The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, the coalition Government are committed to work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research through a science-led programme led by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research. Stringent safeguards are in place to ensure that animals are used only where there is no other way of achieving the desired results.
Lord Willis of Knaresborough: I thank the Minister for that helpful reply and in so doing declare an interest as the chairman of the Association of Medical Research Charities, whose members contribute over £1 billion a year to UK medical research. I wonder whether my noble friend agrees that if the UK wishes to remain a world leader in health and medical research, it requires its scientists to have access to good animal models that are well regulated and well cared for. If he agrees, what steps will he or the Government take on campaigns such as those led by Animal Aid, which tend to persuade the public that you can go straight to human trials rather than trial new devices and products through using animals? That is quite wrong and could be incredibly dangerous to the health of our research base.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his underlining of the fact that there have been some misleading claims put out by organisations such as those he referred to. We obviously want to avoid using animals wherever possible but I think we all accept that if we want the National Health Service and modern medicine as a whole to function effectively, it is essential that we can test on animals and that we make sure that the availability of medicines and treatments has been developed or validated through research, with the appropriate use of animals where it is right to do so. Again, I am grateful to my noble friend for what he has had to say.
Lord Wills: In the light of inevitable budgetary constraints, can the Minister tell the House what steps his department and the Government generally are taking to ensure that there will be adequate levels of inspection and regulation for animals used in scientific
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Lord Henley: Again, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that question. I am new to the department but in terms of the briefing I have received, I am satisfied that there is appropriate testing and licensing of the place where animal testing goes on, the people who do it and the projects involved. It is important that all three-place, person and project-are tested, examined and licensed appropriately to make sure that there is proper and appropriate use of animals in that case.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: Does my noble friend consider that the present scope for medical research being undertaken by a single body, as seems to be proposed-I hope that it will ultimately come forward as a proposition-is a suitable occasion for reconsidering the arrangements for embryology involving animal and human embryos?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I would not want to be drawn down into the whole discussion about embryo research at this stage but I note what my noble and learned friend has to say. At the moment, the Home Office licenses research into animals in these matters and it does that job very well. As I made clear in earlier answers, the important thing is that we check up and license the persons, the places and the projects involved.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, following the direction of questioning from my noble friend Lord Willis, what encouragement are the Government giving to public bodies in receipt of public funds for medical research to engage in educating the public on these matters? That is very important.
Lord Henley: The noble Lord's question says it in itself: the important thing is to get the message over to the public that it is very necessary that we do animal research where it is appropriate and that we make the proper leaps forward as are necessary. The Government will do their bit but we hope that everyone in the world of academe, the universities and elsewhere, will do their bit to make it clear that we will do what is necessary and that necessary research is being done.
Baroness Parminter: The new EU directive controlling animal experimentation sets standards for laboratory animals which are significantly lower than those that we have presently in the UK. Can the Minister confirm that when it is implemented in the UK our high standards for laboratory animals will not be dropped, given the impact that that would have on animal welfare, on science and on public confidence in scientific experimentation?
Lord Cunningham of Felling: My Lords, is it not clear that if we want to maintain the very highest levels of medical and scientific research in the United Kingdom-levels which are endorsed by the World Health Organisation, among others-we must continue with properly regulated but available animal research? I compliment the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for raising this question. If the National Institute for Medical Research, Cancer Research UK and others are to maintain the very highest level of research to the benefit of everyone, not just in the United Kingdom but internationally, this work must continue.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord speaks for the entire House. I endorse what he and my noble friend Lord Willis have said, along with others. We must continue to maintain the highest standards, both in terms of the licensing we do here and in making sure that we continue with research at the level that we do.
Lord Patel: I am sure the Minister is aware that the Academy of Medical Sciences produced a report on research on animals containing human material, which is an important part of research, and asked the Government to consider setting up a national body to regulate research on animals containing human material. Would he like to comment?
Lord Taverne: My Lords, the committee set up by this House some years ago on the use of animals in scientific procedures observed, among other things, that the most bureaucratic controls are not necessarily the best controls of animal procedures, and there was some suggestion that there was too much bureaucratic control. Can the Government assure us that steps have been taken by the Home Office to make their procedures less bureaucratic?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I hope that they are not over-bureaucratic. As I have said, it is important that we look at and license three aspects: one, the place; two, the person; and three, the project. We will continue to do that as is appropriate. Obviously we will make sure that we are not imposing excessive burdens on any project as and when it should happen. We also want to make sure that the proper research continues in the appropriate manner.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made in negotiations with the National Transitional Council in Libya to secure compensation
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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said on 5 September, we are clear that this will be an important bilateral issue between the United Kingdom and the new Libyan authorities. The National Transitional Council's chairman, Abdul Jalil, and Prime Minister Jibril have assured the Government that they will work with the UK to resolve bilateral issues arising from the wrongs of the Gaddafi regime.
Lord Empey: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful response. The House will be well aware that the Gaddafi regime supplied boatloads of armaments to the IRA, in particular Semtex explosive, which was responsible for the death and injury of thousands of United Kingdom citizens, as well as the destruction of many properties at enormous cost to the taxpayer. I believe that what is required now is a vigorous and determined approach by the Government to ensure that this matter is resolved, and that United Kingdom citizens who have suffered as a direct result of what was nothing short of an act of war by the then Libyan regime can be properly compensated for the suffering they have endured.
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord is quite right. I am personally well aware of the damage and horror caused. Our top priority at this moment is to ensure that Libya completes its transition to having an inclusive, stable and democratic Government. However, these matters lie just ahead and we will certainly give full support through the FCO-led unit, which was very helpfully set up by the previous Government to support the campaign for reconciliation and compensation in Northern Ireland.
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, and Mr Jason McCue for their work in pressing the previous Government to establish the unit to which my noble friend referred. May I seek the Minister's reassurance that that unit will continue to operate, and that the benefits that were being negotiated-not only the victims' compensation but benefits for the United Kingdom and its taxpayers more broadly-will continue to be pressed for? Will the current moves by the United States Government to ensure that unfrozen assets from Libya are used to compensate United States citizens mean that those benefits accrue solely on the other side of Atlantic, or will they also be available to the United Kingdom Government and citizens for what they have suffered?
Lord Howell of Guildford: Yes, I can assure my noble friend that all those matters are under close consideration. As he knows, the Government-under the previous Government and in the immediate future-are not negotiating directly with Libya. That reflects the view that the greatest chance of success is for the victims and their families to engage the Libyan
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Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, will the Minister advise the House of the extent to which the National Transitional Council in Libya is influenced by tribalism? To what extent will that impact on the negotiations in respect of Northern Ireland?
Lord Howell of Guildford: It is always difficult to make a precise judgment. However, all the evidence that we have is that the priorities of the National Transitional Council are to complete the liberation, to be even-handed, to avoid any pandering to extremism, and to be highly co-operative with the United Kingdom Government in dealing with these matters. That is all the reassurance that I can really give.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I can tell my noble friend that of course we want to see justice for WPC Fletcher, her family, friends and colleagues. The Metropolitan Police are determined to bring this investigation to a close. That is a priority and we regard it as a key element in the UK's future relations with Libya. Prime Minister Jibril has personally assured my right honourable friend the Prime Minister of the new Libyan authority's intention to co-operate fully with this investigation. I hope that answers my noble friend's question.
Lord Browne of Belmont: My Lords, will the Minister apprise the House of the present standing of the memorandum of understanding signed in Benghazi by the NTC representatives? I also take this opportunity to thank the Foreign Office for all the help that it has given the victims' families, their legal representatives and members of the Democratic Unionist Party who took part in the initial negotiations in Libya.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I can advise the noble Lord that all the undertakings and understandings that have been signed with the NTC are the basis of future work. I cannot give him any guarantees on how exactly this is going to work out and at what speed. I can only repeat, as I said at the beginning, that we regard this as a high priority and we are getting full support and co-operation from the NTC in dealing with what might be described as all the legacy issues, two of which, which are of great importance, we have just discussed in the past few minutes.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, proposals to erect statues in central London require planning permission from the local planning authority. Under Section 5 of the Public Statues (Metropolis) Act 1854 the consent of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is also necessary. In practice, that consent is given automatically if planning permission has been granted, and the Government intend to repeal that provision of the Act as soon as suitable legislation is available.
Lord Sheldon: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. In Westminster, there are more than 300 statues and monuments and half of them are listed because of special architectural or historic interest. Planning permission is obtained from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. There is an increasing number of statues, some of which have little interest. Should there not be a limited acceptance of such statues?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am bound to say that they must have been of interest to somebody. Most statues are erected in the city by virtue of public subscription, when somebody has had a great idea about who should be honoured and who should not. The governance of whether a statue is allowed to be erected falls frankly within the remit of the local authority. If it is not satisfied that a statue is suitable either for the authority or in general, it would be able to refuse it. However, we have very many statues honouring a whole lot of people, and I guess that a lot of people in this House would not know half of them.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: Is my noble friend aware of the importance of the point made in the Question for a wider appraisal of the location of such statues? In particular, does she recall that the statue of the French war leader, de Gaulle, is rather surprisingly but historically well located outside the headquarters of the French resistance movement in Carlton Gardens and that the statue of the Welsh war leader, Lloyd George, is equally well located alongside the other war leader Winston Churchill on a high plinth in this corner of Parliament Square? Is it not therefore rather
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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, frankly, I am not sure how to answer that question, because I imagine the selection of the site was the responsibility either of the people who raised the subscription for the statue or, indeed, was dictated by the local authority. Where these statues are put is not a matter for government. It is something which we would approve, but it is not absolutely a matter in which we would have a direct influence in where they are sited. If that is not the correct answer, I will let my noble and learned friend know.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, has it not been the practice historically to raise money by way of public subscription to pay for statues in central London of our country's great statesmen? Which members of the coalition Cabinet does the Minister think the country will be most enthusiastic in due course to honour in this way?
Baroness Hanham: Oh, Parliament Square. I cannot shift that responsibility; I fully understand. The works out there are continuing and, as the noble Baroness knows, there has been a lot of discussion about that area. I hope that in the not too distant future, we will be able to see the statues adequately.
Baroness Randerson: Does my noble friend agree that to overcome the lack of interest to which the noble Lord referred in his Question and to increase
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Baroness Hanham: Local authorities' responsibility is to give planning permission. They have a responsibility to consult on any application they receive so, almost without exception, they will have to seek the views of local people as to both the siting and the appropriateness of any statute being erected in their borough.
Lord Rooker: Given the current high level of thefts from public buildings and railway lines of materials and metal for export, can the Minister reassure us that all the statues to which she referred are properly secured-microchipped-so that if anyone tries any tricks to take them away, cut them up and export them, we will know about it before it happens?
