§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
The question we are asking the Government is whether, in present circumstances and without imperilling our security, we can bring about a reduction in defence expenditure. The cost of defence is running at the rate of £1,600 million a year. Hon. Members will agree that that is a vast sum which is straining our resources in money and in manpower and weakening our capacity in the sphere of civil production.
There is a further reason—indeed there are many but at this stage I shall mention one—why the Opposition make no apology for raising a debate on defence. As most hon. Members will agree, I think, the time has come for a review of the defence position. Are we proceeding along the right lines? Are we spending the funds made available for defence preparations to full advantage? Moreover, have we the right conception of defence?
During this year there have been two debates on defence, one in this House and one in another place. I should transgress were I to quote what was said in another place, and I will merely refer to it. There were disclosed serious rivalries between 1305 the three Service Departments. Ex-generals, ex-field marshals, ex-marshals of the Royal Air Force and ex-admirals all contrived to demonstrate that their individual Service and the preparations for defence with which that Service was concerned were the correct technique to deploy. There was no indication at all from those contributing to the debate that we were concerned, not with the merits of individual Service Departments or the Services themselves, but with the purpose of defence. It is a remarkable feature of that debate that the Minister of Defence made no contribution whatever.
In the debate which took place in this House earlier in the year, the time of most hon. Members was occupied in discussing National Service. I do not propose to speak upon that matter beyond making a passing reference, though I shall not be surprised if some of my hon. Friends make their contributions. All I wish to know from the right hon. Gentleman is when the Government propose to bring forward their legislation, whether an amending Bill or an Order in Council, in connection with the National Service Acts.
These Acts will expire at the end of this year. It is clear that we cannot deal with this matter during this week. We must wait until the autumn Session. But we ought to know what are the intentions of the Government. This is an important matter affecting the future of vast numbers of young men, and they naturally express concern and anxiety about the intentions of the Government. We ought not to be left in the dark, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can give the House some indication of what the Government propose.
I turn to the substance of defence itself. In this matter we all proceed on an assumption which is, whether we like it or not, that at some time we may be compelled to undertake some measure of defence to promote our security; that we may be the victims of aggression and therefore must be ready for an emergency. That is the assumption on which we proceed. Indeed, if we reject that assumption there is no case for defence preparations at all other than, as hon. Members will appreciate, the provision of garrisons in overseas stations.
1306 I wish to emphasise this aspect. The assumption on which we proceed is that some day there may be trouble, the balloon will go up and we must be ready. On this matter there are conflicting statements which create a good deal of confusion. Reference has been made in previous debates to statements made by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, both of whom on occasion have declared that the danger of war is receding. But more recently a statement has been made by General Gruenther, the Supreme Commander in charge of Western defences who is reponsible for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation military arrangements. Hon. Members may be interested in what he said.
It is remarkable that he said what I am about to place on record at a secret session of the Senate Appropriations Committee. This happened on 18th July. It is quite recent. Secret sessions in the United States appear to be somewhat different from secret sessions here, or rather the deliberations and records of secret sessions in the United States are apparently made available to anyone. At any rate, they have been made available to me. This statement is apparently authentic. I think that the House should hear it. It says;'I don't think war is ever going to come,' General Gruenther told the Senate Appropriations Committee at a secret session.That is very interesting. Clearly, if war is never going to come there is not much purpose in proceeding with our extensive and costly defence preparations. Perhaps the Government would enlighten the House on this matter. Do they agree with General Gruenther or do they disagree? Perhaps they will inform us. A great deal depends on this.
There is not only General Gruenther. At the Paris meeting of the Council of Ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation held early in the year, it was clear from the communiqué and from other reports of the proceedings that the Ministers did not accept the view which has been expressed in certain quarters that Russia intended an immediate aggression. Indeed, the view was expressed that there was no danger even of a remote aggression. Because of that atmosphere at the Council of Ministers, they decided that all the nations could curtail their 1307 defence expenditure—at least they could slow up the proceedings.
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
The right hon. Gentleman took a small piece out of the text of General Gruenther's remarks in the secret session. It is hardly fair simply to quote that one passage. This goes on the record, and the House ought to be given more details.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I will give whatever the secret session disclosed, if the House wishes. I respond to the request of the hon. and gallant Member. It is true that General Gruenther told the Committee;We are going to stop this war from ever starting. I am absolutely convinced of that. These fellows (Russia and the other Communists) are no supermen. They have no edge on us at all.Then, in reply to a suggestion that presumably N.A.T.O. should take measures in consort with the United States to bomb strategically the Russian industrial centres, he said;My contention is that if there ever was time for relaxation, this is not it.But that certainly was not relevant to the question put to him. It is all very confusing. We ought to know exactly where we are. I hope that the Government will tell us. No sense of urgency was disclosed at the N.A.T.O. Council of Ministers conference. It was clear that they did not expect the targets set in previous years to be reached. So much for that.
Undoubtedly there has been a change in the situation since 1950. First, there has been an easing of the tension. I shall not refer to the Korean affair and what has just happened. The truce may lead to peace in the Far East; at any rate, we hope so. But apart from what has happened in Korea, it is obvious that, generally speaking, international tension has been relaxed. That is one factor in the situation. Obviously if there is a relaxation the time comes when we must review the defence position. We cannot ignore it. We cannot continue to spend money on defence measures in the context of an easement in the international situation.
That is the first factor, but the second is, I think, much more important. We are all members of the N.A.T.O. club. We subscribe financially and in man- 1308 power to the N.A.T.O. military organisation. That club has expanded substantially since we first became members. It began originally through the Brussels Treaty Organisation, consisting of five Powers. Then the United States came in, with Canada and several other countries, but in the last 18 months or so Turkey, Greece and Italy have become subscribers. There is a prospect—a remote one but nevertheless there has been some discussion about it—of Yugoslavia coming in.
The original conception was that as other countries came into N.A.T.O., making their contribution in manpower, weapons, research and development and of course in finance, our contribution would diminish. That was the idea behind it all. Let me place on record the facts. We read—and, from the military and defence point of view, we welcome it—that Italy has four fully-equipped divisions and that there are 10 reserve divisions in process of being equipped. We read that Turkey has 18 divisions, and that the United States are providing the arms. I am not familiar with the position in Greece, but we know that Yugoslavia has many skeleton divisions requiring to be clothed and provided with the necessary equipment.
I must ask the Government why it is that, in spite of all the additional members coming into the club, making their contributions in manpower, material and finance, our contribution is rising all the time. I suggest that that is a pertinent question that ought to be answered. I will come to the N.A.T.O. structure and the cost of N.A.T.O. in a few moments.
The third factor in the situation is the advent of the atom bomb. Undoubtedly, progress has been made, and when I use the word "progress" I use it in the military sense, for there is precious little progress about it from the social angle. However, there it is. Not only have we to consider the advent of the atom bomb, but the provision of modern weapons such as guided missiles, rocket launches, bazookas, with modern tanks, jet aircraft and all the rest of it. This is all very satisfactory from a defence point of view, but I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman these questions.
Why does the Government proceed with the provision of conventional weapons? Do we require a Navy such 1309 as we have at the present time? I know that this will bestir the naval element, but it is a fair question to put. Do we require all the aircraft carriers? In a debate that took place in another place, Viscount Trenchard disposed completely, at any rate to his own satisfaction, of the suggestion that we require more aircraft carriers. Anyway, there is controversy about this matter. It is alleged that, just as the battleship is a thing of the past, so the aircraft carrier in a few years' time will become obsolete. We ought to know what are the Government's intentions. After all, an aircraft carrier now costs something like £13 million—an enormous sum. We simply cannot afford to go on producing weapons of this kind, which may become obsolete in the course of a few years.
Therefore, I should like to know what is the Government's conception about the continued provision of conventional weapons and equipment in face of the advent of the atom bomb. I recognise, of course, that, in the event of the un fortunate contingency of war, it may be necessary to employ land forces for occupation purposes, and indeed for other purposes, but clearly all this vast number of vehicles now in the possession of the War Office, large numbers of which may be obsolete——
§ Mr. Shinwell
I beg of the Secretary of State for War not to interrupt me. He is the last man who ought to interrupt anybody at this time. I want to deal kindly with him, and so far I have dealt kindly with him, but I beg of him not to interrupt. I want to leave him alone.
There were occasions when estimates were put to me as Minister of Defence for army vehicles, and I cut them down by many millions. I simply would not tolerate it because I knew they were always asking for too much. All this bears profoundly on the conception of defence, and on this issue we must know how the Government propose to proceed.
Now I want to turn attention to the N.A.T.O. structure. The Minister of Defence presented Estimates earlier this year, in which there was financial provision for our contribution to N.A.T.O. That contribution is rising. Last year, I think the total Estimate was something 1310 like £17 million, and the N.A.T.O. contribution was in the neighbourhood of £2 million. I am not speaking of the infra-structure element, which is quite different. I think we provided £13 million this year as our contribution to the infra-structure element and that is essential for the provision of airfields, telecommunications and the like, which are all necessary ancillaries of defence organisation.
But what about this grandiose, elaborate top-heavy structure at N.A.T.O., largely inspired by the United States? We are sending more and more personnel to S.H.A.P.E. headquarters, and N.A.T.O. is always asking for more. We have to keep our end up with United States personnel. The more they have, the more we have to send. It is an unsatisfactory position, and the time has come when we ought to know from the Government what we are getting out of this N.A.T.O. structure. Is it making the substantial contribution to actual preparations for defence which requires to be made in the event of an emergency? We ought to know, and we ought not to be led away by these grandiose ideas of United States military personnel.
On this matter, I am going to quote a real authority. Some time ago, Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery disclosed his views on this subject, and it is no use ignoring what Lord Montgomery said. There was a time when he was the hero of the opposite benches, quite rightly, and I myself have a great admiration for Lord Montgomery.
If I may digress, I saw the other day a statement in an American newspaper to the effect that General Eisenhower was the man who had laid the foundations of the N.A.T.O. organisation. It is just nonsense. The foundations of the N.A.T.O. organisation were laid by Lord Montgomery when he was Chairman of the Brussels Treaty Organisation Staff Committee. He was responsible for it, and, therefore, he is someone of whom notice should be taken when he makes comments of this kind.
I cannot read the whole speech, but he referred to the whole organisation being "swamped in a morass of com mittees, conferences and talk." One might imagine that it was a political organisation——
§ Mr. Shinwell
—or the Conservative Party conference.
But what about the headquarters? He says our forces there are too big, and then he makes this declaration; "Cut the whole thing in half." Lord Montgomery is either right or wrong. If the right hon. Gentleman does not agree with Lord Montgomery, let him say so; and if Lord Montgomery is a person who does not know what he is talking about, then he ought not to be Deputy Supreme Commander of N.A.T.O. He went on to say, at a Press conference in Washington, when he was speaking to the National Press Club, that the West was trying to handle a global problem without a central organisation to direct political policies and military strategy on a global scale. He said;There is a great lack of clear and agreed political aims. There is no grand design or master plan. Because of that, there is an enormous dissipation of effort and strength, particularly of military effort.These are startling and striking words for Lord Montgomery to use, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman should tell us what he thinks about those statements.
I now come to the Ministry of Defence and its function and purpose. What was the original objective in the creation of the Ministry of Defence? It was to effect, so far as practicable, co-ordination between the three Services. When I was Minister of Defence, I tried to bring the Service Departments together. I believed that it might be possible to effect coordination in the medical services and in other directions, including the chaplain services, though that might have been considered as a very minor effort at coordination. But that was the conception.
What have we achieved in this connection? I venture the opinion that at the present time the three Service Departments hang by their tails more than they ever have done since the inception of the Ministry of Defence. They are all out for themselves. The Ministry has never made any attempt to effect active co-ordination, and, in any event, there is no evidence in it of any reduction of expenditure or any new conception of defence or strategy.
We are in a difficulty this afternoon because the Minister of Defence is not 1312 here to reply, and we cannot do anything about it. He is in another place, and that, I believe, is unfortunate. I agree that the Parliamentary Secretary is very able, and he can certainly be very evasive in reply to Questions and in debate, which is the hall-mark of a politician. That is all very well, but he does not carry any actual responsibility. He has got to do as he is told. The man who should be here is the Minister of Defence himself. But he is not here, and, therefore, we cannot interrogate him or hear what he has to say about these questions, except at second hand.
Of course, I know that the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the House, is to reply, but, so far as I know, he has not served in a Service Department. Therefore, he is not familiar with these matters. No doubt he will produce a very useful brief because these civil servants, whatever else may be said of them, can write very good briefs indeed, and I commend them for that. But the Minister is not here, and it is a most unsatisfactory position. All that I can do is ask the right hon. Gentleman a few questions in order to elicit what is the Government's conception about these matters.
The first thing I want to know is how far have they effected any co-ordination between the three Services? If they have effected any co-ordination, how far has that brought about any reduction in expenditure? What are their plans for the future? I am not suggesting the integration of the three Service Departments. I do not think that would be wise, because there is the difficulty of administration, and to bring the three Departments together might lead to an unwieldy situation. But there is a great deal of dead wood that ought to be cut out of the individual Services so that the Minister of Defence can handle the organisation to greater advantage.
I also want to know whether the Ministry of Defence has given its attention to proposals that have been made about reducing the size of divisions while giving them greater manoeuvrability and more effective striking power. On this matter, General Gruenther has expressed a view which cannot be ignored, and which I will read to the House. Perhaps the Secretary of State for War will take note of this if he has not already read it. Speaking about the 1313 Russian divisions, General Gruenther said;Russian divisions each number about 12,000 in strength compared with the British, French and American 18,000. But this did not mean that the N.A.T.O. divisions were 1.5 times as strong, because the Russians concentrate on fire power and a 'very astute programme'.I do not know what he meant by that, but I know what he meant when he referred to concentrated fire power, because we have had discussions at the Ministry of Defence, at the War Office and at N.A.T.O. conferences about this very matter. In my view, and I think this is the view of many military experts, there is no reason why our divisions should remain at their present strength. If they could be reduced—and I think they could—it would mean fewer vehicles and fewer tanks. So long as effective striking power was not lost, I believe it would lead to a curtailment of expenditure, and I should like to know what the right hon. Gentleman can say about that.
Finally, I want to put one or two further points. I want to know why we have so many men in Egypt. I am not pleading for the withdrawal of our Forces from Egypt. I recognise that, in the absence of a diplomatic settlement, it is impossible for us to effect a complete withdrawal, but at the same time I am satisfied that we do not require 80,000 men in the Canal Zone in order to deal with an emergency. Indeed, the extra divisions that were sent to Egypt were not sent because of any difficulty which had presented itself there, but rather because of what happened at Abadan. It was the Persian situation that made it necessary to alert further troops to Egypt.
I think that the time has come when we should at any rate reduce the number of our troops in Egypt, certainly by half to begin with. I do not want to impinge on foreign affairs, but we have no right anyway to have 80,000 troops in Egypt. Under the Treaty we are not entitled to have more than 10,000 combatant troops, and we have 80,000.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Of course not. I am glad that the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) has mentioned this, because the fact of the matter is 1314 that we have far too many non-combatant troops there.
§ Sir H. Williams
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned 10,000 combatant troops, and then went on to speak about 80,000 troops. I wanted to know whether he meant that they were all combatant troops.
§ Mr. Shinwell
One of the difficulties is that the withdrawal of Egyptian labour—and there has been a substantial withdrawal—necessitates the employment of more military personnel. We have a large number of Mauritians in the Army, and they, of course, add to the numbers. But we have far too many troops in Egypt, and I believe that we could cut down the numbers without weakening our position.
What about the brigade at Trieste? How long is it to remain? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to say. I am not clear about the strategic importance of having a brigade there which must cost a considerable sum of money. What are the numbers of our men in Tripoli? Have we still men in Tripoli? The intention was to take them out. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence shakes his head. I suspect we still have men in Tripoli. Why have we men in Tripoli? What about Cyprus? We have far too many men in Cyprus, unless it is the Government's intention to withdraw troops from Egypt and to make Cyprus a main base. I hope they do not do anything of the sort, because it would be a most unsatisfactory base, particularly for air operations. We must be very careful not to spend additional sums on creating a new base, a very costly operation, only to discover in the course of a few years that it is unsatisfactory.
Can we not reduce the number of men in Malaya? We have about 40,000 men. General Templer is said to have effected a considerable improvement in the position. All the better. We have built up a police force there. The original intention was to make it unnecessary to send so many military men out there. What has happened? Instead of the numbers being reduced, they are going up. What is meant by an "improvement"? If a situation improves we ought to be able to reduce the number of our men.
1315 I ask these questions because when we were the Government and right hon. Gentlemen, and particularly the Secretary of State for War, sat on this side of the House, hardly a day passed, certainly when questions affecting the Services were under review, but we were asked questions about the absence of a strategic reserve in this country. What attacks, what criticism, we heard at that time. I ask the question in a kindly fashion, not with all the acerbity that was created at that time by right hon. Gentlemen opposite; what about the strategic reserve? Why have we not a strategic reserve? I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what we have got. The Prime Minister talked about it some time ago. We have mobile columns. When he talked about them everybody thought; "Now we have something substantial." What are they. We have put together the cooks, waiters, people in the messes, all the ancillaries and the odds and ends, given them a little bit of training, marched them up and down, and those are the mobile columns. What nonsense. It is as bad as the Home Guard position.
I do not want to be unfair, but when it comes to questions of defence we are as much concerned about promoting the security of these shores as anybody on the Government side of the House, although at the same time we want expenditure to be reduced.
Let me put a further question about the Middle East. It is about time we heard something about the Middle East Defence Organisation. It is clear there is no remedy for the trouble in the Middle East other than that. If the countries in the Middle East and ourselves were at peace with no further danger of disturbance, and we did not apprehend an attack from a certain quarter into the Middle East, there would be no need for a Middle East Defence Organisation. The alternative to the present position in the Canal Zone is a Middle East Defence Organisation. What have we heard about it? Nothing. What is the Minister of Defence doing when he is in Paris, when he goes to the meeting of Ministers, when he goes to the Cabinet, or speaks in another place. What does he say about this? Nothing at all. He says nothing at all because he has nothing to say.
I have ventured to put certain questions to the right hon. Gentleman because 1316 I feel that the whole position of defence should be reviewed and a serious effort made to reduce expenditure, and because I believe that there is not the least prospect of substantial reduction in defence expenditure unless (1) we can reduce our oversea commitments, and that is not so easy as it seems, but I welcome any attempt in that direction; (2) we can coordinate the three Services and by promoting a new technique in defence bring down the cost all round.
I have tried my best not to say anything about National Service. It has not been easy, so I would conclude on this note. Although I said nothing about it beyond asking the right hon. Gentleman about the Government's intentions, I make a prophecy. It is that at the end of this year when the Government come to the House to deal with this matter, they will be compelled, by force of public opinion and by the exigencies of the situation, to reduce the period of National Service. However, that is not the purpose of my speech, which is to elicit from the Government some information about what they regard as the paramount needs of the situation and whether they can assist us by enlightening the House on the Government's intentions on defence.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)
The speech of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. E. Shinwell) was one which, in its tone, we all welcomed, because it was objective and was genuinely seeking knowledge. I will try to answer some of the right hon. Gentleman's questions, but if I do not answer them all my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, who has been given notice of some points to which a reply is desired, is here, and so of course is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
Do we understand that three Ministers are to speak in this debate tonight?
§ Mr. Crookshank
If the Opposition desire it, I say that they are here to do so. The right hon. Gentleman has put some detailed questions to which nobody but the Secretary of State for War can reply. However, we will see how the 1317 debate goes. I was merely saying that the Ministers are here to deal with points if the necessity arises.
I do not think any debate on this topic this week could open from this Front Bench without a very brief reference to the statement made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State in this House last Monday with regard to Korean troops. He then pointed out how indebted we all are to those troops—our own armies and those of our Allies and Commonwealth—who have taken part in the fighting out there. I should like to add, in order to put it on record, how quick we were to take up the challenge when it came to this nation under the previous Administration who, in this matter, had our full support.
Within 72 hours of the North Korean offensive, the majority of the Far Eastern ships of the Navy had already reached the advanced base. That was quick work. During the campaign they have been largely responsible for activities on the west coast. We have had 29 ships of the Royal Navy there and 25 ships of Commonwealth Navies have served in those waters.
So far as the Army is concerned, it was just two months after the attack was launched, namely, on 29th August, 1950, that the 27th Brigade arrived. It covered itself with distinction during the fighting and it was in fact the first of the United Nations troops to be there. I think it was two years yesterday, at any rate it is two years this month, since the Commonwealth Division was first formed. It was a wonderful example of Commonwealth co-operation and was a Division which has had to taken part in the course of its duty in many bitter actions. They and our other troops out there have covered themselves with renown and distinction.
The Air Force contribution has not been negligible by any manner of means, but it was largely on an individual basis, that is to say, British pilots seconded to United States and Commonwealth squadrons.
At the end of it we have to note casualties totalling 4,450, of whom 740 have been killed. That is a record of our support to the call of the United Nations in this campaign. I am quite sure that, while we would wish to express 1318 our sympathy with the relations of those who have fallen and our sympathy with those who were wounded, those who are still sick and those who have suffered as prisoners of war, we also would wish to give the congratulations and thanks of this House to all who took part in the campaign.
It is slightly unusual perhaps to have a defence debate at this period of the year. The spring is the time for that in the normal way, when we have the defence Estimates and then the White Paper on defence. According to form, all that happened in the spring of this year, and the defence debate took place on the White Paper on 5th March. The gist of the White Paper, which was approved by the House, was the determination of Her Majesty's Government to strengthen the Forces of the United Kingdom on the one hand and, on the other, to make the maximum contribution that we could to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
It was pointed out in that document, and in the debate in the House, that there was to be some check on the rapidly rising cost of the programme which was rightly launched by our predecessors but in the circumstances of the case very hurriedly launched. Economic grounds have made it necessary for that programme to be spread over a longer period and in the end to be held at a lower peak.
The right hon. Member for Easington has reminded us that the cost of that White Paper this year was £1,637 million. That compared with £1,513 million a year before and with £736 million in 1949–50, but that was, of course, pre-Korea. So the figures are vast. I was interested to remind myself of the Estimates in my first year in this House, 1925. They were only £76,500,000 for all Services. The increase, of course, is due not only to the increased requirements but to the increased cost of everything. A modern Centurion tank, for example, costs three times as much as the tank which was considered necessary in 1939.
The right hon. Member for Easington referred to aircraft carriers. In a fleet carrier, the electronics, a most essential part of the equipment, cost only £12,000 in 1939. The cost of electronic equipment for a fleet carrier today is £350,000. 1319 These figures, just taken at random, are some measure of the increasing cost.
I said that spring was the time when we normally discuss these matters and spring was the time when we approved these Estimates and the defence White Paper. The House approved the White Paper by a majority of 41, which is a large majority in this House. In fact it was very nearly a bipartisan approach to this problem, for, while the Opposition had an Amendment on the Order Paper, it started with the words;recognises the need for a defence programme which is adequate both for our own security and to enable us to play our part in the defence of the free world, and is also compatible with national solvency;…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1953; Vol. 512. c. 581.]So we were agreed on our objectives.
Hardly long enough time has elapsed up to now, the end of July, to enable us to announce—and certainly it will not be the case—any startling changes since what was then laid down. There has been hardly time for such big alterations to take place, and indeed hardly time for them to be planned in the detail which is necessary before great changes are made. I have, therefore, nothing novel to report with regard to the development of our defence plans, except to make the point that naturally they are always under consideration. There is a constant measure of revision, a certain amount of flux in these matters, because there are always two factors to be kept in mind.
The first factor is the new technical developments which seem to come one after the other so very quickly and which have to be assessed and their use discovered. The other factor, to which the right hon. Member for Easington alluded and which must be constantly in our minds, is the political possibilities of the day. Any defence programme must be based on a right assessment of the nature of the threat to our security. That is what it is for, and so one naturally now asks oneself what, for example, will be the effect of the Korean armistice in the short term and in the long term. There is still a great question mark over Russia and the satellite countries. There might be some relaxation in the offing, but as recently as 11th May the Prime Minister was saying: 1320This would be the most fatal moment for the free nations to relax their comradeship and preparations. To fail to maintain our defence effort up to the limit of our strength would be to paralyse every beneficial tendency towards peace both in Europe and in Asia."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1953; Vol. 515, c. 902.]In other words, if we could be rash enough to paraphrase the Prime Minister's remarks, it would be to say that on a balmy day in March it would be premature to put on one's summer suit. There is something in the adage, "Cast not a clout till May is out." We are not even sure that it is yet a balmy day in March, and we certainly have not reached May in this problem.
We have to be watchful and it is not ourselves alone who are involved. Rearmament is now the concern in the field of 14 sovereign States under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and, as the right hon. Member for Easington will recollect, we have only just reaffirmed in the most formal manner in the communiqué from Washington after the Foreign Ministers' Conference the determination of the three Governments… to safeguard, in accordance with the North Atlantic Treaty, the freedom, the common heritage and the civilisation of their peoples, based on the principles of democracy, freedom of the individual and the rule of law.There are further paragraphs in that document which merely put into words the feelings which we all have on that subject.
