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Clause 4—(Transfer)

Volume 437: debated on Wednesday 7 May 1947

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

There is one point in this Clause on which we should like an assurance. As I understand it, it gives power to compel the transfer of forces and in certain cases at the individual's own request. I understand that in no case will the transfer be compelled unless it has regard to the individual's particular qualifications. I would like to he told whether or not there is any intention of using this power of compulsory transfer to make transfers of what might be called large blocks, as, for instance, from the Auxiliary Reserve to the Army Reserve, in which case they could be called up as required.

It would appear from the wording that this compulsory transfer applies not only to those persons who are doing their term of service under the Act, but also to those persons who would be doing a term of part-time service unless they had volunteered for the Auxiliary forces, in other words, that a man who has volunteered as a volunteer in the Territorial Army and has submitted himself to the extended obligations of the Territorial Army volunteer service, can be transferred by the Army authorities against his will. Is that so, or not? Secondly, will the Minister explain why the Clause says:

"provide for the transfer of any person to the royal naval reserve, the royal naval volunteer reserve, the royal air force volunteer reserve or the auxiliary air force except at his own request."
Why is the Army to be put in this inferior position?

There is a point of some consequence I would like to put. In the earlier part of the proceedings the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence referred to his intention to make certain that tradesmen would be put into jobs in the Forces in which they could carry on their own trades. There is another point here which is equally important, and that is that in so far as it is at all possible, a man should he put into units corresponding to the Territorial units in his own district. This is a most important point, and the reason why I raise it is because of the power given requiring persons serving in any auxiliary force to transfer. I think that it is apt to give the Service authorities too easy a "let-up". They can disregard the unit in which a man is to be placed when he is first called up, and later, they can transfer him. There should be special regard to the Territorial forces which exist in the district of the man who is called un so that, when he comes out of the Service, he may go into the appropriate unit. For example, it might he quite useless to post a man to the Royal Armoured Corps if there was no unit of the Royal Armoured Corps to which he could he posted when he had finished his training. That is the reason why I put down the Amendment which the Chair has not seen fit to call. Another reason why I put it down is that, while it is simple enough to change units, it is a very different matter when it comes to changing corns, and I do not see the reason for asking a man to change his corns if he has not expressed a desire so to do.

It is essential to have the Clause as it stands because the Service authorities must have the power to make transfers where necessary in order that the balance in strength in general, and in particular categories of specialists, can be adjusted. The fact stands out that, in some cases, one will find people who will go back to civil life and to the Reserve, and, having developed a skill, they will be of value to the unit to which they can be posted. Of course, some might elect to be transferred. Others might have to be asked if they would be willing to accept transfer, but I can assure the Committee that there is no intention of using this Clause for the purpose of what had been termed "block transfers." This is to meet the circumstances which I have mentioned, and also to get the skill in the right place.

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has answered the question. Under the second part of this Clause, it is perfectly possible for any person, quite outside the scope of the Act, to enlist in the Royal Naval Reserve with the sincere intention of taking part in naval life. But then, without warning, this person can be transferred to the Army. It is exactly the same in the case of the Royal Air Force. There is no reason why the "balance of specialists," as it has been called, should be applied in this extraordinary manner. Surely the Minister must realise that, if this Clause is carried out literally—and there is no reason to doubt that it will not—then anybody who chooses a voluntary service job outside the scope of this Bill will not be entitled to follow on in the branch which he desires. He may be drafted at any moment, at the wish or whim of the Service Ministers into any other branch of the services. For that reason I think that this Clause needs very careful consideration before the Committee passes it. After all, the right hon. Gentleman has said time and time again, quite irrespective of this Bill, that he does expect the great bulk of public opinion represented by recruitment into these voluntary forces to support whatever measures this House may pass.

What he is saying in this Clause is that these people may join whatever branch of the Services they wish to join, but that he reserves the right to transfer them from, say, the Navy, into the Army, the Royal Air Force, or anywhere else as he pleases. That does not seem to me to be the way the Committee should proceed. We ought to protect the wishes of someone who desires the enter the Navy, where it may be that he could use his expert knowledge, and endeavour to ensure that he is enabled to perform his service in the way he likes. As this Clause is drafted, that is not the position. Before the Clause is passed, I hope that someone on the Front Bench will give us a more detailed and satisfactory explanation than that which the Minister has given us. The right hon. Gentleman's explanation was simply that he must do what he likes when he likes, and was jolly well going to do it.

I do not want there to be any misunderstanding about this point regarding the auxiliary forces. I can assure the Committee that the power given in this Clause is not going to be used arbitrarily. But one may get someone in an Auxiliary force who wants to join a Naval Auxiliary force, or something of that kind. He may be serving in a part of the country where it is impossible to attach him to the force which he wishes to join. Therefore we would like to persuade him to join some other force in which he can do his training for the time being, though we might be able to make arrangements for him to do the other part of his training with the Navy. We want to be as elastic as possible, but let us have power to do it in relation to these people. I give an assurance that it will not be used in any sense arbitrarily, but only to give the men the best possible service which is convenient to them.

Is it, or is it not, the fact that what I have said of this Clause is true?

The right hon. Gentleman has made an important statement about the interpretation of this Clause, and about the action which the Service authorities propose to take upon it. It is quite apparent, following his statement, that the terms of the Clause are far wider than the purpose for which he wants it. After listening to the observations of hon. Members behind me, and the Minister's observations, I do not think that there is much controversy as to the purpose of the Clause. But all people do not get HANSARD and many will be surprised to see where they stand and what their liabilities are likely to be. Will the right hon. Gentleman see if he can include some words of limitation in the Clause? The point which is causing concern is the element of compulsion which is retained in this Clause for the Service authorities; power to compel without any principle being stated and without any limitation upon that power. I do think that some words could be found to express what the right hon. Gentleman has said regarding his wish to limit the power of compelling a person to transfer from one reserve to another and, it may be, to transfer his liability to service in one part of the country to another. I would ask him to look at this matter again.

I think that the hon. and learned Member is going rather wider now in the pressure to reconsider this matter than I gathered from his previous statement. But I see that there is a possibility of misunderstanding of the interpretation of this Clause. I am quite willing to undertake to have another look at it before the Report stage.

2.30 a.m.

This point has been repeatedly put and I think we are entitled to an answer. In the second part of the Clause a difference is drawn between the Reserves and Auxiliaries of the Navy and Air Force as compared with the Army. Why can a member of the Navy and Air Force only be transferred to the R.N.V.R., the R.A.F.V.R. and Auxiliary Air Force at his own request? Is it because the Government consider that these services demand a degree of devotion or skill the Army does not? If so, are they not giving away the whole case?

I should have thought it was very clear that the type of force we have to maintain and the kind of services rendered and the conditions under which they are rendered in the Navy and Air Force make it reasonable to say in the case of the R.N.V.R. and R.A.F.V.R. that they should only be transferred under this Clause at their own request. We have to maintain the necessary numbers of the land force, and the proportion to the other services. There is no differentiation against the Army.

I asked the Minister specifically if he would give us the figures of each of the Services and tell us what their proportion is. Now at this late stage he refuses to give those figures and merely refers to general proportions.

The Minister himself referred to the proportions. I am asking him to tell us what they are.

On a point of Order. Do I understand that if there is a Division, though we have accepted his assurance, the Minister will not reconsider this?

If this Clause is carried to a Division the position is somewhat altered. I have been very willing to meet the Committee on this matter.

But the right hon. Gentleman must be under a misapprehension. We have not challenged a Division on this point.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.