§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas (Hereford)
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Address, at the end, to add:But humbly regret the absence from the Gracious Speech of any indication that the proposed acceleration of release from Your Majesty's Armed Forces is based upon a comprehensive plan which takes account not merely of current commitments but also of the long-term requirements of Imperial security.I would remind the House of that passage in the Gracious Speech which deals with the acceleration of Service release of the Armed Forces and with defence policy. It tells us that the Governmentwill accelerate … release … to the maximum extent consistent with the adequate fulfilment of the tasks falling to the Forces.What the Gracious Speech omits is to give any indication whatever that the allotted tasks take into sufficient consideration either our immediate commitments or the long-term requirements of Imperial security. Hence our Amendment. We cannot help being uneasy in our minds in this matter, which affects not only the defence of these islands but the whole Empire, and indeed our obligations to the United Nations. We are especially uneasy in the light of the Prime Minister's speech on Tuesday last. In that speech we heard for the first time that during the Recess, new plans had been made which almost double the speeding up of demobilisation announced in the Debate on 6th August. In the Debate in August, the Prime Minister in explaining the more rapid run-down of the Forces, gave us to understand that he had personally satisfied himself that it was not possible to release men at any higher rate than that which had been chosen. He described the rate of turnover as colossal, and added:It is very difficult, without creating chaos, to accelerate this run-down more than within a limited amount at one time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 6th August, 1947: Vol. 441, c. 1510.]That was on 6th August. Apparently, it has now been decided, only two months later, to accept that creation of chaos. It is these sudden reversals of decision which so completely destroy the confidence of the country in the Government, and which lower our prestige in the eyes 608 of the world. We shall not easily forget the Debate on the National Service Bill when, after it had been explained at some length that no shorter period than 18 months conscription could possibly meet our defence requirements and commitments, we were told 48 hours later, that on second thoughts a year would be sufficient.
I should like to make it clear that, in moving our Amendment tonight, we are not necessarily quarrelling about the final figure to which the Armed Forces are to be reduced, but we do criticise these apparent changes of policy and the absence of planning, with all the difficulties that these are bound to entail for the three Services. Is it to be wondered if we ask ourselves who it is who decides these great questions of policy? Is it the Cabinet, or do they receive their instructions, often apparently at the last moment, from elsewhere?
I shall confine my remarks to questions of naval policy, since there are other hon. and gallant Members who are more competent to speak on the Army and the R.A.F. than I am myself. Besides, the reduction in the effective strength of the Home Fleet has thrown into sharp relief the contribution which the Navy is being called upon to make as a result of these new and arbitrary decisions. We are constantly asked from the other side of the House who it is who is threatening us with war. But I should like to remind hon. Members of the responsibilities and duties of the Navy in peace. We are, as has so often been said, a maritime people dependent for our very existence upon our seaborne trade. This means that it is necessary to maintain at sea and in full commission sufficient naval forces to ensure the freedom of unmolested passage of the ships of all nations. There has not always been that freedom. It is not so long ago that merchantmen carried their own armament for fear of pirates. Let us not forget that it was because the Royal Navy was everywhere that piracy became unprofitable.
But above all it has been our naval strength in the past which has so often called a halt to those who would disturb the peace of the world. When, in recent years, that strength has been defied, it has, as the Minister of Defence said so often, been the Royal Navy which has kept open the life-lines of communication to ourselves and to our Allies, while 609 denying them to our enemies. It has been the Navy's privilege and duty to maintain those life-lines whenever they have been threatened, and it has been to her lasting glory that she has always kept her fleets and squadrons in a constant state of preparedness for that purpose. This, as the Minister of Defence knows so well, has meant unceasing vigilance and at the same time, the continuous practice of the art of seamanship and of naval warfare. This practice cannot be carried out when lying on a mud-bank or when tied up to a jetty. Certain right hon. Gentlemen opposite have not always forgotten—I must be fair to them—these great naval tasks or the success with which they have been achieved. I am thinking particularly of the words of the Foreign Secretary on 7th November, 1945, when he said:What astounds me about the history of the British Navy is how cheaply we have policed the world for 300 years.After referring to:… discussions in this House on Budgets and Estimates …He added:Looking back over it, you did take some frightful risks at times."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 7th November, 1945; Vol. 415, c. 1340.]What does the Foreign Secretary now say about the dislocation caused by the present sudden cuts? What did the Minister of Defence himself say when he was First Lord of the Admiralty presenting the Naval Estimates of last year? He said:So long as we live by seaborne supplies neglect of naval defence would be a policy of abandonment and despair."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1946; Vol. 420, c 552.]So, as I hope I have shown tonight, we have had in the last 18 months these three admirable sentiments from the Prime Minister, from the Foreign Secretary and from the Minister of Defence. But we have had them all separately. What makes them, or who makes them, abandon these sentiments in the Cabinet room? It becomes completely inexplicable that the carefully considered demobilisation plan for the Navy should have been torn up and substituted by a wholesale slashing such as that which has sent the Home Fleet flagship and her consorts to their home ports and to immobility, or worse.
When the Prime Minister announced last August the original speeding up of demobilisation, he proposed the reduction of the total number in the Forces by the 610 end of next March from 1,087,000 to 1,007,000. The next day the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave the actual figures for each of the three Services and we saw that the planned reduction of the Navy down to 182,000 had been accelerated down to 178,000. This meant that out of a total extra run-down of 80,000, the Navy's share was only 4,000. The Prime Minister told us of his difficulties in arriving at these figures which I have quoted, so it was reasonable for us on this side of the House to assume that in apportioning the run-down between the Services and in sparing the Navy, the special problems involved had been given due consideration. But not at all. Instead of having been given a steady reduction, which allowed for the replacement of released men by Regulars, this sudden slash occurs.
For the Navy, as the Minister of Defence knows well, demobilisation is the most difficult task of all. It needs very careful and very long-sighted preparations. Training and re-training in barracks and establishments have to be intensified, which causes the employment ashore of more Regulars. Men serving on stations overseas have to be brought home and relieved by men on Regular engagements or fully-trained National Service men with a sufficient time still to serve. The large complements of the naval air stations have to be maintained in order that a comparatively small number of aircrews can have the necessary flying practice and can carry out their tactical exercises. The rapid development of naval aviation from the few squadrons and carriers of the prewar days up to the vast air armada which made so distinguished a contribution to victory, has in itself created great problems of demobilisation.
If the war taught us anything new in naval strategy, it surely taught us this: that it is just as important to have command of the air over our sea routes as it is to have command on and under the surface. Therefore, the basic organisation of the air formations must be kept efficient, and this means the maintenance of large establishments in the air stations ashore. Since this organisation will be the core from which a large war potential will grow, the officers and men comprising it must of necessity be mainly Regulars. No doubt, the Naval Staff had all 611 these problems in mind when they advised against the greater acceleration of the run-down. It was, no doubt, these considerations which prompted the Prime Minister, in August, to talk of the chaos which would result from the release of any more men during this financial year.
What, then, is the cause of these carefully laid plans being thrown overboard? What is the measure of the chaos which has been wrought? We are now suddenly told that a further 70,000 men are to be released, in addition to the 80,000 already planned, and that, of this 70,000, the Navy is to lose 31,000. So we have the October decision for the Navy of 31,000 out of 70,000, compared with the August decision of 4,000 out of 80,000. Whatever we may think about these figures, this sudden change by the Cabinet is no plan. It seems to me to be madness in its lack of foresight.
We have been told that certain ships amounting to three-quarters of the numerical strength of the Home Fleet, are to be temporarily immobilised. But this is not the whole story, either in terms of ships to be laid up or in the effect upon the efficiency of those ships which remain in commission, both in home waters and abroad. What has happened, I would ask the Minister of Defence, to the Portsmouth flotilla? How many ships have been or are about to be laid up or immobilised? It is in these ships, as the House knows, that the training of officers and ratings at the gunnery, torpedo, signal and navigation schools is completed, and without the sea experience under these expert instructors, the high skill required cannot be achieved. What is the position, I also ask, with regard to the training flotillas of submarines based on Gosport and Portland? Are they to be maintained in sufficient strength to provide all the necessary training?
We would not be so critical of the Government in this matter if we could be satisfied that this very rapid demobilisation had been carefully planned, but it is perfectly clear that the Admiralty have been presented with an order and are having to carry it out regardless of the consequences. It takes many months after re-commissioning to gain a reasonable standard of efficiency—many months of patient practice before the men are familiar with all the drills and procedures 612 peculiar to the particular class of ship they have commissioned, and this sudden decision must mean a far more rapid turnover in ships' companies than can possibly be borne while maintaining efficiency. No doubt, this is partly why the ships of the Home Fleet are going to their home ports. In ships on foreign stations this inefficiency has to be borne in silence. What a monstrous situation to inflict on this great Service.
Reference has frequently been made to a speech by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in October, 1945, when he suggested a figure of 150,000 for the maximum naval strength. He was relating his figure to the size of the Navy in 1939–a Navy almost entirely manned by Regulars. What has happened since my right hon. Friend made that speech? Instead of the conscript strength containing a large proportion of fully trained and experienced men, the conscripted men are today serving for so short a time that they hardly become seamen at all. There is a vast difference between the number of ships we can man with 150,000 fully trained men and what is possible when nearly half our strength is composed of men on so short a term of service that they are barely ready for active service afloat before their term has expired.
It is obvious that what we have to do is to build up our regular strength and reduce the number of conscripted men serving as quickly as possible. We know that very large numbers of men have to be kept in the shore establishments for training, but is this figure kept at a minimum? That question I should like to ask the Minister of Defence to answer tonight, for hon. Members on this side of the House feel far from satisfied that even with the strength of the Navy cut to its present figure, and with all the jobs that are done ashore, there is not still a great deal of misemployment; misemployment of large numbers of men who might be afloat, and so enable the Service to fulfil its traditional role. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if manpower is the only reason for immobilising the Home Fleet, or is it because of unwillingness to pay for the fuel they would burn; or is it due purely to the shortage of trained men? If fuel oil is not a restricting factor, could not more ships be kept at sea with a reduced manning of some 613 of the armament, radar and fire control systems?
