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Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 18:


Page 25, line 28, at beginning insert--
("Where he is satisfied that the purposes set out in paragraphs (a) to (c) of subsection (2) will be fulfilled.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 18 is an issue that we have debated at various stages of the Bill. It is encouraging to see in Clause 30 that the Secretary of State is to:


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Of course it is reassuring to see those words. There had been anxiety that the Minister may be tempted into believing that the only thing that mattered was to maximise the financial return on the handling of the land. It is therefore good to see that provision. The worry is how far the rest of the clause which follows actually delivers the right outcome in terms of the matters to which the Secretary of State will have had regard.

I am aware of all the problems. I am aware for instance, that we may be moving into the realms of a hybrid Bill--God forbid! a terrible parliamentary sin--or something of that kind and that we must be wary. However, although it is good to see the aspirations, it is whether they are acted upon effectively that matters. Anything that the noble Earl can say this evening to reassure us will be welcome. I beg to move.

Earl Howe: My Lords, let me say at the outset that I understand the concerns that have led the noble Lord, Lord Judd, to table this amendment. I am sure that the whole of your Lordships' House shares his anxiety that the future of Greenwich, that magnificent site, should be protected as far as the law can allow.

The present Government are determined to establish a worthy future for the site. I can understand the anxiety that there is no guarantee that governments in the future will always share such worthy intentions. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, made it clear on Report that he was not wedded to any specific words and urged the Government to find an amendment which would reflect his concerns.

It would be difficult for me to over-emphasise the amount of concern and effort which has gone into framing Clause 30. I suspect that Ministers and officials have explored every avenue that the noble Lord considered--and probably more beside.

Your Lordships will recall that in another place the Government tabled a series of amendments, notably the present subsection (2). That was designed to ensure that the anxieties about the future use of the Royal Naval College, expressed by Parliament and elsewhere, were given prominence in the legislation and that the Secretary of State for Defence (as trustee for the charity Greenwich Hospital, for whose benefit he holds the Royal Naval College), would be empowered to take account of wider interests.

The legislation as now framed would place an obligation on a future Defence Secretary to have regard to the considerations of heritage and access as defined in subsection (2). It does not allow a future Defence Secretary to treat those considerations as some optional extra. If he failed to have regard to them, he would be open to challenge by way of judicial review.

The wording of Clause 30 also makes it clear that the considerations in subsection (2) must be borne in mind in all decisions relating to those buildings--and not just in decisions relating to a lease under subsection (3) which is the only decision to which the noble Lord's amendment relates.

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Amendment No. 18 seeks to require a future Defence Secretary not simply to have due regard to those considerations, but to make them into considerations to be fulfilled. The desire to prescribe the future of those fine buildings is wholly understandable. However, as a result of our own search for wording for this clause, we had to reject that objective. Not only could such conditions make the legislation potentially inimical to the private interests of the charity, Greenwich Hospital, but they could also work against the best interests of the Royal Naval College. They could make the legislation unworkable.

Decisions on the future of the site could well involve a future Defence Secretary having to balance a complex series of interests in circumstances which cannot now be anticipated. Those interests may not always be compatible. It is not impossible to envisage circumstances where the differing considerations in subsection (2) may not be compatible. Venerable buildings can pose difficult choices between, for example, occupancy (which may be regarded as unworthy in some way) and being left empty, with the risk to the fabric that that might pose. Likewise, preservation is not always compatible with public access.

I am not wishing to suggest that there are problems now in meeting the considerations in subsection (2). But we are passing legislation which will govern the site until Parliament chooses to change it--and that could be a long time. The present form of the clause recognises that future decisions could require difficult balances to be struck. It requires that the Secretary of State must take account of specified key issues, but it avoids tying the hand of the Secretary of State in a way which could make the process of finding the best solution for the site even more difficult.

I have tried in these few words to address the spirit of the noble Lord's amendment, as the noble Lord asked me to do, and not the precise letter. I hope that he will understand that in framing Clause 30 as a whole we have had regard to precisely the interest which motivated his amendment; namely, the best interests of the Royal Naval College, together with those of Greenwich Hospital, which I am sure it was not his intention to disadvantage.

I hope that that response is helpful. I hope that it will enable the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment. Even more, I hope that we shall find a satisfactory solution to the occupancy of Greenwich Hospital that will command the approval of your Lordships' House and the wider public.

Lord Judd: My Lords, given the very firm statements made by the noble Earl, I am reassured about his intentions whatever the reservations about how far the situation is totally buttoned up. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.45 p.m.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

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Our discussions on this year's Armed Forces Bill have covered some ground that will be familiar to those who, over the years, have followed the debates which accompany the five-yearly review of service legislation. In Committee we had a full debate on the death penalty in the Armed Forces which gave us all cause to reflect on that most sombre of issues. We also touched on racial and sex discrimination--areas where the services have made significant progress in the past few years. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Defence is the first to acknowledge that there is no room for complacency.

Much of our time has been spent debating issues which are particular to this Armed Forces Bill. I have in mind, of course, parts of the Bill such as those to which we have returned again this evening--providing for local service and for the future of the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. I believe that we can fairly say that we have covered those subjects exhaustively--I was tempted to say "exhaustingly".

Without going over the ground again, I hope that our discussions have done something to reassure those who had anxieties and worries that they were perhaps misplaced. Debates in this House can be invaluable in teasing out the real areas of concern about any issues and in then giving us the opportunity to see whether we can allay those concerns. I understand perfectly a number of the anxieties expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and by noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches.

When we had our Second Reading debate a few weeks ago, I described the court martial reforms which we proposed as the centrepiece of the Bill. That appears to have had the effect of concentrating your Lordships' interest on other parts of the Bill! However, I wish to place on record my appreciation of the generous welcome which the reforms have received from all parts of the House. They represent a major step forward in the administration of service discipline.

Whatever else these five-yearly Bills may address--and this year's Bill is perhaps more wide-ranging than most--much of the focus will always be on the search for improvements in the system of discipline in the Armed Forces. Very often it will be simply a question of, at most, a little fine tuning. This year, as your Lordships are aware, the changes have been on a rather larger scale than that.

The objective though will always be the same: to strike that essential but difficult balance between preserving a discipline system which is actually fit for the purpose of maintaining discipline and safeguarding the rights of the men and women who are subject to that system. We are confident that the arrangements for discipline which will result from the passage of this Bill will strike that balance in a way which accords with the expectations both of today's service men and service women and of the society from which they are recruited.

Before concluding, I wish to express my appreciation of the contributions which many noble Lords have made to our debates on the Bill. I cannot mention them all but it is right that I should extend my particular gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Judd, Lord Mayhew, Lord

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Redesdale, Lord Williams of Elvel and Lord Williams of Mostyn, as well as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. They have all enriched our discussions on the Bill and I appreciate the constructive way in which they approached often difficult subjects. I believe that all noble Lords who have spoken have done us a service. I commend the Bill to the House.


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