§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Jeremy Hanley)
I beg to move,That the draft Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 1993, which was laid before this House on 26 May 1993, be approved.The purpose of the order is to continue in force for a further year the Army and Air Force Acts 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957, which together provide the statutory basis for discipline in the three services. The House will be aware that it is a long-established practice for service discipline to be fully reviewed every five years by means of the consideration of an Armed Forces Bill; and for the disciplinary code as then enacted to be reviewed annually in the intervening years by an Order in Council, which is itself approved by resolution of each House. The House will also be aware that an, Armed Forces Bill was considered and duly enacted in 1991. That Act also endorsed the process of annual continuation thereafter by Order in Council. Therefore, I am asking the House tonight to give its annual renewal to the discipline Acts by approving the order.
I should now like to bring the House up to date with the work going forward pursuant to some of the main recommendations of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, on which my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement addressed the House a year ago.
The Select Committee recommended that the Ministry of Defence should examine the terms of enlistment for under 18-year-olds to make it easier for them to leave, if they wished to do so. A thorough review of this issue has been undertaken. There is no evidence of wid.epread dissatisfaction among under 18-year-olds about their terms of service and the advice that they receive on their rights to claim discharge. Any extension of a minor's right to leave would cause real manning difficulties for the services. Nevertheless, the services have reviewed their position. The Navy already had provision to allow discretion to discharge under-18-year-olds who are unable to settle to service life. The other two services have adopted a similar provision.
Those arrangements are in addition to the statutory rights of discharge. Recruiting staff are meticulous in ensuring that recruits and their parents or guardians fully understand the commitment being entered into; and, of course, recruits under 18 require their parents' or guardians' written consent to enlist. They receive a notice paper setting out their terms of enlistment and the earliest date on which they can leave. In addition, the leaflet "Your Rights and Responsibilities", which is given to all new recruits, has been amended to include a note on the right to claim discharge. The leaflet was reissued last autumn.
The Select Committee also suggested that there should be a presumption that under-18s should not be sent on active service overseas unless there was an overriding requirement for their skills or the threat to national security that was sufficient to warrant the conscription of minors. The services' deployment of minors is broadly consistent with the Committee's suggestion. However, we must remember that under-18s are deployed as members of formed units. They have trained and worked together and each makes an important contribution to the efficiency 122 and effectiveness of his or her entire unit. To withdraw them at a crucial time could adversely affect the operational effectiveness of the unit.
On the question of ethnic monitoring, in May 1992 my predecessor announced the decision to introduce in-service monitoring. That will involve the distribution of ethnic origin questionnaires to all serving personnel and the analysis of the completed questionnaires. It is intended to begin the survey later this year.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
The Minister might not be able to answer my question, but does he perchance know the rank of the most senior black officer serving in the British armed forces?
§ Mr. Hanley
No, but I look forward to meeting him or her—[Interruption.] I am giving an honest answer. I do not know, but I shall find out as soon as I get back to the Ministry of Defence. It is a good point to raise because it is distressing that more people from Afro-Caribbean and Indian backgrounds do not join the forces. We intend to continue the ethnic monitoring of applications to the armed forces. It is disappointing that more people from ethnic minorities—who still represent only about 1 per cent. of the total armed forces—do not apply. I hope that the measures we take to encourage people from the ethnic minorities will be effective.
We remain committed to a range of measures aimed at encouraging entry from ethnic minority groups. They include the increased use of black recruiters—role models who I hope will instil additional confidence; better representation of ethnic minority service personnel in recruiting literature; special training for recruiters; the production of brochures in ethnic. minority languages to target parents; and the development of contacts with ethnic minority community leaders. I hope that those measures will help.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The Minister knows that I have time for his views on this matter and that I am not being flippant in asking questions about it. We must go further than what he has said. It is not just a question of trying to encourage more people from ethnic minorities into the armed forces. We must try to ensure that they stay there by eliminating any form of racism within them.
§ Mr. Hanley
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he did not think that I gave him a flippant reply. I gave him an honest reply. I hope that I have shown that we take the matter seriously. We have set out a whole range of initiatives that I hope will help to deal with the problem.
The armed forces are fully integrated organisations and no discrimination is tolerated. Any complaint of racial abuse or discrimination will be thoroughly investigated and, if substantiated, appropriate action will be taken against those found to be involved. The Select Committee recommended that the MOD should consider how best to identify incidents of racial harassment in the armed forces and to keep records accordingly. The Army and the RAF now maintain separate records of complaints involving a racial element and work is continuing in the Royal Navy to identify a suitable method of recording such incidents.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
I remind the Minister that the chief of the American armed forces is Colin Powell, who is a black officer. We have nothing like him in this country. Will the Minister ensure that a promotional fast 123 stream is available to ethnic minorities? In the previous debate, the Minister referred to his excellent civil servants in the Ministry of Defence. Will he make sure that members of the ethnic minorities hold high positions in the civil service also, within his Ministry?
§ Mr. Hanley
I will most definitely do that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that there are members of the ethnic minorities within the armed forces. It is still a low figure, but I hope that the initiatives that I described tonight will help to redress that situation. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there are representatives of almost each and every ethnic minority within the Ministry of Defence. I stress that we are against any discrimination, which is not tolerated in either the forces or the Ministry. I assure the Select Committee that progress has been made with its recommendation.
Another particularly nasty problem is bullying. A very serious view is taken of bullying, and it is generally made clear throughout the services that bullying and ill treatment will not be permitted. Any allegation or complaint of ill treatment is properly investigated, and, if substantiated, disciplinary action will be taken against the perpetrators. Every effort will be made to eradicate any unacceptable behaviour of that kind.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
The Minister seems to be saying that a clear complaint must be made at every level. Is he satisfied that the opportunities for ordinary members of the forces of both sexes to make formal complaints is such that they will not be dissuaded from doing so by being encouraged to drop such accusations before they are recorded?
§ Mr. Hanley
I understand the hon. Lady's point. It is important to keep the procedures constantly under review, and to make sure that individuals do not feel threatened against making complaints. The procedures are regularly reviewed.
Another issue dealt with in the Select Committee's report was homosexuality in the armed forces. The Committee acknowledged that the armed forces should not be required to accept homosexuals, but recommended that homosexual activity of a kind that is legal in civilian law should no longer constitute an offence under service law.
That recommendation was accepted, and that change in the law means that a service man who engages in homosexual activity that is legal in civilian law will not be prosecuted under service law but will be administratively discharged. However, that change will not prevent the prosecution under service law of a service man who has committed an otherwise legal homosexual act where the grounds for prosecution were, for example, that the act was to the prejudice of good order and discipline or that it caused military efficiency to be undermined.
