Motion to Approve
My Lords, a few days ago many of your Lordships will have listened intently to and reflected on the debate on the Armed Forces Bill as it passed through its Second Reading in the other place. I hope your Lordships were struck by the number of very positive things that the Bill proposes to do, including embedding further into law the Armed Forces covenant; implementing the sound recommendations born out of the Service Justice System Review; introducing flexible service for reservists; and addressing the issue of posthumous pardons. These are just a few of the subjects that many of your Lordships are rightly passionate about.
As was explained during the Bill’s Second Reading, Parliament renews the Armed Forces Act 2006 every five years through primary legislation. However, in the intervening years an annual Order in Council must be made and approved by both Houses for the Act to continue to remain in force. The 2006 Act is currently due to expire on 11 May this year, so a further annual order is needed to keep it in force. The draft order we are considering will keep the Act in force until the end of 2021. Primary legislation, in the shape of the Armed Forces Bill, is needed to keep it in force beyond 2021.
If the 2006 Act expires, certain major problems arise. For example, it would be impossible to maintain the Armed Forces as disciplined bodies. Service personnel do not have contracts of employment and so have no duties as employees. Their obligation is essentially a duty to obey lawful commands. If the 2006 Act expired, members of the Armed Forces would still owe allegiance to Her Majesty, but there would be no sanctions for disobeying orders. Moreover, other disciplinary offences would cease to exist, commanding officers and service police would lose their statutory powers to investigate offences and enforce discipline, and the service courts would no longer function.
Discipline in every sense is fundamental to and underpins the existence of our Armed Forces. Indeed, it is the reason for their success in the discharge of their remarkable range of duties, whether here at home, tirelessly supporting the emergency services, local communities and assisting with the mass vaccination across the UK during the pandemic; supporting our British Overseas Territories by delivering vaccine doses; protecting our safety and security; tackling the ongoing threat of cyberattacks posed by hostile states; actively safeguarding the world’s main waterways and escorting ships to deter the scourge of modern piracy and ensure freedom of navigation in disputed waters; playing their part to counter terrorism or to combat drug smuggling and people trafficking; taking a central role in the ongoing United Nations peacekeeping operations in Mali; distributing vital humanitarian aid; continuing the war on terror by assisting and building capacity with partner nations to defeat the likes of Daesh in Iraq and Syria; maintaining our forward presence in the Baltic and northern Europe to strengthen Euro-Atlantic security; or monitoring our sovereign air space to identify any threatening presence. All that reflects a huge and remarkable range of diverse activity.
The requirement for Parliament to regularly consent to the maintenance of the Armed Forces dates back to the Bill of Rights in 1688, when the existence of a standing army was contentious. While this is no longer the case, the debate on this order to keep the 2006 Act in force is also an opportunity for us in this House to record our thanks by permitting the Armed Forces to continue for another year.
That is a summary of the background to the statutory instrument. I hope that your Lordships will support the draft continuation order. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction. I pay tribute to our Armed Forces personnel for their service to the nation. I had the privilege of working with them, as Armed Forces Minister and later as Secretary of State for Defence, and I never ceased to be impressed by their selfless commitment, abroad and at home. They have shown it once again during the present pandemic. We owe them a great debt of gratitude.
The Armed Forces Bill, as the Minister pointed out, is the foundation of military command, discipline and justice. It is also the bedrock of the democratic civil-military relationship, so I of course support that Bill and this Motion. Specifically, I broadly welcome several measures in the Bill, including the update of the service justice system and the new service police complaints commissioner, modelled on the civilian police’s Independent Office for Police Conduct, and in particular, I welcome Clause 8 of the Bill, which puts the Armed Forces covenant into law. In the limited time that I have I will focus on that.
This should have our non-partisan support across your Lordships’ Chamber. The covenant had its origins as the Armed Forces charter by the last Labour Government over a decade ago. Under the coalition and Conservative Governments, that has been built upon and, whatever deficiencies remain, there has been an undoubted shift in the right direction in looking after our forces and their families. This Bill quite properly aims to build further on that but, as presently constructed, it is unnecessarily restrictive in that respect. As the Royal British Legion, among others, have pointed out, the range of issues that have a significant impact on the Armed Forces community include health, housing, employment, pensions, compensation, social care, education, criminal justice and immigration, yet the Bill covers only aspects of health, housing and education.
There is also no reference in the Bill to any enforcement mechanism. The Government could surely have gone a bit further in both respects. Moreover, the Bill imposes a duty only on local councils and local agencies to have regard to these areas, not on national Government itself. Yet many of the areas in which Armed Forces personnel and veterans have problems are the responsibility of the national Government or are based on national government guidance. It therefore has a flavour of “do as I say, don’t do as I do” about it, which will undermine its effect, especially since no specific duty to act is imposed, even on local councils and agencies.
The context in which the Bill is being debated hardly encourages confidence that the morale of our Armed Forces personnel will continue unharmed. As noble Lords will know, our Army is 10,000 below the required strength, with the MoD revealing only last weekend that every one of our infantry battalions, with the exception of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, now fall short of battle-ready personnel, some significantly so. Military pay has fallen behind since 2010. This is surely a missed opportunity in the Bill to make the recommendations of the independent Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body binding on Ministers.
Accommodation remains a serious problem. I do not underestimate that challenge, and I pay credit to the Government for the Forces Help to Buy scheme, under which many personnel have been helped on to the housing ladder. However, the quality of much of the Government’s provided accommodation remains seriously deficient, as last week’s National Audit Office report illustrates.
I wish the Bill well but hope that Ministers will listen in Committee—a rare Hybrid Committee—and be prepared to incorporate sensible suggestions to improve the Bill. As I said, the covenant attracts wide cross-party support and, therefore, there should be no impediment to the Government listening to others who have constructive suggestions. Everyone, especially our Armed Forces, would thereby benefit.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Reid of Cardowan, something I did on many occasions when we both spoke in defence debates in the House of Commons. I begin, as others have, by paying tribute to the professionalism and commitment of all three of our Armed Forces. This proceeding has great constitutional significance of course, as has already been pointed out, and is sometimes regarded as the first illustration of human rights being made available to the citizens of this country.
