11 Feb 2016 : Column 2349

House of Lords

Thursday, 11 February 2016.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

Retirement of a Member: Baroness Williams of Crosby


11.06 am

The Lord Speaker (Baroness D'Souza): My Lords, I should like to notify the House of the retirement with effect from today of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I should like to thank the noble Baroness for her much valued service to the House.

Libraries: Local Government Finance Settlement


11.06 am

Asked by Lord Greaves

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the Local Government Finance Settlement on the provision of libraries.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) (Con): The Government fully recognise the importance and significance of public libraries. It is a service delivered according to local priorities, but local authorities have a duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient service. It is too soon to determine the impact of the finance settlement, which was of course finalised only this week.

Lord Greaves (LD): My Lords, is the Minister aware that in Lancashire, which is where I live, the budget recommended to the county council this very afternoon involves a reduction in the number of libraries across that large county from 74 to 34—in other words, 40 libraries are to be closed? Is this acceptable, as far as the Government are concerned?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, decisions on library services are of course a local authority matter, and Lancashire Council has completed a consultation seeking residents’ views on service design, need and use—libraries are changing all across the UK. We understand that a further period of more detailed consultation will be undertaken between May and July. I encourage residents to make the council aware of their specific library needs and ideas for the future.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, does my noble friend accept that not just libraries but museums and galleries are under great pressure? Does she remember that in the financial statement in November, which

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2350

was a very favourable one for those of us interested in heritage and the arts, the Chancellor talked about cutting heritage—galleries and museums—as being a false economy? Can we do something to ensure that what is good for the nation is good in local government?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: I entirely agree with my noble friend about the importance of funding for these areas. As he said, the settlement was very reasonable. Indeed, on the local government settlement, the proposal that has been adopted this week was made by Labour authorities, including Lancashire. The point is that libraries are changing—we have talked a lot about digital change, and volunteers are coming in. Lancashire is doing the right thing by consulting on change. I am sure that the final proposal will be different from what was first put forward.

Lord McFall of Alcluith (Lab): My Lords, the Prime Minister’s mother has done what the Minister asked and sat down and wrote a serious letter to a local authority complaining about local authority cuts. Does not that indicate that we have reached a very serious situation indeed, and the Prime Minister and his Government need to do something about it if they are to maintain the social fabric of local communities?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, the settlement means that every council will have for the financial year ahead at least the resources allocated by the provisional settlement. In addition, those councils with the sharpest fall in grant money will now receive transitional funding as they move from dependence on central government grants to greater financial autonomy.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, the Minister has twice mentioned the changing nature of libraries. Of course, they are not just about books. Nowadays, they are a major and vital source for internet access, especially in poorer areas, where people need them to apply for jobs and where fewer households have broadband. Especially in rural areas where broadband coverage is much lower, they are a vital part of rural sustainability. The Government are rolling out broadband very quickly, and that is encouraging, but it does need time. What support are they giving to those vital online centres, many of which are closely related to libraries or in libraries, both for the sake of heritage but also for the sake of our economy?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: The internet is absolutely vital, and obviously vital to these hubs which are bringing libraries and other services together. By May, 99% of libraries will have wi-fi for the customers to use, and 1,000 of the wi-fi connections have been provided through grants from the DCMS, for exactly the sort of reason that the right reverend Prelate articulated.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con): Will my noble friend thank all the volunteers in counties such as North Yorkshire and across rural England who are keeping local libraries open in exactly the way that the right reverend Prelate has suggested? What more can the Government do to encourage more local councils to train volunteers in this way?

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2351

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My noble friend makes a brilliant point. There was a 20% increase in volunteers working in libraries last year. Some local authorities are embedding this into their statutory service, as in Buckinghamshire. The Government are encouraging this joint provision because it will help to take our brilliant libraries—there are 3,000 across the UK—into the future.

Lord Tope (LD): My Lords, the Minister is right that it is local government’s responsibility to make the decisions on how to implement the Government’s severe budget cuts to local government, but does she accept that it is central government’s responsibility under the 1964 Act to ensure that there is a comprehensive and efficient library service, to which she referred, and which is the responsibility under the 1964 Act? If so, when and how are the Government going to implement that responsibility?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, the duty is of course on local authorities, but the noble Lord is right: the Secretary of State has a statutory power to intervene when an authority fails to provide the required service. Complaints that a local authority may be failing are considered very carefully by my department, case by case. The closure of a library branch, or branches, is not necessarily a breach of the 1964 Act—but of course we keep this under very careful scrutiny, as he knows, and publish a report on libraries every year, which is very important.

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): The fact is that that statutory duty requires the Minister to intervene. In fact, Ed Vaizey said that central government can and will intervene if a council is “planning dramatic cuts”. Of course, many councils are finding themselves in incredibly difficult situations. How many councils have the Government actually intervened on, and to what effect? How many have they actually called in to see whether they are meeting the statutory responsibility? This is an issue that this Government cannot duck.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, we take our responsibilities seriously. The department is engaged with a number of libraries. I have an annexe, which I am very happy to share with the noble Lord, setting out some of the different actions we have taken in respect of particular areas, including Lancashire. Of course, we want councils to do the right thing because this is rightly a matter for local people.

Schools: Food Nutrition Standards


11.15 am

Asked by Lord Storey

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to legislate to ensure that food and drink provided in all types of schools follow Food Standards Agency food and nutritional guidelines.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Lord Nash) (Con): My Lords, last year the Government introduced new statutory school food standards as a result of the school food plan. They

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2352

were based on food groups to make it easier for cooks to prepare healthy, tasty dishes without needing a computer program to determine the necessary level of nutrients and are easier for parents to understand. They severely restrict foods high in fat, salt and sugar and have resulted, for instance, in children eating more vegetables.

Lord Storey (LD): No doubt the Minister will be pleased and delighted with the success of free school meals at key stage 1. Will the Government consider extending that to key stage 2, perhaps paid for by a sugar tax—which, incidentally, would help the 84% of young people in the north-west who suffer from dental decay and would save the National Health Service £30 million a year on teeth operations?

Lord Nash: I entirely agree with the noble Lord’s comment about the success of universal infant free school meals, which is resulting in 1.3 million more children getting a healthy meal every day. We have funded that considerably, including for new kitchens. In secondary schools healthy food is generally available and we are doing all we can to make sure that, where it is not, it is made available.

Lord Rooker (Lab): Which guidelines are schools following? They cannot be following the Food Standards Agency nutritional guidelines because one of the first acts of the coalition in 2010 was to remove from the Food Standards Agency any and all work related to nutrition. Who is doing the guidelines? Is it now done behind closed doors in the Department of Health, where policy is not done openly as it is in the FSA?

Lord Nash: The guidance is now provided by Public Health England.

Baroness Walmsley (LD): The Government are undermining free school meals for up to key stage 1, which was a Liberal Democrat achievement in the coalition Government, by starving the programme of cash. Why are the Government going to remove the grants to small primary schools that enable them to deliver these hot meals to children? How will that help nutrition for those children for whom this is the only decent, nutritional meal they get in the whole day?

Lord Nash: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right that we have paid an extra £33 million to small schools to enable them to engage in this programme. It was always intended as transitional funding to help schools put their service on a sustainable footing and we believe that that has been done.

Lord Lexden (Con): My Lords, in view of the widespread desire to help our milk producers and of the nutritional benefits, has the time come to consider reintroducing compulsory milk in our schools, which helped to make so many of us healthy?

Lord Nash: My noble friend reminds me that I must have drunk at least three or four pints of milk a day in those days. I will certainly take this back for consideration.

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2353

Baroness Masham of Ilton (CB): My Lords, is the Minister aware that many children come to school without having had breakfast? What is the provision of school milk? Some children are even getting rickets.

Lord Nash: The noble Baroness raises an extremely good point. It is deeply concerning that many children seem to come to school not having eaten properly, which cannot help their concentration in school. We have funded a Magic Breakfast programme which has resulted in nearly 200 new schools in disadvantaged areas offering breakfast clubs. It is focused on areas where free school meals are 35% or more in the schools. The programme has been very successful and we are looking at it further.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab): My Lords, academies established prior to 2010 and those established from June 2014 have clauses in their funding agreements stating that their schools must comply with national food standards, but those academies established in the years in between do not have such clauses. Can the Minister explain that anomaly and inform noble Lords what he intends to do to end it?

Lord Nash: The noble Lord is absolutely right: academies opened between September 2010 and July 2014, of which there were 3,900, do not technically have to follow the school food standards. But those standards were introduced only a year ago. Over the last year, 1,400 of the schools have voluntarily signed up to them, and we are encouraging many more to do so. We believe that most academies follow a healthy eating strategy. Indeed, the School Food Plan authors said that some of the best food they found was in academies. We do not think it is necessary to legislate further.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, if free milk is to be made available again in schools, with the Minister confirm that it would not be compulsory? For some of us it contains memories of a cruel and unusual punishment.

Lord Nash: I think I can agree that were it to be introduced, it would not be mandatory.

Lord Mawhinney (Con): My Lords, in his first response my noble friend talked about new guidelines coming in last year that reduced the amounts of fat, salt and sugar in school diets. Could he tell the House what percentage reductions occurred in each of those three categories?

Lord Nash: I cannot. I am happy to write to the noble Lord, but I believe that the amount of sugar cannot be more than 5%. I will write with details.

The Earl of Listowel (CB): My Lords, will the Minister join me in paying tribute to dinner ladies, who provide a very important relationship to children, and who, perhaps through that relationship, can encourage children to eat well and healthily?

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2354

Lord Nash: I entirely agree with the noble Earl. Dinner ladies, along with everyone who works in school kitchens and dining rooms, deserve praise. I feel very strongly that food in schools is important for the concentration level of our pupils.

Police: Body-worn Cameras


11.21 am

Asked by Lord Paddick

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the current guidance provided to police forces regarding the use of body-worn cameras by police officers.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, the College of Policing published interim operational guidance for the use of body-worn video in July 2014. The college is preparing evidence-based authorised professional practice, which we anticipate will be published later this year.

Lord Paddick (LD): My Lords, Jermaine Baker was shot dead by the police in Tottenham last December. The fact that the firearms officer was not wearing a body-worn camera was viewed with suspicion by some and with regret by the IPCC. Does the Minister not agree that the Home Office needs to publish as soon as possible a statement on the current position on body-worn cameras and national guidelines, in order to avoid unreasonable suspicion falling on the police?

Lord Bates: The noble Lord asks an interesting question. The incident to which he refers involved a mobile armed surveillance support team. A lot of the guidance relates to the overt use of cameras by operational police. The covert is also covered by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. This is something that we need to look very carefully at, and I understand that we will be receiving reports from the IPCC in considering what further action needs to be taken, perhaps in the Policing and Crime Bill.

Lord Dholakia (LD): My Lords, is the Minister aware of the latest research, published in today’s newspapers, explaining that 15% of stop and search is carried out unreasonably? This is an area of serious adversarial relationships between the police and the BME community. Is it not time that such evidence was available to individuals so that rights and liberties would not be affected?

Lord Bates: The Home Secretary has announced a reform of stop and search powers. Since those reforms were introduced, there has been a fall in stop and search; there were 540,000 instances last year, a fall of 40% in one year. At the same time, knife crime fell in the capital. We think that the use of body-worn video will only help to ensure that stop-and-search procedures are used in a fair and proportionate way.

Baroness Warsi (Con): Does my noble friend pay tribute with me to the enormous amount of work that has been done by the Home Secretary in the reform of stop and search, which I agree is disproportionately used against ethnic minorities? Does he congratulate

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2355

her on suspending 13 police forces which failed to use stop and search appropriately and were seen to be using it unlawfully, and can he outline to the House what further steps the Home Secretary intends to take to ensure that this power is not abused?

Lord Bates: We are doing a number of things in this area. We have issued the new reforms, and of course, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary keeps this under very tight review. We have also said that data must be collected on this, and transparency of data collection is a very important part of reassuring the public that these important powers are used proportionately and appropriately, irrespective of people’s ethnic backgrounds.

Lord Harris of Haringey (Lab): My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register on policing. Can the Minister enlighten us? Is it not the case that where there have been trials of body-worn videos, the number of complaints against police have fallen, and that they have been much more easily resolved? If all officers who carry out stop and search had body-worn videos, would that not reduce many of the tensions? It might have a good effect on the officers concerned as regards the manner in which they carry out those stop and searches as well as on the behaviour of those whom they stop. If so, should the Government not move much more rapidly to ensure that all officers on the street, whether covert or overt, are equipped with body-worn videos?

Lord Bates: Indeed; that particular study the noble Lord refers to was on a trial carried out by the Metropolitan Police and the College of Policing, and it found exactly that: it had a regulating behaviour both on those who were videoed and those who carried the body-worn camera. Public approval was in excess of 90% across a whole range of indicators that this was a positive innovation. That is why the Met has announced that it will roll it out across all front-line services—Hampshire and others have already done so. However, at that level it is a matter for the chief constable.

Lord Rosser (Lab): I endorse the comments that have been made by my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey. Who will have to approve the new guidelines to which the Minister referred, and will there be any parliamentary scrutiny or debate on them?

