HC Deb 10 March 1949 vol 462 cc1484-542

8.3 p.m.

The following Amendment stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. BALDWIN: Leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and add: this House considers that immediate steps should be taken to overcome the shortage of modern equipment which impairs efficiency and makes impossible the specialised training necessary to meet aggression and that the absence of trained formations due to the shortage of recruits imperils our defence; it therefore calls upon the Government to improve the conditions of service in order to attract recruits to the Regular Army.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker(Mr. Bowles)

I ought to point out to the hon. Gentleman that all the words after "defence" in his Amendment are out of Order and, therefore, the Amendment which he will move contains the words down to the word "defence," and the last sentence of the Amendment is not included.

Earl Winterton

On a point of Order. Is it not usual that when an Amendment is accepted by the Table, it is regarded as being in Order? This Amendment was accepted by the Table after the Ballot took place.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am not ruled by the Table. The Amendment is out of Order because it is wider than the terms of which the hon. Gentleman gave notice when his name was called out in the Ballot two or three weeks ago. Therefore, the last sentence is not included in the Amendment.

Earl Winterton

I think that we ought to have a definite Ruling on what is rather a novel point. I understand, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that your Ruling is that it is the Chair alone who decides whether a Motion is in Order, and that anything which I hand in to the Table, and which is accepted by the Table, is not necessarily in Order.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The Table may be the first obstacle to get over, but ultimately the decision must lie with the Chair as to whether or not a certain Amendment is in Order.

Mr. Baldwin

I hope that you will appreciate, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the difficulty with which I and my hon. Friends are put in, because the tenor of my speech will be somewhat on the lines of the Amendment and deal with the matter of recruitment. All that I can suggest is that you should be as lenient as you can because in the Amendment which stands in my name, the question is raised of the lack of trained formations.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is moving an Amendment to the Motion, "That Mr. Deputy-Speaker do now leave the Chair." He and his hon. Friend who is seconding, are entitled to speak widely in the general Debate, but when he has moved the Amendment and it has been put from the Chair, then that is the Amendment before the House and the Debate is accordingly narrowed.

Mr. Baldwin

I am now getting to the point where it is quite impossible for me to call attention to the lack of trained formation, unless I can deal with what I suggest should be the method of getting those trained formations.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend can speak as widely as they like, but having once moved the Amendment, the rest of the Debate is narrowed to the Amendment.

Mr. Baldwin

In those circumstances I feel that it would be better for me not to move the Amendment and to speak on the general Debate.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

There is no obligation to move the Amendment. The hon. Gentleman can speak on the ordinary Debate without moving the Amendment.

Mr. Baldwin

I am much obliged because it would make my position difficult.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Do I understand from the hon. Gentleman that he does not now intend to move his Amendment?

Brigadier Head

I think that part of my hon. Friend's dilemma is that should he speak in the general terms he proposes to, particularly with regard to his desire to elicit information from the Secretary of State for War, then the Secretary of State will be debarred once the Amendment has been moved from replying on matters not within the terms of the Amendment.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think that is so. I have the responsibility of deciding whether the Amendment is in Order or not, and the hon. Gentleman has the responsibility of seeing that his Amendment is in Order, and, between us, he has the right to move and his hon. Friend to second the Amendment without the last sentence, but the Debate on the Amendment is limited by the words in the Amendment.

Earl Winterton

That does not prevent the hon. Member from saying what he likes until he actually moves the Amendment.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think that I have said that three times.

8.10 p.m.

Mr. Baldwin

Now that we have got this dilemma removed, I accept that decision and will move the Amendment at some future time. I would say that I am speaking in this Debate because of the luck of the ballot. This is the first occasion on which I have taken any part in the Debates on the Armed Forces and, therefore, possibly I should declare my interest. I happen to be a relic of the first world war and possibly my views may be out-dated and old-fashioned, but I have certain ideas about the training and the methods of recruiting the Regular Army and also the Territorial Army.

During my term of service, by the luck of posting, I happened to be placed with one of the best batteries in the Royal Horse Artillery, and I had the opportunity of seeing many different regiments and of forming a fair opinion as to the discipline, training and so forth of those regiments. In this Debate, I do not propose to name any regiment except the Brigade of Guards. I mention that Brigade for two reasons. One because of the standard of discipline, training and efficiency which I was enabled to see, and the other reason is that I want to take this opportunity of dealing with the sneering remark which was made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) in the Defence Debate. I gave him notice that I was going to raise this matter but, unfortunately, it is not possible for him to be present. What he said in reference to the Brigade of Guards was to the effect that a man's efficiency was judged by the shine on his boots and the mechanical precision of his movements. In other words, it was a denunciation of what is looked upon as "spit and polish."

I have my own views on that matter. I can relate one instance which came under my own personal observation. When the Germans broke through on the 4th Corps front in the Spring of 1918, my Brigade, with other troops, was rushed from Italy to help stem the tide. We took up our position behind the lines where the Guards had been in action, and when I went forward as observing officer and saw that the relieving unit were in improvised trenches, I asked, "What was it that stopped the Germans in this open country?" The reply I got was "The Guards came in here; they lay down in the open and stopped the rush with their rifles.' In confirmation of that I saw the bodies of Germans lying about.

I mention that because the point I want to emphasise in this Debate is one which was brought up in the very brilliant speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head). and that is that we must have a highly trained, efficient and mobile Regular Army. That means we must also have an Army that is mobile by air. It is essential for the defence of this country that we should build up as quickly as possible the old type of Regular Army, and whatever steps are necessary to achieve that must be taken.

It was never more essential that we should have a highly trained and mobile Army. In the old days of trench warfare troops could hold a trench and did not need the same efficiency that is required today. If we have not got highly skilled, trained and efficient men, it is absolute murder to send them into battle.

That is where I agree so heartily with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) about the National Service men. We supported conscription, but we did not agree that it should be a permanent feature of our recruitment. It was a stop-gap method, and as soon as possible it should be done away with. What we have to build up is a force of Regular troops, and standing behind them reserve troops and an efficient Territorial Army.

Mr. Swingler

May I interrupt the hon. Member?

Mr. Baldwin

I think the hon. Member spoke for about half an hour and it is about time he had a rest. On the question of reserves, I want to ask the Minister to give some indication of the strength of our Reserve Forces at the present time. According to my information, the strength has dropped from 71,000 in 1947–48 to 51,000 in 1949–50. I suggest that we want to get back to our pre-war strength of something like 140,000. It is not only essential that these reserves should be kept in being, but that some opportunity should be given for them to come up for training at least once a year to brush themselves up and learn how to handle any fresh equipment.

The important grade of reservists is Class A, and I wish to ask the Minister whether he considers that 18d. a day is a sufficient encouragement for these men to remain in that Reserve, which means they hold themselves in readiness to be called up at a moment's notice to serve anywhere at any time. Again, I cannot believe that a Is. a day is a sufficient attraction for Class B and Class D Reserves. We are also entitled to know something more in regard to Class Z Reserve, which should be a very important body of men. It would be of in- terest to know whether any steps have been taken to check up the addresses of these men in Class Z Reserve, and whether the right hon. Gentleman knows how many of them are in reserved occupations, how many are now medically unfit and how many could be called up in the event of an emergency. These are valuable trained men who could be called upon to train the National Service men.

The argument of my hon. and gallant Friend about National Service men was that the intake was too big for the Regular Army to train, and that the Regular Army ought to be training recruits for the Regular Army instead of taking up their time in training National Service men who are nothing like so important. There should be a steadying up of the National Service intake. I was delighted that my hon. and gallant Friend was present at the end of the speech of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Swingler), because what he had been saying was entirely wrong. My hon. and gallant Friend was able to call attention to the fact that the intake was too high and lopsided. As soon as we have built up the Regular Army this system should be abolished. It is entirely disruptive of our economic life. These young men have no encouragement when they leave school to learn a trade and take on a job, and employers are loth to take them on because they know that after a certain amount of time has been spent in training them they are called up for the Army. It will be all to the good when National Service can be abolished, not only from the point of view of the efficiency of the fighting troops but also from the point of view of the young men themselves. Conscription was essential when it was introduced because we needed to get a pool of trained men as quickly as possible.

The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Swingler) has suggested that six months would be sufficient to train a National Service man. All I can say is that if I had to go out on a job I would sooner take four fully-trained men with me than a whole platoon of men who had had only six months' training, because they would be a danger to themselves and to everyone else. I suggest that in these days of modern warfare 18 months is insufficient to train a soldier. Another thing is that these young men have not got their hearts in the job. They are spending their time coming and going, and the only thing they learn to do efficiently is the chores mentioned by the Minister. They may be trained to peel potatoes, but is it worth while conscripting a young man to teach him that? In conversations I had with many of these men, they have told me in no uncertain terms that a great deal of their time is wasted on jobs that are not worth while. The amount of training they get is nothing at all, and it is just a waste of manpower.

I wish now to say a word in regard to the Territorial Army. Because I have left it until last does not mean that I think it is unimportant. On the contrary, it is one of the most important branches of the Army after the Regular troops. When we think of the response to the appeal for recruits to the Territorial Army and how pathetic it has been, it is evident that something is wrong. Just as it is necessary to give some incentive to the Regulars to join the Army, so in my opinion the niggardly and mingy method of dealing with the Territorial volunteers should be altered. It is quite sufficient that these men should give up their time to service the country without having to be out of pocket at the same time.

Why is it considered sufficient to give a Territorial volunteer 3½d. a mile for running his car, while in one of the other civil services 5d. or 6d. a mile is given? What is fair for one is fair for another. In this country we deal with the two most essentials of our life in this mingy and niggardly way. The production of food and the Fighting Services are the two most important things, and they are the worst paid of any section of the community. Why this niggardliness with regard to volunteers? If they were members of the Coal Board they would get £1,000 a year for expenses. If we can afford to give that sum of money to members of the Coal Board free of Income Tax we can be more generous towards these men. Surely it would be a greater attraction to them to go for their training.

Another point that occurs to me is, why should an employer be expected to make any contribution towards the salary of these men? Why should it be a sacrifice to the individual? The nationalised industries are held up as a pattern for making up the wages of the men. That comes from the taxpayer. Why should not the wages that these men lose in civil life be made up by the taxpayer? What is fair for one is surely fair for the other. It is quite enough for these employers to lose the services of skilled men during their period of training without being called upon to put their hands into their pockets as well. I suggest that the Minister should look at that aspect. The response to the recruiting appeals for the Territorial Army would be increased if this niggardliness were done away with. Another small matter concerns the tradesman who was in the Army and wants to join up in the Territorials, but will not be accepted as a tradesman with the Territorials unless he was following that trade before he went into the Army. It is a small thing, but I can quite see that there may be many men who would like to join the Territorials in the trade which they followed in the Army. They are not going to take the risk of being called up for general service, but if they knew they would be taken as tradesmen they would volunteer.

I have called attention to the shortages and I am going to suggest what must be tackled. I know the first is the question of pay and conditions. The hon. Member for Stafford has been raking over the ashes of the past, as I am afraid is so often done here. What does it matter now about 1925? What matters is how we are going to get the men into the Army today.

