§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Nathan.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair.]
§ Clauses 1 to 9 agreed to.
§ Clause 10:
§ Transfer between Corps.
§ 10.—(1) In Section eighty-three of the Army Act, in paragraph (2) (which provides that a soldier of the regular forces may with his own consent be transferred by order of the competent military authority to any corps) the words "with his own consent" shall be omitted, and at the end of that paragraph there shall be added the words "so however that, save as otherwise provided in this section, a soldier shall not be so transferred except with his own consent unless either his attestation took place after the thirtieth day of April, nineteen hundred and forty-eight or he has after that date extended his army service or the term of his original enlistment or he has been re-engaged after that date."
§ (2) Subsection (3) of Section three of the Armed Forces (Conditions of Service) Act, 1939 (which provides that where a transfer is authorised both by subsection (2) of that section and by Section eighty-three of the Army Act, the transfer shall be deemed to have been effected in pursuance of the said subsection (2)) shall not apply in relation to a transfer authorised by virtue of subsection (1) of this section.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN moved to omit Clause 10. The noble Viscount said: I put down this Amendment partly because I found that when this matter was discussed in another place there was a good deal of dissatisfaction in regard to the Government's answer. It was felt that that answer had made out no case for this very sharp change. If any further justification were necessary for this Amendment, then I think it was put forward by the noble Earl, Lord 365 Wavell, in his speech during the Army debate in this House a few days ago. Clause 10 as it stands removes the need to obtain the consent of any soldier who enlists after April 30 this year to his transfer outside his own corps. That is a very sharp change. Probably it affects infantry more than it affects other corps. A change was made immediately after the end of the war in 1945, when the Army groups were enlarged to make transfers more easy and the whole system more flexible. Now we are abandoning even that safeguard, which provided that an infantryman when posted would be transferred only to another regiment in the same group. For the soldiers who enrol after April 30 there is no such safeguard. To whatever corps they are posted on joining, they are liable (I say," liable ") to be transferred to any other corps in the Army. This change is likely to fall most hardly on the infantry.
§ I put down this Amendment partly because the infantry is the stronghold of regimental tradition. I am not going to make a speech about regimental tradition, although I could make a long one. I shall content myself by saying that it is the infantry who have to stand up to the lion's share of adversity in battle—and it is the infantry who have to stand up to the lion's share of adversity in matters of this sort. We are asking for continuity in Army matters and for stability for Army careers. I made this point in the Army debate when, unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, was not in his place. The young men who come from military families do not just join the Army: they enlist in the regiment in which their fathers and forefathers have served. If they cannot feel that they can make a career as soldiers in the regiment of their choice, we may lose a valuable source of high-grade N.C.Os. That, as I see it, is the case for the Amendment.
§ I do not know what argument is raised on the other side, because in another place it was not thought fit to inform anybody. The answer reported in Hansard does not enlighten us. I do not pretend that there are no answers on the other side. I myself would far rather see a clause like this in the Bill, if it be really necessary, than see a pledge lightly given and then broken. We had quite enough of that between the wars, and we do not want it again. There may be reasons why the 366 transfer within corps, although the system is barely two years old, has not proved sufficient, but we have not been told those reasons yet. And, because we have not been told, the impression is still current that in the War Office they think in numbers and not in individuals; that the wicked Staff officer or wicked gunner has put down the good regimental soldier or that the machine overrides the personal affairs of a soldier's life. If that is so, it is an undesirable thing. It is up to the Government to dispel any idea of that sort and produce a convincing reason—we are ready to be convinced—why this sweeping and fundamental change is necessary. I beg to move.
Page 6, line 25, leave out Clause 10.—(Viscount Bridgeman.)
§ THE MINISTER OF CIVIL AVIATION (LORD NATHAN)
The plea made by the noble Viscount opposite falls, so far as, I am concerned, on a receptive ear. In any plea for regimental tradition I should require the adduction of very strong arguments indeed before I would agree to its being discarded. I have read—though I regret that I did not have the opportunity of hearing—the speech made by the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Wavell, when the Territorial Army was under discussion. I understood from what I read that he would be unable to be in his place here to-day, though I am delighted to see that in fact his arrangements have so permitted. Anything that the noble Earl has to say upon this subject—indeed, upon any subject, but particularly on what afflicts the welfare, the morale, the form and shape of the Army—must naturally command profound respect. I do not think that either the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, or the noble Earl, Lord Wavell, made any complaint with regard to the group system relating to infantry; indeed, the noble Earl has in my recollection stated that in the original instance, at all events, he was strongly in favour of it. The question arose, however, as to whether in practice it lad worked out precisely as had been anticipated.
