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There is an Armed Forces Bill every five years. The principal purpose of these Bills is to continue the existence of the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957 for a further five years. These Acts, known collectively as the service discipline Acts, provide the statutory framework for discipline in the Armed Forces. Unless we renew the Acts by an Act of Parliament before the end of this December, they will expire.
Clause 1 of the Bill achieves that purpose. It provides for the service discipline Acts to continue in force for a further year. It then provides for them to be renewed annually after that by Order in Council, but not beyond the end of the year 2001. Your Lordships will be familiar with this continuation order procedure which enables us to debate service personnel issues in the years between Armed Forces Bills. That annual procedure and the five-yearly renewal of the legislation, together with the examination of each Armed Forces Bill by a Select Committee in another place, all ensure regular scrutiny of these important matters.
Apart from Clause 1, I should like to focus on the more important of the other clauses in the Bill. Each Armed Forces Bill is also an opportunity to legislate on various matters which are of concern to the services.
Clause 2 will enable the Armed Forces to offer local service engagements. Men and women recruited for local service would not have the same obligation to serve anywhere in the world as those recruited for general service. We have no plans to introduce local service engagements on a general basis in the foreseeable future. However, we believe that it is sensible to have the flexibility to be able to recruit for local service if we identify areas of activity where it would be appropriate to do so.
One such area which has been identified is guarding. Over the past few months we have been consulting the Defence Police Federation and the trade unions about proposals to employ service personnel on local service engagements as armed guards at certain Army establishments. We propose to form a new military provost guard service, the MPGS, which would be manned by soldiers on military local service engagements and would eventually be some 600 strong. Where MDP officers are employed only on guarding duties which do not need to be done by police officers, that work would be transferred to the MPGS. The MPGS would provide fully professional military guards, well trained for the vitally important role of providing armed protection for the Army units at which they would be deployed.
This was one of a number of policing and guarding proposals set out in a consultative document issued by my department on 6th December 1995. Since then the MPGS scheme has been refined; and a new investment appraisal has been prepared to take account of some changes in the underlying assumptions. I am glad to say that these changes include a significant reduction in the number of MDP voluntary early retirements or severances that we assess would be needed and that we do not expect that any compulsory MDP redundancies would be required. All this has been set out in a new consultative document which my department issued on 29th May.
Noble Lords will be aware that the MPGS proposal has been examined in detail by two Select Committees in another place and that tomorrow my honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will be giving evidence to the Defence Committee there about this and a number of other policing and guarding matters. I have no doubt that noble Lords will also wish to ask detailed questions about it during the Committee stage of the Bill. At the moment I shall only observe that we remain convinced that the thinking behind the MPGS scheme is sound and that it offers the prospect of significant savings over the medium and long term.
I myself have been able to spend quite a lot of time with the Ministry of Defence Police and I was privileged to be present when Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal opened the new headquarters at Wethersfield. My colleagues and I have a high opinion of this fine force. Although we would expect it to lose some of its guarding work in the future, many MDP officers will continue to be employed on armed guarding duties. However, the force as a whole will concentrate a greater proportion of its time upon its policing functions in line with Sir John Blelloch's recommendations. I can assure the House that it is Ministers' firm intention that the
Where it is sensible and practical that they should do so, the services' procedures for investigating and trying offences closely resemble those of the civilian system. Clauses 6 to 14 incorporate into service law a number of changes which have been made in civilian law over the past few years, or they remove anomalies in service rules and procedures, particularly compared with civilian ones, or they make other improvements of a similar sort.
In a sense, much the same might be said about the court martial reforms in Clauses 5 and 15 to 19, which we regard as the centrepiece of the Bill. Having a five-yearly Armed Forces Bill gives us a regular opportunity to review the court martial system and to see whether what we regard as tried and tested arrangements can be further improved. We have grasped that opportunity in this year's Bill.
Before going into the detail of the changes we propose, I should make it clear that our basic premise is that there is a continuing need for a separate system for administering justice in the Armed Forces. The court martial system is a key ingredient of the wider system of day-to-day discipline in the services, which in turn is central to their effectiveness.
Discipline is not an optional extra; lives can depend on it. The arrangements for administering discipline have to be capable of functioning in peace and war, wherever in the world members of the services are deployed. Discipline has to be firm. But it must be applied fairly and in a way that is seen to be fair.
The proposals resulting from our review of the court martial system are quite complex, but the main point about them is that they are designed to reinforce the guarantee of a fair trial. We are in no doubt that courts martial today are independent and impartial courts which will try an accused without fear or favour, but we can understand that the perceptions of others may be otherwise. It is necessary, therefore, to modify the structures in order to remove any room there may be for doubt or misunderstanding on the key issue of independence.
To the extent that there has been misunderstanding, it seems to have centred on the role of the convening officer. He undoubtedly has had an important part to play as the senior officer who agrees to the setting up of a court martial. He decides what the charges will be and he appoints the prosecuting officer and the members of the court martial.
The convening officer is also responsible for aspects of the conduct of the prosecution such as deciding whether to accept a plea to a lesser charge. He is also normally the confirming officer who approves the verdict and sentence of the court martial.
The convening officer is part of the chain of command. He has performed those functions because the chain of command is necessarily involved in the administration of discipline. However, we have decided that this does not mean such extensive involvement as has been the case with the convening officer having so many responsibilities.
Therefore, the role of convening officer will cease to exist in its present form and his responsibilities will be divided. New higher authorities will ensure that the chain of command continues to be involved in preliminary decisions on how discipline cases should be handled. The convening officer's other functions will be transferred to new bodies independent of the chain of command.
The first of these will be the new prosecuting authorities, which will be staffed by legal officers. They will decide whether to prosecute and what charges should be brought. They will then conduct the prosecution. They will act without reference to the chain of command.
The practical arrangements for courts martial will be in the hands of administrative authorities which will be independent of both the higher authority and the prosecuting authority. Their responsibilities will include the selection of court martial members, who will be officers who are not in the same command as the accused.
Finally, as far as the convening officer is concerned, Clause 15 ends his role in confirming the findings of courts martial. That is part of the reform of post-trial procedures, aimed at simplifying the arrangements for conducting an internal review of court martial findings and sentences.
Returning to procedures at trial, in the past a judge advocate has officiated at most courts martial. He performs many of the functions of a judge in a Crown Court. He advises on the law, sums up and, in the event of a finding of guilty, offers guidance on the sentencing options.
We have decided to enhance the judge advocate's role. The Bill stipulates that a judge advocate will be present at all courts martial. The Bill also provides that in future their advice on points of law will be binding on the court and they will have a vote on sentence. In future also the reasons for a sentence will be given in open court. Naturally, that will increase transparency. It is also relevant to a further important change that we are making in regard to appeals.
It may not be generally realised--although I am sure that many of your Lordships will know this--that it is a civilian court of appeal, sitting as the Courts-Martial Appeal Court, which deals with appeals from courts martial. At present, it is able to hear only appeals against conviction. The Bill will remove that limitation and increase access to the Courts-Martial Appeal Court to enable it to hear appeals against sentence as well as against conviction. The change to allow appeals against sentence to be heard will mean that all court martial decisions will be subject to scrutiny by the Court of Appeal.
Not all disciplinary matters are dealt with by court martial. The majority are disposed of summarily, normally by the commanding officer. That is an effective way of dealing with more minor disciplinary issues quickly.
All those changes will apply to the Army and RAF and generally to the Royal Navy. However, there are some differences in the Royal Navy's system of discipline and that will affect the way in which the changes are extended to it.
We have accepted the Navy's judgment that it would not be feasible to change its present arrangements for summary trials. These already offer scope for defendants in the more serious cases to elect for trial by court martial. However, the operational environment at sea means that a widespread use of an extended right to opt for court martial could prevent relatively minor disciplinary matters being dealt with quickly.
I have dealt with the court martial reforms at some length because of their importance. I hope that your Lordships will agree with me that they represent a sensible package of reforms and improvements which will serve the Armed Forces well.
I turn now to other important provisions in the Bill. Clause 20 tidies up the rules enabling servicemen and women to make complaints through the internal redress procedures. It will allow a time limit to be introduced for making complaints. That is not intended to be restrictive. Part of the point of the procedure is to provide a means for clearing the air quickly if a problem arises. This is hardly served if complaints are made an excessively long time after an event, as can happen at present.
The suggested three-month time limit also ties in with Clauses 21 to 27 concerning the arrangements for servicemen and women to take complaints to industrial tribunals. At present there are different sets of rules applying to different types of complaints. The Bill aims to introduce greater consistency. The basic principle will be that in all cases eligible to be submitted to industrial tribunals internal procedures will have to be used first.
In most circumstances in civilian life there is a three-month time limit for applications to industrial tribunals. For servicemen and women, because of the requirement to use internal procedures first, the industrial tribunal time limit will be six months. The three-month limit for internal complaints will provide time to address complaints internally before the industrial tribunal deadline expires.
I should make it clear that there is no intention of using this to frustrate access to tribunals. If it becomes evident that internal consideration will not be concluded before the tribunal deadline, the regulations to be made by the Secretary of State will allow an application to be submitted to the industrial tribunal in any case. In such circumstances the services will continue to seek a resolution of the problem, if possible, because there will of course be a hiatus before the complaint is actually heard by the industrial tribunal.
Clause 30 is designed to allow the Secretary of State for Defence, as the trustee of Greenwich Hospital, to grant a lease in respect of the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. I know that your Lordships are more than
The Armed Forces cannot afford to be tolerant of drugs misuse. For about 18 months the Army has had a compulsory drugs testing programme. Those refusing to take a test or who test positive are normally required to leave the Army. Clause 32 makes it an offence to refuse to take a test. This will provide flexibility in providing a sanction for those whom it would be preferable to retain in the service such as the young first-time refuser. We also hope it will further deter drugs misuse.
Clauses 28, 29 and 33 amend the law to help the services do their business more effectively. Clauses 28 and 29 will enable us to resume important recruiting activities which involve members of the public handling service firearms, under supervision of course. Clause 33 amends the Visiting Forces Act 1952 to enable Parliament to offer concessions on jurisdiction to visiting forces from a wider range of countries than at present. As such concessions are usually available on a reciprocal basis, the underlying purpose of this change is to facilitate arrangements for our forces to exercise in the countries concerned.
