HL Deb 01 July 1976 vol 372 cc890-910

4.14 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, if we may return to the more mundane world of the Armed Forces — that is, discipline in the Armed Forces as opposed to what may well turn out to be Cabinet discipline — earlier this afternoon we heard the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, explain this Bill to us in very full terms. The Bill appears to be somewhat complicated at first sight. However, we believe that its intentions and, indeed, its provisions are straightforward. Noble Lords will agree that by the nature of their work and duties defence forces are often compelled to lead a very different life from those of us who are civilians. Thus the House will not be surprised to find that to a great extent the Bill concerns itself with the problems of Service discipline and, just as importantly, with Standing Civilian Courts and with juveniles who, for one of any number of valid reasons, must be dealt with abroad.

As we have already heard, the Act begins by continuing the various Acts which are concerned with discipline in the Armed Forces, and we are glad to know that the position of the Royal Marines has been clarified in one or two aspects. However, to many of us the provisions of Clause 5 are the most important: those relating to the trial and punishment of airmen or private soldiers. We understand that such alteration as is made in military disciplinary procedures meets with the general approval of the Armed Forces. Until now a commanding officer has been able to award a maximum of 28 days' detention for any military offence. The raising of this limit to 60 days may appear to be a trifle harsh but we have to remember that Service life is totally different in character from civilian life, both as to the manner of interdependence and as part of a separate community. It is not that Service personnel have become more prone to crime or, indeed, to error. It is merely that commanding officers should have more power as well as, we hope, more discretion over various offences which are committed by airmen or private soldiers who are under their command.

We believe that such a change would be welcomed by all concerned, since one of the consequences, as we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, will be to reduce the numbers of courts-martial. Hitherto any offence punishable by a term of more than 28 days' detention had to be dealt with by a court-martial, with all the delay, complication and trouble that that involved; and there was always the possibility that where a more serious offence was alleged to have been committed the punishment would be more serious than if such an offence had been summarily heard and the case concluded by the commanding officer.

There are risks for the private soldier, but he will continue to have the option of trial by court-martial if he so wishes. Under this Bill he will have the option to be tried summarily by his commanding officer. In my opinion, the commanding officer will know the private soldier and the relevant facts of the case much better than any court-martial. We believe, and many of our colleagues in another place also believe, that such a procedure is a great improvement upon the present procedure. Certainly none of us considers that there should be one set of laws or procedures, or even a concept of law, for Service personnel and another for the rest of us in civilian life. But where offences are of a military nature, surely it is right for them to be taken summarily.

Clause 6 of the Bill deals with what many of us consider to be another important development. These are Standing Civilian Courts. Much of what has been said on Clause 5 applies to a great extent also to Clause 6. There are more anomalies where civilians are concerned, especially where civilians are working with the Armed Forces abroad. In many cases the proposals contained in the Bill are sound, but should any of these proposals prove to be unworkable both this House and the other place will have the opportunity to change such courts and their procedures.

Clause 10 of the Bill deals with juveniles who may commit offences while overseas. Many of us will recognise that the various manifestations of youthful unrest in this country must to some extent spread among the children and dependants of our Servicemen abroad. It is gratifying that domestic problems among our Armed Forces personnel are so rare, in view of the terrible strain that their military duties, particularly so far as Northern Ireland is concerned, imposes on all ranks and, indeed, on their family and domestic life. Where any domestic problems are apparent, it is gratifying to know that the Bill devotes so much trouble in its provisions to ensuring the same treatment of young offenders as would be applicable within the United Kingdom. I believe there is, and indeed there will be, a great deal of morale boosting where Servicemen can know that should any problem occur in their domestic life when they are away on duty, wherever they may be, everything can he done that would be done if they were in the United Kingdom.

There is one small point that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, may be able to explain to us now, or perhaps at a later stage in our consideration of the Bill. It is a small military detail and it occurs in Clause 12, concerning the taking of the oath by shorthand writers. It seems to many of us that such personnel at courts-martial should be bound by the usual rules of confidentiality and possibly of security and secrecy, and we would be most grateful to have the noble Lord's comments as to why it is planned to dispense with this procedure. It is a minor point, but we consider it relevant and we hope the noble Lord can help us with it.

