HL Deb 23 April 2001 vol 625 cc12-28

3.10 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Much of the Bill is concerned with the statutory framework for the system of discipline in the Armed Forces. Discipline is an essential ingredient of the operational effectiveness of the Armed Forces. Everyone in the Armed Forces fully understands that to be the case.

In this country we properly take pride in the fact that our forces are disciplined. We rightly take pride in their excellence. The connection between sound discipline and excellence is a very real one. It is vital, therefore, for us to ensure that the discipline part of the equation is right.

The statutory basis for discipline in the Armed Forces is the Army and Air Force Acts 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957—collectively known as the service discipline Acts. They have to be renewed every five years, otherwise they would expire. The single most important purpose of Armed Forces Bills is to effect that renewal.

The service discipline Acts were last renewed by the Armed Forces Act 1996 and will expire at the end of this year. The present Bill, when passed into law, will give them a further five-year lease of life.

I know that the Government's commitment to move towards a tri-service Act is of interest to your Lordships. At Second Reading of this Bill in another place, my honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, John Spellar, set out our intentions on that. We intend to have the necessary provisions included as part of the five-yearly Bill that we expect to be introduced in the 2005–06 Session. It was never the intention to use the present Bill for that purpose.

The present legislation has served the Armed Forces well. However, there is scope for improvement, not least to facilitate the administration of discipline in a joint service environment. That will need a new legislative framework, in the form of a single discipline Act.

Developing that is a substantial and important task. The new Act, covering all three services, needs to be more than the sum of the present parts. It will be vital to get it right, and that will take time. Our Armed Forces deserve no less. As Sir Michael Boyce, the Chief of the Defence Staff, told the Select Committee that considered the Bill in another place, we need, to make sure that we did not lose the baby with the bathwater". The Select Committee recommended that the tri-service legislation should be brought before Parliament within three years. The Government will, of course, examine the feasibility of doing so, but it will remain our overriding objective to ensure that the legislation will form an appropriate basis for the services' discipline requirements in the future. I am sure that your Lordships would not expect us to do otherwise.

Returning to the Bill, Clause 1 allows the life of the service discipline Acts to be extended for a further five years, until the end of 2006. As now, that will be subject to annual renewal in the intervening period by the affirmative continuation orders debated in both Houses.

Like previous five-yearly Armed Forces Bills, the Bill before your Lordships proposes a number of changes to existing legislation—the service discipline Acts and other Acts. Those changes are proposed because, in the light of experience, we believe that they will help to make the system operate more effectively.

It has been the policy of successive administrations to aim to keep in step with developments in the civilian system as far as many procedures relating to the investigation, trial and punishment of offences are concerned. That is eminently sensible. Many of those developments are designed to secure the proper balance between the rights and duties of the prosecution and the accused. It is right that, where possible and provided that they are relevant, such developments should be reflected in the Armed Forces' procedures. Much of the rest of the Bill is about that.

The more serious offences under the service discipline Acts are investigated by the service police. I should make it clear here that I am referring to the Royal Navy Regulating Branch, the Royal Marines Police, the Royal Military Police and the RAF Police. We shall come to the Ministry of Defence Police later in the Bill. We are not talking about it now.

The service police generally operate in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, much in the way that civilian police do. Indeed, some provisions of PACE, such as those dealing with fingerprinting, already apply to the service police. However, in certain areas the service police investigate offences on the basis of commanding officers" inherent powers rather than on any statutory basis. We consider that the basis on which service police exercise those functions needs to be clarified by being put on to a statutory footing. That will enable the service police and those with whom they deal to have a clear understanding of the limits of those powers. That is dealt with in Clauses 2 to 16. Clause 2 defines the circumstances in which a member of the service police may stop and search someone subject to service law, or stop and search service and certain other vehicles, such as when there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that a search will reveal items such as stolen goods or controlled drugs.

Service police are to be found in most major units, but they are not everywhere. It may sometimes be necessary for a search to be undertaken when they are not available. Clause 4 therefore provides residual powers for commanding officers to exercise the powers described in Clause 2 through members of the Armed Forces who are not service police, but only if the timely assistance of the police cannot be secured. Inevitably, the investigation of an offence may call for a search of someone's living accommodation. In such circumstances, Clause 5 will require a member of the service police to apply for a warrant from a judicial officer.

