HC Deb 03 April 1950 vol 473 cc905-24

In subsection (1) of section eighty-four of the Army Act (which provides that subject to the regulations of the Army Council a soldier of the Regular Forces may in certain circumstances be re-engaged for such further period of Army service as will make up a total continuous period of twenty-two years service) there shall be substituted for the words "a total continuous period of twenty-two years of Army service," the words "a total continuous period of twenty-seven years of Army service."—[Earl Winterton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Earl Winterton (Horsham)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

I am moving this Clause on behalf of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) whose name appears on the Order Paper. We on this side of the House think that this raises an important question, though a somewhat complicated one to explain. Perhaps I might preface my remarks by saying that from my own experience, and from what I have heard from distinguished soldiers, one of the things most urgently required in the Army at the present time is a greater number of long-service soldiers, particularly senior N.C.O.s, not from the point of view of the present, but from that of the future. I do not think I am giving away any confidences which should not be mentioned when I say that having been enabled, largely through the courtesy of the present Minister of Defence when Secretary of State for War, to visit a number of units in Germany, in the Army of Occupation, it was impressed upon my mind that the need, not only for more Regular soldiers, but for more long-service Regular soldiers, was very great indeed.

As I understand the position—and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War will correct me if I am inaccurate—it is this. Section 84 of the Army Act, as it stands at present, lays down that a soldier can engage or reengage for a period or periods up to a total of 22 years in all, and after those 22 years any re-engagement is on the basis of one year at a time, if the Army Council is agreeable. I understand that under the Army Act it is not possible for the War Office to say to the man that he may serve for five years. In other words, they are compelled to re-engage him on the basis of only one year.

It will be seen from that—if I am correct, as I believe I am—that a soldier, on completing 22 years, has no guarantee of any continuity of employment in the Forces, even if the War Office visualised employing him for a further five years I am informed that this uncertainty has had the effect of making highly skilled N.C.O.s and warrant officers, who are invaluable to the Army, leave at the end of 22 years rather than face the uncertainty of continuing service on the year to year basis.

Of course, it will be out of order on a new Clause of this kind to go widely into the question of the difference between the British Army and the United States Army. But the Committee will be aware, no one more so than the right hon. Gentleman, that the American Army has no difficulty in obtaining Regular soldiers at the present time. It is interesting to note, and to consider as it may be one of the reasons why they are so much more successful, that a man may engage in the United States Army for a period up to a total of 30 years, where the American authorities are prepared for him so to serve.

I should like to call attention to an interesting point in this connection. The United States is a young country in every sense of the word. People like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head), and others of us who have had experience across the Atlantic, know that emphasis is much more on youth in the United States than in this country; that is they, more than we do, put young people in responsible positions, except in Government. It is remarkable that in the United States, with this emphasis on youth, the Army authorities consider it worthwhile to employ a man for 30 years.

As the regulations, which are based on the Act, stand at present, the soldier who enlisted at the age of 18 can only serve in the British Army on a year to year basis after the first period of 22 years' service. It might be asked whether that really makes much difference. I think it would make a great deal of difference if a man, knowing that his service had given satisfaction and he had reached a high position, was told that he had the certainty of serving for another five years. He would be much more likely to re-engage than if he were re-engaged on a year to year basis. I put that with some confidence to the Government.

I am well aware that the Under-Secretary, or whoever replies, quite properly will neither confirm nor deny what I am about to ask. A statement has reached me that the Army Council and the War Office would like to agree to this proposal in the new Clause but the Treasury has taken objection to it. If that really Is so—I am not asking the Government to confirm or deny it—that is very shortsighted on the part of the Treasury. The great difficulty which the Government are facing at present, and which any Government would face, is to get sufficient men in the Regular Army without having to pay them such a sum of money that the country could not afford to pay.

Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I think the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has made it quite clear that the main purpose underlying this Clause is that we should encourage regular recruiting by it. There is no question that one of the biggest stumbling blocks that those who desire to increase Regular recruiting have had to overcome in the past has been the natural uncertainty a man must have when he first contemplates joining and he wants to take up a profession for the whole of his working life. I believe that by passing the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill each year without debate on Second Reading, the House of Commons automatically assumes that a standing Army is necessary in this country. Therefore, even if there are some hon. Members who are doubtful about that, I do not think we need go into the pros and cons of whether or not that Army is really necessary. I believe it is. The House, having accepted the principle by passing the Second Reading without debate, it is up to us to make sure that the Regular Army is made as efficient as possible.

