§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. HEAD'S STATEMENT
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The total of the Army Estimates for the year 1953 to 1954 is for £526 million and for 554,000 all ranks. That sum of money is rather less than it would have been had the planned expansion of the £4,700 million programme been continued. The total of manpower of all ranks at 554,000 has now reached the peak. In the future, as far as manpower is concerned, we shall have to expect a gradual decrease. I shall refer later in my speech to the reasons for the decrease in manpower and to the methods whereby we have made the decrease in money.
Although the sum of money is less than it would have been, it is an extremely large sum of money, and imposed at a time when the nation can least afford to spare it. I am very conscious of my own responsibility both to this House and to the taxpayers for seeing that these large demands for money and men on the nation are not wasted, that the methods by which they are spent are justified, and that the nation is given value for money. I think I shall be meeting the wishes of the House if I dwell particularly on that aspect of the matter today, because the House will, I think, wish to satisfy itself about the reasons for the expenditure and about the way in which the money, and particularly the manpower, our most precious asset of all, are being expended.
I had the advantage on Thursday of being able to listen to the defence debate. In that debate there were two matters that, I think, attracted particular interest in the House. First, it seemed to me that there was a feeling that at the present time our overseas commitments are too big—that they are, perhaps, beyond our resources, and that we should make every possible attempt to reduce them; although I think it is fair to say 845 that, apart from the mention of the Middle East, there was little specific recommendation as to how they could be reduced.
The second matter that, I think, particularly drew the interest of the House was the use of manpower—whether or not it was used economically; whether or not, by some more ingenious methods, we could achieve economy sufficient, perhaps, for an eventual reduction of National Service; and there was general feeling that, maybe, some form of inquiry into the whole manpower question was justified. I think I shall meet the wishes of the House if I go into those matters rather more fully from the Army's point of view than was done in the defence debate.
I do not propose in any way to conceal the problems which now confront the Army, and will confront it in the future. Indeed, I propose rather to concentrate on them. Because of this general trend of my remarks I do not want to give in any way a false impression about the Army. I would at the outset say that I think we have every reason to think that at the present time we have got the best equipped, best trained and best prepared Army we have ever had in peace. I would not suggest for a moment taking the credit for that. The credit started with right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, and a great deal of the credit goes to the soldiers. In that connection, I think the House would wish me to express the debt that the Army owes to a very wise man and very great general, Field Marshal Slim, who, for four years, gave the Army leadership and accomplished a good deal of progress in many ways.
The Army, at the present time, is at the size or equivalent of 11⅓ divisions. I sense many hon. Members saying, "Why is it particularly that size; must it be that size; is it that size purely because of our overseas commitments, or why?" I think the answer is that it is our opinion that at present an Army of 11⅓ divisions is the biggest Army, as a fighting unit, which we can create with the present manpower which we have. By recruiting the maximum number of Regulars and by taking all the National Service men we can get from the allocations, we reckon that we can create and hold an Army of about that size.
846 But the fact remains that with our overseas commitments as they are at present, an Army of the equivalent of 11⅓ divisions is just too small for the job. At the moment, 80 per cent. of our fighting units are overseas and the Army is unduly stretched and strained in meeting our overseas commitments. That brings me at once to the question which was discussed in the defence debate of our overseas commitments.
I think that we can divide them into three categories. The first is our imperial and strategic garrisons which have been reduced to the minimum. In the Mediterranean and elsewhere there has been scope for reduction, but I do not think that there is any more scope for reduction. It was said in the defence debate that there might well be hope for some reduction from our garrisons in the Middle East, but I suggest that, if and when that is the position, our object must be to create a strategic reserve in this country, if possible with aircraft transport, which is the only way in a cold war in which we can have the ability to deliver the stitch in time which so often saves nine.
I do not think that there is much scope for reduction in the imperial and strategic garrisons unless there is an end to the cold war in Malaya, Korea, Kenya and elsewhere. Although it may be argued that one or other of those commitments will be cleared up, it is a bold man who says that nowhere else will this cold war crop up. I believe that the policy in the cold war will be to stir up trouble as often and wherever it can be contrived. With this problem which confronts us, frankly I do not see any large relief in our commitments which are consequent on the cold war and are the second category.
Lastly, our commitments take the form of those set aside for N.A.T.O. I have heard it suggested, although not by many hon. Members, but in the Press and sometimes in this House, that we should withdraw our Forces from Europe. I believe that that would be the most disastrous policy we could adopt. Quite apart from the effect on the unity of the West and N.A.T.O. as a whole, I think, looking at this entirely from the point of view of self-interest, that the defence of this country is inexplicably connected with the defence of Western Europe. 847 These are the three main categories of our commitments, and I hope I have done something to convince the House that at the moment there is no great prospect, with one exception, of achieving any marked saving of manpower. Hon. Members may well say, "Maybe the commitments are there, but we may have too many Forces here or too many there." I have no doubt that that could be argued, but I think that hon. Members will agree that it is difficult to argue in this House. Logically, we could do so, if we could have a large map of the world, marked with pins to show all our garrisons, world wide, brought into the Chamber.
Presumably, Mr. Speaker, that would be out of order and hardly acceptable to the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I believe that if hon. Members were to look at that board they would experience great difficulty in pulling out many pins. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) would have six out before one could say "Jack Robinson," and he might put them sharp end up on the Government Front Bench, for all I know. But I do not believe that if we are to meet our commitments at the present time there is any great scope for reductions there.
If hon. Members would accept what I have attempted to argue so far, which is that, for the time being and it may be for some months, unless something good happens, we look like having to retain an Army of the equivalent of 11⅓ divisions. We in the War Office are then at once confronted with the problem of keeping up the strength of the Army to that size, because we have calculated that by 1955 we shall be 15,000 men down on our personnel strength.
Hon. Members may think that a very curious statement in view of the increased figures of Regular recruiting. I would not like to go into the very intricate manpower calculations on which that is based, but it is really the result of the freezing of Regulars in 1950 by the late Government and now the unfreezing of Regulars which will be completed by September, 1953. The present Government had five call-ups in 1952, so we had a bumper year. There will only be four call-ups in the future and thus large numbers will be going out in 1954. The 848 extra three year recruits do not start to benefit the Army in terms of manpower until the end of 1954, because the majority of them would have been included in any case as National Service men when they were called up.
Thus we have worked out an estimate, which I believe to be correct, that by 1955 we shall be some 15,000 men down and, in addition, many units in the Army are now under-posted. It is against this background there come the suggestions and proposals that National Service should be reduced. That was gone into in considerable detail in the defence debate, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister deployed the argument, I think very clearly and convincingly, as to why we could not now, for the time being, have it reduced. It was my impression that the majority of the House were convinced by those arguments. After the fulminations and the thunderings of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) on this subject, I think, if I may say so, that his speech on defence on Thursday became something of a hiccough. Maybe he has been eating too many of his own words.
I must not let the right hon. Gentleman get in my way of stating facts, but I would suggest that, from the point of view of National Service, the attitude in which both young men and their parents accept it is largely dependent on their conviction that it is absolutely necessary. I believe that anyone who undermines that conviction is carrying out an act which has a very big bearing on the general attitude towards this unwelcome imposition. I hope that we have seen the last of that particular theory, which I think was very regrettable, in view of the great tenacity and courage of the right hon. Gentleman when he himself was in office.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of the reduction of the establishments, would he explain why he has re-formed seven battalions, if so many units are under-established?
§ Mr. Head
I said that they were under-posted in theory. These under-posted units are restricted mostly to this country and to certain less essential stations. but all those in Korea and Malaya are at full establishment. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the Middle East?"] I cannot 849 answer that off hand, but I do not think they are far under strength. I will let the hon. Gentleman have the figures later.
There is one thing that I want to add about National Service. Naturally, speaker after speaker in the defence debate stated how unwelcome National Service was and what a burden it was and how we should all like to get rid of the necessity for it. In their correspondence and contacts, hon. Members are very much concerned with those who have had the least fortunate experiences in National Service, for they are the ones who write to hon. Members. We are sometimes apt to forget that, as we have to have National Service, there is also a credit side to it.
I am not now talking about the very bright young men or the skilled apprentices. Many average or somewhat below average young men have joined the Army with a very low educational standard, with under-developed physique, with very little religious instruction, many of them not having been confirmed, and with a very low degree of independence and ability to look after themselves. I am not criticising; I am stating facts. A lot of that may be due to the fact that the boy who is now 18 was six in 1940 and had to grow up during the war.
When these young men join the Army they work hard to get their third-class certificate of education because it affects their pay, and they play games, and they get much fitter and they develop physically in an astonishing way. It might interest hon. Members to know that 60 per cent. of the young men who join the Army gain 4 lb. or more in weight in the first 10 weeks and 20 per cent. gain 10 lb. That is a remarkable fact on the physical side.
These young men meet the padres, and many of them become confirmed and go to church voluntarily. The Chaplain General, the Bishop of Croydon and the Church Houses have done great work in that respect. This situation gives the churches an opportunity at the present time. Apart from that, the young men learn to look after themselves, and they gain in independence. The House should not overlook the fact that a large number of young men annually leave the Army fittter, better educated and more God-fearing citizens than when they entered it.
850 It was said during the defence debate on Thursday, and I am sure it will be said again today, that there is a lot of waste of manpower in the Army. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger)—I hope I am not misquoting him—said that if we could economise in manpower and step up Regular recruiting, we should have a chance to reduce the National Service demand.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
No, that was not my argument. My argument related to a change in the defence picture in Europe and the coming into operation of the German forces.
§ Mr. Head
I am sorry; I did not want to put the wrong words into the right hon. Gentleman's mouth, but suggestions were made that by a more ingenious and economical use of manpower we might be able to lighten the burden of National Service. I do not deny that there is scope, and I believe there always will be scope, for economy in the use of manpower, but it is my experience that although we get a very large number of suggestions and criticisms, we do not get anything concrete in substantiation of the suggestions.
I asked a very distinguished officer, "Where do we waste manpower?" The officer replied, "I will tell you where you can start. You have four men looking after the apes in Gibraltar." I sent a signal and found that this was the part-time job of one very-long-service gunner. I am not criticising anybody about this, but that is an example of some of the suggestions for economies that we get. An hon. Gentleman opposite had an anonymous giant who, he suggested, could provide many suggestions, but I have been unable to obtain them.
I am not attempting to say that there is nothing that can be done, but I would remind hon. Members that there has been progress in this field. In January, 1950. there were 373,500 men and the equivalent of 7⅓ divisions in the Army. If we take that in a slice, it gives a figure of 51,200 men. Today, the Army has 437,500 men and the equivalent of 11⅓ divisions, and that gives a slice of 38,700 men. That is a reduction of 13,000 men per slice. Some hon. Members live in glass houses when they throw stones at me about this. I cannot remember who was Secretary of State for War in 1950, but he must be in the Crystal Palace. 851 Last year we saved 10,000 men and seven new battalions were formed, and we cut the War Office by 10 per cent. The figure for the strength of the War Office was 7,734 in 1952 and that in these Estimates is 7,013. Thus, we have cut off 721. I admit that we are 50 behind, but that will come; that delay is partly due to some increase for the Coronation. During the year we have also cut the divisional and brigade headquarters, in the case of the armoured formations by about 16 per cent. and in the case of the infantry by about 9 per cent.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
Has the right hon. Gentleman cut the number of officers at brigade headquarters?
§ Mr. Head
The percentage runs throughout the whole strength of the headquarters. I do not know the exact number of officers off-hand, but no doubt we can ascertain that before the end of the debate.
I know that there is more that could be done. I have now started four investigations. One of these is being made into our workshops, ordnance stores, engineer stores and supply depots and it is being carried out by Sir James Reid Young, who is the joint managing director of Vickers, Limited, to whom I am grateful for lending him to us. His job is to carry out a general survey of the organisation and administrative methods employed by these establishments and to report whether they are being run on efficient and economical lines.
We have also asked General Kirkman, who carried out a most effective reduction of costs in Germany on behalf of the Foreign Office, to examine the whole of the command and district organisation in this country and to see whether he can, by reorganisation and reductions, make economies in that field. I hope and believe that there is scope there. There has been no change in the general structure of district headquarters since 1945; in fact, they remain as they were before the war.
We have also a working party which is attempting to reduce the number of non-effectives, that is, people in the pipelines and elsewhere, which is particularly the result of so much movement. In addition, General Callender, who had a 852 very successful hunt round after General Templar had finished a similar task, is looking into the schools and training establishments.
§ Mr. Joseph T. Price (Westhoughton)
Will the right hon. Gentleman look closely at the Pay Corps with a view to seeing how many of its duties could be performed by civilian labour?
