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Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I shall speak to both orders. The Minister mentioned the case of Grievesconfirming the court martial and the fact that the case will be heard by the European Court of European Rights. We shall have to await the outcome; but if the outcome goes against the Government, what action will be taken, and under what time-scale?
We support the move to a tri-service Act, which is seen to be in 200506although the Minister said in his introduction that this will be down to the availability of time. That is a form of words often used by Ministers, but I hope that he will confirm that it will be seen as an essential piece of legislation. Its importance is such that, in another place, Dr Lewis Moonie mentioned the fact that it was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, last year. It is only fair
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, that was last year obviously, but Dr Moonie raised this point in the House of Commons Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation this year. I apologise to the House for not making that clear.
The only reason I raise the point is that it is rare for this House to receive a mention in another place and the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, should be aware of the compliment paid to him by Dr Moonie. He said:
The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, also raised the question of the two service personnel who questioned the legality of war in Iraq. Before the vote in the House of Commons, we on these Benches questioned the legality of war in Iraq. We question at what stage those prosecutions will be taken, if they are to be taken at all. However, I was interested to note from newspaper articlesI merely give this the weight that it was given in the pressthe stated position of Robin Cook in regard to the legality of the war in Iraq.
We support all the work that is being done by our troops in Iraq at the present time and do not question their professionalism. We support both orders. I very much hope that the tri-service Act proposed for 200506 will be brought forward.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the order. I remind the House that I have a peripheral interest. I say "peripheral" because I no longer serve in the Regular Army and I am not likely to called up again for some time, I hope. I serve for only a few days a year with the TA.
I have no difficulty with the orders themselves. The Minister mentioned the complaints procedure, otherwise known as the grievance procedure. I can assure him that there is much scope for improvement in the grievance procedure, particularly in respect of the time-scales to draw such matters to a conclusion.
Prior to going to the Gulf, I had to consider whether I was prepared to take the anthrax vaccination. I did. On mobilisation, it was very clearly a free, informed choice as to whether or not one was going to take the vaccination. Great efforts were made in that regard.
Interestingly, and despite trying quite hard myself, I was unable to obtain a booster vaccination in theatre. Consequently, the cost of the original vaccination, which I understand is quite expensive, was wasted, and now I have no protection against anthrax.
But during the operation in Iraq Ministers authorised the taking of the NAPS tabletsthe nerve agent pre-treatment sets. NAPS is a prophylactic treatment to mitigate the effects of nerve agent poisoning. However, service personnel were compelled under military law to take the NAPS tablets. I had no difficulty with that; I wanted to take them in order to be fully protected. But can the Minister explain why military law was used to compel the taking of NAPS but not the anthrax vaccination?
Lord Burnham: My Lords, the Minister will be in no doubt whatever why I have risen to my feet on this subject. I have done so every year since 1997 in regard to the renewal of the tri-service Act. When the noble Lord
My noble friend Lord Vivian and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, were far too gentle with the Minister and with his civil servants on the delay in getting a tri-service Act together. The civil servants, the people who should be producing it, need a very serious kicking so that we can have a draft Bill by this time next year, when we next discuss the renewal of this order. I hope and believe that the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, will support me on those points.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on this order. Some important points have been made. I thank noble Lords for their support for the continuation order. It is very important. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, said about the critical importance of high morale. That is at the centre of everything that we are trying to do in this area.
I have been asked a number of questions. One concerned why the tri-service Bill is taking so long. The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, in his inimitable way, suggested that there had been undue delay up to now. I do not believe that that is fair. It is likely to be a very long Bill, if it comes before Parliament at all. The House will know that after five years we must have a discipline Bill before Parliament, as we did in 2001. We very much want the next one to be the tri-service Bill. It must be understood that that will be a long piece of legislation because of the changes that it will mean to the three Acts that presently apply. Such matters take a very long time. I shall bear in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, said. If I am in this place this time next year I shall come here fearful and I dare say that my civil servants will come even more fearful.
Why the delay? What is holding up matters? I want to be frank with the House. I said that we hoped that the policy development would be complete and it is not. I have to concede that. In principle, the services have agreed that the tri-service Bill, as it is called, should provide for a single system of service law, which would replace the separate systems that we are used to. If achieved it would mean that for the first time personnel in all three services will have the same rights and be subject to the same disciplinary powers. In many of those areasfor example, in the courts martial systemthe services have largely agreed on common future procedures that will make the service system of law a reality.
There are some significant issues of detail that remain to be decided, notably in the key area of summary discipline. The three services are proud of their traditions and the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, knows them as well as anyone in the House. It has not yet been possible to settle on a harmonised level of
At present the Royal Navy is able to deal summarily with a much wider range of offences and is able to award greater punishment than either the Army or the RAF. The Royal Navy has a maximum period in detention of 90 days, for example, rather than the 60 days available to the other two services. Work continues on finding a suitable harmonised level of powers. That is a key issue for a tri-service Act and one that we shall have to solve. Perhaps for once it is not fair to blame the Civil Service, but we should perhaps ask the services themselves to come to an accommodation on that. I am confident that in the normal way they will.
I was asked about discipline in two different forms by the noble Lord, Lord Vivian. One was in relation to the two soldiers who were mentioned in the newspapers. The point was taken at length by his honourable friend in another place, but that is not a good point. The two soldiers returned home for different and separate reasons. One soldier wanted to go home because of a serious domestic problem which I do not intend to go into. Through discussion with the soldier, the real reasons for him wanting to get out of Iraq were identified. The soldier was compassionately returned to the UK; he is still serving with his regiment and has no desire to leave the Army. It would have been inappropriate for disciplinary action to have been considered in his case.
The second soldier was a young man who suffered psychiatric problems during his time in the Gulf. He was returned home for medical reasons and assessed as being temperamentally unsuited to military service and has been discharged. I hope that the noble Lord will agree that both those casesI shall not go into any more detailwere suitably dealt with, as is often the case.
We know that there are a number of allegations against British soldiers of mistreatment of Iraqis. As the noble Lord would expect, we take such allegations extremely seriously and full investigations are taking place. I shall not comment on any individual case today.
On a tri-service Act and on undermining commanding officers, it is key that any changes should underpin operational effectiveness. That, of course, means the commanding officer's role still being very important.
I was asked about the International Criminal Court. I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, need worry. As he knows, the purpose of the International Criminal Court is to ensure that those who commit the gravest crimes do not do so with impunity. Those crimes are crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. There is no question of the ICC investigating any allegations of breaches of international law other than the ones in statute.
The ICC could intervene against our wishes only if it could claim that the UK was unwilling or unable to proceed; in effect, that means that our system of justice needs to have broken down or that we were deliberately shielding something. In my view, that is inconceivable.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, tempts me to say what we would do about the Grieves case. In the words of a very famous former Liberal Prime Minister, he will have to wait and see. Of course we are not going to commit ourselves at this stage, nor would he expect us to. As far as a tri-service Act is concerned, we shall do our best, as he requests.
I was particularly pleased to hear from the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. We know that he served in the Gulf. He was too modest about his role. As noble Lords from all sides of the House have said, we are very proud indeed to have him as one of our number. I am flattering him to some extent because I do not have the faintest idea what the answer is to the question with which he finished his speech. I promise to write to the noble Earl as soon as I possibly can with the answer.