HC Deb 21 March 1955 vol 538 cc1815-24
Mr. F. Maclean

I beg to move, in page 86, line 35, to leave out from "power" to end of line and to insert: to make an order under this section. This Clause deals with deductions from pay for the maintenance of wives and children. Subsection (5) which the Amendment seeks to amend applies to children over the age of 16, children under that age being dealt with in the preceding subsection. An order of the Army Council for maintenance deduction in favour of a child over 16 must be capable of being varied or revoked in the same way as an order in favour of a child under 16. The power to vary or revoke is generally expressed in subsection (4), but I am advised that the way in which the first line of subsection (5) is drafted might throw doubt as to whether an order under that subsection could be varied or revoked, so the amended and rather more generally worded subsection will avoid any misunderstanding on that point.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)

I may not be following this point very skilfully. The subsection reads: The power under this section to make or vary an order. … The Amendment deals partly with the arrangement of the means and also leaves out the word "vary." I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that an order of this kind ought to be capable of being varied or revoked. How is it that an Amendment which leaves out the word "vary" from this subsection has the effect which he described? I may not have followed his explanation properly, but it was not clear to me.

Mr. F. Maclean

As redrafted, the subsection reads: The power to make an order under this section … and, therefore, in that sense, subsection (4) reads: The Army Council or an officer authorised by them may by order vary or revoke any order … As the Clause is drafted, the power under it to make or vary an order—for one thing, it omits the word "revoke"—might be interpreted as meaning that it was not possible to revoke. But when it is necessary to make an order under this Clause it clearly covers both "vary" and "revoke."

Mr. Stewart

I hope that I am not being awkward about this. The hon. Gentleman has just told us that subsection (5), as it now reads, leaves out the word "revoke," and he thought that unsatisfactory. He now proposes not only to leave out "revoke," but "vary" as well. I cannot see how that makes it better, unless the word "make"—

Mr. Wigg

My hon. Friend says that the word "revoke" is to be left out, but I cannot find the word "revoke" in that line at all.

Mr. Maclean

It is in subsection (4).

Mr. Stewart

The point made by the Under-Secretary was that subsection (4) states "vary or revoke." At the moment, the word "revoke" is not in subsection (5). The hon. Gentleman appeared to think that that was one of the things which made subsection (5) unsatisfactory. I am saying that the Amendment not only fails to put that right, but leaves out another word as well, the word "vary." If—and this may be the point which I have missed—the word "make" can be interpreted, and would be interpreted by lawyers, to mean, "make, vary or revoke," then I can see the point of the Amendment. If that is not so, I cannot see that this Amendment makes the position any better or even has the effect suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Maclean

I think that the sense of it is "to make an order varying or revoking an order."

Mr. A. Henderson

We must get this point cleared up. Subsection (4) gives the Army Council, or an officer authorised by it, power by order to make an order varying or revoking an order. Subsection (5), as amended, merely limits the power to impose a deduction, as provided in paragraphs (a) and (b), to an order which has been made under subsection (4). The Under-Secretary must make clear whether subsection (5), as amended, also gives power to the authority to vary an order in accordance with paragraphs (a) and (b). Is it only the original order which can provide for children under the age of 16, or can the order, after it has been made, vary in accordance with those paragraphs?

Sir P. Spens

I suggest that the Amendment is perfectly in order. In subsection (4) the word "make" does not appear. Subsection (4) merely provides that by order the Army Council may vary or revoke an order. Therefore, an order made under the subsection is an order which may either vary or revoke an order. When we get to subsection (5) we say The power under this section to make … an order. By either varying or revoking we can make these deductions.

Mr. Strachey

I am as a child in these matters, but would not the purpose of the Under-Secretary be equally served simply by inserting in subsection (5) the words "or revoke"? I can well believe that I am wrong, but it is very puzzling to a layman to see how the hon. Gentleman's intention—which is surely to include the power to revoke in the case of the list in subsection (5)—is aided by leaving out the word "vary" Why leave out the word "revoke"?

Mr. Maclean

Clause 151 as a whole makes provision for three acts. One is to make an order; the second is to vary an order; the third is to revoke an order. If, as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, we were simply to insert the word "revoke", it would not meet the purpose. We have to cover all three acts, and that is done more successfully by a comprehensive term like "make an order." Amendment agreed to.

Clause 220.—(Jurisdiction of courts.)

The Lord Advocate (Mr. W. R. Milligan)

I beg to move, in page 121, line 21, to leave out "under this Act" and insert: to which this section applies. During the Committee proceedings anxiety was expressed by a number of hon. Members regarding the position of soldiers whose homes were in Scotland. I gave an undertaking, both in connection with the previous Clause dealing with courts-martial and with Clause 220, with which the present Amendment is concerned, that we would examine the matter to see if there was any unfairness, or whether it would be practicable to make any alteration so far as courts-martial were concerned. After anxious consideration, we feel that there is no unfairness to anyone in the existing procedure.

