HC Deb 09 April 1948 vol 449 cc489-517

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Brigadier Head (Carshalton)

My hon. Friends and I feel disturbed about this matter. There was a good deal of cross-posting before and during the war, and I think that it is likely to increase. It would seem that in future the temptation to cross-post will be greater owing to the considerable stretch on the Regular Army in carrying out its duties. I think that the danger of cross-posting is that outwardly it appears a logical and sensible thing to do. I have no doubt that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer were here he would, with his very logical, incisive mind, convince us by overwhelming argument in its favour; but that does not alter the fact that, in my opinion, and in the opinion of many of those who have had regimental experience, he would be wrong. The reason he would be wrong is that he would have left out of account those small imponderables in human nature which mean so much in a unit and an Army.

I think that from its very logicality, the temptation to crosspost is a danger which might do a great deal to undermine and damage the regimental spirit. In future it may be that large-scale cross-posting will destroy a good deal of that regimental spirit. Those who have had experience of the spirit which is brought about in a good unit will, I am, sure, be on my side in this matter. After all, the soldier is being trained and prepared eventually for battle—although we hope that it may never come—and during his time in the Army he gets woven round him a kind of cocoon, based on the unit, and spun through his loyal attachment and pride in it. I believe that this pride and attachment which he feels towards his unit is of more importance than any other factor in the stress of war and battle. If we destroy that spirit by cross-posting people from one unit to another, we shall be losing an imponderable but very valuable asset. It is for that reason that we are now raising this matter.

It may be that the Secretary of State for War will give us a good deal of reassurance on this point. I would ask him to give some assurance that cross-posting will only be done as an exception. At present, the temptation of the Adjutant-General's branch to engage in large cross-postings will be overwhelming. I had some experience of how impersonal and forgetful of human nature one can become in the higher grades of the Staff. When one stays for a long time in the War Office and has an enormous list of thousands of men to be posted, the temptation to post them in bunches is almost irresistible, irrespective of a man's personal preference for or allegiance to a particular unit or command. Men will be posted in that way unless there is a strong direction given from the top to say that it is to be an exception and never the rule. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that in the War Office—and I dare say that he knows this already—it is very easy to get this attitude of mind towards posting.

In the Army, by and large, a very large percentage of the best brains and most able staff officers are drawn from the sappers and gunners. These officers, who are first-class, belong to two corps who have the very greatest responsibility, but regimental loyalty is to the corps and not the unit. I would say that on the staff in the past they have suffered from the temptation to go right against the Infantry and Cavalry regimental spirit. I believe that some of those who suggested the abolition of the regimental system were sappers and gunners. I am not saying anything against them, but we have a high proportion of them in the War Office, and I would advise the right hon. Gentleman to watch them like a lynx on this particular point.

I hope that the Secretary of State will give it his attention. He will get franker advice in this House from people like myself on this matter than he would if we were employed in the War Office. We are putting this matter forward not to try to score any party point, but for the good of the Army. I believe that this view will be echoed on both sides of the House, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reassure us that large-scale cross-posting will not be encouraged, because if it is it will do considerable damage to something very precious to the British Army, namely, the regimental spirit.

11.15 a.m.

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

As an ex-gunner, I resent very much the remarks made by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head). I have not come to speak for my ex-regiment, but I think that everyone will admit that the regimental feeling in the gunners is higher than anywhere else. I got up to support, to a certain extent, much that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said. I think that a very bad disservice was done, to the Army when county regiments were practically eliminated.

We can argue that there should not be armies at all. I agree with that. We can also argue that they should be made as unpopular as possible, so that any Government trying to get them going would have a bad time in doing so. But if we are going to have an Army, the important thing is to have as much esprit de corps as possible, in that respect I think that what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said is true, and that officials in the War Office and Government Ministers are inclined to treat armies or armed forces as so many bodies The more totalitarian a country becomes, the more it treats its Army as so many bodies. We know of one large armed force where no one has any record as to where anyone in it is, and it is impossible for relatives to get into touch. I do not think that even the Secretary of State for War would go to that extent, but it seems to me that if we must have an Army, it is essential that esprit de corps should be upheld at the highest level, and that one of the best ways of doing that is to make men realise their attachment to their own units and particular regiments and give them confidence in their associations, so that their friends at home may realise that they are dealing with an entity when they talk about any particular regiment to which a member of their family is attached.

Mr. A. R. W. Low (Blackpool, North)

I would like to ask the Secretary of State for War whether the effect that this Clause will have upon recruiting has been fully taken into account. We want recruits to volunteer for a particular branch of the army, and we are now saying to them, "If you join up to be a good Infantry signaller, without your consent, we will transfer you from the Infantry to the Royal Corps of Signals." We shall also be saying to a man called up in the Signals, "If you turn out to be a particular form of signaller, you may be transferred to the Infantry."

Let me give another example. A man volunteers for the Army because he is keen on cars or tanks. We are saying to him, "If you turn out to be a good motor mechanic, and as we are short of motor mechanics in R.E.M.E., whether you like it or not, we have power to transfer you to R.E.M.E." That seems to undermine one of the strongest things on which recruiting is conducted. I hope the Secretary of State will explain to us how he expects to get over what seems to be a new disincentive to recruiting. We saw something during the war, of the regimental spirit which may very well be destroyed if the War Office keep on attacking it by drafting men to the wrong regiments. Such was often found by forward headquarters to be the case during the war, but by a little juggling it was possible to get the men back into the right regiments, and the evil that had been done by General Sir Roland Adams was undone by forward headquarters. It was a good thing indeed that such action was taken, as has been proved by the fact that many of the steps taken by General Sir Roland Adams during the time he was Adjutant-General are quite unnecessary.