In general, the Bill is concerned with tidying up various administrative problems and details. It seeks to bring aspects of Service life into line with those aspects of civilian life. We are encouraged by the general welcome that the Bill has received from the various sections of the Armed Forces. There is of course one section of the Armed Forces of which my noble colleague Lady Vickers has a very specialised knowledge, as the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, mentioned earlier; namely, the Women's Royal Naval Service and the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service. It is gratifying to know that various provisions are applicable to these two valuable Services to bring them into line with Service life and discipline generally.

The Bill could be said to comprise a very weird amalgam of legal procedure, child care and welfare, of course not forgetting aspects of Service discipline which are quite separate from the way in which we order our lives as civilians. As noble Lords will know, our Armed Forces are all highly motivated and very dedicated, and we believe they are most effective. This Bill adjusts some aspects of their life and, we hope, in the way in which they would wish their lives to be improved. For this reason we welcome the Bill and we thank the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, for explaining it and its rather complicated provisions.

4.23 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend on the points he has raised and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, for putting so clearly before us a rather complicated Bill. I should like to start by reminding the House of the magnificent work done by Her Majesty's Services since the last war. After all, we have not had a major war for many years and one rather forgets the part taken by the Services between 1945 and 1946 in Indonesia — then known as the "Forgotten Army "— and in Malaysia; in action against the Mau-Mau in Kenya; in Aden, Sarawak and Sabah. I venture to say that they served with magnificent success in all these spheres. Then we had the "Cod War " and Ulster. I should like to place on record my belief that the Services have done a wonderful job in any country in which they have served. In my opinion we have the best Armed Forces in the world and I should like to have the assurance that we are going to keep them so.

At the present time recruiting is very good and therefore I should like to turn to the Select Committee and their remarks of 3rd March, 1976. As I understand it, they accepted all seven recommendations of the Select Committee set up in 1971. In particular, I should like to deal now with the question of Clause 4 and Schedule 2 which make the WRNS and Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service subject to naval discipline. Whether or not this is wise, whether or not it is progress, I am not at all certain. It may help the WRNS in future to go to sea if they wish to, and should it be deemed necessary they could become combatant. These are the only two advantages I can see.

I am not at all certain why the nursing service should have military discipline. It makes a complete difference from what has happened in their past service life and they will now be under the Naval Discipline Act. Perhaps I might recall the excellent service they have given previously. The service was originally started by Dame Katherine Furse in 1917 and in 1919 it was disbanded and then there was the voluntary association of the WRNS. Dame Vera LaughtonMatthews founded the present Service in 1939 and the WRNS were the first women to be sent overseas; and regrettably in SS "Acquilla" they were torpedoed and all — I think about 35 of them — were drowned. Since that time the WRNS have served in their present capacity all over the world. At the present time there are Leading WRNS serving in ten different countries including, for example, Peking, New Delhi, Hong Kong and in Malta, where regrettably — and I am sure they regret it too — they will soon be leaving. They are also, of course, in Gibraltar and they have exchanged drafts in Holland, Canada, the United States of America and also NATO, SHAPE and MONS.

Recruiting is excellent and advertising for the WRNS is not necessary. As I understand it, it is the job that matters, and nothing else. Therefore it is rather difficult to understand why there has to be this change. I realise that there has been considerable discussion and debate about this and one has read the Report of the Select Committee of 10th March — and may I here pay a tribute to the excellent way in which the Select Committee did their work; I have read all the documents and they really went into all the matters in great detail. On page 33, speaking of the WRNS and the nurses, the Report states: It is judged that their being made fully subject to the Naval Discipline Act will be seen to have little significant practical effect on the day-to-day life of the Service. I hope that will be so; otherwise I think it is a great pity to make the change.

