 offences of £1.14 multiplied.
I appeal to the Government not to regard the measure as purely technical. It is a mistake to discount tried and tested methods of discipline. They may seem to be less just than the whole panoply of law—national law and international law—but they can do more good, be more merciful and, in the long run, be more just for service men. They can be better than encouraging service men to go down the route of litigation and appeals—an endless process that can sometimes result in a fatal and unnecessary outcome.
The Government introduced the Bill to satisfy their obligation to comply with the European convention on human rights. The debate has been interesting; I apologise for not having been able to attend for the opening speeches.
Among the points that struck me when I considered the Bill were the operational effects. They have caused real concern to senior officers, who have expressed their concern in another place. I have read the speeches of Lord Bramall, Lord Craig and Lord Carver. To some extent, their concerns have been satisfied, but not fully. They are right to point that out, as we are right to express our strong concern about the measure.
I want to analyse the causes of that concern. There are flaws in the 1951 ECHR. Britain played an enormous part in the introduction of that convention. It was drawn up to try to prevent the recurrence of the atrocities of the second world war. If we consider it as a broad-brushed document, produced with that objective, it is a fine piece of drafting. However, since countries have given right of individual petition—we gave that right as long ago as 1966—and as the court has been given increasingly wide powers, it has exercised those powers in an ever more detailed way, like any public body to which powers are given.
The Government's duty is to comply with the convention. When we were in government, we had a treaty obligation to comply with it and we always fulfilled that obligation. This Government have decided to incorporate the convention into our own law and that makes the obligation no greater, but it makes it more immediate. It makes the opportunity to take advantage of the convention's provisions in our domestic courts much more available.
I declare an interest as a barrister who, among other things, advises on human rights matters. We know that chambers have been set up simply to concentrate on such matters. One of them is headed by no less a person than the Prime Minister's wife—I congratulate her on that. That is not wrong. They are matters for our law, and it is right that people should be able to obtain advice.
The Bill focuses our attention on the flaws in the convention and on this country's failure to adopt ourselves to its requirements. I wish to focus on two points. The first is the derogation and the other is the reservation, such as that expressed by France and Spain when they adopted the convention.
I also declare an interest along the same lines as the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Does he not agree that the interesting thing about European Court decisions is that they do not set precedent and that they involve the passage of time? We see that particularly in article 6, which is on the right to a fair trial. Therefore, there is not the danger that he and other Conservatives Members have suggested.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me but, if he listens for a moment, he will spot the genuine dangers that need to be addressed.
The primary reason for the Bill is to deal with the case of Hood v. UK. Hood was a young soldier who regrettably went repeatedly absent without leave. Eventually, he was arrested and, because it was the commanding officer's duty at that time to remand him in custody, he was remanded in custody. That fact was not a problem. When the matter came before the High Court under a habeas corpus application, it properly confirmed that point. The man had repeatedly absconded and the only way to bring him to trial was to lock him up. Otherwise, he would have absconded again. He was locked up and the European Court on Human Rights did not object to that aspect of the proceedings. It objected to the fact that he was originally locked up by the colonel and not an impartial tribunal and that he did not have a right of appeal.
The Bill will introduce not only a right of appeal against the order of a commanding officer, but, by way of belts and braces, a right for a member of the armed forces to go straight to court martial—bypassing the colonel—if he chooses to do so. We are doing that because a court martial, which has a legally qualified president, is regarded as more likely to be accepted as an independent judicial authority within the meaning of article 6 of the convention.
We need to worry about the proposal at two levels. The first is the non-operational level, and I note that the senior officers who have debated the point said that, in this respect, the provision might be all right, subject to questions of cost in places such as Colchester and Aldershot.
It is at the operational level that the flaws in the European convention become starkly evident. It does not provide adequately for the operational requirements of the armed forces among the convention's members. That matter relates not only to the United Kingdom, but to all 40 or so members. It does not cover what in modern terms are described as dangerous armed operations. I was going to use the word "war" but of course one does not declare war nowadays. I do not think that war was declared in the cases of the Falklands, Iraq, Bosnia or Kosovo. There are perfectly good technical legal reasons for not declaring war.
Article 15 of the convention, however, allows derogation only in circumstances of war or a public emergency affecting the safety of the nation. One could not say that Kosovo was a public emergency affecting the safety of the United Kingdom. We were sending armed forces, as were the United States and other countries who took part, to try to uphold the human rights of citizens in a sphere of influence where we thought it practical and possible to do so. We now find that the European convention on human rights causes a significant muddle for military discipline in those circumstances, and that is the point that I want to address.
Where does the Minister regard derogation possible? It is my understanding—I am pretty certain that I am correct—that we still have a derogation in relation to Northern Ireland. I personally argued before the European Court of Human Rights the Brogan case, which raised the question of how long somebody could be held in custody other than at the behest of a court. In that case, it was decided that the maximum was 96 hours.
On receiving that judgment, my noble Friend Lord Hurd of Westwell immediately decided to advise this country to derogate; we did so and our derogation was upheld in the Brannigan case. That is right because, as everybody would agree, the situation in Northern Ireland provides a public emergency that affects the safety of the nation. There is no doubt about that, but the derogation does not apply to other areas where we send our armed forces.
It has been suggested by some hon. Members that it is fanciful to think that one would ever have to arrest and lock up anybody in a military situation, but unfortunately it is not. I am happy to think that it is rare and to join with all hon. Members who express the highest regard for our armed forces, their courage and their exemplary discipline. None the less, that discipline sometimes breaks down and, as Ministers will certainly acknowledge, members of the armed forces sometimes behave in ways that require them to be arrested and put into custody.
We are tending to assume that it is terribly easy to do that and to find a military or naval lawyer who will confirm those practices in a way that will justify the convention. However, in many circumstances, it may be deeply impractical to justify the convention. How far does the Minister think that operational exigencies modify our obligations under the convention? I have read the debates in the other place and I have not yet found—I may have missed it—a satisfactory answer. The Government simply must tackle that question.
My right hon. and learned Friend's speech is very helpful in throwing light on the subject. I do not know whether he is aware that, in the other place, the Government were asked time and time again, even by the tabling of an amendment, about active service. They failed point blank to answer the question that my right hon. and learned Friend is asking, but I agree that the point is extremely important because the Government assume too much from peacetime circumstances.