Lord Bates: They will have the standing of authorised professional practice, which comes under the College of Policing. That is published and it is open to review. However, we have changed the procedure from the Home Office guidance on body-worn cameras issued in 2007 to give the National College of Policing and chief constables greater power and authority to make those decisions, although that is public and will be open to scrutiny.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): My Lords, I thank the Minister for answering the questions that are posed to him, unlike some of his colleagues, who ignore the questions and read from a ministerial brief. Will he consider having a word with them?

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2356

Lord Bates: I have no idea how to answer that. All I can say is that in my experience my colleagues on the Front Bench do everything in their power to make sure that the Members of this House get the answers to questions which they deserve.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Bates: I should finish it there.

Zimbabwe: Food Security


11.28 am

Asked by Lord Oates

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the food security situation in Zimbabwe in the light of the declaration of a state of disaster by the government of Zimbabwe on 2 February.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for International Development (Baroness Verma) (Con): My Lords, the UK led the international community when we began our response in September 2015. Our current £10 million humanitarian programme supports 336,000 people through cash transfers in the worst-affected areas. We are looking at options to extend the programme. We also support programmes valued at £48.8 million to build the resilience of smallholder farmers.

Lord Oates (LD): I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is she aware of growing evidence that the Zimbabwean authorities are using food aid as a political tool by denying it to opposition supporters? Can she tell the House what measures the Government are taking to ensure that UK aid, whether provided bilaterally or through multilateral agencies, is not abused in this despicable manner, and will she assure the people of Zimbabwe that whatever the misrule of their Government, Britain stands in solidarity with them?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I am aware of the reports that the noble Lord refers to but I assure him that all the assistance given by the UK Government goes through local partners on the ground—we do not do anything through the Government—and we use cash transfers targeted at the households that are in most need. I take the noble Lord’s point but we also need to look the progress being made. Like him, we stand by the Zimbabwean people.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): My Lords, when Zimbabwe gets a better Government, will Her Majesty’s Government encourage the Commonwealth to re-embrace Zimbabwe and bring it back to the prosperity that it deserves, not leaving it all to the Chinese?

Baroness Verma: My noble friend raises an important point about what the Commonwealth can deliver. It is right and proper that when we see progress, we encourage even greater progress, and that we make sure that

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2357

countries are able to remain, or return to being part of, the Commonwealth family.

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, part of the problem is man-made; part of it is simply the dislocation caused by reorganisation in Zimbabwe. Part of the tragedy is that historically Zimbabwe has been the bread-basket of the region, so this is, to some extent, a regional problem. Given the corruption in the Zimbabwe Government and more widely, as well as the inefficiencies in administration, is the Minister wholly confident that any food aid is getting through to the people who desperately need it?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, this disaster has been added to by the El Niño effect and we need to make sure that we address that, as well as ensuring, as the noble Lord rightly points out, that the people who most need assistance receive it. I am really proud that the Government step up, show leadership and encourage their partners to work as stringently as we do, ensuring that there is real monitoring of the delivery of cash transfers and food aid on the ground. Ultimately, the focus must be on the Zimbabwean people who most need assistance.

Baroness Northover (LD): My Lords, does the Minister recognise the possible significance of climate change in what is happening in Zimbabwe at the moment? What is DfID doing to make sure that across government, particularly in the Treasury and DECC, there is a return to the high priority that the previous Government gave to combating climate change?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, the Government have continued to support a reduction in the impact of climate change, and the Chancellor, through the Treasury, has added resources to the work being done. I do not think that this Government have been backward in dealing with climate change issues. In fact, in many areas we are leading the way, and I know that the noble Baroness will be reassured by that.

Lord Hughes of Woodside (Lab): My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that one of the problems in Zimbabwe at the moment is the very severe drought? If not unprecedented, it is certainly very severe. Is she aware that it is affecting not just Zimbabwe but surrounding countries, including South Africa, which are also suffering severely from the drought and a shortage of maize? Are the Government giving due attention to countries other than Zimbabwe?

Baroness Verma: The noble Lord is absolutely right. The drought is affecting not just Zimbabwe but its neighbours. The impact on Ethiopia is currently far greater than it is on Zimbabwe and other countries, so our focus is predominantly on those countries with the greatest need. However, it is a regional issue and we therefore need to ensure that we deal with it on a regional basis.

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their efforts to ensure that aid gets to the people who need it and that corruption is not a barrier to that. However, the fact is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Oates, said, the Government of Zimbabwe

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2358

are using food aid as a political weapon. This is a case for joined-up government. Can the noble Baroness tell us what representations the Government as a whole, through the FCO, are making to the African Union and to neighbouring countries, particularly South Africa, to ensure that such practices are halted?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, we, along with our partners, continue to press the Zimbabwe Government to ensure that any food aid is distributed according to need. It is absolutely right that we continue to press them, and our FCO colleagues do the same; we are a joined-up Government and we work collectively. However, in responding to this Question today, I want to assure noble Lords that the focus of my department is to ensure that those who need food the most get it as urgently as possible.

Pensions Act 2014 (Consequential and Supplementary Amendments) Order 2016

State Pension and Occupational Pension Schemes (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2016

Motions to Approve

11.35 am

Moved by Baroness Altmann

That the draft Order and Regulations laid before the House on 30 November 2015 be approved.

Relevant documents: 12th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Considered in Grand Committee on Monday 8 February

Motions agreed.

Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Order 2016

Modern Slavery Act 2015 (Consequential Amendments) (No. 2) Regulations 2015

Motions to Approve

11.35 am

Moved by Lord Bates

That the draft Order and Regulations laid before the House on 18 November 2015 and 11 January be approved.

Relevant documents: 11th and 15th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instrument. Considered in Grand Committee on Wednesday 10 February

Motions agreed.

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2359

Armed Forces Bill

Armed Forces Bill

Second Reading

11.35 am

Moved by Earl Howe

That the Bill be read a second time.

Relevant document: 21st Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe) (Con): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It is a pleasure to be speaking to the Armed Forces Bill. Such an opportunity normally occurs only every five years and, as always, it is a significant occasion. Its significance can be traced back to the Bill of Rights in 1688, which declared:

“That the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with the consent of Parliament, is against law”.

Since then, the legislation making the provision necessary for the Army to exist as a disciplined force and, more recently, the legislation for the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, has required annual renewal.

Since the 1950s, an Armed Forces Act has been required every five years to continue in force the legislation enabling the Armed Forces to be recruited and maintained as disciplined bodies. Those Acts have provided that, in each of the years between five-yearly Acts, an Order in Council is required to continue in force that legislation. That legislation is currently the Armed Forces Act 2006, which provides a system of command, discipline and justice for the Armed Forces. It covers matters such as the powers of commanding officers to punish disciplinary or criminal misconduct, the powers of the court martial, and the powers of the service police. The 2006 Act confers powers and sets out procedures to enforce the duty of members of the Armed Forces to obey lawful commands. Without this Armed Forces Bill, the Armed Forces Act 2006 could not continue in force beyond the end of this year. This Bill is a constitutional requirement. Each Government, in turn, have an Armed Forces Bill, not because their manifesto says so but because control over the system under which the Armed Forces are maintained resides not with the Executive but with Parliament.

When speaking about the need to renew the legislation for the Armed Forces, it is sometimes asked what would happen if that legislation was not renewed. The 2006 Act contains almost all the provisions for the existence of a system for the Armed Forces of command, discipline and justice—these I mentioned earlier. It also provides for other important things, such as provision for their enlistment, pay and their system for the redress of complaints. The central effect of expiry of the Armed Forces Act 2006 would be to end the powers and provisions to maintain the Armed Forces as disciplined bodies. Perhaps the most important example of this effect is that the duty of members of the Armed Forces to obey lawful commands, which is under Section 12 of the 2006 Act, and the powers and procedures under which this duty is enforced, would no longer have effect. Commanding officers and the court martial would have no powers of punishment for disciplinary or criminal misconduct. The obligation

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2360

of members of the Armed Forces is, essentially, a duty to obey lawful orders; they have no contracts of employment and so no duty as employees.

I mentioned earlier the assertion in the Bill of Rights 1688 that the Army—and by extension now the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy—may not be maintained within the kingdom without the consent of Parliament. The requirement for renewal of the 2006 Act is based on that assertion. Failure to renew would call into question Parliament’s consent to the maintenance of our Armed Forces. This is why renewal of the Armed Forces Act 2006 is so important—and renewal is the primary purpose of this Bill.

This is a smaller Bill than the one five years ago which became the Armed Forces Act 2011 and considerably smaller than the Armed Forces Act 2006, which made significant changes, including establishing a single system of service law for all three services. The 2006 Act continues to work well and I pay tribute to the work of the then Government for this achievement.

The 2011 Act renewed the 2006 Act and, like most five-yearly Armed Forces Acts, it made a few other changes to the service justice system and defence more broadly. Its eye-catcher, of course, was the requirement to report on the Armed Forces covenant, which has made a huge difference to the lives of serving and ex-service personnel.

This is a modest Bill. The 2006 Act, as amended by the 2011 Act and the Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Act 2015, which provides for the Service Complaints Ombudsman, needs only a few small changes. This Bill tidies a few things up and keeps our legislation current so that it remains fit for purpose.

So what does the Bill do? I have mentioned renewal of the 2006 Act. That is covered by the first clause of the Bill. It provides for continuation of the 2006 Act for a year from the date on which this Bill receives Royal Assent. It also provides for renewal thereafter by Order in Council for up to a year at a time until the end of 2021.

Currently a commanding officer may require a member of the Armed Forces, or a civilian subject to service discipline, to co-operate with a preliminary test for alcohol or drugs only on suspicion of an offence. Clause 2 extends the circumstances in which a commanding officer may require co-operation with such a test. It provides for post-accident preliminary testing without the need for suspicion that the person tested may have committed an offence. The new powers to require co-operation with tests apply only after accidents involving aircraft or ships or after other serious accidents. The results of such tests can be used in support of any type of investigation arising from the accident. The powers are derived from, but not identical to, those in the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 under which civilians may be required to co-operate with tests for alcohol and drugs.

Clauses 3 to 5 relate to the investigation and charging of service offences under the Armed Forces Act 2006. The clauses make a number of changes to the provisions in Part 5 of the 2006 Act which deal with the process of deciding whether a person is to be charged with a service offence under that Act. The changes simplify

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2361

the process. The commanding officer rightly deals with 90% of cases in the service justice system and these provisions will not change that. Clause 3 is about simplifying the process for charging in some of the remaining 10% of cases which the commanding officer does not have power to hear, including offences such as perverting the course of justice and sexual assault. Currently, some cases which cannot be dealt with by the commanding officer must none the less be referred by the investigating service police to the commanding officer, and then from the commanding officer to the Director of Service Prosecutions for a decision on the charge and prosecution. Clause 3 provides instead for the service police to refer straight to the DSP any case where there is sufficient evidence to charge an offence with which the commanding officer cannot deal. It also deals with charging in linked cases—for example, separate offences that occurred during the same incident.

Clause 4 makes a minor, technical clarification to the procedure for the referral of linked cases from the commanding officer to the DSP. Clause 5 provides for the Director of Service Prosecutions to bring charges himself. Currently, where the director decides that a charge should be brought in a case, he cannot bring the charge directly but must direct the suspect’s commanding officer to bring the charge, who must then do so.

Clause 6 increases the range of sentencing options available to the court martial. Both civilian courts and the court martial can currently suspend sentences of imprisonment for up to 24 months. However, the service courts can suspend sentences of service detention for only 12 months. This clause gives the court martial the ability to suspend sentences of service detention for up to 24 months. Sentences of service detention are served at the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester. This would provide the court martial with another option when sentencing. In appropriate circumstances, suspended sentences can allow continued service alongside rehabilitation activities.

Clauses 7 to 12 deal with offenders assisting investigations. Clauses 7 and 8 allow the Director of Service Prosecutions, in return for assistance provided by a person to an investigation or prosecution, to enter into an agreement with the person, giving them immunity from prosecution or an undertaking that information will not be used against them in proceedings. Clauses 9 to 12 make provision with respect to reduced sentences for those who provide such assistance.

In the civilian criminal justice system, prosecutors such as the Director of Public Prosecutions have statutory powers to offer immunity from prosecution and restrictions on the use of evidence in return for assistance relating to offences. The Director of Service Prosecutions has no such power, yet in some cases the evidence of a witness or defendant could be crucial to a case, but fears about self-incrimination prevent that person coming forward. Clauses 7 to 12 would change that. The provisions closely follow those in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 that apply to civilian prosecutors and courts.

Clause 13 and the Schedule to the Bill provide for the Armed Forces Act 2006 as it currently has effect in the UK to come into force in the Isle of Man and the British Overseas Territories, except Gibraltar. We are

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2362

consulting the Government of Gibraltar about extending the 2006 Act to that territory. I should make it clear that, as a matter of UK law, the 2006 Act applies to UK service personnel wherever in the world they serve. It will continue to do so. The Isle of Man and the British Overseas Territories other than Gibraltar are content for the 2006 Act to form part of the law of those jurisdictions. Discussions are ongoing with Gibraltar about whether it would be content for the 2006 Act to form part of its law. If it considers that that would be best, we propose to introduce an amendment as soon as possible to that effect.