The short debate provides the opportunity to reflect, to some extent, on the state of the Army. I shall not anticipate the issues that are likely to be raised when we come to Second Reading of the Armed Forces Bill, which passed that stage in the House of Commons last Monday. The point I raise arises from the used of the phrase “standing army”. Standing implies substance, both quantity and quality. That is why I associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Reid, in relation to the issue of numbers. It is an extraordinary, and some might say curious, consequence that the figure of 10,000, which the Army is said to be short of, is equivalent to a rumour that the Army will cut 10,000 members. I hope that this is mere coincidence and not an acceptance that recruitment is unlikely to improve.
The Minister may remember that some weeks ago I asked her a number of questions, mainly about the Royal Regiment of Scotland. I was, as I suspect she was, taken aback by the rather alarming shortages that these questions revealed. That provokes me into asking: what analysis is being made of the reasons for these shortages? What assessment is being made of the impact on capability and employability as a result of these shortages? As the noble Lord, Lord Reid, has just indicated, last week, in a national newspaper, some of the most famous regiments were revealed as being substantially below strength. What analysis is being done of the reasons for this and what impact has there been on capability? If these are the figures for regular soldiers, what is the position in the reserves? In recent history, in engagements abroad we have had to draw very substantially upon our reserves. So, if the regulars are so poorly below strength, what is the position with the reserves?
We are waiting for the comprehensive review. It sometimes feels like “Waiting for Godot”. Godot never came, but hopefully the comprehensive review will finally be upon us. We are led to believe that it is an opportunity to address new strategic objectives. There will be no point in having new objectives if we do not have the resources to implement them. I listened recently to a most challenging speech by the Chief of the Defence Staff—in truth an excellent speech—setting out a new strategic concept. I hope that he will excuse me if, for the small purpose I have today, I sum it up in the rather ugly way of “fewer tanks and more drones”. That does not do justice to the intellectual and far-seeing nature of the speech, but the cornerstone of defence is deterrence. Faced with a variety of threats, we must maintain a full spectrum of deterrents, and therefore, of capability. If an adversary mobilises tanks, we can hardly rely on the nuclear deterrent as an effective one.
I have one final point. We lead the battle group in Estonia, which is part of the enhanced forward presence of NATO and a deployment of very considerable military and political purpose. If we are to reduce the Army by 10,000, might it be that when asked by NATO to take charge of a deployment of that kind, we will be unable to do so by reason of a shortage? That would be a grave embarrassment.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the Army Reserve and would like to focus my comments today by giving a taster of the soon-to-be published Reserve Forces 2030 review, of which I had the honour to be chairman. It is an enormous pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, and I can perhaps answer one of his questions and reassure him that in recent years the reserves have been growing in numbers.
While it may seem archaic that we debate this SI today, the requirement for your Lordships’ House to give approval for the continuance of our Armed Forces Act underpins the relationship between Parliament, society and service men and women, a relationship that many other nations view with envy. At its heart, in part at least, is the citizen soldier, the reservist. Indeed it is worth noting that the two oldest units in the British Army, the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers and Honourable Artillery Company, are reserve units tracing their history back to 1530s, predating even the Bill of Rights of 1688.
Like that of many fellow reservists, my service has been part of a fairly consistent juggling act between the competing demands of a hectic professional career, private life and soldiering. In reflecting on my own time as a reserve, so much has changed over the 32 years, going from an almost entirely contingent force that trained at weekends and annual camps, recruited locally and was encapsulated by names such as the Territorial Army and Royal Auxiliary Air Force to the Reserve Forces we have today, across all three services, delivering daily support and skills as part of a semi-integrated force, the true value of which we have seen in recent months during the current Covid crisis. To take just one example, the Nightingale hospitals were designed and delivered in part by the Engineer and Logistic Staff Corps, industry experts donating their skills unpaid to the nation via the volunteer reserve.
Since Haldane’s creation of the Territorial Force in 1908, which subsumed the militia and the Volunteer Force, reserves have always embraced change. It is perhaps because reservists are both drawn from and a part of society that one of their key strengths over many years has been their enduring capacity to adapt to the needs of the day. The relationship between the military and society, in which the Reserve Forces play a crucial role, is complex and changing, and the challenges the country has faced during Covid have underlined how important that relationship is.
The most recent reform was the Future Reserves 2020 review, which focused on growth and investment in the single service reserves. Until that point, the Reserve Forces were viewed by some as being in decline, having been used almost solely as a source of individuals to bolster Regular Forces exhausted after years of campaigning. Building on the undoubted success of the implementation of that review over the past 10 years which has seen the size of the reserve grow, the terms of reference for the latest review were rather different. Rather than looking down and in at the use of reserves by the single services, we were tasked with looking up and out. At its heart, the review is about people and skills and how defence, industry, government and wider society can share them. This means looking at how the Reserve Forces can provide capability across government departments, deliver networks into industry and academia and reinforce national resilience and homeland security as well as renewing and strengthening the link with society in general.
The national experience of the Covid pandemic has demonstrated in no uncertain terms how the nation needs to pull together in time of crisis and how government, Parliament, state institutions, industry and the general public rely on each other. In harnessing this latent appetite to volunteer, the latest review looked at how UK Reserve Forces can provide a nucleus for this activity as well as support the creation of non-military reserves, such as an NHS reserve. It became quickly apparent that the latest review could not just be another review focused on reserves. Rather, it needed to be a review on the provision of defence capability in the round. It is apt, therefore, that our work has been able to inform the integrated review, and we have drawn on the integrated operating concept published last year. The review will be published shortly, but suffice to say many of the recommendations go far beyond those that many have been expecting.
The vision the review describes is of empowered Reserve Forces that are further integrated with their regular counterparts and the wider defence enterprise, while at the same time providing greater utility and assurance across a broader range of military capabilities with access to civilian skills. We have sought to break obstacles for people to join the reserve and to promote a spectrum of service from full-time uniformed, to part-time, spare time and non-uniformed service that will enable individuals to contribute their skills. We have also looked carefully at ways to ensure those who have left the Armed Forces can continue to contribute. At the very core of the review though is the reservist and a recognition of the need to ensure that, just like it was to their predecessors, the offer of service in the Reserve Forces remains not only attractive to the individual reservist but is valued by their families, employers and wider society too.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, who holds the rank of brigadier, and to give my support to this draft order. The House will shortly be debating the quinquennial renewal Bill, which will be an opportunity to consider in detail its proposals. As time is limited, I have just one general trailer point for now. The Armed Forces Act 2006 incorporated the three single service discipline Acts into one overarching Act. There is a good case, with which I believe the Minster is in sympathy, to ensure that all enactments that deal directly with the Armed Forces should be brigaded under a single Armed Forces Act. I have raised this suggestion a number of times, first in 1998 when debating the interaction between the Armed Forces Acts and the Human Rights Bill and mostly in debating the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill. Other Acts, such as those concerned with complaints and flexible working also spring to mind. I hope the Government will give serious thought to this suggestion and set about doing it for present and future, if not for past, legislation.
