§ MR. HEAD'S STATEMENT
§ Order for Committee read.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The duty which confronts myself and the War Office, as I see it, is to develop to the maximum extent the strength of the active and the reserve Army by means of organising its manpower, equipment and training so that it can play its full part in the "cold" war. in our strategic commitments, and in making a full contribution in the event of a "hot" war.
To do this, I am asking the House for £491½million and 555,000 all ranks. No one is more aware than myself that that is an extremely large sum at a time when the nation is undergoing great economic difficulty and when that amount can ill be spared. It is my chief responsibility, and indeed, that of the House also, to see that in return for these two very considerable figures, the nation gets good value for money. I assure hon. Members that I shall have that aspect of the problem very much in mind during the remarks which I propose to address to the House.
I do not intend to go through the Memorandum which explains the Estimates. I am, rightly or wrongly, making the assumption that hon. Members will have read it, and I am only too aware of the tedium which would result from a repetition of that document. Nor do I propose to go through the Estimates page by page, for if I did so I do not think I could give any coherent explanation of the prospects and the problems that lie before the army. Nor do I intend to touch on the question of training, for that will be dealt with in the debate on the Amendment. I propose to confine my remarks this afternoon to the questions of manpower, the re-armament programme, and the Army's operational role.
Inevitably, I shall make many omissions and there are many points in which 1024 hon. Members are interested which I shall omit; but I shall attempt, when I wind up the debate, to answer as fully as I can any points raised by hon. Members. At least, on this occasion hon. Members can have a reasonable assurance that they will be able to raise those points, because tonight, provided they have sufficient stamina, no hon. Members will go home to bed with that most frustrating companion: an ingrowing speech.
I come, first, to the problem of manpower. In my opinion, this is the central and most important problem which confronts the Army today. I apologise to the House in advance if I seem to dwell overlong on this problem, but I am encouraged to do so because it is that aspect of the Army's affairs which, I believe, most concerns hon. Members.
The manpower problem today stems really from the last war. During the war, there was little or no Regular enlistment in the Army, and at the end of the war there were very many Regulars in the Army who had completed their contract and left the service. Thus, in 1945 we found ourselves with a Regular Army which was under 100,000 in strength That situation of there being a very small Regular Army continued for some considerable time. In my opinion, it continued too long, but comparatively recently the size of the Army was rapidly increased by a number of urgent measures.
The first was the call-up of Regular Reservists. The second was to retain Regulars in the Army beyond their contractual time. The third was a substantial increase in pay, for which the late Government deserve full credit—but it is a tragedy that they did not do it earlier. [Interruption.] I say that in all honesty, not as a criticism. [Interruption.] I said it in all honesty. If the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) wants proof, I refer him to HANSARD. The substantial increases in pay stimulated Regular recruiting. The last step was the increase of National Service to two years. That had a stimulating effect on the size of the Regular Army.
But those steps are not lasting or long-term in their effect, and for this reason. Everybody will be agreed that the call-up of reservists and the retention of Regulars is an undesirable step which should be retained only for the minimum amount 1025 of time. The stimulus which the substantial pay increases gave to recruiting has to some extent been diminishing, and the increase given to the Army by the extension of National Service to two years has automatically increased the proportion of National Service men to Regulars.
That question of the proportion of National Service men to Regulars is a most important factor in the Army because, if there is undue dilution and there are too few Regulars in comparison with the numbers of National Service men, inevitably there is a deterioration in the ability of the Regular to train and supervise the National Service man during his period of two years' service. That is not only a bad thing for the Army; it is a bad thing for the nation, because, hon. Members realise, I know, that the majority of the young men of this country between the years of 18 and 20 are spending their time in the Army, and those perhaps are two of the most impressionable years of a young man's life.
If that period of service is well supervised it can serve as a good introduction to life. If it is badly done, it can have a most unfortunate effect; and I suggest to hon. Members that the way in which that period is supervised is to a large extent dependent on the proportion and the ability of the Regular content of the Army. Therefore, I hope I have made it plain to hon. Members why I attach so much importance to ensuring that the proportion of the Regular Army to National Service men is adequate. Not only do we need an adequate number of Regulars in the Army, but we want to encourage them to stay in the Army.
Therefore, I propose initially to say something to the House about what we propose to do in order to ensure an adequate Regular content within the Army. We recently introduced a short service engagement into the Army whereby a man could join for three years and have four years with the Reserve. He can take on in this engagement before, during, or after his period of National Service. He receives, of course, Regular pay from the start. The response to this new offer has been encouraging. I do not want to weary the House with figures, but I think that for the last two months the figures are not without interest. In January, 1951, there were 1,999 recruits and in January, 1952, there were 2,632, a marked increase. In February, 1951, 1026 there were 1,637 recruits and in February, 1952, there were 3,496—which is double. That is encouraging, but it is not enough because, as I said before, not only do we want men to join the Army but we want them to stay in the Army.
Therefore, we now propose to offer to any young man who considers joining the Army a career—a life career. For that reason, I shall shortly propose to the House, in the form of an Amendment to the Army Act, a term of enlistment whereby a man can join the Army for 22 years. This is something novel in the Army which men used to join either for five and seven, or for seven and five. To join for 22 years does give a man a security of career. Not only does he need that, but if we are to approximate the attractions of Army life to those of civilian life, he must also be offered an opportunity to leave the Army—
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
§ Mr. Hughes
§ Mr. Head
No doubt we shall have a long discussion on this matter later tonight. We are not only offering men an opportunity to join the Army for 22 years, but any man who wishes to do so can leave at three-yearly intervals throughout his service. Furthermore, provided his conduct is good and he can be employed—and I think in the majority of cases that will be so—he can remain in the Army until he is 55 years of age.
I stress to the House that under these conditions the Army really does offer a life career. A man can join at 18 and, if he shows any promise, he should be a corporal by the time he is 24 and a sergeant by the time he is 29. If he marries early, as many do, and if he gets promoted, as I have said, by the time he is 24 he will be earning £8 a week and by the time he is 29 he will be earning £10 a week. If he serves for 22 years—when, we can take it, he will be 40 and a sergeant—he will earn a pension of £2 a week and a tax-free terminal grant of £200. If he stays until he is 55 and if, for instance—which is quite possible—he is promoted to warrant officer, he will have a pension of £6 a week and a terminal grant of £600.
1027 I do not think that is a bad career to offer to people in the Army, but it is not enough because, as I have stated, every man who joins under this engagement can leave at three-yearly intervals. In the future there will be no man in the Army who has a binding compulsion beyond three years. That is good in one sense, but it puts an obligation on us to study conditions so that we get rid of the snags and causes of discontent which drive men out of the Army. I wish briefly to analyse what they are and what we propose to do about them.
I believe the first cause of discontent is the compulsory retention of Regulars beyond their term of service. If we do that, the man who wants to go is kept in for a year and becomes discontented and he is a bad influence on his unit. Not only that, but it is a deterrent to recruiting because a man who might take on a three-year Regular engagement considers, "I might be kept on for four years, or more." Therefore, we have decided to eliminate this compulsory retention of Regulars as a matter of policy. That cannot be done at once, but it will taper off and it is our policy that by September, 1953, no Regular in the British Army will be compulsorily retained after his period of Service has expired.
The next snag which I believe to be a cause of discontent is cross-posting, which is sometimes called lack of stability, that is to say, moving from job to job with great rapidity. Soldiers have a more expressive, but less Parliamentary, term for this type of treatment.
It is due to various causes, but primarily it is due to the fact that at present the battalions remain overseas for a long time and men come and go in accordance with the fact that they are going to do three years service overseas and three years at home. Thus, a man at the depot might be posted to the Middle East with his battalion, his battalion then comes home and he has, say, another two and a half years of his overseas tour to complete. He is posted to a different battalion and completes his service; and then, his battalion, he finds, has been posted to Germany and he is posted to yet another battalion.
In order to minimise this cross-posting, we have decided that in all infantry and armoured corps units we shall 1028 institute the three years' battalion tour. That is to say, a battalion will go overseas for three years and will be at home or within that area for the other three years. Units and battalions will move in that way with all the men in them irrespective of the length of time they have been overseas. I believe that will do much to avoid cross-posting, but I must say to the House that for the moment, with so many of our units overseas, North-West Europe will count as home service for this purpose. I think the House will understand that is inevitable. I attach great importance to the elimination of this cross-posting.
The creation of seven second battalions will facilitate the transference of some men from their second battalion to their first. The re-creation of the regimental depots will help. We must cut down cross-posting because the British Army is fiercely tribal. Hon. Members can imagine what would happen, were he still in the Army, if I were to post the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan), from the Black Watch to, shall I say, the Devons. I do not know what the Devons would say, but I know that every hair on the head of my hon. and gallant Friend would bristle—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
The Devons might have more to say than the Black Watch.
§ Mr. Head
These are matters of speculation. I should not like to say, in the absence of my hon. and gallant Friend, anything which might cause him embarrassment when he reads it in HANSARD tomorrow.
Another matter which sometimes tends towards making men leave the Army is separation from wives and children. With so many of the British Army abroad, this is obviously and inevitably a cause of discontent. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), knows, it is a matter difficult of solution, but we must do our utmost to provide the maximum possible number of quarters overseas so that wives and children can follow their husbands and fathers. The question of the education of children who cannot accompany fathers who are moving from place to place presents another problem, and we are considering that matter. I 1029 hope shortly to announce some steps which I believe will help.
Lastly, there is the burning question that is very much in the mind of every man in the Army, perhaps not so much when he joins but when his service is nearly completed, namely, "When I leave, can I get a job?" I wish I could have come to the House and said that any man completing his 22 years' service, with good conduct, could have a guarantee of a job. For technical reasons which hon. Members opposite will understand, it is not possible to give such a guarantee, but I can assure the House and the Army that a man who engages on a long-term service commitment is virtually almost certain of employment when he finishes.
In this respect I base my remarks on the advice of the Ministry of Labour, whom I should particularly like to thank—and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman opposite would join with me in so doing—for the quite exceptional work that they have done in helping the Army on the question of employemnt. I would couple with them the T.U.C. and employers, who have given their cooperation.
I have mentioned what we propose to do, and I now wish to speak about recruiting itself. Recruiting used to take place throughout the country with the aid of a fine-looking sergeant with a black moustache and a red, white and blue rosette. There has been a change, and today recruiting for the Army must to a large extent be done within units and regiments themselves. The National Service man is there, and it is up to regiments to recruit him. It is particularly marked in the Army today that where units are good and efficient the recruitment of National Service men is high. It should be the aim of every regiment to recruit into the Regular Army as many National Service men as it can, but I say to the House that there must not—I have this in mind—be undue pressure.
Furthermore, our ordinary recruiting system is, in my opinion, not entirely up to date. We have, therefore, appointed—and within a matter of days he will start his duties—an active and able major-general on a temporary basis and without any staff—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
That will not last long.
§ Mr. Head
I will have a bet with the hon. and gallant Member on that subject. He will go round our recruiting organisation in order to bring it up to date and to adapt and adjust it so that it can be more efficient in recruiting throughout the country. I believe this should help—
§ Wing Commander N. J. Hulbert (Stockport, North)
Is my right hon. Friend suggesting that there is a difference between an ordinary major-general and an active and able major-general?
§ Mr. Head
My hon. and gallant Friend is making an innuendo to the effect that all our major-generals are not always active and able. I will therefore amend my remarks and say "An exceptionally able and active major-general."
With regard to recruiting, hon. Members may have seen in the Press that we are also proposing to start an Infantry Regimental Boys' Battalion. That is a scheme whereby boys who want to make the Army a career and to become N.C.O.s and warrant officers—and indeed they can get commissions—will go there at 15 and leave at 17½. They will have a general education with a military bias, and 10 weeks' holiday a year. The school will hold 450 boys and will be situated on the fringe of Sherwood Forest. I hope and believe that it will be a success. If it is, we shall expand it.
