That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 555,000 all ranks, be maintained for the safety of the United Kingdom and the defence of the possessions of Her Majesty's Crown, during the year ending on the 31st March, 1953.
§ Resolution read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
There is only one point that I want to raise, but it is one of some importance. I wish to repeat the question which I asked of the Secretary of State for War when the Estimates were presented, about the present position in regard to the .280 rifle. What we have been told in regard to that rifle is that we are undertaking experimental production. I do not know what that means or how much real production it entails.
I should like to repeat the question I asked: Are we, or are we not, going to tool up one of our serious major industrial units for the production of small arms? If not, it means that for the present, at any rate, we have abandoned 70 the whole project of introducing the .280 rifle. That is something of very great concern to the Army.
It is true that the Secretary of State replied to me on this issue. But what did he say? He began by saying: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1952;, Vol. 497, c. 1206.]He could not have put it more strongly than that. What concerns me is that he then went on, in the next two or three paragraphs of his speech, to give reasons—which sounded as if they were reasons—why nevertheless we could not go on with the production of that rifle; and therefore, that there was no prospect of actually putting it in the hands of the British infantry.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
It might be convenient if I were to intervene now. I did not state that there would be absolutely no production of the rifle. What I went on to say, if my memory serves me, was that to adopt that rifle as the universal rifle for the whole of the British Army, with the only production of rifles and ammunition centred in this country, would be a rash undertaking in view of our vulnerability to air attack.
§ Mr. Strachey
I agree that the right hon. Gentleman said that, and I was coming to it. It seemed to me a very serious point and one which, if it was seriously considered to make it impossible to introduce this new weapon, would have very wide repercussions on our general programme of armaments.
I have the right hon. Gentleman's words before me. He said that if we introduced this rifle to the British Army as its standard infantry weapon—and it seems to me that in the long run it is doing that or nothing, because the disadvantages of having two rifles in permanent use in the Army, with two sets of ammunition, would be very great indeed—we should be entirely dependent on our manufacture, not only of rifles, but of ammunition, because no other country, with the possible exception of Belgium, was likely to introduce it.
But is that a good reason for not going forward when the rifle is, admittedly— 71 this is something on which there is no difference between us—the best thing available in the world? The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that even with the best will in the world it would take five or six years to re-equip the Army with this weapon. That may be so. It seems rather a pessimistic estimate, although to complete finally the re-equipment of the Army might, perhaps, be of that order of magnitude.
The right hon. Gentleman said that these were the danger years. But no one is suggesting that during these years we should dribble out the production of the new rifles unit by unit and have one battalion equipped with the new rifle and one with the old. Surely, the very most we would do, even for a temporary period, would be to re-equip one whole theatre—the Far East, for example, or the Near East, or Germany; and we would wait until we had sufficient production to do that. There is, of course a disadvantage in that, but it is a small one to weigh against the very great advantages of going forward.
Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to use the argument, which he associated with what I have just said, that if we were to do that we would not be floating, as it were, on a big pool of rifles, which is, I agree, of such importance in a major war. But is that really so? After all, no one suggests that even if we went into production with the new rifle, we should scrap our great stocks of the old rifle. For Home Guard and auxiliary purposes, which may be a very big user of rifles in a major war, there would still be this great stock of the old rifles, and in fact there would be more of them in so far as we would produce the new rifle and give it to various theatres for the Regular Forces. We should not diminish our total stock of rifles by going into production with the new one. We should increase it. Therefore, I cannot feel that that argument holds good.
Then the Secretary of State returned to this question of the production of the rifle and ammunition, and said that if we adopted them they would only be produced in this country, because no one else would adopt them. I should not have thought that that necessarily followed. It 72 would surely be possible to place contracts for the production of the rifle, and certainly of the ammunition, in Canada, for example. But even so, even if that were not done, it is a very serious suggestion that we cannot depend upon production in this island for any of our essential weapons.
If we were to adopt that argument, we should have to say that it was wrong to depend upon the Centurion tank because that was produced only in this island, or that we could not depend upon our new fighter aircraft because they were produced only in this island, or that we could not depend upon our anti-aircraft ammunition for the same reason. I do not think we can accept this argument that this island is so insecure that it is not a possible base for the production of our essential weapons. Therefore, I was made very uncomfortable by these arguments of the right hon. Gentleman. They sounded to me quite inadequate reasons for denying to the British infantry what he called the best rifle in Europe and the best rifle in the world today. I felt that these were excuses rather than reasons—and rather uncomfortable excuses at that.
It is a very serious matter, and especially serious because of one of the reasons which he gave. It is quite true that even if we went ahead with tooling up right away, it would be quite a long period before we should get any more rifles in any considerable quantity—something of the order of anything between 12 and 24 months. But surely that argument also cuts the other way. No doubt, this does not apply in the same way to rifles as it does to fighter aircraft, but if we make a fine new thing and then do nothing about it for long enough, it becomes obsolete by the time we get it. If we wait for years before we even start tooling up on the new rifle, do we not run the risk, even here, of losing all the advantage or some real part of it which the genius—I use that strong word purposely—of British inventors and designers has now given us?
It causes great concern that we get no adequate reasons, as it seems to us, for the denial to the British infantry of this new weapon. I cannot help feeling that it must in the end react upon their state of mind if this situation is adhered 73 to. I am not saying that it is correct, but it must create the impression in the mind of the infantryman himself that he is being denied a weapon for diplomatic reasons, and people feel—I think it is better to say it frankly—that he is being denied this weapon because of American objections and because we are supinely giving in to the very strongly expressed views of the American Government, and that because of those views and because we cannot obtain standardisation on the rifle, we have had to give the whole thing up altogether.
I cannot help feeling that this is the greatest pity. It is acting against some of the very best military and technical opinion. Unless the Secretary of State can tell us something this afternoon or on some future occasion to console and reassure us on this issue, we on this side of the House do not feel that we can let the matter lie and we shall feel obligated to press the Government very strongly on every appropriate occasion.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I do not think anybody would question the assertion of the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), that the matter which we have been discussing is important. We all agree that it is. So far as I understood the right hon. Gentleman's argument, it amounted to the fact that there was no reason to suggest that we should scrap all the existing .303 S.M.L.E.'s but that we should go ahead with manufacturing the new rifle leaving the old type for the Home Guard and for other exigencies. That might be all right if the supply of the old type of rifle were adequate now. I very much doubt whether it is, because we want a much greater supply of rifles than are in use in order to be properly protected and prepared in the event of a war.
I think I am right in saying that at the end of the war a great many rifles in this country were disposed of in various ways. I am not particularly criticising the fact that some of them were, but a great number of them were disposed of, and I very much doubt whether today it is within the capabilities of industry to get our Forces sufficiently well equipped with a reserve of rifles of the present standard and at the same time to go ahead with producing the new type.
74 The right hon. Gentleman made some play with the possible effect that all this may have on the infantryman's mind. I honestly do not believe that the average infantryman will believe that this decision has been entirely a diplomatic one. I do not believe that he will think that. If I may, at the risk of boring the House, I should like to tell a story which I believe to be true. It was told to me about a regiment which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I know very well. In the First World War this regiment, which consisted of horse cavalry, came on to a feature which they had to hold in a dismounted position. The attack was put in by the Germans, but the rifle fire of those men was sufficient to deter the attack.
After the war it so happened that the commanding officer of the regiment met the commanding officer of the German troops who had been attacking that position, and the German commander told him that the reason the attack was not proceeded with was that the rifle fire was so good that the Germans had thought there were automatic weapons on the position. At the risk of annoying every rifleman in the House, I would say that I think it is true that the standard of musketry was perhaps one of the weakest things in the Army of 1939, and certainly in war conditions it is difficult to get men to attain the highest standard of musketry.
If the decision is that we must defer the production of the .280 rifle—or, to give it its correct designation, I believe it is the 2,278—I believe that much greater concentration ought to be placed upon musketry in the infantry regiments. Certainly the standard of shooting used to be one of the things for which the British Army was renowned, but I am not certain whether that is true today.
I hope the House will forgive me if, not having joined in on the night operations on the earlier proceedings, I indulge in a small political exercise without troops this afternoon. In the debate on the last Army Estimates I tried to call attention to four subjects each beginning with the letter A. The emphasis which my right hon. Friend places on each of these subjects is important. The four are: armour, airborne, anti-aircraft and antitank.
75 So far as armour is concerned I am a little concerned at what appears in a Vote we are not discussing this afternoon, namely, the amount of fuel allowed for the training of men in armoured formations. It seems to me essential that when we are discussing these Estimates, and in particular talking on Vote A, and when we are discussing the number of men who can be called up, we should ensure that their time is not wasted. It is essential for armoured regiments, especially armoured car regiments, to have adequate fuel for training purposes. It should be allotted on the basis of the number of vehicles rather than on the number of men at any one station.
I will not deal with tanks because other hon. Members dealt with them in the earlier debate, but there is a strong case to be made for having an Army air arm just as the Navy has an air arm. I know, from having listened to the debate on the Air Estimates, that there are some hon. Members who have served in the R.A.F. who would not relish that suggestion strongly, but I should think that the case the Navy can make for having a Fleet Air Arm is similar to that which the Army can make for having an Army air arm.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am quite prepared to believe that to the mind of my hon. and gallant Friend the Navy has not made a case for a fleet air arm, but the fact is that they made a case sufficiently well to have had a fleet air arm for a number of years. One reason why I think the Army might have an air arm is because, so far as tactical reconnaissance is concerned, it is essential that there should be a real knowledge of the military problems in the minds of the pilots who are flying them.
In addition, we have the problem of transporting airborne troops, particularly the Parachute Regiment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) said in the earlier debate, it is important that adequate transport should be available. Those who have been through a retreat know that there is nothing worse than to be dependent upon an outside organisation for transport. 76 Although we hope we shall neither have to attack nor retreat, it is something which my right hon. Friend must look into. I have talked with various senior officers in the past and I know that some of them who have reached important appointments in connection with the infantry were strongly of the view that every infantry battalion ought to be trained in an airborne role.
If that be so, it becomes even more important to ensure that there is a section of the Army devoted to the control of aircraft, the flying of aircraft and working from aircraft. We know that the Royal Regiment of Artillery had considerable experience with Austers in the late war, but that is not enough to cope with what I am visualising. We ought to aim at getting the entire Regular Army airborne in the long run. Of course it cannot be done in five minutes or five years, but the more we become air-minded in the Army the more strong the case becomes for an Army air arm.