Apart from that, I have just one peripheral query. I was intrigued to realise that the Armed Forces Act is due to expire not five years from its last enactment, which was in May 2016, but that it can be extended by order until the end of the calendar year. In 2011, I had an amendment to the quinquennial Bill affecting the inclusion of an Armed Forces covenant report, which was accepted, and another amendment which I moved on Report and which was carried against the Government’s wishes. It was October and the renewed Armed Forces Act had to be law by November, so there was no time for ping-pong or consulting. The revised arrangement with a government concession was agreed following a meeting I had with the then Defence Secretary which allowed me to withdraw my amendment and the Bill returned to the Commons without further delay. No attempt was made by the Government to extend the Act beyond 8 November, although with the sixth order it could have gained a period of grace of almost two months. It would be interesting to know how frequently in the past this “extension” by means of a sixth order, in this case from May to December 2021, has been used. In the 30 years I have spoken in debates on these Acts, I do not recall that it has been invoked previously.
My Lords, I acknowledge the almost ritualistic nature of this debate, which is required under the terms of the Armed Forces Act 2006. None the less, it offers this House a welcome opportunity to pay tribute to the brave service men and women who serve our country with honour, valour and skill. At a time when we are being urged to remain at home and stay safe because of Covid-19, members of our Armed Forces remain out front and in harm’s way across many different settings.
Last summer, in an interesting blog on his website, the Minister for Defence listed five examples of ongoing overseas operations involving UK military personnel. As the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, alluded to, they included the Royal Navy ships stationed in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean; UK forces from all services based in Kabul, Afghanistan; a UK deployment forming part of the NATO presence in Estonia and Poland; Royal Airforce jets in Lithuania as part of NATO’s air policing mission; and UK troops engaged in UN peacekeeping missions and training operations.
More recently, when winding up the Grand Committee debate secured by the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, who I am delighted to see is in her place today, informed your Lordships that more than 6,000 UK personnel were deployed on 39 operations in 46 countries. These are truly remarkable commitments for a country that some critics say has lost its place at the top table of global affairs. At home, we have all witnessed our service men and women playing an absolutely vital role in guiding us through the pandemic.
Last month, Robin Swann, the Northern Ireland Health Minister, announced that more than 100 medically trained military personnel were being deployed to the Province to assist local nursing staff on the wards. In normal circumstances, given the history of the Province, that might have been seen as a controversial move. However, in a statement which was somewhat unusual, to say the least, Sinn Fein publicly supported the decision. It added that
“any effort to make the threat posed by Covid-19 into a green and orange issue is divisive and a distraction.”
Since the initial lockdown last March, specialist planners, medics and logistics experts from across the Armed Forces have worked at the heart of the national COVID Support Force. Noble Lords will recall the remarkable job that UK troops did in building Nightingale hospitals around the nation. Within a matter of weeks, and sometimes days, sport stadiums, convention centres and entertainment complexes were converted into fully equipped, top-of-the-range community hospitals.
Later, when the UK Government finally got their act together to launch the national Covid testing programme, thousands of our military personnel were deployed at short notice to operate hundreds of mobile testing centres, which carried out hundreds of thousands of tests. Most recently, as the long-awaited vaccination programme began to roll out, it was again our highly skilled men and women of the UK Armed Forces whom the Government turned to. Not only have our service personnel been at the fore in distributing the vaccines to all four corners of the United Kingdom but many, as well as military veterans, have also been engaged in giving jabs to the public. I was also pleased to hear the Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, say in another place week that UK Armed Forces had delivered thousands of doses of the vaccine to the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar and the Ascension Islands. He also provided an assurance that the Ministry of Defence stood ready to support vaccine delivery to all British Overseas Territories.
Given the vast array of activities and achievements that I have outlined, it is obvious that all members of our Armed Forces should expect the strongest possible support from Her Majesty’s Government, not just in terms of resources but in other areas. To that end, I look forward to delving deeper into some of these issues when the Armed Forces Bill is debated in your Lordships’ House later this year. In the meantime, I fully support the order before us today.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, is not available at the moment, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Empey.
My Lords, in her opening remarks, my noble friend the Minister listed the areas where our service personnel are currently deployed. These range from a very difficult deployment in Mali to deployment on European soil, in Estonia and Lithuania. Of course, there is still Afghanistan and the situation in the Middle East as well, and threats are emerging in the South China Sea. It is perfectly clear that the variety of fields of operation continue to be significant.
The Minister referred to discipline, and of course that is part of the processes that we are debating today. But it is the legal position that I want to reflect on for a moment. I think that many people in this country and in this Parliament are still reeling from the implications of the cases and abuses undertaken and led by sleazy lawyers, who tried to exploit the position when soldiers were deployed in very difficult environments, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan. I just want to check with the Minister what training our service personnel receive on the legal aspects of their deployments in different locations around the world. Does she believe it is adequate? Does it take into account potential difficulties that soldiers, sailors and air personnel could be putting themselves into through their activities in these areas?
We also discussed the covenant. This was a considerable innovation and a very welcome one. Apart from the assistance provided for the Covid situation, most of the services in our country at the moment tend to be deployed on other things, including, from time to time, bomb squads deployed not only in Northern Ireland but around the country. However, that was not always the case. The situation regarding the covenant concerns me somewhat because, although it has been operating reasonably effectively here in Northern Ireland in recent years, there are still several weaknesses in its establishment.
