§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.15 a.m.
§ The Minister of Labour and National Service (Mr. Isaacs)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I think my task today is rather unusual, in that I shall introduce a very short Bill of very short scope, as concerns the Bill itself, though of very important scope in regard to the affairs of the country. Following a three days' Debate which has dealt with the need for the Bill itself, it seems to me that it should not be necessary to take up much time in introducing the Bill on its merits, and I hope, therefore, the House will not think that I am treating it with discourtesy if I make that point now.
The Bill itself is a very simple proposal. The only change which it makes is to change the period of full-time National Service from 18 months to 24 months. It is, in effect, a one-Clause Bill, and in moving the Second Reading, I am really moving the adoption of that Clause. After the first subsection of Clause 1 has been dealt with, making the change to 24 months instead of 18, the three other proposed changes are purely consequential. I hope, therefore, that the House will not consider it necessary for me to go into the matter at any greater length.
§ 11.17 a.m.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
May I say at once that we on this side of the House have nothing but gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman for the course that he has taken with regard to the Bill, and that we fully understand why he has been enabled to deal with it with a brevity which is welcome to the House, except that we always like to hear at any length what the right hon. Gentleman has to say. I also feel that, after the three days' Debate, it is unnecessary to go into the reasons for the Bill, but the House will understand that when the Opposition give their support to a Measure, as I am advising my colleagues to do today, it is only right that we should make clear that we reserve our view on certain of the reasons.
1411 I do not intend to repeat, even in the briefest way, what has been said from these benches as to the foreign policy which has brought about the necessity for this Bill, although, of course, I agree with what has been said by my right hon. Friends on that matter. Equally, I am not going to retraverse the ground as to the timing of the Bill, as that has been fully discussed, and our view has been made clear. I want to make clear also why I am not going to deal with two further points. One is that under a better system of training and organisation, an efficient soldier could have been produced in a shorter period, but that is essentially a long-term matter, and we are dealing with a short-term emergency for which we must find an immediate solution.
The other point, with which I am going to deal only in a sentence, is one which has worried hon. Members in all parts of the House; namely, whether, at the moment, there has been some serious wastage of time in the period for which National Servicemen have been called up. I shall not deal with that except in a brief mention because the Prime Minister, in his broadcast on this matter, made an appeal to officers commanding units to see that all possible steps were taken to avoid such wastage of time and to avoid leaving National Service men without work to do during their period of training. I take it, therefore, that after the Prime Minister's appeal the most urgent steps will be taken by the Government to see that there is no longer any ground for the complaints which have been made to many of us in that regard.
We accept this Bill for four main reasons. We have been confronted with a shortage of experienced men. We accept that this shortage will be lessened by the addition to the Forces during the next six months of 77,000 trained men. We also accept, subject to what I have said just now about the answer to the Prime Minister's appeal, that the longer period which this extension means will be a longer period of effective service. That is the condition on which we accept it, and I am sure that the Government will give us, as they must give us, the assurance that every step will be taken to make the service effective.
We are also impressed by the proposal made in the White Paper that this Bill 1412 will enable units composed very largely of National Service men to be used in emergencies without changes of personnel. Lastly, we are also impressed by the hope, which seems well founded, that we shall produce non-commissioned officers who will be useful for training the intake. These all seem to us importants point which will deal with the immediate situation and, for that reason, we are prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading.
I want to say a word or two on the matters which are mentioned in the White Paper. The first is the loss to industry. There is, if I may put it that way, a debating answer to that point in the White Paper—namely, that this will affect youths who are not so fully trained in industry, and also that it is a comparatively small proportion of our total industrial force. Obviously, however, this is a point which must be constantly in our minds; we must consider all the time the question of military supply and the export trades and their claims on our young manpower, especially as we all hope that the Regular Army will be increased in size and, therefore, that there will be a changing problem as to the use of youth, if I may put it that way. What we ask, and I am sure the whole House is with us in asking this, is that the subject of the use of youth shall be considered constantly in order to see what the best use can be.
The other question, which is again a serious one, is the delay in filling up the Territorial Army which this extension of service will cause, and the time in which we can expect to get these 12 Territorial Divisions of which the Prime Minister has spoken. That, obviously, is a serious point and, again, it is a point on which we shall expect constant information, because it is a point which is of importance to everyone in the House.
May I deal with another aspect of the Bill? The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour has pointed out to us that the method of dealing with this matter is by a short amending Bill of the National Service Act of 1948. I see the convenience of that, and it is in the doubtful tradition of legislation by reference in which this House has indulged for some time, but it raises a rather important point, when we are dealing with a matter which so gravely affects the 1413 future of our country and the future of its youth, as to whether it would not be preferable, in dealing with a subject of such importance, to legislate independently and in a way which would allow us to deal with certain points, of which I will give examples, not by raising them on Second Reading and asking for assurances but by a discussion in Committee. They are all points which have no party significance at all, but they are points on which we must do our duty to our constituents, which is to see that legislation fits on to their daily lives with as few rubs and difficulties as possible. I should like, therefore, if the House will bear with me, to deal with two or three points which I think are relevant when we make our decision as to whether or not to vote for the Bill, but which could more conveniently have been dealt with if the procedure of an independent Bill, which I suggested, had been adopted.
The first is the question of pay. That is by no means an easy question, because we all want to see maintained the inducement for young men to join the Regular Army. We must, therefore, maintain a differential between the pay of the Regular Army and the pay of those performing the National Service. In my view that is unanswerable, because that is the purpose of the increases of pay—to get more men for the Regular Forces.
Then one comes to the other end of the scale and, speaking frankly, it revolts my sense of justice that of two people of the same rank, fighting in the same trench, and liable to be killed by the same shell, one should get one scale of pay and the other should get another. I suggest, therefore, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) has already suggested to the House, that the most comprehensible way of dealing with it would be for the War Office or the Ministry of Defence to schedule certain areas as combat areas and for those in those combat areas to get the increased scale of pay.
I know that to do that will create other anomalies—for instance, whether we shall then have the tail of the Army in that area, who are not liable in the ordinary way to the same dangers as the men in the trench, receiving the higher rate of pay, but one has to have an easily understood method. In my view, it is important that something should be easily under- 1414 stood by all the people in the country and should appeal to the underlying sense of fairness which is existent in everyone's mind. I put that forward as a suggestion which, in my view, would make that appeal.
The second point I want to raise is the question of exemption and deferment. This, of course, is a serious matter. On page 9 of the Ministry of Labour and National Service Report for 1949 there are very illuminating diagrams showing the proportion of men who have been unfit and deferred and so on. Even in 1949 it was a very serious percentage—something like 35 per cent. There are three groups: the unfit; the apprentices and students; and agricultural workers, coalminers and merchant seamen. The last group is about 9 per cent.
I think I take the whole House with me when I say that it is a waste to call up people for National Service if in time of war they are going to be in a reserved occupation. That seems to me a commonsense view of the matter. I hope the House will not misunderstand me for a moment and not think I am making aspersions, because I am not; but when one gets a situation when people are called up and certain people are deferred one always has an uneasy feeling that some people are going into certain work in order—if I may use the expression—to "dodge the column." I am sure there are very few cases, but one does get that feeling, a feeling which causes uneasiness and despondency in the country unless it is felt that the action taken to avoid that is strong and equitable.
I ask the Government to bear that difficulty in mind. As I understand it, from my reading of the original Act, this is a purely administrative action. Therefore, I feel that in the months that are to come, the Government should encourage discussion on how that administrative action is being taken, so that we can be assured, and in turn assure our constituents, that firmness and strength are being shown. I think that is a reasonable suggestion, which again I hope will appeal to the House.
The third point which I should like to put for consideration by the Government is the question of university students. Again I am trying to be frank and blunt to the House. I hope that all of us, wherever we sit, will not consider this for a moment to be a class 1415 question, or anything of that sort. The figures as to the origin of university students themselves show that it has ceased to be at all a class question.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am glad the hon. Member has referred to students in industry, because I entirely agree that they must be taken into account. I am merely taking the universities as a convenient way of raising the problem, but I think everyone is with me on that first point. Apart from those who are being trained in science, there are those who are going to be the teachers of the next generation and there are those who are going to fill the professions of the country. We have to see that a balance is kept as to the output and the chances of youth.
If I may take the universities as an example, there are, first, those who have places or scholarships in the universities in October, 1950, and whose military service would extend a few days—it may not be more than a few days—beyond 1st October, because the university term starts somewhere between 5th and 14th October. A sentence in paragraph 7 of the White Paper on "Increase in the Length of Full-Time National Service with the Armed Forces" (Cmd. 8026) says:It is intended that this increased length of service will apply to those still serving on 1st October, 1950, or who are called up thereafter though arrangements will be made for the consideration of cases of special hardship.I hope that that sentence will be applied in regard to those who are brought into that category by a few days.
With regard to the class who would have gone in October 1951, it is obviously much more difficult. But again I hope that the Government will take flexibility as one of their objectives in this matter; and if the international situation improves it may be possible to allow the extra six months to be served at a later date. I do not want a general assurance on that point; all I want is that flexibility should be maintained.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
That is a very important question in which 1416 we are all interested. I thought that the right hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) asked a question to which the Minister gave an affirmative nod. I wonder if, for our greater convenience and shortening of the Debate, the right hon. and learned Gentleman would give way to the Minister to say what the answer is.
§ Mr. Isaacs
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War will be answering the Debate and will be dealing with that point.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
If I may take the third point, which I think has already had the consideration of the Government and which I might call, for convenience, the October 1952 point, if places have been reserved for certain students, then I understand, if my information is correct, that a statement has been made that the call-up may take place a few days earlier in order that the two years will expire at the time of the university term. I am not sure what direct good that will do because so few people have their places assured or scholarships won two years ahead, but, so far as it can be done, it will help to a certain extent.
I have only taken a certain number of practical cases and I hope hon. Gentlemen will not hold it against me that I have not dealt with the others, because they fit into the same pattern. I hope our general attitude towards these and similar points will be that all of them must be regarded from the broad outlook of the good of our country and the lives of these individual young men. If we can see the situation steadily and see it whole, then, with general good will as to the problems that arise, I am sure that the House and the country will make certain that the sacrifice we are asking today is not wasted.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I intervene for a few minutes to deal with the general principle of this Bill. With regard to the matters raised and the observations made by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), I believe that the whole House will be in agreement.
I want to say that it is with extreme reluctance that we support this Bill. As the House knows, we are opposed to 1417 conscription, and we certainly are opposed to it as a feature of British life in time of peace. We opposed it in 1947 because we felt that we should rely upon the voluntary system as providing the surest and best defence that this country could have. We pointed out at that time that if the Government would do what they now propose to do and increase the pay and improve the conditions, the chances were that they would get the men. I would point out that at that time conscription was in existence and continued in existence until 31st December, 1948, so that the Government had two years in which to build up the Regular Army. It would seem that, because they did not introduce improved conditions and increased pay at that time, the introduction of conscription has had a deleterious effect upon the voluntary system.
I remind the House of what is said in the White Paper. In 1947, when conscription was introduced as a principle to be continued after 1948, 95,000 men, I think, volunteered; in the following year, only 67,000 volunteered; and in the year after that, only 52,000, and the figures have been dropping since then. Do the Government now really mean business? Do they now really intend to rely upon the voluntary system and build up the Regular Army? The position as disclosed by these figures is so serious that we feel that we have to support this Bill in order that the Government may have time to put into effect the new conditions and to do their utmost to build up the Regular Army. The words in the White Paper seem to show that the Government take the same view as we do, and I am sure that a great number of hon. Members opposite have the same view. I quote from the White Paper:The increases in pay and other financial benefits mentioned above are designed to attract larger numbers of men to normal regular engagements in order to build up the regular component of the forces. This is, however, a policy which will require time to become effective …With that I agree. It cannot be done in a few weeks or overnight.In the meantime, the only effective way quickly to strengthen these Services, apart from the emergency measures already mentioned, is to retain national service men for an extra period …That is what is being done under this Bill, and I agree to that with reluctance. 1418It is the Government's hope that as the regular component of the services increases, it will be possible to review again the length of full-time national service."—and, I would add, to review it and do away with it if that is possible.
That being so, we have put down a new Clause for consideration on the Committee stage, and I see no reason why the Government should not accept it. If they really mean to rely upon voluntary service which will give them highly trained, efficient men, this is a long time in which to train men so that we can have a fully-equipped and the best-trained Army. If they really mean that, then they should accept this new Clause so as to put everyone on his mettle to do his best to strengthen the defences of this country. It is upon that policy that we are supporting this Measure now.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House regrets the introduction of a Bill, which curtails further the liberties of the subject, inflicts greater hardships upon conscripts and expresses its determination that military conscription should not become a permanent feature of the British way of life.In moving this Amendment, I want to make it clear that I am following the dictates of my own conscience; and let me say to my hon. Friends on this side of the House that I am trying today to resurrect the traditional hostility to military conscription that always used to prevail within the Labour Party. I very much regret that that tradition has been soiled during recent years. It is assumed nowadays that if one disagrees in any way with our Labour Government he must be either a Communist or a fellow-traveller. That is the unfortunate stage we have reached. I should like to inform the House therefore that I opposed the tactics of the Communist Party for years, when some who are now very prominent Labour men were playing marbles with that party. That is a sad state of affairs, and I wonder whether the Kremlin ever hear what I say about them. I hope that I can penetrate the Iron Curtain for once.
There was a time when the Soviets had the support of 95 per cent. of the organised working classes of this country. They have lost nearly all of it. There was a 1419 time, indeed, when we would have declared a general strike at any suggestion of a war against Russia; but 95 per cent. of the organised working classes today are critical, if not hostile, to the Communists. That is a change of which the Kremlin ought to take note. Strange as it may seem, I learned most of my pacifism from a Russian—the late Count Leo Tolstoy, who, by the way, preached peace under the tyranny of the Tsar, and I wonder whether, if he were alive now, he would get the same kind of freedom under the Communist régime.
Having said that, may I say that this Bill is to me a direct consequence of recent proceedings in that sea of failure ironically called Lake Success. Another fact is that it is fear of Russia that has brought this Bill into existence. That is obvious to all. Let me congratulate the hon. Member for Dorset, North, on a very excellent speech that debunked in a great measure those people who are trying to frighten us as to the power of Russia.
§ Mr. Crouch (Dorset, North)
On a point of order. May I point out that the hon. Gentleman is referring to what was said by the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) and not by the hon. Member for Dorset, North?
§ Mr. Davies
Now that we have had that correction, may I say this? This Bill extends compulsory military service from 18 months to two years, and it is worth noting the rake's progress in the militarisation of this nation which has taken place in the last few years. In 1947, the period of service of the conscript was reduced from 18 months to 12 months. On 1st December, 1948, it was extended from 12 to 18 months, and now it is proposed to extend it to two years. The promises of Governments, in my view, cannot be implemented because events very largely control what they do from time to time.
