Clause 17. — (Interpretation.)

Orders of the Day — Auxiliary and Reserve Forces Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th October 1949.

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

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

I wish to follow up what I said on the Second Reading about this Clause, and particularly about subsection (4). It applies the Bill to women as it applies to men. I asked the Secretary of State for War several questions during the course of the Second Reading about this matter, but he did not take the opportunity of answering those questions when he replied to the Debate. I hope that the Minister of Defence, who is welcome at this late stage, will say what it is intended to do by this subsection.

As I read the subsection, it gives the right hon. Gentleman power to form a division of women to go into battle. That. I imagine, is the legal effect of it, should the right hon. Gentleman wish to use those powers. I appreciate that when we are dealing with war or the threat of war it is extremely difficult to limit powers while giving adequate powers for what must be done. We should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman how many women he intends to have in reserve and how he is going to use them. I have the latest figures of the women called up on 1st July. They show that on that date the W.R.N.S., the W.R.A.C. and the W.R.A.F. had between them 1,600 officers and 29,100 other ranks, or 30,700 in all. There were 8,000, or thereabouts, in the W.R.A.C. Territorial Army. I feel that the intentions of the right hon. Gentleman are honourable in this matter, but as the Bill stands it gives him completely unlimited power to call up women before the right hon. Gentleman calls for any man at all.

If hon. Members will look back to Clause 13 (1) they will see these words: It shall be lawful for a Secretary of State, at any time when it appears to him that the occasion so requires, to give, and when given to revoke or vary, such directions as he may think fit for calling out on permanent service in accordance with the provisions of subsection (2) of the last foregoing section any man who by virtue of those provisions is liable to be so called out. We are told by Clause 17 that the Act shall apply to women as it applies to men, so it seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman has power to do completely as he likes with the reserve of Women's Forces. We should like to know what he intends to do and what safeguards we have.

Colonel Dower:

I should like to pay a tribute to the women who serve on the gun sites and whose services are quite invaluable. If regiments are called up it is difficult to know how they can function at all unless their women personnel are called up at the same time as the men. A most unwarrantable attack was made upon my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), who, with complete chivalry, inquired from the Secretary of State what the position of those women was to be. When the Minister replies I should like him to deal with this matter. Quite a large number of A.T.S. have met young men who happened to be the particular young men for whom they were looking. Shortly after they were married and became mothers of young children. That places the matter in a slightly different category when those women go on to the Reserve and there is a question of their being called up. Whether young women or young men are concerned, I do not think there is any case for a difference of treatment. I would like to know the position of women with young families when it is a question of calling them up.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham East

There is one point of which we are perhaps inclined to lose sight when we read that the Act shall apply to women as it does to men. A woman will not be a member of the Armed Forces at all except by her own free will. Further, if she enters into an engagement to serve in the Forces, unlike a man she is not required as a condition of going in at all to accept a reserve liability. She will only get a reserve liability as a result of two deliberate decisions taken of her own free will. In that way there is a very important difference between the position of men and women under the Bill.

It would not be possible for the Secretary of State to call up unlimited numbers of women and to make such military use of them as might enter his head. Although they are increased, the powers given to the Secretary of State under the Bill are circumscribed and limited. A study of Clauses 12 and 13 makes it perfectly clear what he may or may not do and that in all circumstances, though by slightly different machinery in different cases, the use of his powers is subject to parliamentary inspection and control.

After all, the Bill is concerned only with additional liabilities for Territorials and Reservists. There is nothing in it to say that a kind of service which, as we know perfectly well, a woman is not required to perform at present, shall be added to the kinds of military service which a woman may be required to perform. The only addition made in the case of women is, as in the case of men, to the number of occasions on which or the places where they may be required to perform them. We may dismiss as a bogy the idea of regiments of women being summoned for purposes which public opinion and common sense would altogether reject.

In reply to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Penrith and Cockermouth (Colonel Dower), in all the Services it is provided by regulation that a woman is not required in the event of marriage or of having children to carry out a contract of service which would obviously conflict with the obligation she undertakes upon marriage or the birth of her children.

Photo of Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan , Perth

Would it not be possible to alter the wording of subsection (4) slightly to make it clear? Could we not insert the words, "Has the meaning assigned to it by Section so and so"? At the moment it looks a little blunt. When I heard my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), I thought he was reverting to John Knox and making the first blast of the trumpet against "the monstrous regiment of women," but I understand that is not the case.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham East

We are in a difficulty here. It is required of Acts of Parliament that their wording shall be legally sound and certain. It is not always possible to combine that with making them say what they appear to mean at first sight to a layman. It is almost an impossibility to draft legislation which fulfils both requirements. Here we have a subsection which is short and which legally means what we all want it to mean. We shall be prudent to leave it as it is.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules agreed to.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

