§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ 12.12 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Profumo (Kettering)
Nothing outside Heaven could be expected to meet with the complete approval of all the thousands of men and women who are interested in this scheme for the reallocation of man and woman power. Indeed, I doubt whether Heaven itself would be entirely acceptable to certain people. There is always bound to be, both inside this House and outside, a small minority of what one might call inverted Micawbers, who are constantly looking for something to turn down. Generally speaking, the great mass of the British people, both at home and abroad, have accepted the Government's proposals as basically sound and equitable; at the same time, I have found that there is a widespread requirement for clarification concerning certain aspects of the White Paper and in addition for some constructive criticisms to be made before the proposals can be put into effect.
It is for these reasons that I have requested permission to return to the House from Italy for the duration of this Debate, in order that I might bring to light at any rate some of the views of the men and women who are, at the present time, serving overseas. I am sure many hon. Members must long since have forgotten what it feels like to make a maiden speech. I can assure you, Sir, that I have not, and indeed, at this moment, I am very vividly reminded of it because after a long absence from the House I feel myself to be in a similar position. That feeling is accentuated by the fact that this is the first time I have had the honour to address you, Mr. Speaker, by that name. On the other hand, I am encouraged by the certain knowledge that hon. Members all over the House will welcome the opportunity of listening to the reflected expressions of some of those men who have now for so long been at grips with the enemy in the Mediterranean theatre, under the greatest general of our time, General Alexander, with such glory to themselves and to the common cause; who, with our Allies, are even now pinning down thousands of the best German troops and, under the most violent climatic conditions, 1983 are forging their way northwards. Surely we owe it to these valiant vanguards of victory that their voices should be heard in this House on a subject such as this which is of such vital importance to themselves.
I have endeavoured to obtain a cross-section of opinion in my own. theatre. I know that that is now only one sector of the war and I am convinced that the matters which I wish to lay before the House do represent the feelings in the Far East as well as in the Mediterranean and in Northern Europe. What I have to say can be divided into two parts: first, matters on which we would like further official clarification, and secondly, some proposals for alteration in the basic scheme. Let me say at the outset that whatever pleas I or any other Member may put forward for alterations to the White Paper during the course of the Debate, fundamentally we must be guided by what will function practically when the time comes to put the scheme into operation. Irreparable disappointment, mistrust and hardship will result from a failure to execute the intention smoothly and in a manner anticipated by all those who are concerned.
The Britisher has not materially changed as a result of his sojourn in foreign climes. He likes to be told frankly and simply what he has to face and what he is in for. If he thinks the arguments are reasonable and his interests are being fairly looked after he will be satisfied. For this reason I ask that the widest possible publicity shall be given to certain aspects of the White Paper which have not to my knowledge, so far been made sufficiently clear. No semi-official assurance has an equal effect to a direct statement made from the Government benches in this House. The White Paper points out quite rightly thatno man will be released or transferred from the Forces if his retention is considered necessary on military grounds.We all accept that, but may we be informed during the course of the Debate who will be the competent authority to decide cases of such extraordinary importance to the individual? I understand that the retention of specialists will only be permitted until suitable replacements can be found and that such cases will be decided at a high level in all three 1984 Services, but we are anxious for an assurance that the term "necessary on military grounds" will not eventually develop into "desirable on personal grounds". In fact, that merely because a man has discharged his duties with devotion, distinction and exceptional ability thereby becoming a valuable component of one particular piece of the war machinery he will not be subject to delay in respect of his discharge when his age and length of service group is reached. Furthermore, is there any reason why the names and release groups of all men who for one reason or another are considered indispensable until adequate relief can be provided should not be submitted now by commanding officers? These names could be collated and immediately if it known by the Cabinet how many groups can be released statistics could be prepared to show the number of specialist replacements needed to permit key men to be released with their own groups. During the "standstill" period after the cessation of hostilities in Europe, before the release plan becomes operative, suitable replacements could be sent to the various theatres in readiness. If such a system is for some reason quite impracticable, and I do not see why it should be, may we have an assurance that consideration will be given to the question of some further compensation for these men when they are finally released from the Forces and ensuring they will have a fair chance of getting civilian employment? It will be a grave injustice if certain men, because of their military importance, are prohibited from securing civilian jobs in equal competition with those whose military value did not preclude their release at the proper time.
My next point concerns the period of leave with full pay on release from the Forces. Here, again, we ask for clarification. During that period shall we draw pay at our acting or temporary ranks or at our substantive rank? That is not such a trivial matter as it may at first seem. Apart from the fact that it will make a great difference to us financially those of us serving overseas feel strongly that this extra leave is being granted as the only recompense for our sojourn overseas, the pay should be on the basis of what it would have been had we enjoyed our privilege leave serving at home. In that case we should have 1985 drawn the pay at acting or temporary rank. In the same way as the Government have to budget and plan ahead, so has the individual, and the plans we are now making are based very largely upon our pockets. Let us not be small minded in the details of an otherwise big-hearted scheme. Most men have now overcome their initial excitement at the idea of returning home and being released from the Services, and are considering most seriously the long-term implications. The White Paper affirms that they will be permitted to exercise their reinstatement rights and go back to their former employment. There is naturally considerable anxiety about the chances of actually getting back a job, and being able to keep a job, particularly among men over 40 years of age. We have been considerably impressed by the recent decisions in particular cases and I feel that this Debate, if we can get some clarification on that subject, may make a great impression on the soldiers, sailors and airmen everywhere, because it is obvious that whatever laws may have been made, this matter will rest upon the interpretation given to them by individuals, and very largely by employers.
There is the instance of a man who comes home and wants to go back to his former employment but because his employers are engaged on work of national reconstruction he finds that his job has been taken by someone who has previously been released under Class B. Then take the employer's point of view and here I give a case from my own constituency. There is a firm of builders there whose premises have been taken over by the military authorities as a store. Two men have been released and wish to go back to their jobs, but the employers have not anywhere to work and they cannot employ them. Of course, there are also the cases of men who have been injured and as a result of that injury cannot undertake their old employment. I hope and believe that it will be a point of national honour that ex-Servicemen shall be given back their jobs and that employers all over the country will attempt to carry out the letter of the law in the spirit in which it was passed in this House. Any clarification of this very vexed subject which can be afforded during this Debate will meet with widespread appreciation throughout the fighting theatres.
1986 Although there is no reference to it in the White Paper, there appears to be a special ruling, at any rate so far as the Army is concerned, regarding officers of the rank of full colonel and above—it does not affect me, and I will see that is does not—doctors, dentists, padres, and members of the nursing profession. I am given to understand that anybody who falls into those categories is not affected by the scheme at all but will be released individually by the War Office when they choose to call them in. I have been informed of this in my own theatre. If it is true it would be interesting to know if it affects all three Services or only the Army. Surely, it was not necessary to make a special Regulation which covers such a wide number of people. Was not the term "necessary on military grounds" sufficient to cover all those people. I can well sympathise with the individual who realises that his future release is going to depend upon the whim of the War Office and it is little consolation to the senior officer, that because of his red hat, the White Paper is blue-pencilled.
It may be argued that possibly some of these individuals will be released earlier than they would be under the age and length of service arrangement. In that case I cannot see why they could not have come under Class B. Surely, when peace comes there will be a growing need in this country for doctors and dentists and, possibly even greatest of all, for those spiritual doctors, whose quiet work in the Services has been fine beyond description. I feel that we should have clarification of this matter, because otherwise I am convinced that there will be further trouble before the scheme is executed. While we are considering special categories I would remind the House that there are a considerable number of men who because of their ardent patriotism now find themselves in most unfortunate circumstances and to whom special consideration must be afforded. I refer to those who by their hundreds came from all parts of the Empire immediately war was declared and joined up in the British Forces. Many of those men are still serving in British units. So far as I am aware they are not eligible for release under the schemes drawn up by their own Governments. What arrangements arrangements are being made for their speedy return to their homes? Are there any means of their 1987 returning to their own countries without first having to come to this country? It is not much consolation to a man whose home is in Australia, to be brought back to England, particularly if long delays ensue, and he finally has to make his way back to his own country at his own expense. The least we can do to mark our appreciation for the voluntary enthusiasm and splendid services of these men is to make arrangements to send them home in the same spirit of urgency as they left them.
I come to the second part of what I have to say and here I wish to lay before the House certain aspects of the scheme with which I, in common with a large number of comrades in the Services, disagree, and for which I most earnestly request re-consideration. There has been no concession, for instance, in respect of the men and women who voluntarily joined the auxiliary organisations of the Armed Forces, before the outbreak of war. These represent a relatively small, but highly commendable section of our Forces under arms. It was they who foresaw the dangers of Nazi Germany, who appreciated that we were totally unprepared for war, who realised that it was their duty to train and equip themselves to fight, and what is more to give a lead to those who were more reticent and less convinced of the evils ahead; who laid aside their personal convenience and their leisure and therefore were ready when the storm broke to fall in proudly side by side with our none too adequate Regular Forces, having given up all they had and all they had worked for, to stand sentinel on the sea, on the land and in the air while John Bull pulled the wool from his eyes and rather slowly got himself measured for a battledress.
The Regular Forces were glad of these amateurs at that time and the country was proud of them. Let us not forget them now, but rather remember that one of the greatest strains in our democratic make-up is the voluntary spirit. Surely we should recognise and nurture that spirit which is going to be so important to us in future years. Therefore, I propose that any men or women who were serving in one of the voluntary services before the beginning of 1939, should be released from the Forces with the group prior to one in which their age and length of service puts them. I feel that 1988 the statistics can be worked out and alterations in planning made before the cessation of hostilities in Europe. The numbers concerned are comparatively small and the concession amounts in fact to little more than a tribute from a triumphant nation to a small section of men and women who were ready prepared to defend it in its darkest hour.
Before we examine some of the implications of this White Paper from the female point of view, I ask that a statement should be made during the Debate on the policy regarding women being sent to serve in the Far East. I most earnestly hope that every effort will be made to keep down to the essential minimum the number of women serving in that terrible climate and hope furthermore that no women will be permitted to serve within possible reach of those Japanese animals. The White Paper says that women will be given a cash grant in lieu of civilian clothing. This is, indeed, a wise decision because no one would venture to prescribe women's tastes in civilian clothes, but the cash allowance and coupons must be on a generous basis. We must not necessarily take it in such ratio to the cost of the clothing issued to the men. A man can do with a good suit of clothes and a coat, and they will last him a long time, but women's clothes appear to be somewhat different. They need a wider variety and, furthermore, they are subject to the dictates of fashion. Many garments which are now locked away in cupboards in favour of uniforms will be totally unsuitable for wear when the time comes. In addition to that, if a woman is released from the Forces during the summer months, when the winter weather comes along she will require additional and different types of clothing.
We owe a great debt to these women who gave up their safety, their comfort and their privileges in order to stand should to shoulder with the men. Let us be generous in affording them the means of becoming once again individually adequately and gracefully dressed. I have, so far, seen no official statement on the matter, but I am informed that it is the intention to offer women a grant of £12 10s. for their civilian clothing. That may not be true, but it is the information in my own theatre. At the same time, our Service newspapers have told us that the sets of clothing to be issued to us 1989 men are to the equivalent value of £20 if we had to purchase them in the open market. I am looking forward to seeing a set of this clothing because we have had them "cracked up" to such an extent that we are expecting to be quite smartly turned out when the war is over. If we are going to be allowed £20 equivalent value, why not the women as well? They will have to make their purchases in the open market and in circumstances which are bound to vary with local price conditions. A sum of £12 10s. is a niggardly offer. A woman must be able to dress herself suitably during the time when she may be seeking civilian employment and, indeed, until such time as her civilian salary is sufficient to replenish her wardrobe according to her own requirements. I think we should be ashamed to consider anything less than £20. Perhaps of equal importance is the question of coupons. These should not be issued on the basis of how much the cash grant is able to buy. Surely, they should be issued according to the length of service of the individual, because on that factor will depend the amount of pre-service clothing still available for use.
The only priority in this scheme is for married women. Many girls joined the Armed Forces at the beginning of the war and volunteered to go overseas because their young men friends were also serving abroad. As and when those young men are brought back for release under this White Paper scheme, the position, in many cases, will be reversed. The nucleus around which we shall build all our future hopes and plans for a happy nation must be the home, and the sooner we can unite those whose intentions were thwarted by the outbreak of war, the better. Is there any reason why members of the women's Services overseas, and who wish to get married, should not be returned to service in this country, and if they are then luckly enough to marry they can be released under the existing scheme. It may add some complications to the planning necessary and may cause many headaches to the individuals who have to work out this scheme, but I feel most profundly that nothing which is not of paramount importance to the winning of the war against Japan should stand in the way of our womenfolk once more returning 1990 to their rightful setting, which must be in the home.
I am not claiming to speak on behalf of the Forces. It would be laughable for any one man outside the Service Ministries to presume to do so, but I can assure the House that there is a considerable anxiety in the minds of men serving, at any rate in the Mediterranean theatre, regarding their chances of being sent to the Far East. Let me hasten to make myself clear, because what I have said must not be taken out of its context. Here in Westminster we are considering this White Paper as a piece of legislation designed to reallocate man and woman power. We are sitting in an extremely comfortable position. Abroad, the battle is raging; to-morrow may never come. When the din, the wet and the mud permit the mind to wander, it flies home and indulges in fancies, in plans and in memories centred round the home; the sound of one's own language being spoken in the streets around us; the sight of a pint of beer; the smell of the English green countryside—those are the sort of things that engage the minds of the men who are serving overseas.
The greatest of all privations suffered by men and women serving overseas is the constant estrangement from home. Lengthy estrangement causes a lack of morale, not only to the fighting men, but also to their families. The anxiety to which I was referring is not in any way concerned with danger, or with personal, physical hardship. The determination to fight the common enemy, wherever he still exists, was never stronger than it is at the present moment. The anxiety is centred in those dreams of seeing their homes once again, and in this connection Service men are asking: Is there not more likelihood of our being sent, as entire units, from the Mediterranean theatre direct to the Far East, than for units from Northern Europe and this country because of our somewhat closer proximity? I do not believe that that is the intention. I do not believe it for one moment, but I feel sure that a guarantee to-day on the part of the Government to this effect, would cause widespread satisfaction.
I think it is generally realised that only the younger and fitter types of men will be good enough to serve in the Far East. The question uppermost in the minds of such men is: What chances have we of visiting our homes and families before we 1991 embark on the final phase of this war? Not only for the sake of the men themselves, but also for their anxious families, we feel most strongly that this policy must be adopted—that no man will be sent direct from his present theatre to the Far East, without first enjoying some term of leave in this country. If there is any hon. Member, or any member of any of the Ministries, who has the slightest doubt about that policy in his mind, perhaps he would pay one of the battle fronts a visit, and then visit a typical English home. I think that would dispel all doubts, whatever the decision in this particular matter may be. The result of such a policy would be so to increase the morale of the men concerned as to put up their fighting efficiency by 100 per cent. and thereby, when the last phase of the war is reached, we shall have a chance of contributing to a speedier and earlier victory against the Japanese.
I have heard the argument used against this that it would be unfair to Forces who are now serving in the Far East because they would not be able to come home and enjoy a term of leave themselves, but will continue fighting without leave. I think that is an unsound argument, and that the Forces in the Far East would be the last to suggest that because they themselves were unable to get home, in the same way their comrades who were fortunately serving closer to their country, should be penalised. If we follow that argument to its logical conclusion we would have prohibited all home leave for home personnel during the time when overseas forces were not able to enjoy the same right. This scheme must be based on practicable fairness to the greatest possible number of people.
I know well that the question of special consideration for overseas service has been the subject of exhaustive study. Nevertheless, I have to say that it is one which is causing the widest and greatest concern. I have, therefore, a suggestion to lay before the House. I think I am fully aware of all the problems. It is argued that any additional variable factors will slow up and, indeed, cause an ultimate delay in the execution of the general scheme. Difficulties of aggregating over-sea service, unfairness to home service personnel, replacements and shipping—these are some of the problems. Inci- 1992 dentally, on this latter question of shipping, may we have an assurance from the Government that there will be no question of repatriating, or considering the repatriation, of German prisoners of war from any part of the Empire in any ships which might otherwise be used in connection with this scheme.
May we start by agreeing that the real argument in favour of overseas preference is protracted estrangement from home? On that, I base my argument, and I find that all those to whom I have spoken on this matter are in agreement. In that case we can immediately rule out all foreign service which has already been broken by a term of home leave. Let us take as a basis the date, as yet unknown, at which hostilities in Europe will cease. At that time, those who are serving overseas will fall into three quite distinct categories, first, those who have left their homes less than two years ago; those whose foreign service has been so long that they are very nearly due to be brought back to this country under the normal repatriation schemes, and thirdly, those who have served two years abroad but who have still to face a considerable further term of foreign service without visiting their homes. Those latter appear to be the people hardest hit by the present scheme.
I wish to recommend that the scheme be amended so that at the end of hostilities in Europe all those who have completed two or more years' unbroken service abroad, in whichever theatre you like, should be brought home with the release group two prior to that in which they find themselves under the age plus length of service system. On arrival in the United Kingdom they could be separated from the rest of the group and receive treatment in all respects similar to men at present coming home under the repatriation schemes. They would be granted a term of service calculated on the length of service overseas, but they would not, at that time, receive a gratuity for civilian clothing. At the end of their leave they would be liable to a further term of service, either in this country or on the Continent, until their original age plus length-of-service group was called for when they would be finally released to civilian life in the normal way.
In this way, men who have served over two years abroad and have still to face 1993 another lengthy term of service will do so with the knowledge that their case has been considered and appreciably altered. I maintain that such a system would not be unduly complicated. Records in England—in the Service Ministries—have the necessary statistics of the last date of embarkation of every man and woman gone abroad, and the authorities could start immediately preparing a balance-sheet showing the number of men who would be involved for such month which may bring the end of the war in Europe. There is, at any rate, going to be a standstill period of approximately three months after the cessation of hostilities in Europe, and during that period officers commanding units could submit returns to their theatre headquarters of any man who claimed to have served two or more years unbroken service overseas. Records at headquarters have the necessary documents for verification and could quite easily call these men forward with the age and length of service in group two prior to the one in which they were placed before. Let us not completely sacrifice the simplicity in justice to the maximum number. I am not convinced that reinforcements and shipping to the Pacific which would be necessary for this extra number of men to be brought home cannot be found, if planning takes place now and the necessary adjustments are made beforehand, particularly as the basic manpower ceiling will anyhow be reduced by a considerable number of men for which no replacement will have to be found.
