HL Deb 02 July 1996 vol 573 cc1381-402

7.52 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 2 [Enlistment or entry for local service]:

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 1: Page 2, line 13, at end insert— ("(3) Within 6 months of the coming into force of this section the Secretary of State shall, before proceeding to any further replacement of Ministry of Defence police, lay before both Houses of Parliament a report relating to the outcome of any pilot projects for alternative arrangements under subsection (1) for duties which have been undertaken by Ministry of Defence police. (4) No proposal for alternative arrangements under subsection (1) for duties which have been undertaken by Ministry of Defence police shall have effect unless it is confirmed by order made by statutory instrument and subject to approval by resolution of both Houses of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 1 stands in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. Perhaps I could be forgiven for saying at the outset that I for one am a little concerned that the defence of the realm should be pushed down the agenda in this way and treated in such a cavalier fashion as it has been treated this evening.

This amendment concerns Clause 2, which is the enabling clause for the proposed military local service engagements and the military provost guard service. Its purpose is to make sure that pilot projects are pilot projects and that they are properly evaluated before Parliament decides whether or not to endorse the scheme for implementation. The Government tell us that before going fully ahead the pilot projects to which I have just referred will be evaluated. However, the suspicion remains that the pilot projects are in fact a formality, or even a ratchet to lock policy into what will become an irreversible change.

There are doubts about the real motivation and purpose. Questions have been raised about the design and cost-effectiveness of the pilot projects, if they are genuinely pilot projects at all. Has the Minister yet seen a paper prepared by members of the Defence Police Federation setting out, as they see it, a more cost-effective option for the pilot projects? What is his conclusion on what they recommend? If he has not seen the paper, will he undertake this evening to acquire it and study it before finally deciding to go ahead?

We debated all this fairly fully in Committee in the Moses Room. However, anxieties remain on which the Government have so far failed to reassure us. For example, on costs of the scheme, is it not true that the forecast pay bill has already escalated by as much as a third? Will the level of remuneration not have to be very attractive indeed if it is to bring in personnel of the right calibre to such monotonous and mostly boring work—guarding and guarding alone? What of the recruitment and training costs? Have the estimates fully taken into account the costs of recruiting and training sufficient civilians if, as many anticipate, the number of Army recruits proves low?

The Government say the intention is to replace the Ministry of Defence Police personnel on a one-to-one basis, but few outside government believe that will be a viable ratio. Indeed, in this context, what of the disturbing events at Chilwell which I raised in Committee, and about which we still have to have a satisfactory explanation? I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I briefly refer again to what I said in Committee when I drew on an interesting letter which was written by experienced and committed members of the Ministry of Defence Police at Chilwell. They wrote: As you know, the MPGS scheme proposes that Ministry of Defence policemen are to be replaced on a one-for-one basis by infantry-trained non-regular soldiers; where those policemen are employed solely on armed guarding duties. This is what the scheme's protagonists within the MoD and Government have been telling Parliament, but it is far from the truth. Hardly any MDP on stations without a nuclear association are employed solely as armed guards. At the three MDP manned stations chosen to pilot the scheme, Chilwell, Donnington and Wilton, the MDP complements are and have for years been employed on primary policing duties, with the added capability to provide an armed response if necessary". As I pointed out to the Committee, the letter continues, significantly, On my own station, Chilwell, a complementing review scheduled for September 1996 was rushed forward to mid-April. This resulted in our being retrospectively relegated on paper only to the required status of armed guards; although our actual employment has not changed at all. This review also increased our complement, again on paper only, from our current total of 20 men to the 26 men which the MPGS would require. This represents a hidden increase in manning by the MPGS over our current true MDP numbers". That is hardly a convincing start to a genuine experiment by a pilot project.

When will this scheme break even? Will it be this century or next century? If it has been properly costed the Minister must surely give us a firm estimated date. He will know that many informed people doubt whether it will ever break even. As regards the public purse as a whole, what of the cost which will fall on other budgets outside the Ministry of Defence as the civil, non-Ministry of Defence police are compelled to take on more of the duties which in the past were undertaken by MoD police?

This brings us to wider issues. MoD police are civilian police constables and police officers trained in the use of firearms. The firearms fall into the whole discipline, skill and professionalism of police work. That is a vital safeguard. The MoD police are subject to the Police Complaints Authority. None of this will be true of the MPGS. Do we see here, quite frankly, a potentially sinister—I do not use the word lightly—erosion (yet another under this Government) of civil society as we value it in a free democracy? What of the calibre of the weapons to be used by the MPGS, often in close proximity to civilian communities? How certain can we be that the MPGS will remain deployed exclusively on guarding duties as now described? What happens if and when they are drawn into other activities? Sooner or later will they not inevitably be expected to give assistance to the civil police in the same way as the MoD police have not infrequently been called upon in the past?

As we understand it, while Army personnel recruited to MPGS may not have had formal, dedicated training in guarding, civilian recruits will be required to take an MoD guard service foundation course in addition to their other training. Why is there that distinction? I gather the Government have said that they aim to have as the minimum standard of training for the MPGS the national vocational qualification guarding level 2. That indeed sounds wise. But if that objective is to be fulfilled, will it not be essential for recruits from the Army to receive the same quality of training as civilian recruits? Does not the Minister agree that just to have been allocated guard duties from time to time during an Army career does not begin to amount to such systematic training? If all MPGS personnel were to receive the necessary training, would it not significantly increase the cost of the scheme?

What of reserve commitments? We understand the intention is that the Army regulars joining the MPGS will not acquire any further additional reserve commitments. We also understand that it is proposed that any existing reserve commitments will run concurrently with MPGS service. Will the Minister confirm that? If that is to be the case, and if the Government manage to recruit, for example, 500 MPGS from former regular service personnel, and their reserve commitments are discharged concurrently with their MPGS service, what effect will that have on the reserve capability of the Armed Forces? And, incidentally, will civilians recruited to MPGS themselves acquire reserve commitments after their full-time service?

