HC Deb 09 January 2001 vol 360 cc893-979

Order for Second Reading read.

4.28 pm
The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar)

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

The Bill is principally concerned with the statutory framework for the system of discipline in the armed forces. That system of discipline is an essential ingredient of operational effectiveness. For everyone in the armed forces, that is axiomatic.

In civil society, the vital importance of discipline is perhaps not so readily understood. However, while even in the Ministry of Defence Machiavelli is not everyone's role model, we would do well to heed his observation that Good order and discipline in any army are to be more depended upon than courage alone. We take it for granted in this country that our forces are disciplined. We also take their excellence for granted. Those two statements are intimately and inextricably linked. It is Parliament's responsibility to ensure that the disciplinary framework remains fixed for the vital purpose of contributing to that excellence.

The statutory bases for discipline in the armed forces are the Army and Air Force Acts of 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957—the service discipline Acts. Those have to be renewed every five years; otherwise they would expire. The single most important purpose of the Armed Forces Bill is to effect that renewal.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

I have often suspected that Machiavelli may be at work in the Ministry of Defence, but I accept the Minister's personal assurance that that is not so. However, what progress has been made in the Ministry on the question of combining the three service discipline Acts in a single Act? The increase in joint operations must surely make it desirable that there should be one code of discipline covering all three armed services.

Mr. Spellar

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is suffering from premature intervention. I shall deal with his question a little later.

The service discipline Acts were last renewed by the Armed Forces Act 1996, and are due to expire at the end of the year—hence the need to introduce the Bill in the current parliamentary Session. When passed into law, the Bill will give the Acts a further five-year lease of life. If that was all the Bill was seeking to achieve, it would not, of course, run to 41 clauses. However, like previous five-yearly armed forces Bills, this Bill proposes a number of changes to the existing legislation, mostly to the service discipline Acts, which need to be kept up to date. That is not out of modishness—something to which service discipline should never be susceptible—but for a variety of sound reasons.

Introducing a Bill every five years and generally having little expectation of any other legislative opportunity in between is a useful discipline, albeit of a different kind, for the armed forces and the Ministry of Defence. It spurs us to review our procedures which, of course, can lead to the conclusion that some adjustments may be necessary, not for their own sake but to make the system work better. Although the services are operating an essentially separate justice system, we need to keep an eye on developments in the civilian system, but not so that we [...] then slavishly copy it. There will necessarily remain key differences in the two systems, given their different purposes.

However, for many procedures relating to the investigation, trial and punishment of offences, it is right that we should aim to keep in step with developments in the civilian system, since many of them are designed to secure the proper balance between the rights and duties of the prosecution and the accused, and it is appropriate that, when possible and relevant, those should be reflected in the armed forces' procedures. It has been the policy of successive Administrations that that should be so.

Much of the Bill is therefore about bringing service procedures more closely into line with those in the civilian system. I shall now describe the main proposals in the Bill, but I hope the House will understand that time will not allow me to cover them all. We propose that the Bill be committed to a Select Committee, as is normal with these five-yearly Bills, and I am confident that the detail of the Bill will then receive the customary close attention.

Clause 1 allows the life of the service discipline Acts to be extended for a further five years, until the end of 2006. As now, that will be subject to annual renewal in the intervening period by the affirmative continuation orders debated in both Houses. The present legislation serves the armed forces well. It works, but it can still be improved. One area where we believe that to be the case relates to the administration of discipline in the growing joint service environment, to which the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) alluded. That area needs a new legislative framework, which is why the Government have made clear their commitment to moving from the three present Acts to a single piece of discipline legislation.

We aim to have the necessary legislation ready for introduction as part of the five-yearly Bill that we expect to be introduced in the 2005–06 Session. I realise that that will cause some understandable disappointment. However, it should be recognised that it will be no small task to produce a new Act covering the needs of all three services. Indeed, the strategic defence review White Paper, which proposed the tri-service Act, stated that it would be a substantial and complex undertaking which will take some years to complete. It was recognised from the outset that that could not be achieved in time for the current quinquennial Bill.

Mr. Campbell

I thank the Minister for giving way, especially as he has now caught up with my intervention. He will be aware that in relation to the Bill to ratify the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, the relevant Department adopted the procedure of issuing a draft Bill and inviting consultation. Will he consider adopting the same approach to the Bill which he has just outlined?

Mr. Spellar

As I recall, similar proposals concerning legislation were made by the Select Committee on Defence. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion is worth examining. My only hesitation and reservation concerns the time scale and how long it would take to pull together such a draft Bill. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman makes a worthwhile point, which we shall certainly consider.

In the meantime, we need to ensure that the existing body of legislation is effective. That is what the remainder of the Bill seeks to achieve. The more serious offences under the service discipline Acts are investigated by the service police, who generally operate in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, much as the civilian police do. Indeed, some provisions in PACE, such as those dealing with finger printing, already apply to the service police. However, in particular areas the service police act on the basis of commanding officers' inherent powers, rather than on any statutory basis, when they are investigating offences. We consider that the basis on which the service police exercise those functions needs to be clarified by being put on a statutory footing. That will enable those who are subject to the powers to have a clear understanding of the scopes and limits of police powers. That is dealt with in clauses 2 to 16.

Clause 2 defines the circumstances in which a member of the service police may stop and search somebody, subject to service law, or stop and search service and certain other vehicles. Those circumstances apply where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that a search will reveal items such as stolen goods or controlled drugs. Service police are not ubiquitous, and it may sometimes be necessary for a search to be undertaken when they are not available. Clause 4 therefore provides residual powers for commanding officers to exercise the powers described in clause 2 through members of the armed forces who are not service policemen, but only where the timely assistance of the police cannot be secured.

Inevitably, the investigation of an offence may call for the searching of someone's living accommodation. Clause 5 requires a service policeman to apply for a warrant from a judicial officer if he needs to search the home or living accommodation of service personnel in the course of an investigation into a serious offence. Clause 7 provides a residual power for a commanding officer to authorise the conducting of such a search by members of the armed forces who are not service policemen or by service police without a warrant. The commanding officer will be able to use the power only if using the service police or obtaining a warrant is not practicable.

As under PACE, the power to search is limited to certain serious offences. Clause 8 makes the exercise of the commanding officer's powers to authorise a search subject to retrospective review by a judicial officer if anything has been seized during the search.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

I should like to ask a question about that point, as I see that I have not been lucky enough to catch the selector's eye for the Select Committee that will consider the Bill. The retrospective review applies only when property is seized, but should it not apply in all circumstances? What are the arguments that made the Minister reach his conclusion on that point?

Mr. Spellar

The matter should be considered in the context of each of the clauses. As I said, that context is the seeking of stolen goods or controlled drugs, which raises the issue of whether anything has been seized during a search. The power of reference to a judicial officer is appropriate and qualifies the powers given to the commanding officer to move beyond the usual provisions, under which the service police would apply for a judicial warrant. The provisions create flexibility, but also require the reference back to a judicial officer, which ensures compliance.

Mr. Blunt

I apologise for not having made myself completely clear. The search can be hurtful and demeaning to the person under investigation. Even if no seizure is made, there may be an impression that a military officer is exceeding his authority in the peculiar circumstances in which he must make his judgments. Why should not review also occur in such circumstances, even when no seizure is made?

Mr. Spellar

That comes back to the further qualification: the commanding officer can use the power only if using the service police or obtaining a warrant is not practicable. The power to search is limited by the Bill, as it is by PACE, to certain serious offences. Of course, I shall consider the matter in further detail and write to the hon. Gentleman. I am sorry that the Conservative business managers did not see fit to bless the Select Committee with his presence.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Will the measure apply to living accommodation within the barracks as well as to residential accommodation such as a quarter? How will it impact on those blessed things that I remember and which I fear might still occur—room inspections?

Mr. Spellar

That is an entirely different issue. We are discussing the exercise of search functions. We are not talking about inspections for dust or about straightening beds; we are talking about searches for stolen goods or controlled substances, and the commanding officer's powers—and his accountability in exercising them—when service police are not available, or when a warrant cannot be obtained.

I would expect hon. Members to welcome this provision, because notwithstanding the wide variety of circumstances in which the services operate, it maintains the flexibility that allows a commanding officer to exercise his powers and to do so with accountability. The measure deals with concerns that have been expressed, and accords with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984; but it also deals with specific circumstances in military life. As I said, I would expect that to be welcomed by hon. Members whose sometimes justifiable criticisms rest on the need to take such particular and varied circumstances into account.

Mr. Robathan


Mr. Spellar

May I make some progress? There are a number of other clauses to discuss. The hon. Gentleman may wish to intervene later.

Clause 9 defines the powers to enter premises without a warrant for the purpose of effecting an arrest. They may generally be exercised only by a member of the service police, but if the arrest is in respect of a serious offence and if the delay in waiting for a policeman is likely to frustrate the purpose of the entry, the commanding officer may authorise another member of the armed forces to enter the premises concerned.

Clause 10 deals with the powers of search exercisable following arrest. Those powers reflect the fact that the service discipline Acts give powers of arrest to service personnel generally, not just to service police. Under clause 10, an arrested person may be searched if there are reasonable grounds for believing that he may be a danger to himself or others. The clause also provides for search for evidence, or for things that may aid an escape. However, the powers will generally be exercisable only by service policemen, unless one is unlikely to be available in time.

The principles underlying the proposals in clauses 2 to 16 are clear. They provide a sound basis for an important area of service police activity, modelled on civilian procedures. They define the circumstances in which police powers may be exercised, making them subject to judicial supervision where appropriate. As I stressed earlier, however, the principles also recognise the realities of service life. An investigation should not be paralysed because the assistance of a service policeman cannot be secured in time. Instead, there is a clear framework within which the commanding officer will he able to authorise action.

Mr. Robathan

Contrary to what the Minister obviously expects, I am not criticising him, for a change.

Will the commanding officer, or officers acting on his behalf, have access to living accommodation in barracks, or in quasi-operational circumstances such as those operating in Northern Ireland? It is important to determine now whether the commanding officer—company commander, platoon commander or officer commanding a unit—will have access to such accommodation during the normal run of things, and whether it will be possible to search it with the commanding officer's authority.

Mr. Spellar

That will depend on the availability of service policemen to undertake their proper role, and their ability to obtain warrants within an appropriate time scale. If that is not possible—which is unlikely, in the circumstances described by the hon. Gentleman—the commandant can instruct other personnel. It matches the provisions under PACE, but at the same time provides the necessary flexibility for a commanding officer to be able to undertake the role.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Spellar

These are points that hon. Members should draw to the attention of their Committee colleagues; otherwise, we will not be able to make sufficient progress during this debate.

Part III makes a number of proposals for the reform of the procedures for the trial and punishment of offences under the service discipline Acts. Clause 17 will make it possible to deal summarily with relatively minor offences committed by naval officers. Essentially, that will bring the Royal Navy into line with the other two services.

At present, within the services, only officers may sit as court martial members. In examining the previous Armed Forces Bill, the Select Committee considered whether other ranks should be eligible, without reaching any firm conclusions. The previous Administration subsequently established a review of the issue.

Following that, in 1998, the then Minister for the Armed Forces, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), announced that we wished courts martial to benefit from the wisdom and experience of warrant officers. Clause 19 therefore proposes changes to the legislation to allow warrant officers to sit as court martial members, in cases where the accused is of lower rank.

Clause 20 provides a power to extend membership of the summary appeal courts to warrant officers. That is in recognition of views expressed by Opposition Members during the passage of the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000 in the previous Session.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

When the Bill reaches Committee, will the Minister seek to justify the fact that a warrant officer, or an officer in the Navy of the rank of lieutenant or above, can sit as a member of a court martial, but a warrant officer who is promoted to sub-lieutenant cannot? Will he seek to defend that in Committee?

Mr. Spellar

I am certain that, whatever change and progress one makes, it throws up further anomalies that need to be examined. It might therefore be appropriate to look at that matter. I recall that the hon. Gentleman was the Chairman of the Select Committee that considered the previous Armed Forces Bill. I hope that he welcomes the fact that we are acting on that Committee's recommendations. We can certainly examine the matter when the current Bill is considered by the Committee, but there has been welcome progress in implementing the Committee's wishes and, I believe, those of the House.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)

Why has my hon. Friend not had a more radical look at the court martial system, particularly for serious offences? What has he got against having the equivalent of a jury trial for those serious offences, moving away from other service men considering those cases?

Mr. Spellar

It is simply because I am not a radical sort of fellow.

We do not believe that it would be appropriate to make warrant officers members of the summary appeal courts immediately. We want first to obtain experience, both of the new courts in operation and of warrant officers as court martial members, before taking a view in due course on whether they should be eligible to sit on the new courts.

The remainder of part III proposes adjustments to bring trial procedures into line with those in civilian courts. A number of the measures are intended to assist the service courts to operate more effectively. Others aim to help to get the right balance between the prosecution and the accused and between the wrongdoer and the community.

Clause 21 will enable the Attorney-General to invite the courts martial appeal court to review a sentence that has been passed by a court martial, if he considers that the sentence is unduly lenient. That reflects a similar power in relation to sentences in the civilian court.

Also on sentencing, it has always been the intention that courts martial should be subject to the same requirement as civilian courts to impose mandatory, or minimum, sentences in certain circumstances: where they are dealing with an offender who has previously been convicted of specified serious offences and is being sentenced for a further similar offence. Clause 22 puts the service courts on the same footing as the civilian courts in that regard.

The conduct of courts martial in hearing a case can be impeded if the defence seeks judicial review of a decision of the court during the trial. Where that happens, the trial must stop until the High Court has dealt with the application for judicial review. That can mean a long delay.

Where cases are tried on indictment in the Crown court there is no right to seek judicial review. If the defence is unhappy with any aspect of the way in which the trial has been conducted, it has the right of appeal. Similarly, there can be appeal from the decisions of a court martial. Where appeal is possible, there is no need also to have access to judicial review. Clause 23, therefore, brings courts martial into line with the Crown court by removing trial proceedings from the scope of judicial review, which, I am sure it will be agreed, is a welcome development.

Witnesses who fail to attend courts martial can delay or frustrate the administration of justice. At present, there are no effective means of ensuring the attendance of civilian witnesses. Clause 25 seeks to remedy that by giving judicial officers or judge advocates powers to order the arrest of witnesses who there is good reason to believe will fail to attend proceedings, or who actually fail to do so.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Clause 21 confers on the Attorney-General the power to review what are considered to be lenient sentences. Why does the Minister feel that it is necessary to invoke the Attorney-General, who is essentially responsible for administering the civilian courts? Would he consider that a military legal personality should be the authority responsible for deciding whether to refer to court martial appeal a sentence that is perceived to be over-lenient?

It is a great pleasure to see the Minister here today and he is doing extremely well. However, I wonder whether, for this most important measure in five years, the Secretary of State should be here to deal with the points with which, as I have said, the Minister is dealing extremely well.

Mr. Spellar

It is traditional for the Minister for the Armed Forces to deal with this legislation. As has been made clear, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is having important discussions with one of our friendly powers. [Interruption.] I am sorry that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) finds that amusing. However, I fully understand that, given his perspective, talking to foreigners is a highly suspect activity. We think it important to talk to our friends and allies.

The appropriate answer to the intervention is that the Attorney-General, with considerable experience of dealing with such cases, is the appropriate legal office to seek such a review. After all, in many cases the Attorney-General is not the prosecuting authority in the civilian courts, but provides a necessary position within Government to intervene in the public interest. That reads across effectively to the service provision. We have no difficulty with that and believe that it is a significant change that will bolster good order and discipline in the armed forces.

Civilian courts have powers to award costs against parties in a criminal case, or against their legal representatives, where the court considers that the case has been conducted in a way that results in the other side incurring unnecessary expenditure. There are no corresponding powers available to service courts and there is now some evidence that they are needed. This would, for example, be to discourage lawyers unreasonably requesting the attendance at trials of witnesses whom they have no cause to suppose will be able to give relevant evidence. Clauses 26, 27 and 28 therefore give appropriate powers to service courts, similar to those available to the civilian courts.

Finally in part III, I wish to mention clause 30. The Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000 introduced a system of bail, similar to the civilian system, but which deals purely with custody prior to or during service trials. There is, however, no compelling reason why the services should continue to differ from the civilian system with regard to bail pending appeal. Clause 30 will enable procedures to be introduced, similar to the civilian system, allowing persons convicted by a service court to apply for bail pending the outcome of an appeal against conviction or sentence.

Before I describe part IV, I should like to deal with clause 33. That is because it ties in with much of what this Bill is seeking to achieve in bringing service procedures into line with relevant civilian ones.

Civilian criminal justice procedures are developing all the time, and we need to ensure that we respond. There are a number of ways in which we can achieve this. One way is to ensure that criminal justice legislation extends to the services from the outset. That occurs extensively, and sometimes the legislation immediately applies to the armed forces. Other Acts—such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—provide powers allowing certain of their provisions to be extended to the armed forces by secondary legislation. In that case, the power is generally couched in terms that the provisions may be modified to cater for the special requirements of the services.

However, instances still arise where civilian procedures are altered, but even though we want to follow suit, we have no powers to do so. In such cases, we have to wait for the next five-yearly Bill. Clause 33 provides a means for enabling us to respond in a more timely manner. It will allow the Secretary of State to use statutory instruments to apply future changes in civilian criminal justice legislation to the services. That will be on the basis of making equivalent provision, with necessary modifications.

The new power will provide flexibility. The House will want that to be used sensibly, but it is important to bear it in mind that the provisions we shall be seeking to extend to the services will already have been scrutinised by Parliament. Clause 33 provides a valuable tool to further the theme of much of this Bill, which is about keeping in step with relevant changes in civilian procedures.

Part IV deals with the Ministry of Defence police. This is a civilian police force, some 3,500 strong, within the Ministry of Defence. Its purpose is to provide effective policing of the defence estate and community. The force should not be confused with the service police, whom we were considering earlier. I am sure that hon. Members present for this debate would not do so.

MDP officers possess constabulary powers, and their training is very similar to that of Home Department police officers. The force is subject to inspection by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. Its officers provide for the security of a range of defence assets, including at locations where there is a likelihood of contact with the public or civilian employees.

The jurisdiction of the MDP is defined in the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987. The overall effect of that Act is to give the force a jurisdiction to police defence land, property and personnel within the United Kingdom. The MDP is also able to operate on land in the vicinity of defence land, where a local force has asked for assistance.

The image of the MDP as an essentially static force based at defence establishments no longer holds true. The force increasingly operates mobile patrols to get from one defence establishment to another. That inevitably brings MDP officers into greater contact with the public than before.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

The Minister is about to explain the provisions of this part of the Bill, but will he say at whose behest the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence police is being extended? Has it been requested by that police force itself, by territorial police forces, by the Ministry of Defence or by the Home Office?

Mr. Spellar

The change has been proposed very much at the instigation of the Ministry of Defence police and the Defence Police Federation. Increasingly, as I shall describe, members of that force find themselves in situations in which they come into contact with the public. They are seen to wear the uniform of a policeman, but they have no more powers than the average citizen. It is to remedy that defect, and others, that we are introducing the Bill. That course of action seems appropriate and right.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I welcome the provisions of clause 31, and I have been trying to secure similar changes for the other non-Home Office police forces, such as British Transport police, the Royal Parks constabulary and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority constabulary. However, the explanatory notes make it clear that the powers provided in the clause for a Ministry of Defence police officer to act in extremis—in London, for example, that necessity might arise in the absence of a Metropolitan police officer, or when it was necessary to go to the aid of such an officer—can be exercised only if there is the potential to prevent or minimise personal injury, or in response to the use or threat of violence. The power does not appear to extend to circumstances in which, for example, a possible burglary is witnessed. That is an anomaly: I believe that the in extremis powers should be available when no Home Office police officer is available.

My second point is that clause 32 also mentions land dealt with by the Atomic Energy Authority police and by the British Transport police, but does not mention the Royal Parks constabulary. The Royal Parks constabulary and the Ministry of Defence police have an interface close to this building, and circumstances such as those covered by clause 31 can often arise in such areas. Could that omission be looked into?

Mr. Spellar

That question would have to be addressed to another Department. The Royal Parks constabulary comes under a separate institution, not the Ministry of Defence, although I often find that the Ministry has responsibilities that I had not previously understood it to have. My hon. Friend must understand that we are dealing with an anomaly, but we must be equally sensitive to the considerations of the county police forces. This is an appropriate measure to address the problems that we have identified, while maintaining the supremacy of the county forces. I shall certainly draw his comments on some of the other forces to the attention of the appropriate Minister.

Mr. Mackinlay

I hope that I am not labouring the point, but looking at the body language of the Ministers, I rather thought that they agreed with me. Others may be frustrating this idea.

If a Royal Parks constabulary officer in St. James's park were faced with a crime involving violence, clause 31 would not confer any more powers of arrest or intervention on a Ministry of Defence police officer in the circumstances than I would have as a civilian. That is ludicrous. The point of clause 31 is to remedy such anomalies, and does so in relation to the British Transport police. An officer of the Ministry of Defence police will be able to go into Westminster tube station to support an officer of the British Transport police when there is the potential for violence, but he will not be able to do so in St. James's park. I suspect that the Home Office, or the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, is being awkward in this matter.

Mr. Spellar

This matter will obviously be drawn to the attention of the Committee, which will give it further consideration.

The greater contact between MDP officers and the public has consequences for expectations of how members of the force will act. If a member of the public is the victim of an assault, he or she may expect a passing police officer in uniform to assist. It is of no concern to the victim whether the police officer belongs to the MDP or the local constabulary.

However, the present law does not allow an MDP officer to exercise constabulary powers when intervening in these circumstances, except near defence land. He would have the same standing in relation to the incident as any other citizen, as I said earlier. That is not satisfactory, as it can inhibit the officer from assisting effectively because he knows that his actions may subsequently be challenged.

The Bill seeks to remedy that. Clauses 31 and 32, and schedule 5, make a number of changes to the jurisdiction of the MDP. A key change will enable MDP officers to act in an emergency in cases involving violence, the threat of violence or a risk of death or injury. This addition to individual MDP officers' powers is tightly circumscribed to cases in which it is clear that the timely assistance of a Home Department police officer will not be available. The Bill also broadens the ability of individual officers to respond to requests for assistance from local police officers. At present, this is limited to the vicinity of defence land.

These proposals will enable individual MDP officers to make a more effective contribution to policing the community. Other proposals in the Bill will make it easier for the force as a whole to co-operate with Home Department forces. They will allow the MDP to enter into standing arrangements if a local police force requests assistance in the longer-term policing of land in the vicinity of defence land.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

My hon. Friend the Minister will know that I have corresponded with the Ministry of Defence for a long time about the suggestion that the MDP be replaced in certain establishments by private security people. I am slightly confused that we seem to be widening the MDP's powers while suggesting that some jobs that it undertakes could be taken over by private security firms. Am I wrong in my assumptions?

Mr. Spellar

I think that my hon. Friend is partly wrong. In a number of places where static guarding is carried out, the Ministry of Defence police force is being replaced by the Military Provost Guard Service, which is not a private security company but an integral part of the Ministry of Defence. The move from static guarding, in which Ministry of Defence police has played a considerable role, towards a more active policing role brings the force more into contact with the public. So the changes that my hon. Friend describes are part of the basis for the changes that we propose in the Bill.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

Have any discussions taken place about the merger of the Ministry of Defence police and the UK energy police force, as their roles overlap in certain circumstances? Has such a merger been considered in terms of new powers?

Mr. Spellar

That is not in the Bill and not currently under consideration.

The Bill will also allow the force to meet requests for the provision of personnel or other resources to assist other police forces anywhere in the country and to meet special demands on their resources. Help given during the recent floods or a search for a missing person are examples of such provision.

There will be two key provisos in relation to the provision of MDP assistance of this latter sort. First, such assistance will quite rightly be triggered only if there is a request from the relevant chief constable. Secondly, we intend that it should be found from within the force's own resources. There will be no additional resources for the MDP simply to enable the force to help Home Department constabularies.

There are other proposals relating to the MDP which there is insufficient time to cover today. I can assure the House, however, that there is no intention to duplicate the role of the Home Department forces or to turn the MDP into a general police force. It will continue to police the defence estate and the defence community. The extensions that I have described are tightly circumscribed. They are the minimum, in our view, to enable the force to operate effectively and collaborate with Home Department forces in the interests of joined-up policing.

There is one final proposal in the Bill that I wish to cover in some detail. It is in clauses 34 and 35, which deal with testing for alcohol and drugs.