The necessary amendment to the law will be made as soon as the legislative programme allows.
§ Mr. Hanley
Yes, that was said last year—but any delay in amending the appropriate legislation does not affect our agreement to the Select Committee's recommendation. Accordingly, action has been taken to follow that 124 recommendation administratively until such time as the law is changed. We will not act upon it until the law is changed.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe(Mid-Kent)
I am reassured by my hon. Friend's remarks, but the evidence of recent months is to the contrary. It appears that members of the armed services who, for example, have a homosexual relationship well away from any Army establishment are nevertheless in grave danger of being drummed out of the forces. That is clearly contrary to the spirit in which the original undertaking was given.
§ Mr. Hanley
We have adhered to the Select Committee's recommendation. We have stated that we will change the law in the light of that recommendation, and I am confirming that tonight.
The services continue to believe strongly that the special conditions of service life preclude acceptance of homosexuals and homosexual behaviour. Service personnel, both on and off duty, unavoidably live in close quarters with their colleagues, sometimes under severe stress. Such conditions, and the need for absolute trust and confidence within and between all ranks, require the potentially disruptive influence of homosexual relationships and practices to be excluded.
§ Mr. Archie Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell)
It was clear to me that the Select Committee intended that no one should have a criminal record because he had been discharged for committing a homosexual act. However, there is still no doubt that anyone indulging in such an act, whether inside or outside a military camp, will be discharged for so doing.
§ Mr. Hanley
I agree with my right hon. Friend; I am grateful for his intervention.
The Committee recommended that a timetable be given for the closure of the Royal Navy detention quarters and the redeployment of resources to the military corrective training centre. An investment appraisal which examined the possible closure of RNDQs and the transfer of their function to the MCTC has been completed. It demonstrates that significant saving would result from transfer, but closure of the RNDQs still depends on the availability of facilities to accept all naval personnel currently sentenced to detention. No firm timetable has been announced yet.
The Committee also recommended that service courts should ensure that sentencing is equitable between the sexes. Sentencing guidance has been amended, and other relevant regulations are being amended where appropriate.
Finally, the Committee recommended that the Government provide parliamentary time within the next five years for legislation to consolidate service law. I am pleased to say that work is well in hand with the Law Commission, and that it should be completed within the time scale.
I pay tribute to the professionalism and dedication of our armed services. Whether in support of NATO or in other tasks, they have an essential part to play in safeguarding our interests and freedoms. The high quality of our armed forces is due in no small part to their surprisingly good morale. In a military environment, a fair and equitable system of discipline is essential to help to preserve that morale, and to ensure that the high level of efficiency and effectiveness that characterise the three 125 services is maintained. That is what the service discipline Acts seek to maintain, and I therefore invite the House to approve the order.
§ Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)
Perhaps it is easier to describe exactly what we are discussing without being patronising. Every five years, we have what is called a quinquennial review of the Army discipline Acts: we had one last year. In each of the four intervening years we debate them and present our views, but we do not normally table amendments.
Opposition Members will not vote against the Acts; if we did so and there was a possibility that we would win, there would be no discipline or morale in the armed forces. Tonight, we are having an exchange of views rather than anything else. Let me exchange a few views with my new opposite number, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces.
The first concerns capital punishment. When the Armed Forces Bill was debated in 1991, the only issue on which the House divided was a new clause tabled in Committe. It was not a Select Committee, as the Minister said; it was a hybrid Committee—both a Select Committee and a Standing Committee. The only issue on which the Committee divided was whether we should have capital punishment. The Committee decided, by means of a new clause, to remove the death penalty for the five remaining capital offence in service law—as opposed to general civilian law. They are serious misconduct in action, obstructing operations, mutiny or incitement, failure to suppress a mutiny and assisting the enemy.
Although we have been assured that the death penalty does not apply in peacetime, and although we know that it has not been used for a purely military offence since 1946, the Opposition took the view that its retention for these specific offences was iniquitous and unjust. I said in Committee that, if the House wished to retain capital punishment as an ultimate sanction for the most heinous offences, the category of treason, as defined in civilian law, would be more than adequate: that there was no need to specify five offences.
The Opposition believe now, as we believed then, that it is an insult to the dedicated professionals who serve in our armed forces to argue that they need this additional threat hanging over their heads to ensure their disciplined conduct. Most. of our NATO allies regard such measures as unnecessary. I believe that our service personnel are more than equal to the best of our allies in NATO.
Let me give you an example, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If, tomorrow night, there were an attack by, say, the Provisional IRA on British service men, and one of the terrorists shot a British service man, he could not be hanged. He would not suffer the death penalty. If, however, during that attack one of our young soldiers panicked for three or four minutes and ran away, he could, under service law, be hanged.
Ministers will of course tell us that that would not happen, and that it has not happened since 1946. If it is not going to happen—if that young soldier would not have to be shot like a clog rather than hanged—why is it necessary to retain it in military law? Why do we face the paradox of a terrorist who cannot be executed for attacking British soldiers while a British soldier can be executed because he 126 panicked for two minutes, ran away and showed cowardice? That is the first issue we raised last year, and I ask the Minister to think about it again.
The second issue, which the Minister hinself raised, is the question of homosexuality. It is a popular question, because the President of the United States has raised it as regards the US armed forces. As I understood the interpretation of the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell of what was agreed in Committee, it was correct. It was an honest and concise statement. What the Committee agreed last year was a compromise: that we would decriminalise homosexual activity in the armed forces. I thought that we had also decriminalised homosexuality.
There is a distinction. The problem that the official Opposition face—I think that certain others do as well—is that in the British armed forces, so far as I can understand it, it is not homosexual practice but homosexuality itself that is the offence. Someone can be dismissed from the British armed forces for homosexuality, even if he does not practise it.
When I asked the general who commands the personnel side of the British armed forces whether it was possible to be a homosexual but not a practising homosexual, he said no. When I asked him what would happen if any member of the armed forces turned up tomorrow and said, "I've suddenly discovered I'm a homosexual, so can I please leave the Army?", I was told that they would not accept his word.
We are left in a peculiar position. What sort of evidence would they want? If homosexuality rather than the practice of homosexuality is the ground for someone being removed from the British Army, and if the armed forces hierarchy will not accept the word of the supposed homosexual, what evidence, pray, can we produce? Photographs? Friends? These are the issues that I do not believe the Government have thought through.
