HC Deb 01 April 1938 vol 333 cc2281-5

11.7 a.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir William Allen

I beg to move, in page 4, to leave out lines 1 to 5.

I propose this Amendment, partly by way of protest against the indecent haste with which this annual Army and Air Force Bill is passed through the House. When the Prime Minister, on Thursday of last week, told us he was going to tack on the Order for Second Reading of the Army and Air Force Bill to a number of other Orders to be taken on Monday night, I felt that something ought to be done by way of protest against the haste with which this Measure is passed through the House. The same thing happened this time last year. I remember, too well, being called upon at half-past one o'clock in the morning to take part in the Debate upon the Bill when everybody was tired. I hope that in future the Government will allow the House to take a little more leisure in considering this Bill. It is a very important Measure, and one that ought not to be taken in the small hours of the morning.

The Deputy-Chairman

I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman had better keep to the Amendment.

Sir W. Allen

That is all I wanted to say on that matter. The Amendment proposes to omit the proviso at the end of Sub-Section (1), and I shall explain how it arises. The idea of this Clause, as far as I can see, is the protection of the moneylenders in India rather than anything which is advantageous to the officers in the Indian Army. How does the necessity for this Clause arise? I think the moneylenders have had well over 40 years of an innings as against the officers. It is an extraordinary thing that this money-lending business is confined to the British officers in India. Nowhere else in the world do we find that it is possible for the pay of an officer to be attached, and it is time that the Government took some notice of what has been going on in India in this respect.

In present circumstances an officer whose pay is considered inadequate to enable him to carry on in India, has to borrow money and the moneylender or the tradesman can go to the civil court and get an attachment order against the officer's pay up to half the amount of that pay. That attachment order goes to the paymaster, who sends it on to the commanding officer of the officer who has borrowed the money. It is almost invariably a black mark against that officer. It is to the credit of the Government that, as last, they have realised the position which' British officers in India are in as compared with officers anywhere else in the world. It is only British officers in India who have this grievance. Native Indian officers have not this grievance. Their pay is not attached. This state of things came about as a result of the code of civil proceedings which applies throughout British India. Section 60 of the code provides that the salary or allowances of any public officer, when it exceeds so many rupees per annum, can be attached to the extent of half. The War Office authorities have previously shut their eyes to the effect of the interpretation which the civil authorities in India put upon the words "public officers."

The Deputy-Chairman

I must point out to the hon. and gallant Member that if he goes into these matters in the discussion upon his Amendment, he cannot raise the same points again on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Sir W. Allen

What I am saying now has reference to the Amendment. I must explain how it comes about that such an Amendment is necessary at all, and how it comes about that the Government are now taking action in the matter. This action has been made necessary because of the declaration of the meaning of these words "public officer." Those words ought not to have included officers in the British Army but the civil authorities said they did, and that is why it has been possible for the past 40 years to have attachment orders made against the pay of British officers. As I say, it was time the Government took some action in the matter. I now wish to know why they should give the moneylenders the option of another nine months. My purpose in excluding these lines is to bring the Clause into operation at once. If these lines are retained, it will be possible for the moneylenders to continue as at present until the end of 1938. Any officer who borrows money or owes money to a tradesman, can have an attachment order made against his pay up to the end of 1938.

Why should the Government differentiate between officers who are in the Indian Army up to the end of 1938 and officers who may be in the Indian Army from 1st January, 1939. The officers who will be in the Indian Army from 1st January, 1939, will not be subject to these attachment orders, but officers up to the end of 1938 will be subject to them. We have had no explanation of this Bill on Second Reading. Here is an opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman to explain why there should be this differentiation between officers of this year and officers of next year and future years. It is very important that the officers in India shall understand their position. It can be carried on for 5, 10, or 20 years, according to the arrangement between the officer who is there this year and the moneylender or the tradesman. I imagine that when this Bill passes, if there are any officers in India who have borrowed money, there will be quite a race in order to get these attachments, which, as I say, may last for 5, 10, or 20 years. I do not think the Government are treating the officers in India quite rightly; in fact, I am inclined to think that this Clause is in favour of the moneylenders, and I want this to cease now. I would therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to look carefully into the matter before coming to any hasty decision. The Memorandum to the Bill itself says directly that there is a proviso which contains a saving for the rights of creditors whose debts were incurred before the end of this year. I think the officers ought to be considered after 43 years of the operations of moneylenders in India, because many an officer has been broken as a result of these operations. We want to put a stop to it now, and I therefore hope the Government will carefully look into the question and try to meet us in some way.

11.17 a.m.

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Hore-Belisha)

I hope my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen) did not get out of bed on the wrong side this morning. He complains of a system under which a British officer's pay in India may be made attachable for a civil debt, and he described with great feeling the unfairness to officers of being subjected to the present procedure. But the object of this Clause is to change the procedure, and to that extent I should expect my hon. and gallant Friend to be overwhelming the Government with gratitude.

Sir W. Allen

I want to change it at once; that is the difference.

Mr. Hore-Belisha

My hon. and gallant Friend also complains that this Bill is being rushed through the House with what he describes as undue haste—

Mr. Mathers

Indecent haste.

Mr. Hore-Belisha

—with undue, if not indecent, haste, and therefore it is incumbent upon him, even when the Government bring gifts, to suspect them. My hon. and gallant Friend's point is a very small one, and I think the Committee will agree that he ought to be expressing his gratitude for the Clause itself, even if he thinks it ought to come into operation at an earlier date. It is customary, in accordance with the canons of justice, that if you do change a law, particularly a long-standing Jaw, you should give some notice of it, and in accordance with that principle we advertise that at the end of 1938 an officer's pay will no longer be attachable.

Sir W. Allen

And you make a difference between the two.

Mr. Hore-Belisha

If we did not put that Amendment in, of course, the law would be changed immediately. It is desirable to change the law. It is also desirable to retain respect for our methods of legislation in this country and to give proper and adequate notice; and, after all, my hon. and gallant Friend will not be in a position next year to say that the law has not been changed. In the meantime we think it only appropriate that we should inform, not only the officers, but the tradesmen and moneylenders of India, that by the end of this year the present practice will no longer prevail. Personally, I should have liked to have done it at once, but if I had, my hon. and gallant Friend might then have accused me of indecent haste, and in order to avoid that charge on a second count I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will not press his Amendment, particularly as our hearts on this matter are at one.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 5, 6, and 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.