I now wish to speak about the National Service intake. In 1951, the three Services required 223,000 National Service men and there were available 206,000. As a result, the Army went 10,000 short that year. This year, by means of an artificial boost, that is to say, five call-ups instead of four, which can never be repeated, and which has the effect of reducing the call-up age near to the original age of 18, we are all right. But in the years to come it is virtually certain that the total National Service intake will be below the combined needs of the three Services. That further emphasises the importance which I attach to the question of Regular recruiting.
While all this is going on, the Reserve Army is filling up, and by the summer of 1954 it will have reached its maximum strength. But that is not the mobilisation strength because, through the reduction of the part-time service from four years to 3½ years, the Reserve Army lost 1031 55,000 men. As the Reserve Army fills up, the need for officers of about the rank of captain, with war experience if possible, and particularly of sergeants, in the volunteer element within the Territorial Army becomes more and more pressing. I hope that those men who in the past have done such great service in the Territorial Army as volunteers will be forthcoming to help us out as the Reserve Army fills up.
The position in the Reserve Army is not too bad, although we urgently need volunteers. But it is definitely bad in the Supplementary Reserve. I believe the reason for that is largely ignorance. I must confess that I am speaking entirely for myself because until I went to the War Office I never realised the size of the Supplementary Reserve today. This Reserve at its maximum strength numbers no fewer than 100,000 men. Before the war it was a few small units.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
§ Mr. Head
One hundred thousand men of all ranks. I do not believe either that it is generally realised what is the scope or size of the Supplementary Reserve today. It covers units which vary from postal units to port operating squadrons, and in all walks of life there must be men whose civil occupation coincides very closely with the functions of many of these units. They do no drills in their part-time training. Their part-time training is restricted solely to 15 days in camp. I hope that in the future more recruits to this element will be forthcoming, for it provides administrative and specialist units not only for the Reserve Army but for a large proportion of the Regular Army as well.
I should like also to say a word about what in the Memorandum we term "Regular Women," in other words, the women of the Women's Royal Army Corps. These women have done great service with the Army. They are now serving in almost all the theatres in which the Army is stationed, and we want more of them. At the moment we have a committee of officers sitting in the War Office thinking how we can make ourselves more attractive to women—[Laughter.]—by "we" I mean the Army. We intend to make available more vacancies for 1032 women within the technical corps. As a result of this committee, I hope to announce some steps which will improve recruiting.
So far, recruiting has been on the increase, but it has to compete with a considerable wastage rate, a good deal of which is caused by matrimony. I wish also to extend a welcome to the issue of what I think hon. Members will agree is a rather becoming uniform, the new green uniform, for the W.R.A.C.—but of course, that may increase our wastage rate !
We have in the Army today, I think, the best manpower the Army has ever had, and I cannot sufficiently stress the importance of having an adequate supply of good officers. Our need is for about 37,000. We have 33,500; so we have a deficiency of about 3,500. But this is the point: of the 33,500 whom we already have, only half are Regular officers. The remaining half are either short-service commissioned or National Service officers. So we have a dual problem; it is to reduce the deficiency of officers as a whole and to increase the proportion of Regulars among them.
We cannot do that by a sudden increase, even if we could get the men. Supposing we could get 3,000 young officers in a year; it would be disastrously unfair to them, because they would all reach the top of the promotion pyramid at the same time, with disastrous overcrowding at the top and with a disastrous effect on their own career. Therefore, we have come to the conclusion that the right aim would be to get into the Army 1,000 officers a year. At the moment we are getting 580 a year from Sandhurst and 200 a year from National Service and university candidates.
If I am not wearying the House, I will say a word about the steps that are being taken 'to try to overcome this shortage of officers. First, we are pursuing a step for which the entire credit belongs to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West, namely, the employment at static headquarters up to the age of 55 of officers who do not reach the highest rank but who retire with the rank of major or lieutenant-colonel. We are trying to increase that number, particularly in the War Office, and thus to free an increasing number of young officers to go to fighting 1033 units. In addition, I am considering allowing a proportioin of short-service officers to serve on in the Regular Army, particularly in the technical arms, and to grant commissions to ex-Indian Army officers.
I also believe that many headmasters and parents are ignorant of what the Army offers as a career to a young man today. The young officers we require include a considerable proportion of officers with a technical and scientific background. The Army is becoming more and more technical. We used to be accused of containing a large proportion of "Colonel Blimps." In my opinion, Mr. David Low could very well bury "Colonel Blimp" and if he wants a substitute I would suggest "Colonel Boffin" because the Army is becoming very technical and we must provide a technical background for the young officer coming in.
I have two projects in mind which might help, which I should like briefly to mention. We own a remarkable establishment known as the Military College of Science at Shrivenham. This is a magnificent building, and is as well equipped as any equivalent organisation in the country. We have courses of young officers going there, and also senior officers. One project I have in mind is to open this college to young men who have a scientific and technical interest and who could go there as an alternative method to Sandhurst for entering the Army. They would spend two years there, at the end of which they could take a B.Sc. degree and pass straight into the Army. I believe that would be attractive, and might give us an added proportion of this type of officer.
If one analyses where our best young engineers and scientists come from, one finds that a very high proportion come from the grammar and secondary schools in the North of England and schools in Scotland. Very few of these young men have even considered taking a commission in the Army. I need not go into the reason; but it is our belief that if we started a school giving a general education with a technical bias, for boys from these schools between the ages of 16 and 18, we would have a source of intake, so far untapped, of immense value to the Army.
I have discussed the scheme with the Ministry of Education and also with the 1034 headmasters. From the discussions I have had so far, and from the fact that we have a very suitable building in view, I am hopeful that this project may turn into a reality; and if it does I believe it would be of great value to the Army as a whole.
I remember that when I sat on the other side of the House and the right hon. Member for Easington was the Minister I, and many of my colleagues, exerted considerable pressure on him on the question of colonial man-power. I think it would be rather dodging on my part were I not to say a word on that subject, now that our roles have been reversed.
I would first say that two battalions are now being raised in the West Indies for service throughout the Caribbean. In Malaya, where the Malay Regiment recently raised a fifth battalion, they are now in the process of raising a sixth. In East Africa they are in process of raising two battalions. I am aware that many hon. Members opposite, and a number of my hon. Friends, will say that this is something, but it is not enough and why cannot we expand the Colonial Forces so that they can take the place which the Indian Army once filled? I think the best way I can explain it is by saying that the Regular Army is particularly short of middle piece officers and N.C.Os. That is exactly what we want for a Colonial Army.
There was a project which we have examined in the War Office for forming a West African Division. To explain the difficulties to the House, I must tell them what the bill would have been. The bill for officers and N.C.Os. for one West African Division would be 1,200 British officers and N.C.Os.—the scarcest commodities in the Regular Army. The bill for the buildings to house them in West Africa would be at least £13 million, and it was estimated that they would take between four and six years to complete. We intend to increase the Colonial Army as far as we are able, and I hope that those figures will show that there are difficulties in the way of very rapid and considerable expansion.
I have been a long time on this question of manpower, but I think that it would be wrong if I left it before I gave the House some assurance that we are 1035 taking steps to economise in manpower: in other words, that we are combing our tail in order to form new battalions. In this respect, I think that I have something in common with the Leader of the Opposition, who has just left the House, because he also is somewhat preoccupied with his tail and its control. Indeed, I sometimes wish that I could emulate his experience of last week whereby, so to speak, his own tail broke off in his hands and formed a very battle-worthy battalion in a matter of hours.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
It was the head, not the tail.
§ Mr. Head
I must leave that to the House. Not only was it battle-worthy, but in its very first engagement it dug itself in and managed completely to disorganise two Divisions.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
The trouble is that they are all officers.
§ Mr. Head
It is a very virile O.C.T.U. Although he is not here, I would say to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) that he is deserving of a battle honour for this deed. He might adopt, with some amendment, one of the most famous regimental mottoes in the British Army, Nemo me impune flagellabit, which, freely translated, might be taken to mean "No Whip is going to try and push me into the wrong Lobby."
The late Government appointed General Templer, to whom I am sure we all wish the best of fortune in Malaya, to go round the static and administrative units in this country with a view to reducing their size and increasing the number and size of fighting units. Since that was done, we have considerably extended that policy, and General Callander, with great efficiency and despatch, has been to Germany, Trieste, Austria and the Far East. We have not included the Middle East because I do not believe that it would be opportune at present, although I hope that we shall include it later.
He has completed that combing out, but we have extended it further in that General Harding, who commands our Army on the Rhine, is now experimenting and making attempts, which I know will be successful, to reduce the size of, not static, but operational headquarters 1036 which, in my opinion, grew too big at the end of the war.
We have extended it still further, because under General Templer's examination in England the War Office was exempt. The War Office has been reduced considerably since the war, but I felt that with this intensive comb-out, it was not really right that the War Office should be exempt. The experience I have had of reductions in establishment is that it is no good arguing over every man, every clerk. The only way out is to have an arbitrary cut. Therefore, I gave instructions that the entire staff of the War Office should be cut by 10 per cent. That has been most loyally implemented and it will result in a saving of 750 soldiers and civil servants.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
Does that include all ranks—generals included?
§ Mr. Head
It includes all ranks. It seems poor gratitude for the support I have had in the War Office to take this type of action.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The Minister is cutting down by 750. Are they dismissed or sent elsewhere? To where are they transferred?
§ Mr. Head
Soldiers are sent to fighting formations. I do not wish to turn civil servants out into the street, and where their decrease is concerned, we are allowing a year in which to implement it. We do not replace wastage and we stop recruiting to fill vacancies. Within a year we shall have got rid of those numbers without any undue hardship to the civil servants.
§ Mr. Bellenger
In view of that statement, I think that the right hon. Gentleman ought to explain what the proportion is between military and civilian personnel.
§ Mr. Head
I will guarantee to give that information to the right hon. Gentleman when I wind up the debate. I have not got the figures with me.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the numbers by rank which have been taken away—including generals, colonels and so on?
§ Mr. Head
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like me to offer him a few generals for the quo vadis net.
§ Mr. Harry Wallace (Walthamstow, East)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he is referring to established civil servants or temporary civil servants?
§ Mr. Head
The majority will be civil servants whose time has expired or will expire shortly. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are taking a great deal of trouble to see that no civil servant in the War Office is victimised by this step. I must confess that I am rather alarmed by the resistance with which this cut appears to be met.
§ Mr. Head
I must get on. The War Office has been cut before by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easing-ton. We have now cut very near the bone.
§ Mr. Shinwell
§ Mr. Head
A considerable proportion of the War Office staff is preoccupied with such matters as Z Reservists, National Service men and—which is a great credit to their zeal—the correspondence of hon. Members of this House. I do not complain in the slightest about that. Personal inquiries about men are essential and that is one of the rights of hon. Members. However, I wish to make a suggestion, and in this connection I am entirely in the hands of the House.
I would suggest that on certain questions possibly the two Army Committees of both sides of the House might meet with myself and an expert from the War Office, and we might be able to devise something in connection with Standing Orders which would be of mutual advantage. If we could do so I should be much obliged, but I am entirely in the hands of the House.
The total of the reductions which I have mentioned before amounts to a total saving of men out of the "tail" into the "teeth" of 10,000, and I think that is not a bad saving. In addition, we have saved 10,000 men from the German Service Organisation, which is the administrative side of the British Army of the Rhine. I have not included in these figures what is termed "civilianisation"—the substitution of civilians for men—because it will take a long time to implement and it costs a lot of money.
§ Mr. Wigg
Can the right hon. Gentleman say where the other 9,000 come 1038 from? He has mentioned 750 from the War Office, and now says that the total is 10,000.
§ Mr. Head
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the figure of 10,000 is correct. It comes from Germany, Trieste, Austria, the Far East and these islands, and I will give him the exact numbers, if he wishes, before the end of the debate. There is nothing bogus about the saving; this is a direct saving from the "tail" into the "teeth." It is largely owing to these savings that we have been able to form seven new battalions.
