HC Deb 08 February 1962 vol 653 cc685-90

No person retained or recalled under sections one and two of this Act shall be required against his will to serve in an arm of the service other than that in which he is or has been employed:

Provided that the Army Council or any officer not below the rank of major-general deputed by them may direct him so to serve having taken into account all the circumstances of the case.—[Mr. Wigg.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Wigg

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

I shall not detain the House for very long, but this new Clause contains a matter which is important, not only in my view, but, I think, in the view of the Secretary of State for War. There is no doubt that as the Secretary of State uses powers under Clause 1 he will find it necessary to post men from one unit in the same arm to another, and I should think it very likely from one arm of the Service to another. This will exacerbate the already outraged feelings of men coming from, say, a "crack" Army unit in the Middle East or the Far East, to Germany, and finding themselves posted to a hospital as orderlies. What they would say would have to be heard to be believed.

I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware of this. It seems inevitable that such happenings should occur, the proposals by the Secretary of State being what they are. I therefore think it right that the men who are called upon to suffer what they will regard as an outrage should be safeguarded to the fullest possible extent. The decision to post a man from one arm to another should not be taken lightly. One of the ways of safeguarding the rights of the soldier is for the powers to undertake such action to be vested in an officer not below the rank of major-general to whom the powers will have been directly deputed by the Army Council.

I am not, and never have been, an uninhibited enthusiast for what I call the "tribal system", but, as we have got it, I respect the fact that our men are better soldiers because they serve in particular regiments. I think that the argument is often overdone and many times in the course of our debates I have pointed out that men serve with as great loyalty and pride in the Royal Artillery or the Royal Army Ordnance Corps as they do in a county regiment which is proud of its traditions.

In the past I have asked what has happened to the Corps of Cavalry. There was a time when it was Cavalry of the Line. When it was formed thirty years ago, men were transferred from one regiment to another in the days before the appointment of the Royal Armoured Corps. A tradition grew up in that corps which was observed and of which men were proud. It may be overdone, but men have great pride in their cap and collar badges and in their regimental traditions.

If the transfer has to be made at the end of a man's National Service and he is to be taken—say, in an extreme case—from the Royal Armoured Corps in the Middle East and put into one of the other arms, this power should not be taken lightly. It should be exercised with great care and with due regard to the feelings of the men so posted. I ask the Secretary of State that such a man during that service, even if it were service with the R.A.M.C., the R.A.O.C. or R.E.M.E., should be allowed to retain his cap badge and regimental traditions. He should not be regarded as a soldier of the R.A.M.C., but as still belonging to the regiment of the line to which he was originally posted. This would be a minimum act of sympathetic understanding of a great tradition in the Army which ought not to be passed over lightly.

I do not excuse myself for bringing this matter before the House tonight.

Mr. Profumo

Under Section 3 of the Army Act, 1955, a Regular soldier may not be transferred in peace time, without his consent, from one corps to another unless an order to that effect has been made by a member of the Army Council. In war, or if men of the Reserve are called out on permanent service, he may be transferred without the necessity for an order at Army Council level. The position is quite different with regard to National Servicemen of all kinds. They may be transferred between corps in peace or in war without their consent.

Under Clause 4 (2) of the Bill the Army Act is applied to all men affected by the Bill as it applies to National Service men. It follows that retained, and, of course, recalled, National Service men may similarly be transferred between corps without their consent. This is by intention. The position of National Service men has never been any different during their service. While, generally speaking, it would be a misuse of resources not to use a man in the branch of the service in which he has been trained, none the less to accept the new Clause would restrict the ability to make the best use of the powers of the Bill.

Power to transfer between corps is essential for certain trades which are common to most arms, for instance, drivers. In relation to such trades it would impose unacceptable delay to have to refer the need for transfer for a review by the general officer commanding, or more so, at Army Council level. This is particularly important with reference to recalled men who might have to be used in conditions of an emergency where it may not be possible to arrange for a reference which the new Clause envisages in the time available.