Clause 14 reflects the Government’s commitment to the fair and equal treatment of LGBT Armed Forces personnel. It repeals two provisions regarding homosexuality in the Armed Forces, the existence of which is inconsistent with the department’s current policies and the Government’s equality and discrimination policies more generally. The clause amends Sections 146(4) and 147(3) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Currently, these sections contain wording that provides that those sections do not prevent a homosexual act from being a ground for discharging a member of the Armed Forces. The clause removes that wording. When Sections 146 and 147 were enacted, it was government policy that homosexuality was incompatible with service in the Armed Forces. Accordingly, members of the Armed Forces who engaged in homosexual activity were administratively discharged from the Armed Forces. That policy was abandoned in January 2000. Since then, these provisions have had no practical effect. They are, therefore, redundant.

The Secretary of State may make regulations under Section 25 of the Social Security Act 1989 to give war pensions committees functions relating to war pensions and war pensioners, such as considering complaints made by pension recipients. The committees’ existing functions relate primarily to the war pensions scheme, which provides compensation for injury or death caused by service in the Armed Forces before 6 April 2005. Clause 15 amends Section 25, allowing committees to also be given functions relating to the scheme which provides compensation for injury or death caused by service in the Armed Forces on or after 6 April 2005. These days the war pensions committees are commonly known as veterans advisory and pensions committees.

Clauses 16 and 17 give Ministry of Defence firefighters statutory powers to act in an emergency to protect life or property. These are the same powers as those given to employees of local fire and rescue authorities under Section 44 of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 and equivalent legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Those powers include powers to enter premises by force if necessary, to close roads and to regulate traffic. Clause 16 also makes it an offence to obstruct an MoD firefighter who is acting in an emergency. Clause 17 gives MoD firefighters the same exemptions from provisions in certain Acts, such as rules on drivers’ hours, as employees of fire and rescue authorities.

The Defence Fire Risk Management organisation provides fire and rescue operational services and support across defence at airfields, specified domestic establishments and deployed locations in the UK and overseas, but it falls outside the ambit of the primary

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2363

legislation that governs local fire and rescue authorities in the UK. Clauses 16 and 17 make simple, sensible changes to give MoD firefighters the same protections in law as their civilian counterparts. The Defence Fire Risk Management Organisation has more than 2,000 personnel operating more than 70 fire stations. Its firefighters fall into one of three categories: defence fire and rescue service civilian firefighters employed by the MoD; RAF and Royal Navy service personnel; and firefighters employed by a defence contractor. These firefighters currently have no specific statutory powers to act in an emergency to prevent or deal with fires, to protect life or to preserve property. The changes made by Clauses 16 and 17 will enable defence firefighters to carry out their duties in the same way as firefighters employed by civilian fire and rescue authorities.

That is what the Bill is about. As I said earlier, it is modest but none the less important. The number of expert speakers we look forward to hearing from during this debate is a reflection of that, as is the prospect of no fewer than three maiden speeches, from my noble friends Lady Pidding and Lord Shinkwin and the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen. I pay tribute to our Armed Forces. We ask a lot of our men and women, whether serving in far-flung places or supporting UK flood relief operations. We are immensely proud of their work, their courage and their dedication and we take pride in the first-class reputation of our Armed Forces. Their success is underpinned by a fair and modern service justice system. I believe that we share a common purpose to keep it that way.

I have mentioned that we may bring forward a government amendment in relation to Gibraltar. If we do—if Gibraltar considers it best that we provide for the 2006 Act and the Bill to extend there—I will ensure that noble Lords are given this in good time. I look forward to the detailed scrutiny we shall undoubtedly give the Bill in Committee, and commend it to the House.

11.54 am

Lord West of Spithead (Lab): My Lords, military justice has come a very long way since the days—as happened to me many years ago at my captain’s table, waiting to dispense justice—when I heard my regulating petty officer order, “Wheel the guilty bastard in”.

In general, the Bill is uncontentious. Indeed, I think it resolves a number of anomalies. I know that my noble friend Lord Touhig has a number of areas which he might like to see expanded or tightened up and he will talk to those later. There are, however, two issues which I wish to raise and I have given the noble Earl prior notice of my concerns. I thank him for the briefing he gave to all of us on the Bill beforehand.

The first regards the issue of mesothelioma. After considerable pressure from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my Labour colleagues, the Government have taken action and announced that veterans exposed to asbestos during their military service and diagnosed with mesothelioma on or after 16 December 2015 will receive compensation. That includes veterans exposed before 1987, ensuring equality with that compensation available to all civilians. The Government are to be congratulated on that. One has to remember that none

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2364

of us knew that it was dangerous. I can remember having snowball fights with asbestos in the boiler room of HMS “Albion” because we did not know that it was so dangerous.

But the announcement ignores a small number of sufferers who do not meet the qualifying dates. I know that the noble Earl—the Minister—is unhappy with what seems to go against the spirit of the Armed Forces covenant. Action needs to be taken quickly because people are dying as we speak. An article in this morning’s Independent puts it very succinctly: mesothelioma patients survive typically for one year following their diagnosis, so about 25% of those diagnosed will die every three months.

The Government need to act with alacrity and contact the afflicted veterans and their widows and families. Compensation should be available following the precedent of the mineworkers’ scheme for chest diseases. More than three months ago, the Prime Minister at PMQs undertook to look at this matter. I ask the Minister: can we now resolve this issue once and for all? I believe that it is the right thing to do.

My next concern stems from the Supreme Court’s decision of 2013 in the case of Smith and others v the Ministry of Defence, in which, by a majority of four to three, the court concluded that a claim should go to trial so that a judge could decide on the evidence whether it was covered by the doctrine of combat immunity or could give rise to a claim based on the Human Rights Act. The judgment has, not surprisingly, raised considerable concern in the military and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, asked in a Question on 25 June 2013 for reassurance about the relationship between human rights legislation and military law in war. The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever—the government Minister at the time—did not give the cast-iron reassurance that one would have expected.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, in the Armed Forces legal challenge Motion of 7 November 2013, said that he was driven to agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, who gave a minority judgment in Smith. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, said that the approach taken by the majority,

“will in my view make extensive litigation almost inevitable after, as well as quite possibly during and even before, any active service operations undertaken by the British Army. It is likely to lead to the judicialisation of war, in sharp contrast with Stark J’s dictum in Shaw Savill (1940) that ‘war cannot be controlled or conducted by judicial tribunals’”.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, added:

“To offer as a panacea ... that courts should be very cautious about accepting such claims is to acknowledge the problem, but to offer no real solution”.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, stated:

“I have real difficulty in understanding what Article 2, the ‘Right to Life’, really means in the context of armed conflict. There is something strangely poignant when the mother of a soldier says to the press, after the decision in Smith, ‘Now all those soldiers have the right to life’. Perhaps that is the effect on the public’s mind of the decision”.—[Official Report, 7/11/13; cols. 393-4.]

I have to say that I share the views of both the noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord.

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2365

Thirty-four years ago this May, my ship was bombed and sunk during the amphibious landings in the Falkland Islands. I knew that my anti-aircraft armament was insufficient to counter air attacks so close against land. But it is the duty of military men to fight the war they are in with the equipment they have. The Smith judgment could see me taken to court for taking the correct military decision. This cannot be right.

It is total nonsense that one can use human rights legislation to drag military leaders through the courts for decisions made in war. In combat, men kill and are killed on a regular basis fighting for their country. Civilian norms cannot possibly apply. Yet there is a growing tendency, particularly in the European courts, to make judgments as if events on the battlefield were taking place in the halcyon days of peace.

It is not just the pernicious effect on the individual. In 2013, the Policy Exchange think tank produced a study entitled The Fog of Law, which showed clearly that such legal mission creep could paralyse the effectiveness of the military. In simple terms, our military will cease being able to win wars for us.

If health and safety at work were always to prevail, our military would be unable to fight. In combat, a sailor, soldier or airman might be ordered to take action that could result in virtually certain death. On the battlefield the right to life is not certain. I remain concerned about a possible wave of litigation and the impact it could have on our people and our military effectiveness. Parliament should intervene, and I ask the Minister: what can be done to stop the pernicious effect of this judgment and the pressures from the European Court of Human Rights?

Perhaps something can be done in this Bill. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, intends to put down an amendment. He asked me to mention this. He will propose a clause that says something along the lines of, “The Human Rights Act 1998 will apply to a conflict operation in time of war only to the extent that is consistent with the provisions of the Geneva Convention”. The amendment is with the Public Bills Office at the moment. I would support it. If it is not in the Bill, I ask the Minister where such legislation can be enacted. How do the Government intend to get us out of this mess?

12.02 pm

Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD): My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to the Bill. I do not propose to follow the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, very interesting though it was. I am sure we will have an opportunity to debate those issues at a later stage.

I wish to argue that the court-martial system, which is integral to service discipline, does not enjoy public confidence. There have been many reforms and in my view, speaking as a practitioner and as chairman of the Association of Military Court Advocates, this lack of confidence is unmerited and unjustified. But it exists and there are cases coming down the track which will test the system in the extreme.

Back in 1994, I was engaged in the defence of a lance-corporal, serving in Germany, on a murder charge. He was acquitted and returned to his regiment. George

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2366

Galloway, then a Labour Member of Parliament for Glasgow, Hillhead, used parliamentary privilege to assert that a murderer had walked free and was still at large, serving in Her Majesty’s Forces. He said:

“The military police, who were soldiers with armbands, and the military prosecutor, who was a soldier in a wig, bungled the case”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/3/95; col. 812]

When I appeared in a later court martial in Germany for a 17 year-old civilian son of a soldier, in another murder case, the staff sergeant who was the father of the victim in the previous case picketed the hearing with placards against the court-martial system. I have never heard of a Member of Parliament, nor even the press or public, attack a verdict of acquittal by a jury in a Crown Court in such terms. This did not even happen, for example, in the case I prosecuted in Cardiff during the miners’ strike, when two miners were convicted of the murder of a taxi driver using a concrete block.

The conviction of the 17 year-old went to the House of Lords Judicial Committee, where it was upheld. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, held that the procedure whereby a boy of 17 whose father had left the Army and who was brought from England to stand trial in Germany by court martial could not be considered an abuse of process because that was the process that Parliament had ordered. In 2007, some 10 years after that trial, the European Court of Human Rights had severe doubts on that score, but in any event, following the case of Findlay v United Kingdom, held that the 17 year-old’s conviction had been in violation of Article 6—the right to a fair trial—by reason of the way that the court martial was constituted.

Parliament had already responded to the preliminary decision in Findlay in the Armed Forces Act 1996. The role of the convening officer was abolished and decisions to prosecute were removed from the chain of command and given to the independent service prosecuting authorities. This was in recognition of the need to remove the impression, however mistaken, that the chain of command could have undue influence over court-martial proceedings. The Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000, passed after the Human Rights Act had come into force, made further changes, taking away the CO’s power to determine pre-trial custody and granting appeals against summary convictions.

My own contribution to reform at this stage—and this will appeal to the noble Lord, Lord West—was to table a Parliamentary Question as to why a defendant in a naval court martial was still being marched in at the point of a cutlass. The practice was abolished between my laying of the Question and the delivery of the Answer by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. In the time I have been involved in courts martial, the swords have gone, the stripping of the defendant of his belt and cap has gone, and the marching and the saluting have all disappeared. Importantly, the panel sits separately from the judge advocate. But public disquiet continued.

Noble Lords of an earlier generation will recall how Lord Campbell of Alloway campaigned on behalf of Trooper Williams, where the CO had dismissed charges of murder. But the Army Prosecuting Authority disagreed and passed the papers to the Attorney-General, who referred it to the CPS. The proceedings that followed at the Old Bailey were ultimately discontinued.

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2367

In 2005, charges of murder against seven members of the Paras were dismissed by the Judge Advocate-General, Judge Blackett, at a court martial at Colchester. There was disquiet that they had been charged at all. My own personal recollection was that I made a very unusual application in that case for an adjournment in order to get married in the Crypt of Parliament—something that Judge Blackett always brings up with me.

However, major reforms happened in 2006. Courts martial ceased to be convened ad hoc and became a permanent standing court, with court centres at Colchester, Bulford and Catterick. Other reforms included the merger of the separate service prosecution authorities and the creation of the office of the Director of Service Prosecutions. The service was fortunate in both its first director, Bruce Houlder QC, an Old Bailey civilian practitioner, and its second and current director, Andrew Cayley CMG QC, who used to be a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court.

In 2006, Judge Blackett gave evidence to the Select Committee in the Commons, advising it that the court-martial system should be brought into line with the Crown Court. Consequently, during the passage of that Armed Forces Bill, I moved amendments in this House to make provision in the court-martial rules that the court-martial panel should be drawn from all ranks and every branch of the armed services. They were to be selected by ballot from a pool constituted of people who were eligible to sit. The qualification was simply to be that the individual chosen was a serving member of the Armed Forces, subject to service law. It was not an outrageous suggestion, because that was the system adopted in the United States in 1952.

I also moved amendments that a person should not be charged with an offence against this section committed in the United Kingdom if the corresponding offence under the law of England and Wales was treason, murder, manslaughter or rape. Further, I proposed that the verdict of guilty should not be entered by a simple majority but by a majority of five out of seven, if seven were sitting, or four out of five, if five were sitting. None of these amendments was accepted and the consequence was that the opportunity was lost to approximate trials by court martial to the Crown Court system.