Certainly my reading of the debate was that a proper answer had not been given, and I am most grateful for my hon. Friend's confirmation. I specifically ask the Minister to deal with the matter one way or the other. If the Government have no answer, let him say so. We will not say, "Yah-boo." We will say that this is a problem that points out genuine difficulties with the convention that we, along with our allies and other partners in convention states, must settle down to tackle. It would be possible, in theory, for us to renounce the convention and apply to rejoin, but it would be an enormous political step to take. It would cause huge upheaval and concern, and there should be better ways of dealing with the problem.
I have said before, when referring to the convention that, in so far as one seeks to use it as a constitution, it suffers huge flaws compared with the American constitution, for example. At least the American constitution can be amended by the American nation. The European convention can be amended only by common agreement of all its rising 40 different members, and that is extraordinarily difficult to obtain. In the context of the Bill, it is necessary for the Government to find a way whereby operational efficiency will not be seriously damaged by the legalisms—I use that expression advisedly—and the legal stratagems that this kind of amendment is, to some extent, making necessary.
As for the £9 million, or £6.5 million, or whatever it is, it is unfortunate that we should have to get rid of a battalion, or at least not to have an extra one, if that is what an extra battalion costs in pay. However, the problem goes much deeper than that, although I do not shrug off the extra cost. The problem focuses on how in practice commanding officers are to be expected to deal with the matter and how the armed forces will accept the discipline of a commanding officer.
I listened with great interest to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) about the disadvantages of rushing off to court martial. My military service was very brief; I am just old enough to have been a national service man. I will not say that it is a dying breed, but it is an ageing one. I remember doing commanding officer's orders—I was assistant adjutant. The system was understood and respected, and it worked very well within those communities. However, it does not fulfil the requirements of the technicalities of the European convention. We can live with that in Aldershot or Colchester, at a certain cost. We must bend our mind to find practical solutions to the very real problems that will arise in times of active service. The Bill as drafted does not do that, and we should demonstrate our concern in the Lobby.
It is quite intimidating to speak in this debate on defence when so many eloquent people have spoken before me. I am following a former Attorney-General, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) and the quality of his speech indicated just that. The only speech from the Labour Back Benches came from the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence. A number of members of that Committee have already spoken. I shall therefore confine myself to just one aspect of the Bill, about which I am greatly concerned.
Clause 8(2)(h) permits
the proceedings of live television links or similar arrangements, including the use of such a link or other arrangement as a means of satisfying the requirement
of various sections. When I intervened on the Minister in his opening speech, he said that he was a little surprised that I should be concerned. He kindly said that he had heard me speak in other debates or in other interventions in the House and thought that I supported the use of high technology. I do, but only when it is appropriate.
In the other place, the Minister, Baroness Symons said:
It is important to remember that time moves on. The services are fully capable of exploiting successive advances in technology, which they already deploy with great success.
Of course I support the use of high technology in, for example, head-up displays in Royal Air Force aircraft or Milan wire-guided anti-tank missiles.
In what she went on to say, Baroness Symons displayed a certain naivety, as the Government often do. They think of a good marketing idea, but never quite think through the consequences. She said:
Video technology is in day-to-day use. It was in constant use throughout the recent crisis in Kosovo"—
I shall say more of that in a moment.
Baroness Symons continued:
The armed services see no reason why that technology should not be deployed equally successfully in other operational environments and for purposes such as those envisaged in the Bill."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 December 1999; Vol. 608, c. 351.]
I suspect that the armed forces could think of plenty of reasons, but chose, as they so often do, not to make their views public.
Let us consider some of the practical difficulties, which I believe will hinder the workings of justice. The Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) referred to the importance of the "circumstances and demeanour" of the case being transmitted to those in courts martial. I agree.
No matter how broad band a transmission may be, it is impossible to convey the body language that is so necessary when someone is giving evidence. It was suggested earlier in the debate that wide-angle lenses could be used, to ensure that there was no sergeant major gently prodding the witness not to say certain things, or perhaps to say certain things.
However, the use of a wide-angle lens, even with a broad band transmission on 625 lines, possibly with a 4.5 MHz band width—I throw that in merely to demonstrate that at least on this narrow topic, I know what I am talking about—will not allow the person's facial expressions to be seen, let alone body movements and all the other elements that are important when evidence is given.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we use video links every day in the criminal courts, in children's cases and others? There is increasing use of visual evidence by television and visual links in civil cases. That is to be encouraged. Why should the armed services be any different?
The hon. Gentleman wonders about the relevance of that. I shall shortly explain. Even if he does not understand the difficulty of distance and satellites, I should have thought that the Government would. If they do not, they need not worry, as I shall elucidate.
My hon. Friend tempts me to jump ahead in what I had planned to say. Of course, it would be impossible to have a satellite link, and impractical to have a fibre optic link, because even in conditions of radio silence, we all know that there are ways of tapping into fibre links. My hon. Friend, who is closely involved with the armed forces, raises a valuable point.
Where there is no radio silence order, will the person giving evidence be concerned about interception? When a broad band link is used, it is not easy to encrypt it in such a way that it cannot be decoded by others. We know that in Kosovo, to which Baroness Symons referred, the signals were intercepted. Those were not court cases, as the Bill had not been enacted at that stage, but have the Government, and more importantly, have the armed forces considered the consequences of broadcasting in an environment where the interview may be intercepted? I think possibly not. That would be particularly dangerous.
The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) asked why distance was relevant, but it is highly relevant. A court martial in Belize would require up to two satellite links. No matter how advanced we become, there is one absolute, which no scientist has yet been able to break, and that is the speed of light. With two satellite jumps, a signal from Belize would take in the order of 1.25 seconds to reach the United Kingdom, and the return signal a further 1.25 seconds—a 2.5 second delay.
The hon. Gentleman and Ministers are old enough to remember satellite telephone conversations. They were impossible. Nowadays, when one telephones the United States or even Australia, more often than not the connection is made by fibre optic narrow band cable. That travels at the speed of light. Light travels at about 186,000 miles a second, and the circumference of the earth is about 23,000 miles, so that takes a tiny fraction of a second. But when one uses satellite, which one has to do when using broad band television links, the distances are far greater.
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman as others wish to speak.