§ Mr. Head
I am betwixt the devil and the deep blue sea about this. Suggestions are made by some hon. Members for the use of more civilians, and there are also the fulminations coming from my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) about the use of too many civilians. We have to some extent increased the civilian labour, but I do not know what the result will be.
Whatever we do, there is one point which I must stress. An hon. Member asked me a Question which covered practically the whole of the Army Estimates. He asked when I was going to do something about doing away with non-essential administrative units. We have not got many non-essential administrative units in the Army. It is an immense job to look after the Army overseas, with such large numbers at such great distances. The Army's tail has a most alarming load to bear, if I may be forgiven for that metaphor. We cannot hold large stocks of stores without having men to look after them and account for them.
The engineer stores alone hold 750,000 tons, covering a whole range of things from a pocket electric bulb to a 48-ton stone crusher. There are 750,000 different items in ordnance stores alone and that adds up in manpower. The Army eats 550 tons of food a year——
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
The right hon. Gentleman is not only eating his own words now; he is eating his figures as well.
§ Mr. Head
An hon. Member speaking in the defence debate the other day complained that the cost for feeding a soldier was so much more than for feeding a sailor or an airman. His figure was obtained by dividing the wrong number into the wrong quantity of food, a thing very easy to do in the Army Estimates. In fact, the cost of feeding a soldier is £67.3 a year and for a sailor and airman £67, so the extra is very slight and is largely due to the fact that the bulk of the Army is overseas.
I hope the House will acquit the "tail" of being the thing which the Army keeps in order to put people in "cushy" jobs and so waste manpower. It is, I believe —and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) will agree with me—a vital part of a modern Army. I am not saying that modern armies do not grow big tails. There was a young subaltern who wrote very well about the tail and its importance when he said:The eye is fixed on the fighting brigades as they move amid the smoke; on the swarming figures of the enemy; on the general, serene and determined, mounted in the middle of his staff. The long trailing line of communications is unnoticed. The fierce glory that plays on red, triumphant bayonets dazzles the observer; nor does he care to look behind to where, along a thousand miles of rail, road and river, the convoys are crawling to the front in uninterrupted succession. Victory is the beautiful, bright-coloured flower. Transport is the stem without which it could never have blossomed.The fact that the subaltern grew up to become Prime Minister does not affect the validity of those words.
On the question of manpower I think I ought to touch first on the question of apprentices. There is considerable anxiety among many hon. Members on 854 both sides of the House that we are wasting skilled apprentices. I should like at the start to say that part of the reason for some of the feeling is because there are two kinds of apprentices coming into the Army, those who are really qualified and those who are not apprentices. The latter come largely from men who have a very poor acquaintance with the trade they claim to be apprenticed to. For instance, a man may say that he is an apprentice plumber, but he has a very poor knowledge of plumbing. Of the skilled qualified apprentices, the vast majority are put into qualified trades in the Army. There are more vacancies in the Army than there are qualified apprentices for them, and we have a close liaison with the Ministry of Labour to see that they all go into the right place.
There is also a great diversification of trades and they range from fitters and radio mechanics to chiropodists, tunnellers, navigators—seamen, and so on. The only apprentices who do not get fitted into the right jobs now are usually those with very rare trades. I looked at the list only the other day. I find that we have people who as apprentices are qualified as piano manufacturers, chicken sexers, rhododendron grafters, jockeys and all kinds of trades which have no equivalent in the Army.
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
Is the right hon. Gentleman dealing now with the National Service man as well as the Regular recruit?
§ Mr. Head
I am referring only to the National Service man. I will admit that where a recruit claims he is an apprentice but is really a non-qualified man, he sometimes does not go to the equivalent trade. In many cases where such people write to hon. Members and say, "I am an apprentice to such and such a trade, but I have been put to do something else," it is found, when one goes into the circumstances, that the man in question has no claim to be an apprentice to that special trade.
I hope I have done something to show —I have no doubt that it is not sufficient to please all hon. Members—that we are doing what we can to economise in manpower, and that progress has been made in this field. Before I leave the question of manpower—and I have taken rather a long time over it, because a great deal 855 of interest was evinced in it in the defence debate last week—I think I should say something about the Regulars, particularly the question of recruiting and of keeping men in the Army.
Last year I told the House that we were starting to overhaul the whole of our recruiting machinery, and that was largely due to the work of Major-General Whitfield, who went on a world-wide tour to study the problem. The machine for recruiting has been improved, and in this field both the London and the provincial Press, have been very helpful. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking them. The figures, as hon. Members know, are encouraging in so far as in 1951 they were 23,000, and in 1952 they were 49,000. But as the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who is not here at the moment, so rightly said the other day, we must treat those figures with caution, not because the men are not in but because there is no guarantee about their staying.
I thought it might be of interest to the House if I were to say what we estimate were the number of men we should like to stay in the Army if we are to get the kind of age structure that we want. We should be all right if 33 per cent. of the three-year men stayed for six years, and if something like 50 per cent. of those who stayed on extended for nine years. That would give us an adequate, regular basis for the Army as it is organised at the present time. The problem is how to do it, and will they stay on? That at the moment is the query, and it would be impossible for us to say whether or not that will happen.
We introduced the 22 years' career engagement so that a man could stay on by right whereas in the old days, having done five or seven years, the Army finished with him except for special occasions. Of the recruits joining today 40 per cent. joined for the 22 years' engagement, which is quite good, but it is not binding. They can, of course, opt out, but it is a question of the psychological advantage. If they join for 22 years, they have got to contract out instead of contract in. Hon. Members opposite know the advantage of that particular situation. Only the future can show whether the system will work, but the main enemy 856 to the scheme is the cold war and the percentage of the Army that is overseas.
What worries me and the War Office, and I think, many hon. Members interested in the Army, is the fact that recently re-engagements and extensions of service have gone down. As a result only 10 per cent. of the Regulars in the Army now have over six years' service. We estimate that for the position to be satisfactory we want about 20 per cent. That means that one has to diagnose very carefully the reasons why re-engagements and extensions are going down.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Will the right hon. Gentleman try to give a comparison between the present continuous length of overseas service, which is now three years, and the pre-war period?
§ Mr. Head
One of the factors is that Germany now counts as home service, and another is the ending of the Cardwell system which existed before the war—for every battalion in this country there was another overseas. Now, with 80 per cent. of the fighting units overseas, the proportion of overseas service is very much greater than it was before the war.
We believe, from an examination of the figures—and I think it is the right diagnosis—that one of the main reasons for the downward trend in re-engagements and extensions of service is the separation of families. Out of 80 per cent. of the married men overseas no fewer than 66 per cent. are separated from their families. Our great difficulty is in providing married quarters due especially to such factors as political uncertainty.
It would be very unwise at the moment to build a lot of married quarters in the Middle East, and there are great difficulties in providing an adequate scale of married quarters. We have considered this matter extremely carefully, and although nothing is as good as the united family or the married quarter, we felt that something must be done. After working at it for some time, we are bringing in a new measure. At the present moment, a married man draws the marriage allowance whether separated from his wife or not, but the married man overseas who is separated from his wife is at a considerable disadvantage especially in areas where living is expensive. Therefore, we are bringing in a special rate of local overseas allowance. 857 At the moment, a man separated from his wife draws only the single rate of L.O.A. We are bringing in a married rate which will mean that a man unaccompanied by his wife will draw this rate. It is being worked out for 50 areas, and it will mean that a captain in, say, Egypt will get about £100 a year extra tax free, which is not a negligible amount. A sergeant in Egypt will get about £55 a year tax free.
I am not suggesting that this solves the problem—the best thing, of course, is a united family—but it is an earnest of the fact that we understand the men's difficulties and are trying to do what we can to help. The best solution of all is to have a higher percentage of the British Army back in this country as a strategic reserve.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
With regard to this very good news about the increased local overseas allowance, can my right hon. Friend say whether that also includes those officers and men who have their wives in overseas stations in which they were previously serving? I quite see that it is a great benefit where the family is at home and the man is overseas, but there are, as my right hon. Friend knows, quite a number of cases where both the wife and the husband are overseas, but not in the same foreign station.
§ Mr. Head
I never like making absolutely categorical statements in case I am wrong on the Regulations, but I am fairly sure—and I would bet a heavy shade of odds on it being a fact— that if, say, a wife is in Cyprus and her husband is in, say, Fayid or Kenya, he would qualify for this unaccompanied rate of local overseas allowance.
I have talked about the married men, and this is perhaps an opportunity to say a word or two about bachelors. The point I particularly wish to refer to is the question of barrack accommodation 858 in this country. That matter gives me cause for very great concern indeed, as I am sure it did to both right hon. Gentlemen who were at the War Office before me. At present, two-thirds of the Army in Britain are in huts which were built either before the 1939 war or, in some cases, even before the 1914 war, and most of them on a 10-year basis. The remaining one-third of the British Army are in barracks, of which 44 per cent. were built before 1900 and some even before the Crimean war.
That is a very serious situation because unless something is done reasonably soon, the Army will become a Service of slum dwellers. I am well aware of the difficulties in the way of getting any large measure of Service building at a time when there is such an immense need of housing by the civil population, but we are rapidly approaching a stage where if something is not done these huts will fall down and we shall be in serious trouble. I hope in the course of the coming year to get plans laid and to make a start in dealing with this problem. I wish to pay a tribute to the useful report made by the Holland Committee under the guidance of the right hon. Member for Easington. It is the first time that there has been a policy on this matter.
I do not think that the House would wish me to make no mention of the problem of officers. I told the House last year that we were about 10 per cent. down in officers. During the last 12 months we have made a little progress, although it might well have been more. We had 440 more officers last year than in the year before, or, to be exact, 441, because the Army was much gratified by the fact that the Duke of Edinburgh was made a field-marshal. I think the Army will benefit a great deal from his interest and very keen knowledge of technical subjects.
The position as regards officers is not one for complacency, but it is not as serious at the moment as the position with regard to n.c.o.s and warrant officers. We have done quite a lot in respect of cadets, visits of schoolmasters, and so forth, to stimulate officer recruiting. We have liaison officers in all the Commands. I have been very struck by the fact that many schoolmasters are absolutely convinced that the Army is a career for the stupid. But I have been equally impressed by the fact that when some 859 schoolmasters visit Sandhurst or the Staff College they are surprised at the standards which obtain in those places. I have heard many expressions almost of amazement from schoolmasters who have made such visits.
I do not know why there should be this strong prejudice among schools, and it is a big stumbling block in recruiting. I am sure hon. Members opposite will agree that the Army officer of today who has a responsible job to do is far from being a stupid individual. We find Army officers running all sorts of things, such as the B.B.C. and goodness knows what all over the country. Perhaps in saying that I have said something which is ill-advised.
Last year I mentioned two projects which I hoped would become realities. One of them was the Military College of Science at Shrivenham, which will take boys straight from their National Service or school. They will go there for a B.Sc. course of from two to three years and will then go direct to the Army. It is an alternative method to Sandhurst. It starts in September, 1953. I hope and believe that it will be a success.
I look upon it as important because science and the technical side will have an increasingly important influence on the Army and Shrivenham has not been popular in the past. We have sent 20 good regimental officers there on a six months' course. If it is a good one, and they go back and say they have enjoyed it, science may become more fashionable in the Army. Our aim is to get 10 per cent. of the interest which was once devoted to the horse to be devoted to science. If we can get only that, we shall have made a good start.
We have also introduced an extended service commission which is open to all those who have done a short service commission. The initial tenure is for five years, nine in the R.A.S.C. and R.E.M.E. We have made careful selection and it is an opportunity for a good, promising officer on a short service commission to serve longer than he can at present.
In September, 1953, we shall be opening the school at Welbeck for grammar and secondary school boys, which was a project in the last Estimates. I am sorry that more boys did not apply from the 860 North—they represented 30 per cent. of 200 which is—[An HON. MEMBER: "Sixty."] I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman, my mathematics have not been a strong point in this speech so far. Although that percentage is not altogether disappointing, I wish it had been more. However the applicants, at any rate on paper, look as if they are of a good standard.
I shall not leave the Regular Army without mentioning one valuable addition and that is the Women's Royal Army Corps. I told the House last year that the Army was keen to make itself more attractive as a career to women, and the figures this year suggest that we have been successful. During the year we have taken a number of new steps. In the old days a girl had to join before she could ask for the job she wanted, which was much less satisfactory. Now she can get a direct short service commission, if she qualifies, for certain corps and staff appointments. We are starting an experiment in Scotland whereby girls live at home and work locally with no further commitment and they cannot be posted away. If that experiment is a success, we want to extend it. We have also extended the range and number of vacancies in the technical arms.