It goes without saying that there is no room for the abuse of controlled drugs in service life. The armed forces' drug testing programmes, conducted on a random basis, have proved to be a useful tool in deterring and combating their use.

There is no equivalent provision to allow testing for alcohol. The Services have extensive education programmes designed to promote a responsible attitude towards alcohol. However, it would not be appropriate to test for alcohol on a random basis, given that it does not have the same unlawful status as controlled drugs. Instead, the Bill seeks a power to enable the armed forces to test for alcohol or drugs in certain specified circumstances, such as when an incident has caused death, serious injury or serious damage, or could have done so. If it is considered that persons subject to service law may have contributed to the incident, they may be required to provide breath or urine samples to allow testing for alcohol or drugs. It will be an offence to refuse.

The results of such tests will be used to assist in establishing the cause of the incident and therefore to inform a subsequent board of inquiry. The test results will be excluded from use against anyone in a subsequent service prosecution to ensure the fullest co-operation of all those called upon to participate in a test and, by analogy, with evidence given at other boards of inquiry. However, they could be used as evidence in civil proceedings, or as a basis for any subsequent service administrative action aimed at preventing an individual from exposing himself or others to similar risks in future.

The underlying intention of the provision is, of course, to add to the range of measures to safeguard individuals involved in potentially hazardous duties and to discourage the inappropriate consumption of alcohol or the use of controlled drugs.

The Bill also includes a miscellany of minor changes to the legislation affecting the armed forces, intended to rectify anomalies and so on.

Mr. Mackinlay

Can my hon. Friend tell me whether, with regard to the miscellaneous provisions under part V, there has been an approach from the New Zealand House of Representatives or the New Zealand Government to use this measure to regularise the Act of Parliament that they passed in relation to British empire forces, over which only this Parliament can have jurisdiction? My hon. Friend will be aware that, to its eternal credit, the New Zealand Parliament unilaterally, but unconstitutionally, passed an Act of Parliament that could only be passed here to grant pardons to people in the Otago regiment who were executed in world war one. They were not New Zealand soldiers as such, but soldiers in the British empire forces over which, constitutionally, only this place has jurisdiction. In view of the fact that the New Zealand Parliament passed that Act, which is to its credit, has there been a request for the position to be regularised using this measure? If not, why not?

Mr. Spellar

I am not aware of any such approach.

Returning to schedule 7, I shall not dwell on the anomalies that the Bill is intended to rectify today, except to mention one. At present, of the children of members of the armed forces, only daughters are eligible to be married in service chapels. The Bill proposes that sons and stepchildren should also be eligible. I am sure that the House will welcome that modest liberalising measure.

Much of the Bill is technical and procedural. That does not lessen its importance to the services. The House and the Select Committee will give it the attention that it deserves.

At the beginning of my speech I referred to the excellence of this country's armed forces. I do not want to conclude without paying tribute to them in more explicit terms. Indeed, I am sure that all hon. Members will want to join me in acknowledging the part that our armed forces play in maintaining Britain's place and reputation on the international stage. Around the world, they have shown consistently that they can make a real and positive difference to people's lives. That is because our forces as institutions, and the people who serve in them, are second to none. The Bill continues to maintain their effectiveness. I commend it to the House.

5.11 pm
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Armed Forces Bill, which neither consolidates the three existing Service Discipline Acts nor introduces a single tri-service Act; which fails to address the challenge to military combat effectiveness from the gathering tide of legislation following the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law; which omits legal clarification of employment in the services of young people under the age of 18; which fails to provide a statutory basis for equality of access by servicemen and women to free and impartial tribunals and resources to achieve that; and which encourages a further creeping advance of litigation that will breed a cautious group of military leaders who may step back from courageous decisions for fear of being pursued through the courts. Much of this quinquennial Bill will be uncontroversial. Part I—the continuance of the services Acts—is a duty that the House must address for the sake of the good order and discipline of Her Majesty's forces. Part II, which deals with powers of entry, search and seizure, will demand close scrutiny, as will part III, on the trial and punishment of offences under the services discipline Acts.

Part IV would extend the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence police. We broadly welcome that, although we will want to examine in depth the interface between the MOD, Home Office and military police and how the proposals will affect those relationships. The alignment of the forces discipline procedures with those of Home Department police forces has taken a long time to achieve. We will need to ensure that the procedures will be satisfactory.

Part V is likely to give us the most difficulty. In it, the consent of the House is sought to give the Secretary of State for Defence power to make orders applying changes in civilian criminal justice legislation to the armed forces. As the explanatory notes so helpfully provided by the Ministry of Defence put it: This clause provides a general order-making power which would enable the Secretary of State to make for the armed forces provisions equivalent to those contained in any future civilian criminal justice legislation or any existing legislation that it amends. Disarmingly, the note goes on to explain: The power may be exercised so far as is desired, i.e. the entire civilian legislation does not have to be adopted. Modifications or any incidental, consequential or transitional provisions which the Secretary of State thinks fit may be made. That is exactly the sort of thing at which hon. Members prick up their ears, and we shall be doing more than that in Committee. We have considerable doubts about the wisdom of the House giving general enabling powers to any Secretary of State. That part of the Bill will no doubt take some time in Committee.

Those of us who served on the Committee on the previous quinquennial Bill, military lawyers and other defence buffs may have been under the impression that that was the whole purpose of the five-yearly armed forces Bill—and the Minister alluded to this. When civilian and military laws have got significantly out of kilter, the House redresses the balance through primary legislation. Sometimes the Secretary of State can use existing powers to remedy imbalances, which inevitably occur from time to time. However, clause 33 appears to change the whole process so that, rather than the House deciding every five years the extent to which military law and civilian law concur, the Secretary of State may, if he thinks fit, change military law by order to bring it into line with civilian law. I can think of circumstances where that might be sensible and beneficial; I can think of others where the reverse is the case. We will need to tease out Ministers' motives in seeking to make that change.

Clause 33 appears to encapsulate much of what the Chief of the Defence Staff flagged up in his presentation to the Royal United Services Institute last December. He ended that speech by warning that if we hamstring our fighting services with inadequate funding, poor equipment, undermanning and inappropriate legislation, we will create a generation of sailors, soldiers and airmen who are little more than a gendarmerie. He said: All symbolism and no substance. They will certainly not be made of the stuff that the British forces are today and what our country expects them to be like. Some people believe that the membership of the armed forces should reflect the general composition of our nation's population. Her Majesty's forces should most certainly be open to all who wish to serve their Queen and country. We believe that members of the armed forces are different, and should be different, from most civilians. That is exactly what the Chief of the Defence Staff said, too. He said in his RUSI speech that Defence Ministers understand the position of the military and have been robust in their defence of the case during the recent European debate on ending employment discrimination on grounds of age and disability. If that is what Defence Ministers really believe in the face of their colleagues, we agree with them—and with the chiefs of staff.

Many people believe that, to ensure that Her Majesty's forces represent a cross-section of society, Ministers should impose changes on the military to ensure that they comply. We disagree. Such decisions should be for the chiefs of staff and the chain of command.

Some people believe that the argument about the emergence of a European defence force is only about north Atlantic power politics; it is not. It is also about the motives, the capability and the military effectiveness of our potential partners in the enterprise.

I note in passing that some hon. Members think we have an exclusive prerogative to express views on those subjects. Apparently, some of those with military experience—particularly if they hold senior ranks and are members of the royal family—should be excluded from commenting, even in private to their friends. I regret very much that the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) is not present. It had not crossed my mind for a moment that he would not be here, but I understand that he has had to run off to another BBC studio. We should not be surprised that the Liberal Democrats' official spokesman on foreign affairs and defence who, only last week, joined the Foreign Secretary in saying that our existing political culture is not conducive to consensus-building and that the adversarial approach to debate promotes polarisation of opinion, and who called for constructive discussions, was the same party politician who, just before Christmas, told the Prince of Wales "to mind his own bloody business" when he dared discuss defence issues at a private dinner party, the conversation at which was subsequently leaked.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford)

I am sure that if my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) had been aware that the hon. Gentleman would mention him in such detail during his opening remarks he would have ensured that he was here. In his defence—although he needs none from me—it is a constitutional point that the Prince of Wales of any day should not become involved in discussing party politics. I speak as a "friend" of His Royal Highness—[Interruption]—but the way in which His Royal Highness became involved was wrong.

Mr. Key

I need not pass any comment on that intervention. I am very surprised. I know that the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife would need no defence from anyone, and he would have thoroughly enjoyed this little exchange if he had been present, but the hon. Gentleman's comment really does take the biscuit. Now that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is one of those supernumerary Scottish Members of Parliament who have more time on their hands, we should not be surprised that he has become the darling of the BBC and the favourite BBC all-purpose defence rent-a-quote. We had better move on swiftly before anyone else owns up to being a friend of His Royal Highness.

If nations do not have a common purpose in defence, they will not discuss the same issues in the same way; they will not react to the same crises in the same way; and they will not be able to satisfy the Petersberg tasks coherently—let alone high-intensity warfare.

Take the issue of women in the front line. We are frequently told that there is no problem with deploying them there and that the Israelis adopted that approach years ago. Advocates of the Israeli example do not seem to have heard that the Israelis also abandoned it years ago, because it reduced combat effectiveness and simply did not work.

Advocates of women in the front line say that, if our strongest partner, the United States, can deploy them, so can we. They fail to recognise that, with the exception of the marine corps, which continues to thrive and attract massive numbers of recruits, the American military has suffered severe setbacks in its military effectiveness and deployability—an issue that must be addressed by the incoming Bush Administration.

Nearer to home, all eyes are on Germany. Only last week, on 3 January The Times reported from Berlin: Germany's first contingent of 240 female fighting troops signed up yesterday for the Army under strict orders that they remove their nose rings and stay chaste in barracks … Frederick the Great must be spinning in his sarcophagus," one officer said, referring to the Prussian leader who hand-picked his strapping male grenadiers. We know that, last year, the European Court of Justice ruled that the German Government must provide equal opportunities for women in their forces. The Times adds: Special courses on "gender training" have been set up to instruct and reassure male non-commissioned officers how to deal with women under their command. The questions raised … show how deep is the unease. Can I order a woman soldier to cut her hair? What jewellery is acceptable? Should a section commander intervene if two members of his unit fall in love? What happens if the commander himself falls in love? How to prevent sexual harassment, or distinguish between genuine and false claims of harassment? What shall I do if a woman cries? A tank commander has written several rules which, according to the report, include: no sex in barracks, before, during or after duty. Anyone who transgresses will be punished. Knocking on doors … is now compulsory. The report points out: Every fifth German soldier, questioned by sociologists, said he was afraid that a woman would end up taking his job. The key, say German officers, is to provide the right mixture at platoon and company level. According to a US Army analyst, if there are only 20 per cent. women in a mixed unit, the men tend to be over-protective, reducing fighting competence. If there are more than 50 per cent. women in a unit, the men tend to slacken and are difficult to command. The Times also reported that the physical health and mental aptitude of women recruits were good. It reports Colonel Volker Spangenberg as saying: Almost all are pretty robust. They also ask questions more readily than men and they have a much clearer idea as to what they want from the army. However, does the army have a clear idea of what it wants from the women?

Mr. Mackinlay

To which clause of the Bill is the hon. Gentleman directing his remarks?

Mr. Key

The hon. Gentleman will not have to wait long to find out.

The really fundamental problem is that, under the German constitution, the Germany military—undoubtedly a good NATO partner and a good partner in peacekeeping it has turned out to be—does not have a front-line offensive role. Its members are not trained for high-intensity warfare, which must remain the first priority for British forces. The sort of questions reported to be occupying the mind of the German military are only a small part of the story.

There is a mass of other evidence. I shall describe three examples that were related to me only last week by a military man of impeccable credentials whose words I have no reason to doubt. The first concerned a young officer commanding a United Nations patrol in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In their blue berets, the members of the patrol came to an unexpected roadblock manned by heavily armed rebels who heavily outnumbered the small British contingent. The commanding officer asked the interpreter what the rebels were discussing. He was told that they had identified a pretty British corporal and were deciding how they would extract her from the group and abduct her for their pleasure. The commanding officer had to decide whether to allow the rebels to take away the corporal unhindered; to call up assistance that might arrive too late; or to commence a fire fight that would almost certainly result in deaths on both sides. In the event, he persuaded the rebels to move on.

The commanding officer said that the incident had changed his whole attitude. He had been a pretty liberal-minded officer, ready to accept change. This incident made him realise that women in the front line of the infantry was an altogether different matter. The crisis would not have arisen if the woman had not been there. It had nothing to do with the woman's ability to do her job, and her undoubted success was rewarded by promotion. It was not even a matter of the reaction of her fellow British soldiers. It was a question of how the modern fighting force of a liberal democracy could handle personal confrontation with illiberal, undemocratic armed forces.

A second officer explained how he had been with the Royal Navy on a resupply-at-sea exercise in a British frigate in a force 6 sea. When the frigate came alongside the United States supply ship in the Atlantic, the pitch and roll were substantial. The visiting officer and the captain were on the bridge and observed the female rating on the bow of the frigate as she tried to pull across the very heavy wet rope. She was physically unable to do it. Her skill and determination were not in question—indeed, she lacerated her hands in the process. All that was lacking was physical strength. The visitor was ordered forward to assist. He subsequently received a stream of invective from the United States sailor, who could not believe that the Brits could be so stupid.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Last April, the Defence Committee visited our forces in the Gulf. We also went to Bahrain, where we saw the commanding officer of the British RAF personnel who provide support on the tankers that refuel the VC10s that enforce the no-fly zones over southern Iraq. That commanding officer was a woman, a pilot and an excellent person. Instead of denigrating the women in our forces, as the hon. Gentleman is doing, is it not time that he praised them?

Mr. Key

I am second to none in my praise for women of all ranks in our armed forces. I was about to say that almost all female and male members of Her Majesty's forces comment on the problem of physical strength and endurance. There is no question of any lack of intellectual equality, motivation, drive or determination. I believe that the majority of women recognise that they would face problems of endurance on the battlefield, which is when the problem of unit cohesiveness will arise. What will be the reaction of the men when their brave female colleagues cannot physically carry the battlefield load in the front line of the infantry, or when their female comrades are wounded or just utterly exhausted?

Mr. Cohen

What is the hon. Gentleman's reaction when women do carry the physical endurance load? Should they not then be allowed in the front line? As for his example of the woman who could have been kidnapped, is he not aware that the last British soldier who was kidnapped was a man in Sierra Leone? All his arguments against women, which I think he and his party will regret, could be applied to women in the civilian workplace. Such arguments have been shown to be nonsense there, and they are nonsense in the armed forces as well.

Mr. Key

I have great affection and respect for the hon. Gentleman, but there is one fundamental difference between us: I do not believe that it is his place or mine to tell the military how to do their job. That is for the chain of command. Politicians should not tell the military to be politically correct, but that is what the Bill is in danger of doing.

My final example is of a young liaison officer to a tented brigade headquarters in a forest in Germany in the middle of winter. It was terribly cold, and he went unchallenged as he approached the headquarters down a track. Only when he was inside the tent and in the presence of all the senior officers was he challenged by the sentry, who was a female lance-corporal who had been allowed to stay inside the tent because of the cold. That was not a summer picnic at Catterick, but a training exercise for high-intensity warfare.

Senior officers have also made it clear to me that it is no longer possible to say with any credibility that women should either be prohibited from serving in the front line or be allowed to serve only in the rear echelons. The reason is that in this age of asymmetric warfare, weapons of mass destruction, electronic warfare and rapidly developing defence technology, it is no longer possible to define a front line or a rear echelon.

What are we to do about political correctness and the application of human rights legislation to the armed forces? I regret that neither this debate nor the proceedings of the Committee stage which will follow will be informed by the inquiry by the Ministry of Defence into women in the infantry, which will not report until March. In addition, we will not have the benefit of the Defence Committee's inquiry into personnel issues, which will be published soon. Both those reports would have helped us.

The Secretary of State states on the face of the Bill that, under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998, his view is that the provisions of the Armed Forces Bill are compatible with the Convention rights. However, the Bill was printed on 11 December last, and time moves on quickly in matters of political correctness.

During the passage of the Human Rights Bill in 1998, assurances were given by the Lord Chancellor that it was not intended or anticipated that the armed forces would be affected by it, and that if that appeared likely, special legislation might have to be introduced to correct it. He said: I urge your Lordships to be of the view that the convention is a flexible instrument. It poses no threat to the effectiveness of the Armed Forces. He went on to attempt to allay the concerns that were expressed about the possible effect on the armed forces. He indicated that he was willing to consider designating military courts as the proper venue for the consideration of complaints on convention grounds by armed forces personnel. Most interestingly, he said that the Secretary of State for Defence takes the view that the Bill raises no issues which are special to the Armed Forces.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 February 1998; Vol. 585, c. 768.] Just over a year later, the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000 was dumped on the armed forces. They were given no blanket or partial derogation from human rights law, despite the Government's promise. The Defence Committee examined that matter in its fourth report on that legislation. It pointed out that some countries have approached difficulties with compliance of their armed forces discipline system with the European convention on human rights by obtaining a reservation on ratifying the convention. France did that on its accession in 1974. Of course, a reservation is available to a state only on accession to the convention. A state can make a derogation after acceding, under article 15, in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation.

The United Kingdom did not obtain a reservation when we acceded to the ECHR in 1951 because, as their lordships made clear in 1998, at the time no one believed or intended that the convention would apply to the armed services. In its fourth report, the Defence Committee records that it asked the Minister for the Armed Forces to comment on the suggestion that, as the summary justice system was such a vital element of service discipline, an alternative way of dealing with the problem of compliance would be to leave the ECHR and rejoin with a reservation on armed forces discipline.

In paragraph 5 of the report, the Minister told the Committee: That would be a theoretical possibility but that does not seem to have commended itself to any Government since 1951 … It is a theoretical possibility but the question we would then have to face as the application to join at that time and the great complications that would be involved means it is a fairly far out possibility. The Committee reported to the House: This course of action did not appear to have been considered actively, and we would look forward to the Government addressing this possibility during debate on the further stages of the Bill's progress in this House. The Government did not address that possibility, and they certainly should have done so.

During the passage of the Armed Forces Discipline Bill in another place, my noble Friend Lord Renton made a significant intervention. He said: I believe I should mention that I am one of the few people still living who attended the European Council when the European Convention on Human Rights was being considered. Indeed, I was closeted with M. Rolin, the Belgian lawyer who represented Dr Mossadek at The Hague in order to agree with him—and eventually it was agreed by all concerned—the powers of the European Court of Human Rights. I feel obliged to mention that at that time—it was just a few years after the war—I do not believe that members of any party in this country gave a moment's thought to the effect of the convention on military discipline. But now we must consider it. I believe that the Government must review the convention and our acceptance of it in order to ensure that military discipline is maintained. Lord Renton went on to restate a basic principle. He said: I believe that especially in time of war—and we should be thinking in terms of the application of this Act in time of war—discipline must if necessary prevail over justice.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 November 1999; Vol. 607, c. 691.] Our position is clear. On 21 December, my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, said: The Conservative party will change this culture of political correctness in the armed forces. We will exempt them from this nonsense. On arrival back in Government we will take the armed forces out of the Convention. It is no good the Government pretending they are using common sense when they are the ones who have imposed this politically correct culture on the armed forces.

Mr. Gapes

Does the hon. Gentleman concede that before the passage of the Armed Forces Discipline Act, Conservative Governments consistently lost cases in the European courts, and as a result it was necessary to change our law to make it proof against those decisions? The hon. Gentleman is proposing that in future we abrogate international agreements, move away from co-operation with other countries and leave ourselves open to further legal judgments in the European courts.

Mr. Key

I am terrified by that prospect.

Yes, the Conservative Government lost cases in the European court. Yes, the Labour Government have lost cases in the European court. It never happened to the French, the Germans or any other nation that had taken out a reservation. That is why we say that we agree with Lord Renton that we should come out of the convention and immediately rejoin—it is a technicality—with the reservation in place. That is why I think the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) is so wrong.

We must be prepared to front up to the entire issue of political correctness in relation to the armed forces. As I have said several times, it should not be for us to decide. These matters must be decided by the chiefs of staff and the chain of command.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Before my hon. Friend leaves the implications for the armed forces of the Human Rights Act 1998, may I ask him this? He will have seen that there are no fewer than four pages in the Bill which deal specifically with repeals that are consequential upon the enactment of the Human Rights Act. Some of the repeals relate to the abolition of the death penalty. Has my hon. Friend had the chance to study the minutiae of the four pages, and has he found anything significant in them?

Mr. Key

I am looking forward to studying the Bill in great depth over the next couple of months. That is what I intend to do. If my hon. Friend would be so kind as to draw my attention to particular points that he would like to be investigated, I shall do my best.

Mr. Mackinlay

The hon. Gentleman has not read the Bill.

Mr. Key

I have read the Bill from cover to cover. The hon. Gentleman was thumbing desperately through the Bill trying to reach the end while making that comment.

Last month, the Chief of the Defence Staff attracted a certain amount of controversy when he suggested that it might not be appropriate for disabled people to have equal opportunities in the armed forces. What did he actually say? He said: Our Defence Ministers do understand our position and have been robust in defence of our case during the recent European debate on ending employment discrimination on grounds of age and disability. I fully understand that those proposing this aspect of employment law were acting with good intentions and for entirely laudable aims. But if left unchecked the impact would have had a detrimental effect on the forces by insisting that disabled people had a right to serve. We need to guard against such ill-conceived ideas in future but the fact that some thought they should apply to the forces is a reflection of that lack of awareness of military issues, which I mentioned earlier. I don't blame them but they must understand that military life is, and should be, different. I agree with the Chief of the Defence Staff. He was immediately criticised by a long line of people, who I think misunderstood what he was trying to say.

I believe that Parliament needs to have a proper debate about these matters and I believe also that the Bill is the best vehicle for that debate. I hope that the Select Committee will have the opportunity of taking evidence from organisations such as the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, the Disability Rights Commission, the all-party parliamentary disablement group, which is so ably led by Lord Ashley of Stoke, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the human rights organisation Liberty and others. We should hear also from the Secretary of State for Defence on the opt-out for the armed forces in respect of a clause in article 13 in the European Union treaty of Amsterdam which forbids employment discrimination on grounds of disability or age.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Has the hon. Gentleman not, in effect, answered his own point? I understood that the speech to which he was referring was made to make it clear that, when it came to matters of defence, it was essential that people should be required only to do that which they were capable of doing. That was the point. That would deal with the hon. Gentleman's anecdotal accounts of people who are physically unable to deal with wet ropes and with those who put people who are incapable of carrying out certain tasks in a position where they would be required to undertake them.

Mr. Key

I respect the hon. Lady's views on these matters, as on so much else. If she will be patient for a little longer, she will understand what I believe the Chief of the Defence Staff was trying to say. There is another dimension to the matter.

The armed forces of European Union members increasingly work alongside each other under the European security and defence initiative. Some personnel are conscripts, some volunteers. Some are under 18. Under human rights and military law, what will be the legal basis of orders issued by a commanding officer from a country that forbids military service under 18 to a 17-year-old British regular soldier? On 20 December, the Prime Minister's spokesman made it clear that the Prime Minister backs General Sir Charles Guthrie and stated that there is no such thing as a non-combatant job … I think that I know what he meant, but he did not put it clearly and the Government need to clear up the confusion that has been caused.

Back in 1995, the Conservative Government established the "Positive About Disabled People" programme. The Ministry of Defence, then and now, has an action plan to recruit more people with disabilities and to help disabled employees to develop their full potential at work. Only yesterday, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence told my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) in a written answer that the MOD employs some 6,000 people with disabilities—about 6 per cent. of its civilian work force, which is about the same percentage as in the whole civilian work force. We know that the military has always sought to employ comrades injured in service, so that is not the issue.

We have an opportunity to listen to and learn from those who believe that there is a case to be made for a rethink of the status quo. I shall certainly be prepared to do that, but the nub of the matter is whether it is right that anybody—anybody at all—should be able to apply for regular front-line infantry service. That is all that the Chief of the Defence Staff was seeking to clarify.

Mr. Mackinlay

The shadow Minister is uttering at the Dispatch Box the same twaddle and Bumbledom that a very frustrated Douglas Bader heard before the battle of Britain—it is nonsense. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) has pointed out that people should be judged on the basis of capability, and if they can fulfil a function, their applications should be examined on their merits.

