Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order 2019 - Motion to Approve

– in the House of Lords at 3:56 pm on 20th February 2019.

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Moved by Earl Howe

That the draft Order laid before the House on 24 January be approved.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order is a routine item of business. It is a short but vital document to preserve the existence of one of our greatest assets—the Armed Forces. The order also serves to remind us that the existence of the Armed Forces is not just a matter of executive decision, but also a matter that requires regular parliamentary consent. We provide that consent through our annual consideration of the legislation governing the Armed Forces: the Armed Forces Act 2006. This reflects the constitutional requirement under the Bill of Rights that a standing army, and, by extension, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, may not be maintained without the consent of Parliament.

It is worthy of note that a change was proposed by the Ministry of Defence in the Armed Forces Bill 2005. That Bill did not make any provision for annual renewal, but this was resisted by the Defence Committee and the Select Committee that considered the 2005 Bill in another place. Both committees favoured retaining the present arrangements. The Ministry of Defence amended that Bill, and the practice of annual renewal continues.

That brings me back to the draft order we are considering this afternoon, which is to continue in force the 2006 Act for a further year, until 11 May 2020. Much of what I am about to say has been said in the past, but it is important to explain, and to place on this year’s record, the process for renewal, and to set out the consequences if that does not happen. Every five years, renewal is by Act of Parliament—an Armed Forces Act. The most recent was in 2016, and there must be another by the end of 2021. Between each five-yearly Act, annual renewal is by Order in Council, and the draft order that we are considering today is such an order.

The Armed Forces Act 2016 provided for the continuation in force of the Armed Forces Act 2006 until the end of 11 May 2017, and for further renewal thereafter by Order in Council for up to a year at a time, but not beyond 2021. If the Armed Forces Act 2006 is not renewed by this Order in Council before the end of 11 May 2019, it will automatically expire. If the 2006 Act expires, the legislation that governs the Armed Forces and the provisions necessary for their maintenance as disciplined bodies would cease to exist.

Discipline is essential. It maintains the order necessary for the Armed Forces to accomplish their mission to serve our country, whether at home or abroad. The 2006 Act provides nearly all the provisions for the existence of a system for the Armed Forces of command, discipline and justice. It creates offences and provides for the investigation of alleged offences, the arrest, holding in custody and charging of individuals accused of committing an offence, and for them to be dealt with summarily by their commanding officer or tried in the court martial. Offences under the 2006 Act include any criminal offence under the law of England and Wales, and those which are peculiar to service, such as misconduct towards a superior officer and disobedience to lawful commands. The Act applies to members of the Armed Forces at all times, wherever in the world they are serving.

If the 2006 Act was to expire, the duty of members of the Armed Forces to obey lawful commands, and the powers and procedures under which this duty is enforced, would no longer have effect. Commanding officers and the court martial would have no powers of punishment for failure to obey a lawful command or for other disciplinary or criminal misconduct. Members of the Armed Forces would still owe allegiance to Her Majesty, but Parliament would have removed the power of enforcement. Service personnel do not have contracts of employment and so have no duties as employees. Their obligation is essentially a duty to obey lawful commands.

The 2006 Act also provides for other important matters for the Armed Forces, such as enlistment, pay and the redress of complaints. The continuation of the Armed Forces Act 2006 is essential for the maintenance of discipline. Discipline is fundamental to the existence of our Armed Forces and to their continued success, whether at home supporting emergency services and local communities, and protecting our fishing fleet as well as our shores; playing their part to counter terrorism or to combat people smuggling and drug smuggling; distributing vital humanitarian aid; saving endangered species; or defeating Daesh in Iraq and Syria. The continuation is to ensure a sound legal basis for them to continue to afford us their vital protection. I hope that noble Lords will support the draft order and I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Morris of Aberavon Lord Morris of Aberavon Labour 4:00 pm, 20th February 2019

My Lords, I do not know how often we debate the consequences of the Bill of Rights 1688, but, as the noble Earl said, this is one of them. The Bill prohibited a standing army without the consent of Parliament—a reaction, I suspect, to Cromwell’s stewardship.

