§ Considered accordingly.
§ 11.15 a.m.
§ Sir Patrick Spens Kensington, South)
I beg to move,That this House approves the recommendations contained in the Reports.I greatly appreciate the honour and the opportunity of moving this Motion. It will, I hope, make it possible for me to explain to the House the general lines on which the Committee worked, the main objects which it had in mind and the method employed by the Committee in its work, particularly in regard to the evidence and the technical and professional advice obtained by it; and to draw attention to the link between the last report of the Committee—that is, the report of this Session—and the report of the previous Sessions, because, technically, the Committees were separate Committees and the reports were separate reports.
The original Select Committee was appointed as long ago as 22nd May, 1952, but by a stroke of fortune, which one could hardly expect in the House, almost throughout the whole of the 2½ years all the Members of the Committee have survived to take part in the deliberations. In addition, the witnesses who helped us also survived. The result is that one can fairly say that the series of reports constitutes successive volumes by practically the same authors.
It is unnecessary to do more than remind the House of the somewhat stormy and prolonged proceedings in the debates on the Army Annual Act, 1952, out of which emerged the appointment of the original Select Committee. The 1546 House should be reminded that our terms of reference were that we wereto consider the Army Act and the Air Force Act and to make recommendations for the amendment thereof; and to consider and report on the advisability of enacting the said Acts or parts thereof permanently.That such an assignment was necessary to some commission or committee could not, I think, possibly be doubted. The two Acts—the Army Act in particular and to a lesser extent the Air Force Act —were both hopelessly out of date, I should like to go into the interesting history of the origin and development of the Army Act, but it would occupy far too much time and it is therefore sufficient to point out that the two Acts were designed for small volunteer forces—forces stationed in this country or in British possessions beyond the seas where British law ran, or, if they were stationed in foreign countries, where this country and sometimes other countries had acquired special jurisdictional concessions which enabled us to protect those who went with the Army overseas—that is to say, their families, women and children, whom one might call "the followers."
Let us compare that with the situation today—and these are points which the Committee had in mind the whole way through the 2— years. Of course, the first and main alteration is that instead of having small volunteer forces we now have masses of young men doing their national training under their National Service obligations. That alone would make it necessary for a full reconsideration in detail of the terms of the two Acts, but, in addition, it must be remembered that the Women's Services have been integrated into the two Services in a way which no original author of either Act ever imagined or had in mind when they were drafted.
Thirdly—and I think not the least important at this particular moment—is the fact that the two Services will be stationed not only at home and in British possessions, but to a very large extent in foreign countries where, at present, no sort of jurisdictional rights are available for those who go with the Army abroad.
When it was suggested that I should become the Chairman of this Committee I was appalled at the extent of the task that had been assigned to us, and I 1547 wondered how it would ever be possible to get the history, the information and the technical advice which I was quite certain the Committee would require. Someone, who is now lost in the mists of time, made the brilliant suggestion that a Departmental committee should be appointed consisting not only of representatives of the War Office and the Air Ministry, but also representatives of the Royal Navy, the Home Office, the Foreign Office and all other Departments whose spheres might come into consideration during the course of our debates.
That committee was formed under the chairmanship of Sir Thomas Cash, and I am sure that all my colleagues realise what an enormous debt of gratitude we owe to that departmental committee. It was a brilliant idea. Members listened as representatives to some of our discussion and they supplied us with historical, technical and advisory memoranda right throughout our proceedings. Those memoranda in the days to come will be of enormous historical value to anybody who considers the state of the Forces in this country at this period. Not only did they supply us with expert witnesses, but they came before us to support their memoranda and to be cross-examined. Let me say that on occasion the cross-examination was neither short nor gentle, but, throughout, these expert witnesses never failed to help us, never failed to be patient with us and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.
I would also mention in particular Lieut.-General Sir Kenneth McLean, Mr. C. M. Cahn, and Lieut.-Colonel Ainley who, throughout, helped us in their various capacities. There are, of course, a number of others who also came before us.
I think a second great stroke of fortune was our original decision as to the way in which we would tackle the task that had been put upon us. It was obvious from the breezes and even the storms that had occurred in this House that if we started on certain sections of the Acts similar breezes, if not storms, might blow up in the Committee. Again, someone made the brilliant suggestion that we should start on the least controversial parts of the two Acts, so we decided that we would start on that ancient portion 1548 which deals with billeting and the impressment of carriages. Not unexpectedly, we were able, without any difference of opinion at all, to come to a fairly easy and early conclusion on that portion of our task.
On 17th July, 1952, which was comparatively soon after we had been appointed, we were able to bring in our first report after only eight sittings. At that time, we though that eight sittings were a substantial number, but it was not anything like the average required when the work developed. That first report was very brief, and it rightly but, unfortunately, recommends the House to do away with all the ancient historical operations of that part of the Act and to redraft the Sections dealing with billeting and the requisitioning of vehicles in accordance with the experiences of the last two wars. I do not think it is necessary, on this occasion, to say anything more than that.
Having done that, we decided that we would then go on to a somewhat more controversial aspect of our task, namely, Part II of the Army and Air Force Act, which deals with enlisting. After a further eight meetings—and to get the report out before the end of the Session, three of them were held during the Recess—we were able to approve our second report and present it to the House on 20th October, 1952. That was not absolutely unanimous on all points, but we were able to agree a report and it is a report which deals with many points which are of great assistance to the National Service young men and their parents.
I would only refer for a moment to what we say about conscientious objectors. That is paragraph 6, on page 5 of the report, about which we had very long debates, and paragraph 8, about which we had longer and more controversial debates. Our recommendations deal with the question as to whether or not parents should be required to give their consent before minors are allowed to take on regular engagements. If I read out our recommendations on the various points I am mentioning the House would have no opportunity for debate after me, and under those circumstances, I propose, if I have consent of the House, merely to refer to points which I think of real importance and of interest to us in the 1549 debate. I would also refer to paragraph 10, where we deal with the question of forfeiture of service for desertion and fraudulent enlistment. That finished off the early part of our work and established a custom on the Committee to agree with each other, if possible, and to find a solution.
Our next report I propose to pass over in one sentence. It was a special report presented to the House on 31st March, 1953, and explained why we had not been able to bring forward any recommendations as to amendment of the Army Annual Act which was about to be debated in the spring of 1953.
Meantime, we had started on some of the really heavy part of our task; that is to say, as soon as we were reappointed for the 1952–53 Session, we started to tackle the part of both Acts which deals with discipline.
The House will remember that those provisions, particularly those relating to court-martial procedure, had not proved completely satisfactory during the two great wars, and there had been a series of reports by eminent judges and a number of White Papers. Add to that the two main facts of the National Service men and the advent into the Services of women as commissioned and enlisted persons, and the House will realise how thoroughly and in detail that portion of the Acts had to be reconsidered.
We spent on them 32 meetings, we examined a large number of witnesses, including the heads of the Women's Services, and we digested, more or less —according to capacity—no fewer than 61 memoranda supplied by Sir Thomas Cash and his committee. Eventually, just before the Recess, in the summer of 1953, we were able to come to certain conclusions which put me in the position, with the assistance of Colonel Ainley and the Clerk to the Committee, of trying to get out a draft report for the Committee to consider at the end of the Recess.
That report was prepared and was down for consideration for the first time on 19th October, 1953. It was a long report. The Committee were able to approve it with few alterations in no less than half a day, but I think some explanation ought to be given about that. The Clerk and I had thought that it would require three days to get through the report. We were to start at 11 o'clock 1550 on 19th October. At 4 o'clock in the afternoon of 18th October I fell down and cracked my knee and was removed to St. Bartholomew's Hospital. I was released from the hospital in time to get into a chair, propped up with stools, at 11 o'clock on the morning of the 19th. With their Chairman in that position the Committee, no doubt, were much more friendly than otherwise they might have been—at any rate, I recommend the technique to chairmen of committees who may find themselves in a similar position.
In this third report there are a large number of recommendations for a change in the law as it stands today. All the way through we had to consider the type of offences, the punishment for the offences, remembering that there was no longer a small volunteer Army but a large Army mainly consisting of young National Service men. If hon. Members will look at the top of page xi they will find that we were not unanimous on everything. They will find there a list of items where one or other of us did not agree with the majority; but, subject to that, the bulk of the Committee agreed on almost every subject and the recommendations in nine cases out of 10 were unanimous.
If the House will look at paragraphs 15 to 19 they will see an important recommendation dealing with mutiny. At the end, the Committee decided that a distinction could and should be made as regards the maximum penalty—that is, the death penalty—and they propose, whether in peace or in war, that the liability to the death penalty as a maximum should be limited to the most serious forms of mutiny, i.e.:That, of course, involved a substantial change in the law. While I have mutiny in my mind, I ought to add that at a later stage we considered the question of whether a member of a British Service should be guilty of mutiny if he conspired with no other member of that Service but with members of foreign or other forces operating with him. Rightly or 1551 wrongly, in our last report—I take much personal responsibility for that—we have recommended that for a British subject to be guilty of mutiny, he must also be conspiring with at least one other British subject, however many other foreigners may be involved. That is just a supplement to what I have been saying.
- (a) taking part in: (i) a mutiny involving the use of violence or threat or violence, (ii) a mutiny with the object of avoiding or refusing some duty or service against, or in connection with operations against, the enemy or impeding the performance of any such duty or service;
- (b) inciting to take part in such a mutiny whether actual or intended."
We spent a long time in dealing with the large number of reports on courts-martial by the learned judges. These are listed in the report with our final recommendations. Our most important recommendations concern the courts-martial where women are involved and will be found in paragraphs 71, 72 and 73. At the top of page xxvii we say that, while we do not recommend that anything should be put in legislative form, we recommend that administrative action should be taken by the Departments to ensure in both Services that(i) where possible, women should be tried by courts consisting of a majority of women and that, for the trial of men, courts should be composed only of male officers unless it is considered particularly desirable that a woman officer should be appointed as a member; and (ii) until women officers have much more practical experience of courts-martial, a male officer be always appointed as president.Those recommendations were accepted and were agreeable to the heads of the Women's Services. We felt somewhat strongly on the point. It came to us as a very great shock to find that, by virtue of the 1948 Act, at the present time, a man might possibly find himself being tried at a court-martial of which the majority, if not all the members, were women.
The next important point to which I want to refer, is the function of the Judge Advocate's representatives at courts-martial. We think that that is very important. Recommendations are to be found in paragraphs 83, and so forth. Their effect is that purely legal points—the admissibility of evidence or something of that sort—shall be decided by the Judge Advocate and the court shall have to accept his decision on the matter. That is to put it very shortly.
Another matter about which we were anxious was the carrying out of sentences. We made important recommendations, particularly concerning Forces serving abroad, to ensure that sentences are carried out in accordance with the law of 1552 this country and in a manner to which the public of this country is accustomed.
That left us with the remaining part of our task, which consisted of Parts IV and V of the present Army Act. Part IV is highly technical and deals with a very large number of matters relating to pay forfeiture, and so on. We have gone into them in extreme detail. Right hon. and hon. Members will find a detailed explanation of every change we recommend, but, except by reading them out aloud, I am not able exactly to remember the points with which we had to deal, nor our recommendations. Some of them are of considerable importance in individual cases. Generally, we have brought the whole matter up to date and we have put into the proposed legislation a great deal which at present appears solely on administrative practice. I think that that is much more in accordance with the wishes of this House and its control over money matters.
That takes us to Part V of the present Army Act, which contains a very curious collection of subjects with no logical connection whatsoever. They are, of course, the result of a series of years of amendments being made from time to time to the Army Annual Act. It is into Part V that most of these various Amendments have gone. Some are of very considerable importance and, in my view, most important of all is the suggestion which we have made regarding jurisdiction over followers, women and families and people, if they go overseas. Frankly, that is based on what other nations have done, that is to say, to make it possible under our domestic legislation to deal under military law with all the civilians who go with the forces, whether they are employed by the forces, or are merely wives, or nurses, or governesses, or canteen assistants, or anybody else.
Obviously, if a civilian commits an offence in a foreign country today, in the absence of any treaty between this country and that foreign country, that person must be arrested, tried and punished, in accordance with the provisions of that foreign country. On the other hand, certain nations have negotiated treaties to avoid that situation. As regards N.A.T.O., there is in force an agreement which is referred to in paragraph 69 of our last report. We recommend the 1553 House to take powers to bring under military law all civilians who are overseas serving with, or in connection with, the forces.
§ Sir P. Spens
I am not going to give way; I have too much to say.
Whether or not that is to be done, will, of course, depend on whether the Foreign Secretary negotiates such a treaty with a foreign power. If he does, we hope that, either in whole or in part, these powers, which we recommend to be put into the Service Acts for the first time, will be exercised. We consider that that is one of the most substantial recommendations in this report.
Another important matter, to which reference will be found on pages 26 onwards, is this question of active service. It was impossible to arrange that there should be a similar scale of punishment for offences committed in peace time and offences committed on active service. But, of course, there were most extraordinary anomalies in the situation that existed when we started our consideration.
In some parts of the world, troops who are living in complete security and peace are, in fact, on active service and accordingly liable to the heavier penalties. We have got to face the situation that, for some time to come, troops will be stationed overseas. If troops find themselves overseas as a result of a fighting occupation, active service will undoubtedly go on for a considerable period. But the time will come when they may be peacefuly occupying, or peacefully in a country—I will not use the word occupying—or stationed in a country, as are troops in Germany at the present time.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman permit me to interrupt in the midst of his most interesting, survey? How is the difference between so-called peacetime service and active service to be defined?
§ Sir P. Spens
If the right hon. Gentleman will turn to page 36 in the last report he will find what we recommend. It is that it shall be within the power 1554 of the Secretary of State for War to declare at what stage active service ceases and to put troops, when necessary, into a condition of active service, if local conditions demand it. We have made this as flexible as we possibly can in the hope that, at the earliest possible moment, active service obligations will cease and peace obligations be substituted.
I come now to the remaining one or two important points. There was the question of what form our recommendations should take. At an early stage we came to the conclusion that we should like to see our various recommendations in the form of potential legislation and as we came to a decision on any particular point we asked the Parliamentary draftsman, Mr. Sée, who was attached to the Committee, to prepare a draft of a Clause for a Bill. We were then able to have our recommendations focused in a form of words. We discussed once, and in many cases twice, the actual form of potential legislation.
In the end we put the lot together and in the first appendix to the last report will be found a full draft of a new Army Bill and a full draft of a new Air Force Bill. They contain the unanimous recommendations of the Select Committee, unanimous in the sense that they were passed unanimously, although on one or two points members of the Committee reserved the right of criticism or even disagreement. We have, therefore, two complete draft Bills which really contain the substantive results of the whole of our deliberations over 2½ years.
Then came the question of the exact form. There were suggestions that we should have more than one Bill for each Service. There was one suggestion that we have three Bills for each Service. In the end, we came to the conclusion that we would recommend only one Bill for each Service.
We then had to address our minds to the last part of our terms of reference—the permanence of the legislation. There was a suggestion, which we discussed at very great length, that there should be a permanent discipline Act for the Army, similar to the Naval Discipline Act. At first, at any rate, some of us thought that that was a very attractive idea, but in the end the Committee decided against it. At the same time, 1555 the Committee felt that some change should be made in the present procedure and that if there be new legislation the whole Act should not be capable of being amended and discussed in detail every single year. It was felt that if the Act came up for such discussion every year and subject to amendment every year the result would be that in a space of a few years we should have the new legislation in the same sort of mess, if I may use that expression, as is the existing Act.
Page 39 of our last report contains a reference to a discussion which was initiated by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and a recommendation in accordance with his proposal that new legislation in the first instance should be enacted for 12 months but should be renewable annually over the next four years by substantive Resolution of both Houses. At the end of the fourth year, a new Bill would have to take the place of the existing Bill.
That would enable the House to have not only a general debate each year on the Estimates but also a debate on the substantive Resolution to renew the Army Act for another year. It might not only avoid the inconvenience of constant amendment of the Act but, also, would deny the opportunity to a keen Opposition to make it difficult for a Government to get on with their business. That is our final recommendation with regard to the form which any new legislation should take.
