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Reserve Forces Bill Hl

Volume 570: debated on Tuesday 5 March 1996

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7.35 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 121 [ The lieutenancies]:

moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 63, line 25, at end insert—
("(2) It is hereby declared that the validity of the appointment of a lord-lieutenant after 20th April 1980 is not affected by the fact that the instrument appointing him refers to the power of appointment previously contained in the Local Government Act 1972 or the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 and not the corresponding power under the Reserve Forces Act 1980.
This subsection shall come into force on the passing of this Act.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, when last week the House was considering this Bill on Report, I raised an issue relating to the appointment of lord-lieutenants which had been brought to my attention by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, and I said that I hoped the Government would be able to bring forward a suitable amendment on Third Reading.

The statutory powers governing the appointment by Her Majesty of lord-lieutenants for each county in England and Wales are contained in Section 130 of the Reserve Forces Act 1980. That was a consolidation Act, and the provisions of that section repeat word for word provisions previously contained in Section 218 of the Local Government Act 1972. In Scotland the corresponding provisions are in Section 131 of the 1980 Act, which re-enacted Section 205 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.

Until 1980 the instruments of appointment rightly referred to the 1972 or 1973 Act, depending whether the appointment was in England and Wales or in Scotland. Thereafter, they should of course have referred to the Reserve Forces Act 1980, but regrettably that was not always the case; many of them continued to refer to the 1972 or 1973 Act. It is quite likely that those appointments are nevertheless legally valid, but it is thought sensible to make it clear that that is indeed the case. The purpose of this amendment is therefore to dispel any doubts there may be about the validity of these appointments, and about the validity of any acts done by a lord-lieutenant whose instrument of appointment cites the wrong Act. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 122 [ Safeguard of employment for members of reserve forces]:

moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 63, line 40, leave out subsection (3) and insert—
("(3) For subsection (1) of section 17 (prohibition of dismissal for liability to whole-time service) there shall be substituted the following subsection—
"(1) If the employer of a person who may be required to enter upon a period of whole-time service—
  • (a) terminates that person's employment without his consent at any time when he is not in that service, and
  • (b) does so solely or mainly by reason of any duties or liabilities which that person may be liable to perform or discharge—
  • (i) if required to report at any time or place with a view to entering into whole-time service; or
  • (ii) if he enters upon a period of whole-time service,
  • the employer is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale."").

    The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 2 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 3.

    These amendments relate to the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985. I mentioned them during the Report stage. The change to Section 17 of the 1985 Act will mean that individuals who report as required on call-out or recall but are, for whatever reason, not accepted into service, remain entitled to the protection of the Act. The omission of Section 20(4) is consequential. The change to Section 20(3) introduces an explicit reference to maternity leave, and follows up a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I support the amendment but ask for a point of clarification. I take it that the phrase "whole-time service" does not include members of the reserve forces who sign up to become members of the high readiness reserve.

    My Lords, I believe the noble Lord is correct. If I am wrong, I shall write to him straight away.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    moved Amendment No. 3:

    Page 64, line 3, at end insert—
    ("( ) For subsections (3) and (4) of section 20 (interpretation) there shall be substituted the following subsection—
    "(3) A period of whole time service shall not be regarded as having ceased by reason of any absence on leave (including sick leave or maternity leave) before release from service or discharge."").

    The noble Earl said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment when moving Amendment No. 2. I beg to move.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Schedule 11 [ Repeals]:

    moved Amendment No. 4:

    Page 97, line 28, column 3, at end insert ("140, 151").

    The noble Earl said: My Lords, Amendment No. 4 relates to pensions issues. As I mentioned during the Report stage, the Bill includes the repeal of almost the whole of the Reserve Forces Act 1980. Some sections of that Act are superseded entirely by the Bill and will be repealed immediately the relevant provisions are brought into force. Other sections will continue to have effect for limited purposes and will be repealed when they become spent.

    Sections 140 and 151 of the 1980 Act give authority for the payment of war pensions to former members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Home Guard. It has been suggested to me that the inclusion of those sections in the repeal schedule might give the impression that it was the Government's intention to cease the payment of pensions to the individuals concerned, or perhaps to exclude new applicants who develop a disability attributable to their service. That is very much not the case, and to put the matter beyond doubt I have put forward this simple amendment to remove those two clauses from the ambit of the repeal. I beg to move.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    An amendment (privilege) made.

