Committee (2nd Day)
Clause 10 agreed.
Schedule 3 agreed.
Clause 11: Service police: complaints, misconduct etc
38: Clause 11, page 22, line 33, leave out “and service police forces,” and insert “, service police forces and the tri-service serious crime unit,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would make consequential provision in connection with the new Clause proposed by Baroness Goldie to be inserted after Clause 11.
My Lords, I rise to speak to group 7, which comprises government Amendments 38 to 42, 45 to 47, and 67 and 68, in my name. I will speak also to Amendments 43, 44 and 66, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Coaker, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd.
I thought it would be helpful if I started with something of a scene setter on the report of the review conducted by Sir Richard Henriques. As noble Lords will be aware, on 13 October 2020, the Secretary of State announced the commissioning of a review by Sir Richard Henriques, to build upon, but not reopen, the recommendations of the service justice system review by His Honour Shaun Lyons and Sir Jon Murphy.
The aim was to ensure that, in relation to complex and serious allegations of wrongdoing against UK forces on overseas operations, defence has the most up-to-date and future-proof framework, skills and processes in place, and that improvements can be made where necessary. The review was to be forward looking and, while drawing on insights from the handling of allegations from recent operations, it was not to reconsider past investigative or prosecutorial decisions or to reopen historical cases.
I am pleased to say that Sir Richard submitted his report at the end of July 2021 and, as I had committed to do at Second Reading, we published it on 21 October, with a supporting Written Ministerial Statement, to enable your Lordships to have chance to consider it during the passage of the Armed Forces Bill. It goes without saying that we are very grateful for the comprehensive and considered work that Sir Richard has undertaken, and we particularly welcome his recognition of the need for a separate system of military justice. In summary, 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—DSCU—originally recommended by Sir Jon Murphy.
There are also a number of operations-related recommendations, including for protocols between the service police, the Service Prosecuting Authority and the Judge Advocate-General for processes relating to the timely and effective investigation of allegations of unlawful killing and ill-treatment by UK forces on overseas operations. There are also recommendations for improving the technical IT systems supporting the military courts, and a number of recommendations relating to summary hearings.
As set out in our ministerial Statement, we have prioritised taking forward the recommendations to establish the Defence Serious Crime Unit, and I am extremely pleased that we were able to take swift action to table the government amendments for the key DSCU recommendations—one, two and seven—because they require primary legislation.
We have also committed to taking forward work over the coming months on four other recommendations, which will: amend standard operating procedures to ensure that service police are informed with minimum delay of reportable offences; establish a serious incident board within the Permanent Joint Headquarters; create or upgrade an operational record-keeping system; and adopt a uniform approach in respect of training of service legal personnel prior to their posting to the Service Prosecuting Authority.
The remaining recommendations, including among other things legal support to personnel, improved technology and IT for the service courts and improvements to the summary hearing process, raise wider implications relating to policy and legal and resourcing issues. These will be considered further by the department over the coming months. Where appropriate and necessary, legislation will be brought forward when parliamentary time allows. I will of course update your Lordships on progress.
Our goal will be to ensure that, in considering and taking forward work on Sir Richard’s recommendations, we continue to maintain operational effectiveness and the swift delivery of fair and efficient justice for victims and offenders.
The amendments in my name contain the necessary changes to primary legislation to give effect to the Government’s plans for a new tri-service serious crime unit, headed by a new provost marshal for serious crime. This is an important set of amendments that demonstrate the Ministry of Defence’s commitment to the highest investigative capabilities for the service justice system. Through this, we are rapidly taking forward the most important set of recommendations from Sir Richard Henriques’s recently published review.
The amendments make the following key changes. The new clause provides that the new provost marshal for serious crime is subject to the same rules about appointment as existing provost marshals. This means appointment by Her Majesty and the requirement that they be an officer in the service police. The new clause also provides that the new provost marshal for serious crime will be responsible for ensuring that investigations of the new tri-service serious crime unit are independent.
The new schedule contains consequential amendments relating to the clause and provides the new provost marshal for serious crime with the same investigative powers as the pre-existing provost marshals for the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force and service police. I should underline that these are not new investigatory powers for the service police. This is about ensuring that the existing service police investigatory powers are available for the new arrangements. We expect there to be a similar consequential exercise for changes needed to secondary legislation.
Sir Richard’s recommendations supported those made by His Honour Judge Shaun Lyons and Sir Jon Murphy regarding the implementation of a Defence Serious Crime Unit. He further recommended: that the Defence Serious Crime Unit be an operational unit; that it should be commanded by a provost marshal for serious crime; and that the provost marshal for serious crime should have a duty of operational independence in investigative matters owed to the Defence Council, on the same terms as that owed by the service provost marshals under Section 115A of the Armed Forces Act 2006.
The Ministry of Defence has been working on the Defence Serious Crime Unit model since the recommendations made by the Lyons and Murphy review. There were non-legislative ways of implementing the recommendations from Lyons and Murphy under consideration. However, the recommendations from Sir Richard require primary legislation, particularly as far as they concern the operational independence of the unit and the new provost marshal.
The Defence Secretary is adamant that we should progress these aspects of Sir Richard’s report with the utmost speed, which is why we are bringing these amendments before your Lordships today. With the support of noble Lords, we will be able to implement these critical recommendations and, in tandem, we will progress the remaining recommendations which focus on the functionality, remit and operational considerations for the unit.
With the establishment of the new provost marshal for serious crime and the tri-service serious crime unit, the MoD will be in a stronger position to respond to serious crime. We will be able to combine resources and specialist skills from across the single services under one unit and will build an independent, more effective and collaborative approach to policing across defence.
This reinforces the decision by the Secretary of State for Defence that the existing principle of jurisdictional concurrency between the service and civilian jurisdictions should be maintained. That of course is a position that Sir Richard Henriques has also supported. The service justice system is capable of dealing with the full range of offences when they occur, in the UK as well as overseas. These changes to service policing will support that capability into the future.
I hope that this explanation assures noble Lords of our commitment to the improvement of policing across the service justice system and our intent to adopt the recommendations provided in the judge-led reviews. I therefore urge your Lordships to support the proposed amendments in my name.
Will the noble Baroness give way for a moment? She admits that she is not implementing all the recommendations in the Henriques report in relation to the prosecution and then she said that the Government would consider them with utmost speed. I recognise all these wonderful phrases. Then she said that she would bring forward amendments when parliamentary time allows. That seems to me to kick the matter down the road. Some of his recommendations that are not part of this new clause need to be implemented as early as possible. I am sure the Minister will eventually find that “when parliamentary time allows” normally means in many years’ time.
I am just checking back to see what I actually read out. I was pointing out that this is roughly broken into three sectors. One is what we are taking forward today with the amendments. The second concerns four other specific recommendations that we are taking forward. Then the remaining recommendations, as I said, raise wider implications for policy, resourcing and legal issues. I said that these will be considered further by the department over the coming months and, where appropriate and necessary, legislation will be brought forward when parliamentary time allows.
That is not kicking the can down the road. That is to simply say to the noble Lord that we recognise that we still have research, inquiry and investigation to do in the department to understand the consequences of these recommendations from Henriques. We want to be clear about that but, equally, we are very positive about Sir Richard Henriques’ report. I said that our goal will always be to ensure that, in considering and taking forward work on his recommendations, we keep an eye on operational effectiveness and the swift delivery of fair and efficient justice for victims and offenders.
I hope that explains to the noble Lord why I cannot really go any further than that today. I certainly dispute his analogy of kicking the can down the road. This is a serious and substantial piece of work. We are prioritising the most important part, which we think will make a big difference to policing within the service justice system, and we are being canny about how we then progress the other bits of the report.
The noble Lord will have read the report and he will be in no doubt, I imagine, about both the extent and the complexity of many of the recommendations. I cannot be drawn into commenting on something where we are still doing the exploratory work to understand what the implications of the recommendations are. To reassure the noble Lord, as I said earlier, we are very positive about this report. It is a huge contribution to how we deal with justice and the service justice system. I beseech the noble Lord to exercise a little patience. I know that his natural interest in these matters, and the avenues available to him to pursue that interest, will ensure that I and the department are kept on our toes.
I was about to speak to Amendments 43, 44 and 66. I turn first to Amendment 43. That seeks to change the wording in government Amendment 42 on the duty of investigative independence for the defence serious crime unit. Government Amendment 42 works by updating the existing duty on the service police currently contained in Section 115A of the Armed Forces Act 2006. The government Amendment provides that the provost marshal for serious crime must
“seek to ensure that all investigations carried out by the tri-service serious crime unit are free from improper interference.”
The term “improper interference” is already defined in Section 115A. It includes any attempt by someone not in the service police to direct an investigation. Amendment 43 would amend the duty so that, rather than seek to ensure that investigations are carried out free from improper interference, the duty will be absolute, placing on the provost marshal a need to guarantee—“to ensure”—that the investigations are operationally independent.
It is important that we understand that this is not some idle exercise in semantics. As I have explained, the language in Amendment 42 is based on a similar duty in Section 115A of the Armed Forces Act 2006 that applies to the provost marshals for the three service police forces. In taking this approach, the Government are faithfully following recommendation 7 by Sir Richard Henriques; he importantly recommended that the new provost marshal owe the duty “on the same terms” as the existing duty.
Noble Lords who support the amendment are urging that we change the wording of this existing duty. The Government will resist that endeavour. The wording, which we have deliberately adopted, has been in place since the Armed Forces Act 2011 and has worked well in demonstrating the independence of the service police. If Sir Richard had doubts about it, one would have expected him to have said so. The Government would have concerns about, and would see risk in, changing the language in case it cast doubt on the operation of this provision in the past or in case it casts doubt on the investigative independence of the existing service police forces.
Noble Lords who support the amendment clearly prefer “ensure” to “seek to ensure”. However, it is in the nature of general duties of this kind that this drafting approach is taken. We see this frequently in statute. Although we would expect provost marshals to do everything they can to prevent interference, they do not have an absolute duty to “ensure” that there is no interference because, quite simply, it would be unrealistic to require them to foresee and forestall each and every attempt at interference. I will try to illustrate that. One of the unique features of the service police, compared to civilian police, is that they may be deployed in a war zone. We may find that operational requirements—for example, ensuring the safety of service personnel—legitimately need to take precedence over investigative priorities. The “seek to ensure” formulation is flexible enough to take account of that environment.
I have looked at Amendment 44 carefully. I do not believe that adding these further Henriques DSCU recommendations to the government amendment is necessary. As we set out in the ministerial Statement on 21 October, and as I have already touched on today, we will be incorporating these recommendations in the work already under way to establish the operating model for the DSCU. To reassure the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, I emphasise that this will include the provision of a victim and witness care unit, the establishment of a strategic policing board as part of the governance structure of the DSCU, and a reporting requirement to Parliament. I am happy to confirm that we are already working towards a DSCU by April 2022.
Although the MoD shares Sir Richard’s ambitions for an increased role for civilians in the DSCU, we assess that there may be legislative implications and restrictions regarding the appointment of a civilian deputy provost marshal. We will therefore give that recommendation further consideration.
As we also set out in the ministerial Statement, we believe that the non-legislative protocols for dealing with fatalities and ill-treatment cases on overseas operations—between the service police, the Director of Service Prosecutions and the Judge Advocate-General—should rightly be considered by these independent bodies in the first instance.
These are important and complicated matters, and we need to determine whether they can be implemented as proposed by Sir Richard and without the need for legislation. While we will seek to progress them as quickly as possible, I suggest that it is vital that we get them right, and I do not think it would be appropriate or sensible to put a timeline of July 2022 for their implementation.
Lastly, Amendment 66 seeks an early decision—one month after Royal Assent to the Armed Forces Bill—on whether the MoD is going to accept or reject the recommendations in the Henriques review report for the establishment of a defence representation unit; and, if the recommendations are accepted, to require that we lay a report before Parliament setting out a plan and timeline for establishing the unit by July 2021.
As the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, has already indicated, I understand your Lordships’ interest and enthusiasm for early progress. However, noble Lords will appreciate, given the short amount of time that the department has had to consider Sir Richard’s report, and the fact that we have so far been able to undertake only a light-touch analysis of some of his recommendations, why I urge a little patience.
In respect of the recommendations to establish a defence representation unit, while we absolutely agree with the principle of ensuring appropriate legal advice and support to individuals under investigation, we are not yet in a position to know whether we can accept the recommendations as presented. Further careful consideration will be required to determine the most appropriate and effective way of delivering this support, and I would not wish to time-bind that work.
I hope that noble Lords are reassured by the approach we are taking to Henriques, and therefore I ask them not to press their amendments. In the same vein, I formally move the amendment in my name.
My Lords, first, good afternoon, everyone; it is a great privilege to be here again for the second meeting of the Committee, after what I thought was a really interesting and thoughtful discussion on our first day. As I have said to the Minister in the various meetings I have had with her, we support the establishment of the unit and think it is a good step forward. But we have questions to ask and, as the Minister can see from the amendments that we have tabled, issues that we wish to raise and press the Government on, to ensure that we make this new unit as effective as possible.
I will speak to the government amendments but, first, will say to the Minister that I was struck by one of the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, in the debate we had the other day on the first group of amendments. He talked about the need for public confidence and trust in any system that we set up. This is really important, and we will come to it when we talk about some of the amendments we have tabled, and some of the probing of the Government that we want to do. In reading around this group of amendments, I was struck by one of the statements made by the court in the judgment of the Mousa case, which was:
“One of the essential functions of independence is to ensure public confidence and, in this context, perception is important.”
I respectfully ask the Committee to bear that in mind as we go through these various amendments.
We strongly welcome the detailed report of Richard Henriques, and the recommendations, and we hope that the Government will implement the recommendations as soon as possible. This goes to the heart of what my noble friend Lord Robertson said. We want to press the Government on what they mean by implementing the recommendations and the timeline for all of that. The report is especially pertinent, and I wonder whether the Minister might like to take the opportunity to say something about the allegations in the Sunday Times about a Kenyan woman being murdered by a British soldier, with no action apparently being taken and evidence suggesting that the case was actively suppressed. I think all of us would hope that the establishment of this unit would prevent that sort of thing occurring in future.
I will speak to these recommendations that the Government have put down. As I said, we welcome the establishment of the serious crime unit. However, as the Minister said, the Government’s framework amendment does not fully implement all the recommendations. Indeed, as I have already pointed out to the Minister, she wrote to us all on 22 October, only just over a week ago, saying that the amendment would implement three of Sir Richard’s recommendations. This is why many of us are wondering what this means.
In her opening, the Minister said that there were three and that four have been added to that but, as we know, Henriques makes more than 20 recommendations relating to the establishment of the serious crime unit. If there are three in the letter and four in this—unless I have misunderstood what the Minister said to us—what has happened to the other 13 that relate specifically to the unit? The Minister will understand the Committee’s desire to know more about what is happening to the rest of these recommendations. There were 64 in total, but 20 relating to the serious crime unit. What has happened to the others? What is the timeline for it? Will the Government implement the other 13—if that is the right number—or are they saying, “We’ll have a look, but we’re not very keen on these”? We need to know from the Government what exactly is happening to those other recommendations. Which are not going to be adopted? Which are the Government thinking about? We need some understanding of the timeline; I think many of us want greater clarity on that. What is happening with respect to that, and when can we expect to know more about the number of recommendations that will be implemented?
There are a number of other things that we need some clarity on. The Minister’s letter said the amendment would ensure that the new provost marshal for serious crime will be under a duty to ensure that investigations by the tri-service serious crime unit are independent. I know the Minister has sought to answer this, but the Government use the words “seek to ensure”. In the court of public opinion, people would say that we should not seek to ensure that all investigations carried out by the tri-service serious crime unit are free from improper interference; it is an expectation that they are independent. Surely we should not merely seek to ensure that.
As I said before, I am not a lawyer but I think most people would say that any independent process should be free from improper interference full stop, yet the Government’s amendment talks about seeking to achieve that. Clearly, that is why a number of us—I am grateful for the support of my noble friend Lord Robertson, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford—have concerns about the use of these terms. I press the Minister on this. If the court of public opinion sees the word “seek”, it will not believe that in all circumstances that means it will be free from improper interference. It is important that the Minister reads into the record exactly what “improper interference” means in this respect. It almost implies that there is such a thing as proper interference.
Our Amendment 44 lists many of the things that the Henriques report says should be part of the tri-service crime unit. Again, to be fair, the Minister has intimated that the Government intend to do some of this, but that is why many of us are asking why we do not put it in the Bill. We all have experience of legislation and know that there is often debate about why something is not in a Bill. Why is it left off? Why is it left to the Government, of any colour, to say, “We will do this later on. We will come back to it. We agree that this is important but we are going to look at how we do it”? We are saying that if it is important, it needs to be put in the Bill.
The victim and witness care unit has to be embedded. I know that the Minister said something about that. It is good to hear that the unit will be operating by 1 April 2022, but that should be in the Bill.
There are other things as well. Henriques recommends that the deputy provost marshal should be a civilian. We support that. There is no annual reporting provision or provision for the unit’s leadership to be reviewed in three years. There is no clear understanding about the links between the unit and the civilian police. There is no right of first refusal over the investigation of offences, and although the Minister said that there will be a strategic policing board, we have set out that that should be in the Bill.
I will add one further comment that is not in the amendment. What is the Government’s expectation of the rank of the provost marshal? Henriques talks about a lieutenant-colonel, then potentially moving on to a colonel. It would be interesting to hear the Committee’s view of what that rank should be. What is the appropriate seniority for the holder of that office to give them the importance needed for that post? I am sure there are others here with experience of the military who will be able to answer that much more effectively than I would. Maybe a lieutenant-colonel is entirely appropriate for that position or maybe not, but it will be interesting to hear the Government’s view on what that rank should be and I would be interested in the views of other Members of the Committee.
We have tabled the cross-party Amendments 43 and 44. As I said, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Robertson, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for their support for them.
There is something else in the report that I want to raise with the Minister. It states that the creation of the unit would save £45 million over 10 years. Is that figure correct? If so, what is the savings estimate, if there is one? One would have hoped that, given its importance, this would be not about savings but about the need to ensure that investigators were recruited. How many investigators do the Government expect will go into the unit? It would be helpful to the Committee if the Minister could say something about how the three different investigative branches in the Army, Navy and RAF police forces will be merged into this new crime unit. I recognise the level of detail there, but could the Minister say something about that?
Henriques also states:
“I have no doubt that a Defence Representation Unit should be created”
“a triage service to Service personnel and veterans under investigation for criminal conduct.”
