§ Amendment proposed [2nd April], in page 4, line 44, leave out "twenty-two," and insert "thirty."—[Mr. Wigg.]
§ Question again proposed, "That twenty-two' stand part of the Clause."
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
§ Mr. Head
As a result, I hope, of what I have to say to the Committee, so far as this Bill is concerned the hon. Member's wishes may be gratified. I think that last night the discussion on this Measure took place, perhaps for both sides, at rather short notice. There has, however, now been an interval of about 24 hours, and I hope that I shall be able to explain to the Committee what has been the result of the further discussions through the usual channels.
I think that it was quite evident yesterday that there were two alternative courses before the Committee. The first was to sit up for a period of almost indefinable length in order to dispose of the very numerous Amendments now on the Order Paper. I think that every hon. Member would agree that in those circumstances the Committee would have ended very exhausted and with a Measure, an Army and Air Force (Annual) Act, which would still have been very misshapen and inadequate; and I do not think that any hon. Members would disagree on that point, despite the number of new Clauses tabled.
The other was to wait for the House to appoint a committee to have a radical review of the Act which is at present loaded with anachronisms. Further con- 2044 versations have gone on through the usual channels. I hope that hon. Members opposite will find that what I say represents the substance of those conversations. I think they can be summarised as follows.
The Government would agree to set up a committee which would be charged with reviewing the Army and Air Force Act in order to amend it so that it would fulfil its function, which is to be a proper, adequate and up-to-date Act for the Army and the Air Force of today, that, manifestly, at the present moment it is not.
Now certain problems arise—and it was evident last night that they did arise—in setting up such a committee. The first, I think, is that if a committee is set up it has to do a great deal of detailed and expert work, and I think all hon. Members will agree that that necessitates the presence on the committee of experts, not only from the drafting point of view, such as Parliamentary Counsel, but experts on the legal and other sides from the Service Ministries concerned. We agree that it must also inevitably include Members of Parliament. But there are many hon. Members who feel that before such a Departmental and somewhat technical committee engages on this very formidable task it should be given very full terms of reference.
If that is to be done, it seems to me that there are two alternatives before us. The first is for the House itself to attempt to draft the terms of reference for the Departmental committee, and I do not believe that is a task which we could easily fulfil on the Floor of the House. The Government are quite open-minded about this point, and appreciate that hon. Members feel that certain policy decisions should be made before the Departmental committee starts to work.
It may well be that the best method of fulfilling that requirement would be for a Select Committee to consider the general questions of policy and then refer them to the expert or Departmental committee. It might well be that that same Select Committee could then consider the report of the Departmental committee before it was submitted to the House. That is, so to speak, a sandwich, and the Government are entirely open-minded about how that is arrived at. I think the details can be discussed through 2045 the usual channels, but, as I have stated, the kind of proposal which I have now indicated might well be the answer to this problem.
There is, I think, a second problem which is in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and that concerns the date on which this Bill is considered. When we discussed this question of date two nights ago I think it was, we had no consideration before us then of appointing a committee with that task.
I will be quite frank, if I may, with hon. Gentlemen opposite. If no such committee is appointed, and if this Bill, in a somewhat improved but still very anachronistic form remains as it was, annually, it is, so to speak—and I think the former Leader of the House will agree with me—somewhat of a menace to Government business inasmuch as any opposition party, whoever was in power, could so attempt to amend it as to delay Government business for a very long time.
Today, with the possibility of this committee, the situation is considerably altered. We should be confronted, I hope by 1953, with a Bill which has been brought up to date, and with a Bill which is not a menace to Government business by the mention of brandy shops, sailing ships and other anachronisms. In those circumstances it would, I think, be perfectly possible to alter the date to that which hon. Gentlemen opposite wanted, namely, 31st July.
There was one other point about the question of altering the date, and that was the fact that it does need some amendment to the Bill of Rights, which now allows the Army Act to run for one year, and I in those circumstances would demand that it should run for 15 months. I have consulted my hon. and learned Friends and it is not anticipated that any difficulty will be found in achieving that.
I make one proviso here, which is that that will be included in the Report stage; that will be our attempt and effort. To any hon. Gentleman anxious on this score, I would point out that if that is not done before the Bill is through that fact does not in any way prevent the amendment of the date at any period after the passage of the Bill. I have ascertained that this alteration of date can be done at any time between now and when the Bill is re-introduced. The 2046 Government do give the undertaking that when this Select Committee is set up that date should be altered.
There is a third point. As I understand it, the Opposition said that if we could arrive at a proposal—and this appears to me to be a very sound proposal—and both sides could get rid of what is really an embarrassment and could produce for the Army and Air Force an up-to-date and effective Bill, then they would agree that the new Clauses, which are very large in number and not all effective for immediate inclusion in the Bill, should be dropped.
That has been discussed through the usual channels, and that undertaking has been given, and, so far as I am concerned, I give an undertaking to the Committee that this Select Committee—in conjunction with the Secretary of State for Air—will be set up and that we will alter the date, and under those circumstances I understand that the Opposition will remove the new Clauses. That will leave before the Committee only those Amendments now proposed which are entirely or almost entirely concerned with the introduction of long-term enlistment in the Army of 22 years.
As I understood it, when we were discussing the Army Estimates, that proposal was welcomed on both sides of the House. Although, of course, we need some discussion on the machinery, I do not believe that it is a contentious or a particularly difficult matter for the Committee to reach agreement on. Therefore, I hope that if the right hon. Gentleman, when he speaks, confirms what I have said, we can proceed with the new Clauses upon which exploratory work would be of help to the Committee, and then proceed to the particular measures which concern the prolongation of engagement in the Army. I believe—and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will confirm this—that we shall find no difficulty in completing this business tonight, because on the legislation now before the Committee we are all agreed on the object, and the only task that lies before the Committee is to see if any particular improvements can be made. Under these circumstances, I feel confident that we can complete the business tonight and then refer these matters to the Select Committee, whereby we should be relieved of this incubus, and the Army and Air 2047 Force would be assisted by having an up-to-date and adequate Bill.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
I am sure that the Committee has heard the statement of the Secretary of State for War with satisfaction, and some of us with relief. After some sharp exchanges and some hard bargaining, a reasonable settlement has been arrived at, which will produce something of real value to the country and to the Army and Air Force.
I have no quarrel with the details of the statement made by the Secretary of State. As he knows, we could not say "Yes", on the nod, in favour of the two-tier system of committees which he proposed last night. He has now brought forward what I think is a revised version of his proposal, and an improved version of it, by which the original suggestion of a Select Committee is preserved. That Select Committee then devolves details to an expert committee and the matter comes back to the Select Committee. That is a satisfactory arrangement. We shall, of course, discuss composition, terms of reference and matters of that sort.
We on this side of the Committee are particularly glad that it is now agreed that we can prolong the terminal date of the present Act. That is something which we thought from the beginning should have been conceded. It is a reasonable proposal and really will improve the way in which this House deals with this vitally important question of the conditions and legal status of National Service men and Regulars in the Army. The fact that a guillotine, as it were, does not come down on 30th April will be of real benefit. In those circumstances, I can say that the new Clauses, which certainly present a formidable picture on the Order Paper, will disappear from that position.
As to tonight's business, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, there are matters of real substance, perhaps the heart of the Government's proposals, to discuss tonight, but, with goodwill on both sides, I do not think they need detain us unduly long, though certainly we must not scamp their discussion. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would very much dislike it if we did, because they are of great 2048 importance and I am sure he will agree that some of them are of potential benefit. Therefore, I think that this is a happy ending to quite a long struggle.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
At this stage of the proceedings it is probably of value to the Committee to set out quite clearly the arrangements as we on this side of the Committee understand it. First of all, do not let us mince words. This is a complete capitulation by the Government to the point of view put forward from this side of the Committee. We suggested this plan. Originally it was turned down. At a later stage the Secretary of State for War will no doubt lead his flock through the Lobby to vote against the very proposals for which they voted two days ago and to do which he kept them sitting up all night. If it is leadership to keep one's party sitting here to vote one day for something against which one is to vote the next, we ought really to consider who deals with these matters.
However, that is not the point that we need consider at this moment. What we ought to do is to consider what has happened in regard to this Measure in order to make certain that such mistakes do not happen again. Let us be quite clear about the terms. First of all, a Select Committee is to be appointed. We all agree that it would probably be undesirable to have a long debate upon the terms of reference of the Select Committee, and I hope they will all be agreed through the usual channels and perhaps go through "on the nod."
But is it quite clearly understood by the Patronage Secretary and by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health that when the report comes back to the House we shall have a day to discuss it? Let that be quite clearly understood. I say it now and give the right hon. Genie-man an opportunity to correct me if I am wrong: a day will be given for the discussion of the report of the Select Committee. Then an Amendment will be proposed at the earliest possible moment in the same words as was proposed from this side of the Committee.
I want to say a word about our later proceedings tonight. It was not quite clear to me whether the Secretary of State for War intended to take all the remaining stages. We should, of course, be quite 2049 agreeable to that, but there is a very important point of principle here. I am glad to see here the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I gave his notice that I should be raising this matter.
I suggest it is quite improper for two great parties in this House to over-ride a small minority. I am sure that the Leader of the House will tell us whether he bothered to consult the Liberal Party about these arrangements. The Liberal hon. Members all voted against the Labour Party Clause on grounds of conscience. The Tories, quite naturally, are only too prepared on ground of expediency to vote down what they voted for two days ago. But not so the Liberal Party. They are actuated throughout, as are some of my hon. Friends occasionally, by conscience.
Under those circumstances the Liberal Party made a decision of conscience, on what grounds I do not know, that 30th April was the right day on which the Army Act should expire. It was not in arrangement with the Conservative Party but purely as an independent organisation that they went into the Lobby to vote for it. I have spoken to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) about this. He is not here now, but he told me that I could tell the Committee that he had no word of these matters at all. I think that is a little discourteous on the part of the Leader of the House. All the time he seeks Liberal support, and he ought to treat the Liberals as an independent body and not as a species of Tory fellow-travellers.
This small and honest party voted on the grounds of conscience, quite apart from the bare ground of expediency which animated hon. Gentlemen opposite, for 30th April rather than 31st July and it would be quite wrong, in my view—and when Mr. Speaker resumes the Chair I shall raise it as a point of order, which I am entitled to do—for the House, which ought to protect the rights of minorities, to decide this matter by a manuscript Amendment without giving the Liberal Party an opportunity to say whether or not they are going to stick to what they voted for before.
No doubt we shall hear from the representative of the Liberal Party whether 2050 they propose to vote the same way tonight. The Conservative Party have changed their mind, and we wonder if the Liberals will change theirs automatically or whether they have an independent policy. If they have, I give this pledge to the Leader of the House—and I think I am speaking for all my hon. Friends—we will be in the Lobby behind him. We will honour our agreement and go into the Lobby behind the right hon. Gentleman and vote down the Liberal Party if, of course, enough hon. Members of that party stay until the matter comes up.