Mr. Gilzean (Edinburgh, Central)

What hon. Members opposite gave in 1925 was also given in 1825.

Mr. Baldwin

Hon. Members opposite got into office on a pamphlet called "Let Us Face the Future." They spend half their time raking over the ashes of the past. I am not here to talk about what went on before. The contributions made today by the Opposition have been constructive suggestions to the Secretary of State for War. They are not made in any party spirit, and I do not wish to bring party acrimony into this matter. In view of the conditions which full employment bring today, if Regular men are to be got for the Army it has got to be made sufficiently attractive, either through pay or conditions. The Government will have to tackle one or both. It has been said that the pay has not been increased and my suggestion is that, in fact, it has been decreased, because the purchasing value of the £ has gone down by 15d. in the last three years. Men paid today with the same money are actually worse off than they were two or three years ago.

Then there is the question of building married quarters. The days are gone when men could be expected to live under the hard conditions under which they lived 50 or 60 years ago. Conditions are different, though all the improved conditions have not taken place during the last three years, as some hon. Members seem to think. It has been a gradual improvement, and we must improve the conditions of the Regular soldier at the same time. He must have the opportunity of a married life and a certain amount of enjoyment. He must not feel that he is always in his uniform and at the beck and call of many. He must have the essentials and the amenities which people in civilian life enjoy. One of the deciding factors as to whether a man will stop in the Army or not is very often his wife, and she is not prepared to put up with any old thing. I have had a letter from a Regular soldier and in it he suggests to me that one of the grievances which Regular soldiers have is too frequent postings. He says that they get posted here, there and everywhere without rhyme or reason. He did not know why it was done, but one of the results was that his wife had to give up their married quarters, and it was possible that in the place where they were going to there was no possible chance of living under reasonable conditions.

I wholeheartedly support what my hon. and gallant Friend said with regard to long service. These men should be encouraged to go in for an Army life for a period up to 21 years if they wish to do so. At the end of their service it is essential that they must know that they have a reasonable chance of getting a job. A booklet has been published entitled "Resettlement of Regular Personnel of His Majesty's Forces." That document is not forthright enough. There are too many escape clauses. For instance in one place it says that all awards are subject to financial necessity. I hope the Secretary of State for War will look at that. Why should there be a means test for a man who has been thrifty and has saved up sufficient money to give him a start in life when he leaves the Army? Those are the men who should get further assistance. If a man leaves the Army with a reasonably clean record of service a job should be found for him in one of the nationalised industries or in the Post Office. He should know that he has a good chance of continuing in a reasonable job for the rest of his life. I have already mentioned the subject of married quarters, and I hope that the Secretary of State for War will take up the question of married quarters with the Minister of Health and point out to him that a house built for a soldier's family or for a civilian family is a house built. The first priority should be given to soldiers for their wives, so that they can be encouraged to join the Army.

Another grievance which this soldier mentioned to me in his letter is that of the number of free warrants with which they are issued. I believe I am right in saying that in the Civil Service there are nine free warrants a year issued for those living away from home. A man in the Army, I suggest, living away from home should be given a free pass each time he gets 48 hours' leave. That would be an encouragement and help to family life, and anything we can do in that respect is worth while doing.

It would help these soldiers also if their children could have the benefit of a boarding school. This man had a small girl just over seven years of age and she had been to four different schools. No child can be properly educated under those conditions, and that matter might be looked into. Exhortation is no good in these recruiting campaigns. The Minister should give us something we can put forward at the recruiting meetings which will attract and encourage these men to join either the Territorial or Regular Army.

The Superannuation Bill was given a Second Reading yesterday. It provides that the widow of a civil servant shall be entitled to one-third of the pension he was drawing at the time of his death. If he dies while still in the Service, she will get one-third of the pension right which has accrued to him. This right should be extended to men in the Armed Forces. Why should not a man in the Armed Forces have the same rights and privileges as a man in the Civil Service? At present if a man dies while serving his widow has no entitlement to pension although she may be given an exiguous pension by the Army Council. The officer is little better off. We must look at the conditions in the Regular Army with the same eyes as we look at conditions in civilian life. If there is any benefit to be given, let it he given to the men living under difficult conditions and risking their lives for our sake.

We want more than a modest instalment of modernisation of equipment. It is time we stopped living on our fat. We may do it in our economic life for a time, though that will come to an end, but it is not quite so dangerous as living on the fat of our old equipment. I was glad to hear the Minister say that a thorough overhaul is being made of vehicles at present in store, for it is long overdue. There is a tremendous waste in manpower in looking after the stores of ammunition which are littered all over the countryside, and there is a great waste in money as well in the agricultural land on which ammunition is stored in hutments and depôts. So I hope the Minister will have a thorough spring clean, get rid of that which is not efficient, and build up some modern stores.

Under Vote 7 D there is a reduction in the amount for signals and wireless from £2,960,000 to £1,625,000. I hope the Minister can give some explanation to the House, because the impression might be gathered that we were losing a certain amount of efficiency by not keeping up this equipment. Have we a British Jeep? This vehicle came in with the Americans and proved to be of enormous value. If our men are to be mobile and get anywhere across the country they must have a Jeep comparable to, or better than, the American.

There is a well-informed rumour going around that our tanks have not been very successful. Is it correct to say that the Canadian authorities are refusing to have anything to do with the present British tanks because they consider them to be badly designed and, in consequence, are turning to American ones? Bearing on this, I am told also that a firm which was given notice to produce 25,000 tank periscopes some long time ago has never yet been called upon to do the job. Is that because there are no tanks to put them in?

It is difficult in these Debates to avoid shadow boxing. Defence should not be a party affair. There are plenty of matters about which we can have a scrap across the Chamber if we want to do so, but defence is not one of them. Times are such that defence should be taken out of party altogether, and I welcome the suggestion of the Prime Minister that my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) should discuss defence with him. I would suggest something further. I should like to see a small defence committee and on it a few of my hon. and gallant Friends who contribute so largely to these Debates with constructive suggestions. If those of us who are not on that committee like to have a quarrel about the Estimates, well and good, it amuses us and does no harm. These Debates, however, where the Minister quite rightly has to be careful about what he should disclose for security reasons, and where we have to criticise on information sometimes based on rumours and sometimes on inside information, may well be dangerous. The silence of the Minister may give the impression that all is not well, and that may be a deterrent to those nations on the Continent with which we want to cooperate and which we want in our Union. A small defence committee would be all to the good, and there would be a much better feeling in the country if we dealt with Defence matters in that way.

I beg to move to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add: this House considers that immediate steps should be taken to overcome the shortage of modern equipment which impairs efficiency and makes impossible the specialised training necessary to meet aggression and that the absence of trained formations due to the shortage of recruits imperils our defence.

8.39 p.m.

Brigadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)

I beg to second the Amendment moved so sincerely and ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin).

I agree with my hon. Friend fundamentally that defence should not be used as a vehicle for party differences, particularly in such intensely serious times as these. I know I speak on behalf of my other hon. and gallant Friends when I give the right hon. Gentleman my categorical assurance that I intervene purely with a view to propounding some constructive thought and not with a view to criticising the Minister personally on what has been done. I only wish to bring to this House the result of my 30 years' experience in His Majesty's Regular Army, as it is my duty to do.

In default of any authoritative information as to what is to be the function of our Armed Forces in the event of an unfortunate conflict, I will pose three suggestions on which to base my theme. I suggest that the first is the seizure of vital points at widely differing positions in the world. The second is the defence of these islands. The third is our fulfilment of obligations to Western Union. For the first, the requirement quite clearly is a limited number of highly-trained men capable of being borne by air at a moment's notice to any part of the globe, and not one man should be included in those numbers who is not worth his air transport. For the defence of these islands what we require are highly-trained, mobile troops, whose training is integrated with the Civil Defence plan. What we want for Western Union are highly-trained formations who have trained with, and are prepared to fight alongside, the Defence Forces of Western Union.

My contention is that the present system is not achieving any one of these three things. The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Swingler) has left the Chamber, but I should like to impress upon him that since our last Debate on Army Estimates world conditions have altered very considerably, for one factor, if no other, that China has gone into the Communist fold. The time has come when we must seriously review our position and decide whether the long-term policy which was originally embarked upon by His Majesty's Government, and had the support of all my hon. Friends and myself, is still the right one, or whether an immediate modification is required. That is the whole gravamen of the speeches which we on this side are endeavouring to make on this subject tonight.

At present the National Service man is being trained by the Regular Army. It is obvious to me and to everybody else that units cannot train these men and themselves at the same time. It is rather like putting boys of the fourth form at school to train with sixth form boys; as a result, unit and formation training is wrecked and the recruit is given a type of training which at this juncture he does not require. I am very glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that this year there is to be some unit and formation training in B.A.O.R. I trust that this is not merely a pious hope and that it really will come about. I have been to Germany and am not disclosing inside information when I say that the brigade I commanded is stretched from one end of Germany to the other. I suggest that possibly the time has come when some of the policing duties now being undertaken by the Army could be done by the Germans. Surely, the Germans are now beginning to reach the stage when they can be trusted to do their own policing under reasonable supervision, so that our units which are scattered so very widely may be concentrated in order to carry out vital training.

I am very pleased to hear that formation training is - to take place. I should like to urge in all seriousness upon the Chiefs of Staff to the right hon. Gentleman that this training should be confined in emphasis to the resistance of the initial attack. Valuable and vital lessons were learned in France in 1940, notably at St. Valery. The knowledge and experience of the survivors of those days is invaluable, as are the recent lessons from the last conflict of offence and combined operation. It is perfectly clear, I trust, to anybody in this House and in the world that we shall not be the' first to take the offensive. The first battle, therefore, will be one of defence. Not for five or six years has the British Army fought a defensive battle, and during the early stages of the last war there were some grave consequences as a result of the lack of knowledge and training for resistance to the initial offensive.

I am convinced that a new short-term policy is needed, and needed urgently, and what must be aimed at at the earliest possible moment is a highly-trained, efficient Regular Army, organised in formations and possessing overwhelming fire power. That is the crux of the whole problem. Men must be trained to handle these weapons, which must be weapons capable of delivering, easily and quickly, immense fire power. Combined with this is the vital need for close support aircraft. We lost the battle of France in 1940 largely because we did not have air superiority over the battlefield. We won our battles in the end because we had that air superiorty.

A certain amount of detail is permitted on these Estimates Debates, and I want to go into just two small details. First, the question of the multiple mortar Anybody who fought in the last stages of the war against the Germans will know that one of the most unpleasant things the Germans could produce in any battle were these five or six tubes—drainpipes fastened together almost with a piece of string, which could be put on to a little trolley and wheeled about. Batteries of 20 and 30 of these weapons would each fire several large mortars at once. These were one of the most unpleasant and alarming experiences with which anyone had to contend in the war. Their chief strength was in their mobility. I hope that the British Army will not go into battle next time with the single-barrelled Stokes mortar. I am not asking for this information—this is a rhetorical question.

Mr. Shinwell rose

Brigadier Prior-Palmer

For security reasons I do not want the Minister to give me an answer on that, but I should like to ask him whether a multiple mortar of that kind is being produced. If it is not, the sooner it is produced the better.

