HC Deb 22 November 1948 vol 458 cc1009-12

Any person recalled for service under this Act shall be granted a substantive rank not more than one grade below the substantive rank he held immediately prior to his discharge on pension.—[Mr. Manningham-Buller.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

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

This new Clause seeks to carry out and embody in the Bill a statement made by the hon. Gentleman in the course of the Second Reading Debate. He there gave an assurance to the effect contained in this new Clause, and there seems to be no apparent reason why that assurance should not be contained in this Bill. All that we have sought to do is to put his words—I will not say in more binding fashion, because we want to be fair to the hon. Gentleman—into a Bill, which can be more easily turned up than a speech made in the House of Commons.

I have only one further question to put to him in connection with that assurance. I would like to ask him what is the position, with regard to recall, of a man who was a warrant officer, who was granted an emergency commission at the beginning of the war, and is now a Service pensioner, under the Special Warrant, which I think applies to him? What is his position with regard to recall? At what substantive rank would he be recalled? I think I mentioned this point to the hon. Gentleman, but it is one which has been put to me by somebody affected thereby, and it would be useful if, when he replies on this new Clause, the hon. Gentleman could deal with this point as well.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. M. Stewart

I will first refer to the plain question of fact which the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) put to me at the end of his speech. It is a case of somebody who had been below commissioned rank, had earned a pension in that capacity, was granted an emergency commission during the war, and then retired. That person may have retired in one of two ways. He may have retired drawing retired pay and gratuity under the special terms available to officers of that category. If that is so, then he is, for purposes of retirement—and, therefore for the purposes of this Measure—an officer and outside its terms, and not liable to recall. But if, instead, he elected to draw—as was open to him—a pension at soldiers' rates, and if, further, he elected to have that pension reassessed under the terms of the Royal Warrant when published, then he would be liable under this Bill. He would have elected to be regarded as a soldier for pension purposes, and the liability would have followed. If he is so liable, and if he is recalled, the undertaking which I gave about rank would mean the rank he held before he was commissioned.

It will be realised that men of that type are not the only emergency commissioned officers who might, in certain circumstances, be recalled in emergency and required to serve in the ranks. There are, I believe, a number of Members of this House who might find themselves in that position. Indeed, in the country at large there is a very large number of people who might find themselves in that position, and I do not think it is one to which objection could reasonably be taken. On the main body of the new Clause, we are again asked to put into a statute something which I do not believe is appropriate for legislation. We are asked to say that we will not employ a man below a certain rank and to tie that by the fixity of a statute which is expressly intended to deal with an emergency the exact extent, duration or deepening of which no one is able to prophesy. That, I suggest, is exactly the kind of case with which it is appropriate to deal by a firm declaration of the intention of the Service authority rather than by the words of a statute.

I know that, quite rightly, hon. Members are always chary of relying on an affirmation of Ministerial intention rather than on the express words of a statute, but no one would maintain, I think, that everything should be dealt with by statute, and nothing by declaration of intention. I submit that if there is a topic which it is not reasonable to put in a statute, it is something which would bind a Service authority in all circumstances, whatever the length, nature, duration or depth of the emergency, not to employ a man below a certain rank. I would repeat that the undertaking which I gave will be fulfilled as far as human prudence can foresee or judge the nature of the emergency, but if anything should happen so unforeseen as to create a situation in which no reasonable person would expect that undertaking to be fulfilled, it would be foolish if it were then necessary to come to this House to untie the statutory knot which we had unnecessarily tied.

I would ask hon. Members to remember that this is a question in which the interests of the pensioner and of the Service Department march together since it is to the interest of the Service Department to get the best and fullest service out of the pensioner. There is no need to believe that they will endeavour to employ men in a lower rank than they otherwise might. I think that on consideration, hon. Members will agree that it would not be reasonable to press this new Clause.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am a little disquieted by what the Under-Secretary has said. It amounted not merely to a preference for ministerial assurances over statutory provisions, which is one thing, but to a definite whittling down of what the Under-Secretary said. I would remind the Under-Secretary of what he said on 4th November to an interruption from his right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger). He said: Yes, but in no case should we recall him and require him to serve in more than one rank lower than the rank he held immediately prior to discharge."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1948; Vol. 457, c. 1076.] I ask the Committee to note the words "in no case."

The Under-Secretary has now said that he can contemplate cases arising out of what he described as the deepening of the emergency, and that he had contemplated cases in which he would do precisely what he then said he would not do. This takes the matter a little further, perhaps, than whether it is better to have a statutory provision or a ministerial assurance, because the Under-Secretary has sought to qualify the assurance which he then gave. The fact that he has now done so merely in response to an Amendment which sought to write into the Act his own assurance must inevitably arouse in the minds of these pensioners some doubt as to the validity of other assurances which are given.

There is surely no case in which it is more desirable that there should be absolute certainty than this. After all we are here dealing with people of an age up to 60, who will be brought back by the legislative powers from their civilian jobs—dragged back at an age at which, as an hon. Member pointed out on a previous Amendment, no other section of the population is liable to be dragged back. They will be dragged back from their ordinary occupations, and surely they are more entitled than anybody to seek to be protected by statutory provisions as to the terms on which they will be brought back.

Both for that reason and because the Under-Secretary has now said that he can contemplate cases in which he would do what a fortnight ago he said he would in no case do, I am far more disquieted by what the Under-Secretary has said on this matter than by anything else that has taken place in this Debate this evening.

Question put, and negatived.

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