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Clause 7—(New Provisions With Respect To Enlistment)

Volume 498: debated on Wednesday 2 April 1952

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I beg to move, in page 4, line 44, to leave out "twenty-two," and to insert "thirty."

In 1950 the Opposition put down an Amendment to the Army Act to the effect that the Regular soldier should be free, if he desired, to enlist for 30 years. At that time I pointed out that there were difficulties in the proposal, and the Committee took the same view. In 1951, an Amendment was put down that eventually became Section 85 of the Act. Now we have come full circle, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) has put down this Amendment which, in a way, does what hon. Gentlemen opposite asked for two years ago. The difference is the Secretary of State's proposal that a soldier should not swallow everything at one gulp, but should be able to take it, if he desires, at three-year intervals.

I am not sure that my right hon. Friend had in mind anything other than a desire to provoke a discussion on this Clause. The Secretary of State's proposal is that a soldier should now be enabled to undertake a 22-year engagement and then, at intervals of three years, elect to leave the Service. I ask the Committee to imagine two young men who are making up their minds to join the Regular Army. One, influenced by War Office propaganda, decides to undertake an engagement of 22 years. The second, perhaps not so sure of himself, decides he will not undertake 22 years but the least engagement he can—three years with the Colours and four years on the Reserve. The first young man undertakes an engagement for 22 years, and his rate of pay is 7s. a day. The second young man starts on the same pay and at the end of his three years' engagement decides that he likes the Army and will stay on. He therefore turns his three years' Colour engagement and four years with the Reserve into seven years with the Colours. He at once gets a bounty of £25.

Four years later, the second young man decides to turn his engagement of seven years and five years to 12 years with the Colours, and so he gets his second bounty of £50. Then, at the end of the 12 years, he decides to undertake an engagement of 22 years—in other words, to bring him into line with the first young man—and he gets a bounty of £100.

1.15 a.m.

If I am right, how many recruits does the Secretary of State expect to undertake an engagement at one bite of 22 years when the reward that the second man gets is £175 in respect of his three bounties, whereas the first man undertakes an engagement of 22 years at one go and gets no bounty whatever?

That is not all the story. A soldier now serving on a long-service engagement can at the end of 12 years ask for a free discharge and on three months' notice can leave the Army. That privilege will not be open to the recruit who undertakes the Secretary of State's offered engagement of 22 years. He can go out only at three-yearly intervals.

I point out to the Secretary of State the same thing that I pointed out to him two years ago: that he fails to understand the psychology of the Regular soldier who is moving towards the middle of his Regular engagement; the man who after 12 years' service is making up his mind whether he will remain in the Army.

When that man has completed 12 years' service, when he gets to the point of undertaking his long-term engagement, what begins to worry him is his thoughts of a home and a job. If a job comes along, he wants to be free to leave the Army at quite short notice, having done 12 or more years' service, and to take the job. Under the Secretary of State's proposals, however, if the man is to accept the job it must come along when he is nearing one of his three-year cycles.

The right hon. Gentleman is, in other words, putting forward proposals which, under the guise of making concessions, deny to the enthusiastic soldier £175 if he undertakes the Secretary of State's engagement, and at the same time impose upon him limitations as regards leaving the Army from which a soldier with 12 or more years' service is at present exempt.

There are other points I could mention in connection with the Secretary of State's proposals but I hope that I have said enough, having moved the Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West. I ask the Secretary of State to tell me whether I am wrong, particularly on the matter of the bounty. If so, I should not like my words to go out from here, because they might deter young men who are contemplating an engagement. If, however, my figures are right, I should like the Secretary of State to say how many recruits he expects to get.

If any young man undertakes a 22 years' engagement and forfeits bounties to the value of £175 by so doing, he needs to have his head examined. If there be such a young man who takes a 22 years' engagement and, in his enthusiasm bites off 22 years and swallows them at one gulp, once enlisted he can still escape from the clutches of the Secretary of State for War under the right hon. Gentleman's own proposal and still have the bounty. All he has to do at the end of three years' service is to give notice to his commanding officer that he has had enough and go home and then re-enlist elsewhere and receive the £25 bounty for so doing.

I beg to move, "That the Chairman report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."

It is getting quite late and we have had considerable discussion on this very important Bill. We are all agreed on that. But we have also had the opportunity of further considering the course of business and how best in our view, and I hope the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), who is in charge of the debate for the Opposition, this matter can be handled. I suggest—and I hope it will be agreeable—that we should now go home on the general understanding that there will be two inter-dependent conditions. They are, on the one hand, that a great number of new Clauses which have been put down to be added to the Bill should disappear from the Order Paper—

—and, on the other hand, that a committee or committees—as the case may be—shall be set up, the exact status, membership and terms of reference to be settled through the usual channels. The purpose of the committee or committees—I put it in that form because I earlier spoke on the subject and the Leader of the Opposition also mentioned the matter—would be to discuss the amendment of the Army Act, 1953, for which purpose there is a suitable period of time before that Bill has to be printed.