The other disturbing factor is the reduction in the Vote on wireless equipment, at which I am horrified. The whole of modern battle formations, right down to platoons and even to sections, is based on wireless. I hope that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the Chiefs of Staff are being led astray by some of the certain types of general who still exist who do not believe in wireless communications in war. Then there is the question of radar in the front-line formations. We were getting quite a long way with radar towards the end of the war, and I hope we are not going to shelve all the brilliant work of the latter stages. Again, for security reasons, I can say no more than that. I hope, however, that this reduction in the Vote for wireless stores and equipment will not affect either the communications of the Army or the standard of its wireless and radar equipment.

To revert to the main theme of the Debate. The immediate stimulus to voluntary recruiting for the Regular Army is, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) said, an immediate 25 per cent. all-round rise in pay. This would have the desired effect and would, I am convinced, in the long run be an economy. I emphasise as strongly as I can that at the present moment a bold step is necessary. The Government must take their courage in both hands. Things have moved very fast since our recent discussions on these matters; and now they are moving faster still. Time is short, and the only way in which we can produce those formations which will answer the question of defence for these Islands is by getting as rapidly as possible a voluntary, highly-skilled Regular Army.

I should like to make perfectly clear our view, as put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton, on the question of conscription. It is just this: that as voluntary recruitment rises, so we need not have as many conscripts. In my opinion the question has nothing to do with the length of conscript service. At this moment the Army are getting many more conscripts than they can compete with, and the number of men being conscripted could be reduced by increasing voluntary recruitment. It is merely an extension of this principle which we on this side are seeking.

One of the chief difficulties of the Secretary of State and of the Minister of Defence is the worldwide commitments of the British Army. I fully sympathise with them on that and understand the difficulty, but will the right hon. Gentleman take a suggestion from me? We have lost the great Indian Army, but the right hon. Gentleman has a vast potential of manpower in East Africa with which he could replace that Indian Army. I took the trouble when I was out there to ask officers who commanded those men in battle alongside Indian troops whether or not they were as good and they said they were every bit as good provided they were well led. There is a vast wealth of potential manpower in those Colonies. The right hon. Gentleman will find great opposition from the local governors who are afraid that their financial resources will be curtailed if anything like that is done, but in that way he could bring back into the areas surrounding these islands some of the troops so dispersed at the moment.

I spent the best years of my life in His Majesty's Army and it is an Army of which I am extremely proud, as are all of us who have served in it. I should like to pay tribute to the men we see now in the streets. How well turned out they are and how splendid is their bearing. In my view there is nothing wrong with the individual training at present, but are we not forgetting the higher formation training with live ammunition, without which individual training is useless and staff officers cannot deal with their staff as tactical officers do with their troops? If live ammunition is falling about, people are much more careful to cross the t's and dot the i's than when they play about on sand-tables in the ordinary way. I am addressing the House on these occasions with a view to benefiting the Service I love and endeavouring to prevent that initial loss of life which appears to be a habit with us. For once let us try to see whether we can put into the field an army properly and efficiently trained in any future conflict. I only do this as I believe it to be my bounden duty to do so in the House of Commons.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)

Perhaps I might draw attention to the fact that in proposing the Question I did not read out any of the words in the Amendment on the Order Paper after the word "defence" because they would be out of Order. It would be out of Order to discuss methods of recruitment of the Army.

8.53 p.m.

Mr. Shinwell

It might serve the convenience of hon. Members if I assisted to dispose of the Amendment so that we might return speedily to the main course of the Debate. I am much obliged to the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) for his graceful tribute to the officers and other ranks of the British Army. It is a well-deserved and well-merited tribute too frequently overlooked. We are accustomed to praise the Army in time of war and forget all about it in time of peace. I am always most willing to accept the assurance of the hon. and gallant Member that he did not speak in any partisan spirit and is desirous of assisting me and my military colleagues on the Army Council. It is true that there is very little of politics in this matter. There is the question of financial provision, the matter of direction, the line of approach, matters of strategy, planning and the like, but on the subject of National Defence and the need for adequate National Defence, apart from a small and almost, one might say, insignificant minority—I do not mean intellectually, I am speaking numerically—we are united.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Where the right hon. Gentleman used to be.

Mr. Shinwell

That interruption affords me an opportunity which I hope you will permit me to take, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to say that at no time in mycareer have I ever been a pacifist, not even in the 1914–18 War. I never was a conscientious objector.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Did the right hon. Gentleman serve?

Mr. Shinwell

It is true I did not serve, not that I was unwilling to serve, not that I did not offer my services; but as it happens—and probably this is being said for the first time and it was not my desire to tell the story—I was engaged in the seafaring business and was exempted, not at my request, but at the request of my union in order to undertake work which was regarded as work of national importance. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) can say that he knows better, but he was living in the innermost recesses of Wales while I was living in Scotland during the 1914–18 war, and he knows nothing whatever about the subject. I regret this digression but it is just as well that we should have the facts retailed, if only for the first time. That does not mean that I sought to invoke war at any time or wished to engage in any hostile action against any other nation or any other people. But there is a vast difference between the pacifism to which the hon. Member subscribes and the desire for peace which this party accepts in full and has accepted as a main principle of our policy.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think the right hon. Member must now leave that. The Amendment is very narrow and I must ask him to confine himself to it.

Mr. Shinwell

Yes, but if hon. Members will interrupt they must accept the reply. It is not a matter for me. Another matter to which I would like to refer is that the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) earlier seemed to be at loggerheads with me on some matter which I did not fully comprehend. If he is apprehensive lest I propose to use notes for the purpose of this speech, I can assure him that I have not a single card up my sleeve. Perhaps that will satisfy and mollify him.

As you have said, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, this Debate is very much contracted and we are circumscribed by the rules of the House. Therefore, it is quite impossible for me to follow up every one of the points raised by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) and the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing. When we have returned to the general Debate, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for State will provide a complete reply.—[Interruption.]—He has gone out of the Chamber for much-needed refreshment. Other hon. Members got in on the ground floor before him, but he will return in due course not only refreshed in body but I hope refreshed intellectually, so that he can meet the challenge from hon. Members opposite.

Let us see exactly what is the main theme in this Amendment. It consists of two parts, one the subject of the Regular Army and the Reserve position, and the other the matter of equipment. They are very important subjects indeed. It is assumed by hon. and gallant Members opposite that if only we could build up a numerically strong Regular Army, we could to some extent dispense with National Service and meet our commitments. That is a complete fallacy.

Brigadier Head

Am I not correct in saying that in his speech earlier the right hon. Gentleman said, "In the future I hope that when voluntary recruiting becomes better we shall he able to diminish National Service"?

Mr. Shinwell

Of course, the hon. and gallant Member is quite right. I referred to the future—not to the immediate future.

Brigadier Head

That is what we referred to.

Mr. Shinwell

We must be quite clear what we mean. It is precisely because there is considerable misunderstanding on this point that I must return to the subject. It is the theme which is associated with the Amendment before the House. If in the next few weeks—

Mr. Harold Macmillan (Bromley)

. Was not the Amendment about equipment?

Mr. Shinwell

I shall come to equipment if I may be permitted, but this is a very important matter and I understand that hon. and gallant Members who have attended the Debate throughout are most anxious to have a reply on this point.

If in the next few weeks, or indeed in the next few months, as a result of vast improvements in the conditions of Regular service—I am not permitted to deal with conditions of service, in accordance with the declaration by Mr. Deputy-Speaker—if as a result of increased pay by 25 per cent. or whatever it may be, or even the acceptance of what I must regard as the extravagant suggestions of the hon. Member for Leominster, if as a result of providing a long-service career in the Army or the provision of accommodation on a vast scale, we succeeded in recruiting the men required for the Regular Army, not up to the figure of 300,000 suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton, but the figure of 250,000 suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), we should be unable to meet our overseas commitments. That is the first point. Secondly, we would be unable to train the new recruits for the simple reason that we should not have an adequate training organisation in the Regular Army itself to meet the situation. The fact of the matter is that to a very large extent we are inhibited in anything we do at present by the overseas commitments which we are bound to fulfil. That is the plain fact of the situation.

If we had no commitments in Austria and Trieste, if we had not a military mission in Greece, if we did not require to have a very large number of men in the British Army of the Rhine and a large number in the Middle East, Malaya, Africa and elsewhere, in addition to a vast number of men required in our training cadres, and over and above that a vast army of men engaged in the repair, reconditioning and maintenance of Army vehicles associated with R.E.M.E. and the Ordnance and the like—if it were not for these varied and indeed colossal commitments imposed upon us, it would be a simple matter to build up a Regular Army. Perhaps it would not be quite as adequate as hon. and gallant Members opposite desire it to be, but at any rate it would be a Regular Army which we would be able to train adequately and efficiently and from which we would be able to provide some formations which could be made available at an early date. But the fact is that we are committed in the way I have indicated and as a result we are prevented from proceeding as hon. and gallant Members would wish us to do.

Brigadier Head

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy, but the point we are concerned about is this: Supposing a great deal of voluntary recruitment to the Regular Army was stimulated, and those recruits were trained to be useful soldiers after a year or two, would that not increase the effectiveness and size of the Regular Army and allow commitments to be fulfilled and some diminution of the number of National Service men to be brought about?

Mr. Shinwell

That follows on what I have said myself, but I beg the House to note what has been said by more than one Member opposite, including the hon. Member for Leominster, that even 18 months is not long enough in which to train soldiers. If we recruit volunteers for the Regular Army, it will take 18 months, or longer, to train them. So we are thinking in terms not of the immediate future, the next few weeks or months—I would not go so far as to say the long-term—but rather of the intermediate term. That is the situation.

It is because of the vast commitments imposed upon us overseas and in the United Kingdom that it is essential to promote and utilise National Service. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence no more likes 18 months' service than I do, but we have to accept the facts as they are; we cannot dispose of the realities of the situation by rhetoric or wishful thinking. Because of these commitments we must have 18 months' National Service and utilise a large number of National Service men, not in the United Kingdom alone, but overseas. Eighteen months' service permits us to send the men not only to the British Army of the Rhine but to the Middle East, although I agree that the duration of service in that theatre is not so long as we would like it to be in the circumstances.

What about the reserve position, about which I was asked by the hon. Member for Leominster? I have already pointed out that we have a vast reserve in Classes Z and W. I admit that it is a diminishing asset; in the very nature of the case that must be so. A large number of men in Classes Z and W went into the Army at the beginning of the war. On the other hand, a considerable body of men in Class Z entered the Army after the end of the war. For example, those released in the last few weeks are Class Z men, and they are trained. If we require to call them up in an emergency we could do so, and we should have a large number of trained men at our disposal.

What about availability? I agree that it is no use talking about trained reserves unless there is machinery to hand to make them available. I need not go into detail in a Debate of this character, but I give the House an assurance that through the medium of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, in association with the Army—and this also applies to the other Services—the necessary machinery is "laid on" so that not only do we know where a large number of the men reside, not only have we available for them all the paraphernalia required in the event of call-up, but we are in a position to call up even the general body of men not immediately, but progressively, if trouble should unfortunately occur.

Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)

Does the right hon. Gentleman know where these men are, or does he not?

Mr. Shinwell

The hon. and gallant Gentleman ought not to be pernickety about this matter. If we are dealing with three million men who have been in the Army during the war and since, and have now been released, obviously there is bound to be a great deal of wastage and movement from one place to another. As a result we have not been able to keep track of all their addresses, but we are in a position to check the movements of a very substantial number. In the event of a Proclamation, if that is unfortunately required, we would avail ourselves of the usual machinery.

Major Beamish

I am sorry, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not understand me. What I meant was—is there some kind of registration for the Class Z Reserve? Does he know whether these reservists are in reserved occupations or does he not?

Mr. Shinwell

There is no registration for the Z Reserves. The men I have described are in the Class Z and the Class W Reserves. We have been able to keep track of a large number of them. [HON. MEMBERS: "All."] Have I to go into these details on an occasion of this sort? I should have thought hon. Gentlemen opposite had sufficient intelligence to understand that in a matter of this sort we should not be caught unawares. On this question of Reserves I am not prepared to go so far as the hon. Member for Leominster, who said that before the war we had 114,000 Regular Reservists. I have been unable to check that figure. I could not check it, obviously, in the time at my disposal. I am accepting what he says, naturally, although I will look it up tomorrow to make sure—with great respect to the hon. Gentleman. The fact is that we have, I will not say adequate Reserves, but we are building up a body of Regular Reservists. It must not be forgotten that there is a Territorial' Army which itself is a Reserve Army.

On the question of equipment, I have been asked specific questions about the mortar position, about tanks and vehicles of various kinds. I said in my opening speech that we have a vast amount of material. I have myself been surprised at the amount of material in the possession of the Army. It is true, as some hon. Members have indicated, that we have disposed of a great mass of material. Incidentally we have disposed of some of it—this is the reply to one of my right hon. Friends—to friendly countries—Dominion and other friendly countries. It may well be, as I have ventured to suggest in my opening speech, that we shall dispose of more equipment which is surplus to our needs, always bearing in mind the possibility of stepping up pro- duction. We may dispose of equipment to Western Union defence organisations. That is all in train. The matter has to be handled carefully, and with regard to the implications that are involved.

As regards the equipment itself, all that I am prepared to say is' that I beg hon. Gentlemen opposite not to suppose that we are seeking to conceal facts and information from them merely because we desire so to do, or because the situation is so bad that we are afraid to disclose the fact. That is far from being so. I think the best answer I could give them is that we have a vast amount of material in our reserves. I agree that not all of it is up-to-date and modern, because in the nature of things it could not be so. We could not switch the whole of our economy on to war-time production. That would have been absurd, and not even hon. Members opposite would have asked us to undertake a task of that magnitude. We have a vast amount of material at our disposal, but it wants balancing, I agree. We have that in train. I am very conscious myself that it wants balancing in relation to the Army we have and in relation to our present commitments, and so on.

We are spending, as my right hon. Friend indicated and provided for in his White Paper on Defence, in this next year for which the Estimates are presented, a vast sum of money, not only on research but on actual development.

Colonel Ropner (Barkston Ash)

If we have this vast amount of material, including vehicles, why is it that the Territorial Army units are so woefully short of serviceable equipment with which to train? Why is it that searchlights are derelict, vehicles short, and the equipment that we get unserviceable? Why is it?

Mr. Shinwell

I must repudiate the allegation entirely. I regret very much that hon. Members opposite, who are so anxious to assist us in the Territorial Army recruiting campaign, should make statements and speeches which are very dangerous.

Brigadier Prior-Palmer

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept my assurance that we do not make statements like this unless we have seen these things with our own eyes? I could take him and show him what we mean by this.

Colonel Ropner

Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me again? It is the facts that are stopping recruiting, not the statements we make.

Mr. Shinwell

All I can say is this, and it is a challenge to hon. Members opposite—let them produce the facts. Let me have them at the War Office. If they exist, it will be easier for hon. Members to present them. I will give them an assurance that I will inquire into every allegation that is submitted. I have myself gone round the country, and one of my stock questions to commanding officers and other officers of Territorial units is: "What about your equipment?" Last week, I had the privilege of opening two Territorial centres in the Midlands, and I found the officers and men most enthusiastic, I am glad to say. On the subject of equipment, they had no complaints, but they did complain about the capacity of the accommodation to absorb the equipment.

I agree that some of the T.A. units have not got the most up-to-date equipment; for example, in radar and so on. Of course, I do not pretend, neither does my right hon. Friend, that we are fully equipped with the most modern radar mechanism, but we have got a fair amount of it. The T.A. units are being equipped, at any rate, to enable them to undertake normal training. If the hon. and gallant Member, who is himself associated very closely with the Territorial Army, will give me the information, I will undertake to go into it very carefully, but I repeat that, on the subject of equipment, these matters are being very closely watched.

We are spending a vast sum of money on research and development, but surely hon. Members will agree that, before we proceed to actual development in a certain range of equipment, it is very wise to undertake very careful research. We do not want to be speeding up production of some article of equipment only to discover in 12 months or two years that it is obsolescent. We must exercise great caution in these matters, and hon. Members would rightly castigate us if we speeded up production and discovered that the equipment was out-of-date in a short time.

There is only one other point, and it is this. We have been asked about the Western Union defence organisation and what we are doing about it, and also about questions of strategy, a subject which I do not understand at all. I make no claim to any knowledge of military strategy. I leave it to hon. Members opposite, who are fully acquainted with the subject, and I have no doubt that the Chiefs of Staff Committee, who will read the Debate, will avail themselves of the knowledge which has been laid before them. [Interruption.] There is no humour in that at all. This I would say. The Chiefs of Staff Committee, which comprises high ranking officers of high calibre, probably as good as any we can produce—[Interruption.] If the noble Lord will permit me—

Earl Winterton

The right hon. Gentleman has made a perfectly reasonable reference to my hon. and gallant Friends behind me, some of whom have the finest war records of anybody in this House, but they were jeered at by the right hon. Gentleman's supporters behind him.

Mr. Shinwell

I am sorry. At any rate, I am not jeering at hon. and gallant Members opposite who have fine war records. Why should we jeer at them? And there are hon. Members on this side who have fine war records. We will leave it at that. I want to make this point because I think the House should hear it, not because I make it but because it is desirable that they should. We have in the Chiefs of Staff men of high calibre, high qualification and world-wide reputation. We have them in the Army, in the Navy, and in the Air Force, and we are proud of them. In their respective categories they are doing splendid work. They understand the question of strategy. In this matter of Western Union defence there is Field-Marshal Lord Montgomery and a staff provided for him by the War Office. I have not the least doubt that their services and their qualities are being fully utilised to the best advantage. There I must leave it.

On the subject of the Regular Army, I say that, in the circumstances, we are doing all that is possible. As regards resources, although I do not pretend that the position is as satisfactory as we should like it to be, I think that, in all the circumstances, the position cannot be re- garded as too bad. Of course, it is under review all the time. In the matter of equipment, there are the resources at our disposal, and there is this vast plan of research and development which will advantage us in the event of trouble emerging in the course of time. If time is not on our side, then as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, on innumerable occasions, we must tight with what we have got.

Brigadier Head

As the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Chiefs of Staff, may I make one brief comment? Would he not agree that it is for the Chiefs of Staff to recommend strategy and the course of action, and that it is then entirely the responsibility of the Government whether or not their recommendation is implemented? The fear of many of us on this side is that the correct course advocated may not be implemented, owing to reluctance to take decisions which are politically unacceptable.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think that that question, and even the discussion on strategy, is going rather wide on a very narrow Amendment.

The Minister of Defence (Mr. A. V. Alexander)

I very much resent the insinuation. It is quite untrue.

Mr. Baldwin

In order to widen the Debate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.

9.23 p.m.

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

Now that the Debate has again been widened, I must just comment, as did my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head), on a remark made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War to the effect that he himself was not interested in strategy, and knew nothing about it.

Mr. Shinwell

I am very sorry, but the hon. Gentleman must not misrepresent me. I did not say I was not interested; I merely laid no claim to a knowledge of the subject.

Mr. Low

I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman was very nearly in as good a position as his right hon. Friend sitting next to him to have gained some knowledge of this subject by now. It has been the feeling of a good many of us that there has been no direction of the Defence Services. As the right hon. Gentleman was addressing us earlier this afternoon, I began to feel that he really was beginning to have control of the Army machine. He made a statement about the needs and difficulties of the Army which was easy to follow and which was quite clear. But now he tells us that this matter of strategy, which, after all, is the purpose for which we vote him this money—we do not give it in order to educate people, but in order that he shall create an operational force to fight on land—is something about which he knows nothing.

I think that in the exuberance of trying to score a point over some of us who try without the advice which he has at his disposal, to contribute to the important Debates on the Defence Services, he went a little beyond what he would like to read, when he comes to read HANSARD tomorrow morning. In the course of his remarks, too, he referred to the fact that Field-Marshal Lord Montgomery was at the head of the Committee for Western Union Defence and would, of course, work all things out. The inference I drew from that was that he would give the right hon. Gentleman advice, but I understood that Field Marshal Lord Montgomery was not responsible to any right hon. Gentleman sitting on that Front Bench. I thought he was responsible to the Defence Ministers as a whole under the Brussels Pact.

Mr. Shinwell

I am being asked a question and I must elucidate this point. The question is, what about the Western Union defence organisation? My answer is that, first of all, I cannot go into detail, and secondly, that there are high ranking officers who are, if you like, seconded from the War Office to the Western Union defence organisation and we trust them not only to safeguard the interests of this country but to promote the best interests of Western Union defence.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Combined English Universities)

But this is a Ministerial responsibility.

Mr. Low

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for making exactly the remark I myself was going to make. Surely that is the point. The reason why I am starting my remarks by referring to Western Union is that it is necessary to emphasise over and over again in this House, when we discuss the defence matters on all three Services, that there is a definite purpose for which this money is voted, and I think the right hon. Gentleman really agrees with me.

As a background to what I have to say, I would refer the House to what I thought was a most excellent speech by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) earlier this afternoon. He tried to concentrate the attention of the House on the realities of the present situation. I notice that the Secretary of State for War is now amused, but I thought he tended to be a little embarrassed during the course of the hon. and learned Member's speech. In referring the House to that speech, I would like also to mention the fact that the hon. and learned Member, in trying to build up a picture of what he thought we might require for Western Union defence—and after all, he like ourselves is without the expert advice which the right hon. Gentleman has—was able to give to the House the exact number of divisions he thought Holland and Belgium and France might have, but he was not able, nor did he think it right, to give to the House the number of divisions that this country might have.

It is a most extraordinary thing that in this House we had the Minister of Defence a few months ago giving the strength of American bombers in this country. He would not dream of giving the strength of British bombers in this country. We have got into a most extraordinary position. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), with all the sense of responsibility of a Member speaking in this House, got up and told the world what he thinks the Belgians and the Dutch have, but he would not dare to tell the world what he thinks we have. [HON. MEMBERS: "Quite right."] "Quite right," say hon. Members opposite, but it is a most extraordinary position. It is either done on purpose to emphasise the extraordinary nature of the position to which we have been driven by this security drive, or I imagine it is done to force a comment from the Front Bench on whether or not the figures given are quite right.

