HL Deb 26 February 1948 vol 154 cc174-99

4.9 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill which I now submit to the House is short and may be not very revealing in its text, but it has real importance. It marks the final stage in what may be described as the emancipation of women in the Services, or at any rate in two of the Services, because, for reasons which I will later explain, the W.R.N.S. are not affected. Man-power has been, and is likely to continue to be, a major limiting factor in our capacity to wage a major war. It was necessary, both in the recent war and in the First World War, to employ women in large numbers and for a great variety of duties with all the Armed Forces. During the last war more than 500,000 women, including many thousands of volunteers, served in the Forces, and they made a magnificent contribution to their success, not only in clerical and domestic capacities but also with great courage, adaptability and resource in other more active and more technical duties. Many of your Lordships will have had, as I had, personal experience of their work, and there will be no dispute that it was beyond praise. Women have, therefore, proved their worth to the Armed Forces; they have established their right to a place in the Forces and they would certainly want to exercise that right.

The A.T.S. were constituted by Royal Warrant in September, 1938, and the W.A.A.F. did not become a separate Service until June, 1939. There was all too little time to organise and train them before war broke out. Indeed, one of the main lessons learned from this experience was the great difficulty of bringing about a rapid expansion of these Forces and of fitting them into the most useful employment without some peacetime basis of experience, organisation and training. That is one main reason why, for the future, we want to maintain the Women's Forces permanently. Apart from that, of course, they have an invaluable contribution to make to the maintenance of our necessary peace-time Armed Forces. Only by continuous service and experience, in fact, can the full value of women as members of the Armed Forces in peace or war be realised. Originally, members of the A.T.S. and W.A.A.F. were civilians, subject to the appropriate regulations only by virtue of an undertaking to observe them. When the war broke out they remained on an essentially civilian basis, though legally they became, to a limited extent, subject to military and Air Force law, rather under the denomination of "camp followers." This was not in keeping with the status they had actually acquired by their duties, responsibilities and activities; and it was, moreover, a status which had major defects in the matter of discipline.

In 1941, by which time the Women's Forces had expanded considerably and were being employed in substitution for men on a much wider range of duties, it was decided to commission their officers and to extend the application to them of further disciplinary provisions of the Army and Air Force Acts. Whole-time members of the A.T.S. and W.A.A.F., together with women doctors and dentists, and members of the Army and Air Force Nursing Services, were then declared to be members of the Armed Forces of the Crown by the Defence (Women's Forces) Regulations of 1941, made under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939. These Regulations made members of these Forces subject to the Army and Air Force Acts to such extent as might be specified by the Army and Air Councils. Later, by reason of their service overseas where Defence Regulations do not apply, a similar provision was embodied in Section 176(A) of the Army and Air Force Acts. This was done by the Army and Air Force (Annual) Act of 1943. Under these provisions the Army and Air Force Acts were applied—though again only to a limited extent—to the Women's Forces; their commanding officers were, for example, empowered to administer certain summary punishments.

Defence Regulations, however, are temporary in their operation, and the Defence (Women's Forces) Regulations will come to an end in 1950. Hence this Bill, which is intended to put the Women's Forces of the Army and R.A.F., including Reserve and Auxiliary elements, on a permanent basis and at the same time to bring them generally on to the same disciplinary basis as men. Naturally, in practice, the codes of discipline embodied in the Army and Air Force Acts will be administered in relation to the Women's Forces with due regard to their sex. But with one or two exceptions it is intended that they shall, in law, be subject to similar disciplinary processes and penalties as men. The Air Force Women's Service will be very closely integrated with the Royal Air Force proper. Members of the Army's Women's Service, while continuing in the main to serve as members of a Women's Corps, will, nevertheless, frequently be serving in mixed units side by side with men. In those circumstances, broadly similar codes of discipline are clearly desirable, subject to the point. I have already made as to their practical application to women.

But although members of the Women's Services will be serving in mixed units, side by side with men, in a wide variety of suitable duties and trades, and will be subject to a similar disciplinary code, there is no intention of abandoning the principle that women's interests should be safeguarded by women. Provision will continue to be made for them to have their own channels of communications on certain subjects to specialist directorates in the War Office and Air Ministry respectively. Directors of senior rank in each of the two Women's Forces will continue to be appointed in the Service Departments, with direct access to the members of the Army and Air Councils responsible for personnel. Moreover, each Council will retain the necessary organisation, staffed by women officers, to look after the welfare of the Women's Forces and their special interests in other directions. As has already been announced in another place, some change in the titles of the A.T.S. and W.A.A.F. will be necessary, in view of their new and permanent status. Neither Force will be auxiliary, and so far as the regular A.T.S. is concerned it will neither have territorial affiliations nor, in the Army sense of the word, will it be a Service. The new titles, which I think have been generally approved, will therefore be Women's Royal Army Corps in the case of the Army, and the Women's Royal Air Force in the case of the R.A.F.