We will vote down the Liberal Party because we, on this side of the House, believe in voting the same way. Hon. Members opposite have decided to change their minds, and they will now come into the Lobby with us. We ought to have an ample majority. I do not need to be worried about carrying the Measure, but it is a question of principle. It is wrong of this Committee to agree blindly to take the remaining stages of the Bill and make a major change, a matter which two days ago the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House thought was so important that he had all his party here with a three-line whip to vote in favour of taking. Now they are here to vote against it.
He cannot deny that there may be some who have conscientious scruples on the matter. I know that he and about 99 per cent. of his party have not. But there may be one or two who may have some views on the principle of the matter, and, therefore, he ought to give them the opportunity to exercise their conscience if they decide to vote from their own point of view.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. and learned Gentleman is making great play with the alteration, but he is entirely ignoring something which I said during my remarks, which is that when we first considered this case it was entirely on the assumption that the Bill would remain, broadly speaking, in the same condition as that in which it rests today. When we were considering this arrangement it was on the assumption that a committee would be appointed which would bring it up to date. Even the hon. and learned Member, for all his ebullience, must surely realise that an amended Bill would 2051 be considerably less a menace to Parliamentary business than the existing Bill, amended by the Clauses on the Paper.
§ Mr. Bing
I am afraid for the right hon. Gentleman, for up to now he has treated us reasonably and we had some hopes of him. He ought to consult a calendar and see on what date Easter Sunday is next year. He will find that it falls on 5th April. This Bill has to be submitted to the House of Lords. That is the argument that is being put to us—to complete all the Clauses so that the Bill gets to the House of Lords by that date to give the other place ample time to consider it; but the Bill may not be taken until 31st March next year. If the Budget is taken at the normal time, there will be no days on which to consider the Army Act next year.
The argument is that the Bill is so full of anomalies that we have no time left to consider it. The right hon. Gentleman himself said in debate that what we had tabled was not half, or even one-tenth, sufficient to cover the point. We all appreciate the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman to cover up the bad leadership to which he is subjected from the Minister of Health. It is not his fault that the Committee is treated to this ridiculous display through the inability of the Minister of Health to assist the business.
What did the Minister of Health say when the matter was raised a week ago on business? He proposed that we should deal with the Bill, with all its anomalies, in one day, and then take the Second Reading of the Marine and Aviation Insurance (War Risks) Bill. I might mention to him that it will take the House at least a day to complete the Second Reading of that Bill.
That is no sort of leadership. It results from the fact that the party opposite did not have a majority in the country as a whole. Only by the working of our electoral law have they a comparatively small majority in this House. They are simply not able to force through a whole series of contentious matters, because in the working of our democratic system the most they can do is to keep things going as they are.
I warn hon. Gentlemen opposite that if they attempt to use up the time of 2052 the House which should be used on our day-to-day business by taking contentious matter, they will not be able to get through their day-to-day business within the statutory limits which are open to them.
We have been more anxious to secure justice to the soldier than to secure an advantage over hon. Gentlemen opposite. Why on earth otherwise should we have agreed to a compromise of this sort? Why should we not have been prepared to keep hon. Gentlemen opposite sitting here night after night? Of course we could have done it.
§ Mr. Philip Bell (Bolton, East)
Why does the hon. and learned Gentleman say that he is a better judge of justice for the soldier than is anybody else?
§ Mr. Bing
Because for 25 years, when hon. Gentlemen opposite were in office, they never did anything to reform the Army Act, and when they had an opportunity of six years in opposition they never did anything either. The reforms follow logically and properly from the reforms introduced by the late Labour Government. The first thing that the late Labour Government did was to reduce the appalling disparity between the officer and the soldier. Therefore, all the social punishments which the Army Act inflicts, such as cashiering, as compared to two years' imprisonment, have ceased to be a deterrent. Cashiering meant that the officer could not get into the best clubs and was shunned by his friends. The sort of people we have as officers now do not have the sort of friends who frequent the sort of social circles that hon. Gentlemen opposite do.
Therefore, all these things had become out-of-date, and after six years, we were approaching the second stage of the problem. We reformed the whole of the court-martial procedure; we produced a White Paper with proposals for actual reforms of the Army Act, but not a single one was incorporated by the Secretary of State in his Bill as he produced it. It is no use hon. Members opposite saying that we have done nothing. The Amendments were to carry out proposals made in the time of the Labour Government. If the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell), who interrupted wants, to do something in favour of the soldier, he 2053 might at least learn the facts of the situation.
I am quite prepared to withdraw the many Amendments I have placed on the Paper, but I feel this should be a lesson to us. I say to the Leader of the House that I feel he should get on with the Customs and Excise Bill because he may find himself in similar difficulties over the Finance Act. I think he should be very careful what he tells his hon. Friends behind him, because they will get a little annoyed if he brings them in to vote one way one day and another the next.
I know that the whole House is anxiously waiting for the statement which, I take it, will be made by the Liberal Chief Whip who, through the unfortunate and, I think, gross rudeness of the Leader of the House, apparently was not consulted in this matter at all. Are the Liberal Party to stick by their original decision or be fellow travellers with the Government, and if they abandon their original position, on what grounds are they to do so? The country needs to know because of the Liberal vote, and the hon. Gentleman is an independent man and can get a lot of votes because he sticks by its principles. Let us hear from the Liberal Chief Whip whether they intend to do so today.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I am very seldom pressed to speak, but I gladly accept. The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) was good enough to inform me that he had some very important points to raise this evening, and when I had some inkling of what was afoot I knew that what was uppermost in his mind would be "Was justice being done to the Liberal Party?" I had not the slightest doubt that that was the first thought that would come into his mind when he heard this arrangement.
He made certain remarks about the conscience of the Liberal Party. I cannot speak for the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), but on the occasion in question I was wrestling with my conscience. I was wrestling so hard that I missed the Division. So I stand here, not exactly in a white sheet, but in a moderately grey one, I neither voted for nor against the date. The whiteness of my sheet is added to by the fact that I cannot be 2054 accused of entering the House on Conservative votes. Whatever else got me here, it was certainly not that. I sometimes wonder what it was but it was not that.
Another thing I am seldom accused of is being a "usual channel." I am at best a small, clogged and most unusual channel. It is perfectly true that very little water, or whatever flows through channels, has flowed, through mine today about this agreement. But, small and unusual as I may be, I have always been treated with the utmost courtesy and goodwill not only by the present Government channels, but also by the channels of the Opposition.
If it will set the mind of the hon. and learned Member at rest and enable the House to get on with its business—and I realise that all hon. Members are waiting for the Liberal Party point of view—I may say that I am prepared on this occasion to give my blessing to the agreement. The Liberal Party has given it very careful consideration and after consulting their conscience, they are prepared to accept it. The Secretary of State for War has indicated that the circumstances have changed and we have taken that into very close consideration. So for the time being we assent. But we shall be watching.
But, as the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch has pointed out, there will be future occasions on which this can be disowned. We shall be watching the conduct not only of the Government but of the Opposition on those occasions. I might say, that I was rather surprised that the official Opposition should raise this point at this particular time. It is only quite recently that in this House matters were raised concerning Seretse Khama, and it did seem to me then that there was a certain change in the attitude of the official Opposition. It was a subtle change, a certain difference in outlook and in atmosphere. Taking that as a precedent, we feel on this occasion we are prepared to let this matter pass and preserve our views and opinions for future occasions.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I am somewhat surprised that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing), in his interesting 2055 speech, did not make an effort to find out the opinions of his friends from Northern Ireland, because one of the Clauses in the Bill, but for this arrangement, would have concerned Eire. But my hon. and learned Friend is apparently satisfied that Irish opinion will not be outraged by this arrangement, and, therefore, on this score, we can call honours even.
There is one point I should like to make. I wonder if I can have the attention of the Secretary of State. I thought that this evening he made a very useful statement. Indeed, if I may go so far, I should say it is the first time since he became Secretary of State for War that he has made some sign of following in the footsteps of the late Lord Haldane.
As a result of these few first halting footsteps, it may be that in future he will know that one of the requirements of the Secretary of State for War is a willingness to learn from the Opposition. That was part of Lord Haldane's method. He got in touch with all shades of opinion and managed to build up a policy almost without his own party knowing it, because he had a vigorous Opposition. One of his most vigorous opponents was the present Prime Minister. He was shrewd enough to know that if he was to get the kind of Army the country wanted, he had to take into account the minority opinions.
If the present Secretary of State had been ready to take advice from the Opposition, he would not be in the difficult position in which he is in tonight. I do not want to rub it in or make party points. We have plenty of time during the night to deal with the remaining Clauses, but I am glad that this matter has been settled. I am pleased that the views of the Labour Party have triumphed.
I am certain that as a result of this arrangement the Army will have an Act which is much more in accordance with the needs of the nation. For the first time during the seven years we have been in the House of Commons, the Secretary of State for War and myself are agreed, perhaps for a fleeting moment, and perhaps he will not think it amiss if I sincerely congratulate him on his change of heart this evening.
§ Mr. Head
I feel that on this most auspicious, remarkable and unusual occasion, it would perhaps be suitable for me to intervene and, in view of what I understand to be the very sensible attitude taken by hon. Members opposite, the Liberal Party and, I suggest, ourselves, to say that this might be a suitable moment to withdraw the Motion. We have many important matters to discuss and, therefore, by your leave, Sir Charles, and that of all hon. Members, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
There is one important point I wish to mention. I pointed out, I think last night but, at any rate, recently, that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and myself are the only two Members of this Committee who have not held commissioned rank. I have felt that, in the discussions, there might have been a tendency for the point of view of the commissioned ranks to be over-emphasised.
When the Minister is considering this Departmental committee, I hope that he will see that other ranks are adequately represented. I take it that on this committee there will be Members of Parliament and people drawn from the War Office. If that is so, as the only ex-private in this Committee who never rose above that rank, I plead with the Minister to ensure that both the private and the non-commissioned officer shall have adequate representation both on the Select Committee and on the Departmental committee.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
There is one reason why the Secretary of State for War ought not to have the leave of the Committee to withdraw his Motion to report Progress until every hon. Member who wishes to do so has spoken on it. The reason is that the Secretary of State has referred to various conversations which have taken place through the usual channels. But, of course, this proposal is one which in fact affects every private Member in this Committee. In particular, it affects everybody who has put down proposals for a new Clause.
2057 This arrangement cannot be carried out unless everybody who has put down a new Clause assents to it. Therefore, in order that the procedure may be kept right, I want to put this point to the Minister: I happen to have put down suggestions for six or seven new Clauses, all of which are intended to give effect to precise recommendations of the Lewis Committee for improvements in court-martial procedure. The only object of these new Clauses is to ensure that the recommendations made by a most eminent and distinguished Committee, presided over by a judge of the High Court, may be put into operation as soon as possible.
I understood from rumours I heard that most of those proposals were likely to be accepted by the Government. Therefore, in the ordinary course of events. I was hoping that these recommendations, made a year ago, would have been accepted and would have been incorporated in the Army Act to be renewed at the end of April.