Body language and face-to-face contact are important. They would be lost in a trial by satellite link with a 2.5 second delay. Would anyone suggest that we need not turn up in the Chamber? Perhaps we could all sit in our offices or go on fancy fact-finding visits around the world.
They may be watching it, but could we have an effective debate—the stakes here are not so high as in a trial which might result in imprisonment—by satellite or by television? Of course we could not. After the Chamber was bombed in 1941, there was a discussion in 1945 or 1946 about how large the new Chamber should be, and whether it should be big enough for 650 hon. Members. It was decided to make it small—
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point is simply that we chose a small Chamber because face-to-face contact and body language are important. As I say, wide-angle lenses prevent the interpretation of body language. In addition, with a 2.5 second satellite delay it would be impossible to operate the camera remotely and to zoom in. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) is making a lot of noise. I will give way if he wishes to intervene.
There has been a debate on whether broad or narrow band communications should be used. The Minister said that broad band communications would be easy. The Government and the Ministry of Defence mainly use Inmarsat for their satellite communications. But that is not broad band; it is a narrow band communication medium. I hate to correct my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury, who made that point, but when he talked about megabytes he meant megabits. However, he made the point eloquently. The practicality is that at certain times and from certain locations broad-band transmission would not be possible. Even broad-band transmission would not enable one to pick up the nuances, the circumstances and the demeanour of people giving evidence.
Indeed, no Labour Members want to contribute to the debate.
Like so much other legislation, the Bill has not been thought through carefully. I suspect that reams of Government amendments will be tabled to it, as has happened to so many other Bills. The measure is not practical. More important, because the practicalities have not been thought through, the Bill is not just.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate. Following the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), I am tempted to say that, for the Government, the debate is a case of the biter bit.
My interest in the Bill stems at least in part from the fact that I come from a services family. My grandfather was a career soldier, my father was a naval officer in submarines during and after the second world war and I was a Royal Navy cadet. I have a specific interest in armed forces discipline because when the previous quinquennial Armed Forces Act was passed, I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Ministers of State at the Ministry of Defence. All the service disciplinary issues that are tackled only in the quinquennial Act came before a special Select Committee. Some newer hon. Members may not realise that, uniquely, the quinquennial Armed Forces Bill is considered by such a Committee, not a Standing Committee. Some hon. Members, at least one of whom is on the Opposition Benches, were involved in that Committee.
It was apparent during the passage of the Bill when we were in government that the then Opposition did not dare trust the average group of Labour Members. They consulted only very senior people—the few with services experience. Many of them had been national service men. Only those Labour Members understood services discipline. Sadly, the Labour party has forgotten some of those lessons since being in government.
As many of my hon. Friends made clear, the Bill is unnecessary. Debates in another place made it clear that our current service discipline policies could happily co-exist with the European convention on human rights. Perhaps Labour Members realise that the Bill is unnecessary; few of them have bothered to turn up to support a Government measure.
I represent a military constituency, whose main town in Camberley, and many of my constituents are serving and retired officers and service men. My main anxiety about the Bill is the dangers that it poses for the chain of command. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) said in an effective speech, and as other hon. Friends emphasised, the measure will undermine the chain of command. It is an invitation to the barrack-room lawyer.
I declare an interest. I am a barrister, and I have done some court martial work, although not for several years. Many of my friends in my former chambers still do court martial work, and one of my closest friends appears regularly in international war crimes cases. If I had longer to speak, I would refer to some of the experiences of my friends in chambers. They would share the anxieties that my hon. Friends, especially my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), expressed. Perhaps I shall have an opportunity to revert to some of those matters in a future debate. I shall not be able to serve on the Standing Committee that considers the Bill because of commitments to other Committees.
Important questions have been asked in another place and in our debate today about the practicality of implementing the Bill in the field. The judicial officers for which the Bill provides will be gold plated. Duty officers could happily undertake their role. Who will pay for those judicial officers? What will be the extra cost for the taxpayer? Where will they be located? My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield referred to the practicality of video links. I have been interested in their use in normal court proceedings, particularly those involving children, but they will not work for the reasons that he set out.
There is so much that one could say, but unfortunately time is against us and I want to ensure that my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) has the chance to press the Minister. Although I know that he will not have an effective answer to our concerns I hope that they will be taken seriously—not only in the House, but well beyond.
On behalf of my colleagues on the Front and Back Benches, I congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Defence on his elevation to the Government. I hope that his luck improves because it is absolutely clear that he has lost the argument before saying even his first word in the Government's defence from the Front Bench. [Interruption.] It is no use the Minister for the Armed Forces laughing—that is not my judgment, but that of the House.
We have debated the Second Reading of the only Bill relating to defence matters that the Government are introducing this Session. Precisely one supportive contribution was made from those on the Labour Benches, even though there are about 400 Labour Members of the House. We can draw one of two logical conclusions from that: they are totally uninterested in defence and anything to do with the defence of the nation, or they have so little stomach for the Bill that they are not even prepared to sit mutely on their Benches to provide Ministers with some encouragement and support. Not even two of the governing party's MPs came to the House to defend the measure. The House of Commons can be as eloquent in silence as when it speaks explicitly. If that silence is not damning, I do not know what is.
The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) was the only Back-Bench Labour Member to contribute. Although he spoke in his usual good-humoured and charming fashion and we all enjoyed listening to him, he did not have much enthusiasm for the Bill. I noted his remarks—he said that there was "no option", which was pretty grudging. Perhaps he meant that his Whips had given him no option. He agreed explicitly with Conservative Members that it was necessary to explore the possibility of a derogation from the European convention on human rights for armed forces discipline. That represents strong criticism of the Government's negligence in not pursuing that option.