Lastly, at the end, we had to remark upon matters about which we felt very keenly but which, quite frankly, did not come within our terms of reference to recommend new legislation. The most important of these matters are the housing and education of Service families. Those subjects only came within our purview in the sense that we were endeavouring to create a code which we believed would answer modern needs for the Forces, and we were trying to eliminate everything which in any way was detrimental to enlistment and the continuance of the long-term contracts of members of the Forces. Unless we can retain our Regular soldiers on long-term contracts it is not going to be possible to maintain the Services in that state of discipline and efficiency which the country requires of them.
We undoubtedly had evidence, which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member 1556 for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) supplied, of the difficulty of obtaining houses when people return after serving overseas for a long time, and still more the difficulty with regard to educating their children and obtaining grants for them. These are very serious deterrents to the best type of man remaining in the Services. In those circumstances, we thought fit to insert in the report those paragraphs which refer to both subjects. While we realise that they apply much more to other Departments than those of the Secretary of State for War and the Secretary of State for Air we hope that all concerned will, sooner or later, give effect to our recommendations.
Throughout our deliberations we had on the Departmental committee a representative of their Lordships of the Admiralty. He was most helpful and co-operative. Difficulties arise in these days when members of one Service are posted to serve quite continuously, and possibly in isolation, with branches of the other Services. The idea that a sailor who is serving with a unit of the Army can only be dealt with under Navy discipline and court-martials creates very considerable difficulty.
Our recommendations, therefore, were that where members of one Service are posted to another Service they should come temporarily, for all purposes, under that branch. It would be putting it accurately to say that I was surprised that their Lordships of the Admiralty were prepared to recommend such a change as regards members of the senior Service. At any rate, they have done so, and on the faith of what we were told we have made that recommendation which I believe is absolutely essential for smooth working in the future.
I would add only that it is remarkable how much co-operation I have had during the 2½ years of our deliberations. When I finally got rid of the last report I hardly knew what to do with my week-ends. I felt like a boy out of school again. Yet, although it has been hard work, thanks to their co-operation and keenness, and the help that I have had from all hon. and right hon. Members on the Committee, it has been hard work, which I have immensely enjoyed. I hope that all of us will have the pleasure of seeing our recommendations sooner or later given effect in legislation.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
On a point of order. May I have your guidance, Mr. Speaker? I am anxious to be acquainted with what is before the House. I have tried to go through this large number of ponderous documents which comprise the deliberations of the Committee. I wish to get certain information and certain matters cleared up. The right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), to whom I mean no discourtesy, has refused to answer questions which I wished to put to get information. To whom do I apply for information about this matter?
§ Mr. Speaker
I must point out to the hon. Member that this debate has just started. If the hon. Member is fortunate enough to catch my eye at a later stage in the proceedings, he can put his question then in the form of a speech and hope for the best.
§ 11.51 a.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
I am sure that the House is indebted to the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) for his clear, concise and comprehensive presentation of the main features of the voluminous reports which have emerged from the Select Committee.
He paid his tribute to the co-operation he had received from the members of the Committee. I think I should be voicing the view of all the members of the Committee if I were to pay my tribute to the very excellent Chairman who presided over our deliberations. His impartiality, his experience and his patience, in our opinion, made a very great contribution to the success of our work. We did not meet as many times as we meet in this House, but we met on 71 occasions, which is quite enough to get on one another's nerves, and, after two and a half years of gestation, we produced a large bouncing baby in the form of these reports.
I am very glad to see the Minister of Defence here. He and I have been Members of this House many years. I hope he will allow me to say not only that he will find a great deal of homework in these voluminous reports, but that I am quite sure we are looking forward to having—at any rate until the next General Election—a strong and active Minister of Defence. I think that the Committee was the nearest approach 1558 to a Council of State which I can remember in the many years I have been in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Henderson
The crack of the Whip never echoed along the corridors of the Committee Floor, and I think every hon. Member approached this very important set of problems with the object of securing the maximum of co-operation.
I think the Chairman would agree that he was fortunate in the membership of his Committee. There was considerable knowledge and experience among the members of the Committee. Perhaps I might be allowed to single out one of my colleagues and refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) whose contributions were indeed noteworthy, based as they were on the accumulated knowledge and experience of a lifetime in the Army.
There was this common purpose of all of us on the Committee, that we sought to amend and improve existing legislation in order to bring it into line with modern conditions and requirements, both from the point of view of the community and of the individual Service man, whatever his rank. At the same time I think we would all admit that we found a great deal in the original Army Act—necessary as it was to bring it up to date—which is applicable to present-date conditions, as no doubt it was equally applicable to the conditions which existed during the 19th century.
Moreover, we were throughout our deliberations conscious of the great traditions of both the Army and the Royal Air Force, which constitute the background of any disciplinary code affecting Service life. The right hon. and learned Member pointed out in his remarks that the Army of today, and the Air Force for that matter, is very different from the professional Forces we had in 1880. We would agree today that it is much more a citizen Army and a citizen Air Force, consisting not only of Regular volunteers, but of large numbers of National Service men doing their compulsory training.
§ Mr. Henderson
If my hon. Friend wants to intervene and make comments about forced labour, I think he had better 1559 wait until we have a debate on foreign affairs.
In addition, as the right hon. and learned Member indicated, today women are full members of both the Army and the Royal Air Force. Realising how different the Army and Royal Air Force today are from the Armed Forces which existed when the code of discipline contained in the Army Act and the Air Force Act was originally drafted, we approached these problems on that basis.
As the right hon. and learned Member who presided over our deliberations has made clear today, these considerations led us to recommend very considerable changes in both Acts. Generally speaking, we considered it advisable that a comprehensive and simple disciplinary code should be embodied in both Acts, capable of being easily understood by the soldiers and airmen who undoubtedly will frequently have to administer them in the field without the aid of lawyers.
My task is not too easy because the right hon. and learned Member has made a very comprehensive survey of our main proposals, but there are certain proposals on which I feel I must comment. As he pointed out, we were not agreed on every topic which was under discussion. I am quite sure that the items of difference enumerated in the third volume of our report will find an echo when the Bills are discussed and considered by this House, presumably next year.
We considered a number of problems, including the matter of punishment. The general question was that of the maximum punishment for specific offences which can be committed by an officer or other rank. This arises particularly in relation to the offences in respect of which cashiering is now the maximum punishment for an officer and imprisonment up to two years for an other rank. With one exception, we considered that the maximum punishment for both officers and other ranks in respect of offences which either can commit should be the same. Some of us felt strongly that there should be this equation of punishment.
There was a great deal of discussion on the problem of treachery and cowardice. In the case of cowardice, as the House knows, the death penalty was abolished in 1930. The intention at that 1560 time appears to have been, broadly, to confine this maximum penalty to offences containing an element of treachery and to mutiny and sedition. As Section 4 of the present Act provides, several of the offences may be committed through cowardice and, therefore, would carry the death penalty.
We considered the matter on the principle that these offences when committed with intent to assist the enemy should attract the death penalty, and when commited from cowardice or from some other motive, should carry imprisonment as the maximum punishment. Therefore, our new Clause 1 includes offences which may be committed with intent to assist the enemy and applies the death penalty as the maximum punishment where that intent is proved; imprisonment being the maximum punishment in other circumstances.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has told the House that there was some difference of opinion regarding mutiny. Certain members of the Committee felt that an endeavour should be made to divide mutinous offences into three categories. First, those offences which involved violence or the threat of violence which might be termed mutiny; second, mutinous offences involving a wilful defiance of authority; and, third, other offences involving collective insubordination, which might constitute a separate offence.
It was only after long discussion and consideration that we were able to secure agreement on the definition of the offence of mutiny which will be found in Clause 8 (3) of the draft Bill. The definition has been extended to include the avoiding of any duty in the Forces, and is thereby intended to cover a combination to prevent or to hamper the carrying out of any operation; for example, a "go slow" or a "sit down" strike.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman drew the attention of the House to our views on the question of courts-martial. There was some difference of opinion about the position of women members. I think that we were aided in our discussions by the reports of the Lewis Committee, which I believe was appointed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) during his period at the War Office, and the Pilcher Committee. I consider that 1561 if men are to be tried by men, then women should be tried by women. At the same time, I agree that there seems no logical reason why the members of a court-martial should be confined to one sex, at least in some cases.
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, we were informed that if women were to be tried only by women, it would raise complications; particularly in overseas stations, where women officers of the requisite experience might not be readily available, certainly not to carry out the duties of president. It was for this reason that we were able to secure some degree of common assent to the proposals to be found in the report to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred.
I wish to say a word on that part of the Act relating to billeting. There was unanimity in the Committee about the need for up-to-date regulations in this respect. I do not know if hon. Members have ever taken the trouble to look at the Second Schedule to the Army Act, which provides for the accommodation to be furnished when officers or other ranks are to be billeted. I do not think that many people would agree with the schedule of food which has to be provided. The quantities seem unimaginative, and I hope that when the new rules are prescribed, as we suggest in the draft Bill, something, different will be set out.
For breakfast there has to be provided five ounces of bread; for a hot dinner, three ounces, and for tea the quantity goes up again to four ounces. For breakfast there is marmalade, and for tea, jam. People, like myself, who never touch marmalade would be handicapped were we prevented from having something else for breakfast. I wonder if the Secretary of State and his advisers really consider it necessary, in these days, to set out this Schedule of so many ounces? Could not some alternative be worked out, something a little more elastic, which would avoid this sort of rigid diet?
We considered that the old conception of a "route" which could be used at any time to provide billeting for troops on the move was out of date, and we also considered that billeting and requisitioning in peace-time should be restricted to those occasions where it appeared to the Secretary of State that 1562 the public interest so required. As the Secretary of State is responsible to the House, we felt that was the best arrangement to be made. We were also influenced by the fact that at present, and possibly for some years to come, because of the acute housing problem, is it essential to ensure that billeting arrangements be made in accordance with schemes about which local authorities have been consulted, and indeed that local authorities should play a considerable part in their adoption.
I wish to say a few words about enlistment. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to conscientious objectors, a question which we considered very carefully. We were anxious if possible to provide machinery by which a soldier who has been enlisted as a boy could, on reaching the age of 18 years, have the right to apply for discharge on conscientious grounds.
We were informed that such a contingency has never yet arisen in the Army or the Air Force but that a bona fide case would certainly be dealt with by discharge or by restriction to non-combatant duties. After long consideration we therefore recommended that any such case should be dealt with administratively by a member of the Army Council or the Air Council.
Another matter of some importance is the question of boys' engagements. We considered the length of the various terms for which boys are permitted to engage and whether boys, on that account, should, on attaining the age of 18, be given the right to apply for a discharge. In the result, as discharge by purchase has been resumed in both the Services, we decided to make no recommendations except that provision should be made in the Act for the consent of the parent or the guardian to be obtained before a boy is enlisted.
Again, under the section dealing with enlistment, there is another problem which was brought to our notice. We were informed that complaint had been made by parents of some National Service men that their sons, without obtaining their parents' consent, had taken on Regular engagements while under the military influence of National Service and away from parental advice. While realising that there are administrative difficulties in the method of obtaining parental 1563 consent, we have proposed that provision should be made for the man's commanding officer to notify the man's recorded next of kin of his intention to change to a Regular engagement and to give the man's parents or guardian 28 days in which to record objection to a prescribed officer.
There are two other points to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred—education and housing. Any right hon. Gentleman who has been a Minister in a Service Department—and I am sure that this applies to the present Service Ministers—must have had many moments of anxiety on these problems. There are very strong feelings, I imagine in all three Services, about the inequality which applies to Service families. It is socially wrong that Service men and their families should be at a disadvantage compared with the rest of the community in the housing and educational facilities available to them.
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested, and I think we all agree, this is seriously prejudicial to Regular recruitment. The best ally to the recruiting sergeant is a happy and contented Service wife. I had cases brought to my attention during my period at the Air Ministry, and I am sure that we all realise the difficulties of the Ministers of the Departments concerned—the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Scotland, who deals with problems over the border. As far as they were able to co-operate, my experience was that the Ministries concerned did everything they could to assist. The same applies to the Minister of Education.
The Committee was convinced that in far too many cases either the will or the power to help on the part of some local authorities was lacking. We considered having Clauses drafted imposing statutory obligations on local authorities, as selected by Service men, to provide housing accommodation for them within a reasonable time after retirement, and also a statutory obligation to provide educational facilities and grants for the education of the children of Service men.
However, we reluctantly came to the conclusion that such legislation might not be appropriate for inclusion in the Army 1564 Act and the Air Force Act. We hope that it will be included one day in housing and education legislation. Therefore, we strongly and most sincerely recommend that legislation should be introduced at the earliest possible date.
I should like to make a reference to the differences between the draft Army Bill and the draft Air Force Bill. I think it is right to say that there are few differences of substance between the new Bills. It is perhaps sufficient for me to mention two of them. First, the Royal Air Force has not adopted the Army's 22 years' initial engagement, and the provision of Part I of the Air Force Bill will correspond generally with Part II of the existing Air Force Act, modified as indicated in paragraphs 26 to 28 of the Second Report.
Secondly, Clause 15 of the Army Bill, which reproduces the substance of Section 182 (3) of the Army Act, entitles a warrant officer reduced to the ranks to claim his discharge, except while a state of war exists or the Reserve is called out on permanent service. There is no corresponding provision in the Air Force Act.
We propose that this difference should be preserved in the revised Air Force Measure, on three grounds. First, it would be a grave waste of time and money to allow trained aircrew to return to civil life in this way. Second, it is the practice in the Royal Air Force to restore rank fairly quickly in the normal case. Third, Royal Air Force organisation allows a man to be posted to another command or station, so that he is not brought into contact with his former subordinates.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
I apologise for interrupting the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I think that he is misrepresenting the findings of the Committee. I think that we agreed finally that we would like the R.A.F. to be uniform with the Army and not to preserve the difference.
§ Mr. Henderson
I hope that I have not misrepresented what is contained in the Report.
To sum up, we have sought to achieve a "new look" for the Army Act and the Air Force Act but also a new deal for the men and women serving in our 1565 defence Forces today. Those of us on this side of the House who sat on the Committee strongly support the proposals contained in the various reports of the Committee. We very much hope that they will be accepted in their entirety both by the Government and by the House.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
Perhaps it will be for the convenience of the House if I intervene at this stage, although I apologise to hon. Members who are waiting to speak. I shall not be very long.
So far, nobody could call this a very controversial debate. I want most sincerely to thank the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) not only for the general tenor of his speech, but also for all the service which he did on the Select Committee, for the part which he played as the senior representative of the Opposition there and for the general conduct of affairs on the Committee to which he contributed both in example and leadership.
I am sure the House would wish me to say very sincerely, on behalf of the Government and the Services, how much we appreciate the work which has been done by the Committee and, in particular, the leadership of its Chairman, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens). I thank him and congratulate him upon the speech which he has made explaining and outlining the work of the Committee and the various matters which it considered. Inevitably, to him must go a considerable share of the credit for the harmony and the spirit of good sense which prevailed throughout the Committee's deliberations, and I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend upon that.
The right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton referred to the report as a "large, bouncing baby." I agree with him, but when I think of the circumstances under which the baby was conceived, it is surprising that this placid, smiling child should have arrived from that night of wrath and fury which I remember clearly. I see that it all began in the early hours of 3rd April, 1952. The pages of HANSARD are studded with 1566 points of order, "Oh's," "Ah's," "Sit down," "No, it is not" and "Yes, it is." When one thinks of the prospects of smooth and successful Committee proceedings to sort out the tangle into which we got then—the Order Paper resembled the London telephone directory because of the number of Amendments it contained—it is a remarkable achievement that the Committee should have been able to produce the reports.
It is invidious for me to continue handing out congratulations to the Committee, for its work has been appreciated. Since the debate was in sight, I have studied the reports and read some of the proceedings, and have obtained some idea of how very thoroughly the Committee has been into the whole affair, what a great deal of trouble has been taken and what a very large amount of knowledge there was in the Committee about the affairs involved.