A moment ago, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, referred to the annual report that the Secretary of State produces, usually in December each year, on how the covenant is operating. Members need to be aware that at no stage since its commencement have the Northern Ireland Executive produced a report of those activities. That has been done by the other devolved regions—Scotland and Wales—and those have subsequently been incorporated into the report. However, no such report has been made in Northern Ireland, so Parliament is not seeing how the covenant is being operated there. I have no doubt that we will come back to that when the Bill comes before us, but I wanted to draw the House’s attention to the fact that it is a missing link. If the Secretary of State cannot get a report from the Executive in Northern Ireland, he may have to find other means, and he should be provided with the powers to do so. The covenant is UK wide and defence is a non-devolved issue, so I do not believe that the Secretary of State should be left in ignorance of what is happening on the ground.
We all wish our Armed Forces well. They face many challenging times. We will see the first deployment of the “Queen Elizabeth” carrier force in the next few months and that will be a huge step forward, but I believe that we have underfunded our defence for many years and I hope that this overstretch is not allowed to continue further.
My Lords, the events in Myanmar over the last few weeks have demonstrated the dangers of a politicised military. This statutory instrument, which appears every year, gives us the opportunity to stop and reflect on the position of the military in our own country. It is the mark of a major constitutional principle that the military is under the control of Parliament.
The Armed Forces Act, which the instrument renews, as the Minister reminded us, concerns itself centrally with discipline. The Army, the Navy and the Air Force are not structured like limited liability companies; the personnel are not employees with the right to trade union representation; and they are not democracies where the personnel vote for their officers. Yet the Act provides that soldiers can be punished if they refuse to obey a lawful order or if they absent themselves from their unit. As the Minister has commented, obeying orders without question in a chain of command is fundamental to the military. That is how it can function as a powerful unit within the state.
The norm is that the Armed Forces are subordinate to Her Majesty’s Government. Only once in my lifetime has there been any threat or challenge to political control. In the period after the 1974 election when Harold Wilson returned to the premiership, there was much talk that he and his Government were Soviet agents. Speculation was abroad of a military coup to replace his Government with military rule led by the late Lord Mountbatten. This was of course the height of the Cold War. You can imagine that, if Mr Corbyn had won the 2017 election, there might have been widespread talk on social media to similar effect, Cold War or no.
At that time, in 1974-75, I was privileged to be allowed to lunch every day in an officers’ mess based in the same complex of buildings as the assize court where I habitually practised. Whether Harold Wilson was a Soviet agent was a subject of lunchtime discussion in the mess—although mainly, I have to say, by the retired and elderly officers who customarily frequented it. In case it is suggested that I am exaggerating about what I heard, it was serious enough for Mrs Thatcher, when she subsequently became Prime Minister in 1979, to set up a committee to investigate it. It concluded that there was no real foundation for the rumours that had widely circulated—now I am not so sure.
Myanmar reminds us of the importance of this measure today. I pay tribute to the armed services. I am sure that when they go abroad on operations they are fully trained in the rules of engagement. That only 10 court martial trials have emerged from both Iraq and Afghanistan out of some 3,000 investigations shows how much they are up to the standards that we expect of them.
The civil war between parliamentarians and royalist forces in the 17th century shook the foundations of this country. After the Restoration, when James II started to replace Protestant officers in the British army with Catholics, it led to the invasion of Protestant continental forces under William of Orange. His variegated army was strengthened when Churchill defected to his side—that was, of course, John Churchill, the commander of the English forces, later Duke of Marlborough. His defection drove the monarch into exile. The Bill of Rights 1688, repeated in 1689, was that deal: no standing army in Britain without the consent of Parliament. That is the consent that we are giving today. William of course took his army over to Ireland to confront the Catholics at the Boyne, with consequences that face us today.
Since the Falklands, Parliament has asserted the right to vote on the commitment of British forces to active operations. We shall shortly be debating the Liberal Democrat amendment to the Overseas Operations Bill on whether Parliament’s consent should be a necessary precondition for a British Government to derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights in overseas operations. This Government’s proposal is that they should have the sole power to derogate under the Royal Prerogative. I hope that when we come to debate that proposition, we shall give it a Churchillian gesture.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and his tour through history, which was certainly very instructive, especially for some of us who have studied history over a number of years.
I support the order before us. The other place has debated the Armed Forces Bill and for the first time the Armed Forces covenant was put into law in Clause 8, which is very welcome. A number of noble Lords have mentioned the covenant. The idea of a covenant and charter, as has been said, has been around for over a decade. The point about the covenant is that it is a broad promise by the nation to ensure that those who have served in the Armed Forces and their families are treated fairly. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, has just said, members of the Armed Forces do not of course have employment contracts, so they rely on the Government to treat them properly.
I do not want wish to repeat things that noble Lords have already said during this debate. However, I wish to raise a point about the overall state of the Armed Forces, which was raised by a number of other noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Reid of Cardowan, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem and Lord Empey. We cannot fulfil the covenant—which is so crucial for our Armed Forces personnel, their families and veterans—and our national security requirements if the Armed Forces are understrength, demoralised and having difficulty retaining personnel. As has been mentioned, our Armed Forces remain 10,000 below the total strength that Ministers said was needed in the 2015 strategic defence review. As has also been mentioned, the Ministry of Defence recently reported that the battle-ready strength of our battalions at the moment is seriously under par.
Another issue that has been raised is that of Armed Forces pay, which has declined significantly since 2010. Although of course I welcome the £24 billion of extra defence spending over the next four years, I am concerned that, if it is spent almost exclusively on kit, that will be at the expense of our defence people. In his Statement last November the Prime Minister said:
“Reviving our armed forces is one pillar of the Government’s ambition to safeguard Britain’s interests and values by strengthening our global influence”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/11/20; col. 487.]
Those are very fine words.
The delayed integrated security, defence, development and foreign policy review told us that the Government wish to define ambitions for the UK’s role in the world and the long-term strategic aims for our national security and foreign policy. Her Majesty’s Government made the spending announcement before figuring out what the strategy should be. There are rumours, as has been mentioned in today’s debate, that the Army will be cut further to pre-Napoleonic levels. Surely there is a strategic disconnect here.
Finally, in the other place the Secretary of State for Defence said on 8 February that
“in the end, if we do not invest in our people, we will not have anything for the future of our armed forces.”—[Official Report, Commons, 8/2/21; col. 126.]
If Her Majesty’s Government really believe in global Britain, they need to invest in their service personnel first and foremost.