Now your Lordships will probably wonder why the W.R.N.S. are not included in this Bill. The W.R.N.S. have never been declared to be members of the Armed Forces of the Crown in the same way as have the other two Women's Services. They were not included in the Defence (Women's Forces) Regulations of 1941. They have remained a civilian organisation, and it is intended that they shall continue to do so. They will be considerably smaller, numerically, than the women's components of the Army and Air Force, both because the Navy will itself comprise a smaller personnel than the Army or the R.A.F. and because the scope for employing women in a Service which spends much of its time at sea, is necessarily more restricted. For the same reason the W.R.N.S. will not be so closely integrated with the Navy as will the other Women's Services with the Army and R.A.F. as the case may be. Moreover, the policy of retaining the W.R.N.S. on a civilian basis is in line with many other parts of the naval system under which ancillary services—for example, the supply service—are run by civilians, although in the Army and R.A.F. they are organised on a military basis. It is intended, therefore, that the W.R.N.S. shall retain their existing civilian status. This difference in practice has been accepted hitherto, it has operated very satisfactorily, and there seems no good reason to change it.

The Women's Royal Army Corps and the Women's Royal Air Force will be constituted on a date to be fixed by Order in Council as soon as the necessary administrative preliminaries can be completed. When they are constituted, members of the A.T.S. and W.A.A.F. who are at present serving, will have the opportunity of volunteering to transfer to them and of finding in them opportunities for a stable peace-time career. I want to make it clear, however, that these new Forces will be entirely voluntary; no one will be compelled to serve in them. It is, however, clear enough that they will attract many willing volunteers, and that they will fully justify the equalitarian status which this Bill confers on them. I am sure your Lordships will wish well to these new Services, and we have no doubt that their future will be worthy of their past. With this brief explanation I commend the Bill to the House and move that it be read a second time.

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

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, feel it a privilege to be allowed to speak in support of this Bill, which elevates to proper legal status these two Women's Services. I think your Lordships on all sides of the House will agree that this Bill is the logical result, first, of the war record of these Services, and secondly, of our peace-time needs. The noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of the Bill spoke of his personal experience as regards the A.T.S. Many of your Lordships have had personal experience in the three Services, and have seen the work of these women. I can speak with some knowledge in regard to the Royal Air Force, because the W.A.A.F. was delegated to me as a ministerial responsibility by the Secretary of State during the war. Out of some 230 trades in the Royal Air Force, at the end of the war we had substituted women for men in no fewer than 80, from the humble cookhouse—where perhaps some of the most valuable work which can be done in the Services is fulfilled, by cooks who work long hours and very often get all too little thanks and recognition—to the women who were parachuted into enemy territory. They did wonderful work.

I always remember (perhaps some other members of your Lordships' House will remember: forgive me for reminding you) the anti-aircraft barrage against the V. Is. which was put down on the South Coast round Hythe; and how the women worked the radar apparatus—technically known as G.L. apparatus—which Mr. Churchill personally obtained from President Roosevelt at very short notice and which executed such tremendous destruction of the V. Is. One night those girls brought down three flying bombs, working the apparatus in pitch darkness and when the flying bombs were flying in cloud. They were located and shot down by the A.A. guns and the radar on those guns was operated entirely by A.T.S. women. One could range for a long time (I am not going to do it) over their achievements; they merit the tributes which have been paid to these women and which I know will be paid to them in this debate.

I think the most important contribution this Bill can make is in regard to the second point—namely, the peace-time needs of man-power. We shall shortly be having a Defence debate in this House, when I hope we shall go in greater detail into the serious man-power deficiencies in both the Regular and the Auxiliary sections of the Army and the Air Force. If this Bill can make some substantial contribution towards reducing the deficiencies in the Army and the Air Force, we shall go some way towards getting that minimum defence which many of us in this House consider should have absolute priority over all our other national requirements at the present time. The Royal Air Force is seriously under-manned. I would hesitate to give a figure as to the percentage of efficiency at which our first-line squadrons could fight if they had to fight at the present time. All I can tell your Lordships is that, with the international situation as it is to-day, it is somewhat shocking that our ability to put forward our front-line effort in the air is so seriously menaced by the shortage of skilled ground personnel. If the women who will be enrolled in these Regular Forces as a result of the passage of this Bill are to help ease that dangerous situation, then the sooner this Bill becomes law, and the sooner enlistment takes place, the better in our national interests.

This Bill, as the noble Lord has said, brings within the Army and Air Force Act, by permanent legislation and not by Defence Regulation as at present, the W.A.A.F. and the A.T.S.—to use their old titles—and it puts them generally upon the same basis as men in regard to discipline. I regret—and I think many noble Lords on all sides of the House will share that regret—that the W.R.N.S. do not come within the scope of this Bill. I read very carefully the arguments put forward by the Minister of Defence in another place, and which were in the main repeated to-day by the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading, except that Lord Nathan added two more. He said that the W.R.N.S. were always a civilian service. That is true technically, but they have always been a uniformed service, carrying out a Service task. Comparing the W.R.N.S. in uniform with other branches of the Navy, one wonders why an analogy should not be drawn the other way. The Naval Instruction Branch is uniformed, the Paymaster Branch is uniformed so why should one make the parallel with the civilian supply services? Why not make the parallel with the other side, and draw a different conclusion?

