Thursday, 8 September 2011.
Armed Forces Bill
Committee (2nd Day)
25: After Clause 23, insert the following new Clause—
“Committee on the Grant of Medals to Service Members
After section 359 of AFA 2006 insert—
“359B Committee on the Grant of Medals to Service Members
(1) There shall be a Committee, to be known as the Committee on the Grant of Medals to Service Members, to make recommendations to Her Majesty on the grant of medals to service members.
(2) The Committee shall consist of nine members—
(a) three of whom shall be drawn from the members of the House of Commons;(b) three of whom shall be drawn from the members of the House of Lords;(c) three of whom shall be persons the Secretary of State considers to represent service members; and(d) none of whom shall be a Minister of the Crown.(3) The members of the Committee shall be appointed by the Secretary of State, and one shall be so appointed as chair of the Committee.
(4) Before appointing members of the House of Commons or the House of Lords, the Secretary of State shall consult the Leader of the Opposition (within the meaning of the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975).
(5) The Committee shall make an annual report on the discharge of its functions to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State shall lay before each House of Parliament a copy of each annual report.
(6) The Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals shall cease to have a role in advising on or making recommendations about the grant of medals to service people.
(7) In this section “service people” means—
(a) members of the regular forces or reserve forces;(b) members of British overseas territory forces who are subject to service law; and(c) former members of any of Her Majesty’s forces.””
My Lords, in moving Amendment 25 in my name and also supporting Amendments 26 and 27, I know that many in your Lordships’ House, and others in the other place too, have great concerns about the way in which the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals, which advises the sovereign on the award of honours, has gone about its task. It has been argued over the years that the committee, known as the HD committee, is the right model to consider what advice to give to the sovereign. We are told that it is the right model because it is made up of senior civil servants from across Whitehall and that, due to the way it is made up and operates, it is protected against that terrible scourge, political influence—something which over the years officials have told me must be resisted. But, for the life of me, I do not see why it is thought that a body of top officials who meet in secret and are not accountable to anyone is considered better equipped to be part of this process than, say, Members of Parliament, who are elected by the people and obviously enjoy the people’s confidence, or indeed Members of your Lordships’ House, a number of whom are noble and gallant Lords who have served our country in the Armed Forces with great distinction.
The point I am making is this. The lack of transparency and accountability which is at the heart of the way in which the HD committee operates is no longer defensible. Most of the time, the HD committee does not even meet; its members communicate with one another by telephone and e-mail. Even more worrying, at the very helpful briefing on this Bill arranged by the Minister on Tuesday, we learnt that there is not even a statutory basis for the way in which the HD operates—its decisions are based on conventions.
The system by which advice on honours is given to the sovereign has existed for some decades and needs to be overhauled. I have come to this conclusion having for some years now tried to understand how the HD committee reached a decision to advise Her Majesty the Queen that 35,000 veterans of the Malaysian campaign can accept the Pingat Jasa Malaysia Medal from the King of Malaysia but must not wear it—accept it but must not wear it. To deny our servicemen the right to wear the PJM was an unfair and cruel act by the committee, and I have attempted by way of Parliamentary Questions and freedom of information requests to lift the blanket of secrecy surrounding this decision. All my efforts have been thwarted, and a veil of secrecy descends on Whitehall.
I have been told that there are two enduring rules governing the work of the HD committee in these matters—the five-year rule and the double-medalling rule. The five-year rule prevents the award of honours more than five years after a conflict has taken place, and the double-medalling rule forbids the award of a medal for which an earlier medal has been presented. However, the HD committee set aside both rules and advised Her Majesty the Queen that the men should accept the medal from the King of Malaysia, but then it reimposed both rules to prevent them wearing the medal. I would add that not all British servicemen who took part in the Malaysian campaign even got the campaign medal from this country—so clearly there will be no double medalling in their case.
Some 114 Commonwealth servicemen lost their lives in that campaign; 180 were wounded. Is this the way in which a grateful country should honour their sacrifice? The veterans are told that they can accept the medal but must not wear it. That is an affront, and it is an insult. I should add that the Governments of Australia and New Zealand advised Her Majesty the Queen that their servicemen should accept and wear the PJM.
To add further dishonour to this whole affair, the HD committee lifted the ban on wearing the PJM for one week during the 50th anniversary of Malaysian independence. I have in my possession Foreign Office documents which make it clear that the decision was lifted only because the Malaysians had invited British and Commonwealth ex-servicemen to attend the celebrations and it was feared that British veterans would cause some embarrassing scenes when they saw the Anzac ex-servicemen wearing their PJM, which the British were not allowed to do.
I will not detain the Committee much longer, save to say that the discredit that this has brought on our country over the PJM is the prime reason for my amendment, which would remove the HD committee from having any responsibility in future to advise the sovereign on the acceptance of honours awarded to service people. I am suggesting that this would be better done by a committee representing both Houses of Parliament and others appointed by the Secretary of State for Defence, who would represent the services. The committee, to be named the Committee on the Grant of Medals to Service Members, would be required to make an annual report on the discharge of its functions to the Secretary of State and that report should be laid before Parliament. I believe that there is no more appropriate time than now, with this Armed Forces Bill—a Bill that comes only once every five years. This Bill enshrines at its heart the military covenant. If we were to honour the courage and valour of all our ex-servicemen, particularly the veterans of the Malaysian campaign, we should right the wrong on them. If we do this, we can be proud that this country will do a lot better in future to honour and value those who have given their lives and continue to put their lives on the line in defence of the freedom of our country. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendment 26, which is in the same group. The Minister and other noble Lords will be aware that I tabled a Written Question on 14 July about the Pingat Jasa Malaysia Medal, about which the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, has just spoken. As he mentioned, this medal was awarded by the King and Government of Malaysia to all members of Commonwealth Armed Forces who were involved in the Malayan emergency and the confrontation with Indonesia between 1957 and 1966.
