HC Deb 05 April 1951 vol 486 cc392-417

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

Mr. H. Macmillan

The Clause makes an important and, so far as I know, new provision. As I understand it, it permits a soldier who has re-engaged in order to complete 22 years' service to apply to continue beyond those 22 years at any time after he has served for 15 years. The Clause is one which my hon. and right hon. Friends have for some years suggested might be included in our system of recruiting, and we express our appreciation of the fact that the Government have now decided to take this additional step and hope that it will be beneficial in getting these longer engagements for the particular type of men who may be so helpful both to the Army and to the Air Force.

There are one or two points which I should like the hon. Gentleman to explain when he replies. I do not know the meaning of the words "original term" towards the beginning of the new Section 85 (2), which appear in page 4, line 44, of the Bill. The advice we have received is that, contrary to what one would expect—but that is so often so with the law—the words mean, not "original term," but "current term." If that is the legal meaning, the effect of the subsection is what we all want: it is to allow men to apply to extend their service for periods of up to five years if they have had a break in their service. That is a very important point.

What I am asking is whether the word "original,"—which one would have thought should have been "current"—if applied, say, to a man who had completed his original engagement of 12 years, who had then left the Service without re-engagement and who then re-enlisted, would enable such a man then to apply to continue beyond the 22 years during the last 12 months of his new—that is, his current—service, and not, as would appear on the surface, preclude him because that period was not the last 12 months of his original service, he having already served that and passed out of the Forces. This is a point merely of meaning, but I hope it will be made clear beyond doubt, because otherwise it would take away from what I understand to be one of the main purposes of the Clause.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will refer also to another point on which there is considerable divergence of opinion. Under subsection (6, a) of the new Section 85, periods spent on National Service do not count towards the total number of years—15 under the new arrangement—which a man has to serve before he can apply for extended service. In other words, if a man's first two years' service were National Service, they would not count and he would have to serve another 15 years in the fixing of the time before which he could apply for extended service beyond the longer period.

There are arguments both ways. There, are already, of course, many very satisfactory and helpful inducements to National Service men to join for limited periods of short service or for longer periods, and it could well be argued that to make matters still more favourable would be discouraging to enlistment. At the same time, there is a feeling among some of us, and, I think, in many parts of the Committee, that it would be fairer to allow these two years to count. I do not press the point, but merely raise it.

Subject to these two questions of detail—first, the meaning of the word "original" and being sure that it covers what we want, and secondly, the point regarding the two years of National Service—we believe that this is a wise new provision in the Bill. It is one which we have suggested for several years and we are glad that the Government have seen their way to include it in this year's proposals.

Brigadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)

I should like to address a query to the Under-Secretary of State regarding the question of extension of service. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) has said, it is a matter for which we on this side have been pressing very hard because of the whole question of security of employment, both while a man is in the Army and after he has left it. It is a question not only of pay, but of making an Army career a career for life. As each extension is granted, does the pension of the individual on retirement increase with the extension? If not, I can foresee a recurrence of what has sometimes happened in the past.

A man who has devoted a great deal of his life to the service of the Army may come to the end of his very long extended service and find himself far too old for any sort of employment. One knows how difficult it is nowadays to get employment in civilian life even for a man who is only 40 years of age. Therefore, I want to know whether men who extend their service to this extent will be granted adequate pensions at the end of their time so as to encourage them to stay on and also to encourage recruitment for the Forces generally.

I support also the remarks of my right hon. Friend regarding the two years' service of National Service men. We want to encourage as many National Service men as possible to stay on as Regular soldiers after their National Service. The question of two years in 25 years' service is not a very great deterrent, I admit, but it is a slight deterrent nevertheless. The matter ought to be looked at again, and I should very much like to hear what the Under-Secretary has to say about it.

Mr. Bellenger

I think the whole House will agree with the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) that the Clause now inserted in the Bill, in redemption of the promise made by the Secretary of State during discussion on the Army Estimates, will benefit considerably the Regular Army and Air Force. Several questions emerge as a result of the new provision, but I do not want to take up the time of the Committee in putting them seriatim to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.

I have considerable sympathy with the point about the two years' National Service. It is a sort of apprenticeship, whether it be for the other ranks or for the commissioned ranks, and I think it should be included for all purposes, not only for the purposes specified in the Clause but for pensions, and so forth.

I ask my hon. Friend whether it is possible to publish in some form of which the House can take cognisance, what is to follow as a result of passing this Clause today. I have no doubt that various instructions will appear in Army Council Instructions, which are not ordinarily seen by hon. Members. I am not sure whether they are placed in the Library; they were not during certain periods of the war. Is it possible to give the House information on detailed points, some of which have been put and others which we have refrained from putting, as we do not want to take up the time of the Committee?