Mr. Key

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. Group Captain Bader was fully trained as an operational pilot and had an heroic record. He was injured in service. The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that people with a disability—an injured leg or, indeed, no leg—should be able to train as fighter pilots. That is a problem.

Mr. Blunt

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Key

Yes, but then I must make progress.

Mr. Blunt

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, because there is a danger of a serious misunderstanding arising over the nature of service life and what service men must be able to do. Even Downing street appears to have it right, which is welcome news to me, and a surprise to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). There is no such thing as a non-combatant role in the armed services. It has been said that blind people could be radio operators, but radio operators have to be able to operate in a combat environment just like any other soldier. That is why we cannot start recruiting disabled people as service men.

Mr. Key

My hon. Friend, who has direct experience of these matters, makes his point extremely well.

Just how far are the Government prepared to go with their agenda of political correctness? That matters very much because the Bill will give the Secretary of State wide powers, particularly in that respect. They are certainly prepared to go as far as the parade ground over sergeant-majors and military bands. The Minister for the Armed Forces took a roasting in the press and media when he confirmed that a team of MOD scientists, academics and civil musicians were reviewing noise levels. He is not present and I fully accept that he has to go to other forums to explain his remarks to the nation, so I shall constrain my remarks, especially as he did me the courtesy of providing an explanation. However, the matter represents a low for Ministers and the MOD and I hope that there will be a steady improvement. The point about brass bands and sergeant-majors has been appropriately derided.

On the face of it, part IV, which will extend the jurisdiction of the MOD police, looks sensible. I served on the Committee that considered the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987, which attracted considerable hostility from Home Office police forces. That has largely evaporated. However, there was always unfinished business, and the issue of jurisdiction was at the top of the list.

The proposals cannot go unchallenged, not least because of the objections of the Police Federation of England and Wales, which believes that there are good reasons why the public, if they knew the full position, would object to an extension of the Ministry of Defence police jurisdiction. The Police Federation claims that Ministry of Defence police officers do not have relevant experience, and it does not consider that the Ministry of Defence police has an appropriate approach to recruitment, or that its officers have the necessary training to encourage appropriate interface with the public. The Police Federation is concerned that Ministry of Defence police officers have not been appropriately trained and do not have the appropriate level of experience to deal with the general public.

The Police Federation also believes that the Ministry of Defence police is not sufficiently publicly accountable, so its powers should be limited to MOD matters alone. We shall explore these issues in detail in Committee. There are further concerns about the Ministry of Defence police often being armed—a concern which, I believe, is voiced by the Police Superintendents Association.

Most members of the public do not realise that there are so many different kinds of police in this country. It is a great strength that we have so many police forces, particularly the Home Office constabularies, county by county and the Metropolitan Police. There is a great deterrent effect in the combined effort of all the police forces. Until Christmas, I had seven police forces operating in my constituency. Just before Christmas, I noticed an eighth which had suddenly come on the scene. For some years I have had in my constituency the Wiltshire constabulary, the Ministry of Defence police, the Royal Military police, the Military Provost Guard Service, the UK Atomic Energy Authority police, the British Transport police and the Ministry of Defence guard force. Then I saw a brand-new shiny white police car in Salisbury. It was doing its rounds and inside was a gentleman in military uniform. Down the side of the police car was written Army Security Service.

I wondered what that was, as we have not had a Bill on the Army Security Service, so I tabled a parliamentary question. I understand that the Army Security Service is part of the Military Provost Guard Service and that it has put a fleet of 23 white police cars on the roads. I welcome it. It will be an added deterrent and assist the Home Office constabulary in deterring crime. People like to see cars that look like police cars, even if they are not police cars, so the force cannot do much harm. However, its appearance makes the point that Parliament must keep an eye on the proliferation of police forces and their powers.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) mentioned the Royal Parks constabulary. As someone who, in a past incarnation, was a Minister with responsibility for the Royal Parks constabulary, may I say what a high regard I have for that force, because of its specialist work in dealing with a specialist segment of people in our capital city. It can deal with foreign people who cannot speak English as well as it deals with everyday criminals in the royal parks. It is a remarkable institution that deserves far more recognition and acclaim than it gets.

The hon. Gentleman was right when he pointed out that a problem arises if a Ministry of Defence policeman sees a crime being committed. The answer that I was given by the Royal Parks police was that such a policeman would be expected to do his duty as a citizen. That is all very well, but the Ministry of Defence policeman would have no legal cover beyond that which he had as a civilian.

I commend the Ministry of Defence police for its work with young people in the DARE—drug abuse resistance education—programme, which is an anti-drugs and alcohol programme in schools. It is a remarkable programme, which is hugely successful in my constituency.

During the passage of the Armed Forces Discipline Bill, the Ministry of Defence tried to estimate the cost of implementing the changes that would flow from the Act. It estimated that there would be about 1,500 appeals a year to the summary appeals court. On that basis, the estimated cost of implementing the changes would be £6.5 million a year. The start-up costs of £1.5 million would cover the cost of additional computer systems, personnel, accommodation and office equipment. It was estimated that 55 additional service personnel and 35 additional MOD civilians would need to be employed.

In its fourth report, the Select Committee on Defence asked witnesses why the estimated number of appeals had been revised from 850 to 900. The Committee was told by the head of the Armed Forces Bill team at the MOD that that could be explained by a re-assessment of the nature of appeals, which were more likely to be against sentences than against the findings of summary proceedings, and significant additional investigative work would not therefore be necessary. The Committee reported that all three services had told it that good progress had been made in recruiting the necessary additional lawyers and had not encountered problems in attracting the right calibre of applicants.

We will wish to probe in Committee the question of additional costs and manpower. We will also return to one of the scandalous unanswered questions of last year's Armed Forces Discipline Bill—the lack of proper legal aid for our service men and women when faced with courts martial. With all the professionalism and good will in the world, the Army legal service cannot get away from the fact that its members are part of the chain of command; they are not perceived to be independent and impartial. We return to the human rights judge and jury syndrome. The Army declares that it wants as broad a range of choice of legal practitioner as possible to be available to forces personnel. That is not the reality. Last year, the Lord Chancellor specifically excluded swathes of the armed forces from assistance by the Legal Aid Board, and the Government have failed to remedy that. There are no relevant provisions in the Bill.

In the strategic defence review, the Government acknowledged the benefits of a tri-service discipline Act to replace the three service discipline Acts now under consideration. They have failed to deliver. They have also failed to deliver consolidation of the three Acts, even though that has been in progress since July 1991. We have heard what the Government have said: they have decided to abandon consolidation; but if it has taken 10 years to reach the point of abandoning consolidation, what hope is there that the Government will instruct the Lord Chancellor's Department to give the necessary priority to the Law Commission and others to undertake the massive job of producing a single tri-service Act? We have heard a commitment this afternoon on a time scale for that. It is an extremely tight commitment, to which we will hold the Government, but we shall not need to wait because we will be there and make sure that it happens.

In the Select Committee's special report on the Armed Forces Bill, printed on 30 April 1996, at paragraph 37, the Committee recommended that the Government ensure that the necessary resources and parliamentary time were made available. Their hopes have been dashed. We expect early progress in that area.

I invite the House to decline to give a Second Reading to the Armed Forces Bill. The Government have failed to address the challenge to military combat effectiveness from the gathering tide of legislation, whose authors do not understand that military life is and should be different, and that training for, and taking part in, battle is not like going to the office. The Government fail to take into account that the culture of risk aversion developing in society is anathema to service men and women whose profession requires a degree of decisiveness, flair and courage which sits badly with some of the more restrictive practices of modern civilian employment legislation.

The Government do not recognise that the chiefs of staff are not in the business of designing armed forces for the good times, but have to advise what will work when conditions are tough, dangerous and frightening. The Bill encourages a further creeping advance of litigation which will breed a cautious group of military leaders who may step back from courageous decisions for fear of being pursued through the courts. The blame for that belongs with the Government.

The fears that I have expressed are not just those of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition; they are widely held in all three services, which is no doubt why they were expressed in terms by the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie, in his speech to the Royal United Services Institute on 19 December 2000. I end by repeating his words: If we hamstring our fighting services with inappropriate legislation then we will create a generation of sailors, soldiers and airmen who are little more than a gendarmerie.

5.54 pm
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

In the 1980s, I was quite nervous about the Labour party's defence policy. I was rather fearful about it. I am not one of those who have changed their minds on defence in general, but, having observed the Government in action on defence matters for approaching four years, they have done little that causes me a great deal of anxiety. What does disturb me is that many of the things that Conservative Members supported enthusiastically, they now appear to oppose.

My wife accuses me regularly of being the personification of political incorrectness, but, in the many military units that I have visited, I have not discerned that women in the armed forces are a profound liability—quite the reverse. The recruiting crisis that began a long time before 1997—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) stays, he might learn a little more, but prejudice does not meet reason too frequently.

I have seen women in the armed forces performing admirably. They are not there for reasons of political correctness, but because they have a right to be there. When my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) talked about a woman in charge of transport command in Bahrain, he unfortunately forgot another example, which is that when we visited the Kuwaiti air base, which was occupied by the United States air force and the Royal Air Force, the pilot of the fourth Tornado aircraft, about to do some nasty things to Iraqi equipment, was a woman. No one to whom we spoke said that, somehow, that woman was not worth her place in the RAF.

It was, after all, the Minister for the Armed Forces in the early 1990s who courageously and famously announced that, forthwith, women would be allowed to serve on board Her Majesty's warships, and that he was confident, as ever, that the senior service would rise to meet the challenge. Those are words that I shall remember for many reasons. Therefore, if the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) looks at the Conservative party's record in introducing women into the armed forces, he need feel no embarrassment. The idea that women could be extricated from the armed forces without a catastrophic effect on the armed forces is beyond words.

Mr. Key

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. George

I promise that I will give way, but I must add that, from one or two things in the hon. Gentleman's speech and what he has said he intends to talk about, the Select Committee should be fun. It is a great shame that no member of the Defence Committee will be on that Committee, but more about that later. It will be a fun Committee, because all the prejudices that have been displayed by Conservative Members will replace serious debate on serious issues. We have heard little about the technicalities, perhaps because the hon. Gentleman has not gone into them. We have been treated to an incredible exercise in political prejudice—against the disabled and almost every category whom he represents in his constituency. I shall not threaten to send a copy of his speech to disablement and women's rights organisations, and every other category of minority that apparently can expect no place in the armed forces under a Conservative Administration. I shall simply say, having read that it takes 4.5 billion years to degrade a piece of depleted uranium, that that seems about the time scale that the hon. Gentleman will have to anticipate a degrading of the Government's appeal. I shall willingly give way to the hon. Gentleman's riposte. He knows that my words are in no way malevolent.

Mr. Key

Indeed I do. The right hon. Gentleman—I congratulate him—has known me over many years and in some tight places, literally as well as metaphorically, and he knows that I recognise the contribution that women have made. He is misrepresenting my views, and I believe that he knows it. I invite him in riposte to anticipate the reports of the Ministry of Defence and of his Committee, to which we are looking forward keenly. What is his judgment of, and what would he say to the Chief of the Defence staff about, the role of women on the front line of the infantry?

Mr. George

I promise the hon. Gentleman that I shall not avoid his question. I had hoped that our report could be produced in time for Committee members to bring their experience to the Select Committee considering the Armed Forces Bill. Regrettably, that has not been possible: the time scale for introducing the Bill has made it difficult to produce our report in time to do that. However, we are struggling to bring the report to the Select Committee's attention—in fact, before the Committee is operational.

The Defence Committee report is the product of the work of advisers, staff and the 11 Committee members. However, my own view is that perhaps it would be wise in future if the Defence Committee looked at the reforms to see whether the forebodings have been realised: whether women in the armed forces means mass fornication, cowardice and retreats in the face of the enemy; whether gays in the military will cause excessive problems; and whether the argument that some people—if not the hon. Member for Salisbury—have used, that blacks in the military will be a disruptive force, holds. Of course, it does not.

Political representatives in government have every right to tell the Chief of the Defence Staff the parameters within which he must operate. We have not given that power to the military. If members of the military want to become politicians, they can. There is an example in the House this afternoon, and there are several less successful entrants on the Opposition Benches. I say that mischievously, not malevolently.

The hon. Member for Salisbury was correct about one thing. I regret the forthcoming retirement of the Chief of the Defence Staff, although the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) will not be despondent when that day finally arrives. The ultimate test of the military is not necessarily how well it reflects society, but how well it performs when it is required to perform effectively. Even though I support the reforms, uppermost in my mind and, I hope, in the minds of Ministers, is the question of how much farther we shall have to go to achieve a perfectly representative military that will include ageing, obese cowards like myself. Frankly, I would forgo the right to be represented in the military—as, looking around, would most, if not all of my colleagues. We cannot expect the military to be a microcosm of society.

Although I support the reforms, one has to be cautious and say that there are limits beyond which one should not go. That is why I would argue strongly that, at some stage early in the next Parliament—or perhaps a little later to give the reforms a chance to mature—we should see how successful or otherwise the reforms have been. If reforms or changes need to be made, I hope that the Government will have the courage to take the appropriate measures.

Mr. Mackinlay

I like the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) very much and, contrary to his better judgment, he may have some regard for me. However, his speech ought to be read by every woman in the land because it was full of stereotyping and anecdotal prejudice. It portrayed the confused and sometimes malevolent thinking in the Conservative party. I wanted to share with my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) the fact that I spent a day with the hon. Member for Salisbury on HMS Invincible. He would certainly be disqualified from serving because of his lack of agility. However, I remember that the commanding officer of HMS Invincible telling us of the high proportion of women ratings and officers on his ship.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is bordering on a speech.

Mr. George

Thank you for rescuing me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, my colleague was making a pertinent point.

The Select Committee that is being formed will be interesting. Obviously, politics will rear its ugly head. Later, we shall have a vote, which, unfortunately, will destroy any hope of a consensual approach on some issues.

Mr. Viggers

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way—I have never had a chance to call him that before. He and I serve on the Defence Committee, of which he is a distinguished Chairman, and have both served on the Select Committee considering a previous Armed Forces Bill. He knows that the Defence Committee has influence but no power, whereas the Committee considering such Bills has enormous power to scrutinise the Government and, effectively, to hold them to ransom. What does the right hon. Gentleman think is the Government's motive for not choosing any member of the Defence Committee to serve on the Select Committee considering the Bill?

Mr. George

It is worse than that: it is the exclusion not only of members of the Defence Committee, but of Back Benchers. The composition of the Select Committee considering the Bill is a classic case of the Executive dominating the legislature. After 300 years of alleged parliamentary supremacy, that Committee has Executive supremacy, not parliamentary supremacy. From the Opposition, there are two wannabe Ministers; there is also the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), who is another wannabe, but he will wanna be for a hell of a lot longer than the Conservative Members who sit proximate to him. There is also a Whip and a parliamentary private secretary, so Opposition membership of that Committee is dominated by would-be members of the Executive. Labour membership of the Committee consists of two Ministers, who are extremely competent, two private Parliamentary private secretaries and a Whip. Inclusion of a member of the Defence Committee would not make much difference because there appears to be a carve-up between the Executive and the alternative Executive. I shall say no more than that, as I am already in enough trouble with my colleagues. However, I find matters regrettable.

My hon. Friend the Member for somewhere in the frozen north—I am sorry, I cannot remember Dari Taylor's Teesside constituency, but her football team is improving by the minute—will be unique. I hope that she will be looked after, although she can look after herself, because she is the only Back-Bench representative on the Committee. I profoundly regret that, but I shall say no more. However, I thank the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) for giving me the opportunity to raise that matter rather earlier than I intended.

Mr. Hoyle

I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is aware that it is not only Back Benchers who have an interest, but also the Back-Bench defence committee in Parliament. Two vice-chairmen and the secretary of that committee were not even asked if they might be considered or asked about their views. There has been a total exclusion, so I should like to back my right hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before the right hon. Gentleman responds, I remind him that this is the Second Reading of the Bill. We shall come to the motion on the Committee later this evening.

Mr. George

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall come on to that later.

The ad hoc Committee will be interesting, but not as interesting as it was in 1996, when we dealt directly with gays in the military, equal opportunities, the sale of Greenwich naval college—which was a disgrace—the court martial system, use of alcohol and drugs, and local service engagement. That engagement was bizarre, as it operated only within the travel-to-work area. "Sharpe" was being shown on television at the time and, to alter slightly what it said for the case of local service engagements: "Queen Anne commands and we obey, over the hills and as far as Wolverhampton." That, I am afraid, was the limit of local service involvement. However, the Conservatives' policy when they were in government is now our party's policy.

In addition to the problem of the composition of the Select Committee, there are other problems, to which the hon. Member for Salisbury referred. In 1991, the ad hoc Select Committee asked whether it was time that the single service Acts were "consolidated", and accordingly made a recommendation. We then met in 1996, when my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport—I use that phrase deliberately—was Chairman. I wondered how long it would take before we destabilised the team that was giving evidence to us. It took about four minutes, after the hon. Member for Gosport asked why consolidation was not included in the Bill. The answer was bizarre. We were told that a guy was seconded by the Treasury counsel; he worked for a couple of years on preparing the consolidated Bill and then left. Apparently, not enough lawyers were around—a pretty bizarre excuse in a country that is overflowing with members of the legal profession—to fill the gap. Thus, there was not the slightest chance of achieving any consolidation in the 1996 Bill. Ten years on from the initial consideration of the matter, there is still no sign of consolidation. Instead, the process might drift on until 2005–06. We are told that a new Act will then do the business. If that happens, it will be nearly 15 years since Parliament called for some rationality in the legislation. I do not regard that as a triumph for the Executive, who have become the legislature in the Select Committee that will consider the Bill. No doubt, they will be able to resolve the matter.

In 1985, it was suggested that the Select Committee on Defence should be given power to deal with the Armed Forces Bill. At that time, the Defence Committee said, "Thank you very much, but no thanks. We do not want to do it." However, serious consideration should be given to ensuring that the Select Committee on Defence has that role, although that proposal might be too radical for the Ministry of Defence. Instead, perhaps a draft Bill could be referred to the Defence Committee for consideration. It could then be handed back for consideration by the Armed Forces Select Committee that usually considers such Bills, with augmentation by Ministers and shadow spokesmen. The Defence Committee could achieve much more serious consideration by tailoring its activities to culminate in the publication of a report on the Bill. Such an arrangement would not be quite as radical an innovation as handing the whole procedure to the Defence Committee.

The Select Committee that will consider the Bill has a further weakness. Unlike any other Select Committee, it has no advisers. I have drafted an amendment to flag up that concern. It would introduce the following provision: That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers, either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity relating to the provisions of the Armed Forces Bill. Having seen the composition of the Committee, I realise that the amendment would be almost redundant, as the Executive—who are now the legislature—have access to the Ministry of Defence and to its advice. One might ask why, as we Back Benchers have been rendered superfluous, we should not let them get on with it and make it an entirely in-house operation.

Much of the Bill relates to security and policing. The Ministry of Defence has an enormous estate. It has a budget of £22 billion, which is one of the largest in Whitehall. More than 300,000 directly employed staff work in the MOD and the 44 defence executive agencies. The MOD's equipment procurement budget is £10 billion per annum, and it supports an industry of some 420,000 workers. The estate is physically enormous and amounts to 22,000 hectares. It comprises museums, art galleries, works of art, ships, tanks, computers and so on. It is incredible.

The task of providing policing and security falls to the Ministry of Defence police. Despite some of the remarks made by the Police Federation and the Association of Chief Police Officers, it is clear that the police are a professional force. They are supported by the MOD Guard Service, an in-house security force that is one of the most professional security forces in the country. Under the Bill, the service police forces are becoming more like civilian police forces, with many constabulary powers. I hope that the hon. Member for Salisbury will consider that issue when he breaks out of his little prejudices. I recall his views as I served with him on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill that became the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987. We must also bear in mind the Military Provost Guard Service and the list X companies, which have mostly private security.

Thankfully, and despite the indifference of the Conservative party, the Government seek to regulate private security. The quality of personnel in the industry will consequently be enhanced enormously. The Defence Committee produced numerous reports recommending that there be no further employment of private security workers until the industry is regulated. Once the industry is regulated, it can perform tasks that no sane Ministry of Defence would currently bestow upon it because of lack of professionalism and training.

The Bill improves the quality of policing and security in the Ministry of Defence. I desperately hoped that the Defence Committee would have an opportunity to undertake a major inquiry into policing and security in the Ministry. Unfortunately, it does not appear that we shall have time to do so. I hope that whoever is Chairman of the Committee in the next Parliament will take up that proposal.

It is absolutely right for the powers of the MOD police to be extended. They cannot be seen as a supplementary force for the Home Office police forces, who might not have displayed hostility over the years, but have certainly had an attitude that is less than caring or brotherly. They have ridiculed the MOD police's professionalism, equipment and training. I have seen the reports on constabularies by Her Majesty's inspectors. They do not reflect the prejudiced view of the Home Office police forces. I pay tribute to the recently retired chief constable of the MOD police force, Mr. Walter Boreham, and welcome his successor. It is right for the powers of the MOD police to be extended. I have some reservations, so I invite all hon. Members who have the freedom to offer their views or their opinions on the matter, although I am aiming at a fairly restricted audience. I hope that all hon. Members perceive the need to ensure that the powers of the service police are in line with the requirements of policing in general.

I wish all hon. Members who will serve on the Select Committee considering the Bill an enjoyable and informative time. Despite the Opposition's decision to oppose the procedure, such Committees tend to produce consensus. No doubt, the Committee will visit the glasshouse in Colchester. The quality of the prisoners means that it is difficult to distinguish them from their guards—[Interruption.] I shall not rephrase that. The glasshouse has superior prisoners, who are there not because they are criminals, but because they have breached discipline. The last time that the Committee visited, one of the guys taking us around had gone AWOL. He had established a successful sporting business, but decided that he would go back and serve his sentence. Perhaps one reason for his decision was that he was invited to appear on "Gladiators", so somebody might have spotted him. I was unable to tell that he was not a member of the supervisory staff.

We can be incredibly proud of our armed forces. It sounds almost patronising to say that we have the most professional armed forces in the world. We must maintain that very high status by providing the best equipment that we can afford. We can afford more than we are spending now. We must ensure that our forces are well trained, well motivated and have all the qualifications that we desire. The Defence Committee's report on personnel issues explores many such matters in considerable depth.

I hope that the Bill will not be detrimental to the high standards that we have grown to expect and I do not believe that it will be. It is a necessary piece of legislation.

Finally, I urge Members to read the Library's briefing, which makes it clear that ours is not just another Committee. It is a sort of hybrid Committee. That reminds me of Sir Winston Churchill's taunt about his colleague Sir Clive Bossom. He said "Silly name: neither one thing nor the other." The Committee is, perhaps, neither one thing nor the other, but it must be seen against the background of the constitutional evolution of the supremacy of the legislature over the Executive.

I implore the Whips, when the time next comes round, to read our Defence Committee report, to read the Library's briefing, and then to agree with their counterparts on the other side to hand the Committee back to the legislature, rather than allowing it to be occupied by the Executive. Back Benchers on this Committee are about as numerous as Brits in Chelsea football club.

I hope that things will change for the better, and that when the composition of the next Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill is considered, members of the Executive will be invitees and the majority of members will be Back Benchers. That is what the supremacy of legislature over Executive means. We do not want more of the supremacy of Executive over legislature that has become a feature of our institution.

6.21 pm
Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) on becoming a Privy Councillor, and welcome him to what is a rather strange organisation. I welcome him sincerely, given his many years of service as Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence.

I echo the right hon. Gentleman's tribute to the armed forces. Such tributes are commonly paid, and when the right hon. Gentleman paid it there was an echo of support around the Chamber; but the reputation that we praise here, in so facile a way, carries a heavy responsibility. That reputation, and the standard of excellence that we have come to expect from our armed forces, have been achieved not simply by accident, but through centuries of evolution and the gradual development of a system—a discipline; an organisation—that has stood the country in very good stead, and continues to do so.

Several Members mentioned Sir Charles Guthrie's recent speech at the Royal United Services Institute. I was struck by one of his comments. When we talk of what we expect from our armed forces, we tend to forget what is actually involved. Sir Charles said that, during his time as Chief of the Defence Staff, British forces had been involved in no fewer than 40 operations in 20 countries. That is a measure of the activity that we expect from them, and the complexity and variety of the tasks that we expect them to perform.

Parts of the Bill are not particularly controversial, although they are detailed, technical and evolutionary. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) that much of the Bill can be supported by members of all parties. That may be why some have looked for aspects to criticise.