5.45 p.m.

We want to encourage men who are prepared to spend practically the whole of their working lives in military service, to go into the Regular Army. There have been many doubts and dilemmas raised in their minds in the past. Owing to influenza I was unfortunately unable to be present at the Debate on the Estimates this year, but I have read what my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) in particular had to say with regard to finding employment for men after they have left the Forces. Hon. Members may remember that on two occasions—in the Debate on the Superannuation Act, 1949, and again in an Adjournment Debate, instituted by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) on the employment of ex-Service men, I put forward a suggestion that the sooner we welded the Civil Service and the Armed Forces closer together in matters of employment benefit, pensions and things of that kind, the better.

My one criticism of this new Clause moved by the noble Lord is that it is merely one bite at the cherry. We should try to see whether this cannot be the basis for a very thorough review of the whole status of the man undergoing military service and the man in the Civil Service. If this new Clause is accepted, it will mean that men will probably be between 45 and 48 when they retire after joining at 18. There is only one official appeal being made today to men of that sort of age. That is for Civil Defence. There is a possibility that might well be followed up. If some assurance could be given to men who finish military service that they would be guaranteed a job in Civil Defence, it would have the added advantage that some of their military service would be of very great value in their job in Civil Defence.

I see from Column 1582 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 20th March that my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot put it to the Minister that if he made an appeal to industry he would get a very good response in the employment of men after they had finished their term of military service. I put it to the Minister that if as I hope he will, he does make that appeal, I have my doubts whether industry can ever hope to cope with the numbers involved. I doubt very much whether industrialists would be able to take sufficient men, aged between 45 and 48, and not skilled in the particular industry concerned, to overcome this great difficulty that a young man has when he contemplates joining the Forces, and par ticularly the Army. That difficulty is that at the end of his time he will not have another trade and may have to face unemployment or something of that kind. I would say, therefore, to the noble Lord that whilst I am sympathetic with his point of view, he does not go far enough.

Earl Winterton

My hon. and gallant Friend must not think that I am not as sympathetic as he is. I entirely agree that the aim should be wider, but I confined myself to my new Clause to the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill.

Major Legge-Bourke

If we move a new Clause, I should have thought we were entitled to discuss the matter fairly widely. Certainly, my remarks have not been intended as a criticism of my noble Friend. They were merely intended to explain what I hoped was his intention, which was to try and overcome this very real reluctance some men have, this uncertainty they have, when contemplating joining the Army, that they will not be able to find employment in the later period of their lives.

I suggest to the Secretary of State that the real way to tackle this problem is to make it unnecessary for a man when he leaves National Service to have to go into any other work. That involves a greater extension of age than up to 48. It means that a man has got to be in State service up to the age of 65. Obviously, there is only about one rank in the Army where that would be possible—the rank of field marshal. Even there, there have been difficulties in the past. I am quite certain that a good many of those who have attended passing out parades at Sandhurst could bear witness to the fact that their listening powers have been sorely taxed by heroes of forgotten wars. I do not intend any disrespect to those gallant men.

Obviously we cannot guarantee employment in the Armed Forces up to the age of 65. Therefore, at the age at which those men cease to be of value in military service the State should guarantee employment for them in the Civil Service or in some other capacity. I am convinced that if we are to tackle this problem really effectively, we must make sure that there is no question of a man at the end of his valuable service to the State having to rely on complete chance of getting employment in the future. Let the State guarantee the whole of that period if possible.

I hope this new Clause will be a springboard for a real review of the whole of this matter. I am convinced that the long-term Regular soldier is essential today, despite all the writings of theorist Socialists in the past. I am convinced that a long-service Regular Army is absolutely essential, and I believe that there is as much chance of increasing Regular recruiting by doing something of the kind which I have suggested as there is in the Amendment to an earlier Section in this Act seeking to shorten the period of extension for those serving overseas. I hope that will have the effect of encouraging more recruits. If that Amendment is likely to improve recruiting, I submit that the proposal of my noble Friend and the extension of that proposal which I am suggesting will certainly stand a chance of increasing Regular recruiting. That is the aim of us all, and I hope that my noble Friend will not take exception to my remarks in support of an addition to this valuable new Clause.

Mr. Paget (Northampton)

May I ask for your guidance, Sir Charles. Will it be in Order to discuss in a general way methods of improving recruitment into the Regular Forces? That seemed to be rather what the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) was discussing. Or are we confined to the particular method suggested in this new Clause?