We strongly support that suggestion. Again, the Minister implied that the Government thought that was important. I suggest that that is an urgent consideration for the Government and something that needs to take place quickly. I was therefore grateful that the Minister said something about that, but we tabled Amendment 66 to press the Government on this. The establishment of the defence representation unit is important and overdue. It would give support to many of our Armed Forces personnel in a way we would all want.
Overall, we support the establishment of the defence security unit. There are a number of important questions to be asked about it, but the Committee is seeking to ensure that when we end up with the defence security unit—we hope in April next year—it will be as effective as we all want it to be. It has an important job of work to do, not least ensuring the public confidence that we need.
My Lords, we on these Benches are very grateful to Sir Richard Henriques for his report and recommendations. We understand why, in the three months since they were published, they have received only light-touch consideration from the Government. Perhaps I can be forgiven for giving some historical context to the role of the chain of command in courts martial, because it appears in Amendment 43 and in the Bill.
In 1757, Admiral Byng was convicted not of personal cowardice but of failing to do his utmost to engage the enemy in an attack upon French forces besieging the British garrison in Menorca. The truth was that his fleet of ships had been hastily assembled by the Admiralty. They were in poor condition and he had to retire to have them repaired, but he was convicted by court martial under the Articles of War and, despite pleas for clemency, even by the Prime Minister William Pitt himself, George II refused to commute the sentence. Admiral Byng was shot on the quarterdeck of a British ship by a firing squad. Your Lordships will recall that Voltaire, in his book Candide, commented that in Britain, it is good to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others—“pour encourager les autres”.
Courts martial were seen then, and for 200 years afterwards, as an instrument of discipline rather than justice. It is undoubtedly the case that men were shot for cowardice in the First World War to encourage their comrades to go over the top. Discipline was seen to be a function of command, and the commander must achieve discipline to secure cohesive action and singleness of purpose.
It was the Labour Government of 1946 who appointed a commission to examine the administration of military justice. It advised the appoint of a civilian judge-marshal but made no change in the way the board and the prosecuting officer were appointed. So it was that in 1996, the structure of courts martial was still within the chain of command. The convening officer, who was the field officer in command of a body of the Regular Forces within which the person to be tried was serving, was the person who decided the charges against the defendant, appointed the board and the prosecuting officer and arranged the trial. He—the convening officer—could dissolve the court martial during the trial, in the interests of the administration of justice, and could comment on its findings publicly, in the interests of discipline. He confirmed the findings and could reject or change the sentence, so the board was still subject to command influence.
A fair and impartial trial is obviously difficult in an atmosphere of command control. All the personnel connected with the trial are dependent, or were at that time, on the commanding officer for assignments, leave and promotion. A member of the board could not deviate too far from his commander’s views of the case if it might affect his career. That is why, following the criticisms made by the European Court of Human Rights in Findlay, we brought about such significant changes in 2006. Justice is now the dominant element and in a volunteer army, this is vital to morale and to the retention of personnel, as Sir Richard Henriques himself comments.
Despite this history, the Government have rejected Sir Richard’s recommendation 14. In paragraph 5.4.1 of his review, he says:
“An investigating body, charged with the responsibility of investigating serious crime allegedly committed by members of the Armed Forces, must be hierarchically, institutionally and practically independent both of the chain of command and of those whom they are under a duty to investigate.”
The wording that he uses—“hierarchically, institutionally and practically”—comes from the judgment in Jordan v United Kingdom, 37 EHRR 2. Explicitly, the European court was following Lord Steyn in 2003 in the Appellate Committee of this House, where he said:
“Public perception of the possibility of unconscious bias is the key.”
That issue of public confidence was raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, at the last hearing of this Committee.
However, instead of following that wording and explicitly breaking away from the chain of command, the Government have put forward the existing wording taken from the 2011 Act, as the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, pointed out. New Section 2A, proposed by the noble Baroness’s Amendment 42, would impose a duty on the provost marshal to ensure that all investigations are “free from improper interference”. That in no way matches the language of recommendation 14 of Sir Richard Henriques’s report, which makes an explicit break from the chain of command.
In recommending a strategic policing board for civilian governance and oversight of the provost marshal for serious crime, in paragraph 5.6.13 of his report, Sir Richard Henriques looked around the world. He looked to New Zealand, Australia and Canada. He also considered the function of the independent advisory group, which was formed for Operation Northmoor in this country. It appears that he agreed the composition of the strategic policing board with the Chief of Defence Staff and the Chief of Defence People.
Today, the noble Baroness told us that the Government have accepted the strategic policing board’s structure, but it is something to be put into the future. The strategic policing board is the person who stands behind and is the instrument of governance of the proposed provost marshal for serious crime. You cannot have one without the other, so perhaps the noble Baroness will explain how you could appoint a person to a position and give them responsibilities without first having the strategic policing board of civilian governance and oversight that Sir Richard Henriques called for.
Finally, I add my support to Amendment 66 and its requirement for a report to ensure that Sir Richard Henriques’s recommendations are carried out.
My Lords, I support this amendment, but I have a number of questions for my noble friend the Minister.
The tri-service serious crime unit is definitely a good idea but, given that the Armed Forces Act brought together the three single-service Acts back in 2006, I have for some time questioned why we do not have a joint service police force, given their relative sizes. The Royal Air Force Police is commanded by a group captain; the Navy, by a commander; and, of course, the Army provost marshal is a one-star brigadier. Who will own this organisation? If it is not going to be linked to one of the other service police forces, how can we ensure that it will not wither on the vine in time? For example, what will happen to the SIB, which has a proud operational record over the past 40 years? What will its role be vis-à-vis this new organisation? Equally, as we create what will be a fourth provost marshal, who will sit on the National Police Chiefs’ Council? Currently, the three single service provost marshals do. Does this mean that now there will be four? How will that look? Will defence be speaking with a single voice?
What does concern me is the provost marshals’ independence and how we can ensure that independence. Aside from their independent role, the provost marshals also have a reporting chain, on which they rely entirely for promotion. As Minister for defence veterans and personnel, I always ensured that I had a monthly meeting with the Army’s provost marshal to ensure that he had a channel by which he could communicate with me. Ultimately, his OJAR—his annual report—was written by his senior commanders in the Army, who are the very people he may be called on to investigate. There always seemed to me a slight contradiction there, where pressure could be applied.
Traditionally, speaking from the Army perspective, it would be the provost marshal’s final job in the military. The last provost marshal retired at the age of 49. How does that sit with our talent management, when he or she could have gone on to do other jobs? There seems to be a contradiction there.
But my principal question to my noble friend, which she may not be able to answer today, is that I do not understand why this new provost marshal role will have to be recruited from the service police. Why can it not be an outsider, as recommended in the review? Within Defence Medical Services, for the first time, the surgeon-general is no longer a serving member of the military. He is a civilian who has been recruited from the outside, from the National Health Service, yet sits at the top of that organisation. If we really want to be independent and to ensure independence, why can provost marshals potentially not be recruited from external organisations—other police forces? To me, that would only add to their independence and the guarantee of it in their role.
My Lords, it is a pleasure and privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster. I rise to deal with the key issue of independence. It is, as I said on the previous day in Committee, essential to two things. One is public confidence—one cannot overestimate the importance of that—but it is equally important to the morale and well-being of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.
I think we have established a very clear structure for the independence of the Director of Service Prosecutions and the three distinguished holders of that office, Bruce Houlder, Andrew Cayley and Jonathan Rees, the current DSP, have ensured that it happens. Now, how do we deal with the independence of the police? It seems to me very important to look at the problems with the independence of an investigation. Many us will have forgotten—or were not alive at the time—when there were serious problems in the civilian police, particularly with watch committees and other mechanisms that were meant to ensure that the police were accountable and independent. It did not work. Various things were tried and eventually we came up with the police and crime commissioners, as Sir Richard notes in his report.
Looking at independence, and having had to fight for the independence of the judiciary from time to time, I can assure noble Lords that what you need is a structure behind you—someone independent to go to on whom you can rely. In the case of the judiciary, one can obviously come to Parliament. That is ultimately what is provided for. That is why, it seems to me, the independent strategic board proposed is absolutely the key part of this. There should be an absolute duty for an independent investigation, which should not be qualified in any way, but you need an institutional structure.
What I wholly fail to understand from the Minister’s observations is why that cannot now be put in place and, in the way that police and crime commissioners have been made part of the statutory mechanism that looks to the police, why we cannot have a statutory mechanism for the Armed Forces. Surely they are entitled to the same sort of protection as ordinary civilians—as us all. I do not understand why we always expect the Armed Forces to have second best. There can be no reason why these issues have not been fully considered and why the Government cannot go forward.
This has been a long-standing problem. One has to go back only to the awful problems of the Iraq and Afghan wars, with the sticking-plaster solutions—if I may be so bold as to describe them as that—of bodies such as IHAT, the Iraq Historic Allegations Team. If you lived through cases on that, you would appreciate the need for a structure and something that we can be proud of to protect independence.
Given the history of the way in which the Armed Forces from time to time behave, if you do not do something now, you will have a problem in the future. I urge the Government to grapple with this now and deal with it by putting in provisions, as Sir Richard recommended. If one reads his report carefully, one sees the importance of the strategic board as the guarantor of independence. As the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, said, how is independence to be secured without some form of mechanism?
The second area on which I want to comment briefly is witness and victim care. This seems to me an important part of a statutory protection. If there is a witness or victims’ unit, there is someone to go to. Again, why are the Army, the Navy and the Air Force to have second best? Why is there not statutory provision, just as there is in the ordinary criminal justice system? I urge the Minister to look at this again with the objective of protecting the Armed Forces for the future and giving them what the rest of us have.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales in making the valuable and very firm points that he made. The question he asks is far from rhetorical. Why should members of our Armed Forces settle for second best? Why should we expect them to be less entitled to systems of justice that ordinary citizens can access?
I have vivid memories of the overseas operations Bill from this Session of Parliament. That was another Bill that came from the House of Commons, where the debates were dominated by a Minister demanding total obedience to every dot and comma of the Bill on the grounds that if you were against it, you were against the British Army, thereby allowing through provisions that might well have led to British soldiers and other members of Britain’s Armed Forces appearing before the International Criminal Court. Eventually, the Government woke up, but not without huge pressure and a lot of distinguished Members of this House making sure they got a very firm message. I do not want to embarrass the Minister too much, but I know that she played a role in getting common sense seen in that debate.
When we look at legislation being brought forward by the Government, we are wise to be cautious about what the Government say in their own defence. Therefore, when the Minister says that there are elements in the Henriques report which require attention and I ask which of those have policy implications, I would expect the department to be able to tell us. I recognise the phrase “when parliamentary time allows”, because I am sure I used it during my ministerial career. There is usually very little parliamentary time available for primary legislation, which is what would be required to enact the remaining aspects of the Henriques recommendations.
I follow my noble friend Lord Coaker in what he says and his detailed questions. The key question concerns the fact that, while Henriques made a number of recommendations, 13 of them have not appeared in the amendments to the Bill in this Committee. He is right to ask this question, which I repeat: which of these require policy consideration, because that could take a very considerable period to come forward as well?
The stories in the Sunday Times, both last Sunday and the Sunday before, should, frankly, horrify all of us. What is described there is disgraceful, disgusting and completely indefensible. I am not a lawyer or a soldier, but I cannot understand why action is not being taken and investigations into this particular incident are not taking place. We are being told that only if the Kenyan authorities start to make their inquiries will anything happen in this country, when there seems to be clear evidence around, involving British citizens and members of the British Armed Forces involved in this. Why has there not been some investigation? Just as members of the Armed Forces are perfectly entitled to be treated like other citizens in this country, victims also have a right to the kind of justice and investigation that we would expect for anyone else in the country.
We should not allow the Sunday Times to develop this story, week after week, with hugely damaging effects on the reputation of our Armed Forces, the recruitment of people into them and the country as a whole. Although it is not, strictly speaking, the business of this Committee, it is a matter of public concern. It has alerted the public in general to the whole question of service discipline. Therefore, the business of this Committee and Bill, detailed and arcane as it is in some ways, has now become a matter of public attention. It is up to the Government and Ministers in the Ministry of Defence to pay attention to that and resolve it so that they protect the reputation of the country and our distinguished Armed Forces.
My Lords, I first thank noble Lords for an interesting and stimulating debate, as ever. I shall endeavour to respond to the points raised. I certainly hope that the fate that befell Admiral Byng, so colourfully described by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, does not befall me, or the proceedings would come to a summary conclusion.
I will first address the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, who said, quite correctly, that perception is important. I agree with that, but so is legal exactitude, which is, I accept, tedious to some but none the less absolutely vital in the framing of legislation. I will come to that in a little more detail shortly.
I say to the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Robertson—who, with the best of intentions, I know, raised the appalling situation of the Kenyan lady —that I am constrained. This is a live investigation in Kenya, and it is sub judice. I can say that the Secretary of State has offered our full co-operation, but it is essentially a Kenyan investigation. We are prepared to offer any co-operation that we can when they request it. We have to let the investigatory process continue.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, reverted to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, about the remaining Henriques recommendations. I looked at again at what I said and double-checked where we are. I do not want to be discouraging or disappointing, but I can put my hand on my heart and say that approximately 40 of these recommendations require policy and legal analysis. That is factual, and I cannot accelerate that at the moment, but I am happy to give your Lordships an undertaking that I shall certainly monitor and report back on progress. I hope that will reassure your Lordships that this is not some somnolent process that will fall asleep once Committee stage is over. I am very happy to place that on the record and offer to do that.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, revisited “seek to ensure” as distinct from “ensure”. I am trying to think of the crispest way to try to encapsulate the difference between us. In legal exactitude, these two phrases mean different things. If a Bill says “ensure”, you are placing an absolute duty on whoever is to be the obligee under that obligation in the Bill. That effectively asks an individual to guarantee that there will never be any delay—not even any initial participation in the investigation by the chain of command, whatever the circumstances. In my opening remarks, I described an overseas operational arena in which essential decisions might have to be taken for the safety of our Armed Forces personnel, or to preserve evidence, before the full force of the investigatory police effort could be mounted.
I know that the noble Lord is motivated by the best of intentions, but there is a reason why we cannot accept the absolute nature of “ensure”. We cannot place an obligation on an individual that is beyond the control of the individual to discharge. I gave the illustration to which I referred. While he is absolutely correct that the court of public opinion matters, I humbly suggest that a court of law matters more, which is why we have to be extremely careful about the phrasing we use. There is nothing innovatory about the phrasing. I explained that it adopts language that we have previously used in statute, which achieves desirable consistency; I will respond on that in some detail, because the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, also raised that point.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, raised the issue of the rank of the provost marshal, as did the noble Lords, Lord Robertson and Lord Thomas of Gresford. Only service personnel can be appointed as provost marshal, as required under Section 365A of the Armed Forces Act 2006. This was an issue in which my noble friend Lord Lancaster was also interested. The expectation is that the deputy will also be a military provost officer. We recognise the value that civilians can add to a unit and we will consider how we can incorporate them.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, also raised the matter of the £45 million which was referred to in the Henriques report. For the Committee’s benefit, I clarify that the £45 million was from an internal financial and capability study in 2018. The recommendations from the study were not pursued by the department and were superseded by the service justice system review by Lyons and Murphy. These changes are all about doing the level best to make sure that the service justice system in all respects, and particularly in the investigatory component, is as good as it can be.
The noble Lords, Lord Coaker, Lord Robertson and Lord Thomas of Gresford, raised the issue of rank, which I have briefly covered. Sadly, there have been some quite high-level examples in the public domain where very senior military officers have been investigated, charged and convicted and are now serving sentences. Therefore, I submit that what matters is the strength of the investigatory structure and the capability and skills of the investigating officers. We have seen from past experience that this can work to very good effect.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and my noble friend Lord Lancaster asked about independence and the particular phrasing used in the government amendment. I think the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, regards the government amendment as inadequate and sees the statutory consistency as a weakness, because we have used the same language as in previous Armed Forces Acts. Respectfully, I disagree. I think that there is a strength in being consistent because we achieve clarity; people know what these words and phrases mean. I have to say that Sir Richard Henriques explicitly recommended that the new provost marshal should owe the duty on the same terms as the existing duty, so all we are doing is trying to replicate exactly what he suggested.
My noble friend Lord Lancaster also raised an issue about structures and who is accountable to whom. A lot of this work, obviously, is still under consideration. Will more information on the unit be provided? Yes, our officials continue to work on the detail, alongside specialist resource from across the tri-services, and we will provide more information as it emerges. A number of noble Lords sought further information about the unit itself and I thank them for their interest.
I sense that my noble friend might be coming to the end of her remarks. Perhaps I might take her back to the question of independence and the need for the appointment to come from members of the service police. The answer that she gave to the Committee was, “Well, that’s what the Armed Forces Act says”. My response would be, “Well, so what?” Is it not the purpose of this Bill and this Committee to look again at these issues? I do not want to put my noble friend on the spot, but could we perhaps think again as to whether that is still the best thing to do, given the nature of the role, and whether, as we move forward, because there are other examples in defence where we recruit from civilians because they are best qualified and best placed, the time has come to look again at that requirement?
I cannot give my noble friend the certainty of the assurance that he seeks, but I indicated that the rank was decided based on the current rank range of the single service provost marshal. We are open to revisiting the rank of provost marshal for serious crime—that is one of the recommendations in Henriques—and we would intend to review the post three years after the unit is operational. That is a sensible review period to allow some time to elapse. We want to ensure that the post remains aligned with the level of responsibility that is implicit in the role and the relevant and recent skills and experience of the postholder, and that it remains open to all three services to compete for. I can say to my noble friend that there is continued thinking on this, but I cannot at this stage provide him with the certainty that he seeks.
I have tried to address the points that have arisen and I hope that I have covered them all. In these circumstances, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.
Perhaps I might draw to the Minister’s attention her amendment, which states in subsection (3)(b) of the proposed new clause:
“The Provost Marshal for serious crime has a duty, owed to the Defence Council, to seek to ensure that all investigations carried out by the tri-service serious crime unit are free from improper interference.”
Does she not agree that that is miles away from the formulation proposed by Sir Richard Henriques, as stated in Amendment 43, that the duty is to
“ensure all investigations are operationally independent from the military chain of command”?
I have tried to point out that we have got away from the military chain of command in the justice system and that justice comes first, before discipline, in that area—individual justice. Does the Minister not see the difference in the wording, and how much stronger is Sir Richard Henriques’ formulation?
I say to the noble Lord—and I do not want to reprise everything that I have said—that we recognise the different characteristics within the service justice system that are not necessarily a part of the civilian system. We have to acknowledge that, as I indicated, it is not easy to just place things in silos. If something happens on an overseas operation, the chain of command may have to take action. That is why we talk about “improper interference”. I think that is an important distinction. What we are placing upon the provost marshal and the Defence Serious Crime Unit is the obligation to be independent and to seek to ensure the independence of the investigation.
