HC Deb 01 April 1947 vol 435 cc1965-8

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 69.—(King's Recommendation signified.)

[Major Milner in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to confine the operation of the National Service Acts to male British subjects and to service in the armed forces of the Crown; to make provision as to the terms and conditions of such service and as to the period for which those Acts shall continue in operation; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any expenses incurred in consequence of the passing of that Act by the Minister of Labour and National Service, a Secretary of State or the Admiralty and of any increase consequential on the passing of that Act of the expenses payable under Section nineteen of the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act, 1944."—[Mr. Alexander.]

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

I should like to know from the Financial Secretary whether the Committee is to get any explanation of why the Government want this money. I am bound to say, having listened in virtual silence for two days to this Debate, expecting that the Minister of Defence would explain to the House, and particularly to his own side of the House, what was the necessity for introducing this Bill at this moment, and having been most signally disappointed—

The Chairman

The hon. Gentleman cannot, of course, refer to the details of the Bill; he must confine himself to the Motion.

Mr. S. Silverman

I have not been conscious that I have so far referred to any detail of the Bill, Major Milner, but we are being asked to vote a lot of money in support of a Bill when no necessity for the Bill or for the Motion has been offered to the Committee at all; indeed the Money Resolution has been formally moved without a single word of explanation, and I should have thought that was treating the Committee with supreme contempt—a contempt which the voting on the Second Reading does not entitle my hon. Friend to display. There is considerable disquiet in this Committee, there is considerable disquiet in the country, and I sincerely and earnestly say to my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that if they wish to carry the country with them in this inroad they have made upon our constitution, then the Committee and this House and the country are entitled to a far better attempt at explanation than so far we have received.

Mr. Frank Byers (Dorset, Northern)

I would also like to ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury for an explanation about the Money Resolution to this Bill. We heard from the Minister of Defence that we were to have 700,000 reserves in 1954. Does the money voted by this Committee cover the necessary equipment for those reserves? Could we have an explanation of that?

The Minister of Defence (Mr. A. V. Alexander)


Mr. Byers

The Minister of Defence says "No." Is it not for this Committee to inquire into this matter on this occasion? Can we have an explanation? I listened to a great many of the speeches about these reserves. As an Army officer of some experience I am extremely worried about having 700,000 reserves if they are to be equipped to the standard of equipment which I had to use in 1939, and I think this Committee, if it fulfils its responsibilities, should have a proper explanation of what is to happen. Furthermore, can we have some explanation from the Financial Secretary upon what this money is to be spent? I must say I am amazed at the equanimity with which this Bill has been accepted by officers and men who have served throughout the war in the Armed Forces, and I think we deserve, after six years of service which we have had, an explanation from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury of how this money is to be used.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)

I think the Committee will agree with me that no discourtesy at all is intended by the mere fact that no one rose at this Box to introduce this Money Resolution. It is quite normal after a Debate, particularly a Debate lasting two days, for this part of our business to be largely formal. Where any hon. Member rising in his place asks for an explanation, it has not on a single occasion within my recollection been denied. Quite briefly, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), and in reply to the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Byers), I can give the explanation for which they asked. It is contained in the fact that we have, by a large majority, just agreed to the Second Reading of the Bill. That being so, obviously a certain amount of expenditure will arise in the course of years when this Bill becomes an Act.

The answer to the hon. Member for North Dorset, and in part to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, is contained in paragraph 10 of the Explanatory Memorandum attached to the Bill. The charge on the Exchequer will arise when these men begin to flow out of the Forces, and go into the Reserve. As the Committee now knows from the Debate we have had, over a period there will be a certain charge arising because of that. It may well be that, although a great deal of equipment will be there, additions to that equipment will be needed from time to time, and expenditure will have to be made on that. Year by year the House of Commons will have complete control over such expenditure through the usual form of Estimates, and in addition there will be some expenditure which is envisaged under the Third Schedule for medical examination of those in these Forces. I think that with that explanation, which I hope the Committee will think adequate, we may now be given the Money Resolution.

Resolution to be reported Tomorrow.