When I was a young MP, we had an annual Army Act, which provided an opportunity to raise any issue concerning the Armed Forces. It was a day out for old warriors, from Colonel Wigg up or down, as the case was, to bait Jack Profumo, Christopher Soames and other War Office Ministers. I joined in, despite my limited experience as a Welch Fusilier subaltern, whose occasional job was to be in charge of 10 men, fully armed, taking the night train from Hanover to Berlin, with the blinds down, in order to assert our right to go from the British zone to the Berlin sector. Fortunately, World War III did not break out. Now, instead, we debate annually a statutory instrument, as the Minister said, with the same opportunity to raise any issue concerning the Armed Forces.

The 2006 Act is subject to a quinquennial review, and the next Bill will be in 2020. Knowing this, and following the case of Sergeant Blackman, I took the opportunity to alert the Ministry of Defence to my concern with some aspects of the court-martial system. I did this through Questions in September and October 2017, and a short debate in November 2017. I thought that my dual experience as both a Defence Minister and Attorney-General might be useful.

I was fortunate in my timing with the reply from the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, who said that,

“the Government have decided that the time is now right for an independent and more in-depth look at the service justice system so that we can be assured that it is as effective as it can be for the 21st century”.—[Official Report, 23/10/17; col. 766.]

I was not alone in criticising some aspects of the court-martial system. Indeed, the Judge Advocate-General, Judge Blackett, did exactly that, and I pray in aid his comments.

The MoD moved with unparalleled speed after I raised the issues in the House—I suspect that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, was behind this—by appointing a retired circuit judge, the former Chief Naval Judge Advocate, His Honour Judge Shaun Lyons, to conduct the review. I was fortunate, through the good offices of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd —the former Lord Chief Justice, as we all know—and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, to meet Mr Lyons and to raise with him some of the issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, said in the November 2017 debate that,

“we look forward to the report of his review in around a year’s time”.—[Official Report, 23/11/17; col. 390.]

Specifically I ask, now that we are in February 2019— 15 months on—and because there has been no public consultation, could noble Lords see the report if it is ready now, before any more work is done on the next Bill?

As the Attorney-General, I initiated and signed a protocol deciding, in those cases where civilians are involved, the most appropriate judicial machinery. I trust that the protocol is working well. Given the reduction in the size of the Armed Forces, despite the fact that various courts have held military courts to be human rights-compliant, there is a case for bringing military courts more into line with civil courts, particularly for the most serious cases, which are my concern. Experienced military prosecutors will ensure that the services’ general discipline needs will be protected. I emphasise that it is the most serious cases, such as murder and rape, which should be tried by a jury, with a judge appointed by the President of the Queen’s Bench Division, who allocates members of the High Court Bench for the more serious cases in our courts, where he or she sees the need. This should be a routine matter as opposed to an occasional departure. The very fact of the rarity of murder and rape cases reinforces my view that an unfair burden is imposed on the judge advocate when such cases are the day-to-day business of High Court judges, who deal with these matters, and licensed senior circuit judges.

The membership of the court martial is hierarchical, and I am told that the most junior member is asked to express his conclusions first. This is not an easy task for a junior member of the court martial, who might be sitting for the first time. Secondly, court-martial verdicts are decided by a majority. You can be convicted of murder or other serious offences by a three to two verdict. This is hardly 21st-century stuff. Thirdly, the voting is secret. In New Zealand in recent years, using the UK system as a model, they have decided that convictions must be unanimous. In our civil courts, there are strict procedural rules for juries to endeavour, first of all, to reach a unanimous verdict and, if they fail to do so, to reach a verdict by a majority of 10 to two where there is a jury of 12. Lastly on that point, the voting figures are made known to the public, to the court and particularly to the accused.

