HC Deb 12 March 1936 vol 309 cc2455-81

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 158,400, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom at Home and abroad, excluding His Majesty's Indian Possessions (other than Aden), during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937

11.14 p.m.


I beg to move, That a number not exceeding 152,400, all ranks, be maintained for the said Service. I am afraid I shall have to speak at some little length, but I desire to offer a number of observations on this Vote. In the first place, the Minister's Memorandum makes it very clear—in fact, he uses the expression—that his Estimates, which are the highest for 13 years, are for the purpose of bringing our military preparation up to date. The Committee will appreciate that he refers to military preparations, not military forces or military equipment, and I submit to the Committee that that is an indication of the War Office view, which, it appears to me, is that war is inevitable. We on this side take a different view and believe that, particularly at the present juncture, there is a wonderful opportunity, which we hope the Government will take, to ensure, by carrying out the policy we advocate, that recent serious events will result in a reduction rather than an increase in the Estimates. The preparations provided for in the Estimates take the form of increasing the numbers by 6,000 and the sum by nearly £6,000,000. Of that amount, £4,000,000 is in regard to technical units, and I welcome the substitution of mechanical power for man power. There are other features in the Estimate which are not so satisfactory. There is a slight increase in the cavalry.

I take the view, and many authorities take the same view, although I believe that the right hon. Gentleman does not, that cavalry have been obsolete on the Continent of Europe since the Battles of Crecy and Poitiers. In those two battles the English bowmen defeated the armed French knights, and for 500 years cavalry has been obsolete on the Continent and largely so elsewhere. Therefore, there is ample scope for a great reduction in the cavalry arm. It costs twice as much as the Tank Corps, and the money which we are discussing to-night might be far better spent in the provision of more tanks and a reduction of man-power than in keeping up the present establishment of cavalry. How many tanks do we possess? As far as I can make out, the number is in the neighbourhood of 200. I should also like to know whether the War Office propose to build many more. Military authorities take the view that the tank is the arm of the future for the Army. The difference that tanks made in the casualties in some of the battles of the Great War was amazing. When no tanks were used, as in the battle of the Somme, the British casualties were about 60,000 on the first day. On the first day of the battle of Amiens, when we had 415 tanks, our casualties were under 1,000. In 1917, at the third battle of Ypres, when we still had a large number of tanks, our casualties on the first day were 83.

I submit that the fact that we are building—and I hope we shall continue to build —tanks ought to result in a considerable reduction in our infantry strength. The curious thing is that notwithstanding all this mechanisation, the infantry remains at the same strength or, rather, there is a reduction of one in the numbers. I do not know whether we ought to congratulate the Minister on that fact, but I submit that those numbers could be further reduced. The best authorities—outside the War Office at any rate—say today that the presence of infantry in mass invites defeat, and I think a recognition of that fact by the general public is probably one of the reasons for the difficulty in recruiting to-day. The right hon. Gentleman, in his opening speech, advanced an argument in favour of the infantry. He spoke about their increased mobility, said that they might be moved by aeroplane and dropped by parachute. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, What is going to happen to them when they have been dropped, unless they have protection of some kind? You cannot drop a battalion over an area of some miles in isolated units of five or six men. They would be decimated from every point of the compass. The whole idea is perfectly impracticable.

The Minister is a young man and I feel sure that he will, from his experience, agree, at any rate up to a point, with the next view I am going to advance. I should like to ask the age, and I do so without offence, of the military members of the Army Council. As I go through the Army List I see that the Army seems to be clogged with senior officers. About one officer in every 20 is a general or has equivalent rank—is a brigadier-general or a full colonel. Junior officers have no or little oppor- tunity of promotion. All these senior officers are for the most part, living in pre-war days, though I am bound to admit, in fairness to the right hon. Gentleman, that some advance was apparent from his speech to-night. One result of having, to a large extent, "the old gang" at the War Office is that there is a good deal of what, for want of a better expression, I term an anti-social atmosphere or feeling in the Army, and particularly among the officers. In the Army generally there is no freedom of expression and no opportunity for initiative. To my own personal knowledge no suggestion for improvement is welcomed, though again I pay a tribute to the right hon. Gentleman, who asked for suggestions to-night; but among the senior officers suggestions are not welcomed. Officers and men learn their own particular job in particular units. They are never allowed to move or to think outside those units. The various corps are segregated, they hardly mix with each other. They are not considered as part of one whole, as the Navy or the Air Force, they are considered as separate members of their own particular corps or regiment. There is a dull, rigid uniformity over the whole of the Army, which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do something to get rid of.

