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Clause 6—(Calling Up For Training During Part-Time Service)

Volume 437: debated on Wednesday 21 May 1947

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I beg to move, in page 4, line 25, to leave out from "himself," to "cause," in line 26.

During the Committee stage my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) moved an Amendment which would have limited to a minimum of 14 days the period in which a notice could be cancelled with regard to the full-time Reserve training for which a man was called up. There was a very long and interesting Debate, and there was considerable support from all sides of the House for the general principle put forward by my hon. Friend, and I promised to look into the whole matter. The purpose of this Amendment and the following Amendment—in page 4, line 28, after "which," to insert "but not the date on which"—is to implement the decision of the Government after considering the Debate in Committee; that is to say, we shall not take power to cancel a notice as regards the day on which a man is called up for training, but we shall retain the power to vary the notice with regard to the place or time of day. In is argued that we shall be required to retain this—

9.15 p.m.

On a point of Order. Are we taking the two Amendments together, this and the next in the name of the right hon. Gentleman—in page 4, line 28, after "which," to insert "but not the date on which"?

I have no objection, if the House wishes to take the two together.

I am moving the first, as I said, but this and the other are both designed to meet the points put from all sides of the Committee during the Committee stage of the Bill.

The right hon. Gentleman seems to be addressing himself to the second Amendment. I do want the House to be clear whether we are taking the Amendments together or not Could the Chair tell us?

As I was saying, we should leave out the power we had proposed to take to issue a notice cancelling the call-up. This was clearly desired by the Committee. But we must retain the power to vary the notice with regard to the time of the day and the place. Our intention is to meet the kind of emergency referred to in the Committee stage—as, for instance, a flood at the camp, or an outbreak of an infectious disease. In such an emergency, we think that the Service authority should make every possible endeavour to find an alternative place and, if necessary, should be able to vary the hour at which the man should join. In view of the consequences brought to the notice of the Committee, the upset of domestic life, possible repercussions upon industry, upon a works where special arrangements had been made because of the man's impending absence, and so on, we feel that we should do our best, not to cancel the call-up, but to vary the call-up; to call up the man to a different camp; or, if no other camp is available, to give the maximum amount of training we can under any emergency arrangements we might be able to make We feel we should do that rather than risk the domestic and industrial upsets to which so much attention was drawn on the Committee stage. I hope the House will agree that we have met the point.

On the material point, so far as I understand it, I think I am in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman. On the matter of the language, at the risk of appearing pedantic and in some slight fear of seeming facetious, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the word "date." I do not think the word "date" really means—certainly it does not mean on historical documents, and so on, and I should not think it legally means—what it is desired to mean here, that is to say the day—Wednesday, or Thursday, or whatever it may be. The day is everything. "Given by Our hand at the Royal Palace of Westminster on Friday, being 16th day of May." I suggest that the word here ought really to be "day," or "hour," but not "date." I think what the right hon. Gentleman wants to do is to change the hour. Although I admit it is a very small point, I think, perhaps, it might be met.

We on this side are very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for meeting the point, but it was not in fact quite the point that we put. As a result of the discussion I think most of us had been impressed by the argument of the right hon. Gentleman that, in view of the possibility of an emergency, cancellation might be necessary, and we are also very grateful to him for the promise he gave then, which he has redeemed either perfectly or imperfectly—I must leave that to people more expert in the English language than I am—as to the meaning of deferment. I should, however, like some reassurance from the right hon. Gentleman with regard to dropping this power of cancellation. I think we accepted that there must be a power of cancellation in the case of a sudden flood or epidemic in the neighbourhood, or something else which made it impossible to hold the camp, and what we were pressing for was consideration of the possibility of compensation for the considerable domestic upset involved in such a cancellation.

I quite see that if it is possible for the right hon. Gentleman to dispense altogether with the power of cancellation, the question of compensation is settled, but I must confess that I am not quite clear how he can do without that power. Suppose that at the very last moment the camp is flooded or there is an epidemic. At any rate the battalion which has been called up for training cannot go to that particular place. Unless he can send them somewhere else on exactly the same date as the notice already bears, it seems that he is bound to want to cancel the notice. Will it really be very efficient, if something of this kind happens, to search hurriedly round for some other camp where equivalent training can be given or, if some other camp cannot be found, some other method of giving the 15 days' longterm training for which the men have been called up? Is the Minister really satisfied that in the event of an emergency occurring at the last moment he really can dispense with the notice of cancellation? Would it not be better at some further stage to think again in the direction of retaining the power of cancellation, which naturally is only used in the most exceptional circumstances, and considering the possibility of giving some compensation in case of hardship?

