§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Stanley)
I beg to move,That the draft Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 19th June, be approved.The purpose of this order is to continue in force for a further year the Army and Air Force Acts 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957. The House will be aware that the practice of giving annual parliamentary consideration and approval to the legal basis for the service man's special position in law is long-established. A new Armed Forces Act is required every five years and the present one expires on 31 December 1986. In the intervening years a continuation order, such as the one I am moving tonight, is introduced. The last Armed Forces Act was passed in 1981 when the Select Committee considering it said that it was satisfied that these procedures, providing for quinquennial Bills and annual continuation orders in the interim, were satisfactory to ensure parliamentary oversight of the working of the service discipline Acts.
We are of course giving further consideration to the points made by the 1981 Select Committee in considering proposals for the next quinquennial Bill. The House will, I am sure, understand that I am not able to anticipate the provisions of that Bill tonight.
However, I am glad to be able to announce that we have accepted the recommendation of the Select Committee in respect of the provisions of the 1981 Act which cover the detention and treatment of persons subject to service law overseas who are certified to be suffering from mental disorders. An order to detain an individual for treatment is made by his or her commanding officer on the recommendation of two doctors. The Select Committee recommended that, as a matter of administrative practice and where circumstances permit, one of the two certifying doctors should be a civilian, preferably with specialised psychiatric knowledge. Of course, although some of the doctors employed by the services overseas are civilians, it may not always be possible in some areas to ensure the participation of a civilian doctor. This was recognised by the Select Committee, but we are content to accept the recommendation in principle and we shall apply it wherever possible.
The services' disciplinary system plays a significant part in contributing to the extremely high standards displayed by the services both in peacetime and in fighting roles, and I invite the House to approve the order.
§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)
As the Minister explained, the order keeps in being the Army and Air Force Acts 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957. Those Acts are revised every five years, and changes are incorporated into a new Armed Forces Act. The last Act was in 1981. After new legislation has been brought before the House, the Select Committee on Defence studies the Bill and makes its recommendations. We are grateful to the Minister for accepting one of those recommendations in relation to psychiatric medical advice in respect of the certification of members of the armed forces.
However, the Minister did not tell us about anything else. That is not a complaint, but we are reaching the point 268 when the Ministry of Defence will be beginning to consider the next five-year Bill. I note from the Select Committee's report that it takes about two years for new legislation to be produced, for the consultations to be carried out between Government Departments, and for it to be drafted and presented. When the Minister replies, perhaps he will tell the House whether consultations have started about changes that may be made in the next quinquennial Bill.
Some hon. Members may feel that it is a waste of time to debate the order every year. It is not, because it enables the House to bring the Select Committee's recommendations to the attention of the Ministry of Defence. As we move from the old legislation towards the new legislation, we can draw the attention of the Ministry of Defence to various changes that may be necessary. Even a professional army, which is more immune to changes in society than a conscript army, is subject to social pressures and changes. One of the purposes of the order is to draw attention to the Select Committee's recommendations. The other is to draw to the attention of the Ministry of Defence any changes that occur in society as they impinge upon the armed forces to ensure that the changes are included in the new Bill.
The Select Committee made recommendations on three points and touched upon a fourth. I hope that the Minister will give some answers when he replies, because these questions have been asked in the past and answered in letters to Opposition spokesmen. They are sometimes not answered on the Floor of the House and are not incorporated in Hansardso that hon. Members can know what is going on. The trial of young service offenders, the death penalty and the composition of courts martial were the subject of recommendations by the Select Committee. The fourth subject, which was discussed at great length but without specific recommendations because it did not seem to be a major problem at the time, was drug abuse.
The Minister and the House will be aware that section 2 of the Armed Forces Act 1981—I shall call it the last Act—made various changes to custodial sentences that could be imposed by a court martial on young service offenders. There are two matters about which I should like the Minister to give an answer, if possible, this evening. The point was dealt with in the Select Committee's report at paragraph 6 which was headed, "Young service offenders." It stated:The number of Servicemen who might be expected to receive such a sentence"—that is a sentence for detention in a civilian corrective institution for up to two years—in any one year would be small".I believe that the Government's estimate was fewer than 25.
The point has been made in previous debates that with the youth training scheme, and so on, there are more young people in the armed forces. That figure was for 1981. Perhaps the Minister could estimate the figure of young offenders now dealt with under section 2 of the Armed Forces Act 1981.
The next point about young offenders relates to paragraph 7 of the Select Committee report. The Select Committee recommended thatconsideration be given before the 1986 Armed Forces Bill is introduced to the evolution of a system under which social inquiry reports on young Service offenders could be made more readily available to courts-martial. We note that the Navy is already moving in this direction.269 In last year's debate the Minister dealt with this point in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), but he did not give a clear answer. The Minister said:we should like to assure the Select Committee that considers the next five-year Bill that adequate safeguards exist"—that relates to social inquiry reports into the background and problems of young offenders—and that we shall continue to look at the recommendations made last time by the Select Committee."—[Official Report, 14 July 1983; Vol. 45, c. 1079.]If the Government are saying that safeguards exist, why do they believe that a change is necessary, or is the Minister saying, as he said last year, that adequate safeguards exist, that that will be the end of the matter, and that the Government will not try to move towards the recommendation of the Select Committee?
I deal next with the vexed question of the death penalty. Punishment by death is discretionary in all but one case, and the death penalty can still apply in respect of various offences. The Select Committee considered this matter in paragraph 11 of its recommendations. While it did not recommend that the death penalty be abolished in respect of these offences—and I do not wish to go down that road now, although it was touched on in a previous debate —the Committee recommended that the definition of the word enemy should be reconsidered in respect of the discretionary punishment in all cases but one by death in respect of such offences.