To turn to the subject of recruiting. In plain language the Army was 10,000 men short in 1935. I regret it because I believe there are many men unemployed to-day who might be better employed and better looked after, I am sorry to say, in the Army. What is the reason for the difficulty of recruiting? One reason is that the great majority of people have had enough of war and want peace. A great number of them also think, with us, that the Government's refusal, in the last four years, to "seek peace and ensue it," may lead this country into another war. If the right hon. Gentleman's ideas about infantry are carried out they think they may be sacrificed again. There is another reason. How many of the promises made to officers and men have been carried out by the War Office and the Government, in spirit as well as in the letter? The Committee will forgive me, I hope, if I read a letter which I have received, and which I am sure hon. Members will hear with regret that such things should happen in this country. The letter is from the widow of an officer who died only a month or two ago and she says that she comes of an Army family. Her father and mother went all through the horrors of the Indian Mutiny and there are two grandsons at present serving in the same regiment, making the fifth generation serving in one regiment. She says: My father served in the Punjab before the Mutiny… He was at the siege of Delhi and was awarded the medal for distinguished conduct in the field. He and my mother had a family of ten, six boys and four girls; five of the boys entered the Army when old enough and three out of his four daughters married soldiers. Eighteen members of the family served in the Great War, two corning from Canada and two from Australia. She goes on to say that when the War Office received notice of the death of her husband, the Paymaster-General requested me to send back the unused vouchers for his pension, which I did. I could never understand him only getting a warrant officer's pension of £23 0s. 4d. a quarter. He had served for 26 years.


Would this not be more in order on Vote 13?


My impression is that the hon. and gallant Member is merely using this as an illustration.


Yes, Sir, it is an illustration. Her letter goes on to say that her husband's commission was a permanent one. She now finds that position was a temporary one and she says that she holds the parchment of his Air Force commission. He served both in the Artillery and the Air Force, and he went all though the war. She writes: Should not I get a pension for the rank? Should I not get the pension of the rank he retired with?… I always understood from my husband that did he predecease me I should get a pension, and it has been a severe blow and shock to be told that there is none forthcoming. I am 59 years of age, worn out with nursing my husband day and night since November last till his death, besides doing all household duties as well—housework, cooking and washing—because we could not afford help… We were trying to buy a little house on a mortgage, but had to sell it for what we gave for it, as we couldn't keep it up with the heavy expenses of his illness. I am left to face old age on a pittance of 10s. a week, widow's pension under the National Health Insurance scheme, for which my husband paid… I have no family, so have no one to look to. She says: I am receiving, and am very thankful for it, some grant from the Officers' Association, and am most grateful for their help, but it is not my pension, which I could look for regularly, and which would be such a source of ease to me in my old age. We were all brought up to give our best to our King and country, and this is how our King and country treat us. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider this and a hundred other cases of the same kind. As he knows, in one category alone there are nearly 2,000 officers now who are only receiving pensions as warrant and non-commissioned officers, and not as officers, and this category of men were in the past the backbone of the Army. They were then, and would be now, if they were properly treated, the best recruiters the right hon. Gentleman could have, but how can they be expected to assist in this way when they and their wives and children are treated like this. I suggest that the greatest thing the right hon. Gentleman could do for recruiting would be to give some measure of justice to these men or their wives. In the case of officers it might cost £80,000 or £90,000 a year, or to make compassionate allowances to their widows perhaps £10,000 or £20,000. The right hon. Gentleman is spending, under this Vote, £3,500,000 a year on pensions, and I suggest that he might well look into this question sympathetically. It would pay, from a recruiting point of view, to do so, and I urge him to reconsider the Government's attitude on this matter. It is because the majority of my friends who are associated with me do not think the Government have any appreciation of the real situation in these and similar matters that I move to reduce the Vote.

11.34 p.m.


I should like, in the first place, to thank my right hon. Friend for the admirable and lucid statement which he made this afternoon. It seemed to me to be a model, both in substance and in form, of what such statements should be. I should like to thank him in particular for the explanations which he gave on a question which concerns many of us deeply—the question of the expeditionary force. He gave us an argument in favour of the re-creation of such a force which seemed to me to be unanswerable. I agree with him that it is absolutely impossible to suppose that we can at any time declare that we shall never fight on the Continent of Europe again. The developments of war are purely temporary. He very truly said that the Low Countries are more important to us now than even they have been throughout the past. I am sure it is also true that the youth of the country, if such a situation arose, would never be unwilling to play their part. We must seek to avoid being dragged once again into a war of position on the Continent, and the force that we should design should be in reality' an expeditionary force intended for the purpose which that name signifies, action on the flank, action against communications, action in some other area, and not necessarily a force to be drawn from the very beginning, as our force was almost automatically in 1914, into the main struggle on the Continent.

If that is to be our policy, I think it can be made perfectly clear without suggesting in any way that we are not going to give full support to those seeking to maintain and build up an adequate system of collective security, and it is most important that we should select and prepare the instrument most likely to secure a rapid decision, and would be the best check to the gambler in Europe who may think that his chance has come for a quick war and a rapid decision snatched while those who are anxious to preserve peace are still not quite awake to the dangers of the position. I think that the creation of such a force to act instantaneously is vital to any real system of pooled security, which is what we are trying to establish. I believe also that it would be by far the greatest deterrent that we could create to war. Our object, in the first instance, is not to win a war, but to prevent war if possible. I accept the right hon. Gentleman's argument that in modern conditions, changed as they are, our best contribution to that purpose will be a miliary force, but I think it is very important to realise that, since conditions have changed from the Haldane days, we really have to consider two separate needs.