Some rather fatuous remarks were made about my hon. Friend's perfectly sensible comment that there was a problem with the role of women in the armed forces. That, surely, is accepted. I do not know whether anyone has proposed that women should serve in submarines or in Royal Armoured Corps tanks, although there is some debate about whether they should serve in infantry badge units. Such matters will have to be discussed.

Anyone with experience of the armed forces knows that women make a valuable contribution in many areas. Indeed, I have the impression that in some aspects of electronic warfare—certainly on ships—some display an aptitude that may be superior to that of men. During the Gulf war, there was a concern about women serving in our forces in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where women civilians were not allowed to drive cars. We observed the contrast with the air refuelling capability of the United States national guard—based at Jeddah, next to the Mecca pilgrim terminal. Half the pilots of the planes involved were women. The valuable contribution that women can make is no secret, and what my hon. Friend said was entirely sensible. I am sorry that some hon. Members sought to misrepresent it.

The evolution of our defence policies can be compared with the evolution of our military strategy. Labour Members, including Ministers, often talk as though they invented the strategy of greater mobility and more flexible capability. I was glad to note Sir Charles Guthrie's reference to our steady progress in realigning our policies and developing a coherent joint doctrine for expeditionary operations. He took some pride in the progress made on that doctrine, which was established 10 years ago. As I was involved in aspects of its creation, I was grateful for the recognition that a strategy drawn up in "Britain's Army of the 1990s" had been allowed to make such progress—progress that started with "Options for Change".

I have had the privilege of holding positions of responsibility in both Northern Ireland and the Ministry of Defence, which revealed to me the difficult challenges that we pose to our service men in a host of different circumstances. Those circumstances may present them with real danger; their lives may be threatened—but we require them to act, and react, in a disciplined, responsible and legal manner.

We should bear in mind the challenges that are posed to service men on the street. It is easy enough in Committee to try to draw up blueprints; it is easy enough for Ministry of Defence lawyers to write down the required obligations and rules, and for other clever lawyers to crawl all over what they have written. We should, however, consider the challenges presented on the street to someone of 18 or 19.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) has campaigned on behalf of two of his constituents. That tragic and awful case, with all its complications, illustrated very clearly the challenging and immediate problems faced by individual soldiers. The yellow card in Northern Ireland, the rules of engagement in the Gulf war and the disciplinary codes, requirements and rules, such as Queen's regulations, under which the services have had to operate in the past—demonstrate the need for a structure that members of the forces can understand, in which they can have confidence, and which can enable them to work effectively.

The right hon. Member for Walsall, South discussed our needs. Sir Charles Guthrie said exactly the same. We need proper resources for defence, we need effective equipment and we need adequate personnel with high morale. That has always been the objective of our armed forces, and achieving it has enabled them to serve our country as well as they have in the past.

High morale depends in part on the provision of sufficient resources—not just finance, but numbers. Although this is not directly relevant to the Bill, I refer in passing to Sir Charles's worrying statement that the Army is 8,000 short, and has had to change the date by which it expects to achieve full manning levels from 2005 to 2008. I do not believe any prediction for 2008: that date is too far away, and there are too many variables between now and then. What we are really being told is that we are 8,000 short now, and will remain short until at least 2008. That is the best prediction, which is very worrying.

What is the importance of that and what is its relevance to the Bill? We face in any case a worrying recruitment problem—and the demographic situation is against that. It will be a difficult challenge. We face a 6 per cent. fall in the catchment potential over the next 30 years and difficulties of recruitment. We will not be able to deal with additional problems if the morale of the armed forces is affected and if they feel that they are operating in circumstances where it is not possible for them to do the job that is expected of them.

That is what Sir Charles Guthrie referred to, but being Chief of the Defence Staff, he understandably spoke with moderation. I commend his speech to every hon. Member. He chose his words with care and has understated the position. As a serving officer, he has no choice but to do that. One should recognise that for him to raise these issues means that we are facing a really grave situation. A threat to combat effectiveness arises—it is spelled out in the amendment—with the multiplicity of legislation. The more we treat our soldiers as though they are civilians working within normal civilian law, the more challenges we face.

There is no doubt—I made the point in the foreword to the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which has been tabled in the House, and Sir Charles made the same point—that there was a wonderful stability in the cold war. He said that he knew the German plain as well as he knew Hyde park. At the time of the cold war, the threats that our forces faced, the challenges, the issues and the rules of engagement were clear. Now, a much more difficult environment exists.

The Minister does not know what call may come tonight from the Foreign Office for support and urgent action in a territory or area that we may not have visited and may not have any accurate intelligence about, but where the military are expected to respond. If the Minister and his colleagues say to the Chief of the Defence Staff, "Can you do it?", he will say, "We'll do it. We do not know how yet. Give me some time." We have all been in that situation.

There is even talk that our forces may be engaged—as they will be—against well-armed international criminal organisations or drug cartels, which is outside the former remit of fighting the Soviet Union or dealing with the cold war. The circumstances are completely different. Therefore, the need is for clear protection for our armed forces, so that they do not go into operations not sure of what their legal position is, what actions they may face or what claims may be made against them afterwards.

It is a difficult challenge. Sir Charles talked about the lack in our society, in the media and in politics of any real military experience. The Chairman of the Defence Committee made the point. Like him, I draw the distinction—what is the duty of politicians and Ministers and what is the duty of the Chiefs of the Defence Staff? I quote Sir Charles: The Chiefs of Staff have a duty to recommend to the government how to produce the best operational capability for the nation. He went on to say that we must ensure that nothing—I repeat nothing—damages the combat effectiveness of the armed forces.

I absolutely accept and endorse that the armed forces do not rule this country. It is not a military dictatorship. Chiefs of the Defence Staff are responsible to a democratically elected Parliament and to Ministers, but as, increasingly, Ministers have no military background—the Prime Minister has no military background—the difficulty lies in correctly assessing the situation.

I make no secret of the fact that Chiefs of the Defence Staff, Chiefs of Staff and the services have their particular angles and objectives, but the challenge and difficulty is to ensure that the effectiveness of our armed forces is maintained and that advice is listened to seriously. For Ministers who do not have practical military experience, the responsibility of listening all the more carefully to the professional advice that comes is clear.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

I accept the right hon. Gentleman's argument in its broader context, but it is not strictly true that one needs to have a military background in order to be an effective Armed Forces Minister. After all, in the middle of the 19th century, during the heyday—if one can put it like that—of British military conquests, few Ministers had military experience. After the Duke of Wellington, I do not think that any did. I cannot remember Disraeli or Gladstone serving in the infantry, as the right hon. Gentleman and I did.

Mr. King

I was not seeking to make that point. I was not saying that lack of military experience disqualifies Ministers from serving in the MOD. There have been some outstanding Defence Ministers who did not have a military background, but it is a challenge and a problem, particularly understanding the points about legislation.

Sir Charles referred to the raft of legislation: measures on health and safety at work, the working time directive, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the service discipline Acts. Each one on its own is not necessarily a problem. Now a study group is being set up to discuss the impact of noise in military situations; it is examining both brass bands and combat situations. That is reasonable; I understand that. There may be a health and safety issue, but, as we gradually pile those measures together and then introduce the European convention on human rights, we get into a situation—I believe that this is now happening—where the MOD is advising commanders that they should take out personal insurance policies against being sued, perhaps by those under their command; there may be claims that some order led to serious consequences and they could be held responsible for negligence.

Has anyone advised Ministers to take out any personal insurance policy in turn? People used to think that all Ministers were protected against individual claims against them—it happened when I was a Minister—but I am not sure that that is true any longer. If they have been advising commanders to take out insurance policies, I should be interested to know whether they are being advised to do so, too. Sir Charles referred in his speech to a platoon commander possibly being sued by his own men.

It is a world in which there is a critical role for our armed forces and in which we are doing things that not many years ago we would never have expected to do. We would never have expected to find ourselves involved in some of the peacekeeping and peacemaking activities that are now taking place, which in certain respects are far more dangerous to individual soldiers than most of the activities during the cold war ever were. Individual soldiers face such risks to life. We need to be sure about the terms under which they work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury used Sir Charles Guthrie's quote about reducing our armed forces to the level of a gendarmerie. There is no doubt that the armed forces of some countries are not able to play the same role as our forces in peacekeeping and peacemaking because they feel constrained by the legislation under which they operate. Sir Charles Guthrie said: I do think the uniqueness of the Services is not always well understood and the modern concern for the rights of the individual sometimes have to be sacrificed in the military for the collective good of the team. Some countries have been less successful than us in preserving this quintessential difference between the military and civilians. I understand why they have been forced down this path, but feel their forces are the poorer for it. The Bill has failed to address the challenge that is drawn out in part of the amendment tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends. We are proud of our armed forces. I have heard many people in Northern Ireland, the Gulf, Bosnia and Kosovo—not British comments, but others—say that nobody else could have operated in the way that the British forces did. We must preserve their combat effectiveness. The House has a duty to ensure that if we ask young men and women to serve our country and, as President Bush used to say, to stand in harm's way, we must ensure that the discipline, the laws, the rights and the arrangements under which they operate are fair and enable them to preserve the effectiveness of the armed forces of which we are so proud.

6.42 pm
Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)

I am always pleased to have an opportunity to listen to the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) in defence debates. I, too, have heard worldwide praise for the unique skills and professionalism of the British armed forces in dealing with conflict prevention and peacekeeping. Like many right hon. and hon. Members, I am committed to upholding that invaluable reputation.

I shall make some general comments, leaving the detailed and technical consideration to the Committee. I should like to refer to the speech made by the Chief of the Defence Staff to the Royal United Services Institute in December. I have had an opportunity to read that speech and I welcome many of its excellent points. I regret that it was so inadequately and selectively re ported by the media. The reporting did not assist the serious debate that we need on the future of our armed forces.

I agree with what has been said by right hon. and hon. Members about the importance of availing ourselves of the perspective of the armed forces. Sir Charles Guthrie said: Today few people in the media or in politics have any real experience of the military. Indeed very few people in the country at large have any first hand knowledge of the Forces, and this is increasing as fathers and grandfathers with wartime or national Service experience fade away. We need to be aware of that when dealing with armed forces legislation. I hope that the Committee will try to provide as many opportunities as possible, formally and informally, to hear directly the views of armed forces personnel. It is also important for the Committee to hear the views of the families and representatives of armed forces personnel. As a constituency Member, I have been contacted by relatives of those who are serving in the armed forces, and I have had representations made to me about concerns over investigatory procedures or disciplinary matters.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

I am grateful for the hon. Lady's comments about the need for the Committee to be willing to receive family members. Will she consider those in long-term relationships who are not married? They have different rights and are often left out of the equation. The partners in such relationships made strong representations to the Defence Committee about the need for a change of emphasis. Long-term partnerships should be recognised by the Ministry of Defence and given the same rights.

Ms Squire

I am trying to remember whether any part of the Bill would cover that. I hope that the views of the Defence Committee are made available so that its extensive and thorough evidence will assist the Bill Committee.

We must recognise the unique circumstances of armed forces personnel. To put it bluntly, it is the only occupation with legal authorisation to kill in particular circumstances and where one is required to put one's life on the line. People may say that those serving in our civilian police forces can be tragically killed when enforcing the law, but they are enforcing the law in a civilian society, not dealing with conflict and those who seek to stir up hatred and violence for their own political ends.

Linked to that is the conduct of individual service men and women and the effect that they can have on the lives of fellow serving personnel. Sir Charles Guthrie talked about balancing the rights of the individual with the good of the team. That balance needs to be maintained when examining aspects of military discipline and the differing procedures that apply to service personnel and those in civilian life.

My next point backs up what has been said by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater, other hon. Members and the Chief of the Defence Staff. It refers to the tremendous changes that have taken place in the way our armed forces have been asked to operate since the end of the cold war. Many of those changes had already taken place when the House last considered an Armed Forces Bill, but change has carried on apace since then.

Unfortunately, ethnic conflicts have come to dominate the global scene. Our armed forces operate in a global environment that many people would say was less stable and secure than in the days of the cold war. There are very few clearly defined battle lines, and the scenario is more complex than during the cold war standoff. The battlefield is confused, fluid and multidimensional and there is an ever-increasing demand that our armed forces be involved in international support operations. When we consider the Bill in detail in Committee, we need to be aware of those changes and of the additional pressures that exist.

We must also keep it in mind that combat-effectiveness remains crucial and that the order and discipline of our armed forces must be maintained. That is especially important in circumstances such as prevailed in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, where an argument between two people could—in a matter of hours, or even quicker—develop into violent confrontation between communities, and then expand even beyond that.

Such circumstances place particular pressures on our armed services personnel. It is understandable that those pressures can sometimes cause those personnel to fail to comply with the strict codes of conduct that apply to them. It is therefore vital that the Committee considering the Bill should check that the military law meets the current needs of the services and the realities that personnel deal with every day.

The fundamentals of the administration of discipline must be maintained even as possible changes to the service discipline Acts are considered. I hope that the Committee will consider the Bill in a serious and informed way, and that its members will not engage in party political point scoring. Any subjective opinions that might be expressed must not be allowed to go unchallenged, but must be tested.

I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) has had to leave the Chamber for the moment. However, I have chaired the Labour Back-Bench defence committee for a number of years and, despite some of my hon. Friend's comments, I am looking forward to considering in detail the Select Committee's report on the armed services.

I end by joining other hon. Members in expressing my pride at the way in which our armed forces are respected and admired around the world. All hon. Members have a responsibility to maintain those forces' professionalism, skills and reputation. We must keep that requirement at the forefront of our minds when we consider this Bill.

6.54 pm
Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire). I begin by echoing what she and other hon. Members have said about the British armed forces. In my opinion, there is no question but that they are the finest in the world, and in my constituency of Hereford I see some of the finest of the finest.

I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) is not in his place just now, but he described me earlier as a wannabe. The only thing that I have ever wanted to be is the Member of Parliament for Hereford, and to represent in this House the people of the city and county of Hereford, where I was born. I am happy to do that, and want to remain in that role. However, I shall keep my remarks brief, to ensure that other Back-Bench Members have an opportunity to speak—especially my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) who, if he succeeds in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, has an important contribution to make later in the debate.

The House has already heard, from the Minister for the Armed Forces, that by 2005–06 a single, tri-service discipline Act should be in place. Liberal Democrat Members are disappointed that such an Act will not be put before the House in this Session. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said in an earlier intervention, what are known as "purple operations" are increasingly being undertaken. The strategic defence review was right to propose in 1998 that the possibility of passing a single Act ought to be examined.

Our forces are now jointly deployable. For instance, in Sierra Leone, the Marines, the Army and the Royal Air Force operated off Royal Air Force ships. It therefore becomes increasingly silly to have separate discipline legislation for each service. We look forward to 2005–06, when I am sure that the Liberal Democrat Government of that time will introduce a single tri-service discipline Act. I look forward to being part of that process.

I turn now to the reasoned amendment tabled by the current loyal Opposition. Every time I hear Conservative Members attack the European Court of Human Rights, I am reminded that a British initiative helped to set it up. The court is not a great European Union scheme to threaten British sovereignty, and Liberal Democrats support many of the things that it has achieved.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Keetch

I lovingly give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Howarth

I am grateful. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the then British Government supported the concept of the European convention on human rights, but I should like to remind him of the circumstances in which the convention was drawn up. The aim was to try to prevent a repetition of the holocaust, and all that accompanied it in the 1939–45 period. However, the British Government of the day would not endorse the convention until they were entirely satisfied that every Act of Parliament enacted by this House was compliant with the convention as it was then envisaged. What has happened is that the influence of the convention has crept and crept and crept—so much so that it now interferes with many aspects of our national life and is deeply damaging to our services.

Mr. Keetch

Life has crept and crept and crept since 1951, and time has moved on. I am happy to belong to a party that recognises and understands that. We do not sit Canute-like on the shore beneath the white cliffs of Dover, resisting Europe's becoming part of our lives. We are part of Europe, and I am proud of that.

Reference has been made to other pieces of legislation that effect so-called political correctness, including those Acts that govern armed services discipline, health and safety, the working time directive and human rights. They impinge on service life, just as they impinge on all our lives, and I am glad that they do. Of course it is silly to suggest that military bands should play more softly, or that sergeant majors should not shout so loudly. We understand that that is political correctness gone mad, but there is nothing in the Bill to damage the effectiveness of our armed forces.

Reference has also been made to the use of women in our armed forces. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife stated in an article in The Daily Telegraph in December: People should remember that victory in the Falklands in the end depended on British troops clearing trenches on Mount Tumbledown using their bayonets. I have been fortunate enough to go to Mount Tumbledown and to have seen the area in question. I accept what my right hon. and learned Friend wrote, and I agree entirely. However, the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) did not speak about that at all. He questioned the actions of women in those parts of the armed forces where their role is just as valid and real as that of men. I have seen women in action on warships, and I contend that in many cases they play their part considerably better than men play theirs.

Some of the criticisms made by the hon. Member for Salisbury could have been made just as well about women in the police and prison services, in hospitals or in the media. Women play a vital role in our armed forces, and must continue to do so.

Some of the things that we have heard today about women have been said in the past by Conservatives about gays in the military. We were told that gays in the military would destroy service discipline, and that the Royal Navy would crumble, the Royal Air Force would fall apart and the military would somehow collapse. However, Sir Charles Guthrie said in his oft-quoted speech to the RUSI: Even the acceptance of homosexuals did not turn out to be the major issue that some thought it would be. Personally, I never believed it would.

Mr. Key


Mr. Keetch

Despite what the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) has just said, some Conservative Members have constantly undermined the role of some gay service people. I am glad that the Liberal Democrats never did that. I have faith in our armed forces. I have faith that they can adapt to new circumstances, that they will accept new legislation and that they will continue to be the finest in the world. If Her Majesty's loyal Opposition do not have that faith, I am sorry.

I am bitterly disappointed that the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt)—who also had to leave before I had the chance to speak—is unable to be on the ad hoc Select Committee that is being established. He would have made a valuable contribution to it. I hope that that Committee will spend time listening to service people and their families, friends and relatives, and examining the service environment in which they live, not only in the United Kingdom but overseas. We welcome the establishment of that Committee.

We also welcome the proposals on drug testing. The use of drugs in our armed forces is becoming more and more apparent, and must be nipped in the bud. We accept and welcome the Bill's clarification of the rules as regards the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, and we also welcome the placement of warrant officers on courts martial. These are all welcome additions to the existing legislation. We also welcome the fact that the sons and stepchildren of service people will be allowed to marry in service chapels.

We welcome any means by which the Ministry of Defence police are enabled to reduce crime. However, we share some of the concerns expressed by the Police Federation. Of course MDP officers should intervene if they see a crime being committed while travelling from one base to another. We would expect that of any citizen in our society. However, we want to ensure that the MDP is not seen as an auxiliary police force in towns in which military bases are located. Its officers are not trained to the same level as those of the county constabularies.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), who also had to leave the Chamber before my speech, mentioned the Royal Parks police. Within a mile of the Palace of Westminster, one can find Ministry of Defence police, Royal Parks police, British Transport police and the Metropolitan police. Perhaps it is time for us to review the duties of those constabularies as well.

I conclude with a remark made by Sir Charles Guthrie, who was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) before he had to leave the Chamber. Sir Charles said, in his speech to the RUSI before Christmas, that we must ensure that nothing, I repeat nothing, damages the combat effectiveness of the British Armed Forces. The Liberal Democrats agree with that. We support the Bill and oppose the reasoned amendment tabled by the Opposition because there is nothing in the Bill that would affect the effectiveness of our armed forces.

7.3 pm

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch). I do not always agree with most of what I hear from the Liberal Democrats; on this occasion, the hon. Gentleman referred to his fantasy about forming a Government. When he referred to that happening in 2005–06, I thought that he must have been thinking of 1905–06, as that would have been more relevant when one considers the prospects for his party. However, I agreed with many of the other comments from the hon. Gentleman.

I cannot understand why the Conservative party is proposing to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. It is made clear in the explanatory notes that, without the Bill, we could, in effect, cease to have a legal basis for our armed forces. Given our history going back to the time of the glorious revolution of 1688, when Parliament asserted its authority based on the Parliamentary victory in the civil war and subsequent developments, it seems strange that the Conservative party, which supposedly believes in our armed forces, is prepared to vote against the Second Reading of a Bill that would provide for their continuation.

I could understand an argument for abstaining on Second Reading, on the ground that there were aspects about which one was unhappy, which could be dealt with by tabling amendments in Committee However, to vote against the Bill seems typical of Billy's bandwagon, and of the way in which the Conservative party operates on all kinds of matters at present.

The Bill is in many respects concerned with tidying up, updating, and bringing into law statements that were made in previous years. However, it also contains a number of important provisions, some of which need greater attention.

I very much regret that, despite being a member of the Defence Committee currently involved in the personnel inquiry—during which I have gained a lot from talking to serving ratings, officers, engineers and others throughout the armed forces—I am unable to bring my expertise to the consideration of the Bill in Committee. That will also be the case for other members of the Select Committee. I concur strongly with my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George)—this is the first time that I have referred to him in that way—who expressed far more eloquently and powerfully than I can the frustration of Back-Bench Members of Parliament at the Executive simply determining how things are run.

That frustration about the way in which Front-Bench Members sometimes behave is shared by Back-Bench Members of all parties. I am not making a party political point. If one has expertise, knowledge, experience or an interest in a subject, those qualities should be used. It is a negation of parliamentary democracy and the role of Back Benchers if Committees are established and Members who have relevant knowledge and expertise are not appointed to them. That view was clearly shared by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), who has had a similar experience. He is not here at the moment to nod, but I assume that he would if he were.

I welcome the proposals allowing warrant officers to act as courts martial members, which is long overdue. The proposals relating to drug testing are vital. The drug culture in society is becoming extremely serious. Only this week, the press has carried reports about police officers and cocaine. There have been reports about drugs in the media, and in other institutions of society. Given that the armed forces and their personnel reflect society as a whole—although to a lesser extent than some other institutions—it is undoubtedly the case that drugs, a growing problem, must be dealt with. The British armed forces cannot be regarded as the American armed forces were for many years, in terms of their relationship to drugs.

The Conservative Front-Bench team's approach to the recruitment of people to the armed forces is preposterous. If people with disabilities are prevented from taking up certain occupations, we can understand the arguments. For example, people still have to comply with certain requirements to join the Metropolitan police. A constituent of mine, a young Asian woman, desperately wishes to join the Metropolitan police, but because she marginally failed the eyesight test, that force will not accept her. She is devastated. We are crying out for officers from the ethnic minorities, and she would make an excellent police officer. She wants to do that job; she does not want to do anything else. The Met tells her she can be a civilian, but she wants to be a police officer.

The same applies to many people who wish to join our armed forces—those from ethnic minorities, those with disabilities, women, and those who have a desire to do something and yet, for one reason or another, do not meet the requirements. We should say to Sir Charles Guthrie that disabilities do not preclude people from doing things. Disabilities do not mean that people are incapable of doing things—just that in some respects, they make it impossible. There is a question of balance, and lines will have to be drawn. There may well be people with some form of disability who could still play an excellent role in the armed services.

I have a specific example. My father was conscripted into the RAF. He was not allowed to be a pilot because he did not meet the eyesight requirements, but he was a radio operator in Burma. He did that job as a conscript. No one said that his failure to meet the eyesight requirements meant that he could not be conscripted into the RAF. Therefore, we need to consider these issues sensitively. It is not a question of all or nothing—it is not as if people must qualify to be a Royal Marine or nothing at all.

Another related matter has come out of the inquiries that the Select Committee on Defence carried out into personnel recruitment. I refer to the retention of people in the services. How do we ensure that people stay? We have discovered that recruitment offices sometimes give people the wrong impression about the kind of jobs that they will do. That leads to disillusionment—not only were the recruits not in the area that they expected, but they had been given the impression that they could transfer easily from one job to another and then found that they could not. That needs to be considered in the context of the future of the services. I shall not go further down that route otherwise I am sure that I will be ruled out of order.

The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) referred to the Secretary of State's powers to make consequential or transitional provisions as he thinks fit. That would be outrageous if it applied to the Secretary of State alone. However, it is the same as everything else subject to the negative resolution procedure—that is made clear in paragraphs 122 and 123 of the explanatory notes. Such powers would be subject to the negative procedure and if that involved a change to primary legislation in a significant number of cases, the affirmative resolution would apply. I think that a mountain was made out of a molehill on that issue.