The administrative desirability of cross-posting has very often been grossly exaggerated. In the infantry corps we have already seen the whittling down of the regimental spirit by this new posting system. That has gone far enough and we do not want the discouragement of the regimental spirit which this Clause seems to give. I should like to support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head), and I hope we shall get a reasonable reply to our requests.

General Sir George Jeffreys (Peters-field)

I should like to support the pleas that have been made by my hon. Friends and by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) as regards this matter of cross-posting. The value of the regimental spirit and of esprit de corps has not been sufficiently realised of late years in the War Office. I can remember, at the beginning of the 1914–18 war, when there was a school in the Army and in the War Office who used to say—I am sure this would interest the hon. Member for Ipswich—that they did not want to see "R.A." stand for Royal Artillery but for Royal Army and that there should be one corps in the Army at the direction of the War Office. That school existed until the end of the last war, but it got smaller and smaller with the experience of the war.

There was a great deal of unnecessary cross-posting, and in support of what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low) I can remember in the former war when a good deal of unposting, so to speak, was done by units at the front, because in many cases most ridiculous things were done in sending men forward as reinforcements. I can remember in my own Division after a series of heavy actions that reinforcements were sent to us. There was in that division a battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment and also a battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. A complete draft of men from the Warwickshires was sent to the Gloucestershires and a complete draft of the Gloucestershires was sent to the Warwickshires. That occurred in the same brigade, but by a certain amount of juggling I was able to get that undone. That was the type of system of posting men which was practised quite regardless of where they went so long as they went into the same branch of the Service.

Within the last few months I have learned of cases of men of the Royal Artillery—not merely conscripts but warrant officers—being compulsorily transferred to the Pioneer Corps. Important as are the services rendered by the Pioneer Corps, such a move is not appreciated by men of the Royal Artillery. The same applies to every kind of cross-posting. There may be a case to be made out more or less for the cross-posting of compulsorily enlisted men who did not volunteer for a certain unit, but I can see no case whatever for compulsory cross-posting of men who have definitely volunteered for a certain regiment and whose whole heart and soul in most cases is bound up in the regiment. If we had an entirely new Army there might be something to be said for this system. However, our Army is an old army and its system is based on the regimental system. The whole of its esprit de corps rests on that system.

There is the case in wartime—it does not apply in peace but this enactment is going to apply in war—of the Territorial Army. It has not only a regimental loyalty and affinity, but the greater part of its loyalties and its esprit de corps are bound up with its own county or locality whose name it uses in its regimental title. There could not be a better way of destroying the spirit of the Territorial Army than by the cross-posting of the men, and the posting to a unit of men from the opposite ends of the Kingdom to that from which a particular regiment is drawn, who have not the same feelings or loyalties for the county or the locality. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make some concession in this matter. It may be said with truth that this proposal will be universally unpopular in the Army and in every branch of the Service, except possibly the Adjutant-General's branch in the War Office.

The grouping system which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for North Blackpool has quite definitely been a blow at the county regiments., There have always been some regiments in the Army which have been able to maintain themselves from their own counties or localities and in those regiments there has been a very strong esprit de corps. There are others who have not been able to maintain themselves in that way, but if we are going to milk the regiments which have a strong county or local esprit de corps for the benefit of those who have not been able to maintain themselves out of their own district, we are going to strike a definite blow at the spirit of such Forces. I venture to think that such a blow has already been dealt by the way in which this grouping has been worked out, and by the way in which it has been extended since it was first proposed and the conditions that were then contemplated explained to colonels of regiments at a certain conference held some two years ago. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will think again over this matter, and will realise how unpopular this will be as well as being a great blow to the esprit de corps of all units. I trust that he will propose some better system than is outlined in the Clause.

11.30 a.m.

Earl Winterton

Although nobody expects anything controversial to be discussed on a Friday, there has suddenly emerged what I regard as a first-class issue in this matter which goes to the whole foundation of the British Army. I want to say nothing which could be in the least degree provocative because I am sincerely anxious that the Secretary of State should meet us in this matter. I think the consensus of opinion is against this Clause. I personally, and I think my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee, are grateful to the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) for the way in which he also put the case. What he said was absolutely true. It is an interesting fact that the phrase which we so often use, which has become almost a cliché in the English language—"esprit de corps"—and which is used in a civilian sense as well as in a military sense, means the spirit of a particular corps or unit in which a person is. That spirit is intensely strong.

I would like to relate a short story on the subject, which I hope will not offend those of my hon. and gallant Friends who are Guardsmen. I know a certain young man, now an officer, who went through the system by which officers are now selected, and who was at Caterham. He is now in another unit. I saw this young man when he had been there some six weeks. He enjoyed being at Cater-ham, although he wore that despised emblem in civilian life, the old school tie—incidentally, the old Etonian tie. I noticed that he was in the Coldstreams. He said to me, "Thank heavens, I am in the Coldstreams. They might have sent me to the Grenadiers or the Scots Guards." That is esprit de corps, and it applies throughout the Army. We cannot expect to have recruits willingly join the Army, and we may even injure the individual soldier or officer as a soldier or officer, if the Government carry out what they are empowered to do under this Clause.

I would like also to say a word in strong commendation and support of what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) said about the harm already done to the county regiments by the breach in the Territorial system. The county regiments are the solid concrete on which the British Infantry has been founded for over 200 years. I would like from my own personal experience to support what my hon. and gallant Friend has said about the grave injury done to the Territorials by what was, in fact, the abolition of the Territorial system during the two wars. I was a member of the Territorial Association in my county after the 1918 war, and we had even more difficulty in recruiting than we have today. We tried to ascertain what were the root causes of it. One of the principal causes was that the men said, "We will not go back to the Territorials. We were told before the war that the Territorials would be kept as a body; instead of that, they cross-posted us during the whole of the war."