Baroness Hanham: No, my Lords, I cannot give that assurance. I have not the slightest idea whether they are all microchipped. I will endeavour to find out. It is a very serious question: theft of copper is now prevalent because it commands a high price. If I can find out what secures the statues, I shall do so, and I will write to the noble Lord.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that anyone proposing to put up a statue has also to provide a capital dowry to ensure that it is subsequently maintained? Does she not think that that of itself must concentrate the minds of those who propose to put up statues?
Baroness Hanham: I am very grateful to my noble friend for that addition. It is a fact that all statues have to have maintenance and dowry money and that people are responsible for that. It is undoubtedly true that that concentrates minds wonderfully.
To ask Her Majesty's Government, following announcements by the Deputy Prime Minister on capital expenditure programmes, what consideration they are giving to increasing capital expenditure beyond the amounts included in the Chancellor's deficit reduction plan.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, the Government are sticking to the spending plans set out in the 2010 spending review. Within this, however, we have been able to fund additional, targeted capital expenditure from otherwise unspent funds. This includes £500 million for the Growing Places initiative and £250 million on broadband access and support for world-leading computer technology.
Lord Barnett: I am sure that that will not please Nick too much. My Question asks whether any money has been spent beyond the deficit plan: the answer is clearly no. In any case, the hundreds of millions of pounds which I am happy to see was found in Manchester will surely be overshadowed by the IMF results, which recently forecast that growth of our economy will be not much more than 1 per cent. That in turn will lead to a much higher rather than lower deficit. Indeed, as I am sure the Minister is aware, the Financial Times recently forecast, based on OBR methodology, that the deficit will be £12 billion higher than previously thought. In those circumstances, will the Minister tell us the Treasury's estimate of the deficit at the end of the five-year term?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, knows very well, we have set up the Office of Budget Responsibility to keep track of all the forecast numbers and we will get its update later in the autumn. The critical point is, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said at the weekend, we are spending over £3 trillion of public money in four years and we are not going to wreck what we now have in a very low interest-rate environment for the sake of spending a few more billion. We will stick to our spending plans.
Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, does the Minister agree that although we need to cut public expenditure there is a very strong case for increasing capital expenditure in these austere times to create jobs and, as the noble Lord, Lord Barnett said, to create growth? Furthermore, will the Government explain what they are doing to incentivise and facilitate the private sector to invest in infrastructure once again to create jobs and desperately needed growth?
Lord Sassoon: I very much agree with the noble Lord. That is why in the spending review last autumn we increased the amount of capital spend every year, up to £2.3 billion extra in the final year of the period. That is why we are spending £30 billion on transport-one of the most economically enhancing areas of spend and more than was spent in the previous four years. In the private sector, we are ruthlessly attacking the planning system that is so costly and so time-consuming when people want to put infrastructure in. That is why we are making sure that all the market structures, such as in energy, are conducive to the new infrastructure spend we need. That is why we are looking at the whole area of regulation around infrastructure, because I completely agree with him-70 per cent of the economic infrastructure is going to come from the private sector and we are working to make sure that that money flows.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, would my noble friend like to think about terminology? Given that the deficit and the debt are two different things, should we not be talking more about the debt and less about the deficit? The deficit is simply the rate at which the debt is growing and I believe many people in the country think when we talk about cutting the deficit that we are reducing the country's indebtedness,
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Lord Sassoon: I am grateful to my noble friend because the second of our two fiscal targets-namely, to put public sector net debt on a falling trajectory by 2015-16-is extremely important. He is quite right that we have to look at the total stock of debt and its trajectory as well as the deficit.
Lord Sassoon: It will not surprise the noble Lord if I completely disagree with that. The state of the economy today is largely a result of the debt-fuelled boom with its unregulated banks that was allowed to go on for 10 years and more under the previous Government. We have inherited a dire situation and the first thing we have to do is to get the deficit under control. That we are doing but within that, as I have explained, one of things we are prioritising is infrastructure expenditure.
Lord Newby: My Lords, if we are to increase infrastructure expenditure it is clear that a lot of that funding is going to have to come from the private sector, as the noble Lord has already said. Given that, can he confirm reports in the press last week that the Treasury is actively considering new structures that would encourage pension funds and other institutional investors to invest a lot more in infrastructure in the UK than they have in recent decades?
Lord Sassoon: I am happy to assure my noble friend that we are thinking of every avenue to unlock flows of funds, whether they are from institutions in this country or abroad. I was in Canada two weeks ago, where some of the longest-term and largest investors in our infrastructure are based. We talk to investors all the time to see what more, if anything, they need from government to facilitate that flow of investment.
Lord Eatwell: My Lords, the other cunning plan that the Government put forward, announced by the Chancellor, was the expenditure of billions-his word-on credit easing for small and medium-sized firms. What is the Treasury's estimate of the impact on the deficit of the inevitable default rate associated with this programme?
Lord Sassoon: I had to look back at the Question for this afternoon, which is about capital expenditure. Although this has nothing directly to do with capital expenditure, it is critical that we make sure that credit flows to the businesses of this country. What my right honourable friend the Chancellor was talking about yesterday was making sure that we examine every avenue possible to ensure that that credit continues to flow.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I know that the House is interested in hearing from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, on an important amendment, and I invite noble Lords to leave the Chamber quietly so that he may begin to move his amendment.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I thank the government Chief Whip. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, winding up the Second Reading debate on this Bill and the noble Lord, Lord Astor, in a letter to me during the Summer Recess both agreed that it was inappropriate to insert the new section that appears in Clause 2 of this Bill after Section 359 in the 2006 Act because Section 359 dealt with pardons for servicemen executed for disciplinary offences in World War I. I had suggested at Second Reading that the new section in Clause 2 would be better placed in Part 14, which has the collective title "Enlistment, Terms of service etc", relying on the "etc" to accommodate the new section. Part 14 heads the second group of parts in the 2006 Act.
However, in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, retracted his acceptance and averred that no relationship is implied by that positioning in the Act. I sensed, and in a letter to me the Minister has confirmed, that government business managers are anxious to avoid returning the Bill to another place. It-or at least Clause 1-has to be given Royal Assent by 8 November, otherwise all three Armed Forces will have to be declared redundant. That will not happen, I am certain.
Bringing the Report and Third Reading dates forward is tacit admission by government business managers that improvements to the Bill, and particularly the
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I would hope to avoid further time and argument in favour of my new amendment if the Minister would indicate agreement for tabling the changes that I propose for Third Reading. Need I do more than remind him and the House of the strength of support for incorporating the covenant into legislation expressed by Mr Cameron? For example, quoting from the No. 10 website, he said:
That is but one of the many supporting statements made by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence about incorporating the covenant into statute. Surely the covenant must be given greater prominence in the revised 2006 Act, as my amendment proposes. It seems both mean and hypocritical to speak so strongly of support for the covenant and then to park the single statutory reference to it at the tail end of the 2006 Act and a group of miscellaneous sections that wind up the end of Part 17 of the second group of parts also entitled "Miscellaneous".
Is not the covenant worthy of more than that, worthy of its own part in the revised 2006 Act? I hope that on reflection, and given the need to improve the wording and thrust of Clause 2, the Minister will agree to table an amendment at Third Reading. If not, I fear that all the Minister's briefs are headed, "Resist" as the Government seek to steamroller this Bill through without having to return it to the Commons. Surely on a Bill of this non-partisan nature, and with the opportunity to review and revise the Armed Forces Act only once every five years, the Government must take note and accept the need for some revision of the Bill as it now stands. To resist every amendment negates all the praise and support that they say they have for the Armed Forces. Are the Government so insensitive to the needs of the forces, whose morale is reputedly shaken thanks to recent cutbacks, enforced redundancies and insensitive handling of personnel issues? The Armed Forces have performed their role with great valour and commitment on long-duration operations. Surely business managers can be less po-faced and will find the very limited time necessary to revise some details of the Bill, and get it right for the next five years. I beg to move.
Lord Touhig: My Lords, much has been said on Second Reading and in Committee about the matters which should be included in the Secretary of State's annual report on the covenant. We have also looked at the question of auditing the operation of the covenant. Amendment 2, in my name, seeks to address these matters.
A great deal has been said about the role of the covenant reference group and I want to build on the responsibilities of the group by ensuring that it is given ample notice of the matters that the Secretary of
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I have no doubt about the good intentions of the Secretary of State in coming forward with a proposal for an annual report but for that report to be credible, there must be an opportunity for matters other than those that the Secretary of State thinks should be included to be put into the report. My proposal is modest and there is a precedent for it. As a former member of the Public Accounts Committee in the other place, I recall that each year the Comptroller and Auditor-General, on behalf of the National Audit Office, would draw up a list of investigations that he intended to carry out in the year. That would then be submitted to the Public Accounts Committee, which would have the opportunity to comment, amend or add to the list of inquiries that the Comptroller and Auditor-General would wish to investigate.
My amendment does not represent a major change to the Bill and I feel sure that if the Government reflect on it, they will see it is a step forward to greater participation and involvement of those most interested and concerned about the welfare of our serving men and women and our veterans.
We also hear a great deal these days about transparency in public life and my amendment underpins that. Involving the covenant reference group in the way that I am suggesting will act as a form of audit for the Government which would benefit us all and certainly answer a number of the concerns that several noble Lords have expressed during Second Reading and in Committee.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, I have two amendments in this group, Amendments 4 and 11. I thank the Minister for his letter of 15 September 2011 following the last discussion we had on the Armed Forces Bill. However, I would also like to express my concern about the last paragraph on the first page of that letter. It says:
"There is however a significant question over the best way of meeting these objectives. It is, of course, our practice in the House to table amendments in order to ensure that issues are properly debated and addressed. That does not mean that it is always appropriate to resolve those issues through changes to legislation. In this case, in order to avoid legislation which is overly prescriptive and to ensure that the Bill completes its Parliamentary stages in a timely fashion, I think we must look very carefully at whether we can achieve our aims by other means."
This Bill has not been delayed by anyone other than the Government, who were forced to rethink their stance in relation to the Armed Forces covenant and the report in the Bill. The desire of a Government to ensure that a Bill completes its parliamentary stages in accordance with their own hoped-for timetable can hardly be regarded as a good reason for not accepting constructive and appropriate amendments, which is what the Minister's letter, to which I have referred, appears to be seeking to say.
In Committee, I put forward an amendment providing for a more comprehensive list of subjects to be addressed in the annual report than is provided for in the Bill, which refers only to healthcare, education and housing. Whether any other issues are covered in the report is ultimately entirely a matter for the Secretary of State to determine-not just the current Secretary of State, but any future Secretary of State of whatever political colour. Thus an opportunity is provided, which one hopes would not be taken, but could be taken, for any Secretary of State to sideline some other important issues which were proving awkward or contentious. In rejecting the amendment in Committee, the Minister said that even if a longer list captured everything today, it would be out of date tomorrow and that it would be better to stick with the short list of three headings in the Bill, leaving it to the Secretary of State to exercise his discretion on what else to cover.