One way and another the results have been good. In 1951, 2,402 joined and, in 1952, 3,234. That was quite a good increase and I am delighted to say that for the first time the recruiting figures for the Army have passed those of the W.R.A.F., which is something of an achievement. There is no doubt that the Army offers good opportunities for girls at the present time. Incidentally, as before, it offers equally good opportunities for matrimony, which remains our main source of wastage.
We have discussed the commitments and, in the light of those commitments, our ability to maintain the Regular Army. In view of our present overseas commitments the necessity of having a well prepared Reserve Army is as important as ever it was. The Territorial Army is growing, inevitably from the intake of National Service, and it now consists of 6,900 Regulars as a cadre, 135,000 National Service men part-time and 67,000 volunteers who have no National Service commitment. It now totals 861 209,000 and by July, 1954, it will have reached its full strength.
The future of the Territorial Army has a good deal in common with the future of the Regular Army in this respect: Will the National Service part-time man volunteer to go on after he has finished his part-time service? If he does, it will work very well; if he does not, it will be difficult. In the meantime, 28 per cent, of National Service men are volunteers, which is quite a satisfactory figure. I suggest to the House that we owe an immense debt of gratitude to the 67,000 volunteers in the Territorial Army with no National Service commitment, many of them getting older, who have worked extraordinarily hard since 1945, particularly during this last year or two when the Army has been expanding. I hope very much that the majority will stay on until the National Service part-time men have grown old enough and experienced enough to take over their jobs.
The other aspect of the Territorial Army which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West rightly stressed was the importance of trying to increase the state of preparedness and the rapidity with which the Army can mobilise for overseas. I am at one with the right hon. Gentleman in that, but progress in this field is limited by the fact that we have only two weeks' training a year. If we had four, the Army would be more prepared; if we had six, the Army would be even more prepared. With two weeks, although all of that training must be worth while, any marked increase is hard to achieve.
There is, however, a good deal of formation training going on in the Territorial Army now and this year, on Salisbury Plain, there will be three divisions and three brigades training at staggered intervals. That form of training is extremely popular with the Territorial Army and gives a great deal of experience to staffs and others who do not normally train with the Territorial Army. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Territorial Army now trains on a three-year cycle.
I am speaking a great deal longer than I had thought I should and I apologise to the House for detaining it so long. 862 Before leaving the general subject of manpower, I must mention the Colonial Army. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Dudley would wish me to leave this subject without some mention of that. At present, there are 35 equivalent battalions of the Colonial Army which are at the disposal of the Colonial Governments but have co-operated, both in war and in cold war, most helpfully in assisting us in various tasks.
I told the House last year that in conjunction with the Colonial Office we had plans to form five new battalions and those have been formed by the Colonial Governments. In addition, they have formed a labour force of 7,000 men. The plans for 1953–55 are to form eight equivalent regular Colonial battalions —and six volunteer battalions—that is 14 —making a total in the three-year cycle of 19 new Colonial battalions. I would point out to the hon. Member for Dudley that in the equivalent period before the Government were in office none was formed and 19 in three years is not bad progress. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should take note of that and perhaps exploit it——
§ Mr. Head
Yes, I can tell the hon. Gentleman exactly. What happens in many of these forces is that certain of them have companies in an area and so somebody forms one company here and another somewhere else. If we get enough of them together, they are turned into a battalion. I could instead have spoken in terms of companies. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is nothing bogus about it. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Easington is doubtful. Last year our project was for five battalions. and we have made it five, and I see no reason to think that we will not stick to that rather successful yet unprecedented method of increasing the Colonial Army. I should like to pay a tribute to the help which the Colonial Forces have given in Malaya, where the Fiji Battalion and the King's African Rifles have put in excellent work.
I must say a word about the question of production and rearmament. I said at the start that the total of money that we have this year is less than it would have been had the planned expansion to —4,700 million been maintained. I also said that I would say how we had met the reduction. With the Army remaining at the same size, it is patently impossible to meet a financial reduction in what might be called the essential hard core expenditure—that is to say, feeding, clothing, paying, transport, and so forth. Therefore, most of this cut has fallen on production, which, I think, is inevitable. [Interruption.] I welcome the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes); I was feeling quite lost without him.
The Army's requirements from production are, first, to replace worn out stores, material and weapons; secondly, to issue new stores and weapons; and thirdly, to create war reserves. Most of the reductions which we have had financially have been taken in the field of new stores and equipment and the creation of war reserves. We cannot cut very strongly on the replacement of worn out stores, materials and weapons.
With few exceptions, the cut has been taken not by abandoning orders and by 864 forgoing weapons; it has been taken by deferment in time. If, for instance, one had a rearmament programme with, say, a production side of £104 million a year, or £2 million a week, it might be said that if it was cut by £10 million, that would be a five weeks' deferment in time. That is to say, if we postpone it into the next year, we would have accepted the cut on the present year's Estimates. Of course, it is in fact nothing like as simple as that, and the transaction does not go so neatly into one period of time. By and large, however, the reduction has been met by deferment in time, and not by the abandonment of any particular weapons.
I referred in the White Paper to the main points on the issue of new weapons to the Army; to the good family of antitank weapons which we are now getting, and which are excellent; and to the Centurion tank, for which production figures are very good, and in respect of which sales are good, both for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and for the Army. We are not cutting down on numbers for the Army. The Army is adequately supplied with Centurion tanks, but by keeping production going and having sales we ensure a potential against hot war if it should come. That is an immense asset.
§ Mr. Head
No. We are not fully equipped with the recoilless gun; it has not yet come to everyone. It is going first to Germany, but we are not fully equipped. In addition to the Centurion, the new heavy gun tank will be in the hands of troops for use at trials this year. This is a very powerful tank and is a remarkable example of British skill in the engineering field.
I cannot help feeling that we must be getting near the end of the development of the tank when we get sizes of this kind. This tank, however, will be complementary to, and not a substitute for, the Centurion. Probably it will be the most powerful tank in the world. To what extent this field of development will continue, I do not pretend to know, but my own feeling is that I cannot escape expecting developments in some other field, in another technique, which will eventually, as has so often happened, replace the tank by something else. 865 The Army badly wants a new rifle. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Nobody is more aware of that than I am. As hon. Members know too well, there was a great deal of difficulty about selecting a bore which was acceptable to all. The problem of selecting a bore upon which all agree has, curiously enough. been referred to the B.B.C.—in this case the British, Belgian and Canadian Technical Committee—who have made good progress and, I think, are well on the way to getting an agreed solution. Without being over-optimistic, one can say that there is a good chance that we shall be able to start production before the end of the year. There is a good chance that the new agreed rifle with its modifications will retain most of the advantages and performance of the old. 280.
§ Mr. Head
I should have said "the.280." The adjective "old" should never be used loosely.
We are also concentrating a great deal on building up our ammunition stocks. This is a difficult and long problem, and one of the features of war, both at the end of the 1939 war and in Korea, has been the very high rate of ammunition expenditure. To build up ammunition stocks is a very considerable problem, which places a heavy strain also upon my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply.
The G.S. range of "B" vehicles—lorries, and so on—started to come out in considerable numbers last year, and now the combat range of this type of vehicle is also starting to come out. The combat range is the very high standard performance vehicle which is very good across country, and its issue is largely restricted to fighting troops for transporting troops and towing weapons. I must admit that I was not entirely satisfied that we could afford all the very high specifications which were combined in the combat range, and I appointed a committee who went into the question to see what reductions could be made without sacrificing essential performance and strength.
So far, they have done this with the one-ton vehicle and they have saved £250 on each one-tonner. They are now going to do the three-tonner, and I propose to extend this examination to other fields of 866 equipment such as radar and other expensive items, because I believe that provided we have adequate performance and serviceability, we cannot in these days afford those additional but less essential requirements which have so often been characteristic of British equipment in the past. I believe it to be essential to get rid of frills wherever we can.
I assure the House that we are paying close attention to future trends and developments. The effects of atomic weapons have been studied in conjunction with the Americans. They are being studied during training, both technically and strategically, together with the best methods of neutralising the effect of such weapons. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff this year, in August, is to carry out a study to examine the effect of atomic weapons on tactical doctrine in various phases of war.
The guided missile, too, has made progress and shows great promise. It is not for me to give the House a report on this subject, nor indeed would the House expect me to go into great detail because it is obviously secret, but I can say that future developments in this field and kindred developments are of immense significance to the Army. I believe in the future we shall have certain new weapons and techniques which will have a very big effect on our Army and its future.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Cannot the right hon. Gentleman say anything about out antiaircraft defence, which is probably one of the largest demands on the Army?
§ Mr. Head
Yes. I should have said at the beginning of my speech that I have had to be very selective in choosing subjects to talk about. I would have wearied the House very much if I had attempted to speak on all of them. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to raise such matters, we shall have an opportunity tonight to go on as long as we wish.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I did not propose to speak in this debate, but I did specifically mention this subject in the presence of the right hon. Gentleman in the defence debate and so far no answer has been forthcoming as to the state of our anti-aircraft defence, which, I believe, is lamentable.
§ Mr. Head
I would not say that it is lamentable at all; in fact, a great deal of progress has been made. This is a matter about which we used to talk quite a lot when we were on the other side of the House. I am well aware of the difficulties in training men, going ahead with replacements, conversion of guns, and so forth, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that a great deal of progress has been made. I can furnish him with more particulars privately if he would like to know more about it. I am not trying to dodge the question.
§ Mr. Wigg
My right hon. Friend made a very serious charge in the defence debate and I am surprised that it was not dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. My right hon. Friend said that the situation regarding anti-aircraft defence was worse than in 1938 when the Minister of Supply risked his reputation in that office by drawing attention to the matter. Is that so or not?
§ Mr. Shinwellrose——
§ Mr. Shinwell
I can help the right hon. Gentleman. I think that in the interests of accuracy it should be said—although I am well aware that for security reasons we cannot disclose all the facts—that it is obvious to those of us who know something about this matter that the state of our anti-aircraft defences, although far from adequate, is far better than it has been for many years.
§ Mr. Head
The right hon. Member has not always set entirely fortunate precedents by his interventions; I am, none the less, much obliged to him.
We have now placed orders for body armour. It is a new feature which has been tried out in Korea. It does not 868 give anything like universal protection, but it gives a certain degree of protection which, we think, justifies the placing of orders. I do not know what the future will be and a great many problems will be posed for commanders as to on which occasions it should be used and such questions. In case hon. Members would like to see it, I have arranged for a body armour waistcoat to be placed in the Library and hon. Members can put it on. It is armoured back and front.
There has been great progress in the design and performance of aircraft. That, I think, is of great significance to the Army. I entirely agree with what the right hon. Member for Dundee, West said the other day, that a strategic reserve which can be flown rapidly to the set of difficulty or trouble is the aim we must have and try to achieve as soon as possible in the cold war. That is our aim and it is also our aim to do it as soon as possible. But the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the best types of aircraft to carry out this role are extremely expensive and, in many cases, there is a large waiting list for them.
Nevertheless, I am glad to have the opportunity of saying how pleased and grateful the Army are to the Air Ministry, who have already ordered a considerable number of the Blackburn freighter on our behalf. That is a great asset as it is a very fine, large freighter with great carrying performance. It can take 40 men with their kit and six jeeps, or one could drive a whole char-a-banc into it.
§ Brigadier O.L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
In the defence debate I asked whether there was any possibility of quick adaptation of civilian aircraft for the carriage of troops. If that is so, it seems a pity not to make use of it.
§ Mr. Head
Civilian aircraft are excellent for transporting troops and their kit, either for ordinary peace-time movements, or in emergency in war, but where one has jeeps, guns, and so forth, conversion is in most cases very difficult. That is the particular asset of the Blackburn freighter, which is a specialist aircraft with specialist loading for that particular purpose.
§ Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
Does my right hon. Friend consider the use of flying-boats and their adaptation 869 as troop carriers? Three Princess flying-boats have been built, and are awaiting engines, which are admirably suited for this purpose.
§ Mr. Head
I can assure my hon. Friend that that has been considered.
I apologise to the House for going on for a longer time than I anticipated, but there are still other points I could make. That, I feel, would be trespassing too much on the time of the House. I have tried to lay out as fully as possible in the Memorandum the operational side of what the Army are doing. I have tried, in the Memorandum, to make specific statements about various other problems on which I have not touched today.