Mr. Low

I wish to comment on the question of counting the two years of National Service. I realise that there are arguments both ways, but it has always seemed to me that it is most in the interests of the Service to encourage National Service men to volunteer as Regulars as early as possible during their service under the National Service Acts. It would seem to run counter to that, to enable a man who has served two years' National Service, without making up his mind whether to volunteer or not, to have the same advantages as a man who had made up his mind to take the plunge considerably earlier in his National Service. That would seem, from the point of view of the advantage to the Service, to be a good reason for supporting the subsection as it stands. On the other hand, I appreciate that we should be unwise to put any discouragement or deterrent in the way of the man who has completed his two years' National Service and is still thinking of volunteering.

I should like the Under-Secretary to tell us about how these various arguments, when properly weighed up, lead to one or other of these right conclusions. I agree with other hon. Members that this is only one side of the problem. There is the question whether a man's National Service, when he engages immediately after the two years, or during that period, should be counted towards pension. I am not sure what is the present rule. Nor am I sure of the present rule about seniority and whether service as a National Service man helps in seniority and whether length of service matters for that purpose.

In any case, the Committee will probably agree that it would be wrong to allow a man who had completed his National Service, left the Army, and later come back and volunteered as a Regular, to count the two years, either for the purposes of this Clause, the purposes of pension, or anything else. If the Committee decided that it would like this Clause to be amended so as to allow a man to volunteer during his National Service or immediately on the conclusion of two years' National Service, we should put in words to safeguard that. I imagine that the Committee would all agree to that.

4.15 p.m.

We are probably all guided by one aim in this matter. It is that we should do nothing to discourage men from joining the Regular Army. That must be our aim, and because I see the difficulties and the equally balanced arguments on these points, I hope the Under-Secretary will make a very full statement of his views and the views of the War Office on the matter.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

A year ago the Opposition put down an Amendment to the Army Act and I pleaded with them to withdraw it on the understanding that the Government would look at their proposal. There is no doubt whatever that on all sides of the Committee we want to put forward proposals which will encourage the long-service Regular soldier to stay in the Army on conditions attractive to him. I am sure that what the Government have put into the Bill is much better than that which was on the Order Paper last year, but I am still not quite convinced that this is the answer to the problem. It is a matter which the Committee will have to watch very closely.

A year ago I said that probably I was the only hon. Member who had been called upon to make up his mind on this particular point. The Committee should look very carefully at the case of the warrant officer with some 15 years' service. What is going to happen to him when he leaves the Army, or if he decides to reengage for a further five years starting with his 22nd year? He does not know where he will be called upon to serve, nor what is to happen to his children. One of his children may be quite brilliant and win a scholarship to a secondary school. He does not know what his housing prospects will be—

Mr. Emrys Hughes


Mr. Wigg

He may have to leave married quarters and go to look for a house. All these things have to be borne in mind. Before the war that same warrant officer could wait until the end of his service. We should bear in mind that everyone else was waiting also and such a man would not feel that unless he reengaged in his 15th year he would lose a chance of being W.O. Class 1. The same man may be extremely hesitant now, and he may feel that because of all the uncertainties it would be better to turn his back on the Army and look for a job in civilian life.

While I welcome what is in the Bill, I am not by any means convinced by it. It is not the final step. I am sure that all Members of the Committee want to keep the long-service man in the Army. In order to do that, a lot more has to be done in the way of guaranteed jobs and training for jobs and to meet the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) about the provision of houses. This is something which ought to be done by local authorities. They ought to give consideration to long service N.C.O.s so that at the end of their service they may have a roof over their heads and not have to do as I did, commute their pension in order to get a house. My case was by no means exceptional. This happens to most of us when we leave the Army. We have to consider what is to happen to our families and the longer one waits, the worse the problem becomes.

I hope my hon. Friend will look at the problem and see whether the new proposal is producing the answer we want and not in fact dissuading the long-service soldier from re-engaging and, subsequently, from continuing in the Army after he has completed 22 years' service.

Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

Perhaps the simplest thing for the Undersecretary to do would be to begin by answering one specific question which I will put to him. Would he say whether his Department consider it more important to get a large number of National Service men to continue their service as Regulars, or is he more anxious that they should give early notice of what they propose to do? That point arises out of what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low). There are obviously two sides to the argument and there seems to be running through the debate a tendency to encourage men to make a decision whether or not they are going on as Regulars as soon as possible after their full-time National Service has begun.

I would put to the Committee that it is probably in the latter half of his two years' National Service that a man will have the best time. He goes through a somewhat intensive training in the first year and it is not until he has served a year that he will get into a regiment which is a Regular fighting unit. It is probably in that period that he is most likely to decide to go on as a Regular. I suggest that we should not unduly stress the importance of getting this early decision from the National Service men. What we should concentrate upon is getting as many men as possible to carry on as Regular soldiers. That being so, we should give every encouragement to them to do that, provided we do not discourage the men who volunteer right from the word "go."

