§ 10.0 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty in pursuance of the provisions of Section 14 (2) of the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces (Training) Act, 1951, praying that the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces (Training) Act Extension Order, 1952, be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 31st January.I do not think the House would wish me to weary them with a repetition of the very full explanation of the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces (Training) Act given by the then Secretary of State for Air in 1951. The legal effect of the Motion before the House is that the Act shall apply to 1952, and I think the House will appreciate that the need for the introduction of this Measure is identical, almost exactly—but not quite exactly—to the need for its application in 1951, that is to say, to build up the reserves of the Reserve Army for training during its period of annual camp.
This proposal applies to Class Z of the Army Reserve and Class G of the Royal Air Force Reserve. The period of training which is proposed is for 15 days, as before. This period of training will be staggered in the case of the Army between the months of March and December and, in the case of the Royal Air Force, between May and September. The majority of men of the Z Reserve called up will be under 35 years of age, although certain specialists and others may be over that age.
As far as possible, as I have already informed the House, the call-up will be on a geographical basis, but where specialist units are concerned, especially the Supplementary Reserve, it is not possible to follow this principle. All men who are to be called up for training this year have received their warning notices and no man who has not received a warning notice need have any fear that he will be called up. The process which is now followed is that they will undergo a medical examination which, if satisfactory, will be followed by a notice to join. The same legal protection applies this year as applied last year, and exactly the same principle regarding appeals for exemptions.
159 The only other point I should like to mention to the House—and I am now speaking purely about the Army and not the Royal Air Force side of this matter—is that in the coming year we shall have in this country far fewer Regulars than we did to assist in the Z Class training in 1951. Although I am confident that the training will be satisfactorily carried out, this shortage of Regulars in the country will undoubtedly produce a difficulty in this respect.
In introducing this Motion I think I should really, on behalf of the late Government as well as the House, pay some tribute to the Z reservists who came up last year—well over 200,000 in number—of whom only 100 were proceeded against, either for absence or offences, and who entered into this form of training, which cannot have been welcomed, in a very wholehearted, co-operative and keen manner. On the whole, I think we as a nation have cause to be very grateful for the presence of the Z reservists in our midst and for the way in which, last year, they responded to the scheme and the method of approach, which will also be adopted this year.
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
There is nothing in this proposal to which we on this side of the House object. The proposal is, of course, to carry on—without any change of any kind—the scheme which we had in operation last year, to carry it on into the coming year.
Having said that, I think I am bound to say, and to say it on behalf of some of my hon. Friends, that we should be something less than human if we did not point out the great difference in the views of the scheme which right hon. and hon. Gentleman opposite are now displaying from those which they displayed when we introduced this scheme just a year ago. I have refreshed my memory about one or two things they said at that time. The right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) was the spokesman on several occasions for the Opposition at the time and he was very bitter indeed about the Z Reserve scheme. He told us that it was a hastily got up scheme and that something much more permanent and much better would have to be substituted for it.
160 Curiously enough, it was in opposing at that time and in taking the Committee to a Division on this very question of the way in which the scheme was to be extended, that he felt most strongly. He took us to a Division in Committee in which the Committee was tied, 82 to 82. The Opposition at that time voted against Clause 12 of the Bill which provides for this method of extending the scheme.
At that time the right hon. Gentleman said:We do not like this Clause…After all, it does not fully meet the training needs of the Territorial Army: it does not meet the needs of the Regular Army or Air Force at home. It certainly does not meet the needs of the Air Force abroad."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 2499.]It is gratifying to those of us who had to commend the Bill to the House at the time to find that in 1952 there is, after all, enough to be said for the Act for the Government to be continuing it unaltered.
There is one issue with which I think we feel it necessary to ask the right hon. Gentleman or whoever is to reply to deal, and that is the pledge which my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Defence gave a year ago that no man called up under last years would be called up again this year. It was a very specific and very clear-cut pledge which we gave, and I think I should recall to the House my right hon. Friend's words. On 14th February the then Minister of Defence said:Moreover, I can give the House this assurance—that no Class Z or Class G or Volunteer reservist called up for training this year will be called up for similar training in future years," —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1952; Vol. 484, c. 416.]I take it that that pledge stands. I must make the point because the right hon. Member for Bromley was against that pledge. He said:A different set of men are to be called up. Clearly, they will not be the men whom the Government now think are the most useful and desirable. They will, as has been said, be a kind of second eleven. What will happen in the third year? … It seems to be a very unwise pledge to have given in all the circumstances." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 1851.]We have it on record that the right hon. Gentlemen who are now the Government were against the giving of the pledge at that time.
§ Mr. Strachey
I think they all were. We think the pledge ought to be renewed now if it is the intention, as we hope and presume it is, to honour it.
What I have said is perhaps the natural ventilation of the feelings of some on this side of the House, but at any rate we are glad that Members on all sides of the House are agreed now that this was a good and sound scheme which, within its limitations—and, of course, it had very real limitations and difficulties—has worked well. I think that a good many of us—I know that many right hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House and some of us here—visited units to which Z reservists were called up, and I think the whole House will agree that it was surprisingly successful. I certainly should like to join most heartily in the tribute which the Secretary of State has paid to the Z reservists themselves.
I should like to add to that a tribute to the officers, n.c.o.s and men of the volunteer Territorial formations, who, as it were, acted as hosts to the Z reservists. It was a very big job in the units. They had a tremendous influx of reservists to cope with, and they were amazingly good, working themselves terribly hard, in many cases, in the way they did it. I think that in most cases—at any rate, in those I saw—the scheme really did serve its purpose, in bringing to life the units, as it were—by filling up the cadres in those units..