As I moved the original Amendment on this, I would like to thank my right hon. Friend for meeting us. In fact he has gone beyond what we asked for. He has taken away all power to issue cancellations and we ought to be very grateful to him on that account. It is clear that if a situation should arise in which it is necessary to alter the date, place and time at which the men should be present, cancellation would be impossible because the men would already be on their way. His solution, therefore, seems to be to divert them to other training grounds or make other extempore arrangements to meet the case. I think we should leave the matter there for the Army authorities to do their best.

I was not present when this matter was discussed in Committee and I understand the right hon. Gentleman has gone rather further than was suggested by those who moved the Amendment. I am rather at a loss to understand the position in which the right hon. Gentleman has now landed himself. If I understand the Subsection as it will read after this Amendment has been made, the Service authority concerned will have no power to cancel any notice which may have been issued, and moreover cannot postpone the date. I ask the hon. Gentleman what the position would be if the Service authorities made a genuine mistake, for example, if they called up somebody who was very much too young, say a boy ten or eleven years old? In a case of that sort the Service authorities would probably have no chance of putting the mistake right.

I should say that that position would be covered by the provisions relating to the young man in question. In that case we should certainly have to pay. There is no question of that. The case which was put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) has to be answered frankly. Naturally I would very much desire, as would my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, to keep the original power that we had for cancellation, if no other considerations had to be taken into account. Those considerations were put before us by hon. Members from all sides during the Committee stage, and they had to be taken note of. There was the possibility of keeping the full power of cancellation, and of some unknown commitment and unknown machinery being set up to cover a whole range of compensation.

If such powers were given in the Statute, it might arise that the Service Departments would not be quite so careful in their use of the power of cancellation as they otherwise might be, particularly if they were covered by Parliamentary authority to pay compensation. We thought of that. We consulted people experienced in these matters. We thought that, in all the circumstances and in view of the likely economic position of this country in the next two or three, or even four, years, we should interfere as little as possible by way of dislocating industrial arrangements. We thought it was as well to take the whole plunge and to say we preferred not to cancel so that there would be no fear of industrial dislocation. It must be laid absolutely upon the Service authorities to make the best possible arrangements they can, if an emergency arises of the kind mentioned by various Members of the Committee.

If we were to go the other way, we would have to meet an unknown volume of compensation, although we might be sure that the Service authorities would want at all times to get the maximum benefit from the period of call-up, and that they would not use cancellation except in the case of extremity. Let me therefore say that we have looked into the matter from every angle, and that this is the best we can do.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 4, line 28, after "which," insert:

"but not the date on which."—[Mr. Alexander.]

9.30 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 4, line 30, to leave out Subsection (3).

The Amendment relates to the Subsection which prescribes the sanction for failure to comply with a training notice. The House will recollect that there was some confusion at an earlier stage as to what the training notices were, in respect which the Subsection provides the sanction. I trust that if for the sake of clarity I refer to a later Amendment on the Order Paper, I shall not incur your displeasure, Mr. Speaker, because it will be the case, if the House accepts a later Government Amendment, that a training notice will be a notice calling up persons for not less than six days' training. Therefore this Subsection provides the sanction for a failure in fact to go to camp for a period of six days or more, and it is thus a somewhat more serious question than that which the House debated earlier this afternoon, concerning sanctions for failure to do drills.

The House had at an earlier stage a wealth of advice from the Front Bench opposite on what this Subsection meant. That advice would have been more impressive had it been consistent. But we have now been informed by the Attorney-General, at, I think, his third attempt, that what it means is that persons who fail to comply with a training notice, will be dealt with as absentees or deserters and tried by court martial. The difficulty has arisen from the fact that this Subsection does not say that in terms. It merely provides that such persons shall be dealt with in the same manner a certain other persons specified in the Subection. That of course has been the cause of the difficulty which has taxed even the ingenuity of the Attorney-General but which apparently every conscript in this country is expected to understand at the first time of asking. I do not say they will not, but it is perhaps a little harsh and oppressive to expect every male 18-year-old in the country to be slightly better informed on the law of England than the principal legal adviser of the Crown.

