Wednesday 27 October 2021
Armed Forces Bill
Committee (1st Day)
My Lords, Members are encouraged to leave some distance between themselves and others and to wear a face covering when not speaking. If there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, this Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed.
Schedule 1: Constitution of the Court Martial
1: Schedule 1, page 40, line 9, at end insert—
“(3A) After subsection (2) insert—“(2A) In the case of proceedings where the number of lay members would (but for this subsection) be three, a judge advocate may, in accordance with Court Martial rules, direct that the number of lay members is to be four.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would allow a judge advocate to direct that a Court Martial should comprise four rather than three lay members. Court Martial rules will set out the circumstances in which such a direction may be made.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to join you in Committee this afternoon to discuss amendments to the Armed Forces Bill. Without further delay, I shall speak to group 1, which comprises government Amendments 1, 2 and 4 as well as Amendment 3, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, dealing with the constitution of the court martial.
Clause 2 will fix the number of lay members on a court martial board at either three or six. The amendment will give judge advocates the power to direct that a fourth lay member be sworn in to what would normally be a three-member court martial board. The court martial rules will set out the circumstances in which such directions can be made. If a four-member board loses a member, it will be able to carry on with the remaining three members and reach a verdict.
We are making this amendment because the Covid pandemic showed the need for greater flexibility in the service courts as board members were taken ill or had to self-isolate, particularly following the “pingdemic” earlier this year. This measure is a practical arrangement that seeks to future-proof the service justice system against this type of situation, or any other unforeseen circumstances that may arise in future. It will introduce flexibility to the system and ensure that more trials are effective and that victims and witnesses are not subjected to delays in the system. If we do not make the amendment, when a panel member is lost from a three-member board, the only options open to the judge advocate would be either to adjourn the proceedings until that lay member is available again or to halt the trial altogether. This would introduce an unwelcome delay to the administration of justice, which would especially affect victims and witnesses, and in some cases could actually mean that a retrial was required.
The approach that we have taken is based on the current legislation for the court martial. When a trial is likely to last more than 10 days in the UK, or five days when overseas, there is an existing arrangement whereby the judge advocate is able to direct that there should be one or two more members than the current minimum number of lay members for a trial. Where a four member-board remains in place until the end of the trial, at least three members of a board of four must agree on a finding. If it is reduced to three members, at least two out of three must agree.
We have consulted the Judge Advocate-General on this amendment, and he supports it as a means to improve service justice system efficiency and provide flexibility to deal with unexpected events in future. I hope that your Lordships agree that this is a sensible measure that will allow the court martial to continue to operate in difficult times and prevent unnecessary delay for victims and witnesses of crime.
I turn Amendment 3, which would create a statutory requirement for the judge advocate to determine the appropriate sentence alone, having consulted the military lay members of the board. This would reverse the current position whereby the military members of the board and the judge advocate together discuss and vote on an appropriate sentence.
Interestingly, the change sought by noble Lords is not something that His Honour Shaun Lyons recommended in the service justice review. The Armed Forces community is different from the civilian community and it is important that we recognise that. It is obviously the one with which we are familiar, but it is a very different environment within the Armed Forces community.
The board votes on sentence because it is best placed to fully appreciate the context of the offending, the background of the offender and the deterrent effect of any sentence on the wider service. Moreover, some sentences, such as demotion or detention for corrective training, are specific to life in the services. The board has the expertise to judge whether they might be appropriate or effective.
It is worth emphasising that members of the military are governed by a more stringent set of rules and restrictions than those of us in civilian life. These rules are designed to maintain discipline and promote operational effectiveness so that they can get the job done. Many of these additional rules and restrictions to which service personnel are subject apply regardless of whether they are on or off duty. An in-depth understanding of these rules and the context in which they apply form a key part of reaching an appropriate sentence.
To give a simple example, a civilian turning up late for work in a supermarket does not have the same impact on operational effectiveness as the same situation with a marine engineer on a nuclear deterrent submarine that is about to leave port. Members of the Armed Forces will have a broader and deeper understanding of the implications of this type of behaviour.
I reassure noble Lords that the sentencing process is already subject to stringent legal controls and oversight. The court martial is required by law to have regard to the Sentencing Council’s sentencing guidelines, which must be followed by the civilian courts. It can depart from these guidelines only if this is justified by the service context.
The Judge Advocate-General also issues guidance and sentencing for the service courts. The judge advocate makes the decision on sentence with the board, so everyone involved is fully aware of the relevant legislation and guidelines. Judge advocates also regularly sit in the Crown Court and bring that experience and expertise to the deliberations of the court martial. Further judicial oversight is provided by the Court Martial Appeal Court, made up of judges who sit in the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal.
The current system is both legally sound and ensures that sentences take account of the service context. This amendment would not add any significant legal safeguards to those that already exist. It would move the emphasis away from the court martial being a part of a service justice system in which discipline is maintained by and for the Armed Forces and service personnel. It also diminishes the importance of the service context in sentencing and places a barrier between the service person being sentenced and those with whom they serve.
I hope I have managed to explain fully why the Government have a reservation about this amendment. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw it, and I beg to move the amendment standing in my name.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for seeing me and my noble friend Lady Smith yesterday, when we had a full and fruitful discussion of these issues. I very much support the thrust of this Bill, in particular, bringing the service justice system up to date and having majority verdicts at the heart of it.
Sentencing is a difficult and technical business. I suspect that I am the only person in this Room who has actually seen the judge in a case in which I was appearing put on a black cap and sentence my client to death. That was in Hong Kong. He was not actually executed but it is a solemn moment. Sentencing in the old days used to follow the verdict but not anymore. In any serious case there is an adjournment for sentencing to enable the judge to consider the sentencing guidelines, the pre-sentence reports, the technicalities which he or she must say in the sentencing remarks, the statements of relatives and the public interest in the whole matter. A balancing exercise is carried out.
Importantly, the guidelines may give the recommended range of the sentence, but the judge has to consider the aggravating and mitigating features of the case, which will increase or decrease the recommended sentence in the sentencing guidelines. If I can give an illustration, because it is apposite for next Saturday when Wales play the All Blacks, in rugby, a referee, with his touch judges or assistant referees and the television match official, will discuss something that might have happened. They talk together and they have the advantage of a replay of an incident from various angles so that they can actually see what happened, which does not happen in a court. But it is the referee who takes the decision, not the people who assist him in his decision.
In the court martial system, it is the panel that takes the decision on the sentence with the judge participating and advising. It is only if the board are equally divided that the judge has the casting vote. To take another example, in the magistrates’ court it is the decision of the magistrates, as advised by the clerk, who may or may not be legally qualified. The judge advocate is not a clerk advising; he is central to a trial. He controls the proceedings. He gives directions to the board and rulings, including dismissing the charges altogether, as happened in the 3 Para case in Colchester in 2005. There is an anomaly as well: if the defendant is a civilian subject to service discipline and thereby liable to court martial, the judge advocate sentences alone.
Of course, the panel could and should advise on any particular military facet of the case, but from my experience it should not be assumed that the members of the panel have any direct front-line operational experience comparable to that of the defendant before them. They might have, but there are many units and many roles in which modern British forces are involved. Very frequently, the officers on a court martial do not have anything like the same experience as the defendant and the pressures he has been under. On the other hand, the judge, who sits regularly as judge advocate in a military court, has considerable experience of the operational conditions from the cases that come before him.
Under the current system, an officer or warrant officer is summoned to be a member of the board, probably with no or limited experience of courts martial, save for the president. He might never have been near a court or a court martial, but he becomes a judge with very considerable powers. He will be given the responsibility of determining sentence in a difficult case. That is a power that has never been given to civilian juries in the history of the common law. But it can be only history which retains this unique power for the board in courts martial. Perhaps it is a throwback to when there were no civilian professional judges, but, as I said in opening in my remarks, we have advanced so far. The civilian judge advocate is so important to the system.
My Lords, in the light of the very full observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, I want to add three observations. First, over the years the practice of sentencing has become much more complicated and difficult. From the early 1980s onward, the way in which you sentence in the criminal courts has been the subject of guidance from the Lord Chief Justice and the Court of Appeal Criminal Division. It was then followed by the Sentencing Advisory Panel and the Sentencing Guidelines Council. Now it is contained in very complicated and detailed documents drafted by the Sentencing Council.
Secondly, that means of determining sentence has meant that those who sit in the ordinary courts as lay magistrates have to undergo significant training, so that they are familiar with the detailed guidelines and know how to apply them.
My third point is simply that, in my experience of sitting on court martial appeals and knowing very well the Judge Advocates-General, I have always thought that they had an intimate knowledge of how the service system worked; that is the sole justification for keeping it separate. Therefore, you have a specialist judge familiar with the entirety of the operation of the Armed Forces, which makes things seem much fairer to all concerned—and these days one is concerned not merely with the defendant, but with the wider public perception that sentencing is carried out by a judge well capable of absorbing and dealing with the guidelines and who is intimately familiar with the service background to the case.
My Lords, I will contribute briefly. I will not say this every time, but of course I start by declaring my interests as a serving member of the Army Reserve. I support the government amendments; they seem a sensible measure, as my noble friend the Minister described them. While I understand the thrust of the intent of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on Amendment 3, I want to air a brief concern about the potentially diminished role of the lay members.
With minor offences that come before the court martial, the intent is very much that we wish to keep service personnel in the service. Indeed, MCTC in Colchester is designed very much to do that. Only if you are sentenced to more than six months do you have to leave the service, I think. For many soldiers who have been through that centre, a common theme has been that they come out better soldiers; when I say soldiers, I also mean airmen and sailors.
What really worries me is that we used to have three single service Acts, which were merged under the Armed Forces Act some time ago, but the three single services remain very distinct. Under the Levene review, we have delegated responsibility, which was originally intended solely to be a financial delegation to the three single services but in reality has become a policy delegation. Despite an effort by the MoD to regain that under unified career management that means that, for members of the Armed Forces at the same point of their career, a certain sentence may have a disproportionate impact on them depending on which service they are in. Although any judge-advocate may well know the system well and be very experienced, I am not sure that they would necessarily have the detail of the single service to apply to their judgment.
I accept that it is quite possible, however unlikely at this time, that a senior warrant officer or officer on the court martial would not have front-line experience; I am willing to bet that almost all of them have, because of recent years in Iraq and Afghanistan. But I am willing to bet that there are not many judge-advocates who have front-line experience.
It is important that lay members continue to play an active role. I am concerned that, in what is proposed, we are moving away from the defendant being able to look lay members in the eye, knowing that their peers will play an active role—through first-hand experience and being able to compare their own careers with those before them—and be part of the sentencing process.
My Lords, as we begin Committee on this important legislation, I stress to all sides that we must use this opportunity to improve the lives of, and protections and support for, personnel and their families through legislative change.
Her Majesty’s Opposition stand firmly behind our brave service personnel and their families, and we strongly believe that the law should be on their side. That is why we support the principles behind the Bill and welcome the steps to create a legal duty to implement the principles of the covenant and the key elements of the Lyons review. But we all know that there are many, both in and outside the House, who believe that the Government could and should go further. Therefore, I repeat that our main priority will be to work with other parties to improve the legislation.
Our forces communities are themselves determined that the Bill should not be a missed opportunity, so the amendments tabled by Her Majesty’s Opposition and those we are supporting, we believe, are designed in good faith to reflect the cause of personnel, their families and the organisations which represent them.
The first group of amendments, which focuses on Clause 2 and Schedule 1, concerns the constitution of the court martial and implements recommendations from the Lyons review. These include fixing the size of court martial boards at three or six, and a move to qualified majority verdicts instead of the simple majority systems currently used.
The Bill’s Select Committee stated that the
“use of the simple majority verdict had been criticised by some, including … Jeff Blackett, and Liberty, who proposed that unanimous verdicts be sought in the first instance.”
The Government have subsequently tabled Amendments 1, 2 and 4, which they say enable the court martial to remain validly constituted if a three-member board loses a lay member—for instance, due to illness or the need to isolate. The Minister has said that she is making a small adjustment to future-proof the system of three-member boards to allow for the appointment of a four-member board for longer cases.
Why are these amendments suddenly needed? How often does the Minister think that a four-member board will be appointed? What consultation process has there been for this change? Is there a large enough pool of board members to support this change? When she says that four-person boards are for longer cases, what type of cases does she mean? Will it be just about time, or some other characteristics of the case?
It was also helpful to hear the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, behind Amendment 3; I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply to these points. With that, and with a careful reading of Hansard, we will be considering our position on this amendment.
First, I thank your Lordships for your contributions. I will start by responding to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, who I think was principally concerned with the government amendments to which I spoke. Regarding the decision to introduce a flexibility to allow a three-member board to become a four-member board in order to keep operating, I cannot give him a list of statistics, but I can tell him that Covid brought into very sharp relief the potential fragility of the system if people sadly become infected with Covid or are required to isolate. That made it clear that we need to introduce some change to accommodate these extraordinary circumstances, which we may continue to encounter. None of us is clear when life as we once remember it may return, so I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, that we regard this as a sensible introduction of a flexible measure to ensure, importantly, that justice continues to be done for victims and that they are not in the unenviable position of a case having to be dropped because the court martial is not properly constituted.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, inquires about what type of cases it is about and how often we expect a full-member board to sit. I suggest that the type of case is probably a matter for the court martial rules to determine. One would imagine that, in looking at the composition and constitution of a court martial, regard would be had to the type of offence being tried, the number of witnesses available and that an appropriate judgment would be made on that basis, but the court martial rules would be more specific about that aspect.
I turn to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd—I hope he finds my pronunciation semi-acceptable; I was tutored by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on how to deal with it. I think the points made are important. I detected a fundamental difference of opinion between me as a government Minister within the MoD and the noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, about the philosophical or essential character of what we are dealing with in the service justice system. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, eloquently touched on that.
We have to remember that life for a service community and all those within it is very different from life for those of us in a civilian community. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, gave us an interesting analogy of the forthcoming rugby match between the All Blacks and Wales. The comparison that he attempted to draw was that the referee may consult the touch judges as to what has actually happened but the referee will ultimately make the decision. In response, I would say that the referee and the touch judges are not living in a close and mutually supportive community such as the Armed Forces community, where not only are they all living in close proximity to one another but in service they are mutually dependent on each other. The rugby players, the referee and the other officials are not dependent on each other for either disciplinary or operational effectiveness. There is a temptation to make that comparison but I do not find it completely analogous to what we are discussing within the Armed Forces.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said that sentencing is complex, and I do not think anyone would dispute that. Training is needed, and in court martial appeals you have the expertise of the judges. I would respond by saying that we do have expertise; the judge advocate has expertise, and sentencing guidance is available to all on the panel. As I indicated in my preliminary remarks when addressing Amendment 3, there is a great body of expertise and information available. Where we differ is on a fundamental point, a point that noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, made well when he said that there has to be an understanding within the service community about how a punishment or a penalty is to be appropriate to what has happened. That is in the wider context of what the offence, transgression or omission actually meant to the broader community. As I pointed out in my speech, there is a world of difference between a supermarket worker turning up late and a marine engineer being late for a nuclear submarine that is just about to leave port.
The concern was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that in a civilian court you can adjourn for sentencing. The Judge Advocate General can also adjourn the court martial to consider sentencing if the panel needs time to get further information on the defendant, and pre-sentencing reports are used in the court martial system.
I have endeavoured to address the points raised. I have a note here saying that apparently the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked who we had consulted in the court martial. We consulted the Judge Advocate General, the Service Prosecuting Authority and the single services.
I submit that the government amendments proceed from a sensible and widely understood base and that Amendment 3, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, is well-intended but inappropriate for incorporation within the service justice system.
My Lords, I admire the loyalty expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, who is concerned about weakening the identity of the single service, and I understand it. It was an argument advanced in 2006, when the wholesale reform of the court martial system took place, bringing the three service justice systems together into one—something widely accepted at the time. I remember at that time proposing an amendment that the board should be drawn from the three services and not from one to deal with a particular defendant. After the rather heated debate, I met an air marshal, a field marshal and an admiral of the fleet in the corridor. I said that I hoped I had not upset them with the suggestion, whereupon one of them, who shall be nameless, said to me, “You should be shot”. So, at that time, the same sentiments were widely abroad and discussed.
The noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, said that the defendant should be able to look into the eyes of the jury and know that he is among people who understand him. There have been some very serious trials recently involving policemen. Should a policeman be looking into the eyes of a jury composed of senior policemen because they will understand the pressures that he is under? It is just not the British system to take particular people in the community, who may have loyalties one way or the other, and have them tried by their peers in that sense.
I welcome and understand what the noble Lord said, but I think we have gone beyond that. Indeed, the report by Sir Richard Henriques that we will be discussing later takes the matter even further, with the defence units that he proposes, and which the Government now propose, where any concept of different services is abandoned.
I return to my argument on the judge sentencing. I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for his support on that, and shall return to it when we get to Report, because it is an important matter of principle that should complete the considerable reform of the criminal justice service system that we are undertaking. I shall not move my amendment.
Amendment 1 agreed.
Amendment 2 agreed.
Amendment 3 not moved.
Amendment 4 agreed.
Schedule 1, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 3 to 6 agreed.
Clause 7: Concurrent jurisdiction
5: Clause 7, page 4, line 27, at end insert—
“(4A) Guidance under subsection (3)(a) must provide that where offences of murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse, rape or sexual assault with penetration are alleged to have been committed in the United Kingdom, any charges brought against a person subject to service law shall normally be tried in a civil court unless, by reason of specific naval or military complexity involving the service, the Attorney General consents to trial by court martial.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure the most serious crimes – murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse, rape and sexual assault with penetration – are tried in civilian courts when committed in the UK unless the Attorney General has specifically consented for such crimes to be tried by court martial by reason of complexity involving the service.
My Lords, prior to 2006, charges of murder, manslaughter and rape committed in the United Kingdom were tried in the ordinary courts, rather than by court martial, when a person subject to service discipline was involved. At that time, in 2006, the Labour Government gave concurrent jurisdiction to courts martial to try these matters. The Conservatives opposed the change, as did the Liberal Democrats. I suggested at the time that the purpose was merely to bolster the credibility of the new courts martial system, which was being totally reformed.
I am not aware of any murder or manslaughter case involving a person subject to service discipline that has been tried by court martial arising out of incidents in the United Kingdom, but rape and sexual offences are very different. A significant disparity in conviction rates in rape cases where courts martial have been employed was found by the statistics before Judge Lyons: 16% were convicted in a court martial, as opposed to 34% of defendants in the ordinary courts. That is an unacceptable disparity.
It was referred to in Sarah Atherton MP’s Defence Sub-Committee report published in July and entitled Protecting Those Who Protect Us. Paragraph 175 of that report, which is now only three or four months old, says:
“We do not believe that the problems highlighted by the Lyons Review in the handling of sexual offences in the Service Justice System have been fully resolved. While we accept there is a limited set of circumstances where it may be appropriate for the Service Justice System to be used for UK-based sexual offences (for example when there are offences both in the UK and overseas), this must require the Attorney General’s consent. There may be other compelling reasons, such as the young age and vulnerability of the victim, when it is more appropriate for the civilian justice system to hear these cases. In our view, the fact that a UK case may involve a victim and a perpetrator who are both Service personnel is not a sufficient reason for the Service Justice System to be used.”
Sarah Atherton’s report went on to call for the implementation of the very first recommendation of Judge Lyons’s review—he made a large number of recommendations—in which he said:
“It is … recommended that the Court Martial jurisdiction should no longer include murder, manslaughter and rape when these offences are committed in the UK, except when the consent of the Attorney General is given.”
The Atherton report also called for the implementation of the Lyons recommendations to place all domestic violence and child abuse cases in the civil jurisdiction when committed in the UK.
Why is that recommendation from Judge Lyons, repeated by the Defence Sub-Committee chaired by Sarah Atherton, a Conservative Member, resisted? The Government may now feel that reverting to the pre-2006 position may be seen as a vote of no confidence in the court martial system. I do not believe that to be so, and I do not think it a proper justification. In 2006 it was not seen by the Conservative Party to be a sufficient reason to support the Labour amendment of this historical common-law position that service personnel who commit offences in the United Kingdom will be tried in the ordinary courts.
It is a breach of the basic principles that a person subject to service law is still a citizen and that a British citizen has a right to be tried for serious offences by a randomly selected jury of 12 ordinary fellow citizens. That was a point strongly urged by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, at Second Reading and in the extension of that in his amendment linked to this, which I fully support. I shall leave it to him to explain the purposes of that. I beg to move.
I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on the first of these amendments but, before explaining my reasons, my primary purpose in tabling these amendments is to try to ensure the proper morale of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and the standing in which they are held by the public. One has to bear in mind always that in the modern criminal justice system, where successive Governments have ensured that the victim or complainant —I will use the words interchangeably—is put at the heart of the system, that is taken fully into account. One can see this so often. For example, recently, the public look at the way in which the police investigate and they will look at the way in which people are tried. Are they being tried fairly and is there a proper balance?
It is important to realise that what I seek is, first, to achieve a much greater degree of certainty in relation to these matters and, secondly, to try to ensure that the Armed Forces are not subjected to yet more complaints about the nature of the justice system. It is evident from the report of Judge Shaun Lyons, a most distinguished Naval Judge Advocate—and a judge who is in charge of a major London criminal court—that there ought to be the change which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has so carefully gone through. I fully support his amendment but, in view of the difficulties that arise, it is necessary to go a little further.
If I may explain, I want to deal with two issues, one of which, the position of crimes committed overseas, I regret to say the Minister was not happy about last time. However, there is a serious issue and I shall take a moment or two to refer in detail to the law on this subject. The other is in relation to crimes outside the ambit of the proposal to deal with sexual offences, murder and other serious offences.
It is right to begin by recording that, particularly in relation to the most terrible crimes that have occurred, one can go back a very long way. I have seen many of these crimes myself, although the first of them occurred one year after I was born. It concerned the involvement of a battalion of the Scots Guards in an event at a place called Batang Kali during the Malayan emergency. That case was not investigated properly at the time; it is now abundantly clear and there remained a residue, which went right down to the early 2000s, about the way in which it had been approached.
In more recent times, there were the cases involving Baha Mousa and others in Iraq. There was the Blackman case, to which I regret I will have to return, and there were the points raised by one newspaper last Sunday. From what I have seen in each case, regrettably, one has to be sanguine about the fact that such conduct may well occur again. We have to deal with it in a way that is fair and just, while maintaining the morale of the Armed Forces.
We shall turn to looking at investigation when we come to consider the report of Sir Richard Henriques but, on this amendment, we are concerned with jurisdiction. Who has jurisdiction to try a case? Jurisdiction is not like deciding whether you prosecute. It goes to the fundamental position of the court and, over the centuries, it has always been the position that Parliament controls the jurisdiction of the courts. As I mentioned at Second Reading, it is also a fundamental principle that for certain offences there is a right to trial by a jury of 12 people. It is very difficult to see any justification whatever for taking that right away from one of Her Majesty’s citizens. It is fundamental; one has only to read Lord Devlin’s classic work on the jury to realise how core this principle is to our justice system.
It is also important to bear in mind that in offences in the UK, which can be tried in either the magistrates’ court or the Crown Court, it is the right of a defendant to decide where he should be tried. Although successive Governments have tried, in the interests of efficiency, or this or that or whatever else, to take that fundamental right away, Parliament has always decided against it. Therefore, when we look at this question of jurisdiction, the rights of an individual and, equally importantly in this case, the reputation of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, it is a matter that Parliament ought to decide. We should not leave it to a protocol that has no parliamentary supervision.
I have therefore put forward in the amendments in my name and signed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, a series of factors that ought to be taken into account when one is dealing with cases other than those specified in the earlier amendment. I have specified some because I consider them of paramount importance. The first, obvious one is the right of the defendant, about which I have spoken. The second, these days, is the position of the victim and the third is the public interest. It seems to me very important that if, as must be the position, there is a choice of jurisdiction, this should not mean that for crimes committed in the UK it is left entirely to the prosecutors to draft their own protocol without parliamentary supervision and parliamentary accountability.
In the interests of the Armed Forces, it is essential to bear in mind that a decision made on this point, as it goes to the jurisdiction, will be susceptible to judicial review. If, in my view, the issues are left to be dealt with by a protocol not approved by Parliament, the considerations and factors that will be put forward by the two independent people who will draft this protocol with appropriate consultation will be much more susceptible to attack than they would be if Parliament had said, “These are the principles on which we must act”. It is quite inadvisable not to take every step by bearing in mind the right of judicial review.
I have therefore tried to set out a series of objective factors. It is a very first attempt and, if the Minister is interested, I would welcome discussing what we should have with those more familiar with the problems. But these all attempt to be objective factors. I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, that there are areas where an understanding of the ethos or the technical complexities, or of the Armed Forces, is necessary. There is good reason in some cases to allow a member of the Armed Forces to be tried by a process denied to your Lordships before the First World War—being tried by their peers in the literal sense. We are all now tried by a jury of 12 randomly selected people. I see the force of the argument but these must be objective factors and they must, in my judgment, be approved by Parliament.
I turn now to the other point covered by the protocol: the position of serious crimes, particularly the crime of murder, committed overseas. There is no doubt whatever the ordinary civilian courts have jurisdiction over murder committed by a British citizen anywhere in the world.
The history of this interesting development of law is set out in the case of R v Page  1 QB 170, which traces the position from the reign of Henry VIII right through to the present time. It became clear in a decision in 1843 in Azzopardi, a case where a British subject had murdered a Dutch national in Smyrna, that that person could be tried in England. There must be a principled approach to this issue.
This point arose in Blackman. In that case, a decision was made by the DPP that Blackman would be tried by a court martial under a protocol made in September 2011. At the time he was indicted that was not challenged, but it was challenged in the first of the Blackman appeals—to give the Minister’s advisers the reference, that is  EWCA Crim 1029. It is evident from that case, ex post facto, that trial before 12 ordinary British citizens was seen by the defendant—rightly or wrongly; that does not matter—as more advantageous to him. In the second Blackman case, the point did not arise. There was a real question whether Blackman should be tried, if there had been a retrial, by a jury of 12 people before an ordinary court.
This is therefore an open point. I simply fail to understand how it can conceivably be in anyone’s interests not to resolve this issue in Parliament. It might be right to sideline Parliament for certain things, but it is beyond my comprehension: why risk judicial review to a much greater extent? Why risk a dispute in relation to a member of the Armed Forces who killed someone overseas without having clear parliamentary scrutiny and approval of the principles?
If that has not persuaded the Minister, there is yet one further point, which relates to devolution. The Bill is carefully crafted—it obviously has to be—to allow for agreements to be made between the Director of Service Prosecutions and the chief prosecutors in the three criminal jurisdictions that make up the United Kingdom: England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. I am greatly indebted to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, for this point: it cannot be right to see the risk that there might be inconsistencies in the way the prosecutor in one jurisdiction approaches the matter from the prosecutors of a different jurisdiction. The only way of solving this problem is for Parliament to approve the principles set out. That is why there is an elaborate proposed new clause—I am greatly indebted to parliamentary counsel for their advice as to how I should frame it—which provides for parliamentary approval.
I have taken those reasons at some length; they are issues that were of great concern over the past 10 years when I was a judge. A number of cases came before the courts in which the reputation of the Armed Forces was at stake. I do not think anyone present during the appeals in Blackman could have appreciated the very considerable public concern that had arisen. I do not for a moment have anything but the greatest admiration for the way the Judge Advocate-General, Judge Blackett, tried that case, but that is not the point. The point is the standing of the Armed Forces. I see no downside whatever to Parliament approving these matters to settle them. It will safeguard the Armed Forces and everyone.
My Lords, I shall speak to my contention that Clause 7 should not stand part. It is a probing amendment. First, may I say that I agree wholeheartedly with the Minister’s opening remarks about the differences between members of the Armed Forces and others? This always needs to be foremost in our deliberations on disciplinary matters. Indeed, I stressed this point when the House was considering the Human Rights Bill in 1998.
At Second Reading, I expressed particular concern that the effect of this new clause would be to make a vital part of disciplinary procedures for the Armed Forces subject to devolved treatment, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, has mentioned. The Armed Forces are a national, United Kingdom force. Any devolution of their oversight or control from central government does not make sense.
I further expressed concern about the protocol which this clause alludes to but is silent on what it should say in detail. Other noble Lords have been suggesting what should be included. Clause 7 suggests that protocols are to be agreed in the three legal jurisdictions between the Director of Service Prosecutions and, as we have heard, the equivalent civilian prosecutors in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Will they be identical? Certainly, the Director of Service Prosecutions cannot ensure that. He is expected to deal with three separate individuals, all of whom have the right to the final word. One way to finesse these two points might be for the Director of Service Prosecutions, guided by an agreed protocol, to be given the final word.
New Section 320A(7) requires the Secretary of State and others to be consulted but it is not clear that even the Secretary of State could reject the proposed protocol. Surely the Bill should be much clearer than at present about these possibly different protocols. It may be argued that any divergence of view would, in practice, be unlikely to arise and “common sense” would prevail. However, this is far from ensuring no divergences. I pointed out at Second Reading that there is no guarantee of how the three civilian prosecutors would view handing serious criminal military cases about which there is already a wide divergence of view, as amendments before this Committee make clear.
Finally, while the pressures to move service justice under separate independent scrutiny and handling have steadily increased following the major disciplinary changes of the 2006 Act, the impact of excessive delays in civilian courts should not be overlooked. As the NAO recently reported:
“The backlog of cases in the criminal courts is likely to be a pervasive issue for several years”.
Surely, swifter justice in a court martial—there are only about 400 on average every year and very few are in the serious category—might be welcome to the accused and to any victim of the crime.
To quote Gladstone:
“Justice delayed is justice denied.”
What is fair about adding long, excessive delay to court proceedings for the accused service individual? The service interest may also be damaged if an accused is acquitted, having spent months or years away from their post awaiting trial. Is there not a case for the accused to be allowed to elect for court martial trial if that were significantly to speed up the process?
The integrity of the court martial system remains essential to the Armed Forces. It may at any time be deployed globally; it should not be diminished. I fear the judgment of noble and learned opinion favours more use of civilian courts.
My Lords, the two proposals before the Committee in this group have the same aim: so far as serious crime is concerned, to make the procedures similar to those in our criminal courts. The first amendment was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, supported by two other members of the Committee. We are indebted to him for his historical analysis, and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for his unrivalled experience, which will be of great assistance to the Committee. The second proposal is the new clause tabled under my name and that of the noble and learned Lord; I am grateful for the support I have received.
My proposed new clause does not go so far as Amendment 5, but imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to commission a panel to review the courts martial and, in particular, to consider bringing courts martial into line with specific Crown Court procedures. I would be content if either amendment or my proposed new clause were accepted. On reflection, I find the mandatory terms in Amendment 5 very attractive.
I first raised my concern about the court martial system for serious offences as far back as 2016. The Ministry of Defence moved with unaccustomed speed to set up an independent inquiry led by ex-Judge Advocate Shaun Lyons. We are indebted to it, and to Ministers, for their speedy action. It was the case of Sergeant Blackman, already mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, that aroused my interest; many in the Committee will recall the case. My experience of courts martial is limited. I was a young officer newly arrived in BAOR, and it became known to alleged wrongdoers that there was a barrister in their ranks. To my adjutant’s dismay, there were other priorities, with the South Wales Borderers preparing to go to Malaysia. Little did my potential clients know how wet behind the ears I was, not having yet done a pupillage. Apart from a few courts martial then, I had nothing to do with the system when I returned to a lifetime of criminal practice. Since then, I have kept an interest in well-published cases, both as a Defence Minister and as Attorney-General. When I put in place a protocol for various prosecuting authorities, including the military, involving the supervision of the Attorney-General, I was in fact not troubled by the military.