The Minister also rejected a further amendment I put forward in Committee which would have required the Secretary of State to publish the observations of the reference group. In doing so, he repeated what the Secretary of State had said earlier this year-that he would publish the observations of non-government members of the external reference group alongside the report. The Minister went on to say that given that clear commitment, there was no need to include it in the legislation.
My Amendment 4, which is not dissimilar in its objectives from Amendment 2 in the name of my noble friend Lord Touhig, to which he has just spoken, provides for any comments which the covenant reference group may wish to make on the Armed Forces covenant report to be included in that report. With the Secretary of State being able to decide whether anything else apart from healthcare, accommodation and housing should be included in the report, and the Minister declining to extend that list, a safeguard needs to be written in to the Bill. The matter should not depend on the word of one Secretary of State. The comments, in full and without any editing or summarising, of the covenant reference group on the Secretary of State's report should be made public and thus open to debate and discussion in the same way as the Secretary of State's report. To say that on a matter of this importance, and on an issue that the Government did not initially want to be in the Bill, that an undertaking from one Secretary of State is sufficient is not adequate or appropriate, particularly since the covenant reference group will provide the only form of independent audit of issues relating to the covenant.
The Minister rejected my amendment for a longer list of issues to be covered in the Secretary of State's report on the basis that my additional items, unlike healthcare, education and housing, which the Government are including in the Bill to be covered in the report, would not be "enduring topics". I assume that the Government's intention is that the work of the covenant reference group, including its comments on the annual Armed Forces covenant report, will also be "enduring" and thus ought to be regarded in the same way as healthcare, education and housing, and included in the Bill.
Amendment 11 provides that the parliamentary and local government ombudsmen should have a duty to investigate complaints from service personnel, veterans and their families that a public body or local authority has failed to meet commitments outlined in the Armed Forces Covenant and in the other document, the Armed Forces Covenant: Today and Tomorrow. In his letter of 15 September, the Minister said that the Secretary of State would have regard to the full range of topics identified in the Armed Forces Covenant, published in May this year.
I moved an amendment in Committee that was slightly different from the one we are debating today. In rejecting it, the Minister paid tribute to the work of both the parliamentary and local government ombudsmen, acknowledged that they could do much to help members of the Armed Forces community, and said that we should do more to make service personnel aware of how the ombudsmen can help them. I agree. One clear way of making service personnel aware of this is by including in the Bill this aspect of their role in respect of complaints that a public body or local authority has failed to meet its commitments in relation to the covenant. In Committee, the Minister commented that the scope of the amendment was limited to service personnel and excluded family members and veterans. This amendment includes veterans and families and I hope that it will receive a more favourable response from the Minister.
The amendments in this group cover a number of issues that no doubt will be addressed later in the debate, including a requirement for the Secretary of State, when preparing the Armed Forces covenant report, to have regard to the responsibilities that the Armed Forces have towards minors, and also for the Secretary of State to commission research into healthcare issues affecting servicepeople. I understand that it has been agreed through the usual channels that any vote should take place at Third Reading rather than on Report today because of the clash with the Conservative Party conference. However, I hope that that fact will not prevent the Minister giving helpful and supportive responses on the issues raised in my amendments and in the others that are part of the group.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My noble friend has made the extraordinary statement that it has been agreed between the usual channels that votes should be taken not on Report but at Third Reading. There is clear guidance in the Companion to the Standing Orders that matters that are decided or fully debated on Report or earlier should not be raised at Third Reading. Perhaps the government Chief Whip, or whoever is in charge of government business, will illuminate us on this extraordinary procedure.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I have put my name to Amendment 1, tabled by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig, because it has underneath it the word "trust", which I have mentioned on more than one occasion in connection with this Bill, in particular with what is called the Armed Forces covenant.
When I was serving, the Armed Forces covenant did not exist. The regiment that I joined had an ethos, as I have mentioned before, that was laid down by my
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"To say that we are speechless after these comments is a mild understatement. It is quite staggering. What this Government fails to understand is that the military has been running very, very hot fighting the politicians' campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya. If there was no breakdown in trust before, there is now".
He was referring to the Secretary of State's earlier failure to overturn the disgraceful traduction of two senior officers, General Sir Sam Cowan and Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger, for allegedly introducing defence cuts that contributed to the loss of a Nimrod over Afghanistan, whereas the noble Lord, Lord Browne, the previous Defence Secretary, said in this House that it was Ministers who laid down such cuts. Then there was the discussion over the defence review. Then only last week the noble Lord, Lord Lee, raised the question of the sudden cancellation by the Secretary of State of money being spent on housing for both single servicemen and families. Therefore, if the Armed Forces covenant is an expression of the public response to the services putting their lives on the line, it is desperately important that one should have trust that the covenant will be observed.
Therefore, it seems very important that the position of the covenant is enshrined in this Bill and it is very disappointing to find, with regard to Clause 2, that it is not actually the Government or the Ministry of Defence but business managers, allegedly in this House, who are preventing a very small amendment being made to the Bill that could easily be made if there was a will to do it. I suggest, therefore, that on behalf of the people who have to work in defence, the business managers in this House think again when they say that they cannot get this amendment through before 7 November. There is no connection between this and any other clauses, and it would not interrupt the Bill or cause any problems. It is clarification, and would separate the Armed Forces covenant, on which so much stock should be put, from a clause that is to do with those who were executed for cowardice in the Great War. I hope that the Government will accept
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Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I can hardly claim to be an aficionado of this legislation or an expert on military matters, so I had better confess that I am performing my now familiar role as a free radical on the government Benches. I pricked up my ears at the reference made by the noble Lord who spoke to Amendment 11 to the possible role of ombudsmen in relation to servicemen's grievances and the fact that housing is one of the issues which everyone accepts should be in the Bill.
Not only is the Parliamentary Ombudsman subject to a filter-an MP filter; so is the Local Government Ombudsman, who at the moment is subject to a local councillor filter. However, no mention was made of the Housing Ombudsman. There is a proposal in the Localism Bill that the Housing Ombudsman, for which at present there is no filter, should be subject to a combined or joint filter of MPs, councillors and tenants' panels, not a direct right of access. That proposal has been the subject of some protest from us, me included, and is currently under review. I am hopeful that there may be change. However, at the moment, that is the situation. Will the Minister explain the relationship between what is proposed in this Bill, what is proposed in the noble Lord's amendment, and what is proposed in the Localism Bill? Is there any coherence, and does the Localism Bill as it stands affect servicemen's rights in respect of housing complaints?
Baroness Drake: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 5 to put the case that the Secretary of State, in preparing the military covenant report, should have regard to the responsibilities the Armed Forces carry towards those who enlist as minors,
This amendment acknowledges some of the points made by the Minister in response to my noble friend Lord Judd, who made such a persuasive contribution in Committee, but holds to the case for a statement on minors in the covenant report. When nearly 30 per cent of Army recruits are minors, this places on the Armed Forces a duty of care towards those young people and makes a compelling case for the position of minors to be addressed in the covenant report. Thirty per cent is a sizeable figure and reflects a sizeable dependence on young recruits.
The armed services can give young people a tremendous opportunity to make a success of their lives, but adequate attention must be given to their long-term needs. These young people, many of whom are drawn from disadvantaged backgrounds with few prospects, seek an opportunity to improve their lives. It is young people of precisely this profile whom the Government are targeting in their strategies to improve social mobility and educational achievement. The Government's response to the Wolf report on vocational education and the Cabinet report on social mobility, Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers, recognise the crucial importance of ensuring that all young people achieve minimum standards
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The Army Foundation College at Harrogate accounts for 55 per cent of minors enlisting in the armed services. Many knowledgeable noble Lords have confirmed in debate that much good work with young people takes place there, and I hope one day I may get the opportunity to visit. However, the Ministry of Defence has stated quite clearly that it does not at present keep any comprehensive record of the qualifications achieved by minors while in service. The Minister, Andrew Robathan, has confirmed in the other place that that college is non-academic and teenage recruits training at Harrogate do not study for GCSEs or, as I understand it, any accredited trade. Recruits at Harrogate do not study vocational apprenticeships or gain vocational qualifications in, for example, plumbing, mechanics, electronics, carpentry, construction or similar trades.
The young recruits undertake vocational training designed to enable them to prepare for military training and their Armed Forces role. They have the opportunity to attain qualifications in English, numeracy and the European Computer Driving Licence-a skill certificate that, I accept, is intended to be transferable. Numeracy and literacy training is essential for those with very low levels of educational attainment, a position which many recruits may be in. However, it is important to raise the aspirations and increase the skill levels of all recruits. Many disadvantaged young recruits will not make the successful transition back to civilian employment without accredited vocational or educational qualifications. Specialised military training is of course very important. If I may state the obvious, an army has to be trained, but such training alone is not sufficient to prepare a young person for a lifetime of continued employment. The average length of service for infantry soldiers who enlist as minors is just 10 years, so by the age of 26 or 27, these young men and women will be looking for jobs elsewhere, with some 40 years of working life ahead of them.
While their Armed Forces training will undoubtedly have instilled in them discipline, determination, teamworking and all manner of positive personal attributes, these alone are not enough. Jobseekers need training and qualifications, and ex-soldiers are no exception. This is particularly so when studies reveal that the unemployment rate in the ex-service community can be significantly above national unemployment rates. To be a route to social mobility for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, in the future the Armed Forces need to keep pace with the accredited educational or vocational standards aspired to for all young people, which they will need when they return to the civilian workforce. A true route for social mobility allows these young people to overcome their disadvantage both while in the Army and in subsequent employment. If they are prepared to fight for us, we owe them that.
While there is a focus on military training, it would benefit both young recruits and the Armed Forces if the career entrance path for minors had an accredited vocational training and educational emphasis until
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Most infantry recruits come from areas of high unemployment and inner cities, and when they leave they may well go back to the same environment that they tried to escape by joining the Army. The Ministry of Defence has a responsibility to progress these young people, to train and educate them to an accredited standard and to raise their aspirations and change their horizons for when they leave the Armed Forces.
However, it is not sufficient to make these points in debate. This Bill gives us the opportunity to place on the Minister a responsibility to have regard to meeting responsibilities to minors and to their adequate training when producing the covenant report. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, referred to the guidance accompanying the Armed Forces covenant, published on 16 May, which states:
But that is guidance. There should be an explicit provision in the Bill to the effect that the Secretary of State must have regard to this matter in preparing the report. It should not be subject to discretion.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, when responding to the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Judd, which covered similar ground, commented on the complexity of the amendment in that it would oblige the MoD to treat those who joined under the age of 18 as a separate category throughout their service and perhaps even throughout their lives.