During the period when I was in the other place I took the opportunity of visiting the Services overseas, of course including a special interest in the WRNS. I have seen them in action in Britain and overseas and I have visited their headquarters at HMS "Dauntless" near Reading. When I read the Bill I realised that there was going to be a major change. I made several inquiries as to what was going to happen in the future in regard to their training. I believe noble Lords may know that it was suggested some time ago that their headquarters should be at HMS " Dryad ", but I gather that this is now not possible, and to my regret I understand, having recently been down to the West Country, that HMS "Raleigh" is being considered. I do not know whether the noble Lord has visited this establishment but is is very cut off, being right down in Cornwall. One has to go to Plymouth and then cross by the ferry in order to get there, and I consider that it is not at all a suitable place for new recruits. Surely it would be possible to leave them, perhaps on a smaller establishment, at HMS "Dauntless" or attach them to HMS "Mercury" where they would be really in a naval atmosphere. I understand that HMS "Dryad" will not be ready for some considerable time, if ever.

Another reason why I am rather worried about this change is that there are of course male cadets training at HMS "Raleigh" and I do not think it is considered fair to train the young boys and the young girls there at the same time. I am not being rude to the young boys, but I understand that they are, on the whole, younger than the girls and the girls are, as a whole, brighter. Another point is that the WRNS are not kitted out for the first few weeks, so if they cannot remain at HMS "Dauntless", where I would prefer them to be, they might go to the Portsmouth area.

The noble Lord spoke about their future. If this change is going to be made, I hope that either he or the Minister will understand that what I have been advocating for some time is the enlargement of their grades of work. For example, they have been promised for some time that they can learn to fly helicopters, and the fact that they will serve on the hydro-graphic survey ships was also pointed out. The reason for this type of work being particularly suitable for these women is that they do not mind going on long trips overseas, whereas married men are not so keen to go on so many long trips. As I understand it, there is a long waiting list to join the WRNS. The standard is very high; many of them have "0" and "A" levels and are university graduates. I should like the noble Lord the Minister to consider enlarging the intake. I do not want him to reply that this will be more expensive and that I am asking for extra money, because if the intake is not enlarged many of these people will be unemployed and will have to be paid unemployment compensation. The reason for my suggestion is that when the economic situation improves there are likely to be fewer men entering the Services, and more women will be needed. There will be fewer men because a great many men get married at an early age and their wives are not keen for their husbands to go overseas for a long period.

My Lords, like my noble friend, I have read the various clauses, and I would mention Clause 5. I should like to know why at least 28 days detention must be given, as I understood it when I read this clause. So far as one can see, it is not economical to have a period of less than 28 days. To a certain extent, I agree that courts-martial should be done away with, and the officers given more powers. But I was glad to hear the noble Lord say, as I understood him, that there can be an appeal to a court-martial should they wish, because one sometimes gets incompatibility of temperament. This would be the better way of dealing with it.

If the officers are going into detention I should like to know whether it is intended that WRNS should also go into detention now that they come under the Naval Discipline Act. If they are, what is the position now at Portsmouth and Colchester for these men, because when on previous occasions I visited Colchester, I was not at all impressed. One must not over-exaggerate the question of discipline. Looking at the figures, I was impressed by the small percentage of the Services needing discipline.

My Lords, with regard to the increased powers of the officers, are they to get any legal advice? It seems to me that many of them may need this, and it would be very helpful to them. I was rather worried about the reply given by the Minister in the other place that further magistrates are needed for these other civilians, particularly overseas. The Minister said that he thought the best types of magistrate would he headmasters or social workers who serve in the community areas. I do not think it is desirable to concentrate on appointing headmasters and social workers as magistrates. First of all, headmasters have ideas of their own with regard to discipline, and social workers are overworked. It would be much better to recruit as magistrates the ordinary person with common sense.

With regard to legal aid, I notice that it was said in the other place by the Minister that he hoped that the Bar and the Law Society would continue a very proud tradition of affording representation for all who need it. What is going to happen with regard to legal aid?

I was pleased to see in the previous clause that the deductions for the maintenance of children was to go up from 16 years to 17 years. When these maintenance orders are made while the men are in the Services, this works very well indeed, but I am wondering what happens when the men leave the Services. Are the firms or the work places to which they go to be informed? — because very often there is a large gap. While a man is in the Services, the wives and children get the maintenance quite regularly, but when he leaves the Services they then find themselves entirely cut off and often have to try to find the man.

