Armed Forces Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Defence
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, it has been a real pleasure for me to see my first Bill through your Lordships’ House on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, with my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe, who I thank for his support. It has been helped enormously by the generosity of spirit and co-operative attitude of the Minister. I sincerely thank her and her officials for the briefings and advice that we have received throughout the Bill’s passage. I also thank her sincerely for the way in which she has responded to our questions and amendments, and her commitment to reflect on the various points as policies are taken forward by the Ministry of Defence.

In that regard, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, and her colleagues, notably the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for their collegiate approach, which has helped us all scrutinise the Bill more effectively. I also thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. Thanks to him, I now understand terms such as “concurrent jurisdiction”. Throughout the Bill, advice from my noble friends Lord West and Lord Reid was gratefully received, as was the tireless and impressive work of Dan Harris, our adviser. It was also a privilege to have my noble and learned friend Lord Morris and my noble friends Lord Browne and Lord Robertson alongside me. Their expertise and experience is a huge asset to our country, as is the active involvement of many noble and gallant Lords, some present here this afternoon. We hope that the Government will further consider the amendments that we have passed back to the other place, which are intended not to undermine the Bill but merely to improve it, and that they will reflect and think again.

We are all united by admiration for our Armed Forces and the service they give to our country. We know that we depend on them to defend our democracy and values at home and across the world, with our allies. We know that those values are likely to be tested again and again over the coming years and decades. The Bill, soon to be an Act, is part of the contract we make as our duty of care for them and their families, and we as Her Majesty’s Official Opposition have been proud to support it.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in thanking the Minister, and join her in thanking her officials for the time they have been willing to take to brief the opposition spokespeople here in the Lords, and to answer questions in private, in Grand Committee and in the Chamber. It has been an important process and helpful to have had detailed responses, particularly on some of the legislative aspects, where my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford is expert and I am not. It has been very useful to have the legal input, and I am grateful for that.

Like the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I pay tribute to the Armed Forces. The Bill is important, and it is particularly important at this time to be putting the Armed Forces covenant on a statutory footing. We have now left Afghanistan—Op Pitting has just taken place—and, for many of our service personnel and veterans, there will be questions about the end of Op Herrick and what we have managed to achieve. For some, there may be consequences with which, I hope, the Armed Forces covenant will help them deal.

I very much hope that the two amendments passed in your Lordships’ House will go through the other place without needing to come back for ping-pong. I suspect that may not happen but, pending that, I thank the Minister again and hope that the Bill is passed as quickly as possible, because we clearly need it on the statute book by the end of the year.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB)
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My Lords, as one of the sponsors of a number of amendments, I have added to the work of the Minister and her Bill team. I add my thanks to her for the way she has dealt with them. The Bill team, having been faced with a very large number of late government amendments, have done a magnificent job; Jayne Scheier and all of them ought to be thanked very much for that effort. I hope that the Minister will not forget that I mentioned the Hong Kong veterans and have yet to have a decent reply about that. The issue has been outstanding for 35 years, so it is about time it was dealt with.

I hope, too, that the amendments we have sent back to the other place will be accepted. Time is short, Covid threatens and it would be sensible if the Government avoided ping-ponging it in this direction again. I thank the Minister very much for all that she has done on this Bill.