However, we also have to acknowledge the reality of the environment in which these individuals are operating. That is why the Government have deliberately chosen the phrasing they have. I said earlier that there is nothing innovative about that phrasing; it deploys existing text from previous Acts. But I suggest to the noble and learned Lord that it would be unwise to place on the provost marshal obligations that are beyond the wit of the provost marshal to discharge. Equally, it would be wrong to condemn the chain of command for taking action in the early stages of an incident which the chain of command may have had no alternative but to take to protect personnel, to look after safety, to preserve evidence or whatever. That is why the Government prefer the phrasing they have adopted.
May I ask one question? I asked: why does the Bill contain no institutional provisions to protect the independence? Maybe the Minister needs a little more time to think about this and look at what protection is given in relation to the civilian police. I would be grateful if she could write with an answer about the institutional support that backs up independence.
I hear the noble and learned Lord. I think there is an acceptance within the service justice system that there is operational independence. I have had that confirmed to me by military police officers, particularly those investigating senior ranks and above their rank. They have not felt inhibited. They have not felt constrained. They have absolutely done the work they have needed to do. But I will reflect on the noble and learned Lord’s remarks and see whether I can offer any comfort.
I am not going to press my amendments and I say to the Minister that that was a very helpful reply to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. She will have heard from a noble of Lords in this Committee that there are real concerns about the operational independence of the work of the new serious crime unit, and that really goes to the heart of it. Something in the Bill that deals with that would be of immense reassurance to us all.
I say as well to the Minister that we will have to come back to one or two things on Report, not least the Henriques recommendations that the Government clearly are not going to adopt. I will give one example. It is disappointing to know that the deputy provost marshal is expected to be a military officer. Again, that gives evidence for the view that we have to be really careful in how we ensure that the public have confidence in the mechanism that we are setting up. It is a good thing to do, but we have to ensure that that independence is not only enshrined in legislation but is seen by the public to be real as well.
Amendment 38 agreed.
Amendments 39 to 41
39: Clause 11, page 23, line 26, leave out “and service police forces,” and insert “, service police forces and the tri-service serious crime unit,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would make consequential provision in connection with the new Clause proposed by Baroness Goldie to be inserted after Clause 11.
40: Clause 11, page 23, line 37, leave out “service police force,” and insert “relevant body,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would make consequential provision in connection with the new Clause proposed by Baroness Goldie to be inserted after Clause 11.
41: Clause 11, page 23, line 39, at end insert—
“(2) In subsection (1) “relevant body” means a service police force or the tri-service serious crime unit.”Member’s explanatory statement
Amendments 39 to 41 agreed.
Clause 11, as amended, agreed.
42: After Clause 11, insert the following new Clause—
“Framework for establishment of tri-service serious crime unit
(1) The Armed Forces Act 2006 is amended as follows.(2) In section 365A (Provost Marshals: appointment), in subsection (1), after “force” insert “, or to be Provost Marshal for serious crime,”.(3) In section 115A (Provost Marshal’s duty in relation to independence of investigations)— (a) in subsection (1), for “This section” substitute “Subsection (2)”;(b) after subsection (2) insert—“(2A) The Provost Marshal for serious crime has a duty, owed to the Defence Council, to seek to ensure that all investigations carried out by the tri-service serious crime unit are free from improper interference.”;(c) in subsection (3), at the end insert “or (as the case may be) the unit.”(4) In section 375 (definitions relating to police forces)—(a) in the heading, after “to” insert “the service police and other”;(b) after subsection (1) insert—“(1A) In this Act the “tri-service serious crime unit” means a unit under the direction of the Provost Marshal for serious crime, each member of which is a member of a service police force.”(5) Schedule (Tri-service serious crime unit) makes further provision about the tri-service serious crime unit and the Provost Marshal for serious crime.(6) The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument make such provision amending or revoking any provision of subordinate legislation made before the passing of this Act as appears to the Secretary of State to be appropriate in consequence of any provision of this section or Schedule (Tri-service serious crime unit).(7) Regulations under subsection (6) may include transitional provisions or savings.(8) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (6) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.(9) In subsection (6)“subordinate legislation” means—(a) subordinate legislation within the meaning of the Interpretation Act 1978,(b) an instrument made under an Act of the Scottish Parliament, or(c) an instrument made under Northern Ireland legislation.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and the amendment in the name of Baroness Goldie to insert a new Schedule after Schedule 4 would make provision in connection with the establishment of a tri-service serious crime unit and with regard to the functions of the Provost Marshal for serious crime who is to be the head of that unit.
Amendments 43 and 44 (to Amendment 42) not moved.
Amendment 42 agreed.
Schedule 4 agreed.
“TRI-SERVICE SERIOUS CRIME UNIT
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (c. 60)
1_(1) Section 63A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (fingerprints and samples: supplementary provision) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1A)—
1. (a) after paragraph (b) insert—
2. “(ba) the tri-service serious crime unit;”;
3. (b) in paragraph (d), for “(c)” substitute “(ba)”.
(3) After subsection (1B) insert—
4. “(1BA) In subsection (1A)“tri-service serious crime unit” means the unit described in section 375(1A) of the Armed Forces Act 2006.”
Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (S.I. 1989/1341 (N.I. 12))
2_(1) Article 63A of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (fingerprints and samples: supplementary provision) is amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph (1A)—
5. (a) after sub-paragraph (b) insert—
6. “(ba) the tri-service serious crime unit;”;
7. (b) in sub-paragraph (c), for “or (b)” substitute “to (ba)”.
(3) After paragraph (1B) insert—
8. “(1BA) In paragraph (1A)“tri-service serious crime unit” means the unit described in section 375(1A) of the Armed Forces Act 2006.”
Criminal Appeal Act 1995 (c. 35)
3_ The Criminal Appeal Act 1995 is amended as follows.
4_(1) Section 19 (power to require appointment of investigating officers) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (2) insert—
9. “(2A) Where the Commission has power to impose a requirement under paragraph (a) of subsection (2) and the public body referred to in that paragraph is mentioned in section 22(4A), that power includes power to impose the requirement on the Provost Marshal for serious crime (instead of the person who is the appropriate person in relation to the public body).”
(3) In subsection (4)(b), for the words from “either” to the end substitute “in a body selected by the chief officer which is—
10. (i) another police force,
11. (ii) a service police force, or
12. (iii) the tri-service serious crime unit.”
(4) In subsection (4A)—
13. (a) in the words before paragraph (a), for “a Provost Marshal” substitute “the Provost Marshal of a service police force”;
14. (b) in paragraph (a), for the words from “the” to “Marshal” substitute “that service police force”;
15. (c) for paragraph (b) substitute—
16. “(b) a requirement to appoint a person serving in a body selected by the Provost Marshal which is—
17. (i) a police force,
18. (ii) another service police force, or
19. (iii) the tri-service serious crime unit.”
(5) After subsection (4A) insert—
20. “(4B) A requirement under this section imposed on the Provost Marshal for serious crime may be–
21. (a) a requirement to appoint a person serving in the tri- service serious crime unit, or
22. (b) a requirement to appoint a person serving either in a police force selected by the Provost Marshal or in a service police force selected by the Provost Marshal.”
(6) In subsection (5), for paragraph (b) substitute—
23. “(b) a requirement to appoint a person serving in a body selected by the appropriate person which is—
24. (i) a police force, a service police force or the tri- service serious crime unit, or
25. (ii) a public body (not falling within sub-paragraph (i)) having functions which consist of or include the investigation of offences.”
(7) In subsection (6)—
26. (a) in paragraph (b), for the words from “a police” to “body” substitute “a body mentioned in subsection (4)(b), (4A)(b), (4B)(b) or (5)(b)”;
27. (b) in the words after paragraph (b), after “(4A)” insert “, (4B)”.
(8) In subsection (7)—
28. (a) in the words before paragraph (a), after “body” insert “or by the Provost Marshal for serious crime”;
29. (b) in paragraph (a), after “body” insert “or (as the case requires) the Provost Marshal for serious crime”.
(9) After subsection (7) insert—
30. “(8) In this section “tri-service serious crime unit” means the unit described in section 375(1A) of the Armed Forces Act 2006.”
5_ In section 20 (inquiries by investigating officers), after subsection (2) insert—
31. “(2A) In the application of subsection (2) in relation to an investigating officer who is serving in a public body mentioned in section 22(4A), the reference in subsection (2) to the person who is the appropriate person in relation to that public body is to be read as including (so far as necessary) a reference to the Provost Marshal for serious crime.”
Police Act 1997 (c. 50)
6_ The Police Act 1997 is amended as follows.
7_(1) Section 93 (authorisation to interfere with property etc) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (3), after paragraph (aa) insert—
32. “(aaa) if the authorising officer is within subsection (5)(eda), by a member of the tri-service serious crime unit;”.
(3) In subsection (5), after paragraph (ed) insert—
33. “(eda) the Provost Marshal for serious crime;”.
(4) In subsection (6A), in the words before paragraph (a), for “or (ed)” substitute “, (ed) or (eda)”.
8_ In section 94 (authorisations given in absence of authorising officer), in subsection (2), after paragraph (dc) insert—
34. “(dca) where the authorising officer is within paragraph (eda) of that subsection, by a person holding the position of deputy Provost Marshal in the tri-service serious crime unit;”.
9_ In section 108 (interpretation of Part 3), in subsection (1), at the appropriate place insert—
35. ““tri-service serious crime unit” means the unit described in section 375(1A) of the Armed Forces Act 2006;”.
10_ In section 113B (enhanced criminal record certificates), in subsection (11), after paragraph (b) insert—
36. “(ba) the tri-service serious crime unit (and for this purpose a reference to the chief officer of a police force must be taken to be a reference to the Provost Marshal for serious crime);”.
11_ In section 126 (interpretation of Part 5), in subsection (1), at the appropriate place insert—
37. ““tri-service serious crime unit” means the unit described in section 375(1A) of the Armed Forces Act 2006.”
Terrorism Act 2000 (c. 11)
12_ In Schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000 (detention), in paragraph 20J, in the definition of “police force”, after paragraph (l) insert—
38. “and references to a police force are to be read as including the tri-service serious crime unit (as described in section 375(1A) of the Armed Forces Act 2006);”.
Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (c. 23)
13_ The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 is amended as follows.
14_ In section 32 (authorisation of intrusive surveillance), in subsection (6), after paragraph (i) insert—
39. “(ia) the Provost Marshal for serious crime;”.
15_(1) Section 33 (rules for grant of authorisations) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (1) insert—
40. “(1ZZA) A person who is a designated person for the purposes of section 28, 29 or 29B by reference to the person’s office, rank or position with the tri-service serious crime unit must not grant an authorisation under that section except on an application made by a member of that unit.”
(3) After subsection (3) insert—
41. “(3ZZA) The Provost Marshal for serious crime must not grant an authorisation for the carrying out of intrusive surveillance except—
42. (a) on an application made by a member of the tri-service serious crime unit; and
43. (b) in the case of an authorisation for the carrying out of intrusive surveillance in relation to any residential premises, where those premises are in the area of operation of a police force mentioned in subsection (6)(d).”
16_(1) Section 34 (grant of authorisations in the senior officer’s absence) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1)(a), for “force,” substitute “force (other than a member of the tri-service serious crime unit), a member of the tri-service serious crime unit,”.
(3) In subsection (2)(a), after “as the case may be, as” insert “Provost Marshal for serious crime or”.
(4) In subsection (4), after paragraph (h) insert—
44. “(ha) a person is entitled to act for the Provost Marshal for serious crime if the person holds the position of deputy Provost Marshal in the tri-service serious crime unit;”.
17_(1) Section 35 (notification of authorisations for intrusive surveillance) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1), after “police,” insert “tri-service serious crime unit,”.
(3) In subsection (10)—
45. (a) in the words before paragraph (a), after “police,” insert “tri- service serious crime unit,”;
46. (b) after paragraph (a) insert—
47. “(aa) the Provost Marshal for serious crime;”;
48. (c) in paragraph (c), after “(a)” insert “or for a person falling within paragraph (aa)”.
18_(1) Section 36 (approval required for authorisations to take effect) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1), after paragraph (a) insert—
49. “(aa) a member of the tri-service serious crime unit;”.
(3) In subsection (6)—
50. (a) after paragraph (a) insert—
51. “(aa) where the authorisation was granted by the Provost Marshal for serious crime or a person entitled to act for the Provost Marshal for serious crime by virtue of section 34(4)(ha), that Provost Marshal;”;
52. (b) in paragraph (f), for “(a) to (i)” substitute “(a) to (h) or (i)”.
19_ In section 41 (Secretary of State authorisations), in subsection (7), at the end insert “or is a member of the tri-service serious crime unit”.
20_ In section 56(1)(interpretation of Part 3), in the definition of “chief officer of police”, after paragraph (h) insert—
53. “(ha) the Provost Marshal for serious crime;”.
21_(1) Section 81 (general interpretation) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1), at the appropriate place insert—
54. ““tri-service serious crime unit” means the unit described in section 375(1A) of the Armed Forces Act 2006;”.
(3) In subsection (6)(b), for the words from “serving” to the end substitute “serving—
55. (i) with that force,
56. (ii) with another of those police forces, or
57. (iii) with the tri-service serious crime unit.”
22_ In Schedule 1 (regulation of relevant public authorities), after paragraph A1 insert—
58. “A1A_ The tri-service serious crime unit.”
Sexual Offences Act 2003 (c. 42)
23_ In section 137 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (service courts), in subsection (4), at the appropriate place insert—
59. ““Provost Marshal” means the Provost Marshal of a service police force or the Provost Marshal for serious crime;”.
Armed Forces Act 2006 (c. 52)
24_ The Armed Forces Act 2006 is amended as follows.
25_(1) Section 93C (preliminary impairment test) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (4), for the words from “means” to the end substitute “means—
60. (a) the Provost Marshals of each of the service police forces, and
61. (b) the Provost Marshal for serious crime.”
(3) In subsection (6), at the end insert “or the Provost Marshal for serious crime”.
26_ In section 113 (CO to ensure service police aware of possibility serious offence committed), in subsection (1), after “police force” insert “or the tri-service serious crime unit”.
27_ In section 114 (CO to ensure service police aware of certain circumstances), in subsection (1), after “police force” insert “or the tri- service serious crime unit”.
28_ In section 115 (duty of CO with respect to investigation of service offences), in subsections (1)(b) and (4)(b), after “police force” insert “or the tri-service serious crime unit”.
29_ In section 116 (referral of case following investigation by service or civilian police), in subsection (1), after “service police force” (in each place it occurs) insert “or the tri-service serious crime unit”.
30_ In section 119 (circumstances in which CO has power to charge etc), in subsection (3)(b), after “force” insert “or the tri-service serious crime unit”.
31_ In section 321A (inspection of service police investigations), at the end insert—
62. “(5) For the purposes of this section the tri-service serious crime unit is to be regarded as a service police force.”
32_ In section 374 (definitions applying for purposes of whole Act), at the appropriate place insert—
63. ““tri-service serious crime unit” means the unit described in section 375(1A);”.
Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 (c. 28)
33_ In section 18E of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 (sections 18 to 18E: supplementary provisions) subsection (1) is amended as follows.
34_ In the definition of “law enforcement authority”, after paragraph (a) insert—
64. “(aa) the tri-service serious crime unit,”.
35_ In the definition of “the responsible officer”, after paragraph (d) insert—
65. “(da) in relation to material obtained or acquired by the tri- service serious crime unit, the Provost Marshal for serious crime;”.
36_ At the appropriate place insert—
66. ““tri-service serious crime unit” means the unit described in section 375(1A) of the Armed Forces Act 2006.”
Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (c. 25)
37_ The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 is amended as follows.
38_ In section 47 (interested person), in subsection (2)(j), at the end insert “of a service police force or of the tri-service serious crime unit”.
39_ In section 48 (interpretation: general), in subsection (1), at the appropriate place insert—
““tri-service serious crime unit” means the unit described in section 375(1A) of the Armed Forces Act 2006.”
40_ In Schedule 1 (duty or power to suspend investigations), in paragraph 1(3), after “Provost Marshal” insert “of a service police force, the Provost Marshal for serious crime”.
41_ In Schedule 7 (allowances, fees and expenses), in paragraph 5(2)(a), for “or a member of a police force,” substitute “member of a police force or member of the tri-service serious crime unit,”.
Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 (c. 23)
42_ In Schedule 6 to the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 (fingerprints and samples), in paragraph 14—
68. (a) in the definition of “police force”, after paragraph (l) insert—
69. “and references to a police force are to be read as including the tri-service serious crime unit;”;
70. (b) at the appropriate place insert—
71.““tri-service serious crime unit” means the unit described in section 375(1A) of the Armed Forces Act 2006.”
Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (c. 25)
43_ The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 is amended as follows.
44_ In section 56 (exclusion of matters from legal proceedings etc), in subsection (3)(d), at the end insert “or the tri-service serious crime unit”.
45_ In section 57 (duty not to make unauthorised disclosures), in subsection (3)(c), at the end insert “or the tri-service serious crime unit”.
46_ In section 263 (general definitions), in subsection (1), at the appropriate place insert—
72. ““tri-service serious crime unit” means the unit described in section 375(1A) of the Armed Forces Act 2006,”.
47_ In Schedule 4 (relevant public authorities and designated senior officers etc.), in the table in Part 1, after the entry relating to the Royal Air Force Police insert—
“Tri-service serious crime unit 60A(7)(a), (b), (c) and (e) Lieutenant Commander Entity Data 61(7)(a) and (c) 61A(7)(a) and (c) Major Entity Data 61(7)(a) and (c) 61A(7)(a) and (c) Squadron leader Entity Data 61(7)(a) and (c) 61A(7)(a) and (c) Commander All 61(7)(a) and (c) 61A(7)(a) and (c) Lieutenant colonel All 61(7)(a) and (c) 61A(7)(a) and (c) Wing commander All 61(7)(a) and (c) 61A(7)(a) and (c)
“Tri-service serious crime unit
60A(7)(a), (b), (c) and (e)
61(7)(a) and (c)
61A(7)(a) and (c)
61(7)(a) and (c)
61A(7)(a) and (c)
61(7)(a) and (c)
61A(7)(a) and (c)
61(7)(a) and (c)
61A(7)(a) and (c)
61(7)(a) and (c)
61A(7)(a) and (c)
61(7)(a) and (c)
61A(7)(a) and (c)
48_ In Part 1 of the table in Schedule 6 (issue of warrants under section 106 etc), after the entry relating to the Provost Marshal of the Royal Air Force Police insert—
“The Provost Marshal for serious crime. A person holding the position of deputy Provost Marshal in the tri-service serious crime unit. A member of the tri-service serious crime unit.”