My Lords, as appears from Clause 19, I do not understand why penal deductions under the Air Force Act 1955 can be taken from the pensions in respect of offences which have been committed. Does this also concern the other Services? As I read it, it would appear that it is only to those in the RAF that this applies. I should like to know whether when any penal offence has been committed the deduction is to be made from the pensions or from their pay.

May I ask about Clause 21, with regard to the Greenwich Hospital pensions. During my time in the other place, I often made applications on behalf of widows to the Greenwich Hospital Pension Fund. Some were fortunate to receive help, but some were not. Is the pensions fund in such a state that it can help necessitous widows? On the question of penalties, can the noble Lord the Minister tell us how many people, if any, have received the death penalty since 1900, or to the nearest date that he can give us? Now that they come under the Naval Discipline Act, is the death penalty to apply to women? Various penalties are laid out, but it does not state clearly how they are to be exercised.

My Lords, with these remarks, I hope that I have welcomed the Bill. I am not entirely certain whether it is wise for these two Services, which have worked so well together in the past, to change their orientation, but I wish them luck in the future. If it does not work and there is need to take further action, I hope the Minister will see that this is done.


My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, put his name on the list and proposed to speak. I would not wish to offer any opposition to him if he is present.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I am not quite certain whether I should declare an interest in this Bill. I have been interested in about 300 courts-martial, as defending officer, prosecuting officer, as a member of the court, and as the president. I was also once very personally interested in a court-martial when I lost a pistol after dinner while on active service in Cyprus. Be that as it may, I would congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, on the Bill, because it is set out in such a way that any serving officer can understand it easily and readily. I should also like to thank the noble Lord for the help he gave me before this debate.

My Lords, there is one matter in Clause 5 to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention, in fact underlining what has been said by previous speakers; that is, the increase of powers of punishment by a commanding officer from 28 days to 60 days. This will be welcomed by many people, certainly most of all by the soldier. Nobody likes courts-martial if they can be avoided, and very few courts-martial give less than 60 days. Most give probably 100 days or more, and if a commanding officer, instead of court-martialling a man, gives him 50, 40 or 60 days, the soldier will benefit by this. The magistrates in this country will benefit because they will not try cases of minor disturbances and breaches of the peace; they will merely hand them over to the military to deal with. As your Lordships know, civil courts always have the first bite of the cherry, but they can waive that right and let the military deal with a case. This I think they probably will do. It will also mean far fewer courts-martial, which will be a very great saving to the taxpayer.

I have two more points to make, one concerning the Army Act, Section 198, and the other privileges of the defending officer or soldier's friend. I should like first of all to deal with Section 198. This says: A record made in any service book or other document prescribed by Queen's Regulations for the purposes of this subsection, being a record made in pursuance of any Act or of Queen's Regulations, or otherwise in pursuance of military duty, and purporting to be signed by the commanding officer or by any person whose duty it was to make the record, shall be evidence of the facts stated therein ". This simply means that any commanding officer can publish a Part I or Part II Order, have it duly signed, and it is admissible as evidence in a court-martial and is evidence of the facts stated in it.

This is a licence to print a conviction. It cuts across the principle of best evidence. Whenever you get a case which can be proved by various forms of evidence, be it written, oral, or copy of whatever it may be, or a document, the general rule is that you must call the best evidence. Obviously the Army must be able to call as evidence in courts-martial certain documents, but I do not think that they should be able to produce as evidence documents which relate to happenings outside a barracks. For example, the most common case brought before a court-martial is that of absence. In order to prove absence you have to prove two things, the commencement and the termination. The commencement is easy. You call the orderly corporal who was on duty and who called the roll on the day in question. His evidence is, "I called the roll, the accused was not present in the barracks. I searched the barracks, and submitted the necessary report." There you have the commencement of absence. Then you have to prove the termination. Frequently, the soldier was either arrested by a policeman or surrendered to a policeman. Theoretically you should call the policeman to say, "Yes, I arrested the man," or, " he surrendered to me," and you have the termination of absence. You then have the commencement and the termination; you have proved your case and that is it.

