§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY)
My Lords, the National Service Acts of 1948 introduced a system of peace-time compulsory service as from January 1, 1949, imposing a general obligation on young men for a period of whole-time and part-time service, amounting in all to five and a half years. The House knows that Her Majesty's Government have recently asked for, and obtained, Parliamentary approval to an Order extending the period of call-up until December 31, 1958. As forecast in the Statement on Defence earlier this year, it has in consequence become necessary to introduce comprehensive measures dealing with the reserves of the Armed Forces.
There are four main categories of reserves upon which we can call in emergency. First there are the Regular volunteers, whose engagements involve varying periods of reserve service. 2 Secondly, there are National Servicemen or National Service volunteers, who are liable to undergo part-time training as part of their five and a half years' National Service. Thirdly, there are the "Z" and "G" Reservists, and these constitute, broadly, all men who served in the Armed Forces during the currency of the war-time emergency—which, for the purpose of our discussion must be taken as the period from September 3, 1939 to December 31, 1948. Lastly, there are the volunteers who undertook voluntary service in the Territorial Army, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves, and other comparable Reserves. The most numerous and comprehensive of these reserves are the "Z" and "G" classes. Although the reserves created under the National Service Acts are growing, we cannot do without the "Z" and "G" reservists. It would obviously be inequitable if these "Z" and "G" men, the majority of whom saw war service, were still liable for war service, and that National Servicemen and National Service volunteers who have served since January 1, 1949, who are, in general, much younger men, should get off scot-free when they have completed their original five and a half years' National Service.
This, then, is the main genesis of the Bill which I have the honour to present to you. It continues the liabilities of "Z" and "G" men, and imposes a parallel liability on the National Servicemen and National Service volunteers. 3 The Bill, in effect, does more. It mitigates the liability of "Z" and "G" men, so that none is liable after his forty-fifth birthday—and I ought to declare my interest here, for my own forty-fifth birthday happens to fall on May 23 next. Secondly, the Bill makes no provision beyond June 30, 1959. In this respect, the original intention of Her Majesty's Government, as described in the Statement on Defence issued earlier this year, has been varied, and I ought to draw the attention of the House to that fact. On consideration, it seemed right that whatever Government would have to deal with the question of compulsory service in the light of the circumstances of the time should at the same time have to deal with the policy on reserves. Your Lordships will see, therefore, on a careful reading of this Bill, that it lays the obligation for the full five years' reserve service only upon those National servicemen or National Service volunteers who complete five and a half years' service on June 30, 1954—in fact, those who were first called up in January, 1949. Under this Bill this obligation for reserve service is naturally progressively reduced for those called up later; so that under this Bill—and I emphasise "under this Bill"—men called up on January 1, 1954, will have no additional reserve liability.
I think it will be granted that to be equitable the Bill must be comprehensive. Thus, Clause 1 (1) (a) and (b) state the two categories with which this Bill deals. First, there are the National servicemen and National Service volunteers who have completed their whole-time and part-time liability under the National Service Act. The second major category comprises any men who have been members of the Armed Forces during the war service period; that is to say, at any time between September 3, 1939 (how well we all remember that date!) and December 31, 1948 (and that is more a date of art, if I may say so), and who are not now over forty-five years of age. The Bill deals with both these classes by saying that men—it does not apply to women; in this case, man does not embrace woman—shall become members of the appropriate reserves; and, broadly, the appropriate reserves are the existing reserves. Perhaps I ought to explain the 4 expression, here used for the first time in a legislative context, "National Service volunteer." Such a man is one who carries out a period of service as an officer or other rank which is treated as equivalent to his National Service liability. So much for the categories. Now for the obligations under this Bill.
Clearly, it is right that this Bill should not create dual obligations. Thus, officers, as such, while they hold their commissions, which lay down their obligations for service, are excluded from the Bill. But those whose commissions are for any reason discontinued then fall within the ambit of the Bill and become, like other ranks, members of the appropriate reserve. Provision is also made whereby a man who falls within the above categories, having undertaken some other form of service in the Armed Forces, does not escape from his equitable liability. Under the provisions of this Bill, he automatically returns to the appropriate reserve if his alternative service terminates during the currency of I this Act. It is, of course, right that the appropriate Service authority should have the power at its own option to terminate a man's liability to remain on the appropriate reserve.
The House will recall the importance attached to restarting voluntary part-time or reserve service in 1946 and 1947 in the Auxiliary and Reserve Forces of the Crown—indeed, I think the nobleLord, Lord Nathan, who is to follow me this afternoon, had his part in that operation. He will recall that those who undertook obligations in those Services were promised, quite fairly, that they should shed their liabilities as "Z" and "G" reservists. I should like to make it quite clear that this Bill honours those undertakings by the provisions of subsection (3) of Clause 1. However, it is not thought right to extend this arrangement, for by it the Army alone stands to lose some 60,000 first-class trained reservists. Under the Reserves and Auxiliary Forces (Training) Act, 1951, the arrangement was circumscribed. It is now possible to join the Territorial Army for two years, and it would be clearly inequitable for an individual to escape the full period of his reserve liability under this Bill by joining the Territorial Army for a shorter period. There is another point to which I should like to draw your Lordships' 5 attention. It is right that discharge by purchase shall not buy a man out of his obligations under this Bill. It is now the practice to warn every such man of this, and it is intended that no man who buys, or has bought for him, his discharge after the end of September of this year, 1953, shall be exempt from the Bill.