The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, said that the Force was really only a small one. I did not see much strength in that argument. Whether the Force be a small one or a big one, we want to do what is logical and right. In another place the Minister of Defence said: Let well alone, because if you once touch the Naval Discipline Act you are going to get yourself in quite a jam—I paraphrase what he said. I am not sure that that is a good reason for not including the W.R.N.S. I believe that many of the women serving in the Naval Forces would themselves like to enter the obligations and duties which are imposed on one who becomes a member of the Armed Forces of the Crown.

My last argument on this matter is that I believe it is wrong that there should be different treatment for people doing the same work. Let me put this point to the noble Lord. During the war, or if any emergency ever arose again, a plotting-room or operations room would be set up, in which there would be representatives, male or female—both probably—of the Navy, Army and Air Force, doing secret cipher work and entirely con fidential tasks. If there were a breach of security in the future, the woman in the Air Force and the woman in the Army could be tried by court martial. The Naval woman would not be liable to such trial and subsequent punishment. I notice that the First Lord of the Admiralty is here, and I believe he is going to say something on this matter. I would like him to deal with the point whether, in circumstances such as I have outlined, he thinks it is right that there should be that sanction over the work of the woman in the Army and the woman in Air Force, but not over the work of the other woman.

The noble Lord who moved the Second Reading said that generally women would come under the same disciplinary code as men, except that allowance would be made for the fact that they are women and in certain cases their misdemeanours would be dealt with by women. I think that is entirely right. The Markham Committee—which many noble Lords in this House will remember—presented a very good Report during the war, and it stressed that particular point. The Air Ministry and the War Office both tried to act along those lines during the war, and I think we need have no fear about women being brought broadly under the same disciplinary code as men. The Royal Air Force integrates the Women's Service much more closely than the Army. I shall be making some inquiries about what will happen as regards the disciplinary sanction of the salute. In this country we have a certain agitation for equal treatment for men and women. It is interesting to reflect for a moment how far one could travel along the road of sex equality when, in the future, it would be possible to place a man on a charge for not giving the proper, respectful salute to his daughter. That is the fact. If in the future the enterprising daughter of an enlisted man in the Royal Air Force, had gone through the ranks and obtained a commission—


Or his sweetheart.


Or his sweetheart. Under the regulations—because saluting in the integrated Air Force will now be required by regulation and not by courtesy—the man could be put on a charge. If there is a regulation and a sanction for it, it must be generally applied. For those who are ardent feminists, it is worthy of note that we have arrived at that position in this country. I do not object to it at all, but it is worth noting in passing.

I hope that the pay and conditions of service will soon be made known and will be made attractive. At the present time—I am not going into detail—the pay and allowances in certain trades and ranks are not very attractive. May we hope that the Secretaries of State and the Minister of Defence will make a concerted drive upon the Treasury, in order to ensure that, when these regulations concerning pay and allowances are promulgated they will justify the service that we expect from these women? In conclusion, I would like to support the final words of the noble Lord who moved this Bill. We wish the women well, thanking them for their services in the past and feeling grateful for the services which we know will be rendered in the future.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I do not in the least wish to raise any opposition to this Bill, the necessity of which is abundantly manifest. But I would like to raise one point which I know is very much in the minds of a great many people. It comes rather prominently forward in view of one reference made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye—namely, the parachuting of women into enemy territory. The heroism of that no one can possibly put high enough; it was an act of immense devotion and courage. I have a feeling however—and I know that it is shared by a large number of people—that the integration into the Army and Air Force of Women's Services may conceivably in any future calamity lead to an extension of such acts. In my view we need to be careful, however necessary may be the employment of women, however honourable and however great the contribution they can make, that in certain respects they should be spared some of the major horrors of war. I cannot help feeling that in the step that has been taken to make these Women's Services a part of our Regular Forces, there is a danger of this aspect being overlooked. If that is so, I think that it would be regarded in future not as an advance but possibly as a retrograde step in civilisation. Apart from that one point I am sure that everybody must recognise with very great pride the labours and devotion of the Women's Services. So far as the status of the W.R.N.S. is concerned, I feel—and I speak in this particular matter with some small personal knowledge—that the present status is one of which the W.R.N.S. are immensely proud; and I think most of them would rather regret any change.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, this is another of those occasions (with which we are not altogether unfamiliar in these days) when we are presented with a frame containing a blank canvas to be filled in at some subsequent stage by Administrative Orders and Statutory Instruments from the various Ministers concerned. It is not entirely easy to deal with the subject until one has at least some vague outline as to whether the ultimate picture is to be of the classical or the surrealist school. The only details that we have been vouchsafed so far have appeared in the Press and been repeated to-day by the noble Lord. They are confined to the apocalyptic vision of the new nomenclature which apparently descended on the Secretary of State for War, on the merits of which I do not propose to comment.