As many of your Lordships know, Clause 6 generated some interest in another place, because it provides powers for the service police in relation to warrants for certain sensitive materials, including journalistic materials. However, it came to be seen as part of the package, reflecting the civilian provisions needed to instil certainty in this general area of service police investigations. In particular, once it was understood that the clause provides the additional safeguards applicable to such materials as are available in the civilian system, the Select Committee in another place noted Clause 6 as, "a positive step".

Clause 7 provides a residual power for a commanding officer to authorise a search of living accommodation by members of the Armed Forces who are not service police, or by service police without a warrant, but only if calling on the service police or obtaining a warrant is not practicable. The power is not exercisable in relation to Clause 6, when a warrant will always be required.

Clause 8 makes the exercise of the commanding officer's powers to authorise a search subject to retrospective review by a judicial officer if anything has been seized during the search.

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

Clause 10 deals with the powers of search exercisable following arrest. It allows an arrested person to be searched if there are reasonable grounds for believing that he or she may be a danger to himself or herself or to others. It also provides for searches for evidence or for things that may aid an escape.

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

Part 3 makes a number of proposals for the reform of the procedures for the trial and punishment of offences under the service discipline Acts. Clause 17 will make it possible to deal summarily with relatively minor offences committed by naval officers. Essentially, this will bring the Royal Navy into line with the other two services.

At present within the services only officers may sit as courts-martial members. The Select Committee in another place, which examined the previous Armed Forces discipline Bill, considered whether other ranks should also be eligible. However, it did not reach any firm conclusions. The previous administration subsequently established a review of the issue.

Following that, in 1998 Ministers announced that we wished courts martial to benefit from the wisdom and experience of warrant officers. Therefore, Clause 19 proposes changes to the legislation to allow warrant officers to sit as courts-martial members in cases where the accused is of a lower rank.

Clause 20 provides a power to extend membership of the summary appeal courts to warrant officers. That is in recognition of the views expressed by Opposition Members in another place during the passage of the Armed Forces discipline Act in the previous Session. We do not believe that it would be appropriate to make warrant officers members of the summary appeal courts immediately. Before taking a view in due course as to whether they should be eligible to sit on the summary appeal courts, we want, first, to obtain more experience of those new courts in operation and to gain experience of warrant officers as courts-martial members.

The remainder of Part 3 proposes adjustments to bring certain of our trial procedures into line with those of the civilian courts. Some of those are intended to assist the service courts to operate more effectively. Others aim to help in getting the right balance between the prosecution and the accused and between the wrongdoer and the community. For example, Clause 21 will enable the Attorney-General to invite the Courts-Martial Appeal Court to review a sentence passed by a court martial if he considers that the sentence is unduly lenient. That reflects a similar power in relation to sentences of the civilian courts and, indeed, will apply only to the type of offences dealt with by civilian courts; in other words, the new power will not apply to purely service offences, such as disobedience.

I know that some of your Lordships have expressed concerns about Clause 21. But nothing in this proposal will affect the authority of courts martial any more than do the existing rights of the accused to appeal. However, in the very few cases where we expect the new power to be used, the aim will be to see that justice is done and that the authority and credibility of the system as a whole are upheld.

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

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

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

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

Civilian courts have powers to award costs against parties in a criminal case or against their legal representatives. That applies where the court considers that the case has been conducted in a way that results in the other side incurring unnecessary expenditure. However, there are no corresponding powers available to service courts, and there is now evidence that they are needed. Therefore, Clauses 26, 27 and 28 give appropriate powers to service courts, similar to those which are already available to civilian courts.

Clause 30 will enable procedures to be introduced to allow an accused to apply for bail pending the outcome of an appeal against a custodial sentence awarded by service courts. There is no reason for the services to continue to differ from civilian procedures in that regard.