“The Provost Marshal for serious crime.
A person holding the position of deputy Provost Marshal in the tri-service serious crime unit.
A member of the tri-service serious crime unit.”
Data Protection Act 2018 (c. 12)
49_ In Schedule 7 to the Data Protection Act 2018 (competent authorities), after paragraph 15 insert—
73. “15A_ The Provost Marshal for serious crime.”
Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 (c. 3)
50_ In Schedule 3 to the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 (border security), in paragraph 51—
74. (a) in the definition of “police force”, after paragraph (l) insert—
75. “and references to a police force are to be read as including the tri-service serious crime unit;”
76. (b) at the appropriate place insert—
77. ““tri-service serious crime unit” means the unit described in section 375(1A) of the Armed Forces Act 2006.”
Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Act 2019 (c. 5)
51_(1) Section 15 of the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Act 2019 (application of Act to service police) is amended as follows.
(2) For subsection (3)(c) substitute—
78. “(c) references to an equivalent appropriate officer are to be read as follows—
79. (i) where the person who applied for the order or, as the case may be, made the application (“the applicant”) was a member of the tri-service serious crime unit, as references to a member of that unit;
80. (ii) in any other case, as references to a member of the same service police force as the applicant who is not a member of that unit.”
(3) In subsection (7), at the appropriate place insert—
81. ““tri-service serious crime unit” means the unit described in section 375(1A) of the Armed Forces Act 2006.”
Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act 2021 (c. 23)
52_ In section 7 of the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act 2021 (general interpretation etc), in subsection (4)—
82. (a) in the definition of “investigating authority”, after paragraph (a) insert—
83. “(aa) the tri-service serious crime unit,”;
84. (b) at the appropriate place insert—
85. ““tri-service serious crime unit” means the unit described in section 375(1A) of the Armed Forces Act 2006;”.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This new Schedule and the amendment in the name of Baroness Goldie to insert a new Clause after Clause 11 would make provision in connection with the establishment of a tri- service serious crime unit and with regard to the functions of the Provost Marshal for serious crime who is to be the head of that unit.
Amendment 45 agreed.
Clause 12 agreed.
Clause 13: Deprivation orders
Amendments 46 and 47
46: Clause 13, page 26, line 11, leave out “service police force” and insert “relevant body”
Member’s explanatory statement
47: Clause 13, page 26, line 12, at end insert—
“(8) In subsection (7) “relevant body” means a service police force or the tri-service serious crime unit.”Member’s explanatory statement
Amendments 46 and 47 agreed.
Clause 13, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 14 and 15 agreed.
Schedule 5 agreed.
Clauses 16 to 18 agreed.
48: After Clause 18, insert the following new Clause—
“Mental health support
(1) A Minister of the Crown must make provision for additional mental health support for serving Armed Forces personnel, including but not limited to targeted support for serving Armed Forces personnel who have been affected by the United Kingdom’s withdrawal and Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in 2021.(2) This support should aim to improve mental health treatment provided to Armed Forces personnel through the Defence Medical Services, Department of Community Mental Health, the Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Service, and the Veterans and Reserves Mental Health Programme.(3) Progress, monitoring and evaluation of this support must be included in the annual Armed Forces Covenant report.” Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would provide additional mental health support to serving Armed Forces personnel, including those who have been affected by the UK withdrawal and Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in 2021.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 48 I will speak also to Amendment 66A, both of which stand in my name and those of other noble and noble and gallant Lords.
I will address Amendment 66A first. Noble Lords will recall that a very similar amendment was tabled and debated during the passage of the recent overseas operations Bill in the previous Session of Parliament. Then and now, the amendment seeks to require the Ministry of Defence to identify a new duty of care to create a new standard for policy, services and training in relation to legal, pastoral and mental health support provided to service personnel, and to include a duty of care update in the Armed Forces covenant annual report.
Noble Lords will recall that our House divided twice on this issue, but the measure was overturned in the other place. In the interests of not losing the whole overseas operations Bill, the amendment was not pressed a final time. In concluding our previous debate on this subject, the Minister stated that perhaps the Armed Forces Bill was
“a more appropriate mechanism for any discussion of the wider duty of care owed to our people.”—[Official Report, 13/4/21; col. 1257.]
It is perhaps therefore no surprise that I am returning to this topic now, although I do not want to take undue time by rehearsing all the arguments made in our previous debate, the majority of which still stand.
That said, I am very aware that the Ministry of Defence has been working hard on duty of care related issues in recent months and I am sure that many serving personnel will already be benefiting from that work. However, the Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans in the other place, during a debate on the duty of care amendment in the context of the overseas operations Bill, said that he wished to ensure that our care provided was at a gold standard. So I would be very grateful if the noble Baroness the Minister could update your Lordships on progress towards reaching this gold standard.
The initial impetus for Amendment 48 came in the aftermath of Operation Pitting as the final withdrawal from Afghanistan took place—but Op Pitting was only the most recent episode in a long series of operational settings that have put pressure on the mental health of our servicepeople. As with the duty of care issue, I am aware that the Ministry of Defence has been working hard on mental health matters. Nevertheless, I ask whether the Government’s recent mental health MoT announcement will include specialist support for personnel who have been affected by the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Indeed, could the Minister comment on what specialist mental health support has been offered to personnel involved in Operation Pitting?
Among the welcome recent initiatives, in October the Government announced the new annual mental fitness brief for UK Armed Forces. This is to be welcomed. The press release said it would be:
“Available on Defence’s internal learning platform”.
Can the Minister confirm whether face-to-face support will also be offered as part of this?
Very sadly, the tragic end of the mental health spectrum is the death by suicide of both serving and veteran members of the Armed Forces. In October the Armed Forces Minister said that the Office for Veterans’ Affairs had looked at how the frequency of suicide within the veteran community could best be measured and had identified a robust methodology. Can the noble Baroness explain this new methodology today? What frequency rate has been identified?
Furthermore, I was informed by the previous Veterans Minister that a new study was being undertaken to identify the rate of suicides among serving and veteran members of the Armed Forces. Previously, studies have been based on data from the first Gulf War and the Balkans, but the intensity of recent campaigns more than justified a new study. Can the noble Baroness say whether that new study has been completed? If so, what did it reveal? I am not alone in believing that recent operations have led to a tragic upturn in the suicide rate.
While commending the recent improvements in mental health provision, I believe that more can be done. I look forward to hearing the noble Baroness’s response later. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 48. As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, it aims to improve mental health services and to provide additional support for serving personnel, particularly those affected by the United Kingdom’s withdrawal and the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan this year. I also support the other two amendments in this group, Amendments 60 and 66A.
At Second Reading I highlighted Operation Courage, a partnership between the NHS and Combat Stress and other mental health charities, whether Armed Forces-specific charities or local or specific mental health charities. In principle, Op Courage is a really good example of how mental health services for current serving personnel or veterans should be able to provide a strong, signposted short cut to mental health services when and where they are needed.
Combat Stress reports that during August it saw a doubling of calls to its 24/7 helpline. This was on top of already struggling to afford to offer its specialist treatment to around 1,600 veterans with complex mental health needs annually. It estimates that there are at least double that number out there who Combat Stress cannot afford to support.
As a charity, Combat Stress is currently 75% dependent on voluntary donations and the generosity of the public. I think we all know that donations to charities have significantly reduced during the pandemic. I have no doubt that with extra resources it and the other specialist mental health charities can deliver the services needed, because they understand the specific pressures facing serving personnel and the traumas that too many have to learn to live with, both during and after their terms of service.
Leo Docherty MP wrote to all MPs and Peers on 24 September, setting out the support available for service personnel and veterans, their families and the bereaved, should they need it. It was a helpful and informative letter, but it did not refer to when the further £2.7 million will be made available for Op Courage. Does the Minister have that detail available? Is it for spending in a particular period, or does it extend over more than one financial year?
The letter from Leo Docherty did not mention one welcome intervention in recent years: the training of mental health first-aiders in our Armed Forces. The mental health first-aid charity MHFA England says:
“In 2015/16, 3.2% of UK armed forces personnel were assessed with a mental health disorder—over 6,000 people. Many more go undiagnosed and untreated.”
When I have talked to service personnel who have become mental health first-aiders since their return from deployment in Afghanistan, I have heard of how the training that they received enabled them to recognise the warning signs this summer in those they currently serve with, as well as past comrades. One soldier told me that, in August, the community of personnel was able to come together on social media to support and encourage those reliving tough memories or, worse, flare-ups of PTSD. Because of their mental health first-aid training, they were able to help these colleagues to access phone lines—for example, to Combat Stress and other organisations.
How many Armed Forces mental health first-aiders are now in place? Will the extra funding announced in September include training for more mental health first-aiders in the future? Also, can the Minister explain how Op Smart, which was designed to develop mental resilience across personnel in the Armed Forces, sits with Op Courage? Op Smart is much to be welcomed, and is critical to personnel becoming not just self-aware but aware when colleagues may be facing problems. How is Op Smart, and specifically the mental health first-aider programme, funded? The last part of Amendment 48 talks about collecting data. It would be very beneficial to see data on all these issues, including, as the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, said, on suicide. Can we find such data now? If not, will it be collected and, as the amendment says, included in the annual covenant report?
I return to the extra £2.7 million of funding. Many current and former service personnel who served in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and are currently reliving their traumas, need to access NHS mental health services, including crisis care, right now. Unsurprisingly, these services are facing extraordinary pressure already. The NHS Providers activity trackers show that, for October 2021, referrals remain 10% higher than pre-pandemic levels, with many people having to wait significantly longer than the 18-week target time for their first contact.
In July, NHS England proposed setting new mental health access service standards, working in conjunction with Mind, the mental health charity, and Rethink Mental Illness. The new urgent care proposals would mean that community mental health crisis teams could reach patients within 24 hours of referral. The other key target for mental health liaison teams linked with A&E departments would also be rolled out across the rest of England. Detail on the actual level of funding to deliver this new target is still awaited. For this Bill, I am particularly interested in how all this will fit in with Op Courage. Perhaps the Minister can help me; if she does not have that information at her fingertips, could she write to me afterwards?
This amendment seeks urgent, extra, specific support for Op Courage—and, I hope, for Op Smart too—to ensure that all those people who are serving, or have served, their country do not fall through the net when they need mental health services.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-chair of Peers for Gambling Reform. I rise to speak to Amendment 60 in my name. I tabled it because I am concerned that the Ministry of Defence is not taking gambling-related harm in the military community sufficiently seriously. On two occasions in response to my concerns in this area, the Ministry of Defence has stated that it has seen no evidence, or does not hold information, suggesting that serving personnel are more prone to problem gambling than any other group in society.
At the same time, it was disappointing to hear that evidence from the United States that suggested that serving personnel were more prone to problem gambling did not constitute an evidence base for the UK Armed Forces. This leaves us with a clear impasse, where the Government refuse to accept research from abroad but, at the same time, do not commit to researching whether there is a problem.
I suggest that the Government’s position contradicts that of the Army Headquarters Regional Command, whose 14th transition to civilian life individual planning and personal development sheet, titled Gambling—A Serious Risk to Military Personnel, contained a section entitled, “Why are soldiers more vulnerable to gambling?” Some of the reasons listed included, first, “Personality traits”, whereby soldiers’ personality characteristics, such as
“decisiveness, enjoying risk taking, … single-mindedness, … competitiveness and being unaccepting of failure”,
though invaluable in a military environment, crossed over with the characteristics of many problem gamblers.
The second reason was “Motivation to gamble”, whereby the transition from
“high tempo … operations … can seem unfulfilling”
and lead some to seek a similar “buzz” in gambling, as an escape from the routine of the barracks.
The third reason was “Opportunity to gamble”, whereby, since
“Off duty hours in barracks can be boring, lonely and are largely unsupervised”,
the secluded single-living accommodation can provide a “secure and private place” for serving personnel to gamble, particularly online.
Even if the UK lacks studies specifically relating to serving personnel, the position of the Army Headquarters Regional Command seems to chime with the research from the Unites States of America, which the Government argue is not relevant. A 2021 US study, titled Gambling and Military Service: Characteristics, Comorbidity, and Problem Severity in an Epidemiological Sample, found that the rate of moderate or higher problem risk among military service members was double that of the comparative general population sample. The 2008 US study Gambling and Health Risk-Taking Behavior in a Military Sample reviewed the gambling habits of a cohort of US Air Force recruits and again found higher reported rates of levels 2 and 3 problem gambling, compared with the adult lifetime gambling rate.
Efforts are being made in the UK to build up an evidence base on gambling-related harm in the veteran community. I personally thank the charity Forces in Mind Trust and the research team from Swansea University for their work on the United Kingdom Armed Forces Veterans’ Health and Gambling Study, which was published in September this year. Aside from the headline figure from their research that the veterans in their sample were “ten times more likely” to experience problem gambling than non-veterans, which was very similar to the same research team’s earlier finding that they were eight times more likely, perhaps the most interesting thing was that their study represented, for the first time, the fact that
“problem gambling and … PTSD have been found to co-occur”.
It is important to point out that PTSD does not begin once a soldier leaves active service and becomes a veteran but afflicts those currently within the military.
Unlike the UK, where research is, admittedly, limited, the USA, with its greater history of academic research in this area, responded by legislating, in Section 733 of the National Defense Authorization Act 2019, to mandate screening for gambling-related harm in the military and for annual research to be conducted into how gambling-related harm affects the military. Seeing as the UK is significantly behind the USA in its evidence base on gambling-related harm in the military, screening does not form part of Amendment 60. However, it is important to mention that the MoD is not against screening in principle. In 2016, the AUDIT-C questionnaire for alcohol screening was introduced as part of routine dental appointments for serving personnel.
Amendment 60 seeks to mandate the MoD to include research on gambling-related harm in the military in current initiatives reviewing the mental health of the Armed Forces. Each year, the Ministry of Defence publishes its UK Armed Forces mental health annual statistics and summarises those findings in the UK Armed Forces Mental Health: Annual Summary and Trends Over Time reports. Already contained in this research are reported rates of substance misuse, including alcohol misuse. In fact, since the introduction of the AUDIT-C questionnaire, reported rates of alcohol misuse have fallen. That aside, there is a need for the MoD to include rates of gambling-related harm in this research programme.
Problem gambling and alcohol misuse differ in that problem gambling is very difficult to identify, as pointed out by the Transition IPPD Information Sheet 14, which speaks about gambling as an activity that can occur largely unsupervised, often online, in secluded single-living accommodation. As we have been reminded in respect of Covid mask mandates, not all exemptions are visible. Likewise, not all addictions are visible, but that does not mean that individuals do not need intervention. Unlike the MoD, I think there is sufficient evidence to suggest that serving personnel may suffer gambling-related harm at higher rates compared with other groups. I certainly think there is enough evidence to warrant the MoD including gambling-related harm in its existing research on the mental health of the Armed Forces.
I hope that the Minister might be able to outline her specific objections to including rates of gambling-related harm as part of the MoD’s existing research on UK Armed Forces mental health, beyond the argument that the department does not view it as a problem. Many people who are intimately involved with this, and in particular with veterans, do believe that it is a huge problem that deserves attention equal to that given to other mental health harms.
My Lords, I am very happy to add my support to my noble friend Lord Dannatt’s Amendment 48 regarding mental health support. I came to today’s debate thinking that it struck me as a very modest but effective way of keeping the Ministry of Defence’s feet to the fire on an issue patently requiring action. However, having listened today, I begin to worry that it may not be enough.
I think it is now more generally accepted in society that in human beings mental health is every bit as prevalent as physical health. The fact that mental health can suffer as a result of traumatic experience is also widely accepted. Mental health should nowadays carry no stigma and should be proactively monitored in the same way that physical and dental health are. This is where I improvise and part company with my prepared thoughts, as I reflect on my own experience of the mismatch in the approach to mental as opposed to physical health.
In September 1973, as an 18 year-old, I attended Sandhurst. On day one, I was weighed. Sandhurst had an idea that an officer had to weigh 12 stone 8 pounds. If you weighed more than that, you were put in a queue for extra PT. If you weighed less, you were put in a queue for extra milk.
In virtually every week, if not every day, of my life in the Army in the following 43 years, something to do with my physical health was assessed or tested, with a basic fitness test every other day, a battle fitness test probably once a month, the Army physical training assessment, the Army physical fitness assessment, annual medicals, hearing tests, foot inspections and dental tests. This mismatch between checks on my physical and mental well-being is remarkable. I was never once in 43 years asked by anybody how I felt mentally. I know from my own children that sports physiotherapists are everywhere. People, including my son, think nothing of taking a couple of sessions with a therapist to make them feel a bit better—he knows he will get better, but he just feels a bit down.
If the Minister will forgive me, the appearance of the annual online platform and £2.7 million in funding does not seem a sufficient amount of effort. It smacks of tokenism to meet something that actually needs a cultural shift in the whole approach to mental health from the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence. Whatever happens to this amendment, which I fully support, I hope that this sense of a need for a cultural shift is taken back to the ministry and the Armed Forces.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton. His sharing of his personal experience has honestly been of great benefit to the Committee on this group of amendments, although I am not sure I can match the impact it has probably had on your Lordships’ thinking. I should begin my first contribution to the Committee by offering my apologies for my absence from the first day; family commitments required that I was in Scotland.
The proposals before the Committee in this group have the same objective: they are aimed at safeguarding and improving the mental health and welfare of service personnel. I support Amendments 48 and 66A but have added my name to Amendment 60, and I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for tabling it. I agree with the arguments that he put forward and begin my remarks in support of his amendment by referring the Committee to his Oral Question in your Lordships’ House on 13 September, on the prevalence of gambling disorder in the Armed Forces. In my supplementary question then, I drew attention to the Army Headquarters Regional Command IPPD information sheet, Gambling—A Serious Risk to Military Personnel, which he has drawn from today. If the Committee will allow me, I wish to do the same for part of my argument.
In the preamble—this is the Army talking—it is stated that
“service personnel … are potentially more vulnerable and at greater risk to the harm that can result from gambling than the general public”.
As has been pointed out, it goes on to assert specifically that:
“Military veterans are 8 times more likely to become problem gamblers than the general population”.
This is not an historic document. Examination of it reveals in its last footnote a reference to 30 April 2019, which I understand to be its publication date, so it is a relatively modern view of the Army.
