For a long time, I have had a particular interest in the way in which our domestic law interlinks with military law and the law applying to service personnel. As hon. Members will know, I have a military constituency. Camberley has always been an army town, so I represent a huge number of both serving and retired military personnel. They repeatedly write to me to ask me to raise their concerns about various matters of military law. That has been put into particularly tragic focus recently, because the deaths of the young soldiers at Deepcut barracks are being reinvestigated. Acres of newsprint have been devoted to speculation about that, some of it very ill-informed. I should like to take the opportunity to express my gratitude to the Minister's colleagues in the Ministry of Defence who have dealt with tragic and difficult circumstances in a moderate and balanced way. They have always sought to lower the temperature and to put to rest some of the more ill-informed media speculation.
The other reason why I am particularly concerned is that, when my party was in government, one of my jobs was to act as the Government Whip on the Armed Forces Bill. Some members of the Committee may not know that that Bill has to come before the House every five years. It brings military law up to date with the developments in civilian law in the preceding five years. It is an unusual Bill. Unlike most Bills, which go to a Standard Committee, that Bill goes to a Bill Committee, which acts like a Select Committee. It goes round the country taking evidence. It visits military bases and corrective establishments, such as the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester, which is in effect a military prison. It is a hybrid—a mixture of a Standing Committee and a Select Committee—but after the visits it evolves into a Standing Committee and the Bill is debated line by line.
I was the Government Whip on the Armed Forces Bill, because the tradition is that the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of State for the Armed Forces when an Armed Forces Bill is due every five years becomes the Government Whip on the Bill Committee. Having had that experience, I have always been particularly alive to the need to get any civilian law that applies to military personnel absolutely right, so that it does not need to be unscrambled and rewritten five years later in the next Armed Forces Bill. The Minister will therefore understand why I wanted a brief stand part debate on the matter.
I want to explore the phrase
''to have effect with specified modifications in relation to a case where the person whose extradition is sought or ordered is subject to military law, air-force law or the Naval Discipline Act 1957''.
I am sure that the Minister will tell us what the phrase ''specified modifications'' means, because it seems a touch vague. It may have been lifted wholesale from previous extradition legislation, as these things often are. I hope I am not catching the Minister on the hop
about what the words mean, but the phrase seemed a little open-ended. The Secretary of State can, by order, say that a provision in this part will apply. I want some clarification from the Minister about the basis on which the Secretary of State can use the order-making powers in the clause.
Will there be the required parliamentary scrutiny? Is not there a danger that because the phrase is so open-ended it might need to be rewritten in the next Armed Forces Bill? Many people in my constituency, including some serving councillors, have been involved in military law. A number of my constituents have a great interest in the matter, including a county councillor, Fred Chipperfield, a distinguished former mayor of the borough of Surrey Heath who was for 37 years an officer in the Royal Military Police. It would be remiss of me if I did not raise these concerns on behalf of serving or retired service personnel in my constituency.
I, too, am anxious to know what effect the Government think the Bill will have on members of the armed forces, particularly in connection with offences alleged to be committed by UK service personnel in UK bases overseas.
Our service personnel are of the highest calibre in the world, but occasionally they can be slightly boisterous. When I was in the Royal Marines in Singapore in 1966, I remember only too well attending the traditional Trafalgar cup soccer game against the Royal Navy. The Royal Marines usually get on very well with the Royal Navy, especially when there are members of other armed forces or overseas people about the place, but when they are locked together the rivalry can be fairly fraught. Of course, the Royal Marines triumphed in the game—I think the score was 6–1—which was organised on a day when there were two commando units in Singapore. Usually we had far fewer people from whom to choose our team than the Royal Navy had, and after the game a building was destroyed. I do not say that that was necessarily a crime, but these things can happen in boisterous circles when the blood is up, especially after troops have been away on operations. Relaxation, rest and recuperation are part and parcel of the job.
It is important to know how our servicemen will be treated under clause 153. It is imperative that this law dovetails with the Naval Discipline Act 1957—yes, it is still in force—and military and air force law. Will the Minister explain how offences alleged to have been committed by UK service personnel in UK bases overseas will be treated? As he knows, they were dealt with in the past under military, naval or air force law.
It is already possible under the Armed Forces Act 1989 for the UK services to make a request for those who have committed military offences to be extradited. The clause clearly states that such requests can be made only for those subject to military or air force law or the Naval Discipline Act 1957.
Members of the Committee have spoken about the British armed forces. Let me emphasise that these
requests are rare, but we have allowed them in the past and see no reason for change. Any such arrangements would require the Secretary of State to make an order to apply part 3 provisions. Outgoing requests to category 2 countries would have to be made via the royal prerogative.
It is necessary to specify which persons are able to issue outgoing requests—who is entitled to do so under military discipline. It will be different people under the different military laws, and it will be different from civilian law. The people issuing the request will be those entitled to exercise military discipline. Modifications will need to be made to limit the provisions to military offences.
The Minister said that the Government have allowed such requests, but will he clarify what criteria the Government apply before they accede to them?
Can the Minister assure us that none of the modifications will be retrospective, so that any member of the Committee who regrettably played a part in events after the Trafalgar cup in 1966 will remain free from prosecution?
Before the Minister replies, the hon. Gentleman might like to consider supporting our new clause, which deals with an exception, allowing the Secretary of State discretion to take political factors into account before acceding to an extradition request. That could provide the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon with another loophole through which to slip.
The last thing that we want to create is an untrue impression. The issue of retrospection is neither here nor there, because I have already explained that the rules apply currently. Extradition requests for military personnel can be made under current provisions. We merely want to carry them forward so that the appropriate people are designated as entitled to apply for extradition in military cases. Obviously, that will not be JPs or district judges, but the appropriate people within the services.
I did not know, when I started a stand part debate on clause 153, that we would hear about the past record of the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon when he was a Royal Marine. I did not know that he had been a Royal Marine, which is a distinguished part of the services. I am aware of the rivalry to which he referred between the Royal Marines and the Royal Navy when no one else is about. As the son of a naval officer I have heard some stories, and as a former naval cadet who has been on naval bases I have seen some of the rivalry. As the hon. Gentleman says, when the Marines and the Navy are
in the company of the other services they always work together. Long may that continue.
I have been to some Trafalgar day ceremonies, but I am too young to have had anything to do with the Trafalgar cup in 1966 in Singapore. It has been a useful debate. It would be helpful, as the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon said, if the Minister would drop us a line to indicate, on the rare occasions the provision has been used in the past, what modifications were needed to the previous legislation regarding the people who made the request—
The Minister nods. It would be helpful if he were to write to us, but the matter is without the same degree of urgency.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 153 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Derek Twigg.]
Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes past Ten o'clock till this day at half-past Two o'clock.