§ 3.44 p.m.
I think that it would be convenient to discuss with this Amendment the similar Amendment in page 1, line 20.
§ Mr. Wigg
Yes, Sir William. The purpose of the Amendments is directed to securing that the Bill will expire on 31st December annually instead of, as the Bill proposes, on 31st August. During the proceedings on the 1955 Bill considerable thought was given to the procedures to be adopted by the House in relation to the continuance of the Army Act.
The Bill under consideration had become very much out of date and, while it was thought advisable to suggest that a new procedure should be introduced, the Committee was, at the same time, mindful that the House should have control of what was, after all, an important constitutional matter. Indeed, one can say that over the centuries no more important matter came before the House than the question of maintaining a Regular Army in time of peace.
The matter does not go as far constitutionally as that, but the Amendment approaches this problem in a practical way. Since the passing of the 1955 Act, it has been the practice of the House to have an opportunity immediately after the Queen's Speech to discuss the affirmative Order for four years and then in the fifth year—which is the point we have reached—the matter goes before a Select Committee.
That seems a highly desirable procedure because, coming as it does at that point in the year, the Government's defence policy for the ensuing year will 1138 clearly not have reached finality, but will have taken on a form which will make the Government responsive to opinions from both sides of the House which might be ventilated in such a debate. If the proposal that the terminating date should be 31st August were accepted, the debate would come in June. In other words, it would come at a time when the business of the House was becoming congested. For that reason, the debate may take on a different character from that which it would take on when the Government had more time on their hands at the beginning of the Session.
I am concerned about the effect of such a change on the Army. On page 83 of the Select Committee's Report there is a letter from the Clerk of the House asking the Select Committee to consider this point. It seems to me that the argument he advances is that the debates which have taken place on the continuation Order have not always been relevant. If they are not relevant in November, there is no great argument that they would be more relevant in June.
This is entirely a matter for the Chair. Having attended all the debates, except one, when I was ill, it seems to me that the reason why debates have tended to get out of order is that hon. Members on both sides have found it necessary or convenient to discuss such matters as pay, which is clearly out of order. It is also clear that it has not been appreciated that when the House discusses conditions of enlistment it does not necessarily follow that conditions of service can be discussed. They are two different things.
The argument is also advanced that if we had a debate in June, this would be the winding-up, as it were, of the debates on defence during the year, and the continuation Order would be at the end of the series instead of as at present a kind of curtain-raiser. In fact, there is a long lapse of time between our debates on Service matters and the issuing of the next Defence White Paper. What hon. Gentlemen fail to appreciate is that a debate in November is no further away from the defence debate than is a debate in June. In the one case, it is in advance of it, and in the other it follows after it.
It seems to me that this proposal, the purpose of which, I think, I understand, 1139 and with which I sympathise, misses what is, after all, a great difficulty for the House, and not only for the House, but for the Services and the country as a whole. We have changed our defence debate procedure during the sixteen years I have been in the House, and the importance of the debates on the three Service Departments has tended to lessen, while the highlight has been the two-day debate on the Defence White Paper. When the debates on the Service Estimates have ended, we move on to a rather "higgledy-piggledy" day, on which it is a matter of luck which Service Estimates would be taken first and which would be taken last. As I understand the procedure, the Government put on the Order Paper the Votes they want, and the Opposition decide which ones they would like to be taken first.
I make this suggestion, which I have made before with the support of a number of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House. The Government should very earnestly consider, in the interests of the Services, whether it would not be advisable to take the Committee stage of the Estimates in Committee upstairs—and there is a precedent for this—in a Committee of secrecy. We do not need any special Resolution, and we do not need the functioning of the Official Secrets Act. If any hon. Member misused information which he had there gained, he would be answerable to the discipline of the House, which, I am sure, would take a serious view of such a matter.
It would have this advantage, that there could be volunteers from both sides. I know that the Government would have to have their majority. I accept that. It would be nonsense if the Government did not get a majority, but it would be in the interests of the Services and of Service Ministers, if, when we once get over that, and the Government have got their Estimates through the House, they were then taken upstairs, behind closed doors, where those interested in the Navy, Army and Air Force could then debate them in detail. If that were done, that would be the culminating point of the defence Estimates, I make that suggestion in all seriousness. I have made it before, and I repeat it today, and I hope that I shall get the support of those who agree that this is a very important matter indeed.
1140 On the Amendment which I am now putting to the Government, and which I earnestly ask them to accept, it would have the considerable political advantage which I have argued, and the debate would come at a time convenient to the Government and not when the parliamentary time-table is congested. It would be a curtain-raiser to the defence debate, which would then come at the point when interest is tending to lapse. Those of us interested in these affairs have tried in the past by various devices to initiate defence debates on the Appropriations Bill at the end of July. I think that it would be a thoroughly retrograde step if the House went back on the recommendations of the Select Committee of 1953. We gave the most earnest consideration to this matter. We were not sure that the five-year period was the right one, and I made the suggestion that it should be five years in a paper which I put before the Committee.
I think that, by and large, five years is about right, but this is a matter of opinion, just as indeed, in the last analysis, the question which I am arguing this afternoon is no less a matter of opinion. The present system during the first series—the first four years of the continuation Orders, plus the Select Committee—has worked well. It has given the House an opportunity to bring itself face to face with the realities arising from the change-over from National Service to a Regular Army, and I think that the Government and the House would be well advised to continue a procedure which, in this first phase, has worked excellently.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
In this matter, I have been a lone voice in opposing the recommendation of the majority of the Select Committee that the date upon which this debate should be taken—that is, the debate on the continuation Order—should be advanced from November to July.
I have one apology to make in this matter. I think that the only sitting of the Committee which I missed was when I was actually on a N.A.T.O. exercise in the Bay of Biscay. That sitting was the one when this point was, in the main, discussed, although the decision was not formally taken. When I got back, the decision had been informally taken, so 1141 that I could only record my vote against it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has made a suggestion with which I have always had a great deal of sympathy: that is, the idea that the Estimates Committee should go upstairs, that these discussions should not be on the Floor of the House, and, even more so, that it should be a Committee of secrecy. I believe that the effect of the Estimates debates being taken here, particularly after the two-day defence debate, by their very sparse attendance and rather prolonged length, give a false impression to the country of the interest which is, in fact, taken in the Services, and also, because of the publicity involved, inhibit a good deal of the questioning which otherwise one might wish to make.
Whether we have the debates on the Estimates here or we have them upstairs, it still seems to me that the convenient time for the debates upon the continuation Order should be the autumn—when we have had the experience of what is the main recruiting season—rather than July, when we have not had enough time to judge what has been said in the Estimates debates, and in anticipation therefor, and when our suggestions are too close to the suggestions which have been made in the earlier debates for them to be very relevant when the Government come to their final decision.
When the debates have taken place in November—I have been going through the debates, and I shall refer to them in a moment—it seems to me that they have been valuable debates. In the way in which the business of this House tends to evolve so as to provide something useful, these continuation Order debates have taken the form of recruiting debates and have provided the occasion upon which we could discuss that subject. As my hon. Friend has said, there is a distinction here. The terms and conditions of service are in the Act, and, therefore, are the subject of the debate.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget
As always, my hon. Friend has expressed the situation more accurately than I have. The words used in the Act are "terms and conditions of service" and my hon. Friend is right in saying that it is wrong to refer to them as the terms and conditions of enlistment, since those are more generally to be found in the Regulations and the Manual.
None the less, since the conditions of service have to be defined, especially in relation to pay—although that is a matter for the Warrant—and affect the success of the whole enlistment process, the Chair, as I shall demonstrate shortly, has taken a very wide view of what is admissible; indeed, it has taken a good deal wider view than many of us anticipated in the first place.
It is precisely because it has taken that wide view that this has become such a convenient occasion to debate the matter, coming as it does just at the end of the main recruiting season—the season where the relevant generation has come from school. The best month for recruiting is normally September, and one then has an opportunity to look at the season and see how it has worked.
The first occasion upon which this matter came up was in 1957–58. Mr. Speaker's Ruling will be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 579, beginning at col. 227, where Mr. Speaker said:I think I might intervene to say that the right hon. Gentleman has moved a substantive Motionon the question of the right of reply. Later, we had the substantive Ruling, when Mr. Speaker said:It is important that we should try to get the position straight. This is the first time that this procedure has been resorted to for the Army Act and I am anxious not to lay down any Rule which is wrong. The way I look at it is that, broadly speaking, the subjects which are covered by the Act are those which, in general, are discharged by the Departments in the War Office of the Adjutant-General and the Quartermaster-General—what the soldiers used to call 'A' and 'Q' matters. Therefore, in my judgement, matters applying to the General Staff, operational matters, the strategy of the Army and even foreign affairs in connection with the Army, are completely out of order on this debate. There are, of course, borderline questions and I should hesitate in advance to lay down a rule about them.1143In so far as the Act makes provision for recruitment and for the terms of engagement of the Regular Army, and in so far as it can be shown that these conditions militate against recruiting or harm recruiting or are successful in attracting recruits, I think that that would be in order.I wish the House, however, to distinguish between the debate on this Motion and the debate which it will have later in the Session on the Army Estimates, which is not affected by our new procedure. There are matters which the experience and judgment of an hon. Member will tell him are most suitably discussed upon Supply than upon a Motion to continue an Act, which is all that we are dealing with today. While it might be essential to permit many matters of a Supply character for the purpose of illustrating an otherwise relevant argument on the Act, I think that it would be better to defer matters of figures, exact computations of figures and the like, to the Supply debate, when we really can get down to it without fear of being out of order.There was considerably more discussion after that. The gentleman who will very shortly once again be the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East said:Since we are, at this stage of the debate, Mr. Speaker, drawing the limits of what is in order, may I raise one other point on the general question covered by the Order? I refer to the old question whether we should have a standing Army or not. For the reasons which have been given, in so far as the present continuation Order is the new form of the old Army Annual Act, would it not be in order for those Members who wish to deal with the old question whether we should have a standing Army to raise it on the Order?Mr. Speaker then pointed out that this was a good deal narrower, and that while there could be a very wide debate on the Army Act, the debate on the Order should be restricted. Mr. Speaker said:I do not think that the terms of the Motion are identical with passing or refusing to pass the old Army Act. The terms of the Motion confine our discussion to the Act which it is proposed to continue. The 1955 Act substituted the present procedure, which we are trying to work, for the old Army Act procedure.The Act is described as'An Act to make provision with respect to the Army'.A general argument that we should make no provision with regard to the Army might conceivably be in order, but it would not be possible to import into such an argument questions of conscription, and so on. It would merely be the question that we should have no Army at all.My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley then intervened. He had been 1144 on the Committee and had been one of the authors of the new procedure. He said:It is important to settle the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). Has he not overlooked that the old Army Annual Act, which we passed up to 1952, authorised the maintenance of a standing Army and gave a specific number which the Government must not exceed? We have now altered our procedure. By the Government obtaining Vote A, the numbers are then established and Parliament is then authorised to continue a standing Army. By the exercise of the Prerogative, which first has to be approved by the House, the Army is continued in being. That is what we are engaged upon today when we are asked to approve a draft Order, which subsequently has to be presented to Her Majesty. What we are doing today is continuing in a different form the procedure which has gone on since 1689.Mr. Speaker then said:I think that the hon. Member is right. That was what I was trying to say when I said that certain matters were more suitable for discussion on Supply than for discussion on the Order continuing the Act. Vote A is the point in Supply when we decide the number of men in the Army. An argument such as the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) put to me—namely, against the whole of the Act continuing at all—would be a very arid and academic one."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1957; Vol. 579, c.227–32.]So we arrive at the position there, and this was confirmed again after further argument by Mr. Speaker the following year when, again, my hon. Friend raised a question of order.—[Laughter.] It is very important on these proceedings—although hon. Members are laughing—that one should discover what we are deciding because, in my submission, if the Select Committee had had the opportunity to find out what was the question and go to these Reports to see what had been happening, its decision would have been different, and the point of view of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley would have been accepted, as I hope it will be accepted today by the Government.
Since I am asking the Government to differ both from the Select Committee and from the Clerk of the House on this issue, I think it important that we should go rather thoroughly into just what it is from which we are asking them to depart. I do not make any apology for going into this rather fully. On 6th November, 1958, my hon. Friend the Member for 1145 Dudley raised a point of order. He said:A year ago, when we first debated this Order, Mr. Speaker, you were kind enough to give a Ruling in which you said that matters which normally fell within the purview of the Adjutant-General or Quartermaster-General could properly be raised in debate.When one reads the Report of that debate in HANSARD after the lapse of a year one becomes conscious of the fact that your Ruling took on a slight variation in the course of the debate, and it is not unfair to say that before the debate finished we had at least three interpretations of what you had said.Would it not be convenient to the House, so that we can discuss this matter in an orderly way, for you to be good enough to clarify the Ruling that you gave on that occasion? I respectfully submit that it should take this form: that all matters which normally fall within the purview of the Adjutant-General are in order, and only some of the matters falling within the purview of the Quartermaster-General are in order.I again respectfully submit that what we are here discussing is the continuation of the Army Act, and, broadly speaking, the only matter-that we can raise are those covered by the Army Act, which would confine us very closely to matters falling under the charge of the Quartermaster-General—perhaps only to the extent of billeting charges. I should be glad to have your ruling on this matter. Mr. Speaker.Then Mr. Speaker said:My main Ruling last year was to the effect that only matters contained in the Act which it is proposed to continue can be discussed in this Motion for its continuance for another year. I suggested then to hon. Members—and I adhere to that suggestion today—that if they treated the Army Act. 1955, as if it were a Bill, and made a speech appropriate to the debate on the Third Reading of the Bill, namely, a speech confined to what is in the Act and nothing else, they would be in order.The later Ruling to which the hon. Member referred was designed to make it clear that the Army Act, then and now, makes no provision for those activities of the Army Council which are the responsibility of the General Staff; that is to say, there is nothing in the Act which would authorise any debate or discussion upon operations or strategy, or the wider aspects of defence. That is not in the Act that we are asked to continue, and a discussion of it would be out of order.Then Mr. Speaker went on to discuss whether the Grigg Report would be in order. He decided, in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who asked:The Army Act provides for the provision of certain forces. That is quite clear. When the matter comes up for debate, if we discuss it from the standpoint of a Third Reading debate, and everything which is not contained in the Act is excluded, surely it is permissible 10 discuss what the forces are doing. The numbers 1146 are embodied in the Army Act, and it must be permissible to discuss their activities. So far as those activities impinge upon the recent inquiry conducted by Sir James Grigg, which is now before the House—it has been issued as a Command Paper—it is surely legitimate to consider various aspects of that Report, otherwise there seems no purpose in the debate. What are we to discuss if we do not discuss that?Mr. Speaker then said:It would not be in order to discuss what the troops are doing. The Bill makes provision for their discipline and administration and, in relation to the Quartermaster-General's Department, to the limited extent of requisitioning vehicles and billeting. I think that that is all that is concerned in the Act. It says nothing about what the troops are to do, except to obey orders—and the various rules of the Army.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
On a point of order, Sir William. Would it be in order to ask whether you understand what this is all about?
I am in doubt about whether that would come under the heading of a point of order, but I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) will, as soon as possible, make quite clear to the Committee the connection between his very lengthy quotation and this Amendment.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Further to that point of order, Sir William. I have followed the argument of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) with great interest. I am sure that hon. Members who have followed defence debates during the last two years must realise that my hon. and learned Friend is moving—perhaps rather slowly and tortuously—to what is certainly a very important point. It is whether the present procedure deserves to be reconsidered and whether this Amendment should be accepted. I believe that my hon. and learned Friend is making a case which deserves very serious consideration.
§ Mr. Paget
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his assistance.
The point I am seeking to make is that there is a particular definition on the continuation Order, according to the Rulings made by Mr. Speaker. It is a Bill which involves the responsibility of the Adjutant-General and it involves 1147 part of the supply questions which come from it. In particular, it involves recruiting and all that is concerned with recruiting. I have come to an end of the quotations save for the reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington, which I was just about to read when my right hon. Friend asked me to clarify the position.
Mr. Speaker said:I used the word 'administration' in the Army sense. In so far as any matter that is raised by hon. Members is in the Act it will be in order. I am not going to make any Ruling in advance, but I should feel obliged to stop any hon. Member who went into a discussion of operational matters.Then, in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) who referred to the Ruling which Mr. Speaker quoted the previous year, Mr. Speaker went on to make it clear by saying:If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the Act itself, he will see a paragraph headed 'Terms of Engagement.' The word 'terms' is used in the technical sense of the length of time in which they may engage themselves. It is rather like a lawyer's use of 'term of a lease'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1958; Vol. 594, c.1119–22.]Thus, we have a situation which probably was not anticipated by the original Select Committee which considered this Bill, and which, none the less, has worked itself out by the process of time and experience in this House and by the Rulings of successive Speakers, and which gives the debate at the particular time of year at which it takes place—that is, in November—a useful function.
The first questions to consider are how the troops are being obtained, how the recruiting system is working following the abolition of National Service, and how affairs generally are proceeding. Once these matters have been discussed, the Estimates themselves come in for discussion and such matters as pay, conditions and any new problems that have arisen are considered. Also for discussion at that point is the tremendously important matter of what armament will be supplied to the men recruited. Simply to call up men, or to recruit them, and then not to provide them with arms, is an operation which has been indulged in quite a lot by this Government, although I realise that it would be out of order for me to develop that point.
1148 Those remarks form the logical sequence of events, but perhaps we may now reverse the process, having the Estimates debate first, followed by discussion of the other items. By reversing the process hon. Members do not have an opportunity of concentrating their attention on one aspect before proceeding to the next. Instead, there is a general debate on the Estimates, there is not the slightest clue to what is happening, no new relevant recruiting figures are provided, and the debate is confined to recruiting at a time when a recruiting debate serves no useful purpose. I therefore urge the Government to disagree with the Select Committee. I do not think that the argument and the Rulings of the Speaker were fully considered by the Select Committee and I hope we shall have a satisfactory reply from the Government on this matter.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I hope that the Government will give an equally reasoned and detailed reply in answer to the case that has been made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I approach this matter from a rather different point of view. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has been an indefatigable champion of the Army and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton has been an indefatigable champion of the Navy. Both hon. Members have contributed interesting speeches to this debate and they seem to have raised the question of what is the function of the Army and the Navy in this modern age. But we are discussing the matter of procedure, and I submit that, after the experience of the last two years of working of the procedure since the Select Committee reported, we are entitled to ask the House to reconsider the whole question of the way in which the Service Estimates are dealt with by this House.
