HC Deb 02 February 1944 vol 396 cc1369-76

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain McEwen.]

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)

A number of people hope, and an equally great number of people fear, that at any moment we may be hustled into peace.

It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Major Sir James Edmondson.]

Sir T. Moore

From watching this House in the past few weeks, I think the Government have taken that view, because they have begun to produce certain post-war plans on Reconstruction, among which the latest and most substantial has been the Education Bill. We are also promised various White Papers forecasting further plans in other directions, and therefore I do not feel that I am either premature or perhaps unjustified in suggesting that all our plans for a lasting peace and a better world are worthless unless we are strong enough to preserve that peace and to protect that world. There will be idealists with many theoretical views and plans for ensuring Utopia, but experience has told us that realism is the better investment.

A few weeks ago I asked the Prime Minister what plans he had in mind for the retention or provision of adequate Defence Forces after the war. To my surprise—it was fairly justified surprise—the right hon. Gentleman the Deputy Prime Minister replied to the effect that the question was somewhat premature and that nothing had yet been decided. I think I was reasonably surprised because, during the past few months, we have had international conferences at the very highest levels. We have had discussions between the various Service chiefs of the Allied Nations, and, therefore, some agreement should have been reached in regard to our post-war Armies, Navies and Air Forces. I admit that there must be one or two problems that limit precise decisions on these points, and one is adequate forces for garrisoning Europe after the enemy has been cleared out and defeated there, and the second is, what will be the requirements for defeating the enemy in the Far East? But, as the Prime Minister himself has often shown us, difficulties are made to be overcome. If this particular difficulty is now insoluble I would like, with your permission, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but with great diffidence, to make a few suggestions which have emerged from discussions I have had with highly qualified friends and many Members in this House. We must assume that henceforth Britain will have to support forces with clearly defined considerations of action and a clearly defined scope of duties. I will call them for easy reference an Expeditionary Force and a Home Defence Force. This term almost defines by name their separate functions. Many students of war and of defence are of the opinion that conscription should be retained after the war for all Forces. I myself, after a lot of thought, am with the minority in thinking that the voluntary system would be the best for our regular or expeditionary force——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and gallant Member, but to introduce conscription after the war would undoubtedly need legislation, which is not a matter that we can discuss on the Adjournment.

Sir T. Moore

I suggest that every constructive suggestion we make in this House must inevitably involve legislation if carried any further, but all I am seeking to do is to implant a few ideas in the mind of my right hon. Friend which he may or may not discard as useless or worthless at a later date. I will try to fall in with your wise guidance, Sir. Apart altogether from the question of whether conscription is retained or not, I assume that an expeditionary force will still be carried on on the same principle as we have had hitherto—that is, a system by which there were certain overseas units and complementary reinforcing units at home. That may satisfy the expeditionary force, but, obviously, some new system will have to be devised for the home defence force. So far as I can ascertain, it seems to be the view, and we have had ample justification for it in this war, that so much of the spirit of adventure and of the spirit of enterprise now exists amongst our younger people that there will be no difficulty whatsoever in finding all the necessary volunteers for such an expeditionary force, and it will be for the Government and the Service chiefs at the time to strengthen that force and ultimately have it approved by Parliament.

With regard to the strength of the home defence force, there does not yet appear to be any opposition formed generally amongst the public or even in this House. Many people, of course, have the idea of the old Militia, and equally many have a similar view about the Territorial Army, which, as we know, played in the last war and in this a splendid part. I clash with both these views, because it seems to me that the old Militia and the Territorial Army are now both out of date, and the point I really want to make is that all the home defence forces of a military character should be merged in the existing Home Guard. As we know, the Home Guard was born out of stress and danger and, a tremendous sense of patriotism, and it is far more a national force than ever the Militia or the Territorial Army could be. I suggest that the newly-arranged Home Guard should be divided into three sections, one for the Navy, one for the Army and one for the Air Force. I go further and say that all officers and men resigning or discharged from the Regular Forces from to-day should be passed automatically into the new Home Guard—after, of course, eliminating the disabled. That would mean that the new home defence force would have within its ranks men of modern thought and knowledge, much experience and first-class technical and professional qualifications.

My next suggestion is that all boys from the various youth movements—which I regret were not made statutory in the Education Bill—should be passed from the youth movements into the same home defence force, and thus it would bring in a new kind of enterprise and adventure, while those wanting more adventure would still have the expeditionary force at their choice. The result of these proposals, in my view, would mean that we would have a defence force of something like 6,000,000 or 7,000,000 men constantly maintained as long as our existing population was maintained. The training, of course, could be based partly on the old Territorial Force pattern and partly on the Home Guard pattern. Naturally, there would be an age limit fixed, of which the House approved. Some arrangements would also be necessary to ensure that they would be available in a national emergency for overseas. That has always been done with Territorial Forces and others in the past. But whatever the Government may decide, either on the lines I have just mentioned or whether they have any plans of their own, their decisions should take legal form before the first man is demobilised after this war.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If the hon. and gallant Member gets on to legal forms that means legislation and that is out of Order. I have already been in great difficulty with a good deal of this discussion. The hon. and gallant Member must not get on to the subject of legal form.

