HL Deb 21 April 1932 vol 84 cc119-25

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I hope the House will not be unduly alarmed at the unusual size of this Bill. Its size is, of course, due principally to the passing of the Statute of Westminster, which has necessitated a large number of Amendments to make it clear that the Government in the United Kingdom is not legislating for Dominions in which that Statute is operative. The Amendments will be found at the end of the Bill, in the Second Schedule, Part I. Similarly, in Part II of that Schedule, on page 18, Amendments are necessary to omit reference to Ireland as a whole, and make it clear that the Act refers only to Northern Ireland. Opportunity has been taken to bring the Act into conformity with the legislation which exists in that part of His Majesty's Dominions, which differs in some respects from legislation in other parts of the United Kingdom.

As a result of careful scrutiny of the Bill, necessitated by the Statute of Westminster, the Bill received perhaps even more examination than it does usually, with the result that a very large number of Amendments are being made in the Bill before your Lordships. They are all of a drafting character, or of very minor interest, and therefore I do not think it necessary that I should say anything in regard to them to your Lordships' House. Apart from the Schedule of the Bill the effects of the 15 clauses are, I think, clearly explained in the Notes on Clauses which precede the Bill. There are only three clauses to which I think your Lordships would desire me to draw attention, but I know that my noble friend Lord Mount Temple is anxious to ask a question, and I propose to try to reply to him at the end of the debate and to any other point which noble Lords may wish to raise, because I think it will probably be meeting the convenience of the House if I do not go into the Bill at any great length except on the more important matters.

In Clause 7 a clause is introduced to remove doubts as to whether recreation rooms in the three Services, and in the ships of His Majesty's Navy, are definitely exempt from the Sunday Observance Act and the Cinema Acts. The exemption is limited to entertainments under the direct control of an officer or responsible committee, and I think you will find that there is nothing of any great consequence in that clause. It is merely to remove doubts, and has reference far more to the Air Force than to the other two defensive forces. Clause 8 deals with the attachment of officers and other ranks to His Majesty's forces in the Dominions. It will make officers and soldiers who belong to the forces of the United Kingdom subject to the military laws of the Dominions when attached, but they will not be attached to a Dominion force except with their own consent in peace time, though they will be available to be attached compulsorily in time of war.

Clause 12 deals with the question of reducing a warrant officer or non-commissioned officer to a lower grade, or to the ranks. As the law exists at present that power is confined to the Army Council, or in India to the Commander-in-Chief or officer appointed by him with the approval of the Governor-General. It is proposed in Clause 12 that the power should be utilised, where necessary, by a General Officer not below the rank of Major-General, appointed for the purpose by the Army Council. It has been found, for instance, that where we have a force as far away as Shanghai it causes undue delay when cases have to be referred home to the Army Council, to receive their consent before the sentence can take effect. General Officers have power to impose punishments far more severe than this with regard to men serving in the ranks, and therefore I think your Lordships will agree that it is a wise provision. I think those are the only matters of any consequence in this rather long measure which I need bring before the House, but if there is any point on which your Lordships wish to have information I will do my best to supply it. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That this Bill be now read 2a. —(Earl Stanhope.)


My Lords, I desire to intervene only for a moment, as having been Under-Secretary of State for War in a previous Government. The noble Earl apologised for the size of the Bill this year—almost, one might say, in inverse ratio to the size of the Army which it legalises —but the size of it is surely evidence of deep and careful scrutiny on the part of the War Office of the Acts which it is designed to incorporate, and I am certain that no one will really complain of the size of the Bill this year. I venture to suggest that perhaps it is a pity that the Government did not have a little more faith in the possibility of the success of the Disarmament Conference. Had the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for example, as an evidence of his belief in the possibility of a reduction in expenditure on armaments, taken 6d, off the income Tax, it might have been a definite encouragement to the belief that the Disarmament Conference would succeed, and the figures contained in Clause 1 of this Bill might perhaps have been even more attenuated. That is as it may be, but I think it would have been a gesture which would have satisfied a large number of taxpayers, and have indicated a belief in the possibility of the success of the Conference.

It is the fact that the cuts made in expenditure and embodied in this Bill are substantial, and that they represent over a series of years considerable reductions, although not perhaps quite in proportion to the fall in the cost of living over those years. That is not necessarily a statement that those cuts are inadequate, because of course I am aware that an enormous number of fixed charges are included which cannot be reduced. Nevertheless, it is a fact that during the last six years there has been a fall in the cost of living of 55 points, which, had it been able to be applied throughout the expenditure on the Army, would have reduced that expenditure by a considerable number of millions. I suggest that it would be possible to examine the alterable Votes with a view to seeing whether perhaps they could be reduced on the cost of living basis. I realise that the fixed Votes cannot of course be altered.

The meaning of this Bill involves an understanding that there has been an immense amount of work at the War Office in order to enable the War Office to carry through the necessary alterations which have been made. I think I am right in saying that every member of the Services believes, perhaps more than outside people, in efficiency. It is the tremendous desire of those in the Services to see that their units are absolutely efficient, and I cannot tell your Lordships how disappointing it is, when one does want to see efficiency, to feel that the little money for each individual case may not be available to make the efficiency greater. It is a disappointment which every member of the Services must feel.

