HL Deb 24 July 1991 vol 531 cc805-20

4.37 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clauses 17 and 23 agreed to.

Lord Rea moved Amendment No. 2:

Before Clause 24, insert the following new clause:

("Amendment of law relating to sexual acts which are not

civil offences

.—(1) After section 70 of each of the 1955 Acts and after section 42 of the 1957 Act there shall be inserted the following section, appropriately numbered—

"Sexual acts which are not civil offences.

. An act which is not an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 1956 (including one which is not an offence under that Act by virtue of section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 1967) is not an offence under any provision of this Act.".").

The noble Lord said: In speaking to Amendment No. 2 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 5, which is consequential. The amendment is put forward to give the Government an opportunity to act on a recommendation of the Select Committee of another place on the Armed Forces Bill. Paragraph 41 of the Committee's report reads: We understand why homosexual activity is considered unacceptable in the Armed Forces, but we see no reason why Service personnel should be liable to prosecution under Service law for homosexual activity which would be legal in civilian law. We recommend that homosexual activity of a kind which is legal in civilian law should not constitute an offence under Service law. We look to the Government to propose an appropriate amendment to the law before the end of the next session of Parliament".

Because the Bill had already reached a late stage before the report of the Select Committee was published, this recommendation was not fully debated in the other place. The amendment affords the Committee an opportunity to give its views on the Select Committee's recommendation.

For service law to come into line with civil law in this area seems entirely just and logical. I emphasise that the amendment on the Marshalled List does not require the services to recruit or retain those of homosexual orientation; it merely ensures that those men and women do not have to suffer the possible additional indignity of a court martial when they are discharged from the service because of the discovery of homosexual activity. An average of 10 men a year are at present discharged from the services on such grounds.

In this matter the United Kingdom is very much the odd man out. In no other country in Europe are all homosexual acts illegal for serving members of the armed forces. Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and even Switzerland—that strict, Calvinist and traditionally rather prudish country—allow homosexuals to be members of their armed forces. The reasonable restriction in all these countries, as with heterosexual behaviour, is that sexual acts should not take place while personnel are on duty, and that superior rank should not be used to coerce more junior personnel into sexual acts against their will or better judgment.

It has been said—in fact, by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, himself on 5th July at Second Reading—that to decriminalise homosexual behaviour in the forces would give homosexuals an advantage over heterosexuals. This aspect, with respect, is a piece of "Arran" nonsense. Heterosexuals may be disciplined if indulging in sex while on duty. We had an example recently in the Gulf when a Wren and a rating were each fined £750 for doing what they ought not to have been doing. They were not bundled ignominiously out of the forces. But the discovery of homosexual activity is bound to lead to discharge as well as possible court martial as the law stands at present. That is what my amendment seeks to change.

The amendment gives us an opportunity to discuss the whole question of the intolerance shown towards homosexuality in the armed services. There is no evidence to suggest that those of gay or lesbian orientation are any less good at their jobs, whether they are cooks, medical orderlies or high ranking officers. Several case histories of the unpleasant experiences of service personnel suspected of homosexual tendencies were given to the Select Committee of another place. Those men and women were subjected to undignified searches of their personal belongings and correspondence, and cross-questioned about their personal and intimate lives. They were then discharged, in some cases, I gather, with loss of pension rights even when not court martialled.

If my amendment were accepted it would not solve the problem: it. would only ameliorate it somewhat. The following words of the Select Committee, from which I have already quoted one paragraph, would still apply. Paragraph 40 says: That the present policy causes very real distress and the loss to the Services of some men and women of undoubted competence and good character is beyond dispute".

The problem is sufficiently serious to warrant an inquiry in each service to find out, for example, if there is any truth in suggestions that have been made that the presence of homosexuals is disruptive or whether, for example, they pose a threat to national security. The inquiry could also be extended to find out the degree of harassment to which those of homosexual orientation are subjected.

Public attitudes to homosexuality are much less judgmental than they used to be. Only today I heard on the news, and I have read also in the newspapers, that it has been announced that homosexuality will no longer be a bar to promotion in the Civil Service. That surely is recognition that it is the forced concealment of homosexual tendencies that renders an official or, I would suggest, a serviceman or woman liable to blackmail. It is not the homosexuality per se.Is it not time for the armed forces also to come into line with modern and logical thinking? I beg to move.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Mayhew

The noble Lord's amendment carries out one of the two recommendations of the Select Committee. The amendment would carry out the recommendation that homosexuality of a kind that is legal in civilian law should not constitute an offence under service law. I shall try to show reasons why I feel that the amendment should be supported.

