§ 10. "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £100, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1938, for expenditure not provided for in the Army Estimates for the year."
|Sums not exceeding|
|—||Supply Grants.||Appropriations in Aid.|
|10.||Works, buildings and lands||100||—|
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
I beg to move, to leave out "170,000," and to insert "169,900."
I move this Amendment formally. The Secretary of State for War, in introducing the Estimates, began his speech by an examination of the rôle of the Army, an introduction which, I think, the House welcomed, because I do not think such an examination had been made for some years. I want now to make some comments on the rôle of the Army and the military doctrine which controls all conceptions on that subject. As one must start with some hypothesis on this matter, I am going to assume that this country and France are in conflict against a Power in Central Europe, and I am going to discuss the rôle of the Army with that conflict as an object lesson. As soon as one does that, it seems to me that some considerations of first-class significance immediately present themselves. The first is this. I understand that the prevailing military doctrine, and the generally-accepted one now, is that in land warfare, where there are fortified positions, the strength of the defence is about three times as great as the strength of the attack. On that account, we have frequently been told, on military authority, 1025 that the Maginot Line on the French side, for example, is practically impregnable to-day; but if that be so, we have to take into account the fact that since the occupation of the Rhineland, we must proceed on the assumption that equally powerful lines have been built on the other side of the frontier, which are also equally impregnable. The conclusion of great significance which emerges is that in any such conflict as has been imagined, both frontiers, on the French and the German side, would be locked, and a Power in Central Europe could proceed to do a great deal behind locked doors which, at any rate for a very long period, neither our Army nor that of the French, could break down.
From that follow one or two conclusions, the first of which is that the general presumption which has been growing in discussions in the House during the last two or three years, that, at any rate in the early stages of a war, the role of the Army would not be to send a great expeditionary force to the Continent, seems to be maintained by the picture which I am giving to the House. There is another conclusion, however, which is of still greater importance. It is that if we envisage any such conflict, we should, as in the great wars of the past, and certainly in the wars from the days of Napoleon, have to depend for our chief influence upon the action of British sea power, which has greater superiority in Europe to-day than it had at the beginning of the Great War.
Therefore, the conclusion which emerges is that at that time of conflict, which would be a long one, the Power which is likely to emerge is that Power which has the greatest call upon the resources of the whole world. It would be a war of economics, and as soon as one says that, one realises that the balance should eventually be tilted in our favour, since, apart from a blockade by sea power, Germany is already blockading herself by her policy of self-sufficiency, cutting herself off from foreign trade, from credits, from contacts, and most certainly from foreign sympathy, upon which, in a conflict of this sort, she would depend for the resources with which to continue it for a great length of time. Consequently, it seems to me that on this examination of such an issue the long-distance forces would be in our favour.
1026 This picture is an unhappy one, but it is not as dreadful a picture as that in which one contemplates sending thousands of young men to be slaughtered in mass warfare on the Continent. What we should first have to contemplate would be not so much dangers from the armies; the first problem which would confront us would be, of course, danger from air attack. Indeed, it appears to me that the hopes upon which many of Field-Marshal Goering's speeches are based are hopes of a knock-out blow at an early stage. This has led to the discussion of a six weeks' war which I think, has emerged from Field-Marshal Goering's speeches. I am fairly confident, from the experience of the rest of the world, and from what I know of the relative power of defence and attack, that the air arm cannot compel a final decision in any war. Therefore, the danger is not as great as we used to think two or three years ago.
This brings me to my first criticism of the doctrine upon which the War Office has acted for some years, a doctrine which an examination such as I am now making, shows to be false. To meet air attack we must rely upon anti-aircraft ground defence. The responsibility for ground defence against air attack—guns, searchlights and sound locators—is, and has been, with the War Office. Until a year or two ago, the War Office treated this as the Cinderella of the Services, and kept for it all its old worn-out lorries and derelict guns and searchlights and sound locators, just as if the ground defence were some sort of poor relation getting cast-off clothes. The Secretary of State has now lifted this function of air defence from the lowest place to the first. He has given it priority and made it 1A, instead of allowing it to remain the Cinderella. In doing so he has reinforced the views which I expressed three years ago and has uttered the most complete condemnation possible of the policy of the War Office of only a couple of years ago—a policy and a false doctrine for which, if war were to break out soon, we should pay a very bitter price.
It appears to me that such a result is inevitable, as long as one Department is given the responsibility for providing something which is concerned with the main work of another Department. Every Department has, naturally and properly, a strong feeling of departmental patriotism, and concentrates its attention 1027 upon that work which is its own, and is rather indifferent to the work which it does as ancillary to another Department. For that reason, I repeat the view which I have frequently expressed that the best method of securing, in the future, proper ground equipment for defence against aircraft, is that the whole of it should be the responsibility of the Air Ministry, just as we handed over the responsibility for machines dealing with the Navy to the Fleet Air Arm.
Before I leave the subject of defence against air attack, I should like to put again to the Secretary of State a question to which I have not yet seen any reply. We depend for our defence against air attack on the Territorials, and I am told that because a technical type of mind is attracted to this kind of work, the Territorial learns the work quicker than the regular soldier. But I am also told that he never gets the time of the regular soldier. He requires, I am told, at least three months for this work, and I cannot see under what conditions a Territorial is to get three months for it. This is a duty for which we cannot wait. You can wait to fill your Army but you cannot wait even ten seconds for this function. But I do not yet see any machinery by which it can be ensured that the Territorial will have his three months' training and will be ready to the last bootlace before hostilities actually begin. On this point there is one suggestion which I would put to the Secretary of State. At the last Army manoeuvres Regular engineer officers who were dealing with anti-aircraft defence told me that they thought the Territorials could be adapted to searchlight work, but that the sound locators were so intricate that for this purpose a stiffening of Regulars ought to be introduced into the Service. I put that idea to the Secretary of State for his consideration.
Now I come to another question on which I should like to initiate a rather fuller discussion than was possible a few days ago. The Army has now become a vast technical mechanism, and one of its most acute problems is not only to find the right number of officers—that may be solved—but to find officers of the mechanical and scientific type of mind which a motorised force requires. I am amazed that the War Office is still satis- 1028 fied that it can find this type of mind in a small circle of public schools, among boys, not one in ten of whom has passed the matriculation examination, and a number of whom cannot pass the school certificate examination and could not get a responsible position in a commercial firm. I noticed that we never get any sympathy on this matter from any retired officer in this House. However radical they may be in many other directions, on this question their minds are closed. It justifies the military correspondent of the "Times" in pointing out that the Army is a temple of ancestor-worship. I may say that the only satisfaction which I got from the speech of the Financial Secretary to the War Office, in which he defended the present system, was the comforting assurance that it will be a good many years yet before we have to say "goodbye" to dear old Colonel Blimp.
There is one source from which thousands of young men of the right scientific and mechanical type are being turned out every year. I refer to the secondary schools. Great occupations such as the engineering and printing trades, and a number of others, have realised that these young men are a vitalising element in professional life to-day. They are making the running in competition with the public school boys. A number of trades are altering their age of recruiting to attract these boys. Anyone can see that a great proportion of these boys, if they knew anything about the Army, would be attracted by the open-air, athletic, regimental scheme of life which the Army offers. This is a class to which I would draw the attention of the Secretary of State. From my observations and inquiries I find that about half the Army officers at present have no private means at all, and live on their pay. I am sure neither myself nor my hon. Friends would grudge Army officers enough to enable all of them to live on their pay.
It is clear to me that the present system is a very bad bargain to the country. It is not worth our while to have officers in the Army as a charity to the country, because then we are not able to insist on the same professional standards as other comparable and competitive occupations enjoy and enforce. You may raise the pay of officers but the officer will still remain a poor man as long as the 1029 Army takes it for granted that the officer must live the life of a country gentleman of rather expensive tastes, with all this hunting and polo and steeplechasing and shooting and regimental dinners which men in comparable civil occupations never dream of being able to afford at that age. I know the War Office has made regulations, and I know that mess accounts are inspected, but regulations are evaded by having voluntary instead of compulsory subscriptions. This problem will be solved only when the War Office deals with it far more drastically than it has done up to now.
I would put to the Secretary of State a small but comparable proposal which has not been made, at any rate, for some years. Is it necessary to continue to occupy the time of the soldier upon amateur histrionics such as the Aldershot Tattoo and the various other tattoos? I know it is said that they help recruiting but it is impossible to go to the Aldershot Tattoo unless you have a motor car, and I see in the "Times" that if you have not a motor car you can be taken for £2. Now we do not draw recruits from the section of the community who can afford that expense, I am told, too, that they help Army charities, but if you calculate the time and man-power consumed by rehearsals, you will find that they are just as expensive a way of raising money as amateur theatricals usually prove to be. The soldiers do not like them. They may like the final night of the tattoo, but they do not like the rehearsals and preliminaries and these have no training value. The fact is that the soldier of to-day is a very hard-worked man in this country. In India he is not hard-worked, but then there are no tattoos in India. I do not believe that these absurdities for a serious profession would stand the test of a cold-blooded investigation by a civilian committee.
I propose to put together all I have; to say about getting the right type of officer, and my remarks on the subject were rather suggested by the really staggering figures given in an answer last week with regard to the expenses of training cadets at Woolwich and Sandhurst. I find that a cadet at Woolwich, including the expense to the State and the fees paid, costs £800 a year, and a cadet at Sandhurst £700 a year. Now that the number of cadets is being cut down the expenses at 1030 Woolwich will go up to £900 or £1,000 a year. There is no university or college or other institution in the country where the expense of training a boy of 18 is more than a third of that cost. I cannot understand how the system has gone on for all these years without criticism. This reinforces the suggestion which I made last week that the time has come to close down Sandhurst and Woolwich, and to send these cadets at the age of 18 to universities instead.
I have just been looking at the training regulations, and those for Sandhurst state that the purpose of Sandhurst is to give a general education with a military bias. You can get your military bias at a university, but you cannot give a general education at an institution like Sandhurst, where hundreds of boys are segregated like so many identical herrings. The result is that the Army is a sect of its own. It is almost like the Plymouth Brethren. Half the Army officers are drawn from fewer than 2,000 families. The Plymouth Brethren have a wider scope than that, and the War Office knows it. The War Office is always trying to correct it by bringing these young men back to civilian life, giving them lectures and courses, putting them upstairs in the Gallery to watch our Debates. But you cannot correct this narrowness by lectures; you can only correct it by experience. Let the young Army cadet, at any rate for two years of his life, take part in the main stream of national life, and let him learn to know his own generation, as practically every other comparable profession is enabled to do.
Now I come back to the expense of Sandhurst, which means that a university will serve the same purpose for a third of the cost. If you adopted this plan, you would save money, and you would be able to take boys into the Army without charging them any fees at all, instead of the average fees of £240 a year which are charged at present. If you went to the secondary schools and told the athletic, masculine type of boys there that you were offering them two years at a university, and then a career in the Army in which they could live in certain security, your problem of obtaining the right type of mechanical officer would be solved.
1031 There is only one other suggestion that I wish to make with regard to officers. I think that in the long run it will be found that one of the decisions with the most far-reaching consequences which was contained in the Estimates this year was the decision to give non-commissioned officers command of platoons. To begin with, it makes the Army quite a different type of profession. There have been too many subalterns compared with the number of places higher up, and the consequence has been that, if you take Sandhurst, 50 per cent. of those who leave Sandhurst every year are out of the Army in 15 years. You cannot invite young men into a profession like that, but this is one method of dealing with the difficulty, and, therefore, it will have very far-reaching consequences. It will have another consequence also, which I do not think has yet been pointed out. If subalterns are not to take command of platoons, they will really become probationary captains, and as a matter of fact you need not give them regimental duties at the age at which you give them now. It means that they will have another year or two for their training as a result of this, and I suggest that the best way to spend that year is to allow them to have a year in the ranks. We are told that the Army officers and men understand each other very well, and perhaps they do, but you learn to look at a man from a different angle when you are in the ranks with him. There are Members of this House at the head of businesses whose sons are going to inherit those businesses, but who will start at the bottom, and I see no reason why Army officers should be more protected and more sheltered than those in civilian life.
§ Major Dower
If you succeed in destroying Sandhurst, you destroy the chief merit that the cadet gets there, which is a much stiffer and harder training than your private in the Army. He gets no favours, and he sees all the rough side.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
The reason I made the observation about Sandhurst was the extreme narrowness of the education there, which you cannot overcome so long as you have what is really a monastic type of education. The last thing that I wish to say is this: There 1032 is the problem of the shortage in the number of officers, and there is the problem of the shortage in the number of men. The shortage in the number of officers can be solved by attracting this new class of boys, but there is a number of hon. Members, as was shown in speeches made in this House last week, who believe that the only way of dealing with the shortage of men is by military conscription. I would refer those Members who took that view to the opening passages of the speech of the Secretary of State, because he there pointed out that we already have 500,000 men and that therefore we are not under-insured, but that the problem is one of organisation and distribution. This is a complete refutation of the argument for conscription, because organisation and distribution are not solved by greater numbers. They are a problem of policy, a problem of new ideas, and conscription is merely a device for avoiding the trouble of thinking out new ideas, in favour of inertia and mental bankruptcy.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. C. Wood
I rise with some diffidence to address the House for the first time, but as I have only fairly recently left the Army, I felt that I should like to take part in this Debate. It seems to me to be a very satisfactory state of affairs that we are able so to increase the efficiency of the Army without the necessity of bringing in a large additional number of men, a necessity which, I think, would make it difficult to carry on our existing voluntary system of recruiting. I welcome very much the statement of the Secretary of State as regards the role of the Army. It seems that for the first time there has been laid down a definitely stated role for which the Army exists, and that there has been laid down an order of importance of the tasks for which the Army must be prepared. I believe that this will be a great help to the directing staff in forming their training policy, because I do not believe that ever before have we had a really clear-cut idea of the role for which the Army exists.
I think it is clearly desirable that internal security is to be an important commitment of troops in this country at the outbreak of war, but I would like to ask how much this is going to affect the size and the organisation of any expeditionary 1033 force. It is interesting to see that the Continental rôle appears last in order of importance, and I presume that, in view of the many more numerous tasks of the Army, the possibility of sending an Army to the Continent is fairly remote. In view of the decreased importance of the Continental rôle, I should like to ask a question about the strategic reserve, to which the Secretary of State referred. Is it the intention that the strategic reserve should be stationed in the United Kingdom or that it should be stationed in the Middle East? If it is to be stationed in this country, I wonder whether it ought to be, whether perhaps a larger proportion ought not to be stationed in the Middle East. Then, again, if it is to be stationed in this country, I wonder if we could know a little more as to whether there would be an adequate amount of shipping immediately available to transport troops and their transport to the Middle East or to any other district where they were wanted.
To turn for a moment to the question of recruiting, we have seen that men desirous of serving are coming forward in increasing numbers, and I should like to congratulate the Minister on the improvements that he has made in this respect, because, after all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we have all seen, from week to week, the greatly increased numbers of recruits. The Secretary of State said that the chief external assistance which would come to recruiting would be the habit of representing the Army always and everywhere in its true light. I think that is a true statement, which very often is not put into practice. I believe that a beginning could be made in the village school, where very often the Army is shorn of all its glamour and where it is rather put about that the young man who has joined the Army has had to do so because he could not find any other form of employment. I do not think it would do any harm at all to look upon it perhaps a little more in the light in which they look upon it in Germany, where the young man who joins the Army is looked upon as having definitely raised his social status.
I should like to say a word or two about the scheme for engaging civilians to do certain work which is now done by the soldier, work which does not directly concern his military training. Perhaps a further source of employment for ex- 1034 service men could be found if all minor Government posts, such as those of messengers in Government offices, Post Office clerks and postmen, could be kept entirely for ex-service men, that is to say, as long as there were ex-service men to fill those posts. Again, could not this scheme be extended to other jobs which at the moment are filled by serving soldiers in the regiments, jobs such as washers-up in the cookhouse, barrack sweepers, storekeepers, or mess waiters, jobs which the soldier did not really join the Army to do? I believe it would not only help to find employment for ex-service men, but it would also help to encourage recruits, because I think that a great many young soldiers join the Army imagining that somewhere hidden in their equipment is a field-marshal's baton, and when they are turned over to do one of these jobs, that idea is very quickly and rudely dispelled.
Next I would like to say a word or two about the money that is to be spent on adapting barrack accommodation to the latest standard. I see that soldiers are to be provided with better beds and bolsters, and I think that is definitely a step in the right direction, because there is no getting away from the fact that to-day the ordinary barrack room is very devoid of comfort. There is also a complete lack of privacy. There is no place where the ordinary private soldier can get away from his comrades to go and read or write. I suggest that these complaints can be met by dividing barrack-rooms into cubicles. Again, the washing arrangements in barrack-rooms could be greatly improved, for they are of a very primitive nature. It would add greatly to the comfort of soldiers if barrack-rooms could be centrally heated instead of having the one rather inadequate stove that exists to-day. All these improvements would help to add to the greater comfort of the private soldier and would indirectly help to stimulate recruiting, because recruits going to barracks and spending the night in the rather unattractive surroundings which exist to-day are very likely to think better of an Army career and depart next morning, and they are not likely to persuade their friends to make the same experiment.