The serious issue here is to what extent the armed forces should reflect society. We ask a lot of them, whether their job is in Sierra Leone, Bosnia or Kosovo. They may serve as UN monitors for UNIKOM—the UN Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission—or with other international or United Nations forces. They may do the dangerous and difficult job that has been done for many years, and continues to be done, in Northern Ireland. Whatever they do, theirs is not an ordinary job. They cannot go home early on a Friday afternoon. It is a bit like the stupid hours that Members of Parliament work, but probably worse. They cannot read their children bedtime stories; they do not even see their families for months on end in certain cases. Yet we expect them to be moved at short notice. We expect ships to be redeployed after a tour of duty, when they are sent off again into the Mediterranean. The service people may expect to be at home in port for a few weeks or a few months when, at a few days notice, they are redeployed to Sierra Leone. It requires a special kind of person to put up with that, and a special kind of family. We need to give support to those individuals and their families. We need to give them the resources to make their life, while they are doing that job on our behalf, as comfortable as possible, taking account of the difficult circumstances and the reality.

That is why it is crucial, when disciplinary action is required and regulations have to be enforced, that service people do not have a sense of injustice. It has been said that society has changed. Young people today, as anyone of us with teenagers knows well, do not accept the automatic authority of their elders. Increasingly, people entering the armed services do not automatically accept that they must do something because someone tells them to. They want to know why.

With people talking generally about human rights, the armed services must have a code of conduct and disciplinary procedures that are carefully drafted to take into account those changes in society; otherwise we will find that people will not join the armed forces. They will not accept a value system that is totally alien to what they would experience in society. That is not to say that the armed forces are not different—they are, but they are also part of our society, as are the people who join them.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

As I may have said to the House before, when I attended a reception after a Remembrance Sunday service in Aldershot a couple of years ago, I specifically asked some of the very young recently commissioned officers why they had joined the armed services. Their answer was that it was because they rejected some of the values of civilian society and embraced the very values that the hon. Gentleman suggests the services should abandon to make themselves more relevant to the civilian community. That is a very dangerous course of action.

Mr. Gapes

I am going on what I was told when I visited HMS Collingwood near Southampton as a member of the Defence Committee, on a personnel visit, just before Christmas. We talked for several hours with people of all ranks in the Royal Navy. They said unanimously that the attitude of new recruits has changed. Even young women in their early 20s said that the attitude was very different from what it had been when they were 17. That was their perception. Perhaps the people in Aldershot on Remembrance Sunday were different. The young people I spoke to came from many different parts of the United Kingdom. The feelings that they expressed to me were that the old values are important, but must nevertheless take into account changes in society as a whole. That is the essence of the matter.

That is why the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000 was so important. I served on the Standing Committee that dealt with that legislation. We must recognise that we need to change not merely because of the legal judgments against the Government over the years, but because of the need to have armed forces that are relevant and in touch with society.

Mr. Keetch

On the fact that the armed services have moved on and changed so much in the past 10 to 20 years, senior serving soldiers and those from more junior ranks have told me that one reason why they like Defence Ministers and spokesmen who have no previous military experience is that they do not have the preconceptions that some older soldiers still have. That is no criticism of former serving Members.

Mr. Gapes

That may be true. I do not want to cast aspersions on individuals or praise others. Obviously, the quality of Ministers varies and they all have their unique characteristics. We cannot over-generalise. The team that has been in place since 1997 has achieved the strategic defence review, coupled with its personnel aspects and obtained commitment from the top in the Ministry of Defence and from the Chief of the Defence Staff to recruit those from ethnic minorities, for example, which is very welcome.

A few weeks ago, there was an excellent exhibition on display in the Ministry of Defence to celebrate the role over 50 years of the ethnic minorities in the British armed forces. Relatives of people from the British Indian Army who had been awarded the Victoria Cross were there, as well as people from the Caribbean whose relatives had served with our forces in the 1940s. Some very elderly men and women were there as well as their children and grandchildren. For me, the exhibition was important because the Ministry of Defence and the Government were seriously attempting to tell everyone in our society, "You have a place in the British armed forces. We recognise your contribution and we will value it."

Unfortunately, the recruitment figures do not bear out the commitment. The Select Committee has seen the figures. The target of 5 per cent. is good, but it is unrealistic and will not be achieved. At present, we have a recruitment rate of about 1.3 or 1.4 per cent. in two of our services and about 1.7 per cent. in the third. Perhaps the Minister will correct me if my figures are wrong. Clearly, the message has not yet got through to society in general.

Young Asian men and women in my constituency, who are British born and educated, tell me that they do not want to go into the armed forces. They do not want to go into the police force or into the public services at all. They want to become lawyers and accountants, or to do media studies and become journalists. Few young people have the commitment to do public service and that reflects a wider problem—the value people place on public services, such as the armed forces, the police and even teaching and the health services. All those professions have the same problem. That is part of the legacy of 20 years of the Thatcherite undermining of public values and the public sector ethos. We have to change that. It is not merely a question of money, although that is important. Recruitment to the armed forces is a part of the problem.

Furthermore, as has been said, we must recognise that serving in the military today is probably more demanding and dangerous than it was when soldiers were parading up and down on the inner German border. At the height of the cold war, things were very stable. We did not have expeditionary forces in different parts of the world. There was no danger of being shot at by allegedly friendly Kosovans, or of suffering from malaria in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Keetch

What about Malaysia?

Mr. Gapes

There were exceptions, as the hon. Gentleman points out. Malaysia was not necessarily a comfortable place to be in the 1950s—nor was Korea. I was talking not about 1953, but the 1960s and 1970s.

Mr. Blunt

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gapes

In a moment.

Today, British forces are serving all over the world. As a permanent member of the Security Council, we now have a commitment that did not exist for us before the end of the cold war. We did not take part in United Nations peacekeeping operations for a long time, but now all the members of the Security Council have people on the Iraq-Kuwait border as part of the monitoring mission—the Chinese, the Americans, the Russians, our people and the French are all there. When we visited, troops from 11 countries were serving together. That is part of the new ethos of co-operation and joint activities with other countries.

We must get that message across to young people. We must tell them that if they want not merely to travel the world but to meet and work with people from other countries and cultures in an environment where they are doing good, then joining the armed forces is a vital contribution that they can make.

Mr. Hancock

I endorse much of what the hon. Gentleman has said. If all of what he has said is true, and he genuinely believes it, why are not people from ethnic communities taking up his offer of the good life in the armed forces? What is the impediment to their joining?

Mr. Gapes

It is partly a general economic problem. People can get far more money in the more fashionable jobs to which I referred. It is also due to a cultural lag. People's perceptions are based on bad stories in the media five or seven years ago. People from ethnic communities do not have older brothers or sisters in the forces. The same applies to working class cultures. White and black working class people will not, in general, join the police service due to the same sort of perceptions. I suspect that one of the main reasons why Catholics in Northern Ireland will not join the Royal Ulster Constabulary is cultural. It is not merely fear of IRA intimidation. Army recruitment figures are going up there—20 per cent. of applicants are now Catholics, whereas the percentage of Catholics serving in the RUC is much smaller.

All that will change and it is essential for the future of this country that it does. We need our role models. We need our British Colin Powells. We need people at the top from ethnic minorities who can act as a symbol and a role model for their communities and for society as a whole. That will come, but it will take time. The policies are in place and the commitment is there. We must spread that message throughout society. When that happens there will be a remarkable change but it may take some time.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because he is making a sincere contribution. He has already acknowledged that recruitment and retention is a problem in our armed forces. Does he accept, therefore, that the political correctness and the gross or excessive attention to bureaucracy and legislation on armed forces discipline may be one of the factors deterring some of our youngsters? After all, they join the armed forces for a sense of excitement. They are not interested in armed forces discipline Acts; they want to get out into the world and experience what is going on there.

Mr. Gapes

The simple answer is no. If the hon. Gentleman thinks about what he has said for a moment, he will realise that 17, 18 or even 22-year-olds are not particularly bothered about the wording of the armed forces discipline Acts when they decide to go to Army recruitment offices. Wider factors are involved; the legislation is neither a deterrent, nor an encouragement. It is far more important that they are received warmly, given good advice and encouraged to talk to people already in the services so that they have a sense of being listened to and welcomed. That is the first step forward. However, they must have the commitment to reach that stage, and there are not yet sufficient numbers of people with that commitment.

I shall conclude by dealing with another issue. As a stepfather, I always welcome legislation that recognises that 6 million people live in step-families and that there are 2 million stepchildren in our society. Those are large numbers. The provisions in paragraph 31 of part VI of schedule 7, which will amend section 68 of the Marriage Act 1949, may seem modest, but they are symbolic. Frankly, it is long overdue that stepsons and stepdaughters of qualifying personnel can marry in service chapels. Is not it absurd that we have had to wait until the 21st century for that change?

Previously, the daughters of individuals in the services were eligible to marry in service chapels, but their sons were not. It seems crazy that it has taken so long to get to this point. People might imagine that the change might have been introduced in 1950, but it is 2001 and a lot of catching up has to be done. Many things should have been done many years ago. I hope that when we deal with the consolidated legislation in 2005, 2006 or whenever, we at least recognise that we must bring everything together so that we do not have to keep on going through a catch-up exercise. The regulations should take account of the realities of society.

Things have moved on and society is changing, and our armed forces and the legislation that underpins our democratically, parliamentary-controlled armed forces should reflect that fact. For that reason, I hope that the House will resoundingly vote to give the Bill a Second Reading and that, even at this late stage, the Conservatives will realise the absurdity of their position. I also hope that the Bill will act as a symbol, encouraging people to join and support our armed forces, which play such a vital role in international peace and security.

7.34 pm
Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) always makes an original and thoughtful contribution, whether in the Chamber or in the Select Committee on Defence, of which he is a valued member. As members of that Committee, he and I are concerned about what we call the footprint—the place of our armed forces in the community—and the varying motivational factors that cause people to volunteer for the forces in the first place and to remain in them.

Recruitment and retention are two very different matters. People join the armed forces perhaps from a sense of adventure or because they wish to see the world. They may wish to participate in sport or adventurous pursuits, but later on—perhaps when they are married with children—they are much more concerned about the treatment of their families and their ability to see them as much as possible. Such matters are very important. That is why the study of personnel issues that the Defence Committee is currently carrying out is important and will produce significant results. That is one of the reasons why I regret that none of the members of the Defence Committee have been proposed as members of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill. It would have been helpful to have the experience of individuals such as the hon. Member for Ilford, South and others on that Select Committee.

When I first joined the House, a large number of right hon. and hon. Members had served in the armed forces; they were often referred to as honourable and gallant Members. Their number is now comparatively modest, and we now value not only those who have served in the armed forces and who bring their experience to bear in the House, but those who have served on the armed forces scheme, which enables Members of Parliament to spend about 20 days with the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines, building up their experience of the armed forces. It is my experience that when individuals who have not previously served in the armed forces rub shoulders and spend time at close quarters with people in the armed forces, they are always greatly impressed, as is the Defence Committee, by the quality, determination, courage and sense of humour of those who serve in the armed forces. It is a privilege for those of us who are members of the Select Committee and others to meet those in the armed forces and to experience those qualities at close quarters.

Anyone looking at the 41 clauses and eight schedules in the Bill might think that it deals in detail with matters of military law and similar matters. Of course, it does, but to think that that is all that it does would be completely to misunderstand this potentially dramatic Bill. The hon. Member for Ilford, South referred to the glorious revolution of 1688, but I would go back to Charles I, James I and Elizabeth I, who had to call Parliament, although they did not want to do so, because they wanted the money to fight their wars or the authority to maintain a standing army.

The Bill is a crucial part of parliamentary procedure because clause 1 states that Her Majesty may from time to time provide for the military Acts to continue and that, effectively, the Government may maintain a standing army. Such a Bill is put before the House once every five years and authorises the House of Commons, through an Order in Council, to continue the standing army. The quinquennial Bill is central to our parliamentary privileges; without it, there would be no Army. That gives immense power to that Select Committee.

The current procedure, which was set up in 1952, allows the service discipline Acts to continue under the auspices of the quinquennial Act, which goes to the root of our democracy. It enables the House to consider every aspect of military activity, so it is not just related to military law and discipline. For example, I chaired the Standing Committees that considered the 1986 and 1996 Bills. The 1996 Bill dealt significantly with homosexuality, which was the centre of media interest in that Bill, yet there was no reference to homosexuality in the 1986 Bill. The Standing Committee is entitled to consider every aspect of military activity and effectively to hold the Government to ransom on such issues, if it so wishes. That is its constitutional importance.

It is important that the Government should treat the House with appropriate respect in this as in other matters. To deal with a matter briefly in parenthesis, I regret that senior Ministers often do not attend debates. The Chancellor of the Exchequer failed to attend an important debate on the economy. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions failed to attend a debate on transport, giving as his reason, through a junior Minister, the fact that he was dealing with transport matters. Ministers should regard the House of Commons as being central to their own responsibilities.

Although it is not unprecedented for the Secretary of State for Defence not to be present when these important Bills come before the House every five years, it is my memory that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King)—my boss when he was the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—was always courteous when he was Secretary of State for Defence, and attended the House whenever he could when a junior Minister was taking through legislation. It is always regrettable when the relevant Cabinet Minister is not on the Front Bench for an important piece of legislation. It is a courtesy to the House, and an important part of parliamentary privilege, that Cabinet Ministers should regard this place as sufficiently important to attend it on such occasions. However, that is not how this Government treat Parliament.

I want to consider in detail the difference between an ordinary Select Committee and the Select Committee that considers the Armed Forces Bill. The Select Committee on the Bill has it in its power to say to the Government, "No, you cannot have legislation to maintain the standing forces unless a point of detail that concerns us is clarified."

I am a member of the so-called quadripartite Committee, which is potentially the most important Committee that the House has created for several years—a joint Committee of the Select Committees on Defence, on Foreign Affairs, on International Development and on Trade and Industry. It sits to consider strategic export controls, and has done so for some time. Let me give an example of the way in which the quadripartite Committee reports and the way in which the Government deal with its reports. Paragraph 2 of a Government response to the 11th report of the Defence Committee, the seventh report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the seventh report of the International Development Committee and the 11th report of the Trade and Industry Committee considers open individual export licences. The quadripartite Committee stated: We conclude that it was an error of judgement to have granted several Military List open individual export licences in late 1998 and early 1999 covering Zimbabwe. What was the Government's response to that considered view? They said: The Government does not accept that the inclusion of Zimbabwe as a permitted destination on a small number of Military List open individual export licences issued in late 1998 and early 1999 represented an error of judgement. They did not agree with the Committee—end of story. There was nothing much else that the quadripartite Committee could do.

The major conclusion reached by the Committee appears at paragraph 24 of the Government response and it should ring through the corridors of Whitehall. It was pretty authoritative stuff. The Committee concluded: The four Select Committees that make up the Quadripartite Committee have concluded that strategic exports by their very nature justify the establishment of a system of prior parliamentary scrutiny, and that such a system should be put in place forthwith. That is a pretty comprehensive and concrete judgment. The Government responded: The Government has given careful consideration to the Committees' recommendations on prior Parliamentary scrutiny of all the 12,000 or so individual export licence applications for military and dual use goods received each year. The Government has concluded that they could not be made to work without causing significant damage to the competitiveness of UK exports and without having a materially adverse impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of the export licensing system. We then had the most wonderful piece of Whitehall gobbledegook—I defy anyone to explain exactly what it means. The Government continued: Involvement of the Committees in the taking of decisions under the existing legislative powers is in any event problematic, in that an extra element would be introduced into the process. This might generate doubt as to whether the decision had been properly taken in accordance with the powers conferred by Parliament. I just do not know what that means, but it is the Government's response to the considered conclusion of the quadripartite Committee.

Mr. Blunt

May I offer a suggestion to my hon. Friend? The final paragraph means that the Government think that parliamentarians are unable to understand what Parliament wants.

Mr. Viggers

Yes, that would figure; it is certainly not inconsistent with my interpretation.

Let us contrast that case with what happened to the Armed Forces Act 1996, section 26 of which gives the Minister power to grant a long lease to the Royal hospital at Greenwich. The Select Committee considering that Bill was concerned that Greenwich, with its unique architectural, historical and traditional values, should not be passed over to inappropriate use. The original clause certainly protected Greenwich against inappropriate architectural use, but the Select Committee took evidence in Greenwich and we agreed with local opinion, which was reinforced by those with national views on the subject of architectural heritage, that there should be extra protection for Greenwich. We decided that we wanted to make it clear to the Government that we would not pass the Bill unless the future of the hospital was not only consistent with its architectural heritage, but with its maritime and cultural traditions.

I remember that the Select Committee concluded that some uses could be entirely consistent with the architectural heritage of Greenwich but would not be appropriate in relation to its cultural heritage. For example, we all have the highest regard for McDonald's, the fast-food chain. Hypothetically, it might conceivably decide that it wished to take over the site and make it into a hamburger university—and I believe that the company already runs such a university. However, the Select Committee thought that it would be entirely inconsistent for a fast-food chain to take over Greenwich, since although it might maintain the architectural heritage, it would not be appropriate to the area's maritime tradition.

I remember discussions with Ministers. The issue was discussed on the Floor of the House and in Committee—and I recall one discussion that took place in the voting Lobby. It was not exactly a quiet discussion; it delayed the Division because good strong military language was used. I made it clear to Ministers that we were not prepared to accept the clause unless it was amended, so the Government had to change it.

The Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill has enormous powers—if it chooses to use them—that the Select Committee on Defence does not have. The right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the hon. Member for Ilford, South and other members of the Defence Committee all know that, when we produce our reports, they may have some influence: they will be read in certain circles; certain parts of them may be picked up by the media; and they may have some effect in promoting thinking about personnel issues in the armed forces. However, we have no absolutely no power, and the Government therefore give us a bland response. They thank us for our interesting report, but we have no power to enforce any of the recommendations that we make. The Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill is different. It has real bargaining power if it chooses to use it.

Who has been selected for the Select Committee on the Bill? Will it include members of the Defence Committee? The proposal suggests that it will not, so people who would have brought much-needed knowledge to the issue and would have given the Committee teeth with which to impose its thoughts will not be represented.

What should the Standing Committee on the Bill consider? Of course it will consider the Bill's 41 clauses and eight schedules, but it is clear that it will have complete power to refuse to pass the provision for standing forces. The Standing Committee has a wide-ranging mandate and can consider anything that it wishes.

If the Select Committee on the Bill has teeth as well as influence, with what issues should we be concerned? We should be concerned about the pensions of armed forces personnel. The Select Committee on Defence recently heard representations from the Officers Pensions Society, which represents all members of the armed forces—officers, other ranks and pensioners. We recognise that there is a problem with pensions—a so-called trough. Pensioners who retired in 1977 at, for example, the level of major, are getting about £1,500 a year less than someone who retired when armed forces salaries were higher. It is within the mandate of the Select Committee to consider that trough and require the Government to do something about it.

As the chairman of a pension fund in my spare time, I believe that a private sector pension fund would attempt to do something about the trough, but the public sector has failed to act. If the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill has teeth and power, it will be able to hold Ministers to account and try to force them to do what Governments have not done for many years. Many service personnel in our constituencies plead with us to do something, but individual Members of Parliament do not have the necessary power. However, that Committee has the power to hold the Government to account on the old-fashioned principle of supply and can ask the Government to give it what it wants or refuse to agree to the Bill.

The Defence Committee has also been concerned about Gulf war syndrome, but it has been difficult to get facts and information out of the Government on that matter. We now have the issue of depleted uranium. There would be no difficulty getting such information if we had the teeth that are possessed by the Select Committee on the Bill. Members of Parliament should be concerned about medical issues in general. I know that I am back on my hobby-horse of defence medical services, but once every five years, when a Bill is before the House, we have the opportunity to refuse supply to the Government until we are satisfied that they are doing what we think is right.

Members of the Defence Committee and others are deeply concerned that more than 15,000 service personnel have been medically downgraded for more than a month. More than 9,000 members—nearly 10 per cent.—of the Army have been medically downgraded for more than a month. When members of the Committee asked witnesses about medical downgrading and the number of service personnel who an unfit, we were told that they would write to us. That was about four to six weeks ago, and we still have not received a letter. However, if we were members of the Select Committee on the Bill, we could make those witnesses tell us what is happening in the armed forces and why so many personnel in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are unfit.

Mr. Key

As a veteran of the Defence Committee and the previous Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, my hon. Friend can rest assured that the issues will not be neglected as far as I am concerned. However, the composition of the Select Committee poses a difficulty. When my hon. Friend was its Chairman, a Minister would turn up with his parliamentary private secretary when he needed to be present. There were no Whips, merely Back Benchers. That was a different proposition. Having given the Government the benefit of the doubt—I am being charitable—on defence medical services in general and Haslar in particular, we are extremely restless that the Government have not tackled the problem. Does my hon. Friend agree that we have a golden opportunity to pursue the whole matter of defence medical services?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before the hon. Gentleman responds, he should note that we are straying wide of the Bill's contents. I remind him and the House that another debate later on will deal specifically with the Committee.

Mr. Viggers

Indeed, but clause 1 continues the services Acts. The Bill constitutes our one opportunity in five years to challenge the Government on all military issues. I am sun that you would agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that is within the Bill's remit. I take your point, but I just want to say that defence medical services are in crisis. That has been exacerbated by the decision to close Haslar. The Select Committee on the Bill should ask how many deployable consultants there are in the crucial grades of general surgery, orthopaedic surgery, anaesthetics and general medicine. I want the record to show that there will be a disaster if the Government continue with their plans on defence medical services.

The Select Committee on the Bill has the power to force answers from the Government and to insist on changes of policy. That should be compared with the powers of an ordinary Member of Parliament. I tabled questions for priority answer in July 2000. Those answers should be given within 48 hours, but I received the replies at the end of November. It is a profound worry that we have failed to get proper national concern about the crisis in defence medical services.

I would be ruled out of order if I dwelled on the proposed Committee, but zero out of its 10 members have been members of the Defence Committee and zero out of the 10 have experience of the armed forces. The Government have gone too far in abusing Parliament by proposing that their representation on the Committee should comprise two Ministers, two parliamentary private secretaries, a Whip and one Labour Back Bencher. The detail of the Bill has forced the Opposition to respond with two Front Benchers and a Whip.

I have one or two comments to make about the Bill's detail. I recognise that it is appropriate for warrant officers to serve as members of courts martial, but the Bill contains a mistake. I wonder whether it is similar to the mistake that was made by the parliamentary draftsman in 1996 who authorised the taking of fingerprints. It took the hon. Member for Gosport to explain that if the Government were authorising fingerprints, they should also authorise DNA samples. That was later rectified. The quinquennial mistake in this Bill is that it is drafted to allow warrant officers in the Navy to serve on courts martial, whereas if they are promoted to sub-lieutenant, they cannot serve on a court martial until they rise to the rank of lieutenant or above. That is clearly an error and it is what the hon. Member for Gosport tips as the quinquennial mistake in this Bill.

It is disturbing that the Government promised in 1991 that they would consolidate as soon as possible. That promise was repeated in 1996, but here we are, in 2001, and they are still promising to consolidate as soon as possible. Despite the fact that the Army, Navy and Air Force are moving closer together in all other ways, the lack of consolidation means that the Bill devotes pages to each of those forces and we have to read everything in triplicate. Now that members of the three forces are serving more closely together, it must be possible to co-ordinate their legal procedures. Otherwise, people who serve side by side in aircraft, hospitals or even in trenches will be subject to the detail of different laws.

When the 1996 Bill was in Standing Committee, I was meticulously careful to ensure that the Commission for Racial Equality would undertake to have a report on progress in racial equality ready in time for the Committee on this Bill. I have only one question for the Minister. Will he confirm what was confirmed to me by the CRE when its representatives appeared before the Defence Committee a few weeks ago—that its report on progress in promoting greater recruitment and retention of members of the ethnic minorities would be ready for the Committee? I hope that the CRE is on schedule, and the report will be ready in time for the Committee to consider its decisions.

I wish to raise another point of detail, which I also referred to during the Second Reading and Committee stages of the 1986 and 1996 Bills. I represent a naval constituency, so I am pleased that it will be possible for royal naval officers to be subject to summary jurisdiction, and not only to courts martial legislation. I have always thought it demeaning and degrading for an officer to be dealt with by a court martial when charged with hazarding his ship, perhaps for reasons of expediency or after encountering difficulties at a certain time. Hazarding usually results from momentary uncertainty or indecision, and it has always seemed to me to be wrong that the ponderous courts martial procedure should be invoked. I assume that it will be possible to establish a much simpler summary jurisdiction procedure.