The other recommendation of the Select Committee was: We are not persuaded that the time has yet come to require the Armed Forces to accept homosexuals or homosexual activity. I also support that recommendation.

A large number of the examples and arguments used by the noble Lord conflict with the second recommendation of the Select Committee. His amendment refers only to the first recommendation with which no conflict arises. It is perfectly possible to hold that the army, the navy and the air force are not suitable places for known homosexuals or homosexual activities and at the same time to believe that the law is not a suitable instrument for trying to maintain their heterosexuality. There is no possible conflict in logic between those two positions. I feel that both positions are right.

There is nothing in the law that cannot be done much better by humane administrative action. Inevitably, the present service law tends to stigmatise homosexuality, tends to discriminate against homosexuals, and increases the stress many of them must feel in a determinedly heterosexual environment. On the other hand, should we oppose the sensitive use of administrative measures to discharge, or not to recruit, servicemen who are known to be homosexual, whether or not they are practising homosexuals? I confess that it is not easy to decide. I have no doubt that many servicemen at this moment are homosexual and a re serving with distinction in the armed forces, and that more would join or stay in the services if they were allowed to and if there was no discrimination against them.

I agree with the noble Lord that there are many armed forces which differ from the British armed forces in this respect. I agree too that in civilian life tolerance has grown immensely and profitably over the years. However, I still agree with the second recommendation of the Select Committee. I know from personal experience that the conditions of service life, especially on active service, have no equivalent in civilian life. The herding together, the total lack of privacy, the primacy of personal relations, the corroding effect of favouritism and the unavoidable intimacy have no equivalent in civilian life and strengthen the conclusion to which the Select Committee came.

Perhaps a single known homosexual would be happy and welcome in such company as I have described. But what about a pair or a group of homosexuals of perhaps different ranks? If I were a commanding officer I am fairly sure that I would be against it. This seems to be the majority view of the services at this time. It is easy for us in civilian life to hold strong liberal convictions about homosexuality, but I do not think that we should impose them on the services.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

We on these Benches support the amendment. We appreciate its raison d'être and understand the basis on which it has been put forward. I should like to invite the Minister to be helpful to the House.

As with the earlier amendment that I moved in respect of the death penalty, in many countries feelings on this issue have moved substantially away from positions that have been held hitherto. One of the reasons the Government resisted the amendment on capital punishment was that, in the context of the British experience, they could not see any reason for change. As the noble Lord, Lord Rea, pointed out, in many countries there has been a change in attitude, which has been reflected in civil life. Opinion in the civil field has been translated into action in military life and the armed forces. We have here a comparable situation.

I deeply respect the views of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, who has had considerable experience in another place and has given constant attention and exercised great diligence in matters relating to the armed forces. He is well versed in these matters. I do not quibble with anything that he said. The situation is difficult. We understand that, especially in wartime, the armed forces face a difficult and unique situation.

Can the Minister tell the House what inquiries have been made by his department to ascertain the reasons why other countries have had a change of heart on this issue? During the Second Reading debate on this Bill he told both the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and me: We shall of course consider carefully the Select Committee's recommendation that homosexual activity which is no longer an offence under civil law should not constitute an offence under service law". [Official Report, 5/7/91; col. 1199.] Can he tell us precisely what the Government have in mind? What have they done since making that statement? When will they ultimately report to the House or respond in some other way? I do not make light of the difficulties that the Minister and his colleagues face in coming to a decision. Having told us that they will consider carefully what the Select Committee has recommended, we should like to know when they intend to respond positively to its recommendations. That is crucial.

The Minister was asked one or two questions by the noble Lord, Lord Rea. I should be grateful if he would tell the House whether there is any evidence that heterosexuals found engaged in sexual activity would face imprisonment. If there is no evidence that they would face imprisonment—the noble Lord, Lord Rea, gave us an illustration of a heterosexual act which gave rise to censure but not imprisonment—can the Minister tell us the reason for the difference in treatment?