This amendment is much simpler. It gives greater discretion to the Secretary of State and refers more succinctly to the Secretary of State having regard to the Armed Forces' additional responsibilities towards those who enlist as minors in producing the covenant report.
The Bill as drafted already provides for the Secretary of State's report to cover education. This amendment would extend that provision to require that part of the report explicitly to cover the delivery of adequate training and education to minors. A covenant report on these matters can provide confidence that additional responsibilities towards young recruits are being met. It is easy to forget that young recruits are none the less children.
My father spent his life working for the MoD on safety systems on fighting ships. I grew up in a home that respected the Armed Forces. Conflicts such as the Falklands were only too real an experience for him, which I saw and could understand.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I support most warmly my noble friend Lady Drake. I am delighted that there is so much agreement on all sides of the House about the importance of the covenant. It seems to me-and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, underlined it very well-that if we have a covenant, it must be a meaningful one, with muscle. If it comes to be seen over history as simply a formal position with a formal annual report, it will be insulting to our military services.
Our amendment is about minors and the young. I think that all of us must feel very concerned about the implications of entering the services under the age of 18 and what it means for the young person concerned. Therefore, the specific reassurance from the Minister that every youngster would have a serious opportunity at the age of 18 to reconsider their commitment to the services and make quite sure that they wanted to go forward with that service was good to have, and I am sure that he means it. If we could find some way of putting that into black and white so that everybody understood it as a requirement and not just as something that is there, it would be important.
In Committee, concern was expressed by noble Lords on all sides of the House-noble Lords for whom I have great respect-that we should acknowledge the superb work being done by dedicated staff at Harrogate with youngsters under the age of 18. I want to make it perfectly clear that I have nothing but admiration for what is done with the youngsters who are at Harrogate. I have great respect for the sincerity and commitment of those working with them.
Our amendment is therefore not in any way to criticise that work but to say that we must build on it. What motivates both my noble friend Lady Drake and me is that it serves the young extremely badly if they are encouraged to take a career in the services and then find when they leave them that they are at a growing disadvantage compared to other young people in seeking employment and following a career.
There is now great concern on all sides of the House about the vocational educational opportunities with recognised qualifications that should be available for all young people. All young people should be encouraged to get some sort of vocational qualification. What is wrong with the present system at Harrogate is no fault of the dedicated staff, but the provision is not there. We have no such arrangements to ensure that young people who join the services under 18 will be able to leave holding their heads high, with professional qualifications-vocational or whatever-every bit as good as those of anybody who has not undertaken service in the Army.
Specialised educational training alone is not sufficient to prepare a young person for a lifetime of continued employment. This lack of transferable qualifications would not matter if young soldiers never left the armed services, but that is not the case. Every young recruit will eventually retire from the Armed Forces, and most will be of an age when they need to seek further civilian employment. In fact, the average length of service for infantry soldiers who enlisted as minors is just 10 years. For many, it is significantly less. This
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All jobseekers need education and qualifications, and ex-soldiers are no exception. Indeed, in 2008 the Committee of Public Accounts found that 11 per cent of service personnel left the Armed Forces with no qualifications at all. Exactly the same number, 11 per cent, had joined with no qualifications. Some 18 per cent of service leavers have stated that their military service had not helped them in gaining substitute employment. Indeed, an investigation by the British Legion found that the unemployment rate in 18 to 49 year-olds in the ex-service community was twice the national unemployment rate for the same age group. This demonstrates a serious failing to consider the long-term needs of service personnel and to prepare them adequately for life after discharge.
Many have argued that the Armed Forces are a vehicle for social mobility for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. This will palpably not be the case if in future the Armed Forces fail to keep pace with the rising educational standards expected of all young people. The Armed Forces should surely be leaders in the fields of education and training. If this does not happen, young Armed Forces recruits could increasingly become an educational underclass. This is not what our soldiers deserve.
To conclude, the educational standards for minors in the Armed Forces are essential, but this is not the only concern. As I said in Committee on 6 September, there are also serious and long-standing concerns regarding the general welfare and mental health of soldiers who enlist while still very young. Over the past decade, male soldiers aged 19 and below had a suicide rate almost 50 per cent higher than among equivalent males in the general population. That should not be brushed under the carpet and ignored. If the Ministry of Defence is serious about the welfare of Armed Forces personnel-I believe that it is-then it must examine such issues directly and take all necessary steps to rectify them. To do so, it is essential that minors are examined as a specific category in the Armed Forces covenant report.
Joining the Armed Forces may well provide potential benefits and opportunities to young people. However, that does not change the fact that young people have different psychological, emotional and educational needs from adults, and government has different obligations towards them. For as long as the British Armed Forces continue to recruit minors, we need to ensure that they are treated with the highest possible standards of care. Although for the purposes of reporting on the Armed Forces covenant the definition of service personnel will naturally include recruits who enlisted as minors, do we really believe that this is enough?
The specific needs of minors and the Ministry's specific responsibilities towards them must not be subsumed within an undifferentiated overall category of service personnel. The needs and obligations are not the same, and the reporting requirements cannot
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Lord Kakkar: My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 8, which is in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Patel. This amendment deals with the question of the covenant but it relates to the covenant report, which will be the obligation of the Secretary of State for Defence with regard to matters of health and healthcare. First, as I think all noble Lords do, I very much welcome the fact that the covenant is to be included in this Bill because it provides so many important opportunities-none more so than when considering the important question of the consequences of current or former membership of the Armed Forces on an individual's health. Equally well, it provides the important opportunity for us as a society to understand the ongoing requirements for access to specific and specialist healthcare facilities for those who have served our nation.
In Committee, I moved two amendments and I was very grateful for the response of Her Majesty's Government to them. They relate to the same issues: the need to enshrine in the legislation an obligation for the Secretary of State for Defence to commission prospective research to inform that part of the covenant report relating to questions of healthcare, health and the utilisation of health resources. If I understood it correctly, the response recognised the importance of this prospective research in providing authoritative evidence to answer specific questions around healthcare and the future need to dedicate specific healthcare resources, particularly to those who have served our country and who have been discharged from the services. The simple reason for this is that once a veteran has been discharged from the services, responsibility for their healthcare is transferred from Defence Medical Services to their own general practitioner. Under those circumstances, it is difficult to track health outcomes or the utilisation of and appropriate access to healthcare resources, because those individuals are no longer under the direct supervision of the service in which they served for matters of their health.
The need to commission prospective research is therefore to ensure that the objective of reporting on the question of health and healthcare in the covenant is met, because if there is not prospective research we will not be in a position to understand what the consequences of membership of the services are in terms of long-term healthcare needs. What we read is that those consequences may present many years or decades after active service. Often, those individuals are lost in terms of understanding what their healthcare needs are and, as a result, the provision of services is inadequate until they present with very serious illness. If they had been tracked prospectively-in cohorts informing a proper, authoritative report as part of the covenant report made to Parliament annually-then if there were detrimental issues and features associated with former membership of the Armed Forces, those
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In Committee the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and I proposed two amendments. The first was very similar in nature to Amendment 8, which your Lordships are considering now. The second was more prescriptive, and concerned an obligation to collect the NHS numbers of all those who were being discharged from the armed services so that we would have a database to use for prospective research. I accept that the answer provided in the Committee debate means that that second amendment was unnecessary. However, with regard to the obligation to commission prospective research, my fear is that in the years to come the quality of information that will be provided with specific reference to matters of healthcare and provision of facilities will be eroded. As a result, it will be impossible to use this important opportunity to drive the provision of resources, and so we will be neglecting those who have served our country so well. For the many decades henceforth, when they will potentially be patients suffering the consequences of having served their country, we will not be in a position to use the important opportunities provided by the inclusion of the covenant in this Bill and in the annual reporting mechanisms to Parliament to ensure we achieve the very best for them in healthcare.
Our amendment would ensure that, when directing resources and our national effort to the healthcare of active members of the armed services and veterans, we do so on the basis of appropriate, well-informed prospective research, using the high standards and methodology both of public health research and more specific medical research, to answer questions, identify opportunities and direct our funding accordingly.
The Deputy Speaker (The Countess of Mar): My Lords, on a procedural matter, I remind noble Lords that with grouped amendments it is only the first speaker who moves his amendment; the remaining Members speak to their amendments and then move them when they are called by the Lord Speaker.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My Lords, this grouping contains a large number of amendments relating to the Armed Forces covenant. I shall respond to each in turn, but I should first like to make some general comments which have a bearing on several of the amendments, so I ask for your Lordships' patience.
In the light of points made by noble Lords during this and previous debates on Clause 2, I should like to place on record the Government's commitment to
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I can inform your Lordships' House today that the Government will commit themselves to going beyond the specific provisions of the Bill in two ways. The first relates to covering the effects of service beyond the fields of healthcare, education and housing. The Secretary of State must remain responsible for the final decision on what the report should address, although he or she will draw on the results of consultation in this respect. Nevertheless, I confirm that the Secretary of State, when considering what will be covered, will have regard to the full range of topics that were identified as being within the scope of the Armed Forces covenant when we published it on 16 May.
Secondly, the Secretary of State has already stated in another place that he will publish alongside the annual report any observations that external members of the external reference group-now the covenant reference group-wish to make on that report. I can confirm today that, in addition, we undertake to consult the external members of the covenant reference group at an earlier stage on the issues that the Secretary of State should address. The Secretary of State will confirm in the annual report that he or she has done this.
The external members of the covenant reference group will accordingly play a vital role in the preparation of the annual report, and the chairman must ensure that these processes work effectively. This is a pivotal role. I am aware that several noble Lords hold the view that the chairman should be independent of government, rather than a senior Cabinet Office official. However, the chairman has other tasks as well. Membership of the covenant reference group includes advocates from government departments with a major role in delivering services. The authority that Cabinet Office leadership can bring in pressing departments to make progress helps to get things done. That ability to focus the work of other government departments and bring them together with external stakeholders is one of the keys to the success of the covenant reference group. It was set up by the previous Government as part of the service personnel Command Paper, which was a valuable precursor to our work on the covenant. We believe that the previous Government got the balance of the covenant reference group right.
However, the Government do not wish to impose arrangements on the covenant reference group. Following this debate, I will ensure that the members of that group are made aware of the exchanges in your Lordships' House. The Government will then consult them on
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I should like to add a third commitment. Several noble Lords have argued that because the Defence Secretary is not directly responsible for delivering many of the services that are likely to be discussed in the annual report, there is a danger of accountability becoming confused. Your Lordships wish to be absolutely clear as to which parts of the Government have participated in the process of preparing the report and what position they have taken. My ministerial colleagues and I have already indicated that the Secretary of State will consult widely and will identify the source of the evidence and opinions that we include in the report.