In this year's Estimates, when hon. Members were considering the granting of £1,660 million of public money for the Services, the attendance of the House was an absolute scandal. I would, therefore, welcome any changes which would give hon. Members the satisfaction of knowing that we are really doing our duty by examining these questions from the point of view of the country in general and the taxpayer in particular. 1149 Under the present procedure, we have debates on the Vote for manpower, followed by other debates which are telescoped into one day.
By the procedure this year, we were asked to vote £1,000 million of public money without any discussion at all. That resulted in some hon. Members on this side of the Committee doing what we thought was our duty to our constituents; we decided to call attention to this matter and to vote against certain Estimates. In doing that, while we thought we were doing our duty by voting against the decision of the Parliamentary Labour Party, instead of being given a vote of thanks from the party, we were ejected from it.
That is just one example of how the procedure of the House can be carried on when vast sums are passing through, almost on the nod. We had under this procedure a fairly full discussion on certain aspects of the Navy Estimates, but we found that, when we came to examine the Estimates, there was not sufficient time to scrutinise them in detail and, after the first Vote on the Army, the rest of the Vote, involving £550 million for the Air Estimates, could not be discussed.
As a result of the present procedure, huge sums of money are being rushed through Parliament with less consideration than, say, the Town Council of Northampton would devote to the construction of a new slaughterhouse. This scandal must be met by an alteration of the procedure, and I welcome the pertinacity of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, who is urging the establishment of something on the lines of a Select Committee which will scrutinise these Estimates with the care and consideration they deserve.
I recall a speech that was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), when he was the Leader of the Opposition. He was attacking the Estimates of the Labour Government at a time when the Labour Government were asking for far less than the present Government require for their Service Estimates. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was the duty of the House carefully to scrutinise, to probe and to cleanse, to avoid bureaucracy having control of the expenditure of so 1150 much money. If we had a Committee deliberating between November and before the Estimates are presented to the House, there would be an opportunity for hon. Members on both sides who have expert knowledge on these matters to bring their knowledge forward for the benefit of the Committee.
§ Mr. Wigg
I would like to inform my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Hughes) that I am not asking that the Estimates should go to a Select Committee. I am asking that, after the Secretaries of State for War and Air and the Civil Lord of the Admiralty have got their Estimates, we should cut out the Committee stage on the Floor of the House, to which my hon. Friend is referring, and take the Estimates in a Committee of secrecy upstairs. That Committee could then report back to the House after due deliberation. As has been pointed out, not many hon. Members appear to be interested in these matters and the composition would have to be decided by asking those who are interested to serve on the Committee, subject always to the Government maintaining their majority.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Hughes
I was coming to that point. I consider that this is a step towards getting at the root of the problem which we are considering, and that before the Estimates are presented to the House a Committee should be set up to examine carefully all the Estimates to see whether public expenditure can be reduced. I can give instances of where expenditure of the three Services has not been properly scrutinised. Let us take the Navy, for example. There has been some criticism of expenditure in connection with the Royal Yacht.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. George Thomas)
I am sorry to disappoint the hon. and learned Gentleman, but it would not be in order on this Amendment to discuss the question of Navy Supply.
§ Mr. Hughes
I was only going to refer to the Navy Estimates as an illustration. If this procedure to which I have referred had been adopted, we should have avoided the situation in which a hospital ship which was built under the rearmament programme later became the Royal Yacht. At that point, I will finish with my references to the Navy.
§ The Temporary Chairman
That would be out of order. The hon. Gentleman cannot discuss the "Britannia", because, as I see it, it would be out of order.
§ Mr. Paget
With great respect, Mr. Thomas, I was on a point of order. I entirely agree that references to the "Britannia" as a yacht would be a matter for the Navy, but in so far as it is a hospital ship could we have guidance on whether she is an Army or a Navy hospital ship? I understand that the Army runs its own hospital ships and that most of the hospital ships belong to the Army. The Army has a private "navy" of its own. I saw a number of these ships in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, during the week-end. They belong to the R.A.C. I submit that it is relevant to ascertain in which of these classes the "Britannia" is a hospital ship.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. John Profumo)
I do not wish to prolong the proceedings, but I should like to help the Committee. I have been following this argument, but I am now tied up in such a muddle that unless the hon. and learned Gentleman proceeds to make this point and come to a conclusion I shall find it very difficult to give any help. I have understood the debate till now, but I am now becoming confused. I hope that we can keep to the point and then I shall be happy to help the Committee.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I do not know whether the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has finished his point of order. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) was addressing the Committee. I would only say that I am not an expert on the classification of ships, but I understand that the "Britannia" is not a hospital ship at the moment and, therefore, the question does not arise.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am indebted to my hon. and learned Friend for clarifying the point that I was seeking to make. We know that the Secretary of State for War is in a muddle. Our duty is to try to get him out of the muddle. I was only making this point as an illustration of how, if there had been a Select Committee of this House, dealing with a certain Service, it might have avoided a waste of public money. I leave the matter there.
Let us turn to the question of the Army. There is undoubtedly an urgent need for a Committee carefully to examine the detailed Army Estimates from the point of view of the taxpayer. I am interested in the taxpayers' point of view. When a Minister brings forward Army Estimates in which there is reference to the word "establishment" I want to know what this establishment is. Since the Ministry of Supply has been liquidated a number of establishments have been handed over to the Secretary of State for War. If such a Committee—the sort of Committee that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley wants—were set up, some of us might, by a strange turn of fortune, be serving on it. I must say that by the machinery of this House I have never served on such a Committee myself, but I should dearly like to be on this Committee with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley so that we could probe certain elements of expenditure which I believe to be unjustifiable, expensive and against the national interest.
I want to enlighten the Secretary of State for War. I do not know whether 1153 he knows as much as I do about certain establishments which are included in the Army expenditure. When the Ministry of Supply was liquidated the establishment known as the Microbiological Station at Porton was transferred to the Army, but there is nothing in the Estimates that we had last year to give any hon. Member an inkling that there is such a place as Porton. Porton is on Salisbury Plain, and there is at that place a very secret establishment where, I believe, very interesting scientific experiments are being carried out which come under the Army Vote.
I believe that this station at Porton, which is now carried on under the auspices of the Secretary of State for War, should be transferred holus bolus to the Minister of Health. I have not been able to get very far with this. I was waiting to ask about it on the last Army Estimates, but when we got to them they were rushed through without my being given one opportunity of asking the Secretary of State for War about the activities—
§ The Temporary Chairman
Perhaps I may help the hon. Gentleman. This Amendment is more limited than appeared to him. We are discussing the deletion of the words "month of August in the". It is a question of the time factor to which the hon. Gentleman ought obviously to be turning his attention.
§ Mr. Hughes
But, Mr. Thomas, I was following the argument about the need for greater scrutiny of the expenditure of the Army. This is a question of time. Obviously, if a Select Committee is sitting there will be days and days of opportunity for examining and questioning public expenditure, whereas if the matter is rushed through here without any discussion we have no opportunity of questioning items of Parliamentary expenditure, which is what the House of Commons is for.
If our Amendment were carried and the necessary machinery were set up, we should have an opportunity of calling attention to public expenditure which is now hidden in a mass of verbiage. I want an opportunity to examine very carefully this huge expenditure of about £500 million, and that is why I support the Amendment. Exactly the same applies to the Royal Air Force. I do not 1154 know whether we can discuss the Royal Air Force on this Amendment, but I would refer to Blue Streak—
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, realise that the Amendment deals with the timetable and proposes the deletion of the words "month of August in the". If he would direct his attention to the Amendment it would be of advantage to us all.
§ Mr. Hughes
Yes, Mr. Thomas. I understand that this is an intricate matter of procedure. If we had not a timetable at all, or if we had a better, more expansive and more elastic timetable, I submit that we should have an opportunity of discussing such things as Blue Streak and analysing them long before this huge expenditure was incurred.
To summarise what I have said, I should welcome any kind of alteration in the procedure for discussing the expenditure of these enormous sums, because I believe it is the duty of the House of Commons very carefully to watch these huge Estimates, which are such a substantial part of our Budget. If the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley were accepted by the Government, the door would be open. I want to push the door open a little further still. Where I fail to follow my hon. Friend is with respect to this being carried on with the utmost secrecy. If that is so, then I must at this point raise certain doubts and questions.
I should like to know whether the purpose is to prevent this information getting to the enemy, or whether it is an attempt to prevent the information getting to the taxpayers. It is here that I disagree with my hon. Friend. I believe that the same procedure as is applied to Estimates should be employed. Then we could delete from the report anything which should not be disclosed in the interests of security. But we must be very careful about this, because I believe that very often the formula, "It is not in the public interest to disclose this", is used to hide information not from a potential enemy, but from the British taxpayer.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Since we have plenty of time at our disposal, we ought to be generous to and lenient with my hon. 1155 Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), because all that he is seeking to do is to make the speech—he has already achieved 75 per cent. of it—which he intended to make when we were discussing the Estimates. He failed on that occasion. He has succeeded now, although throughout his speech he has been completely irrelevant. What he has said has nothing whatever to do with the Amendment.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will now address himself to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Shinwell
This is what always happens in Committee. At the outset of our debates hon. Members are wholly irrelevant and get away with it, and then, when somebody rises to address the Chamber and present a considered, logical and cogent argument in support of or against an Amendment, supporting either the Government or the Opposition, he is immediately informed that he is completely out of order. I shall do my best to clarify the situation, because that is obviously what the Committee needs very badly.
It is a very simple proposition which is before the Committee. It amounts to whether the Army and Air Force Act should expire at the end of August, 1962, or at the end of December, 1962. It is as simple as that. I gathered from the remarkable oration of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who quoted extensively from the OFFICIAL REPORT, including a reference which I made on one occasion—I believe it was an auspicious occasion—that he apparently had some indication from the Government that they would accept the Amendment. It is a pity that the Secretary of State did not rise and say, "Let us not have all this talk and bother; we accept the Amendment." I presume that that is what he will do, but just in case I happen to be wrong, I will say a word or two in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and my hon. and learned Friend.
Let us consider for a moment the procedure for dealing with these matters. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire suggested that we ought to discuss the Estimates before the end of the 1156 year. That would be a completely mistaken policy. The Estimates have to be prepared in the Service Departments and then go through the Ministry of Defence for the preparation of the White Paper on Defence, which is usually available to hon. Members about February of each year and is debated at the end of February or the beginning of March. Clearly, the Government could not be expected to agree to discussions on the Estimates even in the secrecy of a Committee, until the White Paper had been prepared with the consent of the Defence Committee of the Government and the Cabinet itself, and that could not happen before the end of the year.
It is a very difficult matter to prepare defence Estimates. All kinds of people have to be consulted and their views heard, and usually there is considerable controversy among the representatives of the Service Departments and in the Cabinet and in the Defence Committee before conclusions are reached. So that would be completely out of the question.
I want to address myself now to the submission made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, who knows so much about these matters. He has been very industrious in his study of these problems, and we are very grateful to him, as, indeed, we are grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton. The object of my hon. Friend's Amendment is that, instead of coming to a conclusion about the continuation of the Army and Air Force Acts in August, we should allow it to proceed until the end of the year.
There is a great deal to be said for that, because when we come to a consideration of the Bills, which precede the Acts, we shall be able to consider such matters as whether we want to have an Army and Air Force at all. This thought has often occurred to me. Before we come to the Estimates, the White Paper and all the details of defence embodied in it and in the various Service Estimates, there is something to be said for deciding, first, whether we want an Army or Air Force at all.
That is not a matter of Estimates. It is a matter of policy, of philosophy. It is also a matter of strategy. Therefore, there is something to be said for it. We could have an excellent debate on the 1157 question whether we want an Army and Air Force at all, because all kinds of considerations arise.
Following on that, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley suggested that it might go to a Committee and that in that Committee there should be complete secrecy. That is what I gathered from what my hon. Friend said. He may wish to correct me.
§ Mr. Wigg
If my right hon. Friend is saying that my suggestion is that the continuation Order should go to a Select Committee, that is not so. I am suggesting that after the Secretary of State has got his numbers on Vote A what is now regarded as the Committee stage of the Estimates should be taken upstairs.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Although, at first sight, there appear to be certain advantages in that proposal, if it were accepted by the Government, I believe that it is outweighed by the disadvantages. The advantages I see stem from what some of us on this side of the Committee, and on the Government side, have suggested about the need for consultation between the Opposition and the Government on matters of defence. Consultation should undoubtedly be held in secret.
Hon. Members will be aware that I have often made this suggestion. It has been rejected by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the ground that it would disarm criticism. I have never believed that that is a valid objection. Some of us could discuss with members of the Government questions on defence matters which are regarded as confidential. We should, naturally, be expected to respect the confidence the Government reposed in us. If we felt that it was impossible to accept such conditions, we should obviously refuse to enter into consultations. It is a matter for consideration. There are certain advantages in having the discussions in secret.
On the other hand, it would be rather objectionable from the standpoint of those of us—I should say the majority of us—who feel that any discussions we have on the subject of Estimates should not be held in secret.
§ Mr. Wigg
My right hon. Friend has not followed me. I do not suggest that there should not be discussion. When the Secretary of State introduces the Estimates, 1158 the Government get the Votes they want. To do this, the Government put down the Votes they want for the Navy, the Army and the Air Force. This certainly happened this year. The Opposition then choose the Votes they want to discuss.
The result this year was that almost the whole of the time was taken up on the Navy—there were about 10 minutes left for the Army. The Air Force was not discussed. I do not want to say anything derogatory of any hon. Gentleman, but it is the fact, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) said, that during the Committee stage there were times when there was hardly anybody in the Chamber, except those sitting on the two Front Benches. It seems to me, therefore, that there should be a procedure under which hon. Gentlemen can volunteer, if they want, to go to a Committee upstairs where these matters can be discussed. I suggest that they should be discussed in secret, because these matters tend to become so complex and so tied up with security that they are quite unreal unless they are conducted behind closed doors.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I go a long way with my hon. Friend in the matter of referring such questions to a Committee. I should prefer references to a Standing Committee upstairs. I am not sure about secrecy. That matter should be discussed.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but his argument on secrecy falls outside the terms of the Amendment.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I respect your Ruling, Mr. Thomas. Indeed, it accords with my view about the relevance of the matter. The subject arose in the course of previous discussion, and I was merely following it up.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
On a point of order. Do I understand that the position now is that, my hon. Friends having developed an extraordinarily constitutional proposition about secret Committees for the expenditure of my constituents' hard-earned incomes, I cannot even rise and say that I do not like the idea?
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. We are now discussing an Amendment which would extend the period of the Army Act. We are not concerned here with methods of discussing it.
§ Mr. Wigg
Further to that point of order, Mr. Thomas. Is it within your knowledge that the reason for the Amendment is a memorandum submitted by the Clerk of the House asking the Committee to consider this matter? The matter now becomes before the Committee. If we cannot discuss the procedural form, it lands us in just the difficulty of which the Clerk complained, namely, the opening argument is admitted by one Chairman but denied by another.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I am very sorry, but the hon. Gentleman knows very well that all I have to do is to observe the rules of order as long as I am in the Chair. That is what I am trying to do.
§ Mr. Shinwell
May I be permitted to interrupt the proceedings? I was about to conclude my remarks by expressing the opinion that, if a proposal of the kind suggested in the Amendment is acceptable to the Government and if it should lead to matters of this sort being referred to a Standing Committee, I should welcome it. There was much validity in the observation of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire about the desirability of there being a full expression of hon. Members' views on the expenditure of the Service Departments. I held that view when I was responsible for the submission of Estimates. I held that view many years ago when I was Financial Secretary to the War Office, before I was Secretary of State for War.
When we are spending vast sums of money—or, even if we are not spending vast sums of money, when we are spending 1160 the taxpayers' money—it is very desirable that hon. Members should investigate as meticulously as possible in this Committee, or in the House of Commons, just how the money is spent. Even if it is not permissible to discuss it at length in the course of all those proceedings, I hope that the Minister will take into consideration what has been said so that next year we will have the opportunity of discussing more closely the details of defence expenditure.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
There is no doubt that there is a very great deal in what has been said about the need for greater time for and much closer scrutiny of the items of defence expenditure during the Committee stage of the proceedings on the Estimates. If that flowed from this proposal I would certainly be disposed to support it, but whether it does so or not I support my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg).
The proposal really concerns whether or no we should discuss the Measure in June or in November, and it is sought to alter the date on which it comes to an end. As I understand, the arguments in favour of what is in the Bill are contained in a letter submitted to the Committee for its consideration by the Clerk of the House.
Briefly, those arguments are that this procedure would be more tidy; that we would have our defence debate for two days, followed by our debates on the Votes A, and then the proceedings in the Committee—which can hardly be graced by the name of debates. We would then proceed to pass the Bill. In other words, we would do things in a tidy manner. The Clerk points out that if that procedure were adopted, hon. Members would very clearly understand what was likely to be in order in the debates.
That sounds very well, but I fear that the result of that procedure would be our reaching a position where there was no discussion of the Bill at all. I am quite sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley would see to it that there was a discussion, but that would be the tendency. If we had a series of debates, first on defence, then on the various Votes A, then on the Defence Estimates, and then on this Bill, the Government's 1161 tendency would be to try to treat it as something that could be disposed of fairly quickly.
The very business of this House would lead to that event, because in June and July we are crowded with business. Even now, an important Measure like the Republic of South Africa (Temporary Provisions) Bill has had to be discussed at ten o'clock at night because there was no other time for it, and we have another statement today as to when we should continue that discussion. Those with any experience at all of this House know that we have very little time in June and July.
It is then, normally, that we have most of the all-night sittings—on the Finance Bill, for instance. At that time, the Government are trying to get through the Bills they have started, and they are trying to get the Finance Bill through, and if the various Measures are lengthy and important we have long Report stages—
§ Mr. Shinwell
Is there not some misunderstanding? I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) has followed my argument? I understand the proposition to be that instead of having a debate on the Army and Air Force (Continuation) Bill in June, in preparation for the continuation of that Measure about the end of August, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) suggests that that debate should come towards the end of the year. Surely, then, after we have had the Summer Recess, and after the Queen's Speech has been disposed of, there is much more time for consideration than there is in June?