Labour Members were not prepared to come to the House to defend their own Bill, so the Liberal auxiliaries were drafted in—two contributed, including the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch). A fine military unit is associated with his constituency, but I imagine that it has few disciplinary problems. His argument was extraordinary. He accepted our view that there would be serious difficulties in enforcing the 48-hour rule under which detention could be continued only with the agreement of a military lawyer of some kind—for example, a Trident submarine might be at sea and under the surface for months on end and the rule could not apply in those military circumstances—but argued that such exceptions did not invalidate the Bill. However, we cannot legislate knowing that there are certain situations in which the law cannot be applied. The Liberal party's approach strikes me as extraordinary.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) made a fluent and interesting speech. He said that he thought the Bill was untimely, ill-considered, expensive and damaging. Dealing with those four points lucidly and persuasively, he demonstrated that those adjectives were, in fact, an understatement in the context of the judgment that the House should make.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), who has considerable military experience, suggested that the human rights of service men might be served better by the existing system, under which the accused can opt for court martial only after the commanding officer has made his judgment. I hope that the Committee will pursue that interesting point, if the Bill is given a Committee Stage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), who was a serving officer for 12 years, spoke frankly. He told us that he had not only delivered military justice but, on one occasion, been in receipt of it, so he must be considered an expert. He made a number of important points. He clearly felt that the Bill's main weakness lay in the proposal for an appeal court after the making of a summary judgment by a commanding officer. He said that every service man would appeal if the rules of the game were those in the Bill, which prevent the appeal court from imposing a harsher sentence than that originally imposed. Someone who had been accused and dealt with by his commanding officer would have nothing to lose—only something to gain—by lodging an appeal.
It is logical to assume that, in such circumstances, everyone will proceed to the appeal stage. As my hon. Friend pointed out, if only 20 per cent. of cases were subject to appeal, there would be 5,000 appeals per year. It occurs to me that if the number of cases were 100 per cent., although I do not think that anything will ever amount to 100 per cent. in this world, there would be 25,000 appeals per year. The Government's budgeting, however, has been based on the assumption that 800 cases a year would go to the appeal court, and they have managed to run up a prospective expenditure of £6 million on that alone.
I am afraid that I cannot. I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me; there are time constraints.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) has had a distinguished military career as an airman, an RAF officer and, I believe, an RAF flying instructor. He deplored the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, as did several hon. Members of other parties. I hope that the Government will take that, at least, on board.
My hon. Friend explained that the habit of questioning a commanding officer's decisions, and the culture in which it is taken for granted that those decisions will be questioned, can easily lead to insubordination, and undermine discipline.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) tried to dismiss reservations about the 48-hour rule. He suggested that it might be difficult to bring in a military lawyer within 48 hours in serious operational circumstances but that indiscipline would be extremely rare in practice, and would probably never happen. That shows an extraordinary degree of unreality in the Liberals' approach.
As has been made clear today, this country has the finest traditions of military discipline, but under the appalling strain of military action people may break, and behave irrationally. In extreme circumstances, as we have seen recently, people may run amok, causing danger to themselves or their comrades, and it may be necessary to lock them up rapidly. In such circumstances, the commanding officer must take immediate action. He cannot release a person after 48 hours simply because he has not been able to set up a video link when, at the same time, bombs are falling and his men are exposed to danger. To suggest that would be to adopt a ridiculous approach to the management of our armed forces.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) rightly stressed the problem of overstretch and asked, very reasonably, whether, if the French had been able to obtain a derogation from the relevant provisions of the convention, we could not do the same.
My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) rightly and movingly raised the matter of Corporal Henry. I had not heard about the case. His lucid advocacy persuaded me strongly that an act of considerable injustice had been perpetrated. The whole tragedy should make us all think carefully about the provisions that are being introduced in the framework for military discipline.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) gave a characteristically brilliant and lucid legal exegesis of the problem that confronts us with the European convention on human rights. He made it clear that there is a major anomaly: article 15 provides for derogation for war or public emergency affecting the safety of the nation, but the armed conflict in which we find ourselves these days cannot legally be regarded as a war because no war has formally been declared. As the conflict takes place away from our shores, it does not qualify as affecting the safety of the nation. Clearly, that anomaly must be rectified. I hope that his argument, which was overwhelming, will be taken on board by the Government and that they will finally do something about that matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) displayed considerable erudition, which I cannot pretend to match, about video technology. I have a terrible confession to make, which may cause my summary dismissal from the spokesman role that I occupy: I do not know the difference between a megabyte and a megabit. Perhaps I shall have to join some private seminar where he will give a teach-in on the subject.
My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) said that the Bill, if it becomes an Act, will lead to the promotion of the barrack-room lawyer. That was a reasonable point. It was made credibly by my hon. Friend, who is a lawyer—not a barrack-room lawyer, but a professional lawyer.
Two points emerge clearly from our proceedings. One is that the Bill represents the increasing "legalisation" of our society—the extension of legalism to our armed services. There is no doubt that, throughout society, social ties that depended on tradition, loyalty, a sense of allegiance, personal understanding, or even those old-fashioned concepts of duty, and discipline in a common cause, are increasingly being replaced by a more atomised approach—contractual, legal, codified relationships. The Government want to introduce that culture to the armed forces where it is fundamentally inappropriate.
The second and blatant characteristic of the Government's approach to the Bill, which has been revealed in all its worrying horror, is that, when they look at military matters, they do not consider first what is in the interests of national defence. There has not been the slightest attempt to argue that the Bill is required in the interests of national defence. Even more amazing, there has not been the slightest attempt to argue that it is in the interests of justice for members of our armed services. No one on the Government Benches, including the Minister of State, has said that there was injustice at present because of the right of a commanding officer to arrest someone who had misbehaved, or to make a summary judgment.
We have an extraordinary situation. This country's armed services are in crisis. The Army is under strength, and training exercises are being abandoned. We hear from an admiral who writes in The Times that the Navy cannot carry out planned exercises because it cannot afford the fuel. The Army is running out of spares in Kosovo and perhaps elsewhere. Military procurement is in a mess. I understand—I have tabled a parliamentary question about the matter and am looking forward to an answer—that military suppliers are being asked not to invoice the Government until the new financial year because they are running out of money.
All that the Government can do against all that is to come forward with this particular form of bureaucratic, politically correct gibberish. That is the best response that we can get from them to the crisis that affects the armed services. That gibberish is the best that Ministers could come up with to deal with the deep concerns of the men and women in our armed services.
The shame of the Government's behaviour has been demonstrated graphically today by the fact that the great bulk of the parliamentary Labour party stayed away throughout this debate, and that only one of them could be borne upon to speak in favour of the Government's proposals.
I congratulate my hon. Friends on their good sense in not attending the debate, as they have not had to listen to the drivel to which I have been subjected for the past five and a half hours. However, I reciprocate the congratulations of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), and congratulate him on his first appearance as part of the Opposition defence team. I congratulate him also on the style—of which I have had some previous experience—if, alas, not on the content of his speech.