It may be that, generally speaking, sufficient recognition has not been given to the importance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and what it has achieved. When General Eisenhower opened his headquarters in 1951 there was very little available. There were not many effective divisions—a dozen or so perhaps. A thousand or so aeroplanes were operationally available but obsolescent, and there was no command structure or organisation on anything like the scale that was required.
If we look from then to now we can see that there have been great changes. Not only have we had, as the right hon. Member for Easington pointed out, the adherence of Greece and Turkey to the Organisation, but the forces which were planned at Lisbon, for example, have been substantially achieved. The equipment has been tremendously improved 1321 with the enlightened assistance of the United States, and there is an effective command now from the North Cape to the Mediterranean. Last year a series of large-scale exercises were held on land and sea and shortly there is to be another one covering the Atlantic, European and Channel Commands. We are, therefore, moving very fast into the build-up of a well-trained organisation.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
The right hon. Gentleman told us that the figures in the Lisbon Conference announcement had been fulfilled. Would he be good enough to tell us the exact figures as compared with the Lisbon objective, because according to my recollection we are a long way from it?
§ Mr. Crookshank
I said that they were largely fulfilled. I said that all the build up which has taken place may well have influenced the world situation——
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to mislead the House. The objective given at Lisbon was 50 divisions. We have now got about 20 under arms, so to say that we have achieved the Lisbon objective is absurd.
§ Mr. Crookshank
I was quoting what was said in the Paris communiqué after the discussions, and the words used there were "substantially fulfilled." What I was saying was that the result of all this work in the last two years and the equipment and training which have taken place may well have influenced the world situation, because three years ago I think the Russians might have had some confidence in thinking that they could have had, at any rate by land, a walkover had they decided to take any offensive action.
§ Mr. Crookshank
I would say that they have, today, many more doubts. I remember that only last week the Leader of the Opposition was saying;… I think that we have built up our strength. …I think that is perhaps going too far, but that is what the Leader of the Opposition said. He said that these changes to 1322 which I have been referring in the international sceneare due to some extent to the fact that we have built up this strength of the Atlantic Community."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1953; Vol. 518, c. 233.]Perhaps the creation of these forces may have had some considerable influence. Anyhow, I think that this organisation and what has been achieved by the effort and sacrifice on the part of all the countries concerned can be regarded with satisfaction.
We are, however, still faced with very formidable strength. If hon. Members reflect upon the Russian situation and that of the satellite countries, we know that their national service, or whatever they may call it, is far more rigorous than anything that we have in this country. We know that there has been a great deal of re-equipment going on there—in jet aeroplanes, for instance, and the ship which they sent here did not look so unmodern. There is no doubt that the training has continued through all the years.
The first answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question, therefore, is that we cannot think now of dropping our guard. This is not the time to do that. There is still possibly a long period of cold war, and we must not allow ourselves to be diverted by any kind of wishful thinking. Even if there is a favourable breeze, it is worth remembering that in this country, at any rate, the cold wind comes from the East, and it may still go on blowing.
§ Mr. Crookshank
The nice warm winds come from the West.
The key to our success is to try to establish strong fighting forces, up-to-date equipment, trained reserves, and special efforts are now being made, in the organisation about which I am speaking, to achieve this end. As to the trained reserves, I would point out that it is to try to concentrate on improving their readiness and their efficiency that Field Marshal Montgomery is now devoting most of his time, and I think that the work that he is doing is work for which we should be most grateful because it is a very important part of what has to be done in that field.
1323 There are, of course, still many weaknesses, as General Ridgway recently pointed out, and that is one of the reasons that we have been so insistent on the need for a German contribution to Western defence through the European Defence Community. That is why, in April, the North Atlantic Council was making plans for further development—I shall come to this in a minute—under the new Supreme Commander, General Gruenther, to whom on his access to that high post we offer our good wishes because he is a most distinguished military man in whom we all have the fullest confidence. [HON. MEMBERS; "Hear, hear."]
There have recently been two changes, to which I might refer, in the command structure of the organisation. That, again, has to be under constant review and kept up-to-date. There is now established a fourth Commander-in-Chief, that is to say, the Commander-in-Chief of the Central European Sector, Marshal Juin, with co-equal subordinate Navy, Air and Army commands responsible to him.
The point of the change is that formerly the Supreme Commander had two rôles. Formerly, he had the control of all the wide command from the North Cape to the Mediterranean, and, at the same time, he was co-ordinating the central sector. It has been decided that there would have been difficulties, had it ever come to the test, in both controlling such an enormous command and operationally directing one part of it. Therefore, the change has been effected. At the end of the day we have to remember that in any future war there will be far greater responsibilities on the Supreme Commander than ever experienced by any previous commander, certainly far greater than General Eisenhower had in the last war.
The second alteration is that the Deputy Supreme Commander (Air) at Supreme Headquarters in future is to do two things. First of all, he is to define the general air policy of the organisation, and he will be controlling the air operations necessary to secure their co-ordination, and particularly the coordination of strategic air forces which do not come under the Supreme Command. That post is held by an American.
1324 It has been suggested that the fact that a British officer is now the Tactical Air Forces Commander in the central sector is some denigration of the Royal Air Force and some reduction in the status of our command. What Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Embry has now got to command is the largest operational air command in peacetime. He commands squadrons of the Royal Air Force, United States, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands and France, and his duty is to train them in peace and to command them in war. If anybody has any qualms about it, I think we can truthfully say that this is one of the key posts in the whole organisation, and that we wish Sir Basil well on taking it over. The whole of the Royal Air Force may feel proud that an Air Chief Marshal occupies this post.
The other matter relating to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to which I want to refer is the infrastructure. The right hon. Member for Easington used the word. It is a hideous word, for which Her Majesty's present advisers are not in any way responsible. Indeed, it does not mean anything because it does not appear in any dictionary, and if it did mean anything I think that by derivation it should mean "structures below ground" and therefore, a mammoth organisation of dugouts and what-not. It is a word which somebody invented and to which a meaning has been attached ever since.
§ Mr. Crookshank
Of course; we had to use the word that somebody else invented—[HON. MEMBERS; "Why?"] Because it had become international common form by then. It was far too late for the purists of the English language to act.
This infrastructure covers an enormous variety of things connected with common defence and which are organised, paid for and erected in common. It concerns not only airfields but headquarters organisations, military works of every kind, port improvements and, most important in this sphere, telecommunications. Good progress is being made and has been made.
Last year, the original estimate of the four instalments which have been 1325 approved totalled as much as £346 million. This is a tremendous figure. In April, £67 million more was added, and a decision was taken to plan out, over the next three years, beginning in 1954, on the scale of about £250 million, which means that a total of some £700 million, roughly speaking, is envisaged for the infrastructure programme.
What is important, particularly to hon. Members who are interested in the point, is the question how any form of financial control is exercised over this vast international expenditure. The answer is that there is an international committee in Paris, representative of all the Governments concerned. Programmes are submitted to them; they approve them, and before any work is started engineering and cost estimates are submitted by what they call the "host" countries.
That is another awful word which has arisen in this context. The "host" country means the country in which the work is to be done, and the country which is to be paid for it if the expenditure is greater than its own contribution. "Host" generally means just the contrary, but that is the word which has been adopted for this purpose.
The "host" countries submit these engineering and cost estimates; they are examined by the technical experts on the staff of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation—and we can be quite sure that anything connected with the staff of the Organisation will be effective under the general supervision of Lord Ismay—and, as the payments are made and the work proceeds, quarterly statements are sent in. Then, when everything is passed and agreed, the committee call upon the contributing countries to pay whatever their due may be for any particular project. That is the sort of control which is exercised with, superimposed upon it, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Board of Auditors. So far as the British Government have been able to influence these matters, we have certainly done whatever was possible to see that the tightest control would be achieved.
So much for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Since the March debate—and all I am trying to do is to pick up any changes which have occurred since then—a recent development has been announced; the intention of the United States Administration to reduce 1326 next year—and soon to end—the economic and defence support. I can only say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out what our consequent duty would be when he said, last week:… we must therefore prepare ourselves as a country to carry our immense defence burden under the proud flag of our own economic independence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1953; Vol. 518, c. 225.]That will certainly be our aim.
In this question of the expenses for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, attempts are bound to be made in different quarters to compare the relative burden of the different countries. I have seen a number alleging that we were bearing a disproportionately heavy burden. If we are, I think it is a better criticism that we should be bearing too much than too little, but we certainly should not minimise what is being done by all the other nations concerned. The Organisation conducts an annual review into these very matters, and bears in mind the burden, which is heavy financially, economically and personally, and as far as possible tries to see that it is equitably distributed between the countries belonging to the Organisation.
That annual review has revealed two things. First it has shown that superficial comparisons are very misleading, because it is almost impossible to get a yardstick, or even a collection of yardsticks, applicable to 14 different countries with very different economic and other arrangements. Secondly, it has shown that while we are certainly not lagging behind, there is not much justification for criticising the efforts of other people. It is quite true that others have a less onerous form of National Service than we have, but that is not the only burden which the nations have to carry.
That leads me to the question which was raised by the right hon. Member for Easington about National Service. It was all stated, as a matter of fact, in the Defence White Paper, but if the House wishes to be reminded of it the call-up under the 1948 Act comes to an end on 1st January, 1954, unless a later date is adopted and approved by Parliament by their approval of a draft Order in Council.
§ Mr. Crookshank
It is 1st January. 1954. January, 1953, is passed.
The Government's conclusion in this matter is that we cannot afford the depletion either of the active or the reserve forces if this arrangement is allowed to lapse on 1st January because, in spite of the improvement in the enlistments, it still remains true that our reliance on National Service is such that 35 per cent. of the National Service men are serving overseas, and they represent 42 per cent. of the United Kingdom Army and Air Force serving overseas. It is quite obvious, therefore, that we could not yet let up in that sphere.
What the Government propose to do is to introduce a draft Order in Council when we resume, not at the end of this Session but in the new Session which is to be opened in November.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that information, but does he appreciate that if the Government proceed by Order in Council no Amendments can be moved? We have either to accept or reject what the Government propose.
§ Mr. Crookshank
We were not responsible for the 1948 Act, and that is what is provided in that Act for extending the period. We are all aware of the difficulties about Orders in Council, but that is what the Act demands in order to extend the serving period after 1st January, and it is our intention to introduce a draft Order in Council.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that from the Government's point of view, on the assumption that there is a change in public opinion which may influence the minds of hon. Members opposite—who can tell?—the only possible Amendment would be one for a rejection of the proposal, and that might be a very serious matter? Would it not be far better to come forward with an amending Bill, which would enable hon. Members to put down Amendments in Committee?
§ Mr. Crookshank
The right hon. Member's party should have foreseen that when framing the 1948 Act. I am merely saying that there are certain powers which would lapse, under existing circumstances, on 1st January, unless 1328 action were taken under that Act. We hope to introduce the Order in Council soon after the new Session is opened, and in good time for public opinion to make itself felt and public debate to take place on the matter.
During the course of the year it is also our intention to make a change in the National Service Act, to ensure that the reservists whose obligation now comes completely to an end after the full 5½ years should be registered in the same way as are the Class G and Class Z reservists, so that track can be kept of them and so that, should an emergency arise, they can be found quickly and be immediately available.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was not listening. I said that during the year we were hoping to introduce legislation to do that, so that in a major emergency the National Service reservists, after their 5½ years of initial service, do not escape all obligations; while at the same time the Z and G reservists are under obligations, and they are an older generation and men who served in the war. We would wish to limit their obligations at the age of 45, but we think it is only fair and equitable that the young ex-National Service man should have the same sort of obligations as the older man, who himself has been called up for National Service at an earlier date.
The right hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions of a rather more detailed character and of which he had not given me notice. Perhaps he will allow my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with them when he replies. But when the right hon. Gentleman was claiming that we ought to bear in mind that there is a change in the situation and an easing of the position, I am not sure that I would take so categorical a line as he does about that being the fact. I should rather go back to what I quoted from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and say thatthis would be a fatal moment for the free nations to relax.We are all bound to recognise—these are serious topics—the great weight of the burden which is thrust upon the nation as a whole and upon innumerable people in it, not only here but in all the other countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. As I say, they are economic and financial burdens, and they are 1329 personal burdens in the form of actual personal service. But we have to recognise—and I think we have done so—that these burdens, financial and economic, must not, and cannot, be so heavy as to bring about economic collapse, because that is the worst result of all. Potential enemies might benefit as much from that, should it occur, as they might from actual military success. That is the lesson of what I was trying to put, very inadequately, I am afraid, before the House this afternoon.
The lesson is that our programme must be constantly under review. It has to be planned and replanned, sifted and turned over, and seen whether it adequately fits the necessities of the hour. We may be near a turning point in international relations, but whether we are or not, it is my firm conviction, and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends in this Administration too, I think, that we must continue to be firm and to increase our strength, because it is just that which has brought us to this point of history.
I have not seen what General Gruenther may or may not have been reported as saying in a secret session. I only heard of it from the right hon. Gentleman, and I do not know whether newspaper reports of secret sessions are necessarily to be accepted as accurate. I remember that there used to be a good many reports of our secret Sessions during the war that had no foundation whatever in fact. Whether General Gruenther ever said it or not, the quotation which the right hon. Gentleman made,We are going to stop this war from ever starting,is exactly the objective of this whole defence build-up. I took down the words of the right hon. Gentleman. Anyhow, it is all hypothetical, because it is alleged to have been a secret session, and it is a newspaper report and all the rest of it.
§ Mr. Crookshank
That is the one I am quoting back to the right hon. Gentleman. If what General Gruenther did say is,We are going to stop this war from ever starting,that will only be done by building up our strength, our equipment and our reserves 1330 as a deterrent. If he ever said anything of the kind, I have no doubt that that is what the General had in mind. The tide may, indeed, be turning—we cannot tell; but I am certain that it must be much more surely set for peace before we can launch any radical changes in our programme, which, if once launched, cannot be easily reversed.
In the past there have been Governments of whom it was said with regard to their rearming policy that they were too late. It is not the intention of Her Majesty's present Ministers to fall into an error, equally dangerous, of relaxing too soon. We intend to go forward along the lines which we indicated in March, which we have carried on since and from which there have been no great changes or deviations, and no great call for any changes, excepting those with regard to the Organisation to which I have referred. We shall go forward patiently, in full accord with all our allies, on the path of safety. We shall, as we do it, prepare for the worst and pray and hope for the best, working always for security, and through security, because that is the only way, for prosperity and peace.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
The Leader of the House seemed to express a good deal of surprise that we on this side called for a debate on defence, and he implied that there was not very much to discuss. If the right hon. Gentleman's speech was intended to demonstrate that there was very little to discuss, it was a masterpiece for that purpose, because it seemed to offer little or nothing that was new to put before the House in circumstances which, I venture to say, on the authority of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, are decidedly new.
The reason why my right hon. and hon. Friends wished for a defence debate now was precisely to see whether the House had a collective view on how the continuing purpose of defence could be carried on in these new circumstances. That continuing purpose is, I suppose, quite simply, the strength and independence of this country. I say, in passing, that if we wish to reconsider our defence policy for that purpose today, we do so secure in the fact that the record of the former Labour Government in their 1331 defence policy stands comparison with the record of any Government that this country has had.
It cannot be denied that in sustaining the forces of this country, in solicitude for our Armed Forces and concern for their well-being and their strength, no Government has done more than the Labour Governments which followed immediately the Second World War. That approach to defence matters comes, perhaps, as a strange one to certain senior and highly respected Members on this side of the House who were nurtured in pacifist traditions. Nevertheless, it is an approach which, in the troubled world of the mid-20th century we cannot possibly avoid making. Indeed, we were strongly criticised for devoting too much of the national resources to defence; and as I have said in the House before, those criticisms have turned out to be correct.
We devoted, or attempted to devote, in the closing years of the Labour Government too high a proportion of the national resources to defence. The so-called £4,700 million programme, to be executed in three years, was too big. It had to be scaled down, and it has been scaled down. There is no doubt of that fact, but, again, I do not think that that error, if it was an error, on the part of the Labour Government was something of which we need be ashamed. The important thing at that moment was that a marked defence effort should be made. The precise size of it had to be discovered by trial and error as that effort went along.
Now, the question the House has to consider today is whether the present level of our defence effort, in the circumstances of the day, will really best promote that simple purpose of the maximum strength and independence of this country. Because, of course, we all agree that a defence effort can be too big and too costly as well as too small. The defence effort today, £1,600 million annual expenditure, two years' full National Service for the whole citizenry, with small exceptions, of the country, and amounting, as it does, to some 12 per cent. of the national income—it is about that figure this year—is, as the Leader of the House himself has just said, a tremendous burden on this country. 1332 And I do not think there can be anyone in the House who does not ardently desire that that burden should be reduced, especially, of course, in terms of manpower.
However, the question is—and I expect other speakers from the Government Front Bench will say so—how is it to be reduced? How are we to meet our tasks and yet manage to reduce that very, very heavy and damaging—I shall not say crippling, for I do not think it is crippling, but damaging—burden upon the economy of the country?
What are those commitments which we find it such a heavy burden to meet? They are of three kinds. There are commitments which arise out of the nature of our contribution to N.A.T.O., to the forces of the West and—do not let us mince words about it—facing Russia in the West. This N.A.T.O. type of commitment takes about 4½ divisions of the Army and, in one way or another, much the greater part of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. Then there are commitments in the Far East for the containment of the possible expansionist policies of the new Chinese Government—in Korea, in Hong Kong and elsewhere. That is taking the best part of two divisions of the Army and some, though much smaller, air and naval forces.
I do not want to say anything today about those two types of commitments, because their size is not really in our control. We all hope—and the hope has been expressed by both the right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken so far—that the international climate is changing and improving, and we certainly derive great hope from the conclusion, at long last, of the Korean armistice; but, necessarily, these things are hopes rather than decisions which we can make. Even if the international situation does greatly improve he would be a bold man to state that the world is not going to continue to be sufficiently disturbed to make it necessary for this country to maintain forces for that type of purpose, forces which, to put it at its broadest, enable the British Commonwealth to hold its own in the world. We shall need substantial forces of that kind, for a very long time. Therefore, we can all sincerely hope that these burdens will be reduced, but we certainly cannot decide to reduce them because we 1333 are dependent entirely on what the international climate actually does turn out to be.
There is the third type of commitments, and it is about those that I do want to say a word; and here I am bound to be more controversial. There is the type of commitments which I would call commitments involved in the attempt to maintain the remaining part of our imperial position of the old type. And by that I mean attempting to maintain by armed force the type of Empire which existed in the pre-war period. Our commitments of that type are very substantial indeed. There are some 20,000 men in Malaya; not in divisional formation; one cannot give them in that way.
§ Mr. Strachey
My right hon. Friend says 40,000, but that is including the local forces; that is including the Malay Regiment and the rest. I am probably understating it even at that. By far the biggest commitment of that type is the Middle East, one of 80,000 men. Then there is a brigade in Kenya——
§ Mr. Strachey
I am being accused on this side of the House of understating my case; but, at any rate, I am not overstating it when I put it at those figures. We can put it like this. The rest of the active Army is engaged on those commitments, because as we know, as the Secretary of State himself has often said, there is none of it at home at all, except the part which is engaged in training. Those commitments are of an increasingly arduous type, and I would say that if we maintain the policy which involves commitments of that type those commitments are only too likely to grow rather than to diminish.
One thing I am bound to say. I could not altogether agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) when he said that he favoured a partial evacuation of Egypt, a reduction of the number of our forces there. I should have thought that that was a particularly hazardous thing. If we decide to maintain, wrongly, as I happen to think—the House knows my views on this—our forces in Egypt, to weaken them would be an exceedingly hazardous thing there.
1334 I think that if we are maintaining that kind of garrison in the teeth of the determination of the country in question to get rid of us, either we must maintain ourselves in very strong force indeed, or we must go altogether. I am bound to say that this is only an example of the fact that if we try to maintain an imperial position of the old sort, our commitments in doing so will grow greater and greater, not less and less. We may think it right to do so. We may think it worth while to do so——
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The right hon. Gentleman will, perhaps, tell the House what he really thinks ought to be done in Malaya after four or five years of an effort in which, I think, he himself was once involved? Are we to give up altogether, or keep troops there to deal with the situation?
§ Mr. Strachey
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will have patience for a moment he will see that I am coming to exactly those points. I believe that if we maintain the policy which involves those commitments, of that kind, there will be no possibility, no talk, of reducing the total of our effectives, no possibility of reducing the term of National Service, as we want so strongly, and as, I am sure, many Members on the other side of the House would desire, too. These are very arduous commitments, which place a terrible burden upon us, upon the Army above all, because the burden falls mainly on the Army as against the other two Armed Forces and under the old policy they will inevitably grow rather than diminish.
What a serious view is taken of that I take from a recent issue of the "Daily Telegraph," whose distinguished Military Correspondent, Lieut.-General Martin, wrote just the other day;Already, at its present figure the Army is over extended. Its units, other than those in Korea, are under-posted and under strength. To under-post still further would be folly. The only possible course is to select certain units for disbandment and to cut commitments accordingly.That is not my view. That is General Martin's view.
I come to the issue which is the obvious point made by the hon. and gallant Member who has just interrupted me. What should we do about it? If we have 1335 any determination to reduce this very grave defence burden gradually and, above all, in manpower, and in terms of military service, which will be the most serious issue before this House, we have to apply a world policy which enables us to do so. Even then, such a world policy will not give us any automatic and quick solution, but it will, in time, make these questions soluble. The way to do it is to pursue the policy which the late Administration pursued, of transforming the old type of Empire, which was forcibly maintained by armed forces on the spot, into a free Commonwealth association.
This was done, of course, on the very largest scale in Asia by the last Government. By far the largest part of the old British Empire was so transferred—India, Pakistan and Ceylon—and it was a genuine transformation because in the test case of Burma, where one of the old members did not wish to stay in the Commonwealth, she was permitted to go. That is the test of whether we really mean a transformation of the old type of Empire into a Commonwealth. The test arises when a particular country, as in the case of Burma, wishes to leave—whether you allow it to do so or whether you attempt to keep it in by force. One has only to think what our commitments would be today if we had not effected that transformation, successfully in every case except Burma, into a free Commonwealth in the years immediately following the war.
We should not have 10 divisions overseas; we should have 20 or 30 if we were attempting forcibly to maintain the old type of Empire in those parts of the world. Therefore, it is the continued application of that transformation of our old type of Empire position into a free Commonwealth which is the only policy which can give us a solution. This is no great, or new, or shocking innovation, because not only was such a policy pursued by the Labour Government on a great scale in India, rightly, as I think, but in some parts of the world—I readily admit this—it is still being pursued by the present Government. In the Sudan and in parts of West Africa it is being pursued.
Therefore, what is needed is a clear reaffirmation and stronger application of 1336 that principle. Then these imperial commitments, which are so great a burden on us today, will become capable of solution. They will not be immediately solved. Take the case of Malaya, which has been raised. Such a policy will not immediately enable us to withdraw from Malaya. We cannot possibly yield to an insurrection in Malaya, to people who have absolutely no democratic right to rule that country; of course, we cannot. But it can be applied, and it is being applied to some extent, in the sense that the Malaya insurrection—and that was certainly my view from the very slight acquaintance I had with the country—can in the end only be finally suppressed by the inhabitants of Malaya itself. That is being applied by a steady recruitment, battalion by battalion, of the Malayan Regiment which General Templer has continued and, indeed, hastened forward.
That, of course, involves, in practice, the fact that we have to give the right—because if they have arms in their hands they have got that right—to the people of Malaya themselves to decide whether they stay in the Commonwealth or not, and what type of Government they will have. Therefore, as we arm and build up the Malayan Regiment and formations of native Chinese and native Indians, too, we are, in fact, applying that policy and, at the same time, making the defence burden and commitments tolerable for ourselves. Such a policy cannot be applied automatically or easily in this part of the world or that, but it is in the application of that free commonwealth principle, and in that alone, that, it seems to me, we can find easement for these burdens which will not merely remain high, but will otherwise grow and become crushing on us.
It is above all, to my mind, in the Middle East that we can immediately apply that policy. The House knows what my views are on the subject of the Canal Zone and I do not intend to repeat them today. Here, it is not, of course, a question of the occupation of a country which has never been our Colony; but it is the question of whether or not we attempt to maintain, and forcibly maintain, the imperial position. I believe that if we make that attempt not only are we imposing upon ourselves what is fast becoming an intolerable defence burden, but we are actually defeating all our own objectives, and, 1337 above all, our objectives in the field of N.A.T.O.: our objectives of having forces facing any possible Russian aggression.