§ Mr. Willis
I am glad that my right hon. Friend is with me. The precise burden of my argument is that the time proposed in the Bill is the worst possible time of year for this discussion, and that the whole tendency will be to try to treat it as something that can be dismissed at ten o'clock or eleven o'clock at night. My hon. Friend has suggested that we should leave the procedure as it is so that the Bill would be discussed in November when there was time for it to be discussed properly.
Once again, anyone conversant with our procedure knows that towards the end of October and the beginning of 1162 November the House is quite frequently almost empty, and sometimes rises at a quarter to seven, or eight o'clock. The reason for Chat is that the Government have not then got their legislative programme into swing, and put forward, after the Queen's Speech, a number of quite small Measures. Incidentally, those are the occasions when the hon. Member who has his eye on the House can usually get an Adjournment debate lasting from about 7 p.m. to 10.30 p.m.
That is the time of year when we should have this debate. We should not so arrange our business as to pile up business in June and July—and then add to the pile. We should be seeking means of distributing the business more evenly over the whole year. Instead of that, the Government, not satisfied with having got the House into its present mess—with all sorts of legislation cluttering the Order Paper and not capable of being dealt with—seek to add to the mess. I cannot conceive of anything more fantastic—talk about making confusion worse confounded; this proposal certainly does that.
What is in this Bill? What is it all in aid of? It is in aid of making it tidy by having all the Service debates at the same time of year. I agree that, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) showed by his quotations from previous debates, the debate on this Measure is of a much more limited character, but it still covers one of the most important aspects of the Army and of the Air Force.
Something of such vital concern, so important that it almost causes a split in the Government ranks, needs a good debate. And it is as important as that. It is a matter with which I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman is himself most seriously concerned at present. But what he is now saying is, "We will not give you a fair opportunity to discuss this subject. We will try to slip it in when there is no time to discuss it." That is not treating the House as it should be treated, and I should certainly have thought that all the arguments were on my hon. Friend's side.
There is, of course, the other argument that if we accept this proposal we shall have all the Service debates in the first few months of the year, and then have nothing. That, too, seems to be quite 1163 wrong. It would be much better to have the debates spread a little—and they could be spread by acceptance of my hon. Friend's Amendment.
I hope that the Government will not be too "sticky" on this matter. There is no great principle involved; it is simply a matter of what is for the best convenience of the House—that is all. Anyone examining the matter in the light of how best we can conduct our affairs, can only come to the conclusion that my hon. Friend's suggestion is the wisest one.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
It would be a pity not to accept the Select Committee's proposal. The point just made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) about spreading the Service debates through the year would be better met if the proposals in the Bill as it now stands were accepted. The debate on the discipline on the Army would arise in June or July, giving a longer spread to the Service debates than is the case with a debate that takes place—as happened last year—on 25th November. We would then resume the Service debates in February, and complete them shortly afterwards. In point of time, I think that the hon. Member will discover that the argument is against him.
Secondly, it will be within the recollection of the Committee that the debates that we have had on the Army and Air Force Bill in November during past years have rather suffered in that it has been very difficult for hon. Members to keep in order. I have looked up some of the previous debates. It has been necessary for Mr. Speaker to begin, on some occasions, by warning an hon. Member that most of the speech that he proposed to make would be out of order and for him to read once again the rules of the race, as it were, and to tell hon. Members how they could keep in order. On a number of times hon. Members have had to be stopped because they have been tempted to stray into discussing matters which were not part of the Bill.
If we had the debate on the Defence and Service Estimates in the early part of the year and settled the broad principles concerning the Services, such as the question of manpower and equipment, for the year we would be able much more pointedly to discuss the discipline 1164 of the Army and then the Air Force. I therefore think that it would be a pity if we turned down the very sensible suggestion which is to be found in Appendix II to the Select Committee's Report.
§ Mr. Kershaw
The hon. and learned Gentleman is not quite right about that. Three or four hon. Members were pulled up, some of them more than once. That is not extraordinary. Things have improved this year, but in the past that has been a difficulty. I therefore think that it would be better if we discussed this matter in June.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
There have been so many clarifications of the situation by hon. Members that it may seem an extraordinary confession of obtuseness on my part to say that I am still somewhat confused. There may be one or two hon. Members who are in the same position as myself. Therefore, I hope that an attempt further to clarify the situation will be of benefit to hon. Members.
Obviously, there is enormous force in the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) that the onus is on the Government to state why this change should be made. The business of the House is much more cluttered up during June and July than it is during November and December. I do not say that that is always the case, but it is frequently the case. Therefore, the onus of persuading the Committee to adopt the change rests with the Government and they have to produce powerful arguments as to why the change should be made.
The speech of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) has not helped to persuade us to accept the idea put forward by the Government. What he appears to wish to do in some curious way is to alter the content of the debates on the Bill. He seemed to be suggesting that, under his arrangement, things which might be in order for discussion in 1165 November would be out of order in June-I do not see how that can be the case.
It may be that this is the excuse of the hon. Gentleman. He may have based his argument partly on what was stated in the letter of the Clerk and has strained it further, because the crucial sentence, which appears on page 83 of the Select Committee's Report, is this:Under the present system the debates on the continuation motions take place early in the Session, and are naturally regarded as preliminary to deciding the matters to be debated on Defence and the Service Estimates, and the strong feeling in the House that the Motions really set the whole defence machinery in motion has made it almost impossible for the Chair to keep the debates relevant.I do not suggest that the Clerk was making the proposition in anything like as strong terms as the hon. Member for Stroud. However, that sentence appears to suggest that, if the Government's proposal is accepted, the debate on the Bill will be even more restricted. I do not think that anyone can say that that is an improper meaning to place on those words.
We understand exactly why the Government want this change. They are always in favour of having debates limited as much as possible. However, this Bill has a rather sacred place in English history. It is not a small affair. Anyone who suggests that we should limit the form of debate on a Bill such as this is proposing what could be a quite considerable constitutional change. At any rate, the Government are dealing with a matter which affects a very important Bill in our Constitution.
Therefore, if the real reason why the Government want to make this change is that they want the debate on the Bill more limited than it is at present, then they ought to put forward a stronger case than appears in the letter of the learned Clerk. I do not think that the Clerk makes out a full case for imposing the limitations which apparently are in the mind of the Government and which were certainly implied in the speech of the hon. Member for Stroud, who has been the only defender of the Government's proposal.
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), because I missed the first few sentences of his speech and, therefore, may have missed 1166 the crucial part, but I do not think that he suggested that his Amendment would remedy a much bigger disease than it applies to. I will not go into what he said about a Committee of secrecy, because I understand that, although that matter was discussed fairly amply at the beginning of the debate, it has since become out of order. I understand that my hon. Friend suggested that if his Amendment were accepted it would enable the Committee to have a much more detailed study of the Estimates. Whether that was done in secrecy or not is irrelevant to the question.
I do not see how his Amendment will greatly assist in that respect. If my hon. Friend can explain more fully why he thinks that his Amendment would have these beneficial results, I am sure that more of us would be persuaded to vote with him in the Division Lobby if he carries the Amendment to a Division. I would be extremely grateful to him if he would elaborate on that matter. It may be that this Amendment should be taken with other Amendments which my hon. Friend has tabled. If that is so, it would assist the Committee if he could say how the passage of this Amendment would fortify the arguments for later Amendments which he intends to move.
As I have said, the onus rests on the Government to persuade the Committee as to why this change should be made. Certainly, there must be very powerful reasons if the Government wish to restrict and make the Bill a lesser occasion in our Parliamentary year than it has been for some years past and during earlier times when it played a very important part in the life of Parliament. It is a curious situation that, having had the Select Committee to examine all these matters and having the contributions made by a large number of hon. Members in this debate, many of whom are experts on the subject, we still have not got anywhere near to solving the real problem of how hon. Members will have a proper control over the Defence Estimates.
Whatever his view about the incidents over the Estimates earlier this year may be, I do not believe that there is one hon. Member who would claim that this Committee has proper control over defence expenditure. This was one of 1167 the purposes of having the Select Committee. I do not say that it was the primary purpose, because I know that the Select Committee dealt with many other matters. The fact that we are discussing the timetable shows that it relates partly to this Measure. The Select Committee examined the matter with great care and took evidence from many experts, but still we do not seem to be getting any nearer to solving the problem of how we are to have full Parliamentary control over the money that is spent and, indeed, over recruitment and the other activities of the Army.
We have not solved the problem yet. Certainly, the Measure that the Government are proposing does not solve it. I do not think that the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley really solves it. Perhaps my hon. Friend does not claim that it does, but only that it moves slightly in the right direction or, at least, prevents the Government from moving in the wrong direction. I hope that at least the Government will explain much more fully than they have done so far the purpose behind the change which they are now making.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
This is the first time that I have had the temerity to intervene in this type of debate. The point which my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) has made is very much the reason why I have put my name to a large number of the Amendments. This is a subject which should be discussed at considerable length. It cannot be discussed too widely and I certainly do not think that it can be discussed too often. I apologise for arriving late in the debate. I was involved in another issue elsewhere in connection with the dock strike. I was unavoidably detained and missed the opening remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg).
One thing which is extremely worrying from what one has heard of the debate so far is that only one hon. Member opposite has felt fit to contribute to it. There is a great deal in the point that if the Government make or suggest a change, it is not unreasonable to expect that Government Members should participate and give their reasons why the change is justified. Surely, it is 1168 their job to justify a change and it is our job to inquire into the reasons for it and, if necessary, to oppose it. Only one hon. Member opposite has taken any part in the debate, despite the fact that the Amendment deals with a change affecting debates of a particularly important type.
The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw), the one hon. Member who has spoken from the Government side, was not particularly convincing in his arguments. If the Government had a particularly important point of principle one could understand it, but the only argument put forward in the evidence of the learned Clerk was, not to change the character of the debate, but to make it more convenient for the Chair to control the debate. That is an extraordinary argument.
One is entitled to ask what is the main concern of the Government. In having the debate in July instead of November, do they see particular advantages to the debate on the Army and Air Force Bill, or is it merely a question of enabling the Chair to control the debate that much more easily?
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
May I help my hon. and learned Friend? In justice to the learned Clerk, whose views carried a great deal of weight with the Select Committee, I should, perhaps, say that what he had in mind was the temptation of hon. Members to stray rather widely on these big defence issues at a time when defence policy was under consideration. Possibly that was in the learned Clerk's mind and, in justice to him, while agreeing wholly with a great deal of what my hon. Friend has just said, I think that that should be said.
§ Mr. Marsh
I am grateful for that intervention, but I still feel very much that one does not change the timetables of 1169 debates in the House of Commons to make life easier for the Chair. It is the duty of the Chair, in which it is entitled to expect the support of hon. Members, to keep the debate in order. While that may well be difficult from time to time, the Chair has other remedies than changing the timetable for dealing with certain Bills.
The simple issue is whether the Army and Air Force Bill shall be debated at the end of the year or in July, or alternatively, which is, perhaps, the main point, whether it should be debated before or after the defence debate. I should have thought that to look at the position merely from the point put forward by the learned Clerk—that because the Bill is debated as at present makes hon. Members tend to roam somewhat widely in the course of the debate—is a poor and a surprising reason for changing the timetable in this way.
Surely, the important thing is that we should discuss the Army and Air Force Bill as fully and in as great detail as possible. If other methods can be devised by which it can be debated at greater length or more fully, that is of advantage, but anything which is based on argument that is intended to cut down the amount of debate and to limit discussion on the Bill is, unless there are extremely good reasons for it, very much against the public interest.
The significant feature is that although the Government have come forward with their proposals, to which there is an Amendment, with the one exception of the hon. Member for Stroud we have heard no views from Government Members opposite. It is a rather worrying tendency which has happened on several recent occasions that, when we debate these issues, the Opposition frequently makes speech after speech and it ceases to be a debate because hon. Members opposite, when they are with us, sit back and take no part in the proceedings.
If the Army and Air Force Bill followed the defence debate, it might appear to be in danger of becoming something automatic in which one dotted the "i's" and crossed the "t's" to put the Bill in line with the defence debate. One of the biggest problems facing the defence debates and discussions about defence arises very much from the grave difficulty of obtaining sufficient troops. Anything 1170 in a Bill affecting, as this one does, discipline and other matters intimately concerning the troops could usefully be discussed before the defence debates rather than after them.
My final point, which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, is the problem of whether there is need to curtail discussion on the Bill. Whatever arguments one may have—and it is a good thing to discuss and argue these matters at considerable length—nobody can deny that there is far too little discussion upon all aspects of the Services, far too little discussion of the amounts of public money spent on them and far too little discussion upon issues which affect the lives and living conditions of a large number of people in the Army. If it is suggested that we should cut down the amount of discussion on the Bill, that would be very much against the interest of the public and of the House of Commons. If, alternatively, it is suggested that that is not the intention and that the objective is, not to cut down the amount of discussion, but to enable the Chair to keep order more easily, I submit with respect that it is not the job of the House of Commons to work out its timetables or to devise its legislation for that purpose. There may well be need for different Standing Orders or for the Chairman of the Committee to take a different line from time to time, but that is certainly not the way to deal with that type of problem.
I hope, therefore, that consideration will be given to the Amendment. I hope that hon. Members opposite will not merely sit back and wait for their Front Bench to make its contribution. This is a Parliamentary matter. We are discussing what Parliament should do. It is not a party issue. One would have thought that hon. Members opposite would participate in the debate and discuss the subject, and that we might well reach the position that the Amendment would be withdrawn or, alternatively, that the Government would decide to accept it. It is intolerable that we should discuss issues which affect as closely and as intimately as this one does the running of the Chamber without contributions, whether of value or otherwise, from hon. Members opposite.
I hope that when the Minister replies, he will make it clear that on an issue 1171 as small as this he is able to accommodate the Committee and that hon. Members opposite will be able to make their contributions, so that they can at least show that they have views about how the House of Commons can conduct its business.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Wigg
My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) invited me to clarify the position. I will endeavour to do that. He referred to the claims that I have made. The only claim that I have made is that I have read the Report of the Select Committee, the Bill before us, the 1955 Act and the Report on which it was based. It seems to me that that claim is not shared by some hon. Members who, in consequence, find themselves in some confusion.
In all fairness, it should be made clear that the actual proposals in the Bill—not my Amendment—are not the Government's proposals at all. If hon. Members would look at the original Bill introduced on 25th January, 1961, or care to read the report of the Second Reading on the 2nd February they will find that the Government accepted the proposition put forward by the original Select Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale is quite right. We are dealing with a matter of great historical and constitutional importance. I do not want to refer to my part in it, but it just happens to be that I wrote the Memorandum submitted to the Select Committee on 4th May, 1954: It begins:The Bill of Rights lays down 'That the raising or keeping a standing army within the Kingdome in time of peace unlesse it be with consent of Parlyament is against law'.Nothing could be more fundamental than that to this country and the privileges of this House in discussion of this matter. What the Select Committee then recommended and the House and the Government subsequently accepted was that there should be an affirmative Order praying Her Majesty to continue the Bill in operation for a year, year by year, that it should be brought before the House for four years, and that in the fifth year it should go to a Select Committee. The date on which the Bill came into operation was the 31st December, the Government accepted the proposal, without variation, and the Bill went to 1172 a Select Committee upstairs. The Committee received a communication from the Clerk of the House of Commons, printed on page 83 of the Select Committee's Report, asking the Committee to consider altering the date. The learned Clerk's case was directed to the relevance of the debate.
The points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh), my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) are right to the point. For surely whenever the continuation Order is debated the Chair has control of the debate? Why should it be in order at one time and out of order at another? My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) has not himself studied the debate. The great heresy which crept in arose because the Chair allowed discussion on pay. Surely, the one subject which is out of order is pay. It is governed not by legislation but by the exercise of the Prerogative. The second heresy is that whilst the opening paragraph of the 1955 Act deals with the terms of enlistment we strayed from their issue into discussing the conditions of service. We certainly did not get into difficulties through any serious attempt to discuss the wider issues of strategy.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I was trying to interpret what was in the mind of the learned Clerk, because in his memorandum he states:Under the present system the debates on the continuation motions take place early in the Session, and are naturally regarded as preliminary to deciding the matters to be debated on Defence and the Service Estimates.I was trying to interpret, in fairness, what was in the mind of the learned Clerk.
§ Mr. Wigg
That is a matter for a psychiatrist. I am concerned about the content of the Bill. Neither my hon. Friend nor I is a medical authority. We cannot decide what is in the learned Clerk's mind. I submit that the difficulty did not arise because the House wanted to discuss strategy or great issues of foreign affairs, but because it tried to discuss pay and conditions of service. Therefore, it seems to me that the arguments of my hon. Friend in terms of the relevancy of the debate are not valid.
The second argument is that there is a long gap which would be filled if the 1173 Continuation Order were debated in June. Of course, there is and some of us have tried to put it right by raising defence issues on the Appropriation Bill.
The arguments put by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East, with great effect, is that we must accept that the vacuum argument has no validity at all.
But, if the Government accept my Amendment, it still leaves us with a problem which worries my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, and it certainly worries me. I think that at one time it worried my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) but, apparently, it does not worry him so much today. This is the problem of how the House of Commons keeps control over the Service Estimates. How can those hon. Members whose interests are other than defence obtain a synoptic view of our defence policy, and how can they judge and discuss the importance of one weapon against another?
It seems to me that the only way this can be done is first to ensure that there is adequate discussion in Committee of all three Service Estimates. That would clearly be an improvement on our present proceedings. If we are to argue the question of relevancy, I commend hon. Members to read the debate on the last Navy Estimates to see how much of that was in order. In the absence of adequate information, we discuss whatever happens to be politically appropriate at the time, and that lands us in very great difficulty. In the absence of any better suggestion I urge the Government to accept the Amendment and then to consider our procedures on the Estimates. In my opinion, having got Vote A, the Estimates could then be taken to a Standing Committee upstairs where those hon. Members from both sides of the House who wish to attend could go and question the Ministers and raise whatever points they wish. It seems to me that once that happens and we have a real discussion about the Armed Forces, the House must be prepared to agree to some degree of secrecy. We cannot ask Ministers to be candid if their words are then to be bandied about on the front pages of every newspaper. If the House of Commons wants to obtain information about the Services 1174 which would enable hon. Members to form responsible opinions, the price of secrecy has to be paid for it. I am prepared to pay that price.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) for his additional clarification. He moved the Amendment in his usual admirable way and I am sure that we all agree that he has a massive and encyclopædic knowledge of defence matters. I personally feel prejudiced automatically in favour of any Amendment that bears my hon. Friend's name.