The main purpose of this Bill is to give a permanent status to two of the three Women's Services, in place of the emergency footing upon which they have hitherto been established. With that object I am quite sure that all your Lordships will be warmly in sympathy. It would be ungracious and ungrateful of anybody taking part in this debate not to join in offering a tribute to the work done by the Women's Services during the war. The figure which the noble Lord gave in expounding this Bill, 500,000 women in the Services, is itself the most ample testimony to the contribution which they made in alleviating pressure upon the sorely tried man-power of the country, and the measure of the value of their contribution to that end. In the Royal Air Force, no doubt, there were open to women a large number of technical employments which involved work of considerable interest and heavy responsibility. As regards the Army, to which alone my personal knowledge extends, it can be said that the women's duties were immensely varied, generally arduous, rarely spectacular and wholly indispensable. Perhaps the aspect of their work which most caught popular imagination was their association with the mixed antiaircraft batteries. It would be unbecoming, however, in remembering that more sensational aspect, that we should forget the long-drawn-out drudgery of their work in other fields, in which their only stimulus was the sober and sombre reflection that the work had to be done and that there was nobody else to do it.

Looking back upon my own experience for a moment, if I may, particularly during such time as I spent at a Command Headquarters in this country during the war, I am still amazed at the extent to which the smooth running of our daily lives was in the capable and unobtrusive hands of the Women's Services. They cooked, they waited, they cleaned, they typed, they filed, they maintained and drove our cars—in all weathers and over all distances—cheerfully, skilfully and tirelessly; I, and hundreds like me, can never forget the debt that we owe to them. But it would be a foolish fiction to pretend that they were, without exception, ministering angels. There were amongst them what may fairly be described as some pretty tough propositions; and it was a heavy burden upon their own company officers to have to attempt to cope with some of these young women with no more potent weapon than a maximum penalty of seven days' confinement to barracks. The Army Act is now to be applicable to them—rightly with modifications—and in considering the penalties which are to be attached to offences by members of the Women's Services, I trust that it will be realised that if they are to be an integral part of a disciplined Force they must be subject to proper disciplinary penalties.

I want to touch on only one other point. It would be of interest to know whether it is proposed in the Women's Services to turn for the supply of officers to those who have passed through the ranks of the Service, and whether they are (as presumably they are) to have their own O.C.T.U. in order to produce officers with the necessary standard of skill and of experience. One other aspect. It is not always known or recognised that, certainly in the later stages of the war, a large number of women were employed on the Staff, not in the directorate of their own corps but generally in the integrated Staffs of Corps and armies, and army groups. I can recall one A.T.S. officer who held on the Staff of the 21st Army Group in the invasion of Northwest Europe, a first-grade Staff appointment, with a rank equivalent to that of lieutenant-colonel; certainly she was no less efficient than her very capable male colleagues. These officers are being asked to go into the Service as a career. They accept a regular Commission and they ought to be given every opportunity and every incentive to make the most of that career.

In that connection, I would like to ask the noble Lord, even if he cannot answer at this stage, whether it is intended to throw open the Staff College, and if necessary the Imperial Defence College, to Regular officers of the Women's Services, in order that they may take advantage of their own talents and their own hard work and, as I say, make their career in the Service valuable not only to themselves but to their Service and to their country. Your Lordships will all hope that suitable recruits will come forward in satisfactory numbers for these new Services, and we can all be confident that they will conserve and consolidate the standards and traditions built up by their predecessors under the grim duress of war.

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to extend a welcome to this well-meaning but untidy little Bill. There can be nothing but praise for the objects of the Bill, but I should like to echo what the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, said when he complained about the way in which the Bill has been drafted. We are all becoming accustomed nowadays to the construction of Bills by Orders in Council. This Bill seems to be a particularly flagrant example. I agree that it may be difficult to draft it otherwise, but I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the draftsman's wishes could be attained in just as simple a way if we merely passed Clause 3 of the Bill together with the Title. I do not profess to understand what will be the effect of this Bill from the point of view of discipline. It is far too complicated for the layman to work out what portions of the Army Act and the Air Force Act apply.

I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, say that the system of dual commands in the A.T.S. was still to be continued, for it was found to be very effective during the war. With regard to to the W.R.N.S., I must confess myself unhappy at their exclusion. It seems to me a very retrograde step to take to-day, when every idea in Service co-ordination is towards simplification and unification. That is what the Ministry of Defence were formed for, and here they ate moving away from that idea. I listened carefully to what the noble Lord had to say, and I have also observed carefully the remarks of the Minister of Defence in another place. They both say that the system stood the test of war and that it is still working well. My only comment on that is that I hope the noble Lord will bear that interesting sentiment in mind if any of his colleagues should be rash enough to think of interfering with the iron and steel industry.

I am sorry to say that I cannot agree with the noble Lord that the names chosen for the Women's Forces have met with universal approval. I know that this is a controversial point. I have spoken to several members of the A.T.S. about their new title of Women's Royal Army Corps. They think it is, to say the least, a little incongruous. The Ministry of Defence have been untidy with regard to the exclusion of the W.R.N.S. They have here, in contrast, carried tidiness to an illogical conclusion, for they have given the prefix "Women's" to all three Services. In the Royal Navy, and in the R.A.F., the title "Royal" is carried within the Service names. In the Army, however, we have the Royal Army Service Corps, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, and so on. I suggest that a better title would have been "Royal Army Women's Corps," and that would have avoided the juxtaposition of the words "Army Corps," which is inappropriate in a women's organisation. If that is not acceptable, may I suggest that we should go back to an old tradition and call the A.T.S. the "Princess Royal's Regiment" (because the Princess Royal is Controller-Commandant of the A.T.S.) or, perhaps, the "Queen's Corps." It is not a matter of importance; it is merely a suggestion on my part, and I do not press it. It is perhaps too late now to reconsider the matter.

