HC Deb 02 November 1966 vol 735 cc512-21

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Edwin Brooks (Bebington)

I speak with diffidence on this Bill, because I was not a member of the Select Committee which gave its provisions such careful consideration. However, my attention has been drawn to the redefinitions in Clause 28, and, in particular, to the new or expanded meaning suggested for the term "enemy". One always wonders what is the motive behind a redefinition—whether it is to refine the term or to create fresh obscurity and ambiguity, which perhaps will arise from the wording suggested in subsection (2).

The definition of "enemy" in the Army Act, 1955, was, I suppose, the traditional one, the one which all of us would have no difficulty in accepting. Section 225 states: 'enemy' includes all persons engaged in armed operations against any of Her Majesty's forces, and also includes all armed mutineers, armed rebels, armed rioters and pirates. This fairly comprehensive list does not appear to satisfy those who drafted this Clause, because we find added to it persons so engaged against any forces co-operating with Her Majesty's Forces. When we turn to the memorandum submitted to the Select Committee and which justifies this suggested alteration, we find the following explanation: There are references in e.g. sections 24(1) of the Army and Air Force Acts (aiding the enemy) and 25 (giving intelligence to the enemy) which treat forces co-operating with Her Majesty's forces in the same way as Her Majesty's forces in the definition of 'enemy' in the 1955 Acts. It seems desirable to include a reference to forces co-operating with Her Majesty's forces in that definition. Subsection (3)"— which is now subsection (2)— therefore amends the definition so that it will read: 'Enemy' includes all persons engaged in armed operations against any of Her Majesty's forces, or any forces cooperating therewith, and also includes all armed mutineers, armed rebels, armed rioters and pirates". It is obvious that the definition of "enemy" is important. A great deal of the disciplinary code hinges on it and it is therefore obvious that it should be as precisely worded as possible.

6.15 p.m.

It is hardly necessary to stress the seriousness of the definition. We find in the Air Force Act, 1955—and it equally applies to the Army Act of that year—that: Any person subject to air-force law who with intent to assist the enemy…does any act calculated to imperil the success of operations of Her Majesty's forces, of any forces co-operating therewith or of any part of any of those forces…shall, on conviction by court-martial, be liable to suffer death or any other punishment provided by this Act". In the Army and Air Force Act, 1961, the penalties for collaboration with the enemy are extremely serious. For example, offences specified which, when committed by a person subject to military law with intent to assist the enemy, are punishable with death (or any other punishment provided by that Act) shall have effect with the substitution, for paragraph (d), thereof (furnishing the enemy with arms or ammunition or with supplies of any description) of the following paragraph: '(d), furnishes the enemy with arms or ammunition or with supplies of any description or with any other thing likely to assist him (whether similar to any of the things aforesaid or not)… The penalties are the serious ones which I mentioned. It is therefore obvious that the definition of "enemy" is extremely important.

The justification given in the memorandum presented to the Select Committee is suspect. The point made is that there is already reference to co-operation with other forces, but I think that in the Acts of 1955 referred to it is clear that the context of this co-operation is defined by the previous meaning of enemy—that is, the meaning we have been content with hitherto. The Section which I have read states that: Any person…who with intent to assist the enemy…does any act calculated to imperil the success of operations of Her Majesty's Forces, of any forces co-operating therewith". In other words, the co-operation with other forces is in a situation where already the enemy has been defined—that is, the enemy with whom Her Majesty's forces are engaged in armed conflict. There is therefore no difficulty in defining the context of co-operation. However, the phrase used in the Bill is simply persons engaged against any forces co-operating with Her Majesty's Forces". I should like the Minister to explain what this co-operation extends to and what it means. If it means co-operation with Her Majesty's Forces in a situation in which they are already engaged in armed conflict with some other party, there is no reason to suggest any alteration in the existing definition because it covers such a situation. I can only assume, therefore, that in the new expanded definition circumstances are envisaged in which Her Majesty's Forces are not necessarily engaged in armed conflict but that there is some form of co-operation taking place with other forces who may be so engaged in armed conflict.

Perhaps I am misunderstanding the meaning, but I suggest that this is an interpretation which legitimately can be placed on the revised wording. When we consider that some of the treaty arrangements which this country has with allies envisage active, day-to-day military co-operation, it is fairly obvious that we may be inadvertently opening the door to a redefinition of enemy which one day might be regrettable.

For example, in the South-East Asia Collective Defence Treaty, which is dated before the passing of the 1955 Army and Air Force Act, being dated 8th September, 1954, we find in Article II that In order more effectively to achieve the objectives of this Treaty, the parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attacks and to prevent and counter subversive activities directed from without against their territorial integrity and political stability. I will not weary the Committee with further references to a Treaty the provisions of which are well known, but it is obvious that the type of co-operation envisaged in the S.E.A.T.O. organisation might well involve that degree of cooperation which is open to the meaning of the words which we are now discussing. It might be—this example is probably in many of our minds—that the forces of the United State Army in South Vietnam, which are clearly collaborating and cooperating with Her Majesty's Forces in large areas of policy, and also large geographical areas, are forces with which we are co-operating for the purposes of the Clause and, therefore, that the enemy against whom they are at present engaged is. ipso facto, our enemy.