My Lords, I very much agree with the last things said by the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, and I welcome his comments.
I should declare two interests before I go any further. The first is that I have a son in the Army. He is currently enduring sleeping out in the snow in the Sennybridge training area, poor chap—but I like to bask in his reflected glory when people pay tribute to the Armed Forces. The second, more pertinent interest is that I have been in the receipt of an Army pension for over three decades.
I of course support this continuation order. Indeed, I think I took it through the Commons in 2011, although I have not checked Hansard. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Lancaster’s comments: he is absolutely right that this is about the relationship between Parliament, the people and the Armed Forces. That may be historic, but this is an extraordinarily important measure, because without it we would be in a very different position.
I will take this opportunity to look at wider defence and Armed Forces issues. I welcome the Government’s pledge of an extra—I think—£16.5 billion over the next four years but, regrettably, and I hate to say this, it is not enough. Yes, we need to have good equipment and ships. Defence procurement, by the way, is always a mess; we thought we had got it sorted about eight years ago when I was working at the Ministry of Defence, but I am afraid that cost overruns continue to be absurd and it always needs to be sat on very closely.
I follow what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, said because I fear that the reduction people have been speaking about—the plans to cut the army to a ceiling of 72,000—are true. Now, this is nuts. It is completely bonkers. I would like to quote Kim Darroch, who was our ambassador in the United States and is now the noble Lord, Lord Darroch. He was addressing a defence committee recently, and I thank the right honourable John Spellar for pointing this out to me. The noble Lord, Lord Darroch, said:
“I would be really worried about reducing further the size of the British Army. I say that in part on the basis of my experience in Washington. I would go into the Department of Defense and occasionally to see General Mattis myself or to take people in to see him and his predecessor under the Obama Administration. One of the things that both would say consistently is, ‘You are already too small—in terms of your Army. I mean, 80,000 just isn’t good enough. You need to be above 100,000. It is a big mistake to reduce to the level you are at. For goodness’ sake, do not go down any further and expect to retain your current level of credibility in Washington.’”
Those are powerful words from a noble Lord who sits as a Cross-Bencher, not as a Conservative.
The current coronavirus crisis shows the need for manpower—perhaps we call it people power in these politically correct days—in helping to organise the Nightingale hospitals, as my noble friend mentioned, and for the vaccinations that are still being done through military personnel. I think we used to call it military aid to civil authority. You need a disciplined force for that, and as an insurance policy to cope with the unexpected. By the way, we are about to face rocketing unemployment levels, so recruitment should become easier. We do not want to add to that unemployment.
I turn briefly to the threats. Have we forgotten that President Putin has invaded Ukraine and seized Crimea? Have we forgotten MH-17, the airliner shot down over Ukraine by Russian rockets in 2014, or the poisonings in Salisbury with Novichok, which was then used against Mr Navalny in Russian territory? Do we not understand that President Putin thinks in Cold War terms, as a former KGB officer? He wants to make Russia great again, to coin a term. China is also flexing its muscles with cyberattacks while building bases on reefs in the South China Sea, threatening Australia and now us over Hong Kong. There is also the recent ban on the television network CGTN. It talks about civil-military fusion; Chinese trade, by which we all benefit, is linked to its plans for aggrandisement.
I was born after the Second World War and we have been cutting the Armed Forces ever since, often for very good and sensible reasons: the end of the war and of national service, the withdrawal from empire and the end of the Cold War. In 2010, the strategic defence review, in which I was a participant, talked a lot about asymmetric warfare but I do not recall any serious discussion about resurgent military power in either Russia or China. We fondly imagined that the world was getting safer. We may not like it, but it is actually getting more dangerous. As the world changes, so we must change too in our own interests. There is a report in the press today that France and Germany spend more on defence than we do, which rather undermines our proud boast to be the second-largest defence spender in NATO. I rather hope that my noble friend the Minister might be able to comment on that. By the way, my Army pension comes out of the defence budget, which is absurd.
We need to acknowledge these threats—I have not mentioned ISIS or terrorism—and the utility of a flexible Army. It will be more worrying if there is a further reduction in our forces. We will not be taken seriously by our allies in the United States and in NATO itself, nor by the rest of the world, including China and Russia, if we send the wrong message. Of course, we need cyber and space programmes; we need new technology such as unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones as we usually call them. But we also need people—boots on the ground and trained personnel able to defend our country and our interests.
My Lords, this SI has been prepared by the Ministry of Defence. The SI
“provides for the continuation in force of the Armed Forces Act 2006 … which would expire at the end of 11 May 2021”.
This instrument will continue in force until the end of 2021. As the Explanatory Memorandum says, its territorial application is worldwide. It
“applies to members of the armed forces wherever they are in the world and applies to civilians subject to Service discipline in certain areas outside the United Kingdom or on Service ships or aircraft. Civilians subject to Service discipline are … defined in Schedule 15”.
These groups are
“principally of persons who work or reside with the armed forces in certain areas outside the United Kingdom or are travelling on Service ships or aircraft.”
As it then says,
“the 2006 Act would cease to have effect one year from 12 May 2016 … but for the fact that Her Majesty has power to make Orders in Council, each extending the life of the 2006 Act for one year … The central effect of expiry of the 2006 Act would be to end the provisions which are necessary to maintain the armed forces as disciplined bodies. Crucially, the 2006 Act confers powers and sets out procedures to enforce the duty of members of the armed forces to obey lawful commands. They have no contracts of employment, and so no duties as employees. Without the 2006 Act, the powers and procedures under which the duty to obey lawful commands is enforced would no longer have effect. Commanding officers and the Court Martial would have no powers of punishment in respect of a failure to obey a lawful command or any other form of disciplinary or criminal misconduct. Members of the armed forces would still owe allegiance to Her Majesty, but the power of enforcement would be removed.”
The Act provides all the necessary powers for the commanders of the Armed Forces, which are among the UK’s most valuable assets. They defend our country during wartime and, in some cases, give their lives for the country. In return, the UK has a duty to ensure that when the soldiers retire or are killed, there are proper pensions for them and their families. Are the pensions and support structures in place to ensure that these individuals and their families are protected effectively?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the clear way in which she explained the purpose of today’s order to the House and for setting out so elegantly the extent of the work and service undertaken by today’s Armed Forces. I add to what other noble Lords have said by paying tribute again to our Armed Forces of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We owe such a debt of gratitude to the service men and women of our Armed Forces for their courage, professionalism and outstanding devotion to duty, which is unparalleled in the world. It must never be forgotten that the sacrifices of our Armed Forces, at home and abroad, enable us to carry on our daily lives, protected as far as possible from hostile action and secure in our democracy and our liberties.