We learn that MPGS personnel will be members of the Armed Forces pensions schemes. I understand that those pensions are calculated on the basis of the highest pay in the last three years of service. If a serviceman leaves the regular services on, say, £16,000 a year and serves with MPGS on £11,000 a year, will his pension be calculated on the lower or the higher rate? We need to be clear about that. It obviously has big implications for recruitment.

Finally, how local can local service with MPGS be guaranteed to be? The Government appear to indicate that it is intended that MPGS personnel will not be required to serve overseas in peacetime. But will all potential recruits be informed before joining MPGS that they may be required to serve elsewhere including overseas for longer than normally required in regulations; and will they be told in exactly what circumstances that would happen?

With great respect, the Minister has a lot of convincing still to do. There is much anxiety about the genuine nature of the pilot projects. There is much anxiety about the scheme as a whole. We shall listen carefully to what he says tonight. I beg to move.

8 p.m.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, I support the amendment which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and myself. As regards the seriousness of the issue, I spoke to one of the Ministry of Defence policemen and was shocked to hear him say, "The writing's on the wall, isn't it?". That is very much the view within the Ministry of Defence Police: that whatever happens as regards the pilot schemes, it is the end of the Ministry of Defence's police commitments.

I wish to ask a number of questions. We have been given the impression that the main reason for the change between the MDP and the MPGS is cost. In the changeover period the cost expenditure is, I believe, £20 million. The break-even point given by the Minister during Committee stage of the Bill was 2002 to 2003. However, a number of items may have changed since that cost analysis. First, the cost of wages seems to have increased. I believe that the wage originally envisaged was unrealistic. I do not believe that recruitment will be possible at that level of remuneration. Will the Minister indicate the level of wages per year which will be acceptable for a member of the MPGS? Will the figure be under £10,000 or closer to £14,000?

The noble Lord referred to membership of the MPGS. If the numbers increase, that will significantly increase the expenditure. We are not talking about a small number of men. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that the number to be recruited for the MPGS is 700. That figure is the size of a battalion; it is not a small figure. As regards replacement of the MoD police, the Minister assured us that it will be on a one-to-one basis. The Minister assured us at Committee stage that involuntary redundancy was unlikely. That might be so in the pilot schemes. Ministry of Defence police may be moved sideways to other postings. But will that be the case once the pilot schemes have concluded and other schemes are initiated? Will there be a redundancy cost that has not been calculated in the figures?

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, raised an issue close to my heart. The Ministry of Defence Police have a role outside the base that they defend. They are not just armed policemen on guard service. They take a large role in activities outside the base. Perhaps the Minister will give some indication as to whether that costing has been taken into account. Will the Home Office police seek remuneration for the added commitment that they will give to areas formerly covered by the Ministry of Defence Police? The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but if local chief constables have an added commitment they will have to obtain the money from somewhere. Will any of that money be sought from the Ministry of Defence? Or has the cost to the Home Office police been taken into account? That figure might easily have been omitted.

We are not happy about this issue. We cannot take the matter further at present. However, I ask the Minister for firm figures in order to put the minds of the members of the Ministry of Defence Police and ourselves at rest. Otherwise we shall have to return to the matter at a later stage.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I support the amendment. The noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Redesdale, raised some interesting points. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

However, the scheme is an experiment and it might work. But there is unnecessary concern about large numbers of redundant MoD policemen. The majority should be able to move to the Home Office police forces. But, again, the scheme might not work. The noble Lords have drawn attention to difficulties. One aspect that concerns me is the difficulty of arrest procedure. Servicemen have very limited powers of arrest even within MoD property, whereas an MoD policeman has extensive powers of arrest, in particular outside the base. The scheme is an interesting experiment. It might work. It might give us cost savings. However, again it might not, and it might be appropriate quietly to drop the proposal.

As regards the amendment, it might be better to adopt the negative procedure. If we find that the scheme is working well, we need not take action. However, if we find that it is not working well and we experience one or two disasters, we can bring the issue up at the appropriate time. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

8.15 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe)

My Lords, first I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Redesdale, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, on their gallant persistence in pursuing matters. However, I am disappointed that the reassurances that I gave in Committee have apparently not met their concerns. A number of points have been made this evening on behalf of the Defence Police Federation and I shall be glad to cover as many as I can. Those which I do not manage to cover I shall respond to in writing, if that is acceptable.

I start with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that in some way the writing is on the wall for the Ministry of Defence Police. I emphatically state that that is not the case. On current assumptions, the size of the MDP is expected to fall to between 2,500 and 3,000 personnel by the early years of the next century, probably stabilising closer to the upper than the lower end of the range. It is the Government's intention that the MDP will remain a substantial force, able to provide a civil policing service where that is required throughout the department. Ministers and the Chief Constable are confident that a force of 2,500 to 3,000, properly structured and resourced, will remain able to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked whether I had seen the Defence Police Federation paper on the pilot project. I have not seen it but shall be happy to take it into account before going ahead with our proposals. I shall ensure that I see a copy before Third Reading. The noble Lord made the point that in his view MDP officers never function wholly and solely as armed guards. It would therefore be wrong to replace civilian police officers who might come into contact with ordinary members of the public with an armed military guard. The posts at the pilot scheme sites, where it is proposed to replace MDP by the MPGS, are complemented for guarding and general security duties. It is precisely because MDP officers are not just armed guards that it makes sense in those cases to replace them with military guards. There is no reason why service personnel should not undertake those tasks; they already do so at many service establishments throughout the United Kingdom. Where a civil policing requirement has been identified at the pilot scheme sites, the MDP will either be retained at the site for that purpose or, if the requirement is insufficient to warrant a permanent MDP presence, it will be met by MDP officers from a nearby establishment or by an MDP area policing team.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, remarked that at the base ordnance depot in Donnington, which is one of the pilot sites, the civilian population outweighs the service population and that the MDP at Donnington do not carry out static armed guard duties. An armed guarding presence at Donnington is required to meet the threat to military personnel there. It is perfectly reasonable for MPGS soldiers to undertake the task. Civil policing requirements at Donnington will continue to be met by MDP officers complemented for those duties.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, also mentioned Chilwell, where he felt that the complementing review had been rushed forward. The complementing reviews at the pilot scheme sites were brought forward to provide the Defence Police Federation with details of the numbers of posts which it is proposed should be filled by MPGS soldiers rather than MDP officers. However, there is no question of the reviews having been rushed. They have been conducted in a fully professional manner by the MoD's directorate of management and consultancy services, in consultation with the Army and the MDP and have included on-site reviews where necessary, including one of Chilwell. Using agreed complementing criteria, it has been possible to distinguish between guarding and policing tasks. I stress again that only armed guarding posts have been recommended for conversion to MPGS.