The decision to make the Royal Artillery responsible for the operation of 1035 searchlights in connection with air and coast defence is a welcome decision, and the division of the Royal Artillery into two definite branches is a desirable reform. I would ask, however, that too drastic reform as it affects the every-day regimental life of officers and men should not be too far-reaching. I believe it is true to say that to a great many men in the Army the regiment is of more importance than the Army. In these days, when we talk much about national service and everybody doing their part, it seems a pity to put people in the wrong frame of mind for their duty, and I am certain that any too drastic reform affecting regimental life would be most uncongenial. I think, perhaps, that at no time more than to-day has it been so important that we should have an Army which is in good heart with itself. There is no truer statement than that contented regiments make a contented Army.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I believe I am right in saying that the speech just delivered by the hon. Member for York (Mr. C. Wood) is the first he has made in the House. If that is a correct assumption, it falls to my happy lot to congratulate him on the very able speech he has made. Perhaps he himself might have wished that an older Member of the House should have spoken these words. On the other hand, he might feel that it is a question of deep calling to deep, and that, as my maiden speech was made only a very short time ago, he will appreciate the few words I have offered to him in congratulation on the speech which he has just delivered.
We are bound, in discussing the Army Estimates, to refer to that able, eloquent and ingenious speech which was made by the Secretary of State when he introduced the Estimates. It fell into three parts. It dealt, first, with the strategical rôle of the Army, with which most hon. Members will wish to say a good many things; second, with matters relating to the personnel of the Army; and, third, with equipment and stores. The right hon. Gentleman was brief in his remarks on the latter item, and I do not propose to say much about it. I want to confine myself to the first two. In discussing the strategical rôle of the Army it would be as well if hon. Members had this matter in its true perspective. I should, 1036 therefore, like to refer to the speech made last year by the Secretary of State for War in introducing the Estimates, because it throws a little further light on the matters which were raised by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech this year. Last year the Secretary of State started by reviewing, in a somewhat similar manner, the duties of the Army, and he informed us that during the previous 12 months there had been two matters which had arisen, one in Abyssinia and the other in Palestine, both of which would have made large calls on our armed forces. He went on to say:Had there been any emergency then, the forecast of the possibilities would certainly have become a fact and our military resources would have been taxed to breaking point.Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to give a picture of the manifold duties which the British Army is called upon to undertake and would be called upon, in an emergency, to perform, and he gave a review of the 12 preceding years. He told us:So during those comparatively peaceful years there were only two out of 12 in which no exceptional demands were made upon the British Army.In order to complete my perspective, I will quote the following from the speech of the Secretary of State last year:In one at least of them the enemy whom we were considering was one of the great Powers of Europe, fully equipped with every modern invention, and in more than one case there was an ever present danger of our forces being brought into conflict with one of the great Powers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16TH MARCH, 1937; cols. 1887–8; Vol. 321.]I will not hazard a guess who that great Power was, but in discussing these Estimates we cannot overlook the fact that there are potential enemies about—there is no need to specify them—and that they have resources with which we may be called upon to compete at some near or distant date. I hope that it will not happen, but I take it that as practical legislators—to use the phrase of an hon. Member this afternoon—we must visualise the possibilities of this country coming into conflict with one, or perhaps more, of the great Continental Powers. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State defined the categories of action of the British Army. He put home defence as the most important, and then, as the hon. Member for York has just reminded us, 1037 he told us that there might be a possibility of our Army acting in co-operation with a Continental army to protect the territorial integrity of the country of that army. In that case it might be necessary for us to go to their assistance with our military forces. In order to get our perspective complete, we have to visualise this possibility. A large part of our home defence will be undertaken by the Territorial Force, but if we are to understand correctly the strategical role of our Army on future occasions, we must have constantly in our minds the direction in which our Army may be called upon to act when we are called upon to use our strategical reserve, which, the right hon. Gentleman explained so eloquently, we would be able to do much quicker and more efficiently than hitherto.
Therefore, I come to this point. If a crisis occurs—and it looks as if it may do—who will be the allies to whom the right hon. Gentleman has referred? Shall we have any allies at all, because I heard the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) suggest that it might be possible we should be left alone at the crucial time to fight our own battles. If, however, we are to have allies, the question arises of the tactical co-operation between them and us. Staff talks and co-operation cannot be set on foot in five minutes if the united armies are to be most effective. Hon. Members will not need me to remind them that it took four years in the last War before we were able to have the unified control of the Allied Forces fighting in France which enabled us eventually to gain victory. If it will be necessary, as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, for us to have allies, it naturally follows that we should try to visualise without going too closely into details who those allies may be. There is one certain ally that we must have in any Continental trouble, and that is France, because the Government, through the ex-Foreign Secretary, have stated that the armed forces of this country might be used in order to protect the territorial integrity and independence of France. It follows, therefore, that in all probability France would be one of our allies. The right hon. Gentleman will probably admit that we are closely related to France, both in politics and other directions, and I should like to ask him whether any staff talks or consultations are taking place between our General Staff and the General Staff 1038 of the French Army. It would be possible to develop the question of the strategical rôle of the British Army further, but there are other hon. Members who wish to speak on it who are probably more fitted to deal with it than I am. Although the right hon. Gentleman has told us that in considering the recruitment of the Army we have also to consider the strategic rôle of the Army, and that he is not so much concerned with recruits because he has placed a different conception on the rôle of the British Army than was formerly held, we ought to consider this subject more fully.
I should next like to deal with the part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech concerning personnel. Two or three weeks ago, through the good offices of the right hon. Gentleman himself, I was able to go to Canterbury and to inspect the work being done by the Recruits Physical Development Depot, and I am able to say that the experiment there is more than an experiment to increase the establishment of the Army by bringing unfit recruits up to Army standards but is a great social experiment. I understand that this depot will be expanded in the course of the year. Not only are good soldiers being turned out there but good citizens are being made under conditions which could easily be introduced into civilian life. Of course, there are military restraints there, and a certain amount of military discipline, but I was particularly struck with the kindliness and the consideration shown by the officer commanding and his assistant officers to the recruits who go there. When they first arrive those recruits are very poor specimens physically. They have all kinds of complaints—flat feet, weak hearts, and sometimes weak spirits. They have been broken down, in many cases, by long periods of unemployment, and it is heartrending to see the condition of some of them. I would urge hon. Members who have the opportunity to visit this depot, because they would see that the Army is carrying out an excellent experiment which I think could be extended to other walks of life at very small cost. It may interest hon. Members to know that the additional cost per head to bring those recruits up to the standard which the Army requires is 2½d. per day. The House may like to know the rations they receive, and I have a specimen week's menu which was handed to me by 1039 the commanding officer. When I had read through it I was amazed, and I can honestly say—and I shall say this later to my wife—that I do not get such food as is given to these recruits.
§ Mr. Bellenger
They have something like six meals a day. I do not know how it is done for the money, because I am told that these are the Army rations plus an expenditure of 2½d. a day, which I believe is spent mostly on milk. First thing in the morning they start with a cup of tea, or perhaps a cup of milk. Then they have breakfast. Breakfast consists—I am quoting one day—of porridge, rissole and tomato sauce, tea, bread, margarine, and marmalade. Hon. Members may wonder where the butter about which an hon. Member was so concerned comes in. The butter appears later in the day. For dinner on that day they had roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, butter beans, potatoes, fruit salad and custard. Tea consisted of tea, bread and butter—there comes in the butter—jam, and custard tart. For supper they had beef olive and mashed, tea, bread and margarine. Before they go to bed there is another meal, which consists of milk or something like that. If this can be done on Army rations plus 2½d. a day for these recruits, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should pass on one of these specimen menus, and the remarks I have made, to some of his right hon. Friends in the Government. I believe this experiment could be extended, and that then it might not be necessary for us to have these physical training development depots in order to get recruits for our Army.
Two other things came to my notice, one of them perhaps a little pathetic. I was told that quite a number of those recruits do their utmost to send home allowances to their parents, and in some cases, the commanding officer told me, he has had to insist upon the recruits reducing the amount of the allotments sent to their parents or relatives, because otherwise there would be very little pocket money left for themselves. The first thought when they get their pay is to send something home to their parents. If it were possible for the right hon. 1040 Gentleman to provide, through his Department or other Departments, some allowance to needy mothers or fathers who allow their sons to join the Army it might remove one of the main objections which parents have to their sons joining. After all, we have to consider the feelings of those mothers and fathers when they see their sons joining the Army and drawing away from the household income the small wages which they are able to earn. That is a factor which counts with fathers and mothers, and it is very comforting to know that those recruits are only too anxious to make whatever provision they can for their fathers and mothers from the pay which the Army gives them. As I have said, the consideration which the officers show to those young men when they arrive there is something of which I can heartily approve. We are not dealing with the normal type of recruit who goes direct to his regimental depot, but with sub-normal recruits, who need more sympathetic consideration before they can be placed under the conditions of a normal recruit who is physically and mentally fit when he joins his regiment and passes under normal Army discipline. It comforted me tremendously to see how the officers at that depot take a personal interest in each recruit who arrives, and go out of their way not only to make him physically comfortable, but to make him comfortable in other ways in his new life. Other hon. Members want to speak, otherwise there are other features of this experiment which I could bring to the notice of the House—I might say that I was told that no other hon. Members had taken the trouble to visit the depot—but I hope that hon. Members will take the first available opportunity of seeing something of what is not only an Army experiment but a social experiment.
My final words to the right hon. Gentleman are these, and they lead on from the remarks I have made on the question of recruits. I do not think we can accept entirely what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the recruiting position. The fact remains that the Army, which is not a very large Army, there being only something like 150,000 troops at home, is short of officers and men. In view of the troubles which are facing us—and we all know them—I suggest that the position is not so satisfactory as the right hon. Gentleman has made out. He may 1041 be able by that ingenious use of ideas and words in which he is so very prolific, to tell us that all we need think about nowadays is fire power and not man power and he may refer us to the Navy Estimates, where we consider ships, and not men. But is that quite so? When we consider ships it follows arithmetically that if there are so many ships there must be so many men to man them. Therefore, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that if he will disclose to us what fire power it is that he is going to provide, it will be an easy problem to ascertain the number of men required to man the weapons. I do not think we can afford to leave the matter where it is and to let it go out that our recruiting position is satisfactory, because it is entirely unsatisfactory. It is the Government's responsibility to see that the recruiting problem is solved, and it will not be solved by words, however eloquent they may be. I say to the right hon. Gentleman, who is a pastmaster of eloquence, that we shall have to have much more practical methods if we are to solve the problem.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Captain Alan Graham
There is one special point in that most able speech, which may yet come to be an historic speech, of the Secretary of State for War in introducing these Estimates to which I should like to draw the attention of the House. It was where he spoke of the discharge of British commitments overseas. He said:Local forces are invaluable in reducing the number of regular British units to be maintained, and wherever it be possible to employ further local personnel for anti-aircraft and coast defence duties in particular, whether in combination with British personnel or otherwise, the practice will be followed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1938; col. 2137, Vol. 332.]At the risk, perhaps, of incurring the charge of being monothemistic, I should like to support very urgently the plea of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) and also the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford (Brigadier-General Makins) in urging that greater use be made of the local indigenous potential forces in Malta and in the island of Cyprus. In Malta we do make use of one Territorial battalion, the King's Own Malta Regiment, and I maintain that it is perfectly possible to increase the number of available potential soldiers who can be utilised in Malta. The popu- 1042 lation of Cyprus is over 100,000 greater than the population of Malta, and at present for its protection there exists only the local police and one company of British troops, sent to Cyprus either from Egypt or the Sudan. At present Cyprus contributes £10,000 a year to Imperial Defence, and I maintain that that sum would certainly cover the expenses of the yearly maintenance of a Territorial battalion, raised on the spot and officered by British officers. It is possible to raise these two battalions in Cyprus of hardy countrymen who would be capable of giving a good account of themselves in the event of invasion of any of those garrisons, which is a possibility which we must contemplate, or of being utilised in substitution for British battalions in Palestine and other parts of the Near East. In the present state of affairs in the Mediterranean we have not the preponderance of naval strength upon which our conception of the numbers necessary in our garrisons in the Mediterranean and overseas formerly depended.
In the War Office some years ago there was a totally groundless prejudice against the use of our Mediterranean subjects in war. One is prepared to admit that Mediterranean people might not make the best fighting material when used in northern climates, but in their own latitudes and against people from the same latitudes there is no reason, particularly if we look at the past, to question their very great potential value to us. In the Napoleonic wars we did not disdain to have a Corsican legion or even, I believe, to use Sicilians. In these days of the spread of education and of better nourishment, to which the people of these Mediterranean countries under our dominion are now used, there is every chance of making much greater use of them than we are doing or than we have done in the past. The greater utilisation of these peoples need by no means be taken as necessarily a threat in the political field against any other Mediterranean Power.
I have suggested before that the primary use of these Cyprus battalions might well be as substitutes for the British battalions employed in Palestine. The Cypriots have already given proof of their quality in the sternest test which can be applied to regular troops, that of being called upon to fire upon their own relatives in civil disturbances. This they did in 1043 I931. There is no sterner test of discipline for troops, and they did not fail. In any case, we have a responsibility for the lives of 366,000 British subjects in that island, and we are very far from being strong enough to dispense with or ignore any possible potential source of further strength to us. At all events, let the Cypriots be able to defend themselves and thus also to contribute to our strength.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I hope it is not too late in the day to congratulate the Secretary of State for War on his very remarkable speech when introducing his Estimates last week. The right hon. Gentleman has certainly rejuvenated the War Office. I wish he could be employed by this Government as a sort of political Dr. Voronoff, to go round to all the Departments in turn and give them his treatment. I feel particularly envious of him for the Admiralty. We are approaching what is known in football circles as the transfer season and there is, at the same time, talk of a reshuffle in the Government. I wish the Government would transfer the right hon. Gentleman from Arsenal to Portsmouth. It is an excellent idea of his to introduce Messrs. Lyons into the Army; it is all part of the process of lionising the Secretary of State for War which has been going on for some time. Perhaps he will consider going the whole distance and introducing a few Nippies into the barracks. I am sure that would solve his recruiting difficulties.
The Statement accompanying the Estimates contains this passage:Progress continues in the design and production of various weapons, including Bren guns.Grave doubts have been expressed about the Bren gun. This is a question of the first importance. The Secretary of State for War has himself said that fire power and not man power is the test, and the great lesson of the War was certainly the value of the machine gun. To decide on equipping the Army with a new machine gun is a most serious and anxious matter. Apart from the question of expense, which is considerable, the decision is one which may turn the scales of victory. Is the Bren gun really the best machine gun for the Army?—If I put my remarks rather in the form of questions it is not that I expect the right hon. Gentleman to answer 1044 all the questions at this stage—Is it true that the Bren gun was offered to others, for instance to the German Army, and refused? Is it not very remarkable that no British gunmaker has been able to evolve a suitable machine gun for the British Army? Has any British firm an interest in the production or manufacture of the Bren gun? I do not know whether the Bren gun now in process of issue is similar to that which was shown in competition with the Lewis gun at Bisley in 1936, but is it the case that while the Army Council have adopted the Bren gun the Indian Army and the Royal Air Force have rejected it? Is it the case that the Army Council have not tried out any machine gun against the Bren except the Berthier, which was accepted by the Indian Army in preference to the Bren?
Now let me come to some particulars about the Bren gun. I believe that water is required for cooling changed barrels. Are the infantry to attack carrying water troughs for this purpose? How can a gun with the low muzzle-velocity of the Bren, short range and wide dispersal of bullets, be safely employed to supply overhead fire for advancing troops? In the past, the Bren gun has had, if it has not still, a bad reputation in some Army quarters, in spite of the official view concerning it. Has it been conclusively proved that the Bren is not inferior in accuracy and range to guns which are now in the hands of foreign countries? I can imagine nothing more ruinous to the morale of the infantry than to know that foreign countries are better armed than themselves with machine guns. The gun trade of this country is believed to be the most skilled in the world, but the experts in the trade condemn the Bren gun. I make full allowance for their business interests in the matter, but they say that no British gun ever put up to the War Office gave such a lamentable performance as did the Bren at the Alder-shot Rifle Meeting and at Bisley.
I have seen this gun described as a gangster's gun, having a sawed-off barrel, the range of a Mauser, the magazine capacity of a rifle, the accuracy of a blunderbuss and a weight of 21 lbs. It is, therefore, lacking in the only commendable qualities of a gangster's gun, lightness and handiness. Lord Hailsham, when he was Secretary of State for War, said that on account of the urgent neces- 1045 sities of the Army time could not be given for trying out a British gun. How is it that we could get into such a jam as that? Why was there such a pressure of time at the last moment that no British gun could be tried? What is the cost of the Bren gun as manufactured for the War Office, and what sum has been expended on it since its adoption?