I have noticed in other debates in the House that hon. Gentlemen opposite are particularly well informed concerning our election manifesto, and I am sure that they will be interested in what was said there. We said that:By close scrutiny and pruning in nonessential administrative units, our fighting strength could be increased.We have got many new battalions, and I have saved 10,000 men, and I am sure that the fair-mindedness of hon. Gentlemen opposite will cause them to scamper to their constituencies and tell their constituents all about it.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. Gentleman will admit, in his fairness and generosity, that other things were said in the manifesto.
§ Mr. Head
We are not debating the manifesto.
Not only is it important for us to economise manpower in the Army, but it is, as I think right hon. Gentlemen will agree, equally important that we do not waste the time of the National Service man. When I went to the War Office, I imagined that it was a comparatively simple thing to call up a man and post him to the Regular Army. That is not so, and it is only comparatively recently that we have brought in a more scientific method of ensuring that a man's whole-time service with the Regular Army will correspond with his part-time Service in the Reserve Army. Hon. Gentlemen may think that that is simple, but, at the risk of wearying them and for the reason that they may receive complaints on this subject, may I explain the procedure to them?
At the War Office we have had to make a complete and comprehensive survey, numerically and geographically, of the 1039 whole of England. Let us imagine a town of, say, 30,000 people. First, we draw a ring round it. Within that ring live the men who can be expected either to cycle or walk to the drill hall. We take the number of people inside the ring, and work out what the annual call-up is likely to be. Let us say it is 100. That gives us an idea of the size of unit which the drill hall can support. Then we take the characteristics of the town into account. Let us say that it is agricultural, with some mechanical workshops, and perhaps provides some road transport.
We therefore give the unit a company of infantry, a light aid detachment of R.E.M.E. and a R.A.S.C. transport platoon. Whenever a man inside that ring is called up, he goes before the military interviewing officer concerned, who asks him what he does and places him into a unit which he thinks is most suitable for him, and he is then passed into the Regular Army into an equivalent unit. When he comes out for his part-time service he goes straight into a unit which corresponds to that in which he did his full-time service.
This system has been introduced only comparatively recently, and it is not foolproof. In the initial stages, it was perhaps a bit chancy. I am not guaranteeing anything, but at least I am hoping that we shall find that a man who is immensely skilled in, say, electronics, will not be grooming horses in Knightsbridge Barracks.
I now turn to the re-armament programme. Our object in re-arming is, first, to provide enough up-to-date equipment for current arrangements, which is quite considerable; secondly, to provide balanced equipment for the active Army; the Territorial Army and Anti-Aircraft Command; thirdly, to provide reserves for them; and, fourthly, to supply the Commonwealth nations and N.A.T.O. with the equipment necessary in maintaining their defences.
I am aware that the re-armament programme must affect our present situation. It so happens that the Army's programme conflicts, particularly in its building programme and the programme concerning the metal-using industries, with our civilian needs. The programme has not been cut; it has been extended.
1040 Before I come to discuss certain points which I think may be of interest to hon. Members, I should like to make some remarks on the question of specifications and staff requirements. Hon. Members may remember that, in a recent debate, the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing), and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) both made what, in my opinion, were very good speeches, accusing the Services of requiring too much detail and too high a standard for some of their equipment, which, they argued, placed an undue strain on industry. I believe they were right, and they may be interested to know that, in January of this year, we issued a standing instruction which applies to all staff requirements, and says:In cases where stores and equipment are required for the whole Army and for the other Services the consequent heavy charge on production capacity must be kept to a minimum by simplicity in design and production. Furthermore, such items should be made from materials which have the maximum useful life and are readily available in war.Over-refinement involving large scale development or production difficulties, higher cost, and exacting requirements in training, operation and maintenance must be avoided.I hope that that may have a beneficial effect. We in the War Office are aware of the importance of simplicity of design and of keeping down requirements so as not to place an undue burden on production.
I should like first, in dealing with the re-armament programme, to say a word or two about tanks. The Centurion tank, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in the defence debate, is one of the best—if not the best—tanks of its size in the world, and, what is more, production is proceeding very satisfactorily. I thank the right hon. Gentleman opposite for that legacy, and I think that it reflects the greatest credit on British designers and the factory producing it.
It struck me that some hon. Members might like to visit this factory which is making this very important tank, and, by the courtesy of the Ministry of Supply, if hon. Members will let me or the Under-Secretary of State have their names if they wish to go, such visits can be arranged. The factory is in Leeds, and it might be of interest to some hon. Members to visit it.
1041 There were some snags about this tank at first. It had a very short range in mileage, and lacked a Besa gun on the turret. These defects have been overcome. The tank has been criticised—and I admit I have done it myself—of being built too much on a Cartier standard and in regard to the stabiliser. The gun control equipment costs £1,600, and the actual gadget that works the stabiliser only £100. That was a surprise to me, and it is no doubt of interest to the House.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
How does the right hon. Gentleman explain the difference in cost? The Minister of Supply said that this tank is now costing £38,000 as against £35,000 last year, and the price of steel is rising. How does the right hon. Gentleman explain the difference of £3,000.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Before the right hon. Gentleman answers that question, can he give us figures of the relative cost of tanks built at this factory and at the Royal Ordnance Factory?
§ Mr. Head
I am afraid I cannot, but I will try and get the hon. and learned Gentleman an answer. The only things which are now—
§ Mr. Hughes
That does not answer my question.
§ Mr. Head
The short answer is really that prices have been rising. Whether of tanks or other commodities, prices are going up.
§ Mr. Cecil Poole (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
That was not in the manifesto.
§ Mr. Head
This subject, as far as I know, has never been in any manifesto.
I should now like to say a word about what are called "soft" vehicles. This is a somewhat generic term which does not mean that we are feather-bedding the soldier. It refers to jeeps, lorries, transporters, and all non-armoured vehicles. Right hon. Gentlemen will admit, I think, that the Army has been badly off in this way. For a long time we have been living on our fat, rebuilding and repairing old vehicles, and the fat has been getting of worse and worse quality. This year—and the credit for this lies with the late Government—we shall get a considerable number of good, new four-wheeled 1042 drive vehicles for cross-country performance capable of towing trailers.
In the Estimates last year, the then Secretary of State announced a 20 per cent. reduction in vehicle scales. Up to date, a 12 per cent. reduction has been achieved, and we intend not only to complete that reduction, but to exceed it in many establishments to a total of 28 per cent. That will be done in co-operation with General Harding to cut down at headquarters. I am firmly convinced that we must cut down the number of vehicles in the British Army. We cannot hope to enjoy the kind of air situation which obtained during the concluding stages of the last war. The best thing is not to have too many vehicles.
Ammunition presents a problem at the present time. We are preparing for a war with a smallish Army against superior numbers, and therefore we can be sure that the whole of that Army, at any rate in Germany, will be simultaneously engaged. There will be no large reserve. Everything will be largely in the shop window. Ammunition expenditure will be very high. That, indeed, has been confirmed by Korea. Therefore, our requirements are considerably in excess of the normal requirements of an Army of our size. This presents a very big problem for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply and we are directing the closest attention to the problem in order to ensure that sufficient and adequate supplies will be available.
Another problem is anti-aircraft equipment, particularly of this country. We have got new inventions of Radar and predictors and new inventions for increasing the rate of fire of guns. They are expensive and difficult to manufacture, but we cannot let up on that particular aspect until the quantity production of guided missiles is in sight. At the present moment, the aeroplane has a marked ascendancy over ground defences, and therefore, of necessity, we are pressing on with what is an expensive and difficult procedure.
I cannot leave the re-armament programme without saying something about standardisation. I wish I could report to the House that progress was as satisfactory as we could wish. Hon. Members will, I know, agree that whether it be individuals or nations, it is always difficult to persuade people that one's own 1043 particular idea is the best and that they should stick to it and follow it. Perhaps I am preaching to the converted in the case of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but the trouble with re-armament is that we now have a need for the rapid production of as many weapons as we can get, and yet standardisation can only really be achieved by the sacrifice of time and by incorporating it into long-term development and production. No very spectacular achievements have been made, but in the less spectacular items definite progress has been made. I am equally sure that this country is more than playing its part in attempting to achieve standardisation.
I now come to the last part of my remarks concerning the operational role of the Army. We have responsibility with the two other Services for protecting this country. There are practically no active formations in the country. As hon. Members know, we have formed mobile columns at the direct order of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence, which have been a great success. We have also formed the Home Guard, concerning which I want to reinforce the remarks of my right hon. Friend regarding the importance of people joining the Home Guard, and to say, incidentally, that I was disappointed that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) did not fulfil his promise concerning his eventual support.
Overseas, our biggest effort is concentrated in Germany. The British Army of the Rhine—and I think the right hon. Gentleman opposite will agree with me—has gained a deservedly high reputation. We have got there no fewer than three armoured divisions, which is a very large contribution to those Forces by this country in time of peace. Not only that; we have the obligation to reinforce those divisions with our Territorial divisions at the earliest possible opportunity.
This question of the operational preparedness of Territorial divisions is a very difficult one. I have read articles in the "Manchester Guardian" which, in my opinion, were somewhat pessimistic in this respect. But it is not easy to keep decreasing the period required before these Territorial divisions can go overseas. It is a matter on which we are thinking hard and long.
1044 Except for the garrisons in Trieste and Austria, the rest of the Army is scattered all over the world in fulfilling its commitments in the "cold" war and in protecting our strategic bases. I do not believe that either in the country or in this House it is sufficiently realised to what extent the Army is bearing a major responsibility in the "cold" war. Of all the active formations now in the Army, no less than 36 per cent. are engaged in what amounts to active operations.
Since the "cold" war began, they have suffered casualties of 4,000 killed, wounded and prisoners of war. In many of these theatres they are operating in conditions of danger and hardship In Egypt, owing to the need for reinforcements and for confinement in the Canal Zone, conditions are far from what we would wish them to be. The troops are carrying out wearisome duties such as those of stevedores. They are dangerous duties, inasmuch as they are constantly being shot at, though mercifully less so at the present moment. In Malaya they are operating in intense jungle in a difficult climate, and are continuously exposed to sudden and often unseen attack. Hon. Members are well aware of the difficulties and severities of the climate in Korea, and indeed many hon. Members have been there.
There has been considerable criticism in this House of the assistance given to the troops in Korea. I have made two statements on that subject and I do not propose to develop it now. But I would assure hon. Members and, more important, the men in Korea that these men are very far from being a forgotten army. It is not easy to ensure absolute accuracy of supply to a comparatively small force at the end of a 12,000 miles long line of communication. Had it been possible—I hope hon. Members will believe me—I would have tried to go to Korea by this time because I am very much aware of these men and the fact that they need attention and encouragement. In all these areas—Malaya, Korea, Egypt and elsewhere—testing and difficult duties have been carried out with efficiency, determination and cheerfulness.
I am not suggesting for one moment that the British soldier has lost his talent for colourful and often blistering complaints and comments on the less 1045 attractive aspect of his duties, but between them the National Service men and the Regular soldiers have fused or, in Army parlance, have "mucked in" to form a very fine national Army. In my opinion it has the makings of the best Army we have ever had.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I suppose it is perking up now the right hon. Gentleman has taken it over.
§ Mr. Head
I said it had the makings. The hon. Member makes these rather squalid interruptions but the British Army can overcome almost anything, including the hon. Member if he wants to have a row with me.
Everywhere in the Regular Army there is admiration for the way in which the National Service man has approached his two years' compulsory service. Some of them complain, of course, but I am sure that hon. Members will not take a distorted view of the attitude of the National Service man because they hear most of that vocal minority. The vast majority of these men have accepted what was an unwanted obligation with a degree of co-operation which has exceeded all expectations. Indeed, their presence in the Regular Army has injected a wider outlook and an increased interest which have been very beneficial.
The Regular Army itself, which has had National Service men and Z Reservists introduced and its overseas commitments to undertake while under strength and widely dispersed, also well deserves praise for the way the men have done their job. I believe all hon. Members will agree with me that all these men of the British Army, many of them parted from their wives and children, many of them conscripted against their wishes, many of them in danger and discomfort all over the world, have done their duty in a way which deserves the admiration and the gratitude of the whole of this House.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
We have listened to a most interesting and valuable survey of the condition of the Army and of the manner in which the very large sum of money voted last year and the still larger sum to be voted this year are being expended.