It is fox this reason that I criticised the reference to it in the White Paper the other day. We must have some emergency mobile reserve for the reinforcement of garrisons throughout the Empire. That is the kind of need that we have recently met in Egypt, and we have met it in India. It requires a mobile reserve of a special kind, but I very much doubt the kind of mobile force being suitable for taking part in a quick European war. What you need for a European war is a more highly trained, and certainly a more highly mechanised force, capable in particular of operating in close country. Again, the force that we maintain for other purposes must be a force that can operate in open country, and the technical problems involved are quite different in the case of these two forces.

Since we have to consider those two kinds of forces, a, mobile force to reinforce garrisons overseas and an expeditionary force to take part in a European war, we have very largely to go into the question as to whether our present system of recruitment is going to give us what we want. It may do so, but the difficulties of recruiting are very great indeed at present, and it is doubtful whether you can raise men for both these purposes on the old system of linked battalions and the service terms that are laid down under this Vote. It seems to me that we may have to consider a shorter service system for the purpose of a European expeditionary force. It would give us our highly trained army for that particular object, and also create a much more highly trained reserve.

I have only made these observations to elucidate what I tried to say rather hastily in the debate the other night. I will end by once again thanking the right hon. Gentleman for having dealt with this point so clearly and well. He brought out the fact, which was not clear in the White Paper, that we are to have an expeditionary force, and since we are to have an expeditionary force, I hope that when we come to vote on the requirements of the White Paper itself, we shall be given some further elucidation of the manner in which this expeditionary force is to be raised.

11.41 p.m.


I am afraid that I must join issue for a moment or two with the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner). He appears to have stopped at the Battle of Crecy and not to have heard of cavalry in Marlborough's campaign, in the Peninsula War, at Waterloo, in Egypt and in other countries in the British Empire. Apart from that, there was also cavalry engaged in the first German war. Cavalry, though not used in siege operations in France and Salonica, consummated the only victories that were obtained in Palestine, Iraq and South-West African and in other parts of the war. In the wars which have happened since the first German war, there have been the functions of cavalry. In Poland and Russia in the war of the Turks against the Greeks, in various parts of South America, and in the existing war in Abysinnia, he will find cavalry given a substantial part to play in all these wars. This is where I join issue with the hon. and gallant Member. The function he mentioned of the Knights in the battle of Crécy was not that of cavalry reconnaissance, but the performing of functions now allotted to tanks. As long as they had those functions in connection with other arms, as long as they did it by surprise and power, they were successful, but once they went on their own and were without the support of other arms that were all-powerful and could beat down any opposition, they fell to the bows of the archers of Crécy. In the same way tanks would fall to the many forms of anti-tank guns and rifles which exist at the present moment. The functions of cavalry are the same as were the functions of cavalry in olden days, and the mechanised forms of weapons are used for the same purpose, but their effects should not be exaggerated. Their purposes are ancillary, and are not alone an effective power by themselves.


I referred in particular to the Continent of Europe and the Great War, and I notice that the hon. and gallant Member says nothing about that.


That War on the Continent of Europe was in the form of siege warfare, except in the initial stages when cavalry were made use of in retreat, just as during the break through of the Germans in 1918 they stemmed forces that might otherwise have been successful. With the exception of these instances during the campaign in France, the War took the character of siege operations during which it would be idle to suggest that cavalry would have been of any use whatever.

I beg to detain the Committee while I discourse on one or two technical points which should be addressed to those who are conversant with them.

I agree with him on the question of infantry establishments. It should be laid down once for all, and it would have a valuable effect in recruiting, that the functions of infantry are certainly changing and have changed since the War. The function of the infantry in those days was sometimes to come on wave after wave and by the sheer weight of masses to obtain their objective, or to be crammed into lines of trenches in order to resist the enemy. That sort of thing will never exist again. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) made an effective point the other day when he said that when we went into the late War—the first German War, as it is called—we were surprised to find that some of the factors which we had least regarded as important, such as heavy artillery, machine guns and the Air Force, which had been looked upon as ancilliary parts of the Army before we went into the War, became the deciding factors as the War went on. In any future war we must be careful not to rely too closely on the factors in the last War. It is possible that completely different factors may prevail, and one of those factors undoubtedly will be the increased efficiency and effectiveness of the Air Force.

Owing to the increased volume and activity of artillery and the mobility of artillery, it will be impossible to bring infantry up in anything like the numbers that were employed in the late War. I suggest that in future infantry should be used on a very much smaller establishment in units than they are at the present time. With the invention of the automatic rifle and the increased fire power, which may still be further increased, the numbers of infantry should be very much less. I suggest that a unit of infantry should be three men and one automatic rifle. Three such units would make a section of nine men and one section leader would bring up the total to ten. Three of these sections would make a platoon including a sergeant, a second sergeant and an officer, that would make a strength of 30 in a platoon, plus two sergeants and an officer. There would be three platoons in a company, which would have a strength of about 100. There would be three companies in a battalion and three battalions in a brigade, which would be, roughly, 1,000, with headquarter staff, plus two machine gun companies and one anti-tank gun company, which would bring the strength of the brigade up to about 1,500. That should be the future establishment of an infantry brigade.