The Government's assertion for the retention of the death penalty is given in paragraph 11:Retention of the death penalty is necessary as a deterrent given that a potential offender on the battlefield, where death may result from obeying orders, is unlikely to be deterred from assisting the enemy by no more than the possibility of imprisonment.Like all theories of deterrence, once one tries to define them, one gets into considerable difficulties. Indeed, that attempt to explain what deterrence means gets into the same difficulties that one encounters in other spheres.
The Select Committee continued in paragraph 11:We did feel, however, that there was room for a clearer definition of the phrase 'the enemy' which is crucial in this context.The existing definition of the "enemy" apparently meansall persons engaged in armed operations against any of Her Majesty's forces, including … mutineers.That is a wide definition. It goes further than battlefield. In the Select Committee report, there is a memorandum prepared by the Ministry of Defence on the matter. In regard to offences in which there is discretionary death penalty, at page 60, paragraph 5, it says:The consequence of these offences may be greater than any crime of murder in civil life, in that they could imperil the force to which the offender belongs and threaten the outcome of a battle or campaign thus ultimately jeopardising not only the lives of individual servicemen, possibly in very large numbers, but also the collective existence of the country as a whole through increasing the chances of defeat in war.The person who wrote that clearly had in mind the concept of enemy as the traditional enemy in time of war or armed conflict. However, the original definition talks only aboutall persons engaged in armed operations against Her Majesty's forces.In the case of the siege of an embassy, the people inside could be engaged in armed operations against Her Majesty's forces. That, of course, goes much wider than battlefield, and does not imperil the nation or the country or, indeed, other members of the armed forces. There is a case for considering the definition.
270 When one begins to reconsider these matters, as many difficulties may arise as are likely to be solved. The element of discretion in some ways only makes the position worse, and in view of the large numbers of offences involved, I think that the definition should be reconsidered with the aim of narrowing it down.
The Ministry of Defence memorandum shows that what is in mind is an enemy on a battlefield or in a minor conflict in time of war or armed operations. I hope that the Ministry's thinking can be explained to us. The Select Committee was specific about the desirability of considering the definition again.
The Select Committee also dealt with the question of the composition of courts martial. This question was dealt with in paragraph 16, in which the Select Committee commented on the idea—extraordinary in this day and age —that only officers are thought good enough, or clever enough, to sit on courts martial. The Select Committee states:we believe that such a review"—apparently there were two such reviews in the 1940s, the Lewis Committee and the Pitcher Committee—is now due and ought to be conducted before the introduction of the 1986 Armed Forces Bill.The Minister of State should tell us whether a review is in progress, even if the Ministry has not yet reached a conclusion. In this day and age, it is not good enough lo trot out the somewhat artificial reasons given for excluding non-commissioned officers from courts martial which were given in the Lewis and Pilcher reports. The Pilcher report, I believe, dealt with the Navy.
I should like to quote from page 82 of the Select Committee's minutes of evidence. I refer to paragraph 3 of the Ministry of Defence memorandum of evidence on the composition of courts martial. It states:The conclusions of the Lewis Committee and the Pilcher Committee are considered to remain valid today … The members of a court-martial are required to be judges of law as well as of fact and also to determine sentence in the event of a conviction. There is thus a requirement to have knowledge of Service law, which forms part of the training syllabus of officers"—I do not know how much training is given. Perhaps a couple of hours are spent on the manual of military law.
There is also a requirement—for a high educational level"—No doubt all officers have a high educational level, but so do many NCOs—and for experience and understanding of the difficulties and exigencies of life in a Service community.That is not confined to officers. Those reasons must have seemed pretty contrived in 1949, and they seem totally out of date in 1984.A number of further problems would arise if other ranks were allowed to sit on courts-martial. Such a change might be interpreted as giving the court-martial, and in particular the other rank(s) selected, a representative rather than a judicial function.That is complete nonsense. One is merely saying that the choice should be there. One is not talking about an obligation to choose representatives of a definite constituency.
Is the Ministry of Defence taking seriously the recommendation for a review? A case can be made for change, because circumstances have changed. This matter could be looked at again.
I must make it clear that the Select Committee did not find evidence of drug abuse within the armed forces, and no one is suggesting that that is a major problem. We should be told about the present position, because, 271 unfortunately, changes occur rapidly. As a professional body the armed forces do not have the same problems that society in general and other armies have. It seems that the United States army is experiencing a major problem. I do not know about the position of the army of the Federal Republic of Germany in that respect.
In paragraph 15 the Select Committee drew attention to this fact:The number of drug offences committed is well below one per thousand Servicemen a year'.What are the latest available figures? Apparently most offences were committed with soft rather than hard drugs.
On page 81 the Select Committee touched on the sharp increase—this was from a low base—in the Navy, for reasons about which no one was entirely clear, from 73 convicted offenders in 1979 to 154 in 1980. That is perhaps a greater variation than one might expect in a year. The Select Committee commended the Navy on the way in which it was dealing with the problem. No one is suggesting that it is a major problem. Is there still an upward trend? Have the figures stabilised? Was 1980 an aberration? We have not been given that information.
In 1980, most cases of drug abuse in the Navy, and, I take it, in the other two forces, related to cannabis, which is called a soft drug, and very few to heroin. Unfortunately, there seems to have been a heroin epidemic in Britain, although not in the armed forces. Will the Minister provide the latest available figures for convictions, so that we can ascertain whether the hard drug element has increased from its negligible level in 1980?
