HC Deb 17 March 1955 vol 538 cc1460-1
Mr. Crookshank

As I referred just now to the three Army and Air Force Bills, I should like to make a statement about them.

The Army and Air Force Bills now in progress themselves provide that they should continue in force by virtue of Orders in Council to be approved by Affirmative Resolutions for a period of five years in all. In accordance with the assurances given during the Committee stage of both Bills, the Government have looked further into the question of future reviews and amendments of the Acts. We have given careful consideration to the proposal that there should be a new Standing Order, to prevent the use of the Army and Air Force Bills for long drawn-out discussion designed to delay business and dislocate the affairs of the House.

The Government are in agreement with the intention behind this proposal, but take the view that it is impossible to foresee what may be the circumstances of the time and what may be the size of the Bill that proves necessary. A Standing Order to meet this case would have to be largely in the form of a Guillotine Motion, and that is clearly not practicable. Instead, the Government think that the matter should be one for agreement at the time between the Opposition and the Government; and the spirit in which the inquiries of the Select Committee have been pursued, and the progress made with the Bills now before the House, give grounds for hoping that a satisfactory arrangement can be achieved by these means.

The Government agree with the recommendation that the Bill to be introduced after five years should be committed to a Select Committee. This will ensure that there will be an opportunity for careful examination of the problem as it then is, but it does not imply that the Select Committee will necessarily have to give the Acts such protracted examination as has been the case on this occasion. It might then be the general opinion on both sides of the House that no major Amendments to the Acts were required, and that a simple continuing Bill would be all that is necessary; in this event the Select Committee's work would, no doubt, be quickly completed.

Mr. Wigg

Would the right hon. Gentleman accept the view, which, I am sure, will be held by hon. Members on both sides of the House, that this is a very happy solution to what was a very difficult problem?

Mr. Crookshank

I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman, who has had so much to do with this problem in recent months. It is obvious that none of us can bind a Parliament five years hence, but I think that the statement which I have made today, with the apparent acquiescence of the House, being on our record, should be an ample guide for those then responsible.

Mr. S. Silverman

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that there is nothing in these contemplated arrangements or agreements which would take away from the time-honoured traditional practice of the House of Commons of reviewing annually, in Committee, the Army Act? It has provided the House of Commons for 200 or 300 years with an annual opportunity of reviewing in detail administration and military affairs generally, so far as personnel are concerned, and the House would part with that with great reluctance.

Mr. Wigg

With respect to my hon. Friend, may I suggest that he should read the final Report of the Select Committee?

Mr. Crookshank

That, of course, would be of assistance. All that I was going to say to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) was that, as this is a very careful statement which has been drafted after considering not only what was in the Report, but also a great many other proposals put to me, I feel that the House would be wise to leave it where it is.

Mr. Nally

The Leader of the House will recall that I troubled him before about some intimation as to what are the Government's intentions in relation to the Royal Commission on Betting and Gambling—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have now passed from business; we are on the statement about the Army Act.