HC Deb 15 April 1946 vol 421 cc2371-8

3.50 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Corbett (Ludlow)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: '' this House is of opinion that the postwar conditions of service detailed in Command Papers 6715 and 6750 fail to offer sufficient inducement to attract adequate numbers into the Army by voluntary enlistment, and regrets the failure of His Majesty's Government to slate how the strength of the Army is to be made up as between voluntary and compulsory intake, to state the liability of men for service in the reserve and to define the future composition of the Territorial Army within this framework. I hope this Debate will disclose, and enable the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to say, something about the future make-up of our peacetime Army. At present, the fog of war still hangs over the Service. It is my intention this afternoon to discuss the terms of these White Papers and, also, to ask some questions about the future framework of the Army. I am surprised that the Government have failed to tell us anything about the future framework of the Service and the other factors affecting this Motion. The Prime Minister told us something of the difficulties during the Debate on Defence, but I cannot see, despite these difficulties, how the War Office can carry out a satisfactory recruiting campaign unless they know what they are aiming at.

It has been my good fortune to serve with the Regular Army during peace- time, to help in training at one of the first militia camps at the outbreak of war, and, also to serve with the Territorial Army. Therefore, I am fairly conversant with the subject which we are going to discuss this afternoon. However dangerous that little knowledge may be, perhaps I shall be able to make some intelligent suggestions. These White Papers and the little red book which the War Office have produced affect the lives of everybody who may be called upon to serve under the National Service Act, and of all those who have served during the war and who may be considering rejoining the Forces. It is important, therefore, that we should discuss the terms offered in them. There are other factors which may affect voluntary enlistment to the Regular Army, in addition to those of pay and the terms covered by the White Papers. Men will be more inclined to join when they know how much service they will have to do overseas, and I shall have a few words to say about that later on. The future of the Territorial Army and compulsory service also have a great effect on the readiness of men voluntarily to join the ranks of the Regular Army.

The statement made today by the Prime Minister has done very little to clear the air. In fact, it offers similar terms to men who undertake to serve for three or four years to those already offered to people who join for an ordinary engagement, which is stated in the White Paper as being five years. The only feature which I noticed while the announcement was being made was that the War Office or the Government are, in effect, offering a 'bribe of £25 to those who join for the shorter period of service. The fact that men, by signing on for three or four years, can get a bounty of £25 will greatly discourage any recruitment into the Regular Army for a slightly longer term of service. The White Papers are extremely difficult to discuss in a short time. In order to compare the old rates with the new, or the new rates with the rates in civilian industry, one must examine a great many figures, and I do not wish to do that.

I will start by making a few observations about the terms offered to other ranks, those below the officer rank. On pages 6 and 7 we find comparisons between military and civilian rates. At the bottom of the scale, the lowest rate in the Army is reckoned to be 83s., and is compared with the civilian counterpart of 84s. I believe that 84s. is the minimum rate on the railway which is not one of the higher paid trades. The 83s. is reached by taking account of 35s. marriage allowance and also of 20s. in respect of what is called "home saving." One must admit, of course, that a man is saved the responsibility of "home living" if he is provided by the Army with clothing, barracks, food, and so forth. It is important to realise that this comparison is made between the rate of a married man and not that of a bachelor. There is no comparison between a bachelor's rate and that of a man in industry. A young man living at home and working on the railway, shall we say, at 84s. a week, can easily save £2 a week and hand £2 to his mother with which to keep him. There is no equivalent opportunity for the young man joining the Forces. At best, we can say that the new rates offer a fair comparison between the low grade civil employment and the Army pay. They take no account of special considerations affecting the soldier, who must give up his freedom. He cannot work at home, he cannot choose his employment and he may be sent all over the world. I consider that he should be paid in accordance with these demands

My next point is that, on examination, we find that married men are not so well found as they were formerly. Gone are the good children's allowances, and there is no really equivalent increase in the rate of the marriage allowance. The rate for a married man may be satisfactory when he is stationed at home, and when he has the opportunity of living with his family, but I ask the War Office to consider giving a special allowance to men stationed away from their families. I think there is justification for this, if one considers two men who are stationed, say, in Palestine or the Mediterranean and who are drawing, or are entitled to draw, an equal rate of pay. One is married and the other is not. The married man has left his wife and children at home. He has to make a compulsory allotment, what is called a "qualifying allotment." If he is a good chap and if he has children, he will, obviously, make an additional allotment, and the result is that of these two men, the bachelor will draw his full pay and the married man will only draw about half his pay because he will send the rest home, partly by compulsory allotment and partly voluntarily.

I think a case exists for considering making special allowances to men stationed away from their families. If we take instances of the actual rates of pay drawn by married men with children under the new rates—the White Paper rates—and the existing rates, we find that owing to the decrease in children's allowances and the insufficient compensation in the increase of marriage allowance, it is possible for men serving in the ranks to be worse off under the new rates than under the old.

There are also a few good points in the new rates, but I do not wish to waste the time of the House in drawing attention to them. I would, however, like to mention, speaking as a gunner, that I am extremely pleased to see the infantry and all other arms given equal status. The infantry certainly deserves great recognition. No battle could be won and no position consolidated without them. It is also encouraging to see the gradual increase given for length of service, and the service increments. I must, too, congratulate the War Office on introducing stars as co-partners with stripes for incentive. No doubt, the War Office have in mind our close alliance across the Atlantic, but whether they took the idea of stars from Hollywood or from S.H.A.E.F. I do not know. However, I wish to repeat the general criticism that it is not good enough offering to soldiers rates of pay which are comparable with civilian wages when the soldiers must forfeit their liberty and go overseas. They should have something better. A lot of married men will suffer under the rates in the White Paper. They have also to meet taxation on their allowances. If one looks at page 18 of the White Paper, one will observe that other ranks will be worse off by some £280,000 per year. Nobody "made a song and dance" about the existing rates when they were introduced two years ago, and nobody can be expected to praise highly the new rates which offer a reduction in the total amount paid to the Service as compared with the rates now existing.