I agree with my hon. Friends who are Regular soldiers—and I thank them for their support of the Territorial point— that the fons et origo mali was to be found in certain people at the War Office in both wars. In fact, I protested strongly, and I regret to have to inform the Committee that I had rather a scene with a right hon. Friend of mine when he was Secretary of State for War. I think that was early in 1940. I protested strongly against that system in those days, along with other hon. Members who went on that deputation. I therefore appeal to the Government to reconsider this Clause. No party question arises. None of us is actuated by anything other than a desire to see the British Army recruit the best type of officers and men, and that when those officers and men have been recruited they should be given a fair chance to rise in their profession. If we retain this Clause they will not be given that fair chance.

Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)

I hope my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will consider the arguments which have been submitted on this point, although I think there is another danger, and that is excessive parochialism in particular units. Hon. Members opposite may remember the story of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) of the colonel who was so depressed by being moved from one unit to another that the only way in which he referred to his unit was by saying that they had green facings and that you got at them from Waterloo.

But units should have a sense of fellowship even when the original Territorial basis is lost. During the war I had the good fortune to serve with a Territorial unit which was extremely efficient, and yet it had lost such a degree of its sense of Territorialism that on the national day when the national emblem was issued, in one officers' mess it was served as a vegetable. That did not detract from the efficiency of the unit, nor the pleasure which we all felt when we received a message in Welsh from hon. Members in this House. Therefore, I think it is possible to over-emphasise this Territorial feeling. There is always a danger that individual men who have only had experience of one unit might have undue pressure put on them to stay in that unit, when, if they were transferred, even against their will, they might find themselves much happier in the unit to which they were transferred. I hope the Committee will take a reasonable view of this matter.

Mr. M. Stewart

I am glad this matter has been raised, because it has enabled my right hon. Friend and myself to be made aware of how widespread is the feeling that in the organisation of the Army we must give weight to what have been described as these imponderable factors which are of enormous importance. I hope, however, that if my right hon. Friend and I give very close attention to the remarks that have been made by several hon. Members, as we shall do, in turn they will give some weight to the considerations that have been advanced so ably and eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing). His speech brought out the fact that there are many conflicting factors that have to be weighed one against another.

It is true that in putting this Clause into the Bill we were actuated in part by what may be called, if it is the opposite of imponderable, the ponderable and measurable factors that we find. On the matter of recruiting there are certain arms where it is difficult at present to meet all our requirements. One of the factors of a well organised Army is that there shall be a proper balance between the arms, and for that reason we have had to consider that it will be necessary to take, and in certain circumstances it may be necessary to use this power of compulsory transfer, although the Committee will, no doubt, have noticed that it is only to apply to Regular volunteer soldiers who enlist after 30th April of this year. There is, of course, power for compulsory transfer of National Service men, but that is secured in other ways, and they are not really in issue in this discussion. Then, in view of the increasingly scientific nature of modern warfare, it becomes increasingly difficult to foretell the requirements of different arms, and for that reason we cannot bind ourselves too closely and must enjoy the greater flexibility which this Clause gives.

The hon. Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low) particularly stressed the danger to recruiting. We did not add the Clause to the Bill without very careful consideration of that point. Two things must he borne in mind. One is the extreme circumspection with which we shall use this power. The effect on recruiting is determined not so much by the provisions of the Act as by what practical use is made of them—what a man may reasonably expect to happen to him if he joins the Army. Hon. Members will find that the actual use we shall make of the power is restricted to the very barest minimum —what the weighable and measurable factors make unavoidable. We have also to consider this. Even if—and I would not accept the position—this were to have some adverse effect on recruiting, what we get in return is that we are able to make a more effective use of the services of the men who are available to us.— [Interruption.]—Hon. Members indicate dissent, but that is something which cannot be disputed in view of the factors I have already mentioned.

Many references were made, to which I listened with great sympathy, to exasperation, disappointment and distress caused by cross-postings during the war, but when hon. Members spoke as if we were ruining the whole basis on which the Army has been built and strengthened that contention by examples of what happened during the last year, they had perhaps omitted to observe that the last war and the previous one resulted in success for the Armed Forces of this country. Some moderate measure of credit might be given to its organisation for that.

I do not stress too much the precise and measurable reasons for this Clause because I know that hon. Members are chiefly concerned about the possible danger arising from the excess use of this power, an imponderable but real factor. I can give the assurance asked for, that these powers will be used to the very barest minimum which necessity compels. We have in mind that where it is proposed that any man or a group of men shall be transferred, the position and the reasons for the proposed transfer shall be explained to them. We hope that in the majority of cases we shall be able to solve our problem by means of transfer by consent.

We realise as fully as any of the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken the importance of not treating soldiers as if they are chessmen or "bodies." It was Charles Dickens' Mr. Mantalini who in moments of distress expressed himself in the words, "I will be a body." Fortunately for the British Army, he is not a person whose character and conduct are taken as a model by soldiers. In addition to the safeguards I have already mentioned, the actual process of transfer will have to be carried out on the responsibility and by the decision of a member of the Army Council. That will be stipulated in the Rules of Procedure which are laid before the House.