The proposals now made, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, is aware, extend beyond transfer between an infantry group and go so far as to involve, in appropriate cases, transfer between 367 corps. There is ample room, in the light of modern experience, for two schools of thought in regard to a subject of this kind; and I think I may say that in the War Office, at all events, there were at one time two schools of thought on the question of whether infantry, as such, should be in a single corps ox whether regiments should be maintained. There are strong arguments to be adduced on both sides. Those who held the view that infantry should comprise a single corps were entitled to call in aid the experience and tradition of the Royal Navy, and also experience of the Royal Air Force where the regimental tradition, in the sense in which it is understood in the Army, has never at any time prevailed. But the argument for the regimental tradition, based on the long and splendid history of the British Army, was the argument which in fact prevailed. The Army is modelled now on the assumption that infantry regiments, and all that is involved in regiments, should be maintained. But it is clear, in the light of modern experience and in the light of developing changes, that the system cannot be applied with complete rigidity.
It is felt that there must be power to effect transfers not only within the infantry, as between one group and another, but also from one corps to another. That becomes all the more important as developing scientific changes make the shape of the Army different from what it has been in the past or, indeed, may be at the present time. It will be necessary to fill the various corps with those qualified to fill gaps, and so to present a balanced army. The tendency hitherto, strangely enough, perhaps, from some aspects, has been for the numbers to go into the infantry rather than into the technical branches. On the whole, it is likely that any transfers will be from the infantry into the technical branches, rather than from the technical branches into the infantry. The power of transfer is regarded as an essential instrument in the creation of the Army of the future. The power of transfer comprised in Clause 10 of the Bill is limited to Regular volunteers who may enlist after April 30, 1948, or who may renew their engagements after that date. No existing contractual rights are affected at all; they will remain and will be scrupulously regarded. So far as the 368 National Service men are concerned, they have no such rights. So far as the Territorial Army are concerned, no such powers of transfer will be exercised; indeed, no such powers exist. Your Lordships will be aware that during the recent war an overriding power was taken to make transfers compulsorily, and that power was applicable to all who comprised the Army. In future the power will be limited, so far as the Regular soldiers are concerned, to those who enlist as volunteers after the end of this month, or who re-engage in the light of the new conditions.
Those of your Lordships who are interested—and rightly interested—in this subject, and who are anxious to preserve the traditions of the regiments and the interests of the Service men, would be justified in feeling some alarm unless there were certain safeguards for the soldier who may come within the provisions of this clause. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, suggested that there are no safeguards. That is really an exaggeration of the position. Let me tell your Lordships how it is intended that this system shall operate. Let me say, in the first place, that it is not intended that there shall be anything in the nature of wholesale transfers. It is not intended that this clause should be used for altering the size, shape and structure of the Army. What is intended is that, so far as those who will be touched by this clause are concerned, in particular circumstances and within any necessary limits, there shall be a power of transfer. It is intended that the power shall be exercised in the most limited manner and with the most scrupulous care; limited by the severe requirements of the Army, and with the most scrupulous care in the way in which I will describe.
I think your Lordships would probably wish to know how it is proposed to exercise this power. I feel that it is not so much the existence of the power which is of importance as the manner in which it is to be exercised. Let me repeat that it is not to be exercised in a wholesale way, but only in a limited fashion. What I surmise would actually happen would be this. It may be felt that a certain number of soldiers should be transferred from one corps to another. The various commanding officers in the transferring corps would then be asked to find such and such a number of men for transfer. They 369 would have to explain to those under their command the requirement, and the reasons leading to it, and would seek volunteers who would agree voluntarily to be transferred. Now the commanding officer, if he has—as he should have, and as I am glad to think he so often has—the confidence of those under his command, will be able to attract the good will of those who are serving under him—men who will give consideration to the suggestion with, I hope, an affirmative mind. In other words, I am hopeful that, in practice, what will happen in the future will be very much what has been not only the practice but also the law in peace time—that only those who, having been advised of the requirement, have voluntarily agreed, will be transferred. That will be the aim.