We have also noted that the annual report will be laid before Parliament on behalf of and with the approval of the whole of government. I can nevertheless go further by giving an undertaking that the Secretary of State will consult all UK government departments with a significant role in the delivery of services to serving personnel, veterans and their families, and the three devolved Administrations. In the annual report he or she will confirm that they have consulted other government departments and the devolved Administrations and will identify the contributions which they have made in the published report. This Government cannot commit their successors but I have described the processes which will be followed during the period in which we expect the annual report on the Armed Forces covenant to establish itself as a key instrument for holding the Government to account.
I would now like to respond to the individual amendments. Amendment 1, tabled by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, seeks to address a concern that he first raised during the Bill's Second Reading in July. He referred to an "unfortunate juxtaposition" that would result from the Armed Forces covenant report clause being inserted into the Armed Forces Act 2006 directly after Section 359, which deals with pardons for soldiers executed during the First World War. His amendment would move the clause away from Section 359 and create a new Part 14A in the Act as the future location of the covenant clause. I have listened carefully and I am aware of the very strong feelings on this matter on the part of many noble Lords. Indeed, we are not trying to steamroller anything through. I can tell the noble and gallant Lord that our current thinking is that we will reflect over the next day or two with ministerial colleagues. Further, I have asked my officials to do the same right across government. I can also assure the noble and gallant Lord that we will again return to the Public Bill Office. In the mean time, I am most grateful to the noble and gallant Lord for his helpful and constructive approach and I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.
In Amendment 2 the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, has outlined a mechanism which a Secretary of State would be obliged to follow in deciding what issues to cover in the annual report on the Armed Forces covenant.
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I next come to Amendment 4, proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Tunnicliffe. I am sure that the amendment is intended to be helpful, because it reflects what the Government already propose to do. As my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary said in another place, and as I have confirmed to your Lordships, we are committed to publishing, alongside the annual report, the observations which external members of the covenant reference group choose to make on the report. There is no doubt that that will happen; the issue before us is whether it is appropriate to reflect the commitment in Clause 2. I recognise the concern of some noble Lords that a future Government might place less importance than we do on the contribution which the covenant reference group can make to the report, but I do not believe that the best way to address that concern is to be prescriptive and tie down the procedure in statute. A number of amendments before us today refer directly to the covenant reference group. Such references, if incorporated in statute, would oblige us to be specific and prescriptive about the functions, membership and powers of the group. They could therefore prevent it evolving over time to meet new circumstances.
The next amendment in the group is Amendment 5, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, which concerns the position of minors. The Armed Forces are mindful of the responsibilities they have towards the care, welfare and support of young people who enlist. That awareness underpins our commitment to support young people so that they can continue to participate and gain recognised skills and qualifications through work-based learning and training both now and in future. That is very much part of the Armed Forces covenant.
All those who join the Armed Forces, irrespective of their age, have to undertake both general military training and trade or specialist training. During training, attention is paid to supporting recruits and trainees to undertake apprenticeships and other nationally recognised qualifications. During 2009 and last year, more than 2,000 recruits and trainees aged under 18 were registered for an apprenticeship. More than 11,000 apprenticeships were completed by members of the Armed Forces. That is a striking record. The Armed Forces are acknowledged as a major contributor to the national skills agenda and are the largest public sector deliverer of apprenticeships.
As noble Lords will recall from my Statement on 12 September, Ofsted, which is entirely independent of the Armed Forces, recently published its annual report on welfare and care in Armed Forces initial training, with particular regard to the provision in place to support young people aged under 18. The report was positive. All the establishments inspected were judged by Ofsted to be satisfactory or better. On this occasion, Ofsted inspections routinely support the continued improvement and development of care and welfare provision in initial training.
The amendment requires that the Armed Forces covenant report should be prepared with regard to the additional responsibilities that the Armed Forces have towards those who enlist as minors, including their adequate education. I should point out that the field of education is already mentioned in the Bill as one of the three enduring topics to be addressed in every report. The amendment proposed by the noble Baroness is already taken into account in the reporting arrangements as they stand in the Bill. In addition, I hope that I have reassured noble Lords that we are fully seized of our responsibilities towards all who joined the Armed Forces, whether they are over or under the age of 18. Ofsted's findings provide a valuable source of information in that respect.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked about under-18s being adequately made aware of their right to resign. There is a rigorous regime of interviewing recruits under training by responsible training staff, who are obliged, if a recruit is unhappy, to point out the right to resign up to the age of 18.
Amendment 8 brings us back to the question of healthcare. In proposing this amendment again, the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, has correctly identified the key role that research needs to play in ensuring that the healthcare needs of the Armed Forces community are properly met. Your Lordships may recall that the Government's position is that healthcare research is of paramount importance. A firm evidence base must underpin our efforts to ensure the best healthcare of our service personnel. It is important that we have proper evidence of what is happening on the ground and what interventions work best. We therefore continue to support research into healthcare issues both in-house and through external funding. In Grand Committee, I pointed out that much valuable research has already been commissioned and I referred to the excellent
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Noble Lords may be familiar with the plans for the National Institute for Health Research Centre for Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology currently being established in Birmingham. The Ministry of Defence together with University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust and the University of Birmingham will spend £20 million over the next 10 years, with the Ministry of Defence contributing £10 million. This research will initially focus on the most urgent challenges in trauma including effective resuscitation techniques and surgical care after multiple injuries. It will further medical and surgical practice both within the Defence Medical Services and in the wider National Health Service. The MoD is spending more than £5 million this financial year on medical research. We have work under way with Imperial College on blast injury as well as the large cohort study with King's College to monitor the health of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan over the long term.
The question today is not whether research will be required but whether it will be helpful to impose a statutory requirement to inform the annual covenant report. We believe that would not be helpful. In the Government's view, how the Secretary of State assembles the data to produce his or her report is best left as a matter for his or her discretion-needs will vary from year to year as the effects of service covered in the report vary. Furthermore, the main driver of our research should not be the requirement for an annual report but the direct healthcare needs of the Armed Forces. Where details of research undertaken are relevant to the annual report they will be included in it, but the production of the report should retain its flexibility so that it can react to the important issues of the day.
The final amendment in this group-again tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Tunnicliffe-concerns the duties of ombudsmen. In Grand Committee we debated a very similar amendment and I paid tribute then to the work of the Parliamentary Ombudsman and Local Government Ombudsman and the important role they can play in helping members of the Armed Forces community. The amendment we are considering today is an improvement on its predecessor-it now refers to family members and to veterans rather than solely to serving personnel. It is right that we recognise that former members of the Armed Forces and their families are included within the Armed Forces covenant and the measures taken to support it. However, the amendment remains unclear about what it wants the ombudsmen to do, about what exactly they would investigate and about whether it is intended to represent an extension of their powers. It still takes as its point of reference documents which will eventually be replaced by new steps to meet new circumstances. I do not believe that this amendment offers anything to the ombudsmen in carrying out their vital role, nor to serving personnel, families and veterans.
In response to my noble friend Lord Newton, I say that the Localism Bill does not affect the rights of service men or women. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, is of course right regarding the Companion's
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Lord Newton of Braintree: Would the Minister consider a very brief question as being in order at this stage? I note what he says about the Localism Bill and will reflect on it. However, is he aware that the Parliamentary Ombudsman cannot consider complaints from servicemen or families because the ombudsman is subject to what is called the MP filter? He or she will take references only from an MP.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I was not aware of that. I think that the best way for me to handle my noble friend's question is to write to him on this issue, and I will make sure that all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate are copied in on it.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I am sorry to intervene on the Bill and thank the noble Lord for giving way. He made a statement in reply to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. He said that the usual channels had come to an agreement that there should be voting at Third Reading but that that would not set a precedent. If there is voting at Third Reading, surely that must set a precedent. How will he and other people prevent reference being made to what will be a precedent?
Lord Reid of Cardowan: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I want to follow up on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, a couple of moments ago. When the Minister confirms that representations to the Parliamentary Ombudsman must come via an MP, will he recognise that, although it would create a special category for the Armed Forces, members of those forces already give up their right to lobby and to act politically in a public fashion pursuing such a case, as is the natural right of all British citizens? That does not necessarily disengage them from party-political membership but it does disengage them from party-political or public-political activity. They are therefore caught between a demand that they go via a route that could be interpreted as lobbying an MP and, on the other hand, the necessity for representations to the Parliamentary Ombudsman to be via that very route. Will the Minister bear that in mind and keep an open mind on it so that, if he finds that they are thus disadvantaged, a special category can be made available for members of the Armed Forces to go directly to the Parliamentary Ombudsman?
Lord Astor of Hever: The noble Lord, and indeed my noble friend, raise a very important point. I assure the noble Lord that the letter that my noble friend receives will be a very thorough and well thought-out response.
I have spoken at length both to set out the Government's new commitments and to respond carefully to a wide variety of amendments. I hope that I have indicated our determination that the annual report on the Armed Forces covenant should be comprehensive yet flexible, based on consultation but with ultimate responsibility left where it belongs with Ministers. On this basis, I ask the noble and gallant Lord to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I am sorry to persist in this but the Companion to the Standing Orders, as I understand it, states that there should be no votes on matters that have been discussed at Report. I cannot understand why the usual channels can be allowed to override what is already in the Companion. It is the Companion and it does not matter what the usual channels say about what they want or see as convenient. They cannot be allowed to override the Companion to the Standing Orders. We are progressing along a dangerous road. If it can be done in this instance, surely it can be done in any instance as the precedent will be set. The Government ought to take the advice of the Clerks and others before they pursue this.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord is familiar with the often-used phrase, "It may be for the convenience of the House". This was an arrangement agreed for the convenience of the House as we were meeting in a week in which one of the parties is holding its conference. This was of course discussed not just by the usual channels but with the Clerks.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I thank all those who spoke to my amendment. I note that the Minister has moved from the heading "Resist" to that of "Consider further". I hope that the consideration will prove amicable to us both. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I am grateful to the House for allowing me to de-group this amendment, and I listened carefully to the Minister's comments in response to the previous grouping. For the avoidance of doubt I shall state publicly that I will not attempt to divide the House at this stage and I am respecting the agreement made through the usual channels. That is not to underestimate the strength of feeling over inquests and their operation.
My amendment would cover those currently serving who have died in action or on other aspects of active service; those who have died in training, who sadly constitute a significant number each year; and previous serving personnel who have now left the services but whose death for whatever reason is referred to a coroner. The Minister spoke of the relevance of the report to the issues of the day, and indeed about year-to-year variation in what may be a priority. I suggest that death is always relevant and will always remain a priority with those who have been bereaved, however small or large the numbers are. The amendment will never-one scarcely uses the word "never"-fall from being pertinent year on year.