1046 I will not follow exactly the order the Secretary of State for War followed, because it seems to me, in looking at the Estimates this year, that what dominates the scene is Vote 7—the Estimate which is rather oddly called "Stores." That, of course, is really the Vote for weapons and equipment of all kinds. It will be seen that of the increase of nearly £120 million in this year's Estimates no less than £81 million are for Vote 7, and no less than £59 million of that £81 million are for warlike stores.
I think that represents the fact that this year we have come to the stage where the actual delivery of weapons under the re-armament programme will be considerable. The basis in manpower and in equipment had begun to be laid last year, and this year there should be seen a considerable delivery of actual warlike stores.
Therefore, at the beginning of my remarks I want to turn to that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech in which he spoke of some of, these weapons and to ask him one or two questions about their further development. The first weapon he dealt with, naturally, was the tank. He noted the very real success of the Centurion tank in the experience we have had of it in Korea. That is a somewhat limited and special experience, but, in the opinion of those qualified to judge, it has shown, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that we have a really good tank in the Army today.
That is something for which we ought to be very thankful, because this tank was designed long before either he or I held official responsibilities; and the Centurion must have been in the nature of a gamble for whoever was responsible for it. One has to put one's money on a particular design which takes years to develop and then years to produce in large numbers. It is a matter for great thankfulness that it has turned out that our British designers, as the right hon. Gentleman said, have done an admirable job in this respect.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke with satisfaction about the rise in the number of tanks produced. What is of greater importance is an increase in the country's productive capacity for tanks. I thank him for what he said about the work the previous Government did in this 1047 respect. I think he will agree that before the Korean war began moves were on foot for increasing productive capacity, which takes so long in the case of a tank factory and is of such very great importance.
I hope that other parts of the tank programme—the modernisation of gunning on earlier types of tanks and the provision of a successor to the Centurion tank—are also going forward. Although the Centurion is proving a most valuable weapon, it was designed some years ago and it will need a successor, indeed several successors, in due course.
The right hon. Gentleman said nothing to us about anti-tank weapons. I hope that he, or whoever replies for the Government, will say something about them, because I think he will agree that most experts believe they are of at least equal importance to the tank itself. Nobody knows who will win in the battles of the future between the tank and its opponents. I know there is a whole programme for a range of anti-tank weapons, running right through from section to division, with which the Army is to be equipped to repel its most dangerous assailant—the tank attack.
The stop-gap measure we had to undertake of equipping infantry battalions with 17 pounder guns has been very much better than nothing, but I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree, as we agree, that that is only a stop-gap and that a range of specially designed weapons from the rifle grenade for the section right up to the divisional antitank weapon is needed. In the field of weapons, the progressing and development of this range is one of the most important, if not the most important, tasks for those equipping the Army.
Here, as in so much else, I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to let the best be the enemy of the good. It is terribly difficult to know when to go into production with all these things. If we begin too soon we only produce an obsolete weapon. On the other hand, I think that on the whole the temptation of the expert is perfectionism; there is always something a little better, and one may delay going into production too long. I hope that this range of weapons, of which 1048 the Bazooka is one of the most important, will fairly quickly appear amongst the units.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman about another subject that has been discussed a good deal in the House but which he did not mention. I refer to the infantry's own weapon—the much discussed question of the rifle. I have made it my business, both in office and subsequently, to talk to everyone I could who had actual first-hand experience of fighting in Korea, and I should have thought, from all I have heard, that there one of the great lessons is that the actual fire power in small arms of the infantry itself was perhaps proving once again the most important single factor in the whole struggle.
The right hon. Gentleman graphically described the character of a third world war, and if that almost ultimate disaster did take place, the infantry would probably again be fighting against very considerable superiority of numbers, and I should have thought that in such a struggle the fire power of the infantry battalions would be of almost crucial importance. The fire power of our men in Korea has, no doubt, been good. From all I hear, the Bren gun has once again proved itself an admirable weapon. But can there be any doubt that all the expert opinion that I know of was correct in thinking that the provision of a weapon such as the 280 rifle would be of enormous benefit to the infantry in that sort of war and in the sort of struggle which we might, alas, find ourselves engaged?
I am not suggesting that mere rapidity of fire is everything. The experts can, no doubt, show very good reasons why a fully automatic weapon has almost prohibitive disadvantages. But the 280 rifle in its semi-automatic role has a capacity to give a very much larger number of aimed shots per minute than the bolt action weapon can ever hope to do, and I should have thought that the advantage of that, both actual and from the point of view of the morale of an infantry man with such a weapon in his hands, was very great indeed.
That is why some of us are deeply disturbed by the present position of the 280 rifle. I say that I am disturbed by that position, but I do not pretend to know exactly what it is, and I should like to be told. So far as the Prime Minister's 1049 answers to Questions on that subject go, and so far as I can understand them, he says that we are going in for experimental production of the 280 rifle. I do not quite know what that means, but I fear that it means probably very little.
After all, what really matters here is the question whether or not we are tooling up one or more of our small arms production units for this new rifle. We all know, as the Prime Minister has said very often, that it is going to take a very long time at the best for us to be ready to start on an appreciable scale of production even if we start tooling now; but surely, if we think this rifle is the right thing, that is a reason for increasing our anxiety if we are not really beginning to tool up properly. If, on the other hand, we have sacrificed or postponed indefinitely the introduction of this weapon on the altar of the principle of standardisation, I can only say that I think it is a very unfortunate and wrong decision.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke very cautiously about standardisation. I think he was right to do so. Of course it is a good thing. Of course we should like to see it increased in N.A.T.O. Forces. But is it something for the sake of which we ought to sacrifice the introduction in the foreseeable future of a new weapon of such importance as this to our own Army? I cannot think it is. Our American friends have got a very different problem. They have got a semi-automatic rifle of a kind. They are experimenting with a successor to it, but it is an automatic rifle of a kind. For that and other reasons, this is not anything like so urgent a problem for them.
We have the old 303 which is a magnificent weapon, but nevertheless it does date from the Boer War, and it really is time that we gave an up-to-date weapon to our infantry. I do not think there can be any doubt, in view of the weight of expert opinion, that our British designers have designed a really fine weapon themselves, and I feel deep disappointment that the introduction of the new rifle has apparently slipped away into the indefinite future. We profoundly deplore this decision.
Now I come to the question of antiaircraft guns. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is able to tell us that the programme is going forward. The commitment both in manpower and in 1050 the production is, of course, a terrible weight on the Army; in this case it is a matter of adaptation of weapons, but it is a most elaborate adaptation. It involves an enormous amount of productive capacity, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply knows only too well, in developing a very expensive anti-aircraft programme. But there it is. It is something which obviously has to be carried.
The right hon. Gentleman touched on the question of "soft" vehicles, and I am glad that he agreed with the cutting down on the truly gigantic requirement which, under the old scales, the Army had for "soft" vehicles of all kinds. He touched very well on the question of the strain on industry which the demands of the Army impose if everything has specially to be made for the Army—and specially made to exceedingly exacting specifications. It is in this field of "soft" vehicles, above all, that the dilemma between quantity and quality makes itself felt in a most intense form.
It is possible to get literally many times the number of vehicles if they are based on the ordinary run of the vehicle building industry of the country, as against the extremely high performance specifications which are, no doubt, ideal in the Army. No doubt it is not possible to make any clear-cut decision between quality and quantity here, but I think I am right in saying—the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—that lately opinion in the War Office has tended towards thinking that a rather higher proportion of the "soft" vehicles can come from the ordinary run of industry—of course, adapted to Army purposes but not a completely new line—and that we can, at any rate, satisfy a large part of the Army demand in that way. I should have thought it was right to do so and that one should limit to the maximum degree possible the demand for the vehicle built ab initio, which takes an infinitely longer time to get and is an infinitely greater strain on industry that has to start a special run to get it.
There is one small point to which the right hon. Gentleman did not refer but which is in his Memorandum. I am glad to know that he is going ahead fast with covered storage. It sounds dull, but it was something which caused me—and the War Office in general—great anxiety. 1051 As these deliveries come forward it is of great importance that they should go into covered storage, or they, in turn, will begin to deteriorate just as a good deal of the equipment with which we were left at the end of the war has deteriorated, and they will need to be refurbished. It takes a lot of steel; but I wish him well in his struggle for steel in that respect.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I should like to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend that it need not take steel. Nowadays one can construct these things out of pre-stressed concrete. No steel is needed and it is far cheaper.
§ Mr. Strachey
I think the requirement of steel cannot be avoided altogether; but it can be minimised by that means.
The right hon. Gentleman dealt in some detail with the subject of manpower. He generously mentioned the measures which we had taken to build up the manpower of the Army. There were six measures which I mentioned in last year's Estimate. They were the increase in pay; the increase in the time of National Service; the call up of the Z Reservists; the arrangements for men coming out of National Service going into the Territorial Army; the recall of Regular reservists, and the retention of Regulars for one year or 18 months. The last two were in the nature of emergency measures. One has been dispensed with altogether, and I agree that the other should be dispensed with, as the right hon. Gentleman told us he was going to do. It was agreed that we should do this as soon as we possibly could.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman one question on the issue of the Z Reservists. It is almost a matter of curiosity. When we debated this issue in the House the other day, I ventured to chaff him a little for continuing exactly unchanged our plans in that respect—though I am glad of the compliment of imitation. He told me that in saying this I was skating on very thin ice, and later in his speech he said that I knew exactly what he meant when he said that. I did not know what he meant and I should like to know, or to have an idea, because I think it would bring out that issue more clearly.
1052 He then passed to what I agree is an essential problem, that of building up an adequate Regular content of the Army. He told us of the programme of the various measures to do this, and it is a considered programme.
First of all, there is the three-year enlistment period. I was delighted to hear of the success of that offer and the increase in recruitment which it has meant. He is following that up by an amendment of the Army Act, which will give a man the right to enlist for a full career of 22 years and, at the same time, will allow him to leave the Army at three years' notice—at three-yearly intervals. Those and the measures associated with them are admirable measures, and I think it would be absurd for us to have a controversy in claiming the credit for that scheme.
I think the right hon. Gentleman would be the first to agree that it was a scheme which was, in part, actually adopted and, in part, actually under consideration, when he came into office last autumn. It has steadily evolved in the Adjutant-General's Department of the War Office, and I think it is one which should do a good deal to build up the Regular content of the Army. It should take us a good deal nearer the point where a career in the Army is like any other career one enters upon with the intention of carrying it on as one's life work but which one can leave on ordinary terms of contract—not at a moment's notice; one cannot leave any decent job at a moment's notice—but by due notice and due contract on each side. I am sure that is the modern way to recruit a Regular soldier.
§ Mr. Strachey
I hear murmurs that there is one job which can be left at a moment's notice.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to say a word about the Supplementary Reserve. I agree that that has been rather the Cinderella of the whole organisation, and I should like on the spur of the moment to offer him a suggestion, and that is that it is partly something to do with its curiously uninspiring name. I think it may be seriously worth while to change that name. This Reserve has become very important. It is supposed to have 100,000 men in it. Could it 1053 be called something like "The Special Corps of the Reserve Army?" Perhaps somebody could think of a better name than that. But "Supplementary Reserve" is somehow very depressing, and I wonder whether that has something to do with the difficulty of building it up today.
The right hon. Gentleman then dealt with the question of the need for officers. I wish to deal with the question from the angle of the selection of officers. The Secretary of State emphasised very strongly the shortages of officers and the importance of increasing their numbers, and he referred to various sources which could be drawn on, such as older men, and sources we have drawn on in the past; but I want to put another aspect of that matter. What I am going to say is, of course, partly a criticism on myself. I am concerned now, as I was when I was in office, with the difficulty of getting these older men; but I should like to say that my concern is with the whole method of selection of officers in the Army today.