I trust the review will address the problems which I raised in some detail in 2017, and be bold despite the findings in the past on human rights compliance with the existing procedures; and also fulfil the Government’s aim, as the noble Baroness said in November 2017, of a court-martial system that is effective and also fair, in my words, for the 21st century.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his exceptionally helpful introduction to this important issue. As he said, this is a vital matter, which we review through an Act every five years and a renewal every year. It illustrates the fact that this is a parliamentary democracy in the United Kingdom. Sometimes, some people, particularly down the other end, forget that this is a parliamentary democracy; Parliament’s role needs to be emphasised, as it is in this continuation order. It is much better than a presidential system, where the president is the commander-in-chief and has more extensive—almost unlimited—powers than the head of Government in the United Kingdom, in a parliamentary democracy. I welcome that.

I want to take the opportunity to raise a related matter. I thank the Minister for his recent excellent written replies regarding an accident that took place in Scotland on 1 September 1994. Someone who saw his replies remarked, “These are exceptional”. Normally, written replies from Ministers, particularly in the House of Lords, are scanty, whereas these were full and helpful.

The incident took place on 1 September 1994 when RAF Tornado ZG708 crashed on a low-flying exercise. Flight Lieutenant Peter Mosley, the pilot, and Flight Lieutenant Patrick Harrison, the navigator, were both killed instantly. The nephew of one of the flight lieutenants, Jimmy Jones, has written to me again. I raised this issue in the other place in 1994 when I was a Member of Parliament and I have raised it on a number of other occasions, because the board of inquiry into the accident was completely inadequate and the relatives received no explanation of why their loved ones were killed and no indication of the cause of the accident.

In Scotland, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, will know, the fatal accident inquiry procedure does not commence automatically in relation to such incidents, and there was no such inquiry. This is an astonishing situation. I do not know if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, recalls the situation but he will certainly know the general legal framework in Scotland, where we do not have automatic FAIs into these military accidents. It seems a strange anomaly.

In thanking the Minister for the written replies, I ask him now, in the light of the plea I am making, to pursue this matter further with the Scottish Government and the Law Officers in Scotland to see whether something can be done, even at this late stage, to satisfy the relatives’ concerns. It is important that we are seen to be fair to these two men, who were prepared to fight, and ultimately to give their lives, on behalf of the United Kingdom. We should give some explanation to their relatives.

I would like to return to some of the provisions of the order. It says:

“The territorial extent of this instrument is the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the British Overseas Territories except Gibraltar”.

Why is Gibraltar excluded? Our soldiers, sailors and airmen presumably serve there. They may be covered by some Gibraltar legislation, but it is important to know why Gibraltar is excluded from the order. I think that is my only question.

Also, Article 10(1) says that:

“There has been no formal consultation on this instrument”.

Given the concern expressed about other orders, why has this not happened?

Finally, the best sentence—or part of a sentence—in this order is in Article 8(1):

“This instrument does not relate to withdrawal from the European Union”.

To that I say, “Hallelujah!” Today, almost everything we are doing here and in Grand Committee relates to the proposed withdrawal from the European Union. It is a great relief that, squeezed in among all those other EU exit statutory instruments, we are at last doing something that is relevant to us in the United Kingdom irrespective of whether we are in or out of the European Union.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench 4:15 pm, 20th February 2019

My Lords, I support this legislation. Other noble Lords and I have pressed on a number of occasions for new arrangements to deal with the difficulties that Armed Forces involved in conflict experience with human rights legislation. Such difficulties are well known to this House. What steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to address them, hopefully with a view to introducing such a measure when the Act is renewed in 2020?

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, the Minister is always extremely clear on these matters; the whole House appreciates that. I declare an ancient interest, in that I was once a service Minister. This is an opportunity for all of us in the House to put on the record again our admiration for and gratitude to the men and women of the armed services for all they do on our behalf, in some exacting and difficult circumstances.

I would like to raise just one point with the Minister. I am one of those who believes that the highest standards of commitment to human rights and the international conventions are essential to effective defence. If we stand for better things, we must demonstrate all the time that we are behaving in accordance with that conviction.

Sometimes, the circumstances are extremely testing and provocative, but in my view that is exactly when this kind of commitment becomes more important, not less. I would be very grateful for the Minister’s assurance that, in our approach to the Armed Forces, we do not slip into the habit of saying, “These are here. We have a commitment to them and we therefore behave accordingly because it is required of us”. Particularly in the context of ill-informed media comment and so on, when training and preparing our servicemen and women, do we take seriously our responsibility to explain why these commitments are important and how central they are to our credibility and effectiveness? It is not just a matter of obeying orders, but of people understanding why what is required of them is so essential.