My amendment does not incur additional expenditure, because the data are being collected and collated anyway and will be brought together in the annual report. There are data on the epidemiology of the pattern of deaths and on post-mortem findings. There are variations in verdicts, particularly narrative verdicts, and there would be much merit in pooling all those together. I am not asking for new and additional work, other than the work that is being collected. However, by putting it all together in one place, there will be an annual report which I suggest year on year could become quite an important historic document for monitoring trends and patterns, and for making sure that vigilance does not drop back over time.
I suggest that, in the absence of a chief coroner, this is particularly needed. It has strong support from the Royal British Legion, which, as the House knows, has felt very strongly about the conduct of inquests.
The health report aspects certainly will capture much of the research that is going on, and will capture the psychological and psychiatric sequelae where those data are collected as well as physical problems. The importance of research has already been alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, but it will not capture those who fall outside such monitoring. The one thing that will be caught is their deaths, because death is a universal end-point.
The amendment is about the "operation of inquests", not the "conduct of inquests". Therefore, it is very broad and allows that freedom to which the Minister referred in needing to report on the pertinent issues of the day. Currently, the quarterly ministerial statements on military inquests are produced and are providing very important data. They are extremely interesting and are especially interesting if read one after another. However, I suggest that they will not always be produced. When we are no longer in the current theatres of war, it is much more than likely-I would have thought it is inevitable-that they will no longer be produced. There will be a decision that they are no longer needed. It would be very sad if they were to fall altogether, whereas an annual report could be incorporated into the report we are discussing today.
The Defence Inquest Unit of the Ministry of Defence provides coroners in the civilian world with a summary of incidents where people have died on active service, and suggests who to call as witnesses, but respects the independence of the coroners. It is there to try to
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Why is it important to look at the operation of inquests? It is because there is wide variation in coroners. We know that there are some excellent coroners but there are a series of complaints against some coroners. Post-mortems on servicemen are all done in Oxford, but that is not where ex-servicemen's post-mortems are done. Much has been learned from the post-mortems in Oxford: they have actually altered the way acute trauma is dealt with-on the battlefield, and now in civilian life by our accident and emergency and first-response teams. The information is invaluable.
There has been talk about coroners attending training, but sadly not all coroners do because it is not mandatory for them. I know there have been two-day training events put on in Salisbury Plain-the first attended by 35 coroners, the second by 40 coroners. Sadly, that is not all the coroners who could have gone and benefited from it.
The experience of relatives when a person dies after service can be lamentable. I described that in Committee, so I will not go back over that ground as we are now on Report. The Armed Forces covenant has been said to cover this issue, but it says:
That refers to the help and support for the families, not to the other issues around the way that an inquest occurs and is conducted. When the Minister responded in Committee, he recognised that inquests were an important element of the Armed Forces covenant. However, the wording in the covenant is inadequate to deal with the issues that I have tried to highlight; it does not deal adequately with all aspects of inquests. That is why I feel strongly that the matter must be covered in the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has already dealt in detail with a lot of the criticisms of the current process, so I will not reiterate them. However, we must remember the long-term sequelae suffered by those who have been in a theatre of war and who have been injured. They may have a long-term disability, they may have been exposed to toxic substances, or they may have other co-morbidities that are fatal because the original wounds have weakened them. There are deaths among those who are deeply traumatised and who develop mental health problems later in life-sometimes very much later.
Ex-service personnel in civilian life go to their GP like everybody else. The problem is that many GPs will see only one severely wounded or traumatised ex-serviceperson in their whole working life. The Royal
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It is very important that, just as we do not forget our servicemen's health, education and welfare, neither should we forget them in death. Nor should we forget the information that their death will provide both to future serving personnel and to the rest of the population. I beg to move.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, I certainly will not repeat the powerful arguments advanced by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, when she moved her amendment. However, when the issue was debated in Committee, the Minister said in reply that the Government recognised that inquests were an important element of the Armed Forces covenant. He referred to the substantial number of casualties in Afghanistan and said that he fully expected the matter to be covered in the annual report. He went on to say that he could also imagine a happier time when the operation of the inquest system would be of less concern to the Armed Forces community because we might not be involved in deployed operations or suffering fatalities. In other words, the issue of inquests was not likely to be another "enduring topic", to use a government phrase, on a par with healthcare, housing and education.
I do not share the view that the Government can reject the amendment in quite the way that they did when it was discussed in Committee. We are likely to be involved in Afghanistan for a few more years and, sadly, the issue of inquests will continue to be high on the agenda for some time. In addition, numbers of serving personnel die on active service but not overseas, so it may be optimistic to believe that a time will come when inquests need not be covered in the annual Armed Forces covenant report. However, since we have an Armed Forces Bill every five years, if it was felt that the operation of inquests was no longer an issue of concern in five years' time or at some later date, this perfectly reasonable amendment could be removed in the next or a subsequent Armed Forces Bill. I hope that the Minister will feel able to give a more sympathetic response to the amendment than was the case in Committee.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, in Grand Committee and again today, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has given a detailed and moving account of the problems that have been encountered by bereaved service families in the course of a coroner's inquest. It is very sad that any family should feel at the end of an inquest that their burdens have been made even heavier, but this is particularly regrettable for the family of someone who has given their life for their country.
We are focusing on the Bill today and time does not permit me to detail the progress that has been made. As the noble Baroness knows, Parliament is kept well informed through quarterly ministerial Statements. However, I can understand her wish to ensure that this subject is not allowed to drift away from public attention. I hope that my remarks on the first group of amendments have offered her reassurance, in two ways.
First, the commitment that the Secretary of State would have regard to the whole range of subjects included within the scope of the Armed Forces covenant, as set out in the guidance document published on 16 May, includes the operation of the inquest system for bereaved service families. Secondly, I draw the noble Baroness's attention to the membership of the covenant reference group, which will now be consulted on the subjects to be covered in the annual report. It includes both the Royal British Legion, which has campaigned strongly on this issue, as the noble Baroness said, and the War Widows' Association of Great Britain, which brings together many of those who unfortunately have first-hand knowledge of inquests. I am therefore confident that the Secretary of State will receive very clear advice on this aspect of the covenant.
I recognise that the noble Baroness is not just concerned about inquests for serving personnel. She also envisages drawing together information from any inquests into the deaths of former service men and women that might perhaps show a common thread. I can understand how data of this kind could be valuable, and we are always interested in developing our knowledge of the health outcomes of veterans, where this is practical. However, I would point out to the noble Baroness that the field of healthcare is already mentioned in the clause. Beyond that, I would not wish to commit to any more detailed provision in relation to inquests without a much clearer idea of what is feasible.
Viscount Slim: Perhaps I could respectfully make two remarks. First, the noble Baroness was quite right to say that the time for investigation into these matters has passed. I made gentle inquiries through discussions here and there and there is actually no plan for increased casualties and therefore this timetable will naturally go on. I hope the noble Lord and his officials have considered this awful business if casualties were to increase at a faster rate and therefore all the timings would not be kept up.
Secondly, to those who wish-as we all wish and hope-that there is no requirement for inquests one day in our lives, I would merely say that history shows that since the end of World War II there has only been one year that a British serviceman has not been killed in action.
Lord Astor of Hever: The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, makes an important point. We have no plans for increased casualties, and indeed the aspiration is to be out of Afghanistan in a combat role by the end of 2014. If, unfortunately, there are increased casualties, we will respond to that as best we can.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: I am most grateful to the Minister for his reply, and I want to put on record my thanks to him for the time he spent with me before
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(a) the Secretary of State for Health,
(b) the Secretary of State for Education,
(c) the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government,
(d) the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and
(e) the relevant comparable ministers in the devolved assemblies,
in respect of progress in fulfilling obligations to serving military personnel and their families, and to veterans."
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, it will not have escaped the notice of the Minister that this amendment has the support of all sides of the House. It is a practical and workable attempt to bring together the various strands and ideas put forward in the excellent debate on this aspect of Clause 2 in Committee. The nub of the argument is that there are two principal constituencies of service personnel and their families. There are those who have left the Armed Forces and others who are still serving who, with their families, may need different consideration. I shall leave it to other noble Lords who have added their names to the amendment to expand on those points in their contributions.
I understand that there is in the Ministry of Defence not inconsiderable support for the concept of a commissioner to assist the Defence Secretary. Indeed, would the Minister be prepared to go so far as to confirm that this idea is favoured by Dr Fox and others in the MoD, so it could be acceptable in principle? If so, the debate and the arguments can concentrate on the best ways in which to bring the necessary assistance to the Defence Secretary in fulfilling his remit. If Amendment 6 is not yet to the Government's liking, would the Minister consider one that captures the essence of the assurances about how the Government intend to handle the requirements of Clause 2, because that might well be a way forward?
The Minister made the valid point that this Government cannot commit their successors by mere words in a debate in your Lordships' House; one looks
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It is generally agreed that the covenant is a moral construct that does not lend itself to prescriptive or detailed rules and requirements, but if it is to be given the benefit of statutory recognition, as the Bill will achieve, it is worth making the importance of all aspects of the reports and their preparation clear, and in particular to make possible provision for further steps as experience is gained. The opportunity to do so arises only once in five years, so it seems sensible to take the opportunity now. There is wide agreement that the annual report is going to be a serious and important piece of work. I hope, having listened to the arguments from noble Lords, that the Minister will be prepared to agree with this amendment, but if not, will agree that a provision for the revision of the current proposals by means of secondary legislation would be acceptable. I beg to move.
Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, I rise briefly to support the noble and gallant Lord and to speak to Amendment 6. I think that we in this House are all aware of the low morale that exists today, sadly, in our Armed Forces. According to the Armed Forces continuous attitude survey of all service personnel, only 18 per cent regard morale as high, whereas 44 per cent regard it as low. In the RAF, only 9 per cent regard it as high and 62 per cent regard it as low; in the Navy, 9 per cent regard it as high and 56 per cent regard it as low. I think that it is obvious to us all why morale is so low, given the cancellations, the cuts and the recent unfortunate redundancies. So anything that we can sensibly do to add certainty and clarity to the Armed Forces covenant must be beneficial to Armed Forces morale.
Amendment 6 builds on the earlier amendment that I and other noble Lords moved in Committee. I am happy to acknowledge the movement in the Government's position as a result of the contributions from noble Lords during the passage of the Bill. However, I still ask my noble friend and the Government to go just one step further and include in the covenant report specific statements from the respective Secretaries of State, thereby giving them part ownership of and direct responsibility for the report.