As for the suggestion that the Chilwell review increased the complement to cover a greater number of MPGS needed in comparison with the MDP—I believe the noble Lord mentioned the figure of 20 being increased to 26—it is simply untrue. The recommended complement at Chilwell is based on the identified guarding and general security requirements. All proposals for the replacement of MDP by MPGS are on a one-for-one basis. I stress that again.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked about pay rates. No changes to pay rates have been assumed, subject to the Armed Forces Pay Review body agreement. An MLSE private would be paid £11,350, including 5 per cent. X factor, when the 1996–97 Armed Forces Pay Review award takes full effect in December this year. One more AFPRB award is expected before April 1997.

As regards costs which have been a concern on the Benches opposite, there have been some enhancements; for example, provision of accommodation where it is available, subject to normal payments. Recruiting and training costs have also been fully taken into account in the investment appraisal. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked about pensions. Work is continuing to ensure that full engagement regulars re-engaging as MPGS guards will not be disadvantaged in their pension entitlements.

On the suggestion that the Home Department police might bear the cost of replacing MoD police with the MPGS, the MDP will be replaced on guarding duties only. So there is no question of any extra burden on the Home Department police.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked about training. A soldier who had had six years' service would normally have had considerable experience of guarding. There would, however, be exceptions to that, particularly as the MPGS would be open to personnel from all three services. But, like all soldiers, MPGS personnel would be required to re-qualify once a year in firearms training. That continuation training would be the responsibility of commanding officers. It is anticipated that MPGS soldiers would be required to fire their weapons as a matter of routine on a monthly basis.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked about reserve liability. For civilians recruited to the MPGS, the question of reserve liability has yet to be decided. It will be a matter for regulations. I hope that that has covered most of the points, but I shall be glad to deal with the remainder in writing.

I turn briefly to the text of the amendment. In my view, there is no need for the proposed new subsection (3). My honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has already undertaken to submit a report in 1999 to the Defence Select Committee in another place. It will report on the outcome of the pilot scheme and on the department's proposals for any further replacement of Ministry of Defence Police by military provost guard service soldiers. When we discussed the matter in Committee, I undertook to make a similar report to your Lordships' House. I repeat that undertaking today.

There are real practical objections to the amendment. It seeks to require the Secretary of State to lay a report on the outcome of the pilot scheme within six months of the coming into force of subsection (1). That would not make any kind of sense. I imagine that the clause as a whole will come into force around two months after Royal Assent. That is the way with such things. About six months after the clause comes into effect, the pilot scheme will get under way in April 1997. With the greatest respect to noble Lords, there would not, within the six-month period, have been any opportunity to conduct a pilot scheme, even less to assess its success or to give Parliament a report on it. As I indicated, the timescale envisaged for the report is much later than that, in 1999, not out of any recalcitrance on the part of the Government but because we need that amount of time to assess definitively whether the scheme will work.

Nor do we see what useful purpose would be served by the proposed subsection (4). I am not sure that I fully understand what is intended, but if it is to require regulations enabling local service engagements to be approved by affirmative resolution it will simply lead to further debate in the autumn and further uncertainty for MDP officers over their future, as well as further delay before the pilot scheme and, if approved, the main scheme can be introduced.

We believe that the principle of using military local service engagements for guarding is sound, but this proposition needs to be tested by means of the pilot scheme. I sensed from the debates in Committee that it seems to be common ground that there should be a pilot scheme and that the results should be reported to Parliament. We do not need this amendment to achieve that objective. Indeed, however helpfully it is intended, it will serve to frustrate the objective because it is unworkable.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, as ever, for his courteous and full reply. Might I just say, in the best possible spirit, that he is rather over-egging it if he says that there is a consensus on the need for the pilot projects. There is a consensus that the pilot projects are going to take place. I am not at all sure that anyone on this side of the House would have begun to go down this road at all. The Minister must not make an assumption, much as I dislike having to deny him any joy from having built bridges across the Floor of the House.

I noted the Minister's remark about the practicality of our amendments. As I said in Committee, I am not one to die in a ditch on wording. I believe that the whole point of having a discussion of this kind is to listen reasonably to each other and, if I take the point that the Minister makes, I am prepared to look at how we might put forward an amendment to make our point in a more reasonable way that meets his own observations. That is something that we want to take seriously.

As I am sure the Minister will realise, our concern is simply that if the "pilot projects" genuinely are pilot projects and are to be evaluated, it is essential that this House and the other place should have an opportunity to carry out that evaluation before deciding to go down this road. With all due candour—the polite way, I believe, of putting it these days—it will not wash to say that it is frustrating for those who want to do it. We are talking about the responsibility of Parliament, and we must have sounder and more full information on which to base our decisions.

I noted some of the Minister's remarks. He is always very open with us, and we appreciate that. I am sure, therefore, that he will take the point when I try to emphasise some of the doubts that he has raised tonight. He said, for example, in relation to pensions that "work is continuing." I should have thought that if one was entering into a pilot project on a scheme, pensions and what was to be done about them would have been fully tied up and would be known before the project started.

