HC Deb 22 November 1948 vol 458 cc998-1009

"No person recalled for service under this Act shall be liable, without his consent, to be appointed, transferred or attached to any military body to which he could not, without his consent, have been appointed, transferred or attached at the time of his original enlistment.—[Brigadier Head.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Brigadier Head (Carshalton)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

We have put down this new Clause because we feel, with other hon. Members on all sides, that the whole spirit on which the modern army is founded is that of esprit de corps and of maintaining pride in the unit. That spirit is jeopardised and undermined if the War Office, which is the centre of such policies, decides to go in for large-scale cross-posting. A large number of regimental soldiers fear that for administrative convenience the "A" branch of the War Office will disregard the strong feelings which men build up for their units. They will rather be considering men as bodies or digits than human beings by going in for a system of cross-posting without regard to the feelings which have grown up in men during their service in the Army.

This is really an extension of the same principle, namely, that the men who are recalled should be retained within the Army in those units, or at any rate within the same arms of the Service, in which they originally served. What we require is an assurance by the Under-Secretary that the general policy of leaving a man where he has served or where his affiliations, general interests and traditions lie should not be interrupted by the way in which he is cross-posted after he has been called up by this Act.

Mr. M. Stewart

At the outset of the discussion on this matter I should answer a question which was raised when the Bill was previously before the Committee, namely, What are the legal rights of a man in this connection? The answer is simply a matter of fact, and it is that legally he is regarded as having been discharged from his previous engagement and he would not therefore have a legal right of attachment to the corps to which he belonged. I answer that only because hon. Gentlemen required me to do so. It does not affect the general merits of how we ought to seek to make use of his services when he is recalled.

In that connection, I would say, first, that normally it is in the interests of the country, the Service and the man himself that we should get the best possible service out of him and that in considering for what task he is to be recalled we should bear in mind all the relevant factors. They will be, for example, his previous experience in the Army, possibly the knowledge and experience he may since have acquired in his occupation in civilian life, his age, his health and even the part of the country from which he comes may have an effect; but certainly one of the relevant factors will be the loyalties, traditions and interests which he had during his previous service.

While I say that, it would not be proper to put into an Act of Parliament something which would preclude, if it really was necessary, his being transferred to do some kind of task which was not of the kind he had previously done or in the corps in which he had previously served. We must remember that a considerable period of time may have elapsed between the conclusion of his first engagement and the emergency in which he is recalled, and if we are to get the proper service out of him and to provide him with something useful to do, it might not be possible to do it in the Corps in which he previously served.

Here again I would remind the Committee that if we accepted into the Act a provision of this kind, we should be providing for the Army and Air Force pensioner something which is not provided and has not for many years been provided under the similar procedure for the Naval pensioner. I do not attach too much importance to that, but none the less I thought it a point to be considered. One of the reasons for the introduction of the Bill was the alignment of the Service procedure but there is a further point to which I would particularly call the attention of hon. Members. That is that the whole business of transferring men—I entirely agree with hon. Members opposite—is distasteful and the regret, at the very least, which it is bound to occasion to the man can only be justified if real necessity exists and if there is a real gain in efficiency. But when are those circumstances most likely to arise?

9.45 p.m.

It is in exactly the kind of emergency for which the Bill provides. Hon. Members will know that the rights of soldiers in certain circumstances not to be transferred from one corps to another had to be set aside at the beginning of the recent emergency. It may be a matter for argument whether the emergency right of transfer possessed by the War Office was in all circumstances wisely used, but I do not think hon. Members will seriously dispute that it was reasonable for the Service authorities to be given that right of transfer during a war, during a period of emergency.

It will be realised that the Bill has effect and that these pensioners are to be recalled only in time of emergency. What would happen, therefore, if, in spite of the other arguments I have advanced, we admitted into the Bill a Clause of this kind? It would inevitably be that, the moment the Bill became of any use, the moment the emergency occurred, the right would certainly be swept away by emergency legislation at the time. I think, therefore, that hon. Members will agree that it would not be reasonable to insert this provision in the Bill.