After all, this selection is done in the main in the first few weeks in which a man joins the Army—and this applies both to Regulars and National Service men. A man does not become an officer in the first few days or weeks; but he is marked down as suitable or not suitable as an officer almost within those first few hours of his joining the Army; it is certainly in the first few days. I am not suggesting that, in general, there is anything very much wrong with that.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I was watching the process of selection going on in a battalion just the other day, and it is perfectly clear that in many cases it stands out a mile—to use a coloquialism—which of the recruits coming in are potential officers. It is due to the advantage of education which, either by luck or ability, the boy has got. There is no doubt that because of those advantages he is officer material rather than the chap who, perhaps through pure bad luck, has not had those advantages. For the mass of the selection of officers that is no doubt the right and the inevitable way to do it, but it does mean that in the Army today there are, in effect, two distinct ladders of promotion; there is the other-ranks' ladder of promotion which leads from private to W.O.1, and there is the officers' ladder of promotion 1054 which leads from second-lieutenant to field-marshal.
Those two ladders of promotion diverge at the very first rung, and once a man has set his foot climbing one ladder or the other it is not impossible but certainly extremely difficult for him to pass over from one to the other. Again, I am not saying that is entirely wrong, and I am not saying that in at any rate some measure it is not inevitable, but it has unfortunate consequences.
We all know Napoleon's hackneyed phrase that "every soldier has a field-marshal's baton in his knapsack." It is more true to say of our soldiers today that the other ranks have only a W.O/'s stick in his knapsack; once they have begun climbing the other-ranks' ladder they have very little opportunity to pass over to the commissioned ladder. It is not impossible, and it is occasionally done. I have not the figures, and no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but speaking from memory I think that something of the order of 100 senior N.C.O.s each year pass on to commissioned rank. I do not know the number of senior N.C.O.s in the Army, but it runs into tens of thousands, and there is a very tiny trickle going into the commissioned ranks.
Again it is true to say that a great majority of senior N.C.O.s probably do not themselves wish to become commissioned officers; and I say perfectly frankly that some of them are not suitable for commissioned rank; but I think there ought to be more than 100 a year who wish to go on and who should have the opportunity of going on. I am bound to say that I found in sergeants' messes, and generally amongst senior N.C.O.s, a certain feeling of dissatisfaction about this.
I might well be asked, "What did you do about it?" I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman would agree, but I do not think it is a matter for new regulations. The regulations are there; there is no bar by regulation to the senior N.C.O. getting a commission. All the procedures are laid down, and I went into that most carefully. It is a question of the attitude of mind throughout the Army, through the commanding officers and the like, and I do ask the right hon. Gentleman to continue at any 1055 rate the pressure which I tried to exercise to modify prejudices—and there are prejudices which he will encounter in this field—because a cross channel between the two ladders of promotion at the level of the senior N.C.O. is needed, and the way must be cleared for it. It would be of great value if that were done.
It is in that connection that I wish to ask some questions about the new boys' battalion or school which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. It may be an admirable thing in many ways. We do not know very much about it, but in the announcement in which we were told about it there occurred a phrase which gave me a good deal of concern, because we were told that the aim of this boys' battalion or school was to produce soldiers of high calibre who will later become regular warrant officers and N.C.O.s of the Infantry of the Line. That sounds as if it is to be a sort of N.C.O.s' school.
§ Mr. Head
I did add that they may also gain a commission. I would point out that the primary object of this school is to get hold of boys who had intended to join the Army eventually, who would go to this school when they left their primary school and spend their time preparing for it, and it would be a school for N.C.O.s and warrant officers, who, if they merited it, could obtain commissions in the Army.
§ Mr. Strachey
I quite understand that. I intended to ask for that assurance, which I imagined I should get. There will, of course, be nothing to stop a boy who has graduated from this school and become a senior N.C.O. getting a commission, any more than at present, but it really comes down to the main point I was making, that there ought to be considerably wider opportunities in practice for the senior N.C.O., whether from this school or not, to graduate to commissioned rank, otherwise the foundation of a school of this sort is really pre-selection with a vengeance.
As I have said, I do not altogether like the fact that a man should at the very outset of his Army career have to put his foot either on the rung of the commissioned ladder or on the rung of the other-rank's ladder, but that the principle of pre-selection should extend right down into his boyhood is something we do not 1056 like at all. We suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should look very carefully at the way this school is run, and at its future publicity, so that he makes it a general school for the Army and not a school to manufacture N.C.O.s. It should be a school to manufacture good soldiers who will find whatever their appropriate rank is.
With the excellent curriculum which the right hon. Gentleman says he will give the boys, I should have thought that a great number of them ought to find themselves with commissioned rank sooner or later. After all, great as is the need for non-commissioned officers, the need for commissioned officers, as the right hon. Gentleman has been stressing, is equally great, so that I should have thought there needed to be some recasting of the way in which the school has been presented to us in those respects.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
It is pre-destination.
§ Mr. Strachey
As my right hon. Friend says, with his Scottish Calvinism, there is a little too much pre-destination here rather than pre-selection.
I now wish to say something about the training side, upon which the right hon. Gentleman only just touched. The lesson of Korea has shown that the training work of the Army has proved to have been on exceedingly good lines.
Perhaps I might venture to tell the House a story I heard from a man recently returned from Korea. I do not vouch for its accuracy, and he could not vouch for it either, but I thought it was interesting. This man, one of the heroes of the Korean operations, told me that there was current in the Chinese Armies, so they had learned from prisoners, a story that when the Chinese forces were facing three hills in the hands of United Nations Forces which they desired to attack, their men were told, "If you see bonfires burning on a hill, that means it is in the hands of one particular member of the United Nations Forces. If you hear a great deal of shouting going on from the second of the hills, that means it is in the hands of another certain member of the United Nations Forces. If you see that the third hill is absolutely silent and dark, that means it is occupied by the British Forces, and you should then choose to attack another hill." I think 1057 that is a tribute to the training which our men have received.
The right hon. Gentleman also spoke about the colonial troops, and we were slightly amused there because of the very strong pressure which had been put upon us to make great developments in the raising of colonial forces. He is going ahead with some limited raising of colonial forces, just as we were, but, as he told us very frankly and very clearly today, he is up against just those same limiting factors—and they are very real—which made it inevitable, in our view, that we could go ahead only at quite a modest pace in this field. On that, at any rate, there is really no difference between us.
He went on to tell us of his efforts in the field of combing the tail and sharpening the teeth, and everyone, I am sure, will congratulate him on going on with that work. However, I am sure he would agree that what is happening is that the work of the Templer Committee, carried on, as he says, by General Callander, is bearing fruit. I am quite sure it will bear increasing fruit, and it is very good that that is so. Of course, there has never been any suggestion that the War Office should be exempt from cuts. In fact, it was severely cut both in the time of my predecessor and in my own time, and the right hon. Gentleman tells us that now it has once again gone down still further. No doubt, it flourishes on these cuts, and I think it is right that it should help to bear the burden, too.
§ Mr. Head
I cannot forbear from saying that the right hon. Gentleman's particular cut was a cut between establishments, and that in the actual strength of the War Office, in effect, there was not a reduction of personnel, but a rationalisation of the establishments.
§ Mr. Strachey
We always can, of course, dispute what the actual effect of a cut is. There is nothing in that; but that does remind me of one question, to which, I dare say, there is a simple answer, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman. He tells us he is having a 10 per cent. cut in the War Office numbers. It seems strange, then, that Vote 3 of the Estimates—the Vote for the War Office—should have gone up by £560,000. Perhaps the explanation of that is that the right hon. Gentleman is increasing the 1058 emoluments of the remaining ones a good deal. At any rate, the cost is not going down. However, I am quite sure that this very strenuous work being undertaken by highly distinguished officers in cutting down by any possible means the tail of the Army is bearing fruit and will bear fruit.
Finally, I should like to say just one word on the heavy commitments which the Army must face and which the right hon. Gentleman must face. We must all have been struck by the words he had to use in his Memorandum, where he says thatThese commitments have compelled me to reduce our active Army at home to negligible proportions.I am not blaming him for that for one moment, of course; but there again I cannot forbear from saying that he is finding he has got to face the same problem as we faced when we had those responsibilities, and which we were not always given very much credit for having to face. These commitments which do necessitate the Army in this country being at so low a level face him in just the same way. They are imposed by the general defence policy of the country, and that is imposed very largely by world events, and there is no easy way, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, of overcoming them.
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington)
The right hon. Gentleman is talking about world events. He has made, if I may say so, a rather moderate speech—more moderate than I had expected. May I ask him this question? Has he ever publicly renounced the creed he once proclaimed, that the coming of Communism would alone render our problems soluble?
§ Mr. Strachey
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman expected me to make a highly contentious political speech on the Army Estimates. I am extremely sorry to disappoint him, if I have disappointed him, in that respect, but I will give him a promise that when we come back to political and economic debates I will make a highly contentious political and economic speech. Meantime, the answer to his question is, "Yes."
What I was going to say in conclusion was simply that I join with the right hon. Gentleman in his tribute to the extraordinary skill and devotion which 1059 the British Army and the British soldiers of all ranks are showing in these really terribly heavy burdens which they have to bear in every corner of the world today. They have a wonderful record, and they achieved a wonderful renown.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Colonel J. H. Harrison (Eye)
I should like to take up one point that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) has made, and that is about the interchange of ladder as between the commissioned and the noncommissioned ranks. I speak in regard to our Reserve Forces. While I was commanding a Territorial battalion for 4½ years I sent forward a certain number of names of men in the ranks for commissions. Whether the number actually granted by the War Office was so small as the right hon. Gentleman suggested is the case, I cannot say, but I think that, on the whole, there is a genuine desire for those who have served well to get a recommendation when they are worthy of it, and, when they have not become too ingrained with non-commissioned rank, to be able to hold commissioned rank.
I should like to speak about the Reserve Forces. The Prime Minister the other day pointed out how "naked" we were in this country because of our commitments abroad. He spoke of the steps he had taken in regard to troops at depots, and about forming a Home Guard. I think that we are all agreed on both sides of the House that in preparing we are doing our utmost to try to prevent war. At the same time, it would not be realistic if we did not face up to what would happen if that great calamity of war came upon us. How ready are our Reserve Forces?
I had the honour to command an infantry Territorial battalion for 4¼ years up to August last year, and I should like to trace the history of this Reserve Army of ours in the last five years because I believe that it has changed tremendously in character compared with what we thought before 1939 a Reserve Army should be.
Before 1939 we looked upon a Reserve Army as a volunteer civilian army. It was based on villages and towns. The recruits were friends together in those villages and towns. I am certain that the 1060 War Office took the right step in the conditions prevailing after the war to introduce the National Service element into our Territorial Army, but I would say that today it is far more a national Reserve Army than a Territorial Army as we understand that term.
What happened? We had in the first place commanding officers who had to try to recruit a large number of volunteers. Volunteers were obtained from three sources: men who had volunteered before the war and came back; men who had been Regular soldiers, and who, after the war, took civilian jobs, but who could not help but go on being soldiers, and who came back to the Territorial Army as volunteers; and men who were conscripted during the war, who liked soldiering, who came back to civilian jobs but who wanted to go on soldiering in their spare time. Those were the three sources of our volunteers, all being men who had war experience.
I think some people, and perhaps the whole country, were disappointed that recruitment figures were not greater, but in my opinion that was understandable. Many men had commitments, such as getting their home going or getting reestablished in their civilian occupations, trying to make up time they had lost compared with those who had not been away.
There were sufficient recruits in all units to form a cadre of volunteers—to make trained leaders, both commissioned and non-commissioned—to be able to cope with the National Service men when they came into the force. We began receiving the National Service men in the summer of 1950. That flow was interrupted for six months and then went on regularly. Last year was the first year we had them at camp.