Earl Howe

My Lords, perhaps I may assist the noble Lord. I apologise if I did not make that clear. MLSE soldiers will also benefit from the Armed Forces pension scheme which, as the noble Lord knows, is non-contributory; but work is continuing on how precisely that will be implemented.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I am sure it is very reassuring to know that they will benefit. But how long is a piece of string? The Minister has given no indication whatever as to how they will benefit. That must underline anxieties about how much detailed thinking and proper forecasting took place as to the basis for a sensible pilot project.

The Minister also referred to the fact that the reserve liability of civilians recruited for the MPGS has yet to be decided. That again rather emphasises the uncertainties that surround the whole scheme.

I do not wish to detain the House at this time of night. However, another major issue is that, in reference to Chilwell, the MPGS will be brought in on a one-for-one basis. If the Minister accepts, as he appears to, that Ministry of Defence Police seldom do guarding duties exclusively, we need to know what is the formula by which it is decided what is one-for-one. How many part-times does it take to make a one of Ministry of Defence police? We need to see the detail to be certain.

I hope the Minister will forgive my remaining unconvinced, but for all those reasons we still are unconvinced. However, We are fair minded people. We shall go away and look very carefully at what he said tonight. But I must say that the more he discusses this issue with us, the more worried, frankly, we become about what seems to be a rather half-baked initiative. It is quite probable that we shall want to return to this matter at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Redesdale moved Amendment No. 2: Leave out Clause 2.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is not my intention to push for Clause 2 to be deleted. My reason for tabling this amendment is to put forward the case that we are dealing with primary legislation. I understand that the Minister has found himself in a Catch-22 situation and without primary legislation he cannot initiate a pilot project. Nevertheless, we find ourselves in the Catch-22 situation that, without a pilot project, we cannot really understand what we are dealing with. I therefore wish to put the case that, although this is the right Bill in which to bring this measure forward, if it could have been introduced in a different way it would have been more helpful. I am not sure whether that would have been possible.

One issue concerns me. We have to look far ahead into the future because we have not had the results yet and a number of issues are still unresolved. What will happen to those bases if the pilot projects—so much money being involved—turn out not to be the success that the Minister and other Members of the House would wish. As the Minister said previously, members of the new force will simply not have their contracts renewed. Does that then mean that the Ministry of Defence police will be reinstated in their former positions? Exactly what will happen? Will primary legislation be required? Or will it simply be a case of, "Right, it hasn't been a success. Thank you very much. You can now go home?" How does the Minister see events taking place? That is the purpose of putting forward this amendment. I beg to move.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, referred to the "Catch-22 situation" that the Minister was in. I am not sure that that is completely correct. As I understand it, the Minister could have abused the Reserve Forces Bill by calling the MPGS volunteer reserves carrying out an additional voluntary duties commitment. I think we would have been rather disappointed had he done so. Some credit should go to the Minister for taking the primary legislation route.

Earl Howe

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who spoke and in particular to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for the remark he has just made. If one reflects on the role of the Territorial Army, it is undoubtedly the case that the TA is there to deploy as formed units to augment the regular Army in times of crisis and to bring the regular Army up to full strength for deployment. So to use the Territorial Army for guarding would very much detract from that. I do not believe that is a route we should go down. I do not believe it would be attractive to members of the TA, nor do I think it would be appropriate for other reasons.

I am disappointed, of course, that noble Lords opposite have yet to be convinced that the Government's proposals are worth pursuing. I am indeed disappointed that they have reservations about the pilot scheme because useful lessons will be learnt from that scheme. It is a genuine attempt to find out whether this will work. That is why we propose that it should be employed on a limited basis and why we want to take our time in looking at it. I acknowledge nevertheless that this is new ground and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, would not be doing his job if he did not express some hesitation about something as novel as this. But we have given it a good deal of thought. The planning is at an advanced stage and I do not have any worries that loose ends will not be tied up once we embark upon the pilot scheme.

What Clause 2 essentially does is to give the Armed Forces the flexibility to recruit this new category of personnel in a specified locality rather than worldwide. That flexibility in itself is worth having. It is worth including it in primary legislation. It is an appropriate place for it to be. So for those broad reasons alone I urge noble Lords opposite to give the clause a welcome in general terms even if they cannot enthuse about the guarding proposal.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way but would he not agree that in his last words he underlined one of the strategic—if I can use that word—anxieties about this whole initiative.

He openly said that it gives the Government and the armed services greater flexibility to recruit those people. That is exactly what the anxiety is. This is not primarily about guarding establishments at all; this is about getting by the back door a cheap kind of "Dad's Army" which will be available to assist in a whole range of activities at a later stage.

Earl Howe

My Lords, that really is not fair, with all respect to the noble Lord. The services will only consider introducing local service where it makes sense to them to do so but it would be odd to have no statutory provision allowing them to do so. As it happens, there are no plans or proposals for the general introduction of local service schemes other than for guarding. Indeed, more than that, it is difficult to see where there is much scope for introducing local service simply because there is a requirement to be able to call on the bulk of men and women in the Armed Forces to serve wherever in the world they may be required.

The reasons for considering the use of local service personnel could vary according to the circumstances of the case, as could the specific conditions applying to any particular local service scheme. But, as I have already mentioned, your Lordships can take comfort from the fact that the services are most unlikely to promote the introduction of local service in any particular case unless it makes sense to them in operational, management and financial terms.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked me again what would happen if the pilot scheme were to fail. I do not believe that I can usefully add anything to the comments I made in Committee. Quite clearly we would have to go back to the drawing board. We do not expect the scheme to fail. We believe that we have done our planning properly and that it is a sensible pilot scheme. But clearly the Ministry of Defence police would still be there to assist us and I have no doubt would be ready and willing to do so if that proved to be a cost-effective option in all the circumstances.