This is a major issue and it was considered during the passage of the Armed Forces Bill about two years ago. The Committee proposed to decriminalise homosexual acts that are legal in civilian law and to ensure that they should no longer be an offence in service law. That proposal commanded cross-party support, so let us not play politics with the issue. Every member of the Committee, across the party divide, supported that.
In his announcement last year, however, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement said that the appropriate amendment to the Sexual Offences Act 1967 would be brought before the House as soon as possible. I appreciate that the legislative programme has been very full in the past 12 months, but I hope that the Minister will assure us tonight that the relevant changes will be introduced soon.
I should be interested to know what changes will be made to the Ministry of Defence's guidelines on the treatment of service personnel accused of homosexual conduct. A copy of the current Defence Council instruction was recently passed to me for perusal, and I can only describe it as totally out of line with the spirit of the agreement that was made in Committee, on which the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell and I sat.
Quite apart from the use of offensive and anachronistic terminology to describe consenting homosexual conduct—hoary language such as "unnatural behaviour" and "sexual deviancy"—the instruction outlines procedures such as intrusive medical examinations and the laying of 127 charges against those who refuse to undergo such examinations which would be appropriate only in relation to activities that are still criminal.
The agreement reached in Committee was to attempt to decriminalise homosexuality. I hope that the Minister will assure us that the instruction will be changed to reflect the Committee's view that homosexual behaviour that is legal in civilian law will not be regarded as criminal in service life.
I was very pleased and surprised to have the opportunity the other evening to sit on the Front Bench as a Member of the Labour party congratulated the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) on extending trade union rights. I never thought that I would hear that. The hon. Member for Stirling, with some reservations and qualifications—
§ Dr. Reid
Perhaps, as my hon. Friend says, it was an aberration.
The hon. Member for Stirling extended certain rights to the armed forces, which we welcome. He extended, if I remember correctly, the right to a contract of employment, to maternity leave and several other extensions of democracy. We congratulate the Government on having taken those measures, even if they were introduced by the hon. Member for Stirling.
The Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Bill, which the House considered last week, will extend many welcome employment rights to service personnel. But it remains Labour's view that the interests and rights of those who volunteer to join the armed forces would be better served if they were allowed formal rights of representation through some form of staff federation.
Let me make it clear, lest we be accused of demanding a trade union for the Army, that we have never asked for a trade union for the Army. We have asked, however, for some form of staff federation along the lines allowed, tolerated and, indeed, welcomed for the police—the Police Federation. It would benefit not only members of the armed forces but members of the hierarchy who sometimes have no idea what squaddies think.
No one is suggesting a formal trade union structure. No one is suggesting that they should have the right to take 128 formal industrial action or to strike, but a body similar to the Police Federation would offer a number of benefits to not only squaddies but the hierarchy.
Finally, I turn to ethnic monitoring. We welcome the Government's recognition, however belated, of the fact that an equal opportunities policy depends on the availability of accurate information on fir ethnic composition of our armed forces at each level. I am sure that the Minister will wish to reflect on some of his comments, which I think were off-hand and which should not be deployed against him—they were about blacks, lest he forget.
I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us whether the figures will be presented in this year's Statement on the Defence Estimates which, I understand, is due in a fortnight—we shall probably debate it next September. Will there be a breakdown of the figures according to regiment, or at least division, and particularly with reference to the Brigade of Guards? If equal opportunities are to be fully extended, it is essential that they exist throughout the armed forces, including the Brigade of Guards.
Equality is indivisible, and we do not want to end up in a situation in which the opportunities available to those from the ethnic minorities exist at different levels. We need to be assured that, in monitoring the implementation of the equal opportunities policy in the armed forces generally, we do not fail to identify and deal with any continuing pockets of discrimination, no matter how important those pockets might consider themselves in the British Army.
My final point relates to women. Recent press reports have suggested that the Ministry of Defence review of the role of women in the armed forces is on the way, and that a change in Army regulations has been made to allow women to serve on the front line by driving armoured personnel carriers in, for example, Northern Ireland. Will the Minister say whether the reports are accurate, and tell us what other changes are under consideration on the role of women?
The apparent openness of the Government in considering the options is to be welcomed, and I am sure that the House would appreciate being kept informed on all five points.
§ Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)
It was good to hear the Minister reiterating the Government's intention, as announced in this debate last year, to introduce legislation that will decriminalise homosexual activity in the armed forces, but it was disappointing to hear that it is not to happen yet. I assure him that I and other members of the Conservative Campaign for Homosexual Equality, several of whom are sitting right behind him, will keep at him until it happens. I know that we have the support of Members from all parties, and I look forward to such legislation being introduced as soon as possible.
Leading on from that, the guidance which is still extant and which has already been mentioned does not conform with the spirit of the Government's statement last year; nor is it helpful in the current climate. If the Minister were to read the detailed guidance, as I have, he would share my shock that, in 1993, material is still being handed out which describes rules of behaviour for investigating officers when a disciplinary offence is alleged to have occurred which are so out of date as to be ludicrous and which would make an offence far worse, if indeed an offence had occurred. I shall not speak for long., but I invite the Minister to read the guidance. I do not wish to upset the House by reading aloud some of the details of the examinations that are suggested, which are disgusting and out of date.
The guidance is based on the notion that there is something wrong with homosexuals. That is the philosophy and attitude which we must challenge. I shall read into the record just one anodyne piece from the Royal naval instructions RN IC2. Paragraph 9 begins:Officers and senior ratings must be on the alert for any indication of homosexual behaviour among Naval personnel. This applies particularly to those who are known to have unstable backgrounds".That is how it starts, but it goes further. The implication is that people who are gay or lesbian have unstable backgrounds and must be suffering from a mental illness or psychiatric problem and that, if they are dealt with properly, the problem will go away. That attitude must change.
I am particularly bothered about what happens if the approach recommended in the guidelines is adopted, as I believe it is in some of the services, where an offence has been committed. There is no doubt that offences can be committed, for example under duress or when consent has not been given. As far as I am concerned, no matter whether somebody is gay or lesbian or heterosexual, if consent is not given, it is a serious offence. In those circumstances, disciplinary action must be taken for the good of the services and the individuals concerned. But I feel absolutely certain that if the sort of examinations outlined in the papers are undertaken—if people are locked up and maltreated and if this sort of cruelty is perpetrated on young people—it can only make things worse. I have it in mind that we have young soldiers—both men and women—of 17 and 18. If they are faced with such allegations and treatment, I am not in the least surprised if they find themselves unable to continue to be soldiers. If I had a son who was subjected to such appalling nonsense, I should be extremely angry.