I think the Minister will agree that this is particularly important with younger members of the armed services, towards whom we have an obvious duty of care. Any convincing assurances that he can give would be immensely helpful.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat Shadow Attorney General

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Association of Military Court Advocates, having been involved in a number of courts martial over a considerable period. Things have changed very much for the better since the 1950s and 1960s. At the first court martial I went to, the officers on the panel marched in and put their swords on the table, sheathed, until the verdict. The sword was then moved and you understood the way the verdict had gone from the direction in which it pointed. That practice was abolished. I also claim some credit for raising in this House the practice of the Navy to march the defendant in at the point of a cutlass. I tabled a Question asking why this procedure still went on; it was abolished in the weeks that followed, before the Minister rose to give an Answer. That is my one tiny claim to military justice.

I have spoken on each of the Armed Forces Bills since that of 2000-01; over the years, we have moved to a much better system, very much influenced by the European Court of Human Rights and its decisions, which pointed out deficiencies in the practice and procedure of courts martial. These decisions were led by Judge Advocate General Blackett—to whom the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, referred—who has been influential in many ways.

It was as a result of long-term advocacy for reform that eventually the inquiry to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, referred was instituted by the Ministry of Defence. I had the pleasure of meeting the retired judge who was in charge of that inquiry. I would like to know from the Minister when his report will be available and, in particular, whether it will be available with plenty of time for full consultation throughout the profession, and among other professionals, before we come to deal with the Bill in a year or two’s time. It is very important that we should have the opportunity to consider and, perhaps, contribute to the Bill that will subsequently come before this House.

There has been much progress under all Governments; I hope that progress will be maintained.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat

My Lords, unlike my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford, I have not been involved in any of the Armed Forces Bills going back to 2006 or before, nor indeed to the equivalent statutory instrument last year. However, last year the equivalent debate was in Grand Committee in the Moses Room, where I listened to my noble friend Lord Campbell speaking on behalf of the Liberal Democrats.

When I went yesterday to get the draft statutory instrument, the Printed Paper Office was a little overtasked. In the end, I was given six copies of a draft that said “2018”. I thought that did not seem quite right, but I read the draft. I went in this morning to see whether that was really what I was meant to be reading, and got the draft defence statutory instrument for 2019. The phrasing of the two statutory instruments is almost equivalent, but two paragraphs have been added to the Explanatory Memorandum. There is paragraph 8, to which the noble Lord, Foulkes, has already referred, and paragraph 9, which says, under the heading “Consolidation”:

“This instrument does not amend any other legislation so no consolidation is needed”.

However, paragraph 8 on the EU, headed “(Withdrawal) Act/Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union”, says that it does not relate to this—and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said “Hallelujah”. If one looks very closely at the Explanatory Memorandum, the footer indicates that it is from DExEU. I assume that this is simply because the Civil Service is so overwhelmed by statutory instruments at the moment that the assumption is that nothing can come as a statutory instrument that does not relate to Brexit. It says “DExEU/EM/8-2018.2”. I assume that DExEU is not really involved with this statutory instrument, and that it is the normal MoD statutory instrument and Explanatory Memorandum.

We have already heard that whether the Armed Forces, starting with the Army, can go forward requires the consent of Parliament. This year, of all years, it is essential that Parliament gives its consent to ensuring that the Armed Forces can move forward. If we are to believe some of the preparations for Brexit and a no-deal Brexit, we are led to understand that Her Majesty’s Armed Forces might be brought into some sort of action to ensure stability, not just of the realm externally, but within the United Kingdom.

Since this order appears to be being used a bit like a Christmas tree Bill, to enable noble Lords to talk about various defence issues, clearly it is important to stress, alongside the noble Lord, Lord Judd, our support for and gratitude to the Armed Forces for everything they do in the service of our country. On this occasion, however, I should also like to ask the Minister whether the Armed Forces are being prepared for action in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and what work Her Majesty’s Government are doing to ensure that the Armed Forces have the resources that they require?