Mr. A. R. W. Low (Blackpool, North)

I want to answer some of the points which have been put by the hon. Gentleman. I think his main argument for refusing to accept the new Clause was that in times of emergency to which the Bill specifically refers and applies, the War Office must have the power to cross-post and that, if they do not have it, they will take it by emergency legislation. Let me make just two points. First, as we discussed during Second Reading and, I think, the hon. Gentleman himself said in Committee, the emergency might result in a partial or a general mobilisation. His argument, therefore, is not wholly good. There might be a call-up under partial mobilisation in which the cross-posting powers might not be as fully justified. I ask him to reconsider the matter for that reason.

The hon. Gentleman said during the Second Reading Debate that the War Office plan for the working of the scheme was to consider in advance what would be suitable vacancies for these men. Therefore, the decision as to where they shall go will be taken not in times of emergency, but in times of no emergency. The hon. Gentleman intends, so he told us, only to call up men who have definite jobs to which to go. I submit, therefore, that the emergency argument was not a good one.

The hon. Gentleman argued also that it was improper to insert such a Clause into a Bill like the one we are discussing. Why, then, was this Clause, or words very similar to it, in the Army Act for so many years? How does he justify that? The Committee is aware, of course, that wartime emergency legislation put an end, for the duration of the war, to that Clause in the Army Act, and that earlier this year we specifically amended that Act by removing the Clause. But the hon. Gentleman's argument that we could not have such a Clause in an Act of Parliament must fail completely when it is realised that such a Clause was in that Act for such a very long time. For 12, or possibly the 20 years, the men concerned will have enlisted in the Army as regular volunteers at a time when the old Army Act was operative. One of the conditions of their volunteering would have been that they would not be cross-posted without their consent.

The hon. Gentleman told us—and I have no doubt he is quite right—that, legally, having been discharged at the end of their service, when they are recalled under this Measure they are entering a new engagement and therefore cannot call in aid the condition that they would not be cross-posted, promised on their original engagement. But, I am sure he will agree that if they cannot call it in aid legally, they can call it in aid morally, because the only reason why they are subject to this Measure and liable to be called up to the high age of 60, is that originally they enlisted in the Army as volunteers under certain conditions. That is why they have become liable to the provisions of this Measure; they were volunteers in the Regular Army by their own wish. It would seem almost a breach of faith with these men that the War Office should say, "Now we have recalled you, we have you on a new engagement and can put you where we want to put you. We need have no regard to the terms on which you originally joined the Army."

I hope the hon. Gentleman will look at the matter again. The War Office have no need for the sweeping powers for which they ask, for the very good reason given in the hon. Gentleman's Second Reading speech, that the Government intend calling up only those for whom they have specified jobs. If the War Office decide—as decide they ought, and would if they followed the hon. Gentleman's intentions—only to recall pensionable soldiers for whom they have specific jobs ready, I think that on reconsideration the hon. Gentleman will agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) that there is a good case for this proposed Clause.

I hope when considering the matter now, or later, the hon. Gentleman will not bear in mind the reason given by his right hon. Friend earlier this year for introducing the power to cross-post into Army practice in peace-time. The reason given then was that now we have accepted conscription in this country, we can do what we like with the volunteer. That seems to be a wholly repugnant argument. It was put forward by the right hon. Gentleman——

Mr. Stewartindicated dissent.

Mr. Low

—it is no use the hon. Gentleman shaking his head—and so disgusted the House that we had a Division almost immediately after. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will get that idea out of his mind. I am not so sure that there is not still a trace of it in his mind, which accounts for his reluctance to accept the proposed Clause.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

I wish to say a word about this new Clause as I served for two years during the war in an "A" branch of the War Office. Perhaps I may take my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) to task for what he said about "A" branches. They are most unwilling to have men transferred, whether with their consent, or against their consent. The Adjutant-General is just as much concerned with the morale of the men as with their bodies, and I have no doubt that that applies to all Adjutants-General.

I think a criticism can be made of the wording of the new Clause. The words used would provide that a man should not be, "appointed, transferred or attached," except to the corps of his original enlistment. I imagine that there will be quite a number of pensioners who enlisted perhaps 20 or more years ago. For example, I can imagine that quite a number of them originally enlisted in the R.A.O.C. and subsequently entered the R.E.M.E. at the time of its formation less than 10 years ago. As I understand this Amendment, its effect would be to provide that the person in question would have to be posted, in the first place at all events, to the corps of his original enlistment, in other words the R.A.O.C. I do not think that that would be right or profitable, nor do I think it is what my hon. Friends desire.