Looking through the names of those comprising the Committee—to a large extent it was a little body from both sides of the House—I see that it consisted of a number of persons who had got to know one another because they had confronted each other in almost all our defence and Service debates, and they overcame all political party strife and got down to thinking purely of the good of the Services. In the Committee that emotion was paramount throughout, and some of the more controversial matters which hon. Members sometimes air were entirely forgotten.
I should like to express my own indebtedness to my hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison) who was my Department's representative on the Committee and did excellent work there. It is never an easy task to represent a Department on a Committee which is considering whether past matters were right; one is always considered to be a "stooge" from the Department who try to sell this or that. My hon. Friend discharged his duties most meticulously, and I thank him for all that he did then and also for all that he did when he was at the War Office. Any hon. Member who was present at the conclusion of probably the longest Army Estimates debate there has ever been will feel that the way in which my hon. Friend meticulously answered every point raised was a demonstration 1567 of accuracy and stamina of a remarkable kind.
§ Mr. Head
It was a most gallant effort and a triumph for my hon. Friend at the end, when, I believe, the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) was still present. Indeed, the hon. Member for South Ayrshire has almost become one of the "old hands."
I have made admiring and complimentary references to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South, and now people are entitled to ask what my intentions are. The Government's intentions in this matter are entirely honourable. They are that in the next Session we shall introduce three Bills, one for the Army, one for the Air Force and one recommended by the Committee, a transitional provisions Bill for the interim period and to tidy up certain matters of savings and provisions which will have to be made.
The Army Bill and the Air Force Bill will be drafted by Parliamentary counsel entirely on the lines of the Committee's reports. The Government are making no alteration of policy or principle. I do not think I am revealing any secret when I say that the redraft will be by the same hand which was responsible for the first draft. Like many artists, the draftsman may find that there are certain alterations which will improve the Bill; but the Government have not said "Out with this" or "Change that." The Bills which are presented to the House will be in the same sense as the reports and there will be no alterations of policy.
Having said that, I am left without a lot to say, and it is no good my standing at the Dispatch Box just taking up time. There are, however, one or two things to which I should like to refer briefly.
We shall bring the new legislation forward at about the usual time, early in the next Session.
I want to say a word on policy for future renewals of the Acts. I believe I am right in saying that the Committee, particularly certain elements of it, had the role of poachers turned gamekeepers and considered how a mutual safety catch could be applied to both sides of the 1568 House in order to avoid a recurrence of the Bill.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
It was rather more than a matter of poacher turned gamekeeper. There was a desire that there should not be done to us what we had tried to do to somebody else.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Member is making an almost Buchmanite confession. The Reports were produced by "Filibuster" out of "Necessity." What both sides of the House want and, indeed, if I may answer for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air, both Services want, is that we should be able to maintain a sensible, up-to-date Measure without its being used as a matter of Parliamentary manoeuvre. That is the purpose of the provisions contained in the Bill for its renewal.
I cannot at this stage commit the Government, because we shall want advice about how well the proposals will work. It is very difficult to commit future Governments about whatever may be written into a Bill, but I can assure the House that there is no disagreement upon principle. We desire to avoid a Bill which can be used for political controversy. It may be that the method which the Committee has recommended is the best one, but that is a matter which we shall have to consider by the time we reach the Committee stage. The principle that the House should not be placed in a position of acute difficulty owing to the Bill being brought up is welcomed by both sides of the House.
May I make brief mention of my agreement and my hopes in respect of recommendations made concerning housing? That is a matter of great importance, although I am also aware of the difficulties of getting this matter through or legislated for in such a way that the disadvantages which now obtain can be eliminated. Our prospects may be brighter at the moment, because with the advent of a new Minister of Defence—if I may associate myself with the remarks of the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton—we have yet another instance of a poacher turned game keeper as regards our policy of getting houses out of local authorities for Service men. With the benefit of his advice, we shall know by 1569 which flank to infiltrate to ensure a satisfactory situation in that respect. I think that my answer to the various points raised by hon. Members is contained in my statement on how we are going to draft the Bills which are to be laid before the House.
This is a most important and serious matter, both for the Air Force and for the Army. We have had—I will not specify which Government was at fault for this—a remarkably untidy, out-of-date and messy Act; and now, thanks to the Committee, we have got a very tidy one. I do not believe that any Secretary of State or Minister of Defence could ever have asked his Government to do this and bring it before the House.
We have been extremely fortunate, out of unforeseen circumstances, in getting an excellent Committee which has worked for over two years and has produced the seeds of an excellent Act. For that the Army and the Air Force are extremely grateful. The last page of the Report from the Select Committee, page 296, is headed "Statement of Account." I should like to say on behalf of the Services that we owe a very large debit balance to this Committee, and we should like to give it a very large credit of thanks.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I should like to pay my tribute to those who were engaged in this very difficult and intricate matter. I was not a member of the Committee but, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) has said, during my time as Secretary of State for War I set up the Lewis Committee following a very unpleasant incident which occurred in the Far East and which affected the Royal Air Force just after I had taken office.
The House may recollect that a considerable number of airmen were tried together for mutiny, and I recollect very well that at that time the House and the country were very animated by the effect of that trial after the war had finished. It was only because the Judge Advocate General of that day found legal flaws that the verdict was quashed. That obviously had to be done. But I do know that in the Army it needed the authority of the C.I.G.S., Field Marshal Lord Montgomery, to quieten the feeling of 1570 apprehension that prevailed among some officers, including some of high rank, at what they thought might have been interference in military court-martial procedure by a newly-appointed Secretary of State.
Out of what one might call evil good came, because this Committee presided over by Mr. Justice Lewis made a report. Although the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) said that he would not refer to the origins of the Army Act, I think it might interest some hon. Members, some of whom, no doubt, read it when it was first issued, if I quoted from the report, in which Mr. Justice Lewis, in the preamble, gave a resumé of the way in which the military code as enshrined in the Army Act as we know it today came about.
It is interesting to note how far we have come from the days when a King of England first introduced the rules of war which, of course, governed the discipline of his Armed Forces. We must never forget that the Armed Forces of today are still the Armed Forces of the Crown, and if we do not pass this Act every year the Armed Forces of the Crown cease to exist.
In those days, according to that report, the less important punishments included imprisonment, burning of the tongue with a hot iron and flogging. I think we have advanced a good distance towards what I may call the humane treatment of our Armed Forces, and I will give the reason. I do not want to depreciate the soldiers of those days. Maybe they were rough and ready, but they fought England's battles and won them. The discipline was very severe in those days, but the education of the personnel in the Army was nothing like what it is today.
Therefore, I think the House will readily understand why my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) with his long service in the ranks and as a commissioned officer was very keenly interested, not only in causing the Secretary of State for War some discomfort during debates in this House, but in seeing that our rules of conduct, our military code as we might call it, should be brought up-to-date and made suitable for the type of young men whom we ask to enlist or take commissions in the Army and the Air Force of today.
1571 I was very glad to hear the Secretary of State for War say that Her Majesty's Government accept this the Select Committee's reports wholeheartedly. They could do nothing else. It is the result of what one might call all-party agreement on an all-party subject. I have never been completely enamoured of conscription, and I only accepted it under very difficult circumstances, circumstances which still prevail. I have always held the view that if we are to ask young men, our sons, to serve in the Armed Forces of the Crown either as National Service men or as Regulars, then we should treat them for what they are. The Report refers to these young men as civilians, even though they are serving in the Armed Forces of the Crown.
There is one other matter that I want to mention. It is procedural, and perhaps the Secretary of State can answer the point. I take it that when these proposals are embodied in the new Army and Air Force Acts, it will require a complete recasting and drafting of Queen's Regulations. Although the Army Act is the senior instrument by which the Army and the Air Force rule their troops Queen's Regulations, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley knows only too well—he can probably recite many passages backwards—are, as it were, the Bible to which commanding officers refer far more than they ever do to the Army Act.
I should like to pay my tribute to the efforts of my colleagues on that Committee, and I am very glad to hear that the Secretary of State has accepted these proposals. As the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned this healthy baby, I should like to remind him that births, even though they do occur at odd hours of the day and night, are sometimes very difficult operations. As a result of the debates to which my right hon. and learned Friend has referred, a very healthy child has been born. Let us hope that it will continue to grow and develop into a healthy adult.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Scotstoun)
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), with the clarity to which we became accustomed on the Select Committee, has given us a per- 1572 sonally-conducted tour of some of the outstanding changes which were recommended. He was followed by the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson). I do not propose to fill in any more blanks than those to which they have already drawn the attention of the House.
It seems to me that two broad lessons stand out from this experience, which I personally enjoyed and which I think every other Member of the Committee enjoyed over more than two years. As the House has learned, the Committee was appointed to examine legislation in which changes were long overdue because of the changed character of the composition of our Army and the passage of time. A reappraisal was needed, but not necessarily an agonising one.
Much was found to be out of date. The language was archaic and the regulations were anachronistic, but I must say that I said goodbye to some of the more picturesque language of the, past—such as the impressment of carriages and houses selling brandy and strong waters—with the sort of reluctance with which one parts with a museum piece. But we have to move with the times and we must not allow ourselves to be criticised, as Adlai Stevenson criticised the Republican Party in the United States of America recently, for having to be carried, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century.
I do not suppose that our Select Committee was any more select than any other would be. Members were chosen from those interested in the problems of the Army and the Air Force, and there flowed down each side of the horseshoe table a strong legal current, emanating from my right hon. and learned Friend. It was of the greatest possible value to us when we came to consider the question of discipline.
But however well or indifferently selected the Committee was, it showed that when one removes a subject from the tussle and the limelight of the Floor of the House, great and rapid progress can be made. Men of understanding, with a common purpose—or perhaps it would be more polite to say, a purpose in common—can find a wide area—and in this case did find a wide area—of agreement.
1573 In my view, the Committee held the balance fairly between exceptional and general cases, not seeking to write into the statute provisions for those unusual circumstances which we must always come across when we examine so broad a subject, but leaving them to be treated by administrative action.
It also, in my view, adjudicated fairly between regulations for which it was considered necessary to have Parliamentary sanction and those which could be left to the Secretary of State for War and the Army Council, bearing in mind that action has often to be taken very quickly. I think it was wise to use discrimination of that sort.
Having said that in favour of the Select Committee, I think it is right to hold out a word of warning that Select Committees must not be considered to be the answer to all our problems. First, there must be a prima facie case of something considerable to be tackled. There must be a worthwhile area to be examined, otherwise time will be wasted. It would require an even more select Select Committee than ours, having cursorily examined an Act or a problem, to be able to come to the House and say, "All is well." They would be bound to examine Clause by Clause everything which was submitted to them, to ask for many statistics and to call for much expert evidence. Not only would they be wasting their own time, if they were to do this, but they would be wasting the time of those experts who supplied, behind the scenes, so much of the evidence and the information which we required.
The second broad lesson which I think we can learn is one which I learned, which I believe every other hon. Member learned, and which it would be well for the country to learn, too; and it is that Colonel Blimp, if he ever lived outside the fertile imagination of Low, is as dead as mutton.
§ Mr. Hutchison
He may have lived in the days of Rudyard Kipling but, as the rhymester said, we have reached the timeWhen the Rudyards cease from kipling And the Haggards ride no more.We had before us a large selection of senior officers of both Services and they showed to us that they were filled by a 1574 humane and understanding outlook of the problems of the Army and of the nation today. They listened to our representations and, wherever possible, gave effect to them; and, where they did not give effect to them, they gave us excellent reasons why they thought they could not be carried out. My own staff in the War Office had been instructed to treat all questions which came to them as if they were problems of their own, knowing that behind those representations, justified or unjustified, there always lay some worry or anxiety.
I believe that that modern outlook on how to deal with a national army permeates right through the War Office. Of course, cases will sometimes go off the rails, there will be disappointments, there will be mishaps and there will be grumbles; the soldier, whether he is a National Service man or a Regular soldier, does not change all that much. He is still full of strange oaths, although he may no longer be "bearded like the pard." Heaven bless him, he still seeks…the bubble reputationEven in the cannon's mouth.It will be a sorry day for this country if he should ever cease to do so.
Many changes are made in the recommendations of the Report of the Select Committee. I hope, particularly, as it has already been said, that the recommendations will be accepted, that legislation be brought in to alleviate the situation in the matter of education and housing of the troops. I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State say that the Committee's Report was accepted in principle and that legislation would reflect what the Committee had recommended. I am sure that by saying that he will have imported to the Floor of the House something of the amity which actuated the Members of the Committee upstairs. I therefore hope that the House will assent to the Report of the Select Committee as being an understanding and humane document.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I am glad to see this House occupied in considering these Reports. It is just the sort of thing that this Parliament ought to occupy itself with. After every great war there is always an aftermath of administrative and legislative chaos, and we 1575 had to take an opportunity to clear it up. This Parliament is that opportunity, because the Government were returned on a minority vote and had no real mandate to introduce contentious legislation. It should busy itself in tidying-up operations. It was from that view and conception that the Committee arose.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) have sought to make Parliament consider the various muddles in legislation and administration. We occupied quite a lot of Parliament's time in this work, and one of the Services which we hoped would be considered was the Army.
The Secretary of State has spoken of filibustering. We provided the filibuster, and after, I think, 3 a.m. on the sixth day a white flag was observed to be waving from the Treasury Bench. When the surrender came, we knew exactly what our terms were and what we wanted. We put our proposals to the Secretary of State for War and they have been most carefully carried out. They provided for two Parliamentary Committees to work together, one a technical Committee, and the other a Select Committee capable of taking policy decisions. I was very flattered indeed to hear the right hon. Gentleman describe as a brilliant idea the proposal that we took to the Secretary of State for War.
He was as forthcoming then as he has been today. He accepted our proposals without emendation, and the Committee started work. Having got the Committee we were anxious that it should work. My hon. and learned Friend proposed that we should start upon uncontroversial matters, and that was accepted. So far as any praise is due for what has been achieved, perhaps we may claim to have been taking a father's part. The mother's part certainly rested with the hon. Member for Scotstoun (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison) and the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens).
The tact and skill with which they handled the Committee was masterly. 1576 Everybody recognised that. The Chairman's industry and care and, if he will forgive my saying it—not that I am patronising—his honourableness towards the Committee were such that we never thought for a moment, when we handed something to him, that he would slip in something which was his own idea, as many chairmen do, instead of interpreting the will of the Committee.
The Committee could have degenerated into a party ramp, from the Government's point of view, under somebody who was not extremely careful. The Under-Secretary of State for War, who is the author of "Eastern Approaches", and whom we all admire, should not feel that I am in any way derogating from him in saying that every Member of the Committee had a strong feeling of regret on learning that the hon. Member for Scotstoun was not to pilot the forthcoming Bills through the House after he had played such a great part in their inception.
I would like to mention Mr. See and the job which he did as a draftsman, which was remarkable. It did not stop at that, because he was constantly bringing forward sensible suggestions which had nothing to do with drafting. We have every occasion to be very pleased with his draftsmanship.
I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that he accepted the recommendations in the Reports. I was personally glad to hear him accept the recommendation that legislation should be introduced to give effect to the Geneva Convention of 1949, providing that if we decide to try our enemies we must give them the same protection and the same rights as to our own subjects.
The process which we set up after the war, under Russian influence I am afraid, whereby we allowed justice to be prostituted into a propaganda instrument, and whereby we required our soldiers to sit in judgment upon enemy soldiers who had fought them in the field and to deny to those enemy soldiers every form of protection and justice which we should have been unanimous in demanding for our own, was something which did not redound to our honour. I am glad to know that that can never happen again.
§ 12.58 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
Having agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) for two and a half years I do not propose to disagree with one or two of his remarks now. However, maybe I can discuss them with him at another time so that they will not appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
I am delighted to have been a Member of the Committee in a very humble capacity, and I would pay my debt of gratitude and admiration to the way in which our Chairman handled the proceedings. I have the feeling that he must be a very fine Whip. He rode the Committee with a very light rein, but we knew that under those fur gloves was a firm hand. He behaved with the greatest tact and wisdom. I should like to add my word about Mr. Sée. I was astonished at his clarity and complete understanding, not only of the law but of the Army and of everything which underlay our proposals. I only wish I had known him in the days when I was trying to pass my promotion examinations in military law.
