§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA'S STATEMENT.
§ Order for Committee read.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
On a point of Order. May I ask whether, in the event of Vote A of the Estimates being passed more or less formally, the House will be able to have a general Debate on the Report stage?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to give me notice of this point of Order, and that enabled me to refer to the Ruling given by Mr. Speaker on this matter a year ago. He called the attention of the House to the fact that on Defence Votes it has always been the practice to have a general discussion on Vote A in Committee, but, provided there has not been a general Debate in the Committee, then if the House so desired there was no objection to such a general Debate on the Report stage. That Debate, as was pointed out, would be subject to the Rules governing Debate on Report. Is that the view of the House to-day?
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Hore-Belisha)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Deputy-Speaker do now leave the Chair."
I recognise that this year the question uppermost in the mind of the House is to what extent we should be prepared, in the event of war, to intervene with land forces on the Continent of Europe. The question is a searching one, and can be adequately discussed only within the context of our strategic problems. It would be a commonplace to say that our strategic problems differ from those of other Powers, and principally in this, that our frontiers are different in character. The means to be adopted for their defence must, therefore, be different in kind as well as in degree. By methods individual to ourselves we have continued to uphold the most extensive obligations. The foundation of British strategy has been 2162 to maintain land forces which, in conjunction with our sea power, will be sufficient to safeguard our territories. As a by-product of the dispositions made for this purpose, we have had, at home, at any given time, a quota of troops normally used as reliefs for our overseas garrisons, which have become our strategic reserve, capable of providing a striking force in case of need.
Thus our preparations for defence, on the one hand, and for offence, on the other, are inter-related, and any tilt to one part of the machine could not be isolated; it would communicate itself throughout the system. To bring into existence in times of peace an army not required for the discharge of our normal Imperial commitments, would necessitate a review, not to say a recasting, of this system as we have evolved it, and would have repercussions on the terms of service, training, accommodation, equipment, formation and command of the whole. No organisation can be economical or effective, least of all a military organisation, in the absence of a clear appreciation of the purposes which it is to fulfil. For the convenience of the House I propose to examine these purposes and the manner in which we are discharging them. This may assist to put into perspective arguments which may be addressed to the House in support of the Resolution which is on the Paper.
Until the early years of the present century, preoccupation with the prospects of a foreign invasion controlled the uses to which it was conceived that the Army available in this country could be put and gave a bias to its training and its structure. Whether or not we had taken adequate measures to meet the apprehended risk became the most insistent theme of Debates upon the Army Estimates. Fortifications were recurrently erected to cover the approaches by which an enemy could advance, and it was generally accepted as a prime necessity that the military forces, whether professional or other, at our disposal here, should be trained and equipped to preserve the integrity of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the whole of our preparations, the whole scheme of our mobilisation, the provision of men, arms, horses, transport and equipment, was directed to this end.
2163 In 1905, however, Mr. Balfour, arguing a reasoned case from material accumulated by the newly-constituted Defence Committee, set at rest the interminable controversy and allayed, as it seemed, definitively, the public disquiet. He demonstrated that the security of this country against a hostile attack was a job for sailors rather than for soldiers, and Mr. Arnold-Forster, who was Secretary of State for War in that year, was able to govern his proposals by the statement, "We have had it laid down by the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government, that the principal duty of the British Army is to fight the battles of this country across the sea." It became possible to form, from our strategic reserve, a striking force. The military centre of gravity had been shifted. The role of the Army in home defence had been relegated to more limited proportions.
This new conclusion that the Navy, with a lesser degree of military support, could look after home defence formed the hypothesis from which Mr. Haldane worked out his reforms, and as he was both logical and economical he set himself to remove all that was superfluous in our arrangements. "What an advantage it is," he said, "when you can get rid of things, root and branch, by the aid of a firm principle." He dismantled the defences of London. "I suppose," he exclaimed, "there are even plans for the protection of Birmingham." Guns— 300 of them—stores, ammunition, explosives, buildings, assembled on the now discarded assumption of a threat to our security, he scrapped them all or consigned them to other uses. To us, this holocaust may seem like a shocking act of desecration. Anxiously engaged as we are in seeking sites for artillery emplacements against an invading air force, we must read with a sense of paradox how unreservedly he was able to reject what he called "the traditional policy of surveying the interior of these Islands and making on a large scale a continuous reconnaissance of positions with a view to defending the country against an invading army." As in these respects we are proceeding in precisely the opposite direction, we may claim that history, so often alleged to be repetitive, is here, at any rate, in a self-contradictory mood.
2164 Now we are back where we were before Mr. Haldane's time. The restoration of home defence to priority in the role of the British Army—a Government decision announced last year—has given conclusively to those engaged in anti-aircraft work a sense of the recognised importance of their service and has stimulated recruiting. The numbers of officers and men in anti-aircraft units have actually been doubled in the last 12 months. We are on the verge of a financial year in which we start with 75,000 officers and men in Territorial A.A. units, a year during which every existing medium and heavy battery which they man will have its war complement of guns and every searchlight company its searchlights. Five divisions have replaced the two which formerly existed. A corps has been set up to control them.
A Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff now co-ordinates all our anti-aircraft activities within the War Office. Before our new organisation was completed the emergency of last September required the embodiment of the anti-aircraft and coast defence formations—the first time that Territorials have been called out in advance of the Regular Army. Other units of the Territorial Army felt keenly that their services could not also be requisitioned at this time. In a moment of imminent national peril there are many duties which trained bodies can undertake, and the Government would propose to extend the invitation, now confined to anti-aircraft and coast defence personnel, more widely, so that as much assistance as possible from these and other units could be made available in advance of the mobilisation of the Regular Army in such circumstances as those of September last. No step would be taken without prior consultation with the Council of County Territorial Associations.
It is our task, by prevision and precaution, to perfect the machine. We have accordingly increased the whole-time assistance available to anti-aircraft units; provided for the engagement of additional administrative officers, clerks, caretakers and maintenance men. These arrangements will facilitate deployment and help to keep equipment in constant readiness for use. Their annual cost is £160,000. More concrete emplacements have been and are being prepared and 2165 more guns will be kept upon their sites. Special accommodation is being provided for troops where their situations in isolated areas can be pre-determined, and likewise huts, where necessary, for the units of our coast defence. The cost of these structures is £2,500,000.
We have overhauled the transport system and accelerated the methods for the calling out of personnel. We are building more mobilisation stores to ensure that centres of distribution are within a closer radius of our war positions. Similarly, a completer nexus of magazines will speed up the issue of ammunition. Units keep a proportion of their equipment and stores in their own drill halls. The rest, now conveniently disposed, they will collect with more directness and a minimum of delay. The total building cost of this part of our programme is £5,250,000. We have given to responsible officers and non-commissioned officers an aide-memoire specifying compendiously all that is required in an emergency, so that they will be less likely to omit some essential detail of procedure or overlook some requisite appliance.
The establishment of five divisions instead of two was a great enlargement. We shall go further. We now propose to add two more divisions. There will thus be seven anti-aircraft divisions. The corps will be made into a command and its commander will become general officer commanding anti-aircraft command, under the air officer commanding in chief, fighter command. He will have an increased staff. The Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff at the War Office will be known as Director-General, Anti-Aircraft and Coast Defence. It will give some indication to the House of the measure of our further expansion—and it can continue if necessity require—when I say that in the new financial year we shall increase the existing number of our batteries by between 50 and 100 per cent. We are beginning this advance forthwith. Additional officers and men will be required. We are confident that we shall obtain them. The capital cost of these measures is in excess of £30,000,000.
The new batteries to be formed will require forthwith and will receive their training quota of equipment. We have started a new factory for the 3/'s. Production will begin this Autumn. The main equipment for our light anti-aircraft 2166 batteries will be, as the House will know, a 40 mm. gun of Swedish design for which we acquired last year the rights of production at home. I should mention that deliveries from this source will begin in the Autumn. Meanwhile we have purchased a quantity from abroad. What I have said about the medium and heavy batteries therefore does not apply to the same extent to our light anti-aircraft batteries. Nevertheless, progress will be made in the coming financial year. New anti-aircraft units call for new practice camps. We had five separate camps last Summer and by 1940 we intend to have at least double the number.
By constituting the Territorial Force as a home defence force Mr. Haldane was able to free and prepare the Regular Army as an instrument for external employment. That, however, was at a rime when provision for the security of Britain itself was no longer the governing factor in the disposition of our Forces. It is the governing factor to-day. Indeed, it is the first principle. Yet we have not impinged on the Regular Army; we have, in fact, released the whole of the Territorial Field Force for association with the Regular Army. The procreation, as it were, of a separate Anti-Aircraft and Coast Defence Army out of the Territorial body has been an enormous accretion to our military strength. The House will, I hope, feel satisfied that home defence, once again our foremost obligation, is receiving the attention and undergoing the development which will give, in so far as can be humanly contrived, to the people of this country that security against invasion which they are determined to achieve.
Have we also a principle to guide us in the measure of our garrisons overseas? I think we have. In attempting to discover in the strategic circumstances of to-day the principles on which we can most economically and effectively proceed we find again and again when we think that we have evolved some new principle that we are only reverting to an old one. It is this which imparts to the study of military problems, always absorbing in themselves, a further fascination. The Carnarvon Commission in 1882 made a recommendation which may be described as the governing doctrine of the last century. In paragraph 157 of their report they wrote: 2167' The stations far distant from the United Kingdom and in close proximity to the stations of foreign Powers are liable to sudden attack and cannot be reinforced without long delay; their garrisons, therefore, must be kept up to war strength.Mr. Balfour in 1905 had invited conclusions to be drawn from the powers of rapid concentration and movement of the Fleet. This doctrine, the Carnarvon doctrine, was therefore modified. In the speech in 1906 from which I have already quoted Mr. Haldane, who in an earlier passage had dealt with the problem of our domestic defences, turned his attention to overseas ports. He said:Another head is the extension of the 'Blue Water' defence to our Colonial garrisons … we propose to apply the principle in getting rid of superfluities of guns and men in connection with them.While he may only have got rid of superfluities we, in the disarmament years, omitted the provision of necessities. In so far as we were relying on our naval mobility we may well ask whether we took fully into account the extent to which our sea power itself depends upon the Army. We have only to remind ourselves of the heroic defence of Gibraltar and of the fate of Minorca in former day? to realise that where a garrison falls below the strength at which it can defend itself successfully the Navy thereby loses its strategic freedom of action, owing to the necessity for relieving the fortress. Bases away from the United Kingdom still have to provide safe harbours for the Fleet, but, like the Navy also, they are encompassed by new penis.
We have had to reconsider our overseas garrison policy, and last year I was able to state the principle upon which His Majesty's Government intended henceforward to proceed. It was in essence a revival of the principle of the Carnarvon Report. As fast as we can we are giving effect to it. We have started the process and shall make appreciably greater increases in the new financial year. Wherever possible we are enlisting local personnel, and to this extent we discharge an added commitment without trenching upon the Regular Army. The Royal Malta Artillery is an old-established regiment of the Regular Army, and the population of Malta is most anxious to bear a fuller share of our Imperial Defence. We have arranged for an addition of over 1,000 Maltese gunners to the existing establishment.
2168 Nine hundred recruits presented themselves as soon as the offer was open, and we are having no difficulty in making a careful selection of the man-power we require.
We have brought the Malta rates of pay, which were formerly about half those applicable to British other ranks, to about two-thirds the British rates, with equivalent increased rates of educational and military proficiency pay. Further, we have reduced the qualifying period of service for pension from 30 to 21 years, and we have increased the pension rates to two-thirds of those enjoyed by British other ranks. We are also improving the officers' emoluments. Incidentally, I mention that Maltese who enter units liable for general service receive pay at British rates, and Maltese rates only apply to Maltese units serving in Malta. We are forming a depot in the island for the training of recruits for both Maltese and British units. The Governor during my stay in Malta last year had impressed upon me that much excellent material was lost to the British Army owing to the inability of some recruits to pass their educational test in English, and we felt that the establishment of such a depot upon lines adapted to the needs of Malta would enable recruits to be trained not only in military subjects but in English also, and thus remove the present disability. It was mainly for this reason that the depot was formed, and we hope it will be a good source of supply. We have launched a further scheme for the recruitment of Maltese artisans for service in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, and they will be employed in Mediterranean stations. Malta is thus making a greater contribution than ever before to the defence of the Empire, of which she is so important and patriotic a part.
We are despatching to Cyprus a British officer to ascertain to what extent we can meet the desire of the people of that island to play their part in Imperial Defence. In Singapore we are increasing Malay and Indian establishments by about 1,000, and in Hong Kong the Chinese and Indian personnel by a similar number. In Ceylon, for the first time, we are proposing to raise Ceylonese soldiers on a regular basis to man part of the coast and anti-aircraft defences. In other parts of the Empire also we are employing local personnel. In a sentence, the establishment of Indian and local 2169 troops in defended ports outside India in 1937 was 3,766, and we are raising this figure for the coining year to 9,500. This is the measure of the indirect relief which has been brought to the units of the Regular Army. Not only in personnel, however, but in armaments, in reserves of warlike stores and food, our garrisons are being raised to that level of security which the newly-enunciated principle exacts. As with the first obligation of the Army, which is home defence, so with the second obligation, which is the protection of our sea communications, we are approaching the attainment of our programme.
I pass to the remainder of the British Army which is available for allocation to mobile formations. Under the "Blue Water" school principles, which we now seem to be discarding, the whole of the strategic reserve was kept in the United Kingdom, and this enabled us to find the Expeditionary Force of six infantry divisions and a cavalry division in 1914. I would direct the attention of the House to the fundamental modification which we are beginning to make in the requirement laid down by Mr. Balfour in 1905, and since observed, thatour force should be as far as possible concentrated at the centre of the Empire from which it could be distributed as each necessity arose to that part of the Empire which stood most in need of it.We must, in the likely conditions of warfare, not only secure the freedom of manoeuvre of the Fleet, but also reduce to a minimum the calls upon it for escorts. It is for both these reasons that we are strengthening the defences of the overseas ports and for the latter reason —reducing calls upon the Navy for escorts—that we no longer intend to reply upon a single strategic reserve situated in the centre of our Empire. We have accordingly in the current year formed the nucleus of an additional strategic reserve in the Middle East. It is at present included in the two divisions stationed in Palestine. These divisions are an example of the flexibility which we now apply in assembling our formations. Unlike the divisions of the field force, which each comprise three brigades of three battalions each, the divisions in Palestine each consist of two brigades of four battalions each. Some of the battalions in Palestine properly belong to the Home establishment, but if further battalions become available, in the 2170 manner which I shall presently develop, we shall be able to replace them. We intend to regard the Middle East Reserve as a separate force, freed from the necessity of drawing on our Home resources. It will have its own reserves and be held for use anywhere within the radius of our interests in that part of the world.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
Yes, and partly with it. Here is another illustration of the manner in which we are meeting new requirements with a new strategy, which is really a revival of the old principle of self-sufficiency. If our arrangements for the Middle East Reserve are not yet fully matured and stabilised, it is because the survey of the defence requirements of India is not yet completed.
Proceeding from the analysis which, after consultation with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India, I made last year, in which I showed, among other things, how the modernisation and the amenities of all our Forces are influenced by the speed at which the Government of India find themselves able to advance, there were inter-departmental discussions. These were attended by the Chief of the General Staff in India and the Air Officer Commanding in India, who came to England for the purpose. A preliminary examination of the problem was made, and Lord Chatfield subsequently visited India as the head of a committee. Their report is now before His Majesty's Government, and it should be possible, at a later stage, to inform the House of agreed proposals, which will have a great effect upon the efficiency and dispositions of our resources as a whole. Until arrangements, which have in substance remained unaltered for the best part of a century, are adjusted to meet fresh circumstances, a complete picture of the British Army, its strength, its composition, and its intended dispositions cannot be presented.
If, as is hoped, the outcome of the proposals of Lord Chatfield's committee should be a re-arming and a re-adaptation of the Forces now in India, the additional strength thereby ensured would compensate India for any reduction she might 2171 think it necessary to make in numbers. Already she has transferred to the British establishment four infantry battalions, all of which are now in the Mediterranean, and a cavalry regiment. There is then, apart from any troops that may be allocated by India for India's external defence responsibilities, no longer a single strategic reserve. There is a second, and each one is conveniently located. Similarly as in the case of our Home Defence Army and as in the case of our strengthened garrisons overseas, the additional provision of a Middle East Reserve will not affect the size of the strategic reserve in the United Kingdom. With trade, so with armies; it is not alone the resources possessed, it is the manner of their distribution also which must be estimated in any computation of their value.
From the strategic reserve in the United Kingdom is drawn the field force, now both Regular and Territorial, for the Territorial part is now, as I am able to inform the House, by a recent Government decision, being prepared, trained and equipped to meet the event of war in a European theatre. I will refer in the first place, to the Regular part. The new structure of the infantry divisions and of the units which compose them has now been completed on the lines which I foreshadowed a year ago. Every fighting arm of the Service has been remodelled. War establishments and war-equipment tables have been fixed and issued to enable a rapid mobilisation. So complete an overhaul as that to which the Army has been subjected has been a formidable task, and the General Staff point out to me that the changes made in one year would normally have taken many to accomplish. The Regular part of the field force consists of four infantry divisions and an armoured division, generally known as the mobile division—amisnomer, in that all our divisions are mobile. Such is the degree of mechanisation that all the ammunition and equipment, and half the total personnel, of all the infantry divisions of our field army can be carried at one time. The present armored division is based on three brigades of three regiments or battalions, all armed with tanks.
There are two kinds of tank—the light tank, comparable with the naval 2172 destroyer, and the heavier tank comparable with the cruiser or battle cruiser. It is not our intention, in view of antitank developments, to send our light tanks into battle unsupported. Accordingly we shall increase the quota of cruisers. This reinforcement of our hitting strength will enable—and it is the whole tendency of military evolution— a lesser number of units to produce a greater effect. We are thus able, while retaining the same punch, to reduce the brigades in the armoured division from three to two. I have now to tell the House that we shall form a second armoured division, using in it the brigade released from the first armoured division and adding another brigade. We shall, then, have two compact formations, each more easy than the present single armoured division to manoeuvre and command. When the House takes into account the armoured division now in Egypt, whose composition is adjusted to the special conditions of that area, it will recognise that we are building a formidable land fleet in relation to the dimensions of our Army.
The state of our production is such that it may, I hope, safely be predicted that the whole of the Regular divisions of our striking force will be equipped for action, I cannot say to the last gaiter button, but to the last ski-ing suit—for so I may describe our battle dress— within the coming financial year. I except the new armoured division, not yet created. This battle dress, after extensive experiment, is now approved, and will be provided for the troops in question at a capital cost of £400,000 within the period. The outlines of this sartorial achievement are familiar to the House. There is a fore-and-aft cap, apart from the steel helmet, an easy loose-fitting blouse, trousers held at the extremities by anklets. There are seven pockets. It is difficult to imagine a more practical or comfortable ensemble. It offers the maximum protection against the rigours of the climate and fulfils in other respects the new needs of war. It is made of a drab serge, There will be a separate overall garment issued in addition.
The most recalcitrant element in our production has been the tank. In the light tank, considered to be the best of its kind, we are well ahead, and units have received large supplies. The delay with the cruiser has enabled us to incorporate lessons which have been learned 2173 from other countries. It is only now coming into delivery. The Bren gun has made an overwhelming appearance in quantity, and I hope the statement I am about to make will dispel the scepticism which has prevailed in some quarters as to its existence. Complete war scales, with a few minor exceptions, have been issued to all infantry and machine-gun battalions of the Regular Army at home and in our garrisons overseas. The same applies to the anti-tank rifle. Simultaneously with the intensive adaptation of the Regular Army to modern conditions, the field force of the Territorial Army also is being modernised. In October, 1938, instructions were issued for its reconstitution. I am pleased to inform the House that the Government have decided to provide for the Territorial field army all the modern weapons used by the Regular Army and on a similar scale. This replaces the earlier decision by which they were only to have a quota of equipment for the purpose of training. Wider productive arrangements are being made to carry out, with the greatest attainable expedition, this new policy.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
I shall sum them all up in a moment. Initial issues, as the House knows, have for some time been in progress.
It will now be convenient to appraise the dimensions of the field force. The whole, or any part of it, will be used, of course, as and how the future may require, but this is the size of the instrument our plans are shaping: Regular, four infantry divisions and two armoured divisions; Territorial, nine infantry divisions, three motorised divisions and an armoured division. In addition, there are two Territorial cavalry brigades, and a number of unbrigaded units, Regular and Territorial—making more than 19 divisions in all. Mr. Haldane projected a field force of six Regular divisions and one cavalry division only. He had not equipped the Territorial force for a European war. Our Territorial Army will be so equipped.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
Yes, but I am talking only of the field force formed from our own strategic reserves in this country. Mr. Haldane obtained his field force only 2174 by transferring Home Defence to the Territorial force. We, in our turn, have transferred this defence to what I have called a new anti-aircraft and coast defence army—seven divisions strong, as it will be. They will repel invasion by sea and air. Other units at home, Regular and Auxiliary, will be available to assist the population in the event of air attack. I may mention, in this connection that we shall raise the establishment of the National Defence companies, now some 6,500 strong. They are composed of ex-service men and their duties are to guard vulnerable points. At present they are unpaid and on a somewhat informal basis. We shall put them on an enlisted basis and they will be invited to do six drills a year. Their officers will receive an outfit allowance. Thus as the House will have appreciated, it is not only our home defences which are being secured, but our Middle East Reserve is being formed and our garrisons are also being strengthened, without impairing the avail ability of our field force, Regular and Territorial.
Revision of the principles on which our Forces are disposed, their re-formation and their re-equipment, call for a fresh examination of our system of military education and training, which should be attuned to the new tactical possibilities. Up till the beginning of last year there was, as the House will recollect, great difficulty in obtaining our requirements of officers. As a result of the changes made, including rises of pay for subalterns, the guaranteeing of careers by time-promotion, subject to efficiency, and the abandonment of the old device of keeping officers on half-pay when waiting for appointments, the situation has completely altered. The reforms only applied to the combatant corps, leaving the position of officers in the non-combatant corps, in which special conditions apply, for subsequent readjustment where necessary. I am now able to announce that captains at present serving in the Army Educational Corps will become majors after 12 years in the lower rank. Simultaneously with the improvements in the careers of officers, the military colleges were opened to cadets, irrespective of their means.
Now that we are no longer distracted by the search for suitable candidates, we can turn our attention objectively to our present arrangements for instruction. Up 2175 till 1871, commissions into the infantry and cavalry were acquired by purchase. This method of entry, however, did not apply to the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers. After the abolition of purchase, a distinction still continued to be drawn between the kind of preparation that was required for infantry and cavalry, on the one hand, and for Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers on the other. The teaching at Sandhurst was more general, that at Woolwich more technical. The dichotomy still persists. One is compelled to ask, in the light of the scientific developments which have occurred in all branches of the Army, whether this compartmentalisation is logical and conducive of the best results that could be obtained.
The groundwork needed for all arms is, in many respects, the same. I have been impressed to find that subjects common to both colleges absorb about 1,500 hours out of a total of 1,800 hours in each place. Why, then, are we maintaining two establishments to teach so large a proportion of identical subjects? If an army is to produce its full effect, sympathy and co-operation between all its elements are vital. Yet in formative years there is a segregation between those who should be beginning to understand one another's problems and mentalities. Both Woolwich and Sandhurst have, as everyone knows, advantages and disadvantages of their own. Sandhurst has more rural surroundings; Woolwich is in an urban area. There are, therefore, greater opportunities for outdoor work at Sandhurst than at Woolwich, although for scientific study Woolwich is better equipped. At Woolwich, however, alterations are required which would entail comprehensive rebuilding. We are faced here with a difficulty. Woolwich is not only in a vulnerable area, but, if we undertook its reconstruction, we should be incurring expenditure in a district which we know, on other grounds, to be unsuitable. How, then, shall we proceed? Shall we revise the syllabus of instruction at Sandhurst, importing Woolwich features and facilities, while at the same time moving Woolwich to a more desirable locality?
I do not think it can be contested that, if we were confronted with a blank sheet, we should design a single institution incorporating the best elements of the two 2176 existing institutions. There is, however, the important consideration of tradition, and each of the colleges has acquired an inheritance that must be preserved. There is no question about the desirability of conferring upon Sandhurst the same instructional advantages as Woolwich enjoys. There is no question about the desirability of moving Woolwich, as the Royal Military College was itself on a previous occasion moved from Great Marlow, to a more suitable locality. We have, therefore, decided that the course most beneficial to the future cadets of Woolwich and Sandhurst, and to the Army as a whole, is to transfer the establishment of Woolwich to the grounds of Sandhurst, where it can be conveniently accommodated in circumstances which will permit it to retain, as it must retain, its historical relics and possessions. Cadets of all arms will thus be united under one direction, and a comprehensive view will be taken of the requirements of them all. The principles and practice of co-operation will be instilled from the start of their careers into those who are to be officers in the same Service.
The Woolwich ratio of instructors to pupils will prevail throughout, and the number of highly qualified specialists will, therefore, be increased. There will be three groups of arms—the Woolwich Group, the Armoured Group and the Infantry Group—and there will be various faculties which can be taken in common. More laboratories, workshops and garages will be at the disposal of what we henceforward propose to call the "Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst." This has been a difficult decision to make, because one touches understandable susceptibilities which one desires to treat with reverence; but there is compensation in the knowledge that in the opinion of my advisers, who have made a protracted inquiry into all the possible alternatives, the solution which I have propounded will be of the most enduring benefit. After leaving the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, officers will, at suitable intervals, take new courses to be established so that their training will follow henceforward a natural sequence throughout their service. Particulars of these new courses will be made known. An early impression made upon me at the War Office was that the best way of securing the future of the Army was through the training of boys. We are opening three 2177 new technical schools in the coming financial year, giving us five in all. Formerly we had 1,000 boys under training at a time. Now we shall have 3,250.
As for the Territorial Army, no provision which we make for training seems enough to satisfy their enthusiasm. May I make a few announcements of particular interest to them? The Territorial Vote is enlarged by £4,000,000 to a total of nearly £11,000,000. The amount to be spent on building, at over £4,000,000, is up by £1,500,000 on the year. The sum allocated for training—nearly £3,000,000 —is £1,000,000 greater. Instruction in the Territorial Army is generally carried out by the Regular permanent staff. As an encouragement to Territorials to acquire the necessary proficiency, we are increasing the number of Territorials who, as instructors, can earn additional pay. The annual cost will be £6,000 at existing rates. We are at the same time adding to the permanent staff at the disposal of the Territorial Army, and allocating, for instance, permanent artificers to look after mechanical transport vehicles. The annual cost of the latter will be £75,000.
It would be a valuable innovation to make provision for the physical training of urban units. We shall accordingly establish a staff of full-time ex-Regular physical training instructors. They will pass on their knowledge to selected Territorial Army non-commissioned officers. The annual cost will be £6,000. We shall provide kit where necessary for both instructors and men. In future the maintenance and, where necessary, the renewal of colours and guidons of Territorial units will be at the public expense. An additional £130,000 is being allotted for week-end camps. These and other advantages, such as the sports fund started by Lord Nuffield with a generous gift, make the Territorial Army, in an ever truer sense, a patriotic fraternity, in which all the advantages of comradeship and recreation can be enjoyed. A sisterhood is now, on similar principles, in process of assembly. Territorial associations have, with their never-failing courtesy, given their arm to the new Auxiliary Territorial Service for women. Half the establishment has already been reached. We are most grateful to those who have given their services in the difficult initial stage. Keenness has been most marked, and the level of proficiency is already high.
2178 I have dealt with the training of those now in the Forces. It is desirable that our Reserves, both officers and men, who will be immediately required on mobilisation, either to bring units up to strength, to take up duty at training centres, or to assume certain staff appointments, should be brought into touch with the new Army, reorganised and re-equipped as it is rapidly becoming. Formal arrangements have, it appears, never existed in the past to keep our general Reserves up to date, doubtless because the weapons and formations to which they were accustomed have only infrequently altered. The situation is different to-day, and we wish experimentally to initiate a new procedure.