I have a fear of this "little by little" process. If the House will forgive me, I will try to paraphrase the greatest story that I ever heard from the Front Bench, which was told by the late Lloyd George. He said that he had a teetotaller friend a very ardent advocate of the temperance cause— 1420 who was elected to a local authority. He was invited to dinner, and the waiter asked him, "What will you have to drink, Sir?" "I will have ginger beer, please." The waiter said, "We have nothing but cider tonight." The temperance advocate said, "I cannot drink cider; there is alcohol in it." The waiter replied, "There is less alcohol in cider than in ginger beer." So he drank cider and thought it was rather nice. He was then made an alderman and attended a banquet. The waiter came round again and asked him what he would have to drink. "I will have cider," he said. "I am sorry, Sir, but we have no cider. The nearest approach we have to cider is French white wine." "I cannot drink that," he replied, "because there is alcohol in it." "Excuse me, Sir, but there is less alcohol in French white wine than in cider." And so he said he would have French white wine; and when he walked home that night the hedges were chanting and the birds were singing and he slept the best sleep of his life.
In due course he attended something in the nature of a Royal banquet, and on this occasion the waiters were wearing white gloves. The waiter came round and asked what he would have to drink, and he asked for French white wine. "I am sorry, Sir, but we have no French white wine. We only have champagne or water." He told the waiter that he could not drink champagne because there was alcohol in it. "But there is less alcohol in champagne than in French white wine," he was told. So he had champagne, and if the hedges and birds were singing when he went home after drinking French white wine, the whole forest was resounding "hallelujah" on this occasion. In due course the erstwhile teetotaller zig-zagged into an inebriates' home, where he died in ignominy, and poverty. It is the same little by little with conscription that offends me.
One argument for this Bill is the strangest of all, the argument that was very neatly expressed by my right hon. Friend, that as we have accepted the principle of conscription we can have no objection to its extension. That means that because there has been a law in this country for years permitting the sale of intoxicants my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) and I should give up advocating temperance. I 1421 object to the extension of conscription, as I object to conscription itself.
There can be no argument against the first part of our Amendment, that this Bill takes away further liberties of the subject. The extra six months in the Army may mean six months in Korea. Let me ask the House to direct its mind to the future. What is going to happen after Korea? Is this Bill intended for Korea alone, or is it intended for something beyond Korea? After all, Korea will soon be no more. There will be nothing left there worth fighting for—I am sorry for the plight of people of North and South Korea. Under the Military Training Act the age of call-up was 21. See how the position has deteriorated. The age is now 17½, and let me remind the House that there is nothing more eloquent against this Bill than the fact that the first British soldier killed in Korea was a conscript of 19 years. Shame on all those who sent him to Korea, and shame on this House for allowing such a thing to happen.
Then we were told on the radio, almost officially, that they are collecting peasant lads in Korea and sending them to the front line at the rate of 2,000 a day after only 15 days' training. They are of course just cannon fodder. I object in the name of humanity against these leaders who do this sort of thing to young people.
Let me pass on to something else. I want to destroy the great illusion which exists that conscription means fair and equal sacrifice. It is nothing of the kind. Look at the figures—303,600 registered for military service in 1949 and only 166,600 posted to the Forces. All you have to do to avoid military service is to become a collier—I have been a collier myself—or become an agricultural worker, minister of the Gospel, or better still become a Member of Parliament, and then you are exempt.
§ Mr. Davies
No, Sir, there is no equality of sacrifice. There were 117,000 deferments in 1949.
I will tell the House of another thing that offends me. Take the party opposite who are supporting this Bill. Whenever I see the Tory Party supporting the Socialist Government, I begin to wonder what it is all about. There is a grand 1422 coalition in favour of this Bill, and the Liberal Party have joined in, or at any rate the Leader of the Liberal Party has joined in. Let me ask the Government, quite frankly, to tell us what was the memorandum on Defence that was presented to them some months ago by the Leader of the Opposition. I hope I do not offend my comrades on the Front Bench. Perhaps I should say "my colleagues," because we have changed our vocabulary in the last few years. At one time it was "wage slaves," and then we called each other "comrades." We then addressed each other as "colleagues," but now on occasions it is "My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen".
I remember Lieut.-Colonel Byers delivering a speech from the Liberal benches, telling us that if we paid the soldier a proper wage we would get plenty of volunteers. The Government have now increased their wages, and we are entitled to ask whether they will abandon conscription if they get a sufficient number of volunteers. I have tried in my lifetime to see the trend of international events. I like other countries, but I have never been so foolish as to love another country better than my own. Let me remind the House that the little race to which I belong was in these islands before any other. The Government have accepted the increased wages policy for soldiers agitated for by the Liberal Party and have, I imagine, bought off the opposition of the Tory Party by extending conscription to a further six months.
The contradictions arising out of this Bill are almost a joke. Here we are, almost unanimously, supporting the extension of conscription and making more of our own lads into soldiers, while at the same time laying it down that no German boy shall wear a military uniform at all. Has the House ever seen a contradiction like that before? I was rather intrigued the other day to see a statement by one of our junior Ministers that we must build more houses for our troops on the banks of the Suez Canal. We are now building new towns under the Town and Country Planning Act, and it seems that some of them will be on the banks of the Suez Canal instead of on the banks of the Thames. We have troops in Austria, Gibraltar, Cyprus, Germany, Malaya, 1423 and elsewhere, and now in Korea. This Bill is an attempt, of course, to try to meet these commitments.
I do not know enough about foreign affairs to deal with these commitments, but I have been in Egypt twice. We have 30,000 troops in Egypt, and the Egyptians object to it. Let me say in passing, that I do not like to see American soldiers in my country—I do not like to see any foreign troops on our soil. I asked a prominent Britisher one day, "How would you like 30,000 Egyptian troops in London?" He said, "Oh, but we would not have that at all." Our troops are scattered all over the globe; it is just about time that we began to mind our own business at home.
In my view, conscription is imposed by Governments for the obvious reason that men refuse to shoulder arms voluntarily. They refuse because they have no faith to inspire them to lay down their lives in battle. Soldiers cannot be got in this generation at the rate they were recruited in the past. They are too near the last war.
I know that it is unpopular preaching this gospel. What does it matter? I have seen the tombs of the kings in upper Egypt. They were buried 5,000 years ago, and now nobody cares whether they lived or not. Who will care in 50, 100 or 1,000 years' time what any of us say here today? All I am doing is to act in accordance with the light that has been given to me and the spirit that has been planted within me. I stand for the rights of man, for the liberty of the human being against the inroads made upon it, either by Communist, Socialist, Liberals, Tories or anybody else, for he was made in the image of God him self, and, therefore, I object to increasing the shackles that are being fastened upon him.
When people tell me, "You know, you may be ostracised for advocating this course," I reply, "It will not be the first time that I have been ostracised." Why should I bother about that? I would prefer to pass into oblivion alone preaching a set of principles than to receive the applause of the crowd for advocating something based on personal aggrandisement.
§ 12.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)
I beg to second the Amendment.
1424 The House will remember that from the very first moment that conscription was introduced by the Labour Government I was resolutely opposed to it. I should like to recall the opinion which I expressed in 1946 in the Debate on the Address. I said that one of the reasons why I feared conscription in time of peace was because of the waste of manpower. Another objection I stated then was that military conscription was likely to stimulate rather than discourage competition in military preparations.
I believed that 1946 was the moment for the Government of the day to place upon the agenda of the United Nations a proposal for the international abolition of conscription. I was told by the Government at that time that the United Nations had only just been born, that it was suffering from teething troubles, and, therefore, it was not the moment to introduce such a proposal. Is there any Member of the House who will deny the fact that war preparation has been stimulated throughout the world from that moment?
One of the reasons we are told for the extension of conscription, together with increased arms, is that it is important that we should demonstrate our strength to the world. I regret to say that this is supported by the Liberal Party. I challenge that. The right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) has always stated that the way to secure peace is to have superior strength above every other nation.
I remember reading in a book by Professor Joad, entitled "Why War?" a most interesting story about the Leader of the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman in 1912 went to speak to the undergraduates at Oxford. Professor Joad was then an undergraduate, and the right hon. Gentleman was, of course, a Cabinet Minister. He said that there was only one way in which to achieve peace and security, and that was when a nation was so strong that no other nation dare attack it. A member of the audience—I do not think he was an undergraduate then—asked the right hon. Gentleman a question. He said, "You say the way to peace and security is to have superior strength, so that no other nation dare attack this country. Would you concede that right to Germany?" There was no answer. That little man 1425 at the back, who happened to be Sir Norman Angell, declared, "Here we have a Cabinet Minister who says there is only one way to achieve peace and security and that is when every nation is stronger than the other nation, and nobody can then attack anybody." There is the logic of it.
The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), speaking in the Defence Debate this week, said this:I am, however, convinced that the only hope for peace is for the free nations of the world to unite, to make themselves strong and present to the aggressor a united, powerful and unconquerable defence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th September, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 990.]That is precisely the same argument.
The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), in a very interesting speech last night, asked what was the motive of the Government. He went on to say that they must never lose sight of the fact that at all times the purpose of our rearmament, and, of course, conscription, was to negotiate for peace, backed by our strength. Then he said it was fantastic that Russia should be allowed to get away with the idea that the motive of her great armaments was peace. Is it not illogical?
We saw the introduction of conscription for 12 months in time of peace. Some of us opposed it. We had another Bill to increase the period to 18 months. Some of us again opposed it. Now the period is to be two years. I would remind hon. Members of the bitter lesson of history recorded by Earl Grey in his memorable book "Twenty-five Years":Great armaments lead inevitably to war. The increase of armaments that is intended in each nation to produce consciousness of strength and a sense of security does not produce these effects. On the contrary it produces a consciousness of the strength of other nations and a sense of fear. Fear begets suspicion and distrust and evil imagining of all sorts. It was these that made war"—in 1914—inevitable.I want to ask a very serious question in this House. Every time conscription has been debated, my hon. Friends have asked the Government how long it is to continue and whether it is to be a permanent or a temporary feature. This week the Prime Minister said: 1426It is naturally with great reluctance that we have had to decide to introduce this temporary increase in the length of service."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th September, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 959.]The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery, in expressing his reason for supporting this, said:I regard this proposal of the Government as a temporary stop-gap measure in time of extreme urgency"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th September, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 996.]Let us go back to the time when military conscription was first introduced in time of peace by the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain. It was 27th April, 1939. It was the occasion when the present Prime Minister led this party into the Lobby against the Government. That proposal was not for 12 months conscription but for nine months military training. Mr. Chamberlain said:I think we fully realise what this word 'compulsion' connotes in their minds. They hate it. They have believed, and I dare say do believe now, that once you introduce compulsion it is difficult to stop it.This is what he then said:It is a limited measure which is designed only to meet immediate and temporary needs. It will be framed specially to emphasise its temporary character."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th April, 1939; Vol. 346, c. 1351.]That was 27th April, 1939, and that Act is still on the Statute Book.
I would follow a line with which some of my hon. Friends would not, perhaps, agree. I would go a long way in compromise if I believed that eventually the youth of the nation could be set free. Still I fear that, having had 12 months, 18 months and now two years service, we have entered a most vicious spiral which will lead us to a great catastrophe. In 1946 Mrs. Paton asked the following question:Will my right hon. Friend promise that so far as the Government are concerned there is no idea in their mind of making this a permanent institution?My right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning, who was then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:'Permanent' is a difficult word to give a literal interpretation. There is an old saying 'I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough for me.' "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1946; Vol. 430, c. 633.]That has always been the answer. I am unutterably opposed to something which not only enslaves the human being but 1427 which, I am convinced, will further spread the desire in the world for greater strength of arms, which will lead to a clash resulting in the downfall of civilisation.
In addition to the challenge to the liberty of the subject, there are the hardships to the men to which we refer in the Amendment. On the last occasion I referred to Lord Montgomery who wanted the younger men to go abroad. I gave the case of a 21-years-old soldier constituent of mine who like thousands more had been wasting time. He was a skilled craftsman. The authorities refused to bring him back to his craft to be of great service to the nation. He was unfortunately killed before he was able to return. I said that I could not accept the responsibility for placing young men of 19 in that position. My hon. Friend has quoted the case of the first conscript to meet his death in Korea. There is a tremendous responsibility upon our shoulders.
More than once the Opposition have said that the Government could have foreseen the difficulties and should have been able to prevent the situation developing as it has done. We are told that the Leader of the Opposition is a man of great foresight, that he foresaw events before the war and that he has foresight now, but I can remember when he said on 22nd October, 1945—not five years ago:There are no more enemies to conquer no more fronts to hold. … I mean, of course, in a military sphere. All our foreign foes have been beaten down into unconditional surrender. Now is the time to bring home the men who have conquered and bring them back to their families and productive work."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1945.]If he was so far-seeing surely he could have seen five years ahead. As a matter of fact, I supported the demand that demobilisation should proceed.
Those of us on this side of the House who have taken the responsibility of tabling this Amendment know that it is unpopular. We know that it arouses deep feelings. I, together with my hon Friends, have been ardent supporters of the Government in their great social programme, but I base my opposition to conscription on Socialist grounds and on an interpretation of Socialism which probably some 1428 of my hon. Friends do not accept. The first book I read on Socialism was entitled "The Meaning of Socialism" written by Bruce Glazier. I read that book over and over again. When I have heard hon. Members opposite objecting to controls and to interference with the liberty of the subject, I have often had sympathy with the views they expressed because I, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), did not support even industrial conscription; we were opposed equally to that as to military conscription.
I want to quote what Bruce Glazier wrote more than 25 years ago in his book, in the chapter entitled "Freedom of Life." I do so because, before I was selected as a candidate for Parliament at the last General Election, I read this paragraph to my constituency Labour Party so that they would have no difficulty in understanding precisely where I stood. And there was competition in the Selection Conference, so they had a choice. This is what he wrote:A socialist community would not seek to impose universally or forcefully, any duty or restriction which while being such as its members generally willingly accepted for themselves, was clearly oppressive to the capacity or conscience of some of its members. It will not indeed be a real socialist community at all, no matter how radically it socialises material wealth,He might have said, whether we nationalise iron and steel or anything elseif it does not rely upon the assent and good will of all its members rather than upon any coercive laws or forceful compulsion.That is where I stand. That is my interpretation of Socialism. I follow it today. In seconding "the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend, I hope that many will follow the ideals that we feel are the essential ideals of Socialism.
§ 12.23 p.m.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I rather regret having to follow the two previous speakers, because I wished to devote most of my time to constructive suggestions from my experience which I hoped might be of help. However, as you have seen fit to call me now, Mr. Speaker, I must reply briefly to some of the points raised by the Mover and Seconder of this Amendment. I say straightaway to them that there is one 1429 thing with which I agree entirely in their Amendment, and that is that conscription should not be a permanent feature of British life. I have always said so on every platform, and I have said so frequently in this House of Commons.
I took a small part in the introduction of the original Conscription Bill into this House. I said at that time that it was only being supported by me personally because at that time it was necessary, vitally necessary, having regard to the situation in the Far East, to get men quickly and, by a long-term policy, to build up a Reserve. But at that time I said also that if the pay of the Forces could be increased, if proper living conditions were provided for them, we should have a proper Regular Army, and that conscription would no longer be necessary. I still adhere to that because from my experience of 28 years in the Service I know that to be true.
At the same time I ask the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) what he meant when he said, "I do not like having foreign troops on my soil." He referred, of course, to the Americans. Does he equally dislike having either German or Russian troops on our soil? And if he does dislike having either German or Russian troops on our soil, how does he propose to prevent them arriving if there are no troops?
