HC Deb 26 October 1949 vol 468 cc1326-8
54. Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore

asked the Minister of Defence whether, in view of the increasing demands on our financial and economic resources, His Majesty's Government proposes to retain the policy of National Service; and whether the Government cannot devise a more economical and appropriate method of meeting our Defence requirements.

Mr. Alexander

National Service meets two vital defence needs. First, it provides the men—some 300,000 of them at present—needed in the Armed Forces to supplement the numbers which can be raised by the recruitment of Regulars. Without these men we could not meet our commitments all over the world. Secondly, National Service provides the only effective means of building up that reserve of trained manpower which we should need in any future emergency. For these reasons National Service remains an essential feature of our Defence policy. We shall keep the working of the scheme under close review to ensure that it meets the varying needs of the Services in the most efficient manner possible.

Sir T. Moore

While largely agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman, may I ask him whether it is beyond the wit of the Government to devise an instrument which will be more efficient and more economical than the present method?

Mr. Alexander

The Secretary of State for War and I and some Members of the Opposition Front Bench have been visiting troops in Germany lately, and I think all agree about the great improvement in the efficiency of those serving both as Regulars and as National Service men. I do not propose to make any fundamental change in that direction.

Mr. Frank Byers

When the right hon. Gentleman says that men are required to fulfil our commitments abroad is it not a fact that over half the Army is stationed in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Alexander

That is so, for the purpose of training National Service men and recruits for the Regular Army and to meet the need for base formations for units abroad as well as for home defence, like the Anti-Aircraft Command.

Mr. S. Silverman

Does the Minister's statement, which seems to conflict with the statement made by the Prime Minister on Monday, mean that the question of National Service is not included in the general review of the Defence Services which the Prime Minister then promised?

Mr. Alexander

I have said that we keep the National Service system under review in order to obtain the greatest possible efficiency and economy. I have been frank with the House in stating our policy.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

With a view to providing the main reserve which is required will my right hon. Friend consider, as an alternative to National Service, voluntary enlistment in the Territorial Army?

Mr. Alexander

We have had this over a great many times and all our experience, present and past, goes to show that we could not build up in time, by this means, the trained formations which would be required in the kind of sudden emergency we are likely to face in modern war.