May I make a suggestion to the Government which, if they could agree to consider it favourably, might make it unnecessary for us to divide the Committee? Supposing it were provided that a person recalled under the provisions of this Measure had to be recalled into the corps in which he was last serving, that would at any rate get us somewhere. It would mean that a man who had last served in the R.E.M.E. would begin his new term of service in the same corps. If he could be treated as if he were serving on a Regular engagement and not an emergency engagement, his position would be exactly the same as if he had never broken off his service but was continuing to perform it. I do not know if that suggestion will find favour in the eyes of the Government, but I think it reflects what is intended by the proposed Clause. If the Government could agree to look favourably at this suggestion it would go a long way towards meeting my fears on this subject.

Mr. Low

May I point out to my hon. Friend that since the first line of the proposed new Clause contains the words "without his consent …" the objection which he has expressed to the wording of the Clause falls completely to the ground. Of course, the man would obviously not object to going back to the corps in which he was last serving, because as he was presumably enlisted at a time when he could only have been transferred to that corps with his consent, he must be taken as consenting to go back to it. In my submission there is little in the point put against the proposed new Clause by my hon. Friend, although I agree with much that he had to say on other points.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I do not intend to engage in the argument between my hon. Friends as to the interpretation to be put upon this Clause. As a lawyer, I think there is some force in the argument put forward by my hon. Friend who preceded me. There seems to be very little in substance between both sides of the Committee in this matter. The hon. Gentleman has given a long list of the factors to be taken into account in the posting of these individuals on their recall. At the end of that long list he said that one of the factors to be taken into account was that of old loyalties and the traditions of the Service of the particular pensioner concerned.

I should like to see that factor put at the very top of the list. If the hon. Gentleman could go so far as to say that that will be the first matter for consideration it would go some way to alleviate such qualms as I feel, and might, although I do not know, alleviate some of the qualms of my hon. Friends. It should be one of the chief factors. I should like the hon. Gentleman also to consider whether he could give further consideration to trying to find some form of words, as the words on the Order Paper apparently will not do, to meet the points put by my hon. Friends behind me. The object of both sides of the Committee is really the same as to the intention in relation to the manner in which these Service pensioners shall be dealt with on recall.

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Stewart

When I gave the list of factors that have to be considered to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has just referred, it is true that I did end with this particular one but that, I think, he will realise, was to give emphasis to it and to link it up with the general line of argument. I had no intention of suggesting that because it was last in order it was least in consideration. I could not go to the length of saying that it must be regarded as of first and prime importance, but I would agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman's amended version when he said it was one of the chief factors to be considered.

It has been suggested that because a provision of this kind used to be in the Army Act it is, therefore, quite reasonable to have it in an Act of this type. But here we are providing something which has not existed in the Army before—the recalling after an interval of years of men for service when they will be of an age when men are not recalled to an Army engagement and would have had different experience behind them. In the genuine search to find work for them in which they would be happy and useful, and feel they were serving their country, and working in a way which would fit in properly with the whole military machine, we could not have, as it were, one hand tied by a statutory requirement of this kind.

I assure the Committee that we are not in the habit of regarding men and particularly these men, merely as bodies or pegs or items. The whole approach to them is a personal one. The hon. Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low) said we ought to consider what to do with them before an emergency arises. That is true, but there again, although we consider that beforehand, we consider it with an emergency in view. Further, it is surely the fact that no one can exactly predict what will develop in an emergency. I ask the Committee to accept the assurance that we are well aware of the full weight and importance of the point advanced. But I ask the Committee also to accept the view that it would not be reasonable to give statutory expression to what is proposed.

Mr. Low

The hon. Gentleman has not given full enough weight to the words "without his consent" at the end of the first line in the Clause. The whole thing is subject to consent. Therefore there is no question of tying the hands of the War Office and preventing them from allowing these men to serve the Army in the place in which they and the War Office together think that they will best serve their country. All these men will, ex hypothesi, be over the ordinary conscription age. They would not be called up, or recalled, by any other engagement and, therefore, they should be treated as the Regulars were treated in the old days.