I now wish to say a few words on the White Paper concerned with officers. It was rumoured when this White Paper took three months longer to appear than that for other ranks, that the Government dared not publish it because the terms offered were so bad. I must say I think the rumour was not ill-founded. Examining the tables of rates offered to other ranks, one finds a general improvement on the prewar terms of something near 70 per cent. The improvement offered to officers is just over 30 per cent. That may be good Socialism, but it is not good sense. There is no doubt that this increase of 30 per cent. is not sufficient to keep pace with the increased cost of living. Moreover, 3o per cent. is a false figure, because 30 per cent takes account of the overall increase in pay paid to officers and does not take account of the increased burden of taxation now that they have to pay taxation on all their allowances. The total increase, therefore, would be more in the nature of 20 per cent., and goes nowhere near compensating for the increase in the cost of living. There have been many letters in "The Times" stating that officers in certain cases will be actually worse off. I saw a letter this morning denying this fact, signed by the Director of Public Relations. He was proud to, have made the discovery that in the case which he was examining the officer in question would be some £ 19s. 6d. better off; that is a very small percentage increase, something like one-half per cent., I think. Here again, the married men suffer most.

I do not wish to labour the question of officers' pay, but there are two or three points I would like to mention. Why can officers draw no marriage allowance until they are 25 years of age? I used to wonder at this when I was younger and wished to get married at the age of 24. We were then given no allowance until the age of 30. The new age, although an improvement, does not go far enough. Other ranks can draw marriage allowance at the age of 21. Why must officers wait until they are 25? Surely an absurd situation might arise. Take the case of a man who goes from the ranks to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst at the age of 21; he might be married. When he gets his first commission at the age of 22 or 23 he might be a proud father. The Government propose to cut him off from any marriage allowance and to send him out into the world to fend for his wife and family on 91s. a week, which is less than a miner's wage. That will be no encouragement to other ranks to try for commissions. There are improvements in the rates of retired pay, but I have had many complaints about the innovation by which officers must forfeit 10 per cent. of their retired pay if they retire voluntarily. There is no reason for the introduction of this provision. A lot of officers who have served for a long time—say 3o years—are entitled to retire. I also ask the Secretary of State for War to fulfil the hopes expressed in the White Paper, that consideration would be given to the retired pay of officers who retired after service in this war but before 19th December, 1945, and I hope he will make some announcement on that matter today. Many officers who have done very good service in this war may have retired shortly after V.E. Day.

The Government have done their best to water the roots of the tree. They have increased the level of the private soldier's pay, and I feel that this has been done partly at the expense of the rarer shoots at the top of the tree which have been withered by the frosty eye of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The ratio of benefit between single and married men has deteriorated as between the old and the new rates, and I repeat my request that the Government will consider making a special allowance to families who are separated, particularly when the soldier is overseas and the family is at home.

On the subject of foreign service, which will affect recruiting, the period promised in the White Paper is approximately three years. It is stated that it is hoped in future that three, or three and a half years will be the period which men will have to serve overseas. Examination in the White Paper on Defence of our commitments shows that all those commitments referred to, eight in number, consist of overseas service. The War Office have designated as home service, service in Germany. Wives are not allowed in Germany. It is not a happy country, and it is no good asking people to enlist in the Army on the promise of a proportion of home service, if a proportion of that service is spent looking after the half starved, disgruntled multitudes in the Ruhr. There is very little need for soldiers at home unless it be to assist at Smithfield Market, or occasionally at the docks.

I now come to the second part of my Amendment, which is really the most important. We must be told something of the future make-up of the Army. Every young man in this country, at school or reaching maturity, wants to know the answers to these questions: Will he be called up? When? At what age? What opportunities will be given for him to continue his apprenticeship or his studies at school or the university when he reaches his age group? How long will he have to serve? Those are some of the questions. There is another group of men, namely, those at present deferred who wish to know their future. Many are deferred in special cases, and many in certain industries; for instance, the great group in agriculture. They want to know if they are being deferred for ever, or for how long. It is time the Government gave some indication of the prospects for these people. We are told that the strength of the Army next January will be 650,000. In the Defence Debate on 4th March the Prime Minister said: It is impossible to look further ahead than the end of one year." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1946; Vol. 420 C. 44.] I would say this. It is quite impossible to recruit and to fill a regular Army unless we do look ahead, unless we know the size of that Army and have a target figure and determine to fulfil it. We have been told there is a target figure for the short service, which has been announced today. I hope we shall be told today what is the target figure for the Regular Army. On that figure depends the future of compulsory service, and also of the Territorial Army. I would say to the Government that no figure need be final, or should be irrevocable. Changing circumstances will alter our total requirements. Suppose in 1947 we want 600,000. Surely the Government can say—

4.13 p.m.


Message to attend the Lords Commissioners.

The House went; and having returned

Mr. SPEAKER reported the Royal Assent to:

  1. 1. Patents and Designs Act, 1946.
  2. 2. United Nations Act, 1946.
  3. 2378
  4. 3. Police Act, 1946.
  5. 4. Inverness Water Order Confirmation Act, 1946.
  6. 5. Metropolitan Water Board Act, 1946.
  7. 6. London Necropolis Act, 1946.

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