§ Mr. Rowe
My hon. Friend might like to know that when one of my constituents was forced to leave the services, she received her dismissal notice on a form that 130 was still written only for men, without anyone's even having bothered to cross through the "he" and write "she". That is the kind of thoroughly insensitive man management or woman management that needs to be looked at, and is a small indication of the problem.
§ Mrs. Currie
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I agree that there is an awful lot of idiots around in the armed forces, the House and everywhere else. We are trying to take on board the fact that there may well be sexual offences involving members of the armed forces, or members of the armed forces and people with whom they come into contact, which may be inimical to good discipline or to the protection of those concerned. The drafting of the guidance should take that on board in a sophisticated, sensitive and careful fashion. It should not just refer to men or to homosexuals. It ought to refer to all people who can volunteer to serve and defend this nation and whom we ought, on these occasions, to protect.
§ 11.2 pm
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
As the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) explained, this is an occasion for an exchange of views. We hold such debates annually. I suppose that, in some senses, it is a throwback to the historical desire of Parliament to ensure that the standing army did not become a feature of the Executive. Those days have past, but I do not think that it is any less significant that we should have the chance every 12 months to reflect the views that some of us feel very strongly about the nature of service discipline.
I am particularly disappointed about the position of those under the age of 18. When tbat issue was raised by the Select Committee on Defence, it became clear that, although Ministers had, indeed, reviewed the policy, they had not changed it. I do not think that, in times of peace, the policy is likely to be an embarrassment, but any of us thinking back to the Gulf war will remember that there was a substantial upsurge in public opinion against the idea that those who—to put it in tabloid terms, because those were the terms in which it was expressed—were unable to vote for their country none the less might have found themselves dying for their country.
I believe that it is the duty of Parliament and of those who make the law to protect people from themselves. It was perfectly clear from some of the anecdotal evidence that emerged around the time of the Gulf war that young men aged 17 did not want to be parted from their mates: they did not want to be anywhere else other than at the very centre of the action. There were undoubtedly occasions on which public opinion found it very difficult to accept that it was right and proper that people of that age should be exposed to such severe risks.
I accept that there may be instances, although I suspect that they are pretty few and far between, when the presence of a 17-year-old or group of 17-year-olds is absolutely essential for the operational effort that is being carried out. But I also believe that we have a duty to protect people of that age. Even if in times of peace the Government did not find themselves the subject of adverse public opinion, they would do well to realise that, if we are to extend the nature of operations on behalf of the United Nations—a topic that we have discussed extensively during the defence estimates debate—such situations are likely to occur more often in future. It will, of course, always be unacceptable to us if any of our forces are killed. 131 However, I put the matter bluntly: Ministers will not like going to RAF Lyneham to receive body bags. They will like it least of all if the bodies coming back are those of people under the age of 18.
I have always taken the view that the death penalty is entirely inappropriate'. I reached that conclusion as much from my professional practice in the High Court in Scotland in cases in which I prosecuted people who would, as a result of my efforts, or, more correctly, as a result of the jury's verdict, have been liable to be hanged as from cases I defended in which, perhaps in spite of my efforts or, some might say, because of my efforts, people were found guilty and would have been liable to be hanged. I am firmly of the view that the death penalty would not operate as a deterrent.
We should think about the circumstances in which the death penalty is offered in military discipline. It can be offered only in the five categories to which reference has been made because of its deterrent effect. If one is a panicking 17-year-old throwing away one's rifle because one simply cannot take what one is facing, I very much doubt whether one will stop for a moment and think, "Are the terms of the Army discipline regulations such that, because of what I am about to do, I may face the death penalty?" I simply do not believe that the death penalty will operate as a deterrent in those circumstances. The Government could demonstrate a measure of sensitivity by removing that penalty from the statute book.
I welcome what has been said about ethnic monitoring, but I believe that it has taken rather a long time coming. I cannot help but put this point. General Colin Powell was born in Jamaica. His parents emigrated to the United States. He is now the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and is perhaps the single most powerful military figure in the whole world. We must ask ourselves how long it would have taken him to reach a similar position in the British system, to which he might as readily have come as someone born in Jamaica. I immediately concede that that is a slightly fanciful question. However, within the question there lurks a substantial reality, which is that in our armed forces so far we have not found a way to ensure that the talents and the abilities of those of all ethnic backgrounds who wish to enrol are properly exploited.
§ Mrs. Currie
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman consider that it would be impossible for a member of an ethnic minority to become Secretary of State for Defence?
§ Mr. Campbell
A Watsonian member of the Scottish Bar no longer justifies the description of a member of an ethnic minority. The Watsonian point is rather lost on those who are not keen students of the Muriel Spark form of education practised in what we used to call the Athens of the north.
The point is serious. In some respects, it carries over into the issue of racism and bullying. There is quite powerful anecdotal evidence that those who are most subject to bullying are those whose skins happen to be black. Such incidents are wholly unacceptable in the armed forces of the Crown.
I believe that, just as officers are entitled to take responsibility for the achievements of those whom they command, they should also be responsible for what is badly done among or to those for whom they have 132 responsibility. When there has been bullying, one should perhaps look in the first instance at the nature of the command and at the nature of the officers who have been responsible for the unit.
Like others, I want to consider the question of homosexuality. Those who campaign in that regard do not want any special consideration for themselves. They simply wish to be treated on precisely the same footing as those whose sexuality is heterosexual. In armed forces in which women will increasingly play a prominent role, the possibility of harassment or of conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline in the form of sexual harassment or something of that kind will be present.
We will have to rely on the nature of the discipline, morale and self-control of those whom we place in such circumstances. Those who argue for equality before the law in respect of homosexuals are simply arguing to be allowed to enjoy the same rights as other people whose sexuality happens to be different.
I welcome the fact that the Government decided—and this was announced during the corresponding debate last year—to seek to ensure that, within the services, the position with regard to criminal behaviour would be the same as that in civilian life. However, it still remains a ground for administrative discharge if a person admits to being homosexual. If a person attends an interview and applies to join one of the services and admits to being homosexual, that is a ground for refusing that application.
This is 1993. People's attitudes are entirely different. However, it sometimes seems that those in senior positions in the armed forces are unwilling to accept or understand how the climate of opinion has changed outside the services. I genuinely believe that this is an issue upon which the Government should be able to make what for senior commanders might be seen to be a radical departure but what the public would see as nothing more than a recognition of what the public see, experience and understand in civilian life.
