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Lord Bramall: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that certain articles in the Convention on Human Rights could be interpreted as contrary to standard and proper military practice, and that a fast track for the redress of an immediate grievance in this respect might be disruptive to good order and military discipline? Does the noble Lord therefore agree that consideration of an appropriate safeguard in this area is now a matter of some urgency?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord mistakes the fast-track procedure. As was carefully explained on a number of occasions by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, when the High Court makes a declaration of incompatibility in respect of primary legislation, the fast-track procedure is simply designed then to offer the Minister the discretion to seek remedial action with the support of both Houses of Parliament. It has nothing to do with a complaint by an individual that he or she has been badly treated by the service authorities.
Lord Vivian: My Lords, is the Minister aware that under the existing clauses of the Human Rights Bill service personnel would be entitled to elect to go for trial by a civil court, bypassing the military system, when being tried by a commanding officer for a military offence? That would undermine the commanding officer's authority.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, drawing on my experience with Army Legal Services more than 40 years ago, I wish to ask the Minister whether he can reassure me that I am completely out of date in imagining that a court martial--constituted as it is of Army officers whose main allegiance is to military discipline--is not a suitable agency for the establishment of human rights.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I would not necessarily have used that precise formulation. As I believe underlies the noble Lord's question, the fact is that courts martial are ad hoc tribunals consisting, as he rightly said, of serving officers assisted by a judge advocate. That is not a procedure which is designed or intended for declarations of incompatibility of the kind to which I referred earlier.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the helpful correspondence that I have received from the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert? Has he seen it? I believe that he has, and in view of that, would the Minister in his position encourage the discussions taking place now, as a result of the Division on the matter, between the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the MoD to seek to designate the military courts as the appropriate forum? Would the noble Lord encourage that?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, plainly the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Ministry of Defence are in close liaison. I am familiar with the correspondence. The last letter was dated today so I hope that the noble Lord has received it. We made every effort to ensure that he did. What is said there-- I paraphrase but I think fairly--is that these decisions have not been concluded and they will be the subject of rules which will be made following the Royal Assent but before the Bill becomes effective.
Lord Renton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, under the Human Rights Bill as it left your Lordships' House, a conflict could arise between a decision already taken by one of Her Majesty's judges in the High Court in applying the European Convention on Human Rights and a decision by one of the commanding officers in Her Majesty's forces, without there being a court martial? Will the Minister ensure that in due course the Government put forward an amendment to the Bill which will resolve that conflict, preferably in favour of military discipline?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not accept that there is any necessary conflict between military discipline and the scheme of the Bill. If there are specifics, we are more than happy to look at any anxieties, as was indicated in the correspondence to which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, helpfully referred.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Will he consider a recent case in which a known criminal, seeking to escape from the scene of a crime, resisted arrest, was then bitten by a police dog and secured damages? Would that not be likely to inhibit the proper use of police dogs, as well as failing to serve the cause of common sense?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I believe that the plaintiff in that case had a criminal record. He was bitten in Sheffield and consequently required 19 stitches. The learned county court judge found in favour of the plaintiff but said that he was 60 per cent. to blame. I must not say too much more because I understand that the South Yorkshire police are applying for leave to appeal. I cast my eye over the Police Review and saw the remark attributed to the Vice-Chairman of the Police Federation:
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the existing guidelines issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers are adequate? The guidelines say that police dogs ought only to be used in extremely controlled situations. But in many cases the dogs find it difficult to distinguish in an uncontrolled situation between those who are innocent and those who are alleged criminals. On that matter, will the Minister publish the figures that are available to police forces of the number of dog bites and the amounts of compensation the police had to pay for wrongful use of dogs?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: Yes, my Lords. Between April 1995 and March 1996, the Police Complaints Authority noted 102 complaints about police dogs biting complainants. No information is centrally held about compensation which has been paid, but police dogs are extremely useful. They sniff out concealed drugs, they find explosives, they track down fugitives, they are used
Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, I do not wish to. However, does the Minister agree with me that this is surely not just a matter of dogs but also of closed circuit television? We have high technology because the criminals of today use high technology and also because in much of our legislation the evidential requirements are so high. Should that not be the policy as long as it is entirely consistent with not abusing human rights?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is not quite as simple as that. CCTV is very useful. Many police forces welcome it and so do many members of the public. However, I have never encountered a CCTV camera that can sniff out explosives or drugs. Therefore, I repeat that police dogs are an extremely useful tool in the fight against serious crime.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. I understand that LEAs will not be able to change the admission arrangements in grammar schools. However, will the Minister confirm or clarify that LEAs could not initiate the petition which precedes a ballot and that no single councillor could initiate a petition which would precede a ballot? Will she confirm that plans which have been published by Birmingham Education Authority would not be allowed under the proposals made by the Government?
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