We have had in some ways a rather unsatisfactory debate because, apart from the brief intervention by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw), we have had no opportunity of hearing anything from hon. Members opposite. It has been a one-sided debate. This is rather surprising when one bears in mind that many hon. Members opposite have served in the Air Force and the Army and might have made some useful contributions to the debate. I think that most of us were grievously surprised when we heard the Secretary of State for War intervene in the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) to say that he was muddled.
§ Mr. Profumo
I merely said that the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was muddling me.
§ Mr. Cronin
I am grateful for that intervention, because the impression the right hon. Gentleman gave me and my hon. Friends was that he was in a state of complete muddle. In fact, I was so concerned that I wondered whether we should move to report Progress to enable the right hon. Gentleman to study the matter better. Nevertheless, we accept his assurance that he is now in full understanding of the main points of the debate.
The arguments in favour of or against the Amendment are somewhat narrowly balanced and the decision in its favour is probably of a marginal nature. We have to bear in mind that the Amendment is completely contrary to the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Army and Air Force Bill. 1175 Some of my hon. Friends served on that Committee which certainly produced an admirable Report and was very skilfully presided over by the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Sir O. Prior-Palmer).
One has the impression, however, that the Select Committee put rather undue weight on the views of the Clerk of the House. It is proper that it should give weight to those views but there must be other considerations. Paragraph 2 on page iii of the Committee's Special Report states:The Clerk of the House, however, submitted that the date of expiry of the Acts should be amended to 31st July, 1962, instead of the end of 1962, in order that the sequence of debates on the Services which obtained prior to 1955 should be restored. Your Committee agree with his opinion that the system whereby the Army and Air Force (annual) Bills were discussed in the summer after the general debates on the Defence White Paper and the Estimates led to a clearer understanding of the purpose of the annual Acts.It is noteworthy that the Select Committee did not produce any additional arguments. It simply accepted the views of the Clerk of the House.
We should turn now to what the Clerk of the House actually said. Several of my hon. Friends have quoted sentences, but we ought to get this absolutely clear because the whole of the debate hinges on this opinion. He is reported as follows on page 83 of the Report in Appendix 11:Owing to the fact that at present these Acts expire at the end of the year, debates on these motions have to take place in November or early December. Under the old system these Acts expired on 31st July and consequently the Army and Air Force (annual) Bills, which were brought in on the Reports of Votes A for the three services being agreed to by the House, were discussed during the early summer. I would submit that this led to a clearer understanding of the purpose which the annual Acts had. First there had been the debate on the Defence White Paper giving the widest possible debate on the general defence plan covering all three services. Then there had been the debates on the separate services which decided the role each should play in the defence plan and the number of men, types of weapons, etc., needed to carry out that role. Lastly came the annual Bill which dealt with the discipline of the forces, the size and role of which had already been fixed.5.45 p.m.
It seems to me that the Clerk of the House is thinking entirely in terms of logical sequence, that we considered first 1176 the White Paper and then separately the three Services and then, and only finally, the Army and Air Force Act. I should have thought that there was perhaps an argument in favour of putting the Army and Air Force Act first on logical grounds, simply because that Act is the Act which enables the Army and the Air Force to exist. It could hardly be more logical than to debate their premise, the very existence of the Services, before going into the question of their development and their use and the amounts of expenditure on them.
A further paragraph in the memorandum submitted by the Clerk of the House states:Under the present system the debates on the continuation motions take place early in the Session, and are naturally regarded as preliminary to deciding the matters to be debated on Defence and the Service Estimates, and the strong feeling in the House that the Motions really set the whole defence machinery in motion has made it almost impossible for the Chair to keep the debates relevant. I would respectfully urge the Committee to amend the date of the expiry of the present Acts to 31st July, 1962, instead of the end of 1962, and thereby enable the old sequence of debates to be restored.I am sure that it would be agreed that it is not a satisfactory arrangement to alter the procedure of the House simply to make things easy for the Chair, because we are in the happy position of having the Chair always occupied by an able occupant, and I think that the Chair can look after itself extremely well in all conditions.
This argument seems to me of very doubtful value indeed. It appears to me that the Select Committee has not produced any arguments of its own. It has been unduly influenced by arguments of an entirely procedural nature when this is not an entirely procedural matter. It is nothing like it. It is a matter of practical, political, and constitutional importance. To treat it as a procedural matter would be the antithesis of our proper function in this Committee.
I should like to turn the attention of the Committee to some of the practical considerations that arise. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) dealt very well with the point that there is always a mass of business accumulating before the House of Commons towards the end of the summer period and, therefore, there is a tendency for all business to be rather hurried and 1177 perhaps ill-considered and ill-digested. Another important point is that obviously the Army and Air Force Act requires careful consideration and preparation before it is drafted and printed. Obviously, this could be done much more helpfully and usefully during the Summer Recess than during the anxious and hurried times towards the end of the Summer Session. I suggest that on these purely practical grounds it would be much more satisfactory if this matter were given consideration after the Summer Recess.
Another practical consideration is that it is always possible for some unexpected difficulty to arise in the technical preparation of a matter like this. There may be some breakdown in the printing trade, as has happened in the past. Numerous considerations can arise which might prevent the proper distribution of the papers concerned in these matters.
Another aspect is that during the winter period there is no routine opportunity to debate defence in Government time. If the Secretary of State were to give us some assurance that we could have a debate on defence in Government time during the winter period, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley might be tempted to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Mr. Wigg
My hon. Friend is straying into a second misconception. His first argument was a practical one about printing. There is no printing involved. All that happens at the time of year that we are discussing is that the Government put a Motion on the Order Paper praying Her Majesty to continue the Act in being. So there is no printing difficulty at all.
§ Mr. Cronin
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his intervention, but I think that he does not quite understand me. There is still a good deal of printing involved.
§ Mr. Cronin
My hon. Friend has perhaps made rather a wide assumption there. I am not entirely convinced by what he has said. Papers have to be circulated to deal with situations that 1178 may arise. The Order to which my hon. Friend is referring must often be published under varying circumstances which may call for some explanation, and then printing will be involved.
If we may return to the practical consideration which was interrupted by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley—in the most helpful manner, of course—hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will probably recollect that there was a time recently when it was felt that there was no proper opportunity to discuss financial matters during the winter period, and largely as a result of the interventions of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and some of his colleagues, the Government agreed to give time during the winter period to discuss a White Paper on capital expenditure. The Government have agreed that this should be a routine winter period debate. There seem to be strong arguments for having a similar routine winter period debate on finance, because we are all agreed that there is no satisfactory routine method of debating defence during Government time in the winter period now.
§ Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)
Would the hon. Gentleman be a little more explicit about there not being any debates? Does he think that there are no Estimates debates or anything like that?
§ Mr. Cronin
There is no routine Government time debate on defence during the winter period.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the debate is the political side. This Bill, which we are to be asked to reconsider every year until 1966, is concerned with discipline and terms of service, and the whole future of the Army and Royal Air Force turns to a large extent on what is produced in the Bill and the way in which it is renewed each year. If all of us had confidence in the Government's handling of defence matters perhaps we should not press this so strongly, but there have been numerous very unfortunate incidents during the last few years, to say the least of it, with regard to defence. We have reached a stage where there is considerable doubt about how B.A.O.R. is to continue to be manned because of the recruitment position, which is very directly affected by the 1179 Bill. Numerous other unfortunate incidents have occurred. Blue Streak has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), and he also dilated about the Royal Yacht. Numerous matters cause us considerable concern. Therefore, it is terribly important that a debate of this nature should be conducted very carefully.
§ Mr. Cronin
My hon. Friend has underlined what I have said. The situation is simply that Army recruitment is in a most grievous state. The Secretary of State for War takes it so light-heartedly that he is not even paying attention to what is being said about this very fact, which is the most important problem with which his Department is faced at the moment.
What we have to bear in mind perhaps more than anything else is the welfare of the officers and men in the Army and the Royal Air Force. We are dealing now with a matter which concerns the administration of justice and conditions of service in respect of nearly half a million officers and men. This should be taken very seriously and not fitted into a hurried debate in the summer period. This alone would be a very strong argument for accepting our Amendment.
I hope the Secretary of State will give the matter very careful consideration. I know that he is in general very sympathetic towards anything which will be of value to his Department. I hope that he will approach this with an open mind. I trust that we may shortly have from him an assurance that he will accept the Amendment and thus put the Committee at ease on this very important matter.
§ Mr. Profumo
The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) has demonstrated how easy it is to get muddled in a discussion, even one of this simplicity. I have listened with the greatest interest to the arguments of crystal clarity which have been put before the Committee, and I am sure that every hon. Member will join me in expressing our gratitude to the 1180 hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who have taken such tremendous care and with the greatest possible patience given us over two hours of their very valuable time on this very controversial issue at the beginning of these proceedings on the Bill. In fact, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) had to leave the Chamber when he finished his speech. I trust that he did not harm himself with the length of his discourse.
The practical question at issue is whether it would not be more logical to have in each Session the debates on defence and the Service Estimates before the debate on the Order in Council relating to the Army and Air Force Bill. I think I should point out that it is the Select Committee, and not the Government, which has suggested this step. The Bill, as amended, would achieve it. The Amendment seeks to restore the position I say at once that, Departmentally, my right hon. Friend and I do not really mind very much about this. It is really much more a matter of logic. I appreciate the arguments which were put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw), and I see the argument for having the defence debate, the debate on the Service Estimates and the debate on the Army Act in that order. I recognise that it may make clear what is, and what is not, in order in the Army Act debate if we follow that procedure.
I do not think that it would be right for me to talk now about whether the Estimates Committee should be held upstairs in secret or not. With respect I would suggest that it would not be in order. The Select Committee devoted some time to this matter, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War told the Select Committee that this was acceptable to us. So it is, but as was said by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) in his interesting speech, this is very much a question of the convenience of the House. I take that view. If the Committee feels strongly about it, I believe that you, Mr. Arbuthnot, and Mr. Speaker would feel that you would like to be in the hands of the House. Therefore, as it appears from the debate that the majority of hon. Members would like to accept the Amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Dudley, I am prepared 1181 on behalf of the Government to accept it.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I am sure that the speech of the Minister will be very much to the liking of hon. Members on both sides. The only slight regret which some of us feel is that he did not feel called on to make his speech a little earlier.
As the Minister said, my hon. Friends, who are busy men, have spent a considerable part of their time trying to clarify the Minister's mind. In particular, as the Minister said, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) spent a great deal of time trying to achieve that end. It might possibly have been a little wiser if the Minister had made the Government's intention clearer a little earlier. Had he done that, the time of the Committee would not have been spent—not that it has not been profitably spent—in the manner in which it has been spent. Anyway, my hon. Friends have the consolation of knowing that they finally clarified the mind of the Minister. His speech was exemplary for its clarity and for the conclusion he reached.
Some of us are disappointed at not hearing from the Chairman of the Select Committee on this important point. The arguments were evenly balanced, and it would have been interesting to have had a clear exposition of the case. I confess that in the Select Committee I felt that there was a great deal in the argument put forward by the Clerk of the House. However, I feel that we cannot cavil at the situation which now exists, and, as the debate has already been considerably prolonged by the Minister, I hope that the Committee will take the Minister's advice and accept the Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. John Arbuthnot)
I think that it would be convenient to discuss next the Amendment in page 1, line 18, to leave out "unless Parliament otherwise determines", with the Amendment in page 1, line 21, to leave out "sixty-six" and to insert "sixty-four".
§ The Temporary Chairman
That Amendment will be considered after the first of the Amendments to which I have just referred.
§ Mr. Paget
On a point of order, Mr. Arbuthnot. I am a little puzzled about discussing together the two Amendments which you have suggested, because I cannot see the faintest connection between them. The first Amendment is to omit the words "unless Parliament otherwise determines". I understand that the Amendment is exploratory to discover why that reservation is made. The second Amendment is to reduce the period from five years to three years. The connection between the two Amendments escapes me.
§ Mr. Marsh
Further to that point of order, Mr. Arbuthnot. These two Amendments deal with two different points. The second Amendment deals with the length of time which shall lapse each time. It is an issue of policy and it involves also many other questions. The first Amendment is to obtain an explanation from the Government. In the light of that explanation I might be able to decide whether or not to press the second Amendment.
The two Amendments have nothing in common. They deal with two different aspects. One Amendment deals with Parliament's powers in this issue, which has more to do with Parliament than with the Bill, and the other Amendment raises the different problem of the Bill itself. I think that it will be easier for the Committee to deal with the two Amendments separately rather than to try to lump them together and to discuss in one debate two different Amendments with no common factor.
§ Mr. Mayhew
Further to that point of order, Mr. Arbuthnot. I think that it will put us in a difficult position if we discuss the two Amendments together. There may be serious objections to the Amendment in page 1, line 21. I am not sure about the Amendment in page 1, line 18, but when it has been discussed we might be in a better position to decide what to do. At the moment, it would be helpful if the two Amendments were taken separately.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The decision on selection is the decision of the Chairman, and I have been informed 1183 that the Chairman wishes to have these two Amendments taken together. The alternative is that the second Amendment is not selected. I think that it would probably be wise to try to discuss the two Amendments together and to see how we get on.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Member must move the first Amendment. We can then discuss the second Amendment with it.
§ Mr. Marsh
I beg to move, in page 1, line 18, to leave out "unless Parliament otherwise determines".
The Amendment is tabled because subsection (3) says:No Order in Council shall, unless Parliament otherwise determines, be made under the last foregoing subsection so as to continue either of the said Acts beyond the end of the month of August in the year nineteen hundred and sixty-six.There may be a simple explanation for that. If there is, it would be helpful to know it, but one would not expect any Order in Council to be made if Parliament did determine otherwise. One cannot believe that the words "unless Parliament otherwise determines" are there without some specific purpose. If they are there without some specific purpose; if they are merely part of the jargon which is used on these occasions, or are part of the jargon in this kind of legislation, it would probably be as well to remove them anyway. The easier and simpler legislation can be made in its presentation to the public, the better. There seems no purpose in having phrases unless they have some purpose behind them.
1184 On the other hand, if it is suggested that Parliament is not sovereign, and that action can be taken when Parliament determines otherwise, this seems to raise an important constitutional issue which may have been in existence for a long time.
The purpose of this Amendment is merely to find out why the words are here, whether they are essential and if they are not essential, whether we can have them removed. It is also to find out whether it is possible without these words for these Orders to be made if Parliament otherwise determines. One would have thought that the sovereignty of Parliament was complete, particularly on an issue of this kind, and that there was no need for what appear to be these superfluous words.
The other Amendment which we are discussing at the same time raises an entirely different issue altogether. It is the length of time which shall elapse between having discussions of this type, and it is my contention, and that of some of my hon. Friends, that a period of five years is too long, that a debate such as we are having today is useful, and that it is educational by helping hon. Members and the public to know what is going on. It also enables the Government, as has just happened, to stop for a moment and realise their own obvious shortcomings from time to time and take the advice of the Opposition upon issues affected by this type of debate.
We are merely suggesting a reduction in the period of time which should elapse—a reduction of two years. It may be argued whether or not this is essential, and whether there is not perhaps some advantage in having a long period of time to elapse to enable one set of decisions to take effect and to become well-known to people, and for the troops to become used to them before we change the situation again.
One of the problems of the Army and Air Force for a long time has been the failure of successive Governments to be prepared from time to time to review matters as frequently as they should have done. I served in the Army for a comparatively short period—two-and-a-half years—and it is only fair that I should make quite clear that I disliked almost every minute of it. When I came out of the Army, after the war, considerable 1185 changes were taking place. The whole attitude towards troops had changed, and I cannot help feeling that if those changes which took place when I came out had taken place a year or two years before I came out, I might well have decided to stay in the Army.
I do not think that we can look too frequently at matters which affect discipline and other factors, particularly since this question of discipline has caused a great deal of difficulty in regard to the troops and the conditions affecting the number under enlistment. I do not think that it is possible to look at them too frequently. On the other hand, it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that one does not want to have decisions changed too frequently. There is always the difficulty of trying to preserve a balance between, on the one hand, ensuring that the whole position can be constantly reviewed, and, on the other, the desire to ensure that those who administer the legislation passed by Parliament have sufficient time to get used to the new legislation before it is imposed, and so that they have some time to study its effects.
The difficulty about the issues which we are now debating is that they include a number of issues on which as everyone will agree very strong views are held. My hon. Friends, by later Amendments which we shall be discussing, are dealing with factors which show that there is considerable disagreement and controversy. Indeed, the special Report of the Select Committee itself shows in its presentation that there could be very many arguments about many aspects of the Army and Air Force Bill, but what is frequently overlooked is the fact that those arguments which are advanced at one period are sometimes irrelevant when advanced at an entirely different period. It would be a great misfortune indeed if changes and improvements which this House might well wish to make in the Army and Air Force Act, and which would be to the advantage of men in the Army and Air Force, were unable to be made because of this length of time which was due to elapse.
There is the other issue, which is almost equally important, namely, that hon. Members on this side of the Committee 1186 would regret being tied too closely and too long to the type of legislation brought in by right hon. Members opposite. We should like consideration to be given to both these factors; on the one hand, whether it is possible for the Minister to give consideration to accepting the Amendment to reduce the period of time which is to elapse, not to reduce it right down to a series of annual arguments backwards and forwards, but to reduce it by a period of two years so that there is sufficient continuity, and, at the same time, the possibility of amendment without waiting too long; and, on the other, the earlier factor to which I have referred, in regard to the wording of the Bill itself. If the Minister could give us an explanation of the one which would enable us to make up our minds whether we wished to pursue it or not, and, on the other, the wider issue, let us have the Government's views, it would be helpful.
I hope, also, that the Minister will realise that nobody is making party points on this matter, and that there is no party banner to carry. All that is wanted is to ensure that the best facilities can be made available for the administration of the Army and Air Force Act. Both sides want to discuss these issues at length so that they can come to the best decision, rather than by attempting to score any points from either side. I hope that on these Amendments we shall hear from hon. Gentlemen opposite. It would be a great pity if hon. Members on this side were placed in the position of having to do the debating among themselves in order that the Minister may have something to which to reply.