Page 113 of the Select Committee's report shows that drug offences in BAOR appear to be higher—again this is from a low base—than in the United Kingdom. For these purposes, the United Kingdom includes Hong Kong, Cyprus, Malta and Gibraltar. In 1980 there were five such offences among the United Kingdom land forces and 22 among BAOR forces. It was suggested in the evidence to the Select Committee that that may be because of the proximity of BAOR forces to the forces of the United States and, perhaps, of the Federal Republic of Germany whose army to a great extent comprises conscripts and not professional volunteers. This is an important matter, about which I hope the Minister can provide some information.
This is an important debate and we shall need to know, certainly next year, much more about the Government's plans for their new Armed Forces Bill. If the Minister is able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and is given leave to reply to the debate, I think that he owes it to the House to tell us about the thinking of the Ministry of Defence on the Bill to be introduced in two years time and to say what it should cover.
§ Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)
I welcome the opportunity to make a short contribution to the debate. It is right that we should bring under routine scrutiny disciplinary matters in the armed forces. It is one of the features which distinguishes Britain from less happy lands.
On the whole, there is an harmonious relationship between our armed forces and the civilian population. I once made a speech to that effect in my constituency. I spoke about the splendid relationship between the Army and Colchester generally. A report of my speech was headlined in the local press, but an adjoining heading 272 stated: "Jocks do over Bull and Bush". It appeared that there had been a small riot in one of the local pubs, but that happened several years ago. A Scottish regiment was involved which was much welcomed in the town in other respects. Perhaps it was the imbibing of the spirits which are associated with Scotland which caused a breach of discipline to occur on that occasion. It was a very rare lapse.
We should put on record our appreciation of the strong discipline in the armed forces and the harmonious relationship which exists on the whole between the civilian population and the armed forces. That reflects on our basic system and, more than that, on the calibre of the armed forces.
Arising from this measure is the issue of discipline in the armed forces. Those who contravene Army, Navy or Air Force discipline, but Army discipline especially, tend to end up at the military corrective training centre at Colchester. I am on the board of visitors of that establishment and it is a good thing that there is a civilian board, as it is protective, too, of the military. I introduced the concept of civilian boards when I had ministerial responsibilities for the Navy and I am glad that it has been extended to all types of corrective establishments and glasshouses, as they used to be called, in the armed forces. It is important that a visiting board of civilians should know what goes on at these establishments.
If my right hon. Friend is given the leave of the House to reply to the debate, I hope that he will refer to the rebuilding which is taking place, at long last, at Colchester. When the rebuilding is completed, those who come within the armed forces' disciplinary procedures will be able to be placed in corrective training in sensible conditions instead of the extremely adverse conditions which have existed. It seems that we are now to see the last of the Nissan huts. I hope that my right hon. Friend will summarise the progress that has been made. The establishment is intended to provide mild punishment and, more importantly, the rehabilitation of those who are disciplined.
I had the privilege of leading the first parliamentary delegation to the Falkland Islands after the confrontation with the Argentines. I was vastly impressed by what I saw. We have a moderately large military force stationed on the Falklands. The members of the force are kept extraordinarily busy and I understand that there is a low rate of crime, so called, among our forces and little contravention of military discipline. I understand that the less serious matters are dealt with on the spot. If there are more serious contraventions, are those concerned sent back to Britain for a court martial? What system is applied for our forces in that remote part of the south Atlantic?
I conclude as I began by saying that we are very lucky that the number of cases in the armed forces which have to be brought within the ambit of the measure that we are considering is remarkably low. We are very lucky in the quality of our armed forces, and that statement cannot be expressed too often in this House.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
This is a disciplinary order and most of the debate has been about the important details of discipline, but perhaps I might remind the House why we have this order and procedure, and refer to what would happen if we did not pass the order.
273 The order says very clearly in article 1 that, unless the order is passed, the discipline of the armed forces will expire on 31 August 1984; in other words, on 1 September other ranks would not have to obey the non-commissioned officers, non-commissioned officers would not have to obey their officers, and officers would have no power whatever. It is against that background that I want to discuss the order.
Going back over the history—the clock is being put back so quickly that it is perhaps worth while reminding ourselves of it—this House had many conflicts about the desire of the Executive to maintain a standing Army. Some of the earlier conflicts—we remind schoolchildren of them when they come to the House—were about the struggles of Parliament not to pay for wars that the King wanted. Indeed, the first power and control of the armed forces was a power and control exercised by the purse, by refusing to vote Supply.
The first standing Army was established by Oliver Cromwell, whose statue stands outside the House, and Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army played a notable part in a particular period of our history. After the end of the Commonwealth period, Charles II disbanded the standing Army and set up a household brigade—from which the Coldstream Guards emerged—to protect the monarch personally. After that, James II, who succeeded him, began to build up a standing Army again, and it reached the size of 20,000 before the Glorious Revolution of 1688–9. [Interruption.]Conservative Members who will celebrate the victory of William of Orange must also remember that he was a King invited by Parliament to assume the throne.
It was one of the principles of the Bill of Rights of 1689 that there would be a second control of the armed forces —not only the control of Supply but the control of the discipline of the armed forces. The reason why we have an annual order is that Parliament wants, even now, to protect itself against the possibility that there might be a resumption of military control. That is why the order is before us now.
When I was first elected to the House—I do not think I have spoken on this matter for 30 years—there was a full Act of Parliament that went through every year, called the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill. The Bill had its First Reading, Second Reading, Committee stage and Report stage in both Houses of Parliament in order to review the discipline of the armed forces.
When they hear about Parliament, children are told that one of the great powers of the House of Commons is that it controls the purse and the sword. That is one of the bases upon which we are held to be a parliamentary democracy. Why, then, raise the matter now in a fundamental sense?