The Minister has told us that the statutory instrument and these rules allow for command, disciple and justice, all of which are important, but it is also important to think about the well-being of our Armed Forces, and ensure that they are able to do their job as effectively and efficiently as possible. If we are thinking ahead to the need in due course for another Armed Forces Bill in 2021, what work is the MoD doing to think about the future, and is there some way in which your Lordships’ House can assist the Minister and the MoD to ensure that the Armed Forces have all the resources they require?

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this instrument. The Labour Party supports Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, and I am sure that support goes across the whole House. My boss in the other place, Nia Griffith, used this order to comprehensively review the present position of the Armed Forces. I will restrict myself to quoting two paragraphs of her speech, the first on,

“forces numbers and the alarming downward trend across each of the services. When Labour left office in 2010, we had an Army of 102,000 … an RAF of 40,000 and a Royal Navy of 35,000. Now they are all substantially smaller. The Army and RAF have been cut by 25% each and the Navy is down by nearly 20%”.

The second paragraph states:

“The steady decline in service morale is a significant worry. The proportion of Army personnel reporting high morale in 2010 was 58% for both officers and … other ranks, but that fell to 46% for officers and … 36% for other ranks in 2018”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/2/19; cols. 1229-30.]

I have never had the privilege to serve full-time in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, but I have been involved with them over the years. I was taught that effective armed forces come from good equipment, good training and good morale, and the drop in morale since 2010 is sapping away the capability of our Armed Forces. I hope the Minister will agree and give some indication of how this will be addressed in the future.

I have just two specific questions about the law.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour 4:30 pm, 20th February 2019

My Lords, the figures that the noble Lord gave on the reduction in our Armed Forces are very worrying. I find it strange that under those circumstances the Secretary of State for Defence is recommending that our Armed Forces throughout the world should be increased. There seems to be some difference between his ambitions and what the Government are prepared to provide.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport)

My Lords, that is not a question for me but for the Minister. What it brings out, given some of the contradictory statements by Her Majesty’s Government, is the need for a proper Armed Forces debate in the not too distant future—I think that is the view across the House.

I move on to my narrower questions. First, what happens if we do not pass this instrument? The Minister has anticipated that question substantially in his opening speech, but the one area he did not cover is what would happen to military personnel if it is not approved. What happens on simple issues such as whether they are paid and whether their accommodation is still available? The information he gave us earlier was all about the maintenance of discipline, which we can all understand. But we also have to recognise that we may be unabling the continued proper employment of personnel by passing this order.

The order and the Act that we are keeping alive are about the law. The one area that I have never really managed to understand is this: by what authority does a member of the Armed Forces use lethal force? To put it more directly, when that person kills someone, why is that not murder? Is the explanation different when war has been or has not been declared? In particular, what is the legal position if they kill someone supporting the civil authority in the United Kingdom?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I will of course do my best to answer all the questions that have been raised. I start with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, who gave us a most interesting exposition of his long experience, not only in relation to the Armed Forces but also as a law officer. Not unnaturally he homed in on the service justice review, which is being undertaken by His Honour Shaun Lyons, who, I am sure noble Lords will agree, has an excellent knowledge of criminal law and procedures, as well as having served in the Royal Navy as Chief Naval Judge Advocate. The review is covering all aspects of the service justice system, including court martial and the types of cases that it deals with, the summary hearing process, the service police and the Service Prosecuting Authority.

The policing aspects of the review are being led by Sir Jon Murphy, a former chief constable of Merseyside Police. The noble and learned Lord asked whether it was possible to see the conclusions of the report. The answer is, “Not yet”. The review is due to report in the spring. That will give us time to consider it and, if necessary, make plans for any legislative changes before the next Armed Forces Bill in 2020. As for consultation, there is no public consultation on the process, but Judge Lyons is consulting a wide range of stakeholders with an interest in the service justice system. Of course, he can be contacted by interested parties through the head of the review secretariat.