I am informed that consideration of overseas service was regarded as impracticable by the Royal Navy because a man is looked upon as serving overseas from the moment he is afloat, and by the Royal Air Force, owing to the fact that so many of their enormous training establishments are situated overseas. It seems to me that the suggestion I have made is equally applicable to all three Services, because the basic consideration of "protracted estrangement from home" applies throughout. The interests of those who through no fault of their own, have been serving in this country must be safeguarded. We who are serving overseas' realise only too well that in many cases such men and women have gone through greater danger and greater privations than many of us. But there is one argument of paramount importance. There is a sacrifice which they 1994 have not had to make; they have not had to leave their homes for any length of time. What I have proposed does not penalise the home service personnel, because the final release would remain on the same basis of age plus length of service.
I have said enough by way of explanation, I hope, to merit some serious investigation. As I said at the beginning, generally speaking the Government's scheme has been accepted as a bold piece of sound planning. I hope this Debate will do much to allay the conception which, I fear, is still prevalent in the minds of many serving men and women, that is, that the politician, for some reason, is the root of all evil. That conception must be eradicated before we finally make peace, because the whole of our future depends on the men and women who come back from the Services backing up the Government in order that we may look through the window of the future with clear eyes. One remark more before I sit down, at the risk of drifting slightly from the primary point of this Debate. With the readjustment of man-power, must come a readjustment of ideas before we realise final victory. I need hardly remind the House that in the Services no step is ever taken without the intention being made perfectly clear before the operation commences. We must be quite clear about our intention regarding Great Britain after the war. That is something which every man and woman whose future is at stake must be clear about. So far I am not clear.
Is it our intention to come back from the war and sit back with our gratuities, helped by national social insurance, determined to do as little and to get as much out of the country as we can, or is it our intention that Great Britain in the world of to-morrow shall take a place greater than she has ever done before? These are two intentions that are diametrically opposed to each other and about which a decision must be made before we attempt to advance into the realm of peace. This is a decision which the people themselves must take. Then each successive Government can produce their own method of attaining those aims, and stand or fall on the results. Let us be quite clear what we are aiming at in our future policy, or we are doomed to ultimate failure. As regards the re- 1995 allocation scheme, once this House has shown itself to be satisfied with the final points may I recommend that we forget it until we arrive in Berlin?
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
I think the House would like me to congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman on his speech, not least on the spirit of it. He speaks, of course, with some intimate and detailed knowledge of the Forces, but I am sure he would not mind my saying that the men in the Services also keep the Members of this House well informed of what they think upon matters of this kind. We are dealing to-day with one of the most profoundly human questions with which this House has ever dealt. This Debate is not starred as one of the big Debates, but I question if ever we have dealt with a bigger subject more directly affecting masses of people than that with which we are dealing to-day. There are millions of men and women who cannot speak for themselves directly, and those of us who have served in the ranks know how difficult it is for men to express themselves, and the bulk of the people who are affected are the men in the ranks. Those of us who had close contact with demobilisation at the end of the last war know how difficult and thorny that subject is. The commanders had their hands full on that occasion to keep the men under proper discipline, and when the men did return, in a kind of helter-skelter way, there were then great problems from the industrial point of view. So the right hon. Gentleman and the Government have on this occasion, with more reason than ever, tried to lay down some sort of plan for demobilisation. But on the last occasion it was perfectly simple as compared with the position this time. When the last war finished it was finished, but when the war near to us has ended we have then before us the problem of the Japanese enemy.
I must say that I do not envy any Member of the Government who has to sit down and plan for the purpose of demobilising the men and women of the Forces and maintaining evenness of balance in the scales of justice to do justice to these men and women. I will say at once that, speaking generally for my hon. Friends, the main principles that are laid down are accepted, and my experience is that that expresses the view 1996 of the soldier, both at home and overseas. But having said that, there is quite a mass of problems about which we could debate here to-day, and indeed if we spent much time over them in detail the difficulties would seem so overwhelming that we might lose sight altogether of the general principles. I could point out to the right hon. Gentleman half a dozen very great difficulties at once. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has dealt with one that lies on the surface. When the German war, as I will call it, is over, who are the men who are to face the Japanese enemy? Even taking the question of age and service, there were men who were fighting four years ago in North Africa, who were in that swaying battle from Egypt almost into Algeria against the Italians, and I must say that if there are any men in this world for whom I have sympathy it is the men who had to face that situation with scarcely any weapons, ill-equipped and small in numbers. But two years ago there were comparatively new men thrown into the battle. I will not go into detail on this question, but one can see that there are very thorny problems indeed.
But the hon. and gallant Gentleman touched upon one very thorny question, even setting aside the question of who is to go into the Japanese affair. It is one I had well marked in this White Paper. It is the paragraph which says:It must be clearly understood that no man will be released or transferred from the Forces if his retention is considered necessary on military grounds, though the Services will make every effort to release men in their turn in whatever theatre of war they may be serving.What are to be the military grounds upon which these men are retained? We have had some experience already. I understand that the Commanders-in-Chief of the Commands of the various Forces are the people who have insisted that miners should not be released for the mines.
§ Mr. Lawson
I am very glad to hear that, but that was always my understanding. It is fairly well known that the Commands have painted out that the release of miners would upset the unit and its general fighting capacity. That has been the argument used to me at any rate, whether the Government have used it or not. I cannot remember all that has 1997 been said at that Box or officially, but it is one of the regular arguments that have been used. One understands the difficulty of a commander where the balance of the unit is likely to be upset. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War will agree that that is one of the prime factors in the outlook of a commander on this matter.
Many men have been in the Far East for years, to say nothing of other overseas service. Is the commander going to be the only authority upon this question? If so, he will want to keep the men of experience, and he will want to keep the balance of his unit. I have asked the right hon. Gentleman already about some officers who have served a certain number of years in the Far East. There are difficulties about them. When it is a question of large bodies of men, there will be still greater difficulty. I think the right hon. Gentleman could render very good service by telling us whether there is to be any definite means of deciding what are the military grounds upon which men are to be retained in the Service. This question, if not faced beforehand, will cause great disturbance of mind, and perhaps other disturbance, in the Forces. After the war has lasted five years, with millions of men separated from their homes, their careers broken up, their businesses gone in many cases, we are asking them to continue serving in a far-distant theatre of war.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman raised the question of the women. I hope that they are not going to be sent to the Far East. Plenty of women who have volunteered for service overseas did so without any idea of serving in the Far East. It seems to me that there will be plenty of people available to do the kind of service that women in the Forces render. I know that in this country women are serving on the guns, but they are not likely to be needed for that purpose overseas. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us that women are not to be asked to serve in that far-distant theatre, even though they may have volunteered for service overseas, thinking perhaps that it will be only for the European battlefield.
There is another point on which soldiers feel very strongly. It looks, on the surface of it, as though age and service, unqualified, is the right principle. But men 1998 who have served overseas are beginning to feel very strongly about this matter. I am sure that every Member has had letters such as I have received. If we had brought our letters to-day, we could have given the House some most moving stories from those men. I know that it is a problem, but we have placed a great strain on these men. I said a few weeks ago in this House that I thought there was nothing more moving than the separation of these men from their families, and particularly separation from their children for so long that they had become almost strangers to them. I speak with some caution, but I think that, apart from Palestine and Gallipoli, that problem did not occur to the same extent in the last war. There was, as a whole, a system of six-monthly leaves, and the child did not have time altogether to forget its father. But now we have called upon men who, on the average, are much better educated than in the last war—I do not say that they are any better for that—and who have home interests, and have sent them away to these distant fields. It is particularly important in the case of Burma. I had the doubtful privilege of flying over some of the most difficult parts of Burma. It would be difficult to speak in terms of ranges of mountains; it was the craziest chaos of mountains imaginable. I should think it would be difficult to catch up with some of those men before the end of the war, because they have got into such remote places.
These men are separated from their families. Under the present system I do not think that the Government will be able to implement the promises they have made, unless there is some modification in respect of leave or limitation of service in that far-distant theatre. You cannot send men away indefinitely, as we have done, without some very great difficulties arising. I do not want to dwell on this matter, except to say that I hope the Government will seriously consider the question of leave, and perhaps some limitation of the length of service, in the Far East. That touches upon other questions which I do not want to raise this afternoon. We have done our best in this country; we are ourselves within sound of the battlefield; the women and the children have been subject to a great strain for years; and I think that this White Paper will have to be modified to 1999 some extent. The White Paper says that men will be retained only on military grounds. I support the plea of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, and I trust that the Government will have some definite system ready in advance for dealing with this problem.
Men in Class B are to be released on grounds of urgency. The country is in need of a good many men who are now in the Services. I am pleased that the Government have arranged for the demobilisation at the earliest possible moment of men who are needed for house-building, and generally for housing the soldiers who come home. I am glad that the men in the Services have appreciated that decision, and have made no criticism of it. The White Paper lays down the conditions under which the men will be returned. They will have eight weeks' leave, ration allowances, and, where applicable, family allowances, dependants' allowances, and war service grant. I think that those conditions are rather experimental. On the whole, they look quite decent, but we do not know how it will all work out. The Government are trying to do something which has not been done before by a Government. They are trying to weave men out of industry into the Forces, who will be trained to take their part in the Far Eastern campaign, and, at the same time, they are trying to weave the men coming back into industry, without any dislocation. We wish the right hon. Gentleman well in that great experiment. I say to him, "God bless you, but God help you, because it is a very difficult proposition, and it is possible that there will be men coming back who do not find work as easy as the Government think they will."
It is not a certainty that that course will be quite as smooth and easy as we desire it to be. I suggest to the Minister that, while the terms look quite generous on the surface, in fact, they may not turn out to be so, and I hope the Government will keep an open mind for amending the scheme, if things do not go according to plan. I close by saying that the Government have been left a problem which is very complicated and very explosive. This scheme has been received by the country with a spirit of good will almost unparalleled for White 2000 Papers. It has been received by the men abroad, particularly by the men in the Forces—and I have been astonished in reading some of their letters—with balanced, rational and sympathetic understanding.
§ Mr. Lawson
Yes, they do understand it, and, when one understands the conditions under which they have been living and serving during the past five years, it is astonishing. Some of us have memories of this kind of thing. It is very difficult for men in the Forces to detach themselves from the particular circumstances and hardships of the moment. That they have given this scheme balanced consideration, is not the least of the proofs that we are an active and intelligent democracy. The whole White Paper is largely experimental, and these men will wish the Government well in its application. I am very sure the Government will have trouble at some points, but it is a good augury to-day that, not only can we as civilians welcome this White Paper and give our support to these general principles, but that those for whom we speak in the Forces have also given their hearty and warm approval to the general principles laid down.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ Major Keatinge (Bury St. Edmunds)
I must ask the indulgence of the House in addressing it for the first time. Unlike the hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke first, I am not fortified by past experience, for this is truly my maiden speech. I doubt if any one of the important schemes announced in recent months has been more anxiously awaited in every home up and down the country than this one, affecting, as it does, every Service man and every member of his family. The strength of this scheme does lie in its simplicity and it follows, therefore, that any alteration or amendment must run the risk of making it more controversial and complicated. The proposals are designed, first, to release those who have, in fact, deserved it most, and, only secondly, to build up man-power in essential industry. I believe that is right and that it does best meet the general view, but anyone with first-hand knowledge of this or any other war must realise how unevenly war service does bear upon the individual.
2001 I would like to support the case that has been put in favour of some further modification in regard to overseas service. In particular, four or five years' service in the tropics, and especially under field conditions, is physically far more exhausting, and mentally more deadening, than home service, and very often leaves a hang-over in the shape of illness and disease, and all the various consequences of disease that must affect a lot of people for a very long time to come. I can speak of that from personal experience in the present war of various remote and unhealthy places that only make their full effects felt months, and perhaps even years, afterwards. I think that the casualty figures given recently in this House in respect of sickness for the Burma campaign—nearly 250,000 for the first six months of 1944 alone—speak for themselves in this respect.
I would remind the House that, before the war, Army service in those Colonies with the worst climates was limited to tours of 18 months. It qualified for one week's leave in respect of every month's service, and, in some respects it counted double. To-day, leave and living conditions generally are subject to the much fiercer demands of campaigns and that is readily understood by all concerned. But, if it is found impossible to reduce the tour of overseas service under these conditions—and we are told that such, in fact, is the case—then I hope that this factor will be given more weight in the general scale of release and that service in, at least, certain of the overseas commands will carry with it some measure of priority. I realise that many have been obliged to spend long years in England who were only too anxious to serve overseas, but they have not, in fact, had the same difficulties with which to contend. I think they would be ready to admit that. It does make all the difference between seeing one's family and not seeing them, and that, I think, is the main consideration in this respect, and I hope the great difficulties of transport and administration, to which this matter undoubtedly gives rise, will not be found to override all other considerations.
There is another aspect of the matter with which every hon. Member of this House must be only too familiar. It has been raised already in this Debate. That is the home end of it—all the domestic 2002 tragedies and anxieties and the break-up of so many families which directly result from long spells of overseas service. The more generous pay conditions which it is proposed to grant upon discharge, although welcome enough, do not, I think, in themselves, compensate for absence from home. Moreover, the war service increment which it is proposed to pay for those who have done three years or more must, of necessity, apply in large measure to those who are coming out first and who will, therefore, benefit least.
It has also been a great deal more difficult for those serving abroad to get compassionate leave or release to enable them to deal with urgent business or private affairs—something which has, I know, enabled many others to keep going a business, to tide over a difficulty, perhaps caused by death or illness, and so, perhaps, make all the difference between having a business or occupation to come back to after the war and having nothing at all. Paragraph 16 of the White Paper refers to this question of compassionate release by saying that it will be possible to get release in accordance with the arrangements now in force. I know what a complex business this is, but I think it is fair to say that doubts do exist in a good number of quarters as to what the existing arrangements really are. Paragraph 9 states that there will, necessarily, have to be a pause after the defeat of Germany, during which the Services can identify those who are to be released first and arrange for the transport to this country of those who are serving overseas.
If the object of that is to give equality for any one release group upon its return to civil life, there is very little to be said, but there has grown up, here and there in different parts of the world, this feeling of being forgotten men, a feeling which, I think, arises much less among those actively engaged on a job than among those who have the kind of feeling that their time is being partly wasted. A particular piece of desert or jungle which fills the view grows far more dismal if it is felt that no particular purpose is served by looking at it at all. The feeling of frustration and unrest is far greater in back areas and transit camps than further forward, and I hope that this paragraph will not mean any undue delay in returning those to this country whose tour is done and who are no longer needed, and 2003 that, in fact, no start will be made upon this scheme before it is capable of fulfilment.
I understand that it is proposed to issue a booklet for the benefit of all in the Forces, describing the purpose and the working of this scheme, and I hope that the time is not far distant when we may also hear in more detail how the three Services concerned will give effect to it. What will be the ratio of release between them, and, further, what will be the consequences upon many who are now in civil occupations? It is proposed to call up a certain number of those deferred to replace those who are released from the Forces. What age groups will be concerned and what occupations will be affected? I hope it will not be considered out of place to suggest here that, if any such leaflet as I have mentioned is issued, some information should also be given about another subject with which demobilisation is closely wrapped up, at any rate, in the minds of those in the Services, and that is housing. There is no propaganda like the truth, and, however difficult the position may be, and, in fact, may have to be, I think that more publicity ought to be given to this subject than is now given in the Forces at the present time. Perhaps an A.B.C.A. leaflet would fill the bill.
As regards the training of Servicemen for civilian careers and the whole question of re-allocation, there is, and will continue to be, a great demand for manpower from many directions and in many industries for a long time to come, but I would like to say, in passing, a word about one particular industry, that of agriculture, not because I think it should get any favoured treatment, but because I think we may very well see an acute shortage of man-power in the countryside which is, perhaps, not so obvious to-day. The drift from the land has gone steadily on and there are to-day perhaps 100,000 farm workers in the Forces, and those gaps have been made good in part by the Women's Land Army, school children, holiday camps and so on. But, for the most part, that deficiency has been made good by considerable numbers of prisoners of war, many of whom may disappear suddenly, and perhaps soon. These gaps will not easily or quickly be filled. The real solution is for good conditions within the industry itself to constitute their own attrac- 2004 tions, which is something outside the subject of the present Debate. But I hope that in the opportunities for training, when the time comes, land work, and rural industries too, will get their full share of attention when the different alternatives are put to those in the Forces, and that agriculture will get its share of any reallocation that is made.
In a general way I do not think that any statement in recent times threatened greater difficulties or developments than that of demobilisation, and it is a real tribute to the scheme that the volume of criticism has been so small. It strikes a balance between middle age and youth, and between married and single. It is simple and easy to put across. It is a good scheme, but I believe it would be a better one if it gave a greater reward to those who have deserved it most by their efforts in some of the worst climates in the world.
§ 1.33 p.m.
§ Professor Gruffydd (University of Wales)
I am fortunate in following the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Major Keatinge) because it gives me the chance of congratulating him on the very substantial contribution he has made to the question now before the House.
Without prejudice to any criticism which I, on my own behalf or on behalf of my party, will have to make of the White Paper, I should like, first of all, to express extreme sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman in the almost impossible task he has before him in the scheme of re-allocation. I believe that a full and frank statement of the acts and opinions of the Foreign Office could not cause more consternation in the country and be more a hazardous undertaking than to name categorically all the priorities which are desirable to be specified. Whatever priorities are named, all the other people not included in those priorities will be disgruntled and dissatisfied. Therefore, I for one will not complain if, in his answer, my right hon. Friend will tend to vagueness in describing what he intends to do, because I fully realise that it will be impossible for him to go into too great detail.
It is for that reason, that is, on account of the disgruntlement and dissatisfaction that will be felt by people left behind, that 2005 I would impress upon him the necessity of making the period of re-allocation as short as possible, even if that means something of a sacrifice in other matters which may be regarded, perhaps temporarily, as more important. Certainly, we do not want to see again the disturbances which marred the end of the last war. Perhaps all hon. Members do not remember what happened at the end of the last war in the very long time during which the demobilisation was taking place. A very large part of the Army showed dissatisfaction in a way that was not consonant with military discipline.
This then is my first criticism—the scheme seems to be altogether too slow. It is slow for the reason that men in Class B required for essential reconstruction are not to be released until after Class A has been started, and secondly, Class C will not he started until after the defeat of Germany. The present war developments, especially during the last month or two, have made the words "defeat of Germany" almost meaningless in describing any particular date in the future, and so the "defeat of Germany" should be very much more closely defined in any revision of the White Paper which the Minister may feel himself called upon to bring out. Further. Class A is not to be even started except "after a pause for the identification" of priority men. Those three devices of delay in the White Paper seem to point to quite unnecessary slowness in the carrying out of reorganisation, and cause much misgiving. We of the Liberal Party—as a good Liberal, I do not always agree with my own party, but on this occasion I certainly do—believe that the reconstruction of national life should be started before the hulk of Class A come home clamouring for jobs. It all forms a vicious circle, for there will be no jobs for which to clamour unless some preparation has been made for a very substantial release in Class B.