I am not disagreeing with anything that my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) said about the problems of drug abuse, capital punishment, courts martial, and so on. But I am raising this question because I think the time has come when Parliament should be a bit more candid about the safeguard which it claims to have. We do have a standing Army in Britain which is not subject to annual approval by Parliament: it is the American Army. [Interruption.]Hon. Gentlemen may not like it, but the reality is that if anybody—[Interruption.] I think that I have established the validity of my point. It is that, if people go to one of the air bases which the 274 Americans occupy, they will find it surrounded by British troops, and a thin line of Army policemen, whose disciplinary code we can terminate if we wish.
But inside the bases is an army of 30,000 people whose disciplinary code and whose power to make war we in Parliament do not control. It is worthwhile when we go through the annual ritual of patting ourselves on the back to recognise that the objectives of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 have been totally neutered.
We have another army in Britain which is not subject to any form of parliamentary control over its discipline. I refer to the national police force that has been set up —[Interruption.]I must be scoring many successes if Conservative Members have so little regard for the traditional rights of Parliament that they object to a reference to the fact that we are not required to pass any instrument on an annual basis which would deal with the disciplinary powers of the police as there are for the Army.
I am coming to the relationship of the Army and the police. The police force today is much bigger than the standing army that was disbanded in 1688, they are better armed than the army of 1688 and we have no control over them. [Interruption.]Although it embarrasses Conservative Members to have it said, many of the claims that we make about parliamentary supervision of the armed forces have now been fatally eroded by the presence of a foreign army and of a domestic army not under the control of Parliament.
The Army is now being used in support of the police in the mining dispute; I wish to put that on the record because it is the crucial matter. When the dispute began, I asked the Leader of the House——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. The right hon. Gentleman is straying a long way from the matter before the House. We are debating whether the draft Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 1984 shall be approved. I hope that he will relate his remarks more closely to those measures.
§ Mr. Benn
I am relating them directly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for I shall invite the House to oppose the continuation of those measures because the Army is now being used for intervention in a domestic industrial dispute. That is my reason for speaking, and I must be entitled to be heard on the subject.
I rehearse to the House, the history of the matter. At the beginning of the dispute, early in April, I asked the Leader of the House whether the armed forces had been alerted. The right hon. Gentleman replied no, that they had not. I then wrote to the Prime Minister, repeating the question, and I asked whether any members of the armed forces were in police uniforms, what their role was and what supporting role were they taking.
I did not receive a reply for a fortnight and I had to telephone No. 10 to remind the Prime Minister to reply. Then I received a skilfully drafted letter saying that there had been no "authorisation" for the armed forces to be used, that police did not need to display numbers on their uniforms, because that was not a statutory requirement, but that the armed forces were being used in a supporting role, I think in catering and transport. We then saw pictures in the newspapers——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am following the right hon. Gentleman's argument closely. If he is bringing his 275 comments to the point where the question of military discipline is a factor in the situation to which he is referring, I hope that he will do that quickly.
§ Mr. Benn
The battle to control the armed forces by this House was one of the great conflicts of the 17th century. If you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I cannot advance reasons, based on the conduct of the armed forces why their disciplinary code should not be renewed, then I must say, with great respect, that you are denying the opportunity to debate the order, the purpose of which is precisely to give Parliament a chance every year to decide whether it wants a standing Army. I am advancing in an historical way, and respectfully, an argument that the armed forces are now being used for domestic repression in respect of the mining dispute.
The Prime Minister released her letter to the press. Not a single newspaper printed it. Why? Because the letter got as near as could be to admitting that the armed forces were being used in support of the police. Photographs also exist of sergeants in Army uniform engaged in police actions vis-à-vis the miners.
I come to the reason why I raise the matter. First, we do not control the American standing army, secondly we do not control the police army through an annual disciplinary procedure. But primarily I raise the matter because the use by the Government of the armed forces in the mining dispute forces me and other hon. Members to fall back upon an ancient safeguard—we are not obliged to renew the disciplinary code for the armed forces.
If the Minister can give an absolutely clear and categorical assurance that no members of the armed forces covered by this order have been in any way involved in the dispute, either in police uniforms or in a supporting role, that is a different matter. But he will be hard put to do so, because the Prime Minister in her letter admitted the involvement. It is therefore open to me, and other hon. Members who will go along with me, to register our ancient constitutional right to say that the dangers of a standing army have reappeared, and that we are not prepared this year to renew those disciplinary codes.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
It is difficult to follow the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) who took us characteristically on a history tour. He explained how the measure before us goes to the roots of our parliamentary system. He also gave a characteristically conspiratorial view of the world in which we live. I noted with interest that he recommends that we vote against the order. That would be deeply irresponsible. That is not the course recommended by his Front Bench.
The business of bringing the measure back to the House for review each year extends beyond the mere tradition which the right hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out. It has a practical significance because it ensures that the disciplinary codes keep in touch with changing circumstances.
The relationships between the armed services and the population are, at least in some measure, a direct result of the sensitivity that exists between the two. I recall when I was a young, raw marine officer having to turn up at disciplinary hearings to support marines with whom I served. I had to give character evidence on their behalf. 276 One day I was before the captain's table on board one of Her Majesty's ships. I can recall the captain sentencing the young man concerned. I think that I can quote his words exactly. He said, "Marine X, I award you 28 days' stoppage of pay and if there had been a shred of evidence against you I would have put you inside." One is glad to note that the discipline Acts within the services have moved somewhat further than that. My experience of discipline and the action of the Acts within the services now is that they are much more adequately and carefully applied. It is becaue the Acts come before us for renewal annually that that is the case.