A similar Question was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, in January 2005. The response that he was given by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, then the Minister of State in the Foreign Office, explained that government policy,
“on the acceptance and wearing of foreign awards preclude[s] the acceptance of medals for events in the distant past or more than five years previously. In addition, the rules do not allow for a foreign award to be accepted if a British award has been given for the same service”.—[Official Report, 11/1/05; col. WA34.]
The position upheld then was that all British citizens required the permission of Her Majesty's Government to accept and wear foreign state awards and that the Government would adhere to the rules that I have outlined. Subsequently, in 2006, the Government agreed that the PJM medal could be accepted by veterans who had been in Malaysia at the relevant time, but that the wearing of the medal was not approved. The stance was in stark contrast to that taken by other Commonwealth countries, which approved not only the acceptance but the wearing of the medal. The Answer that I had seven weeks after I posed the Question, dated 2 September 2011, from the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, who I believe is himself a recipient of the PJM, was far from explicit. I had anticipated that the response would be from a Minister in the Foreign Office, as the FCO has traditionally had the lead on foreign awards and medals. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said that the FCO had the lead. But he stated:
“Permission was not however recommended for the PJM to be worn by veterans as the majority had previously been awarded the British General Service Medal (GSM), for their service in the region. There was a period of time, between 1960 and 1962 and, in the case of the Army, from mid-1965 onwards when the risk and rigour was not deemed sufficient to award a medal to British troops stationed in the area”.—[Official Report, 5/9/11; col. WA16.]
Having prayed in aid the “no double-medalling convention”, the Minister goes on to assert that the lack of a GSM or a clasp to it does not in itself mean automatic qualification to wear the PJM. Tossing a coin, if it is heads you do not qualify and if it is tails you cannot wear it.
As has been pointed out to me, over the years the Government of the day have agreed to the award and wearing of more than one medal for a specific operation—a number during the Second World War and in subsequent operations too numerous to record now, but ranging from the mid-1970s in Oman to the Malta GC 50th Anniversary of the end of the War Medal. In order to qualify for that medal, the recipient had to have the British Africa Star—in other words, imposing a double-medalling requirement. This Malta medal of course broke by some years the five-year rule, having received unrestricted approval for wear some 50 years after the event.
The Accumulated Campaign Service Medal is a further example of double-medalling. It was introduced in 1994 specifically to award more than one medal to those serving repeat tours in Northern Ireland who would otherwise receive just one GSM for their service. The medal has since been extended to include medals awarded for more recent operations, such as in the south Atlantic and the Gulf.
The acceptance of medals issued by foreign Governments and by United Nations and NATO authorities to British citizens on a considerable number of occasions has also been approved. Each has been deemed, no doubt, as an exceptional case. Given the large number of exceptions that I have mentioned, surely it is no longer tenable to attempt to uphold the policy that I outlined in my opening remarks on the grounds of precedence.
Modern operational conflicts are taking place all over the globe, often with allies—particularly Commonwealth allies—involved. Should a Commonwealth country that British Armed Forces personnel have assisted in a matter of national importance to that country wish to recognise that help with the award of a medal, it would be that much more appreciated by both donor and recipient if there were a presumption of acceptance and wear before such an award were proposed. I suggest in my amendment that this might be confined—at least for the present—to Commonwealth country awards. I hope that the Minister will not accept any advice that it would be invidious to make a distinction between medals awarded by a Commonwealth as opposed to a non-Commonwealth country. The purpose of my amendment is indeed to give precedence to the Commonwealth, not to diminish it. Indeed, this could be a timely moment for the Prime Minister attending the next CHOGM in Australia to demonstrate a special interest in this matter. The current stance seems far too insular and unreceptive of the appreciation being conveyed by the donor nation.
I personally cannot lay claim to a chestful of medals. I am the most senior member of my service not to have an operational service award, let alone a GSM—and that in spite of more than 40 years’ service in the Royal Air Force. However, those with more medals that I have are, and should be, rightly proud of their contributions to national duty which their awards reflect. I do not believe that accepting and wearing a medal awarded by a Commonwealth country in any way belittles the national medal that may also have been awarded. Surely the acceptance and wearing of a Commonwealth medal alongside a national one adds to, rather than detracts from, the importance or significance of the latter. It serves to emphasise the contribution made by that individual and the recognition of the efforts that he or she has made. Is this not the time to review and change the long-standing but frequently overruled policy rules that were drawn up in a very different age?
The rules prayed in aid by the committee on honours, decorations and awards seem to be designed to produce a default position of refusal for any foreign medal and are blindly and often stubbornly asserted by the honours committee. Along with the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, I urge the Minister and the Government to take this matter away for review and renewal. Will they also clarify whether the advice being forwarded to the sovereign is from the honours committee direct or from the appropriate Minister in the Government? If the latter, it seems to me that the royal prerogative is being invoked.
