HC Deb 18 December 1956 vol 562 cc1204-10

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

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Wigg

I will not detain the Committee for very long, but there are one or two points arising from the reply of the Secretary of State on Second Reading to which I should like to refer. I was astonished at the liberality of the Secretary of State's reply. I did not expect very much and I certainly got very much more, both in extent and in quality of content. The right hon. Gentleman went a long way towards meeting me. Indeed, I think that had he had more time, I should have been wholly satisfied. There are, however, one or two points to which attention should be drawn.

On Second Reading, the Secretary of State said: The General Officer Commanding is a British seconded major-general, and the British seconded officers will he subject, as they are now, to the United Kingdom Army Act. I never doubted for a moment, having regard to the provisions of Section 205 of the Army Act, that every officer, warrant officer, N.C.O. and other rank serving in the Gold Coast would be liable to the Army Act. Will the Minister of State be good enough to say why the Secretary of State stopped short at "British seconded officers"? I do not think there is any trick about this. I think it is a mistake and that the Secretary of State meant to say that all ranks, whether serving in the signal unit there, which would not be under the operational control of the Ghana Government, or the British officers, warrant officers and N.C.O.s who are seconded to and serving with the Gold Coast regiments or with the Artillery units, will all be liable to the Army Act. I should be obliged if the right hon. Gentleman would make that clear.

My second point concerns the question of secondment. I am never quite sure what that means in relation to other ranks. The Secretary of State, when dealing with secondment and volunteers, talked about how volunteering is carried out in the Navy. I am glad to say that his conception in that respect does not apply to the Regular Army and I hope very much that it does not apply to the Gold Coast or, indeed, to any one of the Colonies.

I should have thought, certainly in peacetime, that the officers and other ranks ought to be the very best that the Army can provide. During the war that was not always the case. We did not always get the best and there were reasons for it, but we ought to get the best. If possible, conditions should be such as to attract more applicants than there are jobs. That was the position before the war. One of the reasons why both East and West Africans put up such a wonderful show in the Arakan was that before the war they were trained by the best that the British Army could provide.

We still want the best. We do not want the scourings of ordnance depôts trotted out to the Gold Coast bescause nobody else will go. I want to ensure that those who go are volunteers in every sense of the word. That has a bearing on the quality of the forces and their capacity to carry out the job which they are required to do.

If these people are not volunteers, or are volunteers in the same way that the Navy obtains volunteers, it may well be that the conditions offered to them will not be the best conditions; because when an officer or other rank is struck off the establishment of the home force and he goes overseas it has been the practice, and I presume that it will be the practice in the future, that he goes on to a consolidated rate of pay and a capitation amount is paid to pay his gratuity when he reverts to home establishment. Those are the conditions which have attracted or possibly repelled volunteers for the job.

The other point is that I was not quite sure what the Minister meant when he said: As to the military forces other than that signal unit, the facts are that there are 184 British officers in the Army in the Gold Coast, 220 non-commissioned officers on seconding, a total of 90 per cent. of the commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers being drawn from overseas."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1956; Vol. 562, c. 322.] What does that mean?

Does it mean that 90 per cent. of establishment actually serving in the Gold Coast are seconded from regiments which are themselves overseas, or in other words, that if men are in the Gold Coast they would be serving with another unit overseas? Or does it mean that by some miracle the Army is drawing 90 per cent. of the officers and non-commissioned officers from other parts of the Commonwealth and other Colonies? I cannot believe that to be true. That wonderful principle is far too imaginative for the Government to have applied without anybody knowing about it.

Under existing regulations there is a chain of command laid down for units serving overseas, and it has always been the practice that where the G.O.C. was reporting upon matters which had a fundamentally military content, as opposed to having a civil content, there was a channel of communication from the G.O.C. himself direct to the War Office. We are moving into a quite novel situation. The Secretary of State was kind enough to say that the Ghana Government have agreed to what amounts to a Ghana Army Council and the G.O.C. will serve on that Council. That body will not consider operational matters. The primary question will be promotion and making certain that the promotion of Ghana officers will be free from political influence.

That is first-class, but what about the operational side? That is exclusively under the control of the Ghana Government, I presume. But if the G.O.C., himself seconded, serving as a member of the Army Council, becomes aware of matters of exclusively military concern, will the channel of communication remain as at present? Can he, if he wishes, communicate with the Secretary of State for War?

I ask that question for this reason. It will be within the knowledge of my right hon. Friend that this country owes a very great deal to the work of Inspector-General General Sir George Giffard, who did such a magnificent job in preparing the West African forces for expansion before the war. In his travels General Giffard made sure that the standard of training and of equipment was acceptable to the War Office. There was no question of those forces being answerable to the War Office at that stage. They were paid for by the Colony and under its control, and the Governor was the Commander-in-Chief, but the Inspector-General performed an important job.

Is the Committee to take it that in the future there will be no Inspector-General but that the G.O.C. will carry on that work? If so, it seems to me to point very much to the need to retain some channel of communication which will keep this not inconsiderable body of officers and N.C.O.s in touch with the War Office. If that does not happen this body of officers and other ranks could serve in the Gold Coast for two, three or more years and then, at the expiration of their contract, if the conditions existing in the Gold Coast had not kept up to the best standard of the Army, when these men returned to their British units they might be placed in an adverse position for future promotion. In fact, they may have become out of date at a time in their service which would affect their future careers adversely.