I have yet to be convinced that there are any Regular soldiers serving today who would resent this particular facility being granted to the National Service men. It is a small facility, that a National Service man who becomes a Regular should have the right to count in his 15 years the two years he served as a National Service man. I do not believe it would be any discouragement whatever to Regular recruiting. I do not believe there is that friction between National Service men and Regular soldiers, especially National Service men who eventually do become Regulars. I quite understand, as the matter stands at the moment, that if a National Service man does become a Regular during the course of his full-time National Service, he is allowed to count the unexpired portion of his full-time service. That will not be a very long period, probably a year at the most, and it may make just that difference in the case of a few men in persuading them to become Regulars.

All of us who have followed these debates each year, and the Service debates, are entirely unanimous upon one point—even the pacifists. That is that if we must have an Army let us have a volunteer Regular Army rather than a conscript Army if it can possibly be arranged. Therefore anything we can do to get a greater number of Regular soldiers is worth encouraging, if it means that by so doing we greatly reduce the need for National Service men. When we first accepted the idea of National Service in the last Parliament a good many of us who have been Regular soldiers said we would far sooner see a volunteer Army continued. We had to accept the fact that what happened was necessary for the time being, but we hoped that the period of necessity would be as short as possible.

Therefore I ask the hon. Gentleman to tell us exactly what are the factors, which decided the Government to come down for this particular drafting. I am not sure that I see the argument at the moment. I am inclined to think that too much attention has been given to encouraging men to make a decision early during their full-time National Service. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will answer the question which I put to him at the beginning of my speech: which the Government considers more important, to get the men, whether at the beginning or the end of the two years, or to get them to make a decision earlier? I believe the majority of the Committee would say that we should get the greatest number, no matter when they make their decision.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)

I support the argument in favour of including this whole-time National Service with the Regular Service on which the National Service man may subsequently embark. Previous speakers have drawn attention to the balance of argument which is involved in the consideration of this matter. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) represented the views of the Committee when he said that, by and large, we all want to reduce, as quickly as possible and as soon as possible, the number of National Service men upon whom we have to rely for the provision of the forces required by this country.

While I agree that it may be desirable that a National Service man should make up his mind as quickly as possible to adopt a Regular engagement, nevertheless it ought to be possible to devise some formula which would encourage the National Service man by enabling him to count at least some portion of his National Service towards his full-time engagement. Perhaps the War Office could decide, for example, that part of the period of National Service on which a man had been engaged prior to enlistment for a Regular engagement could be counted towards his Regular service period. I am sure that some such concession could and should be made which would enable part, if not the whole, of his National Service to be counted. I was not able to follow the whole of the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), though I sympathise with the general tenor of his case.

This Clause does enable a man at the end of his 22 years' service to serve for a further period of five years. Under this Clause it is possible for a man towards the end of his 22 years' service, to enlist for a further period of 12 months, and to keep on joining for further period$ of 12 months until the maximum period of five years has been exhausted. It is possible that to be able to enlist for a further period of 12 months would help the Regular Service man very considerably. He could, when deciding whether or not to enlist for a further period of 12 months, have regard to the possibility of getting a job in civilian life, the stage reached in the education of his children, and the local housing situation in the area in which he wanted to reside. He can have all these facts in mind and take advantage of whatever situation might exist in deciding whether or not to enlist for a further period of 12 months during the last five years, a decision which this Clause places at his disposal.

4.30 p.m.

That said, this Clause is a useful advance. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that we must regard it as an experimental Clause. It goes some way towards meeting a point about which some of us have felt for some time, namely, the future of the Regular soldier on the expiration of his Regular engagement. I have long argued that in the new economic set-up which prevails in this country, there is no reason why it should not be possible for the Government to guarantee a job to every Service man who has served his whole-time service. The extent to which the Government now control jobs, the extent to which the Government can guarantee a Service man a job at the end of his Regular period of Service is very much greater now than it has ever been. It is, therefore, an undertaking upon which the Government could safely embark.

I know that would be a considerable inducement to Regular Service men not only to serve 15 or 22 years but to go on serving for the maximum period of 27 years which will now be available to them under this Clause when the Bill is on the Statute Book. I warmly support the Clause, with the reservations to which I have referred.