My proposals are not concerned with the courts martial that deal with minor offences; they concern only some of the most serious offences. However, a verdict of 2:1 in any case does not fit particularly well the standards and needs of the 21st century. I propose that serious consideration be given to bringing courts martial that are trying specified serious crimes into line with ordinary criminal procedures. I do so for the following reasons. First, our Armed Forces—I am proud to have served in them—are today much less separate from ordinary civilian life than in the past; indeed, some civilians are tried by court martial. Secondly, our forces are mostly based in the United Kingdom and live in, or close to, civic communities. They are not the press-ganged sailors and soldiers of bygone centuries.
Thirdly, trials of serious cases are comparatively rare. Perhaps the Minister can remind us how many murder, manslaughter or rape cases we had in the last year. I think we are all concerned with the rate of conviction in rape cases, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, mentioned. Such trials should be presided over by experienced judges who try such cases day in, day out. Even then, only a minority of the circuit judges are licensed to try cases such as murder or rape. Although I was a Crown Court recorder for many years, with the powers of a circuit judge, I would not be given such responsibility. Those who are licensed to try such cases are very experienced. I know that sometimes, maybe fairly regularly, Judge Advocates sit in our criminal courts, but that does not mean they are licensed to try such cases.
Fourthly, there are now well-hallowed procedures in our criminal courts for trial and the taking of verdicts. I confess that I had my doubts when the proposal for majority verdicts was first put forward, but long experience at the criminal Bar has proved beyond doubt that the procedures are both just and efficient to render justice without undue delay. In such cases, the judge should be nominated by the Lord Chief Justice and the jury should comprise 12 jurors. Soldiers, sailors and airmen should have the same rights as ordinary citizens. The number 12 was hallowed by the eminent jurist Coke many centuries ago.
When a criminal jury now retires to consider its verdict, the judge gives a direction that it should seek unanimity. It is then given considerable time to achieve this. Only when sufficient time has elapsed and there appears to be no prospect of reaching such a verdict is the procedure put in place whereby a verdict by fewer than 12 of its number can be accepted. It is told again to try to achieve unanimity, and only then, when it fails, is a verdict by at least 10 of its number acceptable. The numbers required for a majority verdict speak for themselves; it is the overwhelming majority. When the verdict is delivered, the numbers are announced publicly in court—quite different from a court martial.
The Minister has sought to justify a 2:1 verdict as arising only in minor offences, but such a verdict can have serious consequences for the individual. I have my doubts about a practice in courts martial that I am told of, whereby the most junior member of a court martial is expected to announce his decision first, and so on in the military hierarchy. If I am right—I may be wrong—it could be quite intimidating, in particular for a junior member sitting for his first court martial.
If our proposals are not accepted today, I hope the ground has been laid for the inevitable reform next time the legalising of our Armed Forces by Act of Parliament is considered. Every soldier, sailor and airman should have the same right as an ordinary citizen of a trial by a jury numbering 12.
My Lords, I start my first contribution in Committee by thanking the Minister and her officials for the courteous briefing and the informed and courteous way in which she has conducted the Committee and this work. It is extremely helpful to us all, so it is worth publicly thanking the Minister for that and for the way she has tried to engage with us.
I had a great speech written—well, I do not know if it was a great speech, but I had one written—in support of Amendment 5. However, one of the important things that the Minister does is to try to respond to the debate, and I want to pick up on what I think have been some brilliant contributions to this discussion. We all support a covenant. We all support the Armed Forces Bill and what is in it. We all believe that this is a step forward, we are all pleased that the Government are putting a legal duty on local authorities to do this, and so on. We all agree with the Bill so the discussions taking place here are about how we can make it even better, and to get the Government to clarify some of their thoughts and put their intentions on record for people to read.
I was particularly moved—I say this with trepidation because I am neither a lawyer nor a military person, but I think it is important in these debates to speak from where the public would come from—by what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said: this element of the Bill, on how the military deals with sexual offences and some of the most serious crimes, goes to the heart of the confidence that the public have, or do not have, in the Armed Forces. You can see that as an analogy with the police at present; I come from a police family so I understand that issue. Surely that is the point that the Bill is getting at.
I know the Minister will point to the reforms that are going to be made, the welcome introduction of the tri-service serious crimes unit and so on, but we all agree that some of the things that we read about—and I intend to quote some because it is important to put some of the statistics before the Committee—are truly shocking. We saw a particularly horrendous example in our papers at the weekend. I know that the vast majority of the military, whether they be privates, sergeants, officers, Royal Navy, airmen or soldiers, want this dealt with as well.
The challenge for us in the Committee is how the system that we set up will best reassure the public that these matters are being dealt with—how it will help with the reputation of the Armed Forces but also allow service men and women to get the justice that they too deserve. That is the purpose of Amendment 5, which I put my name to and was moved so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford.
If it is not to be done in the civilian courts, which is what the amendment is pushing for, how will we know—and how will the public be reassured—about some of the things that they are reading about, where terrible, unacceptable sexual crime, rape and murder take place and have no consequence, or where people do not believe that the system works and therefore do not come forward? That is the challenge. As noble Lords have said, the amendment is all about jurisdiction. What jurisdiction would best deal with these offences in the way that I have outlined?
It is not just me. Judge Shaun Lyons and Sir Jon Murphy recommended that the most serious crimes should be removed from the military justice system; the recent report by the Defence Select Committee recommended the same; and Johnny Mercer MP, who was a Defence Minister, has now said he believes that should happen. These are serious bodies of opinion supporting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, as well as other issues that have been raised.
I know much of this will come forward when we talk about the tri-service serious crimes unit, but I want to put on record the recent Times article that I was particularly struck by, which said:
“Complaints of rape and sexual assault made by girls under 18 in the military have risen tenfold since 2015, Ministry of Defence figures reveal.”
That is shocking—and it is from the MoD’s own figures, unless the Minister says that the Times has got it wrong. The article says that
“girls under 18 in the armed forces have made 41 complaints of rape and sexual assault to the military police since 2015 … equivalent to one report for every 40 girls. This makes girls in the armed forces more than twice as likely as their civilian counterparts to report a rape or sexual assault to police.”
The amendment is intended only to pose the question, given the statistics being reported, of whether a change to the jurisdiction would, first, give more confidence to people to come forward; and, secondly, give more confidence to the public, because such horrific incidents and cases, which we all abhor, are best dealt with by the civilian courts.
I completely changed what I was going to say because I was moved by what was said. In Committee, we go into the detail that at Second Reading, Third Reading and, sometimes, on Report we do not. That is the purpose of Committee: to scrutinise the Bill line by line, but also to respond to what noble Lords have said and think about how that relates to the Bill. We all want to ensure that justice works in the military, whether through the service justice system or through the civilian courts.
I finish with this point. The Henriques report, which we shall come to, suggested, unless I misrepresent it, that because prosecution rates for rape and some other serious crimes were poor in the civilian court system—the criminal justice system—that was a reason for keeping them in the military justice system. I think that is a very poor argument. Whether in the service justice system or the criminal justice system, we are all appalled by low levels of prosecution, but we are here debating a matter of principle: where best is justice served; where best is the public reputation kept or, in some circumstances, restored; and how do we ensure that confidence is there not only for the public but for service men and women to feel confident that if they come forward, they will be listened to and get a proper response to the accusations made? Amendment 5 suggests that, for serious crimes, that may well be in the civilian court, not within the service justice system.
My Lords, I beg the Committee’s indulgence. This is my first time back in this Room, and I am afraid I got my body language wrong. I was hoping to come in before the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. Perhaps I may briefly speak in support of Amendment 5. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, as you would expect from legal people, were very carefully balanced, but I shall speak unashamedly in favour of the victims. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred to the Times report about under-18s to which I was going to refer. I shall refer to another Times report from April, when 4,000 servicewomen and veterans came forward to speak about their concerns.
We know that there is a problem with prosecution of the crimes of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence in all areas, but it is obvious where we want to invest our effort. If we do so in the civilian courts, that is where the real speciality and ability will lie. I and others have framed this as an issue of violence against women and girls, but it is also worth thinking about male victims of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, and how difficult it may be for them in that context.
This will be my only intervention in Committee. Your Lordships’ House is not taking recess for the COP 26 climate talks, although we recently took recess for the party conferences, which happen twice a year. I apologise that I will not be able to take a full part, but I hope to come back on Report.
Finally, there was a great deal of discussion of this at Second Reading, and I was expecting more discussion of Amendment 5 today, because this is something that we really need to see change and progress on.
First, I want to thank your Lordships for what has been a profound and stimulating discussion. I am conscious that much of the debate has centred on fairly technical legal issues, not least in particular reference to the criminal legal system, both for civilian and service justice systems. I shall do my best to address the issues raised.
By way of preface, in response to points notably made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and echoed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, we all want a service justice system that is fit for purpose. I think we are all absolutely united in seeking that objective, and that is exactly what the Bill aims to achieve. That offers me the opportunity to say to your Lordships that much had to move at pace, involving a considerable volume of material. I apologise for that, as I know that you have all been deluged, first with the publication of the Henriques report and then the tabling of government amendments to create the defence serious crime unit.
While I think that these are regarded as very positive developments, I understand that it has put pressure on everybody to try properly to assimilate and understand the report and amendments. I took the view that the amendments did not make a lot of sense without the report, and I had to navigate my way through a fairly tangled jungle of clearances to make sure that we could get both things out into the public domain. I felt that it was important that we did that; it seemed to me that the amendments the Government were then able to table to the Bill in respect of the defence serious crime unit provided reassurance and perhaps answered some of the questions raised today. I think that gives a clear signal of intent about the desire to ensure, as a number of noble Lords have observed this afternoon, that the criminal justice system is absolutely fit for purpose and as good as it can be.
I will now address the amendments in this group. I shall do that beginning with Amendment 5 and then move on to Amendment 6—and then I shall speak to the intention expressed by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, to oppose Clause 7. Finally, I shall speak to Amendment 7 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said that there has to be confidence in the justice system, and I totally agree with that. He rightly referred to recent statistics, which are deeply troubling—and I make no pretence about that. As he probably knows, there has been ongoing work in the MoD over the last decade to try to address cultures and behaviour, to provide people who have been treated wrongly—whether it is the victims of unacceptable behaviour or of a criminal offence—with the confidence to come forward, and to try to reassure those within our Armed Forces, not least our women, that this is a good and safe place to be. That has been a Herculean struggle; it has been a huge challenge, and I am not going to pretend otherwise. What I can say is that there has been systematic progress of very good work.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred to the Commons Select Committee report, in which the MoD very readily engaged—and the Secretary of State took the courageous and absolutely correct decision to allow serving women to appear as witnesses before the committee. I thought he was absolutely right to do that, as it is the only way in which we can get evidence out into the open. Very troubling evidence was heard, and some of it was utterly appalling. What I drew comfort from was that, to the end, a very high percentage of the women who gave evidence said that they would recommend a career in the Armed Forces to other women. I felt encouraged by that. There was recognition that, while unacceptable practices and attitudes have existed in the past, there is a discernible recognition that the direction has changed.
In relation to the stats to which the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred, they are troubling, but they do tell us that people are now coming forward. One problem that we had was that people would not come forward; they did not have the confidence to do that—and that to me strikes at the very heart of the probity and integrity of, and the confidence that people should rightly have in, the system.
We have been and are reforming the service complaints system. A huge amount of work has been done among the single services to that end.
My Lords, it might help if everybody knew that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, who is intending to participate remotely in the next group, has just arrived. There is possibly a little technical adjustment to be made so that she does not find herself inadvertently speaking in the wrong debate.
I shall leave that to those who are much more technically gifted than I am to resolve.
I say to the Committee that I absolutely hear the concerns expressed and am not giving some cosmetic response to them. These concerns are being addressed, and in many respects have been addressed. I hope that we are going to see that a much healthier climate exists within the Armed Forces.
I turn specifically to Amendment 5, which seeks to ensure that the most serious crimes as listed in the amendment are tried in the civilian courts when committed by a service person in the UK, unless, by reason of specific naval or military complexity involving the service, the Attorney-General has specifically consented for such crimes to be tried at court martial. I realise that there is much interest in the Government’s decision not to follow recommendation 1 in the Service Justice System Review. While we accept the need to improve the decision-making processes in relation to concurrent jurisdiction, we do not believe that the introduction of an Attorney-General consent function is the best way to achieve it.
By way of background, I would like to be clear that the primary reason the service justice system was established was, as we discussed earlier today, to support operational effectiveness and maintain the service discipline of our Armed Forces. The recently published review by Sir Richard Henriques and the service justice system review by His Honour Shaun Lyons were unanimous in accepting that premise; they strongly supported the continued existence of the service justice system. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, referred to the importance of public confidence in that system. I entirely agree: it is vital that the public and victims, and service personnel, have confidence that this system can act adequately in respect of what it is asked to do.
Sir Richard Henriques stated in his review, published just last week, that he agreed with the Government’s decision to retain unqualified concurrent jurisdiction for murder, manslaughter and rape. Sir Richard, a retired High Court judge, found the service justice system to be fair, robust and capable of dealing with all offending. This endorsement of capability echoes the conclusion of the process audit conducted as part of the Lyons review, which previously found that the service police have the necessary training, skills and experience to investigate any crime. The service police, prosecutors and judiciary are trained, skilled and experienced, while independent prosecutors can be trusted to make appropriate decisions on jurisdiction.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who raised the issue of statistics on conviction rates. It is not possible to draw a meaningful statistical or data comparison between the service justice system and the civilian system, because the small database in the service justice system means that variances have a disproportionate effect, which I think everyone can understand. That can lead, frankly, to false conclusions.
We are confident that the service justice system provides an effective and fair system of justice for our Armed Forces. What we recognise, as in the very point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, is the public confidence issue and that it can be maintained only if the service justice system not only has but can be shown to have the capability to deal with all offending fairly, efficiently and in a manner which respects and upholds the needs of victims. That is why we continue to implement the recommendations of the Service Justice System Review, some of which are measures in the Bill. This will ensure that the service justice system is more effective and efficient and provides a better service to those who use it.
The independent review by Sir Richard Henriques also considered how processes can be strengthened going forward. The report contains a total of 64 recommendations, approximately a third of which are focused on taking forward the establishment of a defence serious crime unit, as originally recommended in the Lyons review. This will deliver better outcomes for service justice while maintaining operational effectiveness. We have prioritised a number of recommendations for inclusion in this Bill as government amendments, namely those concerned with the defence serious crime unit and the creation of a new provost marshal for serious crime.
To build on these developments, we have committed to publishing a defence-wide strategy for dealing with rape and serious sexual offences in the service justice system. The strategy will aim to reduce the prevalence and impact of rape and other serious sexual offending in the Armed Forces, and to improve the handling of those cases in the service justice system.
Aside from these steps to increase capability, at the heart of recommendation 1 is the desire to ensure that serious offences are dealt with in the most appropriate jurisdiction. It is about good decision-making as to where concurrent jurisdiction exists. Although the Government accept that decision-making can be improved, we do not agree that an Attorney-General consent function is the best way to achieve this. I will try to address this point.
Amendment 5 seeks to introduce what I might describe as a novel form of Attorney-General consent that focuses on where a case should be dealt with rather than whether it should be prosecuted at all. This difference is key, as the timing of the consent is critical to whether it would assist or hinder decision-making. It would be impractical to request such consent during the investigation process, as the facts of the case may not be immediately apparent; and requesting consent at this stage would not only interrupt the critical “golden hour” of evidence collection but ask the impossible of the Attorney-General.
To give a practical example, the Attorney-General is unlikely to be able to make an informed decision on the correct jurisdiction for an alleged rape case that took place in a barracks because he receives a telephone call in the early hours of the morning. It would be unreasonable to expect him to do that. For him to make an informed, meaningful and final decision, the request for consent must come at the point of charge on completion of the investigation. By that time, key decisions on jurisdiction will already have been taken by the service police and prosecutors, or civilian police and prosecutors, to progress the investigation as efficiently as possible.