In that connection, of course, one ought to deal with the difficulty which is raised if the pledge which I have just referred to is honoured—that those units cannot be filled up again. But other units can be, and I think there is no doubt that though there is the disadvantage that we cannot bring up the same men again and give those same units another round of practice, we shall spread the effect more widely; if we do not go deeply in any given unit, we shall spread the effect more widely by calling up further units which will be called up this year.
Then we had to deal night after night, and very often at Question time, with that other type of objection which was raised. We were told that 15 days was 162 a uselessly short period for call-up. Well, it is a short period, but I think we shall all agree, in the light of experience, that it has proved long enough to be of very real value, at any rate; and I think—certainly it was my experience when I saw units and talked to the Z reservists themselves—15 days was about the maximum period in which we could in practice have worked a scheme of this character. That was about the maximum period of disturbance which was really tolerable for the industry of the country, and I think, about the maximum period of strain for the reservists themselves also.
So weighing one thing with another, we certainly come to the conclusion that, weighing the military advantages with the civilian disabilities, the scheme was about right in setting the 15 day limit, and we, at any rate, are very grateful for the fact and appreciative of the fact that the Government have, as it were, tacitly come round to that view by proposing tonight not to alter our proposals in any way at all, but simply to prolong them for another year.
Let us hope that this will be the last year that this will be necessary. It is each year less necessary, of course, because the National Service men flowing out of the Regular Forces into the Territorial Army are filling up these units and the Z reservists call-up, of course, is less necessary. But let us hope that this, or at any rate, next year, will be the last time that what is, in the nature of things, a stop-gap scheme will be necessary. For this year we do, of course, fully agree on this side of the House that it is necessary to have the Z Reserve call-up.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I would not have intervened in this debate had it not been for the speech of the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). If I may say so, his halo seems to be lying a bit heavy on him this evening. He claimed great credit for having been one of the Ministers who, in the last Parliament, introduced the Act which is now being continued in operation by my right hon. Friend. I ask him not to forget the reason why this Act ever became necessary. Had it not been for the fact that the previous Government, including the right hon. Gentleman, consistently ignored the warnings which we gave about what would happen to the 163 Regular Army unless he and his predecessor tackled the recruiting problem this Act would never have been necessary.
The right hon. Gentleman now refers to it as a stop-gap measure. Who made the gap? It was caused very largely because the Labour Government of 1945–50, in particular, completely failed to meet the needs of the Regular Army, and completely ignored the warnings which we gave, so that by 1948 and 1949 Regular Army recruiting was inadequate to meet even the wastage, let alone build up any strength. The right hon. Gentleman really is a little presumptuous in claiming quite so much credit as he has done tonight.
In referring to the promise given by the former Minister of Defence that the call up of Z reservists would not be repeated, the right hon. Gentleman quoted my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. What my right hon. Friend said at that time was perfectly true. If men are called up in only one year and never called up again, that adds to the burden of training and makes it necessary each year to refresh new, or almost new men instead of men having the advantage of the previous year's training. There is nothing wrong in my right hon. Friend having said that because it is a fact which cannot be denied.
As hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite know perfectly well, one of the things we have to consider in this House is the human and social problem, and not the purely military problem. It was for that reason, with the agreement of the House, that we accepted the idea of the former Minister of Defence that this call-up should be for only one year. However, that adds to the burden, and I was glad to hear both right hon. Gentlemen who spoke tonight giving credit to those responsible for training these men. It will add to the burden this year, and it is obviously only right that the burden which has to be borne by the men who will be called up from the Reserve should be distributed as fairly as possible.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman be good enough to tell the House what he had in mind during the debate on Section 12 of the Act last year, when he said that before the Bill was reviewed it would, to use his own words, require drastic amend- 164 ment? Do I take it that he would accompany me in the Lobby tonight against this Motion?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
We on this side of the House have an advantage over hon. Members opposite in that we do sometimes find it possible to change our minds. The hon. Member finds it very difficult to alter the views which he first formed when he did his honourable Regular service in the Army. He has found it impossible to change his mind about anything upon which he then decided.
I do not think that any of us on this side would wish to withdraw one little bit of the credit which has been given to the way in which this scheme was operated. It did prove successful, and, if we were to introduce another scheme today, it would mean that all the machinery of which there has been experience in the last year would have to be renewed and re-designed.
It seems to me far better for us to continue a scheme which, thanks very largely to the Regular Army and the Territorial Army, has been made to operate. My own belief is that the right hon. Member for Dundee, West, owes a very great debt, as he has been the first to admit, to those Regular officers and n.c.o.'s in particular who were responsible for making this scheme work. Without them he could not have done it. I think that we should be adding even further to their burdens if we were now to suggest a completely different scheme.
That still does not get away from the fact that this Act ought never to have been necessary, and only became necessary because of the incompetence of the previous two Governments. The right hon. Gentleman smiles, but he is a past master in the art of incompetence; we all know that. It is good to hear him give credit to the Regular Army and the Territorial Army, and I am sure that they will greatly appreciate it. I personally believe that we were quite right, when this Act was first introduced, to criticise it in the way we did. I do not think that we should withdraw one word of the criticism we then made, because I believe that criticism made it a better Act.
Just as we hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will have valuable contributions to make by way of Amendment to the 165 legislation which this Government introduces, so we at least claim some credit for having endeavoured in our own capacity to improve the Bill when it was introduced. I believe that this Act must be continued. In fact, I am particularly affected by it this year, in that I have my own calling-up papers as a Regular reservist. I think that it is necessary for this call-up to go on this year, and I hope that it will not be necessary next year, but I am particularly certain that it will be. I hope that when next year comes, my right hon. Friend will have had a chance of examining the whole scheme in greater detail than he has obviously had time to do so far, and then perhaps it may be possible to satisfy the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) by introducing better legislation than we believe this to be.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) was a bit muddled when he talked about incompetence with regard to recruiting. I am old enough to remember when hunger, starvation and unemployment was the chief recruiting officer.
