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Mr. Hoyle: I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is aware that it is not only Back Benchers who have an interest, but also the Back-Bench defence committee in Parliament. Two vice-chairmen and the secretary of that committee were not even asked if they might be considered or asked about their views. There has been a total exclusion, so I should like to back my right hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Before the right hon. Gentleman responds, I remind him that this is the Second Reading of the Bill. We shall come to the motion on the Committee later this evening.

Mr. George: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall come on to that later.

The ad hoc Committee will be interesting, but not as interesting as it was in 1996, when we dealt directly with gays in the military, equal opportunities, the sale of Greenwich naval college--which was a disgrace--the court martial system, use of alcohol and drugs, and local service engagement. That engagement was bizarre, as it operated only within the travel-to-work area. "Sharpe" was being shown on television at the time and, to alter slightly what it said for the case of local service engagements: "Queen Anne commands and we obey, over the hills and as far as Wolverhampton." That, I am afraid, was the limit of local service involvement. However, the Conservatives' policy when they were in government is now our party's policy.

In addition to the problem of the composition of the Select Committee, there are other problems, to which the hon. Member for Salisbury referred. In 1991, the ad hoc Select Committee asked whether it was time that the single service Acts were "consolidated", and accordingly made a recommendation. We then met in 1996, when my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport--I use that phrase deliberately--was Chairman. I wondered how long it would take before we destabilised the team that was giving evidence to us. It took about four minutes, after the hon. Member for Gosport asked why consolidation was not included in the Bill. The answer was bizarre. We were told that a guy was seconded by the Treasury counsel; he worked for a couple of years on preparing the consolidated Bill and then left. Apparently, not enough lawyers were around--a pretty bizarre excuse in a country that is overflowing with members of the legal profession--to fill the gap. Thus, there was not the

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slightest chance of achieving any consolidation in the 1996 Bill. Ten years on from the initial consideration of the matter, there is still no sign of consolidation. Instead, the process might drift on until 2005-06. We are told that a new Act will then do the business. If that happens, it will be nearly 15 years since Parliament called for some rationality in the legislation. I do not regard that as a triumph for the Executive, who have become the legislature in the Select Committee that will consider the Bill. No doubt, they will be able to resolve the matter.

In 1985, it was suggested that the Select Committee on Defence should be given power to deal with the Armed Forces Bill. At that time, the Defence Committee said, "Thank you very much, but no thanks. We do not want to do it." However, serious consideration should be given to ensuring that the Select Committee on Defence has that role, although that proposal might be too radical for the Ministry of Defence. Instead, perhaps a draft Bill could be referred to the Defence Committee for consideration. It could then be handed back for consideration by the Armed Forces Select Committee that usually considers such Bills, with augmentation by Ministers and shadow spokesmen. The Defence Committee could achieve much more serious consideration by tailoring its activities to culminate in the publication of a report on the Bill. Such an arrangement would not be quite as radical an innovation as handing the whole procedure to the Defence Committee.

The Select Committee that will consider the Bill has a further weakness. Unlike any other Select Committee, it has no advisers. I have drafted an amendment to flag up that concern. It would introduce the following provision:


Having seen the composition of the Committee, I realise that the amendment would be almost redundant, as the Executive--who are now the legislature--have access to the Ministry of Defence and to its advice. One might ask why, as we Back Benchers have been rendered superfluous, we should not let them get on with it and make it an entirely in-house operation.

Much of the Bill relates to security and policing. The Ministry of Defence has an enormous estate. It has a budget of £22 billion, which is one of the largest in Whitehall. More than 300,000 directly employed staff work in the MOD and the 44 defence executive agencies. The MOD's equipment procurement budget is £10 billion per annum, and it supports an industry of some 420,000 workers. The estate is physically enormous and amounts to 22,000 hectares. It comprises museums, art galleries, works of art, ships, tanks, computers and so on. It is incredible.