The Act did not come into effect until 2009 and, meanwhile, in September 2006, the court martial took place of seven members of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment at Bulford before a High Court judge, Mr Justice McKinnon. The charges against them failed. Four of the other ranks and the colonel were discharged by the judge because,

“there is no evidence against them as a result of a more or less obvious closing of ranks”.

He said that there was a conspiracy of silence. Two other officers, one of whom I represented, were acquitted of negligently performing a duty by the panel after a full trial. However, this verdict was not accepted and your Lordships will recall that the Baha Mousa trial, or inquiry, was set up, which lasted three years and cost £13 million.

More recently, we have the concerns expressed over Deepcut. There was some evidence yesterday on the

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2368

second inquest—which your Lordships will recall and which is published in today’s papers—that the Deepcut barracks were,

“heavily sexualised, misogynistic and toxic”.

Then there is the Anne-Marie Ellement case—two people have been charged so I will say no more about that. However, in the case of Sergeant Blackman, there has been great outside criticism and comment. The sentence was described as “ludicrous”, by a prince of the blood royal, no doubt defeating a convention that has lasted since the days of Charles I. In this House, my noble friend Lord Burnett, who will no doubt speak more about it, described it on 15 September as,

“a terrible miscarriage of justice”.—[

Official Report

, 15/9/15; col. GC 228]

Have your Lordships, if you think about it, ever heard of the verdict of a British jury in the ordinary Crown Court being described in such terms in this House? There is trouble brewing.

In January 2014 and September 2015, Public Interest Lawyers, headed by Phil Shiner, lodged complaints with the International Criminal Court. The extent of them, as described by the International Criminal Court, was that,

“UK Services personnel systematically abused hundreds of detainees in different UK-controlled facilities across the territory of Iraq over the whole period of their deployment from 2003 through 2008”.

It includes 200 cases of unlawful killing. The prosecutor of the ICC set up a preliminary examination and reported last November that,

“The Office is currently engaged in processing and analysing the vast amount of material provided”.

Your Lordships should appreciate that it would be a terrible insult and slight upon our system if the International Criminal Court were to declare that this country is incapable of dealing with war crimes within our own system.

However, the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, set up by the Ministry of Defence but independent of it, has itself investigated nearly 1,400 complaints of ill-treatment, including torture and murder. I am reliably informed that more than 30 of those allegations have already gone to the Director of Service Prosecutions and that a large number of cases will, at the moment, be tried by court martial. If they are dealt with by court martial, we can expect—and await—unrestrained comment and criticism of the system in the press and the media, leading to public alarm and further undermining of the system.

I am concerned about the welfare of those who serve this country in the Armed Forces and whom we put in the line of fire, and about the reputation of the British Armed Forces. Consequently, I propose to return during consideration of the Bill to the amendments that I put forward in 2006 and, if they are not acceptable, to propose that serious offences of murder, manslaughter and rape, and serious sexual offences, should be tried in our ordinary Crown Courts and no longer by court martial—the system that is under attack. I repeat that, as a practitioner, I have confidence in that system and in the judges and advocates who appear in it, but I fear that unless something drastic is done, its reputation will be destroyed.

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2369

12.16 pm

Lord Craig of Radley (CB): My Lords, the main purpose of the Bill has been fully outlined by the Minister. It is well understood that the Bill is an essential prerequisite for maintaining Armed Forces at the disposal of the Government of the day. However, this Bill follows the practice of the 2011 renewal of the new-look 2006 Act, and indeed of the quinquennial renewals of the single service Acts of the 1950s, before their displacement by the tri-service 2006 Act.

The Bill is, in effect, a Marshalled List of amendments to the 2006 Act and, on occasion, amendments to the amendments introduced by the 2011 Act. I complained five years ago, as we dealt with the 2011 Bill, that this did not make it that easy to understand and follow what the House was being invited to enact. Whether this endless approach of “marshalled amendments” to the 2006 Act is to proceed unchanged every five years into the distant future needs to be considered. For those steeped in legislative minutiae—the Bill team and the parliamentary counsel—it no doubt seems tidy and straightforward. But for the rest of us, whether versed in the ways of the military or not, I do not consider it to be that satisfactory.

As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, stressed, the Bill is of profound constitutional importance. It has to be right. When considering defence requirements we think of new equipment coming into service five, 10 and 15 years hence, and of the size and shape of the Armed Forces being varied over decades, but none of that is viable or in any way realistic without the timely passage of the Bill before us. If it were not to be passed, the Government would not have disciplined Armed Forces at their disposal to man all that equipment or to fight their wars. I hope that the Lib Dem Benches, with their recent predilection for unmandated and vainglorious challenges to the convention norms of your Lordships’ House, will not be tempted to try to hold the Government to account by refusing to pass the Bill after scrutiny.

I, for one, would prefer the Government to have tabled a Bill that incorporates their amendments to the earlier legislation—in other words, to produce the Bill in a format that can be read without repeated cross-referencing. Would it be that much more difficult for the Minister to guide the House through this rewrite of the 2006 Act, drawing attention to the changes and improvements to the earlier Acts that it incorporates? Is the approach merely a matter of convention? Perhaps the Minister can advise the House.

I have no particular points to raise on the list of marshalled amendments contained in the Bill, but there is for me a glaring omission in what lies before the House, to which the noble Lord, Lord West, has just drawn its attention. It totally lacks any approach to the difficulties that have arisen from the application of human rights legislation to activities during or close to combat, or to the increasingly vexatious problem of prolonged and historic litigation affecting or potentially affecting the operations of the Armed Forces and the lives of veterans long discharged.

Noble Lords will recall the growing media coverage of the latter issue in recent weeks. Defence Ministers have been reported as expressing anger and outrage.

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2370

Indeed the Prime Minister himself has expressed his concerns, and presumably told the MoD to get a grip. In June and November 2013, when debating issues arising from the Supreme Court judgment on two particular cases which the noble Lord, Lord West, has just mentioned, I urged the Government then to be more proactive, although I accepted that precise steps would need to follow resolution of the particular cases before the courts.

Indeed, in a debate that November led by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, I encouraged the Government to consider legislation to rule out from legal challenge under human rights legislation the behaviour of service personnel in the heat of battle or on dangerous patrols and similar operational activities. The European Convention on Human Rights was surely a safeguard for peacetime behaviour. I said that there was every likelihood that the situation would deteriorate further and that it would be a failure of moral courage and leadership not to tackle it. I also said that I hoped that the Armed Forces Bill due in 2016 could be a vehicle for legislating to ease these problems.

Nearly three years after the Supreme Court finding, and a protracted period for active consideration and staffing, there is nothing about this in the Bill—no sign of a proactive response. I remind the Minister what his party’s manifesto said, which he repeated in the Queen’s Speech debate only last May:

“We will ensure our Armed Forces overseas are not subject to persistent human rights claims that undermine their ability to do their job”.

The possibility of using a new Bill of Rights has been floated, but that Bill has yet to see the light of day. The Government should be ashamed of their lack of real progress.

What do I propose? There are two issues to consider. The first is the application of human rights law in conflict situations. I hope that the Minister will be able to report that, even at this late stage, the Government are preparing to consider adding to the Bill before us and honouring his party’s manifesto commitment. Surely that is a reasonable request.

The second issue, which would seem to cry out for a proactive government response, is the industrial-scale growth in cases alleging maltreatment, or worse, of enemy combatants by our own forces. Numerous recent cases going back not just years but decades are costing large sums and causing great stress and anxiety for those involved. Yet after prolonged and tendentious investigations, few or no plausible cases for full trial, let alone conviction, have yet been found. Surely the opportunity presented by having an Armed Forces Bill before Parliament must be used to introduce legal safeguards. The first step should be to introduce a statutory time limit for new cases against personnel on live operations.

It seems objectionable and unrealistic to attempt to bring something to trial, let alone have a hearing, when it depends on recall by witnesses and the accused of traumatic events of many years or even decades ago. I speak from personal experience. In 1991, the IRA launched a missile from a van parked in the road outside Banqueting House. The War Cabinet, of which I was a member, was in session in Downing Street.

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2371

Fortunately, the missile blew up in the garden outside, severely rattling the windows and, to varying degrees, those of us sitting around the Cabinet table. But vivid as such an event was at the time, 25 years later I doubt whether the recollections of those of us who were there would produce a common, accurate description of what occurred in that room on that day.

Is it not time to introduce a statute of limitation specific to military activity before these no-win no-fee charlatan lawyers start roaming the streets of Buenos Aires in search of some so-called victims of abuse by the Armed Forces on the Falkland Islands in 1982, or in Iraq and Kuwait in 1991? I recognise this to be a big ask, since there is no general statutory limit in the UK for criminal cases. Nevertheless, the Armed Forces can be and are treated differently in law. I hope that one or more of my noble and learned colleagues might assist me in drafting a probing amendment or two to allow the Government to set out their thinking on these vexed topics.

12.26 pm

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, by happy coincidence, this debate takes place almost exactly on the anniversary of the signing of the Armed Forces corporate covenant by the right reverend Primates the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. There has been excellent work with the Minister in developing the impact of that covenant, and it is a pleasure to mark that anniversary today and anticipate the maiden speeches this afternoon.

This Bill properly clarifies the obligations and responsibilities of those serving in the Armed Forces and strengthens provision for maintaining good order and handling any instances of indiscipline with proper regard for justice. These provisions and the contributions that we have heard already remind us, although they are often technical, that individuals in our Armed Forces serve, and occasionally offend, in situations of stress and danger. The House will not be surprised therefore if I briefly draw attention to the importance—and I hope the Minister in summing up can confirm this—that we should all give to the areas of pastoral and family support for those who volunteer to serve us and the nation in this way in the Armed Forces, even when their behaviour falls below highest standards.

My concern relates to the ministry of chaplains in the Army, Air Force and Navy. Many of you will be aware of the pressures on these pastoral and support ministries, which are valued by service men and women because they are offered, and offered to all, regardless of faith or none, outside the chain of command, including and when under charge. This is a high-value/low-cost provision, and it is not always clear, to me at least, that the Treasury as well as the Ministry of Defence understands that. Rumours about a likely fall in chaplaincy numbers, about a new pay scale, which I imagine means a lower pay scale, and the potential de-enriching of the senior post holders, are worrying for the range and effectiveness of the ministry offered to all service men and women, a ministry that is so highly valued. What is rumoured and feared has implications; reduced numbers mean thinner provision;

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2372

reduced pay risks problems of recruitment and retention; and reduced seniority suggests lower importance for chaplaincy.

Discipline is better enhanced and implemented when there is high morale and access to excellent pastoral support. I trust that in supporting this Bill we can be clear that the wider circumstances, the morale and the support of those who serve us is important alongside the proper legal process.

12.30 pm

Lord Lyell (Con): My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very clear exposition of the Bill. I have spent a mere 43 years as a member of your Lordships’ defence group, so I have had the good luck to have fairly close contact with many members of the Armed Forces in many areas and have been able to see many of the problems that have arisen and are dealt with in the Bill.

I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Attlee is right in front of me because a number of years ago we were the only members of your Lordships’ defence group who went to Kosovo. We were introduced to the commander of the entire Finnish detachment. Colonel Lahdenperä saluted me and said, “My Lords, we are but conscripts”. He was lucky. I retaliated with an instant volley: “You’re speaking to one”. That stopped him a bit. Fifty-eight years ago, I was a young officer. Part of my training for the first month of my career was to attend commanding officer’s orders with the father of my noble friend Lord Cathcart—indeed, the late Lord Cathcart was my commanding officer—to see exactly what took place. I seem to recall that the offences were always charged under the Army Act 1955. Things have moved on considerably.

We have had a clear exposition—and we will have more from your Lordships and the Minister—from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who set out exactly the kind of work he does. We are very grateful to him, and I suspect many members of the Armed Forces are also very pleased that he can carry out that kind of duty.

I took a look at the Bill and at the speakers list. There are a number—a handful or more—of what I call noble and gallant Lords, really senior officers with enormous experience. I had a mere 19 months of experience as a young soldier. It should have been 24 months, but I broke my leg, so my time was shortened by five months. As a simple trained accountant, I looked at the Bill. Clause 2 deals with the commanding officer’s power to require alcohol and drugs tests. From my military career and everything that I have seen, I can understand that alcohol is present. I am sure the British Army and all the services are more than able to cope with any minor problems in discipline or other behaviour that might arise from alcohol. Drugs are referred to in the Bill, and that can mean all kinds of substances. The effects of those substances might carry on and delay. Even so, I feel entirely confident—indeed, the Minister will be confident—that these problems can and will be resolved in the Bill and elsewhere.

I had a look at what I call the geography. In the Bill, your Lordships will find many references to the Isle of Man and the British Overseas Territories. I am a

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2373

curious soul, and I wondered what the requirement is for this Bill to have a particular application in the Isle of Man. The Minister gave a good description of the overseas territories, but what really touched my curiosity was the considerable amount of space and detail that has been allocated to Gibraltar. I received notes on what took place in another place. The Minister there said that if an amendment was required dealing with Gibraltar, it would be dealt with in another place—which is here. Your Lordships will have heard my noble friend say that some amendment might be required. Could he possibly write to me, without boring your Lordships today, on the particular problems associated with discipline in Gibraltar? He spelled out fairly clearly that the Bill will apply to British servicemen wherever they serve anywhere on the globe, but I am curious why Gibraltar and other overseas territories, let alone the Isle of Man, are singled out for detail in the Bill.