It should be possible even now to begin to replace some of Class B with men and women temporarily released or discharged from civil work, as they are now at present being released and discharged from factories and facing unemployment. Actually in South Wales there are even now men and women of military age discharged from factories, and unemployed. It is intolerable that that should take place 2006 while other men and women who might be very much more useful to the country in another capacity are still kept in the Services. I further suggest that there should be a comb-out of men and women, especially teachers, who because they are constitutionally not the kind who can be utilised for more important work in the Army, Navy or Air Force are put on low grade jobs in the Services, jobs which could quite as well be done by Bushmen or Hottentots. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I hear cries of "No" from some parts of the House, but I assert that Bushmen and Hottentots could peal potatoes and clean lavatories quite as well as or even better than graduates.
§ Captain Poole (Lichfield)
Is the hon. Member suggesting that all teachers who have been taken into the Armed Forces are mostly engaged in peeling potatoes and performing nothing more important than that?
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Does the hon. Member also intend to imply that we should practise the race theory?
§ Professor Gruffydd
I do not quite understand the second question, but as to the first, I said that there are teachers—and I could prove it to the hon. Member—who are so employed, because they have sent me letters about it.
Apparently, I have dropped one brick and I am going to drop another, very heavy and large, and I shall enjoy the sound of it dropping. I speak as one who served throughout nearly the whole of the last war and I am convinced that commanding officers, whether in the Army, the Navy or the Air Force, are generally extremely selfish and possessive in retaining men and women in the Services. For that reason, commanding officers should not have, as they have at present, the last word on release. Both in the requisitioning of buildings and of personnel they seem to have a different code of morals from their usual high standard in private life. When I was in the Service we used to pray that one distinction would not befall us, and that was to become the Admiral's favourite. There is another criticism on this point. Specialists in Class B will be released, I suppose, on application from employers. Although a certain degree of choice on the part of employers is necessary and obligatory, there is in many ways a great 2007 danger of injustice and of the recurrence of many of the scandals that happened after the last war in private firms and from private interests. It may be well to remember that it will be necessary to curb not only commanding officers, but also the choices which belong to private interests. Here is another question, who is going to choose? There is the case of the one-man business and the one-man profession, which, in many cases, are at a disadvantage compared with the large firms.
I think, too, that the scheme is unnecessarily severe on the women. Since service, according to the White Paper, will be voluntary for women in the Far East, I cannot see what object there is in keeping women compulsorily in the Services after the end of the war with Germany. I should like to warn whoever is concerned with this, that there will be great and grave resentment if women are conscripted at the end of the European war for work for which civilians will be clamouring. I do not think that the public will continue to tolerate the calling up of girls of 17½ to work away from home even if they are not included in the Forces.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. McCorquodale)
I interrupt my hon. Friend only for the purposes of clarity, to say that no girls are called up for civilian work away from home until they are 19.
§ Professor Gruffydd
I am very glad to hear that correction. People have stood this with very great patience and good will for a very' long time, but, if I may change the proverb, "it is a long worm which has no turning." Probably hon. Members expected me long before now to make an appeal on behalf of my own vested interests, namely, teachers. Teachers of all grades should be put early in Class B as essential not merely for the education of the country, but for general reconstruction. I am sure that the Minister does not quite realise the seriousness of the position in education. In this Department, unlike some other Departments, there is already an Act of reconstruction on the Statute Book, but that Act cannot possibly be implemented for a generation, even with the help of the austerity-model teachers of the Emergency Scheme, unless 2008 something very substantial is done now under the re-allocation plan.
The position is really desperate, not only as regards trained teachers but as regards all those students on whose work and progress national activity of all kinds depends. Sir Richard Livingstone, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, said the other day that practically no male students have for five years taken any university degrees, except in medicine and science. Here again there is a vicious circle; before you release students, you must have university teachers, and no university teachers have been trained for five years. The average age of the university teacher is getting older and older; we are all old men because we cannot get new lecturers, and if anything is important for reconstruction and for new ideas in the country, it is that the university teachers in the country should be young men with young ideas. University teaching is basic, not only for the teaching profession but for the Civil Service, for technology, for law, for medicine, for the churches—they will all be in a parlous case unless something is done at once.
Another point is that we in the Liberal Party feel rather dissatisfied with the recruiting plan for service in the East as outlined in the White Paper. There is a promise of some increase in payment, but we think it is inadequate, and we think also that the voluntary system should be quite enough for recruitment in the East. If the pay and conditions are adequate, then I think there will be no need for conscription, but whatever conscription may be necessary should be limited to the ages of 18 to 22. It seems to me an intolerable affront to any conception of democratic justice to use compulsion for military service just as a means of economy and as a means of avoiding adequate payments and proper facilities for marriage for our serving men and women. These payment are already much below those in the Dominions and the United States of America, even when we make allowance for their different standards of earning and spending. I will quote from the Liberal pamphlet in this connection:It seems definitely not in the interests of the State to attempt to maintain a large conscript army for reasons of misguided economy.2009 Before I sit down, I should like to mention briefly two points. It seems to me a needless complication to differentiate between Class A and Class B in the matter of allowances. We think that full pay and allowances should be given to both classes for three months, whether employed or not. The second point is that the men in Class B under the scheme seem to be unduly penalised if they accept transfer, before returning, from Class A to Class B for by doing so they lose the right to general demobilisation later on.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
Surely there is no need for them to transfer from Class A to Class B unless they personally desire it, so they are not being penalised.
§ Professor Gruffydd
I am not talking about compulsion, I am talking about being penalised, and being penalised means that if they transfer, they lose whatever right they had in the other class, to which they belonged before, to general demobilisation. Such a man would remain a conscript even after his age group in his former class had been demobilised. If that is not penalisation, I do not know what is. If I may repeat what I said at the beginning, I should be much more satisfied and pleased if my right hon. Friend gives the criticisms that have come from this House a quiet consideration, rather than be definite in making promises which cannot be carried out.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
When I first saw this White Paper, I was reminded of some of those lovely streamlined cars, of which we often see illustrations, that we are told we shall get after the war. Every motorist knows, however, that the body-work of the car is not of the greatest importance—the thing that makes the car go is the engine under the bonnet. In examining this scheme to-day we have had very little attention paid—except in details as to what we may call the sparking plugs, perhaps a few valves and so forth—to what sort of engine this White Paper will provide to make the car go. Previous speakers have indicated quite clearly—especially the hon. and gallant Member for Kettering (Lieut.-Colonel Profumo)—that what the Services are concerned with is how quickly they will be demobilised. There is not the slightest doubt about that, except that a certain 2010 number—especially in the Air Force—would be quite prepared to volunteer for regular engagements provided the Government would give them proper rates of pay and offer them a proper career.
We have had speaker after speaker talking in a nostalgic vein about the desire of the men to get home. I can well believe it. I would like to tell my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour that I do not think he is the right Minister to answer this Debate because the answer does not really lie with him; it lies with the Service chiefs. He may be a Member of the War Cabinet but I assert that this plan, in the main, has been compiled by the Service Departments, and on Service requirements which have been notified to the Minister of Labour, in the same way as they have been notified to him every time he called up an age-group. With all respect, I would say that my right hon. Friend has been an excellent recruiting sergeant for the Services during the war; all his job has consisted of has been to go round and induce men to take the "King's shilling" by the National Service Acts, put them in the Services, and leave them to the Services.
Now I assert that this plan in the main is a military plan, and therefore many of the criticisms that we have to make to-day in this House ought to be answered by the Service chiefs, because some of the questions I want to put to my right hon. Friend he will not answer. I will put one or two, and I think this House ought to insist on some greater information being given to hon. Members about the conduct of the war after we have defeated Germany than has hitherto been given. What has happened? The Prime Minister went to America and he told us that he had to plead with the President of the United States to allow us to take part in the fun against Japan. The troops do not look upon it as fun. The troops have only gone willingly into this war against Germany, and they will only go willingly into the war against Japan, if they are convinced, as they have been as far as Germany is concerned, that this is really an ideological war—the Prime Minister is cautious about using that term—a war against aggression. I shall attempt to show, however, that the war against 2011 Japan will take a different course to the war against Germany.
I ask the Government to tell us what will be the nature of their requirements for the war against Japan. They have told us that for the war against Germany—and we can well believe it, knowing the immensity of the German military machine—they wanted total mobilization and they have got it, over 20,000,000 people engaged, as my right hon. Friend said, in gainful employment. Shall we want total mobilization in the war against Japan? Will the Government tell us, either in open session or secret session, what contribution the Dutch Forces and the French Forces will make to recover their own colonies? I want to put bluntly before hon. Members certain facts which will sooner or later be brought out, though my right hon. Friend may not like my speaking about these things as he did not like my speaking about demobilisation plans, in fact he said it was calculated to cause unrest and concern amongst the Forces. I would beg my right hon. Friend to remember that I have served in the Armed Forces both in the last war and this, and the last thing I want to do is to cause unrest or concern amongst them. All I want to do is to spur the Government on to getting this war finished, and then to bring those men home as quickly as they possibly can because they and their families want to be at home. I ask the Government to tell us what contribution is to be made by the French nation and the Dutch nation. Are British troops to be urged to go overseas, and fight for the recovery of the Dutch Colonies, and the French Colonies, which were wilfully and wantonly thrown away to the Japanese at the beginning of this war, or are these two countries themselves to take a part in the recovery of those Colonies?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I will give way in a moment. Do not let my right hon. Friend ride off on some slogan that we have to overcome the second part of aggression by Japan. I recognise that only too well, but what I want to know is, whether, in considering this White Paper for the demobilisation of our Forces, the Government are acting on the right premises— 2012 in other words whether they have been told by their Service chiefs the numbers of men and the magnitude of the Forces they will want to carry on the war against Japan.
§ Mr. Hogg
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman but he did, perhaps unwittingly, make a very serious slur on the Dutch nation, saying that they had thrown away their Colonies wilfully and wantonly. I wanted to give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity of considering whether he really meant to say that.
§ Mr. Bellenger
If I gave that impression, then I was wrong. I meant to say that the French wilfully and wantonly threw away their Colony to the aggressor Japan. Of course, I exclude the Dutch from that and, if I gave that impression, I am very sorry.
Now in considering this plan, I would ask the Government a further question: What preparations are they making for the post-war Forces? At the end of the last war with Germany, regular serving troops were brought home and gathered together, in the midst of untold chaos, in order that they could plan for post-war commitments. It is true that the postwar commitments then were not so large as they are likely to be after this war, but I imagine the same problems will occur at the end of this war with Germany. We shall want to make sure in our own mind what Forces we want for the armies of occupation, for the war against Japan, and how far those Forces are to be recruited on a voluntary basis. I heard my hon. Friend the Member for the University of Wales (Professor Gruffydd) say that the Liberal Party are against conscription after this war except in a very small way. I hope my right hon. Friend will take what I am about to say in a serious way, for I make it in a responsible manner. I think that the Forces we shall require after this war for many years in order to meet our commitments, in the main, can be obtained by voluntary effort.
I notice that the Under-Secretary of State for Air is present. I challenge him to controvert this statement, that the Royal Air Force, after this war, will, in the main, be able to get all the men they require by voluntary methods. At the moment young people in the A.T.C. are complaining that they are not being given 2013 the chance of being called up for the Air Force. The Navy, too, will, in all probability, find all the forces they require by voluntary effort, provided, of course, that the terms are right. We have been told by Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Joubert that we have, on the Burma front, an Army of 250,000 men. The Prime Minister has told us that there have been 237,000 sickness casualties on that front in six months. If that be so, how can we possibly continue to hold on that front a large Army of conscripted men, many of whom have been overseas for long periods and who, so we are told, are the only possible people to fight that campaign. Why? Because they are trained in jungle warfare. There will not be time to train men for that sort of warfare and you will, therefore, have to rely largely on the troops who are there at the present moment. They do not know it—[An HON. MEMBER: "They do"]—and it is just as well to apply our minds to this fact. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) had a Motion on the Order Paper, signed by 250 Members, asking that these men should be brought home after serving for a certain time out there. What lay behind that Motion? Nothing else than the recognition—which, I believe, is held by the War Office, too—that you cannot keep large numbers of white troops in a climate of that kind for more than a certain term of years without their morale being affected. These are important matters, on which the Service Ministers should give an answer to this House. It is no good the Secretary of State for War riding off with a trite statement, or the Prime Minister chiding my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford on daring to state this fact, because it is known throughout the Service in India, and in the War Office here, and we must take steps to see that the troops serving in Burma shall be brought home. If that is done then those men will have to be replaced if we are to fight right across Burma, although that raises strategical issues about which the Government have said nothing so that we are not able to consider this question in its right perspective.
The Minister of Labour has divided up his interim demobilisation scheme into two classes—A and B. They form in what is called official circles, "The race card," and like all race cards it is a tidy card. But the trouble is that when 2014 punters look at a race card in order to pick a horse they want to pick a winner, and in this case they will not be able to do so until they know the speed at which Class A men are to be demobilised. We do not know yet, and it might well be that some of those in the higher age group, say 20, will not be demobilised for a long time ahead. If that be so, I can assure my right hon. Friend and Members generally that there will be considerable discontent. The only reason the Services have accepted the scheme is because they think it gives them an orderly chance of getting out at not too distant a date, except for those in the 70 plus age class, and they have more or less thrown up their hands in despair. Will the Minister tell us what is in his mind for the Class B men? He has hinted that they will be mainly required for building work, but I think he ought to tell us something of those other classes he has in mind, who will get priority demobilisation under Class B. In relation to key men he has told us that he will expect no applications from Members of Parliament or anybody else, and that he will not have any "wangling." I welcome that statement, but I observe that the so-called "dollar a year men," serving in Government offices, are getting out quite nicely now, just before the end of the war. Who believes that many of these executives, important men managing business undertakings, such as Philip Hill Proprietaries, will not be able to get out easily, as key men? There will be considerable difficulty in humble and insignificant constituents, owners of one-man businesses and so forth, persuading my right hon. Friend to let them out. The Minister can be under no illusion about this. We shall be inundated with letters from our constituents, asking us to try and get them out. Some of them will be very hard cases. What are we to do? Are we to write back, and say that we cannot intervene with the Minister? If my right hon. Friend tries to tell us that, he will be disappointed, because we shall have to pass on those letters to him.
The Government have already stated, in response to representations from the Trades Union Congress, that they are, prepared to modify their industrial conscription to a certain extent by permitting all directed persons who have been away from their homes for more than three 2015 years to go back to their own localities, if jobs are available there. The T.U.C. told the Minister quite clearly that they would look with a good deal of displeasure on the direction of labour under the National Service Acts after this war. I think they are quite right; they are right in representing to the Government the views of the organised bodies of workers they represent. But I ask that the Forces, who have no trade union, except this House, shall be entitled to put their point of view clearly to the Government. Hitherto, they have not been able to do that. More than once I have asked the Government to set up a Military Committee of Members of this House—as has been done in other Assemblies—to which the Government could disclose a certain amount of information as to their plans and so re-assure us. At the present moment we are working in a vacuum, because we know little about the conduct of the war either with Germany or with Japan. I do not want to speak much longer, because I know that many others want to take part in the Debate, but there are certain points of detail I would like to raise with the Minister if he will be kind enough to let me put them to him afterwards. I would like to put this point now, which is one to which the Secretary of State for War might direct his attention. In the White Paper notifying increased rates of pay for the Far East, there is set forth what looks to be, on the face of it, a substantial increase. But it says:These extra rates of pay are only to be given to those troops who are in receipt of pay under the British code.I put a Question to the Secretary of State for War, after reading that, asking him what were the present rates of field and Colonial allowances paid to officers and other ranks serving in the Far East? The Minister replied that with exceptions, which were very small, the only officers and other ranks under the British pay code, at present serving in the Far East, were those in Ceylon, Australia and New Zealand. The bulk of British troops serving abroad in that area are in India, and I invite the Secretary of State to say explicitly whether this Far Eastern allowance will apply, to them because according to him they are not on the British pay roll. This is a point of some substance, because troops in India—there are 2016 200,000 or 300,000 there, perhaps more—will get the allowance according to the White Paper, while according to the Secretary of State they will not.
I want to put to the Under-Secretary of State for Air the fact that there has been some discontent—I will put it no higher than that—among those released to Class W reserve for employment in the mines, the National Fire Service and the like. In the White Paper no consideration is to be paid for anything but Colour service. I have a memorandum here, which was issued by the Air Ministry and is entitled "Instructions to Airmen Released from Service under The Armed Forces (Conditions of Service) Act, 1939." In paragraph (3) it states:Service and Gratuity: Your period of release will count as service towards your current engagement, but will not count as qualifying service for the award of progressive Pay.…What does that mean? I should have thought that any of these men released to Class W reserve would be allowed to count that period on reserve as part of their current engagement. If that is so, have not the Government broken faith with those men who have been so released? This case was brought to my attention by a member of the R.A.F. and I can assure my right hon. Friend, as one who has an extensive post-bag, that this is not the only case of its kind. The man who sent this on to me said: "I would not have volunteered to go out for so long a period if I had thought that I was to be prejudiced when it came to demobilisation." I can well understand the argument that men who have been serving in civil life, on civilian rates of pay, have not the same claims as those who have been serving in the Forces, but according to this memorandum men released from the Air Force were given the impression, which has been falsified by the White Paper, that their period on reserve would count towards their length of service with the Colours. I do not suppose the Government will put that right, but it shows the necessity for clear speaking and thinking when we are dealing with such controversial matters as demobilisation.
In conclusion, I would like to say that, like other Members here, I have a son who is serving in the Forces. He joined when he was very young, and he loses on age but gains on Service in the demobilisation 2017 scheme because he has served for so long, although not quite since the beginning of the war, at which time he was at school. He knows that because he is young he will be penalised from continuing the studies he had to drop when he joined up. He writes and tells me of all these things and I say to him, "Well, my boy, do not forget that you are a single man. I was the same in the last war." I had five years of it, from. August, 1914, to November, 1918, and one year with the Army of Occupation. The whole of that time I was a volunteer. I volunteered to stay on with the Army of Occupation after the war. I shall not be satisfied if the right hon. Gentleman is going to conscript young men to serve in large armies of occupation in different countries. I believe that, if he will only offer the right terms, he can get any number of young men who will be glad of the opportunity to have a little bit of adventure without all the danger of adventure such as they get in war.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not close his mind entirely to the representations which have been, and probably will be, made. I have only one object in view realising, as I do, the dangerous period that we are going to have to face after the war, that we should have the right sort of Forces. What a commentary that the war started in 1939 with a handful of trained soldiers, sailors and airmen! The country, in the Prime Minister's words, owes so much to them. Why did we have such small numbers of trained men to meet these contingencies? Because this House neglected its constitutional duty of seeing that the Service Ministries recruited those Forces. Before the war they were recruited from C.3 men. Large numbers of conscripted men are C.3 men of 35 and 40 who will be sent overseas and will gradually deteriorate in health until the day comes when they will be passed back to civil life and handed a copy of the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act and told to ask for their jobs back. I hope they will get them.
