§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY)
My Lords, I think it may be for the convenience of the House if I move formally that this Bill be read a Second time, then listen to the course of the debate and, with the permission of the House, speak at the end of it. I hope that course has your Lordships' approval. I believe that it will be for the convenience of the House. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord De L'Isle and Dudley.)
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, I do not propose to deal generally with the Army on the Second Reading of this Bill, because there was an opportunity for the House to do so on Lord Ogmore's Motion a short time ago; but there are three points I should like to make. The first is about the Territorial Army. I regret that I was prevented from taking part in the debate on the Motion of the noble Lord. Lord Ogmore, for a number of speeches were made about the Territorial Army. I should like to speak now because I feel that, as a result of that debate, the House may have an unduly pessimistic view of the state of the Territorial Army, partly because some misleading information was given and partly because some of the figures used in that debate, although correct, were not used in quite the right context. Another reason why I want to say a word or two is that I have just come back from a visit to a Territorial Army camp of a unit which I know well, and there I found no despondency of the kind which has been referred to in this House and elsewhere.
The real trouble is the question of whether the original volunteers—by which I mean those who were recruited in 1948, when the Territorial Army was restarted—will remain in the force until the National Service volunteers begin to volunteer in sufficient numbers and gain sufficient experience to take command in all ranks. That is a problem which was 460 foreseen when the Territorial Army was started in its present form in conjunction with National Service. It was also realised, when the first appeal for recruits was made in 1948, that a large number of people would join, and that many of them would run off four or five years later. What is happening now is exactly what was foreseen. There is only one thing that might have happened differently—that is, the previous Government might have started the Territorial Army two years before they did, in which case the process would have been two years further advanced. The National Service volunteers would then have been coming in for two years longer, and it would not have been necessary to rely during those two years on people who had experience of the war and, of course, who were getting no more numerous and no younger. I think the position is that, although the original volunteers are running out, as we expected, the National Service volunteers are coming along in adequate numbers and are obtaining experience fast enough to be able to take over as N.C.Os. and as officers from the original volunteers when the time comes for them to leave the units.
I was glad to see that, in the Statement which accompanied the Army Estimates, the Secretary of State referred to the importance of dealing fairly with the National Service volunteers. That is the main problem of the Territorial Army now. These National Service volunteers are the people in their generation who would have volunteered for the Territorial Army if there had not been National Service. The National Service men themselves represent those people who in former times would have done their first four-year period of enlistment, and the National Service volunteers represent the people who would have carried on from that first period of enlistment, or commissioned service, in such a way as to take posts of higher responsibility. There is no reason to suppose that the same number of people will not be forthcoming now as in former years. Anyone who looks back at the statistics of the Territorial Army, and the Volunteer Force before that, will see that there was a steady figure of about 200,000, which varied very little except when there was a scare of war. That figure represents the number of people whose hobby it is to do Territorial Army service, and there is every reason 461 to suppose that that number of people will go on volunteering if the conditions are made right for them to do so.
I am glad to know that the Secretary of State for War is now giving urgent attention to this problem. I think the two directions in which his attention is required are, first, to see that Territorial Army leaders are not burdened with administration, and secondly, to recognise that, while no one expects to make money out of his Territorial Army service, equally no one expects to be out of pocket. Both these questions can be ascertained by methods common in business life, by time study and cost investigation. A good deal of work has been done on that already, but while I am delighted that the Secretary of State is having these inquiries made, I feel that I should issue a word of warning. When evidence is produced, it is necessary that it should be accepted and acted on, whether it is the evidence the War Office want to see or whether it is not. I say that because three or four years ago an outside inquiry by experts produced a Report, known as the Hamlyn Report, which certainly did not get a cordial reception in the War Office. A long time was taken discussing the figures, although the evidence was clear (this was before the present Government took office), and at the end the thing petered out. It is no good producing evidence on these questions, if it is not acted on in time to be reflected in the following year's Estimates. If the evidence is not what is wanted, it is no good spinning out the matter until the Estimates season is passed. I have put the matter frankly, but I do not think I am wrong in doing so.
I want to say only one other thing about the Territorial Army. I have no special knowledge of anti-aircraft units, but it may be that in these units there are some special considerations which make the position more difficult for them than it is in the Territorial Army as a whole. If so, I hope that these special considerations will not be regarded as applying to the rest of the Territorial Army, but will be dealt with separately. To sum up, I hope that the Secretary of State will stand firm on the original plan, which I am confident is the right one and will work. I hope that he will prosecute his inquiries with the greatest vigour, will accept the evidence which he receives and act on it without delay.
