The Armed Forces Bill completed its third reading – a final chance to debate and change its contents – in the House of Lords on Monday 10 October.
The Lords voted to agree to two amendments to the Bill, one of which would include details about the operation of inquests following the deaths of services personnel in the military covenant report.
The Bill was passed and returned to the Commons with amendments for consideration. A date for the consideration of amendments is yet to be scheduled.
Amendment 2, moved by Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, was agreed by 210 votes to 194 – a defeat for the Government.
Moving the amendment, Baroness Finlay explained that the quarterly reports on military inquests to Parliament provided ‘a very important catalogue of death’ that would cease when Britain is ‘no longer in the theatres of war.’ Incorporating the quarterly reports along with any other reports laid before Parliament would ‘ensure that military deaths continue to be monitored, reported and catalogued’ ensuring ‘there is a record of inquests held on those actively serving, respecting their memory, and will allow collation of deaths of those who died after leaving the forces and whose deaths, for whatever reason, were the subject of an inquest, thereby providing important epidemiological data in the long term. These annual reports, as they are proposed and as I hope they become, will be a historic document of our forces' health and welfare,’ she said.
The House of Lords also voted in favour of an amendment to remove restrictions on when and where all medals awarded by commonwealth governments can be worn. Amendment 8, moved by Lord Craig of Radley, was agreed to by 208 votes to 199 – a second defeat for the Government.
Amendments 1 and 5 to 7 were also agreed to without voting.
An Armed Forces Bill, which provides the legal basis for the system of military law which exists in the UK, is required every five years. In addition, this Armed Forces Bill sets out the 'military covenant'. The last Armed Forces Bill received Royal Assent in November 2006 and therefore a new Bill is required in the 2010-2012 Session. The Bill:
- renews the 2006 Armed Forces Act for a further five years
- makes provision for the Secretary of State to make an annual report to Parliament on the military covenant – the mutual obligations between the British nation and its armed services – formally codified as a 'covenant' in 2000, which includes the 'duty of care' the nation has towards those who serve the country
- extends statutory inspections by her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary to the Service police and makes further provision for the independence of Service police investigations from the chain of command. The Bill will also improve procedures for maintaining standards within the MOD Police
- confers new powers on judge advocates to authorise entry and search of certain premises; and on the Secretary of State to make provision for Service police to access special categories of material such as bank records
- develops the procedures for the redress of complaints by Service personnel
- introduces a bespoke military scheme for the testing of Service personnel for alcohol and drugs, in line with the provisions of the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003, from which the military is exempt
- extends the jurisdiction of the new courts and procedures, which were established in the Armed Forces Act 2006, to prisoners of war.
Third reading is the final chance to 'tidy up' a Bill and change its contents.