It is important that proper research should be undertaken in order to find an adequate anti-tank weapon for airborne troops. There has been a good deal of discussion about the Napalm bomb. I see the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), sitting opposite and I know his views on the matter, but it is important that airborne troops in particular should be properly equipped with an anti-tank weapon. I believe that some modification to an existing launcher of a Napalm bomb may be the answer. It is a vile weapon, but modern war is vile and it is almost hypocritical for us to differentiate betwen weapons when the whole of war is so atrocious. Many arguments which people use against the Napalm bomb are really arguments against war as a method of settling anything—
§ Major Legge-Bourke
—but as long as people are prepared to apply war as a method, it is in the interests of ourselves and the men who do the fighting that we should equip them as adequately as possible.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Just one moment. It is vitally important that we 77 should equip our airborne troops, who often may be fighting in isolated positions away from the main body of our Forces, as effectively as we can. There is no doubt that one of the most deadly weapons against them will be the tank. Without disclosing any secrets, I hope my right hon. Friend will give us an assurance that this matter is being looked into and that everything possible will be done to ensure that our airborne troops are effectively armed against tanks.
§ Mr. Hughes
I quite understand the argument of the hon. and gallant Gentleman which is perfectly logical, but could he say, since he is prepared to approve of the Napalm bomb, if we were to have war, would he be prepared also to approve of bacteriological warfare?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I was discussing four subjects—armour, airborne, antiaircraft and anti-tank. That was not on my list. It is one of those weapons which comes in the same category as gas, in that if it is used there is a likelihood of it being just as inconvenient to the user as to the enemy against whom it is being used. That would be the main criterion in my mind in deciding whether or not to use it. The important thing is that we should win whatever war we found ourselves in as quickly as possible. I do not believe that there is any sense in not using a weapon which will hasten victory. It was for that reason I supported the use of the atom bomb.
I believe it has been decided that the best anti-tank weapon is another tank. What I have said about airborne troops has some relevance here because it is perfectly obvious that airborne troops cannot take the heaviest type of tank about with them if they are using our existing type of aircraft. Somehow I do not see the Brabazon being used for carrying airborne troops.
It is probable, therefore, that in the airborne division the anti-tank weapon will rarely be the tank, but, from the point of view of our main body of troops, who will be fighting in the armoured divisions and in the infantry divisions, the decision has been taken, I believe, that the best anti-tank weapon is another tank. I hope that is the right decision. After all, a tank costs £38,000, which is an immense burden. I do not profess to be sufficiently an expert on the military side to state 78 whether the decision is right or not, but I would remind the House of what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in an earlier debate—that one by one our weapons go out of use either because they have become too expensive or because they have become too unwieldy and it may be that tanks are moving in that direction.
I have a feeling that sooner or later we shall return to the view that the best weapon to use against tanks is a really effective anti-tank weapon, freely provided for use by the infantryman. I am prepared to agree that for the moment the decision which has been taken may be right, but as time goes on I believe what we should be seeking to do is to provide every infantryman, in particular, with a really effective, personal anti-tank weapon. As we continue the development of these appalling explosives, I believe we shall find that gradually it will be possible to produce a lighter and lighter weapon to fire a more and more effective projectile of some sort. That seems to me the line along which we should work.
Lastly, I want to say something about the Home Guard. My right hon. Friend gave the latest figures to the House—something over 30,000 men who have registered. In due course we want 175,000, which is the figure catered for in these Estimates. I believe there is not a sufficient awareness of this very important fact—that if we were to find ourselves in another war we should be in grave danger at the moment of being prepared to fight it only on the basis of our preparedness at the beginning of the last war.
Local authorities in particular—and I want to warn my right hon. Friend of this—are tending to take the line that what was good enough last time will be good enough again, and I beg and implore him to try to get over to local authorities in every way he can—and that is one of the reasons why I am making this speech—that if they are relying on last war methods and a last war state of readiness, as at 1939, in order to combat possible paratroop landings in East Anglia, then, although I hope they will live to be able to regret it, I doubt whether they will.
We should do everything we can to try to make local authorities aware of the 79 need for an immediate Home Guard as well as a Civil Defence and to impress upon their minds that it is just as important this time to have a Home Guard as it was last time to have gas masks. One of the reasons why gas masks were issued to the public in 1939 was in order to instil into everybody's mind the need for the defence of this country, and it is of vital importance that that spirit should be instilled into everybody today, and particularly into the leaders in the rural areas.
I mention local authorities for that reason—that, however good employers may be and however good their workers may be in coming forward for the Home Guard, if local authorities will take positive steps to encourage them to do so it will make just the difference that we need and it will see that my right hon. Friend's plans make sense.
At the moment, from what I can gather, we have a line drawn from Selsey Bill to the Wash, and those east of the line, where most are required, are fewer in number than those west of the line. If that is the case, something must be done very rapidly if my right hon. Friend's plans for the summer are to be capable of execution. My view is that my right hon. Friend must get together with the home secretary and see that there is no unnecessary competition between the Home Guard and the Civil Defence.
I shall detain the House no longer, and I am sorry to have delayed it for so long, but I hope some of the questions which I have asked will be valuable for my right hon. Friend to consider, even if he cannot answer all of them today. I can assure him that I shall go on until I see something more achieved than has been achieved over the last six years and that I shall draw attention to the balance between those four subjects beginning with the letter A. My feeling is that the balance is a little uneven in favour of armour, that nothing like sufficient attention has been given to airborne and certainly not sufficient attention to antitank. I hope my right hon. Friend will give these matters urgent attention.
I have only one observation to make on anti-aircraft, and it arises out of what my right hon. Friend said in his presentation of the Estimates. I believe there is a real danger in relying on equipment 80 which is so complicated that only about seven men out of every 10,000 can be trained to operate it. There is a tendency to do that at the moment. I believe that, as time goes on, we shall find guns ceasing to be the best method of stopping air raids. I hope we shall not have to put that to the test. While it is still necessary to use guns at the moment, I hope we shall not make them so complicated that not nearly enough men can be trained to operate the machinery and equipment which goes with them. That is a danger at the moment. May I thank the House for listening to me as long as they have, and may I hope that my right hon. Friend will give some attention to the points I have raised?
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) was speaking more truth than he realised when he said that in the next war the Home Guard will be as essential as gas masks were in the last war. He seemed to have forgotten that gas masks were introduced and issued to the public not for military reasons at all, but to cover the Chamberlain sell-out at the time of Munich. They were issued in order to stampede the public into accepting selling Czechoslovakia down the river and, of course, the reason why the Home Guard Bill has been put on the Statute Book is because it happened to be in the Conservative Party programme. It meets no military need and, in fact, it is a colossal waste of money.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Whether or not he is correct in what he says about the introduction of gas masks, the fact remains that the enemy did not use gas against us—and let us hope that if we have a Home Guard he will not use paratroops, either.
§ Mr. Wigg
I, too, hope he will not, but the decision not to use gas was not taken because we issued gas masks. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman said earlier, the enemy did not use gas because they thought it would not pay them to use it, and it had nothing to do with the issue of gas masks.
I want to say a word or two about the Army Estimates debate and the failure of the Secretary of State to answer questions. It appeared to us, when listening 81 to his speech, that he was dodging all the awkward ones, but when his speech is read, it becomes more and more apparent that he dodged every difficult question put to him and that he hid behind general statements which could not be checked. If we must have generalities from the right hon. Gentleman we ought to have a little more information so that we can check some of his statements.
As I understand it, he is doing all he can to save on the tail in order to sharpen the teeth. He gave us a figure of 10,000 men to indicate the saving which had been made during his short period in office. This is extremely promising, but we should be given an opportunity of checking what this 10,000 means, and we can only check it if we are told where these men are taken from. That is to say, we must be told from which arms of the Service these 10,000 men have been taken and where they are serving at present. Obviously, if he takes Smith, Brown, Jones and Robinson, doing clerical work at the War Office and put them into some headquarters where they will still be doing clerical work, that is not saving at all. It only constitutes a saving if those 10,000 are taken away and are serving in combatant units.
§ Mr. Head
I am afraid I gave almost the same answer as I shall give the hon. Member now. I stated, and it is absolutely correct, that 10,000 men have been taken out of the service and administrative units. There are no longer 10,000 vacancies. For me to give him a list of the places they came from, Austria, Europe, the Far East and so on, and of the units they came from, would mean that I would have to have more men in the tail to work it out. It is not fair to ask for such lists; 10,000 men are out of the tail, and I assure the hon. Member that it is true and I cannot break it down as the hon. Member asks.
§ Mr. Wigg
The right hon. Gentleman is not as stupid as that, and neither am I. I am asking where they came from, whether the R.A.O.C. or R.E.M.E., and the arms of the forces in which they are 82 now serving. I want an answer, not necessarily by regiments, but whether they are in the Infantry, the Artillery, or the Royal Armoured Corps? To be quite frank, I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's figure of 10,000. I think the War Office have sold him a pup, and what I am trying to stop them doing is selling the nation a pup. I am judging the right hon. Gentleman by his speeches over the last six years, which I always read with great interest and I am watching what he does with the impossible task he set when he was in opposition. I know he cannot live up to his Opposition role.
Over the question of a Colonial Army he had to say that the Labour Party have been right all the time and that the military experts opposite have been wrong. Just as he was wrong over his colonial forces policy, so he will be proved wrong over his teeth and tail policy.
§ Mr. Head
As the hon. Member attacks me so much, I should point out that in the Army Estimates I announced that either there had been formed, or there was in process of being formed, four extra colonial battalions. I never heard an equivalent announcement during the time the hon. Member's party were in power.
§ Mr. Wigg
I will leave my hon. Friends to reply to that; they have time to do so, but I have a few more shots I wish to fire. If the right hon. Gentleman will read his own speeches, he will see that there is a frank admission that there is a shortage of "middle piece" officers and n.c.o.s and it is just those commodities of which the Army is short. Therefore, he said, it would be far better to use his "middle piece" officers and n.c.o.s on training British troops than use them to train colonial troops. That is what we said, and now the right hon. Gentleman has found out the facts.
If he finds it so difficult to answer me on the question of the 10,000, would he tell us about the 5th Infantry Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division of B.A.O.R., because when in opposition he made an awful song and dance about the number of officers there? He told us there were 14 officers; how many are there now? That will be good enough to get on with. If he cannot tell us about the 10,000, let us know about that infantry brigade.
83 I said in a previous debate that I thought it very important that nothing should be done to impair Regular recruiting because ultimately our efforts to get rid of compulsory military service, first by cutting down the two years to 18 months, and perhaps later reducing still further, or making it selective, can only be done by getting more Regular recruits, and the mood of the Z reservists or National Service men is of very great importance because the extent to which they are happy and satisfied will have a great influence on recruiting.
This is one of the occasions when we can voice complaints of constituents, and I propose to voice the complaints of some of mine. I submit that there has been a harsh change in the calling up of Z reservists. A year ago one was quite certain when one went to the War Office that the facts were received sympathetically. We did get a kindly and courteous reply and felt that those responsible had gone out of their way to meet the legitimate needs of the individual and of his employer. I will not mention names, unless the right hon. Gentleman wishes me to. I have two constituents who are engaged in driving motor coaches, which are very busy during the summer months. A considerable number of my constituents go to the seaside then and firms in Dudley and Stourbridge engaged in running buses are particularly busy in June and, of course, in August week.