These decisions are already guided by protocols agreed between the two systems. If they are well-designed, as proposed in the Bill, then Attorney-General consent adds little to the quality of decision-making. Conversely, if the Attorney-General were to disagree with the view of the service and civilian prosecutors that the case should be tried in the service justice system, that could lead to delay. It might even lead to the possibility of a case not being tried in either system. There is no simple way of transferring cases at a later stage from the service to the civilian system. The case would need to return to the civilian police to reinvestigate. The passage of time might even make prosecution non-viable. That cannot be the right outcome for anyone, not least the victims.
For these reasons, the Government have instead opted to take a more pragmatic approach. Clause 7 ensures that decisions on jurisdiction are left to the independent service justice and UK civilian prosecutors, using guidance they have agreed between themselves. Once in place, this new statutory guidance will be used to revise existing protocols between the service and civilian police to bring much-needed clarity, at all levels, on how decisions on jurisdiction are made.
In this way, decision-making on jurisdiction will be improved as service and civilian authorities will make key decisions together as early as possible, with the civilian authorities always having the final say. I know that that it is a matter of concern for the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley; I shall come to that when I address his contribution. This will provide a greater safeguard to ensure that cases are dealt with in the most appropriate jurisdiction than an Attorney-General consent function could achieve.
An important point to highlight about Clause 7 is that the protocol is agreed between service and civilian prosecutors. Both the Director of Service Prosecutions and the Director of Public Prosecutions in England and Wales are superintended by the Attorney-General. We can expect the Attorney-General to take an interest in both the drafting and operation of the protocol in a superintendence capacity. It is true that this will not involve the Attorney-General in day-to-day prosecution decision-making in the way a consent function would, but the Attorney-General will still have a role to play. This pragmatic approach will ensure that decision-making is taken at the right level by those with access to the most up-to-date information, and in a manner that respects and upholds the needs of victims. I hope that explanation provides your Lordships with an assurance that sufficient consultation will take place. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw Amendment 5.
Moving on to Amendment 6, there may be something of an echo of what I have already said, and perhaps an introduction of some material that might be relevant to Amendment 5, but I hope noble Lords will bear with me. Amendment 6 sets out a number of factors that the Director of Public Prosecutions in England and Wales and the Director of Service Prosecutions must consider when they draft the guidance in the protocol on the general principles that will govern decisions on jurisdiction. These factors include what is described as “the ordinary right” of a person to trial by jury, the views of the complainant or victim and those of the defendant, the relevance to the trial of knowledge of specific naval or military complexity, and the intended location of the trial. The final factor in the amendment is the desirability of a uniform approach to the exercise of the jurisdiction as between prosecutions in the courts of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The amendment has a fairly elaborate structure regarding laying a protocol before Parliament for approval, giving either House 40 days to pass a vote refusing to give that approval; if that does not happen, approval is deemed to have been given. If the protocol is agreed, the Secretary of State must publish it and lay it before Parliament. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, spoke at length about the role of Parliament and why it should be involved. I just observe that there is no parliamentary process for civilian prosecutors to seek approval for the jurisdiction in which a case should be dealt with. There is also an argument to be posed about whether it is desirable that parliamentarians rightly get involved in the independent—and I think it has to be independent—discharge of their roles by prosecutors.
On the noble and learned Lord’s question about the rights of a defendant regarding where to be tried, defendants have a right concerning the venue of a trial but not the jurisdiction in which it should take place—for example, whether it should be dealt with in Scotland or Northern Ireland rather than in England and Wales.
Full jurisdictional concurrency for offences committed by service personnel in the UK has been a part of the service justice system since implementation of the Armed Forces Act 2006. Clause 7 of this Bill maintains that jurisdictional concurrency while bringing clarity on how decisions on jurisdiction are made. We believe that the creation of the guidance by way of a protocol is best left to the independent service justice and UK civilian prosecutors for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Clause 7 sets out that the protocols must all advance “fair and efficient justice” but does not seek to impose prescriptive conditions on how this can be achieved. It is, after all, the prosecutors who have the skills and experience in dealing with decisions on jurisdiction, and these should be taken based on guidance in the form of a protocol that they have agreed between them. Decisions in individual cases will then be based on the circumstances of each case, in accordance with the protocol.
If general principles for the guidance are put in the Bill, the protocol and subsequent decision-making process of prosecutors will obviously be fettered. There will also be a loss of flexibility in the long term should changes or updates be required to the guidance to reflect progress or developments such as changes to policy or operational deployments.
The amendment also sets out the desirability of a uniform approach to the exercise of the jurisdiction between prosecutions in the courts of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Again, we do not believe it necessary to set this out in statute, because the Director of Service Prosecutions will be very much aware of the need for a coherent approach across the UK. Obviously, there are significant differences between the criminal justice systems in each part of the UK, so a uniform approach will not always be either appropriate or realistic.
As I said earlier, the amendment states that the Secretary of State must lay a draft of the protocol before Parliament for agreement within a 40-day period and, if it is agreed, publish it and lay it before Parliament. I observe that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee published its report on the Bill on 18 October and did not recommend additional parliamentary scrutiny of the protocol. It has other observations to make, and we are of course listening with care to its concerns on these matters.
In addition to the statutory consultation set out in the Bill, I understand that there will also be a public consultation on the draft protocol, and our clause already requires the final version to be published. Although this is a matter for the prosecutors, the intention is to have the England and Wales protocol ready after Royal Assent of this Bill, with the other two protocols for Scotland and Northern Ireland to follow shortly thereafter.
I suggest that adding an additional step or stage of parliamentary scrutiny and approval to the proposed process is both burdensome and unnecessary. A public consultation will already have been carried out on the draft. It is the prosecutors who have the skills and experience in dealing with decisions on jurisdictions, which should be based on these skills and experiences using the protocol they have agreed. I hope your Lordships can see that the approach the Government are taking ensures that those with the right skills and experience are making the decisions within a framework that they have agreed. This will ensure that justice can be done fairly and efficiently in both civilian and service jurisdictions, and across the UK.
I move on to the notice of intention of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, to oppose Clause 7. As I said earlier, I detect that he is very supportive of the service justice system but apprehensive about what the practical impact of Clause 7 could be. I think he feels it could tip the balance, with more prosecutions going to the civilian system rather than staying within the service justice system. I wish to reassure him that there is no intention for a certain number of cases to be dealt with in one jurisdiction, or more in one than another. What matters is that cases are dealt with in the right jurisdiction, and that is what the protocol is all about achieving. Clause 7 tries to do that by enabling prosecutors to produce guidance on the best means to achieve this.
The noble and gallant Lord will also realise, from the recent government amendments tabled in my name with reference to the defence serious crime unit, that there really is a very concerted effort on the part of the MoD to ensure that the service justice system is absolutely standing on its own two feet, ready and able to cope with whatever it may be asked to deal with. With the earlier amendments suggesting that certain crimes might be dealt with in the civilian system, I felt an apprehension that the public’s perception might then be that the service justice system was not up to it or was a poor relation. I do not want that perception to arise, because I think it dangerous and completely misconceived, but I can see how it could arise.
The service justice system applies throughout the UK because defence is a reserved matter but, in contrast, criminal justice is devolved and there are three separate and different civilian criminal justice systems in the UK: in England and Wales, in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. Each system has its own different component parts; this includes the officeholders who have responsibility for prosecutions.
I hope that the noble and gallant Lord is reassured by what I am saying. We have every confidence in the service justice system. In organising a protocol about where a prosecution is to go—within the service justice system or the civilian system—we have provided for a really solid process of consultation that will result in meaningful protocols being published by the prosecuting authorities.
The principle of concurrent jurisdiction throughout the UK already exists; the Bill makes provision for the three separate protocols, each being clarified and put on a more formal basis, to maintain it. It is very likely that they will all be broadly along the same lines, but that is a decision for the prosecutors concerned. Progress is being made; we are developing them with the Director of Service Prosecutions, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland and the Lord Advocate in Scotland. Due consideration has been given to ensuring consistency, while capturing the applicable differences between the civilian criminal system in England and Wales and that of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The Bill includes matters that must be part of all three arrangements. As I said earlier, they must all advance fair and efficient justice and provide that, if there is disagreement between the service and civilian prosecutors, the civilian prosecutor will have the final say. Otherwise, the protocols must respect the differences in the systems across the United Kingdom. In view of the devolution of criminal justice, to me, speaking as a former lawyer from Scotland, it would be wholly wrong for a single protocol to be imposed on Scotland and Northern Ireland.
An important point to highlight is that the clause requires the independent prosecutors to consult extensively before agreeing to a protocol, so a breadth of views will be sought. The Government recognise that the current non-statutory protocols and agreements in relation to concurrent jurisdiction need improvement. I suggest to the noble and gallant Lord that removing Clause 7 would be a missed opportunity to provide greater certainty for victims on where their case will be handled, and to improve clarity for the police, prosecutors and others involved in the decision-making on concurrent jurisdiction of cases.
I have addressed this at some length because I wanted to reassure the noble and gallant Lord that I have heard his concerns. I hope that he understands that the intention behind Clause 7 is to do what we all want: to provide clarity for all relevant parties and support victims of crime when they need it most. I urge him to reconsider his intention to oppose Clause 7.
We now move to Amendment 7 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. It seeks to place a duty on the Secretary of State for Defence to commission a panel to review the operation of the court martial. The panel would be required to consider whether court martial rules should be brought into line with those of the Crown Court for trials of murder, manslaughter, rape and other serious injury offences. That would include consideration of whether the judge in such cases should be nominated by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. There is also a direction in the amendment about the panel considering whether cases should be heard by a jury of 12 persons, and whether that jury must deliver either a unanimous or a majority verdict.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, referred to the review of the service justice system by His Honour Shaun Lyons, who looked in detail at the constitution of the court martial and recommended changes, which we are implementing through measures in the Bill. I pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord for his efforts in producing that initial review from His Honour Shaun Lyons; that was a creditable achievement on his part. He will be aware that Shaun Lyons carefully considered the use of 12-member boards but determined that they would be burdensome administratively and disruptive to operational effectiveness; and that three and six-person boards would better enable the court martial to remain mobile, with the ability to function in widely disparate geographical areas where operations might be being conducted.
Shaun Lyons also recommended that if a unanimous decision could not be reached by the panel, the lay members should reach a verdict by qualified majority voting in the same way as civilian juries do in the Crown Court. That is a recommendation that we are implementing in the Bill.
The amendment sets out that there should be consideration of whether the judge in cases of murder, manslaughter, rape and other serious injury offences should be nominated by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. The judiciary for the service courts are fully qualified to hear the most serious cases, and in fact support the civilian system by sitting as judges in the civilian Crown Court. The Judge Advocate-General, the senior judge responsible for the service courts, already has the power to ask the Lord Chief Justice for a High Court judge to be nominated to sit on a particular case. The judiciary for the service courts was considered by Shaun Lyons, who did not suggest any substantial changes. The one recommendation that he made regarding the judiciary was that the judge advocate be given the power to make a request for a circuit judge as well as a High Court judge, and we are implementing that recommendation in Clause 3.
The amendment also provides that the review carried out by the panel should consider that the number in a majority decision is made public, in a similar procedure to that of the Crown Court. Although His Honour Shaun Lyons recommended that we adopt six-member panels that would reach verdicts much like a civilian jury, he did not recommend that the number of votes in a majority decision be announced in public. The Court Martial Appeal Court has also ruled that in the current system the number of votes should not be announced. However, we will be considering what changes to procedure, if any, are appropriate when we amend the court martial rules to implement the Bill.
I hope that explains our approach and assures noble Lords that both the composition and the operation of the court martial system—
On the point about circuit judges being allowed to try these very serious offences, will they be of a similar calibre to those judges who are licensed to try rape and murder cases? Maybe the Minister will not be able to deal with this now, but perhaps she could later.
The noble and learned Lord makes a good point. Obviously at the heart of this is making the service justice system as good as it can be. Clearly I cannot give a specific undertaking as to what criteria would be adopted in making such a selection, but I hear what he says and it will be given careful consideration. I cannot be more specific about that just now.
I was saying that I hope the noble and learned Lord is reassured that we have considered this matter in detail, having regard, as we have been discussing this afternoon, to the military and operational environment in which our armed services function. In these circumstances, I hope he will not press the amendment.
I omitted to answer a specific question posed by the noble and learned Lord about the most junior member of the court martial voting first. I am informed that the most junior member of the court martial does vote first.
I want to ask about two matters. First, I raised the point about judicial review but I also raised the serious issue of concurrent jurisdiction relating to murder committed overseas, and I gave the references. I would be grateful if the Minister could reply. I would not expect her to do that now but I would be grateful if she could write and deal with these two rather important points.
I am grateful to the Minister for the very careful and thorough way she addressed these amendments. I feel that she slightly misrepresents the nature of Amendment 5. I am not suggesting that in every case the Attorney-General be woken up by the telephone in the middle of the night and come to a decision in her pyjamas. That is not quite what I have in mind, which is that serious offences such as murder, manslaughter and domestic violence should normally be tried in the civil court. There is no question of protocols: that is the normal way you go about it. But in the event that there is some very specific naval or military complexity involved—I had in mind, for example, the working of a gun in a tank that causes another person to be killed on Salisbury Plain—one could imagine that there might be a case for the authorities to say, “This has a bit of a military tang to it. Therefore, we will see whether the Attorney-General will agree, in this very unusual case, that a trial by court martial would be more appropriate, because the panel might be more used to that sort of thing.”
We are talking about murder, rape, manslaughter, domestic violence, and child abuse by serving soldiers or servicepeople in the United Kingdom. It is important that that should be realised. Normally they would be tried in the Crown Court by a jury in the ordinary way.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, raised the issue of confidence. That is what this is about: public confidence in the system of service courts. That is what is needed. I repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said: people will not come forward. If you have a situation where servicepeople who complain of rape find that only 16% of the complaints result in convictions, that means that 84% of victims will have gone to the court, given their evidence and found that the defendant has been found not guilty of the offence against them. Does that give confidence, not just to the victim but to the family? They will leave the service; this is the sort of situation in which a person says, “I’m not going to stand for this. I’ve gone before a court martial; they don’t believe me.”
This is an extensive problem in the United States. Four or five years ago I gave evidence to a congressional committee in Washington on what the British system was because they were considering sexual assaults in the military over there. I was in the unlikely company of Senator Gillibrand of New York, a Democrat, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who is known to have certain right-wing views. They were all on the same side. Nothing happened. President Biden has within the first six months of his Administration set up a commission to deal with sexual offences in the military. This is a very important point and it is very necessary that we deal with it properly.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, pointed out to the judicial review that took place in the Blackman case that our protocols for overseas jurisdiction have not worked. His proposal that parliamentary approval of any protocol should underpin that protocol is entirely correct, sensible, right and common sense, because it would prevent the bringing of judicial review against whoever is in charge—the Director of Service Prosecutions or the director of prosecutions in another jurisdiction—as the protocol would have parliamentary approval.
I support the noble and learned Lord in that. The fact that it does not exist at the moment is neither here nor there; what we are concerned about is having something that does not give rise to parades and demonstrations in Parliament Square, as happened in the Blackman case. That is an important point, and I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, will pursue it.
I am grateful for the support from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon—I inform the Minister of another Welsh pronunciation. I was going to add that junior members speak first, as has always been known, and certain pressures are involved in that. He called for a jury of 12, although I strongly suspect that a Scotsman might say that juries of 15 are not so bad either. But with juries of 12 it has been shown—in the very little research that has been done into the question of how juries make their decisions, which was a long time ago—that issues are not overlooked and are thoroughly discussed. In that research, which tried the same case with juries of six, nine, 12 and 15, it was found that the jury of 12 was the best.
As I say, I am most grateful to the Minister for the care with which she has responded to these amendments. We shall return to them at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Amendment 6 not moved.
Clause 7 agreed.
Amendment 7 not moved.
Clause 8: Armed forces covenant
8: Clause 8, page 9, line 17, at end insert—
“(d) a relevant employment function,(e) a relevant pensions function,(f) a relevant compensation function,(g) a relevant social care function,(h) a relevant criminal justice function, or(i) a relevant immigration function.”