The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier' Head) assured us that we should get far more frank and independent judgment from him and his hon. Friends while they occupied their present position than if they were on the staff at the War Office. It is the function of this House to provide independent and frank criticism, but I ask the House to believe that every word which has been said in the course of this Debate will be most carefully considered by my right hon. Friend and myself. We shall also make clear to the member of the Army Council who has to operate anything arising under this Clause what the views of the House are and what the views are which are widely held by everyone with any knowledge or experience of the composition and the nature of the British Army. In view of that assurance and the fact that we did not propose to add this Clause to the Bill casually but with good reasons in mind, I hope the Committee will agree to its inclusion.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

I have seldom heard such a lamentable justification for a great change of this character. From what the hon. Gentleman has said, it is quite obvious that every possible argument, good and bad, has been collected with a view to justifying this change. I ask the Committee to examine what really lies behind it and what emerges from the hon. Gentleman's statement. He says that the power of compulsion will be retained with a view to getting a properly balanced Army. Surely, the effect of that must be that those regiments for which recruits come forward readily will suffer in their recruiting in the future? That is bound to happen once it is realised that this power of compulsory transfer has been taken by the War Office. It is all very well to say that only after 1st April of a particular year will it be effective, but that is no consolation to members of military families whose menfolk have served in a certain regiment for generation after generation. Those people want to join the regiment in which their fathers served, and they will now be liable to the threat of being compulsorily transferred to an entirely separate regiment or a quite distinct arm. Far better than taking this compulsory power to divert recruits from the regiments to which they want to belong, would be an examination into the reasons why recruiting for the other units is not so good. The Adjutant-General should devote his attention to finding out why particular regiments are more attractive than others instead of seeking to divert recruits from those regiments to the ones which are at the moment less attractive. That would be much more effective.

The hon. Gentleman's speech bore a remarkable similarity to speeches made by the Minister of Labour in regard to the direction of labour. There we have been told that what is wanted is the moral persuasive effect of compulsion. Now the hon. Gentleman says, "Oh, no. So far as direction in the Army is concerned, it is not the moral effect of having this power but the use which is made of it." That is not right. Once it is realised in the country that no matter for what regiment one volunteers one may be directed to something quite different and serve one's enlistment away from the regiment of one's choice, voluntary recruiting for those regiments is bound to diminish. We have not been told that there will be an offer here of four alternative employments before the compulsion takes effect. All we are told is that the men concerned will have it explained to them why it is considered necessary that they should be transferred to another and perhaps more unpopular arm of the Service. Behind all that explanation lies the threat that the men will be sent there whether they want to go or not. I imagine that members of His Majesty's Forces, when they appreciate the effect of this Clause, will use a time honoured expression which it would be un-Parliamentary and out of Order for me to repeat to you, Major Milner, but which I am sure will be in your memory.

The assurance we have been given is worth absolutely nothing. I have no doubt that the War Office have considered this, and that it will facilitate administration to a great degree, but it will be accompanied by the destruction of something which has tended remarkably to the magnificent record of His Majesty's Army. The price for this change will be found not worth paying, and I invite the right hon. Gentleman to consider the remarks made from all sides of this Committee. Indeed, the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), behind whom the hon. Gentleman sought to shelter himself, spoke largely in support of the principle that those regular soldiers who have volunteered for service in a particular arm could not be transferred from that arm without their consent. There is no ground for the retention of this power of compulsion over volunteers that I can see. The effort is being misdirected. It should be directed to see why recruiting is not so good for other units, and in view of the lamentable explanation we have heard, my hon. Friends and myself will have no hesitation in voting against this Clause.

Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)

I thought the reply of the Under-Secretary of State was extraordinarily inadequate. He made out no case why this Clause should be accepted, but simply said in effect that the Clause is needed in order to achieve greater flexibility. I for one, and I think my hon. and right hon. Friends, are tired of that word, which seems to be dragged into every argument by the Government to support what they wish to do. There is another argument of which I am getting tired, that the Government want this power but will only use it a very little. I 'think the words of the Under-Secretary were "the barest minimum." I cannot believe that we can go on working everlastingly on this basis. It was not necessary between the wars to have these powers of cross-posting, and I do not see why there is any necessity for them today. I was not surprised to hear the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), who is no longer in his place—

Mr. Cove (Aberavon)

He is coming back.

Major Beamish

I am glad to hear that, and I hope he will be in the Lobby with me quite soon—I was not surprised to hear him supporting what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head). It so happens that the hon. Gentleman who sits opposite had a particularly fine military record in the 1914–1918 war, and one of which the Secretary of State has every reason to be envious. [An HON. MEMBER: "Cheap."] The use of the word "corps" in this Clause seems to me rather odd and it is open to misinterpretation. I suppose it means the Pioneer Corps, the Signals Corps, the Royal Artillery, the Royal Engineers and the other corps, but it can also mean a corps composed of three divisions of troops.

The regimental system has been under a variety of forms of attack. Reference has been made already to this grouping system. As we all know, for about one year in every five a regiment practically ceases to exist as such; it becomes a holding unit for the other four regiments in the group. That is a serious attack on the regimental spirit. Quite apart from that, however, the actual grouping was not done sufficiently on a territorial basis, for one would find a Yorkshireman grouped with a man from Northumberland, and so on. Those are two definite attacks on the regimental spirit. Another was the recent refusal of the Secretary of State for War to allow full dress to be worn on historic regimental occasions. That was a clear failure on the part of the War Office to realise the value of the regimental spirit and tradition, and no case was made out why full dress should not be worn on these occasions.

Quite apart from the attack which this Clause makes on the regimental spirit, it offends against something much more fundamental, against one of the fundamentals of man management. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) made a brief comparison with the direction of labour, which we have now in peacetime for the first time in the history of this country. All of us on this side of the Committee believe that unless a man is happy in his work, that unless efforts are made to ensure that he is as happy as he possibly can be, that unless efforts are made to ensure that he is doing work for which he is best suited and most wants to do, he will work less well than he would in other circumstances. Now, men will have practically to learn new languages. A man who is a Geordie who is sent to a Pioneer Corps full of men from Somerset will hardly be able to make himself understood for a long time. This boils down to nothing more nor less than direction of labour within the Army, in exactly the same way as we have it now in civilian life.