But, instead of a policeman being called, the Army allows an Army Form 1617 or 1618, according to whether the accused was arrested or surrendered himself, to be produced in evidence. Frequently this document is incorrectly filled in by the chief officer of police in charge of the police station. How or why is immaterial, but often it is incorrectly filled in. Then the commanding officer forwards the Army Form 1617 or 1618 to the Director of Army Legal Services, who says, "This document is not admissible as evidence. What you must do is copy it out in the form of a Part II Order, sign it, and that will make it admissible". It is the adjutant who does that, as the person responsible for making the record. What happens is that he scratches out "1617" or "1618" on the top of the paper, substitutes "Part H Order ", and that makes it admissible. In my opinion, that is not justice. If the policeman makes a nonsense of the 1617 or 1618 or anything else like that then he should be called.

On two occasions I have had this situation occur when I have been prosecuting. On one occasion I won because the permanent president said that the Part II Order was admissible. On another occasion when I was prosecuting the permanent president said it was not admissible and the man was found not guilty. I have defended three times when this situation arose. I won twice; in other words, on two occasions the president said : " This Part II Order is not admissible. It is a copy of an inadmissible document and therefore it is not admissible ". On one occasion I lost; so I do not know what to think. I cannot tell your Lordships what the law is, because it has happened to me both ways. I think myself that the Part II Order is inadmissible. I think it is wrong in law to argue that it should be admissible because 99.9 times out of 100 the man is guilty and therefore what does it matter whether the document is admissible or not ; he is guilty, so it gets it over with quickly. That really is not British justice. I think there should be a tightening of that rule.

In courts-martial you get various officers who prosecute and others who defend. I defended in very many and I prosecuted in very many, and I would not accept any Part II Order which was a copy of an inadmissible document. But if the soldier is unfortunate enough to be defended by his second lieutenant, who has been in the Army only a week or two, he will simply accept it and it will go through. Whether the man is guilty or not is no concern of the defending officer. His job is to put his case forward as best he can. If he comes to the conclusion that the man is not guilty in law, then he does not see him. He simply says "You are not guilty in law on the evidence which is in the summary or abstract of evidence. My advice to you is to plead not guilty. Go into court, plead not guilty, sit down and leave the rest to me ". Very often you get him off. That is British law. Anyhow, I leave that to your Lordships.

I should like now to turn to Chapter V of the Manual of Military Law which concerns privilege of a legal adviser. Lord Birkenhead said: First, the so-called privilege attaching to the relation of a legal adviser or an advocate is a privilege which is the client's privilege, conferred, not for the benefit of the legal person involved, but for the general advantage of the community, —including soldiers— upon the ground that, unless a relation of absolute confidence can be established between the lay client and his professional adviser, in practice the ends of justice cannot be attained.… Second, that privilege only concerns communications which arise in connection with legal proceedings whether actual or contemplated…". That means that a soldier's friend does not have to defend at a court-martial, because it may not come to that; but he may be asked to give advice if a court-martial may be a possibility. The passage continues: …or which pass as professional communications in a professional capacity. And thirdly, it should be observed that though it attaches in some degree to persons who, not being barristers or solicitors, in fact advise lay clients in litigious matters—such persons, for example, as expert witnesses ". —and I would say soldiers' friends as well— it is for the most part in its actual operation confined to persons who stand in a peculiar relation to the courts of justice ". A soldier's friend or a defending officer stands in a peculiar relation to the courts of justice, he stands in a particular relation to courts-martial.

I should like to read to your Lordships a further quite short paragraph. It concerns the description, and it says: A legal adviser is not permitted, whether during or after the termination of his employment as such, unless with his client's express consent, to disclose any communication made to him as such legal adviser by or on behalf of his client, during the course of and for the purpose of his employment, or to disclose any advice given by him to his client during, in the course of, and for the purpose of, such employment ". In other words, what he says to his client is privileged. It continues: Similarly, an accused cannot be compelled to disclose communications which he has made to his legal advisers for the purpose of preparing his defence. There is a note in the Manual of Military Law which describes a legal adviser. It says: 'Legal adviser' includes barrister, and solicitor, their clerks and interpreters between them and their clients. Justice would seem to require that this expression should also include ' defending officer ', but this is questionable ". I should like to quote to your Lordships one case which happened in my experience. In the Household Cavalry we have various objects, some of which are very valuable. One is a picture. This picture appeared for sale in an art gallery in Jermyn Street. An ex-officer of the Household Cavalry went in and asked the price of it, and to whom it belonged. He then rang up the colonel commanding the Household Cavalry and said, "Do you realise that our picture is for sale in a gallery in Jermyn Street? " The reply was, "No, I did not. I am coming round ". Having done this, he took the picture away and legal proceedings were duly instigated against an officer.

