HL Deb 10 July 1953 vol 183 cc521-4

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn.

Moved, That the House do now adjourn.—(The Marquess of Reading.)


My Lords, I would take this opportunity to make two observations, neither of which calls for a reply, but both of which, I think, are worthy of notice. First, having read the Report of yesterday's debate in your Lordships' House on the Second Reading of the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill, I would draw attention to these words which were spoken by a very distinguished member of your Lordships' House, Lord Bridgeman, who himself has held office. The noble Viscount said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 183 (No. 87), col. 464): 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. Then the noble Viscount went on to say (naturally, all these relevant matters are at the disposal of noble Lords): 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.… That startled me. I am no scholar, but that seemed to me, with an ordinary acquaintance with our Constitution, an extremely startling statement of opinion to express, even coming from the noble Viscount. I thought it of great importance, and naturally asked the representative of the Government whether he would express an opinion on the matter.

The noble and gallant Lord the Secretary of State for Air, used some general words of comfort which I did not think quite met the case. He said (col. 468): I am not sufficiently fortified by the presence of legal luminaries"— I think one of the Lord Chancellor's deputies was sitting on the Woolsack at the time— 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. At the end of the debate, I asked the noble Lord whether he would illuminate that statement, and he said (col. 474): I do not want to be drawn now into the question of the interpretation of the Bill of Rights. I then asked: Have the Government no view about the Annual Bill? and the reply was: 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. All I am asking at this moment is that notice should be taken of those words. I shall not raise the matter any further. If the Government have a statement to make, we shall be very glad to hear what it is, for a good many old-fashioned people among my colleagues on this side of the House would be interested to know whether this body-blow to what we have considered to be the corpus of our freedom is to go unheeded by the Government.

My second question is this—I hardly expect an answer to it at this moment. We are fortunate in having the Foreign Office represented in this House not only by its acting chief but by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. If he has any observation to make about the startling news that we have received from the Moscow radio, I am sure we shall all welcome it, and this House is a very suitable place in which it could be made known.


My Lords, as regards the second question addressed to me by the noble Viscount, I regret that at the moment I have no information beyond what has been reported in this morning's Press.


My Lords, I assume that if information comes to hand over the week-end, this House will have the advantage of hearing it when it meets on Monday.


My Lords, the House, contrary to its usual custom, is sitting on Monday next week, and if there is anything that the House ought to know and desires to know, of course it will be communicated.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and House adjourned accordingly, at a quarter past eleven o'clock.