I now come to a subject about which Questions have been asked in the House during the last week—the way in which the news of these ill-considered and arbitrary decisions about the Home Fleet came to the public. Under banner headlines, on Saturday night, 18th October, the "Portsmouth Evening News" broke the news that the Home Fleet was to be reduced to a seagoing strength of one cruiser and four destroyers, and the story was repeated in no fewer than three bulletins by the B.B.C. that night. The Sunday papers were full of it, but no official statement was made. On the Monday, there was still silence. The Government did not seem to realise how aghast the public were. On the Monday morning, I happened to be travelling third-class from the West Country to London, and there were soldiers in the carriage. The opening comment of these men was, "What are they doing messing about with our Navy?" Out of respect for the feelings of hon. Members of this House, I have substituted the verb "messing" for the one actually used.
The Minister of Defence, whose job it is to co-ordinate the spirit of the three Services, must be relieved to hear that the Army—perhaps it is because of its new Secretary of State—takes naval affairs so very much to heart. Even on the Tuesday, not only did the Prime Minister display complete ignorance of the details of these cuts, but he denied that the figures quoted by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition were accurate. Two days later, the Minister of Defence admitted, on being questioned, that the effective strength of the Fleet would be reduced to the numbers quoted by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), and which had been given through the Press and over the wireless to the world.
How was it that no official announcement was made as soon as the full effects of these new decisions to accelerate the demobilisation had been appreciated? If the news had not come out in this way, when did the Government propose to tell the country? Certainly, not on the first day of this new Session of Parliament, or the Prime Minister would have known 614 something about it. Surely, it was not hoped that grave news of such devastating effect to the fighting efficiency of this Service could be kept in the dark indefinitely. However, the sorry decision has been taken, and the world knows about it. But what we want to know is whether we have yet been told the whole story.
I think it may be for the convenience of the House, and perhaps of the Minister of Defence, if I try tonight to summarise the questions which I feel are worrying not only this House, but the country. The Minister of Defence said on Thursday that, with one exception, all the ships of the Home Fleet would be kept in commission. What exactly docs that mean in terms of delay before they can return to full operational condition? What, may I ask him, is the present strength of the Mediterranean Fleet and all formations East of Aden? The right hon. Gentleman told the House—and we were glad to hear it—that the Mediterranean Fleet must be kept virtually at full strength. But are reductions being planned for squadrons based on the Pacific and East Indies stations? What naval strength is to be maintained on the America and the West Indies station, and also on the Africa station? If there are to be any reductions on these stations, to what extent will they be due to currency difficulties or to what extent to the problems of manpower?
Can the Minister of Defence assure us that the proposed cuts, which so vitally affect the co-ordination of our naval strength with that of the Dominions, have been discussed and accepted by the Dominion Governments and their chiefs-of-staff? To what extent is it proposed that our weakness in any theatre shall be made good by ships from the Dominion Navies? How much further below the 147,000 men fixed for the end of March is it intended subsequently to go, so far as the Royal Navy is concerned? On 7th August the Chancellor gave a figure of 166,000 for the end of 1948. What is now the revised figure for that date? How many of the 147,000 on 31st March will be Regulars, and, again, what will be the Regular proportion of the naval strength in December, 1948? What is the Government's intention in regard to the ultimate proportion of naval personnel which shall be composed of National Service men? How is voluntary recruitment going? The 615 Army were given their figures since January, 1946, before the House rose, in answer to successive Questions. Can we be told the figures for the Royal Navy? What changes, if any, have been made in our programme—for this is most important—of new construction as detailed in the Estimates last March? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there will be no cut in scientific research? I think that is, perhaps, the most important of all considerations.
I consider this list of questions is very necessary. I realise, too, that it is very formidable, and I feel sure that, while the House will welcome the answers which the Minister of Defence can give us tonight, the need still arises for a White Paper, which was asked for by the Leader of the Opposition, setting out in full the present position of the Royal Navy and the future intentions of the Government with regard to the Navy. We are grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for having called this Amendment to the Address, for I can say quite truthfully that the whole country were not only shocked by last week's decision about the Home Fleet; they were also very angry. The decisions which have been taken and the answers which the Minister of Defence gives us tonight will, I feel, be better understood and better received if we can be assured that when the Navy is finally reduced to its post-war strength, it will be an efficient arm, able to play its full part in the necessary policing of the oceans and in our Imperial defence.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Brigadier Head (Carshalton)
I beg to second the Amendment which has been so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas). He has dealt in some detail with the affairs of the Royal Navy, and I do not propose to follow him in that matter except to say that I, too, share the views of his khaki fellow-travellers.
We are today discussing a difficult and very vital subject. Any hon. Member who has listened to this Debate must have realised the almost desperate urgency for economy within the Armed Forces of men, material and money; but against that urgent need for economy, we have to bear in mind the foreign situation, to which the Prime Minister himself referred as one of growing tension. It seems to me that to 616 balance those two conflicting claims requires qualities of the utmost judgment, foresight and resolution. I think that the placing of this Amendment on the Order Paper does reflect the fact that there are many of us on both sides of this House who are uncertain as to whether or not the right hon. Gentleman who has that responsibility has displayed those qualities. It is easy to find fault with those who have high responsibility; but I think there are many on both sides who have their doubts.
The other reason for this Amendment is to seek information. May I say in passing that we are, on this vital subject of defence, very short of information at the present time. During the war, the withholding of such information was necessary, vital, and understood; but today it seems to me that so much secrecy is not only unnecessary but may be very harmful, because the small pieces of information that have been available to us have, I think, throughout the country dismayed those who take an interest in such matters; and they may also have dismayed those overseas who wish us well. Therefore, I beg the right hon. Gentleman to consider answering some of the questions which we put to him tonight very much more frankly than he has answered our questions in the past.
A further reason, I think, for this Amendment, is because we have been somewhat disturbed in the past by the right hon. Gentleman's actions and rulings with regard to the future of the Armed Forces. We have wondered whether they were dictated entirely with the aim of providing well-balanced, closely-knit Forces, or whether they were dictated to a large extent by political expediency. The right hon. Gentleman may say that this Amendment goes a very long way from the few words in the Gracious Speech which are concerned with the rate of demobilisation. I would say in explanation that we are in much the same position as an archaeologist who, finding just one bone of some much larger structure, attempts by his knowledge of the past and of the subject to reconstruct it. In reconstructing what we can of the future shape of the Armed Forces from the fragment in the King's Speech, we are worried lest its structure should be somewhat misshapen, and though not prehistoric, somewhat out of date.
617 I have three questions for the right hon. Gentleman in the brief time available. My first is this. Has the Ministry of Defence justified its existence by working out a long-term plan for the shape and form of our Forces in 1950, when demobilisation will have finished and the National Service call-up will have started? Is there a definite plan, and has it been closely knit between the three Services? Is it up to date? Is the shape of those Services as they will be fashioned capable of rapid expansion? Is it capable of playing its part in a modern war? Is that pattern dictated by the rate of demobilisation and by the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman has fixed the period of call-up and the allocation of the National Service men? Surely, it is the first priority that that end should be considered first, and that our Forces should be capable of rapid expansion and fighting in this modern world? If, on the other hand, there is no plan, then I think there is a case for the gravest fears and doubts throughout the House. I beseech the right hon. Gentleman to put our fears in that respect at rest, because there are many of us here tonight who feel that that target has not been settled, and that all we are, planning at the moment is a somewhat mutilated and truncated version of the kind of Forces with which we ended the war. I hope he will be able to prove me wrong in that respect.
My second question concerns the shape of the Forces which we shall have in 1949 and 1950. In passing, I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that many hon. Members on both sides of the House are not at all happy about the somewhat rapid alteration in the period of National Service which was made by himself. That has a very serious repercussion on the future shape of our Armed Forces, and I would remind him that the explanation which he gave immediately after that alteration satisfied very few hon. Members in this House. I think the general impression he gave was that he was indulging in a somewhat ignominious political Caporetto. That may or may not be so, but we have had no further information since the Recess. The only knowledge we have is that the right hon. Gentleman is still with us. That in itself, perhaps, is a subject for congratulation, inasmuch as his achievement is, so far as I know, unique in the military world. He has achieved the 618 unique distinction after taking part in a somewhat ignominious retreat, of contriving, nevertheless, to remain at his post. While congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on his ubiquity, I should like to ask whether the implications of this step are, on more mature reflection, favourable or unfavourable.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I make a somewhat brief and rapid summary of the situation as I see it, within the three Services. It seems that the Royal Navy, who are great realists, have summed up their position and come to the conclusion that a National Service man with only one year's service will serve only to clog up their training machinery, and they have therefore taken the bit between their teeth and decided, by voluntary recruitment, to achieve a situation whereby they can dispense with the National Service man altogether. I may be right or wrong, but if they achieve it, so much the better, perhaps, for the Royal Navy.
I feel that the Royal Air Force are in somewhat the same position. Their recruiting figures, though not quite so favourable as those of the Royal Navy, are good. Although they may not dispense altogether with National Service men, it looks to me as though by 1949 or 1950 they might find themselves in a position to have less than their quota. I come lastly to the Army. I remind the House that at the present time the Regular Army has within it about 120,000 men. The target for 1949–50 is 220,000 Regular soldiers; that is to say, through voluntary recruitment the Army has got roughly to double itself. The voluntary recruiting figures for the Regular Army at the moment are most disturbing, and anybody examining those figures can come to only one conclusion, which is that the Regular Army is most unlikely to achieve its target of recruitment up to a strength of 220,000.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, who is obviously aware of this fact; what steps he has thought out to deal with it. Is he going to adopt a policy of drift, or what does he intend to do? It seems to me that he has three alternatives. Either he can leave the Army under strength, which, as it was announced that the minimum strength was the one on which he had fixed, seems unwise; or he can increase the period of service of the National Service man, 619 which would be breaking a pledge; or he can, by taking perhaps some of the unwanted men from the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, increase the number of National Service men of one year's duration who are sent to the Army. Of those three courses, I think the most likely is the latter.
