Clause 8 — Desertion

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 22nd May 2006.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 6:00 pm, 22nd May 2006

Best to end when one is winning. The message for the Government is that a significant body of Members in Committee, regardless of party, believe that life imprisonment is a disproportionate sanction in such cases. [Interruption.] I said that a significant body agree; there will of course be others who disagree. I am not asking for consensus—yet.

The discussion has centred on the argument that this is a modern, volunteer and professional Army. My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham said that if it was a conscript Army, that would be a different matter altogether and life imprisonment most probably would not be appropriate. There is no difference between us, and if we ever move toward a conscript Army, we will need to debate the matter, because I agree that such a sentence would not be appropriate. However, a modern, volunteer, professional Army should not be motivated by fear of the sanction of life imprisonment, either.

This legislation fails to show a modern understanding of why people desert. They desert because of fear or trauma, or out of conscience, and we should accept that. We should not penalise them with life imprisonment; we should accept that it is a disproportionate sanction, not the appropriate one.

It has been argued that we cannot allow individual soldiers to exercise a right of veto over action, but the reverse is the case.