We shall recall this year a proportion of our Regular Reserves to the Colours— 1,000 officers and 16,000 other ranks. We shall invite the officers, for we have no compulsory authority, to take a course of about 14 days. In the case of other ranks, who draw Reserve pay in return for an obligation on their part to serve in certain emergencies, and to come up for annual periods of 12 days' training, if required, we shall exercise our option. In order to show the maximum of consideration, we shall offer alternative dates. Both officers and men will draw the pay and allowances of their rank. The cost of the proposals will be £45,000 for the Regular Army Reserve of Officers, and £120,000 for the other ranks. About 500 officers of the Territorial Army Reserve, and some of the officers of the Officers' Emergency Reserve, who may require instruction, will be offered similar facilities. The cost in their case will be £12,000. It will spare the War Office if applications and inquiries are deferred until the publication of full details. The House will see from the size of the bill —£177,000—how expensive it is to call up even a portion of the Reserves for a brief period. This new enterprise, it will be noted, is being undertaken at a time when the Regular Army is busily training itself.
What numbers can we muster? Even in the days of the South African War, generals, who knew their values, preferred to speak of rifles rather than of men. Rifles are weapons, and the real measure of our fighting power is in the nature of our armament rather than in the counting of our personnel. Nevertheless, on such an occasion as this a census must be made. We have, as the House will see 2179 from page 9 of the Army Estimates, effectives of all ranks, exclusive of British troops in Indian and Burma, 531,353. The corresponding figure last year was 448,625. There has thus been an increase in our effectives of some 83,000 in 12 months. We shall have taken 40,000 recruits into the Regular Army in the current financial year. It may put the significance of this figure in perspective if I remind the House that the average annual recruit intake from 1870, when Mr. Cardwell got rid of the long-service system, till the South African War, was 29,400. From the end of the South African War to the Great War it was 34,200. From 1923, when normality was resumed after the Great War, till 1936, it was 28,200. In 1937 the intake was 22,800. Our figure of 40,000 for the current year has been obtained in a period when the demands of the Navy and the Air Force have been more than doubled since 1936.
Our shortage will be 16,000 on the present establishment on 31st March. A slight improvement in recruiting would overtake this in the next financial year, despite the increase in establishment which we are making. We have only been on an even keel in one year in our history.
The Territorial Army is actually over the establishment authorised at the beginning of the year. This has never before been the case in peace, and we have had to ask for a Supplementary Vote. With 83,000 recruits—the figure has just been given to me—in 12 months, compared with 46,000 in the previous year, recruiting easily broke all records since the foundation of the Force. We are raising the establishment to approximately 250,000. In the year in which we took these 83,000 recruits, the demands of all the various Auxiliary Forces increased by 500 per cent.
How shall we expand in emergency? The Regular Army has its own Reserves, to make up war wastage until post-mobilisation recruits have become trained men. On what footing will new recruits become enlisted after the outbreak of a war? Do we wish to retain two kinds of enlistment —Regular, on the one hand, and Territorial on the other? Simplification makes for speed as well as for efficiency. Regular recruiting offices will be closed on the 2180 first day of mobilisation, to allow for the war-time organisation to be established. By the third or fourth day of mobilisation, 200 centres will be opened throughout the country, and this organisation will serve for the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force, as well as for the Army. While these centres are being established, recruiting will be carried on at the Territorial Army drill halls. The buildings for the new centres have been selected; the additional recruiting officers have been nominated; the medical boards have been appointed; the medical code has been agreed; and I am glad to be able to say that the British Legion have offered their help in providing from among their members the extra Army recruiters and clerks.
All recruits after mobilisation, except those who undertake a normal engagement, will be enlisted for the Territorial Army for the duration of the war, and stocks of the special attestation forms are now in the hands of recruiting officers, ready for immediate distribution to the new centres whenever necessary. Training units for all arms of the Army will be set up immediately. These units will hold the surplus reservists of all arms, and receive their intake of recruits from the recruiting centres. All arrangements for the formation and location of training units have been made. Territorials, especially in the light of their enhanced responsibilities, will agree, whatever their predilections, that after embodiment they should not be subject to an artificial distinction which differentiates them from the Regular Army. In the next war, if unhappily there is to be one, it will no more be possible than in the last to ensure that they will in all circumstances remain with their own units. We naturally wish to respect their desires, and shall do so to the extent of our ability. Most of the men in the Territorial Field Army have already volunteered for general service, and we propose to take steps to remove the restraint upon it, which somewhat paradoxically survives in the Regulations. We proceed with the full concurrence of the Council of County Territorial Associations.
The size of our Field Force having now been determined and the methods of expansion described, it remains to examine how we could despatch it and maintain it in the field. Once again a reference to previous thought is relevant.
2181 My attention has been drawn to an old military manual of 1809, in which the" inconveniences attendant upon the embarkation of a British Army," as the author puts it, are examined, and he refers tothe confusion, too often the companion of a disembarkation of a quantity of ordnance and other military stores….He concludes:How peculiarly necessary it is that our military system should be the simplest and the best arranged.It is encouraging to have this prophetic realisation of our present problems, and this approbation from the past upon our present aims. The qualification of our military effort still remains. Every British soldier who fights has to be transported, and every weapon that he uses, every shell that he fires, every vehicle that he drives, has to be carried overseas.
The whole of our Army could not, therefore, arrive simultaneously in a theatre of war, where continental armies may be already in position. It would have to be despatched and it would have to arrive in echelons at serial dates.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made on 13th December last a declaration, which he reinforced on 11th February this year, leaving in no doubt the position which in certain eventualities, Great Britain would assume. On the latter occasion he said that he feltbound to make it plain that the solidarity of interest by which France and this country are united is such that any threat to the vital interests of France, from whatever quarter it came, must evoke the immediate co-operation of this country.I have referred to the effect upon our military policy of the doctrine enunciated by Mr. Balfour in 1905. It made possible for the first time the formation of an organised field force for external employment. My right hon. Friend's declaration of the solidarity of our interest with France is of greater significance than any which have preceded it. It makes it incumbent on us to consider and to prepare for the use of the field force in certain eventualities. Conversations between ourselves and the French have not committed us in this respect, but prudent minds should be ready for any eventuality. If we are involved in war, our contribution and the ways in which we can best make it will not be halfhearted, nor upon any theory of limited 2182 liability. The conversations concern always, it should be stressed, plans for defence, and not for aggression. We have, on our side, made plans—plans of great detail. We have made a calculation of the shipping required. The problem is, of course, far greater than in 1914. The armament is heavier and more complex.
Can we here also find a principle to guide us, so that we can make the fullest contribution that necessity could impose? The principle which we lay down is this. In order that it may be possible for us to deliver our maximum effort in a continental war, should need arise, the productive arrangements which we should make in peace, together with accumulated reserves and the new capacity which could be created and brought into operation, must be sufficient to equip and maintain each echelon of the force as it is deployed. By the time the last of the serial dates is reached, new forces should be trained and the necessary additional provision for their equipment and maintenance made. It is in accordance with this principle that we are proceeding. While the case for national service in peace time, providing a larger army now, may be argued on grounds of moral and physical well-being, it would not necessarily affect in the degree sometimes imagined the dimensions of our initial military contribution.
The Army is being mechanised. I think it is also being humanised. The House would perhaps expect me, before I conclude, to announce one or two measures for the benefit of the soldier. Last year we instituted comprehensive reforms in pay, allowances and conditions affecting not only the soldier, but the wife, married on the strength, who shares all the vicissitudes of her husband's career and many of the hardships. Every soldier without a trade is now given training if he desires it, before he leaves the Army, thanks to my right hon. Friend who preceded me in my present office. Another 400 ex-soldiers, making 1,200 in all, will be engaged, apart from the large numbers of civilians normally included in military establishments, to relieve soldiers of certain routine employments. The soldier's accommodation is rapidly becoming more comfortable. We propose to spend £7,000,000 on it in the coming year; and those who have seen the new barracks might be pardoned for confusing them with clubs.
2183 My hon. Friend, the Member for Harrow (Sir I. Salmon) became last year the Army's honorary catering adviser. As a result of his investigations, he has recommended, and the Government have agreed, that new utensils will be supplied, that cookhouses in the future shall be comparable with the best kitchens in civil life, and that field equipment shall be reviewed. A completely new type of school will be established at Aldershot. Cooking will henceforward be regarded as a highly skilled craft. Boys and men will be specially enlisted to serve their whole time in this profession at appropriate tradesmen's rates of pay, and hours of work will be shorter than at present. Facilities for promotion will be largely extended. The opportunities for advance to corporal or sergeant will be widened for those who pass a practical test. The best men will reach the rank of staff-sergeant or warrant officer Class II. A highly qualified cook has already been promoted to commissioned rank. The capital cost of these improvements is £700,000, and the annual charge will be approximately £280,000—all to provide better cooking for the soldier. The soldier's debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow will be greater than the sums I have mentioned.
It has been our desire to enable more soldiers to make the Army a career. It had frequently been suggested that we might have a separate long-service Army. To test the extent of this desire, I announced last year that we would directly enlist recruits for long service. The scepticism which I expressed has been justified, and very few recruits have opted for this type of engagement. The men evidently prefer to make up their minds at a later stage, and for their benefit we now propose, as an experimental measure, to allow any soldier, subject to good character and efficiency, in the last year of his colour service on his current engagement, to extend his service so that he may eventually qualify for pension. A similar offer—re-engaging for pension—will be open for a limited period to Regular Army Reservists.
A hardship which some soldiers feel is the length of continuous service in India. The tour in India, until my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's (Mr. Duff Cooper) abolished holding, was 2184 generally 6½ years. There are great difficulties connected with drafting in evolving a system which would allow a shorter tour. The difficulties have been further complicated hitherto by the deficiency of recruits. Nevertheless we now propose to bring down the normal period to be passed consecutively in India to four years. The reduction will be gradually effected until a drafting balance is reached. I am sure this proposal will be particularly welcome.
There is a book, which I came across the other day, with the title "The King's Service." It describes the type of the private soldier of 40 years ago. He is called Joe Pepper.His appearance was unimpressive, for he was under-sized and under-nourished. His complexion was pasty, and his hair was cropped close to the scalp, except in front, where it sprouted luxuriously into the curliest of 'quiffs.' He was a friendly soul and ripe for conversation at any time, though his vocabulary was distressingly limited, especially upon the adjectival side.He spent his money, such as it was, a little promiscuously, and most of it on drink.
The author writes:The people at the top displayed no particular interest in him beyond keeping him rigidly efficient as a fighting machine, and his future prospects after discharge appeared to be a matter of complete indifference to everybody. He received no educational facilities, and he was given no opportunity to learn the simplest trade; which meant that when he had served his time he would be cast upon the world still in the prime of life, with nothing to look forward to but the street corner or the workhouse.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
Joe Pepper died. He was killed, in fact, and his type has passed away. The author of the book, Major-General Ian Hay Beith, is now Director of Public Relations at the War Office. His task is to make the soldier known and the Army understood. Joe Pepper's successor is more fortunate in the conditions of his service. He resembles him, however, in certain unchangeable respects; he will carry on into the unknown future of our history what is quite independent of circumstances, the imperturbable spirit and the good-humoured courage of those who belong to the proudest of professions and march onward with the Regiment.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Lawson
The right hon. Gentleman almost reached the limit of time laid down by the Lord Privy Seal, but I am sure that the House will agree that, from the point of view of information, and not a little of entertainment, he has not been at all too long. He has made many announcements this afternoon, some of which are of great importance. Not the least important announcement, so far as the soldier is concerned, is the fact that we are to have a highly qualified promoter for the purpose of supplying the necessaries to the soldier. I take it that in future the sergeant-major's tea, which used to be so popular, when he got it, will be replaced by caviare for the soldier. What the right hon. Gentleman did not mention, though I am sure he had it in mind, was the fact that these Estimates are the largest of any single defence service in peace time in our history. They amount to £161,000,000, a staggering amount in peace time for one defence service, and altogether the Estimates for' the three defence services amount to approximately £500,000,000. Those of us who for a good part of our lives have been familiar with very arduous toil for which we received very little in return regard these Estimates as appalling. There are millions of people in the country who have had a similar experience, and for that reason it is with no slight sense of responsibility that I speak at this Box to express an opinion concerning such a large expenditure on the military needs of this country.
Although the right hon. Gentleman has made many important announcements, he has not definitely announced that, in case of conflict, an expeditionary force will be sent to the Continent. I listened as well as I could to the right hon. Gentleman, and he did not come definitely down on the side of sending an expeditionary force to the Continent. He said that conversations were taking place, and I believe he also said that we could not commit ourselves in advance. I believe that he has come nearer to-day to a commitment than he did last year, when he gave the impression that in no circumstances would an expeditionary force be sent from this country to France in case of war. I remember that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), who followed him, made the 2186 assumption that the right hon. Gentleman had come down definitely against sending such a force. As a matter of fact he did not, and I have re-read his speech to see exactly what he did say. He did not say any more last year than he has this year upon this matter, except that the balance is more in favour this year. The atmosphere has been different from what it was last year. However, I do not propose to pursue the matter, because my right hon. Friend will be dealing with it later.
I was very much interested to hear the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that 10,000 men had been relieved from India permanently, I take it, as a kind of contribution to the strategic reserve. With the addition of that 10,000 he is calculating upon something like 185,000 men this year, which is an increase of 15,000 on last year. I was very pleased, indeed, to hear him say that the recruiting position on the whole was so good that it inclined him to come down definitely against some of his friends who are pressing for other methods of getting troops. I see that in the annual report he makes reference to the marches that have been held in certain localities for the purpose of making contact with the people. I have seen one of these marches, and I think it is a very good thing indeed that the soldier has at last been released from the segregation of the barracks and brought into more human touch with the people of this country.
I have often thought that the right hon. Gentleman, and the right hon. Gentleman who preceded him in office, suffered from the fact that, historically, there has been a very great weight of prejudice against the Army, from which the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force did not suffer. Most of the citizens of this country do not understand the cause of that prejudice. It is the fact that the Navy never wants for a man, so to speak. For the fighting establishment the Navy never lacks men. The Army is different altogether. The fact is that the Army is connected with historical events for which the two older parties were primarily to blame. I gather that in the old days the Tories and the Whigs had the giving of an Army to the King, and when they had decided to give him an Army they shoved it into barracks away from the people. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has told 2187 us that the barracks in future are to be more like clubs. There was a certain communal life in the barracks, but it is a good thing to know that some of these gloomy places are to go, and that there is to be more contact established with the people.
I was very pleased to note in the annual report that over a number of years there has been a reduction in crime in the Army, courts-martial, and so on. In view of some of the things that have been said about our Army in other parts of the world it ought to be said in this House that, having regard to the difficult position in which these young working class men are placed by their service, the segregation from their own people, and the tasks they are called upon to perform, their conduct is remarkable. These boys are sent, for instance, to Palestine to arbitrate, as it were, between two races. The task they are asked to perform would almost be too much for the wisest and the strongest Members of Parliament, yet we have seen them acting as a kind of diplomatic agent. It ought to be said from this House that for the conduct of these men, particularly in Palestine, in very difficult circumstances, we are proud of them. They go in peril of their lives and they add good sense, great discretion and restraint to the high performance of their duties.
Last year the right hon. Gentleman announced schemes of promotion affecting the combatant corps, and this year the scheme is for members of the educational corps. That was highly necessary. I do not know how the scheme that he has announced will work out in its application, but at least it points to some necessary relief in that direction. I hope the right hon. Gentleman is taking note of the fact that a good deal more of the time of the soldier will be taken up in future with technical education more than formerly. A new technical school has been opened at Aldershot and another technical school at Jersey. There is one already at Chepstow, and there are to be two for 1,000 boys each at Chatham and Arborfield. The growth of the technial side of the Army, its motorisation and mechanisation must ultimately mean that much more time will be given to technical education. I should like to put a point for the benefit of the right hon. Gentleman —he may have given attention to it—and 2188 that is that the amount of time given to technical education may possibly interfere with the general side of the soldier's education. I hope that point has been noted. I have said from this Box for many years, and I know it is true, that the average adolescent in the Army attains a higher standard of education at his age than do those of his age and class outside the Army in civilian life, apart from the professions, and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will see to it that that standard of education is not only maintained but developed as far as the Army is concerned.
The right hon. Gentleman gave hon. Members an opportunity of seeing the demonstration at Aldershot, and we appreciated his action and were grateful for the chance of seeing the new tanks, motors and weapons. Those who were present would, I am sure, like me to say-that we appreciated the courtesy of the officers and the men, and the extreme patience they had with all of us. We should like the right hon. Gentleman to convey our thanks to them for all that they did. I must confess that what I saw was a revelation. I saw, as other hon. Members must have seen, the first mechanised Division in the Army. There was an attempt at mechanisation about 10 years ago, I think at Salisbury, and I have seen some samples in the succeeding years, but I was pleasantly surprised at Aldershot to find the great change that has taken place in the types of tanks, in their mobility, in their capacity to go either up or down at any particular point, almost anywhere. To see one of the 18-pounders swinging into line under motorised conditions must be almost enough to make the old driver of the six-horse team in similar conditions weep with envy. It seemed almost miraculous.
We saw the Bren gun, and I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that practically the whole Army will be fully-equipped with the Bren gun before this year is out. Many of us had begun to think that the Bren gun was a kind of legend; but we actually touched one at Aldershot. We could hardly believe that it was real. We handled it. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will prove to be right on this occasion. There has been a rare story behind this gun since the right hon. Gentleman announced three years ago that the Bren gun had been adopted. Some of my hon. Friends may 2189 have more to say on this matter; but I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what is happening in regard to the Canadian contract? I understand that there was a breakdown in the original attempt to produce the Bren gun there. I do not know whether it is worth while the right hon. Gentleman telling the House the story, but we should all like to feel sure that we are on firm ground now with regard to this gun.
We also saw the anti-aircraft guns. I want to be quite sure that behind what we saw are the proper quantities. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman, between ourselves, that hon. Members at Aldershot said that what we saw was wonderful, but the right hon. Gentleman has been so clever, so able, and he has had such arts of publicity for Army purposes—and properly so—that we said to one another: "Is this just arranged for our benefit, or is it real?" I must say that the right hon. Gentleman has told us a better story to-day, which has given us more conviction. We do not want to hear any more stories of the kind he told us in November last year when he spoke about the loss of predictors and the troubles with the anti-aircraft guns. If a Labour Government had been in office and had told the same story that the right hon. Gentleman had to tell after the September crisis, they would not have lived 24 hours. Whether it is a question of tanks, guns, or anti-aircraft guns we hope the right hon. Gentleman will give effect to his word that the quantities are behind what we saw at Aldershot.
In the Estimate for £161,000,000, Vote 9, there is one item of £61,000,000 for warlike stores. There are 35 pages dealing with this item, but most of them deal with an item of £6,000,000. The biggest item dealing with warlike stores is for £55,500,000. There is not a single word of explanation of that item. If you look through the Estimates in connection with warlike stores and munitions, you will get an explanation of a multitude of things. You can see what is happening in Shanghai, in Hong Kong or in Cyprus, but when it comes to warlike stores there is no explanation at all. We know that too much publicity on these matters is not good; we can understand the reluctance to give details about guns and tanks. But is it really necessary to deprive hon. Members of information altogether on these important items? I 2190 can tell the right hon. Gentleman that one might get the impression that this question of publicity is being used to cloak proceedings and charges which cannot be defended. We have been told by the Prime Minister that the Select Committee on Estimates has the matter of expenditure well in hand, but it has been clearly demonstrated in the House that the Prime Minister's reading of that report was not justified and that the Select Committee on Estimates did not give a blank cheque to the Departments. The hon. Member for South Shields gave reasons why the position is not quite as satisfactory as the Prime Minister seemed to imply in his quotations from the Select Committee's report.
I believe that the contracting department, in the main, is still under the control of the War Office, and the witness for the Contracts Co-ordinating Committee, in dealing with the machine-tool makers, told the committee that they had refused to accept the application of the costing clause. And so we are told nothing about this colossal amount under the heading "Warlike Stores." There is a Director of Artillery, a Director of Mechanisation, a Director-General of Munitions Productions, who is assisted by a Deputy-Master General of Ordnance, and a Director of Industrial Planning. I have followed these gentlemen through all the various Estimates until I almost felt dizzy in trying to get any information which would enlighten me as to the reason for this vast amount of expenditure. From one page to another you can follow them until you are instructed to go to the Civil Estimates, Class I.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that Members of the House are much disturbed at some of the forms of expenditure and at some of the profits which are being made. In spite of all the promises there appear to be those who are reaping more than usual benefit at a time like this. The Prime Minister said that those engaged should have reasonable profits. We on this side of the House, with the consent, I think, of the country, have given our approval to this expenditure, but we must warn the right hon. Gentleman, in common with other Defence Services, that the most fatal thing, from the point of view of efficient service and the realisation of our purposes, is that there should be not only suspicion but suspicion confirmed that the situation is being used 2191 for the purpose of exploiting the people of this country. The great mass of the people, as I have said, work hard and get very small returns for their labour, and they are prepared to give their assent in the present situation to much to which they would not assent in ordinary circumstances, but if the revelations which have been made in this House are to be continued, it will have a very adverse effect upon the easy running of these services.
I want to conclude on this note. I have pointed out the condition of millions of the people of this country. When I came to this House I hoped, like many others, that such large-scale expenditure as this on instruments of war was at an end. We believe that in combination with other nations we can find security against war. We believe that we can concentrate on constructive measures for improving the life and work of the toiling masses of this and other lands. We still believe that. I am sure I speak for countless workers in this country when I say that the Government's neglect of the League of Nations has tended to intensify the dangers in which we stand, and that belief, as far as I am concerned, has been strengthened by the Prime Minister's continual neglect to take any steps to respond to the offer of President Roosevelt for a world conference. In a recent speech President Roosevelt said:We stand by our historic offer to take counsel with all other nations of the world to the end that aggression may be terminated, the race in armaments cease, and commerce be restored.We think that this offer has received too little consideration from the Prime Minister. We are extremely conscious, and so are the masses of the people, that however it has come to pass the causes which we hold dear are in jeopardy. We know that we must be equipped in view of the remorseless forces which hate liberty. The Prime Minister says that other nations must live their own lives. We agree; but Britons have definitely made up their minds that they will brook no interference with their political liberties, through which they can alone win economic freedom. I want the Government to know that it is not Imperialism but liberty and democracy which move the countless thousands of this land to agree to such colossal expenditure as is foreshadowed by these Estimates. We are 2192 not unaware that in this country there are people who are more concerned about Imperialism than they are about democracy and liberty. It is continually said, "We must have our country defended, we must maintain the lines of communication between the various parts of the Empire. We must be ready to come to the aid of our allies," but tardy notice is taken of the fact that liberty is at stake.
The old nineteenth century Imperialism, the kind of Imperialism which sometimes rears its head on the Benches opposite, that hard cynical outlook, makes no appeal to the workers of this country. The one thing which touches the workers of this country to the core—and the Government had better take note of it —is liberty. If it were possible from this House to speak to the working masses of other countries—and I speak as one who has spent a good part of his life working in the bowels of the earth—I would say this. The workers of Great Britain are like you; they work hard, they are kindly, and they desire only to co-operate, to the end that life may be secure and conditions improved for the workers of all countries. Once in our lifetime the overwhelming catastrophe of war has overtaken us, and millions of graves all over Europe, and indeed all over the world, tell that tragic tale. The masses of the people of this country do not want to repeat that, if it is in their power to stop it, for we have for the workers in all lands the friendliest and kindliest feelings; but we love liberty and democracy and we will not yield a fraction of those great gifts that are ours. That alone is why we give consent to such Estimates as these. It is liberty alone which moves us in these days.
Later on, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I shall move a reduction in the number of men, but for the convenience of the House, I will leave that for the time being, since if I moved it now, it would limit the Debate.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Evans
I want, first of all, to express appreciation of the very interesting and informative speech that was delivered by the Secretary of State for War. I am sure that he gave the whole House a good deal of knowledge which it did not possess before. I rather liked his general historic allusions, but I confess 2193 that occasionally I was uncertain as to the pertinence of some of his references to Lord Haldane. I venture to say that if the right hon. Gentleman manages to do as much for the security of this country as Lord Haldane did, the people of this country will be glad to erect beacons in his honour which will be more illuminating than the beacons that have been erected in the right hon. Gentleman's name.
No doubt this is a Debate in which it is very desirable that Members who speak should have a greater degree of expert knowledge and experience than I can claim to have, but I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not complain if, as a comparative amateur, I draw attention to a few questions of general policy in which the country is very greatly interested. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) referred to the experience which a number of hon. Members enjoyed a short time ago when they visited Aldershot, and I join with the hon. Gentleman in expressing appreciation of everything that was done to make the occasion interesting and impressive. To me it certainly was impressive, for I saw various types of machines which almost overwhelmed me with their apparent efficiency; but I could not help asking myself two questions. First, how many of those machines have we got—and I gather from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that with regard to some of them, there is still a little bit of a lag, but that he hopes it will be made up before very long—and secondly—a question which is equally important—how many men are there in the Army who can use those machines when we have them?
It seems to me that the second question is an important one which ought to be taken into account at the present time. Obviously, war is becoming increasingly a matter of machines and mechanisation. In saying that, I do not overlook the extraordinary demonstration in certain countries, in recent months, of the defence that can be put up by people, on behalf of their own country, in an heroic struggle, even when ill-equipped; but as a general consideration, I think it will be agreed that war has become very largely a matter of machines. Of course, we must suppose, first, that the machines are going to be supplied, and secondly, that we are going to get the people who can use them.
2194 It is on the second point that I would like to say a few words.
If this is the commonly accepted view, as I believe it is, of the type of war that is likely to take place in future, it is a matter of common sense that an increasing proportion of our infantry should be in possession of, and be able to handle, light machine guns and other weapons which, in that type of war, would be likely to be of much greater potency than the rifles and bayonets of the past. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State referred to conflicts of opinion which took place many years ago as to whether the strength of an army should be measured by the number of men or the number of rifles. Nowadays, I think we have to measure the strength not so much by the number of rifles as by the number of other machines of war and the number of men who are capable of handling those machines efficiently. We are in a happy position in this country in that probably the soldiers of to-day have an educational standard which is sufficiently high to enable them to be capable of being trained in the use of weapons of this kind. I had intended to say something about the educational standard of the Army, but the right hon. Gentleman has disarmed me, at any rate to a very great extent, not only with regard to education from the point of view of training the soldier for his present job, but also training him for a return to civil life afterwards.
To pursue the point that I was stressing—the need for getting as many soldiers as possible who are equipped to use these wonderful machines that have been invented—I suggest to the Secretary of State that it might be possible to arrange for the transfer of soldiers from one regiment to another so as to give them service in specialised units— machine-gun regiments, tank corps and motor corps—and thus enable them to get wider experience than would be available to many of them if they merely served as privates or non-commissioned officers in the ordinary infantry regiments. In so far as that might not meet the whole of the circumstances, it might be possible to include special arms in the establishment of ordinary line regiments and to give training in those special arms to the soldiers in those regiments. It occurs to me that it would be possible and practicable, during their years of service in the Army, for a very large proportion of 2195 our soldiers to be given such training as would make them efficient motor drivers, and competent in the use of light and heavy machine guns, trench mortars and possibly tanks and artillery.
I do not know whether this is being done at the present time, but I rather gather that certain passages in the right hon. Gentleman's speech indicated that something is being done on these lines. The right hon. Gentleman spoke very quickly, and although I am sure he did it out of a desire not to occupy the House for too long, it was rather difficult to follow him at times; and therefore, I should be glad if either he or whoever may wind up the Debate on behalf of the War Office, would refer to this matter and tell us whether something more cannot be done to make the soldiers better equipped generally than the men who serve in ordinary infantry regiments can be expected to be as a result of their present training. This would make the individual soldier more confident and competent and a happier man, and would add efficiency and adaptability to the Army in general.
I want now to ask the Secretary of State how much co-operation exists between the War Office and the Civil Defence Department. The right hon. Gentleman paid a tribute, which I am sure everybody will agree is thoroughly deserved, to those who are enlisting in the Territorial Army at the present time, and he said that, for the first time for many years, the Territorial Army is now over its establishment. I want to ask him what is the relationship between the efforts that are being made, and the response to those efforts, to persuade young men to join the Territorial Army, and the requirements of the Civil Defence Department. In the booklet that was recently issued—a booklet that was interesting, although not very impressive—there are a great many reserved occupations. If the people respond to that appeal, it will mean that there will be about 6,000,000 people who will be engaged in occupations other than that of service in the Defence Forces of this country. That is a large number. I rather think that the total number of enrolments in the Armed Forces during the last War was 9,000,000. I agree that a good deal of them were wasted, since men were persuaded to join the Armed Forces when they could have served the country much better if they had remained 2196 in their civilian occupations. I am glad that that mistake is not to be repeated, judging by the policy which the Government are pursuing. However, it occurs to me that a very large number of the young men who are joining the Territorial Army at the present time are men who are engaged in occupations to which the Civil Defence Department would give precedence over service in the Armed Forces. What is the degree of co-operation existing between the War Office and the Civil Defence Department in that respect?