§ Mr. Simmons
It is perfectly true, and it is certainly not the incompetence but the extraordinary competence of the Labour Government in getting full employment that has had some effect upon recruiting into the Regular Armed Forces.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Although I have not the actual figures with me, it has been repeated over and over again in this House that at the time when the figures were highest, Regular recruiting was lowest.
§ Mr. Simmons
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has made an assertion which he is perfectly entitled to make, but of which he has given us no proof. I am really rather surprised at the docility of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. For years they have been fulminating, frothing at the mouth, against Government by statutory order or Order in Council. They posed 166 as "sea-green, incorruptible" defenders of democracy, and they protested vehemently against Orders in Council depriving the private Member of his rights and depriving the House of the opportunity of discussing vital and important problems.
The present Minister of Housing and Local Government, who has already been quoted in one respect, in the Committee stage of the Bill said:I do not like the Order in Council, even with the affirmative Resolution. I do not see why if amendment is required it should not be in the Bill. If none is required, a simple one-Clause Bill can be passed. Having regard to the fact that the Regular Army and the Regular Air Force must have a yearly Bill to prevent their becoming an illegal conspiracy, it does not seem unreasonable that there should he a yearly Bill to deal with the question of Reserves."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 2500.]I do not see the right hon. Gentleman in his place tonight to carry on his attack on the monstrous form of government which he castigated on the Committee stage of the Bill.
Then we had a few gems from the hon. and gallant Member for Berwickon-Tweed (Brigadier Thorp). He peered into the future, but his crystal ball was not at all clear. He said:Am I to understand that…followers of the present Government will not, if they do not want to, have to go into the Lobby with the Government.First of all he asked whether this was going to be a free vote so that hon. Gentlemen who followed the Government would not, if they did not want to, have to go into the Lobby with the Government. He added:It will be interesting to see what happens.That is what we on this side of the House are saying tonight; it will be interesting to see what happens on the part of hon. Members who were so vehement in their opposition to an Order similar to the one we have in front of us tonight. The hon. Member said:…we ought to agree to the Amendment which will more than make it possible—it will make it a certainty—that the Bill, or a form of the Bill, will be brought up next year and can be discussed in detail by the House as a whole."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 61–2.]Then we have the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low). He was very concerned about the whole business. He said: 167We should be thinking far more about what is the duty of Parliament in this matter than what are the rights and powers of the Government. It seems to me that the Government are quite wrong if they are frightened of having another long discussion on these very important matters which were discussed last Thursday."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 72.]Is the present Government frightened of discussion upon this matter, as one of their present colleagues seemed to suggest on that occasion?
One right hon. Member who is vindicated by the action of the Government tonight is the ex-Minister of Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). My right hon. Friend said that if the present Prime Minister and his hon. Friends were on the other side of the House and were faced with those circumstances, he wondered what they would do. He added:I am fairly, and, I think, reasonably sure that they would proceed in such circumstances by means of Order in Council, although I should not be at all surprised if some hon. Members of the Opposition opposed them. But I reckon that the Government would be right. It is because I believe that we are right in all these circumstances that, in spite of the arguments that have been adduced … I hope the House will agree that we are doing the right thing."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 82.]Why is there this change of front on the other side of the House? They are in power—precariously, rumblings are going on underneath, but they are in power—and they are going to use their power. They know better; in their hearts they feel that the Order in Council is the wrong method. They said so; we could quote more of their speeches. In supporting this Motion tonight they are not acting according to their lights, but according to political expediency.
It is the intention of many of us on this side to support the Motion tonight. We do so because we were convinced when we were the Government that it was the right thing to do. But how will hon. Members opposite reconcile themselves in supporting the Motion?
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I am opposed to this Statutory Instrument. One of the reasons is that I want to know exactly what the operations contemplated in it cost last year. When we have been asked to economise 168 in all spheres of national expenditure we should certainly have a statement of exactly what this elaborate operation costs—[An HON. MEMBER: "He does not know."] If the right hon. Gentleman does not know, it should have been thought of before.
Whatever Order or piece of legislation comes before the House we are entitled to know exactly what it costs the British taxpayer, in view of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us. I am not sure that we are getting our money's worth for this elaborate call-up. This year, again, there will be large numbers of people who object to being called up, who are very reluctant to go and who are going only because they are being dragged.
I do not think the statement could be challenged that if this were made voluntary we simply would not get the men to go, because there is no very great feeling in this country in favour of elaborate military training. The great majority of our people are sick of all talk of war preparations, and quite rightly so. If this were made voluntary everyone knows that the whole thing would be a flop.
People are saying that in the last war they were called up to fight the Germans and the Germans were the great enemies; we were to destroy Hitlerism. Now we are being told that these men are to be part and parcel of some kind of European organisation which is to work side by side with the German Army which, in the last war, they fought so long and bitterly to destroy. The whole thing does not make sense and if we were to put it to the democratic test of whether they would go or would not go we know very well, on both sides of the House, that we simply would not get the men to go because they have more common sense and understanding than the people fortunate enough to be sent here to legislate for them.
I would like some explanation of whether the military experts opposite really think, apart from the question of principle, whether we are getting real value from military training by calling up men for 15 days. I do not believe that the military Members on the other side of the House really believe that there is any substantial increase in the efficiency of the Armed Forces by this 15 days a year business.
169 I am not of course an expert, but I am guided by hon. Members opposite—[Laughter.] Yes, I listen to the pearls cast by hon. Members. I listen attentively and I understand that the argument is that since the last war, since 1945, military warfare and military ideas have changed substantially. For example, in the Air Force I understand that aircraft are now more elaborate and are almost entirely different from what they were in 1945. Yet the Government are dragging men up and saying, "In 15 days we are teaching you so that you will be useful in modern warfare as far as air operations are concerned."
