§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Sir Stanley Holmes (Harwich)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House urges Her Majesty's Government to consider the necessity for developing advanced methods of training with a view to reaching higher efficiency in a shorter time and to take immediate steps to this end.In the old days before conscription the Army consisted of volunteers, both officers and men. As there was, as a rule, no likelihood of war, the training of both classes proceeded at a modest speed, with the result that after a number of years each soldier of every rank was a very efficient man. But times have changed. Today, we have conscription with a minimum of two years as the whole-time period of compulsory service. We have a new kind of war which demands of all arms very high technical skill, and we have the possibility, as has been mentioned by the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), that another war may come at any time.
The object of this Amendment is to ascertain whether the methods now adopted are calculated to bring about the highest efficiency in the shortest possible time under the new conditions. In former days a commanding officer of a regiment had only two kinds of soldiers with whom to deal, the Regular officer and the Regular soldier. Today there are five different kinds who make up a Regular unit, namely, the Regular officer; the National Service officer; the long-term Regular soldier; the short-term Regular soldier and the National Service soldier.
Further, war has become almost completely mechanised. Officers and men must have very high technical training and skill, not only in the use of machines but in their ability to repair them when necessary. It should also be remembered, and this point has been referred to before, that nowadays a war starts 1085 with astonishing suddenness. In the last two wars we have failed to resist the initial impact, with nearly disastrous results. It is vital that this should not occur again owing to the danger of attack on our towns and our civil population by projected missiles, and possibly by atom bombs. We all remember the effect of the limited attack by projected missiles during the last war.
It is clear, therefore, that the commanding officer of a regiment has many different problems to solve today, having regard to the fact that different types of soldiers go to make up a unit and that most of them have to be taught to be specialists in some branch of technical skill. He must bear in mind that war may occur at any moment and that the majority of his unit, both officers and men, will be under his guidance and command for a period of only two years.
It must also be remembered that today physical fitness is more than ever essential in war. His ability to fight and his technical skill are wasted unless a soldier is able to reach his objective in a fit condition. It can be assumed that recruits coming into the Army from civil life are not usually up to the highest standard of fitness, but it can be assumed also that most of them, having responded to training, have in a few months a first-class physique and are ready for anything.
But it must happen that during this early training it is found that a number, owing to some physical or mental weakness, are not able, and will never be able, to suffer heavy bodily stress. It would be of interest to know whether such men are given duties which make them useful to the Army, and are not given positions which, owing to their lack of adequate physique or mentality, may cause them to let down their comrades at a critical moment.
This Amendment has been put down in order to obtain information, and not with the object of criticising. We desire to know, in the changing conditions and circumstances which I have ventured to describe, whether the War Office have made such alteration in the training of recruits as to give the new soldiers the best chance of serving their country well, and to give to the country its new soldiers in as high a state of efficiency as possible. I hope, Sir, that with your permission my 1086 hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) may be allowed to Second this Amendment, as I am sure that, from his long experience in the Army, he is fitted to deal with these matters more fully and more adequately than I have done.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I beg to second the Amendment.
The problem before not only the British Army, but European armies today is, in my view, clearer than it has ever been before in history. It is the problem of dealing with vast numbers of enemy combatants who may be properly equipped and supported by intense artillery fire and air support, but who are not necessarily well led. I do not think anybody will suggest we should ever achieve parity in numbers with our potential enemy. It is therefore more important today than ever before that training should be of a very high standard, and that it should be the sort of training which can be inculcated with speed and without waste of time.
The solution to this problem comes under three heads; mobility, fire power and training, and the greatest of these is training. So far as mobility is concerned, I have been to the manoeuvres in Germany twice and I am very impressed that there is still the attitude of mind which existed during the recent war in regard to the ordinary line infantry.
If, which heaven forbid, war should eventually break out in Western Europe, it will be a matter of stopping successive holes, preventing infiltration and then stabilising the position. With the numbers available, unless these men are trained to move from one part of the front to another at great speed, they will not achieve that object. When I refer to great speed I do not refer to miles an hour but to the ability of soldiers to get into their vehicles and on the move as quickly as possible on the receipt of orders.
For the motorised battalion this is the bread of life. They have been brought up on this kind of movement and they understand it fully. I believe that the ordinary infantry brigade must in future be trained on the lines of the motorised battalion. That, I know, is heresy to a 1087 large number of senior officers in the British Army and the danger is that they will not see the strength of the argument.
I do not suggest that the infantry should have their own vehicles permanently. Clearly, they cannot have them, but it is possible to train men to get into vehicles which have been supplied for them at short notice and to move at speed to a destination, get out of the vehicles and be in a position to fight in a very short time. But if they are asked to do that suddenly in the middle of a battle, without previous training, they will not be able to do it.
I should like to give an example. I had the honour to train several brigades in England at the time when we did nothing else but training. There was not a battalion which left my command which could not get into vehicles, move off and take orders over the radio in 20 minutes. In Italy during the war I wanted a battalion as reinforcements. I wanted them by 4 o'clock in the afternoon to take part in an attack. They were stationed 3½ miles away and they had their orders at 10.30 in the morning.
They did not arrive by 4 o'clock that afternoon and I had to hold up the attack for an hour. When they did arrive they were at sixes and sevens. They were unaccustomed to moving off at short notice, and the whole effort came very near to disaster. These men suffered more than anybody else.
That is a perfect example. The job could have been done properly with just a little bit of training and foresight and the right attitude of mind on the part of the commanders concerned. They should not resist the suggestion that their men should be trained to get into buses at a moment's notice, to move from one part of the front to another and to be prepared, if necessary, to take orders on the radio as they go.
I should like to know what is happening about cross-country vehicles for the infantry. Again, I speak from my own experience and I apologise for that, but it does add an emphasis to what one is saying. I happened to be the first commander who had under his command in battle vehicles called Kangaroos. They were old Sherman tanks with the insides taken out.
1088 Into them we were able to put a section of infantry. Two battalions were carried in an attack in these Kangaroos behind my tanks. They fought for an entire day and their total casualties were one sergeant with his eye blacked and one subaltern with his arm broken. Yet they came under very heavy mortar and shell fire.
It is necessary to have something of this nature to be able to get infantry to their objective without casualties. That needs training. It needs training in enbussing and debussing, in finding one's way across country, and in carrying on radio communication with tanks. I should like the Under-Secretary to say whether or not the War Office are still in favour of Kangaroos; whether they are being produced or whether similar vehicles are to be introduced for transporting infantry.
Many of us have had experience of infantry attempting, under heavy shell and mortar fire, to get on to an objective captured by tanks. I hope that the one great lesson we have learned in this connection will be implemented in future.
I come to the question of fire power. What is happening about medium machine-guns and the training of men in their use? Is there a new medium machine-gun or are we still to rely on the old Vickers with its 16 stoppages. That takes up too much time in the training of the ordinary machine-gun company, or whatever it may be, in a battalion. Surely, we have got to the stage where we can have a medium machine-gun with only one stoppage so that if something goes wrong a man can replace the part with one out of his bag and so that he can be taught to use it in a short space of time.
I should like to add my words of regret at the passing of the 280 rifle, if in fact it has passed. I can understand the argument about production on a large scale in this country. I know exactly what the problems are but, to use Parliamentary language, have all the avenues been explored and have all the stones been turned on the question of arriving at an agreement with America that she should go into production on this rifle with us? That is the only solution to the problem.
I hope that every effort is being made to try, if there is still time, to persuade 1089 the Americans to change over and to go into production if not on the 280 then on a modification of the 280—a weapon which has this excellent single-shot capacity and tremendous accuracy. I have had evidence from commanding officers in battle. On many occasions they have said, "Must we take these rifles up into battle with us? They are only an encumbrance."
They have asked for a short-range weapon and I have replied that, provided they did not use all the ammunition in the area, they could use tommy guns in the ensuing "rat hunt." When an objective is captured, a 308 is about as much use as a 20-pounder gun. What is required is a short-range quick-firing gun. The same is true when men are resisting a counter-attack. In modern war the soldier does not fire at men two miles away. There is far too much smoke and dust caused by the artillery, and the soldier does not see the enemy until he is about 50 yards away. In that case he wants something like a tommy gun or, ideally, the 280 rifle. I hope that the idea of the 280 has not been thrown overboard.
I feel strongly on the question of training for supply in the field. Both in Germany and Italy at the end of the last war we were fighting in conditions of almost complete air superiority. That taught us some false lessons. Lorries drove nose to tail in broad daylight and they were able to use the roads at will. I wish that people would remember the early days before Dunkirk. They should remember what the roads were like then. They will be like that if war comes again. Transport will not be able to move at all in day-time but only at night, and even then it will be pretty uncomfortable.
During the exercises in Germany I have seen the most appalling mistakes in this respect. I have seen staff officers, presumably with no war experience, feeding lorries on to a road until the road was so congested that the vehicles were unable to move in any direction. They seem never to have heard of the lesson we learned even when we had air superiority and were able to move in daylight. It was a simple lesson: a road will hold a certain number of vehicles and no more.
The right way is to feed the vehicles on to the road in groups and, having done 1090 that, to say, "No 30 miles an hour or any rubbish like that. Go as fast as you can until you get to the other end." If there is somebody ready for them at the other end to put them under cover, we shall in that way get many more vehicles fed into a road in 24 hours than in any other way. I appeal to those who might, in future, be reading what I have said to look into this question. I have seen a formation which would not have been able to do things in the way in which it did them during exercises if there had been any kind of air superiority on the other side.
It is again a question of training, and of teaching the man to drive in convoy at something more than 30 miles an hour. I was present on one occasion when I heard the perfect answer on that point. The driver was one of these American darkies, and he was doing quite 55 miles an hour when he was stopped by a British A.P.M., who said "You ought not to be doing more than 30 miles an hour." The darkie replied "You will not win this blank war at 30 miles an hour," let in his clutch and drove on. That is quite right. Let us get rid of this old-fashioned nonsense about 30 miles an hour.
Next, there is the question of the air drop, if the roads become impassable. We are the nation which started the air drop, and we have more experience of it than anybody else. Is it not possible to supply troops in forward areas at night by air? I do not think the aircraft would be attacked if they flew low, and I do not think they would suffer one-tenth of the casualties which road transport would suffer; and they would get their stores there more quickly and from a greater distance further back, so that we could cut out one echelon of the system. I have not been in the Army for so long that I may be talking through my hat, because a lot of these things may have been done a long time ago.
I happen to be one of those people who first experimented with tanks talking to the air and I remember that during the last war, in a battle in Italy, all my forward squadron leaders were talking direct to the air without reference to brigade headquarters. That is the kind of training we want, so that these small formations are able to operate without constant control from formation headquarters.
1091 I saw it most successfully carried out in the last manoeuvres in Germany on the higher level, and I hope that we shall not lose some of those officers who can train men to do the job quickly so that, if any forward unit commander calls for air support, he can have it in five minutes, and with extreme accuracy and devastating effect.
Next, I want to refer to the apparent inflexibility in attack—in the sense of not being able to alter direction—of the role of the infantry in attack. It really is alarming. If it is purely a question of training, cannot we do something to alter the present system of men walking in line one by one to reach their objective when something happens on the right or the left flank?
I have seen commanders get out of and leave their tanks in order to lead infantry in another direction, to save them from suicide and disaster. There is something drastically wrong in infantry training so far as the large-scale attack is concerned. I do not mean small infiltrations, but large-scale formation attacks, and I think something should be done about that.
I wish now to refer to the Home Guard. I hope my right hon. Friend, when the time comes, and I do not suppose it has come yet, to try to encourage people to join the Home Guard in large numbers, will do something more than has been done already to publicise what is to be the role of the Home Guard on this occasion, and what it will be asked to do. The Prime Minister said the other day that he had a feeling of nakedness. We all know perfectly well that there are no Regular troops left in this country, and that the Territorial Army will also go abroad, provided that we still hold the Channel Ports. By the way, they ought not to be called the Channel Ports any longer; that is a Napeolonic term. They are the launching sites of the prospective enemy's projected missiles.
Provided that we still held these places, the Territorial Army would be abroad in a very short time. Therefore, we should be left with the Home Guard, and we also have the new idea, which I do not think should be criticised in the way it has been criticised by hon. Members opposite, of making training battalions in depots capable of fighting, if necessary. Most of their training is for fighting, except for 1092 that of a few technicians, and merely by an extension of that training we could make them into formations which, if trained in getting in and out of transport quickly, could supply a mobile column which would be very useful, if the necessity arose.
On this question of training the Home Guard, I hope the role of this formation will be made quite clear to everybody in the country, because it is something totally different to what it was last time. There is no question now of the Home Guard defending the beaches or guarding bridges with sticky bombs in their pockets. They are to be trained much more on a commando basis.
There is to be a real rat hunt for the extermination of any people who are foolish enough to descend from the air on this country, and, in that particular period of weakness, the period within three hours of their landing, when they are befuddled and before they can attempt any re-organisation, it will be the Home Guard of this country, possibly assisted by their lady friends, who will exterminate these people before they can do any damage.
For this task, the Home Guard will need a high standard of training, quite different from that which it received in the past. Furthermore, in recruiting, it is essential that we should have a certain number of the old Home Guard in the new formation. But what we really want is a high proportion of men who have had recent war experience and who will not be called up for the Regular Forces. Those are the fellows whom we want to see in the Home Guard at the earliest possible moment.
Now, one last word about Class Z Reserve. I am interested in this question of the call-up of Class Z Reservists and the 15 days' training. We have been told many times that they will be used to fill the gaps in the big formations which exist, and that they went last year to the Regular Army units as well as Territorial units. The Regular Army is not at home any more, and so, therefore, they will now go only to the Territorial Army.
That is fine, because, of course, the Territorial Army wants them and must have them, but what about the divisions in Germany? Have they not got corps troops whose numbers will require to be made up at a moment's notice with Reservists? Would it not be possible, and 1093 also provide a good exercise for Transport Command of the R.A.F., to fly some of these Reservists over there? I do not know what the expense would be, but it seems to me very serious to have these units and formations in Germany and not to give them the same treatment as units of the Territorial Army here in England.
I do now know how my right hon. Friend would implement any of the suggestions which I have made, even if he thought they were good ones. As a politician, I find that it is very different from being in command, when one could ring a bell and say "This is to be done." Some of the senior officers with whom one has to deal may have been reared in out of date ideas; some of them may have achieved success through those out of date ideas which existed in the last war. They are reluctant to give up those things with which they achieved success, because they might not be so successful next time if, for example, they had to use a microphone or speak on the wireless. I hope some one will go like an east wind through the training of not only the junior but of the senior officers, because sometimes it is deplorable in this respect.
Just one last example. On one occasion I was supporting an infantry divisional commander whose predecessor, unfortunately, was hurt and who had to go back. The new one was sent up and I had to rely, as I often did, on one staff officer and one driver without anyone else near me at all. I said to this fellow, "You had better lie down and watch what happens." This was my new senior commander. He watched for a minute or two and then said, "Do you often use that thing?" He was referring to the microphone. Having lived with it for six years, it was a shock to think that I was going to deal in battle with someone like that.
Then I put the earphones on him and said, "Listen to this and you will hear what goes on." He seemed exactly like a man who was listening to a play written in some obscure native dialect for all he understood of the jargon. There, again, something has got to be done about that. Everyone in the British Army has got to be taught to use wireless properly—I do not care what his rank is—otherwise there is the danger that they may pick up the microphone and that before they have 1094 spoken into it for three minutes they may have jeopardised the lives of 3,000 people.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)
I came into this Chamber to listen to the debate, but after hearing some of the things that have been said this afternoon I thought I would like to add a word or two, and preferably to the debate on the Amendment which has just been moved by the hon. Member for Harwich (Sir S. Holmes) and seconded by the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer). There is no doubt that the hon. and gallant Member was on very strong ground in the last part of his speech. He and I have frequently discussed the question of communications since we arrived in this House, and we also had the privilege of visiting the British Army in Germany during large-scale manoeuvres. We saw there just what good and efficient training could produce.
It is essential in the modern Army that communications should be of first-class order, and I want to say a few words about them. When the Secretary of State for War opened the debate this afternoon, he spoke of the tremendous amount of time and money wasted in polishing up implements which might quite well have been turned out in a rougher state, thereby saving a considerable sum of money to the Treasury. He mentioned the suggestion made in a speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) in a debate two years ago, and said that as a consequence of my right hon. Friend's speech and of another speech in that particular debate certain instructions had been issued by the War Office.
I suggest that a somewhat similar procedure might be adopted with regard to the training of certain tradesmen in the Forces. In my training days we spent a lot of time on the finesse of wireless operating, but immediately we got into the field we were told to forget half of it and to concentrate on that part which really mattered. I think much better results might be obtained if practical experience were gained by the day-to-day use of the instruments which the operators are eventually going to use.
I will give one example. Every wireless operator has to achieve a certain speed in Morse, but he is very rarely called 1095 upon to use it when he goes into the field. It then becomes radio-telephony only, so that all the time spent in becoming proficient in Morse is wasted. I am suggesting that the Army authorities might look at this matter when they are considering future training so that, just as they have saved on the production of certain arms, they might save in the time of training and, at the same time, produce much more efficient soldiers in the field.
That leads me to something that was said this afternoon by the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison). He sought to criticise the work of the Army Education Corps. I hasten to assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that I was never associated with that department of the Army, but I was rather staggered when he was supported by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), who complained of the tremendous expenditure taking place on education in the Army. If my figures are correct—the Secretary of State for War will correct me if they are not—I understand that the total cost is something in the region of £2,500,000 out of an overall budget of something like £500 million.
If we are to have a first-class Army, it has Rot to be first-class from the top to the bottom. Everybody must know the job he will have to do, and money spent on the educational services is money well spent. For the life of me I cannot understand why there should be a complaint about an expenditure of £2,500,000 out of a total budget of £500 million, unless my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw and the hon. and gallant Member for Eye can prove to the House that the money is being wasted.
What is it that the Army seeks to do? I understand that, aided by a central committee for education, it attempts to link up the educational courses of the Army with the corresponding counterparts in civilian life. Therefore, those in the Army are taken on a parallel with those outside. It is the duty and the responsibility of the Army to make these facilities available to the soldiers, not only on their home stations, but also overseas.
I do not think my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw quite under- 1096 stood all the duties of the Army Education Corps, because he spoke as if its sole job was to provide some vocational training. That is far from the truth. Its job is not only to provide educational services for the man in the Regular Army, but for the National Service man who goes into the Army. Unless he has received the school-leaving certificate, I understand, he has to receive a general training for the first 12 months of service in the Forces.
It should not be overlooked—and this is particularly important in view of the Amendment which has been moved—that in 1949 a decision was made to re-introduce the first-class Army certificate for those soldiers who wish to reach the position of warrant officer. The whole basis of promotion was educational qualifications corresponding to those which roughly obtained before the war.
In view of all these things, surely it is essential that this money should be spent on members of the Forces, and if opportunity is to be equal to all, these educational facilities are necessary, and, in my view, must be provided by the Army. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will dwell a little more on these services than did his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the White Paper.
We have heard a good deal in this debate about things which might help to attract men into the Army and help to make them happy there. One of the essentials is to look after the men's families. Under the Army education scheme it becomes the duty of the Army, especially in overseas stations, to provide facilities for educating the men's children. I think they are doing a good job of work in this field, and I should like to know from the Under-Secretary whether there are to be further developments on these lines.
When the men leave the Army they have to resettle themselves in their civilian life, and the Army Education Corps plays an important part at the resettlement centres in fitting men for their civilian duties. All these services are first-class; and indeed that fact is reflected in the statement made by the Secretary of State this afternoon when he said that the Army today has the best manpower it has ever had. If he believes that to be true, it must reflect credit to some 1097 extent, not only on general educational standards, but on the services provided by the Army itself.
It should never be forgotten that the Army Education Corps has a very important part to play in the intake of National Service men, for no matter what one might say, it is a fact that a greater proportion of the men than we should like have to receive education because of illiteracy. The Army Education Corps has to provide that service.
Despite all these things, we have had the tribute to which I have referred paid to the Army by the Secretary of State this afternoon. He must have had to pluck up a little courage to say those words because they did not quite square with what he said on previous occasions about the Forces. The same applied to the statement he made today on colonial troops and the raising of colonial garrisons. It was rather amusing to see the right hon. Gentleman come to the House today and say, in effect, "Now I know what the difficulties are, I find I cannot do what I was telling other people they ought to do."
Be that as it may, we must not only have a well-educated Army but we must provide the best facilities possible for the men and for their children. If we do these things we shall make the men fitter to receive the military training they must have to make them good members of the Army. If we do these things we shall not have cause to regret the money spent by Her Majesty's Government on the Army Education Corps.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord John Hope (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
If I intervene only for a few moments it is because the gist of what I want to say has been so ably put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer). I want to take the House back for a moment to the Home Guard and their training. I have one or two specific questions to ask the Government, and I hope my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War, will answer them.
My hon. and gallant Friend defined to the House quite clearly and succinctly what the duties of the Home Guard are to be. The Explanatory Notes to the Army Estimates state that:The role of the Home Guard on the outbreak of war will be:1098(a) To supplement the national army in the defence of airfields against airborne attack … and in defence against invasion; …and so on. During the Second Reading of the Home Guard Bill, the Secretary of State for War said only this about the training of the Home Guard:Turning to facilties for training, the Territorial Army, as far as possible, will make available ranges and drill halls, but I am aware, … that in certain areas there is congestion within the accommodation available … Therefore, provision will be made for the hiring of local halls, and so forth, to facilitate training."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd November, 1951; Vol. 494, c. 584.]I am not suggesting for a moment that my right hon. Friend thought then or thinks now that these facilities are enough, but I mention what he said to underline the fact that there is a great deal more to it than ranges and drill halls, and that I hope very much that that will be borne in mind by the War Office and by the Home Guard.
Ranges are, of course, very important. The Home Guard must be able to shoot accurately and quickly. I am aware that drill halls are not used entirely for drills. I speak as one who was taught soldiering in the hardest of all schools in this matter of drill and who has never regretted it, but if the Home Guard spend much of their time on drill they will waste their time. What little time they have to spare must be used in learning to do the job they will have to do in the event of war.
I refer to the duties of the Home Guard in relation to the protection of airfields and other strong points. They may have to counter-attack to recapture an airfield or, better still, to prevent it from being captured, by destroying an enemy force landed from the air. No enemy force will land by parachutes or gliders on the airfield itself. The enemy will land some distance away. Will the Home Guard commanding officers be given specific orders, and will they be instructed through the area command about these areas in their own location where air-borne troops can land to attack an airfield or some other strong point?
Such open spaces are limited. In some areas there will be many and in others few. The Home Guard ought to learn as a drill every means of quickly counterattacking those spaces. They ought to be taught exactly how to get to them by 1099 covered approach by day and exactly how to manage the job at night. That can be done by battle drill. I hope that in these few words I have described adequately what I conceive to be the necessary training for the Home Guard. It will be not only great fun, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing has said, for those taking part—for that kind of training is fun—but it will be supremely valuable and vital to the Home Guard.
I should also like to know from the Under-Secretary who is to be responsible for the training of the Home Guard. I presume that this training generally comes under the Director of Military Training, but I should like to know what grade of Staff officer is to be involved. I hope that whatever his grade the War Office will see to it that he is good.
Now, as to the commanding officers of the Home Guard. There is not an hon. Member who does not feel great admiration for all that these officers are doing. They are unselfish and courageous and so forth, but those qualities are not enough. In the Home Guard they have got to be really first-rate, imaginative tacticians, at any rate minor tacticians—this is an unfortunate term, for minor tactics is very important. This applies to any commanding officer, but particularly in the Home Guard, and if they are not brilliant minor tacticians they ought not to command a Home Guard battalion.