Before I move on to Part 4, I want to mention Clause 33. This clause is of a piece with much of what has already been discussed in your Lordships' House with regard to the Armed Forces discipline Bill. It aims to bring service procedures further into line with relevant changes in the civilian criminal justice system.

One way in which to do so is to ensure that criminal justice legislation extends to the services where appropriate. Sometimes legislation immediately applies to the Armed Forces, but that is not always achievable. The complexity of much criminal justice legislation and the sometimes substantial differences between service and civilian arrangements can make it difficult to provide the necessary provision for the services in civilian legislation.

Some Acts, such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, provide powers which allow certain of their provisions to be extended to the Armed Forces by secondary legislation. In this case, the power is generally couched in terms that the provisions may be modified to cater for the special requirements of the services. However, we still find instances where the civilian procedures have been altered but where we have no powers to follow suit, even though we wish to do so. We must wait for the next five-yearly Bill.

Clause 33 provides a means for enabling us to respond in a more timely manner. It will allow the Secretary of State to use statutory instruments to apply future changes in civilian criminal justice legislation—and only criminal justice legislation—to the services. That will be on the basis of making equivalent provision with modifications.

It is important to bear in mind that the provisions that we shall seek to extend to the services by virtue of Clause 33 will already have been scrutinised by Parliament. Nevertheless, I know that the House will expect the power to be used sensibly, and I can assure your Lordships that that is exactly what we intend.

Part 4 deals with the Ministry of Defence Police. This is a civilian police force, some 3,500 strong, within the Ministry of Defence. Its purpose is to provide effective policing of the defence estate and community. At the risk of labouring the point, I remind your Lordships that the force should not be confused with the service police, whom I discussed earlier.

The Ministry of Defence Police is defined in the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987. It became an executive agency within the Ministry of Defence in April 1996. The House will wish to note that shortly we intend to announce its formal quinquennial review. The review will examine whether the MDP should remain as an agency and ways in which its performance can be improved. The review will range widely in pursuing that remit and, among other issues, will address the role and composition of the Ministry of Defence Police Committee. That is a matter in which I know that a number of your Lordships are very interested, and it was, of course, considered by the Select Committee of the Bill in another place

MDP officers possess constabulary powers. Their training is very similar to that of Home Office police officers. The force is subject to inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, and the Bill now proposes that it should be put on to a statutory footing. Its officers provide for the security of a range of defence assets, especially where there is a likelihood of contact with the public or with civilian employees.

The image of the MDP as an essentially static force based at defence establishments no longer holds true. The force now includes mobile teams responsible for a number of establishments. Inevitably, transiting from one defence establishment to another brings such MDP officers into greater contact with the public than was the case previously.

That has consequences for our expectations about the way in which members of the force will act. If a member of the public is, for example, the victim of an assault, he or she may expect a passing police officer in uniform to assist. It is of no concern to the victim whether the police officer belongs to the MDP or the local constabulary.

However, the current law does not allow an MDP officer to exercise constabulary powers when intervening in such circumstances, except neat defence land and at the request of a Home Department police officer; otherwise, he or she has the same standing in relation to the incident as any other citizen. That is not at all satisfactory. It can inhibit the officer from assisting effectively, because he or she knows that any actions may subsequently be challenged.

The Bill seeks to remedy that. Clauses 31 and 32 and Schedule 5 make a number of changes to the jurisdiction of the MDP. A key change is that which will enable MDP officers to act on their own authority in an emergency in cases involving violence or the threat of violence, or where there is a risk of death or injury. That addition to individual MDP officers' powers is tightly circumscribed, essentially to cases in which it is clear that the timely assistance of a Home Department police officer will not be available.

The Bill will also broaden the ability of individual officers to respond to requests for assistance from local police officers. At present, that is limited to the vicinity of defence land.