My Lords, I declare that I am a trustee of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League. The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, was also in that position and did outstanding work for the league.
I am so glad that the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, has raised this subject. I must tell him that I find the essence of his argument good but the proposed composition of the future committee less good. The moment we bring politicians—I include Members of your Lordships’ House—into a matter such as this, we are on fairly dangerous ground. Therefore, although I take the thrust of the points made by the noble Lord, I am not happy with the composition of the future committee that he has put forward.
When the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, talked of medals, I was not sure whether that included decorations. I feel that the whole of this subject should be within the Ministry of Defence; it is its problem and its right to award gallantry awards, campaign medals and anything else that it feels entitled to award. I am arguing that the present committee, for all the good reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, gave, occasionally gives Her Majesty the wrong advice. I have said so within the MoD at a couple of meetings.
The argument that you do not get two medals for one campaign is fallacious. The Korean medal is cited in that, and I should declare that I have two medals for fighting in Korea. The war in Korea was a United Nations war, fought by 21 nations. It was not just a British war. Therefore, those from the 21 nations that took part got a United Nations medal. If Britain or one of the other 20 nations wants to give a national medal as well, that is up to them. Her Majesty’s Government saw fit to give such a medal to the Armed Forces of Britain who fought in Korea. I was in South Korea a few months ago and talked to the President, who sees the war in Korea as a United Nations war. That is what is taught to children in school: 21 nations saved them from communist domination. Therefore, the argument that you do not get two medals for one campaign is not on.
The Malaysian medal was given by the Agong—the King—and the Government of Malaysia with a great deal of charitable love and respect for what Great Britain did over 11 years in Malaya. I declare that I was also given that medal. Some of the Armed Forces of our Crown served, on and off, on more than one tour. The Gurkha brigade that spent 15 years there on constant operations got one bar on a General Service Medal. Specialised forces spent 10 or 11 years there. Others kept coming and going. The way in which medals are given today, marvellous as it is, means that these people who had given great dedicated service got only one medal. It is a great shame that the advice given to Her Majesty was such that this medal cannot be worn. There were of course many doing their national service serving in Malaya at that time, and they too are entitled to this medal.
I take the noble and gallant Lord’s amendment as being the answer to this. I say to the Minister that the MoD ought to go back and have a very good think. Maybe its own committee should meet a bit more often and get on and modernise itself. It ought to stand by the Commonwealth. For that reason, I hope that the Minister will not say that it is unnecessary and we should not be allowed this Malaysian medal. I hope that the Ministry will think again and that it will take the noble and gallant Lord’s amendment as fully voted on by most of us.
My Lords, I too rise to support the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, in what he has said and the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, for suggesting that it is high time that the committee, whose rules I gather go back to 1886—some of them indeed to 1854—considers revising them.
Like the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, I declare that I have the Pingat Jasa Malaysia. As I am not allowed to wear it, I have actually brought it with me because it is important that those who have not seen it read the declaration that is on the lid. I wonder whether that was made available to either Her Majesty the Queen or those who had to make this decision. It reads:
“This medal is awarded to the peacekeeping groups amongst the communion countries for distinguished chivalry, gallantry, sacrifice or loyalty”—
that is a word that I would like people to pay attention to—
“in upholding Peninsular of Malaysia or Malaysia sovereignty during the period of emergency and confrontation”.
The word “loyalty” rings loudly through this, which is why I particularly welcome the word “Commonwealth” in the noble and gallant Lord’s amendment. I say to the Minister that recently I have heard both the Foreign Secretary and the Minister responsible for the Commonwealth say that one of the aims of this Government is to put the C back in the FCO. Where better to show loyalty to the Commonwealth, when it has responded in this way, than by allowing the wearing of this medal? It would be ridiculous if I went in uniform with Her Majesty the Queen to the Commonwealth conference in Perth and was allowed to wear the PJM, but had to take it off when I came back here. That is silly.
Of all the arguments that I have heard, the idea of five years is stupid, because this is a decision that Malaysia took. In the same spirit as the United Nations rewarded all the people in Korea, this was awarded to all those who helped Malaysia. To say that we do not accept it because it was five years after we had stopped being there is both discourteous and unchivalrous.
My Lords, in speaking to Amendment 27 in my name I thank the noble Lords, Lord Touhig and Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble and gallant Lord Craig, for their remarks, and the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, for the reminiscences that put all this into context—that is, in this country we do not treat veterans with the same respect and regard as our friends across the Atlantic in the United States do. There, the veterans are a strong body and fight for their corner. Here, I often feel that veterans need to have their corner fought by people such as us in the Moses Room. It worries me that over the past 60 years, many thousands of veterans believe that the service that they have given has not been appreciated. The purpose of my amendment is to institute a national defence medal. The cost of such a medal has been calculated as £2.50 per medal. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that that includes its box. There is an estimate of 4 million people who could apply, but that of those only two-thirds would apply.
