Armed Forces Bill — 9 Jan 2001

Mr Stuart Bell MP, Middlesbrough voted with the majority (No).

Order for Second Reading read.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill is principally concerned with the statutory framework for the system of discipline in the armed forces. That system of discipline is an essential ingredient of operational effectiveness. For everyone in the armed forces, that is axiomatic.

Good order and discipline in any army are to be more depended upon than courage alone.

would be a substantial and complex undertaking which will take some years to complete.

prevent or minimise personal injury,

the use or threat of violence.

I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Armed Forces Bill, which neither consolidates the three existing Service Discipline Acts nor introduces a single tri-service Act; which fails to address the challenge to military combat effectiveness from the gathering tide of legislation following the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law; which omits legal clarification of employment in the services of young people under the age of 18; which fails to provide a statutory basis for equality of access by servicemen and women to free and impartial tribunals and resources to achieve that; and which encourages a further creeping advance of litigation that will breed a cautious group of military leaders who may step back from courageous decisions for fear of being pursued through the courts."

This clause provides a general order-making power which would enable the Secretary of State to make for the armed forces provisions equivalent to those contained in any future civilian criminal justice legislation or any existing legislation that it amends.

The power may be exercised so far as is desired, i.e. the entire civilian legislation does not have to be adopted. Modifications or any incidental, consequential or transitional provisions which the Secretary of State thinks fit may be made.

All symbolism and no substance. They will certainly not be made of the stuff that the British forces are today and what our country expects them to be like.

Germany's first contingent of 240 female fighting troops signed up yesterday for the Army under strict orders that they remove their nose rings and stay chaste in barracks . . .

"Frederick the Great must be spinning in his sarcophagus," one officer said, referring to the Prussian leader who hand-picked his strapping male grenadiers.

Special courses on "gender training" have been set up to instruct and reassure male non-commissioned officers how to deal with women under their command. The questions raised . . . show how deep is the unease. Can I order a woman soldier to cut her hair? What jewellery is acceptable? Should a section commander intervene if two members of his unit fall in love? What happens if the commander himself falls in love? How to prevent sexual harassment, or distinguish between genuine and false claims of harassment? What shall I do if a woman cries?

no sex in barracks, before, during or after duty. Anyone who transgresses will be punished. Knocking on doors . . . is now compulsory.

Every fifth German soldier, questioned by sociologists, said he was afraid that a woman would end up taking his job. The key, say German officers, is to provide the right mixture at platoon and company level. According to a US Army analyst, if there are only 20 per cent. women in a mixed unit, the men tend to be over-protective, reducing fighting competence. If there are more than 50 per cent. women in a unit, the men tend to slacken and are difficult to command.

The Times also reported that the physical health and mental aptitude of women recruits were good. It reports Colonel Volker Spangenberg as saying:

Almost all are pretty robust. They also ask questions more readily than men and they have a much clearer idea as to what they want from the army.

under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998,

the provisions of the Armed Forces Bill are compatible with the Convention rights.

I urge your Lordships to be of the view that the convention is a flexible instrument. It poses no threat to the effectiveness of the Armed Forces.

the Secretary of State for Defence takes the view that the Bill raises no issues which are special to the Armed Forces.--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 5 February 1998; Vol. 585, c. 768.]

That would be a theoretical possibility but that does not seem to have commended itself to any Government since 1951 . . . It is a theoretical possibility but the question we would then have to face as the application to join at that time and the great complications that would be involved means it is a fairly far out possibility.

This course of action did not appear to have been considered actively, and we would look forward to the Government addressing this possibility during debate on the further stages of the Bill's progress in this House.

I believe I should mention that I am one of the few people still living who attended the European Council when the European Convention on Human Rights was being considered. Indeed, I was closeted with M. Rolin, the Belgian lawyer who represented Dr Mossadek at The Hague in order to agree with him--and eventually it was agreed by all concerned--the powers of the European Court of Human Rights.

I feel obliged to mention that at that time--it was just a few years after the war--I do not believe that members of any party in this country gave a moment's thought to the effect of the convention on military discipline. But now we must consider it. I believe that the Government must review the convention and our acceptance of it in order to ensure that military discipline is maintained.

I believe that especially in time of war--and we should be thinking in terms of the application of this Act in time of war--discipline must if necessary prevail over justice.--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 29 November 1999; Vol. 607, c. 691.]

The Conservative party will change this culture of political correctness in the armed forces. We will exempt them from this nonsense. On arrival back in Government we will take the armed forces out of the Convention. It is no good the Government pretending they are using common sense when they are the ones who have imposed this politically correct culture on the armed forces.