When the Minister tells us—as I hope he will—that that difference in approach is not an historical accident or mere prejudice but that it is based on current and active research, not least into the experience in other countries, will he contrast the experience in other countries and tell us the differences between them and this country? In this particular matter I hesitate to believe that there are special British circumstances which are different from German, French, Japanese or American circumstances. Would he relate our experience to that of other countries with which we need to have relationships and agreements and at least in time of war need to trust implicitly? It would be helpful if the Minister could answer that point.

From the tone and tenor of the debate the Minister will have detected that nothing is said acrimoniously or in malice. It is a genuine attempt to move the Government and perhaps the country a little further along the road of tolerance and understanding, not least towards the civil dignities of individuals who often find themselves serving the country in time of war. I certainly hope that the Minister can be helpful to the Committee.

The Duke of Norfolk

I am amazed that this issue should be tabled as an amendment. During my life I was in the Army for 30 years. That included two years in the King's African Rifles and two years working with the Russian Army. I now hear the noble Lords, Lord Rea and Lord Mayhew, seriously suggest that this sort of activity can be permitted within the services.

Lord Mayhew

Perhaps the noble Lord will give way. I tried to make the distinction. I wholly agreed with him that the second recommendation of the Select Committee was right; namely, that homosexuality should not be permitted in the armed services. It is the criminalisation of homosexuality which is wrong and which this amendment is against.

The Duke of Norfolk

I am sorry if I misunderstood the noble Lord. I am not talking about ethics but about discipline. How on earth in a battalion, a ship or an RAF station—to take examples—can discipline be maintained if homosexuality or promiscuous lives between the two sexes (say, a WAAF and an airman) is allowed? Immediately there is favouritism and the whole structure of discipline is destroyed. This is a disgraceful amendment and I urge the Committee not to accept it.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Before the noble Duke sits down, perhaps I may ask him to reflect that if he believes that that is what would happen in the British forces, why is it that the forces of so many other countries have moved along these lines with no apparent disagreements internally or externally.

The Duke of Norfolk

I am amazed to hear that the other nations—about 10 other nations were quoted —allow this situation. I feel that there should be some qualification to what they allow—whether or not it is considered a criminal offence. If we allow anything of this sort to start it will wreck a battalion. I feel that it is not permissible to encourage it in any way. I hope that everybody will oppose this amendment.

5 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

As the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said, I too think it would be convenient for the Committee to consider Amendment No. 2 with Amendment No. 5 to Schedule 3 at the same time. Together they are very far-reaching. They would severely curtail the ability of the forces to deal with the implications of sexual relationships between members of the armed forces and we must oppose it.

Perhaps I could say a few words first about the effect of Amendment No. 2 on homosexual activity. We do not oppose the clause because of any blind adherence to the status quo. It was my father who three times introduced legislation into your Lordships' House to give effect to the central recommendation of the Wolfenden Report, which culminated in the Sexual Offences Act 1967. I am therefore particularly conscious of the strong feelings that these matters can arouse. However, I hope that I can explain the genuine difficulties that would be caused if this clause were to be included in the Bill. Some of the arguments have been repeated many times in your Lordships' House. They were acknowledged in the Wolfenden Report with the result that the 1967 Act specifically made clear that its provisions did not prevent a prosecution under service law for acts which were no longer an offence under civil law.

We need to examine why all homosexual activity remains the basis for a criminal offence under service law. First, I repeat that it is not, and never has been, an offence under service law to be a homosexual. Rather, a homosexual act can be the basis for a charge, usually of disgraceful conduct or conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline.

Some will use the argument that if two servicemen over 21 are willingly committing a homosexual act in private, then there is little point in it being the basis for an offence, because by its nature no one else is involved in it or aware of it. Nevertheless, what do you say to a serviceman whose consent may not have been truly voluntary but who was influenced by the fact that the other man was his superior? We have to be able to protect that individual and reassure him and his family that everything is done to prevent that from occurring. We have also to deal with the effect on discipline and morale that can arise when it becomes known that a member of a unit is a homosexual.

