Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 38, to leave out Subsection (4), and insert:
(4) Every notice served otherwise than by registered post shall require the person upon whom it is served to acknowledge receipt thereof within such time as may be specified in the requirement; and if acknowledgment is not received the Service Authority may cause a further notice to be served on him by registered post and may by that notice direct that the former notice shall be deemed never to have had effect.
(5) A person who fails to comply with a notice shall be liable to be apprehended and unless he has some reasonable excuse punished in the same manner as a person enlisted in the regular forces or the regular air force according as he was an Army pensioner or an air force pensioner:".—[Mr. Boyd-Carpenter.]
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)
On a point of Order. Since we discussed this Amendment on the last occasion, a further Amendment has been put on the Order Paper by the Government. I refer to the one in line 40, at end, insert:Provided that no steps shall be taken against a person in respect of failure to comply with such a notice unless either it is proved that the notice was received by him or the notice was sent addressed as aforesaid by registered post; and where, in the case of a notice not sent by registered post, it appears to the appropriate Service Authority that the person to whom the notice relates may not have received the notice, the Authority may serve on him by registered post a subsequent notice superseding the original notice,That Amendment seems to cover a great deal of the ground covered by our Amendment. I do not know whether it would be for the convenience of the Committee if both Amendments were discussed together. I should like to hear the Under-Secretary explain the Amendment in his name. It may be that after hearing his explanation we should ask leave to withdraw our Amendment. Of course, I cannot say as yet. It might be convenient and it might save time if 988 we could take both Amendments together and if the hon. Gentleman could move his now. I do not know whether that course commends itself to him as well as to you.
§ The Chairman
I do not think that the course suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman is the correct one. However, there is no objection, on the Amendment now before the Committee, to the Minister dealing with that Amendment and saying what he proposes to do, if the Committee so agree, in regard to the next Amendment. Clearly, he cannot move the one when the other is in the way.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I was merely suggesting that we might discuss both together. I gather that can be done.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Michael Stewart)
All of us in this Committee have the same object in mind on this Clause. We have endeavoured to reach it either on the lines of the Amendment proposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite or in the fashion proposed in the Government Amendment. Those objects are, first, to avoid inconvenience or injustice to the person who is being recalled; second, to have a machinery of recall which will work smoothly and quickly bearing in mind that all this machinery operates only in case of emergency; and, third, that we should have regard to those cases which are properly analogous to those of the Service pensioner being recalled.
It may be convenient if I recall what was said as to the procedure we intend to adopt. When this matter was last before us I mentioned that after the proclamation of a state of emergency, which brings the liability under this Bill into effect, a letter of recall will be sent to those pensioners who, in any case, will have previously been informed that they are on the list of men who will be recalled. If that letter produces no effect, it will be followed by a registered letter. It is in that connection that I draw the attention of hon. Members to the Government Amendment. I mentioned this matter of a registered letter on the last occasion simply as part of our intention. I was much impressed 989 by what was said by hon. Members opposite about the importance of making our safeguards as great as is reasonably and administratively possible.
The registered letter figures now not merely as a statement of intention but as something in the statute itself. If the registered letter also failed of its purpose, it would then be for police inquiries to be made. It might be that those inquiries would reveal the reason why the letters had produced no results. Only after the ordinary letter and the registered letter had failed in their purpose and there had been police inquiries, would the commanding officer of the unit, in the light of what was revealed to him by the police, consider whether it was proper or necessary to send an escort for the man in question.
Since the matter was last before the Committee, I have considered very carefully whether we ought not to go further still and provide, not only that the Department should send a registered letter, but that it should not proceed if the registered letter is returned as not having been delivered. I found on examination that that was not a reasonable step to take, for the simple reason that anyone to whom a registered letter is addressed can avoid delivery of it by simply refusing to accept it. If we went further, we should be putting a premium on anyone who was liable under this Act who definitely wanted to avoid liability. The Committee will notice that the provision suggested in the Government Amendment is that for the serving of an enlistment notice on a National Service man.