The really important thing is the question of discipline and tradition in the Women's Services. This Bill, quite rightly, draws attention to the need which will arise for good officers and N.C.O's. We shall have even more difficulty in finding the right type of officer and N.C.O. than we have for the men's Services, because we have this additional difficulty to contend with. When an officer or an N.C.O. in one of the Women's Services has been trained to take up a really responsible position, it will be found that she leaves the Service to marry. I hope that women will be encouraged to stay in the Service after marriage.

There are three other difficulties which will tend to detract from good recruiting to the Service. I am glad to see that the Secretary of State for War is lending his mind to the problem of better accommodation for the Women's Services. Some of the accommodation with which the A.T.S. have had to put up in the past has been scandalous. It is a universal problem, but, if we can effect some improvement, that will be all to the good. The question of uniform has also been raised in this House, and I am glad to see that some improvement in that direction is expected. If noble Lords doubt the effect upon recruiting of an attractive uniform, I would only draw your Lordships' attention to the numbers of "red-heads" who join the W.A.A.F. or the W.R.N.S. rather than the A.T.S. The question of pay was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. Your Lordships will remember that when the new-pay codes were discussed in 1946 it was forcibly brought home to the Government that the rates of pay for the Services had by no means kept pace with the rates of pay obtaining in civil and industrial life. The rates of pay for the Forces have not changed much in the last two years, but the rates of pay for their brothers in industry have gone up very greatly. I know that this is no time to press for increased rates of pay for the Services, but I should like to point out that the Women's Forces were originally promised rates of pay equivalent to two-thirds of those for the men. This promise has been only imperfectly implemented. Women's rates of pay at the moment are very unattractive, and we are not likely to attract recruits unless we can offer them rates of pay which do not compare unfavourably with those of their sisters in trade and industry.

I join with other noble Lords in paying my tribute to the Women's Services. I hope that everything will be done to foster the fine sense of esprit de corps and tradition which was built up in an amazingly short space of time. Sometimes, I thought that they tried to run even before they could walk. I remember seeing at an A.T.S. camp in Chester a notice-board stuck in the grass bearing the legend: Only N.C.O. s may walk across this piece of grass. This tradition will take effect from Wednesday next. On the other hand, I shall never forget a certain young A.T.S. sergeant who was trapped in a blitzed headquarters in Belgium which had been hit by a flying bomb. She was buried for thirty-six hours beneath the ruins of her headquarters. She was dug out from the rubble, bleeding and battered, but alive. A senior medical officer went up and spoke to her and, after he had finished talking, she took a smart pace to the rear, whipped up a salute that would have done credit to the Brigade of Guards, and said: "Permission to fall out, sir?" That spirit and sense of discipline is not easily come by. In so far as this Bill goes a long way to foster that tradition, that spirit and that sense of discipline, I welcome it warmly.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye spoke of his experiences with the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. I should like, if I may, to take the same line with respect to my experiences at the end of the war, when I had the privilege of being associated, to some extent, with the administration of the A.T.S. and also in taking a hand in the early plans which led ultimately to this Bill. Like other noble Lords, I welcome this Bill and I have some reason to believe that it is going to be well received by the two Women's Services to which it refers. Everybody will be glad to see that the Women's Services have been recognised and that they have, so to speak, lost their amateur status and are put on a permanent basis. I am glad to find that the main reason which was given by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, for doing so was the man-power reason, because that, I am certain, is the right and proper reason to underlie a step of this sort. I can imagine how attractive it would be to a certain type of person of a certain type of mind to say, "They did a good job in the war; but cannot we save money during the peace by letting them go, and cannot we pull them in again should another war come?" It is a great relief to find that this sensible line has been taken in respect of this Bill—a sensible man-power line—and I only hope that an equally sound line may be adopted in regard to male man-power, a matter to which we shall probably be reverting in the debate on the White Paper on Defence.

Few people realise the great extent to which we relied on woman-power in the war, and the greater extent to which we could have relied on the A.T.S. and the W.A.A.F. had their strength been higher. In addition to those bodies there were, at home and overseas, a large number of members of women's corps like the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, the Women's Voluntary Service, the Red Cross, and so forth, all of whom were doing essential work for the Forces in the last war. We cannot be certain that they will all be there next time if they are wanted. That is an additional reason for placing these Women's Services on a sound basis. I was also glad when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, say that the arrangements would include the Reserve and Auxiliary units because those are extremely important, particularly from the point of view of Anti-Aircraft Defence. We shall look forward to those details when they come to be announced.