The Forces in Mind Trust study on veterans’ health and gambling, published on 23 September 2021, reinforces the Army’s official conclusion that there is that prevalence among veterans. It finds that veterans who responded to its survey were 10 times more likely than non-veteran respondents to experience gambling harm, and that veterans gambling were seven times more likely to be motivated by a need to escape or avoid distress. But this research is much more valuable than that, because it reveals some other very disturbing traits among veterans. Veteran participants were found to be at much greater risk of poor mental health outcomes, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, and to have an alcohol and/or nicotine dependence. This research found that veterans with problem gambling had higher healthcare and benefit costs, as well as higher levels of debt than non-veterans. It is relevant to the right reverend Prelate’s amendment that the recommendations from the report include routine screening for gambling problems, including when leaving the Armed Forces.
I have to be completely honest about this: on the publication of the report, the researchers emphasised that their research must be considered with some caution, principally because
“The sample was recruited online, and veterans who have gambled may have been more likely to take part”.
I say that, however, with some further qualification because it is exactly the broader discussion about gambling and gambling harm that the Government themselves have been relying on for the oft-made assertion in your Lordships’ House that such harm is present in only a very small number of gamblers. It is all based on research and data gathered in much the same way. However, Professor Simon Dymond, the lead author of the report, said:
“Despite this, the significance of the findings is indisputable. This is the first UK study to explore the impact of gambling on UK ex-Service personnel, and our findings are consistent with the international body of work which finds that veterans are at greater risk of gambling harm.”
From my perspective, in addition to its consistency with the international body of work referred to, this research is fully consistent with the position adopted by the Army itself, which is expressed unqualified in the transition IPPD information sheet. Further, it is significant that the veterans who participated, whether self-selecting or not, were motivated to gamble by the need for an escape from, or avoidance of, distress.
However, this is perhaps the most concerning finding of the research. I quote the executive summary of the study:
“All veterans surveyed experienced some symptoms of depression, anxiety, risky alcohol use, nicotine dependence at higher levels, and increased indications of PTSD and complex PTSD … diagnoses compared to non-veterans.”
Consequently, I repeat what I said on 13 September in my supplementary question. In considering this, the “appropriate questions”, both for the Government and for us, that need to be answered are—
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, I will get back to where I was. The problem is real. On the basis, nature, extent and clear effect it has on military personnel, questions need to be answered. The issue is not whether we have sufficient data, but how we get the data that answers these questions. Why are soldiers more vulnerable to gambling? Why do military veterans have such a heightened prevalence to problem gambling, as opposed to the general population? Much more importantly, what are we—and in particular the MoD—doing to understand what lies behind that prevalence and all the other findings of this research? How can it be tackled before the vulnerability forms?
These are the right questions, and they totally justify a requirement for proper research, such as that laid out in this amendment. I have a great deal of respect for the Minister. If she believes that this is not the right approach, I ask her to tell us what the right approach is to gather the data that will protect these people from the development of those dreadful conditions. If she cannot propose an alternative, I suggest that we would have no difficulty getting the Committee to support the amendment, were it given the opportunity so to do.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 66A. I will not cover all the ground covered on the overseas Bill; I merely want to say that I look forward to what the Minister has to say about delivering what she said at the time. Aspects of the welfare of our people should be looked at and some implementation of policy achieved.
My Lords, I support Amendment 48 and will follow what the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton, said. I will say why the amendment and more care for mental illness are required.
I live in a town in Scotland called Dunblane. In 1996, a gunman used a private armoury to kill schoolchildren and their teacher. At that time I was shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and lived in the town. The Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth, was the local Member of Parliament. We came together that day. It was by any standard a traumatic day. We did everything together after that to handle the issues that came up in the media. The following day, the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition came to the town.
Within days I was back at work, which you do: it is traumatic, but you get through these things. I thought, “Well, I’m tough enough”—I had been a politician in Scotland for long enough, after all. You think you can take it all. But gradually I came to realise that I was not coping with it at all. I remembered that the Secretary of State for Scotland had offered counselling to those who had been affected. We were also made the same offer as individuals. I went to see the counsellor because I found I could not mention the events of that day without breaking up, and this was not something that was convenient or natural when you were in the bearpit of Scottish politics. I took up the offer and went to the counsellor. I spent a morning with an experienced counsellor and I was fixed. It took only a morning, but that lady was quite remarkable in the way she treated me.
Fast forward two years and I am Secretary of State for Defence. The Omagh bomb exploded in that small town in Northern Ireland. I went across as Defence Secretary with the Chief of the General Staff, Sir Roger Wheeler, and spoke to the troops that day. The troops based there who had helped in the aftermath were pretty hardened infantry soldiers—as tough and as hard as you can get, and they had been in Northern Ireland for some time—but they were deeply affected by what they had seen that day. They could cope with most things, but the sight of a baby torn in pieces was something they were deeply traumatised by.
I told them my story that day to say that they had been injured by what they had seen and that they needed to take the counselling that was going to be on offer. Although they were tough and hard, if they had been told after being shot in the shoulder to put a sticking plaster on it and it would go away, it would not have seemed sufficient even for them, yet they had been injured in another way, and there were ways in which they could be treated. I hope that had an effect that day and persuaded some of them to take that treatment, which they probably felt was not something they would ever really need.
Since then, of course, the traumas of Afghanistan and Iraq have come along and many more of our Armed Forces have been severely affected. Therefore, this amendment, which, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton, said, maybe does not go far enough, alerts the Ministry of Defence to the necessity that is there to make sure that more attention is paid to that aspect of medical welfare.
My Lords, I do not think anybody can disagree with the intention of these amendments. Indeed, I agree entirely and am pleased to have heard about the progress made by the MoD in recent years when it comes to mental health—and, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton, said, the differing approach that we have taken to mental health and physical health over many years. It begs the question as to whether there is anything about physical health in the Bill, if we are potentially about to put something in about mental health.
Where I am slightly nervous—I have not made my mind up, but it is the first rule of politics—is on the question: what are the unintended consequences of putting this in the Bill? I have not had the opportunity to think that through. For example, are there any unintended consequences for operational commanders of having this in the Bill? I use the example of the duty holder we now have in defence. In my mind at least, at various levels of command, this has almost disincentivised certain people from doing things, because they are fearful of what the consequences would be. I sense that the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, disagrees with me.
I am not saying that I do not agree with this or that it should not happen. I am just saying that I will be very interested to hear what the Minister has to say about what the potential unintended consequences of putting this in the Bill might be. But the desire to do more for the mental health of our troops has to be a good thing.
The other area I am slightly nervous about is that in Amendment 48 we highlight Afghanistan, as opposed to other conflicts. I think that all conflicts should be treated equally and that in years to come we may regret highlighting solely Afghanistan.
My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 48 and to make one comment on Amendment 60. Additional mental welfare supervision and psychology work while people are in the Armed Forces is really important. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said words to the effect that 3% of servicepeople are recognised as having a mental illness while serving. We also know that the total is 7%. That is if they have not been on operations, when it is 17%—so there is a gap. We do not manage to close that gap unless we pay much more attention to members of the Armed Forces while they are serving.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton, mentioned that he was never asked how he was when he was in the Army. I wonder where this has gone wrong. When I was in the home-based security forces in Northern Ireland, we were visited quite regularly by a medical psychologist in Lisnaskea. That may have come through the Royal Irish and the RUC, which recognised all this a long time before other people. The problem is that I, like the others, rather pooh-poohed it because you are a mean, green, lean fighting machine, and a psychologist walking in and asking, “Are you all right, mate?”, somehow just does not work very well.
Another issue applying to all this is that we generally consider veterans to be older people. To a certain extent, the idea of a veteran is someone on a veterans’ parade on Remembrance Sunday in towns and villages and at home. However, quite clearly there are two age groups of veterans. There are the old and bold, some of whom—and, in our case in Northern Ireland, many of whom—have psychological problems from the many bombings and shootings, but there is also a large number of current-day servicepeople leaving in their 20s and 30s. They leave for a host of reasons, not least because, if they have been on two or three tours of Afghanistan or somewhere else, they rather feel they have done their bit. When these people, as opposed to those who are 40 or 50, become veterans, they are really a different group that it is hard to get in touch and stay in touch with.
The older ones have been serving for a long time. Therefore, they are there for people to man manage and look after. As a platoon officer or a company officer you know everything about your soldiers’ lives, so they are under some form—not psychological—of supervision. They tend to leave as families or to relatives or whatever. However, you have a very large cohort now of those in their 20s and 30s, and when they leave their first thing on getting out of the gates is to think “Yippee, we’re out”.
We talk about increased money going to current serving soldiers. We are a host to a mental welfare service charity at home. One of the major problems is that the MoD—and I can be corrected by the Minister, perhaps—is responsible for serving soldiers. The moment they walk out of that gate, they are no longer in that category. I am talking about a lot of the younger ones. “Yippee, I’m out”—they are gone. They have had a military doctor, a military dentist, a padre and the NAAFI. Their whole life has been provided for them. They go out and bang—they have no doctor; they have nothing. Incidentally, even if they do find their medical records, at no stage does it say when they go to a health centre, “Beware, this is a veteran”.
We have a total lack of joined-up service care. Therefore, anything that can contribute to greater attention being paid to servicepeople while they are in is really important, because when they are out they are so difficult to find—until they go wrong and become homeless or turn to gambling. That turns, of course, to Amendment 60.
I was interested that the Government deny the figures, or at least do not recognise here the figures from the US. I ask the Minister: why? The number of servicepeople who have not been in operations is 7% of mental health cases in this country. What is it in America? What is it in Denmark? What is it in Germany? It is 6% or 7%. The figure for those on operations who have mental welfare problems is 17%. What is it in the other countries? It is the same. What is different with gambling that the Government seem to know about but we do not? I add my support to these amendments, because any increase in this help is very important.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Viscount and I, too, will want to raise issues in respect of gambling. I begin by saying how much I support the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt. In particular, I want to say how grateful I was to have had the opportunity to hear the speeches from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton, and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson. They both drew our very clear attention with their very personal experiences to the importance of being as concerned about the mental health of our service personnel as we should be about their physical health.
I am delighted to support Amendment 60 and, in so doing, declare my interest as chairman of Peers for Gambling Reform. I suggest to your Lordships that, just as we have become used to dealing with the issues of alcohol and drug addiction, we should now be equally concerned about the addiction that can be caused by gambling.
As we have heard already, much research has been done in many other countries on this issue. Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States have all found that military service personnel and military veterans are more likely to gamble than other people and are more likely to become problem gamblers. In some of those countries the research findings have led to action. For example, in 2019 in America moves were taken that are very similar to—and in fact go far further than—what is proposed in Amendment 60 today.
Research in the UK has of course been limited, and Ministers in the MoD have simply not been persuaded that, just because problem gambling exists among personnel and veterans in other countries, that will be the same here. It is almost as if the MoD is turning a blind eye to it. So far, Ministers have also not been interested in finding out whether the situation in other countries might be replicated, or even whether the current rules that they have, which prohibit gambling on MoD properties, are being adhered to.
Over a year ago, the right reverend Prelate made a freedom of information request, asking whether gambling machines were present on just one military base: Catterick. That FoI request was rejected, with the bizarre argument that contacting the base individually would incur disproportionate costs. Could the Minister explain how a single phone call, letter or email would have incurred disproportionate cost? Why, if gambling is not permitted on military bases, does she seem unable to say with confidence that there are no gaming machines on any military base, especially when some military personnel have suggested otherwise?
While the Government appear to want to ignore the possibility that UK military personnel and veterans may be more prone to gambling harm than the rest of the population, as we have already heard, very senior people in the military are alert to the issue. As the right reverend Prelate said, the Army Headquarters Regional Command information sheet on the transition to public life claims that
“service personnel … are potentially more vulnerable and at greater risk to the harm that can result from gambling than the general public.”
More recently, some research in the UK backed up the concerns. The research by the Forces in Mind Trust and Swansea University, which has been mentioned, reports that 43% of veterans have experienced problem gambling in the last year—far more than the general population—and were
“ten times more likely than non-veterans to experience gambling harms and to gamble as a way of coping with distress.”
The Government cannot therefore now continue to claim that we have no evidence. Just over a month ago, following the publication of that research, I wrote to Leo Docherty MP, the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, seeking a meeting to discuss the report. I still await a reply, and I would be grateful if the Minister could give him a nudge and see if we can make that happen.
It appears that, while alert to the potential of military personnel and veterans developing alcohol and drug problems, as I say, the Government do not have similar concerns about gambling problems. That has been mirrored in some of the decisions made. Earlier, my noble friend Lady Brinton rightly gave credit to the Government for introducing Operation Courage and the £2.7 million attached to it. She asked when the money would come forward. But it is worth looking at what it is intended to be spent on: expanding services for military veterans with complex mental health issues, physical trauma and alcohol or substance misuse issues. It does not include funding to help with gambling addiction.
The Minister has said that the Government are now studying the Forces in Mind Trust research—so, if persuaded by it, will she agree to extend the use of funding for Operation Courage to encompass help for military veterans with gambling problems? No doubt she will reply that more research is needed, and I would entirely agree with her on that. Indeed, in a recent debate in your Lordships’ House on Public Health England’s review of gambling research, I said as much. The Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay—responded by saying:
“As the noble Lord, Lord Foster, said, the report identifies gaps in the evidence base. One of the aims of our review”—
that is, the gambling review that his department is undertaking—
is to make sure that we have high-quality evidence to support regulation. We will work with the Department of Health and Social Care and key parties to address the knowledge gaps identified in the evidence review and improve data collection.”—[Official Report, 14/10/21; col. 1973.]
I simply say this: since the Government are belatedly showing interest in the need for improved research into gambling, I hope that the Minister will be prepared to accept this amendment, which would provide an opportunity for more research to be carried out and more data gathered. I hope it will also demonstrate that the Government really are serious.
My Lords, I am pleased to support Amendment 60 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. There is no doubt that problem gambling is a debilitating condition that takes over people’s lives and, in some cases, destroys them. Since the Gambling Act 2005, the opportunities to gamble have increased significantly. As we have heard, the recent report from Swansea University and the Armed Forces veterans’ health and gambling study clearly indicate that, in the United Kingdom, serving personnel and veterans in particular are significantly more likely to struggle with problem gambling than non-veterans.
I was privileged to meet many problem gamblers, some from the Armed Forces, when the GAMSTOP exclusion from online gambling was being debated in your Lordships’ House. One of those gamblers was a retired Army major, Justyn Larcombe, whose case is well documented. He lost more than £750,000 over three years through taking part in online sports books. As a result, he lost his home, his family and his wife. However, I am glad to say that he has now been reunited with his wife and family, and has become actively involved in helping others obtain help for their gambling addiction. Indeed, he was the co-investigator on the United Kingdom Armed Forces Veterans’ Health and Gambling Study 2021 report, which provided a useful survey of gambling, mental health and associated costs among a sample of UK veterans.
The findings of that report back up the fact that members of the Armed Forces are much more likely to develop gambling problems, especially if they have experienced post-traumatic stress. Also, the transition from active military service to civilian life can be extremely challenging, leading, as we have heard, to many veterans engaging in high-risk behaviour, such as alcohol and substance abuse, and having behavioural problems. As I have said, there is growing evidence indicating a specific vulnerability to gambling-related harm.
Veterans’ gambling is more likely to be motivated by a need to escape and avoid distress. Indeed, we should note that the 2021 veterans study found that
“gambling is estimated to cost the UK between £260 million to £1.6 billion in economic, health, social and criminal justice costs”.
As the Forces in Mind Trust states:
“This research found that veterans with problem gambling had higher health care and benefits costs, as well as higher levels of debt than non-veterans.”
I believe that this amendment would lead to the provision of much needed further research—because research is limited at the moment—to assist our understanding of the mechanisms underlying problem gambling among Armed Forces personnel. With increased data, the Government would be in a much better position to formulate and draw up policies to help those in our Armed Forces facing gambling problems. It would also help them to think of policies to reduce the stigma often associated with those in the Armed Forces seeking help for gambling problems. Unfortunately, many personnel fear facing the possible repercussions, such as losing a chance at promotion or, in some cases, being dismissed from the services.
The problem of gambling in the Armed Forces is real and causing real problems for not just the individuals in the Armed Forces but their families. The inclusion of this proposed new clause in the Bill would go a long way to provide for and protect them so that the Government could make well-informed decisions, as I said. Northern Ireland has the highest incidence of problem gambling in the general population. It is four times higher than in any other region in the United Kingdom. I hope that, if these two proposed new clauses are accepted by the Government, they will apply to Northern Ireland.
We must continue to improve service and, where we can support sensible, practical and long-lasting protection for all our military personnel, we should do so. I fully support any legislation that will improve the lives of our very fine personnel.
My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Benches. I will particularly speak to Amendments 48 and 66A. As the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, pointed out in introducing Amendment 66A, it very much builds on those he sought very hard to bring forward on the overseas operations Bill. The suggestion at the time was that perhaps that Bill was not the right place for such an amendment.
The idea of a duty of care seems to be beneficial, and the amendment is laid out in very clear detail. I have a suspicion that the Minister might come back with a whole set of reasons why even this Bill is not the right place, and that the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, about unintended consequences might come with the suggestion that there will be scope for some sort of legal interpretation and that this might create all sorts of problems. However, does the MoD not have a duty of care to service personnel and their families? Should this not be very clearly stated? If the Minister does not accept that Amendment 66A as currently proposed would be a desirable addition to the Bill, could she undertake to think about an alternative amendment that could be brought back on Report?
Amendment 48, relating to service personnel and mental health, is important. As other Peers have pointed out, the contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton of Richmond, are important in bringing personal insights. Often when we talk about legislation relating to the Armed Forces, we are a bit technical. We talk not necessarily about individuals but about generalities. It is clearly important to think about the individual because it is precisely the individual who matters in each of the three amendments in this group.
However, I have some sympathy with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, that Amendment 48 specifically refers to veterans affected by events in Afghanistan. There may be a case for saying that, on the face of a Bill, we should be a little more general rather than being quite so specific. If the Minister’s only objection to Amendment 48 happens to be something along the lines of not being able to talk specifically about people being affected by the withdrawal from Afghanistan, perhaps again she might suggest some alternatives. Very clearly, there are a huge number of serving personnel and veterans who have been affected by the withdrawal from Afghanistan, precisely because they served there on multiple occasions, so this case is very specific.
All these amendments enhance the Bill. I hope the Minister will see her way to accepting parts of at least some of them, even if she cannot accept all of them in full. If she cannot accept them, we will obviously bring some or all of them back on Report.
My Lords, I support all the amendments in the important group before us. There are clearly many issues around mental health support but I have an optimistic note. We heard contributions from very senior former military officers—not least the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, who moved the exceedingly important Amendment 48, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton, who supported it—and former Secretaries of State for Defence talking about mental health in a way that would not have happened 20 or 25 years ago. That is significant progress and we should all be proud of it.