As my right hon. Friend has said, 25 per cent. of the National Service men coming into the Territorial Army have become volunteers. That is a good and high percentage, but I think it is fair to point out that the other 75 per cent. are there because they have been ordered to be there. They have no desire to be there but, while they are there and while they are in camp, they carry out all the duties allotted to them efficiently and well, with one or two minor exceptions. Under this new system, we have a body 1061 of competent soldiers, and that is a great advantage—trained men are coming into the Army instead of our having to teach volunteer recruits the elements of squad drill and sloping arms as we did before the war.
I believe that the remaining 25 per cent. of National Service men who have volunteered represents an unnaturally high percentage. Some units were keen to get all these men to volunteer. Others, perhaps, did not do so much. I talked to a large number of these men and I believe some of them volunteered because they thought, for one reason or another, that they would be better off—financially for example. I do not think we ought to count on all the 25 per cent, continuing as volunteers at the end of their 3½years.
A percentage of them, however, are extremely keen, and it is to these men that we must look for our volunteers in the future. It is distressing to note that the number of the old volunteers is decreasing. There has been a decrease of 10 per cent. in the last 13 months. My right hon. Friend hopes that the number will increase, and I hope he is right, but personally I do not think that is very likely.
There, then, is the background to our national Army today, and in another two or three years it will reach its full numbers. How will it conflict with industry? By Act of Parliament all these men have to do 15 days' annual training. On the other hand, it is only by making our economic position sound that we can afford and pay for this large national Army and for the other Services. Although this is a trained Reserve Army it is still, in the main, a civilian Army. Can we make the Army service of these men compatible with the maximum output from them in industry?
As a commanding officer, I usually found it difficult to get time off for a man to attend camp during what is known as the holiday period. Some firms close down for a week in this period so that every one can go on holiday, but the majority, and particularly the smaller firms, send a percentage of their personnel, which may be as high as 10 per cent., on holiday from mid-June to about mid-September. While that 10 per cent. is away the firms are strained to keep their business going, and if any 1062 more are away their business goes backwards and production drops, which is the last thing we want. They are not keen, therefore, to release Army personnel during the holiday months.
When we have this very large Reserve Army I suggest that we must no longer treat it as a volunteer Army which needs a camp by the seaside and a pleasant time. I believe many men prefer that their training during the 15 days should be hard training so that they know they are doing a job which is necessary for the defence of the country. We fight wars in the winter and in the spring as well as in the summer, and, if we have to call up this large number of men, I suggest that there would be much less disruption of our industrial production if more and more of the training could be done in the early spring and the late autumn.
It may not be possible for these men to go under canvas at that time of the year, but we have already heard how empty are many of the barracks of this country. These men could easily be put into these barracks and could do their training from there. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider this suggestion, which is made to keep the Army as efficient as possible and, at the same time, to cause the least possible disruption of our industrial machine, on which we depend so much.
I turn now to the administration of the Territorial Army. In the past—and now—a great deal of it has been done by the county associations, and I see in the Estimates that another £850,000 is being granted to the county Territorial associations. Having served on one, and having received an enormous amount of assistance from them as a commanding officer, I should be the last person to cast any aspersions upon them.
They carry out a vital function, but in my opinion they are ceasing to be used to carry out the function for which they were formed, which was to encourage the recruiting of volunteers within their county. That work has now been taken out of their hands by the creation of our national Army.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend, therefore, that he should investigate whether the county Territorial associations are the best medium through which 1063 to carry out all the work which is now being thrust upon them and whether he is satisfied that he is getting value for money. For example, is it wise for all clothing and kit to be divided between the Ordnance branch of the Army and the county Territorial associations?
I can well see that there is an extremely strong case for the associations looking after the upkeep of Territorial drill halls, accommodation for the permanent staff and so on but, in asking us to vote this extra money, I think my right hon. Friend should look at the position again to see whether they are being asked to do the work for which they were originally formed and whether they are the most efficient and cheapest medium to carry out what he wants done.
In the Reserve Army we hope to have something like 12 divisions. How soon can they be ready? That is a question which I think no commanding officer or ex-commanding officer would like to answer. I suggest, six to eight weeks—very much quicker than in 1939.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The whole 12 divisions?
§ Colonel Harrison
I was speaking as an ex-commanding officer about most of the units which have been in being for four or five years. I do not think any commanding officer would like to say that his unit would be ready in less than six to eight weeks, particularly at the moment, when he is making up the strength with reservists who may not have been in training for four or five years.
We know our commitments abroad. That is one of the reasons why I suggest spreading our annual training, because we might then have more troops actually under arms if anything happened in the spring or autumn. We all know that 30 days in camp is of more value to a soldier than two lots of 15 days. It may well be worth while considering, particularly in the larger towns, having one or two brigades doing 30 days in one year instead of spreading the period over two years, so that we may have Reserves in a high state of readiness.
I pass to the question of manpower raised by my right hon. Friend. He said that in this call-up in the next year we were reaching the bottom of the Reserve 1064 barrel. I would suggest, although perhaps it may not be acceptable, that it is not the absolute bottom. There are still in this country a large number of men of Army age, at least under 45 years, who have never done any active service with any of the fighting Services.
I believe that there is, at this time of emergency, justification for requiring all men under 45 who have not served in any of the Services to register, and we ought to see whether, in the present state of the country, they are in jobs of national importance. I am quite certain that there are a number of men who, for example, may have worked on the land during the war, and who are now probably at the age of 28 or 31 clerks in stockbroking offices, and I do not see why all these men should escape all forms of National Service.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggesting that stockbrokers are not doing work of national importance?
§ Colonel Harrison
I did not say that I should never consider stockbroking work as being of national importance. However, there is a reserve if we need it at any time, because I think it will be found that there are quite a number in that category who are not at the present time doing work of national importance.
I turn to one last point in which I have been brought into contact purely in my civilian capacity. Before I entered this House, I was often asked to give lectures to the Army both at home and abroad. I would suggest that an investigation of the whole of the Education Corps of the Army might be an extremely wise step. I believe that it is not right that a clever man called up for National Service to be trained to be a soldier should become a sergeant quite quickly in the Army Education Corps. He is far too valuable a man.
If he has the brains to teach other men who have not learned the three Rs well, he ought to be used in another branch of the Army, and if there is any education to be done in the Army it should be done by permanent civilian instructors. I do not think that it is the primary task, although it may be a useful one, of the Army to educate a man if he has failed, maybe not entirely owing to his own fault, to pass the elementary tests in education. I think that 1065 a great deal of that education should be done outside normal training hours.
I make the plea, having seen quite a lot of very capable National Service men who are sergeants in the Educational Corps that they should be moved where their abilities can be of greater service to the country, and that the whole of the education of National Service men in training hours should be investigated, particularly the employment of outside lecturers, of whom I was one. Quite often, I arrived at some unit and was told, "We did not know you were coming; they are all out; do you mind not doing anything about it?" That, of course, has come to an end with the smaller units but there was a leakage and wastage of time, and I know that my right hon. Friend is glad to investigate this sort of thing. I offer this to him from my own experience.
The most important point, however, which I should like to reiterate before I sit down, is the spreading of annual training over a greater period of the year.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I can agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) when he said in his closing remarks that it would be worth while the Secretary of State investigating the Royal Army Education Corps. That was mainly set up during the war to provide an opportunity for National Service men, who were likely to be serving for some considerable time, to fit themselves for the period when the war would come to an end and they would take their place in civilian life once again. I think that now we are not calling up young men before 18 years of age who, in the main, have finished their education, the right hon. Gentleman might, when he is examining his "tail" have a look at the R.A.E.C.
I personally have been struck by the large number of young men—well-educated young men, it is true—who are teaching others, when education, after all, is only a very small proportion of the time which the Army spends in its military training. I would rather see the period of National Service reduced to allow the National Service man to go back to his educational activities if he wants to, if that is the vocation which he has chosen in civilian life, rather than 1066 we should keep a large number of young men merely teaching National Service men academic subjects.
I must say that it is rather a strange thing that when we have debates on the wider issues of defence, we have a much more hectic time than when we come down on the Service Estimates to considering details. That may be due to the fact that in the last defence debate we had two right hon. Members from the Front Benches of entirely different calibre from those speaking for the Government and Opposition today. The Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) might be compared more with Generals Bradley and Patton and the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. J. Strachey), to the A branch of the Army rather than to the G Branch. The fact remains that today we are discussing these details in a comparatively calm atmosphere. It may he that it is the calm, as my right hon. Friend intimated in reply to the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers), which precedes the storm of those wider economic matters in which he told us he would take part later.
In regard to recruiting, I think that the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West, to whom the Secretary of State paid tribute, have done right in submitting a scheme which does at least offer greater attractions in these days of full employment to the man who wants to make the Service his life career. Therefore, I welcome the 22 years' scheme with its breaks if the individual wants to, at three years or multiples thereof. I would, however, ask the right hon. Gentleman this: This scheme, although it relates to other ranks—and in my opinion is a good one—does not, of course, apply to officers, and I would like to know from him, when he comes to reply, what is to be the position of the young officer, whom he wants to recruit, who wishes also to change his mind after three, six or nine years, or whatever the time may be. Will he be allowed to resign?
I am bound to say that since I left the War Office I have got out of touch with some of the details and I am not at all sure what is the position today about an officer who may want to change his mind. I do not want to encourage him to do so, 1067 and I believe that there are remarkable opportunities for young men to make a successful career in the Army. I think I once heard Field-Marshal Montgomery say in a lecture that there was a chance of something like one in two for the junior officer to reach the rank of lieut.-colonel before he finished his Army career. If that is true then the Army offers a very good career in the commissioned ranks for the young man who wishes to make it so.
The right hon. Gentleman will have to do something more than he has already done if he is to recruit larger numbers of officers and other ranks to the Regular Army. The main consideration is not pay. I agree with the illustration he gave of the amount of pay a man can get after a certain number of years' service; today, the pay of other ranks, and indeed of officers, in the Army compares very favourably with the basic rate of pay, although perhaps not with the earnings, that can be obtained by their opposite numbers in civil life.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has to pay a little more attention to housing and to other amenities which can be got by civilians. I know that under my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington we passed an Act of Parliament which put housing in the Services on its proper level. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman could have given us a little more information—although in such a wide subject it is difficult to know what to concentrate on—about what is actually happening with the housing of married officers at home and overseas.
On overseas stations, I recently put a Question to the Secretary of State asking him how many visits to overseas stations had been made by members of the Army Council. The answer I got led me to believe that no visits had been paid by members of the Army Council, to stations far overseas. I was very pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he would have liked to visit our Army in Korea. I think the troops out there would have welcomed it. The right hon. Gentleman said that some of his hon. Friends had been in Korea but, from an answer which the Prime Minister gave to me, it is no longer possible either for Members supporting the Government or for Members who sit on these benches to visit our troops out there.
1068 The Prime Minister laid it down, for reasons which I think were trivial, that it would not improve the state of morale of the troops. I quite agree that their morale is good, but why should United States Congressmen visit their troops and some of ours who are serving alongside U.S. units—apart from the physical consideration that they are nearer to them—.while Members of this House are not to have the same opportunity?
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
Does the right hon. Gentleman not consider that the visits of these Congressmen may, in fact, have tended to reduce morale?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am putting my suggestion in all seriousness to the right hon. Gentleman. I am not personally a volunteer to go out there, but I do remember that during the war Members of this House were for some time not allowed by the present Prime Minister to visit our troops overseas. It was not until early in 1945, when representations were made to him from both sides of the House, that he permitted some M.P.s to visit Italy, and very welcome those visits were to the troops, although on that occasion two hon. Members lost their lives during the journey.
§ Mr. Head
I would like to clear up this point by making it plain that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is not forbidding any hon. Member to go to Korea. What he said was that he was not prepared at the moment to organise a delegation from this House to go out there, but that hon. Members could go on their own initiative.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Is this what the right hon. Gentleman is saying: that the Government, who have the facilities in transport and in other ways out there, are not prepared to put them at the disposal of hon. Members, but if hon. Members like to pay their own expenses they can go? I do not think, if that is what the Prime Minister said, that it is fair, and it does not meet the point that I am putting to the Minister.