Mr. Wigg

I am sorry if I did not make myself clear. The Regular soldier under its old regulations would be approximately 39 years' old before he had to make up his mind whether to carry on beyond 22 years. Under the new regulations it would obviously mean that the man would be much younger when he undertook to continue his service. That being so, if he cannot see very clearly into the future as to what will happen to him, it might be, for that reason, while other people are re-engaging, he, not being quite certain what to do, may say "I am uncertain. I will get a job in civilian life." I do not say that it would work out in that way. My argument was that such doubts have to be borne in mind, and that, therefore, we ought not to be too satisfied with this provision but that next year we ought to have another look at it and see how it has worked.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

That is why I said that we ought to regard this Clause as an experiment the operation of which we shall all watch with great interest. I hope that figures will be available next year to indicate how it has operated in terms of numbers of men involved so that we may perhaps next year if necessary—if we are all still here—have an opportunity of reconsidering the matter with a view to introducing any further improvements which experience proves to have become necessary.

General Sir George Jeffreys (Petersfield)

I believe that Members on both sides of the Committee are anxious that the Regular soldier should have every possible advantage given to him, and that he should serve under definitely more favourable terms than the National Service man. It is desirable that we should make it perfectly clear that the Regular soldier, the man who engages for a long period of Regular service, should have better conditions of service than the man who comes when he is told and does the minimum that he has to do. Every possible inducement should be given to the National Service man to make up his mind at the earliest possible moment to extend his service. I can see no reason why any good service put in as a National Service man should not, in due course, count towards his service for pension.

I have great sympathy, as I believe every Regular soldier must have, with the points which were put forward by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). It is a tremendous difficulty to find not only a home in the Service for a long-service man but also a home for him when eventually he has to leave the Service. I have had considerable correspondence with the Under-Secretary of State as regards certain soldiers in my constituency, where there is one station, Borden Camp, which has risen, within my lifetime and memory, out of a strip of Whitehill Common. It has become not only a camp but a town, which has arisen on the outskirts of the camp to serve that camp, and also a very considerable Government and War Department establishment or group of establishments.

When long-service soldiers have to give up their quarters, as obviously they must do when they leave the Service, it is very difficult indeed for them, even if they are employed by Government in these establishments, as is frequently the case, to find anywhere to live. While I agree with the hon. Member for Dudley that local authorities should be urged and even expected to provide quarters, yet they have a different point of view. Their viewpoint is that they have to provide houses for their own population who have always been there, and that this "mushroom" population, if I may use that expression, which has arisen because of the Government having a large group of military establishments there, is rather out of the way. They take the view that if they are to provide quarters or houses for men on leaving the Service they should be given by the Ministry of Health an extra allotment of houses beyond what is allotted to other local authorities which have not to cater for unusual commitments of this kind. I hope that that will be borne in mind by the hon. Gentleman and the War Office.

I would also remind them that there is an Act, passed last year, which authorises the borrowing of money for the building of married quarters. I suggest that that provision might be made greater use of than is perhaps always the case at present. I hope that the Committee will agree to this Clause, but I also hope that the hon. Gentleman and his War Office colleagues will keep it under review and see whether it is not possible to improve it in some respects, at all events before next year, or possibly before this Bill becomes law.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I wish to emphasise and endorse everything that the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) has said about the necessity for seeing that the soldier is guaranteed a decent house after his 22 years' service.

The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I very nearly stopped the hon. and gallant Member when he was dealing with that point.

Mr. Hughes

I certainly did not rise to any point of order, because although I sensed that the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield was rather trespassing on some ground which was familiar to me, I thought that though his remarks were out of order they were apposite to the argument on this Clause.

I do not share the optimism of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton), who seemed to think that we could look forward to an increase in the number of National Service men who wish to become members of the Regular Army. Some recent figures relevant to this point were given in the "News Chronicle" in an interesting study of National Service men's conditions in Berlin. The conclusion was that only three per cent. of the National Service men agree to join the Regular Forces.

I can understand that, because when I was in Berlin recently I went out early one morning and met some British soldiers. I believe that they were in the Durham Light Infantry. I asked one what he thought of Army conditions in Berlin, and he replied "Bloody awful." I am afraid that that is the general opinion of the National Service men in Berlin. It is also the view of National Service men everywhere, in whatever sphere of military operations they may be engaged. It is also the view of the Regular soldier. I do not understand the point of view of the Regular Service man who, after 22 years, comes to think over the problem, "Am I to continue for a further five years?" My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has pointed out that the considerations are largely social and economic, and that it is not a question of wishing to continue his profession because a man has any particular love of the profession, but—

Mr. Wigg

That is not true. Obviously, a man with 15 years' service who has a family is concerned about the well-being of his family. I can assure my hon. Friend that there are many men who, when they leave the Service, regret that they cannot do it all over again.

Mr. Hughes

That is exactly the point I wish to emphasise. The argument of the hon. and gallant Gentleman is that what finally decides the serving soldier with this long experience is the well-being of his wife and family.