I suggest that it is objectionable to provide for penalties of this sort in legislation by reference. If it is desired, as I understand it is, to lay it down that people who fail to comply with these training notices shall be tried by court martial on the serious charges of desertion or absence, it would be much fairer to say so, in order that people can know exactly where they are. It is surely a platitude to say that penal legislation should make the penalties quite clear. After all, the object of such legislation is to deter people from the commission of offences, and people are much more likely to be deterred if they know precisely what the deterrent penalty is. The object of this Amendment is not to deprive training notices of any sanction. On the contrary, it is to press the point that this Subsection should state in itself what the penalties are, and should not merely invite attention, to a wealth of previous legislation. The major point of the Amendment is that it is desirable that the penalties for breaches of this Bill should be in the Bill. When that point was put at a previous stage I understood that it received the approval of the Minister of Defence, because he said:
"I have since said that I would see if the Clause could be put in order."
He went on to say:
"I said that I would consider the Clause, and examine it so that it might be made to work properly."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 7th May, 1947; Vol. 437 c. 675–6.]
So far as I can see on the Order Paper, the right hon. Gentleman has not implemented that promise. He has certainly put nothing on the Order Paper to make work properly a Clause which as he himself recognises in the sentence I have quoted, does not work properly. Therefore my hon. Friends and I have thought it necessary to put this Amendment on the Order Paper with a view to eliciting from the Government, first, a clear statement of what these penalties are, and, secondly, what reasons there are for the Government's failure to make this Clause work properly, if I may adopt the right hon. Gentleman's phrase. We ask them to put in this Bill for all concerned to see, the penalties for those who break this provision.

I beg to second the Amendment.

I do not wish to paint the lily. The point has been put very brilliantly by my hon. Friend and I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General will give us some satisfaction.

The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has on this occasion adopted his favourite, and I venture to think perhaps his most successful form of argument, that of putting up his own particular nine-pin and then proceeding to his own satisfaction, if not to the satisfaction of anybody else, to knock it down. It is true that I have on two, and possibly on three, previous occasions in Committee advised on the effect of this Subsection. On each of those occasions I advised the Committee in. exactly the same sense, and I shall so advise the House now, for the fourth time. If hon. Members opposite were unable to understand my advice that is, of course, a matter for which I cannot hold myself personally responsible. The doubt which arose in regard to this matter during previous discussions on this Clause was not in regard to the penalties arising under this Subsection at all, but in regard to the training notice. That was the matter in regard to which there was some discussion, and that was the matter in regard to which my right hon. Friend and I undertook to look at the Clause again and clear it up. That is the purpose of the Amendment to which the hon. Member has referred which is put down on the Order Paper to a later Clause in the Bill—the Amendment which will define what a training notice is. The effect of the Subsection as it stands is that a man who fails to comply with a notice calling him up for annual camp, or for a period of continuous training which will be six days or more, will be liable to the penalties imposed under the existing law on men who fail to comply with a calling-up notice, or fail to comply with an embodiment notice—that is a penalty not exceeding two years' penal servitude after trial by a court-martial. That is the purpose of this Clause and, in those circumstances. I am afraid we cannot accept the Amendment.

I am surprised at the attitude the right hon. and learned Gentleman has taken on this matter, when he says that he was not asked the very question that my hon. Friend put just now—

It he says it was not raised, and that the whole point was with regard to the question of the training notice, then his recollection is really inaccurate, as he will discover if he looks at HANSARD and finds the relevant passage—

Column 685. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has really not met the point which has been put here. If the punishment for an offence of failing to comply with a training notice is a maximum of two years' penal servitude awarded by court martial, would it not he far better to put it in this Bill where everyone could read it, rather than to say:

"A person who fails to comply with a training notice shall be liable to be apprehended and unless he has some reasonable excuse punished in the same manner as a person belonging to an auxiliary force failing to appear when called into actual or permanent service or on embodiment."
When one looks at the definition of "auxiliary force" later in the Bill one sees that it covers the Royal Naval Special Reserve, the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, the Territorial Army, the Army Reserve, the Air Force Reserve, the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve or the Auxiliary Air Force. I dare say the right hon. and learned Gentleman could tell us how many law books the individual affected would have to consult to determine what penalty he might be incurring if he failed to comply with a training notice. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to incorporate his own words in this Measure, and to put in "two years' penal servitude," so that it shall be quite clear.

I wish again to raise the point which I raised on a previous occasion, but which the right hon. and learned Gentleman may have overlooked. That is whether a training notice within the meaning of Subsection (3) is quite certain to mean a training notice as varied by any supplementary notice. I do not think it is quite obvious that that is the case, but if it is not, the Attorney-General will see that his penalty Clause fails in its object. in those cases where a supplementary notice has been given varying the original training notice. I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman has got my point?