It is a longstanding policy that homosexual activity is regarded as unacceptable in the armed forces. The reasons reflect first and foremost the need to maintain discipline and morale. For example, the services often operate in small, mutually dependent and tight-knit units of young personnel, overwhelmingly single sex. For reasons of effectiveness and efficiency there must be absolute trust between the members of that unit. Clearly, close bonds develop in such situations but the formation of a sexually motivated relationship can be very destructive of the discipline and motivation of that unit where even a suspicion of favouritism, for example, could adversely affect its ability to operate to full effectiveness.

Some Members of the Committee will have experienced at first hand life on board one of Her Majesty's ships. Although conditions have been considerably improved in more recent times, there can be no doubt that privacy is not part of such life. It is impossible to have a sexual relationship in those circumstances (and that includes heterosexual relationships) without there being the potential for some adverse effect on other members of the company.

I hope that the Committee will accept that our policies in this area are motivated at all times by the need to maintain discipline and morale for the greater good of the force as a whole. The Select Committee in another place accepted the reasons why homosexual activity is not acceptable in the armed forces and did not believe that the armed forces should be required to accept homosexuals. They did, however, recommend that homosexual activity of a kind which is legal in civilian law should not constitute an offence under service law.

We shall carefully consider the recommendation of the Select Committee in the context that we must continue to protect members of the forces from undue pressures and not create the impression that homosexuality is acceptable in service life. This is a difficult and complex area and our conclusions will be announced to the Chamber in due course.

The amendments we are now considering go considerably wider than was recommended by the Select Committee and so I should like to say a little about heterosexual relationships. In a strict hierarchical society where men and women are working and living very closely together we have a duty to protect personnel from agreeing to behaviour in which they would otherwise choose not to indulge. In such societies there can he doubt that consent to sexual behaviour is willingly and freely given, particularly between different ranks.

We believe it is right, therefore, that certain acts of heterosexual behaviour—for example, with particularly young and perhaps impressionable female personnel—should continue to be subject to prosecution under the Service Discipline Acts even though they are not civil offences. We do not believe that parents would readily encourage their sons and daughters to join the armed forces if they thought that there was scope for sexual pressures to be put on them.

We therefore believe that the amendment before the Committee is, at the least, premature with regard to homosexual activity. I hope that in the light of what I have said today, and my undertaking that the recommendation of the Select Committee of another place will be given thorough and serious consideration within the Ministry of Defence, the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Perhaps I may inform the noble Lord, Lord Graham, that the NATO countries which do not allow homosexuals in the armed forces are Greece, Italy, Portugal, Turkey and the USA. The noble Lord asked how other countries have changed their laws. There will be a review within the Ministry of Defence and experience of other countries will be taken into account. I do not expect that that will be very soon and I cannot hold out any prospect of legislation in the next Session. I expect that I shall be able to report our conclusions by the next debate on the Service Discipline Acts continuation order next summer, if not before.

With those restricted and very correct reasons for not accepting homosexuality within the armed forces, in particular based on morale and discipline affecting units, I urge the Committee not to accept the amendment.

Lord Mayhew

The noble Earl quoted a number of problems connected with homosexuality about which it is plain that the firmest of action is needed, and which may indeed result in a discharge. However, he has not explained why that problem cannot be handled by administrative methods and why it has to be criminalised.

The Earl of Arran

With regard to an administrative discharge, I make clear that it is not and never has been an offence under service law to be a homosexual or to commit a homosexual act per se. The homosexual act can be the basis for a charge usually of disgraceful conduct or conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline. The vast majority of personnel who are required to leave the armed forces on the ground of homosexual behaviour are administratively discharged rather than prosecuted. At the moment prosecutions under service law may arise mainly where a serviceman has taken advantage of his rank in relation to a more junior colleague. That may involve an act which remains an offence under the civil/criminal law.

Lord Rea

The noble Earl has expanded somewhat on his remarks that he gave at Second Reading and I thank him. I still do not believe that he has answered the central question: why the homosexual act—which admittedly cannot be tolerated within the armed forces—has to be a criminal act. I seem to have given the impression to the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, that through the amendment I suggest that homosexuality should be freely allowed in the services. That is not the case. The amendment is fully compatible with the view that homosexuality has no place in service life. The amendment simply seeks to decriminalise it.

The noble Earl referred to episodes where rank was used to coerce. That could certainly be retained as an offence subject to internal disciplinary procedure and, if necessary, as a reason for discharge from the armed forces. In some countries where homosexuality is not an offence in the armed forces if rank is used to coerce that is specifically referred to as an illegal activity which leads to automatic dismissal from the service.

