HL Deb 24 May 1939 vol 113 cc153-9

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Munster.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Calling out of Reserve and Auxiliary Forces.

(5) Section thirteen of the Reserve Forces Act, 1882, and the proviso to subsection (1) of Section seventeen of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act, 1907, and subsection (2) of the said Section seventeen shall not apply in the event of the calling out of members of the Reserve or Auxiliary Forces in pursuance of an Order in Council made under this section.

3.10 p.m.

LORD ADDISON moved to leave out subsection (5). The noble Lord said: I beg to move the omission of the subsection referred to in the Amendment, in order that one may have, I hope, a statement from the Government which will clarify the position. I understand, of course, that a subsection of this kind is essential to the general purpose of the Bill. It could not operate without it. But as this subsection stands I suggest that it goes much too far. Under the provisions proposed to be set aside for this purpose it is provided that where men are called out Parliament shall assemble within ten days, and that is one of the provisions which will be needed if this Bill is carried in its present form. It is clear that in order to achieve the purposes for which this Bill is designed, and with which I am in cordial agreement, it must be open to the Government to call up these men in a brief businesslike way, as is proposed, and to that I have no objection. But it is necessary that, as soon as may be thereafter, Parliament should be acquainted with the reasons for this action.

If this subsection is passed in its present form the whole of the Forces might be called up, and it might be, for instance, at the beginning of the Long Vacation, and no explanation would be furnished to Parliament, unless Parliament is otherwise called together in connection with the emergency, until a new Session opens. It might be three or six months before Parliament would be consulted, or even officially informed. I suggest that that is wrong, and I do not really think it is the Government's intention either. I do not suggest that this Government would designedly do a thing of that kind, but it is open to any future Government to take action of that kind and neglect to inform Parliament. I have abstained from putting down any Amendment on the Paper so as not to delay the proceedings, but an Amendment could be moved on the next stage, though I hope it will not be necessary. It was perfectly evident to me as an old Parliamentarian that when the matter was raised in another place the Minister had not been well briefed, and was not well aware of what the implications of this provision are. I hope, therefore, that having had that notice, the Government will give us some explicit statement about this provision, and, if need be, insert some Amendment to say that neither they nor some future Government will be able to take undue advantage of these conditions.

Amendment moved— Leave out subsection (5).—(Lord Addison.)


The object of the Amendment is to omit subsection (5), which provides that the provisions of certain sections of the Reserve Forces Act, 1882, and the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act, 1907, should be excluded. On the Second Reading I reminded your Lordships that the real reason for the introduction of the measure at all was to try to alter the very antique methods of procedure which exist under the present law. My noble friend will observe that in the Preamble to the Bill we definitely state that "a situation has arisen." We are not adopting the old procedure of saying that imminent national danger or a great emergency has arisen; we are putting in the words that "a situation has arisen," so that Parliament may be perfectly aware of the intentions of the Bill as a whole. The noble Lord will realise that the Bill remains in force for a period of three years or less. If we accepted the Amendment we should really be reconstituting the very procedure which we now desire to abolish for a period of three years.

Under Clause 1 (4) any Order in Council authorising the calling-up of the Reserves and the Auxiliary forces has to be "laid before Parliament as soon as may be after it is made." It would, therefore, be quite possible for the Opposition, either in this House or in another place, to table a Motion of Censure if such Order in Council was issued in unwarrantable circumstances. The Order in Council, when made, must be published, and the noble Lord will have a perfect opportunity of observing what we propose to do when that Order has been made public. But he will remember that, both in this House and in another place, a statement has been made setting out quite clearly the sections of the various Auxiliary and Reserve Forces that we propose to call up, and if the noble Lord had had any objection to that procedure no doubt he would have voiced it at the proper time.


I have not suggested any objection to what the Government propose to do; it is the powers of the Executive in doing it that I am questioning. The noble Lord has referred to the words of the Preamble "Whereas a situation has arisen." Suppose the present situation is dissipated and we got into more normal times, this measure would still remain on the Statute Book, and it would be open for any Government, any day, to say that "a situation had arisen."


The Act only runs for three years.