As to the point about the Ministry of Defence police, I am concerned that the detail may not have been fully considered. I am pleased and grateful to have had the occasional chance to spend time with the police force in my constituency on Friday evenings, and my experience is that police procedures derive not from a passing policeman noticing a burglary, but from meticulous planning and briefing. It is strange that the MOD police will be able to operate in a civilian sphere even though nothing in the Bill promotes the training or the briefing of officers for a civilian role. The Select Committee will want to pursue that point.

The Conservative Government were in power for 18 years and police numbers increased by 15,400, but in three years of Labour government we have lost 2,995 policemen. Indeed, only yesterday the chief constable of Hampshire asked me to exercise what influence I could to promote the recruitment and retention of police officers in the county, about which he is deeply concerned.

I regret that this important Bill is not likely to receive detailed scrutiny and that the Government have gone too far in appointing their own people to the Committee.

8.2 pm

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South)

The Bill is complex and detailed, and having no military experience ensures that I feel wary about contributing tonight. However, I have great pleasure in telling the House that I was, for only 30 minutes, an Air Vice-Marshal. When I visited the Royal United Services Institute, I was told to put on a name badge. I did so. I was embarrassed to be one of only three women there; the others were the receptionist and another member of the Defence Committee. I felt that all those present had great knowledge and that I was probably considered to have little. My embarrassment ensured that I simply picked up a name badge and put it on.

I was spoken to warmly by defence attachés from Holland and other European countries. Then I was told that I was wearing a badge that was not my own. To be dead straight with the House, I did not know what to do, but hon. Members will appreciate that I shall always remember the pleasure of being an Air Vice-Marshal for 30 minutes.

It is well known in the House that I have great respect for the armed forces. I was briefly a member of the Defence Committee, which was a great pleasure, and I was presented with a serious learning curve. I am privileged to be a member of the Select Committee that will consider the detail of the Bill, and that alone persuaded me to speak. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) is about to pull me back into line, but I hope that the motion on the Select Committee will be supported later this evening.

As so many hon. Members have said, we in Britain are privileged to have a high-quality professional Army, and the nation acknowledges that. Again and again, the armed forces, with their readiness to undertake at short notice anything from civil tasks to war fighting, prove that we are privileged to have them, and their performance in those roles is excellent.

The British armed forces are often asked to perform miracles and we must all acknowledge that they face moral and physical challenges of which the majority of the population are unaware. In future, as at present, they will have to fulfil operational needs and requirements in conflict areas. They are asked to become involved without knowing who the state parties are and to operate independently or in conjunction with other state forces. They face asymmetric threats and often know that those threats focus on people's perceived vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

The armed forces of today are well aware that public opinion is very much opposed to casualties being incurred, although we ask them to go into battle, fight for us, defend us and behave in the best and most professional manner. That is a serious request. I believe that the armed forces will be required more and more in the 21st century and will increasingly have to display miraculous powers. I hope that all Members of the House will do everything they can to ensure that such miracles become a reality.

The Bill will introduce appropriate technical and evolutionary changes and its complex detail will ensure that there is no room for gesture politics. To my mind, it does not include political correctness. I was disappointed to hear the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) refer to his belief that political correctness was a prime and motive force in the Bill. The European convention on human rights is of paramount value in each and every situation. It does not influence or undermine the activities of the armed forces. Quite the reverse: it empowers people and ensures that the armed forces are effective and disciplined. They know how to behave and their judgments are much more secure because they know that the convention is one of their benchmarks.

The House has heard me say many times that women have a right to serve. I have no right to tell women to serve, nor do I have a right to persuade them to serve on the front line, but I believe that if women are capable of serving, no one should tell them that they have no right to be involved in certain roles in the armed forces. I am delighted that work is being done to secure a greater and more determined involvement for women. Much of the Bill is detailed. It will establish processes and structures—a disciplined framework—that will achieve a more open, clear and fair operational system. It will deliver fair, well-balanced and disciplined judgments within and for the armed forces. None of us should equivocate about that or see it as problematic.

When we deal with military discipline, we should be concerned if there are problems. There will be a problem if we do not believe that everyone's human rights are absolute and unquestionable. Much of the detail of the Bill outlines fair treatment, open judgment and open governance. The European convention on human rights should consistently inform the structures and practices of military discipline and its judicial system. I am disturbed that the hon. Member for Salisbury believes the reverse and stated in the House that the convention would be sidestepped when and if—I emphasise the word "if"—the Conservative party is ever returned to government.

The European convention on human rights is a discipline for all of us—a known discipline. Its strength of purpose derives from the fact that it is known, it does not equivocate and it treats people equally and fairly. I find it strikingly disturbing that the House should question the convention's application to the armed forces.

I was uncomfortable when I read the Conservative amendment, which states that there is a creeping advance of litigation that will breed a cautious group of military leaders who may step back from courageous decisions for fear of being pursued through the courts. That is tosh, as the entire House knows.

Mr. Key

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. That is a direct quote from the Chief of the Defence Staff.

Ms Taylor

I am sure that the Chief of the Defence Staff did not say that that was tosh—[HON. MEMBERS: "You said that it was tosh."] Indeed, and I believe that I am right to say that the statement made by those on the Conservative Front Bench is tosh. As the Chief of the Defence Staff has complimented the Bill, I am equally sure that he will consider the statement to be tosh.

Mr. Key

I think that the hon. Lady has misunderstood. The words that she quoted from our reasoned amendment were a direct quoted from the Chief of the Defence Staff. Those were his words.

Ms Taylor

The hon. Gentleman has also misunderstood. When one only part-quotes, one only part-states what the person said.

The Bill defines a commitment to retain the fundamentals of the way in which the armed forces administer justice. I regard that as crucial. It is no less crucial that Ministers and their researchers acknowledge that there are concerns about some of the structures and some of the activities, and that they propose operational remedies. Those remedies should invoke the European convention on human rights, which states clearly that all public authorities should act in a way that is compatible with the framework and principles of the convention.

The Bill deals with the way in which the armed forces operationalise investigations. I was surprised that that is virtually under the command of the commanding officer, who has inherent powers. It is important that that is being questioned and challenged. I do not have a problem with the commanding officer's involvement in the process, but I find it highly problematic that he should have exclusive rights. The Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000 will replace the inherent powers, clarify the rules of search, entry and seizure and put the process on a statutory footing. That is valuable.

If we want people to give of their best in the armed forces, they should know that those who exercise power and those who subject them to that power are clear about the limits of their power and the safeguards that apply to the exercise of that power. That is inviolable and should always have applied.

I welcome many parts of the Bill, such as the inclusion of warrant officers in court martial membership, which is long overdue. I also welcome the section on drug and alcohol testing. My hon. Friends have spoken about the problems that we face in our communities with regard to drug and alcohol use. It is vital that the armed forces confront the issue and implement effective testing. I was pleased to see the changes to the Marriage Act 1949, which are profound and long overdue.

The comments of the hon. Member for Salisbury about women were disappointing. When one makes critical statements, one should recognise the research that is being done. I would have appreciated it if the hon. Gentleman had included in his remarks the words of the Equal Opportunities Commission, which are summarised in one of the research papers from the Library. On recruitment and selection, the paper refers to the need to end the ban on combat exclusion and attract more women, and on retention, the paper mentions the need to change the culture of the Armed Services so that more women can enjoy a career in the Armed Services. Those aspects are seen as key to effective recruitment and retention. If one speaks about one, it is a shame not to mention the other. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) told the House how effective many women are in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. I believe that that can be extended to the Army. I anticipate that, before long, not just 77 per cent. of all positions will be available to them if they have the right qualities, but 100 per cent. That is long overdue.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

I do not necessarily oppose what the hon. Lady says, but would she care to acknowledge that, in testimony to the Defence Committee, the Equal Opportunities Commission readily accepted that, when women apply for posts in the armed services, they must meet objective standards of performance, and that standards must lot be lowered in order to enable them to take up posts? On that basis, there can be some sort of convergence across the Chamber on the issue.

Ms Taylor

I most certainly agree with all of that.

I passionately believe that everyone should be able to give what he or she has to give, and women believe that they should have the right to serve in the armed forces. A woman who does not have operational competence should not be given, or considered for, a particular role, but that is equally true of any male who wants to join the armed forces. My commitment, and it is total, to women being given an opportunity to serve is based on my belief that rights are inviolable. If they are not, they are not rights. Rights cannot be given to some and not to others, especially one as basic as the right to serve in the armed forces.

I was seriously disappointed by contributions from Opposition Members. Only time will tell. In time, people will be converted. They will be convinced that women not only have a right to be on the front line but can function there as effectively and valiantly as any man.

I echo the points made by many hon. Members today about the recruitment of ethnic minorities. That is a serious problem, which we should all be more than keen to address. Their recruitment is at a seriously low level. The House has been told today that they face a cultural lag, that they do not feel included. That is probably the appropriate explanation, but I find it difficult to accept. The British Army was a powerful force in India, so why cannot we link the greatness and grandness of the British Army with the ethnic groups who have served it so valiantly? The Gurkhas were and are part of our force structure. Why on earth are we not using those people to persuade our ethnic groups to become a part of our armed services? Image is crucial here. When I speak to schools and ethnic groups in my constituency there is clearly a disjuncture between the role of ethnic groups in civil society and in the armed forces.

Mr. Key

I wholly support what the hon. Lady has just said. We pursued that matter in the previous Quinquennial Bill. Some of us took evidence from the Sikh community. The British Army has had wonderful Sikh regiments—not only the Indian army, but the British Army as well. We sought advice from the Commission for Racial Equality, but we were told that such ideas are old hat, that things are not like that any more, and that ethnic minorities should be wholly integrated into the regular regiments of the British Army and the other services. Therefore, to have separate Sikh regiments, for example, would not be appropriate. Does the hon. Lady agree that we should have another look at that?

Ms Taylor

That is an important point with which I think I agree. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will not say, "No way." We have a serious problem here, and it is not one for political bat and ball games. We must see why the engagement is not there and persuade the ethnic minorities to come on board.

I have virtually come to an end, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I have great pleasure in saying how pleased I am to see you in the Chair. Congratulations. However I am disappointed to have to end on a down note. This is an excellent Bill which we shall debate heartily and with determination and integrity in Committee, but I was disappointed to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South, who has been a close friend of mine since I entered the House, deprecate the Committee's composition. He has every right to make his comments to the House this evening and I hope that, if all goes well, I shall be a member of the Committee. I am most certainly a woman who fights her corner with integrity and determination. I have no intention of not letting the Back-Bench voice be heard.

8.24 pm
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor), with whom I shared an enjoyable two years on the Select Committee on Defence. It was a great sadness that she moved on; indeed, it was something of a sadness for me to move on only a year after her. However, I hope that I am broadening my knowledge by my service to the House on another Select Committee.

I do not immediately want to follow the hon. Lady down the path that she trod because I fundamentally disagree with her on several matters, which I shall pick up on later in my remarks. First, however, I want to comment on the welcome reiteration of the Opposition's commitment to put right the deleterious effects of the European convention on human rights on our armed forces by extracting them from the ambit of the convention. That commitment was explicitly made explicit, and I welcome it. The only way to achieve it is to denounce the treaty, immediately reapply, and then get the reservation that we require for the armed forces. Countries such as France, which joined in 1974–23 years after the United Kingdom—have such a reservation. In 1951, however, it could never have been anticipated that the convention would have such an effect on our armed forces. We would certainly have taken a reservation then if we knew then what we know now.

Mr. Hancock

Does the hon. Gentleman really believe that it is right to put one's life in harm's way to defend people's human rights and their position in the world, while not having those rights oneself? He would deny that to the armed forces of this country. He relishes the opportunity to take those rights away from men and women whom we regularly expect to put their lives on their line to defend the same rights for others.

Mr. Blunt

The House, and especially the Government, have a responsibility to ensure that those rights can be defended effectively. There is no point standing up for those rights and defending them in action if we then diminish the quality of the armed forces, which, in the end, are the vehicle by which we will defend the rights that we have fought for and defended for hundreds of years, both in the House and elsewhere. The idea that we will allow a body of law to be created, under the convention by the European Court of Human Rights, which will undermine our ability to defend rights that the House holds dear for our country is ridiculous. I am sure that a few moments' contemplation of exactly what he is asking for will cause the hon. Gentleman to reflect further.

It is for the House and our Government, discharging their responsibilities as Ministers of the Queen and part of the chain of command for the armed forces, to ensure that our armed forces are dealt with fairly under the law. I believe that, by and large, those duties have been discharged fairly. When there have been cases in which service men have been treated unfairly by the system, Members of Parliament have been the first to champion their cause. For example, the support that I gave to the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) in his calls concerning Major Stankovich is a case in point. Some Labour Members would have championed the case of the hon. and gallant Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce), who has just joined the House. I would not have joined them, but that is another case in point. The rights of the armed forces can and should be protected here. We should not put at risk the fighting ability and the military effectiveness of our armed forces in order to defend the rights that we seek to defend in this House.

Mr. Hancock

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He does justice to the calls that many hon. Members have made on behalf of members of the armed forces. However, the truth is that no matter how good a case has been made in the House, none of those people has ever got the justice that he deserved. They did not have the protection of the law behind them. Many people who have suffered hideous accidents through no fault of their own have been unable to get compensation. Surely the hon. Gentleman can give the House some examples of where having the Human Rights Act 1998 in operation would deter the British armed forces from doing their job properly? One example, please.

Mr. Blunt

There will never be perfect administration of justice across the board, whether at European or United Kingdom level. I happen to have confidence in the institutions of the United Kingdom—that is, while we still have them. Our nation will be in some peril if it has the misfortune to re-elect the Government, but I hope that that will not happen. There is no reason why United Kingdom institutions cannot protect the rights of our service men any better or worse than measures at the European level. I have confidence that they will provide such protection.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) had an interesting discussion. Does my hon. Friend accept that there must be a balance between giving service men rights and discipline? If we get the balance wrong, discipline could be prejudiced in our armed forces, thereby ensuring that their effectiveness is not as great as it should be.

Mr. Blunt

My hon. Friend makes the point eloquently. I shall detail—the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South asked me to do so—some of the cases in which the European convention on human rights affected or is affecting the military effectiveness of our armed forces.

The convention is posing a genuine problem. It underlay the Government's reasons for introducing the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000, part I of which contained changes in custody that were driven by a particular case. I think that it was the Hood case in the European Court of Human Rights that drove all the changes in custody procedures for the armed forces. I believe that the soldier in the case had absconded four times before claiming that he was put in custody improperly. It would be nothing other than absurd to suggest that he should have won his case, but he did. We then had to change the custody requirements of our armed forces when there was no practical case to suggest that that should happen.

Those provisions were driven by a particular convention case. The rest of the Act, however, was driven not by a case that came before the European Court of Human Rights, but by fear of what might happen there. We imposed enormous damage on our armed forces by introducing the Act, elements of which led to the establishment of the summary appeal court, which has now been in place for three months. Not only has the court cost about a battalion's worth of salary because of the extra lawyers and staff who are required to make the thing work, but it is already having a deleterious effect on the armed forces in operation.

Dr. Julian Lewis

My hon. Friend has so far spoken about the effects, anticipated and otherwise, of the European convention on human rights on the armed forces in peacetime. What does he think the convention's effects will be in conditions of war? In those conditions, serving members of the armed forces who think that their inalienable human rights have been wronged will have no practical capability to go running to court, because the country will supposedly be fighting for its survival.

Mr. Blunt

I must correct my hon. Friend, as derogation from the convention can be obtained for the armed forces in wartime. The convention applies in peacetime and in military operations short of war. The latter is the sort of military activity in which we have engaged since 1945, and since 1951 no Government have sought to achieve a derogation for the armed forces.

The Under-Secretary wrote to me after Second Reading of the Bill that became the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000. I asked how many of the cases dealt with summarily by subordinate commanders and commanding officers would go to appeal. The hon. Gentleman's letter stated that of the 24,000 cases dealt with summarily, 18,000 were dealt with by subordinate commanders. The assessment that in future these are unlikely to lead to many appeals is because of the limited powers of punishment available to company and squadron commanders. I have news for the Minister. In my old regiment, the first case taken to the summary appeal court was dealt with by a squadron leader—a subordinate commander—and the punishment was as severe as two days' restriction of privileges. I do not know whether the Minister has the facts at his fingertips, but we are talking about three months of operation. How many appeals have taken place, at the very beginning of the system?

I wonder whether, once soldiers, sailors and airmen cotton on to the fact that the appeal is a "free hit", given that the punishment can only be reduced and cannot be increased, the rather complacent analysis in the Minister's letter to me of 25 February 2000 will prove to be a little awry in practice. I know from the limited amount of research that I have been able to conduct, talking to friends in the services, that a number of cases submitted for summary jurisdiction have been appealed. I have yet to learn what percentage of cases will eventually be appealed.

We should bear in mind the effect of the appeal court on the summary justice system. It used to serve as a fast and effective way of dispensing justice at unit level; now it takes a commanding officer, an adjutant and a chief clerk about an hour to prepare each case. Only members of the services will recognise the burden that that places on the chain of command in the administration of discipline.

We had a system that operated swiftly, which was seen to operate fairly and was respected for doing so, and which allowed for appeal to a court martial by those who did not wish to accept the commanding officer's award. That system has now been made very bureaucratic so that it can survive the summary appeal process, during which lawyers crawl over the evidence to be presented.

Mr. Hancock


Mr. Blunt

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I should like to make progress.

In three months, last year's Act has already led to a wholly different approach to the administration of justice in the services at unit level—something that we were promised would not happen. Let us consider the provisions relating to powers of entry, search and seizure. The explanatory notes explain the reason for those powers, stating: It is also intended to provide greater certainty and, by providing that extra certainty and independent legal supervision of applications for permission to search, to avoid the risk of a successful challenge to searches being made under the European Convention on Human Rights. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) mentioned room inspections. At present, a commanding officer has what are described as "inherent powers", which the Bill will replace with statutory powers. What effect will that have on administration within a unit? A soldier will say, "Hang on a minute; I do not want my room to be inspected." If he stands his ground, and if we do not continue to rely on the commanding officer's inherent powers, the commanding officer will not be able to inspect service accommodation because he is not a policeman.

The Minister will say that the Bill is not intended to have that effect—that it is not intended to make such a change in the standard of administration of military discipline within units. We understand that it is not meant to do that, but there is a serious risk that, by moving from the inherent powers of the commanding officer to statutory powers designed to withstand the European convention on human rights, it will have precisely that effect. Why are we taking risks with the administration of justice and discipline within the armed forces? It is because we are frightened of the convention. We must extricate the administration of military discipline and justice and the administration of the services from the convention.

We must ask: when is an inspection not a search? Of course, there are difficult balances to be struck in a modern Army. Commanders seek to respect a single service man's privacy and accommodation. Their attitude to the administration of single soldier's accommodation is rather more modern than decades ago, but 18, 19, 20 or 21-year-old young men and women are not, naturally, the tidiest beasts in the world.

Within the whole area of room inspections and the administration of military accommodation within lines, there is an amount of training in personal administration and discipline and that needs to be protected. It is for commanding officers of modern Army units, naval units and Air Force units to make those judgments. The Bill will take away from commanding officers that discretion in judging how best to administer their units.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) raised the issue of clause 33 and the wide powers that it gives. I do not entirely understand the need for the clause. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain that in his winding-up speech. Under section 70 of the Army Act 1955 and the Air Force Act 1955 and section 42 of the Naval Discipline Act 1957, all civil offences are de facto military offences. There is effectively a catch-all section in those Acts, so there is nothing in the argument—if that is what the Government are advancing—that clause 33 is needed to ensure that service men are subject to the same civil laws as everyone else. It is already there in the Acts, even in their unconsolidated form. As I understand it, the only argument is about the administration of civil law within the military.

It seems odd for the Government to say in the explanatory notes that the reason why clause 33 is required is because differences can exist for a considerable period before an opportunity to make the relevant amendments of Service law arises in the quinquennial Acts. The services have been able to rub along for quite a long time with wholly different laws, with an Air Force Act, an Army Act and a Naval Discipline Act.

In this increasingly purple age, the Government are putting such a priority on consolidation that we will not see a consolidated Bill until 2005. The Minister for the Armed Forces even suggested that legislative scrutiny would not be possible; it would not be possible to publish the Bill in time before the Quinquennial Act. I hope that I have misinterpreted his remark and that the consolidated draft Bill will be published some time in 2004 to allow a proper period of pre-legislative scrutiny of what will be quite complicated legislation, bringing the three Acts together.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

My hon. Friend is right to press the Minister on the need for clause 33. On a quick reading of it, it seems that, by secondary legislation, the Minister can bring UK law into line with ECHR law. I suspect that the reason for the clause is that if we have an ECHR case, it will be easy for the Minister, by secondary legislation, to bring our law into line with ECHR law and to make it compliant, without having to introduce before Parliament a new armed forces discipline Bill.

Mr. Blunt

My hon. Friend has again put his finger on the real concern. The clause gives the Secretary of State widespread powers for change to avoid proper scrutiny by the House. That is something that we should avoid. If the price for avoiding that is that the armed forces have to wait a maximum period of five years before they can consolidate a degree of administration of justice, while service personnel are forced to remain subject to the same laws as everyone else under sections 70 and 42 respectively of their own Acts, it is a price well worth paying. I suspect that a different agenda is being played out.

The Bill has welcome elements. The continuance of the Acts is necessary under part I and I welcome the fact that royal naval officers are to be brought within the remit of summary jurisdiction. However, I have to question why it is necessary to bring lieutenant commanders and wing commanders within the ambit of summary justice. Officers of that rank and seniority should be regarded as worthy of the greatest possible respect. It is the rank that, typically, commands units of the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force. One has to ask, if summary justice is good enough for lieutenant commanders, why not apply it to brigadiers and generals?

The armed forces have struck the right balance so far by applying summary justice to the rank of major and its equivalent. I hope that in Committee the Government will consider amendments on that point. If I am unlucky enough not to defeat the motion on Committee membership, I will not be able to serve on the Committee, and if such amendments are not aired before, I shall table them on Report. I do not believe that we should raise the rank structure in the other two services to meet some requirement of the Navy. I do not understand the requirement driving the provision to apply to the rank of commander in the Navy and I should be grateful for an explanation from the Minister.

I am somewhat agnostic about whether warrant officers should be able to sit on courts martial. There will be occasions when they can bring experience to a court martial and they may well be able to spread the burden of manning them more widely because courts martial can be time consuming. However, warrant officers will need to be selected with care. There are warrant officers who are good at their jobs but may not have the intellectual firepower to cope with sitting on a court martial. Of course, there are educational requirements and tests to reach the rank of warrant officer, but as an ex-serving soldier I hoist that as an issue that needs to be addressed. The selection of people to serve on courts martial cannot be done randomly; it needs to be undertaken carefully. I do not mean to be derogatory, but there will have to be caution in the same way as one would be cautious about choosing junior officers to serve.

There are other provisions in the Bill that appear to have merit, but they need careful scrutiny. I am sorry that I will not have an opportunity to help scrutinise the Bill in Committee, but that subject can be debated at length later—and I fully intend to do so. The handling of the Select Committee procedure has been disgraceful and will also be pursued later.

The Bill will need careful scrutiny. Ministers guiding it through Committee will have to be flexible when it comes to amendments. They will have to be much more flexible than they were during Committee consideration of the Bill that became the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000. The Government did not accept a single amendment in the whole of that Bill's Committee stage. When he presented the Vehicles (Crime) Bill, the Home Secretary said that, in his experience, he had known of no Bill that could not be improved in Committee. He should have been a member of the Committee considering the Armed Forces Discipline Bill, when Ministers debated with minds that were closed. That is a matter of enormous regret.

This Bill is a missed opportunity to put right the damage done by the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000 and to consolidate the various legislation on discipline. The attempt to consolidate the relevant Acts began in 1991, and it is hard to believe, 10 years down the track, that this opportunity could not and should not have been taken. The Bill also wastes an opportunity to roll back the invidious effect on our armed forces of the European convention on human rights.

I shall finish by referring to General Guthrie. My run-ins with him are a matter of record, but his RUSI lecture contained the warning that the plethora of employment legislation and litigation could lead to a culture of risk aversion. He could not be as frank as I can be, and I maintain that that legislation and litigation have indeed led to a culture of risk aversion.

I have friends in the forces who now command regiments and ships. The health and safety culture is endemic in the services, and the Army is now a completely different institution, in terms of how it is administered, from the one that I left. My friends do not consider the change to have been an improvement, as it has made the services risk averse.