The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I think we are confined to the new Clause which seeks to increase the period of enlistment from 22 years to 27 years. If something is said on lines which tend to encourage that proposal, that would be allowed.

Mr. Paget

I am grateful to you, Sir Charles, for that indication. This is a subject in which I am greatly interested, and at another time I should like to have added my suggestions to those which have been put forward by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. At the moment I propose to confine myself to the particular suggestion contained in the new Clause. Before doing so, I ought to point out that on all other occasions when we have been discussing military matters, I have made it very plain that there is nobody more anxious than I am to see improved recruitment for the Regular Army or more aware of the disadvantage which we are suffering at the moment as a result of an inadequate supply of experienced N.C.O.s.

But I am very doubtful indeed if this is the right method. Has the noble Lord considered the effect which this Clause would have on the prospects of promotion? Any man in the Regular Army enlists for 12 years. That is his first engagement, partly with the Colours and partly with the Reserves. Then comes the question of re-engagement, which is the basis of his pension. When a man considers whether he shall re-engage, particularly if he is the type of man we really want—the type of man who will make the sort of N.C.O. who is the backbone of any professional Army—he will be very interested indeed in the prospects of promotion. If a contemporary of his is just in front of him, he will know that his chances of becoming R.S.M. or even company sergeant major are substantially nil.

When a man gets to the end of the 22 years and comes to the period of continuation from year to year, that is the point where promotion by selection begins in practice to operate again. The right to continue or not to continue provides the avenues of promotion to the people who are following after. If everybody signs on right away and has the right to remain there for 27 years, I am afraid that we shall introduce into promotion a rigidity which will discourage the ambitious man from re-engagement if there happen to be one or two of his contemporaries in front of him.

Earl Winterton

Surely the point is this. Under the present Section in the Act this re-engagement for the period is only with the approval of the man's commanding officer. All that I seek to do is to enable that approval to be given for a further period of years and to make it substantive, which it would not be if it were done on a year-to-year basis. I should not think that the argument used by the hon. and learned Gentleman had any bearing on the point at all.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Paget

The position is this. The re-engagement is for 10 years, that is, from 12 to 22 years. That, of course, is with the approval of the commanding officer. Once the 22 years have expired, then the engagement is from year to year and it really is a matter of privilege. It is only allowed if the man is wanted for the job and is regarded as being right on top of the job that he is doing. It is at the 22 years' stage that many N.C.O.s drop out and that the chances to reach the highest rung—R.S.M. and C.S.M.—emerge for those N.C.O.s who have the privilege of continuation, and I am afraid that the effect of this Clause would be to fix the scales of the ladder of promotion into a rigidity which would discourage the ambitious man from signing on again.

I hope I shall not go too wide when I make this suggestion: if we had permanent, full-time senior N.C.O.s in our Territorial battalions, which I should like to see, then the 22-year man could be guaranteed a job in a Territorial battalion, provided he had earned the rank of sergeant. I believe that would be a valuable guarantee of employment and also would be extremely valuable to the Territorial Army.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (Ayrshire, South)

I wish the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) had made his new Clause wider, for I should like to make some suggestions on the lines of those made by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke). I should like to know whether the Army pay as much attention to what happens to the long-term soldier who has completed his service as they should, and whether they offer the necessary incentive.

I appreciate the point advanced about the jobs which are offered to these men. What sort of a job is a man likely to be offered after he has been in the Army for 22 years? But there is another point: what sort of a house is he to be offered after he has been in the Army for 22 years? I suggest that that is one of the reasons why at the present time the prospective recruit wonders what is likely to happen to him after he has been in the Army for 22 years or 25 years—what is likely to happen when he comes home and has to compete in the housing queue. This is not a theoretical question, because hon. Members will recall that I once drew to the attention of the Secretary of State for War the case of a captain in my town who, after 25 years in the Army, was threatened with an eviction order.

The Deputy-Chairman

I think the hon. Member will find it difficult to develop this housing argument on the new Clause.

Mr. Hughes

I do not wish to pursue that question, but what I do not understand is how it can be irrelevant to the question of the future of the soldier with 25 years' service if, at the end of his term of service, the War Office adopts the attitude, "What is to happen to him is no longer any concern of ours." I will leave the question of the Army captain, but I want to make this point: how can it help recruiting if, in the middle of a recruiting campaign, we have ex-soldiers with long terms of service in the Army evicted from the barracks on to the streets?