I am prepared to be convinced, but I am sceptical. I believe that the Government are taking this action because they simply do not know what to do about this piece of cumbersome organisation which was bequeathed to them by the last Government. They are simply doing an ordinary, Conservative thing—doing what people did before.
I do not believe that there is any increase in efficiency or that the organisation of the military Forces, such as they are, will be improved. I believe that if hon. Members on both sides of the House were asked privately what they thought about it they would probably agree with me. I want to know what has happened to the men who said, "No. We had enough of war in the last war and we have changed our minds. We do not want to go into a war to fight, for example, Communism or to fight the Russians."
I have seen a great deal in the newspapers about Z men who have had common sense enough to be conscientious objectors. What has happened to them? As far as I can make out, at the tribunals at which these men appeared they put up their case which seemed to me to be very clear and logical. They said, "We have learned from practical experience what the Army and what war is like, and that experience has convinced us that the whole thing is futile and we do not want to go again."
But as far as I can see, the great majority of these tribunals have come to the conclusion that because a man has beeen in uniform for a few years he must necessarily be considered ungenuine and a fraud if he says, "This 170 time I have thought the whole thing over and I am genuinely opposed to this organisation and I object to wasting my time in it." What has happened? Have these men been dragged reluctantly into the Army? Have any of them been sent to jail for it? Have any of them come under military law and been sent to detention prisons?
I believe that a large number of people did object to going but they went because they were dragged. They went into the Army and served their time reluctantly and they will be greatly disappointed if they are to be called up again. I am not satisfied on any ground at all that the House is justified in agreeing to this proposal. I believe that the majority of Z men will whole-heartedly endorse what I have said tonight.
§ 10.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
The hon. and gallant Member for Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) introduced into this debate certain reflections on Army recruiting which I think it is necessary to correct. In the first place, when account is taken of the war weariness of a very large section of the population and of full employment, recruiting for the Regular Army under the last Government was extremely good. In the years immediately after that Government came into power, the Regular Army recruiting figures were higher than they had been in the years before the war.
Then came a change, due very largely to the impact of National Service. When it became clear that we were to have National Service in time of peace, that drew away as National Service men a large number of men who would otherwise have been recruits for the Regular Army. If the hon. and gallant Member had studied this matter more seriously, and not merely for partisan purposes, he would remember that, in the debate on the Army Estimates last year, it was apparent that a very gratifying proportion of young National Service men were becoming recruits into the Regular Army towards the conclusion of the National Service period, and, if that admirable record were maintained under the present Government, it would contribute very considerably towards the removal of our anxieties in regard to Regular recruiting.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman tried 10 suggest that there was no correlation 171 between unemployment before the war and Regular recruiting. I think I know what he did. He partly memorised the figure of men actually accepted into the Regular Army, and demonstrated from that that there was very little relation between it and the volume of unemployment. If he will look at what is really relevant—the number of men who applied to get into the Regular Army—he will see that it is quite clearly correlated to the unemployment figures.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The hon. Gentleman is advancing something in support of what he says, but I was only answering the charge, very often made from the other side of the House, that the Army became the home of the unemployed, which it never did.
§ Mr. Stewart
The point made on this side was that, if we have heavy unemployment, it is a very powerful factor driving men into the Regular Forces—a very powerful and very undesirable factor—and it was in the absence of that compulsion that the last Government had to deal with Regular recruiting, and dealt with it very creditably.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
Has the hon. Gentleman any figures showing accurately the number of men who applied to join the Regular Forces? I remember the figure quoted last year, but I have been unable to find it.
§ Mr. Stewart
I myself checked the figure at the time, because the figures were then available to me. I think I could find out where I obtained them, and I will endeavour to trace again the source from which I got them. The result, however, was quite clear. There was a direct correlation between the number of persons applying to join the Regular Army and the figures of the unemployed.
Further, the last Government applied to the problem of Regular recruiting measures, both with regard to pay, both of officers and other ranks, and in regard to improved housing, which far exceeded the very minor suggestions which came from the party opposite in the debate in the last Parliament. The suggestions made for the improvement of pay by the Conservative Party in the last Parliament were derisory. The hon. and gal- 172 lant Gentleman completely misconceived the whole problem, because, whatever the size of the Regular Army, we are still faced today with this problem that we must have, behind the full-time Army, a much greater number of trained reservists, and these reservists in a much greater state of readiness than was the case in the past.
That is something which is due to the nature of modern war and the nature of the peril in which this country would stand if that were not the case. Whether the Regular Army was its present size or only half of it, we should still be faced with the problem of maintaining that degree of readiness, and the last Government took appropriate action on that problem by inserting in the National Service Act the provision whereby men, after their full-time National Service, undertook Territorial training later.
The effect of that is to meet this very problem, but, of course, that effect quite inevitably could not be produced until a period of years had gone by. That was why there was a gap to be filled, and that gap in our Reserve preparations would have been there whatever the size of the full-time Regular Army. It was for that reason that a Measure of this kind was necessary. It might not have been necessary if if the international sky had been perfectly clear. We could then had had the gap and not worried about it. Unfortunately, that was not so.
That is the genesis of this Measure, and I am sorry to weary the House with considerations that it might not have been necessary to introduce had it not been for the efforts of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely to cause the House to forget the rather unfortunate attempts of his party to cut out this Clause from the Bill in last year's Parliament.