Would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to allow these men whose names I have given him, who are quite willing to do their class Z training, to postpone their call-up or have it brought forward? In another case a young man is sitting for an extra-mural examination. It is rather costly and takes up all his spare time. He asks the right hon. Gentleman to be good enough to postpone his call-up—he wants to do his service—or to bring it forward so that he may continue his studies and not lose his chance of passing the examination. This very reasonable request was refused.
I happened to find out by chance, through reading a newspaper, that a professional cricketer—again I will not read the name—although due to report on 5th May, has had his call-up postponed. The county cricket club went to the War 84 Office and asked them to postpone it, and the War Office did postpone it.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
He should have been playing for Lancashire; then it would have been all right.
§ Mr. Wigg
I will give the name of the man if hon. Members wish. It is Jack Flavell and he plays for Worcestershire. I make no complaint about him having his training postponed because he is a professional cricketer. I do not mind if there are a dozen professional cricketers or footballers given this concession. I go further and say, of course, he ought to be given this concession; it is his livelihood and in the summer months he is busy. It would be a severe financial loss to him and his club—[An HON. MEMBER: "And to the public."]—and to the public, if he were not given the concession. All I want is that my constituents should be treated in the same way.
I want the War Office and the Secretary of State to go out of their way and see that their staff go out of their way to meet the legitimate needs of the individual so that they may carry out their training with the utmost goodwill. Then, when they come out of the Army, they will feel that the time has been well spent and their services used intelligently and they might even join the Supplementary Reserve.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I know my hon. Friend had experience of the War Office during the time of the Labour Government. When questions of this character were drawn to the attention of the War Office, did the Minister give his personal attention to them?
§ Mr. Wigg
So far as I can say the Minister always gave his personal attention to matters brought to him and it would be unfair to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman does not also give matters his personal attention. What I am complaining of is the mood which is coming over the Army and the War Office. The mood of the Secretary of State is spreading over the Army and we 85 are getting back to the parade ground sort of business, of, "yours not to reason why."
§ Mr. Wigg
I wish to turn to another criticism from a lady who complains that her 18 years old son, on being called up, reported for his medical examination prior to joining the Army under the National Service Act. When he got there he was at once badgered to join the Regular Army and all sorts of inducements were held out to him—many of which, it seems to me, were untrue. When the lad said he did not want to join the Regular Army, but he would like to go to a particular unit, at once the barrage started again. He was told, "Well, you can only do this if you join the Regular Army."
That kind of thing is not right, and at the end of the day the Army will not gain by it. They may get one or two young men who, in an unguarded moment, will undertake to join the Regular Army, but in the long run they will lose. These "smart Alec" tactics of trying to get recruits for the Regular Army at all costs may sound very fine, but I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman, are recruiting rewards paid to recruiters in respect of young National Service men reporting in accordance with their obligations under the National Service Act? I hope I shall get a specific answer to that. I never get answers to the questions I put to him, but I hope this will be an exception, and that he will tell the House whether rewards are paid to recruiters in those circumstances.
I also want to ask him, whether, when young National Service men are reporting for their medical inspections, they are handed a paper which lays down officially what advantages there are to them in joining the Regular Army, or is it left for them to find that out from the irresponsible chatter of recruiters attached to the National Service depot or establishment where they are being medically examined? I hope he will investigate this particular complaint—I will send him this letter—of the individual I am mentioning, and if he finds that it is justified that he will do something to relieve 86 this young man from his Regular Army engagement.
Perhaps he will go so far as to consider the Amendment I shall put down when the Army Act comes before the House, to ensure that the consent of the parents is required before a young man, under the age of 21, can undertake a Regular Army engagement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—that is not unreasonable. It is quite a different proposition today from when a young man was joining the Regular Army before the war, and had talked the matter over with his parents, or was joining of his own volition.
Today a young man arrives at the place where he is to be medically examined, because he is required to do so by this House, and it is obvious that this House has lost control of what is said to him when he gets there. In my time I have done a bit of recruiting and I have often been a successful recruiter—[Laughter.]—oh, yes. I will compare my recruiting figures against any of the hon. Gentlemen opposite. Only my recruits were volunteers who joined the ranks. They did not get back-door Commissions in the way mentioned during the debate on the Army Estimates.
I believe I know what sometimes goes on, and I am certain no responsible officer would accept the responsibility for what used to go on when an ardent recruiter, perhaps under the influence of a pint or two, saw the possibility of a recruiting reward before him and the steps which were sometimes taken to secure that reward. I shall feel happier if the Secretary of State will have a look at this particular problem, because in the long run the Army will not gain anything from it. At first sight it may look attractive to put a little pressure on these men, and perhaps he might get 100 or 1,000 recruits for the Regular Army. But when these recruits get into barracks, and begin to talk among themselves in the barrack rooms, and begin to see how they have been "done" the amount of which will result constitutes great harm to the Army.
I hope that the Secretary of State will turn over a new leaf this afternoon and that he will answer at least one or two of the questions put to him.
§ 6.5 p.m.
Air Commodore Harvey
For nearly seven years I have, in this House, sat next to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) and to the best of my knowledge, we have never had a cross word. But today I differ violently with him on the proposal which he has put forward that the Army should have its own air force.
Air Commodore Harvey
It is not a very big difference, compared with what is going on on the other side of the House. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend is not serious—
Air Commodore Harvey
I do not think that is altogether fair or relevant, because my hon. and gallant Friend has made many thoughtful contributions in debates in this House. But today I want to beg him to change his mind, because the three Services went through all this controversy 30 years ago.
I agree that at the beginning of the last war the situation was not very satisfactory. One might find at an R.A.F. station that Army officers were carrying out their duties, gunners and so on, and living at one end of the mess while the R.A.F. were at the other. These Army officers were usually known as "Brown Johns." I know that the situation improved out of all knowledge, and by 1945 the Army and the R.A.F. worked as one team. Whether that is the fact today or not, I do not know. If it is not, then it is up to the Secretary of State and the Chiefs of Staff to put matters right. But I would be dead against disrupting something which is working well.
Only last week an hon. and gallant Member of this House was asking for an inquiry into the possibility of Coastal Command being handed over to the Royal Navy. This kind of thing seems to be spreading like measles, and seems to be designed to split up the Royal Air Force. I can only think it is because the Royal Air Force has received a large increase in the Estimates, and is rapidly gaining prestige and super-priority in air matters, and that the other Services are allowing jealousy to influence them. I think it is most unfortunate.
88 We shall have Army officers flying transport machines when troops want to go to the Far East. It does not begin to make sense. What we have to do is to weld the three Services together, and I believe it can be done. We shall have the Royal Marines asking for their air power. Surely my hon. and gallant Friend is very much out-of-date in pursuing this line of thought.
He went on to say that the Army requires an anti-tank weapon. If they have no anti-tank weapon they should never start thinking about taking over the power of the Royal Air Force. The complications of supply and training make it absolutely imperative that we must have a centralised air power. We have seen what has gone on in America, and we have gone through all the stages in our own country. I say to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen that it is clear these proposals will not work at all; and if this kind of thing is said often enough in this House, it will be very distressing to officers in all three Services.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I do not object to what my hon. and gallant Friend has said. I think I laid myself open to it. But I wish to make it clear to him that I do not consider it would be right in any way to take away bits and pieces from the Royal Air Force so that it ceased to be a force at all. What I am saying is simply that there should be one small section of the Army which has its own air arm, just one small section. The Navy has an air arm; surely it would be fair for the Army to have one.
Air Commodore Harvey
But the argument goes much farther than that. The Navy already have the Fleet Air Arm, but they want Coastal Command as well. Next they will want to take over the Tactical Air Force and Transport Command, and if my hon. and gallant Friend gets his way, that will comprise practically the whole of the Royal Air Force which saved this country in 1940.
Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)
Surely the Air Force has its own small army, the R.A.F. Regiment, and surely my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) would allow this little equivalent?
Air Commodore Harvey
I could develop that argument much further, because in actual fact I have said many times in this House that the Royal Air Force, which has operational control of Anti-Aircraft Command, ought to put them into blue. I will not pursue that, because it is quite clear that they should. If my hon. and gallant Friend thinks that the R.A.F. Regiment ought to go to the Army—it is only a small force, although it has distinguished itself in many fields—I should think that could be worked out between the respective Services. But it is absolutely imperative that the Royal Air Force should stay intact.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
On a point of order. There is an icy cold draught blowing down the Chamber. I do not know whether anything can be done about it. Perhaps it has something to do with the hot air which has emanated from the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg).
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
After the inter-Departmental squabble between the "brass hats," I will try to pour oil on troubled waters. First, I should like to thank the Minister for his extreme courtesy in going to the trouble to burn the midnight oil on the occasion of our last consideration of the Army Estimates in order to answer a question which I put to him about field marshals. He had a job to find them. They were scattered all over the place, but it was nice to know that they were in the Estimates.
I gather from the Estimates that the Minister has no trouble with the Treasury about recruiting. The Treasury appear to be forthcoming for purposes connected with Her Majesty's Army. I wonder, however, whether the Minister has reflected on the likely effect on recruiting of the niggardly attitude of the Treasury towards the Ministry of Pensions. Men in the Service, and their dependants, like to think that if, unfortunately, they should be injured, they will receive decent and adequate compensation.
All they have got is a "lousy ten bob." Only 35,000 of the 710,000 will get the full ten "bob." It would be a good idea in the interests of recruiting if the Secretary of State for War acted as mediator between the Ministry of Pensions and the 90 Treasury to try to get a little more justice for the ex-Service men of past wars. Then he might get more recruits for present wars.
§ Mr. F. Harris
Was not that award equal to all the awards during the six years of the Socialist Government?
§ Mr. Simmons
No. I have given figures previously which show that under the Socialist Government over £11 million: was given; in this case only £10 million is, granted to meet unforeseen contingencies caused by the Budget.
§ Mr. Simmons
On 10th March when I raised the question of the chaplains in the Forces the Minister said what I believe. He said:They give invaluable service to the Army, and I do not think there is anything wrong with them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 1219.]I never said that there was. I agree that their service in the war was magnificent. I was concerned whether they were really getting down to the job which they should be doing. The Minister said that the chaplains received commissions and that they used the officers' mess.
I ask him to consider this position. The ethical and spiritual standard of our Forces ought to receive the full consideration of the War Office, the Government and the House. If we spend public money on the provision of chaplains, we ought to ensure that they carry out their work effectively and efficiently. What is the attitude of the man in the ranks to someone who is too good to eat with him, too good to drink with him or to mess with him?
I ask the Government to consider what it done in religious life outside the Army. In my constituency there is a works chaplains' organisation. The Ministers of the various denominations do not wait for the men to come to church or chapel. They go into the factories among the men. They sit among them at mealtimes in the canteens. If the chaplains' service is to be efficient in the Army, the chaplains ought to belong to the rank and file. They ought to live in the barrack rooms with the soldiers.
91 How can the soldiers be assured that the example of these men is what it ought to be unless they are in the same barrack rooms with them and unless they mess with them? That is the way to set an example. Religion means nothing if it is merely preached from pulpit. Religion can only catch hold and grip men when those who profess it live their religion and when it is apparent to those around them that they are doing so.