§ Mr. Patrick
I think the hon. and learned Gentleman is mistaken in this matter. The Territorial Army does not enlist people who are on the list of reserved occupations.
§ Mr. Evans
I am talking about the past. There are in the Territorial Army at the present time a large number of young men who are scheduled in the booklet as being persons who ought to be engaged in a civil occupation rather than in the Armed Forces of the Crown. It is on this point that I wish to ask how far co-operation exists between the War Office and the Civil Defence authorities on this question.
I pass to another matter, namely, the question of garrisons oversea. Here, again, I am not sure that I followed what the right hon. Gentleman said, but I understood him to refer in particular to Cyprus, Malta and Palestine. Of course, as regards Cyprus and Malta, conditions in the Mediterranean—as a result of the foreign policy of the Government—have changed very considerably in the last few years and I imagine that the position there is much more serious than it has been for a great number of years—indeed, so serious as to be a menace to this country. Apart from saying that he was encouraging natives of Malta and Cyprus to enlist in the defence services there, I did not gather that the right hon. Gentleman indicated that the War Office had made any other provision in regard to those two stations. Again, in regard to Palestine he told us, I think, that provision was being made for 16 battalions, 2197 but he did not say where the reserve battalions were to be. Surely the important thing is this, that in view of the conditions which obtain in the Mediterranean at present it would be very difficult for us to keep up our communications with Palestine, Egypt, Cyprus and Malta and with our Dominions and Colonies in the East and in Africa.
There is also the point to which the right hon. Gentleman adverted in the final part of his speech, regarding obligations arising from our relationship with France, in the event of war. We cannot overlook the fact that there is a little change, shall I say, in the stress of the importance which the right hon. Gentleman attached to this subject to-day compared with that which he attached to it a year ago. Of course, it is quite proper that there should be, because conditions have changed very considerably in the meantime. But the Prime Minister, speaking the other day, said that in case of war all the forces of Great Britain would be at the disposal of France. I would like to know what that means, not in relation to our diplomatic association with France, but in relation to the War Office's policy for providing for any emergency which may arise? It is perfectly obvious that if that statement is to be accepted, it means that the frontiers of France are the frontiers of Great Britain, and the frontiers of France have increased considerably in size recently. In addition to their Eastern frontier, the French have a frontier on Italy and also a frontier on Spain. It is obvious that France is more susceptible to attack today than she has been for a very long time.
Therefore, I want to know what the War Office is doing in the matter of policy, purely from the war point of view —I am not speaking from the Foreign Office point of view—in regard to the defence of these very greatly increased frontiers, in which we shall be engaged, if I understand the policy of the Government, not for the defence of France alone, but for our own defence. If the statement of the Prime Minister is true, then we shall be "in it," just as much as France, should war take place. It is clear that if war did take place—the sort of war which we are contemplating, but which we all hope will be avoided, and the dread of which is causing this tremendous increase in our expenditure on arma- 2198 ments—there might be a great superiority of man power again France. It is also possible that Germany would be one of the countries engaged in the war and that Germany would not be engaged on the side of France. It is further very probable that if Germany were in a war against France, she would insist upon unity of command at a very early stage, which would mean that Germany could make an attack at the most vital point, at any particular moment.
That, it seems to me, does involve us, from the point of view of war policy, in the necessity for preparing schemes now —immediately. It is no good waiting until war breaks out. It will be too late by that time, because the one object of the enemies in the next war will be to get a quick decision. I do not think they will get it, but that will be their object, and obviously therefore it is very important that we should adopt what I may term a long-view policy on this matter. From that point of view, I confess I was not quite satisfied with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. As far as I could gather, he said that nothing had really been decided on this question, that discussions were taking place between ourselves and France, but that no vital decisions had yet been reached. If I may say so with great respect, this is a matter in which an early decision is of the most vital importance, because it will affect the whole internal policy of the Army and also, of course, of the Navy.
The last point I wish to make is this: In regard to general Army policy, I would ask whether the whole of our Army development is being worked out in consultation with the Army authorities of other countries who may be our allies. With regard to the basis of our possible co-operation in the event of hostilities, are any consultations taking place with friendly Powers with whom we may have to co-operate? Talking of that, I would ask whether it is not time for the right hon. Gentleman to conceive the possibility of renewing consultations with Russia which, after all, would be a very powerful ally in the event of war. These are a few general considerations which I thought might profitably be brought to the attention of the House to-day. The Army Estimates this year show a very great increase upon previous expenditure and the country will want to know and is entitled 2199 to the assurance that not one penny of this money will be wasted, but that all this huge sum will be spent in the most efficient and economic manner possible.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Duff Cooper
The last speaker said that the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had disarmed such criticism as he had intended to make in regard to education in the Army. I think my right hon. Friend's speech to-day will have disarmed many —I hope it will have disarmed all—of his critics. I congratulate him most heartily on an admirable statement admirably made, and I congratulate him all the more because of the physical disability from which he is suffering to-day. I only regret that a similar disability, though of a more severe kind. prevented me from hearing the admirable statement which he made a year ago, but I am sure he himself would agree that the story which he had to tell to-day is much more satisfactory than the story which he told a year ago. I could not help a certain pang of envy, which he will understand, in listening to his statement and I wish I had ever been in a position to make such a statement myself.
The two previous speakers criticised the statement with regard to the expeditionary force and our willingness to send a force on to the Continent in the event of an emergency. This is a matter about which I have always felt very deeply and I must say that my right hon. Friend's statement upon it is good enough for me. He has told us, in the first place, that we shall have an expeditionary force of five Regular divisions, with 12 or 14 Territorial divisions in support of them. He has told us that it is the intention to equip those Territorial divisions now, on the same basis and with the same arms and give them the same training as the Regular divisions. He has told us that conversations are taking place with the French authorities as to when and where they are likely to be wanted, and he has reminded us of the Prime Minister's statement that we should undoubtedly go to the assistance of France if her interests were attacked. I really do not think we need ask for more from my right hon. Friend. I think we can draw our own conclusions from that statement, and the conclusions which I draw are completely satisfactory to me.
2200 He has given us a very optimistic and cheering statement. He has, rightly I think, both from the national and from the international points of view, underlined everything that is satisfactory in the present state of the Army—the great increase in recruiting both for the Regular and Territorial Armies, the large sums which are being spent and the speed with which modern equipment is now coming into use. But I do not suppose that my right hon. Friend himself is entirely satisfied even with what has been achieved so far. Indeed, I am sure he is not. I am sure he is well aware that there are still deficiencies to be made up, and, much as he has done already, I am sure he will do anything more that is in his power to increase the numbers serving both in the Regular and Territorial Armies. I think there are some 20,000 short in both. In the case of the Territorial Army, of course, this is mainly due to the large increase in the establishment. My right hon. Friend has told us that the garrisons in India have been considerably reduced and has given us to understand that there is a prospect of still further reductions. Any steps that can be taken further to increase recruiting are, therefore, desirable.
An interesting development this year has been the offer of long service to those who wish to take it. My right hon. Friend said that his anticipations had been fulfilled about this and that very few recruits had availed themselves of the offer. But supposing that no particular attractions were held out such as addition to pay, along with the offer, he could hardly have expected it to meet very general acceptance. If a man who is joining the Army is offered the alternative between 12 and 9 years' service and seven and five years' service, and if you say to him, "When you have finished your seven years you can, if you like, go on to the 12 and 9 years," then, naturally and almost inevitably, he will asume the lesser liability, knowing that when the time comes, if he wishes to do so, he can increase his obligation by taking on the longer period of service. The statement which we have had to-day that in future the man who joins for the seven and five years, provided his character is satisfactory and so forth, will be allowed to prolong his service, will no doubt increase the actual number of those serving with the Colours, but it must, 2201 in the same proportion, diminish the Reserve. The reason why in the past only a limited number of men were allowed to prolong their service was because it was considered essential to maintain an adequate Reserve. So you are not really increasing the number of men available to defend the country by allowing them to prolong their service.
I would suggest to my right hon. Friend, for his consideration, a scheme, to which I am sure he has given some consideration already but has not adopted, which would seem to be a natural corollary to long service, and that is an additional short service scheme; that is to say, while you allow some men to join for 12 years and nine, you should also allow some to join for a shorter period, for three years, as they do in the Brigade of Guards, or even for a shorter time still, for two years, remaining then perhaps for 10 years in the Reserve. It would then probably be necessary to give increased pay or some similar advantage to those who joined for the longer period, and your oversea garrisons would, of course, be manned entirely by the long-service soldiers. The short-service soldier, who would join only for home service or service in stations not far from this country, would come forward and join probably for less pay than the long-service man, just because he stands a better chance of obtaining employment on leaving the Army. Unfortunately, seven years is the worst of all times for a man to serve, because it is not long enough to be a career of itself, and the man is handicapped in making a career when he comes out, whereas the short-service soldier, with three years' service, is not in any way disqualified for future life as a civilian; and there is many a young man to whom the idea of three years in the open air, with the more or less careless soldier's life and the prospect of settling down afterwards, when he is only 21 or 22, to a civilian existence, would appeal, who would be attracted even for less pay than they are enjoying already.
Another suggestion was one raised at Question Time yesterday and which my right hon. Friend said was not considered desirable, although he did not give any reason for that statement. Perhaps when he or the Financial Secretary replies to-night he will give us the reasons which led the War Office to 2202 this conclusion. I have no doubt they are sound and sensible reasons, but I have not been able myself to formulate them in my imagination—the suggestion being that you should form now, out of the vast unhappy army of foreign refugees coming from all the ends of the earth, many of whom are anxious for any way of earning a living, a foreign legion. It could very easily and rapidly be recruited and could perform, I have no doubt, an inestimable military service, for after all, from the days of Alcibiades and the days of Coriolanus exiles have often made the best soldiers, even against their native country; similarly with the Jacobite and Irish soldiers who served in the eighteenth century in France. I can see no strong reason, and I shall be interested to hear what the reason is, why these unhappy people, whose hearts and minds are burning with a feeling of militancy and with a desire to avenge the terrible wrongs which they have suffered, should not be turned to some useful purpose instead of being compelled either to die of starvation or to live on the charity of the more generous peoples of the world.
I have recently been reading a book that attempts to sum up the results of the recent war in Spam, probably written rather prematurely—I think it has only been in publication for two or three weeks—but one of the two main lessons which this author drew, having studied all the facts, were, first and foremost, that the infantry is still the most important of all elements in land war, that the infantry is the decisive factor, in spite of all the inventions of science. I was, therefore, rather disturbed yesterday, from another answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave to a written question, to find that despite the great increase in the Territorial Army and the wonderful recruiting for that Army, this year the infantry of the Territorial Army was reduced by 18,000. The right hon. Gentleman stated that two more antiaircraft divisions are to be formed. I was not quite clear where these would come from, and I assume that they also would come from the Territorial Army, which means a further reduction in the infantry.
The other conclusion to which this author came was that the tank had not fulfilled all the expectations placed upon it, and that, in spite of the wonderful strides which have been made in its development since the last War, it has not 2203 carried out such efficient or such effective results as were to be expected from the great role which it played in 1918, and, above all, that it could not be used as an autonomous weapon, that is to say, that it could be used only in conjunction with the infantry. For that reason, the light tank especially has proved a disappointment, even the admirable German light tank, which the Nationalist forces have principally employed, and that in future the policy should be to develop tanks rather for strength in defence, heavily armoured and powerfully armed, with powerful guns and thick protection, rather than the swift, light tank which hitherto had been more favoured. I rather gathered, from something which my right hon. Friend said to-day, that that view was already prevailing at the War Office and that there was a disposition to increase the percentage of medium or cruiser tanks rather than light tanks. I hope that a greater and more rapid development will be made with the production of the cruiser tanks, about which I know there have been so many disappointments.
There was one, and only one, point in my right hon. Friend's statement which I heard with deep regret, and that was the decision to abolish Woolwich. I know there has been an agitation for many years to do away with Woolwich. I myself served on a Committee when I was Financial Secretary to the War Office in 1932, I think it was, which went into all the facts, and we decided—perhaps I should not say "we," but I decided, because I think a great many members of the committee took the other view—that it was undesirable to amalgamate the two military colleges. I think it is a terrible thing to destroy a tradition that has been built up in a 100 years. I have no doubt my right hon. Friend, who has visited both places, will agree with me that, great as are the merits of Sandhurst, beautiful as are its surroundings, and many as are its advantages, there exists a far stronger feeling of tradition at Woolwich than there does at Sandhurst. You have only to go into that hall to feel the strength of the sentiment which all those who have been educated there always retain towards "the shop." It is very different from what those who have passed through Sandhurst feel about Sandhurst.
2204 Personally, I believe the more different ways there are in which people can enter the Army the better. You do not want to produce one type. You want to produce various types. You do not want the Nazification of the Army. That has been the deliberate policy in Germany, to break down all regimental traditions, to break down the tradition which links one regiment with one corps, or class, or part of the country, and to make them all one and the same. I hope that a similar spirit will never prevail in this country. If you have the two colleges working side by side in the same establishment, the level is bound to approximate. Gresham's Law applies just as much when you mix up young men, young officers training for a future life, as when you mix up bad coins and good coins—the level will deteriorate. Nobody wishes to criticise Sandhurst, and the recent developments at Sandhurst under General Sir Bertie Fisher, the Commandant there until about 18 months ago, the tremendous improvements there, have raised the whole tone and the educational level of the establishment. But nobody would deny that the educational and intellectual level of Woolwich has always been higher, as it should be for preparing men for what the French call the "learned art," and if you combine the two there is a real danger that that level, the intellectual level, will tend to be lower.
What is the reason for the change? My right hon. Friend did not make that quite plain. The reason which prompted the summoning of the Committee over which I presided in 1932 was the urgent need for economy. That need, no doubt, still exists, but economy no longer exercises, I am glad to say, the power which it did in the councils of the State. We were then told that we could save £50,000 a year, but I am sure my right hon. Friend at this moment, with the present Estimates before him, is not actuated by any such motive. The only other motive that he referred to was the danger, because Woolwich is in a dangerous zone, but we really cannot, in this small island, attempt to put everybody where they will be perfectly safe, and young soldiers and officers should be prepared, and certainly would be prepared, to take their risk with the rest. I would much rather defend Woolwich by powerful anti-aircraft guns, upon 2205 which the cadets themselves could be trained and in which they could be given instruction, than abolish it altogether. Even from that point of view, from the point of view of defence, is it wise to put all your young officers, all the officers training for the Army into one spot? You will immediately make Sandhurst, an exaggerated and increased Sandhurst, a place that it really might be worth while for an enemy bomber to seek out, standing as it does, or as it will, with the increased Staff College next door. Nor do I think, that from the pont of view of situation, the movement of Woolwich can be justified, although it is true that the surroundings are more attractive and the climate more salubrious at Sandhurst. If it were not too late—I am afraid that it probably is—I would urge that further consideration should be given before an ancient establishment, which has built up a glorious tradition, which has figured so largely in the history of the Army, should be doomed, in this year of all years, to abolition, for abolition it will really prove, once it loses its local habitation and its name.
Otherwise, I have nothing but praise for the statement to which we have listened to-day. I was delighted to hear of the success that has attended all the reforms that have been introduced with a view to bettering the conditions of the soldier's life. I was extremely interested to read, in the report on the new vocational training centres, of the large numbers that are passing through them and the possibility that now exists for every man who joins the Army to visit a vocational training centre before he leaves. I was glad to learn of the success which has attended the experiment at Canterbury and Burniston in reconditioning men. A large number of boys, taken on as unfit and and hopelessly below the Army standard, in the comparatively short period of six months or more, are turned out perfectly fit and became soldiers. That is not only performing a tremendous military service but a great social service as well, and I hope it may be possible in the future to extend these centres. On the whole, in my view, the statement with regard to the Army Estimates to which we have listened to-day from the Secretary of State is probably the most satisfactory statement with regard to the Army that has ever been made in this House.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Colonel Nathan
When, a few days ago, this House, without an adverse vote, passed the Third Reading of the Defence Loans Bill, we agreed to an expenditure upon our defence Services on the scale of the figures set out in that Measure. It is not, however, for the purpose so much of justifying the total expenditure involved or for the purpose of discussing that total that this Debate is taking place to-day. It is not a Debate on figures. There will, of course, be an opportunity of discussing the precise details at a later stage. Today we are concerned with the broad questions which the Secretary of State has placed before us. He has made a speech with a broad sweep and in many respects of precise application, and I should like to be allowed to join my voice to those of other hon. Members in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman upon it and the valuable and important information he has given to the House on many matters of great concern and profound importance. I am bound to say that there are one or two matters upon which, if I understood his statement correctly, he was perhaps a little lacking in completeness. It may be that his speech, covering as it did so wide a field, was a little difficult to follow in detail as it was spoken. It will certainly deserve, and will doubtless receive, the most complete consideration when it appears in print.
One question on which I would ask the right hon. Gentleman for a little more information is as to the expeditionary force, if there is to be one. When he was considering the difficulties of the transport of troops and their equipment from this country to France, I thought he was leading up to the statement that it had been decided, without commitment to France, but having regard to the eventualities envisaged by the Prime Minister's statement the other day, which the right hon. Gentleman repeated, that we were to establish stores or stocks of equipment and ordnance on the shores and in the ports of France to be available for our troops, when they were transported. I gathered that all he said in that regard was that a calculation had already been made of the amount of transport that would be required for the amount of equipment when the time came. I hoped that that was going to be a calculation of the transport required for personnel only, and that a great part of 2207 the equipment would be already there. Another matter on which I was not clear was with regard to that part of the strategic reserve which, I gather, is to be centred upon Palestine. I was not clear what the strength of that reserve was to be and from what source it was from time to time to be reinforced, unless it was to be by the depletion of the strategic reserve centred in this country, which I gather not to be the case. These are the points on broad questions of policy and administration about which the right hon. Gentleman's speech left me in some doubt.
If I was left in doubt upon them I was not left in any doubt about a great many others and that the record, which the right hon. Gentleman was able to announce, of progress and of arrangements for the future was a very satisfactory record of which the right hon. Gentleman may well be proud. I notice that in his observations in regard to the functions of the Territorial Army in case of war he stated that on mobilisation the Territorial Army and the Regular Army would be one. He went on to say, in regard to the expansion of the Territorial Army after mobilisation, that recruits would be recruited as Territorials. There seemed to me to be some room for misunderstanding there. As an original Territorial and one who was mobilized in the last War, I know how difficult was the situation of the Territorial Army in relation to the Regular Army. I am confident that the present generation of Territorials, and all those who have any recollections of the Territorials in the last War, will welcome the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that in future Territorials and Regular soldiers are after mobilisation to be treated on the same footing. When I say "after mobilisation," I am almost exaggerating the position, because to a greatly increasing extent Territorials and Regular soldiers are at present being treated on an equal footing. That is all to the good, and it is certainly a matter of great satisfaction to the Territorial Army.
The right hon. Gentleman told us, and we were all gratified to know, that the recruiting of the Territorial Army during the past year has been a record in its history. He told us that the present strength is beyond the establishment as it stood at the beginning of the year, 2208 although not quite up to the increased establishment as it now stands. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that it is important there should be no misunderstanding as to what these figures of strength in relation to establishment really mean. The present figures represent the strength to be 15,000 below the present establishment, but it must not be understood to indicate that every unit is within that measure of its own establishment strength, because there are in all units permitted increases above establishment. In the case of the anti-aircraft units it is 30 per cent., and in other units 20 per cent. There are many units, especially anti-aircraft units, which are well above establishment and up to the whole of the permitted increase. The position has been created, which is true throughout the anti-aircraft units and in a large number of other technical units, in which the appearance is given that the Territorial Army as a whole and all its various units are up to or almost up to establishment whereas, in fact, there are a relatively large number of units which are below establishment, particularly and unhappily in the Infantry branch. I emphasise this point for a reason which the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate.
A large number of recruits are still required, not only to bring us up to the present establishment, but because of the increased establishment which the Secretary of State has indicated. It would be a pity if the impression were to get abroad that all units of the Territorial Army are all but up to strength, and it is well to make clear that there are some which are a great deal over strength and a considerable number which are under strength; in other words, that there are plenty of vacancies in the Territorial Army for those who desire to join. It would be disconcerting to those who are engaged in trying to assist recruiting if the impression were to prevail that for the whole Territorial Army only 15,000 men were wanted and that men were to say, "What is the use of my joining? There are plenty of other people." The great increase last year of 83,000 is very remarkable. I know from the battalion with which I have the honour to be associated how very steep has been the increase. Two years ago the strength of my battalion was 250. A year ago it was under 500, and to-day it is 1,600, including the permitted increase. That is a remarkable increase; 2209 it is a very steep one. Who is responsible for it? The right hon. Gentleman may take great credit to himself for the work which has been done for the Territorial Army, and there are others who have played a part in trying to increase the strength, but the two men who have done most to create that rush into the Territorials which has meant that steep rise in the numbers are Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini.
The importance of bearing that in mind lies in this. When tension is great people flock to the recruiting stations as hard as they can, and when tension relaxes-the rush will not be so great and so instinctive and will want a little persuasion. The methods of recruiting will have to be considered still further so as to maintain, what I am satisfied we require, a great increase in the Territorial Army and the anti-aircraft divisions along the lines which have been indicated to-day. As the political situation improves the difficulties of recruiting increase. We have to be very alert about that, unless and until the political situation as a whole is ameliorated, when, instead of considering increases, we can consider a reduction in our Forces. That, however, is not a situation which even on the most optimistic view we can contemplate for the immediate future. I am dealing at the moment with the practical situation with which we are likely to be confronted in the course of the next year or so.
There is one point in connection with the work of the Territorials to which I wish to direct the attention of the Secretary of State. In making his Estimates speech last year he said, when speaking of the situation that would arise on the outbreak of war:Defence against air attack may be the primary requirement. In this major respect home defence is in the first category of importance … The priorities in home defence are, in their order, air defence;And now comes a point on which I would like a little information—internal security, which assumes a widened scope in the light of air-raid precautions …" —[Official Report, 10th March, 1938, col. 3136, Vol. 332.]I should like at this stage a little enlightenment as to what exactly the right hon. Gentleman had in mind when speaking last year of internal security as a function, as I understand, of the Territorial Army, and how far that still persists, in view of the other functions, the 2210 changed functions I think, which he has told us to-day are vested in the Territorial Army. I know that, at the time of the embodiment of the anti-aircraft divisions in September last, when my own battalion was at war stations, the other battalions, the general body of the Territorial Army, was not embodied at all although, if one went to their headquarters, they looked as if they were embodied. They had all arrived and put in an appearance in their uniforms, just as if they were going to be embodied, but they were to be used for the purpose of preserving order in the event of an air raid supervening. I do not know whether that is still the idea, but, if it is, I would like the right hon. Gentleman to give the matter a little more consideration.
I wonder whether it is really wise that Territorials, who may be required at any moment to form part of an expeditionary force, should be at the risk—which is inherent in the hypothesis—of suffering casualties almost in the capacity of civilians, at all events side by side with the civilians, in order that they may preserve the people from the effects of panic. I wonder whether we can afford the risk of the Territorials suffering those air raid casualties at a time when their departure for their war stations, either in this country or abroad, may be very imminent. It has a very dislocating effect on the organisation of any battalion to have heavy casualties probably before it is even mobilised. And, anyhow, I have the impression that the Territorials do not very much like the idea of performing functions which are really of a police order rather than a military order, in view of the obligation which they have undertaken to fight, and I think it is a very creditable feeling.
There are one or two minor points to which I might, perhaps, refer in regard to the Territorials. I have had some opportunity during the last year or more of seeing a good deal, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, of Territorials in one way and another. There are one or two things that struck me which I will take this opportunity of mentioning to him. He referred in his speech to the hon. Member for Harrow (Sir I. Salmon) and to the work which he was doing in connection with improving food conditions. I hope that is going to apply to Territorials as well as to the Regular Army, and I think it is rather a pity that at 2211 every mess table there should appear a statement called a "Diet sheet." Why should not it be "Bill of fare"? I am sure the food would be much tastier if it were described as a "Bill of fare" rather than a "Diet sheet."
§ Colonel Nathan
Why not good old English? I think "Bill of fare" is good enough for all of us, but a "Diet sheet" has an implication rather of some kind of institution than of the cookhouse of a Territorial unit. With regard to headquarters buildings, the right hon. Gentleman told us of the very large sums that he was proposing to spend upon buildings. I am rather inclined to think that when the new buildings, some of them not yet even formally opened, were planned and built, it was on a rather pessimistic view of what was likely to be the strength of a Territorial unit. It was not contemplated, I think, that the buildings were to be required for units at full strength, because some of them, within my knowledge, are scarcely large enough, either as regards the number or the size of their rooms, for units at full strength. We all know what the old ordinary peacetime strength of a unit was. It was not very great, and these headquarters buildings have, I think, been built on the footing that there might indeed be some increase in strength, but without taking sufficiently into account what would be required in the event of the unit coming up to full strength, or reaching even the permitted increase.
One thing has struck me very much. During the last year or so there has been the new confidence which the Territorial Army feels in itself, and the new confidence which is felt in it by the general public outside. It is a great tribute to the work which the Territorial Army is doing, and to the way in which it is doing it. I wonder how many hon. Members who are not themselves actually associated with the Territorial Army realise the enormous amount of time that these citizen soldiers give to their public-spirited duties. I think I am right in saying that all that is required of them to make themselves formally efficient is 20 hours a year, together with an attendance in camp. I went into the matter last evening in regard to my own unit, 2212 although the statement is by no means limited to that one unit, as I think the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Lieut.-Colonel Macnamara) will agree, and I found that the time these men give to the duties as citizen soldiers worked out at 100 or 120, or even at the rate of 150, hours a year, instead of the statutory 20. They are attending very often, too, every other Sunday in addition to camp. I think that is something which ought to be known generally by the public. It is a public-spirited duty which cannot be valued too highly, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take occasion to make that known when he speaks in public on these subjects.
The right hon. Gentleman made a first-class move when he appointed General Sir Walter Kirke, the Director-General of the Territorial Army, to the Army Council. That was really almost the beginning in giving a new status to the Territorial Army in its own eyes, in the eyes of the Army at large, and in the eyes of the general public; and when he added to Sir Walter Kirke two Territorial Army officers in Major-General Sir John Brown and Colonel Dunlop I think he selected his men admirably, and he showed to the Territorial force as a whole that there was scarcely any post, indeed no post, in the military hierarchy which was not open to a Territorial. That again altered the status of the Territorial Army in its own eyes, in the eyes of the Army at large, and in the eyes of the general public. I think the right hon. Gentleman himself is entitled to a word of gratitude and congratulation on the part which he, personally, has played in these matters. The Territorials feel that at last they have been put on the map, and that it is the right hon. Gentleman who has put them on the map.
I was rather intrigued, when I was at one of the Territorial camps during the summer training season, by a little story that was told to me there of how one of the officers—a major, I think he was— had been visited by his wife and four small girls, one in a perambulator. They did not quite know what to do with the nurse and perambulator. They sent them for a walk within the precincts of the camp, and all the troops gathered round the perambulator in the good humoured way in which the Territorials will always 2213 treat a youngster, and they were all shouting in unison to the youngster, "You're only the major's baby; we're all Hore-Belisha's babies." I think it is very creditable to the right hon. Gentleman that he should so impress his personality upon the Territorials that they should speak quite naturally of him and of themselves in relation to him in that sort of way. Indeed, my concluding sentence shall be a word of thanks from one who has tried to play some part in connection with the Territorial Army, and a word of congratulation to him as Secretary of State for his achievements during the past year, and of good hope for the coming year.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Major-General Sir Alfred Knox
I should like to join with previous speakers in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on the wonderful lucidity of his explanation and on the great advance he has made in perfecting the role of the Army in the event of war. I hope he will forgive me, as one who is naturally perhaps a pessimist, for asking a few questions—of course, he is an optimist. Everybody who speaks from the Front Bench is naturally an optimist—and that is our trouble. We really do wonder whether the picture is so beautiful as they consistently paint it. I remember the Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking in introducing the Bill for the new Defence Loan the other day, said that no doubt when the time came the Secretary of State for War would give a very good picture of recruiting. If we get down to bedrock, what happened to recruiting last year? Nine thousand five hundred more men offered themselves as recruits for the Army. And the Secretary of State has made many changes in the terms for Army recruiting, not all of which, I think, are really to the advantage of the Army itself, though no doubt they get recruits.