So much for comprehensiveness. Now for the obligations imposed. First of all, let it be clearly noted that this Bill imposes no liability for service in peace time. Men on the reserves within the ambit of this Bill will be called up only in the event of, first, "actual or apprehended attack on the United Kingdom," and, second, "imminent national danger or grave emergency." In the first case, "actual or apprehended attack upon the United Kingdom," no Proclamation will be necessary—and the reasons will be obvious to your Lordships. The service required will be home service in the cases of the Army, and the Air Force. In the case of the Air Force, home service means starting from a base in the United Kingdom and returning to that base; it does not mean flying over the United Kingdom and associated waters. In regard to the Navy, I ought to make clear that there is no geographical limitation upon service. In the second case—that is, "imminent national danger or grave emergency"—there must be a Proclamation which must be reported to Parliament if it is sitting—and, of course, if it is not sitting, Parliament must be summoned within ten days. But I ought to note, for the sake of accuracy and for the complete information of your Lordships, that the summoning of the House is not required in the case of the calling out of the Naval reserves. The reasons for that will be clear to your Lordships. There is another provision to which I ought to draw your Lordships' attention. It is expressly stated in Clause 3 of the Bill that reservists so covered shall not be called out in aid of the civil power to deal with civil disturbances. I think that is an important provision in a constitutional context.
My Lords, we all have to recognise, painful as it may be, that nowadays an attack on this country, or upon any State associated with us, may arrive literally, like a bolt from the blue. Thus the older method of mobilisation whereby men could be called up in classes, is no longer applicable. For the purpose of effective 6 mobilisation, it is necessary that a man must be immediately fitted into his place in the intricate and highly organised military machine, not as a member of a class but as an individual. Fully to illustrate this, I have only to cite to your Lordships the control and reporting system, with all its refinements of organisation. So Clause 4 of the Bill which I now recommend to your Lordships, imposes on every reservist an obligation to furnish to the appropriate Service authority such essential information as is necessary for this purpose as and when required. This information is at the core of our mobilisation plan, and it is the only duty laid upon a reservist under this Bill in peace time. I should like to make it clear that the Bill lays down that the reservists covered by Clause 3 shall not have a training obligation in peace time. Her Majesty's Government carefully considered this problem and weighed the pros and cons, whether or not to take power to call up the reservists for training. The Bill as now drafted represents the considered decision of the Government in this respect. Another point to which I should like to direct your Lordships' attention is that the Bill, by Clause 3 (6) brings the civil rights of reservists within the ambit of two important Acts Those Acts are the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act, 1950, and the Reserves and Auxiliary Forces (Protection of Civil Interests) Act, 1951.
My Lords, I have tried to expound the principles upon which this Bill is drafted, and to comment briefly upon the main provisions which give effect to those principles. The arrangement of the clauses, which I think is logical, together with the Explanatory Memorandum, records the substance of the Bill. However, those who have devoted themselves to reading the Bill in detail will agree, I think, that the drafting is necessarily somewhat involved, especially where reference is made to other Acts of Parliament. But the repeal of certain emergency enactments, set out in the Schedule to the Bill will, I trust, have the effect of cutting down a good deal of what I may term legislative undergrowth, and of letting in the light, so that the extent and nature of the obligations to be undertaken by the various classes of reservists dealt with by the Bill can be plainly discerned. With that explanation, I have no hesitation in commending this Bill to your Lordships. 7 It has a very important part to play, not only in the defence of these Islands but in the part which our country can play in the defence of the free world. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—((Lord De L'Isle and Dudley.)
§ 2.56 p.m.
§ LORD NATHAN
My Lords, let me begin by thanking the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Air for the clarity and precision with which he has explained this Bill to your Lordships. It is a small but an important Bill, and no one sitting upon these Benches will dissent from the view that it is an indispensable contribution to our preparedness in the event of war. In examining the Bill itself as a document, it is curious that nowhere in it is to be found a precise indication, in so many terms, of the liability of the reservists to be called up, either in the case of actual or impending attack or by Proclamation. As the noble Lord has observed, that rests upon the rather complex phraseology of a clause relating to other Acts of Parliament. I sometimes wonder whether it would not be expedient and useful that a Bill should put into plain terms what is really its central feature—in this case to be elicited from an examination of a number of Acts of Parliament. Nevertheless, the Bill is a short one; the noble Lord has explained it, and no reservist should be in doubt as to his liabilities and responsibilities thereunder.