I am not at all impressed by the argument that a little gentle and mild persuasion will be used in cases where men may have to be cross-posted from corps to corps; that some officer will say to, for instance, Private Snooks of the Coldstream Guards, "You are to be posted to the Guardsman Corps because there are too many men in the Coldstream Guards. If you like to go voluntarily, that is fine, but if you will not, I am sorry but you will have to be posted whether you like it or not." That is the kind of argument which will be used. Even during the war, the regimental spirit was kept going in spite of the activities of a Royal Artillery officer who was the Adjutant-General, and in spite of every effort on the part of "A" Branch of the War Office who, naturally, continuously put forward the argument of administrative convenience which it so often allows to outweigh the practical experience of those who actually do the fighting.

I do not like this Clause at all. It is bound to have a most serious effect on voluntary recruiting, and I hope that when the Secretary of State for War replies, he will bear in mind that not one of the hon. or right hon. or hon. and gallant Members who have spoken have spoken in favour of this Clause. If support is forthcoming from his own side why this Clause should be retained, maybe he will take note of the arguments, but, apart from his own Under-Secretary who could hardly be expected to speak against this Clause, no hon. Member who has spoken has supported it. Therefore, I look forward to what the right hon. Gentleman has to say, and unless he can produce an entirely new and extremely weighty argu- ment why this Clause should be retained, cutting out all the piffle and poppycock about flexibility and so on, I shall have great pleasure in voting against it, and I expect to see the hon. Member for Ipswich and the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) voting in the same Lobby, together with others who have real experience of being in the fighting line.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

I would like to say a word or two against this Clause although I am a non-military man. When I was transferred compulsorily to a retreat in the South-East of London on one occasion, most of those with whom I was associated were ex-soldiers. Many had been in the Artillery, many had been in the Guards, and instead of these military men looking after me, I had to look after them and stand between them because they were always ready to go to war with one another as to which was the outstanding regiment in the Army, the Artillery or the Guards. They were very proud of their particular associations.

12 noon.

But I am not so much concerned about that, as about the fact that it is highly probable that a man who is quite happy and desirous of carrying out his duties and being in every way an exemplary soldier will, as a result of the compulsory transfer, become a sullen, frustrated, type of individual, who is not prepared to fit in with the discipline at all. There have been cases of that kind in which, instead of settling down and carrying out his duties in a new regiment, a man has gone through a period of continued desertion and become a complete loss to the Army. That is very undesirable, and in my opinion there is no reason why it should be necessary. It is obviously quite possible to get necessary recruits if conditions are made suitable. We are continually told that new incentives must be given to get workers into the cotton industry. A new incentive can be given to get recruits into regiments of the Army. I am quite against the proposal for compulsory transfer.

The Secretary of State for War is a very old friend of mine and, no matter how far he diverges from the path of freedom, and no matter how much he should fall short in his Socialist rectitude, I will not join the Tories in voting against him—[Laughter.] No, however much I object to particular details, in general I am with the Minister against the other side of the Committee. But I am very sorry to see him in a position in which the enemies we have contested together for so many years have become the apostles of freedom against his attempt to become a tyrant.

Colonel Wheatley (Dorset, Eastern)

I had hoped that the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) might for once be persuaded to vote according to his conscience.

Mr. Low

What conscience?

Colonel Wheatley

For many years past it has been possible to arrange for transfers, especially in such cases as a regiment coming home from India, where a good many men, not going on to the Reserve, were able to be transferred voluntarily by means of a small bounty. That has been done in the case of large numbers of men, very often 200 or 300 men transferring from one regiment to another. If the Secretary of State for War would consider offering a bounty when he wishes to make a transfer, he might get over his difficulty, instead of setting the whole of the Army against him, as I am sure he will by this proposed method.

No man who volunteers for a particular corps will want to be transferred against his will. Many men go into their fathers' regiment, or it may be, into their brothers' regiment. At present, a man may be transferred, with his consent, to join his brother in another regiment, but if they are separated again, willy nilly, against their will, it will lead to great difficulties. By doing this, the right hon. Gentleman will lose the popularity he has gained as Secretary of State for War. I hope he will see reason, and will listen to the arguments which have been advanced.

Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I wish to refer to the statement made by the Financial Secretary that the increase in scientific methods and mechanisation made it important that we should have greater flexibility. May I remind him that with the increase in mechanisation and scientific methods there is a far greater danger to the discipline of an Army when it comes to fighting. The faster war goes, the quicker morale deteriorates if things go wrong, unless discipline is on a very firm basis. I shall always believe that the best discipline which an army can have is self-discipline. A unit should have good self-discipline, and the better the self-discipline the less need there is for a dictatorial attitude. We want that sort of discipline in our Army, and, I maintain, we have always had it. If, while paying lip-service to the regimental system, we undermine the confidence each member of the regiment has in feeling that he is one of the family, that self-discipline will be weakened. Each should feel that he is a member of the regiment and that, so long as he behaves himself and remains a fit man, he should be entitled to stay in that regiment, arid no compulsion should be put upon him to move him.

I expected the Under-Secretary to use the argument that he wanted to get round pegs into round holes. A good deal was said about that during the war and a good many said that not sufficient attention was paid to getting the right men in the right jobs. He has not used that argument in defence of this Clause. Therefore, I could only suppose that what he has in mind is what I think he may have let slip inadvertently when he said it was the intention of the War Office as far as possible to limit movement to single men and groups of men. I hope, if the War Office get this power, it will be limited to single individuals, but apparently they visualise the movement of groups as well. Because of that, our reasons for opposing the Clause are even stronger than they were. If groups of tradesmen are to be moved from one unit to another not only will that disunite the regiment from which they go, but it will have a similar effect on the regiment to which they go.

I believe the argument used by the Under-Secretary that some credit for the fact that the Army achieved so much during the war must be given to the fact that there was a certain amount of cross-posting, can only be a frivolous argument. I hope it was not intended to be serious, for I cannot imagine a greater misconception in the War Office than to assume that because there was some cross-posting during the war, against the will of those concerned, it in any way contributed to the success of the Army. I am absolutely certain that the only reason why success was still obtainable after those cross-postings took place was because the regimental spirit was good already. If it had not been, I do not believe that the Army would have stood the strain of such cross-posting as actually happened. I hope that we shall get the matter clarified, and receive an assurance from the Secretary of State for War that the Army certainly does not look upon cross-posting as desirable. Where it did take place it created difficulties which only very fine discipline managed to overcome.