First of all, he changed conditions as regards sight and hearing, and men are now admitted with dentures. That may be all right, but I do not know how they will tackle bully beef when it comes to war. What is more important is that he raised the age at which recruits are taken from 25, and now men can enlist up to 30. The danger of a man enlisting at 30 is that he has tried one or two other jobs before. I fancy a commanding officer will find it more difficult to mould 2214 that man into a soldier than the younger material to which he has been accustomed in the past. Then there is the question of married men. Married men up to 30 are now taken. There is one thing that I am surprised that he did not refer to in his statement to-day, and that is that married men up to 26 are taken, provided the recruiting officer has satisfied himself that provision will be made for the care and support of their wives and families. I call that a ridiculous arrangement. Questions were asked in the House this week regarding the number of those unfortunate women who have to apply for Poor Law relief. These men cannot support their wives. It is true that men over 26 years of age are allowed 17s. for their wives, with a proportionate allowance for children, and can afford to keep their wives, but the others, though they may say when trying to enlist that they can keep their wives, cannot do so in practice. Either married men should not be taken or they should be given an allowance for the support of their wives.
One thing which the Secretary of State said which, I think, will be of advantage to recruiting is that the term of service in India is to be reduced to four years, but, on the other hand, I wonder whether the establishment of strategical reserves in the Middle East—I suppose the term "strategic" is used for a few battalions, probably—will be good for recruiting. I think the ordinary man who enlists would probably rather serve in India than in Palestine or on the Suez Canal. I think it is quite possible for India to spare a few battalions, with the greater mobility of transport which exists now; and, of course, if it ever came to a question of defending India the defence would have to come from the Home country.
The previous Secretary of State spoke with some approval of the depots for physical development, one at Canterbury and one being opened at Scarborough. On the other hand, it is rather pathetic that an Empire like this should have to resort to this plan. It seems terrible that the authorities should have to take these boys and put them through a special course to make them fit to become soldiers. To my mind it is a question whether these boys—although they have been well reported upon—will ever be able to make soldiers of the type that Continental countries are turning out by hundreds where we produce half-a-dozen. Let hon. Members consider what is 2215 happening in Germany. The motto there is, "The interests of the State are more important than your private interests," and they act up to that motto. Whatever one may think of their policy there is a general spirit of self-sacrifice among the youth of that nation. The Young Folk from 10 to 14 years of age carry out drills and undergo semi-military instruction. The Hitler Youth carry this training on from 14 to 18 years. In the twentieth year every man in Germany, whatever his rank or class or wealth, has to go to a labour camp for six months. There he gets good discipline and good healthy food, and it hardens him in mind and body. After that he goes for two years military service.
How can we compete with that process? Though the Secretary of State has given us an optimistic statement, in my opinion we in this country are not doing enough, if we really value our liberties, as I believe we all do. The hon. Member who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench said that what appeals to us is the defence of our liberties, and he blamed the Prime Minister for, as he put it, letting down the League of Nations. I could quote in reply what a member of his own party said in another place, that in one fortnight the Prime Minister had done more for the cause of peace than the League of Nations and all the Chancelleries of Europe had done in 19 years. No one can look upon the Prime Minister as an Imperialist in the sense of wanting to start a war for Imperialist aims. Such an idea could not exist in the most blatantly military mind.
The first object now is home defence, and I believe that we are getting on with that. I welcomed the idea that we are going to send an Expeditionary Force abroad, but I should like to hear what is the opinion of our possible or probable Allies as to the number of men we propose to send abroad and the time at which they will arrive there. It seems to me that they may be dissatisfied. There is no doubt that five divisions will go at once—as soon as they can get across— but what about the other divisions? Some time will be required to train them, as in 1914, and what is to happen in the meantime? We have in this country a very large number of men who are not doing their share of National Defence. Last week I put a question to the Lord Privy 2216 Seal asking how many men there are in the country between 18 and 30 years of age, and his reply was that there are 4,500,000. Out of that 4,500,000 the very generous number of 2,200,000 are reserved for what are called reserved occupations.
The type of these reserved occupations is astonishing. I have received a letter from a constituent who served as an officer in the last War and would like to serve as an officer again. He tells me he is a general salesman and a general salesman in the particular place where he works—they are a decorating firm—is a man who, when someone calls at the shop and inquires about decorating his house, goes there to advise upon the scheme of decoration. He wisely said in his letter that when the first air raid comes to London no one will be wanting houses decorated and his job will have gone. What in the name of goodness is the use of keeping that man tied down in a reserved occupation when he is ready to do his part as a patriotic citizen in the fighting forces? We have in that large number of men, about 2,200,000, a reserve of strength which ought to be tapped.
In the course of a Debate last November the Prime Minister said this country has a habit of being very slow to get to work, but that when it does get to work it works in double quick time. That is not enough in the case of war. Men who have had no training are useless at the outset of a war. My opinion may not be shared by other hon. Members, but I believe that the situation to-day is so serious that we ought to adopt some measure of compulsory service to get those men who are not doing their duty into the net, in order that they may be trained to defend their country.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
I rise mainly to comment upon one aspect of the statement of the Secretary of State for War, that dealing with recruiting. Figures were given to indicate that in the year that is closing a record number of recruits for the Regular Army was obtained, something like 40,000, whereas in the previous year the figure had been down to about 22,000. In the meantime an experiment has been developing at Canterbury, and later at Scarborough, under which we have been accepting in increasing numbers men who previously would have been 2217 regarded as totally unfit for the Army. I take it that all that was the matter with those men was that they were physically ill-conditioned, that they had no organic trouble, no chest or foot trouble or anything of that kind. No fewer than 1,400 out of the 1,900 so handled have been passed into the Army as fit. That is an interesting figure from the point of view of recruiting, because although the increase from 22,000 to 40,000 was, no doubt, due in the first place to the patriotic feelings roused in the country in September of last year, a very high proportion of the men who would regularly submit themselves for examination have been made fit for the Army by the reconditioning treatment they underwent.
I should like to know whether the treatment is mainly based upon the cookhouse. Is it physical drill, or is it a case of getting access to good food and regular meals? I have seen a report which states that the recruits who are undergoing this treatment have a cup of tea and a biscuit brought to them before they rise, then they have breakfast, and in the course of the morning a break, or, as we say in the country, "elevenses." According to a typical bill of fare, their breakfast consists of porridge with hot milk, liver and onion sauce, bread, butter and marmalade. At the time of the break they have an apple and milk, and soup every other day. Dinner consists of meat pie, cabbage, mashed potatoes, stewed figs and custard. Tea consists of bread and butter, cheese and onions, and supper of fish and chips, tea, bread and milk. Meals like that seem to be the background of the training of these men, and I hope that that aspect of recruiting will not be lost upon this House in other directions. It is a clear indication that up to now the Army authorities have been severely hampered by the mere ill-conditioned state of the thousands of men who otherwise would have made the response which the hon. and gallant Member for Wycombe (Sir A. Knox) regards as so desirable.
The figures indicate that no less than 10 per cent. of the new recruits accepted by the Army have been dealt with in that way, and it looks as though the advantages of this reconditioning process have now become so obvious to the Army authorities that they are extending the depots. I have seen a figure of roughly 2218 300 recruits per depot, and that the depot at Scarborough is about to be enlarged to accommodate 300. Does this indicate that this reconditioning process, covering the time when the men present themselves to a recruiting agency and instead of being turned down are passed on with the idea that if they are reconditioned they can be accepted, cover a period of about three months? In other words, what is the average turnover in these depots in the year? Is it possible to turn a man from an unfit to a fit person inside two or three months? To many people, to known this would be an important contribution to the problems of undernourishment and malnutrition in this country. I compliment the War Office on this imaginative move that they have taken to deal with recruits who are not otherwise unwilling to serve the country, but whom the country has ill served in the past by allowing them to get into their present condition.
I swing from this angle of the subject to an entirely different one in order to make a further comment. My main impression this afternoon was of the strategic importance that must increasingly be attached to British interests in the Mediterranean. If it is to be essential for the War Office to develop and permanently support a main establishment in that area, obviously it means that we have to regard events in that quarter with considerably increased concern. It is an illumination of the trend of events for the British Empire that this emphasis, is placed on the formation of those establishments in that particular area. But my main contribution to this Debate is my comment on the treatment of the recruits and the marked effect that this must have on men who come to the service from the ranks of the unemployed. The pressure to enlist will fall upon the unemployed if an emergency again becomes imminent. To have found that there are methods for putting these recruits into fit physical condition by just a course of good feeding is a reflection upon the present state of affairs, but it is also a credit to the War Department for handling it in that way.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Macnamara
I would add a word of congratulation to the Secretary of State for what I thought was a very fine speech. It was a very encouraging and satisfying speech for anybody who has given thought to Army 2219 matters in the last few years. I would like to say a word to the hon. and gallant Member for Central Wandsworth (Colonel Nathan), who spoke from the Socialist benches, but who has, unfortunately, had to go out. He said that it would be difficult in times of no tension to keep up the enthusiasm for the Territorial Army such as has been created by Signor Mussolini and Herr Hitler, but I would tell him that if we were to have as many good speeches from the Socialist benches as that which he made, they would go a. long way towards recruiting the Territorial Army. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider any remarks that I may make this afternoon as directed from the co-operative point of view, even though I may include one or two criticisms. He spoke of maintaining the Army in time of war. I have a suggestion which may possibly be impracticable, but which I think is well worth looking into. One of the commodities which all our Services, Navy, Air Force or Army, will need in war, is oil, and one of the countries which will be among the greatest oil-producing countries in the world is Canada. Would it not be possible to run an oil pipe-line from Canada to this country? It would only have to be double the length of any pipe-line now in existence, and I understand that there would be no engineering difficulties in laying or maintaining it. I hope he will carefully consider my suggestion. The Secretary of State raised the question of what kind of Army we should have, and all through his speech we saw him hedging around the question of numbers.
We are going to face very anxious years in future. I am not an alarmist, but we are contending with men who have stated that they intend to re-divide the world, and who mean it, so far as we know. This may mean a major European war or a major war elsewhere, or on the other hand it may mean a gradual slipping into world anarchy during which we may suffer from diplomatic trials of strength and may witness the eating up of territories here and there and the entrenching in positions of importance for "jumping off" and the seizing of key points. Militarily we have to weigh up all those factors and consider the danger of each of them by itself. We have also to consider the danger of them all happening at once. We have 2220 always had in our Empire long life-lines. To this matter I suggest that hon. Members should pay a great deal of attention, since we have recently added new embarrassments to ourselves and even longer lines and wider commitments. Our Empire is going through a period of political change which we have deliberately started by political experiments in some of our Colonies and Dependencies, including India, Jamaica, Palestine and elsewhere. There may be upsets in those areas in consequence. We have also recently acquired new frontiers. We have to consider both the Western and Southern frontiers of Egypt much more than we used to do, and also the frontier of Kenya. We have always had to concern ourselves with the North-West Frontier of India, and now the North-East Frontier of India is going to be as important as the North-West Frontier and will require a garrison.
That is to mention only our own new frontiers but, furthermore, we have deliberately embarked—rightly in my opinion—upon a policy of friendship and co-operation with France, and we have added her frontiers too. France has the same outlook and interest as ourselves and benefits us militarily just as we benefit her. There seems to be in this country an attitude which says that we are pulling France's chestnuts out of the fire, but France's friendship is just as necessary to us as ours is to France. Unless we are prepared to show that our friendship means real backing and real numbers in that backing, we may very well find a situation developing in which a government in France may find it easier to surrender a little interest here and there, and may leave us isolated. Then, once isolated, we might begin for the first time to appreciate the true meaning of Anglo-French co-operation.
We have to be more prepared than ever before, and to have even bigger forces at our disposal. I can think of a situation—perhaps deliberately provoked—in which the internal security of some of our Dependencies might be threatened. The threat might reach an acute stage. I can think at the same time of our lengthy lines of communication being menaced and of the simultaneous diplomatic trials of strength. What if we had to meet all those trials coming at once? My right hon. Friend mentioned the Navy; of course we have the Navy; we had the 2221 strongest Navy in the world in 1914, but we must not forget that despite that strong Navy we were very nearly brought to our knees as a result of warfare at sea, We have greater responsibility now than we had before the War. Our Army is much more likely to be required now than it was at any time in our history, but, on the other hand, our Army is smaller now than before the War, both in numbers and in comparison with any possible combination of adversaries. It is also, as a fighting force, a field force, smaller than it was a few months ago, because although the whole Army, including the Territorial Army, is larger than it was, nevertheless a great many of the field force formations have been turned over into anti-aircraft units, leaving our striking force smaller than it was.
Added to that some of the functions which our soldiers now have to perform are jobs which should come under the Home Office, such as those of air-raid wardens, and special constables. Furthermore, the flower of our present Army is tied up, and is likely to be still tied up, in India. It has not yet been properly released from its internal security duties there. I suggest that our first principle should be that all our soldiers, Territorial or Regular, should be freed from A.R.P. duties, which should be done by the Home Office. The Army should not be called upon to do them any more than should the Navy or the Air Force. I suggest that if the Army is to take over jobs of a military nature, such as guarding vulnerable areas, my right hon. Friend should use the National Defence companies for that purpose immediately war broke out, and not later on. My right hon. Friend did not say whether he was going to put these men into uniform straight away, but I suggest that he put the National Defence companies into uniform at once so that they will be able to take up jobs immediately war breaks out and thus release the fighting soldiers.
The second principle should be that for purposes of internal security, virtually police work, in India or any of our other Dependencies, young soldiers organised into fighting armies, which may be moved away in emergency, are not ideal, either from our point of view or the Colony's. I suggest that we should raise a force to be known as the Empire Gendannerie on the lines of the Canadian Mounted Police, in which might be enrolled older men who 2222 know the language and the people. They would do that work in our Colonies and Dependencies, and thus release regular soldiers to get on with their fighting functions in a major war. My right hon. Friend is going to equip a second strategic reserve in the Near East. This is a matter for which I have pressed before, and I am very glad indeed to find that he is making a move in that direction. I would only suggest that that should be extended to a third strategic reserve in the Far East, because, in the event of any threat to our outposts or our lines of communication, we do not want to overburden the Navy with too much escort duty. If we had those three strategic reserves, they could deal with sieges and relieve those outposts without its being necessary to call upon the Navy to escort large bodies of troops through dangerous waters when, furthermore, days, hours even, will count if we wish to effect reliefs in time.
I suggest, also, that it would be possible to recruit a home service army for a shorter term of service, not necessarily recruiting all the soldiers for the same period, but recruiting soldiers for short service at home and giving them the option of continuing their service and going abroad afterwards if they so desired. I see no difficulty in that, and an Empire gendarmerie such as I have suggested would be an extra attraction to those enlisting for a long period and serving overseas, if they knew they would be guaranteed a good job in this semi-police, semi-military force after their military service had ended.
I can envisage a time ahead when we may have crises like that of last September. I do not suggest that there will be any necessity for undue alarm at such crises, because I think that, with a little more attention, our Territorial Army could be made sufficiently efficient to be called up during those crises and defend the country without actual mobilisation, and even without necessarily interfering with their own civilian work. It would be quite possible to keep them "on tap" near the headquarters, or even reporting in the evenings; or it might be possible to re-introduce some such system as King Alfred's Fyrd, whereby a certain number would be always on duty in turn while the remainder were doing their ordinary work. But the Territorial Army 2223 will need a little more attention, equipment and facilities for training if it is to be brought to a sufficient degree of efficiency to enable the nation to rely upon it completely from that point of view.
I consider that our present forces are nearly enough for our peace purposes, and even for the first few hours of a major war, but I suggest that we have no real numbers to fall back upon or to give confidence to our Allies who may be looking to us. We need these numbers of men. I am afraid that I personally cannot accept any of the excuses which are made about machines, or fire power, or anything else for our not having the numbers of men ultimately; and it is not necessarily ultimately that we need these numbers. We shall probably need them at once, by which I mean on the outbreak of a major war. We should need them as reliefs for our garrisons overseas in the outlying parts of the Empire—especially for any besieged outposts —for bringing our present units up to war strength, and for immediate drafts to take the place of those killed, wounded or diseased.
Supposing that our total forces on mobilisation are 500,000, I suggest that we should not have a man too many if we had another 500,000 trained ready to step into their places at once on the outbreak of war. What we have to fear in this country and in our Empire, either in the heart of the Empire or in outlying posts, is a knock-out blow, and, therefore, we are obliged to have the people there at once, ready to deal with any attempt at a knock-out blow. I suggest that our present Army structure is nearly adequate for peace purposes or for crises, if properly re-distributed, but that it has inadequate reserves trained and ready. Therefore I would suggest that we leave our Regular Army and our Territorial Army, and the Empire gendarmerie which I hope will come, to be recruited on a voluntary basis. But we must also have trained reserves ready to fill up these various forces in the event of any attempt at a knock-out blow. I think we all accept now the principle of complete National Service in time of war——
§ Lieut.-Colonel Macnamara
If we agree that we are to have complete National Service in time of war, is there any objection to having some form of national training, compulsorily, to provide trained reserves, not to fill the voluntary armies in peace-time, but ready the moment war breaks out, when we introduce that system of national service, to fill up the gaps? Such a system would make us far stronger than we are at present. I suggest, therefore, a system of national training in peace-time involving, say, six months' service, including labour service, education and elementary military training, leaving enlistment into the various armies in peace-time to be voluntary, but having that reserve ready for a time of war. I believe that, if the party on this side of the House were to go to the country on that issue, we could win a general election on it. At the same time, I am not suggesting that we should go to the country in order to win an election on that issue, for it is a matter above party politics. I feel that, in a national matter of this kind, it would be very healthy for us as a country to get an agreed outlook in that respect—to get agreement that we must throw ourselves heart and soul into the winning of a war if we have unfortunately to embark upon one, whatever Government may be in power, and that, if we want to win in war-time, we must take the necessary precautions nationally and, if necessary, compulsorily, in peace-time. What we want in this country is an Army, not to make war, but an Army which, by its strength, will keep the peace.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Sanders
I want to join, with a certain reserve, in the congratulations that have been offered to the Secretary of State on his very able speech this afternoon. It was a real pleasure to listen to his compilation of figures and facts as he presented it to us. My reserve is that I should want to study the speech, when it appears in the Official Report, much more carefully than one can do when one is listening, before I could say 2225 that as a statement of fact and as a statement of our present position it was entirely satisfactory.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Wandsworth (Colonel Nathan) pointed out that the great inrush of recruits, for the Territorial Army especially, arose most likely—I think one might say certainly—from the efforts made by Messrs. Hitler and Mussolini to frighten the British public into the belief that there was going to be a major war in Europe. I think my hon. and gallant Friend was perfectly right. The increased number of recruits offered themselves from a real patriotic motive for the purpose of defending their country against an immediate danger. From what I have gathered this afternoon, it will still be necessary for a considerable number of men to be induced to join both the Regular Army and the Territorial Army, and I feel that the worst thing we can possibly do is to try to tell the people of this country with conviction that the policy of appeasement is now becoming successful, and that the danger from the totalitarian countries is now over.
Before the Great War, very few people in England knew from the inside how intense was the purpose of Germany to dominate the world, and how amazingly efficient her preparations for that purpose were. The efficiency of her preparations has been confirmed this afternoon by those speakers who have said that, in spite of all that we did—and we did an immense amount—and in spite of all the help that we received, Germany's purpose was nearly accomplished. The same purpose is as inherent in German foreign policy under Herr Hitler as it was under the Kaiser. Those in Germany who command the education of the nation still carry on the tradition that will be discovered in every university in Germany, as I discovered it in those that I visited —the tradition that Germany has for the future the position which in the past was occupied by other nations, including the French, and which now, in the opinion of the Germans, we occupy, namely, that of the leading country in the world; and that it is the business of every patriotic German, not only to make Germany strong in itself, but to make it strong enough to be the inheritor of the position now occupied by Great Britain. Let there be no doubt about that. When one tries, as I tried, to measure the influence 2226 of that teaching among hundreds of thousands of the most important young men of Germany, one can understand what an effect it has upon that peculiar side of the German mind which can always rise to the worship of a great abstract ideal, though it may appear remote and ridiculous to us.
I remember one dramatic moment in my career when I was warned by the Leader of the Social Democratic party in Germany that, no matter what the German Cabinet might say individually and collectively about the peaceful intentions of the great German Fleet, that German Fleet was meant to attack us at the earliest possible moment, no matter what Admiral von Tirpitz or any other of the Ministers might happen to say for the purpose of blinding the vision of the British people. Yet—and I say it with the utmost regret—when the moment came, and the Kaiser gave the word, the whole of that great working-class party rallied to the Kaiser as one man. They knew all the time, as they had told me, that the next war would be an aggressive war—exactly as the wars against Denmark, France and Austria had been, although Bismarck had declared that they were merely defensive; they said they would never again be sold by the German Government, but they were sold. It was only after two or three years of war that there came the revolt of the working classes against the military system of Germany. We have to face that.
Until I have read the speech of the Minister of War, I cannot say whether we are yet prepared to meet that threat, especially when we consider that in the next war one of our Allies who kept the East for us will probably keep the East for Germany and Italy—I refer to Japan. There was no mention of that possibility, either directly or indirectly, in the speech of the Minister of War. I would suggest, too, that there was another gap. We were told—and I think we ought not to ask for any more than the Minister told us —about our relations with France. I think it would be a tremendous mistake for the Minister to say exactly what our commitments are to France in the way of practical help, and what shape they will take, but we ought to know what arrangements, if only in a general way, have been made between ourselves and our Dominions with regard to the assistance they are prepared to give should a 2227 great war break out, whether they are prepared to help the outposts of the Empire to defend themselves against attack.
Then I wish to echo a remark made by the speaker from the Liberal benches. What arrangements, if any, are being made with the one great ally in the last war who, unfortunately, left us rather prematurely, but who would be extremely valuable again in a future war, namely, Russia? I see no reason why, if we are making commitments, as we are bound to, with our fellow-democracy across the Channel, steps should not be taken to come to some arrangement, tentative it may be at first, with that great new country for the purpose, if for no other, of relieving us of the responsibility of having to send an enormous fleet and army over to the East.
Those are the criticisms I wish to make on the speech, which, as I have already said, I listened to—as a speech—with great pleasure. I want, however, to insist again that, in spite of all the efforts that are being made, through the attacks on the B.B.C., for instance, to make out that we are now entering on a time when we can give up any idea that we may be faced with a great war, while the present regime is in existence in Germany and a similar one is in existence in Italy, there can be no relief from the tension from which Europe is now suffering.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Tree
Most of the speeches to which we have listened to-night have dealt with the role that the British Army is to play in the future, and questions have been asked as to what is expected of it in the event of another European war. In my opinion, that question is largely academic, because I believe that in the event of a European war, or in any war in which our interests are involved, we shall immediately employ all our forces as we did in 1914. But whereas in the past it was a matter of a few months' training before a recruit was ready for the field, modern inventions and mechanisation have very much altered conditions to-day. I am told that it now takes between four and five years to train an instructor in all the courses that are necessary in order that he may be able to train a mechanised regiment. Therefore, if our Regular Army is to be ready for the great expansion that will undoubtedly take place in 2228 the event of war, it is essential that the right type of men, keen and intelligent, shall join the Army. In order to get the right type of men, it is necessary that they should be offered an attractive and happy life. In the past the ordinary serving soldier did not care much about his comforts. In my opinion, that has now very much changed, and, therefore, I would like to make some suggestions which, if adopted, would, I believe, add greatly to the comforts of the individual serving soldier.
The first matter to which I wish to refer is barrack accommodation. This differs very widely throughout the country. In some places there are still huts patterned very closely on those used after the Crimean War, with poor sanitation, no heating, and little or no sitting room accommodation. In other places, there are the so-called Sandhurst blocks, replete with all modern conveniences. In 1935 a much overdue building programme was started, which is due to expire in March, 10,41, and I believe that something like £12,000,000 was allotted for reconditioning and putting into shape all the barrack accommodation of the country. I would ask my right hon. Friend whether that L2,000,000 is enough. It would be unfortunate if there was inequality as between camps: if some men were housed in ideal conditions, and in other parts of the country the barracks were still in bad condition. If we want the right kind of personnel in the Army we must provide sitting rooms, hot and cold water, and adequate bathing arrangements. The second point I want to take up is that of the quarters available to men who marry off the strength. I would like to describe the position as it is to-day. Up to 1938 married quarters were given in the ratio of 100 per cent. to warrant officers, 50 per cent. to sergeants, and 5 per cent. to other ranks. A married allowance of 7s. a week was given. In 1938, in those welcome reforms of last year, the family allowance was raised to 17s. 6d. a week, to be given to all men of 26 and over who were married. In addition, increased allowances were given for each child. This brought something like 7,000 men into the married establishment.
It is, therefore, necessary that accommodation should be provided for some, at least, of these men. In the large towns it is quite possible for them to rent 2229 lodgings, or even houses—although what often happens is that if the lodging house keepers hear that allowances have been raised the rents go up accordingly—but in camps remote from towns and villages there is no accommodation at all. I believe it is estimated that of the 7,000 men added to the married establishment it is necessary to supply about 40 per cent. with houses—in other words, that something like 3,000 houses must be built. I am told that it is possible for these houses to be built at about £500 each. That means a yearly rental, inclusive, of about £55. For a married man with no children that would not be an economic proposition, but for a married man with a child, or children, it would. I further understand that several building societies are anxious and willing to undertake the building operations, provided that the Treasury are willing to guarantee 20 per cent. of the cost. That would appear to me to be a proposal that the Treasury might well seriously consider. Shortly after the War, the Brigade of Guards built, with the assistance of private capital, a series of flats at Caterham. I believe that the scheme was successful, and that it is a good paying proposition, but surely we ought not to have to rely on private enterprise. I suggest that there should be a six-year building scheme and that during that period something like 500 houses a year should be built. Not only would it be supplying a real necessity, but, at the same time, it would take up the lag in employment when the camps which are being built all over the country are nearing completion. I would only make this one plea. If it is done, the money so raised should not be included in Army Estimates, but should be kept as I a separate financial transaction.
I now turn to the question of the leisure hours of our men in camp. In the big towns where there are plenty of cinemas and there is the society of the townspeople it is not an important problem, but in camps, very often remote and far away, the problem is a serious one. There is at the most one cinema, perhaps giving one performance or, at the most, two performances a week. I am told that the canteens in these days are more or less deserted. I suggest that until the new barracks are supplied which have adequate sitting rooms to which the men can go, mechanised transport, in the discretion 2230 of the commanding officer, should be used during the week-ends to take men to neighbouring towns. I believe that it would have the effect of making men enthusiastic and keeping them keen. I am also told that in many places there is only one playing field allotted per regiment. That means that probably 22 of the best players of football or cricket, or whatever it may be, turn out and play, or else it is used for inter-regimental games. I would ask my right hon. Friend to see that more playing fields are allotted for the use of men of the regiments in these camps.
Finally, I turn to another subject which is of considerable importance—the question of the full personnel in mechanised regiments. In all these regiments men are employed as groundsmen, bath-house men and road sweepers, and in consequence they have no training. There are, in addition, a large number of clerks who are essential owing to the increase in correspondence and accountancy, and, finally, men on vocational training courses, who count against the establishment. Therefore, out of a regiment, say, of 400 men, there are 25 to 30 on vocational training, and certain others in the employments I have just mentioned. I suggest that in mechanised regiments civilians should be employed as groundsmen, orderlies and sweepers and that there should be an allotment of essential clerks made to each regiment not to count for strength, and, finally, that men on vocational training should be struck off the strength on the day that they leave the regiment and recruiting be allowed to take place to bring them up to strength. I believe that the effect of this would be to make mechanised regiments, and the mechanised cavalry to-day is the flower of the British Army, far more capable of immediate service in the event of war than is the case at the present time.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Parker
After all the bouquets that have been thrown to the right hon. Gentleman, I should like to offer a little criticism and put a number of questions to him. I notice that the annual report of the British Army this year has come down in price from 2s. to 6d., and we are told that the new volume is much more readable than before. That is certainly true, and the new volume reflects the care which the right hon. Gentleman has given 2231 to the publicity side of the Army. It certainly sets off the achievements of the Army during last year much better than previous reports, but I feel that, in becoming more readable, it has omitted a lot of useful information, which we ought to have put before us, and which the right hon. Gentleman did not put before us in the course of his speech. There is no report this year of the wastage of recruits in the first three months from desertion, discharge by purchase or for medical reasons and so on. In 1937, out of 23,900 men who enlisted up to the end of September, over 8 per cent. of them were lost in the course of the first three months. What has been the similar loss among those enlisted during the past year? We have been told that the number of recruits has gone up enormously, but what has been the wastage compared with the previous year? That is an important set of figures which is lacking from the report of the present year. We have had a great deal of publicity given to recruiting in order to build up the Army. Has that publicity really been successful in getting the type of men who are wanted in the Army? If it has not been successful in that way, the wastage must have been larger this year than in previous years. It is important that we should have these figures so that we can judge whether recruiting has been carried out by the right kind of publicity, and whether it has produced the right kind of men or not.