There may well be, of course, hon. Members opposite who would wish to oppose both Amendments. It may well be that a majority on the Government side would oppose it and that the majority on this side would support it, though I do not think that this necessarily follows. After the exchange of views from both sides, it will be easier for the Committee to reach a conclusion on this and other Amendments which will be to the benefit not only of the Army and Air Force, but of debating in this House.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. I cannot hear the hon. and learned Gentleman if he turns his back on the Chair.
§ Mr. Paget
I am so sorry, Mr. Arbuthnot, but I was referring to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich, and I was saying that I felt the arguments which he had made had been so powerful and cogent that, although my first view had not been the same as his, he had done a great deal to convince me.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us whether the first Amendment is one in respect of which—as in the case of the previous Amendment—we are hammering at an open door. I find it very difficult to comprehend the purpose of the words which the Amendment seeks to leave out. The Clause says:No Order in Council shall"—and I omit the words in question—be made under the last foregoing subsection so as to continue either of the said Acts beyond the end of the month of August in the year nineteen hundred and sixty-six.That seems a simple and straightforward statement.
The Bill contains a number of other powers, but surely those powers, together with every power given to a Government or anybody else by an Act of Parliament, is subject to Parliament's deciding otherwise. That is what I have always understood the sovereignty of Parliament to mean. A Parliament cannot bind its successor, because that successor would not then be sovereign. Parliament always has the power, by Parliament, to change its decisions.
§ Mr. Hale
It is constitutionally correct that a Parliament cannot bind a subsequent Parliament, but that is the only real constitutional law that has survived from my text books to the present day. But there are some Statutes which, by common consent, are of such constitutional importance that an exceedingly great deal of reverence is paid to them. Today, probably the most important of these is the Declaration of Rights—the 1188 embodiment of the Bill of Rights—which undoubtedly provides that Britain shall never have a standing Army in any circumstances. I would ask my hon. and learned Friend to consider whether the Amendments to the Clause do not really invade the principle of Britain's having no standing Army, and raise considerations that might have been important in the Currah in 1914, or in Algiers in 1961.
§ Mr. Paget
I am interested in what my hon. Friend says, but he illustrates the point which I have made about—to coin a word—the unfinality of Acts of Parliament. One could not well have had an Act which one would have expected to command greater reverence than the Bill of Rights, but does he believe that a single one of the rights in that Measure still survives? Can my hon Friend tell me one that we have not demolished?
§ Mr. Hale
I would have thought that practically the whole Bill of Rights, perhaps the one constitutional Act, has survived. Magna Carta never existed. It made a series of enunciations of constitutional principle, which were never enforced in relation to the common people, to provide a few dubious forms of protection for the nobility. But the Bill of Rights is an institution of 1689. The Convention Parliament was considering the situation which had arisen from the resignation of James II. It settled many things. It settled the rights of Parliament. I am not saying that it was completely new, but the vital principle of the Bill of Rights is that there shall be no taxation without parliamentary grants. That declaration of constitutional principle had never been questioned and had never been invaded until this Government came into office.
§ Mr. Paget
I immediately accept my hon. Friend's proviso. I agree that Magna Carta never existed, and that it was the invention of seventeenth century lawyers. Before my hon. Friend catches the eye of the Chair he may have an opportunity to study the Bill of Rights, and he will then appreciate that, whether it be by this Government or any of its predecessors, there is no right provided by that Measure that has not been abrogated by Parliament. My hon. Friend mentioned the question of Britain's having no standing Army. Five 1189 years ago we legalised that. He also refered to the question of there being no taxation without representation, but as he has pointed out, that has been sidestepped by this Government.
One might feel that if some provision were especially revered and were regarded as of great importance, an indication might be given of the anticipated intention of Parliament. But this Clause is saying just the opposite. This is not saying that Parliament will not interfere; if it says anything at all it is saying that Parliament might interfere. These are words of reservation. It says:No Order in Council shall…be madeunless Parliament otherwise determines.
It seems to provide, for instance, that the standing Army shall not be continued for more than five years—something rather less than the normal sanction—by indicating that it is something that Parliament might decide otherwise about. Is there some idea that Parliament might decide, in this instance, other than by Acts of Parliament? That is the only sense in which the words seem to convey anything at all.
I do not know how Parliament decides except by Acts of Parliament—by the decision of this House in its due process, by the decision of another place, and by the consent of the Sovereign. If that is what is intended by these words, why are they there? Parliament can always decide otherwise. Why draw attention to the fact, in this instance, that Parliament might decide otherwise? We know that it might. If, on the other hand, it contemplates some kind of innovation—some different form of Parliamentary consent—the right hon. Gentleman must tell us. I do not want to go on hammering at this matter, because it seems so clear. If the door is already open, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us? Then I will immediately pass to another point.
§ Mr. Wigg
There is one thing that troubles me. The words used in the Bill are the same as those used in Section 226 (4) of the 1955 Act, but with the difference that whereas, in the Bill, there is a comma before the words "unless Parliament otherwise determines", in the 1955 Act there is no such comma.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget
That is interesting. I do not know whether, from the legislative point of view, there is any essential 1190 significance about it. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will assist me, but I believe that, technically, there is no punctuation in any of the legislation which we pass. I understand that punctuation is put in at the Table for convenience, but that it does not form part of an Act of Parliament. I think that I am right about that, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will assist me.
§ Mr. Profumo
I am in some difficulty here, because we are discussing two Amendments. I do not know what would be for the greatest convenience of the Committee. When the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has finished his speech, and if he wishes me to try to dispose of this part of the Amendment, I will gladly do so. I am in the hands of the Committee. Perhaps hon. Members would prefer to express wider views and then I can speak about other parts of the Amendment, but I will do whatever the Committee wishes.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I think that there may be great advantage in taking these two things separately. What I have heard from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) convinces me more than ever that the connection between the two Amendments is extremely tenuous. All the arguments relating to the first Amendment seem totally irrelevant to the arguments in relation to the second Amendment. For the purposes of orderly debate there might be a great deal to be said if the Minister replied to them in turn.
§ The Chairman (Sir Gordon Touche)
I think that the debate has shown that it would be more convenient to take the two Amendments separately.
§ Mr. Profumo
The difficulty is, Sir Gordon, that the two Amendments have been moved by the hon. and learned Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I thought that he had moved the two Amendments.
§ Mr. Profumo
Perhaps it would be convenient if I spoke to the first Amendment and gave the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) the assurance which he seeks. I am advised that this is normal terminology and intended to draw attention to the fact that the Act will expire at the end of 1966 in the absence of further legislation. As such it is useful, perhaps, to the layman, if not to what one might call "the House of Commas"—having regard to some references which have been made in the debate. The words were used in the 1955 Act and, so far as I can see, we accrue no advantage by removing them. Therefore, the Government and I prefer to stick to the customary usage and wish to reject the Amendment.
§ Mr. Marsh
The remarks of the right hon. Gentleman have confirmed my worst feelings. I can appreciate the need in an Act of Parliament for words which serve a particular purpose. But to suggest that words might appear in a Bill because they have been in a previous Act, and because one cannot think of any real reason for getting rid of them, seems to me a first-rate reason for doing precisely the opposite, and getting rid of them. It is one of our problems that legislation becomes almost unintelligible to the man-in-the-street.
If the words, "unless Parliament other-ment determines" are intended to show that Parliament is not sovereign, and that in some circumstances this could be done despite a decision of Parliament, they serve a particular purpose. But if we are proposing to put in those words knowing full well that whether they appear in the legislation or not this cannot be done unless Parliament otherwise determines, all we are doing is cluttering up the Bill with unnecessary verbiage which serves no particular purpose.
1192 I feel strongly that if it is possible to cut out words from legislation because they serve no useful purpose, they should be cut out. If they serve a useful purpose, perhaps one of Her Majesty's Ministers can tell us what is the purpose. But I consider it an extraordinary argument if one of Her Majesty's Ministers, after a discussion on the subject, says that these words have to remain—although they have no effect on the Bill at all—and that they were there previously, and it is thought that it makes it easier for the man-in-the-street to see what is going on.
I cannot believe that if the man-in-the-street reads this subsection:No Order in Council shall be made under the last foregoing subsection so as to continue either of the said Acts beyond the end of the month of August in the year nineteen hundred and sixty-sixhe will be any better served by having the subsection as it reads at present with the inclusion of the words "unless Parliament otherwise determines."
I should have thought it extremely unfortunate to suggest, as this would appear to suggest, that in some circumstances Parliament is not sovereign and that action can take place on a Bill of this nature without a decision of Parliament. I should have thought that completely the reverse was true and that at every opportunity we should endeavour to make quite clear that things which appear in Acts of Parliament are automatically subject only to the decision of Parliament. To have four words in a Bill which appear to cast doubt on that would, in my opinion, do a disservice to this sort of legislation. It is something which Governments and Government Departments are far too addicted to doing.
The Government's idea to include words in a Measure, not because they serve a purpose but because they are rather grandiose and impressive, or—this is even less important—because they have appeared before, is something that we can well do without. We have been assured by the Minister that this involves no issue of principle at all; that it dies not affect the legislation if we take out the words; that all that would happen would be that the Bill would become shorter; that there would be less to read and things would not be put into 1193 people's minds which we should not wish to be put. If the Minister has a real reason for including these words, if they contribute something important to the Bill, hon. Members on this side of the Committee would not wish to be obstructive, or continue arguing about it. If the best that the right hon. Gentle man can say is that they were there be fore, and that he thinks that they sound rather good—
§ Mr. Profumo indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Profumo
I did not use as one of my arguments that the words were there because I thought that they sounded good. If the hon. Gentleman looks at what I said, he will see that I believe that there is a use for them. This was in the legislation before, and I am not prepared to recommend any change unless I can see that such a change would serve a useful purpose.
§ Mr. Marsh
I hope that I may be forgiven if I appear particularly obtuse on this point. I appreciate that the words were there before, but that is no reason for having them there now. I do not consider that to be a particularly valid argument.
We are interested in whether the words serve any useful purpose. As I understand—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—the useful purpose that he says they serve at present is to make the Bill more intelligible to members of the public. I do not want to misrepresent his views, but I think that that is his argument. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will confirm that or deny it, because I do not want to base an argument upon what I think he said if, in fact, he did not say it.
It is an extraordinary situation, when an hon. Member asks the Minister why he has put certain words into legislation, for the Minister to put forward one argument and say that there is another. The hon. Member obviously asks what is the other reason, or whether he is correctly interpreting what the Minister has said. I have asked for the other reason, yet I am faced with complete silence. The Minister will not reply and I must assume that his only argument is that the inclusion of these words will make the Bill more intelligible for the general public.
§ Mr. Marsh
If the right hon. Gentleman said that some time ago, that makes the matter a lot clearer. I cannot believe that to add the words "unless Parliament otherwise determines" in a Bill that is meant for a literate nation, in which everyone is aware that Parliament is sovereign, makes the Bill more intelligible. The public are bound to think that these words have another meaning. In these circumstances, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the position so that the words may be eliminated, unless they serve a specific purpose.
§ Mr. Willis
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) for raising this matter, because it is time we got rid of unnecessary words in Acts of Parliament. People have too much to read nowadays without having to digest a lot of unnecessary verbiage, and there is no doubt, so far as this subsection is concerned, that the omission of these words will make no difference to the purpose of the Bill. Since that is true, the obvious next question is: why keep the words in the Bill?
As I understand the Minister's reply, his reason for keeping the words is that they draw attention to the fact that the Bill cannot be continued beyond 1966, unless Parliament decides otherwise. In other words, Parliament has the right to decide to continue it. That is what I understood the Minister to say, but I wonder whether the barrackroom lawyer, trying to find his way around the Air Force Act, will understand what the right hon. Gentleman says that he will understand.
Will anyone be greatly impressed by the inclusion of words? I cannot think so, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich pointed out, everyone knows that an Act can be changed by another Act. It is as simple as that; and, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said, there is no finality about legislation. That is crystal clear to everyone. No one expects that a particular piece of legislation will last for ever. Therefore, if we assume that people realise that, it is rather pointless to keep these words in the Clause.
1195 I am in favour of cutting out words that have no particular meaning because, contrary to what the Minister has said, by including words, we create the idea in the mind of the reader of the Bill that the words have a meaning. The reader then begins to search through the Bill to try to discover just what that meaning is and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich pointed out, he reads into it the meaning that Parliament can do something other than by the normal means.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Marsh
I support that argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). I tabled this Amendment simply because I assumed that the words in question had a meaning. It did not occur to me that it was necessary to state in legislation that an Act could be superseded by another Act.
§ Mr. Willis
That conclusion is reached by anyone reading the Bill. One is bound to ask what it means. If it means nothing, the reader of the Bill will have a fruitless task in trying to find out whether it has a meaning. He might puzzle over it for a long time.
As an hon. Member who has spent many hours combing through Bills in order to draw up Amendments, I know that this is what happens in the case of words that have no meaning. Nevertheless, when I come across a phrase which does not appear to have a meaning, I am bound to ask why it is there, and many other questions. The inclusion of meaningless words not only makes the task of reading a Bill more difficult, but makes the reader more puzzled at the end of his search than he was when he started.
I suggest that, in the interests of intelligibility, these words should be deleted. Their removal would make no difference to the Measure, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich pointed out, because the words were included in a previous Act that is no reason for including them in this Bill. Whenever we examine a Bill we should eliminate all extraneous material. We should improve it, because that is our job. The omission of these words would improve this Bill and make it more easily understood.
§ Mr. M. Foot
It is obvious that many hon. Members are extremely puzzled about the whole situation. The Minister was cautious in the way he dealt with the previous Amendment, but he has been courteous to the Committee. He has listened to a long debate, but I must inform him, nevertheless, that we are still puzzled about this and it is not satisfactory for him merely to refer to the previous Act. I have looked at the wording of that Act and, although it may be that this is purely a matter of the incorporation in this Bill of words that were in that Act, it is conceivable that there has been a mistake in the transference of the words. The form of this Clause is phrased differently from that of the previous Act, especially in the use of negatives.
I am not a lawyer, but, taking a commonsense view of the matter, subsection (3) would appear to have the intention of being a protection against an abuse of the Act. It is interesting to consider the reading of the sentence with the words omitted. It would read:No Order in Council shall be made under the last foregoing subsection so as to continue either of the said Acts beyond the end of the month of August in the year nineteen hundred and sixty-one.In that form, the sentence would appear to be a Clause protecting the Act from being abused. Surely, if the Government want to protect the Bill from abuse, they should make that protection as clear as possible, without introducing words which might be read to undermine, to some degree, the protection provided by the subsection.
Therefore, I cannot understand why the words are included. I do not think that even the Minister knows why. He probably thought that he had one good reason why—and he tried to give that reason—but, in fact, he does not fully understand why the words are included.
If there is a proper reason why they should be included, hon. Members are entitled to a full explanation. Perhaps the answer is that during the debate that took place on the 1955 Act, when there were a great number of Amendments to be discussed and many changes to be made, the words slipped through due to the lack of vigilance on the part of hon. Members. Perhaps that is the reason for the inclusion of the words. In any 1197 case, it is good to see the Committee repairing that deficiency, and examining the Bill more carefully than on that occasion.
But, whatever the cause, it appears that we are now leaving in a Clause which is supposed to protect, some words which seem to injure that protection. It is, therefore, necessary that we should be given a full explanation of the matter, because it is obvious that when the Minister replied he was hazy about the matter, just as hon. Members still are. I hope that when he next intervenes he will enlighten the Committee.
§ Mr. Wigg
I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War for the kind way in which he dealt with the previous Amendment, and to say to the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Sir O. Prior-Palmer) that I did not think it remiss that he did not speak. He and I are old friends and opponents, but we share the common end of trying to serve the Army as we think best, and I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman carries no hard feelings.
I think that the Government are in some difficulty over this matter because of its history. When we were discussing the procedures to be adopted we were all conscious that we were up against a difficult situation. We on these benches were mindful of our responsibilities not only to the House, but to our own party. We brought into consultation Earl Attlee, Lord Morrison and others, who have a vast experience of constitutional procedure. We were conscious that we were recommending to the House that this great right of debating the Army Annual Act should be renounced. It needs to be remembered, as will be seen if hon. Members will read the debate which took place in the early part of 1954, that what we had in mind was that the Government should bind themselves by putting down an Amendment to the Standing Orders.
We drew up a timetable by which we would allot one day to the Second Reading. The second recommendation was:Providing that immediately after the Bill has been read a Second time it shall stand committed to a Select Committee, and that when the Bill has been reported from the Select Committee it should stand recommitted to a Committee of the whole House.1198 We then allowed one day for consideration in Committee on two days if the Government decided not to incorporate in the Bill the Amendments proposed by the Select Committee, and we allotted one day for Report and one day for Third Reading. The fifth recommendation was that the Standing Order should contain other provisions, if necessary, to prevent delay in the passage of the Bill, on Lords' Amendments.
We on our side were poachers turned gamekeepers. I make no bones about that. I was trying to stop hon. Members opposite from doing what we had done. During the period of the Labour Government in 1945–51, and particularly in 1951, when we had such a small majority, I could never understand why the then Opposition, which were always on their toes and were keeping us up night after night, did not try to bring the Army Annual Bill up to date. I held the view, which was shared by my hon. Friends, that it was very bad for the Army that this Measure should be seventy years out of date. After two years of hard labour we brought it up to date, and what we wanted to do then was to keep it up to date.
This matter was discussed on a non-party basis. The Select Committee was born of bitter party controversy, and yet, as soon as we got behind closed doors, what divisions there were ran right across party lines. We were striving to find a solution which would protect the rights of the House, keep the Bill up to date and be ever-mindful of the needs of the Army. It is my view that these words to which my hon. Friend takes exception and which appear in the 1955 Act were put in to underline the rights of Parliament. They may be otiose, but they are in a very good cause.
If the Government feel that they must retain these words, I would plead with my hon. Friend to withdraw his Amendment because it is my view that they were put in originally because hon. Members on both sides were trying to reach an amicable and well-founded settlement.
§ Brigadier Sir Otho Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I should like to say a word or two, as I was on the Select Committee which considered this matter. I do not feel very strongly about this point 1199 either way. If I wanted to be really frank, I would say that I do not think it matters two hoots whether these words are left in or are deleted.
I have a feeling that this is one of those cases where the Select Committee passed over a Clause or a paragraph or a line without spotting this point, so that we did not actually discuss it. I would guarantee that if we had a debate every day of the week for four months on this Bill we would still continue to find things which require altering. My view is that if the Minister decides to take out these words it will not make much difference. If he leaves them in, as the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has just said, there must have been a good reason for putting them in. Without putting a wet towel round my head and finding out about it, I personally do not feel very strongly.