I believe that it is the policy we are pursuing there which prevents the formation of an alliance by these countries in the Middle East, comparable with the N.A.T.O. alliance in Europe, which is the only possible first-line defence against invasion from the North. If what I have called the free Commonwealth principle is applied progressively, as is being done in the Sudan and West Africa even by the present Government, that will gradually make our defence situation tolerable and possible. Above all, it will ease that frightful strain on the Army which General Martin refers to in the extract which I have read, and result in a very substantial saving in manpower and also in money.
I certainly do not believe that a two-year period of National Service in peacetime is a permanently tolerable thing. When my right hon. Friend who opened the debate, introduced this measure—and I also spoke as Secretary of State for War—we were perfectly clear that it was not being introduced as a permanent measure. It was not introduced, of course, for training purposes. A two-year period of National Service has nothing to do with training whatever. We can do our training in a far shorter period than that. It was introduced because the outbreak of the Korean war meant that our distant overseas commitments, of which I have been speaking, finally became impossible to meet without the two-year period of National Service.
It was introduced simply for these distant garrison purposes, and that is why it has to be maintained today. I agree that unless these commitments are substantially reduced, above all in the Middle East, there is no real hope or possibility of reducing the period of National Service. But if we push ahead, honestly and sincerely, on what I have called the free Commonwealth principle, under which there is an association of genuinely free nations uniting in their own defence, I believe that we can reduce the defence burden and the manpower burden very substantially.
I suggest that every Administration should make a reduction of the period of National Service by stages from two years 1338 to one year an urgent objective towards which they should work, and that they should regard their defence dispositions all over the world in the light of what can be undertaken within those limits. I cannot see that a two-year period of National Service can be maintained in perpetuity in this country.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
The right hon. Gentleman has intimated that the period of National Service has nothing to do with training. His colleague, a former Minister of Defence, the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) yesterday posed the question whether it was necessary to keep a man in the Service longer than 18 months for training. Is the right hon. Gentleman, then, in disagreement with his right hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Strachey
If my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington is now saying that it is necessary to keep a man in for more than 18 months for the purpose of training, most certainly I disagree with him. All the military authority that I know would say that, for purposes of training, a period of two years' National Service is unnecessarily long. I feel that very strongly indeed.
I believe that we are in jeopardy of having large masses of rather badly trained reserves, and that the period of annual training in the reserve period is very short. I believe that if, and when, we get the period of National Service down to one year, the period of annual call-up in reserve might well be reviewed, because the period of 14 days is very short if we wish to have really strong, trained reserves. That seems to me to be the key question for training, not the question of the period of the initial call-up.
§ Mr. Harvey
If the young Service man is to be trained for longer than two weeks, who will train him? The Territorials cannot give more than two weeks and the Regulars are not available.
§ Mr. Strachey
I agree that there are great technical difficulties, but the hon. Gentleman raised the question of training and it is in that field of annual call-up and not the two years that the real key to the problem lies. I do not believe that a two-year period is necessary for training purposes. After all, we were training our reserves on a period of 18 1339 months up to the Korean war and nobody then said that that was impossible.
The keynote to our whole defence position is; do we or do we not mean to attempt to maintain those commitments which are essentially involved in the attempt to maintain an imperial position of the old type? If we are sincere when we say that we are transforming our old Empire into a freely associated Commonwealth—as we have actually done in part, and as the present Government are continuing to do to some extent in the Sudan and West Africa, though much too hesitatingly, I believe—there is a possibility of getting our Defence burden within bounds and our Defence dispositions into reasonable shape.
I shall not traverse the argument of my last speech in a Defence debate. But those concentrated dispositions which are today from a military point of view so essential, only become attainable as and when one rids oneself of the commitments of the old imperial type. Then and then alone will there be an opportunity of our disposing of Defence forces really capable of maintaining the strength and independence of this country.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
This is the first time that I have had occasion to address this House and I ask the indulgence of hon. Members. A maiden speech in the House of Commons is a milestone in the life of a new Member and I ask, therefore, for the consideration of hon. Members when I make certain points on the subject of defence.
It may be thought that this is a complicated and difficult subject for a maiden speech, but I have chosen it for certain reasons. In the first place, in my constituency of Abingdon, which I have recently come here to represent, there are certain defence establishments, in particular the Military College of Science at Shrivenham and several other Service establishments, as well as the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell. As hon. Members will be well aware, my predecessor was much interested in defence matters and it would appear that I shall be connected with such matters through having these establishments in my constituency.
1340 There are personal reasons why I should like to take part in this debate and to put forward a few views which I hope will be regarded as not very contentious. The first is that I served for a long time in the Territorial Army, recently leaving it, when I retired about two years ago, and I specialised during the last war in military intelligence. As a consequence I want to lay emphasis on the subject of training in that sphere, and the points I want to make about National Service men are in respect of the time they will spend in the Territorial Army. I also want to suggest certain measures by which they can be attracted towards remaining in the Territorial Army on a voluntary basis.
It is clear to all hon. Members that a certain amount of radical re-thinking is required upon defence policy. I want to preface my remarks by referring to the need for highly trained Reserves. That applies to the policy of having a system of defence under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Highly trained Reserves are essential to any practical scheme of defence. That point has been made by General Eisenhower on numerous occasions and it is in that connection that I shall call attention to the principle that, in respect of the Territorial Army and other Reserve organisations in the future, it is our duty to seek the highest quality as much as quantity by creating large and skilled Reserves. By encouraging the voluntary aspect of service in the Territorial Army, and by encouraging men to remain on after they have done their National Service, the Territorial Army could be made more attractive to the National Service men of the future.
My first point is that the training of Territorial intelligence officers should be encouraged. That is a type of military service which would be highly suitable for certain types of men who might volunteer to remain on in the Territorial Army. There is at present a certain amount of machinery for that purpose in the field security units which exist in T.A. camps, but it should be carried much further. In the war, no branch of the Armed Forces had a higher proportion of civilian soldiers than military intelligence, and it will be well within the knowledge of hon. Members that many men came from offices and factories to carry out this type 1341 of work. It is thoroughly interesting work, and although there may be security problems involved in taking on Territorials for this purpose—former National Service men—I suggest that a lot could be done.
I therefore have three suggestions to make which I hope will find agreement in the House. First of all, we should encourage more language training for Territorials. That could certainly be done more widely than it is at the moment. It would be useful to have a pool of trained linguists available from the resources of the Territorial Army. Secondly, it should be possible to send Territorials abroad in connection with the liaison work which may be required if, unhappily, we have to defend Western Europe through the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Individual Territorials could be sent abroad to study such problems in Europe and in other N.A.T.O. countries.
Another point which concerns all Territorial units is training abroad. Would it not be possible to send them abroad a great deal more than is done at present? I know that certain airborne units are being sent abroad for their annual training, but it could be done more generally so that the Territorials could study some of the ground upon which they might unhappily one day have to operate, although we hope that the present relaxation in the international atmosphere will prevent that from occurring.
Speaking of the policy of building up these highly-trained Reserves, I suggest that these are imaginative and interesting methods of training, more likely to attract men to the Territorial Army than an increase in bounty or action of that kind. It may well be that such an increase in bounty would do a lot of good, but if we are to build up skilled Reserves we must attract the sort of people we want by the methods which I have suggested.
My final point can be put much more shortly and it relates not to training in intelligence but to the provision of up-to-date weapons for the mechanics and skilled engineers and, indeed, the infantrymen who are willing and available to join the Territorials at present. I realise that this involves very difficult questions of cost and the whole problem of keeping weapons up to date, but as to the 1342 nature of the training, I ask the House to consider that it is very important that mechanics and trained engineers should do a type of voluntary training which does not involve too much in the way of regimental duties or too much foot drill.
Although such duties and training are necessary for certain branches of the Army, I think we ought to provide specialists with facilities to study, in the case of those I have mentioned, the mechanics of new, technical and complex weapons. It seems to me that to adopt this procedure and to cut down the purely regimental duties is a much more effective way of training them, because in my submission it is our duty, in building up a specialist Reserve for the future, to concentrate on quality.
In that connection, although I do not wish to go deeply into the subject, I think the standardisation of weapons should reach down into the Reserves within the N.A.T.O. system. That certainly would be of assistance in bringing about some of the results which I have suggested.
I have made those few points and suggestions for future methods of training in looking ahead to the possibility that we may have to rely upon a long-term plan for training Reserves for the Army and, indeed, the other Services. I believe these are methods by which we can establish an efficient defence system in the future. I thank the House for listening so patiently to my views on the subject.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I count myself most fortunate in conveying to the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) the congratulations of the House on his maiden speech. My own first speech was also on defence, and I only wish I could have done half as well and spoken half as lucidly as he has done this afternoon. I think the House would wish me to say that as Member for Abingdon he follows a very honoured Member of this House, a man for whom I personally have the highest respect. I am speaking very sincerely when I say to him that he has impressed the House this afternoon with the extent of his knowledge. We shall look forward in the future to many other contributions from him, much more lengthy and more contentious.
I am sorry that the Leader of the House has escaped. He spoke about the war 1343 and I was quite sure, especially after having listened to and endured all of his speech, that he was referring to the Boer War. For he certainly bored the House. It was an astonishing performance. He gave the game away when he talked about infrastructure, because he said this was a horrible word which had crept into the English language. It became crystal clear that he had had the brazen-faced impertinence to come to the House of Commons this afternoon and talk about defence without having read the speech of the Minister of Defence in the House of Lords in the middle of April. On that occasion Lord Alexander told the House of Lords the origin of the word "infrastructure." He explained that it was not an English word or a bastardised word which had crept into our language but was a French word which was used in French railway circles to indicate the operation of railways before the rail tracks are laid. The right hon. Gentleman therefore came to the House this afternoon and displayed a woeful ignorance which is in keeping with the reputation which he has established as Leader of the House.
That was not all. He told us that by some means or another N.A.T.O. has substantially fulfilled the Lisbon commitments. Of course, that is absolute nonsense. It is ignorant nonsense and it merely underlines the extent to which the country rightly lacks confidence in the Government's present defence policy. The Leader of the House said he did not see why there should be a defence debate at all, because nothing very much had happened since our last defence debate. In fact, quite a lot has happened. The Americans have announced that they will pay no more towards the cost of our defence, so that this year the bill, which is in the neighbourhood of £1,600 million, will be increased by at least another £80 million because there will be no American aid.
In addition, it is becoming crystal clear that the Secretary of State for War is landing the country in a complete collapse of the Army's manpower position. When he was in opposition, the right hon. Gentleman nailed his colours to the mast and had one simple solution and one solution only to the Army's manpower difficulties. He demanded increases in 1344 pay. In season and out of season he lambasted my right hon. Friends who were then the Service Ministers for their failure to increase the pay of the Services. All we had to do, he said, was to increase pay, and the troops would roll in and everything would be all right.
The right hon. Gentleman has had his way. We have had two years of him and we have had the pay increases. The right hon. Gentleman claims 100 per cent. credit for the steps which he has taken in altering the terms of service. Yet it is perfectly clear that recruiting has fallen off and that this country faces a most serious situation indeed in the Regular Army. We are spending sums of money which are the very limit within our economic resources. Nevertheless, we have a Regular Army which is negligible in numbers and woefully weak in training. It is impossible to turn out senior N.C.O.s and warrant officers and to get an adequate backbone to the Regular Army if the majority of our men are serving on three-year engagements.
That is what the right hon. Gentleman has done. He has offered the soft option. He failed to see that the importance of the increase of pay which was put into operation by the Labour Government was not in the increase itself but in the introduction of the differential, and that the difference between the rate of pay for National Service men and that for Regulars was bound, human nature being what it is, to stimulate the number of men who undertook Regular engagements. The right hon. Gentleman failed to see that recruits would undertake an engagement for three years because they got higher pay, but that it was obvious that they would go for the three years only and doubtful if they would extend their engagements beyond that period.
The hon. Member for Abingdon has hit the target with his first shot. The real problem facing us is what is to happen about our Reserves. At present we have Reserve Forces amounting to 460,000. In July, 1954, our National Service Reserve will rise to its peak. After that time a trickle of men will begin to go out and they will more or less balance those entering. At the present time the Reserves are not getting any training above the regimental level, and if we are ever to fulfil the Lisbon commitment, if 1345 ever N.A.T.O. is to become a reality, and if ever we are to make a reality of the conception of defence based upon a holding force which will hold long enough for the Reserves to be mobilised and for an effective striking force to be built up, these Reservists must have training at divisional level. That cannot be done while the period of Reserve training is as it is at present.
The Government would be very well advised, before coming to the House and asking for an extension of the two-year period of compulsory service, to look at the possibility of making the length of service a little less and, if necessary, increasing the period of Reserve training. I do not for a moment believe that it is possible to abolish National Service overnight. If the whole international scene were suddenly transformed, it would still be a long job to tail off National Service. It cannot be done quickly, and probably, as a result of the present Secretary of State for War, it never will be done. Once the Regular Army gets into the position that it is now getting into, it will be a generation before we get out of the mess. The Government are failing in their duty not only in the matter of the defence conception but also in the matter of the country's economic necessities if they do not undertake a very large-scale inquiry into the working of National Service.
If the Leader of the House had even the passing knowledge of defence questions that one would expect from a Cabinet Minister, he would have read some recent articles in "The Times" which inquired into the reasons we were not getting Regular recruits and why we were in some difficulties about the Regular Army. It has been very interesting indeed to read the subsequent correspondence from responsible leaders in industry who say that they are really concerned about the impact of National Service on our young men. There has never been an inquiry into it. There are suggestions that a great deal of the juvenile delinquency can be attributed to unsettlement as a result of National Service.
The country pays a very heavy price, something far beyond the economic price, for National Service. I accept National Service as a necessity, but the Govern- 1346 ment will be asking far too much if they come to the House next December for a blank cheque. We ought to have an inquiry while there is time. If the Government have to carry the House with it and build up public confidence in the matter, an inquiry, at which there could be public hearings, should be undertaken by a committee which has public confidence. That would be a real step forward, and it would help the Government.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for interrupting him to ask a question about a subject which he has passed. I had not the figures with me at the time, but I dashed out and got them. He referred to the drop in Regular recruiting. It would be dangerous if it went out from the House that it was as serious as he tried to indicate. Recruiting in 1952 was double that in 1951. This year recruiting has dropped a certain amount because there has been a smaller call-up of National Service men, and it is from the National Service men that the voluntary recruiting into the Army comes.
§ Mr. Wigg
That is the kind of interruption which makes me very sad. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, after his long service in the Army and long membership of this House, still comes forward with such an ignorant point of view as that. He has swallowed lock, stock and barrel, the propaganda from the War Office. Of the 40,000 recruits enlisted in 1952, 35,000 were National Service men, and the Secretary of State got only 5,000 genuine recruits that year.
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. and gallant Gentleman does not realise the simple point that the young men who are undertaking Regular engagements are doing so for three years only, and for the first two years they are doing the same service as they would have done as National Service men. The total addition to the Armed Forces of the Crown in 1952 was only 5,000, and the build-up about which the Secretary of State for War made such a song and dance has declined in 1953. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has looked at the figures covering the early 1347 part of this year. Figures for another three months are nearly due, and I prophesy that they will show a further drop. That is why Colonel Martin wrote his article in the "Daily Telegraph" and why "The Times" published the articles to which I referred. Certainly a very serious and disquieting situation is disclosed by the Government's failure to get recruits for the Regular Army.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the recruiting figures have fallen during the last three months, it is probably due to the decrease in the general unemployment figures and the greater demand by industry?
§ Mr. Wigg
I do not know what the causes are. I wish I did. I have no doubt that the War Office wish they knew. When the Secretary of State for War and his hon. Friends were in opposition they were constantly arguing for an increase in the rates of pay as the sole solution of our recruiting problem. I always had my doubts about that.
§ Mr. Wigg
That may be so and they may have to be increased, but surely there must come a time when we cannot increase pay any further. I believe there are other causes. I do not want to anticipate the debate on officers' retired pay which will take place on Friday—that subject does not affect me personally—but the fact that not only the present Government but other Governments over the last 20 years have failed to give retired officers a square deal is one of the reasons officers' sons do not now join the Armed Forces. Because past Administrations, including Conservative Administrations, treated the ex-Regular N.C.O. and warrant officer very badly—I am one—their sons are not joining the Army.
Two important links have been broken. In the mining industry the link has been broken between the miner and his son and the result is that the mining industry is not getting the recruits it wants. A link has also been broken in the case of the Armed Forces, between the Regulars and their sons. The problem cannot be solved simply by granting astro- 1348 nomical increases in rates of pay; it is necessary to convince the warrant officer, the long-service N.C.O. and the Regular officer that they will get a square deal. Hon. Gentlemen opposite take a poor view of human nature if they think that, because they give an increase in the rates of pay, the lads will gather round the recruiting office and not only join the Army but stay in the Army. The lads may join, but they will not stay. That is the Secretary of State's trouble. He has a few thousand more National Service men to undertake the three-year engagement, but they are going out again, and the result is that at present there are many Territorial units which have not a single senior N.C.O.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
The hon. Gentleman says that the men are going out at the end of the three-year engagement, but he cannot say that, because the scheme was introduced less than three years ago.
§ Mr. Wigg
I quite agree, but I would recommend the hon. Member to take the Secretary of State for War behind the Chair and talk to him. He is losing his senior N.C.O.s and warrant officers hand over fist, and he has not got the extensions or re-engagements that he wants. If I am wrong, let the right hon. Gentleman get up and say so.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
The hon. Gentleman has asked me to get up, and in reply I would point out to him that this trend has been going on ever since 1945, as he well knows. He was a P.P.S. at the War Office and I hope he knows. It is not a trend that can be stopped by some magical method as long as there is a very large proportion of the Regular Army serving overseas. If the hon. Member can give any constructive method of stopping it, I should be most interested to listen to it.
§ Mr. Wigg
But what the right hon. Gentleman says is precisely what I have been saying. I know there is no simple solution. From 1945 onwards when the right hon. Gentleman and his friends were in opposition, on occasion after occasion they suggested an increase in the rates of pay, but I told them then 1349 that there was no simple solution. The fact is that in 1945, because the war had gone on for six years, the Regular Army had ceased to exist. The present Prime Minister and the then Secretary of State for War in the Coalition Government both failed to appreciate that situation, and no preparations were made. The result is that today we have not got the warrant officers and senior N.C.O.s we require.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Gentleman is going into the past, and while I do not want to stir up controversy on this subject, I would recall that what I consistently said was that if hon. Gentlemen opposite, when they were in power, had put up the rates of pay 18 months or two years before they did they would have retained a good many men who were disillusioned by the derisory increases in pay made by the then Minister of Defence.
§ Mr. Wigg
But what is the right hon. Gentleman doing about it now, because there is a bigger wastage today? Warrant officers and N.C.O.s are now going out at an increasing rate, and in three years' time, when the new recruits have had an opportunity to see what the right hon. Gentleman's Army is like, we shall discover whether they will carry on in the Army or not. I prophesy that they will not. I have told the right hon. Gentleman before that he is a disaster for the Army, and that the Army will pay a big price for him. Many times in the past he has told us that the Army has too long a tail; I say the Army has now got too much head. [An HON. MEMBER; "Brilliant."] It is not brilliant, but neither is the right hon. Gentleman, so that is a pair. The facts are that the Army's manpower situation is going from bad to worse, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it.
When the Army Estimates come forward next year, we shall find a more alarming situation than in the time of the Army Estimates this year, and if the right hon. Gentleman still thinks that another increased rate of pay is the right answer, then I hope he will go to his right hon. Friends and get them to agree to such a step. But the reason he will not do so is that he is rapidly coming to the conclusion that something more is wanted. I will tell him and the present Minister of Defence what they have to do. They have to start not with those in the 1350 Armed Forces but with those who have left them.
Let them begin next Friday by making an announcement which will remedy the wrong done in 1935 to the retired pay of ex-officers. Let them do something for the thousands of ex-Regular soldiers who are drawing pensions from the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. They are much better recruiting sergeants than the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, because they can speak to their sons and to members of their own families. It is a fact that they have ceased to be recruiting sergeants, for they are saying to their sons and relatives, "I have had some of the Army; you keep out of it." The result is that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends have turned the tap off at its source. They will not get it restarted until they recognise that the Army understands one thing very well, that it is always jam tomorrow but never anything for those who have served in the past.
That is a policy that will not do. The Labour Government in 1945 took the initial steps to improve conditions in the mining industry, although they only partially solved the problem. A lot remains to be done, and just as the mining industry put right some of the errors of the past, so something has to be done for the Armed Forces. It is not merely a question of giving an increased rate of pay, because the young recruit is too fly for that. He takes the increase, gets the gratuity and then goes out into civilian life to tell everyone what things are like. He advises them to have nothing to do with it. So an increase in the rates of pay will not necessarily better the situation. I urge the Minister of Defence—I do not expect to get an answer today—to undertake an inquiry before the autumn so that every aspect of the matter will be gone into with the greatest care to see whether we cannot lighten the burden of two years' compulsory military service.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mrs. Patricia Ford (Down, North)
On rising to address the House this evening, I should like to ask for the indulgence which I believe is usually given to hon. Members on these occasions. It may perhaps be thought unusual for a woman to speak in a defence debate, but I feel that the last two wars have proved that 1351 this is a subject which vitally affects every citizen of these islands, for we are all now in a potential front line. Certainly no one can question the wonderful work and brave deeds of the women's forces and voluntary organisations during the last war, working as they did side by side both at home and overseas with the other Armed Services.
In this defence debate I should like to draw the attention of the House to Northern Ireland, part of which I have the very great honour to represent at Westminster. No one can deny the vital strategic position of Ulster in any defence programme concerning these islands, and we must all remember the great part she played in the last war, when her industrial and agricultural resources were placed unreservedly and voluntarily at the service of the British war effort. Without the use of Northern Irish ports such as Belfast and Londonderry, the task of our convoys bringing Lend-Lease and essential supplies of food and equipment would have been nearly impossible. Between 1940 and 1944 Belfast shipyards alone constructed 140 warships and also 10 per cent. of the total merchant shipping of the whole of the United Kingdom.
For the Army, Ulster produced tanks, guns and ammunition and in the field of aircraft production we built many heavy bombers and Sunderland flying boats. The Ulster textile industry turned out over 200 million yards of cloth for Service use, and 90 per cent. of the Service shirts for the British Forces were made in Ulster factories. Certainly not least to help the war effort, the farmers of Northern Ireland made a larger proportionate contribution to home-produced food supplies than did any other part of the United Kingdom. Do not let us forget the farmers and fishermen of Ulster now, for they are as much part of a defence programme as any of the Fighting Services.
The list of famous soldiers and generals who have sprung from Ulster would be too long and numerous to number here, but surely one of the most illustrious must certainly be the present Minister of Defence.
We must all know that while Northern Ireland entered the war automatically and by her own freewill, the Government of Eire adopted a policy of neutrality. This meant that during those dark days when 1352 we were surrounded by the enemy blockade, the sea lanes past Northern Ireland were the only channels still open across the Atlantic for our Navy and Merchant Navy. A neutral Eire cast a shadow 500 miles into the Atlantic, within which there was no air-cover protection from land-based aircraft for our convoys at sea. It is a fact, I believe, that had British Forces not been present in Northern Ireland, the whole of Ireland might well have been conquered and occupied by the Germans.
Ulster became the most important base for aircraft engaged in the protection of trans-Atlantic shipping at all ranges, from short-range fighter cover to the Catalinas operating from Lough Erne and the Coastal Command Liberators and Flying Fortresses. We in Ulster have very strong links with our friends and allies across the Atlantic and during those war years we were the base and training ground for a large force of American troops building up for the final invasion and assault in Europe. This is one more reason why we in Ulster feel it is so vital for this friendship and understanding between the English-speaking worlds to be fostered and encouraged.
Between 1942 and 1945 five divisions and a corps headquarters of American Forces passed through Northern Ireland, and in 1944 two American divisions went straight from Ulster to the Normandy beaches. But let me stress once more that without the use of Northern Ireland harbours and ports it would hardly have been possible for the convoys bringing American troops and American aid to have reached these shores without crippling losses, and the whole of Lend-Lease might well have been disorganised.
However, that is all a thing of the past and we in Northern Ireland can see no reason why we should not live on good terms with our neighbours in the South. We have no quarrel with them. Although we argue and disagree, we can perhaps learn to agree to differ and each respect the other's points of view and different loyalties. All that we in Northern Ireland ask is to be left alone as loyal citizens of the United Kingdom. We want to be considered as much part of Great Britain as Lancashire or Cheshire. Our constitutional position and our civil and religious liberties were won for us through the courage and sacrifice of our forefathers and such men as Carson and James Craig.
1353 I hope that our neighbours in the South will come to realise that Northern Ireland is firmly established. We are not an aggressive country; we are a defensive part of the United Kingdom. I am proud to call myself an Ulster woman and proud also to say that nowhere in the United Kingdom will be found a people more loyal or more sincere in their feelings for the British Crown and Monarchy than in our province of Ulster.