Not only in the Army but in the general life of the nation we need a restoration of spiritual standards. If we are to secure that, the leaders in religious ideas and principles ought to go among the people whom they are trying to convert. The chaplains in the Army ought to be in the ranks. I beg the Minister to give that suggestion his careful and earnest consideration.
I know that in my own denomination there is a shortage of clergy. Would it not be possible to have lay readers in the Army—men from the rank and file who are ordinary privates? Where there is a shortage of chaplains, could we not have such lay readers doing ordinary military duties and taking time off to conduct services and to do the other jobs usually done by chaplains? These are constructive proposals put forward in complete honesty of purpose and with complete sincerity. I beg the Minister to consider them.
I should also like information on the question of professional groups in the Army in the dental, medical, veterinary and educational corps. I assume that the emoluments of the officers in these corps are fixed in consultation with their professional associations such as the B.M.A. I suppose that the B.M.A. would have a say with regard to the officer in the R.A.M.C., but there are other corps in which the men have not professional organisations but trade unions.
There are corps such as the Ordnance Corps, the Engineers, the Armoured Corps and R.E.M.E. Is there any consultation between the trade unions of these men which are just as important to them as are the professional organisations to the other corps? The A.E.U. is just as important to the engineer and the E.T.U. is just as important to the electrician, as the B.M.A. is to the doctor. Are these organisations consulted when 92 the rates of pay of the men in the professional and working corps are considered?
I am disturbed about this idea of a boys' infantry battalion. I see that we are taking boys into the Army at the tender age of between 15 and 17½. Surely, at that age a boy's mind is not sufficiently mature and balanced for him to decide whether he wants to make the Army a career. It may be that a boy comes from an Army family and that the Army think that his parents will put him into the boys' battalion from the point of view of tradition, and all that.
Is that fair to the boy? He is an individual, with an individual's right to live. We do not call up men for National Service until they are 18, and then, of course, they must go, whether they want to or not, but we take these boys from 15 to 17½. It is like conscripting children—the kind of thing which we would call an atrocity if the enemy had done it, though, when we do it, it is something entirely different. I ask the Minister to have second thoughts on this matter.
Even when he gets a recruit at the age of 18 with the possibility of serving in the Army as a career for 22 years, what does the Minister do? The Minister says to the recruit, "Do not make up your mind already; you cannot be expected to make up your mind at the age of 18. Serve for three years, and then, at the end of that time, if you do not want to stay, you can go. At the end of six years, if you do not want to stop, you can go." The right hon. Gentleman gives that tender treatment to a recruit of 18, who is certainly more capable of making up his mind, and certainly more mature than a boy of 15, who is taken into the Army at that age to make the Army a career. I say that it is un-British, and different from the way of life in which we in this country believe.
I have a further point to raise about Polish officers. I see on page 171 of the Estimates a Vote, which has risen from £3,000 to £3,300, for the provision of pensions to former officers of the Polish Forces, and I find that there are only four of these officers, who are to receive these pensions in recognition of valuable services rendered to the Allied cause during the war. What about all the others who rendered valuable services? What was the outstanding characteristic in the cases 93 of these four Polish officers who are singled out for this distinction? Could we have some information about that?
Next, I want to say a word or two about V.C. pensions. In the last debate, I raised this question by way of an illustration, and I quoted the amount of the V.C. pension against another amount. I find in the Estimates that V.C. pensions amount to £2,500, but we are not told how many holders of the V.C. there are. We are told that the nominal grant to a V.C. is £10 a year, and it seems rather niggardly to me.
I know that the present Government are not responsible, because all Governments, from the time when the V.C. was instituted, had a share in the responsibility, but the man who has won the V.C. and has survived winning the greatest award for gallantry, not only in this country, but in the world, is fobbed off with a miserable £10 a year, which is a most despicable way of expressing our gratitude for such service. I would like to know whether something can be done about that, not in these Estimates, but perhaps in next year's Estimates, so that there could be some improvement in the award made in respect of the Victoria Cross.
My final question concerns Chelsea Hospital and various pensions, and I do not want to go into detail. I want to ask the Minister if he will consider whether the time has not come to examine the possibility of handing over to the Ministry of Pensions, whose job it would seem to be, the administration of hospitals and the handling of pensions which are at present in the hands of the War Office.
I am casting no aspersions on the War Office in saying this. I speak with some little experience of the Ministry of Pensions, both during the term of office of the last Government and in the first few months of the present Government, and I am convinced that the fresh breath of fresh air which blew through the Ministry of Pensions during the last six years has had a permanent effect. I am convinced that, both by training and by inclination, those who are responsible for the administration of pensions under the present Government would be able to deal more sympathetically and more humanly with these matters by reason of that experience.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I will not detain the House very long, because it was so patient to me during the original debate, but I have two points I wish to make.
May I say that we all enjoy the speeches of the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons), because he speaks with great sincerity and makes constructive suggestions, to which we all listen with attention, although he is sometimes slightly misinformed, in contrast with the hon. Gentleman who is sitting on the Front Bench below him?
I can assure the hon. Member for Brierley Hill that, although I do not know what the Army may have been like in his day, it has altered a lot, and that I myself would not have kept a padre if he had not mixed with the men in the canteens at meal times, at play times and every other time. When, however, the hon. Gentleman suggests that chaplains should hold ordinary rank, or be privates or whatever other rank he would suggest, the hon. Gentleman might find that chaplains in the barrack room might be a great embarrassment to the soldiers in that barracks. If the soldiers were asked themselves, there might not be a great rush to suggest that the chaplain should live with the men in a particular barracks.
We have had some experience of the question whether n.c.o.s should mess with the men. The hon. Gentleman should ask the men themselves whether they want it; they are the people who will tell him. He should not ask the n.c.o.s, because there is another side to that question. I think the average parson in the Army—I admit that there are some bad ones, and I usually tried to get rid of them if I had half a chance—does try to mix with the men, to mess with them and live with them, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman shortly to go into the Smoke Room and look at the report published in an evening paper from two scientists from the War Office who studied conditions in Korea, and to note what they have said about the way in which parsons are behaving out there. Regarding his suggestion about lay readers, there are lay readers already at work and able to carry out their functions.
I wish to raise one other point about which I feel very strongly, and that concerns the cadet battalion. We have only 95 one at present, as an experiment, and I would say that we ought to wait and see how the idea works out. I welcome the idea, from the point of view of discovering whether or not a boy is likely to join the Army for 22 years, but, surely, he ought to have the same option to leave the Army at the end of three years, if he wishes to do so, as any other soldier? I think the cadet battalion will prove very useful in giving these boys an idea of what military life is really like.
Another matter to which I want to refer concerns the .280 rifle, and I am raising this question in an entirely non-party spirit, because it goes right across the Floor of the House. I make no excuse for supporting some of the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman the former Secretary of State for War, although I do not think he put the matter quite rightly. I should like to put it in the perspective in which I see it, and I am not making a party point about this.
The late Government got rid of an enormous number of .303 rifles. I am not criticising them. [An HON. MEMBER: "What did we do with them?"] I know what they did with them; they sold them. Hon. Gentlemen opposite should not get so excited; that is where they weaken their case, when, in fact, I am really trying to help. We had not got an adequate reserve of .303 rifles, and a reserve had to be built up. The ideas of the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) on what constitutes an adequate reserve and those of the Prime Minister, who had some experience of the matter during the war, are probably quite different.
The British Army seems to eat rifles. They are always getting lost, and that is the crux of the whole situation. If we made it an offence for court-martial sentence to lose a rifle, we might cure this trouble. We have got to have an enormous reserve of rifles, either the .280 or whatever rifle is to be used in the future.
The corollary to that is simply that if we are going to change over from the .303 to .280 rifle something else has got to go by the board, and I would not like to be the one who had to say what it was going to be. Therefore, I say, what I tried to say when I was completely misquoted in the debate the other day, 96 that I hope that further representations are being made to the American Government over the .280 rifle. In the debate the other day I was quoted as saying that I knew representations were being made. I do not know, and I did not then know, whether that is the case.
I implore my right hon. Friend to see if in some way or other we cannot persuade the Americans to go into production on this rifle so that at the same time we can do so on a minor scale. If we do not get the vast potential of the American Continent going into production on this rifle, then I can quite see it is going to be a very difficult problem for us. I believe that at one moment the Americans were just on the verge of adopting our line of thought, and then something happened to upset it. I hope the final word has not been said on that, and that something is really going to be done to try to produce, not only for our troops, but for all the European Forces, what in my view is the finest rifle that has ever been invented.
Now I come back, very shortly, to the attack on the question of armoured carriers for infantry, and I will try and make my point perhaps clearer than I did last time. I was talking about two different kinds of vehicles, about the semi-tracked vehicle for bringing detachments from one side of the battlefield to the other or up or down—these vehicles need not necessarily belong to the actual unit—and the Army infantry carrier, like the Sherman Tank with its inside taken out, for taking infantry engaged in the attack up on to the objective.
It is no earthly good anybody at the War Office, or any general or even the C.I.G.S. himself—God bless him—telling me that men can be taken on to an objective where tanks are being used in wheeled vehicles. Nobody who has seen tanks in action in modern conditions, with the ground all churned up and with even the tanks getting bogged down, would agree that infantry can be got to the objective in wheeled vehicles. They might get 300 yards in such a vehicle when they would get stuck, and that would be the end of the attack.
My last word is to welcome wholeheartedly this new scheme of recruiting by regiments. Do not let us crab it. Every scheme has its snags, and quite obviously 97 we shall get the almost ridiculous situation where we get letters from the mothers of National Service men who have only just arrived in Hong Kong with the battalion, have been there six weeks or so, and will then come straight home again. I am prepared to accept that absurd situation in the few cases where it will happen in order to reap the tremendous advantage of moving about battalions at three-yearly intervals as battalions. We are short of numbers, but we can always in this British Army of ours make up our numbers by the team spirit, the regimental spirit. One man with that spirit is worth 10 men without it. Therefore, I welcome the scheme wholeheartedly.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
Reference has been made by previous speakers to the need for encouraging voluntary recruitment. A few moments ago the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) referred to the regimental spirit as an important factor in the build-up of the Army's formations. I have always felt that the best possible recruiting medium for the Army is the soldier already serving. It is what he says in conversation with his friends outside and the letters that he writes home that has a direct influence upon the rate of voluntary recruitment.
It is, of course, quite clear that the more we can encourage voluntary recruitment the sooner we may be able to modify or perhaps even to dispense with compulsory National Service. In my view compulsory National Service represents our last resort if voluntary recruitment is inadequate and if the pressure of events makes the maintenance of adequate Armed Forces absolutely essential. I can best illustrate my point by quoting one or two actual incidents.