I wanted to begin my remarks by congratulating the Government, not on putting this Motion before us, of course, but on having the Clause in the Act to have the legal power to do so. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) has pointed out, they are indeed to be congratulated on that, because it was by a mere hair's breadth that this Clause remained in the Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely need not have gone to such lengths to justify the actions of the Conservative 173 Party on that occasion. The reason why they did it was perfectly clear. I am sure that the Patronage Secretary, who I see is present, will bear me out in this matter.
We debated this Clause last year in the small hours of the morning. It seemed a fairly safe bet that if a Division could be provoked on something, owing to the fact that many hon. Members on both sides had gone away, there was a fair chance of defeating the Government. As it happened this Clause was the next on which a Division could then be called, and it was called. Unfortunately, the careful counting that had gone on was one out on the Conservative side, but, owing to the happy rule of our procedure governing the use of the casting vote—and I believe, if I may say so, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, it was yourself who was in the Chair at the time—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Order. It may or may not have been, but it does not arise on this Motion.
§ Mr. Stewart
With the very greatest respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the legal powers for introducing this Order arose from certain Clauses of that Bill. I am discussing the debate which arose on that very Clause.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
We cannot go back on the Act now. We are only dealing with the Order before us.
§ Mr. Stewart
I entirely agree that we cannot go back on the Act now, and I am sure the party opposite were as pleased as we were that they were defeated on that occasion. Indeed, it was remarkable how much the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War's comments on this matter of calling up the Z Reserve recalled the remarks made by Members of the late Government when they were putting the scheme before the House last year. They had to describe how although we did not seek to call up the men over 35 it might be necessary to do it in some cases, and how, although in the main the call-up would be on a geographical basis there were bound to be some exceptions to that.
§ Mr. Head
I think I am right in saying that we had no quarrel about the importance of calling up the majority of 174 those under 35. As to the geographical basis, we had considerable quarrel, because hardly any was done on that basis, and where it differs this year is that it is going to be done to a great extent on that basis.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman brings out that point because it answers a point I was going to put to him. He has now had the opportunity of studying the experiment of last year's call-up, and I was wondering if there was anything he had learned from that experience which could be applied to the administration of the scheme this year. I am glad to hear it has been possible in the light of experience to make that improvement. It would indeed have been lamentable if after a year's experience it had been impossible to discover any improvement to be made on what was done last year.
Now I wish to say a word, first of all, about the men who will try not to be called up, who will seek exemption on one ground or another. It is necessary that the Secretary of State for War should confirm, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West, has suggested, the intention of the Government not to call up this year men who were called up last year. The need for the Government Front Bench to do so has been rendered more necessary in view of the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely.
The comment made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) last year was that the pledge not to call up this year those called up last year was an unwise pledge. Presumably he had weighed up the military and social arguments to which the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely referred. It is extremely important that we should know that the Secretary of State for War does not share the very ill-advised view of his colleague on that matter, but will adhere to the pledge given by the last Government.
For the most part, with regard to the Army call-up—though I believe this did act apply to the Royal Air Force—we found it extremely difficult last year to arrange a change of date for a man's call-up. Therefore, if a man wrote, as many did, "I am genuinely anxious to do my bit but there are particular reasons why it is very inconvenient for me to 175 come this fortnight." we had to write and say, "If your reasons are good enough we shall have to cancel the call-up." I do not know what arrangements have been made this year to change the date of a man's call-up to meet the position of men prepared to do their best but who have genuine reasons why they cannot do it during a certain fortnight.
If I may turn from the men who may claim exemption to the men who will serve the 15 days, I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), had a point to make. He thought the 15 days were not sufficient, a view which he may remember he shares with the Prime Minister, but not apparently with the Secretary of State for War. I should like to pay my tribute to all those who contributed last year to making this call-up the undoubted success which it was. But there are two considerations. One is whether in the anxiety to make full use of the 15 days undue physical strain was not put on the men in some cases. That point should be considered this year.
More usually, however, when military organisations of any kind get hold of men the complaint in time of peace is not that they work them too much but that they work them too little. There were few complaints of that kind about the Z Reserve call-up last year. I endeavoured to get as many opinions as I could from men who served last year. Very few indeed complained of wasted time, but I noticed—it may have been no more than a coincidence—that the very few who did complain had served in a unit which had had transport duties. It may be a coincidence but it may be that that branch of the Service requires special attention.
I hope that whoever replies to this debate will say something on these points because I believe the House is prepared to support this Motion provided it is sure the time taken from the men's civilian life, from their work and leisure, is wisely and efficiently used.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
The contrast between the atmosphere a year ago and the atmosphere now prevailing is most marked, indeed almost strange. I remember only too well that from the 176 late months of 1950 right up to the Second Reading of the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces (Training) Act the Press was full of alarmist stories about the size and length of the call-up. Everything was done that could be done by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite and their Press to use the fact that it was necessary to have a Z Reserve call-up to get the maximum political advanage for their party and to discredit the Labour Government.
That was the atmosphere a year ago. If any hon. Gentleman doubts that, let him take the files of one paper, the "Sunday Express," to start with, and see the story what that paper put about—and they were not alone, so I do not want to award any medals to them, certainly not to increase their circulation. The party opposite, from the time it became clear that a measure of national re-armament was vital to the security of the country, on every occasion paid lip service to that principle but sought in the details, on every possible occasion, to extract the maximum political advantage from it for themselves.
§ Mr. Head
I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that if there was any criticism of the Z Reserve scheme from our side of the House, it was that the 15 days proposed by the Government was not long enough. Is that type of suggestion—that the period was not long enough—one calculated to gain political popularity?
