§ Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.481
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins
There are a number of matters on Clause 4 on which we should take the opportunity of questioning the Government. This Clause and several following Clauses, notably Clauses 5, 12 and 13, deal with the continuation in service of men in the Forces or, as the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines appear to prefer to say, the postponement of discharge of ratings, which seems to me to be exactly the same thing. These Clauses provide that in certain circumstances men can be kept in the Armed Forces beyond the period of their normal engagement. A little clarification is needed.
There have recently been considerable alterations in the arrangements for calling out the reserves in conditions of danger and the notable feature in the Reserve Forces Bill, which has not long left the House, was the replacement of the rather cumbersome procedure of a Royal Proclamation by enabling reserves to be called out by order under the hand of the Secretary of State.
I presume that these powers in Clauses 4, 5, 12 and 13 deal in the same way with the retention of men in the Forces when that sort of situation occurs, but Clause 4 seems to me to be rather different. It deals with the postponement of discharge of naval ratings and it seems to me to be different in several respects. In the first place, subsection (2) provides for the retention of ratings in the Royal Navy for one year only. It sets out three conditions under which this may be done: if
In reading Clause 5, which deals with the same sort of matters and is entitled "Continuation of service in Royal Navy in imminent national danger", one finds that Her Majesty has power to retain people in the Royal Navy indefinitely in certain circumstances. What I do not understand is that Clause 5 states:
- (a), a state of war exists between Her Majesty and a foreign power; or
- (b), warlike operations are in preparation or in progress; or
- (c) men of the Royal Naval Reserve are called into actual service.If it appears to Her Majesty that national danger is imminent or that a great emergency has arisen, She may by order, signified under the hand of the Secretary of State, provide that ratingsshould stay in the service—indefinitely. How is this? 482 Under Clause 5, if a national danger is imminent or a great emergency has arisen, Her Majesty can retain ratings in the Navy indefinitely. Under Clause 4, if a state of war exists between Her Majesty and a foreign Power, she can retain ratings in the Royal Navy for only one year. Surely, no greater national danger or emergency could be imagined than a state of war. I do not, therefore, see why Clause 4(1,a) appears at all, because the situation seems to me to be entirely covered by Clause 5.
My second point is that men can be retained in the Royal Navy only when men in the Royal Naval Reserve are called into actual service. That again, it seems, is done by an Order under the hand of the Secretary of State. Again, it appears to me to be unnecessary because the situation is covered by Clause 5. I would like to know from the Under-Secretary of State when the power in Clause 4 will be used in view of the fact that the power exists also in Clause 5.
My third point relates to Clause 4(1,b), which enables people to be retained in the Navy for one year whenwarlike operations are in preparation or in progress".Subsection (1) goes on to say thatAn exercise, by virtue of paragraph (b), above, of the power conferred by this subsection shall be reported to Parliament forthwith.It appears to me that this requires no Order under the hand of the Secretary of State. It merely requires the diktat of, presumably, the Under-Secretary, who then has to come to Parliament and tell us what he has done. It gives him very wide power.
I do not know what a strict interpretation ofwarlike operations are in preparationwould be, but the very maintenance of a Royal Navy involves warlike operations being in preparation. What is the Navy preparing for if it is not preparing for warlike operations?
It appears on the face of it, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman, or any Defence Minister, has the power to retain men in the Royal Navy for one year more or less whenever he likes. I agree that he has to come and tell Parliament about it, but I am not at all sure what we can do about it. It is not as though there will be a Statutory Instrument against which 483 we can pray. How can we stop the Minister doing it if we do not like it? I assume that it might be done by tabling a Motion to say that he should not do it, but it seems to me, in the first place, to be very wide and, in the second place, to be rather vague. The Minister should give us an explanation of what Clause 4 is all about in view of the other Clauses in the Bill.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
My queries are similar to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Humphrey Atkins), who has referred to paragraphs (a), (b), and (c) of subsection (1) and to the Navy being in a constant state of preparation. Whether or not that is the case, the fact is that in these modern days, year after year and all over the world, the Navy can be said to be taking part in warlike operations, whether it is off Aden or in Indonesia with Royal Marine commandos and the like.
It seems to me that a rating could at any time be made to spend another year beyond his date of discharge. For many ratings, an extra year could be a serious matter. If a man hopes to go into another job outside the Service, the opportunity might be lost if he is retained. He might have a housing problem, in which an extra year could exacerbate difficulties.
I know only too well from experience that if a man on the spot loses a particularly valuable rating, perhaps a technician or, possibly, merely a rating who can be employed on storing shells, he is very much inclined, quite naturally, to think of his own convenience and the delay in getting a relief sent out to, say, the Far East if a man has to be sent home.
Subsection (3) states that a ratingmay be retained in service in the Royal Navy for such period as the competent authority may order.Who is that competent authority who can so order? Is it the commander-in-chief of the station, who would probably act on the advice of a captain of a ship who was directly affected? I would like to know whether, in what might be a serious matter, the rating concerned has a right of appeal to a higher authority.