I say to the House that the powers under Clause 2 will be used sensibly and selectively. Our assessment is that there is little scope for local service in any Armed Forces which have the range of commitments of the British services. But to deny ourselves the option to recruit on a local service basis, even in a limited way, would be improvident.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, the Minister has gone further than he has before in saying that if the pilot scheme should fail for any reason, he would seek the services of the MDP again which was really my question from the outset. I think it will give some comfort because that option hopefully will still be open. The difficulty we have is that we do not wish the scheme to fail. Indeed, if it is cost-effective and produces the results that the Minster outlined, there would be a good deal of support for some of the objectives—as long as the benefits outweighed the disadvantages that we foresee could take place.

That being the case, and also realising that the Minister is of the view that there will not be any failure and that that might colour his judgment of the results of the pilot scheme, I shall not press the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 21 [Sex discrimination: Great Britain]:

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 3: Page 15, leave out lines 30 to 45 and insert— ("(9B) A complaint to which subsection (9A) applies may be presented to an industrial tribunal under section 63(1). (9C) Notwithstanding subsection (9B) of this section, a complaint to which subsection (9A) applies may be made to an officer under the service redress procedure applicable to the complainant.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 3 standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Williams, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 4 to 18. The purpose of these amendments is to ensure a right to pursue a complaint either internally or straight to a tribunal and to ensure that the right to go to a tribunal is not dependent on first pursuing a complaint internally.

We recognise that in Clauses 21 to 27 the Government are endeavouring to achieve consistency. Indeed we applaud that. All our amendments are designed to fulfil that same purpose. It may be useful to outline the present position and the areas of agreement which exist between ourselves and the Government.

Perhaps we could concentrate on sex discrimination and race relations. It is our case that the other amendments dealing with equal pay, employment, industrial relations and Northern Ireland all seek to establish the same principles in each of those spheres. At the present time under the Race Relations Act there is a right only to complain through the internal procedures, and under the Sex Discrimination Act there is a right to complain to an industrial tribunal but the Act does not provide for complaints to he made under the internal procedures.

The Government's proposal is that any complaint under the Race Relations or the Sex Discrimination Acts must first be made through the internal procedures and, following that—I underline the word following—complaint may be made to an industrial tribunal. In other words, the internal procedure is a statutory precondition for application to an industrial tribunal.

As I have said, under our proposed amendments any complaint may in future be made direct to an industrial tribunal and may also be made through the internal procedures. I believe that we have a consensus in the House that servicemen and women should not be denied access to the industrial tribunal. We also have a consensus that servicemen and women should be able and indeed encouraged to make a complaint through the internal procedure. The issue at stake is solely whether it should be a mandatory pre-condition that for all discrimination complaints the internal procedure must first be utilised.

The Government hold that Clause 21 does not represent a diminution of rights under the Sex Discrimination Act. It is the case that the Sex Discrimination Act does not currently include reference to the separate service redress procedures under the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957. Since those are statutory procedures, it may well be that primary legislation is required in order that the defence counsel can have jurisdiction to deal with sex discrimination complaints.

To the extent that Clause 21 provides an additional right, it is clearly to be welcomed. However, the clause also proposes to remove the existing right to complain directly to an industrial tribunal and that, I suggest, unquestionably constitutes a loss. Further, if at present a serviceman or woman can complain directly to an industrial tribunal, then to require that person to undergo the internal procedure, whether or not he (or she) would choose to do so, does restrict his (or her) right of access to an industrial tribunal.

As the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission both have argued, to go through any procedure on a complaint of discrimination can be extremely stressful. Where service personnel are either intimidated by or lack confidence in the internal procedure, to require that procedure as a pre-condition may obviously deter them from seeking redress altogether.

I suggest that there is no dispute between the Government and us concerning all the very positive arguments for use of an internal procedure in the Armed Forces, whether for the benefit of the complainants, whether to receive quick resolution of grievances or whether for the chain of command to be made aware of problems at an early date. We on these Benches certainly favour it as an indispensable means of internalising real commitment to the objectives that the Armed Forces themselves now commendably endorse. It is important to note that the CRE and the EOC strongly believe that the use of internal procedures should be encouraged.

What is not agreed between us is that the only effect of making the internal procedure a statutory pre-condition is a short delay. That is, if the Minister will allow me to use his own word from a previous debate, a "disappointingly" blinkered attitude by the Government. There are the effects on the complainant and on any other parties in an internal investigation, including fear of victimisation, further harassment or discrimination. There are also potential disadvantages to the complainant in terms of an ultimate complaint to the industrial tribunal, if that complainant has had to present and argue the case up through the chain of command when some of those involved will be witnesses for the service when the case is eventually heard by the industrial tribunal.

The Government have expressed concern about undermining loyalty or taking steps to lessen the effectiveness of internal procedures. For the debate in Committee on whether Clause 21 should stand part of the Bill, that may have been relevant. But in the amendments that we now propose, which would remove the compulsory nature of internal procedures and instead make them available on a voluntary basis, neither loyalty nor the effectiveness of internal procedures need be at risk. The task for the services will be to take whatever action is needed to ensure that servicemen and women feel confident that their complaints will be dealt with effectively and fairly under the internal procedures.

The government response in Committee to our arguments about a lack of right to an oral hearing in the internal procedure entirely missed the point. It is not that a complainant may want the opportunity to communicate orally but that that complainant should be entitled to hear the evidence against the case and to cross-examine witnesses. Many cases in the courts and tribunals are decided on the basis of which witnesses are most credible, particularly when any conflict in evidence is challenged by cross-examination. Without the right to request an oral hearing, the complainant is at a disadvantage in the internal procedure. In contrast the industrial tribunal hearings are always oral.

Perhaps I may be permitted one general observation. In Committee, the noble Earl spoke at some length about the value and importance of the internal complaints machinery, which he saw as threatened by our amendments. But the amendments positively seek to preserve the internal procedure—the importance of which we cannot over-emphasise—alongside the right to go to a tribunal.