In all the years up to the past year we were given the number of applicants each year as well as the number of people who finally attested, but during the past year we have not been given that figure. It is very interesting to notice, taking the figures for the years 1934 to 1937, that we had in the years when unemployment was greater a very large number of men wanting to enter the Army but only a small number actually being enlisted, and gradually, as unemployment decreased, we had the number of men wanting to join decreasing, and the number entering the Army still remaining about the same. But there was this difference. In 1934, the number of men rejected was about twice that of the men actually accepted into the Army, and in 1937 the number was only about the same. What was the position last year? Did we have, as a result of the crisis, a very large number of the people wanting 2232 to join the Army being rejected or not? We are not given, in the report for the year 1938, the number of people who wanted to join the Army, but only the people who actually enlisted. It is important that we should be given that figure. How far has the increase in the number of recruits this year been due to the change in standards of enlistment? We ought to have figures showing the effect of the different changes in medical standards, age of entrance, and so on. They have not been supplied in the report at all for the past year.
I fully agree with what has been said about the importance of the physical training depots, but I do not think that we have had any statement from the War Office as to how far the number of people who apply to join the Army are the type of persons who could benefit from training of this kind. We are told that there are to be additions to these training depots, but supposing the depots were large enough to train all the people who wanted to join the Army but whose physique was not up to standard, and who it was thought by the medical officers were the persons who would benefit from that training, how far would the Army obtain its full numbers? That is another question which ought to have been dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech.
One of the most important subjects with which the right hon. Gentleman dealt to some extent, but which I would have liked to have seen him deal with rather more fully, was the question of education in the Army. I was pleased to hear that a number of technical schools for training young boys are to be established and that the right hon. Gentleman is extending to the education service in the Army the reforms which he made in the combatant service last year. It is time that there was a review of what education in the Army is supposed to do. Education in the Army ought to be greatly extended. What exactly ought to be its scope? First of all, it should try to train men to be useful in the Army itself. That need is bound to be very much greater with mechanisation. Surely also the object of education in the Army is to train the ordinary rank and file for responsibility when they become noncommissioned officers, and we ought to have some report of the kind of training 2233 given to the men to fit them for becoming non-commissioned officers, or for obtaining commissions finally from the ranks. Again, we have not been told about the education for fitting men for their posts as warrant officers, Class 3.
Education in the Army should not merely aim at training men to be useful in the Army itself, but should give them a good general education, so that they can enjoy their leisure in the Army, and finally be fitted for the work of earning their livelihood when they leave the Army. They ought also to learn how to become good citizens. There ought to be a report on education in the Army from all these points of view. Education in the Army suffered very much through being drastically cut by the Geddes axe, after the last War, and very little has been done to reform and improve it since. More attention ought to be given to the development of the soldier's brain rather than merely regarding him as a piece of machinery for military observance. In the past more attention has been given to the care of the soldier's teeth than to his intelligence.
I was greatly disappointed that we had no reference in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to the democratising of the Army. Last summer, on 28th July, he said:A new system of direct commissioning from the ranks will be introduced in due course, in place of the present system of passing candidates from this source through Woolwich and Sandhurst.What has been done about that? Does that mean that the new warrant officers Class 3 are going to displace entirely the men who have the possibility of coming from the ranks to take commissions, or are the people who have become warrant officers to have the chance to become full commissioned officers? What are the arrangements? If they are to be allowed to obtain commissions, how are they going to obtain those commissions if they are not to go to the new Sandhurst which the right hon. Gentleman is going to create? If they are not to go to the new Sandhurst, what kind of training are they to have to enable them to become commissioned officers? There is very great danger that these reforms are going to mean a decrease in the chance of soldiers coming from the ranks and becoming officers.
2234 Last year I went into the figures very fully, and I found only 4 per cent. of the officers entering in the previous three years have risen from the ranks. Is that 4 per cent. to be increased, or is it to disappear altogether as a result of the reforms? It does not seem to me that this warrant officer class 3 rank, although it will give people greater responsibility, really solves the problem of allowing them to rise from the ranks and become commissioned officers. Mechanisation will bring far more intelligent people into the ranks, and there ought to be increased opportunity to get out of the ranks and become full officers. There should be an avenue of promotion open to all. We feel very strongly on these benches that the position in the Army in regard to that matter is far from satisfactory and ought to be cleared up.
Reference has been made to marriage allowances. I strongly agree that marriage allowance ought to be given to the ordinary soldier at the age of 21. It seems to me very unfair that the Territorial soldier when in camp gets a marriage allowance at 21, but the ordinary regular soldier does not receive the marriage allowance at that age. Another point which has been brought to my notice in correspondence is the question what is to be the position about pay in war time. Air-raid precaution workers on full time will get a minimum of £3 a week, but the ordinary soldiers in war time, whether previously Regulars or Reserves, or members of the Territorial Army, will get only Army pay. What about those who may be in the Reserve or in the Territorial Army who have started to buy a house and have taken on other obligations? It seems only reasonable to consider this matter, because if they are suddenly reduced to ordinary Army pay, what about the obligations they have undertaken in the past? In time of war there ought to be some arrangement for a moratorium in the case of anyone who is called up for service, in regard to payments in respect of houses, and so on. A scheme ought to be drawn up by the Government to deal with cases of this kind.
Finally, I should like to deal with the general question of what services we propose to develop. From what the right hon. Gentleman said, we are to have no limit to our liability in regard to the use of the Army abroad in time of war. That, presumably, means that we shall have 2235 to develop an Army of the maximum size and prepare it for the best use possible. If we are to do that sort of thing in regard to the Navy and the Air Force also, our obligations will be very great. In our past history we have benefited from the fact that we have been able to concentrate on the Navy, and we have only had a small Army. Other countries such as France, Germany and Spain have attempted to have big Armies and big Navies simultaneously and have overstrained their resources, but we have benefited from the fact that we have been able to concentrate on one force, the Navy. At the present time Russia, France and Germany are thinking of comparatively small Navies and concentrating upon their Air Force and their Army, but we, it appears, are to develop all three of our Services. Have we the resources to do that when the other countries are concentrating on only one or two services, and shall we be able to keep up the cost of the maintenance of all these Services for a great number of years.
We ought to consider this matter very deeply and to decide whether we ought not, perhaps, to link our forces with those of France and other possible Allies, and see whether they cannot develop one arm of Service very fully while we develop another. The present position of this country in trying to develop all three Services simultaneously, and possibly breaking under the weight of the burden of maintaining them, is a very strong justification for the argument that we on these benches have always put forward that our real safety can come only from some form of collective security. We do not believe it possible that we can keep up the burden of supporting three Services to the maximum at one and the same time. Although I do not think it is possible for us to say that we will only develop our Army or our Air Force or only two of our Services, it is possible to say that we will develop certain branches of these Services more than others, and not try to have an all-round Service. If we can come to some agreement with the French and other possible allies about specialising in particular branches of one Service rather than another, that would make it more possible for us to bear the very heavy burden that we have at the present time. The sooner we can get back to some form of collective security by getting together with other Powers 2236 that think with us, the burden that we have to endure at the present time will be to some extent reduced.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Heneage
I hope I shall be forgiven for intervening in the Debate on the matter of the Woolwich and Sandhurst Training Colleges, as I am the only Member who has been at Woolwich who has spoken in the Debate. I have always held it a matter for regret on the part of any one who went through Woolwich that they had nothing comparable to Class I or II certificates in education which are given the other ranks. Why should not officers be given the equivalent of a Bachelor of Arts degree? After all, at Woolwich they do quite as much hard work in education as they do at Oxford or Cambridge, but when they have to go into civil life they have no educational certificate behind them to help in getting employment in civil life. If passing through the school at Woolwich or Sandhurst was made the equivalent of a Bachelor of Arts degree, as I believe is the case at Kingston in Canada, it would be a step forward. The question of the move from Woolwich to Sandhurst has been ably dealt with by the late Secretary of State for War, but I do not altogether take the same view as the right hon. Gentleman. I have been approached by many old gunners who are extremely anxious as to the effect it will have on tradition. I am bound to say that tradition is entirely against the move, and I must also say that the amount of work which is done at Woolwich is far more than the amount that is done at Sandhurst. There is the greatest fear that if Woolwich is moved to Sandhurst they will not do as much work. It would be worse for Woolwich; even it is slightly beneficial to Sandhurst.
There is a great deal of doubt as to what advice the Secretary of State for War has taken on this matter. I know that the Secretary of State is not one who takes advice very gladly, and I am not saying that he is any the worse for having his own opinions. But there is a great tradition behind Woolwich. The traditions of Woolwich and Sandhurst are the backbone of the future commanders of the Army. It is the same in all ranks of life. The school in which you are educated and the way in which you are brought up largely guides you as to how you carry on. That is true whether you 2237 are educated in an elementary school, a secondary school or a university. Where I think the Army will benefit is in the fact that those who are going to join the Royal Artillery or the Royal Engineers will meet the infantry when they are young. At the present moment they never meet until later on, and I think there will be a benefit from it because they will be brought into contact with each other earlier. It has been the segregation that has been bad. If they meet when they are younger relationships will be formed between the infantry and the artillery, which will be of benefit. But I am doubtful as to the amount of work that will be done. At present at Sandhurst, I understand, the work is carried out by the officers commanding company. At Woolwich, while they have officers commanding company, the work is carried out by specialists, who teach their own particular job. That is far better than making one man teach a large number of subjects about which he may not know very much. I hope that the Secretary of State will see that the education is carried out by specialists and not by company officers, unless they are specialists.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower
I hope the hon. and gallant Member is not suggesting that the training at Sandhurst is in any way inferior to the training at Woolwich?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Heneage
I am convinced that the amount of work done at Sandhurst, both in amount and in quality, is very much below the work done at Woolwich. Let me now turn to another subject, the anti-aircraft units, with which I have been associated. I have a suggestion to make which I think will be an improvement. The defect was found out during the crisis. While non-commissioned officers, especially the sergeants, are on a peace establishment they are too few to carry out present-day anti-aircraft work which is on a war-time basis. The numbers should be increased. There is one other matter to which I want to refer. At one time I thought that the London County Council were not carrying out some of their duties, but I should like to say that during the crisis I found that the London County Council officials were most helpful. That, I think, is the general opinion of anti-aircraft units who have had anything to do with them.
2238 I have been as brief as I possibly can. I hope that if the transfer of Woolwich to Sandhurst is to be carried out it will not be carried out too quickly, that the traditions of Woolwich will be maintained, and that the views of the older officers, who are most anxious as to the effect it will have on the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers, will be carefully considered.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
The hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Lieut.-Colonel Macnamara) made an interesting and thoughtful speech, to which I must refer. It seemed to me that the hon. and gallant Member found real difficulty in believing that we on these benches do not share the too simple, the very narrow and very facile professional views which he holds on the subject of National Service. The hon. and gallant Member must be very ignorant of the many social stresses and strains which exist in this country if he thinks that National Service is the easy and simple matter he appeared to suggest. I should like to add my congratulations to the many which have been offered to the Secretary of State for War on a speech which I think was one of great quality as well as being very reassuring indeed. The speech added to my pleasure that the Secretary of State for War has survived the palace revolution with which he was apparently confronted during the Recess.
The Prime Minister delivered himself of a very singular judgment of Solomon in that matter. He said, apparently, that the War Secretary is a good War Secretary and must remain, and that equally the Secretary for the Overseas Trade Department did nothing wrong in saying that the Secretary of State for War is a very bad Secretary of State for War, so he also stays where he is; and the Prime Minister is very pleased with both of them. The Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department must, of course, have a little blood, so the Minister for the Coordination of Defence has gone to the Dominions Office, and the Secretary of State for War must have a little blood, so the Under-Secretary of State for War has gone. It seems to me as if the first round in this contest had been a draw on points. I look forward to the second round with great anticipation. I notice 2239 incidentally that the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department is going to Russia in order, presumably, to learn how to purge.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I would like to say one or two words about the display at Aldershot which many of us had the pleasure of witnessing the other day. I think that what we saw there really gave evidence that in certain types of vehicles we now lead the world in design, no doubt having reaped the benefit of starting late and having the advantage of what other countries had been experimenting with. But it is very difficult for a lay observer such as myself to express any opinion as to the real value of what we saw. It occurred to me, from looking at the vehicles and watching them perform, that the wastage in war would probably be very great indeed and would reach really startling figures. I should imagine that the problems involved in running repairs and in keeping those vehicles in commission must be enormous, and that petrol consumption must be enormous; and I feel that before one can express an opinion upon the value of what one saw, one would want to know what are the numbers of these vehicles that are required, how many of them we have, and above all, what is the factory production potential at the back of that display for meeting the enormous war expansion which would be necessary as well as war wastage. What I saw there impressed upon my mind more than ever one thing; I cannot imagine how the Secretary of State for War and the War Office can meet the task with which they are confronted as regards material without a Ministry of Supply. I think I am correct in saying that the Secretary of State for War made a speech at Plymouth some time ago in which he clearly indicated that, with his existing powers and organisation with regard to supply, he felt severely handicapped.
I am rather diffident as a sailor about expressing any opinion concerning Army training, but I must say that I felt that what we saw at Aldershot was evidence of the fact that the training is first-rate. I was most impressed with the appearance of the rank and file. I remember the old 2240 Joe Pepper. I met him at Malta and Gibraltar in years gone by, and I drew a contrast in my mind between the men whom I used to see performing routine duties and monotonous drills, in tight and uncomfortable uniforms, and the men we saw at Aldershot in loose, admirable uniforms, which obviously they liked, working with wonderful weapons which gave full scope to their ingenuity and mechanical-mindedness; and also one could see that they were encouraged to think and to show initiative. The general impression left on my mind was that the Secretary of State has loosened up the Army physically and mentally, as well as sartorially.
I am not competent to express any opinions whatever on those parts of the right hon. Gentleman's speech which referred to the question of co-operating with the French and an expeditionary force, but I am clear about two things. The first is that, to the French, co-operation means a British Army on French soil, and nothing else; and the second is that I cannot believe in some of the extraordinary theories about making war which are put forward at the present time —that you make war, but make it only a little, as little as you possibly can. There is no doubt in my mind that there can be no limitation whatever once we are at war.
Reference has been made to the defence of London. It seems to me that the City of London is the greatest temptation to war which exists at the present time. More than any other capital in Europe, we have all our eggs in one basket in the City of London, to an extent which no other capital city in Europe has. The fact that that is so encourages those in the entourage of the dictators to put forward the theory that this country can be brought to its knees by means of a knockout blow on London. [Hon. Members: "No!"]These things are said. It is well known that these theories are constantly put forward to the dictators. On that ground I feel that one of the surest ways of removing the great danger of war would be to remove the temptation to war which London constitutes by letting nothing whatever in the matter of expense stand in the way of making the defences of London as perfect as money and human ingenuity can make them, and keeping them permanently manned.
2241 I would like now to refer briefly to the question of Gibraltar. I have put two questions to the Prime Minister on the subject of Gibraltar. In July, 1937, I asked the Prime Minister:when the last joint inquiry by representatives of the three Defence Services into questions affecting Gibraltar took place; and whether, in view of public uneasiness caused by recent events in Spain, especially in the vicinity of Gibraltar, he will set up a joint committee of the three Defence Services to inquire into the security of the defence establishments at Gibraltar.The reply I was given was:There has been a very recent joint inquiry by representatives of the three Defence Services into questions affecting Gibraltar. This inquiry was based on a detailed review of the existing strategical situation in the Mediterranean as a whole. In these circumstances it is unnecessary to adopt the hon. and gallant Member's suggestion."—[Official Report, 28th July, 1937; cols. 3065–6, Vol. 326.]In July, 1938—one year later—I put a further question to the Prime Minister:Whether he will instruct the Committee of Imperial Defence to review the whole question of the defence of Gibraltar?Again, I was informed:The Committee of Imperial Defence already has under review the whole question of the strategical position of Gibraltar and of its defence in the light of recent events."— (Official Report, 14th July, 1938; col. 1507, Vol. 338.]Those two replies given to me by the Prime Minister were obviously intended to convey that everything was being done that could possibly be done; that the Committee of Imperial Defence were fully alive to the situation at Gibraltar and were reviewing, and had reviewed, it; and that everything was all right. The other day, General Sir Charles Harington addressed a meeting in London on his experiences as Governor of Gibraltar. He said:We in Gibraltar were totally unprepared. Two years before I had asked for gas masks, and was told that I could expect none before 1939 … and on my return at the end of October I passed the outgoing P. & O. steamer with the first gas mask.… [At the time of the crisis] I had only four anti-aircraft guns—two at each end of the Rock.In all seriousness, I ask how is it possible to reconcile the two replies that were given to me by the Prime Minister with the statements made by Sir Charles Harington in the lecture of which I have spoken? I am bound to say that those replies, although I am loth to say that they were intended to be misleading, were misleading 2242 in the extreme, in that they gave the impression to this House that everything was being considered at Gibraltar and that everything was all right there, although we now gather from the statements of the Governor of Gibraltar that such was far from being the case.
I think it most unfortunate that those replies should have been given. They are calculated to destroy the confidence one wishes to feel in replies given by the Prime Minister on such a subject and. they confirm the opinion of a great many people that it is a pity the Prime Minister does not devote more time to his duties as Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence, instead of devoting so much time to the foreign affairs of this country, with the assistance of an official of the Ministry of Labour. May I add on this subject of Gibraltar some reference to a matter which has been raised by means of question in the House recently? It is a speech recently made by the Deputy-Chief of the Imperial General Staff. I have had a report of what was said at that lecture. I have no doubt that I may be contradicted. Sometimes these contradictions have to be made, and I suppose I shall be lucky if I am only contradicted and if the Attorney-General is not told to "do a Sandys on me." But my information is, and I am satisfied about its authenticity, that in the course of that lecture the Deputy-Chief of the Imperial General Staff said that Gibraltar was untenable and that in the event of a European war involving the Mediterranean, an expeditionary force would have to be sent out to recapture it.
I wish now to turn to a question which I raised on the Army Estimates last year, namely, the question of the Farquhar Hill gun and the Bren gun. I think that last year I rather startled the Secretary of State for War by what I said on this matter. At any rate, in his reply the right hon. Gentleman's usual urbanity seemed to desert him for the time being. However, I told him what I thought about the language he used and no harsh feelings remain. But I am bound to say that I simply cannot consider that the War Office has furnished any adequate reply to the facts which I brought to their attention on that occasion. I had an interview at the War Office with a General officer who was deputed to go into this question. The last thing I wish 2243 to do is to put any words into the mouth of that officer, who was most courteous, but I must say that the impression left with me after the interview was that he did feel a certain amount of uneasiness on this subject and was not quite happy in his own mind about the treatment of the Farquhar Hill gun.
I do not think that Colonel Farquhar himself was ever interviewed, in spite of requests which were made. What took place was that the War Office inquired into its own conduct and, not unnaturally, found than the War Office had behaved most properly in every way. As far as I can gather, the inquiry took this form. The statements which I made were extracted from my speech and put on one side of a sheet of paper, and on the opposite side were put comments from any War Office papers which were considered appropriate, but no real conclusions were reached. I was told that a great many of the archives relating to this matter could not be found or were no longer in existence and I am certainly entitled to say that no effort was made to obtain new evidence or new views about the matter. The inquiries simply took the form, as I say, of gathering old War Office statements and minutes on the subject and even then no real conclusion was reached.
I think the case was very largely proved that this Farquhar Hill gun was exposed to the most extraordinary treatment. I feel bound to say that Colonel Farquhar acted most candidly and with great restraint throughout the whole of these proceedings and also with the greatest possible openness. He placed himself unreservedly at the disposal of the War Office, with all the relevant papers. I may also mention that throughout all these discussions he, very properly, refused to give any information to the Press, who about this time were very anxious that he should make a statement and offered to give publicity to his story. But he refused to have any relations with the Press while the matter was the subject of inquiry. I think he ought to have been interviewed by the War Office. I asked if I might bring him there to be interviewed, but my request was not acceded to by the War Office authorities.
I repeat that in my opinion the evidence conclusively showed that this 2244 Farquhar Hill gun had received the most extraordinary treatment. I give only one instance because I do not wish to weary the House. No explanation has ever been forthcoming of why orders for this gun were given on three separate occasions and not proceeded with further. No explanation has ever been forthcoming of why the gun was not tried out alongside the Bren gun. I think there have been in connection with this affair some scandalous incidents which are not calculated to make British gun-makers feel that they can rely on receiving proper treatment at the hands of the War Office. I will quote the statement made to me by someone who is in the gun-making trade. He says:It is not pleasant if you have made something (and there is no doubt that Farquhar did a great deal of work) to have it criticised by minor military lights who cannot even mend a puncture. As the proverb goes 'Any man can invent a gun, it takes a clever man to make it but the man who can sell it is a genius '.He goes on to say:Farquhar was for a long time sending guns in for trial until the famous incident which you mentioned of reamering out the gas port. Personally I am sure that was done by one of the many testers that are about at Enfield or Hythe. I myself have been going to Enfield for some seven years and have taken at least 10 types of gun there.So, at any rate, my correspondent does know what he is talking about. I would like to call the attention of the House to another matter. Shortly after I made the speech to which I refer, calling attention to these things, I was sent a newspaper cutting from South Africa. This cutting refers to my speech relating to the gun trials and says that the newspaper "has received striking confirmation from an East London resident, Mr. A. C. Tiddy, and that his remarks were made before my speech had come to his notice. Then my speech was brought to his notice and Mr. Tiddy gave an interview in which he said:Your readers will have to take Commander Fletcher's statements as a great deal more than the attacks of an Opposition M.P. … On the ground of unfair dealing with the British rivals, I can support him with evidence that to toe is pretty convincing that one British gun at least must have been a good proposition. In 1929-30 I was on the staff of a. famous London paper in charge of the advertising in the gun section. I had to call on a famous Birmingham armament firm of world-wide repute. … I was asked to go in to the managing director. This 2245 gentleman said he wished to ask whether I could obtain the consent of my editor for a favour, namely, the testing on the proving grounds of a famous London gunmaker of a machine gun recently made by his firm. … He stated the War Office was definitely in favour of foreign machine guns and that his firm had asked the War Office to delay an official decision until they had proved the British gun. … In accordance with the re-quest of the War Office a gun was sent up for testing. After a few days it was returned with the report that it had failed to satisfy. The gun was then examined and it was discovered that the air chamber under the barrel had been tampered with. Vigorous investigation followed and it was disclosed that the trial had been carried out by certain persons who were instructed that the gun was to fail. They had enlarged the air vent with a file ruining the precision of the gun. In view of these circumstances the managing director asked would our gun editor test the gun and publish his findings. … The editor agreed to the trial. Then a few days before the test could take place the editor sent for me to say that he had been informed 'from a quarter he could not defy 'that the test was to be cancelled.That is a very striking confirmation from a clearly independent source bearing out the statement which I had made in regard to the sabotage of guns on trial.
I will now refer to the Bren gun, and my only object in raising the matter is concern that the Army should get an efficient and suitable light machine gun and that British gunmakers should get fair treatment from the War Office. The War Office appears to feel itself bound to the Bren, because certain officials committed themselves to it in 1934, and it has been adopted in spite of defects and limitations and in spite of difficulty of manufacture. I suppose the Secretary of State is responsible to the nation for getting the best and latest arms, no matter whether officials may have committed themselves or not. I fully recognise that the present Secretary of State was not in this case responsible, but inherited the position. I quite expect to be told that the Bren gun is excellent. Serving officers, not unnaturally, feel compelled to support a decision as a matter of discipline, and, moreover, to express an adverse opinion on weapons which have been selected by the Army Council is hardly the way to advance, professionally. All the same, there are adverse opinions, and I hope we have not persisted with this gun in order to cover a blunder.
I feel that the Secretary of State would have gained a great personal triumph if he had intervened and secured for the 2246 Army the light machine gun that was required. How many machine guns have we in the various Defence Services—in the Army, in the Indian Army, in the Air Force, and in the Navy? Is no standardisation possible? How is it that British gunmakers can never get a machine gun accepted by one of the Defence Services? Might I ask what is the position in Australia regarding the Bren gun? Is it the case that the Australian Government rejected it? I think that the financial aspect of the adoption of the Bren calls for the attention of the Select Committee on Estimates. What was the purchase price of this gun, and what is the royalty paid per gun? I have seen £5 royalty per gun mentioned. What are the real objections to informing the House what the royalty is and what is the cost of manufacture? Is that cost unduly expensive? In a question put in this House I quoted £76 per gun cost and a profit of £53,400 on an order of 7,000 guns placed by the Canadian Government, and I was not contradicted. Those figures are colossal, and I should like to ask whether the cost of and the profits on the guns manufactured in this country for our own Government are of the same order of magnitude.
Who are the individuals to whom the cost price was paid, and who are the individuals who are receiving these royalties? Are any of them British subjects? There have been changes recently in Czecho-Slovakia, and I should like to know whether any of these individuals are by any chance Germans. Is it possibly the case that we are paying royalties on the manufacture of the Bren gun which find their way into German pockets? I think that is a matter which should be cleared up, and as these guns are being manufactured in Canada for the Canadian Government and for the British Government in Canada as well as in this country, it would be very interesting to know what difference, if any, exists in the price and the profits as regards these three separate categories of orders. Could we also have the results of the judicial inquiry which has been held in Canada into charges of profiteering on Bren gun contracts? I think the House should be told something as to the results of that judicial inquiry. The John Inglis Company received a contract for 7,000 guns for Canada and 5,000 for Great Britain. Has the John Inglis Company been 2247 found to be a reputable firm? Has it any contracts with the War Office at present, and, if so, is everything satisfactory? Has it been found that this firm has indeed got the factory equipment, plant, and so on to enable it to make a satisfactory job of manufacturing these guns? Is the War Office satisfied that the firm can undertake these contracts? A "Times" report on 9th February of a debate in the Canadian Parliament really hinted at more than dishonesty having been revealed in this judicial inquiry in Canada, and it seems to me that the matter has aroused singularly little comment on this side and that the House is entitled to have some information on the subject.
My information about the Bren gun is that it was adopted very hastily when it was suddenly realised, in 1932, 14 years after the end of the War, that the Army was still equipped with the obsolete Lewis gun. It was hastily and secretly bought abroad and adopted in 1934, when the statement was made that no other light machine-gun would be considered. The thing was very hastily done, and although there were certain obvious defects, the gun was bought in the hope of being able to modify the design of components. There is no active service experience of the gun that I know of, except that report says that it was used by the Chinese in the defence of Shanghai without any very great success. I am informed by someone in the trade that the British rights of this gun were hawked for years at £6,000, and I am told that one British agent refused it because when the inventor took it down he was found still trying to put it together again two hours later.
§ Mr. Fleming
When the hon. and gallant Member was at Aldershot, did he not see the Bren gun there, and did he then take the opportunity of testing the gun himself, as I did?
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I doubt whether I should have been given facilities to test it, even if I had wanted to do so.
§ Mr. Fleming
I am speaking of dismantling and reassembling the gun, which is what the hon. and gallant Member was speaking of. There is no difficulty whatever about it.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
That is what I am speaking about, and I am quoting to the House the opinion of a British agent for machine guns, which I am modest enough to believe is of far more value than my own.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
It is the case that the Bren gun was turned down by various British agents, very largely, I believe, because it was considered unsuitable for mass production, because measurements had to be converted from metric to our own, because special machines had to be imported from Czecho-Slovakia as well as steel for the first guns. Guns had to be imported and also I believe a certain amount of Czech labour and I have been told that the manufacture required as many as 1,200 blue prints. Can the production which we are told is now proceeding smoothly be easily expanded to meet war wastage and the very great increased requirements which war would bring about? I am told again that at trials at Aldershot and Bisley very disquieting facts about the Bren were exposed in competitions between the Bren and Lewis guns. There were comments about disappointing performances of the Bren and its inferiority to the Lewis was the chief topic of discussion at those meetings. I am told that the Bren was outclassed by the Lewis every time in 1936, 1937 and 1938 at the N.R.A. Meeting, at the Services Week at Bisley and at the Aldershot Meeting. That in every competition the Bren was beaten by the Lewis for accuracy, range, muzzle velocity and reliability. The Army Council backed the Bren and they took it, but I believe that both the Indian Army and the Royal Air Force rejected it, and I believe that every foreign Military Attache and every foreign Government is well aware of its defects. One of those defects is that water is required for cooling it. How is water to be supplied for that purpose during an attack or during an advance?
