Third Reading

Part of Armed Forces Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 10th October 2011.

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Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench 3:08 pm, 10th October 2011

My Lords, the amendment is in the names also of the noble Lords, Lord Astor of Hever, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Ramsbotham.

I am much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, for inviting me to lead on this amendment. The issue is one that I first raised at Second Reading last July. I felt strongly that Clause 2, dealing with the military covenant, was not getting the visibility and treatment that its importance to all service personnel, to veterans and to their families-a very large constituency-deserved.

The Prime Minister and other senior Ministers have repeatedly stressed the high esteem in which they hold the Armed Forces and said that they were determined to give formal recognition to this as part of the law of the land. However, the Bill before the House inserts a single clause giving meaning to those sentiments at the tail end of ad hoc and miscellaneous provisions of the Armed Forces Act 2006. Regrettably, it will follow immediately after Section 359, which deals with pardons for servicemen executed for disciplinary offences in World War I.

There was a stark mismatch between the fine sentiments of the Ministers and the derisory legislative approach intended. I argued for a special part of its own for the covenant in the Act to emphasise and reflect the importance of this government initiative.

The collusion of noble Lords who support me in this amendment demonstrates that a very satisfactory outcome has been reached-albeit after some hesitation by the Government. This amendment inserts Clause 2 as a new stand-alone Part 16A of the 2006 Act. This far more adequately reflects the importance of this new legislative initiative of the Government.

I am most grateful for the way that both the noble Lords, Lord Astor and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, have helped in achieving this satisfactory outcome. I pay tribute to their efforts in support of an amendment that, from the time that I first raised it, has engaged their personal interest and sympathy. I am also very impressed by the strenuous efforts of all the officials involved, working in very shortened timeframes, to get this amendment, and Amendments 5, 6 and 7, into shape and through all the necessary hoops of government. They have done us all proud. I thank and congratulate them. Thanks to all these efforts, Amendment 1 has, I believe, the Government's full support. I beg to move.