HL Deb 23 April 2001 vol 625 cc41-64

Second Reading debate resumed.

4.57 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, the quinquennial review of the service Acts is an important reminder that the Armed Forces have a unique statutory position in this country and in society. I do not need to spell out in your Lordships' House why that should be, or that, so far as the Army is concerned, it goes back to the Bill of Rights 1688.

It is of course important that the service Acts are reviewed and kept in line with developments in the criminal law as they affect the rest of our society. Traditionally, this has led to amendments to these Acts tracking other legislation, but at a respectable distance, as it were, from the dates of enactment. Apart from the delays imposed by the legislative timetable, it seemed to be sensible—indeed, prudent so far as the armed services were concerned—to see how the new legislation was developing in its application, and a framework of caselaw had evolved. Given an interval of a few years, it would then be time to incorporate those aspects of the legislation into the service Acts which were valuable and important to the armed services themselves.

Thus it has been possible for Parliament to ensure that the services' unique disciplinary status was in tune with contemporary trends in the law, without endangering the vitally important aspects of trust and respect within the services, up and down the chain of command, for their disciplinary practices. In places, the Bill before us today demonstrates that traditionally cautious approach. Only now, many years after their enactment, are we seeing provisions and amendments from the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 and the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 being adapted and incorporated into the service discipline Acts. Detailed drafting apart, I think that steps such as these are to be welcomed.

For all those reasons, I question whether it is right to include Clause 33, which provides a general order-making power to enable the Secretary of State to introduce modifications into the service discipline Acts at any time, incorporating very recent changes in criminal legislation. In other ways, too, the approach in the Bill before us goes much further than has been traditional. In Part 2, dealing with powers of entry, search and seizure, the helpful Explanatory Notes prepared by the Ministry of Defence state that it is "desirable", but not essential, that the so-called "inherent powers" of a commanding officer should be clarified and put on to a statutory footing.

The reasoning seems to be that this will help to avoid the risk of a successful challenge to searches instigated by a commanding officer being made under the European Convention on Human Rights. Is that a risk to be avoided at all costs—or, at least, to attempt to avoid it at a disproportionate cost in terms of the diminution of the authority of a commanding officer and of the complexities of the alternative arrangements which are spelt out in Clauses 2 to 16?

Even allowing for the steps being taken to harmonise with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the complexities are legion. We have pages to define the reasonable grounds for belief that a search should be authorised by a judicial officer; more pages to detail the rules for the reasonable grounds for a service policeman to search a vehicle, as long as the said vehicle is not, in a garden or yard occupied with and used for the purposes of a dwelling or of any service living accommodation falling within section 15(1)(a), or on other land so occupied and used". The "dwelling" I have mentioned, does not include any dwelling which is permanently or temporarily occupied or controlled by any of Her Majesty's forces". On the other hand, "premises", according to Clause 16, includes any place and, in particular, includes— (a) any vehicle, vessel, aircraft or hovercraft, and (b) any tent or movable structure"— but not, according to Clause 15, service living accommodation if, or to the extent that, the premises are being used for holding persons in custody or for the accommodation of persons serving sentences of detention or imprisonment. Am I alone in feeling sorry for the service policeman as he attempts to comprehend his freedom of action in discharging his duties?

The Explanatory Notes state that Clause 16(7), is designed to avoid any doubt about the effect of sections 22–15"— but it only heaps complexity on to complexity. Surely that is something to be avoided in the disciplinary provisions for the Armed Forces. I think that I should have the greatest difficulty in passing any promotion examination today in Air Force law based on this Bill.

The Bill's draftsmen have tried to square a very difficult circle. Perhaps recognising that real life will not stand still, they have incorporated a let-out clause for the commanding officer. Clause 7 empowers him to authorise entry and search when he believes that the other methods outlined in the Bill are not going to be timely. The Bill then throws a fig leaf to the human rights lobby with provision for retrospective review by a judicial officer. If he approves the action of the CO, all well and good; but the Bill is silent on what happens in the event that the judicial officer is not satisfied. Both he and the CO will have had to arrive at a very subjective judgment. The latter, the CO's, will be made under the pressure of events; the former will be made in a much calmer atmosphere and the judicial officer will have the benefit of hindsight on which to reach his judgment. The CO will have a wealth of personal knowledge of the probity and character of those he commands; the judicial officer will have none of that background information on which to base his own judgment.

Am I being unfair to the judicial officer? If he is a judge advocate, or one of a number of senior practising UK lawyers who know the Armed Forces well, maybe I am. But tucked away in paragraphs 35 and 36 of Part 1 of Schedule 7 to the Bill are amendments to the service Acts specifying the qualifications for appointment as a judicial officer. The appointment may be made if he or she holds, a relevant judicial appointment in any Commonwealth country or colony and has professional or educational"— note "educational"— qualifications in law which appear to the Judge Advocate General to be appropriate". Eminent these individuals may be in the practice—or maybe only in the theory—of the law, but the Bill leaves it to the Secretary of State, in Clause 8, to make orders governing the powers and duties of all judicial officers. If they are now to play such a prominent part in the application of service discipline, should not their powers—or at least a clear outline of them—and their duties be on the face of the Bill?

What happens if a judicial officer disagrees with the CO's actions? What redress can the CO seek if he is dissatisfied with the judicial officer's review? Indeed, do these non-UK-based judicial officers have to take any form of oath of allegiance to the Crown?

This is another example of the MoD, with the best of motives so far as concerns the Human Rights Act, once more putting commanding officers through the hoop and yet further debasing their authority. We have seen it in relation to summary punishments; we have seen concerns raised by commanding officers about the way in which the International Criminal Court Bill may affect operational judgments and decisions in the heat of battle.

My question, therefore, to the Minister is: do we have to put our services through all of this? When the Human Rights Bill was in Committee in February 1998, in answer to concerns which I and other noble Lords had raised about the impact of the Bill on the Armed Forces, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said: I urge your Lordships to be of the view that the convention is a flexible instrument. It poses no threat to the effectiveness of the Armed Forces".—[Official Report, 5/2/98; col. 768.] If the Bill is accepted in its present form, it makes a travesty of that assurance from the noble and learned Lord.