§ 2.17 p.m.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
I do not think the House would expect me to deal with the strategy of the Burmese war, recruits all over the world and all the difficulties associated with Army pay and the various codes. I thought this Debate was asked for in 2018 order that we could debate the White Paper, which deals with a specific subject and which—I cannot emphasise this too much—was not regarded as a final demobilisation scheme at the end of the war, but an attempt to grapple with problems of a complex character if one war finishes before the other. Demobilisation at any time is bound to be difficult but I am sure the difficulty will be increased immēnsely in the resettlement of the country by speeches such as the one we have just heard, in which every possible attempt was made to find a grievance because a grievance could not be found in the White Paper and calculated, as I stated when the hon. Member's article appeared, to cast doubts in the minds of the men, to cause friction between them and the authorities at home because we were not there to answer them. The article in which you inferred—
§ Mr. Bevin
It was referred to in a speech. We want to confine ourselves to the White Paper and to what we want to do with the troops, because any misleading of the men, either by inference or in any other way, is calculated to undermine their confidence during the most difficult period in the war. Obviously this Paper is a combined effort of all the Departments but, from the point of view of the Ministry of Labour, my duty has been to try to keep it simple and fair. That is the great struggle. It is far easier to write a long letter than a short one, and it is far easier to get complicated schemes than simple ones. When you begin on a scheme of this character, and try to provide for every possible thing which may arise, you end up with miles of regulations and definitions, leaving no flexibility in the administration—with disastrous results. Just as with the mobilisation plan during the war, I have been actuated in this responsible job, which has been rather more than that of a recruiting sergeant, by a desire to do what I have had to do in such a way that the ordinary man and woman knows what I am trying to do, and what is expected of him. One of the results has been a minimum of disturbance in the handling and transferring of people from one place to another, to the extent of millions, during the last five years. I welcome, as I am sure the 2019 House welcomed, the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Lieut.-Colonel Profumo). We are glad to see him home and, if others had come from the front, we should like to have heard them as well. One of the most welcome signs of this modern citizen Army is that there is no gap between the officers and the men. That, I think, has been completely bridged as a result of a variety of things which have gone on and which I need not enumerate.
May I deal first with the points on which the hon. and gallant Gentleman asked for clarification. One very important point was the question of repatriation from overseas to the Dominions and Colonies and to other countries—South America and elsewhere—of men who volunteered to fight in the war. They will be repatriated at the State's expense. I have been asked whether we can tranship them direct. That is a question of where they are and of shipping facilities, but we will do our best. Sometimes it is much quicker to bring them back than to try to give an undertaking to tranship them direct. But we will try to reduce the inconvenience to a minimum. It is proposed that doctors and dentists should be released by age and length of service, in accordance with the general scheme. Similarly with chaplains. The other point which the hon. and gallant Gentleman made was with regard to the women's clothing allowance. That has been settled between the Service Departments and the Treasury. I do not know which has won, but an agreement has been arrived at. I am not quite sure that there are not a great many garments, in addition to the £12 10s., which they are allowed to retain. But a strong case was made out, and, if there is a grievance about it, I do not suppose the Government would be averse from looking at it again. It is a matter upon which it is not worth "spoiling the ship for a ha'porth of tar" in handling a great scheme of this character.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman raised the vexed question of overseas service, which gave us long and anxious thought. I listened to his suggestions, and others which have been put to us. The difficulty about it is this. There is one calculation that you must keep in your mind. At that moment you will be shipping an enormous force to the Far East, and the 2020 tax on shipping will be extremely heavy. Coupled with this is the point about leave at home of men having to go to Burma. If I give a guarantee that everyone will be brought home and one is left, I may be told that I have gone back on my word. In war you cannot be absolutely precise, but in so far as it humanly can be done, in making up the units to go to Burma there will be a period of leave at home before they go. But that only emphasises the danger of giving more weight to overseas service because, if we start adding more to our task, something will break down, and we have gone, I think, to the absolute limit. There were other considerations. There have been big breaks of service at home which, when you begin to work it out, can create grievances so easily. Take, for instance, the men who fought from Alamein to Sicily—several divisions; I forget how many. When they got to Italy they were brought home to be specially trained for D-Day. Are you going to take that period out? Can you treat it as continuous overseas service? If you do, then you create a grievance on the part of the other men who were not brought home. [Interruption.] These things have to be weighed to realise how they react on other people's minds.
§ Mr. Bevin
I am dealing with the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman and many other suggestions that have been made. We came to this conclusion. By which means should we do best for the men in getting the most out, who had served at different periods overseas as well as at home? Remember that the largest part of this Army now has either been or is overseas. At the time of D-day we strained our overseas forces to start the operation right to the minute, and therefore the number affected has to be considered. However we examined it, we came back to this difficulty. I think the Conservative Party put up a points scheme, which was worthy of consideration, and I examined it very carefully. But what a lot of argument you might have between two men when they came to the demobilisation station as to how many points they had. It is a source of enormous difficulty. Whichever way we examined it, we thought the best thing to do in this interim period was to go on 2021 calling up under the National Service Acts the young men. The more we called up and trained, for the duties of armies of occupation and so on that may be required in the later stages, the higher would be the number of those with long service who would be able to come out, thus increasing the numbers in Class A. I get letters and reports from the Forces, through other Departments, and directly, and I am told that the men in the Forces worked out their positions with great accuracy immediately this scheme came out. That proved its simplicity.
§ Mr. Bevin
Why should we not do that? We intend that they should know, and that is why I say that unauthorised people should not mislead them, beforehand. I want every man in the Services to know every detail of the scheme. I have been asked about various other people. In the last speech there was a reference to men who had been put on Class W. Reserve, people who had been in other Services for periods, all kinds of people. I would like to say with emphasis that the Government cannot be induced to add categories which will have the result of reducing the number of those who can come out after, having been in the fighting line all the time.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I suggest that they have no special priority and that they come under Class A like others.
§ Mr. Bevin
They have been in the services so long that nearly all are in Class A. There are a number of sections which I have been pressed to add, such as people who have been part-time in civilian life and part-time in the Services. I repeat that the object of the Government is to release the maximum number possible under Class A, and to continue to call up in sufficient numbers to enable this to be done. I hope that I have made the Government position clear in regard both to releases and to adding the new categories to Class A.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
There is one class to which the right hon. Gentleman has not referred. During the blitz in London a number of men who were serving in the Army were transferred to Class W Reserve for the special purpose of being put on to National Fire Service work. This was front-line work. Afterwards, these men were taken back into the Army. Will the period they served in the Fire Service be taken as part of their service for demobilisation?
§ Mr. Bevin
At present, no. These circumstances do not apply only to them. I have had to take out miners, and all sorts of people, and if we give a preference to one section of that character, which numbers 2,000 or 3,000 people, then we are immediately whittling down the benefit due to the men who have been fighting all the time and who are in Class A. That is the test the Government are bound to apply. If there are sufficient numbers being called up and the size of the Army can be reduced more rapidly than we think at the moment, we will consider other sections.
§ Miss Ward (Wallsend)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in a recent letter on this point the Secretary of State for War tells me that it is being considered?
§ Mr. Bevin
We have not definitely decided that under no conditions will we consider it. What I have said is that we will not decrease the number of men entitled to benefit under Class A, but if, at a later stage, we can make other concessions, we will take other categories into account. It is the priority of men in Class A that I want to defend the most strongly.
I come to the question of individuals, about which I have been asked by the hon. Member for the University of Wales (Professor Gruffydd). I want to make an appeal to the House and to the country, to employers and everybody else. In this interim period it would be quite improper to put on undue pressure to get individuals out of the Services. If we get a man out, out of turn, the man who is left looks over his shoulder and says, "Why is he going?" We have studied what hap- 2023 pened in the last war. It was not so much the scheme that was wrong. I have talked to some of the officers who were in charge of the administration of that scheme. Their view is that it would have worked but that there was such political and industrial pressure put on after the 1918 election—I emphasise that—to get individuals out out of their turn, on the plea of being specialists and the rest of it, that the whole scheme broke down and men became demoralised. When the present Prime Minister went to the War Office he had to cancel it with a stroke of the pen as it were, in order to get a firm grip on the situation. When he did so, he restored confidence among the troops and he began to get order in the demobilisation scheme again. Therefore, we are entitled to say that we must examine the figures of what people we shall get released under Class A before we begin pressing for any special people. It is impossible to say what the numbers will be, and I am not going to indulge in speculation or guess-work.
I have been asked a question about withholding men on the grounds of military necessity. I trust that everyone will exercise care, and not spread anything which conveys suspicion in the minds of the men on this issue. I am advised that it will be the exception and not the rule, to withhold men.
§ Mr. Bevin
Anyway, it will be the exception rather than the rule. We have taken care to see that it is handled by the highest authority. In the United Kingdom, I understand, it will be for the Army, the General Officer Commanding, overseas, the General Officer Commanding; and in India, the Commander-in-Chief. There will be no delegation of these powers overseas below the rank of brigadier. Therefore, the fear of my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. J. Lawson) that a commanding officer, liking a man, may want to keep him because of his efficiency, will not materialise. It will be for special reasons or for operational reasons that a man will be kept. In the Air Force it will be dealt with by the Air Ministry only, and in the Navy by the Admiralty only. I feel that the Government have done all they can to give assurances that this power 2024 will not be abused. Operational situations must arise, and the House will expect us to take the right decisions to bring the Japanese war, as the other war, to the earliest possible conclusion.
I have been asked questions with regard to Class B. That Class has been put in the scheme because the devastation in our own country is such, that one of the great anxieties among the troops, according to reports given to us, is whether they are going to have houses to live in. Next to the question when they are coming out, is the question where they are going to live. We had to meet that situation and we met it in this way. I will take two illustrations. In the case of the miners, as very few were called up after 1940, except those who volunteered for the Air Force or special service, nearly all of them will come out under Class A. The records show that.
§ Mr. Bevin
Certainly. In the case of the building trade, I had to hold building workers back to build factories and aerodromes, and they were the last to go. The overwhelming number from civil engineering and building had to be called up about 1943. Therefore, they are not high up in Class A. The building of houses, however, is so vital that a special arrangement has to be made. How ought we to make it? Not by compelling them to join Class B, but by inviting them. We are inviting them, and they can volunteer. If they do so, they can get back to civilian wages with a job waiting for them. I suggest that there is no complaint about this, but if they come out of their turn they must remain on Class W reserve. Otherwise, they could volunteer under Class B, get a job for a week or two and then their obligation would be finished, and we should neither get the houses nor have the men in the Forces. I suggest that this is a matter of a contract between the men and the State. We say: "We let you out provided you do this job for this period." We know that the building situation is such that from the moment the man is transferred to Class W reserve it will not take more than three weeks to 2025 put him in a job. We shall give him a week to look round and a fortnight to get going in the job. I cannot see that there is any grievance at all about his being in Class W reserve or having only three weeks' leave.
With regard to other specialists, there are some who will give cause for anxious consideration. Nothing pained the Government more than having to close the arts courses. It was a very serious decision to take and it was not taken lightheartedly. We feel that we have to start them again as quickly as we can in the interests of the country.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Education and the Secretary of State for Scotland are ascertaining from the local authorities how many teachers they will get back under Class A. With regard to the universities, there will be quite a large number to come back under Class A. Then we shall have to see what number is necessary to supplement them. We accept the view, and I am sure that the Forces and everybody else would accept the view, that we must get our educational system going as soon as possible. Again, if we do release under these special categories, it will not be at the price of Class A. An additional number of men will have to be called up to fill these gaps in the Services until final demobilisation so that the number released under Class A is not reduced. Really, I think that is as fair as we can make it.
Then the question was asked what service pay should be granted on release? I want to make it clear that anything I say about pay is independent of war gratuity, which is not yet settled, and will be in addition to it. We take the view that the men released in Class A or the women, can go to the employment exchange or the resettlement office and get fixed up with a job, but they ought not to queue for unemployment money for a period after they come back. Therefore, we have arranged for eight weeks pay. If they get a job on the first day of release they will get the eight weeks pay just the same. That will be something in hand to help them to resettle and to reequip their homes. In addition, we have decided to aggregate overseas service when calculating leave. The old system was a very bad arrangement. Overseas service for purposes of leave was limited to the last tour of duty. A man might be away for a long time, and because of 2026 a few months break in the last tour he lost everything. The Government took the view that this was not fair. We have aggregated all overseas service over the whole period. I think that meets the situation and it will be a slight compensation.
Therefore we get this position. A married private with one child and with five years service of which three years were spent overseas, will qualify for 13 weeks leave and will receive in that period about £73. If he has three years service, none overseas, he will qualify for eight weeks leave and will receive about £41. That is the difference between service at home and overseas on that calculation. If they have a longer period overseas, it goes up correspondingly. The class B man will get three weeks leave instead of eight. There is, in addition, a war gratuity, which is not yet settled, the post-war credit which has been accruing since January, 1942, and the matter of civilian clothes, which has already been announced to the House.
§ Mr. Bellenger
In regard to the men in Class B who are to get only three weeks' pay and allowances, will they eventually have it made up to eight weeks, when they come out later under Class A?
§ Mr. Bevin
No, they have taken their choice. They go back on to full civilian wages right away.
In the few moments still at my disposal I would like to ask the House to consider this scheme in relation to the other arrangements that have been made, in order that hon. Members may get a complete picture. In 1941, rather towards the end, we began to study this problem, knowing that it would arise at the end of the war, and we studied it from the point of view of the whole war ending at once. After Japan came in, as I have already indicated, we had to consider it from the point of view of a two stage ending of the war. It was quite obvious that we should have to wind this country up to a point to which it had never been wound up before in terms of man-power. The great anxiety which we have had all the time is, having wound it up to such a point, can we unwind it in an orderly way, or will it snap? If it snaps, there will be chaos in the country. Whatever political controversies we enter into in this House, or at impending elections, I appeal 2027 for all-party responsibility on this issue. It is vital for everybody's sake, if we are to avoid chaos, that stability and orderliness shall be kept throughout the resettlement of the men who have taken part in this great struggle.
The first question that we considered was rehabilitation, which is bound up with employment for disabled men, as a part of this scheme. The House is conversant with it. Hon. Members welcomed the Bill, and a scheme is now in operation and is being developed with great rapidity. I think we can look forward now and say that the State has accepted a correct and proper responsibility for the disabled men of the country. I am sure that the House will see that any Government discharges that responsibility adequately. The next question was reinstatement, on which I was asked a question about men who came back to Kettering and had no work. These men are on temporary work. When the materials are available and the employer can start up again, the men's rights will be restored. One has to do that, because of the enormous concentration of industry and because people have to wait for materials, factories and machine tools with which to start.
§ Sir Herbert Holdsworth (Bradford, South)
Is the Minister entitled to do that under the law? Under the Reinstatement Act, the man has to give notice that he is going back, within a certain period.
§ Mr. Bevin
The bulk of them. The position is safeguarded specially in the Act. We provide reinstatement for these men.
A question was asked this morning about a volunteer—whether his territorial service should count prior to 1939. When we examined the question earlier, we found that Class A, because of the length of the period, really covered his case. If we can be shown that it does not do so, we will waive a point, if we have made a mistake under that heading. So far as it can be made comprehensive, reinstatement is being so regarded.
Then we developed a scheme of vocational training. I am anxious for the 2028 troops to know the range of trades and the wages paid in the Government training schemes. These will be free and an allowance will be paid with an increase for men with a wife and children. Under this heading we are anxious that the man's ability and craftsmanship which the State has taken away shall be made good, so far as is humanly possible. In this connection, we have recently organised a Training Within Industry scheme, mainly to train charge hands, foremen and supervisory staffs. We want to make them better teachers. Many of these men are very good at their craft but they cannot always impart it to others. These courses, which I hope to see throughout industry, are being taken up with great rapidity and I hope they will be extended to every business in the country. It will be a real economic gain to them and to the country. One of the greatest handicaps when the war broke out was the lack of supervisory ability. These courses of instruction are now being developed and must be taken into account when considering the training of thousands of these people whom we shall need for the industries of the country.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether training will be free and where it will be given? I am referring to university training.
§ Mr. Bevin
I am coming to that point if hon. Members will have a little patience. Then we have developed that further education training scheme, which entitles a man to a Government grant. I think the House will agree that these grants are very liberal. It gives a person, either in the professions or in the higher branches of industry and commerce, a chance to take courses to fit him out and to make good the break in training to which I have referred, and, in this connection, I have established an Appointments Department with special obligations and duties to take care of this problem. When I am asked where are the places, I reply that I have every possible university place I can get, places in technical schools and colleges and, in addition, I am getting a fair response from employers with large research establishments, who, in addition to training their own personnel, are prepared to provide places to train others because of the large number of men and women 2029 I expect will come forward under this head. In other words, we are harnessing every possible agency we can for this transition period from war to peace, and I also had the service of a very powerful committee under Lord Hankey which has rendered valuable assistance to us in this matter.
§ Mr. Lindsay
The right hon. Gentleman did say he would be good enough to publish a report about higher appointments. I would like to ask him to publish, soon, reports on the trend of employment so that men in the Services may know what are the main national needs in the transition period. In war-time is has been comparatively straightforward.
§ Mr. Bevin
I think it is a little too early to publish trends at the moment. There are others in the world besides Britain and there are a lot of developments going on which I think had better be conveyed rather than published. If we are developing great industries in the country out of the millions of pounds spent in research we want to get our men back into them. [Interruption.] Certainly, with our Allies, but we are not limited to our Allies, otherwise we should not be at war.
The other scheme is the Interrupted Apprenticeships Scheme which is very wide in its interpretation. It does not cover just indentured apprenticeships. It covers, really, training for a career, and it spreads over a very wide field. One other scheme which we are discussing and which is not yet complete—and this answers a question put to me—is for financial aid to ex-Service men and women who wish to restart in their own business, or resume work on their own account, and can show that they need assistance to do so. As soon as that scheme is complete it will be announced to the House. The principle of it is that while one man has a job to go back to another man had a business which he was taken away from and it is an attempt to help him restart that little business. I have indicated that we are considering the scheme and that as soon as it is complete we will announce it. I am establishing Resettlement Advice Offices throughout the country in order to avoid a man having to go round to a whole lot of Departments, to get to know his rights, and specially trained officers have been put in charge so that in the main towns and centres of country districts a man needing advice can go to that office 2030 which will put him in touch with the right departments and advise him as to the best course to take. That, I think, ought to remedy the enormous amount of irritation that occurred at the end of the last war.