I hope we have done something in these 2½ years to remove some of the prejudices which in the past have existed among the civilian population against the Army. It was one of the reasons why I was delighted to find myself a member of the Committee, but I admit that when I went into the Library and discovered that the last Committee of a similar nature sat for six years I was not quite so pleased, and I saw the Committee meetings stretching unendingly into the distant future. Indeed, I wondered whether at the end of the sittings I would be alive at all. But under the chairmanship of my right hon. and learned Friend we got through a lot of hard work in a comparatively short time.
Another reason why I was delighted to serve on the Committee was that I had discovered something about the Army after the 30 years I was in it. When I came into the House of Commons and was brought into closer contact with civilians than ever before, I discovered there were tremendously deep prejudices against the Army. This arose from the public being misinformed and misunderstanding the true position. But it is there. It goes away back to the days 1578 of Cromwell, and all of us, including the Service, must do as much as possible to remove it. I trust that the Committee's deliberations and recommendations will do something in that direction.
In the debates on the Army Estimates I have criticised certain staff officers, I was entitled to apply criticism to those staff officers who had fallen down in a particular respect, but in doing so I did not intend to refer to all the other magnificent men who are doing such great work. There are, however, men in the lower grades of staff level who do not realise the implications of some of the things they do as a result of hurried decisions that they take, or of their adherence rigidly to the letter of the law, thereby causing unnecessary hardship. I hope that these matters will be watched very carefully, particularly now, when we have a great civilian army.
I was one of those who, with the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), put forward the suggestion about the housing of soldiers and the education of their children. I had previously raised this matter during a debate on the Army Estimates, and I gather—and I am delighted at this—that more or less as a result of that intervention an inter-Departmental committee to go into this matter was set up by the War Office and the Ministry of Education. It has produced a report, but I am told that to deal with the matter is not going to be as easy as it looks.
I imagine I shall have the support of the hon. Member for Dudley in strongly pressing the Departments concerned until they find a solution. The time is long overdue when the soldier should be treated in the same way as the civilian in such matters as housing, education and all local government amenities. I am afraid that both the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Minister of Education, with the best will in the world, will find themselves up against the Treasury. The great nigger in the woodpile in all these matters is the Treasury, and I hope we may be able to assist those Ministers to fight the Treasury over this.
"A smoke screen of Treasury objections is something through which I cannot see for the time being,"a famous Secretary of State for War said to me on one occasion. It was when I wanted 1579 to spend £300 to get models in order to change a cavalry regiment into a tank regiment, and I could not get any cash with which to do it. When I took the matter up with the War Office that was the answer I got. That is what is going to happen now unless we keep the Ministers concerned up to the mark and assist them in their fight with the Treasury.
This Select Committee has created a precedent which I should like to see followed in the case of the Royal Navy. I cannot believe that its code of discipline is as perfect as the Navy sometimes makes out, and it might not be a bad thing if there were a similar committee for that purpose, though heaven forbid that I should sit on it. I am not even suggesting that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) should be the Chairman, but I am not sure that the idea I have suggested should not be tried.
I believe that in this proposed legislation we are handing to every soldier in the British Army something which he can use to obtain a far greater understanding of his position, and which will contribute to the better treatment of all ranks all round. I trust it will be used to the fullest possible extent.
§ 1.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
For all of us this is a very pleasant occasion. After having had the experience of being on the Select Committee with him for 2½ years, there could be nothing more pleasant than to have the privilege of following the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Worthing (Brig. Prior-Palmer) in this debate. If I may, I should like to deal very shortly with one or two of the points he mentioned, which have been raised generally, and on which I think there is general agreement on both sides of the House.
The first matter which exercises all our minds, and which will continue to hold our interest, and which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to, is the question of housing for retired soldiers, retired airmen and the like. This problem, as I know from my own constituency, is particularly acute, and, therefore, I venture to make a suggestion to the Government. The practical difficulty is that the municipal housing authority 1580 very often feels that when it has to make a rate contribution from local authority funds, as well as receiving a Government contribution in subsidy, it can, in all propriety, give houses only to people who are in some degree ratepayers.
The hardest case of all concerns members of the Services—I have one, for example, in my constituency—who are registered as voters in a particular area. The case I have in mind is of a regimental sergeant-major. He and his wife, although voters in Hornchurch, have not been resident in this country for a great number of years. The local authority, possibly rightly, says that though he is registered for voting purposes at the house of his brother, he is not, in the ordinary course of events, a ratepayer, and, therefore, not the sort of person to whom the local authority can devote the money of other ratepayers by way of a subsidy.
That, in fact, is the practical difficulty and I would make this humble suggestion to the Government—that they might consider the possibility themselves, where a local authority is constructing houses, of allocating some of the houses to retired members of the Army, Air Force and Navy and being in some degree responsible for the contribution towards the subsidy which would normally fall on the local authority.
There is no particular reason why any local authority should house any particular long-term service ex-Service man in any particular area. It is easier to deal with the Air Force in Hornchurch because the Air Force has some affinity with that place. There is nearby an aerodrome which is no longer used for flying purposes, but where personnel on administrative duties go for the last five or six years of their long-term service. They have friends in the locality and they wish to settle there, but they have no more claim on Hornchurch than anywhere else. I feel that if the problem were tackled from the angle that I have suggested, it might perhaps be a possible solution. This is a problem of considerable importance, and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that an attempt should be made to find a solution.
I leave that side of the matter, because, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kensington, 1581 South (Sir P. Spens) said, it was only brought in as one of those side winds which continually blew through our Committee and refreshed us. It was not the main part of the task that lay before US.
In making this short contribution to the debate, I wanted to urge, first, that the general experience of the Committee should not be neglected by the House. Quite apart from the particular merits of the reforms on which the Committee reported, what we should look at in a broad way are the defects in our laws; and there were certainly grave defects in the Army and Air Force laws as a whole. It is interesting to note that the Select Committee of 1878, under Sir William Harcourt—and it should be observed, when talking about obstruction, that Mr. Parnell was himself a Member of that Committee—inquired very completely not only into the Army, but into discipline in the Navy as well.
There is really no reason why naval discipline should not be brought up in the same way as is that of the Army. It is possible to say that there have been no great grievances, though it may be that grievances have not come to light. It seems to me, however, looking at the Naval Discipline Act broadly, that there are all kinds of possibilities latent in it for great injustice, and in this House we ought to act before such a situation arises rather than to wait until a situation develops.
Looking at the Army Act and the Air Force Act generally, one sees that the latter is merely a copy of the Army Act. Indeed, looking at the offence of drunkenness in the Air Force Act, the only place where it does not seem to be an offence to be drunk is in the aircraft itself. The Air Force Act was influenced considerably by the Army Act and grew out of it almost entirely. Indeed, it is so admirably arranged now that, except for a Section dealing with the licensing of canteens in Northern Ireland, every Section of the Army Act corresponds to an appropriate Section of the Air Force Act. Why the Air Force Act should be sullied by the omission of any reference to canteens in Northern Ireland, I do not know, although I remember that there was a good technical reason for it at the time.
1582 The trouble with the Army Act, out of which the Air Force Act has grown, is that it was designed to deal with circumstances quite different from those of to-day, and then gradually became adapted piecemeal to the circumstances of today without there ever being a radical examination of the principles behind it. The Sections dealing with discipline grew out of an unfortunate incident in British history, a war between England and Scotland in 1639. There had to be hastily drafted after a long period of peace—
§ Mr. Bing
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland has much, as always, with which to reproach himself.
As I was saying, the original Articles of War were the result of a hasty sorting out of what people remembered at that stage of what had been the military rules during the time of Queen Elizabeth and an earlier period. They then became the standard form not only here but, it is interesting to note, also in the United States of America.
If one looks at such a volume as Clode's History, one sees that even there that learned author doubted whether people knew what some of the provisions in the Articles of War meant, even at the time of insertion in 1639. It is certain, however, that they have long ceased to have any meaning, although many of the expressions were continued throughout the Army Act. Not only that, but other Sections were inserted for other quite different purposes. One interesting reason why Parliament insisted on the Section dealing with enlistment being part of the Annual Review was not because this House wished annually to change the system of enlistment, but that throughout the whole of the 18th and 19th centuries there was a suspicion that the numbers of soldiers for whom Parliament had provided were not, in fact, serving in the Forces, and that somebody had arranged to carry a few blank names and divert the money that remained.
For the interest of the House I looked up one example of this from the old "Parliamentary History". It was an investigation into the war in Spain in 1707 1583 and showed the actual muster numbers. The House resolved as follows:'That it appears to this House, that of the 29,395 English forces provided by Parliament, for the service of Spain and Portugal in the year 1707, there were but 8,660 men, besides commission and non-commission officers, and servants, in Spain and Portugal, at the time of the Battle of Almanza'.The reason for the inclusion of the enlistment provision was because it was felt that, unless a tight watch was kept on the methods of mustering, various officers and others would be included in the muster roll who would draw pay but were not, in fact, serving in the Forces. The same was true of the billeting regulations, which were designed in the days when troops were used as police throughout the country and, therefore, had to be moved around like a police force. Whilst it is possible to correct the smaller details of a Bill which originates in that way and to make it fit to some extent, it does not really fit, from a practical standpoint, the type of Army which we have to-day. Therefore, it is necessary to try to look at the whole matter afresh.
Like everybody else, I feel that the Committee was well served in the hon. Members of this House whom it was possible to draw upon for its composition. Here I should like to add to what others have said about the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kensington, South, who took the chair at the Committee. Whatever was India's loss was certainly the Army's gain. In a wider sense it is a tribute to this House that there could be found available for such a task somebody with the experience and the qualifications and the devotion to public service shown by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I think that that is so of all sides of the House—for instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). A combination of a former Lord Chief Justice of India and a former regimental sergeant-major is an excellent start for a Committee which has to consider the appropriate form of an Army Act in a new guise.
I think, too, that it was an excellent innovation, in so far as it was one, to have sitting on the Committee a Minister who was actually responsible for a Department which was under examination. We all appreciate the public spirit of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Scotstoun 1584 (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison), which led him to lay down his office to make way for younger people; that is a sentiment with which none of us on this back bench would quarrel. Nevertheless, like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), I feel a sense of personal regret that he will not be here to pilot through the new Measure when it comes forward.
What is important is not the individuals who compose such a Committee, but the fact that this House has hon. Members who are capable of doing such work, and that we worked out in the Committee a method by which the matter could be approached. It was not altogether a new method because, to some extent, it was tried out in the Committee of 1878, though in that case a complete draft Bill was placed before the Committee which was invited to consider the draft Clauses, whereas this Select Committee proceeded by discussing principles first and having the draft put before it afterwards.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Scotstoun when he said that one does not want to appoint Select Committees of this kind whenever there is anything to be done. However, there are large fields of the law where, in exactly the same way as with the Army Act, there is much work that could be done on Acts which were invented for one purpose, but have been compelled to serve another. For instance, there is the question of the relationship between the Isle of Man and this country. There is also our Customs and Excise Act dealing with the measurement of spirits which is, for some people at any rate, an important problem. That arose in a fantastic way, in order to correct an unfortunate error made in a hydrometer constructed by an Excise man named Sykes, I think in the first years of the 19th century. So one measures spirits in this country in one way, whereas in a colony they are measured on the percentage of alcohol they contain, which everybody understands and can read.
I have given examples of Customs legislation, then mentioned the relations of the Isle of Man to this country—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
I hesitate to interrupt a very interesting speech, but I think the hon. and learned Member is now going over a 1585 much wider field than that for which there is room.
§ Mr. Bing
I am greatly obliged. I do not want to go too wide. I wanted to say that the methods of work used by this Committee, whose Reports we are approving, could well be applied to a great number of other fields.
With all deference, I suggest that the method which the Select Committee has proposed for dealing with future Amendments to the Army Act might also be considered in a wider sphere than merely in dealing with the Army and Air Force Acts. It is proposed that when the Acts come up for revision, they shall be referred by this House, not to a Standing Committee or a Committee of the whole House, but to a Select Committee, where evidence could be considered
On something as technical as the Army Act—and this applies to a great many other subjects as well—there seems a great opportunity for using those talents that we have on both sides of the House for this kind of work and also the flexibility of Parliamentary procedure to go back to what was quite often done by the House as a whole—the hearing of evidence, the hearing of expert opinions on the actual law, and then the making of a recommendation.
The experience of the Select Committee shows that when such evidence is before us, hon. Members can sit less as partisans of a particular point of view and more in the capacity of judges, rather in the same way as hon. Members who sit on Private Bill Committees judge a matter more as judges than as partisans of one point of view or another. There is a great deal to be said for pursuing this procedure which the Select Committee has laid down. I hope that the Government, just because this appears to be a Parliamentary innovation, will not run away from what appears to be perfectly sound technically and perfectly easy to work, according to the experience which we have had on the Select Committee.
There is a final reason why these Reports should be commended to the country as a whole, why we should not abandon a detailed examination of the Army Act from time to time. As has been said by hon. Members who have already spoken, what was in the minds of all hon. Members who sat on this Committee—and this is a matter which we 1586 shall, no doubt, be pursuing next week—was that the Army is likely to continue to be composed of conscripts for a great number of years. Part of the ordinary life of every single person in this country is likely to be spent in the Army. In those circumstances, particularly when people going into the Army are young, or under age, and when they are subject to all sorts of difficulties, temptations and problems in the Army, there is a particular duty resting on Members of Parliament to have regard to the conditions under which these young men live. The general reputation of Parliament among the public is enhanced when Parliament studies problems like barrack room damages or the period in which a soldier can contract out and every problem of that sort as well as the whole problem.
It would greatly contribute to Parliament's reputation among the people as a place where there is not only general discussion, but where the detailed problem of the individual can be considered, if we were to adopt this procedure of looking at the Army Act again by means of a Select Committee every five years. We should, at the same time, take into account the experience we have had with this Committee and adopt this procedure wherever it is appropriate, where other legislation, possibly of a different sort, but equally obscure and difficult in origin, requires to be brought up to date.
§ 1.26 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
I am not qualified, as are most of those who have spoken in this debate, effectively to deal with the large body of detail in the Reports to which other hon. Members have referred. I certainly do not want to say anything to belittle the importance of the efforts to humanise service in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. I admit that the Committee has aimed at that. I imagine that in many ways they have succeeded in their aim.
I say that despite the fact, as the House will realise, that I do not believe that fundamentally a business, the main aim of which ultimately is slaying, or, as John Ruskin put it, being slain, can be humanised in the final sense; there are so many considerations that stand in the way. But it is right to try, and I am glad that in certain departments, to which reference has already been made, success seems to have been obtained.
1587 I shall confine myself to one matter about which I have had some experience. That is the question of conscientious objectors. I am very much obliged for the reference which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) made to those who enter the Services as boys and who, after their entry, develop a conscientious objection to continued service. Some very clear statements are made in the Committee's Second Report on this matter. I wonder whether the Committee did not allow itself, in its capacity of a judge, to be too impressed by evidence and promises brought to its notice by the Departments.
I shall show that, since that Report, instances have arisen that the Committee seemed to think would not arise on the basis of the evidence received, which show a very unsatisfactory state of affairs about boys in the Services. The question before the Committee, as stated in the Second Report, was whether machinery should be provided by means of which a soldier who had enlisted as a boy could apply for a discharge on reaching the age of 18. A Departmental Drafting Committee, which I understand was representative of all the Services, assured the Select Committee that such a contingency had never arisen. I noted, however, and think that the House will want to note carefully, that such a contingency had never arisen in the Army or the Air Force. The Departmental Committee went on to say that a bona fide case would certainly be dealt with by discharge or by restriction to non-combatant duties. The Committee added:The Admiralty concurs fully with this viewThat Second Report was published on 28th October, 1952, but by 1953 the Admiralty had forgotten all about its concurrence. At any rate, I propose to put before the House two cases of which I know, and I suspect that there are others, in which the Admiralty at once began to show hesitation in carrying out any such pledge.