The time has now come when I should submit the Estimate and myself to the criticism and the searching examination of the House. That is as it should be and there will be many hon. Members who will not agree with my proposals and who will not share my opinions. That, also, is to be expected, but I think there is perhaps one opinion, which I hold very strongly, with which many hon. Members will agree. It is that today, possibly more than ever before—at least in peace-time—we have cause to be intensely proud of the personnel of the British Army. They are spread all over the world, many of their jobs are difficult, arduous and dangerous, and in all cases they have done them supremely well. I should like to conclude my speech by expressing, jointly, our gratitude and admiration for what all those in the Army have done.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
The Secretary of State, in moving these Estimates, has concentrated his attention largely on two fields, that of the commitments of the Army—the enormous world-wide commitments under which they labour today—and the use of manpower. I will endeavour to follow the right hon. Gentleman in discussing those two matters.
Before doing so, there are one or two separate questions, some of which the right hon. Gentleman has touched on, which I should like to get out of the way first. There is first, the quite separate question of the 280 rifle. Neither from paragraph 84 of the Memorandum nor the remarks which the right hon. Gentleman has just made, am I quite clear 870 about what is the position in regard to that rifle today. Do we understand that a new rifle is being designed round new ammunition, because we were always led to believe by the small arms experts that the.280 rifle was built round the ammunition, round the calibre?
§ Mr. Head
I believe I can help the right hon. Gentleman. The new rifle is being built round the cartridge case. The main difference in the round is the length of the cartridge case, which affects the breech. If there is a standard-size cartridge case, the size of the round may be altered without altering the breech. But if the barrel is altered the cartridge case itself must be altered.
§ Mr. Strachey
As we understood, the very essence of the new automatic weapon was the small calibre, for various reasons. The most obvious reason was that an automatic, or a semi-automatic weapon, needed a large supply of ammunition, which meant the carrying of a greater weight, unless that was compensated for by a lighter round and a lighter rifle. If we go back to the.303 bore or any higher calibre, all that will be sacrificed. That seems alarming when we remember that the main objection to this weapon from the Americans was its small calibre. It is difficult to see how those objections are to be met without increasing the calibre again.
I hope the prediction of the right hon. Gentleman that the delay—it is now a delay of nearly two years—will come to an end this summer. But have we any real assurance that the new round, and the new weapon which will be built round it, will meet with favour in America? And what do we do if that does not happen? Do we again scrap this weapon and retain our existing 50-year-old rifle? It would appear to me that we are in an alarming position. I deeply regret the decision taken by this Government—it was one of their first decisions—not to proceed with the.280 rifle.
One cannot burke the fact that the British infantry could have had what I do not hesitate to call a magnificent new 871 weapon put into their hands this coming summer. That was the expectation held out to us. But the manufacture has not even begun, and I understand that it will be at least two years after manufacture begins before this weapon reaches the units. I ask the Under-Secretary for an assurance that the new cartridge and the weapon will on this occasion be proceeded with, if it satisfies our experts, whether it satisfies everyone else or not.
We cannot wait on standardisation for ever. The Americans are in quite a different position. They already have an automatic rifle. We have a rifle, a magnificent weapon of its period, but frankly that period was 1900, the Boer War period. We cannot go on waiting. Standardisation is a most useful thing, but allies have fought every war hitherto without standardising their small arms. I cannot believe that for the sake of the ideal of standardisation, we should any longer deny an automatic weapon to the British infantry. We on this side of the House feel strongly that it was a lamentable decision on the part of the Government, and one which should be reversed and retrieved as far as possible this summer.
I should like to know what has happened to the cotton battledress which was being designed two years ago. At that time it was held up because of a shortage of cotton. That shortage has not continued. The battledress contained a large quantity of cotton but there was also rayon and other materials in its composition. I hope that the evolution of what seemed to me a promising battle-dress is going forward.
There is mention in the Memorandum of covered stores. In paragraph 90 we are told that good progress is being made. There were formerly difficulties about the provision of covered stores because of the steel shortage, which is now largely overcome. I hope we can be assured that as our new weapons come off the production line in increasing numbers, we shall be able to provide covered storage for them. During my period of office we were haunted by the fear that covered storage might not be available by the time the new weapons were produced.
I come now to the serious points about welfare raised by the Secretary of State, and the question of married quarters. The right hon. Gentleman referred to 872 them with some feeling, which showed he has realised the importance of the matter. There is the problem of living accommodation, whether for the married or single men, and the question of overseas service, with the additional hardships caused by the greater degree of overseas service today. The right hon. Gentleman announced a welcome financial concession in the shape of an increase in the L.O.A. But, as he said, no financial concession, however welcome, can meet the situation, because it is a question of families being united.
I would emphasise that the question of welfare is not merely a matter of philanthropy. It is a question on which indirectly the whole efficiency of the Army depends. It determines whether the middle-piece officers and N.C.O.s are retained. These people are the backbone of the Army, and unless the welfare problems are solved, sooner rather than later, that backbone begins to weaken. There are alarming statements on that subject in the Memorandum. In paragraph 7 it is stated:Inevitably such a situation causes strain and this is felt most strongly among the middle-piece officers and non-commissioned officers who are married.In paragraph 8 it is stated:There has been some tendency during the past year for regular married non-commissioned officers to leave the Army. We are doing everything possible to reduce and limit the causes of this trend, but it is largely the consequence of the shortage of married quarters and the many unpredictable moves caused by the cold war.In other words, all these are symptoms of what we discussed last week when we talked about the over-extension of the Army. Some more important words are in paragraph 49. They are ominous words. The Memorandum says:We are having more and more difficulty in finding long-service warrant officers and senior non-commissioned officers. We want men to stay in the Army and are trying hard to improve conditions of service so that they do stay.I do not doubt that the Secretary of State for War, the Under-Secretary and all the members of the Army Council are doing their utmost to improve conditions. I do not blame them for the difficulties. The difficulties do not arise from any detail. They arise from the general disposition of the Army today and from the 873 fact that they are spread out in an unprecedented manner, with every active division overseas. All these details, even those in the welfare field which at first sight seem unrelated, show the grave situation which the Army get into from every point of view—not only the fighting point of view but from that of its longterm interests—by having to be disposed all over the world as they are today.
Paragraph 77 is one which I wish to stress. It states:The bare maintenance costs of the Army (pay, pensions, rations, accommodation, transport, and the like) necessarily absorb the greater part of the funds allotted to the Army. We cannot appreciably reduce these maintenance costs without either an adverse effect on the conditions of service or a diminution in the size of the Army. The reduction in our planned defence expenditure has had to be effected without any reduction in commitments, and hence the size of the Army has had to be maintained. It follows that the rate at which new equipment can be provided and reserves built up has had to be slowed down.We see the most striking confirmation of that in the Estimates. I take it that everybody would agree that Vote 1 is essentially the maintenance Vote, the one in which the size of the Army is reflected, and that Vote 7 is the Vote in which re-equipment, rearmament in the narrow sense of the word, is reflected. I recognise that this year the Estimates do not show that while the maintenance Vote is going up the other Vote is going down. It looks like that at first sight, but that is not so.
The maintenance Vote has increased by £16 million, and it looks as if Vote 7 has gone down by £10 million. But that is not so. The expenditure under Vote 7 has gone up by £10 million. There is a most significant explanation. The expenditure under Vote 7 has gone up by £10 million only because the appropriation-in-aid, which is in this case American defence aid, has increased by £20 million. Our domestic expenditure on rearmament in the narrower sense in the Army field has gone down by £10 million, but we are to get £10 million more of equipment because we have got £20 million more help from America.
The figures reveal that the condition of the Army is such that only by increasing American help is the actual amount of new equipment increasing. So far as our domestic funds are concerned, and if it were not for the American help, 874 we should have reached the point where, in the words of the Secretary of State, more and more was having to be spent on the mere maintenance of the Army and less was being left for the new requirements of the Army, such as new weapons.
Surely, that is in two ways a most unsatisfactory situation. No one in the House can like the situation which is revealed. It shows a greater and greater dependence on American finance for the actual process of arming. On the other hand, if it were not for that we should be in the even worse situation of having a larger and larger and weaker and weaker Army. We could get into that position. Out of any given total we should find that if we had to spend more and more on pay and allowances, maintenance, and the rest, then there would be less and less left for rearmament—for the weapons to put in the men's hands.
Therefore, we see revealed in these figures the inevitable effect upon the Army of attempting to maintain commitments on this scale. Everything comes back to that. We shall more and more have to focus our attention upon that factor. It is the only one in which the reality of the matter arises.
If that is true of material, it is even more true of manpower. It is even more true on the vexed question of the period of National Service. The Secretary of State mentioned the advantages to the nation of National Service. Of course, there are such advantages. I think that we have all recognised them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) has certainly recognised them. What is in question here is not National Service as such but the two-year period of National Service. Though National Service in the present world situation would certainly be necessary, in my judgment at any rate, even if we had not these enormous overseas commitments, a two-year period would not be necessary. That is the essence of the matter as we see it from this side of the House: not the Service itself, but the length of the period.
The Secretary of State spoke of the use of manpower. Other speakers from this side of the House will probably follow him in detail in that aspect. I make only one or two comments. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman 875 was being quite fair when he spoke of the reduction in the divisional slice from 51,000 in 1950 to 38,000 today. It is a fact that as the manpower of the Army as a whole increases—and it has done so considerably in the period —then the basic overheads, the great training establishments and the like, remain more or less the same.
At any rate, they do not increase in proportion, and we can use a considerably larger proportion of extra men to form new divisions. The general overheads, or plant, remain much the same in scale and a much larger proportion of the new recruits can go to make up new formations. Therefore, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman was being fair to the record of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington when he made that comparison.
In the rest of his speech, the Secretary of State was dealing with the subject of the tail, and he quoted from the early works of the Prime Minister to show that at that time the Prime Minister took a brighter view of the tail than he used to do in our day; and, apparently, he has come back to that view now. Of course, the tail is an easy target, but in a modern army it will require the utmost efforts in the economic use of manpower to keep the tail from growing bigger and bigger in proportion as the teeth of the army become more and more mechanised, because the inevitable tendency is for each man in the front line to demand more and more men in the background for his maintenance.
Therefore, I do not myself believe that we shall find very dramatic economies from combing the tail, but it is an absolutely necessary process, and we are glad that the Secretary of State is going on steadily appointing further committees to look into still further aspects of that matter. It is absolutely right and necessary, but I think we should delude ourselves if we thought that dramatic gains of manpower or large economies by dispensing with large numbers of men would be found that way.
That brings us back again to the old theme of commitments. The Secretary of State said much the same as was said last week by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence in summing up the defence debate. He said that we 876 all make these complaints about commitments, that we all point to them as the real cause of our difficulties, but we do not point to any particular or definite form of relief. Obviously, that is a perfectly fair point if we do not do so, but I would claim that at all events I and others of my hon. Friends have in previous debates pointed, and will point again in this debate, to one possible major relief, and I think we ought to look at it in this debate from the Army's point of view.
I have in mind the Middle East, because that has not only a most important defence aspect in general, but also a most important aspect in regard to the actual welfare of the Army, the dispositions of the Army and the future tasks of the Army. The more I study these Estimates, the more I become convinced that some major step in the direction which we advocated in the defence debate is absolutely indispensable for the Army itself. I got the impression from the response to certain of my remarks in the defence debate that some hon. Gentlemen opposite could not believe and do not believe that I really meant what I said about the Middle East.
I did mean it when I said that, in my opinion, and speaking, I hope, with all the responsibility which we all ought to use at this moment on that subject, our aim in the coming negotiations with the Egyptian Government should be evacuation of the Canal Zone. By evacuation, I meant evacuation, and not the postponement of evacuation.
Of course, I must repeat that nobody suggests that we ought to walk out of the Canal Zone in Egypt without some arrangement with the Egyptian Government as to what part of the vast installations we take with us, what part we leave behind and how the part that is left behind is to be maintained. It is necessary to have a business-like agreement of that sort with the Egyptian Government, and, after all, an agreement of that sort was obtained in 1946, and it broke down, not on these considerations, but because of the Sudan, which we now trust and believe is an obstacle that is at last out of the way.
Before I continue on that point, I should like to call attention to two paragraphs in the Secretary of State's 877 Memorandum which deal with this matter. They are paragraphs 32 and 33, and they bring out extremely clearly the effect of the present situation in the Canal Zone on the Army:The large number of troops in the Canal Zone has raised an extremely difficult accommodation problem… As a result of the troubles of last winter married quarters outside the protected areas of camps have had to be given up. Meanwhile the military population of the Canal Zone has been doubled. The discomfort and difficulties under which our garrison lives have thereby been greatly increased.I read, from Paragraph 33:Since the major clash with the Egyptian police in Ismailia in January, 1952, the dull routine of internal security work has largely been unrelieved. Much time has been spent in tedious guard duties and the patrolling of our installations. Constant vigilance has been necessary to safeguard our stores from pilfering.There is a frank and clear picture—and I am indebted to the Secretary of State for it—of the situation our troops have to endure and the conditions under which they have to live in the Canal Zone, and one can easily see the burden which it places on the Army and on those of their formations which happen to be there—and a not inconsiderable part of the Army are there today.
