HL Deb 26 March 1998 vol 587 cc1402-19

7.43 p.m.

Lord Inge rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what are the key new legal and personnel issues facing the fighting services, and, in particular, whether there are any which will affect their ethos and operational effectiveness.

The noble and gallant Lord said: My Lords, I want to emphasise that I am not making any political points because some of the issues which I shall raise were in place before the present Government came to power.

I became increasingly aware during my time in Whitehall that we were battling on two fronts. The more obvious and public one was against the Treasury. The second was more difficult to define. It concerned the gradual and pervasive, but not necessarily intentional, undermining of the ethos and effectiveness of our three fighting services. This was in part due to legal regulation, quasi-moral attitudes, management speak, an apparent fixation on individual rights rather than individual responsibilities, and I think a lack of understanding about the realities of operational service. We should never forget that the raison d'être of our Armed Forces is to be prepared to go to war at short notice. People sign up to this as a statement, but they do not analyse what it means in reality.

The stark reality is that what is demanded of the military is unique because to be successful in war demands at times the total unconditional subordination of the interests of the individual to those of the group, if the needs or interests of the group demand it. This can of course lead to the surrender of life itself.

To be prepared for this reality, the Armed Forces need a disciplinary code that is tougher in certain respects than found in normal civilian life, but at the same time encourages self discipline. They also need hard, demanding, imaginative training with a degree of risk and an ethos and esprit de corps that stresses the importance of the group and not the individual, although great care is given to looking after the individual. I believe that it would be a mistake if the Armed Forces continue to introduce a management culture that seems to me to be one of deals and contracts rather than of community and commitment. They seem to be substituting peacetime market efficiency for operational military effectiveness and diluting the military culture through increasing civilianisation. Of course many civilian practices are admirable, but I know that the Armed Forces feel that they are costed but that their value, in particular their human value, is not understood.

So much for general points, my Lords. Let me highlight some specific issues, starting with military law and military discipline—key aspects of military effectiveness. The Armed Forces need a clear military chain of command which gives certain military commanders summary powers of punishment and is clearly understood by all ranks. Of course the Armed Forces must continue to be subject to the European Convention on Human Rights. But I am still not clear what the effect of its introduction into English law will have on the services system of summary jurisdiction and complaints procedure. If either of those change significantly, this will affect the relationship between the commander and those he or she commands.

I would add that enforcing military discipline and exercising military law makes heavy demands on commanders and, as General Hackett said, only a person of liberal mind is entitled to exercise coercion over others in a society of free men and free women.

The mention of law brings me to litigation. The first major indication of the problem posed by litigation was the large sums of compensation awarded to those servicewomen who became pregnant while still serving and who under the rules then in place were required to leave the service. Whatever the rights or wrongs of those particular cases, I know that they caused a great deal of resentment within the services.

I sense that there will be an increased use of litigation for accidents on training, given the loss of the Crown immunity. The problem is that we in the services do not want to develop cautious leaders. We need effective operational commanders. As I mentioned, training needs to be testing, and to contain a degree of risk. Only then will we give our fighting services the confidence and self-discipline necessary to prepare them for the shock and stress of battle. If we curb our commanders' initiative because of fear of litigation, the lives of our servicemen and servicewomen will be at greater risk. People are of course our most priceless asset, but in all I say please remember also the importance of the group.

Let me say a word about women in the services. This is inevitably a minefield because it is so easy to be misunderstood and misrepresented. I have the greatest respect for the quality, capability, intellect and mental strength of the women who are joining our Armed Forces. Their quality may well be higher on average than those of the men. But operations and the training necessary in peacetime mean that careful thought has to be given to the tasks given to women in war, for the cohesion of the group is all important.

Some years ago the Royal Navy, for manning reasons and because it seemed the right thing to do, decided to send women to sea other than in submarines. This policy is proving more difficult to implement than many expected. I am not saying that it will be changed or withdrawn, but we have to recognise the strains and stresses which this can mean not only for the women but for the commanders at the sharp end, and particularly if it means treating a small group with special care and differently. This will affect the cohesion of the team. We cannot ignore this as an issue, and certainly if it is necessary frequently to resort to punishment to make it work we have a problem. Before long, a decision will have to be made about whether women should be deployed at the front end of land battle; that is, in the Royal Armoured Corps and the Infantry. I have to say I wonder if that is sensible.

In addition, an increasing number of service personnel marry a fellow serviceman or woman and both remain in the service. Although that gives rise to some posting difficulties in peacetime, it is manageable. But what about the impact in war, particularly for those with children? Is it really responsible to deploy both parents on operations when one or both might be killed? The Americans had some difficulty with that during the Gulf War. There is also the problem, for example, of deploying to a Moslem country, where women sometimes cannot be deployed; that means that the team that has been built in peacetime has to be changed and split up at short notice. Men, on the same terms of service, have to move at short notice, perhaps at the expense of career courses.