§ Mr. Profumo
I am as anxious as any hon. Member to make progress. It seems to me that if we are to do our work properly we must realise that it is the duty of this Committee, embracing the collective wisdom of all hon. Members, to make progress.
I intervened earlier because I thought that it would be for the convenience of the Committee to explain why I thought the words were included. They are included because they were there before. This was customary usage. I was advised that this was normal terminology and was probably intended for the help of the general public.
I have no desire to hold up the proceedings by adhering to these words. I am perfectly willing to give way. In view of what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir O. Prior-Palmer) has said—after all, he was on the Select Committee and I was not—it would seem that the Select Committee considered this point and that the Committee wanted these words. However, if there is any danger of these words being regarded as useless verbiage I would be prepared at once to drop them. However, I do not agree that we ought to search through all the Acts and see what can be cut out.
If it is thought that these words are unnecessary I am prepared to give way and accept this Amendment in the interests of trying to make progress, and I 1200 hope that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will use their own ingenuity with a view to making some progress with the Bill. With that explanation, may I repeat that I am willing to accept the Amendment if the hon. Member wishes to press it.
§ Mr. Paget
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. If this debate has demonstrated nothing else, it has certainly demonstrated that these words do not make for clarity. I do not think any of us suspected, until the right hon. Gentleman said so, that this was an oblique reference to the possibility of another Army Act five years hence. When we drafted the Amendment this possibility did not occur to any of us, so that it can hardly be said that these words make for clarity. Indeed, if one had wanted that, one could have said so by adding the words, "but shall then be continued by Act of Parliament."
I am grateful for the receptivity of the right hon. Gentleman, and I thank him.
§ Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendment made: In page 1, line 20, leave out:
month of August in the".—[Mr. Wigg.]
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Marsh
I beg to move, in page 1, line 21, to leave out "sixty-six" and to insert "sixty-four",
We began to take this Amendment in conjunction with the previous one, but it is probably of assistance to clarity and to our order that we should discuss them separately. I have already made some comments about this Amendment. It is a simple issue. I consider that the period of five years before each renewal is too long.
It may well be necessary to have a long period so that those administering the Act and those serving under it can get used to its provisions and learn to understand them. It is not our intention that we should have a debate on it every so often, but I suggest that three years would be a more reasonable time. The discussion today has made it clear that this is an interesting operation, and that it is worth while giving consideration to matters of this kind from time to time.
I underline my previous point, because it is most important, that if we are to have an Army and Air Force which 1201 attract young men in the right numbers, then at any time the conditions in those Services must be in line with modern thought. Immediately after the war, from about 1947 to 1950, there was a complete change in the attitude of people towards the treatment of soldiers and airmen. The fact that Parliament was able to change this attitude and bring it into line with modern thought did a great deal to ensure more satisfaction in the Services than we would otherwise have had.
One can argue about whether a three-year period is better than a five-year period, but, on balance, I believe that five years is too long. It is the length of a Parliament. Things move faster than that. I hope that the Secretary of State will be as receptive to this Amendment as he was to the first one. One of the recent developments in this House is, as some of his hon. Friends would agree, government by proxy. If we could extend that, to the right degree of effectiveness, to defence and colonial affairs, it would be of benefit to the House and to the nation.
I hope that we can all approach this new Amendment once more without party divisions. The Secretary of State has commendably shown lack of party intention so far—perhaps, as has been remarked, "We are all Socialists now." I think that if he listens to this case on its merits, he will agree that the five-year period is too long to wait before we review the conditions which affect so many people.
§ Mr. Paget
When I was on the Select Committee, and until I began to think about this, my impression was that the five-year period on which we decided five years ago was probably about right. Nonetheless, and in the light of some of the things my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) has said, that now requires a good deal of consideration. What one was saying then was that one must weigh the convenience of Parliament against the convenience of the Army. These two things are in conflict. We said then that, for the convenience of the Army, it must take this Act and like it for five years, and that it would only be at the end of that period that we would reconsider the situation to see whether the Army needed any further legislation.
1202 Is that quite fair on the Army? The five-year period depended on certain predications which have not been realised. We all tended to assume then that there would be a fairly constant Government policy. I do not think that, at that time, any of us—although some of us had views about it—took very seriously the idea that National Service would go.
Five years ago, when we were working on this, I certainly—and this is probably true of the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Sir O. Prior-Palmer)—held the view that National Service, although none of us liked it very much, was here to stay. But within this period of five years the structure of the Army has been changed unexpectedly. It has been changed from a compulsory Army to a volunteer Army.
Again, there have been startling changes in the conception of the Army's role. At that time we were considering an obligation to N.A.T.O. of four divisions in Germany. We were thinking in terms of conventional forces. Then came what has come to be known as the "Sandys' Policy"—the assumption that a trip wire would do.
§ The Chairman (Sir Gordon Touche)
The hon. and learned Member is going rather wide of the Amendment.
§ Mr. Paget
With respect, Sir Gordon, can I do so? All I am saying is that if we are to assume that we do not need to look at the law of the Army for five years, then we are doing it upon the assumption that for the next five years the circumstance will be much the same. I am pointing out that that was the assumption five years ago, but that the changes since then in the Army structure have been of such a startling and unexpected nature that we should be rash to assume that we have reached a state of stability for another five years.
Various Members opposite, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), are pressing hard for the restoration of conscription. That may be done within the next five years. I am simply advancing the argument that when we thought in terms of a five-year "stay-put" with the Army taking it and liking it, and to that extent preferring Parliamentary convenience to the needs of the Army, we were making an assumption that events have not warranted. Nothing proves this better than this Bill.
1203 I am sure that the Secretary of State will say that the Army badly needs this Bill and the changes it makes. He will not say that in 1953 we on the Select Committee did not do our job properly. We did. I am very proud of our achievements. I think that we produced an extraordinarily good Bill, but we could not anticipate everything that was to happen. In spite of everything, we have the very extensive changes involved by the proposals now brought before us by the Government.
If the Government say, "We think that these changes are urgently wanted; they are necessary for the good of the Army and for the discipline of the Army", why were they not necessary last year or the year before?
That is what one is up against. We have provided, and are being asked to provide that, within our democracy, within our small system, the Army shall wait for five years for its latest needs to be supplied. We are telling the Army that it must wait for a period of five years for its legislative needs to be met. This Bill cannot be amended. It cannot be altered by Order in Council. It can only continue in the form we provide.
Without any derogation from what I said before, Parliament remains sovereign, and at any time within those five years an amending Act may be introduced, but one knows the pressures there are on legislative time. One knows the queue for Bills. One anticipates the position of a Secetary of State for War who says, "I want some Amendments" when there are a lot of other people also wanting Parliamentary time. Lots of other Ministers want it for doubtless important and valid things, and the Minister will be told, "You will get your general Amendments and your Select Committee and do it in a couple of years, so you can wait."
That is the attitude which, unless something very vital indeed occurred, would be adopted. We should therefore find that in, perhaps, not the most vital things but none the less in things of real and considerable importance we should be providing that Parliament's convenience should be preferred to the needs of the Army.
Let us look for a moment at this Bill and see for how much we are asking 1204 here. Let us look at the extent of the alterations. Clause 2 deals with terms of enlistment and contains very substantial provisions. Can the Minister tell us whether it would not have been for the convenience of the Army if those provisions had been made two years ago, or one year ago? If it would not have been for the Army's convenience then, why is it now?
These are very radical and substantial changes. We are providing here for various changes—the two-year period, change of conditions of service in the Regular forces, and so on. There are the conditions for the conversion of short term into long term for which, apparently, there was not the power to provide before. What, meanwhile, has been happening to the people who needed to do that?
Clause 5 deals with—
§ The Chairman
Order. I am afraid that the hon. and learned Member cannot go through all the Clauses of the Bill at this stage.
§ Mr. Paget
With great respect, Sir Gordon, does not this make my point more effective than anything else does? My point is that the Army should not be asked to wait for five years—that three years is enough and that, in fact, because we have asked it to wait for five years a backlog has built up. This Bill is that backlog. If we made the period three years, a great many, if not all of its provisions—
§ The Chairman
The hon. and learned Member is entitled to make that point, but he cannot go through the details of all the Clauses in the Bill.
§ Mr. Paget
No, Sir Gordon, that is just what I am asking the Minister to do. I am asking him to consider this very serious point and to tell us which of these Clauses, had it been a three-year period, the Army would have liked to have had two years ago. Some of them are only needed now, and I should have thought that only by going through these Clauses would he be able to tell us which of them he would have liked two year ago—had it been a three-year period. Only then could he tell us how much the Army has had to put up with for two years just because it could 1205 not come back to the House under a period of five years.
Whilst I agree with you, Sir Gordon, that it would be unreasonable for me to go through each Clause, I feel that it is reasonable for me to indicate enough to ask the Minister, whose responsibility it is, to go through these Clauses and to explain whether the five-year period has really been satisfactory and, if not, how much he has had to put up with because he could not have things altered two years ago. That is my point.
§ The Chairman
I do not think that the Minister should, at this stage, go though each Clause and deal with it in detail at all. He can deal with the general position.
§ Mr. Paget
I am afraid that I am not making myself clear. That is not what I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to do. I am only asking him to go through this on the time basis, so that we can fairly assess whether five years, as asked for this time, is too long a period. I ask only to what extent the Army has been inconvenienced by having to wait for that length of time for the Amendments that it is now seeking.
That is all I ask. I do not think that one can really ask that very effectively or get a very real reply unless one does at least ask the Minister to go through the Amendments and answer the questions, "By which of these have you been inconvenienced as a result of having to wait? To what extent have you been inconvenienced by the fact that instead of being able, under the old practice to get your Amendments annually, you have had to wait for five years? How much better off would you have been had you only had to wait for three years?" It is that sort of question which I am putting, and if the Minister is clear and tells us for which he has had to wait and which have not mattered I shall be most happy to leave him to tell us.
§ Sir O. Prior-Palmer
From the point of view of the Army, I very strongly resist this Amendment. If there is one thing that upsets both officers and men, it is being messed about—there is another word for it in the Army. If we had a three-year period, as suggested, exactly the same arguments might be 1206 produced for making it annual as have been adduced by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). One is upsetting people. It is upsetting to have to rewrite and relearn all the new regulations that may be introduced.
At one stage the hon. and learned Gentleman said that there was no way of doing anything about any glaring example of amendment which needed to be done. Then he retraced his steps and said that there could be an amending Bill. Of course, that is so. There was an amending Bill in 1947, the Army (Conditions of Enlistment) Bill. That was a case where conditions had changed and an amending Bill was necessary.
I implore the Minister to resist the Amendment. I believe that the previous Select Committee was very wise in its decision. As the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said, there were some very wise men on that Select Committee, such as Lord Morrison. In their wisdom, they said that five years was about the right time. I am convinced that five years is right.
§ Mr. Mayhew
A frank statement that one has changed one's mind is always a sign of strength rather than weakness of character. When my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) says that his mind has changed somewhat from what it was when these matters were considered by the last Select Committee and by the previous Select Committee, I am sure that none of us will feel anything but respect for him. However, I am bound to say that I think that his earlier thoughts were better than his recent thoughts.
I hate to say this, because so far today every Amendment has been accepted by the Government. It is anomalous and unhelpful if a sense of resistance should come from the Opposition Front Bench to the reasoned speeches and Amendments of my hon. Friends, but I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will not press the Amendment too hard. He says that the present situation is not for the convenience of the Army. I think that we should give a change time to try itself out and that we should wait to see the results which flow from the change. We do not always want to be pulling up by the roots the latest developments which we have brought 1207 about. We want to get the new régime settled in and to give it time to settle down.
I doubt whether my hon. and learned Friend is right in saying that we are overriding the convenience of the Army for our own convenience. I do not think that that is so. I agree that there have been great changes in the last five years. I agree that the whole strategic situation has changed. Nevertheless, I wonder whether it has changed in such a way that the decision which my hon. and learned Friend, the Select Committee and Parliament took five years ago should be altered. I doubt whether that would be wise. I think that, on the whole, it has worked well. I hope that the Minister will treat the question asked by my hon. and learned Friend seriously, namely, which parts of the Bill would he have liked to change two years ago? I should like to hear the Minister's reply to that question.
Take the extraordinary anomaly in Clause 2, to the effect that if a person enlists at the age of 17½ the date of enlistment for pension purposes is his age, 17½. If a person enlists below the minimum age, his age for pension purposes is 18. This is a most extraordinary anomaly. It is difficult to understand how the Act rectifies it.
I was enchanted by the Minister's defence of his attitude on the previous Amendment.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I was asking the Minister which parts of the Bill might have come better two years ago had the present procedure been in force.
On the whole, I am not persuaded by the speech of my hon. and learned Friend. He said how very substantial were the changes in the Bill. We should have a certain sense of proportion about this. Admittedly, they are important changes. I think that the attention that we are giving to each one of them is an indication of the importance that we on this side of the Committee at least give to these items in the Bill. However, I think that we need to exercise a certain amount of proportion about what my hon. and learned Friend said, namely, 1208 that the changes in the Bill are very substantial and that the backlog had become very substantial.
I do not think that the five-year period has been a failure. I should like to hear the Minister's reply to the Amendment, but in general I feel less sympathetic towards it than I do towards many others that we have tabled. The Minister has been very helpful so far, and I add my congratulations to him to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh). His speeches have been brisk and to the point. He has said what we all hoped he would say, namely, that he accepted the Amendment. Only one of his interventions was a little less fortunate, and that was in reply to the second Amendment.
I hope that the Minister will let us know his answer to my hon. Friend's question and that we shall make up our minds accordingly. The existing arrangements are my hon. and learned Friend's arrangements. They are things which he supported and worked for. I think that we would be wise to let them rest as they are.
§ Mr. Profumo
I am impressed by what the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) has said. The effect of the Amendment would be to reduce the life of the Army Act from five to three years. In spite of the arguments advanced by hon. Members opposite, I do not consider that there is adequate reason for accepting the Amendment. The Select Committee of 1952–54 recommended five years, mainly, I think, because it represented the lifetime of a Parliament. In spite of what the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said, the Bill does not make any very substantial changes. It makes only minor improvements to the existing Acts. This shows that they can run their full length of five years satisfactorily.
I will not delay the Committee by going through the rest of the Bill. I have done what I have been asked to do by hon. Members opposite. The most substantial change that I have found is that concerning fines. It is a fairly good example. I have been asked whether I should have liked to do anything of this kind two years ago. I could not have cared less two years ago, because I was at the Foreign Office. I think that my predecessor was perfectly happy that 1209 the period should run its full length. As thought matured in the Army, it was decided that it was time to introduce some sort of selection of fines. However, I can find nothing in the Bill which any Minister in my position would have been panting to get before the Bill came before Parliament at its normal five-year period.
This matter has been given a great deal of thought by the Select Committee and by hon. Members. We would be wrong to cast this proposal aside. Both Houses of Parliament can debate the Army Act each year by virtue of the procedure whereby Orders in Council extend the Act for one more year at a time when those Orders in Council require an affirmative Resolution.
The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) has had a chance to make two speeches on this matter, because he moved the Amendment in conjunction with another one. On both occasions he made the point that it would be wise for us to have another opportunity of speaking about the Army. No one on this side of the Committee would wish to resist that, but we have the opportunity and it would be wrong for us to have this procedure in order to duplicate an opportunity which we already have. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir O. Prior-Palmer) said, if an Amendment to the Army Act is thought essential by the Secretary of State for War and the Government, it can be done by a separate Measure.
The hon. and learned Gentleman said that there is always a great struggle for parliamentary time and that probably the Secretary of State for War would not manage to lord it over his Cabinet colleagues. This has proved to be wrong. The Army (Conditions of Enlistment) Act, 1957, was passed, and rightly so.
Perhaps the main reason for resisting the Amendment is that we must not mess the Army about. While I occupy the position of Secretary of State for War, I shall continue to do everything I can to see that the Army is not messed about too much. The soldiers must be allowed some form of insulation against too much parliamentary pressure for changing the orders and regulations under which they live. It is my job to try to defend the 1210 Army and see that it gets a chance of continuity.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, East knows a great deal about the B.B.C. He will recall that at one time, the B.B.C., I think rightly, met with trouble because it was not allowed to plan ahead and did not have enough continuity. In the end, we managed to try to help the Corporation. The same thing applies to the Army. It must feel that it has continuity and can plan ahead and that the laws and regulations made by Parliament are such that the Army can settle down to administer, understand and live under them. That is, perhaps, the most important point.
I hope that the Committee will regard seriously the importance of these Amendments to the Acts and regulations which Parliament has made, which must have a chance to settle down and work properly. I should not be likely to be here today suggesting an amendment to the punishment by fine unless we had had experience of five years in which all Army commanders and experts felt that it had been given a good trial and that something was missing. I would hesitate to think that we do not want to change it for another five years when we already have the opportunity, if we so wish, in serious circumstances to amend the Act as I have suggested. Therefore, I do not feel able to accept the Amendment and I hope that the Committee will endorse my argument.
§ Mr. Paget
I do not feel very convinced by what the Secretary of State has said. Least of all do I feel convinced by what he has said about "mucking the Army about". That is an odd point of view. Traditionally, until five years ago the Army Bill came before Parliament every year. I do not think that the Army was unduly mucked about by that procedure. It was the annual opportunity of making the Amendments which were wanted. The picture that either we today in the Bill or Parliament during the years in which the Annual Bill went on were imposing on the Army things which it did not want is great nonsense. The Amendments that were produced by the Government were the Amendments that the Army wanted.
This five-yearly opportunity is not an opportunity to muck the Army about. 1211 It is the Army's opportunity to come to Parliament to ask for what it wants. Five years is probably too long an interval during which the Army cannot come to Parliament to ask for what it wants, except in exceptional circumstances such as a complete change-over such as the enlistment system in 1957, when the War Office could get sufficient priority to have a special Bill. That, however, was rare.
The case for the Army to be given this additional access to Parliament is still a strong argument. If it is being rejected because the Government think that this is an opportunity to muck the Army about, they should think again, because they are rejecting the Amendment under a complete delusion and for a reason which is completely at variance with the facts.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I fail to see why the Secretary of State for War is so adamant about the five-year period. What is the magic of five years? Is the right hon. Gentleman thinking in terms of a five-year plan as a result of his study of the economic system of the Soviet Union? Why should he be rigid about the period of five years? One would think that the Army could not function unless there were a five-year plan by which, apparently, the Army is to be isolated from Parliament and there is to be the minimum interference by the House of Commons. Surely, the right hon. Gentleman is not advancing the theory in these days that Parliament should be subservient to the Army. I hope that he has not been reading too many of the pronunciamentos of the generals in Algeria who thought they were the Government of France.