Would it not be more sensible to follow the more traditional approach and to see how new laws are shaping in the civilian world before we press forward with them in the Armed Forces? We have had very little case law for the Human Rights Act or how the Crown Courts will deal with cases brought by service personnel. I would trade the risk of an occasional successful finding against the Armed Forces under the human rights convention for retention of the inherent powers of the commanding officer, which have long been understood and accepted in the forces themselves.

We are, after all, dealing with volunteer servicemen and women, not a conscript army. I think that the approach in the Bill on this matter is misjudged. Indeed, if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is right and I am wrong, the services have no need to act in fear of the human rights legislation at all. Do we really have to rush our fences to incorporate all these provisions before there has been time and opportunity to assess how the Human Rights Act is affecting the services in practice?

5.7 p.m.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, Perhaps I may first say to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, how valuable it has been to have displayed today his experience of how an average serviceman will view this legislation. Indeed, I add my congratulations to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, on the award of the Order of the Garter.

My noble friend Lord Burnham put the political case very well in his speech. I agree with him in regard to Clause 31, which seems to be the main contentious part of the Bill.

Before I go into the Bill—I intend to speak very briefly—I should say to the noble Baroness how much I appreciate what the Army has done over the past six or seven weeks in helping with the foot and mouth outbreak. In my part of the world, Dumfries and Galloway, 52nd Lowland Brigade from Edinburgh has carried out splendid work through the Highlanders and the Gurkhas. Most importantly, they have brought with them an understanding of what had to be done, which has cheered up a demoralised community very extensively. The leadership given by the soldiers has been of tremendous benefit. When my farm lost all its sheep a week ago, the sympathetic approach of the Gurkhas who came to assist could not have been more helpful.

The least that one can say is that, on the whole, the discipline of the services is first class and quite excellent. I am not sure that the Bill makes the law any easier for any servicemen to understand. It adds complication. The poor old Jock in his quarters is thinking, "Well, there's human rights, rules of engagement, orders on Northern Ireland and judicial reviews; am I under the orders of the MoD, NATO, the United Nations or the European army?". This is turning servicemen into barrack room lawyers. I do not suppose that anyone in the services would understand the content of the Bill if it were placed before them today. The noble Baroness and her team should attempt to do all they can to simplify some of the aspects of the Bill. It is desperately complicated.

As a junior officer during the war, I was horrified if I was ever involved in a legal case of discipline or a court martial and was told to do a summary of evidence. It took hours, even days, of work. It took one away from what one was supposed to be doing; namely, helping to win the war. That is the kind of problem that will face officers of all ranks when they attempt to fulfil the terms of the legislation that we are considering.

There are few points that I should like to put to the Minister relating to the service discipline Acts. Matters were greatly helped by the Reserve Forces Act, which brought greater flexibility to our Reserve Forces. The Minister knows how well the Royal Auxiliary Air Force campaigned in the Gulf with our medical air evacuation squadron and the movements squadron that was based in this country. During the Gulf War, the Royal Air Force was stretched to the limit in the United Kingdom servicing aircraft for use in the Middle East. In the Royal Auxiliary Air Force—at which time I was an inspector general—we were very keen to take over the guard duties and other work that members of the Royal Air Force had to do on bases in this country. But that was not possible: it was quite wrong for a reservist to carry live ammunition, and he could not be on guard duty at a gate without carrying ammunition. That kind of problem has been resolved by the Reserve Forces Act. There is no reason why a reservist should not be able to do that kind of work in order to relieve our front line forces who may be serving in the Balkans, the Middle East or elsewhere.

I also want to ask the Minister where matters stand in relation to the RAF police. A year or two ago it seemed to me that there were moves for full-time reservists becoming RAF policemen. That may or may not be a good idea; however, I should like to know whether the Bill will cover all aspects of the duties of full-time reservists if they are appointed as RAF policemen.

I should like to raise a further matter which is not specifically contained in the Bill but which comes under the heading of discipline, which is what the Bill is all about. I refer to an issue that has been referred to frequently in the press over the years; namely, having women in the front line.

I have the highest regard for the attributes of our servicewomen. They fly fast jets, work with the artillery and are on active service on warships. That is absolutely right. I am glad that they are able to do so, and to do the job so efficiently. However, the Secretary of State for Defence said last October that women are just as likely to be in a position to kill people as men are. That is not really the point. I accept that because they fly aircraft and work with the artillery and so on, they will be doing just that if required to do so. The worry that one has about women being literally in the front line is the fear of the physical difficulty of carrying weights over the distances that a serviceman must cover these days. Could women really have been expected to carry haversacks and weapons over the mountains of the Falklands in such difficult weather and land conditions?

There has to be a balance. Yes, in positions where women can use their skills effectively, they should be allowed to anything that men can do when fighting a war. But where the physical position is impossible, they must accept that they will have to stand back. That is the difference: those who want women to do everything are asking them to do the impossible.

In our regiment squadron in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, women were trained to an equal standard of efficiency with the men. We were defending aerodromes; therefore, we were not carrying heavy weights and rushing around on our feet for miles and miles. We were in a defensive position. The women were as effective as the men—indeed, some in the squadron were far better shots than some of the men. There is a careful balance to be drawn. I hope that in its thinking the Ministry of Defence will try to draw that distinction in arriving at some future conclusion.

I shall watch the Bill's progress with interest. I do not know how the time will work out, bearing in mind the number of amendments that are likely to be tabled. By and large, one shares the feeling of the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, that we should give the Bill a Second Reading and take the next stage as it comes.

5.16 p.m.

Lord Inge

My Lords, first, perhaps I may thank those noble Lords who have congratulated me on being made a Knight of the Garter. I have not quite recovered from the shock of receiving such an honour.

I welcome a number of the changes proposed in the Bill. Indeed, much of it is uncontroversial. I thank the Minister for the trouble that her office has taken to make sure that we were briefed about the meaning and consequences of the Bill. Much of it is positive. Making warrant officers eligible to sit on courts martial is a good step. I hope that it will not be too long before they can sit on the summary courts of appeal. I shall not, however, tell the Minister what my first company sergeant-major said to me when I was a second lieutenant and sat on a court martial under instruction. His advice was quite clear. I shall tell the noble Baroness after this debate.

I also think it good that people who are not subject to the service discipline Acts who are summoned to attend at courts martial can in future commit an offence. That is important. The introduction of powers to test for alcohol in incidents that may result or risk resulting in death, serious injury or damage is also important. It is good that the service courts will have powers to make orders relating to costs against parties or their legal representatives whose actions or omissions have resulted in another party incurring unnecessary considerable expenditure.