Mr. Paget

Of course there is a difficulty when you are speculating about your own country. You may speculate about other countries but you may be disclosing private information, confidential information about your own country, and therefore I feel it is more legitimate to speculate about other countries, as to which you have no confidential information, than to talk about your own.

Mr. Low

I will leave that matter there, except to round off my comments in regard to security by reminding the House that the right hon. Gentleman told us that if he were to give us information as to our operational strength it would mislead the House but not the enemy. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at what he said in HANSARD I do not think he will be very pleased, and neither will the Minister of Defence.

The theme throughout this Debate and the theme which entered into the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, has been the need to get niore Regulars. The theme has been the need to get more Regular recruits for without Regular recruits, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) so ably showed, we cannot have an Army of a sufficient standard of operational preparedness. It is not possible with the present low size of the Regular Army—that is about 175,000—to build up a modern Army to a sufficient state of readiness. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will probably agree; but what is he doing about it? He is doing absolutely nothing. He knows perfectly well now, by the results, that the recent increases in pay, which have been described in various terms, are not satisfactory enough These increases in pay have not resulted in raising the rate of recruiting. In fact it is the reverse.

The rate of recruiting is dropping, and the rate of wastage of officers and other ranks is going up. The right hon. Gentleman gave me the figures for officers for January this year. The wastage is at the annual rate of over 800, compared with 700 last year, and 500 the year before. We have not yet asked him for the figures of wastage of warrant officers and N.C.Os. which are just as important. It would appear from the figures of wastage which can be deduced from the statement on defence, given by the Minister of Defence, that the position is just as bad there. What is going to happen?

Even supposing that the wastage does not go up and the recruiting does not drop, we shall not get the Regular strength of the Army up to 250,000 until mid-1952 and not up to 200,000 until mid-1950. That is too far off. There is a need for more Regulars at once, and we are entitled to ask hon. Members opposite what they are going to do to get more Regulars. I should like that answer given tonight, if it is possible for the Government to give it. I would remind the Government that it is bound to cost money, and that it will cost more money now than it would have done if some action had been taken immediately after the war. Immediately after the war, the Government were faced with a situation in which it was apparent that there were going to be too few Regulars in the Army, unless something was done. They should have known that it was impossible to run the Army without at least 220,000 if not 250,000 Regulars, and I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that we need to raise the ceiling at the present time to 300,000. In 1946, they could have seen the situation as it has developed. They did nothing then, and it is because they did nothing then that they have to pay more for it now.

Mr. A. V. Alexander

I do not understand the argument. The argument is that nothing was done immediately after the war, but in fact something was done immediately after the war. The pay code of 1945 which became operative in 1946, was not the only solution, because there have also been actual increases of rates of pay since, and the promise has been fulfilled of adjusting those rates to the current rate position. It is preposterous, under the camouflage of trying to help recruitment, continuously to be understating what has been done in building up better conditions for the Services.

Mr. Low

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would deny the fact that it was not priority No. 1 in the Government's Army policy after the war to rebuild the Regular Army. I am quite certain that it was not. The right hon. Gentleman told us that very little was done immediately after the war about married quarters, and we can see that from the Estimates. There might have been quite good reasons for that, but if the building up of the Regular Army had been priority No. 1 they would have been got over. As to the Pay Code, the right hon. Gentleman is at fault in regard to the improvements in the rates of pay. If he will compare the rates of pay in the 1946 Pay Code with the rates of pay that were previously in force, with war service increments and so on, he will see that the new rates were less in aggregate. I think he will find that to be so. Certainly in the case of officers, by the taxation of allowances, most of them are far worse off. The right hon. Gentleman must not produce that as an argument to show the wonderful things he did for the Regular Army, because it is just not so. The right hon. Gentleman said quite audibly, "We will settle it afterwards." I do not know where we shall settle it.

Mr. Alexander

The hon. Member has quoted words that he says were audible, but they were not used by me, and I do not want it to go on record that I used them.

Mr. Low

I ask the Government to tell us what they are going to do to get more Regulars and to lessen the rate of wastage from the Regular Army. Obviously, that is the thing that really matters today. I would remind the House that last year the Secretary of State told us it was the Government's policy to have a "striking reserve" in the Army. Where is that striking reserve? Has it gone to Malaya, or where is it? I am not certain that the right hon. Gentleman can tell us it is in existence. It is quite clear that the Government have not achieved at any rate that part of their intentions.

I now pass to a word or two about equipment. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he tells us how difficult it is to strike a balance between research and development on the one hand and weapons in production and in use on the other. I thought that he rather overemphasised the importance of research and development, and for my part I should like to emphasise the importance of having the weapons in the hands of the people who are to use them so that they can understand all about them. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) pointed out that less money is being spent on radio and radar than last year. That seems to run counter to what the right hon. Gentleman told us the other day.

I should also like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he is really satisfied that £13½ million is being properly spent on looking after the worn out, slightly derelict vehicles that have to be attended to in order to bring them back into use again. Does that not show how expensive it is to live on one's fat? To this £13½ million has to be added a similar sum from the year before. A sum of £27 million in two years has been spent on looking after vehicles, which is equivalent to the 1946 or 1947, total expenditure on warlike stores, which is wholly wrong. It suggests that the Army must be lacking in new post-war equipment. Where are the new tanks? Are there any new anti-tank guns which can pierce the latest tank the Russians can put into the field? Those are the questions we should be discussing tonight. They bear some resemblance to the issues dealt with on the Naval Estimates a few nights ago, when we debated antisubmarine warfare and the weapons needed for it. We should have information on the matters which I have mentioned. All we want is an assurance from the Government. We do not want particulars of the new guns or tanks. We want to know that everything is all right.

I am fully aware that I have occupied longer than I thought I would, but this was because of interruptions. I must return to the background which was put to us with so much emphasis by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton and also in his most admirable speech by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton. It is no use going into the Atlantic Pact, Western Union defence, British Commonwealth Defence arrangements, which might include defence arrangements for the Indian Ocean or in the Far East, unless we can assure our friends that we have the land forces available at once for operations. It has been made quite clear from all sides of the House that we are not getting the operational formations under the present schemes. Since we are now faced with signing more of these pacts we must work out the obligations more closely. The Government have a duty to assure us that they are going to do something in the next few months to provide British land forces with operational formations in a state of readiness. I ask for an assurance on that point. Obviously we cannot get large formations ready at this moment, but I want an assurance that in the next few months something is going to be done to produce those formations.

9.44 p.m.

Mr. Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)

I have listened carefully to all the speeches so far in this Debate, and I find it hard to make up in my own mind which is the greatest menace to the peace of the world, the belligerent pacifism of my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), the pacific militarism of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) or the belligerent militarism of the hon. Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low). I am inclined to think that the hon. Member for North Blackpool is perhaps the greatest menace. Every speaker so far has been asking for something more. Some have been wanting more married quarters at home, some have been wanting more married quarters overseas, some have been wanting more modern equipment, some have been wanting better walking-out dress. I think the only hon. Member who has spoken so far who did not want anything more was the hon. and gallant Member for Perth, who wanted to do without berets, but, of course, we would have to think of something else to put in their place.

I am glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is here because, as he was speaking in what I thought was a most reasonable way, he reminded me of a former commanding officer of mine. As I looked at him sitting there in his civilian clothes, lovable, benevolent and kindly, I thought perhaps he was the right kind of commanding officer who would encourage recruiting. When, however, he went on to discipline, I imagined him in his kilts or full Black Watch regalia wearing one of those large moustaches, which he has not got at the moment, and it was such a fearsome spectacle that I do not think I would have liked to serve under him in that garb.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

The hon. Member would have been all right.

Mr. Chetwynd

The one point that emerges from all the speeches so far is that we are still in a state of transition. We can never get back to the kind of peace-time formation that existed before the last war. I do not think that is ever again a possibility—at least I hope it will not be. Also we are still too near the war itself for people to think of rushing into the Army by offers of a 25 per cent. increase in pay, better conditions and so on. As a nation, we are still anti-militarist. We are not enamoured of rushing into military formations until the need is right upon us, and we are still not sure that there is that need. In so far as that is true, much of the Debate has been of an academic nature.

Another point is that we are restricted in what we can do by the state of our national finances and economy. If we had to do everything that has been asked for today, we should need a budget for the Army 10 times greater than it is at present. Obviously, with the compelling nature of the export drive which must have our first priority at this stage, we cannot be any more generous or ambitious than we are in these Estimates.

I do not want to go into the realms of strategy because on this side I can safely leave that to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). He started off with an assumption that a war with Russia is inevitable in the near future, and that is an assumption which I cannot share, though it certainly would alter my attitude towards these Estimates if it were so.

Mr. Paget

If the hon. Member will forgive me for interrupting, I have already repudiated that. All I have said is that I do not think it probable, I do not think it likely, but it is the only possible thing, and, if we are to have an Army at all, we might as well prepare for every possibility for which we may need it.

Mr. Chetwynd

I do not take such a pessimistic view of the situation. I think that, with proper guidance on both sides, such a situation could be avoided.

I want to ask one or two questions of my hon. and gallant Friend, but before doing so I must say that last year I was acting as his Parliamentary Private Secretary. Of course nothing that I have to say has any relation to anything which I might have gathered in that capacity last year. I want to ask him about the dispositions. I see in Vote A that we have some 337,000 British troops in the United Kingdom and Europe and 79,000 elsewhere. In the White Paper there is a statement that the extra six months on National Service will make it possible for the War Office to employ men further afield. Where can these men go where they are not going now? How much farther will the extra six months enable them to go than the Mediterranean to contribute any useful service at all? I cannot see that the extra six months will be of any use whatever, apart from Germany and perhaps the nearer Mediterranean stations. It would not be an economic proposition to send them any farther. Can my hon. Friend break down that figure to show how many National Service men are serving in each theatre? I believe that a few went to Malaya, but they were not serving a fixed term, whereas now they are coming in for 18 months. If we are to get this in a proper perspective we ought to know where it is proposed to send these people other than where they are going at present.

The other point I want to make concerns medical categories and the use of civilian labour. On the Third Reading of the National Service (Amendment) Bill on 6th December last, the Secretary of State for War, referring to the surplus of National Service men available for service, said that: It may … be possible to remove … that surplus, by raising the standard—not only the medical standard but the general standard."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1948; Vol. 459, c. 190.] What are the implications of that statement? It seems to me that if the War Office and the other Armed Forces are to raise their medical standards, many people who ought to serve will be excluded from service on medical grounds. That will cause great disturbance amongst others who are called up for service. For instance, one man may be called up for service, whilst his next-door neighbour, perhaps of the same age and background, will probably escape military service because he happens to be in a slightly lower medical category. If we persist in this method to any gerat extent, it will break down the universal idea of National Service. After all, that was one of the main reasons why many of us on this side supported National Service when it was introduced. I should like some further information about this, and to know whether there is to be any radical alteration in medical categories.

