HC Deb 26 March 1947 vol 435 cc1289-92

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. C. Williams

I should like to draw the attention of the Secretary of State and of the Committee to the rather amazing language of this Clause. It does not seem to me to be one of those Clauses of which one can say it may be clear to legal brains. I think the complexity of the mixture of words here can hardly have been exceeded in any Bill. It states: After paragraph (i) there shall be inserted the following paragraph: '(ii) Where the proceedings are proceedings against an officer or soldier on a charge of being a deserter or absentee'"— It might be worse: but then it goes on: '—without leave, and the officer or soldier has been apprehended and has on arrest'"— He could not have been taken into custody before arrest, could he?— '…on arrest been taken into the custody of a provost-marshal, assistant provost-marshal or other officetr,…' What happens if he has been arrested up to this time by someone who is not an officer? It is possible for that to happen. It does not seem quite clear as to that. It goes on: 'A certificate purporting to have been signed by such provost-marshal, assistant provost-marshal or other officer, and stating the fact, date and place of arrest, shall be evidence of the matters so stated' Why do we want to put in "certificate purporting"? It may be a legal phrase, but I should have thought it was hardly necessary to put it in that way. It seems to me that this is a matter on which we are repeating ourselves several times. I wish we had a Law Officer of the Crown here to tell us how to draft the Clause properly. In a very few lines we have what must be one of the worst bits of legal jargon ever put before the House or this Committee. I protest against it, and I ask where there is any purpose or reason for this Clause at all.

Consider these words: A certificate purporting to have been signed…shall be evidence of the matters so stated. Is this the usual form? Is this something new? Is it necessary at this time of day to come to the House of Commons, which, we are told, is so very busy, and ask us to pass a Clause of this kind? I think we might have some explanation. I see grave doubt on the face of the Patronage Secretary, as to whether the Secretary of State for War has not been wasting our time by putting in these words. For that reason the right hon. Gentleman had better explain himself. I should like an explanation: the Committee would like one; and the Patronage Secretary, undoubtedly, would like one.

Mr. Bellenger

I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should economise in the time and labour, not only of the House of Commons, but of the Army. Indeed, in some of the Debates that have taken place recently we have been accused of wasting manpower. The effect of this Clause is to economise in manpower. Before the Defence Regulation was brought in a lot of time was wasted by officers having to go to a court-martial to prove one thing—merely, that Private Thomas Atkins had surrendered himself or had been apprehended; and to satisfy the court-martial that this individual in the court was Private Thomas Atkins, and that he had been apprehended, or had surrendered to the provost-marshal or some other officer. That was considered, in war, at any rate, to be a waste of manpower and of time. During peace, of course, not so much time will be saved; but still there will be an economy in the time of officers, who otherwise, if this regulation lapses, would have to go to the court and go through what is, more or less, a formal procedure of identification and certification. This Clause merely puts into more permanent form a Regulation adopted during the war, whereby the provost-marshal or other officer apprehending the man, or to whom the man surrendered, signed a certificate to the court, and the court took that as evidence that Private Thomas Atkins surrendered, or had been apprehended, at a certain time on a certain day. I hope the hon. Gentleman will let this Clause go through as being a good attempt by the Government to economise in Service manpower.

Mr. C. Williams

I could not possibly let the Clause go through as quickly as that, because where the Government have reason to claim credit we ought to pay that credit to them. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for putting this Clause into the Bill. I congratulate him, and those under him. For the first time the Government have put a really good Clause into a Bill—any Bill. It is a terrific relief to me to be able to say that there is one thing which they are doing to save manpower. They have not done it in any other way. But, at any rate, we have now got a good example of how to save manpower. I am pleased with it; the Committee are pleased; and the Patronage Secretary is delighted now, whereas he was not a few minutes ago. For now we may be able to say, anyway, if the Government want to get an adequate Chancellor of the Exchequer, they can go to the Secretary of State for war, because he has saved a little manpower once in his life.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.