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I, too, would like to say a few words in support of Amendment 6, which I spoke to in Committee, as did many other noble Lords. Indeed, some of the arguments put forward were echoed in the debate on the first grouping of
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Rather than repeat the arguments that were used before, I want to reinforce certain points. I also acknowledge the work that the Minister has done in trying to reassure us that he understands the concerns that are there and why there is pressure to move in the direction in which we are pushing. I said in Committee that this amendment is designed genuinely to be helpful. I think that it will be helpful to any Minister in the Ministry of Defence to have other Ministers underwrite the statements that have specific responsibility from their departments, so that when the Secretary of State for Defence or whichever Minister signs off that document, they will be dealing with things that are the direct responsibility of the MoD. Other people will be taking responsibility where they should in the other areas mentioned, such as education and health. We also have to think of the devolved Assemblies. So I think that it is helpful to Ministers in the home department.
There is another very important reason for writing into the Bill the responsibilities of Ministers in other departments. Unless their names are on the face of the Bill, we will not get the maximum buy-in, commitment and drive from those departments to meet the obligations that we know Ministers in the MoD want to see and, I think, the rest of us want to see as well.
We have heard on other occasions that other Ministers are very happy to co-operate-as we found when we were considering the armed services White Paper a couple of years ago-but we have to make sure that the momentum does not diminish and that everybody maximises their level of commitment. It is important that we do not lose this opportunity to drive home that very necessary message.
The amendment serves a further useful purpose by making it clear that the covenant applies not only to military personnel but also to their families and to veterans. In our earlier discussions, it was felt that it would be helpful to specify very clearly that that was the case, not because the Ministry of Defence or other departments did not feel that it was but to show that those people could have the expectation that they would be cared for in a way that was appropriate.
I hope that the Minister will look favourably on Amendment 6; I think that it is technically in order. As was said earlier, Ministers are always under pressure not to accept amendments in legislation, but I think that there would be considerable support in both Houses for action along the lines that we have discussed.
The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich: My Lords, my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield has been involved in the efforts to add strength to this part of the Bill, and his name appears on the amendment paper as supporting this amendment. Unfortunately, he is unable to be present today because of duties within his diocese. I am here to speak on his behalf from these Benches.
Having heard what other noble Lords have said, I think that there is little that I can add, so I shall restrict myself to saying that the amendment will help to ensure that any report to Parliament is authoritative and extends both across all government departments as well as across the whole United Kingdom, including the devolved Assemblies.
While I warmly welcome the undertaking given earlier by the Minister about other ministries being consulted, naming them in this way gives a degree of future-proofing to make sure that it happens. The amendment would enhance transparency by ensuring that all the relevant bodies and departments other than the Ministry of Defence really were part of any report laid before Parliament.
There appears to be considerable consensus as to the objective that the amendment seeks to achieve; the division comes over the appropriate means and whether achieving those means is possible within a tight timeframe. I do not think that the amendment is overly prescriptive, and I hope that it is not so complicated or contentious a proposal as to cause undue delay to Parliament's handling of the Bill.
If it is possible to be assured that the objectives of the amendment could be achieved by other means, I, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield and others would of course be very prepared to listen to what those means might be. However they are achieved, the ultimate test will be the quality of the first report on the covenant that is made by the Secretary of State. The aim of this amendment is to help ensure that the report is both of a high standard and effective.
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I rise in this case not to seek solidarity with the episcopate, though I would be very happy to have that, but in a spirit of camaraderie with my noble friend-as I think I shall call her on this occasion-another former Leader of another place. She made some very important points, building on what the noble and gallant Lord had said, about the effect of the amendment, or something like it, on the activities of government, and in particular the desirable aim of promoting joined-up government. The amendment would make sure that everybody in government departments throughout Whitehall and Westminster paid attention to the covenant, which is between not just the Ministry of Defence and the services, but the Government-and, in a sense, the people-and the armed services. That should be reflected throughout.
I support the general thrust of this. In slightly more tendentious mode, in light of the earlier exchanges about the ombudsman, it might be wise to include the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for administrative justice policy, and the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for ombudsman policy, because it appears that intelligence has not filtered through from either to the Ministry of Defence, which wrote the Minister's brief.
Lord Empey: My Lords, I speak to Amendment 7 in my own name and comment on Amendment 6 in this group. There is an obvious similarity between the two amendments. I worded mine slightly differently because
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There is a second reason why Amendment 7 differs from Amendment 6. I detected in conversations with the Government a sensitivity over any interference with the devolution settlement. I phrased my amendment so that it goes to the Administration rather than to the individual Minister in the Administration. I personally have no difficulty with the requirement going to the individual Minister in the devolved Administrations but, with personal experience in dealing with this for many years, I can assure the House that there will certainly be difficulties, particularly if that applies in Northern Ireland.
I made the point at Second Reading and in Committee that we have cast-iron experience that there is a loose end in the Bill. At Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, expressed the views of many Members in this House that there was broad support for the covenant and that we were glad to see it coming before the House in the amendments. But the noble Baroness made the point that there were loose ends and that those would have to be tidied up as the process continued. We now have an opportunity to do just that.
The wording of either of these amendments may not be perfect. Indeed, there may be technicalities here or there that need to be improved, but there is time for that to be done. I join with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, in the comments he made when introducing his amendment. Mine merely gives the Minister a different way of doing that, another option to achieve exactly the same thing. We want buy-in.
An important point has been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and the noble Lord, Lord Newton. If there is a statutory requirement on a department to do something, somebody in that department is plugged in to do it. All legislation and legislative requirements in a department are written down every year and a path is created in the department for that particular legislative requirement to be fulfilled. Otherwise, it is left to the whim of the relevant Minister, or to a correspondence between two private offices, or to whatever particular interest any given Minister may take in the subject. Making a requirement on a department ensures that the legislative section takes it on board and it is put into the programme of that department for a year ahead, so we know that the thing will be done right.
I can well understand Government resisting amendments. I have done it myself and we all know it. My anxiety is over the fact that this is a unique piece of legislation. The speeches delivered by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, would have got the message across that we are dealing with something unique, and I welcome that. If one sees the privations and dangers that our service personnel are going through, and if we read, hear and see in our own areas the consequences of the actions that they are being required to take-far-reaching
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It is not unreasonable in those circumstances to say to given departments, which I expect will vary from year to year, and to the devolved Administrations, that they have to be plugged into this process. I know there are sensitivities over interference with devolution settlements and I suppose that there may be some people who do not want to annoy Mr Salmond, or whoever, but the fact of the matter is that service personnel and former service personnel are a national responsibility. They are the responsibility of Parliament; they are employed as soldiers, service men, airmen and naval personnel on behalf of the United Kingdom, not on behalf of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England. It is therefore up to Parliament, irrespective of devolution settlements, to ensure that there is not a postcode lottery as far as the provision of services is concerned throughout this country.
As I said, I know this from personal experience because last year, in the Northern Ireland Assembly, a Bill was introduced entitled the Armed Forces and Veterans Bill. It was a Private Member's Bill and it went through all its stages. I provided the Minister with copies of the debate from the Committee and all the rest of it. Yet when push came to shove in February of this year, that Bill was vetoed and not allowed to proceed. That was done under the special provisions that we have, because some people objected to special provision being made for service personnel or former service personnel. I wrote to the Minister-he has kindly replied to me-that in Northern Ireland we have Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act, which is designed to prevent discrimination. I was concerned that people would hide behind the idea that if they were giving something special to service personnel, it would be discriminating in favour of a particular group, but I am happy to say that the Minister assured me that that was not the case.
Nevertheless, I believe that there has to be some means of ensuring that Parliament is aware of what the input is and that if there is a special requirement which the Secretary of State should deem appropriate, it can be delivered. I believe that on two points: first, that of ensuring that departments actually deliver on this and, secondly, that there is no political interference at a devolved level with the delivery of service. This is a national provision. It will remain the responsibility of Parliament, which is the way it should be because defence is an excepted matter. Yet while that provision is never going to be the responsibility of the devolved Administrations, the delivery of the necessary services is-so Parliament has to prioritise and be clear. I have no problem whatever with whether that is done by means of Amendment 6, my own amendment or another amendment which we could deal with between now and next week. To ensure that it is done is the key and I therefore look forward very much to the Minister's response to this group of amendments.
Baroness Wall of New Barnet: My Lords, I too support these amendments, in particular Amendment 6. I would like to reinforce the argument made by my noble friend Lady Taylor, which was reinforced by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Empey, that the responsibility to reinforce the commitment that each of the departments has is crucial. We have some evidence now, as we regrettably have a number of members of our Armed Forces either being made redundant or leaving the service early. The evidence is that in terms of education and skills there are great gaps in the opportunities that they have had in the Armed Forces and that they are having to catch up very quickly. The Bill refers to the opportunity of not discriminating in that way. It would be extremely interesting for all of us to see what the Secretary of State for Education-and perhaps even the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, in terms of their responsibility for skills-would have to report about that. That would be reassuring for all us. More importantly, all the arguments have been made about how much it will mean in the department if it has to report back, but that would be absolutely enforceable. In that context, I support Amendments 6 and 7.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I make no apologies for returning to the word "trust", which I used earlier. I must say that I exclude the Minister from my remarks, as I am sure we all have absolute trust that he will do precisely what he has said in his comments. I should add that I am enormously grateful to him for the way that he has taken so much trouble to brief us on this Bill, and to write to us, which has been hugely appreciated.
I pick up on two things that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, mentioned-first, the importance of the quality of the first report and, secondly, the expectations that people will have of it. By "people", I refer to the two constituencies mentioned by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig; that is, the veterans, and the servicemen and their families. My concern is over the presentation of the report. The Minister will remember that when he was in Opposition he and I both regretted the fact that the Government had cancelled the position of the chief of public relations for each service. Those three officers had the responsibility of projecting and protecting the image of their particular service, and of protecting the image of their own chief of staff. As a result of the removal of those people, the PR from the Ministry of Defence became much more concerned with protecting and projecting the image of the Minister, which is not the same thing at all. Instead of having the chiefs of staff protected and not going out and saying things that might damage their very important relationships with Ministers, chiefs of staff were speaking out. My noble friend Lord Dannatt will remember this himself: the situation must have been uncomfortable for him, and in earlier days he would not have needed to say the things he did because they would have been said by others.
People in the two constituencies mentioned will have huge expectations on the publication of the first report of the covenant. I put it to the Minister that it is therefore very important that the way in which this is presented is thought through. I use the word "trust" because, although guarantees are given that there is a
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I was listening to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Empey, as well as comments made earlier in the proposition of Amendment 6, and became interested in the devolved Administrations and the noble Lord's comments about the First Minister of Scotland. Today's proceedings would be of enormous interest to relevant Ministers, let alone the First Minister and other Ministers in Scotland. I hope that any measures added to the Bill, or which come to the devolved Assemblies and Parliament, will be relevant and brief, and are able to branch out, year by year, as per the thoughts and experience of the noble Lord, Lord Empey.