The next personnel issue I wish to highlight is the need for the Armed Forces, like many other organisations, to attract more recruits from the ethnic minorities. Undoubtedly, there is a considerable pool of talent. The initiatives being mounted by the services are warmly to be welcomed and encouraged. The services must reflect the society of which they are a part. Of course, there are still some isolated pockets of prejudice to be overcome, but the service chiefs are to be commended on the positive and firm leadership that they have shown in this sensitive area. I would add that I wrote these remarks before I saw today's press. But we should not underestimate the challenge. Patience, understanding and time are required. In judging the success of this recruiting campaign, statistics alone will not be enough. It will be important not only to welcome the recruits from ethnic minorities, but at the same time make sure that they are not made to feel different or special. They have to be treated the same as everyone else. If they are treated with kid gloves for fear of litigation, media pressure or statistics, there will be resentment and, again, unit cohesion will suffer.

I turn now to the issue of homosexuals. Like so many personnel issues, this is highly sensitive and there are great pressures involved. I have absolutely nothing against homosexuals; I have no doubts about their loyalty to their country or their physical or moral courage. The key question we must ask is: what effect, because of their sexual orientation, will they have on the chain of command, and particularly on unit cohesion? I am afraid my sense is that it is likely to be a distorting and negative impact. The barrack room, tanks, ships and submarines are very different from the normal workplace.

I turn finally to European legislation and its effect on people. I am glad that common sense has prevailed and that the Armed Forces will not be subjected to the Working Time Directive in relation to working hours and rest hours. However, what about the Young Workers Directive and, under the social chapter, the Parental Leave Directive, which, if applied to the Armed Forces, would allow both husband and wife to take three months' unpaid leave up to eight years after the birth of a child. That will undoubtedly affect operational effectiveness.

I hope that I have given your Lordships a flavour of just some of the issues that are in danger of undermining the ethos of our fighting services. If taken together, they could have a seriously detrimental impact. These major issues are being addressed at a time of considerable overstretch and increased operational commitments. It would be a great step forward if the Strategic Defence Review, about which I hear very good reports, helped the Armed Forces to rediscover some of their deep self-confidence so that they can stand up for those differences on which they so much depend.

In this context, perhaps I may suggest to the Minister that it would be wonderful if the Strategic Defence Review started with a chapter explaining the central issues: the role of the Armed Forces; the reality of combat; the critical importance of ethos and morale; and why the Armed Forces need in some areas to be different. Those issues are as important as, if not more important than, the number of ships, guns, tanks and aircraft in our inventory, and they seem to be under greater threat.

7.54 p.m.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, perhaps I may start my remarks by saying that I completely agree with, and strongly support, what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, so wisely said in opening the debate. He has a lifetime of military experience, and we are most fortunate to have his counsel. I can confirm that he has brought to your Lordships' attention the very matters that concern and worry officers and non-commissioned officers at all levels in the Navy, Army and Air Force. I hope that some of my comments will give greater emphasis to the issues that the noble and gallant Lord has already addressed. First, I wish to touch on the Human Rights Bill and comment on a few of the articles of the Convention.

Article 2 states that everyone's right to life shall be protected. Does that mean that when troops are on operations, servicemen and women could refuse to remain at their place of duty because their life may be at risk? Will the Minister clarify the situation; and will he confirm that Article 5—on the right to liberty and security—will not impinge on military discipline; that Article 6—on the right to a fair trial—will not affect the lowest end of the military discipline rules for summary trial by a commanding officer; and will he also confirm that Article 10—on freedom of expression—will not be allowed to undermine loyalty and the high standards of conduct and self-discipline so essential to our Armed Forces.

I should now like to turn to some other matters. A draft United Nations optional protocol could prevent young people from joining the Armed Forces if they were under the age of 18. This would destroy the Army Foundation College and the school-leavers scheme. Her Majesty's Government should resist that at all costs, because, if this draft proposal should become law, it would not allow the Army to enlist young people as a first choice career on leaving school at the age of 16, but at 18 as a second career. That would inevitably affect recruiting, with the result that the Army would not be fully recruited in 2002, but some considerable time later.

Nothing should be imposed to slow down the current excellent recruiting effort if we are to ensure that servicemen and women and their families are happy individuals; are enjoying their role and the military way of life; are taking part in sport and adventure training; have more time with their families and time to learn more military skills, attend more courses and obtain civil qualifications. Fully recruited Armed Forces will provide retention and, in any event, those who do leave will do so as satisfied sailors, soldiers and airmen, who should draw others into the services.

Overstretch is at a critical level, and the Army is 5,000 personnel under strength. There are currently 4,000 established posts which cannot be filled. In addition, a further 2,000 posts have been identified over and above the existing establishment, and if the Army is to be run efficiently in the future, it needs to expand.