Now, I am being asked either to withdraw those new Clauses or to give an undertaking that they will not be pressed when they are called. I am not sure precisely what the procedure will be, but I gather that they all have to be called and either not moved or not pressed. I have put down only a few new Clauses, and if they were the only ones on the Order Paper, I do not think that the Secretary of State would have any justification in asking me to withdraw them.
Of course, it is not my fault that a number of my hon. Friends, for equally good reasons, have put down a number of suggestions of their own for other and different improvements in the Army Act. Therefore, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) pointed out, the Government have had to capitulate tonight, not only to proposals of the Opposition, but to a number of proposals put down by a large number of private Members of this House.
Speaking for myself, I think that the decision which the Secretary of State has announced is a sensible one. I would have preferred his proposal to have been made unconditionally and not on condition that the new Clauses were with- 2058 drawn. The statesmanlike step for him to have taken would have been to announce quite unconditionally the appointment of a Select Committee. If he had done that I am sure that most of my hon. Friends would have fallen in with his wishes.
I do not regard this as an appropriate subject for bargaining between the usual channels, because it is something more than that. It is a matter in which the rights and duties of every private Member to try to improve the legislation embodied in the Army Act is involved. Therefore, before the right hon. Gentleman withdraws his Motion, I want to make my own position clear, and to indicate that, in accordance with his wishes and relying on the assurance he has given, I. speaking for myself alone, am prepared, when the new Clauses to which I have referred are called, not to press them.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
I think it would be helpful if the right hon. Gentleman were to say explicitly something which was fully implicit in all he has said. He mentioned one or two what we might call minor, trivial, technical anachronisms in the Army Act. It is clear that what is envisaged here is not merely a tidying up of what might be called certain technical anachronisms in the Act, important as that job is, but a revision of the Act, bearing in mind the changes which have been made in this country over a considerable period of time; changes in the social climate of the country and the many changes that follow from the fact that we now have compulsory National Service. Indeed, it is not merely a technical tidying up, but a thorough modernisation. I am sure that was in his mind, and I think it would help if that could be stated explicitly for the record.
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I think that some hon. Members are still not clear about the procedure. As I understand it, the Minister, in his statement, said it was intended to take all the stages of the Bill tonight, or that the Government are proposing to try to do so. Is it intended, as part of this settlement or bargain, that those who, like myself, have put down new Clauses, should withdraw them on the Committee stage?
2059 I should also like to know whether a manuscript Amendment is to be produced on Report stage about this question of the date? The Secretary of State gave a firm assurance, it seems to me, that it would be changed, but I am still not clear whether it is proposed during the proceedings tonight to produce some kind of manuscript Amendment, or whether the right hon. Gentleman suggests he is definitely putting that in to the Select Committee. We do not know the terms of reference of this Select Committee or its composition.
We on this side of the Committee are making considerable concessions. We are withdrawing all these new Clauses and we are not at all certain of the nature of the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman said he was going to bring forward. Before we continue with the remaining stages of the Bill, I should like to know whether the Minister is expecting that we shall withdraw our new Clauses and whether he will produce a manuscript Amendment, or, if not, what it will be, and whether we can now hear anything more precise about the terms of reference and composition of the Committee?
§ Mr. Head
Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I answered, briefly, the points put before me. The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) has, as I well know, put many Amendments which follow from the Lewis Committee report. These Amendments have been carefully examined, and if they had been entirely applicable to the Bill, I would have accepted them tonight. But, to take an extract from the Lewis Report, and put down an Amendment dealing with it, would not, I submit, always ensure that that Amendment is applicable, or drafted in such a way that it could be readily assimilated. The hon. Member's actual drafting is not acceptable, for that reason I cannot accept his new Clauses.
I was also asked by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) about the proposed new Clauses. I do not know if he was here when I made my preliminary remarks. I said that the Committee has two alternatives; to attempt to introduce into a Bill which is admittedly out-of-date and mis-shapen, many new Clauses needing, in some cases, 2060 much alteration before they are acceptable; or, following the agreement for the institution of the Committee, these new Clauses should be withdrawn, although they will still be available for the Committee to consider in principle.
The hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) asked about general policy before the Committee carried out detailed examination. I told the House that we are aware of that problem, and the Departmental committee, if hon. Members feel strongly on the matter, might well be preceded by a Select Committee which could lay down certain broad matters of principle for the guidance of the committee which will be entering into the detailed examinations.
The only other point, I think, was the date, and the alteration of the date is because, originally, we proposed it without envisaging any possibility of the committee examination being introduced. But, under present circumstances, the date is agreed, land the Government have given an assurance; although it is not a simple matter which could be treated by way of a manuscript Amendment.
We are doing something more than altering the Act, and that is to extend the Act for the following year for from 12 to 15 months, and that needs more than can be accomplished by means of a manuscript Amendment. I have taken advice, and am also given the assurance of the Law Officers that this can be accomplished, and I hope hon. Members will now feel that we have reached the stage where I can withdraw my Motion.
§ Mr. Strachey
Would not the other place be the appropriate means by which to effect this Amendment?
§ Mr. Head
If we can get this matter cleared up by the Law Officers and the expert advisers, and can refer it to another place, then we shall adopt that course.
I know that hon. Members are anxious about this, but I would point out there is no cause for anxiety; that if it is not done in another place, it is not lost for a year because it is within our capacity to amend the date at any time during the year by an Amendment. I would assure hon. Members that they need have no anxiety about the Government's undertaking.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, may I say that I think the substance of what he says is undoubtedly acceptable to my hon. Friends and myself? But there is one technical point. That is whether the new Clauses should be formally withdrawn, which might be a little difficult because it involves getting the consent of every individual hon. Member. I suggest that they should be formally put, but not spoken on and, if that is done, they will all appear on the record in HANSARD. Some of my hon. Friends and I would much prefer that the new Clauses should be set out in HANSARD, although not debated, rather than they should be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
Might I make an appeal to my hon. Friend that we should not put ourselves to all that trouble to reach what is a very simple end? All these Clauses have appeared on the Order Paper. I understand that we shall reach a stage this evening, when we have ended the discussion on the Clauses of the Bill, when we shall get to the new Clauses. If, when the first one is called which has a certain hon. Member's name to it, he would rise and say, "I do not propose to move this, or any other of the new Clauses standing in my name," that would be the speediest way of getting rid of it. I would hope that the hon. Members whose names follow on the Order Paper need not be present in the Committee at that particular moment so as to entail half-a-dozen people getting up and repeating the same formula.
I think that the Secretary of State for War has met us quite handsomely in this matter. He has shown tonight a patience in dealing with a number of detailed questions that proves he is, as I told him a few months ago, a very great Parliamentarian. I thank him for the way in which he has dealt with this matter. We have his word tonight, and I am certain that he and the Leader of the House will see to it that the promises which have been made will be implemented in detail.
With regard to this question of the date, I accept the right hon. Gentleman's word for it that there are difficulties over the Bill of Rights. I got into some trouble myself over the Bill of Rights. I looked to find where I had broken it, but could not find that I had done so, and looking 2062 at the Bill, I imagine it is the Mutiny Act, and not the Bill of Rights, that is the real trouble in this matter.
We live in this House together, and I hope we may now proceed to the discussion of the existing Clauses, and that, when we reach the new Clauses, we shall find some way of dealing with them expeditiously. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) that he can keep his Order Paper to be sure all these new Clauses are considered.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
Of course, I can keep my Order Paper, but everybody knows that HANSARD is much more accessible than an Order Paper. All I ask is that this Select Committee shall be given a list of these Clauses, and if they are in HANSARD, that is more satisfactory.
§ Mr. Head
I am obliged to the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), for his remarks. I have discussed this question of a committee with many of those who will be concerned with the details of the examination, and I have also stated, both to this Committee and to them, that very many of the new Clauses are the result of considerable research work into this Bill and will be a considerable asset when it comes to be considered. I think the hon. Gentleman is unduly nervous if he thinks that this Order Paper will be lost. I give him the assurance that this Order Paper will be among the documents available to this committee.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his suggestion that we should now continue, and I should like to pay great tribute to his common sense as an ex-sergeant major, to which I also paid tribute the other day: not only do they run the Army, but perhaps the House of Commons as well. I would now suggest that we might proceed to Clause 7, which I think involves the substantial and important section of the Amendments the Government propose.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Before we proceed to that, is there any reason why the Government should not rest content with the situation we have reached and devote next Wednesday to the further stages of this Bill? There is no reason at all why we could not do that, and then we shall have an opportunity of reflecting on the matter, and everything could be put in order in the 2063 meantime. I understand that next Tuesday is to be devoted to further consideration of the Committee stage of the National Health Service Bill.
There is no reason at all why we should not consider the Bill now before us at a seemly hour next Wednesday, when we shall have had a chance of considering this matter. I should have thought, now that we have reached so amiable a compromise, that nothing is lost by leaving the remainder of the Committee stage of the National Health Service Bill over until after the Easter Recess. The Government will get this Bill, as they want to and must, before the end of April. Why are they pressing us now at this late hour?
§ Mr. Head
I think that the right hon. Gentleman, who has not been present through all our discussions on this Bill, has not appreciated the enthusiasm of hon. Members who are interested in this Bill. I think we have all found, although we may be short of sleep, that on this Measure there has been great interest, and valuable contributions have been made. I think that if we now proceed to consider this Bill, for which hon. Members have got their notes and are all prepared, we shall make considerable progress, and, what is far more important, we shall be securing an Amendment proposed by the Government which the whole Committee believes is of great importance to the Army and Air Force of today. I think the right hon. Gentleman will be the first to agree that, if by recruitment and other measures we can improve their efficiency we should not spare ourselves in sleep in order expeditiously to get the Measure through.
§ Mr. Bevan
With all respect, that does not answer my question at all. I am suggesting that, if it is so important as that—and I accept that it is—it is much better to start discussion of it at half-past three in the afternoon rather than 11 o'clock at night. All the Secretary of State is suggesting to us is that we should devote the whole of the rest of the night and morning to a discussion of this Bill in order to give the Government the opportunity of having a second day on the Committee stage of the National Health Service Bill next week. But we are not as enthusiastic about the National 2064 Health Service Bill as we are about this Bill.
There is no general enthusiasm about proceeding with the National Health Service Bill next Wednesday. I am therefore respectfully suggesting that, as the right hon. Gentleman is anxious, as we are, to give proper consideration to these Amendments, they ought to be taken at a time of day when our minds are fresh, and that we should postpone the National Health Service Bill until after the Easter Recess.
§ Mr. Head
The right hon. Gentleman is, by imputation, suggesting that his mind is stale. I think that there are two points here. I believe that the Committee could well take these Amendments now, and in the suggestions, which are the result of protracted discussion by both sides, it was felt—I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was present when I made my original statement—that we should get on with the Bill. It has been said that there must be agreement between both sides as a whole, and it is extremely difficult for us to decide on this matter, but if the right hon. Gentleman were to pursue this line of argument he might well disrupt such agreement as we have reached.