The fact that these rather curious procedures are set out in a document as forming the basis upon which investigations should be carried out should be abhorrent to all hon. Members. If one is looking for evidence, apart from the invasive procedure and procedures such as tapping telephones and bringing people in and subjecting them to such pressure that eventually obtains a confession, and so long as the possibility of discharge remains, the risk of excessive zeal on the part of military policemen or similar is enhanced to an unacceptable degree.
§ Mr. Rowe
Is not the question one of self-control? Any soldier or member of the armed services who is sufficiently self-disciplined to exercise self-control is an asset, or is likely to be an asset, to the armed services. There is every bit as great a likelihood of undermining discipline by promiscuous heterosexual activity—and I know of no code of conduct for examining people for promiscuous heterosexual activity—as there is of any other danger. What is missing in the armed services' view of homosexuality is any concept that a number of homosexuals are notoriously well-disciplined and self-controlled. If they choose to exercise their own sexual proclivities well away from any military activity, that is their business. It is quite wrong to make it a military offence.
§ Mr. Campbell
I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. The issue—the Minister raised it also—is whether the conduct is prejudicial to good order and discipline. The mere fact of being homosexual in the armed forces does not justify that conclusion. As the hon. Gentleman properly says, heterosexual promiscuity might be extremely damaging, especially if, for example, efforts are made to take advantage of rank, close proximity, or such matters.
In the end, it is a matter of self control, but fundamentally it is a matter of equality before the law. Before the law of the armed services, heterosexuals and homosexuals should enjoy that equality. I hope that the Government will accept that, if not tonight, then on some future early occasion.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
I agreed with very little that the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said, although I always listen to his speeches with interest. However, I am grateful to him for explaining very clearly the difference between the criminal offence which the Government are committed to abolishing and the administrative process which will remain.
My hon. Friends the Members for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) and for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) asked why, in 1993, we should remain opposed to having homosexual members of the armed forces. It is absolutely right that the Government should stand firm on that point. There is nothing disgraceful about an administrative discharge, but I firmly believe that it is in the armed forces' interests that homosexuals should not serve in their ranks. [HON. MEMBERS: "Tell us."] I am about to do so, if Opposition Members would like to wait for a moment.
It is very easy indeed to say that trends in civilian life should he instantly mirrored in the armed forces. In another connection tonight, we heard much mention of the difficulties of a totally different category of people who would be horrified to have any comparison made with the difficulties that ethnic people have had in this country and in other countries in rising to senior positions. It is very interesting that Colin Powell stated publicly how revolted he was at the very idea of any comparison at all being drawn between the position of black people in the American armed forces and that of homosexuals in the armed forces. He believes and has made it clear in the strongest possible terms that it would be profoundly wrong to have homosexuals in the American armed forces, for reasons which translate directly in this country. I shall mention only two.
The first reason is that in the armed forces there are large numbers of young people over whom their superiors have powers which are not mirrored in any walk of civilian life. Sometimes those powers extend to life and death, whether or not we abolish the death penalty. A sergeant, a captain, a colonel or a general has power to make a decision which might result in people under his command being killed and others being in safety. Are we really saying that if a platoon commander has among the soldiers serving under him someone with whom he is having a homosexual relationship and he has to choose between putting one section in a dangerous forward position and another section in a rear position, and he sends the section 134 which has his homosexual boyfriend in it to the safer of the two positions, the people in the other section are not going to comment on it?
§ Mrs. Currie
Nobody is suggesting that there are no possible circumstances in which there may be offences that are damaging to Army discipline. The circumstance that my hon. Friend describes is exactly one of those It might as well happen in a mixed company, and we are to have those in future as well. Is my hon. Friend saying that we should not have heterosexuals in the armed forces, either?
§ Mr. Brazier
On the second point, I have always made it clear that I am profoundly opposed to having women serving in combat units, among many other reasons, because of the divisions that it brings in families in the service world. We have seen examples of that already with, for example, the incident that occurred on a Royal Navy ship only a year after a firm Government pledge that we would not have women on combat ships.
As for my hon. Friend's first point, she said that in such circumstances an offence would have occurred. Would she like to tell the House what the offence would have been?
§ Mrs. Currie
With due respect, my hon. Friend should show what offences he thinks would occur. There are many circumstances in which both duress and undue pressure may occur and individual relationships—it could easily be a relationship of a gambling debt or any sort of mistake—may destroy Army discipline. That should be the offence and there should be many grounds for it. It should not be restricted or enhanced if it involves homosexuality.
§ Mr. Brazier
My hon. Friend appears to have wholly missed my point, which is that there cannot be a sexual relationship between two members of a unit, especially if one is serving directly under the other, without it being prejudicial to the fighting capacity of the unit. There is no question whether a specific offence has occurred. When people's lives are in danger, there must not be an appearance of unfairness, and it is impossible to avoid that.
§ Mr. Brazier
I shall give way in a moment.
That is why people such as Colin Powell in America and those at all levels of the armed forces in the United Kingdom are overwhelmingly opposed to homosexuals serving in the armed forces and a substantial proportion of people in the armed forces are opposed to women being in certain categories of combat unit—for example, serving on combat ships or in infantry units.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
What would happen if the commanding officer had a second cousin or some other relative in his brigade or whatever? Would the hon. Gentleman say that if the officer had any feelings about anyone his professional judgment would be clouded? The argument can be reduced to the absurd and suspect that the hon. Gentleman is well on the way to doing that.
§ Mr. Brazier
There is no comparison at all with someone who has a second cousin in his unit. Two members of a unit having a sexual relationship, especially when one is serving under the other, is prejudicial to a unit in action. I simply claim as testimony the voices of many people who have served in action and who have written to the newspapers on this issue over the years. I cannot 135 remember the last time a person who, having served in a dangerous position in the armed forces, wrote to a newspaper and took the position that we should have homosexuals in the armed forces.
I shall move on because I do not wish to detain the House for long. Having homosexuals in the armed forces is not simply prejudicial to the fighting capability of units. When a large number of young people are involved in a unit, the armed forces have a duty to ensure that they are protected from unfair and unreasonable influences. An officer or NCO with control of a 17 or 18-year-old in a unit has a disproportionate amount of power.
I shall conclude on a point of particular interest to me because, although I have never met the man, a large number of people whom I know have done so. There is an officer—it would not be fair to give his name as he is still alive—who served in the last war in the same regiment as that in which I served. During that war, he was decorated no fewer than four times for gallantry. He was not only a brave officer, but an extremely imaginative one. His concept of operations contributed a great deal towards Bill Slim's victories against the Japanese.