The Deputy-Chairman

I think the hon. Member is going beyond the terms of the new Clause. Men with 22 years service are not recruits, and I do not think one can introduce into this Debate a discussion on recruiting. The Clause simply extends the period by five years.

Mr. Hughes

If the House thinks that what is likely to happen to a man after he has been in the Army for 25 years is of no concern, and if it thinks it is entitled to acquiesce in his being thrown on to the streets after 25 years service, then that is a very poor advertisement indeed for recruiting.

Mr. Low

I am sorry that I am unable to argue with the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes). You, Sir Charles, seem to have done it successfully yourself. I should like to refer for one moment to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), before I turn to the points I wish to put to the Secretary of State for War. The hon. and learned Member presented to us the two conflicting points which enter into any terms of engagement in any walk of life. Briefly, they are, on the one hand, security, and on the other hand, selectivity, no matter how we may like to regard them. Of course, we must bear in mind that the Army authorities must be able to select the right men to retain in the right places, but what my noble Friend seeks to do, as I understand it, is to help the Secretary of State for War and the Army authorities to give a proper career to young men joining the service. As the Secretary of State will appreciate, it is very difficult for those of us who do not have the help which he receives to draft Clauses which are designed exactly to achieve the results we seek. In thinking about this subject over the week end—too late, I admit, to affect the Order Paper—

Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)


Mr. Low

If the hon. Member will permit me to finish my sentence, I shall then give way. It occurred to me that, while trying to assist the Secretary of State by creating a more attractive and longer career for the young man when he recruits, we have not assisted him to escape from the rigidity which is inherent in the way the present Section of the Army Act is drafted. Unfortunately, this rigidity is continued in the words we have used. However, the point I wish to make is this: will not the right hon. Gentleman accept the spirit which is behind the Clause, as described to the Committee by my noble Friend when he moved it? That spirit was quite clear. We want to give a longer career to the recruits.

Mr. McKay

Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman explain as clearly as possible exactly what would be the ultimate benefit to the man if he served the extra five years, because that is a point which I do not quite understand.

Mr. Low

I was just coming to that. I was pointing out that what we are seeking to do, first, is to remove any statutory bar to the young recruit having a long career before him if he so chooses—a long and secure career. As my noble Friend explained at the beginning of this Debate, the man has a secure career from his 12th year to his 22nd year, but thereafter he has a career which goes rolling on one year at a time, or rolling on in short periods at a time. We seek to give a man a secure career right from the 12th year onwards. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton has described the situation up to the time when the decision is taken after the 12th year. It seems to me that there is a case for removing the statutory bar which may prevent the Secretary of State from giving the recruit that offer right from the start of his career.

Mr. Paget

I think I misled the hon. Member on one point I made. From the 22nd year there used to be continuation from year to year up to the five years, but I am told that since last year there can be continuation for one year, or three years or five years.

Mr. Low

I am bound to say I have not heard any announcement to that effect made in the Chamber, but no doubt the Secretary of State will confirm what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. Perhaps a statement has been made and we did not know. Perhaps we have been rather negligent in our duties lately.

Now I should like to come to the comparison with the United States practice. It seems to me we should be prepared to learn from what has been happening on the other side of the water, even though their experience is not so long an experience as that of the British Army. There is no doubt that the United States Army has been able in one way or another to find more recruits than we have been able to find, either in proportion to what we need or in absolute numbers. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us that in the examination which he and his advisers are giving to this matter they are paying due respect to what has happened in America. If it has been found that a 30-year engagement has proved attractive there, I hope that he will consider offering a 30-year engagement over here.

As the Army develops, it changes its attraction as a career to our young men. I think one of the mistakes we tend to make at the moment in appealing for recruits is that we do not realise that with the advance of mechanisation, and with the increase of the technical services of the Army, the attraction the Army has to our citizens as a whole is widened and slightly altered. I think we should look again at our terms of Service, particularly at the length of career that we offer. I do not think that necessarily it is right to have the same length of career in the technical services as in some fighting arms, for instance, the infantry. I think it may be wise for the Secretary of State to have a special form of engagement for people who are recruited into the technical services. I think it is also true to say that there are young people who go into the fighting arms who would be very useful as N.C.O.s and warrant officers in administrative posts, and that there is thus available for them an excellent career far beyond the age of 40 or 45. The right hon. Gentleman ought to consider how he can attract suitable people into that branch of the Service.

