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Reserve Forces Bill [H.L.]

3.8 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 4 [Orders and regulations concerning the reserve forces]:

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 35, at end insert ("each House of").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if, in moving this amendment, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 12, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 26, 27, 31, 33 and 36. These amendments are almost drafting amendments. There has grown up by tradition, as I understand it, in legislation dealing with defence matters, the expression "Parliament" rather than "both Houses of Parliament" or "each House of Parliament". That is an odd expression. In other Bills that I have covered from this Front Bench I have noticed that mostly we refer to the "Houses of Parliament" or "joint Houses of Parliament", or whatever it may be. "Parliament" as a single entity is a rarity. In Committee, the noble Earl recognised that fact. It is carried forward from history.

In the case at issue, when we are talking about reports to Parliament I believe that it would be simpler to provide that those reports should be made to "each House of Parliament" rather than to "Parliament". To some extent this is a drafting amendment, but I believe that it would make the Bill better than it is at the moment. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I am not sure that the anxiety of the noble Lord is fully justified. If we look at the text on the first page of the Bill we find the familiar words:

So "Parliament" has entered as an accepted phrase into our legislation with great frequency for a very long time.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): My Lords, I have listened carefully to the arguments of the noble Lord,

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Lord Williams, both today and in Committee. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Renton for his observations.

I continue to believe that, strictly speaking, the amendments are unnecessary, for in this context "Parliament" means both Houses. Nevertheless, in a spirit of co-operation I am happy to accept the amendments as proposed by the noble Lord.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, line 36, leave out ("after being made") and insert ("forthwith).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Committee we had a discussion about the orders to be laid under Clause 4(5) of the Bill. As at present drafted, the Bill says simply that:

    "Any order or regulations under this section shall be laid before Parliament after being made".
There is no time limit; that is done some time after the order or regulation has been made. It seemed to us that it would be appropriate for the orders or regulations to be laid before each House of Parliament as soon as possible.

As the noble Earl will remember, we proposed a formulation in Committee which was "as soon as made". The noble Earl pointed out that that created difficulties. I understand and take the noble Earl's point that "as soon as" implies almost instantaneous action, which might be rather difficult. However, in other parts of the Bill we have the expression "forthwith", and it seemed to me that the formulation "forthwith" might be more palatable to the Government than "as soon as". In that spirit I beg to move Amendment No. 2.

Earl Howe: My Lords, the noble Lord has once again expressed his concern that no time limit is laid down within which regulations under Clause 4 must be laid. In Committee I illustrated that the Ministry of Defence is prompt in laying such regulations before Parliament with the example of Amendment 16 to the Territorial Army Regulations 1978, which was made on 18th January and laid before your Lordships' House on 23rd January. I also gave an undertaking that such regulations would continue to be laid before Parliament at the earliest convenient moment. I hoped that the noble Lord would be happy with that assurance, as he indicated he was at the time.

I acknowledge that when the question of the meaning of "forthwith" came up in our discussions, I undertook to look further into the matter. "Forthwith" carries with it the meaning of "as soon as possible given the circumstances". That is certainly the interpretation that we would put on it. That is why it is entirely appropriate when dealing with matters of the seriousness of call-out and recall and why it is inappropriate here.

The regulations which will be made under Clause 4 are essentially concerned with the internal government of the armed forces. The numbers of changes and amendments can be considerable and of great complexity, but will often be concerned with matters of detail or minor significance. As an example, Amendment 16 to the Territorial Army Regulations runs

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to around 100 pages and deals almost entirely with minor amendments or matters of detail. Such changes are made relatively frequently, and to be required to lay them before Parliament immediately seems to me to be excessive. There would certainly be extra costs involved in doing so. For example, instead of passing documents through the normal internal mail it would be necessary to use special messengers.

I am not clear why the noble Lord wishes to impose this burden on the Ministry of Defence in respect of the reserve forces. It does not confer any benefit on the reserve forces. It offers no advantage to Parliament over the present arrangements, which work well.

In any case, the issue goes far wider than this Bill. There are many other powers to make regulations in the defence area alone, and it is not clear whether the noble Lord would wish such regulations to be laid before Parliament forthwith. Indeed, would he wish all regulations under any statute which are required to be laid before Parliament to be laid forthwith?

Altogether I do not believe that this is an appropriate amendment. I hope that I have said sufficient to persuade the noble Lord to withdraw it.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, as always, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his response.

The House will wish to take note of the fact that these regulations and orders relate inter alia, under Clause 4(1)(a), to:

    "the government and discipline of any reserve force".
That is not an insignificant matter. It is not something which is pushed under the table. If there is to be a change to the government and discipline of any reserve force I believe that Parliament ought to be informed officially "forthwith".

The noble Earl said that most of the orders are insignificant, but I hope that he takes the point that there is a possibility that orders will be made under Clause 4(1)(a) which are of extreme importance to Parliament and the reserve forces. I should have thought that somehow we should try to reconcile the position that I have taken, which I admit perhaps goes too far, with the position the noble Earl has taken.

Therefore, I hope very much that before Third Reading we can talk further about the matter and see whether we can arrive at an arrangement that will satisfy both of us. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 [Pensions]:

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 3, line 32, at end insert ("provided that the pensions of those in civilian life are fully safeguarded.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with this amendment we return to the issue of pension entitlement for those members of the reserve forces who are liable to be called upon under the terms of the Bill.

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We are most anxious to ensure that those who perform this duty are not disadvantaged thereby. In particular, we do not want their pension entitlement to be undermined. Many will be members of private occupational pension schemes. Their ultimate entitlement under such schemes is dependent upon the continuity of scheme membership, in particular contribution continuity, and any breach of continuity may adversely affect ultimate pension entitlement unless steps are taken to ensure that such continuity is protected in some way.

It is true that at one time people of working age gave little thought to pension entitlement until perhaps about 10 years before they were due to retire. All that has changed. The Government have been anxious to make people pension minded because of the concern that in the next century no government may be able to afford to pick up the tab if individuals have not made such provision. The Maxwell scandal and the subsequent Pensions Act have all combined to make people pension conscious. That is a good thing. But it means that individuals affected by the Bill will wonder about the possible effect upon their civilian pension entitlement if they are called upon to breach the contribution record as a result of being called to give service under the terms of the Bill. We do not wish to put people who give up their time and perhaps put at risk their health and their lives to be disadvantaged in pension terms because of what they have done for this country. Hence the amendment.

The Minister may claim that Clause 8 contains some safeguards. Clause 8(1)(b) allows for,

    "the making of payments towards the provision of pensions".
That presumably can cover civilian pensions although it is not clear from the text. However, the commitment is not explicit. We believe that it should be. It may be argued that this could result in additional expenditure. We believe that that has to be faced if it is the only way in which such a guarantee can be provided. If employers can be persuaded to retain employees on service duty in their own occupational schemes that would be a good idea. In any event the addition of the words to the clause--the provision does not specify precisely how it should be done; simply that there should be a guarantee--still leaves it open to the Government to make appropriate arrangement by way of regulation.

We raised the issue in Committee and I had the impression that the Minister was sympathetic to what we sought to do. We believe it right and proper that some guarantee should be on the face of the Bill. I hope that this time round the Minister will be disposed to accept some form of guarantee. If he does not accept this wording, at least let us have something on the face of the Bill before it leaves the House after Third Reading. I beg to move.

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