What is the medal for? So many of our service people have given their lives or served time in situations such as the Berlin airlift, Northern Ireland, Korea and all the places that the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, mentioned—I shall not try to repeat them all. There have been 58 petitions on the Ministry of Defence website, of which the request for the institution of a national defence medal came top, which shows that there is a demand for it. I was not old enough to serve in the forces—I just missed national service—but my late father had medals from the Second World War, which I treasure. His elder brother died in the First World War.
The idea of medals not only for the veterans but for their dependants is very important, which is why I support all the comments made in the debate. A question was raised earlier about who should be on the committee at the Ministry of Defence. A committee at the MoD has been considering these matters, but veterans tell me that they feel that the process has not been transparent. There has been a feeling that it has been put into a box somewhere without anyone wanting to deal with it. That is despite the fact that leaders of two or three political parties have said that they are in favour of a national defence medal.
Should we not take the matter out of the box of the Ministry of Defence, bring it into the open and let the veterans contribute their views—there are many veterans’ organisations—and make a decision on the national defence medal which is understood and accepted by everyone? At the moment, the feeling is that it is being ignored. That is not fair to our veterans.
Why are the Government not prepared to recognise the service to the nation by the award of a medal to all those who have served? I find that strange. We spoke on previous amendments about housing and the covenant. There is a feeling that a national defence medal would recognise all those people who have been ignored. The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, said that some people have one medal; but some people have a number of medals. So some people will have one extra medal, but many people have no medals at all, and they include officers in the RAF involved in the Berlin airlift, who did not receive medals because they were not given to officers at the time.
I hope that the Minister will listen to what not only I but other noble Lords have said and have a rethink on medals with a positive outcome.
I support the general tone of the three amendments, which promote the mood in the country that we have not got our medal policy right. For three years, I took part in discussion as Chief of the General Staff within the Chief of Staff's committee when we discuss medal issues as they arose in relation to Iraq and Afghanistan. After extensive discussion, we often arrived at conclusions. On a number of occasions, those conclusions were turned down because they offended the existing HD committee rules.
We have talked about double-medalling. There are many examples of the sanctioning of double-medalling. I give an example from my own experience. I was the commander of British forces in Bosnia in 1995-96 and, over that six-month period, the UN operation ended and the NATO operation began. The soldiers under my command for that six-month period had three months under the UN and three months under NATO. It was decided that, because they had served in one campaign loyally over that six-month period, they should have the UN medal and, for the very difficult start of the NATO operation, they should have the NATO medal. Therefore, for that six-month period they got two medals.
There are other examples of how the double-medalling rule has been broken. We have heard examples concerning the PJM. I visited Malaysia as Chief of the General Staff just ahead of the 50th anniversary of independence. It was embarrassing to be quizzed on Malaysian television about the fact that our servicemen could not wear this medal. The awful compromise arrived at in the end, compounding the original compromise that you could accept the medal but not wear it, was that it could be worn for a short period in certain circumstances. I believe that that makes a mockery of the existing rules and regulations of the HD committee.
It is said that these things are decided simply by a committee of civil servants. However, when it comes to evaluating an act of gallantry of the highest order, with a candidate for the Victoria Cross or George Cross, the head of the service of that candidate is brought into the discussions with the committee. Therefore, again, there are more anomalies within the system.
In supporting the general tone of these three amendments, my request is for the Government to recognise that there is a degree of dissatisfaction among the serving community, and particularly among the veteran community, about the inequity in the treatment of medals in recent years. I ask that in the immediate future the composition, rules and regulations of the HD committee be looked at again and reviewed in a transparent and open way so that everyone—serving or veteran—feels that they have been dealt with fairly.
My Lords, I have to confess that I come to this Committee briefed by my own party to take a neutral position. Equally, I have to recognise that, if this matter were to go to a vote on Report and we took a neutral position, the Government would not be realistically challenged. In light of the breadth and depth of the speeches that I have heard today and in light of what the Government have to say, I shall be reconsidering our position.
My Lords, first, I ought to apologise on behalf of my noble friend Lord Astor, who of course would have been here to respond to these amendments. However, as your Lordships will know, he is on standby to deal with a Statement in the Chamber and is therefore unable to be here.
I have to declare a couple of interests: first, as president of the Council of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association and, secondly, as the Colonel Commandant of the Yeomanry.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, was very modest about his collection of medals. I can be even more modest about mine.
I have listened carefully to the very powerful speeches that have been made in this debate. They have all explained the lack of satisfaction with the position, which of course I shall report back to the department. I shall do my best to respond to noble Lords’ points, although I do so with some trepidation, as I have little doubt that I will not satisfy every noble Lord.
Amendment 25 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, involves the proposal to insert a new clause, which would see the creation of a new committee to make recommendations to Her Majesty on the grant of medals to members of the Armed Forces. My understanding of the amendment is that it would affect two aspects of the grant of medals in particular. The first is the institution by Her Majesty of new medals for the Armed Forces and the second is the rules concerning the acceptance and wearing of foreign medals.
I should say that recommendations on individual operational gallantry awards are dealt with differently from these matters, but I do not think that we are particularly focusing on those today. They are made by the military chain of command up to the Ministry of Defence, where they are approved by the Secretary of State before being submitted to Her Majesty.
As to the first of the two areas that would be affected—the institution of new medals—I hope that it will be helpful to recall that in 1939, on the outbreak of war, the King was anxious to ensure that there be co-ordination regarding honours and decorations, both military and civil. He directed that the head of the Civil Service should set up and chair a permanent committee to take this in hand and to advise him. This is what we now know as the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals—as the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, said, the HD committee.