This brigade must be prepared to be moved in any form of vehicle. It must be composed of small, athletic, strong men, capable of carrying weights. But there will be no long, dreary route marches. They must be prepared to be removed by motor car, or any other cross-country vehicle, or by air, as was done in Russia recently. If they were operating in country where cross-country vehicles could not be got along the men might have to be mounted on mules or ponies and conveyed to whatever was the most appropriate vehicle at the nearest convenient point. There will have to be a liberal supply of vehicles available. One of the greatest problems of war in the future, with the existence of mechanised divisions, will be that the supply problem will be increased enormously. A mechanised division alone will occupy 37 miles of road. It will consume an enormous amount of petrol, and then there will be the getting up of all the other supplies.

What they would be in the future it is impossible to say. With accurate long-range artillery and continual bombing from the air the roads would become impossible to use, and the question of how units were to be conveyed and supplied must be considered, and the possibility of supplying troops by air considered seriously. Coming to cavalry, I would suggest that the establishment should be increased. That which we have been working on has been much too low. We were handicapped enormously in the last War; we were trying to do with 15 men what the Australian troops were doing with 50. The cavalry have always been starved in numbers. If it is to be kept efficient and able to work in country where mechanical vehicles cannot proceed, and able to carry out reconnaissance—


Do it by aeroplane.


Tactical reconnaissance by air is useless. Strategical reconnaissance is not so bad, but it is impossible to tell from the air where the flank of an advance is, where troops are deployed, what form the troops take and what positions they are holding. You can only get tactical reconnaissance by drawing fire. If you are going to retain any cavalry it should be brought up to strength and made efficient. I suggest that as many as possible of the motorised cavalry should be equipped with light tanks. Tactical reconnaissance is essentially the work of cavalry, and not of infantry


Will the noble Lord explain who did the reconnaissance work during the last two months of the Great War when the German Army was in retreat?


I was in Palestine, but I am told that the infantry did nearly all the work because they could not get the cavalry through owing to lack of support. When they did get the cavalry up, reconnaissance was done by the cavalry.


Is it not a fact that the infantry managed very well without using the cavalry during those two months?


I have no doubt the infantry could, but my recollection as a cavalry officer is that any job going, especially night work and reconnaissance, is given to the cavalry, and it is forgotten that the cavalry men and officers require any sleep at all.

With regard to the motorised cavalry, I am glad to see that experiments are being carried out with new forms of vehicles. I hope the motorised cavalry will be supplied with light tanks. I would even go further than that. I think it is time that the army considered whether this segregation of the services is not rapidly coming to an end. I know there are many occasions on which reconnaissance work which is now being done with light-car patrols could be done in half the time and twice as well by light aeroplanes, and I believe the motorised cavalry could very well be equipped with light aircraft, which could do a great deal of reconnaissance work.

Moreover, there is the question of intercommunication, and this could be carried out by light aeroplanes if the wireless broke down. I do not say these light aeroplanes should fly over the enemy lines, but they could do reconnaissance work from our own side in the same way that motor cars now do it. I think this matter ought to be considered while the motorised regiments are being constituted, particularly in Egypt, where there is nothing for the men to do; I suggest that some of the officers could be trained as pilots of light aeroplanes. An officer could be taught to fly a motor-glider in a few days, and all the officers in the regiment would then be fully equipped for shooting, riding and flying. I believe they should be able to do all that. Every officer, on leaving school, ought to know how to shoot, ride and fly. When I say shoot, I mean with every form of weapon, including machine guns and automatic rifles. This brings me to the question whether the same ought not to apply to the artillery. They ought to be supplied with some new form of light aircraft which can practically hover in the air—not the autogyro, which is expensive, but some light aircraft which could easily be handled by their own personnel.

I would like now to deal with the question of transport by air. In another war, transport by road will be almost impossible. Transport across country, with the wear and tear of the tracks, and the need for overhauling, would probably be impossible for any length of time. I believe the army would have to rely to a very great extent on transport by air, both in regard to supplies and troops. I think the type of machine needed is not the type which is at present used by the Royal Air Force or the civil air lines, but some type which has a cruising speed of seventy or eighty miles an hour, which can carry twenty or thirty people, which is able to land in any field or any place, and to take off in, say, 100 yards. Such machines can be easily made; the aircraft industry can produce them. It is only a matter of producing a sufficiently wide wing span, not minding about speed, which will enable the machine to take off within the length of this Chamber. Such machines would take the place of a great many lorries, because they could fly rapidly backward and forward bringing men and supplies. The Royal Air Force have been training their pilots in the use of machines with a landing speed of 60 to 80 miles an hour, and none of these machines would be able to do this work. They would have to go back to their base in order to land. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to go into the question whether the aeroplane has not now become an actual air arm, and whether, like a lorry or motor car, it can be used at any time.

12.2 a.m.


I do not propose to follow the noble Lord into the rival merits of cavalry and infantry. As an infantry officer I should put a little different interpretation on the action of the cavalry in trying to get through the Somme or the Hindenburg line than the Noble Lord.


I was thinking of the hon. and gallant Member's own experience, and mentioned the fact that they did not get up in time.