§ Mr. Wigg
I have too high an opinion of the right hon. Gentleman's ability to think that he believes that story. Of course he does not; he knows it is quite untrue and he is talking with his tongue in his cheek. The present Prime Minister came to the House and suggested that 15 days was not long enough, I know, although he has taken 15 days again this year, but the rank and file of the Tory Party said something different. I will send the right hon. Gentleman some cuttings; I have a stack of them. They show what some of the minnows on the back benches were saying; they said the scheme was not necessary.
§ Mr. Wigg
Let me deal with this point first. The hon. and gallant Gentleman overlooked one simple fact—that almost every Regular soldier, by the time VE day came, was time-expired. In fact, there was no Regular Army. One thing that is quite certain—and I do not blame the Prime Minister for this—was that neither the right hon. Gentleman, when he was in charge of military affairs, nor the then Secretary of State for War, Sir James Grigg, did a single thing to prepare for the recruitment of the Regular Army in peace-time.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. It was not the case that the Regular Army men were all time-expired. A great many of them would have re-engaged or extended their service if they had been given a lead by the Government.
§ Mr. Wigg
It is almost impossible to grapple with stupidity of that kind. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has spent most of his life in the Regular Army, and it is extraordinary that one can remain in an organisation so long and yet know so little about it. The Regular soldier joins, in the first instance, for 12 years.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that three-quarters of the men who enlisted on Regular enlistment in the period between 1918 and 1939 engaged for seven years or less?
§ Mr. Wigg
With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I reaffirm that all Regular soldiers always enlist for 12 years, partly with the Colours, partly with the Reserve; but always for 12 years. It therefore follows, of course, that Regular soldiers who were serving with the Colours in 1939 were, in fact, time expired. It may be, of course, that some of them would in the normal way have extended their service, but it was obvious that there was a great dearth of n.c.o.'s and a great dearth of officers, and that it was going to be very difficult to fill that gap. That is what Class Z had to set about doing.
It was also clear, when the new national Army began to take shape, that after a time some of the young men who had been called up for National Service would become n.c.o.'s, having been drafted into the ranks and the Territorial Army, and having gained enough experience. But until that time was reached there was bound to be a dearth of senior n.c.o.'s that could be met only by calling on men of experience gained during the war. Because of the worsening international situation the late Government, with the agreement of all sides of the House, decided to call up the Class Z men.
When this proposal was introduced to the House one of the main arguments raised against it was that the scheme was not sound, and that it was too difficult, and ought not to be entrusted to the then Defence Minister. I think that it was the present First Lord of the Admiralty who used the argument that no trust could be placed in the Minister of Defence in a Labour Administration.
There was not very much in that argument. There is not much in it tonight. There never has been anything in it because the stock argument raised from the Tory benches, whenever there has been any other Administration, Labour or 179 Liberal, has been that only the Conservatives can run the Service Ministries. I do not want to ride a hobby horse, but it is a fact that all the great measures of Service reform have come from either a Labour or a Liberal Administration, never from the Tory Party. So far as the Conservatives are concerned, they are political mules.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart), who was Under-Secretary of State for War at the time when we had the debate last year, did not give sufficient credit to the tenacity with which the party opposite cling to that principle.
On 5th March last we had a full-dress debate on the proposal which we are now asked to continue. I congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) on having the courage to come to the House tonight, and not to withdraw from the words he used on that occasion. He said then that we should have to have another Bill; he did not think the Order in Council method would work; indeed, he said very much the same thing as the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely.
That was not confined to the back benches, because we also had the present Solicitor-General. Then, of course, there was that master of political tactics, the present Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who gave us a lecture on the evils of delegated legislation and how bad it would be for us if we adopted this course. There followed the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low), who told us that the future of the House of Commons was at stake. He—now a distinguished Member of the present stopgap Government—said:I would say… that it is not a question of having faith in the Government, but of having faith in Parliament, that we are discussing today."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March. 1951; Vol. 485, c. 69–70.]
§ Mr. Wigg
I am sorry if I have transgressed the Rules of Order, but I have only followed the well-beaten paths which have been followed by hon. Gentlemen opposite and have been replying to them. 180 I am only too anxious, of course, to accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and as far as I can I shall endeavour not to transgress further in the few more remarks I have to make.
I think that we must accept this Motion. I accept it in the same way as I accepted it a year ago. It is obsolutely necessary in order to secure the sufficiency and well-being of the Territorial Army, and I certainly hope that none of my hon. Friends will think of dividing the House on it. However, I do want an assurance that no Class Z reservist will be called up for a second time, and that the Government will not go back on what they said last year. I should also like an assurance that reasonable objections of Class Z reservists who find themselves in business or family difficulties will be treated with as much humanity as they were treated by the last Government.
§ Mr. Wigg
I do not know what the hon. and gallant Gentleman is talking about, and neither does he.
One of the reasons why the Class Z call-up was a success a year ago was because the Army set about the ask of receiving them in the spirit of the times. There was little evidence of the serjeantmajor, but there was a great deal of evidence of welcoming the men back into the units they had left. There was a realisation that there was a job to be done; a realisation on both sides, by both the Class Z reservists and the officers and n.c.o.'s responsible for their training.
If this scheme, which is still in the experimental stage, is to work it is terribly important that, for the sake not only of the immediate Class Z call-up but of the spirit of the Territorial Army, this good will should be retained at all costs, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tonight give us an assurance that he will do everything in his power to see that the good work that was done last year, in the teeth of his own and his hon. Friend's opposition, is carried on so that the year 1952 can bring us a good year, with that security which we all want, irrespective of party.
§ Major Beamish
May I put this point before the hon. Gentleman concludes? During his speech he said, quite rightly, 181 that the right hon. Gentleman the present Prime Minister expressed doubts as to whether 15 days was long enough to call up the Z reservists. He went on to say that he had a pile of records to show that many of my hon. Friends went all round the country saying that the Z call-up was unnecessary. I believe that to be completely and absolutely untrue. Will the hon. Gentleman either get up now and give me the name of a single one of my hon. Friends who made that remark, or withdraw a most unworthy charge?