What would be the consequence of that? We should end up, after a great many very long Sittings, with no Bill of any value at all and a great deal of heat engendered. Now, tonight, we have the opportunity of continuing this discussion—in which I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is particularly interested perse—and we have an opportunity of doing that, in my opinion, in considerable amity, because those who are particularly interested are present tonight. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman, is taking up a contentious attitude in which he suggests that the whole of this agreement should be thrown overboard by removing—
§ Mr. Head
The right hon. Gentleman, says "No," but it was part of the agreement through the usual channels that the Bill should be discussed tonight. I stated that clearly. Perhaps he was not listening.
Now the right hon. Gentleman, says to me, "Throw overboard part of the agree- 2065 ment: let us discuss the Bill at a different time. Therefore, we demand more, and you must give it up," and the whole of the agreement goes by the board. He is doing one of two things: either deliberately wrecking an agreement which might be of great benefit to the Army and the Air Force, or else he is demonstrating a kind of revolt against what was done through the usual channels, which I think would be unfortunate.
So I would put it to the right hon. Gentleman, who has more acumen than I have in these Parliamentary matters, should we not now continue with discussion on the important matters in the Bill? I suggest that we get on with it right away. Instead of continuing this type of discussion should we not proceed to consideration of the substantial matters? I beg to ask to withdraw the Motion.
§ Mr. Bing
This proposal to carry on was not the proposal of the Opposition. Now that the Prime Minister is sitting here, let me say that this is the sense of priorities of the Tory Party: recruiting, which they tell us is of great importance, is to be discussed at midnight, while taking teeth from poor old age pensioners is to be given the best part of the day. The Army is to be relegated to the middle of the night. I have no desire to go back on the agreement, but we do not feel that the right hon. Gentleman helps his case by being provocative. I hope that we shall now be able to pass to the Bill without more provocative speeches from the Prime Minister or anyone else.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question again proposed, "That 'twenty-two' stand part of the Clause."
§ Mr. Wigg
It is only by accident that I moved this Amendment. When the Committee reached this point last night, the usual channels heavily engaged my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). In his absence I took on the task. In doing that I went wide of the words in the Clause because I wanted to get from the Secretary of State his views on some arithmetic of mine. I do not propose to take up time by repeating that argument, although I have not had the opportunity to see it in HANSARD because I was speaking at such a late hour.
My embarrassment is great because I am bitterly opposed to my right hon. 2066 Friend's proposal. The idea that the period should be increased from 22 to 30 years is, I think, bad. I am now speaking against the Amendment which I formally moved last night. I am consistent, because two years ago I opposed a proposal which came then from the party opposite. The job of soldiering is essentially a young man's task.
While I agree in principle with what the Secretary of State had in mind, there is quite clearly a limit to the number of vacancies one can give to men who are to spend the whole of their working lives in the Army. I think perhaps this Amendment was put down only to ensure discussion on the main provisions of the Secretary of State's proposals, and if the Secretary of State will be kind enough to reply to what I had to say last night on the question of the bounties, I think that will satisfy us, and we can move on to the more detailed matters which stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Head
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the elegant way in which he opposed the Amendment he moved. The hon. Gentleman really has two questions to ask of me the first concerns the length of engagement and the second, in which I think he is more interested, is the question of the bounty. This Amendment, were the Government to implement it, would bring about a state of affairs in which the actuarial strength of the Army would be considerably increased. Nobody can be certain as to the extent for which recruitment within this long-term engagement will continue. As far as we are able, within the actuarial estimate, to accept engagement at 30, it would mean reducing the field of recruiting for younger men, and 30 is unacceptably old for combat purposes.
The hon. Gentleman's other point was the question of the bounty. He mentioned the very ingenuous hypothetical condition of a man who transferred, gained the bounty, transferred again and so on. In fact he informed my Parliamentary Private Secretary of his calculations, for which I am much obliged, and I have worked it out. I can give him very full reasons to show why the proposed 22-year engagement would bring about no disadvantage in comparison with the man already on engagement, as far as the bounty was concerned. I hope he will excuse me now—I can show him the 2067 figures in black and white later behind the Speaker's Chair if he wishes—but this is not the moment juste because in this 22-year engagement, agreement regarding the bounty scheme has not yet been reached.
In this particular circumstance, always assuming that I can tell him what the figures would be, I can assure him that a man who joins up for 22 years will be at no disadvantage whatever with a man whose sole object in re-engagement is to get the maximum bounty. I would assure him the additional bounty he gained by so doing is, if it exceeds a certain sum, subtracted from the final £100 bounty for the 12-year engagement. I can assure him he need have no anxiety regarding the fact that somebody, by a bit of artful dodging, can gain a bigger bounty than a man who gives constant service in a 22-year engagement.
§ Mr. Wigg
This is not a question of artful dodging. My example B of last night of a man who signs on for a three-or four-engagement, who extends it to 12, and subsequently to 21, is in no sense "artful dodging." There happens to be in the same barrack room one man who makes up his mind for 21 years, but another who comes to it more gradually. Can I take it from the Secretary of State's proposal that a man who takes a 22-year engagement in one bite, will not be worse off than the man who does it first by three, then by seven, and then by 12?
I also ask that the right hon. Gentleman's proposal will be such as to try and prevent what would, in fact, amount to artful dodging—that is, going out after three, six, nine, and 12 years and then re-enlisting and getting another bounty. Has he taken into account all the different circumstances and the likes and dislikes of the men whom he seeks to attract into the Service?
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Head
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an assurance because the matter is not approved, but we have gone most carefully into the question to ensure the prevention of, not necessarily artful dodging, but the giving of an advantage to the soldier who re-enlists every three years as against the man who embarks on a far more normal engagement. That 2068 has been very much in the minds of those who have drawn up these conditions, but to give an assurance is beyond my power at the present time.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am not trying to get an assurance to tie down the Secretary of State to a bounty. But many of these bounty schemes looked most attractive at the time of introduction. Take those introduced after the First World War. They looked attractive and they brought a considerable number of men into the Army, but in the end I am sure that they lost the Army good soldiers, because of the way they worked out. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look at this question not only from a short-term view of the men they will attract in the next few months, but from the long-term view of the number that will be attracted for a longer period.
§ I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Strachey
I beg to move, in page 5, to leave out lines 16 to 26, and to insert:Provided that no person who has not attained the age of eighteen years shall be enlisted for a period longer than the difference between his age and the age of eighteen, and any person enlisted under the age of twenty-one shall have the right to determine his service at the expiration of three years from the date of his enlistment, and no person under twenty-one years of age shall be enlisted without the consent in writing of his parents or guardian.This is an Amendment of some importance. It is really a question of the protection of minors joining the Army. It seeks three substantial protections for minors under 21 years of age. First, it proposes that persons under 18 years of age shall have an opportunity to break their engagement when they become 18. Second, it provides that persons under 21 years of age shall have the right to determine their service at the expiration of three years from the date of enlistment. Third, it proposes that any person under 21 shall not be enlisted without the consent in writing of his parents or guardian.
I do not necessarily press these provisions for I realise that there may be good reasons against their terms. But I attach a good deal of importance to the principle, and I ask the Secretary of State 2069 to look at that and see if he cannot give effect to some or all of the purposes behind the Amendment. This is the time to do that, when he is bringing forward important new Clauses and Amendments that are designed purely to make the Army a thoroughly satisfactory career, both for the man who wants to join only for a short time and for the man who wants to make the Army his life work for 22 years.
In approaching these provisions, the right principle is that a Regular Army enlistment should be a contractual arrangement, like any other contractual arrangement, between the man and the State, not determinable without due and proper notice, but determinable with proper notice by either side. That would be a real advance. If we could have some provision of that sort for the protection of minors it would help to do what the right hon. Gentleman is attempting, and what he is making progress in doing—getting rid of the last vestiges of the old conception of the Army that once one is in one cannot get out.
The old idea that the only way to get out of the Army is by purchase must be forgotten. We must see that to the recruit today the Regular Army is a career. There still remains the feeling I have described, especially in regard to minors, and I am sure the Army will benefit enormously if the last element of that feeling can be removed.
There should be no feeling whatever that a boy should hesitate to join the Army because once he has done so he can never get out again. It is entirely wrong, and it is a short-sighted way of building up the Regular Forces to try to block the exits from them. We ought to be making the entrances more and more attractive. These are just some suggestions of what can be done for minors. I do not think it can be said that there are necessarily no objections to some of them, but to the intention of the Amendment we attach a good deal of importance.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am quite sure that if the Secretary of State for War could bring himself to accept this Amendment or something like it, he would confer great benefit on the Army. I am sure that many young men join the Army with a 2070 great deal of enthusiasm, but when in they do not always settle down, and are not of much use to themselves or to the regiment which, unfortunately, has to have them in its ranks.
From inquiries which I have been making I find that parents are worried about pressures which are exerted on young men to join the Services. I am not suggesting that all the stories that have been told to me are correct, but I think that one or two cases are authentic, particularly one, the particulars of which I sent to the Secretary of State for War. I should be much obliged if he would look into it, and let me have a reply.
From the inquiries that I have made I find it is not unknown for young men from Dudley and Stourbridge, who go for medical examination at the Congregational Rooms in Wolverhampton, to be subject to pressures which are bitterly resented by the parents of the young men. They are told, for example, that they can only go to the regiment of their choice if they join the Regular Army. I am told that statements have been made to them that if they do not join the Regular Army they will have to pay for their clothes.
There is no doubt that pressures are exerted, and, of course, in the case I have given to the Secretary of State, the young man succumbed to the pressure to undertake a Regular engagement and then went back and broke the news to his mother and father. I have verified the facts, and I am sure that this is not an uncommon case.
I am sure that while the Secretary of State would in the short run lose a few men, he would in the long run, if he undertook that no Regular Army recruit under the age of 21 would be accepted without the parents' consent, raise the level of the quality of the men he would yet for the Army. One of the things which the Secretary of State must have in mind is this question of quality. This step which my right hon. Friend proposes would be of great advantage.
I do not want to labour either the case I have made nor do I want to use it to say that everybody engaged in recruiting always tells stories that are not true. As I have already said, I am convinced that something like this goes on. Minors can enter into a contract with the Crown with- 2071 out the consent of the parents. Perhaps my hon. and learned Friends will say a word about that but, if it is so, I am asking the Secretary of Sate to place himself in the position of any other employer of labour. Then he will get the recruits he wants and keep them, not because he is in an advantageous position or because his representatives are representatives of the Crown, but because they are going to treat the case on its merits.
If he will accept the Amendment, or something like it, it will be definite proof that he intends to see that the young men of the country are not taken advantage of in the way I am certain that they are being taken advantage of at present.
§ Mr. Head
—or minors, as the right hon. Gentleman says. There are two points in this Amendment. The first concerns the enlistment of boys. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have certain highly technical courses in the Army in which boys are enlisted at the age of 15—apprentice courses—and they are given a first-class technical education. By the time they reach the age of 18, the Army has, from the point of view of qualifying, instructing and keeping them, put a great deal of effort, as is shown in the annual Estimates, into the education of these boys.
