Clause 8 — Desertion

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 22nd May 2006.

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Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), Home Affairs 4:45 pm, 22nd May 2006

But the point that I have been trying to make concerns the circumstances in which someone should be charged with desertion. In any case, he is not a Mr., but a flight lieutenant.

Trooper Griffin behaved with great courage, despite the fact that he was being paid a great deal more money every day than others of his rank and that he was in arguably the most prestigious armed organisation in the world. None the less, he had the courage to approach his commanding officer and say, "Enough is enough." I had similar instances, and I like to think that I dealt with them with fairness, kindness and compassion. I like to think that those are the watchwords of the commanders of our armed forces and that they deal not just with their own men, but with the Queen's enemies using the same rule of thumb.

Let us not talk about desertion, but let us say that a trained sustained-fire machine gunner, who carries the maximum firepower of his platoon, decides to absent himself—if he decides that he will not face the enemy, but would rather let down his mates—and that turns into desertion. I fear that we need to have the power to charge that man with desertion. The sentence in clause 8 is not a minimum sentence, but a maximum sentence. It has not been applied readily over the past several years. The plain fact is that if that man—it is, let us face it, likely to be a man—deserts from his unit, the punishment he faces from the men whom he let down will be administered in the back streets of Nottingham or Mansfield and military law probably needs to be in place to protect him from those whom he has let down.

We need to have a penalty for desertion. The Bill would make military law stronger, but the amendments would do nothing to help the soldiers, sailors and airmen, and the officers who have to discipline them. In fact, the amendments would undermine discipline. I understand and respect the political points that have been made by Labour Members, but they are not applicable in this case. We run the risk of confusing an extremely important issue.