Let me now issue one word of caution on behalf of the Army. Suppose that is done, and suppose the Regular Army is well below strength; we will then have a state of affairs of very considerable dilution within the Army. At the present time, with the coming responsibility of the Army to train the National Service men, that would surely be an unfortunate state of affairs. There will be units and formations overseas under strength, diluted and probably lacking that state of efficiency and discipline which the Army would wish. That will not only be bad from the point of view of British prestige abroad, but, even more serious, it is the last thing we shall want from the point of view of the National Service men, who will be young men spending the last part of their service with units overseas away from home. Secondly, how can we have units and formations which can train by themselves and become efficient units fitted for rapid call-up in an emergency? Lastly, will not the cadres which have to train the National Service men, who incidentally will comprise the majority of the youth of England, be so diluted that they will not be able to afford the type of training the Regular Army would like to provide? If these men's time is wasted, instead of their training being a tonic in preparing them for their future lives, it will be a dangerous introduction to whatever careers they may afterwards enter.
I ask these questions because I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give some indication that he has not only considered them, but is well primed with possible remedies. It seems to me that much can still be done in regard to recruiting for the Regular Army. The new Secretary of State for War is here, and I can assure him that if we feel that he will do his best on behalf of the Army, he will have support from hon. Members on this side of the House who have its interests at heart.
My third point concerns something I have already mentioned, and that is the 620 drastic need for economy throughout our Armed Forces today. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what he has done since he has been in office to ensure that there is the maximum possible use, liaison and co-ordination between our own Forces and those of the Empire. When one considers the magnificent response there has been from the Empire in our economic difficulties, that modern war demands bases spread throughout the world, the need for dispersal due to modern scientific inventions and the immense war effort contributed so willingly by the Empire, it seems that something could be done more closely to co-ordinate and share out the responsibility of defence between the hard-pressed Mother country and the Empire We have heard nothing from the right hon. Gentleman in this respect. Either it means that he is loath to tell us—and I cannot believe that such information will do anything but good—or that nothing has been done about it. If the latter is true, I say that in this respect the years he has been in office have been completely wasted.
I have dealt with my three questions and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will perhaps be grateful to us for having tabled this Amendment, inasmuch as it gives him an opportunity not only to answer these questions, but to dispose of the feeling, which I think is widespread throughout the House, that he is not planning any long-term policy; that the course he has been steering has not been dictated by an endeavour to build up a well-balanced and closely-knit force, but by a wish so to reduce our Forces as to silence on the one hand the irresponsible yappings of the hon. Member for East Coventry (Mr. Crossman) and, on the other, to avoid touching off the volcanic rumblings of the Foreign Secretary. Let him dispose of these feelings once and for all, and if so, I believe he will in some measure gain our support. If it is shown by his answers that our suspicions in this respect are justified, then I say, for the sake of our Armed Forces and for the good and safety of the Empire as a whole, let him make way for someone more worthy of his high office.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, King's Norton)
The hon. and gallant Member 621 for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) has made many observations with which I am in agreement, but when he referred to the volcanic rumblings of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, I would point out to him that I greatly prefer those rumblings to the gutless rumblings of Lord Halifax before 1939. The hon. and gallant Gentleman also referred to the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger). I am sure we all appreciate the contribution which my right hon. Friend has made towards the improvement of our Armed Forces, and the dignified manner in which he has resumed his position as a Private Member.
The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) dealt with the question of the announcement which was made about our Navy. I would suggest that more serious—far more serious—than that announcement was the effect which the announcement about our soldiers had in Moscow and Warsaw, where the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) and his friends were, in Bulgaria, Sofia, and Eastern Europe generally. I have had many people visit me today and they have assured me that the manner in which that announcement was made was calculated to have the worst possible effect. I have no desire to make an attack on the Minister of Defence on this, but I am unable to understand why the proper facts were not put out next day by his Press relations officers. I think the question of Press relations in the Ministry of Defence and elsewhere requires careful revision.
There is here tonight the new Minister for War, to whom we all wish luck. In addition to being Secretary of State for War he is also Chairman of the Labour Party, and he ought to be careful to realise that when he makes remarks which go overseas they go overseas as coming from the Minister for War as well as from the Chairman of the Labour Party. The right hon. Gentleman said something the other day about desiring the Government to go further Left. If he is a member of the Government he ought to be pleased with the way in which it is going, or get out of it. The effect of his remarks was interpreted in a way in which I am sure he did not mean them to be interpreted—that he desired the Government to go further in the direction of the hon. Member for Gateshead. There is nothing more 622 serious than that any Minister in charge of the War Department or any Ministry should suggest that he has any sympathy with the Communists and the crypto-Communist gang. There is nothing more important today than that Britain should be strong and well armed.
This Debate is of great importance. The Prime Minister pointed out that foreign policy and defence policy are as pects of the same policy. What is the men ace which our foreign policy must be designed to meet? It is the advance of the police State across Europe, that sickening technique of secret police, the torture chamber, and the gallows on Which that great hero, not only of Bulgaria, but of the whole world, Nikolai Petkov, recently died for freedom, and from which we must all pray that M. Mikolajczyk has now escaped. These Cominform or Comintern murderers have attempted to proclaim to the world that our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary are traitors to Britain. The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), who will no doubt be speaking later, and who is a personal friend of Mr. Stalin—[Interruption.] I think that it would be better if the hon. Member allowed me to finish my short speech. If these men have so reviled the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary because they have failed to pursue the servile tactics of the hon. Members for Gateshead and Hornchurch—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
I would remind the hon. Member that there is an Amendment under discussion. His remarks are wide of the Amendment.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I take it that it is agreed that defence policy and foreign policy are aspects of the same policy, and I am seeking to make the point shortly that, at this time, it is vital that we should be strong and well-armed. To reply to abuse by telling the truth is of little avail. These grim men of the Politic Bureau understand one thing only, and that is strength. Let us then be strong and of good courage. Let us gather round us the freedom-loving nations, steadfast in purpose to save the world from heartless barbarities, whether perpetrated under the name of Fascism, Nazism or Communism, for they are all members of the same totalitarian family. Over and over again throughout history have the 623 peaceful Powers invited aggression because they were weak. What would have been the situation in 1935 if we had been strong, resolute and determined to preserve the rule of law? It is, therefore, with much reluctance that I have to submit that the correct policy for this country is to go in the closest possible co-operation with the United States, and with other freedom-loving Powers, in order to see that this deadly advance of totalitarianism is held before it is too late. Let not the death of Petkov fail to have its lesson brought home to all of us in this country. Let his last agony at least teach us the lesson which the agonies of tens of thousands of Germans failed to do in the years before 1939. I believe that Russia does not desire war. I believe that the Soviet Union desires the fruits of war without war itself. That is a most dangerous policy which may well lead to war which they do not themselves desire. If we are strong enough in our defence policy I believe that we may be able to save them from war. I ask for one assurance only from the Minister of Defence. He gave it on the occasion of the last Debate on this subject, but I ask it from him again tonight—that there will be no weakening of our defence which will in any way interfere with the foreign policy of our Foreign Secretary.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Mr. George Ward (Worcester)
In any Debate on the subject of Defence one is, of course, conscious that the amount of information which the Minister can give to the House is necessarily limited by the considerations of security: secondly, one is conscious, I think, that, after all, it is the duty of the Chiefs of Staff, all extremely experienced and able men, to study these questions from day to day and advise the Minister on what they consider to be the best defensive policy. In spite of that we on this side of the House are by no means confident, first of all, that the Minister does not sometimes seek a refuge behind the convenient plea of security; and, secondly, that the advice of the Chiefs of Staff is not sometimes brushed aside and that the Chiefs of Staff are treated with the same disdain as they are certainly treated by some sections of the Left Wing Press, who consider them as a collection of old staff "brass hats" 624 whose main consideration is to get what they can for themselves regardless of the needs of industry. If we on this side of the House have such anxieties and such apprehensions His Majesty's Government have only themselves to blame, for their record in either direction has not been one exactly to inspire confidence in their ability and foresight, nor has it been one in which decisions have always been taken without political or party pressure.
It is because of these anxieties that we have tabled this Amendment, and it is because of them that I should like to ask the Minister for one or two assurances as regards the Royal Air Force. The first assurance I should like to ask him to give is that, at all costs, we shall maintain an adequate striking force capable of going into action at reasonably short notice. People are still far too much inclined to think of air defence as a battle between British fighters and enemy bombers somewhere between London and the South Coast. That form of our defence is, of course, quite dead and buried, because the interception of projectiles and guided missiles travelling at tremendous speed is clearly quite out of the question. Therefore, our only profitable means of air defence today is by offensive methods. First of all, we have to try to locate the bases from which these missiles are launched and smash them up with a mighty force of long-range bombers. In other words, air defence today is facing the same problem as a company of the army which is being shelled by heavy artillery. Their only form of defence is to destroy the gun itself, because they cannot intercept the shell.
The adequate defence of these islands today must be to maintain an adequate striking force. I understand that even today Bomber Command would find it extremely difficult to put into the air more than a few squadrons if called upon to do so, and any further cuts may well reduce them to practical impotence. I understand that their main difficulty is not so much the overall shortage of manpower as a serious shortage in certain trades. I believe electrical technicians are particularly scarce, and it is not enough to have the pilots, the crews and the fitters if our aircraft remain grounded through lack of electricians. So the second assurance I would ask the Minister to give us is that if any cuts are 625 to be applied to the Air Force due consideration will be given to preserving a proper balance between the various trades.
May I turn for a moment to the subject of training? I believe that our ability rapidly to extend the Royal Air Force in an emergency and to go into action with the least possible delay depends primarily upon good training. Without it, the whole of the organisation of the Service would become a farce, and very much of the money and the manpower would be wasted. These Services cannot train themselves. Training requires experienced teachers, who are able to impart their knowledge to others. If we have a decline in the number of experienced people in Training Command, the quality of the training will deteriorate very rapidly indeed. I would, therefore, ask the Minister for an assurance that at all costs the high standard of R.A.F. training will not be allowed to deteriorate.