I have to say, without any criticism of those concerned, that these boys are extremely desirable objects for certain engineering firms. If this Amendment were accepted, they would only have to make them offers which would induce them to leave the Service at an early date. Ever since these apprentice schemes have been introduced the Army has made it conditional that these boys should enter and undertake a long-service engagement in the Army; it is normally eight years and four years. We are now considering the possibility of reducing that.
If I accepted the Amendment it would be tantamount to agreeing that we would 2072 spend this money on their technical education, qualifying, feeding and educating them in the broader sense, and then be prepared to lose them after a short time. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware also, perhaps, that such a scheme would be hardly acceptable to those who arrange the expenditure of the Army. Every one of these boys and younger men who enlists under the age of 17½ must have the consent of the parent or guardian.
The second category covered by the Amendment is the man who enlists under the age of 21. That not only covers the whole of the National Service field, but the whole recruiting field. After the man is called up neither the parent nor guardian is consulted, gives his consent or has any power whatever to alter the present state of affairs. One might say that it would be most unfortunate if these men were to enlist without the consent of their parents or guardians, but, whether they consented or not, or whether the man joined up, he would be called up at the age of 18; and it is somewhat of a work of supererogation to insist on parental consent for the normal case when, if he joins the Army, he can leave after three years.
Lastly, I would say this to the right hon. Gentleman, that by September, 1953, we shall have ended the compulsory retention of Regulars beyond their contractual term. When we get to September, 1953, the normal purchase from the Army will be re-instituted. The introduction of the new engagement contained in this Bill reduces the liability of the man who does join up at 18 on Regular engagement.
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said he felt that there was pressure put on men called up for National Service to join the Regular Army, because it was said to them, "You will not get into the regiment of your choice unless you do", and that may well be true. But I do not believe that to be pressure.
If one joins under the National Service Act and is called up—and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) will support me in this—one must be put into a unit so that one will be so trained and fitted that, 2073 in time of service, the unit one has served with will be well trained.
A man who lives in Dudley may want to go into a particular type of unit, but if the local Territorials in the vicinity are not suitable it is quite possible the recruit must go into some other unit for which he is better fitted. These things do occur and will continue to occur, and are inevitable if we are to work a National Service scheme.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has quite disposed of the point of enlistment under the age of 21. There is a difference between being called up for National Service for three years, and joining the Army for three years. There is also a distinct difference which might affect his future career, his apprenticeship, or something of that sort. We know prefectly well that sometimes boys can, without any thought at the time, join the Regular Army and regret it afterwards, not because the life is particularly hard but because they do not find it appeals to them. What the Amendment proposes would afford extra protection.
The other point I should like to make about this question of boys under the age of 18 is that I never liked the idea of having boys committed, so to speak, to the Army and so young an age. It would be helpful to know a little more about what the Secretary of State has in mind about a period of engagement for boys.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
I should like to know, in the case of a boy under 17½ years, whether the parents' consent is always required? I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman could confirm this point. Am I right in thinking that although it is the practice of the Army to require such consent, the Army is not required by statute to do so? What we are, in fact, doing in this Amendment is to require all future Secretaries of State to pursue a practice comparable to that which the present right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors have pursued. There may be some advantage in doing that.
I remember that when I held the position of Under-Secretary of State for War a case was brought to my notice where a young man under the age of 17½ had entered into an enlistment by declaring his age to be 17½. I was then advised 2074 that the law on the matter was that that in no way invalidated the contract. If the Army had chosen to stand on the pure legality of the matter they could have said that a contract to serve the State could be validly entered into by a minor. The contract was valid despite the fact that the youth had maintained that his age was higher than it actually was.
That is, I believe, the legal position in regard to the Army. I agree that the Army generally behaves, as it did on that occasion, much more reasonably than it could behave if it stuck to its legal rights, but there might be some advantage in stating explicitly in the statute what is in fact the practice in the Army.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I am not particularly concerned with the under 21 not getting his parent's consent, Now that the period is reduced to three years only, and the man has to serve two of those years in any event as a National Service man, that does not seem to me awfully important. But I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look at the question of the boys again. What would we say if a private firm opened a scheme and said, "We will take boys of 15 on condition that, if we educate them for two or three years, their bodies shall be available to us for eight years"?
If a contract of that sort came before any of our courts, it would be thrown out. We should say that it was grossly contrary to public policy. Any such conduct, with or without a parent's consent, entered into by a child would be absolutely invalid. Ought the Government, particularly the Army, to do things which we should regard as quite wrong and quite unfair to the boy if done privately?
The right hon. Gentleman said that this technical education which made the boy valuable cost the Army money. Surely, that is an argument which he should take up with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Education. If this seems to be good education which makes people valuable it is worth while, but it may be that the Ministry of Education should pay part of the cost. I do not know about that, but that really is an argument as to which Department of the Government should pay for it. The right hon. Gentleman's argument does not seem to 2075 me to justify imposing such a long and onerous contract on children.
§ Mr. Simmons
I wish to protest against the conscription of little children. [HON. MEMBERS: "Enlistment."] It is in a sense conscription, because probably some of them are forced by their parents. At that age they are immature. Their minds are not properly formed. They are, in that respect, especially susceptible to environment.
I think it is a great moral danger to these little children to take them into the Forces. I am sure it is a danger to their individuality and their personality. We ought to allow them to develop gradually and naturally, and I cannot see them doing that in a barrack room or going round the barrack square.
In my opinion the consent of the parents is no excuse. In this country we have good and bad parents. Bad parents might be glad to push on to the Army the responsibility for children which God gave to them and not to the State. This is a great moral question, and I do not know where the Churches are in this matter. They ought to rise up and protest against the children of this nation being put into the Armed Forces of the Crown and in uniform.
§ Mr. Head
I appreciate the alarm of the hon. Member on this subject, but the boys we are talking about are at apprentice schools run very much like any other technical school. They are not put into the Army at the tender age of 15. They are being educated on normal school lines at apprentice schools.
§ Mr. Simmons
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that explanation, but it is not the full explanation. I should like to know what is the routine of these children when they go into the Forces. I presume that they are put into uniform? Are they issued with rifles? Do they have to do rifle drill? Are they on the barrack square and do they do all the general military evolutions?
If we are to train apprentices why should we put them in uniform? Why should we drill them? Great play was made by the right hon. Gentleman about the value of the training these boys will receive. I do not think anyone will doubt the value of the technical training they 2076 will receive. I have no doubt the Army will have gathered together technicians capable of giving that kind of training.
Then the right hon. Gentleman said that if these boys were allowed to leave at the age of 18 or 21 the Army would lose the value of their training. What is so terrible about that? The training should not merely be for the Army, it should be for the nation. Even if these lads left the Army the fact that they were trained would make them very effective in the workshops of the country.
I raise this question because I feel that we have to be very careful in this matter of putting our children into uniform. We remember the hymns of hate we used to sing against Hitler and the Kaiser, because we said they were recruiting children for their wars. We know what we say about the people on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Let us be careful that we are not living in glass houses before we start to throw stones. Let us be sure that the children of this nation are not used in the interests of militarism before they are able properly to think for themselves.
§ Mr. Wigg
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) is a little wide of the mark. There are three apprentice schools and they are certainly not places for little children or homes of militarism. I do not think they are the ideal places which the Secretary of State for War would have us believe, but they are unlike what my hon. Friend thinks them to be.
This subject is rather like a red rag to a bull to me, because my own nephew wanted to do what his father and other members of his family had done, and he joined one of these apprentice schools. I bear the responsibility for the advice I gave him. These are very good apprentice schools, but they are also schools for n.c.os.
My nephew has no hope of getting a commission, and that is one of the charges which I lay against the Secretary for War; the schools exist to train boys and to turn out the finest n.c.os. in the world, but it is not fair on the "young stuff." These young boys' brains are only taken so far; they learn to mark time, and such duties, but the officers comes from elsewhere.
2077 11.45 p.m.
The Secretary of State for War has failed to understand what it is that we are after. The Government are doing what my right hon. and hon. Friends started, and that is to improve recruiting for the Regular Army by the principle of differentiation. Some of us pleaded for the differentiation in pay for the Regular soldier and the National Service man, and now we have got that. But the War Office also pushes up recruiting by putting pressure on these young men who are brought within that field.
Parents say to me that their sons would not go within a thousand miles of the recruiting serjeant but for the fact that they go there in response to a legal obligation. It is the job of the Secretary for War to ensure that no improper pressure is exerted. Young lads are told "So you want to join the Royal Tank Regiment, or whatever it is. Well, then, become a Regular."
I have many examples of improper pressure being exerted within the regiment. The question of leave comes into it, among other things; we know it does, and one can understand the enthusiasm of commanding officers, and representatives of the Minister. I am sorry he has the responsibility for all the foolishness of some of those borne on his pay-roll. It is no argument to say that these young men have to join at the age of 18 years anyway in response to a legal obligation.
What the parents are concerned about is that the boys go away for two years and pressure is applied, and they find that the boys have to serve for "seven and five." It is not necessary for the Minister to say that they have to do two years in any event. If the young men do a good job in the Army, that is something added to the general wealth of the nation, but I do hope that the Minister will accept the fact that, so far as the apprentices are concerned, there should be another look at the case of young men who, at 18. undertake a Regular engagement.
It is perfectly proper to ask a civilian employer for a parent's consent, and it is perfectly proper to claim that a certain young man, but for a legal obligation of National Service, would not undertake any other military obligation at all. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will address himself to this point.
§ Mr. Strachey
Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, I would say that I was a little worried by his arguments on this question of the apprentice schools. It is a very natural feeling. It is a Treasury feeling rather than a War Office feeling, if I may put it frankly. But it is not really a good argument that one should try and keep by force, the boy who has been made into a very valuable product, as the right hon. Gentleman says. I do not really believe that that is a useful or effective way of building up the strength and scale of the Regular Army.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has just said, we should not take that attitude in the case of a private firm, or a nationalised industry, for that matter. I do not think, in this day and age, it is the way the Army should go on. I do not say this matter can be altered tonight, but we ought to press it, which is one which the committee which is to be set up should look into very closely.
The conception that one can take in a boy, spend a great deal of money on him, and then say that one can, by statute, keep him for a considerable number of years, is an out-of-date one. In the long run, the Army has to provide, in one way and another, as attractive a career as anyone can get outside and keep the recruit because he wants to stay.
The point my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), has made about a boy's chances of rising to the commissioned ranks is very relevant and part of the whole attraction of the Army as a career. It tempts the Army not to open these avenues of promise and attraction if they feel they can keep people by statute. We do feel there is something of real force involved here, and we ask the Secretary of State for War whether he cannot give us an assurance he will look at the matter and that the committee which is to be set up will look at it.
§ Mr. Head
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, and, indeed, it is inevitable that the discussion on this Clause, and other Clauses, and the record of it in HANSARD, will be an important factor in the consideration of the committee to be set up. From a purely personal point of view, as the Minister responsible for 2079 these boys, I think frankly that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), are making heavy weather about this. On this question of boys' recruitment, people get to know about it and, I may point out, it has recently shown a marked upward trend. One does not get this trend if a lot of boys are trapped into the Army and not allowed to go.
