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Lord Craig of Radley: For the purpose of clarifying "similar arrangements", can I take it that "live" is the all-important element--that is, it is not so much a question of the technology used, but of the exchange being "live"? Perhaps the Minister will confirm that.

I would add, perhaps slightly cynically, that under these provisions a commanding officer can apparently contact a judicial authority by means of a live video link or other arrangement, but the judicial authority will apparently not be able to contact the CO, which I understood to be the purpose of the Minister's earlier amendment to Clause 6.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I assure the noble and gallant Lord that the transmissions would be live. The point is that they should be. There should be a proper interchange, and individuals should be allowed to say their piece to the judicial authorities.

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On the noble and gallant Lord's second point, the ways in which the transmissions would work are presently being examined. I am not certain about the practicalities of a judge contacting a CO. When the incident occurs, in the first instance it will obviously be a matter of the CO contacting people outside in order to obtain the help that he needs. Others may not know that such help is required. But the return, as it were, of the judicial officer to the CO would, I imagine, be by arrangement. There would naturally have to be proper arrangements in place for those exchanges. They would have to be within certain time limits. If I can give the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, any help on the issues, I shall write to him. However, I hope that I have reassured him on the major point he raised about live exchanges.

Lord Swinfen: Perhaps I may press the noble Baroness a little further. What is the availability of live televisual links at the moment? Are not most of the links just by e-mail, with the messages being typed out and read at either end?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, of course, most of the links are by e-mail at the moment. But we would ensure that video capability was available to all those who might at some point need it, particularly the Army, because it is more likely to be the Army who are in remote places. However, during the recent engagement in Kosovo the video links were a day-to-day occurrence. The equipment needed is highly portable and extremely easy to use. I do not believe that the noble Lord needs to worry about the availability of such equipment. We would ensure that commanding officers have it in the event that they might need it.

I am told that the equipment is in standard use in all theatres of operation. Perhaps that will reassure the noble Lord a little more.

Earl Attlee: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her explanation. However, before speaking further at this stage of the Bill, I should remind the Committee that I am a serving TA officer and I have powers of summary jurisdiction which I exercise on behalf of my commanding officer. I may also, from time to time, have to serve as a member of the courts martial.

I have no problem with the Minister's amendment. She gave us some comfort over how the technology could be used for peace-keeping operations. But has she considered how the technology will work for intensive warfare? Has she considered the enemy's electronic warfare effort? Has she considered that, in an operational theatre, it may be operationally necessary to impose what is called "electronic silence"? Has she considered the development of anti-radiation missiles which would home in on any radio transmitter? There is a little comfort from the use of

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satellites because an anti-radiation missile could possibly result in the premature end of custody reviews by the TV link.

Finally, the Minister mentioned e-mails. I find it interesting that when I wanted to contact her office earlier this week by e-mail I was told that I could not do so because the MoD had a policy of not using e-mails for security reasons. I understand the need for that and I believe the MoD has never been hacked via computers. That indicates some of the problems we have with the modern technology.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: On the last point, I believe that the noble Earl will find the same difficulty with communicating through e-mail to some ministerial offices or offices that need a high degree of security. I am sure he will readily acknowledge that the need for proper security for highly classified information in the Ministry of Defence must be our primary concern. But e-mails are used.

I remember referring, during our discussions on the Queen's Speech, to the electronic "blueys" which are the e-mail version of the "blueys", a well-known means of communication with which I am sure the noble Earl is considerably more familiar than I.

The noble Earl asked whether we have thought about the difficulties and constraints imposed on the video linkage during times of real operational conflict. Yes, we have. The use of video linkage in operational circumstances is nowadays an everyday occurrence. I can assure the noble Earl that operational staff in East Timor communicate with the UK by video link on a daily basis now. Video tele-conferencing is also used in Kosovo and was used regularly in Bosnia. All those were conflicts where there was not just a peace-keeping in the sense of people patrolling up and down the streets, but people having a job to do which involved the possibility of real conflict. Video linkages were in use there.