The Ministry of Defence does not introduce much primary legislation, other than the five-yearly Armed Forces Bills, which are needed to continue the life of the single services discipline Acts. The discipline Acts provide the statutory authority, subject to annual continuance orders, for the system of discipline in the armed forces, and, by extension, for the existence of the armed forces themselves. The quinquennial Bills are used not only to achieve most of what the services require in primary legislation, but, primarily, to update the service discipline Acts—for example, to reflect changes in the civilian criminal justice system. The next review is due in the 2000–01 Session.
The Armed Forces Discipline Bill covers precisely the type of territory that might be included in a quinquennial Bill, and hon. Members are right to ask why we are considering such a Bill in the current Session. The answer, of course, springs wholly from the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates in United Kingdom law the majority of the articles of the European convention on human rights. The main provisions of the 1998 Act are due to be commenced in October 2000. A principle is that all legislation should, as far as possible, be interpreted in accordance with the convention—[Interruption.]
I apologise to the House for having to go into the issues in some detail, but—having listened to the speeches by Opposition Members—it is clear that they really do not understand very much of what the Armed Forces Discipline Bill is about. It might have helped if they had read it a little more carefully, although I have much sympathy for the hon. Member—I apologise; I do not remember who it was—who described the great difficulty that he had in going through the Bill. I myself had the same problem when I first received the Bill. As I said, the Ministry of Defence does not introduce much legislation, and, therefore, I had a rude shock.
I shall not give way; alas there is not enough time to do so. I apologise to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
The Department does not deal with much legislation, and I sympathise with those who have described the sheer complexity of reading three discipline Acts simultaneously. I assure them that they have in me a wholehearted supporter for reform and consolidation of the Acts as soon as is practicable.
It will not be in the next quinquennial review—it is just not possible to do it in time for that—but I certainly hope that it will be done in time for the subsequent review. I think that that is the best offer that right. hon. and hon. Members have had on that subject for the past 20 years, since we first started considering the issue. We shall certainly do our best to do that.
Opposition Members have suggested that the Bill is merely a matter for the Government. However, when we introduce this type of Bill, we act on advice. The current chiefs of staff, of all three services, and General Sir Charles Guthrie, the Chief of the Defence Staff, have agreed that aspects of the current disciplinary system are untenable. They are also clear that abandoning summary justice is equally untenable.
The proposals in the Bill are, therefore, necessary to ensure compliance with the European convention on human rights. That is the opinion of the services, of the Department and of our council.
I shall not.
The chiefs have agreed that the alternatives to the Bill's provisions—to restrict commanding officers to dealing only with minor disciplinary offences, or to maintain the current system, in the widespread knowledge that it is incompatible with the European convention on human rights—would both destabilise the operation of summary jurisdiction and seriously undermine the authority of the chain of command.
The services, at all levels, wish to introduce compliant disciplinary procedures as soon as possible. Ideally, they would like revised procedures to be introduced during the current legislative session. That is the firm recommendation of the chiefs of staff.
The new procedures have been developed with considerable care over the past 12 months or so, with the close involvement of the services. We have sought to preserve the integrity of the system and the powers of the commanding officers to the greatest extent possible. The chiefs of staff are satisfied that those objectives have been achieved in a way that matches the needs of the services and the rights of the individual.
Due to the number of right hon. and hon. Members who spoke in the debate, I do not have long to reply, so I shall respond to as many points as I can in the time available. Alas, I shall not be able to take further interventions. If right hon. and hon. Members wish to contribute further they will have to join us in Committee or when we consider the Bill on Report. I am sure that they will do so at considerable length.
I shall start with the Hood case. One of the applicant's complaints was that his commanding officer could not be considered impartial in relation to authorising his pre-trial detention and that this was in violation of article 5 of the European convention on human rights—the right to liberty. The court concluded that the applicant's misgivings were objectively justified. That led us to introduce the changes in the Bill dealing with pre-trial custody. It also led us to review the implications for other measures where the independence of the commanding officer might be challenged. On the basis of legal advice, that resulted in the provisions in the Bill dealing with appeals.
Much has been made of the possibility of operational difficulties brought about by the provisions for pre-trial custody which relate to the situation before someone is charged. It is our general opinion that 96 hours should be the absolute maximum allowed. Of course, there might be circumstances in which pre-trial custody would not be practical, such as on a submarine. In those circumstances the provisions could not be applied. I should say that so far no service men have been subjected to custody in one of our submarines. I sincerely hope that that situation will not arise in future, but I cannot guarantee it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) spoke about civilians. Civilians are subject to service law if they are attached to our forces overseas. Those affected could include teachers, dependants, NAAFI managers and others. If they are accused of an offence under service law, they may be tried either by a standing civilian court similar to a magistrates court or by court martial, depending on the gravity of the offence. If necessary, on serious charges, they will be held in pre-trial custody. In future that will be in accordance with the procedures in the Bill. If they receive a custodial sentence, it would be served in a Home Office prison in the United Kingdom.
A point was raised on flexibility, which is clearly a matter that we could debate at great length. I shall make just three points which are related, but not closely linked. First, a wide range of legally qualified individuals will be eligible to be appointed as judicial officers. The main criteria, which are outlined in clause 7, include five years qualified experience as a solicitor or barrister. Qualifications do not have to be British: Commonwealth qualifications count. Lawyers other than those of the accused's service will be eligible to act as judicial officers in joint operations and that will provide further options.
The Bill provides for the use of live television links. I do not intend to get into a nerds' debate with the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), because we can do that in the comfort and quiet of somewhere where other people do not have to listen to us. I shall say a few words on the technical aspect later, if I have time, but they are on another page of my notes and I am trying to give as accurate a response as I can.
On flexibility and timing—the main points at issue—the Bill provides that after charge anyone whom the commanding officer believes should be held in custody should be brought before the judicial officer as soon as practicable. That would mean that it would be reasonable in appropriate circumstances to postpone the hearing until operational imperatives permit.
