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Army Act, 1955 (Continuation) Order, 1958

Volume 212: debated on Tuesday 25 November 1958

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2.37 p.m.

rose to move, That the Draft Army Act, 1955 (Continuation) Order, 1958, be approved. The noble Earl said: My Lords, this is the second time this kind of draft Order has been considered by your Lordships. Last year, when such an Order was introduced for the first time, the whole idea of the Order and its background, springing from the old and new Army Acts, was explained with great clarity by my noble friend Lord Mancroft, and I think your Lordships will gladly excuse me from repeating to-day, much less fluently, what he then said. I will, therefore, only remind your Lordships that the purpose of the draft Order is to continue in force during next year the provisions of the Army Act, 1955. Unless this draft Order is approved, the Act will expire at the end of this year, and if this were to happen there would be no legal means of enforcing discipline in the Army.

Section 226 of the Army Act, 1955, provides that the Act may be continued in force annually until five years after the date from which it came into operation, which was January 1, 1957. This procedure by Order in Council may therefore be repeated next year and the year after—that is, 1960—and unless Parliament decides otherwise a new Army Act will be required in 1962. As I would remind your Lordships, it is not possible to amend the Army Act by Order in Council, since the Act can only be continued as it now stands. When my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War introduced this Order in another place on November 6 he remarked that the Army Act covered really two broad fields: first, recruiting men and women into the Regular Army and, secondly, of equal importance, the maintenance of discipline. The new Act in this second year has, I think your Lordships will agree, proved itself a great improvement on its predecessor, which we were amending over and over again during the whole seventy-odd years of its life.

I do not wish to say too much at the moment—and I think your Lordships will agree with me—about recruiting, as I understand that we shall be shortly debating the Grigg Report on the Future of Manpower in the Armed Forces of the Crown, which we all hope will end National Service. But your Lordships will be aware that, even without the reforms proposed by that Committee, there has been a significant and encouraging upward trend in recruiting over the last year. In Army recruiting, the War Office has directed its attention particularly to obtaining recruits on long-term service engagements. The six-year engagement plan, as your Lordships will remember. was introduced in October, 1957, and that, coupled with the improved conditions of service, was no doubt the main arch on which the Army built its hope of a marked improvement in recruiting in 1958.

It is also, I believe, necessary nowadays to pay attention not only to the number of men who join the Army, but also to the number of man-years, which is, in simple language, the number of recruits multiplied by the number of years to which they commit themselves when they join.

During the first nine months of 1958, the figure of man-years was about 126,000, compared with only 74,000 for the same period of 1957. I think your Lordships will all agree that this is very encouraging: it means about a 70 per cent. increase. Although there are some particularly good aspects of this improvement in recruiting, there are still, I admit, difficulties to be overcome, both of which aspects I hope we shall have an opportunity of going into in more detail when we consider the Grigg Report. But I can say now that the Army is greatly encouraged in its efforts to find an all-Regular volunteer force, which we believe to be what is needed by the country at the present time.

Before I sit down, it may be of interest if I give your Lordships some figures in regard to the standard of discipline, because it has been said that the renewal of this Act should, or might, be the occasion of an annual report on the discipline of the Army for the past year. I believe that the few figures which, if your Lordships will allow me, I shall give in a moment or two will amply show that the general level of discipline, so far as it can be measured, has remained remarkably constant throughout the years. I am not now speaking of the form of discipline which is reflected by the morale and bearing of Her Majesty's Forces but of the aspect of discipline which is measured by the number of offences committed under military law. These numbers vary hardly at all. The figures given recently in another place showed the numbers of courts-martial held over the last three years, measured as a percentage of the strength of the Army. In the years 1955, 1956 and 1957 the numbers were, respectively, 1.2 per cent., 1.3 per cent., and 1.2 per cent. I have gone a little further and looked at the comparable figures before the war. Again there is a remarkable similarity. In 1928 the figure was 1.2 per cent., since when it has remained about the same, with an almost imperceptible downward trend until the outbreak of war.

In asking your Lordships to approve this draft Order, I rely on the Army's records of absolute fairness in the administration of justice. What the Army Act does, in conjunction with the rules of procedure and other regulations made under its authority, is to lay down procedures which are as scrupulously fair as possible; and to surround them with safeguards of confirmation and review by higher authorities. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Army Act, 1955 (Continuation) Order, 1958 be approved.— (The Earl of Onslow.)

My Lords, we are obliged to the noble Earl for his courtesy in giving us a good deal of information in moving this Order. I had hoped, however, that we were going to take this more or less formally to-day and reserve ourselves, as he himself suggested, for detail when we come to a debate on the Grigg Committee Report, which has a great deal in it to which attention might be called. I hope that it will fall in with the wishes of your Lordships in general that we do not continue the debate this afternoon—perhaps we might allow this Order to go through fairly formally now and then deal with the matter in detail in the debate on the Grigg Report.

I am obliged to the noble Viscount. I thought it only fair to the House to give a fairly full report as to how the Order had worked for the first time.

On Question, Motion agreed to.