I can perfectly understand people disagreeing with the view which I have twice ventured to put before the House in regard to this matter. The hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) strongly disagreed with my view, and evidently disagrees with the proposal for evacuation. I think he was wrong there, but I could understand that view; what I could not understand or follow was that he seemed to me to be quite unable to see what were the real alternatives in the situation.
As he saw it—I have his words here—the alternatives were an agreement with the Egyptian Government or a failure to reach agreement with them. Assuming that we had failed to agree with them, the hon. Gentleman considered that we should go on much as we were now, but, if we got agreement with them, we should evacuate some troops and leave a small garrison in the Canal Zone. I do not think I am misrepresenting what the hon. Gentleman said. Here are his actual words:Present conditions in the base are not satisfactory. This is because they are temporary. If the Egyptians continue to refuse 878 agreement with us, then we must make these conditions permanent and satisfactory. That could be done …If, on the other hand, we can get a reasonable agreement with the Egyptians, then there is no reason why we should keep the reserve, as distinct from the troops, needed to maintain and defend the base, in the base itself. After all, we maintained order in the area before the war with a few battalions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 643–4.]With great respect, whatever else can happen, I do not believe either of these alternatives can happen. I do not believe they can be the alternatives before us, and, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive my saying so, I think that that viewpoint reveals an entirely unrealistic living-in-the-past attitude. I do not believe that any agreement with the Egyptian Government for partial evacuation is even conceivable.
The hon. Gentleman went on to state four conditions for agreement with the Egyptian Government, which seem to me to be totally unrealistic.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that the speech he is making helps in any way to make agreement more possible?
§ Mr. Strachey
Yes, I certainly do. By facing the elementary facts of the situation we make agreement possible. To enter into negotiation without facing the elementary realities of the situation—I do not think Her Majesty's Government would do so—gives no hope of agreement at all.
I want to put to the House the real alternatives. We could have an agreement in which there was a businesslike arrangement for the maintenance of our installations much on the lines of the 1946 Treaty. I have no reason to suppose that it is impossible. I have in mind the Treaty which was negotiated in 1946, and which broke down on the question of the Sudan.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Preston, North)
Would the right hon. Gentleman amplify a little what he calls a "businesslike arrangement"? Would there be any non-Egyptian technicians or non-Egyptian guards in the base, and would there be an airfield?
§ Mr. Strachey
It is not for me to attempt to lay down specific conditions of that type. I do not think I have the right to do that. I can define what I mean most easily by saying that it would be 879 an agreement comparable to that which was negotiated successfully on those issues in 1946, and which provided for general evacuation of the Zone by our fighting troops. That does not exclude some of the points which have been made in this debate.
If we are not to make an agreement of the sort which in 1946 proved possible —I am glad that the Sudan difficulty seems to have been, or is in the course of being removed—what is the alternative? I do not believe that "No agreement" means that we can leave things as they are, or still less that we can reduce our Forces to a few battalions. The real alternative surely is that there would be a great extension of our commitments and it would mean, in fact, the re-occupation of Cairo and of the whole country.
§ Mr. Strachey
If hon. Gentlemen opposite who disagree speak later, they can say why that is not so. If no agreement is come to with the Egyptian Government, we shall certainly have to crush Egyptian resistance. I am not suggesting that that is militarily impossible, and I should have thought it is something which quite easily—or perhaps not quite easily—could be done. It would, however, mean not only the maintenance of the present commitments but their enormous extension. Our present troops there would all be needed, for the operation itself and any reserves which we kept in the Zone would have to be additional to them.
This is an example of the fact that either we attempt to move on the lines which I proposed last week, and which I am still proposing here, of reducing our world-wide commitments, or we have vastly to increase them. It is impossible not to move in one direction or the other. In the conditions of the Middle East today those seem to me to be the alternatives, and I would ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to face them as the real alternatives.
§ Mr. C. E. Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
Unless the right hon. Gentleman explains more precisely what he means by a "businesslike agreement" he gets us nowhere—unless he is telling us that the solution in the Middle East as a whole is the creation of a vacuum.
§ Mr. Strachey
I shall have a word or two to say on that point in a moment. What I am not willing to do is to go in precise detail into what would be or would not be acceptable to Her Majesty's Government in the maintenance of installations which are left behind. That is a highly technical problem about which no one not in the Government can express a clear-cut view.
It proved possible to reach an agreement in 1946—the hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but it did—on those factors. On the defence of the Middle East as a whole, I will say a word, because that is a fair point. What I am saying is that while the re-occupation of Egypt is no doubt possible from a military point of view, the moment we look at it from a wider political point of view it becomes completely unrealistic.
§ Mr. J. Amery
Why does the right hon. Gentleman think that re-occupation of the whole of Egypt is the inevitable alternative to the breakdown of negotiations? Should it not be possible to isolate the Canal Zone?
§ Mr. Strachey
It might be possible to build a great barbed wire fence and sit permanently besieged in the Canal Zone, but I should have thought that to be an even more fantastic possibility.
Any Egyptian Government, and certainly the present one, which fails to come to an agreement with us will have to attempt a trial of strength by withdrawal of labour and all the other methods which successive Egyptian Governments have adopted from time to time, and which culminated in the Ismailia incidents about a year ago. In that trial of strength the military factors would be in our favour, but they would mean not just sitting on the defensive but something like the reoccupation of Egypt, if the base is to be of any use to us. If we sat in the base and defied a hostile population to turn us out, as no doubt we could, the base would be of no use to us. We should not have labour to work it and our troops would be——
§ Mr. Strachey
I am glad of that interjection because it brings out clearly the differences between us. I believe that possibility to be completely unrealistic once matters have reached their present point. After Ismailia incidents, and after the emergence of a military dictatorship pledged to achieve a solution of these questions, it is unrealistic to think that matters will go on much as usual. That is the real difference between us, and I wanted to bring it out clearly.
I should like to say one thing in connection with wider considerations. We on this side of the House are very often accused of being anti-American; therefore, it is very nice to have an opportunity today of saying that in this field, at any rate, I think that the American attitude and policy is considerably in advance of and is more reasonable and sensible than ours. Just as I think that in the Far East our attitude and policy is much more enlightened than theirs, so in the Middle East theirs is more enlightened than ours. Perhaps it is that we each find it easy to be enlightened about the other's interests. It is easier, no doubt.
Nevertheless, in this field it is an important consideration to remember —and the hon. Member for Preston, North brought it out himself —that if we attempted the policy which he advocated, it will bring us into the flattest conflict with the United States——
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
On a point of order. Are we not going outside the Army Estimates when we are debating our relations with the United Nations and the United States?
§ Mr. Strachey
I am very grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I do not want to pursue that matter any further because I have made my point.
§ Mr. Amery
It is an interesting reflection of the attitude of hon. Members opposite and of the right hon. Gentleman himself that he should choose as the one subject on which to take a pro-American 882 attitude the very subject on which perhaps it might be said that the Americans are pursuing an anti-British policy.
§ Mr. Strachey
I do not think that it is an anti-British policy at all. I think that it is a policy at least as much in our interest as theirs, and I shall explain why in a moment. I should have thought that their policy in the Far East does conflict with real British interests very severely, whilst their policy in the Middle East is to safeguard their vast investments in the oil in that area, which are just as big as ours, by what I think are far more reasonable and effective means than ours.
I come now to the vital question of the defence of the Middle East. If we take the line of genuine evacuation—which is, after all, doing no more than we say is our aim, and what we have said is our aim for many years—should we, as the hon. Member for Preston. North has put it, be leaving the Middle East defenceless and leaving a vacuum in the Middle East? I put it to the House that on the contrary the only effective defence of the Middle East is a defence pact including not merely ourselves but other N.A.T.O. nations, a defence pact such as was proposed to the Egyptian Government some time ago. Some defence pact or an alliance of the local States, backed by the N.A.T.O. countries, is surely the only real defence of the Middle East. And an agreement with the Egyptian Government, whilst it does not give us that, does open the way to it.
In the event of a hot war, of an invasion by Russia of the whole area, the two British divisions there are not themselves a decisive factor. The decisive factor would be a defence pact for the whole area; and the only method of opening the way to that is to get an agreement with the Egyptian Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "And a base."] Of course there must be a base. I repeat that we must have a business-like agreement with the Egyptian Government for the maintenance of that base, but I suggest that our evacation of our fighting divisions there has become the prerequisite for obtaining it. In the present conditions, and with the attitude of the local population and local labour, that base might well prove as valueless in the hot war as it is in the cold war today.
§ Colonel Alan Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)
Is it not clear from the trend of what we hear from Egypt that the idea is that we should clear out before any negotiations about the pact or anything else take place? What is to happen in between those events, supposing that those negotiations are very protracted, as such negotiations often are? What is to be done in the vacuum to which my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North referred, which might exist for a very long period?
§ Mr. Strachey
The hon. and gallant Member should distinguish between negotiations on the maintenance of the base, including what is to be done with installations left behind—which must of course precede evacuation—and negotiations for a defence pact for the Middle East, which I submit must follow evacuation, because it is quite clear that that cannot be arrived at until evacuation has taken place. We have already proved that. Therefore, the sooner we carry out evacuation the sooner we can obtain a defence pact.
The only thing that is vital is that there should be arrangements for the physical maintenance of the assets there. That, it seems to me, does not permit of an interregnum. The negotiation of a defence pact, as we have now found out, can only take place when evacuation has taken place. The proposals which I have made, like every proposal, have risks attached to them. Certainly what we are doing now has very great risk indeed attached to it. I do not think that one of the risks of evacuation is the silting of the Canal, as the hon. Member for Preston, North put it.
It might be said that we take a risk in contemplating the stability of the Neguib Government in Egypt. I do not pretend to be an expert on that Government. I certainly do not hold any brief for it. It is not the kind of Government with which my hon. Friends are associated. It is a dictatorship of the military Right. But it seems to me questionable whether we are being very clever in making the position of successive Egyptian Governments impossible.
After all, every kind of so-called democratic combination has been tried in Egypt and now a military dictatorship has been tried. A military dictatorship 884 in that part of the world has not always failed. I suppose that this is a dictatorship broadly comparable to that of Kemal in Turkey. That carried out reforms, and it is possible that the Neguib Government will do the same. I do not know, and I do not pretend to know. But is it very sensible or clever on the part of this country to make impossible the position of yet another type of Egyptian Government and to bring it down and discredit it by making any agreement with it impossible?
After all, if we are to make the position of successive Egyptian Governments of every type impossible one after another, so that the Egyptian people find that none of their problems are solved—neither their internal problem, which I understand is essentially land reform, nor their external problem, which is the not unnatural one of wishing to occupy their own territory—are we not leading them to the conclusion that only complete revolution is any good? And what they would feel is that that would be a Communist revolution. Are we to make them feel that that is the only method by which they can meet any of their problems? Therefore I suggest seriously that to render the position of successive Egyptian Governments, be they good or bad, impossible is not the cleverest line for this country to adopt.
These considerations are surely not very difficult to understand, and I now come to the question why they are, as I knew they would be, so intensely unpalatable to hon. Members opposite. Is not the real reason for this not because they are contrary to the interests of the West, of N.A.T.O. and the like, but because they mean a revision of what I call the traditional British Imperial interests of the old type? We had a very revealing phrase from the hon. Member for Preston, North on this subject. When speaking of the Canal Zone he said:It is the Clapham Junction of Commonwealth communications, and the keystone of the architecture of Imperial defence. If we pull out of Suez we cut ourselves off from the greater half of the Commonwealth and we abandon our friends in it to face the Soviets alone or to become dependents of the United States."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 5th March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 648.]But that our friends, the Near Eastern Governments, should become inter-dependent with not only the United States 885 but ourselves and the other N.A.T.O. Governments, is not, to my mind, a bad thing.
§ Mr. Strachey
I think that the argument applies there, too. It is right, necessary and proper for all the countries of the free world to be inter-dependent, certainly in these military matters. It does not seem to me a disaster or a liability that the United States, which now has joint interests with us in the defence of the Middle East, should take a greater share in it. It seems to me an asset. That is the profound difference between us.