Even if Northern Ireland made no Imperial contribution—and it is a fact that during the last 10 years she has made contributions of more than £250 million—our strategic importance is so vital to the defence of these islands that it still warrants defence expenditure there, for this expenditure is for the protection of the United Kingdom as a whole.
In this defence debate I also speak as the mother of young children, fearful sometimes of the world which faces them and determined, if possible, that they may be spared the horrors of war. I am more and more convinced that we shall not achieve anything approaching a settled Europe without a strong United Kingdom. That is why I support most wholeheartedly any measure to ensure that we speak as a nation, not from weakness as we have sometimes had to do in the past, but from strength, confident in our powers, with N.A.T.O. and E.D.C., to take a leading part with our Commonwealth in moving towards an ideal which must be shared by all free-thinking peoples of the world.
We have a great chance; do not let it slip from our fingers, for any relaxation of defence effort now might ruin all the improvements which growing Western power has already gained. Let us look upon it as an insurance policy for the future against the threat of yet another war. I am sure I speak for the majority of thinking women in the country when I say, "Do not let us be penny wise and pound foolish when the security of our homes and families is at stake." Defence, I know, costs money—increasingly so all the time—but surely it is worth any sacrifice. I think it is true to say that for any Government to succeed the country must first be solvent and then must be safe from foreign aggression. These are the two essentials, and from them all else follows.
1354 In negotiating and dealing with heavily-armed countries it would be quite wrong to contemplate a premature disarmament programme based upon an apparent change in the attitude of the new Russian régime. If this new attitude is proved to be genuine, relaxation of re-armament must of course be our ultimate goal. But let us be quite sure first.
I should like to end by emphasising once again that Northern Ireland has stood loyally by Great Britain in the past and she will most certainly do so again, not only during the troubled times of peace but, if the need arose, which God forbid, in times of war also. I do not think I can do better than quote the words of our Prime Minister here in paying tribute to the value of Ulster's cooperation in the hour of need, when he said;But for the loyalty of Northern Ireland we should have been confronted with slavery and death and the light which now shines so strongly throughout the world would have been quenched.We do well to remember these stirring words, for they are as true today as they were at the end of the war.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
It is a very great pleasure to be able to follow the hon. Lady the Member for Down, North (Mrs. Ford), who has spoken to us with such grace and charm and, at times, very movingly. We all have very vivid memories of her father, Sir Walter Smiles, and on both sides of the House we deeply and bitterly regretted his tragic death last January.
I think the hon. Lady did right to remind us of Northern Ireland, which she knows so well, and the part which Northern Ireland has played in the defence of these islands. I think, also, that she did right to put so much thoughtful matter into her speech and I can assure her that it was in no way felt to be an intrusion that an hon. Lady should take part in a defence debate. We all hope that she will be fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, many times in future. On those occasions when she may not be so fortunate, and we cannot look forward to hearing her, if I may say so without impertinence we shall look forward to seeing her.
I hope it will not be considered provocative if I begin my speech by saying 1355 that I think the events of the last few months have triumphantly vindicated the rearmament programme of the Labour Government and have proved beyond doubt the lightness of the decision taken by the last Government in initiating that large programme in January, 1951. We were then terribly weak in Europe. Today we are not strong, but we are stronger. I do not think anyone can believe that the changes which seem to be coming about in Russia could possibly have come about if we had remained in our then state of defencelessness. There is, obviously, no reason at all why Russian tactics or policy would have changed in the slightest if we had remained in that state. The very fact that we have been able to reduce the speed of that rearmament programme is proof of the tightness of its conception at the time.
Today, I think we can safely say that before any attack could be launched by the Russians they would be obliged to give us some two or three months' notice. They could not possibly begin to attack Western Europe without reinforcing the divisions they have in Eastern Germany and Poland, and by bringing up reinforcements they would give us notice of their intention. But, because we have reached that first step it does not mean that this is any occasion for lowering the general rate or level of our rearmament programme. Indeed, if we are to believe General Ridgway and the late Supreme Commander in Europe, we are far from being in a state of security vis-à-vis the Russians.
I should like to quote briefly from the report of 5th June issued by the Supreme Commander, when he said:Measured against Soviet capability, our progress is insufficient to give us acceptable prospect of success, if attacked. We are still far short of the minimum requirements. We lack essential supply and support.Incidentally, I think it would be as well if the Parliamentary Secretary, in winding up tonight, could explain the growing divergence of view between the Government and General Ridgway and General Gruenther about the necessity for the building up of the forces of N.A.T.O. This is becoming increasingly apparent day by day and is very disturbing.
1356 During the last year, it seems as though the Russian forces in Eastern Germany have become a little weaker. On the other hand, the rate of supply of new weapons, new equipment, to the Russian forces and to the satellite troops has gone on, and has, if anything, increased. Also, we do not know whether there might not be at any time another change of policy, or tactics, in the Kremlin. The fact that there may have been one change leading towards a lightening of tension during the last few months does not rule out the possibility in another year's time, if they find out that they do not like the new policy or that they have pursued it long enough, that there might be a change back to the old policy. We cannot relax our defensive effort at the present time.
§ Mr. Wyatt
No, the hon. Member might not.
We should look at the type of forces which we have and which we are building up today, and the use of those forces. In the last debate we had on defence, the Prime Minister said:As a result of the Government's strategic review, the types and quantities of weapons and ammunition to be produced have been more precisely related to the kind of war or wars which we might have to fight in various parts of the world."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 579.]What he meant was that we are going to place more reliance on new weapons, on atomic artillery, on new gadgets and inventions, and less on manpower. That was apparent from the rest of his speech.
It also meant that we were abandoning the original concept of having 12 reserve divisions fully equipped with up-to-date equipment. That was made clear in the White Paper issued at the same time, which said, in paragraph 5:There was also good reason to doubt whether, even after the "—original—plan had been completed, the cost of maintaining the forces which would have by then have been built up and of keeping them equipped with the most up-to-date material would have been within the country's resources.In other words, the original idea of having 12 reserve divisions fully equipped with up-to-date equipment has been abandoned.
Leaving aside for the moment the question of these reserve divisions, have we 1357 got the right new weapons, the right balance and the right numbers of the new weapons? I should like to quote from the remarkable leading article in "The Times" of this morning. If this were the American Congress I should like to put the whole article into the record and get the Government to answer it because it is a savage indictment of their defence policy. It states:The Army still anxiously awaits bulk deliveries of many of the new weapons which it badly needs. The automatic rifle has become a political jest. The heavy gun tank, which Mr. Head praised highly last March, has not been heard of since.If the automatic rifle is a political jest today, it was not in the days of the previous Government. Then it was a military reality.
§ Mr. Wyatt
—but when we want to know how it is getting on in respect of supply to the Army it is on the secret list again. "The Times" is quite right to ask these questions.
For example, the .280 rifle is the most essential of all the new weapons. This should first be given to every infantryman—a semi-machine-gun which would give him confidence in face of the overwhelming numbers of Russian troops he would have to face if there was a war in Europe. It has been practically abandoned by the Government and we have heard very little more about it.
We might have more information as to the trend of tank development—whether we are going on with more and more self-propelled guns masquerading as tanks or whether we are going in for a lighter, speedier-moving tank and are getting away from the somewhat bogged-down concept of an almost static tank.
In the case of the R.A.F., we might query altogether the need for a strategic bomber air force in the possession of this country. We were told in the last debate on the Air Estimates that each of the new Valiant bombers will cost £400,000. We 1358 cannot have more than 10 for £4 million; we cannot do much with 100, which would cost £40 million. One sees at once that it is a vast expense to the nation to try to build up a fleet of Victors, Vulcans and Valiants for long-range strategic bombing.
§ Mr. Wyatt
Why should we want a long-range strategic bombing force in any war which we can envisage? We needed one in the last war, when we were fighting alone, but I do not think that anyone doubts that the Americans would be in another war from the start. Why not let them carry the expensive burden of a long-range strategic bombing force and let us concentrate on a tactical air force and save a good deal of money?
So far as the Navy is concerned—I hesitate to say this in front of the hon. and very gallant Member opposite—one had a feeling at Spithead that some of those costly-looking aircraft carriers and heavier ships were perhaps a little more expensive than they were worth to us.
One wonders when we hear about this "balance of forces" what it means. Does it mean three Ministers, each responsible for his own Service, or three chiefs of staff, each saying, "We are each going to have a third of the cash available," or an attempt to balance our forces with those of other countries with whom we hope to be in association in the event of war?
We should be told rather more about what is happening in the field of atomic artillery. We have heard nothing as to any development or experiment which has been carried on. It is of enormous importance if we are to try to make up our minds as to the size of Army we are to have and the number of reserve divisions. We have had little news about that aspect, and if there is good news why not let us have it because if there is such news the more of a deterrent it will be to the Russians. If they know that an atomic artillery barrage will be put up against them the less likely they will be to attack us.
All these factors affect the question of reserve divisions and the type of Army we are to have. It is no good having reserve divisions unless they are available for immediate use. We have not got that 1359 position today. If we are to keep reserve divisions we must have the equipment—the mobilisation equipment—of at least three of them ready all the time on the Continent. If we do not it will take too long to fit them out here to enable them to go to the rescue of our four divisions already in Germany. The result will be that we shall lose our four divisions in Germany—they will be cut up without the possibility of support. We need to be able to put into the field immediately three of the reserve divisions we have here, and we should try to have the mobilisation equipment to which I have referred ready on the Continent all the year round.
We must think again about the size of the Army. Now that we are concentrating on new-type weapons, more expensive weapons, the cost of the maintenance of the present size Army becomes increasingly prohibitive, as has already been indicated in the White Paper. It is also becoming clear from the recruiting figures that we shall not be able to get an efficient Army with the right Regular content in it for a very long time.
Where can we reduce the size of this Army? [Interruption.] I shall not shirk that question. We certainly cannot reduce it yet in Korea, or in Germany. We may be able to do so in Malaya, for General Templer reports that he has the situation under control and we may be able to turn it more and more into a police operation. We cannot yet reduce the Army in Egypt, though Egypt is the most promising area for reduction in the East. The Government are correct in insisting that if there is to be a base maintained in Egypt we must make sure we have control over the minimum number of technicians necessary to keep that base in working order and ready for use immediately, should there be war.
But, as with so much else, I feel that the Government have conducted negotiations with the Egyptians with a great lack of imagination. Why not tell the Egyptians that we are quite prepared to leave the base in the Canal Zone altogether, if they so wish? But if that is what they want us to do they must realise that we must have a base somewhere else in the Middle East. They must appreciate that the only other place would be Israel, where there is a welcoming 1360 population; where there is the port of Haifa capable of development and a tottering economy which would be strengthened by injections of British and American money required to build a base.
That would, of course, involve making Israel the strongest Power in the Middle East, without doubt, and it would mean that Egypt would never again be able to attack Israel. But if that is what the Egyptians want we should have no objection, because it is only a matter of convenience where we have our base. Why the Government does not tell that to the Egyptian goodness only knows.
If we got the 80,000 troops at present in Egypt away from the Canal Zone we should have something to play with in the reduction of the Army. Some of them might be used as a strategic reserve in this country. We have no such reserve and we should have one available for use anywhere in the world. Some of them would have to go to Cyprus and perhaps to Tripolitania as well. I do not think we can take all those troops out of the Middle East area, but it might allow us to have about 30,000 who could be relieved from Army service altogether.
With the addition of some troops we might be able to spare from Malaya, and later on from Korea, that might allow us to reduce the length of National Service to 21 months, or even to 18. We might combine that with a slightly more selective call-up for the Army, and stop calling up people who are in grade 3, marking them grade 1, giving them flat feet by marching them about all over the place and then have to reduce their grade a little later. In fact, we might call up the healthier content rather than have a too widely ranging call-up such as we now have.
I do not think we can reduce the Army by much more than that in the foreseeable future and even that reduction depends upon the use of some ability and imagination by the Government. We have not been given much promise of that, particularly this afternoon in the speech of the Leader of the House. He started by telling us that he had nothing to say and he said it for nearly an hour. One of the disadvantages of having a Government which is disintegrating is that those few members of it who do 1361 come to the House are unable to speak authoritatively, or they get the wrong brief, or they do not understand the brief they have been given.
I do not think that we can afford to reduce the size of the Army in Germany, for example. I believe that we should think more carefully about the military consequences of an agreement with the Russians over Germany than we seem to have done in the last few weeks. Our enthusiasm at the prospect of reaching agreement with the Russians over anything seems to have blinded us to the possible consequences of such an agreement. I believe that we cannot agree anything with the Russians which would involve us in withdrawing British and American troops from Germany so long as there is no German Army, of the size of about 12 divisions, to take their place.
We cannot do that because if we take away our troops and the Americans do the same, and the Russians move their troops back 70 miles into Eastern Europe, the whole structure of the defence of Western Europe will collapse at once. Even were the Russians to take their troops right back to Russia we must remember that it would not take very long to bring them back again, far less time than it would take to get troops from America or even from England to Germany. We must face that fact. We cannot accept the neutralisation of Germany without British or American troops on German soil.
That is why one of the silliest proposals ever to come out of a Foreign Minister's conference was that we should begin to try to lighten the tension with Russia by first discussing quite the most important and intractable problem—that of Germany—and see how we get on with an almost insoluble problem. We can only discuss a question like Germany with the Russians if we have already created an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence which would enable us to approach them with rather less suspicion than we have of each other today.
I deprecate the sudden abandonment by its previous devotees, including the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby), of the conception of a European Defence Community. Quite apart from the correctness of such an attitude we are bound in a contractual agree- 1362 ment that we have made with Germany to support the inclusion of Germany in the E.D.C. It has been ratified by both Houses. That applies not only to the Western Zone. Articles 4 and 7 of the Convention of 26th May, 1952, make it clear that we understand from that Convention that the whole of Germany should eventually come into E.D.C. If not, the independence we give to Germany under this convention falls to the ground. In fact, the very independence we have agreed to give to Germany depends, in turn, upon the whole of Germany joining E.D.C. Whether or not we think that a good idea we are tied to it by the Vote of this House. Recently, that seems to have been forgotten.
We also need to have German divisions, in the long run, to maintain the effective defence of Europe. Certainly, we need to have them so long as there is no truce in Indo-China. Nearly all the best part of the French Army is locked up in Indo-China and unable to give any real help in the defence of Europe. To have Germany in E.D.C. would also be to the interest of Russia. She would be a great deal safer with German rearmament contained within a European Defence Community than in the hands of an independent German State, with complete and absolute sovereignty over its own national army unlimited. That would be as dangerous for the Russians as for France or ourselves.
One of the difficulties in discussing this problem of the European Defence Community is that we are never told by the Government what they have committed us to. The Government have been carrying on conversations, they tell us, with the six Powers concerned and committing us to some sort of an arrangement, but we are not to be told what. In Washington, they can be told; in Brussels, they can be told, but in Westminster we are not allowed to know to what we are being committed by the Government. I believe that we should have a much closer association with the European Defence Community than we so far have. It may be that we shall have, but I do not know.
If the European Defence Community collapses I believe that we should come forward with proposals for a new type of 1363 European Army which we could join without the rigid structure we find objectionable in this country; something more homogeneous than N.A.T.O., but less constricted than E.D.C. Those who think that Germany, with its own separate national Army, should go direct into N.A.T.O. are wrong. The virtue of the European Army idea is that we should be able to have integrated commands, international commands, to the lowest possible level, so that we may know what the German military mind is thinking about all the time.
If the commands are integrated down to corps level there is no possibility of secret training going on in the Black Forest or of all sorts of manœuvres or modifications of the position within Germany. We would know at once what they were doing and we should be able to make them account for it. We could not do that if Germany were an independent and direct member of N.A.T.O. with an entirely sovereign and independent Army.
I have never yet made a speech in a defence debate without advocating a closer British participation in the European Army, and I do not want to change my habits today especially as I was once supported by the Prime Minister himself, who now seems to have abandoned that position. One of my hon. Friends says that the right hon. Gentleman supports so many things that he changes about to suit what he thinks to be his political advantage at any moment.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I hope that I am not giving anybody apoplexy over there. When the Prime Minister made his first speech on this subject at Strasbourg he advocated British participation in the European Army because, he said, the whole concept of the European Army would be a tonic for Europe—would brace the morale of Europe and would in itself be a good thing. I absolutely agreed, and I still do.
Finally, I would say that in the field of defence generally we should continue to be as resolute and determined to build up our defences as we have been for the last three years, because this is a policy which is at last beginning to pay the dividends which we hoped it would pay. 1364 It would be insane to abandon it just at the moment when we are beginning to get the most profit from it. At the same time, we should take advantage of any lightening of tension that that policy may produce to modify our own forces, and to adjust ourselves to the economic breezes as well, and to make sure that we get the utmost advantage from what we are spending. We should be resolute, but we should not spend more than we need to spend as we move into a period when our resolution produces good results.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
It is not very often that I agree with the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), but tonight I agree with some of the more serious aspects of his speech, with the exception of the most unworthy remarks which he made about the Prime Minister. We know that he did that to try to raise a cheer from his own hon. Friends, and to do that one needs to have a little dig at someone else; but nobody takes what he said seriously.
I wish to make one comment about the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). As one who has had long experience, I should like to tell him as a matter of actual fact that it is impossible to train a man adequately to fight in a modern tank and to operate the wireless and the gun in under two years. I tried to do it in war working seven days a week 14 or 15 hours a day, and it was difficult. Under peace conditions it is impossible. I say that categorically as a fact. Whether we are to expect a lower standard of training is another matter; but do not let us tell the people that it is possible to train a man for modern warfare in 18 months even in the infantry.
Hon. Members opposite have mentioned a reduction in our commitments, but if they consider the matter carefully they will find that the number of men it would be possible to withdraw would not enable us to reduce National Service to 18 months. As I have said repeatedly in our debates, I am opposed to conscription. I always have been. One volunteer is worth ten conscripts. I look forward to the day when the pay and the amenities of the Forces are raised 1365 to such an extent that service in the Forces competes adequately with industry; the day when our commitments abroad are so reduced that we can fulfil them with an entirely volunteer Army serving for only three years abroad and coming home in rotation. Whatever I can do in a minor way to assist to bring that day nearer I shall do willingly.
But let us realise, and let us announce to the mothers, fathers, and sweethearts of our soldiers that what will happen if we reduce National Service too soon is that a greater burden will be thrown on the Regular Service men who will have to serve longer abroad. If the Regular has to serve longer abroad, then recruiting will fall even more than it is falling now, with the result that eventually we shall have to reintroduce National Service. Do not let us get into that vicious circle.
I should like to comment on the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). I remember well that when we were in Opposition we used to have a committee meeting at about this time of the year and say, "What are we to talk about this time?" Whoever was to open the debate would say, "I will ask a few interrogatory questions; that will get the debate going, and we can go on from there." That is precisely what the right hon. Gentleman did. Of all the many speeches he has made, this was the weakest which I have heard. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman will not bully me. I have had to deal with nastier people than him.
I want to talk for a short time about the Middle East. With a few minor exceptions we all agree that the Canal is an international waterway. Through it 100 million tons of shipping go in a week. Only 35 per cent. of it is British. To move our vast base from its present position would cost £500 million. It is a base which dealt with 500,000 tons of stores a month during the peak period of the last war.
With those facts as a background, I want to say that that base as it is now without any assistance from other bases will not support whatever Forces are intended in the field in the event of what we clearly envisage, and that is an invasion from the North between the Caspian and the Black Sea or through 1366 North-East Persia by Russian forces. The very simple reason is that it is too far away. It is 900 miles away from the probable battlefield.
I want to give an example from the last war to illustrate my argument. When the battle of North Africa reached Tripoli it was discovered that until Tripoli could be opened as a base the Army could not move one yard further. It was not until Tripoli was built up with 30 days' stores in reserve that the Army could proceed. Incidentally, Tripoli is exactly 900 miles from Fayid. The base at Fayid is too far away to support operations on a large scale if a Russian army descends between the Caspian and the Black Sea with a view to advancing on the Persian Gulf and the oilfields.
Therefore, my suggestion is that we cannot leave that base—on that we all agree—but we must have two forward bases, one at Alexandretta and the other at Basra, to be supplied from the main base in exactly the way in which Tripoli was a forward base for the Eighth Army supplied from the base at Fayid. It is 900 miles in both cases. No Army can operate beyond 900 miles from its base. That was proved in the last war.
I hope that our friends the Arabs in the Persian Gulf, who are very great friends of ours, will realise that they will never be sacrificed and that we and the N.A.T.O. countries will ensure, with the help of Turkey, that we are in a position to prevent quite effectively any attack on the Persian Gulf oilfields. Turkey is on the flank of any defence and I believe possesses 30 divisions.
I turn now to the question of manpower, and I wish to say a word or two in regard to the voluntary element of the Territorial Army, particularly the officers, the senior N.C.O.s and the staff officers, who are finding it extremely hard to keep up with the work which is imposed upon them. Most of these people work very hard during the week, and I know several officers of Territorial armoured divisions who have to spend Saturday and Sunday keeping up with the paper work which is going through the office in order to keep the organisation going at all.
There should be an improvement here. I know exactly what is the reason for it; in fact, there are two reasons. 1367 One is that the Territorial Army is the first-line reinforcement of the Army in Germany, and has to be prepared to go out there within approximately six weeks' notice in the event of a crisis, and therefore it has to be in a very high state of readiness. No doubt at one time it was necessary that it should be in such a state of readiness, but I wonder if it is any longer quite as necessary. What is happening is that the very good voluntary element, finding that they cannot compete, have to leave. I think that would be disastrous. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has now returned to the Treasury bench, perhaps I may repeat that I was asking him if he could not arrange to reduce some of the work imposed upon the voluntary officers, senior N.C.O.s and staff officers of Territorial Army formations, in order that these men may get some of the week-end to themselves.
One other point on the question of manpower concerns education. I would emphasise strongly that most married personnel today, unlike the days before the war, demand—and intend to see that they get—a really first-class education for their children, and if they find that they cannot get it in the Army they will quit at the earliest moment. There is a good deal of inevitable disturbance of families in the Army today, and I ask the Secretary of State urgently to consider this matter, in consultation with local authorities at home and authorities abroad, in order to see that the children of the married personnel get the finest education that it is possible to give them, and that they have every assistance in getting it.
I come now to the technical part of my speech, about which I feel strongly, and it concerns this question of modern weapons. I was one of those in favour of the .280 rifle. I believe that the old rifle is out of date, and I am not at all sure that the rifle is any good to an infantryman anyway. I knew infantry commanding officers who asked if they could leave their rifles behind; they did, and got on all the better for it. The old idea of shooting with rifles, as in the Boer War, at a range of a thousand yards, is completely out of date. Therefore, I hope the whole question of the rifle is being tackled.
1368 I want to see infantry moving in vehicles which can cross the country, because the roads will not be available for use, certainly not in daylight, and they will be extremely uncomfortable at night under enemy air attack. The old idea of mobility in lorries on the roads, whatever the distance between the lorries, is out of date. The modern infantry formation has to be highly mechanised, with high fire power in their hands to be able to compete with large numbers of enemy troops attacking in mass.
I think the time has also come to take stock of our tanks. I have been with tanks since 1936, so that I hope that hon. Members will realise that I do not say these things lightly and without having given them serious thought. I certainly would not say the sort of thing I am now going to say unless I had given this matter serious thought. I am not at all sure that the day of the large tank is not finished. It was originally designed as a weapon of infantry destruction. Ever since that day, it has gradually evolved as a weapon to combine two roles, that of destroying the enemy tanks, and that of keeping out the enemy anti-tank fire. In my view, it is quite impossible to combine those two roles in one vehicle. As a result, what we have achieved is this great monster carrying enormous armour, which has to be dismantled in order to get it across the Channel. Indeed, I am not at all sure that it has not to be dismantled to get it up to the battlefield. I think we have reached saturation point as far as this kind of weapon is concerned, because it has not got mobility, and cannot pretend to have.
Again, the latest medium tank, the Centurion, costs about £50,000, which is equal to the cost of an entire horse cavalry regiment before the war for a year. What the new tank is going to cost, heaven only knows. These are weapons which can be put out of action by one brave infantryman with an adequate recoilless weapon in his hands. Therefore, let us seriously think what we ought to do about this matter. I am not at all sure that this new tank should not be converted into an S.P. anti-tank gun. Some of its armour will have to go, so that it can be more speedy in movement. Therefore, we should dispense with a certain amount of its armour, and have as a result the tactical use of a mobile self- 1369 propelled anti-tank gun, which I believe is its real role.
In the field of other tanks, we have got the Centurion which can tide over any change-over period. The Centurion is one of the finest tanks which has ever been produced, and it has many years of useful work ahead, but in planning for the future let us seriously think about lots and lots of little tanks, with a low silhouette and nothing but machine-guns as weapons, and use them in their original role for the destruction of infantry. I believe that is the line which should be studied at this moment. We could use them in one large packet or split up into their component parts; then they would be very difficult to locate and very difficult to hit.