462 I come now to my second point, which is the problem of the "dead end boys" who come into the Army through National Service. This is a problem which has existed for a long time. There always has been a large body of National Service men of low intelligence qualifications and low physical standard who do not go into field force units, and do not spend the last six months of their National Service being trained for battle. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, may remember that, when he was answering for the War Office, I raised this question at the time when National Service was being extended. These men remain in depôts, in Ordnance Corps and Pioneer Corps establishments, and so forth—they are the "Queen's hard bargains." In those units where they go, in the nature of things, man management is bound not to be so good as in the field force units.
This matter has recently come to a head in public through the trial of two soldiers from a depôt in Shropshire for armed assault: one was convicted of causing grievous bodily harm, and the other of manslaughter. But although those things have attracted attention in the newspapers, they are noting new. It has been known in Shropshire for a long time that these things have been going on. These affrays which take place in the streets of the towns are the effect, and not the cause, of the trouble. Some of the trouble is caused by failure of man management; some of it is caused by failure to realise that these young soldiers are really probation types. I should like to read to your Lordships a short extract from the report given by the defending officer at the trial of one man, as reported in the local newspapers, and confirmed by the High Sheriff, who was at the trial. The soldier was said to be most satisfactory. The officer went on:It was his job to keep the garden tidy at a sub-depôt. He also did odd jobs, such as making seed boxes.If you give young soldiers of that kind jobs which are unsatisfying, which lead to nothing, and witch, as a matter of fact, do not make the boy do a day's physical work, it is not surprising that at the end of the day some outlet, for better or worse, has to be found.
A great many of these young soldiers have criminal records of one sort or another, or have been on probation: they are Borstal, approved school or probation 463 types. I cannot believe that the method of handling these young soldiers in the Army is in line with the accepted methods used by those who have to run approved schools or by the probation service. I feel that the time has come when my right honourable friend the Secretary of State should pursue inquiries in this direction. I do not think those inquiries will be successful unless other Departments, such as the Home Office, and possibly also that of my noble and learned friend, the Lord Chancellor, take a hand in them, too. There it is. This matter has got worse. It is one which is causing a great deal of concern to the countryside where it happens, and I am certain that it is one which needs to be tackled as a matter of urgency.
My third point has relation to the Army Act itself. I am delighted that this Bill has come to this House without amendment, as at one time we feared might not be the case. I feel that it is no good tackling the Army Act at all until we can tackle the whole thing as one piece. After all, events have shown that this is a most complicated matter, and it is long overdue. It ought to have been tackled immediately at the end of the war. A Department which allows an Act to get into such a bad shape is only laying up trouble for its Ministers, whoever they are. That, of course, is what happened last year, because a lot of what is in the Army Act, 1882, is quite inapplicable to what goes on at present. Then an investigation started in another place. I hope that I shall not be accused of disrespect if I compare that investigation to the hunting of the snark, because in the end I think that snark, like the original snark, turned out to be a boojum. In other words, it was found that, although the Army Act as a whole looked a quite coherent piece of work until you started to touch it, the moment you started to touch it you found that one Amendment led to another, until the time came when there was nothing to be done short of a radical overhaul. I am glad that we are not attempting any piecemeal operations this year, and I hope that, whatever the Select Committee in another place report, the Secretary of State, or the Government, will not feel themselves necessarily limited to dealing only with what the Select Committee have recommended. I believe that we 464 can go a great deal further. I shall be sorry to see anything left of the sections dealing with billeting and the impressing of carriages. They have proved quite unworkable in two wars, and they have been replaced by requisitioning procedure, which is now well known and has statutory authority. If we are to billet people, or if we are to impress carriages, surely, for modern war conditions we must make those powers apply to services like Civil Defence, the Fire Service, and so on.