At this stage it would be wrong for me to press the Committee to a Division. I have not mustered my forces sufficiently to win in the Lobbies. However, it has been a useful debate. We shall study the words of the noble Earl with care. At this point it is right that I seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 3:

Before Clause 24, insert the following new clause:

("Ill-treatment on racial grounds

.—(1) n section 43A (disorderly conduct) of the Army Act 1955, after "who" there shall be inserted "on racial grounds or"

(2) In section 65 (Ill-treatment of officers or men of inferior rank) of the Army Act 1955

  1. (a) in subsection (a), after "ill-treats" insert "on racial or any other ground";
  2. (b) in subsection (b), after "ill-treats" insert "on racial or any other ground".").

The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 4. As the Minister and those who follow such matters understand, the amendment deals with paragraphs 34 and 35 of the Select Committee report relating to racial harassment and racial discrimination.

I do not wish the Minister to tell the Committee that he is happy with the position in regard to racial harassment or discrimination. Of course not. However, the country is entitled to expect the Minister to satisfy the Committee that having established the extent to which such harassment operates the Government will take action to eliminate it.

Paragraph 34 states: We recommend that MoD consider how best to identify incidents of racial harassment in the Armed Forces and keep records accordingly".

We understand the reticence of Ministers in this Chamber and in another place who consider that to do so will be divisive. It was thought that even if one were able to collect statistics they might not he true or valid. All that could well be argued.

The Commission for Racial Equality is a watchdog appointed by Parliament. It gave evidence to the Select Committee in another place and I have read that. The commission submitted a memorandum to the House of Commons Employment Committee and expressed the view that there was a substantial under-representation of ethnic minorities in the armed forces. It suggested that they should adopt a comprehensive monitoring system. The Minister and his colleague the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, had many a joust across the Floor of the Chamber with me when I raised the absence of black faces in the Guards regiments. It took a long time for the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, to acknowledge what we had been told by others; that there was clear evidence that a blackball system was operating. That not only kept black men out of the Guards regiments but ensured that those who might squeeze in were given poor treatment. That was confirmed only when a Member of the Committee who had been a member of a Guards regiment was honest and frank enough to say in this Chamber, "All that has been said is true. I was there and I know and can say that it happens". His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has also made trenchant comments about the issue.

We are not putting forward scare stories; nor are they stories of horrendous proportions. However, we must acknowledge that British society is multiracial and multicultural. We wish to see many young men and women who are members of ethnic communities serving not only in the armed forces but also in the police force, the prison service and elsewhere. We wish to ensure that their rights and those of their communities to be better represented are treated with respect. My intention in tabling the amendment is to invite the Minister to tell the Committee what action the Government are taking.

I shall not press the amendment to a Division because that is the nature of our exchanges this afternoon. However, I wish to give the Minister an opportunity to respond more fully than might otherwise have been the case. Today we have a little time and I should like him to assure me, other Members of the Committee and people outside the Chamber that the Minister takes these issues seriously.

Perhaps I may point to the issue of housing. For many years people who managed local authority housing departments fiercely rejected any charge that there was any discrimination against coloured people obtaining proper housing. However, those of us who were active at grass roots level knew that was happening. It was acknowledged only when councils of all colours—and I mean no pun—and persuasions recognised that one needs to have the facts.

We ask the Minister to give the facts. We hope that the facts are not too horrendous. If they are, are the Government prepared to take resolute action to stamp out bullying, racial harassment or discrimination which should have no part to play in British society in 1991? I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Mayhew

We on these Benches support the amendment and wish to be associated with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Graham. I wish to deal in particular with the question of ethnic monitoring in the forces. I raised the issue in debates on the Armed Forces Act 1986 and was assured that the Government were considering ethnic monitoring. During the Second Reading of this Bill the noble Earl said: I hear very strongly what both noble Lords"— that is the noble Lord, Lord Graham and myself— have said on this point".—[Official Report, 5/7/91; col. 1198] That is a considerable advance on "considering".

The previous amendment dealt with the criminalisation of homosexuality in the forces and the noble Earl gave a timetable for his reply. He told the Committee that he would give its Members an answer to the amendment by the time we deal with the Service Discipline Acts next year. That is a long way ahead but it is an advance.