We have today several new weapons, including a new type of mine, ground rockets and new infantry anti-tank weapons which are light, mobile and easily carried. We have also got radar, and a far greater and harder hitting air attack than before. Before these various weapons were introduced at the end of the last war, one German panzer division was completely annihilated in battle after only one month's fighting, mostly on the approach march. That shows how, as always happens in history, the batting is beginning to beat the bowling. That is why I wish most earnestly to urge all those brought up in armour, who have learnt all their lessors in armour and got all their promotion through armour, to think again and see whether it is not the time now to think of an entirely new concept as between infantry and armour.
Finally, I am not at all happy that all is well in our rearmament programme. Quite apart from the slowing down announced by the Prime Minister in the winter, the process seems to be going very stickily indeed. The Ministry of Supply should seek out the bottle necks and eliminate them. There appears to me to be something wrong somewhere. The materials and the money appear to be available, and yet there is a slip between the bat and the ropes, and the ball is not quite getting there. I hope that the Ministry of Supply will realise that the Services are getting worried about it and will before long have a serious investigation into this matter.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I should have liked very much to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) along some of the interesting paths which he has laid out for us this evening, but I want to keep my remarks very rigidly within limits because I think that so far in this debate we have concentrated almost entirely on what one might call the strategical and weapon aspect, and that, with the exception of one or two speeches, notably that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), we have ignored the personnel question.
It is no use the House talking about defence and ignoring those who have got to make it effective. I suppose that with all the wonderful weapons which we possess today, we still need soldiers to operate them just as much as we did in the days of Agincourt or on the beaches of Normandy, and it is in relation to that aspect of defence that I wish to raise a question which concerns the War Office, and particularly the Secretary of State for War. If I could have raised this matter on an Adjournment Motion on Friday, I would have done so, but that is not possible. Therefore, if I am to keep to the notice which I gave the House that I would raise the subject at an early moment, tonight is the only opportunity I have of doing so.
It is in connection with a recent occurrence affecting the welfare of British soldiers with which hon. Members are all conversant. I want to ventilate this grievance because it is something which has created doubts in the minds of many hon. Members and of the public outside. It has to do with the administration of the Army, particularly in respect of its medical services.
The House will recollect that yesterday the Secretary of State for War made a statement on the recent court-martial of Colonel Gleave who was charged with two specific charges, on both of which he was acquitted, and on one of them honourably acquitted. The point about which I wish to ask the Secretary of State for War is that concerning the diagnosis made in the case of the late Private Harrison. Of course, physicians, like politicians, all make mistakes, but it is said that physicians are more easily able to cover them up.
1371 I cannot imagine why in an illness so serious as a malignant disease, which was found out quite quickly when a physical examination was made, it was not possible to make an earlier diagnosis. I do not say that an earlier diagnosis would have saved the man's life, but I do say that it might have prevented the inhuman treatment which he received before his death.
I cannot understand—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us—why not only the Army medical officers failed, but also the Ministry of Labour doctors failed to diagnose the disease when they examined this Service man before he was called up. Why were no X-ray photographs taken of him? One would have thought that in the case of a man who complained that he was in pain and could not walk and who exhibited various other symptoms, including hysteria, the doctors would have taken all the precautions possible to enable them to form a proper diagnosis.
It appears to me that only a superficial examination was undertaken by the doctors at the Army hospital, and I think that anybody who reads the evidence of the court-martial, which is available to hon. Members in the Library of this House, will see that there is a strong feeling underlying all that evidence that there ought to have been a more careful examination. I believe that in one part of his evidence Colonel Gleave stated that after this occurrence he gave specific orders that much more careful examinations were to be made of patients on admission to hospital.
I venture to suggest that had this occurred in a civil hospital there might have been a court action for damages, and judging by previous cases where doctors have been sued for negligence, I suggest that had such action been possible in this case a certain individual would have been mulcted in very substantial damages.
There is another aspect of this case which I want to draw to the attention of the House and that of the right hon. Gentleman. Are men such as Private Harrison really of any use to the Army? In one or two of the speeches so far made in this debate, the question of recruiting figures has been discussed. But is it any use the Army filling up its ranks 1372 with third-rate individuals who can only be a liability to the Service and possibly a burden to the taxpayer if, as I believe in this case, their dependants become a charge on the Revenue of the country in the shape of pensions either because disease was contracted or aggravated while the deceased were undergoing National Service?
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that these individuals are much more of a burden than an asset to the Army, and that the sooner we become more selective in our examination of either recruits or National Service men, the better it will be for the Army and for the country, and certainly incidents like this will be avoided.
I wish to refer to the personal position of the Secretary of State for War in this matter. I believe that by his actions prior to this court-martial, by the statements which he made in this House in reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Stockport, North (Wing Commander Hulbert), the Secretary of State has done a grievous injustice to one of his officers, which is something that a right hon. Gentleman in his position should not do.
On 16th June, the right hon. Gentleman issued a statement which seemed to most of us to be a very frank and open one and which had the effect of mollifying some of the criticism which was evident not only in this House but also on the part of the public outside. The right hon. Gentleman set up a court of inquiry, as a result of which he took it upon himself to say about one of his commanding officers:I have been into the whole of this serious occurrence most carefully.He then went on to say that he was convinced that it was not a fault in the method of procedure, but the failure of certain individuals to carry out their duties. He also said:Members of the Army Medical Service carry heavy responsibilities and those who fail to discharge them must be called to account.He concluded by saying:The commanding officer will be called to account for his conduct in this matter, and is to be tried by court-martial."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th June, 1953; Vol. 516, c. 44.]The right hon. Gentleman gave us the impression yesterday that he was giving Colonel Gleave an opportunity to clear 1373 himself of certain accusations by way of a court-martial.
§ Mr. Bellenger
By his own statement the right hon. Gentleman had assumed, as a result of the court of inquiry, that there was a prima facie case of guilt against this commanding officer.
§ Mr. Head
If the right hon. Gentleman had been in my job, on what other thing than a court of inquiry could he have based his decision on whether or not Colonel Gleave was to be court-martialled? I had a court of inquiry, but it is not like the evidence in a court-martial. How else could I have made my decision as to whether he should be court-martialled?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am in full agreement with the right hon. Gentleman. Certainly, if he thought that Colonel Gleave should be court-martialled he should have said so, but he should not have coupled with that a statement which pointed to Colonel Gleave as guilty of two very serious offences. What were those offences?
§ Mr. Head
I am sorry to argue with the right hon. Gentleman in the middle of his speech, but this is important. Suppose I had said what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that Colonel Gleave would be court-martialled. There could have been nothing in the public mind but the inference that Colonel Gleave was accused of being responsible for the ill-treatment of Harrison. I specified that the reason Colonel Gleave was being charged had nothing to do with the ill-treatment of Harrison but was purely on the facts that I had deduced from the evidence available to me from the court of inquiry about what happened after the ill-treatment had occurred. I specified that Colonel Gleave was not concerned in the ill-treatment of Harrison.
§ Mr. Bellenger
That was not the impression that was gained outside or even inside this House. The right hon. Gentleman impugned Colonel Gleave's honour. Let us put no gloss on it; the impression which the right hon. Gentleman left in the mind of anybody who can understand the Queen's English was that Colonel Gleave had lied. One of 1374 those accusations was the substance of the charge at the court-martial. Who made those charges up? Was it done in the Judge Advocate General's Department or in the right hon. Gentleman's own office, and were they brought to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman? Did he approve of those two charges, one of which suggested that Colonel Gleave was lying and of which he was honourably acquitted?
The right hon. Gentleman had some evidence at his court of inquiry which unfortunately the House does not know about. That court of inquiry was private, or at any rate not public, and on that court of inquiry the right hon. Gentleman made his statement. If a court-martial is to take place, surely the right hon. Gentleman should be much more reticent in his remarks. He need not have said all that, or given the impression that Colonel Gleave was lying. Indeed, those two offences with which the officer was charged under Section 40 of the Army Act might have resulted, if he had been found guilty, in cashiering and if that officer had appealed to Her Majesty, as he has the right to do, the Secretary of State for War would have had to give Her Majesty certain advice. In his attempt to mollify the House the right hon. Gentleman went too far in assuming the guilt of this commanding officer.
The fact is that officers in the Army are not allowed to answer the Secretary of State back. They are not able, by the customs of the Service, to criticise any of their superiors, and least of all the Secretary of State himself. Therefore, it is incumbent on the right hon. Gentleman who has to occupy the position of head of the Army Council for the time being to be very careful about what he says about his officers, and of other ranks too; otherwise the morale of the Service, and especially of the commissioned ranks, might suffer. At the trial, defending counsel referred obliquely to the right hon. Gentleman's statement, and used it to show that his client Colonel Gleave had been prejudiced, at any rate as far as his military career was concerned, by something that the Secretary of State said.
§ Mr. Head
Supposing that I had decided not to court-martial Colonel Gleave; would not Colonel Gleave's 1375 career have been infinitely more prejudiced? After the proceedings of the court of inquiry it would have been extremely difficult for the Army to employ him afterwards. It is far better to have a court-martial and leave him clear than to leave him under the court of inquiry.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I do not disagree. Of course, Colonel Gleave should have been court-martialled, and of course after the court of inquiry the right hon. Gentleman should have given orders for the court-martial, but he should have left it at that and should not have added his own comments on this officer's conduct. That is all I am saying. I am not objecting to the officer being court-martialled. As it happened, he was vindicated by his own colleagues and comrades. That vindication was not possible after the Secretary of State made that remark, as he could not have been challenged, as he was, by the verdict of the court-martial. I only wish that the right hon. Gentleman would give us some of the details that he read in the documents produced by the court of inquiry and which led him to make the statement he did. The House would be better able to judge from the evidence—which was not adduced at the court-martial because the charges were limited—whether Colonel Gleave had done something very seriously wrong.
The right hon. Gentleman said in his statement yesterday that he was still convinced that the medical specialist and the day sister had failed in their duty. That is another portion of the court of inquiry. Those two individuals had been condemned by the Secretary of State, and until the professional bodies to which they belong have had their say, this House has no right to assume, on the right hon. Gentleman's own words, that they were as guilty of serious misconduct as the right hon. Gentleman's statement led us to believe.
I want to raise a final item in this case. I do not want to overstress the point about the right hon. Gentleman. In many respects he has done quite a lot for the Army since he has been in his position, but this case shows that at times his judgment is not sure, and that he is guilty of doing something which reacts against those who are subordinate to him. It is 1376 because I think he has done that in this case that I have raised it tonight.
There were two witnesses at this court-martial, Private Nicholson and Private Rosser, one a man and the other a woman. They did their duty in bringing this case to light, but I am bound to say that I disagree with the way in which they set to work to do it. All the evidence of the court-martial goes to show that they were not animated by such high motives of public duty as we were led to believe by merely reading the Press reports. The fact remains that, if they had not brought it to light, this House, which is the guardian of the National Service man, would not have known that one Service man who was grievously ill had been inhumanly treated by Army medical personnel. It is because I want the right hon. Gentleman to investigate his medical services a little bit more closely that I have brought this case before the House tonight.
In connection with Private Rosser, the evidence shows that she is pregnant. In due course, presumably, she will become a mother. I am going to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he does not think it would be as well to relieve her of her uniform. I know some of the difficulties with which the right hon. Gentleman is faced, but the fact remains, and this is in the evidence produced at the court-martial, that the psychiatric report about Private Rosser recommended that she should be discharged long before this case occurred. With that to go upon, and with certain other events which have happened since this case, I think the right hon. Gentleman would be most unwise to keep her in the Service even though, as I believe, his intentions are good and he wants to do the best he can for her in her difficulty. It is not his duty to look after unfortunate cases like that. The civil welfare services in this country can do that and there are many good Army charities which might be able to help better than can the War Offices
Hon. Members saw that photograph the other day of this girl being arrested after again being absent without leave. She was in a highly distraught and almost hysterical condition. Does the right hon. Gentleman want that to happen frequently when this girl goes absent, as she will and, as is reported in this morning's papers, she has already done? Is she 1377 to be brought under arrest continually with photographers there to show how she has been pulled back into custody? In the right hon. Gentleman's own interest and in the interest of the Army, he had better let her go her way into civil life.
I think that I have said enough to disclose that in my mind there is some doubt about the way in which the right hon. Gentleman has acted, and also some doubt about the administration of the medical services. Colonel Gleave has been acquitted by court-martial of the two limited charges that were laid against him, but I suspect very much that the administration of that hospital under Colonel Gleave was not all that it should have been and he as commanding officer must take his share of the blame for what happened. It may be that he can say that he did not know what was going on, but the right hon. Gentleman has been an officer and he will know that officers have to take the blame for the mistakes of those under them.
§ Dr. H. Morgan (Warrington)
Surely this is a very disgraceful charge and insinuation to make against an officer who is now subject to a review of his general conduct in connection with this incident. Surely it is unfair that an hon. Member in this House, a privileged place in which any statement made cannot be challenged in law and in the courts, should make a statement about this officer when his conduct is subject to review by his employers—and employers like the Army. This is quite unfair.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I do not think that this is subject to review. This commanding officer has been acquitted of two specific charges against his honour. He has not been charged with any offence as to his administration of this hospital and I am entitled to say, with full responsibility, that when an incident like this happens in an Army hospital it raises grave doubts in our minds about all concerned. Two of them, one the medical specialist and the other the day sister, have been reported to their professional organisations. Colonel Gleave has not. I am bound to say that I hope that Colonel Gleave does not go back as commanding officer of that hospital. I merely say that the right hon. Gentleman had better investigate a little more closely what is 1378 happening in some of his hospitals, otherwise he may lose the good will of the public on which he depends if he is to have a contented Army and contented parents with boys in the Army.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head) rose——
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
On a point of order. Before the Secretary of State addresses the House would you consider, Mr. Speaker——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We cannot have both the hon. Member and the right hon. Gentleman standing at the same time.
§ Mr. Speaker
What I was trying to secure was that both the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman should not remain standing while I was standing.
§ Mr. Stewart
I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. The point that I wish to put is that there may very well be other hon. Members who would like to comment on the matter to which I think the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War was rising to reply. I wondered whether any way could be devised whereby hon. Members who might wish to add something further to what has been said on the subject could do so before the right hon. Gentleman makes his comment.
§ Mr. Head
I was told by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) that he was raising this matter. As this was a defence debate and this subject was somewhat outside the usual scope I was also asked if I would reply to the right hon. Gentleman, and I was rising to give a reply, so as to enable other hon. Members who want to speak in the debate to get on with other matters.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have no means of knowing whether hon. Members wish to pursue this topic or any other, but, speaking from experience, I would say that as this matter which has been raised in a defence debate is a perfectly proper intrusion into the debate under the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill it is better for the House to hear the right hon. Gentleman's reply to what has been said.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw was courteous enough to give me notice that he was going to raise this matter. Indeed, he gave me notice of the points which he was going to raise. In intervening in the debate, I should like to apologise, having been a back bencher for six years, for being an additional Front Bencher intervening today. I know the irritation that that causes, but I can assure those on the back benches who may be feeling irritated that it is not of my own choice that I am intervening.
I think I am not saying anything too strong against the right hon. Gentleman when I say that what he has rather implied is that there was a scandal in the medical hospital and as a result I decided to avoid difficulty in the House by being extremely rough with my own officers. That is the inference that I make from the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I do not particularly wish to defend myself, but that is a strong charge to make against anybody in my position. Therefore, wasting as little time as possible, I should like to explain the position to the House, because I think that there are few things more contemptible when one gets into trouble personally than to get out of it by being unduly rough with officers in the organisation which one represents.
First, the right hon. Gentleman stated that it was extremely wrong that there was no subsequent examination of this man after the first preliminary examination when he was admitted to hospital, and he said that that was a thing which I should investigate. But it is exactly for that reason—that there was no second examination—that I reported Major Hobson to the professional body. It is laid down by the medical regulations in the Army that that second examination must take place, and it never took place. It is an absolute travesty of everything that I have said to the House for the right hon. Gentleman to say that I should look into the matter.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman said that we should not allow Grade 3 men to go into the Army. I will not argue that or its relevance to this case, except to say that it was the right hon. Gentleman's own Government who introduced the admission of Grade 3 men into 1380 the Army. I believe that it was a justified step, because I do not think that a man who has a physical disability which would allow him to do clerical duties should have a two years' start in civil life because of it. The right hon. Gentleman's own Government introduced this provision and it is no use his putting that against me.
The right hon. Gentleman said that I did a grievous injustice to Lieut.-Colonel Gleave because I said what I did say in my statement. I have tried to explain the position in my previous statement yesterday, and I will explain it again now. I am in a very peculiar position; I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has ever been in this position. There is a court of inquiry, and one reads the report of it very carefully. One has the G.O.C.'s comments on the report. I cannot tell the House what is in those documents, and I believe that state of affairs to be right; nor are they admissible in the court-martial. Therefore, I am deciding what steps to take about Lieut.-Colonel Gleave on a document which I cannot explain to the House and the contents of which cannot be divulged to the court-martial.
I decided, after consultation with the Director-General of the Army Medical Services and with my other chief advisers, that the only fair thing—I use the word "fair" advisedly—was to ensure that Lieut.-Colonel Gleave's Army career would not be prejudiced. The right hon. Gentleman says, "Very well, why specify so closely what you were saying against him?" I say again that, supposing I had said nothing, the general public would have inferred that it was Lieut.-Colonel Gleave's fault that this boy had had wrong treatment. If he had been found guilty, in my opinion that would have been the general impression among the general public.
What Lieut.-Colonel Gleave was being court-martialled for was nothing to do with Harrison's alleged ill-treatment. It was purely concerned with what had happened after it was all over. I believe, wrongly or rightly, that that was better for Lieut.-Colonel Gleave. If I was wrong I accept it, but at the time I was not being vindictive against Lieut.-Colonel Gleave, nor was I attempting to get out of the situation. I thought that was the best thing to do.
1381 The last point that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned was the question of the witnesses. The story of the witnesses has been an unhappy one. Since I cannot divulge the contents of this document, I can only tell the House that when I decided to take the action which I did take in this case, I was well aware of what the House and the public know about the witnesses. I did not at the time believe that they were two pure saintly types who had done this for the public good. I was aware of certain facts of which the House was not then aware and which have come to light since. I do not want to do anything vindictive or unfair to these two people. They have had their own difficulties of which, goodness knows, we are only too well aware.
There is Private Rosser. I do not wish to divulge too much to the House of her own private affairs, but supposing—I put this hypothetically—that I were to discharge her from the Army as a potential mother, and she had no visible means of support and nowhere to go except this unfortunate man who is already married, and she got into trouble, would not the House accuse me much more strongly than if I were to keep her under adequate care until we can be certain that she will go to some place where she will be looked after? I have been much accused, and it would be easier for me to say, "I discharge Private Rosser and, therefore, I have done the noble thing." It would have been the easiest course, but I suggest that it would have been the wrong course.
I have one last thing to say on this matter. I regret this occurrence as much as anybody else in this House. As far as the Army is concerned, I want to convince the mothers of boys who are called up for National Service that the Army gives them a good deal and runs a good show. I want people to think that the Army is a good place. Recently, we have had a certain number of unfortunate cases which have gone against that impression. I ask the House sincerely to believe that I accept full responsibility for these things, and that I am prepared to answer for them and take full blame for them.
But may I remind hon. Members of this? These incidents, naturally and inevitably, are news. What the Army is doing all over the world is not news. In 1382 the middle of these unfortunate events, may I take this opportunity of reminding the House that all over the world, with hardly anything being said about it, the Army is doing a job for which the House and the nation owe it an enormous debt. It is carrying the major burden of the cold war, and it is doing it magnificently. My fault is for these things, but the Army's credit is for the job which it is doing overseas.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
I am sure that the Secretary of State will not mind if I go back to the main subject of the debate. May I say, in passing, as someone who has listened relatively detached during the last hour, that he convinced me that he has taken this matter in the right way, and I accept his explanation.
I should like to go back to the speeches, all of which I had heard, and say that, having heard them all, I am still impressed by the speech of the "boneless wonder"—the Leader of the House. I doubt whether a more remarkable speech has been made than the speech which we heard from the right hon. Gentleman, except that made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week, when he opened the debate on foreign affairs. He opened it with a number of platitudes which, as far as I can see, were written in the Foreign Office. The only difference between that speech and the speech we heard this afternoon is that the right hon. Gentleman's platitudes this afternoon were spontaneous and he told us nothing whatsoever about what is to be done. His general theme was that nothing has happened since the start of the Korean campaign which would justify any major change in our defence policy or in the burden of defence.
I want to argue, as briefly as I can, that a substantial number of things have happened; not only have they happened, but under this Government substantial changes have already taken place. I should like hon. Members to cast their minds back, as I did this morning, to the debates which we had in September, 1950, and February, 1951, when the armaments programme was launched. I know it is embarrassing to remember what one said three years ago, but those who believe that nothing has changed in this period 1383 had better read what they were saying three years ago.
We launched the defence programme under the impact of the Korean war. It was assumed at that time, in speech after speech from both the Labour Government and the Conservative Opposition, that the Korean war had proved that military aggression was an imminent risk to Europe. It was my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) who said that as this had happened in Korea, it might happen anywhere else in the world; it might be Yugoslavia or Eastern Germany. The assumption that the Korean war would lead to other acts of a similar nature, if not to general war, was the justification for the whole defence programme.
That programme was really a telescoping of a 10-year defence programme, first, in September, 1950, into a five-year programme and, finally, in February, 1951, into a three-year programme. Of course, if we decide to rearm within three years it means building obsolescent weapons. The year 1953 was to be the year in which war was to occur. This was the year of destiny, the year for which we were planning. It was this year when the enemy's attacks would have to be met. If we plan in 1950 to be ready in 1953, we do not plan the weapons of 1960; we plan the weapons which we have got—the obsolescent weapons. Therefore, this kind of rearmament is enormously costly if the war does not happen to come off, because by 1953 we have the obsolescent weapons coming out in great quantities.
I do not blame anyone for this; I am only stating a fact. We were planning in May 1950, on a 10-year schedule; in September, 1950, on a five-year schedule; and in February, 1951, on a three-year schedule; and now, when the Leader of the House says there has been no change, I would point out that the change is that we are no longer on a three-year schedule. The Prime Minister has switched back. The war is no longer imminent. We have gone back to a position such as we were in before the Korean war, in terms of military planning.
I therefore say to hon. and right hon. Members on the Front Bench that we in the Opposition have a perfect right—and this was the first point which my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington 1384 made—to say, "Since these major changes have occurred; since you have gone back from planning for three years to planning for we do not know how long—five, seven or 10 years—we have the right to know what changes you have made, for there must be major changes in the defence programme once you scrap your three-year programme for imminent war and go for a five-, seven- or 10-year programme."
All we know is that the armament programme has been cut three times by the present Prime Minister. What we do not know in detail is how the extremely awkward transition is to take place from the planning for imminent war in 1953 to the more reasoned planning such as, in my view and that of many of my hon. Friends, we might always have carried out throughout the Korean war if we had kept our senses and not got into a state of hysteria. How is that transfer taking place? I was suprised at my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) who said that, after all, the great lesson we had to learn today was that it was our rearmament, and our rearmament alone, which had caused all the changes in the attitude of the Eastern bloc.
I should have thought that what we ought to have studied was the lesson to be learned from the Korean war. The fact is that we have never seen a war where both sides were more determined to prevent it from spreading. Both sides were willing to have one hand tied behind his back. There were wild men in Washington; there were probably wild men in Peking and Moscow, who said, "Let us try for outright victory in Korea by untying our hands," but the significant fact is that both remained resolutely one-handed and fought under a great disability. Even more significant is the fact that for the first time for over 100 years both sides decided to call it a draw and give up the attempt to achieve outright victory. I should say that this was a very important military fact and a very important test of the willingness of the Western and Eastern world to risk general war.
I give, as an analogy, the situation in 1930. If the Spanish war had been fought to a standstill; if the Republic had been saved and Spain left divided, that would have been a proof of a great many important things. It would have proved the 1385 resoluteness of the Western Powers and also the willingness of the Nazis—would they have been willing?—to be content with stalemate. But that did not happen. In Korea we have had a little taste of total war on a remote peninsula, in which it has been proved conclusively that, despite great popular pressure in America which we know of, and great pressure in Peking and Moscow about which we know much less—despite those wild men—each side has decided that a limited war and a draw is better than general war.
If that is not proof of a change from what was imagined to be the situation when we started the armaments programme in September, 1950, what is? It has proved that that imminent risk which was imagined in 1950—and which was the basis of rearmament—has been removed. We know that now. We have the statements of General Gruenther and of the Prime Minister. Nobody is assuming that war is imminent today—not even the Chiefs of Staff. The proof? Study the cuts in the American arms programme this year; major cuts, about which nothing has been said in this debate and about which I should like to say a word or two later. It is, therefore, reasonable for us to look at the situation—not forgetting the past—and to say that in the Korean armistice we have the most encouraging fact of modern times—a war which has not ended in the total destruction of the other chap but with both sides giving up the fruits of victory in order to avoid a general war.