I want to touch briefly on three subjects. The first was raised by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). We are entering the run-up now to a quinquennial Act which will come back before us. That is, as he rightly said, only two years away. If the Minister catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and is given leave to reply, he should tell us the general outline of the reforms that the Ministry of Defence would wish to see brought into effect. We should begin to determine what changes will be made. Those recommendations should now begin to emerge.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman also touched on the recommendations in respect of young offenders. I shall not repeat what he said, except to say that I reinforce his point.
Lastly, I want to touch on the subject of courts martial. That was also mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, but his point needs some reinforcement. To allow courts martial to be in the hands of only commissioned officers is an unfortunate anachronism from the past. The right hon. Gentleman particularly asked to what extent Army, Naval and Royal Air Force officers receive training in the law. As he rightly said, a courts martial determines not only matters of fact but matters of law as well. That training is quite comprehensive and in many senses adequate. The standing of many of our non-commissioned officers, in particular many of the warrant officers, in the services, is such that they can and should properly take part in those proceedings. He and other hon. Members will know as well as I that it is frequently the case that officers who sit on courts martial can have recently joined the services at the age of 20, 21 or 22 with no broad experience of life. I should have thought that the people who sit on those courts martial could as adequately have been those warrant officers and senior NCOs with a broad knowledge of service life and a capacity to participate in those equally properly.
The Select Committee has suggested a review and I hope that the Minister will be clear whether that review will go ahead and when we might see some reaction to it.
§ Dr. Godman
I think that the hon. Gentleman's service experience is more recent than mine, but is it not the case that an increasing number of officers in our armed forces are ex-NCOs or former senior warrant officers? If they are considered good enough to be given a commission, surely on that basis, apart from all else, they should be considered good enough to sit on courts martial?
§ Mr. Ashdown
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He reinforces my point. I do not believe that the conferring of Her Majesty's commission upon somebody also confers upon him unique wisdom which was not there beforehand such as to qualify him to take part in a courts martial. I only wish that I could agree that there are an increasing number of promotions from the ranks of the sort that he 277 is talking about. Assuredly, the point is correct. There is a place now at courts martial for senior NCOs and particularly warrant officers. The time has come to review that rather curious anachronism which excludes them from a key process.
May I finish more or less where I began with the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield? Although I disagreed with almost every word he said, one point upon which he touched does bear some reinforcement. I do not agree with him that it would be appropriate that other forces in the country should as a matter of internal discipline obey any other internal military discipline system than their own. I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the American Army in Britain should in some way be answerable to the House for its internal discipline.
However, a matter of some importance is one on which I shall touch in a ten-minute Bill in a few weeks' time, so I shall not labour it now. It is that visiting forces, especially American forces in Britain, are immune not only from our own service discipline Acts but from our civil law as well. The immunities granted to them, which are unique in any NATO country, provide them with immunity while on duty based in Britain from both our civil and our criminal law. That is a matter which perhaps is not proper for us to consider now, but it will be in the very near future. It is an anachronism which must be changed.
There is no reason why we should not agree with the passage of the order. To do otherwise would be totally irresponsible. I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with the matters that I have raised, but I can assure him that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will support the order.
§ Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) in opposing the continuation of these discipline Acts. I do so because I see them as an attempt to separate the armed forces from the rest of society. That will be difficult, bearing in mind the fact that the overwhelming majority of members of the rank and file of the armed forces are made up of ordinary working-class lads and lasses, in many cases escaping from the pressures of mass unemployment and seeking refuge in the permanent positions of work in the armed forces because of the actions of this Government in creating unemployment. When such young people enter the armed forces they enter a new world of discipline and a rigid, class-oriented group which these Acts are designed to bolster. They are designed to isolate and cut off those young workers from the rest of society.
We might be forgiven for asking why that is necessary if the only enemies faced by the armed forces, as the Government's representatives, were external enemies. We have seen in the last couple of years, especially during the Falklands campaign, that, with its control of all the national newspapers, the Tory party is adept at whipping up nationalism and at getting support for Britain against an external enemy. If that is possible, it should not be necessary to separate the armed forces in quite such a dramatic way.
Unfortunately, the Prime Minister does not see matters in that way. In a speech reported some months ago in a document issued by the publicity unit of the Ministry of 278 Defence, she spoke of the role of the armed forces and actually put the external enemy as the second reason why it was important to have discipline in and to maintain control of the armed forces.
We know that from practical experience. We have seen interventions not only in the miners' dispute but in that of the dustmen in Glasgow and during the Fire Brigades Union dispute in the late 1970s.
The order is designed to reinforce the discipline and isolation of ordinary working-class lads and lasses in the armed forces because of the increasing danger in the 1980s and 1990s in Britain of class solidarity between the brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts and fathers and mothers of those on picket lines outside the armed forces and those who escape massive unemployment by joining the armed forces. It raises a question about the unwillingness in the future of members of the armed forces to be used as strike breakers. That is why, in the Government's view, the order is so necessary.
If this place is designed, as I am often told it is, to uphold the democratic rights of working people—and the actions of this Government show that to be at least a questionable definition of Parliament—we should have overwhelming support for our opposition to the order and in favour of the extension of basic democratic rights to members of the armed forces.
Working people have won many rights by struggle. Later they have been legitimised by the House after those struggles. Many of those rights are under threat. But most of the democratic rights enjoyed by working people are not available to members of the armed forces because of these discipline Acts and the way in which they are upheld and enforced. There is no right to free speech. There is no right to a free press. There is no right to organise. There is no right to strike. There is no right to support the political party of their choice. Under instructions issued by the Ministry a few months ago, even the right of attendance —out of uniform and in their own time—of marches, demonstrations or political meetings held by CND and other organisations has been withdrawn by the Secretary of State. Finally, there is no right to negotiate and argue for improvements in pay and conditions in the armed forces.