The Bill's proposals will enable individual MDP officers to make a more effective contribution to the policing of the community. Other proposals will make it easier for the force as a whole to co-operate with Home Department forces. They will allow the MDP to enter into standing arrangements if a local police force requests assistance in the longer-term policing of land in the vicinity of defence land. They will also allow the force to meet requests for the provision of personnel or other resources to assist other police forces anywhere in the country, in order to meet special demands on their resources. That would have arisen, for example, during the floods in recent months or in the search for a missing person.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is the Minister really saying that the reorganisation of what is genteelly known as "MoD Plod" is being done solely for the benefit of the public and that it will in no way benefit the Ministry of Defence Police? That is the implication of her remarks. Serious criticisms have been raised in this regard. I find it hard to believe that we should give legislative time to the consideration of reforms that are solely for the benefit of the public and that might involve, for example, a dog fouling the pavement.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the reason for advancing the changes is to secure better policing. I know that the nomenclature that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, used has common currency but it does not go down terribly well with the Ministry of Defence Police. If the noble Earl can bear to do so, it would be a kindness to refrain from using it.

The changes are being made to secure better policing but not for the benefit, as the noble Earl put it, of the MoD. They will allow the relevant powers to be used to better effect. I have given a couple of examples—helping with missing persons and with the floods that we saw in recent months. I am sure that the noble Earl will debate this matter further during the Bill's later stages.

There are two key provisos in relation to the assistance that I described. First, such assistance will quite rightly be triggered only if there is a request from the relevant chief constable. Agreement to the request will be a matter for the judgment of the chief constable of the MDP. Secondly, we intend that assistance of this nature should be found from within the force's own resources. There will be no additional resources for the MDP simply to enable it to help Home Department constabularies. I hope that that will help to put that aspect of our proposals into perspective and to refute the suggestion that there is an agenda to develop the MDP as some form of national gendarmerie.

I assure the House that there is no intention to duplicate the role of Home Department forces or to turn the MDP into a general police force. Its role will continue to be to police the defence estate and the defence community. The extensions that I have described are tightly circumscribed. In our view, they are the minimum that will enable the force to operate effectively and to collaborate with Home Department forces.

There is one further proposal in the Bill that I wish to discuss in some detail. I refer to Clauses 34 and 35, which deal with testing for alcohol and drugs. The Armed Forces' drug-testing programmes, which are conducted on a random basis, are a useful tool in deterring and combating the use of controlled drugs, which is, of course, unacceptable. There are no provisions to allow testing for alcohol. The services have education programmes that are designed to promote a responsible attitude towards alcohol. However, because alcohol does not have the same unlawful status as controlled drugs, it would obviously be inappropriate to test for it on a random basis.

The Bill seeks to enable the Armed Forces to test for alcohol and drugs in certain specified circumstances. They will involve incidents that have caused death, serious injury or serious damage, or which could have done so. Anyone who is subject to service law and who may have contributed to the incident may be required to provide breath or urine samples to allow testing for alcohol or drugs. It will be an offence to refuse. The results of such tests will be used to assist in establishing the cause of the incident and therefore to inform a subsequent board of inquiry. They will not be usable in a subsequent service prosecution. However, the results could be used as a basis for any administrative action that is aimed at preventing an individual creating similar risks in future. That reflects the intention behind the provision.

The Bill also includes several minor changes to the legislation affecting the Armed Forces, which are intended to rectify anomalies and so on. Changes of some substance are mostly contained in Schedule 7.

I am sure that those noble Lords who have expressed concern about the retirement ages of public servants will welcome the proposal that a Judge Advocate General should not be required to retire until attaining the age of 70. That will bring them into line with members of the civilian judiciary.

A further very positive proposal will amend the Marriage Act 1949. That Act currently requires that, of the children of members of the Armed Forces, only daughters are eligible to be married in service chapels. The Bill proposes that sons and step-children should also be eligible. I hope noble Lords will welcome that small but important liberalising measure.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, like all Armed Forces Bills, this measure is important to the services. I know that noble Lords will give the Bill their customary careful consideration. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)

3.38 p.m.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords will join me in offering our warmest congratulations to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, on his appointment as a Knight of the Garter.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, that signal and high honour is very well deserved by the noble and gallant Lord.

I thank the Minister for her customary clear exposition of the Bill's contents. I have just around the corner from the Chamber a large sheaf of amendments, which we are ready to table as soon as we finish today's debate. It cannot be said that she has not told us exactly what is in the Bill, and I thank her for that.