The authorities are endeavouring to encourage men to join up under short-service engagements. In that connection, the attitude of certain Government Departments seems to me to be difficult to understand. I know of one case of a constituent of mine who is particularly anxious to enlist for a short-service commission. He went to the appropriate Government Department by which he is employed and told them he wanted to 98 join for a short-service commission. After his application had been before the responsible people in that Department for five months, he was told that his application could not be granted.
He is not prepared to forfeit seniority and Civil Service pension, etc. He has been told that if he were to join on a short-service engagement he would have to give up his Civil Service appointment. I will provide the right hon. Gentleman with the evidence in this case if he wants it. This sort of thing applies to all three branches of the Forces and it seems to me that there ought to be some co-ordinating tribunal to which anybody employed by the Government could appeal in the event of his application, in the circumstances I have outlined, being rejected by the Department concerned.
Now I turn to what happens to the soldier when he is called up under the National Service scheme. It strikes me as peculiar that in many cases no regard whatever is paid to the medical reports or certificates that may be brought along by the National Service man for presentation to his commanding officer or to the medical officer of his unit. I know of one case in which a National Service man who suffered from flat feet and weak ankles was called up. Nevertheless, he was considered fit for service. But he had to wait five months before being provided with suitable footwear.
How that state of affairs arises, I simply cannot understand. After correspondence with the War Office, suitable footwear was at last provided for this man, but, as I say, it took five or six months to achieve that result. When the man reported for duty with his unit, he brought with him a medical certificate from his own doctor, certifying that some such provision would be absolutely essential. All that kind of thing gets back home. Parents and friends hear about it, and it has a most adverse effect on recruitment.
Then we have the other kind of case where, unfortunately, a man may be killed in action and where it sometimes takes months before the pitiful bundle of soldier's effects is returned to his next of kin. In one instance, of which I know, the son of a constituent of mine was killed in Malaya last October, and the soldier's effects have not yet reached his parents. This strikes me as an inordinately long 99 time to take before the little bundle the soldier may have left behind is returned to his parents.
There is another even more outrageous case to which I will refer only briefly because I cannot expect the right hon. Gentleman to answer forthwith. I shall have to state it in the form of a Parliamentary Question to him, but I quote it in passing to show how these things adversely affect recruiting in a constituency like mine.
The right hon. Gentleman will recall the case of Gunner O'Leary, who has been missing in Malaya since 2nd March, 1951. In reply to a Question last November the right hon. Gentleman gave an assurance that he would try to have the matter cleared up as quickly as possible. He promised it would be cleared up within a week or so. The case of Gunner O'Leary is still, as it were, in the "pending" file. His parents, who reside in Brixton, are naturally very distressed, and are still waiting to know what has been the fate of their son.
That is the kind of thing people in constituencies up and down the country hear about. When one goes along to try to persuade anyone to join the Army voluntarily, people remember cases like that of Gunner O'Leary. The matter becomes common property in conversation in the area where the lad has lived and inevitably it has a harmful effect upon the minds of those who might have thought at some time or another that they would like to join the Army.
There is another point to which, as far as I can gather, no reference has been made in any of the debates on the Army Estimates. It is important to ensure that adequate Reserves are available. At present there are quite a number of Reserves to which Army officers can belong. There are the Supplementary Reserve, the Regular Army Reserve of Officers, the Territorial Army Reserve of Officers and another Reserve, to which no reference was made in the Estimates and about which we hear nothing at all—the Army Officers' Emergency Reserve.
When an officer leaves the Service some kind of half-hearted attempt is made to induce him to join one or other of these Reserves. Little is done to make those who have joined the Army Officers' Emergency Reserve, for example, realise that they belong to anything at all. 100 Every year a letter is sent to a person who may be in that Reserve asking him to confirm his present address—which is a polite way of ascertaining whether he is alive or dead. That is all that happens from one year's end to another.
It would be an improvement of the set-up if the age limits could be adjusted. There is an age limit which varies from corps to corps in the Supplementary Reserve, and there is no Supplementary Reserve at all in some branches of the Service. Only today I found that an appeal is being made in the Press for staff officers under 42 years old to take up a three-year engagement in the Territorial Army. Why 42 years? It seems to me that some of these staff appointments in the Territorial Army could be easily filled with reasonable efficiency by men aged 45 or 48.
The same remarks apply to age restrictions now in force in the Supplementary Reserve. Again, in some of the specialist branches of the Army it would be quite possible, without detriment to the Service, to raise the ages below which suitaable officers can be enlisted in the Supplementary or other Reserves that might be available.
Before an officer can find out whether there exists a Reserve for which he might be considered suitable, he is put to a great deal of trouble and inconvenience. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it would be worth while to produce a very simple pamphlet or leaflet setting out clearly all the various branches of the Service, the upper age limits and other relevant details so that intending reservists could see at a glance whether there was any branch in which they could suitably enlist. I hope that the Secretary of State for War will pay some attention to the suggestions made, even though he cannot give a definite reply or enter upon definite commitments this evening.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
If I may say so, there was one remark which the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) made which rather surprised me. He thought it would be a good idea to make it a court-martial offence for a man to lose his rifle. I should be surprised to learn that it is not so already.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I realised immediately I said it that I should have amplified that remark. Obviously, it always has been a court-martial offence to lose a rifle in peace-time or under peace conditions; but I assure the hon. Member that although there may be a sanction to that effect, in war and in battle rifles are lost far too frequently without any action being taken at all.
§ Mr. Stewart
My own experience of military service has been only during the few years of war, but one of my earliest experiences was of figuring in a court-martial the cause of which was a lost rifle though, I am happy to say, I was only a witness. I share the hope of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) that the Secretary of State for War will answer some of the questions put to him today and, indeed, questions put to him in our earlier debate which he did not then answer.
I also hope that the right hon. Gentleman realises that when he listens to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley and my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) he is probably getting very much nearer to a voicing of the thought, feelings, and hopes of a very large number of men in the Army than he is likely to get from any other quarter in this House. I hope that he will bear that in mind whenever either of my hon. Friends is speaking.
§ Colonel J. H. Harrison (Eye)
Does the hon. Member suggest that when the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) is voicing his opinions about the Guards that is an expression of the feelings of the rest of the men in the Army?
§ Mr. Stewart
I do not agree with everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley says any more than hon. Members opposite always agree with each other; but whether one agrees or disagrees with him it is worth while listening with respect and attention, in view of his experience.
I should like to press a couple of points which I raised in our earlier debate and which the right hon. Gentleman did not answer. One concerns the proposed boys' battalion. In his reference to it in our earlier debate the right hon. Gentleman said that he hoped the boys in that battalion would not only be 102 trained as n.c.o.s and warrant officers but would have the opportunity to try for commissions. In the official statement with regard to the formation of the battalion there is no mention of that, and I think we ought to be told more clearly what opportunities, if any, the boys in this battalion will have of trying for commissions.
I am sure it is important that we should not distinguish at too early an age between the man who is considered a potential officer and a man who is not. Indeed, I think it very likely that we are already running a danger of making that distinction too early in a man's Army career. When it was suggested in our earlier debate that potential officers might be drawn from the senior n.c.o.s, the right hon. Gentleman rather heatedly dismissed that suggestion. If it is his view that once the men have got a certain distance up the non-commissioned promotion ladder it is undesirable for them to step across to commissioned rank, it becomes all the more important that they should not be destined for that non-commissioned promotion ladder at too early an age.
If the right hon. Gentleman objects to the men being removed when they are higher up the ladder, he must see the desirability of there being a certain fluidity lower down and not drawing a distinction between the man who is considered a potential officer and the man who is not at an age and at a point in his Army career when there is not enough evidence to justify a final decision.
This boys' battalion, if it develops in one way, can be a valuable addition to the Army. If it develops in another way it can be an attempt to stereotype well before these people reach manhood the distinction between an officer type and a non-officer type, and if that is what it is to do' it will do a serious injury to the Army. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make that clear. As I say, it is in his hands to make this scheme either a great advantage or a great disadvantage to the Army. I realised when the right hon. Gentleman became rather heated over the point last time that when he is heated it is not so much that he is annoyed but that, for one reason or another, he does not wish to answer the question at that moment and wishes to distract our attention from it. He has 103 now had time to consider it, and no doubt he will answer it.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the projected school which, if I understood him correctly, will be a kind of scientific or technical equivalent of Sandhurst to which the students should go at the age of 16 and stay until 18, and receive a general education with a strong military bias. I believe that is a very important and useful proposal. All I wish to ask is, what stage has it reached so far? Is it any more than a project that he has discussed, or is he in a position to say at all when it is likely to become a reality?
There is one other point connected with both the points which I have already raised. Both of them concern bringing boys into the Army. My hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill asked whether it is desirable to get a minor to enter into a contract that may bind him for a very long period of years. It will be worth while for the right hon. Gentleman, when he is embarking upon both these projects concerning the drawing of boys into the Army, to ascertain what provision there is for them to get out of the Army if they should discover some years after they have embarked upon a military life that they are not suitable for it.
While he is doing that, he might consider at the same time the existing position with regard to boys in the Army apprentice schools. I frankly confess that I was never altogether happy about the position of minors in the Army. The great difficulty we had about allowing anybody who had contracted to serve the Army to get out of it in the last few years was one that made it difficult to press this question, but now that the right hon. Gentleman has these two projects on hand it is something that he might usefully look at again.
The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing suggested that these boys on reaching manhood would be able to get out at the end of every three years, like a Regular soldier. I hope it can be confirmed that it will be possible to do that; but there should also be some opportunity during their minority for them to reconsider their position. Those three points, all of 104 which concern the relationship of young people to the Army, are additions to the already quite formidable list of questions which my hon. Friends have put to the right hon. Gentleman, and to which I think my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) may shortly be adding. I earnestly hope that we shall have answers to those questions.
§ 6.56 p.m.
Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)
I wish to refer to the position of chaplains in the Army, which was raised by the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) who, I am glad to say, put all the emphasis he could on the spiritual side of their duties and never made any mention at all of the welfare type of work which also comes their way in the Army but which, in some cases, may tend to submerge their prime and most important task.
The hon. Gentleman went on to develop the argument that because a chaplain in the British Army is a commissioned officer in one sense, and wears the badges of a commissioned officer, he is at a great disadvantage vis-à-vis the majority of his flock. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) countered by explaining what disadvantage he would be at if the position were reversed and he were to rank for all purposes, messing and accommodation, as a private soldier. I hope that the hon. Member for Brierley Hill had not in mind too closely the comparison with the French Army. I know that it is often said that chaplains in the French Army have a different and better status from chaplains in our Army, but I do not think that is altogether a fair comparison.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend that although there may be few occasions when under the present system a chaplain is at a disadvantage, those few occasions are worth considering, and that perhaps the middle way may in the end form the best solution. Wherever a chaplain messes, I certainly think that he should have a billet to himself. That would immediately overcome the main difficulty. I believe there is a different system in the Royal Navy, and that although the chaplain there may have privileges equivalent to those of an officer, nonetheless he does not wear officers' badges of rank That might be an advantage.