Finally, I welcome women in the services. The Army has 70 per cent. of its posts open to women, and let us see how they respond to those careers before we put them in armoured and infantry units.

The Strategic Defence Review will be not only of great importance to the United Kingdom, but of critical importance to the Armed Forces themselves. Countless officers, non-commissioned officers, men and women, have been staying in the services to evaluate how the Strategic Defence Review will affect them. There will be a great exodus, like a tidal wave, if the Strategic Defence Review results do not bring significant improvements and show positive proposals, or if it is presented in a poor and unimaginative way.

7.58 p.m.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, I have listened with very great respect to the words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge. My respect is increased by the fact that the highest rank I attained in the Armed Forces was that of a lieutenant in the Territorial Army. I do not want to deal, since I am not qualified to do so, with the personnel matters that he discussed. However, I do wish to deal briefly with the legal matters.

The noble and gallant Lord referred to the Human Rights Bill, as did, rather more specifically, the noble Lord, Lord Vivian. The alarm at the effect of the Human Rights Bill on the morale and efficiency of the Armed Services is, I believe, wholly unjustified. I should like to make four brief points on this matter.

First, the European Convention on Human Rights was drawn up 50 years ago, in the immediate aftermath of World War II and in the shadow of the Cold War. It is, therefore, extremely unlikely that its founding fathers would have wished to create a convention which would have sabotaged military discipline; nor, indeed, did they do so. Restrictions on the grounds of national security are permissible under Article 8, the right to respect for private and family life; Article 10. the right to freedom of expression; and Article 11, the right to freedom of assembly and association. Those restrictions must naturally be limited to what is necessary in a democratic society. There is, of course, the power to derogate from most articles of the Convention in time of war or public emergency.

Secondly, the European Convention has applied to the Armed Forces for years without any kind of disaster. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights itself gave an important decision in the Findlay case which held that the provisions for courts martial under the Army Act 1955 did not satisfy the requirements of Article 6 of the Convention for trial by an independent and impartial tribunal. That was so clearly the case that the previous government changed the procedure of the courts martial in all the services before the appeal was heard and decided. They did so by the Armed Forces Act 1996. We now have a fairer courts martial system and I have heard no recent evidence that it has damaged discipline.

The European Court has recognised that the rights of members of the forces are not necessarily the same as the rights of civilians. In the crucial case of Engel v. Netherlands 1976, it held, for example, that an order for confinement of a soldier to barracks was not a deprivation of liberty in breach of Article 5. It held that proceedings for breach of military discipline carrying a maximum sentence of two to three weeks of military detention was not criminal proceedings for the purposes of Article 6.

Thirdly, the effect of the Human Rights Bill is to make the Convention rights applicable in the United Kingdom. The questions will be triable by British judges. The noble and gallant Lord speaking in the debate will know the noble and learned Lords who are current or retired Lords of Appeal. Many may know judges at lower levels. Do they seriously think that those people are likely to interpret Convention rights in ways which will destroy discipline? There may be some barrack room lawyers who will try their luck in the first few months of the Human Rights Act being in force, but they will not succeed.

Finally, it is not right that recruits should be deprived of the rights enjoyed by the rest of society, save to the extent inherent in military life. I do not believe, for example, that the prohibition of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment is likely to damage morale. What this country needs are forces made up of highly skilled, well-educated volunteers. I do not believe that the proposed legal changes will have any detrimental effect on the morale of the forces.

8.2 p.m.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, few noble Lords would contest that the primary requirement of the Armed Forces is to be so organised, disciplined, trained and motivated that they can carry out effectively their duty to protect this country's interests and uphold and support its foreign policy, albeit often in conjunction with others.

Of course, the Armed Forces cannot be, nor should they ever consider themselves to be, above the law of the land or what has come to be accepted as international law and conventions. But it would be rather absurd to pretend that some of the more minor and peripheral articles in the European Convention on Human Rights and other social trends already mentioned by my noble and gallant friend should apply quite to the same extent to the Armed Forces whose whole professional ethos is and must be based on discipline, instant obedience and total commitment as they do to those in civilian occupations largely free from the same obligations.

Of course, any good commanding officer concerned about achieving the highest morale would take a keen interest in the stresses and strains imposed on their command and would do all they could to alleviate them. But in a disciplined, totally committed force, such things as hours of work and separation from families must be controlled by the exigencies of the service rather than by articles of a convention. One of the first qualities of a soldier is fortitude in enduring fatigue and hardship, and that implies a fairly exacting way of life.