If I gave my experiences—I would rather not—they would be less flattering to the cavalry than the noble Lord imagines. It will be wise to remember the magnificent way in which the cavalry have accepted mechanisation. That is of enormous value. I want to say a word in regard to the excellent speech of the Secretary of State for War about the expeditionary force. I agree with the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Gregg). I raised the same point on a private Bill not long ago. The Secretary of State is quite right. It may be necessary to have an expeditionary force to make a surprise landing, but I am frightened of any guarantee being given, to France or any other country, that once an expeditionary force had been sent out that it would grow to the great army we had in the last war. We must make it clear that it will only be an expeditionary force. In the last war we were able to build up that army because we had time and we had the United States making munitions. In the next war munitions will be of paramount importance. The United States might not be in it.

Therefore, one of the great roles this country will have to play will be to make munitions, and it will not be possible for us to build up, even if we had the time, an expeditionary force like we had in the last war. I have often said in the House that the claims for what the Air Force can do are enormously exaggerated. We must concentrate to a great extent on the Navy carrying out her historical role of slow pressure, and the Air Force its new role of surprise. The Secretary of State talked about the mobility of the Infantry, and I would like to ask him whether any experiments have been made with regard to light rations. I was told this year that some troops which had come back from abroad had been making such experiments, and took rather a pride in being able to march long distances on light rations. The British Infantry always likes good rations, but in mobility it often has to march on light rations, concentrated foods, and so on. I am a little frightened when my right hon. Friend talks about mechanising the first line transport. The noble Lord the Member for Central Bristol (Lord Apsley) has told us that mechanised transport would occupy many miles of roads. If that be a fact, it is alarming because it means that it is vulnerable from the air. I cannot help thinking that if the first line transport is to be mechanised and there is an air raid, it will be very difficult for it to get off the roads into the fields.

With regard to recruiting, I think, as has been pointed out by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) and the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg), that one of the difficulties is the present Cardwell system, but the chief difficulty is foreign service. At present in most regiments the greater part of the service of a soldier will be in India. In the old days, when there were not so many attractions at home, men went into the Army and were sent to India, and perhaps the comparison was not very pronounced. To-day, however, they go to India when they are old enough, and there is very little to amuse them when off parade. While the Army is lacking in recruits the position must get worse. If the Army were increased to quite an appreciable degree it would be possible for soldiers to serve a longer period at home than abroad. It might help to meet the difficulty if, when the soldier has finished his service in India, and before he goes for vocational training, he were to spend six months with his battalion at home. It would give him time to look round and to decide what he would like to be in civil life before taking up his vocational training.

In regard to the attractions of service at home, many questions have recently been asked in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) asked the other day whether the life of the soldier off parade could not be made more attractive and what measures were being taken to that end. My view is that you want strict discipline on parade but the stricter the discipline on parade, the more you ought to try to make easy the life of the soldier off parade. One factor which counts against recruiting is the lack of privacy in the Army life. The long, bare, barrack-room is not very attractive. Even with the increased opportunities now available, it is difficult for the soldier to improve his education. He finds it hard to sit down to work in that bare barrack-room. I understand that at Victoria Barracks, Windsor, an experiment has been made in the introduction of cubicles and it is worth considering whether it would not be possible in the new barracks to provide each man with a small room or cubicle so that he could have some privacy and a place in which to study if he wished to do so. If the soldier's conditions could be made to approximate more to the civilians in that respect, it would be a great aid to recruiting.

I would like to go into the question of every officer learning to fly but time does not permit me to say more than that I believe we shall have to study that possibility. It would be of enormous value if the Army could do its own reconnaissance and contact work from the air. Infantry officers could go to the Air Force and learn to fly and do the contact work for the infantry, while gunners could do the same for the artillery. It would add enormously to the interest of life in the Army and I believe that both the Army and the Air Force would benefit. I hope that in the coming year the War Office will be able to make foreign service a little easier. I do not believe that the short service system will get over the difficulty. You cannot send a young man out to India until he has been a certain time in the Army but it is my opinion that if we had more battalions, so as to be able to give longer service at home than abroad we would get many more recruits.

12.15 a.m.


I rise to deal briefly with one point. Hitherto we have been led to believe that, in the next war, the people in the trenches will be in the safest place. Unfortunately, our Russian, Socialist, peace-loving allies, have introduced a new danger in the life of the ordinary infantry soldier, who is now, apparently, to be compelled on occasion to jump from an aeroplane, with a parachute. It is no good telling us that we ought not to believe these things. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has men the recent film which showed no fewer than 1,000 men jumping out of aeroplanes, practically simultaneously. The sky was thick with them. It was like a snowstorm. But the thing was done. Not only that, but they had their own machine guns and they actually landed a light tank from an aeroplane. These are remarkable facts. I am certain the War Office will laugh at them and my right hon. Friend may say that all this is no good. But do not let him try to put that across me. I have been to the War Office and years ago when I suggested that an aeroplane would be a rather good thing in war, I was turned out of the building as a fool. These new ideas have to be examined seriously. I do not criticise my right hon. Friend as being unprogressive but I ask him: Whose job is it to jump out of aeroplanes? Is it the job of the Air Force or of the infantry and, if it is the infantry's job, what units will have to do it?

12.17 a.m.


