I should like to refer specifically to Clause 8, which received a certain amount of necessary attention in the other place. I hope my noble friend will be able to convince us that this clause has been drafted with an objective long-term view and not because of the disturbing number of deserters and those going absent without leave in the context of the conflict in Iraq. The penalties are potentially draconian. Life imprisonment is a heavy sentence. Conscientious objection is a precious right which is central to the values we proclaim. We must never jeopardise it.
In volunteer services, however, people volunteer to serve the nation in
whatever way the nation requires. A central question is whether
conscientious objection can then apply to a particular situation in
The occupation of Iraq was, however reluctantly, post facto authorised by the UN Security Council. But to pretend that an argument does not still exist about the original action and occupation is perverse. I, for one, remain convinced that there should have been an ad hoc specific UN Security Council authorisation—not a subjectively interpreted authorisation cobbled together from past resolutions. This mattered in the cause of the international rule of law, but it also mattered in terms of global political credibility and the battle for hearts and minds. The collapse of the argument put forward in favour of the need for action—the absence of weapons of mass destruction—reinforces the issue. If Clause 8 is to apply, it would surely be appropriate to have explicitly on the face of the Bill a reference to an occupation authorised by the United Nations and under international law. What my noble friend has to say about this in his reply will be very significant.
I conclude as I started, by taking this opportunity to pay tribute to our services—the men and women and their courageous and anxious families who serve on our behalf.