Another possible reason why the figure five has assumed such extraordinary significance is because of the five fingers, just as the figure ten became important because there were ten fingers. Why the right hon. Gentleman brings forward the magic figure of five as against a figure of three, I cannot understand. Parliament is elected for five years, and that is one reason, but that should not apply to the organisation of the Army, especially, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has pointed out, in view of the fluid situation that will be caused by the interregnum between conscription and whatever Army system is likely to come when 1212 the recruiting system ceases to function. Therefore, with the recruiting figures going as they are, it is essential that we should have far more control and far more contact with the military organisation that we are likely to have if the period continues to be five years.
The Secretary of State should not be so obstinate and stubborn in his attitude. When we are thinking in terms of selective drafts and bringing into the Army a curious number of people who are neither the old-fashioned conscripts nor the old-fashioned type of Regular, there is an unanswerable argument that the period when Parliament should reconsider the matter should be three and not five years.
Another factor that comes to mind is that the whole position of the Armed Forces has to be perpetually reviewed by public opinion and by Parliament in the light of the tremendous development in modern methods of warfare. Many of the Sections in the Army Act were based on the idea of Army discipline going back for centuries. For example, many of them have been determined by the conditions prevailing in the 1914–18 war. I know that many of the regulations about military discipline, organisation and punishments such as those relating to detention barracks are based, not on modern ideas of disciplinary punishments, but upon disciplinary ideas which prevailed 50, 100 or even 200 years ago.
Parliament must from time to time carefully reconsider the whole structure of the Army. There was too much sign of impatience by the Minister. He said that we must not mess the Army about. Surely, the Army should be the instrument of the House of Commons and of public opinion expressing itself through the House of Commons. The idea that we must not "muck about" the War Office and "mess up" the traditional system which has become associated with the word "brass-hat" is quite contrary to modern ideas of the development of modern war. I am quite sure that if we had here military thinkers, like Captain Liddell Hart, who are thinking in terms of modern armies and modern tactical and strategic ideas, they would agree that the three-year period is far more likely to be reasonable in the light of modern conditions.
Therefore, I hope that the Amendment will be carried by the Committee.
§ Mr. Wigg
I must raise my voice in favour of retaining five years. When we were discussing this in 1953 there was considerable pressure from hon. Members on both sides to lengthen the period. It was thought that we should have seven years rather than five. I said then:I plead guilty to the five years. I said for five years because I thought that we were thinking in terms of the life of a Parliament. But I am not wedded to it. Other people have much greater experience than myself, and they might think five years too short a time. The reason I thought of it was that we are going to keep the Army Act up to date. It is very important that it should be kept up to date. Therefore, if it is considered that five years is too short a time, I do not press my views.The whole arguments at that time were directed to a longer period.
A valued and distinguished former colleague, Mr. Bing, drew attention to an interesting parallel. He said:An interesting parallel with the American Army Act is that the United States always pass one in the life of Congress, so that they follow the English tradition, so to speak.I would have thought that what we needed to look at is whether the experience of the last five years has invalidated the conclusion which the Select Committee then accepted. A quite remarkable thing about the Act, when we examine it with care, is how well it has worked. There are only a handful of Amendments which it is necessary to raise.
I would say that there are only four of them which raise questions of policy. Experience of the army has shown, I think—and I do not say this because I advocated a five-year period—that a five-year period is just about right. I think that the validity of associating it with the life of Parliament is that once in the normal length of Parliament the Army Act will be looked at by the body of Members as a whole.
If the Secretary of State becomes impatient I hope that he is mindful of the prime duty of any Secretary of State for War—that, whilst he is responsible to the House of Commons for the Army, he is responsible to the Army for the House of Commons. That is a view which I have always held and is another argument which I ask my hon. Friends who are concerned about this matter to bear in mind.
We are not only passing a piece of legislation. We are laying down a code 1214 of discipline, and a code of discipline is a way of life and it must have an opportunity to take root. We have had a valuable discussion and I think that hon. Members on this side of the Committee would be wise to accept the experience of the last five years and at least for the next period keep it at five years.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Sidney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 3, after "1955", to insert:and the words 'death or any other' in sections twenty-four and twenty-five and the words 'or murder' in section seventy of the Army Act, 1955 and the corresponding words in the Air Force Act, 1955".This Amendment sounds very abstruse and complicated, but its intended effect is to align the penalties for the respective offences under these Acts with those in the civilian penal code. I would hope that, whatever they may think about the validity of other Amendments which have been or may yet be moved, the Government might look sympathetically upon this one, because there is not any good reason why a young soldier should suffer greater penalties for offences in the Army than he would have to were he subject only to civilian law. Perhaps I had better explain in what way the Amendment I have moved is intended to bring about that effect.
§ Mr. Paget
That was not the impression that I got of the effect of this Amendment. The effect of the Amendment seemed to me to be the traditional one which I think has been moved in debates on every Army Act since 1919—that is the straight abolition of the death penalty. It is to that that I put my name. There are two subsequent new Clauses which I think will be considered later, and should this Amendment fall those new Clauses would have the effect of bringing the Army law into line with the Homicide Act. I understand that this Amendment has nothing to do with the Homicide Act.
§ Mr. Silverman
I think that I had better proceed as I was intending to proceed before my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) so helpfully intervened. I had better look at what actually we 1215 would be doing if this Amendment were accepted, or, in default of its being accepted, if it were carried by the Committee on a Division, as I would hope it would be.
Clause 1 (5) provides thatSubsections (2) to (5) of section two hundred and twenty-six of the Army Act, 1955, and the corresponding provisions of the Air Force Act, 1955, shall cease to have effect at the end of the year nineteen hundred and sixty-one.Hon. Members might now look at Section 226 of the Army Act, 1955. I am sorry to keep the Committee waiting while I look it up, but if I do not quote the right words my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton will intervene again. I am afraid that I cannot find Section 226 (2) and (5). Perhaps I have a copy of the wrong Act.
§ Mr. Paget
Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to assist him. Clause 1 (5) repeals certain parts of the Army Act including part of Section 226 with which we are not now concerned. The Amendment adds to that which is repealed words from Sections 24, 25 and 70 of the Army Act, those being the Sections which award the death penalty. The effect of the Amendment, therefore, is to add to the words repealed the provisions of the Army Act that deal with the death penalty.
§ Mr. Silverman
Then we must look at Sections 24 and 25 of the Army Act, 1955. These are the Sections which provide certain penalties for certain offences and Section 24 (1) reads at its conclusion:shall, on conviction by court-martial, be liable to suffer death or any other punishment provided by this Act".The first effect of the Amendment would be to take out the words "death or any other punishment" so as to make the effect of Clause 1 (5) include not merely Sections 226 (2) and (5) of the Army Act but also those words in Section 24, "death or any other". The effect would be to abolish the death penalty in respect of offences listed in Section 24.
Section 25 (1) reads:…shall…be liable to suffer death or any other punishment provided by this Act.The Amendment which I am now moving proposes to insert in regard to "death or any other" exactly what is proposed with the same words in the previous Section.
The next effect is in Section 70 of the Army Act, 1955, and there the words "or 1216 murder" shall be taken out of Section 70 (3), which reads:A person convicted by court-martial of an offence against this section shall—The words "or murder" would come out if the Amendment were accepted.
- (a) if the corresponding civil offence is treason or murder be liable to suffer death…"
The first effect would be to do what in all the years in which I have been a Member of the House of Commons has been the annual effort of the House to do, namely to take out of the Army Act the death penalty and to abolish it except where in civilian law that penalty would apply. The House of Commons has had many debates about this, and I should have thought that with the change in public opinion, the change in the general law and the change in the attitude of people towards the death penalty together with the circumstances in which offences are committed, the Committee would be willing at long last to abolish the death penalty in relation to these offences.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)
Is the hon. Member suggesting that the death penalty for murder can be imposed by court-martial in cases where it cannot be imposed by the civil courts?
§ Mr. Silverman
I am suggesting the exact opposite. If we are to look at the efforts being made on this occasion we must look at all the Amendments that will be proposed, including two new Clauses. There effect would be to assimilate, as far as murder is concerned—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. I am sure that the hon. Member will confine himself to this Amendment, because we shall not discuss the other Amendments with this one unless, of course, there is an understanding in the Committee that hon. Members would prefer it that way.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am much obliged, Mr. Thomas. I was trying to answer the Attorney-General's question whether it was our desire that a court-martial should inflict the death penalty in circumstances where the civil court would not inflict it. I am saying that that is not our intention and I am trying to draw the Attorney-General's attention to 1217 subsequent Amendments to show that that is not the case.
§ Mr. Paget
The effect of the Amendment, as I understand it, with respect to the Attorney-General's question, is that in the case of murder, a court-martial would not have the power to impose a death penalty; that is to say, that where there was a charge of murder the trial would be by civilian jury, because one feels that in that case, perhaps above all others, it is desirable to have a jury and, of course, within our law murder is the leading crime in respect of which there is extra-territorial jurisdiction. In other words, wherever a murder is committed, the man can always be brought in for trial and he can be tried in this country for a murder committed anywhere in the world.
There is another point which arose in a case some time ago and which has a certain relevance to the Amendment. It arose out of the trouble that today our troops are often stationed in that major part of the civilised world in which the death penalty has been abolished.
Let us realise that this island is part of a small area in the world in which the death penalty for murder is still law. Hon. Members will recall the case of the two sergeants. One murdered the other and subsequently married the widow. The Army was faced with the difficulty of trying that case by court martial in West Germany, where there was no capital punishment. In spite of the German equivalent of the Visiting Forces Act, it was regarded as politically, and, indeed, in all decency, impossible to execute the sentence of death in those circumstances.
Therefore—and I am dealing here purely with Section 70—it is probably now desirable, for a variety of reasons, that capital murder at any rate should be tried by jury only, and that nobody should be executed for murder save as a result of the verdict of a jury of his peers in this country.
Again, there are climatic conditions, circumstances of service, and feelings such as arose in the Kenya emergency, in which, perhaps, many different ideas of the sanctity of life and of justice itself impinge from outside. If we have to do this thing at all, it is probably better that it should be confined to a 1218 jury, and nothing but a jury, to pass this dreaded sentence of capital punishment. So much for Section 70 of the Act.
I am not attempting to touch the crime of treason. We never have. None of the Amendments which we have ever moved has done that. But is it necessary, certainly in peace time, that soldiers should be subject to the threat of execution for crimes which are not subject to the death penalty if committed by anybody but a soldier? What are those crimes? Section 24 (1) says:Any person subject to military law who with intent to assist the enemy…We have had very great difficulty in defining what an "enemy" is. If our troops are serving with the United Nations in the Congo, for instance, who is the enemy? We do not know. Who was the enemy in the Suez expedition? Was there an enemy? In the sort of circumstances that we face in the world today, this sort of crime becomes very difficult to define. The subsection states:Any person subject to military law who with intent to assist the enemy—Just what does that mean? If it be treason, well and good. But if this be short of treason, how does it arise, and why? What has the Army in mind?
- (a) abandons or delivers up any place or post which it is his duty to defend, or induces any person to abandon or deliver up any place or post which it is that person's duty to defend…"
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I do not quite understand my hon. and learned Friend's remarks about treason as being worse than murder. Surely, in a considerable number of injustices in British history, people have been executed for treason? For example, there was the crime of Sir Roger Casement, and there was the doubtful case of William Joyce. I will not go as far back as Sir William Wallace, but I suggest that my hon. and learned Friend is prejudiced against the crime of treason.
§ Mr. Paget
No, I am not in the least prejudiced against the crime of treason. I am seeking to stay within relevance. By civil law, the crime of treason is capital. Although I should like to see capital punishment totally abolished in all circumstances—I have never had any doubt about that—I am not arguing for anything as wide as that. I am only 1219 asking why it is necessary to have a capital punishment which is applicable to soldiers but not to civilians in cases which are less than treason.
If this Amendment were accepted, the soldier would be in the same position as the civilian. All the Amendment seeks to do is to put the soldier who has not committed treason in the same position regarding the death penalty as any other citizen of this country. I will return to this, because I feel, particularly when we are dealing with courts martial, that if we are to hang somebody it is important that we should define his crime. If ever any definition be required, it is where we choose deliberately and without necessity to take human life. We should at least define the crime.
I will, therefore, go through these provisions and ask the Secretary of State what he understands the law to be. I believe that these provisions are largely survivals of a different age, using words which conceive quite different circumstances from those of today.
When we talk of a person who…abandons or delivers any place or post…we are considering the case of Admiral Byng. His was the case which people had in mind when this kind of thing was drawn up. They were thinking of a commander who did less than his best. The provision subsequently became qualified by the words…with intent to assist the enemy…which arose when capital punishment for cowardice was removed. Therefore, we have a crime left over which was really designed for the commander who did less than his best to maintain his position. With the elimination of cowardice I believe that, short of treason, Section 24 (1, a) is pretty well meaningless. If not, I should be grateful if the Secretary of State could describe to me the sort of circumstances, short of treason, which he feels fall within it.
Then paragraph (b):does any Act calculated to imperil the success of operations of Her Majesty's Forces, of any Forces co-operating therewith or any part of any of those forces.What does that mean beyond giving aid and comfort to the Queen's enemies? If the man intentionally gives aid and comfort to the Queen's enemies, that is 1220 treason. I ask the Minister to tell us what this covers? Short of treason, why does he want it?
The next paragraph says:having been made a prisoner of war, serves with or aids the enemy in the prosecution of hostilities or of measures calculated to influence morale, or in any other manner whatsoever not authorised by international usage.I find that the most unhappy of these provisions. I think that probably the same argument would apply as I have applied to the others, that the prisoner who serves in the enemy forces is guilty of treason. Indeed, if William Joyce were guilty of treason, it seems impossible for anybody to say that a prisoner who joins the enemy's forces and serves with them is not guilty of treason.
Nevertheless, I feel that these words and this Section are particularly objectionable because people may not wish to use the word "treason". I believe that we know enough about the human mind and about the techniques for getting control of a human mind to feel that to shoot a prisoner because he is brainwashed to the point at which he serves the enemy is neither humane nor civilised. One of the most terrifying things of our generation is the capacity to take away a brave man's mind and make him a different person by the scientific breaking of his personality and the creating of a new one. That is not inhibited by threats of hanging, or shooting or anything else. This is as great an injury as can be done to a man, and from Korea we know the scale on which it was done.
We know from our own experience with Mau Mau. I do not say that our rehabilitation campaign was not justified. I think that it was totally necessary. It was a wonderful achievement to bring these men back into society, and make them new people. We made new people of those who had completely turned. It shows the terrifying capacity to change a person's personality and make him subservient to one's will when one has him in one's power. Do we really want to retain the death penalty here? Can we even contemplate using it for the man who has been brainwashed?
In the case which is grave or shocking enough, treason is available, but if one is going to do it at all, do the big 1221 thing and make it treason. If, for instance, we had been in the position of the Russians and had had a General Vlassov, surely we should have been justified in dealing with him as a traitor, but we should not have been justified in dealing with the lesser ignorant Russian soldiers who were won round by the Germans, little knowing what they could do.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
In the case of Marshal Tukachevsky, executed for treason and later rehabilitated, surely the hon. and learned Gentleman would not justify in retrospect the execution of Marshal Tukachevsky as the Russians are not doing that now?
§ Mr. Paget
With respect to my hon. Friend, I do not see the relevance of that to what I am saying. My only point is that we do not need a provision of this kind to deal with persons who under that kind of pressure may be brainwashed into serving the enemy. We do not need it for that.
If we have a real traitor like General Vlassov, who, after defending Moscow, and being captured there in the last war, served Hitler and commanded a brigade of renegade Russians against his own country, the civil law provides all the instruments we need. Surely we do not need this for the lesser fry. It is inhuman and, in the light of what we know, indecent to have it.
This story possibly illustrates war as it affects a vast number of people. Two prisoners serving with Rommel's Panzers in North Africa were captured. There was great difficulty because there was no means of communicating with them until in a prisoner-of-war camp somebody recognised the language they spoke as resembling the language spoken on the North-West Frontier of India. Eventually a professor in Tibetan arrived from the British Museum, and the prisoners were found to be Tibetans. They had come to the plains because of drought in the hills. They had been caught by the Russians and conscripted into the Russian Army. They had then been captured and conscripted into the German Army. When they were captured by the British Army they were incapable of communicating with anybody but each other. They were delighted eventually to find somebody with whom they could communicate and they said 1222 that there was one question which they would like to ask. They said: "In our great travels there has been much shooting. What is it all about?"
People get caught up in the cogs of this sort of machine and to take this special grim power, an exception in our law and an exception in a greater part of the civilised world, and apply it to prisoners-of-war seems wrong.
Paragraph (d) says:furnishes the enemy with arms or ammunition or with supplies of any description.Again, is not that giving aid and comfort to the enemy? If that is not treason, what do the words cover? If we do not know what the words cover other than treason, let us stick to the well-defined crime which we know, and let us realise that this is for the gravest of all crimes and nothing else.
The next paragraph says:harbours or protects an enemy not being a prisoner-of-war.Again, if this be criminal, it is treason. It is giving aid and comfort to the Queen's enemies—the simplest of the offences of treason—but to say that we are to execute somebody because in certain circumstances he might have displayed a mercy which he ought not to have displayed, is not a reality, and I do not think that anyone would do it for a moment. Why have it here? What do we want here if it is not treason, when we have already got treason?
Then we come to the question of communicating:Any person subject to military law who with intent to assist the enemy communicates with or gives intelligence to the enemy shall, on conviction by court-martial, be liable to suffer death"—and so on. Again, the same question. If that is not treason, what is it? I feel that the Minister must face this, if he asks for this dread penalty. Will he tell us what are the circumstances for which he requires a special law, and in which circumstances the punishment for treason will not serve him?
We come to the next one:Any person subject to military law who without authority communicates with or gives intelligence to the enemy shall, on conviction by court-martial, be liable"—to a lesser penalty. The essence of the thing is the intention to assist the enemy. How is that conceived as being 1223 other than treason? I myself feel very strongly that, having a well-defined offence, known by our law, which covers the circumstances here, which covers not only the soldier but every other man and woman in this country, that is now available, to have a death penalty applicable to soldiers' crimes, and apparently applicable in circumstances like these which I have asked the Minister to define, seems to me to be quite wrong.