Since this enormously encouraging armistice has taken place we must now try to balance up once again the economic risks to which we have subjected ourselves in this armaments programme against the military risks which, we must all agree, have now been substantially reduced. I only want to add to what has been said in previous debates some evidence which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has already referred to—the three articles in "The Times" on social security and defence costs.
Even in this House there are great illusions about the burdens on this country's economy. It is felt by many people that the cost of the social services and of defence is divided roughly fifty-fifty; that they are both terribly heavy burdens; that they are both a weight on 1386 taxation, and, somehow, that the burden of social services has increased since 1945 more than that of defence. I should like to read to the House the actual figures. I am not talking of budgetary figures, but I am giving the proportions of the national product, which is the only just way of considering the matter.
Defence takes four-and-a-half times more of the national product today than it did in 1928, when we were a great deal wealthier than we are now. It will be five times by the end of next year. Housing was 4.2 in 1938 and is only 3.2 now. We are spending less of our national resources on housing now because there was a housing boom then to try to mop up unemployment. The health services take 3.0 instead of 1.2, but if we take the actual proportion of the national income we must add what, before the war, was spent on private services, in order to get the real figure, so there is very little change in the real cost of health today as compared with 1938.
On education, we spent 1.9 of the national product in 1938. We spend 2.3 today, which, considering the extra number of children we have, means that we are spending exactly the same per child as we were spending 15 years ago, in the benighted prewar period. The cost of our social services, apart from subsidies, which are a big wartime and postwar addition, have very slightly increased in terms of their proportion of the national product, whereas defence, which in 1938 was 5.9, has jumped to 10 this year and will be 12 next year. Let us make up our minds to face this fact.
The thing which cripples us now, as compared with before the war, is not the burden of the Welfare State, which has hardly increased in terms of national product; it is the burden of defence. I think everybody will agree on one very simple point, which is that our national survival depends on capital investment. For 30 years before the war, under a declining British capitalism, we failed to invest sufficient money in new machinery and plant. For five years afterwards, under a Labour Government, we invested at a higher rate than in the previous 30 years.
Since rearmament started, the capital investment programme has been cut back. It is untrue to say that the cost of rearmament fell mainly on our consumers. Consumption was maintained at very nearly 1387 the same level as before; it sank slightly. What really was cut back was investment, the planning for our future as a trading and manufacturing nation. We all know that Germany, Japan, and America are spending more on capital investment today than we are and the reason for our failure is that one cannot use the engineering industry simultaneously for export, for capital investment and for defence. Something had to go, apart from the export trade, and it was largely capital investment.
I put it in all seriousness that there has been a major change in the world situation since the beginning of the Korean war. It is the way the nations behaved in that war; the proof they gave of their unwillingness to have a general war, and the belief of the General Staff today that war is not now imminent. Yet we are spending 10 per cent. of our national product—twice the amount we spent in 1938—on defence, and we are thereby jeopardising our capital investment.
"The Times" article is perfectly blunt about this. They point out that even if the Conservative Government cut the whole of the food subsidies, even if they took all the miserable little savings they could make on the social services, that would not give us sufficient for the capital investment programme. Something else has to go, and I think it is about time that in these defence debates in the House we faced up to that situation. If the danger is really immense, if we face an imminent war, then everybody will sacrifice his economic future in order to survive; but if the imminent danger is removed, surely it is apposite for the House to look at defence this July and to record the fact that this programme is continuing at a level which, before Korea, would have been thought totally impossible. The fact is, as always happens with Government expenditure, that once you pass the expenditure you begin to take it for granted.
Consider the term of National Service. It was introduced for only six months, explicitly, by my right hon. Friend in September, 1950, as an emergency measure for the particular imminent danger in Europe arising out of Korea. It is now agreed that the imminent danger of aggression in Western Europe has been removed, but we are told that we cannot 1388 get on without two years National Service. If we cannot get on without it, if the vast increase in the defence programme is to stay, if we get on to that plateau of defence costs and stay on it, then in five years' time there will be no chance whatsoever of this country's economy competing either with Germany or Japan or, indeed, with American exports in the first minor recession.
We must be prepared to accept that from "The Times." After all, "The Times" is not a Bevanite paper. But it admits that it is defence which will have to be cut if we are to have the investment which we need, because defence impinges on that very sector of the economy—the engineering industry—which is vital to the capital investment programme.
I must add, however, that so far from cutting defence we face the certainty of increasing it. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley mentioned two important facts. First, we know that next year we shall pay £140 million extra because there will be no American aid; and, secondly, we know that directly the occupation of Germany ceases—and hon. Members opposite are determined to rearm the Germans—directly we cease to be an occupying Power, we shall pay between £80 million and £120 million in dollars for our troops in Germany. Putting the two together, I get £260 million extra without any increased defence whatsoever.
What is the good of right hon. and hon. Members sitting on the Front Bench opposite saying that there have been no changes? What action do they propose to take? How are they to pay the £260 million extra? Is it to be additional to our present defence costs or are we to cut defence so as not to pay any extra? The Foreign Secretary once assured us that the occupation costs—which he then told us would not be as big as in fact they are now—would, somehow or another, not be paid by us. I said that was not so; I said we should have to pay them.
What is to happen? Where are we to find the £260 million extra which it will be necessary to find to keep the reduced defence programme, after its third Churchill cut, going at the present level? The House has the right to know the answer to that question. The Government must have been thinking about it 1389 for the last two months, because they have known about the decision to bring American aid to an end and about the other factors.
There is a third fact which they do not mention, but which I mentioned in the defence debate last year. I pointed out, in the defence debate last February, the danger of having an armaments industry greater than we could afford and selling our surplus products to the Americans. I pointed out that if we relied on that, one day it might be cut off. I was told that that was idiotic nonsense, that I simply did not know about America and that I was being positively anti-American in distrusting what the official Washington hand-out said instead of reading what Mr. Taft said. I thought that Mr. Taft knew more about the future than the official State Department handout. Now we are faced with this situation; in addition to losing direct dollar aid we are losing the purchase of the arms, because if the Americans do not give aid to France and the other European nations, they will not buy our Centurions or our jets, and so we shall lose the orders.
What is to happen to the 25,000 workers in Coventry now engaged on armaments production, mostly for sale to America? What is to happen next year if Senator Taft is right and foreign aid is wound up altogether? I had my doubts about whether being merchants of death was a very sound investment for the British engineering industry and I made my protest against it. Now I ask the Government directly what preparations are being made in view of the clear knowledge that the arms programme for America's allies is to be cut to the bone next year and to go altogether in the following year? What is to happen to all those gorgeous tanks which we have built, which we cannot afford to have for ourselves and which other people will not buy? What is to happen to the workers? Is it not time that we tried to switch these factories and to recapture the export markets which we have lost?
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I think the hon. Member is inaccurate in his inference that American aid is to be cut off right away. Some of the offshore orders for jet aircraft will occupy our factories for no fewer than three 1390 years' ahead, which will give a breathing space for the organisations to consider how to change over. It may create alarm in the aircraft industry if it goes out from the House of Commons that these orders are to disappear altogether in the next few months.
§ Mr. Crossman
I do not want to create alarm but I want to remove illusions, and it is about time the aircraft industry realised that orders without appropriations mean nothing in America. There are many American civil servants who do not get paid salaries because the appropriation does not come, and it is, therefore, no good our armaments industry believing that, because they have an order for 100 tanks, the dollars will necessarily be provided by Congress to pay for the tanks. It is what I call a precarious type of enterprise to rely on Congressional appropriation from year to year. One takes the order and starts making the job, and then Congress changes its mind. I was against that in principle.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
Had we not accepted the orders it would have put British people out of work and made the situation worse.
§ Mr. Crossman
On the contrary; if we had not accepted the orders and had not switched our factories from making peaceful products to making wartime products, we could have held our export markets, which were taken over by the Germans when we switched to armaments production. The Germans had no armaments production and they have been taking up our orders all over the world. Because we were engaged on arms programme we could not make the exports, and we lost the contracts. That is a point which we made time after time, and slowly it is sinking in.
I want to make two other points. First, let us agree that, economically, the whole future of this country depends upon a huge capital investment programme in agriculture, engineering and chemicals. That cannot be done as long as we keep our defence programme at anything approaching the present level. Secondly, some hon. Members suggest that our 11 divisions overseas are all there defending the free world against Communism. This is an illusion. The four in Germany are playing their part in 1391 an international defence force, as is the one Commonwealth division in Korea; but do not let us have any nonsense by suggesting that the three and a half divisions in Egypt are there because the Americans asked us to put them there or because anybody else except this House asked them to be there. They are an imperial obligation, something which we took on ourselves, without arousing any great enthusiasm among any of our allies.
The two divisions in Malaya are not all that altruistic either, nor is the one division in Hong Kong, nor the five battalions in Kenya, nor those units which are to be sent to Central Africa. I reckon that two-thirds of the overseas divisions are holding the Empire or using military force to maintain imperial influence. It is, therefore, an issue of policy whether to defend our interests by the methods shown by the Leader of the Opposition in his Indian policy rather than by the methods which we have been using lately in Africa and in the Middle East.
The decision to cut imperial commitments is not a scuttle decision. It is a decision to carry out systematically, in the rest of the Commonwealth, the policy which we followed in India, Pakistan and Ceylon. I say frankly to the House that until we are prepared to cease to try holding the Middle East by force the Middle East will not be our ally. An hon. Members opposite says that we will never secrifice the Arabs. But there is nobody in the Middle East who does not regard it as an imposition to be defended by us. We are the main enemy in the Middle East. Ask any Egyptian. We have not had one treaty voluntarily negotiated with a Middle Eastern State since the war for the purpose of maintaining our forces in that area.
We know about the treaty of Portsmouth with Iraq, which was negotiated with champagne, but before the Prime Minister of that country could fly home again he had been disowned by his Government. Do not let us have any nonsense about Middle Eastern States wanting to be protected. They want to be free. Are we to cripple our economy by maintaining an imperial situation which is ultimately untenable? That is sheer lunacy.
1392 On 11th May we had the Prime Minister's speech about Egypt, with the new tough line. On that occasion the Tory back benchers were represented by the Prime Minister, who threw out the Foreign Secretary's policy of appeasement and substituted the tough policy. We have had two months of that. It was said that that would bring the Egyptians to their senses. But, Sir Brian Robertson has flown back and we are negotiating after all. Everybody in Cairo and every other capital in the Middle East knows that the British must negotiate and must accept evacuation. Meanwhile, we are spending £50 million a year to keep troops in Egypt—that is what we are spending this year—and we are ruining our capital investment programme by doing so.
In Cairo, I met a very distinguished diplomatist who had come from the Far East, and I asked him what he thought of Cairo. He replied, "I have always heard that the Chinese are supposed to be concerned about face but I have never seen so much face-saving as is going on on the part of the British in Cairo today. They forget about their interest and are merely concerned about their prestige." By so doing, they are undermining their prestige and ruining the economy of this country.
I now come to the central issue of the cuts that we could make. We have 3½ divisions in Egypt. It would have been of tremendous benefit to our position in the Middle East if the troops had been taken out four years ago. Ernest Bevin wanted to get them out in 1946. He got agreement about this, but failed because of the Sudan. Why should not the agreement which was good enough in 1946 be good enough for the present Government, an agreement under which our technicians would be there not as British officers and men but—I believe it is called "Operation Flannel Bags"—as civilians, therefore removing the national sovereignty objections which the Egyptians hold very strongly? Responsible men knew well that the only justification for the Sudan Agreement was as a prelude to a rapid agreement about the Canal Zone, a reduction in our commitments and a reduction in the threat to our economic future.
If our present policy is continued in Kenya and Central Africa, there is no doubt that we shall need three or four 1393 divisions to hold that area. The issue of whether we can cut our military commitments is not a military issue but an issue of the foreign policy. If we have a policy which seeks to substitute "Commonwealth" for "Dominion" we have a policy which can cut commitments and we can then hold these people as our friends, just as the people of the Gold Coast are our friends. If we are to have the East African policy, an increasing number of soldiers will be required, and we shall have ruin at home and the growth of Communism all over the world. It is simple. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence agrees with me.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (Mr. Nigel Birch) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Crossman
I should like to hear the Government's policy on this matter. The term of National Service is only justifiable, as has now been pointed out, not in terms of training reserves but in terms of what number of conscripts we require to maintain our overseas commitments. Somebody will probably say, "If we cut the term of National Service, we shall be disloyal to the Americans." But the Americans have cut their National Service this year. The "New York Times," which publishes reputable news, has reported that the present strength of the U.S. armed forces is 2,290,000 and that the cut this year will be 160,000, of whom 15,000 will be Regulars, 67,000 National Guard and 77,000 National Service or draft. That is a cut of 15 per cent. in the National Guard and 9 per cent. in the National Service or draft.
Did the Americans come to N.A.T.O. and discuss it? No. Like every other member of N.A.T.O., except the British, they decided unilaterally to do it. The Americans have cut down their air force, cut the budget, cut manpower. If America could cut the manpower of her armed forces before she had finished the Korean war, in which she was the major participant, why is it impossible for us to look after our own economic future and reduce our National Service? I am not saying anything critical of the Americans, for they have a right to do it, but I criticise hon. Members who, when we suggest this, say, "We cannot do this without consulting N.A.T.O." So poor old 1394 Britain goes on consulting N.A.T.O. and maintaining a manpower burden in her Services higher than that of everybody else, and everybody else is sensibly and calmly disarming.
We are "carrying the can" and ruining ourselves. That sort of altruism was all right for a great Empire when we had a lot of fat to lop off, but today we have not got the fat to lop off. Our production is still not higher than it was in 1951. Despite what we hear about "Tory prosperity," we are just back to where we were two and half years ago, while other countries are gaining by 5 per cent. every year. Still we are told, "We must face the burden. Do not hesitate."
Great appeals are made to us from both sides of the House to stand by our allies. I agree that we should stand by our allies, but the greatest gift that we can give to our allies is to be solvent, to have some equipment that we can export to the backward areas, to develop our industries and so to carry the load of military establishment that we can afford combined with a reasonable capital investment programme. That should be our policy this year and it means a vast cut in our military commitments.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
The hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman)—we have all enjoyed his speech—covered a very wide field and ended by saying that under a Conservative Government we were just back to where we were in 1951. At the end of 1951 it did not look as if we would recover anything like as quickly as we have done. We have tried to rearm, carrying on the policy of his own Government, and yet the country is progressing, even in production.
With regard to rearmament during the last two years—looking at the better side of rearmament, if there is such a thing—the country has profited considerably by the machine tools which have been brought in from America, Switzerland and Germany. If the hon. Gentleman goes round some of the factories in Coventry, he will see really up-to-date machinery which would not otherwise have been available. That is a bonus which has been given to the motor car and other industries. Therefore, we have got something out of it.
1395 The hon. Member referred to National Service. We all want the period to be reduced. No one with any sense wants it to continue indefinitely at two years, but what would the world say if three days after the Korean truce was signed the Government decided to reduce National Service? When dealing with the Russians and the Chinese, let us keep a sense of proportion.
§ Mr. Crossman
I see the hon. and gallant Gentleman's point, but why did the Americans make a major cut in their Forces manpower even before the truce was signed?
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The Americans make many mistakes, and I think they over-reached themselves in their rearmament programme, the same as the Labour Government did. They found out that they could not fulfil their commitments. The American Air Force, to which the hon. Member referred, has been cut, it is quite true, because if they had gone on trying to make the aircraft already ordered they would have been out of date by the time they were delivered. The number of Canberras ordered by the Labour Government had to be cut. What was that? Because the aeroplane did not come up to expectations, and by delivery time it would have been hopelessly out-of-date. It was left to a Conservative Government to cut a programme which could not have been achieved. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), who unfortunately is not in his place, said that the precise size of our rearmament programme was worked out by trial and error, I thought what a way to carry out planning—a Labour Government working by trial and error.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
That is what the right hon. Gentleman said, and he was Secretary of State for War in the Labour Government, with the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence. Here was a Privy Councillor saying that his own Government had planned a rearmament programme by trial and error. Frankly, I was appalled. All Governments make mistakes, and when we are dealing with complicated designs it is very easy to be wrong. However, to suggest that it was worked out by trial and 1396 error when £1,600 million a year of the taxpayers' money was involved is something which must have amazed every one of us, as it did me. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) was right when he said it was not true.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The position is quite clear. The programme was very carefully planned on the basis of the requisitions made by the Chiefs of Staff in the light of the circumstances of the time. The programme was cut down because of the economic position of the country. Eventually we came to a decision which we thought was satisfactory, but even the decision we reached about the £4,700 million programme was subject to modifications, and those modifications were stated at the time by the then Prime Minister.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I accept that the right hon. Gentleman had to accept the advice of those with technical knowledge, but nevertheless the Minister in charge is eventually responsible, just as my right hon. Friend was responsible for something earlier in the debate today.
I want to discuss expenditure for the Royal Air Force and the other Services. It is a great pity that the Royal Air Force does not possess more up-to-date squadrons, particularly large bombers. Here I must declare my interest, because I am responsible for the production of the Victor Bomber. I have some knowledge of that aeroplane, and I think the whole country has reason to be proud of these modern types of aircraft, if we can be proud of any armaments at all. Many of the features in those aircraft apply to civil aircraft, and when it is suggested that we should let the Americans carry out all the bombing from this country, I say that America has nothing like the Victor, the Valiant and the Vulcan.
If this country is going to have any say in world affairs, we must have a bomber force. Without it would be equivalent to giving away the whole Battle Fleet 40 years ago. What position would we have been in then at the Peace Conference? Britain must have its own bomber force, however small it may be, so that we can play our part if unfortunately we should be required. We have got the best 1397 prototypes in the world, but that is not enough. We have got to speed up production.
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman was looking at me when he was making his remarks about the American bombing force operating from Britain. I hope he did not think that that was the implication of a Question which I put today?
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I will put the hon. Gentleman's mind at ease straight away. I did not realise I was looking at him when I was making those remarks. I was not thinking along those lines at all.
Production has got to be speeded up. We have shown that we are capable of building air frames and jet power units. What we are not capable of doing at the moment is building in quick time and in short time all the accessories that go into the modern bomber, like the hydraulics and the various features which make 50 per cent. of the aeroplane. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply that everything should be done to encourage the speed-up of the production of accessories, particularly by sub-contractors who are making their contribution.
Lord Trenchard wrote a letter to "The Times" the other day. While it is a very good letter, I do not personally think that it was very constructive, even though I have very great respect for the noble Lord. He did not tell us what ought to be done and had he said it, it would have been quite useful to those required to carry out the programme.
I can well understand the reasoning of any hon. Member who says that we ought to cut our armament programme. Things look better in the world at the moment, but I believe to do so right now would be foolhardy. Trim it, streamline it and make it more efficient and see if we can get a saving between the Services, but until we have seen a real indication of Russian and Chinese sincerity we should go along, for the time being at any rate, as we have been doing.
Suppose we did cut the programme now, what then? There would be an immediate saving, and then at the next flare-up in world affairs immediate measures would be taken. In the mean- 1398 time the industries concerned would have ceased preparing their designs and paid off many of their workers. The organisation would have been broken up, and as a consequence production would be dislocated, if not stopped altogether. Then emergency measures would have to be taken, and the cost would be more over a period of three years than if we had continued production at a steady rate. In the meantime the impression would have been created abroad that Britain was disarming. Other countries would have followed suit, and it might well be that we would be back where we were four or five years ago.
I believe that this country and the world in general are in a more favourable position because we are strong. The war in Korea has been bad enough, but how much worse would it have been had it spread to Western Europe, South-East Asia and other parts of the world. It has; been a cheap price to pay, if we have had value for our money, to avoid a world conflict. But I believe that the expenditure has reached a maximum for our economy, and I do not think that Britain can afford one penny more than we are spending today.
Maybe it should be further reduced, and here I want to put to my hon. and right hon. Friends that as far as the Royal Air Force and the Navy are concerned, serious consideration has to be given to expenditure in the Royal Navy. With everyone in Britain I have the greatest admiration for the Royal Navy. They play a tremendous part in our defence. It is easy to say, "You are an air commodore; you are biased"; but, believe me, I am not in the slightest biased in this matter.
I want to see the Navy play its full part in the most efficient way possible. But so far as aircraft carriers are concerned, I am informed that 15 per cent. of the time at sea is lost because of the tilt of the deck and aircraft cannot take off or land. That is a considerable figure. If the Navy are dealing with enemy submarines, two aircraft are required for the kill—one for reconnaissance and the other to carry the weapon. The ship has to be built and maintained. It must have dockyards and all the items which are essential to maintain the ship and there has to be a naval 1399 airfield where the aircraft can land to be serviced and maintained, whereas the Air Force, with one aircraft, can do the whole operation from land on either side of the Atlantic.
I do not recommend that aircraft carriers in commission should be scrapped. Let us use them, but let us reconsider any future programme of spending vast millions on an instrument which I think is almost obsolete. I do not believe it will last, because we do not use our aircraft carriers in the same way as do the Americans. I believe the Merchant Navy can be protected mainly by land-based aircraft.
If the Navy complain that they have bad or indifferent aircraft, I think they have only themselves to blame entirely. For the last 30 years the admirals and senior officers in the Royal Navy have not been air-minded. They have never considered the air as a weapon which would really win wars. We find in the department of operational requirements of the Air Ministry a considerable team of officers considering the future—six, eight, ten, twelve years ahead—as in 1930, when they thought of the Spitfire and the Hurricane. I believe the Navy have only a few officers and an observer, not even a pilot, in charge carrying out this work. I sincerely recommend to the Financial Secretary that they should look into this matter and get the best brains available into their department of operational requirements to supply what is really required for the future.
Britain, unfortunately, is a concentrated and highly vulnerable target. A completely new approach to the whole question of defence organisation is called for. In the event of a war, our major ports might be rapidly immobilised—undoubtedly they would be—by a few atom bombs. The emphasis for the future is removed from the surface to the air arm. Anyone who does not appreciate that today is not very well in the head. It has been taught to us throughout the last war and since. To whatever extent the enemy might rely on submarine warfare, the most dangerous foe of the submarine is eventually aircraft. Even in the last war, which finished eight years ago, more submarines were sunk from the air than by surface vessels and great progress has been made since that date.
1400 Taking the long view, our sea routes must be defended by our bomber force operating over enemy territory. As I said earlier, the bomber force must be our own. We cannot leave ourselves entirely in the hands of the Americans or others in this respect. After all, we never know what is going to happen in America. They have unpredictable changes of political, financial and strategic policy. We do not want this matter to depend on the whim of the Americans or others; we want to plan our own policy. I should like an assurance tonight that the bomber force will be a British force and that we shall speed it up to the utmost.
Our new bombers may be the best weapons in the N.A.T.O. armoury. They may be the best available and it might be that by having those bombers there will never be a war. Fighter defence is required against surprise attack and also for warfare against submarines. Therefore, we must not neglect our fighter force. The air battle must be won before any victorious offensive is possible.
Finally, I would put to the House that in 1949 the armament programme was cut. Certainly that was so with regard to the Air Force; vast cuts took place. In 1950 the Korean war was brought about. The policy was then, "Buy everything." In 1951 the policy was to speed up deliveries and in 1952 there were cuts. Where are we today? I hope that my hon. Friend in charge of the Ministry of Defence and the Chiefs of Staff will get together to bring about more co-ordination in the three Services. I believe that considerable sums can be saved by integration, even more than in the past. If the admirals and air marshals do not agree, let the politicians knock their heads together and make them agree and tell them what to do.
We need our Fighting Services to have greater integration than before. We must not over-spend, but in what we do spend we must be sure that we get value for money. I am satisfied that the Ministry of Supply are taking care of that. Much thought and brains have been put into these matters. I believe that more integration can take place, and that by doing that we shall have Fighting services of which this country can indeed be proud and which will enable us to play our part in keeping the peace of the world.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)
We are discussing tonight the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill, which deals with the allocation of Appropriations passed in Committee to the various Departments. I wish to deal tonight particularly with the allocation made to the Admiralty. It may indeed be necessary for some of us to consider an Amendment should there not be a response forthcoming from the Civil Lord, who I take it will, in the absence of the First Lord of the Admiralty, be well aware of the point that I wish to raise.
Many hon. Members have stressed the need for economy, the need for ensuring that all this vast sum of £1,600 million is well spent. I am sure that we all concur in that, but unfortunately the union of which I have had the honour to be a member for many years, the Amalgamated Engineering Union, has had brought to light very grievous waste of public money, time and material at one of the Royal Naval establishments in Perth. It is unfortunate that this grievance has to be voiced on the Floor of the House of Commons, but there is no other way out. The executive council of my union took up this matter with the Admiralty, and even now, after two years of correspondence, and indeed of seeking an interview with the First Lord of the Admiralty, have still not secured any redress. When we are dealing with Supply, we always say in Parliament, "No supply without redress of grievance."