Our Defence Ministers do understand our position and have been robust in defence of our case during the recent European debate on ending employment discrimination on grounds of age and disability. I fully understand that those proposing this aspect of employment law were acting with good intentions and for entirely laudable aims. But if left unchecked the impact would have had a detrimental effect on the forces by insisting that disabled people had a right to serve. We need to guard against such ill-conceived ideas in future but the fact that some thought they should apply to the forces is a reflection of that lack of awareness of military issues, which I mentioned earlier. I don't blame them but they must understand that military life is, and should be, different.

there is no such thing as a non-combatant job . . .

If we hamstring our fighting services with inappropriate legislation then we will create a generation of sailors, soldiers and airmen who are little more than a gendarmerie.

5.54 pm

That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers, either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity relating to the provisions of the Armed Forces Bill.

a coherent joint doctrine for expeditionary operations.

The Chiefs of Staff have a duty to recommend to the government how to produce the best operational capability for the nation.

I do think the uniqueness of the Services is not always well understood and the modern concern for the rights of the individual sometimes have to be sacrificed in the military for the collective good of the team. Some countries have been less successful than us in preserving this quintessential difference between the military and civilians. I understand why they have been forced down this path, but feel their forces are the poorer for it.

Today few people in the media or in politics have any real experience of the military. Indeed very few people in the country at large have any first hand knowledge of the Forces, and this is increasing as fathers and grandfathers with wartime or national Service experience fade away.

People should remember that victory in the Falklands in the end depended on British troops clearing trenches on Mount Tumbledown using their bayonets.

Even the acceptance of homosexuals did not turn out to be the major issue that some thought it would be. Personally, I never believed it would.

we must ensure that nothing, I repeat nothing, damages the combat effectiveness of the British Armed Forces.

We conclude that it was an error of judgement to have granted several Military List open individual export licences in late 1998 and early 1999 covering Zimbabwe.

The Government does not accept that the inclusion of Zimbabwe as a permitted destination on a small number of Military List open individual export licences issued in late 1998 and early 1999 represented an error of judgement.

The four Select Committees that make up the Quadripartite Committee have concluded that strategic exports by their very nature justify the establishment of a system of prior parliamentary scrutiny, and that such a system should be put in place forthwith.

That is a pretty comprehensive and concrete judgment. The Government responded:

The Government has given careful consideration to the Committees' recommendations on prior Parliamentary scrutiny of all the 12,000 or so individual export licence applications for military and dual use goods received each year. The Government has concluded that they could not be made to work without causing significant damage to the competitiveness of UK exports and without having a materially adverse impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of the export licensing system.

Involvement of the Committees in the taking of decisions under the existing legislative powers is in any event problematic, in that an extra element would be introduced into the process. This might generate doubt as to whether the decision had been properly taken in accordance with the powers conferred by Parliament.

creeping advance of litigation that will breed a cautious group of military leaders who may step back from courageous decisions for fear of being pursued through the courts.

the need to end the ban on combat exclusion and attract more women,

the need to change the culture of the Armed Services so that more women can enjoy a career in the Armed Services.

18,000 were dealt with by subordinate commanders. The assessment that in future these are unlikely to lead to many appeals is because of the limited powers of punishment available to company and squadron commanders.

It is also intended to provide greater certainty and, by providing that extra certainty and independent legal supervision of applications for permission to search, to avoid the risk of a successful challenge to searches being made under the European Convention on Human Rights.

differences can exist for a considerable period before an opportunity to make the relevant amendments of Service law arises

the ability of a Commanding Officer to maintain good order and military discipline is fundamental to his ability to command his troops. Maintaining the system of summary discipline is our vital ground.

As the preamble to the old annual Acts used to put it--

. . . it being requisite . . . that an exact discipline be observed and that persons belonging to the said forces who mutiny, or stir up sedition, or desert Her Majesty's service, or are guilty of crimes and

offences to the prejudice of good order and military or air force discipline, be brought to a more exemplary and speedy punishment than the usual forms of the law will allow.

a more exemplary and speedy punishment than the usual forms of the law will allow

All we are against is the absolute bar on disabled people serving in the Armed Forces. We are fully mindful of the need for combat effectiveness.

address the challenge to military combat effectiveness from the gathering tide of legislation following the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law.

legal clarification of employment in the services of young people under the age of 18.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 133, Noes 350.

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Party Summary

Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.

What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.

What are Boths? An MP can vote both aye and no in the same division. The boths page explains this.

What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.

PartyMajority (No)Minority (Aye)BothTurnout
Con0 130 (+2 tell)082.5%
Lab318 (+2 tell) 0076.7%
LDem28 0059.6%
PC4 00100.0%
UUP0 3033.3%
Total:350 133076.5%

Rebel Voters - sorted by party

MPs for which their vote in this division differed from the majority vote of their party. You can see all votes in this division, or every eligible MP who could have voted in this division

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NameConstituencyPartyVote
no rebellions

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