Under Clause 1, we should not retain any man—I have said this before—who is not required for strictly military purposes. But if a man is a driver in, for example, the Royal Armoured Corps in B.A.O.R., and assuming that there were enough drivers in the Royal Armoured Corps but that there was a considerable shortage of drivers in the R.A.S.C., for strictly military reasons this man—as was envisaged by the hon. Member for Dudley—might be transferred for the remainder of his service.

I can give the hon. Member an assurance: in practice, it is unlikely that this will go on to any great extent. But if we are to work on the understanding that we shall retain as few men as possible, I cannot agree to have our hands tied legislatively in the way in which they would be by the acceptance of the hon. Member's Motion. The few transfers which might have to take place will be authorised only by the War Office. I can give that as an undertaking, but I cannot have it made statutory. I hope that that will satisfy the hon. Gentleman.

The extent to which recalled men may be transferred between corps would depend on the circumstances of the recall. Broadly speaking, they would be called up to their own corps. As I see it, there will be no question of a "general post". But we must have freedom to direct men to serve where they are needed. I do not feel that I can go further, except to say a word about the problem of the cap badges. It is not quite so easy as it might appear to be. Let me divide it between the "teeth arms" and the "tail". I do not think that there will be difficulty regarding the "tail", the transfer, for example, of a man from the R.E.M.E. to, it may be, the R.A.S.C. He could keep his badges. That could be arranged.

It would breach a very long tradition if a man were to move from one corps to another in the "teeth arms" and not change his cap badge. I can go no further than that, but I will give an undertaking that so long as the two commanding officers concerned have no objection I will see that in such an instance no objection is raised by the Army Council. I should like to leave the matter there, with that elasticity. I hope that what I have said will satisfy the House that there will not be an abuse on the scale which the hon. Member for Dudley might fear.

Mr. Shinwell

If I understand the right hon. Gentleman, his intention is not to transfer any recalled National Service man from one corps to another, or from one unit to another, or, it may be, from one theatre to another, in time of peace without a definite understanding that the War Office has so directed. It seems to me that that is all the assurance that is required.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) regards this matter from the standpoint of a professional soldier and is concerned about what is called the "tribal system". But in the position occupied by the right hon. Gentleman, who has to make do with the number of men at his command, and bearing in mind the rather difficult circumstances, it seems to me that it would be asking too much to tie his hands in this way.

The only caveat I would venture to enter is that it would be a very odd proceeding if a National Service man who was recalled, and who was perhaps a tradesman, an expert driver or a technician, could be transferred to a unit where he might be called on to undertake tasks not strictly military in character. The right hon. Gentleman has said—we took note of it—that transfers would occur only if there was a strictly military purpose for them. But it depends on the interpretation placed on the term "military purposes".

If it is to be left to the War Office, I should not mind. But I should not care to leave it altogether in the hands of commanding officers of units. It might well be that the commanding officer of one unit was short of a particular type of man, and he might make representations to the C.O. of another unit asking for the transfer of a number of men for a particular purpose which was not strictly military in character.

In the past, unfortunately—it may not be so today, I hope not, and I hope that it will not occur in the future—there have been occasions when National Service men were used for purposes which were not strictly military purposes. There was too much of the "tail" and too little of the "teeth". I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see that the men he is so anxious to obtain in one category or another—those who are serving at present who will be retained for a further six months, and the men to be recalled for another six months—will not be used except for purposes of a strictly military character. If he gives such an assurance, I for one should not care to press this Motion.

Mr. Wigg

With the permission of the House, I shall ask leave to withdraw the Motion. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his acceptance of the spirit behind the proposed Clause. I should be grateful if he would see whether the principle of long-attachment could be used, rather than men being actually transferred, and whether it is possible to safeguard a man who is at the end of his 2½ years' service. I am satisfied from the evidence given by the right hon. Gentleman that he realises what I am seeking, and I am content to leave the matter in his hands. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.