The need for that committee reflects the fact that there is not a simple division between the institution of civil and military awards. For example, major wars impose exceptional demands on all parts of society. The HD committee is chaired by the Cabinet Secretary and its members include Permanent Secretaries from a number of departments, together with the private secretaries to the sovereign and the Prime Minister. It was essential to this approach that the work of the committee should be dispassionate so that the King could be properly advised as to his constitutional role as the fount of honour.
While it must be recognised that there is a political element in decisions on honours, the intention was that decisions on new awards should, so far as possible, avoid politics and the pressure that could be exerted by interest groups. This is perhaps particularly important in relation to decisions about awards to members of the Armed Forces. What is important is that when considering proposals for military decorations the committee and the sovereign have a full appreciation of the case for the proposals and advice based on an understanding of the Armed Forces and their role. This is provided in two ways. First, any such proposals are considered by the Chiefs of Staff, and their written case for the proposal goes to the committee. Secondly, the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces are well represented on the committee, with both the Permanent Secretary and the Defence Services Secretary—a serving military officer of two-star rank—being members.
Under the proposed amendment, the members of the new committee would be appointed by the Secretary of State. They would include Members of Parliament and persons who the Secretary of State decides represent members of the Armed Forces. While I can entirely understand the motives of the noble Lord in proposing the amendment, I, like the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, remain firmly of the view that we should neither introduce a directly political aspect to the advice given to Her Majesty, nor try to reflect a supposed view of members of the Armed Forces by persons considered by the Secretary of State to be their representatives.
Moreover, the HD committee would cease to have a role in advising on or making recommendations about the grant of medals to servicepeople. This would mean that we would lose this very important interrelationship with other departments provided by the HD committee and the ability to consider civilian and military awards in the round. It would also mean that the advice on civilian awards would be given on a completely different basis from the advice given on military awards. An example of the need for such discussion was the HD committee’s recent consideration of the creation of a Diamond Jubilee medal. Traditionally, such commemorative medals are issued not just to members of the Armed Forces but to members of the emergency services and those from some other areas of public service. It would have been impractical for such a medal for the Armed Forces to be considered in isolation.
The division of responsibility created by the establishment of a new committee would introduce major difficulties in the other area affected by the amendment—the rules on the award and wearing of foreign awards. It would raise wider issues on the need for consistency in relation to civilian and military awards, and on the important general principle that UK citizens, especially Crown servants—whether military or civilian—should be awarded honours by the sovereign for their services to the sovereign and their country. I shall come back to that point when I turn to the amendment proposed by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. I suggest that we already have a politically independent body, free from any suggestion of partisanship, that is charged by the sovereign with advising on matters relating to honours, decorations and medals and has stood us in good stead for more than 70 years. I see no justification for the fundamental change proposed.
The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, suggested an inconsistency of allowing the PJM to be awarded but not worn, other than for one week. Despite the words of some noble Lords today, the five-year and double-medalling rules are the convention by which decisions are considered on medals. However, each situation is considered on a case-by-case basis. Exceptions to the normal conventions are very unusual but are sometimes made after consideration of all the relevant and significant factors. These might be political, diplomatic or other special reasons.
I turn to Amendment 26 from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. It proposes the insertion of a new clause, which would permit serving or former members of the Armed Forces to wear, without restriction, medals awarded by Commonwealth Governments. Our rules are strict and long-standing. As I have mentioned, they reflect the wish in 1939 of King George VI to ensure, so far as possible, consistency across government in our response to proposed awards by foreign states. The UK rules provide that no UK citizen, civilian or military, should accept and wear a foreign award or that of an international organisation such as the UN or NATO unless given permission to do so.
There are several reasons why these rules were put in place and why they have, I suggest, stood the test of time. First, they reflect the need to avoid the difficulties that can arise from of any suggestion of patronage or influence if other states honour UK citizens, and especially where they honour UK citizens for the performance of duties owed to their sovereign and their country. Secondly, the rules are aimed at maintaining the status and integrity of our honours system by generally excluding those of other countries for services for which honours have already been awarded by Her Majesty.
In support of these principles, Her Majesty is advised on the award and wearing of foreign and Commonwealth honours and medals by the HD committee. The committee, as I have outlined in response to the previous amendment, is a deliberately non-political committee of very senior Crown servants, representing the departments most involved in issues of medals and honours and the Armed Forces. The committee advises Her Majesty on the rules, acceptance and wearing of foreign and Commonwealth medals and honours. Its work is administered by the Cabinet Office and, in respect of foreign awards, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which liaises with the Governments of other countries on issues relating to proposed awards.
Her Majesty and her Government equally respect the rules of other countries about what honours may be given to their citizens. The principles I have already mentioned, especially the one that honours for service to the United Kingdom should be awarded by Her Majesty, are applied most strictly to those whose service, whether civilian or military, is to the Crown. Even for Crown servants, exceptions are recognised. An important example is where a Crown servant is seconded to a foreign or Commonwealth country or their Armed Forces in a theatre of operations and works directly for them. In such cases, an award by that country may well be appropriate. Such proposals are considered through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the HD committee on a case-by-case basis.