The temptation to sentimentalise is very great indeed, because I have been a regimental soldier practically all my life. I deplore very much any interference with the regimental spirit. It has been proved over and over again, by examples in the last war, and the war before that, that the regimental spirit is fundamental to the achievement of success. I am quite certain that if we pay only lip service to the regimental system, and have a sort of shadow of its former shape, we are denying the right of a man, whatever reasons he may originally have had for joining a regiment, to continue to serve in the regiment which he chose.

We shall undermine the whole discipline of the British Army, and upon that good discipline depends the morale of the Army. Anyone who tinkers about with the morale of the Army is asking for trouble, because in war there are quite enough things which interfere with moral anyway. To have something going on inside this country, or inside the War Office itself, which will in any way affect morale, will endanger, not only the Army itself, but the security of the nation, and also the peace of the world. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will realise that this matter is not one which can be treated as an academic problem. It is very real problem indeed.

12.15 p.m.

Mr. Berry (Woolwich, West)

I have listened with a certain amount of cynical amusement to speeches made by hon. Members on the opposite side of the Committee defending the alleged voluntary system. Some of us know quite a number of cases where this has occurred on parade: "So many volunteers are wanted —you, you, you and you," and there is no further argument. This is a pseudo-voluntary system. At the same time, I would say that I am not too enamoured of this Clause, although I cannot help thinking that some of the hon. Members on the opposite Benches have been talking with their tongues in their cheeks.

Mr. Low


Mr. Berry

If the administration of the Clause depended upon the Secretary of State for War, or the Under-Secretary, it would be fairly administered, but, in spite of the assurance given by the Under-Secretary, I have no confidence at all in the administration of the War Office.

Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)

Whose tongue is in his cheek now?

Mr. Berry

The two Parliamentary chiefs of the War Office are excellent people, but as regards their subordinates, the less said of them the better. At times they seem to act upon the principle, or lack of principle, enunciated centuries ago by a certain King of Syria, who sent a message to his opposite number in Israel, saying, "If there is anything pleasant in your eyes, I am going to take it away from you." That seems to be the spirit animating quite a large number of people in the War Office. If the Secretary of State says that instructions will be given by the members of the Army Council to carry out his views, I only hope that he has been given that promise by the members of the Army Council and that he will call upon the Ministry of Supply for an ounce of thistledown to add a bit of weight to the word. I have no confidence in any promise given in that direction.

I am impressed by the argument that it is well to allow sons and grandsons to follow in the footsteps of fathers and grandfathers. There is a very real value in that in industry, and I know, from living in a garrison town, that there is a real value in it from the point of view of the Army. I happen to have lived all my life in a town closely associated with the Royal Artillery, and I know man after man who has followed in the footsteps of the dear old dad in that respect. I am convinced that, properly handled, the voluntary system could be managed, although I fully comprehend the argument of the Under-Secretary of State of the need for being able to transfer people, because they might come across quite a number who would be awkward.

My own son was transferred, with his entire consent, and he was very happy over it. As a matter of fact, I think the result of the transfer was that he was far better placed than he was in the regiment of his first choice. If it could be used for that purpose I think it would be quite good. If the pledge given by the Under-Secretary of State can be carried out—what one knows of the War Office inclines one to doubt that—I think there is some value in it. I would deprecate anything that would deteriorate the spirit of the British Army, for that would be fatal, both in war and in peace, and I hope that we may have an assurance that this can be reconsidered. Like the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) I have no intention of voting against this Clause, but I would welcome an assurance that the matter will be reconsidered.

Mr. Shinwell

This Debate has been conducted in admirable temper, and I am grateful to hon. Members in all quarters of the House for the representations that they have sincerely made. There was, however, an exception. The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) appeared to me to trespass on the side of the offensive. All I wish to say to him is this. I refuse to be provoked. I would beg of him to take a leaf out of the book of the hon. and gallant Member who represented his constituency in the last House—his gallant father—and who endeared himself to all sections of the House, and did not find it necessary to indulge in provocative observations. Perhaps I may forgive the hon. and gallant Member, because he informed the House, I think on at least three occasions, that he was very tired, and in view of his obvious hangover perhaps we can pass on to more important business—

Major Beamish

Since the Secretary of State for War has seen fit to make this quite unprovoked attack upon me—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, certainly, perhaps I may ask what it was that I said to which he takes exception?

Mr. Shinwell

I should advise the hon. and gallant Member to do what I hope he does for his own advantage, and that is to read the columns of HANSARD.

Major Beamish

What, was it?

Mr. Shinwell

I am a little surprised at hon. Members opposite. After all, they are in favour of conscription. They have consistently advocated conscription without asking any questions of the persons who are about to be conscripted, and who were subsequently conscripted; without regard to the interruption of careers, without regard to the effect on the morale of the persons concerned, and completely ignoring all the imponderable factors to which reference has been made in the course of this Debate. Clearly, if hon. Members are in the mood to impose compulsion as regards a very large section of the British Army, they must not be mealy mouthed or squeamish when it comes to imposing a measure of compulsion which has been rendered essential because of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. [Interruption.] The hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) interjects that we are dealing with the volunteer. The hon. and learned Member is well aware of the fact that in this Committee we use the arguments which are most suitable. That is precisely what he has done. I am venturing to do the same.

