Clause 153 - Service personnel

Part of Extradition Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:00 am ar 16 Ionawr 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath 10:00, 16 Ionawr 2003

For a long time, I have had a particular interest in the way in which our domestic law interlinks with military law and the law applying to service personnel. As hon. Members will know, I have a military constituency. Camberley has always been an army town, so I represent a huge number of both serving and retired military personnel. They repeatedly write to me to ask me to raise their concerns about various matters of military law. That has been put into particularly tragic focus recently, because the deaths of the young soldiers at Deepcut barracks are being reinvestigated. Acres of newsprint have been devoted to speculation about that, some of it very ill-informed. I should like to take the opportunity to express my gratitude to the Minister's colleagues in the Ministry of Defence who have dealt with tragic and difficult circumstances in a moderate and balanced way. They have always sought to lower the temperature and to put to rest some of the more ill-informed media speculation.

The other reason why I am particularly concerned is that, when my party was in government, one of my jobs was to act as the Government Whip on the Armed Forces Bill. Some members of the Committee may not know that that Bill has to come before the House every five years. It brings military law up to date with the developments in civilian law in the preceding five years. It is an unusual Bill. Unlike most Bills, which go to a Standard Committee, that Bill goes to a Bill Committee, which acts like a Select Committee. It goes round the country taking evidence. It visits military bases and corrective establishments, such as the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester, which is in effect a military prison. It is a hybrid—a mixture of a Standing Committee and a Select Committee—but after the visits it evolves into a Standing Committee and the Bill is debated line by line.

I was the Government Whip on the Armed Forces Bill, because the tradition is that the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of State for the Armed Forces when an Armed Forces Bill is due every five years becomes the Government Whip on the Bill Committee. Having had that experience, I have always been particularly alive to the need to get any civilian law that applies to military personnel absolutely right, so that it does not need to be unscrambled and rewritten five years later in the next Armed Forces Bill. The Minister will therefore understand why I wanted a brief stand part debate on the matter.

I want to explore the phrase

''to have effect with specified modifications in relation to a case where the person whose extradition is sought or ordered is subject to military law, air-force law or the Naval Discipline Act 1957''.

I am sure that the Minister will tell us what the phrase ''specified modifications'' means, because it seems a touch vague. It may have been lifted wholesale from previous extradition legislation, as these things often are. I hope I am not catching the Minister on the hop

about what the words mean, but the phrase seemed a little open-ended. The Secretary of State can, by order, say that a provision in this part will apply. I want some clarification from the Minister about the basis on which the Secretary of State can use the order-making powers in the clause.

Will there be the required parliamentary scrutiny? Is not there a danger that because the phrase is so open-ended it might need to be rewritten in the next Armed Forces Bill? Many people in my constituency, including some serving councillors, have been involved in military law. A number of my constituents have a great interest in the matter, including a county councillor, Fred Chipperfield, a distinguished former mayor of the borough of Surrey Heath who was for 37 years an officer in the Royal Military Police. It would be remiss of me if I did not raise these concerns on behalf of serving or retired service personnel in my constituency.