Even freedom of speech—a much more basic and essential human right which no one would contest—must, in the interests of loyalty, security and consistent policies, have some restraints imposed on it. That applies not only, of course, to the Armed Forces, but to other public servants as well. Woe betide any member of the Armed Forces or public servant who openly criticise the way government Ministers might be mishandling a particular defence issue. I remember well the last Labour government—when the late Lord Mulley was in charge and the noble Lord. Lord Gilbert, was one of his Ministers—coming to the firm conclusion that trade unions had no part to play in the everyday life of our Armed Forces. So adjustments in personal freedoms and human rights have been made in the past—and rightly so—and, I suggest, should continue to be made if the ethos of military service is not to be diminished and operational effectiveness weakened.

Nor can one "kick the problem into touch"—and here I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhartmerely by saying that those articles would be of no consequence in peacetime and in war there would be the machinery, temporarily, to suspend them. Make no mistake, a conflict of interest between the chain of command and certain legal issues, as well as other "in vogue" social issues such as those already mentioned, could well exist at all times. The war criterion really has no meaning. Fighting men have to train realistically for war and in the last 50 years, although technically at peace, the Armed Forces have experienced a more or less continuous period of active operations which have required the same qualities of total commitment as all-out war demands.

Finally, noble Lords should remember that we are not talking about the Armed Forces at the end of a period of military defeats and disasters. For 50 years they have scarcely put a foot wrong, as so many military operations around the world have illustrated. They also have a reputation, certainly in comparison with other countries, for having positive and intelligent leadership, humane discipline and a sense of compassion for those swept up in conflict. So the way they have been professionally prepared must be largely on the right lines.

Moreover, as the Falklands, the Gulf and Bosnia have shown, the right ethos and motivation, and the willingness to take risks, to face danger and put their lives on the line, are often required from a standing start and cannot be created overnight. The sad thing is that the Ministry of Defence and the whole chain of command now seem to be spending more time and energy fretting about whether everyone is exactly in line with the latest management theories and social trends—undoubtedly desirable though some of those are in a wider context—than on creating the right conditions for high morale.

I too therefore ask the Government to bear in mind the unique military ethos so essential for Armed Forces before taking on board new articles or trends—many of them emanating from Europe—which would inevitably slightly dilute and weaken that ethos.

8.7 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, for introducing this Unstarred Question. I agree with him, but one phrase leaves me with uncertainty. He mentioned the total and unconditional surrender of rights. Death in action is that surrender, the final surrender. I remind noble Lords, if they need reminding, that we are free-born Englishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen, Northern Irishmen or United Kingdom citizens. I should like to extend and see extended all the rights that every single citizen in the United Kingdom enjoys and receives.

I, for one, was proud to take part in the votes in favour of the Human Rights Bill, which was piloted through your Lordships' House by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, supported by my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill and others from these Benches. I listened with interest to the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, who said that the Bill would be damaging to the Armed Forces. I do not recall seeing in the newspapers or hearing through the grapevine the current chiefs of staff making any recommendations or serious objections to the Ministers in charge. Perhaps when he comes to wind up, the Minister will let us know whether that was the case. Did the chiefs of staff take up their right to see the Prime Minister? If not, why not? I assume, therefore, that the Human Rights Bill has, and will have, no deleterious effect on the ethos of the Armed Forces.

I was privileged to be a sub-unit commander and I dealt with cases summarily. I was advised by the NCOs in my command and listened to the soldiers state their case. I was the prosecuting counsel, obviously, the defending counsel and the jury. If the soldier was not satisfied he took his case up a chain of command and that chain of command worked. It always has and always will work. If it does not work, it could result in the disgraceful and unfortunate event of a mutiny.

There are two aspects that destroy the ethos of the Armed Forces—bullying and drugs. I look forward with interest to hear from the Minister how those can be totally eradicated from the Armed Forces. If we do not eradicate them, we are in trouble. I believe that every United Kingdom citizen has the right, whatever be his or her race, gender, creed or sexual orientation, to be treated fairly and honourably.

Finally, I was privileged to be part of the parliamentary all-party defence group. We travelled to British Forces, Germany. I was, as always, vastly impressed by the leadership and command from lieutenant-general down to trooper or private. I did not once hear any worries or concerns and assume, therefore, that the ethos and the good order of the Armed Forces is in splendid hands. I look forward to a strategic defence review and to answers to the questions I posed tonight to the Minister.

8.11 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I rise to make a few observations of a philosophical kind on the line taken by my noble and gallant friend in asking his Question this evening. I realise that a philosophical discourse in three minutes is probably a rash endeavour, but I shall take a point of departure like his; that is, that service in the Armed Forces is a unique profession. It is unique in the precise sense of that word—there is literally no other occupation like it, if only for one reason, which has already been mentioned.

It carries with it what has been described by one of our more distinguished wartime generals as "unlimited liability". That is not a phrase used in the grand strategy sense that Liddell Hart might have used it, but meaning that it is only in the profession of arms that the individual undertakes to give his life if it becomes necessary to do so. Rather surprisingly, Clausewitz once wrote that war is like a game in which competitors stake their lives instead of their money. Whether or not one accepts that somewhat unfeeling analogy, it is from this acceptance of the unlimited liability that the whole ethos of the military profession is derived.