Mr. Wigg

The hon. Gentleman also said that most of these fellows do not like the Army and want to get out of it. That is untrue.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman has a greater experience of the Army than I have. I fully concede that part of the argument. His further argument was that the serving soldier was actuated at the end of his time by whether or not he could get a job, by consideration of the education of his children and by whether or not he could get a house. I submit that these are the important factors. I do not foresee that, without these determining factors, we are likely to get soldiers who wish to serve from the point of view of giving their military experience.

At the end of the 22 years the serving soldier has to face the position that society outside has so little use for him that he may be compelled to enlist for a further five years. That has been illustrated recently in Scotland where after 22 years, soldiers who had given the best of their lives in the Service were not only refused accommodation but their wives and children were evicted from the barracks in the town of Ayr. As long as that position exists, as long as we do not cater for the housing of these Servicemen, we shall be up against this almost insoluble problem.

4.45 p.m.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), must bear in mind that when he talks to soldiers in Berlin or anywhere else—I admit that perhaps he did not choose the very best regiment in Berlin—he will find that they will usually give him the same answer about their conditions and quarters in whatever part of the world they are serving, let alone in Berlin.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Especially early in the morning.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), said that that is not necessarily an indication that the soldier wants to get out of the Army. I assure the hon. Member for South Ayrshire that that is true.

I support this Clause because it is a step in the right direction although, as the hon. Member for Dudley said, it is not by any means a final solution. We want to make sure that all the conditions which will apply to a soldier at the beginning of his service will show him that here is a career, a career in which if he puts his back into it, he can make a success and reach high rank. Therefore, the longer period that is available to him, the more opportunity he has and the more encouragement there is for him to do everything he can to get on. This is at his option: there is no compulsion about the greater length of service. This suggestion in itself is sound.

On the question whether or not the two-year period of National Service should count, there can be no two opinions. I have known in my service, which is fairly long, a great many cases where men have had a sense of grievance because some little part of their time, which they have regarded as being as much a part of their service as any of the rest of it, was not allowed to count. This has annoyed them intensely.

It is the first year of service, in whatever unit it may be, which is the hardest. There is a great deal to be learned. The man is torn out of civilian life with all its slap-dash civilian ways. He is put into uniform and told what to do, and he gets into trouble if he does not do it. In the second year he begins to appreciate the life a bit more. But if he thinks that the two years' National Service are to be wasted as far as they affect pension and everything else, he says, "This is not much of a show, anyway. Why should I not count the first two years?" Those two years are just as much service as are the first two years of any Regular recruit. There is no doubt that they should be allowed to count. I hope that the Minister will say that he will look into the question and see what can be done.

We want Regular soldiers terribly badly. To get them, we must make the conditions as good as possible. Here is a possibility of making a career more attractive. I would utter a word of warning to the Minister. If he hopes to get these soldiers for long periods to give up their lives to the Army or the Air Force, but particularly the Army, he must realise that one of the greatest deterrents is the almost certain knowledge that a man has when he joins a regiment that, for almost all of the rest of his service he will never see that regiment again. That is a great deterrent. I know that those remarks do not apply to this Clause and obviously it is a matter which I cannot discuss at length; but it is a matter which will seriously affect those considering the career which this Clause opens up to them. I hope that later we shall hear something on that point.

Brigadier Thorp (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I wish to ask two questions. Clause 5 (6) says: References in this section to periods of service shall, except so far as the context otherwise requires, be construed as including references to periods served in the reserve. I should like to know what those words mean. Surely, they do not mean that a man can go on the Reserve and then come back to the Regular Army and count that period in the 15 years, when he is applying to stay on for over the 22 years? It may be that I do not properly understand the words. I should like to have that point cleared up.

I support what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan). People have been saying that the Regulars will feel it wrong if the National Service men have the same privileges as them. Let us think of a Regular recruit joining at 18 years of age. He is not at that moment thinking about the chap who is coming in as a National Service man, and I do not think he will feel that the National Service man, in 15 years' time, ought to do two more years before receiving the same privileges. At the end of his 15 years, I do not believe a Regular soldier would say that, since his friend next door had done only 13 years and two years of National Service, he should not, therefore, be able to receive those privileges. I think that would be drawing it too far, and I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to reconsider this matter and include the period of National Service in the period of 15 years.

Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)

I should like to have a little clarification on this Clause, because I am not quite clear why it has been drawn only to apply to the Army Act. Is it unnecessary to apply it to the Air Force Act? Is the Air Force already catered for? Does the Army Act cover Air Force personnel, and, if not, would it not be wise to include the Air Force in the same facilities? Clause 5 specifically refers to the soldier who has re-engaged, and it is for that reason that I draw attention to this point.