105 I suggest that in the Army the chaplain should wear whatever badges may be appropriate to show his seniority in his own corps, but that these badges should not be the stars and crowns of the normal combatant officer. For purposes of messing he might have access to all messes, and he should so rank not as a private, an n.c.o., or as an officer. He should definitely have the privacy of a billet to himself at all times.
In my experience in the Army there have been very few occasions when I have seen a chaplain in difficulty with his main work and duties. In part, but only on the rarest of occasions, does it depend on his own physique or character. I have found few men whom I did not think well fitted for that duty. There have been rather more occasions when a chaplain has not given of his best because he had not been given all the encouragement he might expect either from the commanding officer of his unit or else from the commander of the formation in which that unit found itself.
In one formation in which I served at the beginning of the war—the 50th Northumbrian Division where, incidentally, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) was D.A.A.G.—there was a direct order from the divisional commander, General Martel, that wherever we moved some of the best accommodation in any village wherever the unit might find itself should immediately be earmarked for the unit chaplain, and that a sign like an inn sign, bearing the cross of St. George, had to be hung outside the building.
That applied even if the unit halted in that area for only one night. In that building at least one room had to be furnished at once, however simply, as a chapel. I have never served with a formation where the morale, and the freedom from crime were more remarkable than in that formation at that particular time.
Finally, I should like my right hon. Friend to consider whether it is possible slightly to amend the present system under which chaplains carry badges of rank which are too like those of combatant officers. Will he try to allow them rather more freedom in regard to the very special position they hold in a battalion, and so help them carry the heavy 106 spiritual responsibility which must be with them all the time?
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
I do not intend to keep the House for very long, but I wish to emphasise a point which has been raised on a number of occasions, and also in this debate, in relation to the call-up of Class Z men.
I am not at all satisfied with the statements which have been made by the Minister on a number of occasions when Questions have been put to him, that in every case where a man has written asking for deferment or exemption from call-up to the Class Z Reserve he has received just consideration. I have seen the stereotyped letters which have come from depot commanders simply turning the men down. I know we cannot have wholesale exemptions or deferments, and we do not know how long this Class Z Reserve is to be with us, but surely there are exceptional circumstances. I do not think that depot commanders or the War Office give adequate consideration to these cases.
I have heard of the case of a man who served in the last war and who was interned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. We all know the horrible conditions in which those prisoners lived. That man's request was completely turned down. He was told that the fact that he had been a prisoner of war did not exempt him from being called up for the Class Z Reserve. That man went before a tribunal a few days ago and got complete exemption from his Class Z call-up.
§ The Under Secretary of State for War (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison)
The fact that a man has been a prisoner of war may or may not have done him great harm. We are not able to judge whether his physical health has suffered. Surely the fairest thing is for him to go before a medical tribunal so that they can judge, knowing full well that he has been a prisoner of war.
§ Mr. Shurmer
This man did not go before a prisoner-of-war tribunal; he went before a tribunal for conscientious objectors and he got away with it.
The Class Z call-up disturbs the home and business life of these men. I know that cannot be helped, but I have another 107 example of a man who, with his brother, decided to get married in June and have a double wedding with two sisters. A few days after all the arrangements for the double wedding had been made, this man received his call-up notice for June. He wrote to the commanding officer and got a stereotyped letter saying that there was no chance whatever for him. Surely, without having wholesale exemptions or deferments, a few cases here and there, similar to those I have quoted, could be favourably considered?
If such requests are not considered, I do not think men will go to these camps with a feeling of security, and be happy and contented to work in them. I should like to ask the Minister to look a little more leniently at this question of exemptions and give instructions to depot commanders not to send stereotyped letters turning down these men who, unless they can get the help of their Members of Parliament, or perhaps even ask the Minister, suffer inconvenience as a result of this call-up. I think they would do better training if they were able to be deferred when possible. The Minister will look again at this question of the call-up of Z reservists if he wants them to be contented and also to get some benefit from their service.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
Following up this point about Class Z reservists and exemptions, I hope that the Under-Secretary or the Secretary of State—whoever is to reply—can assure us that the very careful system of checks and counter-checks which we had in operation last summer is being maintained this summer. Although we made some mistakes, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), and I did spend many hours on these Class Z cases and, by and large, I think we managed to deal with them with leniency and justice.
In that connection we were surprised to hear of the case raised by my hon. Friend, the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) about the professional cricketer who was going to be let off his Class Z call-up simply in order that he could play cricket. We had a very firm rule that it did not make any difference whether a man was a professional footballer or cricketer or anything else; he had to serve his period with the 108 Class Z Reserve. I hope it is not a fact that there has been some alteration in the rules since then.
On the question of the .280 rifle, I hope we shall have some clear and definite reply from the Secretary of State about the intention of the Government. We have had nothing but vacillation, delay, uncertainty and misunderstanding, and we have had no clear picture, except that there will be a little experimental production. As we on this side of the House have pointed out, experimental production is not good enough for the British Army and this great new rifle. I think it is the most monstrous derogation of duty to abandon this great British invention, and I hope the Government will show a little more courage and go ahead with this rifle and stop being so weak about it.
I have one or two specific questions to ask on minor but comparatively important points. First, with regard to the preliminary education centres, I think there was at one time a suggestion that their activities should be curtailed. I think it would be a great deal more useful to the Army and to the nation if their activities were extended, because these education centres are helpful to those who, through no fault of their own, have not attained a normal standard of education and perhaps cannot read or write.
It is surprising to know that there are still quite a few people who cannot read or write, many of whom had been removed from their homes during the war, or had had long periods of illness and been unable to go to school. The preliminary education centre does give them a very intensive course and enables the men leaving it to read and write and be well on the way to acquiring self-confidence, self-respect and education.
That is of value to the Army and of enormous value to the nation and to the man himself, and it compensates a little for the fact that the Army is obliged to take out of civilian life so many young men and put them into uniform. I hope we are not going to take a retrogressive step with regard to these centres but are going to expand them, because with a small number of n.c.o.s and officers they achieve an enormous beneficial result.
I should like to ask about the Grade 3 staff officer in the War Office today. 109 There were far too many in the War Office, certainly last summer, and I think there were endeavours to eliminate the number of grades of these staff officers and to return them, in as many instances as possible, to their units. Even if that meant more work for the Grade 2 staff officer in the War Office, I think that process should be continued.
We on this side of the House are still interested to know why the Secretary of State has abandoned his pre-Election pledge to give local overseas allowances to the men in Korea. He has consistently dodged this question, to which he and I both know the answer, and he will not come out in public and admit that he made a bit of an ass of himself for pressing it before. I think he might don a white sheet today on this question.
On the subject of the Class Z Reserve call-up this year, I hope that arrangements will be made so that anybody called up for 15 days may, if he wishes, opt to do another 15 days next year without having the Territorial Army or Reserve training commitment in between. The call-up means that people are often called up to Territorial units far from their homes, and it would be quite impracticable for them to have a Territorial Army commitment with the unit to which they had been called up. There may be certain home difficulties or work difficulties which prevent Territorial Army commitments, too.
A great deal of enthusiasm last year was lost to the Army this year because it was not possible for people who wished to do another 15 days in the same unit to sign on to do them. This was because of a misapprehension of what the reaction would be in the Territorial Army. Certainly no Territorial Army officer or other rank to whom I have spoken has had the least objection to this idea being put into operation. They were only too glad to have a full team for their training next year.
I should like to ask whether anything has been done about reducing the tour of service for battalions and units in Austria and Trieste. They have been staying there for three years at a time, and I suggest that the period should be reduced to two years. In the case of Austria, there is a slightly debilitating 110 atmosphere and there is a tendency for discipline and efficiency to decline after a longish period in that country. Two years is quite long enough.
In the case of Trieste, the area is so small that by the time a unit has been there two years and has done all its training schemes backwards and forwards it has covered the ground about 90 times and is heartily sick of the whole area. As a result, there is a deterioration in efficiency. Two years is quite sufficient there, too.
Finally, what is happening about the manufacture and distribution of the new stove which the Army is bringing into use in barracks and other places? The previous stove was invented by Mr. Soyer during the Crimean war, and in its way was quite an efficient stove, but the heating stove was not as good as the cooking stove. It used far too much fuel without giving a commensurate amount of heat. I should be very glad to hear whether we are going ahead with bringing the new stove into use.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
We have had quite a lengthy discussion on the Report stage of these Estimates and, from the personal point of view, I am extremely glad that so much interest is being displayed in the House in Army matters. I have been asked a large number of questions and I consider that it is best straight away to do all I can to answer those questions and not to bother the House with any comments on the Report stage of the Estimates as a whole.
The only thing we have missed arises from the fact that this is one of the few debates on the Army Estimates, when I have been in the House, in which we have had no contribution from the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes). The only explanation I can offer is that he has left the House in order that he can form a political splinter-group with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), with whom he is in so marked an agreement.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) asked me, first of all, to say something in explanation of the policy on the 280 rifle. I am the first to agree with him about the importance of this matter, nor do I in any way 111 go back on anything I said in that I confirm the uniformly held view, as far as this country is concerned at any rate, of the supremacy of this excellent weapon.
We are accused of all this delay, but I would remind the right hon. Member that the stand-still on the production of the .280 rifle preceded the visit of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) to America to discuss the matter.
§ Mr. Strachey
I think the right hon. Gentleman would agree that at that time there was no question of a decision being made to arrest the tooling-up or to postpone beginning the tooling-up of the new factory. On the contrary, the decision was to the opposite. Surely that is the point at issue.
§ Mr. Head
The right hon. Gentleman's memory has let him down on this occasion. I am quite emphatic about this. I should not have made inquiries into this rifle without going into the matter with some care, and I repeat here and now that any additional or further steps concerning going into production with the .280 rifle were stopped when the right hon. Member for Easington went for the discussions in America, which he had to leave rather early because of a beauty competition in Scarborough. That was when it was stopped. It is of no great importance, but hon. Gentlemen opposite are accusing us of delay, and all I would point out is that that is when the delay started.
About our policy on the rifle—of course, we should like to have it. Hon. Members may ask, "Why not go ahead and give this splendid weapon to the British Army, which they would like?"—and I know they would like it. One cannot entirely liken this to a tank, because a rifle is the common denominator throughout not only the Army but to some extent the Air Force as well, and if we are to have any possible standardisation it is a vital weapon in which to have it. If we are to have standardisation, this is the single most important thing to standardise.
Our problem is not merely one of production but it is what would happen if we took unilateral action and adopted this rifle. I do not know, but it is extremely doubtful whether the Canadians 112 would come with us. I do not know, but it would not be easy for the Australians, who may be fighting in the Far East, to come with us. How about fighting in the Far East, quite close to America, when your ammunition supply is to a large extent based on this country?
§ Mr. Head
At the moment they have some local production. Furthermore, when considering the adoption of a future rifle, think of the asset to Australia if they could have the same bore and the same type of rifle as America, because they are much closer to that country, with its vast productive effort.
