HC Deb 16 March 1925 vol 181 cc1885-7

4.0 P.M.

We are doing everything in our power to ensure that as many soldiers as possible are fitted for return to civil life, so as to remove the reproach that the Army is a blind-alley occupation. From the moment that a recruit joins, steps are taken to see that his general education shall not be neglected. Each recruit is expected to obtain a third-class certificate before he leaves a depot, and a steady advance towards this ideal is being made. On joining his unit a soldier must continue his general education until he has obtained a second-class certificate, which is the standard considered necessary for an efficient soldier. Although education beyond the second class certificate is not compulsory, all soldiers are encouraged and afforded facilities to continue either their general education, or vocational training throughout their service with the colours. During the last six months of a soldier's service with the colours specific vocational training is given, either at the Army vocational training centres at Hounslow and Catterick or in the Command Training Centres. The courses at Hounslow and Catterick last six months, and those in the Command Centres are for a somewhat shorter time. These courses are regarded as a privilege for those who have shown themselves thoroughly efficient and well-conducted throughout their service, and only men in possession of a second-class certificate are eligible. In addition to agriculture and general farming, including dairy, pig and poultry farming, many trades are taught. About 1,000 men a year arc trained at Catterick and Hounslow, in addition to about another 1,000 who pass through the Command Training Centres. I am glad to say that over 80 per cent. of the men who are trained at Catterick and Hounslow have so far found employment on leaving the Army, and I do not think that 80 per cent. is bad it is highly encouraging.

An Army group under the Empire Settlement Act has been formed, consisting of 2.0 soldiers with their wives and families. They have just completed a special training course at Catterick, and holdings near Bridgetown, Western Australia, have been allotted to them. They gained at Catterick the class of knowledge which is likely to be useful to them in Western Australia, and I hope that this may be only a beginning of what may become an important chance for ex-soldiers taking up a settler's life in the Dominions. There are many other outlets for the time—expired soldier. The preference in employment, given by the Post Office and by other Government Departments, means a good many vacancies in the course of the year, and I hope all employers of labour throughout the country will realise what a good class of men we have now in the Army, and that in assisting me to find employment for these men who have served their country they are securing for themselves well educated and active workmen likely to do them excellent service.

Recruiting not only requires men in sufficient numbers, but it also demands men of the right categories and in the proportion required. Our most urgent nerd in the Army is for skilled tradesmen in the ranks to meet the ever extending mechanicalisation of the Army. I am glad to say that the Boys' Technical School at Chepstow is proving a great success. Competition for vacancies is keen, and the high standard is being maintained. The number of boys is being increased by 110 a term, and it is anticipated that the strength of 880 boys will be reached by 1st January next.


How many arc there now?


About 660 or 700.


550 were provided for in the Estimate.


Yes. We have provided for 880 this year, and by January next the number will be reached. I will now turn to the question of reserves generally. There will be an increase of 8,000 during the year ending 1st April next and a similar increase of 5,000 at the end of the ensuing year, bringing the total reserve up to 99,000. These increases are the result of the premature conversions to which I have already referred and to the re-enlistment of men about to leave Section D of the Reserves. I have made provision for reopening recruiting of Section A of the Army Reserve to the extent of 3,000 men. This step, while not increasing the total number of men in the Reserve, will enable me to bring up to war establishment a small force to meet minor requirements overseas without the disturbance incidental to calling up the General Reserve.