There may, of course, be a certain deficit. It may be that the full quota will not thus be found. It may be that the commanding officer will have to exercise his discretion in the small residuum of cases left, as to whom he should designate for the purpose of transfer. That will be done not by numbers but by names. It will be done in relation to particular people. If any particular soldier should feel that he ought not to be thus transferred, of course he would have the normal right to ask of his commanding officer that he should not be included. The commanding officer will be under an obligation, in the case of any of those under his command so designated being unwilling to be transferred, to refer the matter to higher authority. Ultimately, if the matter should come so far without a decision favourable to the soldier's contention, it would come to the Army Council; not to the Army Council as an abstraction, however, but to a particular member of the Army Council who will be designated for the purpose of dealing with this particular kind of matter.
It has been my good fortune to serve—like my noble friend Lord Altrincham—as a member of the Army Council. I think he and the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, who has had so long an experience at the War Office, will agree with me that members of the Army Council, whether they be ministerial or military members, give to personal matters which are referred to them, whether the person be an officer or a private soldier, the most careful and 370 scrupulous attention. When I first went to the War Office, I did not know how these applications and appeals to members of the Army Council were dealt with, and I may tell your Lordships that I was profoundly impressed by the pains taken to see that right was done. I feel no doubt at all, unless the attitude has altered very much since I was a member—which I do not for a moment imagine—that any member of the Army Council entrusted with this heavy responsibility would discharge it scrupulously, and with all possible regard to the wishes of the soldier. Some of the matters to which the member of the Army Council would have regard, for instance, would be long association with the regiment, local affiliations, the circumstances of where the man lives, where he has his life and being in civil life, where his family is and matters of that kind.
That is one safeguard for the soldier. A second safeguard of a more general nature is one to which, indirectly, the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Wavell, drew attention in a speech on an earlier occasion; and that was the effect upon recruiting. The Army Council are extremely anxious that the ranks of the Army should be filled The Council are conducting a current recruiting campaign, and that recruiting campaign will need an increasing momentum. The last thing in the world which the Army Council would do, with their eyes open at any rate, would be to run the risk of putting a brake on recruiting by the wrongful or mistaken exercise of this power. The suggestion that recruiting might be adversely affected through mistaken exercise of this power is, perhaps, the heaviest sanction of all upon the Army Council.
I would say to your Lordships, therefore, that the power will be exercised only so far as it may be: necessary to maintain the balance of the Army; it will be limited with scrupulous care. As regards an individual soldier who is unwilling to be transferred, it will be exercised only after actual authorisation by an individual member of the Army Council. Furthermore, strict regard will be had to doing nothing that will have an adverse effect on recruiting. Let me disabuse the mind of the noble Viscount opposite of the fear upon this score. It is not proposed to deal with this matter by way of numbers only. It is proposed to deal with it by thinking of individuals and treating 371 soldiers as persons in their own right—as, of course, they are. I wish to say to noble Lords who are interested in this subject that the power will be exercised with a proper sense of responsibility, within the framework of the tradition of the regiment.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ EARL WAVELL
I had not intended to speak on this matter, as I said most of what I wanted to say at an earlier date and I did not think I should be able to be present here to-day. But, having heard the explanation of the noble Lord opposite, I feel I must say a few words, because I am afraid that his explanation does not entirely satisfy me as to the real necessity for this clause, and because I am convinced that it will in certain ways have an adverse effect on recruiting. After all, the Regular Army is still the absolute backbone of our military forces; and recruiting for the Regular Army always has been, under our system, an extremely delicate and difficult matter. I am very much afraid of the effect on recruiting of this power of transfer.
Let me mention, for instance, the possible effect on recruiting for the infantry, of which I know most. I gave some figures when I spoke in your Lordships' House a little while ago, but I did not give certain figures regarding recruiting by groups of infantry, which are interesting. The particular group with which I am concerned, the Highland Brigade group, over a certain period recruited, I think, more than 3,000 men—I believe it was something like 3,500; in that same period, one group of English regiments recruited something like 500 or 600. There is a discrepancy indeed. Obviously, those regiments could not be filled by their own recruits; and there is clearly a great danger in such circumstances of men being transferred against their will from one infantry group to another. That has been a cause of dissatisfaction. It would be taking an extreme case—and, from what the noble Lord said, I imagine that it is not likely to happen—if I were to suggest that a man who enlisted for the Highland Brigade group might be transferred to, say, the East Anglian group, because that group was short of recruits; but in view 372 of the recruiting figures this clause certainly makes that possible. I have personally heard from officers in my regiment and from N.C.O's. and men of the grave apprehension they feel at present about this question of compulsory transfer. I have no doubt whatever that it will have an adverse effect on recruiting; in fact, I know that it is already having it.