I have referred to the Bisley meeting of 1936. At that meeting very disquieting facts came to light regarding the Bren gun, which had been selected to supersede the Lewis gun. The Press gave no publicity to the matter, but the chief topic at that meeting was the very disappointing performance of the Bren. It was outclassed every time by the Lewis, for accuracy and reliability. It was described as too heavy for the ordinary man to fire from the shoulder and so inaccurate that it was of little use as a substitute for the rifle, and it was said that difficulties were experienced because of premature extraction. The War Office say that those defects are in the Bren guns of foreign manufacture and that they will disappear when the gun is manufactured at Enfield. I believe that actual demonstrations make this statement difficult to believe and that the gun manufactured at Enfield is a copy of the Czechoslovak model. I understand that the gun requires two men to serve it, which doubles the probable casualties as compared with a one-man gun. These criticisms are based upon descriptions furnished by many officers and machine gunners who have handled and watched the performance of the Bren, and who have had active service experience in India with the Berthier gun.
What is the position as regards deliveries of this gun? It was to have been issued last year, but difficulties with its manufacture have been experienced at Enfield, I am told. What is the state of the deliveries? If the deliveries are backward, what is the reason? With what machine gun is the Army at present supplied? The Bren gun was to replace the Lewis gun, which was condemned during the War, but the Lewis gun has not yet been replaced. If we were involved in hostilities during the next few months with what light machine gun would our Army be equipped? If the Bren gun is not available, have we to rely upon the Lewis gun? Apparently we have been trying since 1934 to make 1046 the Bren gun. Issue was promised two years ago, and in any case not later than November, 1937.
I have inquired, but I cannot get particulars of any competition which was open to an all-British produced and designed gun. If any competitions have been held, may we have particulars of them? I know that the War Office offered to hold trials for the British Machine Rifle. The conditions were that the designer was to pay all the expenses of the War Office staff and of the cartridges, the whole sum amounting to over £500. At the same time he was told that the rifle would not be adopted, whatever might be the result of the trial.
I would like to give some particulars of the treatment which a British gun has met with under tests and trials by the War Office. Let me say at once that I have no personal interest of any sort whatever in any gun or in any firm producing a gun and that my sole consideration is that there shall be a right expenditure of public money and that the Army shall be supplied with the very best weapon. My informant in this matter, let me say at once was Colonel Farquhar, who was associated with the gun known as the British rifle and the Farquhar-Hill gun. I have only a very slight acquaintance with him, but I think that anybody meeting him would be impressed with his moderation and reliability, and at any rate he is prepared to stand by everything he has told me. The story is a very strange and disquieting one, going back to before the War.
The rifle never seems to have got fair treatment. In the trials at Enfield, the Small Arms Committee insisted on the rifle being brought to the firing point by Enfield officials; they never allowed the inventors to examine the gun before the trial. On one occasion the inventors complained to the present Lord Cottesloe against this unfairness, and he intervened and allowed them to examine the rifle. They stripped the rifle and found that a component had been wrongly assembled by the Enfield staff, so that the automatic mechanism could not function. Soon after that, a subordinate official at Enfield informed the inventors that steps would be taken to prevent the rifle being adopted. Further private trials were made, and the rifle always did well, but whenever it was brought to the firing 1047 point by War Office officials it always did badly. The inventors again intervened with Lord Cottesloe, and he allowed them to bring the rifle to the firing point and demonstrate 300 shots. It was perfectly successful, but they were told that that was a very exceptional permission, which could never again be repeated.
The inventors then gave up trying the War Office, and approached the Belgian Government, and the rifle was to all intents and purposes accepted by the Belgian Government and had a final trial on 4th August, 1914. The War, of course, stopped everything. In 1915, the Admiralty took a hand in the matter. They had trials at Whale Island, and the Admiralty officials adopted the rifle and gave an order for 1,000 in January, 1916. After that, the rifle went back to Enfield for some more trials. On one occasion at Enfield the inventors saw a proof-master deliberately interfere with the cartridge feed and cause a failure. Colonel Farquhar took the rifle from the man and fired 200 shots with maximum rapidity, with no fault of any sort. Subsequently Enfield returned the rifle to the naval authorities at Whale Island with a message to say that they were to fire the rifle exactly as received, and not to strip it for examination. The rifle was fired, failures occurred, and the trials stopped. The rifle was then examined, and it was found that the spring tube had been coated with a substance which caused failure when the rifle became hot. The inventors reported this apparent sabotage; Enfield denied it; and the next step by the War Office was to represent to the Admiralty that the manufacture of their 1,000 rifles would interfere with work on some urgent supplies, so the Admiralty cancelled their order.
Next the rifle was taken to France for trials. It was tried out against a Lewis gun on the sands with wind blowing. The Lewis gun jammed with the sand, but the Farquhar Hill rifle was unaffected. It was next tried out under a committee appointed by Lord Allenby, with British, French and Belgian representatives. The trial was perfectly successful. The committee accepted the rifle and told the inventors that the War Office would be asked to supply 20,000 for the British Expeditionary Force. Opposition developed again from Enfield. They were told that the order must be postponed until 20 rifles 1048 had been made and tried. There were 10 made, and these 10 were sent out to France for trial. They were tried out by men drawn from various regiments under trench warfare conditions, and, as a result of these trials, General Headquarters again applied for supplies. The two Colonels at Enfield who had been responsible for the opposition, confronted with this, said that the Army in France was not capable of testing or deciding what was a suitable gun for the British Army.
The inventors of the rifle persisted, and Enfield again reported a defect. On examination it was found that the cylinders had been filled with thick oil, contrary to the written instructions, and the proof-master, when asked why this had been done, said he was carrying out the orders of his superiors. After this, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) informed Colonel Farquhar that he was to manufacture 100,000 of these rifles. But, believe it or not, the Small Arms Committee, in face of that, persisted in their opposition to the rifle, and again they reported that a breech had blown open during a trial, although it was found on examination that there had been no serious accident at all, but that at this trial the bolt carrier had been disconnected so that the breech was not closed and locked. Two hundred rounds had been fired at maximum rapidity to hot up the chamber, the bolt carrier was then disconnected, a cartridge inserted and the bolt closed just so far that the cartridge was in the chamber but the locking lugs not engaged. The rifle was then left until the heat of the chamber exploded the cartridge.
The end of the War came, and, in spite of all these orders having been given, none of these rifles had ever been manufactured for the Army in France. The proof-master at Enfield subsequently said that he much regretted the hostile acts committed against the rifle, but in each case he had carried out the orders of his superiors. After the War, further trials were made. Colonel Farquhar was not at this time interested; he was a sadder and wiser man; but a certain firm entered a modified Farquhar Hill rifle for War Office competition, and, immediately they did so, they were warned that there would be interference. Surely enough there was. The gun failed at the trial. It was stripped 1049 down, and it was found that the spring tube and main tube had been damaged; and here, I think, is the most remarkable fact in the whole of this story. On examination it was found that someone had tampered with the gas vent, and had enlarged the gas vent from.040 to.0625. A court of inquiry was held, and the Army Council intimated that the gas vent had been enlarged while the rifle was in the possession of the War Office, but they said that there was no evidence to show by whom, and that it might have been done inadvertently. I do not know whether anyone has ever tried to enlarge a hole in a piece of quarter-inch tool steel, but it would certainly require a skilled mechanic to do it; and yet the Army Council reported that this might have happened inadvertently, and they refused any redress or retrial.
The firm of William Beardmore then introduced a light machine gun on the same principle as the Farquhar Hill rifle. They immediately encountered the same hostility with which the rifle had met all along. Again there was a trial at Enfield, the gun failed, and on examination it was found that the compression of the magazine spring had only a quarter turn on it instead of the three turns provided for in the instructions. The non-commissioned officers on the experimental staff at Enfield said that the springs of all magazines had been run down by order of the sergeant-major. In the case of this gun, from beginning to end, we have this long story of what, really, one can only say appeared to be acts of sabotage, one after the other, committed against this British machine gun while it was undergoing trials at Enfield. The gun passed tests under the Admiralty at Whale Island, and a test in France against the Lewis gun; it passed a test under an Allied Committee in France, and a test under trench warfare conditions in France; and yet, in spite of passing all these tests, and of orders being given by G.H.Q. for the rifle, it was never brought into production.
May I say, in conclusion, that I recognise at once that most of these matters occurred and were dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, and not by himself? May I also say that I make no charge against anyone concerned? There is always another side to such matters as this, which has to be listened to. My anxiety is solely, as I have said, that there 1050 should be proper expenditure of public money on armaments, that the Army should have the best weapons, and that tests and trials should be carried out under perfectly fair conditions. I certainly think it is impossible not to feel great uneasiness about the history of this rifle, and I sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to dispel that uneasiness.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Captain Macnamara
It is quite obvious that no one on this side of the House, without knowing the intimate details, could follow the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) through the technical arguments about the matters to which he has referred. At the same time, I do not think we can accept the idea that the whole Army Council and the Army generally, down to the sergeant-majors at Enfield, can be such despicable rogues as they have been painted.
§ Captain Macnamara
If the hon. and gallant Member was not making a charge, I cannot understand what was the point of his speech. I may point out, incidentally, that the Bren gun is to replace the Lewis gun. The hon. and gallant Member said that the Bren gun would not be able to give overhead fire, but it is not meant to give overhead fire. Overhead fire is reserved for the heavier machine gun. The Bren gun takes the place of the Lewis gun for direct fire in the Army formation. Its advantages are that it is light and mobile, and that its barrels, so far as I know, do not often have to be cooled. In certain circumstances of heavy defence work they have to be cooled, but ordinarily it can be used without the water of which the hon. and gallant Member has spoken. Another very great advantage of the Bren gun is that it has very few stoppages, and my personal experience is that the troops who have come in contact with it and have had to handle it so far have the utmost confidence in this new weapon which has been decided upon by the War Office.
I would like to make one remark on the subject raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr.- 1051 Lees-Smith). He talked about the question of officers with mechanical minds, but I would like to suggest that a mere mechanical mind is not the only quality that one must look for in officers who have to deal with Army formations. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the secondary schools might be able to provide a great number of officers for the Army, but it is sometimes forgotten that there is already a channel open for such entrants. They can go to the universities already. I know that there is the usual channel of going through the ranks, but there is not the slightest reason why a bright boy should not rise from an elementary school through a scholarship to the secondary school, through a scholarship to the university, and go into the Army by the ordinary university method in the same way as other officers do, and I very much hope that that method will be extended.
As to the question of officers going through the ranks, provided that the officer is sure of his carreer after he has been to the university or Sandhurst, I do not think that many of the young men concerned would themselves object to a period in the ranks. I am sure that a great number would not. In fact, every officers who joins the Territorial Army in London now has to go through the ranks. I understand that that system is to be extended to other parts of the country. I would be very happy if my right hon. Friend would look into cases of compensation, not only those with which his own Department is directly concerned, but also those relating to other Departments with which he must necessarily come into contact, such as the India Office, the Colonial Office and some others. I know of a young officer who rose from the ranks and who lost everything he had in an ambush. He was the only person to come out of that ambush alive. It was eight months before he received compensation for all the kit he lost. He had to borrow during that time from his regiment, from the bank and other sources. This young ranker officer was put in that position for eight months, before being finally awarded about one-third, I think, of the value of what he lost. These delays are due to mere obstruction and I am sure my right hon. Friend would not wish them to occur.
1052 My right hon. Friend said in his speech that we had an Army used for Empire policing and mobile Reserve. I want to appeal for a slightly different method of Empire policing and for more than one mobile Reserve and for a larger Reserve of man-power. Our commitments are very widely scattered. Our Homeland we now have to consider as a continental Power, and we also have to take into consideration that our communications between the Homeland and the widely-scattered Dominions can be easily snapped. Although our present forces may be able to deal with any one of these threats at any one time, could they deal with all three together? We have to make an enormous effort: more than we are making, in fact, at the present moment. The Navy is excellent, the Air Force is excellent, but neither can win a war on its own; and we must think, are we really a match for what we may be up against? We have at home four or five divisions of Regular troops, which may be able to send abroad in an emergency, and we have to prepare them for the conditions they may have to meet.
In this connection, may I turn to the question of our strategy. In Europe, so far as I can see, at present we rely entirely on the French Maginot Line, of some 40 divisions, I think, of Frenchmen—who may be able to defend that line. I know some of my hon. Friends behind me may disagree with me on that. But is it not possible that that line may be turned by one of the biggest flanking movements in history? I must not go into questions of foreign policy in this Debate, but I always have seen a danger of a much bigger flanking movement than hitherto has been considered, and I feel that, instead of just defending the one Maginot Line, in our European strategy the French and ourselves have to consider, not the one frontier of 1914, but the possible three frontiers of 1938.
In the Middle East, we have no very definite policy like the defence of the Maginot Line, but we rely on the hope that we shall not be troubled there and in India and further East and in Europe all at the same time; and that, perhaps we shall have only one rebellion in Palestine or Egypt; and that that will not come at the same time. Suppose we had to despatch these five divisions, either to the Near East or anywhere else, what have we left? Anyway, what are 1053 these five divisions that we have to despatch? Do hon. Members realise that the five divisions we have at home are mainly boys; young men, a depot, as they are really for the flower of our Army that is still kept in India. These are the young people who are being trained and sent out.
Our strategy at home relies, in the first place, on somebody else's line abroad, and, secondly, on a very small army of very young men. I know my right hon. Friend is asking the Prime Minister to tackle this question of India, and I consider that this system does not suit India any more than it does us: this system of training these boys, keeping them as boys at home, and then sending them out to India for the flower of their soldiering. India does not need an army which is trained for Europe, and India knows perfectly well that if there is a European War India will lose all that army, because we shall have to take it away. Certainly the system damps down recruiting in this country. We must tackle our Army structure on a much wider basis than we have hitherto conceived. We have to tackle it more widely than by tampering here and there, or introducing this or that palliative. I consider that the Empire in general, and India in particular, need some form of Empire police force, a sort of Empire gendarmerie, light mobile policemen, semi-military trained perhaps, on the line of the North-West Mounted Police of Canada and the sort of formations that you see in other countries.
Then I consider that instead of one striking force at home we need three striking forces, at any rate in present circumstances. I should mention that that Empire police force should be a long-service force, with a pension at the end of it, and a force which will not be withdrawn from India should there be a war in Europe or Palestine or anywhere else. Above that, we need three small striking forces who will be able to bear the first brunt of hostilities in the three parts of the world where they are most likely to break out in the near future. There should be one small striking force, mobile and very strong, in this country; another in the Near East; and another in the Far East or India, having nothing to do with the Empire police force.
§ Lieut.-Commander Agnew
Can the hon. and gallant Member say what the 1054 strength of the Empire police force would be?
§ Captain Macnamara
I cannot, of course, give the exact figures; but I am glad the hon. and gallant Member asked that question, because I consider it would have to be very much fewer than the number of British soldiers kept at the moment in India. If you have one older man, who knows his job and speaks the language, he will be able to do the job of 20 young boys armed with a Lewis gun, who are rushed up at the last moment to shoot when the situation has got out of hand. I consider that a great deal of money will be saved, even if one has to allow for bigger pay and pensions.
§ Captain Macnamara
I have envisaged three striking forces, each of about three strong mobile divisions. It would mean a slight increase on our present regular strength. I think that would be made up for by moving a certain number of these troops from India and recruiting Empire gendarmerie to take their place, and I do not think you would have any difficulty in recruiting that gendarmerie. Over and above these three small striking forces, you may have to consider the question of numbers. There are probably three stages of a modern war. The first is its outbreak, when you have to withstand the initial shock. After that, if you are going to withstand that—and we are not going to be the aggressors—surely the war will settle down to a long period when we shall want numbers. And that is what we have not yet got. I do not think it is wise to depend entirely on the voluntary system. I agree with the hon. Member opposite who saw in that Canterbury scheme a great social development. I also see in some form of national training a great social development. I am dealing here purely with the military and strategical side.
§ Mr. Bellenger
When I praised the physical training experiment of the War Office, I said I praised it for two reasons: that it was making good soldiers and making good citizens. I am not advocating a similar form of training to be developed in civilian life. I said that the experiment could be developed in certain directions, but certainly not on military lines outside the Army.
§ Captain Macnamara
I know that the hon. Member did not suggest it. I am suggesting it. I still consider that one should have one's voluntary Regular Army, and that one should also have one's voluntary Territorial Army for those who wish to take a more active part. I think hon. Members opposite will agree with me, and I put it to them earnestly and in all sincerity, that if there is a European war in future it is certain that it will be a totalitarian war, in which everybody is bound to be concerned. There is nothing undemocratic in preparing in advance for that danger which we shall eventually have to meet. We lost a great many lives in the last War through not being fully prepared. Need we make this mistake again? Is it enough merely to pay for our guns and our weapons and so on, if we ourselves do not make the national effort we ought to make? I do not think that it may be necessary to have full-time conscription, but, nevertheless, do not in the name of democracy, whatever happens, pooh-pooh compulsory military training, which may not necessarily take people away from their work. There will come a time when we shall want numbers, if war ever breaks out, and I hope that we shall have the sense to see it in advance rather than when it is too late.