In view of the low muzzle velocity, the short range, the inaccuracy of fire, the wide dispersal of the bullets, how is the gun to supply overhead fire for advancing troops? How does the Bren compare in these respects with machine guns adopted in other armies? It must be very ruinous to the morale to know that 2249 one's enemy has a better gun than one's own. I would ask how it is that we have the most skilled gun trade in the world and yet have not been able to produce a British machine gun, although the British gun makers have a very poor opinion of the Bren gun. I am in possession of very detailed criticisms of this gun, even stronger than those to which I have given utterance. These criticisms are based on the remarks of officers and non-commissioned officers who have handled the gun. As recently as last November I saw an article in "Defence" which agreed that the Bren gun is a"complicated piece of engineering" and, in fact, bears out the criticisms I made last year and make again to-day. I will in conclusion quote from a letter which I have had from a British gun agent who is among those who turned this gun down when he had the offer of the rights of it. He says:I do not doubt Mr. Bata, to say nothing of Skoda, i.e., Schneider, had a finger in a very lucrative pie. Nobody seemed frightfully in love with the Bren gun. Various English agents turned it down. Somebody wished it on to the Government. … No one thought of asking if it was an easy production job. The engineering staff was only asked, 'Can you do this job?' They had to answer, 'Yes' or look fools. It is about as easy to make as milling a wire wheel out of the solid.He adds this:As a word of warning, if you start chasing the matter up you will make yourself some quite unpleasant enemies.I am willing to take my chance on that. He continues:The pity is that it looks as though English enterprise was deliberately discouraged. The Czechs had the right sense of salesmanship. They were backed by their Government. English firms were not. The whole art of salesmanship in guns is 'the customer is always right.'ߪ This is what the Czechs did. God knows what it cost them. They didn't care. Their Government would see they were squared.… This information is reliable. It has been cross-referenced extensively.We are entitled to some reassurance from the Secretary of State about this gun. While renewing my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman on his statement, congratulations which are quite sincere, I ask him in turn to recognise the uneasiness which is felt by many people in regard to this matter and to tell us all he can about it, consistently with the public interest.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes
It is with a great deal of diffidence that 2250 I venture to intervene in an Army Debate, but I have the great honour to be an honorary Colonel-Commandant of the Royal Marines, so I hope the House will bear with me. As the House is no doubt aware that with the exception of the Household Cavalry there are now only two mounted cavalry regiments in the British Army. They are in Palestine, from all accounts working very hard and doing excellent service which could not be performed by any other unit, mechanised or infantry, owing to the nature of the ground over which they have to work. I have always thought that the wholesale mechanisation of the cavalry was being rather overdone and done too hastily. The fact that a number of yeomanry regiments which were to have been mechanised are allowed to keep their horses shows that the War Office have come to the same conclusion. In the wars in Spain and China the cavalry have proved their value over and over again. It is no secret that Germany has bought our cavalry horses directly a regiment has been unhorsed. Our Army may have to fight all over the world and it seems to me folly to deprive it practically altogether of an arm which may be of infinite value under conditions such as exist in Palestine. If the officers and men of cavalry regiments are required to fight in trenches, as they were in the last War, they will do so again and be second to none. It is a very different matter to train infantrymen and mechanics for cavalry work.
All my life I have been associated with horses, and I owe perhaps a good deal to the fact that when I was young I spent three months in a riding school of a cavalry regiment, first, with a batch of recruits, and then with roughriders schooling remounts. The horse is an excellent trainer. An association with horses inculcates all the qualities that are wanted for leadership—good temper, initiative, dash and courage—and I have always done my best to help young naval officers to ride, to hunt and to play polo for that reason. I have seldom met a good horseman who was not also a good officer and well able to lead a destroyer attack or command a submarine. There is a very unhappy rumour going about that the equitation school at Weedon is to be closed down. I am glad to see that provision for it is made in these Estimates, 2251 but still it is undoubtedly feared that that wonderful school is to be closed. It is also rumoured that the few cavalry horses that are allowed to mechanised cavalry regiments, to the mechanised field and horse artillery, to the Staff College, Woolwich and Sandhurst, are to be withdrawn. I trust that it is a false rumour and I hope my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will be able to tell us that no such thing is contemplated.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
The Secretary of State in his extremely interesting speech to-day made reference to the reserve which it is proposed to hold in Palestine. One would like some more information about it. There are a large number of troops in Palestine, but I understood that they were engaged on important duties. I should like to know whether any are there yet in reserve in addition to those who are there for the purpose of maintaining order. It may be that the Secretary of State is expecting that in a certain period there will be a settlement and that the troops there will be available as a reserve, but I should have thought that in present circumstances and in the immediately foreseeable future there will be a great deal of work for the British Army to do in Palestine. I would suggest that from a military point of view far the most valuable service that could be rendered to this country in the way of protection in the Eastern Mediterranean would be the arming of the Jews who are there now and the encouraging of these Jews to equip themselves for self-defence; because I am quite sure that you would find in them a most loyal, reliable, patriotic force, on whom this country could depend in time of trouble, and depend on them far better than on any other element.
The Secretary of State said a good deal about the contact that is being maintained with the French Government in military affairs. I am very glad to know that, and I know it is so, but I cannot help feeling that in some matters cooperation might go a good deal further than actually is the case. We ought to have all our plans cut and dried for immediate action in any eventuality. I go further than that. The Government stated on 26th September last that they were prepared to act under certain circumstances not only with the French 2252 Government but with the Russian Government too. I should have thought that, if that is so—and it was the declared policy of the Government from a military point of view—the Army ought to be making contacts for the purpose of exploration and of finding out what opportunities there are for effective cooperation on the military side with Russia as well as with France. Russia, being an ally of France, is bound to be drawn in, and the three of us would presumably have to act together.
I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to make some definite statement about another matter. Some six or 12 months ago he made a speech about the creation of what has since been called a "dungaree army"—troops who would be associated with individual factories and who, in the event of those factories being attacked, would go out in their dungarees and would be able to take immediate action for their defence. I have been approached on this matter by various factories in the Midlands. They want to know something about it. They have heard nothing at all, and cannot get any information, and the statement has left on some of them the impression that it was just a talking point, and that really nothing has come, or is coming, of it. I think we ought to have some clear statement of policy as to whether factories are going to be encouraged to protect themselves in the way forecast at that time.
There are just a few technical points I would like to bring up in connection with the anti-aircraft defences of London. I understand that there is a great difficulty still being experienced in getting battery headquarters accommodation that is anything like adequate. Whereas it should be possible to drill one battery nightly, at the present time only half a battery is capable of being effectively drilled. The buildings are too small. Although the discovery was made at least a year ago that they were too small, no effective steps seem to have been taken yet to provide buildings on an adequate scale. I understand again that a number of the instruments that are being used in connection with anti-aircraft defence are being manufactured abroad, and I hope that steps are being taken—I have no doubt they are, in some cases at any rate —to manufacture them here—such 2253 articles as the Sperry predictor, the kine-theodolite, the Goerz height finder, and fuses and various articles of that kind, are coming from abroad, some of them from countries which certainly would not be prepared to supply them in case of our being at war.
Then I should think that one of our weakest points in the defence of London at the present time is in action against low-flying aircraft. From information given to me it seems to me that that part of our defence is very inadequate, and it would be interesting to know whether there is anything available other than Lewis or Bren guns. Another complaint made to me from more than one source is about the difficulty that the antiaircraft batteries are experiencing in obtaining co-operation from the Royal Air Force aeroplanes for target practice. It often happens that they have to hire their own aircraft at a cost of something like £16 per night, which comes out of their own funds. One would have thought that there were plenty of machines in the Royal Air Force which would be available for that purpose if effective co-operation existed. Experience with some of these hired aircraft is that there is no wireless in them, and if they are off their course or too far away it is impossible to communicate with them and tell them so, and a great deal of the time of the people who are training is really wasted.
I understand further that there is a good deal of muddle and extravagance in the Department that is dealing with the purchase of land around London for the purpose of defence. There seem to be a good many people dealing with it— the Lands Department and the Engineers' Department—and not sufficient co-ordination between them, and I have heard cases of what are said to be alleged scandals in the purchase of land, of land being bought from some particular person at a high price, whereas in the immediate neighbourhood land equally suitable and very much cheaper was actually available.
The last point I want to make is in regard to the effective command of the operations for anti-aircraft defence. I am told that it is not at all clear or precise, that on many occasions there does not seem to be a clear understanding that some particular individual is in control and command of the whole thing, and 2254 able to give the necessary decisions. I should have thought that the person who ought to be in command is quite clearly the Air Force officer. He ought to be supreme over the whole of the air defences, but the experience of those who are actually concerned in the command of the different units, as put to me, is that they do not think it is working at all satisfactorily. I hope that the Secretary of State will be good enough to look into this matter. Nothing could be more harmful if a crisis arose than for there to be any lack of understanding as to who was the right person to give the necessary directions. These are small points, but they are very important as affecting the defence of London, and I hope they will receive due consideration.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Sandys
The very few remarks that I wish to address to the House this evening concern a matter which the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) has just referred to, namely the anti-aircraft defence of London. It may be within the recollection of the House that last summer I made certain criticisms of the anti-aircraft equipment situation. I think, therefore, that it is right that I should say something on this occasion about the great improvement which has undoubtedly taken place in that connection since then. The position last Autumn durig the crisis was, as I think the country knows it to have been, nothing less than deplorable. It may be said that we were caught at an unfortunate moment when our plans for production had not reached fruition. Be that as it may, I cannot help feeling that this country should never have been allowed to get into the defenceless condition in which we found ourselves last September.
But I have not risen to-night to speak about the shortcomings of the past. On the contrary I wish to testify to the notable improvement which has taken place during recent months. As an hon. Member rightly pointed out, and as I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made perfectly clear in his speech, the equipment of our anti-aircraft units is still not fully up to war establishment. It is still a very long way from being up to war establishment. But what I wish to emphasise to-night is that the change for the better which has taken place during 2255 these last few months has been very remarkable indeed. A few months ago many anti-aircraft batteries had never so much as seen a post-War anti-aircraft gun. To-day the new 3.7-inch guns are being delivered to units in steadily increasing numbers, and, what is equally important, the training of the personnel on these new guns is now well under way.
Anyone who is familiar with this type of artillery knows that inaccuracy in height-finding has in the past been the weakest side of anti-aircraft gunnery. Here, too, in recent months a great advance has been made. The hon. Member for East Wolver Hampton referred to the new instruments which have been issued. The height-finding apparatus which is now being issued is of far greater accuracy and is far easier to operate than anything which we have had before, and, like the guns, it is coming forward in encouraging quantities. These new guns and new instruments which are being issued will, moreover, not only make good the previous shortages of equipment. They will do something more important still. They will, without any doubt, raise the whole standard of anti-aircraft gunnery and will appreciably increase the percentage of hits.
My right hon. Friend had—and rightly so—to take the responsibility for the grievous state of our anti-aircraft defences which the crisis of last September revealed. It is fair, therefore, that he should likewise receive credit for the satisfactory improvement which has taken place since then. The main purpose, however, of my very brief intervention is, as a serving Territorial anti-aircraft gunner and as a Member of this House who has in the past drawn attention in Parliament to anti-aircraft deficiencies, to state emphatically that any foreign country meditating an attack upon us which thinks that Great Britain's ground defences are unprepared or can be lightly ignored, as they might perhaps have been last September, will be making a grave miscalculation which it might well have cause to regret.
§ 9.40 p.m.
Sir W. Alien
I am very glad to get the opportunity of saying a few words, and I will try to remember that other Members as well as myself want to speak. I wish 2256 to thank the right hon. Gentleman and his staff for the invitation which I received to see the mechanised Army, and for the courtesies that were extended to me and the others who went to Aldershot. It was a most interesting visit and gave me a very different impression from what I had had with regard to the up-to-dateness of the Service. I was particularly struck by the machine guns and by the mobility of the field guns. I was not very much interested in what the right hon. Gentleman called his "cruisers," but the mobility of the field gun struck me as making it particularly valuable in modern warfare. In March, 1918, when the Germans were advancing in large numbers, the mobility of the French 75's was of great importance. Having so many of these mobile guns, the French were able to turn the tide against the German army. At Aldershot it was a treat to see how the guns moved into position and how quickly they got into operation, and, unlike some other speakers, I am not so much concerned about what these guns cost as to know that we have plenty of them.
I also wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he is doing for my little part of the Empire—Ulster. He went over there to see how we could recruit, and I think he was well satisfied that he could get the men he required. I believe that he is spending a considerable sum of money in providing barracks in Ulster. Evidently he is satisfied that the men are there and that they are keen and all that could be desired for the British Army. Both in the Estimates and in the right hon. Gentleman's speech there is a reference to boys. In the Northern Command there is accommodation, I understand, for something like 3,500 boys, and I would ask him to consider providing similar accommodation in Northern Ireland. I have no doubt that if he made arrangements for boys in the barracks which are being built in Northern Ireland he would get all the boys he required.
An hon. Member who spoke from this side referred to the necessity for military reserves, saying that we had only a peacetime number of men in our Army, and that it was absolutely necessary to have more reserves to take the place of casualties. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that if he wants more reserves he can 2257 have them from Ulster. We used to have the old Militia battalions. They were comparable with the Territorial battalions in England. All the right hon. Gentleman has to do is to say that he wants Militia battalions and he can have any number. I do not know why the Militia battalions were no longer required after the War or why they should not be reestablished, but we are grateful to him for re-establishing the Regular battalions.
As I listened to the speech I noted the improvements that are being made in recruiting. The real reason why the right hon. Gentleman is getting so many recruits is that he is making it worth while by way of pay to the men and by the position which he offers to the officers. All those things are to the good but, like other hon. Members who have spoken, I should like to mention one or two black spots. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will try to pay greater attention to correspondence in his Department. I have found the War Office very slow, and so, I think, have other hon. Members. Sometimes letters that we have sent to the War Office and which any business man would have answered the same day, take a fortnight, a month, or three months. Will the right hon. Gentleman try to induce some of his many clerks to hurry up with the correspondence?
Then there is another black spot. Two years ago, his predecessor promised to look into the question of courts-martial with a view to providing an appeal. Last year the right hon. Gentleman himself mentioned that he was prepared to do something, and a committee was set up. In October last I had a letter from the right hon. Gentleman saying that he had received the committee's report and that it would be published shortly. That report is still to be published. This is a very important matter, because there is a great deal of unrest among those in the Service with regard to courts-martial and the administration of the military law. For myself, I have yet to find out what military law is. There is a great deal of feeling in all ranks of His Majesty's Services with regard to the administration of military law, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us that he hopes to have the report of this committee published next week. I am grateful, as a representative of an Ulster constituency, to have had these few 2258 minutes. I wish the right hon. Gentleman all success and prosperity in the execution of the work which he has undertaken, and which he has so admirably begun.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
I would like to place two points before the right hon. Gentleman. This week I have had to importune two other Ministers on the question of maintenance of dependants of men serving in all ranks of His Majesty's Forces and I must avail myself of this opportunity to repeat my appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. In the distressed areas we feel this matter very keenly. Some of our young single men in full employment in the Army, which is becoming increasingly mechanised, have dependants who cannot be supported by those men, who are giving all their time and energy to the State. In the distressed areas we resent very strongly being called upon to support those dependants. I am not going to elaborate on this theme, because the subject is a rather wide one, but I merely appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to have a word with some of his colleagues. I know that this matter is rather beyond the scope of his Department, but I must hold him primarily responsible for the present condition of things, because he is the Minister who is answerable for those men.
There is another matter which, although it may seem very small, seems to me to have a great deal in it. Thousands of men are employed under the Department of the right hon. Gentleman although they are not within the Army, yet the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for them. Representations have, on occasions, been made to the right hon. Gentleman that those employ6s might have a little more of his attention and his concern and sympathy than they have had up till now. I would refer, in particular, to a case which illustrates completely what I have in mind. A great Government works under the right hon. Gentleman's Department has been put up just outside the city of Bath and many scores of men employed there have gone from my own constituency. Appeals have been made to the right hon. Gentleman and to his Department that something should be done for those men, who are rather isolated outside the city. Three shifts are at work there, but absolutely 2259 nothing is done to fill in the leisure time of those workers.
Concentrated in one works are 6,000 workers, and nearly 3,000 are billeted just outside the city, in the countryside near the works. Could not the right hon. Gentleman do something on the social side of the lives of those men? They are isolated there. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that, generally speaking, the social amenities of Bath were not brought into being to fill the leisure time of working men, and I should be glad if he would take a little interest in this matter. The cost of adopting my suggestion would be extremely small. A few hutments might be put up for their passing recreation, and I should think that a few hundred pounds would be satisfactory, so far as the great works at Corsham are concerned. I appreciate what has been done for the men who come from the distressed areas by public-spirited men associated with the corporation of Bath, particularly the mayor of that city. Notwithstanding the multitude of details with which the right hon. Gentleman is occupied, I hope that he will be able to give a little thought to these men. I know from experience that if he contributed a little to making their leisure time happier than it is at the present moment he would get a return in better and more enthusiastic work for his Department.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Major Rayner
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House urges that, in view of our greater Imperial responsibilities, His Majesty's Government should consider the advisability of increasing our land forces.I would add my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has introduced his Estimates. I heard that he was ill, but he was certainly well enough to make a grand Estimates speech and take some of the powder out of my Amendment. In Field Service Regulations one of the principles of war is the maintenance of the objective, and as I consider that there is still a fair amount of powder left in my Amendment, I propose to stick to my point. Most hon. Gentlemen will admit that our liabilities have become more scattered during the last few years. The 2260 Anglo-Japanese alliance is no more, and we have to maintain a front in the Pacific from Singapore to New Zealand. Defensive positions like Malta and Gibraltar, in narrow waters near foreign shores, have become liabilities of the first order, and it has been already suggested to-night that our liabilities have increased all round. Not long ago I asked a very distinguished officer to tell me what were, in his opinion, the main centres of Imperial danger. Taking a map of the world and some paper flags, he first stuck a flag in Great Britain, and said, "There is Imperial Frontier No. 1, because the security of the Empire depends upon the ability of Great Britain to withstand assault." The second flag he placed in Gibraltar, as Imperial Frontier No. 2, as all our extra-European traffic except that to North America, whether through the Mediterranean, round the Cape or through the Panama Canal, must pass through this zone. The third flag he stuck in Egypt, as Imperial Frontier No. 3, because the Suez Canal zone commands the Near East and ingress into the Indian Ocean. The fourth went into Singapore, as the centre of the Pacific front.
It would seem that the responsibility for these various frontiers should be jointly shared throughout the member nations of the British Commonwealth, and I would like for a moment to examine that point. The Dominions have now been given their complete external as well as internal autonomy; they maintain and control their own defence forces, and they also decide on their foreign policy, to which those forces are in the end an adjunct. Therefore, one might expect them quite fairly to concentrate first on their own immediate defence needs. But they all have danger zones well outside their own borders, and one might also expect them to play some part in defending those danger zones. They are already doing so to some extent, and what additional part they will play, each Dominion must decide for itself, but I would like to express an opinion which is held, I believe, very largely in this House.
The Dominions grew to man's estate when the British Navy was in a position to maintain order throughout the oceans of the world, and, even up to last September, they were able to choose at leisure the line they would take as regards a possible war, simply because they felt themselves secure behind the British Navy 2261 and its indispensable adjuncts, our Air Force and Army. We feel that, having now demanded and obtained their complete sovereignty, they ought to assume the responsibilities of that sovereignty, and that it is not fair to claim freedom to decide whether they will join in an Imperial war if at the same time they depend on us for their defences.
I dare say I should be ruled out of order if I followed that argument, and I will now come back to the responsibility of our own land forces—a responsibility which must be tremendous. Without the help of America—and I do not think we ought to delude ourselves that we can depend upon America's help in the early stages —we have, as the Secretary of State rather suggested this afternoon, to relieve the Navy in Far Eastern waters by strong land defences. I think, too, that, in spite of what the Secretary of State told us with regard to local recruitment, we shall find it extremely difficult to withdraw many garrisons from points throughout the Empire and from lines of communication. We also have to take full responsibility for the Gibraltar front and for the Home front, and, of course, the Home front is the most vital one, as the main threat to the Empire nowadays is aimed at its heart out of North-West Europe.
This Imperial Frontier No. 1 does not run along our own shores, but is in the hands of other peoples, the French and the Belgians. We have been told by successive Foreign Secretaries that it runs somewhere near the Rhine and I should like to consider for a few minutes the defence of this Imperial Frontier No. 1. In this country, where people take very little interest in military problems in peace time, the Army has always been the Cinderella of the forces. Few try to understand its problems, and it is the happy hunting-ground of doctrinaires, who propagate their theories generously in a newspaper age. I feel that some of these theories are a source of public peril. I should hate to meet these military intellectuals in open court as a junior soldier, as I feel that I should probably be overwhelmed under a barrage of words; but, also as a junior soldier, I have had a fairly good grounding in that form of common sense which is known as military principles, and for a minute or two I should like to consider the main theories that are put across nowadays to the British public.
2262 Theory A, that if we have a strong Navy and a strong Air Force the Army does not matter very much, has been faithfully dealt with by the Secretary of State himself this afternoon. He has suggested that all bases, whether naval or air, have to be defended by land troops, and I would add that all the lessons of the last 25 years go to prove that air action, however successful, cannot compensate for action by land forces. Theory B suggests that our Army can be small as long as it is mechanised. That mechanised David can usually overthrow unmechanised Goliath, is a fair supposition, but most of the armies of the world are mechanising part of their forces, and it is not fair to say that mechanised David can necessarily overthrow mechanised Goliath. We are all agreed that in these days a higher ratio of weapon power to man-power is required in a modern army, but the fact that we refuse to agree with some of those pundits, who would have us believe that a big Army is almost a handicap, does not mean that we think that God necessarily marches with the big battalions. After all, one cannot find an instance in history where a commander has complained that he could not defeat the enemy because his army was too large.
Theory C suggests that the traditional and most suitable role of the British Army is a defensive one. The high priest of that cult marshalling an amazing array of political, strategical and technical premises, and, starting from the obvious truth that we are a defensive Power, only wanting to hold what we have, has forced his conclusions on a very large public. Some of his disciples have gone even further, and argue that in no circumstances-should we intervene in a Continental war. The Secretary of State has dealt faithfully with that theory also, but I should like to say that I think it is a perfect example of wishful thinking, emanating from a natural desire not to have to suffer again casualties on a Passchendaele scale; I think the argument topples to the ground on one single fact, that we cannot ourselves be responsible for our avowed frontier, it has to be defended in the first place by the French and Belgians, and if they are overwhelmed and the frontier is overrun we shall have to take immediate offensive action and push back the enemy, lest they capture the Channel ports and establish bases on our very threshold.
2263 There is no doubt that these theories are widely held in this country at present, but, as theories have led nations astray in the past, and as these theories not merely affect our recruiting, but mean that the country is content with a comparatively small Army largely occupied with anti-aircraft defence, I feel that they have to be countered. Civilian opinion in the Dominions is obviously adverse to sending citizen armies once more to fight on a European front and we cannot therefore count on the Dominions again to form a general reserve for that front. Our own people, therefore, have to be responsible for it, and man-power and recruiting are therefore most urgent matters at the present time.
The Secretary of State dealt faithfully with two of those theories, but I feel that he has some quiet regard for theory B, with regard to mechanisation and the strength of our forces. I have been working out the figures as best I can—I have not much head for figures—and I find that, taking into consideration the striking force that he has outlined and our present reserves, our strategic reserve would be much smaller than the force we were able to raise in the first month of 1914. I believe he meant to reassure us, by saying that we ought to look at the nature of the armament rather than to count the personnel. And there, as a very junior back-bencher, I would disagree with him. I do not believe that mechanisation automatically gives us an advantage. If we are mechanised and the enemy are mechanised to the same extent, the two cancel out; and if the enemy have manpower in addition, they have the advantage. I feel very strongly also that our Imperial interests are so tremendous that we might find at the outbreak of war that our strategic reserves melted into thin akin the face of those commitments, especially if we had one on the Palestine scale. The defence of this frontier in Europe is so important that we must be absolutely certain that we have an adequate striking force that we can send over if necessary.
One does not need to stay long in France nowadays to realise that the average Frenchman is fearing that France may have to make a disproportionate sacrifice of lives in common defence of our two Empires; and that fear can be understood. Hon. Members will not have 2264 forgotten the enthusiasm with which our Expeditionary Force was welcomed in France in 1914, and the tremendous effect its arrival had on the moral of the French Army. Yet in those days France could concentrate on one front, against an enemy which had to fight on two, while to-day, France would probably have to fight on two fronts, against enemies who could concentrate on one. I agree that we should be foolish to commit ourselves to any line of action and that our potential effort must be kept fluid but we cannot be safe unless we can send a force equal to that of 1914. The Secretary of State has referred on several occasions before now to the Maginot Line as a very fine line of defence, formidable in every respect; and so it is, but history has proved that if there is drive enough and if there are resources enough, any line of fortifications can be overcome. The French realise this very clearly. Unless we can support them to a greater extent than the right hon. Gentleman has suggested this afternoon, there is a possibility that France might change her foreign policy, and decide to make terms, even though they were humiliating, with a powerful neighbour, in which case the No. 1 Frontier of the British Empire would become the shores of this Island.
I suggest therefore (1) that our Regular Army and our Territorial Army are not strong enough to be certain of meeting their obligations on the outbreak of war; and (2) that, as the policy of the Government is quite clearly to have a great national Army if wax does break out, we should prepare the necessary training cadres for that Army in peace-time. As long ago as just after the Boer War a commission presided over by Lord Elgin reported that no military system would be satisfactory which did not contain powers of expansion. The Secretary of State referred to expansion this afternoon in his very fine speech. He referred to centres of recruiting, to forms for recruiting, and to training units to be set up, but he did not refer to the vital question of instructors and training cadres. In these days of highly scientific warfare, instructors need more training than they used to need.
This question of man-power is the centre of everything. If we are told that the country would not stand for a bigger Army, I would say that if the matter was put to them clearly, rather than risk 2265 defeat and starvation they would choose the bigger Army. I believe that the whole logic of recent events has led to a tremendous change in public opinion and that even pacifists are feeling that pacifism these days is merely a laissez passer to the gangster. If I am told that the British taxpayer cannot support a big Army as well as a big Navy and Air Force, I would say it is not much good having a big Air Force and a big Navy if we are likely to be undone by the lack of an Army. As regards the question of the enormous cost of our Armies, one cannot help wondering —and I come back to where I began— whether a nation of 46,000,000 can go on bearing the most of its colossal cost of the defence of a Commonwealth of Nations of 490,000,000. I do not know whether I would be in order in suggesting that we ought to have another Imperial Conference to decide how the defensive policies of the Dominions could be fitted into a co-operative whole. 1 feel that the general feeling of unity and loyalty in this Commonwealth could be stirred up, and that we should find it given practical expression by a fair and just division of the responsibilities of defence.
Meanwhile, we remain entirely responsible for frontiers I and 2, and largely responsible for frontiers 3 and 4, and I feel that recruiting to fill up our existing establishments, and the enlargement of these establishments, are a first charge upon our citizens. In order to pull our weight behind the Prime Minister, in his extremely successful policy of bringing peace to the world, we have to regard the man-power question as an absolutely first-class issue. I hope that the Financial Secretary, when he winds up to-night, will tell me that the Government are still considering increasing our establishments with regard to the Regular Army and the Territorial Army.
§ 10.l8 p.m.
§ Colonel Ponsonby
I beg to second the Amendment.