Immediately after the war, as a result of an extremely shabby investigation which would have made my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) go apoplectic, he was discovered to be homosexual—he was having a relationship with a young boy—and was thrown out of the Army. Because of his distinguished record, he was not cashiered—he was simply quietly given the opportunity to resign, whereas almost any other officer in the same circumstances would have been cashiered. Of the people with whom I have discussed this man's case—I know a number of people who served with him—I have yet to meet one who did not, after saying how sad they were that the Army lost his services, nevertheless continue to take the view that it would be disastrous to have homosexuals in uniform in the British Army.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I should like to know how many gay soldiers laid down their lives during the last war. No one knew that they were gay. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) ought to bear that in mind when he quotes that story as an argument to support his views, which I find wholly unacceptable and unpersuasive.
The Minister referred to ethnic monitoring. I believe that it is right that we should have ethnic monitoring in the armed forces. It is good to see that the Government have come round to that way of thinking. But unless one can know what ranks are reached by those of Afro-Caribbean and Asian origin, one cannot work out what on earth ethnic monitoring is all about. The measure of success is whether such people rise through the ranks year by year. That would show that the policies were working.
There should be ethnic monitoring of soldiers not only on the way into the armed forces but on leaving the armed forces. We still hear of officers and rankers leaving the armed services because they feel oppressed by racial harassment. A considerable amount of debriefing is also necessary so that the procedures can be further improved.
The Minister mentioned that one of the great deterrents that prevents those of Afro Caribbean and Asian origin 136 from joining and staying in the armed services is racism within the services. It happens in the police too. It is vital that statements are made at the highest level by those in control that under no circumstances will racism, racial abuse or racial intolerance be tolerated in the armed forces. We are pleased that the new Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has made clear his position in respect of racial harassment and intolerance within the Metropolitan police. We want to see that echoed in the armed forces. Racial intolerance is the real deterrent to more of the Afro Caribbean and Asian communities volunteering to serve in the armed forces.
I remember the recommendation made by the Select Committee in May 1991 and the welcome decision by the Minister of State for Defence Procurement last year to accept the recommendation but to introduce legislation only when the timetable allowed. We must ask for a specific date. It could be interpreted as dragging of feet if we heard one year after another that, as soon as the timetable allowed, legislation would be introduced. The Sexual Offences Act 1967 will need to be amended.
It remains Ministry of Defence policy neither to recruit nor to retain any person who admits to being homosexual, lesbian or gay. It is a ground for instant dismissal. My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) said that that was absurd. The special investigation bureau routinely investigates allegations of homosexuality. Suspects are interrogated and asked to name names. Their rooms are searched. Their letters and diaries are read. Any leads are followed up.
As a result of what can only be described as witch hunts, about 75 people a year are administratively discharged. They lose their careers. They find it difficult to find new employment. Indeed, they lose their pension rights. I understand that Robert Ely, the man who gave evidence to the Select Committee which made that recommendation, has lost considerable amounts in pension payments. It is intolerable for someone who assisted the House to lose pension payments as a result of what happened subsequently.
In 1991, the Prime Minister announced that, in view of changing social attitudes, homosexuality would no longer be a bar to security clearances for members of the civil service. Given the circumstances, that policy should also be extended to the armed services.
The hon. Member for Derby, South—
§ Mr. Banks
I apologise. I would not like to truncate the hon. Lady or her constituency. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) made a characteristically strong speech with which I entirely agreed. She mentioned the instructions to the Defence Council. They are absurd and it is worth reading them into the record. They are, however, distasteful, so I shall quote just some of them.
Experienced medics are told that men suspected of being passive partners in a gay sex act can be spotted by their "feminine gestures", clothes and make up. No doubt they go around saying, "Give us a kiss, sailor." It is absurd that such guidelines are issued as a means of identifying people. The instructions on the medical examination state:For evidence whether the man may have played the passive role:That is what follows when someone suspects that a member of the armed services may be homosexual. It is wholly repugnant that anyone should be subjected to such an examination.
- (a) Note the general appearance. Look for feminine gestures, nature of clothing and use of cosmetics etc.
- (b) Examine the anus externally for:
- Appearance of bruising or inflammation. Presence of redundance or thickening of the skin. Evidence of irritation, inflammation or presence of thread worms.
- Recent tears, lacerations, fissures and piles, old scars due to previous ulceration or any other physical signs associated with conditions causing dilation or, relaxation of the anal sphincter.
(c) Examine the anus for size and elasticity (it is useful to measure the size of the opening by some standard measure such as the number of fingers). Note any discomfort or otherwise during the examination. A speculum may be used."
§ Mrs. Currie
The hon. Gentleman did what I could not bring myself to do, and he has demonstrated to the House why. Does he agree that if such an examination were carried out in civilian life it would almost certainly constitute an offence in itself?
§ Mr. Banks
I agree that an assault on the person would be committed by such an examination. Conservative Members may feel that it is wrong for homosexuals to serve in the armed forces, but surely they would accept that to commit such an assault on a person, on the ground of his being suspected of having homosexual tendencies, is wholly unacceptable in the British armed forces of 1993.
§ Mr. Banks
According to the instructions, that can, apparently, happen. Whatever the decision reached, the military career of that individual is lost.
We should bear in mind that we are talking about people who want to serve in the armed forces. They want to serve Queen and country. Some of us may find that concept strange at times, but that is what they want to do. It is appalling that those people should be indicted on the grounds of their sexual orientation.
Other countries have a far more civilised approach to this matter. I would not mind if we were asking the House to step into the unknown and to do something that is not done anywhere else. In the majority of the armed services of NATO countries, however, being homosexual is not an offence, as it is in the British armed forces.
Ireland and the United States are in the process of changing their laws to allow lesbians and gays to serve in their armed forces. Australia ended its ban on homosexuals serving in its armed forces in November 1992; Canada did the same in October 1992. The armed forces of Austria and Belgium are open to lesbians and gay men. Denmark has allowed lesbians and gay men to serve in its armed forces since 1979. The armed forces of Finland, France and Germany are all open to lesbians and gays—in Germany, homosexuals have been allowed in the armed forces for the past 10 years.
The Netherlands allows members of its armed forces of the opposite and same sex to engage in sexual relationships together so long as they are off base and off duty. I saw an interesting television programme about a Dutch lieutenant-colonel who was openly gay—one does not have to hide anything in the Netherlands. Members of his 138 regiment were asked what they thought of that man and they were entirely supportive of him. They recognised him as a professional officer, who put his profession first, before his sexual orientation.