The greatest safeguard that we can make for peace now lies in a national effort on our part. I am perfectly certain that there is a willingness, in fact, an eagerness, among the youth of the country to make that effort. Some people in this Chamber make a great mistake in not realising it. There is a shyness and diffidence, perhaps, on the part of young men to come forward. It is uneconomic and unwise merely to expect a few patriots to do the work, and you are undemocratically hindering certain firms who make sacrifices while others do not. We never hesitate to use compulsion for other matters. I see nothing undemocratic in using compulsion for our own national safety, and I very much hope that politicians who are behind the times in this respect will give the necessary lead, which will do much more than anything else to ensure our future security.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Sir Edward Grigg
I am sure that the Whole House will agree that we have just listened to a very interesting and 1056 courageous speech, upon which I should like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend. He knows that I share many of the ideas which he has expressed so well. I do not think that compulsory military service is necessary or desirable in this country in advance of a war, but other forms of organisation are not only necessary but overdue. I sincerely hope that all parties in all quarters of this House will give attention to this aspect of our Defence situation at the present moment. I should like also to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) in congratulating the hon. Member for York (Mr. Wood) upon his maiden speech. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw paid him a very graceful tribute, so graceful indeed that all on this side of the House appreciated it almost as much as the hon. Member to whom it was very deservedly addressed. I do not think that I could add anything as graceful to it. But I will say this, that since to our regret we cannot have the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in this House, we are very glad to have a member of his family, and we hope that he will often contribute to our Debates.
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw seemed to me to strike a note which needed striking when he said that the recruiting problem in this country is not solved. It is still a very grave problem and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has addressed himself with great courage, resource, fertility of mind, and complete freshness, to it. But it is far from being solved at the present time. We have to go more deeply into the reasons why the Army is unpopular in this country, as it undoubtedly is. The Army is an unpopular Service, as neither the Navy nor the Air Force is. It is very important to understand, if one can, why the Army is unpopular in this country even at the present time. One of the reasons which I always suspect is that there is an undercurrent of political suspicion running against the Army which does not in the least affect the other two Services, and which has never affected the Navy. That is a suspicion due to the fact that the Army can be used as an instrument to suppress popular movements and to arrest political development. That cannot be done with the Navy or the Air Force, but the Army 1057 can be so used, and that unquestionably is one of the reasons why in this country, with all its devotion to the cause of progress, there is suspicion of an instrument in the hands of the State which might be used for reactionary purposes. That goes back, no doubt, to some extent, to the time of Cromwell's major generals, but it also comes down to us laden with memories of Peterloo, and of the efforts of the agricultural labourers early last century to free themselves from impossible conditions. Those things tell against the Army all the time.
I think that the difficulty from which the Army suffers is also weighted by the factor to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) referred. He said that the Army was a temple of ancestor worship. I would rather say that it is regarded in many quarters as a citadel of caste and because that is the case an unpopularity runs against it which we ought to remove. For that reason I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for tackling the question of commissioned rank, warrant rank, and promotion from the ranks of the private soldier, in the way that he has done. It is absolutely vital to open the doors of commissioned rank much more widely, and to spread the net more widely in recruiting for it if this suspicion against the Army is to be corrected, as it ought to be corrected at once. I therefore congratulate my right hon. Friend on having created this new class of warrant officer—Class 3. I believe that it is a very good step and opens a much wider career to a great number of able men who enter the ranks, become non-commissioned officers and ought to be able to go a good deal further. I would like to make a suggestion on this point. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of using warrant officers for regimental duty such as command of platoons. I hope he will consider using them for subordinate staff duties as well. There is a great opening for warrant officers on staff duties. I remember that when I was a junior staff officer in the War I was constantly doing things which a warrant officer or a sergeant or a corporal could have done a great deal better. There has been a great waste of junior officers in our staff organisation, and that matter really ought to be looked into and the staff thrown open, at any rate in part, to warrant officers who qualify.
1058 But that is not enough. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate that the net ought to be spread much wider still. I think that he under-estimated the difficulty in this matter of dovetailing a new system into an old one. It is the period of transition which is so difficult. I do not want to go into these difficulties at any length, but I think that the very moving and suggestive speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Markham) the other night was an index of what these difficulties really are. We do not want to particularise about them, but they exist. I belong to a regiment which I suppose sent more non-commissioned officers into the commissioned ranks during the course of the War than any other, with the exception of the Coldstream Guards. Those commissioned officers did admirably, but it must be remembered that the conditions of war are not quite the conditions of peace. The life is different and the process of dovetailing a new system into an old much more difficult. With the best will in the world we have to solve it slowly and patiently, although I very much want to see it done. I have served for a certain time on one of the boards entrusted with the duty of interviewing candidates for one or two of the Services, but not the fighting Services, and although my experience is comparatively short it shows that you have often to turn down a candidate when if he could have been trained on right lines a few years earlier he would have been one of the very best. He had had a wrong kind of training and that made him unsuitable for the work.
My suggestion to my right hon. Friend in the matter of getting a much wider entry into the commissioned ranks is that he should consider whether in the Army as in the Navy he could not take the cadets at a very much younger age for commissioned rank. I should like them taken from the age of 12, and to have it laid down that those who were chosen at that age should come at least in equal measure from the elementary schools as from the private schools. You should get the ablest boys and then give them their education in a special military secondary school. Later, they should be allowed to go for a period to the cadet colleges and then they should be allowed to go for a short period to one of the universities. The latter I believe to be vital. 1059 The State m this matter should be generous. When dealing with picked boys, it should give them their education free. These boys coming at a very early age, and picked for their all-round qualities, should enter the Service when they reach the appropriate age without any sense of inferiority, from whatever stratum they came. They would be boys picked from the whole of the nation. [An HON. MEMBER: "AT WHAT AGE? "] About the age that boys go to public schools—12 to 13. They should have a special name to distinguish them, such as King's Cadets. I should like to see some system such as that introduced not only for the Army but for the public services—I am thinking of the Colonial services and other services—so that we should spread the net more widely than is being done at present.
§ Captain Sir Derrick Gunston
If the Government adopted such a scheme for the Army and Navy would you not have to lay down a time factor, that the boy who obtained his education in that way should serve for a certain length of time in Government service?
§ Sir E. Grigg
Oh, yes, I think so undoubtedly. If they obtain their education from the Government they would have to undertake to serve for a long period in the Service to which they went. I am saying that we should draw much more widely upon all the talent and quality of the nation for other services besides that of the Army. That is very vital at the present time. I personally feel very strongly that the immense opportunities offered to the youth of the country by services like the Colonial service should not be as they are at the present moment a preserve of the middle class. You are not going to give a real opportunity to the boys unless you pick them much younger and give them their chance. Therefore, I hope my right hon. Friend will consider that suggestion. He spoke of taking boys for the ranks much earlier, and I hope that he will consider taking them for commissioned rank much earlier, too. I welcome what he said about quicker promotion in the commissioned ranks. I agree that if he brings in a larger number of warrant officers he will reduce the disproportion between the base and the apex of the pyramid. I think he will also help matters very much by 1060 promising promotion after certain periods of service, whether vacancies exist or not. That will help the officer very much.
One point more. In what I am about to say I realise that I am treading on very delicate ground. The matter was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for York. If you are going to give adequate opportunity for promotion, you have to consider the very delicate question of grouping or brigading certain regiments for that purpose. It is easy in the first two regiments of Foot Guards, which are three battalion regiments, but in the two battalion regiments it is not so easy to make promotion smooth or rapid enough. I would not weaken regimental spirit. It is the life and soul of the Army. The golden way to esprit de corps. But I do not think that it would be weakened by brigading suitable regiments together—rifle regiments, Highland regiments and so on—for purposes of promotion. I hope my right hon. Friend will take that into consideration. I admit that it is delicate, but he is courageous, and I trust he will face it.
There is, however, one aspect of his proposals in regard to officers which presents some danger, and I hope he will give attention to it. One of the reasons why we have always had a high establishment of officers and one of the reasons why the establishment of the staff also is higher than it need be for the actual work, is that we have always had before us the necessity of keeping a big Reserve. If we reduce the number of officers coming into the Army we shall have no adequate Reserve. Casualties among officers are much heavier than casualties in other ranks. Therefore, you must have proportionately a higher Reserve of officers than of other ranks. If my right hon. Friend is going to take the line which he has stated in regard to officers, and I agree that it is right, he must take special steps to create an adequate Reserve of officers, and a very ready means of doing that would be through the Special Reserve. The Special Reserve was of immense service at the beginning of the last War, and I think it might be developed at the present time.
The unpopularity of the Army is also, due, to a certain extent, to bad conditions. My right hon. Friend is doing a great deal to improve conditions, and I 1061 congratulate him and the Army on that fact. There is a great deal in the life of the soldier which ought to be improved. He has to live his life too much on parade. He ought to have more off periods. In some regiments the soldier has more off time than in others, but the fact that the soldier does not get many of the ordinary liberties enjoyed by men in other employments tells against the military profession as a matter of choice.
My right hon. Friend was undoubtedly right in saying that one thing that affected the Army most adversely was the fact that India takes a large part of the Army, and pays for it. That has controlled the organisation of the Army, and made reform in the organisation of the Army immensely more difficult. I was, therefore, more glad than I can say when my right hon. Friend said that he has the consent of the Prime Minister to start discussions on this subject between his Department and the India Office. I wish all success to those discussions. Quite apart from everything else, quite apart from the prejudicial influence which India has exercised upon the organisation of the Army and the conditions under which the soldier lives, quite apart also from the unpopularity of service in India, it is a great mistake to keep so large a part of our strategic reserve at one end in the East.
My hon. and gallant Friend opposite was for dispersing the reserves. That, if I may say so with respect, is not sound military doctrine. I do not think the great masters of strategy would follow him in that respect. It is wiser as a rule to have your strategic reserves in the centre when you are not certain what is going to happen on either flank. The place for the strategic reserves at the present time, the strategic reserves of the Empire, is unquestionably the Middle East. If we placed larger strategic reserves in the Middle East it might do something to get rid of the idea which is very common among our people that we need no Army at all, no military force for guarding our overseas bases, and that the Regular Army is only a most dangerous instrument which may drag us into mass warfare on the Continent of Europe. Very few people realise that without the Regular Army, quite distinct from other commitments, there would be no garrisons for naval bases and air 1062 bases. So much for the organisation of the Army.
Let me say a few words on the question of broad policy, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred in a very interesting way in his speech in introducing the Estimates. I should like to enter two caveats on what he said. I will not say that he adopted them as his own, but he seemed to look with a friendly eye on two doctrines which, in my opinion, are very unsafe. One of those doctrines is the idea that man power counts less than machine power in modern war. That is an extremely questionable doctrine, and I hope my right hon. Friend will think very carefully and very hard before he acts on that doctrine. I do not accuse him of having adopted it, but he seemed to be flirting or philandering with it, and I thought that it might end in a complete embrace. I hope that is not going to be the case. It is an extremely comfortable doctrine, but more political than military. We are 20,000 men under establishment. How heaven sent! How providential! We do not really need them. How much better to be without! We are also, of course, a thousand officers short. How fortunate! We have too many already. More would have been a useless expense! That is a dangerous line of argument to use in a country facing difficulties and contingencies such as we are facing at the present time.
As far as my right hon. Friend applied that doctrine to the organisation of the Army, I make no complaint. He spoke of lighter divisions and smaller battalions. Those are technical matters which may very properly be changed, owing to the difference in the arms and the methods of transport which are used, but when you are speaking of man power on a large scale, as compared with machine power, the case is very different. There are still, I believe, some good soldiers left in Germany, and there are certainly some good soldiers in France. I have not observed any indifference on their part to man power. Certainly, they are planning the use of machines on a tremendous scale, and have gone further than we have; but far from training fewer men both those countries are training every man that is fit. It is a dangerous doctrine to preach, that we do not need men; that we are able to produce machines, and that will be quite enough. I hazard this prediction, that if war does 1063 come upon us we shall find ourselves compelled to use the utmost of our man power before we get out of it. That is one reason why I am so anxious that steps should be taken in advance to save us from another awful sacrifice of the best of our youth.
I have one further caveat to enter. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be flirting with the idea that the power of defence was now so great that it is going to govern the conduct of future wars. In a sense that doctrine is self-evident. It is perfectly obvious that with the tremendous concentration of fire power which can now be established any prepared front is hard to pierce, but the history of recent warfare does not suggest that the defensive is much stronger to-day than it was in the Great War. I think it suggests that the offensive has, on the whole, gained a little on the defensive. This doctrine of the defensive was expounded in regard to Abyssinia. It proved to be wrong. It was expounded about China. It proved to be wrong. It was expounded about Spain. It proves to be wrong. The offensive succeeds in spite of all difficulties. It has certainly succeeded in China, in spite of the fact that there are German officers helping the Chinese.
I am, therefore, a little doubtful whether the doctrine of the power of the defensive is one that we can trust. In any case, that doctrine is extremely dangerous if it is going to lead to reliance upon fixed defences and immobility. As always in the past, the nation which relies on fixed defences will be lost. It has always been so and it will be so again. My right hon. Friend's references to the Maginot Line, therefore, caused me some disquiet. The Maginot Line is a magnificent line of defence, but I do not believe that there is any first-rank soldier in France who regards that line as more than a delaying factor, behind which the greater preparations of the nation may be carried out. I do not believe that the book by General Fayolle on the Maginot Line would have been published were it not that the Army wished the French nation to understand that its fixed defences, however strong and magnificent, can only purchase a certain amount of time for preparation behind. If you rely upon fixed defences as the mainstay of your strategy you will certainly be lost. To preach the defensive to our Army 1064 would be an extremely dangerous thing. We are never going to fight an aggressive war. But certainly we are never going to carry out our defensive roles by taking up just a defensive attitude. The role of the British Army must be carried out by great mobility, great versatility and by training in that offensive spirit which it has always possessed. I believe that doctrine holds true wherever you may have to apply it—whether in the East, the Middle East or the West.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Major Dower
I hope the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) will forgive me if I do not follow him throughout the whole course of his speech, but there is one point I should like to take up. I may have misunderstood him, but I thought he implied that the right hon. Gentleman was not really taking as much interest in recruiting numbers as he ought to take.
§ Major Dower
I am glad that is the case, because the hon. Member seemed to say that the right hon. Gentleman was not worrying if numbers were not coming in as fast as they should. That, of course, is not the case. I intend to refer only to the anti-aircraft unit of the defences of London, with which I am personally connected, and to answer the question the right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) put with regard to sound locators. During the time I have given to the training of men on sound locators, I find that Territorial soldiers will make excellent manipulators of sound locators. There are a good many things we want the Minister to give us in other directions, and if we get them we can look after our searchlights and sound locators, and all the machines which are necessary in the air defences of London. I go down to my battalion every night, and a good many days as well, and I find that the proposal which has done most good is not the increase in pay and allowances, or even the grant to the Territorial Association, but the status which he has given to the Army, both Regular and Territorial. It has done more to encourage them than anything else.
The Territorial Army has felt for a long time that it has been given some of the most responsible jobs in the Army—you 1065 could not have a more responsible job than the anti-aircraft defence of London.—and yet at the same time they have not been treated properly. They feel that the Minister has at last recognised them and given them the status which was so necessary if you want to get loyal cooperation from the Territorial Force. I can assure the Minister that as far as the troops of the Territorial Army are concerned, they consider that he is the finest Minister of War we have had since the time of Lord Haldane. Things which have been neglected for 20 years and more have been put right. As an officer holding a commission in the Regular and Territorial Army I speak with considerable diffidence, but there are two suggestions which I think it is my duty to make. I hope they will not be treated as criticisms, but as proposals to be put into a common pool which, when the Government have time, will be carefully considered.
Take the case of an anti-aircraft battalion. The size of an infantry battalion is 613 men, a field brigade 366 men, and a yeomanry regiment 300 or more. But in an anti-aircraft battalion there are 1,350 under the command of the lieutenant-colonel. It is an enormous number, and many people wonder whether you can get 100 per cent efficiency when you take into consideration the tremendous area that has to be covered and also the administration. I want to say one word with regard to administration as it affects a company. The strength of an anti-aircraft company defending London is over 300, and at the present time there is no whole-time clerk in the office to attend to the correspondence. The amount of correspondence is immense. There are urgent letters which have to be answered, and what it amounts to is this, that if you happen to be a company commander with money of your own you employ your own civilian secretary to answer the correspondence, either in your own home, or your business office, or you take her down to regimental headquarters and attend to it there.
