HC Deb 09 May 1996 vol 277 cc401-2

`. Schedule (procedure for dealing with offences under Services Acts) to this Act (amendment of provisions relating to the procedure for dealing with offences under the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957) shall have effect.'—[Mr. Soames.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Soames

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Morris)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government new schedule 1—Procedure for dealing with offences under Services Acts.

Government amendments Nos. 1, 2, 51, 57, 58, 61, 62, 64, 67, 68, 71, 72 and 78.

Paragraphs 64 and 65 of the new schedule do not appear in the amendment paper. The correct and complete version of the schedule has been reissued separately and is available in the Vote Office.

Mr. Soames

The amendments, and especially new clause 5 and new schedule 1, incorporate the greater part of the court martial reform package that I announced last year. Part of the package is already in the Bill. It appears in clauses 12 to 16, which deal with post-trial procedures. New schedule 1 sets out the detail of the new procedures at the pre-trial and trial stages. The purpose of the reforms is to reinforce the independence of the court martial, principally by reducing the apparent influence of the chain of command while preserving its necessary involvement. I hope that the reforms will find favour with the Committee.

Dr. Reid

There is much before us that has already been discussed fully in Committee. We are dealing with consequential amendments or amendments that have already been circulated to the Committee by courtesy of the Minister. There are amendments with which I and my colleagues agree. We shall attempt to minimise the time that we spend debating them.

We welcome every move that has been made to create a sense of independence between the command structure and the prosecution structure so as to entrench a system of appeals that is less liable to be found wanting. Therefore, in substance, we approve of all the amendments that have been proposed by the Minister. I wish to say now, as I did in the Select Committee, that my colleagues and I still believe that there will be sufficient grounds for an endless stream of lawyers—well educated, well briefed and in most instances well heeled—to drive a reluctant Ministry of Defence continually to the European Court of Human Rights on the court martial system and on other issues. We welcome the proposals as far as they go, and will not intervene again in the consideration of new clause 5, new schedule 1 and the amendments. We take this decision for reasons of time, of which the Committee will be well aware.

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am grateful to the Committee generally for its tolerance in accepting the manner in which the new clause, the new schedule and the amendments have been presented to it. Sight was given of what the various amendments would look like and the further shape of them was dependent on further drafting. I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) for what he has said. I share his concern, of course, about the European Court—we all do—but we believe that the court martial system has served the United Kingdom extremely well, including our armed forces. We shall be prepared to take our chance, the same as everyone else.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Forward to