What I am trying to say is that the seeds of this trouble lie back in time—I do not know who was to blame—when research was initiated to find a really good new light automatic rifle. It is a great pity that when the research started the terms of reference for these experts on rifles, who were dealing with the question of invention and research, were not common terms of reference—not that we should have the best rifle in the world at .280 or .278 or .300.
It would not have mattered if they had all started within the same terms of reference. Then the best would no doubt have been ours and then we should not have been in this difficulty. The trouble was that when research was initiated one country made research at .300 another at .278—and yet a third was done by the French. That is the great tragedy and that is what created this difficulty.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Gentleman is not quite right. Of course, phase 1 is to reach agreement on what is the best bullet. That is the problem of the size of the bullet. Once you have decided that and once you have decided what type of bullet it should be, then is the time to build the best rifle you possibly can and to have competition with other nations. The mistake was that phase 1—to discover the best bullet—and phase 2—to make the best rifle—were amalgamated into one phase, and there was no intermediate discussion and agreement before 113 phase 2 was introduced. However, that is all past, and it is really no good discussing that now. What hon. Gentlemen opposite are interested in, is the future of this rifle. We have had considerable discussions with Canada—
§ Mr. Wigg
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest it would have been possible, for example, to have had a .40 or .20 or a choice of calibre? Surely he must realise that the .280 is not a scientists' accident? That was the answer to the conditions which were laid down by the General Staff. There was no freedom of choice as to calibre, and the .280 was the answer.
§ Mr. Wigg
No. The General Staff laid down certain conditions about weight, penetrating power, and the like. Given those conditions, the technicians and scientists got to work. It did not matter whether they were Americans, French, Germans, or who they were: the answer was the .280; and the differences which trouble the right hon. Gentleman, and which he is now trying to capitalise, came much later.
§ Mr. Head
The whole point that I am trying to make clear, and which I hoped I had made clear, is that when we have arrived at the right size of bullet we must then try, with the nations concerned that are trying to achieve standardisation, to devise the right weapon, and the most efficient answer to the question; when one nation may say the .280 is the answer, and another may say the .30, end another may say something else. One must switch to get agreement, even if it comes to some little sacrifice of what, in one's own opinion, is perfection.
For the future—and I do not want to give any categorical statement, because final decisions have not been reached, so this is not firm—what I think the line will be is that we shall have limited production of the .280; and we are also 114 having research, joint research—with Canada, America and ourselves—and the Belgians, I think—to find whether a really first-class rifle of about .30 calibre can be invented. If it should be so, it may be adopted by America, by Canada, and eventually by ourselves, but, as the right hon. Gentleman says, quite rightly, we have the time factor to be concerned with, and if the .30 project comes to nothing, then that is the moment for a really firm decision.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
Is my right hon. Friend now saying that the question of approaching the Americans on the .280 rifle production—that agreement on that—is completely out, and that there is no question of discussing it with the Americans any more?
§ Mr. Head
No. The question of American manufacture of the .280 rifle is out.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely then asked me some questions, and the first one, I think, was about the issue of petrol to armoured units. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that that is not done on the basis of the numbers. It is carefully worked out, and I think that there is an adequate training allocation, although we are, throughout the Army at the moment, trying to make economies through the reduction of consumption on, for instance, what is euphemistically called "swanning," or visits by officers and other ranks.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The only reason that I said that I thought that petrol was allocated on the basis of the number of men was that on page 121 of the Estimates there is a statement that it is based on the number of personnel and local conditions.
§ Mr. Head
I think my hon. and gallant Friend must allow local conditions, because if we based the allocation on personnel, and we had an infantry battalion and an armoured battalion, we should get wobbly results, and little training by the armoured units.
My hon. and gallant Friend also asked me about the airborne forces. As the discussion on the airborne forces proceeded I was a little worried, because there seemed to me a very serious chance of a split within our own party.
§ Mr. Head
I think the hon. Gentleman would be wiser to keep quite on that subject.
I agree very strongly with my hon. and gallant Friend about the need for our having transport aircraft for the Army and, indeed, helicopters, which are of invaluable use in the evacuation of wounded. It is, of course, all part of the question of the re-armament programme and of the Royal Air Force. I must confess that I cannot go with him as far as saying that the Army should have an Army air force because I think it would lead—oh, here is the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned helicopters. Could he tell us what a helicopter costs?
§ Mr. Head
Yes, but I use many things of which I do not know the exact price.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely also asked me about anti-tank weapons for the airborne forces. Well, the existing infantry antitank weapon, which, I think, is a very satisfactory one, is this rocket projectile, and that is not yet in wide scale use with the troops. As I told the House in the debate on the Army Estimates, it will be coming out in large numbers, I hope, towards the end of the year. I think the extent of its use by airborne forces will depend probably on the experience of rather larger scale use and trials with the other infantry soldiers. My hon. and gallant Friend says there should be an anti-tank weapon for every soldier. We have now the Energa grenade, which is a very satisfactory grenade, and has very fine penetration, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West, will know.
My hon. and gallant Friend also asked me about the Home Guard, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) commented on it, too. I should 116 like to underline what my hon. and gallant Friend said about the necessity for readiness, because I know that, at the moment, many people who think they may join the Home Guard are saying, "Mr. Churchill recently said that the likelihood of war was not so close. I certainly would do my bit for my country but I think I will just wait and see."
If we do somehow blunder into a war it may develop very quickly indeed, and we may have a very short period between its starting and the time when a great deal begins to happen in this country; I do underline what my hon. and gallant Friend said, that if people wait too long, and then wake up one morning to find the newspapers have most dangerous and threatening news, we may find our Home Guard preparations very difficult to complete in the amount of time then available.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley asked me many questions, and referred to many others which, he said, I had not answered before. Personally, I do not feel very guilty about not answering some of the questions he asked the last time, because, quite frankly, I thought that they were unfitted to the standard of debate on the Army in this Chamber, and that no answer I gave him would convince him, with his prejudiced and faulty views that he holds about certain units in the Army.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Gentleman first asked me a great many questions about the Z reservists and changing their dates of call-up. I do not want to dodge the question, but I think everyone will agree that this House is not the place for going into these cases man by man. I have the files here because the hon. Gentleman 117 was courteous enough to give me notice of this. In one case we have offered an alternative date; we did so on 4th February, but the hon. Gentleman has not yet answered our letter. In another case the hon. Gentleman asked for a change of date for a man who is taking his postal course, but the postal people have said that a change in examination date will in no way interfere with his chances of passing the examination.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the case of a cricketer. That man has a profession, just like a toolmaker, or anybody else; he is a professional cricketer, and that is his living. If we called him up for that particular fortnight it would have a serious effect upon his career, because cricket is his life; it is his profession. Because of the formation to which he belonged his date could easily be changed, and we changed it—and rightly so, I think.
A great many of these cases of Z reservists' call-up may seem somewhat anomalous, for this reason. Take two almost equal cases: one is changed and the other is not. The reason lies in this, that there are certain instances where whether a man is called up at one time of the year or two months later is of no great difference; there are cases in which the man may be a supplementary reservist, and because of the unit the call-up can be spread out. In other cases the battalion may have to train with the brigade on Salisbury Plain only during one fortnight, and the call-up cannot be spread out, so that either a man has to be exempted or we have to say "We are very sorry, but you have got to do it."
That is why there are sometimes what seem to be anomalies, when we appear unenthusiastic about helping these men, but on these occasions the choice is between calling him up against his wishes and exempting him altogether. I assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that sympathetic consideration is given to these cases. Since I have been at the War Office I, personally, have gone to a great deal of trouble to see that these cases are most carefully examined. There has been absolutely no change of policy, and no question of the Prussian or parade ground spirit permeating throughout the War Office, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Dudley.
118 The hon. Members for Dudley and Ayrshire, South, referred in the debate on the Committee stage to what is, in my opinion, an important subject. We must avoid undue pressure on young National Service men to undertake the three-year engagement with the Regular Army. I am very well aware of that, and I have talked to all concerned to ensure that it does not happen. I want units to be keen over recruiting, but a recruit must join a unit because of his admiration for it and his desire to stop there; there must not be coercion, We were also criticised because of a letter which was read to the House, but it is a criticism to which we are in any case vulnerable. We were criticised for saying that there was the alternative, that the man could undertake the short service engagement instead of being posted. On the other hand, we might have been criticised for not telling the man. We have a difficult task in achieving a correct balance between undue pressure and not giving the men every chance in trying to get more recruits into the Regular Army, which is of immense importance.
I can assure the hon. Member for Dudley that he is wrong in thinking that young men are given pints of beer, jollied up and told a lot of lies and rubbish. I assure him that that is not the case. From what he said, the hon. Gentleman seemed to be slightly involved. I know that long ago recruiting sergeants had some very fine tales to tell, and lots of beer was given, about which the hon. Gentleman seemed to have a thorough inside knowledge. Today, it is very different. The hon. Gentleman talked about recruiting rewards. There are no rewards in British Army recruiting, except for the Brigade of Ghurkas. That is not at all the case at the present time.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey)—who, I see, has left the Chamber; perhaps he thought it was too risky to stay to encounter his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely—made some comments about the Army having no air branch. I do not think I need refer to that.
Reference was also made to the Air Force having priorities and more money than anyone else, and to inter-Service rivalry. It is, and always will be, my opinion that in war we must eliminate 119 to the maximum friction between the three Services. Unless we achieve that, that friction will be of immense disadvantage. The chances of beating the enemy are much improved if there is unity of purpose.
The hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons), I was sorry to hear, was rather critical and belittling of the change in the basic rate for disability pensions. I do not agree that those changes are derisory. They will be of great help to the men concerned. I know something of this, because I pressed very strongly for this change when the hon. Gentleman's party was in office, when it was turned down. Everybody would like to do as much as they can for these men, but I suggest that to do something is better than doing nothing, and in view of the last six years I do not think the hon. Gentleman was well armed to criticise us without making a very critical speech about his own party.
The hon. Member also mentioned the Army chaplains. I agree with everything said on this subject because, especially in the last war, the Army has been extraordinarily well served by its chaplains and padres. One thing the hon. Gentleman wanted was that the chaplains should live in the barrack rooms. That has been a favourite theme of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I appreciate their point of view.
The Russians, soon after the Revolution, had all their officers sleeping in the barrack rooms, but after six months they dressed them up in gold braided uniforms—much more gold braid than we have ever had—and moved them well away from the barrack rooms. If we have armies, whether we are Communists, or anything else, there must be differentiation between the officer and the man; it just does not work to have them all sleeping in the same barrack room. I do not think that was a very practicable suggestion.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is addressing himself to my hon. Friend's point. My hon. Friend was speaking not so much of officers in general as of chaplains in particular. I am not at all sure that I agree with what my hon. Friend suggested, but it seems to be an arguable 120 suggestion and one with which the right hon. Gentleman has not dealt.