For my part, I would say that no reasonable person qualified as a reservist can object to the screening notice. Though it comes late in the Bill, the screening comes early in point of logic and in time. No one, I think, can reasonably object to that, for it amounts to no more than requiring the reservist to give particulars about himself, so that if an emergency should arise he may be put at once into the place where he fits best. No reservist—indeed he would be a craven fellow were it otherwise—can object to being called instantly to fill a place for which he is fitted in the defences of the country if an attack is actually made or is impending. Nor, I surmise, would he wish to inquire into the niceties of the law under which he is called up, although in fact the legal points are fully 8 dealt with in the Bill now before your Lordships' House.
The object, as your Lordships will have observed, is to ensure that, in case of need, mobilisation will be smooth, swift and selective—selective, in the sense that there will, in the first instance, be no mass recall, but an individual recall, a sort of mobilisation by punch card. During the years 1951 and 1952, as "Z" men and "G" men were recalled for a period of service, I had the opportunity, in connection with the regiment with which I have the privilege of being associated, of seeing those "Z" men, taking their places in training in camp. I was much impressed not only by their spirit but also by the readiness with which, almost in the twinkling of an eye, they recovered their old skills. Perhaps, the Secretary of State will be able to say something on this, if not this afternoon then at some later stage of the Bill: I hope the "Z" men who were called up for the purpose of training with particular units will, in the event of their being called up on mobilisation, be sent to those units with which they have trained. Indeed, I think that was the understanding.
I am a little concerned about one aspect of the matter as it relates to the Territorial Army, because here I find the Bill rather obscure. The Territorial Army, of course, comprises a large number of units of the anti-aircraft defences of the country, and it is a fair assumption that, in the event of an emergency arising, those units will be among the first to be embodied. I assume that no members of the Territorial Army actually serving therein will be treated as reservists—including (though I think the Bill is rather obscure as to this) National Service men who have enlisted voluntarily in the Territorial Army even after the commencement of the Act and after the end of their period of service as National Service men. I also assume—though I should be glad to have an assurance upon the matter—that those called up because of actual or impending attack upon this country, and before a Proclamation of general mobilisation, would have the same protection of their civil rights—for instance, reinstatement in civil employment—as if they were called up under a Proclamation. I think the Secretary of State intended to indicate 9 that in what he said just now, but whilst I feel that he fully covered the point as regards mobilisation under Proclamation, I should be glad if he would give an assurance (as I am sure he will do readily) that the same applies to those who might be called up without Proclamation.
I do not wish, on this Bill, to enter into the question of methods or time of training, or the organisation of the Forces on mobilisation. But I should like to think—indeed, we must feel sure—that, as men may be called up to meet an actual or impending attack, steps have been taken to ensure that material and equipment also will be mobilised at the same time, so that the weapons will be ready for the men who are called up. To my mind, it is right and equitable that the National Service men should be put on the same footing as the "Z" and "G" reservists, as regards responsibility as reservists. The Bill is useful—indeed, I feel that it is indispensable. It is also equitable. It provides suitable machinery for smooth and swift mobilisation, for the manning of the essential defences of the country in the event of impending and actual attack. As such, the Bill will naturally he supported by those who sit on these Benches.
§ 3.7 p.m.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
My Lords, I hope that I may, with the permission of the House, speak for a second time. I thank the noble Lord who has spoken for the Opposition for his general support of this important measure. I particularly liked his phrase about a "smooth, swift and selective" method of mobilisation. That is the object of the Bill which I am now presenting. May I, in the first place, give the noble Lord an assurance that those who are called up in the first of those contingencies mentioned in the Bill—actual or apprehended attack on the United Kingdom—are covered, in their civil rights, in the same way as those called up by Proclamation. So far as material and equipment are concerned, the object, as the noble Lord knows, is to see that on mobilisation, with due regard to all the results of the screening notices, the Service authorities can call up those who are able and equipped to fill their places and to use the material and equipment available So it is not a question of having a rifle for every man—every "Z" and 10 "G" reservist—but of having arrangements made for "Z" and "G" reservists to take over the equipment and material which is available. That is a matter which we must discuss, when the time comes, on the Service Estimates.
I hope that I understood correctly the noble Lord's point about anti-aircraft regiments in the Territorial Army. I am not quite sure that I did, but I think I know what he means and I think I cart give him an assurance which will satisfy him. As I have said, the object of the Bill is to obviate dual obligations, but the man who undertakes a secondary obligation must not thereby, because he is a volunteer—very few volunteers would, but a few might—avoid the embracing ambit of the Bill. A volunteer, whatever his reserve liability, will be considered to be a volunteer until either his volunteer liability lapses or—perhaps for some other reason, or perhaps by his voluntary decision—he relinquishes his voluntary status. It will be just the same in the case of officers. I hope that the comprehensiveness of this Bill will commend itself to your Lordships. I submit that it is also equitable. We are all in this together. We may all find ourselves, in the lamentable event of another outbreak of war, called to different Services, or to make our different contributions to the State. Nobody can escape that liability. By co-ordinating and resuming all the liabilities which now exist, this Bill places upon all those who have completed their service, either during the war or in National Service, a parallel and similar obligation to serve the State. For that reason I think this Bill should commend itself not only to Parliament but to the whole country.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.