The Bill will continue the parliamentary authority for the Armed Forces under the Bill of Rights 1688. Such a requirement is covered in Part 1. If we table amendments to Part 1, I assure noble Lords that they will not he designed to disturb the balance of the constitution. Rather, they will focus the Government's mind on the urgency of replacing the structure of the service discipline Acts.

The Bill will ensure the continuance of the Armed Forces with the requisite parliamentary authority and it serves to remind us that the Armed Forces are the armed services of the Crown. Members of the Armed Forces serve by reason of their duty to the Crown and not at all in the way that a commercial employee owes a duty to his employer, as was suggested in another place.

As they stand, the Armed Forces are a constitutional compromise. They are the, armed forces of the Crown approved by Parliament". Other countries and other times have tried to do it differently—Cromwell, the Dutch, Hitler, the Russians. All have failed. However, unfortunately, we face the mission creep of the politically correct. My noble friend Lady Thatcher made some robust remarks on that matter when she accepted the Chesney Gold Medal at the Royal United Services Institute recently. She said: I notice trends which threaten the core of military culture and the whole ethos which sustains it. The values of a risk averse civilian society are being imposed on a military community to which they are essentially unsuited". Later, she said: A refusal to understand the realities of service life leads to unrealistic ideas taking root about how armed forces should be organised. The British armed forces are one of this country's greatest assets. Through their courage and commitment they defend our freedom. We for our part must give them the framework and the means to do their difficult and dangerous job. They deserve nothing less". Political correctness and soft beds are not what the Armed Forces are for. John Major recalls in his autobiography, which I am reading at the moment, that when he visited elements of the Army shortly before the land stage of the Gulf War started, they told him, "It is why we joined. It is our job". That is the Army.

We are entitled to hope that the quinquennial Bill will provide the framework that my noble friend Lady Thatcher requires. However, I fear it does not always do so. It portrays the insidious effect of creeping political correctness in undermining the military ethos. It fails yet again to use this opportunity to move positively towards a single tri-service disciplinary statute. My noble friend Lord Attlee will cover that point later in the debate. And it does not address the ability of Parliament to scrutinise effectively the subordinate legislation and quasi-legislation which is essential to give working effect to primary legislation of this kind.

Creeping political correctness tending to undermine the military ethos may take several forms: first, in relation to recruitment and those who may be recruited, of which we have heard much in recent months; secondly, in relation to duties and who should be allowed to do what—grafting into the necessary disciplines of military life the easy-going privileges of civil society. We must accept that in signing on, men or women voluntarily give up many of the rights and freedoms that they possessed before. Military life is different. It is no good pretending otherwise.

Lastly, in relation to the restatement of the laws of war and conflict, the politically correct behave as though those matters can be conducted by negotiation between consenting parties.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

My Lords, is it possible to define political correctness? It is not a term that I entirely understand in the way that it has been explained.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, unfortunately, I do not have three-and-a-half hours so I do not think that I can even start on such a matter. I am afraid that the noble Lord has his tongue just slightly in his cheek when asking that question.

There is little in the Bill to improve the morale of the Armed Forces. Morale is not just a matter of longer telephone calls, increased pay or better preparation for civilian life. Such tangible steps are good but they leave out of account important intangible difficulties, some of which are of the Government's own making.

Those matters are intangible and difficult. Members of the Armed Forces must respect what they are doing and how they are doing it; and those outside must respect them for doing it, politically correct or not.

The follies that I have enumerated run as a theme, I am afraid to say, through the Armed Forces discipline Bill which we recently debated and the International Criminal Court Bill. We see those matters again in this Bill. Senior officers, by the nature of their appointment, become more and more agents of government rather than advocates for the armed services. Nevertheless, both the current Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Boyce, and the recently retired General Guthrie have warned of the dangers inherent in such policies even though they said—and I shall say this before the noble Baroness says it—that they have so far experienced no difficulties with recent legislation.

Having thus criticised the ethos of the Bill, it is necessary to say that we accept it in general. A number of matters are welcome: the authority to continue to operate, of course; and matters like, as the noble Baroness explained carefully, giving warrant officers the authority to sit on courts martial. I am glad that the Government were robust in another place in their opposition to certain matters in connection with warrant officers proposed by certain of their adherents.