§ Mr. Head
I am coming to that. I believe that the padre has duties to perform, and to carry out his duties would be much harder for him were he to mess with the men and live in the same barrack room, because he has to have respect, and I do not believe that can be achieved, except by one man in a 100, by that kind of intimacy and repeated presence among the people in whom he has to inculcate that respect. Then, again, I think that the men would not like to have a padre permanently sleeping in the barrack room.
I had a long discussion with the Chaplain-General the other day, and I was much impressed—and the credit for this rests entirely with the right hon. Gentleman—on the subject of the church houses which are now in existence in Germany, and I think that the House might like to know that every National Service man in Germany goes to a church house for at least a three days period. They are excellently organised, and the number of people applying to go there vastly exceeds the number they can take.
That is a great achievement based on the fact, as I understand the Army on the Rhine—and I hope to go there very shortly—that they have a great respect for this arrangement. In this context, may I, on behalf of the late Government and myself, express appreciation for the help given to the Army by the Bishop of Croydon? He is a very young man and he has done an immense amount in this respect.
I was asked by the same hon. Member about the question of the Army handing over some of its remaining pensions administration and putting it under one roof. I have had a brief discussion with the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Pensions and I am going into that matter. I do not know what the answer will be, but it certainly seems a logical solution. I have not, however, had time to complete that inquiry.
121 I was also asked about the Boys' Infantry Battalion. The hon. Gentleman who raised this said that we were getting them when they were too young to make up their minds. There are always snags to anything one does, and the idea of this was to do a good turn to young boys who had made up their minds and were really keen on the Army to avoid that period when they left the primary or grammar schools at 15 and then had 2½ years of rather unsettled employment until they joined the Regular Army at 17½, which they can do.
That is not a good interval in a young man's life. He cannot join the Army and he does not quite know what he wants to do, and it was felt that those who were really keen—and we do not want them to go to this school unless they are, so to speak, fanatically keen on the Army—would find a great help in having this educational training.
I do not personally believe that they will often want to leave but if they do, there are opportunities for "purchase." The other point which has repeatedly been raised was the question of commissions. As I have said, there is nothing whatever to stop one of these boys eventually ending up as an officer, but I do suggest to the hon. Gentleman that we must be realistic about this. There are boys that think they want to be officers and there are boys who think that they want to be sergeant majors, like their fathers. No one can stop that.
Supposing there is a boy whose father had been a lance-corporal and the boy thinks he wants to be an officer. If he wants that, when he leaves his grammar school, and if he has enough brains, he can go to the other school which I hope to start which is entirely for officers. The boy who wants to be a sergeant major goes to this school. He may, incidentally, become an officer or not, but I do not think that we can say that all the schools must be completely muddled up so that we have the boy who is uncertain about whether he wants to be an n.c.o. or not putting off the chap who wants to be an officer. I see nothing undemocratic about having two schools at both of which the boys start at the age of about 16, one primarily for officers and one primarily for n.c.o.s with a chance to get a commission.
§ Mr. Simmons
Will these boys, if they actually go into the Army, be eligible to come out on purchase after three years, if they want to?
§ Mr. Head
When I mentioned the question of purchase I was referring to the period at the school. I was asked about this other school—how far it had gone, and was it completely solid? It is not yet, I am afraid, as I told the House on the Estimates, absolutely firm and agreed, but we have got as far that if it continues to be feasible we have found a building which would suit admirably. I have seen some of the headmasters' associations and, on the whole, their first approach was sympathetic, and I have talked to the Minister of Education about it and have high hopes of getting it through.
The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) asked me about tracked and wheeled vehicles. Of course, it is absolutely true to say that the best thing in the world for getting infantry on to a really tough and difficult position is a stripped tank, and I do not think there is anybody who would disagree with him about that. He will appreciate, however, that if we made that a widespread matter of policy throughout the Army our maintenance commitments for tanks would be absolutely vast.
I do not want to fall foul of the hon. and gallant Gentleman over this because I know he took a personal part in a very successful action in which tanks were used to get the infantry up to a very tough position, but, of course, there will be many other occasions where it is necessary to get infantry across areas swept by small arms fire which is not quite such a tough proposition. In that case there are only two alternatives—the tank or the wheeled vehicle. He knows, of course, about the kind of "tail" we should have—R.E.M.E. and the expense and commitments which we should build up if we had tanks for getting up the infantry. We have had a good report about 123 this wheeled vehicle. I have not seen it, but if the hon. and gallant Gentleman likes to see it, it will be arranged, and I shall be interested to hear his opinion.
I was asked by the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) about short service commissions. He was complaining about someone in the Civil Service who wanted to take a short-term commission or engagement. I cannot give him that answer now, but I will let him have an answer in due course. He also brought up certain points, the main tenure of which was that the best recruiter of the Army is a contented Regular, but he is not always the best recruiter.
It is, I think, a misfortune for the Army that there is a great tendency for people both here and abroad to want to hear more about the Army when a frightful mistake has been made than when something good has been done. One is perhaps news and the other is not. No one is more anxious than I am that people should hear some of the good and less of the bad.
We have a large number of men, including National Service men and Z reservists, none of whom perhaps wanted to go into the Army, and on the whole it is staggering that we do not have more complaints from them, that they take it in such an excellent way and that we do not have more disasters and troubles. However, there will always be the man who will say, "You said the call-up would be on a geographical basis. I live in Edinburgh and I have to go to Devonshire this year." I would add that we often find that he is a supplementary reservist on a non-geographical basis.
A most unfortunate incident was that concerning Gunner O'Leary, which I remember well. It was raised last November. I do not think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman asked me a further question about him, but I will now find out what has happened. There ought to be an answer by now, and I will undertake to do that directly after this debate.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman also talked about the reserves. I wish more people knew about the Supplementary Reserve, and I am trying to arrange something about that. The total establishment of the Supplementary Reserve is 124 100,000, and we are very short of reservists. I believe that the shortage of volunteers for that Reserve is largely due to ignorance about its very large size. In that respect I very much agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart), besides asking about the Boys' Battalion, with which I have already dealt, also raised the question of the age for commissioning from the ranks. I have said before, and it is still my view, that the right time to make an officer of a man from the ranks is between 18 and 25 or, at the outside, 30. I genuinely do not believe that a man who has become fully established as a sergeant-major or a warrant officer is likely to be able to change over from the one to the other. Most people in the Forces would agree with that. One of the reasons is that within regiments—I may be thought old-fashioned in this—there has to be a different method of control of men as between a sergeant-major and an officer. That remains true no matter how advanced are the views which are held. A man who has been dealing with men as a sergeant-major is likely to find it difficult to deal with them as an officer.
§ Brigadier Christopher Peto (Devon, North)
That does not apply to the technical corps. It only really applies to the fighters.
§ Mr. Head
That is true. I am only suggesting that the best time for the change, and I am not suggesting that it cannot happen at any time during an other rank's service. In the technical corps it has often happened at any time, but I am sure that the best time to make the change is in the early period of a man's career.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire South-East)
Is the difference between the sergeant-major and the officer a matter of language?
§ Mr. Head
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means by "language," but I can assure him that it has nothing to do with any ordinary form of speech or anything of that kind. On the subject of language, I have known one or two officers who could compete with sergeant-majors.
125 The hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) told me that there had been vacillation and delay about the new rifle. The hon. Gentleman is a very fluent speaker and he likes making attacks, but I do not feel very much punctured by the "vacillation and delay" accusation. There had been a good deal of vacillation when we took office, but since then we have come to know where we are. It was a very difficult inheritance and the situation has been very difficult. It would not be right for me to go more deeply into this now, for I have already taken a long time, and I did answer the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West, at some length.
Now we come to the subject of the election pledge, which is another figment of the hon. Gentleman's imagination. He said that I made a pledge before the General Election that if I were elected I would try to obtain a local overseas allowance for Korea. That is not so. I asked many times from the other side of the House why it was logical to have a local overseas allowance in Hong Kong but not in Korea. I also asked why N.A.A.F.I. prices were so high. What I did not know then but what I know now is that the local overseas allowance is based entirely on what one can purchase in the area.
§ Mr. Head
I see the hon. Gentleman preparing to stand up but if he will let me finish it might save his legs. The point is that if one was stationed in conditions of considerable hardship in the middle of the desert and life was very unpleasant, one would have no entitlement to a local overseas allowance. But if one was stationed in New York within easy reach of all the luxury in the world, one would have a very strong claim for a local overseas allowance. I did not appreciate that the local overseas allowance was entirely an allowance made to compensate for a high local cost of living and that it had nothing to do with bad conditions, active service, cold, etc.
§ Mr. Wyatt
The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away with it as easily as that. I can remember giving him exactly that information in answer to a Question. When I did so, he did not believe it. My right hon. Friend did the same, and 126 my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) had done it earlier. Later, we even had an Adjournment debate on the subject, when I gave all these answers in great detail. In his supreme arrogance, the right hon. Gentleman would not believe it because we were the people who were saying it, and he said that we did not know what we were talking about.
§ Mr. Head
The last remark of mine was a very sound one. Perhaps the hon. Member did not explain it with sufficient clarity to get it into my head. He may think that he is being clever, but he will remember that as a result of those representations a gratuity was given to the men in Korea, so we achieved something.
§ Mr. Head
I will not argue about that, but he said that we created a shindy and were always asking Questions about it, and that it was followed by the giving of a gratuity, and I was thinking in terms of cause and effect.
It would be a complete alteration of policy if we were to grant a local overseas allowance for Korea. Pay for troops in Korea is a very difficult subject. It has always been traditional in the-British Army that whether one peels potatoes in Aldershot or shivers in Korea there should be equal payment.
§ Mr. Head
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not make it clear. I will tell him something which he did not tell me. In almost every case the countries fighting in Korea have made special conditions which are in marked contrast to the pay and taxation element of their Forces serving elsewhere. That is what puts us in a peculiarly difficult position. Other nations are giving special concessions and comparison between these troops and one's own troops serving side by side with them is causing great dissatisfaction. It is a question of whether to follow their lead and abandon a principle or not to do so. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that this is a very difficult problem.
The hon. Member also asked for the number of Grade III staff officers, and he had the courtesy to tell me about this earlier. At the equivalent date last year 127 there were 445 and there are today 377. It is our policy—we have not yet fully implemented the 10 per cent. cut on the Grade III side—to go on producing these Grade III officers and, in particular, to replace them with older officers who are being re-employed.
The hon. Member also asked about Austria and Trieste and asked why we kept men there for only two years. He said that the climate is enervating. It is a very popular place for visits by Ministers, whether the climate is enervating or not. He had discussions locally when he was there and the matter has been gone into very carefully in the War Office. It is a very difficult subject and there are many reasons which are rather complicated to go into, but one reason with which he will agree is that we wish to do everything we possibly can to get the three-year battalion tour going. It may or not not fit the two years, but the important thing that fits is to get the battalion moved whole. I do not, therefore, want to get any exact dates except for Korea.
I was asked about stoves. We have ordered 10,000. I apologise for taking such a long time, but I have had to deal with a number of conflicting questions.
§ Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.
§ Resolutions reported,