The point about derogation was largely answered by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell). The French have a reservation rather than a derogation, and they did not ratify the convention until the 1970s whereas we ratified in 1951. When a state accedes—and at no other time—it is entitled to make a reservation. The French chose to use theirs in relation to articles 5 and 6—the rights to liberty and fair trial, which are the very ones we are addressing in the Bill—for their system of discipline in the armed forces. The only way for an existing member state to secure a new reservation is to denounce—which means leave—the convention and then to re-accede. There are legal doubts about that, but the political implications would be even more significant, except to those such as the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth).
No, I shall not. I fear that there is not only an absence of sense on the Conservative Benches but an absence of hearing.
A state may invoke a derogation from the convention in circumstances of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation. The threatening of the life of the nation phrase is understood to apply to war as well as to other public emergencies.
On video links—I have come to the right piece of paper—we are currently trialling video equipment to ensure that the quality of the equipment is suitable for the purpose for which it will be used. The equipment currently used operates at 28 kilobytes. The equipment is capable of showing a wide-angle picture of an entire room or of zooming in on an accused in fine detail, just as it is used in court hearings, especially those involving children. Although we can use Inmarsat—the international maritime satellite—commercial links, there is no question that commercial television satellites would be used, because we have access to other means of communication. If the hon. Member for Lichfield looks over his notes, he will find that he is out by a factor of 10. It is an easy mistake to make and I have often made it myself.
Points were made about the change in the time at which the election may be made. The main reason for that change is because the procedure might appear to have some of the characteristics of an appeal. We wish to avoid any possible confusion in that respect now that we are introducing a right of appeal.
The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) raised the issue of the sentence level. Contrary to the civil procedure, we think that it should be guaranteed to a serving individual that the sentence would be no worse than he or she would be subjected to under the summary proceeding so as not to influence their decision on whether to choose a court martial. That may well be different to the civil proceeding but we start from a different premise and that is to guarantee that people are not deflected from making the proper choice.
The legal aid system is available to those subject to service law and broadly mirrors the criteria applied by the civilian court. I regret that I cannot cover in the time available any more of the points that were made, much as I would like to. Existing procedures have served the armed forces well, but we cannot safely persist with all aspects of them—hence the Bill, which I commend to the House.
|Division No. 82]||[6.59 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Beggs, Roy|
|Amess, David||Bercow, John|
|Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James||Beresford, Sir Paul|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Blunt, Crispin|
|Baldry, Tony||Body, Sir Richard|
|Boswell, Tim||Letwin, Oliver|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia||Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)|
|Brady, Graham||Lidington, David|
|Brazier, Julian||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Luff, Peter|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Burns, Simon||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Butterfill, John||McIntosh, Miss Anne|
|Cash, William||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney||Malins, Humfrey|
|(Chipping Barnet)||Maples, John|
|Chope, Christopher||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian|
|Clappison, James||Moss, Malcolm|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth||Norman, Archie|
|(Rushcliffe)||O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)|
|Collins, Tim||Ottaway, Richard|
|Colvin, Michael||Page, Richard|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||Paice, James|
|Cran, James||Paterson, Owen|
|Curry, Rt Hon David||Pickles, Eric|
|Davies, Quentin (Grantham)||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)||Prior, David|
|Day, Stephen||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Duncan, Alan||Robertson, Laurence|
|Duncan Smith, Iain||Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)|
|Evans, Nigel||Ruffley, David|
|Faber, David||St Aubyn, Nick|
|Fabricant, Michael||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Fallon, Michael||Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian|
|Flight, Howard||Shepherd, Richard|
|Forth, Rt Hon Eric||Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)|
|Fox, Dr Liam||Soames, Nicholas|
|Fraser, Christopher||Spelman, Mrs Caroline|
|Gale, Roger||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|Garnier, Edward||Spring, Richard|
|Gibb, Nick||Steen, Anthony|
|Gill, Christopher||Streeter, Gary|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl||Swayne, Desmond|
|Gray, James||Syms, Robert|
|Green, Damian||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Greenway, John||Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)|
|Grieve, Dominic||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Hammond, Philip||Townend, John|
|Hawkins, Nick||Tredinnick, David|
|Hayes, John||Trend, Michael|
|Heald, Oliver||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David||Viggers, Peter|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas||Walter, Robert|
|Horam, John||Wardle, Charles|
|Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)||Waterson, Nigel|
|Hunter, Andrew||Whitney, Sir Raymond|
|Jack, Rt Hon Michael||Whittingdale, John|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Wilkinson, John|
|Johnson Smith,||Willetts, David|
|Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Wilshire, David|
|Key, Robert||Yeo, Tim|
|King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Kirkbride, Miss Julie|
|Laing, Mrs Eleanor||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Mr. John Randall and|
|Lansley, Andrew||Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Austin, John|
|Alexander, Douglas||Banks, Tony|
|Allan, Richard||Barnes, Harry|
|Allen, Graham||Barron, Kevin|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Bayley, Hugh|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary||Beard, Nigel|
|Ashton, Joe||Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)||Fitzpatrick, Jim|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Fitzsimons, Lorna|
|Best, Harold||Flint, Caroline|
|Betts, Clive||Flynn, Paul|
|Blair, Rt Hon Tony||Follett, Barbara|
|Blizzard, Bob||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Blunkett, Rt Hon David||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Boateng, Rt Hon Paul||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)|
|Borrow, David||Foster, Michael J (Worcester)|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Foulkes, George|
|Brand, Dr Peter||Fyfe, Maria|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||George, Bruce (Walsall S)|
|Browne, Desmond||Gerrard, Neil|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Gibson, Dr Ian|
|Burden, Richard||Gilroy, Mrs Linda|
|Burgon, Colin||Godman, Dr Norman A|
|Burstow, Paul||Godsiff, Roger|
|Butler, Mrs Christine||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Byers, Rt Hon Stephen||Gordon, Mrs Eileen|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)|
|Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)||Grocott, Bruce|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Hain, Peter|
|Cann, Jamie||Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)|