Above all, what we hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us when he replies to the Debate on this new Clause, which raises such an obviously important subject, is that he is applying his mind, and that the War Office is applying its mind, to the present changes in the Army and to future requirements, and particularly that they have an eye to filling the ranks of the Regular part of the Army with suitable men, because that is, after all, what he wants and what we want. I hope that he will give us some assurance that he is sympathetic to the points which my noble Friend put and which others of us have tried to put, the spirit if not the actual letter of which has the support, I think, of some of his hon. Friends sitting behind him.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)

I want to express a few views not altogether unrelated to what my hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) had in mind, though I hope I shall manage to keep within the Rules of Order. As I understand it, the new Clause would give an opportunity to the men in the Army to extend their time of service. I want to consider this proposal from the point of view of the man coming out of the Army, whether we leave the time of service as it is or whether we extend the time of service as suggested in the new Clause. I want to consider the proposal from the point of view of the man coming out of the Army who, to support himself and his family, must of necessity enter some civil occupation on leaving the Service.

Let it be admitted that, whether the man comes out at the end of the present period of service or at the end of an extended period of service, he cannot rest upon his oars but must of necessity engage in some civil employment. Then this question arises, What is the best time for the ex-soldier to have a chance of getting civil employment? Even in these days we hear of some employers in certain trades who think that a man is too old at 50. So it would seem that there is the necessity for a soldier to leave the Army at an earlier age, rather than to leave it to a later age, if he is not to lose an opportunity of getting the civil employment that he needs.

It can be admitted logically, I think. If we are thinking particularly of the permanent position of a soldier after he has left the Army, that we must consider the age at which he is most likely to succeed in training himself for a new job in civil life to enable him after his service to keep his head above water for the rest of his life. In my opinion, it is far better, for the permanent benefit of the ex-soldier himself, that he should come out of the Army at an earlier age rather than a later, in order that he may fit himself for civil employment. This is all the more necessary if the pension for which he can qualify in the Army is not sufficient, or is not likely to be sufficient in any case, to put him in an independent position in civil life after his period of service. Therefore, I think the Government's rejection of the new Clause is logical and sensible.

With regard to the argument that an Army man, because he is an Army man, because he works directly on behalf of the State, ought therefore to have some security of employment, I question the necessity of that. I question it from a general view point. Why should an Army man, because he has served a given time in the Army, have a special, outstanding privilege above that of civilians? I do not quite see that point of view. We shall find from actual experience—

Earl Winterton

Will the hon. Gentleman permit me? I am not seeking to forestall the Chair, but surely what the hon. Gentleman is saying is far outside the scope of the new Clause? He is talking about general conditions of Army service. We are not concerned in the new Clause with general conditions of Army service. Everybody who joins the Regular Forces of the Crown has that right. As far as I know it does not arise out of this new Clause.

Mr. McKay

I am dealing with the argument put forward that men should have security on coming out of the Army—security of employment.

Earl Winterton

That has nothing to do with the new Clause. There is no suggestion of it in the new Clause. The hon. Gentleman is arguing about something not contained in the new Clause.

Mr. McKay

Perhaps it is not contained in this new Clause. I did not say it was.

Earl Winterton

Then it is out of Order.

Mr. McKay

I am now dealing with the arguments advanced in the Debate. I presume the noble Lord is not opposed to that.

Earl Winterton

The only point is this. An hon. Member is responsible for his own Amendment, and is entitled to call attention to the fact that certain questions raised are, in his opinion, not in accord with his Amendment.

Mr. McKay

I am sorry that I have not the support of the noble Lord in what I am saying.

Earl Winterton

I feel that I must raise this point of Order, because this is an important matter. I am not saying this in any hostility to the hon. Gentleman, but anybody who moves an Amendment is naturally responsible for what is in it, and, if in the Debate there is raised something which has nothing to do with the Amendment, then that hon. Member is put in a very difficult position.

Mr. Dodds (Dartford)

On a point of Order—

Earl Winterton

I am raising a point of Order at the moment. The hon. Gentleman had better recognise that he is not now in the last House of Commons.

Mr. Dodds

Hear, hear.

Earl Winterton

I am raising a point of Order, and I shall remain on my feet until the hon. Gentleman keeps silent. I am not attacking the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay), but I must ask whether it is in Order on this new Clause to discuss the conditions of employment after a man leaves the Army. I understand it is not in Order. If it is, I shall be very glad to make a further speech.

