Clause 8 — Desertion

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 22nd May 2006.

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Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South 5:45 pm, 22nd May 2006

Clause 8 does not represent an improvement on the French system. It will mean that officers serving on the front line who can see at first hand what is happening—unlike us, who simply have to read the reports that are presented to us here—could face substantial charges. It is incumbent on the House to say that such charges are inappropriate to the world in which modern warfare is being conducted, and to the expectations and rights of those young men and women who have volunteered to put their lives on the line in the service of this country.

Let us take a step back from the debate for a moment. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a huge fuss about the Home Office releasing people who have a track record of murder or rape. People who have committed criminal offences such as those can get early release from prison. To enshrine in the Bill the prospect of life imprisonment for a refusal to kill seems to make a nonsense of the ethical responsibilities that Britain should be carrying in the modern world.

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Julian Todd
Posted on 9 Oct 2006 11:27 am (Report this annotation)

This is about the only speech in the whole debate that put the question into the context of modern civilian culture.

What is surprising in this debate is that there is no mention of the affect on recruitment here. One of the reasons they feel able to take the people who join the armed forces for a ride is that they are considered "volunteers", and have therefore "freely" accepted all the conditions -- even if they don't know them.

No polling results were mentioned of potential recruits as to how much this law would affect their decision to join. No discussion about whether this sentencing might actually change morale internally. No sense of whether there might need to be some way out for people who join up when they are, for all intents and purposes, still children. They are presiding over a legalized trap here, and stating that only the people who are away from the front lines should have any say over the legitimacy of the battle.

It's like the debate on marriage, where they would all be arguing that it should be for life, and not acknowledging that there is some kind of reality out there that requires a divorce law.