The other aspect of the Bill that tickled my curiosity was the two clauses dealing with Ministry of Defence firefighters in an emergency. I love to point out that I am a mere country dweller in the glens of Angus in Scotland. At least three times in the past 10 years we have had serious accidents, twice with aircraft crashing, once, alas, with fatal results although another time, luckily, it was not too serious, and there have been other cases in my neck of the woods. If a plane happened to crash on one of the glen roads in Angus or in the hills behind my house, what would happen? I presume that the first people on the scene would be civil firefighters. The police would also be there so that members of the public would find someone in a chequered cap and know that he or she would be able to direct events. There might even be civil fireman from the Tayside fire brigade; I would not know.

However, if Ministry of Defence fire fighters attended, it mildly worries me how a member of the public such as myself would know who they were or what powers they had. If they had precisely the same powers that any other police officer or firefighter would have, then I am totally content. Still, I am perhaps curious rather than worried, and maybe my noble friend will be able to reassure me in writing just what are the additional powers referred to in these two clauses, above what is already in law in Scotland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom. If he can assure me of that, I shall be more than content to support the Bill and, above all, to listen to the wise and excellent words of the noble and gallant Lords who follow me, let alone the three maiden speakers taking part today. I salute all of them.

12.37 pm

Baroness Taylor of Bolton (Lab): My Lords, I support the Bill and will ask the Minister to consider one issue that he has not touched upon today. Before that, I will say how much I look forward to the three maiden speeches that we are to hear, particularly that of my noble friend Lord Murphy of Torfaen, whom I know well from our work in another place. He has a distinguished career. He was chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, as I was, but he also served as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I think that we are all aware of his thoughtful and measured comments on most issues, and I am sure that we will

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2374

hear them today. He has another side that I should perhaps mention. Anybody who has ever been abroad with him will know that he is an absolute shopaholic, and maybe we will see that side come out on some occasions as well.

As I say, I welcome the Bill, as I know will my noble friend on the Front Bench. I am sure that he will continue his style of yesterday and support the Government when they get things right as well as nudging them along in other places. Like my noble friend, I was a Minister in the MoD. Unlike him, I did not have responsibility for veteran affairs or indeed service personnel, although I was always aware of the work that he and fellow Ministers did, and the significant progress that they made, in terms of the care and welfare of our armed service men and women. Significant progress was made in terms of pay, in investing heavily in accommodation, which had been very much neglected for many years, and in helping injured veterans. Improved awareness of these issues during that time laid the foundation for the Armed Forces covenant.

Progress was also made in the 2006 Act, which the Minister referred to, in terms of trying to get clarification on a whole number of issues. I take the point that my noble friend Lord West and indeed the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, made, that there may still be some difficult areas, particularly for personnel who serve on active duty. We need to consider exactly how we can make progress and get the right balance in that area.

As the Minister said, many provisions in the Bill are not controversial, although obviously they will have to be looked at in further detail in Committee, because that is its purpose, and we have to make sure that the detail matches the overall objectives of the Bill.

I will raise one issue that was raised briefly in another place, and on which the Government could make progress without too much difficulty. Obviously, many changes in recent years have affected service personnel. We have seen a reduction in numbers and an increased reliance on reservists and the extra roles that they are supposed to undertake on the front line. But we have also seen some welcome progress, such as the fact that women may now occupy many roles on active service, which is very important and useful and which has been of benefit to our armed services and to the country as a whole. There is still some way to go but progress has been made.

I want to raise with the Minister the report that was carried out by the MoD last year about sexual harassment in the armed services. Obviously, sexual harassment is not just about women, but the report showed that it is a particular problem for women in the armed services, and it came up with some rather worrying statistics. The report recorded that 39% of servicewomen in the Army who had been asked about the issue said that they had received unwelcome comments and attempts to talk about sexual matters, 12% of women in the Armed Forces said that they had experienced unwanted attempts to touch and 10% had experienced attempts to have a sexual relationship. That is clearly not a good situation. There were statistics for men as well, which were also worrying, even though the problem did not seem to be so significant. It was a great breakthrough for the MoD to carry out such a survey and I congratulate those who were involved in doing that.

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2375

I recognise that legislation alone and any amendment to the Bill will not simply solve the problem. Increased awareness that behaviour of this kind is not to be tolerated will help. But if there were a requirement to publish statistics on sexual assault and rape, this kind of measuring and monitoring of the problem would help to get us nearer to the zero-tolerance situation that should be the case. I therefore hope that the Minister will consider changing his approach to the Bill. We have to change the culture but if we could have a requirement to monitor the situation, it would help very significantly. I therefore hope that when we come to Committee, the Minister will look favourably on attempts to raise this problem and get it into perspective, and to consider ways we might try to use that report and information to make the situation better in future.

I will say something about one more issue, which is the point raised by my noble friend Lord West on mesothelioma. He was absolutely right to stress the urgency of this issue. I was able to assist our late colleague Lord Lofthouse when he campaigned for miners suffering from pneumoconiosis and the compensation scheme got into difficulties because of the impact of lawyers who tried to jump on the bandwagon of those making claims. That took place over a long period because it was a much slower illness. Mesothelioma is a very rapid illness and is absolutely devastating. Many people have waited a very long time for compensation, which really should be paid on an equitable basis compared with compensation for civilians. I hope that the Minister will look at that issue as well.

12.45 pm

Baroness Pidding (Con) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton. It was only a few weeks ago that I was standing in front of an amazingly talented group of schoolchildren in Gerrards Cross in my home county of Buckinghamshire. I was giving my critique of their public speaking ability as a judge in a Rotary Youth Speaks competition. Now the time has come for me to stand in front of your Lordships and deliver my maiden speech, and I hope that noble Lords will be as kind and encouraging to me as I sought to be to those schoolchildren.

It is a tremendous honour to stand here today in your Lordships’ House. For me, this is a steep learning curve, but the severity of that curve is eased by the tremendous support that I have received. Much is said about the warmth and helpfulness of the staff here, and I would like to add my personal thanks to all of them: the doorkeepers, the clerks and those who are hidden from view—all those who make the working of this House a little less formidable to a newcomer like me—and of course the wonderful restaurant and bar staff, who ensure that we do not go hungry or become dehydrated.

I am grateful, too, for the generosity of spirit of noble Lords on all sides of the House in making me feel so welcome and always being there with gentle encouragement and guidance, ensuring that I do not make a huge faux pas or, if I do, that I am swiftly but kindly corrected so that I do not do it again.

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2376

My heartfelt thanks go to my noble friends Lady Shephard of Northwold and Lord Bates for helping to navigate me through my day of introduction. Both have provided me with wise counsel and I know that they will continue to do so.

I have spent 30 years working as a volunteer for the Conservative Party, from the Young Conservatives through to holding the most senior roles for a volunteer—the elected office of chairman of the National Conservative Convention and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party Board. I pay tribute to our volunteers, who work tirelessly for all political parties. It often seems like a thankless task: out there whatever the weather, knocking on door after door, stuffing envelopes, delivering endless bundles of leaflets and sitting in draughty village halls for meeting after meeting, desperate to secure that elusive vote. And to what end? The reward: to be invited to attend more meetings or buy some more raffle tickets? No. The reason we do it is that we care passionately about our country and about making it a better place. We might not agree on the vision of this better place but I am certain that we all agree that the democratic process that we have in this country is something that we all are very proud of.

In the year leading up to the general election, I travelled to all parts of the United Kingdom, campaigning in more than 70 constituencies. I have never sought to be a parliamentarian. My role was always that of a volunteer, doing what I could to get others elected. So it is with a huge sense of pride that I now look down the corridor to the other place and see so many friends and colleagues elected. But here I am now, a parliamentarian myself. It is a huge honour and with it comes great responsibility.

It is a particular privilege to be able to make my maiden speech in support of the Bill before the House today. The Government have made meeting the needs of the Armed Forces one of their highest priorities. This is only right: when men and women risk their lives in our defence, they should expect nothing less. The military covenant is our side of that bargain, and I am proud of the Government’s record when it comes to the interests of service personnel and their families. We are helping them to buy their own homes, improving facilities for injured veterans and greatly broadening mental health provision across the Armed Forces, an area that was too often neglected in the past.

We have taken steps to make sure that British soldiers are no longer sent into danger without proper equipment. Over the next 10 years, the Government will spend £178 billion on defence equipment and support, and we have brought in private sector expertise in order to reduce both waste and delay in the procurement process. Not only are we making sure that our troops have up-to-date kit, but their organisation too is being adapted to the needs of modern warfare. The Government’s proposal to establish two new 5,000-strong strike forces, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice, recognises the changing nature of the threats facing our country today.

The United Kingdom remains committed to maintaining NATO’s target of spending 2% of GDP on defence, and to updating our continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent. We have been the cornerstone of

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2377

this alliance since its foundation, and these investments signal our determination to pursue an active, global role for Great Britain in the 21st century.

Under this Conservative Government, we have two clear objectives: to maintain an up-to-date fighting force with the equipment and support necessary to defend our country’s interests all over the world; and to guarantee that the men and women who serve so bravely receive the rewards and respect that they deserve. Our Government will continue not only to respect and honour the dedication and bravery of our Armed Forces but also to value them. I will lend all the support that I can to that.

12.52 pm

Lord Boyce (CB): My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow on from the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding. With over 30 years of voluntary political service behind her, I am quite sure that she is a welcome addition to the House with such experience. I am sure we all agree that her maiden speech was delivered with a nice touch, and I am quite certain she can return to judging elocution and speech competitions with great and totally deserved confidence. Also, her apposite and most supportive comments about our Armed Forces were very welcome and, given my background, I was very pleased to hear them. In all, it was a speech that offered a nice and pleasant foretaste of interventions to come.

Like the noble Baroness, I pay tribute to the men and women of our Armed Forces and their families who support them. Without the families, our servicemen and servicewomen could not do so well the job that they do.

I had the pleasure, if that is the right word, to be involved in a small way in the 2006 and 2011 Armed Forces Bills when they processed through this House. As was referred to by the Minister, it is good to see that this Bill is of significantly less complexity than the other two, especially the 2006 bumper Bill. Indeed, the fact that there are relatively few matters to address on this occasion, and most of them largely uncontentious and of a tidying-up nature, speaks well of the work that was done five and 10 years ago. I am particularly pleased that there is nothing before us which obviously threatens the service ethos or the command chain and the crucial role that they both have in fighting effectiveness—a point that is all too often forgotten by some. I trust that it will stay that way through Committee stage.

Having said that, I do have some comments. I want to follow up on and empathise with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord West, about mesothelioma. I note that the ongoing work on compensation for veterans suffering from this awful sickness was mentioned in the other place with respect to this Bill. Although it is pleasing to note that progress has been made on this, with a recent settlement announced by the Armed Forces Minister, the relatively small group of veterans who remain excluded because they fall the wrong side of the date lines set last year is regrettable. It seems manifestly unfair and runs counter to the tenets of the Armed Forces covenant. Perhaps the Minister will comment on why this should not find space in the Bill.

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2378

Secondly, I, too, wish to raise the subject of “lawfare”, as it sometimes known, and I make no apology for repeating what my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig of Radley said in his excellent speech. Absent from this Bill is any mention of lawfare or the increasing legal encirclement of our Armed Forces. For example, the Minister will be aware of the growing concern within the Armed Forces regarding Crown immunity, or lack of it, in warfare situations—a concern fuelled by the large number of cases being investigated of alleged inappropriate behaviour in the field in Iraq or Afghanistan, or accusations of the use of allegedly inappropriate equipment which overlook the precept in war that you have to fight with what you have got. There can be no better warning of where we have got to on this than the fact that some insurance companies are now touting insurance to commanding officers against the possibility of their being involved in litigation at some stage.

I realise that the Minister will say that commanding officers or people in command will be looked after by the MoD, but the point is that there is a perception in the public that military leaders down to junior level could be in the dock arising from actions and decisions within the Geneva Convention that have been taken in the heat of battle. All this is in danger of leading to a worrying risk averseness that will imperil operational effectiveness. Therefore I ask the Minister to say why the subject should not be addressed in this Bill. If it is not going to be addressed in this Bill, how are the Government going to reassure our service men and women on this point?

Finally, I understand that there are some other improvements to the service justice system which have not been included in the Bill—such as, for example, a provision to enable civilian courts to transfer suitable cases involving service personnel to courts martial; and, on courts martial, to address a concern about the ability of a board to find a person guilty in a serious case by a simple majority, by changing that to a qualified majority or one dissenting vote to come more in line with civilian practice.

I suspect that I am not going to agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, will say in Committee, but on those particular subjects I think we probably are in agreement. So I ask the Minister to explain why such improvements have been omitted from the Bill and to assure the House that they will not be left out until the next quinquennial review.

12.57 pm

Lord Campbell of Pittenweem (LD): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl on the lucid way in which he introduced this legislation. It is perhaps rather more complex than it appears at first sight and we look forward to his explanations when we reach both the Committee and Report stages.

I associate myself with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead. I yield to no one in my support of the Human Rights Act, nor indeed of the importance of human rights as the underpinning of a democratic state such as ours. However, I have grave reservations about the decision that was taken by the Supreme Court on a very narrow majority.