It calls for certain qualities, conventions and practices which are not required—or required to a lesser extent—in any other walk of life. One of those, perhaps the most important as my noble and gallant friend said, is a clearly defined command structure—not a management structure—linking the highest commander to the private soldier, sailor and airman; and within that command structure the morale, discipline and effectiveness of the Armed Forces requires an assumption, as my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall said, of prompt and unquestioning obedience to lawful commands—and that may be at any time of day or night, not just during the hours of business.

It is not immediately obvious to me how one applies some of the quite proper and valid standards and regulations of civilian life to a highly specialised and closely-knit organisation of that kind. Perfectly respectable concepts, like the minimum wage, the working week and equal opportunities, may not always be conducive to the efficient administration of the Armed Forces. It is certainly true that the practices and procedures of business management are often totally irrelevant to the exercise of command.

With that as a background I should have liked to pick up on some of the detailed points made so far during the course of the debate. But time is against me and against all of us this evening in this important exchange of views. Instead, perhaps I may say that I look forward with some confidence and a degree of optimism to the results of the Strategic Defence Review. If what one has heard from various sources is to be believed, we have reason to be confident about the results. However, I should like to offer the Minister a quotation from Professor Cyril Falls, the great military historian and analyst, from his book The Art of War—an indispensable work for anyone who seeks to understand the unique ethos of the military profession. He said, the leader is concerned with a vital element, as sensitive as a violin string and as likely to snap from wear, climate or mishandling, the morale of the men who fight under his orders". We mishandle that element at our peril. As my noble and gallant friend Lord Inge said, one of the essential qualities of leadership in the Armed Forces is boldness and resolution. If, by misunderstanding the nature of the military ethos, we breed a race of cautious leaders, constantly looking over their shoulders in fear of pursuit by barrack-room lawyers, we shall be in serious danger of demoralising the men and women upon whom we depend for our national security.

8.16 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, I rise with some diffidence to speak on a defence matter because in the many years I have been in this House I have never done so before. But I intend to follow closely on what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, and to speak entirely philosophically. I intend to mention one or two matters about which my late father thought. That may be considered decidedly improper, but as he was widely considered to be a distinguished military leader, I felt that some of his military philosophy might be appropriate. I have no way of knowing—I hope the good Lord will spare me a little longer before we meet in the afterlife—whether my father would disapprove entirely of what I am about to say. But, having grown up in his shadow, studied his philosophy and both lectured and written on it, I felt that two points might be made.

First, Monty—it is easy to refer to him as such because that is how he was universally known—was thought by his critics to be cautious. But that so-called caution stemmed from his experiences in World War I where he experienced and saw the appalling and totally unnecessary carnage that took place. That shocked him. Indeed, he was badly wounded at the time and almost buried. I am always grateful for the fact that he was not put into the grave that was dug for him, and perhaps other people may feel likewise.

What he learnt from that was that the individual frequently had to be sacrificed for the good of the group. His philosophy was based on the fact that casualties were inevitable, but if he planned the battle and dictated its terms as he wanted them, they could be minimised to achieve the victory. It was that confidence-building measure that was a major plank of his strategy and his philosophy about war, which he took great trouble to explain to all his soldiers. Of course, he was not without critics, but they were generally among his superiors and other generals.

I now turn to morale, which was mentioned by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, and other Members of your Lordships' House. Monty considered that morale was the single most important battle-winning factor. "You do not have to tell the soldiers all the truth, but everything you tell them must be the truth". It was that confidence-building measure that was very much at the heart of his philosophy and was vital to the success of his campaigns. If he had been here he might have taken as his text a favourite and much-quoted verse from the Corinthians: If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle". It is against that background that I ask the Government to think carefully and be cautious in all matters which affect the morale and operational efficiency of our Armed Forces.

8.19 p.m.

The Earl of Effingham

My Lords, there are a number of areas of concern in the Human Rights Bill but I will deal with the most crucial, Article 6. It states that anyone charged with a criminal offence, is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal". As your Lordships know only too well, the services, by necessity, have their own judicial and disciplinary system to deal with offences fairly, openly and speedily. Whether it is on a warship at sea, or an army or air force unit on active service abroad, there is not the luxury of being able to send people home, or suspend them on pay, while disciplinary offences are dealt with. It means matters can be dealt with in a timely fashion and, most importantly, justice is seen to be done by all concerned, thereby reinforcing discipline and avoiding, in many cases, individuals having to be removed from their duties.