We now require a timetable for ethnic monitoring which is an easier issue for the Minister to decide. I was surprised to read in the Defence White Paper that the MoD is already using ethnic monitoring. It is remiss of me not to have brought the White Paper with me, but I am sure that the noble Earl knows to what I refer. Perhaps it is an internal system of ethnic monitoring about which we are not allowed to know. I associate myself with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and ask the Minister to reply to my particular question.

Baroness Flather

I too wish to say a few words in support of the introduction of ethnic monitoring in the armed forces. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, has spoken about under-representation. I am not sure that the problem will be addressed by ethnic monitoring because a record of ethnic origin is already kept at the point of entry. The only way in which under-representation will be addressed will be by presenting a welcoming face which at present the armed forces do not show to ethnic minorities. I hope that in due course the problem will be addressed in many ways to show that ethnic minorities are welcome within the armed forces.

Ethnic monitoring is designed to see what happens to reoruits who manage to join the armed forces. I believe that the argument has already been won on so many fronts and it appears out of place not to have the system within the armed forces. My noble friend Lord Whitelaw introduced ethnic monitoring within the Civil Service and it now occurs within the police force and all public utilities. Why not therefore within the armed forces? Without proper records it cannot be possible to see how the minority groups fare within the services. The information that we have gives no cause for complacency whatever.

The argument that the system may prove divisive is odd, in particular when monitoring on the basis of religious affiliation has been introduced and accepted in the Ulster Defence Regiment. If it is divisive I believe that nothing could be more divisive in introducing the system into that regiment. However, if there were no such system we could not know how the two religious groups fare within the Ulster Defence Regiment. Therefore, the same argument applies to minorities within the armed services. Record keeping and the monitoring of those records can be neither divisive nor give one group an advantage over another. In fact it is for the avoidance of that that the system needs to be introduced.

There will be nothing more divisive than a perception in the minds of minority groups that they are not being treated fairly or, indeed, that the majority is receiving some sort of preferential treatment. Therefore, I urge my noble friend to look again at this point and to think about the speedy introduction of ethnic monitoring within the armed forces.

Lord Desai

My Lords, perhaps I may add a small caveat to what the noble Baroness said. She mentioned that the army must show a good face if we are to cure under-representation. I welcome those thoughts. Previously this afternoon we have discussed how soldiers can be treated on a par with other citizens. There are times when there must be differences. However, this is one area where the way in which ordinary citizens are treated should be extended fully to soldiers. Ethnic monitoring is part of that.

Strangely, people have forgotten that in the two world wars many Indians and Africans died. It is difficult to find out how many died in the Second World War. However, probably between 25,000 and 250,000 Indians died in that war. We must remember that the Imperial army rather than the British national army had ethnic monitoring. We must incorporate those traditions and say that ethnic minorities are welcome in the army because in the past they have proved to be very good soldiers.

The Earl of Arran

I think it will be convenient to take Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 together. The purpose of the amendments before the Committee is to single out or highlight racial grounds as the motivation for an offence of disorderly conduct or ill-treatment of officers or men of inferior rank. I am sure this is well intentioned, but I have to tell Members of the Committee that the amendments are entirely unnecessary and, because they apply only to the Army Act, would make the army subject to different provisions from the other two services.

Perhaps it would help if I put Amendment No. 3 in context. At present, for all three services, it is an offence for any person subject to military law, without reasonable excuse, to fight with any other person, whether subject to service law or not, or to use threatening, abusive, insulting, or provocative words or behaviour likely to cause a disturbance.

The Committee will therefore appreciate that it matters not what is the motivation for the offence. This is behaviour which will not be tolerated without reasonable excuse. Prejudice on any grounds is not, and never will be, a reasonable excuse. Disorderly conduct will not be tolerated and rightly will be dealt with under the law.

Disorderly conduct and ill-treatment on racial grounds is thus already an offence. To single it out in this way, apart from being unnecessary, could imply that conduct based on racial grounds is somehow more serious than conduct based on grounds of sex or religion. That cannot be the case.