§ Mr. Wigg
I referred to the "minnows on the back-benches." I meant the back-benches in the House and the backbenches of the Conservative Party. If the hon. and gallant Member likes, I will supply him with cuttings to show that members of the Conservative Party tried to exploit the difficulties of the Class Z call-up.
§ 11.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Head
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not so green as not to make inquiries about the procedure before I appear at the Despatch Box. His interruption is some indication of the extent of his knowledge of the subject that we are discussing.
I introduced this Motion feeling that there would be general agreement, but it is fair to say that we have got into a debate on most of the controversial matters which can be hooked on to the Order. Personally, I think it would be wrong for me entirely to pass over the very strong criticism which has been made of this side of the House by many hon. Gentlemen opposite. I do not want to keep the House up late, but I do 182 not wish to shirk some of the accusations which have been made against us.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), started off, by saying—I rather thought he would—"We introduced this scheme, you criticised it; now you have introduced one absolutely identical. Therefore, all your criticism was rubbish and our scheme was excellent." Frankly, I think that the right hon. Gentleman is walking on very thin ice in making that remark. Just think of this to start with. On matters of common equity and fairness, with one lot of Z men called up last year, can we alter the conditions of the others to be called up?
§ Mr. Strachey
This is an important point. Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not saying that if there were improvements which he could think of and which the Government would introduce, he would fail to introduce them because, retrospectively, the men who were called up last year could not have enjoyed them. That would be a very strange doctrine.
§ Mr. Head
The right hon. Gentleman is really too disingenuous in making that remark. He knows exactly to what I am referring. These men are being called up for 15 days as they were last year. Supposing the late Minister of Defence had decided that the minimum required, especially for units in Germany, was a longer period, and supposing he had introduced such a scheme, it would have been possible in common equity to repeat it; but, having had one system for Z reservists one year, it is extremely unfair to change it the following year. I say this to the right hon. Member, that the standard for this scheme and the promises concerning repeated call-up and the general long-term scheme were introduced by the Government of hon. Members opposite, and it is ridiculous for them to say that we can introduce any scheme of this type which stretches over a period of years without setting a precedent which it is extremely hard to break.
§ Mr. Head
The right hon. Member for Dundee, West, knows that just as well as I do. I make that point, and I do so solely for the reason that it was for 183 the right hon. Gentleman when he was sitting on these benches to judge the criticism which we levelled then; but if he discards all that criticism as fatuous and futile at the time, I reject his argument.
§ Mr. Strachey
I cannot accept the argument that the right hon. Gentleman has just put forward. If he thought the scheme wrong then and still thinks it wrong now, he had better alter and improve it now. It might put greater or lesser obligations on the Z reservists for the second year, but surely he does not mean that because a thing has happened one year we cannot improve it the next year. I really cannot accept that.
§ Mr. Head
Let me take one instance —the guarantee given that no man would be called up twice. Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that every Government inherits pledges? My point is that in all matters of government, the undertakings and system of a continuous scheme introduced by a previous Government inevitably commits its successor to certain obligations, and it is ridiculous for the right hon. Gentleman entirely to turn down that submission. The right hon. Gentleman made this pledge that no man would be called up twice. As I have been addressed by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and others on this point, let me say that we honour that pledge, and that no man will be called up twice. That assurance we give unreservedly to the House.
I should like to say this about some of the criticisms which have been made about the scheme. The hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) made a good many criticisms about the scheme, and, among other things, he entirely rejected the arguments concerning the necessity for the scheme or the possibly smaller proportions in which the scheme would have been necessary had the Army thrived more between 1945 and 1950. There was a certain amount in what the hon. Gentleman said, but it is an undoubted fact that if between 1945 and 1950 the size of the Regular Army could have been increased more, the number of Z reservists required would have been fewer. There is surely no dispute about that.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
I was answering a different contention. The contention was that something could have been done which would have rendered this totally unnecessary. I do not think that that can be maintained at all.
§ Mr. Head
We shall have to see HANSARD tomorrow, but I understood that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) was making the point that if the Regular Army had not run down so far up to 1950 and if Regular recruiting had been stimulated, there would have been more men in that side of the Army and there would have been a necessity for perhaps a lesser degree of call-up of Z reservists. I wished to make that point because it is an undoubted fact that we would have had to call up fewer Z reservists if the Regular Army had not run down so far, and the hon. Gentleman knows that the Regular Army was allowed to run down because its true function was seen as a cadre and not as something far larger to carry out the very big commitments we have today.
Incidentally, while I mention the Regular Army it is wrong of the hon. Member for Dudley to say that there was no Regular Army at all after the war. The size of the Regular Army was 100,000 men after the war. The hon. Member ought to have known that. That is very different from nothing.
§ Mr. Head
The difference between 100,000 men in the Regular Army and no Regular Army is, to my untutored mind, very considerable.
However, I do not really want to go into all these points and arguments, but a lot of these things have been said. The hon. Member for Fulham, East, said that he had personally checked up on the figures and the numbers of men who had tried to join the Regular Forces. Surely if he took so much trouble he must know where he got his information. Was it from a Ministry or from an individual? He must have some idea of the source. I do not believe such figures exist.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
The source was an official document, the exact description 185 of which I shall endeavour to obtain again and let the right hon. Gentleman have.