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
It may be a strange gospel to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but I do not want to see any soldiers of any kind on the soil of my country.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
The hon. Gentleman has not answered my question as to how he proposes to prevent them coming. I will give him what I should have thought would be his answer. This is what he should be doing. He should be doing everything in his power, as should all of us, to try to break down the barrier of the Iron Curtain so that the ordinary people of Russia can come over here and see how we live, and so that the ordinary people of this country can go to Russia and see how they live. To see, as I have been seeing over the past six weeks in the Low Countries and in Scandinavia, British youth tramping over the mountains of Norway with practically nothing in their pockets, sleeping on floors, drinking water, just accepting generosity when it 1430 was given—and it was given freely—to see that, and to see a similar thing, happening in this country is the ideal at which we all have to aim.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
Until the Russians pull down the Iron Curtain and allow that to happen, until the Russians disband 140, shall we say, of their 185 divisions, then surely it is only plain commonsense that we must take adequate precautions to do what the hon. Gentleman wishes—prevent any alien troops setting foot on the soil of England.
I regarded the conscription Bill in its first stage, as a long-term policy for the building up of a reserve. That was the original idea. However it because clear to me and to many other hon. and gallant Members on this side of the House not long after that events were moving, very fast indeed. Whereas we may have had in the back of our minds a target date of 1957 or 1958, that target was rapidly moving towards us and a new conception was necessary. It was at that time, because we decided it in our Army Committee, that we got up in this House and said, "The situation is altering. We do not believe any longer that what we said during the Debate on the conscription Bill holds true. We believe now that things are getting much more urgent, that it is vital to raise the pay of the Forces at once, and to raise a Regular Army to meet the situation which is coming upon us." That is how we all stand on this side of the House in regard to the matter.
Now I want to try to make a few constructive suggestions. I am sorry that the Secretary of State for War has left the Chamber because it affects him more than anybody else. If, however, I cart have the attention of the Financial Secretary, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be able to get a little advice from some body who has been in touch with these problems for a long time.
The first thing which alarms me, the danger that I see, is the dispersal of our forces. One of the first principles of war is concentration, and I warn the Government against splitting up our forces into penny packets as token forces to be sent here, there and everywhere. I admire the rapidity with 1431 which the Government acceded to the request of the Americans for a force to be sent to Korea. It is, of course, only a token force, and cannot be anything else; but let not that become a habit, because every single one of the men we now have is extremely valuable. They will be valuable not only in the fighting line, but to train the others who will be coming along. We cannot afford to let these fine folk go in penny packets where they cannot have very much effect on the general situation.
My second point is this. I hope the Minister will tell us when he speaks how the right hon. Gentleman intends to raise these divisions out of the additional recruits which he hopes to get for the Regular Army and through the extension of National Service. At present every unit in this country is acting as a training unit; they are not formed as fighting units, nor are they in any formation. The very first thing to be done is to see that proper training establishments are built up and that these regiments are released from that task in order that they may become units and take their place in formations.
I want to know how that is to be done. I make a tentative suggestion that there are many thousands of men in civilian life today who were in training establishments not so very long ago, and I believe that if the Minister wants manpower to man up these training establishment, a call for volunteers for that specific task would reap a rich harvest. What will happen unless the Minister is careful, is that the training establishments will be closed temporarily whilst the units are reformed and brought up to strength, and when they are up to strength—
§ Mr. Speaker
The Debate is on conscription. The hon. and gallant Member appears to be talking about the reorganisation of the Army.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I have tried to refer to the effect which the Bill will have upon those in the Forces and what will happen when it comes into effect. If I may finish my sentence I would say that those units will be called upon to send instructors back to the training regiments and they will immediately be back where they were before. In view of your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I am at a loss, but, no 1432 doubt, I shall be able to pick up the threads as I go along.
It is essential that these formations, which are to be composed of the men coming into the Forces as a result of the proposals of the White Paper and the Bill, should be properly staffed. This has been one of the great disadvantages under which many of us have served. Former staff officers should be brought up to date. They would probably pay their own expenses, and it will cost the Government nothing for week-end refresher courses for all those excellent men, many of whom are sitting in offices in the City. They must be got back to be brought up to date, and I urge the Minister to do something about this.
My last point is the question of the discrepancy in pay between the conscript and the Regular soldier, which was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate. I am not giving my personal opinion, but merely putting the two sides of the question, as the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) does so often. There is a danger in giving different pay to people when they are in the line or on active operations, and when they are not. The danger is—unfortunately, I must use the same word twice—that it may be considered "danger money," and that is a thing against which the Army has fought throughout its whole history. I implore the Secretary of State for War and hon. Members opposite to look into this very carefully and to read military history before embarking on this course.
I also see great difficulties and anomalies arising. How are we to decide which is a theatre of war and which is not? Where is the line to be drawn? Is it only for the present situation, where the line of demarcation is very clear, or is it to be carried on? Once these things start they are rather difficult to stop. We may even get to a stage in the end when somebody by the Firth of Forth who hears a bomb drop 20 miles away says, "Danger money, please. I am in the line." The Government must be very careful on this question. As a young soldier, I was always taught that one of the things which can wreck a unit quicker than anything else is to have two different rates of pay for the same job.
We on this side support the Bill because we believe that at this juncture there is 1433 nothing else we can do. I still consider that my remarks over the last three or four years have been true; that had the Government done what we asked them, this Bill probably would not have been necessary. As it is necessary, however, we give it our wholehearted support.
§ 12.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
I have always been extremely critical of conscription, and before I, personally, am prepared to support an increase of conscription, I shall want quite a number of assurances from the Government. I shall want to know exactly what general strategic purpose this proposed increase in conscription is required to fulfil. If it be our policy simply to defend this island in isolation, this sort of conscription is quite the wrong policy.
Secondly, if, as I think I understood my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) to say yesterday, our policy is simply to put ourselves in a position to meet a sort of Korean situation, or the sort of situation which the East German militarised police, without the support of the Red Army, might create, but not to put ourselves into a position to defend Europe's frontiers should the Red Army itself intervene, then again I would say that this increase in the length of conscription is wholly unnecessary.
If the justification is that we are prepared to create in Europe—we do not have it now—an army capable of defending the frontiers of Europe against anybody who may attack it—and that includes the Red Army—then I am prepared to support this Bill. Again if I understood my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East, aright, he took the view that the democracies could never maintain in peace-time forces capable of resisting the forces that Russia could maintain in peace-time, because they are a totalitarian nation and can always maintain a far higher standard of military preparedness than a democracy. There is, of course, some truth in that, but it must be subject to the resources of the totalitarians and the resources of the democracies. The Atlantic nations have about double the population and something like eight times the industrial resources of the totalitarians, and it seems to me defeatist nonsense to 1434 say that we cannot collectively build up and maintain a force which is capable of defending our frontiers. Before I am prepared to support this Bill, I want the assurance that that is our intention and that we recognise that in the defence of our frontiers a German contribution, an effective German contribution, is absolutely essential.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry East, has a great receptivity to new ideas. [Interruption.] Well, many hon. Members opposite would be greatly improved if they had some receptivity to new ideas also. Yesterday he adopted with great energy the idea that we should build up the same sort of military police force in Western Germany under the control of the Bonn Government as the Russians have in Eastern Germany, only rather larger. That is frankly nonsense—
§ Mr. Speaker
That has nothing to do with the Bill we are discussing. We discussed those matters on a different Motion yesterday, but I do not think that the German army, or German police, come under a Bill on British conscription.
§ Mr. Paget
With great respect, may I put the grounds on which I submit that it is in order? What I have said is that I am prepared to support this Bill, and I am only prepared to support this Bill, if I am satisfied that there is a defence policy which makes this Bill necessary. That defence policy, and the only defence policy which in my submission can justify this Bill, includes the formation of an effective German contribution to a European army, to which our Army shall be added and a part. I submit with very great respect that I ought to be allowed to discuss the circumstances which either do, or do not, justify this Bill.
§ Mr. Speaker
It is quite in order for hon. and learned Gentleman to state the reasons. As he says, he thinks there should be a German army before we pass this Bill, but he must not develop that any further. He has now stated the exact reasons, but he cannot go into the argument of the merits or demerits of a German army.
§ Mr. Paget
May I say immediately that that is not what I propose to do. What I propose to talk about is the sort of German army that there must be, not its 1435 nature. The distinction is—is it to be a German army such as was proposed yesterday in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East, a German army under the control of the Bonn Government and under a separate command, or should it be a contribution, as I think the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) suggested, to a European force, to which we also make our contribution? The point I wanted to make was that it was utterly impossible to have a German army under one control, occupying the same territory as an occupying or allied army under another control. It is a question, among other things, of which road is used by which. I will pass on—
§ Mr. Paget
I will pass on from that. I tried very hard for three days to make the point, and many other points which I would like to have made, as to the possibility of obtaining a German army. Again, for my guidance, is it in order, or is it not in order, to discuss what steps are, or are not, necessary from a political point of view in order to obtain a German army? Would that be in order?
§ Mr. Paget
Let us be quite clear. Here there seems to he a general and wide assumption that we have only to say we will let the Germans rearm and, hey presto, there is a German army beside us to serve. In my submission that is quite nonsense. It is going to be a very difficult job indeed and will require a great deal of tact to persuade the Germans to serve with us. I believe it is very important indeed that we should obtain this army which we are being asked to create, but it is no good unless it is making that contribution. I was talking the other day to a very prominent officer who had been an officer of the Wehrmacht and he said, "You must realise that our sons, husbands and brothers died in millions trying to keep the barbarians out. You disgraced their memory, you treated our soldiers as though they were criminals. Now it is your turn. You try and fight Russian Communists by the kid glove methods you recommend for us."
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and learned Member had better not continue the speech he wanted to make yesterday. It is entirely out of order on this Bill and is irrelevant.
§ Mr. Paget
I will conclude on this point by simply saying that the time really has come when we must have a bit of sense and realise that if we want a German army, we cannot go on keeping their soldiers in prison for things we are doing in Korea today.
I come to another point, which will be in order. That is the use which it is proposed to make of these conscripts from an organisational point of view. It is proposed that these 55,000 additional men made available for the Army, which will bring the Army up to about 400,000, should form nine divisions. That means that we are proposing to get about one division for every 45,000 men we have in the Army. Is that making the best use of these men? In the German army they got one division for every 23,000 men. In the Russian army they get one division for every 16,000. It is true that in a Russian division there are 11,000 men whereas in an English division there are about 16,000, but as against that, the 11,000 Russians have more arms than the 16,000 British, more tanks, more guns and more fire power. I could give the establishment and arms of these divisions, but I will not do so now. Of course, although a Russian division has more arms, it has only about one-third of the transport and that is why they can do it with less men. Because they have so much less transport and services, they can get more divisions out of the same total numbers of the army.
That is the problem we have to meet in deciding what is the best use to make of our men. The Russians can get so many people firing guns because they do not take everything with them, but rely upon what they can find in the country. We, on the other hand, reckon to carry everything with us. Are we right to go on doing that to the full extent? Remember, when we are attacking we may find that our opponent empties the country to delay our advance and, if the Russians attacked, we should probably do that, in spite of the fact that when the Germans did it we called it a crime. The way to 1437 stop the Russians, who rely on what they can find in the country, is to empty the country before they advance, but when we are in defence, we are in a far better position to live off the country. That is because one is moving, not into an empty country, but into a full one. I suggest that we ought to consider whether we ought not to make considerably more divisions with considerably less supply, and whether we ought not to train those divisions to live to a considerable extent off the country.
After all, we can create in advance a requisitioning organisation to make local supplies available in that territory, wherever our troops may move, instead of carrying the supplies around with us. If we do that, fewer troops will go very much further. I do not say that we should go to the full extent that the Russians have done. There is a line to be drawn somewhere between the two—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I fully appreciate that it may be in order to discuss briefly the use or advantages of this proposed extension of service, but it cannot be in order to go into all these questions of strategy and tactics on a limited Bill of this kind.
§ 12.52 p.m.
§ Mr. A. R. W. Low (Blackpool, North)
The observations which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) makes on strategy and organisation are always very interesting, but I must tell him that if I began to debate with him on this occasion, I should immediately incur your displeasure, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. In order to put your mind at rest, Sir, I must tell you that I have left behind the notes which I prepared for yesterday's Debate.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton began by saying that he required some assurances from the Government before giving his assent to this Bill. I, too, have some questions to ask the Ministers. Those questions really revolve on the single theme of whether the matter has been properly thought out. I believe that it has been thought out, 1438 but owing to the rush in which the Bill has been put before the House, and the very short speech which the Minister of Defence made yesterday evening—it was not only brief but rather vacuous—we have heard extremely little about the Government's plans.
We as a House are entitled to know a good deal more about what is to be done to make this two years' service instead of 18 months' service work for the benefit of the country and so that it causes the least hardship possible to the individuals who are called up. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) has frequently reminded the House that now that we have called up into the Forces large numbers of young National Service men, this House must be more zealous than ever before about its duty to ensure that the Services conduct themselves as well as possible. It is that consideration which I have at the back of my mind.
It seems to me that this extension of Service to two years will have five results; it will affect national life in five ways. It is quite true, as the pacifists have said, that it affects our liberties. I join with what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) said earlier in expressing my hope of seeing as soon as possible the time when conscription will no longer be a part of our national life. The second result of this extension of service is to strengthen the active Forces. There can be no doubt about the necessity of that. The third result, which was mentioned yesterday, is to reduce temporarily the strength of the Auxiliary Forces. I wish to say a word about that in a moment. The fourth result is that industry is deprived for a time of 80,000 or so young men. The fifth result is that many young men, at the very outset of their careers, have had their plans rudely disrupted. Their plans for starting their careers and going to university—and we should take account of them—are matters personal to them. They were made on the assumption of 18 months' service. That assumption has been swept away.
It is that point and the point about the Auxiliary Forces, both of which were mentioned by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), on which I wish to say a word. I should not have troubled 1439 the House with any further remarks about the effect upon the Auxiliary Forces had the Minister of Defence made any proper reference to it in his winding-up speech last night, because the point was made on several occasions from this side of the House. As he did not satisfy me, I wish to make the point slightly more fully than it was made yesterday. We all agree that this is a crucial time, and that crucial time will last at least for the next two years. During that time the Auxiliary Forces will be a skeleton.
§ Mr. Low
My right hon. and noble Friend reminds me that he made the point two days ago. They will be a skeleton because following the end of the war, and as an inherent part of the National Service scheme enshrined in the National Service Act, 1948, the Auxiliary Forces of the Crown were to be filled largely by part-time National Servicemen. If I continue to talk about the Auxiliary Forces at large I shall become confused. Therefore, I propose to refer from now on, as an illustration, to the Territorial Army, which is of course only one of the three Auxiliary Forces.
The Minister of Defence argued last night that he could have 10 Territorial divisions ready next year, a few months after mobilisation. I do not want to say that the right hon. Gentleman has not thought out the implications of that remark, but I question it very much at the present time. I would further question the statement made earlier that we intended strengthening at once—I hope we do but I do not know how—our antiaircraft defences. Those defences have been largely handed over to the Territorial Army, and the House is fully aware of that.
What is the actual position so far as numbers are concerned? At present there are approximately 90,000 Territorial Army volunteers. Between 1st July and 30th September, 1950, approximately 20,000 whole-time National Servicemen will, we may take it, have come out of the Army and be doing part-time National Service in the Territorial Army. That figure allows for some wastage and for some men going to the Supplementary 1440 Reserve. If we calculate what the numbers are to be by next August, a date indicated in something what the Prime Minister said, from 1st October to 31st March no man will go from whole-time to part-time service. That is the result of the Bill which we are considering today.