A very valuable contribution to the training of pilots and ground staff can and should be made by the Auxiliary Air Force. This is the ideal solution, because while keeping people trained it does not take them away from industry, since they do the training in their spare time. I understand that the pilots' training in the newly revived auxiliary squadrons has been greatly handicapped by shortage of ground staff. I understand the difficulty, because immediately after war people are trying to re-establish themselves in civilian life. Recruiting will, for that reason, be much more difficult than it was before the war. It is, nevertheless, important that we should use the Auxiliary Air Force as much as possible in this ideal solution. I would be grateful if the Minister could give us some idea how recruiting for the Auxiliary Force is proceeding and what steps he has taken to stimulate it.
I would make one suggestion. This is a long-term policy and not a short-term policy. I suggest that the Minister would help himself greatly to stimulate recruiting for the auxiliary squadrons by stimulating recruiting for the A.T.C. If we get boys into the A.T.C. and get them airminded, when they reach the right age they will swell the ranks of the auxiliary squadrons. If we started now trying to help the A.T.C. as much as possible that would pay very good dividends in a few years. 626 In my part of the country recruiting for the A.T.C. is made unnecessarily difficult by the shortage of huts for accommodation and by the inability to offer boys the attraction of air experience. The only way to get a boy interested is to offer him gliding or passenger experience. The facilities for this sort of thing do not exist in my part of the country. I implore the Minister to look into the whole question. I think he will find that he can give quite a bit of help.
Finally, I would say one word about staffs. I ask the Minister for one more assurance which is that, in considering the cuts, he will carefully and thoroughly re-examine the staffs of the Air Ministry and of various other Departments. If the axe is to fall, let it fall first on the people who push out the paper, a lot of which is quite unnecessary. I do not want in any way to cast aspersions on staff officers. I was one myself for a time and I know their difficulties and the work they do. Like everything else, it is largely a matter of training, and one well-trained staff officer can do two or three times the work of an untrained officer and everybody benefits because there is not a mass of conflicting and woolly letters to be dealt with by the understaffed units.
In peace time, particularly when the needs of industry are so great, we do not expect a large Air Force. But we do expect a well balanced and highly trained Air Force. We expect a strong nucleus which can be rapidly expanded in time of emergency and which can go into action with the very minimum of delay. Moreover, we expect an Air Force which fits into a clear far-sighted plan of defence as a whole, a plan in which the rôle of each of the three defence Forces is clearly defined and in which the size and strength of each of the defence Forces is in the correct proportion to the others. We expect an Air Force which fits into an Empire, with free interchange of ideas and method of training, and—this is most important—particularly with the responsibility for Empire defence correctly shared. For example, the manning and keeping open of our vitally important reinforcement routes to the near East, Singapore and Australia should not fall entirely on our shoulders. Finally, we want an Air Force which will help to uphold our prestige and influence and which will be worthy of its traditions and its high reputation throughout the world.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) is not here, but those hon. Members who are familiar with Bacon's essay on truth will remember that there was an equally distinguished politician who, in his day, did not stay for an answer—Pontius Pilate. I do not know if I am one of those "irresponsible yappers" to whom the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) referred, but if I am, I would like to say of his speech that I am always very pleased indeed to follow in a Debate in which he has taken part. There is always a great deal of very good sense in what he says. Therefore, if I do not deal with any of his arguments I hope he will not think I do not endorse a good many of them.
I would like to turn for a moment to the arguments with which the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) opened this Debate. They seemed to me to savour of the great strategical controversy which convulsed the party opposite on the eve of the war, whether or not the Scots Greys should have their horses. The problem with which we are faced at the moment is: what forces can we afford to have economically?—and having reached that decision: how can we reach that number in the shortest possible space of time? To do that involves considerable disorganisation, but the United States faced exactly that disorganisation in their forces, and it is far better to have that disorganisation than to have the continued and hidden disorganisation of a large force for which we have not the ships to take it overseas, the petrol for its vehicles or aircraft, or the transport facilities with which to mobilise it properly.
I think we ought to look at and try to fit this question of the Forces into the framework of the picture painted for us by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Economic Affairs. For that reason, I think one should start by looking for a second at that expert analysis of the national income in the July bulletin of the Oxford University Institute of Statistics. There the authors point out that although our national output increased by 14 per cent., incentive was lowered because of the falling off in consumption and, worse still, our future was jeopardised because there was a nine per 628 cent. drop in net capital investment. Why was there that? Because there was a 249 per cent. increase in the real cost of defence. That was for last year.
When one looks up last year in the National Income White Paper, one finds that over half our adverse balance of overseas payments was due to military costs. We do not know how much steel is being used in the Forces. This is some more of the information we should have. We do know that of our total petroleum imports of £60 million the three Forces between them have a gross estimate of £32 million for petroleum this year. We do not know how much land these Forces occupy. The White Paper that has been promised us for over a year now has not come out, but we do know, when last we had information in May, that over two million acres are occupied by the War Office alone, the Air Force has 265 airfields, the Navy has another 30, but the Ministry of Supply, not content with the Air Force airfields, has its own airfields and even has its own bombing ranges which it will not share. We do not know how many men are engaged on Forces capital expenditure, but we do know—the White Paper on Defence says so—that almost one-third of the total sum which we hope to save on capital expenditure is being spent by the Forces on works.
We know that transport is our weakest link. We do not know quite the proportion which the Forces use of our transport; all we know is that they are spending this year £73 million on "movements." We can get some idea perhaps of the effect on our communications because there are two figures we know: We know that on telephones alone the three Services are spending, according to my calculations, which I think are correct, £6,250,000, while the total telephone bill of the public is only £22 million. We do not know how many exports are diverted to the use of the Forces because it is difficult to pick them up, but we can pick up one figure. My right hon. and learned Friend said that the exports of aircraft were running at the end of 1946 at the rate of £16 million per year. It is hoped to work that up at the end of 1948 to an annual rate of £30 million a year. Yet in this year the Air Force alone is proposing to spend £42 million on aircraft.
We do not know exactly what proportion of our scientific resources are devoted 629 to the Forces; we do know that if we could raise the thermal efficiency of the use of coal by five per cent. it would be equivalent to a saving of 50 million tons. We cannot do that because of the great capital expenditure involved, but we think we could do it if we had sufficient scientific resources turned on the problem. However, we know that at least two-thirds, and possibly as much as £60 million out of the £67 million spent on scientific research goes directly or indirectly for Service use. Even worse, we do not know yet the true manpower position. I want to suggest—and I hope my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence will answer this point—that his calculation in the Defence White Paper is an under-estimate by over half-a-million of the number of men who are at this very moment directly employed in Defence.
The Minister's miscalculation can be seen quite clearly now by studying the "Digest of Statistics" and comparing the figures in that with the figures given in the Minister's speech in the Defence White Paper Debate. It is quite clear that he supposed—I am compelled to say quite wrongly—that the only people who were working for the Forces were those people engaged in the manufacturing industry and returned by the Ministry of Labour as directly manufacturing for the Forces. Of course, that total is, on the one hand, far too high and, on the other hand, far too low. It is too high because the many people who make clothing and provide food for the Forces would make and provide those things if they were in civil life. It is far too low because the Forces directly employ large numbers of other people whom my right hon. Friend never seems to have taken into account at all.
The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward) referred to the Civil Service. There are 100,000 of them as against 51,000 before the war, and even then the Ministry of Supply was not counted in. If one goes through the Estimates one will find there are no less than half-a-million men, civilians, who are down for employment in the Services. It is very difficult to know what they are all doing. But one can get an example; the Army has a fleet manned by civilian sailors, called the R.A.S.C. fleet of 2,500, and great numbers of civilians are employed by R.E.M.E. and Services of various sorts. It might well be that some are civil servants and some are foreigners 630 and some are perhaps no longer employed. I have written down the total from half-a-million to 175,000. My right hon. Friend failed to count his own Ministry, because perhaps it is included in the Civil Estimates; nor are the men employed by the Ministry of Labour on call-up and large numbers of different military jobs—paid for by the Foreign Office—on the Control Office. If one takes those into account it comes to about 60,000.
Then there is civil engineering for naval base services, which is about 60,000. Distribution is not counted, but a man only buys from N.A.A.F.I. because he is away from home, and the number employed in N.A.A.F.I. in August was 33,000. With welfare and everything else, I reckon that at 40,000. Those in the Ministry of Supply who work for the Forces but are not engaged in production, amount to 75,000. This gives a total of 520,000 men my right hon. Friend has not taken into account at all. I am going to subtract the total of those manufacturing for industry, 40,000, making clothing, but that still leaves 2,120,000, which makes defence by far our biggest industry. It is over twice the number engaged in agriculture, and nearly three times those employed in mining. It exceeds by more than half-a-million those employed in all our industries working for export. People have talked about inflation, but here is inflation. Not one of these people is producing anything, but they are all coming to draw from the common pool which others produce. The White Paper of the Minister of Labour made an estimate of £100 million as the inflationary gap, but I estimate that wages are paid amounting to £450 million a year for no production.
If the White Paper is deficient in calculation in that respect, I suggest it is equally deficient in its book-keeping. Quite rightly the Minister has deducted all the services which the various Services provide for other Ministries, but he has not thought of adding the things they get free from the Ministries. They get Post Office service, stationery, and all those things free. He has not added anything for the cost of his own Ministry. It may be only half-a-millon, but he has not reckoned the cost of the Secret Service, which is £2,500,000 and the very heavy military costs borne by the Control Commission in Germany. I do not want to go 631 into the figures any further, but I suggest that this makes a gross total of £940 million. That seems to me to justify completely, although perhaps in a rather different way, the call for a reduction. It does show that not only could we reduce our Forces, but that we should continue to press these reductions even further.