I repeat that it does not lie in the mouths of hon. Members opposite to complain of compulsory posting or transfer when already the Committee and the country have accepted implicitly the principle of compulsion. The position of those who are opposed to the principle of compulsion is another matter. One of my hon. Friends said that he disliked the conception of an Army altogether. That is a point of view of which we must take note, but it is not agreeable to us and there we must leave it.

Why has this been rendered necessary? Many hon. and gallant Members participated in the Debate on the Estimates, and I am bound to say that they offered very valuable observations of which note has been taken for future reference, and for future action if that be possible. In the course of that Debate, it was made abundantly clear to the Committee and the country that the Army is in the process of drastic reorganisation. That situation has been brought about because of the rapid run-down in numbers in the Army. Over and above that—and this is a point with which all hon. Members are familiar—it has been brought about because of our very severe commitments overseas. In those circumstances, whether or not hon. Members like the term—and I regret that I cannot find a more suitable one on this occasion—we must proceed with the utmost flexibility. It is impossible to build up a balanced Force either in the Army, the Navy or the Air Force, without regard to the need for the desirable poise that is essential if these Forces are to operate effectively.

Therefore, it has become necessary, because of the paucity of numbers, the harsh commitments which are unavoidable in existing circumstances, and in particular—this I must emphasise—the change that has come about in the Army, the obvious and inevitable change due to mechanisation and the use of modern weapons, to exercise certain discrimination in the transfer of men from one arm to another. It is suggested, and indeed it appeared to me the most substantial point, that one method of avoiding this point would be to provide more suitable conditions for the particular technical or other arm. I assure hon. Members that I am fully conscious of the need for some readjustment.

A readjustment of this character, however desirable it may appear to be, possesses certain superficial aspects which must be considered if it is to be operated with due regard to its repercussions. It would be easy enough, and a child could suggest this, to say that in order to recruit more men for the technical arms of the Army we should offer higher pay and better conditions. But how far would that affect morale and discipline in the other arms? We must consider that possibility. Indeed, it is more than a possibility. Any readjustment of this character would have to be considered most carefully.

It is suggested that this will have a deleterious effect on recruitment. I doubt it. It is true that some men who join the Army voluntarily are disposed to join a certain regiment or arm of the Service. On the other hand, a great many of them join the Army as an army without regard to any particular branch. That must be taken into account. It is suggested also that there should be no indiscriminate posting. All I can do is to give an assurance on behalf of the Army Council—and my hon. Friend must accept it for what it is worth: I accept it from my colleagues —that posting will be operated with the utmost discretion.

Mr. Stokes


Mr. Shinwell

We must leave that to those who are in charge of the administration. That is the only way in which it can be operated.

It is assumed by some of my hon. Friends, or at any rate it appears to be an assumption underlying the arguments which have been adduced, that when a man joins the Army there is no question of compulsion or posting to a particular task. I have just returned from a visit to a garrison overseas. There I saw men engaged on tasks which I am sure they never expected to undertake when they joined the Army. Yet, they are retained in the same branch of the Service though they are undertaking tasks of the most arduous and technical character, so arduous indeed that I questioned what was being done and I am taking the matter into consideration. However, it was pointed out that this was essential for certain purposes which we have in view. That being so, if, when a man joins the Forces, we have the power to transfer him to tasks which he never anticipated on enlistment, then clearly we are not proceeding too far in the wrong direction if we retain for ourselves in this Clause the right to post men from one arm to another.

The only other argument to which it appears to me to be necessary to reply is that about the territorial aspects of the British Army. I have been sufficiently long at the War Office, and I had a previous dispensation there, to know that everybody at the War Office attaches considerable importance to the territorial aspects. Indeed, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) said, and as I pointed out during the Debate on the Estimates, we are seeking to attach territorial units as closely as possible to their home towns and thus retain features which have always been regarded as desirable.

Mr. Gallacher

If a man refuses to be compulsorily transferred, does he come under all the rigours of a court-martial, or will he have some opportunity of appeal?

12.30 p.m.

Mr. Shinwell

That is a point of substance, to which I will certainly give my attention. I shall not willingly permit harsh measures to be adopted in the case of a man—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh.] Let me finish my point. Within the bounds of the necessary discipline that must be invoked—and without discipline we cannot carry on the British Army, or any other Force—I would not willingly allow harsh measures to be operated against a person who had a legitimate case for not being transferred. I cannot believe that those responsible in the various Commands would post men, or a group of men, who were very unwilling to accept the transfer. However, this is a matter which requires a certain amount of consideration, and I am prepared to look at it and advise the House accordingly about it.

As for the rest, all I shall say is this: We have to use our men to the best advantage. Does the Committee take exception to that? Surely not. With small numbers that is the obvious thing to do, and that is all we are proposing to do. It may not be necessary to adopt this method to more than a limited degree, and I shall do my best to confine it to the narrowest possible limits. In view of what has been said, and of which I and the Army authorities will take note, I shall see that Members' wishes, so far as practicable, are carried out. I must say, however, that objectionable though this proposal may appear to be, we have found it to be essential. We should not have advanced it unless it had been regarded as absolutely necessary in the existing unfavourable circumstances. That being so, I must ask the Committee to accept it.

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)

In view of the extraordinary reply of the Minister, I must advise my hon. Friends to take this matter to a Division. The right hon. Gentleman has not accepted one of the propositions or arguments that were put forward from all sides of the Committee. He did not mention the question of morale at all, which is of fundamental importance. The right hon. Gentleman said, "We have accepted the principle of conscription and, therefore, we should accept it in this case. We must accept that because certain men are being compelled to go into the Army, they must, and those who join voluntarily, having got there, have put on their backs this further element of internal conscription." It seems to be the right hon. Gentleman's argument that because we have accepted the one the other inevitably follows. It does not. The whole burden of the argument is that in the Army today there are two elements—the conscripted element and the voluntary element. It is the voluntary element which will be in danger if this proposal is carried.