May I take the argument a little further with particular reference to the second part of the Amendment which was moved on the last occasion by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). That Amendment read:(5) A person who fails to comply with a notice shall be liable to be apprehended and unless he has some reasonable excuse punished in the same manner—and so on.
That will be on the lines of the procedure for the serving of a training notice on a part-time National Service Man laid down in the National Service Act. What I submit to the Committee and to hon. Members who supported that Amendment is that that is not a really correct analogy here. Under the National Ser- 990 vice Act, after a man has been required to register and has been required by notice to submit himself for medical examination, we come to the point where an enlistment notice has to be served, and, in such cases, the procedure laid down is that outlined in the Government Amendment—that, as from the time specified in the enlistment notice, sent if necessary by registered post, he shall be deemed, in effect, to be covered by military law.
I have considered very carefully whether this procedure is likely, and can reasonably be feared, to put a pensioner in an undeserved and invidious position, but let us consider what his position is. The danger against which we are trying to safeguard is that he should be convicted or even charged with the offence of desertion or absence without leave on the strength of a notice which he may not have seen. Let us consider what the real position is. This man knows, well in advance of the emergency, that he is liable to recall in time of emergency. He knows, not only from the Act, but also from the fact that he has opted for a reassessed pension with continuing liability, that he is liable to recall. Further, he will know it by virtue of the fact that, if and when an emergency comes, there will be a proclamation.
We submit that it is reasonable for him, in view of all the circumstances, not to take action which would lead to his being completely untraceable at a time when he should reasonably know that he will be required.
Let us suppose that through some chain of circumstances—which I am bound to admit it is difficult to imagine—the notice does not reach him. What, then, is the position when he finds himself finally brought to his unit, or when, having himself discovered that the notice had been served on him and that he had not seen it until very late, he may himself go forward and say, "I should have come at once had I known that this notice had been delivered"? His commanding officer, of course, may elect to dismiss the case, and, undoubtedly, if there were any reasonable excuse whatever, he would do so. In extremity—if we suppose again that the commanding officer acts without common sense and without discretion in this matter—it might go to a court-martial, 991 but there, once more, there would be no conviction if it were clear that the man's absence was due to circumstances beyond his control.
We have tried to consider every possible contingency, however unlikely, and we have, therefore, in this Amendment devised a procedure which goes, indeed, a bit further than the precautions taken for naval pensioners under the Naval Act which is comparable with the provisions for Army Reservists and National Service Men on whom enlistment notices are served. Therefore, I ask the Committee to agree that, to go further, would be to go beyond precedents, prudence and reason. In these circumstances, I hope that the Opposition Amendment will not be pressed.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Can the hon. Gentleman say how this procedure is going to operate in Southern Ireland?
§ Mr. Stewart
It cannot operate at all outside His Majesty's Dominions; there can be no machinery of enforcement. It would only operate within the Commonwealth if the Dominion Government concerned saw fit to pass legislation which would make it enforceable.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Do I understand that somebody in Southern Ireland may apply for the increased pension and then, when the registered letter is sent and there is no reply, it would be impossible to apprehend him or to call him up?
§ Mr. Stewart
That would be the case, as I explained. The same would be true of a pensioner in a foreign country.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
I am bound to say that the Amendment which the Under-Secretary of State for War has now put down goes a very long way to meet the points raised from this side of the Committee on 12th November. Hon. Members on this side recognise that this is a genuine attempt to meet what is now, I understand, recognised to be a real difficulty. I think that the points of difference between us have been very largely narrowed, but there is still a small divergence, and I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman could indicate the reason why the form of words contained in his Amendment has been put forward rather than that which 992 is on the Order Paper and which we formally moved 10 days ago.