I must also stress that if the grounds or motivation for the offence were specifically included in the charge, it behoves the prosecution to prove that the offence was so motivated. That could cause unnecessary difficulties in securing a conviction and the offence would go unproved and unpunished. It will not have escaped the notice of Members of the Committee that civil law does not provide for offences which are committed on racial grounds to be so charged and I do not think it would be right for service law to be out of step with civil law in this respect.

Amendment No. 4 which relates to the reporting of statistics of disorderly behaviour and ill-treatment on racial grounds as regards the army is, of course, dependent on Amendment No. 3 being accepted by the Committee. While I have argued that Amendment No. 3 should not be approved, I would, nevertheless, like to say something about statistics which I hope will help the noble Lord. As he and others will be aware, the Select Committee in another place specifically recommended that the Ministry of Defence consider how best to identify incidents of racial harassment in the armed forces and to keep records accordingly, as was pointed out. It was accepted that compiling such statistics would be subject to difficulties but we shall be giving careful thought to how we might record offences on the basis of the recommendation.

I must stress that my objection to these amendments in no way reflects a lack of concern on our part about the treatment of ethnic minority service personnel. I have already outlined at an earlier stage the efforts which we are making to encourage recruitment from the ethnic minorities. Considerable funds are being spent on this work and I hope it will be productive.

Perhaps I may expand on that. Serious remarks on the situation as regards ethnic minorities have been made by several Members of the Committee which merit an answer. On ethnic minorities in the armed forces, the services are fully integrated, non-discriminatory organisations. No discrimination is tolerated. Any complaint of racial discrimination or harassment by a member of the armed forces will be fully investigated under the redress of grievance procedures. If substantiated not only will action be taken against those involved but appropriate redress will be granted to the complainant.

Nevertheless, no one should doubt our sincere anxiety to see a greater representation of ethnic ' minorities within the armed forces.

As regards steps to encourage applications from ethnic minorities, Members of the Committee will be aware that we engaged a firm of consultants to advise us on how we might achieve that. In the light of that report, my right honourable friend the Minister of State announced early last year a whole range of measures designed to encourage successful applications from ethnic minorities. It will take time for the impact of those measures to be reflected in our recruitment figures but our efforts in that area will continue.

In particular we have enhanced training courses at the Army School of Recruiting to include a specific lecture on ethnic minority recruitment. We are funding a course at the North East London College which will aim to encourage ethnic minority candidates to the army. We have a joint initiative with the DTI to try to identify potential recruits and train them to entrance standards. We are planning a booklet aimed at the Afro-Caribbean community later this year and we have appointed ethnic minority senior NCOs to our recruiting offices.

As Members of the Committee will know, the Select Committee in another place recommended that we reconsider our objections to ethnic monitoring. Despite our reservations, a review of the policy is under way. In particular we are looking at the experiences of other employers, including some police forces.

I can give no undertaking to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, at this stage as to the conclusions of the review. However, I hope that we shall be in a position to announce our decisions well before the end of this year.

The Select Committee recommended also that we consider how best to identify incidents of racial harassment in the armed forces and keep records accordingly. It was accepted that the compilation of such statistics is subject to difficulties. However, we shall give careful thought to that recommendation.

In conclusion, the ethnic monitoring of service personnel is a matter in which I have taken a personal interest. I have attended meetings with members of the Advisory Council on Race Relations and the Commission for Racial Equality and have seen the CRE submission to the Select Committee of another place which examined the Bill. Therefore, I am well aware of the force behind some of the arguments deployed this afternoon. For those reasons, I hope that the noble Lord will not press the amendment.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

I do not pretend to have any expertise as regards the armed services but I have expertise as regards the police and prison services.

First, I welcome many of the remarks made by the noble Earl. However, I find it rather difficult to accept his argument that were an amendment of this sort to be passed, it would mean that the treatment of the armed forces would be different from that of anybody else. That is not true.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, will remember that an amendment was passed in this Chamber to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act which explicitly made it a disciplinary offence for any police officer to behave in a racially discriminatory fashion. Therefore, for the police it is already an offence for an officer to behave in that disagreeable fashion. That is the first point.

Secondly, it is hard to understand why the armed forces have found it so difficult to introduce an ethnic monitoring scheme of their own, given that it is possible to table a Question in this House on any day of the week and be told precisely how many members of ethnic minorities are members of the Metropolitan Police, and the West Yorkshire and the West Midlands forces and so on. Why is it so difficult in regard to the armed forces? That is a matter of continuing puzzlement.