7.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

I should not like to let the Third Reading pass without congratulating the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence on the part he has played in connection with the Bill, and also the Secretary of State for War and the Under-Secretary. Apart from criticism from one of his own supporters, the Bill has had a very easy passage through the House with everyone trying to improve its operation. Once the initial error of omitting the name of the Minister of Defence from the back of the Bill was remedied, the Bill has not met any serious obstacle, though, if it be the case, as the Lord President said on 26th May, that it was a matter of public urgency that the Bill should reach the Statute Book early, some of us rather regret the delay that has occurred.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

I am sorry that the Bill has been introduced. I would remind the Minister of Defence and the Secretary of State for War that Keir Hardie never ceased to declare that Socialism was the way of peace. Now we have a Government of former pacifists—mostly pacifists—under the direction of America presenting itself as the most warlike Government that this country has ever seen. I am sorry that that should have taken place.

7.17 p.m.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

I oppose the Third Reading because I believe the Bill to be quite out of reality in relation to the tasks which the proposed auxiliary and reserve Forces will face in the event of war. I should like to be told from the Front Bench if the Government take the view stated in the Recess by the Under-Secretary of State for War. It was one of the few attempts to outline what are likely to be the functions of these Forces. Ii we are to apply the criterion of the arguments used by the Under-Secretary in a speech which obtained widespread publicity, we are entitled to know what relevance the Bill has to the sort of situation he sees. He tried to answer the question of what is the use of the Army now that we have discovered the atom bomb—

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

That wide question cannot arise. We can deal only with the contents of the Bill as it appears on Third Reading and not with general considerations, about which the hon. Member appears to be speaking.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you rule out an important discussion on what are to be the exact functions of these Auxiliary and Reserve Forces. Surely if under Clause 5 (1, c) we are now to send the Territorial Army to serve in any place outside the United Kingdom, I should have thought that that was relevant to a discussion of the Bill. That subsection states: At any time while the territorial army, or the part thereof to which he belongs, is embodied, to serve in any place outside the United Kingdom. I presume that soldiers called up to serve "in any place outside the United Kingdom" may be called upon to serve on the continent of Europe under conditions in which the atom bomb will be relevant.

I submit that soldiers who are likely to be called to be the future Territorials in a war are entitled to have their Members of Parliament oppose the subsection of a Clause in a Bill which makes them liable to serve overseas. I submit that it is quite relevant to this discussion to ask what precisely are the conditions under which these men can be called upon to serve overseas; and I contend that we have been given no satisfaction in the Debate this afternoon that the Government have any idea of the conditions under which these men will serve.

If that is so, we are not entitled to give them the men, and we are not entitled to change an Act of Parliament which enlarges the Territorial Force in an entirely new conception of war. I submit that anybody who has studied the recent reports by military authorities on the manoeuvres in Germany must have wondered whether the War Office was in a situation to understand what would be the result of this kind of warfare. I have read every conceivable account of the manoeuvres in Germany. I have read the two long articles in the "Manchester Guardian" by a military correspondent who must be listened to with respect. I have read carefully the account of the manoeuvres by the military correspondent of the "Sunday Times." Further, I have seen every news reel in which the Secretary of State for War has been seen reviewing his troops. The more I read, the more I see the news reels, the more I see the spectacle of the Secretary of State for War performing at these manoeuvres, the more I am convinced that the War Office is not entitled to have another man, and the more I am convinced that we should not be passing the Third Reading of this Bill.

One question was put to the military authorities at the Press conference. They were asked, so the "Manchester Guardian" said—

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but surely those questions relate to the Regular Army. We are dealing with the question of Auxiliary Forces, a very different matter.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

My point is that the soldiers of the Auxiliary Forces will be called under this Bill to take part in warfare under the conditions we have seen in the news reel this week, and I wish to oppose that. I oppose Clause 5 (1, c) because it is likely to give the authorities power to send over to the Continent of Europe soldiers to fight under completely artificial conditions.

As an illustration I was saying that when the military authorities were asked to explain why they had not made any preparations for exercises against the atom bomb, they said they did not know anything about it. I submit that in these days when the atom bomb has revolutionised warfare and we have this imponderable factor introduced into modern. warfare, we are not entitled to carry on. in the old easy way and pretend that we. shall send soldiers out of the United Kingdom to fight under entirely different conditions.