We must get out of our minds this theory to which I have referred already, that just because we have conscription we can do what we like with everybody in the Army. I am sure that hon. Members below the Gangway will agree, at any rate, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to say that he will reconsider it and that perhaps an Amendment will be introduced in another place. If he cannot say that I shall continue to feel that this Clause ought to be in the Bill now.

Brigadier Head

I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low). I am not as happy as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) with the assurances which have been given. My reasons for disquiet are that the men being called up are small in number and their value will be dependent on their goodwill on call-up. It would be a nice act on the part of the Under-Secretary either to reconsider or to put into the Bill some assurance that he does not intend to do what is described in the Army in un-Parliamentary language. These men are long-service men. If called up and treated tactfully they will give loyal and contented service. If they are called up and posted to units of which they take a "dim view," and if that is done by the "A" branch in a somewhat soulless way, it will have disastrous results. The hon. Gentleman assures us that this will be considered in a personal way. I have been in the Army long enough to know that kind of assurance and what it means. What happens is that if a man is a motor mechanic, he finds himself cleaning out the stables in the only remaining cavalry unit, or something like that. I am glad to see that hon. Gentlemen opposite agree.

Major Bruce (Portsmouth, North)

That is the good old Tory way.

Brigadier Head

It is well known. I am talking about the Army and cross-posting. I am not talking politics. All we are doing is to try to ensure a square deal for men called up who would not normally be called up and who would not normally be cross-posted. Some assurance on the lines we desire would not only please them—if they ever hear about it—but would reassure us that the best use will be made of their services. We should be satisfied that the assurances of the War Office would be carried out if this suggestion were incorporated in the Bill. I hope that we can have some promise that the hon. Gentleman will reconsider the matter.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I should like to clear up a point with which the hon. Gentleman did not deal. The legal position of these men when recalled is that they will not come back as Regular soldiers serving on their original engagement but as if they had joined the Service as conscripts for the first time. This is a new situation which is created by this Bill and which did not arise under the Army Act. Is there any difficulty about providing that when these men come back, they shall be treated as if they were serving on a continuation of their original engagement so as to make them Regular soldiers instead of conscripts? I agree that that would not have any immediate legal effect, but it would give them a great deal more confidence than they will have if they merely feel that they are conscripts who can be cross-transferred as they know other conscripts are transferred. The hon. Gentleman did not deal with that point. Can he say whether I am right in my statement of the legal position and, if I am right, whether he will give consideration to this suggestion.

Mr. M. Stewart

I should like to be clear as to the extent of the suggestion. It is true that legally, unless we take action to prevent it, these men could be called conscripts. Is the hon. Gentleman's suggestion merely that we should adopt some procedure which will prevent that being legally so and which will enable a man to say that legally he has entered into another voluntary engagement? We could go as far as that, but I should not be prepared to go as far as to say that it would follow from that we should not have the right to cross-post him if need arose. What we can do—and what we should be prepared to do if any of these pensioners required it—is to say when he receives his notice, "Here is a form of enlistment which you can sign which will make you in name a voluntary soldier. If you wish to say that all your life you have been, not only in fact but in law, a voluntary soldier, we will make arrangements so that that shall be so." I had intended to mention that to the Committee earlier, but it did not actually arise in argument, and is only partly related to the new Clause we are discussing. However, if that is the point in the hon. Gentleman's mind, we can meet it in the way I have suggested.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I should like to go a little further. The Under-Secretary knows that a soldier may continue to serve after becoming eligible for a pension, and he may go on for a longer period than he had originally contracted to serve. I am asking that this man, when recalled, should be treated as if continuing to serve for that longer period. I do not think it will make any great difference, but it would give that more general right to general transfer that other Regular soldiers would have, though it would give them no higher right. I am not suggesting that the War Office should not, in an extreme emergency, have some right to transfer, but if they can place these men as near as may be in the position in which they would have been, it would do a great deal to allay their fears.

Question put, and negatived.