I have been asked about publicity. It is our intention to publish a booklet covering all the points I have made this afternoon, and more. It will include the whole of the White Paper, the rights a man has got under disablement, pensions, resettlement, reinstatement, the scheme of educational training, and so on. The whole thing is to be set out, not in official jargon, but in a simple form, and that booklet is to be given to every man and woman in the Services. [An HON. MEMBER: "Including officers?"] It will be given to all personnel—that is a word to which the Prime Minister, I think, objects—in the Services and, in addition, the instructions, I believe, are to be given immediately following this Debate so that commanding officers and everybody else will be in touch with all arrangements. The issue of this booklet has been delayed by this Debate.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Will the right hon. Gentleman see that some of the special correspondents of the Press get copies of the booklet?
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
Before the Minister gives us his last word, will he say whether any consideration has been given to granting financial assistance to university students, men and women, who had their careers interrupted and Who, in cases known to hon. Members of this House, would not be able to find the necessary money to return to them?
§ Mr. Bevin
Yes, I have said that. At the end of the last war I happened to be what is sometimes called a trade union leader—it has been described by less, appropriate terms—and we had to go through a terrible time in the five or six years after 1918. It is sometimes assumed that the troubles arose during that period 2031 with the men who had been at home all the time. Nothing of the sort. The biggest difficulty we had was with the disillusioned soldier who came back into the industry. The industrial unrest which followed was mainly due to the inadequate arrangements made for his return to civil life. That has impressed itself upon my mind because of the rather stormy times we had to live through and, with that in mind, we have tried, not only in the release scheme itself, but in the arrangements surrounding the scheme, to remove that difficulty on this occasion.
It is now left for one other step to be taken in commerce, in industry and in our social life. That is, to supplement these efforts by real good will and determination on the part of those of us who have remained at home, to take these men back as our mates in our national life, to train them and to make good the break in their lives. In other words, to help them to get back so that, at least, there will be a recognition of the services they have rendered.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Major Nield (Chester, City)
The House has listened with great interest and appreciation to the speech of my right hon. Friend, and I think all hon. Members will be agreed that they are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and those who have assisted him for their sincere efforts in seeking to formulate a fair and equitable scheme for the re-allocation of man-power between the defeat of Germany and the defeat of Japan. The problem with which they have been faced is one of immense difficulty. I doubt if any plan for release from the Forces could be devised which would avoid all hardships and disappointments, but we know that our people will meet such disappointments if the reasons are made known and explained to them. I therefore congratulate the Government on producing this plan at what, I imagine, they regard as the earliest possible moment.
During the last few months I have been permitted to serve, let me emphasise, not as a regimental officer, with the dangers and rigours which that involves, but as a staff officer in Western Europe—Normandy, Northern France and the Low Countries—and since the issue of this White Paper I have made it my business to discover the views of the soldier in 2032 regard to the proposals contained in it. The conclusion to which I have come is one which, I know, will give real satisfaction to my right hon. Friend; it is that it is widely and generally approved, subject to some qualification. For myself, I accept the basic factors which, under the plan, go to determine priority of release, namely age and length of service. I confess that, for a time, I was disappointed that the points scheme, to which reference has been made, was held to be unworkable. That was a plan whereby all kinds of factors would be taken into account in order to determine the priority—age, length of service, type of service, whether a man is married or single, the number of children, one-man businesses, and the like.
I digress for one moment to say how much I rejoiced to hear the observations of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to a large section of the community who have made such immense sacrifices by the loss of their small businesses, in which they had perhaps invested their life savings. In addition to the points scheme, there was the cry of "First in, first out," which had a wide appeal. But I think people will come to the view that it is right that the age factor should be taken into account. I take that view for two reasons principally, the first being that in the older age-groups there is a preponderance of married men, and surely it is right that they should return as early as possible to their wives and families, families whom sometimes they have never known, or indeed to found families. Secondly, in those higher age groups are the men who have seen two wars, and it is indeed a sombre reflection that from the lives of so many men now fighting with high distinction must be subtracted at least ten years of waste and bloodshed.
It has been pointed out that this problem of release from the Forces, even in the interim period, is closely, indeed inseparably, connected with the larger problem of reinstating in employment those who are entitled to release. I agree with those who have already expressed the opinion that if peace is to be maintained in the future this nation must have a large Navy, Army and Air Force, well-trained and well-equipped. I feel that the Armed Forces of the Crown constitute a field of employment open to those who are entitled to release. Having that in mind, 2033 I welcome two proposals in the White Paper, namely, the proposal that in the interim period compulsory service shall continue, and, further, that there shall be an opportunity for men to volunteer for a further period of service. I would ask the Minister who is to reply to this Debate to make clear one point which arises under paragraph 7 of the White Paper. Is it intended that there shall be an opportunity to volunteer for a further specified period or for the remainder of the emergency? I would add one word with regard td volunteers. The House may recall that for some 18 months I have been urging that volunteers should be called for the policing and occupying of such parts of the world as may have to be policed or occupied after the war by us, in agreement with our Allies. I still hope that suggestion may be considered. A word or two as to Class B. I feel that all will agree that it is necessary that men should be released for the purpose of building houses, but I urge the Government to keep this class down to the minimum.
§ Major Nield
My right hon. Friend gives that assurance, indeed he said so in his speech. One welcomes the assurance that as few exceptions as possible will be made to this plan. I go so far as this: the ordinary soldier will meet his disappointments, he will accept his hardships, but he will not stand for apparent inequalities or injustices. Let the final plan go through equally and without exceptions.
I come then to an important Amendment to the plan which I desire to advance. Indeed, I can say that I have come here chiefly to say it before returning to the Continent. I urge, with all the force at my command, that overseas service merits a measure of priority in release. I doubt if any hon. Member would deny the justice of that proposal. Indeed, I suggest that its justice is admitted by the Government in this White Paper. Why, otherwise, should there be special financial and other benefits for those who have served for six months or more overseas? My submission is that money and special leave cannot properly compensate for the long, weary years of separation from wife and family. One has had so many letters—and I know that 2034 many hon. Members have had this experience—from different sources, and I would venture to read a very short extract from just one of them:We cannot think the scheme just which fails to take into account these empty, wasted years, sacrificed in war: years deprived of husband, often of home, and of the children we long to have.We have in this matter a twofold duty. We have a duty to the men who have demonstrated such splendid qualities in every quarter of the globe, and a duty to their womenfolk who have waited for them. There is an old saying that "Men must work and women must weep." A more grotesque or fantastic distortion of the facts as they exist to-day it would be difficult to imagine. Those women have waited but they have worked, and have not wept. I wish to put this matter not upon the ground of any emotional appeal, which is so easy: the matter must be faced reasonably and by means of sound arguments, if they can be adduced. I want to endeavour to show that the objections to achieving that which the majority regard as just are not insuperable.
The first objection I have heard is administrative difficulty: that one cannot forecast until the end of the war, so as to make arrangements, and that one cannot be expected to rely solely on the statements of the men as to the length of their service overseas. The House is familiar with the fact that there is a most elaborate plan at the War Office for card-indexing all the particulars of every member of the Forces—it does not now contain particulars of length of service overseas. It is an arrangement admirably conceived. This war is not yet over. The White Paper contemplates a pause at the end of the war, for the final making of these arrangements and the identifying of priorities. My suggestion is that at once information can be gathered, from the records and from all available sources, and that the cardindex should include as an item the period of service overseas. It will take time, it will take labour, but it can and should be done.
The second obstacle which is put forward to the granting of priority for overseas men is a twofold one—the problem of shipping, and the continuance of our commitments in the Far East. Everyone agrees that we have a paramount duty to pursue the war against the Japanese 2035 barbarians with the utmost vigour. It will not, however, be lost sight of that vast numbers of men have already come from Egypt and further East into the Continent of Europe, and into Northern Italy, so that shipping them home will be unnecessary. As for the Far East, I do not think it is suggested that those who have spent long years in the jungles of Burma shall be sent to deal with Japan. There are many, trained soldiers now serving abroad who, by reason of their youth, and perhaps of the comparative shortness of their service, must remain in the Army under this plan for some time. Surely they might be the core of a new army, augmented by home service men and fresh troops, which should form an adequate force against the Japanese.
Another point is made in opposition to my proposal—that often men have been kept in the United Kingdom against their will. I have discussed this with high officers of the British Liberation Army. I will take this opportunity of saying how high a tribute must be paid to the maintenance of morale and the high standard of discipline among those who have been kept in England, very often against their will. But the short answer to it is this. If you ask those men many of whom are in Western Europe at the moment, as I have done, they admit the justice of my proposal. In addition, if the plan is carried out, as I hope it will be, those who are serving in Western Europe will themselves be entitled to participate in any priority for release.
What is the last point that I have heard emphasised in opposition to this special priority? It is that there must be uniformity between the three Services. There is a distinction between uniformity and equality. This White Paper aims at uniformity. I suggest that equality should be substituted. Ships of the Royal Navy come home from time to time; the Royal Air Force tour of duty abroad has always been less than that of the Army; and when all is considered, I suggest that equality is in fact achieved by the proposals which I make.
My proposal is that one month of service overseas shall count as one year of notional age, as opposed to two months of service in this country counting as one year of notional age. To give an example, a man of 30, with 24 months' 2036 service in this country, has a group age of 42. If he had spent that 24 months overseas, he would have a group age of 54, thus becoming entitled to a much earlier release.
I have endeavoured to put my proposals dispassionately and to advance arguments, which the House may consider good or may consider bad. I cannot however disguise from the House that I feel deeply on the subject, and I hope that they will at any rate feel that I have addressed myself to this matter with the utmost sincerity. The whole problem of release between the wars, and the wider problem of demobilisation, which must follow, are all part of that which every hon. Member desires so much—a fair deal for the ex-Service man, as he will be after this war. They must have homes, they must have employment and security. It was, I think, the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Beverley Baxter), who once wrote some words that I have remembered. He was referring to the tragedies which followed the last war and he said:If limbless men become beggars and Air Force crews make up bands in the streets, then we are not fit to call ourselves a great nation.No one will disagree with that observation, and I suggest that, if we can find a fair and equitable plan for release, it will go far to securing a fair deal for the returning sailor, soldier and airman. It will go far also to achieving a prosperous Britain, which must surely be the surest guarantee that the next and succeeding generations may be spared the sufferings of this and that there may be peace among the nations.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
I think the course of the Debate has already shown its value and the need for clarification of a number of different points. We are, of course, only considering a question of partial demobilisation in the changeover period from the ending of the German war to the launching of the full strength of our forces in the Far East, and it is not possible to know exactly what the strategy of that war will be, nor, if we asked, should we be told. Nor is it possible to ask what is the number of people likely to be involved, but that they are large and that the conditions of the war will be severe is certain. For these reasons it is all the more necessary that we should have quite clear-cut ideas 2037 on what should be done with regard to the demobilisation of the men who can be demobilised at the end of the war against Germany.
The general outline of the scheme proposed in the White Paper is, of course, the barest general outline. It requires to be filled in. The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken made a suggestion that weight should be given to the consideration of overseas service. It is certainly a consideration to which weight should be attached. I wish to suggest another consideration which, I think, should also be given due weight, and that is the question of the wounds from which a man has suffered or the illnesses from which he has suffered, and, independently of that, any change there may be in his medical category from the beginning of his service to the end. I say "independently" because there are men at the present time—I have seen some of them in our convalescent depots—who have been severely wounded four separate times, causing them very great difficulty in walking or moving. They have been rehabilitated and sent back again to carry on active service. These men, in order to be sent back to active service, must obviously have reached Category A, or something very near it. At the same time, they have suffered very considerably from a strain which is greater than that suffered by men who have not been wounded. I do not want to put it higher than that, but I think it would not be unfair to give that consideration weight.
Take the case of our troops in Burma at the present time. The statistics of the admissions to hospital for sickness in that campaign were recently given in this House. Every man in that Army has suffered on the average more than one hospital admission for a serious illness in 12 months. That is to say, the percentage of hospital admissions, for serious tropical diseases, for the most part, is over 100 in the year. That means to say that there is a much greater strain on the vitality of these men than on the vitality of men who have served in this country, and also a greater strain than on the vitality of men who have served in other countries, though not actively engaged in the front line, as many troops are not. The question of reduction or change of category, from the beginning of service to the time of demobilisation, questions of wounds, questions of serious illness, according to the 2038 theatre of war in which the man has been operating—these are things which I think ought to be given consideration in regard to the time and the priority of demobilisation.
The Minister of Labour was talking about release of men for special reasons, and both the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State for War said that it is only in very exceptional cases that men would be retained. That does not apply to all categories. A reference was made by the hon. and gallant Member who introduced the Debate to certain groups of specialists, including doctors. I really do not know how we are going to release a large number of doctors. We cannot do it. We have not got the doctors, and I think it is because of that fact that we ought to give very special consideration to these problems.
I should like to direct the attention of the Government to this point. If they will look at the statistics which I, as a Member of the Central War Committee which has to do with allocating men for the Services, know very well, they will find that large numbers of doctors are engaged in the Services—larger than from practically any other professional occupation in the country. The proportion of doctors engaged in the Services is very much greater than the proportion of miners, or the proportion of building workers. There are not, in fact, enough doctors to release them according to age and the lines laid down in this White Paper in the normal way. We should be obliged to obtain a larger number of doctors, and, unless plans are being laid for the more rapid bringing forward of new doctors, and for obtaining other doctors for the civilian population in this country, we shall not be able to tackle this question of the doctors as it ought to be tackled.
I know one particular district where there are three doctors now in civilian practice. Two of them are between 75 and 80 years of age, and the third is 80. I am sure they will go on working as well as they can for the civilian population, but their period of service is drawing to its close and, clearly, some relief will have to be given to them. That is the situation as regards the medical profession, and it is a very serious one, to which the Government ought to give more attention than perhaps they do give at the present time.
2039 On another matter, the Minister of Labour, in answer to a question which I asked him, gave a reply about men who were in the Army at the time of the blitz of 1940–41. They were asked whether they would serve in the N.F.S. and, having at that time said they would, they were then transferred to reserve. They served in the N.F.S. a certain time and then re-transferred to the Army. It is now said that this time is not to count as military service for purposes of demobilisation. Not to count fire fighting in the blitz in London, Coventry or Plymouth as equivalent to war service is unfair. I do not say that it should be treated as equivalent to foreign service but to home service, to put it no higher than that, and I hope that the Government will re-consider the matter.
I am sure that the Government do not wish to give the impression that everything in the garden is lovely, that the war will very shortly be over and that we have no more hardships and no more difficulties to face. It is a very good thing to be thinking about demobilisation and to lay plans for bringing men home, re-establishing homes and so on, but what I am sure our own men in the Forces and the people in the country want to know is that they are being told the straight truth about the situation and are not being promised more demobilisation than can, in fact, be given to them. I am sure they are willing to face hardship and suffering as they have done for long years already in this war, but they want to be convinced that the Government have a clear policy on the matter and are certain of what they are doing, and that anything said in this House from the Government Bench is not an illusory promise but is going to be realised. The Government can help in this matter by making more explicit still their statements about the times as well as the extent of demobilisation, because in that way the country can be helped over this last stage of the war, which I fear is going to be a grim one involving a great strain on the morale of the nation.
§ 3.43 P.m.
§ General Sir George Jeffreys (Petersfield)
I listened with great care, attention and interest to the speeches of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kettering (Lieut.-Colonel Profumo) and my 2040 hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chester (Major Nield). It seemed to me that although both made certain suggestions as to alterations in detail, they were in general in agreement with what is, as far as my information goes, at any rate, the prevailing feeling in the Service, that, broadly speaking, the White Paper scheme is a fair one to all concerned and on the whole a workable one. I am very glad to note in paragraph 1 of that scheme that there is to be no general demobilisation before the end of the war with the Axis Powers, that is to say, before not only Germany but Japan has been defeated. I am a little afraid, as was mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member, that there is a feeling in the country—I am not saying it is so much in the Services—against men, after the war with Germany is over, being sent to fight against Japan. I think that is a feeling which is very largely held by the womenfolk of Service men, and I hope that it is not as prevalent as some people have told me that it is. I merely mention that because I am very glad to see it definitely stated that we have to beat the Japanese, and that until we have beaten them there can be only a partial demobilisation; it is not, in fact, called a demobilisation scheme, but a re-allocation of man-power.
I hope that too many hopes will not be raised of very early demobilisation, but if these hopes are being raised it is certainly not the fault of the White Paper. Paragraphs 1 to 4 are perfectly clear and leave no doubt that military requirements must override all other considerations. It is very satisfactory also to hear that, generally speaking, as mentioned by both of the hon. and gallant Members, the plan is considered to be fair by the Forces. I do not think that it is really very seriously criticised from any quarter. Criticisms of detail, there may be. For instance, I have heard the criticism made that married men with children ought to have a high priority in the interests of the children. I think that that, and various other suggestions which we have heard to-day, would upset the simplicity of the plan, which is one of its great merits, in my humble opinion. However much we may sympathise with that kind of thing, it would conflict with paragraph 4 (b), which says:The arrangements…must not be too complicated for practical application.2041 Paragraph 7 deserves attention, and it has not been specifically mentioned in the Debate to-day. It says:Men due for release…will be given an opportunity to volunteer for a further period of Service.It is very much to be desired and hoped that young unmarried men, and perhaps childless married men in some cases, will volunteer and thus allow of more of the older married men with children being released. One hon. Member spoke to-day of the spirit of adventure and enterprise—I think it was the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellinger)—which still persists among the young men and which caused them to volunteer originally. That spirit of adventure is not dead, neither is the spirit of service and of duty dead, and I hope that there will be many more of these young men who will volunteer for further service, in which case it will make the cases of some of the older married men and men with children very much more likely of being met by the provisions of this scheme.