I believe that this legislation is not facing facts, that it is impossible for the Secretary of State for War to tell us that he will not agree to send an Army outside the country until he is satisfied that it can be properly equipped and until it is numerically able to meet an enemy. It has been pointed out in all these articles that in a future war outside the United Kingdom we have not got the divisions, we cannot equip the divisions—

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, merely as a matter of interesting procedure, may I call your attention to the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill which says that the object of the Bill is: To make auxiliary and reserve forces more readily available to meet either an actual or apprehended attack on the United Kingdom or a minor emergency in the form of operations abroad. I venture to suggest that the hon. Gentleman, by referring to the use of the atom bomb, could hardly be referring to a minor emergency. I submit, therefore, that any reference to the use of the atom bomb in connection with this Bill must be out of Order if it is a reference to the use of the atom bomb on the Continent.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

That completes the air of unreality about this Bill. I want to point out that paragraph (c) says, "to serve in any place outside the United Kingdom." I submit that nowadays an atom bomb may be used outside the United Kingdom. It is because of the utter unreality of this Bill and because of this utter misconception of the rôle that the Territorial Army is to play in any future war that I oppose the Third Reading of this Bill. We live in a world where we might have an atom bomb dropped on the United Kingdom which would make nonsense of all the paraphernalia of military operations. One atom bomb dropped upon London, one atom bomb dropped on Glasgow, would pulverise our military organization, and we are entitled to take that into consideration.

7.26 p.m.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

I could not allow this Bill to pass without extending my thanks to hon. Members in all parts of the House for having given their assistance in the matter and, as one hon. Member opposite has said, in seeking to improve certain parts of the Bill. We do not regard ourselves as infallible and we are always ready to accept contributions from whatever quarter they may come.

As regards the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) I am bound to say that if anybody is calculated to provoke a war it is the hon. Member himself, for a more pugnacious pacifist I have yet to meet in my long experience of public life. Moreover, his knowledge of military affairs is disturbing. How he reconciles this vast experience of military organisation with his pacifist views I am unable to comprehend. However, I must say this to the hon. Member with great respect and a certain amount of condolence, that if at any time an atom bomb fell on any part of this country and destroyed those whom he mentioned, I have at least this consolation, it would effectively and effectually destroy the hon. Member for South Ayrshire.

There is only one other comment I wish to make. This Bill has been regarded as an unimportant Measure, and in some respects it is so, but its purpose is to strengthen so far as is practicable the Defence Forces of the country. Whether the hon. Member for South Ayrshire likes it or not, I must make this observation, that if we are to have Defence Forces, so far as it lies within our power we ought to make them strong and we must promote the greatest measure of efficiency. To do otherwise, in my judgment, is an act of national homicide and I hope we shall never be accused of that.

That is our position. Of course it would be much better for all of us if we could disband our Defence Forces. Here I make an observation that will apply to my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) who pleads that Socialists should become more peaceful and should abandon military expedients. I accept what he says, and we do our best in difficult circumstances. I make an appeal to him that, just as he asks that Socialists should be more peaceful and so far as is practicable abandon military measures, he should use his great influence in certain quarters to ensure that Communists become more peaceful and adopt peaceful measures.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

When did the right hon. Gentleman change his attitude and consider Communists to be the enemy, in view of the desperate attempts he made to get a leading Communist on to the Coal Board?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

I must not transgress the rules of Order, but if I may be permitted to reply may I say that I admit, not altogether reluctantly, but in the circumstances I mention it quite readily to the hon. Member, that there are some Communists whose intelligence entitles them to consideration. Although that intelligence manifests itself intermittently, we all hope for the best. That, I think, is a valid excuse for offering the appointment on the National Coal Board, but what perplexes me is why the Communist referred to refused the offer made to him—

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

Because it was a corrupt offer.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

—unless he did so at the bidding of the Communist Party.

There is, I repeat, a valid reason for asking Socialists to use all their influence to promote world peace. This Labour Government has done a great deal in that direction. We have not always been successful—that has not always been the fault of this Government—but equally we are entitled to ask the Communists and those associated with them to use their influence to promote world peace. World peace is not a one-way traffic.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

Tell that to the Americans.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

It calls for a response by those on the other side. I hope that the hon. Member for West Fife will use his influence in that direction.

I am very much obliged to Members in all parts of the House for the assistance they have given us, and I hope that this small Measure may make a contribution not only to the strengthening of our Defence Forces, but to the coontentment of the men in those forces.

7.34 p.m.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

I did not intend to speak but I should like to say quite seriously that we on this side appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said and are grateful to him for his remarks about our action. I may, perhaps, be giving away a party secret when I say that the right hon. Gentleman is more popular with me than with some of my colleagues.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman said that this was not in all respects a small Bill—it is not; it is a Bill which is important from the point of view of the auxiliary forces.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

From the point of view of the Tories.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) came perilously near to going outside the ambit of the Bill. I do not want to do the same, but will echo just one thing. I hope that the world, so far as those countries who are interested in our defence are concerned, will take note of the fact that the two principal parties in this House are in agreement on a Measure of this kind. That is something which will cause favourable comment in the United States, and possibly the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) might call that fact to the attention of his friends on the other side of the iron curtain. I assure him that this is not the first time that the two sides of the House have been in opposition to what I regard as the most filthy thing in the world—that is, international Communism.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

I can understand that from your point of view.