Concerning Clause 220, which deals with the jurisdiction of civil courts, it was suggested during the Committee stage that it was undesirable that an offence committed in Scotland might be prosecuted in an English civil court, and, conversely, that an offence committed in England might be prosecuted in a Scottish civil court. We think there is considerable force in that argument. This Amendment, and the next Amendment, in line 23, are designed to provide that civil offences which are made offences under this Bill shall, if committed in Scotland, be tried in Scotland and, if committed in England, be tried in England.

We have also taken the opportunity in these Amendments to make it clear that the offences referred to are the particular offences set out in the various Clauses.

Mr. M. Stewart

I think that the whole House will welcome these Amendments.

It seems to me that we are doing two very important things to this Clause. Not only are we ensuring that if an offence is committed in Scotland it shall be tried in Scotland—which will gratify a number of my hon. Friends and also some hon. Members opposite—but, unless I misunderstand it, we are enormously reducing the scope of this Clause by causing it to apply, not to any offence under this Bill, but to any offence to which this Clause applies.

The Clauses in question deal only with a quite limited range of what one might loosely term, though from the public's point of view inaccurately, military offences. The anxiety expressed at an earlier stage by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that a man who was alleged to have committed a murder in England might be tried for it in Kenya before a resident magistrate without a jury, would now become quite impossible, due to the fact that the scope of the Clause has been limited in this manner. Therefore, it seems to me that the Amendment is one which the whole House can welcome.

Sir P. Spens

May I add my word of welcome to this Amendment on behalf of my absent fellow-countrymen, because I am sure that it goes a very long way towards answering one of their main objections? On the other hand, I have just one point on the Clause as proposed to be amended on which I should like enlightenment by the Lord Advocate. The Clause says: In the United Kingdom or any colony, a civil court of any description having jurisdiction in the place where an offender is for the time being shall have jurisdiction … One of the advantages of the Clause as it stands at present is that if a unit is ordered to a colony and Mere goes with it a man who has committed an offence in England or in Scotland, and the courts of the Colony have the requisite jurisdiction, the man can, in fact, be tried in the Colony and has not to be brought home to be tried.

The effect of this Amendment, as I read it, would be that in future a man who had been sent overseas before it is discovered that he has committed an offence, would have to be sent back to be tried. I think that would be the result of it, but I should like the matter to be considered. If it is, I think that it would be a good result, although it may cause additional expense to the taxpayer.

The Lord Advocate

I am much obliged to the hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) for their approval of the Clause.

With regard to the first suggestion that the Amendment, if accepted, would largely restrict the Clause, I think, on the contrary, that it would really clarify it. As to the point raised by my right hon. and learned Friend, I should like to consider that. At first blush, I think that his construction is the correct one, and that it would be inevitable that a person would have to be brought home to Scotland or England from wherever he was before he could be tried for an offence to which this Clause applies, if that offence were committed in Scotland or England. I will certainly consider the point, but I think that is the effect of the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 121, line 23, at end insert: Provided that such an offence committed in any part of the United Kingdom shall not be triable outside that part of the United Kingdom. (2) The offences to which this section applies are offences against any of the following sections of this Act, that is to say, section nineteen, section one hundred and sixty-one, section one hundred and seventy-one, and sections one hundred and ninety-one to one hundred and ninety-seven; and references in this section to a part of the United Kingdom are references to England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.—[The Lord Advocate.]

7.44 p.m.

Mr. Head

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This stage marks the end of a long period of work, research and consideration, the majority of which has been undertaken by the Committee which drafted this Bill. My position and that of my hon. Friends the Under-Secretary of State for War and the Under-Secretary of State for Air has been to commend to the House a child for which we cannot claim the parentage, although that is an undignified role in many walks of life. We should like, once again, to express our gratitude to those who did the work on the Bill.

As far as I can recollect, this has not been a highly contentious Measure. It has been welcomed by the Inter-Departmental Committee and by the Service Departments. Of course, nobody knows until the Bill becomes an Act and begins to operate how good it is going to be. It is rather like a racing motor-car or motor-cycle which has not yet been round the track.

I think that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) would agree with me that the true test of this Measure will be when it begins to work in the three Services. However, from my experience of it so far, I think I am justified in saying, and hoping, that it will work supremely well, and that the Services will find it a first-class Measure. One thing that I can say without any doubt at all is that it is an immense improvement on the existing Act put before the Select Committee.