Norway has no ban, and has instructed doctors in the service to do all that they can to free homosexuals from discrimination. Spain ended its ban in 1984, and Switzerland has opened all its services to lesbians and gays. Ireland has just started a review and has undertaken to allow entry. New Zealand has ceased to enforce its ban since December 1992, and the United States is due formally to lift its ban on 15 July this year. That is the evidence. All the Governments of those countries are as concerned about the defence of their countries as the British Government are about the defence of this country. They are all just as interested in morale and discipline in their armed forces as we are. If they can do it, so should we.
§ Mr. Roger Evans (Monmouth)
I am driven to speak by my hon. Friend the Minister raising in a serious debate a matter that I believe will cause great disquiet in the Conservative party and the country and among our voters, on an issue that was not in the Conservative manifesto, and that most of us did not raise in the general election campaign. If it is a question of awarding the Hillary Clinton prize for political correctness, it does not go to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) but to the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid), for suggesting that mutiny can be adequately dealt with by community service orders. That is what I take to be the logic of his ludicrous and absurd position.
What I have to say to my hon. Friend the Minister is rather more serious. He opened the debate as though this were some relatively minor administrative procedure, upon which a number of interesting matters might be raised by himself and other Members of this honourable House. That it utterly mistaken. The message and the great British achievement of constitutional government rests upon two matters arising out of our Glorious Revolution in 1688. The first is the rule of law, and that Ministers obey the law. The second is that the service discipline measures have to be renewed on an annual basis. That is the fundamental to which we owe our constitutional liberty. President Aylwin of Chile goes abroad and General Pinochet marches some soldiers through Santiago, and there is a whisper of a coup d'etat, which has to be denied. We have never had that threat from our armed services because of the seriousness and importance of this annual debate. That is why the debate is important, and why a number of issues raised tonight are, in that context, relatively trivial.
My hon. Friend the Minister may or may not have said something that is at least as fundamental. I seek clarification—this is the only point of substance that I make in this speech to him—on one point. Unless and until the law of the land is changed by statute, I trust that he will give an assurance that the present law will be enforced among the armed services. Some of his words suggested that it might be administratively convenient not to do so, or that a comfortable agreement between both sides of the Select Committee might suggest a changing climate of opinion. Unless and until an Act of Parliament 139 has been passed, the law is the law of the land and the rule of the law is paramount, and my hon. Friend is bound by it. I trust that he will give a clear assurance to that effect.
§ Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow Central)
We had been having a temperate debate until the contribution of the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans). He seemed to have been driven by hatred against people whom he sees as being unnatural in some way.
The position as outlined by the Minister is clear. The Opposition feel that the Government have not gone far enough. I want the Minister to say that the proposal to change the law—a necessary move that has been outlined by those who have spoken—will be carried through, and that there will be an appropriate commitment in the Queen's Speech when Parliament resumes later this year.
The Minister stressed the need to outlaw discrimination and went into some detail on the steps taken on ethnic monitoring, but he was rather weak about ways to tackle the discrimination against homosexuals and lesbians in the armed forces. It is not good enough. He did not show anything like the urgency that is necessary, and that should be in evidence following the remarks of the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. A year has passed since he made those remarks, and we are entitled to expect some firm instructions.
The Defence Council instructions have been referred to already. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) referred to them but declined to comment in detail, whereas my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) went into detail. I want to refer to some aspects of those instructions so that they appear on the record. The people of this country should have some knowledge of what is involved. The instructions, which the Ministry of Defence has confirmed are still operative, are based on the premise that the law has not been changed and that there is no intention to do so. Indeed, the instruction that sets out the rules for investigating a homosexual is clearly based on the assumption that the criminal law is still operative.
I want to highlight two or three incredible aspects of those instructions. First, I want to deal with what is termed "unnatural behaviour". What is unnatural behaviour? How can it be defined? I do not know what the Minister does in the privacy of his bedroom or who he does it with. I do not know whether it is natural. I suspect that it is different from what I do in similar circumstances. That does not mean that he is natural and I am unnatural, or vice versa. For heaven's sake, what is unnatural behaviour?
§ Mr. Watson
Unfortunately, that is not quite unnatural enough.
The instructions state that there areimportant differences in law in respect of unnatural behaviour other than homosexuality.Cases are not necessarily offences under the Sexual Offences Act 1967, yet they can still constitute a reason for discharge from the armed forces. "Transvestism" and "other forms of sexual deviancy" are listed.
The instructions refer to why homosexual practices may occur: 140In many cases excessive alcohol, emotional upsets or family problems play a part in leading to involvement in homosexual practices, especially by those who are not true homosexuals.How can the Minister define what is a true homosexual? How can Army officers, even medical officers, define that? It is an absolute nonsense, yet that is how such practices are investigated.
The instructions talk of treating those who are accused of indulging in homosexual activity as deviant, not just in their actions but mentally. They state:Initially a Naval Psychiatrist should only be consulted at the discretion of the examining Medical Officer, and his task then would be mainly to establish whether there is associated mental illness and a need for psychiatric treatment.The assumption is that we are dealing with lunatics, not people indulging in activities to which their sexual orientation leads them and which may or may not be unnatural, depending on who is judging them.
I do not need to refer to the medical examinations as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West has done so. I merely want to repeat that the instructions state that if the order to undergo a medical examination is not abided by, force should not be used. However, a further disciplinary charge can be brought against that individual. That is unwarranted coercion. If there is an examination, that could be considered to amount to an assault.
Where is the evidence that lesbians or gay men present any security risk, as is suggested in the instructions? Will the Minister outline those risks? It is important to know because it is not clear why a risk for an individual who happens to be homosexual is not a risk for an individual who happens to be heterosexual. The Minister referred to a potentially disruptive influence. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South eloquently explained that heterosexuals have difficulties, differences and jealousies. It is increasingly common for members of the opposite sexes to come into contact in the armed forces. Why should not that be a source of concern and a potential security risk? People who are not homosexual or lesbian fall out; there is animosity and therefore potential difficulties in the way that they carry out their duties as members of the armed forces. All sorts of subjective judgments are being made. The Minister should not make them and he should not allow the armed forces to do so.
Mention has been made of the situation in the United States of America, and General Colin Powell was quoted. I am not aware of any research undertaken in the United Kingdom, but Pentagon reports published in 1088 and 1989 found that
Studies of homosexual veterans make clear that having a same gender or an opposite gender orientation is unrelated to job performance in the same way as being left or right handed.That finding, the result of American army research, was published by the United States defence personnel security research and education centre in 1988. Why should contrary evidence be found in respect of this country's armed forces?