The Tories do not want any extension of those rights because it would begin to break down the class system on which they rely for the maintenance of discipline in the armed forces. Any analysis of the social, educational and financial background of senior officers shows that the overwhelming majority come from public schools such as Eton and Harrow, from Oxford and Cambridge universities, and so on. [Interruption.]As the din opposite suggests that some Tory Members do not believe me, I shall illustrate my argument with examples of what has happened to pay in the armed forces since the Tories came to power.
In the past five years the pay of policemen—because they are at the sharp end of industrial disputes under the Tories—has risen by 119.6 per cent. The situation in the Army shows the class system in operation. Majors, generals, brigadiers, colonels and others right at the top have had a real increase in pay of between 8 and 12 per cent. but privates, lance-corporals and corporals—the ordinary squaddies at the bottom—have had a decrease in real pay of 5 per cent. Why has police pay increased so dramatically and why have pay differentials widened in the armed forces? It is because disciplinary orders of this kind 279 give senior officers the power to prevent discussion, negotiation or action by the rank and file to improve their pay and conditions.
If the rank and file organise or request negotiations or withdraw their labour in pursuit of better pay or conditions, they may fall foul of various sections of the Act. Section 29A, for example, provides that failure to attend for duty may lead to imprisonment for up to two years following court martial. Then there is section 31 relating to mutiny, which in Britain in 1984 still carries the death penalty. Section 33, on insubordination, includes the use of insubordinate language. Incidentally, I note that 80 per cent. of the arrests in the miners' dispute in the past 17 weeks have been for breaches of the peace, obstruction of the highway or obstruction of a police officer, and I have witnessed many instances in which insubordinate language — the use of the word "scab" or other descriptions of those who have tried to break the strike—has been used as a reason for such arrests.
In the Army that is tightened still further by section 33, under which insubordinate language used by a rank and file soldier to a senior officer can result in imprisonment. Finally, section 36, on disobedience generally, also provides for two years' imprisonment after court martial. Those sections could and would be brought into play if rank and file service men or women tried to negotiate or to withdraw their labour in pursuance of better pay and conditions. That is why the Government want these Acts to be continued.
It is an inalienable and unquestionable right in and of itself for working people in whatever sphere to be members of a trade union. If that is not sufficient argument for the Tories, I remind them that in Holland 30,000 soldiers belong to a trade union, in Germany 100,000 soldiers belong to a trade union and in Sweden there is not just a trade union organisation but a soldiers' parliament. There are plenty of precedents in Europe for extending the rights of trade union organisation. Labour Members and the Transport and General Workers Union and other trade unions argued this under the Labour Government, and I associate myself with that call.
I expect severe opposition from the Government when the vote comes tonight on the order, not for spurious or comical reasons as suggested by the jokes passing back and forth between hon. Members opposite, but because there are in the Government — this is a back-handed compliment—one or two far-sighted people who look to the next five, 10 and 15 years and have learnt the lessons of history. They think, "What will we need the armed forces for in the next 10 or 15 years?"
They know that the boom of the 1950s and the 1960s is decisively over and that the Government have destroyed one fifth of all our factories and put 5 million people on the dole and 15 million on or below supplementary benefit level. There is an unprecedented instability in British society, much evidenced by the 17 weeks during which almost 1 per cent. of the population—the miners, their wives and their children—have been prepared to defy the Coal Board and the Government. That is understood by some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who are more frequently ex-members of the Cabinet than current members. They look into the future with a bit of acumen 280 and foresee that sharpening, and realise the need to strengthen and maintain the disciplinary codes within the armed forces.
There are the international links in terms of what happened in Greece in the 1960s, what happened in Chile in 1973 and in Latin America, Asia and Africa. In the final analysis, the armed forces have been called into play to defend private property and private profit. In the next decade and a half we shall not be immune in Britain to the social pressures that have been evidenced in other continents in the past few years. That is why Tories want disciplinary orders like this to go through. They realise increasingly that there will be a need for the armed forces to be used against the dustmen, the fire brigade or generally against working people, to maintain profit and the capitalist system, or for the purpose that they have been used in Northern Ireland. Therefore, they need that control.
I shall finish with this example. After the declaration of UDI by the then Rhodesian Government in the mid-1960s the then Labour Government considered whether to push for military intervention in Rhodesia. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) has referred in newspaper accounts since that event toseditious muttering among very senior generals.He then, apparently,called in the ring-leader and gave him my views of his behaviour and that was the end of that.That may or may not have been all that happened in that example of potential mutiny at the top of the armed forces regarding the Government of the day and their decision about the use of the armed forces.
The Tory strategists, however, consider that the more likely implications for the future are of the opposite example coming about. If the Army were to be more fully used against the miners on picket lines in the next few weeks, or in other industrial disputes in future, there would be the real risk of workers within the Army seeing brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, mothers and fathers opposite them on picket lines and refusing to carry out orders. It is for that reason that the Acts must be maintained by this Tory Government.
I would argue that the House should be looking to an extension of democratic discussion and debate, of democratic organisation and trade union rights in the armed forces. For those reasons, I shall oppose in the Lobby tonight the continuation of the Acts.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North West)
I should like — [Interruption.] I hope that you would remind hon. Members sitting on the Cross Benches, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that they are not supposed to make comments from a sedentary position or, indeed, from any other position.
We are attempting to discuss the orders from this side against the barracking from the disciples of Onan on the Tory Benches that we have come to expect.