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2379

I have heard it suggested informally, and possibly mischievously, that if a similar case were to go before the same court today a different result might well be achieved. None the less, the fact is that there now exists, as a result of that decision and of the way in which it has been commented upon since, a considerable doubt about the protection available to our Armed Services when engaged in conflict. That doubt ought to be resolved. That is why when the noble Lord says that he will support an amendment—which, we understand, may be proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern—I will certainly support both the noble Lord and the noble and learned Lord when an amendment to that effect is put forward. It is a duty and responsibility of Parliament to resolve an issue that is clearly causing such uncertainty in the minds of those whom we expect to be responsible for our safety to the extent that they are willing to give their lives, if necessary.

I am unaware of any other country that engaged either in the second Gulf War, or, indeed, in Afghanistan, that has conducted such a lengthy and detailed post-mortem of the actions of those whom we sent to fight there. That of itself would not be an obstacle to us doing what is right, but it is certainly worth reminding ourselves that we may be imposing a standard on our Armed Forces far in excess of that being imposed by our allies on theirs.

As one who has recently run the gauntlet of a maiden speech, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding, will not think it presumptuous of me to say that she spoke with such confidence and distinction that she can be guaranteed to be heard with great interest and attention when she speaks again in your Lordships’ House. She struck more than a chord with me about the vital importance in the political process of the raffle at the end of the coffee morning, or the wine and cheese party, which was once defined to me as the kind of party in which you hope that the wine is a little older than the cheese.

I speak with some diffidence on these topics, having listened to the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Craig and Lord Boyce, because they come to this with a depth of experience and understanding that no one who has not been engaged as they have can really expect to achieve. My observations are based on what I have seen from outside. My diffidence is also to a large extent compounded by the excellent contribution of my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford. My professional experience of courts martial is both dated and minimal, but he has raised a number of issues that will require careful consideration during the progress of the Bill in your Lordships’ House.

I will talk about two issues, one of which has not been mentioned, perhaps because it was not controversial in the House of Commons, nor does it appear to be controversial here: the repeal of the provisions of Sections 146(4) and 147(3) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. I speak to some extent from my experience as a Member of Parliament with a large military airbase in my constituency, based on the number of occasions on which I was consulted by servicemen and servicewomen about the possible consequences for them were there to be any question

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2380

of homosexual behaviour on their part. It is right to remind ourselves that it was not long ago that even suspicion of such behaviour, irrespective of rank, achievement or service, could have brought an untimely end to a career, with consequences that were sometimes brutal and inevitably long-lasting.

Nor do I believe that the services benefited, because good men and women were lost and others cowed and frightened. Indeed, the military police assumed the character of a committee for the suppression of vice in a fundamentalist country. Telephones were tapped, friendships obsessively scrutinised and personal behaviour subjected to intense scrutiny. This repeal is probably the last legislative change necessary to reflect the change first in domestic attitudes and now in the military. We should accept and be glad that it has now come to pass because it reflects a proper balance between domestic law and law relating to the military, and the values of society as a whole.

The second issue is one on which I am slightly inhibited, but I believe that it is right to draw attention to the fresh inquest now opened into the death of Private Cheryl James. I am rightly constrained in what I may say because these proceedings are actively sub judice, but I feel able to raise a number of points of general interest. The Bill is substantially about discipline, but by implication it is about morale as well. I always believed that these were two sides of the same coin: poor discipline damages morale and poor morale most certainly damages discipline. That is particularly the case when the services deal with young and inexperienced members. Services take in young men and women of varying levels of maturity. The objective is to turn them into mature adults with a specific and, in some ways, unique set of skills. With that objective goes an obligation to recognise that, in many cases, so far as may be necessary, the services will act in loco parentis. I hope that the inquest will pursue some of these issues.

I finish by saying this, and I put it in abstract. If any serviceman or servicewoman, of any rank in any circumstance, were to be cajoled, intimidated, pressurised or otherwise to have sexual relations with another member of the Armed Forces of whatever rank, that would be a gross breach of the moral obligation owed to those who offer themselves to protect us with their lives as necessary. It is one which I hope would engage universal condemnation.

1.06 pm

Baroness Hodgson of Abinger (Con): My Lords, I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lady Pidding on her excellent maiden speech. I look forward to hearing the other maiden speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, and my noble friend Lord Shinkwin shortly.

Not having a military background, it is with a sense of humility that I contribute to the debate. I welcome the Bill, which recognises the integral role that our Armed Forces play in British life and the extraordinary service that they give to this country. The first duty of any Government is the defence of the realm. At a time of unpredictable threats and dangerous levels of instability the Bill needs to ensure that we maintain our world-class Armed Forces for the long-term security of our country.

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2381

It is impossible for those of us who have never served our country to fully understand the sacrifice that those in the military make. It is therefore imperative that the Bill also seeks to ensure the well-being of these brave men and women.

As we have already heard, warfare has changed drastically in recent years. It is no longer fought on battlefields but in communities, with terrorism and cyberwarfare now posing significant threats. Asymmetric warfare and counterinsurgency require new and different approaches. Intelligence and cyber play an ever more important part. Highly trained rapid reaction forces that can deploy at very short notice are essential, with Special Forces performing a critical role.

The 2010 strategic defence and security review imposed a programme of significant cuts. This led to feelings of insecurity in parts of our forces, and, I understand, some haemorrhaging of high-quality people. Good leadership is paramount to the military, and attracting and retaining the best is of extreme importance. Are we managing to retain those high-quality warrant officers, captains and brigadiers, the middle-ranking officers who will become tomorrow’s senior leadership? New types of warfare need people with new and different skills to ensure that operations are not impacted. Do we have enough critical specialists? Are some areas suffering diminution of numbers, or having challenges recruiting sufficient specialists? If so, how is this being addressed?

Our Armed Forces covenant is an important national contract to address duty of care to our Armed Forces and their families, with a duty to report on the covenant being a centrepiece of the Armed Forces Act 2011. However, I have heard that there is a perception by some on the ground that the covenant is somewhat tokenistic.

As I have previously asked with concern in your Lordships’ House, while the covenant contains very noble principles, does the lack of penalties for failure to fulfil it make it somewhat toothless? In particular, I know there are concerns about how effectively local authorities are delivering on their responsibilities through community covenant partnerships. This includes affording members of the Armed Forces priority with housing needs and helping them integrate back into local life post-discharge. Has there been any audit of the delivery of the covenant by local authorities?

Of significant concern is that last year’s Armed Forces continuous attitude survey, known as AFCAS, found that almost half of service personnel actually know nothing about the covenant. Surely, a fundamental element of the covenant should be that personnel feel it is impacting upon their lives. If this is clearly failing, should we not seek to amend it or its delivery?

Being in the military is a vocation often lasting many years; therefore we also have a duty of care to the families, considering the toll on their lives while their fathers, mothers, husbands and wives are serving. Have we, as a nation, done enough to ensure that our duty of care is being delivered? It is concerning that 59% of respondents to last year’s AFCAS felt that their family life was disadvantaged through their service. This is by far the largest area of perceived disadvantage and goes hand in hand with the finding that the impact of service on personal and family life is by far

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2382

the biggest factor influencing decisions to leave the Forces. So it is important that families are considered and listened to and that housing is of good quality and properly maintained. Living in housing that is damp, with peeling paint and malfunctioning plumbing, is unacceptable in this day and age.

The standards of healthcare we commit to our service personnel is one of the key pillars of the Armed Forces covenant. There has been much concern in recent years, as we have heard, about mental health. The proportion of service personnel who suffer mental health problems is broadly similar to that of the general population, slightly higher amongst those in combat roles. The concepts of being a soldier at war and seeking support for psychological distress are somewhat at odds with each other. In some cases, this prevents those who need help the most from seeking it, leaving them to suffer in silence. The fact is that they endure unique conditions and excessive levels of risk that the rest of us cannot understand. Of particular concern are reservists who return to normal life after deployment and may feel very isolated and unsupported.

It is every bit as important that personnel continue to receive support when they cease serving and become veterans. The onset of post-traumatic stress disorder is often delayed for many years. The charity Combat Stress still reports an average of 13 years between service discharge and veterans seeking help. While it is reassuring that a key goal of the military covenant is that veterans,

“should be able to access mental health professionals who have an understanding of Armed Forces culture”,

how does this happen? NHS doctors may be unable to relate to the effects of combat roles.

Combat Stress receives around 2,500 new referrals every year, resulting in approximately 6,000 veterans being treated by the charity at any one time. Last year the number of veterans seeking its help increased by 28%. I was recently told by Combat Stress that the majority of veterans under its care self-refer; thus it would appear that many veterans are put off from using NHS services to address their problems, instead turning to the voluntary sector.

It is encouraging that the stigma surrounding military mental health has decreased substantially in recent years, meaning that those younger veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming forward for treatment much sooner. I appreciate that the Government have already recognised this issue. By embedding the Armed Forces covenant into the new NHS constitution in England last year, members of the Armed Forces community will, in principle, receive the same standard of, and access to, healthcare as all other British citizens. However, more needs to be done, particularly for older veterans and reservists.

Our military personnel make great sacrifices to serve their country and put themselves in the way of danger. Above all, it is paramount that they feel valued. Do we really do this? Do we thank them enough and acknowledge what they have given when they leave? We have outstanding men and women serving. We need to ensure that they are recognised for all that they do. These are the people who will keep this country safe and we owe them a huge debt.

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2383

1.15 pm

Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, for the last two and a half months I have had the privilege of chairing the Joint Committee on the Investigatory Powers Bill. It reported four and a half hours ago and it has meant, as my noble friend Lord Hart will tell us, a great deal of work. This has meant that I have been unable to make a maiden speech. I am delighted to do so this afternoon and I thank my noble friend Lady Taylor for her very kind words an hour or so ago. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding, in her very fine speech, I make reference to the courtesy and helpfulness that I have received from Members on all sides of the House over the last couple of months and from the officers and staff of the House of Lords. It is a very different place from the House of Commons, but it is certainly a friendly place—more friendly, in fact, than parts of the other House.

I also thank my two supporters on introduction. My noble friend Lord Touhig, who coincidentally is winding up for my party in today’s debate, has been a noble friend of mine—although not always noble—for 66 years. I thank him for what he has done for me over all those decades. My other supporter, my noble friend Lord McFall, is a great and long-standing friend who served in the House of Commons with me for nearly a quarter of a century.

I made my other maiden speech 29 and a half years ago. I spoke then, as is inevitably the case, about my own constituency of Torfaen in the eastern valley of Gwent in south Wales, which is a very diverse constituency. It includes the industrial heritage town of Blaenavon, the great valley town of Pontypool and the new town of Cwmbran, but it also includes my home town, and that of my noble friend Lord Touhig, the small village of Abersychan. That small village has produced seven Members of Parliament since the Second World War, including my very fine successor, Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds, the great and fine biographer of the grandfather of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and of Aneurin Bevan. Of those seven Members of Parliament, four became Members of your Lordships’ House: myself and my noble friend Lord Touhig as well as Lord Jenkins of Hillhead and Lord Granville-West, who was one of the very first life Peers. In addition, of course, Lord Chalfont, of Llantarnam, came from the eastern valley of Gwent as well.

I am very happy to support the Bill. I do not have the expertise or experience of many of those who have spoken already and, indeed, will speak after me. A long time ago, in the late 1990s, I was the shadow Defence Minister responsible for personnel matters in the Armed Forces and it is so interesting to hear from the Minister and others how the world has changed in those 20 years. The Bill is worthy of support because it recognises that important change. I also served as the Secretary of State for Wales and, of course, for Northern Ireland. When I held that post the great value of our Armed Forces was so obvious to behold. I worked with them at all levels and the dangers that they faced and the work they did for our country was immeasurable.

I will also say that I have enormous admiration for the Armed Forces throughout our country. I am told that every parliamentary constituency has within it at

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2384

least 20,000 people who, in some way or another, are linked to our Armed Forces. They are either members of the Armed Forces themselves or relatives; they may work in the defence industry or whatever. That is almost a third of the average electorate, certainly of a Welsh constituency, and any political party which decides to ignore that reality does so at its peril. Any political party which does not have a credible defence policy does so at its peril. I will not digress any further, other than to say than I am old enough to remember the general election of 1983, when my party suffered an enormous defeat partly because it did not have a credible defence policy.

I return in my maiden speech—I beg the indulgence of your Lordships—to the substance of the debate: the Armed Forces Bill itself. I will refer briefly to Clause 15 on the veterans and pensions committee, which will have an enhanced statutory remit, and to which the Minister has already referred. I think all of us would agree that veterans—by whom we mean young and old veterans—play a wonderful role in our national life and our communities. Certainly, in my former constituency, the Royal British Legion—I know that we will hear more on that later—the Cwmbran and District Ex-Servicemen’s Association and the Royal Regiment of Wales Association, of which I am president and declare an interest, all play a pivotal role in the life of my valley. That shows how important veterans are to our national life and to our local life as well.