It would be quite fantastic to prosecute a man for failing to comply with a training notice if, in fact, a supplementary notice had been served on him varying the notice and making it clear that he was not supposed to comply with it in those terms. On the other hand, if the words "a training notice" in Subsection (3) do not mean a training notice as varied by the supplementary notice, that, I think, will be the effect. I do not know if the right hon. and learned Gentleman can satisfy me straight away on this matter. I do not want to be in the least dogmatic. Whether it does or does not mean a notice as varied, I am certain he will agree that unless it does, some further amendment will be necessary.

I support this Amendment. I think this Clause is a bad Clause whichever way we look at it. It starts off by saying that if a person fails he

"shall be liable to be apprehended."
I am not versed in legal language, but why not say, "shall be apprehended"? If the notice is served, he is liable to serve, and there is no particular reason why he should not be apprehended. Then, unless he has a reasonable excuse, he will be punished. Is there any court in the land which would punish him if he had a reasonable excuse? What is the object of putting in all that sort of stuff? It would be far more effective, and would produce a better result on the brain of the ordinary conscript, if he knew what he might get for trying to evade a calling-up notice. In many parts of King's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions various types of offences are quoted and it is stated in the case of some offences that the punishment will be at the maximum, death, and at the minimum, some such punishment as an afternoon's drill. If the ordinary conscript sees it stated in black and white that if he gets a notice and tries to get away with it, he is liable to two years penal servitude, far fewer people will fail to turn up on the date when they are due.

9.45 p.m.

The hon. and learned Member for Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) raised this point during the discussion in Committee. I felt then, and still feel, that the variation will not really affect the decision, and that the training notice will remain the training notice, as varied by any subsequent provision. I feel confident that the Clause is all right in that respect. So far as the other aspect of the matter raised by the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) is concerned, I see that he himself set out with great clarity, in the course of one of his many addresses to the Committee, what the various penalties arising out of this Clause would be. I followed by saying:

"I have spoken only once on this Clause so far, and I do not propose to repeat what I said then, in regard to it. The advice which I gave to the House then…was correct. The hon. Member correctly apprehended the effect.…"
I went on to repeat what he had said. Then the hon. and learned Member was good enough to say:
"I am grateful to the Attorney-General for his explanation.…It was clear and lucid."
He has raised the point in regard to making clear in this Bill what the actual penalties are.

If the Attorney-General will forgive me, since he has quoted those words, I think that in decency and fairness to my hon. and learned Friend he should quote the next ones, in which he said:

"…I hope it will be possible to put the penalty in the Clause."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1947; Vol. 437. C. 685–6.]

If the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) had not been so eager to make his own voice heard, and had waited until I finished my sentence, he would have heard me say that. It is not a very convenient method of legislation to have to set out in the body of this Bill all the different Statutes—and unfortunately there are quite a number of them—which deal with this matter. On the other hand, I take the point of the hon. and learned Member that it is not very convenient for those who may be affected by the Bill to have to refer, as he successfully referred, to the various Statutes under which the penalty arises. We will certainly look at this. If we can find a convenient way of embodying the different penalties, we will do so. I will not give a specific undertaking, but we will certainly look at it with considerable sympathy.

In view of what the Attorney-General has now said as to consideration being given once again, I hope more successfully, to the possibility of incorporating in the Clause the precise penalties it imposes, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 4, line 38, to leave out "provided by," and to insert "notified to him under."

This is a simple Amendment. The words in this particular Subsection to which we object are as follow:
"If at any time during a person's term of part-time service any change occurs in his name or address, he shall forthwith notify the change to such person and in such mariner as may be provided by regulations of the Service Authority."
It is imposing an undue obligation on the person concerned that it should be put upon him to discover what is in a Service regulation. He is, after all, a civilian, or is following a civilian occupation, and it will be extremely difficult for him at the time to discover what is in Service regulations. I suggest that the onus should be placed on the Service of notifying him what those regulations are with regard to the change of address. I am greatly encouraged by seeing nodding going on on the opposite benches. In that optimistic mood, I propose my Amendment.

I beg to second the Amendment.

I do so for the reasons so lucidly expressed by my hon. and gallant Friend. Being not unaffected by the vigorous movements on the opposite side of the House to which he has referred, I content myself with formally seconding the Amendment.

I am much obliged for the brevity and lucidity with which the case has been presented. I accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.