Oral Answers to Questions — Armed Forces – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th December 1949.
asked the Minister of Defence (1) whether he will propose an amendment to King's Regulations to ensure that National Service men shall have the same rights as other citizens to participate in political activities whilst dressed in civilian clothes;
asked the Minister of Defence whether he will allow other ranks in all the Services to participate fully in electoral activities, including the right to speak from public platforms.
As I said in reply to Questions last week, the Government consider that the time has now come to revert to normal peace-time practice as regards political activities by members of the Forces. So far as Parliamentary candidature is concerned, however, because some members of the Forces have already entered into commitments, the present wartime rules governing those who are actually candidates for Parliament will be continued until after the General Election.
Subject to this exception the normal rules with regard to political activities will apply during the General Election. This means that Service men who are not candidates will not be able to make speeches or in any way associate actively in party affairs, but they can of course freely attend political meetings when off duty, whether in uniform or not, and ask questions at such meetings. This applies to all officers and men in the Forces, including National Service men.
Does my right hon. Friend really think that regulations applicable to the Regular Army of before the war should apply to National Service men today? Does not he further consider that the kind of regulations applicable to the higher civil servants, about participation in political activities, are not really wholly applicable, at any rate to the junior ranks in the Armed Forces today, Regular or otherwise?
We are satisfied after considering every aspect of the matter that, now the Services in general have reverted to fairly normal strength, it is essential to endeavour to keep politics out of the Armed Services.
If high ranking officers in uniform can make political speeches and attack Communism, why should not rank and file soldiers in uniform make political speeches and attack capitalism, which the Minister knows is the enemy of co-operation?
The answer is, of course, that it would not be possible in the General Election for any high ranking officer to do what is alleged.
To make the position clear, would the right hon. Gentleman state the undoubted fact that the majority of National Service men are under voting age in any case?
I should think so. They are under age, but that is not the main consideration in my mind. I want to make it clear that there seems to be no reason why the young National Service man should not go to political meetings for education.
Will my right hon. Friend state * just how a candidate is to be defined?
A candidate is one who has been adopted for consideration for election in a constituency.
Would the Minister assure the House that in all three Services where officers and other ranks have been adopted as prospective candidates they will not be moved great distances away from their prospective constituencies if that can possibly be avoided?
The position of a man's station in this connection is a matter upon which it is entirely for the Service Department to judge.