Provisions are being made for the extended use of civilians. I am convinced, however, that by a proper use of manpower much of the civilian labour with the Forces could be replaced by lower category National Service people. This would be a better use of manpower and would allow civilians to go into the really essential civilian industries.

The next point I wish to touch upon, and which seems fundamental in our acceptance of these Estimates, concerns the utilisation of the manpower which is available and how far it is proceeding along the right lines. In other words, is there as much misuse of time in the Armed Forces as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War admitted in speaking on the National Service (Amendment) Bill on 1st December, when he said: The House is entitled to know, when we ask for men, that they are being used efficiently. Later he said: The British Army of today, for several reasons—I am very frank with the House—is receiving less training than it should and could have. … Nearly everybody is engaged on a task of one kind or another, everybody is doing something; the question is are they doing the right thing?"—[OFFICIAL REPORL 1st December, 1948; Vol. 458, c. 2119–20.] I think the general understanding of the House at the time was that large numbers of personnel were not doing the right thing.

I was a little disturbed by the vagueness of my right hon. Friend's allusions today to the working parties on the use of manpower. When we contrast these remarks with the specific points made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, who, in his speech on the Navy Estimates, in dealing with the number of ratings who have been transferred from administrative duties to duties at sea, gave the specific figure of 2,500 men who had been combed out by their manpower committee; when we compare this with the vague kind of assurance that, "All is going well in the Army," we have no reason to be entirely satisfied. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary would serve a very useful purpose if he would give us more specific details of what his manpower economy survey teams are doing.

How far is the scheme for release by purchase having any substantial effect on the Armed Forces There are considerable exemptions from this, I know, and many tradesmen are not allowed to purchase their release, but I was disturbed a few weeks ago to see the number of resignations of Regular officers. They seemed to be out of all proportion to the needs of the Regular services and, if the demand for release by purchase in other ranks is the same, it is bound to have a serious effect. Yet it seems unfair if officers can resign for whatever reason, while many who would desire to purchase release are debarred from doing so by regulation, or because they cannot find sufficient money for doing so.

We shall have further opportunities to press these matters, but the one thing of which we should make certain today is that we are getting value for money. We do not object to giving the sum asked for, provided we are assured that it is being put to useful and proper purposes and, listening to my right hon. Friend, I am convinced that he has a real grip on the situation in spite of the criticisms which have been made by hon. Members opposite, and I think we should congratulate him.

9.57 p.m.

Earl Winterton (Horsham)

This Front Bench has frequently been criticised in recent weeks, not only by hon. Members opposite but by hon. Members on this side of the House, but it cannot be said that in the course of today's Debate that it has taken an undue amount of time, because this is the first occasion, nearly 10 o'clock, on which anyone has risen from this bench to make some observations on the very important question before the House.

I would commence by saying that the Secretary of State for War and I, to use a vulgar phrase, "got across each other" in the course of his observations. I may say—and I think there is no breach of confidence, although the right hon. Gentleman is temporarily outside the Chamber—that he and I have had some private conversation and I assured him and assure the House, that, while naturally neither I nor any other of my hon. Friends have any political good will towards him, we have the utmost good will towards him in the very onerous and responsible task he has of being responsible for an Army which can fight, and it is on those lines that I propose to make a few observations.

A short time ago, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, when your deputy was in the Chair in Committee, he no doubt quite properly criticised me for making a reflection on the Committee as a whole because I said it made a bad impression on my mind. Therefore, presumably, it is out of Order for me to say that the House has made a good reflection on my mind. 1 will only say tonight with the assent of hon. Members on both sides of the House that we have had a number of very useful contributions to the Debate.

As always happens in Estimates Debates, the Debate has necessarily been somewhat ragged. That is not a criticism of hon. or right hon. Members' speeches. They have raised matters which are of importance and interest to constituents or to themselves, and we have had a number of matters of the kind dealt with and I have made a note of them. On the important question of officers' pay, especially junior officers' pay, I would say to the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of Defence, whom I am very pleased to see present, that on this side of the House not for any party reasons, but for other reasons, we are not satisfied with the improvements made in the course of the last six months, which we think are not sufficient for the purpose. I do not want to enter a long dissertation on facts and figures, but the situation is that the young man of talent and ambition who has a desire to enter an honourable service feels that, as far as pay and conditions are concerned, he is worse off if he is a young officer in the Army than he would be in many other professions.

In that connection I would point out to the House a matter which surely cannot be unpopular with hon. Gentlemen opposite, and it is not unpopular with us. We have not today in the ranks of the junior officers in the Army the type of young officer that we had in the old days who was educated at a public school. Mainly we have men who are dependent upon their pay for their existence. Though I know that he cannot give any specific promise on this matter, I ask the Under-Secretary when he replies at any rate to give us an undertaking that this question of junior officers, and indeed senior N.C.O.s also, which has been dealt with from both sides of the House tonight, will receive further consideration from the Government.

The next point of importance made in the course of the Debate was the matter of housing for officers and other ranks. Here I will say quite frankly, even at the risk of being jeered at by hon. Gentlemen opposite—they would be perfectly entitled to jeer—that the question of the housing of the troops and of officers and N.C.O.s has been neglected not by one Government, not by a Socialist or a Tory Government, but literally for hundreds of years. I am trying to put this matter on a non-party basis, and I say that that is no reason whatever why we should not try to tackle it today. I make the most earnest appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to see if he cannot accelerate the provision of housing for officers. I know the difficulties. I am given to understand—I will be corrected by the Under-Secretary if my contention is wrong—that in the whole of the London Command there are only something like between 20 and 30 houses available for married officers. That is not a situation that ought to be allowed to continue.

The third point of importance was the question of whether or not we could have some universal system by which Territorials, both officers and men, should lose nothing either in the matter of holidays, salary or pay by being members of the Territorial Army. I think that was a point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) in a speech which I thought contained very many good points. Here again, from an entirely non-party view, I would urge this point upon the Government.

The fourth point which I noted that came out in the course of the Debate was the most important question put from both sides of the House of the employment of Regular soldiers after their period of service. As I said before the Secretary of State for War returned to the House, having "got across" him in the earlier stages of this Debate, as right hon. Gentlemen opposite and I sometimes do "get across" each other, I should like to pay this tribute. I should like to say that with the energy which he has frequently displayed in public life I cannot help feeling that if he would put his heart into it, and if the Minister of Defence would put his heart into it, we could have a far better system than we have today for the employment of men after they have finished their service. I consider that the first priority in Government employment, making all allowance for their age—and I know the difficulty about age—should be for Regular ex-Service men. I am aware that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government have done what I should describe as good work in the negotiations which they have had with the trade unions in regard to tradesmen and men of that kind, but I should like to see this matter carried further.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) opened the Debate for the Opposition and I think in the opinion of both sides of the House he did it most admirably. We on this side of the House appreciate the generous attitude taken by hon. Gentlement opposite towards that speech. More than one hon. Member has praised it. My hon. and gallant Friend, with a very considerable war knowledge, a very fine war record and a considerable knowledge of the inner workings, suggested properly and much to the purpose that a great many of the duties performed even today by soldiers might be performed by civilian labour. The whole of that civilian labour should consist of ex-Regular soldiers. Those were four of the main points dealt with in this Debate.

But after all—and here I am about to come to the valuable contribution made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget)—the purpose of an Army, strange as it may seem—I am not being sarcastic; I am far too old a Member ever to attempt to be sarcastic, and besides it is dangerous—is to fight. The reason why we are passing these Estimates tonight, the reason why the Government, which is a Government of the Left and a naturally pacifist Government, have introduced a system of conscription in peace-time, is because there is need of an Army to fight in certain circumstances. It is on that matter that my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House are in grave doubt about the policy of the Government. We do not believe that the system which has been adopted, rightly or wrongly—the present system of conscription—will give us an Army which is fit to fight.

There were one or two significant references in the Secretary of State's speech to this question. I would say, in parenthesis, that every other consideration except the consideration of whether we have an Army fit to carry out the purpose for which it is intended is mere fustian and fudge. I attempted to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question in his opening speech, and now I must ask the Under-Secretary the same question. I want the House to accept this fact—I am grateful for the way in which it is treating this most serious question—that it is not a matter which concerns us alone in this House tonight. It concerns the populations and legislatures of every country in Western Europe which is concerned with the Atlantic Pact. I have not the least doubt that not merely the members of those Governments but the members of the public of those countries will be following closely the course of this Debate. The Secretary of State said—and I noted his words carefully at the time—that this country had to fill its alloted role under the Western European Pact. What my right hon. and hon. Friends, including the Leader of the Opposition, and I have been trying to get at for months past is what is the allotted role for our Army under the Western European Pact?

Mr. Platts-Mills (Finsbury)


Earl Winterton

The hon. Member naturally says "Shame" because he is in opposition to the policy of the Government, but let me tell him that he is in opposition to the view of 99 per cent. of the people of this country. I am not concerned about his views; I am concerned with the policy of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman said, rightly, that we had to fill our allotted role under the Western European Pact. I would like to point out, although I must be careful in case I get out of Order, the extraordinary discrepancy between these Estimates and the Navy Estimates. The Navy Estimates gave in general the number of ships available. In the case of the Army, we have not been officially informed, for the first time in peacetime during four years since the war was over, what is the size of the Army and what is the combatant force of that Army. That is really a most extraordinary situation. That information must have been given to foreign Governments. Otherwise Field-Marshal Montgomery's position would be impossible. He is there to co-ordinate Western Union defences on behalf of His Majesty's Government and he must have told the governments of other countries concerned the number of divisions we could put into the field in that connection. Otherwise his appointment would be farcical.

We got a pretty sinister indication from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman of the weakness of what I would call the battle formation, if that be the correct term, of the number of brigades and of divisions which are suitable and which could go into battle, suppose war broke out tomorrow. He said that up till now, as I understood him—and he will correct me if I am wrong no doubt —that training was taking place up to the height of battalion training. Am I correct?

Mr. Shinwell

From unit to battalion training.

Earl Winterton

The right hon. Gentleman is pretty quick on the uptake. I hope I am fairly quick, but I am not as quick as he. The obvious inference to be drawn from what he has said, as most hon. Gentlemen will know, is that we have not brigades or divisions in this country on a battle footing. That is the only inference we could draw from it. Otherwise the right hon. Gentleman would not have used that phrase. He also went on to say that in the autumn certain tactical exercises were going to take place. Only tactical. Those of us who have the information which many of us have at the present time will be aware that this tactical exercise is only a paper exercise.

It means, in other words, that no manoeuvres have taken place though for four years we have been at peace and for four years we have had a conscript Army. That is an indication of the state of our armed force. Is that a compliment to the way in which this Government have managed things? I cannot say that it is. I do not want to make a party point. I would only hope that before next year's Estimates come on we shall be able to get more information on these matters and that we shall not be told that training takes place only on a battalion basis.

Let me come back again to this question of the Western front. One or two hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Platts-Mills), who has recently come into the House, will no doubt take exception to what I am going to say, but let the House of Commons which, irrespective of party is an honest and straightforward place, accept a fact when they know that it is a fact. The only possible enemy on a big scale which we might have to fight on a big scale in the next four or five years is the Soviet Union and its satellite States. Before the war the British Army performed duties for the defence of India, but India has gone. It did similarly in the defence of Malaya after the Japs had ceased to be in the entente and had become a possible enemy. Now there is only one possible enemy. I do not say a probable enemy. I agree with what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I think that the way in which he put the matter was perfectly accurate.

