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Earl Howe: I am grateful to the noble Lord for setting out the background to these amendments, and I am glad of course to clarify what is meant by the section of the text to which he has directed the Committee's attention. The last paragraph of Clause 16 gives valuable flexibility for regulations to create additional rights to early discharge, which we would not wish to lose. An example of the application of the power is that the regulations for the Royal Naval Reserve provide a right of discharge to a man who is to join the Merchant Navy.
However, we think that that right should be subject to conditions. The notice period of not more than three months serves to prevent individuals resigning, perhaps under pressure from their families or something like that, when call-out seems likely. The requirement to return clothing and equipment safeguards the public purse, which is quite right and proper. Subsection (4) permits those conditions to be waived by the commanding officer if he thinks that the reasons for discharge are of sufficient urgency or weight. That, again, is a useful flexibility. In normal circumstances the requirement for notice is quite often waived, because there is little point in keeping someone on the books who is unwilling. If someone is ill, the normal practice would be for the unit to collect the man's kit.
The noble Lord asked whether there would be identical regulations within each of the services. The answer is that there will be a general similarity but perhaps differences of detail between each service. But the principles will be exactly the same.
Lord Williams of Elvel: Can the noble Earl tell the Committee whether these arrangements are already in force under existing legislation and, if so, how in practice they have worked out? Have they worked out well?
Lord Williams of Elvel: Clause 19 brings us back to the question of what I would call over-ride--that is, whether regulations made under Clause 4 are so wide in scope that they over-ride almost everything else, or many things, in the Bill. In particular, we are talking about enlistment, re-engagement and the discharge of men from the reserve forces.
Earl Howe: I am grateful to the noble Lord. This clause enables orders or regulations to be made to deal with the details of service and the details of enlistment and re-engagement, sometimes referred to as terms of service regulations. It is modelled on Section 2 of the Armed Forces Act 1966, which provides an equivalent power to make the terms of service regulations for the regular forces.
One reason for the change is to allow for the same flexibility over engagements in the reserves as the Armed Forces Act 1966 allows in the case of the regular forces. The Reserve Forces Act 1980 stipulates fixed engagements of between one and five years for various forces in different circumstances. That can be inflexible. It may be worth reminding the Committee of the point I made to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, a little earlier that the flexibility created by this clause is valuable. In particular, if it were ever thought appropriate, the approach adopted in the clause would allow for a change to engagements for a longer period with provision for a formal period of notice to end the engagement. That would of course be additional to the general right to give notice in writing to leave before the end of the engagement under Clause 16(2). Such a system would offer the advantage of avoiding the need for individuals to re-engage periodically, sometimes as often as every year. That causes an administrative burden and occasionally results in reservists deciding not to re-engage at this point, even though they might otherwise stay on. Therefore I believe that a change of this kind could assist retention.
Clause 19(2) also makes engagements for home or local service possible, thus allowing for greater flexibility in the future. That would offer the chance to serve in the reserve forces to those who have a contribution to make in the reserves but feel that they could not easily assume the fuller burdens of the normal liability to serve anywhere in the world.
The remaining subsections (3) and (4) safeguard the rights of an individual. They ensure that no greater obligation can be imposed on him without his consent than he is under during his current period of service. His rights would be unaffected by any subsequent change to the provisions of the orders or regulations.
Lord Williams of Elvel: When the noble Earl says that they deal with the details, there is nothing in Clause 19 that I see which refers to details. I do not have to read out to the Committee Clause 19(1) which says in effect that orders or regulations under Clause 4 may make provision for anything in Part II, which deals with enlistment and conditions of service. I do not see anything in there, subject to the restrictions placed in subsections (3) and (4) of the clause, which stops an order under Clause 4 of the Bill changing anything in Clauses 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 or 18. Am I wrong in that?
Earl Howe: The noble Lord may have misheard me. I said that the clause enables orders or regulations to be made to deal with the details of service. The clause itself does not purport to deal with the details. What it does is to enable orders to be made to deal with those details.
Earl Howe: The point here is that the clause is implicitly subject to the details set out in Clauses 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and so on. The Bill, as I said earlier, has to be read as a whole. It cannot be read piecemeal.
Lord Judd: I should like to endorse what my noble friend Lord Williams said about the number of clause stand part debates that we are having, but it seems to me that one of the advantages of the procedure that we are following is that in some ways it gives a better opportunity to probe the thinking and rationale behind particular clauses than may always be the case in the more usual procedures which we pursue in the Chamber itself. I do not feel apologetic about it, because it seems to me to be a very enlightened way to approach legislation.
It is in that spirit that we raise again our doubts on Clause 21. It is not that we want to oppose it; we do not fully understand it. That is the problem and I am sure that the noble Earl, in his very courteous and helpful way, will remove any doubts that we have.
At first sight, it seems to us--and it may just be that we are misreading what is intended--a little strange that if someone is serving in a particular force, he should be designated in any way that is unfamiliar to those with whom he is serving. It seems to me that for the time he is in that particular force, it makes much more sense to acquire the titles and designations which apply in that force so that everybody understands the situation and there are no complications. This may well be cleared up by the noble Earl in a moment or two. We should like to hear his observations on this.
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