I wish to devote myself strictly to the Vote. I feel that my right hon. Friend who is in charge of the Debate has lain out in "no man's land" long enough and I want to bring him back to the question of the Army's strength. We know that it is far short of the maximum and that recruiting is one of the most important problems which we have to consider. After the War, a number of units were abolished, and a vast majority of these were Irish. That followed from the establishment of the Irish Free State as a Dominion but it was not confined to regiments and corps whose recruiting areas were entirely in the Irish Free State. In Northern Ireland, the infantry regiment in whose recruiting district I live, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was reduced from two battalions to one. Although there was no reduction of the territory from which they drew their recruits, as a consequence of the creation of the Irish Free State. Would it not be a good thing to restore the second battalion, in view of one fact, to which I particularly direct my right hon. Friend's attention? Has he taken note of the areas where recruits are coming forward, and, is he aware that Northern Ireland, in this last year, has had the highest percentage of recruits, in proportion to population, of any part of the United Kingdom? I do not think the fact is generally known to this Committee or to this country. Is this not, therefore, an occasion when my right hon. Friend must reconsider the rather hard decision—one which, I am sure, was hard for the War Office at the time—to halve the strength of this very distinguished regiment, although it had suffered no loss of recruiting territory in the reconstruction which took place. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to consider what I have proposed as, in some sense, a reward to an area which has borne more than its share of recruiting recently. We all know that recruiting is, perhaps, the most vital question which we shall have to consider, this year.

12.20 a.m.


I had not intended to intervene in this discussion but I am tempted to do so by some of the interesting speeches we have heard. For example the speech which depicted Russians raining from the sky, presented me with some interesting thought but at this hour I do not propose to pursue the subject. I was interested in a statement made by an hon. Member opposite about the magnanimity and extraordinary condescension of the "crack" cavalry regiments in agreeing to mechanisation. I rise to ask the Secretary of State whether these cavalry regiments have the right to refuse to be mechanised, and whether this same right of picking and choosing will be extended to the ordinary rank and file, say, of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the ordinary infantry regiments. It is just as well that someone should point out to the various regiments in the Army that there is this difference among them and that a word of encouragement should be given to the rank and file of the other regiments, so that they may take note of the privilege of the more superior branches of His Majesty's Forces.


I would like to point out that I was not a cavalry soldier. We had a little chaff earlier on, when I do not think the hon. Member was present, and I was paying my tribute to the—use any word you like—the courage, the loyalty, the enthusiasm with which the cavalry regiments had joined in this turn-over.


I did not say that the hon. and gallant Member had been in a cavalry regiment. I was simply drawing the attention of the ordinary rank and file soldiers, through this House, to the position that they might enjoy in the Army if they choose to take that line.

Suggestions have been made about how to encourage recruiting and how to make things more comfortable for the soldiers, and I sympathise with the suggestions which have been put forward, but there are ever so many other things. They might be better fed, and I daresay a lot would prefer butter to margarine. But the point I wish to put is that on the Army Annual Bill last year there was revealed an instance of the privilege enjoyed by officers in the Army with regard to elections. Officers may be elected to a county council—

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)

That matter would involve legislation, and cannot be raised on this Estimate.


I thought I should be in order in asking the Secretary of State whether he proposed to introduce legislation. I am not seeking to develop the argument for or against it.


The hon. Member cannot inquire whether the right hon. Gentleman intends to introduce legislation, but can ask whether he is considering it.


I am indebted to you, Captain Bourne. I will ask the Secretary of State whether he is considering the extension to the rank and file of the same privilege as is enjoyed by the officers in respect of elections. I would remind him that the Under-Secretary gave a promise that it was to be inquired into and a statement made but so far that promised statement has not been forthcoming. I should also like to know whether the Secretary of State is con- sidering whether greater liberties should not be extended to ordinary soldiers with regard to citizen rights and joining trade unions. I know that under the law soldiers are entitled to join their trade unions, but I do not think there are adequate facilities for trade union organisers to get into touch with the soldiers in order to show them the importance of joining the unions to protect their rights after they leave the Army. I would like an assurance from the Minister that something will be done in this respect. I thought as many little points were being raised in this Debate, that I would bring forward what are in nay estimate more important points that might be the better for ventilation.

12.26 a.m.


Some hon. Members who have taken part in the various stages of the Debate have made it evident that they were not present in the earlier stages, when many of their points were discussed and dealt with. Perhaps I may begin by answering the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen). In reply to his first query, I would say that that grievance, which was raised last year, was, on further inquiry, found to be purely or mainly imaginary, but there was a certain case for improving the Army Annual Act and make it more logical and clear as to what it is always intended to carry out. There is no difference in the treatment which has existed. Although I would certainly be out of order if I were to say that I intended to introduce an Amendment to the Act in the coming year. I can assure the hon. Member that I am considering it so favourably that it is not improbable that I shall. In regard to the right of soldiers to join a trade union, they have that right at present, but I am not favourably considering any extension of facilities in order to increase the number of soldiers who belong to trade unions. I am not convinced that it would be in their interests or in the interests of the Army.