Secondly, does the Bill as a whole apply to women? Section 176 (a) of the original Act refers to the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, and states that its personnel shall be included henceforward as being subject to the Act. If that is so, ought we not to amend the Title? Or, perhaps it has been amended already, now that the organisation has been re-named the Women's Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Otherwise, we would surely be out of order in applying this Act to any women's Services. Perhaps we could have some further clarification on those two small points.

Mr. M. Stewart

If I may I shall reply first to some of the points of detail which have been made. The right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) asked whether "original" in fact meant "current." I am advised that it does, and that, in the Army Act, "original" means the term of service which the man is serving at the time when we look at him for this purpose; and that is, indeed, what it does mean.

The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) asked me, if I got his question rightly, whether pensions would increase concurrently with extension. The answer is "Yes." The answer to another question which was raised about pensions is that the period of National Service served prior to entering on a Regular engagement does count for pension, although it does not count for the term of re-engagement, nor does it count for the purposes of this Clause. It does count, however, and perhaps this is its most important feature, for pension.

One hon. Member asked me whether a period of service on the Reserve would count, and the answer to that is "Yes." In the example which he gave, if a man entered into an engagement to serve so many years with the Colours and so many on Reserve, and spent his reserve time actually on Reserve, it would count for the 15 years, as it does count, under the Army Act at present, towards the period of 21 years at the end of which he could re-engage. I do not think it would be reasonable to alter that principle.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) pointed out very rightly that it would be quite wrong to suppose that we have solved, or anything like solved, the problem of getting men to serve for longer periods of service merely by means of this particular concession. Though it is a valuable concession, clearly it is by no means the whole of the answer to the problem. I must congratulate my hon. Friend on the ingenuity with which he then succeeded in projecting into the debate a number of very useful things that we might do in order to make service more attractive to serious and responsible men who want to make it a career.

Other hon. Members were not slow to take advantage of the gap which my hon. Friend had created, but I think that they will not regard me as in any way belittling the importance of what they said if I now say that it would be inappropriate at this moment to pursue all the points they raised. The importance of providing a proper opportunity of employment when the man finally leaves the Service is fully realised, and we are certainly able to make very much better provision in that respect today than in time past. The extent to which, by agreement, both with nationalised and private industry, we have secured guaranteed vacancies for ex-Regular Army men shows that we are making very much better provision in that respect than used to be the case.

Nor are we unmindful of the points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) on the desirability of seeing that a man has somewhere to live, although I really think that I should be going outside the terms of this Clause if I pursued that matter more than to say that we quite recognise that, in what we are doing here to make an Army career more attractive to a serious man with family responsibilities, we are only making one of the many contributions that might be made to that problem, and that we must have it constantly before us.

Further, we must regard the provisions made in this Clause at this stage as ex- perimental. The Committee will appreciate that, while it is possible under this Clause for the Army Council to make regulations whereby the men may elect to continue after 15 years' service, it is also possible for the Army Council to make regulations fixing a figure between 15 and 21 years, and I think the Committee will agree that it is reasonable that the Army Council should have that degree of latitude. It is probable that we should begin by fixing the figure at 18 years.

Similarly, there is latitude as to the amount of continuance that may be granted at any one time, and it is probable that we shall think in terms of providing, in the case of continuance for a period of four years, that at the end of the second of those four years, the man may elect for a further period of continuance. Quite clearly, whatever arrangements we begin with, we should have to see as we went along how it worked out and be prepared to make alterations, within the fairly wide latitude allowed in the Act, as appear to be in the best interests of the Service. These were points mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger).

Mr. Bellenger

I did not specifically raise that point. What I was after was this. This Clause is really complicated, even to Members of Parliament with some experience, and therefore, it would be necessary for an Army Council Instruction to be issued to explain to the Army and the Royal Air Force exactly what the men can do, how they can do it and what it will mean to them in terms of promotion, increased pensions and so forth.

Mr. Stewart

We shall certainly make it quite clear to the Forces what is the effect of this alteration. My right hon. Friend mentioned pensions and promotion, but these points only arise incidentally out of this Clause, which deals solely with the time within which men may re-engage.

5.0 p.m.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

I thought the hon. Gentleman indicated that continuance would be fixed by regulation, but he will see from the Clause as drafted that A soldier of the regular forces who has completed the prescribed period…may give notice to his commanding officer of his desire to continue in His Majesty's service in the regular forces, after the completion of twenty-two years' service, for such period, not exceeding five years, as may be specified in the notice"; that is, notice to be given by the soldier. In other words, it is such period as the soldier himself elects to apply for and not as laid down by the War Office. I think the hon. Gentleman was wrong. It is important, and I should be glad if he would clear that up.

Mr. Stewart

Yes, I take the point made by the hon. Member. As I understand it, it is as the hon. Member has just said. If I am mistaken on that point, at a later stage in our deliberations I will make clear what is the exact position, but I think he is right.