I turn now to the new voluntary status of the two Forces. There is an arrangement, if I understand the noble Lord aright, by which, once this Bill is passed, members of the existing Services will be invited to transfer to the new Services. I think we on these Benches are quite certain that the voluntary system is the right one in peace-time. I would only say that I hope these arrangements do not exclude the possibility of direction in wartime, in the event of direction proving necessary, but, of course, not otherwise. I am not suggesting that powers of direction should be in this Bill—far from it—but I am anxious to make sure that it does not exclude a step which might prove to be necessary next time. If we wish the existing members of the A.T.S. and the W.A.A.F. to transfer at the proper time to the new Services, then surely we must see to it, as other noble Lords and particularly my noble friend Lord Mancroft have said, that the conditions of service are right. Good conditions of service are even more necessary in the case of the Women's Services than they are in regard to the men's. The right officer or leader is absolutely vital to a happy and successful Women's Service. The flexible arrangements that we now have, particularly in respect of married women, are also essential, and I hope those arrangements will be kept. Time is short and I am going to say nothing more about the position of the W.R.N.S., except that I heartily endorse everything that my noble friends on these Benches have said. I did, as a matter of fact, gain one crumb of comfort from something the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, said. He gave as a particular reason for differentiation in the case of the Navy that a large number of the personnel spend much of their time at sea. I think he said that. That is comforting because, from a casual glance at the Naval Estimates, I was not absolutely certain that that was so. However, I will leave the matter there.

May I now come to the point made by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, regarding the blankness of the canvas. It seems to me that if the Ministry of Defence or the Service Departments concerned had had more opportunity to cooperate with the Parliamentary draftsman, this Bill could have been a great deal more detailed, and a good many of the points that the noble Marquess had in mind might have been cleared up. It is true that in the Bill there is a provision requiring an affirmative Resolution for the Orders in Council, and I hope it will not be long before those dusty corners are swept up. I trust, also, that when the time comes for a proper revision of the Army Act and the Air Force Act, the provisions dealing with women will be incorporated into the Acts themselves. If I understand the noble Lord aright, I gather that there will be no different disciplinary code for women, just as with an ordinary civil offence there is no difference in the charge preferred against a woman from that preferred against a man. I am certain that that arrangement is right and will stand the test of time.

I feel sure that if we succeed in obtaining the right officers and the right spirit in the corps, this question of discipline will not in practice loom very large. It has not in practice loomed very large in either of the Women's Services up to date. Nor, I think, will Lord Gorell's fears be completely realised. Speaking subject to correction, I do not believe there has ever been a case where a member of either Women's Service has been compelled to undertake operational duties against her will, whether it be in the Special Services that my noble friend Lord Gorell had in mind, or whether it be in the mixed anti-aircraft batteries, and I have no fear that anything like that will happen now. My Lords, time is short and I will not detain you further. We welcome the Bill. And may I associate myself personally with the tributes which my noble friends have paid to the Women's Services? We shall look forward to more detailed news as to the regulations and Orders in Council which have to be made. We are not by any means satisfied with the position of the W.R.N.S., and we are not ruling out the possibility of that matter being raised again on the Committee stage.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships and the First Lord of the Admiralty will not wish me to comment at this moment on the question of the amount of time which the Navy spends at sea, but if I may express an average naval officer's point of view on this Bill, I would say that it appears, on the face of it, to be illogical that the W.R.N.S. should be different from the other two Services. On the other hand, the Royal Navy is very conservative—I do not mean in a political sense. We are conservative. We have very old customs and traditions, and when we are satisfied with something we rather like it to remain the same. We have many illogical things, and we have many unwritten laws; for instance, there is the law by which a man may burn in the morning the letters he writes at night, and many an Admiral in the Pacific has been saved from the wrath of the Admiralty by carrying out that law. We have, in the Royal Navy, the very highest regard and admiration for our Women's Royal Naval Service. Its members are conscientious, high-minded and devoted to duty. Every one of them knows that she can desert the next morning if she wishes to; but they do not desert. That, perhaps, is due to the fact that if you tell a woman that she may do something, she makes quite certain that she will not do it. I have seen our W.R.N.S. all over the world, abroad, at home, afloat and ashore. They have had most responsible duties to carry out, and I have never yet known the slightest trouble arise in regard to any question of discipline.

There may, of course, be occasional difficulties, such as that which occurred at Portsmouth recently, when a question arose as to whether a sentry at the Royal Naval barracks should be ordered to salute a W.R.N.S. officer. I have consulted the W.R.N.S. and their view is that they would much prefer that such an order were not given. They know that they may depend on being saluted in appropriate circumstances in the way that a man with respect for a woman does salute her, but I feel sure that the last thing a W.R.N.S. officer would wish is that a sentry should be punished for not doing it. We have a great admiration for this Service, and they have shown a high regard for our customs. We have been very well satisfied with the W.R.N.S. in two wars and we know that now and in the future they will carry out their duties in accordance with the highest traditions of the Royal Navy.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, with your permission I would like to intervene for just a few minutes to explain the position as to the relationship between the W.R.N.S. and their sister Services. But before I deal with that matter I must say that I find myself in a very pleasant and happy position, as it falls to me to tender hearty congratulations to my noble friend Lord Fraser upon his maiden speech. He is a distinguished figure in the "Silent Service," but when he speaks he always does so in the very direct manner in which he has spoken this afternoon. I confess that I feel a little embarrassed because, after all, he is the Commander-in-Chief of almost the largest Naval port in the world, as well as First Sea Lord-designate of the Royal Navy. I am looking forward with great pleasure to renewing the close association which I had with him when I served in the Admiralty during two years of the war. I would not like to tell your Lordships all the stories that passed between us, or of some of the incidents which occurred during that period. It has always been a pleasure to be associated with him, and I heartily congratulate him to-day, as I am sure your Lordships will wish me to do. When he is free to express his opinions, I am sure that his words will receive the reception in your Lordships' House which they will most certainly deserve.