This seems to open the door to a very unfortunate widening of a term which, up to now, has had a fairly clear and common sense meaning. I ask why, after ten years, it is now felt necessary to alter this meaning in such a way that it could genuinely introduce some most unfortunate implications.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I want to make one point which, although not in explanation of the point raised by my hon. Friend, may nevertheless serve to affect the explanation that I want to give later. What happens with the various Statutes—the Army and Air Force Acts of 1955, 1957 and the Naval Discipline Act of 1961—is that constantly, as we discovered in the Select Committee, various parts of the Ministry of Defence are looking at the classes of Statute in order to effect a tidying-up. It is not a way of changing high policy, or anything of that kind. It is a genuine attempt to deal with three Armed Forces, which have grown up in different directions, where it seems right to tidy up the law or where it is found on investigation that the provisions are not crystal clear.

This investigation will go on constantly and, as for example, under Clause 2, regulations will be made from time to time. In addition there will be the annual Resolution to maintain the constitutional proprieties with regard to this legislation. In five years' time we shall be doing exactly the same thing again. I have made this point to assure my hon. Friend that in the minds of Ministers responsible this subsection represents no vital change. This is a matter of tidying-up.

I want to refer to the explanatory document in the Special Report, because it is relevant to this point. There are references in Section 24(1) of the Army and Air Force Acts to the question of "aiding the enemy" and, in Section 25, to "giving intelligence to the enemy" which apply to the forces co-operating with Her Majesty's Forces in exactly the same way as Her Majesty's Forces. The purpose of the tidying up that is taking place which refers to forces co-operating with Her Majesty's Forces, is to make absolutely clear what is meant by "enemy ": there is no great move forward from the previous position. That is the way in which the Clause has arrived in the Bill, and, we hope, that that is how it will eventually appear on the Statute Book.

I take my hon. Friend's point that this may mean, inadvertently, something different. I want to take, first, his point about South Vietnam and the fact that the United States is engaged in war-like operations with the enemy. This fact does not affect the issue. There would have to be a firm decision—and this is not the place to go into that question—before we could become involved in the way in which the Clause suggests.

I now turn to the S.E.A.T.O. Treaty. My hon. Friend will understand that I have not had time to investigate this in great depth, and it would be necessary to do this to be absolutely firm, but at a first look at the question I am also advised that despite the obligations in the Treaty which my hon. Friend has read out it is not a question of drifting into the position he outlined. Despite the Treaty it would still require something far more firm than that before anything arising out of the Treaty would land us in the trouble referred to by my hon. Friend.

I return to the point that there is no danger in my hon. Friend's suggestion it is genuinely a question of tidying up. It is implicit in the legislation of 1955, but if, at the end of the day, my hon. Friend still has doubts about this upon further investigation and cares to see me about it, I assure him that I shall look closely into the matter.

Clauses 29 to 38 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 1 to 6 agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—[Mr. Walter Harrison.]

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Brian O'Malley (Rotherham)

I was the Chairman of the Select Committee which considered the Bill and I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will listen with tolerance to my speech, as it may be difficult for me to keep strictly within the bounds of order. However, I do not want to detain the House for more than a minute or two.

First, as Chairman of the Committee, I should like to take this opportunity of thanking hon. Members from both sides of the House who served on it, in appreciation not only of the work done but also of the cordial atmosphere which was maintained throughout the sittings. Secondly, I hope that the House will feel that the work done in that Committee was useful. Indeed, when, a few moments ago, Clause after Clause went through without difficulty or discussion in the House, it struck me that perhaps one reason for that was that what was, in some ways, a specialist Committee of the House had cleared up a number of points in Committee which would otherwise have taken up the time of the House.

I believe that the Bill now is a better Bill for the consideration which it had in the Select Committee and as a result of the Amendments made during the proceedings of that Committee. In addition to the Amendments which the Select Committee made to the Bill, it also made a number of recommendations which I should like briefly to place on record in the House.

It recommended that the Naval Discipline Act should be reviewed in future at the same time as the Army and Air Force Acts. It recommended that the Department of Defence, with the aim of standardisation, should consider, over the next five years, what practical advantages and disadvantages stem from the difference in status between the 1955 and the 1957 Acts. On a similar subject, it recommended that every Clause of the relevant Acts should be reviewed before the next Armed Forces Bill was drafted. On a more minor point, the question of fines, it recommended that, for both officers and other ranks, fines in all three Services should be expressed as a proportion rather than a fixed sum.

I should be glad if, when he replies, the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy will make some comment on the attitude of the Department to those recommendations. On my behalf and on the behalf of the Select Committee as a whole, I hope that the Department of Defence will feel able to follow and implement the recommendations which the Committee made a few weeks ago.