The Bill is wide-ranging in its scope, and time has not allowed me to describe all the measures in as much detail as I would have wished. All the proposals in the Bill are of course covered in the explanatory memorandum printed with the Bill.
The period since the previous Armed Forces Bill has not seen any reduction in the challenges facing our servicemen and women. We owe it to them to provide a framework for their discipline system which is firm and fair--the two are equally important. This Bill is aimed precisely at meeting that objective. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Earl for introducing the Bill, and indeed for the clarity with which he has done so. I hope it goes without saying that we welcome the generality of the Bill, since unless it is enacted, there are serious, not to say catastrophic, implications for our country's defence. But the Bill, however necessary, contains certain changes in arrangements for our Armed Forces, and it would, in my view, be wrong to overlook these.
If I appear to be somewhat carping, I do not mean to be. I am second to none in my appreciation, both from my own personal experience and from my experience as defence spokesman for the Opposition in your
The Bill before your Lordships today went through its due process in another place, and was fully debated in great detail. But it is your Lordships' right--perhaps, without impertinence, I might say your Lordships' duty--as a revising Chamber to scrutinise carefully the Bill which has now come to your Lordships' House. This role is the more important, in my view, in that we have amongst us those who have served with the greatest distinction in our Armed Forces and who will, I am perfectly sure, contribute their usual knowledge and expertise to our debates.
As far as the Opposition are concerned, there are some issues on which I would particularly like to focus at this stage. I am not wholly convinced, for example, about the proposals for the security of defence establishments; in other words, what seemed at one point to be the disbanding of the Ministry of Defence Police. Similarly, I believe that the procedures proposed for reducing--and, if possible, eliminating--racial discrimination in the Armed Forces may not be as effective as they should be. The plans for Greenwich, although a great improvement on the Government's original proposals, in our view need to be slightly stiffened up. On the new arrangements for courts martial, leaving aside the matter of whether or not they will be considered appropriate by the European Court of Justice, if they are tested there, there are certainly comments to make, particularly on the composition of courts martial in relation to the powers that they have.
On the point about courts martial, which the noble Earl dealt with at some length, my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn will be speaking at the Committee stage. As I shall explain later, I am afraid I shall have to apologise to the House, and to the Minister, for not being able to be present at that stage other than as an occasional bystander. The reason I have to apologise is that, wearing another hat, I shall be involved in the Committee stage of the Housing Bill. Even if it were possible physically to be in two places at the same time, intellectually it would be rather difficult to concentrate on two important Bills concurrently. I shall therefore--if your Lordships will allow me--leave aside today the mainly legal issues which arise from the Bill, such as the rehabilitation of service offenders in Clause 13; the application of the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order in Clause 14; and the matters dealing with courts martial in Clauses 15 to 18 and Clause 25. I shall leave those, if I may, in hands more expert than mine.
On other matters, I wish to deal first of all with the Ministry of Defence Police. I confess to your Lordships that I am taken rather by surprise. As I understand it from the noble Earl, a document was published on 29th May which reported the consultative process. As I understand it, it reported the results of a pilot scheme
Therefore I am at something of a loss in debating a matter on a document which was published on 29th May during the Recess, and of which I have not been made aware. The noble Earl has described the contents of the document in general terms. I should have liked to have seen the document before saying anything about the MoD Police.
All I can say, therefore, is that in a letter which I received on 30th May, the Defence Police Federation is extremely worried about the proposals contained in Clause 2 of the Bill before us today. Having said that, I am rather in the dark. I consider it slightly slipshod on the part of the Ministry of Defence that I was not duly informed before the debate took place in your Lordships' House that the document was available. I did not even have time, coming up the M.4 this morning, to look at the document and to be able to comment on what the noble Earl said. Until we are in a position to study and assess the document, I can go no further in the argument on the MoD police, but no doubt we shall come to it in Committee.
I move on to racism in the Armed Forces. It is sad but true that there is a serious problem. Your Lordships will be aware that several cases recently have received a high degree of public attention. I am sure that we all agree that in a multi-racial society such as we are now, racism in any form is intolerable, but it is unsurprising. Although the Government have moved some way in the matter, as the noble Earl explained, I wonder whether they have gone far enough. For a complainant in the Armed Forces to have to go through a procedure different from that of a civilian--even a civilian employed in a defence establishment--seems to me odd, to say the least. Such complaints are difficult to pursue in the first place. Many people do not understand the internal service procedure. There appears to be little confidence that internal procedures produce satisfactory results. There is fear of victimisation; and to have to go through an internal inquiry before being able to have recourse to a tribunal can and does give rise to unnecessary distress. We will raise these matters in Committee, but we will need to be much more convinced than at present that the Government have made enough of an effort to correct what is, I hope your Lordships all agree, a serious and deep canker in our midst.
Let me now address the Greenwich Hospital provisions in Clauses 30 and 31. As I am sure the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin, will say, the provisions are infinitely better than those with which we started.
So I am not certain that the Government have got the final link right. It may well be that imposing such restrictions on the trustee of a single charity would make the clause hybrid; it might make the Bill hybrid. If on advice the noble Earl, when he winds up, says that that is the case, then I shall accept it and we will not pursue the matter. The last thing we want to do is to make the Armed Forces Bill hybrid. If, on the other hand, on advice, it turns out that such an amendment as was moved in another place by my honourable friend Mr. Raynsford is in order and does not make the Bill hybrid, we will wish to pursue the matter further.
I wish to raise one important point, although it is not in the Bill. Your Lordships will certainly be aware that there was a lengthy and well publicised debate in another place about the merits and demerits of the present ban on homosexuality in the Armed Forces. Although the matter is not in the Bill before your Lordships this afternoon, it will, I imagine, be raised in one form or another as the Bill goes through its various stages. I therefore believe that it would be appropriate for me to say something about it now.
As your Lordships will understand, it is not an easy matter and I therefore express my own personal view. There must, in my view, be a basic principle of non-discrimination. In other words, nobody of either sex should be disqualified from any employment simply on
Many noble Lords, including many of my noble friends, will regard it as a matter of conscience. I fully accept that. There will be those who argue that the principle of non-discrimination should override all others and that the culture of the Armed Forces will only adjust if Parliament insists on the matter. They will furthermore argue that in the--I hope unlikely--event of a general mobilisation for a major war, people will be called up regardless of their sexual orientation, and will fight with courage and conviction in the way that all British forces have fought in the past. But there will be others--and I include myself in that number--who believe that, however desirable it is for military law to be consistent with civilian law, in today's professional peace-time forces, it would be wrong to impose something which might--and I use the word "might" on the best available advice which includes advice from many in the services as well as the Chiefs of Staff--be to the detriment of those who command and serve in those forces, and who risk their lives in doing so.
The balance, as I have said, is fine. Indeed, it is so fine that I believe the proper course of action is for me to make my own position clear and leave it to others to determine their own position as they think fit. I come down against the removal of the ban at this time. But because the balance is so fine, and because many will take this as a matter of conscience, I do not feel that it would be right to advise or instruct my noble friends on how they should react if an amendment is moved along the lines proposed in another place. If such an amendment is moved, my noble friends will be free to speak and vote in whichever way they think fit. I will vote against it, in the knowledge that we still have to hear the opinion on the matter of the European Court of Human Rights and possibly the European Court of Justice. But I am only one voice and one vote. It will be for your Lordships to decide, as indeed it always is.
Apart from the few matters I have raised, there may well be, in addition to the points about courts martial which I have skated around, other areas in this Bill which will generate controversy when it goes into Committee. If the House will allow me, given the
Finally, I revert to Clause 1 of the Bill. I make a simple plea. As the noble Earl said, each service still has its own discipline Act; all sorts and varieties of civilian Acts apply in one form or another and in varying degree to the Armed Forces; and the Bill before us amends the discipline Acts themselves and imports legislation from other Acts. It is extremely difficult for the professional, and I would have thought almost impossible for any serviceman without legal training, to find his or her way through this maze of legislation. Is it not possible--here I believe I have to address myself to the Lord Chancellor's Department--to consolidate all the applicable legislation into one armed services Act? I am not trying to challenge the Bill of Rights. I agree exactly with the noble Earl's remarks. I am perfectly happy that every five years Parliament should consider the basis on which our Armed Forces operate. But why not, in this modern world, have one Act? I am told unofficially that parliamentary counsel were instructed to work on this matter and spent two years on the project before being diverted to another piece of legislation, which no doubt at the time seemed to the Government to be more important. At the moment, I can only say to your Lordships that the Government, in their dying moments, could perform no greater legislative service to the proper conduct of our Armed Forces than to consolidate the legislation into one Act which the men and women who risk their lives for their country can properly understand. Given our appreciation of their worth, I believe that they deserve no less.
Lord Mayhew: My Lords, there will be much sympathy for the suggestion made by the noble Lord that the discipline Acts should be consolidated. I believe that is officially being operated on at the present time. I hesitate to think how complicated the consolidation Bill will be when it comes before the House. It will make this Bill appear like child's play. In his opening remarks the Minister described Schedule 1 relating to reforms in court martial procedures as "quite complex". The fact that he could describe it as merely "quite complex" is proof positive that he has not even tried to read it. Even to lawyers, it is incomprehensible. No wonder the noble Lord, Lord Williams, passed the task of explaining the views of the Opposition on the court martial reforms to his noble friend Lord Judd. And no wonder he paid such a warm tribute to his noble friend before sitting down.
I speak with the authority of my colleague, Mr. Menzies Campbell, who has extensive experience as a lawyer of service and court martial law. Like a good Liberal, he has gone through Schedule 1 and has pronounced it sensible and welcome. I believe
Cutting back on the responsibilities of the convening officer is certainly very sensible; as is the idea of the Judge Advocate sitting in, and the better provision for appeals. I am sure that all those proposals will appeal to my noble friends, as they do to me. We do not think that they represent anything other than a liberal move which we should welcome. Much the same goes for the suggestion regarding complaints. It is not illiberal to encourage dealing with such complaints through the internal machinery. We welcome that too.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Williams, I have not seen the new paper on locally employed personnel. It is kind of the Government Whip to provide it on the wrong side of the House, but it is too late; I speak in ignorance. I can say only that in principle I feel pleased with the idea. How much it would cost, how it would work out, what impact it would have on the military police and so on, I shall not say at this stage.
