HL Deb 06 March 1962 vol 237 cc1099-106

2.52 p.m.

Considered on Report (according to Order).

Clause 2 [Recall of national service men into army service]

LORD SHEPHERD moved to leave out Clause 2. The noble Lord said: My Lords, may I remind the House that Clause 2 gives the Minister power to recall up to approximately 100,000 men who have already completed their National Service, and that he will have this power up to about 1966? In the view of noble Lords on this side of the House this clause is perhaps the harshest and most unfair to the individuals concerned. We do not object to the Minister's having the power to find the personnel required, and it is not my intention to divide the House on this Amendment. Originally I put this Amendment down to give the Minister a further opportunity to explain to the House the manner in which the Government will recall these men and also (and in our view it is very important this should be on record) the manner in which these men may make their pleas for exemption when they get their recall notice.

When we raised this point at the Committee stage the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, undertook to write to me, but I felt that this was a matter of such public importance—or, at least, important to the persons concerned—that it should be on the Record. We therefore wish to know from the Minister, first of all, how these men will receive their recall notices; and, secondly, the manner in which they may make their plea for exemption. That was where I proposed to end my original speech on this Amendment, but I feel that I should say something on the statement which was made yesterday in another place by the Minister of Defence in regard to pay and allowances, because the statement which was made will most definitely affect those men with whom we have already dealt under Clause 4, and particularly the Regulars. My Amendment is relevant to this point in that the Government have all the time said that they did not expect to call up more than a fraction of the 100,000 men who may be involved under this clause.

It was clearly understood two years ago, in the Defence White Paper of 1960, that the Government would review the pay and allowances of the Regular soldier biennially. It was clearly understood and, I think, has been taken into account by persons when they have volunteered for the Regular Army. Last night the Minister said that there was every justification for a rise in pay and allowances. He said that the rise should be in the region of 9½ per cent. for other ranks, and 5 per cent. for officers. Acknowledging that this amount was justified, the Minister has said that he would be unable to make that payment; that half should be paid on April 1 and that the service men would have to wait another twelve months before they received the full sum. I think this is very hard on the Regular soldier or, for that matter, on other persons in the Regular Forces. Here was a definite undertaking by the Government to look through the pay and allowances of the Regular Forces. They have done so. The Minister himself specifically said that the rise was justified, but the Government are not prepared to meet up with the amount. This must have an adverse effect on recruiting.

I would ask the Minister whether, when we have our debate on the Defence White Paper, he will give us an undertaking that the delay in giving the full 9½ per cent., will not in any way affect any adjustment that may be made in two years' time—in other words, that the drawing out of this pay will not affect the biennial review which will be made in two years' time. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Leave out Clause 2.—(Lord Shepherd.)


My Lords, as my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack has just said, the noble Lord's Amendment is to leave out Clause 2, and I must say that I congratulate him on his ingenuity in managing, while talking about leaving out Clause 2 of the Army Reserve Bill, to bring in the question of Forces' pay. I will most certainly discuss the Forces' pay with him on the Defence debate, but I hardly think that this is the occasion to do so. I should like, if I may, to confine myself to the noble Lord's Amendment.

I think there are really two main subjects about which the noble Lord asked, on the Committee stage, for clarification. He has mentioned only one of them this afternoon, but I should like to mention the other because my noble friend Lord St. Oswald gave an undertaking that he would do so. The first one was the one the noble Lord mentioned, the appeals procedure under Clause 2. I hope that I may be able to satisfy him that this has been gone into with great care, and that the best method has been devised. The procedure is this. Record Offices will send the men recall notices. In certain circumstances, it may be possible to send a preliminary warning in advance of the statutory notice. Both the warning and the notice will convey to the man information that any appeal against recall should be forwarded to the Record Office which has sent out the notice.

If there is a situation in which tension builds up quickly and men have to be recalled at short notice, it may be that a preliminary warning could not be sent; but even so, to provide for the man who finds himself in difficulty as a result of hardship or compassionate circumstances, it has been arranged that a grant of up to 56 days postponement can be made by the Record Office concerned. This would either be of sufficient time itself or would allow time for an appeal to be investigated. If, of course, a sitution in which it would be necessary to invoke Clause 2 could he foreseen, then a preliminary warning would be sent out.