We are getting used to various constituencies. I expect the Minister to come forward with Scottish towns for us to compare with Welsh ones.
This is another important group of amendments. I shall speak also to Amendments 10 to 13. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for signing up to the amendments in this group, which expand the definition of the covenant to include more policy areas. Oh, I think I can hear her speaking remotely. It is nice, because in the other place you get used to barracking, so it makes you feel a bit more at home.
We all believe that the Armed Forces covenant represents a binding moral commitment between government and service communities, guaranteeing them and their families the respect and fair treatment that their service has earned. Clause 8 places a duty on specified persons or bodies to have due regard to the principles of the covenant, if they are exercising a relevant housing, education or healthcare function. However, service charities are rightly concerned that the scope is too narrow, containing nothing specific on issues such as service accommodation, employment, pensions, compensation, social care, criminal justice and immigration. The service charities themselves have pointed out that this narrow focus could create a two-tier Armed Forces covenant.
The Government’s own press release announcing the Bill stated that it would
“ensure armed forces personnel, veterans and their families are not disadvantaged by their service when accessing key public services.”
It stated that it would
“embed the Armed Forces Covenant into law by introducing a legal duty for relevant UK public bodies to have due regard to the principles of the Covenant, a pledge to ensure the UK Armed Forces community is treated fairly.”
That is an excellent statement by the Government, but despite this promise there is a wide chorus of concern that Ministers have failed to follow that through. Help for Heroes said that
“by limiting the scope of the legislation to Healthcare, and some aspects of Housing and Education, rather than the full reach of the Covenant, many issues of vital concern to veterans … within the criminal justice system”
could be excluded. It added that:
“The absence of social care is a significant issue”.
The Army Families Federation said:
“This limited scope will address only a small proportion of the disadvantages that Army families face.”
The Royal British Legion called on the Government to extend the Bill to cover
“employment, pensions, compensation, social care, criminal justice, and immigration,”
and the Naval Families Federation said that it would
“welcome a widening of the scope to include all aspects of the Armed Forces Covenant.”
I have tabled the amendments in this group so that the Government are able to fulfil their own promises to service communities but also to take account of the very real concerns that so many military charities have raised. Amendments 8, 10, 11 and 12 do exactly what they say: they expand the scope of the covenant in the Bill to include employment, pensions, compensation, social care, criminal justice and immigration. It would be interesting to know why the Minister is opposed to that.
Amendment 13 is perhaps less explicit but has the same intention. It requires the Secretary of State to set out how powers in the Bill could be used to widen its scope to address all matters of potential disadvantage for service personnel under the Armed Forces covenant, again for employment, pensions, compensation, social care, criminal justice and immigration. I expect that the Minister will say that the Government have chosen the scope of the covenant duty carefully and in consultation with the Armed Forces community, and that they think that these issues will make the greatest improvements to family life. Indeed, they will make some difference. However, the Royal British Legion has said that the Government have not produced any statistical or other evidence for this position and that it is not aware of any specific consultation with the Armed Forces community which resulted in that conclusion. I would be interested in the Minister clarifying that point.
The near unanimous evidence submitted to the House of Commons Select Committee on the Bill showed that those working with the covenant on a day-to-day basis are clear that the policy scope is too limited and does not reflect the reality of the issues presented or their complexity and, indeed, interaction. Evidence from users of the Veterans’ Gateway, which is part funded by the MoD, shows that finance and pensions top the list of issues raised, and the Government themselves have publicly claimed employment to be the most critical issue affecting veterans’ life chances. The legislation must be wide enough to ensure that all areas of potential disadvantage are addressed and that the postcode lottery on veterans’ access to services is addressed. I will be interested in the Minister’s response.
I want to pick up on one other point related to Clause 8. The Delegated Powers Committee has called for regulations defining “relevant family member” to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Can the Minister confirm or otherwise whether the Government intend to accept that recommendation? I beg to move.
Does the noble Lord intend to move his amendment?
My Lords, I first apologise for the technical glitch. This is the first week of new remote contributions to Grand Committee. It is such a shame that we always notice the problems rather than the vast majority of smooth remote contributions. I pay credit to all the staff involved in helping those of us who are disabled Peers and can attend only remotely at present.
I commend the Minister for the principles behind the Armed Forces covenant, which are an admirable start to providing that morally binding commitment to current and past service men and women. But frankly, as these amendments seek to point out, it is somewhat patchy at the moment on the services that current and former service men and women would be able to access. Why is one function included and another excluded, when the barriers to accessing services are exactly what the covenant is trying to resolve?
Amendments 8 and 10, to which I have added my name, would add a number of functions to the relevant functions listed under proposed new Sections 343AA and 343AB. Amendment 13, to which I have also added my name, addresses how the Bill can widen the scope to other forms of potential disadvantage for service personnel under the Armed Forces covenant, including employment, pensions, compensation, social care, criminal justice and immigration. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has addressed very ably why this is needed, so I want to focus briefly on access to social care as one illustration.
The covenant already recognises that health is a vital service, where serving personnel and veterans can face particular problems, but social care—whether for the serving person or veteran, or for a member of their immediate family—is not. While social care is commissioned by local authorities it can, due to the circumstances of the individual, often involve a number of bodies. Some are within central government, for example on disability benefits; some are public bodies, for example health and local authorities; but some are also private, such as for those who are given a personal budget and will purchase their personal care that way. It can be very difficult and messy to navigate if you are new to it or have had to move.
Let me give an example to illustrate this point. Serving families with a severely disabled child have found it extraordinarily difficult when moving from one posting to another to transfer their child’s essential social care support, without falling off the bureaucratic cliff and having to go through reassessments in their new area, then waiting for the reports from those assessments. No services were given at all, so all help was denied them until the end of this new process. The child’s needs had not changed; their serving parent had merely been posted elsewhere. To be clear, this is not just a bit of social support every now and then. Disabled children, like the one I am describing, may have severe epilepsy or be fed with a tube, or be on ventilators some or all of the time. The help of carers at home supports the unpaid parent carer, who is already on duty pretty well 24/7.
Shockingly, the consequences of not having that help mean that a child might even be taken into care and away from their parents, not because the parents cannot cope but because one of them has been posted elsewhere. Adding social care to the covenant would protect the family and prioritise the ways of continuing the help that they are getting, when the move has made the difficulties entirely apparent.
For service men and women, and veterans, the complexities about access to services if they have mental health problems can be just as acute. Too often, we think of mental health as solely the domain of the NHS and those specialist charities such as Combat Stress, which I have been working with. The reality is that severe mental health problems disproportionately affect access to every part of the individual’s life, including discrimination in employment, access to criminal justice and compensation, and even to pensions, as well as social care. If the principles of the Armed Forces covenant are to ensure the well-being and support for current and former Armed Forces personnel, surely it cannot be possible for certain parts of the public sector to ignore it.
Amendment 64 in my name is a probing amendment to ask the Secretary of State to commission a review of whether the Armed Forces covenant
“should be extended to cover civilians subject to service discipline who have been employed by the UK Armed Forces while on deployment.”
Over the last few months, we have seen the desperate scramble to get those civilians—mainly, but not only, interpreters—out of Afghanistan, as it became clear that anyone associated with our military would be at particular risk from the Taliban and other groups after we had left.
In discussions with members of our military past and present over the last few months, they are very clear that civilians who sat alongside them in their armoured vehicles and walked alongside them as they patrolled in villages and on roads were exposed to exactly the same duties, threats and consequences as the UK military they worked with and were paid by. Interpreters are a particular illustration of this point. Few of our Armed Forces spoke Pashto, let alone many of the other languages spoken in Afghanistan, and the ability to keep the peace and protect the lives of civilians, as well as our Armed Forces, was significantly enhanced by these people.
This has already been understood by the Government in their granting of leave to remain for those arriving under ARAP. This amendment seeks to ask the Minister whether this commitment can be recognised for those we have given leave to remain, in the same way as we have for their armed forces. Do we have a moral duty to provide that commitment to them under the Armed Forces covenant?
I add that I support my noble friend Lady Smith’s Amendment 65.
My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 65 and to Amendment 64. Like my noble friend Lady Brinton, I support the other amendments in this group brought by her and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. They have given us clear arguments why those amendments are important, and I do not think they need to be rehearsed again.
On Amendment 64, my noble friend talked about people who have come here under ARAP. She and I raised this at Second Reading, and the Minister was kind enough to take some time to discuss it with me yesterday; I am grateful for that. There is clearly a question of scope in an Armed Forces Bill such as this. To suggest that we might extend the Armed Forces covenant to people who have not been service personnel with the British Army, Commonwealth or Gurkhas might raise some eyebrows. There were certainly some questions about that around tabling Amendment 64, which is why there is a specific bit of phrasing about extending the covenant
“to cover civilians subject to service discipline”.
My noble friend Lady Brinton asked whether we have a moral duty. The answer is surely that we have a moral duty to support in every possible way the people coming to the United Kingdom under ARAP. By definition, they are arriving here under ARAP because they worked as interpreters for our Armed Forces, with other allies or perhaps for the British Council. Those who worked for the British Council are vulnerable. It is easy to assume that it is simply interpreters putting their lives on the line, but those who were out teaching English now find that their lives are under threat. It is incredibly important that we look at them, not just at interpreters—although the situation with interpreters is very important. Why bring this amendment? Clearly, the ARAP scheme is in place and remains open, but those coming in under ARAP have worked closely with our Armed Forces and potentially put their lives on the line for the United Kingdom.
Surely we owe them a duty. Given that the Armed Forces covenant is supposed not to give advantage to service personnel and veterans but to ensure that they are not at a disadvantage, so there will be many issues facing people here under ARAP that are very similar to those faced by service personnel and veterans. I would like the Minister at least to explore what provisions we can make for people under ARAP, in particular to ensure that anybody arriving under ARAP can work from day one, because most people who come here under other Home Office arrangements seeking asylum are not permitted to work initially. That is very important.
My Amendment 65 is slightly different and perhaps should have been decoupled, because it relates to the duties put on local authorities and local health authorities. The Bill talks about having “due regard” and requesting local authorities to do certain things. At Second Reading, the Minister suggested that they have to have due regard, but there will not necessarily be financial provision for them to do so because they already have a duty to do certain things, so incorporating the Armed Forces covenant into law will not really make a difference. The way I phrased it may have sounded muddled, but I have been left muddled by the Government’s intention. If there is a purpose to putting the Armed Forces covenant into law, surely it is precisely to ensure that it makes a difference. If local authorities find that in paying “due regard”, now on a statutory basis, to the Armed Forces covenant they are required to engage in further expenditure, where will that money come from?
It is not possible within the scope of a Bill in the House of Lords to table a line saying, “Please give local authorities additional funds”, so we are not asking for that. We are asking for the Government to report on the financial implications of enshrining the Armed Forces covenant into law. If local authorities, housing associations and local health authorities incur financial consequences when engaging in their duties by supplying services such as social care, housing or health, we would then know that and it may at some suitable point be possible to bring forward relevant legislation. If no assessment is made, it is impossible to know the consequences.
The amendment is in a sense a probing amendment because we need to understand the real consequences of enshrining the Armed Forces covenant into law. If it is causing local authorities additional costs over which they have no say we should try to ensure that the finances are there to cover that.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly to this group. I have no fundamental objection in principle to extending the categories as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. When I was the Minister responsible for this Bill five years ago there was great discussion of what the categories should be.
My concern—not an objection—is practical, which is perhaps the purpose of Committee. There has been some cynicism about the effectiveness of the Armed Forces covenant since we first created it, and its implementation has been patchy across the United Kingdom. Given how many local authorities are recovering from the pandemic and have been overwhelmed, I am slightly concerned that by adding all these categories now—the key word is “now”—we run the risk of overwhelming various bodies and simply adding to the cynicism that we have not managed to implement the Armed Forces covenant when they fail to implement it effectively.
My suggestion is a sensible one, though perhaps not for today, as to whether there should be an incremental addition to the categories that we put in the Armed Forces covenant. I am sure it cannot be beyond the ability of the Bill to attach dates for when categories are potentially added. I am not saying that we could necessarily sort that out today, but it may be a sensible compromise as we seek to slowly expand the Armed Forces covenant and make sure that we do not lose public consent to it being implemented effectively as we do so.
Equally, I have great sympathy with Amendment 64, having served in Afghanistan and worked closely with interpreters. There is no doubt that they were subjected to the same sorts of pressures and stresses that members of the Armed Forces were. Of course, having now crossed the line where we have rightly welcomed them into the UK, although it is a question of scope, and it may well be beyond the scope of the Armed Forces covenant to include them, I think the Government have a duty to explain how exactly, if they are not going to be included in the covenant, we will ensure their ongoing welfare.
I must apologise for not being here at Second Reading when I was unable to come over from Northern Ireland. I declare an interest in that we are involved at my home with veterans and I am president of the Northern Ireland RFCA. Whereas it is different in England, we have not responsibility but more interaction with veterans themselves.
What worries us all is the “due regard” and how that is treated by our different and separate Administrations. I am not shining a light on Northern Ireland in particular nor asking the Minister to make any comments about Northern Ireland, where we have a special issue. However, this problem is seen as an issue by veterans. When we talk about the mental welfare of veterans, one of the biggest issues is who we are talking about. We have veterans who we know individually have mental welfare problems, but the big problem is the one that we do not know about: the vast number of veterans who have mental welfare issues but do not come forward. They do not do so for many reasons and we cannot go into them too much, but they include pride and the fact that they live with their families and do not want to admit the problem.
We know that the length of time between leaving service or being traumatised and presentation has gone down since Prince William and Prince Harry drew attention to it, from roughly 12 or 13 years to some six or seven, which is tremendous. However, the doubt as to how the covenant works and how it benefits our veterans inhibits a lot of them from coming forward. It is very difficult to admit that you have a problem and then be turned away due to a postcode lottery. Indeed, which Administration you live in can make it more difficult.
At the moment, I think the covenant is the beginning of a story and of a method by which we can support our veterans. It is not a done deal but a start. I therefore support the gist of the amendments because they would take us in the right direction, though I appreciate that some of the scope and the lack of teeth are only a start. We have to make sure that we can take it further and cover an increasing proportion of those people.
The statistics, which are roughly equivalent to American and Danish statistics and therefore correct, show that 6% or 7% of all service people—interestingly, this relates outside this business to police and other front-line services—suffer some form of mental illness, while 17% of those on operations do so. So there is a very large body of people out there, and we have to enable this commitment to the covenant and to our people to be extended.
We talk about central government not being committed—although this is not quite about that issue. I shall give noble Lords an example of something that really came home to me. As a Lord Lieutenant, I take citizenship ceremonies. Not long ago, a man took the oath and everything else, and I went to hand him his certificate, which is always a chance to have some words. I asked him what he did and what skills he brought to this country, just to have a nice chat, and he whispered—because he did not want other people to hear. I asked him where he came from and he said he came from the Caribbean. I said, “What do you do?” and he said, “I’m actually in the Army”. I said, “Oh, right—what have you done in the Army?” He said, “I’ve been to Afghanistan twice and I was in Iraq”. This man was being asked to go through the same hoop as somebody who comes to the country—and I am not being superior—who is running a Pizza Hut.
We do not have this general commitment, as individuals and administrators, let alone as it is in this Bill, which is open enough to give the commitment that the covenant promised to give. I plead with the Minister to ensure that, whatever comes with this, we allow it to be modified as we all learn more about how to be effective, especially in the mental welfare of our veterans.
Once again, I thank noble Lords for a stimulating and interesting debate. I appreciate the contributions, to which I have listened with care.
To set a context for my response to the amendments, I would just observe that I clearly and firmly feel that the Bill, by including the reference to the covenant and imputing to it a statutory effect, is taking us a very significant step forward. I understand the frustration and impatience on the part of some that the pace is not moving more quickly and that the reach of the definition in Clause 8 is not being broadened. However, in that context, I shall try to address the points that have been raised, all of them very worthy; in no way would I wish to dismiss them.