I am sure that my noble friends would like me to begin by saying how warmly we associate ourselves with the tribute the noble Lord paid to the Armed Forces. This is the fifteenth time I have spoken as my party's defence spokesman on a disciplinary Bill, and we say that every time. But each time we mean it. And we mean it particularly about the Armed Forces serving overseas in Bosnia and Northern Ireland. However, that does not prevent me from asking the Minister whether he is satisfied with the standards of conduct of our servicemen in Cyprus. There were profoundly disturbing reports in the press about that. I should be glad if, in winding up, the Minister would tell us whether he is satisfied and what is being done about that profoundly worrying problem.
The bulk of the Bill is simply a formality. It renews the discipline Acts and brings service law more into line with civilian law. That is surely uncontroversial. One's impression is strengthened that, with one or two exceptions, the Armed Forces are gradually, over the years, and not always very willingly, aligning themselves with the changing standards and practices of civilian society. They have concerned themselves with such matters as equal opportunities, equal pay, new management, procurement practices, racial and sexual harassment, drug abuse and so on. We very much welcome the harder, tougher attitude taken in the Bill towards random testing. It goes far beyond anything that would be acceptable in civilian life; but it is surely necessary in terms of the Armed Forces. Perhaps in replying the Minister will give more recent figures in relation to random testing. The first results were reassuring, but I have some reason to believe that they are not so good now. Perhaps the noble Earl can reassure the House on that point.
The most obvious exception to the idea of the forces aligning themselves with civilian law is the ban on homosexual orientation in the services, a subject raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. As he said, it is likely to come up at Committee stage. If necessary,
If I understood the noble Lord, he rejected the two contrasting views: the views of the services that the ban should operate in every service in every role; and the view of the gay lobby and its supporters that the ban should apply nowhere. There is no thought of compromise on either side. He seemed to suggest that a blanket ban is not the solution and that, although there are many posts in the armed services in which sexual orientation is wholly irrelevant--as Ministers have agreed from time to time--there are other posts, where questions of separate accommodation and so on arise, in which some common sense in posting ought to be used. That was my view the last time that we discussed the matter and it is still my view. I note with some disappointment that it is rejected out of hand by both the Government and the gay lobby and its supporters.
Strangely, the same views do not quite apply to women personnel in the services, and one is glad to see it. There has been a great widening of roles for women throughout the services, which has been good. But there are still roles from which they are excluded: in tanks, infantry, rifle companies and submarines, for instance. I assume that the exclusion of women in those instances is due to difficulties of shared accommodation and also perhaps to difficulties with relative physical strengths, which I gather are now being measured. It is interesting that there are now specific non-gender physical tests. I should be fascinated to learn from the Minister the results that have been achieved from those tests; otherwise, for women there is not complete acceptance. There are reservations. There is a contrast there with the Government's view on homosexual orientation, obviously.
Over the years I have learned that Second Reading debates are perhaps less important and interesting than Committee stage debates, where many disparate subjects can be dealt with sensibly, one at a time. Therefore, I reserve the right to speak at greater length on some of those subjects when we reach the Committee stage of the Bill.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I hope to be brief. I thank the noble Earl for his clear and concise exposition of this complicated Bill, of which the purpose, as he said, is to bring up to date the service discipline Acts. I shall depart a little from the text of the Bill in one or two small points.
I should like to begin on the Bill itself by expressing some slight concern about Clause 2. That concern was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. As he said, it has caused considerable disquiet in the Defence Police Federation, a body which represents a service for which those who served in the Armed Forces have a very high regard. Now that we have had the opportunity to glance at the consultative document, perhaps we may return to this matter at Committee stage when we have been able to consider the implications a little more deeply.
On the Second Reading of this Armed Forces Bill we are not provided with an occasion for a general defence debate. However, I hope that, in the light of undertakings made by the Government from time to time recently about a period of stability for the Armed Forces, I shall not try too much the patience of the House when I mention two matters not specifically concerned with the Bill. Nonetheless, they are very relevant to matters of discipline and morale in the Armed Forces, with which the Bill is directly concerned.
My first question to the Minister concerns the status of the report prepared by Sir Michael Bett on the pay and conditions of the Armed Forces. One aspect which concerns me, and I believe certain other noble Lords, is that of the pension scheme that is being elaborated for members of the Armed Forces. From what we have heard, it seems to me that there is a certain conflict of view about it and also some internal contradiction in some of the proposals which might be put forward by Sir Michael Bett. Will the Minister assure the House that, when the Government make their final decisions about Sir Michael's report, they will take into full account the very important letter which appeared earlier in The Times from five former chiefs of the defence staff, who spoke with great authority and experience about the importance of getting these things right? I shall be grateful if the noble Earl can assure the House that that letter and other representations made by those distinguished officers will be taken fully into account.
My second point concerns another matter which affects the morale of the Armed Services directly; namely, the sale of the married quarters estate. At the moment, the decision seems to be moving towards a position in which the whole of the married quarters estate of the Armed Forces will be disposed of and a certain number of the married quarters leased back to the Ministry of Defence to cover immediate requirements. If that is the case, it appears a curious way of dealing with the problem. I ask the Minister why it would not he possible to retain under Ministry of Defence control those quarters which are needed for the Armed Forces in the immediate future and to dispose of the balance rather than dispose of the entire estate and lease back a portion of it.
The main reason that it concerns me is that, rightly or wrongly, it gives servicemen, servicewomen and their families the idea that there might be a difficulty in the future about guaranteeing married quarters for members of the Armed Forces. That would be potentially a very serious blow to morale. One of the great morale boosters in the Armed Forces is the sense that in a posting family may be near you and with you. That might become very
There is one other point I wish to mention which arises directly from the Bill, though not the Bill in its present form. It arises from the debate which took place in another place on the Motion to include the new Clause 1 in the Bill. It is a subject which was mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Williams of Elvel and Lord Mayhew. I refer to the policy of Her Majesty's Government and the Ministry of Defence regarding homosexuals in the Armed Forces. I do not want to enter into the substance of the debate about that issue at this stage, except to say that I find myself in almost total agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, in his proposition that that issue needs to be looked at in quite a different way when one is considering the position of the Armed Forces than one might look at it in another context.
My point is of a different kind. In the course of the debate in another place the Minister for the Armed Forces made what I felt was a surprising statement. He said that the present policy regarding homosexuals is not the result of a moral judgment. I find that a strange proposition. It led to one journalist in a national newspaper expressing the view in his column that the moral battle on this subject had now been won and that only the practicalities were left. Does that represent the view of Her Majesty's Government? It would seem to many people--it has already been represented to me--that sexual behaviour, whether homosexual or heterosexual, especially in a closed society like the Armed Forces which contains a considerable family element, is bound to have a moral connotation. I say that whether the relationships are heterosexual or homosexual.
Parents with young sons and daughters entering the Armed Forces expect the superior officers to act in some ways in loco parentis, and I suspect that they will regard it very much as a moral issue. I shall be surprised, and indeed dismayed, if the Government agree with the interpretation placed on the Minister's statement by the national newspaper that the moral battle has now been won and that all that is left are the practicalities. I shall be grateful if the Minister, when he replies to the debate, can enlighten us upon that issue.
For the rest, though this is a routine Bill, as other noble Lords have said, and is something that arises from time to time, and for the most part is legalistic and designed entirely to relate to the laws governing the discipline of the Armed Forces, it is an enlightened Bill. I shall look forward to the Committee stage of the Bill where we can examine some of the small print a little more closely. However, I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with the noble Earl that it is a firm and fair Bill. The proposed changes, with one or two minor observations, are firm and fair. I welcome the Bill.
Lord Vivian: My Lords, as we have heard, every five years an Armed Forces Bill is needed to maintain the framework of law under which the Armed Forces operate. It is also an opportunity to update the law and the way in which it operates and to take into account major changes over the previous five years. I welcome the chance to contribute to the Bill and at this stage I should declare an interest. I was a serving Army officer for 37 years. I am an Honorary Colonel to 306 Field Hospital and a commissioner to the Royal Hospital, Chelsea.
It is essential that the framework of military law within which the Armed Forces operate is absolutely right. Military law provides the basis from which fair discipline stems, without which there cannot be high morale, trust and respect for the chain of command, loyalty to superiors and subordinates, esprit de corps and military ethos at regimental level, all of which provide the essential background for the will to win in conflict.
It is this country's brave members of the Armed Forces who, with no consideration for themselves, are prepared to sacrifice their lives for their country. It is that inbuilt discipline, founded on the Services Discipline Acts, which ensured that the Scots Guards won a critical battle in the Falklands. One of its companies faced a strongly defended enemy position and had run out of ammunition. The company commander gave the order to fix bayonets in advance, knowing without looking back that every man in his company would follow him and kill the enemy until their opponents were forced to surrender.
I worry that in this time of liberality there are some who feel, for one reason or another, that there is no longer a need for a special code and legal framework for our Armed Forces. To those people I can only say that they are wrong. There are and always will be special circumstances that prevail which make a complete identity between civil and military law impossible. The armed services are different and, if they are to perform their duty in the way in which the nation expects, they require an additional code of discipline.
Parliament owes an assurance to our unique and brave servicemen and servicewomen, who serve this country beyond reproach and who place their trust in this very Parliament, that all the necessary component parts which produce the highest morale with the highest standards are provided for them. To deny any part will be at our peril and the security of the realm in the long term will be put at risk.
I should like to touch briefly on a few of the clauses in the Bill. Clause 2 introduces and relates to proposals to establish a new category of guard personnel enlisted on military home service engagements to undertake certain specific guard duties. Will my noble friend assure the House that, before experienced and well trained MoD policemen are made redundant, the proposed military provost guard service scheme is well recruited and running successfully? Will he also give an assurance that it is not the intention to use military personnel on regular service engagements to carry out
Clause 3 states that additional particulars can now be added to discharge certificates by order of the Defence Council or by an officer authorised by it. Discharge certificates have always been diligently completed by commanding officers who have the responsibility of recording a final assessment of conduct. Can my noble friend say what those additional particulars will be that are to be added to the certificates?
Clause 11 is intended to give service policemen powers to take the fingerprints of a person who has been convicted in service disciplinary proceedings of a recordable offence. I support the clause, subject to the limitations imposed in it, as it should speed up and save money on subsequent investigations of any new offences committed by that same offender.