Summary disciplinary proceedings in the Royal Navy, the service I know best, mirror as closely as possible the procedures in our magistrates' courts, but with one crucial exception. The person hearing the case is the accused's commanding officer. While those of us who have served in Her Majesty's forces know only too well how every commanding officer in each service approaches his disciplinary duties both impartially and with an independent mind, some may have a very different perception, as we have already heard. How can it be said, they would argue, that a person's line manager is an independent tribunal? Allied with this is the right, to be enshrined in the Bill, for an accused, to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require". Are the services to fly lawyers out to ships at sea and units abroad? Are they to delay trials, or fly personnel back to the United Kingdom? All are equally unpalatable. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, was very clear on the subject in the case of Fraser and Mudge in 1975 when he said: It seems to me that disciplinary cases fall into a very different category. We all know that when a man is brought up before his commanding officer for a breach of discipline, whether in the armed forces or in ships at sea, it has never been the practice to allow legal representation. It is of the first importance that the cases should he decided quickly. If legal representation were allowed, it would mean considerable delay … They must he heard and decided speedily". I am not suggesting we deny our servicemen the right to have recourse to that European law. What I believe we must do is to tackle these issues now, openly and honestly, before the Bill undermines the military discipline and, ultimately, the operational effectiveness of our services.

If our officers and NCOs serving in the Gulf, Bosnia or Belfast have to look over their shoulders for lawyers in order to maintain discipline at each juncture, they will soon become no match for tyrants like Saddam Hussein, who cares little for the rights of his own soldiers, let alone our own legal niceties. That is what the Bill could mean.

8.23 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, this has been a useful debate. I wish to make only two points: the first is rather philosophical and the second relates to the question of ethnic minorities in the services. First, I have been a little concerned about the question of NATO enlargement. I am conscious that one of the conditions NATO is attaching to enlargement is that the Armed Forces of applicant states should be clearly under civilian control and should, as far as possible, reflect the democratic values of the societies which they wish to defend. That is a principle which all Armed Forces should observe.

We have had problems within the past few years; with the Spanish Armed Forces until after the death of Franco; with the Greek Armed Forces with members of NATO in the 1970s, and to some extent—one has to say it sadly and delicately—with the Turkish Armed Forces still today. There is an unavoidable tension. When one talks about the need for military discipline for the cohesion of the group, one nevertheless needs to make sure as far as possible that Armed Forces should be rooted in the societies which they defend and should as far as possible reflect the values of the societies which they defend. That is not entirely easy when what we need now in a post-Cold War world is small, highly trained, mobile forces willing to operate in foreign countries, if necessary for extended periods of time. It is much easier to do that with civilian citizen armies recruited en masse, of the kind we had 50 to 100 years ago.

The Territorial Army remains as one of the most useful links between our small regulars and our larger society. That is one of the things which we need to note in the Strategic Defence Review. It is precisely the territorial links which the British armed services have had that has helped to make sure that our armed services have continued to reflect the values of our society. As the values of our society change, so necessarily the values of our Armed Forces have somewhat to change with them. I doubt whether social change, in particular changes between the sexes—as people get married and hope to have two careers—will permit continuing dependence on such long-term recruitment of servicemen. I suspect we will need to move back towards a larger proportion of our armed services who are young people, not yet married, and not yet encumbered with children. Armed services with wives and children are costlier.

Every time I walk along the Royal Gallery I see the picture of HMS "Victory" at Trafalgar, and I notice two things. First, it had women on board; and, secondly, the sailor who is pointing to the marine who shot Nelson is black. They do not seem to have had too many problems in reflecting some odd bits of their society while still maintaining discipline.

I was glad to receive today a copy of the Armed Forces agreement with the Commissioner for Racial Equality under which it establishes a five year partnership with the Armed Forces to promote racial equality practices across all of the services. If there were a proportion of our Armed Forces which reflected accurately the proportion of ethnic minorities in British society, the short-fall of 5,000 recruits which we have would be much less than it is today. If the regulars reflected the composition of the cadet forces, the short-fall would be much less than it is today.

I welcome that agreement. This is one of the ways in which the Armed Forces have to change and are changing. The nature of the military ethos, the cohesion of the group, has to be blended in civil values. I hope the Minister will confirm that the agreement with the Commission for Racial Equality takes us a useful step further forward in that direction.

8.27 p.m.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, a number of the speakers in the debate have naturally found that the expression of their gratitude to the noble and gallant Lord for introducing this debate must be truncated because of the shortage of time. I have undertaken to do it for them. It is an extremely important subject and we must hope that the Strategic Defence Review, which is being signed this week, will be put together in the context of keeping the men and women of the Armed Forces happy and confident about their future.

The successful manipulation of legal and personnel issues plays a large part in the maintenance of the fighting spirit and morale of the Armed Forces. At present, this is still remarkably high even after the events of the past 10 years. In 1990 the Berlin wall came down. Since then we have had the Gulf War with problems alleged to have been caused by chemical agents. We have had Options for Change, the Defence Costs Studies and now the Strategic Defence Review. We shall be talking about the Territorial Army in three weeks' time. Therefore, I shall leave that on one side.