I appeal to the War Office to get the Home Guard out of the drill halls; by all means teach them to shoot on the ranges, but get them out of the drill halls and on to the ground. It is on the ground that they will win the battles which they may have to fight.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
Unlike the noble Lord the Member for Pentlands (Lord John Hope), I cannot claim to have learned my basic foot drill in the Guards. Curiously enough, my pre-war training was in a very honourable body called the Calcutta Light Horse. Incidentally, I do not admit that that body was in any way inferior to the Guards.
I would address my remarks to the Amendment which I regard as very useful, and deal with anti-aircraft in general and Anti-Aircraft Command in particu- 1100 lar, because it was in that corps that I had my experience during the war. I feel that one of the greatest difficulties with which the corps was confronted at the outbreak of war was in having the wrong sort of instructors for the very large civilian entry with which these instructors had to deal. It was not by any means the fault of the individual senior N.C.O. instructors. For years they had been trained to instruct the type of men to whom an hon. Friend of mine has referred as people who just could not get another job.
Everybody remembers the sort of scene we used to see at Waterloo Station before the war—the colour sergeant walking round with a hang-dog crowd of men such as could be picked up at the labour exchanges. Those are the sort of people the N.C.O.s had been trained to instruct, and when they had a large civilian entry they did not have the proper psychological approach to instruct them properly.
I remember standing on the grounds of the Honourable Artillery Company in the City on one occasion watching a Bofors gun being brought into operation. Standing next to me was a Swedish gentleman who, I suspect, had enlisted under a wrong name. The senior N.C.O. instructor said, "This, gentlemen"—that is what we were called then—"is the Bofors gun." My Swedish friend said, "Oh no, sergeant major; it is pronounced Boforch." The instructor said, "What do you think you are—a sanguinary Swede?"
The sort of instructor we want when we are confronted with another large civilian entry, as we shall be on the outbreak of another war, is the man who in previous years has been trained in civilian psychology. Although it would be going too far to suggest a special corps of instructors, I do suggest that in the nominal peace-time training of the instructors special care should be devoted to the question of civilian psychology. As the last war proceeded, we learned techniques which produced most magnificent and speedy results by merely studying the personal problems of civilians.
I hope that should Anti-Aircraft Command have to be enlarged considerably on the outbreak of war, it will not become a sort of hide-out—an unpleasant term, but I think it is justified—for a lot 1101 of people who might be put into other and more competent corps. I speak with some feeling on this, because I was one of many young men who tried to get into the Royal Artillery in the field and were told that at the age of 27—this was in 1939—we were too old. I have no doubt that hon. Members with experience will be aware that that happened. We were too old at 27 to get into a really competent corps. As the war went on, those of us who had got into Anti-Aircraft Command found that we could not get out because we had to instruct the new intakes.
There is another point about Anti-Aircraft Command which I would mention. I had hoped that when the war came to an end there would be sufficient senior staff officers in Anti-Aircraft Command to fill the senior appointments of the reduced Anti-Aircraft Command staff. Hon. Members who have had experience of anti-aircraft during the war will remember that when they went to Larkhill or some senior staff college they found that anti-aircraft staff officers were regarded as something pretty low. They were not treated as proper soldiers at all. Anti-Aircraft Command is so important that it should produce from its own ranks its own senior staff officers.
If hon. Members care to refer to the minutes of evidence given before the Select Committee on Estimates last year, they will see the sort of thing I am talking about—senior staff officers who do not understand the minimum technical requirements of Anti-Aircraft Command. That ought to stop. Anti-Aircraft Command should not become the depository of gallant and, for all I know, very efficient staff officers from the field side of the Royal Artillery. Perhaps it would be as well to take away anti-aircraft from the Royal Artillery and form it into a proper corps of its own.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey
I am following with sympathy what the hon. Member is saying, but is it not a contradiction of the very argument he is putting forward to suggest that Anti-Aircraft Command must produce its own staff officers? By doing that, we should in fact isolate Anti-Aircraft Command. Would it not be better to do what I am informed is the policy in the Royal Artillery at the present time—namely, to ensure that all Artillery officers have a term in each of the arms?
§ Mr. Snow
I do not think I am competent to judge which of the schools of thought is the better. I should have thought that the technique of antiaircraft gunnery and the requirements of deployment in the field are so specialised that there is a case for divorcing it from the Artillery. During the war the staff at headquarters at the various levels in Anti-Aircraft Command got far too large. One could go into group headquarters, brigade headquarters and regimental headquarters and there were far too many people there.
I believe that in Italy during the war there was a curious unit known as "Popski's Private Army." It was nothing on "Pile's Private Army." It was said that General Pile had such a pleasing Irish personality that he could put it over the present Prime Minister. Whether or not that is so I do not know, but the fact is that many of us in that corps during the war came to the conclusion that at the lower levels either the brigades were unnecessary or the regiments were unnecessary and that one of the two headquarters could be eliminated with a great saving of staff.
It is essential to anti-aircraft that there should be a very large percentage of women soldiers. I do not agree with this idea of considering women as shy bashful creatures. Many of them did a first-class fighting job, and I think it is imperative that we should realise that if and when Anti-Aircraft Command is enlarged, in the event of a war, we shall have to rely, to a very large extent, on an increased number of women in each unit. If that is the case, I think it is wrong that Anti-Aircraft units in peacetime should have basically more men than women, especially on the instrument side.
I should like to say a few words on the equipment that is being presented to anti-aircraft units in the field at the present time. I appreciate that this is a digression, but I should just like to make these few remarks. I want to know whether, in the considered view of the Under-Secretary of State, the predictor which is issued to mobile heavy antiaircraft units is now capable of coping with modern aircraft.
When the Select Committee on Estimates last examined witnesses on this point, just over a year ago, it was discovered that the standard predictor in use 1103 in mobile units was a predictor which was in use during the last war. Although I am beginning to forget the more detailed technique of it, this particular predictor relied on hand balancing in order to provide the necessary deflections. That hand balancing is quite impossible with modern aircraft, and yet I am informed that that same predictor is still being used in mobile anti-aircraft units. If that is so, it is something that should be looked at. An electrically balanced predictor should be designed and issued for mobile units.
I was very proud to belong to the Royal Artillery during the war, but what occurred there on this question of inflated staffs rather shook me. At Larkhill I remember being shown the Master Gunner, a very important gentleman who, at a time when we were scrambling for anybody we could get to do jobs, was attended by six scarlet clad A.T.S. who attended him at the mess—not in any questionable sense, but to see that he had the requisite drinks.
The question of training which was raised by the hon. Member for Harwich (Sir S. Holmes) is, to my mind, absolutely essential. Unless we train our instructors to deal with the civilian we shall find ourselves once more faced with the very difficult training problem which we had at the beginning of the last war.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Baker White (Canterbury)
I, like the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tam-worth (Mr. Snow), welcome this Amendment. I agree with what he said about the necessity for instructors in the Army having a proper knowledge of civilian psychology. I wish to address myself almost entirely to the question of personnel, as distinct from the question of equipment; the question of men rather than machines. Korea, the Middle East and Malaya have shown that, considering the shortages of equipment, there is not much wrong with the quality and the basic training—I emphasise the words "basic training"—of the Army, whether Regulars or National Service men.
I believe that the quality of all ranks in the Army today is higher than it has ever been within our lifetimes. The Secretary of State this afternoon talked about getting value for money. I think we are getting value for money. Since 1104 we last discussed the Estimates I have had the unusual opportunity of being able to watch, week by week and month by month, the impact of National Service training on a young man from the day on which he gave up his job as a farm labourer, in March last year, to last Thursday, when he marched off across the parade ground at Mons Barracks, Aldershot, to take up Her Majesty's Commission. That young man is my own son. I have seen him develop physically and mentally, gaining military knowledge and, what is perhaps more important, a knowledge of his fellow men. So far, he has reacted to his National Service in such a way as to make me confident that the system of training is achieving its end pretty well.
There are, however, one or two points about this National Service training that I should like to put to my right hon. Friend. They are minor criticisms, but they are points of substance. They are based not only upon what my son has told me but upon wider inquiry. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that, after the first six weeks of National Service training are completed—the necessary and very important "square-bashing" period, as we used to call it—those National Service men spend enough time on the range, particularly on the field firing range? As an old rifleman I may be rather prejudiced, but I believe that more range instruction would be a good thing. As a rifleman, having seen the 280 rifle demonstrated, like other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I deplore its disappearance, temporarily at least.
Is my right hon. Friend certain that after the National Service man has passed the War Office selection board and gone to his officer training centre, there is a proper balance between drill periods and other instruction? I suggest that the drill periods might be reduced in favour of tactical training. In his speech the Secretary of State said that we must not waste the time of National Service men. I entirely agree, and that is why I ask him if he is satisfied that there is no waste of time between passing the War Office selection board and being posted to the officer training centre. I think he will find that there is waste of time in many cases—often as much as 14 days, hanging about the depot. I can give him chapter and verse of a young man who 1105 hung about for six weeks before going to his officer training centre, just at the moment when the potential officer cadet is mad keen to get down to his job.
Finally, is my right hon. Friend certain that the period at Sandhurst could not usefully be reduced from 18 to 14 months. Mons Barracks and Eaton Hall produce an efficient National Service officer in a minimum of four months. It is quite true that Sandhurst's task is to produce Regular officers, but the disparity between 4 and 18 months is unduly large and several young officers at Sandhurst have told me that they began to feel stale and overloaded with paper instruction in the last three or four months. I feel that that question is worth looking at, not only with a view to increasing the output of Regular officers but also reducing the cost. I think it would be interesting to know the comparative cost of producing a National Service officer and a Regular officer.
Last week I was able to go down to the passing out parade at Mons Barracks. To me it was an impressive, moving and inspiring ceremony, and I would urge hon. Members, if they have time, to go down and attend one of these frequent parades. I also venture to hope that on some early occasion the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary might go down and take the parade. I think even the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) would be interested to see that, because he might come away convinced that the training of young men in the Army is not such a brutalising process as he believes.
Pouring rain did not detract from the excellence of that parade. There were the flanking pieces of artillery, two orderlies carrying lances and red and white pennons of the cavalry and the Royal Artillery Band. I thought the standard of marching and drill was superb, right up to the moment when the young officers slow-marched up the steps off the parade ground to their new duty and high responsibility. Then there was a simple and moving service in a nearby church. I do not think that that day will be forgotten, either by the young men or by their parents, and as I walked away there came into my mind a passage from the book, "The World Crisis," written by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister: 1106As in the shades of a November evening, I, for the first time, led a platoon of Grenadiers across the sopping fields the conviction came into my mind with absolute assurance that the simple soldiers and their regimental officers, armed with their cause, would by their virtues in the end redress the mistakes and ignorances of Staffs and Cabinets, of Admirals, Generals, and politicians—including, no doubt, many of my own.On the question of training, I should like to pay my tribute to a section of the Regular Army which is sometimes abused but more often forgotten—the long-service senior non-commissioned officers, especially those working as instructors of National Service intake and in the officer training units. They are very like the craftsmen at the potter's wheel who take the unshaped mass of raw material and mould it, applying their own skill, to become efficient and useful.
I have all my life been in close contact with the Services and I have had always among my friends chief petty officers of the Royal Navy and senior N.C.O.s of the Royal Marines and the Army. They are a grand race of men, and we should be very thankful for them. I remember the first letter my son wrote home after he had reported at the Royal Armoured Corps Depot at Carlisle. He said of the non-commissioned officer in charge of him: "He's a damned good bloke." That is fairly high praise for a 'tough N.C.O. from a young man in the early stages of National Service training. Only yesterday I was reading a letter from a friend of my son who had just joined his regiment as a subaltern, and he said:They are very considerate, and for the first month or so I am working with a sergeant who is terribly nice and who will eventually be my troop sergeant.I think that those sentences tell of a perfect partnership between the highly experienced non-commissioned officer and a young inexperienced officer. I know that it is nothing new; it is as old as the Army itself. Kipling, in one of his books, puts words into the mouth of his immortal character Mulvaney when he says:And there, mark you, is the virtue that no money and no drill can buy—the virtue of the old soldier that knows his officer's work and does it for him at the salute.These N.C.O.s are great craftsmen, and I should like to mention the name of one of them who, I expect, will be known to many hon. Members in this House—Regimental Sergeant-Major Britton, who 1107 I saw and heard on parade at Mons Barracks last Thursday. I think it is very wise that a plan should be devised to keep these men in the Army until they are 55. Luckily the nation does not lose them when they retire if they take posts in the schools and in training establishments. Some of them are in the service of this House, and friends of us all. In civil life they have the same sterling qualities that they had in the Army.
I now wish to mention one thing that impinges very much upon training, because it affects the supply of young officers, and that is the outfit allowance. I want to make an appeal to my right hon. Friend on the subject of officers' outfit allowances. Perhaps I am speaking more for the parents of the young officers than for the young men themselves. I am certainly speaking with recent personal and sharp experience, but I do not think it destroys the case. As the allowance was raised recently from £29 to £36 10s. I hope I shall not seem ungrateful, but it is still not adequate to meet the needs of officers joining a large number of regiments and certain corps. For many of them blue patrols are essential, which will cost at least £40.
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
Although that would be relevant to the main Question, I find difficulty in relating it to the Amendment.
§ Mr. White
I was coming to the point of giving one or two examples. The total cost to a young officer can be £120, and that relates very much to training because units are not getting these young officers for that very reason.
The establishment of one regiment I know is 25 subalterns: it has only 11. There are parents unable, because of the low uniform allowance, to send their sons into regiments in which they themselves served. The Secretary of State may argue that this is not applicable in some units, but it does apply to many.
I now turn to a very important aspect of advanced training, and that is the question of the Special Air Service Regiment. Can the House be told, within the limits of security, more about the Special Air Service Regiment? It is not mentioned in the Memorandum to the Estimates. In the Explanatory Note to the Estimates it is mentioned in 14 words: 1108The Special Air Service Regiment carries out small scale operations behind the enemy lines.I believe that there is a Territorial unit up to strength, but I should like to know something more about such Regular formations as there are. My own wartime experience in close contact with special operations leads me to believe that the Special Air Service Regiment should be raised as soon as possible to divisional strength, and I do not believe there would be any lack of volunteers for it.
I do not believe that war is likely; I do not believe it is imminent; but if it does come we know who it will be with; broadly we can see the nature of it, and we know the sort of training we must have to meet the situation. It would be a war in which we should have many allies fighting along the enemy lines of communication—many more than in the last war—and to these specially trained men of the Special Air Service Regiment would fall the vital role of keeping contact with them, of carrying out operations with them, of training them and giving them the leadership they want.
I do not suppose there is anyone in the War Office today who knows more about the value and importance of the Special Air Service than my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. He will also know the hostility that existed to the Special Air Service in the War Office during the war, based on a deep-rooted fear and dislike of private armies, until the Special Air Service, the Long Range Desert Group, and the Special Boat Service of Raiding Forces Mediterranean had proved their sterling worth. I hope we shall have a Special Air Service Division as soon as possible.
Finally, I want to say a word about the broad design of training. I welcome the new Regular engagement as mentioned in the Memorandum. It will be further improved by the new proposal put forward in pages 4 and 5 of the Memorandum, that of a 22-year engagement with an option to leave the Army at three-yearly intervals. I believe that the argument that National Service training is a waste of time is proving more and more to be a false argument. It may be a waste of time if it is measured in the narrow sense of earnings lost, apprenticeships interrupted and university careers deferred. I do not believe it is a waste of time when measured in 1109 terms of developing the national character, of broadening the mind, and, above all, of training the young men of the nation in leadership.
We are desperately short of leaders today at every level in our national life, and most of all in industry. All too many of those who ought to be leading the nation today are just precious dust on some half-forgotten battlefield. The names round the wall of this Chamber remind us of our own loss in two World Wars. I believe that this National Service training is doing something to fill that gap. Although the Estimates we are discussing tonight involve the spending of great sums of our national treasure, we should not only look at it in terms of weapons and formations, but we should remember that this training and service in the Armed Forces is paying its dividend as well in national morale and national courage.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
I wish briefly to mention a subject which arises from the Amendment, which asks for certain measures to reach a higher efficiency in training. I desire to call attention to the need which I believe exists for a higher standard of efficiency in Army teaching. I am not talking about advanced training in the Army, but the training in the first few weeks when the recruit arrives, because I think that those few weeks set the tone for the whole of his soldiery.
During the last 25 or 30 years there have been tremendous advances in the technique of teaching in the universities and in educational institutes. I believe that instruction in the Army has rather lagged behind. To give instruction, three things are needed—certain personal qualities with which I am not concerned here; a knowledge of the subject; and a very definite knowledge of the technique of putting that subject across. Our instructors are second to none in the world in their knowledge of the subject, but I believe that they are not good enough in their knowledge of the technique of putting it across. That is because in the training of the instructors that aspect is not sufficiently expressed.
I am sorry that the noble Lord the Member for Pentlands (Lord John Hope) has gone. I started my Army training within the same forbidding walls as he 1110 did, and I have suffered as much as anybody from the verbal lashings of R.S.M. Britton. While I retain the highest degree of affection for that worthy gentleman, the training I got there was about the least intelligent I have had anywhere.
From there I went to the depot as an officer of a very famous light infantry regiment in the North-East of England, the Durham Light Infantry. There, under an enlightened commanding officer, I commanded for a time the training company, and the standard of teaching was raised to a high degree of efficiency. I am glad that the Secretary of State has recognised the efficiency and the tradition of this great regiment by selecting it to be one of the regiments to have a second battalion. On behalf of the regiment, I should like to thank him for that.
Under the stress of war two great experiments were carried out, and I was partly concerned with one. The first one was in Canada and, speaking from memory, I think it was called Brand-ford. The second experiment was conducted in England and was called Brancepeth. In that experiment a psychologist was brought from Oxford and he spent many weeks analysing all the lessons of the weapon-training pamphlets. Out of that experiment beneficial results came in the re-writing of the pamphlets. That was done during the war, and if the Minister turns up the results of that experiment he will find that what was done has led to greater efficiency and the saving of considerable time.
This should be a constant process, and I should like to make a concrete suggesttion. The Army ought to have a college of instructional technique, which should have two functions. Its main function would be to carry out research in conjunction with the university training departments and the university institutes of education and, above all, with the Army Education Corps. That would be a most useful function of the Army Education Corps and it would help to integrate it with the training of the rest of the Army, giving it a more stable and integrating purpose than it has at present. Its second function would be to run advanced courses, and from those courses the very latest developments in instructional technique would percolate down into the training depots.
1111 The Secretary of State said we did not want to waste the time of the National Service man. I could not agree with him more, but if we have inefficient teaching, or even dull teaching, it will waste time. If the right hon. Gentleman turns up the results of the Brancepeth experiment, he will find how time was saved by going into the matter in a systematic and scientific way. If teaching is dull, it will frustrate the recruits, and, as I said, that will set the tone of the whole of their soldiering. If the right hon. Gentleman will look into the whole question of the technique of teaching in the Army, his efforts will be well rewarded.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) has applied to his remarks certain practical experience which he has had in relation to training. I want to do the same thing with my remarks in relation to the Z Reservists. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) said something about the Z Reserves in seconding the Amendment, but otherwise we have not heard much about the training which began last year and will be continued this year.
One ought to begin by saying how limited must be the picture of any individual Z Reservist. I was among them but, in offering to the right hon. Gentleman certain suggestions about their training, I recognise that no one man could see more than a fraction of what happens to the Z Reservists, and to that extent my remarks are limited.
I will begin with a word on the subject of the papers which are sent to the Z Reservists before they begin their training. This is an all-important moment to the man who will be called up for 14 days, for it is the moment when he decides if it is a good idea and whether he will enjoy it or not. It would help enormously if the candidate could be put into the picture a little more fully and told why he is required in the Service with which he is to train.
In this training there has necessarily to be a good deal of cross-posting, and men are summoned for the 14 days' training to an arm of the Service which is not necessarily that in which they were employed 1112 during the war. It is out of the question for the right hon. Gentleman to send each man a personal letter, but these men would have a very much better idea of why they are wanted if each Service could send a letter to them explaining the needs of the Service. For instance, it would help if a man could be told that the Royal Army Service Corps was short of 6,000 men and that he was wanted to learn his job in that branch.
My second point concerns the training of the Z Reservist. One does not want to generalise on such an obviously wide range of training as must be employed when there are 145,000 men in the different arms of the Service. However, it struck me as extraordinarily difficult to give the N.C.O., and particularly the junior N.C.O., his money's-worth in the 14 days available. That is obviously difficult because, apart from the extreme efficiency of the permanent staff instructors provided by the Regular Army, the machinery which surrounded the Z Reservists in the call-up last year took from the junior N.C.O. called up a great deal of the responsibility which would otherwise have been his and should be his.
As I understand it, this form of training is designed not only to familiarise those called to it with the weapons, the technique, and so on, of the arm to which they are called, but also to give them an idea of the place they will eventually occupy in the chain of command. In view of what the right hon. Gentleman and others have said before now about the vital necessity of getting the junior N.C.O.s to hold the right attitude towards their job, it seems to me important to step up the responsibilities that they get out of their 14 days training, if one can do it. There is nothing more difficult, if I may say so as one myself, than to train the amateur N.C.O. to do the job as he would do it in the Regular Army.
My final word on the training of the Z Reservists is to correct a general misapprehension, namely, that the entire 14 days should be devoted to instruction by lecture, by cinema and by other agreeable and not very strenuous means in subjects on which perhaps the soldier has got out of date since the end of the last war. There was a tendency, I think there still is, to regard anything that is not instruction on new technique as a complete waste 1113 of time. My experience was that it was an admirable thing that those 14 days included some elementary drill—what I think is called "square bashing"—and the more rudimentary and strenuous military arts. I say that for this reason, that particularly among the specialist arms of the Service there is a need to get what experience can be got in those things. In my unit, which I will not specify, there were one or two who experienced the greatest difficulty in firing a rifle.
It is a fact that, with the enormous tail to which the right hon. Gentleman referred in his remarks earlier this afternoon, there are thousands of men today who, once an emergency comes upon us, do not take a very military part in the war. They are concerned in the 101 administrative and technical aspects of the Army and may get through the war without firing a rifle or any of the small arms of which they ought to be masters, in view of the remarks made recently by the Prime Minister on the mobile columns. The growth of the technical services has emphasised the need to make this 14 days' training for those going into the tail of the Army an opportunity to learn about the weapons and the elementary military arts of which they might otherwise not get to know anything.
In regard to the training of the Z Reservist, a tribute is overdue for the work done by the Regular Army and the Regular Army instructors. They had this scheme imposed upon them at short notice and it is quite clear that in order to meet it last year they were stretched to the absolute limit. One hopes it will be different this year. I feel that the success of this training scheme last year, when out of 145,000 called up only 100 had to be prosecuted for failing to attend, has been rather taken for granted without attributing it to the part played by the Regular Army instructors.
The instructors were called upon to work four or five months at a stretch. They regarded it as all in the day's work, and I certainly should not suggest that there should be any rate of training or instructional pay for them. They would not desire that. They realise that if they were not engaged on this work, they might be doing something less pleasant. It is arduous work, and calls for great patience among those concerned.
1114 In the long run it is astonishing that a scheme which began with so many misgivings, not only among those who took part in it but amongst those who criticised it when it was introduced, should end with so few grievances. I attribute this largely to the attitude of mind which the Regular Army adopted to the whole scheme from its inception. There was brought to bear towards this form of training a splendid balance of mind, a flexibility of mind which some hon. Members opposite occasionally suggest is lacking in the Regular Army and particularly among senior officers.
The treatment of the Z Reservists was a fine advertisement for the flexibility of mind of the Regular soldiers. They balanced, on the one hand, the minimum of discipline, which there must be if men are being trained in those numbers, even for 14 days, with, on the other hand, the knowledge that they were training men who were amateur soldiers and had been uprooted for only 14 days. The Regular soldier in all these things has his little ways. A great many of them were waived, and waived deliberately, in order to make this thing possible—indeed, popular—with those concerned.