The Deputy-Chairman

I understood the hon. Gentleman to be submitting that if a man were kept in the Army for the extra five years suggested in the new Clause he would not be able to get such a good job in civilian life, and I think he is perfectly in order in arguing that on this new Clause.

Mr. McKay

I am very glad to hear that on this matter you differ from the Father of the House, Sir Charles.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I should like to know if my hon. Friend is entitled to argue that a further five years' service would mean a difference to the man's chance of getting a house.

The Deputy-Chairman

Probably not, because that is problematical.

Mr. McKay

As I understand it, the new Clause is put forward in order to help the soldier, and I am trying to assist that object. I am now attempting to point out some of the difficulties with which a soldier is faced. Although we may disagree with the new Clause, I am sure we are all at one with those who put it on the Order Paper in wishing to help the soldier. I think that if the noble Lord had used better judgment in assessing the feelings of the House he might have succeeded in achieving his object. I think he might have succeeded in helping the soldier, as he wants to, if he had given much more consideration—

Earl Winterton

If I may say so, we all recognise that the hon. Gentleman is a most respected Member of this House, and speaks with great authority in it. I would be very happy to consider an Amendment to my new Clause. If he would draft in his own words how he would like it to read, I am sure we shall all listen to it with great interest. May I also say how pleased I am that he is continuing this Debate. I am sure the Government will be equally delighted.

Mr. McKay

Since the noble Lord invites me to do that, I would suggest something on these lines: that we give the soldier a pension which will enable him to live comfortably for the rest of his natural life. What we can do, and should do—and perhaps what we will do, given the opportunity in the future—certainly what the Labour Party will do—

Earl Winterton

That cannot be put into a Clause.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Gentleman is now going beyond the new Clause under discussion.

Mr. McKay

We all have sympathy with the soldier, and we all want to do the best we can for him. The Regular soldier spends the best part of his life in the Army, and when he comes out he is in a peculiar difficulty. We ought to realise that he has been in a special occupation which does not usually fit him for civilian life; and he therefore ought to be given a special period for training, together with a sufficient income, during which time he can fit himself into civilian life.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

I am sure that what the noble Lord has in mind is for the advantage of the Regular soldier, but I am not so sure that he is going the best way about achieving it, because extending the period a man has to serve might make the man hesitate about reengaging or indeed about extending his service. Let me remind the noble Lord of what has happened over the last few years. Before the war a Regular soldier on a 12-year engagement had the worry of wondering whether he would be allowed to extend his service; and it was not until he had completed nine years with the Colours, or had been promoted to the rank of sergeant, that he could be sure he would be allowed to extend his service. If he extended it to the 21 years, he could, if during his re-engagement period he got a job, apply for his discharge, and he was allowed to take a free discharge. That is not so bad. I can speak with some personal knowledge of this, and I know that many men will seek the opportunity of getting out when a job presents itself.

The noble Lord will know that before the war a man could leave the Colours after 18 years' service and get a modified pension. Today, he cannot. Therefore, if in the 12th year there is an obligation to re-engage for 15 years and not 10 years, a considerable number of men will hesitate before taking the very step the noble Lord wants them to take. I know what he is after, and I am at one with him in doing anything possible to secure the future of the Regular soldier, but I am convinced that this is not the way to do it.

There was a time when I had a vested interest in this; I think I can claim to be the only Member of this House, and I think the other House, who has reengaged for 21 years with the Colours. I know what that decision means; and I also know what it means when a man comes out after 18 years' service. At the risk of being out of order, I would say, following upon what my hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), has said, that I know the worry a soldier has about getting a house; I know the worry about getting a job; and I do not think it will help either the Army or the Regular soldier to lengthen the period of service at the very moment when the soldier has to make this vital decision. For that reason, I hope the noble Lord will withdraw this new Clause and have another think, and perhaps put it down in a modified form on some future occasion.

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Strachey)

We have had a very interesting Debate on this important and intricate matter. The noble Lord has, if I may say so, done a great service in bringing up this matter. Obviously, we are all, on both sides of the House, in the most cordial agreement with the purpose which the new Clause seeks to serve. What I think it is true to say the Army Council wishes to achieve above all in this matter is flexibility, so that the soldier whom the Army Council wishes to re-engage should have opportunities of the most varied sort for re-engagement; so that, to put it colloquially, we suit every taste if possible, bearing in mind, of course, the Army's own requirements all the time.