In both circumstances the appeal will come to the Record Office in the first place. If, it is clear that the grant of up to 56 days may not settle the problem once and for all, the Record Office will immediately forward the appeal to the War Office, where it will be dealt with in the same way as described for retained men; that is to say, when the case is perfectly straightforward, it will be considered by the War Office branch concerned and dealt with immediately, while less straightforward cases will be referred to an advisory committee. The same procedure will apply to officers except that the Record Offices will not come into it: they will deal direct with the War Office. I hope that this will satisfy the noble Lord as to the pro- cedure, and I need perhaps only remind him that it is the hope of all of us that Regular recruiting rates and the "Ever-Readies" reserve will go so well as not to make it necessary to use Clause 2.

The second point about which the noble Lord opposite asked for clarification during the Committee stage was as to the categories of those who would be exempt from liability to recall. The noble Lord moved an Amendment on that occasion to exempt from that liability National Service men who are continuing with their education at a university or comparable establishment. In the discussion on the Committee stage my noble friend Lord St. Oswald made it clear that there is no dispute as between the Government and the Opposition as to the desirability in certain circumstances of exempting men in the categories set out in the noble Lord's Amendment. But he said that these cases could best be dealt with administratively, under the appeals machinery set up by the Secretary of State.

At the same time, doing what he could to meet the spirit of the noble Lord's Amendment, my noble friend gave an assurance about men undergoing or accepted for a course at a university or similar institution. Experience has shown that National Service men concerned in such cases almost invariably make out a sufficiently strong case to merit early release from the Army or deferment of call-up. But, of course, these cases have always been looked at on their merits. There has never been any question of exempting students as a particular category without regard to individual circumstances. Nor can there be now. I am sorry to say that my noble friend did not convince the noble Lords opposite that the spirit of the Amendment would be met so far as possible by administrative means and that statutory exemptions were not practicable. Indeed, my noble friend was taken to task for giving that assurance about university students on the grounds that if he could give the assurance it could be written into the Bill.

My Lords, I will try, if I may, once again to explain why statutory exemptions cannot be accepted. For example, the Amendment we were discussing on Committee stage related only to students. But why was it confined to that one cate- gory? During the passage of the Bill through another place there were nine-teen amendments tabled which sought to provide statutory exemption for a large number of different categories, ranging from married men to students in the position described in the Amendment. The Government, of course, had to consider the whole question of statutory exemption most carefully, in order to deal with these different Amendments, although naturally they had considered the matter thoroughly before the Bill was introduced.

Perhaps I may quote what my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State said in another place. He said: On general grounds of principle none of these Amendments is acceptable, and I should like to explain why. There has never been a definition of hardship categories for exemption from military service in any statute. For example, I gave long consideration, when preparing this Bill, to the inclusion of exemptions for certain hardship cases. I thought of students, but was satisfied that this was undesirable and might lead to further injustices. I am fully satisfied that the Labour Government had good reasons for not attempting definitions in the National Service Act of 1948. It is interesting to note, too, that when the original National Service Act was passing through the House of Commons, the then Minister of Labour, Mr. Isaacs, found it necessary to reject an Amendment by some of his own Party which would have exempted the only sons of widows living with and supporting their mothers. He did so on exactly the same ground as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War—that was, that other categories had just as good a case for exemption. The same is true of the 1950 National Service Act, which extended the period of National Service from eighteen months to two years. Mr. Strachey, at that time Secretary of State for War, made it quite clear that the policy of the Labour Government was to steer a balanced course between the need to administer the Act equitably as between those affected, and the need to provide flexibility in particular cases; and that is exactly the position of the present Government.

There really is no half-way house. To be fair, we must either provide statutory exemption for every category of hardship or we must do what the Govern- ment are, in fact, proposing to do; that is, to provide special administrative machinery for dealing with particular cases on their merits on appeal. The first alternative is not, I believe, a practicable one. The difficulties are shown by the number of categories proposed for exemption in another place. Any attempt to define these categories would have to be very wide to be fair to everyone, and there would, of course, be strong pressure to widen anything which might be suggested.