A great deal has been said in the last half hour about this—as some people think imaginary—matter of soldiers falling from the air in parachutes. Some people have expressed doubt about it, but the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) said what I said a great many hours ago, that there actually was a picture of them doing it. I do not think that the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) will be convinced, and will think it is a fake.


I said it was possible.


I said that I did not intend to follow that example or encourage it, but that it was an interesting experiment and might be some indication as to the direction in which developments were moving.

There are only two ways of procedure in preparing for these emergencies. One must rely upon experience or imagination. The last War was experience and we must not forget it. Experiments are taking place which people were sneering at yesterday afternoon. Some friends of Russia are sneering at them. That is imagination, and it may be the opening, the beginning, of the first step to a new phase in warfare. All that I indicated in my original words was that it might be, in the long run, that infantry would become much more mobile than they are to-day. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) asked me to bear in mind the 2nd Battalion of the Ennis-killings. I am well aware of the facts as to recruiting in Northern Ireland and I will bear in mind the considerations he put forward. Then the hon. and gallant Member for Thornbury (Captain Gunston) suggested there is a danger in mechanized transport and that when you got a long line of route you could not, when attacked by aircraft, take safety in the fields. That fact has been largely present to the minds of the people who are responsible for dealing with this matter. It is undoubtedly one disadvantage of mechanized transport to weigh off against the other advantages of mechanized transport, but every precaution is taken to prevent such a disaster as the hon. Member contemplates.

The hon. and gallant Member also asked whether any arrangements could be made for improving the system under which some men spend an undue amount of their period of service abroad, and whether it could be arranged that they should spend the last six months with their unit at home. He will realize that it is an extremely difficult task which lies before the organization at the War Office in arranging trooping every year. It would be extremely difficult to arrange for one or two men to be brought back to their unit for that particular period. But we do bear in mind the kind of consideration which he put forward, and if anything can be done to improve that particular aspect of trooping I will consider it. The facts which the hon. Member stated about experiments in light rations were very interesting. I think they were carried out somewhere else and not in this country, but I will look into it. I can inform him, however, that we have succeeded in considerably lightening the burden of the infantry which, he may rest assured, is much lighter than it used to be.

Both the hon. and gallant Member and another speaker asked if I would look into the Cardwell system, and see whether it could be reviewed. That matter was raised earlier in the Debate, and I said at the time that I was quite prepared to consider whether the time had not come to review the question. I am glad both hon. Members agree with me that some kind of expeditionary force must exist. When it is suggested that you can have two kinds of expeditionary force, one for Europe and one for warfare in other parts of the world, no one can dispute the logic of that view. Our trouble is that we are in the position of the man who would like to have two motor-cars, one for light work and one for heavy work, one for London and one for the country, but who can afford only one car, and has therefore to choose a compromise which is likely to serve him best for both purposes. The only way in which you can get over the difficulty in connection with having an alternative expeditionary force would be by some alteration in the Cardwell system. Any suggested alteration comes up against the difficulty of finding the troops for the foreign force.

The Noble Lord the Member for Central Bristol (Lord Apsley) did not ask me many questions, but he gave me a great deal of information. I was very much interested by his speech, and will pay the attention which should be paid to the importance of the facts which in so short a time he managed very interestingly to put forward. He questioned, as did several other hon. Members, the mechanization of the infantry and suggested that there were still too many men on their feet. I can only say that the latest steps we are taking this year may considerably reduce the number of such men. I hope he will agree with me that that is a step in the right direction.

The hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds read a long and sad story. I could not deal with that this evening, because it is a question of widows' pensions and it would be out of order on this occasion. But we all of us get long and sad stories sent to us from time to time, and I rather doubt whether the best way of dealing with them is to read them to the House of Commons, and whether something better could not be done by sending them to the Minister concerned. I very often get communications of this kind which I should be unable to deal with in an official capacity, but in regard to which I might be able to inform the hon. and gallant Member of various charities, such as regimental charities—and this lady seems to have tremendous claims whatever regiment it was—who I am quite sure would be willing, if the facts are as stated, to come to her assistance in some way or other.


Does not the Minister appreciate that this lady is the widow of an ex-ranker officer and that 335 members of this House approved the claim of the ex-ranker officers, but the Government declined to look into it or to make any concession? I shall be very happy if the Minister will reconsider that decision.


The question of the ex-ranker officers has been raised from time to time, and it was settled by the decision of this House and is not likely to be reopened. That is why I said that I was doubtful whether I could do anything in an official capacity, but that I might be able to make suggestions which would be of assistance to the lady by putting her in touch with people who might be able to help her. Then the hon. and gallant Member said officers and men stuck too much to their own units. That was one of the first matters that I inquired into when I went back to the War Office six months ago, and I am satisfied that tremendous progress has been made in this important question in recent years and in the number of officers who do cross with other units and who move to other arms—from the infantry to the cavalry, from the cavalry to the Army Service Corps, and to the artillery and so on in order to study every branch of the profession. It is a subject which the Army Council have very much at heart, and are doing their best to help.