|Caplin, Ivor||Hall, Patrick (Bedford)|
|Casale, Roger||Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)|
|Caton, Martin||Hancock, Mike|
|Cawsey, Ian||Heal, Mrs Sylvia|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)|
|Clapham, Michael||Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)|
|Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)||Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)|
|Clark, Paul (Gillingham)||Hepburn, Stephen|
|Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)||Heppell, John|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)||Hesford, Stephen|
|Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)||Hewitt, Ms Patricia|
|Clelland, David||Hill, Keith|
|Cohen, Harry||Hinchliffe, David|
|Coleman, Iain||Hodge, Ms Margaret|
|Colman, Tony||Hoey, Kate|
|Connarty, Michael||Hood, Jimmy|
|Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)||Hope, Phil|
|Cooper, Yvette||Hopkins, Kelvin|
|Corbett, Robin||Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)|
|Corston, Jean||Hutton, John|
|Cousins, Jim||Iddon, Dr Brian|
|Cox, Tom||Illsley, Eric|
|Cranston, Ross||Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)|
|Crausby, David||Jamieson, David|
|Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)||Jenkins, Brian|
|Cryer, John (Hornchurch)||Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)|
|Cummings, John||Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)|
|Davey, Edward (Kingston)||Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)|
|Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)|
|Davidson, Ian||Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)||Keeble, Ms Sally|
|Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)||Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)|
|Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)|
|Denham, John||Keetch, Paul|
|Dismore, Andrew||Kelly, Ms Ruth|
|Dobbin, Jim||Kemp, Fraser|
|Donohoe, Brian H||Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)|
|Doran, Frank||Ladyman, Dr Stephen|
|Dowd, Jim||Laxton, Bob|
|Drown, Ms Julia||Leslie, Christopher|
|Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)||Levitt, Tom|
|Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)||Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)|
|Edwards, Huw||Lewis, Terry (Worsley)|
|Efford, Clive||Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen|
|Ennis, Jeff||Linton, Martin|
|Etherington, Bill||Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)|
|Fearn, Ronnie||Love, Andrew|
|Field, Rt Hon Frank||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Fisher, Mark||McCabe, Steve|
|McCafferty, Ms Chris||Rogers, Allan|
|McDonagh, Siobhain||Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff|
|McDonnell, John||Rooney, Terry|
|McIsaac, Shona||Rowlands, Ted|
|McKenna, Mrs Rosemary||Roy, Frank|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Ruddock, Joan|
|McNamara, Kevin||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|McNulty, Tony||Ryan, Ms Joan|
|MacShane, Denis||Sarwar, Mohammad|
|Mactaggart, Fiona||Sawford, Phil|
|McWalter, Tony||Sedgemore, Brian|
|McWilliam, John||Shaw, Jonathan|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Sheerman, Barry|
|Mallaber, Judy||Shipley, Ms Debra|
|Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter||Short, Rt Hon Clare|
|Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)||Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Singh, Marsha|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Marshall-Andrews, Robert||Smith, Angela (Basildon)|
|Martlew, Eric||Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)|
|Maxton, John||Smith, John (Glamorgan)|
|Meacher, Rt Hon Michael||Snape, Peter|
|Meale, Alan||Spellar, John|
|Merron, Gillian||Squire, Ms Rachel|
|Michael, Rt Hon Alun||Starkey, Dr Phyllis|
|Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Milburn, Rt Hon Alan||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|Miller, Andrew||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|Mitchell, Austin||Stoate, Dr Howard|
|Moffatt, Laura||Straw, Rt Hon Jack|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Stuart, Ms Gisela|
|Moran, Ms Margaret||Stunell, Andrew|
|Morley, Elliot||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)||Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|Mountford, Kali||Timms, Stephen|
|Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie||Tipping, Paddy|
|Mullin, Chris||Todd, Mark|
|Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)||Trickett, Jon|
|Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)||Truswell, Paul|
|Naysmith, Dr Doug||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)||Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)|
|O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)||Turner, Neil (Wigan)|
|O'Hara, Eddie||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Olner, Bill||Tynan, Bill|
|O'Neill, Martin||Vis, Dr Rudi|
|Pearson, Ian||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Pendry, Tom||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Pickthall, Colin||Wareing, Robert N|
|Pike, Peter L||White, Brian|
|Plaskitt, James||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Pollard, Kerry||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Pond, Chris||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Pope, Greg||(Swansea W)|
|Pound, Stephen||Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)|
|Powell, Sir Raymond||Willis, Phil|
|Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)||Wills, Michael|
|Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)||Winnick, David|
|Prescott, Rt Hon John||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Woodward, Shaun|
|Purchase, Ken||Woolas, Phil|
|Radice, Rt Hon Giles||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Rapson, Syd||Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)|
|Raynsford, Nick||Wyatt, Derek|
|Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)|
|Rendel, David||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)||Mrs. Anne McGuire and|
|Roche, Mrs Barbara||Mr. Don Touhig.|
|The House divided: Ayes 276, Noes 131.|
|Division No. 83]||[7.11 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Dobbin, Jim|
|Alexander, Douglas||Dowd, Jim|
|Allan, Richard||Drown, Ms Julia|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary||Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Edwards, Huw|
|Austin, John||Efford, Clive|
|Banks, Tony||Ennis, Jeff|
|Barnes, Harry||Etherington, Bill|
|Barron, Kevin||Feam, Ronnie|
|Bayley, Hugh||Field, Rt Hon Frank|
|Beard Nigel||Fisher, Mark|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret||Fitzpatrick, jim|
|Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)||Rjnt Caro|lne|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)||Flynn, Paul|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Follett, Barbara|
|Best, Harold||Foster, Rt, Hon Derek|
|Betts, Clive||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Blizzard, Bob||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)|
|Boateng, Rt Hon Paul||Foster, Michael J (Worcester)|
|Borrow, David||Foulkes, George|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Fyfe, Maria|
|Brand, Dr Peter||George, Bruce (Walsall S)|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Gerrard, Neil|
|Browne, Desmond||Gibson, Dr Ian|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Gilroy, Mrs Linda|
|Burden, Richard||Godman, Dr Norman A|
|Burgon, Colin||Godsiff, Roger|
|Butler, Mrs Christine||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Byers, Rt Hon Stephen||Gordon, Mrs Eileen|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)|
|Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)||Grocott, Bruce|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Hain, Peter|
|Cann Jamie||Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)|
|Caplin, Ivor||Hall, Patrick (Bedford)|
|Casale, Roger||Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)|
|Caton, Martin||Heal, Mrs Sylvia|
|Cawsey, Ian||Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)|
|Clapham, Michael||Hepburn, Stephen|