While congratulating the right hon. 'Gentleman on his speech, I feel that this Amendment is certainly necessary, because we want to hear from him whether he is really satisfied that we have enough land forces to carry out all our Imperial and other obligations. Three years ago I seconded this Amendment on going into Committee of Supply, In those days there was a great deal to be said about the improvements which were necessary, and 2266 the results of the last three years have astonished all those who have in the past had to do with the Territorial Army; now, owing partly to the international situation and partly to the improved conditions for Territorials, we have this great increase in efficiency, and also the increase in the numbers of the Territorial Army. But we are still 50,000 men below the numbers of 1914. This improvement in the Territorial Army is symbolical of general improvement all round and of the change of ideas. I refer especially to mechanisation. This was dealt with by my hon. and gallant Friend who moved this Amendment. The situation is changing every day and it is necessary, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, to alter perhaps the duties of the Army and perhaps the principles on which it is being used. In introducing the Bill in connection with the £400,000,000 loan in 1937, the Prime Minister said:Flexibility and adaptation to the changing circumstances of the time must be the essence of our programme.That statement was made in connection with finance, but it applies equally to military preparations. Reference has been made to the criticism that a mechanised Army can be smaller than an Army that has depended in the past on the number of rifles. We must not, however, take into account the land forces of Continental Powers. The strength of our Army is only 531,000, whereas that of Germany is 1,100,000, France 700,000, and Italy 500,000. We do not want an Army on Continental lines, but it is vitally essential that we should have a large number of men trained, or partly trained, in the case of emergency. I do not wish to touch on the question of Continental commitments, but, as was stated somewhat crudely in a letter to the "Times" by General Burnett Stewart:If we dacide to assume full-blooded membership of the Suicide Club of Western Europe,then the only alternative is conscription. In peace time we must prepare. The fisherman does not start making his net when he is putting out to sea. He makes preparations beforehand. It is essential that we also should prepare now to make ready for expansion, and we should use the material at hand and get value for all this enormous expenditure.
From the statement of the right hon. Gentleman it now appears that we are to 2267 have a force, with reserves, in India; a force, with reserves, in the Middle East; and a force, with reserves, at home. It is, therefore, quite obvious that we have to look into the question of training extra men, because we certainly have not got them now. In pre-war days we had a Regular Army and a Territorial Army. Now, we have a smaller Regular Army and a smaller Territorial Army, part of which is tied to home defence. What would happen if war broke out tomorrow? I happened to be in Palestine at the beginning of October, just after the last crisis, and I discussed with those capable of knowing the problems, how it would be possible to bring troops from India through the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. The answer was that in the circumstances it was very unlikely whether the troops could be moved at all, and that if they were moved they would probably have to go round the Cape. Even if it were possible to move the troops, they would have to be replaced by untrained and unseasoned troops.
An instance of this occurred at Tiberias, while I was in Jerusalem. A battalion which was up to strength and had been fighting or, rather, policing that sector was, owing to the crisis, removed to Egypt and was replaced by a smaller battalion that did not know the district and the people. The result of that, as hon. Members will recollect, was that the bandits broke loose and serious murders took place. That was simply because unseasoned, untrained troops in difficult times replaced troops who had got used to the district and the people. In a crisis the troops sent to replace others would not be the Army Reserve or the Supplementary Reserve, because they are to supplement the Army itself. It would be necessary to send units of the Territorial Army, or something of that sort.
I welcome what the Secretary of State said to-day. He stated quite clearly our objectives. The first is a highly trained expeditionary force, plus a force to reinforce it. Let me outline the system as I see it. In the first place you have a first-line Army available at home as a striking force, and it is essential that that Army should be complete. Therefore, it is essential to get in those units of the Army which are scattered all over the Empire. 2268 In the Estimates this year no particulars are given—probably it is quite right—as to where the Army overseas is disposed, but in the Appendix to the Estimates of 1938 it appears that 50,000 of our troops were abroad, apart from those in India. It is obvious that the garrisons abroad must, if possible, be replaced by permanent garrisons. I realise that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned that these garrisons might be recruited from local material, but that is not enough. In India and in the more difficult places it is essential that we should have a highly trianed and mobile garrison or gendarmerie and that, of course, will entail some alteration in our present system. It probably means going in for long-term service; and in this connection I was sorry to hear what the right hon. Gentleman said about long-term service. In his report on the British Army for this year, in dealing with this matter he said:In a short service Army of the continental model, a man's service is a normal part of his industrial life. It is not long enough to prevent his immediate reabsorption into industry. In a long service Army, such as was the British Army before the Cardwell reforms, the service provided a complete career.If this idea is carried through, if there is a chance of a permanent career, it is quite possible that a long-term service might again be established in this country, and it might be most valuable to us in creating permanent garrisons abroad, thus relieving our first-line at home of its losses on account of men who have to go to garrisons abroad at the present time. I need hardly point out that permanent garrisons abroad of seasoned soldiers are far better than young unseasoned men, as we are bound to have in these days. Assuming that we can do this we can go back to our first-line nucleus of highly trained troops ready to go anywhere. I wonder whether these units are up to strength? Then comes the second line, the Territorial Army, which is at the moment largely allocated to Home Defence. I suggest that the Territorial Army might be split into two. The first part of it would be available as an Expeditionary Force. In this connection, I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question. He rather indicated that the Territorial Army would be used as reserves for the Regular Army, but I would point out that that would be against all the promises 2269 that have been made. If we are going to fight, it is absolutely essential that the Expeditionary Force part of the Territorial Army should go abroad in its units and formations.
The other part of the Territorial Army would be for Home Defence only. Here I venture to put forward a new suggestion. It is that all the Home Defence Forces should be put under the old Militia, which should be re-created. That Militia would comprise, first, the Territorial Army, coast defence and the anti-aircraft units required for Home Defence; and secondly, the National Defence Companies, which were referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, and the strength of which I believe is now 269 officers and over 6,000 men. If these men were kept up to date in some way, it would be possible to put them into uniform. Thirdly, there is the British Legion. I expect that most hon. Members have been approached time and time again by members of the British Legion, who say that although they may be over 40 or over 50, they are fit and able to do something if given the chance. Then we have a body of men who are entirely neglected—the ex-Territorials who have left their units. At the present time, they are practically lost to the country. On 28th June, 1938, I asked the Secretary of State for War:whether he will consider the advisability of forming a reserve for selected Territorial non-commissioned officers and men who have already completed their service."—[Official Report, 28th June, 1938; col. 1472, Vol. 337.]The reply I received was in the negative. We have there a body of men, partly trained, who are neglected at the present time. Lastly, I suggest that into this militia there should be put the people in the reserved occupations, who during the last few weeks have felt extremely concerned that they are not officially going to serve their country in one way or another. The Militia originally had a great tradition of home service dating back to the days of Alfred the Great. It would be enrolled and organised in the towns and boroughs, and would cover the present air-raid precautions services and the fire brigade services, and it would be valuable, not only in the protection of local air bases and factories, electric power stations and so on, but also it might be very necessary to supplement the police in protecting the population 2270 against sabotage. More than anything else, it would be a great encouragement to the local population to feel that they were protected by their own people. The expense would not be great, because the people concerned would live in their towns and villages close to the places where they would be wanted to turn out in the event of trouble.
I suggest that it would be exceedingly valuable if on Empire Day or the King's birthday in each town and village there was a parade of what I call the Militia, so that it would be possible to see who is ready to serve, and also, perhaps, to see who is not ready to serve. I would further suggest that, later on, such parades should be compulsory so that all could be allocated to their jobs and show their readiness to serve. This idea of a Militia fits in completely with the scheme of the National Register, except that possibly it would include people of ages rather higher than those included in the Register. In any event, this use of material would provide us with a large number of partly trained men and would release men for the territorial second line of the Army. In addition, it would possibly provide us with very good value for comparatively little money. Whatever might be the cost of these permanent garrisons abroad and of the militia at home, I suggest that, given a policy and an objective, an unbiased and independent commission, unbound by tradition, might easily go through the Army Estimates and find means of saving money in other directions to compensate for this extra expenditure. To sum up, the objective is a first line of highly trained Regular troops ready for any emergency; a second line of Territorial Army troops to reinforce the expeditionary force in their own units and formations; and, thirdly, a Militia on the lines I have indicated. That, I think, would provide at any rate part of the additional personnel required. It would also, I hope, enlist the enthusiasm of our young people to make themselves physically fit for the service of their country.
§ 10.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
My hon. Friends and I are not prepared to support this Amendment. We do not take a dogmatic view on this subject. We do not say that we shall never consider any change in the 2271 size of the Army whatever the circumstances of the future may be. But I, myself, do not consider that the Mover and Seconder have made out a case for an immediate increase in the land forces. The Amendment itself is one of those rather dangerous proposals which is so very vague that it may mean anything. It might mean something very small. On the other hand, it is supported by those who wish to commit us now to preparing for a vast expeditionary force, a force as large as that which we sent to France in the last War. The Mover of the Amendment said so. Of course that would mean setting up a system of compulsory service in a time of peace. In supporting his view, the Mover of the Amendment, the hon. and gallant Member for Totnes (Major Rayner), entered into a very interesting examination of the role of the Army as compared with the role of the Navy and other elements of our defence, and I should like to comment on his examination, because, as a matter of fact, it appears to me that the general perspective to which it leads him and which is behind his whole view of the size of the Army is not that which I should have thought the House as a whole has accepted in the construction of the Service Estimates for the last two or three years. He referred to the military correspondent of the "Times," and in regard to the view that that writer has expressed, that the main feature of modern land warfare is the immense advantage which the defence has over the attack, I find in conversation with serving officers that that view is held to represent the actual facts. In fact, he has laid it down that the advantage of the defence over the attack is represented by a ratio of about three to one, and I do not find that that ratio is contradicted by officers of very great authority to whom I have put the question.
If that be so, and that is applied behind lines which are properly fortified in advance, it is possible that it will be found that the Maginot line already is so powerful as to be well nigh impregnable. Certainly, in discussing the situation during the crisis, I was told, by those in whom I would have great confidence, that although the Germans on the -other side have only spent months over their Siegfried line whereas the French have spent years over their Maginot line, prob- 2272 ably to attack even the Siegfried line, elementary as it is as compared with the French line, would be sheer massacre. In these circumstances we may very possibly find that any future war on the Western Front would differ from the last War in this very profound respect, that both frontiers, on the German and on the French side, would be locked, and that there would be very little chance of successful aggression or attack on either one side or the other. If that proved to be approximately true, it comes back to the fact, of which I think the hon. and gallant Member took no account at all, that the probability then would be that if the war were prolonged, it would be the Power which was likely to last the longest, the Power with the greatest command of economic forces, the Power which could bring to its aid the absolutely immeasurable quantities of iron, copper, rubber, cotton, oil, and vegetable fats, which would probably emerge in the end.
Now it is the fact, if we are discussing Germany, that she, of all the great nations of the world, is the one which is the weakest and most ill provided with these natural resources necessary for the conduct of war on the modern scale. Of the main raw materials, she only really possesses two in any great quantities. I am quite prepared to admit that as a result of the Munich settlement she has now open to her vast resources throughout South-Eastern Europe which were not within her ambit before. Close examination has shown that in spite of that, it still may be the case that her main weakness would be in economic resources in a prolonged war, and that, on the other hand, this country, with its Navy overwhelmingly superior to any European combination, would be able to command all the raw material of the whole world which it could bring to these shores.
That would be to our great advantage, and it indicates that probably it would be not only the Air Force and the Navy, but the strength of our finances and our power of production that would finally tilt the scale in out favour, and that these elements in the making of war would prove to be more important than any mere addition to the number of men in the land forces. That is the final perspective into Which the Mover of the Motion entered, and it represents what, I think, is probably the truer, feral view of the subject. Under these conditions I 2273 rather distrust the phrases such as the Secretary of State used, such as that we must not wage war on the principle of limited liability. All wars, however, are waged, and must be waged, on the principle of limited liability. There are several elements concerned, and I say definitely that if yon say that so far as the land forces are concerned you will accept the obligation of unlimited liability, you will vitally weaken forces which in the long run are likely to be far more important. This leads up to, perhaps, the most important topic that has emerged, namely, the conversations which are now proceeding with the Government of France. Those conversations may become very dangerous.
To what are we being committed? The Prime Minister's statement certainly said that if France were the victim of aggression we would come in, but it did not commit us to coming in necessarily by sending troops to France. I think it is true that when the French think of co-operation they mean the co-operation of British troops on the soil of France. For that reason it is essential in these discussions that their elasticity should be preserved, because, although we did send troops abroad there might well be other areas of conflict in North-Eastern Europe, where the need might be far more urgent than the need of France. Therefore, I hope that whatever these conversations may be—we are not yet committed, I understand—they will still leave us as free partners to determine policy with regard to our own Army according to the circumstances which may arise at the time.
The speech which the Secretary of State for War delivered was interesting throughout, but especially interesting in his calculations of the total number of British forces, because it was really a reply in advance to this Amendment. The facts of the speech are certainly a sufficient reply. If it indicated anything, it indicated that the lack from which we suffer is certainly not that we have too few men. We already have rather more than 600,000, and it is quite clear that great advance has been made, but that the Army is nowhere near being equipped. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Regular divisions would be equipped, say within 12 months or, at any rate, 13 months, but he did not make any such statement with regard to the Territorial 2274 divisions, which, after all, are two-thirds of the whole. Therefore, to speak about increasing the size of the Army when it will be more than a year, perhaps more than two years, before you can equip the Army you already have, seems to me to be a very false perspective of the whole situation.
There is one feature of this discussion as to sending our troops abroad which has not, I think, been yet mentioned, but which must be in the minds of every Member of the House. We may not be in a position at the outbreak of a war to send any troops abroad from this side of the Channel. We may send the strategic reserve from Egypt, but not troops from this side of the Channel. I was reading a very authoritative account on this subject by Air Vice-Marshal Gossage, one of three lectures delivered under Air Force authority, most of them devoted to what would be the conditions on the outbreak of war and how those conditions would affect the possibility of sending any troops abroad. He came to the conclusion that, unless you have first of all obtained superiority in the air, if you sent troops abroad, liable to be attacked as they disembarked, you would only be giving hostages to the enemy. He was certainly of opinion that it would be dangerous to send any large Army abroad until definite superiority in the air had first been obtained.
There is another feature of this subject which, curiously enough, has not been referred to in the Debate. We shall depend for the defence of this country in the air upon fighter aircraft, but it is clear that we should not foe able to send any kind of expeditionary force abroad until our superiority in the air was so great that we could take fighter aircraft from home defence and send them with the Army abroad. The Army abroad has certain squadrons, but those are not fighting squadrons; they are for spotting; and you could not send those squadrons into the air at all unless they were accompanied by fighter aircraft to protect them. Therefore, unless you can detach fighter aircraft from home defence you cannot send the Army abroad—unless you are going to send it abroad without any eyes.
These considerations are very important when you consider whether it is necessary now to increase the Army for the purpose of its employment in the early months of a war. There is a very 2275 frequently quoted statement by Air-Marshal Trenchard, who seems to think that as a minimum it would be 10 weeks before any war in the air in this country would be sufficiently decided to enable you to have freedom of action. I was interested in the statement of the Secretary of State as to the method by which divisions would, if necessary, be sent abroad on the outbreak of war. To my mind he put a completely new complexion upon the possibilities, because he said that for this purpose the Territorials and the Regulars would practically be united as a single force, one division following the other; that the divisions would be sent out in echelon, and that each would be ready to go in its turn.
If that be so, it is an answer to this Amendment. It means that as soon as we had freedom of action we should be ready, stage by stage, to send out in echelon 19 divisions from home, in addition I gather, though I am not sure, to two divisions from Palestine and the mobile division from Egypt, which would come from our strategic reserves. Therefore, without increasing the Army at all now we should be in a position to send abroad, at the proper stages, in echelon, 22 divisions. That is a very different picture from any that I have heard before, because that is an army of very considerable size, and it confirms my view that if that can be done now to ask the Government to send a still larger army without taking into account the needs which would arise in connection with production, finance, and other elements would be to put a very false perspective upon the totality of the subject.
When discussing concrete questions like the supply of equipment or guns or the pay of the Army or the Air Force, I find that Ministers are quite confident and definite, and that the discussions are very satisfactory, but when we come to these much more important questions, these great, wide questions of general strategy, involving all the forces at once, Ministers axe vague and inconclusive and give very little lead to the House. The tendency of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon seemed not quite consistent with the tendency of his remarks on the same subject last year, when, in describing the importance of an expeditionary force in the work of the Army, he actually put it seventh and last 2276 in the order of priority. I did not gather whether that is still the position, but if it is it makes a great deal of difference to the perspective which appears to have been followed this afternoon. I always feel that in these defence Debates there is not the same quality of thought behind the speeches of Ministers as there is in their speeches on the work of each Service by itself.
The more I listen to these defence Debates the more I come to the conclusion that there is a great gap in the vista. The gap is that when we are dealing with the affairs of each Service the Debates are very helpful, but there is still not sufficient provision in our machinery for dealing with the affairs of the Services as a whole, or, indeed, for dealing with questions such as we are discussing which are wider than the three Services together, because they involve questions of finance and production. I believe that the bodies which are supposed to deal with them are the Committee of Imperial Defence and the Chief of Staffs Committee, but the Chiefs of Staffs Committee cannot get to any really profound or reliable decision on a topic like this. It consists of three officers, each knowing his own Service and not knowing the other Services, and none of them probably is a very great expert on finance and production. They are immersed in the duties of their own Department. I see that the Chief of the Imperial General Staff has been absent on a tour while this subject was to be discussed. The members of this body do not get to know each other because they are changed at frequent intervals. Some of the chiefs do not remain there all the time.
That is one of the reasons why I believe that to discuss this kind of subject properly we ought to have the guidance of something like the machinery of a Ministry of Defence. I do not believe that upon these immense issues, apart from anything else, we shall get a wide enough discussion until there is a really selective brain in our system of administration. That is one of the reasons also why I look with very great distrust upon Amendments like this which simply ask us to give more men. The experience of the last War, and of most wars, has been that if your men become too easy and too cheap to obtain, the tendency is to solve the problems of war by sending the 2277 men into mass slaughter instead of solving those problems by thinking them out in advance.
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Wise
In his refutation of the Amendment moved by my hon. and gallant Friend, the right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) strode steadily through the fallacies which the party opposite have put up during the last few years. He began by the assumption that you can browbeat all the nations in Europe without adventuring the lives of your own people. But that is not the case. He did not do what one of the earlier speakers on his side did, by referring again vaguely but longingly to the old catch-phrase "collective security." One gathered by it that France was to provide the army, the United States, if possible, the navy, Siam the air force and Great Britain the oratory. He did suggest that we could win the next war not by our troops but by our money and by our supply of vegetable fats. I do not believe that vegetable fats are yet an adequate substitute for British infantry.
In the middle of all the bouquets which my right hon. Friend has received to-day for his very admirable presentation of his Estimates I am sure that he will forgive me for throwing one small but not overwhelmingly over-ripe cabbage. I want to put in a very strong plea for the Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend. I do not believe that we are envisaging a military force of anything like sufficient dimensions for the tasks it will have to carry out. What is this military force? We have a Regular Army as the nucleus of a field force, and my right hon. Friend has included in that field force the Territorial Army as well. In 1914 that was not done, and I do not believe that this House will agree that Lord Haldane was wrong, because what is most important is not what a field force may be six months or nine months after war has started, but what it is on mobilisation, and it is a poor consolation to any friends of ours in Europe to know that we shall, after an adequate period has passed, have a large force to avenge them when they have died in our defence before we got there.
The attaque brusque is one of the most serious military dangers with which we have to deal to-day. Against that attack a Territorial force is of no use whatever 2278 as part of the field force; the whole thing hinges on the numbers of the Regular Army which we can mobilise. At the moment that force is five divisions. The five divisions are, I believe, practically ready now, but that is envisaged as the limit of our immediate participation in a possible continental war. It may be that the Maginot line is impregnable, but it is also the fact that the French people and the French Army, whether it is impregnable or not, expect our help in holding it, and, if they are attacked, they are not going to play the same game as before and have 2,000,000 people killed while we are preparing for war. That is not an unreasonable attitude to expect any other Power to take, and I think we must prepare for a larger immediate participation by way of a Regular Army. I do not think that at the moment we have seriously bestirred ourselves in the effort to raise those regular armed forces, nor do I think we are taking the problem of recruiting sufficiently seriously even today.
We are told that there will be 40,000 recruits in the current year. That is admirable, but, on the other hand, there are one or two slightly disquieting circumstances. The number of illiterates among the recruits has doubled, and the generally lower standard of education is very alarming when we consider that this armed force of ours is to make up for its lack of numbers by its superlative efficiency, and that we therefore need, not a lower, but a much higher standard of education than in the past. We have to devise some means for raising an immediate expeditionary force, not, I believe, of five divisions, but of at least 15 divisions, before we can be really reliable as a help to our friends on the Continent of Europe. The possible dangers are an attack cm France or an attack on Holland where we cannot expect France to send troops unless we guarantee the equivalent of the number of divisions which France will send. If, therefore, the defence of Holland should need 30 divisions of infantry, and I believe it would, at least 15 of those 30 divisions will have to be British divisions, and we must prepare for that eventuality.
If we want to get these men, we have to make the Army a profession which they will be glad to enter, and I believe that the secret of a greater enlistment lies, 2279 not in their present pay or conditions, or in building new barracks, or in providing cinema shows, but in providing young men with a permanent and pensionable career. We have to devote the resources of the State to finding work for these men after their period of military service is over, and also we have to face the fact that their seven years of military service must be available to count for subsequent pension. If we do that, I believe that there will be no shortage, but indeed a rush, of recruits of the best possible type, which will enable us to carry out the expansion which I believe the House in general really wants. On all sides of the House, I think, there is a desire for a larger and more immediately effective Army than we have now.
The reinforcements of this Army also provide a serious problem. In 1914 we had 250,000 Territorial troops; to-day we have 11 divisions available to reinforce the Regular Army abroad if the need should arise, and we have seven divisions occupied in anti-aircraft and other forms of home defence. These seven divisions should not be recruited from the same age groups as the effective and mobile men. It is the most appalling waste to draft young men, perfectly fit for real active service, into work which can be done just as well by their elders, when there is an adequate supply of elders to do the work. I believe these 11 divisions of the Territorial Army are inadequate, and that, with proper advertising and a proper campaign, it would be easy to raise the numbers of the Territorial Army available for foreign service to 500,000 or more. As the cost per soldier is extraordinarily low, considering the value the country gets, a real effort should be made to increase the Territorial Army to that figure.
I would go further. One added attraction which I think the men who enlist in the Territorial Army deserve for serving their country is that if during their service they fall into unemployment, they should be entitled to extra benefit. An extra 2s. 6d. a week would cost very little, because these men are not the type who normally fall into unemployment unless unemployment is heavy. This would give the Territorial soldier some idea that he was a little more worthy than his fellow-citizens, which is the spirit that it is necessary to inculcate into the armed -forces of the Crown. At the moment there are 2280 occasions when recruiting is almost discouraged. I have one case from my constituency, of which I am going to give my right hon. Friend particulars—I know he will deal with it very rapidly—in which trained soldiers applying for duty with the home defence forces have been turned down because they were over 45, although they were under 50, which is the age mentioned in the National Service Handbook.
All these are necessary parts of a great scheme for reinforcing the strength of the British Army. This is no academic question. The size of our Army is the safety of our Realm. It is no good believing we can defend this country with only the Navy and the Air Force. In order to get adequate defence, the first essential is that the bases from which the enemy operate should be kept at a reasonable distance from these shores. That can be done only by an Army. The Air Force is not going to prevent the invasion of Holland or Belgium. The Air Force and the Navy are not going to hold the Maginot Line. If we must have these armed forces, let us remember that it is cheaper to have 15 divisions ready now than have to participate to the unlimited extent of the last War later on. I believe that the existence of such an expeditionary force, or even the announcement that it was to be prepared, would ensure the peace of Europe for the next two or three years. "Nineteen divisions" sounds an awful lot, but in France in the last War we had 18 divisions, and we had armed forces over the whole of the rest of the world at the same time. Nineteen divisions in time of war is still a flea bite compared with what we would ultimately have to put in the field. The extra cost of raising our regular forces, with their intake of reserves, to an expeditionary force immediately available, and raising our Territorial Army to really formidable strength, would be small in comparison to what we might have to pay and I do not believe that any taxpayer in this country would begrudge it for one moment.
§ 11.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
The hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Wise) started his speech with a gibe at some hon. Members on these benches for having used the catchwords to-day of "collective security." They were very good catchwords for the Tory party in 1935. It was not the people of this party who were caught, but the people in the country who put 2281 their trust in the hon. Member's party, because that party declared that the keystone of the foreign policy of the National Government was the policy of collective security. It ill becomes the hon. Member to-day to sneer at those catchwords. I have no doubt there will be certain people waiting to catch him when he has to go and explain his party's desertion from that policy.
§ Mr. Ede
That was not what the hon. Member's party said. He may think that the whole of the Conservative party has now become wise in addition to the one wise candidate they had in 1935. His colleagues, when they face their constituents in the country, will have reason to doubt that accession of wisdom. The speeches of the three hon. Members in support of this Amendment are really tragic reminders of the events of the past 12 months. They are calling out tonight for the men of this country to replace the 35 Czech divisions that they threw away in the autumn of last year. I hope that the young men of the country will note the remarks of the hon. Members. They are to be sent into the shambles because of the tragic error of Munich. I share very strongly the views expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) that it is part of the duty of this House to compel its strategic advisers to think as economically as they can in terms of men.
The real tragedy of war is not the expenditure of money or materials but the cost in lives, and when hon. Members glibly talk about the number of divisions of British youth that they are prepared to throw into the shambles of Europe, it is well that some people in this House should endeavour to compel the strategists to think in terms as economical as they can on the question of human lives. Let us remember that if we are prepared to throw divisions in, there is no satisfying the appetite of the strategists and the war machine. Passchendaele has been alluded to by my right hon. Friend; and I hope that this House will have a sufficient regard in the future to the use of the lives of our best and bravest, to pre- 2282 vent the repetition of the strategy that led to that terrible waste of the best human material that this country has ever had.
I sincerely hope that the Government will take note of the remarks of my right hon. Friend about the need for having clearly thought out the whole strategic position of this country. The hon. Member for Smethwick is prepared to add the frontiers of Holland to the frontiers that we are supposed to be prepared to defend. One of the things I fear is that we may find that the next piece of Dane-geld for the dictators will be the gift of the Dutch Empire, so that they shall keep their hands off ours. I hope the House will realise that we have no force that we can hope to bring against the eastern frontiers of the dictators, and we need to have a very clearly thought out strategic policy for utilising as economically as possible the man-power of this country in any commitments that we make on the Continent.
The Secretary of State repeated and extended in some way the statement of the Prime Minister in regard to our commitments to France. There ought to be the clearest possible understanding as to what is to happen if we have to fight on more than the French front, because it is clear that the three Empires that are now linked in the dictator group may quite possibly present us with the problem of having to fight in the Far East, the Middle East and what we used to call the Western Front, simultaneously. It is clear that having such commitments as these we shall have to have a very different kind of strategy and disposal of man-power from that suggested by the three hon. Members opposite. It is by no means certain that our liabilities will be limited in their easy way. I hope the Government in any conversations they have with the French Government will take these wider considerations into account, and in that respect I hope we shall be able to rely upon the restoration of good relations with Russia.
I understand that we have now reached a stage when the Prime Minister of this country and members of the Cabinet can find it convenient to spend a social evening at the Soviet Embassy. I am told that it was a sight which no humorist ought to have missed to see these right hon. Gentlemen trying to acclimatise themselves to the atmosphere and to feel 2283 comfortable in the company they were in. I am told that the Paymaster-General, who with his reduced income might be glad of an opportunity of spending a social evening which did not cost too much, was to be observed at the Russian Embassy in spite of the remarks he made about Russia as recently as October last. If this means a saving of the man-power to this country it is greatly to be welcomed. I hope also that in dealing with the question of man-power the Government will have some regard to quality as well as quantity. I welcome some of the things the right hon. Gentleman said to-day from that point of view. I am glad to know that efforts are to be made to make the whole of the British Army a learned profession. I was glad to hear that Sandhurst is to be brought up to the standard of Woolwich. The learned arms of the Army, the Engineers and the Artillery, even in the days of purchase, were realised as places where brains were desirable as well as some connection with the aristocratic families of the country. I hope that the quality of the man-power will be considerably improved as a result of the changes which are now proposed.