I felt a little wistful at the equipment, and the amount of it, that was bestowed upon these men in relation to what has in the past been bestowed upon the training of the Territorial Army. The lavishness of what was delivered to those in, volved in Z Reserve compared very favourably with what the Territorial Army has had for training before or since the last war. None the less, there was much good to be said on that point.
A great deal of credit has been given to the Z Reservist, and much has been said about his spirit. I do not want to say anything to underrate that, but in accepting the scheme, which is to be repeated this year—if my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing is to have his way, it would be repeated on a scale which involves some of the Z Reservists, which is not a bad idea, in training in Germany; at least, it should be on as big, if not a bigger, scale this year—the country ought not to underrate the skill of the Regular officers, N.C.O.s and other ranks who are essential towards its success.
We all rejoice in the success of the scheme. The country, which in times of 1115 peace tends almost to take its Regular Army very much for granted, should recognise how much it owes to the Army in this form of training of a very important section of our reserves.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison)
It is a useful system which allows a special Amendment to be interwoven with the main Estimates debate, and such Amendments range from the gay, such as we had during the Navy Estimates last week, to the graver, more serious and very important theme of the training of the Army tonight. We are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir S. Holmes) for providing us with this facility and chance of turning the limelight on to what must always be one of our main considerations if we are to have an efficient Army.
The criticisms have ranged widely and have shown considerable variety. I should like to answer those criticisms in the order in which they were made, although that will, I am afraid, make for a somewhat disjointed reply.
First the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) spoke about spreading the annual training period over a longer part of the year, and instanced the difficulty caused to industry by having that period concentrated in a few months of the year. The tendency towards doing that has in fact already been evidenced, but I think—and my right hon. Friend agrees—that the point is one well worth looking into in order to see whether that tendency can be extended further.
I am not forgetting the main burden of the speeches of the mover and seconder, to which I will come later on. The hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) asked whether we were satisfied that the training of National Service men in more specialised types of units was satisfactory. He said that in one case he knew of a National Service man who said he had only twice been on the range.
I think the best answer to that is to point out that since the Prime Minister decided that such units—technical units, depots, training establishments and so on—were to be given definite operational 1116 tasks and trained in mobile columns their training has been taken up with great keenness. They are to have their efficiency tested this summer along with other troops, and exercises will be arranged for that special purpose.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich asked about physical fitness of men and whether they were guided into tasks for which their physique equipped them. That point is constantly under review. I know it to my own cost because constantly I get letters about medical boards and the condition of particular National Service men. We are very jealous to see that a man fit only for light duty is not given more than light duty to carry out.
Many points were made in an able speech which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) clearly felt deeply. He wanted to be satisfied as to the provision of armoured personnel carriers and spoke about the kangaroos. The position is that a new six-wheeled armoured personnel-carrier is coming into production which we consider to be better than the Kangaroo. I saw them the other day at an infantry demonstration at Warminster being used in an exercise.
§ Mr. Hutchison
I think they are wheeled, but I should like to check up. My information is that they are wheeled, but they are used for cross-country work. My hon. and gallant Friend asked whether any plans were made for airdrops for supplying troops in a forward area. Of course this question is being studied. It came into prominence in the last war and is obviously a method of supplying troops in forward areas, particularly if those areas tend to be cut off. The difficulty at present is the provision of suitable aircraft, but the problem is not lost sight of and already there are improvements in packing methods.
My hon. and gallant Friend spoke of the necessity for flexibility of modem infantry and the need for them to be able quickly to change their objective. That is emphatically realised and I will come to that matter in more detail a little later. He and other hon. Members spoke of the role of the Home Guard. My hon. and gallant Friend said he hoped they 1117 would be given a sort of commando role. I want to emphasise that the Home Guard are not, at any rate in the earlier stages, to be mobile units. Consequently, their responsibility and the locality they will be called upon to defend will be within a certain area. Within that conception, of course, the whole of the Home Guard training must be directed—and one hon. Member emphasised this point—to be able to do their job properly in respect of that area or vulnerable point. Consequently fieldcraft, mobility, movement at night, concealment and musketry must come into all Home Guard training. We thoroughly agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that the type of men we wish to get into these units are the younger men who have had some war experience and who, for some reason or other, are not able to take part in a more active and more distant role.
The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) talked about the desirability of using specialists during their training and service in the sort of role which they would be called upon to fulfil in the field. I think he is absolutely right. A man who is expected to be able to send wireless messages should be constantly tapping the keys in order to become efficient. I have tried to learn to do so myself and I know how necessary it is to be constantly tapping the keys in order to be able to do the work properly.
The hon. Member asked about education and the cost of education in the Army. He is quite right. The £2½ million of which he spoke is shown in some considerable detail if he will look at pages 196 and 197 of the Estimates. And as he rightly said, the Army educational service provides education for the children of those serving overseas and indeed sometimes for the children of those serving in other Services. At the present time it is a problem as to how that is to be carried on in Germany so that the children there can get the best possible form of education. I am pleased to state that the Army educational services operate in all circumstances for the resettlement of soldiers when they are about to leave the Army and go back into civilian life.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pentlands (Lord John Hope) spoke about the need for the area of responsibility being pointed out to Home Guard units. 1118 That, of course, will be done. The Home Guard being largely, not immobile, but having modified mobility, there will be unit and sub-unit areas of responsibility which will be pointed out.
My hon. Friend asked who was responsible for the training of the Home Guard. We have thought it wiser, instead of having a Home Guard directorate, as existed during the last war, that the Home Guard should be taken under the direct care and charge of the ordinary departments or ordinary branches in the Army. So ultimately the training of the Home Guard comes under the Director-General Military Training, with a special colonel, a G.1 at the War Office, concerned only with training matters of the Home Guard. At each Command there is a G.1 concerned with the training of the Home Guard, and I think that that system will give satisfaction.
A point was made by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow), who asked about N.C.O. instructors, and whether it was possible for them to study more closely the civilian psychology of the modern Army, which is doing so well in the theatres to which it goes. It is hard to see how one can, particularly in the time and with the facilities available, teach, for example, psychology to an instructor. But surely psychology enters into the handling of men and the character of the post-war Army. As it has altered I think it must be automatic that those who are instructors must change their outlook and, if they are to be good instructors, be able to fit into the picture.
The hon. Member made a point which I am afraid I cannot answer at the moment about Anti-Aircraft Command, and that it must not be a repository for those artillery officers who do not make the grade elsewhere. The point will be noted, as indeed will all the points made tonight, and will be looked into.
Then there was the interesting and able speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White). He wanted to be sure that there was a proper balance between the "square bashing," as I think he called it, and the field firing range and tactical instruction. I think that there is. The amount of time 1119 now available for pure drill on the barrack square has been very much cut down compared with the amount of time available in the old days.
The basic unit training, the beginning of the training of the National Service man, now occupies only six weeks. It took months before the war. Nevertheless, I will have another look at the programme and the curriculum to make sure that the best use is being made of the time available.
Then he mentioned something about outfit allowances, a matter which will also be looked at. I do not think that it came quite within the ambit of training. He also mentioned the Special Air Service Regiment with which I had a considerable amount of experience and for which I have the greatest respect. When my right hon. Friend winds up the debate he will probably say something on that theme.
Then there was the interesting and temperate speech on the question of the technique of training by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short). I appreciate the three needs. They are fundamental needs in all the training that he instanced. We have a tremendous need of instructors. They are being called for by the Territorial Army in ever-increasing numbers. When a unit selects a man as being of the type to become an instructor in tactical and other matters he is, first, sent on an instructional course.
That gives some guarantee that he will know the proper technique for putting his teaching across. Then there are Methods-of-Instruction teams who go around the whole time watching instruction throughout the Army to make sure that the instruction is being given in the right way, and that it is up to the most modern technique in content as well as in method. They link up also with the operational research group who are the people who see that the most modern teaching is made available to the instructors. They are, in fact, the people who instruct the instructors or see that they are as up to date as they can be.
I have not had time to look at this aspect in great detail. While it may not be perfect, and I do not know, I feel satisfied, and I think that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied, that we are doing a great 1120 deal to see that the instruction which is given is properly given, and that it is up-to-date.
Finally, there was the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) in which he introduced the theme of the papers sent to Z Reservists putting the men into the picture about the sort of job they will ultimately be expected to do. I think that there is something in the theory. It is, of course, the old idea of Field-Marshal Lord Montgomery, who always believed in letting all ranks know as much as possible about what they were to be called upon to do. If the hon. Member will let us see whether there is anything more to be done along those lines, I should be glad.
But, in talking about Z Reservists, let us remember that the scheme went well last year. Perhaps it went off better than anybody expected. But there are very few Regulars in England this year to look after these Z Reservists. They have been called upon for other duties.
I want to revert for a moment before I conclude to the main theme of the mover and seconder of the Amendment. It was: how were we seeing that the training of today was the training that would be required in the sort of warfare with which we might expect to have to deal?
It has been said today that we must anticipate that there will be a mass onslaught by large numbers of infantry, almost irrespective of casualties, and we were asked how we proposed to deal with that. The right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), also touched upon this theme, which goes right back to the time when the chief feature of the British Army was musketry—giving to the defence the volume of fire power which it must have in order to stop that sort of attack.
So we come back to the small arms fire and the question of the rifle, the light machine gun, the medium machine gun—and here may I say that an improved pattern of the medium machine gun is at the pilot model stage—and, for fighting at very close quarters, the Sten gun.
§ Mr. Hutchison
I will leave that theme, which is still under discussion, because the hon. and learned Gentleman knows as much about it as I do, as the statement 1121 was made publicly by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister not long ago. I am bound to say, however, that there is a great deal to be said in favour of the 280, but there are many facets to be considered and many influences which play on the situation.
The British Army has always concentrated on musketry, which has been at the basis of all its training. We have always had the highest standards, such as was indicated by the letter sent by an East African soldier in the 1914–18 war who was in an isolated post in no sort of contact with the enemy, but who wrote: "Sir, I have the honour to report that I am surrounded by 300 Germans. Please expedite the arrival of one Service rifle, mark III, and 300 rounds of ammunition."
That is the sort of standard which the British Army has always tried to inject into its musketry, and I must say that musketry is very much to the fore at the present time. For example, in a passing-out parade at a school in Worcestershire the other day, out of 36 cadets passing-out, 20 passed as first-class shots and none failed. Again, the other day, at an international rifle competition held in B.A.O.R., the British Army walked off, as I hope it always will, with the first prize. These are not isolated cases, and I only quote them to show the importance that we still attach to musketry.
Infantry anti-tank equipment and fire power, mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing, has been considerably increased since the war, and they now have the Energa grenade, fired from the rifle, the rocket launcher, which derives from the Bazooka, to which some hon. Members opposite have referred. There is also the 17-pounder anti-tank gun, and all these things considerably improved the antitank fire which modern infantry needs to possess.
The point has also been made that modern warfare demands a very high technical skill, and that is very present in our thoughts. In order that this technical skill may be constantly improved in the Territorial Army and the Supplementary Reserve, the number of permanent staff instructors allotted to those units has been immensely increased since the time when I had the honour to command a Territorial unit, and we plan to increase it still further.
1122 The point has been rightly made that there is great danger in formulating and planning our training by basing it on experience in the concluding stages of the last war, when we had air superiority and artillery superiority. This matter is constantly in our thoughts, and the danger is recognised in every exercise which the Army undertakes at the present time. Much thought is devoted to it, based on the situation which obtained in 1940 and not that of 1945.
That leads us, as has been said, to training in rapidity of movement and decision of young officers, training in movement by night instead of by day, and all forms of deception and concealment. It is very clearly realised, and the necessity never to forget it is very much appreciated.
Although the subject has not been mentioned today, I want to say a word on the atom bomb because I think it may be of general interest. In this matter, too, the training authorities have by no means been idle. The problem of protective clothing has been considered in very great detail, and although I cannot disclose to the House just how far that has gone, from what I have been told the situation certainly justifies a feeling of confidence. The matter is being understood and mastered.
Demonstrations of atom bombing are now being held in the Army, and representatives from all over the world—friendly nations, of course—come to study them and the lessons that can be learned from them. I am going to one the day after tomorrow. A pamphlet is in print at the present moment and will very soon be issued to all troops telling them what action they can and should take in the event of atom bombing.
There will take place this year on Salisbury Plain the training of two Territorial divisions using up to brigade units. It will be a composite training, that is to say, training of the units up to brigade formations. They will be using a considerable proportion of staff officers who will be called up for that period, because it is recognised to be immensely important that staff officers at present in industry and who will be called up in the event of war should be given training which will equip them to fit quickly into the task they would have to perform in the event of war.
1123 One word about officers. As has been said this evening, our main source of supply of officers is Sandhurst. Indeed, we are examining the desirability of lengthening the Sandhurst period. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury who said it should be shortened. With all the complications and technicalities of modern warfare, that is just not possible. Indeed, it is more a question of whether the period at Sandhurst should, in fact, be lengthened. At the same time, we are also examining whether it is possible to cut some of the gap between the passing of the Sandhurst examination and getting into Sandhurst, which at the present time may be quite considerable.
But Sandhurst does not fulfil all the requirements of the Army at the present time, and so, as my right hon. Friend has already said, we are examining the possibility of getting a supply of officers to the technical branches of the Services through a pre-Sandhurst school designed to attract at an earlier age boys who will ultimately become officers in such specialist services as the Ordnance Corps, R.E.M.E. and the R.E. But I want to emphasise that neither at Sandhurst nor at the pre-Sandhurst school will there be any need for a candidate to have any private income at all.
I think I have answered most if not all of the points raised during this interesting debate.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Could the hon. Gentleman give us some further details about the preparations going on for the protection of soldiers against the atom bomb?
§ Mr. Hutchison
They are being trained in the action which they must take in the field to minimise the effect of an atom bomb attack. That is all part of the training. The training will be set out in pamphlet form and issued to all troops. I have no doubt the hon. Member will be interested to receive a copy of that pamphlet and to study it, and perhaps even to take evasive action himself some day.
I do not want the House to feel we are completely satisfied that all is well. That can only be so if there is constant research, study and examination of every changing problem. But I think the War Office and the training staffs are abreast 1124 of military needs and that the training of the Army is good.
If any hon. Member is interested and would like us to arrange a visit to a school or an exercise at any time, my right hon. Friend and I would be glad to receive names and to try to arrange it. There Members will be able to see the advances that have been made in the technique of training since the war. I think they will be satisfied that the role played by the Army and National Service men, particularly in Korea, bears evidence of the fact that our training programme has not been built on shifting sands.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Sir S. Holmes
The House has devoted itself for the last two hours and seven minutes to discussing my Amendment. I feel it would be for the convenience of the House and of future speakers to dispose of that Amendment so that all subjects concerning the Army may be discussed and not merely a limited Amendment of this kind. I should like to thank the Minister for his reply, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I think it would be in order to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for War on the accomplished and lucid way in which he replied to the Amendment and to compliment him from this side of the House on his much better frame of mind than when last he spoke.
When the Secretary of State, in his very witty and entertaining fashion, opened the Army Estimates this afternoon, I thought he was taking credit for rather too much. He was implying, for instance, that the saving of 10,000 men from various headquarters and other static formations had been his doing, but of course he knows perfectly well it was not. It was done very largely as a result of the activities of the Templer Committee which was taken over by General Callander before the General Election and had very little to do with the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Head:
The hon. Member is being a little too smart and I am not going to let him get away with it. General Callander at that time was commanding a division in Germany. If the hon. Member is suggesting that in commanding a division in Germany he was carrying out this Committee's task, then it is rubbish. I can only state the fact that the Templer Committee carried out this duty in England, and subsequently, quite a long time after the General Election, General Callander who had then ceased to command a division started out on his pilgrimage to extend the activities of the Callander Committee. The fact that the hon. Member met General Callander in Germany had nothing to do with this case.
§ Mr. Wyatt
The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. In August General Callander was acting Commander-in-Chief in Germany and was not commanding a division at all. I have now established a claim for knowing at least as much about it as the right hon. Gentleman does.
One of his so-called savings I thought was particularly interesting, namely, the 10 per cent. cut in the War Office staff. I suppose there must be some simple explanation of this, but when one comes to look at Vote 3, far from there being a 10 per cent. cut in the War Office staff, whereas the War Office staff numbered 7,451 last year, in the coming year it will number 7,734—an increase of 280 odd.
§ Mr. Head
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to be controversial I can beat him. This increase has come about not during my régime but as a result of the pile-up of last year, and in the same way the decrease which we have now made will be shown next year. It is a question of the sins of the father showing up in this Estimate and the virtues of this Government showing up in next year's Estimate.
§ Mr. Wyatt
The cut therefore appears to be an extremely delayed action cut, and appears hardly to have any real effect at all.
There are a number of matters which the right hon. Gentleman used to twit us about when he was in opposition, and now that he has assumed his present office he has found how wrong he was in the past. He has hardly been gracious enough to admit it. For instance, there is the striking example of the local overseas allowances in Korea on which the right hon. Gentleman has been dodging my Questions during the last few months. He constantly told us that we should pay these local overseas allowances. He even went through the rigmarole of pretending that, when he became Secretary of State, he was considering the matter and would revise it. What has happened? There is no mention of it in the Army Estimates today. He was utterly wrong and he has not had the grace to admit it.
Then we had his jeers at the Class Z Reserve system last year, when he told us that it was no good at all and that the call-up period was not long enough.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman is going to try to emulate his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and produce some strange secret paper, because there is nothing that he can produce which can be critical of our policy or the stand we are now taking.
There was an interesting item in the Estimates which needs a good deal more examination, because it bears some relationship to the great claim which the right hon. Gentleman made to the effect that he was going to get far more divisions out of the present number of men in the Army than we had. I remember his very brilliant speech last year in the Army Estimates debate when he explained how this was going to be done, and when he said how shameful it was that our divisional slice was far greater than the Russians'. He has got 10,000 men out of operational headquarters and 1127 static formations and he is going to form seven new battalions. Is it not a strange thing to form seven new battalions when the battalions in Austria and Trieste are well below strength and when there are many others in other parts of the world which are below strength? Would it not be better, instead of having battalions well below strength, to bring them up to strength?
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Gentleman, who has so much experience in these matters, will appreciate that the formation of seven new battalions does not take up 10,000 men. He will further realise that the gradual making up of the strength of the battalions can be done from the surplus of that amount. I would also point out that in my speech of a year ago, to which he referred in such favourable terms, I did not mention, as he said, that we were going to form new divisions. I said I thought a saving could be made in the tail and that the increase could be made in the teeth, and I think that has been done.
§ Mr. Wyatt
It was certainly done by us before the right hon. Gentleman got to his present office. He has certainly been unable to make any improvement on it. I know that seven battalions do not require 10,000 men. They would require, perhaps, 7,000 or a little less. But surely he is not going to claim that if all those savings were drawn from static formations and headquarters, they would be fit to go into front line infantry battalions, because that is clearly not so.
Then there is the question of the 280 rifle, which is the one case where the right hon. Gentleman has made a startling departure from the policy of the Labour Government without any conspicuous success. It had already been decided that the280 rifle would be put into production, even if it were impossible to achieve standardisation with the Americans. The basic reason for deciding that was that we, unlike the Americans, could not afford to wait any longer for a new rifle. The Americans have a semi-automatic rifle; we have not. We are still using the Boer War pattern. There seems to be no logical reason why we should not get on with the large-scale production of this rifle so that, in two or three years, it would begin to come out in fairly large numbers.
1128 This is a vital thing for the British Army, for two reasons. First of all, it is vital to morale, because when the 280 rifle was published to the world as having been invented there was a tremendous surge of pride throughout the British Army, which thought, "Here is a British weapon, which is the finest of its kind in the world; not even the Americans have a better rifle." That made for a very high morale, but that has all been damped down.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I am sorry. I have been interrupted so often by the Secretary of State that I shall never be able to complete my speech if I give way. All this advantage of morale has been completely lost.
The second reason is that this new rifle is a very superior weapon. The British soldier is put once again into a position where he can deal with greatly superior numbers, and that is what he will always have to do in any future wars, if there are any. The best way to give him confidence is to give him a rifle which is a semi-automatic weapon and with which he can really take on vastly superior numbers of troops.
For both these reasons it has been an absolute disaster that the Conservative Government have wavered and shillyshallied, and finally practically abandoned the 280 rifle except for putting it into experimental production. It is shameful treatment of a British invention which would give the British Army a fine new spirit.
Until the General Election we were told by hon. Members opposite that our Army in Korea was not properly trained. Even the right hon. Gentleman, in the defence debate last year, said that he thought the Labour Government had made a mess of our defences. If he looks up his speech in the defence debate last year, he will find that is what he said.
§ Mr. Wyatt
What it has to do with Korea is that the British Army has been demonstrated there as the finest Army in the world, and this Army was produced under a Labour Government. [Laughter.] Oh, yes. Whilst the right hon. Gentleman 1129 was saying that the Labour Government were ruining our defences and our Army, they managed to produce the finest Army in the world. In fact, we left him with a far better Army than has ever been left by a Conservative Government in peacetime. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite laugh, but that will in no way rub away the fact that the Labour Government produced the finest Army Britain has ever had in peace-time in her history.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) reminds us that when Lord Haldane went to the War Office he said, "What kind of Army do we want and what do we want it for?" I think that was a very sound approach. For a short while, I should like to consider what is the role of the Army in the "cold" war in which we are most unfortunately engaged, what it has to contend with, and why it has been constructed in the way it has been.
It does not do any harm from time to time to remind ourselves of what the British Army might be up against in Europe should a war break out. We sometimes forget that the Russians have 175 front-line divisions and 40 antiaircraft and artillery divisions. We are also inclined to overlook the 60 to 70 divisions which the satellite States have under arms, which are a very powerful addition. The support of all these armies by 20,000 aircraft makes them a tremendously formidable proposition, particularly in view of the fact that the Russians are better armed now than they were in 1945.
In 1945, after the war, we in the West demobilised to less than 30 per cent. of our 1945 strength and the Russians to only 60 per cent. of theirs. In Moscow it is boasted that the Red Army has maintained the hold of Russia over the satellite countries. We know the dismal story of Czechoslovakia and the attempt to push us out of Berlin at the time of the Berlin blockade. I should like to remind the House of something said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) last year, which I thought was an extremely important point. He said:His Majesty's Government are alive to the potential threat to Yugoslavia from the swollen armed forces of the satellites which has been emphasised by hostile Soviet and satellite propaganda."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 731.]He went on to give, I think very justifiably and correctly, a guarantee to Yugoslavia 1130 from this country. But that guarantee to Yugoslavia cannot be implemented if we do not maintain our Army at the size put down in the present Army Estimates. Apart from Europe, there has been a tremendous Communist adventure in Korea, and we cannot be sure that the Communist adventure is not a plan to draw our troops from Europe, and that there will not be further pressures in Asia in order to pull more troops away.
The part of the British Army in all this is not only to provide the best part of a division in Korea, not only to provide troops to fight Communist terrorists in Malaya, not only to cope with the situation in the Middle East—a sitution which has left us without one active division to act as a strategic reserve in this country—not only to provide for garrisons in many other places, but also to give effective assistance to the defence of Europe, which is probably the most important role it may have to undertake.
The Russians, we know, have got 26 divisions in Germany and nearby, 22 of which are armoured. The West has got only 18 to 20 divisions in Western Europe with which it can meet those 26 Russian divisions. It is fairly certain that the Russians could still get to the Channel within a few weeks without even having to reinforce those 26 divisions beforehand, without having to give us the valuable warning which those reinforcements moving up would give us before an attack was launched. By the end of this year we shall be strong enough to make them give us that valuable advance warning. The next stage is to be strong enough to hold up an initial Russian attack long enough to mobilise our armies and factories in Western Europe, and to receive aid from America before it is too late.