The strategical argument is as strong as the military argument, because the Chief of the Imperial General Staff himself has told us that we should not be worried about men being brought back from overseas, as they have not got the shipping to bring them back. We have abroad half the number that we have at home, so that if we cannot bring half the people back, how can we send out twice as many? I hope the Minister of Defence will not allow himself to be in any way distracted by the arguments he has heard from the other side of the House, or rather, that the only argument from that side to which he will pay attention is that of the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton, and that he will give us more facts in a Defence White Paper which, as carefully as the Economic White Paper, sets out what is our true position. It is a very serious time, and we should have fairly and frankly put before this House what is the exact position.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ General Sir George Jeffreys (Peters-field)
I do not propose to traverse any of the ground which has been traversed by my hon. Friends, who dealt so ably with the conditions of the Navy and the Air Force, but I would say that like everybody else in the Army, and people in general, I view with alarm and horror the reduction of the Royal Navy in particular. Before I turn to the Army, I would urge recognition of the fact that the three Sevices are in fact one—three in one—each being complementary to the others and integral necessary parts of our Armed Forces as a whole. I believe that we have learned enough to look at them in that sense; it is the only sense in which anybody in these modern days ought to look at the general question of our Armed Forces. I would further urge that all experience shows that in times of danger improvisation is both useless and ineffective. If we want peace we must be reasonably prepared for war.
632 Lord Salisbury, the Victorian Prime Minister, once said, in discussing the functions of the different parts of the Forces, "The Navy cannot climb mountains." It is a trite saying but it is a fact, and it is sometimes forgotten that we cannot do with the Navy alone. Equally, the Air Force can do many things; it can terrify, destroy and intimidate, but it cannot occupy, administer, and still less pacify, and those functions must be carried out by the Army. The great reductions in the Army, and particularly the reductions in the infantry, are deplorable. Napoleon once said, "The British infantry is the best in the world; luckily there are very few of them." I wonder what he would say now. There are very few now, and there will be very many fewer if the present intentions of the Government, as I understand them, are carried out. Only infantry can keep, hold and defend positions and ground, and there is some ground and there are some obstacles which only infantry can traverse in attack. Infantry are also absolutely essential to the occupation, administration, pacification and policing of enemy territory after a war. One has only to look at the conditions now prevailing in Germany, Austria, Palestine and elsewhere to realise the truth of that.
Yet the Government propose to disband approximately half our infantry battalions and, by wholesale releases, render the remainder ineffective. Not only that, but their proposals will leave us as compared with other great Powers, with absurdly and dangerously small Forces. It must be remembered that we have lost the gallant Indian Army—not only gallant but very efficient—which rendered such magnificent service in this and in previous wars. We cannot count on them in the future. They are a very appreciable loss to our armed strength.
Are there not other ways in which economies can be made Surely, there are. For instance, can we not economise in all the Services in staffs, establishments and property not only at home but also in France, Italy and elsewhere overseas? Is a British commander and his staff really necessary in Paris? Unless he has been withdrawn very recently, there is one there. Are considerable quantities of troops at Calais really necessary? I suggest that instead of disbanding Regular battalions, we should make economies on 633 staffs and establishments, and the Regular battalions doomed for disbandment should be preserved, possibly on reduced establishments but with a high proportion of instructor officers and non-commissioned officers. They should be employed in taking the places of the primary training centres and infantry training centres which, I understand, are to go. Something must take the place of these establishments if they go. There must be primary training and further training. Why should not these Regular battalions be preserved on a reduced establishment to carry out that training? They would be available, on mobilisation, to be swelled to war strength, and they would be efficient instead of being improvised.
Extra pay might, and probably would, have to be given to non-commissioned officer instructors and possibly to all ranks. Certainly, non-commissioned officer instructors are worth a higher proportion than they get now. If we want to get the necessary volunteers, we must prove to the men that it is worth their while financially. Cannot further economies be made in regard to buildings and properties requisitioned and still held by the War Department and, indeed, by the other Service Departments? For instance, in London, quite close to us, the War Office, overflows into Eaton Square, into Hobart House and into various other buildings and houses, though it is two years since the end of the war. The Admiralty still occupies houses and properties on shore remote from the sea, and the Royal Air Force tenaciously sticks to some aerodromes which are now redundant and which should be restored to agricultural purposes. Could not great economies be made in such matters as these rather than in our fighting ships, fighting troops and fighting aircraft?
In 1920, the then Chief of the Imperial General Staff, that very versatile and brilliant man, the late Sir Henry Wilson, said to me that he had been asked by the then Prime Minister to recommend to him the strength and establishment of the postwar Army, and that he had replied that he would do so, but that he would like to know what the Prime Minister wanted the Army for. The Prime Minister had replied, perhaps not unnaturally, that he wanted it for war, and Sir Henry Wilson then said, "Yes, but there are two sorts of war, and it depends what 634 sort of war you want it for. There are two sorts of war, and the first is successful war, and the second unsuccessful war. Successful war is costly in life and treasure, but unsuccessful war is sure and absolute ruin." Sir Henry told me that himself, and I think it was the sort of thing that he would have said. There was a very great deal of truth in it; I think that it would be much better if these facts were faced now and always by those responsible. Do not let us economise at the expense of the Armed Forces; it is really a penny-wise and pound-foolish policy. If men are required for industry and money is needed for social services, let us remember that defeat means that industry will be ruined and the social services will cease to exist.
Lastly, I feel sure that the Foreign Secretary will agree that armed strength is absolutely necessary for the support of national policy, as no one respects weakness—no nation, great or small. It is further necessary to carry out our responsibilities under U.N.O. If we want attention paid to our representations and to our policy, whether by Great Powers such as Russia or by Powers certainly not great, such as Bulgaria, with whom we have had some exchanges of late—it does not make much difference—we shall not get much attention paid to us unless we are strong and unless we are a nation to be reckoned with in other ways besides words. I saw in the paper recently that the hon. Lady the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton-Gould) had said in a speech, I think in Norway or Sweden, that this country was now a second-class Power, and it appears that she said it not altogether with disapproval. I know there are many people in this country who have suggested that we should be safe from aggression if we were a second-class Power, with very little power of any kind. Being a second-class Power did not save Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium or Greece, to mention only a few, and being weak will never save any Power of any kind from aggressive nations.
There is one more thing I want to say. I only trust that we shall not live to see this country once more plunged into war when unprepared. I hope we may not see our little Regular Army offered up as a sacrifice, as it has been twice already since 1914, while the rest of the nation is preparing for war.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
I listened with great attention to the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys). We are talking about being prepared, but there is no regard, apparently, to the economic condition of the country. Hon. Members opposite will not make up their minds where the cuts are to be. They have opposed the cut in petrol, in food and in timber, and now they are saying that there ought to be no reduction as far as the Armed Forces are concerned. Quite frankly, it seems to me that as a nation we are faced today with exactly the same choice as Hitler presented to the German people. We can either have guns or butter, but we cannot have both.—[HON. MEMBERS: "We have neither."]—We are having some of one of those two things, but there will be no butter if we are going to have guns and soldiers, sailors and airmen in the numbers that hon. Members opposite would like.
Let us be perfectly clear about the matter. The obvious thing that anyone would do, who really wanted to protect this country in the future and who thought it was in danger of attack, would be to get the men out of the Forces, and to build up our war potential—to get our coal, textile and food productions up to the maximum amount possible, in order to have a really substantial economy. Wars are not won merely by having a lot of men in uniform; they are won by having plenty of coal and steel, and all the other things that enable the struggle to be carried on with effect. As a nation we cannot afford—irrespective of what hon. Members opposite may think—to patrol the Seven Seas. The time has gone when we could afford to do that.
It should be realised what the 1914 war cost us—although we won it—and that, in the last war, we sold £1,200 million of our foreign investments, lost our export trade and have become indebted to the whole world, and are literally bankrupt. Do hon. Members opposite think the danger of war is imminent, because they talk as if it were? I can only assume, as we shall not go to war against France or Belgium or Germany or Japan, that the danger of war is with Russia. But if there is one thing I would like this Government to do it is to make it perfectly clear that, as far as Russia is concerned, we have no intention 636 of going to war with her, and, furthermore, no intention of letting America use this country as a base for an attack against Russia. I believe that if things like that were said rather than some of the things such as we have heard from the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn), we should probably get a better understanding with Russia.
Even if there was such a danger, the sensible thing to do would be to build up our economy so as to be in a position to wage war. To do that, it would be absolutely essential that many of the men at present "square-bashing" should be brought back to build up agriculture, and the coal and other industries upon which a successful waging of war would depend. What has to be realised is that every man in the Forces at the moment is, as it were, an import without a corresponding export. To the right hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas), who moved the Amendment on behalf of Members opposite, I would say that, whatever his point of view may be about grumbling in railway trains, my post bag, which is no different from any other hon. Member's, is proof that the men in the Services are breaking their hearts wanting to get out, and if hon. Members opposite wish to see those letters they can have them at the close of this Debate.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
It is a truism that if we desire to pursue a strong foreign policy, we must have strong Armed Forces behind the Foreign Secretary. In view of the very unsettled state of the world today, it is equally necessary that we should have strong Armed Forces. Therefore, I am quite sure that the whole country must have been astounded by the statement of the Minister of Defence the other day, when he informed the country that before the cuts bringing our Home Fleet down to that Gilbertian position of one cruiser and four destroyers we only had in the Home Fleet one battleship, five cruisers and 12 destroyers. The Naval Estimates have limited the strength of the Navy on grounds of finance. Now it has been limited on grounds of manpower. Originally, the length of conscription was 18 months, but in 48 hours the Minister of Defence changed his mind and reduced it to one year. The country has no confidence in the Government as regards the Armed Forces.