The disciplinary codes affect the Armed Forces very seriously indeed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) mentioned the number of members of the Armed Forces who had unfortunately become involved in drug abuse. It is, of course, regrettable that, given the duties that many members of the Armed Forces are required to perform, the use of drugs has become almost common place. We know that the level of drug 281 abuse on American bases in this country has reached alarming proportions. I hope that the Minister will give some indication that he and the Government are aware of the level of drug abuse in the British Armed Forces. How many military personnel are involved in taking narcotics? What steps are the Government taking to cure them of those unfortunate habits, and how many disciplinary cases have there been?
That is very important for one reason, and one reason only. Given the present level of weaponry, the thought of British or American personnel being in contact with nuclear weapons—despite the necessary precautions that we are assured are taken—[Interruption.] I am sorry that Conservative Members do not find such matters particularly serious. I should not wish to detain them from a speedy return to the bars if that is where they want to go. However, some of us are rather concerned that there could be British or American personnel who have contact with nuclear weapons in this country whose minds are influenced by drugs. I believe that some sign of awareness of that problem on the part of the Government might ease the minds of many people. I hope that the Minister will direct his attention to the points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)
What is the hon. Gentleman's estimate of the number of Soviet military personnel in control of nuclear weapons on the other side who might be affected by alcoholism due to the consumption of vodka?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman will realise on reflection that he has cast aspersions on other hon. Members and that is not in order.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must take note of what I said. It is not in order to cast aspersions on other hon. Members. I hope that he will rephrase his remarks.
§ Mr. Banks
I merely wish to point out that, unless Conservative Members are prepared to take the matter seriously, Opposition Members will draw their own conclusions as to why. However, in order to proceed to my next point, I shall, of course, withdraw any conclusions that the sensitive souls on the other side of the Chamber might have drawn from some of the innocent comments that I made.
The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) asked about the influence of drugs or alcohol on members of the Soviet Union's armed forces. Obviously, I have very little knowledge of that. However, I am not so concerned, because as far as I am aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and no doubt you will correct me if I am wrong—there are not many bases in Britain that are staffed and manned by them. In those circumstances I am 282 more worried about those that are based on British soil, which is why I am directing my remarks to them. I took what the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire said seriously, if there was serious import in his intervention.
My next point about the use of armed services for civilian purposes was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist). When the Minister replies, will he tell the House how the disciplinary codes apply to members of the military, w ho are being used for civilian purposes, for example, members involved in industrial disputes? There has been much speculation in the newspapers about the number of members of the armed forces who are being used in the current miners' dispute. Until we receive a categorical assurance from the Minister that under no circumstances have members of the military been used in the miners' dispute, we shall continue to make the accusation because of the prima facie evidence for it.
§ Mr. Rob Hayward (Kingswood)
If the hon. Gentleman had been present in the House yesterday during Question Time on energy, he would have heard the Secretary of State for Energy give that assurance twice.
§ Mr. Banks
I am directing my remarks at the Minister for State for the Armed Forces, not at the Secretary of State for Energy. If he knows as little about his Department as the Secretary of State knows about his, his assurance is not worth anything.
At what level is the military involved in industrial disputes, whether the miners' dispute or another, and if they are involved, are they covered by the disciplinary codes that we are discussing? What level of training is undertaken within the armed forces now for their use in civilian disorders? I have tabled a question about that and look forward to the reply.
The Opposition feel that the military will be used increasingly to intervene in civilian matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East rightly said that the greatest threat to the British ruling class does not come from the Soviet Union but from civilian disorder and our people rising up against the Government's oppression and injustice. At that point the military will be forced on to the streets, not to deal with an external aggressor but a civilian population. Will the Minister tell the House to what extent that preparation is already going ahead and to what extent he has knowledge of it?
§ 1.3 am
§ Mr. Stanley
With leave of the House, I should like to reply to the points raised. I agree with the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) that our annual debate on this matter is not a waste of time. Many important issues stem from the primary legislation, and it is right that we should have the opportunity to consider them once a year. He referred initially to the recommendations of the Select Committee's report about young service offenders, and asked whether we had a revised figure for the numbers of such service men. The estimate in the Select Committee's report is fewer than 25. He asked whether the introduction of the armed services youth training scheme was likely to make any significant difference to that figure.
I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman a figure different from the one contained in the Select Committee's report. Given the relatively small numbers of those under training 283 in the armed services youth training scheme and the fact that those trainees can withdraw rapidly from the scheme on 14 days' notice if they are not happy with life in the three services, I do not believe that there is any reason to think that the introduction of the scheme has altered that figure.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked what the Government's view was about the normal sources of advice given in the civilian courts when young people were before them. That matter is referred to in paragraph 7 of the Select Committee report. We take the matter seriously. He referred to the Royal Navy, which has made use of its existing welfare organisation — the naval personal and family service—to prepare social inquiry reports on all offenders appearing before courts martial where the court so desires. The Army and the Royal Air Force, having a much larger number of courts martial and no similar welfare organisations, have been considering ways of providing a like service, taking into account constraints on manpower. No final decisions have been reached. We are currently considering ways of presenting to the courts involved additional information on the background and circumstances of offenders, which is not necessarily provided under the current system. I hope that by the time we reach the next quinquennial legislation, shall be able to say in more detail how the other two services will provide the additional background information when young offenders go before the courts.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the death penalty and the definition of "the enemy". I assure him that we have begun a careful review of the term "the enemy" with a view to deciding whether a better and more specific definition is possible. That is a difficult task, and the right hon. Gentleman said that, when one comes to examine changes in the definition, one can create almost as many difficulties as one appears to solve.
The right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) spoke about the composition of courts martial. I can confirm that we have that matter under consideration. There appears to be a distinct lack of any body of opinion in the services— including noncommissioned ranks—in favour of a change from the present system.