From 1st April to 1st August next year we may take it that about 30,000 National Servicemen will pass into part-time service with the Territorial Army. That gives a total of 140,000 men. Making a calculation based on present trends we might expect to have 10,000 more volunteers, giving a total of 150,000. Contrast that with a total strength of over 450,000 which the Territorial Army was meant to consist of under the post-war plan, and it will be seen that what there will actually be, on the basis of the figures I have given, will be a skeleton.
It may be that at the back of the mind of the Minister of Defence is the idea that he will be able to call up Class "Z" Reservists in time to clothe the skeleton. He will be a very lucky man if he is given that time. Although there may be reasonable time in military plans to call up men for the reserve field forces there is no time at all in respect of the anti-aircraft defence. We really cannot have the antiaircraft defence of this country based upon a system which requires several months even to fill the units which shoot the guns. That is my feeling, and it is as a direct result of this Bill, of which in general we in this House all approve, that that situation has come about. But of course it is also due to another factor which I think now is uncontradicted.
Our old defence plans were based on 1954. There were good reasons for that in 1946, but I do not think we could consider we have very good reasons for that date since 1946. That date has now been put forward to 1951, as the Minister of Defence himself told us last night. It seems to me absolutely essential that when such a major change is made, there should be a thorough review of the Auxiliary Forces, and particularly the system which provides the men and organisation for the Territorial Army, and, most particularly of all, for the Anti-Aircraft part of that Territorial Army.
One of my hon. Friends suggested last night that the National Service Act should be amended in such a way that men who 1441 did their service under the pre-1948 Act—I think the Minister will follow me if I say that—should be given a part-time liability. I do not think that that is the right way of doing it at all. I do not know whether the Minister is following, but yesterday it was suggested that the men who have already been released without part-time service liability should be given some. I do not think that is the right way to do it. I do not think that we get along in this country by inventing new obligations for small blocks of people just to fit into our temporary difficulties. I think that the solution lies in the further tapping of the voluntary spirit in this country. This is most important, because it is the only way in which the gap in this Bill can be filled.
I would venture to make three or four suggestions about this, aimed particularly at the Under-Secretary of State for War. It seems to me that the problem will exist only over the next two years. Therefore, all we want Class "Z" Reservists to volunteer for is a period of two years, and not four. These men differ from the ordinary Territorial whom we want, and wanted in the past, in that they are trained and reliable men. Therefore, we do not need to give them so much training—perhaps a week's camp and perhaps just one refresher course during the year.
It would seem, further, that our crying need is for local home defence in Anti-Aircraft and, therefore, we need not impose upon them the obligation to move very far from their homes in their service. For that reason I would put this to the Government in all seriousness, because I believe in that way we may be able to fill the gap. But I do not think the Government will be able to do that, however, good the conditions of service, unless they are prepared to show to the country a spirit of urgency which at present, alas, is missing from many of the Government statements. I put that argument at some length because I think it of great importance.
I wish now to pass to the last point I mentioned at the outset of my speech, regarding the individual results of this Bill. Before I say what I propose to say about university students, may I say a word about deferment? I would preface what I have to say by remarking that the Ministry of Labour and National Service have handled this very difficult problem 1442 wisely and humanely. Not only have they so handled it in their offices, but the Minister himself and the Under-Secretary have shown wisdom and humanity when they have told this House about it, and we should all be grateful to them. Deferment as I understand—
§ Mr. Low
With great respect, there was a mention of deferment in the opening statements of my right hon. and learned Friend to which nobody took any exception, and it seems to me part of the administrative background of the handling of this great Measure. The number of people who are deferred are directly affected by the fact that two years' service is now introduced.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this Bill merely extends the length of service. It does not alter matters in any other particular, and whatever may have been said by the hon. and learned Member on the Opposition Front Bench, I must ask hon. Members, in this Second Reading Debate, to keep to the principles of the Bill.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale
Further to that point of order. As I hope to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and to put the same point, surely it is, on Second Reading, open to us to say that we cannot accept this additional service for our people unless certain proposals are made educationally to compensate them for the loss of time? Surely that must be a relevant point? It was put by the right hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), and, I thought, put very well.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Some passing reference to conditions of that sort might be in order. What I am taking exception to is hon. Members going into great detail on these matters which really do not arise.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
Does not subsection (3) of Clause 1 in fact deal to some extent with this, as it is dealing with interrupted service and. therefore, deferment?
§ Mr. Macpherson
Does not subsection (3) refer to Section 23 in the principal Act which deals with interrupted service and has a bearing on deferment?
§ Mr. Low
It seems that I have fallen into a pit by stopping my speech for a moment to say some nice things about the Government. If I had not done that I would have come straight to the point about deferment which I want to make, and you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would not have objected at all. What I was proposing to ask—and I feel sure that you, Sir, will consider this very relevant to the Bill—was whether, with the further drain upon the number of people in industry at the same time as National Service is being met, and with the need to quicken the pace of production in armaments, it might be necessary slightly to extend the range of deferment, and perhaps to introduce a narrow range of reserved occupations. I am not making a suggestion one way or the other, but I ask that because, on the whole, the present scheme is accepted as fair. I hold that it is right where possible not to waste the national effort by training men who are never likely to be called up.
I have always accepted the view that it is very difficult to decide, in respect of young persons, what is a reserved occupation and what is not, but I think it is a matter about which we should be thinking, because we must not get clamped down to the floor of our old ideas. There is no doubt that in particularly vital parts of the defence industry, such as radar and other things, there may be people, such as young apprentices who have finished their apprenticeship and are due for call-up, whom it would not be in the national interest to call up at once. They might be further deferred under special arrangements made by the right hon. Gentleman. I am merely asking about that and not putting the idea forward one way or the other.
My second point is the same as that of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Leslie Hale) and is in relation to education. I do not base my question so much on the question of deferment, as on the more general line of arrangement which the Minister has made, to ensure that these people whose plans have been disturbed—and we must acknowledge 1444 that they have been—are put to as little hardship as possible.
As I understand it, there are three classes of future university students who are affected. Firstly, there are those few who expected to enter a university in October next, October, 1950, and whose release date comes after 1st October. I am sure that the relevant paragraph in the White Paper will be made use of in order to see that if these men are caught by mischance, they can be released in time.
Then there are the other men due to enter next October. Half of them will be able to enter, and half will not, because they will still be in the Services. There are suggestions that it is so important to the education of these men—and this is not purely a class matter, because they are of all classes throughout the country—that specially early release should be given. I would say that six months' release is too long, and I suggest to the Minister a compromise something like this.
Could he not get the universities to agree that men should be allowed to enter, during this three-year transitional period, in January as well as October? If he got them to agree to that, could he not get the Services to agree that, in particular cases where entry has been accepted for January, the Service should give up to two months' release, but no more? I am aware that these proposals originated in a letter written by a housemaster of Winchester—my own old housemaster—to "The Times" on 19th August, but I do not know whether the Minister has had his attention drawn to it. I think that suggestion would meet the wishes and the difficulties of all concerned in dealing with this sort of people.
§ Mr. Isaacs
I want to assure the hon. Gentleman that that matter is under consideration, and we are contemplating a meeting with university representatives to discuss the best way of carrying out this proposal with regard to the men to go to universities in 1951.
§ Mr. Low
I imagine that what I have said about the 1951 men and the universities would also apply in some measure to those to be called up in 1952. My right hon. and learned Friend pointed out that the announcement which the Minister made asking such people to come for- 1445 ward for early call-up now does not meet all cases, because many men have not taken their scholarship examination, but would normally be taking it in December, and it will not help them with that examination if they are called up in October.
I am sure that we can trust the Minister, from the long experience which he has had in handling this matter and from the way in which he has handled it in the past, to make the proper arrangements, but I would beseech him to remember that it is most important that when an announcement like this is made, young men, school masters and parents should be told as early as possible what the plans are. I think we should have much more regard for the individual plans of those young men than we have shown in the past.
There is one other point which I would like to put to the Secretary of State for War. It seems to me that there is some danger that, if we get permission for early release for these men, the Services may try to keep the very best men and release only the not so good. I would like an assurance that in any such scheme for two months' early release, the Services will ensure that everybody who is entitled to be released shall be released, regardless of their particular value to the Service. In the first two years after the war, there were many cases of valuable men being kept in the Services, while less valuable men were allowed to leave.
In moving the Amendment, the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) seemed to me to treat young conscripts as if they were men in chains, not enjoying their daily life at all while they are in the Services. Hon. Gentlemen who feel like that should go to see these young men doing their service. They would be amazed, as I was amazed, by their cheerfulness, their zeal, their courage amidst all the ordinary happenings of their daily life. That is a fair sample of the way in which the scheme, which has had its shortcomings in the past, is working well. It has done much good to the country and, with this extension, will strengthen our country still further.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Shackleton (Preston, South)
Unlike the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low), I have not left behind 1446 my notes from yesterday, because I was uncertain that I should catch your eye today, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and therefore the remarks which I had intended to address to the House were those which I was hoping to address to it in case I might not be called today.
I want to deal with the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), and certain provisions in the Bill, and it seems to me that there are several different ways of looking at this matter. I should like to classify them under four heads; first, whether there is any alternative to the extension of National Service; secondly, whether we can afford it; thirdly, whether it is militarily correct and also politically necessary; and finally, whether it is morally right. I should like to deal with some of those points.
First of all, on the question whether there is any alternative, I think it is right that the Ministers for the Service Departments should, assisted by the Central Office of Information, make the very best possible use in the way of publicity of the new improvements in conditions for Regular soldiers. I am quite sure that, irrespective of whether they support the Bill or not, all hon. Members would like to see a very much shorter period of National Service, and would ultimately like to see it disappear altogether. Whereas many of them may object to this Bill and to the extension of National Service, they will naturally welcome and sympathise with my view that the utmost publicity should be given to such facts as the improvements in pay for R.A.F. technicians.
It is a fact that a senior technician in the R.A.F., irrespective of the question of service promotion to ordinary rank, can draw up to £10 per week, including his family allowances, and that is a very striking increase indeed. The new trade structure is also something to which the full attention of new National Service men should be drawn in the hope of persuading them to stay on as Regulars and thereby increase the chance in the future of reducing the period of service. I could go on at some length on the improvements and opportunities in the Services, but there are other points with which I wish to deal. I hope, how- 1447 ever, that a strong effort will be made to bring these facts to the attention of National Service men.
The next point concerns the economic implications of the new proposal. This has always been a matter which has concerned us, and we have discussed it during our previous Debates this week and in other Debates in this House. It is the question whether the military measures proposed are likely to be beyond the economic capacity of the country, and whether they will weaken us economically so much that our military strength will be thereby reduced. I fear from what we have heard that we must expect, with increased National Service in the course of the next three or four years, the possibility of a Services Budget of £1,600 million. I fear that it will come to that, because the expenditure is going to increase over the years; it will be less heavy in the early stage and grow heavier as time passes.
I believe that when the Minister of Economic Affairs set out the economic situation, as he did so lucidly in a recent Debate, he took an unnecessarily gloomy view of the productive capacity of this country, for I believe that it will be possible, taking into account all the estimates which have been made in previous Budgets, to pay for this increase in the period of National Service. It is almost certain that we shall far exceed the estimates for 1950 which were given in the Economic Survey and that we can expect an increase in national productivity which will comfortably cover the cost of the increased armament programme. At the same time, however, we shall face other serious economic disadvantages—and I am being careful, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, not to go too far on this subject. One thing is quite certain, and it is that unless we receive some additional dollar aid from the United States we shall not be able to pay for this extended period of National Service and for all the other parts of the rearmament programme.
I should like also to deal with the question of how we are to pay for this period of National Service. I believe the country is quite prepared to face the present situation providing the people are satisfied that justice is done to the whole community and that the burdens are equally borne. Whereas I can foresee a 1448 period of industrial prosperity, whereas I believe there will be great, prosperity in all the industrial areas of this country, it is a fact that there may be some small measure of inflation and it is also a fact that profits will rise considerably. This is not a time when we can introduce taxes of the kind which were introduced during the war. The Excess Profits Tax is quite unsuitable for the present occasion. One thing is certain, however, and it is that the country will expect to see something similar to the Special Contribution which was introduced a few years ago. That is the right and proper measure.
Having dealt with the question of paying for the extension of National Service—and I thank you for your tolerance in this matter, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—I want to deal with certain other matters connected with conditions of life for the conscripts. One thing which is of the utmost importance for these young men, as it is for all men in the Services, is that the authorities should act promptly in cases of financial hardship. Too many of us have heard of cases of men in the Army, as Reservists and as National Service men, sometimes married men, who have been faced with acute hardship, and who have had to go to the National Assistance Board because nothing was done promptly in the unit about the arrangements for the payment of special service grants and hardship grants.
I urge the Minister to look into this problem particularly, because to some extent these young men will judge the Army from what they hear from the other men, from the Regulars and from some of the Reservists who have been called up and are suffering acute anxiety. I am sure every hon. Member knows of cases where Regular soldiers still do not know what they can obtain in the way of special service grants. This is a matter of the utmost importance both for the Regular and the National Service man.
I turn now to the questions of whether this extension of National Service is morally right and whether it is the only course open to us at the moment. I believe that politically this country has given a decisive lead to Europe. By our willingness to accept this extra burden we have shown that we are prepared to play our part in resisting aggression if it 1449 should come upon us. I think it is a fact that the people of this country would be happier if they felt that these personal sacrifices were being made by all the nations which are associated in the Atlantic Pact. I hope our example will be followed by other countries—by France and by the United States. The United States has a very complicated system of National Service—the draft. I hope that through our information services in the United States we shall draw full attention to the sacrifices this country is making—far greater sacrifices than any which a country can make in terms of gold and money and its products. The sacrifice which we make by putting our young men into National Service is the highest form of sacrifice we can make.
I turn now to the pacifist position and will deal with some of the remarks made by the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Amendment. I do not see either of them here at the moment and I think that, having spoken, one or the other of them might have done the House the courtesy of attending. I saw the seconder of the Amendment for a few minutes, but I have not seen the mover since shortly after the Amendment was moved. I feel that that is treating the House with discourtesy. In any event, I shall endeavour to answer their case and it will not be my fault if, to some extent, they find I use strong words which they would have had an opportunity to answer.
The hon. Member for Westhoughton was at some pains to harrow the House with the tragedy—and we all agree it is a tragedy and feel deeply about it—of the death of a 19-year-old National Service man. I cannot for the life of me see why it should be any less tragic for a 25-year-old, possibly with a wife and children, also to lose his life. We all agree that death in those circumstances is deplorable, but I believe it is obscuring the position to pick on this particular case, which arouses emotions that impede the clear thought necessary in this matter. None of us would attempt to deny the strength of feeling in the pacifist position. We are prepared to give them full credit for the sincerity of their views, and I hope they will also give us the credit for the sincerity of our views.
The hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates), however, said that he felt disposed 1450 to compromise on this issue. He said he would feel disposed to compromise on the issue if he thought that National Service was not being made a permanent factor. When he does that, I feel that he abandons the pacifist point of view completely. The pacifists' position must surely be that they are prepared to submit under any circumstances to whatever military action, or other action, is taken. I can understand that position. If I thought that the moral standards of the world were high enough for it to be universally adopted, then I should be sure that the dangers of the present situation would disappear at once and, at the same time, I believe we should also be living morally much better lives throughout the world than we are living today. But I am afraid that mankind has not yet reached those standards.