The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, would widen the scope of the new covenant duty to the areas of employment, pensions, compensation, social care, criminal justice and immigration. In considering how to take forward our commitment to further strengthen the covenant in law, which we have discharged in the Bill, we looked first at what the covenant has already achieved. The considerable number of successful initiatives across many different policy areas that we have seen through the Armed Forces covenant to date shows how the careful use of legislation could provide a firm basis and the flexibility for a much wider range of work to develop.
We bore this model in mind in the development of the new covenant duty to ensure it can provide a secure framework that allows scope for innovation, change and future growth. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that this is about our service personnel, our veterans and their families. In approaching this, we recognised that delivery of the functions relative to healthcare, education and housing in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would benefit from what I might describe as a more uniform awareness of the covenant and perhaps a more universal application of the principles that underpin it.
This has been difficult to encompass, as I think your Lordships will understand, for obvious reasons. The first thing I want to do is to give thanks to the devolved Administrations. They have been co-operative and helpful. I simply explain to your Lordships that even progressing the statutory import with the three areas of healthcare, education and housing has not been straightforward. It has been complex. Your Lordships will understand why. We have a range of delivery mechanisms across the United Kingdom. We have different responsible elements. We have different responsible Governments. We are trying to increase awareness across the UK and achieve a more universal recognition of the principles of the covenant in delivering services.
The question was asked: why healthcare, education and housing? The new duty is designed initially to focus on these three core functions. That not only reflects those already in statute—where there has to be obligation —but also addresses the most commonly raised issues affecting the day-to-day lives of our Armed Forces community. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, who asked how we know that. It is a perfectly legitimate question. There has not been a specific consultation on that but, as the noble Lord will be aware, the covenant now embraces the MoD and the Office for Veterans’ Affairs. There are our partnerships and discussions with charitable entities, not least the Royal British Legion. We also discuss regularly with families, federations, local government and devolved Administrations what the needs imposed by the covenant are. I can say to the noble Lord that there has been significant experience of dealing with issues coming through to the covenant team in the MoD and their subsequent discussions with the other parties to which I have referred.
The three entities, healthcare, housing and education, seemed to be the most prominent features in that work. That is why we have focused on them. Importantly, the Bill provides for further consideration of additional areas of concern and it grants the Government powers to make any changes as a consequence. In this way, the covenant duty can effectively adapt to the needs of the Armed Forces community in the future. Future areas of concern will be addressed as and when they arise through the powers in the Bill that allow the Government to widen the scope of the covenant duty, if needed, through secondary legislation. We are working with key stakeholders to establish an open and transparent process by which the scope of the legislation can successfully adapt to address the changing needs of the Armed Forces community.
We have to consider the practicalities of extending the covenant duty to further policy areas. My noble friend Lord Lancaster alluded to this. Indeed, to achieve the extension sought by this amendment would require the amendment to specify which functions would be relevant, in the way that we have defined a relevant health, housing and education function. The list of specified persons and bodies subject to the duty would also need to be amended to include the bodies which exercise the relevant functions envisaged by the amendment. That would require extensive consultation with stakeholders and the devolved Administrations to identify the appropriate bodies and functions to bring into scope.
I suggest that a perhaps wiser and better way forward at the moment lies in first working through and resolving any practical implications arising as the new covenant duty is implemented. That will give us a good indication of where amendments may be required to better meet the changing needs of our Armed Forces community in future.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, also raised the important issue of mental health, and were absolutely right to do so. I was asked for some detail. We are committed to enhancing health and well-being for veterans; I highlight the recent launch of Op Courage, which simplifies access to NHS England veteran services. That is among excellent work being done within the serving Armed Forces in relation to mental health, where there is far swifter and better recognition of persons who may need support and a much swifter reference point to direct those individuals to where they can get that support.
I return to the amendment. By retaining the flexible nature of the legislation, the Government hope to establish a firm legal foundation for the covenant while avoiding any unnecessary administrative burden. The new duty builds on the existing widespread commitment to the covenant, thereby contributing to a further strengthening of covenant delivery across the UK. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, who specifically asked about the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and its recommendations. I am seriously considering its report and will undertake to update the Committee on Report.
I have attempted to explain in relation to Amendments 8, 10 and 13 why the Government have a difficulty. I hope that my remarks have been received sympathetically and have not been regarded as obstructive, but I invite the noble Lord and the noble Baroness not to press their amendments.
Amendment 64 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, refers to civilians subject to service discipline; these are civilians who come within the jurisdiction of the service justice system and include groups such as families of service personnel living on bases overseas, Crown servants working with the Armed Forces overseas, or civilians on board military ships or aircraft. I understand that the amendment was actually intended to apply to locally employed staff in Afghanistan but I am required to address the amendment as scripted, although I will come to Afghanistan more specifically.
The Armed Forces covenant was designed with the Armed Forces past and present, and the families who support them, at its heart. That was in recognition of the unique obligations of and sacrifices that they make on behalf of the country in serving us. In practical terms, the covenant is focused on ensuring that the Armed Forces community gets a fair deal when accessing public goods and services in comparison with their civilian counterparts, with the aim of mitigating any disadvantage that they may face as a result of service life, and to allow special provision to be considered for those who have sacrificed the most.
The covenant is therefore directed primarily within the UK, and I do not think that it would be helpful or appropriate to include in its scope locally employed staff working for the United Kingdom Government, whether in Afghanistan or any other country. Those individuals are employed as civilians under their own bespoke terms and conditions of service within their own countries. However, importantly, the Government will take further action where necessary. In Afghanistan, we completed Operation Pitting, the biggest and fastest emergency evacuation in recent history, bringing around 15,000 people to safety in the UK and helping 36 other countries airlift their own nationals.
The whole UK Government are engaged, via Operation Warm Welcome, in ensuring that those Afghan nationals relocated to the UK are provided with the best possible support and start to life in the UK that we can give them. That comes from a variety of sources; it comes from across government departments and may involve the devolved Administrations or come from other public agencies. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that it includes assisting these Afghan nationals into work. I am informed that some ARAP people are now working in the UK as we speak.
We have made it clear that our commitment to Afghanistan and those who supported our mission there continues. Our message to those people to whom we have made a commitment is clear: that commitment to you is enduring. However, the covenant is not the appropriate mechanism to accomplish that support and help.
I move to Amendment 65 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, which would require the Government to report to Parliament on the impact of the new duty on the finances of local authorities and health providers. In the design of the covenant duty, the Government consulted extensively with devolved Administrations, local authorities and other local bodies in scope, including local government associations around the UK, to ensure proper consideration of the costs of the duty.
As I said earlier, the covenant duty is designed to raise awareness of the covenant principles and embed them into decision-making and policy-making processes, with the aim of improving the experience of the Armed Forces community at the delivery level. This new duty does not seek to compel or ordain the delivery agencies to do certain things; that would be inept and incompetent. It is about the serious matter of raising awareness, letting these important delivery agencies understand the circumstances of Armed Forces personnel and veterans, and making sure that they take these into account.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that as all local bodies in scope are already funded to deliver the relevant functions in housing, healthcare and education, we assess there to be no significant costs falling to those bodies in scope as a result of these proposals. They would still be responsible for delivering services to this cohort of individuals. We are saying that there is a new dimension through which they should look when they regard people in service or veterans. The key information about the Armed Forces covenant, which public bodies in the relevant policy areas will need to know to assist them to comply with their legal duties, will be set out in the statutory guidance that will be issued in support of the new duty and made freely available through training materials that we are currently working with stakeholders to produce.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, raised the phrase “due regard”, which is in Clause 8 and has an extensive litany of obligations attached to it. “Due regard” means that an obligation falls on policymakers and deliverers of service. I argue that it is a legal obligation; in terms of law, it has an impact. The next question would be: how do you enforce that? I think the remedy would be a judicial review. My view is that a judicial review is never an attractive solution to anybody, for very obvious reasons—not least cost. The whole purpose of the Bill and how it has been phrased by the Government is to try to ensure that nobody gets anywhere near a judicial review. It is to try to ensure that, because of heightened awareness and a proactive approach, policymakers and deliverers right across the UK have before them what the covenant means and why we want to ensure that this unique cohort of people, our Armed Forces personnel and veterans, have that recognition.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, used the example of someone with a child with special needs transferring to another area. I would very much hope that the covenant would ensure that the parents of that child, when moving to a new area, would be able to get exactly the support and help they need. Solutions and remedies would be available if either delivery agencies or policymakers were failing in that respect. There are ombudsmen and letters of complaint to chief executives. If I were chief executive of a local authority and someone wrote to me saying, “This is what the law says. This is the situation for me and my family. You have fallen down on the job”, I would jolly well want to do something about it. That is the significance of what is now in the Bill and will become legislation.
I gently suggest to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that the amendment is unnecessary, because we have already completed a new burdens assessment, which reflects the assessment of the financial impact of the new duty. A review will be completed 12 months after the duty comes into force to ensure that the local bodies in scope are not experiencing any undue financial pressures as a result of the covenant duty. I hope that, with that explanation and reassurance, I have encouraged the noble Baroness not to press her amendment.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I refer her back to her earlier comments about the addition of functions, and her feeling that this would be an overload on the functioning of the covenant system. Perhaps these functions could still go into the Bill but be brought into force through statutory instrument at various stages in future. It seems to me that the opportunity to get them into the Bill is one that we should not miss.
As the noble and gallant Lord knows, I have the greatest respect for him. I have no doubt whatever about his commitment to and interest in these issues. I have tried to indicate that even to get to where we have reached has been challenging and difficult. Notwithstanding all that, it has got us to a good place. It is far better to put our toe in the water, make progress in these three significant areas—and they are significant—and assess how that is working in practice. Then we can make an informed decision about whether expansion is needed and, if so, where. Is it proving a source of concern to our Armed Forces personnel and veterans? That further work will be important to establish, first, whether a need is there and, secondly, how to meet it. As I said earlier to him, that requires extensive consultation with a large variety of bodies, not least the devolved Administrations.
I should not want to give people boundless hope that we could deliver things that, although in an Act of Parliament, could prove problematic to deliver. That is my major concern. We should manage expectation. Quite honestly, we should allow this to unfold and see how it runs. We are under an obligation in the covenant to report every year on how matters are progressing, and we have the facility in the Bill to take forward expansion if that need is identified. I suggest to the noble and gallant Lord that this is a more prudent and sensible way in which to proceed.
Before the Minister sits down, I thank her for everything she said and for being so open-minded. However, she said that a veteran—or a veteran’s family—who goes to get help and is refused will then go to an ombudsman or through a complaints system. I think she is a bit optimistic, because veterans who have given their hearts to the country in Afghanistan and who have fought for their lives should not have to fight for this. I would rather that she had suggested a way of monitoring from the other end the refusals of help and the circumstances. My experience is that, even without mental welfare problems, veterans have given their lives to this country fighting, and they are reluctant to go public or to drag others in. We are talking about initiatives from up the chain of authority, which is monitoring and picking them up, rather than relying on our veterans to fight once again.
I can understand why the noble Viscount articulates that point. If we draw a distinction between active service personnel and veterans, I imagine that our active personnel in service at the moment are more likely to be interested in health and education. I think that our veterans are more likely to be interested in health and housing, for obvious reasons.
One of the difficulties with the noble Viscount’s suggestion is that we do not know, and we have no reason to know, whether anyone is encountering problems. To take the example from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, we do not know whether a parent has a problem with getting her child adequately placed in a suitable facility until that person comes and tells us that there is a problem. We are trying to ensure that they have a much simpler route to finding the solution they need because of what the Bill is doing. That is why the obligation is being placed on the delivery end. The individuals seeking the particular facility or the help actually want to go to the provider and say, “This is what I need, please can I have it?”
In the disappointing eventuality that help is not forthcoming, if that person is in service then there will certainly be help available within the armed services to support them. If the person is a veteran, there is a plentitude of help from charitable agencies, some of the Armed Forces charities and other support charities. If there were a delay or obstruction in the necessary service being received by the person who needs it, I hope that that would be very quickly picked up so that the person knows they could go to the provider and say, “You’re failing me. You’re falling down on the job. That is not good enough.” It is very difficult for anyone else to know whether that person, first, wants a service, and, secondly, has been disappointed or obstructed in trying to get it.
I thank the Minister for a very constructive reply. While she was responding, I looked again at the power to add bodies and functions in the Bill. To take up the point from the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, and some of what the Minister was saying, it seemed that she was not saying that there was never going to be a need for bodies that need to “have due regard to” to be added to the covenant, but the issue is the practicality of it. From looking at the Bill, I wonder whether an appropriate amendment could come forward on Report to put a bit of meat on the bones, rather than the Bill just saying that there is a power to add bodies and functions. If I have not mistaken what the noble Lord said, maybe there could be some kind of timeframe and greater certainty, but perhaps we will be able to look at that in response to what the Minister said and the suggestion that he made. I thought that was very helpful.
I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, for his contribution and the point he made about what “due regard” means. I hope we do not have a judicial review about that. Again, I am not a lawyer, but I know what “due regard” means. I am sure you can argue it, but I think we all know what it is supposed to mean. I will leave that to the lawyers.
I also apologise to the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Smith, and to the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster. As many of us will have done, I read lots of documents and Bills related to this over the weekend. I did not properly read Amendment 64, which raises a really important issue that the Minister, to be fair, sought to answer. I will read this out, because people read our affairs and they will not know what we are talking about when they read it; I apologise, but it is important. The noble Baronesses suggest that the covenant
“should be extended to cover civilians subject to service discipline who have been employed by the UK Armed Forces while on deployment.”
I think a lot of people would think that was probably already the case. The Minister, to be fair, said that of course the Government have due regard to people who had done that, because they have a duty of care, responsibility and so on, but the amendment seeks to put that into primary legislation. It is certainly something worthy of further thought and consideration. I appreciate that the Minister sought to answer this, but it is a particularly important amendment. I think that in bringing it forward, the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Smith, have done the Committee a service. That is what I have to say about the attention to detail.
With those brief comments on what I thought was, again, a helpful debate, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
9: Clause 8, page 9, line 18, at end insert—
“(za) the Secretary of State;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would place the same legal responsibility to have ‘due regard’ to the Armed Forces Covenant on central government as the Bill currently requires of local authorities and other public bodies.
This amendment again applies to the covenant. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Smith, for their support on this amendment. It seeks to extend the application of the covenant to central government. Using the test that I always use, I think people would expect that to be the case, but no doubt we will hear from the Minister why the Government seem to be resistant to it.
We all believe that the Armed Forces covenant represents a binding moral commitment between government and service communities, guaranteeing them and their families the respect and fair treatment that their service has earned. The Bill creates new responsibilities for a wide range of public bodies, from school governors to local authorities, to deliver the covenant, yet central government is not included. Amendment 9 seeks to change that. In practice, without it, we would create a situation, which I think sounds farcical, in which a chair of school governors, for example—and you can make other examples up—has a legal responsibility to have due regard to the Armed Forces covenant, but government departments, including the Ministry of Defence, do not. I find that really strange, to be frank.
As the Royal British Legion has pointed out, many of the policy areas in which members of the Armed Forces community experience difficulty are the responsibility of national government or based on national guidance. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, said at Second Reading, it is
“questionable whether it will be successful without incorporating central government, with its policy responsibilities,”—[Official Report, 7/9/2021; col. 742.]
into the Bill. The British Medical Association has called on the Government to
“expand the ‘specified persons and bodies’ section under clause 8 of the bill to include … Her Majesty’s Government and Secretaries of State with responsibility for the functions specified within the bill.”
Giving evidence to the Bill Select Committee, General Sir John McColl of Cobseo said:
“I do think that there is a strong argument for the inclusion of central Government functions … At the moment, the central Government traction that we have is that there is a moral requirement for Government to comply with the Covenant. That is fine as long as it works, but in some cases it absolutely does not work.”
It should be a part of this Bill, in primary legislation.