The one difficulty which the Under-Secretary of State for War seemed to apprehend from our Amendment was that caused by a contumacious person who declined to receive a registered letter by the simple action of refusing to sign for it. I think that if the hon. Gentleman will look at the terms of our Amendment he will see that no such difficulty would arise there, although it might arise from the form of words in one of the alternatives he uses. In our Amendment we lay down the condition that the notice shall be served upon the man by registered post. I am speaking without any chance to consult authorities, but I should be inclined to think that the term "serve" would cover the case where a registered letter was actually handed to a man, but where he refused to accept it or refused to sign for it, whereas, on the other hand, it is quite clear that that difficulty would arise under this Amendment.
Therefore, it seems to me that our form of words is, on the whole, a preferable one, and for this reason. It seems to me that we cover more perfectly and more completely than does the Under-Secretary's Amendment the possibility of a letter not being received. We cover it, because in the Under-Secretary's Amendment one of the alternative conditions is that the registered letter shall be "sent." "Sent," I take it, means "dispatched," whereas we require that it shall be "served upon," which means that it shall actually reach the individual. Therefore, it seems to me that not only is the difficulty which the Under-Secretary apprehends a difficulty which does not arise under our Amendment, but one which does arise under his, but equally our Amendment gives a slightly better safeguard to the people concerned than does the Under-Secretary's Amendment.
I do not want to stress this small difference too much, because I do not think it is likely in practice to arise in any large number of cases, in view of the action which the Under-Secretary has taken in putting down his Amendment; but I think it might be helpful, in deciding on the course which my hon. Friends and I will take, if the Under-Secretary could indicate whether, in the light of that, he thinks that the form of words 993 which we use is perhaps slightly—I do not put it higher than that—more apt than his own.
§ Mr. Stewart
I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) that the form of words in his Amendment is more apt than that of the Government Amendment. With regard to the first half of his Amendment, the main difference is the use of the word "served" rather than "sent," I think he will agree. I think I am correct in saying that that raises a real ambiguity. It is quite clear what is meant by sending a registered letter; it means "dispatching" it, and I think it must be said that anyone who sends a registered letter has taken as much reasonable precaution to see that the recipient gets it as he can reasonably be expected to take. It is not quite clear what is meant by the word "serving" in the case of a registered letter. I do not think the hon. Gentleman will really press that point.
The other difference concerns the second part of the hon. Member's Amendment. I thought I had indicated that the objection to that is that the people of whom we are speaking come under military law by a Clause in this Bill to which we have already agreed as from a date specified in the notice; and the legal position, therefore—the circumstances in which they can be apprehended and punished—follow from that fact.
The admission of the second part of the hon. Gentleman's Amendment would undo something to which we have already agreed in an earlier stage of the Bill, and it would be putting on the Service authorities a burden of administration which is really more than would be reasonable to expect. I would ask the Committee, therefore, to believe that we have been anxious not recklessly to sacrifice the rights and convenience of the pensioner to the needs of good administration, but that we have now stretched the matter as far as it can reasonably be expected to stretch.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for the trouble he has taken to meet the serious points which were raised last time in the Committee stage. Every criticism which he has directed to our Amendment is really a criticism of Government Amendments in the National Service Act, 1947. If the hon. Gentleman 994 will look at the Schedule to the 1947 Act, he will see that the same alteration with regard to call-up as was made in the 1947 Act concerning Territorials was made in relation to the general call-up under the 1939 Act. Therefore, I am not tremendously impressed by the hon. Gentleman's criticism of Amendments made by this Government in the National Service Act, 1947, but I am grateful to him for the effort which he has made to meet our point. He says that one difficulty here is that under this Measure the Reservist comes under military law from the time specified in the notice. But that is also the case—he is not a reservist—with the National Service man under the notice served under the 1939 Act, and if the lion. Member will look at the Schedules of the 1947 Act he will see that point has no substance in it. I think I am right in saying that the Amendments made to the 1939 Act in the 1947 Act were introduced by the Attorney-General.