Another point of detail raised was why there is no similar provision for the Air Force, but if hon. Members will look at the provisions of the Air Force Act they will see that members of that Force, under Section 84 of that Act, can already re-engage for a period running up to 55 years of age. Owing to their different arrangements, they have no need for this particular provision.

I want to turn now to the main question which arises from our debate on this Clause. The Committee will appreciate that, in deciding the time at which a man should be allowed to apply for continuance, there are two conflicting considerations that have to be borne in mind. One is that if we do not allow him to do it until too late, he will say to himself when considering continuing beyond 12 years, "If I go on beyond 12 years, I have to wait until I have done my 21st year of service before I can ask if they will take me on again. If they say "No," it will be too late to fit myself eventually for civilian life. I do not want to run that risk and I want to go out of the Army now."

That is the danger if we make the date too late, and it is to guard against that danger that we make this alteration. If we make it too early, what we shall find then is that one will get the Army put under an obligation for a long period ahead to accept the man. If, for example, it were possible for a man after 12 years to elect to continue beyond his 22nd year and if, as might well happen, that opportunity were extensively used one would get the structure of the Army becoming increasingly rigid owing to the number of men who had secured an opportunity of continuing.

If one grants the opportunity to elect continuance too soon, or if it is extended too widely, one creates both too rigid an age structure in the Service and too rigid a rank structure, with bad results on promotion and ultimately disappointment for those who remain in the Service. What one has to do is to strike a balance between those two considerations. But there is a reason why one should be careful not to extend too readily the right of early election to continue. That is why, of course, in Clause 5 of this Bill we do not extend it to the non-careerist soldiers referred to in subsection (2) of the proposed new Section 85 of the Army Act, and I think that enjoys the general agreement of the Committee.

That is a factor to be borne in mind when considering whether one ought to give the National Service man the right to count his two years towards those 15 years. There is general need for caution in not allowing this right of continuance to be exercised too soon by too many people. That is one of the first considerations to be borne in mind and it is in general an argument against allowing National Service men to count the two years. I am not putting it forward as a decisive argument in itself, but it is one of the factors. If we enable this privilege to be exercised too soon by too many people, we ultimately destroy its value because of its effects on prospects of promotion in the Army; but I do not put it as more than one of the points to be considered.

Now we have to look at the question put by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke). Is it desirable that we should have National Service men electing early to become Regular soldiers or would we rather have a greater number of them electing to do so? If one puts the question in that form, then clearly what we want is the greatest number. But I think the Committee will appreciate the point that, naturally, we rejoice when they do so early because once they have done so we can count them, if I may so put it, as birds in hand. The others may or may not elect to do so later.

There is here, therefore, a somewhat nice balance of arguments. If we do anything that, on the whole, makes it a more attractive course for a man to postpone the decision whether or not he will become a Regular soldier it may well be that subsequently that would reduce the numbers of those who did become Regular soldiers. Further, it is urged that if we allow the National Service man to count in the two years for this purpose it will be an inducement to men to become Regular soldiers. Up to a point it will, but we ought to be careful not to magnify the nature of that inducement.

Can we suppose that a young man will say, "I am now nearing the completion of two years' National Service. I am in my 21st or 22nd year. If I join the Army for a period of 12 years and if, after that I re-engaged for a further term, and if I then want to decide whether I will continue beyond 22 years I have to wait 15 years from now at least before I can put in an application for such continuance, whereas if only Parliament in its wisdom had altered this Clause I should have had to wait only 13 years." It is very difficult to believe that is going to affect his decision to any great extent. That is why I could not feel that the question put by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely was really presenting us with a correct antithesis.

We have no reason to suppose we are sacrificing numbers. We are quite likely to secure early enlistment, and earlier enlistment may very well mean greater numbers. I should have thought it was an open question. I have endeavoured to give my best attention to the arguments advanced on both sides, though after the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low), had expressed one opinion and the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely had expressed the opposite I was a little startled when the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) said there can be no two opinions. I am bound to say that I think there can be two opinions.

At the moment we are making a concession—although I confess I do not altogether like the word "concession" in this respect; we are making a more just and reasonable arrangement for the Regular careerist soldier, and, at any rate for the present, we are not bringing in the period of National Service. I think it is reasonable to begin in that way. It is a matter which, if the balance of argument appeared more clearly or more certainly, could be altered by subsequent legislation.

Major Legge-Bourke

Before the hon. Gentleman concludes, I should like first to thank him for the attention he has given to the point which I raised. I should like to tell the Committee that I entirely accept what the hon. Gentleman has just said. I think the argument he has put forward is convincing. I am quite open to persuasion on this matter, and I have been persuaded by what he has said. But there is one point to which I was addressing myself when I think I saw the hon. Gentleman nod assent—when I said that, as I understood it, a man who in his full-time National Service does decide to become a Regular is allowed to count the unexpired portion of his full-time service. Although I accept the hon. Gentleman's argument, I think he will agree it is a very short time, and I think the argument works both ways.