I have the figures for the last two years, including those who have asked to leave by purchase, as they are allowed to do in the first three months, and those who have applied to go. The annual average figures are: regimental boys in non-technical training, 1.7 per cent.; apprentice boys, 2.1 per cent.
§ Mr. Head
I think the hon. Gentleman had a good long go, but I will give way in a moment. These are not figures which suggest great discontent. The hon. Gentleman said, "Oh, but it is unfair to keep them in." It is up to a boy to join the Army and become a valuable asset. Supposing he joins the Army and is an apprentice of some industrial firm, is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the fact that that industrial firm, which trained him, can claim him from the Army?
§ Mr. Head
I do not want to engender a lot of heat. Of course, this will be considered by the committee which is to be a set up and if I am wrong, no doubt, the committee will say that the Secretary of State for War is entirely mistaken on this subject of boys, he has trapped them in the Army, and so forth. But, I do not believe there are these poor, cowering youths being incarcerated by the Army. If we were to say that we would have a three years course, from 15 to 18, and then let them go after a very short time, it would be difficult to justify that expenditure. I do not want to argue that point, but, as I say, the arguments which have been advanced from one side and the other will no doubt be considered.
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) made certain points on this subject, 2080 and also announced that despite a short period of concord relations had now been broken off. To keep friendly relations with the hon. Gentleman over a long period is rather like trying to balance a plate on the end of a billiard cue: one knows it will fall off fairly soon.
I do not think I shall ever satisfy the hon. Gentleman on this point, but I would say that if these boys find, when they first join, that they do not like the life, they have an absolute right to go during the first three months of their service. I did not mention that originally, and I should like to point it out now.
There are many points on this subject of retention in the Service, and I am aware that the boys are now, as the Act is amended, the only ones who are retained for this long period. I was asked how long the regimental boys would be retained. That is under discussion, and it would be wrong to give an answer now. The maximum is "eight and four," and we are considering a reduction. I cannot say how far at this stage.
Everything that has been said tonight will be available for consideration by the committee, and I suggest that we might now pass to another of the important topics.
§ Mr. Wigg
The right hon. Gentleman really ought not to come to the Committee with these phoney statistics. It is no use his coming here and saying "I have statistics which show that the incidence of purchasing out during the first three months is x per cent." That is not the test. We are far too old soldiers for that. Will he tell us what is the rate of absenteeism? How many deserters and absentees are there in proportion to the Army as a whole? That will tell me whether these soldiers are contented. The right hon. Gentleman should not come here and say to me "One per cent. claimed their discharge by purchase." That is no test of how happy they are: that is a test of how much money their parents have got. That sort of argument is no good at all, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it.
I will accept the suggestion of my right hon. Friend that we should leave this to the Committee; I can see that is going to be a convenient formula in the near future. I accept that, but I want from the Secretary of State an assurance that he will inquire into the one specific 2081 case of which I will send him details, and will also use his influence to see that there is no improper influence being used or the National Service man when he is coming into the Service, and when he is in the Service, to undertake an engagement which he does not fully understand.
Let me cheer up the right hon. Gentleman by saying that he will not hold his job very long, because the first county council election results from my part of the world show that there have been four Labour gains. I therefore hope he will use the brief time that remains to him as Secretary of State for War to see that the present good will for the Army is not undermined by the improper pressures to which I am referring. I hope he will give me that assurance.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
I did ask the right hon. Gentleman a question which he has not answered, and I think it is of some interest. Is the asking of the consent of parents for boys under 17½ merely the practice of the Army or is it something they are obliged to do by statute?
§ 12 midnight.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider this point? I think that means that it is not statutory. That means to say that it can be altered without going through the procedure of altering an Act of Parliament. But if it is the invariable practice of the Army to behave in that manner, would there be 2082 any harm in putting that into the Army Act at some stage? I should have thought not, if the Army is always prepared to ask for consent. It may be desirable, to show the Army's excellent intentions, to have it in the Act.
§ Mr. Head
If the hon. Gentleman were in my shoes I do not think he would not care to give a categorical assurance that it will be included. We will look into that question. It is at present habitual in the Army. I learn that it is not statutory law. Whether it would be suitable for inclusion in the Act I do not know, but I will give an undertaking to look into it.
§ Mr. Strachey
I cannot pretend that I am wholly convinced by the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman, but I agree that we cannot take the matter much further tonight. It is the sort of thing that the committee must wrestle with. Therefore I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Strachey
I beg to move, in page 5, to leave out lines 31 to 37.
The Amendment is to leave out subsection (3). I move it because neither I, nor learned Friends whom I have consulted, can understand what it means. I will read it. It says:Any power conferred by subsection (1) of this section to prescribe a term for which a person may be enlisted, the portion of such a term that it to consist of Army service or or a period beginning with the date on which a person attains the age of eighteen years shall include power to prescribe different terms, portions or periods, either generally or in relation relation to different classes of cases.I begin to get a glimmer of what it means. I see that it is referring back to subsection (1). It may be all right, but it seems to me pretty hard for a court to interpret. Perhaps the legal luminaries of another place can look at it to see if they can draft it more clearly for the man in the street.
§ Mr. Head
I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree when I say that this Amendment is in the truest sense exploratory. I will venture, as an explorer, into these rather novel words and attempt to explain the purpose of this Clause. I think that the crux of this Clause lies in the word, "prescribed," 2083 because, as the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, in the subsection referred to in the Clause, namely subsection (1), there is no mention of the word "prescribe." But in subsection (1, b and c) there is reference to "prescribed." Both (b) and (c) refer to a limited period of service—limited at present to 12 years.
The power that we are taking in subsection (3) is that within that period of 12 years we have the ability to alter the proportion of Colour service compared with Reserve service. At present it is limited to three years with the Colours, four years with the Reserve. At present there is no alternative of five and seven; there can be no periods of five years and seven, and no alternative to 22 years' engagement. I think it would be rash for me to say we have cast the right period and will never want to alter it. This subsection gives us power to change to three and four years, four and four years, four and five years—any combination, like the football pool permutations, which we would wish to make of the 12 years.
Although I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's difficulty at finding this coming in a flash of obviousness, I can assure him that I have taken a certain amount of trouble myself on the best—well, perhaps the best—legal advice in order to brief myself on this matter. Although I see the ex-Attorney-General has arrived I can assure him that is the purpose of this Clause, that is its meaning, and that is why it is in the Bill. I believe it is right to have this very commonsense provision within the Clause, and is wise from the point of view of those who have to attempt to make this scheme work and attract as many soldiers as possible.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
If the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the object of this Amendment is exploratory, personally I do not think that the exploration has so far been very successful. It does not seem to me that he has explained quite clearly to the Committee what was the precise effect of the subsection. I understand it is only intended to apply to Clause 7 (b) and (c) and I understood he said he had taken power—of course, he meant he was asking for power—for the Government to determine 2084 at a later date the precise terms for which paragraphs (b) and (c) apply.
What puzzles me is the object of the last two or three lines of this Clause. Why is it necessary to ask for power to prescribe different terms or periods for different classes of cases? Will the right hon. Gentleman say what are the cases he means, and, also, whether it is intended by this subsection that the Secretary of State should not merely have power to prescribe the terms on one occasion, but to vary them from time to time? If so, is it intended to have that power with resort to Parliamentary sanction or not?
§ Mr. Paget
For my part. I was going to thank the right hon. Gentleman. I spent quite a long time quite sincerely trying to discover what this Clause meant, and I failed utterly. I think I have now solved it. It is rather like one of those ridiculous puzzles that are quite simple when one has got the clue.
§ Mr. Strachey
In view of the right hon. Gentleman's explanation, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, if that is the wish of the Committe.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Discussion is not permissible. It is out of order. I will pass to the next Amendment.
§ Mr. Paget
Further to that point of order, I wonder if it would be possible for you to reconsider your decision, Mr. Hopkin Morris. On the question of selection, it is not always possible to see the point. The present position is that the 12-year man can go out on three months' notice. That has been changed by this Act to his disadvantage, and we certainly would regard this as one of the most important Amendments on the paper tonight. We were quite prepared to drop a number of other Amendments, but this is different.
§ Mr. Strachey
I would like to reinforce the argument which has been put to you, Mr. Hopkin Morris. I know that we cannot ask for any reasons for non-selection, but it is a point of great substance, far more important than the last Amendment that was moved. I should have thought it would have been to the convenience of the Committee to discuss it. It may not be a proper suggestion but, I repeat, it is a point of great substance.
I am afraid that my decision is not debatable. This is one of the points within the discretion of the Chair and the Chair has exercised its discretion in the matter. We must pass on to the next Amendment. The Committee might find it convenient to discuss the next two Amendments together.
§ Mr. Wigg
I beg to move, in page 6, line 6, to leave out "four "and to insert "two and a half."
We can take this Amendment and the next one in my name, in page 6, to leave out lines 8 to 12, together.
The Amendment seeks to bring the provisions or the clause into line with the obligations that are imposed on a National Service man, so that if the recruit leaves the Service after three years his position will be exactly the same as if he had not undertaken the engagement of 22 years, but remains liable to his National Service reserve obligation. If accepted, it would put recruits on all fours with National Service men.
§ Mr. Head
It is the case that if I accepted this Amendment I would be putting a man who engaged on a Regular engagement on all fours with the period of total Colour and Reserve service of the National Service man. But it is not quite so simple as that. The man who joins the Regular Army is taking on a definite contract and, in my opinion, is in a very different status from that of the man who, entirely against his 2086 will, has to come up under National Service.
In the case of the first category, we want to give the man the minimum obligation required so that National Service can fulfil its function to make Army service effective. In the case of the second category, voluntary enlistment, we want to arrive at an engagement that will, first, prove attractive—or there will be no recruits—and, second, will adequately fulfil the Reserve engagement of the Regular Army.
If I were to accept the suggestion, the first effect would be about to halve the size of the Regular Army Reserve, from four to two and a half years, for every man who joins on this three-year engagement. Thus one immediate effect would be that we should become more than ever dependent on National Service. If we have a very small Regular Army Reserve, and we come to happier days in which we can make a settlement with Russia, then, when we wish to do away with National Service the Regular Army Reserve would be so small that, for a period until we had increased and built it up, you are dependent on National Service for the reserve.
The second reason is that the decision to make it three years and four has been arrived at after very considerable actuarial work in order to ascertain what is the minimum Regular Army Reserve which we must have. The hon. Gentleman may say that we were leaving this too long, but since this particular engagement was introduced into the Army recruiting figures compared with the figures for last year have been more than trebled, and if this Reserve period is too long it is not shown in the way in which the acceptance of this particular term of engagement has been undertaken by a large number of men.
§ Mr. Wigg
The Secretary of State does not quite understand. The reservist, as long as he gets his Reserve pay and is not called up, does not mind very much about it, and, anyway, the pay comes in handy. What I sought to do—it might be in the wrong form of words—was to impose on the young man who starts on a 22 years' engagement, does not like it and opts to come out the same obligation which he would have had to undertake if he had not done that. I think that that is fair, but if the Secretary of State thinks that that will upset the balance of his Reserve and their numbers I will not press the Amendments. If the right hon. Gentleman says that he must have this, then I will accept what he says. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Strachey
I beg to move, in page 6, line 43, to leave outif the competent military authority approve.