I have one major concern and one major question. My major concern is the one that has been expressed so eloquently by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig. The Minister for the Armed Forces in another place, Mr Spellar, made two comments. He said that he wants to bring service police powers of search and investigation more into line with PACE. The point is dealt with in Clauses 2 to 16. But he said also that he wanted to check that military law meets the current needs of the services. In other words, are they being made more effective by the changes in the law? I find a contradiction in the two statements. The changes to the powers of entry, search and seizure that are being introduced meet not the needs of the services but the needs of the European Convention on Human Rights.

When your Lordships discussed the changes to summary dealing, a number of speakers made the point about the increased bureaucracy that the new arrangements for summary dealing would bring about. Secondly, it was pointed out that they were eating away in a substantial way at the authority and effectiveness of the commanding officer and his command team.

One of the reasons for our Armed Forces being so good is that that critical level of command is invested with considerable power; but the commanding officers exercise that power extremely well, and with great care and caution. I believe that we eat away at that power, that effectiveness and that authority at our peril. I am well aware that in the Ministry of Defence the military lawyers, and others, believe that they have protected summary dealing; indeed, they have done so. However, I believe that that has been at the expense of the effectiveness of the commanding officer. There are also other changes. We are talking about the powers being given to the service police. The fact that the commanding officer must now, if he can, refer to a judicial officer will further eat away at that power. It will certainly become more bureaucratic; it will certainly become less responsive; and, as I said, it will weaken the authority of the commanding officer.

By and large, I believe that noble Lords have an understanding of what it means to be a commanding officer of our Armed Forces. I say that because it is worth reminding ourselves that they are in a totally different position, in my judgment, from anyone else. They are asking the people who work for them—and, therefore, for the nation—to put their lives at risk. Unlike many parts of civilian life, the group is fundamentally more important than the individual. Therefore, the commanding officer is concerned about his people 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Anything that we do to undermine that responsibility and thereby take away his ability to care for, train, look after and lead his command must, I believe, be a mistake. I am concerned that our Armed Forces, unlike the French armed forces, do not have the opt-out clause, or have not been allowed to opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights.

My second point is a question: why has it been thought necessary to give the Secretary of State the general order-making power to amend the service discipline Acts, if need be? I ask that question because I am suspicious. We are talking about the investigation of offences and the powers of arrest and detention. Are we saying that we have to keep up to date with future civilian justice legislation, or do we think that the European Convention on Human Rights—this is where my alarm bells ring—is what I would call a "fast-moving legal target", with which it will be difficult to keep up? If that is the case, are we also saying that the five-yearly review of the Armed Forces Bill is too long to keep in step? If that is so, it seems to me that we are in danger of opening a Pandora's box when we are not yet sure of the possible consequences.

5.22 p.m.

Lord Freeman

My Lords, perhaps I may add what I suppose is almost an ex post congratulation to the noble and gallant Lord on the award of the Garter. He will now be able to look up at his banner. But also, as he leaves the House of Lords each day, he will have the almost unique benefit of seeing his own Coat of Arms on the Staircase leading from this House. The honour is richly deserved. All the noble and gallant Lord's friends, and those who worked with him over many years, congratulate him.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Freeman

My Lords, I should like to associate myself very much with the remarks made not only by the noble and gallant Lord who has just spoken but also with those made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, especially concerning the possible increasingly invidious position in which commanding officers are likely to be put if the Bill becomes law. I should tell the Minister that I believe that that is a reason for us to pause for reflection on this extremely important point. It is not a mechanistic point, nor a legal point; it is a point of real substance. The two noble and gallant Lords who have spoken from the Cross Benches have enormous experience as commanding officers. I should like to add my modest support for what they have said.

I declare an interest as president of the United Kingdom Council of the Reserve Forces Cadets' Association. The Bill also covers the reserve forces. It is interesting to note that the Armed Forces discipline Acts cover reserve officers at all times, but that they only cover other ranks when they are on duty—an anomaly that I have never properly understood. Doubtless the Minister will be able to enlighten us further in that respect. Of course, as and when the reserve forces are called up in formed units, as I expect they will be, I very much hope to serve in the future. Certainly in peacekeeping roles, both officers and other ranks will be equally bound by the discipline Acts.

Before I turn to my brief contribution to the debate, perhaps I may share the sentiments expressed by my noble friend Lord Monro about the work of the regular and reserve forces in dealing with the foot and mouth outbreak. I was in the north of England last Friday and talked to both regular and reserve force officers, as well as to other ranks. I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I commend their expertise and efforts in dealing with this horrendous problem. If I may say so, the skill that they bring is not noticeably and consistently present in Whitehall departments. I mean no criticism of them, including MAFF. The Armed Forces bring command and control capabilities that are totally absent from our domestic Whitehall departments. I am sure that many noble Lords will agree with me when I say that, with the benefit of hindsight, the Armed Forces should have been brought in sooner. If we ever suffer such a crisis again, I hope that they will be brought in at a much earlier stage.

I have long been concerned about the rules applied by the Treasury in terms of payment to the forces for the use of equipment. That situation occurred again during the outbreak of foot and mouth. Treasury rules normally require full cost payment for the use of equipment, such as helicopters, transport and aircraft. It is high time that we moved to a system of marginal direct cost charging at the event, which would allow the Treasury to review the following year the total costs of dealing with an emergency and to consider a fair allocation of costs. It cannot be right, as it appears to have been during the recent outbreak of foot and mouth, for there to be any doubt in the minds of commanding officers about the need for—or the willingness of—the Ministry of Defence to provide equipment for the civil forces.

I turn to my three brief points for the Minister. First, there is the need for a tri-service discipline Bill. I think that my noble friend Lord Attlee will probably be dealing with this matter in his speech, but I know that most of us believe that such a Bill is to be commended, at least in principle, because it will bring some form of consistency; and certainly efficiency in the use of parliamentary time. My concern is as expressed by the recently-retired Chief of the Defence Staff; namely, that if you have one Bill, you may perhaps lose some provisions that apply uniquely to one of the four other services. But, however the matter is resolved, I believe that we must press ahead quickly. I ask that the Ministry of Defence treats this as a matter of priority and that it produces a Bill with the aid of parliamentary counsel at an early stage—certainly not at the end of the next Parliament—for wider consultation with the Armed Forces.