A boy, Brian Voisey of Abingdon, Berkshire, whose parents are members of the Oxford meeting of the Society of Friends, and who might, therefore, be expected to imbibe certain views about 1588 war that would be different from those accepted by many others, came to feel conscientious objection to further service. In spite of his association with the Society of Friends—and the Society never condemns, and has full tolerance for, those who take a different view—the boy had entered the Navy in January, 1953, at the age of 16, after the publication of this Second Report. In October of that year he informed his officer that he had a conscientious objection to further service.
He was told that he could not be released on that ground. That was the reaction of the Admiralty when left to itself and until an outside stimulus was offered. I am glad to say that there are organizations, in which the Society of Friends, of which I am a member, is very much interested, which do all they can to help when questions of this kind arise. Therefore, the attention of the Admiralty was drawn to the Select Committee's Report.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not know that any question of the Admiralty arises on these Select Committee Reports.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) is referring to the Second Report in which we referred to evidence which was tendered to us by the Board of Admiralty.
§ Mr. Hudson
I had pointed that out but evidently had not made it clear that the Departmental Drafting Committee, which is referred to not only in the Second Report but in several places in the evidence, said that the Army and the Air Force gave undertakings, and that the decision had been arrived at on those undertakings. It was then stated, to make clear that the Admiralty had not been left out, that the Admiralty was in full agreement with the views of the other two Departments.
I was saying that it did not take the Admiralty long to forget that statement, although a remedy was afterwards offered when attention was drawn to the matter. Incidentally, I know that many 1589 people do not like the notion of organisations in connection with conscientious objection. I certainly do not want to see conscientious objection, which is a very personal and individual matter, made the subject of representations by organisations. When a clear indication has been given, as it was given by the Departmental Committee, that a certain line of policy would be followed, the Admiralty should follow that line without prompting, apparently as the other two Departments have done. This is important because I feel that there must be many other boys who are not assisted by organisations and who, in their lack of experience, do not realise what is required of them when their views alter, as they may alter in the rapidly changing situation in relation to war in the modern world.
I listened with respect to the hon. Member for Scotstoun (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison), who spoke aboutSeeking the bubble reputationEven in the cannon's mouth,continuing to be the aim of our soldiers for many years to come. It seemed to me to be a very inappropriate quotation. If reputation is to be sought in that way, it will not be by any cannon's mouth but in molten and fused cities in any future war. I should think that most people who are thinking about reputation at all will not be engaged in finding it at any cannon's mouth or in any operation of modern war but rather in efforts to avoid war altogether.
That, however, is another subject. I am concerned with this question of a boy's right, when he states that he has a conscientious objection, to be safeguarded along the lines promised to the Select Committee. It is a matter of the greatest importance. On the basis of the small experience which I am relating to the House, I suggest that it would not be wise, when we come to the actual drafting of a Bill, to leave out of legislation the necessity to carry out undertakings that were made by the Departments to the Committee.
There is another case which, again, concerns the Admiralty. It is the case of a boy, David Bathhurst, of Laindon, Essex, who joined on 8th September, 1953. He went absent without leave for a period last June, and no doubt that 1590 fact irritated the authorities. On his return he informed his officer that he had a conscientious objection to service. His captain told him that he would not consider his case until he had served for a further six weeks. That was not exactly carrying out the undertaking which was given to the Committee on behalf of the Admiralty, but the undertaking was carried out to the extent that the boy's parents were allowed to purchase his discharge for £50. He was released on 14th September.
I wonder whether Members of the Select Committee really had it in mind to accept this undertaking from the Departmental Committee on the basis that boys who find they have a conscientious objection can have their discharge considered only if £50 is paid. I do not think that that was the intention. I doubt whether, with that knowledge, the Committee would have been so ready to sign a report in which its members indicate that, on the whole, they were willing to leave this matter to administrative action by the Departments.
I have nothing to say against the War Office and nothing to say against the Air Ministry. I repeat that I am deeply thankful that a former Secretary of State for Air, speaking from our benches, showed that in his mind this question was to be regarded by us on these benches as a matter of importance.
§ Mr. Wigg
This is a question of fact. The point which we were considering was not only the question of a boy with a conscientious objection; we were relating it to points in his career. If my hon. Friend will be good enough to look at paragraph 6 of the Second Report, he will find these words:Your Committee considered the question of providing machinery by which a soldier who had been enlisted as a boy could, on reaching the age of eighteen, have the right to apply for discharge on the ground of conscientious objection.It is just possible, in the circumstances of discharge by purchase, that the naval officer who considered the case was right in thinking that was the intention of the Committee. Another matter is that in some circumstances there is a statutory right to purchase discharge, and that is a safeguard to protect the rights of the individual.
§ Mr. Hudson
That is an explanation, but it does not satisfy me. It is an explanation and I am obliged to my hon. Friend for calling attention to it. I am still of the opinion that it would be better, after these experiences, to consider in detail the question of rights of conscientious objection in legislation. If they are clearly stated by a provision in legislation the sort of mistake which my hon. Friend has suggested a naval officer might make would be less likely.
For that reason, I have made my intervention. I do not wish to detain the House any longer, other than to express my thanks to all those hon. Members who have devoted so long a time to making things better rather than worse. I do not believe it possible in the Armed Services to make them as good as they ought to be, but at least it is our duty to take men as we find them. They are kith and kin and our fellow citizens.
When they are there, presumably on our behalf—even on my behalf, despite the fact that I always voice my objections about them being forced to be there—I still think it is our business to see that their conditions are carefully safeguarded. I am warmly grateful for all the help given to secure that end.
§ 1.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I look round this packed House and on these crowded benches this afternoon and wonder, where is the Army? There are not even enough hon. Members here to provide an escort. It is only chivalry on my part, pity for the Army and respect for the right hon. and learned Gentleman who introduced this subject that I did not call a count, for then it would have been discovered that the Army had been routed by a pacifist. But I am chivalrous; I came into the debate today and for the greater part of it I wondered whether I was at a meeting of a mutual admiration society of an Army and ex-Army officers' club.
Of course, this Select Committee has been a very industrious one, to which I also pay my tribute. I have still to read volume 5, recommended to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). But I have seen enough. I have one criticism to make about the Committee—that it was composed of people who knew a lot about the Army from 1592 the officers' standpoint and from the long-term soldiers' standpoint, but there was no one on it who knew anything about the Army from the real inside—I mean from inside the detention barracks.
When a committee of this kind is set up, I think there should be somebody with experience of the seamy side of the Army. I am very glad that nobody thought of me, because I should have had to sit through the deliberations of the Committee, meet all these illustrious military gentlemen, and that might have resulted in unfortunate and unhappy reminiscences. This picture of humanising the Army is really too much for me.
I know that the Army is as popular with the great mass of people inside it, or who have been the victims of it, as this House is today with the people interested in the Army. Of course we are lucky; we did have the Minister of Defence here for a few moments. In that respect we were more lucky than when we were discussing the defence of the civilian population.
When I opened the first of the volumes recommended by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley I came across a speech by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), and what I thought the biggest piece of flapdoodle I have even heard from my hon. and learned Friend when he has talked about military matters. He said that we want to get something which is suitable for what is now a citizen army. Surely a conscript army cannot be called a citizen army because when the conscripts are called up they are not even citizens.
I presume that a citizen army would mean an army in which people would have a right to citizenship. A citizen can leave his job if he is dissatisfied with his conditions. The engineer, or sailor, or schoolteacher, or even a Member of Parliament can resign, but the unfortunate conscript cannot. To talk about this gallant array of conscripts who are all dragged into the Army to be subject to the disciplinary measures outlined in these Reports is, of course, talking absolute nonsense. If soldiers had the right of citizens. National Service men would disappear tomorrow and there would not be any Army worth calling an Army.
1593 I approach this subject, like my hon. and moderate Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), as one thankful for small mercies in relation to the humanising of the Army. So far as I have been able to gather, listening very carefully to all the speeches, there has been one step forward in humanising the Army—the tongues of soldiers are no longer branded and they are no longer flogged. That is to be removed from the Army Act, but still the great mass of disciplinary measures remains.
It is quite obvious to me that the Army remains very much as it was when my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North used to make unsuccessful efforts to get courts-martial to acquit him. It is a band of men kept together and prevented from disintegrating by a very elaborate legal machinery which compels a man to stay in the Army and makes men literally serfs and slaves under the command of superior officers.
When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) was describing the citizen Army and National Service men, I said, "Forced labour." He grew very indignant, as if I had interrupted a bishop preaching in church. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was indignant that I should even suggest that National Service was forced labour. But what is it? Surely it is not voluntary labour?
When men are called up to serve in the Army they come under the discipline of the Army. For the next two years they are ordered about. They cannot go where they like—although they are let out occasionally—and they are dressed in uniform. They do not even know what they are to fight for. National Service men, who are to be called up and subjected to the discipline promised here, will not know whether they are to fight the Russians or the Germans. The new Army to be called up, the four divisions, will not know if they will be under the discipline outlined here in order to safeguard morale in relation to the Germans or the Russians. They will do as they are told.
§ Mr. Hughes
With respect to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am not so sure about that. I bow respectfully to 1594 your Ruling, because I always submit to discipline of any kind, but I am sure that if you had read these four Blue Books with the care and conscientiousness with which I read them, you would believe that what I have said has some dim relation to discipline in the Army.
§ Mr. Hughes
That is the trouble in this House. When one goes below the surface one gets into difficulties.
The hon. Member for Scotstoun (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison) who was formerly Under-Secretary of State for War, said that there were no "blimps" in the Army in these days. I am glad to hear that. But during our discussions on the Army Estimates, the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) protested at the presence in the Army of "bone-headed, tinpot Hitlers." That is a serious state of affairs. Presumably some of these "bone-headed, tinpot Hitlers" will sit on courts-martial and judge the people who come before them.
In spite of the fact that hon. Members of this House regard me as an outsider in these debates, I do know a little about courts-martial. I was the unfortunate victim of five of them. I can assure the House that this is the first time I have ever thoroughly agreed with the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing. There are "bone-headed, tinpot Hitlers" in the Army, and presumably it is the purpose of this legislation to protect the soldier. Always behind all these disciplinary threats, all this business of keeping the happy citizens together, is the threat of the "glasshouse"—[Interruption.] That is not so humorous as the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) might appear to think.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey
I interrupted the hon. Gentleman because I think I know a little about this. Perhaps he has largely had experience of people who are not normal in the Services.
§ Mr. Hughes
I have had experience of people who might have been normal, but who were not abnormally intelligent. The result was that I found myself in the 1595 "glasshouse" in 1916. I make no complaint about that. It was a struggle between the Army and myself in which I lost. But I have sympathy with unfortunate soldiers who are not fortified by any objections on grounds of politics, religion or conscience, and who find themselves in the "glasshouse."
"Glasshouses" are places not worthy of a civilised country. In 1916 I saw people kicked about the parade ground in Devizes military prison, and there is nothing reassuring to me about any of the provisions in these Reports to deal with matters such as that. I have been in a guardroom where a soldier who had deserted was handcuffed and knocked unconscious by a sergeant, and I am not reassured about things like that after reading the Reports.
Do not tell me that, in the final analysis, the Army is a warm-hearted institution. If we did not have straight military discipline—and I do not blame the authorities at the top for what goes on—the Army would disintegrate. People in detention places of the Army today are frightened and bullied and treated inhumanly.
When I see references in these Reports to sentences of two years, and I realise that two years are to be spent in a place which the ordinary soldier knows to be a hell upon earth—because such places combine the discipline of the prison with the discipline of the Army—I wish to try to dispel this illusion that in some way we are humanising the Army of today. I say that the unfortunate soldier who finds himself a misfit in the Army should be sent out of the Army and not sent to the "glasshouse." But it is only by these arbitrary disciplinary methods, which presumably are to be modified by the present proposals, that we are able to keep the Army together and to get conscripts or soldiers of any kind.
I wish to say a word about what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton. He seemed to suggest that there was something wrong in trying war criminals, and that there will be some modification of the treatment of war criminals; that in future they are to be court-martialled and granted the same privileges and rights as our own soldiers.
1596 I am not one who would wish, in retrospect, to be hard even on war criminals. But there is too much said these days to encourage potential war criminals to believe that there is a sort of public sympathy with them. We have to remember the crimes that these men committed. Some of them were responsible for—
§ Mr. Hughes
I assume that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton was in order, and that my misadventures come through trying to follow a superior officer. I believe that while we should be generous, we should also be just, even when we think of war criminals.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
My hon. Friend will realise that if it had not been for the operations of the Armed Forces and the men in them, both voluntary and conscript, in the last war, we should not be in a position to be either just or unjust, generous or ungenerous, to war criminals. They would be dealing with us.
§ Mr. Hughes
My hon. Friend does not start at the beginning. If we did not have Armed Forces to be ordered about we should not have any criminals.
I shall watch these Bills with close interest. I do not believe that our people want conscription. I believe that this elaborate mesh of discipline is necessary only because we are taking free men into the Army by methods of forced labour. At every stage I shall criticise this legislation from the point of view of the victims of the military machine. We know quite well that now, and in the 44 years of conscription that are coming as a result of recent agreements, the rights of the human being in uniform will have to be protected by the most searching vigilance on the Floor of the House.
§ 2.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow. East)
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has proved conclusively by his speech that one does not have to be Hitler to be either tinpot or bone-headed. I agree with the hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) in the view that he expressed. Of course, the majority of our people agree that we do not want conscription but, owing to 1597 the circumstances which have been imposed upon us, we must have it. I should be out of order—as very nearly out of order as the hon. Member for South Ayrshire has several times been— if I pursued the origin of the circumstances which have imposed conscription upon us.
I turn to the deliberations of the Committee of which I have had the honour and the pleasure to be a member for the past 2½ years. Perhaps I may say that I felt, as one very deeply interested in the future and happiness of the Services, that whatever the hon. Member for South Ayrshire may say or think—I hope he says what he thinks, though I sometimes wonder—there is a great deal of happiness in the Services and, in fact, people enjoy themselves very considerably. It is not the threat of detention and the "glasshouse" which keeps them together. I know I shall have the support of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) in that matter.
I think that the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) wisely described the Select Committee as a Council of State. It is an important fact that in the Committee the interests of the Services were very much preserved in that nothing of a party controversial nature occurred. If our Services, and this includes Civil Defence, are to become the basis of party discord then it will go very ill with the Services and, ultimately, very ill with the country.
§ Mr. Harvey
Party discord is the substance of democracy, but the Services exist to defend democracy as a whole. That sort of discord is not in the interests of the Services or of democracy. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire is perhaps a greater authority on party discord than I am.
We have emphasised in this most useful discussion the new position of the Services as constituted in themselves and in their relationship towards the whole of society. In the deliberations that have been going on I have applied to myself the principle that we should do all we can to make the Services representative of the type of society which we would wish to promote outside. I have lent 1598 my support, as I think hon. Members realise and certainly my hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison) knows, to all such measures promoted in the Committee towards that end.
It was very wisely said earlier in the debate that we must do everything we can to ensure that the Regular element of our Services should be strengthened and encouraged. I may say to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire that if we do encourage men to join the voluntary Regular element of our Services the sooner we may be able, provided the international situation permits it, to reduce or even to eliminate National Service altogether. But that is a long-term project.
In a society such as ours, with the manpower situation such as it is and the economic position such as it is, it is clearly not in the interests of anyone—whatever his party may be, with one possible exception which, in deference to order, I will not refer to—to see that National Service, which is a heavy burden upon the economy and manpower of the country, is cut down to the minimum.
I pay my tribute to the conscientious and sincere observations made throughout all our discussions by the hon. Member for Dudley who has the interests of the Services very much at heart. We have done our best to create a code which is in keeping with modern thought and which makes the Services fully and completely part of the society in which we live. After all, we are here as representative of that society and I believe that to be a very high and responsible task which, with the guidance of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), we have performed. I am very happy indeed that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has agreed so wholeheartedly with all the findings that we have submitted to him.