I should like to know how far the policy is being pursued of increasing the efficiency of the officers of the Army by further recruitment from the ranks. By that I do not mean the number of quartermasters who get commissions. I recollect that I was told that there had been 70 commissions from the ranks and that 62 had gone to quartermasters. The real effective recruitment from the ranks was therefore 8. The Secretary of State gave us no figures to-day, and I shall be glad to know what commissions have been granted from the ranks exclusive of quartermasters. [Interruption.] You do not regard a quartermaster as a competent combatant officer who is going to take part in the operations in the field. Unless he discharges his duties properly, I use the word "properly" rather than "efficiently," the battalion is going to be in a pretty bad way. I was a regimental quartermaster myself, and if I had been in the job much longer I should probably have found it difficult to reconcile my financial position with my membership of this party. I am sure that hon. and gallant Members know the reason why it is not fair to put the figure for quarter- 2284 masters into the figure for commissions from the ranks.
In view of the promise made last year by the Secretary of State that he would endeavour to get recruits from the secondary schools and similar places for commissions, I should be glad to know if any real efforts are made to keep down the expenses that young officers have to incur in their units. If we are to get any substantial increase in the number of commissions given to ex-secondary school boys, the question of the expenses of officers, in the mess and in the regiment, will have to be very carefully considered. I was glad to hear that one cook had been given a commission. I knew a few cooks who would have made admirable Masters-General of the Ordnance in the old days. But I gather that the standard of cooking, now that the troops have been thrown to the lions, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield) would say, has been improved. Exactly what is this cook going to become? Is he to be a lieutenant-cook? Is there some possibility at some stage that he may even become a field-marshal cook?
§ Mr. Ede
That rank would be more appropriate to the Women's Auxiliary Territorials. Does this appointment of this ex-ranker to a commission really mean that the importance of cooking in the Army is to be recognised and that there will be officers with some real knowledge of the practice of cooking in the units, having some supervision over the arrangements? The question of the quality of the Forces at the moment is of the very highest importance, and I sincerely hope that no pressure from hon. Members opposite for an increase in numbers will cause the right hon. Gentleman to divert his attention from improving the quality on every occasion when there is a possibility of making the Army a profession in which persons in any walk of life, who have the necessary abilities, may feel that they are able to take an adequate part.
A great many of the commissions nominally granted from the ranks in recent years have been given to men from military families who, for one reason or another, were unable to get in through the ordinary channels; and a number of 2285 men who, for one reason or another, could not get into Sandhurst or Woolwich, or into the commissioned ranks of the Army by other means, have in fact served for a few years and then been granted commissions. I am not opposed to that system. What I am anxious to do is to secure that for as wide an area of the country as possible youths of the appropriate type of mind, with a capacity for leadership and a capacity to study the very intricate matters that are now concerned with the leadership of an army, shall have an opportunity of getting commissions, quite irrespective of the social status of their parents and the wealth of their family.
I sincerely hope the right hon. Gentleman will see that the door is opened as widely as possible. The peculiar thing about the Army of to-day is that the more highly mechanised it becomes the more important does the skill of the individual soldier become. We shall soon have an Army so mechanised that most people will be anxious to see that the rum ration, even in times of stress, is not too large because one cannot imagine a man whose brains are in the least fuddled by so strong an alcoholic stimulant, being in charge of some of these wonderfully intricate machines. I sincerely hope that the greatest attention will be paid by the right hon. Gentleman not so much to the numbers, as to the quality of the Army. I believe, with all my heart, that we have to look round in Europe, to make sure that we have friends on whose armies we can rely and enter into our arrangements with them sufficiently quickly and on a sufficiently elastic basis to enable us to recover some of the military prestige that we have lost through the unfortunate incidents of the last 12 months.
§ 11.37 p.m.
Mr. Vyvyan Adams
I have been here all day. I hope, therefore, the House will allow me to consume a very few minutes of its time in explaining why I support the Amendment which has been so well moved by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Totnes (Major Rayner). Let me be—to use the language of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)—a fourth "tragic reminder" of the events of the last 12 months. I was surprised at the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith). It is His Majesty's Opposition which is always describing in 2286 the clearest terms the expansionist ambitions of Germany and Italy. Can it be denied that a greatly increased British Army would add tremendously to the deterrents against those ambitions? No one can say that a line of fortifications is to-day impregnable. If the Maginot line proves so, it will be an absolutely new precedent in military history. What is certain is Germany's greater economic power since Munich—mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley—but that hardly seems a reason for failing to increase our own armed strength.
In the menacing circumstances with which the nation is now surrounded it seems strange to look back to those years of happier promise, 1931, 1932 and 1933. Some of us then were risking the charge of eccentricity by pleading for general disarmament. Never can circumstances have changed so rapidly during a period of nominal peace as they have in the last six years. In that period the balance of forces has undergone catastrophic changes. Indeed, the picture to-day is totally and fatefully different from the scene of only six months ago.
To-night is not the time to argue the merits or morality of Munich. But I think it would be stupid to avoid measuring the physical losses which Munich has cost us. Our Imperial Frontier No. 1 is now, as my hon. and gallant Friend most truly said, on the Rhine. If France goes, the British Empire is doomed. The Western democracies five months ago virtually subtracted from their own defences an army of between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000. It is not denied that the Czecho-Slovak forces were tough, well-disciplined and inspired by a love of country and of liberty. They were admirably armed and constituted one of the most efficient armies on the Continent. They could operate from fortifications comparable in strength with the Maginot line, of which we have heard so much to-day.
All that has gone. Probably it is added to the might of the one tremendous danger. Nor can we ignore another most vital consequence. Munich, whether it was inevitable or not, has imposed a severe limitation on the blockading power of our Navy, which is the one arm in which we enjoy a happy and unrivalled supremacy. Germany is now able to use 2287 without interruption Hungary as her granary and Rumania as her oil well. If we let the Ukraine go as well, there is an added resource on the side of the Power against which we are arming.
Moreover, Munich has weakened our air defence. The power of the Air Force to-day may be in some doubt—it has never been proved by a major war—in its destructive capacity, in the efficacy of ground defence, and in the ability of the fighting aeroplane to repulse bombers. What is not open to question is the maxim that we cannot allow hostile aerodromes to be established in Flanders—a task of prevention to be accomplished by land forces. Those, in my submission, axe the gaps which we have to nil to-day, in 1939.
It has often been said in. the course of this Debate that armies are still the decisive factors in war. We are, rightly and inevitably, in our own most vital interests, committed to France. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, in his opening speech, re-emphasised that engagement. I think that it is ordinary common sense, because surely it is better to defend our civilian population on French soil than upon British territory. Both sides of the Channel must be under friendly control.
"There is to be no limited liability," said my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. But are we expecting the French to sustain the whole brunt of the initial military shock? She has, as is known, 104 divisions against the possible combined German and Italian total of 270. I leave Russia and Poland out of the reckoning, but I exclude also possible additions to the Axis, such as the forces of Spain. In August, 1914, we sent to France seven divisions at once and, I believe, fourteen by Christmas. To-day it is absolutely certain that we could not send so many. I have found lately, in the most surprising quarters, a curious indifference about the strength of the British Army. It is an inertia comparable with the flabby state of mind exhibited before the War by many Members of the Liberal party, which is to-night so handsomely represented in this House. But even in 1914 the Liberal Government, at this moment represented by three hon. Members in this House, was better prepared against a far less palpable danger 2288 than we are to-day against a peril which is as plain as a pikestaff—It is plain to all except those whom the "Tunes" has succeeding in blinding in the interests of its Nazi friends. I shall be interested to see whether the "Times" prints that sentence and so risks its great German circulation.
The signature to the memorandum to the Army Estimates bears the honoured and fairly familiar name "Leslie Hore-Belisha."
That remark is perfectly in order. This author observes on page 5 that the strength of the Army Reserves will be about 139,000. He adds, "This is regarded as an adequate figure." By whom is it so regarded? By the British public? By our ally France? I could tell my right hon. Friend things which have been told me by not irresponsible members of the French nation about their anxiety whether we can intervene effectively in any future conflict. This adequacy exists only in the mind of my right hon. Friend. In a most lucid and brilliant presentation at the beginning of our Debate he dressed up the figures as attractively as possible. That is an exercise at which he excels. I would readily leave any shop window in which I was interested in his exclusive charge. We need to know whether we have enough trained men available for an emergency. If we add up the various forces of the Army, we reach a grand total of 531,000. I am not suggesting that that is not an excellent force for its size. It may be, indeed, in quality as unsurpassed as General French's Contemptible Little Army. The fact is that it is substantially less than the corresponding available total in 1914. It is with this force of just half a million men that we hope to succour France and defend the Empire against the conscript armies of the Axis populations, which together total 120,000,000 souls. The Secretary of State for War has a peculiar notion of adequacy. I believe he is one of the few people in this country who is really satisfied with the dimensions of our Army. We ought to-day to be counting our additional forces not in terms of a few new battalians, but in terms of many fresh divisions.
I would like to suggest one more instance of this lamentable inadequacy. 2289 The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs told us at Question Time to-day that the total Italian forces in Libya were 60,000. It is known that Italy has hundreds of aeroplanes in Africa. She has lately been allowed to establish a great Empire in Ethiopia. According to my information the total Italian armed forces in North and North-East Africa is much nearer 250,000. How many men have we in the Sudan? I believe something like 11,000 and certainly less than 100 aeroplanes. That gives Italy in that part of Africa a monopoly of air power. A mechanised hostile force could dominate the Sudan and reduce Egypt in a few weeks unless we possessed air superiority. I am informed that in that part of the Empire we have no artillery and our aeroplanes are ancient. They are, indeed, almost museum pieces of eight or ten years old. These facts about Imperial Defence need to be widely known throughout the country. The Government's new foreign policy has within the last month revealed a healthier and more realistic outlook, and it may succeed in gathering friends around us once again, but the fact is that we have not to-day the trained men to carry us through the present emergency, which will last for some time.
There is one point from which we should not shrink; we might not be able to attract enough men voluntarily. "Why" it may be argued, "should one man volunteer to protect others who are less forthcoming?" Why, if I may put the matter personally, should I have enjoyed eight years' training in the Officers' Training Corps and most of my contemporaries no training at all? Is that democracy? Does anyone suggest that it is? If the voluntary system proves inadequate, we ought not to shink from universal service.
It is no use any politician or statesman saying that the danger is hypothetical. Such a word might have been used before the last War, but it did not deter Roberts from doing his duty before 1914. To-day patriotism is more important than pacifist popularity. In any case, if finance is the objection, the cost would be far less than the cost of defeat, or even of a war which finally produces, after immense losses, eventual victory. The arguments for a larger Army are numerous and overwhelming. It would make war itself less likely. If war came, a great land force would make early victory certain. It 2290 would hearten our friends and discourage those who cherish designs upon French and British territories. The country's eyes are now open, and I do not believe that the country would be reluctant to treble or quadruple the present military establishment in Great Britain. We certainly need such a measure, on the capital ground of national and Imperial security. One of its incidental advantages, of great human value, would be to reduce the present mass of enervating idleness.
§ 11.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Earlier in the evening the hon. and gallant Member for Chelms-ford (Lieut.-Colonel Macnamara) made a remark that we were all agreed upon the necessity for National Service. The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) and I dissented and there was reason for our dissent. Before there could be any question of agreement on National Service there would have to be agreement upon policy at home and abroad. You can never get loyalty to a Government and a party which come before the people with a policy for uniting the various forces in Europe to check aggression and then, without consulting the people, transform that policy into one of satisfying aggressor Powers in the name of appeasement; to satisfy such Powers is utterly impossible. Yet that is the policy which the hon. and gallant Member supports. There can be no other meaning of the policy of appeasement. France, Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, Russia and the United States do not want appeasement. Who wants appeasement? Germany, Italy, and Japan.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
We are not discussing appeasement but a Motion relating to the increase of our land Forces.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Arising out of the increase of the land forces came the question of National Service, and I am explaining the reason for the dissent on the part of the hon. Member for Stoke and myself. I am not a military expert, but I have a feeling that much of the discussion has been artificial and unrelated to any circumstances which exist in which the armed forces would be called upon. There has been a comparison between the Army now and in 1914 and between the condition of the Army now and a year ago, but what has been forgotten is the big 2291 difference between general conditions then and now. The hon. and gallant Member who moved the Amendment made an effort to state the problem but did not attempt to find a solution for it. He said that he had asked a military expert "How do you find the situation?" and the expert had replied with placing a flag here and a flag there and a flag in another place in order to show the various fronts. But what lesson was drawn from the position of the flags? What is the situation as regards the home front? The Secretary of State cannot hope to build up an Army without any clear picture in his mind of how the home front stands now as compared with 1914. In 1914 there were no depressed areas on the home front. Does that mean nothing to the Army in connection with the responsibilities of the Secretary of State in building up an Army and considering what it is to do in a critical situation? If an Army is to be built up which is capable of meeting its responsibilities, will it not be necessary to root out this cancer which is eating into the home front? In 1914 we had no standing Army of 2,000,000 unemployed. Has that nothing to do with the home front? In 1914 no means test was operating. Has the Secretary of State taken into consideration how that is going to affect the Army?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The home front is not in order under this Amendment. What we are discussing is an increase in the land forces.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Is it not in order for an hon. Member to argue that if certain conditions at home were improved it might mean a different relationship between the War Office and the general public?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I see the hon. Member's point. What the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) is saying can be brought in by way of illustration, but it is not a matter that can be argued.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I am thankful for that guidance. I would remind the Secretary of State that the War of 1914 was won and lost as a result of the breakdown of the home front in Germany. Will anybody deny that? In considering the possibilities that lie ahead the Secretary of State ought, therefore, to take into consideration the home front, how strong it can be 2292 made. Why do not the military experts take note of the cancers that are eating into the home front? The home front must be one of the first considerations. Then consider the situation of a year ago. Other hon. Members, one of whom seems to have a particular antipathy for the Liberals, referred to the situation in Czecho-Slovakia and the loss of 35 divisions there. Is there any presentation of the responsibilities of the Army in relation to the situation that exists in that country, what it calls for in the way of new strategy and what is to be done about it?
Then again I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) calling attention, two or three months ago, to the fact that there were German guns on each side of the western Mediterranean and to the fact that we were facing a situation which we had never faced before in our history, where, in the event of war, we could not sail ships through the Mediterranean. Has that nothing to do with the building up of the Army and with the military strategy of Britain? Hon. Members may recollect that one of the greatest Admirals, sitting on the benches opposite, interjected when the right hon. Gentleman was speaking to say that it would still be possible to get a ship through the Mediterranean under a heavy smoke-screen. Hon. Members opposite are sitting there ready to swallow anything that is served up from the Government benches, no matter what it has to do with reality.
When the Minister talks about placing our outposts on a war footing, let us ask what a war footing means in the new situation. The Minister has contemplated a war footing in relation to the previously existing peace footing. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but they are prepared to listen to, and to swallow, anything that the Minister says. There was a peace footing in those outposts, and in relation to that peace footing there was a formula for a war footing. [Laughter.] Well, I will try and make it as simple as though I were talking to an elementary class. There is one division at a particular outpost. The recognised war footing for that outpost is three divisions. "All right," says the Minister, "we are now changing from a peace footing to a war footing." In other words, that one division is changed to three divisions. Does the mere changing 2293 from a recognised provision for peace to a recognised war provision meet the situation? I remember saying on one occasion that, if the Generals and Admirals in this House were paraded round the country and exhibited in the market places, we should never get a recruit; and when I hear what is going on now I am more than ever convinced that that is so. A war footing in Malta in 1914, when Italy was our ally, is an entirely different thing from a war footing in Malta when Italy is a potential enemy and has her agents inside Malta. It is a mere formula, but, with Italy as a potential enemy, I do not care how many divisions we have in Malta. [Interruption.] If hon. Members want to interrupt, I hope they will try to make something in the nature of an intelligent or original interruption. I am not prepared to place any confidence in a Government or in military experts that can only work according to a formula.
The situation in these outposts has become very different in the last six months from what it was earlier. Take the outposts in the East. If we are involved in a great war in Europe, is Japan going to be as passive as she was in 1914-18? Japan has made it known that she not only wants Japan, but India. Are the Government aware of that? Japan considers that no European Power has any right whatever to be in Asia, and wants a great Asiatic Empire. What is a war footing in the East with Japan as a potential enemy, as compared with what it was when Japan was an ally? Is there any difference? I should say that there is. You are faced with a situation in the Far East where Japan is a potential enemy and wants India; you are faced with a situation in Malta where Italy is a potential enemy and wants the Mediterranean; you are faced with a situation in Europe where Germany is a potential enemy. of course we hear a great deal about appeasement, but is the Minister aware that pictures of British infantry are used as targets in the new modern-style rifle ranges at the Labour Front's model show in Berlin? This is after the handing over of Czecho-Slovakia at Munich, after all the policy of appeasement. Germany wants Africa; Italy wants the Mediterranean; Japan wants India. All this seriously affects the situation in the various outposts, and it cannot be 2294 met by simply changing the barracks, or the equipment, or the number of men, in these outposts according to some particular formula.
Unless we get a Government that can bring about an entirely new situation in Europe, that can make allies and build up friends around us, we shall be in an absolutely impossible position. You never know, because of the mistrust that is being created, how soon the reactionary elements in France may walk away and make a deal with Germany; you cannot have any confidence as long as reaction is being encouraged to come into power in France. It is amongst the masses of the free people in the trade unions and the co-operatives, the various movements of the working classes, in these countries that we draw our support, not from the reactionaries, and, unless we can get the necessary allies, all the talk about changing outposts from a peace footing to a war footing is nonsense; it is deceiving the people in this country and throughout the Empire. There is not a military man in this country who would dare to go before any audience which understands the situation as it exists since Munich, and say" We will change to a war footing" as though that would be any solution of the terrible problems that confront us. Most of the Minister's speech was sheer self-deception. National Service can never be obtained with a Government of this kind. The other day I was in a public park, just across the Thames, and I saw a lot of trenches. I said "If we could only get the Government into one of those trenches, and fill it in, what a difference it would mean to the people of this country." If you want to get real unity throughout the country, if you want to get friends in Europe who will stand by you in time of need, then, instead of talking about evacuating the people if war comes, you must evacuate the Government, and prevent war from coming.
§ 12.14 a.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Sir Victor Warrender)
Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I now replied to the Debate. As a result of the very wide terms of the Motion, the Debate has ranged over a very wide field. Although many points of great interest have been raised, I want, in the few minutes for which I shall keep 2295 the House, to devote myself to the main idea underlying the Amendment moved by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Totnes (Major Rayner), that is, the case for increasing the land forces of the Crown. Some of the arguments referred to in the earlier part of the Debate will come within this range, but the other points made in the earlier part of the Debate my right hon. Friend proposes to answer on the Report stage. In view of the fact that my right hon-Friend is suffering from loss of voice this evening, it probably would be for the convenience of the House if he made his reply to the many detailed points which have been made to-night on the occasion of the next stage.
I had some sympathy for my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Totnes when he moved the Amendment, because, as he himself stated, much of the ground which he intended to cover had already been trodden by the Secretary of State in his opening speech. Nevertheless, he dealt with many separate points, and it was clear from the speech that he made that he had devoted a great deal of thought and care to the subject to which he addressed himself, and I think the whole House enjoyed very much hearing his speech. The same is true of the speech of the Seconder, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Colonel Ponsonby). Various arguments have been put forward both in favour of increasing the land forces at the present time, and against such an increase. It will probably save time if I attempt to direct my remarks generally to the question without going into too detailed replies to the various points which have been raised.
The size of the British Army must primarily be decided by three demands; first of all, the defence of the United Kingdom; secondly, our commitments overseas, including the defence of our overseas ports and our trade routes; and, thirdly, co-operation in the defence of territories of such allies as we may have in war. Of these three, the first—the defence of the United Kingdom—requires a force which is comparatively simple to calculate; the second—the defence of our overseas ports and trade routes—requires a force which could similarly but perhaps not quite so simply be calculated; while 2296 the third—the contribution towards the defence of any allies that we may find at our side in the event of war—involves an almost incalculable demand which might, as in the last War, lead to the raising of huge forces.
It is with the last point that the Amendment is primarily concerned, and I want to deal, first of all, with the resources which are available to us to-day under our present organisation to meet this demand, and subsequently very briefly to examine the feasibility of increasing our resources, bearing in mind certain considerations which impose definite limitations upon the size of the Army in peacetime. It was stated by my right hon. Friend in his original speech this afternoon what the resources of our strategic reserves are, and I will not repeat them in detail but merely content myself by reminding the House that, according to the figures given by my right hon. Friend, those resources total more than 19 divisions, not counting the forces included in our Middle Eastern Reserve. Those 19 divisions, or rather more, comprise what would be immediately available both for assistance to any ally on the Continent and to meet necessities further afield. This force would be available in echelons, as they could be fitted for war, and of a total strength of some 531,000 men, including reserves, but excluding troops on the establishment of India and Burma, amounting to some 45,000 men.
It has been suggested to-night in more than one quarter that the force which we could put into the field to-day is poor compared with that which we were able to send overseas in the early months of the last War. Perhaps to a' certain extent, since the size of the divisions has been reduced, it is true to say that in numbers the force is not so strong; but as far as equipment and fighting efficiency are concerned it is certainly not true. An hon. Member made the point, and in reply I want to give an illustration to show the power of the field force, comparing the present day scale with 1914. The ordinary infantry battalion is equipped with not less than 52 Bren guns, whereas in 1914 an infantry battalion was equipped with two machine-guns. That alone gives one some idea of the enormous increase there has been in the effectiveness of our forces, particularly from the point of view of defence.
§ Sir V. Warrender
That was why I stressed particularly that it was from the point of view of defence. Presumably our Army is to be looked upon primarily for defence and not for aggression. Further than that, let it not be forgotten that the Territorial Army to-day is, or will be, supplied, and is being trained, for immediate service upon the Continent and that it will be a force far exceeding in efficiency and equipment the Territorial Army as we knew it in 1914. As my right hon. Friend said, it has been modelled on exactly the same lines as the Regular Army and will be equipped with identical weapons upon the same scale. In addition to that force we have for home defence, or shall have, seven anti-aircraft divisions for defence against air attack. I do not think, therefore, that it can with justification be said that the degree of defence that we can provide for this country on land at the outbreak of war, or the contribution which we can make to any ally on the Continent, is very meagre, compared with what it was in 1914. Let it not be forgotten that we shall have a formidable Air Force and that the Navy, which has always been the main defence of these islands, will have a far greater superiority than it had in 1914. There may still be those who feel that our force is not sufficiently large and that we should increase our reserves. My hon. Friend the Member for Smeth-wick (Mr. Wise) gave it as his opinion that we should have an expeditionary force of not less than 15 divisions.
Let us examine what any substantial expansion of our Army in peace time involves. Let us turn to the question of finance. It is difficult to give any reliable estimate as to the cost of forming new divisions, but it runs into tens of millions. The maintenance charges, that is to say, the annual charges for maintenance, would cost, it is estimated, somewhere between £1,500,000 and £2,500,000. If we were to enlarge our present force to 15 divisions, we should very soon see that we had let ourselves in for figures of an almost astronomical character. It does not stop there. If you turn to the defence of the Empire you immediately find yourself up against a very serious position. As my right hon. Friend said in his speech, we look like recruiting this 2298 year no fewer than 40,000 men for the Regular Army. That is a record, but he would be a bold man who said that we could look indefinitely for recruits for the Army on that scale; but even if we could, one difficulty is very often lost sight of. An Army, constituted and equipped as the modern Army is, with the number of technical specialists, required not only to man armoured fighting vehicles but other vehicles, and to maintain them and keep them in order, is very large. The number of technical men of the artisan class that we get into the Army to-day is far below our requirements, and with the competition of industry it is only natural that men of engineering skill should prefer to seek the more well-to-do openings which they can find in civil life.
The only alternative for the Army is to train its own specialists and technicians. That we are doing by increasing our intake of boys and giving them a three-year course. The question of technical skill and the provision of technicians is very formidable at the present time. Not only is it difficult now, but it would form a very serious difficulty if any question of substantial expansion came up for consideration. I think you can derive two conclusions from those figures which I have given to the House. The first is that to attempt to compete numerically with the foreign conscript armies of the Continent is, upon a voluntary system, a virtual impossibility. The second is that the cost of any such expansion upon a voluntary basis will be exceedingly high. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sevenoaks put forward the suggestion that we might form a militia, and that we might have a system of long-service people for foreign garrisons.
On the question of the militia I do not want to suggest that in no circumstances could a force of that character be made use of, but the difficulty is that with our present organisation there really is no room for a force of that kind. Our Regular Army constitutes our first Line. It has its own reserve. Behind it is the Territorial Army, and it is upon the Territorial Army that the expansion after mobilisation will take place. Within that organisation we estimate that we have enough reserves to maintain the Army in the field until such time as recruits can be mobilised and sent out to fill the gaps caused 2299 by casualties. We have, in addition, the Supplementary Reserve which provides chiefly reserves of technical personnel— specialists in the various arms of the Army. The militia, therefore, does not really fit into our organisation as it exists to-day. If, on the other hand, it were decided by any Government of the day largely to extend in peace-time the Regular Army, then probably some sort of force on the lines of the militia would be of inestimable service, because these newly-formed divisions and units, by reason of their new formation, would have no reserves to call upon on mobilisation. Reserves from some quarter would have to be created for them. In those conditions a militia force would be of the greatest value.
I have pointed out some of the difficulties which would exist even if you could get the men to join it which, I think, is very doubtful, because the class of men who joined the militia before the War is either non-existent to-day or not interested. There really is no room for it. In the present organisation either a special reserve or a militia is, therefore, unnecessary, and would be uneconomical in our present methods. As far as long service is concerned, there are one or two considerations very often lost sight of. It is often suggested that our foreign garrisons might be manned by men who would take on for a full period of 21 years and then draw pension. Apart from the largely increased expenditure that would cost in order to get the men—as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's (Mr. Duff Cooper) said, you would have to offer them greatly increased rates of pay and highly increased pensions—there is the great difficulty of the marriage question.
If you are going to have men in a long service force, you have to anticipate that the great majority of them will be married. If they are to be sent abroad it would be very desirable to encourage them to marry before they had been in the service too long, probably on their first leave after four years' service abroad. That means that in an ordinary battalion you would probably have to accommodate and deal with no fewer than 400 wives and probably 1,000 or 1,200 children. Vastly increased accommodation would be required for married quarters, hospitals, schools, etc. Apart 2300 from the embarrassment of having so many families in a unit, the cost to the country would be exceedingly heavy, apart altogether from the efficiency of such force. I am not going to elaborate that point, although I do not think it would be maintained that if a man has done seven or eight years' service in India or a hot climate he can be expected to be a very efficient or fit soldier.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) raised points to which I must out of courtesy refer. He raised the question of limited liability and what that would mean, and what our conversations with the French Government amounted to. He will not expect me in my position to give a detailed exposition of Government policy in that respect. All I would say is I think that limited liability as it has been used by the Government in this Debate means what my right hon. Friend said in his speech, that, so far as our contribution and assistance towards France went, it would not be a half-hearted effort. Just as in the case of the last War, we should not be content with giving France halfhearted assistance. The right hon. Member made a point that my right hon. Friend's statement in regard to the provision of an expeditionary force was not consistent with the statement he made in his speech last year. He seemed to have forgotten that since my right hon. Friend's speech last year the Prime Minister has made his statement about our attitude to France should she be attacked. Quite obviously, new commitments require new measures to meet them.
I have tried to get through the material I wanted to give to the House as quickly as possible because it is getting late and Members will want to be getting home. May I for one second turn once more to the terms of the Amendment which is under discussion? In effect, what this amounts to is to ask the Government to keep its eye upon the size of the Army having regard to our responsibilities at home and abroad. That, obviously, is the duty of the Government, and as we regard it to be so, it is an Amendment with which we do not quarrel. I have endeavoured, following upon much relevant material which is to be found in my right hon. Friend's opening speech, to show not only how our present organisation meets our requirements, but to 2301 display some of the problems we are immediately up against if you decide to adopt some of the proposals made in various parts of the Committee.
Finally, let me say that our Army may appear, judged by continental standards, to be a small one. Nevertheless quality counts as well as quantity and, partly due to the quality of the personnel which enlists in the Army, partly due to the terms of service, and partly due to the quality of the equipment with which they are provided, it is no exaggeration to say that, for its size, the British Army is to-day the finest fighting force in the world. I think hon. Members may rest assured that should it at any time have to meet any of the continental armies of which we have been reminded to-night— which please God will never be—it will be able to acquit itself with the same tenacious gallantry as its forebears have done in the past.
§ 12.39 a.m.
§ Major Rayner
In view of what the Financial Secretary has stated, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Sir DENNIS HERBERT IN THE CHAIR.]