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Lord Molyneaux of Killead: The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, addresses the longer term, once the legislation has been implemented. However, in his remarks and in the words he quoted from the letter of the noble Baroness, it appears that some thought has been given as regards the short term. It is upon that aspect of the matter that I should like to say a few words.
Perhaps I may give an example. If a base established in the United Kingdom is occupied by two formations of Her Majesty's Forces and the principle of "jointery" has already been implemented, what would be the position of a commanding officer of one of those services when sentencing one of his own men? Would it be possible for the accused, upon conviction, to appeal to the base commander as a second step? The commander may--indeed, probably would--be from another service and operating under an entirely different Act.
If the accused then appeals to what is referred to in the Bill as a judicial officer appointed by the Judge Advocate General, will both of those legal figures be conversant with the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957? In other words, will there be "jointery" in the legal world to match "jointery" in the Armed Forces?
Lord Renton: I wish most warmly to support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil, which I consider to be important. The three Acts referred to, which are listed in the Long Title of the Bill, in any case overlap to a great extent. If they were to be consolidated, the statute book, which is getting longer and longer, would be shortened. We should do all we can to enact matters in a more concise way.
Furthermore, I am sure that no one will dispute the fact that over the past 60 years--perhaps a little longer--there has been a fortunate tendency for the three Armed Forces to draw closer together, not only in peace-time but also in war. That being the case, I should have thought that to have one discipline Act for all three Armed Forces would be a very great practical advantage.
I apologise to noble Lords if I expressed that inelegantly. More plainly, the commanding officer will have men from other services under him. No doubt that already applies and there is already a convention as to which rules are to be used when the case is heard. However, it would be helpful if, when the noble Baroness replies to my noble friend, she could explain to those noble Lords who do not know, how the system works in a case of that sort.
Lord Craig of Radley: I wish to support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. In my comments during the Second Reading debate, I expressed my unease about the very short time that would pass between the Bill before us receiving Royal Assent and 2nd October 2000, when the implications and practical detail of the legislation will need to be applied in reality in all three of the armed services. Any action that would assist those who will need to disseminate the required information and ensure that the law is followed properly is to be supported. I believe that the proposal contained in this amendment would do that.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: I wish wholly to support what my noble friend has proposed in his amendment. As I understand it, there is substantial disparity between the three service discipline Acts. Perhaps I may ask, therefore, whether, in order to consolidate, one would not first need to remove those substantial disparities. Would that not require further short legislation?
Lord Renton: With great respect to my noble friend, I should have thought there would be only an occasional clause that would need to be addressed as regards disparity. I agree that it would be necessary to deal with it, but I do not think that that would take up too much of any consolidation measure.
Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: I, too, wish to support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Peyton. He referred to the principle that legislation should not be too easily understood. As a practising lawyer, I have some sympathy with that proposition. Therefore, to some extent it is with mixed emotions that I offer my support to my noble friend.
However, it is undoubtedly true that when one studies the Bill and searches for the existing law, it is not at all easy to find. Perhaps I may make one practical suggestion. Would it be possible for the Government and parliamentary counsel to draw down from their computerised statute law database a print of the relevant Acts in their present form and to make those available in the Library? That would assist noble Lords at later stages of the Bill. Several noble Lords will be aware that the Government plan to make all
In regard to when it would be sensible to consolidate, I incline to the view that it might be better to do that in the next Session; namely, after the new armed forces Bill heralded by the Minister during her speech at Second Reading has gone through your Lordships' House. I foresee that implementation of the Human Rights Act will bring forth problems other than those which the Bill seeks to address. While I believe that the Ministry of Defence are to be congratulated on facing up to the implications of that Act by bringing forward the Bill before us, the debate which took place at Second Reading made it clear that it will not be an easy exercise to reconcile all the different interests involved. I should like to propose--I hope that this will find favour with the Minister--that in the next Session, in tandem with the substantive Bill to alter the law, a consolidation Bill should move through its procedural stages so that the two Acts of Parliament would come into force, one immediately following the other.
Lord Annan: I add my voice in support of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. When dealing with a subject such as discipline, it is extremely important that the legislation should be clear. Whether or not we like it, attitudes to discipline have changed over the past 30 or 40 years. In my day as a don at Cambridge, if an undergraduate was sent down, he went down. Now, of course, he does not. He argues the case before a tribunal and then an appeal court to that tribunal. It is extremely important that anything to do with discipline should be crystal clear. I therefore support the noble Lord, Lord Peyton.
Lord Glenarthur: I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Peyton and I agree with the point made by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon. Over the years I have had experience of trying to get from the Library an up-to-date text of Acts that have been amended many times. I wonder whether the Minister can say how often statutes in force in respect of this matter are amended. When was the most recent amendment to statutes in force? Those of us who are not as familiar as my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay with getting their data over the Internet might still like to get the information from the Library. What delay is there in bringing these statutes up to date for easy reference?
Lord Burnham: My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon made an important point when he referred to the difficulty that he, as a lawyer, has in understanding legislation to do with the military. Members of the Committee on all sides have united in supporting my noble friend Lord Peyton, and I do the same. The Bill has an enormous number of amendments--not on a Greater London Authority
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, has highlighted the difficulties encountered by anyone trying to read the three service discipline Acts. Since being enacted in the 1950s they have been very heavily amended and no one can claim that they are easy to follow. However, the Committee will know that it is the practice of departments introducing primary legislation that amends already heavily amended legislation to prepare updated texts of the existing legislation and place those in the Libraries and the Public Bill Offices of both Houses. That is an aid to Parliament's consideration of the amending legislation. On that basis, updated copies of the Army and the Air Force Acts 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957 have been prepared and were recently placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Acts will be further amended if Parliament enacts the present legislation. In the next Session we expect to introduce the quinquennial armed services Bill. That Bill will cover a wide range of different issues. I am sure that Members of the Committee would not expect me to anticipate those in any detail at this stage. It follows that at around this time next year we will have prepared further updated texts on the discipline Acts and we will put those further updated texts on the discipline Acts in the Libraries of both Houses. I hope that that process is found to be of value. I am sure that many noble Lords still deal with matters, as I do myself, very much on a paper basis, but the updated texts are also available electronically.
We acknowledge that there has been a longstanding intention to consolidate the service discipline Acts. I strongly agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, said about the need to consolidate the Acts. That point was made by a number of noble Lords. However, I would say that this is a task of a rather different order and one which has to produce a new baseline of service legislation. The Government are considering moving now to a tri-service discipline Act. I hope that that provides the assurance which was sought by the noble Lords, Lord Molyneaux, Lord Renton and Lord Burnham, and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon. It is important to stress that that will be a major undertaking. We expect to receive advice. It will take some time for us to consider the best way forward but we must have a look at consolidating the Acts. Such a consolidation would supersede the current legislation.
I hope that I have been able to assure the Committee that we are addressing both the substance and the presentation of the issue. Both are important if people are properly to understand the discipline under which they operate as individuals in the armed services and if the rest of us are to understand the way in which the armed services operate. On the basis that updated, "cleaned up" texts, if I may put it that way, are available in both Houses, that they are available electronically, and that consideration will be given to consolidation of the Armed Forces discipline Acts, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
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