Clauses 15 to 19 deal with changes to courts-martial procedures and appeals. The courts-martial system has been subject to criticism and a number of applications have been made by ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen, convicted by courts-martial, to the European Commission on Human Rights, contesting the independence and impartiality of courts-martial and their review procedures. It is essential that a robust line is taken if the European Commission should interfere in the disciplinary matters of our Armed Forces. In any event, it is understood that the European Court of Justice has no power to deal with defence matters, as they were specifically excluded from the competence of the European Union. However, we are a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, but at the time of signature surely it was never envisaged that the court would interfere in national interests and overrule the will of a sovereign parliament.
Like, I expect, some of your Lordships, I have been a convening and reviewing officer of courts-martial, I have sat as a member of the court and I have carried out the duties of a defending officer and assistant prosecuting officer. I know of no other system of justice which is as fair as the courts-martial system, which upholds the proper interests of justice and affords more advantage to a military accused than do similar civilian systems. There are some misguided people who would like our Armed Forces to follow the way of other European military forces and have military offences dealt with by the local civilian courts with court officials making convictions and giving sentence about matters of which in all probability they have no knowledge. This would not be in any way in the interests of our Armed Forces.
The main changes proposed in the Bill, which preserves the courts-martial system, involve altering the formal part played in courts-martial proceedings by the military chain of command. In future, this part will be carried out by members of the armed services, but by officers independent of that particular chain of command. In addition, the responsibilities of the Judge Advocate will be increased, which should be beneficial to the system. But I am concerned that he should be
It is very much in the interests of the services and the country that the courts-martial and military discipline systems, as amended by the Bill, remain. It is a procedure adjudicated by officers who know the military way of life, being able to bring their judgment to bear, using their military experience.
Clauses 30 and 31 deal with the Greenwich Hospital. This subject has been keenly debated in your Lordships' House frequently and recently. I do not wish to make any further comments about Greenwich at this stage except to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that it is included in the Title of the Bill, which states that it is,
Clause 32 deals with penalties for failing to provide a specimen for drug testing. I agree with the Army Board policy that the use of illegal drugs undermines trust and mutual respect, impairs efficiency, judgment and reliability and is therefore detrimental to operational effectiveness. Drug misuse has an insidious effect and wherever it takes hold will quickly undermine the unit's discipline, morale and cohesion. I strongly support Clause 32.
Before I conclude, your Lordships will have noted that I have focused only on clauses in the Armed Forces Bill. However, as the subject of homosexuality in the services has been raised, I do not think that this matter is a finely balanced one at all. I wish to endorse the point that the chiefs of staff and servicemen and servicewomen wish the status quo to remain. I feel strongly that this is a matter that Parliament should not interfere with. I would also add that I fully support the observations made by my noble friend Lord Chalfont about the married quarters estate. I feel that the whole scheme needs to be looked at again.
In conclusion, this Bill strengthens the code of military discipline; extends relevant civil practices to service proceedings; preserves, strengthens and updates the courts-martial system and maintains the legal framework under which the Armed Forces operate and within the military ethos in which they work. I believe the Armed Forces should be grateful for the Bill and I believe it shows that Parliament has the interests of the services very much in mind. I strongly support the Bill.
Lord Lewin: My Lords, I wish to focus the attention of the House on Clauses 30 and 31, which concern the Greenwich Hospital now known as the Royal Naval College. I have no quarrel with those clauses, although I am not an expert on legal drafting. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, has already drawn attention to some of their excellent provisions for the heritage. I shall return later to his point about the position of Greenwich Hospital as a charity.
I am very concerned with both the rate and direction of progress towards determining the future use of the naval college. Together with the Queen's House, the National Maritime Museum and the Old Royal Observatory, set in the beautiful Royal Park, these buildings form the most important architectural and historical collection in our country and will, it is to be hoped, soon become a World Heritage Site with the name Maritime Greenwich. Their future is a matter of national, indeed international, concern. Perhaps I may remind the House of the sequence of events.
The long foreshadowed co-location of staff training at Camberley and the subsequent departure of the Royal Navy from Greenwich was finally announced early last year. In September the infamous Knight, Frank and Rutley prospectus was issued. It asked for expressions of interest by mid-November in acquiring a leasehold of the whole site--the whole site. The widespread public clamour of concern showed that this initiative was a major error of judgment.
In October, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, initiated a short debate during the course of which I proposed the appointment of a preservation trust to take the head lease of the college and to be given responsibility for the future use. This was not a personal whim. I knew I had the weight of many pillars of the heritage establishment behind me. Late in December--just before Christmas--the Secretary of State for Defence made the next move by appointing a robust advisory group--four people with impeccable heritage credentials--to advise him on the expressions of interest already received and the future use and management of the Royal Naval College. With hindsight, it is perhaps a pity that the advisory group was not appointed nine months before and the Knight, Frank and Rutley initiative given a miss.
At the end of March the Secretary of State published the interim report of the advisory group and his response to it. The report recommended the preservation trust as the right way forward. It noted that Greenwich University and the National Maritime Museum were the only viable responders to the Knight, Frank and Rutley prospectus which, I remind the House, called for expressions of interest in the whole site. The Secretary of State's response accepted the group's central recommendation that the head lease of the site should go to an independent preservation trust. We may take this as a decision. He stressed the need for the trust to pay particular regard to the college's historical associations with the Royal Navy. He noted that on the information provided so far Greenwich University and the National Maritime Museum appeared to be the most
I understand that the advisory group, which comprises very well qualified but busy people, has met about five or six times. I stress that it is an advisory group and not a decision-making body. It has no independent staff and it is served by officials of the Ministry of Defence. It paid its first visit as a group to view the whole site just two weeks ago. It appears that so far it has concentrated on the proposals of Greenwich University and the National Maritime Museum in response to the prospectus and it has not yet considered wider, perhaps more appropriate and imaginative uses.
Time is passing. Nearly a year-and-a-half has elapsed since the decision to leave Greenwich was announced. In 18 months' time the Navy will have left. It seems to me--and this is an informed judgment--that the motivation of the responsible departments for defence and heritage, is solely to reduce the burden of Greenwich on their departmental budgets. The Ministry of Defence wants a clean break with no further financial involvement. The Department of National Heritage wishes to avoid any new commitment and would like to be rid of its present responsibility for the external maintenance of the buildings and for the internal maintenance of the Painted Hall and the Chapel. The heritage department and its many predecessors have had this responsibility since the buildings were declared an ancient monument in 1924. Why should it try to duck it now?
The preservation trust is the obvious and accepted way forward. Perhaps I may answer the noble Lord, Lord Williams. If the Secretary of State lets a head lease to the preservation trust at an agreed rent, then the concerns of the Greenwich Hospital as a charity are fully met, for that is indeed the present position with the Ministry of Defence as the tenant.
As a charity the trust will be eligible for Lottery funding. The noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, as chairman of the National Heritage Lottery Trustees, has indicated in a public lecture that if money is needed by the trust, it would be an appropriate use of Lottery funds.
The possible terms of reference for the trust, which I spelt out last October, have been fully accepted by the advisory group and the Secretary of State. I hope that I will not weary noble Lords if I quickly repeat them as it will be useful to have them on the record. I believe that the trust should be responsible for, first, preserving the architectural and historic integrity of the buildings; secondly, ensuring the sympathetic use of the buildings by sub-tenants, paying particular regard to the historical associations with the Royal Navy; thirdly, encouraging public access and the interpretation to visitors of the historic significance of the site; fourthly, in conjunction with the Department of National Heritage, ensuring the proper maintenance of the buildings and their surroundings; fifthly, co-operating with the other
The trust should be an exempt charity within the terms of Schedule 2 of Chapter 10 of the Charities Act 1993. It would join a select list which includes all the national museums and galleries. The trust would be accountable to the Secretary of State for Defence in his capacity as the sole trustee of the Greenwich Hospital and to the Secretary of State for National Heritage. The trustees, when appointed, will have responsibilities and should be associated with decisions. They should not be presented with a fait accompli. This matter is urgent. The sooner this trust is set up and involved in decisions, the better.
Lord Kennet: My Lords, it is a pleasure for me to speak immediately after the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin, for the second time when debating this subject and to say that I believe I agree with everything that he has said.
It is true that the annual Armed Forces Bill is not an ideal occasion for dealing with the future of Greenwich, but then neither was it an ideal occasion for the Government to propose a change in the law about Greenwich, so we need make no apology for discussing it. The Secretary of State for Defence, under the 1869 Act, is the sole trustee of the Greenwich Hospital charity. He is duty bound to consider its best interests. He thinks that those interests are best served by selling a very long lease. The hospital has not been getting very much money out of these buildings while the Secretary of State has been his own tenant, or his own landlord, depending on which way one looks at it. He was not in any case required by the 1869 Act to levy rent. So one thing is quite sure: in no way do the hospital's "best interests" have to be interpreted as maximising financial return.
The House of Commons Select Committee on this Bill received a vast amount of evidence making the point that the Royal Naval College cannot be treated as a mere object of commerce, just as we in this House had established earlier, receiving, it is fair to say, reassurances from the Minister and the limitations mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in opening the debate this afternoon.
There is a new age in planning law just round the corner. Mr. Portillo finds himself at the tail end of Crown exemption, which means that the Government do not have to have planning permission for anything they do. They do not have to, although of course they have undertaken to act as if they did. The exemption itself, which has not yet been repealed, is now as dubious an institution as the ecclesiastical exemption, which has almost been repealed. The Ministry of Defence's culture of secrecy, which in this field is absurd and even dangerous, makes the exemption more dubious still.
Putting Greenwich into the hands of ordinary estate agents followed, as we know, a precipitate and ill-informed decision advised by senior officers and officials who were still, astonishingly, seeking to justify their procedures to the Commons committee in February. The Bill still does not bind the Secretary of State to take any advice. We have seen the abysmal quality of the advice he did take last year before he took his first and not clever decisions. I refer to paragraphs 168 and 173 to 176 of the Commons special report which show that clearly enough. Mr. Portillo is certainly to be congratulated on having changed his mind, but his officials should have spared him the embarrassment. The moral is--and this is something which the noble Lord, Lord Lewin, has already said--the creation of the advisory group chaired by Dame Jennifer Jenkins should have preceded the decision to move the Staff College, not followed after the nearly universal and wholly foreseeable criticisms.