Although the Russians and the satellites have got such large armies under arms, transport and other difficulties make it unlikely, in my view, that a Communist attack could be launched with more than 80 to 100 divisions. Russian divisions are much smaller than ours, but to offset that, one must also remember that the Russians do not believe in the administrative services which we give to our troops. They do not have postal units and various conditions which Western troops demand, and, I think, 1131 rightly demand. Therefore they have very little tail.
An initial attack by 80 to 100 Russian divisions could be held by some 50 to 60 divisions in Western Europe. In my view, the second stage of preparedness must be reached by such time as the Russians are likely to have a stockpile of atom bombs. It is undoubtedly the fact that we have the atom bomb and they have not, which figures so largely in the schemes of the Kremlin. They may well calculate that when they have a stockpile of atom bombs, one stockpile will cancel out the other, and at that point the conventional weapons and army become supreme. We must have enough on the ground and in the air to hold up a Russian attack.
As well as these 50 to 60 divisions of the defending army, there must be large reinforcements to come forward should war break out and the initial attack be held. The British Army, it is intended, would provide at least 12 divisions promptly to act as reinforcements and the Territorial divisions are the ones which will be used for this purpose. These Territorial divisions are at the basis of all our military planning. If the view becomes generally accepted that the danger of war has receded to the extent that the re-armament element of the arms programme can be virtually abandoned, then the whole of that basis would disappear, as I will seek to show in a minute.
I believe that the Government have been neglecting their duty for electioneering purposes over the last few months, because they have refused to give us any reasons at all why we must retain these large armaments. They have been so busy playing politics with our national defence. [Interruption.] Anybody who has listened to the Prime Minister's last two speeches in this House must have been absolutely convinced that his sole purpose was to try to build up the view that the danger of war had receded, because he hoped to make trouble amongst members of the Opposition. That was the sole reason for his doing so. Otherwise, I presume that the Estimates would have been cut a great deal more.
We must ask ourselves, in what way has the danger of war receded? It has 1132 receded because the Russians have seen that the West is determined to resist aggression through their re-armament programmes. If we accept the course now urged upon us from some quarters, they will cease to think we are so determined and the danger of war will be increased again. We shall not be in a position to meet that danger then.
The Army Estimates would have been much larger, or substantially larger, if the re-armament programme, planned last year by the Labour Government, had been kept going at the target speed which was originally planned. We do not complain of the cuts which have been made in these Estimates, because obviously the military risks have to be balanced with the serious economic situation in the country. The Government were bound to have regard to that, and to take perhaps a little risk in the military field. This has been possible because the re-armament programme itself has had such an effect in raising the morale of the West and in making the Russians realise we are determined to meet aggression. But it is a risk, although it is a risk which the Labour Government would undoubtedly have taken had we still been in office.
There is a suggestion that there should be a cut of £250 million all-told in production and research in the defence programme. I want to examine how such a cut would affect the Army. I cannot imagine anybody would suggest allocating the cut in such a way as to make it fall primarily, largely, or even very much on the Royal Air Force, because it is in that field that we have been comparatively weakest and we have pitifully few aircraft to match against the 20,000 of the Russians.
The amount allocated for aircraft this year is £111 million, an increase of £30 million over last year. Supposing that £30 million were taken off, we still have to dispose of £220 million out of the suggested cut of £250 million. The total increase in the Navy Estimates on shipbuilding and arms is only £60 million. That would still leave £160 million to be found from the Army on the assumption that we take off all increases. It was not suggested that there should be less rearmament than last year. Within the £250 million cut upon production and research alone £160 million would have to 1133 come from the Army if only the increases of this year over last year were taken off the Navy and Air Force.
When one examines Vote 7 of the Army Estimates one sees that out of the net £216 million there is an increase of £81 million over last year, but all the items are not for armaments. Even under the heading of "stores," clothing accounts for £40 million, an increase of nearly £20 million over last year. Nobody would suggest that that item should be cut.
Next comes general stores at £33 million. This covers items such as barrack room accommodation, stores and so forth. Nobody would suggest that our soldiers should be housed inadequately. Then there is a medical stores item of £1,500,000, which nobody would want to cut.
The main item is "Warlike stores," which covers the tanks, the guns, the ammunition, the transport and the supply vehicles of the Army. Only £156 million of the Army Estimates which we are asked to cut will go on providing tanks, guns and all the other weapons of war. If we are to allocate the cuts in such a way as not to expend more this year on the Navy and the Air Force than we did last year, we shall still have to try to take £160 million from production and research in the Army. That would clearly be absurd, because there would be no tanks or guns in the Army next year, and nobody would seriously suggest that.
But one can look at the Estimates to see if anything can be cut out of the large total, because one should do it if one can. First of all, I think it is forgotten that the size of the Reserve Army, on which we depend for our ultimate safety, is growing rapidly. In 1950 the Supplementary Reserve and other Reserves amounted to only 204,000 men, in 1951 the figure was 382,000, and in 1952 it rises to 695,000 men. All these men have to be armed, clothed and equipped.
There is one item in this year's figures which the Labour Government would not have included, and that is the 170,000 men of the Home Guard. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man), could not claim that he would not have put the Home Guard in, because last year in the debate on the Army Estimates 1134 he advocated the formation of a Home Guard in peacetime when he said:….this suggestion for a nucleus of the Home Guard is something which, however unpleasant it may be, must be seriously and objectively considered.He was then interrupted by the present Prime Minister who asked him, "In peacetime?" My hon. Friend replied:Yes, now, in peacetime."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 734.]However, that did not prevent my hon. Friend from vigorously opposing the formation of a Home Guard when the Bill came before the House, nor from voting against it.
However, we can leave the Home Guard out of it for a moment and there is still an increase this year in the Reserve force of 140,000 men. Why is this? It is largely because this is the second year in which National Service men are completing their two-year service with the active Army and going on to do their three and a half years' compulsory service with the Territorial Army. This is an inevitable increase and will take place again next year.
There are some people in this House who fought vigorously for conscription when the National Service Act came before the House. This scheme was an integral part of that Act, and anybody who supported the Act must support the creation of this Reserve Army, because this is how it came about. But we cannot have the Reserve Army left unclothed, unequipped and unarmed, which is what will happen if any substantial cuts are made in the Army Estimates this year.
Again, this is the second year of the re-armament programme. Another thing that is forgotten is that the item for production and research in the Army Estimates cannot now be cut much further without causing havoc in industry, because the orders were placed last year and production lines in many instances have been laid down. For example, two tank factories have been tooled up to produce tanks and are now doing so. The same applies to the other vehicles and the other items in all three Services. If these were all suddenly cut off, all we should have would be half made tanks, half made Army vehicles—which would not be very suitable for export—and the men employed in those industries would be rendered unemployed whilst they were 1135 being switched back to the export industries. So the remedy advocated would not make the economic situation any better, it would make it worse.
As I have said, there has already been a large cut in the Army Estimates on production and research. It may be that the present plans in the Army Estimates cannot be fulfilled completely but to make a savage cut on them, as has been suggested, would be absolute lunacy at the present stage because it would mean that we should be leaving our troops unarmed and it would not even help in the balance of payments. Since one obviously cannot apply this suggested £250 million cut to production and research, it would mean that in order to try to make the cut it would have to be made in the actual numbers of men in the Navy, Air Force and Army.
For the Army this would be disastrous. It would mean that the British Division in Korea would undoubtedly have to be withdrawn, with absolutely disastrous effect on any influence we may have with the Americans in regard to their policy in Korea since, if we have no troops there at all, we have obviously no influence. We should have to withdraw most of our troops from Malaya and, if we lost Malaya, the balance of payments situation would be irreparably jeopardised. So that would not be very helpful economically.
It is no good having men and a great Reserve Army scheme, as we have, if we are to deny them the food, clothing, arms and equipment necessary to carry out their functions. The total Army Estimates for 1950 were £300 million, for 1951 they had gone up to £418 million and this year they are £521 million. Having regard to the vastly increased size of the Reserve Army, to the tremendous increases in prices, to the fact that much of the production element is due to the replacement of vehicles and weapons which have been in use since 1945 and must be replaced if our soldiers are not to have obsolete arms in their hands, I do not think that the increase is excessive. To cut those Estimates by more than a few millions in the coming year would be to destroy the entire foundation of the British Army and I do not think there could be found many in the House to accept such a proposition.
1136 For those reasons, we give our general approval to the Army Estimates as presented by the Government, and to the intention implicit in them that the Government will try to provide as far as possible the arms and equipment contained in the production element. It may be that there will have to be some short-fall even so, but we cannot believe that the short-fall will be anything of a very tremendous character, nor in my view should it be.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Colonel Alan Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)
I will not attempt to follow the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) into all the details of his contradictory speech, with part of which I agree entirely and with part of which I entirely disagree. His general reproof to his right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) we have all noted, and I think he is right; but I think he was wrong on one thing.
If I may say so, being a great deal older and, therefore, coming under the heading of "Colonel Blimp," I say that if the hon. Member thinks that the rifle with which the British Infantry is armed today is the same as it had in South Africa, he needs to think again. The only thing that is the same about it is the calibre: 303. As a weapon, it is entirely different. It is not fair that it should go out from the House of Commons from an ex-Minister to the country, that our infantry today is armed with the same weapon as our troops had in South Africa. If the hon. Member thinks that over, I think he will agree.
The first important thing we all have to remember is the fact that this country is at war. It has always been said that if we had a Labour Government we would never have a war; and of course, almost as soon as the Labour Government came to power, we went to war, but it was never called war. It was always called a police operation or something else. The fact is that this country is at war and has been for a very long time. There is a war in Korea, the same war in Malaya, and the same war in Egypt and in Indo-China. All this is the same war, and let us never forget it. It is not a party political matter—it is a tragic fact.
I want to examine two points only on the Estimates, and on them one could go very wide. The first is the question of the call up. The call up, we all realise, 1137 is necessary, but I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is satisfied that the effect of the call up upon food production—
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
I always have the support of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) whether it be Welsh or Watch; we are together in that "Black" is the operative word.
Is it really sensible, I ask my right hon. Friend, that we should at this time call up the agricultural worker? I should be the last—and nobody in the House would deny me that—to try to prevent people from being called up to serve their country. But is it worth while, from the point of labour, expenditure and everything else, to call up workers on the land for a job which, we know perfectly well, they will never perform in war-time?
The first line of defence is food—we cannot get away from that. Without food we find that the finest army is useless.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
I am not talking about the stockpile; I am talking about the calling up of agricultural workers. I do not wish it to be thought for a moment that the agricultural community are one whit behind anybody else in their desire to serve their country—far from it; but this is a matter of hard common sense. Is it worth while to call up people for jobs which, we know, they will not have in war-time? Would it not be more sensible—I say this with great respect—to call up the young men of the agricultural committee—I am sorry the agricultural community? [Laughter.] I would call up the agricultural committees if I thought there were enough young men upon them. Would it not be better if these young men were passed on to the Home Guard to do the job which they could do usefully, as they did in the last war? Would not that be more sensible so that they could guarantee the food supply? Food is the front line of defence in this country and we cannot get away from that fact. I hope my right hon. Friend will give this matter further consideration.
1138 In connection with the call up there is the question of the three-year Regular engagement, which has had a very considerable effect in Scotland among young agricultural workers. The terms are attractive but the effect will be that when they have done their three years in the Regular Army and their years on the Reserve they will probably never return to agriculture again. Is that sense in these days when we are so desperately dependent on our farms for our food and when every year we will become more dependent, and not less? I leave that matter for the consideration of my right hon. Friend, and I hope he will give us a satisfactory answer.
Under Vote 8 we are dealing with work, buildings and land. There is the repayment of interest charges under the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Act, 1949, which was announced, I think, a couple of years ago as being a great contribution, first, to housing production in this country and second, to the provision of married quarters. I wish to ask how many married quarters have been provided under this Act. The figure is £190,000 for repayment and interest—what does that represent in actual married quarters provided and so desperately needed in all garrison towns at home or abroad? It would be of interest to the country to know.
Also under Vote 8 is the question of lands. The War Office either rents or owns very large areas of land in Great Britain. We realise that the War Office must have this land for the purpose of training, but we also realise that in this little island there is a very limited area of land available and that food is the first line of defence.
While accepting the fact that we must have tank ranges and ranges for all types of training, are we certain that it is land that can best be spared and that it is the land least capable of food production which is being used for this purpose? Secondly, are we sure that where certain areas are taken by the War Office, quite rightly no doubt, they are being used for the best benefit of food production when they are not being used for training.
The question of aerodromes does not enter into this debate but it provides a typical example of what can and what cannot be done. There are great areas which cannot be used for food production. 1139 Steps should be taken to see they do not produce weeds and dirt which can fly over the countryside due to the War Office not using properly land which must be used for training. I hope my right hon. Friend will look into this matter because food production is the front line of defence in any country, and in this tiny island of ours, with our chances of getting food from overseas getting less and less every year, this matter of food becomes of greater and greater importance. I am sure the War Office can lead the way, if it will, on these matters affecting food production.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I do not propose to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) on the rather narrow point with which he has been dealing. Nor do I propose to take part in the private argument between my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman).
I would add my word of praise to the delightful way in which the Estimates were introduced by the right hon. Gentleman. I felt something of the pleasure one always feels in witnessing the success of an old colleague, because in these Service matters the bonds which have united back benchers over the last six years have always been stronger than the division of party.
I wish to deal with a rather broad aspect of defence generally. The success of military preparation is generally proportionate to one's capacity to guess what will be most needed next time and, to generalise, the next time always turns out to be much more different from the last time than anybody expected. I would ask whether we are really preparing the sort of Army which will win next time.
There has been, in the history of military equipment, a rhythm between elaboration and weight on the one hand and simplicity and lightness on the other. That rhythm is to be found in the military history of the Assyrians, of the Greeks, of Macedonia, of Rome and of medieval chivalry. Then there was the great divide when fire power changed everything. But the cycle started again and the formations of Turenne and Marlborough bear a strange resemblance to those of the Greek 1140 States. With Napoleon we saw the return of the phalanx and with Wellington the legion of the line. Now we are witnessing the return of the armoured warrior.
Each weapon in military history was improved and elaborated until it became a burden which neither the civil nor military economy could bear. All through history that has been so. And each in turn, each elaborated, over-heavy weapon has succumbed to simplicity, generally a simple infantry weapon which enabled many men to fight the few that handled the over-elaborate and over-expensive equipment.
The history of armoured cavalry is particularly interesting. I spent last Saturday in the Tower of London studying that history and observing all the developments. It began with the light cavalry of the Huns which defeated the Legions. They were mounted on tough Siberian ponies and armoured in lacquered leather. The steel-tipped arrow was the answer to lacquered armour and so the early Middle Ages developed chain mail.
Chain mail could not keep out the lance, so, at the cost of another increase in cost and weight, plate armour that turned the point of the lance came in, and was developed and elaborated, first for men and then for horses. No longer was there the wiry pony, but the ponderous shire horse was evolved to carry the knight. Every one of these developments was necessary. It was no use having a second-best knight. The coat of mail could beat the coat of leather and the coat of plate could beat the coat of mail. The fully-armoured knight could beat anything then on earth. But he had become too cumbersome and expensive. The function of the soldier had ceased to be fighting—
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
On a point of order. Are we discussing the war estimates of William the Conqueror, or what?
§ Mr. Speaker
I think the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was advancing, cautiously but steadily, towards the present age.
§ Mr. Paget
Mr. Speaker, you have put it precisely. I should like to point out how all this has happened before. We 1141 might learn lessons from history. Military history, in its trends tends to repeat itself.
The function of the medieval soldier had ceased to be to fight. He had become the servitor of the knight, engaged on the supply and maintenance of the knight. Are we not seeing the same thing today?
The morale of the common soldier was destroyed because his fighting power was too obviously inferior to that of the men with the equipment. The stage was reached when only knights fought, and the maintenance of an adequate supply of knights became greater than the civilian economy could bear. That was the history of the Middle Ages. At Agincourt only knights fought—perhaps one-twentieth of the French Army. The French probably had an overall superiority of two to one, but the British Army, all of whom fought, had a superiority of eight to one in fighting effectiveness.
The knights succumbed to a simplification of equipment that enabled the many to fight the few. The English long-bow, the Welsh billhook and the Swiss halberd—simple infantry weapons—defeated the cumbersome knights. That is the history of the Middle Ages.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
On a point of order. Can we have some information as to about what time we shall get to the Battle of Waterloo?
§ Mr. Speaker
I must confess that I have been sharing the hopes of the hon. Member. I ask the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), without more ado, to come into the present time.
§ Mr. Paget
If I had been allowed one more sentence I should have got to Korea. I was about to suggest that the same story which one saw when there were armoured men before has happened again in Korea. It seems to me to be of some importance. The purpose of mechanisation is to enable the maximum fire power to be applied at the vital place.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
Before the hon. and learned Gentleman completes his historical survey, surely he ought to mention Hannibal's elephants and the Battle of Zama, which provide a good illustration of his point.
§ Mr. Paget
There are many examples of this nature. I was merely indicating that if one followed the trends of history one saw that we were facing the same sort of situation where an arm has become so elaborate and heavy that neither military nor civilian economy can any longer bear it and where it becomes defeated by a simple infantry weapon. It has happened very often before. We look as though we have mechanised to the point at which there are very few people left to fight.
I have some figures from the Revue Militaire d' Information of July last, which is a report of high French officers who examined the American organisation. What they reported was that the U.S. divisional slice is 60,000. A division is 18,705. Of that division the fighting infantry number 1,159 and, if we bring in the immediate support of the artillery and the tank crews, we get another 1,050 fighting men. That works out in case of the American Army as about one man in 30 fighting.
That is worse than the French at Agincourt. I have not been able to get precisely comparable figures for our Army. I think we are rather better than the Americans—perhaps about one in 20. Is that right?
§ Mr. Paget
Let us compare it with the Russian situation. There, we have a slice of 16,000, a division of 11,000, containing 5,000 fighting infantry and 1,200 tank crews and guns. As against the American figure, where one in 30 fights, in the Russian Army, where they concentrate on simpler weapons, we get one in three fighting, and, in the Chinese Army, the proportion is probably higher still.
These are formidable figures to be up against. The Americans so far have not been outnumbered in Korea. After the truce, if it were to be broken, and we 1143 hope it will not be, it may be different, but, so far, they have not been outnumbered. The hordes of Chinese which were constantly reported were really fictions of the imagination, alibis urgently needed by the American commanders. Indeed, reporters on the spot where the hordes were reported had to inquire how many hordes went to a platoon.
Intelligence reports, now that we have been able to examine the situation, indicate that the defenders of the Pusan bridgehead always outnumbered those who were attacking, and that the army that fell back from the Yalu River in pretty serious rout had been beaten by numerically inferior forces which had retained the use of their legs.
The United Nations have enjoyed enormous superiority of personnel, practically unchallenged control of the air and sea, and if we include the air and naval personnel, considerable numbers, and, so far, play is about even in midfield. It is not very encouraging.
What are the lessons? First, that elaboration of weapons leads to a stretching of services and supplies by geometrical progression, since every addition made to the tail involves another addition to service the first addition. It is like the servants in a great house. The more there are, and the more are needed, because the new one is occupied in waiting on the others.
So it is in the Army. The suppliers of the suppliers now far exceed the suppliers of the fighting men. The numbers of transport and communication troops blocking the roads and destroying mobility has made dispersal on lines of communication almost impossible, and I shudder to think what would happen to the supply line of an American or even of an English division—
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
On a point of order. Are we discussing the Army Estimates or a strategic view developed from the Wars of the Roses?
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that what the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying is relevant to the Army Estimates.
§ Mr. Paget
I do not know quite how it is that, whenever I get up, the hon. Gentleman opposite always seems to wish to interrupt me with an irrelevant point of order.
1144 I was saying that I shudder to think what would happen to an American divisional supply line or even to a British divisional supply line, if it had to face an enemy disposing of 12,000 front-line aircraft. We must find an organisation that enables a vastly higher proportion to fight, making possible a great dispersal of the supply lines. That means a very radical change in organisation. One cannot get that by tinkering with the existing organisation.
The second lesson of Korea is that the function of the machine in war is to enable men to fight. It is not a substitute for fighting. In Korea, excessive reliance on the machine has been destructive of morale. Troops have been road-bound; troops have been refusing to leave their vehicles, and it has often been impossible to get a company to attack a hill position without a preparation by heavy bombers. I am referring to the Americans. I think our troops have done a good deal better. Most of these remarks are directed mainly to the Americans.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think at this point the hon. and learned Gentleman and I must part company. We are discussing our own Army Estimates, and I do not think they should be made the occasion for criticism of the Army of another Power. If the hon. and learned Gentleman can confine himself to showing how the lessons should modify in some way our Army Estimates, well and good. I must ask him to try to restrict his remarks in the way I have suggested.
§ Mr. Speaker
When we parted company was when the hon. and learned Gentleman began to talk about the American Army. If he would give us some lessons from the experience of our own troops in Korea, I think it would be perfectly in order.
§ Mr. Paget
I will link that up with what I am saying. The lesson in Korea—perhaps it is a general lesson—is that there is certainly no substitute for discipline in action. That most certainly has to be stressed.
1145 I will now turn to some concrete suggestions. The first is that since only a small proportion of our Army fights, we must build up the morale of our fighters, for everything depends on their performance. We are—and I said this last year, and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State then agreed with me—a Gideon Army, but we are still organised as though we were a mass Army.
The fighting, which after all is the object of the whole exercise, is left to about one-twentieth. But that one-twentieth is not the chosen; it is the residue. The platoon commander delivers the war effort of about 1,000 men, 500 armed and another 500 in the factories, and he is rated by the community as being worth about one-third of a National Health dentist.
The rifleman requires about as much support and service as the medieval knight, but the medieval knight did at least have to win his spurs, while the qualification for the rifleman is generally the negative one of not having enough brains to get into R.E.M.E. This should be changed. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider having a fighting rating in the Army similar to the Royal Air Force wings. This rank should be introduced with an appropriate badge. The trained and qualified fighter who delivers the fire-power of a fighting division should be made to feel he is a select man, not a left-over man, because that feeling will raise his morale.
He should have special pay and privileges because of his responsibility to deliver the power of the Army. He is entitled to as much glamour as an aircrew in the R.A.F. After all, there are fewer men in the Army today who fight than there were ever air crews in the R.A.F. at the end of the war. They are a select band, and we must realise that they are a select band. The pride of individual regiments must be developed, and I am delighted to hear that cross-postings in fighting formations is to be discouraged.
We must also have better officers. They may be good now but we want better still. I was delighted to hear that the right hon. Gentleman is to create a military Dartmouth with entry at 16 years of age. I think it will be an admirable source of officers. Commissioning through the ranks has given us some good officers, and some not so good. Experience in the ranks is more valuable when 1146 an officer mentality has been inculcated first; otherwise service in the ranks sometimes leaves a ranker mentality from which it is not easy to emerge when a man becomes an officer. To draw all officers from the ranks leaves insufficient N.C.O.s of adequate quality. One wants a Dartmouth entry as well as entry from the ranks if one is to have the quality of officer the Army requires. We also want a higher proportion of fighting men. We need far more highly trained light infantry and by that I mean infantry that fights really light. They should carry very little ammunition. When one is moving one uses little ammunition. In the last war the average ammunition expended by an attacking force was less than 10 rounds a man. When one is defending one uses a lot, but then it is generally possible to get it up.
Attacking troops should carry light ammunition and also light rations. It is far better for troops to be occasionally hungry than that they should be tired all the time through being overburdened. Light infantry require a light weapon and light ammunition, and that is why we regard the new rifle as of first importance. When I was in Paris I put this question to General Eisenhower and I have his permission to repeat what he said. In his view standardisation was often being overdone and he had no objection at all to the British having their own rifle. I would say that in a modern supply organisation different ammunition for different divisions makes very little difference, and indeed the value of standardisation above divisional level is somewhat over-rated.