Secondly, I should like to commend to your Lordships the use in the House of Commons of the Select Committee system to examine a Bill between Second Reading and the Committee stage. That process occurred during the consideration of the Bill now before us. Perhaps when we come to deal with the next Bill—certainly the tri-service discipline Bill, as far as concerns the Armed Forces—it may be possible, although it raises a constitutional point, to have a joint Select Committee of both Houses so as to enable us to benefit from the expertise available in both places. We are denied the opportunity of prolonged consideration and the taking of evidence from experts on the Bill from which Members of the other place have already benefited. I hope that sufficient time will be allowed by the next government for the tri-service discipline Bill to be properly considered by such a Select Committee. We are not talking about a matter of weeks; we are talking about several months.

My final point relates to Clause 31, with which my noble friend Lord Burnham dealt so robustly and correctly. I do not want to pre-empt what my noble friend Lord Onslow might say, although I should point out that his firm views have already preceded his speech. In my judgment, the principles of Clause 31 are correct. However, I have two concerns in addition to those expressed by my noble friend Lord Burnham, which I am sure will be reflected in many amendments which your Lordships will discuss at great length.

First, when a request for assistance is made by local police to the Ministry of Defence Police, who is to set guidelines and priorities? For example, in the case of a national demonstration—as we had in the mid-1980s over the use of Cruise missiles—there may be demonstrations well away from MoD bases but also at those bases. Who is to decide how the scarce resources of the Ministry of Defence Police are to be allocated? Who is to say yes or no to a request from a local constabulary? At the very least guidelines need to be drawn up. It may be difficult to put them in the Bill but they need to be drawn up and published.

Secondly, I refer to the right of individual Ministry of Defence policemen to act in emergencies. Who is to define such an emergency? I have read carefully the Bill and the guidance helpfully prepared by the Ministry of Defence, but I do not think that that matter is made clear enough. We must surely clearly discourage Ministry of Defence policemen from pursuing their own views with regard to dealing with problems reported either in newspapers or on the radio or, indeed, by their own colleagues. Will they divert from a trip between two bases in order to deal with possible assaults and threats to the person? I suggest that, as in the case of the cards issued to infantrymen on the rules of engagement, at the very least clear instructions ought to be issued as to what policemen should or should not be able to do, if the relevant clause is to be passed. Other than that I commend the Bill and I hope that it will receive an unopposed Second Reading.

Lord Renton

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I thought that he made a very important point when he said that there should be a Joint Select Committee of both Houses to deal with defence matters in the next Parliament. Does he agree that that has become much more necessary because of the amount of expertise in your Lordships' House and the lack of expertise in another place?

Lord Freeman

My Lords, I am not sure that I associate myself with the latter part of those comments. There is a good deal of expertise in both Houses but it should be combined.

5.32 p.m.

Lord Kimball

My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, on his membership of the noble Order of the Garter I believe that his description of the duties of a commanding officer impressed every Member of this House. No wonder he got to the top of his profession!

I am concerned about one particular aspect of the Bill: the position of the MoD Police—a police force that has been built up without any proper local authority control and is entirely the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Defence. As I understand the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, the Ministry of Defence may take powers to act without a request for assistance from the Home Department or from a police officer. Those powers are far too wide-reaching.

It is terribly important for everyone in this country to realise that even chief officers of police are subject to the vigilance of police committees. Every year people are elected to those committees which constitute a good safeguard. I cannot imagine that the chief metropolitan commissioner of Northumberland would try to cancel the livelihood and liberties march unless he believed that it would cause disorder or seriously endanger people. I also worry about some chief constables with degrees in sociology. I hope that that does not make them politically corrupt. They are, after all, accountable to their local police committees. I hope that as the members of those committees are elected, they will keep them under firm control.

Let us consider for a moment what happened with the fuel crisis. The Government wanted a force that could break heads and enforce their will. To that end they approached the Ministry of Defence Police for help. I am glad to say that they said that they could not help. I hope that the Bill will not give them additional powers. As I understand it, the Ministry of Defence Police cannot arrest someone who commits an offence outside an MoD establishment. The Ministry of Defence Police should deal only with people who commit offences on MoD establishments.

If the Bill becomes law, the Government will be able to build up a paramilitary force to use against people whom they do not like. We ought to be able to say that that should not happen here. Now is the moment for us to kick up a fuss to make absolutely certain that that does not happen here. After all, the noble Baroness is working against the clock. Unless she removes the whole of Clause 31, the Bill will not be accepted. However, we may be able to reach a compromise on that matter.

5.36 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, I have now observed the most perfect, glorious and juicy irony of my whole life. Nick Cohen is a rabidly Left-wing journalist on the Observer. I was deeply influenced by one of his articles. I shall quote from it at considerable length. However, it never crossed my mind at its most imaginative late at night after seven pints of beer that my noble friend Lord Kimball and Nick Cohen would sing from the same hymn sheet. That is the most marvellous advance in the cause of human liberty. My noble friend Lord Kimball is absolutely right: liberty without eternal vigilance will not survive.

I must briefly digress to congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, on his award of the Garter. It is the only honour which I lust after completely although I know that I shall not get it. I lust after it because when Lord Melbourne was awarded it he said that he liked the Garter as there was no damned merit in it. There was a rather jolly 18th century Peer who was considered totally eccentric as when he was invited out shooting he used to sit at the third drive at Chatsworth, or wherever it was, wearing his Garter ribbon. That is another reason that I lust after that which, as my noble friend Lord Burnham quite correctly said, I will not be awarded. However, my congratulations are sincere even if my comments may have been mildly flippant.