As the noble Baroness explained, the Bill contains a considerable number of detailed changes to military law and its application. None of those is trivial but they are all minor. As I said, we shall undoubtedly move a number of amendments in Committee in the hope that we may be able to improve the Bill and retrieve some of the ground lost in the earlier legislation, to which I referred. We shall probably be looking for a declaration to exclude the Armed Forces from the application of Article 8 of the International Criminal Court statute.

But the main problem with the Bill lies, as the noble Baroness clearly recognised, in Clause 31. It is inconceivable that Her Majesty's Government should have thought it a good thing to include the highly contentious provisions designed to increase the powers of the Ministry of Defence Police in otherwise generally non-contentious—given the acceptance of the creeping political ethos—matters in the Bill. Those matters in Part 4 deserve a Bill of their own, as clearly demonstrated in the evidence given for the special report of the Commons Select Committee—269 pages of evidence.

We might think again about this matter, depending on what we hear from the Government, but we are unlikely to oppose, at least from these Benches, the Question that Clause 31 shall stand part of the Bill. I say that it is unlikely because a number of my noble friends may think differently. But we shall have much to say about the clause, as did my honourable friends in another place. They would have had a great deal more to say had the debate not been totally curtailed by the Government.

Clause 31 relates to a detailed and potentially far-reaching enlargement of the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence Police, which is seen by some, as their evidence to the Select Committee shows, as pointing towards a total redefinition of the role of the force. That was supported in the words of the Minister.

But it is ridiculous to add those police matters to an Armed Forces Bill. The Ministry of Defence Police is a police force, the tenth largest in the country. It is not one of the armed services or part of the armed services, nor is it the same, as the noble Baroness so clearly pointed out, as the Royal Military Police. That is demonstrated by the fact that its members wear blue police-style uniforms, not the red caps and white gaiters of the Royal Military Police, although my noble friend Lord Attlee, who is more up to date, says that the white gaiters are no longer worn.

The activities of the Ministry of Defence Police, as stated, are governed by the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987. Yet Her Majesty's Government have chosen to tack amendments to that Act on to this Armed Forces Bill, rather than to bring in a separate Bill to amend the 1987 Act. In evidence to the Select Committee, military authorities, civil police, journalists and others expressed concern about what was proposed. I accept that something has to be done as at present there is considerable doubt about the extent of the powers of the Ministry of Defence Police and who controls them. To put it kindly, the Secretary of State was unclear about the extent of his powers, nor was it at all clear where overall control lay.

For those and other reasons we shall probably not oppose Clause 31, or perhaps I should say Part 4 of the Bill. However, clearly something is wrong if, when the second permanent under-secretary asks the Ministry of Defence Police to escort oil tankers during the fuel crisis, he is told that the force does not have the power to do so. It is also not right that a Ministry of Defence policeman should have to pass by an accident because he has no more powers than an ordinary citizen. In that context I keep muttering to myself, "The Good Samaritan".

The Ministry of Defence Police must not look for trouble, as it is feared they may. The fact that they are usually armed or have arms in their vehicles is bound to cause trouble if they are out and about more, as is likely under the terms of the Bill and as the Minister made clear in her definition of their duties.

I have put a number of questions in writing to the Minister relating to the protocols that govern the activities of the Ministry of Defence Police. Four and a half of the six questions that I asked have been answered. We now know more about what the Ministry of Defence Police should and should not do and how they should behave, but such matters should appear on the face of a Bill—not this Bill—to regulate the force.

However, we have before us a Bill, a significant part of which refers to the Ministry of Defence Police and the House will have to make the best of it. Like Marvell, But at my back I always hear Time's winged chariot hurrying near". We do not know whether there will be time for further stages of the Bill before a general election is held, or whether the next Conservative government will have to take it on. If so, this part of the Bill will be amended heavily or possibly dropped from further consideration. If we carry the matter further now we shall table many amendments. Central to those amendments is one that was moved in another place to limit the occasions when Ministry of Defence Police may become involved in any crime investigation.