I believe that the position adopted by the hon. Member for Ladywood is not tenable. In 1939, for instance, logically he would have had to abstain or to vote with the Conservative Government on the issue of Munich. I do not know whether he would have done so; that was one of the questions I should have liked to ask him had he been here to answer it. One thing is certain: there can be no compromise in this pacifist position. For that reason, I would ask people who argue against an extension of National Service from the pacifist standpoint to stop using military arguments in support of their point of view. It has been done too often. To argue at one and the same time that the extension is morally wrong and also that it is militarily no good is in itself a destruction of the position to which they must firmly adhere if they are to justify their point of view.
I appeal to hon. Members who are supporting this Amendment to think very clearly on the implications of what they are doing. I believe that unless they themselves are prepared to say they will submit to invasion, that they will submit to anything that will come throughout the world or in this country, they are not entitled from a pacifist standpoint to object to this extension.
I do not think any of us in the country can possibly like the idea of two years' National Service, but if I may turn that for a moment to the purely Socialist angle, there is nothing un-Socialist in National 1451 Service. As hon. Members know, it is the custom, particularly among continental Socialists, to regard National Service as the most democratic way of raising an army. A tradition has grown in this country that has taken a different line, but tradition in this country is not necessarily right in the face of the general views of Socialists throughout the world.
The real objection is to the length of service. To take two years out of a man's life is bound to have serious effects on his educational standards. We all know of the decline in educational standards that followed in Germany when the Germans imposed two years' national service; but there is no alternative at the moment. We are faced with a need to meet a possible threat, if not of major aggression, of minor aggression within the next few months or within a year or two. I can only hope that this extension, coupled with the improvement in Service conditions, may bring in extra Regulars and enable us later to cut the period; but at the moment this Bill is absolutely necessary for the security of this country and of the rest of the world.
§ 1.32 p.m.
§ Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)
I must agree with one thing that the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) has just said, and that is that there can be no military support for the argument that the pacifists have produced, although some of us, anyhow, may appreciate that conscience has compelled them to move this Amendment.
This House will decide this afternoon whether the National Service men will serve for 18 months or for two years. Surely, before the House comes to a decision on that, we ought to be certain that that extra six months will be properly used in the defence of this country—which means that we must ensure that the right men are in the right jobs. Many of us learned in the last war to admire immensely the dogged and almost continuous work of the infantry in conditions of danger and discomfort which those of us who were gunners or belonged to some other arm only endured for comparatively brief periods. In defence or in offence the infantry does a job which no other arm can do. In the end all battles are won by the infantry, and the infantryman bears the brunt of casualties and discomfort. 1452 Moreover, his military art is less stereotyped than that of any other arm and his knowledge of many weapons and of battle-craft is harder to acquire.
The infantryman must be nimble of movement and nimble of mind and, in the words of the late Lord Wavell, "We ought, therefore, to put our men of best intelligence and endurance into the infantry." Those of us who were regimental officers in the last war and had to find men for the infantry from units of different arms know that not the best of quality was sent. That applies to a number of regiments I know, especially during their training period in England. Is that sense? Is it sense that the infantry intake into the Services from civilian life is still low in the priorities for intelligence and quality?
The House is discussing the extension of National Service today. I believe that the stock of England is as virile now as it ever was in the days of the "Thin Red Line" or in the time of Agincourt. I also believe that, by official policy, that stock has been diluted for the infantry. The House should see that the standard of intelligence and of quality of those who go into the infantry, in fact those who are supported, is as high as the standard of the supporting arms. If there is any special pay or special recognition or distinctive headgear or dress for any section of the community, we should remember that great body of troops who undergo less spectacular dangers but dangers which are more numerous and certainly greater.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
I am a democrat, and I recognise that the great majority of this House are in favour of this Bill. Therefore, I propose to speak very briefly, because I do not want to delay that majority view. I am certainly not going to deliver today the speech which, for three days, I have tried unsuccessfully to deliver.
Thirty-five years ago, under the first Military Service Act, I refused military service and, as a result of that, I served terms of imprisonment of six months, one year and two years. Although now I am not a pacifist, it is quite impossible for me to support in this House a Measure which imposes duties upon young men today which I refused to 1453 accept when I was a young man. I am not arguing as a pacifist, as I ceased to be a pacifist in 1936 because of my experiences in the Spanish Civil War. I am arguing today as a libertarian and I am putting the case that, whilst the State has a right of many functions over the individual, the State has not the right of the function of conscripting men to duties which involve life and death.
I am quite aware that in the National Service Acts of recent date, provisions for those who have conscientious convictions on this matter have been greatly extended. I appreciate that, but, even with these extended provisions, I acted during the last war at tribunals and court martials for men who were court martialled five times and served five sentences before their conscientious convictions were admitted. I do not believe that there is any method under a conscription Act by which these conscientious objections can be recognised completely. I have seen a man and represented him at his fifth court martial. I have seen that lonely individual.
Whether a State is a State of liberty or not is not to be judged by the broad liberties enjoyed by the community In the final test this is the liberty of the individual. The State which crushes, as though with an iron foot, the personality of one individual in the community is committing a crime against liberty, which none of us should accept. While I have expressed concern about that individual who could go through five tribunals and still maintain his attitude, my real sympathy is for the man who, by continual imprisonment, has his strength and self-respect broken, and to whom the State succeeds in refusing the right to stand for his true convictions. That man loses his personality and his self-respect, and I have seen the psychological effect in after life. My argument to this House today is that although the State has great rights over the individual, that is a right which no State which claims to be libertarian should possess.
My second argument is this: These young men who are being conscripted and whose period of conscription is now being extended are youths of 18 and 19. They have no responsibility for the world into which they have grown up. They have had no voice in determining its foreign policy, no voice in determining its conditions, 1454 and they have no vote which can express their view; yet the State is taking the opportunity of saying to these young men, "You shall join the Army; you shall face the dangers of that life; you shall kill and be killed for a world which is not yours but which is the responsibility of those of us who are older and particularly the responsibility of Parliament and of the State."
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
I think the hon. Member will agree that the youth of the country is interested in the future of this country in which they live.
§ Mr. Brockway
Yes, certainly; but what I am arguing is that these boys of 18 or 19 have grown up in a world for which the older generation is responsible, and for which the State and Parliament are responsible, and the older generation have no right to command these young men to join the Services to kill and be killed when they have had no responsibility for the conditions of the world in which they have grown up.
§ Mr. Shackleton
Is the hon. Member using this argument from a basic principle? In other words, is he prepared also to say that older men or a Member of Parliament, for instance, should not be conscripted? Is it wrong for a man who has a vote to be conscripted?
§ Mr. Brockway
Yes, I oppose the principle of conscription altogether, and in my opening remarks I indicated why. I am adding the case for the young man to whom we are now extending conscription, who has no responsibility for the conditions of the world, and who, in my view, we have no right to ask to kill and be killed until he has that opportunity of a voice in the affairs of the country, and a vote.
Despite these interruptions, I do not want to break my promise to be brief, and I conclude by saying that I recognise that even if the principles which I have laid down from a libertarian point of view are accepted, the difficulties in a democratic country opposed to a totalitarian country are very great; but I say that, in the last resort, in any democratic country, the decision to fight must be a decision which is accepted by the people. If the people accept that decision, then the people will volunteer to fight. If 1455 there is unwillingness to volunteer to fight, then the State and Parliament in a democratic community must recognise that, and must change their policies to express the will and the determination of the people.
If one accepts that view and yet is driven into the position of saying that in certain circumstances one must conscript because people will not volunteer, one has slipped into the frame of mind of the totalitarians, and the Fascists and Communists have won a mental and psychological victory. For those reasons, I cannot possibly support a Bill of this character, and, if there is a division, it will be necessary for me to vote against it.
§ 1.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
The House always listens with the greatest attention to an expression of principle, but I think it is also entitled to question whether it is right that a principle should be an absolute principle, and, if so, whether those who enunciate it are prepared to draw the necessary practical deductions from it. If we are to draw practical deductions from the principle that unless there is willingness to volunteer the Government must adjust its policies accordingly, then I think we must also accept certain conclusions.
In the first place, let me say that unwillingness to volunteer at the present time does, to some extent, come from the fact that we have National Service, and that young men about to go into National Service feel that they will have already to a large extent done their job when they have completed National Service, and need not, therefore, commit themselves to any further Regular engagement.
Secondly, there is the fact of the lack of inducements to do so. I shall come to that later. One thing that follows from this principle if we accept the view that nobody is to be conscripted, is that we must necessarily reach the conclusion that we must be content with such a very small defence force at the present time that it would be virtually useless in enabling us to play the part which, I think, the whole House agrees this country should play at the present time in the world. It seems to me that the conclusion to be drawn from what the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys 1456 Davies) has said is that he does not like to see any soldiers anywhere in the world even at this present time, and he would sooner see no soldiers in this country and accept the consequences of that, which would mean that we would inevitably have soldiers of another country here, than allow this Bill to be passed.
I should like to make this point. While it is comprehensible that, as the hon. Member for Westhoughton has said, someone should continue, as he intends to do, to hold his principles as absolute principles which he has held all his life and not depart from them, although it does not appear that he is prepared to accept the conclusions from that—while that may be comprehensible, I suggest it would not be right for Members of this House to encourage others, particularly the young, in that same point of view.
After all, there are other countries that pride themselves on their freedom and respect for liberty which have had national service for a very long time. Consider, for example, Switzerland. Switzerland has had national service to the point where every Swiss youth considers it a privilege as well as a duty to take part. It is an attitude of mind of the whole people—and this may be counted for virtue or not, as you please—and yet Switzerland has been free from fighting of any kind for a century. But this country is not Switzerland. We have different traditions and ideals, and most Members of the House will agree with what has already been said, that as soon as possible we wish to get rid of National Service because it is not in keeping with those traditions.
Let us consider what the effect of one of the provisions of the Government will be on that desire to get rid of National Service in due course. We are now told that after 18 months a National Service man is to be paid the same amount as the Regular soldier. Is not the inference we draw from that that the 18 months service is now regarded as the normal period of National Service to which we are to return as quickly as possible, and that after that we shall have the position that on completion of National Service a man will be encouraged to join the Regular Army by the higher rates of pay? The Government have fallen into an error in this matter. It was desirable, as I said three years ago when the National Service Bill 1457 was introduced, that there should be some differential between Regular and National Service pay to act as a monetary incentive to a man to take on a Regular commitment on completion of his National Service. We have now lost that, because the Government are going to give that increase before these men complete their National Service. That seems to me to be an error, which will adversely affect Regular recruitment.
One possibility is that a man should receive Regular pay on going into an operational theatre, which would be better than the present arrangement. Under the present arrangement, if a National Service man is sent to an operational theatre at eight months' service or less, he has to wait 10 months fighting side by side, not only with Regular soldiers but with other National Service men, before he can draw the same pay. It does not seem to me that this can possibly be right. I hope the Government will look into this and revise their decision in this regard. If they do not, they will handicap themselves very seriously in raising a Regular Army, and if they do that it means we shall never be able to reduce this enhanced period of National Service.
I will now turn to the question of the treatment of those who are intending to go to universities or technical colleges. I support what has been said from this side of the House in this connection, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low). I ask the Minister to reply to this question. Time is very short between now and the commencement of the next academic year. I hope he will take the opportunity, not only to tell us what concessions are to be made, but what steps have to be taken by those concerned in order to make sure that they get these concessions. Secondly, what is to be done for the future? I should like the Minister to deal with the question of the speeding up the call-up.
Some of us have had many letters from those who have planned their academic future, having left school at a certain time and having had to wait a considerable period before being called up. Rather than having special releases, which in itself is wrong, we should make certain that a man is called up at such 1458 a time that he may be released when he should commence his academic studies. Take, for example, the man who plans to leave school at the beginning or end of July. It should be possible to ensure that he is called up before the end of September. There should be no difficulty about that.
We still find boys who have not been called up until well into November, with the result that they now have to have a period of two years' service from that date, with a considerable prospect that they will lose the whole of the time from their release in November to the following October. If there is one thing which is extremely upsetting to the morale of young men, especially those who are going in for a university career, it is that they should be sitting around doing nothing without even looking for a job.
§ Mr. Macpherson
Certainly, although I know a little more about this side of the matter than about industrial training. I hope that any arrangements which are made will also apply to industry.
There is something else which might follow from that. It might be possible to alter the academic year so as to have two entries, although I doubt whether that is a good thing to force on the universities. It would probably mean more staff, although the universities might be able to adapt themselves to the position.
I appreciate that many people leaving school will have a certain gap before they go into the Services, and that afterwards there may be another gap before they actually go on to their further studies. I appreciate the difficulties, legal and otherwise, that exist, but it seems to me that any young man who is worth his salt would rather be serving his country than lounging around at home. There is no machinery for him to do this at the present time. It may be three or four months before he takes up his academic studies. Why should he not be given the option to continue to serve in the Forces until the time for him to take up his university career starts? If given the option, it would be 1459 quite clear that he could not then be a burden on the finances of the home—he might even contribute to them—while all the time he would be doing a useful job and gaining experience of life. I hope that suggestion will be considered. I know, from having talked to young men, that many of them would certainly avail themselves of such an opportunity.
Lastly, the great majority of this House would like to see an end to National Service, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North, said. Youth when it enters into a thing enters into it with zest, and by far the greater number of people who go into National Service just now will gain enormously by it and enjoy it provided it is properly handled and the unnecessary jobs—everybody must take a share of the unpleasant jobs—are cut out, and so long as everybody is given the feeling in National Service of serving the country.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
It was Robert Louis Stevenson who said, "To travel hopefully is better than to arrive." Since Monday last I have been trying to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, and having at last done so I wonder which state is preferable. I am an anti-conscriptionist in time of peace. I said so at the General Election, and the Liberal Party also opposed it then, but have now changed their mind. The Liberal Party fought the election saying they were opposed to military conscription, but following the path of expediency the Leader of the Liberal Party at least now feels it might be more popular to support this extension of conscription, thereby changing his mind upon this very important question.
Whether this Bill obtains the sanction of the House this afternoon or not, conscription will remain. We shall have it for 18 months at any rate, and, therefore, what we really have to debate is whether a case has been made out for the additional six months' conscription. The short speech from the Minister of Labour this morning would have led us to believe that he was introducing a minor Bill of small importance, upon which he did not wish to take up the time of the House. The Debate during the last three days has extended over the wide field of foreign affairs, and the Secretary of State for War, 1460 when he replies later today, will, I hope, give us some sound, solid reason why 18 months is not enough and why six months must be added to the period of conscription.
It is totalitarian in principle to do away with the liberty of those who have no voice at all in the electoral machine of the country. We can take away through Parliament, the liberty of those who in turn can throw us out, but to take away the liberty of the young men who have had no opportunity to register their opinion upon the political issues of our time is more in harmony with the sort of creed to which we all are opposed than to our democratic way of life.
I want to draw the attention of the House to the effect which this Bill is bound to have upon our economy. The Prime Minister told us that a quarter of a million people will be engaged in the rearming of our land, and in addition to that, we are going to take from industry another substantial quota of young people who could have been playing their part. I am convinced that our housing and building programmes are bound to be seriously and substantially affected. Will the Secretary of State for War tell us this afternoon whether the exemption will cover the building workers of this country? This is a very important question, because there is no issue of greater moment facing many of us in our constituencies than the housing programme.