The noble Lord gave an outline of the possible methods that he thought might be employed. As I understand it, if men are to be transferred from one corps, say from one group of infantry, to another, it is left to the commanding officer to select the men: first, to call for volunteers, and, if sufficient volunteers are not forthcoming, to detail men. Nearly everybody who has experience will know what is likely to happen in those circumstances. The commanding officer will undoubtedly try to get rid of his "bad hats": that will be the uppermost thought in his mind. He will try to persuade them to become volunteers. If he cannot do so, I have no doubt that he will try to find some good local reason for their transfer. Human nature being what it is, I think that that is almost certainly the lines on which commanding officers are likely to work. The process would, therefore, defeat its own object, because if men are transferred involuntarily, they will naturally be dissatisfied in their new corps and will be less likely to make good soldiers there; and the new corps will certainly not get the best men from the units—it may get some of the worst.
I also greatly fear the amount of time that will have to be spent at the War Office on these transfers. I certainly should not like to be the particular officer to whom the noble Lord referred, who has to decide these cases and go into them in detail. I think he will have his hands pretty full and will have a difficult job. I suggest that this clause is unnecessary, because there is a better way of achieving the object. It was done by the old methods of recruiting. I was at one time in a branch of the War Office which had a great deal to do with the supply of recruits to the Army. The general principle was that if a corps or regiment was recruiting too many men, recruiting was closed for that regiment or corps, or the standard was raised. By that method it was ensured that these units or corps did not take too many men.
373 I cannot see why some similar process should not be employed now, and why it should not be comparatively easy to calculate the number of recruits required to keep up the establishments of particular corps or groups of infantry regiments, and to recruit only sufficient men for that group to keep up its establishment. Where that group was a popular one and attracted many recruits, the standard would be high. Where it was not so easy to get recruits, the standard would be lowered; and so on. That was the method employed before the war by the recruiting branch, and it seems to me that if similar methods were to be employed now, this clause would be quite unnecessary, because there would not be a surplus in any particular corps or group. The groups or corps which could not attract men would require special measures. I suggest to the noble Lord that that method should be examined. It is an old and tried method of regulating recruiting, and it may well be found that if it were adopted this clause, which I am sure will be most unpopular and will affect recruiting, will not be necessary.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ LORD MANCROFT
As a Gunner and therefore a member of the corps which is generally considered to be the villain of the piece in regard to postings and cross-postings. I support strongly the views put forward by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and the noble Earl, Lord Wavell. I feel that Lord Wavell has put his finger right on the spot. He says that this clause is really an administratively convenient way of tidying up and disguising in bad form efforts the manpower branches may have indulged in. I should like to put this question. Are there to be any exceptions to this clause? That is really an academic question, because we know that there will be. The Brigade of Guards, by regulation, will in effect be an exception. How far is that exception to be carried? Will the King's Bodyguard or the Royal Horse Artillery claim exemption? It tends to become a danger when powerful commanding officers and influential colonels of regiments start trying to apply such a clause as this for their own convenience. We shall have jealousy. I think that this clause is unnecessary. The existing machinery is really quite adequate. I believe that this clause will have a very 374 unfortunate effect on the Army as a whole.
§ 5.22 p.m.
THE EARL OF IDDLSLEIGH
Mention has been made of influential colonels, and so on. Let me say a word on behalf of those humble and obscure but quite useful officers—the battalion signals officers, amongst whom I served for a few years during the Second World War. We are up against a problem here, and I hope I may have the opportunity of telling the War Office just where the shoe will pinch. The noble Lord opposite has: old us that these transfers will for the most part be from the infantry to the specialist corps. That means that the Royal Corps of Signals will be coming down to take the signallers whom the officers for whom I am speaking have laboriously trained for regimental purposes. That will make things hard for the specialist officer in the battalion.