It seems to me that not all those who should be talking to each other about Greenwich are yet doing so. Here I want to enlarge the debate beyond the Royal Naval College to a bigger subject which one might call the "Greenwich project". It is not just a heritage issue about the Royal Naval College. The borough, as planning authority, is properly alert to the future of these great buildings, but is even it examining comprehensively the implications for the whole of Greenwich, Deptford, Woolwich and Blackheath in the light of today's possibilities? Woolwich, too, has magnificent defence buildings to be considered now. The Maritime Museum, as occupant of what will be part of the World Heritage Site, and as the recipient of Millennium money, is in touch. However, its future hopes are still a little bit obscure in one respect, even after what the noble Lord, Lord Lewin, had just said; namely, the possibility that it may still be seeking to let off some of the highly desirable "residences" to raise money, and trying to generate more from the Painted Hall.
Greenwich University is, very properly, a potential user and now apparently in full discussion, but its plans, like those of the museum, are as yet nowhere near in keeping with the grandeur and possibilities of the college. What about the various people concerned with the very severe traffic problems--those promoting the Greenwich waterfront development, with their submerged foreshore scheme, and those promoting an extension of the Docklands Light Railway to central Greenwich? What about local opinion and the local and national amenity societies? What about ICOMOS, the UNESCO organisation which approves and registers World Heritage Sites? Are the future uses of the site being discussed with all those bodies?
I turn now to the Millennium Commission, the Millennium Trust and the Imagination Group which is working with them on the Millennium Exhibition. It is good news in today's papers that Mr. Heseltine has decided to take this into his own hands and to knock heads together. Can it be made clear that his new and urgent task includes considering the Royal Naval College? The bodies concerned would presumably all want to think comprehensively--that includes both the
To my mind, the argument in favour of Greenwich for the Millennium Exhibition is clinched by the presence of the Royal Naval College beside it, and all that can be done with and around it and its outbuildings and park. Here is one of the greatest opportunities we have, and it faces frittering--not yet frittering away because nothing yet has happened--but frittering away is the prospect unless something is done quickly, and is done in the open.
"Time" as the theme of the exhibition is fine. Greenwich Mean Time and the Greenwich Meridian have been among Britain's great gifts to the world--principally of course to the maritime world: the worlds of navigation and trade; and of discovery; and of geography, and hydrography, and meteorology and geology and oceanography; and of distant water fishing; and of shipping and shipbuilding; and travel, and oil and gas extraction; and of sailing for sport and pleasure, and marine tourism, and wreck identification and salvage; and to the air and space industries; and to the world's growing maritime institutions and to the many technologies and the much pure science that advance and underpin all those.
At one remove, Greenwich and all it stands for have also served the City of London, where marine-related business--marine insurance of all kinds; the P&I clubs; ship brokering of all kinds; certification; arbitration and legal and financial services of all kinds--bring, and will bring, great profit. All these depend, of course, on our maintaining, as we are not in fact now doing, our maritime experience and expertise. Will not these and the other maritime industries help to fund a permanent, working showcase for the skills on which they depend?
And, of course, Greenwich belongs also very specifically to the Royal Navy, whose links with it must never be cut. Perhaps I should now make a declaration not of interest but of ingrained inclination. I, my wife, my brother, my father, my father-in-law, my son's father-in-law and his father have all been in the Navy, and many others before them, back to the admiral who in the 1770s George III made captain of his Royal yacht because of his pleasing tenor voice. My wife and I have also written quite widely about Hawksmoor and thus about the buildings at Greenwich.
However, it is not those things but reason which makes me assert that the Greenwich project can be the symbol both of the global maritime order which is now being laboriously and usefully constructed in so many ways and places and of Britain's unique contribution, past, present and future, to it. So let us make the conurbation centred on Greenwich the World Maritime Centre, and let the exhibition aim to produce buildings and facilities that will provide a long-term site for all the global maritime science, technology and other bodies, whether governmental or not.
The Biodiversity Convention requires international maritime co-operation. Our Government have already hosted one of its ocean workshops last December. The various ad hoc GESAMP projects need a permanent address, and the facilities which Greenwich University is planning to set up within the Dreadnought Hospital can be designed with that in mind.
The International Maritime Organisation has its headquarters just up the Thames, and has a small World Maritime University at Malmo in Sweden which is mainly occupied with training the people who will become the developing world's marine officials. But IMO has no graduate or research-level institution, and it clearly needs one. What could be more sensible than that Greenwich University should expand at this level into a postgraduate international institute for maritime science and technology, becoming in effect the upper tier of the World Maritime University?
Greenwich University could also take on studying and teaching "English as the language of the sea": a global requirement, and one with a remarkable history. There is no Chair of international or European maritime history in Britain: let there be such Chairs--at Greenwich. The European Union needs both external and internal maritime policies: let there be a department of European sea use management and planning. Let Arctic studies find a home here.
It was a wise and imaginative stroke of foresight for the Government to choose the next-door site to the Greenwich Hospital for the Millennium Exhibition: this collocation can be the saving both of the Royal Naval College and of the Millennium project. The site may be poisoned, but British Gas is in Mr. Heseltine's group and can do the cleaning if it is told to. Let all be done together, under the sign of Neptune, and people will not only be entertained: they will be informed, enlarged in mind and enabled to restore to us, and to build on, our natural heritage of seagoing and sea-earning.
The enforcement of law and order at sea--what used charmingly to be called the "Offshore Tapestry" in the Ministry of Defence in the days when my noble friend Lord Judd looked after that--urgently needs collaborative thinking between, on the one hand, the world's navies and their corresponding civil powers and, on the other hand, the academic world. That too should be included. So, let the designers of the exhibition buildings on that site aim at providing permanent space for maritime-related British, European and international firms and organisations to exhibit their wares, not only commercially, but, along with the maritime research and
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, albeit it reluctantly, perhaps I may draw the attention of the House away from Greenwich to the Armed Forces Bill, which I very much welcome. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for his helpful introduction.
The Bill is a timely reminder that the Armed Forces is a different group from all others in our society. Although the Bill rightly seeks, where appropriate, to bring sections of the Armed Forces Acts into line with the latest criminal and other legal provisions which apply to all citizens, it is abundantly clear that many clauses of this Bill and many sections of the Acts which it updates are peculiar to the services alone. I refer to courts martial, crimes of insubordination and disobedience of lawful command, low flying and annoyance caused by flying, compulsory drug-testing and many more matters which have a special place in those services Acts. They have no direct comparison with civilian life. Even if laws relating to sexual and ethnic discrimination are brought up to date, legally the services are seen and judged to be different. This point must be stressed, because all too frequently attempts are made to equate the services with others in civilian life. Whether for the purposes of pay, pensions or a whole host of lesser issues, increasingly it is now thought appropriate that the services should be treated as other public service groups and not as a special one with unique risks and requirements.
Pensions are particularly topical because of the Bett Report proposals and the MoD's internal review of pensions policy. I join the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in urging that all of these proposals and ideas be given a full and proper hearing before decisions are taken. This is such a major and pervasive issue that any changes should be widely debated and the details understood. The opportunity should--indeed, must--be taken to right some of the unfair and punitively unjust situations which affect a number of servicemen and their spouses. I am concerned that attempts will be made to defer the start of early pension payments, and there is a continuing reluctance to recognise that servicemen's pay is effectively abated by the pay review bodies as a contribution to servicemen's or servicewomen's service pensions. Not all will serve long enough to earn that early pension entitlement but they will still have had their pay abated. That is a scandal. Surely the argument that service personnel should be treated on a par with all other government employees should not be allowed to stand in this case of all cases if this is to the detriment of the serviceman and woman. They are different, and this Bill underlines that distinction. It is enshrined in the Armed Forces Acts. It is invidious to hold to different policies to suit Treasury or government attempts to group all public servants together at lower levels of benefit.
Although many of us when young do not give too much thought to the details of our pensions, there is little doubt that the broad thrust and fairness of the current scheme, apart from the injustices to which I have referred, is widely appreciated. It is a factor in recruiting and retaining good quality individuals in the three armed services. With morale at a low ebb in the wake of redundancies and turbulence, this is not the time to hit those serving with yet another detriment, this time to their pension prospects.
Another aspect of government policy which appears to be poorly understood within the services is the sale of the married quarters estate. While the approach may be sound--I just do not know; I have not met many who are able to assure me that it is--I believe that the devil will be in the detail. Can the Minister assure the House that the military views have been fully explored and that any reservations will be dealt with? The proposal appears to be being rushed through at a great rate.
Another area in which the services are different is in the attitude to homosexuality and lesbianism. We have been much reminded of this in recent weeks because of the outcome of the review of the policy on homosexuality in the Armed Forces. Much has been said and written on this topic. I believe that it is absolutely right to heed the views of those who would be directly involved if there were to be any change of policy. I do not doubt that there are many homosexuals and lesbians who could fulfil the technical and operational requirements of the services.
I do not doubt that many of them are fearless and brave. I do not assume that they are not good patriots. But that is only one side of the coin. The ethos and fighting will of the services is based on the feelings and attitudes of all who serve in Her Majesty's Forces. In the Armed Forces teamwork is not just a convenience; it is fundamental. Good teamwork can flourish only if all members of the team respect each other and work together in harmony.
These points were well aired in the recent review. The current overwhelming majority opinion within the services is now a matter of widespread public knowledge. Ministers are quite right to take those views fully into account. I am pleased that they have not been tempted down the dubious path of "Don't ask; don't tell". While such a policy may just work at the recruiting room door, let no one assume that it will apply thereafter or that by order it can be made to apply.
Anyone by his or her behaviour, or by the avoidance of certain behaviour which is generally accepted as the norm in a close heterosexual group, will sooner or later be asked by his or her mates whether he or she is gay. Most probably, they would use one or more of the rougher phrases in posing that question. Any idea that a gay will never be asked that question by his colleagues with whom he works closely and spends his leisure time is ludicrous. Of course he or she will be asked. Whatever is said or not said, soon it will be round the rest of the unit or ship.
"Don't ask; don't tell" is a fudge. It is unlikely to work for the individual, and I do not believe that it will work in the close confines of the service environment. I hope that Ministers now and in the future will have the good sense not to be seduced by that particular line of policy. I do not see how it can work within our services without placing grave strain on their efficiency and effectiveness.