A further matter which I feel the time has come to tackle—and this is my last point—is this. Is it really true that we are obliged by Statute to continue the Army and Air Force only for a year at a time? I very much doubt it. I doubted it so much that I looked in the Library to see what was said in the Bill of Rights, 1689. Section 6 of that Bill says:That the raising or keeping a Standing Army within the Kingdom in time of peace unless it be with consent of Parliament is against Law.Of course, it is. But your Lordships will notice that that Bill, which is the foundation of such things, does not mention that the Army Act has got to be passed annually. In fact, I fail to see how the fact of having an annual Act for the Army and the Air Force can be reconciled with our present obligations in time of peace to N.A.T.O. and under the Treaties concerned. I hope that when the Select Committee have reported, the investigation carried out departmentally and by the Ministers will go as wide as possible, and will not exclude the possibility of getting rid of archaic provisions of this sort, while, at the same time, preserving to the full the Parliamentary control of the Forces as laid down in the Bill of Rights. With a modern Army, and still more with a modern Air Force, I do not think it is necessary that that sort of tin can should be tied to its tail. I know that my noble friend who is to reply will not be able to give any detailed reply to the points I have made, and he knows that I do not expect him to. All I ask, therefore, is that he should take note of what I have said which in a limited way applies to the Royal Air Force, and that he will bring to the notice of the Secretary of State those things I have said which apply to the Army Act. I do not wish to delay longer the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, I intend only to ask one question of the Secretary of State, and that is: What has become of this Select Committee? We remember the debate, and we remember how the Army Act, 1882, had a great many features which we found objectionable. And the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork, raised also the question of the Manual of Military Law. It was arranged at that time—I speak from recollection—that we should defer the period of determination of the Act from April 30 to July 31, in order to give us time to make the necessary alterations and bring them before Parliament. This House is not a party to that Select Committee but is, of course, vastly interested in its work, and it is disappointing to know that we have to go on for another year—we have prolonged the Act, up to now, to July 31—without having the Amendments which we hoped the Select Committee would present. Perhaps the noble Lord the Secretary of State can tell us more about that.
As to what was said by the noble Viscount who has just spoken, I must say that the debate has taken a turn far beyond any Service aspect. Is the noble Viscount suggesting that the annual control of the Armed Forces is to be taken away?—because that, I understand, is what he says. He says that there is no need to have an Annual Bill, but that in modern conditions the Army should be perpetual. The Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill, as I understand it—I am a humble student and admirer of our Constitution—is absolutely the bedrock by which we prevent an Executive from maintaining an armed force against the wishes of Parliament. If the noble Viscount is really serious about this he can put down an Amendment to the Bill, and we can have a Division upon it. But it is a matter which is certainly worth notice by the public—that it is being suggested in the Higher House of Parliament, by a noble Lord holding the distinguished record of the noble Viscount who has just spoken, that the principle of annual Parliamentary control of the Armed Forces should be abolished, and that we should hand over the force to any Government, whatever Government it might be, despite the wishes of an elected House of Parliament.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, if the noble Viscount reads Hansard tomorrow he will see that I said that while Parliamentary control, was necessary, I doubted whether the Bill of Rights, in itself, stipulated for annual control.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
It would need a lawyer to interpret the Bill of Rights. To me it seems a basketful of odd Stuff. I certainly understood that the principle was that there was no discipline in the Army unless the House of Commons were prepared to discipline it from year to year. I understand that to be our protection against tyranny and dictatorship. It is not a question of money at all: it is a question of discipline. I understand that the noble Viscount proposes that that control over discipline should disappear. If so, I think he should justify his suggestion, and if certainly hope that the Secretary of State, in his reply, will give a clear Ministerial statement on the most important point that has been raised in these matters for many years.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, when the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, raised these matters, I am sure he was not expecting—indeed, he said he was not—an immediate answer. He certainly ranged well beyond the usual limits on debates on the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill. The noble Viscount's remarks on the subject of the Territorial Army deserve some mention, because it was unfortunate that, owing to the change of date of the Motion on the Array moved some months ago by my noble friend Lord Ogmore, the noble Viscount was not able to be here. The interesting thing is that his evidence on the stare of the Territorial Army is plainly in conflict with that brought forward by my noble friend Lord Ogmore, and, I think, by my noble friend Lord Wise. Evidently there is room for some doubt as to the working of the present system of National Service in the Territorial Army. We hope that the Secretary of State is making such investigations as will assure him of the true position. I imagine that he will at the same time beware of the fatal practice of taking a plant up by the roots to see how it is growing.
