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Clause 3—(Amendment Of Definition Of "Active Service")

Volume 498: debated on Tuesday 1 April 1952

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6.45 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 3, line 17, to leave out "Subsection (1) of."

The effect of this Amendment is that, by the omission of these words, the word "Section" would be left, and the whole of Section 189 of the Army Act would be repealed. We have put this Amendment down largely for exploratory purposes. We want to know whether the traditional subsections—that is subsections (2) to (6) of Section 189 of the Army Act—are really required in view of the enlarged definition of "active service" which occurs in the Bill.

The most important subsection of Section 189 is subsection (2), which provides:
"Where the governor of a colony in which any of His Majesty's forces are serving, or if the forces are serving in a Dominion or out of His Majesty's dominions, the general officer or brigadier commanding such forces, declares at any time or times that, by reason of the imminence of active service or of the recent existence of active service, it is necessary for the public service that the forces in the colony or under his command, as the case may be, should be temporarily subject to this Act, as if they were on active service…."
I ask these questions sincerely. Why do we have those limitations? Is it because the forces have recently been on active service or because of the imminence of active service? Why is it that those two, which I should not have thought were particularly likely reasons for putting soldiers under active service conditions, are the only conditions to apply in our Colonies?

If there was a dangerous civil situation, if there were riots in Gibraltar, or anything of that sort, would not that be a possible reason for requiring that troops should be deemed to be on active service? If that be so, does it come within these words? Again, on the question of the imminence of active service, we might have troops in a Colony which we expected to be invaded. I suppose that is what is meant by:
"… the imminence of active service …"
It is expected that a stroke will be made against the territory and, therefore, the troops are put on active service to resist it. I can understand that, but I find it a little difficult to understand that troops should be deemed to be on active service because they have recently been on active service. I do not know the answer to that. It seems to me to be a little difficult to understand what that action is, and, therefore, I would—

There can often be occasions where men have been on active service and where a lull occurs, but where a recurrence of such a situation seems likely.

I should have thought that one would not put them on active service because the occasion for active service had stopped, but because the occasion for active service might occur again. That would seem to me to be another instance of imminence.

I am still a little puzzled to understand why people should be put on active service merely because they have recently been on active service. On the one hand, the fact that they have recently been on active service seems to me to be a poor reason. On the other hand, I can imagine quite a lot of reasons, other than because they are or might shortly be required to be on active service, for putting them under active service conditions.

This seems to me eminently one of those Clauses on which we should be unreasonable to require the Government to make up their mind in too much of a hurry, but I want to point out these difficulties to enable the Government to apply their mind to them and to see if this is really suitable in the light of the new definition.

There is another point to which I want to draw the attention of the Government, and one which again puzzles me because I do not quite know what the answer is. In the Manual of Military Law, which is the latest addition as far as the research department of this House is concerned, there is one of those stick-ins which form so large a portion of any manual. It is an amendment of 6th May, 1931, and it says:
"Troops may be on active service even before embarkation for the seat of war if the circumstances are such that they can reasonably be held to be attached to or to form part of a force such as specified in this subsection. Under the provisions of Section 188 such troops if on active service at the port of embarkation would continue to be on active service during the voyage."
I do not know whether that is still in operation. If it is, why not include it in the section? If it is not in operation, what has happened to it, because, as far as I can discover, it is not in Section 189? Is it held that under Section 188 there is power to make troops on active service? Is that the section which they have in mind? I am wondering what that little amendment stuck into the Manual is and where it comes from. Is it still in existence or not? If it has been there ever since 1931, is it not time that it was put into the Act?

The hon. and learned Gentleman—

On a point of order. Will it not prolong our deliberations, Sir Charles, if we get a reply from the Minister immediately and then have to ask someone else to reply later?

In Committee hon. Members can speak as often as they like, if I call them.

I thought that if I sought to answer the hon. and learned Gentleman's question now it might be for the convenience of the Committee and save time. He has asked a number of questions and I will try and give a reply to each one. The last question he asked was with regard to the note in the Manual on Military Law. The hon. and learned Gentleman will appreciate that the definition of "active service" applies to a person serving with or in a force which complies with the other conditions specified in the definition so that in each case if a part of the force with which he is serving is on active service within the meaning of that definition, that member of that force is on active service. In each case it comes to a question more or less of fact, as to whether he is a member of a force which comes within the other part of the definition.

I am trying to put the position as shortly and as clearly as I can to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). The question of whether there is or is not active service is really a question of fact. If the hon. and learned Gentleman will look at both the definition in the Bill and the definition in Section 189 (1) he will see that in each case it is a question of fact. If the case comes within that definition, then those troops are on active service.

May I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman a question? What is meant by "force" in this connection? Is it battalion, corps, brigade or platoon?

It covers a wide variety of military forces. That is the best answer I can give the hon. and learned Gentleman.

The hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the importance of Sections 188 and 189. He will see, first of all, that where the troops are in the Colony, it rests with the governor of the Colony to make the declaration and not with the general officer commanding. Where they are not in the Colony, it is the general officer commanding who makes the declaration. He can only make it where, as the Clause says, there is imminence of active service, that is to say when things are threatening.

Then there may be de facto active service; that is to say, conditions within the definition and followed by deemed active service when such conditions cease to obtain and yet where the position is not entirely settled and where it is necessary to keep troops on active service for some further time. That is the reason. One might call it the tapering off from the de facto active service position to the normal peace-time position, and it is really necessary to retain those words.

I wanted to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman, because he repeatedly referred to the definition which the Government seek to substitute for the subsection they are removing from the Army Act. But that definition contains the word "enemy" and, therefore, it seems to me that in this discussion we are, in a sense, prejudging the discussion which we shall no doubt be having on Clause 4 as that Clause gives us a new definition of the word "enemy."

I have an Amendment down on that point, but I do not, of course, yet know, Sir Charles, whether you are going to be good enough to call it or not. I naturally hope that you are, but meanwhile some of us are not at all satisfied by the new definition of "enemy" contained in this year's Bill, and that is why I put it to the hon. and learned Gentleman that our present discussion is a very difficult one, since we are discussing—

It being Seven o'Clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair, further Proceeding standing postponed until after the consideration of Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 7 ( Time for taking Private Business).

Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.