Viscount De L'Isle: My Lords, perhaps I should begin by declaring an interest as a retired Army officer and currently as honorary colonel of the 5th Volunteer Battalion of the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment. I feel privileged to be suspended between two gallant and noble Lords. It is rather like being suspended between the sky and the ground and wondering where one will end up.
We are rightly proud of our armed services whose professionalism, dedication and tenacity are the envy of the world. I support the Bill which updates the required legislation but backs up the self-discipline and good morale which form the backbone of our armed services. The noble Lords, Lord Craig and Lord Chalfont, referred to the sale of married quarters. During the period of Options for Change and Front Line First we have imposed considerable change on our servicemen who have taken these difficult decisions with good grace and made them work. Following Front Line First, servicemen were promised a period of stability in which to adjust. While servicemen are well known for their "rigid flexibility", the overstretch and undermanning has tested them to the limit but they continue to hold the line, often spending a large amount of time on unaccompanied postings or operational tours. Servicemen have greeted with dismay the Government's proposal to sell off the married quarter housing estates. Accompanied postings have always been encouraged by the armed services to bring the stability of home life to servicemen. It has been demonstrated that servicemen who live in their own accommodation away from the base are more likely to leave prematurely.
The likely purchasers of the housing estates will, I am certain, wish to realise their assets by redeveloping the best sites and selling them to the highest bidder, while service families will be left with the less saleable and probably isolated accommodation. The times when the husbands are abroad on operational tours are the times when service wives and families need to support one another and need to be close to the job market.
Lord Bramall: My Lords, in debating the Armed Forces Bill, so clearly and concisely presented by the Minister, noble Lords have rightly, in my opinion, at this stage covered a wide spectrum of subjects. As it is the Second Reading, perhaps I too, could use the latitude allowed to stray outside the strict confines of the Bill, particularly as it may be some time before we have a proper opportunity to debate these matters, as distinct from the last Friday of the Session, which is our usual lot.
I believe therefore that it would not be inappropriate were I to leave the Minister in no doubt that I, and I believe others interested in, and well-informed on, defence matters, both inside and outside Parliament, share a continuing concern about what is being planned for those Armed Forces in the years ahead. Those concerns spring not so much from the measures taken under Options for Change and the defence costs study, and still less from the Bill itself, which, in general terms, I support.
The first two can be represented as honest attempts to make adjustments, both organisational and financial, considered appropriate in a changed and still dangerous world, even if in two areas particularly--medical services and Army manpower--the cuts now appear, as of course was warned, to have been greatly overdone. Nor has the front line been preserved as much as commitments and states of readiness require. The manpower cuts have led directly to the serious manning situation which looks like being with us for some time to come--a self-inflicted wound, one might say, which will be even more culpable if junior soldier regiments are not restored as a matter of urgency.
Against that background of undermanning and overstretching, concern now, as has already been mentioned, is much more over the never ending peripheral but potentially erosive studies which continue to add to the instability and uncertainty which the Armed Forces have had to endure over the past five to six years, and which strike at the very ethos and identity which are so important to morale and their fighting qualities. I have particularly in mind the Private Finance Initative.
The forces are being told continually by no less a person than the Prime Minister that this period of uncertainty is over, and that the forces will now be left alone to get on with it--he has often and laudably praised the forces for the superb work they are doing in Bosnia and elsewhere--but that is just not happening. It seems that special advisers without any responsibility carry more weight in these matters than the Prime Minister--a view which I assure the Minister is widely held.
Moreover, in all this business of almost compulsive change mentioned by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig, sometimes conveniently described as moving with the times, should we not just occasionally remind ourselves that it is not as if we were at the end of the Crimean or South African wars, when operational performance had manifestly been so unsatisfactory, and the forces were so out of touch with reality that the need for organisational change was overwhelming? In contrast, since 1945 the Armed Forces have hardly put a foot wrong. In 30 years they have carried out, with conspicuous success, such a varied range of operations as the confrontation in Borneo, aid to the civil power in Northern Ireland, the ceasefire and retraining in the old Rhodesia, the limited wars in the Falklands and the Gulf, and now the superb life-saving exercise in Bosnia. They have shown themselves capable of adaptability and flexibility.
In all honesty, the imperative for change cannot be on operational grounds, as might apply to some other public institutions, but only on the straight need for financial savings, often not immediately achieved, and often hotly denied by Ministers as the main rationale for any changes. Alternatively, I have to say that, rather more insidiously, there may perhaps be some envious desire to "de-enrich"--a phrase bandied around in the Treasury, I believe--one of the nation's most priceless assets (its Armed Forces) and change them in the general cause of public service egalitarianism. That ignores the unique quality of the Armed Forces which my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig and the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, mentioned, which the Treasury finds it so hard to accept. Many of us feel that all that will have a far greater downside in terms of quality than Whitehall is ever prepared to admit.
Two things among many others give me cause for immediate concern. The first is what will happen to the Staff College at Camberley, which for decades now has had an unrivalled reputation throughout the world, and has made an enormous contribution to the performance of the Army and in some cases the other services too, in the operational capability that I mentioned earlier. The other, ably expounded by my noble friend Lord Chalfont and my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig, is the likely sale to developers of the defence married quarters estate, which I and many others believe could end up a national disgrace.
On the first point, even if one accepts, which I do not, the premise that in future all operations, organisation and staff practice will and should have an overriding joint content--that is no more or less true than it has been for the past 50 years--and that therefore all staff training should be on a tri-service basis, the idea that that training might be contracted out to universities, polytechnics, private entrepreneurial companies, or whatever, and might not even be at Camberley, fills all of us who have had any experience of these things with the greatest foreboding. It would strike at so much that has proved itself of real quality over so many years. A far more sensible, practical, and initially cheaper alternative, will be to leave--this is consistent with the great plans that my noble and gallant friend Lord Lewin has for Greenwich--the Naval Staff College there
I am not as knowledgable about married quarters as I like to think I am about staff training and joint organisation, although, because of their impact on morale and the wellbeing of fighting men, I used often, in my experience of command at every level, to spend as much time concerning myself with that subject as I did with many others. On that, I just want to reinforce what my noble friend Lord Chalfont said and tell the Minister that in the forces, and among the families in particular, there is extreme disquiet about this sale to developers.
That is because the overall picture for servicemen and their families is bleak and one in respect of which officials have been quite unable to give reassurance. Spiralling rents--they have already been put up 25 per cent. with further real rises projected for the future--a decrease in the number of houses available for service personnel, in spite of a greater concentration of forces in the United Kingdom, and a creaming off by the developers of the best located estates (offering, for example, the best scope for wives' employment) will, it is widely felt, force families prematurely out of service and into private accommodation and that, in turn, will erode the community life of Army units and RAF stations, so valuable to esprit de corps. I understand, which is perhaps more surprising to me, that the Navy is equally worried about that too. It will also remove from the chain of command much of their proper responsibilities for the welfare and well-being of their personnel.
It is my understanding that throughout the services, particularly in the Army, people are seriously questioning whether there is sufficient justification for such a step as distinct from improving the Defence Housing Executive, which was set up only recently by the Ministry of Defence.
Finally, I support what was said by my noble friend Lord Chalfont about pensions. It would be tragic if any newly designed scheme became underfunded and did not provide, as the present one does, a pension on retirement after the usual amount of service rather than having to defer it to so-called pensionable age. If there are any thoughts in that direction, I hope that Ministers will refer the matter for discussion in Parliament before any firm decisions are taken. There is nothing more important than a proper, generous pension scheme to attract people into the forces and to keep them and ensure that the forces continue to be properly manned by young men and women who are fighting fit.
All that is--and perhaps there are traces of it in the Bill--part and parcel of the way in which the uniqueness of the Armed Forces and the total commitment that they give to facing danger, taking risks
This Bill apart, I ask Ministers to stop the never ending bureaucratic reviews which gather their own momentum in Whitehall, sometimes even before Ministers discover what they are letting themselves in for, and which continue to produce appalling uncertainty and some lack of confidence in the management of the services themselves. If you want well-recruited, fully manned Armed Forces capable of fighting, as we desperately do, this is just not the way to go about it, whatever legal framework you have most carefully contrived.
Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, I join in the tributes which have been paid to our servicemen and women. My noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel said that he was looking forward to hearing the contributions of some who had served with great distinction. I must tell him that mine is a contribution from someone who served with no distinction at all. My noble friend also spoke of servicemen without legal training, which rather puzzled me. I must tell your Lordships that every mess in which I served contained a number of barrack room lawyers who had the answer to almost every issue one cared to raise with them.
Today there are few Members in the other place who have served in the Armed Forces, in particular in combat. That makes a great difference to the way in which they consider these matters. After the Falklands War, when I was Chief Whip in another place, one of my Members began to take an interest in the gallantry awards which were made to those who had served. He began to wonder whether such action merited a Distinguished Service Order or a Military Cross. I sent for him and asked, "How old were you at the end of the war in 1945?". He said, "I was three.". After that he took less interest in the matter--in fact, he dropped it!
I wish to concentrate in particular on Clauses 30 and 31 which relate to the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. My noble friend Lord Williams said that the present suggestions are infinitely better and that the benefit to the nation is being fully considered. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin, spoke in detail about the matter, putting it well and truly on the record. The truth of the matter is that we are a maritime nation. We have not been invaded for some 900 years which, I believe, contributes greatly towards the British character. I say quite frankly to your Lordships that I am proud to be British. That is the kind of remark which today leads to accusations of xenophobia. So be it, but many of those who are saying that we in this country are xenophobic would not have that freedom of speech had we not been prepared to go into
The noble and gallant Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, spoke of being suspended between two noble and gallant Lords. I should like to think of myself as a bookend. Perhaps the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin, will not mind if he is the other bookend. He achieved the very highest rank in the Royal Navy whereas, it will not surprise your Lordships to know, I achieved no advancement whatever other than that which was purely automatic. Between us we span the entire range of the naval ranks and ratings. His expressions about our naval traditions result not only from the fact that he was a high ranking serving officer but exist throughout the service. Former naval people are similarly proud of the traditions that are laid down.