Before the proceedings were instigated the officer came to see me and said, "I want your advice ". Having a very good idea what it was about I said to him, "You want my advice, but is it possible that legal proceedings may be taken against you either in a court-martial or in a civil court? "He said Yes ". I said, " I can only give you advice if you will employ me as your soldier's friend or defending officer, and I want you to sign a piece of paper to that effect, which he did.

Having listened to his story I then decided that this was outside my ken and ability, and handed him on to an eminent firm of solicitors in London, thus making me someone who has briefed a firm of solicitors, and a client. He was not court-martialed but prosecuted in a civil court. When I handed him over and briefed the solicitors my duties ended, but I considered that what he had said to me, and what I had said to him, was privileged. A colonel in the Household Cavalry did not consider this to be so and asked me what I had said to the officer and what he had said to me, and what I had said to his firm of solicitors. I refused to answer this question. The discussion became heated, and I said that I would have to put the matter in the hands of the police if he pressed me any further. I also said I would have to inform the solicitors of the conversation. The matter then ended.

Quite obviously in my opinion—I leave it to your Lordships— Justice would seem to require that this expression should also include defending officer ', but this is questionable is not questionable. There is no question about it. I think I was right in refusing to answer those questions.

The Naval Discipline Act says: 'Legal adviser' includes barrister, solicitor, and soldier's friend. That covers it. I think that in this Bill we should say: Justice would require that the legal adviser should be barrister, solicitor and soldier's friend. Obviously I was placed in an impossible position, but I could fight it because I had had great experience. However, suppose this was a young officer who was inexperienced. He might well have told his commanding officer what was said to him in confidence by what was virtually his client, and justice would have been prejudiced as a result.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat appeared at first to be reluctant to address your Lordships' House, but having done so he has disclosed considerable knowledge of the legalistic side of Army affairs, and I congratulate him on his vast knowledge of that subject. It would have been a pity to have missed his speech. My only regret is that my noble friend Lord Wigg is not present, because if there is anybody in your Lordships' House, or in any other House, who knows more about the Army Act, and the disciplinary aspects of the Army Act than my noble friend Lord Wigg, I should like to meet him. Well, I should not mind meeting him but I would not care to listen to him, because I recall those frequent debates we had in another place many years ago on an Act similar to the one under review.

Significantly, Members of your Lordships' House may note that unless we pass this Bill and it becomes an Act the standing Army will disappear. It is as important as that. Perhaps there might have been a larger attendance if Members of your Lordships' House had been aware of that. In the old days in another place there was considerable controversy about courts-martial and about discipline. Indeed it was always regarded as an opportunity for a Second Reading debate on the Army. Indeed, there were some who wanted to abolish the Army altogether. That attitude now seems to have disappeared. Even in another place the Select Committee to which the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, referred, never thought of anything controversial like that. It is all gone.

This might be an opportunity, though so far no Member of your Lordships' House has ventured to undertake the task, although I am sure that it is just an oversight, of expressing our appreciation of the services rendered by members of Her Majesty's Forces, whether in the Army, Air Force, Navy, or the civilians associated with our Forces. They are a very fine body of people, both men and women. Of course, there are bound to he some black sheep among them. You have black sheep in all walks of society, except, of course, in your Lordships' House—I would never dare to say that. But generally speaking the members of Her Majesty's Forces are people capable of understanding discipline when it is required, and rendering service when it is called upon. I am sure that I express an opinion shared by every Member of your Lordships' House that we are very glad to extend to them our thanks for services rendered.

I know that my noble friend Lord Winterbottom is straining at the leash to reply to the innumerable questions addressed to him by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, who is also an authority on this subject, and much more of an authority than I can ever hope to be. I also notice the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, waiting to address your Lordships' House on a matter which is no doubt just as important—something connected with the EEC—so I shall be very brief indeed.