In all our discussions on this matter there is, constantly overshadowing what we say, the feeling that war may be very near. None of us likes to admit it, yet the policy of this Government and of their predecessors, the Labour Government, is based on the consciousness 1069 that war—whether we call it "the cold war" or whatever we call it—might come about at any moment. It is in that light that our discussions ought to be framed this afternoon.
The House is greatly obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the wide scope of his address and for the details he gave us of the progress made in certain branches of Army training and recruitment, but I was struck, as I listened to his speech, with the air of unreality to the problem in hand. It is true that, in passing, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned aspects like the Reserve Army, but he said very little about them, and I was led to believe that what he did not say about them conveyed a great deal to those who understand the position.
I want to emphasise that portion of the speech in which he said that 36 per cent. of our Regular Army was now involved in active service. That is a figure which I am sure will please those who sit in the Kremlin. If they have the comparable figure for the United States Army they can be very gratified with the cold war and not deem it necessary to convert that cold war into something of far greater intensity. There they have our trained men, and if this applies to the other Services, it is very serious, because 36 per cent. of our Army is deployed in different parts of the world instead of being concentrated in the really vital areas, namely, Europe and the Middle East.
The right hon. Gentleman should consider what size he wants the Regular Army to be. Frequently in this House I have mentioned a figure, a target, a ceiling, or whatever we call it, to which the Regular Army should aim or rise. I have expressed that figure as 250,000, but I have never heard in precise terms just what it is that the War Office want, in regard to the Regular Army. If 250,000 is the right figure, why does not the right hon. Gentleman say so? Is he afraid that he might not reach it and that, therefore, we should criticise him?
In a debate like this it is preferable that we should know precisely what the War Office have in mind for the Regular Army, as we could easily ascertain according to age groups how many the right hon. Gentleman will get from the National Service groups as they are called 1070 up. The Regular Army is now largely concentrated in Europe and in the Middle East. Judging from the talks which Field-Marshal Montgomery and others gave to certain hon. Members of the House when they visited S.H.A.P.E. headquarters, it would seem that so long as the other N.A.T.O. Powers do their share, the position is not so serious in Europe in the event of an attack as a lot of people would have us believe.
I have listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington and my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) constantly concentrating our minds on the large number of Russian divisions already mobilised on the perimeters of Central, Northern and Southern Europe ready to strike if they want to. If those figures are taken completely out of their context, they are alarming. They are bad enough I quite agree, but I like to think that on a comparative basis as between Russian troops and British troops and, I venture to suggest, German troops—that may be a subject for debate later on—the disparity would not be so serious as sometimes we are led to believe.
I think it was in an answer to myself that Field-Marshal Montgomery said that with a certain number of divisions—far less than the Prime Minister mentioned in a previous speech—he could hold a line for a certain period in Europe if he were told to do so. What he went on to say—and I am not disclosing any secret talks—was that he was far more alarmed at the reserve situation. He could hold a line for a certain period, but it would be difficult for him to encompass the retreat of the enemy if he did not have adequate reserves.
The reserves would consist of far more troops than the British Army could provide. The hon. and gallant Member for Eye mentioned the question of British reserves and how they are organised. I wonder if the Secretary of State for War would tell us how soon it would take to get some of those reserve divisions to where the commander of the Western Front would want them. It might be comforting to know—as comforting as Field-Marshal Montgomery's remarks to some of us.
The hon. and gallant Member for Eye talked about units not being ready for six weeks. I presume he meant by that not only kitted out but each man 1071 equipped with his weapons, so that when the men were transported overseas they would be complete as fighting units. If that is true about the units, I wonder what is the position about the formations. In the First World War the B.E.F. consisted of four divisions. The reserves came afterwards it is true, but it was a long time, and there was a lack of trained reserves in those days, though we had the Territorial Force which was far more efficient as a fighting Force than it is today.
§ Colonel J. H. Harrison
When I said six weeks it was the minimum that a commanding officer felt necessary before taking his men into battle, and I say that having commanded a unit. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the Territorial Force before the 1914–18 war being more efficient than the Force today. I must take exception to that, because the Territorial Army today, with its National Service men, each having two years' training behind him, is a far more efficient force.
§ Mr. Bellenger
But the Territorial Army has not got the National Service men yet, except in small numbers. In those days of which I have been speaking a man volunteered for long periods of training. Today, we are only starting to decant the National Service men out of the Regular Army into the Territorial Army. No doubt, in two or three years' time the hon. and gallant Gentleman will be quite right when he talks of large numbers in the Reserve Forces, but the answer to the hon. and gallant Gentleman is that today they are simply not there. Whether he is right about the six weeks' period for readiness I do not know, but I want to know from the right hon. Gentleman how soon he thinks he can provide those reserves to back up Field-Marshal Montgomery, who, probably, would be the commander of our Regular Army, and move them to where they would be operationally required.
Might I recall that B.A.O.R. is at present serviced by a large number of civilians, who happen to be in uniform. They are Germans, civilians, although the situation might arise when Germany becomes part of the European defence Community, that they would be soldiers. I personally hope and believe that that 1072 will happen, but, if not, the right hon. gentleman will be faced with the loss of 30,000 or 40,000 German civilians, who, at the present, are undertaking very responsible duties for the British Army serving in Germany.
Everyone knows about it, so what I am saying is not secret. Only recently Dr. Adenauer, the German Chancellor, asked for these Germans to be demobilised. This is a problem which the right hon. Gentleman did not mention today and which has to be faced by B.A.O.R. If they are not completely self-contained at the right time, they will not be very effective as fighting formations.
There is one other branch of our Forces which, I fear, is certainly ill-equipped and starved of personnel. The right hon. Gentleman, in the Memorandum accompanying these Estimates, and in what he said today, admitted it. We have practically no defence force in this country. This is the fortress, and this would be the target at which the enemy would attempt to deliver a shattering blow as early as possible. The enemy have read the various memoirs published since the war, including those of the Prime Minister as well as of Hitler's generals, not to overlook all that was revealed at the Nuremburg trials. He will have read how the Germans failed because they were not able to subdue England.
As the Prime Minister indicated in his speech in the defence debate the other day, if an attack were launched on this country we would have mobile groups to meet it. Would the Secretary of State for War tell us a little more about those mobile groups? Has the Prime Minister, in his capacity as Minister of Defence, merely put some arms amongst the cooks and batmen and the rest of them just as we arm all personnel when a situation becomes desperate at the front? Has he merely done that and called them a defence force?
Would the right hon. Gentleman tell us how they are organised? Are they organised on a depot basis, a training regiment basis, in small reserve depots or what? He told us that some of the units were in companies and platoons. That may be very well for guarding their own particular vulnerable points like bridges and so forth, but how far could they really be termed mobile. To be mobile, 1073 troops have to be organised at least in batteries and battalions and certainly in not less than companies if they are to contend with large numbers of parachute troops.
Ever since I was at the War Office, in days when we were demobilising rather than recruiting, I have wondered what would happen to Anti-Aircraft Command, the largest Command in this country, and on more than one occasion I have offered the House views on how it should be recruited. In the main, our antiaircraft defences are static and are grouped around the positions which would be most likely to bear the impact of the enemy's strike.
Would it not be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to recruit from those areas, and put into the Territorial Army or the Supplementary Reserve, large numbers of men who are no longer young enough to be as mobile as the so-called mobile groups but which could serve at such stations?
When we look at the anti-aircraft gun positions in some parts of London we see civilians living in the barracks or huts which the soldiers used to occupy. Surely it would be possible to recruit for our anti-aircraft defences large numbers from the static population in reserved occupations who have to stay at their posts and turn out the weapons to back up the Fighting Forces.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
The right hon. Gentleman is advocating something which I have canvassed at various times. A difficulty has been put to me, and I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman has a solution to it. He is suggesting that people who are employed in factories should be recruited to man the defences of their factory and the surrounding area. He is wrong in doing so, because the factory defences will not be in the area itself but on a perimeter 20 or 30 miles away.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that all the antiaircraft defences would not be close to the factory, but the lighter guns used to combat low flying aircraft which get through would be near the factory, and surely it would be possible to recruit some men for that purpose. At any rate, I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us his views on the proposal.
1074 I am also concerned about the liaison between the Army and Civil Defence. It seems to me that we are tackling these matters piecemeal. The Home Office is dealing with Civil Defence, as I suppose it must do, but I wish we could hear a little more about liaison, because there is no doubt that in war a proportion of the Army would in certain circumstances—such as, in the event of a heavy attack—be concerned in Civil Defence.
I have dealt with one or two salient points, and I will now let the right hon. Gentleman attack them and demolish them if he can. At any rate, they are pushed into his territory and he will have to deal with them if he wants to convince us that he is a Secretary of State for War whom we can all applaud in spite of various party differences. I have long said that this matter should be above parties and in that respect, although, obviously, I cannot speak for my party as a whole—[Laughter.]—an ever-growing number seem to be adopting that role today—I have always expressed my thoughts as they have occurred to me and I hope I shall not incur the same displeasure from official quarters as have some of those who, as the right hon. Gentleman said, have caused disruption in the ranks in two Divisions.
There may be something constructive in what the right hon. Gentleman said in one respect. It is something out of which we cannot make a lot of party capital, because we are all implicated in it. He said that a substantial number of employees, presumably military and civil, are engaged at the War Office in dealing with letters from Members of Parliament. That applied in the days when I was at the War Office, although we then had more letters because we had a larger Army.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that many queries could be dealt with without letters from Members of Parliament and long investigations and replies by the Secretary of State. Members of Parliament are often glad to pass on to their constituents an official letter, feeling that they have then done their duty. I do not think that is the way to do it, although I am not presuming to tell my colleagues the way to deal with their constituents. However, I have only troubled the right hon. Gentleman about matters to which I have not had the answer or to which I wanted an official explanation, 1075 knowing that it was hopeless for me to give the right answer. I hope he will agree that my letters to him are very infrequent.
In conclusion—again, I do not know how far this will meet with the approval of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but I put it forward for what it is worth—the Territorial Army was inaugurated by a very great Secretary of State. I hope I shall not offend any other right hon. Gentlemen who have occupied that position when I say that I do not believe there has ever been such a great Secretary of State as the late Lord Haldane. Although he was a lawyer and, presumably, came unprepared to the War Office, Lord Haldane introduced into our Reserve system something which has lasted for nearly 50 years.
In view of the situation that we have to face in the next 10, 15 or 20 years, and particularly as we have now lost vast areas which previously provided us with large numbers of troops, we ought to apply fresh minds to the problem of defence if we are to remain an imperial nation, or, if hon. Members do not like that—[HON. MEMBERS: "We do like it."]—a Commonwealth.
I urge the right hon. Gentleman to convene another committee like the Esher Committee. The Esher Committee did good work in its day. That is something which could be started without a great deal of opposition from any part of the House. If the right hon. Gentleman did that, and right hon. and hon. Members with wide knowledge of the subject served on it, he might produce a long-term plan. Today, he has not spoken much about that, but has concentrated more on his short-term problems.
I wish the right hon. Gentleman luck. I say that sincerely. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West, dealt with the same theme in his speech. Naturally, we must wish the right hon. Gentleman luck, because times are far too serious for us to wish him anything else.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Brigadier Christopher Peto (Devon, North)
It is a curious thing that the former Secretary of State for War, the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), the present Secretary of 1076 State for War and the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) all put the same point in the forefront of their speeches, namely, the shortage of manpower and the difficulty of attracting officers and other ranks to join the Services. The difficulty with which I want to deal is that of attracting potential officers.
Many reasons have been given why the shortage of officers is now so evident. In Vote A, which we are supposed to be discussing today amongst others, the figure is given as a decrease over last year of 4,000 officers, and in Vote I the decrease in pay and allowances for officers is given as no less than £950,000. When I first read those Votes, I wondered whether the decrease was intentional or accidental. Having listened to the Secretary of State today—and, if I may, I should like to compliment my right hon. Friend on his interesting and excellent speech—I am quite convinced that it is not accidental, but because we have not been able to offer the necessary incentives to attract the young men who should be joining.