    My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. This is an important Bill. It will bring the law on reserves up to date, and it will permit those reserves to be used more flexibly. The Bill is complex and, in many respects, technical. Its scope means that it is necessarily lengthy. For the record, I might say that it runs to 132 clauses and 11 schedules, covering 98 pages.

    The Bill has been the subject of a very extensive consultation exercise. I believe that that has been most productive. The policy which the Bill implements has been fully aired, and the provisions themselves considered widely. I am sure that that has been an important factor in the general support which the Bill has received from all sides of the House.

    I should like to take this opportunity to thank all noble Lords who have contributed to our debates, at Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and indeed today. I am most grateful for the constructive spirit in which the Bill has been considered.

    Although time prevents me from mentioning every noble Lord who has contributed, I should like to express my particular and genuine thanks to the noble Lords, Lord Williams and Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. I very much appreciate the considerable efforts they have made to improve the Bill. I have, of course, felt it necessary to oppose some of the amendments that they have put forward, but I have always recognised that their motivation has been positive. However, in very many more cases I have been able to agree with the points which they have raised, and to accept amendments which they have tabled.

    Perhaps I may also mention the contribution to our debates of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who has provided some useful insights on a range of issues. I am grateful to him. I am confident that your Lordships' careful scrutiny of the Bill has delivered up a better Bill and that it will considerably ease the burden on those in another place when they come to consider it.

    I should now like to touch briefly on some of the topics which we have debated during the passage of the Bill. We spent some time in Committee on various matters concerning special agreements under Part IV of the Bill. I believe it was a very useful debate, and I hope that the details I was able to supply were helpful to your Lordships. Special agreements are necessary if we are to be able to guarantee the availability for operations of individuals with particular skills. They will be skills in short supply in the reserve forces, meaning that it would not be sensible to rely on seeking volunteers possessing those skills at a time of crisis.

    The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, tabled amendments concerning the sponsored reserve concept under Part V of the Bill. I was grateful for his contributions on this, as on other matters, and was able to offer him reassurance in Committee and further details in correspondence. We believe that the Bill offers a flexible framework within which each service will be able to adapt the concept to suit various applications as they arise. In assessing the suitability of a given area of work for the concept, particular attention will be paid to the maintenance of operational capability.

    The flexibility I mentioned includes scope to adjust the training syllabus for sponsored reserves according to the circumstances. There are a number of useful precedents for the assimilation of support personnel with particular skills and qualifications into the service rank structure when they are needed, and we do not expect any difficulty on that score. We do believe that the concept will allow the extension of the market testing programme into new areas, to the benefit of both the services and the defence industry.

    The noble Lords, Lord Williams and Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, raised a number of issues connected by a common thread—their concern for the position of the individual. I might include in that category the amendments they tabled concerning the position of conscientious objectors; discrimination against reservists by employers; and statutory protection for civilian pensions. I believe that in each case I was able to explain that the present or, in the case of pensions, proposed arrangements were sufficient.

    On conscientious objectors, the existing longstanding arrangements apply to both regulars and reservists. They work well, and I would not wish to make any change to them. Both in Committee and on Report the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, pressed for the Bill to include a provision prohibiting discrimination by employers. I hope that I said enough to persuade her that, far from encouraging the employment of reserves, such a move would be likely to harden employers' attitudes, and would be counterproductive. Furthermore, to achieve an effective provision would require quite a substantial Bill in its own right.

    On the question of pensions, I repeat the assurance I gave on Report. The Government understand the necessity to safeguard the civilian pension provision of reservists. As the House will recognise, pensions issues are complex. We will be consulting closely with the pensions industry, employers and other interested parties as ideas are developed.

    I think that the issue which prompted the greatest interest among your Lordships was the maximum length of obligatory service after call-out for peacekeeping, humanitarian and disaster relief operations. Certainly, the debate on Report on the amendment moved by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, drew contributions from the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Carver and Lord Craig of Radley, from my noble friends Lord Vivian and Lord Renton, from the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and from the noble Lord, Lord Williams. I mention last, but it goes without saying very much not least, the most interesting point made by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff. My thanks are due to all those noble Lords for their contributions.