That aversion to risk is now evident in the administration of summary justice. Subordinate commanders and commanding officers are becoming risk averse with regard to how they administer the summary justice system. It is sad that that should be happening to our armed forces. Ministers must listen to what the Chief of the Defence Staff is really saying, and to do that they must read between the lines. He is saying that the quality of our armed forces is falling because of the burden of legislation under which we are making them operate. It is about time that the House took note of that and began to put in place procedures to enable our armed forces to roll back the risk-averse culture. We must give them the freedom that they need to be the armed forces that our country has always deserved.

8.53 pm
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

I shall be brief, as other hon. Members wish to speak. At the end of her contribution, the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) deprecated the comments of the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence. Many hon. Members of all parties agree with every word that the right hon. Gentleman said, and consider that in this case the Select Committee process has gone sadly awry. No doubt we will debate that later this evening.

The debate on the Bill is traditionally wide ranging, and today's debate is no exception. I shall say relatively little about armed forces discipline, save that I believe that the armed forces, rather than reflecting society as a whole, should be able to protect it. For that reason, I believe passionately that everyone who can serve this country in the armed forces should be able to do so in the role that best fits their abilities. That is why so much of what is in the Bill is absolutely right.

I do not have a great deal of experience of the armed forces, although I served on the armed forces parliamentary scheme last year with the Navy—

Mr. Hancock

With distinction.

Mr. Heath

Twenty long days before the mast, and suddenly I am an expert on the Navy— well, I am not.

I recognise the enormously valuable role played by women in the Navy on the fighting ships that I had the privilege to visit. I saw them doing a very effective job on a front-line fighting vehicle—a warship—in every role, from stoker to executive officer to weapons officer. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) referred to a gentleman in the Army who said that he would find it quite impossible to maintain discipline in a mixed front-line unit. I have to say to that Army officer, "Go and talk to the Navy commander or the navy captain who is doing the job on a day-to-day basis and making an extremely good job of it."

I have rather more experience in the field of policing. Clause 31 deals with the Ministry of Defence police, and I must express some serious concerns about the proposals. I do not do so because I lack confidence in the Ministry of Defence police, nor because I disrespect their professionalism, their training or any other aspect of the valuable role that they play. I intervened on the Minister earlier to ask him where the proposal came from, and I suspected that he would answer as he did. He said that the proposal had come from the Ministry of Defence and from the MOD police to provide a natural extension of the role of MOD constables. The proposal did not come from the territorial police forces of this country. That is odd. If the purpose is to provide better policing away from defence establishments, one would expect a corroboration of that view from the territorial forces Instead, most of what we have heard from the chief constables, the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents Association raises serious doubts.

There are good reasons for that, but first let us ask why the Ministry of Defence police might want to extend their role. The reason might be that it is a matter of convenience, as was suggested earlier, or that the MDP are conscious of a change in their role since their establishment. The Military Provost Guard Service is now taking over many of the security functions on bases. There is also a difference in the accommodation that the Ministry of Defence estate now provides. There is much more mixed accommodation, by which I mean a mixture of Ministry of Defence and private housing in which civilian families live next door to service personnel. There is a blurring of the edges.

The Bill also provides for the military police to have more of a constabulary role, as it was described earlier. I have to express a degree of prejudice, because I have never been convinced that there is enormous value in having an array of separate non-territorial police forces in this country. The hon. Member for Salisbury said that he was pleased to have eight different police forces active in his constituency. I think it is nonsense to have eight police forces operating in the Salisbury constituency, all with different roles and not communicating with one another.

An expression of faith was made in the Royal Parks constabulary, and it was stated that it does a wonderful job because its officers are capable of talking to foreigners and protecting the royal palaces. The extremely good police officers in the Palace of Westminster also manage to talk to foreigners; they do a good job of protecting a royal palace without having to be part of a separate police force. Operational problems arise from having separate police forces which are responsible for their own little precincts.

The basic ethos of policing in this country is the consent of the community. It is policing in the community, for the community, by the community. The more non-territorial police forces that are not accountable to the local community take on a policing role, the more we erode the intimate connection between the community and its police force. On the face of it, this may seem a sensible move, but I think that it betrays flaccid thinking. It does not address the issues of policing.

What is the role of the constable anyway? Some years ago, a Police Foundation report identified what it saw as the inalienable roles of the sworn constable, as it described the office of constable, which could not be given to someone who was not a constable. There were three categories. One was to arrest, detain and search a citizen or property under statutory powers. I am not sure whether there is a need for MOD police to have that role outside their specific responsibilities on defence land. Why should they need to do any of those things, given that they would have to do so under a statutory power provided via the chief constable of the territorial force?

Secondly, the Police Foundation identified the role of bearing arms and exercising force for the purpose of policing. I am not sure that I want MOD police bearing arms in a public place, ready to use them outwith the responsibilities of the local constabulary. The third right, which I believe that they should have, is that of full access to criminal records and intelligence for the purposes of operational planning. Of course, they need that only if they partake in operations. There is no clear reason, to me, why they need to partake in operations outside their specific role as MOD police policing the Ministry of Defence estate and military installations.

What will the provision confer on a Ministry of Defence policeman in extending his role in the office of constable outside the current provisions, which he could not perform as a citizen? The answer is nothing. If a Ministry of Defence policeman is in uniform, travelling from one place to another, and sees a robbery or a violent attack on another citizen, he has the same rights as all of us—me, the Minister, and you, Madam Deputy Speaker—to effect an arrest. Indeed, I believe that he would be failing in his duty were he not to attempt to do that.

Extending the role would lead to the risk of confusion in the first instance. There are practical issues about communications between the local constabulary and the MOD police potentially acting in a freelance way. There is the opportunity for the MOD police accidentally to disrupt the local constabulary's covert operations simply because they are not part of the planning loop and are not involved in the arrangements, and for no real purpose. Serious questions need to be asked about the proposal. The area of responsibility of the Ministry of Defence police should not be extended merely at their whim. Such an extension must be effected in co-ordination with local constabularies.

We should undertake a full-scale review of all the non-territorial police forces to establish their proper functions and roles. There may be a strong case for Ministry of Defence police to have the opportunity to be seconded to local police forces to provide additional support and gain experience of a wider and different sort of policing. That could be enormously beneficial. However, that they should apply their powers to citizens who are not a part of the military machine in the absence of accountability locally or a clear recognition of the role that they are playing could be dangerous, and will need closer examination.

9.5 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Like the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), I agree that the debate has been wide ranging, and rightly so. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) pointed out, this is the measure by which the Crown has the authority of Parliament to maintain a standing Army, as provided for by the Bill of Rights of 1688. A copy of that Bill is in the other place and can be shown to visitors. It is a living document and it is the authority by which we maintain a standing Army. I salute the Government for having included a reference to that in the explanatory notes. The historical perspective is most welcome.

Mr. Blunt

If unusual.

Mr. Howarth

Unusual indeed.

As the director of personal services, Army, told the Defence Committee during its inquiry last year: the ability of a Commanding Officer to maintain good order and military discipline is fundamental to his ability to command his troops. Maintaining the system of summary discipline is our vital ground. That is what the Bill is about. We should have Brigadier Ritchie's remarks before us at all times.

The Select Committee was right to draw attention to the preamble of previous Bills, stating As the preamble to the old annual Acts used to put it— … it being requisite … that an exact discipline be observed and that persons belonging to the said forces who mutiny, or stir up sedition, or desert Her Majesty's service, or are guilty of crimes and offences to the prejudice of good order and military or air force discipline, be brought to a more exemplary and speedy punishment than the usual forms of the law will allow. That should be at the heart of our concerns. The necessity of maintaining order in our services and for a more exemplary and speedy punishment than the usual forms of the law will allow should be considered if we are to be able to meet the requirements set out by the brigadier.

How do we respond to the Bill before us? Unlike some of my hon. Friends, I welcome parts of it, in particular the decision to permit warrant officers to be included in courts martial. That is a sensible move. In many respects such officers are better schooled in human experience and life than some of the officers. They are therefore likely to bring a dimension to courts martial that will be welcomed.

Perhaps I could be allowed the liberty of paying tribute to the garrison sergeant major in Aldershot, Joe Fairbairn, who is a fantastic chap and has done a marvellous job not only for the garrison there but for the civilian community. He has been a great ambassador for the Army and for the warrant officer class and the fantastic job that they do.

I share some of the reservations of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome about the Government's proposals for the Ministry of Defence police. I am sure that the public would regard it as sensible that, in moving from one site to another, if the MOD police see a criminal act taking place, they should be able to use their training and the authority conferred on them by their position to do more than the ordinary citizen could do. That seems sensible, as I say, but the Committee must carefully consider the precise proposals.

The Minister of State says that the Government are not slavishly following the civilian systems, but the explanatory notes—and, indeed, his speech—show the extent to which the Government want to apply civilian standards and arrangements to military discipline, and there is constant reference to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. However, there are great dangers in doing so, and my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) made that point extremely well. If the Government are not slavishly following the procedures that apply to the civilian world, they are nevertheless in danger of going too far down that road. They will do the services no benefit, even if that is their intention.

The second point that I wish to make is about the references to the Human Rights Act 1998—as my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate said, the Bill refers to that Act—and the extent to which the Government think it necessary to protect us from challenge in the European Court of Human Rights, but we shall always be subject to such challenge. Ministers themselves have made that point. The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) said that there is a constantly moving scene. The drive towards human rights in the European area—it is not a European Community issue—is such that that court seeks constantly to extend its definition of human rights.

There will inevitably be more and more cases in which we must apply the decisions of a foreign court to our armed forces. As I have told the House before, it is entirely wrong that the composition and structure of Her Majesty's forces should be determined by people other than us. So I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) that we should extricate our armed forces from the Human Rights Act 1998 as soon as possible. While recognising the difficulty, the Select Committee on Defence recommended that Ministers should give that serious consideration.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is very sad that a convention that originated in the aftermath of the bestial war crimes of the second world war to try to prevent a repetition of those atrocities should now be so twisted and perverted as to be imposed on democratic countries and, indeed, on the armed forces of those countries, without which the second world war would never have been won?

Mr. Howarth

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I do not think that he was in the Chamber when I intervened on the hon. Member for Hereford to tell him that the origins of the convention are as my hon. Friend has so explicitly made clear.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury has come under attack, not least from the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor), for supporting the remarks about women in the armed forces made by the Chief of the Defence Staff. It is important to understand the Opposition's criticism. Of course we believe that women have a role to play in our armed forces. My mother will be 85 in a few days. She served her country in the armed forces for six years, from 1939 to 1945. I have constituents who served, with enormous distinction, in the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps. One of my constituents landed on the beaches on D-day plus one or two, within hours of the first landings. Of course women have a role to play, but most Conservative Members do not believe that women should serve in the front line of the infantry.

Mr. Keetch

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howarth

I will not, because I want to allow the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend, the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), the opportunity to speak. I cannot do that by giving way.

We do not believe that, as has been suggested, people have a right to join the armed forces The duty of the armed forces is to protect this country; it is not to reflect society. Douglas Bader was disabled and was able to continue to contribute his skills to the Royal Air Force because he was already a skilled pilot. He was also very determined and would not take no for an answer. That was entirely right and proper.

It is significant that, when a member of the Disability Rights Commission was asked to comment on the remarks made by the Chief of the Defence Staff, he said: All we are against is the absolute bar on disabled people serving in the Armed Forces. We are fully mindful of the need for combat effectiveness. That is what concerns Conservative Members. We do not have it in for disabled people—far from it. Indeed, the previous Government did more for disabled people than had been done for many years before. Labour Members have tried to misrepresent our views.

Our armed forces must train for war fighting and not for peacekeeping. I read with concern the idea that recruits could hold up a red or yellow card if they thought that they were being shouted at by their instructors. When people go into battle, there is noise around them. The first thing that hits anyone who sees "Saving Private Ryan" is the noise, and I am told that the film more accurately reflects battlefield conditions than many other war films that are on offer. If we do not train men for that atmosphere, they will not be able to perform if they encounter it.

It has been suggested that people who have never lived away from home before are incapable of accepting certain forms of instruction. People who joined the armed forces in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s had not left home previously, but they heard no less shouting from the sergeant major. They formed the armed forces of which everyone in the House has said that they are proud. I hope that the Minister will comment on that point.

I know that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) wish to speak, but I wish to make a final plea to the Minister that is unrelated to the issue of discipline. However, it is an important military matter. I refer to the inquiry being conducted by Lord Saville into the activities that took place in Londonderry in 1972. It is a completely ludicrous inquiry. It has run for two years and, according to the latest figures that we have from Ministers, it has so far cost £30 million. It is deeply distressing for members of the armed forces that those who did their best, as they saw it, in difficult conflict conditions in which they had to take instant decisions are having to account 30 years later for what happened on the day. However, the one man who does not have to account for his actions is Martin McGuinness, who I believe is—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying rather wide of the terms of the debate.

Mr. Howarth

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I entirely accept your ruling. However, as was pointed out earlier, this wide-ranging debate offers a five-yearly opportunity to consider military matters. We are dealing with morale and the impact of the Government's proposals on morale. I wish to place on record the fact that in my constituency of Aldershot there is grave concern about the Saville inquiry. I do not believe that any winners will come out of it; it can lead only to further tears.

On that rather unhappy note, I conclude my remarks. I hope that the Minister will take on board our reservations about the Bill—that it will advance the cause of political correctness to the detriment of the qualities and conditions of our armed services, about which so many hon. Members have today been complimentary.

9.20 pm
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

I am sure that when Sir Charles Guthrie, the Chief of the Defence Staff, made his controversial and pointed swan-song speech a few weeks ago, he did not think that it would be used as a bridge-building exercise between him and the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), but it served that purpose this evening when the hon. Gentleman agreed with so much of what Sir Charles said. That speech will be interpreted in many ways, not least when attempting to discover when tosh is not tosh—it is only tosh when those on the Conservative Front Bench interfere and table a motion, the substance of which uses his words. Today's debate will receive widespread comment within the Ministry of Defence, which will reconsider what Sir Charles Guthrie said and how it could be so viciously misinterpreted.

The debate has been good humoured, as all defence debates are in this place. It has brought many of the usual suspects to the Chamber. I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) is not here because this is one of the few times that I will not speak for half an hour, and therefore he would not get fed up.

Many Conservative Members, including a former Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), contributed to the debate, but they did not give an example of when good order and discipline might be affected by the Bill's substance. They made allegations, but, when challenged, did not give a clear idea of what the problems might be.

If the hon. Member for Reigate moves an amendment to get his name on the Select Committee, I shall support it. He deserves to serve on it, and the Committee deserves to have him. I served with him on the Defence Committee and enjoyed our shared moments. Other hon. Members should get the benefit of his company.

We have been told that there will be endless appeals. What is wrong with someone having the right of appeal against disciplinary action if they believe that there has been an injustice? There is nothing wrong with giving people the right to go to another court and take the issue further up the chain. It is offensive for hon. Members to say that the men and women in our armed forces, who daily put their lives on the line to protect other people's human rights, should not have the same rights. For the Conservatives to say that one of the first things that they would do when they are back in government—they did not say when that would be—

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)

In a few months.

Mr. Hancock

I doubt that that is true, but optimism springs eternal from the Conservative Front Bench.

However, I do not doubt the integrity of members of the armed forces who presented to the Defence Committee the case for what we are discussing tonight. They were not given a smooth run, but, as always, were vigorously interrogated by all members. Not once did they retract or alter the substantial improvements to the armed forces discipline procedures that they recommended to the Committee. They believed that change was long overdue, and many hon. Members have reflected on the clear need for that. Senior officers in all three services advised us that the changes would not present the enormous obstacles that have been mentioned tonight. They represent a significant and useful step forward that will give our armed forces and those men and women who are covered by the legislation a fair opportunity to have the same rights that any of us would expect to have. There is nothing wrong with a Government introducing such a proposition to the House.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way as I probably will not have the chance to make a speech. Does he agree that biggest anomaly of all is having different disciplinary rules for each of the three services? Does not failing to incorporate those procedures into one set of rules represent a huge lacuna?

Mr. Hancock

I agree, although the Bill is a stepping stone to achieving the once-and-for-all change that will unify those procedures. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that some of his hon. Friends are very much against the change that he proposes. Some say that it is against the regimental ethos and that great damage will be done if individual regiments are unable to pursue their own codes of disciplinary conduct, which they may have had for a century or more. I do not happen to share that view; I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It will be an enlightened Administration who achieve the unification of the different disciplinary Acts that cover the men and women in our armed forces.

We have an opportunity here. I am not pessimistic, and I believe that the select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, under the excellent chairmanship of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire), will amend the Bill should the need arise. Those who are selected by the House to be members of it will keep an open mind and be willing to make improvements where necessary. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the Chairman of the Defence Committee, chuckles. I am optimistic that the Defence Committee will one day not always let him get his own way, so I live in hope of lots of things happening.

I have much enjoyed the debate and believe that the Government need help and support to ensure that we discipline our service men and women in a proper and fair manner. We must give them no more rights, but no fewer, than any of us would expect and desire should we be in their position. We must do the Bill justice by giving it firm support on Second Reading and a helpful passage through the Select Committee.

9.27 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) for giving me three minutes in which to make three important points.

This quinquennial Bill allows the Government of the day to make provision for the standing armed forces and covers a wide range of subjects. First, I want to discuss a huge anomaly. During consideration of the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000, in which I was involved, the Government spent a great deal of time ensuring that our law complied with the European convention on human rights. However, there are different disciplinary regimes for each of our armed forces. Surely it would make a great deal more sense to have a combined set of disciplinary procedures.

Secondly, we uncovered and discussed at great length in Committee the default in respect of the summary appeals procedure.The 2000 Act is inconsistent with the legislation that pertains in the civil courts, where a sentence can be increased or decreased on appeal. Allowing a sentence only to be diminished will give free licence to, and indeed encourage, every service man who feels in any way disadvantaged to appeal. The Bill represents an ideal opportunity to remedy that defect, and I hope that the Committee will table amendments to do something about it.

Thirdly, clauses 33 and 37 contain great powers to pass secondary legislation. The use of secondary legislation is an increasing and unwelcome trend under this Government. That was also the case, it must be said, under the previous Government, but the trend has been accelerated by the present Government.

If one examines clauses 33 and 37, one sees that, in effect, almost half the Bill can be amended by secondary legislation. It is a trend on which Ministers and civil servants are increasingly embarking, and it is an undesirable one. On the whole, when legislation is imposed on citizens of this country, it should be imposed properly, through primary legislation passed through both Houses of Parliament and subject to proper scrutiny by elected representatives.

Our armed forces are the most respected in the world. Deterrence is the best form of defence. Let us hope that, with their political correctness and by giving excessive rights to armed forces personnel, the Government do not diminish that effectiveness. I want our armed forces to be the most feared in the world, because hopefully that will deter any future conflicts.

9.31 pm
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)

I apologise for the state of my voice which is unlikely to get better as I proceed.

I shall start by putting some right hon. and hon. Members out of their suspense. We have not said that we will urge our colleagues to oppose the Bill on Second Reading. We hope that we will be able to pass the reasoned amendment. If we do that, the Government will have to come back with a better Bill, which will be a good thing.

In the unfortunate and entirely hypothetical eventuality that we do not succeed in persuading the majority of the House to support the amendment, we will have to take stock of the decision of the House and of the fact, which has been mentioned several times this evening, that we need a Quinquennial Bill, or the individual armed forces discipline Acts will expire. We will take a responsible decision accordingly.

A large number of right hon. and hon. Members have taken part in the debate, which is good particularly as so few hon. Members from all parts of the House will take part in the Committee. I regret the fact that the Committee is so restricted in number and that the Government have decided to pack it with parliamentary private secretaries, in addition to Ministers and Back Benchers. We would have preferred a larger Committee.

The right hon.—it is a pleasure to call him that—Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) began by paying tribute to the military police, with which we all agree, and made a number of important points. He made a devastating remark which I wrote down, so I hope that I have got it exact. The right hon. Gentleman said that the composition of the Committee is a classic case of the Executive dominating the legislature. I could not agree more. That is a disturbing tendency on the part of the Government, to which I have referred in many contexts. Many of my hon. Friends on the Front and Back Benches have been doing that for the past three and a half years. I trust that the point will not be lost on the electorate in a few months' time.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) spoke not only with the distinction of a former Secretary of State for Defence, but as one of those who were instrumental in launching the doctrine of expeditionary warfare at the end of the cold war, some 10 years ago. He emphasised the deeply disturbing fact that, far from reducing the deficit in the numbers in our armed forces, the Government are moving backwards. They recently pushed back from 2005 to 2008 the time when, under a Labour Government, we would get our forces back up to strength. I trust that we will not have a Labour Government for much longer, and that those numbers will be up to strength very much sooner.

I shall surprise the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) and embarrass her by saying that she did not say a word with which I could disagree, even if I tried. She said that combat effectiveness was crucial as a criterion for judging the contents of the Bill. I thoroughly agree with that; it is exactly the position that the Opposition will take. She said that there was in the House a dangerous lack of knowledge about military matters on the part of people who had first-hand experience of them. I agree with that. We may not be able to do anything about it, but we should be aware of it. She made the point that, in those circumstances, it is important that the Committee meet as many serving men and women and their families as possible.

The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) made an entirely tasteless and unjustified attack on the heir to the throne, in the light of which I have little inclination to engage with his speech.

The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) is a frequent and well-informed participant in our debates. I do not think that he will be embarrassed when I say that we have something in common in that our fathers both served in the RAF, and he speaks with genuine feeling about military matters. In particular, he spoke about support for families and the need to look more favourably at what we can do for stepchildren, comments with which I have much sympathy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) has long experience of these matters and I deeply regret that he will not be a member of the Standing Committee. He set out some of his experiences of Government responses to recommendations of Select Committees on which he had sat, and what he said was pretty devastating. The Government clearly treat Select Committees, as they do the rest of the House, with complete and growing contempt. He set out several points that he would like to be taken up in Committee. One concerned the pension anomalies, another the fitness of military personnel and another the military medical services, a theme that he has made very much his own in the past few years. I hope we will be able to take up those matters, provided that they are not timetabled out. Again, that is something that the Government are likely to try to impose on the House. We shall see later this evening what will happen about that.

I am sorry that the only participant in the debate whose comments I missed was the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) and I apologise to her for that. My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) spoke about the invidious European convention on human rights and its impact in Britain, and he spoke about the culture of risk aversion, which, he said, is not something which might potentially be created by an excess of bureaucratic legislation and interference, as the Chief of the Defence Staff suggested, but is already here. I fear that he is all too right about that.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) spoke against the fragmentation of the military police force. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), who, again, is a knowledgeable participant in these debates and whom I regret, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, will not be members of the Committee where they would have made memorable contributions, spoke in favour of warrant officers taking part in courts martial. I thoroughly agree with his argument on that which I found convincing. He was concerned about the extension of the powers of the military police and he was also rightly concerned about the apparently inexorable extension of the jurisdiction and jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) strongly supported the Bill, as the Liberal Democrats appear to be doing. My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), in a marvel of succinctness, managed to put over in three minutes, three important points—the need for a tri-service Bill, the unfortunate asymmetric aspect of the appeal procedure in the new Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000, and the excess of secondary legislation under the Government.

Two major themes have clearly emerged from the debate. One is the need for a tri-service Act, and the Government's utter failure to bring one forward. It is no use after nearly four years simply saying that they are sorry that they could not quite get around to it; that they could not manage it. This is simply another example of administrative incompetence. Let me remove all ambiguity on the subject by saying formally to the House that the next Conservative Government will bring forward a tri-service Bill and we will get the matter straight.

The second big theme which has emerged is that of political correctness.

Ms Dari Taylor

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

I am afraid that time does not allow. The second theme, of course, is the Labour party's new ideology. A generation or so ago, it was in hock to Marxism, which took a simple-minded view of the world, and said that the essential distinction in the human race was between capitalists and the exploited toilers. Now, the Labour party has gone over to an equally simple-minded distinction: on one side are women, gays, the disabled and anyone from a so-called ethnic community who, apparently, are the disadvantaged and the exploited of the earth and, on the other side, is the rest of humanity. Of course, that is complete junk and nonsense and it is frightening that adults think in those terms—let alone here in the House of Commons.