If the country wants these boys to go to fight, it should see to it that they have something worth fighting for. A home is the first prerequisite of any decent citizen in a decent order of society, and I believe that this system of exemption ought to include the building workers as well. I realise that the only basis upon which conscription can be argued is that it requires equality of sacrifice on the part of the youngsters, but the present system of exemption has made nonsense of that belief. There is no equality of sacrifice, and we ought to see, since we do not accept the principle of equality of sacrifice, whether the essential industry of building can not be included as well.
I am concerned about the sort of Army to which these youngsters are to be conscripted. There was a lot of debate in the last Parliament about the democratisation of the Army and about giving dignity to the individual when he wears the uniform of the Services. Recently I 1461 listened to some of ray hon. Friends describing the petty indignities, which can be imposed upon these youngsters, and in my opinion that is as great a handicap to recruitment as any other single issue. If we are to have a voluntary service, let us realise that it is more likely to come from the boys who have already tasted the Army and know what it is like. Unhappily, when the lads are conscripted into the Services the great majority of them have one ambition—to get out.
§ Mr. Thomas
Why are they not staying in, then? There is a perfect answer to this argument. Give us the figures of those who stay in the Services after they have finished their period of conscription, and that would be an answer which I could do none other than accept.
I want the Secretary of State for War to promise us that he will not take away the normal civilian liberties of these boys by putting them into a Service where they have not got the normal legal rights of a British subject. Under the courts-martial system, the rights of appeal are not the same as those enjoyed by civilians, and before we pass this Bill, we ought to have a promise that this matter is going to receive attention. The Liberal Party have put down an Amendment asking for the period of service under this Bill to be limited. I earnestly hope that the Government are going to agree to the Amendment, and that they are not going to make military conscription a permanent part of the British way of life. Further, I hope that the Secretary of State for War will say that they will endeavour to see that these youngsters under 20 are not sent to the battlefield as long as it is possible to send more trained and seasoned troops. I cannot in all conscience say that the proposals put forward in this Bill have been adequately explained or that the reasons have been given from the Box today, and yet today we are debating the Bill for the first time.
§ 2.10 p.m.
§ Brigadier Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
As an ex-Regular soldier, I share the views of the two hon. Members who have just spoken with regard to conscription. Conscription is foreign to this country and not something which we want to retain, 1462 and I should like to see it brought to an end as soon as possible, but it is the mismanagement and vacillation of the Labour Party that has made it necessary. It was not possible for a man to join the Army during the last four or five years on the rates of pay which then existed, for the cost of living rose month by month. When I joined the Army the soldier got little money: he has never been well paid—
§ Brigadier Clarke
He was then able to buy a packet of cigarettes and two or three pints of beer, but the soldier has not been able to do so during the last four or five years. One packet of cigarettes was his day's pay.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I am sorry, but I have only a few minutes and I want to speak without interruption. The soldier has now been given a fairly reasonable wage. That was forced on the Government after the Secretary of State of War, the Minister of Defence and others had resisted it to the last possible moment. That is why we have still got conscription five years after the war. That is the sole reason. If we had paid the men better before, we should have had the volunteers. More needs to be done. Pensioners and war widows have still more due to them, and their case must be looked into. The best recruiting agent for the Services is the ex-Service man. If he leaves the Service a satisfied man, he will put his son and his grandson into the volunteer Army.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I am sorry, but I have only two minutes left. In those circumstances we should not need conscription. Nothing reasonable has been done for the pensioner or the war widow. If our men have to go and be killed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."]—in Korea, the Secretary of State for War should look into the pensions which are to be paid to widows. That is most essential.
1463 I have very little time left and I want to strike a different note. I urge His Majesty's Government to look into the credentials of the Secretary of State for War—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I do not see how that could arise on this Bill.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I was just about to say how it arose. Men should not be asked to go and fight Communism under a man who is a professed Communist. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I will not withdraw unless I am called upon to do so by Mr. Deputy-Speaker. It is my opinion as a soldier—
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I understand that right hon. and hon. Members are not allowed to make imputations against other right hon. and hon. Members. In accordance with Standing Orders, should not the imputations which have been made, now be withdrawn?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I stopped the hon. and gallant Gentleman on a different point, that his remarks were outside the scope of the Bill, which I believe to be quite direct and definite. After I had stopped him he said that I had misunderstood him and I was waiting to hear why he felt that I had misunderstood him.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman was accusing the Minister of War of being, in effect, a Communist, and because of that I must rise to support the point of order. Particularly on such an important subject as this, no hon. Member should be allowed to accuse the responsible Minister of being something which he is not. Such a categorisation would have an adverse effect on recruitment. I do not think that any hon. Member, particularly one who has served in the Forces as long as the hon. and gallant Gentleman has done—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Gentleman has apparently risen to make a speech. He cannot make that speech now. It is not a point of order. Brigadier Clarke.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
My point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, was not based on the word which has been reiterated but on the phrase which was used. May I ask if you heard it? As I understood it, the phrase was to the effect that the hon. and gallant Gentleman wanted to ask the Government to look into the credentials of the Secretary of State for War. If you accept the fact that that phrase was used, I submit that these serious statements have gone on far too long and that the phrase should now be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not think that is out of order. I stopped the hon. and gallant Gentleman on a different point. I considered that he was going beyond the scope of the Bill.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I did not say that the right hon. Gentleman is a Communist. I was referring to his past tendencies. I never said that he is; I said that he was—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. and gallant Gentleman was trying to explain why he felt that I had misunderstood him. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is repeating it."] Order. I pointed out to the hon. and gallant Gentleman that I thought that what he was saying was outside the scope of the Bill. He said that I was wrong and he is now seeking to show why I am wrong. He ought to be allowed to do so. I shall stop him again if he does not convince me.
§ Brigadier Clarke
Our men are fighting Communism in Korea, and the Secretary of State for War has admitted in the past that he was a Communist—
§ The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. James Callaghan)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. This has absolutely nothing at all to do with the Bill.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
In my opinion, it had nothing whatever to do with the Bill. My ruling was challenged and the hon. and gallant Gentleman is seeking to show why I am wrong. He must be allowed to show I am wrong. If I am wrong I shall allow him to continue.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. Shinwell)
Is it not obvious, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that in explaining why he made his previous statement the hon. and gallant Gentleman is about to refer personally to the Secretary of State for War and that that is outwith the scope of the Bill?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That was my view, and I stopped him on that ground, but he said that I had misunderstood him and he is explaining why he feels that I misunderstood him. If in my opinion he goes beyond the scope of the Bill I shall very soon stop him.
§ Brigadier Clarke
Hon. Gentlemen opposite as a whole have done more to make my point for me than I have. All I hope is that the Prime Minister will shuffle the pack and manipulate—
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)
Neither gallant nor honourable.
§ Mr. Kirkwood (Dunbartonshire, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. With all due respect, although the hon. and gallant Gentleman has been an officer in the British Army, he is not going to be allowed to treat a Minister in the Government of this party in that fashion—
§ Mr. Kirkwood
You have decided, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that what he was saying was outside the scope of the Bill and yet you are allowing him to proceed to an explanation. I ask you to make him sit down and behave himself.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I thought I had made my position perfectly clear. I said I thought that what the hon. and gallant Member was developing was outside the scope of the Bill and, therefore, out of order. To that he said I had misunderstood, and was giving an explanation, but I hope, in view of the time, that he will go on to his next point. Brigadier Clarke.
§ Brigadier Clarke
It is only fair I should have my say, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I feel that the Prime Minister should shuffle the pack.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I cannot see that the hon. and gallant Member has said 1466 anything to prove that my first contention was wrong.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I am sorry. I have had very little chance to speak owing to the touchiness of hon. Gentlemen opposite. There is no doubt that nearly all share my views, only they do not like having it said publicly, and I am glad I have had the opportunity of saying this. [An HON. MEMBER: "Withdraw."] I have not said anything against the Minister of Defence. I am told that he is now doing his very best for the Army and, while he is doing it, I will give him every possible support even if during the Defence Debate he did say that no one could foresee the present situation three years ago. All I can say is that as a crystal gazer he is pretty poor. But if he is trying now—
§ Mr. Kirkwood
The hon. and gallant Member may be serving in the British Army but he is no gentleman.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I have heard a lot of derogatory remarks about myself from the other side. They say I am neither gallant nor a gentleman. Well, at least I have been in uniform and I have been in it for seven years—[An HON. MEMBER: "So was the Secretary of State for War."]—and I think I might have a chance of saying—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I heard a word used which should not have been used. I do not know who said it.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am quite able to control affairs if I am given a chance to do so. Brigadier Clarke.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I have stayed long over the time I promised you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but it is entirely due to the interruptions opposite. I would like the Minister of Defence to look into the ques- 1467 tion of pensions and widows' pensions before we go any further—
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Why did not the hon. and gallant Member read the Bill before he spoke?
§ Brigadier Clarke
I thought, as we are discussing whether we should have a Regular Army as opposed to 24 months conscription, it was reasonable to make that point. That is what it amounts to. We have missed having a Regular Army and now we must have two years' conscription, entirely due to the mismanagement of that side of the House.
Before ending, I want to say that these men who have gone out from Hong Kong to Korea now find that the considerable rise in pay which they had the other day has been cut because they are not to get their local Hong Kong allowance. I would remind the Minister that a lot of them have left wives behind whose expenses are just the same whether a man is sleeping in a fox hole or in some comfort in Hong Kong. These National Service men should get the same rate of pay as the Regulars serving in Korea, and should not lose the allowances recently given them, thereby bringing them down to the same rate of pay as they have been getting in the past.
§ 2.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I think I shall be serving the dignity and the decency of the House if I do not attempt to reply to the observations which have just been made and which I think have been fully resented on both sides of the House. Indeed, until the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) rose to his feet we had many useful and constructive contributions from the opposite side of the House with a great deal of which I found myself in complete agreement.
As a matter of pure statistical record however I cannot refrain from telling the hon. and gallant Member that when I joined the Army under a Conservative Government my pay was 6s. a week, with an additional allowance of a grand total of 7s. a week on which to maintain two children at their secondary school. And 1468 it was while I was serving in the Forces that I heard that the Conservative Government had cut the rate of pension in the event of our deaths. That is a matter of statistical record, and I did not want to introduce that, but to put views which are more important.
I am told, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I caught your eye late in the day by chance and with some dubiety and conditionally. I am anxious to comply with the condition, which means that I can only headline the points I wish to make, and so I regret I cannot give way. I will try not to be too controversial, but I want to refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies). It was a very good speech. It always has been. I have enjoyed it now for nearly 25 years. I admire it just as much today. I always hear it with a sort of nostalgic joy, with the same sensation that I hear Nellie Melba singing "Home Sweet Home" on the gramophone.
However, I think the hon. Member put it a little bit high in his concluding sentence when he tried to describe himself to the House as a man advancing on the barricades. We got the impression that he was displaying a courage which required terrific determination, that he was about to sacrifice himself on the altar of his beliefs. Believe me, it requires a lot more courage to go to Oldham, West, and say why I have supported this Bill than it would be to tell my constituents why I had put down an Amendment to oppose it the day after the House, nemine contradicente, approved the entire defence programme of His Majesty's Government. And I have not heard anyone who has opposed the Bill today attempting to explain this extraordinary contradiction.
One more point on that before I pass to my main points. I do not for the moment see my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) in his place. There is no one who knows him who does not respect him. Nobody who heard what he said but knows that it was said from the heart and with great sincerity. And nobody who knows the courageous view he holds in these matters but knows that he did not come to his decision without difficulty and without mentally balancing great difficulties. If, however, I wanted to think of somebody else who holds much the same views, who is opposed to conscription, who is a libertarian, who has 1469 wise and enlightened views on social reform, who detests war and slaughter, I should probably think first of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. But he has the responsibility and he made the decision about Korea, and that we, almost unanimously, said was right. And when we say he is right over that, we are committed to backing him up in what he considers are the various steps to take at this moment.
One reason why the country accepted these proposals which most people dislike and which I myself deplore and regret—I agree with quite a lot of the Amendment put down by my hon. Friend; I only wish I could vote for it; I should be much happier if I could—one reason why the country has accepted the proposals with grim resignation is because this is the decision of the Prime Minister, and because they know that he would not be putting forward these proposals unless he felt there was a great necessity for them at this juncture.
We have to consider the proposals from two points of view. The first point of view is whether we can do anything to mitigate the hardships. The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) dealt with education and was followed very constructively by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low), from the benches opposite; and my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton), also raised this matter. One of the really great achievements in the Army during the last war—largely helped by the Workers' Educational Association—was the educational courses that were available. Very great improvements were made in the concluding years of the war, largely through the efforts of some of my colleagues in the Workers' Educational Association and so on, in providing and developing educational facilities. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Blackpool, North. I wanted to deal with this matter in some detail, but I cannot say all I want to say.
There should be arrangements with the universities and, of course, technical schools and other forms of training for everybody for delayed admission. There should be chances of trying to catch up by something like a correspondence course for those who cannot be present at the start of the term. There is a lot of 1470 organisation which could be done in this way, and I pray that it can be done.
My second point on that is about courts martial. We have no right to continue deferring action on the Lewis Report; there is no right to postpone it whilst reference is being made to the Navy. The procedure of a general court martial is a pretty good procedure. The only trouble is that it is never adopted. We have never had the chance of doing so. In time of war, everywhere is active service and it is always "field general." In the last war a person was on active service from the moment he put on his uniform and stepped out of the train at the station.
§ Mr. Hale
I cannot give way—I have three minutes in which to cover the whole world.
The other matter which I should like to have developed—I realise that I cannot at this time—is whether there are any alternative proposals. We are entitled to consider that. What is the alternative? I have a letter from a gentleman, who has not been introduced to me, who wants to know my view about the prohibition of all atomic weapons with international control and inspection. I have not yet replied, because I am a little dubious about the motives of the inquiry.
My answer, and the answer we all give, is, "Yes." Of course, I am in favour of the control and the abolition of all weapons, with international control and inspection. We must be saying that over the world as our cardinal point of policy and seeing as far as is humanly possible that the Russian people know that that is precisely what we stand for. That is point number one.
Secondly, is there any practical alternative? Yes. The alternative that we have urged in these years—one know the difficulty—is that money should not be spent on arms, but on constructive work for peace. There came, perhaps a little late but still very important, a magnificent proposal from Walter Reuther, who stands pretty high in American labour affairs—the Union of Automobile 1471 Workers—suggesting that the great free nations should get together and say, "This is what we really want to do. This is what we mean to do. Instead of wasting this wretched money on armaments, let us put it into a pool and use it for developing the depressed areas, for bringing light, learning, reason, education and welfare to all parts of the world." That is the permanent and effective way of fighting Communism and that we must do.
One realises at this juncture that we have to accept reluctantly the grim necessities of the situation, and I accept them without reserve, but we must all be saying that what I have just said is what we prefer to do. We as a nation must be much more constructively interested in international affairs in the future. I deplore sometimes our attitude at Strasbourg. I deplored our attitude to The Hague. What we have done is to consider united Europe in terms of a vacuum. We have said, "Shall we lose money in peace time by this? Will the balance be here or there?" But we have to consider whether that may not be one of the great steps for peace and whether the gain of peace and the reduction on armaments may not offset all these facts. We have got to reconsider our attitude. I apologise for exceeding my time, but I have tried to cover a wide ground sincerely and in a short time.
§ Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, Northfield)
On a point of order. We are now debating a Bill under which young men of the age of 19 are fighting in Korea. Do I understand you, Mr. Speaker, to accept the view that hon. Members are limited in time in what they have to say?
§ Mr. Speaker
I will call the next hon. or right hon. Gentleman as I think fit. I do not know what the point of order is about.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I was not in any way asking to be called myself; I have not got up, and I do not want to be called. I was asking you, Mr. Speaker, in view of the remarks just made by the hon. Gentleman, to make it quite clear that so far as this Debate is concerned, it will go on as long as you, Sir, think it ought to go on, and that hon. Members who get up can speak as long as they like on a matter of this importance.
§ Mr. Speaker
But suppose that I think we have debated the matter at sufficient length, and that the House supports that view, then we might be able to close the Debate.
§ Mr. Hale
I must apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and to your predecessor for my own gaucherie in the matter. It is well understood in this House that it is quite frequently for the convenience of the House that one suggests to hon. Members that, on the whole, the convenience of other hon. Members has to be considered. Of course, as we know, those are only suggestions, but naturally we try to adopt them. I have tried to do so on this occasion, and without any resentment whatever or feeling that I have been constrained.
§ 2.36 p.m.
§ Mr. McCorquodale (Epsom)
We have had an interesting Debate, and I do not propose to stand between the House and the Secretary of State for War for more than a few minutes. I do not wish or propose to enter into the pacifist controversy, although I should be the last to challenge the sincerity of those who raised it. What I do not quite understand is how last night they acquiesced in the Motion which the House passed without a division as the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Leslie Hale), has mentioned. That Motion reads:… and is of opinion that the necessary legislation to amend the National Service Acts should be brought in forthwith.That Motion went through last night without any opposition, and I am afraid that I do not understand the action of some hon. Members today in view of their lack of action last night.
On the whole, we have had some very interesting speeches, although those who have listened to the Debate will agree that some of them were, obviously, rather hangovers from the Debate of the last three days. Indeed, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) admitted that he was trying to put much of the speech as he had hoped to make yesterday into today's Debate.
I was particularly impressed, as was, I think, the House on all sides, with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low), both in his references to the university students and to the difficult period that we shall face 1473 regarding the Territorial Army and the auxiliary forces. I trust that we shall hear something about this from the Minister this afternoon. I am sure everyone will admit that we have had valuable speeches also from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) and the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson), and also one which I enjoyed very much from the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton).
I should like to refer to the last two sentences in the White Paper on this subject, which says:It is the Government's hope that … it will be possible to review again the length of full-time national service. But the results of such any review"—the Paper goes on with candour—must depend in the main upon developments in the international situation.We in this House would be living in a fool's paradise and, possibly, misleading the public if we did not realise that this may go on for some time. Indeed, the speech of the Minister of Defence last night, in which he quite clearly showed that the Armed Forces would be building up until the 1953–54 period at least, shows that we must not suggest that this action we are now being forced to take will necessarily be able to be changed at short notice. It would be foolish of us to count on any shorter period than that mentioned by the Defence Minister.
It has been rightly emphasised all round that this action we are taking is one taken in peace to preserve the peace. I suggest that it is our paramount duty, therefore, to see that as little damage as possible is done to our economic and national life. Particularly am I anxious, like other hon. Members in all parts of the House, about the effect upon the education of our young people. Technical training and education is vital if we are to maintain our industrial productivity and to continue our national life, and it must be with the greatest care that the Ministers of the Departments concerned handle this question.
I suggest that if we are to step up our production—and I understood we all agree in this House that that is absolutely necessary—our skilled technicians are vital to the nation and, as far as possible, nothing must be done which will upset their training. I suggest that if we are to 1474 overcome Communism throughout the world it can in the long run only be because our ideas, our ideals and our faith have proved superior to the ideals and faith of the Communists. Here, surely, education in its widest sense has a very great part to play. We, therefore, look to the Ministry of Labour to continue to handle deferments and questions of that sort with the utmost care for the young men concerned. I would certainly agree with the eulogy which my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North, paid to the Ministry in this respect.
I also urge that the closest co-operation should continue between the Ministry of Labour and Service Departments after the boys have gone into the Forces. The Minister of Labour is collecting most valuable information about the employment history of the young men in our industries, and I have no doubt that that will be made available to the Armed Services so that, as far as possible, the industry with which the young man is connected shall be helped and not hindered by his service in the Armed Forces. We do sometimes hear stories to the contrary, although I am glad to say they are less numerous than they were.
Young men in agriculture and mining will still be exempt and I do not think anyone would challenge that decision, but—and here I am speaking entirely personally—I would like to make one suggestion in this matter. I would like to see in the countryside, as apart from the town, where the demands of A.R.P. on the older citizens are paramount, some development rather similar to the Home Guard which we all knew so well, and which these young men who are kept out of the Armed Forces might well join.
I make this suggestion because we heard today from the Minister of Labour a statement of the utmost importance and gravity. In the light of that statement, I think we must all expect, if a crisis does come, that there will be a great deal more sabotage, or attempted sabotage, in this country than there was in the last war. A force of this description, a spare-time force, not interfering with the young men's jobs in the mines or agriculture, might be most useful. I merely put this out as a suggestion and I do not expect the Minister to comment on it at present.
In conclusion, and at the risk of being charged with being platitudinous, I should 1475 like this message to go out from Parliament to the Service Departments. I should like Parliament and the nation to say to the Service Departments "We are now entrusting to you our most precious possession in this country, that is the youth of the country, for a period of two years at their most impressionable age. The primary duty of the Service Departments with regard to these young men is, of course, to turn them into good soldiers, sailors, or airmen, but also there is a great opportunity and a great responsibility for building them up also into being good citizens." If that is done I believe that these two years' conscription may lead to a strengthening and certainly not to a dissipation of our proudest possession, that is our national character. It is with those considerations in mind that we on this side of the House will support the Government.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)
The closing words of the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) would seem to indicate that he is of opinion that if National Service can be conducted properly, then permanent National Service in this country is a good thing. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That would be the impression—that it would be strengthening the fibre of this country. That is a view which has been disclaimed by most hon. Members on the benches behind him.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I think it would be only right for me to say that I do not believe, on reflection, if the hon. Member reads the words in HANSARD, he will find a single sentence that will bear out that contention.
§ Mr. Roberts
If my deduction is incorrect, of course I certainly withdraw, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman, on reflection, will think that his words bore that impression.
May I at the outset, very briefly, put my attitude in regard to the general matters before the House? I am not a pacifist. I support, indeed I welcome gladly, the increase in Service pay. I support, although with a heavy heart but out of grim necessity, the rearmament programme, but I do not think a case has been made for an increase in the term of military service and I feel I must oppose 1476 the Bill to increase the period now. There are certain questions I will put to the Secretary of State for War because I feel the House has had far too little information about the merits of this proposal. I support what the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) said earlier today. The Minister of Defence did not deal with this proposal in this speech last night and we had only a very short speech from the Minister of Labour.
I want first to know how the proposal originated. In the Debate last July—and there has been no material change in the situation since last July—there was no indication at all that the Government intended to bring in a period of two years' National Service. There was no suggestion from right hon. Members of the Conservative Party. We know that some time at the end of July a communication was received from the United States of America about our rearming in this country, but we have no reason for believing that there was any suggestion in it for increasing the period.
Then we know, from what the Leader of the Opposition told us on Tuesday, that he had an interview with the Prime Minister on 2nd or 3rd August and the Prime Minister at that interview made no mention of the Government's intention to increase the period of National Service. On 6th August, however, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition wrote a letter to the Prime Minister suggesting that it might be necessary to increase the period of National Service and saying that the Opposition would support the Government. In all the documents and speeches I have seen and heard. that was the first suggestion for an increase in the period of National Service. It did not in fact originate with the Government themselves and I should very much like to hear how it originated.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I should not like him to proceed on the assumption that his statement is correct. I can inform him that for some considerable time we have had this matter of the extension of the length of National Service under consideration in view of the international position and we came to our conclusion based on the information before us and because of what our colleagues in the Western Union defence organisation were 1477 also considering. It had nothing to do with the Leader of the Opposition and nothing to do with the United States of America.
§ Mr. Roberts
I am certain it had nothing to do with the United States of America, but we have the strange coincidence that nothing was mentioned at all until a letter was written by the Leader of the Opposition on 6th August and it was shortly after that letter that an announcement was made by the Prime Minister of the Government's intention.
§ Mr. Roberts
The whole thing has a strange aspect.
Further, I am sure we are entitled to far more information about the actual working of the present system in view of the allegations that have been made that it is not fair. Figures have been quoted—and many of those figures were used in the Debate in September, 1948, when the period was increased to 18 months—that the number of registrations each year would be about 300,000 but that only a little more than half, about 160,000 young men are called up. If only a little over a half or two-thirds are called up, it cannot be pretended that this system is fair, because if they were all called up, it would mean that the Government would have more men than they say are made available by this Bill. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West made a strong point when he said that certain classes of workers have to be exempted—such as those engaged in building, and I might add those engaged in the steel industry. This country cannot be re-armed if the steel workers or apprentices are to be taken. But the more exemptions there are—and the rearmament programme will make more exemptions necessary—the more we make nonsense of the argument that conscription is fair to all.
We are entitled to ask also for more information about its effect on the Regular Army. It is strange that in 1939, with a Regular Army of a little over 200,000 men, this country was able to produce nine divisions, two of which I believe were armoured.
§ Mr. Roberts
It is no use the Minister of Defence shaking his head and laughing. He will not put me off. I know his technique.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I really did not mean to interrupt the hon. Member, and I want to be fair to him. The fact is that all his figures happen to be wrong.
§ Mr. Roberts
Does the Minister not agree that in 1939, out of a Regular Army of 220,000 men, we had nine divisions?
§ Mr. Roberts
That is the figure given in December, 1948. It was not contradicted from the Government Front Bench in that Debate.
§ Mr. Roberts
No. The right hon. Gentleman was not then Minister of Defence. He was only Secretary of State for War, so perhaps he would not then know.
Let the Minister of Defence now challenge this next figure, which was given by the Prime Minister; he will probably say that it was wrong. Now we have an Army of something over 300,000—
§ Mr. Roberts
The right hon. Gentleman nods; I am right this time. The Prime Minister told us that we have the equivalent of 6½ divisions. He did not say that we had in fact 6½ divisions but only the equivalent of that. On the evidence of all the figures—and if the Minister of Defence challenges them I am not prepared to accept a flat denial unless he gives me the correct figures—which were mentioned and discussed in the Debate of 1948, this system of so-called National Service has had a harmful result on the Regular Army and has impaired our military preparedness. To quote another figure mentioned in 1948, about 30,000 Regular troops are employed on duties concerning the training and administration of the National Service men. That is far more than the strength of one division.
I will put another question. Can we properly equip these large numbers of men who are to be made available? We 1479 must be very careful in this House before we say anything which may be of an alarmist nature. Nevertheless it is true that certain serious allegations have been made about the condition of our troops in Korea. They were made in the Debate, and the Minister of Defence did not reply to them. They have been made in the Press. Though I bear no responsibility for the truth of these allegations, I feel it my duty to bring them to the notice of the House in order to give the Secretary of State for War the opportunity of denying them, if he so wishes. First, there was a despatch from a correspondent in Korea named Mr. Richard Hughes, which appeared in last Sunday's issue of the "Sunday Times." He there used the phrase that our troops in Korea are:poorly equipped and embarrassingly dependent on the Americans for supplies.We are entitled to have that denied—if it is not true.
The second point is that the assertion has been made that one of the battalions in Korea consists as to half of young men under the age of 20 years. The first casualty was 19 years of age. An example was given to this House by the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Blackburn) of a constituent of his who was sent cut after four months' training and was only 19 years old when he reached Korea. These are very serious matters, because, if I may say so without any unction, the welfare of these young men in Korea is the very first care of this House.
§ Mr. Roberts
We are entitled to have an assurance from the Minister of Defence or the Secretary of State for War on those matters. After all, we have recollections of Narvik and the disastrous Norwegian campaign, and we should be determined that that kind of thing shall not happen again to our troops so far as we can help it.
The argument has been advanced that since the Liberal Party last voted against conscription the situation has changed acutely. None of us knows what the situation holds. I should be the last to deny its danger, but we must make the best estimate we can, recognising that we 1480 live in a strange twilight of the world which is neither peace nor general war, deploying our resources as best we can, protecting our social services, being ready, but nevertheless aiming first of all at the preservation of individual liberty in this country.
So I turn to what the Prime Minister said in our recent Debate. His words were that war was not thought to be imminent. The Leader of the Opposition said that there had been no new factor since we learned that Russia had discovered the secret of the atomic bomb. Then there are the first words of the Foreign Secretary on landing from the boat at New York. I wish he had given some guidance to the people of this country before he left, rather than left it to an interview with a newspaper correspondent in New York. His words were that conditions in the world were not more acute than they were 18 months ago.
Making the best estimate I can, and bearing in mind particularly what was said regarding Russia by the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke)—I think that the Secretary of State for War assented to some of the remarks made by the noble Lord—I cannot feel that this Measure is justified. I feel that under the guise of temporary expedients, each one justified by the circumstances of the day, we are marching inexorably forward to a system of permanent military conscription in this country.
Finally, let me say that rearmament is not enough. We must preach the great cause of democracy and freedom throughout the world so that free men will be willing to defend that cause.
§ 2.59 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Strachey)
A number of points have been made from both sides of the House, and there is also the issue raised by the Amendment in the names of several of my hon. Friends, which raises the specifically pacifist case, if I might so put it. I should like first to deal with the more general points and then with the specific issue raised by the Amendment.
The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) raised a number of points, the most important of which was, I think, the question of 1481 the size and shape of the Army, which this extension of service obviously raises. I should like to deal with that question in connection with the Amendment moved by my hon. Friends, because I think it is relevant to it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also raised a number of very important points on what I might call the administration of National Service, the degree to which exemptions are given, the degree to which whole trades or industries are excluded and deferments granted for educational and other purposes.
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, and as we know, we have to have an Act which is administered strongly and equitably and, therefore, is felt to be equitable between all classes of the community. On the other hand, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say, we must have some flexibility in particular cases, so that it is not felt that there is undue hardship on individuals. As I am sure he would agree, there is really nothing more that can be done by the Government. It is, of course, the Department of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, but there is nothing he can do except to steer a balanced course between these two objectives. I think it has been very generously admitted, from the opposite side of the House as well as from our side, that the Minister and the Ministry have been signally successful in steering that balanced course between what would be two pitfalls if they went too far in either direction.
I was asked a series of questions about the actual effect, especially in regard to young men who have university careers or careers in technical colleges of all sorts or industrial training of that type ahead of them. We do not think any difficulties, except particular individual cases-there will, no doubt, always be difficult individual cases—will arise in regard to young men who are due to go to the university this autumn, 1950. We think that matter can be dealt with reasonably easily; and I repeat the assurances given that young men who have a place booked for them at a university or a similar educational institution for this autumn, but whose new release date does not come by 1st October, have only to produce evidence of that fact and they will get their release all right.
1482 I was asked to say how they should produce such evidence. They should produce it in the first instance to their commanding officer, and I do not think they will have further difficulty. Commanding officers of units have been fully informed of the position, but there is in the War Office a compassionate Board, a Board for dealing with these cases, and that Board can be appealed to.