Here we find the parting of the ways in the matter of our defence. If we intend to maintain our commitments on the present scale—we see this exemplified in the Canal Zone—we shall have to take on much larger ones still. And we shall attempt to carry this enormous burden ourselves. These Army Estimates have shown us that that is not a practicable policy, and that we must adopt the alternative policy which I attempted to explain last week—a policy not of a "little England" but of abandoning our Imperial pretentions in their old form. That is the factor which we have to face.
In terms of the Army, which is what we are now discussing—[Interruption.] I think that the question of where the Army are disposed in the world is rather important for the Army. Everyone who has participated in this debate has thought so, including the Secretary of State, who agreed that it was the most important matter. It is true that I have concentrated most of my remarks on that subject and on the Middle East because I was quite fairly challenged to give a definite and concrete example of where our commitments could be cut. Therefore, we must go into this subject, because it is the basis of the whole matter which we are discussing. The strain upon the Army—the strain which these Estimates reveal—can only be relieved by a major reconsideration and revision of our commitments. And that should begin 886 in the Middle East, on the lines and for the reasons which I have put before the House.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Colonel J. H. Harrison (Eye)
I am sure that the House is grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War not only for his Estimates but for the very fine Memorandum which he produced with them.
I do not propose to follow the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) in his remarks about the disposition of the Army, particularly in regard to Egypt. One of the greatest factors facing any Secretary of State for War today is the speed with which man can move, the invention of new weapons and the ability to cope with them. The problems of speed for Napoleon 150 years ago were no greater than those for Julius Caesar.
I believe that the Secretary of State for War has met, as far as possible, two of the points which I raised in the debate last year. Therefore, I wish to confine my remarks to two points—manpower and training, and our present employment of civilians in the Army.
We should be extremely grateful that, the Secretary of State, during 1952, was able to bring into being the seven new infantry battalions. I should like to see this followed by all our county regiments, because I believe that in a cold war and at the immediate start of a hot war the infantry battalion is probably the best unit to help us.
We have seen in Malaya the capabilities of our infantry battalions, and, speaking purely as a Territorial soldier, I think it would not be amiss of me to remind the House of the great accomplishments of my own regiment, the Suffolk Regiment, while it was in Malaya. The men in this battalion came from the same villages and homes and were very much the same sort of men as those in the 4th and 5th Battalions who fought there, in shocking conditions, not knowing the terrain they had to fight on, in February, 1942. The point it proves is this: given the right leadership, we have always got the men to carry out the jobs which we want them to do.
In preparing these Estimates, the Secretary of State has not only to bear in mind the cold war but has to be prepared for a hot one, hoping that it will never 887 come, and he also has to prepare for the possibility of there being no declaration of war and of another attack out-harbouring Pearl Harbour.
We hear so often of the great capabilities of our National Service men and the excellent soldiers they make. I should like to ask the Secretary of State whether the training of our leaders at a higher level is proceeding as well as it might, because the more one studies the history of war the more one is convinced that what matters so much is the leadership of the men who command, given the good material. The right leader inspires his own men to great heights and he also puts fear and terror into the enemy which stops them from taking action. There were many instances in the last war of leaders of that type whose mere reputation stopped the enemy attacking our own troops.
One of the most important points is the training of our leaders down to brigade and battalion levels. We must see that the right men are properly trained. At the beginning of a war we often find that we have a man who is very good at peace-time soldiering, but is no good in war. It is essential that we should cultivate a light infantry spirit or the spirit of the Commandos, acting for themselves. If we are engaged in a war and we are on the retreat we want to have men trained to remain behind to harry the lines of the advancing enemy.
A great deal could have been done on those lines if the men in Malaya in 1941 and 1942 had been properly trained. We do not want a repetition of what happened then, when good battalions were left out there who had never been off the Island of Singapore and had never trained in the jungle and the rubber plantations. We now know that British troops can fight as well under those conditions as any other. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it is important to see that we are getting the proper leaders, down to battalion level. We want leaders of men who will inspire confidence and we must try to build up their names in a way that the names of Slim, Montgomery and Alexander, inspired terror in the enemy opposing them in the war.
With regard to the question of married quarters, it does not matter whether British families have to live in quarters; they are just as much a home to them. 888 It is just as important for soldiers and their wives to have their homes as it is for civilians, and I should like to see married quarters being built at the same rate as that of houses for our civilian population.
According to the Estimates we are to spend £11½4 million more on the payment of civilians in 1953–54. I think we agree in principle that it is a good thing to pull a soldier out of a job which can be done by a civilian, so that that soldier can be made an effective fighting man, but we must remember that every time we bring in a civilian for work of this nature within the Army—whether it is to deal with stores or to type in an office—we are increasing the size and the strength of our Army, and we are also taking a man away from our productive and economic effort.
Bearing that fact in mind, we would not be unwise if we asked ourselves whether we are getting the full value for this £60 million that we are now paying to civilians. We could look through these Estimates and see the amounts paid to civilians under different heads and categories. If this large number is to continue to increase, is the old-fashioned set-up really the right one? No one was more delighted than I to hear my right hon. Friend say that he was already bringing in help from outside to see that the arrangement of the set-up was an efficient one.
The training of the fighting soldier does not make him the most capable or most fitted person to judge whether one more civilian typist is needed in one office as, for instance, against a calculating machine. If we are to employ more civilians, perhaps at a higher grade, we must see that they are rightly distributed and that their efforts are not being wasted.
On page 104 of the Estimates I find that we have reduced the number of civil engineers and quantity surveyors by 58, the number of technicians by 250 and the number of architectural draughtsmen by 100. But I find that under that heading the number of typists and clerical staff has gone down only by eight—from 1,800 to 1,792. I should have thought that when some of the professional men at the top were being taken out it would have been more economic to have done the same thing with regard to the clerical and typing staff that goes with them. 889 We are spending £60 million on wages and we are obviously paying, in addition, for accommodation, heating, furniture and all the equipment that goes with the staffs and the technical men who are employed. I have looked through these Estimates very carefully. I think that any factory, business or nationalised industry employing such a large staff would obviously employ cost accountants—who are becoming extremely fashionable in these days—to see whether they were getting a full return of output for the number of men employed.
As far as I can see there is only one chief cost accountant, with three senior cost accountants, employed in that department of the War Office which comes under my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War. I do not know whether any more are employed, but I should have thought that throughout our commands and districts it might be wise to employ more men of this calibre or, if we do not want them within the Service, to consult professional firms to see whether we are conducting our civilian affairs within the Army in the most up to date manner and with the most up to date equipment.
How do we know the real cost of many of the weapons of war? We put them into the ordnance depots. They presumably come in at one price and no doubt go out at the same price, as far as the Army are concerned. But if we had a number of cost accountants—whose cost would not be very considerable—we might find that in many of these depots we are storing goods uneconomically and for too long, so that their costs at the end are probably double what we paid for them at the beginning.
There is a great deal of good will towards our Army at the present time. I think it is far greater than we have had since the time of Cromwell. That is because every family has someone in the Army now, so that it has become part and parcel of our daily lives. But we do not like to see instances of waste, particularly on the civilian side. I would always be against bringing in any outside body to examine the actual serving side of the Army. But if we are to spend something like £60 million in pay and £100 million a year for the employment of these civilians the time may well have come to re-examine the whole set-up of civilian employment within the Army and 890 perhaps its re-establishments on a different basis.
I throw out this suggestion to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War not in the spirit of criticism, but from the point of view that we have reached a time of change. We shall probably continue to employ large numbers of civilians and I should like to know whether we are doing so on the right basis. We must not think that we can continue ad lib to draw on more civilians for the Army. Every civilian we employ costs us about £1,000. we have to pay him and accommodate him within the Army, at a cost of, say, £500 per annum. If he were not there, he would be earning money. He would be making goods on the bench or would be working in an office. He would be making goods for export or for home consumption within our economy. I suggest that each extra man we take into the Army in civilian employment is probably a loss to the country of about £1,000.
I appreciate that my right hon. Friend is like an acrobat on a tight rope, walking slowly along it, trying to balance between the economic needs of the country, on the one hand, and our great defensive need to he ready at any moment, on the other hand. There is the need, too, to be ready in case of any sudden attack. My right hon. Friend cannot tell when the attack is coming.
When we had the defence debate it was stated that legislation would be introduced to extend the time during which a man could be called up in emergency after he had finished his commitments as a National Service man with the Territorial Army for a further five years. I was not clear whether that applied only to those doing their National Service with the Territorial Army but who had not volunteered. Does it apply equally to the 29 per cent. who volunteered? I think it must, because I remember that when the National Service men first joined, and I, as a commanding officer, with others, persuaded them to volunteer, there was no mention of any commitments on the Reserve. It seems, therefore, that the new Act will also include those who are volunteers.
But we have heard today how important it is that a proportion of the 29 per cent., even if it is only a quarter—which will probably be enough—should remain 891 on as volunteers at the end of their four years' service. It would be disastrous if they found that after they had soldiered on as volunteers, they were then liable to a commitment for a further five years.
§ Colonel Harrison
We hope that some of the 29 per cent. who volunteered for four years with the Territorial Army—instead of doing 3½ years—will continue to serve even longer, as volunteers. What we do not want is for them to find that if they continue for a further two years they are liable to be caught for another five years. The two years should count against the five years.
§ Colonel Harrison
If they have volunteered for two or four years, why should they then have a further liability to recall which is not shared by the man who has not soldiered on at all?
§ Colonel Harrison
Is it fair that a volunteer should always have more liability than a conscript? I do not think it is.
I was a commanding officer when it was decided that it was a wise thing to get as many as possible of these National Service men to volunteer for four years in the Territorial Army instead of 3½. Many volunteered. The pay terms were rather better. If a quarter of those who soldiered on subsequently volunteered for the Territorial Army after four years, this would be an excellent thing in order to provide the N.C.O.s and officers we need. What I am trying to point out is that if they do that of their own free will, I do not think they should have a further liability, for five years, by comparison with the man who has not volunteered at all. Their circumstances may have changed. They may have married, for 892 instance. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear these points in mind when he draws up the legislation.
There are many men who will be very glad that at last they know where they stand about the call-up. Those who are over 45 are no longer to be subject to recall. It is important to remember that these men were 31 or over when the last war broke out. They have probably more to lose from a family point of view than others. Their children were growing up. If they had a business or a shop of their own, they had to leave it and hand it over to someone else. If they were employed, they were at the age when they had had the experience to fit them for promotion to better jobs. As a consequence of the war, they missed those jobs, which often were taken by others. These men are now entering the late forties and are getting going again, and I think they will be grateful for this legislation, which will clear up their position.
In dealing with the Estimates, I should like the Secretary of State, therefore, to examine the question of civilian employment to see whether we are using our manpower wisely at the lower level, and to make certain that the training at the higher level—even although it may involve an additional cost—produces what we need in the event of sudden attack. Then the country will be as safe as we can possibly make it.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) has raised certain problems affecting military training and the employment of civilians. I want to carry the point rather further by dealing with the question of education in the Forces, a problem which, to my mind, occurs even before the problem of military training. It will be agreed by everyone that unless we can establish a reasonable level of general education in the Forces, those who are concerned with military training face an even greater problem.
Recently, there has been a tendency to criticise the size and establishment and also the expenditure of the Royal Army Education Corps in dealing with the educational problems of the Army. It seems to me that it would be well worth 893 while if we could achieve some understanding in the House, and I hope outside, of the type of work which is being done and if we could make an investigation to see whether the work which the Education Corps are tackling is being done with as much vigour as, I am sure, most of us would wish to see.
In the first place, it seems to be held by some critics that the great bulk of the work being done in education in the Forces today is that which was known during the war as "Current Affairs" lectures and similar work. That is far from being the case, and I think that anyone who cares to study the Estimates will find that the bulk of educational expenditure today occurs either in the education of the children of serving men—an expenditure which, I am sure, no one would wish to reduce, and there are many who wonder whether it is sufficient— or in the work done for general education of the Forces, particularly in bringing them up to a reasonable standard so that they may take the first, second and third-class certificates and the General Certificate of Education in the Army.
The amount of expenditure on what some people have called, I think improperly, the frills of Army education is, in fact, very small. The amount available for general lectures and discussions or for correspondence courses for National Service men in the Army represents a very small part of the total expenditure on education.
I want to call the attention of the House to the expenditure on the education of the children of serving men. I think we should all agree that we are faced here with a real problem. It is clear that the proportion of married Service men in the Army has risen very considerably, which has placed a much heavier load on this field of education than has been borne previously. It is also noticeable in these Estimates that the Army Education Corps are taking over the work which was, to some extent, done previously in Germany under the Vote of the Foreign Office. That has had some effect in raising the expenditure shown in the current Estimates.