I did not add my name to the list of speakers because I thought that this was the sort of Bill we had passed on innumerable occasions in another place and in this House and did not require amendment. I therefore decided not to bother about it; that is, until I read it—perhaps I should have read it earlier—and, having read it, I thought that I might make a few observations.

To begin with, I cannot understand—no doubt there is a valid reason and my noble friend Lord Winterbottom will give it—the reason for the increase from 28 days to 60 days for any crime committed by a member of Her Majesty's Forces. Am I right in believing that its increase is designed to reduce the number of courts-martial ? If so, that is a desirable aim, because courts-martial can be horrible things. I learnt a lot about them when I was at the War Office and Ministry of Defence and often I had to occupy a position in those Departments to intervene and express an opinion—a political opinion of course—when that was regarded as necessary. Has crime increased in Her Majesty's Forces over the years necessitating this increase, or is it simply to reduce the number of courts-martial?

I should have thought that the amount of crime in the Forces had decreased, because members of the Forces now have a worthwhile career, are better paid than they were in the past, which is a most desirable change, and there are opportunities at the end of one's service; the authorities concerned do everything possible to help in that respect. It is inevitable, too, with the passage of time that they are better educated than were the kind of recruits who entered the Services when I was young. My question is simply why it has been found necessary to impose more harsh discipline. I can only think that it is designed to reduce the number of courts-martial.

The only other point I wish to raise concerns the decision to bring women members of the Royal Navy into line with other members of the Forces. This controversy goes back a long way. I recall that when I was Minister of Defence we discussed in the Defence Committee, or it may have been the Defence Council, the question of the status of women members of the Forces, and I learned then that women members of the Army were Regulars in the sense that they were fully integrated into the Army, as were women members of the RAF, but the WRENS were auxilliaries and not officially integrated into the Service. Sir Charles Power was the First Sea Lord and he sat opposite me along with other high-ranking members of what was then His Majesty's Forces. I learned only afterwards that he was about to marry a WREN. I made a faux pas which has embarrassed me since. I asked him " Why don't you make honest women of them? " Of course there was nothing immoral in my mind, no question of immorality; I simply thought that they should be integrated along with the others. I was always sorry for what I said, but Sir Charles took it very well indeed. Now that women have achieved complete liberty and equality—

Baroness VICKERS

Not quite, my Lords.


It is almost complete, my Lords. It will never be fully complete and we can hardly expect that. In economics, social affairs and cultural affairs they are on a par with the other sex and in my view the same should apply in Her Majesty's Forces. I am therefore glad that at long last it has been decided that women who join the Navy or who become associated with the medical section of the Armed Forces should be fully integrated. That is a desirable change indeed.

My Lords, I have said enough, because after what Baroness Vickers said and the number of questions she asked, I fear that my noble friend Lord Winterbottom will have his time cut out answering those. This Bill must of course be passed, otherwise we shall not have any Forces at all, and that is something we must never tolerate.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the House for the spirit and informed approach with which noble Lords have debated the Second Reading. At first sight this is a complicated Bill, as every speaker has said. Indeed, my hope today is that I may be permitted simply to reply to the debate in general terns, and noble Lords will not be inhibited from raising points in Committee because the scope of the Bill is far wider than the scope of our discussion today and much of value can be done in Committee. There was only one area about which I could not agree with my noble friend Lord Shinwell and that was when he said that no appreciation had been expressed by the House to the Armed Forces for the excellent and dedicated work they are doing. The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, did just that; she paid a very moving tribute to her particular favourite arm of the Services, but I am sure that her affection spills over to the other arms as well. I wish to add my praise to that of other noble Lords because from time to time we have to remind our fellow citizens how much we owe to the Armed Forces of the Crown.

I plunge straight away into some of the matters that have been raised and perhaps the first on which I should touch is the Clause 5 decision to increase the sentence which can be imposed under the summary jurisdiction of a commanding officer from 28 to 60 days. I should point out that the Army and Air Force have always been well below the Navy. I believe that a naval commanding officer has power now to sentence a sailor to 90 days' punishment under the powers of summary jurisdiction. We have decided to increase the figure for the Army and the Air Force for a simple reason. Crime is not increasing, I assure my noble friend Lord Shinwell; it is static taken as a standard proportion of the size of the Armed Forces. But experience has shown, and the Select Committee has agreed, that summary conviction and trial by a commanding officer is a much more effective and much more welcome way of dealing with simpler military offences and it is welcomed not only by the commanding officer but by the serving soldier, airman or sailor.