That is a matter which really ought to be seen to. If you are a company commander with no money of your own, what happens is that the correspondence gets delayed, is behindhand, and accumulates, until you have time to reply in your own longhand, or get your permanent staff instructor to try his hand on an old type- 1066 writer, and you get him working for hours on a typewriter when he ought to be employing his time in training the non-commissioned officers in their important functions. We welcome the proposal that Territorial Associations should receive a larger grant, and I hope it is going to be used in some way to compensate us. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will be good enough to consider whether this extra generosity which is being shown might not best be spent by providing a clerk in an office with over 300 men, whether the money would not best be spent on paying for a whole-time civilian clerk, at any rate, to be divided between two companies. The strength of two companies is more than that of a whole regiment, and if we could have one clerk to help us it would be of the greatest assistance. That is my first suggestion.
My second is this: a recruit in his first year's training gets no payment for his extra drills; it is only when he has finished his first year's training that he gets it. That may be right in normal times when we are sure of peace for a long time ahead, but if we want men it is not the right way to treat recruits to tell them that because they are recruits they cannot get anything for their extra drills. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider, if the money is at his disposal, that recruits shall be treated as men of more than a year's standing and be paid for their extra drills. I hope that when the Willingdon Report comes out, my right hon. Friend will see that more money is allocated to the Territorial Force. We really welcome the suggestions in the last Army Estimates. They have given us the greatest encouragement, and at my recruiting show last night over 30 more men were enrolled. We have the country behind us, all political parties are behind us, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will continue his excellent work until it is finished and we have brought our numbers up to strength.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
In the speech which the Secretary of State delivered on the Estimates a week ago there was one sentence which seemed to me to be of very wide application. He said:The assumptions of an unforgettable past are not always the surest guide to an unpredictable future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th march, 1938; col. 2138, Vol. 333.]1067 I hope that will be inscribed in many places in this country. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will have it in front of him on his desk as a reminder of where he has been and the uncertainty of where he is going. I would also wish it to be put in every staff officer's room, because as I have listened to this discussion and to other discussions I find on occasions creeping in the kind of thought that what we really have to do is to devise a scheme which would have enabled us to have won the last War in a little less time than it took. In my own view that is probably the greatest danger that confronts us at the moment, and it was one reason why I welcomed the action of the right hon. Gentleman in rejuvenating the higher branches of the War Office a few months ago. I was really alarmed when I saw that Sir Cyril Deverell said at the end of the last manoeuvres that what we wanted to do was to get back to the offensive.
I differ from the hon. and gallant Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) in thinking that the defensive is not the proper role of the British Army, All the great victories of the British Army have been won in what were really defensive actions. Cressy, Agincourt, Waterloo, and most of the victories of the ancestor of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) were really defensive actions. [An HON. MEMBER: "Blenheim!"] Look at the appalling cost of life of Blenheim. It was true it was spectacular, but it was one of the examples which proves the unsuitability of attempting to use an army, whose principal and inner core holding the army together was British, in an offensive action. I believe the history of the late War, and all the campaigns which have taken place since, show that probably the counter offensive by an army which has managed to preserve itself in defence is probably the best tactics and strategy that can be employed.
There was one thing said by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Captain Macnamara) which should be borne in mind. Since 10th March, when the right hon. Gentleman spoke to us, events have occurred which might well make the Maginot line of less value to the French than it appeared to be on 10th March. With the possibility of hostile 1068 forces on the Italian and Spanish frontiers the rôle which the right hon. Gentleman assigned to the Maginot Line may not be as effective as it was formerly. The speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Penrith (Major Dower), to which, as an old volunteer, I listened with a great deal of support, illustrates one of the difficulties which confronts the Territorial Army in its recruiting. I believe that if the men in the ranks could go to their friends with whom they work or whom they meet socially and could say "We have now the machines and equipment, everything we require, but we need men," they could make a great deal stronger appeal than they can at present. I join with him in his plea for clerical assistance for company officers, and for other necessary expenses which are entailed in carrying out their patriotic duties. It is a great shame that any man should be compelled to use his private resources to supplement the allowance made by the Army for the equipment and management of his unit. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will listen to what the hon. and gallant Member said, and will take immediate remedial steps. I do not quite agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Altrincham as to the way we should select officers for the future. He took the view that selection should be made about the age of 12. I belong to a profession which was ruined for a good many years because selection took place at that age. Schoolmasters were unpopular, because they were taken away from the ordinary life of the community at 12, and were segregated together. They never met anybody but intending schoolmasters. One of the worst things ever done for the teaching profession was the way in which two or three generations ago intending schoolmasters were segregated in that way.
After all, the real test of a company officer is his capacity to understand the feelings of other men, the way in which to appeal to them, to inspire them to heroic efforts, sometimes in attack, but I believe more often in our Army in resisting the onslaughts of other people The men who are going to have those attributes of leadership most highly developed will be those who will have met as wide a circle of people in as many differing circumstances as possible, and who will have made the very widest social contacts with other people. I should deplore seeing, in the attempt to democra- 1069 tise the recruiting of officers for the Army, the selection and segregation of boys as young as 12. The time you want really to pay attention to selecting the individual is towards the end of the secondary or technical school career, somewhere about the age of 15. At 12—I am speaking more of working class boys than boys of other classes—you are more likely to pick out the precocious rather than the type with the staying qualities that you may have to demand for this walk of life. I have always regretted that for so many purposes selection has to be made in the elementary schools at as early an age as 11 or 12. For this important purpose, if you can postpone the age of selection until 15 or 16, you will be far more likely to get the kind of youth that both the hon. and gallant Gentleman and I wish to obtain.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I defer to the hon. Member's superior experience in regard to the age at which boys should be taken. I put up 12 only as a suggestion, because I thought it was important to give these boys an opportunity of education as young as possible. If 15 is more suitable, I am all for it but, so far from wishing to have them segregated, I should like them to have an opportunity to go on to a University.
§ Mr. Ede
I do not think there is very much between the hon. and gallant Gentleman and myself on that. A very large percentage of the boys in secondary schools are now recruited from elementary schools and the opportunity for going to the University is already provided. I should like to see it wider and I gather that the hon. and gallant Gentleman shares my view on that point.
There is one question on which I still have some misgivings, and that is the creation of the warrant officer, Class III. It seems to me that it will have quite the opposite effect on the structure of the Army from the one that has been suggested in these Debates. The right hon. Gentleman said:Have we an adequacy of officers, or is there a shortage? It is significant that the responsibilities allotted to the officer have never been re-examined in the light of actuality. Could not other ranks be given an opportunity of discharging some of the responsibilities confined to the commissioned ranks? If this could be clone, the purpose for which higher education has been given to these other ranks would be justified, and 1070 the prospects before these other ranks would be enlarged. The warrant officer of to-day is surely capable of commanding a platoon and similar sub-units hitherto generally entrusted to subalterns.I do not know why he should confine that to the warrant officer of to-day. I do not know why he should think he is so much superior to the warrant officer of the past. The hon. and gallant Gentleman alluded to me as the hon. and gallant Gentleman but I was only an acting-warrant officer, and I am not entitled to be called "gallant." If the warrant officer of to-day is not entitled to be called "gallant" he is apparently entitled to be called "learned." The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:We propose to enlarge the complement of warrant officers by the creation of a new Class III for this purpose. The number of entries into the cadet colleges will fall to be correspondingly diminished, and we shall enjoy the great advantage of being able to select only those who fulfil the highest standard. Another effect of a reduction in the subaltern class will be mathematically to increase the prospects of every officer joining the British Army, whether from the ranks or from the cadet colleges."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th march, 1938, col 2142, Vol. 332.]As an exercise in logic that whole argument appears to me to be highly defective. In the first place it seems to me that its effect—I do not say its aim—would be to restrict promotion from the ranks to commissioned rank. That is bound to be the effect. In the first place, the Secretary of State for War proposes to reduce the number of commissioned ranks inside the battalion by withdrawing a number of subalterns and substituting for them this new warrant officer Class III. By increasing the number of ranks below commissioned rank he increases the proportion of non-commissioned ranks to commissioned ranks. I asked him in a question if he would give certain particulars in the form of a White Paper including the establishment of a typical battalion after this change had been made. He gave me all the other information, which mainly consisted of amendments to the Royal Warrant, but he has not given in the White Paper any particulars with regard to the new establishment that is to be created. I believe he attaches very considerable importance to this new establishment and to the new duties to be assigned to this class of warrant officer. I should be very much obliged if he could further elucidate 1071 the position with regard to it. They appear to be a class of warrant officer who will come in rank between a sergeant and the company sergeant-major. I gather that they will, therefore, occupy a very different position in the organisation of the company—they will be company warrant officers and not battalion warrant officers—from the position now occupied by subaltern officers. I imagine that they will be under the company sergeant-major, who will remain, I take it, a warrant officer Class II.
What is their exact position? What are the duties that they are expected to carry out? These are questions that are being asked in every canteen every night when these things are being discussed. Will they take the place of the orderly officer of the day? I gather that that is the kind of duty that the right hon. Gentleman expects this particular man to do, and expects the ordinary commissioned officer to escape by the proposals that he has made. I hope he will be able to give us some answer on that point, because I certainly think that, heavy as the duty of orderly officer may be, it is a very important task to be performed by company officers. It brings them in daily touch with the whole of the unit. It is always doubtful what would happen to a man who made a complaint when he was asked if he had any to make. Yet the orderly officer on duty gets opportunities for seeing things which enable him to keep in touch with the daily life and comfort of the troops in a way that nothing else can do.
There are many other ways in which these subaltern officers, in doing the kind of duties from which the right hon. Gentleman seems desirous of relieving them, have had opportunities that they will not now get of knowing something about the spirit of the troops and all that internal organisation and that camaraderie of the ranks which goes to the making of an army, and which in the final resort is the spirit of the Army upon which the commander has to depend. I believe the proper thing to do is to have a considerable increase in the number of men who are genuinely promoted from the ranks. We have had the statement made that 17 per cent. of the present officers in the Army are recruited from the ranks. I should like to know how many of that 1072 17 per cent. are quartermasters, because I do not regard, and I do not think the serving soldier regards, the quartermaster as a concession to the desire for promotion from the ranks. In all these discussions we should keep the quartermaster out of the picture altogether.
On the question of the marriage allowance for soldiers under 26, I want to read a sentence or two from the very remarkable speech of the Financial Secretary in winding up the Debate He said:The reason why we do not want married men in the Army is, I suggest, the perfectly humane one that military life involves such conditions that we do not encourage or advise young soldiers to take upon themselves the responsibilities of a wife."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th march, 1938; col. 2240, Vol. 332.]If a man who had never taken on that responsibility had made the suggestion, I should have listened to it with respect, but I consulted Dod and found that the Financial Secretary did not wait to come of age before he took to himself a wife.
§ The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Sir Victor Warrender)
I had left the Army.
§ Mr. Ede
The hon. Baronet left it a great deal too young and set a very bad example. I do not know whether he left the Army or the Army left him. However, that has nothing to do with the point. I am talking about the responsibility of taking a wife. Twenty-two days before the hon. and gallant Baronet attained his majority, he took to himself a wife; and then he got up in the House and lectured serving soldiers about the responsibility of taking a wife, in a Debate in which hon. Members had been talking about making the Army a career for the soldier. I think that the words came with particularly ill grace from the hon. and gallant Baronet, who had perpetrated matrimony before he was 21 years of age. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, in giving further consideration to the problem will, as a bachelor, consider the horrible example of improvidence and rashness sitting beside him, and that when he contemplates his hon. and gallant Friend, and the assistance which his wife is to him in his career, he will realise that even to a young soldier the right type of woman may be of assistance in the career which he has undertaken. Certainly, the state of affairs which exists at the moment whereby the young wife 1073 of a soldier, until the soldier attains 26 years of age, is regarded as being "off the strength," and becomes a charge to the public assistance authorities, is no advertisement for the right hon. Gentleman's recruiting campaign and does nothing to make the Army more popular or more respected in the country.
There is one other subject with which I wish to deal, for it is a subject on which I managed to get some first-hand information in a very peculiar way. I happened to meet a couple of troopers of the Scots Greys. I expressed to them my congratulations that their regiment had been enabled to keep its horses. To my astonishment, they used language towards me which made me thankful that I had been an acting regimental sergeant-major—I understood nearly the whole of it. I want to mention this matter to the right hon. Gentleman as a warning. I believe the horses were preserved for the Scots Greys mainly as a result of the social pressure that was brought to bear. These two men said to me, "It is all very well for the officers, but, if our unit were mechanised, on leaving the Army we should be able to go to a job, but who wants a groom in these days?" I ask the right hon. Gentleman, considering the bold line of reform which he has taken in certain matters, to remember what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley about the Army being a place for ancestor worship and by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Altrincham with regard to the caste system. This is a great danger which confronts him, as it has confronted every Army reformer in the past. In giving his mind to this task, he must realise that he has to do his duty to the country. It is the country first, and the social affairs of the Army not at all, that has to be the basis of his consideration of the tremendous problems that will come before him, and upon the successful solution of which at any moment the safety of our country may depend.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Anstruther-Gray
I think every hon. Member will agree with the sentiment expressed in the concluding phrase of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). I would like to follow the example of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), and to preface my remarks by reminding hon. Members of the speech 1074 made by the Secretary of State's predecessor in introducing the Army Estimates last year, in the course of which he said that if there were two simultaneous emergencies in different parts of the world, the resources of the Army would be strained to breaking point. I think we should consider that before we go too far in being satisfied or complacent in believing that all is well with the recruiting position in the Army to-day. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman went on to point out that in 10 out of the last 12 years, one such emergency had occurred, whether it was in Cyprus, in China, in Burma or in Palestine. We must remember that the picture to-day is no brighter. Already there is a serious situation in Palestine, and the position in other parts of the world is far from reassuring; already, in fact, we are in the position where one other emergency would strain the Army to breaking point.
Or can we say that that is not so? Can we say that the Territorial Army has made such progress in taking over home defence that the Army could meet this strain? Can we say that the position of our organisation, our reserves, our munitions and our recruiting is such that nothing short of a major war would cause us real anxiety? I should be interested to hear the answer of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to those questions. Personally, I doubt whether we have got to that stage, even on the basis of judging strength by fire units instead of by personnel. In that connection I sincerely agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) that it is most dangerous to assume machine power as a basis for measuring strength in preference to man power. I still believe that the greatest need of the Army to-day is more men and more officers, and for that reason I am doubtful of the wisdom of reducing the establishment of officers by 1,000. I ask my right hon. Friend whether this is really a counsel of perfection, or whether he is merely making the best of a bad job. Is it simply because he cannot get officers to join that he is saying he does not want them, or is it because he cannot get the money to pay them that he is replacing them by warrant officers, Class III?
I am by no means against the grading of Class III warrant officers, but I am not very clear as to what they are in- 1075 tended to be. Is the rank intended to be a stepping stone for young men who will go on afterwards to be promoted, or is it just a higher and better paid grade to which old non-commissioned officers may rise without necessarily expecting promotion? While appreciating the point about the contact between officers and troops made by the hon. Member for South Shields, I would say that I believe that in either case it would be possible to get men as Class III warrant officers who would be well able to command platoons either in peace or war; indeed, in both peace and war very frequently the officer commanding the platoon is absent on some course of instruction or other employment, and the platoon is, in fact, commanded by a non-commissioned officer. For all that, I should not willingly see a reduction in officer strength. I would like the warrant officer Class III to be created, but in addition to the full complement of officers. On the outbreak of war, it seems to me that there would be great need for Reserve officers. Moreover, with the new mechanisation and the introduction of new weapons, Reservists from the ranks returning to the Colours will need a great deal more training than hitherto has been the case. I think the extra officers or warrant officers, Class III, should be earmarked for that purpose.
I am not quite clear what is intended. What is the proposed reduction in officer strength in a battalion to be? Does my right hon. Friend intend to enforce this reduction on regiments which can always get their full complement of officers? Does he intend this to apply to the remaining cavalry regiments whose officers are already in particular demand as Yeomanry adjutants and so on? Does he intend to apply it to the Brigade of Guards, where there is no undue block in promotion owing to the fact that a great many young officers join for a period of a few years, as I did myself, with the definite intention of leaving after that period of training in order to take up another profession? These individuals almost always remain on the reserve and can be called up in any emergency. I think that to reduce their numbers would be a mistake.