The number of releases in Class B is to be small compared with that in Class A. That is laid down in paragraph 13 and I hope that that will be adhered to. If an undue number—and there will be, undoubtedly a temptation for employers and others to press for large numbers of men to be demobilised under Class B—of releases is asked for, I hope very much indeed that the Government will adhere to what they have laid down, that those numbers must be much smaller than the numbers in Class A. If they were to enlarge them or to make them excessive, it would upset the balance of the whole scheme and be unfair to the men in Class A. It is perfectly reasonable, as is stated in paragraph 8, that men of 50 years of age and over should be treated as a priority class, and I do not think that anybody could contest that. It is laid down in paragraph 8 that:It will be necessary in some Services to deal separately with the several branches and possibly with trades and ranks (or ratings) in those branches.Obviously a unit or a ship cannot be denuded, for instance, of essential noncommissioned officers or specialists. I am not sure that my hon. and gallant Friends who have served in the Navy will not feel, as regards the specialists, perhaps even more strongly than some of us do who have served in the Army. This denuding of units of non-commissioned officers and specialists did, in fact, 2042 happen, and in some cases of officers, too, in certain units, at the end of the last war with results that were, and could only be, very prejudicial to efficiency. I remember one particular case when, after the scheme at the end of the last war had been announced, a general order came out from England that all miners were to be released, which robbed some units both of rank and file and specialists and, in many cases, of essential non-commissioned officers all at once.
The question will arise as to how the place of the demobilised is to be filled, for units must be kept efficient, whether for further war or for duty in the army of occupation which we hope will be needed in the course of the next year. The places of non-commissioned officers and specialists can probably be filled to some extent by serving men, so long as the reductions are on a reasonable scale, but however that may be there must be many vacancies if the release is to be on an appreciable scale. I am very glad to see in paragraph 13 that "numbers of young men at present deferred" will be called up. I think it will be agreed that this is as it should be, but those young men will not be of much use, whether as general Service men or as specialists, until they have been both disciplined and trained.
Then there is another class which I suggest should be drawn on for the fighting line, namely, the fit personnel of headquarters and administrative establishments, both behind the lines and in this country. We have heard a good deal of "swollen headquarters"—Cairo has been mentioned in that respect and other places as well. Possibly these reports are exaggerated but certainly these complaints are made in every war. I can remember them as long ago as the South African War, when very frequently those of us who were slogging about the veldt used to speak with envy, and perhaps with other feelings, about those who sat at Cape Town and various other desirable spots. I suggest that, whether these complaints are as justified as some people say they are, or nut, these headquarters and establishments should be gone through with a fine comb and all superfluous fit men should be sent to the fighting line. I would suggest, further, that fit young men who are serving with establishments and with static units—for instance anti-aircraft, coast defence, and so forth—at home 2043 should not be eligible for demobilisation but should be available for transfer abroad. I say that without in any way wishing to depreciate the services of those coast defence and anti-aircraft units, nor of those establishments which are not fighting establishments and are primarily, at home, but I think there is a very great deal of difference between living in England, even under active service conditions, and living in the fighting line abroad, also under active service conditions which are very much more strenuous in the actual fighting line than they are at home.
I think, too, we ought to remember that if it is possible, and I do not say that it is, eligible men who are serving in the East should have equal chances with those who are serving nearer home. I hope very much we shall be guided by our experiences after the last war. I was very much interested and relieved to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour say in so many words that those experiences have been carefully studied and taken into consideration. The Prime Minister, on a recent occasion in this House, quoted a saying of a noted sporting character, Mr. Jorrocks, and I am emboldened by that to quote another expression of his—"much good avoidance." There is very "much good avoidance" to be learned from our mistakes and experiences in demobilisation at the end of the last war. For reasons with which I will not weary the House, I saw a good deal of demobilisation and how it worked in Northern France in the early days of 1919. That demobilisation scheme may have been a good one or it may not have been a good one; it has been criticised a good deal and I was interested, therefore, to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour say that it was not a bad scheme. But, good, bad or indifferent, it was never given a chance to work.
The first and great mistake to my mind was that of not fully and fairly explaining to all ranks the provisions of that scheme, and the elementary facts that it was then necessary to maintain efficient Forces in order to enforce the peace terms and to provide an army of occupation in the Rhineland, and, further, that even if that had not been the case, the means of transport were not available to take home all those vast numbers who clamoured for demobilisation at once. Moreover, indus- 2044 try, which had been disorganised by the war very much as it has been this time, though perhaps not to the same extent, was not ready to receive them. I believe, if those facts had been explained to the men, much of the trouble would have been avoided. Parenthetically, I may say that in certain cases where it was explained, there was very little trouble indeed.
The next mistake, in my submission, was not sticking to the plan adopted. That plan depended largely on the priority release of a limited number of "key" men regardless of their length of service. These were required to re-start business and industry at home. Further, the scheme provided for the release of men to fill appointments and to take up employment which was offered and ready for them, and that lent itself to every conceivable kind of abuse. I am not saying that this was the best system, but, if the situation had been explained, and if the plan had been adhered to, I believe it might have worked. The impression, unfortunately, got about that the fighting was all over, that there was no need to keep men with the colours any longer, that there was no need to keep up great Armed Forces, and that if one wanted to get demobilised all that was necessary was to get somebody to apply for one's release either as a "key" man or by making an offer of employment, and then one could get out. Many did this, and applications poured in.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour mentioned at the time the action that was taken by many hon. Members of this House and many public men to whom everybody was applying for their special friends or constitutents, or people in whom they were interested, and far too many of these exceptional releases were granted—in fact, they ceased to be exceptions. Many were demobilised while on leave. Leave boats were running daily then. That upset the balance again, and great numbers were demobilised completely out of their turn and at the expense of others with better claims. The inevitable result followed, grave discontent, which, in all too many cases, developed in actual mutiny—an ugly word, but, nevertheless, it did occur, not only overseas but at home.
There was one serious case at home when a number of men of an establishment in the suburbs of London marched, 2045 in a somewhat disorderly fashion, to the Horse Guards demanding to see the Commander-in-Chief and demanding demobilisation. There were cases of men on leave at home refusing to go back. That was a serious business. There were scenes at Victoria Station. Many were demobilised to fill non-existent, or temporary, jobs which had been offered to them simply to get them out of the Services. Men demobilised in that way quickly found themselves out of work, and matters were made serious by some of the newspapers. Some of these papers, when released from the censorship which had prevailed during the war, could not resist the opportunity of taking up what they no doubt regarded as the cause of deserving men who wanted to get out of the Forces. In these papers, which were daily being sent to troops in France and were only a day late, there were enormous headlines, such as "Demand Demobilisation at Once," "How to Get Out of the Army," and, "How to Get Demobilised," and so forth. It was a terrible example of the power of the Press when used in an unfortunate manner and in an unfortunate cause.
I very much hope that this time the Government may count on the support of all newspapers. I understand that nowadays the Press works under a system of what I think is called voluntary censorship, by which they do not publish anything that would be detrimental to the public interest, and I feel certain that if they are properly approached they will not run a scare of this kind again. Equally, I feel confident that Members will not act as was described by the Minister of Labour in his speech. I hope that this time the Government will be able not only to count on the support of newspapers, this House and public opinion generally, but will see that whatever conditions are laid down will be made fully understandable, and will be strictly adhered to. I am far from seeking to apportion blame for what happened 25 years ago, but I urge that the mistakes of 1918 be not repeated in 1945. No one has better reason than the Prime Minister to remember what occurred then. He saved the situation by going to Paris and seeing the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) at the Peace Conference, and making 2046 clear to him the serious situation that prevailed and obtaining powers to stop the wholesale and haphazard demobilisation that was going on and restore some measure of stability in place of the confusion, discontent and even mutiny that was prevailing at that time.
Again, I would urge that this time we should stick to whatever plans are finally decided. Let us by all means discuss them now, but once they are settled there should be no attempt to upset them. The minute you begin to make exceptions on any considerable scale you will upset the whole plan. According to Paragraph 16 in the White Paper, I would remind the House that some releases are to be allowed on compassionate grounds. That seems to be a provision which ought to cover the hardest cases, but if we understand that this demobilisation is only partial and that although there may be hard cases infinitely more will arise if the conditions laid down are departed from, I believe that this re-allocation of man-power will not only work out successfully but will be invaluable when the time comes for demobilisation on a much larger scale. If the conditions and the need for further effort are made clear to all concerned, then patriotism and a sense of duty will lead many young men to stay in the Services and will lead to all cheerfully accepting the scheme of the Government.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Captain Poole (Lichfield)
The fact that so many Members are anxious to speak in this Debate shows that the House is fully conscious of the importance of the matter which is before us to-day. It is a subject which ranks in equal importance with the great social insurance Debates we have had over the past few days, and it is of the utmost importance that members of the Forces shall know, without a shadow of a doubt, that they will have a perfectly square deal when the war is over. It was of great value to the House to hear the hon. and gallant Member for Kettering (Lieut.-Colonel Profumo) open the Debate, coming, as he did, straight from Italy with his direct contacts there, contacts which should enable him to be fully aware of what men in the Forces are thinking about this scheme. I could not help feeling that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour was rather over- 2047 sensitive with my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger)—
§ Captain Poole
I heard the Minister's ejaculation, and I want to say that this over-sensitiveness has become a disease which has afflicted a great many members of the Government. We found it so with the Prime Minister the other day, when my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) dared to put a Motion on the Order Paper dealing with the length of overseas service. The Secretary of State for War, of course, is a chronic case. He can never be cured, and it seems that his close association with the Minister of Labour has caused my right hon. Friend to be affected. I do not believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw was seeking to cast any reflection on the Minister of Labour when he spoke of my right hon. Friend being a recruiting sergeant. Indeed, I think the work of the Minister of Labour in this war has been monumental, and will go down to history. I know of no other man who could have done the things which he has done and yet made them acceptable to the people, as he has done.
We have envisaged, in my right hon. Friend's speech, the wider picture he has drawn of what the Government have in mind in this plan, and, again, my right hon. Friend has risen to the occasion. He knows what is required. I do not quarrel with the plan as a whole. My association with troops at home leads me to believe that, generally, it is acceptable to them. I quarrel with the scheme in only one particular. We are all agreed that the plan adopted must be fair and clearly understood, and that the Forces must accept it as fair. I believe that in one particular it will not be accepted as fair. I refer to the question of overseas service. The bulk of my service in the war has been at home. Therefore, I can speak as a disinterested person. But I feel that some consideration other than is shown in the White Paper has to be given to the soldier who has spent a long period overseas. The Government say it cannot be done. I do not accept that for a moment. I do not admit the difficulties that have been outlined. I believe they can be surmounted. I believe that this aspect of the scheme ought to go back 2048 to those who are responsible for it with a very definite instruction from the House to review the position.
The Prime Minister has reproved us for suggesting that men should be brought home from overseas in less than five years. I believe that it is soely a matter for organisation. It is a matter that lies on the doorstep of the Secretary of State for War. It is something that falls within the ambit of his organisation, and something which I believe his organisation can solve if it applies itself to it. If there is a unit overseas it is very much easier to say, "There they are, let them stay there," than to sort out 40, 50 or 60 men who, because of the time factor, must be brought home, and find another 50 or 60 men in this country and take them out as replacements. The line of least resistance is to leave them where they are. That is all right for a man who sits in London and goes home every night, but it is not good enough for a man who has been overseas for 4½ years. It must be done. In the process of winning the war we must not destroy the home life of countless thousands of our people. The sacrifice that the women have made is colossal. For years they have been left to bring up young children without their husbands to give them advice and help. I received a letter this morning from a woman whose husband has been overseas for four years and three months. There is a little girl of 6½ who does not know her father, and in fact has come to believe that she has not got a father—that he exists in fancy and not in fact.
These are catastrophic things to happen in our home life. The strength of the nation lies in the home life of the people and we must see that it is not undermined. The beginnings of married life are being marred for thousands of our people. Many young people who ought to have the influence of a father at the time when it can be made effective are not having it. We cannot afford not to take these things into full consideration. The way to accomplish what we are asking is to weight overseas service. Whereas two months at home counts as one year on age, I suggest that the weighting of overseas service should be doubled. Anyone would rather serve two years in this country and have privilege leave every three months than one year in India. I know that awful feeling of seas between one and one's 2049 home, with letters taking long periods. When one finds that shipping is still coming back from the Middle East not loaded to capacity, one wonders how much soundness there is in the argument that there is not shipping space for bringing these people home. The Minister of Labour made the point that after the war in Europe we should be faced with colossal demands upon our shipping space for mounting our Forces in the East, but surely many of them, and much of the equipment that they will need, are already there. I appeal to my right hon. Friend and all the Service Departments to take this plan back, because I do not think he can go through with it—releasing home service men on the same basis as men with long service overseas—without men feeling that they are the victims of very unfair treatment and I should have to agree with them.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Sir Lewis Jones (Swansea, West)
This is the second Debate on demobilisation that we have had in the last 12 months. A year ago hon. Members were agitated because the Government apparently had not settled down to the provision of a programme of demobilisation generally. One thing that was impressed on me was that, however keen individual Members may have been, there seemed to be no general agreement as to a common policy for a demobilisation scheme. Therefore I feel very happy that this scheme is what the Minister of Labour has claimed for it, that is that it is fair, it is easy to understand and easy to apply. We have spent a considerable time in discussing variations that hon. Members would like to see introduced, and perhaps, in doing that, we have failed to appreciate to the full the wonderful benefits which the scheme confers on everyone. Reference has been made to the trouble occasioned in 1919 by the failure of the demobilisation scheme of that day. Explanations have been given of why it became very unpopular and broke down. But, after all, it is well for us to remember, even in 1944, that when the present Prime Minister went to the War Office at the beginning of 1919 he had to tackle the difficulty of demobilisation and he eventually found a solution in the very formula which has been incorporated in the present scheme, the formula of age and service. It was realised that there had been dispelled 2050 from the minds of the Servicemen of those days any fear as to wangling and wire-pulling in order to secure release. The Minister has emphasised that the first consideration in dealing with demobilisation is the military situation, and that, in view of the fact that the war can only be won in instalments, demobilisation must also proceed by instalments.
The three main virtues of this scheme are that it is fair, it is easy of application and it is easily understood. Certain Members have explained that the scheme has been well accepted by the men in the Services and that they realise that, whatever complaint they may have against the scheme so far as it affects them individually, they know why they are in a particular group and not in another. Considerable references have been made to the overseas service men, and it is obvious that the Minister cannot afford to ignore the suggestions that have been made from all parts of the House as to those who have served long periods overseas. I know that they are governed by a time-table of demobilisation in the same way as the men who are on home service. Reference was made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who opened the Debate to the difficulties which some of the overseas men will suffer by being late in the civilian market for employment in comparison with those who have spent the bulk of their service at home. It is as well that we should realise, however, that when these men come back from overseas they will have a legal right to apply for their civilian employment. If a home service man happens to apply for his job a few months before the overseas man is available, the overseas man will have a statutory right to apply for the job when he returns. I am satisfied that this scheme is very fair. It is simple, can easily be understood by the men whom it affects, and applied very easily.
Having approved of the scheme, I hope in generous terms, I would like to emphasise some of the points made by previous speakers. The hon. and gallant Member for Chester (Major Nield), in a fine speech, emphasised the legitimate claims of the overseas service men. Many of them have served for three or four years, and some even longer. They have not been able to contact their homes and families like men who have been on home 2051 service. The home service men have had the advantage of the overseas men in being able to contact their families regularly. I would press the Minister to give consideration to the question whether it is possible, without disturbing the grouping system, to grant priority of demobilisation to those of varying degrees of overseas service. The suggestion has been made that men who have served overseas for long periods are getting some benefit by means of the monetary compensation which the scheme gives them, but nobody would pretend that any monetary compensation will make up for the long spans of time which these young people have spent in distant theatres of war. I know that on paper the home and overseas service men will be treated alike, but I am afraid that there will be a danger that those who are far away from home may tend to be forgotten. I know that it is a fear in the minds of the men who are overseas. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure them that they are not forgotten and that immediate attention will be given to them once the scheme is put into operation.
May I say a word about the men in Class B? I realise that they are in addition to the men who are governed by the formula of age and service and that a considerable number of men will be released as specialists for reconstruction tasks. The hope has been expressed that the number in Class B will be kept down to a minimum. I hope that will not be so, because the first class of specialists to be released under Class B are men in the building industry, and we who feel the absolute need of priority for building operations, in order to have housing for the men who come back, realise how essential it is that a large part of the building labour should be released as soon as possible.
I would like to ask the Minister a question about the teaching profession. Earlier he expressed regret, which I am sure was genuine, that they had to shut down so many arts courses in university colleges, and he expressed the hope that, when there was an opportunity of examining the situation, it would be possible to demobilise within Class B certain teachers, professors and university lecturers in order that these courses might get started as quickly as possible. He did not 2052 mention elementary school-teachers. We are faced with a terrific problem in elementary education because of sizes of classes and shortage of teachers. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will extend the consideration of university lecturers to cover elementary school-teachers. I know that the Minister has said categorically that he is not going to submit to any pressure from anyone and that no one will exercise any influence to get men released under Class B. The right hon. Gentleman, however, will be aware that there has been considerable emphasis from time to time from nearly every Minister of the Crown, with the exception of the President of the Board of Trade, on the necessity of increasing our export trade.
A large number of men will be released under this scheme as soon as the war in Europe is over, and they will have the right to be reinstated in their civilian jobs. It will he found, I think, that a large number of industries normally engaged in the export trade in pre-war days have been closed down or concentrated, and that most of their workpeople are either in other industries or in the Army. The Minister will find, in view of the fact that the men who are demobilised are guaranteed reinstatement in their civilian employment, that there will be terrible difficulties in the way of employers finding employment unless key men are returned from the Services as soon as possible. They may not be many, but I am satisfied that the Minister must be prepared to give consideration to these exceptional cases. The Minister and his colleagues in the Government are to be congratulated on producing a scheme which is fair and simple to understand and apply.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lady Apsley (Bristol, Central)
After hearing this most interesting Debate, and the sober and sincere speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister, no one can doubt that demobilisation, when it comes, will be a very complex and gigantic task, requiring the very closest liaison between the civil and the military authorities on all levels and in all places. I, for one, feel that it is obvious to all, except to those who are endeavouring to make party politics out of it, that demobilisation will require Government control, particularly the direction of unemployed labour and the control of new capital, for only 2053 in that way shall we be able to implement the proposals for the larger policy of full employment, a new national health service and the maintenance of the purchasing value of the £, as well as to augment our export trade in the way which was so ably mentioned by the hon. Member who has just spoken.
For that reason I would like to suggest to my right hon. Friend that he might consider the use of a new word in place of "demobilisation", which is connected in the public mind with other destructive "d's," like "D-Day," "descend," "deter" and "detain." The word I would suggest is "remobilisation," which I think would be more adequate to describe the process which my right hon. Friend has in view. I would like to associate myself with the congratulations extended to my right hon. Friend on this plan, which is based on the "points" plan which was brought before the House last year. I think it carries out the essential pre-requisites to the success of any plan of demobilisation, that it should be fair in its fundamentals and, above all, should be easily understood. Here I join with hon. Members who have already spoken, particularly the hon. and gallant Member who opened the Debate and the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Major Keatinge), to whom I would like to add my felicitations on his maiden speech, and also the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield (Captain Poole), who also referred to the need for a fair system in the demobilisation of the men overseas.