What are the complaints of the members of the Amalgamated Engineering Union who are employed at this establishment? They are that there has been at Almondbank great waste of material and of work being done which certainly cannot be considered as being work for the Admiralty. There has been proved beyond peradventure that portable golf caddies, fish aquariums motor cycle frames, silencers for .22 rifle——
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Wingfield Digby)
I am sure that the hon. Member will not wish to mislead the House. He is alleging that this has been proved beyond any doubt. That is exactly what there has been doubt about. Investigation has already taken place and there has been no proof of what the hon. Member is alleging.
§ Mr. Hobson
I am afraid that the Civil Lord is a little too eager. I am quite conscious of the words I am using. I know the meaning of my mother tongue, and I should not have dreamed of saying that there was proof unless I was convinced that there was. The Civil Lord had better wait while we produce the proof.
The fact is that all this "homework," of which I have given a list, has been made at Almondbank—fish aquariums, motor - cycle frames, wheelbarrows, silencers for .22 rifles and portable golf caddies. These have been made with the knowledge of the officers in charge, the foremen and the chargehands. A statement was made in writing to the executive council of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, and the Admiralty, after 18 months, were sufficiently convinced that there was a case that they instituted police inquiries. There were members of the Admiralty police sent from Rosyth to conduct the investigation. Twenty-two members of my organisation were interviewed at Almondbank and 19 of them signed statements that this work had been done. We cannot allow that to continue.
It is now more than eight months since there has been a reply about the investigations that have been carried out there. Our view is that if there is to be any confidence placed in the people in charge of that establishment, action should be taken. What sort of action do we see being taken? A reply was given by the Civil Lord in this House not denying these facts, but merely asserting this was not going on now. The implication was that the work had actually been done. We quite believe it is no longer going on—this "homework"—but we say that people are being shielded in this establishment. After all, there were 22 people interviewed, and the 19 who signed statements would not have done so unless they had either worked on the job or seen the work carried out.
What has happened since makes the position even worse. The charge hand has been promoted to supervisor. He is the man who knew this work was being carried out. I have sufficient confidence in the members of my union and I know sufficient of workshop practice to realise that 19 people would not sign statements that work had been carried out unless it was so.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
Is not the man who was promoted supervisor the man whose motor-cycle frame was made on the spot and whose motor cycle was ruled out of order in the local rally?
§ Mr. Hobson
I am afraid those are the facts. We have had further correspondence from our members engaged in this establishment which we shall be only too pleased to give to the Civil Lord.
The charge hand, as I say, has been promoted supervisor. That is more or less cocking a snook at the lads who complained. We are not standing for that sort of thing. My union has 800,000 members. It is not possible to have a successful rearmament programme in any branch of industry without the good will of the members of my union. Our relations with the Admiralty in the dockyards have been very good and we are not complaining about that. But we are not prepared to tolerate this sort of thing in a Scottish Air Service depot.
A member of the national executive of my union wrote to the Board of Admiralty and it was eight months before a reply was received. That is not good enough. I do not know of any other Department which would treat a national officer of an important trade union in such a manner. Not only was the charge hand promoted supervisor, but there has been petty victimisation, with the knowledge of the engineering officer in charge.
§ Mr. Hobson
We are giving that information. I do not wish to weary the House by reading the whole of the letter, but what has happened is that there was a rota for overtime in the machine shop and the men who have given evidence—we can give the names—have not been included or done their fair share of overtime. That is petty victimisation of a kind we thought had disappeared many years ago.
I would warn the hon. Member that if such a thing happened in Devonport or Chatham, where ships are repaired, there 1404 would be a stoppage of work or a complete ban on overtime. People cannot be treated in this way. There was also a merit scale from which these men were excluded, and I must ask the hon. Gentleman to look at these things. He knows that several of us saw the First Lord about this matter. Were the First Lord present, I would say far more about that interview, but we came away bitterly disappointed. This must be stopped. A national organisation such as this cannot be treated with what is almost contempt by great delay in dealing with these investigations.
§ Mr. Digby
As the hon. Member is going into so much detail in this one case, surely there is another relevant point which he has neglected, and that is that it was two years before these matters were reported. That was one of the difficulties in the investigation. We are dealing with events which took place long ago. That does not make it any easier to carry out an investigation.
§ Mr. Hobson
The Civil Lord is wrong. We are not complaining about the speed with which inquiries were put into force. We are complaining about the length of time which elapsed before the result of the inquiries was made known. That took two years. It was only after national representation by members of the executive council that anything was said. It is no good the Civil Lord laughing——
§ Mr. W. G. Bennett (Glasgow, Woodside)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether all this took place under a Socialist Government?
§ Mr. Hobson
That is a most foolish intervention. We are not dealing with a personal responsibility of the Civil Lord. We know that power is delegated. We do not expect him to be on the spot all the time. He has to work from Whitehall. We are concerned that he should bring pressure to bear in his Department to see that efficiency is the order of the day.
We have proved that there has not been efficiency. There has been great delay in dealing with grievances. There has been only the admission that the abuse of "homework" has stopped. We are concerned that, as a result of the inquiry, further steps should be taken. 1405 That is the salient point. It is no good laughing. Nineteen out of 22 men signed the document to the effect that this work had been done. It is wrong, and the Civil Lord knows it.
Therefore, I hope that, as a result of what has been said today, he will look round some of the other more outlandish establishments. He should ensure that a lead is given to the men employed on this job and that there is somebody they can look up to instead of people who are trying to cover up this kind of thing. Once the matter has been brought to light, it is his duty to see that it is dealt with.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)
On a point of order. My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) asked my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley before he sat down whether he would be prepared to say something. Is not that in order?
There is no point in asking that question. A large number of hon. Members wish to take part in the debate.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Captain Robert Ryder (Merton and Morden)
I do not want to be led away by the point raised by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson). All I would say is that I listened to him attentively and I wish to express the hope that the Civil Lord will look into the matter very carefully. When a union makes a serious charge like this, it is of the utmost importance to make sure that everything is above board.
I wish to refer to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) during which I thought he cast some doubt on the value of aircraft carriers. He was followed by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) and, in more detail, by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey).
1406 I do not wish to pose as an expert in naval tactics, or as a prophet of the course which events will take, but I do suggest that, in considering the position of aircraft carriers, there are a great many factors to be taken into consideration. For instance, there is the question of their various duties; for example, the provision of fighter aircraft to protect ships at sea. In my submission, this is far beyond the possible capabilities of Coastal Command in any foreseeable future. We cannot possibly provide fighter aircraft for more than a very limited distance; off-shore we must have carriers from which to operate them.
Then there is the question of strike aircraft, which are a main element in any sea battle. At the moment, as far as I am aware, Coastal Command, by virtue of the clumsy line of demarcation between the two Services, have failed to provide any form of strike aircraft in any strength. I do not say it is their fault, but it is no good crying down the carriers if we have nothing to put in their place. With regard to reconnaissance aircraft, Coastal Command have an aircraft, the Neptune, which is now capable of carrying out most of the requirements of reconnaissance aircraft. But in regard to strike aircraft and fighter aircraft, particularly the latter, the carrier remains an indispensable part of the Fleet, unless we are virtually to withdraw from the sea altogether.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield on previous occasions has castigated the Admiralty as not being air-minded, but the fact is that the Admiralty and the Royal Navy have been suffering severely from the restrictions imposed by this House, I think, in 1937, in what was termed the Inskip Award—restrictions on the extent to which they can use shore-based aircraft. They have had their wings clipped, and we might just as well go to the pelicans in St. James's Park and say, "My good birds, you are not air-minded." They have been pinioned, and I have no doubt that the Admiralty, like the birds in the park, would like to fly down the Thames and out to sea. The fact is that the Admiralty have been pinioned, and this has had a very harmful effect on the whole development of naval tactics and naval thought. It is no good accusing the Admiralty of not being air-minded. What we must do is consider the position in 1407 which the Inskip Award has left our naval service at the present time.
The fact is that, as the effectiveness of aircraft at sea increases, the position of the Admiralty under this award becomes increasingly more invidious, and the question which we must ask ourselves is whether we wish to see the position of the Admiralty steadily down-graded into little more than the headquarters of an escort force or a minesweeping organisation, or whether we wish to resume our traditional position as a great maritime Power in the world, because there is a great deal at stake here.
So long as the battleship was the dominant factor at sea, then this award could be accepted as second best. But now that that is not the case, and the aircraft is the dominant factor, the position of the Admiralty has become absolutely untenable. With a small truncated Fleet Air Arm it is unable to produce the aircraft which it needs, and we all saw at the Fleet Review what that amounts to. They cannot produce the modern aircraft they need.
The trouble, of course, arises over the length of time that is needed to give birth to a new aircraft. It takes between five and seven years, sometimes longer—longer than it takes to build a ship. During that time inventions are produced, tactics may alter, and so in the past the Admiralty have gone to the designers and added inventions during the development stage of the aircraft. This has increased their weight and increased the delay until, eventually, by some process of super-priority, it has been deemed expedient to try to get some small numbers of these aircraft completed before they become obsolete. That, in my submission, is the case with the Gannet.
I would say that two things are absolutely essential in this respect. The first is that the aircraft industry must do something to reduce the time taken up in the development stage, and, secondly, the Admiralty for their part must make it a rigid rule that once tenders have been accepted for a certain aircraft there must be no further additions made to it. When inventions come along, they must be deferred until the next design is called for. In that way we shall speed up the delivery and get up-to-date aircraft, which will be able to be operated without being overweighted.
1408 Although we have been assured by the First Lord of the Admiralty that vigorous steps are being taken to overcome the appalling deficiency in naval aircraft, I feel that they are too complacent about this, and that they are only nibbling at the problem. In my view, we must now seriously consider the need for a complete amalgamation between Coastal Command and the Admiralty on equal terms. Neither Service is going to like this, but I think the time has now come when we can no longer afford to see our Fleet Air Arm in its present state. We face the sombre fact that the Fleet Air Arm, the main arm of the Fleet, is now obsolete. I address my remarks to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence for his very serious consideration.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
Before my hon. and gallant Friend sits down, would he consider——
It is not a desirable practice for an hon. Member to ask another hon. Member a question after he has sat down.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
The Lord Privy Seal, in his opening remarks, paid a tribute to our Forces in Korea in which ——
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
On a point of order. May I suggest to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that we have just witnessed, what I am sure you did not intend it to be, a loss of a longstanding Parliamentary privilege. When an hon. Member rises at the end of another hon. Member's speech with a request that the hon. Member who has just sat down should answer such and such a point, it has always been assumed that if the hon. Member so requested is willing to reply, he should be allowed to reply. Am I to understand, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that that privilege has now been brought to an end?
A large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House want to take part in this debate. I am not departing from the usual practice of the House that is observed when an hon. Members asks a question and prefaces it with the words "Before the hon. Gentleman resumes his seat," when, in fact, he has already done so. It is another form of getting in a further point.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
May I humbly submit to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that my hon. and gallant Friend had not sat down? I was hovering because I did not want to interrupt him in the middle of a sentence.
I recognised the hon. Member to be hovering, but, as a matter of fact, the hon. and gallant Member had sat down before the question was put.
§ Mr. Henderson
I was about to associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the tribute paid by the Lord Privy Seal at the beginning of his speech this afternoon to our Forces who served in Korea, and with the expression of sympathy which he voiced in relation to the families who have suffered loss in that conflict.
I should like also to associate myself with the tributes that were paid to the two maiden speeches this afternoon, especially that of the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) who, I thought, made an extremely thoughtful contribution.
The Lord Privy Seal based his speech upon a statement of policy, namely, the determination of the Government to strengthen our defences and to make our contribution to N.A.T.O. To that view the great majority of those sitting on this side of the House would subscribe, but I was somewhat doubtful about his further remark, taking it at its face value, that we must continue to increase in strength. That would be acceptable in relation, of course, to the circumstances that may or may not develop in the next year or two.
I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), who has now left the House, made a powerful criticism of the armament position. There was a good deal of justification for what he said. It is obvious that a country like our own, eight years after the end of World War II, with 860,000 men and women in the Services, 200,000 conscripts and an average—it may be a minimum average—expenditure of anything up to £1,600 million a year for the next five years on the present basis, will undoubtedly be faced with very great difficulties, unless something is done to adjust the financial expenditure to be incurred in respect of rearmament to the economic position of the country.
1410 I thought that to associate the economic burden with the question of commitments was a fair comment. I believe that sooner or later—it may be that they have already done it—the Government will have to re-assess our economic position or our armaments policy in order to relate the economic position to the commitments which face our country at the present time. It has been done before, but it will not be easy.
I do not believe that the way to settle the problem of commitments is merely to walk out of this or that area of the world; on the other hand, we have to realise that as long as our commitments are maintained as they are we shall have to face the demand that they make upon our reserves. The fact that in the present state of commitments we have 11 divisions or 11½ divisions stationed abroad raises questions which must be of great concern to the Government.
A good deal has been said in the debate about National Service. In spite of the suggestion made in the last defence debate by the Parliamentary Secretary, who is to follow me, that objection to National Service in peace timehas a rather 19th-century Victorian smell."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 680.]—whatever that may be—I say without fear of contradiction that the great majority of the people of this country are opposed to National Service in peace time and have accepted it only because of the abnormal international situation which has existed in the past two or three years.
The Parliamentary Secretary also paid a tribute to the late Prime Minister, the present Leader of the Opposition, saying that one of his greatest services to his country had been to take National Service out of party politics. May I express the hope that the Government, in their turn, will keep this problem out of party politics? Like my right hon. Friend who opened this debate, I do not believe that we can abolish National Service at the present time, but we feel that there is a case for a review of the whole problem, and in the light of that review Parliament could decide whether the period should be two years, 21 months or 18 months. Moreover, we consider that Parliament should have the opportunity, not only in the forthcoming autumn but every year, to approve or disapprove the proposed term of service.
1411 The case for two years in the Royal Air Force is very much less today than it was two or three years ago. When I was at the Air Ministry, one of the strong arguments put forward by the Air Staff at that time was the need to train National Service cadets as pilots, navigators and so on. They argued with force that it took at least 18 months to train a pilot, for example, and that if they were to be trained for over 18 months and then relegated to the Reserve they would not be able to render any productive service to the squadrons of the R.A.F. We are told that it is no longer intended to train National Service men as air crew, with certain exceptions, so that part of the case for two years' service seems to be no longer of any relevance.
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman not agree that the operational strength of the R.A.F. has depended on its technical tradesmen, and that they cannot possibly be trained in very much under two years to do their job?
§ Mr. Henderson
There are very limited numbers of technical tradesmen who require two years' service, but that only strengthens my point, because if it takes two years to train them and they are in the Air Force for only two years they also will not render productive service to the Air Force.
I hope that I am not misinterpreting the statement which was made in the Air Estimates debate earlier this year when I refer to the projected smaller front line. There is a strong case for arguing that with a projected smaller Air Force the R.A.F. could well manage with a 21 months' period or even an 18 months' period. It was reported yesterday that American chiefs of staff are to undertake a revaluation of the role and mission of the armed services of the United States. Is not this a vital and urgent necessity in our own Services?
We have 860,000 men and women in the three Services at the present time. Even allowing for existing overseas commitments, might there not be possibilities of considerable savings in manpower if the roles and missions of the three Services were re-assessed in the light of modern conditions and on the basis that air power is the greatest deterrent against 1412 war and aggression? There may be room for differences about what I am going to say now, but will not the new situation in Korea have any effect upon the requirement of the Army and the Navy for manpower? There is certainly one commitment less if events turn out as we hope that they will.
Meanwhile I want to raise a few points-which are relevant to the use of manpower in the three Services. The fact that young men are being compelled to serve in time of peace makes it all the more necessary that the Government should make the most efficient use of the manpower at their disposal. The Prime Minister, speaking on 5th March and referring to the Royal Air Force, said;However, I am strongly of the opinion that the members of non-flying personnel in the Royal Air Force must be the subject of continuer scrutiny with a view to any saving which will not detract from efficiency."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1953; Vol. 512. c. 574.]I should like to know whether that scrutiny has taken place or is taking place, and if so, what saving has been effected by the decision not to train National Service men as aircrew.
Could the Parliamentary Secretary say anything about economies in manpower as a result of air trooping? Are there possibilities of greatly increased air trooping so as to reduce the number of men who are in the pipeline? What has been done about the use of civilian manpower? Speaking in the same debate on 5th March, the Parliamentary Secretary, in reply to an interjection by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing), who had made inquiries about the employment of civilian manpower, said;I will certainly draw my noble Friend's attention to that. It may be that an inquiry about that should be carried out."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 682.]Has that inquiry been carried out, or did, the Parliamentary Secretary forget all about it? Perhaps he will let us know whether that inquiry has taken place, and what possibilities there are of saving manpower by a greater use of civilian labour.
A week or so ago many of us were at the Royal Air Force Review at Odiham, and I think it will be agreed that it was a most impressive display of co-ordinated flying, and afforded striking evidence of the high efficiency in the Royal Air Force. The Hunter and Swift prototypes showed 1413 a remarkable performance, but I think there was widespread disappointment that none of these machines was as yet in service. Production orders were placed more than two years ago for these advanced fighters, and in spite of super-priority, the planes do not yet seem to be coming off the production line.
The Canberra, for example, was ordered early in 1949, and I think I am right in saying that the first squadron of Canberras was formed in the autumn of 1951—about two and a half years after the first orders were given. This was without super-priority. The Swift and the Hunter were ordered early in 1951. Yet in July, 1953, this month, all we have are the two prototypes, and this is with super-priority. Surely there is something unsatisfactory in this state of affairs. Can the Parliamentary Secretary give any explanation? Can he hold out any hope about the dates upon which both these advance fighters are likely to come into squadron service?
Does this indicate that the policy of super-priority has not had any real effect on production? If it has, we would be very glad to have the information. Can we be told when the Swift and the Hunter are likely to come into squadron service? Can we also be told when the Valiant, the first of the three four-jet bombers to be ordered early in 1951, is likely to come into service? Is everything possible being done to expedite the production of this vitally important machine?
My hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) made what appeared, on the face of it, to be a very attractive suggestion that the United States should take sole responsibility for strategic bombing. I do not think that is likely to be a very satisfactory solution, even though it would save this country a great deal of money. So long as we have a Royal Air Force, so long must we seek to make the Royal Air Force a balance and highly efficient force, and if the equipment with which it is provided is to be of the best type, then, if financial considerations prevent us from providing as much of that equipment as we should like, we must rather regulate the size of the Air Force than the quality of the equipment which it is to have.
This afternoon a Question was asked about a light fighter—the Gnat. This 1414 raises very interesting problems. Hon. Members opposite who served in the Royal Air Force know better than I do that one of the problems of a modern air force is that the latest machines, in their turn, very soon become obsolescent. Moreover, they have already become very much more expensive. The Lincoln, an obsolescent four-piston-engined bomber, cost £70,000; the Valiant is to cost £300,000. The Spitfire cost £10,000; the Hunter costs more than £20,000. I did not think that the answer of the Under-Secretary of State for Air was particularly satisfactory. He indicated that the projected Gnat was not equal in performance to the Hunter or the Swift. On the other hand, when I asked him if he could state the differences in performance between the projected Gnat and the Hunter, he said he would require notice. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, the Under-Secretary of State for Air and the Minister of Supply to give very careful consideration to this new light fighter.
I am informed that for an expenditure of £6 million, 215 Hunters or Swifts could be provided, as against 900 of these light fighters. In production time, five times as many light fighters could be produced, in the same number of working hours, as against the Hunter. None the less, I should certainly put in one qualification. Whether it be the Gnat or any other type of new light fighter, it must be a plane in which our pilots have full confidence, as regards its performance both as a flying machine and a fighting machine, within limits. Those limits must be limits as to quantity. As regards quality, our Air Force pilots, who take their lives in their hands every time they go into the air in these fast-moving planes—many of them getting near supersonic speeds—are entitled to the best in quality that can be provided.
With regard to the build-up of Bomber Command, it was announced the other day that the 70 Washingtons received from the United States Air Force three years ago are to be dispensed with and returned to the United States. The Parliamentary Secretary stated, in the debate in March, that our light bomber force, consisting mainly of Canberras, was to be smaller than was originally intended, but when these new Washingtons were received it was the policy of the Air Council that the 1415 strategic bomber force should be composed mainly of Washingtons and Lincolns, pending the arrival of the four-jet-engined advanced bombers.
We are told that those advanced bombers are not likely to arrive in quantity for some time, possibly another two or three years. Does not that mean that getting rid of these Washingtons will seriously weaken the effective strength of the medium bomber force of Bomber Command? I understood from the Under-Secretary this afternoon that there was no change of policy. In that case I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary why these six or eight squadrons of B.29's—the Washingtons—are being returned, when we know that for another two years at least they will not be replaced by the new four-jet bombers. I should think that the striking power of our Air Force would be considerably weakened for the next two or three years as a result of this policy.
I want to say a few words about the radar chain. There was an exercise in Germany at the end of last week called Exercise Coronet, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Second Tactical Air Force expressed misgivings about the radar equipment in use in his command. I should like to have the comments of the Parliamentary Secretary on that statement. A few months ago the Under-Secretary of State for Air gave what I thought to be a reassuring reply about the radar chain facing the Iron Curtain when he said its rehabilitation was being pressed forward with as much urgency as that in the United Kingdom. That does not seem to agree with the statement made by the Commander-in-Chief last week.
In his reply to the last debate, the Parliamentary Secretary said that the nature of future wars might be very different from the nature of the wars we have known in the past. I agree with him. If scientists are to be believed, we are rapidly passing from the aeroplane era to the rocket era. Conventional planes may form only a part of the defence requirements within a comparatively limited number of years, and more and more emphasis may have to be placed on the provision of defence against the rocket.
It was reported in "The Times" on 17th July that mass production methods 1416 had enabled the Russians to produce 24,000 supersonic missiles of an improved V.2 German pattern each year. It was also stated that with an improved technique, a single launching ramp fired missiles at the rate of 800 an hour and, further, that great efforts were being made by Russian engineers to perfect and produce in quantity a 97-stage rocket which would have a range of 2,500 miles. That is not quite as fantastic as it may seem to some people, for even at the end of World War II the V.2 was being fired with a range of anything up to 400 miles. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that, as a result of research and development during the past eight years, the Russians, and indeed it may be the Americans, too, have been able to produce a rocket of the V.2 character with a range of up to 2,500 miles. The accuracy of this information may be questioned, but I am not in a position to question it. Perhaps the Minister can say whether any intelligence information has been received which supports that suggestion.
I want to ask the Minister what the Government are doing on the research and development side to provide counter-weapons to the rocket. We know that an air-to-air guided missile is under production, and the Minister of Supply has informed the House that its availability is not very far away. Do the Government or the Chiefs of Staff rely on the guided missile or on a combination of the missile and the bomber?
It seems to me that we must face the fact that there can be no perfect air defence and that absolute safety cannot be guaranteed. Some months ago Lord Trenchard told us that the best defence was the power of attack. On the other hand, a number of American scientists recently reported that perfect defence against air attack is unobtainable and completely impracticable economically and technically in face of the expected advances in potential hostile offensive capabilities.
May I say a word about N.A.T.O.? We have had quotations from General Gruenther and General Ridgway which appear to be in contradiction. I would suggest that N.A.T.O. certainly justifies its existence. The countries associated with it have made great increases in their expenditure—Canada nearly five-fold, France three-fold, United States four-fold 1417 and the United Kingdom more than twofold. It is not surprising that General Gruenther a few days ago stated that N.A.T.O. Forces are increasing in strength. He also said he did not believe that a third world war would take place because of the armed strength of N.A.T.O.
Both statements are inconsistent with the misgivings expressed by General Ridgway a few months ago. It is difficult to understand the general's pessimism. The armament expenditure of N.A.T.O. countries during the past two years has averaged £20,000 million, and if the position were as serious as indicated by General Ridgway in March, when he said that during the foreseeable future we should be critically short of material, one is entitled to ask where all this vast outlay of money has gone. The trouble is largely due to the veil of secrecy which surrounds all information about the Armed Forces of this and other countries. The Lord Privy Seal will not mind, I am sure, if I say that he was not very forthcoming with detailed information. The Labour Government were attacked year after year for drawing this veil of secrecy round the information about our Armed Forces which was at our disposal, but the present Government are not living up to their criticism.