The Government have in many ways introduced some pretty illiberal measures. I refer to the "three strikes and you're out" measure and their banning the innocent from having pistols while the supply to the ungodly has in no way diminished. They have attempted to restrict jury rights and now they have produced Clause 31 of this Bill. It is worth while quoting from Mr Cohen. No one has as yet denied the following point. He states that the Bill proposes that, the 3,500 officers in the Ministry of Defence Police … should be free to search and arrest any citizen, and to break whatever strikes, fuel protests and anti-nuclear demonstrations upset Ministers". That constitutes a Napoleonic police, as permitted by Clause 31. The article continues—this point was mentioned totally correctly by the noble Lord, Lord Kimball— No independent inspectorate investigates complaints. Its officers are not soldiers, but they are armed and trained to deal with obedient squaddies, not the lippy public outside the barracks. At present they can investigate only the alleged crimes of servicemen and women and defence contractors. This sensible precaution is now being dismissed as an absurd anachronism". I offer many congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, on entering the blessed state of holy matrimony. It is to be recommended. My old woman has put up with me for 35 years. I suppose my noble friend Lord Burnham is going to criticise that as well. However, today the noble Baroness has said that if officers driving across Wiltshire Plain saw a man loitering suspiciously near an empty building or holiday cottage, they could arrest him and search him for housebreaking tools. No police force has ever asked for such powers, but the Bill will allow the Ministry of Defence Police to do that.

The Ministry of Defence Police have made some serious errors recently. As Nick Cohen went on to point out: It accused Major Milos Stankovic, who served with distinction in Bosnia, of spying, for example. He was born in Rhodesia and brought up in the West Country, but his Serb name was enough to blacken his character. The charges were dropped". Mr Cohen also said: Nigel Wylde, a former lieutenant-colonel who was decorated for bravery in Northern Ireland, was hounded for two years for a supposed breach of the Official Secrets Act. … He had helped a journalist writing an account of military tactics in Ireland. The book—The Irish War by Tony Geraghty—was not banned and remains on sale to this day. The information on the use of electronic surveillance Wylde and Geraghty discussed was in the public domain. As Wylde was not a serving officer, his arrest by MoD police was probably illegal. For all that, the prosecution was only abandoned days before he was due to go to court after a stunned Attorney General called in the papers and ordered the MoD to back off". There seem to be enough worries about the behaviour of the MoD Police as it is, but there is now a suggestion that they can become a national police force with powers over everybody else without a proper watch committee, however feeble that control may be.

Parliament exists because our forebears decided that James II should not use arbitrary powers for the standing army. We have the quinquennial Acts because William III was not allowed a standing army except when the Mutiny Acts or the Army Act were renewed every year. Having a national police subject only to the control of a Minister without any outside check or balance goes to the core of English and British liberties.

I make jokes occasionally because I think it is fun to do so, but on this issue I am being totally and completely serious. This is tyrannical legislation. I use the word, "completely" advisedly. The provision is not necessary. If it to be enacted, it needs to be done by a full Act of Parliament, with proper discussion at all stages so that we all know exactly what we are doing, not shovelled in by the back door. I sincerely hope that your Lordships will remove Clause 31 from the Bill.

5.43 p.m.

Lord Roper

My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, on his Garter. Unlike that of Lord Melbourne, it was well merited. I also congratulate the Minister on her marriage. In the light of that, I am not sure whether we shall need to move the amendment that we were considering to Part 6 to permit Ministers to be married in military chapels.

It is a pleasure to speak from the Front Bench on the Bill. I regret that I may have fewer opportunities to take part m your Lordships' debates on defence in the future.

As the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, have made clear, the Bill is of great constitution al importance, because the authority given by the quinquennial Act is precious to the structure between civilians and the military. During this transitional period of the development of new democratic societies in central and eastern Europe, we are spending a great deal of time explaining to them how to develop proper civilian and military relationships. The model and procedures that we have developed are of considerable value.

The Select Committee in another place proposed accelerating the production of the single tri-service Act. The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, pointed out that some specificities of particular services might be lost if we moved too quickly. I believe that there would be gains and that on balance we ought, if possible, to have a tri-service Act before the next quinquennial Bill is due.

Reference has been made to the specificity of military discipline and service. I started my military career not in soft beds, but in a hammock on a mess deck in an aircraft carrier, which was made a little more tolerable by the presence in the same mess of two other present Members of your Lordships' House. We all served as ordinary seamen and we discovered at an early stage that military life was different.

That is one of the problems that we need to consider. The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, referred to political correctness. We need to decide how and in which ways military society and discipline will evolve as other ideas and thoughts change in society. How should we take into account attitudes towards gender balance and diversity that are part of society today? That will cause tension, but in the Bill and in other ways the Government have attempted to strike a balance. There are particular points on that issue to which I shall return.

I strongly agree with what has been said about the advantages of the special procedure of the ad hoc Select Committee that operates in the House of Commons. Twenty five years ago, I sat on the Select Committee considering the Armed Forces Bill 1976, under the chairmanship of Richard Crawshaw, who was not only a very good walker, but also a very good chairman. That was a particularly interesting occasion. Serving on that Select Committee is an important education for all who take part. During the debate on the Queen's Speech, my noble friend Lord Wallace and I suggested that this House should consider using the special procedure that is available to us for a Select Committee to consider the Bill. That will not be possible on this occasion, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, that we should return to the issue, doing it either in parallel with the Commons or jointly.

Like the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, I thank the Minister for the briefing that she provided to Members of your Lordships' House earlier this year, when it was possible to raise some of our concerns about the Bill.

We have to deal with some fundamental issues of the basis of military justice in those areas where it does not deal purely with military discipline, but overlaps with issues that are dealt with by the civilian criminal courts for the rest of society. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, said that certain provisions in the Bill could seriously erode the role of the commanding officer. There is a complicated balance to be struck. Anything that the noble and gallant Lord says on the issue must be taken very seriously. We shall no doubt come back to it in Committee. The noble and gallant Lord has not yet persuaded me of his case, but he has convinced me that there is an issue that we need to discuss.

There are further and wider problems of how far military justice can be seen to be independent and impartial when senior officers sit in judgment and there is no jury. Are those serious restrictions? I believe that we have found—not in this but in other legislation—ways of coping with possible challenges to our system of military justice which could be raised by the European Convention on Human Rights. I do not envisage the risk of a further deterioration in this area, as was suggested by the noble and gallant Lord. However, we may well have to return to some of these points in Committee when we consider the question of the future role of the European Convention on Human Rights.

As has become clear, Part IV of the Bill, and in particular Section 31, raises the most complicated and difficult problems—those which arise in dealing with the Ministry of Defence Police. This is a very difficult issue; for example, there is the general problem of assistance to the civil powers. Such assistance can, of course, be fully beneficial and appreciated, as has been the case with regard to the work carried out by our services in relation to the current emergencies arising from foot and mouth disease.