I want now to deal with recruiting in the other ranks. In the first place, I wish sincerely to welcome the improvement for which my right hon. Friend is respon- 1076 sible. There was, however, one remark in the Secretary of State's speech which I heard with some misgivings. In a beautiful phrase, he spoke of theprogressive elimination from a soldier's drill of all superfluous postures requiring rehearsal." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1938; cols. 2141, Vol. 332.]I do not know whether my right hon. Friend really meant anything by that, or whether he merely said it because it sounded good. I hope he did not mean too much, because I would put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that drill is in many ways not unlike the procedure of this House; to an outsider it may appear very roundabout and unnecessary, but when one looks into it, one finds that there is a good deal of justification for most of it and that one cannot cut out very much of it without doing harm to the working of the machine. I put it to hon. Members that if one wants a body of men to go from one place to another, it is an advantage to have three speeds—slow march, quick march and double march. If one wants them to go along a broad road, it is an advantage to move in fours, or along a narrow road in file, or along a path in single file. It is a great convenience to one if all the men stop at once when one says "Halt," and things are much more simple if at the end of the journey they arrive in the same formation as they were at the beginning.
That is the object of most drill. I put it to my right hon. Friend that it is not very much more complicated than the Highway Code. The only question is whether to spend time in learning to do this drill well or whether to be content to do it badly. I put forward the point of view that, first, drill is very good physical training; in my opinion, it is just about as good as physical jerks, and a great deal more stimulating and satisfactory; and secondly, I think my right hon. Friend will find that most regiments which have good drill are also good in other forms of training. If he will look into the records of the last War and of other wars, he will find that invariably the regiments having the tradition for good drill have been second to none in the fighting. Therefore, I hope he will not go too far in eliminating drill.
On the question of employment after leaving the Colours, may I say that I would like soldiering to be regarded not so much as a profession in itself, but as a 1077 phase in a successful civil career? The best way to raise the status of the Army and attract men of every section to it is to awaken the public mind to an appreciation of the fact that the best avenue to a good job is service in the Forces. If my right hon. Friend can do that, he will cater not only for the professional soldier but for other classes as well. You do not want too many 21 years' service men, because it affects your reserve and increases your non-effective vote. You want to cater not only for what I may call the soldier of fortune, the man who joins the Army simply because it happens to come his way to do so. It is necessary also to cater for the best type of man, the sort of young man who, probably in consultation with his parents, is mapping out a career which, if all goes well, will lead to success in life.
I believe that is the type of man which my right hon. Friend is trying to attract to the Army, and the most attractive prospect you can offer to that type of man is the assurance of employment in the Civil Service afterwards. In that direction I believe the Government are doing fairly well but, as far as the police forces are concerned, there is considerable room for improvement, and although that is not a matter which comes directly under the War Office, I hope my right hon. Friend will use his influence with the Cabinet to get something done in that direction. But the public service cannot absorb all these men, and a method must be found of giving men of good character an assured career in industrial employment as well. Can that be done by means of vocational training centres? I wonder? I agree that these centres help men to compete with others in the labour market, but I do not think they can give the men any preference.
We must do more, and I would like to see an extension of the King's Roll system. I would like to have it laid down that before firms qualify for the King's Roll, they must employ, over and above the 5 per cent. of disabled ex-service men now required, a further percentage of other ex-service men or serving Territorials. I know that this matter has been occupying the mind of the War Office and that they are, indeed, favourable to it. Only last week the Financial Secretary to the War Office answered a question about a proposal to this effect, relating 1078 to Territorials. He said that the matter had been considered, and it was found that it might react adversely on the existing King's Roll scheme. But he went on to say that his right hon. Friend was prepared to reopen the matter. May I deal with the suggestion that it would react unfavourably on the existing system? I do not believe that that is so. It would be stipulated clearly that this extra percentage should be over and above the original 5 per cent. of disabled men, and therefore harm could only be done if firms at present on the Roll were caused by this extension to remove their names from it. In view of the present volume of Government and local authority orders I do not think that many firms, if any, would withdraw from the King's Roll. It need not be laid down as a hard and fast rule. Special exceptions could be made in special circumstances.
Not only would I suggest that the King's Roll should be extended in this manner, but also that membership of it should be made a condition of obtaining not only Government and local authorities' orders, but a condition of any Government grant, subsidy or monopoly. I do not think my right hon. Friend need fear that it would cause any delay in the costings department or in contracts which are urgently required. He could bring in this reform gradually. Secondly, I believe that feeling in the country to-day more than at any time since the War, among both employers and employés, is in favour of such a step and that they would be prepared to work this scheme in a spirit of co-operation. Another important advantage is that it would cost the country nothing, and that is more than can be said of most of the other proposals for improving the prospects of the soldier. In a time when the great expense of rearmament is falling upon us, that is a vital consideration.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Hamilton Kerr
As a great many hon. Members wish to intervene in this Debate, I shall model my remarks on that excellent old Lancashire proverb "Stand up, speak up and shut up." My hon. Friend who has just spoken prefaced his interesting speech with some observations on the function of the British Army, but did not go on to develop what I believe to be the equally interesting subject of the weapons with which the Army shall 1079 carry out its functions. I imagine that the prime objective of modern war, as of war at all times, is the knock-out blow. Until recently, the general staffs of the great European countries always thought of the knock-out blow in terms of the offensive. "To advance is to conquer," was a precept of Frederick the Great. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, in his admirable speech on the Estimates the other day, stressed the fact that the defensive had grown very strong in recent years. I believe that it is the machine-gun which has given this added power to the defensive. The machine-gunner in his concrete emplacement can mow down the ranks of advancing infantry, and is himself invulnerable to anything except a direct hit from artillery fire.
Experience in recent wars has proved the contention of my right hon. Friend. As far back as the Russo-Japanese War, the Russian Army having repeatedly repelled along a front of 50 miles, at Mukden, the attacks of the Japanese, was only driven from its position by an outflanking movement. In the last War at Messines, after exploding no less than 19 miles and a bombardment of 19 days and an expenditure of 4,283,000 shells, we succeeded in obtaining from the enemy only 45 square miles of territory, and for every square mile gained we paid something like 8,000 casualties. I believe that the experience of the Madrid defence confirms this theory, and that the more the Nationalist artillery batters that city, the more each crumbling ruin becomes a forress for the concealed machine-gunners. The new German defensive line from Holland to Switzerland gives special significance to the power of the defence. The idea of the German High Command is based on the use of a comparatively small force along those frontiers and the use of this main strength in Eastern Europe.
How can we get round this power of defence? There are only two methods. The first is the outflanking method. As far back as 1897 the German General Staff, impressed by the power of the French frontier fortifications evolved the famous Schlieffen plan which consisted of the use of a crushingly strong right wing to sweep through Belgium and France and scoop up Paris as you would scoop up a 1080 fat and juicy fish in your net. That plan failed only because a shrinkage occurred towards the centre owing to casualties, with the result that the strong right wing lost power. The second method is that outlined in a series of admirable articles by the military correspondent of the "Times" last October. This method he defined as the "offensive defensive." According to it you stand on the defensive, while your enemy exhausts himself in offensive measures and when you judge that the crucial moment has arrived, you deal a tremendous counter-stroke. In support of this theory, he draws attention to the fact that at the beginning of the last War the French armies between the Meuse and the Vosges threw themselves, in a tremendous offensive, against the German forces and within a week were thrown back with immense losses. Had they, Captain Liddel Hart says, taken up the much shorter and stronger line between Antwerp and Namur they might have been able to check the German advance earlier and organise at an earlier date an effective counter-stroke.
I believe that these two methods, both the method of outflanking the enemy and the "offensive defensive" method, rely for success on one condition, and that was outlined by my right hon. Friend in his speech the other day. It is mobility of fire power. As I see it, the future army will be like a boxer on his toes raining in his blows and always trying to find an opening. Let us say that an army is advancing towards it opponents. The commander-in-chief cannot always rely on aerial observations. There may be clouds or a low ceiling, or the enemy forces may be camouflaged or widely dispersed and advancing under natural cover. The only sure method of finding out where the main bulk of the enemy's forces lie, is to break through the advance screen of the enemy, much as one would tear open the paper wrappings of a parcel. I believe that mobility of fire power is essential to this. It can be obtained by the use of light vehicles such as tanks each with three men and 15-pounder guns.
Let us say that the second phase of the battle opens and the commander decides that he must fight a delaying action. In order to deceive the enemy into thinking that he is facing a major position, it is 1081 again necessary to produce heavy fire power and, again, mobility of fire power becomes important. He must be able to have machine guns as well as both light and heavy guns brought into the front at a moment's notice. When the last phase comes and time arrives for the counter-stroke, I believe that two totally different kinds of weapons will be required. I refer to the heavy gun and the heavy tank. I believe that experience has proved these two weapons to be the only effective "tin-openers," so to speak, of advance in modern warfare. It is often said that the Basque "iron ring" was broken by intensive aerial bombardment but the Basques had no air force to speak of, and very few anti-aircraft guns. Heavy guns can place heavy projectiles with immense accuracy, and heavy tanks can go forward and crush entanglements and concrete emplacements. So I believe the two phases of modern warfare require, first, mobility of fire power, and, secondly, the production of the heavy gun and the heavy tank.
§ Mr. Kerr
Gas will naturally play its part in war, but I think the gas-mask gives relative protection against that form of attack, while the heavy gun and the heavy tank are most formidable weapons to resist which an immense defensive organisation is needed. My right hon. Friend has distinguished his term at the War Office by so much sympathy, imagination, energy and foresight that I know he is only too willing to take up any new ideas which present themselves. He has made an admirable start and I think we can all draw courage from the old Scottish proverb:Who does the maist he can, will whiles do mair.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Colonel R. S. Clarke
As this Debate has now lasted for some time I hope my hon. Friend who has just spoken will forgive me if I do not follow him in the very interesting discussion which he has raised on questions of tactics and strategy. I wish to speak very briefly on another subject. I think it is just over 290 years ago since, in the days of the Civil War the British Army was cast in its present mould. It was the Protector's idea, even though it was Fairfax who made that 1082 army, to concentrate on making a professional force out of civilian levies. Today that Army is being recast and the Secretary of State for War is concentrating more and more on bringing closer together the military and the civilian elements. I respectfully submit that he is right in that course, and I congratulate him on his energy and foresight. I feel that a major war is no longer the affair of professionals. The Regular soldier, officer or non-commissioned officer, will probably be commanding civilians and will probably be in close touch with civilian organisations. Therefore, liaison between the Regular Army and civil life is more than ever necessary, and I submit that the Territorial Army, of which I want to speak, is the finest agent for promoting such liaison.
I would like to say, first, that I am deeply sensible of the great help and encouragement that the Secretary of State has given to the Territorial Army in the past year. In fact, I am really quite ashamed to ask for any more, but I was told as a child that those who did not ask did not want. There is another part of the proverb which I intend to forget. My first request will not be for the Territorial Army itself at all. I would like to ask for something for those permanent staff instructors to whom we owe so much. The Regular adjutants and the regimental sergeant-majors are now receiving the corresponding pay of their opposite numbers in the Regular Army, but in many cases the sergeants who are acting as warrant officers—Class II battery sergeant-major instructors, for example—are still only getting the pay of sergeants. I think their work is very much more responsible and harder than the work of sergeants in the Regular Army, and I believe that the experience which they are gaining will be of very great value to them when they get back to the Regular Army. I hope it may be possible, therefore, to give them the pay of the ranks in which they are acting.
Also I feel that in many cases the quarters provided for them are not as good as they ought to be. In one town that I know of the War Office at present provide no facilities for heating water for baths, and they have to be provided by the Territorial Association. Next, I would like to ask, as a Territorial gunner, albeit one who is now on the Reserve, if when batteries consist of 12 guns instead 1083 of six, brigades will still contain tour batteries. A number of Territorial gunners are very interested in that question. I would like to say that, like my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. C. Wood), I welcome the addition of searchlight units to the Royal Regiment, and I am certain that their coming in with us will be a very popular move.
I understood, from his speech in introducing the Estimates, that the Secretary of State is not very keen on walking-out dress, but, with all due deference, I submit, from my own experience, that it has a very real value from the recruiting point of view. The Territorial officer, unlike the Regular officer, is largely responsible for recruiting as well as for training, and I certainly found that, having by private arrangement been able to obtain blue patrol uniforms in my old brigade ever since the War was a very definite recruiting asset, and worth a great many recruits in a year. With regard to the finance of the Territorial Army, I fully appreciate that until the right hon. Gentleman is in possession of the report of the Territorial Army Finance and Organisation Committee, he will not wish to commit himself, but I want to thank him sincerely for the provisional grants given, both as establishment grants and for general purposes. I assisted in answering that questionnaire in two county associations, and I would like to pay a tribute to its comprehensiveness. My only further comments on it are that I am sure that there is very real need for changes in the present system, which is largely a relic of old volunteer days. One thing, I think, is outstanding, and that is the placing of the establishment grants on the same basis, both for an association, which administers an agricultural county, and for one that is concentrated in a town, like the City of London, is very inequitable. I hope that the correspondence and the innumerable forms which we have to fill up now, often to the detriment of time that should be spent by officers, adjutants, and permanent staff instructors on other things, can be reduced. Arising out of that, in that questionnaire I was amused to read, in Section 28, this question:Can you suggest any other means for reducing correspondence or the use of forms without loss of efficiency and adequate financial control?1084 The answer to that questionnaire had to be sent in, not in duplicate, not in triplicate, not even in quadruplicate, but they actually wanted 10 copies. I also respectfully submit that it would be a great help if quicker decisions were sometimes obtained from War Office departments.
To turn to another matter, drill halls are of paramount importance to the Territorial Army. I know it is not the policy of the War Office to compete with all other civilian counter-attractions, but there is room for more space for training and for the storage of those issues of equipment that we are beginning to get now; and apart from that there is a number of units, particularly in the Provinces, which are still using old halls, relics of Victorian volunteer days, that are unsuitable and for which they can raise no enthusiasm at all.
That brings me to another matter. Cannot a specific grant be given for caretakers to be employed? At present, from the establishment grant, some units are able to find 15s., 20s., or 25s. to be paid to the wife of a permanent staff instructor, but that is not a satisfactory arrangement. Some of the new halls, costing £20,000, deserve better treatment, and I feel that if a civilian caretaker could be provided and paid, say 45s. a week, it would be well worth while. I name that sum, because in one county, on whose Territorial Association I serve, the county council are paying 45s. to-day for the cleaning of police headquarters and certain of the larger schools. I would also like to mention the question of furniture for these new drill halls. The present grant of from £40 to £50 is not adequate to furnish a modern drill hall. I know that in certain circumstances the War Office are ready to give loans, but I think most associations hesitate, and quite rightly hesitate, to tie themselves up with a loan for 10 years if they can help it.
I want to touch on only one more subject in connection with the Territorial Army, and that is the question of recruiting. In 1937 there was a shortage of about 60,000 men in the Territorial Army. This year, from the Estimates, that shortage appears to be about 42,000, on an establishment of 202,000 men. Conditions for recruiting to-day are good, as good as I can remember since the War, but that being so, there should be no 1085 shortage at all. It would be a tremendous advantage to have the Territorial Army completely up to strength. In the first place, in a voluntary force it would add enormously to one's discipline—the fact that one could weed out men who were not pulling their weight and who were not really efficient. Then, again, nothing succeeds like success, and no club is so popular as the one that has a waiting list, and if you can blackball a few people besides, it makes it still more popular. Lastly, I feel that the moral effect abroad would be most important.
I feel that the Territorial Army is a really wonderful tribute to our voluntary system. Ever since the War large numbers of young men—never less, I think, than 100,000 in this country—have voluntarily learned a profession in addition to the one by which they have earned their living, and they have also during that time been ready to go anywhere they might be sent by order of this House, leaving their families, if they were married, and in that case they might be asking their wives to live on the ordinary separation allowance, a very much smaller income than many of them were earning in civil life—a big consideration. Particularly in the 10 years following the War, they received little encouragement, either from employers or from the country, yet they carried on. But this wonderful record is eclipsed to some extent by the fact that they are not really up to establishment strength, and what has been done have been rather clouded by that fact. I hope that in a short time the Territorial Army will reach the establishment. I believe it will, but to attain that ideal I think that all of us who are interested in it will have to be prepared to help. I think employers will have to let men go and, if necessary, will have to pay a certain amount for letting them go; young men must join, and older men must be prepared to do the work that those young men leave when they go to camp; and women must be prepared to spare their menfolk. I think also that we must hold to the real basic principle and the real basic spirit of voluntary service. It is not so much a question of how much time or how much money we ought to give as of how much we can give; and service to one's country is not only a duty, it is also a privilege.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Major Sir Ralph Glyn
The right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) when he opened the Debate mentioned Sandhurst and the training received there. I was one of those who was trained there, and I always regretted afterwards that the university system had not then come into force. I would like to see more people go to the universities for the very reasons that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. There is one matter that I would like the Secretary of State to consider, if he will, and that is the possibility of using both Sandhurst and Woolwich for courses for Territorial officers, who are very ready, more ready than some Regular officers, to learn. At both Sandhurst and Woolwich there is already the paraphernalia to enable these keen officers to become more proficient. I believe that if that was done, it would have a very good effect in bringing together the cadets who are going to the Regular Army and the junior officers of the Territorial Army. There was another matter, which the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wirral (Captain Graham) mentioned, and that was the possibility of raising local battalions in the Eastern Mediterranean. In Cyprus there is a great desire to have an opportunity of joining the local force. I served some years myself in the Macedonian Gendarmerie under the Turks. I know they make extremely good soldiers, and the best police they had were some of those that came from Cyprus.
