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Ms Dari Taylor: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies: I am afraid that time does not allow. The second theme, of course, is the Labour party's new ideology. A generation or so ago, it was in hock to Marxism, which took a simple-minded view of the world, and said that the essential distinction in the human race was between capitalists and the exploited toilers. Now, the Labour party has gone over to an equally simple-minded distinction: on one side are women, gays, the disabled and anyone from a so-called ethnic community who, apparently, are the disadvantaged and the exploited of the earth and, on the other side, is the rest of humanity. Of course, that is complete junk and nonsense and it is frightening that adults think in those terms--let alone here in the House of Commons.

It would be utterly disastrous if, for one moment, such thinking were allowed to influence a matter as important as defence policy. It is grotesque to mix up the separate issues of women in the armed services, homosexuality in the armed services, disabled people and so on, which have nothing in common. They must be looked at as separate personnel and management challenges for our armed services. To remove any ambiguity, I shall briefly explain

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where the Opposition stand, because it is not our business to run away from any of those issues. With homosexuality, it may well be that the problem is on the way to being resolved, and the Chief of the Defence Staff has already been quoted this evening as saying that. If so, and if senior officers are happy and relaxed about that, so much the better. Frankly, if people are discreet and are not causing problems for military discipline, it would be utterly obnoxious to try to pry officiously into their private sexual and emotional make-up and lives. If senior officers are relaxed about that, Parliament should take its cue from that judgment.

On the disabled, it is axiomatic that anyone who wears a military uniform or a cap badge should have been properly trained to undertake military tasks. Even those who are recruited to the armed forces without the career objective of war fighting are subject to a rigorous military training programme. They know how to handle weapons and know what to do in a crisis. The other day, I visited the Royal Marines in Portsmouth, and even the Royal Marine bandsmen, who are recruited largely on their musical ability, have to pass a rigorous military test. Obviously, someone who is disabled cannot do that. It is different if people have joined the Army or another service and been wounded, perhaps in the course of action, and then find themselves disabled. They are very much part of the team and the culture, having themselves had military training in the past, and they know how to respond in a crisis. Therefore, that is quite different.

It must be for those whose lives are at risk and those who have responsibility for commanding them in a crisis and, potentially, in battle, to decide the policy on recruitment. We back that. Let me make it clear that the next Conservative Government will not try to impose an artificial Procrustean modish agenda on our armed services. We will listen to professional advice and will be guided by it. We will not second-guess military advice on the recruitment, training and promotion of personnel.

Exactly the same thing applies to women. Let me say right away that the most appalling things have been said on that subject this evening. The Conservative party is not against women in the armed services. We are not just for women in the armed services: we are enthusiastically for women playing a full part in the armed services. We are delighted that so many young women have joined in recent years, and we pay tribute to those women who are prepared to risk their lives in the service of their country, and do so on a par and without making any distinction from those men who serve alongside them, to whom we likewise pay tribute. No distinctions whatever should be made in that.

There is also the question of the role that women can and should play in the services. As we all know, they are on the front line in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy and are doing very well there. Until now, the Army has taken the view that women should not be deployed on the front line. Using the same criterion that I used earlier, we will respect and stand by that judgment.

Finally, a terrible new threat from political correctness is on the horizon. As if the European convention on human rights were not enough, the Government now propose to accede to the International Criminal Court and ratify our participation in it. Once again, our approach is unlike that of the French, who have again had the sense to ask for a derogation, as they did with regard to the European convention on human rights. We did not seek

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such a derogation on the ECHR, perhaps because we could not predict back in the 1950s that the jurisprudence that the convention involved would be so damaging to our conduct of military affairs. The French have asked for the same derogation on the ICC and have got it, but the British new Labour Government have not even thought--perhaps they did not have the guts--to request such a derogation. They have no excuse whatever. A combination of pusillanimity, incompetence and political correctness anaesthetising the minds of Labour Members--that is the characteristic of the new Labour Administration.

9.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): If ever we need a reminder of the dangers of noise pollution, we have only to listen to a speech made by the hon. Member for Grantham and Spalding--

Mr. Quentin Davies: Grantham and Stamford.

Dr. Moonie: My apologies--you have lost Spalding.

Dr. Julian Lewis: Get it right if you are being insulting.

Dr. Moonie: I was hardly being insulting.

The debate has offered some valuable pointers on the matters that the Select Committee may want to examine further during the next few weeks. The Ministry of Defence is looking forward to helping the Committee in its work and to providing such further information about the Bill as it may require.

The Bill has a number of purposes other than the key purpose of maintaining the statutory basis for discipline in the armed forces. Like previous Armed Forces Bills, it may appear to be a miscellany of discrete proposals. It is possible to see the Bill in that light. However, the common thread that runs through the Bill--and, I believe, its predecessors--is a recognition of the need to bring service legislation up to date.

The Bill does that in a number of ways. It provides a proper framework for key activities of the service police. It gives the service courts and the machinery surrounding them powers reflecting those available within the civilian criminal justice system. It proposes a mechanism for allowing future development in the criminal justice sphere to be reflected more readily than is always possible at present. I shall speak about that in more detail later, if I have time.

In what I hope will be a particularly welcome change, the Bill enables warrant officers, who are regarded by many as the backbone of the services, to sit as members of courts martial. The new powers proposed in the Bill in relation to alcohol and drugs testing will help to provide a safer working environment for all service personnel, for civilians who work with them and for others with whom they come into contact. The Bill also clarifies the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence police. It gives them the ability to provide an appropriate response, either individually or collectively, to the range of situations where they may be called on to assist in the policing of our communities.

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The proposals have been developed pragmatically, for practical purposes. The test is whether they will improve the administration of discipline in the service or enable the Ministry of Defence police to make a more effective contribution to policing. We believe that they will do so and we will have ample opportunity to consider such matters in detail during the Select Committee's deliberations.

Many Opposition Members quoted from the speech made by the Chief of the Defence Staff, although they did so somewhat selectively. His remarks about a subaltern being sued by his platoon for making a mistake in the heat of battle were entirely hypothetical, and part of much wider comments on a society which he said was becoming more litigious--which is of course true.

Without wanting to prompt accusations of Ministers blowing their own trumpets, let me point out that General Guthrie made several warm comments about the support that he received from Defence Ministers. Indeed, he commented that our Defence Ministers understand our position and have been robust in the defence of our case during the recent European debate on ending employment discrimination on grounds of age and disability. Of course, we secured the required exemption.

I should spend a couple of minutes on the supposedly reasoned amendment tabled by the Opposition and on rebutting some of their points. First, I put my hands up and admit that I should have liked to introduce a consolidation or tri-service Bill this year, but that has not proved possible. We explained at great length during deliberation on the Bill that became the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000 why that was the case, but we have said that the introduction of such legislation will be possible at the nearest available occasion--the next quinquennial review.


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