Last year, when he was Secretary of State for War, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West, was quoted as saying in his Memorandum—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ House counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Brigadier Peto
I was in process of saying that at about this time last year the right hon. Member said:I am still not satisfied with the Regular officer situation and with the comparative dearth of candidates of high quality for Regular commissions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 715.]The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw also referred to this point and said that, though the suggested improvements put forward today by my right hon. Friend were in every respect very good, they did not apply to the officers. I had that in mind also. It is an excellent idea that a man may now join for 22 years and may leave if he so desires after three years have passed or subsequently, but that does not apply to officers as far as I know. Then the warrant officer or sergeant who leaves after 22 years gets a pension of 1077 nearly £6 per week. What is even more important, he has a practical guarantee of employment on completing his 22 years' service.
Where does the officer get a similiar Guarantee? I have never heard of such a thing and I have not heard it today. An officer, after giving 22 years or even longer service, as many do, has no guarantee of further employment and it is one of the grievous deterrents to young men joining the Army.
I must disclose a slight interest in this, since I am colonel of a regiment of the R.A.C. I often meet potential officers and others who are trying to make up their minds about joining. I find that one of the main reasons which deter a boy from making a plunge for a Regular commission as opposed to a National Service commission is that he has no feeling of security in life after finishing his service. He asks himself what he can do at the age of 35 or thereabouts if he is a failure in the Army. I do not think that the Secretary of State for War touched on that sufficiently. I wish he would say a little more about the guarantees that can be given or the hopes that can be held out to potential officers to persuade them to go for a Regular commission rather than a National Service one.
In my opinion, the main reasons for the shortage of officers, at any rate in the R.A.C., are as follows. We have to compete now with the call made by the R.A.F. Before the war it was not much of a competitor, being a small force, and it did not seem to clash with us. Today, however, many boys are attracted to the R.A.F. who might otherwise have joined the R.A.C. because both have mechanical attractions, although they did not compete with each other to any extent before the war.
I agree with the Secretary of State that it is ignorance about the Army and all that it means which, in the main, causes boys to decide not to join. My right hon. Friend said that parents and headmasters are often ignorant of what the Army offers today. I find that, too, going round to various schools as I do, meeting boys and receiving letters from them asking me about the Army. It is extremely difficult to tell them what it means in a few words at a short interview.
1078 I want to suggest ways of attracting boys towards the Army while they are at school, in addition to the two projects put forward by my right hon. Friend—the excellent idea of the Military College of Science and that boys of 16 should go to a separate educational establishment after leaving school with a view to qualifying for a commission. We cannot over-emphasise the attraction of visual propaganda and I believe that exciting and interesting War Office films, portraying various aspects of Army training and fighting, would be valuable. Also some degree of assistance might be provided by giving them opportunities to see the Trooping the Colour, the Sovereign's Parade at Sandhurst and the Royal Military Tournament. At present practically no boys ever go to any of those functions.
I also suggest that someone like the present Minister of Defence, Lord Alexander, or Field Marshal Montgomery might, by means of B.B.C. broadcasts perhaps once a year give a resume or an up-to-date talk, mainly for boys, with a view to making them think about the Army as a career. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) would not agree with that.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
That would kill it.
§ Brigadier Peto
Lesser mortals, perhaps, than the two I have mentioned, who are up-to-date and are employed either at the War Office or in some other capacity, could, by invitation, go to schools and lecture with slides or with the cinematograph. These are some of the smaller ways which could be used to encourage young people to think about the Army as a career. At present they do not do so.
I should like to raise a point concerning officers who are at present serving. I can quote a recent instance where, out of the ordinary establishment of a regiment, including those who were absent sick, away on courses, on leave and so forth, there were 34 officers. That figure included National Service officers also. As against that, no fewer than 20 Regular officers were away detached on various staff duties. It is almost impossible for any commanding officer to get efficient training from a regiment with that number of Regular 1079 officers away on permanent duties at any one time. It is one of the most difficult factors to be competed with. There must be an answer to it. What it is, I do not know, but it cannot be right to take away most of the middle piece of a regiment—all Regulars—and to have them detached all over the place on different staff duties.
Finally, I make a plea for more flexibility in the number of commissions to be granted to candidates from Sandhurst for any particular unit. At present, in nearly every instance units are tied rigidly by the War Office to a quota of two or three a year. If in any one year there are four or five excellent candidates ready to go into a certain unit, with the proper credentials and, perhaps, family association with the unit, why should not a unit commission that number of officers in any one year, even at the expense of forgoing a certain number in a subsequent year? The present system by which units are tied rigidly is a handicap rather than anything else.
On balance, the proposals for improvement which have been put forward today by the Secretary of State were extremely valuable, but they should be judged entirely from one aspect only: do we get value for money as a result? I do not believe that all the extra pay, the bounties, and the terminal grants which have been brought in, have solved the problem. The problem is a much more personal one, and calls for the Army to be explained to the boys before they leave school. Boys between the ages of 15 and 17, who know nothing of Army life, are the people whom we want to attract and the people who need to have it explained to them.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
I feel a little diffident in taking part in the debate, because when I was serving in His Majesty's Forces I never reached a rank higher than that of private. No doubt, if there had been an even lower rank I should have occupied it. But here I am flanked by majors, generals, colonels and goodness knows what and, therefore, I speak with a certain diffidence.
After all, the private has a point of view. In our old Army days, we used to sing, 1080'Grousing, grousing, grousing, Always jolly well grousing.That, of course, always was, and always will be, the prerogative of the private soldier.
I listened with great interest and a certain satisfaction to the speech of the Secretary of State for War, especially when he outlined the plans for giving our young men an opportunity to make the Army their career. I am one of those who believe that a pledge was given when National Service was introduced that conscription was not to become a permanent part of our national life. That being so, I welcome any measures which are taken, by any Government, which will enable the needs of our defence to be met by voluntary recruitment into the Regular Forces of the Crown.
The idea of conscription and compulsory military service is entirely alien to the traditions of the party on this side of the House, and I know that the professional soldiers on the other side of the House would rather have the Regular soldier than the National Service man. I therefore hope that the scheme for getting greater numbers of young men to take up the Army as a profession will be crowned with the utmost success.
As far as recruiting is concerned, I am old enough to remember the kind of recruiting sergeant whom the Secretary of State described, with his gay uniform, his ribbons and his waxed moustache. I remember Sergeant Wilson in Birmingham, by whom I was recruited. In those days, of course, the recruiting sergeant was considerably helped by economics. The offer of a good dinner in the Army, or of a "hot" dinner, as we used to call it, to the undernourished, would-be recruit, was always an added attraction, apart from the colour of the recruiting sergeant.
Now we are told by the Secretary of State that we are to have a super recruiting sergeant. He will be not a non-commissioned officer, but a major-general. His job is to be that of a kind of operator, going up and down the country, hopping from twig to twig, from branch to branch, of the Army to try to stimulate recruiting.
We are told that he will have no staff. That is a little hard to believe, because I cannot imagine this major-general walking around the country to do his job. I 1081 imagine that he will have a staff car and a staff driver. What is meant, I suppose, is that he will not have any office staff. If so, who is to tabulate the results of his activity, to get out all the statistics, and to draw up all the White Papers and memoranda?
If a man is appointed to do an important job without staff, he is being paid for doing something which will be of no real and permanent value, because the poor man, even if he is a major-general, cannot be expected to carry every detail in his head. The appointment of this super recruiting sergeant is regarded as an incentive, but I am concerned about other incentives to recruiting.
We were told today by the Secretary of State that the pay increases initiated and carried on during the term of office of our Labour Government were incentives. The right hon. Gentleman was rather grudging in his admission that it was to our credit and talked about it being overdue. It was overdue; I am not 90 yet, but I remember when I got a "bob" a day and when I got married it came down to a "tanner." There were quite a lot of Governments of various political complexions between then and the Labour Government of 1945, which improved the conditions which used to obtain. It was the "King's shilling" and in Blatchford's day it was the "Queen's shilling." We have travelled a long way since those days and at a far more rapid pace since 1945 than at any other time in the history of the British Army.
What are the disincentives to recruiting? I believe that one of the disincentives is class distinction. We live in a democratic age, for good or ill—we on this side of the House think for good—but though the age of pulling the forelock, curtseying and bobbing is an age of the past, there is that old feudal atmosphere in the Army.
For instance, we have as the backbone of the Army, the senior N.C.O.s. The officers would be nowhere without the N.C.O.s. Where would the old subalterns be without the jolly old sergeant major to keep them right? From where are the N.C.O.s recruited? From the working-class. There is the backbone of the British Army, drawn from the working-class, yet they are regarded as of a different standard from the officer class.
1082 In the Army we still have officers' batmen, personal servants cleaning buttons, cleaning boots and doing the chores. When we talk about the teeth and tail of the Army, what about the batmen? Are they the teeth, or the tail? Why cannot the officers polish their own buttons? Why cannot they polish their own boots and make their own beds? The ordinary soldier has to do it.
Then we have the officers' mess. I remember in the 1914–18 war, when we were in a very hot position right away from the base, the officers' mess was taken right to the front line, even in the support trenches. When we had to evacuate, the poor old donkeys of officers' cooks and batmen had to carry all the gear round. Unfortunately, a shell was dropped and five of them were killed doing chores duties instead of the duties for which they enlisted. As long as we have that kind of thing, we have a class Army.
Then there is this saluting business. It is no good saying that saluting is necessary to maintain the discipline of the Army. If we have officers of the right kind, with the right demeanour and attitude to the men they command, that will be sufficient to get the men's respect without bobbing up their hand to their eyebrow every time they pass an officer, even on the other side of the road. There is another thing which has to be considered. I understand that it is still necessary to get permission of an officer if a man in the Army wants to get married.
We had an illuminating remark about Army education from the first hon. Member opposite to speak from the back benches today. He said that it was not the place of the Army to educate men who had failed. Why not? If they are taken into the Army, away from their usual surroundings, surely they have a right to an education they have missed as a result of being in Her Majesty's Forces. One of the objects of Army education should be to get an educated Army. Surely in these days an educated Army would be far better than an uneducated Army. In the old days it was all right:Their's not to reason why, Their's but to do and die.There may be some diehards and Colonel Blimps who believe in that philosophy today, but if we are forced to engage in 1083 an ideological war on the physical plane, it is far better that our men should know what they are fighting for and why they are fighting. In the old days they did not know.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
They do not know now.
§ Mr. Simmons
They were likedumb, driven cattle.If they are fighting for an ideal and a principle, fighting against evil things and evil systems, it is far better that they should know, and they have a far more effective weapon in their hands if they know why they are fighting, and what they are fighting, and the principles for which they are fighting.
The question of re-armament costs was mentioned by the Secretary of State and he was asked if he could give figures of the comparison between the cost of Centurion tanks produced by a private firm and those produced in our Ordnance Factories. From the point of view of production, I ask what use is being made of our Ordnance Factories and whether full use is being made of them.
In the First World War the experience was that private manufacturers of arms robbed this country left and right until the late Mr. Lloyd George set up his Ministry of Munitions and controlled the production of munitions. The munitions produced in the Royal Ordnance Factories and Government-controlled dockyards were cheaper than those produced by private enterprise.
I wish to raise a point about training in the Royal Ordnance Corps. Recently, I was speaking to a group of National Service men who are now doing their post two-year training in National Service. They told me that all they had to do was to go to a depot to get on some trucks, drive so many miles and pretend there was a dump there and drive back again. That was all they did during the weekend, and during their two years of National Service they only went on the rifle range twice; on one occasion they used air rifles and on the other occasion Army regulation rifles. I ask the Secretary of State, or the Under Secretary, who is to reply, whether men in the non-combatant corps, the Royal Ordnance Corps, Royal Army Service Corps and R.E.M.E., are adequately trained in case of attack.
1084 I think the points I have raised are worthy of consideration and I apologise, as a mere private, for keeping the House for so long, but I hope that some of the questions I have asked will evoke an answer from the other side of the House.