637 I would like to ask the Minister of Defence how it is possible, with one battleship—the "Duke of York"—five cruisers and 12 destroyers, to have an efficient Home Fleet. For many decades, ever since the late Lord Fisher came home from the Mediterranean in 1902, the main strength of the Navy has been concentrated at home. We now have, as the Minister of Defence has told us, one battleship, five cruisers and 12 destroyers. How is it possible for the officers and men in His Majesty's Navy to be trained in those conditions? What chance has a Commander-in-Chief of carrying out Fleet exercises? What chance is there of enabling commanding officers to have the necessary practice in handling ships when the ships are not commissioned and at sea? It is not sufficient to have 178,000 personnel in the Navy, which is to be reduced in March, 1948, to 147,000. We must have the ships in commission, fully manned, so that the officers and men can carry out Fleet, gunnery and torpedo exercises which are necessary to keep the Navy efficient. It can be kept efficient in no other way.
I would ask the Minister of Defence what gunnery practice is carried out by the "Duke of York"? I am informed that only one turret can be fired in the "Duke of York," and that the remainder are in a state of care and maintenance. To what degree is the "Duke of York" in a position to fight? Will the Minister say whether full crews are provided for all her main armament, and what gunnery and torpedo exercises are carried out by her? We know that no manoeuvres were carried out during the summer. The First Lord referred to the one cruiser and four destroyers as a striking force. What nonsense! What can it strike at? From his experience, he ought to know better than to talk such rubbish. He also referred to battleships, frigates, etc., in the training squadron, as if the British public are to understand that it is part of the Home Fleet. It is nothing of the sort. I understand that the turrets on the two battleships, the "Anson" and the "Howe," are not worked at all. Do they carry out gunnery exercises? I am very concerned in this matter, not only at the cut in the Naval Forces, but because of the impossibility of keeping the officers and men of His Majesty's Navy up to the mark by going to sea.
638 The Minister of Defence has told the House that in a very short time, should an emergency arise, he will be able to man the ships and that he will have in them a striking force. That is absolute nonsense, and he must know it. The men will not have been trained; the officers will not have been trained at sea; the commanders-in-chief will not have had the opportunity, before the state of emergency has arisen, to practise or manoeuvre a fleet; the captains and commanding officers of the ships will not have been to sea, and will not have had exercises in working their ships; the gunnery exercises and the torpedo exercises will not have been carried out. Let the Minister of Defence ask the experts at the Admiralty how long they think it will take, when he commissions the ships which have been laid up, to have them ready as a striking force. I think he will be surprised at the answer he will get. It will not be a short time. It will take months before they can possibly be efficient as a fighting force. I understand that the next war will be a "press button" war—then our Naval Forces must be immediately ready The Minister of Defence will have to press that button for a mighty long time before he gets any answer. It is all very amusing, but it is all very tragic. We have not got the ships; we cannot train the Navy. If we let the training of the officers and men go down it will take a very long time before the efficiency of the Navy can be brought up again.
There is one other point I should like to make. It is this. [Interruption.] The only answer of Members opposite is to laugh. It only shows their extreme ignorance. But I do not want to waste time by making remarks of that sort. It is of immense importance to the prestige of this country that at this time we should not declare to the world, as the Minister of Defence and the Government are declaring to the world, that we are so down and out than we can have only one cruiser and four destroyers as the main means of defence in the Home Fleet. In addition to that we want to know what reductions are being carried out in foreign stations. The fleets there are small enough, in any case. It is of immense importance that we should show the flag in foreign ports. It is of immense importance to our prestige. It is of immense importance to the furtherance of our trade, and of immense importance as an encouragement to our 639 people who are pursuing trade in those foreign ports. How much of that is being done now?
I hope that the Minister of Defence will give us some information about that. The public have been kept in complete ignorance of the state of His Majesty's Navy. With the immense personnel that we have at our disposal it is inconceivable how the Government could possibly have been satisfied prior to these cuts that the Navy and the Home Fleet, which is the principal fleet we have got, should be represented by one battleship, five cruisers and 12 destroyers, now being cut down to one cruiser and four destroyers. It is a Gilbertian situation. It is one of which we should be utterly ashamed. The Government had lost the confidence of the country for other reasons before this occurred, but this is the last straw to break the camel's back and complete the lack of confidence of the country in the present Government.
§ 10.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Shackleton (Preston)
I think the only really effective argument put forward on the subject of the Amendment was put forward by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough). The issue we are discussing tonight is whether the Government are carrying out a regular plan with regard to the Armed Forces, and I do not agree with either the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) or the hon. Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing), who attacked the Government—I will not say from the Right or the Left, because the attack came from the clouds and through the clouds. What we are discussing is simply whether the Government's policy is designed to make this country stronger in the event of war, or whether it will make it weaker. The actual decline in manpower as a result of the recent cuts is a considerable one, but it is not as large as has been suggested by the speeches of hon. Members opposite. The special form put out by the Royal Air Force merely mentioned that there was a loss of a few thousand personnel. Quite frankly, we must accept cuts wherever we can if we are to maintain the strength of this country.
I am sorry to have to say this after the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor), who was so vehement against the 640 Government, but I am delighted to hear that at this moment the Navy is to be very much smaller. Against what possible enemy would the hon. and gallant Member suggest we should use a battleship? Does he suggest we should use it against America? Is he not aware that Russia is not a naval Power?—for obviously Russia was the Power he must have had in mind. Personally, I should like to see further cuts in the Armed Forces, but I would prefer them in the Navy. I should like to see the battleships going out of commission, which I think would be an important and definite step towards strengthening our position in the world, for it would then be made apparent to any potential enemy that we realise that a push-button war is not fought with battleships.
A number of interesting suggestions were put forward and questions asked by hon. Members opposite. It was pointed out that we no longer have the Indian Army. I hope there was no suggestion behind that, that the fact that we no longer have the Indian Army was in any way the fault of His Majesty's Government. It was only the decisive action of the Government which prevented us from being engaged in a war in India. However, I will not detain the House on that, because time is short. Suggestions have been made for greater efficiency, and for strengthening the Armed Forces. I hope the Minister will listen to some of the suggestions, but we must realise that at this moment it is vital to cut where we can. The recent cuts have been long delayed; they have been urged frequently from this side of the House in the past year, and I am only sorry the Government did not agree to them earlier, for they might have saved us some of the worst effects of the crisis. However, there is obviously a limit below which we cannot cut, and I think we are beginning to approach that stage now.
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
I think the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence will have the sympathy of the House when he comes to reply, not only because of the numerous questions that have been put to him, but also because of the attack which was made upon him by the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing). I always have sympathy for one who is not only attacked from the front but is also 641 attacked from the rear. The House should be grateful to the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) because, after all, he did remind us that to be weak is indeed to invite aggression. That is, surely, the lesson of history, and it is surely a lesson which we in this House, after our recent experience, have not forgotten.
I can say quite honestly to the right hon. Gentleman that it was with very great dismay that we on this side of the House—and I am sure the country—learned of the great reductions in the Home Fleet. In fact, what has really happened is that that fleet has ceased to exist, for one cannot possibly consider one cruiser and four destroyers as a fleet; I do not know that it could even be termed a squadron. I think perhaps the words which the right hon. Gentleman used to describe it are the best words of all. He said that it was a striking force. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) has just said, the most striking thing about it is its complete lack of force. The hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Shackleton) and the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) asked who was the enemy that was going to attack us, and whether we were going to fight with the Russians or the United States. The anxiety does not come either from Russia or the United States, or from anyone nearer home. The right hon. Gentleman, in the statement he made last Thursday used the term "if there be any emergency," showing quite clearly that in his own mind an emergency might arise at any time. Looking around the world to-day, who would say that an emergency could not arise at the very shortest possible notice?
The rôle of the Home Fleet, if I understood it aright, used to be that it was a trained reserve, trained to the highest point of efficiency, ready to move to any of our fleets or squadrons in any quarter of the globe, should that be necessary. Should there be any unfortunate incident in the Far East, the Mediterranean Fleet was ready to move at once, and the Home Fleet ready to take its place, and the reserves ready to take the place of the Home Fleet. That is no longer possible. As I see it, the Mediterranean Fleet is confined to the Mediterranean because I doubt whether His Majesty's Government would care to denude that sea at the present moment of the strength that is necessary 642 to preserve the peace. It is very unfortunate, not only from our point of view, but from the point of view of the world, that the position is what it is today, namely, that our Mediterranean Fleet is tied to the Mediterranean, because, after all, when the British Navy has been strong in the past, it has always been for the stability of the world and when it has been weak, it has always led to instability.
The right hon. Gentleman has been asked to answer a great number of questions. Without wishing to be offensive, may I say that I hope he will answer them openly, because whether he meant to or not—and I am sure he did not mean to—the statement he made last Thursday was most misleading? The ships which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned are, I understand, quite incapable of going into action for months. Battleships are training squadrons, and aircraft carriers, at least in some cases, have no aircraft on board, and their hangars are used as classrooms The impression that the right hon. Gentleman left in one's mind was that all these ships were ready immediately to go on active service. If he will refer to his statement, he will see that my words are correct. In making a statement of that kind, I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that he is misleading no one who is going to be our enemy, and that all he is doing is to mislead the people of our own country. The principal question which we should like to have answered tonight by the right hon. Gentleman is this: Is there a plan? If there is a plan, where is it? Let us have it.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
When I saw this Amendment on the Order Paper, I wondered exactly why it had been put down in these terms, because it does not seem to have reference to the case which has been made out. The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas), a very old friend and colleague at the Admiralty, whose work I very much appreciated, mentioned part of the policy of the Government in the matter, but not all of it. I will give it to the House:My Ministers will accelerate the release of men and women from the Armed Forces to the maximum extent consistent with the adequate fulfilment of the tasks falling to the Forces.643They will press on with the reorganisation of the Forces on their peace-time basis and the task of obtaining the necessary voluntary recruits to build up the Regular Forces and the Auxiliary Services."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st October, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 6.]In other words, the Government are getting on in their job with the long-term problem in view, as well as the immediate reduction which the Prime Minister announced last week. I am sorry, therefore, that it does not appear to have been recognised that the Gracious Speech conveyed adequately the Government's intention.