|Clark, Paul (Gillingham)||Heppell, John|
|Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)||Hesford, Stephen|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)||Hill, Keith|
|Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)||Hinchliffe, David|
|Cohen, Harry||Hodge, Ms Margaret|
|Coleman, Iain||Hoey, Kate|
|Colman, Tony||Hood, Jimmy|
|Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)||Hope, Phil|
|Cooper, Yvette||Hopkins, Kelvin|
|Corbett, Robin||Hughes, Ms Beveriey (Stretford)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)|
|Corston, Jean||Hutton, John|
|Cousins, Jim||Iddon, Dr Brian|
|Cox, Tom||Illsley, Eric|
|Cranston, Ross||Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)|
|Crausby, David||Jamieson, David|
|Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)||Jenkins, Brian|
|Cryer, John (Hornchurch)||Johnoson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)|
|Cryer, John (Hornchurch)||Jones Mre Fiona (Newark)|
|Cummings, John||Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)|
|Davey, Edward (Kingston)||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)|
|Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)||Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa|
|Davidson, Ian||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)||Keeble, Ms Sally|
|Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)||Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)|
|Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)|
|Denham, John||Keetch, Paul|
|Dismore, Andrew||Kelly, Ms Ruth|
|Kemp, Fraser||Radice, Rt Hon Giles|
|Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)||Rapson, Syd|
|Ladyman, Dr Stephen||Raynsford, Nick|
|Laxton, Bob||Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)|
|Leslie, Christopher||Rendel, David|
|Levitt, Tom||Roche, Mrs Barbara|
|Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)||Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff|
|Lewis, Terry (Worsley)||Rooney, Terry|
|Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen||Rowlands, Ted|
|Linton, Martin||Roy, Frank|
|Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|Love, Andrew||Ryan, Ms Joan|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Sarwar, Mohammad|
|McCabe, Steve||Sawford, Phil|
|McCafferty, Ms Chris||Sedgemore, Brian|
|McDonagh, Siobhain||Shaw, Jonathan|
|McDonnell, John||Sheerman, Barry|
|McIsaac, Shona||Shipley, Ms Debra|
|McKenna, Mrs Rosemary||Short, Rt Hon Clare|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)|
|McNamara, Kevin||Singh, Marsha|
|McNulty, Tony||Skinner, Dennis|
|MacShane, Denis||Smith, Angela (Basildon)|
|Mactaggart, Fiona||Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)|
|McWalter, Tony||Smith, John (Glamorgan)|
|McWilliam, John||Snape, Peter|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Spellar, John|
|Mallaber, Judy||Starkey, Dr Phyllis|
|Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|Marshall, David (Shettteston)||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Stoate, Dr Howard|
|Marshall-Andrews, Robert||Straw, Rt Hon Jack|
|Martlew, Eric||Stuart, Ms Gisela|
|Maxton, John||Stunell, Andrew|
|Meacher, Rt Hon Michael||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|Meate, Alan||Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Michie, Bill (Shefld Heeley)||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|Milburn, Rt Hon Alan||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Miller, Andrew||Timms, Stephen|
|Moffatt, Laura||Tipping, Paddy|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Todd, Mark|
|Moran, Ms Margaret||Trickett, Jon|
|Moriey, Elliot||Truswell, Paul|
|Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelte (B'ham Yardley)||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)||Turner, Neil (Wigan)|
|Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Mountford, Kali||Tynan, Bill|
|Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie||vis, Dr Rudi|
|Mullin, Chris||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)||Wareing, Robert N|
|Naysmith, Dr Doug||White, Brian|
|O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)||Wicks, Malcolm|
|O'Hara, Eddie||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Pearson, Ian||Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)|
|Pendry, Tom||Willis, Phil|
|Pickthall, Colin||wills, Michael|
|Pike, Peter L||Winnick, David|
|Plaskitt, James||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Pollard, Kerry||Woodward, Shaun|
|Pond, Chris||Woolas, Phil|
|Pound, Stephen||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Powell, Sir Raymond||Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)|
|Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)||Wyatt, Derek|
|Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Prescott, Rt Hon John||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Mrs. Anne McGuire and|
|Purchase, Ken||Mr. Don Touhig.|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Amess, David||Kirkbride, Miss Julie|
|Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James||Laing, Mrs Eleanor|
|Baldry, Tony||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Beggs, Roy||Lansley, Andrew|
|Bercow, John||Leigh, Edward|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Letwin, Oliver|
|Blunt, Crispin||Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)|
|Body, Sir Richard||Lidington, David|
|Boswell, Tim||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Brady, Graham||Luff, Peter|
|Brazier, Julian||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||McIntosh, Miss Anne|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Malins, Humfrey|
|Burns, Simon||Maples, John|
|Butterfill, John||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian|
|Cash, William||Moss, Malcolm|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney||Nicholls, Patrick|
|(Chipping Barnet)||Norman, Archie|
|Chope, Christopher||O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)|
|Clappison, James||Ottaway, Richard|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)||Page, Richard|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth||Paice, James|
|Collins, Tim||Pickles, Eric|
|Colvin, Michael||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||Prior, David|
|Cran, James||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Curry, Rt Hon David||Robertson, Laurence|
|Davies, Quentin (Grantham)||Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)|
|Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)||Ruffley, David|
|Day, Stephen||St Aubyn, Nick|
|Duncan, Alan||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Duncan Smith, Iain||Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian|
|Evans, Nigel||Shepherd, Richard|
|Faber, David||Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)|
|Fabricant, Michael||Soames, Nicholas|
|Fallon, Michael||Spelman, Mrs Caroline|
|Flight, Howard||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|Forth, Rt Hon Eric||Spring, Richard|
|Fox, Dr Liam||Steen, Anthony|
|Fraser, Christopher||Streeter, Gary|
|Gale, Roger||Swayne, Desmond|
|Garnier, Edward||Syms, Robert|
|Gibb, Nick||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Gill, Christopher||Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Gray, James||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Green, Damian||Tredinnick, David|
|Greenway, John||Trend, Michael|
|Grieve, Dominic||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie||Viggers, Peter|
|Hammond, Philip||Walter, Robert|
|Hawkins, Nick||Wardle, Charles|
|Hayes, John||Waterson, Nigel|
|Heald, Oliver||Whitney, Sir Raymond|
|Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David||Whittingdale, John|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Horam, John||Wilkinson, John|
|Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)||Willetts, David|
|Hunter, Andrew||Wilshire, David|
|Jack, Rt Hon Michael||Yeo, Tim|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Johnson Smith,||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Mr. John Randall and|
|Key, Robert||Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.|