Lastly, could the Minister tell the Committee—I know that I am asking at rather short notice and I shall quite understand 484 if he cannot do so now—whether, during the last year or the last two or three years, when there has been what I call this state of constant war on a small scale, this Order has been applied to a large number of ratings or to certain ratings. I ask because, although I do not wish to make a mountain out of a molehill, to the individual this can be very serious.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
The Committee will appreciate after hearing the detail of some of the questions raised by the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Humphrey Atkins) why I was so grateful to him for having given me previous notice of them. As he properly pointed out, what he said ties up a good deal with the comparable provisions in the Reserve Forces Act. Two quite separate situations have to be taken into account. The first relates to imminent national danger or great emergency. This is generally associated with general mobilisation. The second situation is that in which…warlike operations are in preparation or in progress…That position is associated with lesser emergencies, such as a N.A.T.O. simple alert or a limited war.
Perhaps I could take first the lesser situation of warlike operations in preparation or in progress. Section 6 of the Reserve Forces Act provides that in this situation certain reservists may be called out for permanent service in any part of the world. A Queen's Order is not required for this as regards the Regular reserves, as the call-up will be of a limited nature. Section 7(2) of the Reserve Forces Act, however, provides for the exercise of this power to be reported to Parliament forthwith. I am advised on this point that this brings the call-up to the notice of the House, and in the House of Commons we have various means by which the whole matter could be discussed.
Section 9(1) of the Army and the Air Force Acts, 1955, provides for the retention in service of a Regular soldier or airman when men of the reserve are called out on permanent service. It is true that Section 225(2) of the Army Act, 1955, and Section 223(2) of the Air Force Act, 1955, provided that a warlike operations call-out would not count as a call-out on permanent service for this purpose 485 but this was reversed by Section 15(1) of the Reserve Forces Act, 1966. Thus the retention of Regular soldiers and airmen in the lesser situation is already provided for as long as reservists are called out. Their retention is not specifically required to be reported to Parliament, but the call-out of the reserves which justifies the retention does have to be so reported forthwith.
The Navy is in a different position, as there is at present no Naval Reserve which could be called out in the lesser situation. That is why it is necessary to provide in Clause 4(1,b) of the Bill for the retention in service of Regular ratings when warlike operations are in preparation or progress. Once again, a Queen's Order is not required, but, again, as in the other case, the exercise of this power must be reported to Parliament forthwith. If I recall correctly, there was much discussion on the meaning of "forthwith" when the House dealt with the Reserve Forces Bill.
Turning now to the greater situation of imminent national danger or a great emergency, Section 5 of the Reserve Forces Act provides that the Queen may, by Order signified under the hand of the Secretary of State, authorise the calling out of any reserve force for permanent service in any part of the world. The occasion of this Order has to be reported to Parliament forthwith. The retention in service of Regular ratings, soldiers and airmen in this greater situation is provided for, in the case of the Navy, in Clause 5, and in the case of the Army and the Royal Air Force in Clause 12. Here, again, a Queen's Order is needed, and the occasion of this Order must be reported to Parliament forthwith.
I might make the point that in the greater situation it is unlikely that men would be so retained in service without reservists being called out. Thus, in practice, as I am advised, it is more likely that the Government of the day would rely on Clause 4(l,c) of this Armed Forces Bill and on Section 9(1) of the 1955 Army and Air Force Acts than on Clauses 5 and 12 of this Bill.
It will be seen that whether or not a Queen's Order is needed will depend on the gravity of the situation. I think, 486 however, that this point is of less importance than the fact that provision has been made for the exercise of all these powers to be reported to Parliament forthwith. Thus hon. Members would be able to question Ministers about their use, whether by Queen's Order or in the other way. Unlike the recall of reservists, which affects a large number of men immediately, the retention powers only affect men as and when they become due to leave full-time service.
I now turn to the smaller points that have been raised. I hope to deal with all of them but, if I do not, I will make sure that the hon. Member is informed in writing. First, the 12-month limit laid down in Clause 4(2) applies only to sailors due to be discharged, as defined in subsection (8). Clause 5 applies to a sailor due to be transferred to the Reserve. Here there is no time limit, and the reason for this will probably be obvious from my previous words.
The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) asked who the "competent authority" is. This is dealt with in Clause 14—"Interpretation of Part II". Subsection (1), after defining a rating and a commanding officer, states that a…'competent authority' means the Defence Council or an officer prescribed by regulations of the Defence Council to act for the purposes of this Part of this Act.In general, by law, the competent authority will be the Defence Council which will be acting in the light of whether the greater or less of the national emergencies exists at the time.
I know that it does not absolve me from giving explanations, but I assure hon. Members that one thing I have learned since being at the M.O.D. is that there is constantly-sitting working party which looks at every aspect of the practical working. If, in this case, there are problems which should be looked at in terms of length of time—I am advised that there are not, but if there should be—there are now procedures as under Clause 2 whereby they can be rectified.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clauses 5 to 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.