There is a heavy onus on the Ministry of Defence to justify the treatment that it continues to mete out to homosexuals. I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid). It is important to decriminalise homosexual acts that are not illegal in civilian law. It is intolerable that such a distinction should be made. A year ago, we were given an assurance by another Minister, and the Minister said tonight that a change to the law will be introduced. Why not this year?
141 Goodness knows how we would have filled the parliamentary programme had it not been for the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. We are already operating only two or three days a week, and there is no reason to believe that the parliamentary programme will be any heavier after the summer recess. I invite the Minister to make a commitment now that this year's Queen's Speech will include the necessary proposals to ensure that the law for the armed forces is brought into line with civilian law. That commitment should be acted upon.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
Order. The hon. Gentleman means, with the leave of the House.
§ Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)
I can see an hon. and learned Member who is rich and a Queen's Counsel.
§ Dr. Reid
II seems that I have touched a button.
The House has debated also the discipline Acts that apply to the Navy and the Royal Air Force. While we have been discussing how to impose discipline on our service men and women, we all know that—as my father used to say—there is only one form of discipline, which is self-discipline. We are greatly privileged to have armed forces that exercise self-discipline, sometimes in the most difficult situations—Bosnia was mentioned earlier—but debating discipline in our armed forces is not to suggest that they need that form of discipline.
§ Mr. Hanley
: With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will begin by reminding right hon. and hon. Members that women in the armed forces have always undertaken a wide variety of duties. Over the past three to four years, we have announced decisions further to widen their employment opportunities and to recruit many more of them. Over the past five years, the number of women in the services has increased from 16,000 to 19,000.
Right hon. and hon. Members may have read newspaper reports of the tasks for which women in the armed forces are now qualified. They can train as air crew in all three services. The Royal Navy has two women training as observers, the Army has three trained female pilots, and the RAF has two trained female pilots and a further 28 in training, plus nine trained navigators and 14 women undergoing navigator training. Considerable progress is being made.
I could list many other examples of progress in respect of women in the armed forces. It is extremely important that they should be given the opportunity to prove their worth. There is no doubt that they are of high quality and have dedication as great as that of their male counterparts.
The hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) mentioned capital punishment. As he knows, the death penalty is retained as a non-mandatory sentence for the five offences that he listed, all of which are positive acts of 142 treachery involving the enemy; but the policy is that such sentences should never be carried out in peace time. Incidents such as those to which the hon. Gentleman referred would not result in capital punishment.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) mentioned recruits under 18. Thirty-five per cent. of all recruits are under 18. If those under 18 could not be deployed with their units overseas on active service, many would become disappointed and disillusioned. Many have trained with specific colleagues and want to be with those colleagues; such action could lead to retention problems, and it might be impossible to redeploy men in the work for which they had trained. It would be a great waste of expensive training, and would lead to the deterioration not only of their morale but of their skills. That, too, could lead to retention problems.
To restrict recruitment to those aged 18 and over would create severe manning difficulties for the services. It would also cause great disappointment to young people under,18 who wish to enter the services. If 16 and 17-year-olds could not join the services, many would be likely to take up other employment, and would be permanently lost to the services.
The hon. and learned Gentleman may welcome the information that our service men serving on the streets in Northern Ireland must be at least 18—as, indeed, are service women—except those in barracks, who must be at least seventeen and a half.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell
Let me put the record straight. I am not arguing against the recruitment of those under 18; I am merely asking whether it is wise, in the light of past public opinion—particularly in relation to the Gulf war—to allow those under 18 to serve in theatres in which their lives are at risk.
§ Mr. Hanley
I have expressed our view, and the record will stand.
I am not sure what the hon. Member for Motherwell, North meant when he mentioned my comments about ethnic minorities. They were all positive, and I believe that they will be welcomed by those whom they affect. Either the hon. Gentleman was not listening, or he missed the point of what I was saying. I am happy to set it out again—or perhaps he will read Hansard tomorrow. If he does so, I think he will agree that what I said was entirely positive. Those who know me are aware that I would never say anything that the ethnic minorities would find upsetting.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East suggested that ethnic minority personnel suffered from bullying more than their white colleagues. I have no evidence of that, but, as I said in my speech, we regard any form of racial 'discrimination as utterly unacceptable.
§ Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) can scarcely have been designed to encourage ethnic minorities to join the armed forces—which is what he set out to do?
§ Mr. Hanley
I note my hon. Friend's comment. Let me return to the subject of ethnic monitoring.
The hon. Member for Motherwell, North asked whether we would publish a breakdown of the ethnic origins of serving personnel by unit and regiment, including the Brigade of Guards. I can confirm that all 143 corps, regiments and branches of the services will be included in the ethnic origins survey of serving personnel. We plan to publish an analysis of the ethnic origins of serving personnel by services, and between officers and other ranks, and we fully intend the ethnic origins of serving personnel to be listed in terms of both rank and gender. The results of the ethnic monitoring of recruits will be published in "Defence Statistics", the publication that has replaced Vol. 2 of the statement of defence estimates. We are absolutely committed to publishing a breakdown, to make sure that we have figures for the House to consider and for it then to judge progress over the years.
As for trade unions, the Select Committee which considered the Armed Forces Bill in 1991 recommended that we should clarify the role that service personnel are permitted to play in trade union activities, for the position is vague. We have decided to issue new instructions, explaining that service personnel may become members of trade unions and professional bodies in order to enhance their trade skills and professional knowledge and as an aid to resettlement into civilian life, if necessary. They may not take part in any activity of a political nature, or in industrial action organised by a trade union or professional body. I hope, however, that the House agrees that that represents some progress.
The larger part of the debate on the order covered the subject of homosexuality. Various hon. Members raised the question of the so-called guidance. That was written in 1987. Hon. Members quoted from that publication. It is not current. It has become time expired. It has not been in force since the beginning of 1992, but new guidelines are being reviewed and new ones will be published, after careful consideration.
My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) said how disgraceful it was that the law was being broken and that nothing was said about this issue in the manifesto. No one doubts that the law exists, and that it cannot be changed except by the House, but my hon. Friend must be aware that the prosecuting authorities have discretion over whether to prosecute. That is the practice to which we adhere.
§ It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business).
§ Question agreed to.
That the draft Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 1993, which was laid before the House on 26th May, be approved.