That does not mean that necessarily there will be no further debate on this Bill, because there are Amendments which my right hon. Friend proposes shall be inserted in the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill this year. But I must make it quite clear that any further de- bate which may be required on this Bill will have to take place on a particular day after the normal business which has been announced for that day.

There can be no question of putting the Bill down, for example, as the first Order because we are rapidly approaching the period of the Recess and it is necessary to get the Bill through. If the Committee so desire it will be possible to discuss the Bill in further detail, but it cannot come as a first Order. That is the suggestion I make to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West, and I hope it will be agreeable.

I have not intervened before in this matter and I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he is suggesting to the Committee that some new agreement has been arrived at and that something has been added since my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who is in charge of this matter, left the Chamber some time ago. If so, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say how and when a new agreement has been come to. If there has not been a new agreement there is no reason why we should start at this hour to recapitulate what was so clearly agreed to a few hours ago between the right hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.

Is it suggested that some new terms have been imported into this matter? I have never heard it suggested before that there would be some strict terms on which certain Amendments would be abandoned. Indeed, the Secretary of State for War was good enough to say he was prepared to accept some of the new Clauses.

When I made this proposal at the start of the discussion on this point this evening, I said that in the event of a committee being set up the time of hon. Members who had put forward new Clauses would not be wasted, because the effect of those Clauses would be considered by that committee. I also stated yesterday, when we were considering the new Clauses, that some of them would have been accepted, but that acceptance applied to yesterday when the question of the committee had not arisen. I made it abundantly clear in the statement I made that the new Clauses would be stopped, and referred to the committee.

I have said all I wanted to say, Sir Charles, and I was hoping to hear what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), who is in charge of the Bill for the Opposition, has to say.

As I understand the proposal of the Leader of the House, which, I think, is a sensible one, it is that we should conclude our discussion this evening. If I heard him clearly, and I will repeat it to get it exact, he was recapitulating the terms of the understanding which was made with the Leader of the Opposition earlier in the evening. I entirely agree that we have neither desire nor the will to depart from that agreement in any way.

I think the essence of what the Leader of the House has proposed is contained in words which he used, that the quid, which he has given from the one side, against the quo he has given from the other, are strictly interdependent. One is not given without the other. I am sure my hon. Friends agree that it has been the suggestion from the beginning that, as an alternative to pressing the new Clauses, which are found at the middle of page 312 of the Order Paper, they are referred to this committee or committees which are proposed.

We have not settled, and we cannot pretend to settle, tonight, whether it is one committee or two committees, or what its form or forms will be. The Leader of the Opposition was clear that he accepted, in principle, the setting up of the committee or committees, and we must work out what is the best form. I do not pretend to know at this stage. On the understanding they are successfully set up, and that is agreed, then it is also agreed that these new Clauses disappear—

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) is now putting a totally new proposition, as far as I can understand, that these Clauses should be discussed both by this Committee and the matters referred to a new Select Committee or other kind of committee which has to be set up. Surely we cannot have it both ways. Is not my hon. and learned Friend confusing these new Clauses with the other very important and substantial matters we have to discuss on the Government's new Clauses?

I am sorry, but the Leader of the Opposition made this quite clear. He said he would use his endeavours to secure this agreement. When the Leader of the Opposition says that, everyone in the party who respects him, as we all do, knows that he will certainly do his best to succeed.

The point we are making is of importance to Parliament and to hon. Members. My right hon. Friend is saying that certain Clauses will disappear, Clauses which are proposed by hon. Members who are not here and have never heard the arrangements and who have never been heard. One cannot let that pass without the protest that any hon. Member of this Committee, who puts his name to an Amendment, must be consulted before his Amendment is withdrawn.

The Leader of the Opposition made that clear and none of us dissented from it. The only reason we are concerned now is that it appears something new is to be imported.

1.30 a.m.

With great respect, my hon. Friend—and very learned hon. Friend on the rules—is suggesting something which, if carried to a logical conclusion, would mean that this arrangement would be impossible. It is perfectly true, of course, that the Leader of the Opposition could only say he would use his best endeavours to do this. He cannot take away the right of hon. Members of the Committee to keep a new Clause on the Order Paper. That is outside his powers, that is surely understood.

But, subject to that, it seems to me that the essence of the proposed arrange- ment is, as it has seemed to everyone, including my hon. Friends who have spoken from behind me, most reasonable. We are all trying to get a new Army Act, or to set up a committee or committees to which the substance of the matters put down on the Order Paper in the form of new Clauses can be referred. By that arrangement we certainly stand, and I see no harm in its being recapitulated now.