I would be worried if what we are discussing today about the devolved Administrations were unnecessarily burdensome in outlook and discussion. I get a trifle worried about the financial implications and arguments on expenditure for servicemen, their families and others, but particularly for veterans. I broke my leg as a young conscript 50 years ago and other servicemen who served with me might have had injuries. The thought of them being able to use the measures, let alone the finances, we have discussed this afternoon to come back now to receive compensation or bring up a problem worries me mildly.
What my noble friend has indicated and the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, are very helpful. I hope that a form of words can be found that will achieve everything that he wants from the devolved Administrations and can be knitted on to the funds that come from what I call this Parliament.
Lord Dannatt: My Lords, I contribute at this stage of our proceedings because Amendments 6 and 7 are critical to this whole debate. They encompass our concern about incorporating the responsibilities of all government departments, and our desire to make sure that the serving and veteran communities are both looked after adequately and properly, within all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. These two amendments really get at the substance of what this debate and this stage of the Bill is about.
That said, I would be quite happy if the second issue to which I draw attention-how these things are implemented-was attended to in a way that I, at
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The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, made some reference in speaking to his amendment to the idea of a commissioner having more favour that we had perhaps originally thought. If there is an absolute desire in the Government not to accept any changes to the Bill-I personally regret that, given the amount of energy, time and enthusiasm that has got us here so far-and it is their determined position not to accept any amendments, and if there is the possibility of going down a secondary legislation route, then, if a chairman of the covenant reference group of a thoroughly senior and independent standing were put in place, I, for one, would have confidence that the substance was going to be delivered and that I would be comfortable with that process.
I have been talking about the military covenant-now the Armed Forces covenant-fairly volubly for the past five years. I am delighted by where we have reached. Let us not fall at the last fence. Let us really bang this one home. The soldiers, sailors, marines, their families and veterans want to see this absolutely nailed for all time so that they know they will be looked after now and in the future. All Members of this House and all political parties would wish to support that. Let us not pass this up by being parsimonious against a tight parliamentary timescale. Please, find a way to do it-it can be done.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, noble Lords have made some very important points on both amendments this afternoon. I have listened very carefully. I repeat what I said earlier on the first group. Noble Lords wish to be absolutely clear as to which parts of government participated in the process of preparing the report and what position they have taken. My ministerial colleagues and I have already indicated that the Secretary of State will consult widely and will identify the source of the evidence and opinions that we include in the report. We have also noted that the annual report will be laid before Parliament on behalf of and with the approval of the whole Government. Nevertheless, I can go further by giving an undertaking that the Secretary of State will consult all UK government departments with a significant role in the delivery of services to serving personnel, veterans and their families and the three devolved Administrations. In the annual report he or she will confirm that he or she has consulted other government departments and the devolved Administrations, and will identify their contributions in the published report.
Having said all this, I will reflect again over the next day or two with my ministerial colleagues. I have asked my officials to do the same across government as a
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Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken to this amendment, which is clearly one of the most important in this part of the Bill. The Minister read out yet again the assurances that he wished to have on the record. I recognise that they are. However, he failed to repeat that this Government cannot commit their successors. We all know that. I feel very strongly that the only way in which successor Governments may be committed is by an Act of Parliament. They often overturn them but that is the right way to go. Therefore, I urge the Minister to continue in the way in which he has been moving, towards finding an acceptable compromise on which we can all come together. This is a non-partisan point and a very important Bill. We have only one year in five in which we can do something about it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) Where an armed forces covenant report states that special provision for service people or particular descriptions of service people is justified, it must also state how the Secretary of State will seek to ensure that the special provision made is broadly the same in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales."
Lord Empey: My Lords, this is almost a consequential amendment. I said in my previous remarks that the one thing that I want to prevent is a postcode lottery in the delivery of services to members of the Armed Forces and veterans. Given that we have a national commitment and defence is a national issue, but the delivery of many of these services is within the remit of neither the Secretary of State for Defence nor other Whitehall departments, there is a long-term danger of divergence. We all know that there are already differences between regions of the country in the delivery of healthcare, for instance. That is not specific to the Armed Forces; it is true in general. There are also variations in standards in education, and variations from one local authority to another in the standard of housing provided. Therefore, because of the diversity of our nation, one is not going to get absolutely the same level of service in every corner. However, we have an obligation to ensure that, in so far as it is possible, we have broadly the same level of service provision where that is required for members of the Armed Forces or veterans.
Lest the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, thinks that I would like to see people who had an accident 50 years ago coming forward for compensation, I stress that that is not what I am getting at. I do not think that is what anybody here is getting at. What we are getting at is to ensure that those people who put themselves in harm's way on our behalf are provided for. The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, who is not in his place, pointed
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The Secretary of State has the power to indicate in the covenant if he feels that special provision has to be made. However, the Secretary of State for Defence is not the person in charge of the delivery of that special provision. He may have considerable influence in Whitehall due to the fact that you generally have a one-party Government or at least a coalition, as we now have, but in the devolved Administrations you could have anything but. You could have parties that are poles apart. It is highly likely that the special provision will cost money. Where will the money come from? The devolved regions are given block grants and it is up to their relevant Ministers to disburse them. The Secretary of State could say, "I believe provision X should be provided to the service personnel and veterans", but he cannot deliver it because a devolved Minister can tell him to take a running jump. I assure the Secretary of State that I know for certain that some of them would do that-and he knows that only too well-so how is he to deliver on the covenant without running the risk of instituting a postcode lottery? The only way that I can think of-other noble Lords have said the same thing-is by having a statutory requirement because, if the requirement is placed on a devolved Administration as opposed to an individual Minister, the Administration take on the responsibility, just as a Whitehall department takes on a responsibility.
If the Secretary of State for Defence decides that provision needs to be made which would have implications for health spending, what will his colleague in the health department say? Will he say, "Do you realise that this will cost me another £70 million a year? Where is the money to come from? Are you giving it to me?"? How will the Secretary of State provide the wherewithal to deliver the special provision which, sadly and regrettably, I have no doubt will be required? The amendment seeks merely to nail down the covenant so that it has a practical implication and outcome for those who need it most. I return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, about departments and how the system works. A department has a mechanism whereby all its statutory requirements are listed and the obligations are brought through year on year and there is a process for doing that. If it is merely a case of having a chat with the relevant Minister, I assure noble Lords that that will not deliver. As the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, said, we need to tidy up the loose ends.
This matter follows on from Amendments 6 and 7 and the consensus that we have had throughout the passage of the Bill. I join the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in thanking the Minister for making himself available for briefings. I regret that I could not attend the one this morning because I could not get here in time but I thank him for what he is doing. I sincerely hope that the period of reflection that he and his colleagues will undertake will be highly productive. I beg to move.
Lord Ramsbotham: Briefly, I support my noble friend Lord Empey. Just today, I had a briefing on the impact of the commissioners who will come in under the Health and Social Care Bill. On the Floor of this House, I have already raised the question that the National Health Service is without sufficient skilled technicians to look after the high-tech artificial limbs with which some of our injured are being fitted. That is exactly the sort of thing that we do not want to have postcode lotteries for around the country. We need to put those two matters together in the reflection which I know that the Minister will carry out.
Lord Lyell: I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Empey. I hope that I was not flippant in my comment about my military career, which ended in 1959. I agreed with the points that he raised, especially about Northern Ireland, and the two wonderful words that he used: running jump. Of all people, I appreciate what he was getting at. As for my devolved Administration in Scotland, I see enormous enthusiasm among relevant Ministers in Scotland to do everything possible for injured servicemen and those who have suffered, but, as a very humble member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, I am sure that, with its skills, it could consider the budgetary and financial implications of the measures we are discussing today on either a case-by-case or a category-by-category basis.
The noble Lord, Lord Empey, has raised the point and has been wonderfully supported by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. As far as is humanly possible, every case and category that we have been discussing this afternoon should be considered on a United Kingdom basis. The funds should be found to boost support, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Empey. I hope that that will be the case in Scotland. I do not know if we have heard anything about Wales; perhaps I had better not delve into that.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: I intervene very briefly to support the spirit of the amendment and the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. We must remember that we now have people surviving injuries who previously would have died. They are therefore surviving with much higher needs for prosthetic fitting for artificial limbs, and so on, than previously. Unless the budgeting is looked at carefully, in a central format, we will have people whose needs cannot be met locally because some of them are literally unique in surviving in their situation. The budgetary implications must be addressed in the reflection.
As has been said, our Armed Forces are United Kingdom forces. For that reason alone, it would surely be undesirable not to try to ensure that special provision
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Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, noble Lords who have spoken in support of Amendment 9 have voiced their disquiet at the prospect of variation between the different countries of the United Kingdom in the way that special provision or special treatment is applied. I have previously said to your Lordships that the Government are sympathetic to the principle of consistency. As noble Lords have pointed out, members of the Armed Forces serve the Crown and the whole of the United Kingdom, not a local council or the devolved Administrations. The Armed Forces covenant is with the nation, not with one part of it. All parts of government across the UK share the moral obligation to honour it.
Nevertheless, we must keep this in perspective. The terminology of a postcode lottery is emotive and sometimes used unfairly to describe the legitimate scope for local decisions about local services. There are many examples where that scope for local decision has led to better outcomes for members of the Armed Forces community, rather than allowing councils or Administrations to escape their obligations. The Government have no wish to stifle that local initiative or control everything from Whitehall by regulation.
One alternative to regulation is successful dialogue. Again, I have referred in the past to what dialogue has achieved across a range of different domains, such as the introduction of the new arrangements for scholarships for bereaved service children. Another example I gave was the new transition protocol for transferring the care of injured personnel from military to civilian services across all the countries of the United Kingdom. So I am not as pessimistic about the future as the noble Lord, Lord Empey. The noble Lord knows that the particular terms of the amendment, which would require the Government to include in the report a statement on how we would ensure that the provision is broadly the same across the UK, causes difficulty. That goes some way beyond what we envisage as the content of the annual report. Even if we accepted the underlying assumption that the UK Government should act in the way suggested, we would not necessarily have the answers available when the report was published.
In Grand Committee, the noble Lord invited the Government to reflect further on those matters, and we have. He used a very good phrase when he referred to his desire to connect every part of the UK to the report process. In that debate, I gave the noble Lord the assurance that, where the Secretary of State reaches the conclusion that special provision is justified, the annual report will attempt to take into account the position across the United Kingdom. We would take a wide view. I trust that that assurance, together with the
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Lord Empey: I thank the Minister for his response. I understand that "postcode lottery" can be an emotive phrase, but he knows that neither I nor anyone else who has used it has done so with any sense of flippancy. It was used to convey the point that servicepeople serve all of us and that services that they need in unfortunate circumstances should be broadly equivalent or equal throughout the United Kingdom. I think that that is the general view.
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