The MoD has said, in defence of not including central government in the Bill, that it was already in many ways subject to a duty of regard to the covenant. Personally, I do not think that is enough; it is insufficient. Central government should be included in the Bill. The Bill Select Committee report said:
“The Committee notes that by excluding central government as a responsible public body, Service accommodation is not covered by the duty of due regard. The Government may wish to consider adding this as an area where the duty applies in the future.”
Again, that is just one example of the Bill Select Committee looking at this and giving a practical example of what happens if central government is not included in the Bill. With those remarks, I will leave it there. I look forward to the Minister’s response, and I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 9. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has already said, at Second Reading a number of noble Lords, including me, raised the fundamental problem with the Armed Forces covenant. While local authorities and other public bodies offering key services are listed, there is one glaring omission: central government is not required to have due regard to the covenant, and the noble Lord has just ably explained why that is such a contradiction.
The Government need to understand that in creating the covenant they have created demand and expectation. To use the closing comments by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, from the previous group on my Amendment 64, if you asked anyone outside the Bill they would think that the Government were already included. That service accommodation is not included is a helpful pointer to why the Government need to reconsider.
Without the same responsibilities for central government and its services to provide the covenant, frankly it is nothing more than warm words. I am sure there are plenty of arguments to say that it should, and probably will, be covered by different parts of government services, but the point is that the amendment can remedy that. The amendment would go further than the Government want to at the moment, but if the Government do not accept that they need to have the same responsibilities as other bodies, frankly they are not truly committed to delivering the covenant.
The police covenant being proposed at the moment in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has this same lack of responsibility for central government while imposing it on other bodies. I have to say that it is beginning to look a bit worrying.
My Lords, I have put my name to the amendment because I think it is extremely important. The covenant with the Armed Forces is an agreement putting obligations on our country in favour of people serving in the Armed Forces and those who have served in the Armed Forces. The covenant therefore contains specific obligations, which have been listed. It is true that in practical terms most of those will be local; if one wanted some health help, normally one would get that locally. It is therefore quite natural that the local authorities have a responsibility, but there seem to be quite serious possibilities that veterans and acting members of the Armed Forces will want government help.
One illustration that came to my mind when thinking about this before Second Reading was in relation to the first Iraq war. Noble Lords may remember that there was serious concern before and as the war started that our troops might be subject to a form of poison gas that would be very damaging to them. It was suspected that it was a gas of a particular kind. Exactly what the basis was for that I did not know, but it certainly resulted in protection being handed out to many of those in our services taking part in the first Iraq war.
When the war was over, it was discovered that some people who had served in the Armed Forces were beginning to suffer from a strange, rather neurological type of disease. There was a question about whether the disease had been caused by the protection that had been given to them against the gas. The gas, I may say, never emerged, so the protection turned out not to be necessary, but the protection had been given and could have had its own effect on those to whom it was administered.
That problem, of whether it was a consequence of the prescription, was a difficult and very deep question of medical research. It took quite a long time, as your Lordships may remember, and there was some dispute among the medics as to whether it was so. That is a special illustration of the necessity for the Secretary of State for Health, for example, to be involved because you could not expect the local authority or the local health trust to be responsible for looking into that national problem.
As one approaches this covenant, one also has to remember that it has obligations. That is not just a sort of wishful thinking; it has specific obligations. When the Bill says, as I hope the Act will, “have regard to the covenant”, it means looking to see what obligations in the covenant affect me. If I am a local authority, a local health authority or a local education authority, it will be the obligations in the covenant which have bearing on my responsibility. I therefore regard it as a close legal obligation that is created by the Bill to support those in the Armed Forces presently serving, and the veterans.
As the Minister has said, of course, the nature of the help that veterans require may be rather different from the help that service people require. For example, on moving between areas, if you have medical care in one area and have to move you may well have problems registering. There are quite a lot of problems nowadays in some places for somebody coming into a district in getting on to the medical register of a practice. That kind of thing can readily arise in relation to the local authority.
I have no doubt whatever that if the local authority has an obligation in a particular way, the finance for that is required under the local authority financial provision because this is one of the statutory provisions that are binding on the local authority. I regard the Bill as putting quite a fixed and rather balanced obligation on local authorities, but I see no reason whatever why it should not include central government. It will put obligations on them only in respect of an obligation in the covenant which applies to them at a particular time. In the example I have given, it would apply to the Government when a question was raised as to whether what they had done in the way of seeking to protect our people against a gas had in fact caused such a neurological condition. You would not expect the local health authority to be able to deal with that sort of problem; it would require the considerable resources of research that this country can command to see whether it was a cause and, if so, how it could be cured.
It is extremely important that the Government—the Secretary of State, as our amendment says—should be responsible. This provision would not put any responsibility on him or her that is not already in the covenant, so far as it affects him or her. I am not obliged to do anything under the covenant, except where an obligation encompasses me. The Secretary of State would not be put under any obligation which it was not a proper reading of the covenant to allot to him or her. I very much support this amendment. I mentioned it to my noble friend the Minister in general terms, based on my example of the first war in Iraq. I hope that the sensible effect of this amendment will be appreciated and that we can get it into the Bill.
I endorse what the noble and learned Lord has been saying about what was known as Gulf War syndrome. Of course, I was involved in that Gulf War but after it I was also involved for many years in the investigations and the attempts to get investigations into what was known euphemistically as Gulf War syndrome. There was a great reluctance, perhaps understandably in government, to accept that there was something special here. It took a great deal of persuasion, study and effort before it became more recognised. It was that experience that makes me believe what noble and learned Lords have been talking about, and how important it is that the Secretary of State and central Government, in effect, have a responsibility which may need to be discharged in this type of situation. I hope it does not arise again but if it does, it can be dealt with at the central level.
My Lords, I shall be extremely brief because we have had contributions from all parts of the House—Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Cross Bench—supporting this amendment. I should be very grateful if the Minister answered the question I asked at Second Reading, which was:
“What assessment have the Government made of creating a duty for themselves to pay due regard to the Armed Forces covenant?”—[Official Report, 7/9/21; col. 766.]
Has the Minister had a chance to think about that so far? If not, would the Government like to think about it ahead of Report?
My Lords, again this has been a fascinating debate and I arise with trepidation when one of the contributors is my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. A number of significant points have been made and I will try to address them as best I can.
Amendment 9, as has been discussed, centres on the desire to make central government departments subject to the duty of due regard. Again, to provide some context, we designed the new duty to initially focus on the three core functions of healthcare, education and housing because, as I indicated in debating a previous amendment, these are prominent among the concerns of both Armed Forces personnel in service and veterans. They not only reflect issues that are already in statute, but also address the most commonly raised issues affecting the day-to-day lives of our Armed Forces community.
As our Armed Forces are a very mobile population, frequently moving from local authority to local authority, it is often the variation of service delivery across local areas that can inadvertently cause disadvantage. Consequently, it is vital that those delivering these key public services are sufficiently aware of the challenges faced by the Armed Forces community when accessing these services. It is right that we look at this area first.
We also took into account that central Government are responsible for the overall strategic direction for national policy and for delivering on the manifesto on which they were elected. However, the responsibility for the delivery of these functions and their impact rests at more local level. I would argue that Governments are answerable, ultimately, to an electorate when a general election comes round and, before that point, they are most certainly accountable to Parliament, and that is an accountability no Government would ever take lightly.
Senior engagement regularly takes place between the MoD, the Cabinet Office, other government departments and the devolved Administrations to drive an increase in covenant awareness across national healthcare, and housing and education policy to improve the lives of the Armed Forces community. Additionally, the Government’s delivery of the covenant is, as we all know, subject to parliamentary scrutiny through the existing annual legal obligation to report progress delivering the covenant across the UK to Parliament. This is in addition to regular parliamentary scrutiny through other channels, such as Parliamentary Questions, reviews by the House of Commons Defence Select Committee and debates called by Members with a particular interest in certain aspects of defence.
My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern raised in support of his argument the certainly interesting event that occurred during the first Gulf War. As he explained, in anticipation that troops might be exposed to gas issues and had to be protected against that, protective equipment was handed out. As he indicated, people then suffered from a neurological type of disease on their return and tried to identify where it had come from. As my noble and learned friend said, they had not actually been exposed to any toxic gas, so the suspicion was that it was from the protective equipment. He adduced this instance in support of his argument that central government should be brought in.
I have two observations on that analogy. The emphasis on what the Government are doing in this Bill and what we have endeavoured to make possible is, first, to give the covenant a statutory impact, which is innovatory and very important; and secondly, to try to make it much clearer across the United Kingdom, for the whole panoply of services being delivered in respect of housing, education and health, how there needs to be greater awareness and understanding, and a much more universal approach to delivering these services to personnel who may be in service in the Armed Forces or veterans. That is about ensuring that, when they need services, they can access them.
The question that my noble and learned friend poses about the instance that he describes, with the reference to the first Gulf War and the particular situation that developed there, is a legitimate illustration to give the Committee. I accept that that was a serious situation, but the question running through my mind as he spoke was that surely the important thing there was remedy. This is not about people needing something, not being able to get it, and making sure that the providers of that service are much more alert to providing it; it is about a situation where, under orders of government, Armed Forces were sent abroad and then apparently—I do not know the facts myself—experienced neurological disorders when they returned, and considered that was attributable to protective equipment that was defective, with which they had been issued.
That is not a complete analogy with what the Bill is trying to do. If you ask what solution was needed, the answer, quite simply, is that those people who suffered in that way needed to be given advice and helped, and needed to find a legal solution, if that was what was available to them. I do not know what happened to that particular group of people, but I imagine that the first thing they needed was medical support, which I hope that they got. I imagine that, within the Armed Forces, there would be a concern about the manifestation of that situation and a desire to support, but the bottom line is that, if the culpable body were the Government and the MoD, if these individuals sought and obtained good legal advice the MoD would find itself, quite properly, the subject of litigation. That is how the solution would be sought. If the court was satisfied that the negligence alleged by those who had suffered was proved, remedies would follow.
I say with the greatest respect to my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay that I absolutely understand what he is driving at, but I still do not see a complete dovetail analogy with what we seek to deliver through the Bill. The situation that my noble and learned friend outlines is serious. It may very well happen in future, but the MoD is very vigilant and conscious that if it falls down on its duty to its own people it will expect to be sued—and it is. Not only is it sued and expected to provide redress but support is given to people who find themselves in that grouping. Including central government in the Bill is unnecessary. The Government are already subject to a legal obligation to report on the delivery of the covenant, and there are many and sufficient levels of public scrutiny.
Let us bear in mind that the Bill is about trying to improve the levels of awareness across the United Kingdom and a better and more universal provision of essential services for those members of our Armed Forces and veterans who need them. My problem with the amendment is that, were it accepted, we would create an obligation on central government. We cannot impose a comparable obligation on devolved Governments because that would be incompetent and not within the scope of the Bill. We would then once again create disparity rather than universality across the United Kingdom. We would have central government bound in one way but not devolved Administrations. That is not a desirable outcome.
I am not at all immune to the importance of the arguments advanced by my noble and learned friend. He makes an important point. The situation to which he refers was grave. I suggest that that can be addressed by existing means. It does not need the inclusion of central government in the covenant, which, indeed, would not necessarily have prevented the problem. The question is: how do we provide a remedy to people who have been affected by such an unfortunate development? My response would be: by providing support. Advice is available—legal advice if that is required—for people to follow through the remedies they seek. It is not necessary to bring central government into the legislation. It is much more important that we focus on what we are trying to do as a first step, make sure we get that working properly and then, as we have been discussing, consider whether there is a need to expand that provision of duty.
I am unable to agree that this amendment is either necessary or would help the situation; it could create a difficulty where one does not currently exist. In those circumstances, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I never mentioned negligence. I am not suggesting for a minute that there was necessarily any negligence. The Armed Forces put in requirements for the people who were taking part for protection against what they thought might come. That was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Some of them took the treatment. The question was: what was the result of that? That was a question for the Secretary of State. It was him who had to look into that; it was a national question. It had nothing whatever to do with negligence or some other basis of claim. The claim was because the Government had approved a covenant, which I said should protect them in respect of their work in the Armed Forces and after they had left. That is what this was—nothing more, nothing less.
I am sorry to interrupt, but I have to make it clear that there is no suggestion in my argument that there was any negligence or any sort of enforcement available at the time. This is a new remedy, and it should be given.
I am very grateful to my noble and learned friend for expanding that further. I understand the point he is trying to make. I was making a distinction between areas where, if the MoD was culpable, it could expect a claim of negligence. My noble and learned friend outlines a situation where something happens and maybe no negligence can be established but people suffer. In that event, we would want to do two things: we would want to find out what happened and provide help to those affected. But is it not the case that the covenant already provides a route for question and accountability of the Government to Parliament? The annual report could be presented and Parliament could say, “We absolutely dismiss that report”, and ask why it has made no reference to the situation of the type my noble and learned friend referred to. I argue that there is accountability and, separate issues flowing from that, our support and solutions for those affected, but these could be provided in other ways. They do not require a covenant to secure that.
My Lords, the noble Baroness’s thinking has not necessary moved on very much from Second Reading, when she said
“I would say that government is held to account by Parliament and the purpose of the covenant duty is to raise awareness among providers of these public services”.—[Official Report, 7/9/21; col. 770.]
Parliament can and should hold the Government to account but, if the legal duty to have due regard is put only on local authorities and certain other providers and not on the Government, yes, we can ask questions but we cannot actually hold the Government legally accountable. The points the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, made are surely right: if we want to think about aspects that go beyond the duties to local authorities, that duty needs to put on to central government, not just local government.
The Minister suggested there might be a problem that we as Parliament or Her Majesty’s Government cannot put duties on the devolved Administrations. Surely that is precisely because defence is a reserved matter so, if we are putting a duty on to anybody, apart from local authorities and local health authorities, it ought to be on to central government, not on to the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
With the greatest respect, that might seem a tempting analysis of the situation, but the bottom line is that an inequity and disparity would be immediately introduced in the United Kingdom, because a Government would be bound and other devolved Governments would not be. That is profoundly undesirable.
I thank the Minister for her reply. She is in a bit of trouble on this one. Logically, I do not think that some of what she said holds together. In her answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, she clearly talked about negligence, people being sued and things like that, whereas what the noble and learned Lord talked about, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, talked about very movingly from his own experience, is that we are seeking to require central government to have due regard to the covenant. Placing that obligation on central government in the same way as we are placing it on local authorities and other bodies is consistent with the principle that we are seeking to drop adopt through this legislation. This is not about moving into an area where a Government are negligent.
All I would say to the Minister is that we will have to come back to this on Report. I wonder whether she could reflect again on the discussions that have taken place in Committee to see whether there might be a way forward for us all. With that, I seek the leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
Amendments 10 to 13 not moved.
14: Clause 8, page 18, line 28, at end insert—
“343AG Regional committees(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision to give committees established under section 25 of the Social Security Act 1989, known as Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committees, additional functions specified in the regulations relating to all former members of Her Majesty’s forces and their relevant family members, and a new name.(2) The regulations may in particular provide that it is a function of the committees—(a) to report and make recommendations to the Secretary of State on matters that are or may be relevant to—(i) their armed forces covenant report, and(ii) sections 343AA to 343AD and guidance issued under section 343AE;(b) to provide a distinct, identifiable, and independent point of reference in their region for both the veteran community and all those supporting it;(c) to raise awareness of, and support the implementation of—(i) services provided to the veteran community alone or with others,(ii) the Government’s strategy for veterans, and(iii) the terms of armed forces covenant;(d) to act as an advocate, promoter, facilitator, or communicator of services that are relevant to the veteran community;(e) to report and make representations and recommendations on existing or proposed services that are relevant to the veteran community.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to extend the statutory functions of Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committees (VAPCs), currently limited to functions relating to compensation schemes for veterans and their families (the War Pensions and the Armed Forces Compensation Schemes) to all aspects of veteran life.
My Lords, I first raised the subject of Amendments 14 and 15 in my name at Second Reading. I hope they will prove uncontroversial. Indeed, to pick up on the conversation we have had over the last few groupings, all these amendments seek to do is effectively to support the Government in what they are already doing and, equally, to try to embolden a committee to deliver the Armed Forces covenant. I shall be very brief.