The important subject of drug abuse was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we had figures later than the ones he quoted. I should like to refer him to the text of the letter that I wrote to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) which is reproduced in a written answer that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement gave on 1 May 1984. It contains a fairly full statement of our current assessment of the degree of drug abuse within the services. He will see there the figures for the years 1981, 1982 and 1983 in respect of each of the three services. In view of some of the comments that have been made about the scale of the problem, I should like to highlight them for the House.
The Royal Navy figures are 58 for 1981, 27 for 1982 and 67 for 1983. The Royal Air Forces figures are 38 for 1981, 29 for 1982 and 28 for 1983. Those figures are for investigations which have resulted in proceedings being taken. The Army's figures are on a different basis. They 284 show the total number of cases investigated, including those which do not result in proceedings. The figures are 169 for 1981, 143 for 1982 and 168 for 1983.
I quote those figures because they show two things. First, they show that over the last three years, taking the overall pattern, there has been no significant increase in the number of cases of drug abuse—which, of course, is welcome. Secondly, they show that what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said about drug abuse being commonplace—that is the word he used—has no statistical basis. Those are microscopic figures in relation to the total number of service men involved. It is a gross misrepresentation of the services to suggest that drug abuse is in any way commonplace.
However, as I am sure both sides of the House would agree, exposure to drugs is a matter that all three services take seriously. We would wish to try to eradicate this problem as quickly as we can. Indeed, in the last few months I have asked all three services and their principal personnel officers to take a fresh look at drug abuse education to try to tackle it at the preventative end. All three services are taking that seriously, and will be making renewed efforts to draw to the attention of service men the dangers to their health and to their careers that arise from getting involved in any way in drugs.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) for his comments about the importance of service discipline, and for the tribute that he rightly paid to the high standards of behaviour that exist in the services. He asked for information on the Colchester military corrective training centre. That project is well under way, and we expect it to be completed next year. I hope that that will be a significant military establishment in his constituency, and I am grateful to him for the support that he gives in his constituency capacity to the important service interests beyond the corrective training establishment in his constituency. He referred to the position in the Falklands, and I reinforce what he said. Despite the distance from home and the fact that these are unaccompanied tours, our service men have conducted themselves exceptionally well in the difficult circumstances in the Falklands. Touch wood, we have had few problems. This reflects the high standards that exist.
As to the distribution of disciplinary cases, the arrangements in the Falklands are the same as elsewhere. Normally speaking, disciplinary cases will be dealt with by those in commend on the spot, but there are certain arrangements for any particularly serious cases to be referred back to the United Kingdom and to be dealt with in this country.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) gave us what I might describe as an idiosyncratic but, I think, characteristic speech which started off with a history lesson. I felt, as he was reciting the origins of this order in relation to the 17th century, that that was more or less in accord with my recollection of the history of that time. I found myself agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman. However, it was too good to be true. When he switched from the 17th century to the present day, he produced a travesty of a description of the role of the Americans in this country, and of the police. He appears to think of the Americans and the police as forming an internal standing army which is subversive, out of control and about to take over the country.
285 The right hon. Gentleman asked specifically about military involvement in the miners' dispute. The position is as stated in the reply which the right hon. Gentleman received from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman tried to dress up that reply as the sensational revelation of some form of military involvement. However, he gave his position away completely when he commented that the Prime Minister's letter had been unreported. If the Prime Minister had confirmed the right hon. Gentleman's deepest prejudices and had stated that the military establishment had been brought to bear, the letter would hardly have been unreported.
The only form of military support was described in the letter. Some of the splendid members of the police force who are having to spend much time away from home—often at considerable personal inconvenience—have to be accommodated and catered for in service accommodation. That is the extent of the involvement of the services.
§ Mr. Stanley
I wish to reply to the points made in the debate, to which the hon. Gentleman did not contribute.
The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) said that he would vote against the order. He based his decision on a view of the armed forces which—having seen much of the armed forces myself in the past year—I found it impossible to recognise. According to the hon. Gentleman, the lads and lasses, as he terms them, of the armed forces are insular and class-ridden and a hotbed of Socialist discontent. The sharing of hardship, danger and sacrifice in the Falklands war give the lie to that view of the armed services.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 82, Noes 5286
|Division No. 390]||[1.17 am|
|Amess, David||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Good lad, Alastair|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Gregory, Conal|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Harvey, Robert|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Hawksley, Warren|
|Burt, Alistair||Hayes, J.|
|Cash, William||Hayward, Robert|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Cope, John||Hooson, Tom|
|Dover, Den||Howard, Michael|
|Eyre, Sir Reginald||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Forth, Eric||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Fox, Marcus||Hunt, David (Wirral)|
|Freeman, Roger||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Gale, Roger||King, Roger (B'ham N'field)|
|Knight, Gregory (Derby N)||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Knowles, Michael||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Lang, Ian||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Speller, Tony|
|Lester, Jim||Stanley, John|
|Lord, Michael||Stern, Michael|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|Major, John||Taylor, Rt Hon John David|
|Malins, Humfrey||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Mather, Carol||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Tracey, Richard|
|Merchant, Piers||Trippier, David|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Nelson, Anthony||Wheeler, John|
|Neubert, Michael||Whitfield, John|
|Newton, Tony||Whitney, Raymond|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Wilkinson, John|
|Norris, Steven||Wood, Timothy|
|Osborn, Sir John||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Page, Sir John (Harrow W)|
|Powley, John||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Raffan, Keith||Mr. Tim Sainsbury and Mr. Archie Hamilton.|
|Robinson, Mark (N'port W)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Nellist, David||Mr. Eddie Loyden and Mr. Tony Banks.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That the draft Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 19th June, be approved.