Mr. Stewart

Yes, I did assent to that. The hon. and gallant Gentleman was correct on that point. That, of course, narrows the whole scope of what we are arguing about. I think that, on balance, the Committee will be well advised to accept the Clause as it is, and I trust they are prepared to do so.

Mr. H. Macmillan

The Committee is grateful to the Under-Secretary for the explanation he has given. At the risk of being accused of joining in an unholy league between Front Benches, I should like to say that I was glad he accepted the proposition with which I began my argument, that this was a very balanced question and that the arguments on both sides were fairly equal. I think on the whole, if I may be allowed to give this advice to the Committee, we should be wise to accept this Clause as it stands, as an experiment, remembering that these matters are fortunately reviewed each year and that there is an opportunity to consider it when we come to next year's Bill. That certainly shows the value of this debate. A good deal has been discovered by all of us about the meaning of this Clause which was obscure before. We are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) for raising an important point. As I understand it, under this system it rests with the man or non-commissioned officer—

Mr. Stewart

I could not have made the point clear. I believe the right hon. Gentleman is correct, but I did say that I was in some doubt about the point, and I will inform hon. Members at a later stage of our deliberations.

Mr. Macmillan

What is worrying me is what will be the later stage. I do not think there are likely to be any other Amendments; I do not expect the Report stage will be other than formal, and perhaps by the Third Reading—

Mr. Stewart

I think it will be possible to raise the point at a later stage.

Mr. Macmillan

I thought it was proposed to go straight on with all the stages of the Bill. Perhaps it would be possible for the hon. Gentleman to tell us this. According to the interpretation which was put before the Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South. I think it is perfectly clear that within a period of five years it is for the man or non-commissioned officer to say "I want to go on for another year"—or it may be two or three years, or anything up to five years. The man gives that notice. Of course, the competent military authority may or may not approve. It is not a question of a general regulation by which everybody must go on for one, three or five years. It is a matter of a special application made individually by the man himself, and receiving the individual approval of the competent military authority. That appears to be what this Clause would seem to mean.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Stewart

If I may add a word on that point, I am afraid I must correct the impression which I previously gave to the hon. Member for Hendon, South. It is true, as the Measure stands, that the man can put in a notice and that apparently the period of his continuance is the period specified in the notice. But, of course, the Service authority is not under an obligation to accept that continuance. They can say to him "You have put in a notice asking for five years' continuance. We cannot accept that, but if you will put in for one, two, three or four years"—or whatever is appropriate to the Service authority—"we can accept that." That means that while the Act says what the hon. Member for Hendon, South, properly pointed out, in the last resort it will lie with the Service authority and not with the man.

Mr. Macmillan

This indeed will revive many memories of our relations with the War Office. If the Secretary of State for War had thought fit to attend our debates on the Army, he would have learned something about this. It is a peculiar fact that neither of the two Secretaries of State who have such an interest in the passage of this Bill—for without it the great bodies over which they preside would become illegal conspiracies—have thought fit to appear. If they had done so, they would have learned something, because this tortuous machine is rather typical of the working of that particular bureaucratic engine, the War Office.

It still remains true, however, that it is not a matter of general regulation to say "We will accept notices from everybody for three years." What the hon. Gentleman, who is always so courteous to us, means is that each man makes an individual application, but that it is the competent military authority who accepts it either in full or in part. It is an individual proposal and not a generalised one over the whole body of men. It is useful to have learned that fact in this debate on this Clause, and I think my hon. Friends would wish to accept the Clause and wish it well.

There is one other point which comes to mind. I do not claim to be as expert in this matter as many of my hon. Friends, but if this is all so difficult for us, we should take steps to see that it is made easier for the serving soldier whom this is supposed to benefit. If the authorities who preside over this matter could bring themselves to write clear, simple, grammatical English—and if they are unable to do it themselves they should hire the services of men who can do it—it would be of great benefit in that we should get the result which we all hope to get from this Clause.

While I appreciate what the Undersecretary says about the balance of the difficulty between making the decision too late or too early. I do not think he need worry lest he should get such an enormous number of applications that he would clog up the Army with too many people taking too long. If I were in his position or that of the Secretary of State, my anxiety would be to see that this Clause and the general conditions to which the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) referred —whether they were in order or not—are attractive enough to make this long-term service really acceptable to the number of men whom we want. If there were any question as to the side on which to weight the balance, I should be only too anxious to get, for long-term engagements, as many as possible of the kind of men who want to stay and who would benefit the Army by prolonging their service.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.