Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. However, is it true to say that only designated tasks, such as Yugoslavia and the Gulf, will result in ships being at sea? The noble Baroness also mentioned flying training. Can she confirm that, because of a shortage of money, all flying training and operational flying has been cut by the Government by 50 per cent?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we are in a little difficulty with this Question. The noble Lord's Question specifically refers to the Christmas period. The fact is that there is nothing unusual happening over the Christmas period. As regards the Royal Navy, plans are unchanged; the majority of the fleet will be alongside. HMS "Exeter" will be in the Gulf, HMS "Somerset" will be in the South Atlantic and HMS "Dumbarton Castle" will be in the Falklands. I believe that the noble Lord is concerned about the Navy in the post-Christmas period. The noble Lord has also asked about the RAF. As regards the RAF, it is a case of business as usual. Operations have been unaffected by any of the financial constraints to which the noble Lord refers. Operations within individual theatres will continue under the command of local commanders.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can indulge in some joined-up government with her noble friend Lord Whitty, who has already demonstrated his mastery of air traffic control. My six year-old son expects a visitor on 24th December. If a Frank Dobson look-alike appears on the radar screen, will the RAF and air traffic control guarantee priority landing rights at the McNally household?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I respectfully suggest to the noble Lord that there will be many priority households on that particular night. Were I to single one out, I am sure that many other six year-olds would be greatly disappointed. The important point is that the defence capability of the United Kingdom will be maintained this year over the Christmas and New Year periods, as your Lordships would rightly expect.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, will Trident be on full alert over Christmas?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as the House would expect, there will be a deterrent submarine at sea over the Christmas period.

Lord Monson: My Lords, will British servicemen on naval patrol in the Gulf be permitted to enjoy pork

16 Dec 1999 : Column 309

sausages with their Christmas turkey, in contrast to their unfortunate land-based counterparts stationed in various parts of the Middle East, if press reports are accurate?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I have a feeling that we are straying a teeny bit away from the original Question. I am sure that all servicemen and servicewomen who are not able to have the pleasure of being with their families at Christmas--as most of us are--will none the less enjoy thoroughly good food wherever they are.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, it is unlikely that there will be a major attack on this country over the Christmas period, but does the Minister agree that, as the late Lord Cheshire warned, this could be the kind of period when a terrorist might mount an attack?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, far be it from me to detract from the seasonal goodwill which we all expect to evince at this time of the year. We should not, on the one hand, talk up the possibility of people thinking that our defences are down over Christmas; or, on the other hand, overlook the possibility of an eventuality of the kind to which the noble Lord alluded. The important point is to remember what I said in concluding my original Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham: that a full defence capability will be maintained for the people of this country over Christmas and into the New Year.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, notwithstanding the Minister's initial difficulty with this Question, can she confirm that Flag Officer Sea Training is being reduced to using simulators because financial shortages are preventing ships from putting to sea for training?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is important to distinguish which period we are talking about. In my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, I was able to assure him that, in relation to the particular Question he posed about the Christmas period, there are no changes. However, some adjustments will be made to planned activity after the Christmas period--a point which I hope I made clear in answering the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Burnham. For the remainder of the financial year, it is proposed that there will be some withdrawals from planned exercises. It is important, however, to assure the House. These withdrawals have to be put into the context of the enormously busy and highly successful year that the Royal Navy has enjoyed. Apart from normal operations in the Gulf, the Atlantic, fishery protection and normal deterrence, we should not forget that the Royal Navy has been extremely active and very successful in Sierra Leone, in the Gulf, in Kosovo and in East Timor. It has had a very good year.

16 Dec 1999 : Column 310


11.33 a.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 12.30 p.m., my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place on the European Court of Human Rights' judgment in the case of Thompson and Venables.

Learning and Skills Bill [H.L.]

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to establish the learning and skills council for England and the national council for education and training for Wales; to make other provision about education and training; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Baroness Blackstone.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Census (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend the Schedule to the Census Act 1920 to enable particulars to be required in respect of religion. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Lord Weatherill.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Business of the House: Consolidated Fund Bill

Lord Carter: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Leader of the House, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with to allow the Consolidated Fund Bill to be taken through its remaining stages today.--(Lord Carter.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Armed Forces Discipline Bill [H.L.]

11.34 a.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

16 Dec 1999 : Column 311


Lord Peyton of Yeovil moved Amendment No. 1:

Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

("Consolidated text of Acts

. On the day on which this Act comes into force, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a copy of the consolidated text of the following Acts--
(a) Army Act 1955,
(b) Air Force Act 1955, and
(c) Naval Discipline Act 1957.").

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, which I hope will not take long, I realise that I am sailing what is a well-entrenched pillar of our constitution; namely, that our legislation should not be easily understood.

It has been a matter of increasing regret and concern to me over the years that I have spent in Parliament that Parliament and its masters should give so little thought to the difficulties which confront those who have to handle bulky and very often incomprehensible legislation. It is poured out in huge quantities by successive governments; often it is of a very low quality; and it is handed to Parliament for a kind of churning process to bring it to some kind of handleable state.

I realise that this is not the moment to dilate on the complexity or the incomprehensibility of our tax laws and the host of regulations which flow from them. I am concerned with the simple point that those in the Armed Forces who have to handle this legislation should have it presented to them in a form at least as acceptable as possible. I am not now talking about someone's ability to understand it--or the possibility of it being understood by anyone--but about the number of documents which those responsible for implementing the law have in front of them when they are trying to find out what the position is. The amendment seeks slightly to reduce the difficulties, in that it would make it possible for those concerned with the legislation to have in front of them not two versions of an Act but one.

I am obliged to the Minister for kindly writing to me on this subject. Perhaps I may have her permission to quote one short paragraph of her letter. I am not entirely sure what it means. I have a slight suspicion that maybe it is not her own lucid drafting. It states:

    "This production of consolidated texts will be repeated next year in order to reflect any changes in the meantime, including those arising from the Armed Forces Discipline Bill itself. This will be because of the introduction in the next session of the quinquennial Armed Forces Bill".

Would the noble Baroness be kind enough to enlighten the House on what exactly is meant by that paragraph?

Perhaps I may briefly mention the report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. One sentence on page 3 of the report

16 Dec 1999 : Column 312

indicates at least the possibility of very considerable complexity becoming a permanent ingredient of this subject. The sentence reads as follows:

    "The rules will be part of a framework consisting of existing legislation and subordinate legislation made under it. The whole will have to be compatible with Convention rights under the Human Rights Act 1988".

I believe that there are grounds for concern here and I cherish the hope that this modest amendment will be accepted by the Government. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I realise that some quarters--I hope that I should not include the noble Baroness in this--regard it as a dangerous attack upon the principle of the constitution, which requires legislation in all its forms to be as complex and incomprehensible as possible. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page