I know, but of course this Government will be gone long before that. The case I am considering is when Parliament will not be sitting. Suppose that this occasion arose when all your Lordships had gone away to shoot grouse after August 12, and Parliament did not sit again for some months, then a considerable interval might elapse. My contention is that there is no need to inform Parliament of the action the Government have taken within any time after that action has been taken, whereas the Statutes which are being done away with pro tem. would require Parliament to be informed within ten days. Perhaps ten days is too short a time—I am not saying it is not. It might be a month or two months; but I do say the Government ought to provide that action taken under the powers here provided shall be reported to Parliament within a reasonable period. Anyhow, I hope that the noble Earl will think it over. It is a substantial point and, with great respect, he has not replied to it.


I think the noble Lord is under some misapprehension. The larger part of this Bill is for the purpose of enabling us to call up a part, and possibly quite a small part, of the Reserves, and in that situation I think the noble Lord himself would not wish to call Parliament together. It would probably he quite a minor matter—some improvement in some particular part of one of His Majesty's Forces—and I think nobody in Parliament would desire that it should be called together for that purpose. If on the other hand the whole of the Reserves were called out, I cannot myself visualise a situation which would be such that Parliament would not have to be called together. Obviously it would be a situation which might even be critical. I cannot visualise either this or any other Government, however little worthy it might be of the noble Lord's complete trust, not calling Parliament together in such a situation.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Reinstatement in civil employment]:

3.19 p.m.


On the Second Reading of this Bill I gave notice that I would raise a point on Clause 2 (4), and there is a similar provision in the other Bill that we shall be considering to-day. The point I have in mind is this. As I mentioned on Second Reading, it is necessary to have some vigilance with regard to Bills such as this, for fear that clauses may be slipped in giving powers to Ministers to make regulations, and that within those regulations it may be legal to provide that the Minister himself shall decide whether an offence has been committed or not. There have been several such laws passed in recent years which have given rise to considerable animadversion afterwards. I am encouraged to think that in this case there is no such danger, but these last words of subsection (4), "with or without modifications," might possibly give a loophole. I have not put any Amend-merit down to deal with this point because I have very little doubt the Government will be able to give us a satisfactory assurance. I merely wish to raise the question of which I gave notice on the Second Reading.


I understand this matter concerns the Minister of Labour, and it is the intention of my right honourable friend to make provision to restrain employers from terminating the employment of the individuals who may be called upon to undergo this compulsory military training. The regulations which the Minister will make are, I understand, not yet completed, and I am not therefore in a position to give any indication to the noble Viscount of what they will be, but they will certainly cover the case of the employer who endeavours to throw his employee out of work immediately before being called up to perform the service which he is required to do under the terms of the Military Training Bill.


I am afraid the noble Earl has not quite met my point. I am not disputing the desirability of these regulations or the necessity for preventing evasion of the terms of the Bill when it is an Act. My point is simply this: Will the Minister have power to insert in the regulations a provision that it is for him, or someone acting on his behalf, to decide whether or not the offence has been committed without the matter going through a Court of Law? It is the question of the relationship between the Executive and the Judiciary. I presume they will have to go to a Court of Law because the words in the subsection include the expression "found guilty." A person to be found guilty must be brought before a Court of Law and not merely before an administrative tribunal, but the doubt arises because of the last words of the subsection, "with or without modifications." May the Minister make such modification as would oust the jurisdiction of the Court and enable these matters to be settled by administrative action?


I can give this assurance to the noble Viscount, that in another place my right honourable friend the Attorney-General informed a member of that House that there was precedent for this, and he gave an assurance at the same time that in no case would a penalty of more than £50 be imposed.


Still the noble Earl has not met the point. It is not a question of what the penalty will be, but whether the Minister is to decide the case or whether it is to be decided on evidence in a Court of Law.


This question is new to me, and I have not had an opportunity of considering it. I must say that for my part, speaking for myself, I take the view which the noble Lord suggested—namely, that the words "found guilty" do point directly to the operation of some legal tribunal.


I am quite satisfied with that, but when I raised the matter on Second Reading the noble Earl, Lord Munster, said it would be looked into before the Committee stage. I hope that before we reach the next stage the Lord Chancellor will be able to make quite sure of this matter, and then if he is quite satisfied, I shall be quite satisfied.

On Question, Clause 2 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.