Before concluding, I add a brief word on the amendments dealing with time limits. The relevant clauses as drafted establish a six-month time limit for applications to an industrial tribunal for serving members of the Armed Forces, because they are required to complain internally first. There is to be a three-month time limit for internal complaints. For service personnel and all other employees, who under the relevant sections can now complain to an industrial tribunal, the time limit is three months, although the tribunal has the discretion to accept a late application: if, in all the circumstances of the case, it considers that it is just and equitable to do so".

It has been argued that time limits for service personnel to file claims should be longer than those for civilians, because they might be unable to meet the three-month deadline if, for example, they were on active duty in a ship or submarine. But we believe that there is merit in treating equally all persons who may file proceedings and that situations such as those mentioned would very likely be grounds for a tribunal to allow an application to be filed out of time. In these matters, not least for reasons of service morale and effectiveness, unnecessary delay will never be helpful. These amendments therefore delete the subsections which give the longer time for serving members of the Armed Forces. The effect is that the same time limits will apply to service personnel as to all other employees. I beg to move.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, I rise to support briefly the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. There seems to be a common consensus in these amendments that there should be the ability for service personnel to take a complaint outside the chain of command. That could be very important in certain cases, considering that someone might not trust the viewpoint of the commanding officer. The noble Lord explained the matter in detail and I leave it at that.

Earl Howe

My Lords, Clause 21 continues servicemen and women's existing access to industrial tribunals in sex discrimination cases, but introduces a requirement for them first to use the services' internal redress of complaint procedures. As a corollary of this, the clause extends the three-month time limit for making complaints to industrial tribunals to six months, in recognition of the requirement to use the internal procedures first.

The provisions of Clause 23 and Clauses 24 and 25 will introduce new rights for servicemen and women to take complaints covering, respectively, race discrimination and equal pay to an industrial tribunal, again, after first using the internal procedures and within a similar deadline. Clauses 26 and 27 make similar provision in respect of other matters on which servicemen and women may be able to make complaints to industrial tribunals. Thus, whatever the statutory basis for the complaint, the arrangements for access to tribunals will be on a consistent footing, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said.

The proposed amendments to Clauses 21 to 27 would maintain a consistency of footing but would remove the requirement for prior use of the internal service procedures.

At present, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, rightly said, cases of sex discrimination alone can be taken directly to industrial tribunals without use of internal redress procedures first. This direct access derived from the MoD's acceptance in 1991 that the EC equal treatment directive applied for most purposes to service personnel. The MoD's amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act 18 months ago brought the statute law up to date by removing from the Act the exemption for service personnel. As I made clear at Committee stage, it was always the intention that provisions in the Bill regarding the use of the internal procedures should be included in the Sex Discrimination Act. The Bill presents the first appropriate legislative opportunity to do so since the powers that were used last year to implement EU legislation, but removing the services exemption from the Sex Discrimination Act did not extend to making ancillary domestic changes.

The concept of the two-stage process is not entirely new. The requirement to use the service internal procedures was first set out in an amendment to the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978—now the Employment Rights Act of 1996—which was included in the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1993. The 1993 amendment to the 1978 Act introduced a new section, Section 138A (now Section 192 of the 1996 Act), which required complaints by service personnel under that employment legislation to be submitted for consideration under the internal system before application could be made to an industrial tribunal. It also allowed a time limit for the submission of such complaints to industrial tribunals to be extended to six months, to allow for this. Although these provisions have not yet been brought into force, they serve to illustrate that the MoD's policy objective of requiring prior use of the internal redress system is of fairly longstanding.

I have reflected very carefully on the arguments put forward in Committee which questioned the need for service personnel to be treated differently from other employees in respect of access to industrial tribunals. However, I am sorry to tell the noble Lords opposite that I am unable to accept that it would be wise to bypass the services' own procedures for investigating complaints.

I believe that we must acknowledge that service in the Armed Forces just cannot be compared with any other employment. There are therefore very valid reasons for having a slightly different system for dealing with employment matters. I use the word "slightly" deliberately, because I think the noble Lord, Lord Judd, with all respect to him, doth protest too much. Servicemen and women who believe they have been discriminated against on grounds of race or sex will have the same right as any other person to apply to an industrial tribunal for an independent adjudication on their complaint. The only difference in service cases will be the requirement, first, to submit the case for consideration under the internal procedures.

The practical effect of this will be a slight delay before referral to the tribunal: at the most three months. However, I do not accept that this will weaken in any way the benefit of the right to present a case to a tribunal. I have heard arguments that this two-stage process for dealing with service cases will cause unnecessary distress to complainants because of the strain of having to argue their case twice over. It is also claimed that complainants will be at a disadvantage when subsequently presenting their cases to a tribunal, because their cases will be fully known to the MoD and they will not have equivalent knowledge of the case against them.

However, I would say that both those concerns are misconceived. The services internal system is designed to ensure that complaints are dealt with quickly and in a non-confrontational way. Its objective is to establish the facts quickly and, where any fault lies, to take disciplinary action where necessary: that is to nip in the bud any manifestation of racism, sexism or any form of inequality or injustice. In other words, the services system is essentially an investigative procedure, in contrast to the more adversarial nature of proceedings at industrial tribunal hearings. It will investigate the complaint being made rather than adjudicate between the parties. I think the really telling point is that the service investigations can begin immediately the complaint is made and, importantly, when all the personnel involved are still in post. Dates for industrial tribunal hearings necessarily take time to be listed.

I do not want to detain the House for too long but I think I ought to make some rather important points, picking up some of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. These relate to the procedure itself. The noble Lord said that procedure can be stressful and difficult for certain individuals. It might help if I ran through this very briefly and that will, I hope, indicate why we favour it as we do. Under the service system, personnel are encouraged to make their complaints orally initially, but if it proves impossible to solve the problem right away and there is a need to involve higher authority, then they are asked to make a written submission. Unless the complainant voluntarily withdraws a complaint or redress is granted at the first level of consideration, it is passed on through the chain of command and ultimately to the appropriate service board of the Defence Council, if necessary. The complainant is keep informed either orally or in writing of the progress of the complaint at each level of consideration. Before a complaint is considered by the service board, if it is necessary to take it that far, complainants receive copies of all the material which the board will see relating to their complaint, including covering advice to the board from the service and any recommendations which might be made. The obvious exception to that is legal advice.