§ Mr. Head
I am a little worried, because the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) also spoke about this, and I do not want in any way to mislead the House. What I said was that we are to have a Bill presented to the House drafted on the lines suggested. He has taken that to mean that we had also accepted all the recommendations. 1599 I did not say that. I have been very closely into the recommendations. There are certain recommendations which lie outside the actual drafting of the Bill. I do not want the House to think that I said that. I said that the Bill would be laid before the House, drafted on these lines, but in discussion we may find that there are certain Amendments which we shall wish to make. It may be that some of the recommendations, apart from the question of drafting, may not be accepted. I do not want to give the impression to the House that we accept every recommendation.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I must point out that the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) is in possession of the House.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I gather that the question of the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not directed to the hon. Member, but to the Secretary of State for War.
§ Mr. Harvey
I will endeavour to give the right hon. and learned Gentleman an opportunity to intervene. I am glad that I have given my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the opportunity to make that observation. Of course, we realise that under no circumstances would he ever wish to mislead us.
§ Mr. Henderson
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he will put a question to the Secretary of State: namely, are we not accepting the recommendations of the Reports in the terms of the Motion which is before the House?
§ Mr. Harvey
I have sometimes, in my capacity as a back-bench Member, been told what questions one might reasonably put to a Minister. It is a unique and delightful occasion to be given a question by a Member of the Opposition Front Bench with the suggestion that it should be put to a Minister. I cannot resist conceding the point and asking my right hon. Friend whether that is not so.
§ Mr. Head
If I might intervene in this circumambient question, the Motion moved by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) is to the effect that the House approves the recommendations contained in the Reports. What I intended to make clear, and wish to make clear again, speaking for the Government, is that the Bills will be drafted on the lines recommended by the Committee. There are a number of recommendations like those about the Geneva Convention and housing.
I am trying to explain that, in general, we approve of those recommendations, but it would be wrong for me to give the House a categorical undertaking here and now that they will be fully carried through by the Government, for at this stage we cannot help realising that there are considerable difficulties in implementing them. The principle of the recommendations is accepted. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) assumed that I was giving a guarantee that the recommendation on housing would be put through. We obviously have to look into those matters, but we accept the principles behind the recommendations.
§ Mr. Harvey
Speaking for myself, I wish to express my gratitude to my right hon. Friend. Speaking on this occasion on behalf of the Opposition Front Bench, I am sure that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are also grateful.
This gives me an opportunity to underline a point which I hope my right hon. Friend will bear in mind. I understand that there has been considerable opposition to this point of view from certain quarters. I should like at this point to say how much I agree with the tributes which have been paid to my hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison) for his work on the Committee, particularly as I was one of those from his own side who disagreed with him from time to time over what has became known as the "Ask your dad" recommendation.
1601 I understand that for some very odd reason, the Army Council—I give this opinion only because it was expressed so firmly by my hon. Friend—seem to be very averse to the adoption of the recommendation. I am glad that the Committee did adopt it. I believe it is inherent in all the principles which we apply when we deal with the two Acts that the Services should be accepted and trusted by the community. We have heard some observations which suggest that certain elements in the community do not trust them, but that is a purely personal expression and not entirely a majority expression.
I believe that the Army and the Air Force will do very well to accept the recommendation, because parents might otherwise think that their sons, when called up, might be subject to undue pressure by the Services through having entered upon a new form of activity and being exhilarated by the experience. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire may not believe that, but many people are exhilarated by serving in the Forces with excellent surroundings, good conditions and very fine comrades.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
If they are so exhilarated, why do they not join up again when their term of service is over?
§ Mr. Harvey
A large number do. One of the purposes of the work which has been done by the Select Committee is to encourage a few more to do the same.
It would be very wrong if parents who had spent a great deal of time preparing a career for their son were disappointed by their son making a different decision as the result of entering his new surroundings. The Committee's proposal is very reasonable. The recommendation is that parents should be consulted first, so that they can express their views and have an opportunity of talking to their son and, if necessary, persuading him in the direction. Everyone knows that if a young man has made up his mind and is called upon to reverse the decision, it is very much more difficult than if he had had an opportunity to consider the situation first and, if necessary, change his mind before actually taking the step.
That is why I consider it to be in the interests of the Services primarily and the good working of the National Service 1602 Act that the recommendation should be adopted. I appreciate the argument put forward by the Services, that it is a suggestion to young men that they are not capable of making up their minds and that it is an opportunity for people to interfere with the legitimate recruiting activities of the Services, but, taken on balance, the arguments which are very fully put forward in the evidence and in the Reports are strongly in favour of the proposal being incorporated in legislation. I hope that my right hon. Friend, who, I am certain, is under pressure from certain quarters which have a rather restricted outlook, will put to those quarters the points of view which have been expressed in favour of the proposal.
I consider that the memoranda prepared by the Departmental committee constitute as valuable a collection of military opinions as has ever been assembled at any time. I hope that the authorities who are concerned with the instruction of the Services in administration and military law, particularly the commandants of the various staff colleges, will take note of what has been set down in these most valuable memoranda and will pass the information on to the people whom they instruct. They are an interpretation of the whole doctrine of military law which has never been so clearly, methodically and wisely set down as it is in the memoranda.
The right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton, who spoke first on behalf of the Opposition—in this instance, we can hardly refer to hon. Gentlemen opposite as the Opposition; I am happy that there should be so much unanimity—slightly misled the House—unintentionally, I am sure—about the differences between the two Acts. We have rightly been at some pains to make the code the same for the two Services. It is obvious that the interests of the Services lie in the direction of unification. The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to a memorandum from the Air Force which argued that Air Force warrant officers should not be allowed to buy themselves out after disciplinary action.
§ Mr. Harvey
Yes, that is so. The memorandum gave the argument which the right hon. and learned Gentleman deployed in the debate. In the Committee we considered the arguments most carefully. We came to the conclusion that the argument used by the Royal Air Force about its warrant officers, namely, that they were so highly trained technically that the R.A.F. ought not to lose them, applied equally to the Army. I believe I am right in saying that we did not accept the memorandum and that it has been rejected in the Report.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
The hon. Gentleman is quite correct, and I am sorry that I misquoted from the Report.
§ Mr. Harvey
I know the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not intend to do so. I realise that coming, as he does, from the Royal Air Force, he might have had certain personal reservations on the matter which subsequently intruded themselves into his interpretation of the proceedings.
This brings us to the other important point, and that is that the Services should in every way be competitive with civilian occupations. If we have rules and regulations which make them in any way inferior to civilian life, then obviously—I am sure the hon. Member for South Ayrshire will agree—men will choose to go into civilian life. It is not in the interests of the Services, and it certainly is not an encouragement to young men, to say that once they have passed through this gate they cannot go back.
I have heard it argued in the Committee that in view of the amount of public money which is expended on training men when they first enter the Services, the Services should retain these men for a considerable period. But that is a risk which is shared by ordinary civilian organisations. Many young apprentices who go into jobs find that they do not like the work and they give it up. It might be argued that the organisations concerned have lost a considerable investment. But I think it is important to cut one's losses at the right moment. One would not want to keep in an organisation a person who has no desire to be there and who, if he remains, will make himself and the organisation unhappy.
1604 Therefore, I hope that in the final decisions that are made, we shall make it possible for anyone who has entered the Services and wants to come out to do so, in the same way as anyone who has gone into a civilian occupation and finds himself unsuited to the task.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) has rightly pressed the question of housing and educational facilities. I do not want to follow him upon that, because I think it has been appreciated by the Committee, but the important thing is that it should be appreciated by the Government as a whole and by the Ministers of Housing and Local Government and of Education. Both these Ministers are new to their jobs; they have no previous commitments, and I hope that we shall be able to impress them to an extent which, unfortunately, we have not been able to impress their predecessors. Now that we have as Minsiter of Defence a right hon. Gentleman who is so adept at finding houses, perhaps we may suggest that 300,000 houses for the Forces might be a reasonable start to try to deal with the situation.
I am glad that we reached the conclusion that we did on the position of the Judge Advocate-General and the courts-martial constitution. From the point of view of the Services, it would be a great mistake if the legal power became too pronounced. I have no wish to criticise the responsibility, or justice, or efficiency of the legal branch of the Army and Air Force, but a court-martial is the next stage up the list from the commanding officer's report, and it is essential that the court-martial should remain the court-martial of the Army or the Air Force, and not a legal court.
§ Mr. Harvey
I am glad that so great a legal authority as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South supports me on this issue. I am very glad that the Committee reached that conclusion.
We had a debate on the subject of traitorous words. We decided, I think wisely, to drop this particular Clause, and we so decided because we paid tribute to the increased intelligence and reliability of the Services on whose behalf we were making the recommendations.
1605 I honestly believe that the Select Committee, on which I have had the opportunity of serving for so long, has faithfully dealt with these two great Services in the way in which they deserved. We have endeavoured to produce a code which should be acceptable to them and will make them part and parcel of the society in which they exist.
I hope that my right hon. Friend, in spite of the very wise qualifications that he has made, will find, when these considerations are put before him, that he can adopt the recommendations which we have made. I have great pleasure, after speaking at interminable length, over 2½ years, in giving further evidence of my support for these recommendations.
§ 2.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
I should like first to pursue a point that was raised in the triangular interjection between the Secretary of State for War, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) and the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey). As I understand it, we are now debating a Motion which, if it is carried, will declare that the House approves the recommendations in our reports.
I do not think I shall be misinterpreting the Secretary of State for War when I say that he has given us to understand that the Government would like the House to accept the Motion which we are debating.
§ Mr. Stewart
I think we all understand, however, that that does not mean that the right hon. Gentleman can be held to every word in every recommendation, and quite clearly some of them cannot go into Bills. Some of them may even require international consents, but I trust that when the House accepts this Motion today, as I believe it will, it is clear from the attitude taken by the Secretary of State that the Government are committed to a bona fide attempt to carry into effect the recommendations of the Select Committee.
If there were to be any major departures from any of those recommendations, we should have expected the Secretary of State for War to have made us acquainted with them in the course 1606 of the debate. I think I am interpreting his view correctly.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton said that he was extremely glad to think that this matter concerning the Geneva Convention had been accepted by the Government, and would be brought into effect. I wish to make clear that it would he wrong for the House to be under the impression that all the recommendations in these Reports, because of the Motion before the House, will ipso facto be put into effect.
The Government have scrutinised the reports, and there is no recommendation on any matter of policy or general principle to which they are opposed. But that cannot and does not carry with it an absolute guarantee that every single item in the Reports will be brought into effect exactly in the way it stands.
§ Mr. Stewart
I think we are now agreed on what the position is.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) expressed the fear that we might be turning into a mutual admiration society, but I shall not be deterred by his remarks from commenting upon the surprising harmony on most matters which prevailed in the Committee, and upon the extent to which we are indebted to the work of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) and the clarity and efficiency with which the issues were presented to us by the Departmental Committee.
I think we ought to remember, as indeed the Secretary of State for War has already reminded us, that if the Committee proceeded on its work in harmony, its genesis was in violence and conflict. It is just as well to remember that, although in the working of Parliamentary democracy sweet reasonableness and the willingness to consider questions on their merits play their part, violent party conflict also plays its part.
We do not get results like this unless every now and again there are very heated conflicts between parties. This House serves the purpose of Parliamentary democracy and does the job which the nation expects of it quite as much when it is engaged in heated party conflict as when it is engaged in sweetly 1607 reasonable discussion like this debate today. Both of these are essential to the working of democratic Government.
I want to go a little further and say that we are attempting to humanise life in the Services. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire was rather scornful of that idea when he described some of his own experiences at four courts-martial.
§ Mr. Stewart
That was before the Labour Party came into power. On each of those five courts-martial he was taken before field courts. I would remind him seriously that if there is any danger of officers in the Armed Forces allowing the military spirit to override discretion in the execution of military discipline, we shall now have a very important corrective because the civilian court stands over the court-martial and an appeal will lie in that direction. Our recommendations have to be set against that background.
§ Mr. Stewart
My hon. Friend seemed to feel that the severity and strictness of Army discipline was necessary because there were conscripts in the Army, who, if that discipline were not there, would not serve. Has he considered that for years before we had compulsory service Army discipline was much stricter and brutal than it is today? Even when men went voluntarily into the Army, great severity of discipline existed.
One result of National Service has been to stimulate the process of humanising Army life. I hold no particular brief for National Service as such. We have to accept it for the time being as one of the necessities of the age in which we live; but one good result of it at least is that it has obliged the whole nation to pay some attention to the way in which soldiers have to live. "Out of sight out of mind" was too often the attitude in the past.
The work of the Committee, as shown in its recommendations, is continuing that humanising process. "Humanising" is the right word. We can try as hard as we like but we cannot make life in the Armed Forces gentle or gracious. I would 1608 recall that one of the admirals in a Bernard Shaw play said something to the effect that there is nothing gentle in the Navy because the Navy is not gentle in itself. Life in the Armed Forces must always be a grim and strict affair, to some extent. We can, however, at least make it the kind of life which a decent and self-respecting man can properly take up, whether as commissioned officer or in the ranks.
In the course of our recommendations we have been endeavouring to carry a stage further the process of making the traditions of Army life decent and civilised. One sees that illustrated in a great many ways. For example, if the recommendations are carried out, the use of the death penalty in the Armed Forces will be cut down to the minimum which any country could possible accept. It will be restricted to offences which have about them the taint of treason. I do not think that the death penalty could be removed for offences of that kind, but for offences which have not the taint of treason it will be removed.
When the new Army Act that we have in mind is brought into force, and officers begin to do their service, they will have to study the terms of that Act as their predecessors have studied the old Act. They will get from the new Act a different way of looking at the Army. There are bits of the old Army Act that give the impression quite clearly that drunkenness was the normal leisure-time occupation of the soldier in the ranks.
That may or may not have been so, but all through the Army Act we find it cropping up now and again in the most unexpected places. It was the assumption that the ordinary private soldier was a rather dangerous brute and that we had to legislate on that assumption. One result of our recommendations will be that that ugly, unnecessary and untrue assumption will be removed from Army legislation.
Another thing which has helped to humanise Army life in recent years has been the women's Services. A further result of some of our recommendations will be to regularise the part played by women's Services in Service life. Mention was made by the hon. Member for Harrow, East of the very helpful memoranda attached to the reports. There is one which deals with a subject 1609 in which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) is greatly interested, the practice that has sometimes existed of chasing people after they have left the Army to get back some of the money which is alleged not to belong to them, but which got into their hands by some error. It is undesirable to persecute a man for that kind of thing.
Many details of that kind are dealt with in the memoranda, and it is earnestly to be hoped that matters of that sort which cannot go into legislation will be attended to administratively in the future. All of it is helping in the process of what I have called "humanising," or treating the soldier as a reasonable, law-abiding human being, with rights like anybody else.
Besides humanising the Services, we have tried to make the Army a commonsense organisation, and that means the disappearance of certain rather picturesque parts of the Army Act. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton, who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, sighed a little romantically about the disappearance of certain military sections. We may regret the disappearance of that Section which deals with an offence that has a 18th century flavour, that of trafficking in commissions.
It is important that the Army Act should not contain too much out-of-date lumber, however picturesque. We want to make the public believe that a genuine attempt is being made to run the Service on commonsense lines. One of the commonest reproaches levelled particularly against the Army is that it is run too much by old traditions and not enough by common sense. So far as there is any truth in that reproach—and I am afraid there is some—it cannot be entirely removed by Acts of Parliament, but so far as the wording of an Act of Parliament can have influence, our recommendations will operate in the right direction.
I might remark, if I can get it in without being called to order, for the benefit of the Secretary of State for War, that one episode of a soldier picking up leaves on a barrack ground when there are brooms handy can undo several years' good work. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that in trying to get the public to have a 1610 sympathetic attitude towards the Services we must try to avoid incidents of that kind.
§ Mr. Head
I do not know how much of what the hon. Member has said is corroborated by the facts, but I would make this comment on what he has been saying about the suggestion that the Services are run on out-of-date lines: he gave instances of references to trafficking in commissions and the somewhat out-of-date billeting provisions, but the fault, if any, lies fairly and squarely on Parliament and not on the Services.
§ Mr. Stewart
I do not dispute that.