I want to say how loyally all members of the Service during my experience at the War Office co-operated with the Government in realising the necessity for a cutting down, and in redoubling their efforts to secure that there was no loss of efficiency because of the cuts. The War Office is, as far as my experience goes, the most efficient of all Government offices. I do not believe that it can really be beaten from the point of view of efficiency, not because of anything I had to do with it—the noble Earl, of course, has inherited the result of my work, and he is very fortunate in that—but because it is an extraordinarily good piece of internal organisation. It runs with efficiency and smoothness, and it is because of that good organisation that alterations have been possible with a minimum of upset to the Army itself. We on this side have no objections to make to the Bill.


My Lords, the noble Lord justified his intervention in the debate owing to the fact that he was a former Under-Secretary of State for War. I had not thought of mentioning my past, but as another former Under-Secretary of State for War I think I am entitled to say a few words, and if he says that the noble Earl has profited by his good work, well, perhaps the noble Lord opposite may have profited by the good work which I did when I was there before his time. I am not going to deal with the general principles of the Bill, but there is one point of certain public interest which I should like to put forward for your Lordships' consideration. If you look at Clause 4, which deals with an amendment to Clause 114 of the Army Act, you will see that it is proposed, if this Bill becomes law, that the owners of all motor vehicles and trailers shall be obliged, if requested by the War Office—which they most certainly would be—to furnish a return to the War Office of the mechanically-propelled vehicles and trailers which they possess, in order that the War Office may have a list of those vehicles in case of a national emergency. Of course, that is a very sound and commonsense arrangement, which nobody would wish to see put an end to, and if it does give a little trouble to the owners of mechanically-propelled vehicles and trailers, well, that is part of their contribution to national defence and security.

But I am not quite sure that it is really necessary, and that is the point which I should like my noble friend to deal with when he replies. Up till now it has obviously been necessary in the case of horses for private individuals and firms to send in a list of their horses once a year to the War Office, so that the War Office may know what horses there are in the country available for service. But I submit that such a return as is suggested in Clause 4 is not necessary for this reason. Every county council and borough council has in the course of the year to issue licences to owners of mechanically-propelled vehicles and trailers to enable them to use their vehicles upon the road. This is a list which is compiled annually, is therefore up to date, and is constantly being used by the police for the purpose of detecting crimes in connection with motor vehicles. Therefore there is ready to hand for the War Office the very thing which they desire to have. If that is so, it is obviously a work of supererogation to make the owner do that which has already been done for another purpose. Indeed, it would be much simpler for the War Office to go to the county councils and borough councils for their information than to write to scores of thousands of people to send in their returns, and, when the returns are sent in, to classify them. It seems to me that this form of economy and the avoidance of more trouble to the motor-car owners might well be explored by the War Office.


My Lords, I think you will agree that the noble Lord, Lord Marley, has paid a very just tribute to the work that is done at the War Office by officers and civil servants in keeping the cost of the Army to the very lowest possible limit, and the efficient way in which they have succeeded in their efforts. I am doubtful whether he would be increasing the popularity which he had there if he succeeded in carrying out the scheme which he proposed. I gathered that his suggestion was that the cost of the Army should be reduced in proportion to the fall in the cost of living. Presumably that would mean that the pay of officers and men would come down, not by 10 per cent., but by the number of points in the fall in the cost of living which has occurred during the past ten years, and, further than that, that the cost of all the workmen who supply the multitudinous things which an Army requires in these modern days should equally be cut down, and the trade union rates of wages reduced to a very material extent. I am rather surprised that that suggestion should come from that quarter of the House, and it is not one which personally I should be very much inclined to follow.

With regard to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mount Temple, he was good enough to tell me of the point he was going to raise, and therefore I have been able to make inquiries. The question has been seriously considered by the War Office and they desire to have this clause for two or, possibly, three reasons. I must remind the noble Lord that a good many licences are taken out, we will say in the area of the London County Council, but for the greater part of the year the motor cars to which those licences relate are in a very different part of the country. For instance, any one who has a house in London and one in the country very likely has his motor in the country most of the time and it would not be much good to look for it in the London area.


The noble Earl will forgive the interruption, but that is not the class of vehicle that probably the War Office would want. They would want chars-a-bancs and motor lorries not Rolls Royces.


I do not think many of the motor cars in London are Rolls Royces. I am afraid my car does not come into that category by a very long way. But, of course, cars of all descriptions would be wanted in time of war; for instance, for carrying about signal contingents, staff officers and others. But there are much more serious objections than that. The first is that a certain number of vehicles do not come under the police regulations—those which have not yet been sold, for instance, and those are just the type of vehicle that the War Office would probably wish to get hold of; that is to say, the vehicles which are still in the hands of either the manufacturers or the dealers and on which licences have not yet been taken out. Such information would obviously be valuable in the event of mobilisation.

The second point is that in regard to licences, the information which is given to the police contains nothing as regards the running capacity of the car and its then condition. If the noble Lord will refer to the Army Act he will find that the owner of horses has not only to specify the number of horses he has, but to agree that they shall be inspected and examined as and when required by the relevant authority. That is a provision which is of value in regard to motor cars of all kinds and conditions. We are anxious that when the list is provided officers shall be enabled to go down and look at the vehicles and see if they are suitable in the event of an emergency. That is why this provision is in the Bill. There is no suggestion that the War Office is going to ask every year for a list of these vehicles or that it is going to do so in the near future. The provision is put in the Bill so that if the power is required it will be available. I hope I have made the point clear to my noble friend and that he will agree that it is a wise provision to put into the Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.