No one epitomised more the best qualities of our veterans than the late Captain Sir Tom Moore, who will never be forgotten. I also pay tribute to all those organisations and charities which have done so much for veterans, through delivering services and helping to champion their cause. Each and every one of them, and the many volunteers involved, deserves our highest praise.
This order is one of the more significant parliamentary processes that we undertake each year, as it enables the Armed Forces to continue to exist—and to exist as disciplined bodies, subject to annual parliamentary renewal. The debate gives us the opportunity to discuss a number of issues with the Minister. I will raise first the Armed Forces covenant, which has been mentioned by other noble Lords. The covenant is so important, given that it represents the promise between our country and those who put on the uniform to serve it and protect us. It is our solemn responsibility to look after them while they are in service and afterwards.
I welcome the provisions in the Armed Forces Bill—it was debated in the other place on Monday—to strengthen the statutory underpinning of the Armed Forces covenant and to reinforce it in law. I am pleased that this legislation will apply to the whole United Kingdom. We must be vigilant in ensuring that veterans in all parts of the United Kingdom benefit equally and in full from the protections in that covenant. We have been campaigning for that for some considerable time. It was recognised in the New Decade, New Approach agreement and I am pleased at the progress that the legislation represents.
Sadly, as has been referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, there have been attempts to block and somewhat impede the implementation of the covenant in Northern Ireland—with some even trying to deny that it applied there. This is in a country where, despite making up less than 3% of the population of the United Kingdom, our people contribute in much larger numbers proportionally than elsewhere to both the Regular Forces and the Reserve Forces. As will be recognised, veterans in Northern Ireland have particular difficulties and challenges, given that many of them live where they also carried out operational duties.
The Government could be more ambitious in looking at the Armed Forces covenant and as the Bill proceeds through Parliament. I ask them to go further than covering health, education and housing. I join the noble Lord, Lord Reid, in asking the Government to include other areas such as employment, pensions, criminal justice and social care, to name but a few.
The other issue I would like to raise is protection for members of the Armed Forces who served in Northern Ireland in Operation Banner but are not covered by the provisions of the legislation recently introduced in Parliament to protect against vexatious and other claims where there has already been an investigation. The repeated investigations of ex-service men and women, some of them many years after the events, are a really serious problem. It is excellent that legal protection is given to veterans who served overseas, but it is essential that those who served in Northern Ireland receive the same protection. I welcome commitments from the Government stating that
“Legislation will be coming in due course”,—[Official Report, Commons, 8/2/21; col. 50.]
but given that such legislation is to originate from the Northern Ireland Office, can the Government give a firm commitment that it will not be held up by that department as a result of political manoeuvring? We really need action on this issue, which also affects members of all the security forces who served in Northern Ireland.
The passing of this order is fundamental to the protection of our country. I unreservedly support it and I am grateful for the opportunity that its annual discussion affords to raise issues of concern to our service men and women, and our veterans.
My Lords, this order is what remains of what used to be an annual Army Act to legalise our Armed Forces—an important relic to reinforce our repugnance of military rule by Cromwell. Indeed, my first speech on the Front Bench was on the Army Act and the estimates. Looking across the world, particularly at Myanmar, one can see that nothing has changed and the patterns are still the same. Today we are fortunate in that our Armed Forces not only protect us but have provided such an important role in their assistance to the civil power—namely, the National Health Service—in the pandemic.
I welcome the enshrinement of the military covenant in legislation, as my noble friend Lord Reid has done. It is also appropriate that Mr Kevan Jones MP reminded the other place that the starting point was
“in 2008 with the Command Paper under the last Labour Government”,
which advocated not only
“putting the covenant into law but giving it teeth”.—[Official Report, Commons, 8/2/21; col. 56.]
I welcome the reduced version in the new proposal mandating the covenant, despite a lack of enforcement proposals, again referred to by my noble friend Lord Reid of Cardowan.
Today in my few minutes I wish to concentrate on Clauses 2 to 7 and Schedule 1, which deal with court martials. As a young, inexperienced and newly called barrister and subaltern I appeared in quite a few court martials in Germany in the course of my national service. Even in your Lordships’ House there cannot be many ex-national service men still around. Other than that, however, I took no professional or other interest in court martials. That was until the case of Sergeant Blackman, which aroused considerable publicity in 2017, following which I secured a short debate in your Lordships’ House. I suggested the need for a review of the system, and the MoD acted with unaccustomed speed—I suspect encouraged by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who was then Defence Minister—to set up an inquiry under the former circuit judge Shaun Lyons. We are grateful to him for his report. Former Judge Advocate-General Blackett had expressed concern about the working of the court-martial system. As I understand the Bill, it is a great loss of opportunity to fully take on board the anxieties expressed at the time.
Clause 3 provides for the Lord Chief Justice to nominate a circuit judge to preside over court martials. I had thought it was the President of the Queen’s Bench Division who allocated judges, but I may be wrong. From time to time—at present, indeed—a High Court judge has been nominated to preside on serious cases. I welcome this provision as I have appeared from time to time before licensed circuit judges in murder cases. The important point is that such cases in the court-martial system are rare. There are about six or seven a year, and it is experience in handling such heavy cases that matters, hence the need for a judge.
Schedule 1 makes minor amendments to the personnel and numbers in a court martial. In the numbers set out there remains the possibility that, in a serious case such as murder, a verdict by a majority of one—3:2—could achieve a conviction. The numbers are not announced following a court martial. Since our Armed Forces are now very much reduced in numbers and cases can involve civilian dependants, the chasm between the system prevailing in our civil criminal system and the court martial remains. When I discussed the anomalies and differences with one of the highest judges in the land, it was suggested that in such cases we should consider moving to a system that provides for ordinary citizens: that is, justice by trial by jury. I regret that I did not pursue this more radical measure more fully.