The hon. and gallant Member also asked me the ages of the present members of the Army Council. I think that is a most indelicate and improper question to ask me, and one the answer to which I would never give away, but the hon. and gallant Member may satisfy himself as to all the facts by looking them up in "Who's Who". There are only four military members of the Army Council, and whatever their ages are, they are not at all too old to look after their job, and they are most competent members. I was also asked how many tanks we had. We have five tank battalions at home. I think it would be inadvisable to tell the hon. Member

the exact number of tanks. Lastly the hon. and gallant Member said he gathered from my remarks that in my opinion war was inevitable. I can assure him that in my view war is not inevitable, and I should hope it is not the opinion of anybody on this side of the House that war is inevitable. But when we are preparing an army, we must proceed on the assumption that war is going to happen. Otherwise all your efforts would be foolish, and would be nullified if, before commencing, you were to proceed on the assumption that you were not going to have a war at any time.

Question put, That a number, not exceeding 152,400, all ranks, be maintained for the said Service.

The Committee divided: Ayes, 59; Noes, 149.

Division No. 96.] AYES. [12.40 a.m.
Adamson, W. M. Holland, A. Sexton, T. M.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Hollins, A. Simpson, F. B.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Hopkin, D. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Banfield, J. W. Jagger, J. Smith, E. (Stoke)
Bellenger, F. Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Smith, T. (Normanton)
Benson, G. John, W. Stephen, C.
Brown, C. (Mansfield) Johnston, Rt. Hon. T. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Cocks, F. S. Kelly, W. T. Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Daggar, G. Lawson, J. J. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Dobbie, W. Macdonald, G. (Ince) Thurtle, E.
Dunn, E. (Rother Valley) McEntee, V. La T. Tinker. J. J.
Ede, J. C. Marklew, E. Walkden, A. G.
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Milner, Major J. Wilkinson, Ellen
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H. Muff, G. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Frankel, D. Paling, W. Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Greenwood, Rt. Hon, A. Parker. H. J. H. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Grenfell, D. R. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Potts, J.
Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Pritt, D. N. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Hardie, G. D. Ritson, J. Mr. Charleton and Mr. Mothers.
Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Rowson, G.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Colfox, Major W. P. Fraser, Capt. Sir I.
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'kn'hd) Colville, Lt.-Col. D. J. Fremantle, Sir F. E.
Apsley, Lord Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Furness, S. N.
Assheton, R. Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S.G'gs) George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)
Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover) Courtauld, Major J. S. George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.) Courthope, Col. Sir G. L. Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)
Baldwin-Webb, Col. J. Craven-Ellis, W. Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.
Balfour Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet) Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page Gridley, Sir A. B.
Beauchamp, Sir B.C. Cross. R. H. Grigg, Sir E. W. M.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Crowder. J. F. E. Grimston, R. V.
Beit, Sir A. L. Culverwell, C. T. Gritten, W. G. Howard
Blindell, Sir J. Davies, C. (Montgomery) Guinness, T. L. E. B.
BOSSOM, A. C. Davies, Major G. F. (Yeovil) Gunston, Capt. D. W.
Boulton, W. W. Dorman-Smith, Major R. H. Hannon, Sir P. J. H.
Bower, Comdr. R. T. Drewe, C. Harris, Sir P. A.
Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W. Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side) Hartington, Marquess of
Boyce, H. Leslie Dugdale, Major T. L. Harvey, G.
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Duggan. H. J. Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Eckersley, P. T. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.
Bull, B. B. Edge, Sir W. Holdsworth. H.
Cortland. J. R. H. Emrys-Evans, P. V. Holmes, J. S.
Carver, Major W. H. Entwistle, C. F. Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.
Cary, R. A. Errington, E. Howitt, Dr. A. B.
Castlereagh, Viscount Evans, D. O. (Cardigan) Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Everard, W. L. Keeling, E. H.
Channon, H. Fleming, E. L. Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)
Kerr, H. W. (Oldham) Morrison, W. S. (Cirencester) Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)
Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R. Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J. Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)
Kimball, L. Munro, P. Southby, Comdr. A. R. J.
Lamb, Sir J. Q. Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. G. Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L.
Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.) Orr-Ewing, I. L. Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)
Leckie, J. A. Peake, O. Storey, S.
Lewis, O. Perkins, W. R. D. Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J. Petherick, M. Strickland, Captain W. F.
Loder, Captain Hon. J. de V. Pilkington, R. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Loftus, P. C. Ponsonby, Col. C. E. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.
Lumley, Capt. L. R. Procter, Major H. A. Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)
Mebane, W. (Huddersfield) Raikes, H. V. A. M. Thomson, Sir J. D. W.
McCorquodale, M. S. Ramsbotham, H. Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.
MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross) Rankin, R. Wakefield, W. W.
McKie, J. H. Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin) Wallace, Captain Euan
Makins, Brig.-Gen. E. Rayner, Major R. H. Ward, Lieut-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Reid, W. Allan (Derby) Warrender, Sir V.
Markham, S. F. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton) Wells, S. R.
Maxwell, S. A. Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.) Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Ropner, Colonel L. Williams, H, G. (Croydon, S.)
Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'derry) Womersley, Sir W. J.
Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.) Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Rothschild, J. A. de TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C. Sanderson, Sir F. B. Sir Gorge Penny and Dr. Morris-
Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.) Seely, Sir H. M. Jones.

Question put, and agreed to.