The noble and learned Lord asked in particular about the ability of the service justice system to deal with serious offences. As he will be aware, the service justice system is capable of dealing with the most serious offences, and has done so over the course of history. It has been held to be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights, both for investigations and prosecutions within the UK and abroad, where the civilian police do not have jurisdiction. We are, however, keen for the review to take a strategic look at all key aspects of the service justice system, and this is one of the issues being explored.

The noble and learned Lord referred to the use of majority verdicts under the current system. The Government, as he will be aware, have been successful in establishing, both in the European Court of Human Rights and in the civilian courts, that the court martial system is in principle safe, independent and impartial. The current system has been considered twice by the Court Martial Appeal Court in the last five years and was on both occasions held to be fair and safe. Noble Lords, and noble and learned Lords, will know that the Court Martial Appeal Court is made up of the same judges as sit in the civilian Court of Appeal. That Appeal Court has held that there is no ground for deciding that a verdict by simple majority is inherently unfair or unsafe. I am advised by my noble and learned friend Lord Keen that in Scotland a majority verdict of eight to seven in a murder case, for example, would be sufficient to convict an accused person. However, the Government recognise that there are differing views about the system of majority verdicts, and this is another issue that will be covered by the review.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, for the compliments he paid me over the recent Written Answers that I was able to give him. I am glad that he found them helpful. He referred to the dreadful accident that I am sure we all remember involving the deaths of two RAF pilots in Scotland. I will take away the suggestion he made about the possibility of encouraging the process to move forward in Scotland. I would not wish to give a firm undertaking to that effect, because I do not want to do anything improper as regards undue influence on the Scottish Executive, but I undertake to take the point away.

The noble Lord asked me about Gibraltar and the jurisdiction over Gibraltar in relation to this order. The Armed Forces (Gibraltar) Act was passed by the Gibraltar Parliament on 8 November 2018—very recently. It came into law on 10 December 2018. The Act gives effect in Gibraltar law to certain provisions of the Armed Forces Act 2006, and Gibraltar wishes to make its own provisions in relation to that Act. Of course, we continue to work with Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar on the inclusion of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment within the Armed Forces Act 2006 service discipline regime to ensure that a discipline system is put in place that meets the needs of the regiment. The noble Lord also asked whether there had been any consultation on the order. There has been no public consultation but, as a matter of routine, the Armed Forces are consulted in relation to legislation that affects the service.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, asked what point we had reached in relation to an issue that he has very effectively championed in this House on more than one occasion: the vexed issue of the challenge in recent years to the principle of combat immunity. This has created considerable legal uncertainty about liability in combat situations and the risk that we may be moving towards the judicialisation of war, if I can put it that way. We want to introduce better combat compensation for those injured in combat operations and for the families of those killed. The public consultation closed on 23 February 2017. Therefore, we have consulted and are still carefully considering the views expressed during the consultation and will be publishing a response.

The proposal that we are advancing is that compensation would be paid at the same level as court damages, which can often be substantially greater than awards under the Armed Forces compensation scheme. Our aim is to ensure that those who have risked their lives in the most challenging of circumstances should be put in the best possible financial position quickly. That last word is one of the operative words, because some of these cases have a tendency to drag on and it is immensely upsetting to the individual or their family—and many times to both. The vast majority of compensation paid in these circumstances currently is not as a result of MoD negligence. These proposals are aimed at providing combat compensation to those who have suffered in the most extreme circumstances. We will announce further proposals in due course and I hope to have further news before too long on that front for the noble and gallant Lord.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked what arrangements involving the Armed Forces are being considered for the case of a no-deal Brexit. She will remember, I am sure, that on 18 December last year my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced that approximately 3,500 service personnel would be held on standby to ensure that defence resources were available to support the wider Government to implement their no-deal Brexit contingency plans, if required. In headline terms, the prudent standby package will comprise approximately 3,500 personnel at varying levels of readiness, including niche capabilities such as military working dogs. No defence estate is ring-fenced at this time as it is anticipated that there will be spare capacity available during spring 2019 to provide a warehousing/storage function, if that is required. Similarly, it is judged that in extremis a request for defence strategic transport capability could be accommodated by existing capacity.

