Required Custodial Sentences

Part of Schedule 3 – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 2 April 2001.

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Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate 7:45, 2 April 2001

I shall abide by your injunction, Sir Alan, and refer to the detail of the schedule.

To pick up the points made by the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen), he omitted to mention a matter that is pertinent to considerations under section 70 of the Army Act 1955. Section 70 takes the Act into civil procedure and, of course, there is an appeal mechanism that ends, effectively, at the Courts-Martial Appeal Court and then the House of Lords. I share the views of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) and, whatever the mechanism about which the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead is concerned, the system is safe and just and there is an appeal route.

Although the hon. Gentleman's arguments about the wider courts martial system are perfectly reasonable in terms of other European countries, the schedule should be accepted as it stands. As he suggests, the situation that he described pretty much applies in Germany, where all such offenders who commit civil offences are dealt with under the civil law, not a provision similar to the 1955 Act or the schedule.

The schedule should stand part of the Bill precisely because of the operational experience of the British Army and the inability to differentiate between peace and war, which was displayed by the hon. Gentleman and which shows why our system is robust. I draw the Committee's attention to the example that he and the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the Chairman of the Defence Committee, witnessed during a Defence Committee visit to Kosovo in November 1999.

The right hon. Gentleman may recall the circumstances in which soldiers from a British unit serving in Kosovo some six months after the occupation by NATO forces conducted what appeared, on the face of it, to be the robbery of a store in Pristina. We do not know what happened subsequently under the justice system, but they had apparently committed a serious offence. Is the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead seriously suggesting that we should have set up a civil trial in the United Kingdom and flown the jury and everyone else out there so that they could see the premises? Should we have had proceedings to-ing and fro-ing between the UK and Kosovo? That would have been wholly inappropriate in such circumstances and the example shows that there is no neat dividing line between peace and war for our armed forces. That is why we need the schedule.