The way the Amendment has been supported tonight, with very few exceptions, shows quite clearly that it is very useful to have this opportunity of making quite clear as many points as possible. I make no complaint about the way the Debate has gone, except for the personal references of the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head), which are not really worth any effort. The position can be quite easily stated with regard to the general run-down which has been undertaken. The complaint which has been made in the last half-hour or so about the size of the Forces at 31st March next, seems to me to have been very much over-stated. After all, at 31st March next we shall have 937,000 men and women in the Forces. I remember that by 1921, Members of the parties which formed the Coalition of that time had reduced the Forces in about the same period to barely over 500,000. In other words, in about the same period this Labour Government, which is so much attacked apparently for lack of courage in dealing with the situation, has kept in being nearly double the number in' the Forces as did the Coalition Government of 1918–1922.
§ Mr. Alexander
I do not think that observation is relevant. I am answering the chief point which has been raised in the Debate as to the run-down in the Forces which the Government have undertaken. I have listened without saying a word throughout the whole of this Debate, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will give me a reasonable opportunity to reply.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
Will the right hon. Gentleman state the number of ships in commission in 1921?
§ Mr. Alexander
The number of ships in commission in 1921 was considerably more than is the case now if you include those engaged in training the recruits who were going in to replace the men who were demobilised, and if you include the ships which were used for training at home. No one disputes the general basis of the naval case put at the start by the hon. Member for Hereford. The vital nature of sea communications to us does not need to be preached to me. I know it so well. I have been in charge of the administration of the Navy for longer than any man who has sat in this House. I understand the case perfectly well. But I must also say that we are bound to consider the run-down of the Forces in the light of the trend of modern conditions. We shall have reduced, as I say, to 937,000 men and women by 31st March next, and we have got down to that figure from the originally proposed 1,087,000. Of that latter figure the Navy was to have 182,000, but we had an interim cut of 4,000 a few months ago, and now we shall have a rather sharper run-down to 147,000 by 31st March.
I want to make it quite clear that the Navy are coming down so rapidly during the next six months, not by an order of mine, but because the Admiralty feel that, if, over the period of the next year or two they will have to reach a peace-time figure of about 147,000, it is better for them to take the whole cut and go in for immediate reorganisation. This is proposed so that they may reach peace-time organisation and efficiency of the Fleet at the earliest possible moment. Now it is said that this is practically destroying the Home Fleet, but that is quite untrue—[An HON. MEMBER: "It is not."] I am quoting the words used just now in the course of the Debate. It is quite untrue.
The Home Fleet, I indicated the other day—the operational side of it—consisted of one battleship, five cruisers, twelve destroyers, and other auxiliary craft; with the exception of one cruiser, H.M.S. Dido, which, after paying off, will be put into reserve, the Fleet will not be reduced. All sorts of things have been said, but it will not go out of commission. It will be immobilised in part for varying periods, according to the particular ship and 645 whether, in the "sorting out" of the personnel, it is possible to man that ship. But I want to repeat that they will all be in commission and sent back to service as soon as particular ships can be manned.
Hon. Members will have seen, as I have seen, remarks in the newspapers; some of them based, I should think, on gossip in the Service clubs by some people who ought to know better. I have seen in the Press again this weekend statements that it would not be possible to have another cruise of the Fleet until early 1949. I would say that I believe that it is certainly going to be possible to readjust the complements of the ships early enough to have the Fleet out to sea and engaged, by the autumn of next year, in another cruise. That is part of the answer to the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor). I am not now speaking on any special line given me by the Admiralty, but I hope, from my experience of naval administration, that, by economy and direction by the Admiralty in the best possible way, the personnel provided will be allocated to the greatest advantage and that as a result, within the limits of the personel allowed, some of these ships will in fact be back in service earlier than may at present be anticipated.
A great many people have made comments to the effect that it is intolerable that so many personnel should be in the Royal Navy with so few ships at sea. Newspaper articles have stated it, too. I beg hon. Members in all parts of the House to consider the situation, because there is much more to it than that. It must be remembered that, in the early years of the war, in the Royal Navy we expanded up to 860,000 or thereabouts. It also has to be remembered that we have run down very quickly; very quickly, indeed. We shall be down to 147,000 next March, and it is essential, with the enormous number of long-service and skilled men who have gone out of the Navy, and with the large inflow coming into the Navy in the other direction, that we should have fully trained personnel as early as possible.
All the time the training is going on. The hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington said just now that I was making wrong references to the ships which were being used for training, and he questioned whether a turret was in order, or something of that kind. As a 646 matter of fact, in the sphere of battleships, aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates and submarines there are a large number of ships today which are being continuously used in the training of men, and the Fleet is up to a better state of efficiency than certainly I remember it in peace at any time when I was in charge of naval administration. [An HON. MEMBER: "At sea?"] Certainly they are afloat. Certainly they are not being manned by a full complement of regular sailors, but they are used for recruits. Certainly they would not expect to go straight away into battle, but they would come in and take on special men who would be skilled and trained people and properly prepared for action.
§ Captain Marsden (Chertsey)
When the right hon. Gentleman says they would come in, is he suggesting that these ships are at sea, because the information we have is that they are not at sea?
§ Mr. Alexander
I am referring to the ships actually used for the training of recruits. They do go to sea and for long distances. I have a note here of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hereford, and as time is limited I should like to deal with some of these questions seriatim. One of the first he asked dealt with this point. He asked what has happened to the Portsmouth training flotilla. Is it going to be in service? The Portsmouth training flotilla is only one of a number of home port flotillas engaged in exactly the same work. My answer should not cover the Portsmouth flotilla only, but I should add other ports like Chatham, Portland and Devonport, for all have their flotillas. The position in the case of Portsmouth is that it had, I think, a flotilla amounting to seven ships. There will now be six ships. I do not want to mislead the hon. Member into thinking that, during the re-assortment of crews, each one of the six ships will be operational every day during the whole of the financial year. They will certainly be used for the actual training of recruits. The same thing applies to the flotillas based upon Portland and on Plymouth.
The hon. Member asked me, for example, where are the flotillas of submarines. Active submarine training is being carried out by these flotillas and each has very modern and fine submarines. I think that out of the 24 in 647 commission at this moment for the operational training of recruits, only three are smaller than the "A" and "T" classes. They are fully commissioned and working at training all the time. I think it was the Gosport and Portland bases which the hon. Member mentioned especially. At those two bases, 11 submarines are operating for the purpose and they will continue to operate. As I come to explain these things, I must say that obviously there has been far too much said in the Press which was not factually correct and people have not really understood what is being done.
§ Commander Galbraith
What the hon. and gallant Member for South Padding-ton was concerned about was the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman last Thursday when he spoke of an emergency and then went on with these words:At all times, there will be two modern battleships and at least two modern aircraft carriers, with other ancillary craft, maintained in commission."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 246.]
§ Commander Galbraith
Yes, but those ships will not be ready to go to sea properly for at least six weeks.
§ Mr. Alexander
I made it perfectly clear last Thursday—I do not know what the hon. and gallant Member is worrying about—that these ships would require time for preparation to be in a full state of efficiency for any actual battle action, or anything of that kind. But I beg the House to remember what, in face of an economic crisis, we are up against. Where is the major naval force from whom you expect a naval challenge in the next few months? We have to consider the training and manning of the ships in relation to this. I, for one, am unable to find any force of that character. Great play has been made, and scornful reference, to what has been described as the striking force of a cruiser and four battle-class destroyers. I am sure that I had in mind no striking force to send against a major fleet. Certainly not, but in relation to any kind of naval threat you would expect in home waters in the next six months, I should think that a large cruiser and four battle-class destroyers carrying power-mounted turrets and not only open gun mountings, and well equipped in every other direc- 648 tion, would be a considerable striking force against anything you might expect in home waters in that period. Therefore, I brush that aside.
The hon. Member for Hereford asked me what is the present strength of the Mediterranean Fleet and of formations east of Aden, and what naval strength is to be maintained on the American, West Indian and African Stations, and whether we are going to have a reduction in the Pacific and East Indies. Well, the Pacific and West Indies Fleets will be reduced, but there will be no reduction in the East Indies or the South Atlantic Stations. But I am sure, in spite of what was said tonight by hon. Members, that it would be contrary to policy and the public interest to divulge the actual strength of these various fleets at the present time. As to what extent we can, in future, divulge these matters and as to how we can improve and expand information available to the House, as I said to the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) last week, that is to be under discussion through the usual channels. We will do what we can, and it may be that we can give information as to what the strength was on a given day; but it is against the public interest, according to my technical advisers, that we should regularly give information of the kind that is asked for by the hon. Member for Hereford. It is not a question of being in immediate danger of naval attack, but a question of general information as to the disposition of the Armed Forces at all times.
The hon. Member for Hereford asked me whether there were to be any reductions on foreign stations and to what extent would they be due to currency difficulties, and to what extent would they be due to problems of manpower. Reduction in the strength of the Navy on overseas stations is primarily due to re-deployment of naval manpower consequent upon the accelerated run-down. That is the main reason, but in so far as these adjustments also contribute to savings in expenditure in hard currencies abroad, we think they are also welcome. But in each one of these stations where we have to make reductions I hope that, within reasonable time, with reorganisation of the personnel, we shall be able to restore, or at any rate, make some addition to the temporarily reduced strength at present.
§ Brigadier Head
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that his time is nearly up, and as Minister of Defence he has not yet mentioned either of the other two Services.
§ Mr. Alexander
I suppose I might be allowed to answer an important series of questions put by the mover of the Amendment.
§ Commander Noble (Chelsea)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point about security, I wonder whether he will make arrangements to see that his statement is passed on to the B.B.C. and the Press, so that we do not get a repetition of announcements like that about cuts in the Home Fleet.
§ Mr. Alexander
I must say that we have no official control over what the B.B.C. says. I think they got their information from a Press agency and I am sure that was right; as to how they got it, I am going into it, as I should like to prevent a repetition of that kind of thing. On the main policy I should have very much preferred to have announced it first in the House of Commons as soon as the House assembled.