We have to go round the companies and try to get men to take up difficult, laborious work with the specialist platoon. Often enough, we find it very hard to obtain the right sort of man, because, to make a signaller, we need an educated and a keen man. He is just the type of man who would normally expect to get his stripes while sticking to his company. When we have found him and have trained him, someone will come down from the Royal Corps of Signals and say: "Please let us have some men." Nobody should have the right, at any rate on behalf of the War Office, to say bat men who have had some training in: hat particular specialised work should be taken for the specialist corps, otherwise we shall find that all our training, which is done with an eye to our own battalions and our own regiments, has, so far as we can sec, gone for nothing—for, after all, we cannot always have our minds on the higher consideration; every officer is to some extent bounded by the battalion outlook. We shall find, too, that it will be harder than ever to get men to take up our speciality. The specialist corps have obviously to be fed—we quite understand that. If volunteering is not sufficient to feed them, there must be some ultimate power of compulsion. I feel, however, that the interests of the regimental specialists should not be forgotten when these book transfers are made.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ LORD ALTRINCHAM
Nothing that I can say on this subject will carry a tithe of the weight of the words that have fallen from the lips of the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Wavell, but I feel so deeply and strongly opposed to this clause that I must take part in the protest which is being made against its insertion in the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill. We are here dealing with a situation which is really becoming too familiar. Great powers are taken in the Bill, and now we are told that those powers are to be most carefully used and only in the rarest instances, and that safeguards will be provided. If that is so, why should the powers be so sweeping? To take enormous powers and then say that one intends to use them only in moderation, is remarkable. In this particular case the assurances do not and will not carry conviction with the men, the N.C.Os. and the officers concerned. I am deeply convinced, as the noble Earl himself is, that this will have a most sinister effect upon recruiting.
It is bound also to have some effect upon one of the main characteristics of the infantry—namely, its tradition. There are two schools in the War Office upon this subject. When I was in the War Office, I took part frequently in arguments upon this subject, and I know that those two schools are irreconcilable. I also know that, although the school to which I happened to belong has won a partial victory for the time being, it must always watch its case with eternal vigilance, for the forces against it are very Strong. I am convinced that, apart from considerations of regimental tradition, this clause would undermine the value of the infantry in the Regular Army which, as the noble Viscount, Lord Wavell, has said, is the essential part of our whole military establishment. We are in a difficult position in regard to this clause. Strongly as we feel upon this point, we should create a great crisis if we insisted upon amending the Bill, because I understand that it has to become law by April 30. We do not wish to create a crisis of that kind. However, unlike most of the measures that are brought before your Lordships' House, this Bill is an annual Bill. I want to assure noble Lords opposite that the effect of this clause will be most closely watched. They have little prospect of carrying it another year unless 376 they can come with a much better statement of their case than they have presented to us on this occasion.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
It is true that I cannot speak on this matter with the weight with which the noble Earl below the gangway spoke, but I know that this clause will have a considerable effect on recruiting. I rise now just to point that out by giving an instance that came to my notice the other day, and also to ask the noble Lord opposite a question to which I hope he will be able to give me an answer. The question is this: Is every man who comes to a recruiting centre and is accepted for a particular regiment for which he expresses a preference, to be told quite frankly by the recruiting officer:" You may be transferred against your wishes to any regiment in the British Army "? Is that man going to be told that, or is he not? If he is told, I am certain it will discourage recruiting. If he is not told, it amounts almost to getting a man into the Army under false pretences. I very much hope that that will not be done.
May I, also as a Gunner, take an instance, because I hear it mooted about that the Gunners think this clause is perfectly all right. Not as a Regular Gunner, but as a Territorial Gunner, I came across one of the men of my old Brigade only a week ago. He was working on the railway. We met, we had a chat and I said to him, "Have you thought about rejoining the old Brigade?" He said, "Yes, I did think about it, but I got mucked about so much in the last war." Those were not the exact words he used, but that was the effect of them. The way he had "got mucked about" was that, after a number of years as quite an efficient Gunner, during which time he had become an N.C.O., he had been transferred, against his will, to the infantry. That fellow will not join up again because of that particular incident in his career. That will happen with quite a large number of other people in this country, because British men and women do not like to be treated as though they are mere chattels; they like to have some will of their own. I am quite certain that the effect of this clause, when it becomes widely known, will be to discourage people from going into the Army, because they 377 know they may not be kept in the regiment of their choice. There is a great point in allowing a man to serve in his own county regiment or, if he comes from the Highlands, with the Highlanders, or, if he has a family tradition, in the Gunners, where, perhaps, his father and grandfather served. He should be able to continue in the same regiment. Such a man may have spent the early years of his life in the married quarters of one of those regiments.