I think it would be for the general convenience of the Committee if we took this Amendment and the following one, in page 7, line 12, together.
§ Mr. Strachey
As I understand it—and the Secretary of State will correct me if I am wrong—the right hon. Gentleman referred to the option of the men who have enlisted under an earlier engagement who may wish to opt into the new 22-years' engagement. If that is so, I should not have thought that there ought to be this proviso that the competent military authority approves.
I do not see why we should limit the right. We want to attract men into this this new 22-year service period, so why should we not give a straightforward right of option to take up the Army as a career on this new long-service period of 22 years without this proviso? There are perfectly good powers in the Army for dealing with men who prove themselves impossible soldiers, but I cannot see why there should be this saver that the competent military authority has to approve the option.
§ Mr. Head
I appreciate the desire behind this Amendment. It is that a man who desires to make the Army his career could do so without any permissive Clause of this type. There are reasons 2088 for this I assure the right hon. Gentleman and the reasons, I equally assure him, are not to reduce the number of men who sign on for 22 years. They are that there may be men who join for the three and four engagement or National Service men who, after taking on, prove themselves, not ineligible by actual record, but undesirable for permanent retention as soldiers. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that such men do occur, although they are few and far between.
There are also men who, through the diversity of engagement would reach the 22-year engagement about the age of 60 because it is possible for a man to take a considerably longer period to serve who is quite a substantial age. I could explain how that is brought about, but it is complicated and I think I would be wasting the time of the Committee.
The wordsif the competent military authority approve.sound as if some form of selection board was indicated, but the "competent military authority" is the Officer i.c. Records and I have yet to find such an officer who did not try to build them up and have the maximum number of records. That is far more of a formality than an exceptional selection, but the officer in charge of records has to deal with the man who is undesirable or who has reached an age at which he is of no further use to the Army.
§ Mr. Strachey
In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Strachey
I beg to move, in page 7, to leave out lines 18 to 26.
This deals with the question of transfer of the man on older terms of engagement to new terms. It is laid down that he cannot transfer if that shortens his term of engagement. Is this really wise? This action forbids a man to take a course which, in certain circumstances, may seem advantageous to him, although, of course, by shortening his term, the Army no doubt lose some of his service.
It loses on that man, but does not this type of proviso defeat itself by making the Army less attractive to men in general? I cannot help feeling that a policy of generosity in this respect would 2089 pay in the long run. I should have thought it a pity to spoil a thoroughly good scheme in general by having provisions by which the man might feel he was being treated a little meanly.
§ Mr. Paget
I believe that there is no greater source of unhappiness in any unit than when one man feels that he is being unfairly treated as against another. If circumstances arise in which a man has joined on the longer engagement and the man who comes in later on the new form of engagement and the man who came in earlier finds that he is at a disadvantage against the men who came in later, we shall have a bad feeling and that bad feeling will do more injury than the odd years of extra service that may be obtained from a few people by applying this proviso. I feel there is a case here for generosity. After all, keeping people in the Army depends primarily on people being happy in the Army, and liking it.
§ Mr. Head
I appreciate the point which has been raised, but, quite frankly, it is extremely rare that this opportunity falls to me. I do not think that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has correctly interpreted the Clause. He is referring to those who join under the old engagement, but this Clause does not refer to that particular subject.
As the right hon. Gentleman opposite said, the Clause is one which ensures that any man—and this applies particularly to boys—who comes over from a 12-year engagement to 22-year engagement, does not serve in the Colours for a shorter period than he would have done in his previous engagement. We took account of an identical problem when we discussed earlier the case of a boy who has technical training whom we want to retain for a second period in the colours.
But the Clause as it stands refers only to boys, except in one extremely rare instance—that of a man who joins for the three and four, and does a rare and peculiar thing, which is to translate his reserve service into Colour service, and thereby makes it into seven. If he takes that step he may have three years back on a 22-year engagement. I do not believe it is worth bothering the Committee with. This is only a Clause which concerns boys. I think it is a recapitu- 2090 lation of the arguments we had before. The intention of the Clause, virtually, is merely to ensure that these boys continue to serve in the Army for the period for which they engaged.
§ Mr. Strachey
I do not agree with the Secretary of State on this, but it is the same argument that we had before on the boys and I am sure that we cannot resolve it now. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Head
I beg to move, in page 9, line 4, after "enlistment to insert under this Act."
This is purely a drafting Amendment designed to cover a somewhat rare occurrence. If we were to omit this Amendment, we should allow a very rare form of enlistment—enlistment under Section D of the Reserve. This Amendment is to ensure that that eventuality is insured against.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ 12.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Paget
I beg to move, in page 9, line 9, to leave out from the beginning, to the end of line 11, in page 10, and to insert:(1) Where a soldier deserts the period of his desertion shall be added to the term of his enlistment.We regard this Amendment as most important. Section 81 of the Army Act, as re-enacted in this Bill, provides, in a great number of words—in fact, in almost a full page of words—broadly speaking, that a man who deserts shall have the whole of his service wiped out.
That is a provision which, for two reasons, we dislike. The first is a matter of principle, that automatic punishments are nearly always wrong and unsatis- 2091 factory. The second is because it is unfair between two men who have done the same thing. A man who may have given valuable service for 20 years loses 20 years. A man who, immediately after having got his kit, goes straight off and "flogs" it and deserts within a few hours, gets a much less penalty under this Clause. He does not happen to have any service to forfeit.
There are wide powers of punishment for desertion under the Army Act which leave the court-martial the discretion of selecting the punishment suitable for the degree of guilt involved in the desertion. We feel that that is the way in which punishment should be allocated, the actual facts of each case being considered; and that we should not have an automatic punishment which operates unevenly between people who have committed the same offence.
What we suggest by this Amendment is that instead of losing the whole service a man should have added to his period of enlistment the time during which he has been a deserter. Then he would not save any time for himself by deserting. But, as long as we do that, it seems to us unfair to take off the whole of his service, which may have been good and valuable service. In practice this is dealt with, to some extent, by the provision that service may be restored by subsequent good conduct. I believe that, generally speaking, if a man serves 18 months after his desertion and has a clear conduct sheet, he will have returned to him the service which has been forfeited.
That seems to be a somewhat round about way of working. Let the man have the punishment which is selected and which the court-martial thinks fair, but do not let us have these automatic punishments.
§ Mr. Head
I appreciate that the hon. and learned Gentleman is anxious about this, which I agree, on the face of it, appears a very considerable punishment for either fraudulent enlistment or desertion. So far as fraudulent enlistment is concerned, as the hon. and learned Gentleman no doubt knows, it has nothing to do with such things as false names, ages, and so forth. It is, roughly, desertion followed by re-enlistment. The other crime is desertion without that.
2092 I would point out that in the Army today the major and outstanding crime which is always at the top of the list is desertion or absence without leave. It is a problem, particularly when men take the law into their own hands and go away after the Army has been reasonably generous about compassionate leave and such matters. Desertion is with intent to remain away indefinitely, and I suggest that a considerable deterrent is removed if this Amendment is adopted.
It throws a very considerable burden on a man's comrades. A man may be posted overseas and desert three or four weeks before his ship is due to sail. Another man who is not otherwise going has to be sent in his place. If this particular Amendment were accepted there are many Regular soldiers who would consider that the average punishment now introduced could be borne. He could serve his term in the "glasshouse" and it might be worth it.
This has always been in the Army Act and is a considerable deterrent. There is an argument which the hon. and learned Gentleman might deploy which is that in certain circumstances, such as a critical situation in a man's family life or private affairs, he might go away. In that event a man who has suffered the loss of a considerable period of service, directly he comes back, has only to serve 18 months with good conduct and he has his past service restored to him.
There is the further point that under the old law a man might forfeit service by seven or five years and come back, and, compulsorily, he would have to serve the seven years to fulfil his contract. That penalty no longer exists. Supposing a man forfeited 14 years in a 22-year engagement. He comes back and fails to do 18 months with a clear sheet. That, I suggest, any man is capable of doing, but this man fails to do it. If he is fed up with the Army and everything it stands for he can go after three years, which he could never have done before.
Therefore, the suggestion of the hon. and learned Gentleman would encourage the crime which is a great problem to the Army, and would cater against the contingency in which a vast majority of men would be able to get their service back; and also ignores entirely the fact that under the new engagement the penalty of having to serve on to fulfil 2093 the contract is reduced to a maximum period of three years.
§ Mr. Paget
If it is found that the present maximum sentence is an insufficient deterrent for this crime increase the maximum sentence, but still have a sentence which is imposed at the discretion of the court. It is not only the man who goes off because of serious trouble at home; as the Minister says, they are very reasonable in the Army today about compassionate leave, but what can well happen is that a man is under a particular officer, or n.c.o., who gets more and more on his nerves until, finally, he says "I can stand it no longer". Because of that personal factor, something goes, the man says, "I cannot bear the sight of this fellow any longer", and an offence is committed. These are the cases where one has to consider very carefully what is fair and what is reasonable.
Do not let us have these automatic punishments. Under the three years' engagement, it is very much less a deterrant under this Clause because it does not affect the amount of time the man has to serve before he gets out. If the Minister feels that this present deterrent is insufficient, let him increase the maximum punishment in the Act, but let him also leave it to the discretion of the court. I suggest that this could well be a matter which the Departmental committee could consider; we could get on tonight, but before we part with this I hope that it will be agreed that this is a matter of principle.
§ Mr. Bing
The debate has become a little academic because of the very reasonable arrangement arrived at, but I would just like to say that this concerns fraudulent enlistment and that the position today is very different from the 18th century crime of that description. Then, the man went along to get accoutrements far in excess of his pay, and found that he could make rather a good thing out of running round all the regiments he could find and enlisting in them.
Today, we are concerned with the man who rather likes the Army, but who has left because of some trouble he has got himself into; and it is a little hard that that man should have to suffer difficulties unnecessarily when, as a very good soldier in many ways, he offers his ser- 2094 vices again to the Forces. It will be recalled by hon. Members that under an ordinance of the Duke of Wellington, an officer, if accused and found guilty of a crime, was afterwards employed on active service, the whole of his crime was condoned; and it seems wrong to me that, where a man seeks condonation of his crime by enlisting again, he should find himself in a difficult position.
If the Departmental Committee is to look into this whole matter of fraudulent enlistment, then I hope that the Secretary of State will agree with me that these few remarks should have been made at this stage.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ 12.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Bing
I am sorry to intervene, and perhaps many hon. Members here think I have only just come in, but I have come in with the object of putting on record an objection, not to this Act, but to the way in which this Clause has been drafted. If we had not set down a series of Amendments it would have been impossible to have had a debate on this Clause, because this is a very French form of legislation. When we have a debate on the Question that this Clause stand part, we are really having a Second Reading debate on Part II of the Army Act. I only want to make the point that if at a subsequent period we do come to amend again the Army Act, it is much more convenient for the Committee if each Section is dealt with as a separate entity. Then, if we so desire, we can debate the Sections on the Question that the Clause stand part.