Staff and command still need to be cut down. Organisation in Jives with a small division of 7,000 or 8,000, for which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply was such an enthusiast, requires careful consideration. It provides handier formations and cuts down the staff. It makes for greater mobility and for more men fighting and should be considered seriously.
Supply and transport must be reduced still further. I believe a requisitioning organisation for rations and supply ought to be set up in Germany. This would enable troops to move using local supplies instead of having to carry everything around with them. I should like to see exercises in which formations 1147 bought their requirements of food and petrol to see how they got along without having a supply column. Pray heaven that we do not have a war, but if we have a war we shall be operating in friendly country which will not have been scorched. If our troops are to be mobile and are not to have these desperately vulnerable supply columns they should have the opportunity of learning to live off the country.
We are at a point in history at which the elaboration of the machine has become so excessive that drastic reform is essential. May I refer the right hon. Gentleman to something which he said in this debate last year. Addressing my right hon. Friend, he said:I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to institute a really searching inquiry into this question. … I entreat him not to leave it too late. Some of us have given lots of tips in the past, and they have not been bad tips, but if I may say so, the Government have never had the full value of putting their money on them because they have left it so late that the odds have shortened and the subsequent benefit has been much smaller."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 818.]I hope the right hon. Gentleman will pay attention now to his own words. He is in a difficult position. No Army ever reforms itself. Reform always has to be imposed on an unwilling Army by a strong Minister. That has been the history of every Army reform. The position of the right hon. Gentleman is particularly difficult. When a civilian Minister goes to the War Office he meets his staff on equal terms; they are all men at the top of their professions. But the right hon. Gentleman, with the background of the junior staff officer, has a difficult job to maintain his position.
I do not want to put this in any way offensively, but the position of the office boy who is promoted suddenly to be managing director is not altogether a happy one. To succeed he will require quite exceptional qualities. He may very well have them. I hope, and I rather believe, he has. So far he seems to have done very well.
I would urge him to appoint a committee similar to the Esher Committee, under civilian chairmanship, to consider the whole question of reform in the Army organisation. That committee should consider not only our own experience 1148 but German experience, because the Germans produced a pretty good Army. I suggest that if the advice and experience of General Wertphal who was chief of staff to Kesselring and Rommel, could be obtained, it would be invaluable.
§ Mr. Paget
No, he is not in gaol. I regard military reform as very important because in the light of Korean experience our Army must either reform or be defeated. We have reached the watershed in military evolution. We have got to get a new organisation, because the organisation built up on heavier and more elaborate lines than the last war is going to be defeated next time by the lighter forces where far more men are enabled to fight, unless we find the answer in advance.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) forsook the traditions of the Silent Service to which he has belonged, to address us on these Army Estimates with such eloquence that it is an encouragement to many of us associated with the Army to intervene next year on the Navy Estimates. All of us on this side of the House appreciated his early reference to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War in opening this debate.
The Secretary of State has added a new incentive to the Regular soldier. Not only does he carry along with him the field marshal's baton, but he can now strap on himself the portfolio of a Cabinet Minister. I should like to take up the mild criticism of my right hon. Friend which was made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton. It seemed to me no bad thing that the office boy should be promoted to managing director; in fact, it is not a principle that has so far been criticised from the other side of the House. I think it is a great tribute to my right hon. Friend that he has already been so successful in office.
This military debate has, so far, been particularly non-militant, apart from the speech of the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt). I am sorry that he has left his place, because I had one or two remarks to address to him; but I think I will leave them unsaid in view of his 1149 absence. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, no!"] Oh, yes! I never kick people when they are not here. My right hon. Friend will no doubt deal with him when he comes to sum up this debate.
In his speech the hon. Member for Aston did deal with an aspect of this debate to which I think we must pay considerable attention. He dealt with the view that war might be less likely to occur now than it was last year. I agree with him, as I disagree wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), that that is no reason why we should in any way reduce our vigilance in the matter of our Armed Forces.
At the same time, I think we must pay very considerable attention to the thesis which was clearly outlined in the defence debate, and which has underlined some of the problems of hon. Members on the other side of the House, that if our economy and our defence preparations are overstrained we do leave ourselves open to inroads by the very forces against which we are attempting to defend ourselves.
I think my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for War, has to face up to that problem in the future development of the Army. I believe that we have to ensure that in our Army we do in fact get that to which he himself referred earlier, namely, value for money. In order to do that, I submit that there are three qualities which have to be brought out in our modern Army: first, mobility; second, fire power, and third, efficiency. Only if that is done can we get the maximum power per man to make up for the lack of numbers from which we must inevitably suffer in dealing with the opposition which confronts us.
One thing that worries me in looking through these Estimates—and it has worried me very much in listening to discussions on Army matters in the past—is the absence from our deliberations of the question of mobility by air. I am very much concerned that many of the lessons in that direction which we learned at the end of the last war are in danger of being unlearned, because we have not the equipment with which to carry out those operations.
I ask my right hon. Friend to tell us something about his intentions not so 1150 much with regard to paratroops as to the carrying of infantry into battle by air. I think that is of extreme importance in the future, and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton was very right in underlining in his speech the necessity to look ahead and not to fight the next war on the same basis as the last.
I also agreed very much with what the hon. and learned Member had to say about the mobility of formations in future activity. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend, from his very considerable experience, already has that matter in mind, and may have something to say upon it later this evening.
Turning to the subject of fire power, I should like to deal with the very important question referred to earlier during the debate on the Amendment by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tam-worth (Mr. Snow), namely, the question of Anti-Aircraft Command. I suggest that we must be very careful in our planning for the future of Anti-Aircraft Command. In the memorandum which accompanies these Estimates some considerable detail is given about the works services involved, and I question most sincerely whether the anti-aircraft measures which are now being taken are likely to be effective against the type of missiles which will be aimed against us.
I should like to recall for a moment my own experience in the last war when for a very long period we tended to expect attack by aircraft flying at the same height and at the same speed. It was a terrible surprise when the aircraft did not fly in at the same height or at the same speed.
I also recall an unfortunate experience which occurred when a very high ranking officer, as he subsequently became—in fact, he has just relinquished the directorship of the Territorial Army—was the brigade major of the formation in which I was serving. He was responsible for issuing an intelligence report in the first days of the war which read, concerning aircraft, "They may fly high or they may fly low," to which I sent the impertinent question, "What happens if they fly in between?"—and that is one of the reasons why, unlike so many hon. and gallant Members on this side of the House, I did not become a brigadier.
Let me refer once again to the specific problem of the type of attack and the 1151 nature of the weapons which will be used in that attack, which dictate the siting of the anti-aircraft weapons. During the debate on the Amendment we had a little discussion about the possibility of using what I might call self-defence methods, and using those working in factories to run out to the gun sites to defend themselves against imminent attack. I am of the opinion that that form of operation is impossible, and will be still more impossible under the conditions which are likely to prevail when the guns will have to be sited, as I believe, too far away for people to be able to get at them instantly.
But I am concerned at the large amount of money which it is obviously planned, and planned as a priority, to spend upon works services for Anti-Aircraft Command. Although I appreciate very much the argument of the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), that risks must be taken with forward planning—a point I wish to deal with in a moment—I think that that is the sort of risk it might be very foolish to take in view of the knowledge we have of the potential problem.
Although I do not wish to introduce a militant atmosphere into the debate, must say I think that one of the very unfortunate legacies left to my right hon. Friend is the radar legacy in Anti-Aircraft Command, which has been deplorable over the last few years. We have been far too dependent upon equipment issued during the war for which there were no spares, and over the past seven years the whole situation with respect to radar has become very nearly chaotic.
I am glad to have assurances both tonight and in the Memorandum that this matter is receiving attention, but I had a feeling—it was confirmed by conversations at S.H.A.P.E. when the hon. Gentleman, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton was there—that the most effective way of defending this country against the type of weapon and equipment envisaged is offensive defence, to be so strong in the R.A.F. as to prevent the weapons being dispatched. That is a higher priority in many ways than some of the preparations at present being made.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Is it the point that Anti-Aircraft Command should be re- 1152 duced and that there should be more concentration put on the R.A.F.?
§ Mr. Harvey
Yes. We have discussed today the 280 rifle, and I frankly say that my sympathies are with the expressions of view that have, in fact, come from the other side and to some extent from our own. I do not believe that the case has been properly sustained for the scrapping—as it would seem now—of the 280 rifle, because it was clearly made out in the last debate when we discussed this matter that to develop any weapon properly one must have user experience, a period of trial and error, and one must have time. If we are never going to get it because we are waiting for standardisation, then we shall never get any "forrarder" with any form of equipment at any time.
I know exactly what the right hon. Gentleman's problems are; they are very personal ones. I hope he will bring influence to bear in a very high quarter to see that at least some units are equipped with this weapon. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, that we should specialise, and the airborne forces seem to be the type of force that could be equipped without particular difficulty with the 280 rifle.
§ Mr. Harvey
Yes, I am. If that cannot be accepted, then a great deal of strength is lent to the argument that we should not introduce the rifle. Either we have to accept uniformity and the older rifle or a period in which we should have two calibres. Frankly, I disagree that there is all that supply problem, and I hope the matter will be pursued with courage and determination. As a gunner, I have taken pride in noting that this rifle was presented to the infantry by a gunner.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, West, spoke about the anti-tank weapon. It is a fact that a peace-loving nation is bound to put more stress upon defensive weapons at the opening of any campaign. We saw in the last war that both antiaircraft and anti-tank weapons declined as the threats they were designed to meet declined. But at the beginning of a campaign it is imperative that these weapons should be very effective.
1153 We have heard nothing about antitank weapons, and we should hear something. We have heard a little about the up-gunning of tanks, and we should be assured that the "anti" weapons, which are so much more important in the early stage of a conflict, are progressing as strongly as the other weapons to which attention has been drawn.
The third quality to which I wish to refer to is efficiency. I should like to take this opportunity—and I think hon. Members on both sides of the House who were with me will join with me—of expressing appreciation of the efforts that were made by the Army of the Rhine to look after our delegation and show us everything that was to be seen. As I was one who went both last year and the year before, I think it only right to place on record my recognition of the considerable progress in the standard of training achieved by the British Army of the Rhine over that year.
That was particular encouraging because it showed development by the junior commanders. The improvements were very largely in such matters as road discipline and communications, matters in which the influence of the junior commander really counts. When one sees the junior commander showing increasing efficiency, it is a very hopeful outlook for the future. I would commend to my right hon. Friend—it really needs no commendation because he has shown he is aware of it—that it is on the high grade efficiency of our Army that our future success depends.
§ Brigadier Peto
Would my hon. Friend agree with me that one direction in which the Army of the Rhine is not as efficient as it was last year is in anti-aircraft defence?
§ Mr. Harvey
I am in full agreement with that point, but again I say to my hon. Friend that there was more antiaircraft practice this year, the result of representations made from this side of the House.
I believe that it is necessary that we should concentrate upon the quality of our units, and in that connection there is no army in the world which can rival our Guards or our gunners. We must concentrate on the more original and vital types of units such as the S.A.S., about which something has been heard this 1154 evening, the airborne troops and the Commandos.
Much has been said this evening about training, which is the basis of efficiency, and I do not want to continue with that matter in view of all that has been said. I hope my right hon. Friend will give some instruction about the use of films as instructional instruments, and that he will discourage the habit by some units of holding long and boring lectures after lunch, which is a period when no one pays the slightest attention.
I should like for one moment to turn to the organisation of our Army, which is covered in the Estimates, and first of all to the centre of that Army, the regulars. Early in this debate the right hon. Member for Dundee, West, discussed the question of officers, and I found myself in very strong agreement with what he said. It is the attitude of mind with which we are concerned, and I hope my right hon. Friend, in pursuing the most excellent proposal made about the boys' battalions, will consider the designation and see that the word "officer" is brought into it.
The argument that the problem arises at the level of the W.O. and senior N.C.O. is not entirely sound. I think it begins with the junior N.C.O., because when a man has got to the rank of senior N.C.O. and W.O. there are economic reasons why becoming an officer is not so attractive. If we are to persevere with the democratic principles of our Army, I agree entirely that what the hon. and learned Member for Northampton has referred to requires to be radically reformed.
§ Mr. Harvey
I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Member for clarifying that. It makes the case stronger.
I ask my right hon. Friend to pay a little attention to one or two problems which have not been referred to during the debate, with regard to Regular soldiers. What about the re-settlement 1155 problems, and particularly housing, to which my right hon. Friend has referred in his Memorandum? What is the position of the Regular soldier who comes out of the Army and wants a house?
§ Mr. Harvey
Yes—even out of the Black Watch. What is the position of the widow of a Regular soldier who has been occupying Army quarters. My right hon. Friend has to fight a stronger battle than did his predecessor with the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and that Minister must give a stronger directive than did his predecessor to local authorities to see that men who have served in the Forces are not penalised as a result when their names come up before local authorities for consideration for housing.
I do not ask for priority of any kind. I merely ask that they shall be given a fair and a square deal, because they will not go into the Forces if they believe that when they come out they—or, if they are killed, their relatives—will not get proper housing.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I am very interested in this, but perhaps I happen to be lucky in my local authority as far as Service men are concerned. Are there, in fact, local authorities who do not give priority points to ex-Service men on their lists, and do they still make residential qualification a necessity? Subject to this, I agree with everything my hon. Friend says.
§ Mr. Harvey
Of course, that is so, and I shall give examples to my right hon. Friend if he requires them, but probably he knows about this problem as well as I do.
The question of the Territorial Army has been discussed in some detail. It is extremely important that we should recognise that the Territorial Army today plays a vital part in enabling the Regular Army to expand at speed. The closer the Territorial Army can be linked with the Regular Army, the better.
We have all asked in the past, and I ask again tonight, that the Secretary of State for War should pay attention to the vital question of adjutants for Territorial Army units. I am quite satisfied 1156 that in order to get full efficiency, to achieve the link between the Territorial Army and the Regular Army which is essential, we must have as adjutants of Territorial Army units young officers from the Regular Army who will be told quite clearly that if they make a success of their adjutancy, their futures will be improved. I know that the supply of Regular soldiers at present makes that difficult but at the same time, if we are to have an efficient machinery for the expansion of the Territorial Army, that is a most important move.
Reference has been made by another of my hon. Friends to the question of the N.C.O.s who are going out of the Territorial Army. I believe that they will continue to go out. There is, therefore, a potential weakness if they are not replaced. It is imperative that the Territorial Army should bring this matter to the attention of the National Service man in order to encourage him to enlist in the Territorial Army to carry on his extremely important duties. I think that we must continue with our publicity to try to get back as many of the men as we can to fill the role of N.C.O.s.
I now turn to the Z scheme. I think we all should like a little more guidance about it from my right hon. Friend. When first discussed, it was agreed to be necessary as a mobilisation exercise, and in order to create the impression of teams within the Army. We do not, however, want to go on with the mobilisation exercise year after year, and I submit, too, that the teams are being filled up by the natural development of our present system.
I would ask if the Minister intends to continue the scheme for any considerable length of time because it is in the nature of an imposition which should not be continued longer than is absolutely necessary. We gave the fullest support to the Home Guard Bill when it was introduced, and I feel that the Home Guard would be more effective if more closely correlated with the Territorial Army organisation. That organisation is not yet strong enough. Finally, on this matter of organisation, I would refer to the supply of staff officers. Steps, I know, have been taken and are being taken, for recruiting voluntary staff officers with experience in the last war for refresher training; but the staff officer is of no use 1157 unless he has experience in the field from time to time, and I hope that a more effective scheme for recruiting them may be made in order that we shall be able to meet the expansion of the Regular Army if that becomes necessary. If they are not made available, we shall have the position where a commanding officer is told to look round, and he will find the person least necessary to him; and then both the staff and the unit will subsequently suffer.
I have endeavoured to cover some of the main essentials upon which our new national Army should be based, and if we are to have an Army which is capable of playing its part, we must ensure that those qualities which produce maximum power per man are present in our system of training and organisation, and as a result of the equipment we provide for it. Further, we have to ensure that the new national Army shall be one entity, not divided into many parts, and that this organisation shall have its full part in our society and in an economy satisfactorily attuned to it.
§ 10.54 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I find myself in agreement with much that was said by the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey), but before I have finished, I shall say some things with which I do not expect he will agree.
I was extremely interested today to hear from the Secretary of State why the Conservative Party has dropped the demand it has made ever since 1946 for the establishment of a colonial army. Last week, during discussion on the defence White Paper, I pointed out that in the first debate on defence after the war the influential voices of the present Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer cried out for the use of colonial manpower to aid the build-up of our post-war army.
Today the Secretary of State comes down and without a blush admits that the Tory Party had been wrong. Of course, he cannot get away with the story he gave the House this afternoon, that he has now discovered that there is a shortage of what he called "middle piece" officers and "middle piece" N.C.O.s. In the debate in the House of 16th March last year, when some of his 1158 hon. Friends put down a Motion criticising the then Government for not making better use of colonial manpower, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) made the point the Secretary of State made this afternoon, that we could use the available officer and N.C. material to much greater advantage.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, in the course of the winding-up speech in that debate, his hon. Friend, the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low), who is the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply, said:Of course, we are short of British officers and N.C.O.s, and the right hon. Gentleman's Under-Secretary in the Army Estimates de bate pointed out that since there is that shortage it might be wise today to use available officers and N.C.O.s for British Forces rather than for Colonial Forces.Then his hon. Friend said this:We do not take that view."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 2061–2.]In other words, the Tory Party knew the facts, took an opposite point of view, and, as I submit, in order to gain a party political advantage—
§ Mr. Wigg
The right hon. Gentleman knows that his party sought to win the General Election by using every stick they could, including the rise in prices and the misuse of manpower, and he and his friends even exploited our defence needs. They used every stick which came to hand. They blamed every difficulty, including the weather, on to the Labour Government. That was the policy followed by the right hon. Gentleman himself and his hon. Friends.
Of course, one chicken has come home to roost today, and that is the colonial army. We are not to have a colonial army now, or should I say, we are not going to see this vast reservoir of colonial manpower used as a substitute for the Indian Army, about which we were told 1159 so consistently for six years, in debate after debate on defence and the Army Estimates, and even during the whole day's debate on this subject on 16th March last year. The right hon. Gentleman comes down, in his mincing fashion and has not the grace—
§ Brigadier Peto
On a point of order. May I call attention to the fact there are only nine hon. Members of the Opposition, besides the hon. Member who is speaking on that side of the House?
§ Mr. Wigg
That is obviously not a point of order, and I am not going to be put off my stroke by such a silly intervention. The right hon. Gentleman, on this point, has been found out, and his Party have been found guilty, of exploiting the defence need of the country for political purposes.
I now want to indulge in a little simple arithmetic and, if I am wrong, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will correct me. He said this evening that he had managed to save 752 War Office staff. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), asked where they had gone, the right hon. Gentleman said they had gone into the fighting Services.
§ Mr. Head
As the hon. Gentleman invited me to catch him up if he was wrong, I will do so and point out I said nothing of the kind. I said a very considerable proportion of the 750 out of the War Office staff was civil servants. I never said anything about them going into the fighting Services. I think the hon. Gentleman is confusing it with the 10,000 men we are saving out of the intake.
§ Mr. Wigg
When the right hon. Gentleman replies, will he tell the House where he got his 10,000 from? I seek this information because it is a policy run by the Conservative Party ever since 1946 that the Army has an enormous waste in the tail that could be saved. I do not for a moment accept the right hon. Gentleman's statement when he talks glibly about saving 10,000 men. I do not believe that he has transferred this number of men from the tail to the infantry. I am far too old a soldier for that.
If he saved or hopes to save from headquarters staff, what he is saving are R.A.S.C. clerks, and they are certainly not going to provide his newly-formed seven battalions. We know that at the present time these are skeleton battalions, and it seems to me a very odd way of saving manpower when almost every unit the right hon. Gentleman has is under strength.
Whether it is 750 or 10,000, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us the arms of the Service from which these men are saved—is it R.A.S.C., R.E.M.E., or R.A.O.C.? Will he break them down in terms of ranks? He could do that quite easily. Are they privates, corporals, warrant officers or officers? We certainly do not want vague assurances that the right hon. Gentleman has managed to provide a great saving. We want specific information which can be checked.
A year ago the right hon. Gentleman made a great story out of a simple sum. He took the total strength shown in Vote A and divided it by 20,000—that being, according to him, the size of a division—and then he said "If we only have 10 divisions, where are the rest?" I want to ask him this: if we only have 11 divisons now, as a result of his special new policy, known only to the Conservative Party, how many divisions are we going to have when the right hon. Gentleman introduces the Army Estimates—if he does—one year from now?
We want to know how much is coming out of the tail and how much is going into the teeth—and we do not want false teeth. We want the truth, and we shall hold him to it one year from now. We do not want assurances in terms of vague numbers, we want specific statements. After all, the right hon. Gentleman himself made strong point of this last year and in previous debates, so I ask him to 1161 state how many divisions we shall have on 1st April, 1953.
There is another thing I should like to ask. In the Army Estimates debate a year ago he took a section of the War Office and told us that its staff in March, 1951, as 259, and in 1938 it was 70. Of course, again, he had something to say about this vast increase. What is the comparable figure today, and what will the figures be in the next Estimates, after the Head reforms, a year hence?
The right hon. Gentleman told us in 1951, that the 5th Infantry Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division of B.A.O.R. had 14 officers, and he thought that was terrible. He has been in office four months—surely he could have done something about the establishment of the 5th Infantry Brigade. How many officers are serving with that formation now?
§ Mr. Head
In a way the hon. Gentleman is wasting some of his own time because had he listened to the debate he would have heard quite plainly that at the present time General Harding is carrying out most urgent experiments with operation headquarters in order to reduce the numbers. He has already achieved good results, and I told the House that those results would soon become universal throughout the Army.
§ Mr. Wigg
The right hon. Gentleman ought not to come down here and hide behind General Harding. He is the Secretary of State for War and must take the responsibility. A year ago he complained about the strength of the 5th Infantry Brigade in B.A.O.R. The responsibility for that establishment is now his. If it was too much then, what is the figure going to be a year hence?
A year ago the right hon. Gentleman also gave us some really secret information. He said:At one command headquarters I have a personal friend, a major general, General Staff—no names, no pack drill—and he has a B.G.S. (Operations), B.G.S. (A. and Q.), General Staff Officer Class 1 (Operations) G.S.O.1 (Training), G.S.O. 1 (A. and G.S.O.1 Q.) Then there is the G.S.O. 2 level and the G.S.O. 3 level. Quite a family tree."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 817.]Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us, not the name of his friend or of the formation, but to what he has reduced this establishment, and to what it will be reduced in one year's time?
§ Mr. Wigg
I am concerned with the right hon. Gentleman. I have waited a long time to ask him this question, and I hope I shall not have to wait so long for an answer.
I want now to deal with another subject, the question of the new formation, the boys' battalion which is to be established on 15th April. I must say I was shocked when I heard this. I did not think that even the right hon. Gentleman would go quite as far as this. Clearly what he is doing is setting about organising the Army on the basis that the other ranks should come from circles to which I belong and that the officers should come from his class. If I am wrong, he can very soon dispose of the matter.
First, I want to ask him how many officers of the Brigade of Guards at the present time have served on Regular engagement. Are there any? If not, why not? Will he also tell us how many "other ranks" on Regular engagement have obtained combatant commissions, other than quartermaster commissions, since the end of the war?
Whatever the figure may be, can he tell the House whether the number will remain the same or whether under his administration it will be increased during the coming and following years? I put this proposal to establish this N.C.O. training unit in exactly the same category as the right hon. Gentleman's proposal to establish corporals' messes in Guards units in London districts, because, quite clearly, this proposal is not so innocent as it seems.