So far as Western Europe is concerned, the only enemy we have to consider is Soviet Russia. I say this with all earnestness and sincerity: in all the long years I have been in the House I have never been in a sense more perturbed about our military defences than I am at the present time, because four years—[An HON. MEMBER: "What about 1939?"]—I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. In 1939 we had at least four divisions which we could put into the field, and there was a French Army in being. Rightly or wrongly, and as it proved wrongly, that French Army was believed by the French, and to some extent by ourselves, to be able to defend the Rhine. We have no French Army today, and, so far as I know, we have not got those four divisions. That is the situation. It is not a party question at all, and I will meet the hon. Gentleman to this extent at the risk of being jeered at in the speech in reply to mine, because I entirely agree, as a one-time member of the Government, that before the war, there were many serious defects in our defences when war broke out, just as there were in 1914. I put it form the military point of view, vis-a-vis the enemy We have in mind, that we have never been in a weaker position than we are today.

Mr. Platts-Mills rose

Earl Winterton

Those are the points which I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman. There may be a great deal to be said at this particular stage for not disclosing the exact strength of the Army. I am not sufficient of a military expert to know, but I hope I am not making a party point when I say that the obvious inference to be drawn from this complete lack of information as to the force capable of fighting in Western Europe is that it is not yet in existence.

The hon. and learned Member for Northampton described the sort of situation that may arise in Western Europe, and what makes this situation even more grim—and on this subject many of my hon. and right hon. Friends have greater knowledge and experience than I have—is that, not only are we in this position, but I have no reason to suppose that most of the Western European countries are any better off. What an astonishing position it is that we are here in the House of Commons discussing the Army Estimates, while the main question cannot be discussed, because we cannot get any information. We have not the least idea what the plan for the defence of Western Europe is—not the least information about it. I was very glad to hear the hon. and learned Member for Northampton say that he had, with a small group of others, been pressing these considerations upon the Government. They will have to be decided at some time or other, because the lives of everyone in this House and of every man, woman and child in this country may depend upon a proper solution of this question.

I would like to say further—and this is merely an individual point of view and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side—that, coming down to the details of what our contribution should be, in view of the situation, we should have to be fit to fight in the sense that we should have organised, armed and disciplined forces in sufficient numbers to supply, sometime within the next year, a least a corps, preferably an Army, that is, three corps, able to take part in war on the continent of Europe. With some background of knowledge of foreign affairs over the last 40 years I am prepared to tell the House of Commons that, unless we can make some such contribution as I have described, Western European military defence will be a farce. If the Russians advance, then, indeed, the terrible eventuality which I understand is visualised in some friendly quarters—in the United States—may arise that Western Europe should be abandoned and that our defence line should be the line of the Pyrenees will come true. That vast responsibility rests upon the Government.

I am not prepared at this moment—because that is a question for my Leader to deal with after he has had his consultations with the Prime Minister—to press further than I have already done for some indication of the numbers. But I am entitled to put on record my profound concern and alarm, which are shared by my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House, at the lack of information and at the apparent inability of conscription in peacetime to provide an Army capable of performing a task such as we have to perform in Western Europe if the very worst happens.

In the event of war we and our Allies either try to hold Western Europe or we do not. If we do not try to hold Western Europe then what on earth is the reason for having conscription in peace time? Either conscription gives us an Army which is capable of fighting, or it does not. If we cannot produce such an Army and if indeed the plan of the Allied Governments is to retreat to the line of the Pyrenees, then let us do away with conscription and have a small, highly paid British Army capable of defending these shores.

There, again, we have singularly little information from the Government. I do not know, and none of my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side know, what in the calamitous event—and it might happen at any time; I hope it will not—of the cold war in Berlin turning into actual war—we have been given no information in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman—are the preparations for home defence in this country, anti-aircraft guns, provision against gas, or anything that may be used by the enemy. We have been told nothing about it at all. We on this side are most anxious to assist the Government. At the risk of getting into trouble with some of my hon. Friends who, unlike myself, are of a very aggressive nature, I would say that we see some courage in the Government in being prepared, in view of their surroundings, to defend conscription in peacetime. But we get no information at all, and until we get it the country and this House must be in a state of perturbation. I hope before next year, or even much earlier, we shall have from the Government a far more exact account—and, I might say, from the Minister of Defence upon whom the prime responsibility rests—than we have had in the course of the Debate this afternoon.

10.23 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Michael Stewart)

We have had a wide Debate covering many questions of detail and many questions of general principle. As is the accepted custom, those points of detail to which I am not able to reply in the course of my speech, I will take up individually later with the hon. Members who raised them.

On the question of general principle, it was natural and realistic that many hon. Members should in the course of their speeches refer to both Western Union and the Atlantic Pact, and often put the question in the direct form in which the noble Lord put it—what, precisely, was to be the nature of the contribution made by this country to the defence of Western Europe, and how capable were we of performing whatever might be required of us immediately or in the immediate future? I think that the noble Lord himself, and hon. Members in all parts of the House, will realise that it has been made clear on more than one occasion by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence and by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that when the Government say that there is certain information that they are not in a position to disclose to this House, that is not because they desire, for any partisan or unworthy reason, to withhold that information, but because we have the most excellent reasons based on experience for believing that much of the information that is asked for on these particular topics could not be disclosed without serious danger to the national interest. It was, of course, with that in mind that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently made the reference to conversations between himself and the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill).

But there is very much that is of importance that we can discuss and on which I hope to be able to give the House some information, because it will be generally agreed, as was suggested, in perhaps another context, by the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys), that one of the most important things we shall contribute to Western Union is our example. Whatever may be the plans that are arranged, if it were assumed by the countries of Western Europe that this nation would not take the necessary steps, or was incapable of doing so, that would be disastrous to any plans that might be forged on paper. Anything we say, therefore, about the shape, equipment, efficiency and morale of our own Army has a direct bearing on whatever part it might be required to play in Western Union.

May I first say something about what one might call the general shape of the Army? We have today to think about the Regular element, the National Service element, the Territorial Army and the Colonial and Gurkha Forces. The first and crucial question raised has been the position of National Service: what part ought it to play and what is the proper relationship between the National Service and Regular elements? That was raised very forcibly by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head), and I join with other hon. Members in expressing my admiration of the speech with which he opened the Debate after my right hon. Friend had concluded his speech. The same theme was taken up vigorously by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Swingler).

In the first place, it will be agreed that there is no doubt at all as to the necessity for National Service or its present duration at the moment. While we may discuss the possibility or desirability of reducing it in the future, there is no doubt as to its present necessity. In that connection I might answer the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) who asked where the 18 months National Service men could be sent. The answer, of course, is that there is no legal bar against their being sent to any theatre, and it may well be that they will be used in any theatre.

We could not give any firm guarantee that there is any theatre from which they are excluded. It is true that they will be serving a shorter term than some of the National Service men now in the Army—those on a longer term than was originally intended for National Service men joining this year—but if we had kept to the 12 months rather than the 18-months period it would seriously have restricted the number of theatres in which they could be used. At the same time, I assure the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees that it is not intended to make any radical change in the medical standards for acceptance, nor any change that would involve a major change of principle in National Service.

If it be accepted that National Service is essential at the present time, I would go on to put the point that National Service for some period is, I think, regarded as necessary in any circumstances by most of the hon. Members who have taken part in this Debate, because even if we do not use these men as we are using them now, to perform duties normally performed by Regular soldiers, we still have a use for National Service as a way of providing a trained Reserve. If that be so, we still require some of our Regulars to train these men. I suggest to the House that if all that is thought of is a reduction in the length of National Service—say, a reduction at some future date to 12 or six months—that would not seriously reduce the training commitment imposed upon the Regular Forces. The idea that by reducing National Service in that way one would lift the millstone from the neck of the Regular Army is mistaken. The training commitment would remain very much the same in the number of men it consumed.

If it is suggested that we should have a far smaller number of National Service men, that would reduce the training commitment; but it would mean introducing very definitely the principle of selective service in a very high degree. It would radically alter the nature of our National Service. Since it is a difficult matter to make changes of this kind immediately, it does not, I suggest, serve any useful purpose to canvass and discuss hypothetical projects for reducing National Service, particularly when it would involve altering the whole principle of selection for National Service at a time when we know that these things lie in a hypothetical future. To do that would be profoundly unsettling to the National Service men and to Regular soldiers at present.

I suggest that we should do better to concentrate on a matter on which there is, I think, agreement all round—that whatever one's view may be of the future of National Service, it is important that we should not merely maintain but increase and stimulate the rate of Regular recruiting at present. We would all be better advised to concentrate attention on that matter than to canvass possibly highly controversial and varying solutions of a problem which in any case we cannot face at present because of the necessity of maintaining National Service.

Brigadier Head

I think the reason why I and other hon. Members suggested the sacrifice, either in terms of length of service or manpower, was that we felt, if we were going to stimulate Regular recruiting, it would cost so much that something must be given back to the Treasury in terms of manpower.

Mr. Stewart

That could not be a concurrent process. There would certainly be a period in which we should he bearing the two costs.

Regarding the question of increasing the rate of flow into the Regular content of the Army, great emphasis has been laid by hon. Members opposite on the question of pay. The hon. Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low) made, if I may say so, a less moderate and constructive contribution than he has done to Debates on Army matters on other occasions. This criticism applies not only to his speech, but to the speeches of other hon. Members. The hon. Member's speech seemed to ignore the fact that we cannot make plans for pay, buildings and equipment for the Army without regard to the total economic state of the country. The hon. Members for Stafford (Mr. Swingler) and Stockton-on-Tees brought out the fact that it is illusory to suggest that more should be spent on this and more should be spent on that, without having regard to the enormous economic difficulties with which this country has been struggling in recent years.

Mr. Low

I do not want the hon. Gentleman to misinterpret me. My remarks were made as a short reply to some made by his hon. Friends. The whole defence system has to be fitted into the economic situation of the country. The burden of my remarks was to point out that this business of building up the Regular Army had been left too late and consequently was going to be all the more expensive.

Mr. Stewart

I think that in saying that building up the Regular Army has been left too late, the hon. Member is falling into exactly the error which I pointed out. The immediate and pressing need, with the war over, was for this country to re-start its economy and regain its productive power; but it was not the case, as was suggested by, I think, the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) that we are not attracting into the Army the right quality of officer entrant. I would like to tell right hon. and hon. Members that the experience we have had at the War Office conflicts with that view. We have no difficulty in maintaining a proper quality of officer, and that should be borne in mind when there is talk of "hopeless inadequacy" and "general dissatisfaction."

