HC Deb 06 April 1909 vol 3 cc925-7

On the Army (Annual) Bill I would like to ask whether clause 4 is not outside the Order for the second reading? The Bill was, I am informed, circulated on 25th March to Mem- bers, and they were not able to make themselves fully acquainted with its contents. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean expressed the very grave doubt that he felt as to whether or not this was in order, and but for the late hour that the Bill was taken, and if you, Mr. Speaker, had been in the chair, he would certainly have asked your ruling. I submit that the House, in agreeing to the order for the introduction of this Bill, only authorised the Bill that provides for 12: months for the discipline and regulation of the Army. I submit that the provisions of the Bill must be confined to these two purposes. I submit that clause 4 goes far outside either of these two matters. It proposes an alteration of the constitution of the War Office, and a diminution in the personal power and duties of the Secretary of State, who is alone responsible to this House. It gives for the first time a statutory position to the Army Council, a body which has hitherto had no such powers. It raises, I submit, inevitably the whole question, not only of the relation between one unit and another of His Majesty's Army, but another, the effect of the relations of the supreme head of the Army and this House. I submit that it is not proper to use a Bill intended expressly for internal regulation and discipline of the Army as a vehicle to make a large constitutional change in a matter quite external to the Army itself, namely, the constitutional power and position of the Secretary of State.


Many of the matters which the hon. Member has raised are more on the merits of the case than for me to pronounce upon. The point he takes, I understand, is that clause 4, transferring powers to the Army Council, goes beyond the leave to introduce the Bill to provide for the discipline and regulation of the Army. I think it is impossible to conceive wider words than the words "discipline and regulation." They seem to me to cover almost anything conceivable which relates to the Army. The Secretary of State is surely, if he has statutory authority, entitled to delegate or transfer certain of his duties? He is charged, as regards this House, with the maintenance of the discipline and regulation of the Army. Surely it is open to him, if he has the sanction of the House, to delegate or transfer some of those powers to some body? If he chooses to do that by Act of Parliament, I do not see that any question of Order can arise. It is entirely a question of merits. I confess I think clause 4 comes within the Order of leave, and that it is covered by the words "discipline and regulation." The proper time for the hon. Member to have raised his complaint was on the second reading of the Bill; but in view of the special circumstances, I take no exception to his raising it now. The House, by passing the second reading, has, primd facie, given its assent to the inclusion of clause 4 in the Bill.