Here, we are talking about a specific type of assistance to the civil powers; namely, that given by the Ministry of Defence Police to their colleagues in normal county constabularies. I believe that that raises a range of serious issues. The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, took the view that it would be better if this were dealt with in a separate Bill. That will not happen. He went on to say that at present he was minded to support the clauses concerned, even though some of his noble friends do not appear to share his view on the matter. From these Benches—

Lord Burnham

My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me, I said that there was enough in Clause 31 to allow us to support it, but there was also much in it that we would criticise and would want to amend.

Lord Roper

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I was about to come to that very point.

I read the proceedings of the Select Committee in another place. They provided another useful source of information on these matters in addition to the material which appeared in the Sunday Observer. They perhaps set out the issue rather more fully than the interesting article to which the noble Earl referred. Of course, in a number of cases that could be valuable and useful.

However, as raised by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, in his questions to the Minister, it is extremely important to see precisely what protocols will be developed. I believe that we shall need to consider this clause as it comes out of Committee before we are able to say whether or not we can support it. A number of serious matters must be clarified further along the lines mentioned by a number of noble Lords in this debate.

As has been said, this is a constitutional Bill of some importance. We shall not oppose it tonight, but we hope to have an opportunity to return to it and to deal in particular with the matters to which I have referred.

5.53 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I begin by reminding your Lordships that I have an interest as a serving TA officer and, as such, am subject to many of the provisions of the Army Act 1955. Noble Lords should note that the SDAs apply as equally to reserves as they do to regular forces.

My noble friend Lord Burnham was not sure whether he welcomed all the Bill. Of course, what is welcome is that our Armed Forces are under full parliamentary control, and our debate today is part of that process. Many of the provisions described by the Minister are very welcome. That is, of course, the main purpose of the Bill—a routine service, as it were. I am sure, too, that Schedule 7(31) will be welcome to some service families.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said that the Bill had been thoroughly examined in another place. It was certainly examined, but I do not believe that the Select Committee there has the experience of your Lordships, particularly that concentrated on the Cross Benches—a point emphasised by my noble friend Lord Renton.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, referred to the difficulties of the commanding officer. He also said that he was sorry for the service policemen. My thoughts turn to the difficulties facing the commanding officers of the future. I am sorry for them. The noble and gallant Lord expressed his concern regarding the ECHR and the Human Rights Act.

My noble friend Lord Monro questioned whether servicemen would understand the Bill if it were put before them. The fact is that even commanding officers and their adjutants are hazy about some of the precise details of the legislation. However, I hasten to add that good advice is always available to them. I have brought into the Chamber the Queen's Regulations for the RAF, but it is too heavy for me to hold in one hand.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, shared the concerns of his noble and gallant friend Lord Craig regarding the erosion of the powers of the commanding officer. He also referred to the opt-out of the fast-moving target of the ECHR that is enjoyed by the French. It seems that the military experts—I do not count myself as one of them—are becoming increasingly concerned about the ECHR, the ICC et al.

My noble friend Lord Freeman referred to the fact that volunteer reserve officers always come under the SDAs. Although that is, indeed, an anomaly, it is also an advantage. A while ago I was travelling on the Tube and saw a group of soldiers enjoying, shall we say, a night on the town to the full. One growl from me in "officer mode" was enough for them to pipe down a little. Knowing that it was my duty made it possible for me to do so; if it had not been my duty, I should not have bothered.

My noble friend Lord Freeman also touched on the allocation of cost associated with military assistance to the civil community. Sometimes the training value of such assistance to the TA unit can be immeasurable, but it can be stopped by an accountant, who can measure the cost precisely.

Perhaps I may offer my congratulations to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, on his appointment and to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, on his.

My noble friend Lord Burnham articulated his concerns regarding the new powers of the MoD Police. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred to conservative concerns regarding the possible emergence of a national MoD-based police force and poured water on the idea. He then went on to explain, far better than I could, the potential dangers of such a development. His noble friend Lord Roper then amplified those concerns.

My noble friend Lord Burnham referred to political correctness. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, challenged my noble friend to define political correctness. My noble friend asked for a little time to reply, but I can do so now in my own humble way. "Political correctness" is being marked by or adhering to a typically progressive orthodoxy, often involving issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, ecology and the environment. When applied to the Armed Forces by those with no relevant experience, there is usually a failure to recognise the realities of warfare involving significant casualties and personal sacrifice.

We expect our Armed Forces to operate to the highest moral standards because of, and not in spite of, the tasks that they might have to undertake. Indeed, the demands of such tasks may be more than the human mind and body can stand without suffering permanent damage.

My noble friend Lord Monro drew attention to the valuable activities of women in the Armed Forces. Further use of women in the Armed Forces is under review. Women have much to offer the services, but a decision on their future role must be a military one and not a matter of political correctness.

Many noble Lords welcomed the new role for warrant officers in courts martial. I believe that to be a positive development. However, I want to follow on from the hint given by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge. Warrant officers are much tougher and more unforgiving than junior officers. As I believe the Minister said, they are also more experienced. They will also be able to relieve a load from commissioned officers.

Clause 25 will compel witnesses to attend a court martial. I have no difficulty with that, but I have a related concern. I believe that there is no compulsion on a member of the volunteer reserves to attend a court martial as a defendant. If he or she delayed matters long enough, time would run out for the proceedings and the volunteer could continue with his or her service. I am not convinced that that is proper and I may return to that matter in Committee.

My major concern about the Bill, and that of the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Roper, is that the Minister has failed to deliver a tri-service discipline Act. The Minister stated that it was never the intention to introduce a tri-service Act at this point. However, that does not alter the fact that a tri-service Act is desirable. Noble Lords will recall that during the passage of the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000 about 18 months ago, the legislation was presented to your Lordships' House as an interim measure. We have been concerned about that for some time. I regret that even the previous administration did not make any progress in that regard, although they introduced the useful Reserve Forces Act, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Monro.

Surely the first stage should involve a consolidation process bringing together the three service discipline Acts as amended into a single Act but ma king no substantial changes to the law in the process. I do not necessarily suggest using the consolidated Bill procedure because there may be difficulties if simple minor changes are required. However, I do not regard that as being terribly difficult. Such an exercise would, however, be exceptional, because it would involve the horizontal consolidation of a set of parallel Acts rather than the usual process of the vertical integration of a series of Acts. It should not be forgotten that the Army Act and the Air Force Act are very similar. The principal difference involves the ranks that are quoted.