We shall, indeed, be open to the charge of breaking faith, unless we do something to remove the nightmare question which is at the back of the minds of those men: "When I have won the war, what is going to happen to me?" I suggest to my right hon. Friend that this is the moment to come out openly, and say to those men that they will have a guaranteed job when they come back. I suggest that my right hon. Friend, whose word is greatly respected throughout the fighting Forces, should say this: "I guarantee you a job. I am going to have places reserved for you, and especially for those men who will be prevented by military necessity from being demobilised in their turn. I suggest that places honoured must be reserved for them, and that for this purpose there should be common action among local authorities, Govern- 2054 ment Departments, boards of directors and the trade union movement now. Such a course of action would satisfy those men that they are not forgotten.
I would add my word to what has been said about the men who have been overseas for more than four years, particularly in the Far East. That is too long a time for our young men to be in the Far East climate, where malarial and other local conditions impose far too great a strain upon them. I would remind the House that it is, nevertheless, absolutely essential that we should say to Australia and to the Empire as a whole, that we regard as sacred our promises to finish the job in the Far East. It would be lamentable if we failed to send an adequate military force to finish off the cruel and brutal Japanese.
There is another point I would like to make about this plan. As I have said, it is an extremely good plan, because it is simple, but I would point out the dangers of over simplification. The hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) referred to the troubles that were experienced after the last war. I would like to mention what Lord Haig said at that time. He warned the Government against the demobilisation of pivotal men. He said that when military service and discipline were relaxed and Service organisations broken up, morale was apt to fair steeply and that, therefore, some form of organisation should be retained for a time. That point was also brought out by the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds. I know that history seldom repeats itself exactly, but the lesson is obvious. When men are demobilised under Class A and Class B this time, there is still the possibility of conditions recurring such as applied to the pivotal men last time. There will be a great risk of a break-down of morale, and we must therefore make sure that there is some military formation behind them to form a background for the men as they come out of the Forces.
My third point is to suggest that the machinery for this purpose should be devised now. I suggest to the Secretary of State for War that he should consider now preparing the existing Army welfare organisation to form a background as the men and women come out of the Forces. The Army welfare organisation is well known to many hon. Members. The hon. 2055 and gallant Member for South Portsmouth (Sir J. Lucas) is a well known Army welfare officer and the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Mr. Muff). I suggest that if the present Army welfare organisation were slightly strengthened by the addition of some full-time paid officers—like the adjutant of the Territorial Army before the war—there might be ready to hand the nucleus of a most useful and satisfactory body which could form a liaison on the one hand with men and women coming out of the Forces and, on the other hand, with local authorities, Government Departments and voluntary bodies, which were greatly needed after the last war to help men and women to accustom themselves to changed civilian conditions as well as to deal with hard cases. I refer, of course, to the British Legion, the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association and Help Society and Regimental organisation.
A word with regard to demobilisation from the women's Forces. Here I am sure I speak for them when I say how pleased and proud they will feel at the way they have been referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Kettering (Lieut.-Colonel Profumo), who opened this Debate, and by the hon. and gallant Member for Chester City (Major Nield), both of whom referred in glowing terms to the work and to the service given by these women. I can assure those hon. and gallant Members that not only are the women in the Forces concerned with how many coupons or how much money they are to get for their civilian clothes, important as that subject is; they are mostly concerned as to how they too are to be fitted into this scheme and whether they will be permitted to use, in civilian life, the skill which they have acquired in the Services, whether the trade unions will welcome them, and whether they will be granted seniority in their professions, such as the teaching profession, for the years they have given to the country in our women's Services in war-time. I know, too, that the women in the Services are very much concerned to know whether their particular auxiliary Service is to continue after the war. That is what they wish. They would welcome being given a chance to make a full-time profession of the W.R.N.S., the W.A.A.F. and the A.T.S., and I suggest 2056 that now is the time to make public what, if any, plan of that sort has been decided upon.
Finally I would like to add to what has already been said in regard to the pre-1939 Territorials. I feel that something from this House should be offered to them for the services they have given, and which they gave in the most dangerous days of the war. We have thanked the Home Guard, but the Territorial Army and those who went into action in the earliest days as self-trained soldiers, have not been thanked or recompensed or given the medal to which many of us think they are justly entitled.
§ 4.44 P.m.
§ Mr. Muff (Kingston-upon-Hull, East)
Within the past four weeks the Minister of Labour in this House has asked that Members should not stampede him by urging preferential priorities. I refer to that more particularly because he was replying to one of the Members for the Combined English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey), and this afternoon we have had a speech from the hon. Member for the University of Wales (Professor Gruffydd), who frankly avowed that he was speaking for a vested interest and that he would drop a brick. He then proceeded to make a special appeal for teachers to receive an extra priority, and made an attack upon the War Office. During this war they have made a practice of bringing the provision of food for the troops to as high a rate of efficiency as they possibly could, and his complaint was that a teacher should have to prepare food for the soldiers, a task that could—I use his own words—be done just as well by a Bushman or a Hottentot. That is what he said. I wish to point out to the House that these Members for the universities, with their special pleading, are doing a disservice to the teaching profession. If we are to talk about key men, the key men of Britain are the husbands and fathers who are fighting, chiefly abroad. I would give the priority to the husbands and fathers, even before teachers, though I suppose I shall be misrepresented on that point, but I do not mind that.
The hon. Member for Central Bristol (Lady Apsley) referred to the work of the welfare officers. It is as well to remind the House that there are 1,100 men and women, chiefly holding commissions in His 2057 Majesty's Forces, who, unpaid, are doing this work of trying to keep up the morale of the women at home, and it is becoming an almost impossible task. In Leeds ten days ago the Army Welfare Officer had 34 women waiting for him to try to solve their problems. That record was beaten last week, when there were 36. I myself have had to visit a dozen women to try to bring about reconciliations. I suggest to the House that a husband and father is of more value in the house than is a teacher in the school, in helping to reduce the figures of juvenile delinquency which so many of us deplore.
I wish to bring the House back to the fact that this is, as the Minister of Labour himself has emphasised, a human problem. We can have our White Papers, we can have our regulations, but it is a human problem. It may be a cliché, but it is nevertheless a maxim and a fundamental of British law, that not only have we to administer justice, but we have to appear to administer that justice fairly and squarely. We must avoid the mistake that was made after the last war, when the men voted with their feet, and marched home, because they did not think that they were getting a square deal. They felt that undue influence was being brought upon certain quarters in order to get out of the Services those who were called key men. Again I say that a key man is a husband or a father. In fact I would put a bricklayer in a higher priority than some of the so-called skilled technicians. I hope we shall not be too eager in staking out our claims for certain categories to be released, but that we shall administer this problem in a human and a just manner.
I should like to refer to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lichfield (Captain Poole). The War Office and the Ministry of Labour will have to think again with regard to those men who are serving overseas, because it is becoming more and more a tragedy. My own modest postbag—far too large because I have to deal with it myself—tells me of the human problems. Then when I go back to Yorkshire, I am faced with those women who have written during the week, or deal with the cases sent to me by commanding officers. Here I would reinforce what the Minister of Labour has said. These commanding officers and subalterns—they are all alike—deal sympathetically with their men 2058 and care for their welfare. Most of my letters come from officers commanding units. It is not beyond the wit of the War Office, which organised D-Day, or of the Secretary of State for War, who helped to do it—and I wish to pay my tribute to him, although he does not care for compliments—to re-form those units serving abroad, to make it possible to bring home those men who should be brought home because of their long service, without in any way affecting the fighting efficiency of the units. Take the men who went from El Alamein or West Africa to Sicily and into Italy. Only yesterday I was reading a letter from one of these men. He is now in Holland, and proud to be a member of the Eighth Army, because it means that he is serving under his old chief. Those men should not have their chances of release jeopardised because they came home on 28 days' leave, and then were transferred to France, Belgium, Holland, and soon will be in Germany. I know that the Minister of Labour and those who serve with him are ready to consider the matter, and to take note of the opinions expressed in this House, in so moderate and constructive a fashion.
I ask the Secretary of State for War to realise that the welfare officers are largely an honorary body. We deal with cases from the R.A.F. and from the Navy, because—to the credit of the War Office—the Army is the only Service which has an organised welfare scheme operating in every part of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. But we are being overwhelmed with the cases of these women whom we are trying to help to reconciliation with their husbands. I have settled far too many cases where babies have been born when the husband has been away for two, three, or four years. I would recall the words:He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.One woman showed me a letter from her husband. It was a letter of forgiveness. I said, "I do not know whether your husband is a churchgoer or not, but he is a great Christian, and a great gentleman"; and she admitted it. It is moving to read the letters of some of those men at the front, showing how they try to understand the loneliness of the women and the families. These men are worthy of the consideration of this honourable 2059 House; and, knowing this House as I do, I am certain that it is going to do its duty.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)
Most Members serving in the Forces will have had an opportunity to speak to many Service audiences about this release scheme. We have been asked many times what this House of Commons is doing and what the Government propose to do about that much-looked-forward-to and no doubt very difficult time, when two-thirds of the British Army will be queuing up for their tickets for "Civvy Street." I was talking yesterday about the stand-down of the Home Guard to a man who said to me, "There are two ways to get a horse out of a stable; you can lead it out quietly, or you can hit it over the flank with a dung fork." We all wanted to know how we were going to be led out. Some of us would have served perhaps six years by the time we were let out. Many would have served overseas for four years or longer. Would we be let out in a way that we understood and believed to be fair? The White Paper has now been produced. I want to add my tribute to those of hon. Members who, having talked the thing over with hundreds of serving men and serving women, believe that this is a good scheme, a scheme which is fair, a scheme which is easily understood, a scheme which will make it extraordinarily difficult for the "twister" to get out before his time.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. Lawson) said that he had been amazed that so many of the men and women in the Services seemed to be familiar with all the details of the scheme. The reason, I am quite sure, is that we have something called A.B.C.A., and that we have had an opportunity in our A.B.C.A. discussions of putting this scheme and others like it across to the troops, and explaining them. I have experienced the greatest benefit from the A.B.C.A. wall charts, and from the very admirable explanatory booklet which was prepared by the Director-General of Recruiting and Demobilisation, and issued by the Army Bureau of Current Affairs. That has made it very easy to explain these things to the troops.
2060 I find that, with all this general accord with which the scheme has been met, there are very few points that one wants to bring up in this House. I will mention three—one concerning men, and two concerning women—before passing to larger issues. I want to add what force I can to the pleas which have been made on behalf of the men who were previously in public fire brigades or in the N.F.S., and who, in response to A.C.I. 1124 of 1940, volunteered to go out of the Army into the Fire Service during the blitz. They served in circumstances of great danger in the National Fire Service, then transferred back into the Army, and I want to support the plea that their military service should be counted as continuous for the purpose of this release scheme. That A.C.I.—I refreshed my memory yesterday by re-reading it—was very strongly worded. It was made compulsory for all unit commanders to send a return of men who had volunteered to do this. The duty was described as of the highest importance, and unit commanders were required to send nil returns if they could not get men to volunteer. When a thing is put in that way, it becomes a patriotic duty for men serving in units at home to volunteer for that dangerous work. That is why, at the risk of repeating what has already been said, I would add my voice to the plea made for these men.
Last week, I spoke to a conference of senior regimental and staff officers in the A.T.S. They asked me to talk to them about this release scheme and hear their point of view about it. I confess I was very much surprised at one thing which they said was widely felt in the A.T.S. They said it was wrong to give married women an automatic release in the highest category. They said it was wrong, because there were so many girls who had got married since the war began, who have no children or homes to go to and whose husbands are serving overseas. "Why should they be let out before the rest of us, and steal a march in getting the best available jobs?" was the question they asked. It was suggested—and I am bound to say that I thought it a reasonable suggestion—that married women should be allowed out on compassionate grounds, that those compassionate grounds should be generously handled and widely interpreted so that if there were a home, children and a hus- 2061 band at home, they should be allowed, without question, to come out in the first category, but that, if a girl were married and had no children, and whose husband was serving overseas, there seemed to be no ground at all for allowing her release out of her age and service group.
Arising out of that was the other category of the girl who is married and whose husband is serving overseas and who would gladly stay on in the A.T.S. for a further period, possibly until her age and length of service group comes out or until general demobilisation takes place. If she knew that, in the event of her husband being transferred back to this country and wanting her to make a home with him, she could get out on compassionate grounds the girl would gladly serve on until that time. These are minor questions, however, compared with the whole scheme, but the very fact that they are points of comparative unimportance goes to emphasise the general accord with which this plan has been hailed by the Army at home, which, unfortunately, through no fault of my own, is the only part of the Army for which I am entitled in any way to speak.
To come to the wider aspects of this scheme, the part of the White Paper which appeals to me above all others, because it is a thing which I have advocated as strongly as I know how for over a year, is the part which says that, in order to increase releases, numbers of young men who have been deferred, particularly in the munitions industry, will be called up for the Forces. I hope that call-up will be large and on an imaginative scale, and that it will not be confined to certain groups of industry. If the age of reservation is raised, as soon as the war with Germany is over, progressively and in bold stages, large numbers of younger men at present engaged in war industries will be made available to take their part in the Army, and, if that is done boldly and with a real determination to spread the responsibility for service in the Armed Forces of the Crown as widely as possible, a very large number of men at present serving overseas could be released.
That point I want to make strongly, because I believe that that is the way to get the men home who are overseas at present, and the best way to get as many as possible back here, taking their 2062 part in rebuilding the country in the industries to which they belonged before. I believe that a scheme such as that would not be unwelcome to many young men, many of whom were directed to industry though their inclination lay in the military sphere. I believe that numbers of young men would find it to their advantage to join the Army and see the world, and I am quite sure there would not be one who would not benefit from the service, the discipline and the comradeship of Army life. Neither would such a plan, I believe, be to the disadvantage of industry itself. So many millions of men will, in any case, have to be absorbed into industry over a period of two years or so, and the quicker they can be assimilated into the industries of the country the better, the determining factor being the speed with which they can be taught a new trade or can re-learn their former vocation.
I remember that, in discussing these ideas that were going through my mind a year ago with my friends, some of them would say, "Well, we think it is a good idea, but what would be the attitude of the trade unions? Would they not object to a scheme of that type?" I always said that I did not see why they should, and I am very glad that there has been no objection raised to the White Paper by the great trade unions and no objection in this House to-day to the White Paper on those grounds. After all, the men who will be released from the Forces, being, in the main, the men with longer service and therefore the older men, will themselves be trade unionists—men who would be as entitled to the support and the massive protection of the trade unions as are the younger men who will be released to take their part in industry. Therefore, I think the trade unions would be doing less than justice to themselves if they were to seek in any kind of way to delay the return to civil life of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Platting Division of Manchester (Mr. Clynes) described in this House some months ago as "workmen in uniform."
On wider grounds than these, however, do I support this particular part of the White Paper proposals. In the dark days of 1940 this House of Commons gave the Government absolute power over the lives and properties of every man and woman in this country. Many of us thought that 2063 those powers would be used to conscript management, labour and capital and that every factory, every war industry and every kind of productive installation in the country would be put under conditions of control and remuneration comparable to those obtaining in the Armed Forces. That has not been the case. There has neither been equality of remuneration nor equality of sacrifice, but here we are given, at the eleventh hour, the chance to redress the balance by a bold substitution of the younger men for the older soldiers in our interim Army.
I welcome these proposals. I hope that they may not be spoiled by a failure to "go big" on the call-up, so that every man that can be made available from war industries shall take his place in releasing one more man who has served in the Army for a long time. That is the simple and self-evident proposition which I am concerned to urge on the Government this afternoon.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Lawson (Skipton)
One of the things which the Minister of Labour said which impressed me greatly this afternoon was that it was easier to write a long letter than a short one, and I am going to try to take the hard road of brevity in my remarks. Many hon. Members have expressed their opinion on the principles upon which this White Paper is built, and I do not think that it will matter very much in the long run what the civilian population of this country, or even Members of this House of Commons, think about this scheme. What do the men and women in the Forces, who are concerned so vitally, think about it? The Government's part is to see that the scheme is workable and easy and is explained to men and women in the Forces, but whether it is fair or not is a matter on which the view of the Forces must prevail. Members of this House who have served in the Army or other Forces in this war can express their opinion for what it is worth, the opinion of a small portion, and all of us can give the testimony we have had from correspondence, but that must be sketchy and unscientific.
The question I would like to ask—and maybe we may get an answer from one of the Service Ministers—is, Are the Service Ministers really trying to ascertain 2064 the views of those who are in the Forces on this question? There are many ways in which this could be done—by asking the commanding officers, taking the opinion of the welfare officers and of the Army Educational Corps. It may be that the Intelligence Corps might have some evidence on the matter, and if these normal methods have been tried and have proved unsatisfactory, I would suggest that extraordinary methods be adopted. The seeking of public information is a science: it may be a new, empirical and an inexact one, but surely some scheme could be tried to find out if the principles on which the White Paper are based are fair and satisfactory to the men and women in the Forces. In the absence of that evidence, I can only do what other hon. Members have done, and that is, to express my own opinion of what I imagine to be the views of the majority in the Forces. From the correspondence I have had, and from my own, now 18 months out of date experience of what the Forces overseas are thinking, the big complaint is that there has been no weight given for overseas service. Most of the letters I have had commenting on this have said, "We think that the scheme is all right, except that it does not give men and women who have served overseas some extra priority." That is the plea that I would make this afternoon and add to that of other hon. Members who have asked that even now the scheme should be reconsidered and those who have served overseas should be given some extra priority.
The A.B.C.A. leaflet which deals with the scheme examines the case of men with overseas service in detail, and it does not reject the justice of it; by implication it accepts the justice of it, but tries to say that it is difficult from a workable and administrative point of view. I think that to be the wrong approach. If it is desired by the vast majority of those in the Forces, it is up to the Government to make it work. That is a job to which the Service Ministers and the Minister of Labour should apply themselves. Various suggestions have been made as to how this should be worked out. I would support the suggestion that each two months of service overseas, instead of counting one extra year for demobilisation should count two years. That is a very simple calculation, so simple that everyone could 2065 make it. I can see no reason why the Service Departments have not the information available to enable this particular calculation to be made. It would mean that the table showing exactly in which category a man is would have to be scrapped, but I do not think that that table is of any more value than this. If there are men discussing their chances of demobilisation the table gives those men the opportunity of seeing who will come out first. It does not tell any man when he is going to come out in relation to time. He does not know how many men there are in each category. It is entirely comparative.