It is true that the Leader of the House made it perfectly clear that he also agreed that the discussion on Amendments to Clause 7, which we are just beginning, has to go on on some future occasion; the discussion will go on on the Amendments the Government move and our Amendments to their Amendments. It seems to me that there should be no room for dubiety about the nature of the understanding.

If the best endeavours of either side fail, and we cannot get agreement about this committee or committees, we go back to whence we started, and the Clauses would not disappear from the Order Paper, or, if they did, they would be put down again. There would be no difficulty about that. These two things, as the Leader of the House said perfectly fairly, are inter-dependent, and I honestly do not see why there should be any difficulty about the arrangement—although, of course, there may, I have no doubt, be some difficulty in working out the exact terms.

In my experience at 1.30 or 2 o'clock in the morning tempers are liable to be frayed, and people see differences where no differences exist. So far as I can gather—and hon. Members will not have to listen to me for long—the situation is quite simple. The right hon. Gentleman who moved to report Progress informed the Committee that the usual channels are to have a discussion about the formula. If that formula proves to be satisfactory, it will have certain consequential results for the Order Paper. What then results will be dependent on the satisfactory nature of the formula reached. In the meantime, while the discussions are continuing, the debate on this Bill is postponed. That is all. What the Opposition will do subsequently will depend upon the satisfactory nature of the proposals.

The Secretary of State said earlier in our proceedings that he attached great importance to the proposals he was making for long-service recruitment. I therefore did try, when he was absent from the Committee, and when almost every hon. Member opposite was absent, too, to examine the proposals he was putting before the Committee. The Leader of the House came in and with, I thought, precipitate discourtesy—I make no complaint on my own behalf, but in general—not caring twopence what was under consideration, without knowing what was under consideration, proceeded to move to report Progress.

Reporting Progress does not cut off the debate on the Amendment being discussed. This is not the Closure; it is not the same thing. That can be resumed on the next occasion.

Let us not bandy words. I asked the Secretary of State what was going to happen. I asked him if what I said about the bounties paid to a recruit who undertakes 22 years' service was wrong or not, and he—

I have put down a number of new Clauses and I am one of those hon. Members—perhaps the only one of my hon. Friends—who at the time was prepared to consider the wisdom of the Departmental committee. I think there are merits in that proposal, certainly in the first stage, but what I want is that the Secretary of State or the Leader of the House should undertake that, on the Report stage of the Bill, they will say something more about Clause 3, and that it must be linked with the proposal that the Bill we are considering should run to 31st July instead of 30th April.

I had hoped to put that question to the Foreign Secretary, but I was not successful in catching your eye, Sir Charles, and I was not able to do it at a later stage. If we accept this Motion, we are invited to consider whether the formula under consideration will include the question of the time limit.

I should like to make an appeal to the Leader of the House on the lines put forward by my hon. Friend. I can see no real reason for maintaining the present gap between the expiry of this Bill here and in other places, and I should have thought that on considerations of the time table, it could certainly do no harm to postpone the operation of the expiry of the Act until a later period.

I make that appeal in the most friendly and completely uncontroversial manner, and I quite appreciate that it may not be necessary. That may be so, but if by chance such a provision should be necessary, it will save us all a great deal of trouble and inconvenience and I can see no real objection to it.

I am not going to repeat the difficulty about the mythical character called "Pilot Officer Pendulum," whom I introduced last night, and who, I understand, has been attacked this evening. I only say in defence of the poor man that there was a real difficulty and that the trouble about barrack-room lawyers is that they are only too open to attack from their more legitimate friends.

I have no objection to Pilot Officer Pendulum, but I respectfully submit that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not in order on this matter.

I understand that the debate is still open. I should have thought that that was one of the matters which the committee or committees would be discussing.

As I told the Leader of the House in private, this is a matter which we pressed very strongly from this side of the Committee, but I do feel that I have not yet made the point quite clear and I will try to do it now. This is a matter that can be considered by the proposed commitee or committees which we are to set up. They are to deal with next year's Army Bill. What we are talking about now is this year's Army Bill. This is a matter which we shall press very strongly from this side of the Committee, but there is also the question of the type of the committee which is to be set up, on which we have not yet reached agreement. The Leader of the House is clear on that.

All these things will be pressed, but we have agreed to the principle of setting up a committee or committees and I think we shall find that we are able to reach agreement on these matters, although I cannot prophesy. If we do not, then we are back where we started, which will be unfortunate for the labours of both sides. But I think we shall find that we shall reach agreement, although we shall have rather less chance of doing so if we try to discuss these matters at this late hour of the night.

Question put, and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again this day.