What is the position about the 50 divisions which General Ridgway said were more like 35? Various suggestions and comments have been made today, but what is the position? Can we be told whether the 50 divisions are in as poor a state as General Ridgway suggested? In the last debate the Parliamentary Secretary rather rode round that by suggesting that generals always ask for more men than they are likely to get. It is not only a question of numbers of men. General Ridgway was dealing with the question of the divisions being under-equipped, under-trained and under-supplied. What he means by "under-supplied" refers to oil, ammunition and so on. What is the position about these divisions, in view of the enormous outlay of money?
What is the position about N.A.T.O. air defences? Lord Ismay has said that the air forces of Western Europe would be equipped with more than 4,000 planes by the end of the year. Is that forecast likely to materialise, especially 1418 in view of the fact that, as a result of the curtailment in the production of Canberras, the strength of the Second Tactical Air Force will be very much less than it was intended to be?
I now want to say a word about naval power. Is it a fact that, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, the Russian Navy is now the second best in the world? Is that accepted?
§ Lord John Hope (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
The hon. and learned Gentleman is confusing the Red Navy with the Red Ensign.
§ Mr. Henderson
Perhaps I have seen more Red Ensigns than the noble Lord has. During the Navy Estimates debate the First Lord stated that the Russian Navy was the second largest navy in the world in ships actually in commission. He must have had a reason for trying to impress upon this country the fact that the Russians had the second largest navy in the world. Is it accepted by the Government that the Russian Navy is the second largest navy in the world, merely because it has more ships in commission, without evidence that the fighting capacity and the efficiency of the Russian Navy makes it the second in the world? I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to say a word about that.
I should like to deal, in conclusion, with one other point. In the long run the best defence against war and the use of all these engines of destruction is to prevent war. Today the world burden of re-armament is estimated at £40,000 million per year and this country's share of that is £1,500 million. This burden seems inevitable unless we can secure a vital change in the international situation. I agree that it is essential that we should negotiate from strength. None the less, few will doubt the value of reaching agreement with the Russians, especially in the field of disarmament. Russia can make no greater contribution to world peace than to accept the disarmament proposals put forward by the Western Powers at the United Nations. Russia, playing her part in removing antagonisms and suspicions, has nothing to fear from N.A.T.O. It has been made clear that N.A.T.O. is only a defensive alliance and its basis is economic, 1419 political and cultural co-operation between the countries belonging to it.
I look forward to the day, provided the world will disarm, when N.A.T.O. can be transformed into the nucleus of a world system of collective security, similar to the proposed Geneva Protocol of 1924, which was conditional upon a progressive reduction in world armaments. If that were accomplished, I see no reason why N.A.T.O. should not be utilised as a basis of world security to include, not only Russia and China, but any other country which was prepared to conform to the rules of the organisation.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I should like to ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker. In this debate so far those who have spoken have been in favour of conscription. Those who are against conscription have not had an opportunity to put their point of view. Will it be in order on this Bill to discuss defence following the Minister's speech?
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (Mr. Nigel Birch)
I shall try to answer as many of the 52 questions asked by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson), as my strength and the patience of the House will allow, but before I start to do so I think the House would wish me to congratulate my two hon. Friends on the maiden speeches which we have heard today. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) made some well-thought-out and sensible suggestions in a short and modest speech, and I thought he put his case very well. We were all very glad to hear the hon. Lady the Member for Down, North (Mrs. Ford), particularly as we had such respect and, if I may say so, affection for her late father. I am sure that he would have liked to hear the noble panegyric she made on her native Ulster.
In a sense this debate has been dominated by some words that were used by the Prime Minister on 11th May. They have already been quoted in this debate. He said on that occasion that;This would be the most fatal moment for the free nations to relax their comradeship 1420 and preparations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1953; Vol. 515, c. 902.]At the time that speech met with very general agreement and appreciation. The arch warmonger had become the arch peacemonger. It is pleasant that that——
§ Mr. Birch
—particular poison in the political wells has been removed. That speech has been given almost scriptural authority and people have applied to it both the higher and the lower criticism. What I would say is that that speech was designed to be read as a whole and that we should not pick out patches and pieces from it.
I think we can all agree that there are great possibilities both for good and for evil in the world, and if the good is to prevail we must succeed, somehow or other, in maintaining that general agreement on the broad principles of our armament policy which we have had over the last few years. In spite of some of the things that have been said in the debate today, I do not think we need altogether despair of being able to do so. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite have not supported the present policy, but they never supported the policy of the late Government, and I think that we can, on the whole, be satisfied that there is still a very broad measure of agreement. Certain specialists in wishful thinking on the opposite benches have not agreed. They have said, "We think a new situation has arisen."
I noticed that in the last foreign affairs debate almost every speaker declared that he had no idea of what was going on in the Kremlin but added that no doubt something important was going on. It reminded me of a great Cambridge philosopher, McTaggart, who, after a long study of philosophy, finally reached a conclusion and his conclusion was that "something exists." I think that that was a sensible conclusion. Obviously, something is going on in the Kremlin. It may be something very good and we should certainly welcome any hopeful sign. We should be ready to meet them half way and certainly to go into conference with them, but I do not think that at this stage we ought to abandon the policy which has brought us to this point.
1421 I am reinforced here by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) because, speaking in the debate on foreign affairs, he said this:As far as I know, nobody on the Labour side has suggested that we should weaken our defences at once because of the improved language and spirit of Soviet pronouncements. We have not done so and do not propose to do so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1953; Vol. 518, c. 494.]I hope he was not referring to the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) as "nobody." In any case, it would be wrong to try to beat off the fruits of our policy before they are ripe. If we did that we should risk losing the value of all the work we have done and of the sacrifices we have made.
That brings me to the question of N.A.T.O. Of course, things are better. It is perfectly true that the provisional force goals set at Lisbon have been substantially reached. Even so, when they are reached our defences on the Continent will still not be very strong. I do not think we should blink at that fact. That is why General Ridgway and General Gruenther have pointed this out occasionally, and warned us that we have not an absolutely solid defence on the ground in Europe. That is why many people who have studied this question are anxious that the Germans should be brought into E.D.C., or some other organisation simply because, unless they are brought in, we can have no realistic defence.
The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) made great play with a quotation of General Gruenther, but it was quoted a little out of its context because the general was trying to get more money out of a reluctant Congress and the matter was put better by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt).
To sum up the first part of what I have to say, I do not think we want to alter our policy radically at this moment. That brings me to the subject of National Service. The right hon. Member for Easington was very delicate on this subject this afternoon. The last time we had a defence debate he was "in the dog house" and was not allowed to speak. He seemed very much on his best behaviour today, but rather "let his hair down" in the "Star" yesterday. Before I get on to the argument he used in the 1422 "Star" I should like to put the Korean matter into proper perspective, because that was mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton.
We have in Korea 20,000 United Kingdow Service men, of whom 8,000 are National Service men. The total manpower in the Services is 867,000, so we can see what a small proportion is represented by our forces in Korea. As several hon. Members have pointed out, we cannot remove our troops immediately from Korea. They will have to stay there for a time.
§ Mr. Birch
These are the figures. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is probably confusing them with those of the Commonwealth forces. I am talking about the United Kingdom forces. It is perfectly true that National Service was extended only after the start of the Korean war, but that war was the last straw, and, as the House knows, we still have in this country today no real strategic reserve, and our first concern must be to rebuild a strategic reserve. Out of the 867,000 total of Service manpower at the beginning of June, 312,000 were National Service men. A 25 per cent. reduction would amount to 78,000 men, a number far in excess of the saving of 20,00 men which might be occasioned by the truce in Korea.
The present recruiting figures, in spite of what the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said, are not altogether discouraging. They are not very good, but they are not desperately bad. Engagements are for the three-year short engagement in the Army, and there are various short-service engagements in the R.A.F. It is a fact that many of these short-service engagements, or even most of them, are attributable to our having 24 months' National Service. For instance, in the financial year 1952–53, 33,000 men otherwise due for call-up enlisted in the Army and 31,000 in the R.A.F. If the period of National Service had been 18 months I think it most improbable that anything like that number of men would have enlisted.
This is shown by another pointer. In the current financial year the number of men available for call-up is 12 per cent. 1423 fewer than last year. Great play was made by the hon. Member for Coventry, East with the argument that "The Americans are doing us down, they are calling up 5 per cent. fewer men." We are calling up perhaps, very evilly, 12 per cent. fewer men. At the same time, the rate of Regular recruiting is 19 per cent. down during the first six months. The two figures are not exactly the same, but there is a certain correlation between the two. I cannot doubt that if we reduced the period of National Service we should also reduce the number of Regular engagements.
This brings me to the article of the right hon. Member for Easington, in the "Star." Its very clear title wasCut the call-up to 18 months.In the first paragraph there was a reference to Field Marshal Slim. I would rather like to read it to the House; it was rather an important one. After stating that he did not accept two years National Service, and that it was wrong, the right hon. Gentleman wrote:In an article in the 'Star' some time ago Field Marshal Sir William Slim stated that eighteen months was sufficient except for the technical branches of the Army.I may be stupid, but I should have thought that that meant that Field Marshal Slim had said that it was not necessary to have two years' National Service except, possibly, for certain technicians. I checked that impression with other people; they were equally as stupid as myself. Knowing the Field Marshal and his views, however, it seemed a little improbable.
I thought it wise to look up the article. The title of it was:We can't cut the call-up.
§ Mr. Birch
I am going to tell the right hon. Gentleman. The Field Marshal stated the case for two years' National Service much better than I could, and I am going to quote a few of his arguments. The first point he made against cutting the call-up was the effect which it would 1424 have on the quality of our reserves, and he used these words. He said:There is an immense superiority of fighting value, in leadership and in general usefulness in the officer or man who has had this experience of two years' service, much of it abroad, and possibly some of it in action.It is true that the Field Marshal said it may be possible to train non-technicians in less than 18 months. But the point that he was making was that you need for your Army not only technicians but experienced other men. He pointed out that unless you have two years' training you would not be able to mobilise your reserves quickly——
§ Mr. Shinwell rose——
§ Mr. Shinwell rose——
§ Mr. Shinwell
But could I deal with this point? What the hon. Gentleman is endeavouring to do is to show that I misquoted Field Marshal Sir William Slim on this point. [HON. MEMBERS; "Hear, hear."] We are all agreed that is the point at issue. What the Field Marshal said—it is in the "Star" article—was that you can train an ordinary soldier in 18 months, but for the purposes of training technicians you require two years. That was the argument to which I addressed myself in the article I wrote yesterday and that is the point of substance; because if you can train the ordinary soldier for effective purposes in 18 months, then I ask the question—as indeed I asked it in the article yesterday 1425 —why do you want to keep them for six months longer?
§ Mr. Birch
May I read what the right hon. Gentleman said? He said:In an article in the 'Star' some time ago Field Marshal Sir William Slim stated that eighteen months was sufficient except for the technical branches of the Army.If that means anything, it means that 18 months is sufficient for the whole call-up. The whole point of the article, which is evinced by the headline, is that you cannot cut the call-up. We know the right hon. Gentleman has a very agile mind. It darts forwards and sideways and up and down, but all I am saying is that an ordinary simple person who read the article, who did not know the Field Marshal and who had not read his previous article, would think that the Field Marshal had advocated cutting the call-up.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Obviously the hon. Gentleman will get the cheers from the claque behind him. That we expect—[Interruption]—that is inevitable particularly at this time of night. I do not attach any importance to that. I want to stress this question to the hon. Gentleman. Before the Korean War occurred, when the Labour Government decided, in view of the situation, which was very tense at that time, to increase the period by six months, was there any demand by the Conservative Party that the call-up should be increased to two years? None whatever. If they believe now that it was essential to do it all along, why did not they make a demand at that time?
§ Mr. Birch
Quite a number of things have happened since then. We did support hon. Members opposite in their decision, and we blamed them very much for putting their tails between their legs and running away from it. We supported them wholeheartedly against their own followers on the two-year period.
I have one or two other quotations from the Field Marshal which I should like to give. His second main point for not reducing the call-up was that without the two-year period we could not fulfil our commitments abroad. He added, and it is perfectly true, that no soldier or statesman wants to have large garrisons overseas but that successive Governments have in fact been forced to do so.
1426 We have had a great deal of discussion on this matter. We had the hon. Member for Coventry, East, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee. West (Mr. Strachey) and others and they have not all completely agreed with each other. A simple answer is, "All right. We will pack up and go." That is a very simple answer which we can all understand, but I believe that it is a wholly disastrous one. Hon. Gentlemen opposite should remember that they were the people who sent the troops originally to Malaya and to Egypt. I believe that they were right in both cases and that if we had run away it would have been disastrous.
The next point the Field Marshal made——
§ Mr. Birch
I intend to answer them all. This is exempted business.
The Field Marshal put the case far better than I can and that is why I wanted to quote some of his words. This is very relevant; many people have referred to the point. He said that the shorter period causes more waste and delay. He said that it causes much more movement and involves periods of acclimatisation and local training. It causes a great deal of waste through excessive movement.
The last point I make on this question concerns what was said about building up our Regular Forces. The Field Marshal also said that if we cut our period of National Service, we shall automatically have to have a larger proportion of Regulars abroad. Now, if the prospect for a Regular soldier is almost permanent absence from his country, it is not very likely that men will join up. Who can blame them? The Field Marshal said he recognised the great responsibility which those who decide the period of call-up have, not only to their country, but also to what he described as the greatest asset 1427 the country had, namely, the young men themselves. He ended with some ringing words; he said:Two years' National Service is a burden, but in the world today it is worth carrying. The citizens of ancient Rome might in the long run have done better to keep their legions overseas up to strength and have had fewer circuses at home.Another point the right hon. Gentleman made in his article was that the Navy did not need any National Service men, and that the only reason they called them up was that they had nowhere else to go. I cannot understand why, when the right hon. Gentleman was Minister of Defence, he did not do something about it.
§ Mr. Shinwell
But I did. The hon. Gentleman knows nothing at all about the subject. How can he? The fact of the matter is that we did a great deal about it. It is true that the Navy did not want National Service men, and I doubt if they need them now. At first there was a proposal that they should get 10,000 National Service men every year, but that was cut down to a minimum number and they required them only for shore duty. For seagoing purposes they did not require National Service men at all.
§ Mr. Birch
Of course they have had National Service men throughout and they still have them. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman why they want them. There are three main purposes. First, they get between 500 and 600 trained artificers as National Service men each year. They get about one-third of their aircrew and also a number of doctors, dentists and Royal Marines. They also build up a number of trained reservists.
§ Mr. Birch
We heard a great deal from other hon. Gentlemen about waste. There has been very considerable progress in the elimination of waste. When I was first sent to a Service Department after the last election, I was astonished, not at the waste, but at the ease and profusion with which money was supplied for defence. That has very definitely now come to an end, and the real security for the conservation of Service manpower and civilian manpower, or saving in anything else, is that money 1428 should not be too easy to get. We know perfectly well that, as the hon. Member for Coventry, East has said, we are up against financial difficulties, and, therefore, it behoves us to see that every man is properly employed and every penny is spent to the best advantage, and that is what we are endeavouring to do.
I am also asked whether we are carrying out a special review at this time. None of these things has been unforeseen, and we said in the Defence White Paper that further reviews would be carried out. The size of the Armed Forces is under continuous review, as further knowledge becomes available, and although I should be the last to say that there is no waste in the Services, I think that the right hon. Gentleman opposite can, at any rate, be gratified that the waste is a good deal less today than it was during the period of his incumbency of the Ministry. One can conclude that what the Prime Minister called the "Shinwell system" should continue, and, as far as I am aware, that is still the official policy of the Opposition. We shall have the Order in Council before us when we come back, and the matter can then be fully debated.
There is one other point—not the Field Marshal's point——
§ Mr. Birch
I want to deal with another matter, for there have been many questions in the House and a great many articles about it. It is the question whether men are being wrongly classified by the Ministry of Labour when called up for their National Service. This is a rather important subject, and we hear a great deal about it. The first medical examination takes place by a National Service Medical Board, which comes under the Ministry of Labour, and which assesses a man's physical standard and functional capacity, according to a system laid down. He is then placed in one of four medical groups.
It is not the job of the Board to say whether the man ought or ought not to be called up; they simply classify him, and the business of the Services is to say what men they need and whether they could utilise the services of a particular man in a low medical category. 1429 It is a fact that certain category 3 men are accepted for clerical duties, cookhouse duties, or as storemen, telephonists and for certain tradesmen's jobs.
This is the system which the right hon. Gentleman himself very rightly started and announced in February, 1951, and it is the right one, because it is wrong that men who are perfectly suitable for combatant duties should be doing non-combatant duties. The Medical Boards are composed of experienced professional men, and they are instructed to ask for the fullest information on a man's medical history and his family's medical history. If necessary, a report is called for from his medical practitioner or from the hospital if he has been in one. If there is any doubt, the man is sent to a consultant, and it is a noteworthy fact that one man in seven does go to a consultant. National Service men are called up some time after they have been examined by the Ministry of Labour; on being called up, they are examined immediately by the Royal Air Force, and within a very few days by the Army. A very small proportion of men are rejected by the Forces after they have been called up. I should like to give some figures, because I think that a wrong impression has been created in some quarters.
The figures of National Service men discharged from the Army on medical grounds within 14 days of entry were 10.4 per 1,000 in 1950, 7 per 1,000 in 1951, 6.9 per 1,000 in 1952 and 7–7 per 1,000 for the first 10 intakes in 1953. The figures are very low indeed, and more than half the men rejected are rejected on psychiatric grounds.
§ Mr. Birch
Not necessarily all grade 3 men. These are the figures for all the men. I think we can conclude from this that the medical boards do their job well and that the number of mistakes they make is small. Fifteen or 20 cases have recently been ventilated, but hon. Members must remember that 250,000 men are examined annually. I am sorry for having made this digression, but so much has been said on this subject that I thought I had better give the House the figures.
I now come to the question of equipment.
§ Mr. Crossman
Before we leave the question of manpower, may I ask the hon. Gentleman one question? Do I understand that in his view there have been no American cuts in Service manpower this year?
§ Mr. Crossman
Let me get the question clear. I do not think that the "New York Times" can be regarded as a frivolous newspaper, and it heads its articleLevelling Off of American Manpower.I am asking why, if the Americans are right to level off 160,000 men this year, the hon. Gentleman rules out any possibility of our levelling off our manpower. Does he deny that the Americans are levelling them off?
§ Mr. Crossman
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I will withdraw that remark and will say that it is a totally inaccurate statement.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
There is more than a debating point involved here because the Parliamentary Secretary is allowing it to be thought that, in fact, we are calling up 12 per cent. fewer men than we called up last year. Will he say whether, in fact, the number of men serving in our Forces is 12 per cent. fewer than it was last year, or is the decrease accounted for by the fact that more people are joining the Regular Services, and that therefore not so many are available for conscription?
§ Mr. Birch
It is accounted for by the fact that there was one extra call-up last 1431 year. The point is that neither the Americans nor ourselves have altered the systems under which we work. Under both systems it is perfectly possible to balance the number of men called up, either by adjusting the medical categories or by accelerating or decelerating the rate of call-up, and we have in fact done that. We have not had as many call-ups this year as last year.
I shall now, if I may, get on with the next part of my speech. I want to deal with equipment. The hon. Member for Coventry, East warned British workers about offshore purchases. He said that when the time came the Appropriation Committee of the American Congress would very likely not put up the money and that they might be thrown out of work. I am informed that no off-shore contracts are signed by the Americans until the money has been appropriated. We can take it that off-shore contracts are all right.
We had a comment from the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton, and comments from other hon. Gentlemen, about the delays in production. It certainly is true that there have been disappointing delays. The Russians have been extraordinarily quick with the M.i.G15s, and we ought to be quicker than we have been. The difficulty with modern types of aircraft is that, more often than not, the prototype bears only a very partial resemblance to the aeroplane when it finally enters a squadron. Between the statement of staff requirements and the aeroplane becoming operational, there are invariably modifications, new devices added, and technical developments incorporated. The recent practice of ordering off the drawing board naturally complicates the problem still further.
There are two points on which I would like to lay some stress. The modern type of aircraft capable of breaking through the sound barrier presents quite new constructional problems, on which there is no fund of experience on which to call. Secondly, it is most important not to put an aeroplane into squadron service until the tests have been done and safety factors assessed. To do otherwise would not be fair to the men in our Air Force. The point is not the difficulty of production; it is difficulty of design. Several 1432 hon. Members have mentioned electronics. Take a modern medium bomber, designed to bomb at two or three times the height of any previous aeroplane; it is not just a matter of planning and producing bombing and navigational aids. We have to invent and design them. That is why it is so difficult to get everything to march in line.
§ Mr. Hobson
While I agree with that statement, does not the hon. Gentleman think, bearing in mind all the difficulties, that there are still too many types of aircraft?
§ Mr. Birch
That is certainly a possible view, and it was discussed at some length on the Air Estimates debate, when it was disclosed that the Victor and the Vulcan had been ordered. The great point has always been made by the air staff that it is extraordinarily difficult to tell by looking at the drawings, or even at the prototype, how an aeroplane will turn out in practice. For instance, the Swift and the Hunter are now coming along and there have been, to my certain knowledge, several changes of view as to which is the better aircraft. It is not an easy decision to make, and if we put our money on one type and happen to back a loser we are in a very dangerous position indeed.
I do not think that the position is quite as gloomy as it has been painted. So far as the Fleet Air Arm is concerned, they are being re-equipped steadily with Sea Hawks. A large number of Avengers have been received from the United States under Defence Aid, and the first squadrons are being equipped with this aircraft, which is still in service with the United States Navy. The first Strike Squadron of Wyverns has been formed ashore, and certain obsolete types of aircraft, like the Firebrands and the Baracudas, have been withdrawn. Answering further questions by the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton, I can say that the Swifts will be in quadron service this year and the Hunters will follow fairly close behind. Next year, the Valiants will be in squadron service.
Super-priority has worked well. I am informed that in the case of the Vulcan and the Victor, anything between 6 months and 18 months has been saved in the procurement of supplies of various sorts. Certainly we have been slower 1433 than the Russians, but there is some evidence that the Russians are not having it all their own way with the later types, and there is no evidence that we are really slower than other countries which are producing aircraft in a comparable quality. The Americans get a great deal of teething trouble as do other people.
§ Mr. Birch
I shall say something about that in a minute. As I said, we are not the only people who are having teething trouble.
The Navy has been under fairly heavy fire and in fact its only defender was my very gallant friend indeed the hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) who made a spirited defence. I do not want to go into that controversy now. It is an argument which has been ventilated in both Houses, and it will have to be decided not only by considering the history of war, but also by looking at future scientific developments and how they bear on the conduct of war. The trouble is that we cannot very well discuss these things here, and as the security curtain descends upon this interesting argument I hope that I shall be forgiven for not pursuing it.
§ Mr. Shinwell
What of the point to which I and some of my hon. Friends addressed ourselves? Surely the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Government, has something to say about the new situation which has emerged and is continuing to develop—that is, the production of modern weapons like guided missiles, rockets and the rest, and what effect they have on the production of conventional weapons. Surely that is not a matter to be discussed in complete secrecy inside. The House is entitled to be informed of some aspects of the situation.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Gentleman is quite unable to do it. That is the point. He has not the information and that is why the Minister of Defence should be in this House.
§ Mr. Birch
I come now to the question of the radar chain. There has certainly been criticism of the operation of the radar chain on the continent in recent days. Lately new equipment has been tried out and that equipment is being given equal priority with the radar chain at home. It is now a question of production and we have reason to believe that in a reasonable time we shall get an adequate chain. I have nothing to add to what was said by my right hon. Friend about the Washington bomber or the Gnat fighter.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether responsibility for the radar chain facing the Iron Curtain right across Europe from Norway to Italy is that of the United Kingdom Government or that of the national Governments concerned?
§ Mr. Shinwell
On a point of order. On the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, it is open to any hon. Member to raise any question which is within the rules of the House.
§ Mr. Shinwell
With great respect to my hon. Friend, there is the opportunity tonight at the close of the defence debate or indeed during the defence debate. No one has any grievance on that score. But I wish to ask, Mr. Speaker, whether in the circumstances of a Consolidated Fund Bill debate, and particularly when important issues relating to national defence are under review, it is not desirable that we should have on the Front Bench in charge of a debate of this kind, not a 1435 number of Parliamentary Secretaries who are not conversant with these subjects at all and have no responsibility whatever, but Cabinet Ministers.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman's question is addressed to me in form, but it is really addressed to the Government.
§ Mr. Shinwell
But if I address myself to the Government, I cannot get anything but an evasive reply. What is the use of asking?
§ Mr. Birch
I think the right hon. Gentleman has had some very clear replies this evening. I was about to close my remarks by saying that we have had this long debate and I have tried to answer as many questions as I can. I could very well speak for the rest of the evening, but other Members must have a chance.
The Roman mobs used to shout for bread and circuses. They used to insist upon the social aspect, as the right hon. Gentleman would say. Bread we must have; it warms the heart to have an occasional circus, but we can have neither unless we have our legions. I therefore hope that the House will give their full support to this Bill.