    I explained that the period of nine months in the Bill was the result of very careful consideration. I added that the nine month period was supported by the TA colonels, including my noble friend the Duke of Westminster, and by the chairmen of the 14 Territorial, Auxiliary Volunteer Reserve Associations. The nine months would be a maximum period of obligatory service after call-out, but it was our intention that reservists, like regulars, would not normally serve more than six months on operational tours. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, put it, the penny has dropped on that point. Indeed, if I may say so, the notional penny has been in its fallen position for some considerable time. It was on that understanding that the noble and gallant Lord agreed to withdraw his amendment.

    Altogether I have listened with great attention to the various debates on the Bill's provisions. Your Lordships have, with no little knowledge and insight, made your usual valuable contributions. I am grateful for the broad support the Bill has received from all sides of the House. I hope that that will continue in another place. As I said earlier, I am confident that your Lordships' careful scrutiny of the Bill will considerably reduce the consideration that is required there. I commend the Bill to the House.

    Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Earl Howe.)

    My Lords, at Second Reading I gave the Bill a welcome from these Benches because we recognise that the 1980 Act was out of date, that it needed revising and that there was a case for a new role for the reserve forces. I also emphasised that the reserve forces form a vital umbilical cord, if I may put it like that, between the regular forces and the civilian population. That is the role that has been emphasised by a number of noble Lords in the course of our debates.

    The noble Earl listened carefully to my point that we would explore a number of matters in Committee. The Government agreed with a number of the points that we put forward and those have been written into the Bill. I am particularly pleased that the penny dropped on the question of pensions in the end because the Government started off from a position that we regarded as being untenable—indeed, not only untenable in equity but one which would discourage people from signing up as reservists. I am glad that the Government have conceded that point. As the noble Earl said, he was unable to accede to a number of our amendments. I fully understand that.

    I believe there are four points that will be matter for another place; indeed, they will perhaps be debated at some length there. The first is the question of key personnel who are called up for humanitarian relief. We debated that in Committee. My noble friend Lord Callaghan of Cardiff referred to doctors in the NHS and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, referred to the problem of medical services generally in the Royal Air Force. It is particularly acute when we come to humanitarian relief because, as was mentioned in Committee and at Report stage, people who are employed for humanitarian relief domestically may well not enjoy being called up for humanitarian relief outside the United Kingdom. They probably have enough to do, particularly in the NHS, at home. That could, and does, give rise to all sorts of problems.

    The second point that will be matter for debate in another place is that of discrimination, protection and conditions of employment. Despite what the noble Earl said, I have to put on record that I do not believe he went quite far enough for our liking. Under the Bill as drafted we believe that reservists can be discriminated against, particularly in their conditions of employment. We would like to make sure, not in the interests of the individuals, as the noble Earl said, but of the whole system because if that is right people will sign up as reservists. If the system is wrong people will not sign up. Obviously, we have our concerns about individuals but above all it was in order to get the system right that we moved the amendments.

    The third point is the vexed question of nine months versus six months for humanitarian relief operations. I have no doubt that that matter will come back again in another place. It links with the fourth point which is the structure of the Bill. I do not believe that we touched on it except peripherally from time to time. There seems to us to be a certain fuzziness in the distinction between call-up in Clauses 52, 54 and 56. It is the difference between what is a warlike operation and a humanitarian relief operation and when a humanitarian relief operation suddenly becomes a warlike operation. The position is somewhat less than clear. I offer this as an afterthought to our discussions. It would make sense if there were a category all on its own, as it were, which dealt with pure, humanitarian relief operations and never got into anything that could be on the edge of warlike operations. If that were the case, then the call-up period of six months—and I put this forward as a personal view—would be appropriate. No doubt it is something that will be debated in another place and the Government will ponder it.

    We went into Committee in the Moses Room. I believe that that generally was a success. After the Government had, as the noble Earl said, consulted widely on the Bill and indeed had drafted a Bill and published it, it was unfortunate that they had to produce a whole raft of amendments even before we began in Committee. Somewhat against my will, I was forced to accept the Government's amendments in toto on the understanding that we would recommit the Bill and at that point have a Bill that the Government were prepared to defend. It seemed to me rather odd that we had more than 100 amendments before we even went into Committee when this was the first House to examine the Bill.

    Having said that, I consider the Committee experiment in the Moses Room, after we had overcome that rather difficult hiccup, to have been a success. The fact that it was a success is due not only to the participation of noble Lords who had great knowledge of the subject of reserve forces but also to the flexibility and courtesy of the Minister himself. I take this opportunity of reciprocating and thanking the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for his courtesy, kindness and the general flexibility and good humour he displayed throughout what were at times somewhat tense debates. The House is indebted to him. He can feel proud of the way in which he carried the Bill through the House. My thanks are also due to my noble friends Lord Judd and Lady Turner of Camden who helped me on specific aspects of the Bill and I hope, as the noble Earl said, with some effect. We had a good team. I believe that we made some impression on government thinking.

    In conclusion I wish the Bill well. It seems to us to be a Bill that, in its present form, is reasonably well drafted, subject to the points I mentioned and to further opinions that no doubt will emerge in another place. The Bill is certainly needed; it is one which will give heart to the reserve forces. I believe that it will give heart to the regular forces as well. We welcome it as such. I wish the Bill well. We look forward to seeing what happens to it in another place and whether amendments will be introduced which your Lordships will discuss.

    My Lords, I would like to add my words of welcome to the Bill. The Bill is needed. Not only will it be welcomed by all sides of the House but, more importantly, it will be welcomed by the Territorial Army itself and the reserve forces because it will give added impetus to their role. For many people in the reserve forces it will provide a focus on which to train and a reason for retention. I believe that that is the main reason behind the Bill added to the fact that people get "in-field" experience. One of the major problems that the Bill has brought to light—and I understand the Minister's reservations about introducing legislation—is discrimination.

    The Bill in its entirety is only a vehicle through which actions can take place such as people signing up to become members of the high readiness reserve force. If there is a feeling—and I believe that this is why the debate occupied so much time and effort—within the reserve forces that discrimination will rain down on them from their employers, we shall be in difficulty in the future. However, having said that, I am sure that the matter will be raised in another place. I add my thanks to the Minister for the way he has undertaken the Bill.

    My Lords, I express my gratitude for the way in which the Minister and his predecessors consulted so deeply and at all levels and for the fact that consultation has been genuine. The Minister obviously acted on the information he received. As to the future, I look forward to taking advantage of the Bill personally and also allowing the men under my command to take advantage of it.

    My Lords, I too want to thank my noble friend the Minister. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said about his great courtesy and the immense care he took to deal with each and every possible amendment, including some relatively little ones of mine. I congratulate my noble friend on having handled this very important Bill so very well.

    The advice I have received from those parts of the Territorial Army with which I have dealt for many years is that they very much welcome the Bill. That endorses what those noble Lords with experience in the area have said. I believe that it will be a very good Bill and I hope that another place does not ruin it. I look forward to it returning to your Lordships' House more or less as it is now.

    My Lords, I should like to reply briefly. First, I must thank all noble Lords for their kind and positive words about the Bill and my part in its passage through the House. I thank particularly my noble friend Lord Mottistone not only for his most recent comments but for his contributions generally to our debates which have been most constructive at all times.

    I should like to make two points in response to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. He expressed doubt about the availability of reservists for humanitarian purposes overseas. I take note of his concern, but it is likely that only willing individuals would be called out for that type of operation.

    The noble Lord also implied that the Government had given some ground on the issue of pensions. We had a useful debate on that matter. I agree with the noble Lord that many important issues were aired. In fact, we have not changed our position on pensions. The power to safeguard civilian pensions has always been in Part VIII and our intentions, which I set out at Report stage, have been clear for some time. Nevertheless, I am glad that I was able to satisfy the noble Lord and his noble friends on those issues.

    Once again, I thank your Lordships for the constructive spirit in which the Bill has been debated. It has been a pleasure to be responsible for a measure which is welcomed by all parties and which has stimulated many interesting debates. I suspect that at the forefront of all our minds is the realisation that the reserve forces want to play a significant part in our military contribution to future crises. They have a most valuable capability to do so and this Bill will enable that to be used. With that thought, I ask your Lordships to agree that the Bill should now pass.

    On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

    My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.35 p.m.

    Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

    [ The Sitting was suspended from 8.2 to 8.35 p.m.]