It is a sad thing to see this being introduced for the sake of uniformity and, like my noble friend Lord Altrincham I would also comment on the fact that the present Government always seem to want in the background some power of compulsion. The Minister of Labour said the other day in regard to the Control of Engagement Order that the power had been used in only seventeen cases. If it is to be used in only seventeen cases, it is not worth all the fuss of making a great Order like that. The same kind of excuse is now brought forward by the War Office, who say they will use the power sparingly. If you want to get men to transfer into the specialist corps when they are already in other regiments, the right way is to give them a little more proficiency pay. If a man is worth transferring to the Royal Corps of Signals, he should go quite voluntarily; he will receive the extra shilling or so a week. That is a far better method of doing it than this compulsory system.
When I was commanding a battery in France we had to transfer men to an ammunition column. Did my best gunners go? Of course they did not; they stayed in the battery. If a commanding officer has to transfer men to other regiments you may rest assured that it will not be the best men who will be transferred. You may also rest assured that even if these fellows were not very good in the regiment of their choice they will not be half so good in the regiment to which they have been transferred. I hope that, at any rate before next year, the War Office will think again and will leave as the basic idea for our Armed Forces the voluntary system which, after all, will pay far better than this kind of compulsory power.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ LORD NATHAN
I do not know whether I am entitled again to address 378 your Lordships. I think I am but, in any event, perhaps it may be useful if I say a word or two arising out of the discussion to-day. The contributors have ranged from the distinguished Field Marshal to a regimental signals officer, and it is all to the good that that should be so. Let me make it clear, in reply to an observation that fell from the lips of the noble Lord who spoke last (I do not think he was in his place when I opened the debate), that the power under Clause 10 does not apply to Territorials.
§ LORD NATHAN
I understand. I did not want there to be any misunderstanding which might go further abroad and perhaps lead to some misunderstanding in the Territorial Army. The noble Lord put to me a specific question whether those who are recruits are to be informed that this power exists. The answer is in the affirmative; they will be told. In the light of what the noble and gallant Field Marshal said, it may be interesting to note that in 1946 men enlisted in a regiment; the group system was introduced after that. But the difference in recruiting between 1946 and 1947 was only 0.8 of a man per regiment per month. I am not at all certain that even that difference could necessarily be regarded as due to that change. The effect, in practice, so far as one can judge, has not been very great.
When I first met the noble Earl, Lord Wavell, some ten years ago in this very building, he may perhaps remember, it was in connection with recruiting for the Territorial Army. My interest in recruiting has persisted ever since. The noble Earl may rest assured that, for my part, I would not willingly be a party to any suggestion which would operate as a damper upon recruiting or would put the recruit into a false position. I do not know whether the suggestion which the noble Earl put forward regarding the adjustment of the balance between one corps and another would really answer the situation which we have to face. I think he was referring to regiments of 379 infantry, and I can well imagine that the suggestion which he made would have some effect as between infantry regiments. But here we are concerned not merely with infantry regiments but also with transfers from corps to corps.
§ EARL WAVELL
It was done in the corps; the same process was applied to corps. The standard was raised or lowered according to what was required. It did not relate only to infantry.
§ LORD NATHAN
As I listened to the noble Earl, it occurred to me that there might be some difficulty in adopting his suggestion with regard to the technical corps—for instance, if the standard of R.E.M.E. were to be lowered in order to attract a larger number of recruits. That point occurred to me as I was listening to him. I do not know; I think it is worth exploring. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, suggested that special proficiency grants might be a method of obtaining recruits for a certain corps. I have no doubt that that is a matter which has been and will again be carefully considered. But it has been the aim of recent codes of pay to bring the infantry up to a higher standard in relation to the technical corps than was previously the case, and I do not think we should want to do anything which might affect that. The noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, asked a question with regard to depriving regiments of their specialist officers and men. I understand that for the past three years there has been a great shortage in the Royal Corps of Signals, but no cut has been taken off the joint of the ordinary regiment, and nothing has been taken from the infantry signallers. Standing here at this moment, I cannot give an absolute guarantee for the future in that respect, but I can certainly relieve the noble Lord's anxieties by saying that it is our present intention to continue that policy.
There were a number of arguments with which I could deal at length, and also a specific question put by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in regard to exceptions. I am not the departmental Minister, and I cannot answer that question off-hand, but I will certainly see that an answer is conveyed to him if there be any such exceptions.