Sir T. Moore

Well, then, such plans as the Government may have—and I hope they have—must be decided before the first demobilisation takes place. Otherwise, so far as I can see, you will have men possibly called back after they have been discharged and that would result in a considerable amount of unrest. I have tried to be brief in order to give someone else a chance of speaking before my right hon. Friend replies to these few crude ideas which have been developing in the minds of many hon. Members and myself. They may not be perfect—I admit no idea ever is perfect at its birth—but they may be a foundation on which to build, and since we are all bending our minds to the rebuilding and remoulding of a better world I do not think we shall be wasting our time by creating machinery now for making that better world secure.

Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)

I would like to offer one or two observations on the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore). I have not listened to such a farrago of nonsense for a considerable time. What the hon. and gallant Member desires, if I understand him correctly, is to perpetuate the whole military system in this country. When he talks in terms of a defence force of 6,000,000 in a population of 45,000,000, one naturally asks: What are we fighting for; what is this huge defence force for and what will it do? The hon. and gallant Member regretted that there was no statutory obligation in the new Education Bill to make youth movements compulsory. By that he meant they would be compelled to go on into the Armed Forces. If he wants to kill the youth movement let him try to popularise it by dangling in front of our boys the fact that automatically they will be transferred into the Armed Forces after the war. The hon. and gallant Member has, apparently, little knowledge of the minds of working-class fathers and mothers. Parents will encourage their children to take part in youth movements and to join Navy, Army and Air cadet forces during an emergency such as this, but if it gets abroad that some hon. Members of this House are prepared to perpetuate the present system for the children who are to come along, then such a suggestion is doing a disservice to the national effort. For instance, the hon. and gallant Member said that the Militia was worn out and that the Territorials, who have apparently served their purpose, were also "washed out." What does he mean? He is simply indicating that it is running through the minds of the knowledgeable friends he has consulted—who have been nameless—that conscription in this country is going to be a permanent institution.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

On conscription I have to remind the hon. Gentleman he must not go any further, whether it is running through his mind or anyone else's mind.

Mr. McKinlay

It is not running through my mind, Sir. I am trying to interpret the case stated by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs. It does not require legislation to make an idea penetrate one's mind, and I think the hon. and gallant Member is flying a kite and thereby encouraging, maybe, some of the knowledgeable people whom he has consulted—or he may be pretty intimately associated with people in high places; we do not know. All I am suggesting is that he can advocate the continuation of military conscription after the war if he cares, but I for one want to protest against any suggestion going from this House at the moment that the youth movements should in any way be saddled with a statutory obligation that their members will follow on into the Armed Forces even after the war is finished.

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

My hon. and gallant Friend gave me notice that he intended to raise the whole matter of what armed forces would be necessary in the world after this war, and what would be our contribution. What will be the exact numbers is obviously a matter of very great importance, and I am sure the suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend will be taken note of, I cannot say necessarily approved. He appears to be expecting, however, that I should be able to make a definite pronouncement on policy, and seemed surprised when, in answer to a Question, I said this was premature. Well, it is premature. We have first to win the war against Germany, then to win the war against Japan, and then to consider what will be the condition of the world, and what will be the forces, and those forces will largely depend on what is the political set-up in the world after the war.

Obviously those factors are entirely unknown at the present time. It is impossible to make a Government pronouncement just yet. These questions are being considered in the Departments and as much attention is given to them as can be spared from the very pressing task of winning this war first of all. I do not think that my hon. and gallant Friend wanted to do more really than ventilate the subject. He did not expect from me pronouncement either on the matters on which he was able to speak or on those on which he was not allowed to speak. All I can tell him is that, of course, one of the matters that must be under the consideration of the Government in respect of post-war planning will be the amount of armed forces—and remember that armed forces to-day are not just so many men but the whole organisation behind them as well—necessary to this country. That will be given careful consideration. I certainly cannot make any fuller statement than that at present.

Sir T. Moore

Could my right hon. Friend say that these particular matters have actually been discussed, so that the country will have more confidence that they are under active consideration, and that we shall not be hurtled into peace without having made any provision for preserving the world in peace when we have achieved it?

Mr. Attlee

These general matters are being considered.

Mr. McKinlay

Including a Home Guard of 6,000,000?

Mr. Attlee

I said that these general matters are being considered. I did not say the particular suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member had yet been considered.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.