Reference has been made today to the importance of esprit de corps and the regimental spirit. Even the Communist Party have joined in that, and I suppose that in this House that is about all the Communist Party have got. They have neither influence nor numbers, but they certainly have a considerable amount of esprit de corps. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not conceded anything to the arguments which have been advanced. All he said was that a certain amount of discretion would be applied. I do not understand how that can be applied. Either a man will be given an order and transferred, or he will not. It does not make sense at all. The Minister says, "Many men are forced to undertake tasks of great difficulty which they never expected to undertake when they joined the Army." He said that he had seen men doing such tasks during his recent tour—and I am glad that he is back, because I saw from the Press that there had been some difficulty and that he found himself, oddly enough, in Portugal.

I gathered that during his tour he saw men doing work which they had not expected to do when they joined the Army. What has that got to do with the argument? The argument here is not the work which the men will have to do; it is the men with whom they will have to do the work. It is the unit. I do not suppose that the doing of unpleasant tasks occurred for only the first time during the right hon. Gentleman's visit overseas. I hope that those unpleasant tasks were not in connection with his visit. The Army, all through its long history, has had to do many unexpected and nasty jobs. The very fact that men have done these jobs with their comrades, men with whom they have voluntarily joined and been trained, has enabled them to do the tasks with much greater success and a much better spirit than otherwise would have been the case.

The Under-Secretary put up the argument that in spite of cross-posting during the war, about which some of my hon. Friends complained, we won the war so that there was, therefore, nothing much wrong with cross-posting. That is the most rubbishly argument I have ever heard advanced in this House. We won the war in spite of a lot of things. It was not only a question of cross-posting. Are we to say that all the troubles and difficulties we overcame to win the war are in themselves meritorious? Unfortunately, we suffered defeats. Is it a good thing that that happened? We suffered losses of equipment. Is that a good thing, in spite of the fact that at the end of it all we won the war? A powerful case has been made from both sides of the Committee, and I can only think that if there had been more hon. and gallant Members on the opposite Benches today, men with military experience in the war, they would have taken the same line as has been taken by every speaker in this Debate.

Surely, the Minister should sometimes bow to the argument which, in this case, is very strong. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he did not bother to answer the argument. He did not bother to say anything about morale.

That is one of the imponderables which, apparently, is quite imponderable to him. He has very much undervalued—and that is putting it mildly—the effect which this proposal will have on voluntary recruiting. I do not know whether it would be possible to distinguish the use of these powers between men who are conscripted and those who voluntarily join the Army. That might help in some cases, but I do not concede the principle as being good at all. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider it. It is not the last stage of this Bill. Let him take back his proposal to see whether he cannot, in fact, withdraw it. In order to encourage him along those lines, I advise my hon. Friends, in view of the most inadequate reply, that we should protest in the Division Lobby.

Question put, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 106; Noes, 46.

Division No. 122.] AYES. [12.45 p.m.
Adams, Richard (Balham) Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury) Segal, Dr. S.
Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South) Ewart, R. Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (St. Helens)
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth) Follick, M. Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Allan, Scholefield (Crewe) Ganley, Mrs. C. S. Silverman, J. (Erdington)
Attewell, H. C. Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley) Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B. Hale, Leslie Simmons, C. J.
Balfour, A. Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.
Battley, J. R. Hastings, Dr. Somerville Skinnard, F. W.
Belcher, J. W. Herbison, Miss M Smith, C. (Colchester)
Benson, G. Hobson, C. R. Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)
Berry, H. Holman, P. Snow, J. W.
Bing, G. H. C. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Sorensen, R. W.
Binns, J. Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool, Edge Hill) Soskice, Sir Frank
Blackburn, A. R. Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.) Sparks, J. A.
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Jeger, G. (Winchester) Steele, T.
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow) Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell) Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin) Symonds, A L.
Burden, T. W. Kenyon, C. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)
Chater, D. McAdam, W. Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Chetwynd, G. R. McEntee, V. La T. Thurtle, Ernest
Coldrick, W. Mack, J. D. Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.
Collindridge, F. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Viant, S. P.
Colman, Miss G. M. Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield) Walker, G. H.
Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G. Middleton, Mrs. L. Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Coriett, Dr. J. Moody, A. S. Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Cove, W. G. Morley, R. Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Daines, P. Moyle, A. White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Naylor, T. E. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
de Freitas, Geoffrey Neal, H. (Claycross) Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Donovan, T. Oliver, G. H. Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Driberg, T. E, N. Parker, J. Williams, R. W. (Wigan)
Dumpleton, C. W. Ranger, J. Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Durbin, E. F. M. Reid, T. (Swindon) Wyatt, W.
Edwards, N. (Caerphilly) Ridealgh, Mrs. M.
Evans, John (Ogmore) Rogers, G. H. R. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mr. Pearson and Mr. Wilkins.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Challen, C. Drewe, C.
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H. Channon, H. Duthie, W. S.
Birch, Nigel Cooper-Key, E. M. Erroll, F. J.
Bossom, A. C. Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)
Bower, N. Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.
Boyd-Carpentor, J. A. Dodds-Parker, A. D. Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D.
Harris, H. Wilson (Cambridge Univ.) Mott-Radclyffe, C. E. Ward, Hon. G. R.
Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V. Noble, Comdr. A. H. P. Wheatley, Col. M. J. (Dorset, E.)
Head, Brig. A. H. Poole, O. B. S, (Oswestry) White, J. B. (Canterbury)
Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C. Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead) Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Jeffreys, General Sir G. Robinson, Roland Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Smithers, Sir W. Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)
Low, A. R. W. Spearman, A. C. M.
Lucas, Major Sir J. Sutcliffe, H. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Teeling, William Major Conant and
Manningham-Buller, R. E. Touche, G. C. Brigadier Mackeson.
Molson, A. H. E. Vane, W. M. F.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clauses 10 to 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.