HC Deb 30 November 1949 vol 470 cc1141-2
45. Mr. Blackburn

asked the Minister of Defence when he will implement his pledge that legislation will be introduced during the lifetime of the present Parliament to reform courts martial procedure in the three Services.

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

As the House knows, the Government are unable to take final decisions on the revision of the Services court martial procedure until the report of Mr. Justice Pilcher's Committee on the Naval system has been considered. The Committee have devoted great efforts to this extremely complex subject but their report, though expected shortly, has not yet been presented. In these circumstances, I cannot say when it will be possible to introduce legislation.

Mr. Blackburn

Does that answer mean that the Minister of Defence now states to the House that he is not going to implement the pledge he gave to this House? Is he aware of the fact that the Lewis Committee sat for two years and presented a unanimous report, and that I told the Minister in this House that the Pilcher Committee would not be able to report in time? Will he please go ahead and deal with reforms in the Army and Air Force? Is he aware that his conduct in this matter is so wonderful that not even a Tory Minister under Lord North would have dared to do what he has done?

Mr. Alexander

The Pilcher Committee report must be received first because it was established on the basis of the Lewis Committee, and unless that is done the future position of the Royal Navy is likely to be prejudiced. We will not proceed with the two Services alone without getting the position right for the Navy as well. We have pressed very hard for the work of the Pilcher Committee to be speeded up. I had hoped when I made the pledge early in the year that we should have had the interim report on the main questions by July, when the promise I gave could have easily been implemented. Unfortunately, we have not been able to get that report in time. I am sure the two hon. Members of the House who sit on the Pilcher Committee will support me in that.

Mr. S. Silverman

Can my right hon. Friend explain to the House what is so exceptional in naval procedure which makes it impossible for the report to be ready on a matter which has already been investigated in the other two Services? What is it that holds it up?

Mr. Alexander

That has been debated in this House and is not a subject which can be gone into at Question Time.

Mr. Blackburn

In view of the unsatisfactory reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.