The hon. Member for Hereford asked about the co-ordination of naval strength with the Dominions—whether it had been discussed and accepted by the Dominion Governments and their chiefs of staff. No, it has not been discussed or accepted by the Dominion Governments and their chiefs of staff. Of course, we notified, as we always would do, the chiefs of staff and heads of the Governments of the Dominions before announcing it to the House of Commons. They were informed beforehand of our decision. It would be a great pity if we dealt with the question of future co-operation with the Commonwealth arbitrarily on such an occasion as this. What we are out to do is to maintain at all times the system of liaison we are building up and which is growing very satisfactorily, and which is to move each member of the Commonwealth closer to the others, and to work together. It is not possible for people sitting in the Government here or standing in the House of Commons to dictate to the free nations of the Dominions exactly what they should contribute to collective defence, and I can assure the House frankly and fully that the Government are anxious to develop co-operation. A liaison system has 650 been set up and the professional officers are doing everything they possibly can to keep that work going. I am sure they will be successful in it.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Since the Dominions have been informed, have they made any remarks upon this reduction?
§ Mr. Alexander
No; they have not answered at all to the reductions notified, but I am sure they recognise our difficulties, as we have recognised theirs when they have had to take decisions with regard to their own forces. May I add that no better evidence could be obtained on the progress that the Dominions are making in the recognition of their proper share in Commonwealth responsibility than the example of Australia with her new five-year plan for spending on defence five times what she spent in 1937, doubling her Navy, increasing her Army, and providing 16 squadrons in the air when the programme is complete. They are working to help us, as is Rhodesia, in training the air personnel of this country. With this co-operation going on, it is a great pity that Members here should cast reflections upon us and say that we are not making progress in that way.
The hon. Member also asked about the 147,000 men on 31st March, 1948–what percentage would be Regulars and also what would be the Regular percentage of naval strength in December, 1948. The estimated Regular and National Service components of the 147,000 on 31st March will, I expect, be about 114,000 Regulars and 22,000 National Service men, and the remainder will be Wrens or locally enlisted personnel. As to the proportion of the two components at December, 1948, I am not prepared, so far in advance, to give detailed figures, although naturally the Service Departments are working on certain planning assumptions. It would be quite impossible to give firm figures for next year. In the case of the Royal Navy, the figures for voluntary recruiting have been very satisfactory indeed. The Army, I am afraid, has not been so satisfactory, and what the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Carshalton said tonight is nothing new to us. It is a problem—a very grave one—of what is to be the allocation of National Service men between the three Services, and other such matters. I certainly would not be able to tell him 651 tonight which solution we are going to adopt, although from what he said he must have been speaking to someone in close touch with us.
§ Brigadier Head
I would like to make it quite clear that such information as I have came from published figures, and from my own past experience.
§ Mr. Alexander
I am delighted to hear that, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman was exceedingly well informed. Perhaps he did not mention all the possible solutions which still have to be canvassed in great detail before a decision is come to, but certainly we have it in mind.
The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward) was speaking about the auxiliary figures, and it might be interesting for the House to know that the Territorial Army have 32,000, the Naval Auxiliary Forces altogether have 11,800 and the Auxiliary Air Forces, which is much more difficult, because you cannot seem to get ground personnel to go long distances to look after the machines, have nearly 1,800, and they have to be looked after in other respects by the regular Air Force.
I have been asked how have we related this at all to a long-term plan. I said to the House many months ago that the intention was to get a properly balanced long-term plan. On 18th February the Prime
§ Minister approved a memorandum which I referred to the professional staffs setting out the main directions which the inquiries should follow for a long-term plan for balanced forces. I have been in touch with the professional staffs the whole time, and plans are being examined in great detail. I can assure the House that that plan is to be produced and finally approved when it meets to satisfaction the Government's requirements. There is not the slightest reason for anyone to think that this Government are not interested in a long-term efficient plan for the forces, and in what we are doing now in the short-term run-down I have been most careful to take priorities not interfering with the long-term plan.
§ In the light of circumstances with which we are faced, my own view is that the first priority, which must not be interfered with, is defence research. The second, in the light of the present developing situation, must be to maintain the structure of the Royal Air Force, and its initial striking power. The third priority is for the maintenance of our sea communications, and, therefore, for the most efficient Navy we can get in the circumstances, and then we will do the best we can for the Army.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 111; Noes, 252.655
|Division No. 2.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Astor, Hon. M||Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||George, Maj Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)||Manningham-Buller, R. E.|
|Baxter, A. B.||Glyn, Sir R.||Marlowe, A A. H.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H||Gridley, Sir A.||Marden, Capt. A.|
|Birch, Nigel||Grimston, R. V||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)|
|Boothby, R.||Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Medlicott, F.|
|Bossom, A C||Hare, Hon d. H (Woodbridge)||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Bower, N.||Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.||Morrison, Maj, J. G. (Salisbury)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Haughton, S G.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cir'nc'ster)|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Head, Brig. A. H||Mott-Radclyffe, Maj. C. E.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Nicholson, G.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Hogg, Hon. Q||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Hollis, M. C.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.|
|Carson, E.||Howard, Hon. A.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Channon, H.||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.||Pickthorn, K.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Hurd, A||Pitman, I. J.|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Jarvis, Sir J.||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
|Crowder, Capt. John E||Keeling, E. H.||Renton, D.|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)|
|Darling, Sir W. V.||Langford-Holt, J.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Digby, S W.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Ross, Sir R D. (Londonderry)|
|Dower, Lt.-Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Drayton, G. B||Linstead, H N||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Drewe, C.||Low, A R. W.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Lucas, Major Sir J||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H||Strauss, H G. (English Universities)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Sutcliffe, H|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P M.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (B'mley)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)||Wakefield, Sir W. W.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)||Walker-Smith, D.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)||Ward, Hon. G. R.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.||Wheatley, Colonel M. J.|
|Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A. F.||While, Sir D. (Fareham)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Turton, R. H.||White, J. B. (Canterbury)||Commander Agnew and|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V.||Field, Capt. W. J.||Morley, R.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)|
|Alpass, J. H||Follick, M.||Morris, P (Swansea, W.)|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Foot, M. M.||Mort, D. L.|
|Anderson, F (Whitehaven)||Foster, W. (Wigan)||Moyle, A.|
|Attewell, H C.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Murray, J. D.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Ganley, Mrs C. S.||Nally, W.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Gibbins, J.||Neal, H. (Claycross)|
|Ayles, W. H.||Gibson, C. W||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B||Gilzean, A.||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)|
|Baird, J.||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)|
|Balfour, A.||Gordon-Walker, P. C.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Darby)|
|Barstow, P. G||Granville, E. (Eye)||Noel-Buxton, Lady|
|Barton, C.||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||O'Brien, T.|
|Battley, J. R.||Grenfell, D. R.||Orbach, M.|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Gunter, R. J.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Guy, W. H.||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Benson, G.||Hale, Leslie||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Berry, H.||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Pearson, A.|
|Beswick, F.||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Peart, T. F.|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Hardy, E. A.||Perrins, W.|
|Binns, J.||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Platts-Mills, J. F. F.|
|Blackburn, A R||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Porter, E. (Warrington)|
|Blyton, W. R||Herbison, Miss M.||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Boardman, H.||Hobson, C. R.||Pritt, D. N.|
|Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W.||Holman, P.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Bowen, R||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Randall, H. E.|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||House, G.||Ranger, J.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Hoy, J.||Rees-Williams, D. R.|
|Bramall, E. A.||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.|
|Brooks, T J. (Rothwell)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Robens, A.|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Rogers, G. H R.|
|Callaghan, James||Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)||Royle, C.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A||Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Sargood, R.|
|Chamberlain, R. A.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Scott-Elliot, W.|
|Champion, A. J.||Janner, B.||Segal, Dr. S.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Jay, D. P. T.||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Cobb, F. A.||Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Sharp, Granville|
|Cooks, F S.||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)||Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)|
|Collindridge, F.||Jonas, D. T. (Hartlepools)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Collins, V. J.||Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Shurmer, P.|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Jones, J. H. (Bolton)||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Comyns, Dr. L.||Jenes, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Simmons, C. S.[...]|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W.)||Keenan, W.||Smith, C. (Colchester)|
|Corlett, Dr J.||Kendall, W. D.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)|
|Crawley, A.||Kenyan, C.||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||King, E. M.||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)|
|Daggar, G.||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.||Snow, J. W.|
|Daines, P.||Kinley, J.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.||Soskice, Maj. Sir F.|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Lee, F. (Hulme)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Leslie, J. R.||Stamford, W.|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Levy, B. W.||Steele, T.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Lindgren, G. S.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Deer, G.||Longden, F.||Stokes, R. R.|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||McAdam, W.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. G. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Delargy, H. J.||McEntee, V La T.||Stross, Dr. B|
|Diamond, J.||McGhee, H. G.||Swingler, S.|
|Donovan, T.||Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N. W.)||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Dye, S.||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Edelman, M.||Marquand, H. A.||Thomas, D. E (Aberdare)|
|Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Marshall, F. (Brightside)||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Mellish, R. J.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Messer, F||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Evans, A. (Islington, W.)||Middleton, Mrs. L.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Evans, John (Ogmore)||Mikardo, lan.||Titterington, M. F.|
|Ewart, R.||Mitchison, G. R.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Farthing, W. J.||Moody, A. S.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Fernyhough, E.||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Ungoed-Thomas. L.|
|Vernon, Maj. W. F||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H.|
|Viant, S. P.||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.||Woodburn, A|
|Walker, G. H.||Wilkes, L||Woods, G. S|
|Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)||Wilkins, W A.||Wyatt, W.|
|Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Watkins, T. E.||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)||Younger, Hon Kenneth|
|Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)||Williams, J. L, (Kelvingrove)||Zilliacus, K|
|Wells, W. T. (Walsall)||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|West, D. G.||Willis, E.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|While, C. F. (Derbyshire, W.)||Wills, Mrs. E. A.||Mr Popplewell and|
|Mr Richard Adams.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ It being after Eleven o'clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.