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Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, it is with diffidence that I rise to respond to the Motion because my attention has not been wholly concentrated on the Bill. It has been diverted elsewhere in your Lordships' House, as has the noble Earl's attention from time to time.

At Second Reading I expressed our general support for the Bill. It would be wrong for me to withdraw that support. Some difficult issues had to be teased out in the course of debate: the Ministry of Defence Police and the future, the tribunal provisions, the courts martial, the Greenwich problem. I hope that my contribution at Second Reading on the issue of homosexuality was helpful to the Government, despite certain remarks made last Friday by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, from the Liberal Democrat Benches which he subsequently withdrew.

I can only reiterate our support for the Bill and for the Armed Forces of the Crown. They are the Armed Forces of the Crown and not the property of any government. I can assure the noble Earl that in a year or so, when we switch places, we will continue to give the Armed Forces of the Crown the support that we believe the noble Earl has given them. In that spirit, I wish the Bill well and hope that, in whatever theatre they may serve, the Armed Forces will continue to receive the support of governments of whatever party and of your Lordships' House. I am sure that they will.

Lord Mayhew: My Lords, the noble Earl quite rightly said that compared with preceding Bills this one is important. I agree. It is also a liberal Bill in its balance, especially in the courts martial reforms, which we discussed very little. It is a liberal Bill. That is the highest possible praise that a Bill can be given.

However, it is disappointing that the Third Reading should begin late on a Thursday evening and that the Committee stage should take place below stairs in the Moses Room. I also recall that the estimates debate was on a Friday morning. I must warn the Government that if they are not careful Parliament may resist the trend towards devaluing debates on defence that we have in the House. That may have happened in the opposition to the Bill in that we have not given the Government the benefit of the doubt on certain points: for example, the coming into operation of the pilot scheme. It is also true in the use of the usual channels. We have not given the Government the benefit of the doubt, and part of the reason is that the Government have not been generous to the House in their allocation of time and opportunity.

Nevertheless, we thank the noble Earl. He has taken infinite trouble in replying to our questions, not only courteously but in thorough detail. He never raises his voice in debate, and that is a great point, especially to those of us who come from the other place. If we have

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spent years there, it is a great relief to listen to a Minister who does not raise his voice. It is much appreciated. I also wish to thank him because, following the debate on the death penalty in Committee, he wrote to me saying that he proposed to set up an inquiry on issues surrounding the death penalty. It was a long and cautious letter which dealt at length with the statement by Mr. Archie Hamilton that the death penalty would never be imposed in time of peace. I was much encouraged by the noble Earl's statement that:

    "These matters will be looked at with an open mind and with no predetermined agenda . . . I hope you will consider the prospect of a fresh examination of the issues to be a positive development".
I take that to mean that it will be a fairly wide-ranging inquiry. I am glad that the Minister apparently agrees with me. It should have been done long ago. It is 50 years since the death sentence was invoked and it is a remarkable anachronism. I hope that the inquiry will ask pertinent questions.

It is hard to believe that the penalty will ever be used and that is a major point which the inquiry needs to consider. Not only is the number of offences for which it can be imposed limited, but also the offence must be committed with intent to help the enemy. Again, that makes its use unlikely. It is possible, though difficult, to imagine someone in our new volunteer professional Army being guilty of mutiny, but that would not lead to the imposition of the death penalty. It has to be mutiny at a time of war with intent to assist the enemy.

When the inquiry considers such points seriously, I am sure that it will conclude that the death sentence has become a relic, an anachronism which is no longer valid. It is not a matter of great concern. In our debate at the Committee stage I recall that the Minister mentioned strong feelings on the subject. I do not feel very strongly, because I regard the provision as an outworn relic which will never be used. The question the inquiry will have to ask is: what value is it to the Army? If it is not going to be used, what possible value can there be in keeping it? It does not help the image of our new Armed Forces at all. The idea of a firing squad contradicts everything that we project the Army as doing, and the idea of freedom. If the Minister had the desire and drive to abolish the death penalty in the Armed Forces, he would find that it would improve the image of the Army in the minds of the public. It would give it a friendlier feeling; and perhaps mothers and fathers would be rather more inclined to urge their daughters and sons to join.

I thank the Minister for taking this issue seriously and for setting up the inquiry. I am glad to hear that it will raise the fundamental questions involved. If it is properly administered and run, it will reach the conclusion that this is a very sensible, overdue reform.

Will the Minister tell the House a little about the administration of the inquiry? Who are to be its members, and when will it report? We shall follow the issue keenly and not wait for the next Bill in five years' time to raise it again. If, after 15 years, I am still spokesman on defence for the Liberal Democrats in this House, I shall certainly raise the matter when the provisions are renewed in a year's time.

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Finally, I thank my absent colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who did the hard work in Committee. Again I express our warm appreciation of the way in which the noble Earl has answered our questions.

9 p.m.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I had not intended to speak to this Motion, not least because I have not yet had a substantial meal today. I listened with interest to the earlier remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. He referred to the proceedings in the Moses Room. Those proceedings went extremely well, particularly in relation to the Reserve Forces Bill and, to a slightly lesser extent, on this Bill.

The noble Lord also referred to our tradition of having the debate on the Statement on the Defence Estimates late in the Session. Matters have improved quite a lot. My recollection is that, the year before last, it was practically the last business we took; the year before that it was definitely the last business. So the debate is being taken at a better time.

Perhaps I may address one or two other matters. I was disappointed that we did not have a full debate on the difficult question of homosexuality in the services--simply because this House has so much experience of service matters. I should like to have seen the balance of the arguments explored in this place. I feel that the debate could probably have been won by those who want a relaxation in the rules.

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Taking part in the proceedings on this Bill has been a fascinating business. I am grateful to all who contributed.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am conscious of the hour. I shall simply say that I am grateful for the remarks of all three noble Lords who just spoke.

In response to the query raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, the terms of reference of the review that we propose to undertake will be widely drawn. We are drawing them up now. We intend it to be an internal review involving officials, members of the Armed Forces and Ministers. I am not yet sure how long the review will take. We want it to be thorough. We want it to examine exactly those questions which the noble Lord raised. I am sure that when we have reached a conclusion, we shall wish to have a full debate. I have no doubt that your Lordships will not be slow in prompting such a debate. Having welcomed all the contributions that have been made, I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill passed.

Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Bill

Returned from the Commons with one of the Lords amendments disagreed to with a reason for such disagreement and with the remaining amendments agreed to. Commons reason ordered to be printed.

        House adjourned at six minutes past nine o'clock.

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