The task of providing policing and security falls to the Ministry of Defence police. Despite some of the remarks made by the Police Federation and the Association of Chief Police Officers, it is clear that the police are a professional force. They are supported by the MOD Guard Service, an in-house security force that is one of the most professional security forces in the country. Under the Bill, the service police forces are becoming more like civilian police forces, with many constabulary powers. I hope that the hon. Member for Salisbury will consider that issue when he breaks out of his little prejudices. I recall his views as I served with him on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill that became the Ministry of

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Defence Police Act 1987. We must also bear in mind the Military Provost Guard Service and the list X companies, which have mostly private security.

Thankfully, and despite the indifference of the Conservative party, the Government seek to regulate private security. The quality of personnel in the industry will consequently be enhanced enormously. The Defence Committee produced numerous reports recommending that there be no further employment of private security workers until the industry is regulated. Once the industry is regulated, it can perform tasks that no sane Ministry of Defence would currently bestow upon it because of lack of professionalism and training.

The Bill improves the quality of policing and security in the Ministry of Defence. I desperately hoped that the Defence Committee would have an opportunity to undertake a major inquiry into policing and security in the Ministry. Unfortunately, it does not appear that we shall have time to do so. I hope that whoever is Chairman of the Committee in the next Parliament will take up that proposal.

It is absolutely right for the powers of the MOD police to be extended. They cannot be seen as a supplementary force for the Home Office police forces, who might not have displayed hostility over the years, but have certainly had an attitude that is less than caring or brotherly. They have ridiculed the MOD police's professionalism, equipment and training. I have seen the reports on constabularies by Her Majesty's inspectors. They do not reflect the prejudiced view of the Home Office police forces. I pay tribute to the recently retired chief constable of the MOD police force, Mr. Walter Boreham, and welcome his successor. It is right for the powers of the MOD police to be extended. I have some reservations, so I invite all hon. Members who have the freedom to offer their views or their opinions on the matter, although I am aiming at a fairly restricted audience. I hope that all hon. Members perceive the need to ensure that the powers of the service police are in line with the requirements of policing in general.

I wish all hon. Members who will serve on the Select Committee considering the Bill an enjoyable and informative time. Despite the Opposition's decision to oppose the procedure, such Committees tend to produce consensus. No doubt, the Committee will visit the glasshouse in Colchester. The quality of the prisoners means that it is difficult to distinguish them from their guards--[Interruption.] I shall not rephrase that. The glasshouse has superior prisoners, who are there not because they are criminals, but because they have breached discipline. The last time that the Committee visited, one of the guys taking us around had gone AWOL. He had established a successful sporting business, but decided that he would go back and serve his sentence. Perhaps one reason for his decision was that he was invited to appear on "Gladiators", so somebody might have spotted him. I was unable to tell that he was not a member of the supervisory staff.

We can be incredibly proud of our armed forces. It sounds almost patronising to say that we have the most professional armed forces in the world. We must maintain that very high status by providing the best equipment that we can afford. We can afford more than we are spending now. We must ensure that our forces are well trained,

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well motivated and have all the qualifications that we desire. The Defence Committee's report on personnel issues explores many such matters in considerable depth.

I hope that the Bill will not be detrimental to the high standards that we have grown to expect and I do not believe that it will be. It is a necessary piece of legislation.

Finally, I urge Members to read the Library's briefing, which makes it clear that ours is not just another Committee. It is a sort of hybrid Committee. That reminds me of Sir Winston Churchill's taunt about his colleague Sir Clive Bossom. He said "Silly name: neither one thing nor the other." The Committee is, perhaps, neither one thing nor the other, but it must be seen against the background of the constitutional evolution of the supremacy of the legislature over the Executive.

I implore the Whips, when the time next comes round, to read our Defence Committee report, to read the Library's briefing, and then to agree with their counterparts on the other side to hand the Committee back to the legislature, rather than allowing it to be occupied by the Executive. Back Benchers on this Committee are about as numerous as Brits in Chelsea football club.

I hope that things will change for the better, and that when the composition of the next Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill is considered, members of the Executive will be invitees and the majority of members will be Back Benchers. That is what the supremacy of legislature over Executive means. We do not want more of the supremacy of Executive over legislature that has become a feature of our institution.


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