In Committee and on Report our amendments to Part 4 will be designed to limit the powers of the Ministry of Defence Police, although clarifying their position which, in my opinion, the Bill fails to do. Today we shall give the measure a Second Reading. There is enough in it that is either essential or good to ensure that. Even if there were not the convention to give all Bills a Second Reading unless they are absolute horrors, we support the main principles of this Bill.

3.53 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, in extending our congratulations to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, on becoming a Member of the Order of the Garter. I also congratulate the Minister on taking the occasion of the Easter break to join what I understand from some newspapers is the current trend within Britain and to get married. I offer her my warmest congratulations. I have been happily married for far too long. I am also in the happy situation that for a considerable period my wife has earned more than I have. That seems to me to be entirely as it should be. On that basis I trust that we shall all be able to survive in this remarkably underpaid, unsupported House.

For the first time in several months I find myself taking part in a debate in which there are not only more noble Lords on the Conservative Benches than on the Liberal Democrat Benches—that has not been so in recent debates in which I have taken part—but also more Conservative noble Lords are due to speak. In recent months there have been occasions when I have felt that the Liberal Democrats should ask to be accepted as the Official Opposition because of the sheer absence of noble Lords on the Conservative Benches.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, then why does the noble Lord always vote with the Government?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I do not always vote with the Government. I am conscious that I am about to lose the greatest expert on defence on the Liberal Democrat Benches, my noble friend Lord Roper, who is about to become the Whip. I have told him that I opposed his nomination as our party's Whip on the ground, as several of my colleagues have said, that it is good at last to have someone on our Benches who understands something about defence and that it would be dangerous to lose him. However, I am glad that he will wind up the debate for the Liberal Democrats.

This Bill has had thorough consideration in another place. We may be under some constrained time limits in considering it here, but I hope that we shall be able to find a consensus with the Government on some of the most contentious elements. The Select Committee on the Bill in another place said in paragraph 64 that, few of the Bill's clauses are controversial, but those relating to the Ministry of Defence police are". Clearly it is to those that we shall need to pay most attention.

I want to touch on a number of other points and to reiterate, as the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, has, that a move towards a tri-service Armed Forces Act is far overdue and that we should not need to wait another five years. The Select Committee suggested that that should take place within the next three years. Perhaps we may ask the Minister for a clear commitment that by the time that the Order in Council comes up—before the year 2003 at the latest—we should have a clear indication from the Government of when we shall have a well and thoroughly drafted tri-service Bill for scrutiny in both Houses.

I note that in Clause 2 the interesting and delicate new question of service discipline Acts and civilian contractors under service discipline is flagged. As public private partnerships extend into all three services, I suspect that that will be an area that both Houses will need to look at in more detail over the: next two years. It is the beginning of a widening and complicated set of issues in which the gap between public and private and civil and military becomes more difficult to define.

On these Benches we shall want to look again at the matter of special procedure material and excluded material, and in particular at access to journalist sources touched on in Clauses 5 to 7, particularly in Clause 6. It is extremely important to protect journalists' sources, particularly as journalists can find themselves in conflict areas where there are the extraordinarily complicated problems of peacekeeping and peacemaking which often involve more than two different, antagonistic groups.

I also note that almost every Bill with which we deal in this House has an odd clause that tries to explain which parts of the Bill will apply to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man—Clause 38 in this Bill. At some stage in the next two years I hope that the House or a Select Committee will be allowed to look at the position of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man is in this country. The last time I asked a question on this matter in the House the Minister referred me to a statement made in 1204 which I was assured defined the matter correctly. I have looked at that statement and it appears to me to be a little out of date.

On these Benches we welcome the moves to reconcile military procedures with parallel civilian procedures, which is one of the main themes of this Bill, and the need to take into account the European Convention on Human Rights and its incorporation into domestic law. I was slightly puzzled by the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, on this subject. I remember a novel that I read as a boy in which it was said of one of the characters that he knew what he thought about progress and he was against it. The mission creep of the politically correct appears to be a statement that says, "I don't like progress and I don't really like modernisation".