Among what are sometimes called the "middle piece" officers, the allowances are taxed, but it is, one should remember, among the incomes of these people that some of the changes in Income Tax have had the greatest benefit. When the income of a person is £1,200 a year, he pays £80 a year less than in 1946. That is a fact to be borne in mind and which is frequently ignored when this subject is raised. With regard to the pay of other ranks, a three-star private, as he was formerly called, who is now a five-star private, used to receive a basic 49 shillings a week; when one allows marriage allowance, home saving, and so on, he was comparable with a civilian earning 108s. 9d. As a result of the recent increases, he is comparable with a civilian earning 123 shillings a week. It cannot be said that we have failed to keep pace with the rate of civilian wages. It is untrue, as the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) suggested, that the limitation on the increase of wages is something which has been swept aside. He will find that few wage earners will agree with him.

Mr. Mott-Radclyffe

The hon. Gentleman must not misquote. The point which I made was that the failure of wage freezing in industry has made the regular Army as a career, less attractive.

Mr. Stewart

It was stated that the arrangement had been torn up; that is fantastic, and the conflict, as I have said, has not occurred. But there is a difficulty about life in the Army for many people today. I am sorry about the private who was driving the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton and who was so depressed; I do not know whether he was depressed because he had, or had not, heard the lecture on planning which was being given. If it happens that any hon. Member on this side of the House were seen being driven about by a private soldier in a motorcar, it would be the subject of a Question, no doubt, by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), whose absence we all regret, but we are more generous on this side, and are happy to think that, if anyone is performing a public service, adequate facilities are made available to that person, be it in the form of a motorcar, or something else.

Earl Winterton

I do not know what is the hon. Gentleman's joke. Is he suggesting that when an hon. Member of this House goes to lecture on behalf of the War Office, or this House, he should not be driven from the station, or shown the ordinary courtesies? Is he suggesting that there is some connection with the Stanley case?

Mr. Stewart

I am not suggesting anything of the kind; I said that, had the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames known of it, he might have put down a Question on the point.

Mr. James Stuart (Moray and Nairn)

Nobody else suggested it.

Mr. Stewart

Hon. Members opposite attach more importance to it than I intended; I am merely pointing out the difference in the attitude of Members on this side of the House to a matter of this kind and that of Members on the other side of the House. The serious point which I wished to make was that, apart from the question of pay, to which I think excessive importance has been attached on the other side of the House today, there are many economic and social difficulties facing people in all professions and classes in this country as a result of the war, and they bear particularly heavily on certain sections of Army officers. The shortage of housing, which affects many people in many ways, hits the Army officer hard because of the problem of moving, particularly if accommodation cannot be easily found. Therefore, we may look upon the question of married quarters as being, in my judgment, more important than pay. The noble Lord the Member for Horsham put it very fairly indeed when he said that this was a problem that had been faced and had been disregarded by many Governments.

Here is a point that will interest the hon. Member for North Blackpool, who, ever since I said at this Box last year that we hoped to build 600 quarters in this country, has at regular intervals asked for information about progress in order to see whether we would reach that figure. I am happy to assure him that if we fall a little short by the end of this month it will only be a trifle, and we may reasonably say that the figure has been achieved.

Mr. Low

The result of my Questions.

Mr. Stewart

I am happy to give such credit as is due to the hon. Member for that. If I were asked to quote a similar figure of what we might finish in this year, I would quote a figure of 1,000, and beyond that, in subsequent years, we hope to reach a figure of more than double the 1,000 and to raise the rate of building steadily. The House will appreciate that the further one looks into the future the harder it is to give a precise undertaking.

The measures we have in mind to deal with recruiting concern married quarters and the proper resettlement of men of the Regular Army in civilian life. As is well-known, my right hon. Friend is taking a particular interest in that problem, and was in close accord with the views expressed on this subject by the noble Lord the Member for Horsham. As it becomes more possible for the Army to divest itself of certain abnormal tasks imposed by the war and to concentrate on what we may hope are the duties and position of a peace-time Army, then we shall deal with the question of movement of personnel, the greater possibility of officers and men getting to know one another, and the creation of a more stable and attractive life, which is perhaps the real attraction for men who desire to make the Army a career.

May I say a word about the Territorial Army? Hon. Members are aware of the progress that has been made in the provision of Territorial centres. I assure hon. Members that the phrase "Territorial centre" is not in such complete disuse as some of them suppose, even among those people throughout the country who for many years have been engaged in the Territorial movement and have been accustomed to that older term "drill hall." It is a genuine matter of difference of opinion as to which term one chooses to use. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, we have gone a long way in the provision of new Territorial centres. We have made improvements in the camp bounty, and—to reply to a question which I was asked by one hon. Member opposite—the provision of facilities for meals at Territorial centres where men come straight from work. In some cases, of course, there is a difference of opinion between the local food office and the Territorial centre as to whether the circumstances justify an application of that kind, but such applications have been granted in a number of circumstances, and I should always be pleased to look into any case brought to my notice and to take any action that may be helpful.

I must disagree with the view expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth. As he told us, he is not able to be here now, and I regret that, because I have to disagre with him very sharply on this point. I do not agree that those men who have, to their very great credit, built up the Territorial Army are in any way unwilling to welcome the National Service element. I agree that there is, and ought to be, something of the spirit of a club in the Territorial unit, but it ought not to be an exclusive club and we ought to recognise that it is not only a club but is part of National Defence. I believe that among all ranks in the volunteer Territorial Army there will be a willingness to welcome in the National Service man, and not merely to treat him in the military sense but to set him an example, give him encouragement and make him feel he is among friends.

As to the recruiting campaign, it is true that we would like to have reached a higher figure, but the rate of recruiting has doubled since that campaign began. Nor will that process cease at the end of this month: it will continue steadily throughout this year. We notice, further, that the success varies a great deal from one part of the country to another. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) will be pleased to know that his own county, for example, stands very high in the list.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

What does the hon. Member mean by that? I represent South Ayrshire. Can he give me the figures for South Ayrshire, or the total figures?

Mr. Stewart

I am afraid I cannot do so off-hand. I merely remarked that, on the map I have been studying, in the progress of Territorial recruiting his county comes up very well.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

The County of Ayrshire comprises a huge area and comprises a division represented by a hon. and gallant Member who is not to be confused with me at all. I do not represent the whole of Ayrshire.

Mr. Stewart

Anyhow, on our map the whole county is coloured red. I trust hon. Members will not draw me into quoting comparative figures for counties. I think the moral to be drawn is that, judging by the success that has attended the campaign in some districts, evidently there is not so much lacking in the general measures which the Government have taken. What may be wanted, I believe, is a more careful study of the method of approach in those districts where we have not been so successful.

Here I may not agree with some of the views expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir H. Watt) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Wing-Commander Millington) about the position of Territorial Associations in general. It is a very great question how far an instru- ment forged to manage the Territorial Army in the past is really appropriate to the new conception of the duties of the Territorial Army at the present time. Frankly, I do not know, and I would not like to state off-hand, what is the right answer to the question. It is one of the things we shall hope to discover, though I ought not to leave that subject without, as a matter of duty, expressing appreciation of the great amount of voluntary work, and in some cases expenditure of private income by people not very well off, both for the Territorial Army and the Army Cadet Force. On the question of the Gurkha and Colonial Forces I may say that recruiting of Gurkhas is going very satisfactorily indeed.

I have spoken so far about what may be called the general shape of our Army and the elements which compose it. May I add a few words about the efficiency, spirit and morale of the force? The hon. Member for North Blackpool asked a number of questions about equipment. I think he was disregarding some specific information and assurances given in the speech of my right hon. Friend. On the particular point he raised about radio and radar equipment, I can give him the guarantee that there has been no change in the policy of equipping the Army with the latest equipment of that type. There are certain budgeting difficulties that produce a particular result on which he commented, but that does not indicate a change of policy.

On the general question of equipment, if we had seen fit to ignore the economic position of the country and the needs of the export drive, we might have been able to do much better immediately in providing the Army with vehicles and equipment and not have had to pursue the policy of "living on our fat," of the defects of which we are as much aware as the hon. Member for North Blackpool. But given the economic position and the needs of the export trade, unless that economic problem is solved all our defence preparations are nugatory. In those circumstances the policy of "living on our fat" is the right one to pursue. The matter is not merely one of patching up. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend, there is a programme for the rebuilding of vehicles. which is a much more drastic process than ordinary overhaul and maintenance, and will yield good dividends.

As to the human factor in the Army, what about the morale and welfare of the men? We have been able, during the past year, to reduce the extent to which men were moved about and were unable to know from one month to the next who their comrades would be and in what place they would be serving. It will be reduced still further. The hon. and gallant Member of Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) asked what A.B.T.U.s were. They are the units to which men go when they first enter the Army, and they have the advantage that, instead of going to indiscriminate units not knowing what arm they are connected with, men know from the start that they belong to, say, the Royal Artillery or Infantry. At A.B.T.U.'s, men get not only basic training but selection is made for the particular types of work they will do within the arm or corps to which they belong. We have found that the creation of such units has materially aided the efficiency and allocation of men, and has raised the morale of men and their interest in their work.

Sir G. Jeffreys

I think the hon. Member has misunderstood the question I asked. What I asked was whether A.B.T.U.'s were units of the active Army which were nothing more than schools of instruction for recruits.

Mr. Stewart

They are undoubtedly schools of instruction for recruits.

Sir G. Jeffreys

Are they not nominally units of the active Army?

Mr. Stewart

Yes, but I do not follow what is at issue. The necessity for them is surely not in dispute.

Several questions were raised as to the use of the men's time, and it has been suggested that many of the duties could be done by civilian labour. Many of these duties could also be reduced by the introduction of labour-saving devices, and we believe enthusiastically in both these measures. But there is a little more in it than that. It is important that commanding officers and senior officers should recognise that the carrying through of an effective programme of military training is the first priority in running a unit, and that that is a thing by which the efficiency of a unit must be judged.

The unkind suggestion was made that there was a tendency to judge the efficiency of a unit by the condition of the men's boots because that was much easier than going into technicalities. I think that in a recent Debate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) was a little harsh, but in an exaggerated form he put his finger on a fault that has existed in the past, a fault we are now trying to remedy. As time goes on, it will be found that the amount of time the ordinary soldier spends in doing the job for which he is in the Army will steadily increase. I must reject the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) that all the men in the Army are simply wasting their time. I assure him that a member of the Women's Royal Army Corps is not entitled to have married quarters where she can bring all her family.

Thoughout the last 12 months the Army has been carrying out an extremely arduous job in fulfilling its commitments. Everyone has paid tribute to the way it has been carrying out its commitments in Malaya. But it has also been doing a fine job in areas which have not been quite so spectacular, areas where patience and devotion to duty have been called for. We have been able to take steps, within the economic powers of our country, to get the Army into proper shape, in providing better equipment and in providing a better life for those in the Army. If we weigh up what has been done, I think it will be agreed that it has been a creditable record.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)

On a point of Order. May I ask, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, what action back benchers can take who have sat throughout the Debate and wish to take part? In view of the fact that the Rule has been suspended, may I express the hope that the Closure Motion will not be accepted?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)

I propose to put the Question that I do leave the Chair, which is the usual practice. When I leave the Chair, it will be open for hon. Members to raise any point they wish on the Votes.

Question "That Mr. Deputy-Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

Supply accordingly considered in Committee.

Mr. BOWLES in the Chair]