It is a model of moderation on our part that we have not put down Amendments in each case to omit line so-and-so, so as to take each Section as it comes. It is a rather unfortunate innovation in drafting, and I hope, seeing that the Solicitor-General is here, that there will be a note taken of this point. I hope that we shall not have again a Clause which deals, as this one does, with Sections 76, 77, 78, 79, and all of Section 80, all appearing under one head.
2095 Fortunately, we are going to reconsider the whole matter, so this is not really a matter of substance. From a practical point of view, it is an undesirable practice and those engaged in this particular matter should take note of what we say. This will avoid the difficulty of people having to set down Amendments and will enable the Committee to get through much more quickly.
§ Mr. Paget
I have one point which I want to draw to the attention of the Solicitor-General, because it may require Amendment in another place. It is a purely drafting question and concerns Section 77 (3). I think the purpose of that subsection is that under the 22 years' service enlistment a man can leave on giving three years' notice, but sometimes it is desirable to give a man a course of training, which may be valuable to him, both in his Army career and afterwards, and the Army will not get sufficient value from that training unless he agrees to waive his right to resign after three years' stay in the Army.
It is the intention that the man, in consideration of that sort of training, should have the right to waive his right to go out of the Army at an early period. That, as I understand it, is the intention. Somebody, perhaps the draughtsmen, drew attention to the fact that there is a rule of law, that where a Statute gives a man a right, he is not allowed to waive that right. For instance, rent restriction is the obvious example which comes to our attention. A man cannot contract not to exercise his rights under the Rent Restriction Acts. There are any amount of instances, including the Factories Acts.
The rule of law is that if we, Parliament, give a man a right he may not waive that right or bargain it away. What this means to say, as I understand it, is that in these circumstances a man in the Army may waive the right which we have given him notwithstanding the rule of law to the contrary. In fact they have said exactly the opposite; they have said "without prejudice to the rule of law relating to the waiver of statutory rights." Now to say "without prejudice to the rule" means to say "This man may waive his statutory right unless it conflicts with the rule of law." Well, it does conflict with the rule of law and, to my mind, that reduces this paragraph down to nonsense.
2096 Since the paragraph provides for a right to waive, I do not think it is necessary to refer to that statutory rule at all. But if the statutory rule is to be referred to, I suggest that it must be notwithstanding the statutory rule and not without prejudice to the statutory rule, because "without prejudice" is the opposite meaning to what is intended. One sees the same thing in Section 79 (1), where it is without prejudice to the right conferred by Section 77 of this Act. Now "without prejudice" to a right is correct. But this is not a right: it is the opposite of a right, and the words which would be appropriate to a right have been applied to its opposite.
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)
I will try to answer the ingenious and interesting argument which the hon. and learned Gentleman has advanced, but I think I am correct in saying that he has based the whole of his argument on an inaccurate premise. It is not right to say that a man cannot waive a right conferred upon him by Statute. That is not a general rule at all. Where rights are given in a particular instance, special provision has to be made that a man shall not contract out of the rights conferred upon him. The general rule is quite contrary to what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. There are rules of law relating to the waiver of statutory rights.
The reason for the words "without prejudice to the operation of any rule of law" relating to the waiver of statutory rights being in that subsection is this. If we merely gave an express right of waiver without saying anything about the common law rights of waiver, then it might be held in the courts that the express statement of the right of waiver in the Section would exclude the ordinary right of waiver of a statutory right. It is for that reason, so as to preserve in existence as well the ordinary rules of law with regard to the waiver of statutory rights, that the subsection starts with the words I have just read out to the Committee.
I do not know that I can carry the hon. and learned Gentleman with me, but I am sure he will find, if he examines it a hale bit more closely, that it is perfectly possible for an individual, unless the Statute itself prohibits it, to agree to waive a right conferred upon him by that Statute. It is so as to enable a man to waive rights should he want to do 2097 so, quite apart from the express provision of this Section, that these words "without prejudice" and the words which follow are inserted. I note with interest the concern that the hon. and learned Gentleman feels about it, but I can assure him that the wording has been carefully considered in view of the Amendment. I am advised by Parliamentary counsel that the wording is correct.
§ Mr. Paget
I would agree that when there are statutory rights it is always a question of ascertaining what is the intention of the State. The rule relating to waiver of statutory rights is well understood. Prima facie, unless there is something in the Statute to show a contrary intention, the rule of law is that where the right is conferred by a Statute it cannot be waived. Supposing a man agrees with some third party to join the Army for 12 years, and not to leave it before the end of that period; that he does that by contract with his father, or with someone who wants to get rid of him from civilian life.
Does the learned Solicitor-General suggest that that contract would be enforceable, and that the rule against the waiving of statutory rights would not be invoked by any court to upset a contract of that sort? I cannot conceive of circumstances in which a right to waive this particular right needs to be conserved because, except by agreement with the State, as provided for here, how could there be a waiver of this sort?
§ The Solicitor-General
The hon. and learned Gentleman does not think that this will give any advantage to the soldier. I do not agree. The object of these words is to secure that any existing right, which a soldier may have, of waiver is not excluded from the express statement of the right to waive contained in that subsection. If the hon. and learned Gentleman is right, the words mean nothing. If I am right, it means that the giving of the express right will not operate to deprive a soldier of any right he may have under any rule of law. Therefore, I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman, whether he agrees with me or not, will realise that the intention is to preserve any right the soldier may have apart from this subsection. If there are any rights, at least they will be preserved for the soldier.
2098 I will turn now to the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing). He said that it was not one of substance but it was undesirable to contain so many new Sections of the Army Act in one Clause of the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill. I think I fully understood and appreciated his point. We always take note of what the hon. and learned Gentleman says, however often he says it, or at whatever hour. I believe it is a great convenience to have them together; but the hon. and learned Gentleman says that if they were set out separately one could always have a debate on the Motion that the Clause stand part and need not put down an Amendment to leave out one Section or another. We will consider his point, but I think that the present practice is not undesirable.
§ 1.0 a.m.
§ Mr. Bing
I do not want to press this, but I would urge on the right hon. Gentleman that it is a little undesirable for hon. Members to have Amendments on the Order Paper before they can discuss any alteration. It is very convenient if the thing is there, and anybody who has a point he wishes to raise can do so on the Question that the Clause stand part. It is a little inconvenient when we come to debate the Clause standing part that we are involved in a general debate on four or six Sections, each of which may be quite different in their effect. The result will be that we shall have a Second Reading debate at a later stage. I hope that in regard to this Bill and other Measures that what seems to me to be an undesirable practice will be looked at again. I do not wish to try to lure the hon. and learned Gentleman to his feet again, but it does seem undesirable.
§ Mr. Wigg
The fact that we are going to have a Select Committee enables me to cut short what I want to say to a very few minutes. If we had not had a Select Committee, we should have kept the Committee much longer on this Clause, which of course goes right to the heart of Secretary of State's reforms. He thinks, and I hope he is right, that by introducing this provision enabling a soldier to enlist for a period of 22 years, he is going to get a considerable number of recruits. I am not sure whether that will be the result, but I hope so. I wish to warn the Committee that the Secretary 2099 of State, under the guise of making a concession, is in fact imposing limitations, and I wish to draw the Committee's attention to them.
Under the existing Regulations a soldier with 12 years' service can give three months notice and obtain a free discharge. If the right hon. Gentleman will turn to paragraph 99 (a) of the existing King's Regulations, he will see that there is a provision for free discharge after 12 years' service. That is a very valuable concession indeed, and a concession which is much prized by the long service Regular soldier.
What the regular n.c.o. and warrant officer worries about, as he accumulates responsibilities, is a home for his family when he leaves the Service and a job. The house and the job may come along any time from that 12 years onwards. It is that kind of thing which decides him whether he will sign on or not. This problem does not at it were hit the man between the eyes for the moment; it is only towards the end of his service that he wakes up and finds out that the man who has not undertaken a 22 years engagement can go away free by giving three months notice, while the man who has undertaken a 22 years engagement has to wait for three years to get it.
I am not asking the Under-Secretary to go into a detailed reply on this point. I wish to draw his attention to another anomaly under the existing Regulations. Had we not thrown the new Clause into discard, we should have been raising the point of an n.c.o. reduced to the ranks. Under the existing Regulations a warrant officer reduced to the ranks, irrespective of service, can claim a discharge. He cannot be required to serve in the ranks on reduction.
There is also a paragraph in the same King's Regulations, paragraph 391 (b), providing that a, soldier at his own request can be discharged with between five and 12 years' service on being reduced to the ranks. That, again, is an important safeguard of the rights of the senior n.c.o. who has the misfortune to run into trouble with the authorities. The right hon. Gentleman is not giving this safeguard. Once again we have the long service man under the Head reforms not getting the same 2100 concession available to the soldier who takes his service in a rather less concentrated form.
I do not press the point, because on the Select Committee we shall have an opportunity to look into it. I am asking the Under-Secretary to try and exercise a little curb on the perhaps youthful enthusiasm of the Secretary of State. When the Secretary of State introduces measures of this kind and sees the whole of the youth of Britain flocking to join the Colours to undertake an engagement of 22 years, the Under-Secretary should ask him to think again and try, if it is possible, to project himself into the position of the working-class young man—for it is the working-class young man who is concerned in this kind of engagement—and imagine what his reactions are at different times in his life. If 22 years seems attractive at the start, will the Secretary of State realise that it will not be quite so attractive when he gets into the barrack room and finds that there are conditions attached to his engagement that are less attractive than the conditions attached to somebody else's engagement?
It has always been a valuable principle, going back for half a century in the Army to my certain knowledge, that a concession once given is regarded as a right not lightly to be taken away. It does not make for discipline to have serving in the same regiment two men who have different kinds of engagement, with different conditions attached to them.
Therefore, I hope that the Select Committee will take note of this, and that the Under-Secretary, when putting concessions down, whether in the form of amendments to current Regulations or as Amendments to the Army Act, should look beyond the immediate point of introduction to see what the effect is going to be over a long period. It is always necessary to remember that if a mistake is made it takes a long time to correct—six months is but a second in Army terms. The most any Secretary of State for War or any member of the Army Council can do is to lay the pattern that will influence the kind of Army we are going to get generations ahead. I hope the Under-Secretary will see what the effect of these regulations would have been had there been no Select Committee 2101 and no Opposition vigilant enough to put their finger on this weakness.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison)
The hon. Member has suggested that I should try to curb my right hon. Friend's enthusiasm. That is the last thing I should try to do: if I could do anything, it would be to steer it in the right direction.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the disadvantages under one type of engagement compared with the advantages under another. I assure him that all these possibilities and the balance between one advantage and a disadvantage—length of service, gratuities, and so on—were taken fully into consideration while the 22-year plan was being formulated. But as he and the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) said, the situation is slightly academic. I suppose every word uttered in this debate will be taken notice of by the Select Committee. Let us leave it at that.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.