The point I want to make about the education of the children of serving men concerns secondary rather than primary education. Most of us will agree, I think —certainly those who have looked into 894 the position at all carefully—that the Army has done a very good job on the whole in its care for the primary education of the children of serving men. There is an even more difficult problem, however, in secondary education. Are we to employ, perhaps rather wastefully, a number of teachers for very small numbers of children of widely varying ages, so as to try to cover their secondary educational needs, or are we to seek to establish main centres, no doubt some considerable distance away from many of the Forces, to which the children can be taken, with the possibility of their returning at holiday times to where their parents are stationed?
I hope that later in the debate it will be possible for the Under-Secretary of State to let us know something about the Army's plan for secondary education and about the progress which has been made in the project for the establishment of secondary school centres for the Army, both in the Middle East and the Far East, where, I believe, it is hoped that it may be possible to achieve some striking developments in the future.
In addition, there is no doubt that a large part of the £3 million expenditure upon Army education which is provided for in the Estimates is devoted to the preparation of men in the Army for the three classes of certificates which are issued. We here face a fairly serious position. When the Minister spoke a little earlier he referred to one of the advantages to the National Service man as the education provided to him in the Forces. We all welcome such education as is provided, but I think we must not exaggerate its quantity or quality. In particular, the right hon. Gentleman said it was a pleasure for him to know that large numbers of National Service men were spending a great deal of time and energy training for these different certificates in order to get the higher rates of pay. I want to find out to what extent this is true. I am very doubtful about the extent to which opportunities are being provided for National Service men to obtain these qualifications.
It is even more important that there should be the fullest possible opportunity for the Regular soldier to take these different examinations to enable him to qualify for both the higher rates of pay and the greater responsibilities which 895 may come with them. When we find out roughly how many of the Regular Forces have taken these qualifying examinations, we are confronted with a fairly serious position. I think it would be very roughly true to say that three-quarters of the Regular Forces in the country have not even got their third-class certificate, and the third-class certificate is not a certificate of any very great educational standing. I doubt very much—I may be wrong, an should be glad to be corrected— but I doubt whether more than 10 per cent. of the Regular Forces have taken their first-class certificate. I really do think that this is a rather serious matter if we feel, as I hope we do, that it is important to establish a reasonable standard of education throughout the Forces as an essential preliminary to all the modern training that is required.
I question very much whether, in fact, the opportunities are available for men in the Forces today to take these examinations. No doubt I shall be told that it is required of commanding officers to make time available to men under their command to enable them to attend the classes and to take the necessary examinations, but there is this wretched escape clause which appears pretty inevitably in these regulations: "provided the exigencies of the Services permit"— or words to that effect. It seems to me that through that loophole escapes a good deal of the hopes and possibilities of any educational work in the Forces today.
We ought to view with a good deal of alarm the fact that the standard of education in the Army appears at the moment to be as low a these very rough percentages I have mentioned would persuade us to believe. I suggest it is high time that we gave much more priority, much more vigorous support, to this part of the educational work in the Army, and that we do insist in telling the commanding officers generally that this is a part of the concern of the Army to which the Secretary of State himself attaches a great deal of importance, because if matters are allowed to drift as they are today I am afraid the position will be that very large numbers of men who, no doubt, are really quite anxious to take these further qualifications, will be denied the opportunity of taking them. I shall be glad if the Under-Secretary of State can tell us in 896 detail what steps are being taken to try to improve the position today in the Forces in regard to general education.
I should like to raise only one or two other points for general information. A further field in which a good deal of expenditure is undertaken is with the rather vague group referred to by an hon. Friend of mine in a debate a few days ago—the group of illiterates. There is no doubt that the Army Education Service does a very good job indeed in dealing with illiterates that come within its ken. I know something of the work that it has done in various of its special colleges it has set up.
I know it is a problem whether or not the Army Education Service should regard as its duty not only dealing with the problem of illiteracy amongst the Regulars but also the problem of illiteracy amongst the National Service men. There are some who argue that that ought to be dealt with in the ordinary civilian educational field, and not by the Army; but I think it would be fair to say that, as institutions have been established to deal with this special problem amongst the Regulars, it would be rather foolish to leave out what attention can be given at the same time, possibly without any great extension of staff, to the National Service men, too.
There are other fields to which Army education has turned in the past which are still of real importance, perhaps of greater concern so far as education amongst the National Service men is concerned. An important consideration is that the training the men had been undertaking before coming to the Army should be upset as little as possible by their term of service in the Army. While I know it is a hard row to plough, and that it is a very difficult job to try to encourage those men who come into the Forces for a short time to keep up their educational work, it is of great importance to encourage such work through correspondence courses and the rest, as much as we can, particularly among the National Service men.
Finally, I would refer to the great value of what has been achieved by the Army Education Corps through resettlement courses for Regulars, in particular, before they go out of the Forces, to try to enable them to be prepared for civilian jobs of one kind or another. Again, this is a field 897 in which no one would wish to deny the value of the expenditure to be undertaken. We only hope that when the Secretary of State is pressed, as, no doubt, he is from time to time, to make economies in this field, and that where his attention is drawn, as, no doubt, it is also from time to time, to the criticisms that appear in the Press and elsewhere of this education service, he will always have in mind the importance that, I hope, the whole House attaches to the work that is being steadily done by the Army Education Corps, and, in particular, what I suggest is the serious position of the general level of education.
Unless the Army is prepared to press on, not necessarily with any new expenditure, but with making full use of the existing staff in order to achieve a higher level of general education, I fear that the further military tranining which we all desire to see carried out will be to that extent less effective. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will be able to say something to us about the detail of the work that is being done, and say that it has the anxious interest of himself and of his right hon. Friends.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. C. E. Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
I hope that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) will forgive me if I do not follow him on the subject of education in the Army beyond saying that I entirely agree with him that it is important that the general level of education should be high. I myself was very much reassured by some remarks in this respect made by the Secretary of State himself today.
I turn, first, to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) who, I am sorry to see, is not now in his place. It is, of course, a matter of opinion whether a speech of that kind is likely to be helpful or otherwise to the negotiations which are about to take place between the Government and the Egyptian Government. I myself hold very strong views about that. I think that nothing could be more unwise or more irresponsible than that a former Secretary of State should openly say in an Army Estimates debate that the only alternative to complete evacuation from the Canal Zone would be the re-occupation of the whole of Egypt.
898 I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was really confusing two issues. While the negotiations are, of course, entirely a matter for Britain and Egypt, because it is the revision of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 that is at stake, at the same time, the result of the negotiations affects the whole problem of the defence of the Middle East, and that involves not only the Commonwealth but also N.A.T.O., for both Greece and Turkey are now members of N.A.T.O., and each, geographically and strategically, is concerned with the defence of the Middle East.
I wish that the right hon. Gentleman had given us some indication of his view, as to whether we could defend the Middle East without a base in the Canal Zone, and if so, how; and if not, who was to look after the base with its very valuable technical equipment and immense quantity of stores all of British ownership.
What is clear from the speech of my right hon. Friend, indeed, what is clear from the defence debate of last week, is the great difficulty with which we are faced today in the heavy overseas commitments which the Army is now bearing. My right hon. Friend told us that 80 per cent. of the Army is now overseas. No one can regard that figure as anything but a very serious matter. But it seems to me that, when we consider the bigger commitments, it is extremely difficult to see any way in present conditions——
§ Mr. Shinwell
Is the hon. Gentleman correct in saying 80 per cent. of the Army is overseas? Surely, it cannot be as high a figure as that.
§ Mr. Mott-Radclyffe
I may have misheard or misunderstood my right hon. Friend, but I think he said that 80 per cent. of the Regular Army was serving overseas. I may have misunderstood.
§ Mr. Mott-Radclyffe
I am so sorry. I meant the Regular Army. I think that is what my right hon. Friend said, though I may have misunderstood. I know that I was myself surprised at that figure. I hope that my hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong, but if it be the case that 80 per cent. of the Regular Army is stationed overseas, that may give everybody cause seriously to think of the obvious implications.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison)
In order that my hon. Friend may continue his speech under no misapprehension or misunderstanding, let me say that if we include Europe as being overseas, though officially it is a home station, it is correct that 80 per cent of the Regular Army is overseas.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Let us be quite clear about it. The troops in Germany are in what is known as a home command. There are nearly five divisions there.
§ Mr. Mott-Radclyffe
I do not want to get into a technical argument with the right hon. Gentleman about the geographical position of Germany. My hon. Friend did explain that Germany is regarded as a home station; but we all know that, as a matter of fact, physically it is overseas.
When we come to regard the major overseas commitments one by one, I repeat, it is extremely difficult to see how in present circumstances they can be reduced. No one, I take it, will suggest that at the moment we can reduce our commitments in Korea. I take it that no one would suggest that until we have restored law and order in Malaya we should reduce our commitments there, for Malaya is vital to our economic life, because of the rubber and tin it produces.
Unless we have a satisfactory agreement with Egypt by which we can reduce the number of troops at present in the Canal Zone, I do not think we can conceivably contemplate any alteration in our commitments in the Middle East. So far as Trieste is concerned, that was a commitment entered into with the Americans, and must remain so, until such time as Yugoslavia and Italy come to an agreement about Trieste. So far as the commitments in Austria are concerned, these, again, were entered into with both the United States and France, and British troops will have to remain until the Soviet Union decides that it wishes to sign a treaty with Austria to which we can agree.
We come now to B.A.O.R. Do not let us argue whether it is at home or abroad. It is a part of N.A.T.O. The British armoured divisions in Western Germany 900 are one of the greatest assets in stimulating morale in Western Europe. I believe that the maintenance of civilian morale amongst our friends and allies in Western Europe is far more important than the maintenance or morale in almost any other part of the world.
We have to recognise the fact that the countries of our allies, notably France, Holland and Belgium, have already been occupied once, and they do not wish to repeat the experience. They are interested in defence, but not in subsequent liberation in the event of a third world war. We cannot defend Western Europe properly without a German contribution, and the sooner we get that contribution the better. That is why I regret delay in ratification of the E.D.C. Treaty.
I am not at all sure, however, that I agree with the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellinger) when he said, in the defence debate last Thursday, that if we could get a German contribution we could, to some extent, reduce the number of British troops in Western Germany. I am not so sure that we could. I think that we need to stiffen up the anti-Communist front in Western Europe as soon as possible. I believe that there is no substitute from the point of view of morale for the sight of British, American, French and other troops physically on the ground.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
The hon. Gentleman wants a German contribution. Surely he appreciates that directly that contribution comes into being, our Forces there will cost us £130 million more a year, payable in dollars, because the occupation costs will not be paid by the Germans. Is he willing to sustain the economic burden of keeping our troops there at a cost of an extra £130 million per year?
§ Mr. Mott-Radclyffe
Even when the German contribution has been agreed to, it is going to take some time for the contribution to take physical form. I believe that from that moment we cannot straight away begin to reduce the number of Forces in B.A.O.R. In the long run I hope that we shall be able to, but I am talking about the immediate figure.
§ Mr. Crossman
That is my point. That means that directly E.D.C. is approved in Germany we become liable for the total cost of our troops in Germany.
§ Mr. Crossman
The hon. Member shakes his head, but it has been stated by the German Finance Minister that Germany will not pay occupation costs. Does he wish to see this country saddled with an extra £130 million a year for these troops?
§ Mr. Mott-Radclyffe
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman on this matter. If, within the next two months, the E.D.C. Treaty is ratified, and all the E.D.C. countries agree on a German contribution, I do not believe that from that date we can consider an immediate withdrawal of a large number of British troops from Germany. I do not think that we ought to withdraw them until such time as the German contribution takes physical form.
I turn to the question of married quarters. I entirely agree with the terms of the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot). It is precisely because the bulk of the Army is overseas that married quarters are so important. The Secretary of State for War was perfectly right when he said, on this question of providing married quarters, particularly overseas, that, although expensive, it has a direct bearing on recruitment for the Regular Army. So long as one has a small chance of spending any proportion of one's service in the Army with one's wife and family, for so long does the Army cease to be an attractive career.
I think my right hon. Friend said that 60 per cent. of those serving overseas at the moment were separated from their wives. That speaks for itself. It is not surprising under those circumstances that the three-year men, when they have completed their period of three years, are not very willing to stay on.
§ Mr. Wigg
I think that the hon. Gentleman quoted the Secretary of State for War wrongly when he said that 60 per cent. of the men overseas are married. I did not gather that from the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I thought that he meant that of the married men serving overseas 60 per cent. were separated from their families, which is a very different proposition.
§ Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison
I think that the actual words used were that two-thirds of those married and overseas have not got their families with them.