Lord Burnham

My Lords, that was not really my intention; I just like the phrase.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, we shall leave the definition of political correctness to the Spectator. Clearly, the matter of recruitment for a modern professional army requires emendations of military discipline. We may not have soft beds but individual service accommodation has something to be said for it and it is part of the way in which we keep the services up to date. We will not therefore support any move to exempt the Armed Forces from Clause 8 of the International Criminal Court Bill or any other such measures.

We also welcome the expanded role for warrant officers which appears in several of the clause. However, we on these Benches are most concerned with Part 4 and Schedule 5 to the Bill. We shall want to see what changes to the clauses the Government are willing to accept before we take a final decision on whether we want to agree that the clauses should stand part of the Bill.

It is important not to exaggerate. When reading the Conservative press in recent weeks, I was struck by the paranoia which described the emergence of a national police force in Britain for all kinds of different angles. We were told by the Daily Mail that the Ministry of Defence Police was about to become a CRS of Britain and that its members would dash around the country beating people up. However, some weeks previously we were also told that the police reserve, planned in support of the European Rapid Reaction Force, would force a national police force on Britain. None of us sees that as likely or recognises the fears that expanding the role of the Ministry of Defence Police may raise.

There is a link between the two. At some point, the Minister may want to return to the question of whether the Ministry of Defence Police might provide a particularly large contribution to the international police reserve which we shall need for the long-term re-establishment of order in places such as Kosovo and Bosnia. However, we are greatly concerned about firearms, about the MoD Police extending their coverage of serious offences, about questions of civilian control and about questions of relations with other forces. I am concerned about the exact definition of "in the vicinity of which appears at various points. When I looked back at the 1987 Act on jurisdiction, the Ministry of Defence Police Act, I did not find the matter any clearer.

Last weekend I was driving along the road which leads past Menwith Hill towards Catterick, thinking about the implications of the Bill. Menwith Hill is entirely under non-British jurisdiction. My noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond told me that she had once been shown around Menwith Hill in her capacity as chairman of the North Yorkshire Police Authority but was told nothing whatever about what happened in the building. We must hope that in the next three or four years there will be no public order disturbances "in the vicinity of" Menwith Hill or Fylingdales and that MoD Police from Catterick and elsewhere will not have to travel across Yorkshire in the process of coping with whatever may transpire. But the question of the American response on national missile defence and the request they make to the British to upgrade facilities in those two areas is precisely the kind of issue which may lead to delicate questions about relations between the MoD Police and our other civilian forces.

We on these Benches are strongly committed to the principle of civilian police, locally accountable. We are not entirely happy about the division of police forces into Ministry of Defence forces and Home Department forces, as though they belonged to the Home Office. We like to think that British police forces belong to their counties and to their police authorities as well as to the Home Office.

I was happy to see the Minister's response to the Written Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, on the publication of protocols between the civilian forces and the Ministry of Defence Police and I look forward to hearing more about that in due time. We shall want to press the Government further about the pursuit of serious crime by the MoD Police and the points at which such investigations are transferred from them to civilian forces.

We are particularly unhappy about, and shall want to explore in more detail, the words which appear in the new Section 2A which appears in Schedule 5. It refers to, other assistance for the purpose of enabling that force to meet any special demand on its resources", anywhere in the country. Those are very broad terms which must be examined carefully.

Finally, as regards new Section 4C in Schedule 5, I understand that the reports of inspectors of constabulary for civilian forces are naturally published in full. Here we are told in an unhappy way that for various reasons the Secretary of State may arrange for publication and may withhold from publication large parts. We shall want to explore in detail the terms and conditions under which those reports may or may not be published in full.

The issue of carrying firearms has already been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham. The Committee in another place examined that matter in some detail and it was also discussed in another place at the Report stage and on Third Reading. We are not entirely happy at the idea of police regularly driving around the country with firearms in their possession and we shall want further reassurances about that.

However, we hope that the Bill goes through. We know that it needs to be passed by August and we wish it good speed. If time is abbreviated during the next two weeks, we shall want to ensure that the Bill is agreed by all Members of this House.