I have intervened to say just a few words to make the position of the W.R.N.S. quite clear. It was to me most interesting to note that the requests, indeed the pressure, to bring the W.R.N.S. under the Naval Discipline Act came from speakers representing the other two Services. Indeed, in all the debates which have taken place not a single person who has been associated with the Royal Navy in any way has made such a request. The request comes from members of your Lordships' House who serve, or who have served, in the R.A.F. or in the Army. Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Gorell, rightly said, not only has the system which operates in the discipline of the W.R.N.S. worked, but it has worked in such a way that in service, in behaviour and in discipline the W.R.N.S. most certainly do not take second place to either of the other two Services. Whilst I would pay sincere tribute to all the Services, I would pay special tribute to the service rendered by the W.R.N.S. during the period of the war. It is true that in numbers they were not as great as the other two Services. There were 70,000 of them, and, from every aspect, their service to the State and to the Royal Navy was not surpassed by either of the other two Services.

The question of changing the status of the W.R.N.S. and of including that Service in the provisions of this Bill was carefully considered, but it was decided that it was not necessary to make a change. The Naval Discipline Act was, of course, framed, as Lord Nathan rightly said, for a fighting Service, spending much of its time at sea. And may I say here that I shall be quite prepared to deal with a number of matters connected with those which have been raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and some of my naval colleagues in your Lordships' House, when we have a debate on the whole matter the week after next? As the Naval Discipline Act largely covers time spent at sea, it would clearly be inapplicable to a Service such as the W.R.N.S. This is an important consideration, but other factors have also influenced the decision reached.

It has been freely stated that the W.R.N.S. have been and will be a civilian corps. That statement is quite true, but I think it has led to some misconceptions. Members of the W.R.N.S. are not civilians in civilian jobs, in the ordinary sense of the expression. All women who enter the W.R.N.S. sign a form of enrolment which constitutes a contract. This contract provides for the maintenance of a disciplined Service and a disciplinary code which, in main features, follows that of the Royal Navy. I may perhaps mention in this. connection that the disciplinary measures in force in the W.R.N.S. are dismissal, dis-rating, deprivation of good conduct badges, deductions from pay for improper absence, stoppage of leave, extra work, restriction of privileges and reprimand.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye raised the question of breaches of security. He referred to work in the plotting room, where women of the three Services might work together, or the W.R.N.S. might work with naval officers, the W.R.N.S. not being subject to the same code of discipline. Whilst it is true that the W.R.N.S. offender could not be tried by court martial, she could be tried in accordance with the W.R.N.S. own disciplinary code, for a minor offence. For a major offence, of the type such as that referred to by the noble Lord, we should have to resort to a civil trial under the Official Secrets Act. So there is this method of discipline, which has indeed worked satisfactorily. It is true that a breach of contract by a member of the W.R.N.S. has either to be accepted by the Admiralty or the issue must be settled, as I have said, in the civil courts. Throughout the War, however, such a high standard of discipline was maintained in the Service that no difficulty of any importance was occasioned by its members not being subject to the Naval Discipline Act.

Recruitment of the comparatively small numbers to be entered into the Permanent Service of the W.R.N.S. has been, and is expected to continue to be, highly selective, and as there has been no difficulty in time of war in maintaining a high standard of discipline, devotion to duty and efficiency, which the W.R.N.S. have always displayed, I am fully confident that the application of a penal code is not required to maintain it in time of peace. To put the matter briefly, we have a Service organised in a certain way which has rendered signal service to the country. The arrangements hitherto enforced have worked in a fully satisfactory manner and we see no need to make a change. There is one final point which I should like to make clear. Owing to the exclusion of the W.R.N.S. from the Bill now before your Lordships' House, the impression may have been gained in some quarters that the W.R.N.S. are not to be on so permanent a footing as are the other two Women's Services. This is certainly not the case. It is firmly the intention to retain the W.R.N.S. on a permanent footing, and that is in no way affected by the provisions of the Bill. I am convinced that we shall get service from this excellent branch of the Royal Navy equal to that which has been rendered in the past.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, a great number of interesting speeches, making useful contributions to this subject, have been made in the course of this discussion, to which the noble and gallant Admiral, if he will allow me to say so, has added distinction by his maiden speech. I will deal with the various points which have been raised without making any elaborate speech, because I think that will suit your Lordships' convenience best.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, raised a question with regard to pay. He expressed the hope, as did the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that the pay code would be of an attractive character. I think that fairly describes the request which they made. Let me say that the pay code for these Women's Forces is under active consideration and will be announced as soon as possible. Your Lordships will be interested to know that it will be announced in advance of bringing the new permanent Forces into existence. Both the Service Ministers and the Minister of Defence are anxious to advance the date of the announcement as much as possible, and noble Lords may be assured of the importance that is being attached to dealing with the matter promptly. There will be no undue delay. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, complained of a blank canvas and the noble Lords, Lord Mancroft and Viscount Bridgeman, also made reference to that. But the canvas is not quite so blank, because the first clause of this Bill is the really operative clause without which—if I may correct the noble Lord—the remainder of the Bill would be of little effect. No blank canvas is left by the first clause, although later Clause 3 is provided to fill in some decorative particulars.