The right hon. Gentleman seemed a little preoccupied and I am not sure that he has followed the point I was making. I was saying that there was a general public belief that the Army was run too much on tradition and too little on common sense. I do not think that is as true as the general public commonly believe, but the belief is there and it is desirable to dispose of it. One way of doing so, and only one way, is to have an Army Act which is modern in its phraseology and does not contain out-of-date, if picturesque, language; but there is much more to be done in order to dispose of that exaggerated belief than merely altering an Act of Parliament.
I also believe that the adoption of the new procedure in the memorandum of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley—the new procedure for the passage or renewal of the Army Act each year—would also be a sensible modern measure, enabling Parliament to keep proper control in circumstances and in methods which are appropriate to the 20th century and not to the late 17th century, from which most of our constitutional procedure on this matter still dates.
I take up a point to which reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson). I think he will agree that the Committee was as sympathetic and as helpful as it could reasonably be in this matter. After weighing the evidence, the Committee came to the conclusion that it was not practicable to introduce statutorily a method whereby boys, on reaching the age of 18, could declare conscientious objection. In order that there should be no unfairness, however, if my hon. 1611 Friend or any others who feel strongly or this matter want to introduce Amendments into the proposed legislation—when that legislation is before us—I would point out that we who were on the Committee can at least say that we have made it exceptionally easy for them to do so by providing in the appendix the very words of the Amendments. If they are pressing Amendments on that account they will be in a happier position than people who move Amendments commonly are.
§ Mr. J. Hudson
I tried to express my gratitude for the services which the Committee had done. I readily accept that this is yet another service, of which I did not know.
§ Mr. Stewart
Even when we have passed legislation on these lines, further tasks will remain to be done. Some, such as the problem of the education and housing of the Forces, have already been mentioned. When we have completed the task of obtaining a new Army Act it will become immediately apparent, both to Parliamentarians and to the public, that another task will be very much overdue—and that is to have a look at the Naval Discipline Act.
We are all very happy that the Minister of Defence has been able to be with us today. May I suggest that he should have a look at the Naval Discipline Act? If one comes fresh from what I hope and believe was the modern, up-to-date and humane atmosphere of our Select Committee and then turns over the pages of the Naval Discipline Act, bits of it will make one's hair stand on end. If we pass a modern Army Act, then the Naval Discipline Act will not be able to stand up to the comparison. That, however, lies in the future.
I earnestly hope that when legislation has been carried through on the basis of these recommendations, it will at long last bring to an end that period of unhappy and unnecessary estrangement which has existed between the British nation and its own Army—an estrangement which originally had its basis in old historical reasons, continued with the vague idea that, whereas the Navy was the defence of the country's liberties, the Army was always a potential menace to the country's liberties.
1612 That has ceased to be true in modern politics, but it still affects to a considerable extent the public attitude towards the Army. It has often stood in the way of getting reform of the Army. We have a chance now of ending this long-standing estrangement and giving to the Army and the soldier the position in public esteem which for many centuries both have deserved.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
These reports are a very great tribute to the work of the Select Committee and I find myself in complete agreement with the general harmony that has been expressed in the House. Indeed, I find myself almost in complete agreement with what has just been said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham. East (Mr. M. Stewart).
I was fortunate, in going to Germany recently, to see exercise "Battle Royal," and I wish that it had been possible for many more Members of the House to be present. It disclosed the very great efficiency of our Forces and it was also enlightening to me because I had the opportunity of seeing the modern machinery of war and realising the tremendous demands that it places upon our soldiers and airmen. This technical advance, which is only in its infancy, will demand our best young men if the weapons and machinery are to be properly used.
What so impressed me—and I am sorry that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has now left the Chamber—was the work of the National Service man. Whether at staff meetings or any other level there was the highest possible praise for him. That was not only a great tribute to these young men themselves, but to the general leadership of the Regular officers and N.C.Os.
Had it been possible for the parents, many of whom we know suffer from considerable concern about their sons in the Forces, to see how these young men behaved, even at the very height of the exercise, and how they reacted under what to all intents and purposes were conditions of active service, they would have agreed with the point made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham, East about the Forces being humanised.
1613 In fact, there has been a very great advance in recent years.
I join with the hon. Member in regretting those cases, if it is true, of men doing "jankers" in London recently in full view of the public. Generally, there is reasonable and intelligent treatment of the Forces, but occasionally there is a slip-up which we all regret, and which we all wish to see abolished. It is wrong that men should undergo punishment in front of the general public and while it is necessary sometimes to inflict "jankers," where possible that punishment should be undergone out of the general view, because it enhances what I believe to be the unjustified fears of many parents about the treatment their sons are likely to receive in the Forces.
Now I shall deal with a matter that has given me great concern since I have been in this House, the housing of those in the Forces and of those who leave after serving a considerable period. All of us here remember the harrowing stories of housing difficulties experienced by civilians in the early post-war days and I would not want to strike any controversial note by going further than suggesting that my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Defence did a great deal to remove many of those difficulties which were experienced before he took over the housing of this country.
I represent a town which has strong Service traditions. Not only does it house the headquarters of the Nore Command, but also the School of Military Engineering. I have probably more retired Service men living in my constituency than most, and nowadays an increasing number are leaving the Forces probably because of the relaxation of restrictions on leaving. Almost every week, therefore, cases of difficulty in finding accommodation are brought to me, which means that a new element has entered into the housing problem which, until its advent, had been largely relieved.
Since I have been in this House I have done my best to impress upon Service Ministers the housing difficulties experienced by the Forces. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence, when Minister of Housing and Local Government, after I had pressed this point upon him issued, early in 1952, circular No. 8/52 to all local authorities pointing out 1614 that equality of treatment with civilians should be given to ex-Service men. But they want more than equality, because many housing authorities measure that by the period in which people have been on their housing lists and it is not possible for serving men to put their names on a list for any length of time before leaving the Forces.
I know that my own local authority do their best to give ex-Service men every possible consideration. But I do not believe that this is always the case in other areas. I do not believe that in a great many localities, where there are very few long service ex-Service men, there is a real appreciation of their difficulty. I hope that every possible effort will be made to impress upon local authorities that this matter is now more acute than it has been at any time since the end of the war.
There is the fortunate position that the easing of the number of cases of acute hardship of the ordinary civilians should make it possible for housing authorities to look at this matter, if it is brought to their notice, more leniently than they did when their own difficulties with civilians were so strong. I know this matter has been in the minds of the Service Ministers and that they have embarked upon a programme of building houses for men who are at present in the Services. But I feel that they must accept responsibility for those who come out of the Forces.
Among the cases that I have had brought to my notice are men who have left at the end of a comparatively short term. They are young men who are embarking upon their married life. They have the right to expect that they will be able to settle down in their own homes. I have recently had a case brought to my notice where a man has finished his period of service. He is living in Service accommodation and has a wife and a family. Naturally; he has been told he must leave the Service accommodation when his term expires.
The welfare officers have endeavoured to help as much as possible. The best that they could offer was to obtain for him and his family furnished accommodation at a cost of £4 per week. He just could not afford to pay that amount. He approached the local authority and they 1615 have been unable to help because their own housing lists are still quite full and he could not point to having been on the housing list for a long period.
I do not know whether remarks which I and others make here will percolate through to the local authorities. I hope they will. I hope that when instances such as those I have cited are brought to their notice, they will look upon them as rather different from applicants on the general housing list. I hope they will realise that sometimes these especial cases arise and should be given particular consideration.
We all want to see the treatment of men in the Forces humanised as much as possible. The old days—I think that they were the bad old days—when members of the Forces were looked down upon by the general public have gone for ever. The Forces today need the very best young men whom it is incumbent upon us all to see are treated in accordance with the qualities that the Forces demand.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Some of my hon. Friends believe most sincerely in the immediate disbandment of the Army. I respect their belief, but those who believe, as I still do, that an Army is still required must be interested in seeing that that Army has the most efficient and progressive administration that we can give it.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), some of whose ideas and beliefs I share, is not here, because I think that to describe National Service as forced labour is a gross libel on Parliament. It means either that Parliament has lost its control over the Army, which would be a very serious matter, or else that Parliament is grossly negligent in carrying out one of its important duties.
One of the most important things about the Select Committee and what has been done in the last few years is that there has been a reassertion of Parliamentary control and interest in the affairs of the Service. That is something which, I hope, will ensure that in the future there cannot happen what has been allowed to happen and accumulate in the past and which has made so difficult 1616 the task of hon. and right hon. Members who served on the Committee.
The thing which has struck hon. Members since the end of the Second World War has been the size of the jungle of anachronisms that has been allowed to grow. Progress has been slow. The Lewis Committee took more than two years to report and some of its recommendations have still had to be considered by the latest Select Committee. Then we found that we had left out the Navy and we had to have the Pilcher Committee. The work of that Committee took up a considerable period of time.
It involved an immense effort of work and research on the part of my hon. Friends to get the present Select Committee established. I pay tribute to those who pressed for and achieved that object. I also join most sincerely in tributes to members of the Select Committee. Some hon. Members were truly thankful that they had not been appointed to that Committee because they appreciated the immensity of the tasks with which its members were faced.
Those who have endeavoured, as I have done, to work through these reports must recognise that they are a milestone in the history of the administration of the Army. We must seek to ensure that this accumulation of difficulties does not occur again. That is why the recommendations of the Committee on how the House should handle the affairs of the Services are most important. One of the reasons why I think my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire is all wrong about National Service is because I think that National Service has done a great deal to make the House aware of the problems of the Services and to compel it to pay attention to reforming the Services and modernising the administration of Service authorities.
Conscription has brought to the attention of all families in the land, and certainly all hon. Members, the problems involved. Generally speaking, I agree with the recommendation because I agree that we should retain an annual opportunity to discuss the Army and Air Force Acts. It is not necessary always to have an annual opportunity to amend them. We have been mightily frustrated in recent years in trying to do something which the Government have very astutely 1617 prevented us from doing by the way in which they have drafted a particular Army or Air Force Bill. What, also, is quite clear is that this is a specialist job—a job which is not necessarily or desirably done by this House as a whole.
One thing which strikes me about the recommendations in the Committee's Report is why we should not always have a Select Committee on Service affairs in the House. Why should it be only every five years? No doubt that has been discussed, but I believe this to be a continuing process of preventing the Army Act from getting out-of-date, by suggesting reforms, discussing grievances, and getting technical information about them. It is a question of a proper liaison between hon. Members of this House and members of the Service Departments so that there may be an adequate discussion. Therefore, I see no objection to having a permanent Select Committee on this matter, though I certainly agree with the lines of the recommendations in this Report.
I do not want to go into the details. I believe that the Select Committee has partly established and partly consolidated the new and modern approach to these affairs. What is that? It is that, given the rigours of discipline which are required in the Services, given the powers that the authorities must necessarily have, given the toughness of life that is required to fit the men, after all that has been said and done, the soldiers and airmen should have as great rights and as good conditions as the rest of the citizens. That I take to be the spirit which infused the recommendations made by this Select Committee and I welcome it.
Considerable advances have been made in particular administrative respects in the last few years to put the pay of the Services on a comparable basis with civilian pay, to deal with matters such as housing, the problem of the education of children, and the administration of justice. The whole tendency has been towards making these things comparable. I think we shall have to devote some Parliamentary time to discussing some of these matters in detail because we are always liable to fall behind. We put Service pay on a basis comparable with civilian pay four or five years ago, but it now lags behind. It is a serious fact 1618 that it is now four or five years out-of-date. Only constant vigilance of all hon. Members will ensure that the job of keeping it on a par is continued in the future. I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has agreed, in general, that these recommendations should be carried out.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Scotstoun (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison) has left the Chamber. Like other hon. Members, I wish to pay my tribute to him—although I was not a member of the Committee. He has efficiently and ably dealt with numbers of personal problems in the War Office in the last few years. I think that all who participated in the work of this Committee did a fine and historic job.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
I wish to add a few words of commendation of the work of the Committee which, we trust, will be embodied in legislation. I do so because I had a relationship to the setting up of the Committee. I do not quite know what the relationship was, whether it was avuncular or that of a stepfather, but I found myself in charge of one side of those rebels from which the Committee drew its origin. Certainly, there was a happier result from those strange nocturnal activities that any of us could have expected. As report followed report, those of us who were not Members of the Committee watched with growing admiration the work which has been done. Now that the harvest is fully before us every hon. Member is united in praise of it.
I would add my word of gratitude to the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens). With his fellow members he carried out long and arduous work. He spoke about the conclusion of those labours almost in the spirit in which Edward Gibbon laid down his pen, or Professor Arnold Toynbee ceased from his immense labours only a few weeks ago. It has been a work almost on that scale, but it has produced results which, as was said by the Secretary of State for War, will command the gratitude of all Service men.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) played a part both acrimonious and harmonious in these activities. I am sure that the point he made about the difficulty of local authorities in fitting Service men 1619 at the end of their Service career into the housing arrangements of the country is important. My hon. and learned Friend made a suggestion which I have never heard before, that local authorities should be relieved of the subsidy obligation to the returning soldier.
It occurs to me that under the present housing legislation the War Office is, in a sense, a housing authority for the purpose of housing serving soldiers; and that it would not be a great extension if, in that capacity, the War Office had the right to take over this subsidy obligation. There may be all sorts of snags about which I know nothing, but I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend is right in thinking this a vital question in which the subsidy system is one of the stumbling blocks.
I wish to refer to what are the important and almost final recommendations of the Committee about future procedure regarding what used to be the annual Army Act. I realise that the Secretary of State could not commit himself completely to the recommendations which I think were suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), but they seem to me ingenious and worthy of serious consideration. I like the idea that there should be an annual occasion on which this House may look at the Army Act and the Air Force Act, and these powers under which a substantial body of our citizens are taken from the ordinary legal jurisdiction of the civil courts.
I like the principle embodied in the Bill of Rights, which I notice, is quoted in the memorandum by my hon.—and in this respect my learned—Friend the Member for Dudley, that the raising or keeping of a standing Army within the Kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with the consent of Parliament, is against the law. It would be a pity if we entirely scrapped that provision. The great benefit of my hon. Friend's proposal is that we do not do so and that still there would be the necessity for an affirmative Resolution each year without which the Army Act would collapse. That would be valuable. To pass a new Act each year would be an anachronism.
Then my hon. Friend had the ingenious idea of the quinquennial need for a new 1620 Select Committee which would go over the work. It would not have the vast labours of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Committee, but it would prevent the Act deviating from reality in the way in which it has done in the past. The proposals seem to have great advantages.
All this shows the great concern of Parliament for the Armed Forces. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) spoke of the Armed Forces in what seemed to me to be a very out-of-date voice. That point of view has been a common one in the past and there may have been reasons for it, but, whatever our political views are, it seems to me that few of us today can agree with my hon. Friend when he speaks of the Army and the Air Force as thoroughly inhuman places kept together only by iron discipline and repression.
Most of us have a fairly intimate acquaintance with the conditions which National Service men meet when they go into the Forces. Most of us have sons who either have recently passed through that experience or are passing through it. Most hon. Members agree that if there are complaints they are complaints of boredom and of insufficient activity rather than of any form of repression.
Whatever one's views are on the economic organisation of the country, however strongly Socialist one is, like myself or my hon. Friends on this side of the House, we all feel that the Army and the Royal Air Force are, for good or ill, of great necessity and an integral part of the community. We cannot yet foresee the day when the need for them to be so will cease, though, of course, we pray for such a day.
We on this side of the House are very glad indeed to have had the opportunity to participate, through the setting up of the Committee in the strange way in which it was set up and through the work of my hon. and right hon. Friends who were Members of it, in this hard and detailed work affecting the legal framework within which these Armed Forces operate. Parliament can legitimately congratulate itself on the work it has done in this respect.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
It has been very pleasant to hear the nice things that have been said about the Select Committee. I should like to underline what has been said about the guidance and the wisdom of our Chairman, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens). We should never have achieved what we have achieved in such a short time had it not been for his wisdom and for what I might call his essential kindness. He is a good and kindly man, and sometimes he has understood me better than I have understood myself when perhaps I have been at my worst. I can pay no better compliment than that.