It would be utterly disastrous if, for one moment, such thinking were allowed to influence a matter as important as defence policy. It is grotesque to mix up the separate issues of women in the armed services, homosexuality in the armed services, disabled people and so on, which have nothing in common. They must be looked at as separate personnel and management challenges for our armed services. To remove any ambiguity, I shall briefly explain where the Opposition stand, because it is not our business to run away from any of those issues. With homosexuality, it may well be that the problem is on the way to being resolved, and the Chief of the Defence Staff has already been quoted this evening as saying that. If so, and if senior officers are happy and relaxed about that, so much the better. Frankly, if people are discreet and are not causing problems for military discipline, it would be utterly obnoxious to try to pry officiously into their private sexual and emotional make-up and lives. If senior officers are relaxed about that, Parliament should take its cue from that judgment.

On the disabled, it is axiomatic that anyone who wears a military uniform or a cap badge should have been properly trained to undertake military tasks. Even those who are recruited to the armed forces without the career objective of war fighting are subject to a rigorous military training programme. They know how to handle weapons and know what to do in a crisis. The other day, I visited the Royal Marines in Portsmouth, and even the Royal Marine bandsmen, who are recruited largely on their musical ability, have to pass a rigorous military test. Obviously, someone who is disabled cannot do that. It is different if people have joined the Army or another service and been wounded, perhaps in the course of action, and then find themselves disabled. They are very much part of the team and the culture, having themselves had military training in the past, and they know how to respond in a crisis. Therefore, that is quite different.

It must be for those whose lives are at risk and those who have responsibility for commanding them in a crisis and, potentially, in battle, to decide the policy on recruitment. We back, that. Let me make it clear that the next Conservative Government will not try to impose an artificial Procrustean modish agenda on our armed services. We will listen to professional advice and will be guided by it. We will not second-guess military advice on the recruitment, training and promotion of personnel.

Exactly the same thing applies to women. Let me say right away that the most appalling things have been said on that subject this evening. The Conservative party is not against women in the armed services. We are not just for women in the armed services: we are enthusiastically for women playing a full part in the armed services. We are delighted that so many young women have joined in recent years, and we pay tribute to those women who are prepared to risk their lives in the service of their country, and do so on a par and without making any distinction from those men who serve alongside them, to whom we likewise pay tribute No distinctions whatever should be made in that.

There is also the question of the role that women can and should play in the services. As we all know, they are on the front line in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy and are doing very well there. Until now, the Army has taken the view that women should not be deployed on the front line. Using the same criterion that I used earlier, we will respect and stand by that judgment.

Finally, a terrible new threat from political correctness is on the horizon. As if the European convention on human rights were not enough, the Government now propose to accede to the International Criminal Court and ratify our participation in it. Once again, our approach is unlike that of the French, who have again had the sense to ask for a derogation, as they did with regard to the European convention on human rights. We did not seek such a derogation on the ECHR, perhaps because we could not predict back in the 1950s that the jurisprudence that the convention involved would be so damaging to our conduct of military affairs. The French have asked for the same derogation on the ICC and have got it, but the British new Labour Government have not even thought—perhaps they did not have the guts—to request such a derogation. They have no excuse whatever. A combination of pusillanimity, incompetence and political correctness anaesthetising the minds of Labour Members—that is the characteristic of the new Labour Administration.

9.45 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie)

If ever we need a reminder of the dangers of noise pollution, we have only to listen to a speech made by the hon. Member for Grantham and Spalding—

Mr. Quentin Davies

Grantham and Stamford.

Dr. Moonie

My apologies—you have lost Spalding.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Get it right if you are being insulting.

Dr. Moonie

I was hardly being insulting.

The debate has offered some valuable pointers on the matters that the Select Committee may want to examine further during the next few weeks. The Ministry of Defence is looking forward to helping the Committee in its work and to providing such further information about the Bill as it may require.

The Bill has a number of purposes other than the key purpose of maintaining the statutory basis for discipline in the armed forces. Like previous Armed Forces Bills, it may appear to be a miscellany of discrete proposals. It is possible to see the Bill in that light. However, the common thread that runs through the Bill—and, I believe, its predecessors—is a recognition of the need to bring service legislation up to date.

The Bill does that in a number of ways. It provides a proper framework for key activities of the service police. It gives the service courts and the machinery surrounding them powers reflecting those available within the civilian criminal justice system. It proposes a mechanism for allowing future development in the criminal justice sphere to be reflected more readily than is always possible at present. I shall speak about that in more detail later, if I have time.

In what I hope will be a particularly welcome change, the Bill enables warrant officers, who are regarded by many as the backbone of the services, to sit as members of courts martial. The new powers proposed in the Bill in relation to alcohol and drugs testing will help to provide a safer working environment for all service personnel, for civilians who work with them and for others with whom they come into contact. The Bill also clarifies the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence police. It gives them the ability to provide an appropriate response, either individually or collectively, to the range of situations where they may be called on to assist in the policing of our communities.

The proposals have been developed pragmatically, for practical purposes. The test is whether they will improve the administration of discipline in the service or enable the Ministry of Defence police to make a more effective contribution to policing. We believe that they will do so and we will have ample opportunity to consider such matters in detail during the Select Committee's deliberations.

Many Opposition Members quoted from the speech made by the Chief of the Defence Staff, although they did so somewhat selectively. His remarks about a subaltern being sued by his platoon for making a mistake in the heat of battle were entirely hypothetical, and part of much wider comments on a society which he said was becoming more litigious—which is of course true.

Without wanting to prompt accusations of Ministers blowing their own trumpets, let me point out that General Guthrie made several warm comments about the support that he received from Defence Ministers. Indeed, he commented that our Defence Ministers understand our position and have been robust in the defence of our case during the recent European debate on ending employment discrimination on grounds of age and disability. Of course, we secured the required exemption.

I should spend a couple of minutes on the supposedly reasoned amendment tabled by the Opposition and on rebutting some of their points. First, I put my hands up and admit that I should have liked to introduce a consolidation or tri-service Bill this year, but that has not proved possible. We explained at great length during deliberation on the Bill that became the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000 why that was the case, but we have said that the introduction of such legislation will be possible at the nearest available occasion—the next quinquennial review.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

It must be possible.

Dr. Moonie

I assure the hon. Gentleman that it was not possible this year, much as we might have liked to do it. It will be done on the next occasion that presents itself, and it will of course be done by a Labour Government: of that I am certain.

The Bill was never envisaged as a vehicle for tri-service measures. The Government have launched an initiative to create a framework for service discipline that will better meet the needs of armed forces that increasingly operate together. We acknowledged in the strategic defence review that the task would be massive and would take time. It is not simply a question of putting the three current Acts under one cover, and we owe it to our services to get it right.

Having decided to go for a tri-service Act, we had to review the consolidation project. We concluded that the unnecessarily complicated work involved in rewriting a significant amount of legislation was not worth the candle, but it will be done—although it will not be done this time, which I think we all regret.

According to the amendment, we have failed to address the challenge to military combat effectiveness from the gathering tide of legislation following the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law. There is, in fact, no challenge to combat effectiveness, because the Government are determined that the effectiveness of our armed forces will remain paramount. That is evident from recent discussions on article 13 in the European Union, and from the treaty of Amsterdam, where we secured an exemption from the provisions in so far as they might impact on the armed forces.

The Opposition would like the United Kingdom to enter a reservation on the ECHR in relation to the armed forces, thereby denying the men and women of those forces the basic human rights applying to every citizen of this country. That is despicable.

I will not argue with the Opposition about the principle. They have their views and I have mine. Many of them rehearsed their limited arguments ad nauseam last year, and no doubt we shall hear exactly the same rubbish this year. What they said last year was completely off the wall, and I am afraid that it is even further off the wall now. We will not accept the contention that our armed forces should have fewer human rights than the rest of us.

Mr. Gerald Howarth


Dr. Moonie

I have no time to give way, but I intend to respond to what the hon. Gentleman said during the debate. He will not be short of bites at the cherry.

We do not accept the proposition that the ECHR represents a threat to operational effectiveness—neither do the officers in the armed forces.

The amendment mentions the omission of legal clarification of employment in the services of young people under the age of 18. The position relating to employment of those under 18 in the armed forces is clear. The minimum age of entry—16—was determined by the school leaving age. Our policy regarding the non-deployment of under-17s in the light of the United Kingdom's declaration on signature of the optional protocol of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child has been implemented administratively. That is appropriate, as it provides flexibility in relation to the questions of combat effectiveness involved in who may and who may not be deployed in operations.

At the end of their amendment, the Opposition repeat their fear of a "creeping advance of litigation" that will in some way sap the morale of officers. I assure them that we have no intention of allowing that to happen, and that the officers with whom we deal every day have not the slightest fear that it will happen.

The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) had views on Ministry of Defence police powers. I am pleased to say that the Association of Chief Police Officers has broadly supported our proposals. We know that the same cannot be said of the Police Federation of England and Wales, but we think its reservations are based on an incomplete and possibly out-of-date assessment of the MDP's range of competencies and skills. We will, of course, explore these matters further during the Select Committee's consideration, but it may be useful to bear it in mind that, in 1999, Home Department officers called for MDP assistance on no fewer than 2,969 occasions in England and Wales, and on 63 occasions in Scotland. We feel that there should be a firm legal basis for such action.

We have no intention of allowing MOD police to be used to provide general support for duties in the community, but we see a need for a proper statutory basis for the very proper action that they must take on occasion, either collectively or individually.

We see no need for legal aid schemes to be put on a statutory footing. It has been a long-standing policy of Governments of both parties that they should mirror schemes in the civilian system. The MOD funds the services' legal aid schemes for those armed forces personnel brought before a court martial or a summary appeal court, or for preparing the grounds for an appeal to the courts martial appeal court. In certain circumstances, the scheme extends to the dependants of service personnel and to other MOD civilian employees who may be brought before a standing civilian court or court martial while serving overseas.

I will not spend much time discussing one half of the Opposition's views on the employment of women in the armed forces because they should not be dignified in that way—except to say that we are committed to maximising opportunities for women in the armed forces in so far as is consistent with the requirement to maintain combat effectiveness. We are waiting for a study which is to be released at some time in the next few months. We will act once we receive it. We do not propose to react to hypothetical argument.

In an intervention, the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) asked about the proposed powers of search within barracks—a matter raised by other Opposition Members. The provision for warrants relates to the search of sleeping accommodation in connection with the investigation of offences. In appropriate cases, searches of sleeping accommodation will require a warrant, but clause 16 clearly provides that the Bill does not limit the powers of a commanding officer to search such accommodation for reasons unconnected with the investigation of offences: for example, for health, safety or security purposes or for matters of routine discipline. There is no way that the standard inspection of quarters will be affected in any way by the Bill. The routine type of examination will be allowed. We are including a statutory basis for proper searches to be carried out. That is intended to enhance our abilities, not to restrict them.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) asked at whose behest MDP assistance would be provided. I think that I have answered that. It will be provided either at the request of an individual officer in an individual situation where an emergency has arisen, or where a chief constable requires general help—for example, with major flooding or other public order situations. I could talk about that at length, but we do not have time. We will cover it adequately in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) asked about police powers and their extent. They have been discussed with a wide range of parties. We feel that the limited extension of powers is appropriate in the light of the comments that we received.

The right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) mentioned the effects of litigation. I am able to assure the House that my Department has no official directive requiring commanding officers to take out insurance in case they are sued. The MOD will stand behind its employees at all times—particularly service men and women—provided that they are acting in the course of their duty. The right hon. Gentleman may have been confused by the fact that public liability insurance must be purchased to cover activities that are not publicly funded, such as the provision of certain local sports clubs or playgroups, but there is absolutely no question of soldiers being required to purchase liability insurance to cover their operational duties—none whatever.

The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) thinks that he has spotted a mistake in the Bill. I assure him that it is not a mistake. The Navy requested that the gap be maintained, so that the commencing rank for service in a court martial by officers remained as it always had.

The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) mentioned the number of summary court cases and appeals. It is just my luck that the hon. Gentleman's own old regiment had one of them. In the two months since the commencement of the legislation for which I have figures, 2,638 summary offences were dealt with across the three services. Those have led to 42 appeals or 2 per cent. That is hardly excessive.

This is a worthwhile Bill, albeit it limited in scope. A much wider one will be introduced in five years' time. I commend the Bill to the House

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 133, Noes 350.

Division No. 37] [9.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Green, Damian
Amess, David Greenway, John
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Grieve, Dominic
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Gummer, Rt Hon John
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Hague, Rt Hon William
Baldry, Tony Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Beggs, Roy Hammond, Philip
Bercow, John Hawkins, Nick
Blunt, Crispin Hayes, John
Body, Sir Richard Heald, Oliver
Boswell, Tim Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Horam, John
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Brady, Graham Hunter, Andrew
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Browning, Mrs Angela Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Jenkin, Bernard
Burns, Simon Key, Robert
Cash, William King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Chope, Christopher Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Clappison, James Lansley, Andrew
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Leigh, Edward
Collins, Tim Letwin, Oliver
Cormack, Sir Patrick Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Cran, James Lidington, David
Curry, Rt Hon David Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Loughton, Tim
Day, Stephen Luff, Peter
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Duncan, Alan MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Duncan Smith, Iain McIntosh, Miss Anne
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Evans, Nigel Maclean, Rt Hon David
Faber, David McLoughlin, Patrick
Fallon, Michael Madel, Sir David
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Malins, Humfrey
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Maples, John
Fox, Dr Liam Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Fraser, Christopher May, Mrs Theresa
Gale, Roger Moss, Malcolm
Gibb, Nick Nicholls, Patrick
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Norman, Archie
Gorman, Mrs Teresa O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Ottaway, Richard Tapsell, Sir Peter
Page, Richard Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Paice, James Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Pickles, Eric Taylor, Sir Teddy
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Thompson, William
Prior, David Tredinnick, David
Randall, John Trend, Michael
Redwood, Rt Hon John Tyrie, Andrew
Robathan, Andrew Viggers, Peter
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Walter, Robert
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Waterson, Nigel
Ross, William (E Lond'y) Wells, Bowen
Ruffley, David Whitney, Sir Raymond
Sayeed, Jonathan Whittingdale, John
Soames, Nicholas Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Wilkinson, John
Spicer, Sir Michael Willetts, David
Spring, Richard Wilshire, David
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Yeo, Tim
Steen, Anthony
Streeter, Gary Tellers for the Ayes:
Swayne, Desmond Mr. James Gray and
Syms, Robert Mr. Keith Simpson.
Ainger, Nick Caton, Martin
Alexander, Douglas Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Allen, Graham Chaytor, David
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald (Swansea E) Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Ashton, Joe Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Atherton, Ms Candy Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Atkins, Charlotte Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Austin, John Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Bailey, Adrian Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Barnes, Harry Clelland, David
Barron, Kevin Clwyd, Ann
Battle, John Coaker, Vernon
Bayley, Hugh Coffey, Ms Ann
Beard, Nigel Cohen, Harry
Begg, Miss Anne Colman, Tony
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Connarty, Michael
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Corbett, Robin
Bennett, Andrew F Corbyn, Jeremy
Bermingham, Gerald Corston, Jean
Berry, Roger Cousins, Jim
Betts, Clive Cranston, Ross
Blackman, Liz Crausby, David
Blears, Ms Hazel Cummings, John
Blizzard, Bob Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Dalyell, Tam
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Borrow, David Davidson, Ian
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Brand, Dr Peter
Breed, Colin Dawson, Hilton
Brinton, Mrs Helen Dean, Mrs Janet
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Denham, John
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Dismore, Andrew
Browne, Desmond Dobbin, Jim
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Burden, Richard Donohoe, Brian H
Burgon, Colin Doran, Frank
Burnett, John Dowd, Jim
Butler, Mrs Christine Drew, David
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Efford, Clive
Campbell-Savours, Dale Ellman, Mrs Louise
Cann, Jamie Ennis, Jeff
Casale, Roger Etherington, Bill
Fearn, Ronnie Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fisher, Mark Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Fitzpatrick, Jim Khabra, Piara S
Flint, Caroline Kidney, David
Flynn, Paul Kilfoyle, Peter
Follett, Barbara King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Kirkwood, Archy
Foster, Don (Bath) Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Laxton, Bob
Foulkes, George Leslie, Christopher
Gapes, Mike Levitt, Tom
Gardiner, Barry Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
George, Andrew (St Ives) Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S) Linton, Martin
Gibson, Dr Ian Livsey, Richard
Gidley, Sandra Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Llwyd, Elfyn
Godsiff, Roger Lock, David
Goggins, Paul Love, Andrew
Golding, Mrs Llin McAvoy, Thomas
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McCabe, Steve
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McCafferty, Ms Chris
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce McDonagh, Siobhain
Grogan, John Macdonald, Calum
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McDonnell, John
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McFall, John
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) McGuire, Mrs Anne
Hancock, Mike McIsaac, Shona
Hanson, David Mackinlay, Andrew
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet McNamara, Kevin
Harvey, Nick McNulty, Tony
Healey, John Mactaggart, Fiona
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) McWalter, Tony
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) McWilliam, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Mallaber, Judy
Hendrick, Mark Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hepburn, Stephen Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Heppell, John Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hesford, Stephen Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hill, Keith Martlew, Eric
Hinchliffe, David Maxton, John
Hoey, Kate Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hopkins, Kelvin Meale, Alan
Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E) Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Howells, Dr Kim Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hoyle, Lindsay Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Miller, Andrew
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Mitchell, Austin
Humble, Mrs Joan Moffatt, Laura
Hurst, Alan Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hutton, John Moore, Michael
Illsley, Eric Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Morley, Elliot
Jamieson, David Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Mountford, Kali
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Oaten, Mark
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Joyce, Eric O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald O'Hara, Eddie
Keeble, Ms Sally O'Neill, Martin
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Öpik, Lembit
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Organ, Mrs Diana
Keetch, Paul Osborne, Ms Sandra
Kemp, Fraser Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Perham, Ms Linda Steinberg, Gerry
Pickthall, Colin Stevenson, George
Pike, Peter L Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Plaskitt, James Stoate, Dr Howard
Pollard, Kerry Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Pond, Chris Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Pound, Stephen Stringer, Graham
Powell, Sir Raymond Stuart, Ms Gisela
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Primarolo, Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Purchase, Ken Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Rammell, Bill Temple-Morris, Peter
Rapson, Syd Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Raynsford, Nick Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Timms, Stephen
Rendel, David Tipping, Paddy
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland) Todd, Mark
Touhig, Don
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW) Trickett, Jon
Rogers Allan Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Rooney, Terry Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Tyler, Paul
Rowlands, Ted Tynan, Bill
Roy, Frank Vis, Dr Rudi
Ruane, Chris Walley, Ms Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Ward, Ms Claire
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) wareing, Robert N
Salter Martin Watts, David
White, Brian
Sanders, Adrian Whitehead, Dr Alan
Sarwar, Mohammad Wicks, Malcolm
Savidge, Malcolm Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Sawford, Phil Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Shipley, Ms Debra Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Short, Rt Hon Clare Wills, Michael
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Wilson, Brian
Skinner, Dennis Winnick, David
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Wood, Mike
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) Woodward, Shaun
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Worthington, Tony
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Wray, James
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns) Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Snape, Peter Wyatt, Derek
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Ms Helen Tellers for the Noes:
Spellar, John Mr. Greg Pope and
Squire, Ms Rachel Mr. Robert Ainsworth.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 62 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading):

The House divided: Ayes 349, Noes 8.

Division No. 38] [10.16 pm
Ainger, Nick Bailey, Adrian
Alexander, Douglas Barnes, Harry
Allen, Graham Battle, John
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald (Swansea E) Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Begg, Miss Anne
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Ashton, Joe Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Atherton, Ms Candy Bennett, Andrew F
Atkins, Charlotte Bermingham, Gerald
Austin, John Berry, Roger
Betts, Clive Ennis, Jeff
Blackman, Liz Etherington, Bill
Blears, Ms Hazel Fearn, Ronnie
Blizzard, Bob Field, Rt Hon Frank
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Fisher, Mark
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Fitzpatrick Jim
Borrow, David Flint, Caroline
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Flynn, Paul
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Follett, Barbara
Brand, Dr Peter Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Breed, Colin Foster, Don (Bath)
Brinton, Mrs Helen Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Foulkes, George
Browne, Desmond Gapes, Mike
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Gardiner, Barry
Burden, Richard George, Andrew (St Ives)
Burgon, Colin George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)
Burnett, John Gibson, Dr Ian
Butler, Mrs Christine Gidley, Sandra
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Gilroy, Mrs. Linda
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Godsiff, Roger
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Campbell-Savours, Dale Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Cann, Jamie Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Casale, Roger Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Caton, Martin Grocott, Bruce
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Grogan, John
Chaytor, David Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clapham, Michael Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Hancock, Mike
Hanson, David
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Harvey, Nick
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Healey, John
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Heath David (Somerton & Frome)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Clelland, David Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Clwyd, Ann Hendrick, Mark
Coaker, Vernon Hepburn, Stephen
Coffey, Ms Ann Heppell, John
Colman, Tony Hesford, Stephen
Connarty, Michael Hill, Keith
Corbett, Robin Hinchliffe, David
Corbyn. Jeremy Hoey, Kate
Corston, Jean Hopkins, Kelvin
Cousins, Jim Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)
Cranston. Ross Howells, Dr Kim
Crausby, David Hoyle, Lindsay
Cummings, John Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Dalyell, Tam Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Humble, Mrs Joan
Davidson, Ian Hurst, Alan
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Hutton, John
Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dawson, Hilton Jamieson, David
Dean, Mrs Janet Jenkins, Brian
Denham, John Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Dismore, Andrew Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Donohoe, Brian H Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Doran, Frank Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Dowd, Jim Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Drew, David Jones, Dr Lynne (Sally Oak)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Joyce, Eric
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Edwards, Huw Keeble, Ms Sally
Efford, Clive Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Ellman, Mrs Louise Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Keetch, Paul Osborne, Ms Sandra
Kemp, Fraser Palmer. Dr Nick
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W) Pearson, Ian
Perham, Ms Linda
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Pickthall, Colin
Khabra, Piara S Pike, Peter L
Kidney, David Plaskitt, James
Kilfoyle, Peter Pollard, Kerry
King. Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Pond, Chris
Kirkwood, Archy Pound, Stephen
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Powell, Sir Raymond
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Laxton, Bob Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Leslie, Christopher Primarolo, Dawn
Levitt, Tom Prosser, Gwyn
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Purchase, Ken
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Rammell, Bill
Linton, Martin Rapson, Syd
Livsey, Richard Raynsford, Nick
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Llwyd, Elfyn Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Lock, David Rendel, David
Love, Andrew Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
McCafferty, Ms Chris Rogers, Allan
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield) Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Rooney, Terry
McDonagh, Siobhain Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Macdonald, Calum Rowlands, Ted
McDonnell, John Roy, Frank
McFall, John Ruane, Chris
McGuire, Mrs Anne Russell, Bob (Colchester)
McIsaac, Shona Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Mackinlay, Andrew Salter, Martin
McNamara, Kevin Sanders, Adrian
McNulty, Tony Sarwar, Mohammad
Mactaggart, Fiona Savidge, Malcolm
McWalter, Tony Sawford, Phil
McWilliam, John Sedgemore, Brian
Mallaber, Judy Shaw, Jonathan
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Shipley, Ms Debra
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Short, Rt Hon Clare
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Skinner, Dennis
Martlew. Eric Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Maxton, John Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Meale, Alan Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Snape, Peter
Miller, Andrew Soley, Clive
Mitchell, Austin Southworth, Ms Helen
Moffatt, Laura Squire, Ms Rachel
Moonie, Dr Lewis Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Moore, Michael Steinberg, Gerry
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Stevenson, George
Morley, Elliot Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Stoate, Dr Howard
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Mountford, Kali Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Mudie, George Stringer, Graham
Mullin, Chris Stuart, Ms Gisela
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr Doug Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Oaten, Mark Taylor, David (NW Leics)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton Temple-Morris, Peter
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
O'Hara, Eddie Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
O'Neill, Martin Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Öpik, Lembit Timms, Stephen
Organ, Mrs Diana Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk) Wills, Michael
Turner, Neil (Wigan) Wilson, Brian
Twigg, Derek (Halton) Winnick, David
Tyler, Paul Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wood, Mike
Tynan, Bill Woodward, Shaun
Vis, Dr Rudi Worthington, Tony
Walley, Ms Joan Wray, James
Ward, Ms Claire Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wareing, Robert N Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Watts, David Wyatt, Derek
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan Tellers for the Ayes:
Wicks, Malcolm Mr. Greg Pope and
Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd Mr. Robert Ainsworth.
Beggs, Roy Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Cash, William Thompson, William
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Leigh, Edward Tellers for the Noes:
Nicholls, Patrick Mr. Christopher Chope and
Redwood, Rt Hon John Mr. David Wilshire.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.