The board must in every instance decide whether or not to convene an oral hearing and any request for such a hearing from a complainant would naturally be given very careful consideration. If an oral hearing is held, the board must provide the opportunity for witnesses to be called and to be cross-examined. If there is to be no oral hearing, complainants are asked to submit their comments on the submission to the board in writing. The board's final decision, with reasons, is always conveyed to the complainant in writing. So if a complaint is subsequently referred to an industrial tribunal the complainant will be fully aware of all the evidence on which the board's decision had been reached. Against that background I would argue that the services internal system provides a more likely means of resolving complaints, particularly those on such sensitive issues as race or sex discrimination; and it will do so swiftly and in a non-confrontational manner—more so than does the industrial tribunal process. Those are the central reasons why I ask the House to reject the proposed amendments to Clauses 21 to 27.

Lord Judd

My Lords, once more I express my appreciation to the Minister for dealing very fully with the points I made. We are trading this word "disappointment" across the House. I think I understand why, because on the great matters of defence and the kind of services we want to see I am sure it would be impossible to find any significant difference between the Minister and myself. Therefore, we naturally feel disappointed when we enter areas in which we do not have the same degree of common understanding, and so what I say now is very much in that spirit.

In his courteous and full summing up the Minister did not in fact deal very convincingly with the issue. If a complainant in the armed services follows the internal procedure, he or she has to argue the case up through the chain of command in the knowledge that any of those people with whom that complainant may be confronted may at a later stage, if that complainant decides to go to a tribunal, come to the tribunal as witnesses. That is a difficult situation.

Secondly, I suggest that the Minister did not convincingly deal with the issue that, under the service procedure, it is not possible for a complainant to hear the evidence against a complaint and to cross-examine witnesses. That is a substantial difference in approach.

The other significant point which I have not deployed so far this evening but which I mentioned in Committee is that research being undertaken by a lieutenant-colonel in the Army and being financed, very much to its credit, by the Ministry of Defence, has convincingly established that the internal procedure is not working. The lieutenant-colonel himself observed that a significant number of people with complaints to make do not make them. Therefore, I suggest that the Minister—I hate to say this because I have a great deal of respect for the noble Earl—is showing an unusual degree of complacency in his response.

9 p.m.

Earl Howe

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I have one brief comment on the study to which he has referred. I am aware that Lieutenant-Colonel Crawford, a defence fellow at Glasgow University, has recently completed his thesis on race, ethnicity and the Army. That paper has not yet been seen by Ministers. It is still being considered within the department and we are looking at it carefully. Obviously, we shall consider the recommendations with equal care.

Lord Judd

My Lords, it is very honest of the Minister to say that he has not yet seen the paper. Others have. I commend it to the noble Earl because it is absolutely uncompromising on the failure of the system and, as I think the Minister will agree when he has read it, rather takes the carpet from under his feet on the issue.

We commend the commitment of Ministers, the Ministry of Defence and the leaders of the armed services to this issue. We do not doubt that commitment at all. The Minister will recall that in Committee I quoted an admirable booklet produced by the Army, with its excellent uncompromising foreword by the Adjutant General, General Rose. We have no doubt that there is real endeavour to move forward in this area. Indeed, we hear that from the Commission for Racial Equality and from the Equal Opportunities Commission which want to help in every way. However, the view that remains—it is deeply held on this side of the House also—is that the Armed Forces are kicking into their own goal by resisting an opportunity of direct access to the outside tribunal. If the system were working really effectively but with that safety valve, people would be confident about using the internal system. They would know that such a system must be good because the external system was readily available as an alternative.

I urge the Minister to consider carefully what we have said tonight. I also encourage him to read Lieutenant-Colonel Crawford's report carefully. Having done so, I hope that he will be able to come back, albeit at the eleventh hour on Third Reading, with more helpful observations. Pending that moment, however, I think it sensible for me to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.]

Clause 22 [Sex discrimination: Northern Ireland]:

[Amendments Nos. 6 to 8 not moved.]

Clause 23 [Racial discrimination]:

[Amendments Nos. 9 to 11 not moved.]

Clause 24 [Equal treatment: Great Britain]:

[Amendments Nos. 12 to 14 not moved.]

Clause 25 [Equal treatment: Northern Ireland]:

[Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 not moved.]

Clause 26 [Other complaints: Great Britain]:

[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]

Clause 27 [Other complaints: Northern Ireland]:

[Amendment No. 18 not moved.]

Clause 30 [Greenwich Hospital]:

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 19: Page 25, line 28, at beginning insert— ("Where he is satisfied that the purposes set out in paragraphs (a) to (c) of subsection (2) will be fulfilled.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the Secretary of State—indeed, any Secretary of State way into the future—will have to take wider considerations than price alone into account in granting a lease of any of the land at the historic site of Greenwich.

Perhaps I may say at the outset that the latest developments with regard to Greenwich are breathtaking. We now understand that the Government are nominating Greenwich as a UNESCO world heritage site. I find a certain irony in that situation. The Government are nominating Greenwich to UNESCO as a world heritage site. Yet the Government refuse to be a member of UNESCO because of their reservations about its adequacy. I therefore find the remarks of the Secretary of State for National Heritage delightful when she says, The area we have nominated focuses on the outstanding buildings associated with the town's royal and maritime history. I believe Greenwich meets the stringent criteria laid down by UNESCO and fully merits the national and international prestige it would bring in time for the millennium". Those are strong words of commendation for UNESCO's status. I hope that the Secretary of State's colleagues in the Foreign Office and the ODA have read them and that they will take the logical action in terms of rejoining UNESCO as soon as possible. However, that is another debate.