The fact remains that the service pensioner is made subject to military law by the posting to him of a registered letter which he might never receive. He will become subject to military law from the time stated in that letter which he might never receive. The hon. Member has told us of the administrative arrangements to see that no injustice is done, but in law that individual will be subject to military law from that moment. It may well be that he does not receive the registered letter because he is on holiday in Southern Ireland. When he comes back he will be an absentee because he has not reported on the due date.
That was the danger against which we sought to guard. It is not completely guarded against by this Amendment in the name of the Parliamentary Secretary. This Bill has to go elsewhere and I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to say he will give further consideration to this point so as to see if there is some method whereby he can guard against that danger. I do not think it is completely guarded against by saying there will be a Proclamation in this country. Some people concerned might be on holiday overseas. I am concerned to see that the man who has served long years in the Army and Air Force and is drawing a pension shall not have a black mark put against his character as an absentee merely through non-receipt of the notice. If the hon. Member will say that he will 995 try to cover that small point then I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) will willingly and gladly withdraw his Amendment in view of the strenuous efforts that the Parliamentary Secretary has made to meet it.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I think the Committee should have some understanding of what is proposed in the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). In the second part of it it says:A person who fails to comply with a notice shall be liable to be apprehended and unless he has some reasonable excuse punished in the same manner as a person enlisted in the regular forces or the regular air force according as he was a Army pensioner or an air force pensioner.The Parliamentary Secretary has already explained that so far as Southern Ireland is concerned this Bill will be a dead letter. They may send a letter to a pensioner in Ireland; they may send a registered letter to a pensioner in Ireland; but when it comes to sending an escort to apprehend the pensioner in Ireland they may be up against some slight diplomatic and technical difficulty.
I am not so much interested in the pensioner in Ireland as in the pensioner in Scotland. Under this particular Subsection, what we are doing is putting into operation a piece of legislative machinery which may call up an ex-soldier and make him liable to court-martial as a result of which the maximum sentence is two years' hard labour. It is conceivable that this ex-pensioner may have an entirely different conception of his duty in other circumstances in the last war than of his duty in the next war. I want to give a practical illustration of this. There is no doubt as a result of the experience of war the point of view of soldiers change. I know, for example, soldiers who served in the International Brigade in the first war——
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Gentleman's remarks are quite irrelevant to this Amendment. The Clause as a whole deals with the question of the reward of pensions and the notice appropriate for such award.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am sorry if I have transgressed the rules of Order, but if I had been allowed to pursue my illustration I might have explained my point. I object to any more British citizens being offered to this military machine. Under this Clause a man may be charged before a court-martial and be liable to two years military imprisonment, at the end of which, if he is discharged——
§ The Chairman
This does not arise under the Clause. It may arise elsewhere, but this is a question purely of machinery. If the hon. Gentleman can, he should address his remarks to that point.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am endeavouring to find out what exactly this Amendment, moved by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) means. It has to be apprehended that it means that the whole power of the military machine will be used to send a person to two years' imprisonment. I fail to see how that is a means of setting the people free. Rather does it mean the enslavement of a section of the population by putting them under military discipline, to which I object.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The Under-Secretary rose before the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) with a view to replying to my hon. and learned Friend.
§ Mr. Stewartindicated dissent.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I understand he does not wish to do so now. If that is the position, it is a little less satisfactory than I had hoped. I do not think it right in the circumstances to divide the Committee since the point of difference has been substantially narrowed, and the Under-Secretary has made an attempt to deal with this very considerable problem. I had hoped for support from the hon. Member for South Ayrshire to prevent innocent people being taken away by military escort.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment made:
In page 2, line 40, at end, insert:
Provided that no steps shall be taken against a person in respect of failure to comply with such a notice unless either it is proved that the notice was received by him or the notice was sent addressed as aforesaid by registered post; and where, in the case of a
notice not sent by registered post, it appears to the appropriate Service Authority that the person to whom the notice relates may not have received the notice, the Authority may serve on him by registered post a subsequent notice superseding the original notice."—[Mr. M. Stewart.]
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.