6.30 p.m.

In the first place, I am glad to be able to say that the position is not quite as rigid as the noble Lord thought it was. That point has already been put by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). Already the man who has re-engaged can continue after his 22nd year, not only from year to year, as was the case, but in blocks of years from one to five, or any intermediate number. That was a now regulation which was brought into effect last year. I think that it has been a wise and useful thing, but it seems that we at the War Office are at fault in that we did not make it very widely known. I think that this Debate has served a useful purpose if only to make that fact known.

At present the exact position is that a man in his 21st year of service can, subject to the approval of the Officer in Charge Records re-engage not only from year to year but for a block of years up to five. That has been done, and it did not require an Amendment to the Army Act. What I am advised would require an amendment of the Act would be if the period of re-engagement from one to five years were made so that a man could choose to re-engage before his 21st year of service. It has been suggested and considered in the War Office whether that would not be a wise thing to do—to bring it back, say, to the 15th year or something of that sort, and that is under consideration now. If that is considered to be wise, it will be done.

I think that the difficulty of this new Clause has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). What we are aiming at, and what we have taken steps towards, is flexibility. The difficulty here would be in substituting the words "twenty-seven" for "twenty-two." There are advantages and disadvantages in changing the period, but it would still be a fixed period, and I think that the Army Council's objection—I can say, in answer to the noble Lord's question, that it was not just the Treasury's objection that made them not like this particular Amendment—is because it did not give the increased flexibility, the option, as it were, which they are after. Therefore, we hope that this new Clause will be withdrawn; first because we have gone some way to meet it already by these new regulations; secondly because the Army Council has not expressed the view yet whether we should go further to meet the situation by a subsequent amendment of the Army Act, bringing the period of continuance of service back from 21 to, say, 15 years; and thirdly because what we want, above all, is flexibility.

I think that the arguments which have been used come into effect, that what is needed is that a man should feel, when he is considering recruitment, re-engagement or at any other critical point in his service career, two things—first, that he has a long, satisfying career in front of him, and secondly, that when it ends he has a good chance of civilian employment. I think that there is difficulty in getting to the point of a specific guarantee of post-service employment, but the prospects of every good man who leaves the Army of securing civil employment are good, and no doubt can be improved still further.

We have made a move in this matter by contact with industry. We have an official committee collecting guarantees from industry of employment for different categories of men, and they have had an excellent response. There is a good deal in what hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have said in that it is possibly easier to fix up a man who goes out at 40 than a man who goes out at 45. From that point of view, the longer term may on the whole increase rather than diminish the problem.

I would say, in summing up, that we think that this is a matter of great interest and importance both from the point of view of the Army and the individual soldier, and we think that we have been able to go some way to meet the point of getting greater flexibility, and that we can go a step further but not exactly in the way suggested in the new Clause.

Earl Winterton

Before I ask leave to withdraw the new Clause, I should like to say a few words. First, I should like with great sincerity to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his courteous and agreeable opening remarks in which he said, as a result of this new Clause being moved, we had had an interesting and important discussion. If I may say so with respect, Sir Charles, I should like to congratulate the Committee on the way in which Members on both sides have attended this Debate, and for the views which they have put forward. It is an agreeable change from what some-times happened in the old days, when there was a great lack of interest in the welfare of the Army, that we should have had views from both sides of the Committee which were more or less in agreement. I should like to say, Sir Charles, that I was not attempting to suggest that the discussion should be truncated and I was glad to hear points raised by both sides of the Committee and to find myself in complete agreement, for the first time in my life, with the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes).

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the right hon. Gentleman going to revise his new Clause so that we can collaborate and get inserted a provision that no ex-soldier should be evicted?

Earl Winterton

I think that you, Sir Charles, would have your eye on me if I attempted to answer that question. I can only say that I was in agreement with the view of the hon. Gentleman, which he might use on another occasion but not on this particular occasion.

I am delighted to hear that the right hon. Gentleman is pursuing this matter of the whole question of conditions of service. I think that we want to remove from our minds, and from the mind of the War Office, in particular, any idea of rigidity in this matter and that it is necessary to proceed by precedent. There is always the danger, in the case of the Army and everything else, of things being done by precedent. Personally, I think that one should break precedents. I have broken a precedent in this House, and I address the House from this corner of the Front Bench because I dislike banging the Box. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the new Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave withdrawn.