§ LORD MANCROFT
Would the noble Lord agree that, if there are exceptions, it is important that they, and the reasons for them, should also be made known to potential recruits?
§ LORD NATHAN
I think there is great force in what the noble Lord says. The noble Lord, Lord Altrincham, asked me about "sweeping" powers. One way of describing them is to say that they are "sweeping," but another way is to say that they are "permissive" powers. Perhaps "permissive" sounds less drastic than "sweeping."
§ LORD ALTRINCHAM
I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, but I would be grateful if he would define for us what he means by "permissive." Is it not the fact that all powers are taken to be used at discretion? Are there any powers which it is compulsory to use, whether it is desirable or not?
§ LORD NATHAN
I do not wish to become involved in any controversy with the noble Lord on the subject of the use of words. It will be readily understood why I, standing where I am, might prefer to call the powers "permissive," whereas the noble Lord, standing where he stands, would rather call them "sweeping." I have told your Lordships of the temper and spirit in which it is intended to exercise these powers. It is felt by the War Office that it is necessary to have them, in order to ensure that the Army shall always be a properly balanced Force in the light of changes in scientific developments which are upon us. I will not repeat the arguments which have been used, but I would say to the noble Earl, Lord Wavell, that naturally any observations falling from his lips upon a subject such as that which we have been discussing command great respect. I will see that what he has said, and what other noble Lords have said, is conveyed to those who are charged with responsibility in these matters. In view of the statement which I have made, I hope that noble Lords opposite will now agree to the withdrawal of the Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
It will certainly be only fair to say that the explanation which the noble Lord has given us represents a considerable advance on the 381 explanation which was given in another place. But, again, I should not be frank if I did not say that during the course of this debate the thoughts of noble Lords on this side have turned more than once towards the Lobby. These proposals have been explained away and hedged about with safeguards, until the time has arrived when some of us are wondering exactly what was the need and purpose of these regulations at all. We can come to the conclusion only that there is no real need for them in respect of what is happening at the present time, and that the need for this "sweeping" or "permissive" clause in the Bill really depends on some long-term plans which may, or may not, eventuate, and for the purposes of which it is wished to have powers in reserve. If that is not the reason, then, frankly, we are puzzled as to what is the real reason.
As to these safeguards, it is plain to me that all the procedure which the noble Earl, Lord Wavell, has described, in relation to restricting recruiting and so forth, can go on as in the past. If applied as in the past, they will go a long way to remove any need for the use of the procedure laid down in the Bill. It strikes me, also, that it ought to be possible to incorporate the safeguards announced by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, in any regulations that are made. I am not speaking about a Statute but of regulations to be made under this Bill if it becomes law. Therefore, before we consider withdrawing this Amendment, I would like to know whether the noble Lord can give us an assurance that the safeguards which he has announced in the course of his speech will be translated into regulations. I am talking of the special circumstances, the duty of commanding officers to see that volunteers are chosen, and of the appeal to one member of the Army Council—which strikes me as being somewhat curious. At the present time, if I am not wrong, a soldier has the right to have his appeal considered by three members of the Army Council.
§ LORD NATHAN
I do not think it would be an appeal in the sense in which the noble Viscount was using that term. I am familiar with that. But I think this is rather a question of one member of the Army Council being specially deputed to give his attention to a particular aspect 382 of a certain business. It would not be an appeal in the technical sense.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My point was that, irrespective of that, the soldier still has the right of appeal in the technical sense, and can use it over the matter of a transfer.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
We feel that some assurance should be given that these safeguards are to be translated into regulations before we consider withdrawing the Amendment. May we have an assurance of that sort? The clause in the Statute is bound to be translated into regulations, whether by Army Orders or Army Council instructions. I would like to see a regulation which is in effect a statutory rule and order giving effect to the noble Lord's assurances.
§ LORD NATHAN
I have felt it necessary to seek advice and information on this technical point, because I had myself raised this question when I was considering the matter with a view to the discussion to-day. My recollection (which has now been confirmed) is that what I have said to your Lordships as to the safeguards will be incorporated in Army Council instructions.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
On that, I would like to thank the noble Lord for the trouble which he has taken to meet us in this discussion to-day, and, in the light of the assurance which he has now given, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 10 agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses and Schedule agreed to.
§ Bill reported without amendment.