Noble Lords have tonight touched on all the obvious issues. Courts martial and military discipline generally; ethnic matters; homosexuality; women in combat and particularly at sea, have all raised problems which were unknown as recently as the time when the wall came down. Regarding women at sea, the problem has largely gone away, in spite of what the papers say. Of course there are still bad eggs of both sexes, but they are few. Even the equally serious matter of the morale of wives left at home is now much less evident than it was a year or so ago.

On the coloured question, I understand that recently a corporal in the Corps of Drums in the Coldstream Guards in Germany refused to come home to appear in the group of coloured men in the Services who were displayed to the press. He is alleged to have said, "If the whole Corps of Drums comes over, I will do so; but I am not going to be singled out". Another drummer, when offered a post as a drummer, said that his great-grandfather, who had fought at Rorke's Drift, would be turning in his grave to see him. The British have a number of coloured men and women in their Forces. Those two are certainly very happy where they are.

Morale is remarkably high even though the Services are so over-pressed. There is a feeling that training is being sidelined due to the almost continuous tours of duty. Nevertheless, much remains to be done and a lot of it is easy and cheap. For instance, the takeover of NAAFI by SPAR has led to a poor selection of British food in Germany and higher prices. This could easily he cured.

But the main cause of complaint is the lack of toys to play with. The Army Air Corps, with new equipment, is all right, but the artillery cannot fire their guns and there are no tanks to drive—at least until Challenger 2 is fully operational. The number of tanks is a major issue in SDR. but this is rather different. In Northern Ireland the men are not out on the streets. They must be in the Province, but they are bored—not only the infantry but other arms which are filling an infantry role.

In the late 1990s the separation of men and women from their families is not so easily accepted as it was 50 years ago. HMS "Invincible" has just come back from the Gulf. She was due back before Christmas until the Iraq crisis intervened. The Royal Navy took many of the families out to the more salubrious areas to join the servicemen. That did something to keep them happy, but such duties as 90-day submarine trips do not make the wives happy, and great pressure is put on the older and more experienced men to come out of the Service. But the Services themselves and the Government which control the men's lives must make every effort to see that they are happy; that they have a career structure and that when they come out they will get good employment. Without that, the present position, where the three Services are punching well above their weight in the league table of the world's armies, will cease to exist.

In conclusion, I say one thing to the Minister and his colleague, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. In terms of morale remember Guardsmen Wright and Fisher.

8.32 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert)

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, I thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, for giving us the opportunity for this debate, which is very welcome to Her Majesty's Government. Normally, I would begin my remarks in your Lordships' House by going through the various speeches made in the debate, but I thought that on this particular occasion I would like to start with a couple of points that I particularly want to get on the record. If I do not have time to refer to the speeches of all noble Lords in detail, I am sure that they will accept my assurance that I shall be writing to them about any points that I have not dealt with.

I begin with reference to a subject touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire; namely, the agreement that has just been announced between the CRE and the Army and their five-year partnership agreement. That is extremely good news. There are one or two quotations from Sir Herman Ouseley, the chairman of the Commission, which I believe your Lordships will welcome. He said that the Commission fully recognised the leadership being shown at the top of the Armed Forces was a, model of leadership in action". He described the Army's outreach work as exemplary and leadership on promoting racial equality policies at the top of each Service was seen by the CRE as an "example to all". Needless to say, Her Majesty's Government are absolutely delighted that the CRE felt able to make remarks like that. My colleague, the Minister for Armed Forces in the other place, has described the five-year partnership as an indication of the Services' determination to build on the progress that has been made and to ensure that any old habits do not return.

In that context, I should also like to inform your Lordships that we are improving the amount of racial awareness training being given to officers in all three Services. The current position is that all staff at brigadier level or the equivalent and who have responsibility for managing civil servants, must attend Civil Service-run equal opportunities awareness courses. As from 1st July this year, when the new Service Equal Opportunities Training facility at Shrivenham comes into operation, every service officer—I repeat, every service officer—of Brigadier rank or equivalent and above will be required to take equal opportunities training there. We place extreme importance on that. As noble Lords may have seen from recent press reports, the lead is going to be taken by the Chief of the Defence Staff himself who has expressed his own personal intention of attending one of these courses.

It is not often that Defence Ministers have been able to come to the Dispatch Box in this House and bring good news about recruitment to your Lordships. I am glad to say, although we by no means believe that we are out of the tunnel yet, that the Army is set to declare its best recruiting results since 1991. We have a predicted achievement rate of 97 per cent. of targets for officers and 88 per cent. for soldiers. I hope that your Lordships will agree with me that that is an extraordinary achievement, particularly when it is set against the continuing pattern at the moment of improvement in the United Kingdom economy and falls in unemployment still being reported every month.