§ Mr. Profumo
No one can listen to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), when he speaks on this subject, without being deeply moved and deeply impressed, and I hope that he and the hon. Member who moved the Amendment, and, indeed, the whole Committee, will accept what I should like to say to the Committee against the background of the deepness of my own convictions and the sincerity of the arguments which I shall put forward, for it is not easy to argue against the very cogent speech such as the hon. and learned Gentleman made.
It is the intention of this Amendment, if I read it rightly, that we should abolish the death penalty for all offences of aiding the enemy and communicating with the enemy, both with intent to assist the enemy, and also for murder. This would leave the death penalty in the Services Acts available for treason, which the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned and which is dealt with by Section 70; for more serious forms of mutiny Section 31 (1); for failure to suppress mutiny with intention to assist the enemy, Section 32. All these would be left. I cannot see the logical distinction between what the Amendment removes and what would be left in.
Of the three offences which are covered by the Amendment, the first two—aiding and communicating with the enemy—are akin to treason, for which the only penalty under civil and military law is death. In Sections 24 and 25 of the Services Acts, which deal with the two offences—and, incidentally, these two offences can only be committed in war time, and, when looking at these Acts, we have to consider not only their administration in peace time, but in war time as well—the death penalty is the maximum punishment. This enables a military court to award a punishment 1224 less than death in circumstances such as the hon. and learned Gentleman quite rightly outlined to the Committee.
So far as murder is concerned, the changes introduced by the Homicide Act, 1957, were applied in the same way both to civil courts and courts-martial, with the exception that a person tried by court-martial for a second murder is not, for that reason, liable to the death penalty. Murder committed in the United Kingdom must be tried by a civil court, and the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested to us that perhaps we should try to bring soldiers back from abroad to try them in a civil court.
I repeat, first, that we have to have our military and Service laws applicable to war time. Supposing that somebody commits a murder in, say, Burma, for the sake of using a far-off country, would we be able to bring that soldier back to this country, with all the paraphernalia and all the difficulties of war time? I suggest that it would be very difficult to bring soldiers serving abroad back to this country and try them fairly under our civil system, because we could not compel any foreign witnesses to come here if they did not want to. I do not believe that the hon. Member's suggestion is practicable.
§ Mr. Profumo
The hon. and learned Member is not following my argument. He asked, in his speech, why we needed this provision, and why we did not try these people under the civil system. We cannot set up a system of civil courts in war time, in a foreign country, and it would be difficult to bring offenders back here and try them, because we would not always be able to bring the witnesses back. If the death penalty for capital murder were removed from the Service Acts a soldier might receive a different sentence according to whether the offence was committed in the United Kingdom or overseas. The Select Committee which prepared the current Act reduced the number of offences for which the death penalty could be awarded when the primary reason was cowardice, but 1225 retained it when there was an element of treachery.
We must retain these provisions, so that the Measure can be operated in peace time and war time. It would not be enough merely to stick to the word "treachery". The hon. and learned Member is an eminent lawyer. I do not pretend to be, although my father was, but I know that to bring a charge of treachery is, technically, extremely difficult. It may be that the crime committed is akin to treachery, though technically less than treachery, and I believe that for the protection of our country we must retain these provisions. I therefore ask the Committee to reject the Amendment.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I missed from the right hon. Gentleman's argument any passage which indicated his appreciation of the real offence of retaining the death penalty in the cases covered by Sections 24 and 25. Quite apart from the general objections to inflicting the death penalty at all, the offence of these two Sections is that they permit the infliction of the capital penalty not solely for the offence which the culprit has committed, but apparently for the status in which he committed it.
Any one of the offences enumerated in these two Sections may or may not be as heinous as the right hon. Member suggested. Some would be, and some would not. But the quality of the offence is not so affected by the question whether or not the culprit is subject to military law as to justify a difference between treating it capitally and treating it non-capitally. The right hon. Gentleman did not address his argument to that point. Even where the offence is committed abroad it may be committed by a person not subject to military law and if that were the case by these very Sections the capital penalty would not be exacted.
By what possible justification, nowadays, can we apply a distinction of that kind—death or not death—not according to the quality of the offence committed; not according to the damage it did; not according to the necessity for deterring the commission of the offence by others, but solely according to whether or not the person committing the offence is subject to military law? 1226 I should be obliged if the right hon. Gentleman would deal with that point. Why should we continue this discrimination, which is generally offensive to all those who are interested in the penal code, even in a military sense?
§ Mr. Cronin
This is not an official Opposition Amendment, and we do not take an official view about it. It is a matter on which there has been a great searching of hearts and consciences, and we are content to allow hon. Members to vote entirely as they think fit. But I was greatly moved by the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) put forward the case for the Amendment, and also by the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), and as an individual £ shall certainly support them.
To me, the death penalty is intolerable under all circumstances, and I believe that that view is to be held even more strongly under conditions of active service, when emotions tend to be inflamed, and reason takes a rather inferior position in settling the issue. During active service conditions there is also a tendency for officers to feel obliged to adopt a tough attitude. For that reason, the death penalty may be awarded in circumstances in which it would not be awarded normally.
I cannot accept the right hon. Gentleman's argument that we must have the death penalty simply because, otherwise, technical difficulties would be involved in bringing back an offender from abroad, or obtaining witnesses from abroad. That cannot be a reason for taking anybody's life. I content myself with saying that if my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne intends to press the Amendment to a Division I shall support him.
§ The Attorney-General
I wish to say a word in answer to the points raised by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin). I wish, also, to reply to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I submit that one must start by realising that there has to be a disciplinary code for those in the Armed Services and it carries penalties for those guilty of offences against the code. Secondly, one must bear in 1227 mind that the Select Committee appointed to review the old Army Act, on which the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) played such an active part, considered all the courses to which reference has been made and was in favour of their retention. I think that there is a strong case for the retention of the Sections in their present form.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton went through the provisions of Sections 24 and 25 in some detail. He emphasised the case of the soldier who might be taken prisoner and be subjected to brain washing. That is not a criterion which we should apply to this Section. If that were the case, the Section enables a lesser punishment than death to be imposed in the event of a conviction. Here, the question at issue is whether it is right and necessary in war time—offences under Sections 24 and 25 may be committed only in war time—to retain the capital sentence. That is a matter of policy. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that these offences when charged under Section 70 link civil offences with treason. I think that there is a great advantage in keeping these specific offences, which are dealt with in the Army Act, 1955, Part II, under the heading ofTreachery, cowardice and offences arising out of military service.I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that sometimes the facts might warrant a charge under the ancient Treason Act and sometimes the same facts might warrant a charge under this Section. But I do not think that there is any argument for making the penalty for treason when charged as a civil offence, a different penalty from treasonable conduct charged under Section 24.
I know the views of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton about the capital sentence for murder, and he knows mine. But it is a fact that by the Homicide Act, 1957, a capital sentence can be imposed for murder only in special circumstances where it could be imposed by the civil courts. If the hon. and learned Gentleman will look at Section 8 (1) of that Act he will see that it is therein provided.
The hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that it would be an improvement if any case of capital murder were 1228 tried in this country and a soldier accused of this offence brought back and tried in this country before a jury. I submit that that might be entirely impracticable in wartime. Consideration might be given administratively to that problem in peacetime but, as was said by my right hon. Friend, we are considering a code which has to apply in wartime as well as in peacetime and that suggestion would not work extremely well.
We have had a useful discussion. My right hon. Friend and I have listened carefully to everything that has been said but, for the reasons advanced by my right hon. Friend, we are not able to accept this Amendment.
§ Mr. Paget
The Attorney-General raised two distinct points. The first was that of the crime of murder committed by troops abroad in time of war. If it were impracticable in circumstances of war—and I do not think, taking for example the Burma campaign, there were any circumstances in the last war in which it was not possible—to send people back to this country for trial, the only tragedy which we face is that these men could not be hanged. It is not that they could not be punished.
Secondly, it is important, when dealing with this subject, to remember the protection of trial by jury and to try to preserve that protection. There may be cases of a recalcitrant witness not being able to attend a trial by jury, but in such cases the soldiers would be fortunate enough to be sentenced to life imprisonment, instead of being hanged. I cannot find it to be any great tragedy that in a few odd cases that might occur.
In the generality of cases, if the crime were severe enough, the man would be brought back. That is the reality of the situation, apart from the fact that in Colonial Territories, where the soldier can be tried under the colonial law, I do not think that our troops are in any territory where the death penalty applies. It does not apply in Germany or Singapore and I do not think it applies in Malaya.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Surely it was not so much a political reason. There is an agreement in which the Federal Government laid it down, as a condition for permitting the operation of military law in Germany, that no sentence should be inflicted in excess of the sentence that the German civil courts could have inflicted—and, in any case, in Federal Germany there is no death penalty and these men could not have been executed.
§ The Attorney-General
I think that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is right as to there being an agreement that an execution should not be carried out on Western German territory, but I believe that power has been taken to secure the removal of someone to this country in those circumstances.
§ Mr. Paget
In any case, we are in the position where, generally speaking, our troops stationed abroad are not subject to the death penalty for murder. Is it, therefore, asking very much to suggest that, in the minority of cases, a man should not be denied a trial by jury when his life is at stake just because he is a soldier? That is all we ask here.
The other Section is deliberately confined to these listed cases. I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has failed entirely to answer my case. I asked him to define any case here that fell within these limits and that was not treason. If treason be available, to ask for a special military crime the Government must be in a position to state the circumstances in which they want it, but both the Minister and the Attorney-General have totally failed to give a single instance.
What they have said is something quite different. They have said, "We want to have charges that carry the death penalty, but charges in respect of which the court has a discretion to give some lesser penalty." There is no difficulty about that. If we charge a man with treason, we can have a second count 1230 for an offence less than treason, and if he be acquitted of treason he may be sentenced for the lesser offence, but let us understand that it is the lesser offence—
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman suggesting that, in order to award the lesser penalty, a court should willingly find someone not guilty of treason who, in its opinion, is guilty of treason?
§ Mr. Paget
I am, on the contrary, saying exactly the opposite. In fact, in the sort of cases described here no one would dream of bringing a charge of treason, and the Government know it perfectly well. That is the point. If the death penalty did not apply in these sort of cases no one would dream of bringing a charge of treason.
Whether or not the death penalty was abolished, in any sort of offence that is serious enough to carry the death penalty a charge of treason would be brought in any case, because it is confined to that very serious kind of offence; the man who, as a prisoner of war, not merely serves with the enemy, but the man who recruits for the enemy, who becomes the leader of the enemy's forces, who goes round the prison camps recruiting for the enemy—that is the sort of offence for which one would consider the death penalty here. When that sort of thing happens the charge is treason, whether under military law or not.
I therefore submit that these cases are quite unnecessary and unreal; that we are in a position to put the soldier in the same position as the civilian and to say—and this should be our principle—that no one should be subjected to the death penalty simply because he is a soldier. That is all I ask, and it does not seem to be a great deal to ask.
§ Mr. Wigg
Yes, greater penalties. It seems to me that by entering into the 1231 service of the Crown, and becoming a soldier, a man does not cease to be a civilian. He does not, as it were, cease to have the same obligations as a civilian, but undertakes an obligation additional to that of the civilian. I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman differs from me. All of us have searched our consciences on this point, remembering our history.
§ Mr. Silverman
Is not my hon. Friend missing the point? Under Sections 24 and 25 no one can be sentenced to death unless he does certain things with the intent to assist the enemy. That is the defence for the Sections. Suppose that a person charged is not a soldier, but a civilian, and suppose that he does any one of the things enumerated in these Sections with the intent to assist the enemy. In my hon. Friend's opinion, is he guilty of a smaller crime than the soldier who did the same thing? If not, why should the soldier be subject to a greater penalty?
§ Mr. Wigg
The reason why I did not read the footnote in the "Manual of Military Law" is that my eyes sometimes fail me. If I can focus them now, I should like to read the footnote. It is on page 1:It is therefore highly important that the mistakes should be corrected, which supposes that an Englishman, by taking upon himself the additional character of a soldier, puts off any of the rights and duties of an Englishman.It goes on to say that he undertakes greater obligations.
During our deliberations in the Select Committee, we looked at this problem of the death penalty with great care. There were a number of hon. Members who shared the views of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). We were guided by the principle that in 1930 the charges relating to cowardice no longer carried the death penalty. We came to the conclusion that the provisions
§ of Sections 24 and 25 were right, that we could not have a state of affairs in which a man, for reasons of weakness or character or because of pressures exerted on him, could assist the enemy in such a way which might imperil the success of operations and therefore the lives of thousands of his comrades. For that reason, it was vital that we should retain the death penalty.
§ It may be that there is some additional information which causes a change on that point, but I cannot depart from the conclusion which I then reached unless the arguments which cause that change can be made available to me. I am not attempting to confront my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton with the logic of 1955 and arguing that necessarily it applies in 1961. It may not apply. I should like him to tell me—my vote is in the balance at the moment—why I should support something which both he and I rejected in 1953 and 1954.
§ Mr. Silverman
There is one change which has taken place since 1955 which might affect by hon. and learned Friend's thinking on the subject. Parliament has changed the law about the death penalty very considerably to bring it into line with more modern thinking on the subject. It might well be that what my hon. Friend thought was right in 1955 in the then state of the law about the death penalty might not be right now, having regard to the changed thinking of hon. Members on this subject and in the law of the land.
§ Question put, That those words be there inserted:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 119, Noes 183.1235
|Division No. 153.]||AYES||[8.55 p.m.|
|Ainsley, William||Blyton, William||Deer, George|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S. W.)||de Freitas, Geoffrey|
|Awbery, Stan||Boyden, James||Diamond, John|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Cliffe, Michael||Dodds, Norman|
|Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.)||Cronin, John||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)|
|Bence, Cyril (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Darling, George||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)|
|Blackburn, F.||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Evans, Albert|
|Finch, Harold||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mackie, John||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||McLeavy, Frank||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)|
|Ginsburg, David||MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles)||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Small, William|
|Gourlay, Harry||Manuel, A. C.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Mapp, Charles||Snow, Julian|
|Grey, Charles||Marsh, Richard||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mason, Roy||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Mayhew, Christopher||Stones, William|
|Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Mendelson, J. J.||Stross, Dr. Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Hart, Mrs. Judith||Millan, Bruce||Swingler, Stephen|
|Hayman, F. H.||Mitchison, G. R.||Sylvester, George|
|Herbison, Miss Margaret||Moody, A. S.||Symonds, J. B.|
|Hill, J. (Midlothian)||Morris, John||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Hilton, A. V.||Mort, D. L.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Holman, Percy||Moyle, Arthur||Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Neal, Harold||Thornton, Ernest|
|Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Oswald, Thomas||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Owen, Will||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Paget, R. T.||Watkins, Tudor|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Parker, John||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)||Whitlock, William|
|Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Peart, Frederick||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Pentland, Norman||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Kelley, Richard||Popplewell, Ernest||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Probert, Arthur||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Lawson, George||Proctor, W. T.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Randall, Harry||Woof, Robert|
|Lipton, Marcus||Rankin, John||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Logan, David||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|McCann, John||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|MacColl, James||Robertson, J. (Paisley)||Mr. M. Foot and|
|McInnes, James||Ross, William||Mr. Emrys Hughes.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Deedes, W. F.||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Allason, James||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M.||Lilley, F. J. P.|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Duncan, Sir James||Linstead, Sir Hugh|
|Barlow, Sir John||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Longden, Gilbert|
|Barter, John||Elliott, R. W. (Nwcstle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Loveys, Walter H.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)||Errington, Sir Eric||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Bell, Ronald||Farey-Jones, F. W.||MacArthur, Ian|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Finlay, Graeme||McLaren, Martin|
|Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald (Toxteth)||Fisher, Nigel||McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Gammans, Lady||McMaster, Stanley R.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Gardner, Edward||Maddan, Martin|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Gibson-Watt, David||Maginnis, John E.|
|Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan)||Glover, Sir Douglas||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.|
|Box, Donald||Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)||Marshall, Douglas|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Goodhew, Victor||Marten, Neil|
|Braine, Bernard||Gower, Raymond||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)|
|Brewis, John||Grant, Rt. Hon. William||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R.||Mawby, Ray|
|Browne, Percy (Torrington)||Green, Alan||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Bryan, Paul||Gresham Cooke, R.||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.|
|Buck, Antony||Grimston, Sir Robert||Mills, Stratton|
|Bullard, Denys||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||More, Jasper (Ludlow)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Morgan, William|
|Burden, F. A.||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Morrison, John|
|Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Nabarro, Gerald|
|Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Orr-Ewing, C. Ian|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Hendry, Forbes||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Chataway, Christopher||Hiley, Joseph||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe)||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Partridge, E.|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Hocking, Philip N.||Peel, John|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Holland, Philip||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Hollingworth, John||Pilkington, Sir Richard|
|Cole, Norman||Holt, Arthur||Pitman, I. J.|
|Collard, Richard||Hopkins, Alan||Pitt, Miss Edith|
|Cooke, Robert||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia||Pott, Percivall|
|Cooper, A. E.||Hughes-Young, Michael||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho|
|Corfield, F. V,||Iremonger, T. L.||Profumo, Rt. Hon. John|
|Costain, A. P.||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Coulson, J. M.||Jackson, John||Pym, Francis|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Ramsden, James|
|Curran, Charles||Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Currie, G. B. H,||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Rees, Hugh|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Kershaw, Anthony||Roots, William|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Kirk, Peter||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry|
|Sharples, Richard||Teeling, William||Walter, Peter|
|Shaw, M.||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Shepherd, William||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir Jocelyn||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)||Whitelaw, William|
|Smithers, Peter||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin||Williams, Dudley (Exeter)|
|Spearman, Sir Alexander||Turner, Colin||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Speir, Rupert||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Stanley, Hon. Richard||Tweedsmuir, Lady||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)||van Straubenzee, W. R.||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm||Vane, W. M. F.||Woollam, John|
|Studholme, Sir Henry||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Summers, Sir Spencer (Aylesbury)||Wade, Donald|
|Sumner, Donald (Orpington)||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Talbot, John E.||Walder, David||Colonel J. H. Harrison and|
|Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)||Mr. F. Pearson.|
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.