However, the effect of the proposed amendment would be to apply a different approach to the award of medals to the members of the Armed Forces, as opposed to other UK citizens, if the proposed award is from a Commonwealth country. The especially close links between all countries of the Commonwealth, especially the close constitutional connection between those countries where Her Majesty is Head of State, is deeply respected and enormously valued. None the less, it would not be advisable to apply a totally different rule for the special category of awards proposed by the amendment.
Military operations are, if anything, increasingly international. UK forces frequently work with other Armed Forces in joint operations. Our rules ensure that while special cases will be considered, our response to all our allies, whether Commonwealth or not, is the same. It would not be easy to justify to our allies or to members of our Armed Forces that an award from an ally that is not a member of the Commonwealth must be refused, but one from a Commonwealth country may be accepted. It would also be invidious and impractical to say that a diplomat, civil servant or police officer must refuse an award but members of the Armed Forces may accept it. I say “impractical” because proposed awards by foreign countries do not always fall neatly into separate civilian and military categories, and proposals are sometimes made for the same award to be made to civilians and members of the Armed Forces.
I recognise the need for a dispassionate consideration of whether an exception should be made in particular cases, although such decisions are not easy to make and apply. However, I remain of the view that our present approach should be retained in the interests of international comity, the fairness that comes from consistency and maintaining the principle that the sovereign awards honours to those who serve her and her country.
Amendment 27, the final amendment in this group on medals, has been tabled by my noble friend Lord Palmer. It proposes a change that would see the introduction of a new national defence medal, to be awarded to all serving and former members of the Armed Forces. I understand that those who support the creation of such a medal would see it presented to all who have served since the Second World War—a number estimated to be in the region of 4 million men and women. I pay tribute to those service men and women. I assure my noble friend that the Government and our nation as a whole holds the professionalism, courage and contribution of all those who serve and have served in the Armed Forces in the highest regard. Our service personnel, serving and retired, do and have done a remarkable job, and continue to provide vital support in many areas. We, as a country, owe a great deal to those who have served and those who continue to serve in the Armed Forces for all that they do in keeping our country safe.
The selective award of medals is an important way in which the nation tangibly demonstrates this appreciation for service of particular note. As my noble friend may be aware, the Government set out in their programme for government the intention to review the rules governing the award of medals as part of its commitment to rebuild the military covenant. The Ministry of Defence has recently completed a draft review, which included the case that has been made for a national defence medal. Extracts from this review were sent to representatives of several groups who have campaigned for new medals. Their comments are now being considered by my ministerial colleagues. I suggest that it would be appropriate to await publication of this review before drawing any conclusions as to whether there is a good case for the creation of a national defence medal. In light of the—rather extended, I am afraid—comments that I have made, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble and noble and gallant Lords who have taken part in this short but very good and useful debate. It shows the depth of your Lordships’ House that we have people on this Committee who have first-hand experience of our Armed Forces and can speak with that knowledge.
My amendment was born out of frustration—more from despair—over the way that the HD committee has handled the Pingat Jasa Malaysia Medal issue. As came across in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, we are treating our veterans unfairly in this respect. It is also time to overhaul the way in which advice is given to Her Majesty the Queen. Indeed, the view expressed by the Prime Minister in June last year was:
“Greater transparency across Government is at the heart of our shared commitment to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account”.
It behoves the Government to make sure that this work is done in a more transparent way. I take the point of the noble Viscount, Lord Slim. There is an always an issue about whether we should involve politicians in these matters. However, I am sure noble Lords and others who are here will not misunderstand when I say that civil servants are not better qualified than politicians. Certainly, from my time as a Minister I know that civil servants have political agendas. I do not mean that it is party political but there is a small political agenda within the Civil Service.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response, which was wide-ranging. I hope that the Government will reflect further because, as my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe, said, if we were to vote on this matter today I think that the Government would be on the losing side. There is much merit in taking this back and giving it further reflection.
I end by saying simply that we should look around at ourselves today. We are here because a politician advised Her Majesty the Queen that we should be here—so should we be too worried about politicians giving advice to Her Majesty on these matters? I pass that off as a reflection. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 25 withdrawn.
26: After Clause 23, insert the following new Clause—
After section 339 of AFA 2006 insert—
“339A Commonwealth medals
Medals awarded by Commonwealth governments to present or former members of Her Majesty’s armed forces may be worn without restriction.””
I thank noble Lords who have spoken on behalf of my amendment. I listened with great interest to the details of the speech that the Minister made. I made a point at the end of my comments about whether this advice to the sovereign was or was not prerogatively engaged. The Minister made it very clear that the sovereign was being advised by the HD committee, whereas I have in front of me two statements. The first, a Written Answer by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, says:
“HMG's rules on the acceptance and wearing of foreign awards preclude the acceptance”,
and so on, and that,
“All British citizens require permission from HMG to accept and wear foreign state awards”.—[Official Report, 11/1/05; col. WA34.]
A year later, in January 2006, there was a Written Ministerial Statement that said:
“It is longstanding government policy that non-British medals will not be approved for events or service”—[Official Report, 31/1/06; col. WS14]—
that is, events or service governed by the five-year rule or the double-medalling rule. So I am not absolutely clear, and perhaps the Minister either now or at a later date can clarify for us the position, as he sees it being adopted.