New Zealand, I am told, and as I told the House then, has moved to a system where the verdict has to be unanimous. I am conscious of the decision of the Court Martial Appeal Court under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, in the case of R v Twaite that the system is ECHR-compliant but, with respect to the court, a majority verdict as proposed needs very careful reconsideration. The proposals in Schedule 1 tinker with a system. A system that allows the finding of guilty of murder by a majority of 3:2 is not fit for the 21st century, particularly when the figures are not announced as they are in civil trials by jury in our country.
I welcome the statutory protocols in Clause 7 regarding the direction of service personnel and giving the DPP the final decision, but I hope that the supervision of the Attorney-General remains as it does for other court martials.
My Lords, it is very frequent that Ministers talk about wide-ranging debate when they are summing up. In winding up for the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, I indeed comment that this has been an extremely wide-ranging debate on one of the shortest statutory instruments that I have ever seen, but clearly one that is very important.
However, it appears that legislation linked to defence and the Armed Forces is a bit like buses, in that we have three pieces of legislation almost simultaneously: the Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order 2021, the Armed Forces Bill 2021—currently in the other place—and the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill. Inevitably, there is some overlap between those three pieces of legislation. While, like my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, I will focus primarily on the Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order 2021 today, it is necessary to think about the other Bills—precisely because, while I, like other noble Lords and clearly the Liberal Democrat Benches as a whole, fully support this continuation order, it is vital that we have our Armed Forces. Given that they may not be maintained within the kingdom without the consent of Parliament, in line with the 1688 Bill of Rights, it is vital that this order goes through.
It is also vital that the Armed Forces are not just maintained legally, with the support of Parliament—although that is vital—but supported with money and the support that is needed for service personnel to enable them to fulfil their functions. The continuation order might be primarily about service discipline, but, as many noble Lords have pointed out this afternoon, there are issues around recruitment, retention and the size of our Armed Forces. In particular, while this order simply agrees that we should have Armed Forces, I have several questions that I would like the Minister to answer this afternoon, if possible; they are particularly associated with the size of our Armed Forces.
As my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem pointed out, there is an essential question of a standing army, there are questions and concerns about shortages and various noble Lords have asked questions about the size of the budget. They have pointed out in particular that the size of the defence budget, in and of itself, is not the only issue that matters; what matters is ensuring that we are supporting our Armed Forces, not simply putting money into capabilities such as tanks. I note that the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, is not speaking today, but, if he were, he would probably be talking about ships.
However, we also need to consider the size of the Armed Forces. The noble Lord, Lord Robathan, raised the issue brought up by the United States about the size of our Armed Forces, suggesting that 80,000 was too small. Could the Minister confirm whether it is indeed correct that the size of our Armed Forces is due to slip to 72,000, and what assessment the Ministry of Defence or Secretary of State has made of their size and whether this is appropriate for the United Kingdom, particularly at a time when the United Kingdom Government are talking about global Britain?
We have heard about the many very important roles of the Armed Forces, to which I pay tribute. Some of them have been domestic: one of them was at the 2012 Olympics, but they also supported the NHS in relation to vaccinations and other authorities in relation to flooding. Internationally, they have dealt with humanitarian questions, and they also deal with all those other defence issues that one expects the Armed Forces to be dealing with: humanitarian intervention, peacekeeping and military involvement, supporting NATO and the United Nations. What assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the size of the Armed Forces and our global commitments? Are they fit for purpose, or should we be looking for an expansion of our regular forces? As has been suggested, at a time of pandemic and rising unemployment, there may well be a pool from which to recruit people.
However, there is also a question of retention. What assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the facilities available to the Armed Forces? In particular, is service accommodation now fit for purpose? The National Audit Office suggests that it perhaps is not and that SLAM accommodation needs to be looked at; what assessment have the Government made of this?
Finally, there is a whole range of issues that the Liberal Democrat Benches and Members across your Lordships’ House will clearly wish to raise in the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill and, in particular, the Armed Forces Bill—so these are just a few questions to flag up concerns that will come forward over the coming weeks and months.
As my noble friend Lord Reid of Cardowan and noble Lords have said, we are discussing this order a few days after a national newspaper leaked what it said was a Ministry of Defence report revealing that 32 out of 33 infantry battalions are seriously “short of battle-ready troops”. The chair of the Commons Defence Committee was reported as saying:
“Britain's role on the world stage is at stake and our relationship with the US.”
We need a proper defence strategy without further delay.
I also want to thank all the men and women of our Armed Forces, including, but not only, those deployed to standing commitments in Cyprus or the Falklands, those serving as part of our NATO defences in Estonia or the UN peacekeeping in Mali and those helping this country through the Covid crisis.
British forces are respected worldwide for their professionalism and for their values which we most admire: integrity, loyalty, discipline and service. Therefore, we welcome the order to extend the present Armed Forces Act 2006 from the end of May until the end of December, not only because expiry of that Act would end the provisions that are necessary to maintain the Armed Forces as disciplined bodies but also so that Parliament has the time to give the proper scrutiny to the new Armed Forces Bill, which has just had its Second Reading in the other place—and to have the time for cross-party work to improve the legislation. We support the Armed Forces Bill and stand firmly behind our Armed Forces. We recognise their ongoing efforts to make our country and the world safer.
The Bill presents a real opportunity to make meaningful improvements to the day-to-day lives of our Armed Forces personnel, veterans and families. However, the Government’s focus appears too narrow, and, as currently drafted, the Bill is a missed opportunity that fails to develop a future framework for our Armed Forces, veterans and their families—or to deliver on the laudable promises made in the Armed Forces covenant. We believe that the covenant represents a binding moral commitment between the Government and service communities, guaranteeing them and their families the respect and fair treatment that their service has earned. From substandard housing to veterans’ mental health and social care, the promises made in the covenant often do not match the reality experienced by our service communities. However, the Bill does little to tackle these issues head-on.
The Bill also looks at the service justice system, and we welcome the new service police complaints commissioner—but we want to improve the confidence in, and results in, cases of murder, manslaughter and rape and to solve the problem of reinvestigations.
With the extension of the Armed Forces Act 2006 under this order, I hope that the Government will use the time provided to work constructively and cross-party to get the best for our Armed Forces.