§ Mr. Mott-Radclyffe
I think then that is more accurately 66⅔ per cent. So long as 66⅔ per cent. of the married men serving overseas are separated from their families that will have, I repeat, an adverse affect on recruiting for the Regular Army.
§ Mr. Mott-Radclyffe
I do not think that the figure of 66⅔ refers exclusively to three-year men, but let us leave that to the Under-Secretary to explain when he winds up the debate.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
I think that I can help my hon. Friend with his mathematics. On page 12 of the White Paper on Defence it is stated—and I think that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is wrong here—thattwo-thirds of the married personnel in the Army are now separated from their families.That makes it a wider point.
§ Mr. Mott-Radclyffe
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend.
While I quite understand that in certain parts of the world, because of political uncertainty, it is difficult, if not impossible, to start building married quarters, there are other areas of the world where, I should have thought, we could make good progress in that direction. I would ask the Under-Secretary, when he replies, if he could tell us what the programme is, for example, in Cyprus, in Tripoli and in Cyrenaica. Those are important Middle East bases. There is no political uncertainty about those places. I think that there is no reason why, in the long run, a considerable proportion of the married soldiers serving overseas in those stations should not have reasonable married quarters provided for them.
I apologise for detaining the House so long, but I have had a number of interruptions and difficulties about mathematics. I want to ask the Under-Secretary one further question. That is about the 903 group system. I can understand the advantages of the group system at present. I agree that under existing circumstances it is probably the only system. At the same time, is there any possibility in the foreseeable future of getting back to the ideal, by which I mean a proper regimental system?
The British Army is built upon the regimental system and that system is itself built upon tradition. Tradition is a very healthy instinct. If a young man wishes to make the Army his career, he ought not in theory only to mind what regiment he goes into, but, in fact, he does. He may have very strong family associations with one regiment or very strong territorial associations with another. If he cannot go into one of the two regiments of his particular choice, the chances are that he probably will not choose the Army as a career. That applies not only to officers but to other ranks who may be considering long service engagements. I believe that to be one of the fundamental psychological problems that we have to face in building up the Regular Army, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say a word about it when he replies.
In conclusion, I would only say that no one reading the Secretary of State's Memorandum could help but be impressed by the very wide and varied services performed by the Army both at home and overseas. It is proof that we in this House ought to be—as we are —proud of the British Army of today.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
I feel more at home after the last two speeches from the back benches opposite. At the beginning of the debate I thought we were entering realms which it was beyond my ability to enter. It is usual for the debates on the Service Estimates to provide a field-day for military experts and subservient disciples of "brass." I am no military expert and my opinion of "brass" could not be expressed in Parliamentary language; what I have heard comrades standing next to me on the barrack square say under their breath must for ever remain behind sealed lips.
During the defence debate and this debate—the same thing will happen during the debates on the Navy and Air Estimates—I have listened with amaze- 904 ment while hon. Members, who, I presume, held high and important commands, or at least were on the short list for them, have discoursed on troop movements, fire power and strategic reserve. My wonderment may be explained by the fact that I was never one of the movers but always one of the herd being moved. My recollection of experience as one of the reserves is of a funny feeling in the pit of my tummy as we met the stretcher bearers coming out with their tragic loads as we went in to take up position.
So much of our debates on defence and the Service Estimates seem unreal, especially to those who have experienced active service in war-time. Glib talk in technical terms gives no clue to the real cost of war. When we lose ourselves in a mass of technical terms we lose the human side of it. We are voting £526 million on these Army Estimates. We do not bat an eyelid; we do it as a matter of course. We are so used to living in fear of war that swollen Army Estimates become part of our way of life.
I know that we are not allowed to debate the ethical aspects of this development on these Estimates, but as the representatives of the ordinary people we ought at the appropriate time to examine whether the sacrifice of two world wars, ostensibly fought to end war and destroy militarism, has really been worth while. I shall not develop that today. I will content myself with saying that to my simple mind a great deal of our discussion seems to ignore the human side of defence preparations.
I was very pleased by the human note in the Minister's Memorandum. I was especially pleased to note his glowing tribute to the gallantry and endurance of our troops now serving in the many scattered battlefields of the world. It is a timely reminder that behind the cold print and the frightening figures there are young men, flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood, successors to the eternal British Tommy who, in two wars, won through against frightening odds while people were sitting on the sidelines jeering and saying that he was going to lose. It is the people sitting on the sidelines who want to have their own way in everything in the world at the present time. We do not forget that kind of thing.
This record of what our lads are doing on the battlefields is an adequate answer 905 to the miserable pessimists who are always talking about the degeneracy of modern British youth. Especially gratifying is the reference to the fact that our young National Service men constitute 50 per cent. of our Forces in Korea. It is a shame that they should have to go there, but they are giving a good account of themselves and have earned respect. Our blood tingles with pride when we read in the report that during the past 12 months these Forces, containing 50 per cent. National Service men, have not yielded a single inch of ground while under continuous attack. We are proud that there men are the representatives of this nation.
The fact that we have 23 battalions in Malaya indicates what a great share we are taking in stemming the tide of Communism and also the price that we have to pay for having left such territories so long in the hands of those whose actions and mode of life prepared the soil in which the seeds of Communism germinated so profusely.
I am reluctantly convinced that we must continue to devote men, money and materials in large quantities to defence. It has been a hard mental and spiritual struggle for me to come to this conclusion. After the First World War I was a bitter and disillusioned young man. The things which I had been supposed to be fighting for were non-existent. The homes fit for heroes did not exist, and there was not peace. From that came the feelings with which I entered the House in 1929, and I spoke against, and voted, against the Service Estimates. I was sincere then, and I am sincere today; but I am much less happy today because one always has a mental struggle when one votes money and materials to enable someone else to do a dirty job. If one was doing the job oneself, one would not mind so much, but when one is voting money to enable other people to do the job one goes through a serious mental and spiritual struggle.
When I came out of the Army in 1918 I was opposed to war because I had seen the beastliness, the horror and the rottenness of it. The only reason I support rearmament today is because of some lines by one of my favourite poets, J. G. Whittier:They enslave their children's children who make compromise with sin.906 It is only because we cannot make compromise with the sin of totalitarian Communism which is trying to dominate the world today that I am prepared to support Estimates for the rearmament and defence of our country.
The growing needs for expenditure under the Army Estimates are a measure of our failure to win the war of ideals. Side by side with defence preparations we must continue the war of ideals, because if we despair of ever winning it we might as well put our children in a lethal chamber as let them face the horrors of the years to come. We shall not win the war of ideals by hauling down our "brave tattered banners" and emulating the action of our totalitarian opponents; we shall win it by proving by actions that our way of life is the better way of life. So we come to the position of these Estimates and we ask ourselves whether we can carry the burden of these Estimates and their associated ones without destroying the structure of social security and drastically lowering living standards, for those are the best bulwarks against Communism.
I want to urge that we use the material which is being provided by the Estimates to the best advantage. The British Tommy is the finest soldier in the world, and those who wear the Queen's uniform today are proving themselves worthy of those who won two world wars against tremendous odds. Defence and Service Ministers are usually too prone to accept without question the views of the General Staff or the experts who, so often, prove to be wrong. Certainly, they are more often wrong than right. I do not say that every Minister of Defence comes under that heading, and I look to my left, where sits my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr.Shinwell).
A writer once said that the British Army was composed of lions led by asses. I just murmur "Antwerp, Gallipoli, Passchendaele," and I leave it at that. Of course, the "brass" will take as many men for as long a period as they can get. Make no mistake about that. The surplus men can always be used as officers' batmen, officers' cooks or housemaids in married officers' quarters. Others can be made to polish the inside of the barrack room coal bin, or whitewash—if not the "last post"—stones round the little garden outside the 907 orderly room. It must be nice to contemplate the garden outside an orderly room while waiting to be marched in to get C.B.
Do we need so many National Service men? Can we train them and keep them all usefully employed for the two-year period? We were told that the idea of increasing the period of service to two years was to build up the reserves. There has been a lot of quibbling this afternoon about figures and I want to be careful, but I will give those figures which I got. These state that the reserves in 1950 were 130,700 and in 1953 they were estimated at 427,000. If my figures are right, and they are not yet challenged, that seems to me to be a fairly good build up. Still the great maw of the military machine is open and still the "brass" keep crying, "Give me more men for the Army."
I think we should have an annual review of the period of National Service because conditions change from year to year and we do not want to have men drafted into the Army to waste their time and their energy. We should have an independent inquiry. I know we have been told by the Secretary of State for War that there are four inquiries going on today, but as far as I can gather only one is under an outside chairman. All the others are Departmental inquiries of a kind, and I do not place much reliance upon those.
I look forward to the day when we shall have so built up our Regular Army that we will be able to do without compulsion, which is so alien to the ideals and principles of this country. That day, alas, is not yet, so all I say on manpower and training is, let us find useful employment for these men while in the Services, send them out of those Services adequately equipped for civilian jobs and retain them in the Services only as long as is consistent with the real needs of national defence. Let us always remember that the National Service men are citizens in uniform. Let us not demoralise them by forcing them to kill their time, making them feel that theirs is a useless kind of existence. They must return to civilian life as good citizens, proud of the service they rendered while in uniform, and anxious to serve their country's need equally well in mufti.
908 In spite of devilish inventions, the backbone of our defence is still the British Tommy. It is well that in the general debate on the Estimate as a whole we should give careful consideration to the details. Later this evening, or early in the morning I hope to have something to say about the non-effective services for which last year nearly £17 million was provided for in the Estimates. It seems to me an anomaly that something that is non-effective should be included in the Defence Estimates. It gives a false idea of what we are spending on effective defence.
The amalgamation of Ministries is in the air at the moment. There may be a good case on effectiveness, economy and humanity to transfer some of the commitments which are listed under non-effective services to a now threatened Ministry of Pensions. There is much which is now being done at Chelsea and other things which are dealt with under non-effective services which could be more effectively considered by a humane Ministry of Pensions, with that incomparable personal touch which I do not think exists to the same degree in any other Ministry.
There are a few Votes not down for Committee discussions and I presume that they can be raised on this general debate. One is Vote 4, concerning civilians. One notes in the Secretary of State's Memorandum that 12,000 more civilians are now being employed than in 1951–52. The Army has now two tails, the Service tail and the civilian tail. The one tail is being combed, and the other is growing bushier. These civilians are a mixed bag. There seem to be quite a lot of jobs for the old boys and principal, senior, and deputy officers of one kind or another in profusion. The "passed to you" technique has plenty of scope here.
If we look down this Vote for civilians we find there is also a chief motion study officer, senior motion study officers and motion study officers, grades 1 and 2. We are not told whether Mr. Bedeux, beloved of trade unionists, is also on the staff. Then we have a senior principal psychologist with four seniors and four principals to control three common or garden psychologists. I think we had better have a look at that very carefully when we come to the Committee stage, because it is all very well, as the hon. and gallant 909 Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) said when he spoke, to develop the civilian side and release men for the Forces. We do not want increased civilian labour any more than we want to waste the time of the National Service men.
We want to see that the people employed on the civilian side of the Army are usefully employed. I have heard National Service men who had to go into the Army and have served in various parts of the country say, in not very Parliamentary language, what they think about people who sit about all day drinking tea and smoking cigarettes. On the civilian side a good many of the men employed are ex-officers. I do not complain about that, because to look after one's own is quite natural: but that is the position.
On the educational side there seems to be no uniform pattern. We have in different establishments directors of studies, commandants, headmasters, a bursar, and a dean, whose colour is not defined. It is a pity that Vote 4 does not come up during the Committee stage, because it is worthy of detailed discussion. One would like to hear the Minister telling the tale of the wonderful tail as a bedtime story for the children of the "Boys of the Old Brigade."
We all look forward to these annual discussions on the Army Estimates. They may be long and go on into the small hours, but it is a fascinating subject. If we did justice to them we should have a week's discussion, because there is meat in them. Some of it may not be very fresh, but it is meat. We could spend quite a week of Parliamentary time and get down to discussion of the detail of the Estimates. We have no private armies in this country. It is Parliament that votes the men and the money, and before we do so we want to see how the money is being spent and how the men are being used.
Even those of us who are visionary enough to see on the horizon the time when national armies will be things of the past have respect for tradition, admiration for courage and endurance and a determination to see that we carry out our responsibilities to the men who, in this troubled world, wear the uniform of our Queen and bear the burden of the mistakes of our statesmen. Before we part 910 with these Estimates and whatever our differences may be on one side of the House or the other, our united voice can go out in saluting Tommy Atkins both for the work he has done in the past and the work that his successors are doing on the various battlefields.