There is also the case of young men who are booked for the university for the autumn of 1951 and whose careers are definitely affected by this extension of six months. That is a much more difficult question and it is very right to have it raised in the House. We have not a cut and dried solution for that to give to the House this afternon, but we are meeting the vice-chancellors and other authorities of the universities on the matter, and we are in close discussion with them. I have made a note of the suggestions made as to deferment to January, or call-up in January, and other methods of that sort, but I would not like to express an opinion on them until we have heard the views of the authorities on the matter. All that is really a matter essentially for my right hon. Friend, but certainly in good time we will make every possible arrangement which can be made for 1951.
§ Mr. Keenan
I have a case opposite to that which my right hon. Friend has stated, where a young man is due to come out in 18 months for the university. Will the same consideration be given to his case in October, 1951?
§ Mr. Strachey
Those are the kind of cases for which, as I have frankly said, we have no cut and dried solution this afternoon, but we are discussing them with the university authorities.
I do not think the same difficulties will arise in 1952, but we suggest that young men who at any rate believe—they probably will not yet have their places booked in the universities—they will be going to universities and other institutions in the autumn of 1952, should, if they so desire, ask for early call-up; and that can be arranged so that their release date would still allow them without further difficulty to be free to take up their university or other such place in 1952. I have dealt with these points in connection with the remarks made by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby, but, 1483 of course, they were elaborated by various other hon. Members on both sides of the House.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is now leaving the question of apprentices, as apart from university students?
§ Mr. Strachey
I was leaving it, but only in the sense that I hoped that I had been careful to say that I was taking university students more as an example. It applies to young men who have places in technical colleges and to apprentices, but different conditions apply to apprentices. It certainly applies to them, and, generally speaking, the administrative arrangements which have been used by the Minister of Labour with, I think, such a very great measure of success, will be extended and adapted to this new condition of two years' service. I think that is the most general way in which I can put it.
If I may pass to the series of questions, I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) for example—and the question was repeated a short time ago by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts)—about the need for this Bill and the need for the extension of National Service. I do not think that, without traversing so very much of the ground on which we have just spent three days, I can give or attempt to give any full answer to that, because, obviously, this is one part of the general programme of increased Defence measures which has been debated at such length and with such earnestness by the House this week.
It is our view—and I think the House has a right to hear it repeated—that this is an essential part of those measures, and it is certainly not a measure which any Government would take without great reluctance. We do not think, in this specific international situation, that we should be justified in a defence programme which did not include this measure of an extension by six months of the period of National Service. It is by far the quickest way in which the numbers of trained men in the Services over the next six months can be increased.
I was asked, I think by my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), whether this measure had just been produced to meet the emergency in Korea, and he is entitled to a frank answer 1484 to that. No, certainly not. The force which is about to go to Korea will be essentially a force composed of Regulars and not National Service men, though National Service men will be in that force, as in the present one. It will be essentially a force raised on a Regular basis.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Will the right hon. Gentleman excuse me? He will no doubt have heard of the case which I mentioned of the boy of 19 with only four months' training. May I ask for an assurance that, at the earliest possible moment, these young men will be replaced by seasoned troops who are volunteers?
§ Mr. Strachey
I will explain why not. As I have said, the force being prepared in this country to go to Korea is being prepared essentially on a Regular basis. At no time has my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence or any of us given any pledge that National Service men would not be used in Korea. What we have said is that no man under the traditional British Army age of 19 would be used in active service in Korea.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I am sorry to interrupt again, but does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, in view of the great importance of the Korean war, it would be better to have out there troops who are already experienced in battle rather than troops inexperienced in battle and that, on the whole, it would be better to have volunteers rather than conscript forces there?
§ Mr. Strachey
We have argued this point in the earlier Debate. I repeat that the force which is to go from this country will be composed essentially on a Regular basis, but I think it would be wrong to suggest that National Service men, more especially under this Measure providing for two years service, can be used only in certain places at certain times. We must have a rule like the 19-year-old rule, which applies equally to National Service men and to Regulars. After all, some Regulars are very young. Some Regulars today are well under 19 years of age, and they are excluded from being sent to Korea I think rightly, simply on the grounds of age.
1485 I say, with respect to the hon. Member, that I think it will be a very great pity if we seek to make capital—I cannot use another word—out of the fact that the first fatal casuality in Korea happened to be a National Service man. It is no more and no less tragic that it was a National Service man than if it had been a Regular. Let us face the fact—there will be other casualties, and other fatal casualties, in Korea, quite inevitably.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I beg the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that other members of the Commonwealth and Empire have sent volunteers.
§ Mr. Strachey
That may be so. It may be very legitimate for the hon. Gentleman to raise the question of whether we should have National Service in this country or not, and that is a question to which I am coming in connection with the Amendment moved by one of my hon. Friends and supported by others this afternoon.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
If the right hon. Gentleman will permit me to interrupt, there was one point I mentioned which I think is of some concern, the question of pay. The right hon. Gentleman has not had time to consider it, but if he will give me an assurance that he will consider it, then that will take us part of the way. I did not want the right hon. Gentleman to omit the point by inadvertence, however.
§ Mr. Strachey
Obviously we cannot do anything on pay under this Bill. I listened very carefully to the considerations on pay in Korea advanced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and I listened also—I did not hear them in the Debate but they were reported to me—to the considerations advanced by the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) on the same subject. I thought the hon. and gallant Gentleman raised some very wise points, if I may say so, on the complications of this matter. We are not prepared to make a statement on the subject today, and I cannot necessarily be taken as agreeing with the views advanced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. On the other hand, the Government have not a closed mind on this issue.
§ Mr. Collick
I should like to press my right hon. Friend on this point. I think 1486 it would be wrong to have National Service men serving in Korea unless they were under the same rate of pay as that which applies to the Regular Army, and I urge the Government definitely to accept that as a principle.
§ Mr. Strachey
There are very great complications in attempting to accept that principle. I do not want to argue the merits of the case now, but if we accepted the principle we should reach the point about which the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing warned us—the payment of combat money or danger money and the very great objections, especially of military opinion, to payments of that sort.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am very sorry to interrupt again, but this is a point upon which a great many of us feel very strongly. It is part of the Government's scheme that a National Service man has to serve 18 months and then, when he becomes trained, he receives the increased rates of pay. When someone is sent to a combat area and is serving in that area, it does not seem right to us that he should not be in the position of a trained man. There seems a compelling reason to treat him as if he were a trained man and entitled to the extra pay. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider that point, because a great many hon. Members in all parts of the House have felt that to be a compelling argument.
§ Mr. Strachey
It is a very important and complex point. I might just advance one other consideration—and there are many—that, of course, the National Service men who go to Korea, because they must be 19 years of age and over, will all have served at least nine months and they will get their increase in pay during the time that they are in Korea. That is only one consideration, amongst many. There are many other complications. There is the question of Malaya. There are other areas which might become areas of combat. There have been some casualties in Eritrea, for example. There are very great complications in this and hon. Members must really make up their minds whether our pay rates are going to be according to area and kind of service or according to length of service.
§ Earl Winterton
It is only right to say that this is not a party question. There are differences of opinion on both sides. Certainly, if it is going to be applied to Korea, I would very strongly urge that 1487 it must be applied to Malaya as well. It is a very complicated question.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
Would not the most straightforward and satisfactory solution to this complex and aggravating problem be to have equal pay right through the period of National Service on the same basis as the Regular Service?
§ Mr. Strachey
That would be a very pleasant solution but a not inexpensive one. After all, the declared purpose of these increases in pay is to increase the Regular content of the Forces. I think there is a very real justification in the man who chooses the profession of arms as his life profession getting higher rates of pay than the young man who is merely passing through a period, at any rate partially, of training in arms, in military service. He is not becoming a professional soldier, sailor or airman for his life's career, and I think there is a very real difference there.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
That being so, will the right hon. Gentleman state what is the purpose of paying the National Service man at the higher rate for the last six months of his two years? Will it not have, to some extent, the effect of deterring men from joining the Regular Forces? What is the object?
§ Mr. Strachey
In the last six months we must remember that a National Serviceman may be a non-commissioned officer and may be himself helping to train recruits, and there is a very real case for giving him higher pay. I should not have thought for a moment that that would be deterring him from joining the Regulars. I should have thought that giving him a taste of the higher rate of pay obtainable by joining the Regulars would be a real encouragement for him to do so.
That brings me to considerations raised in one form by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby and, in another quite different form, by my hon. Friends who moved their Amendment—that is as to the general purpose of a long period of National Service such as this, and whether we consider this is the right military system, if I can use such a term, for this country.
For my part, certainly, and I believe it to be the view of all my colleagues, we would not say for one moment that a 1488 longish period of National Service, such as two years, combined with a fairly small Regular content to the Forces is the right size and shape for the Armed Forces of this country. That is why, as well as this Measure for the extension of National Service, these very substantial increases in pay have been made.
I think that we ought never to abandon the objective of a very considerably larger content of Regulars in our Armed Forces, which would permit the approach, other things in the international situation being equal, to the earlier conception of National Service being a training ground for citizen soldiers, while the actual work of the Army in covering its commitments, and of the other Armed Forces in covering their commitments throughout the world, was done by Regulars.
Even at the present level of commitments, that implies, of course, a substantially larger Regular Force than we have today. I certainly have never doubted that if we could get the two factors right—these factors being a very considerably larger Regular Force and, secondly, diminution of the very heavy burden of commitments which falls upon us, which could only be achieved in a less disturbed world—the proper military system for this country would be one in which the peace-time work of the Armed Forces would be done by the Regulars. That work is essential and in two parts, surely: the fulfilling of commitments in various parts of the world, and the training of the citizen army—and the compulsory element would be the element designed for the call-up for full-time service of the young man only for such time as is necessary to provide him with training and, after that, for his compulsory part-time service in the Territorial Army and Army Reserve.
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts
Does that imply that the Government contemplate some conscript element to be a permanent part of the Army of this country?
§ Mr. Strachey
Certainly not; I must not be drawn into any such statement as that. I was dealing with the question of whether we thought that the present rather longish term of compulsory service and the relatively small Regular content was the properly military system for this country, and I was assuring the House that we did not think so.
1489 I come to the arguments, raised by that interjection, which were proposed very strongly by my right hon. Friends who moved and supported their Amendment—the issue of permanency. As to our views on the question of the permanency of this degree of National Service, or any other, let me make two points. The first, and least important, is the legal point raised here. My hon. Friends who moved and supported the Amendment—and it is also an Amendment of the Liberal Party—desire to put in some date element so that we do not, even by implication in this Bill, appear to make an indefinite system of compulsory military service. Let me remind the House that under the permanent Act, of which this Bill is a subsidiary, there are no powers to call up a man after 31st December, 1953.
§ Mr. Bowen (Cardigan)
Does not Section 61 of that Act provide that the time can be extended merely by Order in Council?
§ Mr. Strachey
And by the will of the House, of course. Of course, the House, at any time, in a certain international situation—and I should imagine in the present one—would be quite unable to end the system at that date. We could not say what the situation would be at that time and also what the size of the Regular content of the Forces would be. But that is the law as it stands today. Therefore, it is not true that this legislation has been brought in without a time-limit. But that is a comparatively narrow legal point.
What I think my hon. Friends were really anxious for was some assurance—and I think they have a right to it—that the Government are not placing a long period of compulsory National Service, such as two years, as an ideal before the country, or as something good in itself, which we shall have irrespective of the international situation and its harsh demands on us, or the numbers we can recruit by voluntary recruitment. I most readily give that assurance, that we certainly do not think, either from the military point of view or the general point of view, that this period of two year's National Service is the right system for this country. Certainly, we assure them that even before 1953, if that proves possible and the international situation permitted it, and the inflow of volunteers to the Services also permitted 1490 it, the period can and would be reviewed. From every point of view, we should like that period to be decreased If it were possible—I do not think the position looks particularly bright at the moment; I do not think anyone would deny that—it would be abolished altogether. Certainly, I am very willing to give this assurance.
Having said that, I return to our plea to the House that in the existing international situation, combined with the existing level of the voluntary forces, which can only be changed gradually—the increase in pay, we believe, will have a very considerable effect, although that can only be in years rather than in months—there is really no alternative to the severe burden which we are asking the House and the country to approve by this extension of National Service. We realise, of course, how repugnant such a thing is to those of my hon. Friends who have the strongest conscientious and pacifist opinions, opinions which they have expressed very forcibly and eloquently this afternoon. But having done that, and having, I trust, made clear the Government's attitude on the position, we hope that they will see their way not to divide the House on this issue, which seems to us to be one of necessity and something which the House of Commons should recommend as a united body to the country today.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
Is the right hon. Gentleman going to say anything about the Territorial and auxiliary forces?
§ Mr. Strachey
I do not think I can launch out this afternoon on that very big and important subject. It is true that the build-up of the Territorial Army is delayed, other things being equal, by this Measure, but that is something that had to be expected. We must remember that a considerable number, some 30,000, of National Service men went this summer into the Territorial Army. They are being assimilated and work is going on, and the flow of National Service men will, of course, be resumed.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, Northfield)
I shall detain the House for only a few minutes. I wish most sincerely to make one point. I intend to support the Government on this Measure today, but I do feel very strongly that we ought to be exceedingly concerned about the state 1491 of our troops now fighting in Korea. I should have thought it would have been accepted on all sides of the House that battle-experienced troops are better than troops who have not had battle experience. I should have thought that that proposition would be accepted by everyone. If that proposition is right, then surely—
§ Mr. Speaker
This is a Bill to extend conscription for six months. I do not quite know if it covers all the phases of the fighting in Korea, about which the hon. Member is talking, but I should have thought not.
§ Mr. Blackburn
May I venture to address a point of order to you, Mr. Speaker on that—namely, that this Bill will, in fact, increase by six months the amount of time that young men now in Korea will have to serve there. Surely, therefore, my remarks must be in order upon that particular point.
I am only asking for one thing which has been mentioned throughout the whole of this Debate—an assurance from the Minister of Defence that at the earliest possible moment we will get a volunteer force of battle-experienced troops in Korea to replace the young men who are now serving there. The right hon. Gentleman has been kind enough to nod his head and that is good enough for me.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
As one who moved the Amendment now before the House, I should like to say that I have listened attentively to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. The one point that bothered us was whether it was the intention of the present Government to make military conscription a permanent part of the life of the country. Although I did not hear all that my right hon. Friend said, I understood him to say that it was not the intention of the Government to make a permanent feature of conscription in this country, and that being so, I shall ask leave to withdraw the Amendment. Before I sit down I want to say one word about the House of Commons. I am very proud of the House of Commons because it is always willing to listen to unpopular views. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.1492
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I do not want to detain the House very long, but I should like to say how very pleased I am at the action of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westhough-ton (Mr. Rhys Davies). I had the honour of following him in the first Debate we had on National Service in peace-time, and I only wish that his attitude then could have been what it has been today. I should like to take this opportunity of welcoming it.
What really brings me to my feet is what the Secretary of State for War had to say about the members of the Territorial Army. It is most important that as soon as possible he should make clear, particularly in those areas where there are reserved occupations, what he proposes to do about the Territorial Army and home security, especially about such forces as the Home Guard, and Civil Defence. It is desirable that his intentions should be known in districts where there are reserved occupations, and that he should give early guidance and some indication of whether such people in reserved occupations are to be required for the Territorial Army.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Kenneth Robinson.]
§ Further proceeding postponed pursuant to the Order of the House this Day.