Every January, in my home village of Llantarnam—which is also the home village of my noble friend Lord Touhig—a military parade is held, and a service in the graveyard of the parish church. Buried there is Private John Williams, who won the Victoria Cross at the great battle of Rorke’s Drift in the Zulu wars in 1879. That was a long time ago, noble Lords may think. But it was not; my father knew a survivor of that great battle. My family proudly became members of the South Wales Borderers, who fought at Rorke’s Drift in 1879. That small personal story with which I have regaled your Lordships is replicated throughout the whole of our country—and rightly so. This debate has given me the opportunity to pay tribute to all those who serve, and have served, in our Armed Forces. It gives the opportunity to your Lordships’ House to do exactly the same.

1.22 pm

Lord Empey (UUP): My Lords, it is a great pleasure for me to follow the very eloquent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen. His status as a former Cabinet Minister is demonstrated by the fact that he has two very distinguished Members of your Lordships’ House as his senior supporters on either side of him. One could assume that they are there to support the noble Lord. However, there is perhaps another interpretation—that they are there to control him.

I was privileged to work with the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, during the Northern Ireland peace process for many years in his different roles. He started off as Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office during the negotiations. At half-past three in the morning, when we were in the midst of very difficult and complicated discussions, he still retained that pleasant

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2385

approach to people in very difficult circumstances. He did not lose his temper or become aggressive and was always able to calm the troubled waters. He moved on to greater distinction and became Secretary of State, having, I think, served as Secretary of State for Wales before and after that appointment, a distinction which he shares with his noble friend Lord Hain. This House greatly appreciates the presence of this great parliamentarian who has served the people of Wales with distinction for many decades. I have no doubt that we will all be enriched by his presence in your Lordships’ House in the coming years. He is extremely welcome. I also take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding, on a very finely delivered address. That indicates that we now have two additional Members of our House who will serve Parliament very well.

A number of noble Lords have referred to the military covenant. During the passage of the previous Armed Forces Bill, amendments were passed to require regional Administrations to report annually to the Secretary of State for Defence on what they had done to implement the covenant. This was important because defence is a national issue; it will never become a devolved issue. It was important that the same level of service should be delivered in every part of the United Kingdom and that service personnel in any part of the United Kingdom should receive a level of service that was roughly equivalent. As many of the services are delivered by devolved functions, it was essential that that report be produced.

It is an absolute disgrace that when the first report was delivered to Parliament, the contribution from the Northern Ireland Executive consisted of no comment—no report—yet a very large number of people are dependent on services being delivered in that area. During the passage of the Bill, we warned that that sort of thing would happen. Although the military covenant continues to be delivered, that is largely because the relevant departments happen to be populated by Ministers who are sympathetic to it. However, that is not a permanent state of affairs and will change with time. I fear that this House will have to come back to this issue and it will be much more difficult to deal with at that time than it was during the passage of the previous Armed Forces Bill.

I turn to mesothelioma. No Member of this House has done more on that issue than the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who I am pleased to see in his place. Noble Lords will note that my colleagues in the other place tabled an amendment on Report which they subsequently withdrew after debate and assurances from the Minister. We have heard a number of noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords say today that a small number of people will still be excluded from the relevant provision. Let us not go through this again. Some people have been excluded for years and years. We know what the issue is. We know what the outcome of that is. Why do we not fix it once and for all and make sure that no one is excluded? We are not talking about a huge number of people, but a matter of natural justice is involved. I sincerely hope that in Committee the Minister will reassure us that all the personnel who are potential victims will be dealt with.

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2386

My next point concerns a matter to which many noble Lords have referred in this debate—namely, the ludicrous position in which we find ourselves as a nation whereby we are torturing ourselves and our Armed Forces through the litigation circus that is going on. Can one imagine what the legal consequences today would be of the bombardment of the Normandy beaches? We would be accused of blowing up French civilian property and injuring civilians. The captain who ordered the shelling would be charged with all sorts of things. The situation has run completely out of control. Ministers of the Crown have stood up in the other place and made speeches berating the fact that lawyers are chasing around looking for cases and pursuing members of the armed services. However, Parliament has voted money which means that they are being paid to do that. Opportunities for them to do that have been provided by Parliament. At the same time, many of the legal costs are far greater than the compensation received by many of the victims. Ministers know that and openly say so, but what solutions are coming forward? I say that no solutions are coming forward for the simple reason that this Parliament does not quite get what it means to sign a treaty. We are bound by all these treaties and we have signed far too many. They have led us to war and after war and we still face difficulties. I do not wish to see the United Kingdom armed services out of legal control; that would be totally wrong. Standards must be high and we must set examples, but that goes back to training. It also goes back, as many noble Lords have mentioned, to the legal framework within which the armed services operate.

We have taken this a stage too far. Take an example from Northern Ireland, where we have cases that are four decades old. We have a situation where there are still 30 detectives doing nothing but looking at the Saville case. What message are we sending to service personnel? They have saved hundreds and thousands of lives and come back from the battlefield broken in mind, body and spirit. Indeed, the person who now occupies the seat I held in the Northern Ireland Assembly lost both his legs in Afghanistan and suffered severe damage to his sight. What are we saying to those people when they are being chased after for years? I believe in the European Convention on Human Rights but courts there have interpreted it in ways that were never envisaged. It is not possible for such interpretations to sit right with a battlefield situation.

Nothing has come forward to fix this, because we are signed up to treaties—I do not think the Government know how to fix it. I hope the Minister will prove me and other noble Lords wrong. I do not know what the precise legal solution is but I know we need one. It will not be feasible to ask young people to go to war without one. Why do we send them to war if we are not prepared to carry through the logical consequences of doing so? We cannot authorise people to risk their lives and do what damage they can to the enemy and not follow that through. When they tell us that what they did is not their responsibility because this or that sergeant or captain ordered certain actions on the battlefield we cannot withdraw, wring our hands, and say that is terrible. The Armed Forces should not be left in this limbo: clarification is needed. We do not

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2387

know when we might push them into battle once again. The world has never been more uncertain: dictators are acquiring huge amounts of weaponry; we have threats to the east and in the Far East; the Middle East is a mess. Any of these theatres could lead to conflict at any time and we have still not fixed this problem. With amendments, this legislation could be a vehicle for doing so.

Will the Minister address the question of mesothelioma and ensure that no one is left behind? The noble Lord, Lord West, talked about making snowballs with the asbestos in his vessel. That was a pastime in Harland and Wolff shipyard for years. Workers used to come home with white around their shoulders because they were covered in it. When I was Minister for Enterprise I set aside £180 million up until 2050 for cases we believed had yet to come forward. That is how long we are talking about. It is not simply the individuals who were there at the time who are at risk. They brought the material into their homes—their families may have done their washing and their children played around it. A new generation has this condition and, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, knows, little or no research into treatment is going on anywhere in the world. I sincerely hope this is one thing this legislation will fix once and for all.

1.34 pm

Lord Shinkwin (Con) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I feel privileged to give my maiden speech, in this Second Reading debate on the Armed Forces Bill, on an issue dear to my heart. I know, both from what we have already heard today and from my experience of campaigning with many of your Lordships, that it is an issue of real importance to your Lordships as well that we honour the Armed Forces covenant. This Bill gives each of us an opportunity to renew our personal commitment to honouring that covenant—the sacred bond of trust between the people of this United Kingdom and those who put their lives on the line to defend the democratic freedoms we all too often take for granted.

I mention privilege for several reasons. Some people dismiss your Lordships’ House as a place of privilege, outdated and irrelevant. All I can say is that that is not my experience. When I think of privilege, I reflect on having witnessed your Lordships’ House in action long before I became a Member of it, and seeing a body which I respect precisely because it is relevant, engaged with the issues of the day and making a material difference to people’s lives.

When I was head of public affairs at the organisation which the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, was so kind to mention, I recall that I always stressed to the members of the team that I was honoured to manage that we should measure our performance in tangible outcomes of direct benefit to the Armed Forces family. The work of this House passes that test. At the legion, it was my privilege to work on several covenant issues with many of your Lordships, including the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, whom I was honoured to have introduce me to your Lordships’

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2388

House, together with my old university tutor, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. This work ensured not only that the principles of the Armed Forces covenant were enshrined in law but also the survival of the position of chief coroner, in the face of an understandable and continued drive to reduce the deficit.

I met with the chief coroner shortly before my introduction. We discussed his work, and we looked at the results. It is obvious to me that he is making a considerable, positive impact, especially for bereaved Armed Forces families, for whom experiencing the pain and grief that go with a military inquest is such a regular experience. It is also obvious to me that he is only able to make that difference because of your Lordships’ House.

In concert with Members of the other place—including Andrew Percy, Philip Hollobone, Rob Flello, the right honourable Jim Murphy and Greg Mulholland, to name but a few—it was your Lordships’ House which persuaded the coalition Government, to their credit, to take the position of chief coroner out of the Public Bodies Bill and thereby protect it from abolition. That would never have happened without the concerted efforts of your Lordships’ House—surely an example of the tangible and enduring difference this House is making to people’s lives.

Each of us has made our own journey to this House; mine has been less spectacular than most but perhaps more extraordinary than some. Twenty years ago almost to the day, I began a rather less enjoyable part of my journey here when I was taken down to an operating theatre for life-saving neurosurgery. The 12-hour operation was so dangerous and complex that my remarkable surgeon, Miss Anne Moore, could not give me odds on my survival. So if sometimes I appear dazed to any of your Lordships or the doorkeepers, clerks and other staff, who have all been so kind to me, there is a good reason: it is because I am. I doubt I will ever get over the shock of going from near death to learning to speak again over a period of several years and now to speaking in your Lordships’ House, and being able to thank your Lordships directly for the help you have given me and, through the work of charities such as the Royal British Legion and INQUEST, in which I was privileged to play a part, the whole Armed Forces family.

My journey here may have involved a rather unpredictable route, but the ultimate destination is all the more wonderful for that. In fact, a hugely traumatic and painful experience has been transformed into an immense honour and blessing. For that, I thank my family, my friends, the God who never left me, no matter how bad things got, and I also thank the most influential woman ever created, His Holy Mother, whose feast day as Our Lady of Lourdes is celebrated today.

In conclusion, there can be no responsibility greater than providing for the defence of the realm, no duty or indeed privilege more significant than honouring the covenant we make with those in the Armed Forces who sacrifice everything for us. I look forward to working in your Lordships’ House to ensure that this and future Armed Forces legislation builds on the important steps that the Government and Parliament together have already taken to honour that covenant.

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2389

1.43 pm

Lord Ramsbotham (CB): My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to be the first to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, and to congratulate him on his outstanding maiden speech. It is very appropriate that he should have made it during the processing of the Armed Forces Bill because of the many years of outstanding service that he gave to the Royal British Legion. As he mentioned, I have particular reason to be grateful to him for his tireless and comprehensive briefing of those of us who were fighting for the retention of the post of chief coroner because, as he said, that retention has been responsible for an improvement in the conduct of military inquests. As the noble Lord has proved today, he has a deep understanding of veteran affairs, from which I am sure the whole House will benefit in future, as will the veterans whom he has served so well.

As the Minister said in his introduction, this is a very modest Bill and I propose to concentrate on three subjects that I hoped it would contain and on which I would be grateful for the Minister’s comments. The first concerns the Armed Forces covenant, which was made statutory in the 2011 Act. History suggests that now that our Armed Forces are no longer on active service in Iraq and Afghanistan, they will fade from the public eye, which will result in the plight of veterans, particularly gravely injured veterans, becoming less and less a matter of immediate public concern.

When the covenant was first proposed, I wrote twice to the Prime Minister, as well as repeating the plea that I made to him during the processing of the Act; namely, that the Minister for Veteran Affairs be removed from the Ministry of Defence and placed in the Cabinet Office. My reasoning for that was that no junior Minister operating from the MoD silo, responsible for the day-to-day affairs of those currently serving in the Armed Forces, cuts any clout in ministries such as the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, which have day-to-day responsibility for matters affecting veterans. However, if the Minister operated from the Cabinet Office, where the Armed Forces Covenant Committee is based, he or she could speak to them with the authority of that office, and oversee the focus on veteran affairs.

I appealed also that the statutory annual statement on the covenant required of the Secretary of State for Defence should include statements from all ministries involved in veteran affairs, listing what they had done for veterans during that year. I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, when he was the MoD Minister in this House, hoping that this annual statement would be made verbally in both Houses so that Members could have an annual opportunity to check on progress by asking specific questions. My motive for that was and remains my fear that unless there is a regular opportunity to ensure that momentum is being maintained, undertakings, however well intentioned when made, risk being dropped and forgotten. I have two areas of particular concern.

First, there is no doubt that in future years an increasing number of veterans will suffer from mental

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2390

health problems, including PTSD. For example, it is most important that anyone involved in an IED incident should have that fact recorded on their medical documents because history proves that they may well suffer flashbacks, which doctors can deal with appropriately if they know what a person has been through. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, I am not convinced that all that could be done to ensure that veterans’ mental health problems are being looked after in the same way as physical health problems is being done, and would like an annual opportunity to keep pressure on the authorities responsible for provision and improvement.

Secondly, too many veterans come into the hands of the criminal justice system, unfortunately. Times without number since I first became aware of the problem in 1996, I have appealed, first to the Home Office and then to the Ministry of Justice, for someone to be made responsible and accountable for veteran affairs in prisons. But that plea includes both police and probation, and there have been calls for the establishment of special veteran courts, as exist in America.