Perhaps that stigma we all worry about is starting to lift. Is it good enough and are we there yet? No, but my noble friend Lord Robertson spoke movingly about his experiences, shocking as they were. I am certain that those officers who served in Northern Ireland, and elsewhere across the world, could recount their own stories of horror. Others of us could recount horrors that have occurred in our own lives: the right reverend Prelate may have had very distressing things to deal with in talking to people during his ministry. Within the context of the Armed Forces Bill, though, mental health is now something that we can talk about and discuss. That is why this amendment is so important, although maybe there are problems with it; the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, pointed some out.
We can almost see in the drafting of Amendment 48 the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster. Yes, it refers to Afghanistan: proposed new subsection (1) talks about
“targeted support for serving Armed Forces personnel who have been affected by the United Kingdom’s withdrawal”
from Afghanistan, but before that it refers to
“additional mental health support for … Armed Forces personnel, including but not limited to”
that support. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, includes a recognition that Afghanistan may be on our minds, for obvious reasons, given the bravery of our service men and women there and the horror of what we have just witnessed, et cetera. But I suggest that, in drafting his amendment, he was very aware of the fact that there are people who have served, and are serving, in countless places across the world whose trauma could need additional support.
To be frank, the Minister may have some official statistics on this. I do not know the actual number of those affected, but it would be useful for the Committee to know from the Ministry of Defence its assessment of the level of need, if that is the right way of putting it, with respect to this provision. Perhaps I may tell her one thing that drives me absolutely insane: people know that I try to tell it as it is but, from the Government’s announcements over the last few months, I have no idea exactly what is happening to spending on mental health in terms of additional support for veterans or their families, both serving and in the future. There have been numerous announcements; I hope the Committee will bear with me if I refer to two or three.
At the end of August, the Government announced that Armed Forces veterans would benefit from extra support, including extra mental health services, thanks to a further £2.7 million in funding. Is that additional funding and what is it on top of? It would be helpful to know what the spending on mental health support was last year, is this year and will be next year. Resources are clearly an issue and it would be really good to know what the official level of spending is on mental health support for our serving personnel and veterans. What is it now and what is projected as we go forward?
The situation was not helped by the noble Lord, Lord Kamall. The press release said:
“Dedicated care co-ordinators will be appointed to act as a single point of contact to better support veterans with complex mental and physical trauma.”
However, the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, said in a Written Answer that it remains unknown how many co-ordinators
“can be appointed and when this will take effect.”
That is a further point the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, is trying to make with his amendment to give some certainty about what is going on, rather than ad hoc announcements of additional money to unknown quantities of budget from the Ministry of Defence and now from the Department of Health and Social Care. We would all wish to see the co-ordination of that. Is that not the point of proposed new subsection (3) in Amendment 48, where, in order to give us some level of understanding of what is happening, we would get
“progress, monitoring and evaluation of this support”?
That is why I support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, like the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and many others who are here. It would be really helpful to the Committee in understanding where we are.
Just quickly on Amendment 66A and the duty of care, again, I am pleased that this has come back to us. The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Boyce, Lord Stirrup, Lord Houghton and Lord Craig, and others have talked about this duty of care. If it is not the right thing to do then what are we doing? That is the question: if there is no need for a duty of care in the way that is laid out in Amendment 66A, why not? What is actually happening to provide the level of care that people are concerned is not being provided?
I sometimes think that clear exposition of these things in a way that is understandable and makes sense of policy would be of benefit not only to our Armed Forces but to those of us seeking to scrutinise legislation and to make it in a way that helps and makes sense to people. In that way, we can turn to our Armed Forces, now and in the future, and say, “We recognise that mental health has been a problem and that duty of care is a problem. This is what is happening, this is the amount of money that is being spent and these will be the benefits of that.” I think that all of us would welcome some clarity about all that from the Minister in her response.
My Lords, I think we all found that a fascinating discussion. I will say later in my remarks that I indicated during the passage of the overseas operations Bill that I felt that some of these issues would be worth revisiting in the Armed Forces Bill. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, for raising the issues. I will address the points on which he specifically sought clarification later in my speech, but I pay particular tribute not just to the content of your Lordships’ contributions but to the emotional sentiment and the calibre of that sentiment, as so eloquently expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson.
These important amendments centre on the issue of service personnel and mental health. As I said, I am very grateful to be able to look at these amendments. I accept that the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, are well intended. Amendment 48 is supported by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton of Richmond, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, while Amendment 66A is supported by the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Stirrup and Lord Boyce, with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, lending his weight as well.
I also extend my gratitude to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, whose Amendment 60 highlights the potential harmful impact that addictive gambling could have on our service personnel. His amendment is supported by the noble Lords, Lord Browne of Ladyton and Lord Foster of Bath. The right reverend Prelate’s determined pursuit of the potential harm of addictive gambling is acknowledged and admired. I assure him that I have looked at the research he referred to, which I shall refer to when I address his amendment.
Amendment 48 seeks to ensure that the Government make provision for additional mental health support, including for service personnel affected by the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021. The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, asked about Afghanistan and the effect of Operation Pitting on those who participated. I am not dodging the issue, but as yet there is no clear evidence to support what mental health impact the current Afghanistan situation is having. The MoD is prepared with comprehensive services and support for everyone who may have been affected by this situation.
The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, specifically raised the issue of suicides. The MoD has begun the defence suicide register. It relates to all suicides across defence, including those relating to Afghanistan. It is anticipated that this review or register will be released in spring 2022. I hope that provides the noble Lord with some reassurance that active attention is being directed to this.
It is MoD policy that mental health should be properly recognised and appropriately handled, and that every effort should be made to reduce the associated stigma. The MoD recognises that mental ill-health can be a serious and disabling condition, but one that can be treated through education, training, diagnosis and specialist care. We have a resilient workforce and are focused on the prevent space all the time, not just with current events. I will explain to your Lordships what we do now. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, who said that, time was, we did not really talk about these issues. I say to him: we want to talk about them now, we can talk about them now, and that is what we should do.
Every year the MoD publishes the United Kingdom Armed Forces Mental Health bulletin, which provides a summary relating to Armed Forces personnel seen in all military healthcare services—primary care and specialist mental health care—for a mental health-related reason. It provides a wider picture of mental health among Armed Forces personnel. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, justifiably asked about the level of need. That annual bulletin is a useful indicator of level of need.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, also asked for an overall figure of resource applied to the mental health support given to service personnel and veterans. I will inquire and see what I can find out. I undertake to write to the noble Lord, and I shall place that letter in the Library.
In June 2021, the annual UK Armed Forces Mental Health bulletin showed that the mental health of UK Armed Forces personnel is
“broadly comparable to that seen in the UK general population”
and that the rate of mental ill-health
“for those needing specialist mental health treatment was lower in the UK armed forces than that seen in the UK general population.”
The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, referred to the helpful description that I believe my ministerial colleague for defence personnel and veterans used: the “gold standard” of what we try to do. I think we do have a gold standard in relation to the provision of mental health support for our Armed Forces and veterans. I am going to take some time to explain what we do, because it is important that I share with your Lordships as much information as I can. All Armed Forces personnel are supported by dedicated medical services, including mental health support. The MoD works with the single services, Defence Medical Services and other stakeholders to promote mental fitness, prevent ill health and reduce stigma. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, quite rightly raised that important issue.
Each of the single services provides through-career mental resilience and stress management training, including a defence course for senior officers. Armed Forces personnel who experience a traumatic event are supported through the trauma risk management process. The MoD has also produced the HeadFIT website to encourage the good management of mental fitness. An online mental health fundamentals course is available to all Armed Forces personnel and, from 11 October this year, the annual mental fitness brief is mandated activity for all Armed Forces personnel, delivering an understanding of mental health and well-being, stress management, how to transform stress into mental resilience and where personnel can seek appropriate help.
The MoD provides a 24-hour mental health helpline for Armed Forces personnel and their families delivered by Combat Stress. Togetherall allows Armed Forces personnel access to its 24-hour staffed digital forum, and the Samaritans deliver bespoke workplace training and a peer support pocket guide providing guidance on how to talk to and support colleagues struggling to cope with mental ill-health.
One question that arose was: what processes are in place to identify those who are vulnerable and most at risk of developing mental illness? No system can detect every individual at risk of mental illness. Nevertheless—I say this to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Robertson—measures are in place to increase awareness at all levels and to mitigate the development of operational stresses. These include pre and post-deployment briefing and the availability of support, assessment, and, if required, treatment both during and after deployment. This is available to all personnel, whether regular or mobilised reservists.
Going back to the important issue of stigma, what is the MoD trying to do to help address that and people’s reluctance to accept or seek help? Stigma is not, as your Lordships will understand, an issue only for the UK Armed Forces. It accompanies mental health issues among the general population. But, from September this year, all Armed Forces personnel receive a mandatory annual mental health and well-being briefing. It focuses on increasing awareness of mental health and the personal barriers that prevent some personnel seeking support.
We move on to the important issue raised by a number of noble Lords: the transition. What do you do when you propose to go from active service to the status of veteran? What support is given to service leavers with mental health issues to ensure that they do not slip through the gaps in that transition? Where personnel leaving the Armed Forces have an enduring need for mental health care, we work in partnership with the NHS to ensure continuation of care. The MoD’s departments of community mental health are accessible for up to six months after discharge to help veterans during their transition period.
An important question was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough: what are we doing to support the mental health needs of veterans? Wherever they live in the UK, all veterans are able to receive specialist mental health support if they need it. The MoD and the Office for Veterans’ Affairs work in close partnership with a variety of different organisations, including the NHS and the devolved Administrations, who are responsible for health care, including mental health care, for veterans, and service charities.
The through-life mental health support now provided to Armed Forces personnel will also have a positive impact on the veterans of the future. We are ensuring that Armed Forces personnel have the psychological resilience training they need to recognise mental ill-health in themselves and those around them and know how to manage it.
What about the supporting background, which is also critical? The majority of Armed Forces personnel who seek mental health care are actually managed by their GP. However, some with more complex needs will receive treatment from specialist mental health care providers. MoD specialist mental health services are configured to provide community-based mental health care in line with national best practice. This is done through 11 military departments of community mental health across the UK that provide outpatient mental health care. These DCMH teams comprise psychiatrists, mental health nurses, clinical psychologists, senior mental health practitioners and mental health social workers. A wide range of psychiatric and psychological treatments are available, including medication, psychological therapies and environmental adjustment, where appropriate.
For those personnel requiring medical intervention, the Defence Medical Services provide a responsive, flexible, accessible and comprehensive treatment service. Some 10.5% of UK Armed Forces personnel were seen in military healthcare for a mental health-related reason in 2021. This figure includes both personnel seen by their GP and those who required the support of specialist mental health services. We also do more out in the broader community. The Defence Medical Services set up Project Rebalance, a self-referral provision for serving personnel seeking mental health care who are pregnant or are on maternity leave. In February 2021, the Defence Medical Services set up another self-referral provision—Project Direct Support—for DMS personnel seeking mental health care while being engaged in clinical front-line duties during Covid.
If we look at single-service mental resilience programmes, we see there is much excellent work going on there. The Royal Navy uses a mixture of the Army’s Op Smart programme and the Royal Marines’ Project Regain to assist all ranks in seeking help if they have concerns about their mental health without the need to go through their unit’s medical officer first. Op Smart, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, referred—I thank her for her positive comments—is a system that the Army has developed. It is an evidence-based programme to improve mental fitness and resilience; for reference, Op Smart stands for “optimising performance through stress management and resilience training”. It is delivering a through-life, stepped education and learning programme for all Army personnel, grounded in psychological skills and mental fitness.
The RAF is also making its own contribution. Following on from the social, personal and emotional awareness of resilience, it has invested in research and development and has developed a comprehensive, whole-force, specialist mental fitness and well-being programme, Thriving at Work, which has replaced mental health first aid training.
As I said, most service leavers make a successful transition to civilian life, but this is not necessarily the public perception. In October 2019, the MoD introduced a new holistic transition policy to better co-ordinate and manage Armed Forces personnel and their families from military to civilian life. There is a new organisation called Defence Transition Services. Holistic transition support relates to a whole range of life-changing issues that affect both the serviceperson and their immediate family.
In relation to veterans, NHS England has expanded mental health services as part of the NHS long-term plan. More than 13,000 former troops have benefited from specialist care for lower-level problems such as anxiety and depression, while almost 2,000 more have received help for more complex problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder. That is in addition to improved mainstream access to psychological therapies services, which receive more than 23,000 veteran referrals per year.
As I have tried to explain, if you look at the panoply of support—I realise that many of your Lordships may not have realised how some of this links together and works—you see the tremendous level of support. I have not mentioned the Veterans Trauma Network, which is another source of support. I hope that your Lordships understand that the MoD, in conjunction with the NHS, is doing an enormous amount to ensure that we not only identify difficulties that may be encountered in the services but provide within them the support that people need, and anticipate, as these people prepare to leave service, what the pressures in their transition may be. If someone has experienced mental health challenges and difficulties, we ensure that their transition into civilian life is supported. I hope that, following these assurances, the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, will agree to withdraw his amendment.
I will now address Amendment 66A, also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, which seeks to create a statutory duty of care towards all service personnel, all veterans and their family members. I have stated this before and will state it again: it continues to be the Government’s view that it would not be practicable or desirable to define a legally binding duty of care.
We discussed this at length on numerous occasions, and I am not averse to discussing it again. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, that the MoD already has a duty of care in law for service personnel and veterans, which it takes very seriously. Over the years, we have established a comprehensive range of legal, pastoral, welfare and mental health support for service personnel and veterans. These were articulated at length during the passage of the overseas operations Act, and they were also clearly laid out in the Defence Secretary’s Written Ministerial Statement of 13 April, which, again, I urge your Lordships to read carefully. It sets out the full range of measures and support that are available to service personnel.
I will restate a couple of points. First, service personnel are entitled to receive legal support where they face criminal allegations that relate to actions taken during their service and where they were performing their duties. Legal advice and support are also available whenever people are required to give evidence at inquests and inquiries and in litigation.
Secondly, as I have indicated at length, a range of welfare and mental health support is routinely offered to all our people, regardless of where and when they served. The potential impact of operations on a serviceperson’s mental health and well-being is well recognised—a number of your Lordships alluded to that, and I absolutely accept that connection. There are policies and procedures in place to help manage and mitigate these impacts as far as possible. This support is available both while someone is serving and then through the dedicated support for veterans available through the NHS’s Op Courage in England and its devolved equivalents.
Since it is specifically mentioned in the amendment, I reiterate that such support is available for those affected by the events in Afghanistan, as it is for all those affected by service in other conflicts—my noble friend Lord Lancaster quite rightly alluded to that. It is there for all our Armed Forces, wherever and whenever they need it. Furthermore, it should be noted that £5 million has recently been made available by the Prime Minister specifically to support serving personnel and veterans, including those affected by the events in Afghanistan.
We acknowledge that such support does not stand still, but I believe that continued improvement can be achieved without legislation. We have carried out work to improve signposting and awareness of support for those individuals who are involved in legal proceedings arising from their service. The Army Operational Legacy Branch provides help, support and further signposting of support to those involved in legal matters relating to past operational deployments. I remind noble Lords that this support is available to both the serving and the veteran communities, and of course it may also be accessed by family members acting as help seekers for a loved one in crisis. Since I last updated the House on these issues, the AOLB has created the veterans visiting officer role. These officers are specially trained serving officers tasked with providing tailored support to individuals involved in legacy processes in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Welfare support ranges from the intangible nudges that ensure that factors affecting well-being are addressed before they negatively impact on an individual, right through to the tangible interventions, when a person’s well-being is at risk. Proving delivery of the intangible is challenging, and focusing only on the tangible risks distorting the support that is available. Whether an individual wants or needs legal, pastoral and mental health support is a personal issue, and providing this through policy allows for the type and delivery of support to be appropriately flexible.
My noble friend Lord Lancaster hinted that, for him, there may be some areas of anxiety—he is reflecting on that, and I shall leave him to do so and come to his own conclusions—but I have to say to your Lordships that notions of pastoral and moral duties are extremely difficult to adequately define in law. There is a real risk that attempting to do so will lead to more, rather than less, litigation and greater uncertainty. I wish to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt—I say this with absolutely no doubt about either the commitment or the passion with which he has pursued these matters—that we have looked with great care at his amendment, including the potential legal consequence. I stress again that we are deeply concerned about the potential unintended negative effect of this amendment, if it is included in this legislation.
The Written Statement already provides a public commitment to the provision of support to personnel in these circumstances and the department can be held to account in Parliament, and indeed in public, for this commitment. In addition, pursuing a statutory approach could result in other unintended and, I suggest, undesirable consequences. A legal duty of care standard would be challenging to draft, given the diverse needs of different individuals, and the result may leave personnel without the right support for them at the time that they need it.
Furthermore, the creation of a requirement to have a legal standard of something of such an intangible nature would mean that whether the department has set the standard properly, and then in an individual case whether it has been met, would be capable of being tested only in the courts. This is a particular risk, given how vague some of the terms in this amendment are. It will be hard for the department to know exactly what is meant by a duty of pastoral or moral support in order to report on it, and hard for service personnel and veterans to know exactly what they should expect from it. As I have previously stated, this will have the paradoxical outcome that time better spent delivering the highest standards for our service personnel and veterans will instead be time spent engaged in resolving complicated legal issues and litigation with lawyers.
I believe the amendment is unnecessary. The MoD is absolutely clear on its responsibilities to provide the right support to our personnel, both serving and veterans, and to seek to improve and build on this wherever necessary. As I have set out, I do not believe that setting a duty of care standard in the Bill is necessary or desirable, and I urge the noble Lord not to press this amendment.
I turn now to the final amendment in the group, Amendment 60. This new clause intends to place a duty of care on the Secretary of State to conduct and publish research on the prevalence of gambling disorder among servicepeople. I shall therefore address the text of the amendment which is about servicepeople. We have seen no evidence to suggest that service personnel are more prone to problem gambling than any other group in society.
As I have indicated, the Ministry of Defence is committed to the mental health and well-being of its Armed Forces personnel and provides dedicated and comprehensive services, including support for gambling-related disorders. We take problem gambling seriously and provide welfare support and financial awareness training for our people. All Armed Forces personnel receive comprehensive, through-career briefings on the importance of financial security and the values and standards expected of them. There is signposting to a full range of support and assistance for gambling-related issues.
Although I am satisfied that our existing approach to the reduction of gambling-related harm is appropriate and proportionate, the MoD continues to improve the support packages available to all service personnel. I wish to reassure the right reverend Prelate that I have listened to his contributions over many months. They are informed and very helpful to the debate. He was kind enough to forward the American studies to which he referred, and I had a look at them. I thought the lapse in time slightly weakened their relevance to the UK, not least because they were in a different country.