It is quick, effective and it is usually imposed by a man who understands the individual serving man's personal problems, and of course it is always far lower than the penalty which could be imposed by a court-martial. Ninety per cent. of men plead guilty and it seems unnecessary to set up the whole panoply of a court-martial to try a man who has pleaded guilty by a form of trial where he can receive a punishment of up to two years.

This naturally makes a short, immediate decision by his commanding officer, where the maximum penalty is about one twelfth of the maximum which the man could get under a court-martial, very welcome indeed. Of course, it also avoids the stigma of a court-martial. Many of us have marched in front of commanding officers in our time and nobody thinks a great deal the worse of us for that, but a court-martial always brings a stigma with it. It is for that reason that the extension of the powers of the commanding officers of the Army and the Air Force is welcomed by all. That is the reason for that decision.

I turn now to the question of the Standing Civilian Courts mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell. Again, he agrees with the Select Committee and the Government that the proposals for the Standing Civilian Courts are generally sound. I am very glad that he mentioned the fact that the number of offences is surprisingly low. I am now speaking without precise notes and, if I mislead the House, I will let your Lordships know, but, as I understand it, there are something like 96,000 civilians in Germany who fall within the ambit of these new proposals. The number of offences which may come before these courts is in the region of 300 in any one year. That shows a very high level of civilian discipline on the part of the dependants and civilian members of our Armed Forces in Germany. It is particularly high when one remembers that a great many of the so-called offences are of quite a minor nature.

I should like now to deal with the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, and also with the point touched on by my noble friend Lord Shinwell. I know from my own personal contacts with members of the Women's Royal Naval Service that these new proposals are not altogether welcome. I share the view of the noble Baroness that the work of the WRNS should be enlarged. She may remember that I have argued that case, I hope, as strongly as she has in previous debates on this subject. We can refresh our memory as we look at the picture in the Royal Gallery which shows that, at the time of Nelson, there were many women on board our men of war. I believe that it is more a question of naval architecture than of unwillingness on the part of women to serve at sea that is inhibiting their employment at the moment. Certainly, when we last discussed this, the employment of women on survey ships was something that was being considered, although, as I understand it, no decision has yet been reached.

I believe that the whole House is in agreement that the work of the WRNS should be enlarged and widened, and we believe that the full incorporation of the WRNS into the structure of the Navy will assist this step. I believe that the advantages of their situation will be retained but that their opportunities to enlarge their area of work will grow as a result. The noble Baroness raised one or two points about the impact of the Naval Discipline Act upon the WRNS. There is only one point which I can make immediately. It is that the death penalty will of course not apply. As I understand it, it is a very rare event these days in any case and was last applied in 1953 in Kenya. It is a very rare occasion and it is over 20 years ago since anyone suffered the death penalty as a result of any of the Discipline Acts.

I should like now to turn to the very well informed speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme. He has an extraordinary record in the area of courts-martial and I wish I had known in the past that he was there in case I, in my military days, had fallen into some form of trouble. He made two very important points arising from his experience. He pointed out the flaw in Section 198 of the Army Act and pointed out that Part II Orders might be misused or abused in certain cases of absence without leave. He also pointed out that, in the Army and the Air Force, the Soldier's Friend or defending officer cannot claim absolute privilege for the confidences of his client, whereas in the Navy he can. I shall see that these two points are studied with care by the Department between now and Committee stage and I hope to give the noble Lord an answer that he will find satisfactory.

I shall check on what I have said when I get my Hansard tomorrow and any points that I have not answered I shall answer in writing. The noble Lord, Lord Lyell raised a difficult point about the taking of oath by shorthand writers, but that is a matter of some complexity. Perhaps we could raise it at the Committee stage and tidy it up then. Having, to the best of my ability, answered this very well informed and sympathetic debate, I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.