HC Deb 03 April 1952 vol 498 cc2119-21
Mr. Bing

I beg to move, in page 15, line 28, at the end, to insert: (b) the following definition shall be inserted in the section in the appropriate place:— ( ) 'countersign' includes any secret or confidential call sign, code word, code or cipher employed in the making of signals between any of Her Majesty's forces whether by speech or writing or whether by telegraphy or telephony by means of wireless, line, semaphore, heliograph or otherwise. This is one of the Amendments that is really a type of new Clause. I had a lucky dip, so to speak, because my new Clause happened to come out as an Amendment. This is typical of the difficulty we are in with regard to the Army Act—the difficulty whether we should redraft it entirely or use old terms and try to attach to them modern meanings. Clearly the Section providing for the death penalty for disclosing paroles and countersigns means little unless it is designed to deal with the practical technical nature of wireless communication and the like.

The matters that are really important if they are disclosed are home and call signs and the like, and if we were really going to discuss this I would have gone in some degree into the types of carelessness and the like which can result in the disclosure of a code or call sign, and in particular the adding of unauthorised words to messages which may give an indication of the origin of the sender, enabling the station to be traced or something of that sort and thus imperilling the whole organisation of the unit. This is the sort of thing which ought to be considered by the Committee which it is proposed to set up. I do not press it, and if the right hon. Gentleman cares to say a word or two about it we shall be glad to hear what he has to say. If he is not prepared to say anything, I can say in advance that I am prepared to withdraw it.

2.0 a.m.

Mr. Head

I appreciate that the word "countersign" is one which is not generally understood. The difference between the password and countersign is a matter of discussion in my Department. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman has been somewhat ebullient in his remarks about the extension of countersign which, so far as I can see, includes any messages passed between Her Majesty's ships. I do not know if the First Lord of the Admiralty is here, but the hon. and learned Gentleman has gone a bit wide in his Amendment.

It is very interesting to read a great many of these definitions. Some of them are far from satisfactory. It will be found that the word "aircraft" includes "kites," and there are all kinds of other interesting matters. I appreciate the intention behind the Amendment. It is part of a very large whole, and I think everyone will agree that to attempt to deal with this Amendment by putting it into this Bill is like putting a shiny pin into a haystack of rusty ones. Therefore, I agree that we should leave it to the Committee to determine which of these things are antiquated and which are not.

Mr. Bing

While I shall try to catch your eye, Sir Charles, on the Clause stand part, I will for the moment beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Mr. Bing

I only want to say a word about altering the definition of "horse." It is one of the strange things in regard to the Army Act that the definition of horse includes both elephants and camels, and that is the sort of looseness of definition that has got to be looked at by the committee. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the definition of "horse" he will find that it includes any form of animal and, indeed, any form of beast at all, and it includes specifically the mule and by implication any type of animal. This definition Clause is so wide as to make the whole of the Army Act largely nonsense.

These are the sort of points that have to be looked at by this committee which is being set up. It seems to me that they will have to look at the matter from three sides, firstly, questions of policy, secondly, the implementation of new ideas and new law and, thirdly, the tidying up of this sort of thing. It seems rather foolish if we have more mention of horses than aircraft in the Air Force Act, a matter which we have not discussed, and when we come to examine horses we find that they can be elephants. In fact, the Air Force officer who arrives with his elephant to billet is entitled to a large store of food, and from what I know of elephants much of it would be unsuitable. It is this sort of provision which makes our law a laughing stock. When we come to a re-definition of the Clause we will deal with this as well as with other things.

Mr. Head

The mind of the hon. and learned Member may be set at rest when I assure him that my thoughts will be on horses during the week-end. This could also apply to zebras. I understand the point the hon. and learned Member has raised, which is applicable to the whole of this Measure.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.