I wish to pursue the point made about the advisory committee. A glance at Who's Who will indicate to your Lordships just how eminent and distinguished were its members and give lists of the public bodies on which they have served and are serving. However, on 21st February this year the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, pointed out in your Lordships' House that there was no naval experience on that advisory committee. It was a pity that there was no input from the Royal Navy and therefore the concentration on the heritage and architectural matters overlooked the naval and maritime tradition. Furthermore, the need to recommend in the remit a single user was stultifying.
The suggestion that the University of Greenwich goes into the buildings is one that I welcome. In my capacity as Deputy Chairman of the Docklands Development Corporation in the East End of London I have tried hard to have the first new university campus since the war built in London Docklands. The same site is also associated with the Thames Gateway Technology Centre. It is a fine thing that the experience of university life and its whole ambience is coming to the East End of London. Therefore, I welcome the development at Greenwich. But I do not think that the entire site should be given over to that together with the maritime museum. Other uses should be sought, because the Knight Frank and Rutley experience, which has already been referred to, was a wasteful and expensive exercise. That company was only ever looking for a single user and the user identified in the end had already come forward.
I should like to pursue the suggestion made my noble friend Lord Kennet that it should be a world maritime centre. We should look for other tenants for the buildings from people with associations with the sea. Indeed, there are City livery companies which lost their buildings during the war which would welcome the opportunity to use some of the facilities there. The two great centres of world and UK shipping--the Baltic Exchange and the Chamber of Shipping--were destroyed by the IRA bomb in St. Mary Axe. It is true that they have found new homes but there are other shipping-related activities--for example, brokers, agents and owners--which would welcome the opportunity to move to accommodation in the Royal Naval College.
Really and truly, with the best will in the world, the advisory group should be replaced as soon as possible by the appointment of trustees to the new Greenwich Trust so that they can get on with not only looking after the premises but also trying to attract far more of those maritime organisations to associate with and continue the tradition.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, this Bill was commended to the House in another place, I think rightly, as an important, sensible and satisfactory framework for future military discipline. I am grateful to the Minister for his clear presentation of the Bill. But discipline and morale go together and tradition and a pride in service are a part of morale.
I shall not speak about Greenwich. So much has been said already by many distinguished noble Lords. However, when we debate the Bill, there are issues related to and sometimes integral with the Bill which need to be examined. Morale, manning and recruitment are such issues.
There is a 17 per cent. shortfall in Army recruitment, chiefly in the infantry where there is a shortage of more than 2,000 men. That enforced down-sizing--to use a hateful but current word--has not (of course it has not) been matched by a down-sizing of commitments. Bosnia could still slide back into war and it is becoming increasingly probable that our troops are facing a long-term, open-ended commitment to keep the peace there. Add to that the renewed threat from the IRA and an unstable Russia and it is clear that more and more men will be serving unacceptably long tours without relief. Undermanning exacerbates overstretch, as a recent defence report states. The effect for the Army of prolonged undermanning will be disastrous for training in order to maintain full complement, and for the operations of IFOR in Bosnia other units will be depleted. The reduction in the interval between deployments will have an extremely adverse effect on both morale and efficiency. Indeed, it may well encourage men to leave.
There can be nothing but professional frustration in trying to do a good job under impossible conditions which have been created solely by the Treasury axe and by the refusal by Ministers in the years since Options for Change to perceive that cost-cutting can go too far and its effects cannot easily be reversed.
Decisions should be taken for operational and not financial reasons. Perhaps I may cite some of the acts calculated to lower morale and to discourage both potential recruits from joining and serving soldiers from staying. Much of what I am about to say has been said infinitely better by my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall and others. However, your Lordships will forgive me for repeating it again. I feel that we cannot say it too often.
One brilliant idea in the Defence Costs Study was to save money by closing the Army recruitment centres and using the jobcentres instead, presumably advertising alongside the advertisements for "chamber-persons", in suitably politically correct language. Could anyone be
Then we have such encouraging aids to morale, already referred to by my noble friend Lord Chalfont and others, as the proposed privatisation for £1.6 million of the MoD portfolio of married quarters. That portfolio is said to have a rental income of £107 million per year. Who is reported as one of the favoured bidders in the shortlist to buy all that but a Japanese bank. It is scarcely encouraging, moreover, that rents may rise at more than the rate of inflation as a result of that privatisation.
I do not know what is the latest news on that, but I suggest respectfully to the Minister that it is scarcely a tactic designed to appeal to married families. They are already under pressure because of longer and longer intervals between deployments. That may be the last straw which will encourage the wives to discourage their husbands, loyal as they are, from remaining in the forces.
I remember seeing on the television some young wives of men serving with the Welch Fusiliers when some members of that regiment were taken hostage in Bosnia some time ago. They were interviewed by the press and asked solicitously whether they and their children were receiving counselling from the usual flock of "traumatologists". They replied that the regiment was a family and that they all knew the score and all supported each other, as did their children.
Married quarters may not always be very good, but to live in an ordered and safe environment within the regimental, naval or air force family means a great deal. I should be interested to know how many supported the Bett Report advocacy of private sector housing which would,
I hope too that the Minister will tell us today when there is to be a formal opportunity to debate the Bett Report, with its many implications for morale. Too often we find that things have crept up on us and we have not had an opportunity to comment at the right moment when we might conceivably have influenced events.
It was said in this House by the Minister's predecessor that the Bett review's aim was to enable us to recruit and retain the high quality people that we need in the Armed Forces. I should like to make sure that the report does that.
There are many other things happening in the services which can neither help morale nor constitute any attraction for would-be recruits. The obsession with saving money rather than operational wealth in terms of efficiency has led, for example, to an increase of 72 per cent. (a cost overrun of £800 million) in the Trident works programme. That is a programme in which 1,000 consultants from 67 firms worked on open-ended, cost-plus contracts and the consultancy costs increased by 194 per cent. to £360 million. They were unrestrained by any pre-agreed maximum final price. I suppose that we should not be surprised since that well-known institution, the Property Services Agency--yes, the one which built the British Library, and is still building it, I think--was initially managing the project for the MoD and is ineffably described as the client's friend.
Reading the lamentable story in the Public Accounts Committee report, it becomes fairly clear that, first, the MoD team which eventually took on responsibility from the PSA in 1990 was, as the Chief of Fleet Support said, not particularly well-placed to manage a project of that size and complexity. (It was elsewhere compared to the Channel Tunnel.) Clearly he was seriously understaffed. Eventually the responsibility was transferred in 1992 to the Directorate of Works in the Procurement Executive. Secondly, such management as there was was carried out by a project manager who monitored financial aspects. To quote the Chief of Defence Procurement:
I have one more example, among many, of the crass folly of taking decisions based on money alone, in the sacred name of market testing and, I suppose, asset stripping. A firm called Airwork was given a contract to modify 134 Tornado F3 aircraft. Its was the lowest tender. The firm damaged 18, but was paid for eight because, in accordance with quality assurance practice at the time, the contractor's certificate of correct work was sufficient. Fortunately, an RAF technician discovered the damage to an undercarriage, and the rest were eventually also found to be damaged. All 18 aircraft were still not airworthy by May 1994. The story has been running for a long time. I believe that
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful for the way in which the Minister introduced the Bill. Before saying anything substantial, I would remind the House that I am a serving officer in the Territorial Army, and that a TA is subject to the Service Discipline Acts. I should like to echo the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, on the subject of the MoD police, the MPGS. I am also very surprised that the MoD Police has been converted into an agency. I have to ask: why?
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, and many other speakers, touched on the thorny subject of homosexuality in the Armed Forces. I thought that the noble Lord's comment that it was not an easy matter was a bit of an under-statement. I knew that in the Committee stage there would be some fearsome intellectual arguments presented in favour of a relaxation of the ban. So I realised that I would have to come up with some extremely robust and intellectually sound arguments myself. I am afraid that I could find few.
Most of the standard arguments fall with the advent of women in nearly all parts of the services. For instance, the danger of a homosexual officer or senior NCO forcing his attentions on a junior soldier of the same sex is no different from that of a heterosexual officer or senior NCO forcing his attentions on a female soldier. I have to assure the House that this does happen from time to time. Steps are being taken to deal with it, and of course it is much easier for a complaint to be made for heterosexual harassment.
We have to look at why the homosexual community wants to get the MoD to relax the ban. I think that the answer is that the services are well known to be extremely conservative, and about 20 years behind the rest of society. Therefore, if the services were made to accept homosexuality, it would become much more acceptable in the general community. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, suggested partial relaxation.
No one should question the courage and conviction of a soldier even if he should happen to be homosexual, and this has been noted by many speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that he could see that "the time would come". I think that he may be right, but not yet.
Recently, I have been asking at all levels in the regular armed services what is the attitude to homosexuality. I discovered far more homophobia than even I had imagined. The plain fact is that any overt homosexual in the services is likely to be seriously assaulted. Because the officers and NCOs are, of course, almost all homophobic, a homosexual serviceman is unlikely to receive much help from his chain of command. That situation will clearly persist for a long time. It may change if, in society generally, homosexuality was completely acceptable. But then it may take another 20 years for the majority of homophobes in the services to retire. I therefore suggest that no change is made to the current arrangements at the moment.
There is a very serious problem that Ministers and the service chiefs must address. I am afraid to say that the services are racist. Progress is being made but only slowly. Why is it that certain units are still able to keep themselves all white? It is no accident. Ministers and the staff must ensure that those units have several black soldiers, not just a token one or two.
Other speakers have referred to compulsory drug testing. I entirely support the provisions. Drugs are a major problem within the services. There is, however, a danger. It could be possible for a serviceman to take only enough drugs to be detected but not enough for conviction. In those circumstances, the likely result is administrative discharge which might be what an unhappy serviceman wants. The worst that can happen is that he or she might be sentenced to detention before dishonourable discharge. This, I understand, is becoming a problem in Northern Ireland where, thankfully, the duties are becoming less demanding.
There is a similar problem with homosexuality. A serviceman could pretend to be gay or even practise in order to be administratively discharged. That is one reason for keeping homosexuality as an offence under service law. It is also a reason for maintaining a disciplinary system where it is hard for an individual "to beat the system".