Having said that, I want to ensure that we are not being complacent. I want to make sure that we have up-to-date data. I say to the right reverend Prelate that we are looking at how we might be proactive in monitoring the situation. At my request, we are proposing including a section in the annual continuous attitude survey to invite comment on problem gambling. As far as I am aware, it has not surfaced in the survey returns, but I quite understand that people probably answer the questions they are asked. We are proposing to do that. I shall oversee that addition, and I undertake to report back to your Lordships on the progress we make on that.
With reference to our veterans, who are not specifically included in the amendment, we shall look carefully at the recent Forces in Mind Trust-sponsored study, which was published on 23 September. The noble Lords, Lord Browne of Ladyton and Lord Browne of Belmont, both referred to that. We will have a look at it. We do not collate specific statistics on levels of gambling among service personnel, but any that are assessed as having a mental health-related addiction, including to gambling, will be captured in the mental health official statistics, which, as I said, the department publishes annually.
The noble Lord, Lord Foster, asked a specific question about gambling machines on bases. I asked the officials if there was any more information on that. I am informed that direction has been given by the Army for them to be removed from bases but this process is not yet complete. Again, I undertake to make further inquiries for the noble Lord and report on progress.
Finally, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans has written to me. I read the letter with care but have not had time to respond to it. I thank him for his committed interest in these matters, and I undertake to respond to his letter. I hope that, following these assurances, the right reverend Prelate will agree to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. We have discussed these matters for one hour and 35 minutes, which is much longer than I anticipated we would, but it is very good that we have had a tremendous number of points exercised. I also congratulate the House staff on grouping these amendments so cleverly. Amendments 48, 60 and 66A have come together in an extremely powerful fashion to underline the concern that many of us have about some of these issues.
I particularly thank the Minister for her most comprehensive answers to all the points made. It is true that part of the thinking behind the amendments we have discussed this afternoon was to invite her to give a comprehensive statement of where the department thinks that it is. I am grateful for her extensive, exhaustive and informative account of the many improvements and changes that the department has been making. I refer back to my opening remarks, when I paid credit to the Ministry of Defence for a number of the changes that have occurred in recent times. We all know that much progress has to be made—much has been made but, in many of these areas, much more has to be made.
In closing, I will make one comment. On two or three occasions, we have looked at data. It has been asserted that the Ministry of Defence does not find any oddity between the service population and the general population. I find that quite difficult to accept. A number of pieces of evidence have been alluded to during the course of this debate indicating that perhaps the Ministry of Defence’s data is not all that it should be, and perhaps there is an element of understanding what you want to understand as opposed to what the reality actually is.
I point particularly to suicide, which I raised and discussed 18 months ago with Johnny Mercer MP, then the Veterans Minister. He assured me that two investigations were going on, comparing the incidence of suicide arising from Iraq and Afghanistan to the historic data of the first Gulf War and the Balkans. I was promised that this information would be available. I am now told that there is another study, which will report in spring 2022. Asking questions is a good thing but we also need some answers because, when we have them, we have a factual base, and we can then start to build some better policy. I make that comment as an aside, and I thank the Minister for her comprehensive updating of your Lordships about where we have got to.
At the present moment, I am content to withdraw Amendment 48 and not to move Amendment 66A. I should like to analyse, as others will, the information that has been given this afternoon and see where we might go in the context of Report.
Amendment 48 withdrawn.
49: After Clause 18, insert the following new Clause—
“Indefinite leave to remain payments by Commonwealth and Gurkha members of armed forces
(1) The Immigration Act 2014 is amended as follows.(2) In section 68(10), after “regulations” insert “must make exceptions in respect of any person with citizenship of a Commonwealth country (other than the United Kingdom) who has served at least four years in the armed forces of the United Kingdom, or in respect of any person who has served at least four years in the Brigade of Gurkhas, such exceptions to include capping the fee for any such person applying for indefinite leave to remain at no more than the actual administrative cost of processing that application, and”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause will ensure that Commonwealth and Gurkha veterans applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain following four years of service will only pay the unit cost of an application.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 49, I will speak to Amendment 63. I thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, for signing these amendments.
It is extremely disappointing that, as currently drafted, the Bill does nothing to address the shameful scandal of visa fees for veterans. As Stephen Morgan said:
“Commonwealth service personnel have contributed an enormous amount to our national defence and we owe them a debt of gratitude. Extortionate visa fees have left non-UK veterans facing financial ruin and feeling abandoned by the country they served with courage and distinction.”
Under current rules, Commonwealth personnel face a fee of £2,389 per person to continue to live in the UK after having served at least four years. It means that someone with a partner and two children could face a bill of £10,000 to stay in Britain. I remember that, at Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, called this a “shameful scandal”, while the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, said that it was a “bizarre situation”.
The Government finally announced a long-awaited public consultation on 26 May on proposals that would waive visa fees for those who had served 12 years or more. However, as the Sun reported:
“Ministry of Defence figures show only 20 of the 200 non-UK personnel who left the Regulars last year would qualify … when the majority serve between four and 11 years … The average length of service for all UK armed forces leavers has been about 10 years since 2015.”
The proposed changes also do not apply to family members of those who have served or those who have been medically discharged, meaning that they will help only a minority of those affected. Amendments 49 and 63 would mean that Commonwealth, Gurkha and Hong Kong Military Service Corps veterans who have served four years would pay just the cost price of £243 for an application for indefinite leave to remain. I know that the Royal British Legion and organisations such as Citizenship 4 Soldiers have long campaigned on this.
The government consultation closed on 7 July. The Minister said at Second Reading that the Government were
“currently analysing the feedback from that consultation and we shall respond in due course.”—[Official Report, 7/9/21; col. 775.]
Is that response ready today? If not, when will it be ready? Can the Minister explain why this Government can justify making Commonwealth and Gurkha veterans, who have served our country with the same courage and distinction, wait two years longer before they are allowed to live in the country they have fought for? This is about not only fairness but our moral obligation to those who have served our country in the Armed Forces. I want to see movement from the Minister on this issue; otherwise, we will certainly return to it on Report. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendments 49 and 63, but I shall speak to Amendment 63 and concentrate on the plight of the few UK Armed Forces veterans of the Hong Kong Military Service Corps. For completeness, I also include veterans of the Royal Navy Hong Kong Squadron. They were all full members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces throughout their service. They took the same lifetime oath of loyalty as all other British service members, and paid full UK taxes. Officially recognised as veterans by Her Majesty’s Government, they are not being treated fairly and reasonably, as the covenant requires. I have already explained the background to this issue to the Minister and raised it many times in this House, so I will not repeat myself now in this Committee.
The recent swift action by the Government to evacuate and grant right of abode to thousands of Afghanis shows that the Home Office can respond fast. Is there any reason why the Government have prevaricated for the past nine years and refused to come to a decision about granting the request of the Hong Kong veterans for British citizenship and right of abode? These veterans’ covenant rights should apply in Hong Kong as they do anywhere else.
The imposed national security law in Hong Kong has put the “one country, two systems” paradigm in a precarious state. These veterans find themselves living under Beijing rule. They, along with many other Hong Kongers, are worried, but they are small in number and believe their case is now a matter of humanity, not politics. They feel they are being treated as aliens, not veterans of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.
They, as much as other past members of the Armed Forces, deserve a positive decision, not the endless excuse that their case is being “actively considered”. That euphemism has been the response of Home Office Ministers and a frequently repeated response to approaches from Members of both Houses on behalf of these veterans for the past nine years and more. Over 60 individual applications from this small group of veterans, which I forwarded to the Home Office on their behalf in March 2020, over 18 months ago, have gone unanswered. It all smacks of a Sir Humphrey-style reaction, unworthy of the Home Office, unless it aspires to remain a department unfit for business in this area. It is long past time for this request to be resolved finally and clearly.
Is this not an equally pertinent example, as was the case of Gulf War syndrome, highlighted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, in the earlier Committee debate, of the need to include the Secretary of State for Defence in the list of those who must have a duty of care under the covenant? These Hong Kong Armed Forces veterans’ concerns and requests are not ones that could be devolved or passed to a local authority. Including the Secretary of State in this Bill is necessary to fill this gap in the duty of care under the covenant. Will the Government acknowledge that this Hong Kong veterans’ claim is a long-standing and legitimate one that should be honoured by reaching a decision now?
My Lords, I wish to contribute on Amendment 49. In doing so, I declare my interest as Colonel Commandant of the Brigade of Gurkhas. I have had a long association with the brigade since, as an 18 year-old troop commander in the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers, I first visited Nepal in 1988. I have served with them ever since, in Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere, so I am delighted to now be the Colonel Commandant.
This is an interesting day. Yesterday marked the 207th anniversary of the death of Major-General Rollo Gillespie at the Battle of Kalunga, where a tiny Gurkha or Nepali force of some 600 held off for nearly a month a much better-equipped and larger British Army force. That honourable draw effectively started the relationship between the British Army and Nepal, when the Prime Minister at the time, Bhim Thapa, allowed the East India Company, as it was then, to start recruiting Gurkhas.
This is an issue that I have been raising now for some months with the Secretary of State. I take this opportunity to thank both the Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, and indeed Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, for the manner in which they have engaged with this. One of the challenges we face under the treaty of Dharan is that, while Gurkhas continue to serve in the British Army, they remain Nepali citizens. As non-UK personnel cannot be exempt from immigration control and have settled status, it is not possible for Gurkhas or any non-UK personnel to be granted indefinite leave to remain while they are still serving. The issue is not just the cost of applying for indefinite leave to remain but the fact that they cannot apply while they are still serving and that the time it takes to process an application creates a gap from the end of their service before they can start work with indefinite leave to remain.
So I am very pleased that the Secretary of State wrote to me back in March to say that the MoD had changed its policy and Gurkhas were now allowed to apply some 18 weeks before leaving service. That, however, does not address the issue of cost. However, from my continued conversations with the Secretary of State and in hosting the Home Secretary at Sandhurst back in September for the annual gathering of the clan of the Brigade of Gurkhas, I am convinced of their commitment to deal with this issue. As was mentioned by the noble Lord, this had gone to public consultation, which closed on 7 July, and I rather hope that, if not today then certainly before the end of the Bill’s process, my noble friend the Minister will be able to confirm the news that I am expecting—that there will be a happy solution to this problem.
My Lords, I rise to ask for some clarification from the Minister. On the first day of Committee I mentioned, perhaps in a slightly inappropriate place, British citizenship for Commonwealth soldiers. One of the tasks of a lord-lieutenant is to be the Queen’s representative at citizenship ceremonies. On one occasion a soldier from the Rifles, who was from the Caribbean, came up. When I asked him what he did, he said very quietly, because we were in Northern Ireland and one is sensitive about that, “I’m in the Army”. I would like clarification on what the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, has just said. I understood him to say that they could not apply for citizenship while they were serving. In that case, how was this soldier, who was not a Gurkha, able to apply during that time?
Also, previous clauses of this Bill cited “due regard” by the authorities—not the Government but other statutory bodies—in housing, mental welfare and whatever. How is it that we do not appear to have due regard for Commonwealth soldiers, some of whom have done multiple tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and, indeed, Northern Ireland? I understand from earlier comments by the Minister that “due regard” in the whole Bill does not apply to central government, so the Government seem to have sidestepped this, in more ways than one.
We were talking about this a few minutes ago. Where is this moral responsibility of at least “due regard”? What is the process for a serving soldier from a Commonwealth country who is not a British citizen to apply for British citizenship? Do they have to go through the same hoop and process, with significant cost, as somebody who may be a doctor or nurse from the Philippines? These are people from all over the world, including China and Russia—I have carried out this ceremony for citizens of all sorts of countries. I would just like the Minister to explain where we are putting our soldiers. We do not seem to have the moral and caring attitude that, as a country, we should have to those who have served us so well.
My Lords, I support both these amendments in regard to those affected in Hong Kong, about whom the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, spoke most eloquently, and Gurkha soldiers who are Nepalese citizens. It is also worth putting in the widest possible context that we have a large component of the British Armed Forces from not only Nepal or Hong Kong, as already mentioned, but other Commonwealth countries. When I had the privilege of being Chief of the General Staff, the make-up of the British Army included people from 41 different nationalities. In fact, I had under my command more Fijian soldiers than Frank Bainimarama, the head of the Fijian Army, had in his own army. This is not a niche problem but a significant issue which we have to address, recognise and deal properly with.
We have to do so now in the context of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. In that melee of people coming back on the various flights during August were many members of the Afghan national army who, one way or another, have found their way back here. As part of Operation Warm Welcome, they will now be given significant residential rights in this country, over and above the foreign and Commonwealth soldiers who have stood shoulder to shoulder with us and fought in many campaigns. This is an anomaly and it is bizarre. We have to resolve it, so I put that issue back on the table. Earlier this afternoon, unintended consequences were mentioned in another context; this is an unintended consequence of a generous gesture to Afghans but, I am afraid, it makes a mockery of our policy with regard to foreign and Commonwealth individuals, including those from Nepal and Hong Kong.
My Lords, I support both amendments. I added my name to Amendment 49; it was merely an omission not to have added my name to Amendment 63 since both amendments, as we have heard, are important. At Second Reading, I spoke about the situation with the Gurkhas; my only experience of them is visiting once while on the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, so I have no interest to declare in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, has.
However, like other noble Lords, I am deeply aware of the importance of the Gurkhas and the service they give. We need to think what signals we send if we say, “You can work with us; you can put your life on the line and die for us. But if you wish to have indefinite leave to remain, we will charge you huge sums of money, as if you were simply coming as a third-country national with no relationship to our country.” People who have been serving with us, such as the Gurkhas and Commonwealth citizens working within our Armed Forces, should be given the opportunity to have indefinite leave to remain on an at-cost basis, as we ourselves would when we sign up for a passport. We do not get our passports free but we pay the cost.
Earlier on, the Minister suggested that the MoD has certain duties, but this is not currently a duty. The MoD and the Home Office could do something relatively straightforward about this and make a huge difference in the message that we send to service personnel from Commonwealth countries.
Finally, I add a word in support of the comments of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, about Hong Kong. This is partly because my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool was hoping to speak on this amendment in support of the service personnel from Hong Kong; he sat through the first group and most of our next debate but has had to leave for another meeting. It is very important that we think again about the commitments to Hong Kong. As the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, said, it is slightly an issue of history and timing that the withdrawal from Afghanistan has happened in the middle of the passage of the Bill, and it sends certain messages. However, that withdrawal and the situation in Hong Kong again mean that we have certain duties. It would behove the MoD and the Home Office to look generously also on service personnel from Hong Kong.
My Lords, I thank your Lordships for their contributions on an issue that might look fairly contained but is, none the less, important. I will look first at Amendment 49, on fees for indefinite leave to remain, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and supported by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham. I make clear immediately that the Government highly value the service of all members of the Armed Forces, including Commonwealth nationals, and Gurkhas from Nepal, who have a long and distinguished history of service to the UK, both here and overseas.
Your Lordships will be aware that the Home Office, not the MoD, has a specific set of Immigration Rules for Armed Forces personnel and their dependants, the Appendix Armed Forces. Under these rules, non-UK service personnel enlisted in the regular Armed Forces, including Commonwealth citizens, and Gurkhas from Nepal, are granted an exemption from immigration status for the duration of their service to allow them to come and go without restriction. They are therefore free from any requirements to make visa applications or pay any fees while they serve, unlike almost every other category of migrant coming to work in the UK.
Non-UK service personnel who have served at least four years or been medically discharged as a result of their service can choose to settle in the UK after their service and pay the relevant fee. As my noble friend Lord Lancaster indicated, the time before discharge when such settlement applications can be submitted has been extended this year from 10 to 18 weeks. Those applying for themselves do not have to meet an income requirement, be sponsored by an employer or meet any requirements regarding their skills or knowledge of the English language or of life in the UK. That again puts them in a favourable position compared with other migrants wishing to settle here.
The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, asked specifically about the situation of Afghan interpreters and sought to draw an analogy between them and the group that we are discussing under these amendments. ARAP and the ex-gratia scheme before it were set up in recognition of something very simple: the serious and immediate danger locally engaged staff would face, were they to remain in Afghanistan. The unique and perilous situation that this group of Afghans faced, because of their support for Her Majesty’s Government, required a bespoke solution to meet that immediate and extreme need.
I can tell the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, that specific Immigration Rules are already in place for our non-UK service personnel and veterans, as I have outlined, to ensure that those who choose to can remain in the UK after service. Some choose to take up that offer, while others return to their original nation, but that personal choice is not overshadowed by risk of persecution or even death, such as would be faced by Afghan citizens if they returned to Afghanistan.
I hope the noble Baroness will forgive me for interrupting. I much appreciate her point, but my point was not in this instance to do with interpreters. I am very grateful for the work of the Ministry of Defence in enabling many of our interpreters to come to this country, and more is still to be done. I was referring to members of the Afghan National Army who have found their way back to this country through the evacuation flights. As soldiers of another nation, they are going to be accorded better rights of residence in this country than foreign and Commonwealth soldiers who have served as members of the British Armed Forces.
I referred to locally employed citizens in Afghanistan. It may be that some members of the Afghan army felt at risk and that their lives were imperilled, and therefore sought to return to this country. We would bring them under the overall umbrella of help we felt it necessary to provide people who came here because they feared for their lives—and they were people with whom we had a relationship. So I suggest that there is not a complete analogy in the noble Lord’s description.
We recognise that settlement fees place a financial burden on non-UK serving personnel wishing to remain in the UK after their discharge, and the strength of feeling from parliamentarians, service charities and the public about this issue. As has already been indicated, the Ministry of Defence, together with the Home Office, ran a public consultation between 26 May and 7 July 2021 regarding a policy proposal to waive settlement fees for non-UK service personnel. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked when we will get an outcome from that. I can say to him that 6,398 responses were received. These are having to be sifted through. The results are currently being considered and the Government will publish their response in due course. The Government are aware that there is a certain anticipation in the outside world to know their response.
In the meantime, the MoD made clear to Commonwealth and Gurkha recruits the process by which they and their families can attain settlement in the UK and the costs involved. The MoD is also working with the Joining Forces credit union to provide financial education, savings packages and loan packages to help non-UK personnel pay for visa costs should they wish to remain and settle in the UK after their service. We are also exploring what options there are to assist those veterans who do not have settled status in the UK. I hope that, following this assurance, the noble Lord will agree to withdraw his amendment.