It is important to reiterate that the equipment is now standard issue in all major theatres of operation. When the Army is in theatre the equipment will be available. The equipment is no bigger than a briefcase and works on any commercial digital telephone line or by means of INMARSAT. INMARSAT gives approximately 90 per cent coverage of the globe. It was pointed out during Second Reading when we dealt with communications that it was possible to fly home from nearly anywhere in the world in 24 hours or less. That must remain part of the communications menu on which we can draw.

In addition, while video-conferencing was fairly common--but not that common--eight or nine years ago when I was actively involved in the Civil Service, in the past three years it has become very much a day-to-day experience not only for civil servants but also for members of our Armed Forces.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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2.30 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean moved Amendment No. 70:

    Page 31, leave out lines 15 to 19 and insert--

("(h) the use for the purposes of the proceedings of live television links or similar arrangements, including the use of such a link or other arrangement as a means of satisfying the requirement of section 47D(2)(b), 47G(1) or 47L(6)(b) or (7)(b) of this Act for a person to be brought before a judicial officer or judge advocate;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 9 [Bail in proceedings for illegal absence]:

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 71:

    Page 31, line 30, after ("time") insert (", and on such terms,").

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 71 it may be convenient to speak also to Amendments Nos. 72 to 76 inclusive. These amendments deal with the introduction of bail for a soldier who is illegally absent from duty. During Second Reading, at col. 695 of the Official Report, I said that the House could easily imagine circumstances in which this new right could be deeply damaging to the morale of a unit preparing for operations. I believe it would be helpful to the Committee if I illustrated how that could occur. The Committee needs to understand that a fair proportion of soldiers who are illegally absent have fallen in love with an apparently desirable partner and chosen to ignore their commitments and responsibilities to the Armed Forces, their comrades, the country and Her Majesty.

Consider the hypothetical case of two medical technicians whose duty it is to keep emergency operating theatre equipment in perfect working order. It is obviously a highly specialised activity and there may be only two qualified soldiers in the unit, and perhaps six in the whole of the Army. Suppose that a fictitious Private Good fellow was on operations nine months ago. His wife is now pregnant and her delivery which is expected soon is likely to be a difficult one. Private Good fellow is due to fly out on operations the next day because one of the other medical technicians already in theatre has been taken ill. It is therefore operationally essential that he is deployed immediately.

Suppose, further, that nine months ago when Private Good fellow was last on operations Private Badjob was sick with a bad back but well enough to fall in love with the lady of his dreams. He has now crashed his car while taking his new girlfriend to hospital for the delivery of his child. The police discover that he is illegally absent from the Army and he is taken before the magistrate. Presumably, the magistrate will apply the same tests as under the Bail Act, which I believe is the intention of the Minister. If Private Badjob can show that he is genuinely in love with his new girlfriend, and that he has a stable relationship with her, he could easily demonstrate to the Bench that he is unlikely to abscond while his

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girlfriend is in labour. If the service authorities cannot arrange to take him into service custody immediately, the magistrate is likely to have to grant him bail.

We would then have the manifestly unfair situation where Private Good fellow has to leave his wife on her own to face a difficult delivery because Private Badjob is illegally absent, possibly a deserter. On the other hand, Private Badjob can attend his girlfriend's delivery.

During discussion on a previous amendment, when talking about the system of discipline, the Minister said that it had to be acceptable to all those under command. The Committee may like to reflect on how the hypothetical Private Goodfellow will feel about his situation. Can the Minister say whether I have interpreted the Bill correctly? Is my hypothetical situation possible? If it is not, in what circumstances does the Minister believe that it would be necessary or desirable for the magistrate to grant bail?

In this context it is worth remembering that the civil authorities are not notified of illegal absences for two to three weeks after they have been detected by the military authorities. So when a soldier appears before a magistrate, he is already in deep trouble. If a soldier has been absent for, let us say, two months he is probably looking at a period of detention; but all periods of detention are netted off from the eventual sentence.

Cases of absence without leave are easy to prove using documentary evidence. Mistakes, therefore, are unlikely to occur. By "mistakes" I mean that a soldier is unlikely to be detained and not then acquitted during proceedings. Desertion, a more serious charge, is a little more difficult to prove. My amendment may not be perfectly drafted. However, it gives the Minister an opportunity to respond to my concerns. I beg to move.

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