I know, and many of my hon. Friends know, what the game is. It means that the select few whose parents are wealthy enough or aristocratic enough to have influence will never mix with the common herd when they arrive at the Guards' depots. They will be shifted into a separate barrack room, they will get a stripe on their arm, and without going through the formalities which lowly mortals have to go through, they will end up in the grade where they can get a commission.
1163 That is the way the thing works. It strikes me as extremely odd that a party which believes in leadership should send its spokesman to the House to defend the action of establishing a junior N.C.O.s' mess by saying that it is to maintain discipline. I belong to an older school. Perhaps it is a good job that that older school has passed. I was told that discipline meant learning to do the thing you did not want to do at the moment you did not want to do it. One had a pretty thin time if one did not accept that. I also learned that the badges of rank on the shoulders and the stripes on the arm were not the sources of authority, but only the symbols of it. If one could not command men in one's shirt sleeves one could not do it at all.
Now the Brigade of Guards has reached the point where its junior N.C.O.s have to be segregated to avoid interference with their qualities of leadership. The standard of training in the Brigade of Guards has produced the best N.C.O.s and troops in the world. It has also produced the worst officers, junior officers particularly. I say definitely that this system of social segregation, of carefully hand-picking the selected few will not end in the Brigade, of Guards. Its influence will extend beyond it.
If this policy could be confined to the Brigade of Guards, one might make one's protest and then let the matter go. But it permeates the Army. The Secretary of State is in fact pushing this policy, for in future we are to have special schools—a kind of "Brave New World" in khaki—in which people are to be conditioned to become N.C.O.s and warrant officers. This is not fair or just.
The Secretary of State this afternoon was careful to work out what he regarded as incentives and touched on some of the dis-incentives which affect Regular Army recruiting. I believe that this kind of think has as much influence in checking young men from entering the Army as have the rates of pay. I feel great responsibility because not long ago I encouraged two young members of my family to join the Regular Army. If I had a son thinking of joining the Regular Army or beginning to develop that view, I would hesitate to encourage him because I know that unless he belongs to the 1164 select few, and has the social background, at the end of the day he will be lucky to have three stripes on his arm. And in the new Tory Army a man will be 29 years of age before he becomes a sergeant and corporals will be 24 before they attain their rank; whereas if a young man, irrespective of brain power, has a rich enough father, or has chosen his parents well, he can have two pips on his shoulder before he is 20. I do not think that is right. The Secretary of State ought to think again about the proposal to form this special establishment for N.C.O.s and warrant officers.
§ Lord John Hope
May I tell the hon. Gentleman one figure apropos what he said about the Brigade of Guards? During the war, on establishment there was one officer to every 20 men; killed, one officer to every 10 men.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten he had the effrontery to say that the Brigade of Guards produced the worst type of officer of any regiment? It was a most offensive remark to have made. I did not have the privilege of serving in the Brigade of Guards myself, but my father did, and he was killed in the First World War. If the hon. Member would take the trouble to go and look at the War Memorial by the Horse Guards Parade, he would learn something.
§ Mr. Wigg
Hon. Gentlemen should not really be so thin-skinned.—[Interruption.]—I am not. I joined the Regular Army because I could not get a job. From the moment I joined no one asked me where I wanted to go or what regiment I wanted to serve in. When I went back into the Army the same thing occurred—I was put into the unit thought best for me.
Ever since I have been in this House, hon. Gentlemen have thrown in my face that at the end of my service I served in the Army Education Corps. I do not mind. I am proud that I started in the barrack room, having left school at 14. and rose to become a colonel in the 1165 Army Education Corps. Why hon. Gentlemen opposite should go out of their way to remind me of this fact defeats me unless, of course, they imagine that to remind me that I served in the Army Education Corps is an insult. If that is so, why should they object to what I have to say to them? They really should not be so thin-skinned. In the barrack room we learned to take it as well as give it.
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Hitchin)
The hon. Gentleman started this argument. No one else said anything about the Army Education Corps. He has been extremely insulting about the Brigade of Guards. Has he any experience or proof of his statements? Has he fought alongside them in war?
§ Mr. Wigg
I served for a great number of years and during this time I was attached to Guards' units. I am discussing a system of training which, on the one hand, turns out first-class warrant officers, N.C.O.s and soldiers—the best in the world. On the other hand, when I have looked at junior officers, and seen the interior economy of the Brigade of Guards, I have been shocked. If hon. Gentlemen did not know about this, it is time they did.
This point of view is shared throughout the country and the Army. [Interruption.] I am sorry hon. Gentlemen do not like it. The way to improve things is to start giving commissions in the Brigade of Guards to the many first-class N.C.O.s there. If I have upset the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Fisher), I would say to him that it is very important that it should be said.
I once made a study of the age of commanding officers in the Army. I discovered that the average age of commanding officers in the Brigade of Guards was 39, in the cavalry 40, the artillery 42, and the infantry 52. That meant that within a given period of time all senior ranks would be held by Guardsmen, cavalrymen, or artillerymen, with the poor old infantrymen right at the end of the queue. After a period of time, if something is not done about 1166 the selection of officer material in all branches, we shall return to the situation where leadership in the Army is not determined by efficiency but by the wealth and social standing of the parents of officers.
§ Mr. Wigg
It certainly has its moments. I say again that the N.C.O.s are nearly always good. All I am appealing for is that the Secretary of State should recognise this, and realise that the introduction of a system whereby the officers all come from one group and the N.C.O.s all come from another is bad for the Army, for the Brigade of Guards, and for the nation.
§ Mr. Peter Legh (Petersfield)
If the hon. Gentleman has finished paying all the most gratuitous insults he can to the Brigade of Guards, may I assure him that the Brigade of Guards is not afraid of any sniping, whether it comes from Her Majesty's enemies or Her Majesty's Opposition?
§ Mr. Wigg
For the last two hours the hon. Gentleman has kept quiet. He should continue to do so. The right hon. Gentleman made the point that selection for boys serving in the boys' battalion would be from two streams. He suggested- that those at 16-plus who had the school certificate would become eligible for a commission. He is not up-to-date in his facts. In the Army there are half a dozen apprentice schools. How many of the boys who have been through these schools, many of whom are up to school certificate standard, have got commissions?
§ Mr. Wigg
I thought when the right hon. Gentleman answered my hon. and 1167 learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) he stated there were to be two streams. I was a little surprised when my hon. and learned Friend said there were to be two streams, and I thought the right hon. Gentleman agreed with that. Are we to take it, then, that a boy who has the certificate, who is obviously of fairly high mental calibre, is to be given no opportunity of a commission? If that is so, a young man thinking of the Army as a career, who has stayed at a secondary school and got his certificate, is to become mere fodder for the barrack square.
The right hon. Gentleman had better have another think about this. He had also better think again about his proposal to older soldiers to enlist for 22 years. There is something good behind the idea, but there ought to be no worsening of a man's position if he accepts the proposal. In the old days he could reengage after 12 years for 21 years. When the soldier had got in 12 years' service he could ask for his discharge by giving a few days' notice, and he took an immediate discharge free of cost.
The right hon. Gentleman's proposal is 22 years, and the soldier can opt out at the end of every three-year period. Surely the right hon. Gentleman ought to remember that from 12 years on a soldier can now leave, and that, therefore, he would be well advised to take his multiples of three from the first year up to 12 years, and then leave the Regulations as they now stand.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Whom does my hon. Friend think that we shall be fighting in 22 years' time? Shall we have gone full circle and be, fighting the Americans?
§ Mr. Wigg
My hon. Friend misunderstands if he thinks the Army exists only to fight. There has been far too much talk today in terms of a third world war. It would be well if my hon. Friend and other hon. Members remembered that the prime function of the British Army has been a policing function. Its presence in carefully selected spots ensures the maintenance of law and order.
Indeed, one of the great difficulties of any Secretary of State for War, in his handling of administration, is that he has a current role to carry out while he has 1168 at the back of his mind the need for an organisation on which a speedy mobilisation could be framed to undertake the major role if war on the grand scale came. But certainly one cannot plan, and it would be wrong to plan, the British Army exclusively in terms of the possibility of a third world war.
It would be a bad day if we become so obsessed with the building up of reserves, mobilisation schemes, and commitments in Europe that we forget the current commitment of maintaining law and order over vast areas of the world. The Secretary of State, perhaps by his habit of mind and background, may be inclined to slip into the same trap as my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and think only in terms of vast mobilisation schemes and the like.
It is a point constantly in my mind that in our early debates on manpower and the length of service many hon. Gentlemen regarded it as rank heresy that National Service men should be used to fulfil current commitments. It shows how much the world situation has worsened and how far opinion in this House has slipped that we now accept as normal that the National Service man should be used in the Middle East. Malaya, and Hongkong.
The objective of the Secretary of State, in the interests of efficiency and economy, should be to build up his Regular content as fast as he can to obviate the necessity for sending the National Service man east of the line we talked about in our early National Service debates—the line from Berlin to Malta. if we could reach that situation, it would be a valuable addition to efficiency and the saving would be enormous. Last week the Prime Minister, in the defence debate, said that there were never fewer than 30,000 men in the pipeline. If the Secretary of State for War is looking to save something on the tail, a rich seam on which he can work is to see if he can find means of lessening the number of men in transit to or from overseas stations.
I hope we shall see the day when we can contemplate the reduction of the length of National Service from two years to 18 months and then to an even shorter period. I am not sure that the intolerable 1169 burden of two years of compulsory military service for the young men of these islands is something that can continue indefinitely. One of the things we have to face up to—I made this point last week and I am making it again today—is that public opinion in this country is not going to accept indefiniately National Service which is longer than in Commonwealth countries and in the N.A.T.O. countries.
I see that American Congress in its wisdom has rejected compulsory National Service. We cannot expect our own countrymen to shoulder this obligation for an indefinite period. Obviously it would be highly irresponsible to suggest a possibility of a reduction in that National Service, let alone its abolition, with conditions as they are today, but that is not going to be the condition of things for all time, and it is the job of the Secretary of State to show economies in the use of manpower by which can be secured that greater efficiency about which hon. Members have talked today.
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
It is not my intention to follow the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) very far, because there is nothing to follow. Indeed, I feel that the connection his speech had with the subject we are debating is that, like war, it is entirely destructive and a complete waste of time.
It is my intention to address the House for a short time on the subject of an arm of the Service in which I served and of which I have some experience. It is a arm of the Service to which very little reference has been made in the debate this evening except from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey), to whom I am indebted for what he said. I refer to the airborne troops, and I should like to confine my remarks to two headings, the use of airborne troops by potential enemy, and the use of airborne troops by ourselves.
Earlier in the debate the noble Lord the Member for Pentlands (Lord John Hope) said a great deal about the Home Guard, and I agree with every word. The Home Guard is our only hope of warding off the danger of a sudden attack by airborne troops, and it seems to me that the danger is imminent. It is absolutely essential that something should be 1170 done without any delay to train the Home Guard for those responsibilities.
I can speak in a sense with experience of this subject. I had the honour to serve in one of the airborne operations which has since become quite famous. We were told before we embarked that we might meet a formation consisting of a school of S.S. N.C.O.s of a strength of about 900. It was my rather doubtful privilege to run head-on into that formation, and I shall never forget the bang which they gave us. I discovered afterwards that only the day before they had been studying a tactical exercise on how to defend Arnhem against airborne troops.
I mention that because I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that he might consider creating, perhaps, a corps of voluntary instructors from our own veterans from airborne formations during the war. He would find a lot of ex-airborne officers and senior N.C.O.s who would come forward and would be prepared to give the benefit of their own experience the other way round to those who will be responsible on the ground in the Home Guard for defending us against similar attacks.
There are one or two points which may not be known but which, I think, should be known. I was a little disquieted on hearing from the Front Bench that the Home Guard will not be over-mobile, because it is in the first 20 minutes that an airborne soldier is extremely vulnerable. It is, therefore, essential that he should be attacked as soon as possible.
The second point—this has been mentioned in the House—is that it is quite easy and possible within each Home Guard sector to plan out any possible dropping zones or landing zones for gliders or parachutists. Consequently, it is just as possible for each Home Guard unit to have its own drill in order to come into operation as soon as it possibly can if that emergency arises.
In regard to mobility, I cannot help but feel that the danger of parachute operations is very largely in the agricultural areas. In those areas there are many farmers with Land-Rovers and that type of thing, and a little local ingenuity might easily be able to form, perhaps, a Commando spearhead of the younger members of the Home Guard unit to 1171 create that mobility and sense of urgency which is essential if an airborne operation is to be nipped in the bud.
It is not my intention to speak for very long, and therefore I turn now to the other side: our own airborne troops. I have mentioned this before, and I make no apology for mentioning it again. We are terribly weak—dangerously weak—in having only one Regular parachute brigade. I had hoped to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, when we were discussing training, because from my experience it is virtually impossible to train on a formation basis at as low as brigade level.
I know the difficulties in regard to aircraft, but these men are specially recruited volunteers for a somewhat unusual job. It is vital, in order to maintain their morale, that they should have ample opportunity of practising, not only jumping by parachute, but jumping in large formations. It is not sufficient to say that we have balloons and that these men can jump from them. Jumping from a balloon, on the one hand, is a completely different sensation, and a completely different thing altogether, from jumping, with full equipment and kit, in a "stick" from a moving aircraft.
I most strongly suggest to my right hon. Friend that every possible effort should be made, first, to increase the establishment from one parachute brigade to one Regular airborne division; and second, to try to build up, even if we have temporarily to borrow either from our Allies or from one of the Dominions, sufficient aircraft in order not only for the men individually to be able to carry out regular parachute training, but also to be able to carry out regular training operations on a battalion, and, indeed, on a brigade, level, and perhaps, once a year, even on a divisional level.
In order to build up a balanced force, I am convinced that we must have at least one Regular division in this country as a strategic reserve; and I cannot think of a better strategic reserve than an airborne division. I do hope that the Secretary of State will give us some encouragement on this matter by saying that, in the fairly near future, we shall be able to regain our strength in that direction.
§ 11.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I have listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) who has just asked for more airborne regiments, for if we are going to fight a war such as the American paper, "Collier's Weekly" describes in its celebrated "war edition," then, of course, we shall inevitably have to meet a very large number of these parachute troops.
I have here a copy of that paper, which describes a preview of the war which is to begin in 1952 and last for eight years. Here is a very vivid picture of that very military operation which the hon. Gentleman has described. This is a description by the American writer Lowell Thomas, telling how a parachute regiment lands in the Ural mountains; the title of the article is "I Saw Them Shot into the Urals," and I think that if we are to parachute troops into all the strategic centres of Russia, then we shall certainly need a far greater number of airborne troops than we now have in the whole of the Territorial Army.
I listened with a great deal of pleasure to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) and the Secretary of State for War can inform the Prime Minister tomorrow that there is now a unity between the Black Watch and the "Black Welsh." I entirely endorse the belief which the hon. and gallant Member may have gained about the calling up of agricultural workers. He stressed, quite rightly, that our first line should be food production, and when the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire and the hon., but less gallant, Member for South Ayrshire agree upon a certain policy, that should be sufficient for that policy to commend itself to the House.
I am sure the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), and all Scottish Members, will agree that it is absolutely essential in the interests of more food production that we should halt the call-up of agricultural workers for the Army. This is not a party matter at all. I have here a paper which covers the agricultural activities of Scotland—the "Scottish Farmer"—and a whole page in the current issue is devoted to complaints, mainly of Conservative hon. Members, against the call-up of men for 1173 soldiering from the agricultural industry at a time when we are urging on the farmers the need for more food production. What common sense is there in giving the farmers a subsidy to increase food production one day, while the very next day we call up the workers who alone can make that subsidy effective?
I represent a very large agricultural constituency, and I have had some complaints during the week-end about the stupidity of this particular call-up. I have one case, which I have presented, not to the Secretary of State for War, but to the Minister of Labour and National Service, who appears to be the main person responsible. This is a case of a farmer living in a remote part of South Ayrshire. He has only three people on two large farms, extending to over 2,000 acres.
One young person, who is a shepherd and whose labour is absolutely essential for the lambing season, which has been made especially more difficult by the fact we have had a very severe winter in Scotland, has been called-up for military service. When the question arose in the House, I said that the Minister of Labour's wolves were now after the shepherd. I believe this is a stupidly shortsighted policy, and I entirely agree, for once in my life, with the unanswerable argument the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Perth and East Perthshire has used.
I ask the Secretary of State for War, irrespective of party, whether he will not give some consideration to reviewing this call-up of agricultural workers, which is going to hinder the task of food production, which is so badly needed. I know the answer will be given that there is only a comparatively small number of these people; only 10,000 in the whole of agricultural Britain. But these 10,000 might be key men.
They might, for example, be a village blacksmith, whose task it is to repair the tractor. If the tractor—[Interruption.] Oh, no, he is not exempt. I have had to fight these cases in my own constituency. The Minister of Labour is acting like a Gestapo in Scotland, going around the various farms and to some blacksmiths' shops and asking one blacksmith if he can undertake another blacksmith's work as he wants to call up the young son of the blacksmith for military service.
1174 If they take away the key men, they very much hamper agricultural production. I urge the Secretary of State to listen very carefully to the arguments which have been put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire, and to give us some satisfactory assurance. In this copy of the "Scottish Farmer," which I have here, there are complaints from the Isle of Shetland right down to Devonshire. Hon. Members for agricultural constituencies, who are usually Conservatives, are making their protests at Question time, and I hope the result will be an end of this ridiculous combing-out of one of our most essential industries.
Again, I listened with interest and with agreement to the speech made by an hon. Gentleman who talked about calling up workers engaged on housing. Here, I know, the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire will part company from me when I say that if one is to exempt the agricultural worker, one has also to exempt the building trade worker who is employed on building the agricultural workers' cottages. One must carry this argument to its logical conclusion, but I will not develop it any further.
What I do suggest is that in this catalogue of achievement, which the Secretary of State for War advanced so proudly, about increasing the numbers of the Regular Army, what he is doing is denuding other equally essential industries and transferring their manpower somewhere else. Naturally that is his job, but in doing so he may take a very short-sighted view and, while building up his military force, he may be destroying the economic foundation upon which the prosperity of this country depends.
The Secretary of State for War referred in his speech to this quarter of the House as, I believe, the tail of the Labour Party. I do not agree with him about that. I think it is the head of the Labour Party. I think it is the thinking department of the Labour Party, but I wish to point out that on the other side of the House, too, there has been expressed the point of view which we are frequently expressing in, this quarter of the House these days. We know where the tail of the Labour Party is, and we know where the "head" of the Conservative Party is, and the "head" of the Conservative Party, before he was elevated to become Secretary of 1175 State for War, wrote a very interesting pamphlet called "The Pattern of Peace."
It is a jolly good pamphlet, and I agree with a great deal in it, but when hon. Members opposite have read it with the care with which I have read it, they will come to the conclusion that the author of it is the potential Bevan of the Conservative Party. There may be a split in the Conservative Party. The Secretary of State for War might be expelled from his party the day after I am from mine. The arguments that the right hon. Gentleman used in this pamphlet have a direct bearing upon the argument he used in introducing these Estimates today—and here is the quotation:The current rearmament programme is certain to bring economic difficulties, especially to Britain and Europe. There are already signs of growing inflation. Unless by great caution and American restraint and generosity this trend can be averted it might eventually cripple our rearmament effort and even undermine the internal resistance to Communism.Of course, that is the argument of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). Members opposite have a cuckoo in their nest, and if that argument was right—and it was written only last year—I suggest it is equally right today. The sum total of the right hon. Gentleman's efforts in building up this gigantic Army will be to cripple the economic life of this country, and that applies especially not only to manpower for the Army, but labour power for the armaments industry.
I have already mentioned, at Question time today, how the cost of the Centurion tank is increasing. In 1945 the price of a tank was £10,000. The Centurion tank went up to £35,000 and is now £38,000. Since those figures were given to the Select Committee on Estimates, the cost has gone up still further because of the increase of the price of steel which has been sanctioned by the Minister of Supply.
If we are to have elaborate tanks of this kind, we are going to absorb enormous amounts of labour power in that part of the armaments industry at a time when there is a struggle and competition for manpower not only for the Army but for other branches of the armaments industry. So we shall get a bottleneck, because this country has only a limited amount of manpower. That has been 1176 indicated by some of the arguments we have heard from the benches opposite during this debate.
One hon. Member opposite actually suggested that we should comb out the stockbrokers. That is probably the explanation of the new appointment—the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. The suggestion to call up the stockbrokers is really a far more subversive suggestion than any that ever emanated from Ebbw Vale. Look at the gloomy faces opposite due to that suggestion. That is enough to destroy the Conservative Party; to split it from top to bottom. What is to happen if hon. and gallant Members opposite cannot sell their brewery shares because the stockbrokers have been called up?
§ Mr. Hughes
What about the shares of the whisky companies? One hon. Gentleman opposite is a director of a whisky company and director of three other companies. Has he—
§ Mr. Hughes
I agree, Sir. I was attracted by the argument advanced, and I was only pointing out the devastating effect it would have on the morale of the Conservative Party if the suggestion were carried out and the stockbrokers were commandeered for National Service.
But it is not only in tanks that our expenditure is mounting so enormously. In every branch of the re-armament programme the same inflationary policy is going on. Take the one-ton lorry. According to the report given by the Minister to the Select Committee, the one-ton lorry cost £340 in 1945. In 1951, the combat lorry cost £1,520. It now costs £1,750. In other words, a one-ton lorry costs five times more today than it did seven years ago.
Costs are mounting astronomically for every type of material or implement used in the Army. The inevitable result will be that we shall have a huge increase in the arms programme which will be inflationary and will lead, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to the industrial conditions which will encourage Communism in this country.
1177 I also want to say a few words about manpower. We see displayed all over the country today the recruiting poster which says, "You Are Somebody in the Army Today." [An HON. MEMBER: That was always so."] If that was always so, why is it necessary to spend an enormous amount of money assuring the public it is so?
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. and gallant Gentleman says it is because of the Socialist propaganda years ago. All I can say is that I have never heard of it, but it seems to have been extremely efficient.
This recruiting campaign is having the same disorganising effect upon the national life as I pointed out at the beginning of my speech. By elaborating the call-up for the Regular Army and drawing more and more men into this net, we are taking them from industries which are not only essential to the national life but also to war production. One can read in the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates of shortage of labour in all kinds of industries needed for the war machine.
I maintain that we are approaching an industrial crisis, and that the manpower of the country is insufficient for the gigantic plans outlined by the Secretary of State for War. If we go on year after year taking manpower from the production of consumer goods, we only drive down the standard of life and create the conditions which will result in Communism in Western Europe.
In yesterday's "Observer" we were told by Mr. Chester Wilmot, who has now become one of our most expert writers on military affairs, that the 50 divisions in N.A.T.O., are a phantom, and as a result of our extraordinary military activity we are apparently creating a phantom army in Western Germany and having practically no Army in Britain.
The old argument for the Army was that it was needed to defend the country, and that the soldiers were defending their homes. But now soldiers from Scotland may be in Hong Kong, Korea, or Western Germany, but not near the place which they are supposed to be defending. If war comes upon this country suddenly, 1178 one may find the soldier in some distant part of the world while his home and wife and children are being bombed. We have reached something like a reductio ad absurdum where military organisation is concerned. The Army has ceased to be what it used to be, and no one knows exactly the purpose it serves.
As one who opposed the defence of Korea at its very inception, I want the House to think about what has been achieved there. We still have our soldiers there, and the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) objected to their being brought home. We have had a speech from the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) drawing attention to certain military lessons to be learned from Korea.
The main lesson is that Korea has been complete futility. It has demonstrated the futility of modern war before the eyes of the world. If I were asked whether I would want this country to be liberated à la Korea, or whether Western Europe, Germany or France would want to be liberated as we have liberated Korea, the reply is in the negative.