In addition to the prudent standby package, defence has also been making available military planning expertise to support other departments with their Brexit contingency plans. To date, we have provided 28 military planners to a number of departments across Whitehall. I hope that that outline is helpful to the noble Baroness.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat Shadow Attorney General

Will the Minister bear in mind, before deploying military forces to deal with possible civil unrest arising from Brexit, that the deployment by Winston Churchill as Home Secretary of troops to Tonypandy, who never got involved in that strike, is so built into people’s memories that it was resurrected only a week ago?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 4:45 pm, 20th February 2019

I assure the noble Lord that we are only too aware of the point he has raised. I think there is common to us all an antipathy to seeing large numbers of Armed Forces personnel on our streets, so to the extent that that can be avoided, it will be. However, it is prudent nevertheless to have the kinds of contingency plans that I have outlined.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked me, very properly, about the training that Armed Forces personnel receive before they are deployed to a combat zone. I can tell him that such training as he asked me about does take place; that is, training in international law, international humanitarian law and the law of armed combat, which of course governs all that we do, and indeed those key provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. We are as mindful as he would wish us to be of the need to maintain the kinds of standards that set an example to other nations in how our Armed Forces personnel should behave in such circumstances.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, referred to the fall in Armed Forces morale, as evidenced in recent surveys. It will not surprise him to hear that we take this extremely seriously. There is no single reason for that fall in morale, but we are aware that a number of factors play into it. That is why the chief of defence personnel is leading an important work strand in the Ministry of Defence known as the people programme, which involves looking at the terms and conditions of service—that is, pay and pensions—and accommodation arrangements for personnel; flexible service is another strand. A proposal is also being explored to use the early departure payment resource more effectively and efficiently, which, it is hoped, will address part of the issue we face over the retention of trained people. Therefore, we are not sitting back and doing nothing. However, it is true to say that at a time when the Army in particular is not deployed on an overseas operation in large numbers—although we are overseas in modest numbers—morale tends to suffer. Young men like an exciting challenge, and if they are sitting in barracks and simply training, there is a tendency for morale to dip. That is not to sound complacent, but I am advised that we have seen that in the past.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked me by virtue of what law a soldier or serviceperson is empowered to kill. Of course, UK military personnel are always subject to UK law, even on overseas deployments, under the Armed Forces Act. As such, they have the right to use force in self-defence in accordance with UK domestic law. In the context of overseas armed conflicts, personnel may also use offensive force in accordance with their rules of engagement, which reflect the position under both domestic and international law, including the law of armed conflict. I hope that those answers will have been helpful to noble Lords. To the extent that I have not covered everything, I will of course write.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I wonder whether the noble Earl could be a bit more specific in the answer to the last question—not now, obviously, but I really would value a letter, because this is a key question. As we know, when it goes wrong, the alternative is that the person involved is indicted on a murder charge. When we give people the responsibility to use lethal force, it would not be unreasonable for them to know that there is a very solid background for them to do as they are ordered.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

I entirely understand the noble Lord’s point, and I shall, of course, be happy to write with any further information on the legal basis that he seeks.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

Could the noble Earl answer a question that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, quite properly, was unable to answer, or did not want to answer? Why have we cut our Armed Forces to such a degree at the same time as the Defence Secretary wishes to expand our operations abroad?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the Armed Forces are fulfilling all the tasks assigned to them, and it is right that we have an Army, a Navy and an Air Force no bigger and no smaller than we need. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is referring to the expansion of the activities of the Armed Forces rather than the size of the Armed Forces. The areas of operation must now take account of world events and changes in the geopolitical situation. That is why my right honourable friend has been talking about the discussions we are having in government to extend our naval presence across the world, and possibly even to look at further bases across the world. But we have no plans to expand the numbers in the Army beyond the target we have set ourselves—which is, broadly speaking, the numbers that we currently have. There is a problem with recruitment to the forces, which is perhaps a subject for a separate debate, but I do not foresee any large-scale expansion in numbers.

Motion agreed.