Another matter in regard to the Territorials which I should like the Secretary of State to take into account is the great importance just now of arranging for week-end camps. There is happily an increasing number of recruits for battalions, and it would help commanding officers and everybody concerned if facilities for training at week-end camps could be arranged so as to enable the annual period when the battalion goes to camp to be more usefully employed than in spending a great deal of time bringing the latest joined recruits up to the standard of the rest. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor promised in November last year that week-end camps would be established. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will be willing to consider them and reinforce what his predecessor said, but perhaps he will be good enough to do so if he can.
1087 I do not think the cost of week-end camps would be very great, but I am certain they would be, for both officers and non-commissioned officers, an extra opportunity which would be very helpful. As a member of a Territorial Association I know that we have to decide between giving allowances to enable officers to attend a course or to have money for week-end camps, and that is not very good business. The training grants for battalions are the same when their strength is identical, and I wish the Secretary of State would take into account the fact, as mentioned by some hon. Members, that the conditions of a rural battalion are different from those of an urban battalion and that money does not go so far in rural districts as it does in urban districts. We would like to have more money so as to get greater efficiency in the scattered areas.
Another question which is giving Territorial Associations some anxiety is the provision of the necessary equipment in regard to both munitions and landscape targets. We have been told that they cannot be obtained. Still another matter is the assistance that could be given to associations if the question of the band and drums of units could be gone into. It is not often realised that Territorial bandsmen have to supply their own instruments, and there is a great deal of difficulty in getting them all at the proper key and pitch. If something could be done to enable bandmasters of Territorial units to have the opportunity of going to Kneller Hall it would be to the advantage of the bandsmen of the Territorial army. There is a matter which the Secretary of State could deal with without the slightest difficulty, and that is to enable units to obtain badges from the Ordnance stores at the requisition of a Territorial Association rather than requiring them to buy them from outside contractors. Naturally they cost more to get from contractors than if they were available from ordnance stores.
I would like the Secretary of State to pay particular attention to something which is causing a great deal of disturbance in my constituency, and to ask him about the establishment of the anti-aircraft group which is mentioned on page 212 of the Estimates. It is intended by the War Office to spend £1,250,000 on 1088 providing barrack accommodation at Shrivenham, which is not far from Swindon. A portion of this has been spent. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will realise that the county council and the other local authorities have to make their arrangements, but they are still left in doubt as to what the number of families is likely to be there. I have had a great deal of correspondence with the War Office about it, but we do not know yet whether we have to provide schools for the children or what will be the probable cost of making up roads, providing water supply, and a hundred and one other things. We are told that we may have anything from 4,500 to 5,000 troops planted in this village, and it is essential that before very long those concerned should be informed what this establishment really involves.
The Southern Command and the War Office are to be congratulated on the care they have taken in the type of building and material used for the barracks which are going up in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. It is quite near White Horse Hill and the downs of Berkshire, and the establishment of this military camp has caused some alarm. Everybody who lives in the district, however, would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman and those responsible for the care and trouble they have taken to make the presence of this establishment as little obnoxious as possible. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give some information about the establishment, because in their budget the county council must make arrangements for the schools and matters of that kind.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Mr. George Griffiths
I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) will not feel that I am treating him abruptly if I do not follow him in what he has said, except only in respect to one statement that he made; it was made also by the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke). They said that they want more money for the Territorials. I have risen to ask for more money for another section. I think the posters and advertisements for the Army are a disgrace to the British Isles while there are soldiers in the Regulars whose wives have to take their places in the queues at the public 1089 assistance offices. I have had letters on the subject from my division. I received a pitiful letter only the other week about the wife of a soldier who is living with her child under her father's shelter, and the only income she has is 8s. 6d. a week. The result is that she has to go to the Poor Law while her husband is in the British Army. The hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead said something about continuing to ask. I remember one of our speakers saying to me, "George, it is the squawking baby that gets the milk." I put that in my waistcoat pocket and I kept squawking about margarine until I got some butter. I am again appealing to the Minister. He has a fairly good reputation now and everybody has been throwing bouquets to him. I am not sure, however, whether he really understands this marriage business because he is a batchelor himself, but I shall continue to press him on the question of allowances to wives of soldiers, irrespective of the age of the soldiers.
I cannot understand the way in which Government Departments cross each other on this question. Only the other week the Minister of Health was weeping at that Box because the population was declining. He introduced a Bill and got it through the House. Then the Minister of War said, "Population Bill or no Population Bill, I do not want any soldiers to be married until they are 26, and if they do get married before then I shall brand them." If they get married before 26 and there are children no separation allowance is allowed. I ask the Minister to work with the Minister of Health so that at least he will help his right hon. Friend while he is crying out for population. It is a disgrace that we should say to the British soldier, "You shall not get married until you are 26, but if you do you will be branded." He is branded in the sense that his wife gets no allowance and she has the stigma of the Poor Law put upon her, for she has to go in the queue to the public assistance office while her husband is standing by the country. And while this is happening the Minister of War is asking men to enlist.
I mentioned something in the earlier proceedings about boys enlisting under age, and the Minister received my statement with a kind of assent. I suggest that the boy who goes to enlist should take his birth certificate with him. This question has been raised ever since I have 1090 been in the House, and this is the third time I have raised it. The defence is put up that the War Office cannot be bothered with a boy taking his birth certificate, and the point is made that in order to do that he would have to get it from his mother and she would want to know where he was going and would prevent him enlisting. Almost every boy who enlists under age steals away from home, and his parents do not know that he has enlisted until he is in the Army. When a boy has enlisted under age and the parents make an application for him to be taken out of the Army, he ought to be allowed to go.
The Minister made some concession last week with regard to the Unemployment Assistance Board scale for the ex-service man who gets a quarterly payment for pension, but he did not go far enough. I am asking again to-right, and I shall go on asking, that if a man who has been in the Army has a pension, it should not be taken into consideration when he is on the unemployment assistance scale. I do not care what amount he is getting as pension; he does not get anything from the War Office that he does not deserve. If he gets a pension, he is entitled to it and it should not be reckoned when he has to go in front of the public assistance committee.
I was one of the first men in the country to serve on the local committee in the West Riding when transitional payments came into force. I do not know whether I did my duty properly or not, but when ex-service men came before us our committee never took into account a penny piece of any money which a man had as a pension. Even if he had a full pension we gave him what the scale allowed. The Ministry of Health sent down word to say "If you do not alter this we shall send commissioners," and some of us chaps said, "You can send the commissioners if you like, but we will not alter it." I feel keenly about this, and so do my constituents. I have thousands of colliers in my division, and they have raised this point with me. They say: "George, what did we fight for?" The Under-Secretary is looking at me, and I know that he will say that the first pound is not taken into account. It may not be in some cases, but in other cases all the pension has been taken into account. The Minister has been pretty bold since he took over this new job, and 1091 I hope that he will be bold enough to say that where an ex-service man is applying for unemployment assistance his pension shall not be taken into account. I could say something further, but I will leave the matter now and bring it up next year.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Wise
I think the House will have a good deal of sympathy with all three of the points raised by the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths). I do not know that he can expect us to go quite as far as he does in advocating marriage allowances wholly irrespective of the age of marriage. There are many reasons why really young soldiers should be discouraged from marrying, but I agree that a certain case can be made out for a lowering of the age at which marriage allowances are granted. There will be sympathy, also, for the other two points which he brought forward, particularly the non-assessment of a service pension when an ex-service man is applying for unemployment assistance. He has raised a point of great value, which I hope will receive the utmost attention.
I have heard nearly two days of debate on these Estimates, and I think my right hon. Friend should feel that if his new selection of generals should turn out to be unsatisfactory he need not look very far for substitutes. I have never heard so many, so contradictory or generally so fallacious lectures on strategy in so short a time. I only hope there is more common doctrine among my right hon. Friend's generals than there is among his colleagues in this House. But I am not going to follow them into the excursus on strategy. I do not entirely agree with the assumption on which we are basing the whole of our Estimates, which is that we can possibly contemplate a limited liability war. I am very doubtful whether that is possible. I certainly do not think that it is a doctrine which will commend itself very much to any of our possible allies.
I rather gathered from the speech of the right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) that his theory of the next war was that we should fight to the bitter end, or as long as any Frenchmen remained alive, and that our own contribution should be more or less confined to policing the seas and supplying our brave 1092 allies with the means of killing our hated enemies. I do not believe we can do that. Assuming that we base our theories on a limited liability war, if our contribution to any campaign in Europe is to be small then it must be superlatively good. I do not want to go into all the other duties of the British Army throughout the Empire, but for the purposes of a campaign in Europe the Army must be superlatively good. In other words it must be composed of adequate numbers, full establishments and men of very high quality. I doubt whether that is, in fact, the case to-day. It is perhaps a risky thing to say, but I do not believe that on mobilisation a British Expeditionary Force would be the equal in the field, in training and in practice, of a corresponding number of men in a Continental conscript army who had just finished two years' service. More than one-third of our battalions would be boys, and the remainder would be Reservists who had had no practice whatever in the use of the weapons of modern warfare.
The secret of the remedy lies in attracting people into the Army. We have heard a lot about recruiting, but when we have not only to make up the deficiency but greatly to increase the standard of the applicants for military service we have to give the matter very serious thought. It is true that there are 60,000 young men trying every year to get into the Army, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having made it sufficiently more attractive to raise that number; but four years ago 80,000 young men were trying to get into the Army every year, and there has, therefore, been a drop of 25 per cent. in the number of applicants. Although the concessions which have been announced—the new system of training, improved barrack accommodation and all the other reforms which he has brought in—will raise the number of applicants, I do not think they will altogether solve the problem. I believe that the Army has to be made the part of a career. We must not merely guarantee a soldier employment, or try to find him employment, or to put him into Government employment at the end of his service. That is not anything like enough. What we have to do is to guarantee him pensionable employment, and count the whole of his military service towards his pension. Then we shall have a real career into which young men will willingly go.
1093 At the moment what is stopping hundreds of young men, and very good young men, from going into the Army is the fact that if at the end of their six or seven years' service they join a police force—to take one example—they will be seven years older before they got their pension than their contemporaries who went straight into the police force without joining the Army. Also, if they want to get into industry they find they have lost six or seven precious years. Whatever the vocational training centres may do they cannot produce highly-skilled workmen. At the end of that six or seven years the young man, coming out of the Army, is unable to earn the skilled rates of pay in any trade because he does not know enough about it. He sees friends of the same age earning in a factory £4 to £5 a week, while he himself can probably get only just over 45s. or 50s. a week. That is not an encouragement to him.
I know that the task is extremely difficult, but the situation is desperate enough to justify our tackling it, and if all Government Departments will co-operate with my right hon. Friend it can be done. The Post Office alone employs over 200,000 people, the police forces throughout the country at least another 200,000 and there is an enormous number of other jobs in the direct gift of the Government. When we add to those the enormous number of jobs over which the Government can exercise a very considerable influence—jobs under the control of local authorities and similar ones—I believe it is perfectly possible to guarantee to every soldier a pensionable employment in which his military service will count towards pension. I believe that there lies our solution to the problem of making the Army a real profession. Twenty-one years' service in the Army itself will not do the job. For one thing, we do not want 21-year soldiers; we want six-year soldiers, and a Reserve.
There is a shortage of officers. I believe that my right hon. Friend is right in reducing the number of officers in a battalion of infantry. We are the only nation that has ever had such an enormous proportion of officers to control 800 or 900 men in action. In the German Army there are only about eight officers to do a job for which we used to employ 30. There is none the less a shortage of officers and it will continue unless 1094 something is done. I hope no solution will be tried such as that which was suggested of training boys of 12 years of age as cadets. The result of that system is deplorable enough in the Navy without its being carried into the Army. It is not a sound system to take a boy and use the formative years of his life for this specialised training.
I would utter a word of warning against what I might call being democratic for its own sake in the selection of suitable candidates for officerships. I am not in any way against promotion from the ranks, and I do not consider that secondary schools have contributed anything like their full quota in this respect, but let us not fall into the error of saying that we must have a certain proportion from such and such strata of society. Let us have entry into the Army on merit.
If the Army is to be made a career for the officer, the only solution is more pay. Whatever stratum of society he represents, the subaltern officer cannot be expected to live decently on his present pay, although his life is not as expensive and luxurious as was represented by the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate. The subaltern's pay is not sufficient to maintain him in reasonable comfort, and it must be raised. At present it is based upon the old idea that the Army is not a full-time job and that men of leisure go into the Army as into a form of ordinary amusement. That is not the case to-day, and conditions should accordingly be altered so that the officer has a full day's pay and does a full day's job. I know of no serving officer who would not have it that way. I commend these points to the right hon. Gentleman, who has accomplished so much in so short a time. I hope that he will not enter another sphere of influence until he has reconstituted the land forces of this country.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Hore-Belisha)
Perhaps it will be better that I should rise now to reply to the points which have been raised in this Debate, particularly as the right hon. Gentleman who is now here has come to speak upon the progress of matters concerned with the sister Service. I will endeavour not to delay the House for one moment longer 1095 than is necessary. I would first thank the House for the manner in which it received these Estimates, and for the encouragement which it has given to the Army. The theme of the speech which I made in introducing the Estimates was to define the role of the Army and to show that the problem was not one of man power but of correct organisation and distribution. I then proceeded to outline a new and more modern organisation to which we are seeking to conform, and I indicated to the House that it was not possible to obtain a completely satisfactory readaptation of the Army until the problem of distribution had been settled. For that purpose a conference between the Indian Government and our own Government is to take place.
On the more human side of the problem I offered, on behalf of the Government, a number of concessions to soldiers, and I was also able to announce a change in the terms of service. I freely acknowledge that in enunciating these ideas I was indebted to several hon. and right hon. Members who have advanced them from time to time, notably my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). I thought he would be gratified that after so much advocacy he had won a case for his main points. Although I am called on to speak again to-night, nothing which seems to call for reply has been advanced against the general thesis of my speech. Most hon. Members who have been good enough to make speeches have stressed the various aspects of what I said in introducing the Estimates. Therefore, I do not rise in any quarrelsome mood, for there are few people who have desired to quarrel with me.
Accepting the role of the Army as I have defined it, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) said that the defence from air attack at home had, somewhat tardily, been given the first priority. That danger has of recent years become more menacing than it previously was and the Government have now recognised that it has first priority. The right hon. Gentleman wanted to know why the Army should retain responsibility for defence from the ground against air attack. Personally, I never think it matters who does a job provided it is done well. There would 1096 seem to be no particular reason for transferring this duty at this stage to the Air Ministry; indeed there would be a difficulty in doing so because anti-aircraft defence is required everywhere, whereas the Ministry has not stations everywhere. Nor does it provide a service of trained gunners. Furthermore, the Territorials who have the main charge of this important task, happen to be under the Army. I have no reason to believe that they would wish to transfer to the Air Force.
I do not, however, wish to be rigid in any of these matters. If it were keenly felt that a change should be made, doubtless arguments would be presented which would countervail what I have said, but at the moment nothing has been said to convince me that any change should be undertaken. If you were going to make a change in that respect, and hand over to the Air Force the ground defences against air attack, you ought perhaps to hand over our coastal batteries to the Navy, and we could pass our time in a continual transference of duties from one Department to another according as the case seemed more logical at the moment. The right hon. Gentleman feared that individual Territorials might require a longer time in which to be trained to carry out anti-aircraft duties. But, of course, it is not the state of training of the individual man that matters; it is the state of the unit, in which there is a constant change of personnel as months and years pass. It will, however, reassure the right hon. Gentleman—indeed, I think he knows it—if I inform him that very competent Regular officers think the Territorials are quite adequate to these duties, and are fully skilled to protect this country against air attack. Let us hope so.