I should not survive long under Communism, because I am a political freethinker. If we went into another war, we would probably have Communism on top of the war because the result of a modern war, especially in Western Europe, when Europe has been atom bombed, would bring such a state of devastation and destruction, in which human society would only just manage to exist for a time, that some kind of totalitarism would be bound to follow. I believe the result would be the worst type of military Communism. There is as much common sense in these days in pacifism as in any other "ism".
One hon. Member referred to the fact that in America they have no universal military service. That is rather significant. Last week the House of Representatives discussed this question, and turned it down. The result is that in the Western armies the great bulk of the manpower is evidently to be supplied by the nations of Western Europe, and these armies are not coming from Germany. It will be noted that in Germany there is now the strongest opposition to any re-armament of Germany at all, coming not from the Communists—
§ Mr. Speaker
I do ask the hon. Gentleman to come closer to the Estimates. He is now raising points on foreign policy and the like, which cannot be brought within the confines of the Estimates before us.
§ Mr. Hughes
I submit that our contribution to Western defence and the Western armies to be organised in N.A.T.O. has some relation to the contribution that is likely to come from other nations. All that I shall say, in passing, is that if we are not to have the support of the German people, or the French, then we shall have to produce a huge army which cannot be supplied from the manpower in this country.
In all those circumstances, to be asked in the Estimates to budget for nearly £500 million is to be asked to agree to a gross waste of national money. Never was so much being spent for so little. I believe with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale—although he does not go quite so far as I do on these matters—that we will have to reduce our ideas about the piling up of huge armaments. As the months and years go by, there will be a growing realisation among the people that those of us who have asked for a realistic view, and have argued that to build up the military strength of the country to the proposed level will ruin our economy, are right, and that what we are asked to approve is a foolish and short-sighted policy which is likely to lead the country to disaster, unless it is reversed.
§ 12.4 a.m.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
I know I shall be forgiven if I do not follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). In fact I found great difficulty in doing so.
Last year, and the year before, I raised the question of officers having to pay Purchase Tax on their battledress while on active operations. This, I understand, has been rescinded. I now want to draw the Secretary of State's attention to the fact that officers still have to pay Purchase Tax and departmental expenses on battledress in this country and other theatres, except where there are active operations. That seems to me wrong, because battledress is utility 1180 clothing. I argued this with the former Minister of Defence, who agreed that battledress was utility clothing and had a lot of sympathy with the point. But then the former Secretary of State for War pointed out that the miner had to pay Purchase Tax on his working clothes and the Minister of Defence lost interest. But the miner has not to look smart at the bottom of the pit, and can wear any old thing he can lay his hands on.
Battledress is the officer's main dress. The battledress blouse costs £1 19s. and the trousers £1 19s. 6d. There is 10 per cent. added for departmental charges, making 7s. 10½d., and another 33⅓ per cent. is added to that, making a total additional charge of £1 16s. 8d., which is tax. If you happen to be outsize, like myself, and have to buy the cloth you pay 10s. 9d. a yard, add 10 per cent. departmental charges, and then 66⅔ per cent., and the cloth costs 18s. 7d. a yard.
Moss Bros., or any tailor of that description, will charge £11 5s. for making up, so the total cost is about £15. That makes a very expensive suit. The Secretary of State will say that the cost of battledress and Purchase Tax is allowed for in officers' allowances, but I do not think there is anything like £15 allowed for an outsize officer, and I hope he will use his influence to try and have battledress classified as utility clothing.
My next point is about the N.A.A.F.I. I have spoken to my right hon. Friend about the N.A.A.F.I. in Korea. Many of my constituents grumble because they have to pay a great deal on postage to send parcels of chocolates, cigarettes, cakes and the like to their sons out there. The air freight on these parcels is very heavy. The Secretary of State has promised me an answer on Thursday, so I will not press him now, about my idea of depositing money with any N.A.A.F.I. in England, or the headquarters at Ruxley Towers, and getting chocolates, cigarettes or whatever it may be that a mother, wife or fiancée wishes to order, delivered to the soldier in the field. I understand there are administrative difficulties, but I do not feel they are insurmountable. This would save an immense amount of air freight or postal orders being sent to Korea, and the men would get the goods rather than receive a postal order. That 1181 was an idea mentioned last year for solving the difficulty.
I want to touch briefly on pensions. The disability pension for soldiers has not risen comparably with the cost of living, and something must be done. We have been promised that all pensions are being looked into, and I hope that of all people those who have disability pensions will be fairly considered.
I draw hon. Members' attention to the question of widows' pensions. For a long time I fought with the former Under-Secretary a case of a widow whom he admitted was entitled to pension but who allowed two years to elapse before she discovered her entitlement. I thought it wrong that she should be deprived of the pension for that period and I threatened to raise the matter in the House.
Fortunately we had an election and I put the same question to the new Secretary of State. Within a few weeks he paid the widow £90, or two years' back pay, and he gave me an assurance that in future, whenever a serving or retired soldier or officer died, his widow would be informed that if she was in need she was allowed to claim a pension. For many years I have felt that should be done, and I am glad the new Secretary of State has decided that that will be the future procedure.
Another pension problem that must be examined concerns officers and men who retired under the 1919 Warrant—I declare my interest and say that I do not come in that category. Pensions then were subject to the up and down movement of the cost of living, and when the position became favourable to the Treasury, i.e. at it lowest, they stabilised the pension. There was another cut in 1931 and many of these cuts have not been restored.
I had a letter the other day from the officer who was my second in command when I was a second lieutenant. He retired as major on a pension of £400 a year in 1925 or 1926, and he has received that sum ever since. At that time it was a reasonable pension, perhaps, and he could do quite well on it, but it is not much in 1952 after six years of Socialism. [Interruption.] I know hon. Gentlemen do not like being reminded of that, but we have all 1182 suffered, including themselves. We shall put things right for them if they wait, but it cannot be done in six months.
We have had an excellent debate, but I feel sorry that the late Secretary of State for War should have attacked the new Secretary of State. He had no ground for attack tonight, and he was very vulnerable himself. If he had stayed in the Chamber, there are one or or two things I would have asked him.
§ 12.14 a.m.
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
We have to take a little further the question of calling up men in key positions in agriculture and those especially in small family businesses throughout Scotland. I am rather enamoured of the unity of Scottish Members on this question. I imagine that the Scottish Tory Members are being increasingly pressed by their constituents, because they represent mainly rural areas, for the safeguarding of agriculture by the retention of agricultural workers. I do not know that they would show the same enthusiasm if it were certain types of industrial workers for whom we were seeking exemption from National Service, but we welcome their assistance in these cases.
I hope the Secretary of State for War is going to show recognition of the difficult position in which Scotland finds itself in this matter. The manpower position is difficult, and in the Memorandum to the Estimates, the Minister has this to say in paragraph 19:National Servicemen.—During the year ending 31st March, 1952, the number of national servicemen available to the Services was increased by restricting deferments of agricultural workers, and slight modifications in current medical standards.I should like to know what that means. What reduction in standards have there been? We want to know what safeguards there are, and how much the standard has dropped to enable the intake of these men to take place.
The paragraph continues:In spite of these measures, the Army share of this year's national service age group would be insufficient. Unless measures were taken to increase the size of the national service pool, it might not be possible to maintain the Army at its present strength. It has, therefore, been decided to have five national service registrations instead of the usual four in the coming year, and this will increase the allotment to the Army by nearly 30,000 men.1183 The Secretary of State for War should bear in mind that as a country we are voting many millions of pounds for agriculture in the interests of food production. Because so many of our smaller farms are being depleted of their labour force through National Service, it is unlikely that there will be that food production from these holdings that we once hoped for and of which they are capable, given the necessary labour.
I am all for subsidies for agriculture. We should be most careful to do everything we can to encourage food production in this country, but if we are pouring those millions into agriculture we ought to see that the position of the farmers is safeguarded in the matter of their labour force so that the nation will get an adequate return for the spending of this public money.
The type of case to which my attention is being drawn is causing me much concern. My constituents are constantly writing to me on this subject of the call up of men for National Service, and there were two such letters in my postbag this morning. The first case concerned a farm which was being worked by a woman and her son and daughter.
The son was being called up for National Service, and the mother tells me that that will leave her only her daughter and a young boy to work this holding. Last year this farm provided more than 15,000 gallons of milk as well as other food. She says if the lad goes she can do nothing else than allow the farm to go to grass for she will not have the labour to reap the crops. She will also have to reduce the herd for the same reason.
Are we to allow that sort of thing to happen? I have sent the letter on to the Ministry of Labour and National Service, and I am hoping some action will be taken. I have also asked the Joint Under-Secretary of State who is responsible for agriculture in Scotland to take an interest in this type of case and to safeguard Scottish interests.
My second case today concerns another farmer, who has only his son and another young lad working on the farm. The son has been called up for National Service. The farmer has a hernia and a spinal condition which does not allow him to 1184 do heavy manual work. Consequently, he is threatening to reduce his herd and to take 20 acres out of crop this year. I hope that this kind of thing will not be perpetuated and that this stream of letters will not be necessary as far as agriculture is concerned.
It has always been understood amongst Scottish Members that where there were only two employees on a farm, they would not be taken away; that these farms would be safeguarded and their men would not be taken for National Service. It appears that this sort of unwritten rule is now to be forgotten and that the Minister of Labour and National Service is to call up these men.
I appeal to the Minister to give an answer. Is destruction to face these small farms, which run from 100 to 200 acres, with their valuable Ayrshire dairy herds for the production of tuberculin tested milk? A vast amount of money has been spent on farms in Ayrshire, which is world famous for its shorthorn cattle.
There is another type of case with which I am also concerned: that of the small family contractor, who writes to me from my constituency. Several weeks ago two cases came to my notice which directly concerned agriculture. The two families operate threshing mills for gathering crops and doing threshing from farm to farm. Previously, they have had no safeguard for deferment because it was said that they were not operating at one farm; because they were going from one farm to another with their threshing mills, they were not classified as agricultural workers.
But surely, if there were no threshing mills and we were not getting the crop threshed and the grain and cereals secured there would be no use in planning the crop at all. Therefore, if any agreement on deferment is arrived at, it should embrace that type of threshing mill worker, who travels from farm to farm.
My last case is of a housing contractor in my constituency, who has a small family business in the borough of Irvine. This man, who is 35 years of age, served throughout the last war. His appeal has been rejected, and he is to be taken in July for Z Reserve training. He has 20 housing contracts. He has no one whom he can put in charge of these jobs, which 1185 cover an area from my constituency to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes).
He is employed by various burgh councils and by the county council. He says that for the 15 days he is away he will have to shut down his business and to lay off more than 40 tradesmen. He cannot get anyone else to look after his work. I have sent his letter to the appropriate Minister. I hope that this kind of family business will be safeguarded and that we will not be brought to a position where housing is held up simply because of a short period of Z Reserve training.
Housing is important enough to justify not having a break even for 15 days and the laying off of a number of tradesmen for that period. In addition, there is the threat of destruction to a business which has been very painfully built up since the end of the war in 1945.
These are the main cases of which I have heard in recent weeks, and the position appears to be getting more serious. I put in a plea for small farms operating with a minimum of staff, with the whole family in active participation. Where a member of that family is taken away, such a case should be looked at with the most careful consideration before Scotland has her food production destroyed as, apparently. it is to be destroyed in the coming season.
§ 12.31 a.m.
§ Mr. Fitzroy Maclean (Lancaster)
I will not follow the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) in the interesting and, I agree, most important subject with which he was dealing, but I should like to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). The House is always hearing about his long and distinguished military career, but during it, I imagine, he did not see a Guards' battalion in action; because, if he had, he would not have so low an opinion of them as he apparently has.
So far as the granting of commissions is concerned, I can tell him that I served as a private for some time in a line regiment, and I saw no signs of segregation of potential candidates for commissions. We were all treated in the same way, whether going in for commissions or not, and after six years of Socialist Govern- 1186 ment it seems surprising that there should have been such far-reaching changes such as he suggests.
But what I wish to speak about is a branch of warfare which is apt to become overlooked in a debate of this kind, but which is very important indeed in any future conflict, and that is small-scale raiding and irregular operations, including guerilla warfare. Those go hand in hand together, and should be considered together.
Few people foresaw the important part which operations of that kind were to play in the last war, for, in the clash of modern armies, it was thought there would be no scope for the small unit, or even individuals operating on their own. But, as things turned out, small bodies of troops, and even individuals, behind the enemy lines played a most important part in most of the theatres of that war. Indeed, one of the important lessons of the last war was that modern armies and large weapons, for all their destructive powers, are in themselves highly vulnerable to well-planned and well-executed attacks.
Then there is another aspect. The effectiveness of the small-scale raider, or the guerilla, has been much increased of recent years by the technical improvements which we have achieved. Thanks to jeeps, and aeroplanes, and so on, the individual raider has become more mobile, his fire-power has been increased, he has better explosives, and, thanks to small wireless sets, his communications have been revolutionised.
All that applied in the last war and will apply in the next to an even greater extent, although I am with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) in hoping that there will not be a future war. But we have to consider what might happen if there was. On present form, it is all too likely that, in the early stages of any conflict between East and West, the Russians would succeed in over-running large areas of Europe and Asia. But once they had done that, they would find themselves in a military position which would not be altogether easy. Their lines of communication would be perilously extended. They would be subject to heavy air attack. The morale of their troops might not be too good and I think we can say that the local popula- 1187 tion would certainly be bitterly hostile to them. In fact, they might have considerable difficulty in holding down the areas they occupied.
That, as it happens, is an ideal situation, both for the small-scale raider and for the local resistance movement. One would have an enemy strategically on the offensive but tactically on the defensive. That is just what one wants for operations of this kind. One would have plenty of targets, such as lines of communication, airfields, dumps, military installations of one kind and another, and, the best target of all, the morale of the enemy's troops. Finally, one would have a friendly population because one can count on the population of any country occupied by the Russians being friendly to us.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Would not this apply if Western nations invaded Russia? Would not they meet a hostile population? Would not the lines of communication be liable to attack?
§ Mr. Maclean
Yes, but I am not certain that would apply because there is a difference in regimé between Russia and the Western countries. If we were to occupy areas of Russia, I do not feel convinced that the local population would necessarily be hostile.
§ Mr. Hughes rose—
§ Mr. Maclean
The important thing to remember is that we are not going to invade Russia. It is much more likely that if Russia does not invade us, there will not be a war. I do not know what makes the hon. Gentleman think we are—
§ Mr. Hughes
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Here is a preview of the war on Russia, in which Russia is to be occupied by Allied troops. This is the American strategy, in which Russia is to be invaded and occupied.
§ Mr. Maclean
It is a very late hour and I do not want to speak for very long. I do not think the hon. Gentleman should take American picture magazines quite as seriously as all that.
I want to deal with a small point, which is not controversial but which is technical. Let us envisage a war in which Russia attacks, which most hon. 1188 Gentlemen on both sides of the House agree is much more likely than a situation the other way round. I consider in that event, unpleasant as it would be in every other way, that it would offer a situation which would be ideally suited for small-scale raiding operations of the kind carried out in the last war, much the same as happened in the case of the Germans, after they had occupied large areas of Europe.
What can be done in this way was shown in the Western Desert, in the jungles of South-East Asia, in the Balkans, and in Western Europe. But, what also emerged from the last war was that much more could have been done if we had prepared ourselves for this kind of warfare in advance. It is not enough just to collect a few adventurous characters at the last moment and send them out to try their luck. It is a method which may succeed up to a point, but it is a method which is apt to be very wasteful indeed.
Irregular operations, like most other military operations, need long and careful preparation and in the first place the right men are needed. It is sometimes said that small-scale raiding can equally well be carried out by detachments from larger, less specialised formations. I do not agree. To my mind, not only is a far higher degree of specialisation needed, but a special type of man is required for operations of this kind.
Some men are happier when they go into action as part of a larger unit or formation, and others prefer to go in on their own or with half a dozen others. It is the latter type that is needed for the kind of operations I have in mind.
Secondly, men have to be specially trained; they have to be physically fit and have specialised technical knowledge on such matters as demolition and so on. Then there is equipment. By the end of the last war, troops engaged in operations of this kind were provided with a wide range of special weapons—special explosives, special rations, special wireless sets. But in the early stages those of us engaged in this kind of work had to rely very largely on improvisations, and to improvise with things like parachute equipment and high explosives is not always very agreeable.
Finally, there is the whole question of base organisation. If one is operating 1189 behind the enemy lines nothing is more important than to know that you can count absolutely upon one's rear link or base organisation. Nothing is more discouraging than the knowledge that one may be let down, and especially if one is exhausted, hungry, and harrassed by the enemy that is apt to be the last straw.
Whether we are dealing with British troops carrying out these raids or operating in support of national resistance movements, it is equally important that there should be a base organisation that can provide reliable communication, adequate intelligence and a proper supply system. But none of these are things that can be improvised or hurriedly got together in a few months. If we leave it to the last moment we shall waste valuable material, valuable lives and valuable opportunities.
If we are going to make the best of our opportunities in the event of war, we must have properly trained, properly selected and properly equipped cadres which, I think, should come from all three Services, because there can be no clearer instance of combined operations than operations of this kind.
What preparations are in fact being made? I am glad to see that provision is made in the Estimates for the retention of the Special Air Service Regiment, which had such a fine record of operation in the field of small-scale raiding in the last war. But, as far as I know—and I hope, when the Secretary of State replies, he will enlighten me if I am wrong, the Special Air Service Regiment consists at the moment of a single Territorial battalion that is not quite up to strength. That battalion happens to be a first-rate Territorial unit. That is not enough.
Small-scale raiding is a very important job for which, I am sure, there will be very great scope in any future war. It is also not a very safe job. There is apt to be a high rate of wastage, and I say that one Territorial battalion is nothing like enough. I think there should be other S.A.S. battalions and that they should include at least one Regular battalion. I do not think we can do all the training needed for this sort of operations in a fortnight once a year or in an hour or two's training once a week. Those who undertake that training give up as much of their time as they possibly can, but in my opinion it is still not enough 1190 I think we must have strong Regular cadres who can give their whole time to working out in theory and in practice the very complicated technical and other problems involved in this sort of warfare. The same applies to the sort of organisation which is needed if we are to give proper support to resistance movements behind the enemy lines. There must be adequate preparation in advance.
Today we are spending vast sums on defence. The preparations for which I ask are not primarily a question of money. The results produced are out of all proportion to the outlay. Hon. Members will perhaps understand better what I mean when I say that in the Western Desert one of my brother officers in the Special Air Service Regiment, drawing, I think, at the time a captain's pay, destroyed with his own hands and with a certain amount of high explosive in the space of 12 months no fewer than 100 enemy aircraft on the ground. That, I think, was a very good return indeed for the money spent.
What is needed is not so much money as forethought, ingenuity and hard work. We must learn to develop and improve on the experience of the last war while there is still time. I will not ask my hon. Friend to go into great details when he replies to the debate, but I will ask him to give an assurance that sufficient thought has been given to this question, and that preparations are now being made on an adequate scale. In a previous incarnation during the last war he showed himself a very good friend of all of us engaged in operations of this kind. I hope that in his present exalted position he will continue the good work.
As a country, we have never lacked the qualities of enterprise and initiative that are needed for this kind of work. I am sure there will always be plenty of volunteers, but it would indeed be a pity if when the need arose we were hampered through lack of adequate preparation in advance.
§ 12.44 a.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
We have had a long debate, though not. I notice, as long as the Silent Service had last week. It has been a debate in which hon. Members from both sides of the House have contributed from a very wide fund of specialised knowledge on 1191 military matters. I think we all listened with very great interest to the speech by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Maclean) as one example of the wealth of specialised knowledge there is in this House.
Reference has been made in this and earlier debates to the possibility that the danger of war may have receded in recent years or months. I am bound to say that I think we should be unwise to attempt in any way to base policy on speculations as to the exact number of clouds there may be in the international sky in any particular week or month.
I do not put that forward as being pessimistic, because if I do not take the view that the danger has receded so much as some hon. Members feel, neither did I take the view some time ago that the danger was as grave as some feared. In my judgment, the situation is one which requires all the time neither despair nor carelessness, but a steady vigilance. I would ask the House to consider what is the best contribution the Army can make to that steady vigilance which, I believe, is one of the best measures which can be taken to avert the danger of war.
I believe that the Army has in the first place to be capable of, at the best, defeating, or at least, containing, the various local aggressions which we describe, rather inappropriately, I think, as the cold war. Anyone who considers what might have happened if any one of these local aggressions had been successful from the aggressor's point of view, will agree that world war would have been brought nearer.
In addition to that task, which I think the hon. Gentleman said falls on the three Services and particularly heavily upon the Army, the Army also must be prepared to make the notable contribution of resisting the first showing of any assault which might come if we move from the cold war into a more general and serious conflict. The Army will then have to consider how to bring into the military effort the whole resources of the nation by calling up the Reserves which are part of our present Army system.
So, the international situation today makes a great demand upon the Army. If that demand is to be met, we must have an Army which has an adequate 1192 Regular content, and which makes good use both of its Regular and National Service manpower, and which is well and adequately equipped.
I should like to say a few words upon each of these aspects. With regard to manpower, we have the problem of attracting a sufficient number of people to become Regular soldiers. I think we shall agree that the recruiting figures which the right hon. Gentleman gave in his opening speech are encouraging but we do not yet know how far they may not be simply an anticipation of recruiting which might ordinarily have occurred, but perhaps occurred a few months later.
It has not been uncommon in the history of the Army that this, that, or the other, expedient has been tried to encourage recruiting. They may have produced promising results, but after a year or two, it may be realised that all that has been done has been to get a number of men into the Army more quickly than would otherwise have been the case, and that a permanent rise in the number of people in the country who are willing to take up the Army as a career has not been made. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether something cannot be done to increase that proportion of the nation which is prepared to look to the Army as a possible career.
For example, many working class families have military traditions as long and distinguished as the military traditions of the greatest families. But all too often, I think, in families of the kind I am describing, it has been assumed that the height of ambition is that the son shall follow the father's footsteps and become a regimental sergeant major.
There was a time in the history of our country when it was quite natural that that should be so. But with the social structure and the ideas we have in society at present, if we want to get an increasing number of families to look to the Army as a possible source of employment for their members we have to be able to say that there is for men coming from any family in the land the opportunity of rising not only to the highest non-commissioned rank but to the highest commissioned rank to which their ability can take them.
That is why the earlier topic in the debate, on the selection of officers, was 1193 one of great importance to anyone interested in the question of recruiting, because it is one of the ways in which we can make not merely a temporary increase in the number of people who become Regular soldiers, but a permanent extension of the section of the country who is prepared to think of doing so. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, part of this problem of recruiting is due to the fact that there is a very large section of people who never think of themselves, or anyone connected with them, taking up the profession of arms, and it is that we want to deal with.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), did suggest that very often the decision whether a man should become an officer on the one hand, or a warrant officer or N.C.O. on the other, is made at far too early a stage in his career. I am inclined to agree with him on that point. There ought to be further consideration of the possibility of drawing from the ranks of men who have had experience as warrant officers and N.C.O.s as a potential source of supply of commissioned officers. I doubt we make sufficient use of the very great experience, knowledge, and common sense that is stored up in the mind and personality of a senior N.C.O. or warrant officer.
On the question of the boys' battalion which is to be formed, I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to be rather more precise about this. In the official statement it is laid down that its purpose is to provide warrant officers and N.C.O.s. In referring to it in his speech, the right hon. Gentleman added that there would also be a possibility of commissioned officers coming from this institution. But that did appear to be added very much as an afterthought. It was not mentioned at all in the first official description of this institution.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, in the light of what has been said, will consider giving this possibility of drawing commissioned officers from such an institution much more than an afterthought, and indeed possibly revising whatever it was he had in mind for this battalion. He did also mention, but not in any detail, another school to be created, from which commissioned officers were to be recruited. It is clear from what was said later in the debate that he had not been able to tell the 1194 House all what he had in mind, and it would be helpful if in his reply he would tell us rather more fully what he had in mind.