My Lords, I believe that if the noble and gallant Lord would like the Minister to reply to his remarks, it would be advisable for him to move his amendment.
Amendment 26 withdrawn.
27: After Clause 23, insert the following new Clause—
“National defence medal
After section 339 of AFA 2006 insert—
“339A National defence medal
All serving and former members of Her Majesty’s armed forces must be awarded the national defence medal in recognition of their role in defending the United Kingdom and its interests nationally and internationally.””
May I just say thank you to the Minister, who did progress things on the national defence medal? I just ask that I and other noble Lords who are interested be kept in the loop of what is proposed with regard to the review, particularly the consultation done with veterans’ organisations. I thank the Minister for the slight progress on the matter.
Amendment 27 withdrawn.
28: After Clause 23, insert the following new Clause—
“NHS numbers for discharged service people
(1) Section 331 of AFA 2006 (discharge etc from the regular forces and transfer to the reserve forces) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (4) insert—
“(5) The Defence Council must also make regulations about the creation of a database of NHS numbers given to those who are discharged from the armed services to facilitate future research.””
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, regrets that he is in the other Chamber for a debate. I have also put my name to the amendment and shall speak to it. In a way, it is a probing amendment. On another amendment we have already discussed the need for service personnel who are injured or suffer harm during their service to have appropriate access to healthcare and to have the ability to follow up on their injuries on a long-term basis, and the Minister replied positively. The amendment merely proposes a way in which a defence counsel may facilitate that happening and give out a number that is linked to the NHS number. I know that all UK citizens have an NHS number, and having a number given to service personnel that was linked to the NHS number would enable the long-term tracking of service personnel, particularly those who needed to access healthcare or had been injured or suffered harm during their time in the service. I beg to move.
My Lords, there has been a long-standing difficulty in being able to identify veterans within the general population. We have traditionally relied on organisations such as the Royal British Legion to help to understand their longer-term health needs. I agree with the noble Lord that there are clear benefits in being able to identify former service personnel to facilitate research and long-term studies into the health effects of service. In order to do so, it seems eminently sensible to use NHS numbers in England and Wales and equivalent patient tracking numbers in the other devolved Administrations.
Because we understand the importance of such identification, much activity has already taken place in this area. The Surgeon-General already has work in hand with colleagues at the Department of Health to determine the best means of identifying former service personnel through their GPs and NHS numbers. This is part of the wider work to inform GPs about the healthcare needs of veterans and their entitlement to priority treatment.
By coincidence, the Royal College of General Practitioners, in collaboration with the Department of Health and the Ministry of Defence, is launching an e-learning package next week that will also highlight to GPs what additional services are available for veterans. This will further encourage GPs to flag any individual’s veteran status on his or her medical record.
We are also putting in measures for the benefit of current members of the Armed Forces. The task of tracking those who are currently serving for the purpose of research is made easier by measures already in hand in the Ministry of Defence. Following agreement between the MoD and the DoH, any service person now referred to the NHS in England and Wales is provided with an NHS number. There is also an ongoing programme of work with the devolved Administrations that will provide an NHS number, or its equivalent in Scotland or Northern Ireland, to all serving personnel. The primary purpose of this is to provide service personnel with seamless access to secondary healthcare and other NHS services. However, it will also allow us to have a robust evidence base through which to understand the healthcare needs of service personnel once they leave the Armed Forces.
I must, however, disagree with the noble Lord on a couple of points. First, I do not agree that we would want to create a bespoke database to capture such information. There are likely to be more cost-effective methods of gaining such information through existing systems. There are also issues of confidentiality and the personal security of individuals that would need to be taken into consideration if such a database were created. I imagine that the noble Lord will understand better than I do the complexity and additional costs of establishing such a bespoke database.
Secondly, I understand that there is simply no need to legislate for such a requirement, and I am sure that none of us would wish to legislate where there was no need.
I trust that I have reassured the noble Lord and the Committee that work is already in train to achieve the effect that the noble Lord desires. I therefore hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment after these assurances.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his detailed, informative and reassuring comments. I am content that the procedures that we are putting in place will suffice to track the service personnel who access healthcare. As I said, this amendment was just a means of probing to see how that would work. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 28 withdrawn.
Debate on whether Clause 24 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I put my name down as opposing this clause purely as a formality. When I first looked through the Bill, it seemed to me that the clause effectively took away all consultation on the matter of the application of by-laws. This was discussed at a private meeting and I have received a very constructive response from the Minister. However, the procedure that the Minister describes is an administrative one, and I advised him—I hope he has advised his representative today—that I would be entirely satisfied if he were to read the appropriate assurances in the letter into the record. A letter is an ephemeral thing, whereas Hansard is permanent and more effective. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am happy to do that. Indeed, my speaking note covers one of these points. I respond by explaining that the Military Lands Acts 1892 and 1900 allow the Secretary of State for Defence to make by-laws to regulate the public use of military land and certain areas of the sea used for military purposes. Under the 1900 Act, by-laws affecting public rights of use of the sea and shore also require the consent of the Board of Trade. Therefore, one of these Acts referred to defence, the other to the Board of Trade.