The Government have considered this matter very carefully and they are quite convinced that the only just way of dealing with compassionate and hardship cases is by the administrative procedure which I have just described. To be sure of treating everyone fairly and consistently we must deal with cases on their individual merits as people, and not by any system of hard-and fast categories. For that reason I am afraid that I cannot do what the noble Lords, Lord Shepherd and Lord Shackleton, asked me to do on Committee stage—namely to give some indication of what classes of person will be exempt from recall—much as I am in sympathy with this request.

My Lords, all I can say, in conclusion—and I hope that it will satisfy the noble Lords opposite—is that the Government have given an undertaking that these hardship cases will be looked at with sympathy and with consideration, and I am quite sure the Government are right in the procedure which they have suggested, which is the only just and practicable solution.

3.6 p.m.


My Lords, the First Lord of the Admiralty has given reasons why there should not be statutory provision for these exemptions. But in regard to the latter part of his speech—which concerned an Amendment that I moved, and not my noble friend, Lord Shepherd—while we were inclined to accept the Government view that it was not possible to include it in the form of a Statute, we did press the Government very hard (though we did not, if I remember correctly, take it to a Division) to give an indication of which categories would be exempted.

I should like to emphasise that the argument from the point of view of the old National Service Act is not wholly relative, because that was a case of total call-up of certain age groups, whereas this is a specialised form of selective service for men who have already done their two years' National Service and who are now being called up as reservists; and on this point we are clear that they are coming back as reservists and not as ordinary National Service men and, therefore, having done their two years, are in a different position. They may have embarked on an activity such as going to university, in which case call-up could have a very serious effect, and what we sought from the Government, and have not yet received—indeed the First Lord has rather departed from the extent to which the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald went—is some indication of the sort of instruction that will be applied in the War Office and the Record Office, the instruction which, perhaps, at some stage has to be applied. We are not arguing that this is comparable to the ordinary National Service cases, where, broadly speaking, exemptions are confined to the absolute minimum. As I understand it, exemption will be given more generously in regard to these categories because not so many definitions will be needed; but I must confess that I am disappointed that we have not been given some account of the type of exemptions which will be permitted. I fully appreciate that it may not be possible—I accept this point now—in the Statute to cover all categories, but there are certain categories which, I should have thought, are clear enough, for the. Government to give a broad statement of their intention, so that those who are likely to be affected, whether university students or others, will be aware of the position.


My Lords, in rising to say that I support the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in that we appreciate that this cannot be made a statutory matter, I would remind the First Lord of the Admiralty that in the autumn of 1918 and the spring of 1919, when the Forces were disbanded in large numbers, questions were asked in both Houses, and it was agreed by the Government that those who were going to universities, or whose careers were being interrupted, should receive very early priority—indeed, if that matter had not got through, the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack and myself would have had our careers delayed by several months.


My Lords, may I, by leave of the House, say one word? I entirely appreciate what the noble Lord wants me to do, but it is just as difficult for this Government to do it as it was for the previous Government to do it. Those men who are going to be recalled will get instructions on how they can appeal. I have already told the noble Lord, as did my noble friend Lord St. Oswald, that full-time students at universities are the sort of categories who in fact would be exempted. With regard to those who appeal, their appeals will be considered very carefully and with sympathy by these administrative means. I do not think I can go further to-day in telling the noble Lord the sort of categories, except to repeat that the Government intend to treat these cases with sympathy and consideration.


My Lords, I think there are three important points about this: first, that the men should get every possible notice, which the noble Lord has said they will. The second point is that with the notice, whether it be the preliminary or whether it be the actual notice, they should be told in the easiest possible terms the manner in which they can appeal for deferment on the types of grounds we have been discussing. The third point, which is important, is that if they are called up in a hurry the Government should make quite certain that there is no question of not paying allowances for some weeks, as has happened in the past. I am satisfied that on the first two points the Government have made the arrangements, and I hope they will make quite certain on the third point.


My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill reported without amendment.