On the occasion of the Third Reading, I also wish to thank hon. Members for the way in which they have treated the Bill in the House, and also to thank them for the singularly and almost phenomenally non-party manner in which the Bill has been discussed, with hon. Members on both sides jumping up to contravene hon. Members opposite quite across party and only on behalf of the Bill. I often felt that I should rise to explain some knotty point of law, but always before I could do so someone like the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) or some other hon. Member had done it for me.

This has been an important and a very major step for the Services, and it has come out of a great storm which was, perhaps, not generated out of the most noble purposes, but one—[HON MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Gentlemen must wait. I said "noble," not "ignoble." It was, perhaps, not generated out of the most noble purposes, but one hon. Member opposite, and I do not know who it was, found, over some political controversy, the biggest diamond mine for filibustering that anybody has ever found except, possibly—and I may be out of order in saying this—the Naval Discipline Act.

In conclusion, and on behalf, I am quite certain, of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air, and, I know full well, of the Army Council, I wish to thank the Committee for the work it has done, and the House for the way in which it has received the Bill.

7.49 p.m.

Mr. Strachey

As someone who was not a member of the Committee which did the work on this Bill, I should like to say a word from this side of the House. Like my right hon. and hon. Friends who have taken so large a part in this debate, I was not a member of that Committee, but I think it right to express our great gratitude to the Committee for its work.

Though, like the Secretary of State for War, I and many of my hon. Friends were not members of the Committee, we took an active part in the deliberations which resulted in that Committee being set up. It was not at all an ignoble purpose. Indeed, I think I might say quite frankly that it was the time-honoured and indispensable purpose which is summed up in the phrase, "The business of an Opposition is to oppose." That was the purpose which gave rise to these deliberations in the Committee, and which proved so constructive. It shows that the spirit of opposition which may not be particularly constructive when first exhibited often gives good results. Hon. and right hon. Members who were members of that Committee have brought us something of great value. The House has accepted it almost in toto, and I have very little doubt that, as the Secretary of State has foreshadowed, it will be of very great advantage to the Services—and that is the thing which everyone has most at heart.

7.50 p.m.

Sir P. Spens

I must acknowledge with very great gratitude the generosity of the House for the way in which it has dealt with this and the Bills which accompany it. I do not suppose that any Members of the Select Committee imagined, when they were starting their work, that the day would come when they would ask the House to accept such a very substantial set of Bills as they eventually did. The whole way through the proceedings of the Committee, and all through the passage of the Bills through the House, there has been a degree of co-operation which I only wish were more often seen in the House.

It would not be right for me to allow this occasion to go by without once again recording our thanks to those who really did the hard work behind the scenes on our behalf, that is to say, our Departmental Committee, the Parliamentary draftsmen, and those who gave evidence before us. It is for their labours as much as for those of the members of the Committee that the House and, I hope, the country will record a debt of gratitude.

I should be out of order if I referred to anything that was not in the Bill which is now before the House, but I venture to say, very shortly, that at this moment I feel rather sorry that the Act under which I was brought up, under which I did my service, and under which other hon. Members did their service, is very shortly going into the limbo of history. It goes with my first spiked helmet, the scarlet tunic, white belt and red striped trousers of the first unit to which I ever had the honour to belong—the Royal Warwickshire Regiment—while I was still a schoolboy, and it goes with the drill of preparing to receive cavalry and all those other wonderful things of the past.

All I can say is that I hope that we have done something which will make life in the Army a better and a happier one, not only for the Regular soldiers, whom we must have—and whom I hope, by some of the provisions of the Bill and other actions outside it, will be encouraged to remain in the Army—but also for the boys who are going in every year under the National Service Acts. If we have done that we have done something which we can remember with pleasure all the remaining days of our lives.

7.54 p.m.

Mr. A. Henderson

I should like to associate myself with what has just been said by the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens). He and I, and some of my colleagues upon this side of the House, sat through many long weeks working out the provisions of the Bill and the two Bills which are to follow. I am quite sure that the average Service man does not expect that anything wonderful is coming out of this legislation. Broadly speaking, it is a modernisation of a law which has been in existence for 60 or 70 years. It brings the law up to the standards required in these days.

What Service men and women can understand is that 16 or 20 Members of Parliament, from both sides of the House, embarked upon this arduous task with the sole intention of seeking to bring into being a modern Act dealing both with the Army and the Air Force. These Bills express the desire of those Members of Parliament to do something to help those who are serving us in the Armed Forces of our country.

I associate not only myself but my colleagues upon the Committee first with what the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South said with regard to those who aided us in our labours, and also with what was said by the Secretary of State. We feel with him that this is a job which has been well done, and we hope that it will have a most helpful effect upon the future of the Service for which he is at present responsible and also for the Service for which his hon. Friend is one of those responsible, namely, the Royal Air Force.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.