On this Bill itself—and who could be more appropriate to move its Second Reading than the noble and gallant Lord, 467 Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, with his experience in both Services?—I think the only thing that is in the minds of all of us is that the Select Committee are sitting, and we hope that their Report, before next year, will enable us to deal with any Amendments to the Army Act that may be necessary.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
My Lords, I think it would be appropriate in my reply to this short debate if I said something first about the state of the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill and the position of the Government in relation to its eventual amendment in a rather radical way. Noble Lords know that the Select Committee which is sitting upon the Bill is a Committee of another place, of which we can take no official cognisance as a House of legislation. But it is common knowledge that the Committee—or, rather, Committees, because the Select Committee is reappointed each Session—have had a large number of meetings and have taken a great deal of evidence. Her Majesty's Government, in recognition of that fact, have thought it proper to present the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill in its present form, because the Select Committee of another place have stated that, in its view, it would be a mistake to anticipate its eventual findings by piecemeal amendments. I feel sure that that will strike this House, as I think it has struck another place, as a sensible arrangement.
I think the recollection of the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, was accurate, and that the intention was, if possible, to produce a Report which would be considered in another place, and to have the amended Bill considered in this House this year. But, by common consent between both sides of the House in another place, the task has been more than even the most conscientious Committee could tackle within the time. I am sure that we should be the last people to accuse them of any dilatory behaviour, and I should like, not as a Member of this House but as a Minister of the Crown, to offer to that Committee my deep sense of the value of the work that they are doing. Certainly it has not been done without controversy, but it has been on a very high plane, and members of both Parties have worked in considerable harmony and to great effect. All I can 468 say to the noble Viscount is that we are anxious that a reform of the Bill should be presented to Parliament and that this House, not having been joined as a party to the Select Committee, shall have its full, free and unfettered right of considering and amending any legislation which is presented to it. I am not sufficiently fortified by the presence of legal luminaries to enter into the constitutional debate which has sprung up. All I can say is that we are good constitutionalists and eager as ever for the control of Parliament over the Executive. If I may say so to the noble Viscount opposite, not in the least in a hostile spirit, we on this side of the House were, for that very reason, strongly opposed to the kind of streamlined legislation which was fashionable in his Party at one time.
The speeches of the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, largely centred on the Territorial Army and on a further topic—on the question of what the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman called the "Dead-end kids" and those who had the misfortune to be convicted by the civil power. So far as the Territorial Army is concerned, I do not think we ought to give way to any undue pessimism. The Territorial Army, dependent as it is largely upon a cadre of volunteers, can never rest completely secure; that is, in the nature of things, impossible. But I do not think we need be gloomy about it. The fact is that, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, said, when the Territorial Army was reconstituted by the late Government in 1947 a number of Territorial officers of the inter-war years came back, and a number of new officers and non-commissioned officers joined. We praise them for their public spirit and we thank them for the work they have done; but undoubtedly, with the passage of the last five or six years, the average age of the volunteer cadre has risen and their numbers in the nature of things are bound to dwindle—as was foreseen at the time.
That means that the National Service volunteers who, as Lord Bridgeman said, are just those who would have joined the Territorial Army as volunteers, must take over. That means, of course, because they have had shorter service, that the age level of company commanders and senior non-commissioned officers is bound to fall, and perhaps fall rather precipitately. But responsibility is always 469 a challenge. There are always people who will shake their heads about the younger generation and the danger of trusting them with responsibility because of inexperience. I am glad to say that in my short experience, fortified by the experience of others it is always found that these people are equal to the event; and although it is perfectly true that the Territorial Army could do with more volunteers, it does impose a greater burden and strain upon the cadre of volunteers upon whom so great a responsibility for the success of the system must rest. It is a great mistake to think that volunteers are not forthcoming. Something like 1,000 a month are coming forward, and I believe it is a great credit to the foresight of those, among whom I number Lord Bridgeman, who taught us that we should, as it were, amalgamate the voluntary spirit of the Territorial Army and harness it to the great new experiment of National Service in peace time. That does validate their faith in the Territorial Army, its vitality and its versatility.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War is fully seized of the importance of not placing too large an administrative burden on the voluntary cadre. That that burden has increased is true; it is inevitable. It is inevitable for three reasons. First of all, the modern Army is a much more complicated structure than the Army with which we were familiar between the wars. The second reason is that we need in this post-war world a much higher state of readiness and training for both Regular and Territorial Army—and that means a greater administrative burden. Thirdly, the larger turnover of personnel, as well as the increased numbers as a result of National Service, means that documentation is much more burdensome.