It is vital to understand that the desire for a tri-service discipline Act is not a way of moving to a single armed service. It is even essential to maintain the separate ethos and, most importantly, the traditions of each service. Noble Lords will recognise that ethos and tradition cannot be legislated for. Over the years, noble Lords on all sides of the House have made the case for a single Act that gives a clear framework of discipline for all service personnel, who nowadays find themselves working alongside and under the command of—or even in command of—personnel from other services.

During the passage of the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000, the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and my noble friends Lord Peyton and Lord Campbell of Alloway and others made it clear that new primary legislation was required. It would simultaneously bring together the separate service discipline Acts and complete the process of updating the legislation into a single whole.

The Queen's Regulations for each service are very detailed but many matters are repeated for each service. For instance, chapter 16 of the Queen's Regulations for the RAF has 27 pages covering courts martial, and chapter 45 has 47 pages on baggage allowances! I cannot see why there should be any difference with regard to those two matters across the services. I accept that we are some way off having tri-service Queen's Regulations.

The previous administration did not succeed in introducing a tri-service Act. I point out that the Army and the RAF legal services between them have two two-star officers, two one-star officers and about eight full colonels or equivalent. Given that those officers are also lawyers, is there just too much inertia for Ministers—even for the noble Baroness—to move, whatever the advantages of doing so? We have proposals that we hope to advance in Committee which, if agreed to, would ensure that the same thing does not happen again.

6.4 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as is usual during the passage of legislation affecting the Armed Forces, we have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate. Such debates invariably benefit from the wealth of experience and knowledge that is available in your Lordships' House, but which is not found there exclusively. However, we have the advantage of the wisdom of the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Inge and Lord Craig of Radley. I, too, congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, on his well-deserved honour.

Noble Lords have heard about the variety of measures that the Bill will introduce. They are designed to improve the Armed Forces discipline system. Some of those measures are adapted from practices that already operate in the civilian criminal system but others are only of relevance to the Armed Forces. In all cases, they have been the subject of careful consideration by the services. As Sir Michael Boyce, the Chief of the Defence Staff, assured the Select Committee in another place, there is nothing in the Bill that would make discipline more difficult to maintain. It would clearly be of concern to noble Lords, Ministers and chiefs of staff if the Chief of the Defence Staff had felt otherwise. However, he told that Select Committee that he was satisfied that the Bill will, in some areas, improve the way in which discipline is conducted. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, for acknowledging that.

The noble Lords, Lord Burnham, Lord Wallace and Lord Freeman, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, raised the issue of a tri-service Act. They rightly pointed out that the Select Committee in another place wanted such an Act within three years. However, I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, who rightly said that one must be careful not to lose anything of value when drawing up a tri-service Act. The important point is to get such an Act right, not simply to have it as quickly as possible. In my opening speech I said that we should examine the feasibility of bringing forward such an Act in the way in which the Select Committee in another place asked us to do. We will consult, as we did with the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000, which recently passed through your Lordships' House.

The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, discussed a joint Select Committee. I find that an attractive idea, not least because there is such expertise in your Lordships' House. I see the merit in the proposal but, as the noble Lord knows, that is a matter not for me but for the usual channels. I am sure that he will make his representations accordingly.

Many noble Lords—notably the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, who was strongly supported by his noble and gallant friend Lord Inge—discussed the reasons that the Bill is so important. Part 2 establishes for the first time the key powers of military and other service police and of commanding officers to investigate offences by members of the Armed Forces. In doing so, it covers two main areas, which are of great importance: first, the stopping and searching of members of the services and of service vehicles, and, secondly, the searching of the accommodation of members of the services, for evidence of offences.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, wants us to look further at the accommodation issue; I am sure that we shall return to it in due course. It would be of great assistance to service police and commanding officers if they had a clear statement of what their powers were. That would also be much fairer to members of the services because everyone would know clearly where they stood.

The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, was extremely concerned about what he described as a creeping political correctness. Although he did not use the same language, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, was also concerned about what might be described as the civilian system being unnecessarily imported into military discipline. There are key differences between the civilian criminal justice system and the discipline procedures operated by the Armed Forces. Trial by court martial rather than by jury is perhaps the most obvious, but the chain of command's responsibility for the maintenance of discipline is also important. We are considering importing only those aspects of civilian procedures that are relevant to the services. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, that our policy in that regard is very much in line with that of the previous administration. On Second Reading of the last five-yearly Armed Forces Bill, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said: Where it is sensible and practical that they should do so, the services' procedures for investigating and trying offences closely resemble those of the civilian system".—[Official Report, 3/6/96: col. 1102.] Our position is no different now that we are in office.

We believe that it is essential to define the powers of the service police and of commanding officers in investigating offences for two major reasons. First, it will enable the service police and commanding officers to carry out their investigations with greater confidence. That greater confidence also implies a better understanding of their authority among those with whom they are operating. Secondly, it will ensure that people subject to service law can see for themselves that they are being treated fairly.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, remains concerned about the impact on commanding officers. Of course, we can and shall discuss that in Committee. But as I indicated in my opening remarks, we must recognise that, although the Armed Forces are indeed in a different position, as the noble and gallant Lord said, and although the group is more important than the individual, as he said, the curtailment of an individual's rights must be only what is necessary so as not to impair the operational effectiveness of the Armed Forces.

The point is that that operational effectiveness must not be compromised. But the individual's rights should not be curtailed if that operational effectiveness is not compromised. If it is not, surely the rights of an individual should not be any less than those of any other individual.

Many noble Lords concentrated their remarks on Clause 31. I look forward as much as any of your Lordships to debating that more fully in Committee. However, I remind the House that the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, said that something must be done. He said that it is not clear where the powers lie. He said that the powers should be clarified. I agree with that and we must now look at the best way of achieving it.