I turn to Amendment 63, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and supported by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt. This amendment is on similar terms to Amendment 49, on fees for indefinite leave to remain for Commonwealth and Gurkha veterans, but it also includes the Hong Kong Military Service Corps. I take this opportunity to express the Government’s sincere thanks to those who served in the Hong Kong Military Service Corps. I also pay tribute to and thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, for his elucidation to me of the position. I found that very helpful and I can reassure him, and the Committee, that we will look at this group to see whether it should be included in the work that the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence are doing on ILR fees for Commonwealth and Gurkha veterans. Again, rather like Amendment 49, at this stage this amendment would be unhelpful to the ongoing work and I therefore ask the noble Lord not to press it.
My Lords, the time is late. I think six Peers have spoken on these amendments and they were entirely in favour of them, as far as I can tell. There is a thing called democracy. It does not come in during this Committee but does on Report, and I assure the noble Baroness that we will be back on the subject. I suggest she adjusts her mind not only to consultations and reports but to a dash of pragmatism, which would be best achieved by a major concession from the Government. In the meantime, I beg to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 49 withdrawn.
50: After Clause 18, insert the following new Clause—
“Report on dismissals or discharges from the Armed Forces on grounds relating to sexual orientation or gender identity
(1) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report on the number of people who have been dismissed or discharged from the Armed Forces on the grounds relating to sexual orientation or gender identity.(2) The report under subsection (1) must include cases where—(a) there is formal documentation citing sexual orientation as the reason for their dismissal, or(b) there is evidence of sexual orientation or gender identity being a reason for their dismissal, though another reason is cited in formal documentation.(3) The report under subsection (1) must make recommendations for appropriate compensation to be awarded, including but not limited to—(a) the restoration of ranks,(b) pensions, and(c) other forms of financial compensation. (4) The report must include a review of the cases of those service personnel who as a result of their sexual orientation were convicted of service discipline offences as a consequence of engaging in conduct which, if occurring in the same circumstances today, would not now be an offence and make recommendations on how to address such convictions.(5) The report must include dismissals and discharges back to at least 1955.(6) The first report under subsection (1) must be laid no later than six months after the day on which this Act is passed.(7) The Secretary of State may make further reports under subsection (1) from time to time.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause requires the government to conduct a comprehensive review of the number of people who were dismissed or forced to resign from the Armed Forces due to their sexual orientation and to make recommendations on appropriate forms of compensation.
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 50 in my name, which is in this important group of amendments. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Cashman and Lord Lexden, for their amendments in this group. I very much support and appreciate them.
I will try to keep my remarks relatively brief to give other noble Lords time to speak. This is a crucial set of amendments. The Committee will know that homosexuality was banned in the British Armed Forces until January 2000. That is quite astonishing, given that the law was changed in 1967. The ban was lifted by the then Labour Government and I was very pleased. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, was Secretary of State at that time. If he was not, he would no doubt have been working towards that. The fact that homosexuality was banned in the British Armed Forces until January 2000, some 33 years after the 1967 Act, is shocking.
I would say that my noble friend laid the ground for it.
My serious point is that it has left a situation in which thousands upon thousands of ex-service men and women were dishonourably discharged, or quite outrageously forced from the service, simply because of their sexuality. It is simply unbelievable given the standards we have now and simply unacceptable that it happened. The practical impact of that discrimination —loss of pension, loss of livelihood et cetera—let alone the mental health damage and the stigma attached to it, was simply unacceptable and unbelievable. I want to draw attention to that. I would be interested to know from the Minister what the Ministry of Defence’s estimate—the Government’s view—is of the number of people impacted by this. I have seen estimates in the press of up to 20,000 people. I do not know whether that is correct; maybe noble Lords have better information than me, but it will be interesting to know what the actual figure is.
We have heard the Government say that there will be a restoration of medals. That seems good, but its progress has been slow. What will the Government do more of to try to accelerate that progress? There is clearly a need for further compensation, for pensions to be reformed and all those sorts of things. The Minister must now consider the restoration of ranks, pensions and other forms of compensation to honour appropriately those who have served our country with courage and distinction. That is what Amendment 50 seeks to do. Fighting With Pride gave compelling evidence to the Select Committee on the Bill about the damage that the ban on homosexuality has done to LGBT+ veterans. What steps will the Minister take to proactively identify those who were discriminated against? What discussions has she had regarding further forms of compensation for those affected?
I was grateful that the Minister in the other place said so clearly that
“the historical ban on homosexuality in the armed forces was absolutely wrong and there was horrific injustice as a consequence of it.”
I could not have put it better. It is absolutely shameful for our country. How do we go about fixing this injustice? That is what we all want to do. The Minister said that the Government would resist a similar amendment as it would
“complicate our efforts to address at pace this injustice.”
I do not understand what was meant by “complicate”. Surely the amendment would give a clear direction and encourage action. The Minister then said that fixing this injustice
“is at the heart of our veterans’ strategy”.—[Official Report, Commons, 23/6/21; col. 929.]
When will we get to see this strategy and will the idea of compensation be included?
When giving evidence to the Bill’s Select Committee, Craig Jones from Fighting With Pride said:
“When people were found or suspected”,
“they were arrested, often late at night, by the Royal Military Police. They were taken away for questioning, and that questioning … went on for days. Many of the people who were questioned had no legal support, or no ‘accused’s friends’, as we sometimes call that in the Armed Forces. They were searched, and the process went on for a very long time. After they had been charged, many were taken to military hospitals for medical inspections, which were a disgraceful breach of trust between members of the Armed Forces and the officers whom they were in the care of.”
I could not agree more with the Bill’s Select Committee’s report, which stated:
“Diversity is a source of strength for the Armed Forces and all should welcome and encourage a more diverse Armed Forces.”
Surely part of that is righting this historic wrong.
I was moved by an article that I hope noble Lords saw in the Mirror a few weeks ago. It outlined some of the case studies of some former veterans, forced to leave the Armed Forces after some years of service. It was heartbreaking and unbelievable. It brings tears to your eyes when you read it. We were all shocked by it, but what we want is speedy action from the Government.
I will mention one positive sign: is it not great that finally in our country, on Remembrance Sunday this year, Fighting With Pride will be able to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph? That is a symbol of the change that we all want and the action that needs to be taken, but it needs to take place sooner rather than later. I press the Minister not only to share our shame and sense of outrage at this injustice but to explain to the Committee what we will do about it to end it more quickly than we seem to be at the moment.
My Lords, I support Amendment 50, and I will also speak to Amendments 57 and 58. It is a real privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and his opening statement in support of his amendment to remind us of the harm and damage done to armed service personnel who wanted nothing other than to serve their country. Because of their homosexuality—not necessarily their conduct—they were forced out of the armed services, and they have had to live with the consequences. Some still do, in terms of the employment that they are prevented from getting.
I was not able to be in my place to speak at Second Reading, but I take this opportunity to say that I am particularly grateful for the collaboration that has brought about Clause 18, on
“Posthumous pardons in relation to certain abolished service offences”.
I place on record my gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, her entire Bill team and Professor Paul Johnson. I also wish to record my immense admiration for my noble friend Lord Lexden—my dear friend. I commend his contribution on the Bill, and Clause 18 in particular, at Second Reading. He and I have benefited from the wisdom, fortitude and knowledge of Professor Paul Johnson of the University of York, whose work with officials has produced some extremely fine drafting—he is the expert in this field. Professor Johnson, my noble friend Lord Lexden and I have worked together for five years on the issues of pardons and disregards that are before noble Lords today, and I hope—indeed, I believe—that we are about to see the fruits of our endeavours.
Indeed, when I was preparing these notes, I reflected on the day in 1991, 30 years ago, when I joined Lisa Power, a member of Stonewall, and Robert Ely to give evidence to the Armed Forces Select Committee to call for the ending of the ban on homosexuals serving in the military that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred to. Robert Ely, along with Elaine Chambers, both former armed services personnel, joined others and formed a group called Rank Outsiders to make the case for ending the ban and the harm done by it. Robert and Elaine showed immense courage, and I pay tribute to them and the founders and members of Fighting With Pride. I also thank Stonewall for its tireless campaigning, carried out across the decades, in putting the case for and promoting equality and equal treatment. I am proud to be one of its cofounders.
As I said, I fully support Amendment 50, which deals with the consequences of the injustices. I associate myself with the comments and concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. As he rightly reminded us, one could be dismissed from the armed services merely because of homosexuality, and there were some appalling cases and investigations that followed.
I now focus on Amendments 57 and 58, tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Lexden, which would insert two new clauses into the Bill. Their purpose is to expand the current disregard and pardon schemes, which provide a means of redress to those previously convicted under now-repealed—I repeat: repealed—offences for engaging in same-sex sexual conduct that today would be entirely lawful.
Current schemes do not encompass the wide number of service discipline offences that were once used to regulate Armed Forces personnel who engaged in consensual same-sex relationships. For example, the Army Act 1955 alone contained at least three separate offences—disgraceful conduct, scandalous conduct of an officer and conduct to prejudice of military discipline—that could be used to regulate the same-sex sexual conduct that would be lawful today. These offences, along with other civil offences, need to be included in the disregard and pardon schemes to provide those so cruelly treated by now-repealed laws with the justice they deserve, as my noble friend Lord Lexden explained at Second Reading. Great injustice would remain if action were not taken in the way that he and I have proposed.
However, since we put down our amendments after Second Reading, important discussions have taken place involving not only the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, but the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, who is taking the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill through your Lordships’ House. My noble friend Lord Lexden and I are also seeking to amend that Bill in order that many more victims of past injustice and their families can benefit from the justice of the disregard and pardon schemes.
I believe that our amendments are in principle an acceptable approach and that by working together with the Home Office team we can propose that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill should be amended to include all the changes that we wish to make to both Bills. Unless we are discouraged otherwise, my noble friend Lord Lexden and I are entirely content to proceed in this way. We shall therefore not move our amendments to this Bill; I hope my noble friend will reaffirm that.
I have every hope that we can work together with the Government to ensure the passage of our amendments into law through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. If, for any reason, that should not be the case, we will re-table amendments at a later stage to ensure that the injustices of the past, which remain on the records of those living and dead, are finally addressed. In conclusion, I thank all those from across your Lordships’ House who have expressed support for our amendments.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, set the scene for this short debate so very effectively by explaining the extent of the injustice that occurred in the past and setting out the issues that so badly need to be addressed swiftly in the present. I look forward to my noble friend the Minister’s reply on all the important matters that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, placed before us.
The amendments in my name and that of my comrade and noble friend Lord Cashman contain provisions that need to become law. I sensed widespread support for that in the reaction to my speech and in comments made to me since Second Reading. The amendments would bring many more gay service personnel who suffered grievously in the past as a result of unjust legislation within the scope of the now well-established pardon and disregard schemes, which my noble friend Lord Cashman and I have been working on for five years, as he mentioned. It is essential that the schemes are widened so that the stain that was so wrongly placed on the reputations of so many brave Armed Forces personnel can be removed.
As my noble friend Lord Cashman explained, the Government have proposed that effect should be given to the provisions in our amendments through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, rather than this Bill. There can of course be no objection to that. I look to my noble friend the Minister today for a clear assurance that the necessary additions will be made to the other Bill to incorporate the provision of these amendments within it. As long as that happens, it should not be necessary to return to these amendments at a later stage of this Bill. As I said at the outset, action must be taken to ensure that gay service personnel who have suffered injustice obtain the redress that these amendments provide.
My Lords, I rise briefly merely to add the support of the Liberal Democrat Benches to the three amendments. I completely understand that, if there are discussions between the Home Office, the MoD and the noble Lords, Lord Lexden and Lord Cashman, about Amendments 57 and 58, I will take that as read and assume that we do not need to discuss them further at this stage. Obviously, we on these Benches support the amendments.
As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said in his opening remarks, there is a set of issues that we clearly still need to think and talk about, and injustices that need to be righted. So, while Amendments 57 and 58 may not come back to us, I assume that the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, will come back in some form. We will support it.
My Lords, this may have been a short debate but I do not think that any of us can doubt the passion and commitment that have been evident in the contributing speeches.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for moving Amendment 50 and the noble Lords, Lord Cashman and Lord Lexden, for tabling Amendments 57 and 58. All three amendments have undoubtedly been tabled with deep compassion and humanity, with the intent of righting a past wrong. They are all concerned about the historical effect of the criminalisation of homosexual behaviour in the Armed Forces. As the Minister in the defence department responsible for diversity and inclusion, I feel a personal commitment to deliver improvement; I say that in a manner that I hope reassures noble Lords.
Amendment 50 seeks to place an obligation on the defence department to commission a comprehensive report on the number of service personnel who were dismissed, discharged or charged with disciplinary offences due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, and to make recommendations for compensation and restoration. I am pleased to remind the Committee that the Government accept entirely that the historical policy prohibiting homosexuality in the Armed Forces was absolutely wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is right: there is a sense of shame. We recognise this and are looking, where appropriate, to address the historical injustice suffered by members of the LGBT+ community as a consequence.
Our priority is effectively to look at what the Government can do to better understand the impact of pre-2000 practices on LGBT+ veterans and swiftly put in place a series of steps to address past wrongs. We acknowledge that many individuals, including the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, would like to understand how many people were affected by past practices. This is not a straightforward task. I must say, focusing solely on it would detract from our primary goal of righting historical failures, which is what we are engaged in doing and, I hope, what the Bill reflects.
While we agree that identifying how many people were affected has value, this must not overtake our efforts to find further tangible ways to do right by those who were treated unjustly. We therefore resist the amendment because it will constrain the work already under way now. Having said that, the MoD is working at pace to identify the cohort of individuals affected due to this policy. This will not be a quick process; it will take time.
We are also investigating historical records to see whether we can establish members of the Armed Forces who were encouraged to leave the Armed Forces due to their sexual orientation and gender identity. However, this latter cohort, as your Lordships will understand, will be much harder to identify, given that their personal files may not explicitly link their departure to their sexual orientation and gender identity.
In February this year, we announced the restoration of military medals to Armed Forces personnel discharged on the basis of their sexuality. Since February, we have received a number of applications in response to that well-publicised announcement. These are being actively considered.
On the scope of current legal disregards, as the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, indicated, the Home Office and the MoD are working together to consider whether any further services offences can be brought within the scope of the disregards scheme. The current legislation—the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012—is very specific as to the offences that can be considered for a disregard, with the scope being limited to offences that have since been abolished or repealed and that criminalised homosexual activity. I am sure that many of your Lordships will be aware that our decision to address this issue has drawn the support of organisations such as Fighting With Pride and Stonewall, and we continue to engage with these and other stakeholders as we work together to make it clear that the military is a positive place to work for all who choose to serve.
As noble Lords have heard, there is a significant amount of cross-government activity, which includes, but is not limited to, working with the Cabinet Office, the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office. I thank the noble Lord for attending the meetings, which I attended with my colleague and noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is reassured by what I have been able to say today, and will agree to withdraw his amendment.
As we know, Amendments 57 and 58 seek to extend the disregard and pardon schemes to include all service discipline offences, whether repealed or not, for which gay service personnel were convicted or cautioned. They also seek, where applicable, to provide posthumous pardons to deceased service personnel. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, for indicating that he will not press these amendments. As I just said, on the scope of current legal disregards and pardons, the Home Office and the MoD are working together to consider whether any further services offences can be brought within the scope of these schemes.
There is a significant amount of cross-government activity to resolve the issue of historic hurt. As the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, indicated, we are already in conversation with him—as well as with the Home Office and Professor Paul Johnson of York University—to find the best course of action to implement the necessary legislation to address this issue. It is complex; there are technical complications in understanding which Acts apply and how we must draft remedial provisions. We must be mindful to mitigate the potential risks that a whole-scale adoption of these amendments in both this Bill and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill may cause.
This will not be a straightforward task. We need to continue to develop cross-departmental policy and correctly identify the approach to be taken. We therefore resist the amendment because this Bill is not the most suitable place to make these amendments; rather, the proper legislative vehicle is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, where the scheme can be properly and effectively extended and managed. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, will have gathered from the attitude of my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford that he has a very willing pair of hands prepared to look at all aspects of this.
I remind noble Lords that Clause 18 of this Bill seeks to amend the pardons scheme to ensure that those who served in the Army and the Royal Marines before 1881 and were convicted of now-abolished service offences are posthumously pardoned. I suggest that these actions demonstrate the full commitment made by this Government to rectifying what I earlier called the shameful and wrongful treatment of those who have served. I therefore assure the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and my noble friend Lord Lexden, that the Government are determined to redress this historic slight—“slight” seems an inadequate word; I think it is an historic injustice—against our brave and loyal servicepersons.
I hope that your Lordships have taken comfort from what I have said today: that far-reaching and consequential work is going on in this area. Naturally, the outcome of this work will never truly replace the hurt suffered by those affected. However, I hope that it will provide a degree of recompense and demonstrate that this House, this Government and this nation stand resolutely and proudly with both former and serving members of the Armed Forces who are drawn from across the LGBT+ community.
For these reasons, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, will agree to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for her response. Many people hearing it will be reassured not so much by the Government’s intentions and so on, but by what shone through: her honest answer and her clear determination to want to get something done. That is what is actually reassuring. I do not know whether I am supposed to say that as a Labour politician or noble Lord to a Conservative, but on this occasion there is, frankly, nothing that disunites any of us here. The noble Lords, Lord Lexden and Lord Cashman, have campaigned long and hard on these issues for much longer than I have. I hope they will also have been reassured by a government Minister who, instead of hiding behind weaselly words, talked about a sense of shame that our country should have—because it should. That reassurance gives me confidence that she will push this forward.
There are questions to be answered as to how far we will be able to get the Home Office to move, if it is the Home Office that needs to do so, and what legislation will eventually be passed. I do not really care which department is responsible for passing the legislation; what I am concerned about is that the legislation is passed. If it is the Home Office it is the Home Office, and if it is the Ministry of Defence it is the Ministry of Defence. This was a historical injustice. It is almost one of those things where you look back and cannot believe that it actually took place, but we are having to deal with many historical injustices at present. We cannot be judged on those but we can be judged on how we respond.
The only thing I would say to the Minister is that the restoration of the medals has not gone as quickly as it might have done and some of the other things are not going as quickly as they might. I accept there are huge difficulties. People will have been paid to leave the Army and all sorts of excuses will have been made, when the real reason was that they were pushed, bullied and intimidated out simply because of their sexuality. That is unacceptable. I do not know how many people there are; I read the figure of approximately 20,000 in the papers. But if it was 100 or 200—if it was 10,000, 15,000 or whatever—that does not alter the principle that we should be ashamed of what happened, but proud of the fact that we are now going to try and do something about it. I say to the Minister: can we please do it as quickly as possible, and not have this dragging out for years and years? We owe it to those who are still living and to the memory of those who are no longer with us. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 50 withdrawn.
Committee adjourned at 7.48 pm.