My Lords, we have had an excellent debate this afternoon; it has been both passionate and constructive, and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. What has shone through without exception is a shared desire to do the right thing by those who do right by us—and a shared determination to recognise our bravest citizens. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, that it is because they are our people that we will do the right thing by them. I also seek to reassure my noble friend Lord Robathan that, according to NATO criteria, we are the highest defence spender in Europe; these criteria are established and robust.
It is worth reminding noble Lords that the purpose of this debate is to provide for the continuation of the Armed Forces Act 2006 as it currently is, not as it would be if amended by the Armed Forces Bill, which, as has been noted, had its Second Reading in the other place on Monday night. This House will have a full opportunity to debate the provisions of that Bill when it comes to this House in due course. Having said that, the Bill has been introduced and I understand why noble Lords have found comment irresistible. I will therefore say a little this afternoon in response to some of the points raised, knowing that we will return in much greater detail to these topics later in the year.
I was pleased to hear the support for the Bill, though the acceptance from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, was just a little grudging, if I might say so. I hope that, as we proceed to a fuller debate later this year, we will be able to reassure him of the many positives in the Bill. It takes forward matters of considerable importance relating to the implementation of the service justice system review and the Armed Forces covenant. I note the areas in which noble Lords feel the Government could be taking a different approach in the Bill. I have listened to the comments on topics such as the covenant being too narrow in its scope and its legal duty not being strong enough and concerns raised over aspects of the service justice system. I will try to deal with these accordingly.
The noble Lord, Lord Reid, and other noble Lords argued that the scope of duty for the covenant is too narrow—that it should be broadened beyond housing, healthcare and education. We have chosen these remits carefully and, importantly, in consultation with the Armed Forces community, because we know that they will make the greatest improvements to family life. Significantly, the Bill contains provisions for us to expand this scope into other areas through secondary legislation at a later date. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Reid, and your Lordships, that the scope of this provision will be reviewed regularly. This is not the end of our legislative effort; it is the beginning.
The noble Lord, Lord Reid, and a number of other contributors, argued that the legal duty is not strong enough. They were concerned that creating a legal duty to “pay due regard” to the principles does not, in their estimation, give enough clout. There has been talk from the Opposition Benches in the other place of needing to set “measurable national standards”. Throughout this, our challenge has been to try to strike a balance. On the one hand, we wanted to ensure delivery against the covenant principles but, on the other, we wanted to avoid the sort of prescriptive approach that puts bureaucratic barriers in the way of practical delivery. I assure your Lordships that public bodies were consulted extensively. Our decision also reflects the diverse nature of public services across the United Kingdom, not least in the devolved nations, as a number of noble Lords referred to. The devolved nations have responsibility for these areas.
The noble Lord, Lord Empey, raised the issue of awareness of implementing the covenant obligations, as did the noble Lord, Lord Dodds. These changes will make the impact of the covenant more local. That will possibly raise a desire to make more obvious just how that is benefiting Armed Forces personnel and veterans. I remind noble Lords that the Bill honours the promise to give the covenant the legal standing needed to deliver for everybody in the Armed Forces community, right across the whole United Kingdom.
I move on to the service justice system, about which a number of comments were made, not least by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. The Government have considered the reviews of His Honour Shaun Lyons and Professor Sir Jon Murphy. It is their recommendations that underpin the improvements to the service justice system that we are taking forward in the Bill. I am pleased that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, welcomes the broad thrust of the improvements, but I noticed his particular concerns and look forward to him pursuing these matters when we debate the Armed Forces Bill later in the year.
Noble Lords raised a range of issues in their contributions. I will try to deal with these as best I can. The noble Lords, Lord Reid, Lord Campbell, Lord Truscott and Lord Rosser, my noble friend Lord Robathan, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and other noble Lords all raised the size of the military. The integrated review, which is not yet published but is expected soon, will detail the forward shape of our whole defence capability as we look to a new age of threats. Any speculation about Army force structure at the moment is purely that—speculation. I reassure noble Lords that we are confident that we have the numbers and the capabilities to do the job. We have discharged our core obligations to protect and secure the nation against threat, despite the challenges of Covid. That has been entirely down to the professionalism, competence and commitment of our Armed Forces personnel.
I want to include the reservists in that. My noble friend Lord Lancaster helpfully outlined the extremely positive position in relation to the reservists. We hope the provisions of the Armed Forces Bill will be a further encouragement to them.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, raised a matter which is dear to his heart: a consolidation of Armed Forces legislation; a desire to see it all under one legislative umbrella. He was, perhaps, imputing to me a view which I have not yet formed. I want to look at this issue in considerable depth. The noble and gallant Lord has approached me on the matter, and I will respond to him on it, but I make clear to your Lordships that I have not formed any view on it at the moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Empey, raised the important matter of training of our Armed Forces personnel. There were echoes of the overseas operations Bill when the noble Lord made that point. I can confirm that serious regard is given to training and we deliver all necessary training. It is important that all our service personnel, at all levels, fully understand the obligations placed on them by both UK law and applicable international law. I can confirm that the training is also reinforced ahead of deployment on operations. For example, civil servants deploying in key roles to operational theatres and in key operational policy roles in the MoD also receive training in the law of armed conflict. In addition, each commander deployed in a military operation will have a dedicated military lawyer available at all times to give them specific legal advice. I hope that reassures the noble Lord that we endeavour to service this important issue in the best possible way.
The noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, raised the issue of pensions to dependants. I undertake to write to him separately on that matter.
In conclusion, I thank noble Lords for their contributions. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said, that is the accepted lexicon of any wide-ranging and interesting debate, but that is just what this rather unusual continuation order debate has been. It is unusual because the debate is on continuing the current Armed Forces Act 2006 but, in doing so, we have an opportunity to see the Government’s proposals for the future of the 2006 Act. Today’s debate has made it clear to me that there will be an extremely interesting and lively debate on the Armed Forces Bill later in the year.
In the meantime, there is the much simpler task of continuing the current Armed Forces Bill. Everyone in this House agrees that we owe our men and women in the Armed Forces a tremendous debt of gratitude. We have seen them at their very best, particularly in the past year. The support of noble Lords for this draft order not only contributes to Parliament upholding the constitutional position—so eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford—that the Armed Forces may not be maintained without the consent of Parliament but it reflects the deep affection this House holds for our servicepeople through its support of the draft continuation order.