I believe, too, that if he is to get a wider selection of officers he ought to look more closely at the status of the Army apprentice schools. They do extremely valuable work, but if one goes round them the general drabness of atmosphere does not suggest an institution playing as important a part in the life of the Army as the apprentice schools ought to do.
Once one gets behind the superficial appearance and observes the quality of the instruction one gets a much more favourable opinion. I do not think they have either the buildings or the equipment or status or regard in the eyes of the War Office that they deserve. They are one of the sources from which a larger number of commissioned officers might with advantage be drawn.
With regard to the technique of selecting officers, during the war the War Office selection board was developed, and it was a great advance on anything previously known. But it is important that we do not regard that technique as the last word. There is an elaborate apparatus of tests, interviews, group tasks and so on, and they serve some purpose in revealing the qualities required of a commissioned officer, but there is no reason to suppose that further experiment and research may not discover improved methods. If we allow the methods now in use to become stereotyped, and possibly carried through with less spirit and life at each repetition, gradually the great merits which this technique has conferred on the Army may dry up.
Another factor which the right hon. Gentleman should look at is how far it is possible for a young man coming from a poor home to meet the expenses of becoming a commissioned officer. I put a question to him a little while ago and received certain answers. Not long after I received a letter from someone with considerable military experience, in which he wrote to me:Although I am a Tory, in this instance you are quite right. Ask the Secretary of State for War how many officers in"—and he names certain regiments—do not have a private income.I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to realise that this is a serious matter and 1195 that he must not dismiss it as one merely of prejudice. It is undoubtedly true that there are certain regiments where, whatever be the intentions of the War Office, it is a practical impossibility for a poor person to obtain commissioned rank, and that is made very clear to him if he has any idea of so doing. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that this is not desirable, but it does happen and it ought to be remedied.
§ Mr. Stewart
I do not think that would be desirable. I am prepared to discuss this with the Secretary of State privately, which I think would be more appropriate. I assure him that if he can get some of his hon. Friends in a confidential mood he will get confirmation of what I am saying. It is unwise to suggest that this does not exist.
§ Mr. Maclean
The hon. Gentleman says this needs looking into. He and his friends were in power for six years. Did they not look into this, and all the other matters he is raising?
§ Mr. Stewart
Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the late Government left the administration of the Army in such a condition that no improvements can be made? A great many things need to be done. What one finds when one deals with a matter like this is that it is not something that can be uprooted with a single pull. It needs, as a great many Army matters do, a continuous determination over a period of years to get right. If the right hon. Gentleman is really interested, he will not attempt to dismiss a matter like this as a mere party quibble.
Another question that will concern the problem of increasing the number of people who are prepared to look upon the Army as a career is the general tone of Army life. We want the conditions under which a young man will live in the Army to be such as a self-respecting young man will be prepared to undergo. Everyone agrees that Army life has to be one of rigour and strict discipline, but it is remarkably easy for that to degenerate, if care is not shown, into a sort of unnecessary brutishness, of which, from time to time, one has evidence.
1196 We had such evidence only a little while ago in certain happenings at Catterick Camp and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is making a thorough inquiry into that kind of incident, which is liable to occur if there are N.C.O.s who really do not know how to give instruction properly.
The whole House listened with great interest to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle, Central (Mr. Short), about the importance of improving the instructional technique in the Army. The Army has a valuable fund of knowledge about methods of instruction and if we look into those units where the job is done best we find that it is being done extremely well indeed. It provides a model that many civilian instructional establishments could follow with great advantage.
But, as so often in Army matters, it is a question of getting a good quality spread universally over the whole administration of the Army, and the right hon. Gentleman would be more usefully employed trying to raise the general level of instructional ability among junior N.C.O.s than by providing them with separate messes. Indeed, I could not follow the argument he advanced a little while ago on that matter he seemed to suggest that the less a private soldier saw of a N.C.O., the more likely he would be to respect him.
I would commend to him in this connection the words of Lawrence of Arabia—I paraphrase—where he says that one of the things he learned from the men among whom he lived was that he who was to exercise authority must be prepared to live as his men lived and eat as they ate, and yet somehow show by his character that he was the one to follow.
Now I turn to the uses that the Army may make of its manpower when it has it. First, I was pleased to hear the Under-Secretary defending the functions of the Royal Army Educational Corps, in the light of certain comments made during the debate. Perhaps I need add nothing beyond this—invariably, the need for a corps of this kind has been discovered by experience and anyone who, in an excess of zeal to comb out the tail, destroys or seriously hampers its work only finds, at a somewhat later stage, that 1197 it has to be re-created with a good deal of inconvenience and loss of efficiency.
On the use of manpower, I question whether the best use is always made of the time and energy of junior officers. It varies enormously from one unit to another, but I was reading recently in the magazine of a famous school that has contributed many men to the Army a series of accounts of young men doing their National Service. I was startled to find that, so far as they did complain, their chief complaint was of boredom and not having enough to do.
I was even more startled to find—contrary to my first impression—that this complaint came not from men in the ranks but from men who had received National Service commissions. There is a tendency sometimes in commanding officers not to delegate sufficiently and to leave these young men in circumstances where they cannot get anything like as much out of the Army as they would like.
On the question of the use of manpower, I would beg the right hon. Gentleman not to suppose that he can solve this question once and for all by applying the findings of the committee whose work was started under the late Government. This question of avoiding waste of manpower in the Army is something that could not be solved by a single turn of the key. It is something which needs constant vigilance if we are to get any results.
It is very easy, when one starts off with some new scheme to save time and manpower, to imagine that one can solve the whole problem, and then, through lack of continuous pressure, find that the problem is there again in a few years' time in quite as large a form as it originally was. For example, we have been told repeatedly that bodies such as schools, depots and static establishments generally are to have operational roles.
That is a sound and desirable thing, but what may very well happen, unless the greatest care is exercised, is that in a year or 18 months the so-called military training and operational role becomes a piece of perfunctory drill carried through for the sole purpose of satisfying the authorities that it has been carried through. If the right hon. Gentleman 1198 wants to get the best out of this innovation, he will have to exercise great care to see that it does not become a perfunctory piece of routine which can avail of nothing in any army in any country.
While I am speaking of manpower I should like to add a word on colonial manpower. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out quite correctly that one of the greatest difficulties in making more use of colonial troops is the demand that it makes on our own supply of officers, warrant officers and N.C.O.s. I believe that in time it will be the colonial peoples themselves who will wish to meet that deficiency. I do not wish to be unrealistic about the matter, and I realise that what I envisage is some generations ahead, but when the right hon. Gentleman is considering the greater use of colonial manpower he ought to get into closer touch with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
If he is thinking of some Colony, he ought to have regard to social and educational development in that Colony, and to what extent he can expect to draw N.C.O.s, warrant officers and officers from the indigenous people. The arrangement whereby the colonial troops are for the most part officered and led by people not their fellow countrymen is something which cannot be permanent if this Commonwealth of ours is to be a permanent institution.
Just a word about equipment. First of all, there has been much argument about the 280 rifle. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman realises the very great importance of reaching the right decision on this matter. I am not going to suggest that he is being under any kind of pressure, but I would invite him to consider what has been said on both sides of the House, and to realise that not a single substantial argument has been advanced against the adoption of this rifle. Possibly he has something more to tell us on the matter, and I hope he will answer the particular question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West.
This is a matter of very great concern, and it is of such first-class importance that the right hon. Gentleman should study it absolutely objectively and reach what, on the best evidence available, appears to be the right solution. Unless some totally new evidence can be put before us, 1199 the whole weight of such evidence as we have today is in favour of the adoption of this rifle by the British Army with such speed as the technical exigencies of production permit.
I have only one other comment to make on equipment. I notice the considerable increase that there is to be in the number of vehicles provided for the Army. I take it that the right hon. Gentleman realises how expensive they are likely to be in time and in manpower for their proper maintenance. To ensure that the vehicles remain fit for use is a constant problem if a quite inordinate amount of time is not to be occupied on their maintenance.
The Minister will be well advised to consider very carefully the organisation of those units in the Army which deal with the storage and care of vehicles and to see that whatever mechanical means exist of securing that vehicles are adequately maintained are used with as little manpower as possible.
If, then, we can get an Army to which we can attract a larger proportion of the population than at present gives any serious consideration to the idea of taking up this profession; if we can get an Army in which the manpower, Regular and National Service, is well used, and an Army which is as well equipped as the industrial power and wealth of the country permits, that Army has to carry out the operational commitments to which I referred earlier under the title of defeating, or, at least, containing, local aggressions.
At present, we are still having to use young National Service men in Korea and in Malaya, and the right hon. Gentleman has given no indication so far of any major change in policy on this point. Indeed, I should not have expected him to do so. But I am bound to say—and this, I think, will be my only seriously contentious remark—that during the last Parliament my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West, and I were subjected by some hon. Members opposite, whom I do not see in their places now, to the most violent and bitter attacks because young National Service men were being used in the Malayan and Korean theatres. It is a piece of the most cynical callousness that some of the hon. 1200 Gentlemen who were most forward in that attack have not said a word about the subject tonight and that many of them are actually not here.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
In their absence, may I say just that it was not a question of their being used in Malaya, but of the amount of training they had before they went there and, when they arrived, before they went into the jungle. That is the matter which was under discussion.
§ Mr. Stewart
It was not only a question of the amount of training. Very violent attacks were made by some hon. Members for their being sent there at all.
§ Mr. Stewart
It was my duty to sit there and to listen to the attacks, and the hon. and gallant Member did not by any means hear all that was said. What is remarkable is that neither the question of the presence of these young men in the theatre, nor that of their training, has been raised tonight.
Human nature being what it is, we can all concede the point that an hon. Member, to whatever party he belongs, will press a point more vigorously against a Government with whose politics he does not agree than against a Government of his own party. But the discrepancy we have now between the extreme bitterness of the attacks upon this point against the previous Government, and the complete silence, the complete dropping of any interest in the question, the moment there is a change of Government, is something which will oblige us to be unable to take very seriously what any of those hon. Gentlemen says in future.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West) rose—
§ Mr. Stewart
If I may say so, I never take very seriously anything that the hon. and gallant Member says.
§ Brigadier Clarke
May I say something serious? Does the hon. Gentleman think that we could have changed all this in the last few months, even had we wanted to? Is that what he is suggesting?
§ Mr. Stewart
I suggest that, since the hon. and gallant Member professed such an interest in the matter before, he might have preserved that interest after a change of Government.
Apart from these operational commitments, the Army has to concern itself with the home defence of this country and, in that connection, reference has been made to the Home Guard. I hope that if this project is further developed, the right hon. Gentleman will not allow himself to be deceived by quantity at the expense of quality; that is, people calling themselves members of the Home Guard and going through the motions of military procedure which is of no value to the defence of this country. It would be far better to have a small number of units doing something really efficiently rather than a lot of people trying to look like a Home Guard.
In this, and the other functions which the Army has to perform, it is said that we wish the Government good luck in its task. Indeed, we do, but, at the same time, the instrument which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to use and which he, and other hon. Members have spoken of so highly, the British Army, is an instrument forged by a policy produced since the end of the war. I stress that because it is suggested that the late Government had got completely the wrong end of the stick and that there was some other policy waiting to solve all our military problems and headaches.
But what has been said to-night from the other side of the House, and what is in these Estimates, shows quite clearly that that is just not so. Whatever criticisms were made of the late Government on matters of administration, the general approach to this problem is fully accepted by the present Government and is one which it will continue to use. The Minister has had a good inheritance to take over; he has great and formidable problems, and we have pressed on him a number of topics, but we do earnestly wish him success in the task of providing the Army with the administration to which the quality of the men so rightly entitles them.
§ Brigadier Clarke
Since the hon. Member has taken nothing which I have said very seriously, that would account for many stupid answers I have received. May I ask if he will admit that less than 1202 two-and-a-half years ago, had the Ack-ack Reserve been called up, there was not a uniform to put its men into, and that that is why we have £20 million more for clothing this year? Further, were not uniforms in emergency manufactured in Germany last year? If that is good Socialist administration, I should like to hear what he thinks.
§ 1.19 a.m.
§ Mr. Head
I think that I can say without any fear of contradiction that this has been a long debate. I must confess that the last speech seemed to be more reminiscent of somebody who knew something of the Army and was thirsting to get into the War Office in order to do something about things, and not one who had been for the last six years in the Government and doing something about it. I thank the hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) for his good wishes to myself, but, despite his kind thoughts, I cannot resist saying that the British Army as we know it has not been forged into shape in the last six years.
I do not want, and I have tried not to, to bring party politics into this, but I would remind the hon. Gentleman that we sat on the Opposition benches and we watched National Service changed from 18 months back to a year, up to 18 months again, and then up to two years. We saw an ex-Minister of Defence, who is now in another place, change his mind when the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), got up behind him and said, "Boo." We saw the Regular Army wasting away through men going out because of a failure to put up the pay in time.
For the Opposition to suggest that they created the present British Army is rubbish. What they did, by never making-up their minds and by vacillating, was to ensure that the Army we have today is not half as good as it would have been had they made up their minds. I do not want to go on with this controversial matter, but there were some things we saw when we were in Opposition which stick in our guts; and talking about sticking, I think we have stuck more in this Debate to the Army than was done the other day to the Navy during the Debate on the Estimates.
I want to go through as rapidly as I can, the various points raised in the debate. It has cropped up, again and 1203 again, in this debate, and it is an anomaly, that I, as Secretary of State, should have been so constantly accused of discrimination against those in the lower classes or income groups, or whatever word anybody wishes to use, when, despite six years of hon. Gentlemen opposite, it falls to my lot to say I have a project for commissions for officers in the Army from the grammar and secondary schools. Yet, throughout the whole of the debate, I have been subjected to the idea that I am going to build up the Brigade of Guards and shut out any officer who is not the son of a millionaire.
It really is rubbish. It has not been settled yet, but I think I shall get a chance for the boys from grammar and secondary schools to get a commission. The Opposition have had a long time to do it and have done nothing, so why blame me for class distinction? I am the last person who is guilty of that.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), asked me several questions of a specific nature, which I will try to answer. He asked particularly, and, if I may so, it was a very relevant question, about anti-tank weapons, the importance of which he and I are fully aware. He may not know it, but there is a new range of anti-tank weapon coming off in the current year. It will be in the hands of troops by the end of the year, and it is a very good weapon indeed.
This question of the rifle was asked by the right hon. Gentleman and many hon. Members. The hour is late, but I will try and put it as briefly as I can. Nobody on either side of the House would argue, for one moment, that the 280 rifle was not the best rifle in Europe or the world today. That is beyond dispute, but the point is this. If we said we would make the rifle and we were not interested in what other people did—it is true that the Belgians might make it—we should then be committed in four, five or six years' time, to a rifle in which we would be fighting a war, perhaps in Europe, and we should be entirely dependent on our own manufacture, not only of rifles but of ammunition.
During that period of the next five or six years, which is the danger period, we should constantly have too few to com- 1204 plete the equipment of the Army, two types of ammunition, and not have, what is termed, a big pool. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, who has immense experience, is right in this: be sure that one has a big reserve of rifles and be sure that one's ammunition supply is secure.
Can any hon. Member say, in the event of war, if all our ammunition comes from factories in this country, that is a secure source of its supply? If it did not come from this country, where else would it come from? I believe that to be an immensely important argument in this particular respect. I share his interest in this matter, and I can assure him that I am doing everything possible to ensure that we have enough of them.
The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) made a most helpful speech, based on a great deal of experience, and I can assure him and other hon. Members that we will study the suggestion he put forward. I know the hon. and gallant Member made them as one who had a great deal of practical experience in the Territorial Army. I hope he will approach me if he thinks I am making any bad mistakes in that respect.
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), after having compared the ex-Minister of Defence with "high-up" generals, stated that he thought I really belonged to the A Branch. I do not wish to engage in retaliation, but I might almost reply that he belongs to the X Branch. But he did make a very interesting speech, and so he should with his experience. He asked me particularly about building married quarters.
The figures are these: since the scheme was introduced we have built 1,430 for the Regular Army, 712 for the permanent staff of the Territorial Army, and there have been hirings for 3,343. These are the figures of the achievement in that building so far. [An HON. MEMBER: "At home or overseas?"] That is entirely at home. The hon. Member also referred to local recruitment for anti-aircraft. I think he is quite right in some respects. For heavy anti-aircraft I think it is difficult, but for light anti-aircraft I think it is a very sensible suggestion, and we are well aware of the useful purpose that can be served by factory units manning such defences.
1205 The hon. and gallant Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto), stated that our propaganda could be improved. I think it could. He also stated there were too many Regulars on the staff. I think there are. The hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons)—a private Member, in a sense—who made an interesting speech, told me, incidentally, that he was recruited in Birmingham. I have no time for stories, but I have always enjoyed the one about the regimental sergeant major inspecting recruits on the first day. He said to one, "Where do you come from?" The recruit replied, "Birmingham," and the R.S.M. said, "I'll give you Birmingham." That sort of thing no longer occurs in the Army today. The hon. Member expressed anxiety that if we had a major-general to inspect recruiting he would build up a staff. I can assure him that is not the case.
§ Mr. Simmons
My anxiety was that he would have no staff to use the information he collected, and that the appointment would, therefore, be useless.
§ Mr. Head
The project has only just started, but we have in mind that he should go round and look at the organisation from a commonsense point of view, write a report, and that executive action should be taken on his report. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) particularly asked me about the Special Air Service Regiment, and so did the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Maclean). I have, as the latter knows, a great sympathy for this type of unit. It is in existence today, and I believe that in a future war, which is less and less a linear and more and more a war of points, that type of unit is of great importance, and I can assure him I have the matter in mind.
Of course, in both that and the question of airborne formations raised by the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough), it is no good having large Forces capable of dropping here, there and everywhere unless one can match them with the necessary supply of transport aircraft. That, as hon. Members will know, presents a considerable problem.
The hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) made a rather waspish speech, and I could not help saying that he was 1206 well qualified for dialectics. Nor could I help thinking that had not the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition appointed him to his job when he did, he might well have been writing some very controversial articles in the "Tribune." However, that is not so, and the hon. Gentleman had a good deal of criticism to make of me personally. That is only fair, but I could not help feeling that some of his criticisms were so partisan that had the late Lord Haldane been sitting in my place he would have called the hon. Member an old fogey in the mood that he was in today. Therefore, quite frankly, my impression of the hon. Gentleman's speech was that I personally had done very badly, but that it had been exceeded by the bestiality of the hon. Member for Coventry, East.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) asked me about agriculture, and so did the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who always makes a contribution to our debates. I do not want to shirk this question, but I think the hon. Members who asked it know full well that this is a matter which belongs to the Ministry of Labour. I am sure that their speeches will be fully reported to their constituencies, but the answer must come from the Ministry of Labour.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire also asked me about training areas and food. We have finished the Army farming scheme, and I do not think that fact will at any rate decrease the amount of food in the country, and may increase it. The amount of agricultural land held by the Army is, I agree, considerable, but the vast majority of it is let out to farmers, and strict instructions are given regarding the killing of weeds and ensuring that thistles do not grow on Army land.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who is an amphibious contributor to these debates, made, if I may say so, once we got past Agincourt, a most interesting speech. I was most interested in his recommendations and his points about those men in the Army who fight. I think there is something in that, and I am also aware 1207 of his figures about the tail. I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman will not take offence if I say that once one starts working out proportions of tail, one can make them do practically anything. One to 20 is his figure. I could produce figures which would make them anything from one to four or from one to 34 with quite good conclusive evidence.
I can see that the hon. and learned Gentleman is getting restive, but the point I am at is this. He says we shall never cure this without a fundamental and radical alteration of the whole set-up. But until we have the fundamental and radical solution, the best thing one can do is to comb as hard as possible, and that is what I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman we are engaged in doing now, despite that fact that I was well aware that he was a little apprehensive that the promoted office boy would be too nervous of the generals and field-marshals to have really much say in the matter.
§ Mr. Head
I have some Russian figures, though I have not got them on me. I am quite prepared to show them to the hon. and learned Gentleman, with the permission of my Department—if they are not too secret—and on comparison of the fully mobile Russian divisions with our own infantry divisions it is surprising that the number of vehicles to men is not so wide as one might think. But the hour is late, and I think that on the whole we might continue this, as we sometimes do, in the smoking room.
The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) mentioned again the question of mobility by air. I could not agree with him more, but aircraft is the deciding factor. The hon. Member also made some remarks about anti-aircraft artillery. As an anti-aircraft gunner he knows more about that than I do. I am aware that anti-aircraft artillery in war, with high-flying, fast aircraft may not hit a great many, but he would be a bold man in my position who did away with the guns. Those who have read 1208 books about the last war will know that bomber pilots did not like anti-aircraft fire. Anti-aircraft fire prevented their flying straight and kept them high. Until we get the guided missile I do not think we can harden our hearts and make that saving.
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) made a speech which, I must confess, I thought was very unpleasant. If I thought that what he said was typical of the British Army I would resign tonight. But I do not think it is. I do not propose to answer his speech at great length. With regard to his remarks about the officers of the Brigade of Guards, my answer is that I think the best treatment I can suggest for him is that he should repeat these remarks to the N.C.O.s of the Brigade of Guards and see what happens to him.
The hon. Member for Ayrshire, South, I think I have largely answered on his agricultural points. He made some other interesting observations which will no doubt be studied in the War Office. But I think that on the whole I have answered his main point. The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) asked about N.A.A.F.I., parcels, and said that he did not want an answer before Thursday. I was about to give him an answer today, and will give it to him now. The answer is, "Yes". I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman is happy, for he made a constructive suggestion and we have implemented it.
The hon. Member for Fulham, East, who wound up the debate for the Opposition, made a number of wise remarks about Regular recruiting, and then spent a good deal of time on this question of the selection of officers and the necessity for a private income, and so forth. I would like to say that hon. Members have rather a bee in their bonnets about this question of class prejudice in the Army.
I had a long talk the other day with a general who was on the selection board. He gave me a long description of the various types of candidates who come up. He said that some of the best types of officer candidates who come up were the sons of quartermasters, warrant officers, and senior N.C.O.s of the Regular Army, and he said he welcomed them with open 1209 arms. That does not altogether agree with the attitude the hon. Gentleman takes. This general had been operating during the tenure of his appointment at the War Office. Officers are not riddled with class consciousness.
Officers hate the dud rich man just as much as anyone else, and admire the good man whatever his birth, but in my experience I have never seen any kind of class consciousness in this way. I see the hon. Gentleman opposite grinning. When I was at Sandhurst we had a number of Y cadets. They were N.C.O.s. If he likes to get in touch with any of them they will tell him there was no sign of prejudice. I do not know whether it is done for political reasons, but to work up this class prejudice is a mistake. It does not exist. There are endless cases where men fitted for a commission become officers, but the hon. Gentleman showed his lack of understanding when he asked why it was that not more senior N.C.O.s and warrant officers were turned into officers.
The answer is that that is the worst stage at which to turn a man into an officer. Anyone with Army experience knows that to turn a man who has been a warrant officer or senior N.C.O. for a large part of his career into an officer is a naturally difficult task because the two jobs are fundamentally different. It is nothing to do with class prejudice. One is a supervisor, the other has to enforce discipline, and has to take a different attitude to the men. The time to get them is when they are young and not when they are warrant officers.
I have given the House the undertaking that we will look into all the remarks of hon. Gentlemen. I thank them for their speeches. Many of the suggestions will be most useful, and I regret that I have spoken five minutes longer than I had intended.
§ Mr. Manuel
Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with my point about the modification of medical standards for National Service men?
§ [Mr. HOPKIN MORRIS in the Chair]