There have been numerous studies and reports on veterans in the criminal justice system by bodies such as the Centre for Mental Health, the Howard League for Penal Reform and, most recently, a commission sponsored by Lord Ashcroft, of which I was a commissioner. But despite the report of our commission receiving an official response from the previous Secretary of State for Justice, nothing has happened. We called for everyone entering the criminal justice system, initially via the police but later prison or probation, to be asked whether they had served in the Armed Forces so that appropriate action could be taken to help them both while serving their sentence and, most particularly, on release. Admittedly a number make bogus claims to have served, but the validity of such claims can soon be checked, as was proved by the police in Kent. What I am concerned about is the treatment of the depressingly large number of genuine veterans who are sentenced to either imprisonment or supervision in the community, with whose rehabilitation service charities and other ex-service organisations could be involved, if only they were alerted. This is, again, something that Parliament could and should chase up, which is why I appeal to the Minister that the annual statement on the Armed Forces covenant should be made verbally, by statute.

My second concern may seem like a small matter, but I think that it has a wider significance. At present, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales formally inspects—as he does every other prison—the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester every five years, but by invitation only. At a recent seminar, attended by the Secretary of State for Justice, the recently retired chief inspector said publicly that the MCTC was the best prison in the country, and a living example of how prisons should be run. This is partly due to the experience of its staff, no one being allowed to join the Military Provost Staff Corps until they have proved themselves to be capable soldiers. The remit of the Chief Inspector of Prisons includes both police and court cells but, now that the MPSC is to be responsible for running regional detention centres, which will replace the old regimental guard rooms, I

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2391

believe that they too should be added to his list. Therefore I appeal to the Minister that this requirement should be made statutory in this Bill.

It is not as easy to be so specific about my third concern. Many other noble and noble and gallant Lords have already referred to the clash between human rights legislation and those involved in armed conflict. I personally despise the actions of British lawyers who have gone out to Iraq and Afghanistan touting for business that seeks to undermine the credibility and reputation of their Armed Forces. I agree with all those who have called for this to be urgently looked at, and I shall inform the Minister of one experience when I was Adjutant-General. The Second Permanent Under-Secretary came to the three officers who were responsible for personnel in their services and told them that they had to work out how industrial tribunals would be included in service discipline chains. When we asked whether such industrial tribunals came before or after the Queen, we were told that that was totally irrelevant because the Bill including this requirement had already had its First Reading in the House. We had not seen the Bill and when we sent for it we found that there were such ridiculous things in it as, if a person were ordered by his employer into a place of danger, he could seek an industrial tribunal. I wondered whether the OC B Company could take his commanding officer to an industrial tribunal if he were told to capture a hill. We discovered that this followed an instruction from Brussels—at least that was what was alleged. When we asked what our NATO allies—the Germans, French and Italians—had done about it, they said that their Governments had sought dispensation from this ruling. Our Government had not.

To what has already been said to the Minister, I add my hope that the assault on the clash between human rights legislation and those involved in armed conflict will not be conducted in isolation just in this country but will include our NATO allies, all of which have armed forces involved in the same dilemma. I hope very much that, rather than the modest Bill that the Minister has announced, the opportunity can be taken to include in it the very real action that is needed to solve what my noble and gallant friend Lord Boyce described as the lawfare question, which is one that I know worries the minds of every serving member of the Armed Forces at present.

1.54 pm

Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con): My Lords, I welcome and support this Bill and I also warmly congratulate my noble friends Lady Pidding and Lord Shinkwin and the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, on their excellent, very different and very personal maiden speeches. I enjoyed all three, and I thank them.

If you look after the families, you look after the soldiers—these are not my words but those of the noble Lord, Lord Richards, who knows much more about the military than I do. Although this Bill focuses on disciplinary and other matters, I urge the Minister to continue to look at the wider context of the military and their families as a whole. Earlier this week I was pleased to attend the launch of the Homes for Heroes foundation, which is looking to break down the barriers

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2392

faced by forces personnel and their families in owning secure, accessible homes, if that is what they aspire to do. It is also looking at and challenging the rented sector, when our soldiers leave the military. There are still a number of local authorities inadvertently not following the covenant in determining their housing allocation policies. I urge the Government to ensure that the covenant is adhered to, across all government departments and across local government. These are early days for the foundation; I wish it well and look forward to seeing the results of its work.

I have now had time to see the strategy for forces families, as mentioned in the strategic defence and security review. While I am a little disappointed that the strategy did not consult more widely with forces families, or with public services as part of the delivery network, the important matter now is the creation of a strong action plan and the delivery of the aims of that review.

Alongside secure housing, good education and health provision for the military and their families is soldiers’ transition into civilian employment. It is extremely important for the stability of forces families that they receive the necessary training and support as they leave the Army to ensure that they can get into secure employment.

In Wiltshire, we have 15,000 troops—the number will rise by another 4,000 by 2020—and the employment of these soldiers as they leave the Army is of high importance to our county. It is also important to the economy of the county. The Swindon and Wiltshire City Deal and the Higher Futures programme, will broker higher education training courses, created with a number of local businesses, to convert the military training already received by our forces to qualifications required by the private sector, thus enabling our military leavers to reach their full potential in civilian life. The Enterprise Network provides sensitive, supportive advice to forces spouses or military leavers who wish to start their own businesses, and our university technical college in Salisbury utilises great support from the local 1st Artillery Brigade and Headquarters South West to help our young people to develop their leadership skills. We run transition fairs annually with the Army, bringing together the businesses, the soldiers, and our support services.

I know that this does not fit entirely with the Bill, but I wish to reiterate: if you look after the families, you look after the soldiers. I believe that our Army is a better Army when our soldiers know that their families are secure and that they have a secure future.

1.59 pm

Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords, I am genuinely glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, as much of what she said I could not have said better myself. I feel this strongly because no matter how sophisticated the technology at your disposal or how advanced your strategic thinking, in the end that is no better than the people putting it into practice. Those people need to be confident that their families are secure and well-cared for, and that they will have a future place in society when they have left the forces. I might take issue with her on only one small point: I do not know why she referred to preparing them, when their service is completed,

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2393

for their contribution to the private sector. I think that their contribution is equally needed in the public sector. I have often reflected on how much the public sector could benefit from some of the best elements—their experience and values—in the people who have served.

I, too, warmly thank the Minister for having introduced the Bill so thoroughly and well. I am sure that the whole House appreciated that. There is much in the Bill for which he will find support in all parts of the House. Anything that I will say is just about some things which I hoped that the Bill could perhaps have touched on, and not unrelated to what the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, has just been saying.

My first job in government, way back in the mid-1970s, was to be Minister for the Navy. In those days, we had Service Ministers. I am not sure that I am altogether relaxed that that tradition has gone because it was important to have Ministers who, in the deliberations of government, identified themselves with a particular service fulfilling its part in what was needed. I certainly learned a great deal in that job. I always looked forward just as much to my discussions with the various admirals with leading responsibility as to my discussions below decks with senior ratings and others. This again relates to the point which the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, was just making. It was often when among the senior ratings that I thought, “Are we doing enough, not just to ensure that these senior ratings, who are absolutely crucial to the successful operation of the fleet, are getting the certainty of a valid career when they complete their service but to enable society to understand what a terrific contribution people who have carried that sort of front-line management responsibility have to make to society?”. I was disturbed to find how often people who had carried tremendous responsibility to good effect were ending up as car-park attendants and all the rest. These considerations seem essential to the morale and effectiveness of our armed services. I would be surprised if the noble Earl, Lord Howe, did not 100% agree.

Having referred incidentally to how I looked forward to my discussions with admirals every week, I always had particular and keen anticipation for my weekly seminar with the Chief of Naval Staff. When I hear my noble friend Lord West in action, I always think that it would have been jolly good if he had been there discussing the things on which he speaks so strongly and with so much conviction. We might have had some quite lively discussions from time to time but they would have been greatly enjoyed.

We have heard remarkable maiden speeches today, which speak well for the future of the House, but I want to pick out two or three key points. First, we need to recognise the immense demands made on our service personnel in their work. To be effective servicemen they have, above all, to be effective fighters but nowadays they have incredible other responsibilities. I heard it put very well by somebody who had served in the Balkans. He said that they would suddenly find themselves having to be diplomats, negotiating their way through a situation. They may be under order in a convoy to get humanitarian relief supplies to a community when they come up against women lying down in front of them in the road, trying to impede their progress. They cannot run over those women, so they find themselves

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2394

having to negotiate with them to get through that block and be able to proceed with their task.

Our personnel may also find themselves confronted with appalling floods—and my goodness, up in Cumbria I have seen the evidence of servicemen making a profound contribution. With the floods six years ago, let alone more recently, the contribution made by the RAF in the appalling situation in Cockermouth was extraordinary. We got through that awful episode with only one death, which was sad and felt by the whole community, when a brave policeman tried to divert traffic from a bridge, which he saw was about to collapse, and ended up drowned. The fact that the community itself got through without the loss of life owed a tremendous amount to the RAF, as it did to all the others who intervened, so there is a great range.

There is also a great demand on our personnel psychologically. Think of the servicemen operating drones: do not believe that there is no psychological strain in that situation. I saw it years ago when I was in the operations room of a new frigate. After my visit, I remember talking to a petty officer. He said, “Minister, did you see those ratings on those instruments?”. I said yes. He said, “Did you realise that the safety and survival of this ship, let alone its fighting effectiveness, depends on each one of those ratings and the instrument on which they are working?” They had to be able to interpret, and rapidly communicate, the significance of what they saw on their screens for the safety and fighting efficiency of the ship. That is terrific but it demands a great deal of certainty about the training and educational values of the men doing the work. It is no good relying on rules. I remember a Brigadier saying to me when I was the Navy Minister, “I can walk around with a copy of the Queen’s Regulations under my arm and it is useless. I would be lost”. It is leadership, the ethos and the whole value system of the service that ensures good performance. It should not be, “What is this rule telling me to do in this situation?”, but, “What is the right thing to do?”.

This relates to the searching discussion that there has been in the debate today about human rights and operations in the field. I care desperately about human rights. If we are not standing up for human rights, what the hell are we doing as a country? But of course there are tensions and what really matters are the ethos, spirit and leadership which run through the three services in this respect. It is really about instinctive decency and humanity, from which the rest follows. We need to be clear that these are fully felt and understood, which brings us back of course to education. It is not just a matter of going through some educational classes; it is about getting to the point at which you understand why these things matter, so that you do not have to think about them specifically in an individual situation just like that but have it deep in your psyche that that is what you are working for and what matters. This becomes terribly important in the age in which we are living, because one of the biggest battles we are involved in is the battle for hearts and minds, and ensuring that what we do and how we do it can be seen as an example all the time of a better society and of one worth living in. That makes tremendous demands on the services, and we must remember that all the time, including as we examine the Bill.

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2395

I have been in some very helpful correspondence with the noble Earl already on one point. I thank him for that and wonder whether it would be possible to put it in the Library, because it is quite important that the things that the noble Earl has said in correspondence with me are available more widely. The point concerns the minimum recruitment age. There is quite a lot of concern among responsible people in society that 16 is too young in the context of the things I have been talking about. I have an open mind on this issue, but it is one we ought to be looking at very carefully, because the minimum requirements at 16 are pretty modest, to say the least. Sometimes it is hard to establish that even they are being as well applied as they might be. We need to have people of real educational attainment coming into our services to have effective services, and there is an issue to be examined here. There is also evidence of a good deal of public concern about this: one of the Joseph Rowntree trusts commissioned a very responsible public opinion poll on the issue, which found that 78% of the public thought that the minimum recruitment age should be 18. From that standpoint, these are issues that we ought to be looking at.

I am also worried about the future for these youngsters who come in at 16 with minimal qualifications. They miss out on all the educational provision that is being put in place, not least by the present Government. When they come out of the services, they are going to be at a disadvantage because they did not have that, unless we are making very specific arrangements to ensure that they get support and help in acquiring the kind of education or training that would be available in civilian life. All I am asking for at this juncture is an undertaking from the noble Earl that these matters are fully recognised within the Ministry of Defence and are being taken as seriously as they should be. I am quite certain that he personally will share my concerns, but it seems to me that we need to look at this issue and make sure that there are measures in the Bill which would help in this respect.

I thank the noble Earl for having introduced the Bill so well and conclude by simply saying that I do not think this House can put on record strongly enough our appreciation and respect for service men and women and all they do on our behalf, as well as for the risks they take, the pressures on their families and the rest. It is incredible. They are so often overstretched and do not have all the equipment they need, which raises the bigger issues lying behind this legislation, which are of course our measurement of the threat, our destination in defence policy and the best way of meeting that threat, which is the fundamental question. The issues that arise in the context of this Bill then become crucial in making sure that the personnel aspects are fully covered.

2.15 pm

Lord Burnett (LD): My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who was a distinguished Navy Minister, and I join with him in paying tribute to the members of our Armed Forces and their families. They always exceed the high expectations we have of them. In addition, it is a

11 Feb 2016 : Column 2396

pleasure to say that we have had three outstanding maiden speeches today. No one could fail to be moved by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin.

In a debate on 15 September last year, to which my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford has referred, I said some words about the existing courts martial regime and some of its failings. This Second Reading debate on the Armed Forces Bill is an opportunity to elaborate on the criticisms I made in the earlier debate and to make one or two other points.