The Bill makes changes to the disciplinary and court martial system which I think are welcome. However, there is a balance to be struck: our Armed Forces have to be a highly disciplined organisation far more so than anything comparable in civilian life. Hence the discipline system has to be extremely robust in order to defeat the "barrack room" lawyers. If there is a weak system of discipline, the better soldiers will suffer and their morale will deteriorate while the poorer soldiers will tend to escape their obligations to their comrades and their unit. It is for those reasons that we must retain the current system of summary jurisdiction available to
I now turn to the court martial system. Under the Bill before your Lordships' House, the 1955 Act will be amended so that members of the court-martial cannot be within the same chain of command as the accused. It should also be remembered that currently the members have to swear an oath that, among other things, they will not divulge the deliberations of the court except in due course of law. I am sure that these are valuable improvements to the system. However, there is an area of the court martial system that no speaker has addressed. Every year we resolve to continue running the service discipline Acts and every year we debate or remark upon the fact that there is still capital punishment available to a court martial. I was a little surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, did not mention that.
In principle, I am against capital punishment on ethical and practical grounds. However, the needs of the state in time of war may outweigh consideration of individuals. There are few offences that attract the death penalty and I think they nearly all involve misconduct in the face of the enemy. The difficulty I have is that, as I understand it, these cases can be disposed of by means of a field general court martial. It was explained to me by an officer heavily involved in the G1 discipline world that all one needs for a field general court martial is a six foot table and a few officers. It is true that a finding is subject to confirmation at a high level, presumably the MoD in London. Your Lordships will recall that some time ago we had at least one Starred Question on the use of the death penalty during the First World War. Presumably, the men were sentenced by a field general court martial. Of course, it is easy to say that circumstances have changed, as indeed they have. Communications have improved out of all recognition and one can fly home from nearly anywhere in the world in 24 hours or less. How different even from World War Two.
Militarily, nearly all our campaigns have gone well, especially recently. But what if a campaign did not go so well, in fact, if it was a disaster? What would happen if a scapegoat or two were required, perhaps for politico-military reasons? A field general court martial, without the "help" of a QC defending the accused, might be quite convenient. Given the hypothetical circumstances, confirmation could be obtained almost immediately. For those reasons, I question first whether we still need to retain the field general court-martial; and, secondly, whether a general court-martial on a capital charge should only be convenable in the UK. I appreciate that the Minister will have little time to
Lord Judd: My Lords, I think we would all agree that this has been a useful and constructive debate. There is clearly a lot of meat in it which will deserve careful consideration at the Committee stage. I would at this point like to give the Minister an absolutely firm assurance. We on the Opposition Benches are determined, like him, to see the most effective armed services possible for this country. That will be the one guiding principle for all that we have to say in the Committee stage which is to come.
It is always good to hear the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, because he brings to these deliberations what is so characteristic of the deliberations as a whole, and that is a great deal of practical experience. We all know of his firm and loyal commitment to the Territorial Army. A layman like myself inevitably feels a little inhibited about commenting on these great matters when there are people of such distinction from the armed services speaking from all sides of the House.
At the outset I wish to underline one point that my noble friend Lord Williams made so firmly in his speech. It is an extraordinary paradox that in the realm of the armed services, where clarity of command is the essence of effectiveness, we should have such a jumble of legislation as the context within which the armed services are expected to perform. There is a priority need for consolidation of legislation so that where people stand is made absolutely clear, without all sorts of painstaking cross-references.
The other point I wish to emphasise at the outset of my remarks is the point made, with characteristic vigour and passion, by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. We do of course want young, fit servicemen and servicewomen with high morale. That is of course related to the conditions of service, of which housing is not the least. If we fail to give sufficient attention to the expectations which we can generate for our servicemen and women in terms of what they can expect and the quality of their lives and careers, no amount of market economics will solve the problem for us. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, speaks with passion and experience on these matters, and I am always impressed by the candour and direct way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Park, also spells out the obvious priorities.
In the debate today a good deal of concern has been expressed about local service engagements. As my noble friend Lord Williams said at the beginning of the debate, it is not good enough that we should enter a debate of this kind and have the consultative document made available only while we are participating in the debate. It makes a nonsense of proper, democratic discussion in a Chamber like this. As regards local service engagements, there are certain points which we shall have to consider in more detail. There is, of course, the issue of what the real costs will be and how long it will take in reality to reach the break-even point. There is
There is the big issue that, by definition, these local servicemen deployed on guarding duties will only be able to guard and will not have the fuller police powers that have traditionally been enjoyed by the Ministry of Defence Police. What will be the result of that? There is another issue which concerns me; namely, that whatever our intentions as regards the limitations of local engagement, at times of pressure how certain can we be that "local" will remain local? These are just illustrative of some of the points which I think we shall need to consider together at the Committee stage.
There was a good deal of discussion in the debate today about courts martial. The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, made some important points in that respect. While in principle we are willing to look positively at what the Government are trying to achieve, we believe that it will be necessary to test it in some detail in Committee.
As to the complaints procedure, one issue that will deserve further investigation is exactly what will be the interface between the internal and external procedures. The noble Earl said that it would be quite possible for someone who is not satisfied by the internal procedures to move over to the external procedures. But to what extent will the sound, objective operation of the external procedures be affected by what has already happened in the internal procedures? That is not to come down against the internal procedures; it is to say that there is a sensitive interface which will need to be looked at with care.
Concerning that part of our debate which centred on Greenwich Hospital, I freely admit that as a former Minister responsible for Greenwich, I have much sentiment for it but I must remain objective. After listening to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin, and my noble friends Lord Kennet and Lord Cocks, there is much that we need to examine seriously, not least their ideas for the future. What worries me in a wider context is that we talk about morale in the services but we should talk more about morale in the nation. We live in an age of immediacy in which much of the communication and deliberation in our society deals with the present. We begin to lose any sense of origin--of where we came from--and any sense of perspective. Places like Greenwich have immense significance in that context and are not to be lightly pushed aside.
Of course, there is no doubt that the Government have moved in regard to the legislation now before us. Nevertheless, at Committee stage we shall have to look carefully at how far it is the intention or a policy which can be guaranteed, because there is an important difference. When talking about Greenwich, we inevitably find ourselves considering the Staff College, about which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, spoke powerfully. I applaud what he said when he reminded us that the Staff College is an asset of greater
The noble Lords, Lord Mayhew and Lord Chalfont, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and others predictably dwelt on the issue of homosexuality in the forces. My noble friend Lord Williams dealt fully and sensitively with the complex and demanding issue in his opening remarks and I suggest that his words were wise. I speak as one who is glad to have voted for change in the law in the other place. I hope that change in the services will prove possible sooner rather than later, and I am convinced that it can be meaningfully achieved only when there is sufficient positive commitment throughout the services, wherever it matters. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, said in his telling observations, an imposed facade without substance will inevitably lead to bitterness, disillusion and worse, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, suggested. My own conviction is that a great deal of work remains to be done.
There have, of course, been far-reaching changes in British society over the past 30 years. They include the changing role of women, a growing recognition of their rights and the development of two-career families. All that is becoming recognised more and more as beneficial and with positive consequences in the Armed Forces themselves. But it has also seen an increased reluctance to be nothing more than acquiescent service wives moved hither and thither without the prospect of a steady career of their own. Such issues will increasingly affect the development of the Armed Forces and I suspect that we shall return to them in future deliberations. The right kind of housing policy for our young servicemen and servicewomen is also immensely significant in that context.
As my noble friend Lord Williams argued, we have seen the development in the United Kingdom of a multicultural, multi-ethnic community with a wealth of different cultures and traditions. That is the society that the Armed Forces are there to protect. It is therefore imperative that the armed services themselves are not just passively beyond reproach in ethnic or racial matters, but that they give positive, visible and challenging evidence of what can be in the reality of our multicultural society as we move into the century ahead. I believe we will need to pursue that at Committee stage.
British Armed Forces have an enviable reputation as the best in the world, second to none, well respected for professionalism, toughness, discipline, lack of corruption, civility, skill and integrity. It is essential that we maintain and improve on those existing exemplary traditions. We must never become complacent. In that context, it is especially important to remember how the armed services are perceived in wider society. For example, all democracies are concerned about sustaining a military culture in societies that are much more averse to casualties than in the past, where the grim drama is immediately and graphically depicted on our television screens. Sometimes there is a tendency to criticise the extent to which the United States appears to be guided by a determination above all to avoid even minimal casualties, as seen in what was in the eyes of many a
The issue is likely to become more significant as the role of the Armed Forces is increasingly involved in major contributions to human welfare and to international security beyond what has been seen in former times as vital national interests. It will always be necessary to demonstrate that service people are never recklessly put in harm's way. But that does not mean that all risks can be avoided. If there were no risks, there would be no need for the military. I believe our volunteer servicemen and servicewomen courageously accept that, just as I know from my own personal experience that many volunteer workers in humanitarian and refugee sectors willingly put themselves at risk in order to help where help is most needed. In Bosnia, our Armed Forces were, in contrast with some others, fearless in their efforts to ensure that aid convoys reached their destinations. We can all be deeply proud of that. I believe that it is in the context of that pride that we should approach the future stages of the Bill because, as I said at the beginning, our one intention on all sides of the House is that we have the best services possible operating with the best conditions possible, knowing that we who have political responsibility are fully behind them in the immense challenges which they accept on our behalf.
Earl Howe: My Lords, let me first express full agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Judd: we have had a valuable and constructive debate. That has come as no surprise to me. I cannot fail to be aware of the depth of knowledge and breadth of experience in this House in relation to the matters touched on by the Bill. I am more than confident that these attributes will be well to the fore when we come to consider the Bill in greater detail in Committee. I express my appreciation to the many noble Lords who have given a welcome to the Bill.
I shall try in the next few minutes to cover as many as possible of the points raised. However, I cannot guarantee to cover them all. Your Lordships' contributions have been especially wide-ranging, and it is no disparagement of their importance to say that they have not always been within the precise scope of the subject matter addressed by the Bill. Nevertheless, I undertake to respond to noble Lords in writing on any queries that remain outstanding.
First, I turn to a subject referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and a number of other noble Lords; namely, the Ministry of Defence Police. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, mentioned that he had yet to see a copy of the consultative document on our proposals for guarding. I regret that he has not. Both Houses of Parliament were supplied with copies last week; I understand that there are 10 copies in the Library. I shall of course be pleased to supply him and any other noble Lord with a personal copy if they would like one.