Being aware of these things as he is, my right honourable friend believes that the burden of administration must, so far as is possible, be lightened. All I can say to-day, and all that I think that the noble Viscount will expect me to say, is that he is fully aware not only of the problem but of the urgency of its solution. There is just one thing 1 should like to say concerning a point to which Lord Bridgeman referred: the age of the cadre of the Territorial Army. It was referred to in the debate on Lord Ogmore's Motion on the Army. I think 470 it was the noble Lord, Lord Lawson (I have not had an opportunity of telling him this, but I do not think he will resent my saying it) who made a statement about the average age. There are 9,500 Territorial officers serving to-day. Of these only 68 served as officers in the First World War and a further 460 were born in 1900 or earlier. That is not a very high proportion. It is not representative of the Territorial Army; nor does it make the average age very much higher. I say that merely to get the record correct.
Now to turn to die last question to which the noble Viscount referred—that of National Servicemen who had had a conviction in civil life or had been in Borstal or on probation or some system of reformation, or even in prison. I fully understand his particular concern because of the numbers of depôts and other units in this county of Shropshire. But under National Service it is inevitable that the intake into the Army and, to some extent, in the Royal Air Force and to a smaller degree into the Navy consists of a cross-section of the community, and that does mean that you get a small proportion—happily a very small proportion—of men with previous criminal records. It would be, in the nature of things, impossible to segregate those men from the rest, even if it were right to do so, which it is not, because it is an essential part of the measures for the reform of these individuals that they should be given a fresh start in military life and, later, in civil life, unhampered by their previous records. With this principle of what I may call "anonymity" it is, I am afraid, inevitable that from time to time men with these records, who are likely to fail to go straight, meet each other in a military unit or camp and cause trouble. Sometimes, inevitably, I am afraid, they give leadership in the wrong direction.
My right honourable friend is very much aware of this problem and has for some time been discussing it with the Home Secretary, who has special ministerial responsibility for matters of this kind. They are both hopeful that the interests of the Army can be protected, as they ought to be, without prejudicing the interests of the individuals concerned. I cannot say more than that, but I am sure that noble Lords will understand that it is a most difficult problem to undertake the reformation of these men in their own 471 interests without prejudicing the interests of the Army or of the many individuals who go into the Army with clean records. It is a pity that incidents of this kind, which naturally, and perhaps properly, attract publicity, obscure the true quality of Her Majesty's Forces, in particular, perhaps, of the Army.
We must not forget the very heavy burden borne by the Forces since the War—an exceptionally heavy burden in our history. The fact that despite the size of the Army there is no single division in this country—which is exceptional in times of peace or semi-peace—is itself testimony of the burden which our Forces, and in particular the Army with its overseas commitments, have to bear. When we think of Malaya, of Korea, and the many other difficult and dangerous jobs carried out overseas by our forces, and very largely by the Army, in the last seven or eight years, I am sure we can see that in the long and proud record of the Services they have never given a better account of themselves as a disciplined and highly-trained force. It is the more remarkable in the case of the Army because it contains a relatively small force of Regular officers and non-commissioned officers, and they have had to form the cadre of a very large National Service Army. I think we owe it to them to say in Parliament that they have done a splendid job and made the best of the very fine material with which our system of annual call-up has provided us. I feel that, in debating the Second Reading of the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill, we ought to put it on record that we are cognisant of, and are grateful for, that proud record, which ought not to be obscured or tarnished by any incidents, however deplorable, which may occur from time to time.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I apologise for intervening at this late stage in the debate, but there are one or two things the noble and gallant Lord has just said which prompt me to say a few words. First of all, we on this side of the House are all delighted to be associated with what he has just said about the Armed Forces in the last two years. They have 472 done a magnificent job. I was rather interested, as the person most responsible to Parliament for the policy in 1947, to hear his general tribute to that policy, to which, very largely is owed the present state of the Armed Forces and the record they have achieved. I felt rather pleased that the noble Lord was quite frank about the situation regarding training divisions. He referred to one matter about which I was often attacked from noble Lords then on this Bench and from the Opposition Benches in another place—namely, that at the time when I was Minister of Defence we had not so much as a division in this country. But, of course, the tasks facing the present Government were there then; and one of the great reasons for the Act of 1947 was to make up our proper reserve of armed strength by including the training of regular divisions in the Territorial Army. However, I am glad to have heard this justification by the Secretary of State for Air for the policy of 1947.