Thirdly, the noble Earl will be the first to recognise that some of us who have had the good fortune to attend Trooping the Colour ceremonies in successive years find it significant that there is not a single black face on the parade ground. That is disturbing. The matter has been raised with some of the senior officers of the guards' division. Many of us look for substantial progress in that specific area.

Finally, given that the Ministry of Defence is apparently looking at the problem I should like to make a suggestion. The Metropolitan Police, the prison service and some other police forces have held seminars where they encourage various members of ethnic minorities to come together to discuss problems they have experienced. That has been valuable with regard to both the prison and police services. If the issue is to be addressed by the Ministry of Defence, I hope that it will consider that experience.

5.30 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that although the past may be the past, I hope that he will take encouragement from the fact that we are now moving ahead and looking seriously at the question. I think I am right in saying—I hope the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong—that it took some time before ethnic monitoring was taken on board in some police forces. However, it is taking place. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Harris, as I have said, strongly and firmly, that we are taking a good, hard look at the situation and hope to make a decision on ethnic monitoring before the end of the year.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Speaking from this Box, this is not the first time that I have heard a Minister say that my amendments are not necessary. However, having heard the Minister's explanation of what is in train and understanding his deep interest in these matters, when he says that the amendments are not necessary I am satisfied that that statement is well founded. We accept that the Minister will come back to the Chamber—we hope as soon as possible but we are flexible and tolerant in our understanding—to tell us how he and his colleagues have been able to put flesh on the bones of the Select Committee report.

The Minister is aware that throughout the Chamber—opposite, behind and on all sides—Members take a keen interest in the broad generality of this topic. We shall be listening and watching closely. We hope that the Minister returns with something positive to ensure that the armed forces are as effective in carrying out these specific duties as many other swathes of public service have become in recent years. It is substantially in the light of the Minister's reply that the Committee can be satisfied. I am satisfied. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

Clauses 24 to 27 agreed to.

Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

Schedule 3 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment: Report received.

Then Standing Order No. 44 having been suspended (pursuant to Resolution of 16th July):

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

Under existing procedures we have an opportunity every live years to consider service discipline matters in detail. Armed forces Bills do not generally give rise to controversy and rarely do they contain major innovations. But they are nonetheless important for that. It is a vital duty for this House to give proper consideration on a regular basis to the system of service discipline and the procedures for discharging it. It is a system on which the effectiveness of our armed forces depends and we are justifiably proud of them.

The current Bill is notable perhaps for making quite significant changes to areas of service law which do not usually receive much attention. Part II of the Bill contains changes to the law relating to custodial sentences for young offenders and Part III to the protection of children at risk in service families overseas. The Bill also provides for a statutory right to apply for compensation in respect of miscarriages of justice as exists in civil law and for the introduction of powers to award compensation for personal injury.

I am glad that proposals in these areas and the other changes we are making have been generally well received by your Lordships. Together, they make improvements to the Service Discipline Acts, many of which bring service law more closely into line with civilian law.

By the careful scrutiny given to discipline matters generally during the passage of the Bill through this House, I believe the Acts can continue to command the respect and confidence of the servicemen, servicewomen and civilians to whom they apply. Even though we only consider an armed forces Bill every five years, the system of discipline in the armed forces is kept pretty well continuously under review. The Select Committee of another place has carried out a very careful study of this Bill and discipline-related matters. They have made a number of important recommendations for the future. These will be studied carefully and in due course, as is the practice, each will be the subject of a considered government response.

We owe a great debt to our servicemen and women. We have seen all too recently in the Gulf conflict the professional and effective way in which they conduct themselves. It is our responsibility to ensure that the system of discipline, on which the efficiency and effectiveness of the work of the armed forces so much depends, strikes a sensible balance between the rights of servicemen and women as citizens and the extra constraints which must necessarily be imposed. I am confident that the Armed Forces Bill now before your Lordships will serve to ensure that the Service Discipline Acts continue to meet the needs of the services and command their confidence.

I am particularly grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Graham, Lord Mayhew and Lord Rea, and many others who have made important contributions during the passage of the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(The Earl of Arran).

Read a third time, and passed.