In a scheme where every two months of overseas service count for two years, anyone could make a calculation and know where he stood with one of his fellow men. That would fulfil the requirements that the scheme should be simple and understood by every one in the Services and meet with the approval of the Services? I am giving my opinion from such letters as I have received. The point I want to put to the Minister is, Will an attempt be made to try really to find out what the Forces at home and abroad think about this scheme, and if the Forces at home and abroad by a considerable majority desire to see that overseas service should have some extra priority, will the Government reconsider the scheme and give that priority? That is the question I am asking.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Major Conant (Bewdley)
I suppose it would be wrong to assume that because this plan is so very different from that produced after the last war, it must be quite clear and workable. Certainly the fact that it is different from the last plan is a great advertisement for it, and I myself think it is reasonably fair and extremely easy to work, and one which I think can very easily be understood. Those are great advantages. I think the difficulty is that in any scheme it is quite impossible, to my mind, to get exact, individual justice. There must be a vast number of anomalies and all enormous number of hard cases which no system of compassionate release could possibly cover. Therefore, any scheme will be susceptible to a great deal of criticism. We can only in the end produce a scheme which provides rough justice, but can we, in this case, alter the scheme in order to 2066 get something rather better than rough justice? I think an overwhelming case has been made out for taking account in some way of overseas service. I will not elaborate the case which has been made so often, but obviously the man who has been separated from his family by being overseas has a prior claim to release. It would be quite easy, I think, to say that every man who has served abroad, no matter for how long or how short a time, shall have priority, but that would be meaningless. I do not know about the other Services, but in the Army I should think that the proportion of men who have not served overseas at some time is very small indeed, and it would lead to serious anomalies. The bomb disposal sections, many of whom have served at home during most of the war, doing the most daring and courageous jobs of any one—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—would be the last to be demobilised. So that a plan on that broad line obviously would not be possible; but what is suggested, I think, is that the length of a man's overseas service should be taken into account. On practical grounds, however, I am bound to say that I cannot think it is possible. I do not think it could be done; I wish it could. As hon. Members know, the man's record of overseas service is known only in the record office in this country—each unit sends the record of a man's service either directly or through the normal channels to the record office, and that is the only place where that record of service is known.
§ Mr. Turton
It is also in A.B.64, in which the unit commander must enter the date when the man embarks for overseas.
§ Major Conant
I think my hon. Friend is incorrect, because I think that all that is in A.B.64 is his age and date of enlistment. There may be a record of the time the man joined that particular unit, but I am pretty sure there is no comprehensive record of a man's overseas service in his A.B.64. However, if I am wrong, I am only too glad, but I do see that as a practical difficulty. Demobilisation must be carried out, I think, on a unit basis. We cannot possibly demobilise a man from home, but only do it through the unit. The commanding officer must be able to say which man has to go first and which second, and unless he has some information about a man's overseas service it does not seem to me practicable 2067 that it should be taken into account. I suppose it would be possible to make some list, from information supplied by the men themselves, but I do not think that would work at all.
I think it is very unfortunate, though I admit the necessity, that a certain number of men should have to be released out of turn for urgent reconstructional work. It is necessary, I think, but, with other hon. Members, I would express the hope that those numbers are kept as small as possible. It occurs to me that a great many men who have joined the Services as highly skilled tradesmen, are, after a few years, very considerably less skilled, and if they are to be brought out because of their skill at the time of joining, and then need to be re-trained, it would be far simpler and very much fairer to take a man released in his proper turn under Class A and give him a training course. So I should say, in a great many cases, it will be unnecessary to bring out whole categories of trades. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour referred to the building industry, and this may be an exception because they were de-reserved at a recent date, but probably there are a number of builders in the Service who escaped being reserved at all, who managed to wangle their way into the Forces in the early days of the war and, and it may be possible that those men could be brought out in their proper turn, instead of under Class B.
The numbers who are to be released will obviously be considerably less than the numbers of men who wish to be released, and will depend, rightly, upon the military requirements, but they will also depend on the numbers which can be sent out from this country to take their places. I am very glad indeed that it is intended that conscription shall continue. I am sorry that the parties opposite seem to disagree with the need for that course; I should have thought it was obvious that the only fair thing to do for the men who are serving overseas is to continue calling up the de-reserved age groups as quickly as possible as soon as the time comes to put this scheme into effect. If that course is taken, even though we may not get that better justice which taking into account overseas service would provide, I believe that this scheme will be accepted and will work smoothly.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
We have been reminded by a number of hon. Members to-day of what happened to the demobilisation plan at the end of the last war, and I think that not only we, but the Government, might very well bear in mind the lessons of that experience. That demobilisation plan broke down and, in very large measure, the men demobilised themselves. Have we any guarantee that this sort of thing will not happen again? We know what happens sometimes to the best conceived plans of mice and men, and unless the men are satisfied that the proposals are fair and just, there is a danger that this plan also will break down. The Debate has gone on for several hours, and, with the exception of the Minister, there has not been, I think, a single hon. Member who has addressed the House who has not drawn attention to certain directions in which the scheme needs amendment. The danger of the breakdown of any plan comes from too great rigidity, and there have been certain criticisms of the plan as put forward in the White Paper which I submit the Government can only ignore at great peril. There are certain facts which I think they must recognise.
One stark fact is that the men who have served for some years in Burma, who have been living and fighting under almost intolerable conditions, will never agree that their service should not count more than service at home. Nothing will convince them to the contrary, and it is only fair and just that their special service should receive consideration. A few weeks ago I asked my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service if the special service in the Far East would be taken into account in the demobilisation proposals. He replied "No" and said he was informed that the men had received the Government's proposals with favour. Since then I have received a flood of correspondence, both from the men serving there and from their relatives at home. I do not want to repeat what they said about the Minister but they said, in effect, that he was quite misinformed about their views, and I say frankly that I was disturbed at the bitterness which they feel about his refusal to give more weight to service overseas in the demobilisation scheme. People at home do not realise the conditions in 2069 which the men in Burma are fighting, and their fear that, under the plea of military necessity, they will be retained in the Services when other groups nearer home are demobilised.
It is said that there are administrative difficulties to the granting of any concession to these men. The men who are fighting in Burma will not be satisfied with such an answer or with the statement that there is no record of their overseas service where there ought to be one. Why should not a record be put into the hands of commanders-in-chief overseas between now and the time of demobilisation? I ask the Government to face up to the alternative of refusing the demand which has been voiced most eloquently to-day by representatives of the Services in this House. The alternative is that the whole scheme may break down. Faced with that, I hope the Government will give more weight to the representations which have been made to them in order that this scheme may have a fair chance. The scheme, in its main principles, is, I agree, sound and acceptable to all, but I submit in all earnestness that unless this question of overseas service is met there is a danger of the whole plan breaking down.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)
I have promised to be brief, and I will try to put my remarks in almost telegraphic form. In the first place, I welcome the scheme on the whole as a fair and simple one, which is what is required by most serving men. But I do add my voice to the views which have already been expressed, that a special allowance for overseas service should be included in the plan. I have had numerous letters on this subject, but I will quote only one, which I think is a moving letter. It was sent to me not by men serving overseas but by 11 wounded men in a Leicester hospital, who say that they have no axe to grind because they will all be discharged in any case. They say:What equality is there with the boys abroad? Many spend weeks, or rather months, with no proper leave, some for three or more years with slit trenches to sleep in, meals cooked and prepared as best they can be, and in acute danger every minute. What comparison is there between them and those who have never left England, with regular and frequent leave, beds to sleep in, properly cooked food and civilians to talk to, and no danger at all except a few flying bombs and the everyday risks such as the ordinary civilian has to accept?2070 These are the words of 11 men in a hospital, and I think they should be put on record.
What is to happen to those men, not demobilised, who have to stay on in the Forces, and who will not be engaged in active operations when the war ends? I hope we shall relieve them of their terrible boredom, and that we shall give them the assurance that although they will be abroad for a long time they will not find, when they come home, that they have been forgotten and that other people have all the available jobs. I hope there will be a big extension of the Army education system. I have read with great interest the A.B.C.A. pamphlet called "Back to Civvy Street," in which there are described the various methods of training that will be available to men of the Fighting Forces to fit them for jobs after the war. There was a remarkable article yesterday in the "Daily Herald," including an interview with a man serving in Burma, who said:What are my assets? I am expert with a tommy-gun. I am pretty good with a Vickers. I can use a kukri, too. I can speak Urdu, Gurkhali and a smattering of Burmese. I can maintain discipline, I can make myself comfortable in two feet of mud and water during a thunderstorm, or in blazing 130-in-the-shade heat. I can live indefinitely on a handful of rice a day. That's about the lot. So where do I go from there?I think it is up to us to assure such men that they will get adequate training in a practical, and not merely a theoretical, manner. I would like to ask the Minister to associate the trade unions with the training that our fighting men will get by sending trade union leaders abroad to make that training fit in with the kind of jobs that are likely to be available when the men come home, and, possibly, issue certificates of proficiency so that the men who have undergone the training may be certain of work when they do get back. I ask that the men now serving abroad should be properly trained for their return to civilian life, and that we should assure them that when they get home there will be jobs waiting for them and that they will not be prejudiced by having had to remain abroad for so long.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. McCorquodale)
I think we are all agreed that we have had an interesting Debate, and some 2071 very valuable speeches on the subject under consideration. We were all delighted to welcome back here, for his brief visit, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kettering (Lieut.-Colonel Profumo) and my hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for Chester (Major Nield), and I think everyone in the House at the time very much enjoyed the excellent maiden speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Major Keatinge), on which I should like to compliment him and express the hope that we shall hear him often. It would be invidious of me to pick out speeches when we have so many good ones, but we were grateful for the support of our scheme given by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) and my hon Friend the Member for West Swansea (Sir Lewis Jones) among others. I should like to assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Aberdeen (Major Thornton-Kemsley) that we do intend to apply Paragraph 3 of the White Paper, regarding the re-allocation of man-power. It states:…it will be necessary to continue the compulsory recruitment of men for the Forces in order to bring relief to men who have served for long periods and enable more of them to return to their homes.We do intend to go on calling up young men in this way.
I think only one Member referred to the fact that we had a Debate on this subject almost a year ago, raised on the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), when I was put up by the Government, as a very junior Minister, in order that no epoch making announcement should be made on that occasion. But perhaps hon. Members will recall that I did lay down what I thought were fairly obvious principles on which any release scheme should be arranged. I said then that any such scheme must be fair, and be accepted as fair by the men in the Forces and, most particularly, by their wives and families. I said that it must be as simple as possible and easy to operate by commanding officers without constant reference back to headquarters, and that it must not promise more than could be performed. I now suggest that the very good reception which the Government's proposals have had in general from the House to-day, and also throughout the 2072 Forces, both at home and overseas—and we have taken particular care to inquire overseas how the scheme has been received—is because we have endeavoured to carry out the principles which the House endorsed on that occasion. May I humbly thank both the Press and the B.B.C. for their very responsible presentation of the plans that we put forward? It has been of the utmost value both to the Government and to the men in the Forces. It is generally admitted that our plan is fair. We have had more than one letter from overseas which suggested that it seemed so fair that instinctively one felt that there was a catch in it somewhere. It is simple. Anyone can immediately work out for himself his release group. It does not promise more than we can perform. The Service Departments are pledged to do their utmost to secure that, wherever a man or woman is serving and his or her release group arrives, having regard to the war situation, he or she shall be released.
That immediately brings me to the point around which the Debate has mainly centred, in so far as there has been any serious criticism of the scheme, and that is the question of priority of release for service overseas. We will certainly study all the speeches that have been made on the subject. I notice that many different plans were suggested for putting it into operation if it were practicable, but very few agreed on the best method. I have given much study and thought to the question and it seems to me that the fundamental objection to giving priority for service overseas is that its effect would be to put into early release groups far more men than could possibly be spared from the active theatre of war, which is the Far East, and it is the men in the Far Eastern countries who are our special care. The Services are pledged to do their utmost to release men in their turn according to age and length of service wherever they may be serving. The withdrawal of a man from the fighting front when his release group comes under the general rule is going to be a very difficult task and, if we go beyond it and give additional weight for overseas service, the problems of replacement and transport would become quite unmanageable, and the inevitable result would be that large numbers of men would have to be retained on grounds of military need after the time for release of their group had come.
2073 I have laid down that we must not promise more than we can perform. Surely the worst possible course for the morale of our soldiers in the Far East would be to get into a situation where we had to say, to perhaps very large numbers of men, "It is true that your turn for release under the priority scheme has arrived but, owing to military requirements, we cannot release you for possibly many months yet." We must get ourselves into the position where, when their release turn comes, they get transport and come home. I believe that the Forces in the Far East would much rather know where they were, and know that when their release group comes they will be brought home, than have a problematical, possibly a hypothetical priority, which, in practice, could not be carried out. I would ask the House, before rushing into suggestions of this sort, which obviously have a great deal of apparent justice and humanitarian grounds for support behind them, to consider the practical problem. We are going to bring all the men we can home from the Far East and their place is going to be taken by men called up. It was because of these practical difficulties of a very serious nature that the Government put up their alternative scheme for giving a longer term with full pay and allowances after they come home to those who have served overseas.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha (Devonport)
Are the Government, as a corollary to what the hon. Gentleman has said, going to reduce the period of service in the Far East to a maximum of three years?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I quite agree that that is a very serious and important consideration in the minds of soldiers overseas, but it is not the same as release from the Forces. The Government have announced that they are making every effort to reduce the length of the tour overseas and to bring people back, but that is a different matter from release from the Forces altogether.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
Has the hon. Gentleman any particular aim in view about the length of service as a corollary of that scheme?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
That question is closely under review and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman not to press me.
§ Dr. Haden Guest
Will due weight be given to the sending home of men serving in the Far Eastern theatre on the ground of their exposure to tropical diseases?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
That is a different matter of proper administration in compassionate and medical cases, to which I am sure the authorities will give attention.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kettering raised the point of what rank men and women would have when they reached the stage of paid furlough. During the period of paid furlough, payment would be based on the highest-paid rank held either since the German armistice or during the year preceding release, whichever is the less. So that a man would not find himself reduced in rank and then paid on the lower rank. My hon. and gallant Friend also raised the question whether there were going to be special terms for full colonels and above. There is no truth whatever in that rumour. It may possibly have arisen from the fact that regular officers on the active list do not come under this scheme unless their proper period of duty has expired.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Profumo
This is not exactly a rumour. Experts who came out in my theatre of war informed us on the subject.
§ Sir J. Grigg
There is another point about colonels who are qualified for release under the scheme. They are more difficult to replace than officers lower down the scale and they have to be reported to the War Office so that their replacement can be arranged. That is the possible origin of a certain amount of misconception.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
The position with regard to Regular officers was made clear in an answer which my right hon. Friend gave on 12th October, in which he said that the schemedoes not apply to officers holding permanent regular commissions on the active list of their Service or to ratings and other ranks whose regular engagements have not expired. Ratings and other ranks whose regular engagements have expired will be eligible for release under the plan in accordance with their age and length of war service,"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th Oct., 1944; Vol. 403, c. 1906.]
§ Mr. Woodburn
Is the reduction in the time when you are going to bring men back to this country, apart from demobi- 2075 lisation, going to apply to men who have been in the Middle East for nearly five years?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
That is a different matter. The bringing back on compassionate grounds or after a length of service abroad is a different matter from bringing back for release.
I would like to say a word on the question of release groups. The groups are not all of the same size. Some are quite small and others have a great number in them. Therefore, it is impossible for anybody to estimate in advance the time when he is likely to come out, because he will not know the size of the release groups. In actual fact, the earliest release groups are very small and a number of them will, I have no doubt, be run in together. As we go down the scale the groups become larger. It is intended to announce as far as possible beforehand the number of release groups that will be considered during the next period of a month or three months, or whatever it is so that everybody will know, as far as possible in advance, when their release group is coming up and when they are likely to come home.
I was glad that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield mentioned the fact, which had not been stressed before, that there will of necessity be different rates of release for men in the different Services. That is a point we must bear in mind. The speaker from the Liberal benches mentioned the period of pause between the end of hostilities in Europe and the start of release under Class A. He asked why there was this pause and why we could not get on as fast as possible with the release. The reason is that we want those serving overseas to be released in their group at the same time as those serving at home. Therefore, they will have to start being released earlier. If we have a pause of a month or possibly three months, we will be able to bring home the release groups from overseas so that they will suffer no disadvantage as compared with those at home.
Volunteering for further service has been mentioned, and I would like to make it clear that, while, under paragraph 7 of the White Paper, men who are due for 2076 release or transfer from the Forces will be given an opportunity to volunteer for a further period of service in any sphere—for they will not be able to volunteer for service in one sphere and not in another—this does not necessarily imply that they will be accepted. The Services must reserve the right to reject the application of any man whose services are for any reason no longer required or whom they cannot employ. The point was brought out in my right hon. Friend's speech, and it is well to remember it, that those who may be asked to come out under Class B and directed to their jobs need not do so if they do not wish to be transferred. They will all come out voluntarily, or they can stay in and wait for their release under Class A with its full benefits.
Various hon. Members, in addition to my right hon. Friend, have urged upon us the fact that releases under Class B must be kept to the absolute minimum. We are determined to do that. Also that there must be no jobbery about it. I would ask hon. Members in every quarter of the House to assist us by not applying political pressure to get priority for individual cases. I know that hon. Members will have considerable difficulty in this matter with regard to their constituents, but it is up to all of us to see that the people to whom this scheme applies, the active serving soldiers, sailors and airmen, get proper treatment and that no trickery or jobbery can come in. In conclusion—
§ Mr. Bellenger
I raised a substantial question about Far Eastern allowances and pay, and the Parliamentary Secretary has not referred to that or any of the questions I put. Has he not been briefed about it? It is a substantial point to thousands of men serving overseas.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
There are very many questions that are substantial points to serving soldiers that are not germane to this Debate. If the hon. Member wishes for a reply, he can always put down a Question.
I would say in conclusion that very much thought and care have been devoted to this plan, and I am sure I am voicing the feelings of everyone when I say that we all wish the plan and those whose futures it so vitally affects the best of luck. The virtues of forebearance, of co-opera- 2077 tion and of comradeship, which have helped to carry us so far in this war, will, in my opinion, be needed in full measure during the difficult resettlement period. Given these virtues, I am confident that this task can be carried through to the satisfaction of our men and women in the Forces, to the great benefit of our country and, indeed, of the whole Commonwealth and Empire.