With regard to the Territorial forces, the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, was right, in my view, to draw attention to the administrative burden, but I hope that if anything is to be done by the Secretary of State for War to lighten the burden, it will not be too long delayed, and that it will be possible to divide the additional help so that the burden does not fall too much upon the Regular staff of the Army itself. I hope there will be some alternative means for that, because they have a very big and heavy job to do.
As to the other matter which the noble Lord mentioned, I do not profess to be an expert upon these ancient Statutes which have been quoted by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. I am not sure—I listened to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, when I was standing at the other end of the House—how far he went. I have taken note of what he said in his second interruption in the debate, but it is absolutely fundamental (and I hope that the Government will prove themselves to be just as good constitutionalists in this matter as the other Government to which the Secretary of State referred) if we are to maintain discipline in the Forces, not merely by Vote but through recognition of the fact that they are under the annual authority of Parliament, that the present condition of annual authority should be retained.
473 The only other thing I want to say is that I observe with pretty close attention in my own district, the Eastern Division of the Eastern Command (I live near Colchester), what a considerable amount of difficulty the authorities have with the soldiers who get into trouble just now. But we have to take the rough with the smooth in these matters. My experience of talking to senior officers while I was in office was that the National Service forces have proved that they can provide those who are responsible for the control, training and operation of the Forces with as fine a force as ever was available to the country before, if not finer, because of the range and cross-section of the population referred to by the Secretary of State for Air. To some extent, you have to take the rough with the smooth in such a matter as that.
On the other hand, it would be helpful if the Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Secretary of State for War, could produce for us at some time figures of how the percentages stand up at present—that is to say, the percentages of those who have to be treated as delinquents compared with, say, the period between the wars and the actual period during the war. If in the Annual Reports, perhaps next year, the responsible Service Ministers could give us some information on that, it might prove of some help and guidance to noble Lords in offering any contributions which they may have to make with regard to dealing with this difficult problem. I hope very much that the good report which the Secretary of State for Air has been able to give us on the discipline, morale and fine behaviour of the Forces will continue to be maintained, and that we can go on being as proud of them as I am sure we all are to-day.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
My Lords, I should not normally ask the indulgence of the House to make a further speech, nor do I intend to make more than one comment. We have very lax rules of order and procedure in this House, but I feel that it would be for the advantage of the House, when we are to have a debate, if we could have a list of speakers from the Opposition, because it makes for a good debate if the Government are the winders-up of the debate. For that reason, I 474 ask the indulgence of the House to make one or two additional remarks. The last thing I want to do is to filch any credit from the late Government for anything they did in the matter of defence. Noble Lords know that in general we supported their policy because we thought it was a patriotic policy and for the good of the country. From time to time, we offered criticisms. I do not want the noble Viscount, however, to think that, because I praise the Army, the Navy or the Air Force for their conduct or their quality. I withdraw any of the criticisms of the previous Administration which we made at the time. Lord Alexander mentioned the fact that there was not a single division in this country. I can equally reply that, if that Government had taken some of our advice on foreign and military policy when they were in office, we might not now have to spread our forces so widely over the world.
I should like to say, however, that in general our defence policy has been a national one, and it has been the better because it has been a national one. Although we will certainly listen with attention, and perhaps sometimes with impatience, to criticisms from the other side, I feel sure that they will give us that general support which we offered them at that time.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down (which is our form of words), would he say one word about a very serious matter—namely, the suggestion from a responsible quarter of his own side that we must reinterpret the Bill of Rights and so impair the annual control by Parliament of the Armed Forces?
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
I thought I had mentioned it in my speech. I do not want to be drawn now into the question of the interpretation of the Bill of Rights. The noble Viscount is going to question these things, but the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, has offered his comments on Section 6 of that Bill and has suggested that the constitutional authority of Parliament does not necessarily demand an Annual Bill. He did not say that it should not demand that Parliament should control the discipline of the Forces. I do not know how long there has been an Annual Bill—
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
I am, advisedly, not going at this short notice, in a debate which is not upon the constitutional principles but upon the matters dealing with the Territorial Army, to express an opinion about a future possible general amendment of the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill. When the Government wish to express their view, they will express it in due time and in due form.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.