Change is needed because over the years the wide-ranging responsibilities of the Board of Trade have been reduced and redistributed. Following transfers of functions, these responsibilities are currently held by the Department for Transport. The clause therefore amends the Military Lands Act 1900 in order to remove the requirement that the Secretary of State for Defence must seek the consent of the Board of Trade when he proposes to make by-laws in respect of certain sea, tidal water and shore areas that might affect certain public rights. The rights in question relate to navigation, anchoring, the grounding of vessels, fishing, bathing, walking and recreation.
As well as removing the requirement for the Board of Trade’s consent, the clause requires that, before making such by-laws in the future, the Secretary of State for Defence should take all reasonable steps to ascertain whether the by-law would injuriously affect existing public rights. If it would, he must satisfy himself that the restriction is required for the safety of the public or for the military purpose for which the land is used, and that the restriction imposed is only to such extent as is reasonable.
The procedure for giving public notice and allowing and considering public objection to any by-law currently runs under two different provisions: one for the Board of Trade—and so, now, for the Secretary of State for Transport—in the 1900 Act, and one for the Secretary of State for Defence through the 1892 Act. However, the provisions are almost identical in effect and the clause therefore provides for the repeal of the provision referring to consultation by the Board of Trade and leaves in place the provision exercised by the Secretary of State for Defence.
The clause will therefore not affect the consultation that is carried out before making military by-laws. As now, the legislation will require the Secretary of State to publicise his proposals, to give an opportunity for the making of objections and to consider those objections before deciding. The clause also amends the Military Lands Act 1892 in relation to the procedure for publishing by-laws once they have been made. The clause removes the requirement for the Secretary of State to publish the by-laws in such a manner as appears to him necessary to make them known to all persons in the locality, and replaces it with a requirement that he publish the by-laws in such manner as appears to him appropriate. This is because interest in the effect of by-laws is no longer limited to the immediate locality.
As part of this process of consultation, the relevant Defence Minister writes to the MP in whose constituency the site is located to tell them about the forthcoming public consultation. Advertisements are then placed on the Ministry of Defence website, in national and local newspapers, post offices and libraries, and on notices around the site. In addition, depending on the location of the affected site and the interests that are engaged, Ministry of Defence officials may contact the relevant devolved Administration; the county, district or unitary authority; the parish council, community council or parish meeting that covers the site; the police authority for the area, or its successor as agreed under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill; all people who have expressed an interest; and a range of government and other organisations, such as the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Crown Estate and, if church property is likely to be affected, the appropriate diocese.
Consultation normally runs for five weeks, although we would consider objections that were received after the end of the period as long as the by-laws had not yet been made. All comments are considered and, if possible, changes are agreed with the MoD site operator. All representations are summarised together with the department’s response and presented to the Minister before he is invited to sign to bring the by-laws into force. As a general rule, the Ministry of Defence consults more widely than we are required to do so by statute. We have no plans to reduce the amount of consultation that we usually undertake, and the provisions in the Bill will not alter our approach in this area.
In view of this full explanation, I hope that the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Tunnicliffe, will agree with me that Clause 24 should after all stand part of the Bill.
Before I complete the contribution from the Government to today’s Committee stage, I should like to say a few words on a separate but related issue—the report on the Armed Forces Bill published by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on 14 July. My noble friend the Minister has written to the committee chairman, my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester, with the Government’s response to the report. In doing so, he undertook to speak to one of the powers to which the committee drew attention. This was in relation to Clause 32, which deals with the commencement of the legislation, and in particular the transitional measures with reference to courts martial proposed in subsection (5). In his absence, I hope that the Committee will allow me to do so. The report noted that the House may wish to seek a further explanation and satisfy itself that the provisions of subsection (5) should require no parliamentary scrutiny. As the report notes, it is usual for the standard form of transitional power conferred in Clause 32(4) to be exercisable without parliamentary scrutiny.
Subsection (5) is not intended as an extension of the power in subsection (4) but is considered useful to make it clear that the power in subsection (4) will be needed to deal with particular situations that may arise under new Schedule 3A to the Armed Forces Act 2006. The situation that we have in mind is that, if an accused person elects trial by court martial instead of by his commanding officer, the court’s powers are limited to those of the commanding officer.
The Bill affects, but does not diminish, commanding officers’ powers of punishment, so it will be necessary to provide for the powers that the court martial will have in a trial after commencement of the Armed Forces Act in the case of an accused who had made his election before commencement. This is therefore very much a transitional measure. I reassure the Committee that our intention is to ensure that the court martial will not be able to impose a more severe sentence than that which a commanding officer could have imposed when the accused made his election. For those reasons, I hope that the Committee will accept that it is appropriate that provision under subsections (4) and (5) should be made by statutory instrument with no parliamentary procedure.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his full and accurate response on the matter of consultation and for reading it into the record. I am satisfied that the clause should stand part of the Bill. I shall read in Hansard with great care what he said on the Constitution Committee’s response and we will return to it if there is a problem. However, at first pass it seems that the matter is properly covered.
Clause 24 agreed.
Clauses 25 and 26 agreed.
Schedule 2 agreed.
Clauses 27 to 29 agreed.
Schedule 3 agreed.
Clause 30 agreed.
Schedules 4 and 5 agreed.
Clauses 31 to 34 agreed.
Bill reported without amendment.
Committee adjourned at 3.12 pm.