This is an experiment. We do not want service in Ghana, whether volunteer or not, to become like that of Commander-in-Chief, Gibraltar, which is a place where one goes to but never returns from. Nor do we want it to be regarded in the same light as a rest camp which was used just after the South African war, where undesirables went on their way home, and who were referred to, in the South African term, as being "Stellenbosched". We do not want service in the Colonial Forces, especially when other Colonies move towards Dominion status, to be regarded in that light, whether by a major-general at the top or by a lance-corporal at the other end of the scale.

Therefore it seems to me to be of prime importance that thought should be given to this matter, not by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, but by the Secretary of State for War, whose job it is. I very much regret that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the Under-Secretary of State for War has been able to be present—

The Chairman

I have been patient but this Clause only modifies other enactments, and the hon. Member is going into great detail.

Mr. Wigg

With great respect, Sir Charles, I always defer to your Rulings because they are right, but on this occasion I must point out that we are here deciding the future of British officers and warrant officers serving in the Gold Coast now and who, as far as we know, may be ordered to stay there or asked to volunteer. I am sure that they will be encouraged to know that there is at least one voice in this Committee concerned with their future. I am sorry that hon. Gentlemen opposite who have a great interest in the Army are not present. I am sorry that the Secretary of State for War is not here to inform the Committee about what thought, if any, has been given by his Department to this problem.

I say "if any" because I do not think much thought has been given to it. I think that the War Office has handed over the job to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, whose statement last week was first-class. I will not trespass on your kindness, Sir Charles, but perhaps I may be allowed to say that the Secretary of State for the Colonies did so well that it seems to me that there is a possibility, assuming that the Government last, that he might make a very good Secretary of State for War, and that is high praise indeed.

Mr. Maclay

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has asked a number of questions, and I am not sure that I understood his first one. He referred to my right hon. Friend's speech, and I am not sure if his question applied to officers and other ranks, because I cannot find any mention there.

Mr. Wigg

The last sentence reads: The General Officer Commanding is a British seconded major-general, and the British seconded officers will be subject, as they are now, to the United Kingdom Army Act."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1956; Vol. 562, c. 322.] Why stop short at the officers? I should have thought that, without question, every officer, warrant officer and N.C.O. was subject to the Army Act.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Maclay

I am quite certain, without even checking—and I accept it in the completest way—that that must be right. If I found anything wrong with what I have said, I would at once inform the hon. Gentleman. I did not quite link up the words at the bottom of the column with the original Question.

On the question of volunteers, I can give the hon. Gentleman this specific information. All British Army officers and other ranks now serving with the Gold Coast Military Forces are volunteers. That is, they have voluntarily accepted secondment there and have not had to be posted, which is about the most accurate definition that one can give. I should point out that that was not always the case, but it is so now.

I think that the hon. Gentleman also asked on Second Reading whether there were any National Service men among the seconded British Army personnel, and my right hon. Friend has asked me to reply to that question also. The answer is that no National Service men have gone out there since the War Office relinquished control of the Gold Coast Forces on 1st July, 1956. It was expected that such National Service men as were already there would all have come home by the end of 1956. I cannot confirm that they have all gone, but there cannot now be many left there. A short time ago a signal came in, but I have not had time to digest it. If the hon. Gentleman would like further information on that, I will have to give it to him later. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the digestion of signals is not a very good procedure for one's inside. That is what he implied.

The next point which the hon. Gentleman raised was the 90 per cent. from overseas. I am advised that "overseas" in that case is this country. If one goes to the Gold Coast overseas is here, but if one is here then overseas is somewhere else. I think that is definitely the answer to that one.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the channel of communications. I think that it should be quite clear that operational control is, of course, by the Gold Coast Government, or the Ghana Government, and there would not be a direct channel of contact between the G.O.C. and the Secretary of State. There could not be in these conditions where operational control is by the Gold Coast Government. I think that I understood the hon. Gentleman's question correctly, and I am satisfied that must be the right answer. I think that covers the general question, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel that the full reply given by the Secretary of State on Second Reading, plus the supplementary information which I have been able to obtain and give to him this evening, more or less meets the point which he had in mind, and I hope that this Clause can now go through.

Mr. Wigg

There is one question which I should have asked. I take it that when the Ghana Government have really taken control they themselves will pass a Visiting Forces Act, because if everybody is subject to the provisions of the Army Act—and I myself never doubted that that must be so—then clearly Ghana either between now or 6th March or immediately afterwards will have to pass a Visiting Forces Act to bring themselves into line with every other independent country.

Mr. Maclay

That is correct. I will simplify that a little so that there may be no possible doubt about the position. The Army Act as amended by Clause 4 (2) will form part of the law of Ghana until 31st December, 1957, and British troops will be covered by it. After that date, the Army Act will not form part of the law of Ghana and British troops will not be covered by it; but Ghana by then should have passed a Visiting Forces Act of its own which would give corresponding protection to British Forces. I think that a completely clear statement, as I ant now advised, as to the intention of the Ghana Government and the position at the moment.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

First Schedule agreed to.