I should not like it to be thought that I feel that the work of the Committee has been 2½ years of almost unendurable labour. I have enjoyed every minute of it. I also enjoyed every minute of the nocturnal operations as a result of which the Select Committee came to life. I go further than that. I tell the Government Chief Whip that if ever the opportunity presents itself I shall embark upon a similar operation with even greater enthusiasm.
Many pleasant things have been said today, and I should like now to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I might call him "my hon. and gallant Friend," for he served in the Armed Forces of the Crown, even if unwillingly. The Secretary of State said that my hon. Friend has become a regular attender at our Service debates. Indeed, he plays a very essential part. He holds up a mirror and lets us see what we look like to some other people. Burns said that it was a very great gift that only God could give us to see ourselves as others see us. I am sure my hon. Friend will forgive me for saying that I have never recognised myself as being a serf or a slave.
If I might speak over his head to a section of the community who may, to a lesser degree, share his views, I would emphasise that it is not right to think that a unit in the Army is a good one to the extent to which it is driven. I am sure the Secretary of State will agree with me that if a unit has a very high incidence of crime there is something extremely wrong with that unit. A good unit is a happy one. My hon. Friend is very wrong in what he says about 1622 the Army today, whatever it may have been like in 1916. I am not sure that he is right in what he says about 1916. I was much nearer the "glasshouse" in 1916 than I have ever been since; for not long after I started on my military career.
§ Mr. Wigg
I cannot go as far as saying that I was "inside." Perhaps I was a little lucky to escape that experience, but I can remember occasions which, if authority had been a little more discerning, might have led to my being in the next cell to my hon. Friend. I imagine that as time has gone by my hon. Friend has tended to enlarge upon his experience. I ask him to believe that what may have been true in 1916 is not true today.
My hon. Friend has also made another very big mistake. He drew attention to the remark of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that we were trying to create a citizen army. My hon. Friend thought it was outrageous to think of a soldier as a citizen. Of course the soldier is a citizen. He starts off in civilian life and returns to civilian life. Whether he is a National Service man or a Regular—in one case the law imposes the duty upon him; in the other case, it is a voluntary assumption—he undertakes some additional obligation, entering into a contract by which he accepts a code of discipline.
The code is not necessarily as burden- some as my hon. Friend would have us believe. I remember being told as a very young unpaid lance-corporal—I am almost going back to 1916—that discipline is the means by which one learns to do the kind of thing one does not want to do at the very moment that one does not want to do it. Yet there are corresponding privileges. If one has any intelligence, one soon beings to realise that discipline does not only force one to do the thing one does not want to do at the moment that one does not want to do it; it is also the means of delivering one's pay and one's rations and, on occasion, of sending one on leave.
Whenever one has a body of men—in a unit or even in the House of Commons —there must be discipline. The authority that the Whips exercise is akin to the authority exercised by sergeant 1623 majors—I will not say "in a good unit" because I sometimes think that the Whips are not as good as some sergeant majors I have known. However, it is the same sort of thing. When one has a body of men playing games, operating as a unit or constituting a legislative assembly like the House of Commons, discipline is the means by which one gets a common purpose and effective action.
The idea that as a result of a decision of this House or of taking an oath of allegiance to the Sovereign one puts all one's rights as a citizen on one side is stuff and nonsense. Unfortunately, over the years the Armed Forces of the Crown have tended to draw into themselves and to cut themselves off from the public outside, but they are not altogether to blame for that. I agree with the Secretary of State on this point. The House of Commons itself has a great responsibility. Look at the problem which faced us in 1952. It was 74 years since the Army Act had been examined. In 1878 the problem of out-of-date military law was the same as in 1952, for in the Select Committee proceedings of 26th July, 1878, we read:The evils of the present condition in military law were very clearly and emphatically pointed out by His Royal Highness the Field Marshal Commander-in-Chief in his evidence before the Courts Martial Commission in the year 1869. On that occasion His Royal Highness said: 'I certainly think that everything connected with military law should be made clear and simple so that he who runs may read, and I do not think that is the case now.'I do not understand the allusion by His Royal Highness to the Army running and reading, but the general sentiments were not wholly dissimilar from the views of those of us who are considering the Army Act in 1952. The whole thing was fantastically out-of-date. It cried out for an effective and alert Opposition to get to work on it, because I believe that this is the function of an Opposition, and Her Majesty's Government had the good fortune to have an alert Opposition in 1952. If we make the same mistake again, if the House of Commons does not discharge its duty, in the very nature of things the tendency will be to move away once again from the Act. That would be a very bad thing indeed.
I hold the view that the fact that the nation has National Service at all is the 1624 price of past neglect and past failures. The real need of our country is for an efficient and sufficiently numerous Regular Army. That is all that we can afford. What the nation and the House of Commons cannot get and will never have again is soldiers on the cheap. If we want a good Army, we must be prepared to pay for it, and we must realise that the citizen who becomes a soldier forgoes certain privileges. He also undertakes additional obligations, and we must make sure that the privileges which the House of Commons give him make up for the additional obligations. We have not done that in the past, and that is why my colleagues on the Committee made its recommendations about housing and education.
These are two very important subjects, but they are not the only two. There is no simple remedy here. We shall not solve the problem of raising a Regular Army and we shall not be able to sustain those four divisions in Germany unless the country faces the fact that there are a number of things which have to be done. Education and housing are two of them. But we have got to do a lot more.
I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) was very wise when he said that for 300 years the nation has not held the Army in esteem. Of course, there are consequences, and National Service is one of them. That gap has got to be closed. But let us be honest about it. The gap will not be closed in five minutes. This is a long-term process, and the two matters of housing and education to which I referred are not the only two. However, this is the first step in the direction which ought to be taken by the House of Commons of keeping the Army and the Army's affairs under constant review, with the emphasis on the fact that the soldier who wears uniform is the privileged citizen.
I want to say another word or two on a subject which concerns my hon. Friends in particular. It was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), for whom I have the greatest respect. I fully respect his point of view about conscientious objectors, but I assure him that the Committee paid the most careful attention to his point of view, and went as far as it 1625 was practical to go to meet this point. If my hon. Friend will read our deliberations carefully he will see that even the cases that he has in mind are provided for. We made it clear that it was possible, where a Service Department failed to do what the individual Member thought should have been done for the hon. Member to question the Service Minister.
§ Mr. J. Hudson
My hon. Friend tells me that these cases are provided for. Does he agree that a man should be required to pay £20 for getting his discharge?
§ Mr. Wigg
It is very difficult to form a judgment without knowing the circumstances. Members of the Armed Forces have a statutory right to purchase discharge. There are two forms of discharge purchase. There is the form which is a privilege, for which one has to apply, and which the Service authorities can accord or not. Another form of purchase is statutory, and gives a soldier the right to have second thoughts. A point that is implicit in our deliberations is that every three years, by giving notice, a young man who has undertaken a long-service engagement can ask to leave the Service. I do not think there is any victimisation or aggressive intent in that. We went into the matter very carefully.
Let me tell my hon. Friends a story, which might particularly interest my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire Four weeks ago today I visited a Soviet military unit outside Moscow. On the way, I talked to a Russian staff officer about different forms of deferment. I explained to him that miners and agricultural workers could be deferred. We also explained to him that we thought it was the flowering of our civilisation that a citizen who could convince a group of his fellow citizens that he was sincere could get exemption. That got the Soviet officer completely foxed. He did not quite understand what I was getting at. I did my best to explain, and after 10 minutes or so he turned to me and said, "A man not want to do his military service? That is his duty." That remark told me quite a lot about what happens in Russia and the way of life in the Armed Forces.
I think hon. Members will admit that while we, in a free society, recognise the duty of the citizen to serve the com- 1626 munity in the Armed Forces of the Crown, we also recognise the rights of conscience. I am utterly sure that running through all our deliberations will be seen the fact that every member of our Committee was—
§ Mr. Wigg
In the short time I had with him I could not go into the contents of his library.
I told him, and I thought that hon. Members might be interested in the conception, from which I personally do not dissent, that it is the duty of every able-bodied citizen to give service to the community which nurtures him, brings him up and gives him an opportunity of living a civilised life. I recognise however, as my Russian friend did not recognise, the rights of conscience.
I believe I speak for my colleagues on the Committee in saying that we made a genuine effort to meet the point made by my hon. Friend. I believe that if my hon. Friends will read our deliberations and see what we did, they will come to no other conclusion than the one to which we arrived. I have spent some time on the point because a number of my hon. Friends are concerned about it and, after all, the purpose of this debate is to facilitate the passing of the recommendations in the reports, into law, and, if we can save time by cutting down discussion on the Committee stage, we should do so.
I am sure the Government will give very careful attention to the proposals which we put forward about keeping our work under active consideration. If they are to accept our recommendations, I hope that they will not, through what I regard as constitutional and perhaps legal difficulties, produce a solution which will ever again allow the state of affairs which has happened in the past. If that does occur, I think a large part of our efforts will have been wasted.
In all sincerity, I believe that it is essential for the well-being of all the Forces of the Crown that the link between the House of Commons and the Services should be maintained as closely as possible. I remember discussions which I had with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) during the time he was Secretary of State for 1627 War and when he was Minister for Defence. It seems to me quite obvious that a Service Minister has a twofold duty. He has a duty to the House of Commons for the well-being of the Service which he represents, but he also has a responsibility to that Force as well. It is a responsibility which is shared by the House of Commons, which must never ask a Service to undertake duties beyond its capacity to perform. That is a duty to the Service which the Minister must see that the House of Commons discharges.
That twofold duty can never be adequately carried out, such is the nature of our affairs, unless the House of Commons knows what is going on and is interested in what is going on. The folly of trying to keep the two forces in our lives apart is evidenced by the out-of-date nature of the Army Act and also by a fact which was well illustrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East—and here I stand in danger of boring the House, because I have said this before. My hon. Friend recalled an incident reported in the Press last week of men picking up single leaves. I am quite sure that if that did not happen, it could have happened, for there is no end to the possibilities of stupidity and folly.
I remind hon. Members of what was said in a report on the A.T.S. at the beginning of the war—"Virtue has no publicity." Let an officer do something daft, let an N.C.O. give a fantastic order, and it is blazoned across the headlines and we are never allowed to forget it. Nobody turns round and gives the statistics of the number of occasions on which leaves were swept up properly. If someone in authority does something silly, the Secretary of State for Air or the Under-Secretary of State or the Minister of Defence, or whoever it may be, has to come here and defend such an action, such is the political game; he has to defend something which he knows is nonsense. And then people say, "After all, it is the Army again; that is what we expect."
The only answer is effective, intelligent and sympathetic Parliamentary control—even, if hon. Members wish, to use the particular incident as a stick with which to beat the Government; but at the back of it all, on both sides of the House, we 1628 are all at one in trying to get the best value for money and to secure the happiness and well-being of those for whom we are responsible.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Basil Nield (City of Chester)
This has been a most agreeable debate, and I am particularly glad to be able to follow the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), whose services on the Committee we all so very much valued. I am sure he will agree with me that those of us who were on the Committee are grateful to the House for the appreciative reception which it has given to the recommendations contained in these reports.
A good many compliments have been paid and commendations made, and I suppose that the best reward of all is to know, from the assurance given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce three Bills in the next Session of Parliament. As I understand it, the intention is not to alter the principle or in matters of policy the recommendations which have emerged from our 2½ years of work. As others have done, may I also, say that I feel most sincerely that the work of the Committee was so harmonious largely by reason of the guidance of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens).
One criticism which might possibly be made of the two Bills which form the appendices to these reports is that they are lengthy. Each has over 200 Clauses and six or seven Schedules. We did try very hard to reduce that matter to within reasonable limits. But when it is appreciated that so many wide and major subjects are included, I hope it will be generally thought that we could not have produced anything shorter.
Such subjects as enlistment, terms of service, the whole code of disciplinary law within the Service, the subject of pay in many of its aspects, the question of billeting and requisitioning, which often, of course, are dealt with in Defence Regulations, and many general provisions, come within the framework of two Bills, one for each Service. The Committee, as the House has been told, did consider whether it was desirable to introduce not one Bill but perhaps as 1629 many as three for each Service. I hope the House will approve the decision which we reached on that point.
I feel quite certain that it is right to have one Bill for each Service, and one has to remember that at sometime there will have to be a new manual of military law for the Army and a new manual on Air Force law, so that the soldier and the airman will have one book in which all the information is likely to be found. That is a matter of first importance, and I certainly found it so during the war when I acted as judge-advocate in a good many parts of the world.
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) raised a point which was not touched upon by others when he said, having in mind that he set up the Committee presided over by Mr. Justice Lewis, that it will still be necessary to have revised Queen's Regulations. One hon. Member on the other side of the House said that many hon. Members were fortunate in not being appointed to the Select Committee, and I have not discovered any volunteers for revising Queen's Regulations.
It is certainly true that that task must be undertaken, and also the task of framing new rules of procedure for courts-martial. I should like to add a word to what has been said on that aspect of the matter. Clause 103 in the draft Army Bill in these reports empowers the Secretary of State to make these rules of procedure. So far as the future is concerned, I hope that the rules of procedure will in due course impose as little rigid formality in these matters as possible.
One criticism I have to make is that in field general courts-martial especially a president, perhaps a regimental officer, a major, is so much concerned to get everything right according to the book, that he will turn over the pages of the Army Manual, when it would be better for him to sit back and listen to the witnesses. When there is a lawyer present to help, that relieves officers from the task of seeing that everything is in order.
In civil law the tendency has been to get rid of these formal requirements and to get down to the gist of the matter, which is to see that justice is done. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison) that the senior officers who 1630 came before the Committee demonstrated what I believe to be the fact, that such officers in these days are humane and understanding people.
Every hon. Member who has spoken in this debate has laid stress upon two questions which, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South pointed out, were almost outside our terms of reference but which we thought we might include, namely, the human problems of housing and education. I do not doubt that all hon. Members have those problems arising in their constituencies.
In respect of housing, the position is immensely difficult because an ex-Service man who has been abroad for many years cannot have the residential qualification which is imposed by some housing committees and, perhaps by reason of his service abroad, he has not made his application as he should have done. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) said that the chances of a soldier in this respect must be equal to those of the civilian.
§ Mr. Nield
My hon. Friend says they should be better but, putting it at the lowest, the soldier should be on an equal footing with the civilian, and if he has missed his opportunity through no fault of his own but by reason of his service abroad, I am sure that the housing committees will want to adjust the position.
A number of other hon. Members seem to think that the Naval Discipline Act must be looked at, and I have nothing to add in that respect. Now I want to refer to part of the speech of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson). I believe it was the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) who first mentioned the problem of conscientious objection. I should like to say a word about this. The hon. Member for Dudley was quite right. The Committee gave the closest attention to this problem.
I have a somewhat unusually close interest in it for the reason—if I may digress on a personal matter—that during the war I travelled to Egypt on a troopship in which was a Friends' Ambulance Unit. That unit went through the Syrian campaign and was in the Western Desert. Its 1631 leader was killed and he was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre, having been attached to the Free French Forces. That is the kind of conscientious objection which attracts our respect. I remember having a discussion with the late Mr. Ernest Bevin on how far such services counted towards release.
In the Select Committee we provided Clauses to deal with conscientious objection. We were then confronted with the evidence that there has never been a case of a young man of 18 finding, after service, that he had a conscientious objection. We felt in those circumstances, and with the undertaking that this matter would be looked at administratively with great care, that if there were genuine cases, a discharge or transfer to noncombatant duties would be adequate. I think the matter is met by saying to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ealing, North that no doubt an individual case may be taken up and one will see in the light of experience what the position is. It has certainly been my experience that these cases are considered with every possible sympathy.
I have almost said all that I desire to say. Of course, I have not gone into detail about the recommendations which the Committee has made in these reports. It is certainly hoped that these recommendations will be regarded as useful, and I think that is clearly shown by the Government's announcement of their intention to translate them into legislation at a reasonably early time.
I did note the observations of a number of other hon. Members. I hope they will forgive me if I do not quote them, in view of the late hour. In conclusion, I am sure that the Committee is grateful to the House for its appreciation of the Committee's efforts; and I should like to say how much we owe to our Chairman, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House approves the recommendations contained in the Reports.