Specifically, the amendment enables the Secretary of State to extend the statutory functions of the Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committees, VAPCs. They are regional statutory committees—nine in England, two in Scotland, one in Wales and one in Northern Ireland—established by a statutory instrument made under Section 25 of the Social Security Act 1989. Each committee has between 12 and 20 members, who are all volunteers. They are public appointees who act independently of their sponsoring department, the MoD, and so provide evidence and views from that independent standpoint. During my time as Minister for Veterans, I felt that as a body they played a valuable role, both as advocates on behalf of the MoD and as a source of candid advice to me as a Minister and to the wider veteran community.
However, the issue is that the enabling power limits the statutory functions that can be given to VAPCs solely to functions relating to the compensation schemes for veterans and their families, namely the war pensions and Armed Forces compensation schemes, and as such are mandated to engage with only a relatively small part of the veteran community and not the Armed Forces covenant in general.
As we seek to improve the implementation of the Armed Forces covenant, it strikes me that, through their independent approach and regional structure, the members of the VAPCs are well placed to make a useful contribution to the Government’s drive to make the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran. Indeed, just one aspect of this drive is the implementation of the duty introduced by Clause 8(3) of the Bill to have due regard to the principles of and relating to the Armed Forces covenant. In my view, at least, this is not only timely but long overdue.
Interestingly, we have in all honesty been talking about expanding VAPC powers for some time. As I recall, it was a proposed amendment put to me as a Minister when I was responsible for taking the last Armed Forces Bill through Parliament five years ago, but due to lack of preparation time was ultimately not included. We really have been talking about this for a very long time.
It is also an argument that has already in part been conceded by the Government, by their agreeing in principle that members of each regional VAPC be invited by terms of reference to join parallel informal regional groups to perform functions relating to all veterans. This is exactly what this amendment is trying to do, and they are proposing to do it. We even now have a position in which the Government are actively advertising the role of membership of VAPCs as extending beyond the original statutory functions. I have sent this to the Minister. I was rather surprised to discover that on the public appointments website, dating back over four years—the current appointments are equally advertised—the principal role for the chair of the south-east England VAPC, the first role it describes as being required, is to
“act as advocates for implementing the Armed Forces Covenant and associated measures at a local level”,
even though at this point it was not mandated within the statutory requirements. They have already been advertising it, so it seems logical that we should enshrine it in this legislation.
To be fair, this amendment is carefully crafted to ensure that it ties in with the Government’s intent to review the interim solution that they are proposing for the function of VAPCs after one year, after which it will enable the Secretary of State to give VAPCs functions relating to all veterans only if it should be concluded after that review that this is potentially the best way to maximise their contribution to helping support the Armed Forces community.
My plea to the Minister is simple. The Government have accepted in principle that the role of the VAPCs should be expanded by delivering this interim solution. The Government are even actively advertising it as an expanded role. All that these modest amendments would do is put in place the ability for the Secretary of State—if, and only if, he so wishes—to make that change after the review period rather than having to wait yet another five years for the next Armed Forces Bill.
I am generally supportive of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster. He very ably made the point why the time to act is now rather than waiting a further five years before something is done. I very much hope the Minister can respond positively to what I think is a very sensible amendment.
I thank my noble friend for tabling this amendment, and I understand his motivation for doing so. I want to develop this a little further because he has raised some interesting arguments. He has described how the amendment seeks to give the Secretary of State for Defence the power to amend the scope of the Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committees’ statutory functions by regulations in the future.
My noble friend has described extensively what the VAPCs do across the UK. They are established under the Social Security Act 1989, with their functions set out in the War Pensions Committees Regulations 2000. Indeed, they used to be known as War Pensions Committees and their original role was expressly to raise awareness of the War Pension Scheme and latterly, the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, and to make representations to the MoD on behalf of recipients. For that reason, the enabling Act for the VAPCs, the Social Security Act, sets out that their statutory functions are limited to the cohort of veterans and their families who are claiming for or in receipt of one of the two compensation schemes. It is that limitation that my noble friend’s amendment seeks to remedy.
In practice, as my noble friend knows—he alluded to this—members of the VAPCs have for many years performed activities that go above and beyond that scope. For example, many members have taken on a role promoting the Armed Forces covenant locally to all those who might have an interest in it. They have done that on a non-statutory basis and there have been no substantive issues with them doing so. I therefore suggest that in this respect my noble friend’s amendment is not necessary to achieve the outcome that he seeks.
However, there is a desire on all sides for greater clarity on the role that VAPCs have. My honourable friend the Minister for Defence People and Veterans joined a conference with the VAPCs yesterday and confirmed that he had signed off on a new set of terms of reference agreed by both the VAPC chairs and officials in the MoD and the Office for Veterans’ Affairs. The terms set out two new specific principles: first, to set out the activities that members of VAPCs as individuals and as members of informal regional groups are asked to carry out relating to all veterans and their families and, secondly, to provide direction relating to their performance for an initial period of 12 months beginning from 26 October, in order that we give the chairs a sensible period of time to adopt the new terms of reference and show how they can deliver against them. Following that initial 12-month period, the Minister for Defence People and Veterans will review the terms of reference and performance against the activities set out and will then make a determination on the next steps.
I say to my noble friend that the Government have a clear way forward over the next 12 months that has been agreed with the VAPCs themselves. We want to give them the chance to perform under the new terms of reference before we take any decisions about their longer-term future. We want to use the next 12 months to gather the evidence that we need to take an informed decision.
That is why I feel that my noble friend’s amendment is premature at this stage. To pass it now would put the cart before the horse. It would give the Secretary of State a power that we do not yet know if he would need or use. It would pre-empt the outcome of our work over the next 12 months and would imply that a change to the VAPCs’ statutory role was required when we have not yet actually come to any decision about that. It would provide only for a specific and rather limited adjustment to their statutory role when we might instead wish to consider more fundamental changes.
I know that my noble friend argues that this amendment would give the Secretary of State the ability to make certain changes only if should he decide that these are needed at the end of the 12-month period, and that my noble friend feels it is better to have that power ready to use now rather than potentially having to wait another five years for the next Armed Forces Bill to roll round. I would make just two points about that approach. First, taking a power to achieve something through secondary legislation when the Government are still developing the policy is not considered good practice. Were the Government to have proposed this sort of thing, we would likely have faced criticism from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. If the work in train reveals that change is needed in primary legislation, we should bring our proposals to Parliament then. Secondly, should it become apparent that legislation is needed, the Government will seek to legislate when parliamentary time allows.
My noble friend will clearly understand that there are limits on how much I can speculate about this, but it does not necessarily mean waiting five years for the next Armed Forces Bill. The Ministry of Defence can legislate, and has legislated, outside the five-yearly cycle when needed. I recognise my noble friend’s strength of feeling on this. The statutory position of the VAPCs has been subject to significant consideration within the MoD. We believe that the new terms of reference allow us to move substantially forward. I will certainly raise the wording of the advert that he referred to with officials.
I must apologise to my noble friend; I had hoped to discuss his amendment with him before consideration of it in Committee. I would certainly welcome an opportunity to have that discussion with him following today’s debate but, meanwhile, I invite him to withdraw his amendment at this time.
I am of course grateful for my noble friend’s courteous reply. Indeed, if nothing else, having waited for seven years, if coincidentally, yesterday, the terms of reference were finally signed, then perhaps we have achieved something through tabling this amendment. That is good news. However, I must say to my noble friend—and she is a dear friend—that I am slightly disappointed by the reply. The one aspect that she did not address is why it was deemed necessary to put some of the roles of the VAPCs on a statutory footing, yet now it does not seem necessary to put on a statutory footing the extended role. There seems to be an illogic in that argument, which was not addressed. That is something we can discuss, because it certainly was not my noble friend’s point and we did not have the opportunity to meet before Committee.
I reserve the right to look at this again, because there is a strong sense of feeling. I know that many people listening to this debate will be feeling that, yet again, the Government are kicking the can down the road. When the Government issue adverts luring people in to be members of these committees, because they would apparently be supporting the Armed Forces covenant even though they are not on a statutory footing, that sends a very poor message. For the time being, however, I withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
Amendment 15 not moved.
Clause 8 agreed.
Clause 9: Reserve forces: flexibility of commitments
16: Clause 9, page 19, line 6, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—
“(a) omit “(a “full-time service commitment”)”;”Member’s explanatory statement
This is one of several amendments in the name of Baroness Goldie which would clarify the effect of provision made by Clause 9 about commitments under section 24 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996.
My Lords, group six comprises Amendments 16 to 37 inclusive. In total, these relate to a minor, technical amendment to Clause 9, which introduces important changes to Section 24 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable our reserve personnel to do more and for defence to offer them more. The changes we are making to Section 24 will in future enable reservists to undertake periods of full-time and part-time service, or a combination of both under one continuous commitment.
On reflection, we feel it more appropriate to refer to our new continuous service commitment using neutral terms, such as “a Section 24 commitment”. This will avoid any suggestion that reservists are in continuous service only in certain circumstances. Reservists are serving members of the Armed Forces during their entire term of service, not just when they are on duty or in training. It is a purely technical amendment and I can confirm that, importantly, it will have no impact on how the new measures we are introducing under Clause 9 will operate. It will allow our Reserve personnel to do more and enable the Ministry of Defence to make better use of their knowledge, skills and experience, but avoid any possible confusion as to nomenclature and meaning. I beg to move.
I accept the Minister’s assurance that this is a wholly technical amendment. If my assistants find that not to be true, I shall return to it ferociously on Report. But assuming that is the case, I am content with the amendment. I make the point that the next group goes into a fundamental area, and I would greatly object to any attempt to move into that group tonight.
I am grateful to be able to contribute briefly on this group, which is an area of particular interest to me. I declare my interest as chairman of the Reserve Forces Review 2030, which is the 10-year review of the Reserve—the outcome of which is, I should like to think, partly responsible for some of the Bill’s provisions on the Reserve.
The headmark of that review was the integration of the Regular and Reserve Forces. Within that, we attempted to create a spectrum of service—right of arc, full-time regular service; left of arc, a civilian—and within that spectrum of services, enabling the principle of bringing civilian skillsets through Reserves into delivering against defence demand signals. We encountered two principal barriers to that spectrum of service. The first, frankly, was money. Unlike the Regular Forces, the Reserve Forces are always considered to be a marginal cost and therefore, as soon as there are pressures on costings, it is the Reserves’ budget that will be reduced.
The other, to which this technical amendment goes directly, was terms and conditions of service. Of course, we already have full-time Reserve service, but we do not have the ability for reservists to have not a contract, per se, but an assured Reserve capability. That could be on a part-time but enduring basis—for example, not being contracted to work five days a week and becoming a temporary regular, but to be able to do it as part of a portfolio career. That would enable you to come in and, perhaps, work one day a week but over an enduring period. It would make the Reserve much more effective in delivering almost as augmentees, working on a daily basis, and moving away from its traditional role as a contingent capability that trained at weekends and was always used as that traditional Reserve.
That is why this government amendment is so welcome, to my mind. It helps to deliver that traditional Reserve capability for a Reserve which will be very much suited for the 2030s.
My Lords, I wanted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, before I spoke because I thought that if there were any heffalump traps, he might have spotted them, given his expertise on reserves. I seem to recall that when we were looking at flexible working for the regulars it garnered some concern from certain Benches and perhaps from some noble and gallant Lords who were a little concerned that you could not be a part-time soldier. Actually, that was never what was being suggested.
Looking at these amendments one by one, a bit like the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, I could only assume that they were all doing what the Minister said they were doing because they look so technical. I think the statement given by the Minister and the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, both suggest that this is helping to bring the reserves into an even more effective place. The reserves clearly play an important role, and if there can be a logical movement between full-time and part-time work and that counts as continuous service, that has to be all to the good. The only thing I would say, if anyone were looking at a complete guide to plain English, is that by the time anyone is looking at this Bill it will be totally unreadable because the language seems to be so arcane. I hope it will keep the government lawyers working for many years to come.
My Lords, I want to make one comment. It is slightly out of context but what the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, was talking about there, bringing the reserves in more and greater integration, also moves things. His report will take consideration of civilian contractors who come under military law. We are beginning to bring the whole thing together, and a previous amendment about making the covenant more available to those contractors who may be under military law becomes even more relevant.
Amendment 16 agreed.
Amendments 17 to 24
17: Clause 9, page 19, line 18, leave out “continuous service commitment” and insert “commitment under this section”
Member’s explanatory statement
This is one of several amendments in the name of Baroness Goldie which would clarify the effect of provision made by Clause 9 about commitments under section 24 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996.
18: Clause 9, page 19, line 25, leave out from “for” to end of line 26 and insert ““full-time service commitment” substitute “commitment under this section”;”
Member’s explanatory statement
This is one of several amendments in the name of Baroness Goldie which would clarify the effect of provision made by Clause 9 about commitments under section 24 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996.
19: Clause 9, page 19, line 34, leave out “continuous service commitment” and insert “commitment under this section”
Member’s explanatory statement
20: Clause 9, page 19, line 37, leave out from “for” to end of line 38 and insert ““full-time service commitment” substitute “commitment under this section”;”
Member’s explanatory statement
21: Clause 9, page 20, line 1, leave out “continuous service commitment” and insert “commitment under this section”
Member’s explanatory statement
22: Clause 9, page 20, line 5, leave out “continuous service commitment” and insert “commitment under this section”
Member’s explanatory statement
23: Clause 9, page 20, line 13, leave out “continuous service commitment” and insert “commitment under this section”
Member’s explanatory statement
This is one of several amendments in the name of Baroness Goldie which would clarify the effect of provision in Clause 9 about commitments under section 24 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996.
24: Clause 9, page 20, line 15, leave out “continuous service commitment” and insert “commitment under this section”
Member’s explanatory statement
This is one of several amendments in the name of Baroness Goldie which would clarify the effect of provision in Clause 9 about commitments under section 24 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996.
Amendments 17 to 24 agreed.
Clause 9 agreed.
Schedule 2: Reserve forces: flexibility of commitments
Amendments 25 to 37
25: Schedule 2, page 42, line 9, leave out “continuous service” and insert “section 24”
Member’s explanatory statement
This is one of several amendments in the name of Baroness Goldie which would clarify the effect of provision in Clause 9 about commitments under section 24 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996.
26: Schedule 2, page 42, line 11, leave out “continuous service” and insert “section 24”
Member’s explanatory statement
27: Schedule 2, page 42, line 13, leave out “continuous service” and insert “section 24”
Member’s explanatory statement
28: Schedule 2, page 42, line 15, leave out sub-paragraph (2) and insert—
“(2) For subsection (1)(a) substitute—“(a) in service under section 24 commitments; or”.”Member’s explanatory statement
29: Schedule 2, page 42, line 17, leave out “continuous service” and insert “section 24”
Member’s explanatory statement
30: Schedule 2, page 42, line 19, leave out “continuous service” and insert “section 24”
Member’s explanatory statement
31: Schedule 2, page 42, line 23, leave out from “for” to end of line 24 and insert ““full-time service” substitute “section 24”;”
Member’s explanatory statement
32: Schedule 2, page 42, line 25, leave out from “for” to “and” in line 26 and insert ““full-time service”, in the first place it occurs, substitute “section 24”,”
Member’s explanatory statement
33: Schedule 2, page 42, line 30, leave out “continuous service” and insert “section 24”
Member’s explanatory statement
34: Schedule 2, page 42, line 33, leave out from “for” to end of line 34 and insert ““full-time service commitment” substitute “commitment under that section””
Member’s explanatory statement
35: Schedule 2, page 43, line 3, leave out “continuous service commitment” and insert “commitment entered into under section 24 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996”
Member’s explanatory statement
36: Schedule 2, page 43, line 4, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—
“(b) omit subsection (3)(d).”Member’s explanatory statement
37: Schedule 2, page 43, line 11, leave out paragraph (b)
Member’s explanatory statement
Amendments 25 to 37 agreed.
Schedule 2 agreed.
Committee adjourned at 8.13 pm.