§ Mr. Head
I am very much obliged; we do not want to go into this at length. I have an official document on recruitment and, because this has been such an oft-quoted and oft-repeated matter, I would point out to hon. Members that in 1925 the recruiting figures for the year were 32,000. I will read them out for 1925 to 1930. The figures are; 32,000, 29,000, 27,000, 29,000, 28,000, and 26,000 in 1930.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
I also have the figures. Will the right hon. Gentleman now quote the figure for 1931. It was 34,458, and they were in such a terrific jam that they reduced the height for infantrymen to 5 ft. 2 ins.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Member certainly takes a very active part in the proceedings for an assistant Whip. It is a very difficult matter to go into in the House, but if hon. Members have the time I suggest they go to the Library because, at a guess, I should say that 18 months or two years ago a graph was published in "The Economist." I am not trying to get out of it, but I do not think we shall come to any useful conclusion tonight about the effect of unemployment on recruiting.
§ Mr. Head
I am sorry, but I think we had better get on.
This is an old and, for the rest of the House, a boring subject that we have thrashed out in successive Army debates over a long period. I do not want to go on further about the rather contentious points which have been raised. What I would stress is that a scheme was worked out which at the start worked well. I will not say and did not say that it was a perfect scheme. I am aware that there are reasons against certain things, but it is quite wrong for hon. Members to say now that because we criticised their scheme it is hypocritical to introduce this one. If the hon. Member would have, 186 and I think he will have, the honesty to admit that had he remained in office another year and found or discovered or convinced himself of reasons why he should alter the scheme, he would know that, having set precedents for one set of services, it is a very dubious policy to alter it.
§ Mr. Strachey
I would say at once that I do not take that view. If we remained in office and thought, as we might have in the light of the working of the scheme, that it should be modified, we would have no hesitation in modifying it. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to extend this doctrine he has put forward that they can do no modifications on what we have done to the other spheres, such as the social services, for example.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Gentleman appeared to think that I said something. I did not say a word.
§ Mr. Simmons
Whose prerogative is it to ask an hon. Member to leave the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? Yours or the Minister's?
§ Mr. Head
I am absolutely certain that the hon. Gentleman will not take any advice of mine. I made a remark that I thought was perfectly straightforward which he said was unintelligible. I think it was intelligible.
187 The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that there must be considerable difficulty and difference of opinion as to the optimum period. He must have been aware of these discussions at the time. What I said was that he, one way or another, decided on that. He said, of course, that if we wish for a change we should make it, but he knows that the gaps and the extent of these changes are very considerable. As he is not going to follow me and has turned this into a debating point, I will not follow him.
I thought that I had made myself perfectly plain that our criticisms were valid for reasons of which he was well aware, but he chooses to turn aside his own knowledge in order to make a debating point. That does not show great honesty for the former Secretary of State for War if he takes that course of action and says that.
I am sorry that there has been so much heat over this matter. I do not think that it has done any harm; but I hope that this Motion will now be accepted by the House and that we can all agree that we hope that the Z class call-up in the coming year will be as successful, or even more successful, than last year.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it will be possible to change the dates of call up?
§ Mr. Head
Yes. We have a system whereby people can appeal. There are two kinds of cases. First, the man whose special type of training can only be done at one date because his unit is only being called up then. In extreme cases he will be exempted, but where a change of date can be made it is made. Sometimes that is impossible and then, in an extreme case, exemption is granted.
§ 11.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
The Secretary of State for War has generated a good deal of heat and some offensiveness, but it seems to me only a smoke-screen to hide his failure to deal with the real charge that has been made in this debate. Therefore, as one 188 detached from the discussion of 12 months ago and with no past relationship to this matter, I think that we can still further probe the real view taken by the Minister.
The Minister now says that the reason why this procedure is being adopted and why we have to accept or reject this scheme en bloc is that, as the scheme was agreed upon 12 months ago and put into operation, we cannot now amend it. I should like to point out that it was after the main parts of the Bill had been passed 12 months ago that his hon. and right hon. Friends decided to vote against the Clause under which this procedure is being adopted. It was after the whole framework of the scheme had been agreed to and the main Clauses of the Bill had been passed that they said that it would require drastic amendment 12 months later and that, therefore, in this year of 1952, instead of bringing forward an Order a new Bill should be brought forward in order to make amendments.
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) has lightheartedly said that he is entitled to change his mind, and he certainly is, but nevertheless we hope that he still takes the point of view that he expressed very strongly in previous debates when he said:That is why I say that, as Private Members of the House, we must preserve the right to move Amendments each year to this legislation, just as we have the right to move Amendments to the Army Act each year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 55.]
§ Mr. Speaker
The discussion which the hon. Member has quoted was on the Bill. We are now dealing with the Order, and that cannot be amended.
§ Mr. Swingler
Naturally, I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I am dealing with the reasons why this procedure has been adopted for continuing this Act, and the question with which we have been concerned and are now faced is that hon. Members of this House have no opportunity this year of making amendments to the scheme, because the effect of the Order is to continue the 1951 Act en bloc.
The point I was trying to make is that, last year, the friends of the Secretary of State for War, after the main parts of the scheme had been approved by the House, still maintained that we ought to have the right to be able to amend this scheme in 1952. Although the Secretary of State 189 has said that it was hypocrisy on the part of my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for War to make these points about the discussions last year, he must include in his charge a whole number of his hon. Friends on that side, including the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) and the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), as well as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply, all of whom said that, every year, as in the case of the Army Act, this House should have the right to be able to make Amendments to a Bill, instead of having to accept or reject en bloc this Motion which is brought forward tonight.
Therefore, I say to the Secretary of State, although he has dealt with many other points in his reply, has not dealt with this question, and has given us no reason why he voted once, and his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air voted twice, against this procedure less than 12 months ago. Therefore, we must take it that the hypocrisy lies on that Front Bench.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty in pursuance of the provisions of Section 14 (2) of the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces (Training) Act, 1951, praying that the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces (Training) Act Extension Order, 1952, be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 31st January.
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.