Formal Minutes

Tuesday 25 April 2006

Members Present:

Mr George Howarth in the Chair
Vera Baird
Mr Colin Breed
Mr Simon Burns
Mr David Burrowes
Mr Alan Campbell     
Mr Gerald Howarth
Mr Kevan Jones
Robert Key
Sarah McCarthy-Fry
Bob Russell
Mr Don Touhig

Armed Forces Bill

The Committee considered this matter.

Draft Special Report (Armed Forces Bill), proposed by the Chairman, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the Chairman’s draft Special Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1 to 31 read and agreed to.

Paragraph 32 read as follows:

Mr Morrison, MoD’s Director of Legislation, told us that none of the proposals in the Bill had been introduced to ensure compliance with Human Rights legislation and that the proposals in the Bill were compliant with European Convention on Human Rights, but he was clear that he expected further challenges to the system. He explained that the changes to the military justice system made following challenges in the European Court of Human Rights, for example those leading to the introduction of an independent prosecuting authority, had strengthened the system for Service personnel accused of an offence. We have received no evidence to suggest that the recent changes to the military justice system made as a result of judgements in the European Court of Human Rights have been detrimental to Service personnel.

Amendment proposed, at the end, insert “ However, we did not consider this issue in detail and take the view that a bill dealing with the disciplinary arrangements of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces which is deemed consistent with ECHR requirements should not be subject to threats of further challenge. Annual renewal will enable Parliament to fulfil its duty towards our Service men and women by providing them with the necessary protection.”.-( Mr Gerald Howarth.)

Question put, That the Amendment be made.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 3
Mr Simon Burns
Mr David Burrowes
Mr Gerald Howarth    
                                                                            
Noes, 6
Vera Baird
Mr Alan Campbell
Mr Kevan Jones
Sarah McCarthy-Fry
Bob Russell
Mr Don Touhig                                                             

Paragraph agreed to.

Paragraph 33 read as follows:

Human Rights legislation and challenges to the military legal system in the European Court of Human Rights do not place Service personnel at greater risk: they provide additional protection by strengthening the military justice system.

Motion made and Question put, That the paragraph be disagreed to.-( Mr Gerald Howarth.)

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 3
Mr Simon Burns
Mr David Burrowes
Mr Gerald Howarth

Noes, 6
Vera Baird
Mr Alan Campbell
Mr Kevan Jones
Sarah McCarthy-Fry
Bob Russell
Mr Don Touhig

Paragraphs 34 to 140 read and agreed to.

Paragraph 141 read as follows:

MoD agued that the presence of next of kin could lead to witnesses being less frank in their evidence, and therefore hampering the Board’s work. We note that inquests and civilian courts are able to conduct their affairs satisfactorily with next of kin present. We do no believe the next of kin should be excluded on the basis that their presence will inhibit witnesses from providing the fullest evidence.

Amendment proposed, in line 4, leave out from beginning to the end of line 5 and insert

However, we accept the MoD’s arguments that the presence of next of kin may well inhibit witnesses and undermine the purpose of the inquiry.”.-( Mr Gerald Howarth.)

Question put, That the Amendment be made.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 3
Mr Simon Burns
Mr David Burrowes
Mr Gerald Howarth

Noes, 5
Vera Baird
Mr Alan Campbell
Mr Kevan Jones
Sarah McCarthy-Fry
Bob Russell

Paragraph agreed to.

Paragraphs 142 to 146 read and agreed to.

Paragraph 147 read as follows:

We recommend that guidance for Service Inquiries advises that next of kin not be excluded as a matter of routine. We are not persuaded by the argument that the presence of next of kin would impede the inquiry's ability to conduct its affairs, so long as those attending are fully aware of the purpose, limitations and powers of the inquiry.

Motion made and Question put, That the paragraph be disagreed to.€” ( Mr Gerald Howarth.)

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 3
Mr Simon Burns
Mr David Burrowes
Mr Gerald Howarth

Noes, 5
Vera Baird
Mr Alan Campbell
Mr Kevan Jones
Sarah McCarthy-Fry
Bob Russell

Paragraphs 148 to154 agreed to.

Annexes [Visits] agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report be the Special Report of the Committee to the House.

Several papers were ordered to be appended to the Minutes of Evidence.

Ordered, That the Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Committee be reported to the House.

Ordered, That embargoed copies of the Report be made available, in accordance with the provisions of Standing Order No.134.

Ordered, That the Chairman do make the report to the House.

Ordered, That the Armed Forces Bill, as amended, be reported to the House.