6.34 p.m.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins

This Bill has had a somewhat longer and more chequered Parliamentary career than most. It received a Second Reading in December, 1965, and was passed by the House, but before a Select Committee could be set up, Parliament had been dissolved and the Bill had to be resurrected after the new Parliament had reassembled. It was nearly the same Bill, although one or two Amendments had been made. As the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) said, it went to a Select Committee, where it received very detailed scrutiny.

I would pay tribute to the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member himself. There is no doubt that the Chairman has an onerous task to perform, because he leads all the probing of the Committee into the reasons for and against any proposal and also has to keep order in the Committee. I fancy that he did not find the latter task difficult.

The Bill, now that it has finally reached this stage, is one of a long line of Bills, although it is the first to be called the Armed Forces Bill. There is a desire on both sides of the House to bring the Services closer together, to weld them into one highly efficient defence force. This is bound to take a long time.

One of the many reasons for that is the intense pride of a Serviceman in his own Service. I do not know of a sailor who does not consider that a sailor is a wholly and infinitely superior being to a soldier and it is right that that should be so, if it applies, as it does vice versa. This pride and morale is to be encouraged and fostered, which is why it is bound to take a long time to weld the Services completely together. It is right that we should proceed slowly in this respect.

The Bill takes a further step in bringing the Services closer together. The conclusion in paragraph 20 of the Select Committee's Report was: The Bill secures to the greatest extent that was possible, in the limited time since the working party was set up in the Ministry of Defence, a degree of harmonisation of Service law, while paying due regard to the differing circumstances and requirements of each Service. It makes, of course, a number of detailed changes in Service law, two of which have been mentioned this afternoon.

One is the powers which are being granted to the Government under Clause 2 to make Regulations about terms of enlistment and conditions of service. We have discussed them and have agreed to give these powers to the Government, but it is only fair to say that whether these powers are successful or not depends entirely on how the Government use them. We shall watch this extremely closely and shall scrutinise the Regulations whenever we have the opportunity.

I would ask the Government to use the powers to make Regulations sparingly. I am not saying that they must not alter the Enlistment Regulations, and so on, as and when they think proper, but I think that too frequent an alteration in terms of enlistment and conditions of service would be unsettling to the Services. It would be bad for morale if the Services felt that the terms of enlistment were being changed every couple of weeks. This, obviously, will not happen, but one can imagine that if the terms were changed too often, there would grow up in the Services a wide difference and a large number of differences in the terms under which Service men were serving.

If the terms remain fixed for a number of years, even those in the Service for 22 years will be on the same kind of footing as new recruits. However, if too many differences and too wide a difference grew up between terms of service, I cannot think that this would do any good to morale. I ask the Government to keep that in mind when they are altering these terms.

We entirely support the introduction of the new punishment by fines and hope that it will work in the Services and will be more efficient than the old system in punishing those who have to be punished.

Like its predecessors, the Bill has a limited life. It lasts for only five years and, therefore, at the end of that time, the House will be discussing its successor. Although I have no doubt that, when that time comes, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will be sitting on this side of the House, that will make no difference to the Armed Forces Bill of the day. We are at one in our desire to try to run the Services efficiently and humanely.

I would ask the Government not to lose the advantage of the intervening period of five years. They should properly use that period, first, to see what further steps they can take to bring Service laws closer together. I do not think that they will ever get them exactly the same for the three Services, but no doubt they can bring them closer together. Secondly, they should see what steps they can take to simplify the law. On Second Reading, one of my hon. Friends said that there were 116 Acts of Parliament governing life in the Services, and although, in the Select Committee, that figure was challenged—the number may, in fact, be a little smaller than was suggested—there is no doubt that there is a large number of Acts of Parliament governing the daily lives of sailors, soldiers and airmen. Anything the Government can do to consolidate these Measures must be an improvement.

We regard this as a useful Measure, and we wish it well.

6.42 p.m.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

I very much agree with the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Humphrey Atkins) about the joint interest which all parties in the House have in the welfare of the Services. We have had a very good illustration of that in the work of the Select Committee. I also appreciate the dangers of too-frequent changes in the conditions of service. It is a matter of striking a balance. If things are obviously not working we want to change them. If they are working, we want to carry on with them as they are. We shall bear the point in mind. The hon. Member asked for simplification. It may be that the labours of simplification would be so vast as to make it hardly worthwhile. But we will bear that in mind, too.

It is appropriate that a Minister not on the Select Committee and who has not had much public dealings with the Bill should recommend it to the House, as I do. It gives me the opportunity of saying "Thank you" to my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) for his chairmanship of the Committee, to the Under-Secretary 'of State, who has borne the major Ministerial burden, and to all our Parliamentary colleagues who served on the Committee and those who gave evidence before it. They have done an arduous job with great thoroughness and have produced a most helpful Report. It is a genuine pleasure for me, on behalf of the Government, to say that the Government accept all the recommendations put forward to which the Chairman referred.

This is quite a substantial step forward, at any rate in bringing the laws of the three Services closer together. As such, it will be a substantial benefit to the Service. I recommend it to the House, and I hope that its further stages will be speedy.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.