Tonight we are concerned with Clause 30 in which we find the encouraging commitment on the part of the Government that, in deciding on a lease, the Secretary of State shall have regard to, (a) the importance of preserving for the benefit of the nation the historic buildings and monuments on the land and of maintaining the architectural integrity of the Royal Naval College site; (b) the desirability of securing reasonable public access to the land (and in particular to the historic buildings and monuments on the land); and (c) the desirability of preventing any use of the land appearing to him to be out of keeping with its unique character and history. (3) It shall be lawful for the Secretary of State to grant a lease of any of the land to which this section applies, with its appurtenances, to any person appearing to him to be suitable for a term not exceeding 150 years". All of the ideals are spelt out but there is absolutely no obligation on the Secretary of State to act in accordance with those ideals. If anything was a load of rhetoric this drafting of the Bill would be exactly that.

The amendment is designed to help the Government by guaranteeing that the action which the Secretary of State takes fulfils the good intentions spelt out in the Bill. There have been arguments about the precise wording. The Minister took us to task in Committee by suggesting that the wording was not ideal. We said that we would not die in a ditch for wording and we wanted to get the mechanism right. We have tried to find wording which we hope moves nearer to meeting the anxieties of the Minister. No doubt he will tell us that it is still not perfect. If that is so we will look at it again. But we want to ensure that the action taken by the Secretary of State is based upon the good intentions spelt out in the preceding part of the Bill. I beg to move.

Earl Howe

My Lords, Clause 30 is designed to allow the Secretary of State to grant a lease in respect of the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, to a non-government body. The House will be aware that Section 7 of the Greenwich Hospital Act 1869 restricts use of the college buildings to occupation by the Royal Navy, government departments or organisations associated with seafaring.

I stress that the Government always have been and remain committed to securing the best possible future for these historic buildings. Your Lordships will be aware that on 28th March my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced that he had accepted the central recommendation of the advisory group set up to advise him on the future of the Royal Naval College that, in the event of non-defence occupancy, an independent trust should be established to manage the site for the nation.

As a result of concerns expressed in the other place, the Government sought to emphasise its commitment to the buildings by tabling extensive amendments to the clause, including what is now subsection (2). These amendments were designed to ensure that in choosing a future occupant due regard would be had to a wide range of heritage concerns. These heritage concerns included the architectural integrity of the site and the desire to prevent occupation out of keeping with the character and history of the site. The Government's clear commitment to preserve the heritage of this site is fully reflected by this clause.

I recognise that noble Lords opposite have revised the wording of the previous amendment to Clause 30. I acknowledge their constructive approach to these matters. I regret to say that the new form of words does not overcome the concerns that I highlighted at Committee stage; nor do I consider it to be necessary in view of the earlier extensive amendments moved by the Government.

The clause is currently designed to permit a proper balance to be struck between the "private" interests of the charity and wider public interests. The new form of words seeks to turn the public interest considerations in subsection (2) into conditions which the Defence Secretary as trustee of Greenwich Hospital would have to see fulfilled. This could have the effect of requiring him to make a decision which disregarded the "private" interests of the charity. It might require him, unintentionally no doubt, to exclude other factors which may be relevant now, or become so in the future.

In considering the most appropriate form of words—I can assure your Lordships that that was a long and very involved process—our object was to ensure that the wider interests of heritage and access were properly taken into account in decisions on the future of these magnificent buildings, and not improperly to circumscribe the trustee's powers and responsibilities. The wording of the clause reflects the objectives shared by all sides of the House. The absence of an amendment to subsection (3), as suggested by this amendment, does not isolate the subsection from the other considerations of the clause. As I said in Committee, the Defence Secretary must have regard to the matters in subsection (2) before exercising his powers to grant a lease under subsection (3), and he would be in breach of his statutory duties if he failed to do so.

The new form of the amendment remains technically incompatible with the present subsection (2). Subsection (2) identifies various matters to which the Secretary of State must have regard. It does not contain any "purposes" which could be fulfilled. From the clause as currently drafted, it is clear that the Secretary of State will be required to carry out a balancing exercise, as I have said. We are legislating for generations to come. In certain circumstances the various considerations specified in subsection (2) might not be wholly consistent. To seek, as the amendment does, to make these considerations "purposes", each of which is to be fulfilled, could mean that in such circumstances the clause was not in practice capable of being applied, and whatever decision may be reached by the Secretary of State would be vulnerable to challenge.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, rightly stressed in Committee that it was not the matter of drafting, but the objectives behind them which mattered. He made that point again today. He asked that the Government look at the matter further in that light. We have looked at his suggestions with care. We remain of the view that the amendment would tilt the balance away from Greenwich Hospital since it would risk a Defence Secretary being obliged to disregard the interests of the charity. Furthermore, the amendment would in practice be unworkable for the reasons I have already stated. For those reasons I hope the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, the Government cannot have it both ways on Clause 30. On the one hand, they argue that the way in which the Bill is drafted will mean that the Secretary of State has, in effect, to act in accordance with subsection (2). When we argue that that should be belt and braces underlined by appropriate wording in subsection (3), the Government argue that it is not an obligation in Clause 2, it is just something of which the Secretary of State has to take account. That does not add up, because the Government are arguing both ways at the same time. I suspect that the Minister, with his insight and objectivity and considerable intellect, which we all respect, knows that perfectly well. I am sure that the Government knew that perfectly well when they drafted the Bill.

If the Government are sincere that the Minister should act in accordance with the ideas—let us put it no more strongly than "the ideas"—expressed in subsection (2), I give this undertaking to the Minister. If between now and Third Reading the Government and the Opposition can get together and produce, for Clauses 2 and 3, some wording that makes it absolutely clear that the action has to be in line with ideas what would be the right thing to do—what is important, perhaps, in this situation—we on this side will fully co-operate with that process. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.