The first clause is what I described as the frame.


I understood the noble Lord mentioned canvas. He did not suggest it was a frame with no canvas.


I said it was a frame with a blank canvas.


I should not have thought the metaphor was so apt in regard to a frame as in regard to a canvas, but it is the noble Marquess's metaphor and not mine. What is intended is that certain modifications of the Army and Air Force Acts which are essential to apply them to the Women's Forces shall be the subject of Orders in Council. These are in addition to the general provision of the first part of Clause 3 of the Bill. There is a vast amount of legislation and many regulations dealing with the Forces, and it would be impracticable—it would take far too long at this stage—to incorporate in the Bill all the detailed modifications which may have to be made. Indeed, noble Lords would complain if they were incorporated in this Bill, because the general proposals are set out in terms in the Bill, and what is required to be the subject of Orders in Council is a considerable amount of detail which would only encumber the Bill at this stage. The Statutes known to be affected by the first part of Clause 3 have been carefully reviewed, without revealing any that cannot properly be applied to women, but we cannot completely rule out the possibility that, as the result of experience, it may be necessary at some time in the future to limit or amend the operation of a particular Statute on members of the new Women's Forces. Clause 3 (2) will enable this to be done by Order in Council. I would point out that there has to be an affirmative Resolution, so that noble Lords will have ample opportunity to look into what is being done.

The noble Marquess raised the question of commissions, as did other noble Lords. The position will be very similar to that relating to men. Other ranks recommended for commissions by unit commanders will be interviewed by a War Office or Air Ministry Selection Board, passed to pre-O.C.T.U., and thence to O.C.T.U. The whole process is closely modelled on the method of selection of men for commissions and will take about six months. In addition to that, the War Office have recently announced a scheme called the "Deliberate Entry Scheme" under which women can apply for direct entry commissions. The system is more or less the same as in the case of promotion from the ranks—War Office Selection Board, followed by recruit training, pre-O.C.T.U. and O.C.T.U., the training to last six months. Only if the woman makes the grade is she commissioned at the end of that time. If she does not, she has the option of discharge or of completing two years' service in the ranks. The scheme is intended by the War Office to supplement commissions from the ranks. Women in the ranks have and will continue to have every opportunity of obtaining commissions. So far, no similar direct entry scheme has been introduced by the Air Ministry.

The noble Marquess also asked about the admission of women to the Staff College and to the Imperial Defence College. I cannot make any definite pronouncement about that at the moment, but I will go so far as to say that the admission of women to these colleges appears to be a natural and logical development of this Bill. Quite possibly, before long, we shall see women in the Staff Colleges and the Imperial Defence College, but the noble Marquess will understand that I am not in a position to-day to undertake a definite commitment in that regard.

As regards penalties under the disciplinary code, as I said in my opening remarks, it is intended that the same general code shall apply to women as to men. When the women and men are integrated, working side by side on the same duties in mixed units, it is clearly essential that they should have a similar code of discipline. There were cases which arose during the war when a man and woman of the Forces were jointly charged with a crime, and the woman was prevailed upon to take the major responsibility, because, as the matter then stood, she could not receive more than fourteen days' detention. In practice, however, the disciplinary codes will be administered with due regard to sex, and subject to appropriate administrative safeguards (for example, it will be provided in Regulations that courts martial on women should contain at least one woman officer) to ensure that women are not treated with any undue harshness.

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, asked a question with regard to married women. It is felt that married women must be given the option of discharge on marriage. But let me tell the noble Lord that they will certainly be encouraged to stay; there will be no discrimination of any kind against married women. As regards the Orders in Council to which I have referred, and in regard to which the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, asked that there should be no delay, let me assure him that there will be no delay in introducing the Orders in Council. Let me add, in answer to another point which he made, that the Orders in Council will, as he suggested, ultimately be incorporated in the Army and Air Force Acts as definitive legislation, thus filling in the canvas or the frame, or the canvas and the frame, to which the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, referred. The noble Viccount, Lord Bridgeman, also asked about direction in war time. I can give him an assurance that nothing in the Bill will prevent women from being directed to serve in the Women's Forces if this should prove necessary in some future emergency. I hope that I have dealt, if but briefly, with the various points which have been raised in the course of this discussion. It only remains for me to ask your Lordships to show your approval of this Bill by allowing it to have a Second Reading, and in doing so to extend the warmest welcome to these two new Women's Services.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his full and courteous reply, and in doing so I would ask whether the Orders in Council will be laid before Parliament before the members of the A.T.S. and the W.A.A.F. are called on to transfer.


I can see the implication of the question asked by the noble Viscount, but I can scarcely answer that question off-hand. I will make inquiries into the matter and let him know.


Perhaps we could raise the point under the appropriate clause during the Committee stage.

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