On Clause 31, the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said that we had some very ambitious pretensions as regards a national police force. He was quite eloquent, as he is on many occasions, in persuading us that there was some perfidious reasoning behind the Government putting forward that clause. The purpose of the clause is nothing like as ambitious as the noble Earl wishes to persuade your Lordships that it is.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, it is not the ambition; it is the general convenience that this will be quite a useful thing to have which allows those effects to happen. That is the danger. It is what Lord Harlington in the 1880s would say that we should be saying, "Rather not" rather than that we should do something about it. These things happen because people recommend them and they become convenient. The bad effect is what I forecast it to be.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Earl may not have imputed the reason for putting forward the clauses, although I rather understood him to have done so, but he has again confirmed that he believes that that will be the outcome.

But the extension of the MDP jurisdiction in the clauses would not be appropriate to some of the crises which some of your Lordships have cited except, of course, under the provision of standing arrangements in the vicinity of defence land. This is not a national police force.

However, the MDP would be able to lend officers to help another force dealing with a crisis if requested to do so by that other force. But the MDP would not be involved as a force itself. The individuals on loan would be entirely under the direction and control of the borrowing force. Such lending of officers or other resources is already possible between Home Office forces, if I may use that terminology without incurring your Lordships' wrath.

The point is that if police forces can already lend officers between them, why should the MDP be any different? It would not be establishing the MDP as a single force being able to move in, which is very much what the noble Earl implied, perhaps because he had not taken on board fully those points which I have just made.

But I point out to him that we are very pleased that the Association of Chief Police Officers has been broadly supportive of those proposals, and that is another point worth bearing in mind.

The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, asked who will decide what happens and who will say whether or not the MDP should move in. That would be down to the local constabulary and it would be the chief officer of the MDP who would decide whether or not it was appropriate in the localised situation under discussion.

The noble Lord also wanted to know who would be in charge. Where MDP resources are made available to the local force on secondment or to assist with special demands, as in Schedule 5, the chief constable of the receiving force would be in charge of those MDP assets. Where MoD Police undertake duties under Clause 31, either at the request of the local force or officers or in exercise of emergency power, the police constable of the MoD Police force would be in charge and would be responsible. I hope that that has clearly laid out those two courses for the noble Lord.

The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, asked who will decide whether there is an emergency. The emergency powers to intervene without a request are exercisable only in very closely defined circumstances and essentially—this is the point—where violence is threatened. I hope I made that clear in my introductory remarks but no doubt we shall return to that matter.

I emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, that we are not looking at creating a national police force. We are looking at more effective policing methods under certain extremely limited circumstances. It is not a paramilitary police force. I saw that the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, was as surprised as, no doubt, Mr Nick Cohen will be when he finds, on reading the noble Earl's remarks, that they agree with each other. But it is worth nothing that Mr Nick Cohen appears to have based his article on a number of misconceptions. One of those was that Part II, which is concerned with the powers of the service police, applies to the Ministry of Defence Police. Mr Nick Cohen appears to have fallen into the very trap which I asked your Lordships not to fall into when I put forward my opening remarks.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, asked us to give further thought to the accountability of the MoD Police. The chief constable of the MoD Police reports directly to the Secretary of State for Defence and through him, of course, to Parliament, although like other police chief constables he is free from all political control over operations. The Secretary of State is advised by a police committee which includes three independent members and two police advisers who are present or former HM inspectors of constabulary. Members of the public can, and indeed do, raise matters with Ministers through their MPs and through complaints procedures. The MoD Police are subject to regular inspections by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary which will now, for the first time, be placed on a statutory basis as a result of a government amendment to this Bill in another place introduced—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, will be the first to say this—very much in response to opposition concerns on this matter. The role of the Police Complaints Authority extends to complaints against the MDP in exactly the same way as it does for other police forces.

Questions were raised about Clause 33, principally by the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Craig of Radley and Lord Inge. Any changes to the service discipline Acts made under this clause will reflect changes to the civilian criminal system which have already been the subject of parliamentary scrutiny. Any instrument which makes changes to primary legislation will need the consent of Parliament before it comes into force. As I have already indicated in answer to a Written Question from the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, the issues surrounding the use of secondary legislation and the body of legislation concerning the Armed Forces will be considered as part of the work on the proposed tri-service Bill and, as I have indicated, we shall do everything we can to bring that forward as quickly as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, expressed concern that the Bill allows passages of some of the HMIC reports on the MDP to be omitted from publication. Restrictions on publication of the reports are exactly the same as those in the provisions for the Police Act 1996. The only possible exclusion is where it would be prejudicial to national security or the personal safety of individuals. I am sure that the noble Lord would say that such factors could not be ignored.

The noble Lord, Lord Monro, raised questions about the wider employment of women. I hope that the noble Lord will be pleased to know that a tri-service report led by the Army, and supported by the other services, was produced on 15th March this year. It is a factual report and presents the results of academic and other work that will contribute to an assessment of the impact on combat effectiveness—a point about which he was concerned—of removing the present exclusion of women from the Royal Marine general service, the Household Cavalry, the Royal Armoured Corps, the Infantry and the RAF Regiment.

The report does not make any recommendations. Currently the services are conducting a risk analysis within their respective areas. We hope that the results will be presented to the Chiefs of Staff and to Ministers by mid-summer. At the moment that is all I can say on that matter, but I hope that we shall be able to discuss it further in the summer.

I turn to the interesting remarks made principally by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, in relation to political correctness. Nothing that we are discussing now, or that we discuss in relation to disability or to women in the Armed Forces, should be allowed to compromise the operational effectiveness of the Armed Forces. However, there are matters of respect for other people; there are matters of respect for everyone, irrespective of issues such as gender and race. I am sure that none of your Lordships would want to sneer at such respect being given where it is properly due.

I offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, on his promotion, although the reason for it is sad. I shall be sorry to lose his wisdom in our future defence debates.

I know that your Lordships would not want me to conclude without paying tribute on behalf of the House to the men and women of our Armed Forces. Primarily this Bill is about those men and women. We often acknowledge the unique role of our forces. We expect a great deal of them and, as your Lordships will appreciate only too well, invariably they fulfil our expectations. Their readiness and their ability to get on with the task in hand, however challenging it may be, are demonstrated day in and day out overseas, and particularly in this country at the moment. I was grateful for the remarks made by the noble Lords, Lord Monro and Lord Freeman. I shall draw them to the attention of the service chiefs who I am sure will be pleased to read them.

I am sure that noble Lords will agree with me that we are fortunate in having men and women in the three services who serve this country with such commitment, loyalty and distinction. I commend the Bill to the House and I look forward to debating it in future with your Lordships.

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

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