HC Deb 09 February 1955 vol 536 cc1942-4

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

Mr. G. Thomas

I am sorry to take up the time of the Committee, but I am disturbed about the methods which are adopted by the War Office in connection with the right of recruits to purchase their discharge. Yesterday, the Minister answered Questions about a trooper who was buying his discharge from the Army. I want to know whether, under the Clause, if a soldier is abroad and purchases his discharge, the Minister will claim for himself powers to make the soldier pay his fare home and then, when he arrives in this country, the War Office will wash their hands of him financially but will impose upon him all the obligations as if he were still in the Services.

Under the Clause, it appears that the Minister is to persist in what I think is a most iniquitous system of treating these men as soldiers for purposes of discipline but as civilians for purposes of finance. It seems to me that the Minister is not at all clear in his mind—or perhaps I ought to say that I am not at all clear in my mind—as to when the man becomes a civilian when he purchases his discharge.

The Minister knows that he has had brought to his attention the case of a man whose mother paid over £100 for him to buy his discharge from Egypt, with another £25 to have him brought home to this country; but under these powers, when such a man arrives in this country, the Minister's servant, the Army, in London, tells him that he must pay his own fare to whatever camp the Minister wishes to direct him for purposes of obtaining his discharge.

It is possible in such cases—indeed, it happened in the case to which I referred—for the man to be without English money, if he has purchased his discharge while abroad. The Minister does not seem to care what happens to these soldiers, who have to hitch-hike as best they can across the country. That is what happened in a recent case.

Will the Minister give a guarantee that that sort of procedure will not be followed if this Clause is allowed to pass? I do not think we should let it pass if that custom is to persist. When a man buys his discharge from the Army he must know the time when he is free, and until he is free to pass any military policeman in the street without a shudder he ought to have a guarantee that the Minister will provide a travelling warrant to the camp, wherever it is, to which he directs the man. I shall be grateful if the Minister will deal with that point.

Mr. Wigg

I did not want to ask whether my hon. Friend was in order, but in my opinion he is not.

Mr. Thomas

How many chairmen have we?

Mr. Wigg

That is my opinion.

There is a right here for the soldier, a very important right indeed, and it is quite different from the case my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) was discussing. Whether an application to purchase a discharge involving the payment of £100 shall be granted or not is a matter for decision by the competent military authority, but this Clause is to safeguard the right of a young man who enlists but finds he does not like the Army and wants to leave. It is a very important right which has been in the Army Act for a very long time. I would be very sorry to see it go. I must point out that the right to purchase has nothing to do with the case raised by my hon. Friend.

I am sorry if I appeared to be discourteous, but I am most anxious to get the position clear so that the case put by my hon. Friend should not induce the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw this statutory right which allows a recruit to purchase his discharge because he finds the Army is not to his liking.

Mr. Head

I was about to point out that this Clause applies to recruits, as the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has said, and is quite different from the point raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) in a Question and again in this debate. I do not want to get out of order, but I should say that the other purchase of discharge under regulations and the paying of the passage home have always been in existence since purchase of discharge was introduced. There is no innovation about it; it is done by regulation. I could go into the details with the hon. Members perhaps privately, as it may be out of order to go into them now. Perhaps he will have a word with me about that aspect later.

Mr. G. Thomas

The Minister has explained what the Clause means, with the help of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who seems to be one of the parents of this Bill. So long as there is a guarantee that recruits are not to be landed in financial difficulty, I have no objection to the Clause and, naturally, would support it.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 15 to 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.