HL Deb 13 April 1943 vol 127 cc147-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Croft, I desire, in moving that this Bill be read a second time, to mention one or two of the amendments in the law which have been made in it. The first occurs in Clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill, and deals with a question which has arisen owing to the fact that it is no longer merely members of the Royal Air Force who may be in charge of aircraft. The situation may arise where an Army pilot is in a glider, and the question comes up of who is in charge, the towing pilot, who belongs to the Air Force, or the glider pilot. It is laid down that it is to be the pilot of the towing aircraft who is in charge. The second point arises because there are now many aircraft in charge of people who are not subject to the Air Force Act. In the North Atlantic there is a ferry service where Liberators, which carry R.A.F. markings, come across in charge of B.O.A.C. pilots or civilian pilots, and those people have to be given authority to command. That is given to them in this Bill.

Another amendment is designed to remove the anomaly that in time of peace the punishment for crashing or endangering aircraft has differed from the punishment in time of war. This is an obvious anomaly, which has now been abolished. Under Section 29 of the Naval Discipline Act no difference is made between peacetime and war-time if a captain endangers his ship, and the same rule is now going to be applied under the Air Force Act. Clause 4 puts into the Army Act what is already in the Air Force Act, and this is due to Army pilots flying aircraft and having therefore to be subject to Air Force law.

Clause 5 will enable certain appointed Brigadiers under certain conditions to exercise powers of summary jurisdiction over subalterns and officers up to the rank of Captain and warrant officer, which at present have only been vested in a General Officer, who had the power to call a general Court Martial. This has been found a great inconvenience, particularly in India, where the distances are great, because the summary powers have to be exercised quickly, which of course is impossible when a long distance has to be travelled. It seemed to be an advantage therefore to make a change. Although the power is exercisable by Brigadiers they will not be exercised by everybody who holds the rank of Brigadier but only where the Brigadier is dealing with an offender below the rank of Major. With regard to Clause 6, if a man is in a detention barracks there is no power to release him for compassionate reasons owing to illness or death in his family, but under this clause his release will be possible. The power will only be used on compassionate grounds. The period of release of course will not count in his sentence, which will be suspended during the time of his compassionate release. This will remove what has often been a difficulty in the case of prisoners undergoing detention.

Clause 7 deals with a rather more complicated question, but it really makes no change in the status of the persons concerned. At the present moment women serving in the Forces do not come under the Army Act or the Air Force Act themselves; they are under a separate Act. This clause will bring them in. It will make no difference as to what happens under the various Acts which have already been authorized. If members of the Women's Forces go to the Dominions or certain foreign countries at present it is not quite certain under which Act they come. It has been thought advisable therefore to make this alteration. Clause 8 deals with a small point. It gives power to a Colonel on active service to reduce a non-commissioned officer to the ranks. This has been found necessary because in many places there may be three Brigadiers, and two of them may be Colonels, and yet they have different powers. This is a simplification which I think your Lordships will approve.

Clause 9 brings up the question of the Statute of Westminster. There are two clauses in the Statute of Westminster which may or may not have been accepted by the Dominions when they adhered to that Statute. There have been hitherto two Dominions, Australia and New Zealand, which have not adopted Sections 2 to 4 of the Statute of Westminster. Now it became necessary to name them in the Army Act, and while in their own Dominion their forces remain under their own domestic laws when they go abroad they have to be governed by the text of the Army Act. Now Australia has accepted these sections and Australia is therefore excluded from the relevant clauses of the Army Act and the Air Force Act, but New Zealand remains in the same position as before. Clauses 10 and 11 make certain alterations to definitions in the Army Act and the Air Force Act. Your Lordships will see that one of the clauses relates to the definition of certain expressions in Northern Ireland. These should have been altered before. There are also one or two definitions which have to be changed, such as those involved by the introduction of gliders, which is a new expression not previously contained in the definition. Alterations have therefore had to be made both in the Air Force Act and the Army Act. They are purely definitions and not of very great consequence. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2.—(Lord Sherwood.)

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