I now turn to some of the points made by noble Lords in this debate. Of course, Her Majesty's Government accept the need for a clear chain of command and for the power of summary punishment. as the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Inge and Lord Bramall, mentioned. He said that he was not clear as to the effects of the Human Rights Bill on the complaints procedure and on summary jurisdiction within Her Majesty's Forces. I believe that there is a lot of confusion about this. It is not only the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, who, quite understandably, has difficulties with it.

As I understand the effect of this Bill, it does nothing more than say that rights that have existed ever since the United Kingdom signed up to the Convention on Human Rights many years ago will now be accessible in the first instance through the courts in this country without people having to go to Europe to get enforcement of those rights. In other words, there is absolutely no change whatever as a result of this Bill in the rights of servicemen or in disciplinary procedures.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for giving me detailed notice of what he was going to say today. Perhaps he will permit me to read out to your Lordships passages from a letter that my honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces wrote to him a few days ago. It might make the situation clearer to all noble Lords. My honourable friend wrote, I can assure [the noble Lord] that the Human Rights Bill will have no direct effect on the courts-martial procedure system, which will remain the proper route for dealing with disciplinary charges against Service personnel. The Human Rights Bill will not allow Service personnel to elect for trial by a civil court, thereby bypassing the military system". A little later on in the final paragraph of Dr. Reid's letter to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, he wrote, I can assure you that [the Ministry of Defence] has been giving very careful consideration to the possible implications for the Armed Forces of the Human Rights Bill. The Armed Forces have been subject to the Convention since 1953". The situation is no different from what it has been as far as the rights of servicemen and the responsibilities of servicemen and disciplinary procedures in force since 1953.

The letter also states: the Human Rights Bill does not change their substantive rights under the Convention. The way in which the Convention is interpreted can, however, change over time in response to individuals' changing expectations and changes in society generally. That is something which we will therefore need to keep under review". With those quotations from my honourable friend's letter, I hope that I have managed to lay to rest some of the fears which noble Lords have expressed this evening.

I believe that it was also the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, who asked about the parental leave directive. I am briefed that it will apply to the services once it is adopted under the social chapter. We are not able to renegotiate directives which have been made under that chapter, but we can request postponements of people asking for their three months' leave; but that is only one three-month period in the eight years after the birth of a child.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, although I am quite unable to follow him in all the legal precedents that he quoted for your Lordships' illumination. I understand that the position that he laid out was precisely that of Her Majesty's Government. He gave chapter and verse of why he thought the proposed legal changes would have no detrimental effect on discipline. That is certainly the view of Ministers.

The noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, asked whether or not the Chiefs of Staff asked to see the Prime Minister. If they did, I am not aware of it and I think that I would have known about it if they had. The noble Earl said that the eradication of bullying and drugs was essential. That must be the objective of all of us, as is the eradication of racial prejudice. I have given examples of the leadership which the forces are giving in this respect. I only wish that I could give guarantees that bullying and drugs will be permanently eradicated but. unfortunately, that is not the human condition.

The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, asked how we would apply standards of civilian life to the forces, if I understood him correctly from the notes that I made of his speech. I must make it clear that we are not required under the legislation to apply standards to the forces that we think inappropriate.

I welcome the noble Viscount. Lord Montgomery of Alamein, to his maiden speech in a defence debate. I hope that we hear many more from him in the years ahead. I do not think that any Member of this House would dissent from a single word that he said, drawing as he was fortunately able to do on the experience of his father. I do not think that any Member of your Lordships' House or serving officer would dissent from the proposition that morale is the single most important battle-winning factor.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has been taking all the matters raised by your Lordships into account when formulating his proposals for the strategic defence review. I regret that I have to ask your Lordships to be a little patient. It will not be long before the review reaches the public gaze. I was a little startled, however, to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, that it would be signed this week. That was news to me, but perhaps the noble Lord knows things that I do not know. It would not be the first time.

Lord Burnham

My Lord, I was determined not to get up because I know that the Minister is short of time. I understand that I am right, but an awful lot of things need to be done before it is published, including involving the Treasury.

Lord Gilbert

Indeed, my Lords, it is Thursday evening now and if it is to be signed this week, all that I can say is that somebody will have to get their skates on.

Finally, I cannot help but thank again the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, for saying that morale is remarkably high in Her Majesty's forces. I recall, however, that that is not quite the message that he gave on a previous occasion at the Dispatch Box, but I shall refrain from dilating any longer on that point.

If I have not managed to cover all the concerns raised by your Lordships I undertake to write to noble Lords in the next few days. I assure the House that the points made about the necessity of maintaining morale and the importance of discipline are matters of which all Her Majesty's Ministers and all leaders of the Armed Forces are totally seized.