The right hon. Gentleman next passed to a subject on which he waxes very picturesque. He talks about 2,000 famous families who provide the officers of the British Army. Officers, he says, are drawn practically exclusively from these 2,000 families. The entry into Sandhurst and Woolwich is about 500 every year, so that these 2,000 families must be particularly prolific. I do not wish to quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman on a class basis, and, if I assure him that the desire of the Government is to get into the British Army the best 1097 officers it can, from whencesoever they may come, he may think that I approach this subject in the right spirit. I would like to correct one or two misapprehensions that the right hon. Gentleman entertains, partially owing to my fault. I gave in the House some figures for the cost borne by the State in educating a cadet at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. I gave the figure as being £590 for a cadet at Woolwich, and £450 for a cadet at Sandhurst. This is the total cost of the training; it is not the cost per annum; and I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that the cost does not bear an unfavourable comparison with what is charged at the universities. The total cost of living in college, according to a pamphlet issued by the University of Oxford, is about £60 a term for a man who exercises reasonable care in his expenditure. On this basis, a student in his three years at the university would spend £540, in addition to providing for his keep during the holidays, which are considerably longer than those granted from Woolwich and Sandhurst.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
The right hon. Gentleman also was at the university. I think it would perhaps give him a false impression if I told him what I spent, because in the course of my Oxford career I accumulated a liability which was subsequently discharged by great industry on my part. Anhow, the figure comes to £540, excluding holidays and keep during holidays, whereas, if the full fees are paid at the cadet colleges, the cost is £380 at the Royal Military Academy and £370 at Sandhurst.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
At the university the cost is £60 a term, and, unless my mathematics mislead me, I think that that compares not unfavourably. I would, however, ask the right hon. Gentleman to notice that, under the existing system for the award of entrance scholarships, roughly 30 per cent. of 1098 successful candidates can obtain a reduction of fees which will relieve them up to 100 per cent. of the cost, and they get this reduction on a system which in other spheres is uncongenial to hon. Gentlemen opposite—on a means test. If they cannot afford to pay, there can be 30 per cent. of cadets receiving education at Sandhurst and Woolwich at reduced fees or free. I only mention these facts to prevent any misapprehension that these places are the preserves of a limited number of rich families. That is not the case. But this does not mean that I am unresponsive to the right hon. Gentleman's hopes that we shall make further and further provision for merit, as contrasted with any form of financial favour. I should hope, on a review of the whole matter, to be able to find a satisfactory way of making the system even better than it is.
The right hon. Gentleman next said that officers lived the life, or are thought to live the life, of country gentlemen of expensive tastes, hunting and fishing and taking trips to Ascot. I think that that conception is becoming more and more antiquated; at least, I hope so, because the purpose of a man becoming an officer in the Army is that he should do his job. The right hon. Gentleman does not like the Aldershot Tattoo. That is a grave and serious subject upon which there may be two views. On the right hon. Gentleman's side it is said that it is a waste of time. On the other side it is said that it provides a training in the movement of large bodies of men with exact timing; that it teaches the Army to co-operate in traffic control with the civilian authorities; and that it shows the Army to the public. It is a general complaint that the Army is not well enough known to the public. It might be better, perhaps, if the historic aspects of Army life were less concentrated upon, and more modern aspects were stressed, but I do not feel in a position to say here and now that the Tattoo should be abolished. Incidentally, it has provided very large sums for Army charities. But, of course, as in all other matters, if a case were made out, and if it were to become the feeling that this is not an occupation in which the Army should indulge, we should be only too happy to entertain the objection. That, I hope, answers, I will not say satisfactorily, but at any rate substantially, the points made by the right hon. Gentleman.
1099 He was followed in the Debate by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Wood), who made a maiden speech of the most promising quality. He showed, as, indeed, we knew he would, a close knowledge of Army life, and I hope that he will take part frequently in our Debates. I am glad to say Army Debates are not very frequent, but I am looking at the matter in a large sphere of time when I say that I hope he will frequently take part in them, I will try to answer the questions he put to me. He approves the role of the Army as defined, he was glad that greater attention was being paid to training in internal security duties, and he asked how our potential commitments would affect the size of any forces we would have to send to the Continent. I think I answered that question by implication in advance, when I placed in the first category internal security, and in the last category Continental commitments. In other words, we could not release any large part of our Army for the Continent until we knew that our internal security was assured. My hon. Friend next suggested that there should be a large portion of our strategical reserves in the Middle East, and what he said was endorsed by several other of my hon. Friends. As he will have gathered, it is our object, in having these discussions with India, to secure an arrangement whereby we should be able to keep our strategical reserves in a place where it would be possible to send it to alternative spots that might need reinforcement. Until such an arrangement is reached we have not a free control of our total forces.
My hon. Friend suggested that it would be a good way to obtain recruits if we began to give them a love of the Army in the village schools. To do that, we should have to obtain the co-operation of education authorities. For some odd reason that has no basis in logic, those who have advocated pacifism in the past have been hostile to the Army; but the two things are not mutually inconsistent, and I hope that education authorities will direct the attention of people to the fact that one of the careers a boy might adopt is the British Army. I see nothing incompatible in that with love of peace; in fact, I think it is the best way to stress love of peace. My hon. Friend was glad to see that we were adding comfort to the barracks; and in that view he was 1100 followed by many of my hon. Friends. He welcomed the use of the Royal Artillery for air and coast defence and the formation of two branches of Royal Artillery for that purpose, but warned me that reorganisation should not be too drastic. I entirely agree with that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basset-law (Mr. Bellenger) was the next speaker. I wish that more hon. Members had heard his speech. He went down to Canterbury, and saw these recruits of lower physical standard being brought up to strength, and he commended very highly these arrangements by the Army. It will be very gratifying to the officers responsible for this scheme to know that my hon. Friend thought it to be so good. Indeed, he thought it so good that he considered it should be extended outside the Army into civilian life. He read to the House some menus about which he was candid enough to state—and I was not surprised when I looked into the items—that his own wife did not provide him with such ample fare. In order that this fare may be better cooked, we are to have the assistance in future of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow (Sir I. Salmon). He, I hope—for that is his aim—will make the cooking of the Army the best cooking to be found in any institution.
My hon. Friend referred to one or two other matters such as recruiting to which I can refer later. The next speaker—I am proceeding on the principle of a catalogue in order not to do injustice to any hon. Member who has been good enough to speak—was my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Captain Graham)—I do not see him in his place at the moment, but I am gratified to know that his interest in Cypriot antiquities, which he did not mention, but of which I know, induced him to advocate the raising of local battalions in the Eastern Mediterranean. I have already said that we are in favour of using indigenous personnel wherever they can be found and wherever the colony in question is ready to make a contribution.
After the hon. and gallant Member for Wirrall had spoken, we were given a speech by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher). My hon. and gallant Friend has a great sense of humour, both gay and tragic; and while he entertained us with his sparkling wit, he did, if I may 1101 use the phrase, also give us the creeps. I thought that that long document, from which he was reading, which purported to be a speech, was the most exciting chapter of a spy novel. He brought some very grave charges against some persons undefined. One of these persons, I think, was my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). The charges were, not only that a particular gun had been rejected, but that every time this gun was brought to the test it was subject to foul play—somebody interfered with the mechanism, in order to prevent it demonstrating its efficiency. I was very sorry to hear of that, but it happened many years ago. While I was glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman got it off his chest, it was not concerned with any matter that I could answer for here, and I am sure that he realises that. What I want to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman is that if he has anything of that kind to suggest about the present administration of the War Office, he should give me an opportunity of knowing what it is that is affecting his mind, because I am only too anxious that the system shall be up to date and receptive of invention. What happened in the past, and I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not raise it with a desire to convict anybody of evil intent—he can hardly expect me to answer for now.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the matters which I mentioned to-night went right up to the adoption of the Bren gun by the Army Council, and I have asked the right hon. Gentleman whether the Bren gun has ever had a side-by-side trial with an all-British machine gun?
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
Yes, it has. The Bren gun was selected after exhaustive tests in comparison with many other light machine guns as the best and most reliable light machine gun obtainable. Some of the weapons mentioned by the hon. and gallant Gentleman were among those which were tried. He made a criticism of the Bren gun that it was air-cooled.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
I thought he said that it was air-cooled. It is air-cooled. The fact is that the gun, like all guns of this type, is supplied with a barrel which can be changed, and there is no 1102 gun of this particular type which is superior to it in that respect, and the General Staff are satisfied with it. But I was coming to the Bren gun. I only mentioned the first part of the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman firstly, to indicate that it was a thing of the past. The charges were grave ones, and, of course, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes me to pursue them, and there is any advantage in doing so, I will. It sounded a little incredible that anybody should have tampered with a gun which was being examined, but if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will produce the facts, and if those who are alleged to have tampered with it are still in the Army, I shall go into the matter with most complete thoroughness, for I would not like a charge of that kind to remain on record.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
Certainly. As I said during my speech, everything that I mentioned is fully at the disposal of the right hon. Gentleman, and it will be a good thing if he is kind enough to go into it in order to give confidence to British gun-makers that their guns are tried out under conditions of absolute fairness by the War Office.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
I am sure that I would hope, with the hon. and gallant Gentleman, that that would be the result of any inquiry. I hope that at any time, if he has facts of that seriousness affecting my administration, he will give me an opportunity of examining them and will not expect me to stand up in this House and answer them without prior knowledge.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
I understood that the right hon. Gentleman was asking my hon. and gallant Friend to produce his facts?
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
I was. If he had any charge against the present administration, I should have hoped that he would have given me the facts before this afternoon, and I could then perhaps have disposed publicly of any such charges and have given the impression which the hon. and gallant Gentleman would desire to be given, namely, that tests are carried out by the Army with complete impartiality. I have absolute confidence that they are, and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will send to me the facts he has which seem to suggest the contrary, I shall go into them with alacrity and with great earnestness. The hon. and gallant Gen- 1103 tleman, I think, made no other point, except that I should examine these charges. I am satisfied that the Bren gun is, in fact, the best that we can produce. I will not deal further with that matter.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Captain Macnamara) made some answer to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Nuneaton. He mentioned the case of an officer who, he stated, was entitled to compensation, and about whom he promised to send me the facts. I need hardly assure him that when he sends me the facts, I shall look into them. He suggested that we should have an Empire gendarmerie engaged on a long-service basis quite independently of our present British Army. If we did that we should have another force competing in recruitment in this country, and we could only hope to obtain this gendarmerie by outbidding the terms offered by the British Army. I think that it will be found that the best system will be to keep both forms of recruitment under one umbrella. I am offering a long-term engagement, although I have already said that I am not yet satisfied that there are very large numbers of men who wish to avail themselves of a long-term engagement. As my hon. and gallant Friend is not here, I will not take up the time of the House by dealing further with his speech.
The next speaker was my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) who said that the Army was unpopular. I hope, if that be true, the sentence will always be used with the verb in the past tense. It might be true to say that the Army was unpopular for a period, but I hope that it will be the most popular of all the Services. It is only by making it so that we can get recruits. If it is constantly denigrated and represented in a bad light we, naturally, shall not get recruits. When I said that the real test of an Army was machine power, fire power and mobility and not man power, I did not mean to say that men were useless or that I was reconciled to having an Army 20,000 below establishment, as it is now. I have never made any proposal for reducing the establishment of the British Army. I am most hopeful that we shall get the Army up to establishment over a 1104 period. We are already running on an even keel for the first time for many years. Our wastage is being made up by the new recruits, and that has happened owing to the improvement in the last six months of the present financial year. Next year I hope that we shall start accumulating a balance and that the 20,000 by which we are below establishment will begin to be made up. I did not propose to reduce the number of officers because we are short of officers but because I think that non-commissioned ranks should be given an opportunity of discharging responsibilities for which they are fitted, and that, by giving this additional opportunity to other ranks, we shall increase the number of other ranks who can be passed into the commissioned ranks. These are among the purposes that I have in view.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
I did not say that my hon. Friend was quarrelling with it, but I was explaining that a doubt persisted in the minds of some people. To all my hon. Friends who have dealt with officers, I would say that I would be grateful if they would wait for the complete scheme, so that they can see the establishment, the exact proposals and the additional prospects that will be offered both to the new class of warrant officer and to officers in general. When I outlined the scheme in advance of the complete proposals it was in order that the House might have an opportunity of knowing what was present in the mind of the War Office. I said that if the House would wait for the complete scheme I trusted they would not be disappointed. I am not in a position to give the exact figures of the establishments of the new class of warrant officer at the moment, or to explain in greater detail than I have done what is in mind.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
I hope very quickly—in a month or so. I shall not keep the House waiting one moment longer than is necessary, but, as I have explained, there are reactions on the other Service Departments, and I have to put 1105 the matter into harmony with them before I can announce my new proposals.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) will expect me to deal in detail with all the subjects that he raised. He delivered a very thoughtful speech, as one would expect from one who has previously spoken on the Army and has also written on it. I do not know that I quite accept his strategic notions, but on these matters there never can be complete agreement. I think the power of defence has increased considerably. He thinks it would be perhaps a mistake to rely upon that. I am sure that neither of us is going to draw very dangerous conclusions from our respective points of view.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Penrith (Major Dower) was good enough to welcome all that has been done for the Territorial Army, but he rather complained that a clerk has not been provided in every case. I pointed out that we were giving increased grants, so that for all units with a strength of 300 a full-time clerk would be available. We make our grants to the associations, and it is from them that the units must look for sustenance. I think it was carrying the responsibility of the War Office a little far when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) expressed the view that we should not only provide a clerk but a caretaker. I suppose the next demand will be that we should provide a broom. It is the responsibility of the associations to dispose of the grant in the best interests of the units, and I hope they will do so, particularly as they will have more money this year than before.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) dealt with warrant officers. I would ask him to defer pressing me upon that matter, and to await the full proposals. He also mentioned marriage allowances. We have given 17s. a week to those who are recognised as married, in place of 7s. or 10s. previously. I am now asked to reduce the age of entitlement from 26 to some earlier age. The hon. Member who raised that point will realise that here, again, the other Services follow a similar rule, and therefore I can hardly be expected on the Report stage of my Estimates to get up and cheerfully say that I will do that.
I want to make it clear that while a case can be made out about the distress 1106 of some men who are married, there is no deception in this matter. The man is told when he joins the Army that he will not be eligible for marriage allowance before a certain age. He is not a conscript soldier. He is a man who goes voluntarily into the Service on these conditions. If he were employed in private industry he could not go to his employer and say: "I have now married, and I should like another 17s. a week." It is only because there is a marriage allowance in the Army that the demand now arises for giving the marriage allowance at a lower age. Whatever the merits of the question may be, do not let us lead the public to believe that if soldiers are in distress before they are entitled to a marriage allowance, they have been misled by the Army authorities. They need not join the Army, and they can, in fact, leave if they do not desire to go on. In saying these words I am not intending to be unsympathetic, but I simply wish to remove a misapprehension.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hamilton Kerr) made a speech which, I am sure, the House admired, showing deep strategic knowledge, but he will not expect me to examine it. The hon. and gallant Member for East Grin-stead mainly dealt with the Territorial Army. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) wanted to have week-end camps. Officers Commanding in Chief already have power to provide such camps. My hon. Friend the Member for North Lanark (Mr. Anstruther-Gray) wanted to enlarge the King's Roll. He had already been told that I am only too ready to examine that question. I have dealt by implication with most of the other points he raised. The vocational training system in the Army being now open for the soldier who can benefit by it—not the tradesmen soldiers—has enabled a very large percentage of men on leaving the Army to get jobs. At any rate, it has improved their prospects. If there are any other ways in which we can further improve their prospects by guaranteeing them employment on a larger scale in Government Departments, no one would be more happy than the Secretary of State for War.
There are two more pronouncements that I should like to make. My right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), in a 1107 most stimulating speech which he made on the Estimates—I do not propose to examine the points of his speech, because we are so much in agreement on them—said that some Territorials were discouraged by the thought that if they went into camp and had an accident they would be treated harshly if they made a claim for compensation. I want to inform my right hon. Friend and the House that compensation for injuries received during camp has perhaps been given on too narrow a basis. Territorials when at camp are treated under the same code and are subject to the same conditions in this matter as Regular soldiers, and hitherto only such injuries as could be shown to arise directly out of their military duties or from certain organised games have been regarded as attributable, and so giving rise to a claim for compensation. That is, they could make a claim for compensation when the injuries arose directly out of their military duties, or through an organised game. We have, however, recently widened considerably our interpretation of the regulations to cover, for example, all cases of injury received on duty, other than those due to negligence or misconduct. Territorials at camp will share with Regular soldiers the benefit of this wider interpretation. Therefore, apart from negligence or misconduct any injury received on duty will give an entitlement to compensation. I trust that this announcement will be appreciated not only in the Territorial Army but in the Regular Army also.
As an additional testimony to the desire of His Majesty's Government to show consideration to those citizens who give up their holidays, or part of them, to attend camp, the new rates of family allowance now payable to regular soldiers of 17s. per week in respect of a wife, together with 5s. 6d. for the first child, and 3s. 6d. for the second, will, subject to the usual conditions, be paid to Territorial soldiers during camp. This higher rate of allowance will come into operation on 30th April next. I have made no provision for this in the figures I have announced to the House, and it is estimated that this concession will cost another £60,000 a year for the benefit of the Territorial soldier. I hope I have not left any hon. Member under the impression that I desire to evade any question. 1108 If I have omitted answering any question which I am capable of answering I shall be only too happy to be reminded of it, and will do so in writing. It has been a great pleasure to know that the House is on the whole satisfied by the progress being made in the Army. It is our endeavour to do everything we can to make it an efficient instrument, and also to treat those who are in it with the greatest consideration. These, as the House knows, are our motives. Our reorganisation is by no means complete and will continue until we have for its size the best and happiest Army in the world.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ REPORT [17TH MARCH].
§ Resolutions reported: