§ [11TH ALLOTTED DAY]
§ ARMY ESTIMATES, 1953–54
§ REPORT [9th March]
§ VOTE A.—NUMBER OF LAND FORCES
That the number of Land Forces, not exceeding 554,000, all ranks, be maintained for the safety of the United Kingdom and the defence of the possessions of Her Majesty's Crown, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1954.
§ Resolution read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
After a good many hours of discussion we are now reaching the final stages of our annual debate on the Army Estimates. I would say how sorry we are that the Secretary of State for War became a casualty so early. We hope he will soon be much better.
His absence has meant we have heard a great deal more than perhaps we otherwise would from the Under-Secretary of State for War who, everyone will agree, discharged his extra duties with great ability. We are obliged to him, for the answers he gave in this House, and also for the letters he has been good enough to write to some of us since the debate. He not only dealt with our points in the House, but attempted to deal with them outside as well. But this does not mean that we are satisfied with all the answers or that we have nothing to raise this afternoon. There are some matters which are more than purely formal with which we wish to deal which will be amplified by my hon. Friends.
I wish to start with a small point about which we did not hear anything during the previous debates. What is to happen to the Army side of pensions now dealt with by the Ministry of Pensions when the merger takes place between the Ministry of National Insurance and the Ministry of Pensions? Since this reorganisation is planned, perhaps the time has come to consider whether the balance of work still done by the Royal 218 Hospital at Chelsea should be moved into the sphere of the new Ministry.
I do not know whether that would be practicable, but as the years have passed more and more work has drifted away from the Royal Hospital to the Ministry of Pensions; and perhaps this might be a suitable time to consider whether work done in relation to the payment of pensions to ex-soldiers and officers and their dependants should be incorporated under one body. That might prove an administrative improvement and save a good deal of time.
My next point occurred to me during the winding-up speech of the Undersecretary in the last debate on the Army Estimates. He expressed disappointment about the results so far achieved in getting recruits for the new school at Welbeck Abbey, in the sense that an insufficient number of applicants had come from Scotland or from the North. I made inquiries about where this new officers' school had been advertised, and I understand that it has been mainly advertised in very respectable Conservative newspapers, either national or local. We cannot expect to cover a particularly wide field if we advertise only in the most obscure and reactionary papers in the country. We have advanced somewhat from the day when a potential officer read only "The Times" or the "Morning Post" or local Conservative newspapers.
If the Minister really wants to widen the field of selection he should widen the scope of his advertising. Perhaps he might care to advertise in the "Daily Herald." I do not wish to appear to be promoting the interests of a particular Labour paper, so may I add that perhaps he might even consider advertising in the "Tribune" and then he might obtain a wider selection of officers for that school. It is a serious matter that a school of this kind should be getting its potential recruits only from traditional sources.
This brings me again to the rather thorny question of the widening of the selection of officers for the Brigade of Guards. I want to deal with this matter, because the Under-Secretary of State did not answer any of the points raised the other night. He did not deal with the suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) who made a most interesting and detailed speech on the subject. 219 We never get any answer on this subject, because the Government side of the House always prefer to ride it off as purely a matter of class prejudice which they can safely ignore and fail to answer.
But on this side of the House there is no class prejudice involved in this question. This is a much more serious matter than the Government appear to realise. We are not against the Brigade of Guards as such. We are not in any way suggesting that they are not an efficient fighting force or that they have in any way failed to do their duty by the country. What we are trying to say—and we do not seem to be able to penetrate the intelligence of hon. Members opposite— is that it is wrong that at this stage in our history there should be a corps d' élite where it is impossible for anybody to get in as an officer unless he has the right background in wealth or birth.
This is a day when opportunity to rise to the highest part of any profession should not be withheld from anybody with the requisite ability, but the opportunity is being withheld in the Brigade of Guards.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
How can we have a corps d' élite if it is not élite? I do not refer to the class side. The hon. Gentleman said that we could have a corps d' élite and that anybody should be able to get into it. I should like him to elaborate that.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I thought that what was meant by corps d' élite was a corps which claims to be the most efficient of its kind in the particular arm of the Service concerned.
If that is the claim of the Brigade of Guards, they are restricting potential entry into the officer ranks to a narrow group in the community. Somebody who perhaps might be an outstanding junior officer has no more chance of getting a commission in the Guards if he has not got the right background in wealth and family connection than his grandfather had 80 years ago. No change has been made. The hon. Member shakes his head, but I said in the debate the other night, and it cannot be denied, that since the war no one has received a commission in the Guards who was not either at a public school or educated privately at the expense of his parents.
220 There is no case of an officer in the Guards who served on a Regular engagement other than a quartermaster. This does not apply to the general run of regiments. It means that whereas the Secretary of State is professing to widen the selection of officers over a very large field indeed for all other regiments, this is not happening in the Brigade of Guards. There might be people quite capable of holding commissions in the Guards who do not have the requisite background in wealth or family connections. They are deprived of the opportunity because of the system of selection.
The position is much more serious than hon. Members opposite seem to think. What they are doing is saying to young men who might consider the Army as a career that however well they do. and however bright they may be, there will be one branch of the Army which will be for ever barred to them if they wish to go into it. It might well be that many potential young officers might wish to be in such a group where there is a great deal of connection with the Throne and a reputation and tradition of first-class soldiering. They may feel that here is something which is put aside rather like a highly expensive club somewhere in St. James's and they cannot enter it unless they can be put up for membership by having a few friends or relations in it and being able to afford the entrance fee and the annual subscription. It is not right that in the days when we are trying to extend the amount of democracy in the Army this situation should still exist.
I say seriously that if hon. Members opposite wish the Brigade of Guards to continue in anything like its present form they should use their best influence with the Brigade of Guards to see that they reform their constitution, over which they have so much internal authority, before it is too late and before it is reformed for them from outside, as indeed, if some modification is not made, it will be one day in a way which they will not like at all. Unless they open their officer ranks more widely, they will not be able to get away with this year after year.
I also want to deal with the question of the equipment for our reserve divisions. We felt that we did not get a satisfactory answer from the Under-Secretary of State as to the amount of new equipment and weapons which were to be available for 221 our reserves when the rearmament programme was completed. Paragraph 77 of the Memorandum on the Army Estimates says: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.It would appear from this that, although it has had to be slowed down, the amount of new equipment and weapons coming along would in the end be the same as that originally planned for the 12 reserve divisions which are in process of creation. But when one reads paragraph 5 of the Statement on Defence a rather different picture begins to emerge. There, having referred to the difficulties met in continuing the rearmament programme as originally planned and dealing with the slowdown, it says:There was also good reason to doubt whether, even after the plan had been completed, the cost of maintaining the forces which would have by then been built up and of keeping them equipped with the most up to date material would have been within the country's resources.There was doubt then as to whether it would be possible in any case. There is already the indication in this sentence that in fact the original amounts of arms and equipment planned are never going to be supplied to these divisions. Confirmation of that is in the next paragraph, which says:For these reasons the Government concluded that rearmament would have to be spread over a longer period and held to a lower peak.Those are the vital words—"held to a lower peak." That means that it is not merely a question of slowing down the rearmament programme and completing it in a rather longer time than originally planned, but of not completing the original rearmament programme at all.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison)
Perhaps it would be convenient if the hon. Gentleman would allow me to throw some light on the words:…held to a lower peak.They mean held to a lower peak in any one year, so that the total rise in expenditure in one year is not as acute as it would have been because it is done over a longer period.
§ Mr. Wyatt
If the Under-Secretary says that that is what it means, why does not it say so? If we take the sentences in context we are bound to assume that the interpretation I have given is the only possible one. Otherwise, there was no need to say that there was reason to doubt whether the cost of maintaining the forces which would by then have been built up and keeping them equipped with the most up-to-date material would have been within the country's resources. What does this sentence mean if the hon. Gentleman is correct? It must only mean that as well as there being a slowing down in the speed of the rearmament programme, in fact the programme will not be completed in the same way as originally planned.
It must only mean that; otherwise, the whole thing becomes altogether meaningless, and does not make any sense at all. From the context and from the references we have had from the Prime Minister and other speakers from the Government side, it has become very clear through these debates that that is what is intended —not only is there to be a slowing down, but that the total rearmament programme itself will not be completed on the original plan.
One of the things which the Government have said is that the reason for that is that more attention is being paid to new types of weapons, futuristic weapons and all that kind of thing. That may be true, and I am not saying that a higher proportion of the expenditure should not go on new types of experimental weapons, but I do say that it is totally wrong to build up a force of 12 reserve divisions which are not to be equipped in the way in which it was originally intended they should be equipped, and if those 12 reserve divisions are not to have the most up-to-date weapons.
I want to explain why it matters so much that these reserve divisions should have the up-to-date weapons which they were originally intended to have. It matters because the plan was that, by 1954 or so, these divisions would be in such a state of readiness that, if war broke out in Europe, they could be very quickly despatched to the Continent and could take their part in any actions which would be taking place on the ground. May be it is possible to accept 223 a delay of a year or even longer before we reach the state in which these divisions will be sufficiently equipped with the modern and up-to-date weapons which they ought to have, but it is not possible to accept a situation in which they will never be ready to do this or will never be fully equipped with up-to-date weapons.
It is the general concept that the use of these divisions or most of them would be to engage in fighting within about two months of the start of any war, but we cannot possibly equip 12 reserve divisions, or even a substantial number of them, within two months of the start of a war unless we have already got the modern and up-to-date equipment and weapons ready for them before that war has begun.
What I feel very strongly about is that we are building up a large reserve Army which appears to become weaker with the additional troops we add to it, instead of being fully armed and equipped in the way in which it ought to be. It is not the slightest use having 12 reserve divisions if four or five of them are not able to take their places in the line in modern warfare immediately war breaks out, because then they cease to be reserve divisions and are only potential reserve divisions.
It would certainly be monstrous for a situation to arise in which we would be sending these young men out to fight in a war in which they would not have the very best chance which they would have had if they had been equipped with all the modern and up-to-date weapons and equipment originally intended for them when the rearmament programme began. It would be wicked, the state of modern warfare being what it is, to send inadequately armed and equipped divisions into battle.
What we should like to know is what is the true position to be about equipment and weapons for these reserve divisions. We feel that, to put it mildly, the Government have been evasive about this matter ever since they first began to talk about slowing down the rearmament programme. We have never had a clear answer to our questions, and the Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot say, first, that they are slowing 224 down the rearmament programme, secondly, that they are holding it at a lower peak, thirdly, that they are using much more of the amount being spent on production for experimental weapons and weapons designed to deal with a more futuristic type of warfare, and, fourthly, still maintain, despite the three factors I have already enumerated, that we are still to have the weapons and equipment originally planned and required for these 12 divisions by 1954 or the beginning of 1955. These factors are mutually conflicting, and we are entitled to hear much more from the Government on this point.
That is all I wish to say, but I have no doubt that a number of other points will be raised by my hon. Friends, although I think that, on the whole, the Under-Secretary will not find it too difficult to get through the afternoon.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Remnant (Wokingham)
I am rather astonished that the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) should take quite the line he has done over the Brigade of Guards, and I am still more astonished that he should have done so after his opening statement that he regarded the Brigade as a first-class, efficient fighting unit. If the hon. Gentleman regards the Guards' Brigade like that, and, of course, I accept his statement that he does, then, in my submission, his attack on the Brigade of Guards can only be due to one of three reasons, and only the hon. Gentleman himself can give an answer as to which is the correct one.
These reasons are either jealousy, in that he himself was refused admission into the Brigade of Guards; or, secondly, jealousy as to their efficiency, which, apparently, he did not suggest was possessed by his own regiment; or, thirdly, pique or a similar reason, or a lack of pride is his own regiment. It may seem strange to some of my hon. Friends and to others of my friends outside the House that I am defending the Brigade of Guards, but the fact is that I was a member of one regiment during the last war and of another one in the First World War, neither of which I would for a moment exchange for the Brigade of Guards.
Despite the fact that my right hon. Friend is endeavouring to whittle away 225 some of their age-long privileges at the Coronation, I should like to say that I was a member of the Honourable Artillery Company, which I regard as a first-class regiment, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree with me.
§ Mr. Remnant
However, the point to which I wish to draw the attention of the Under-Secretary is the very considerable handicap to recruiting for Regular engagement by the limitation on the pensions increase warrants. There is a limitation on the granting of these increases on two scores—on the limitation of the man's income, and, secondly, on the inclusion of the wife's income in excess of £2 per week. My hon. Friend the Undersecretary will say that these pensions increase warrants are designed to deal with cases of hardship, and, if that be accepted, I would equally accept that the maximum of £550 is a reasonable figure to fix, but I do not accept that these increases should be limited to the avoidance of hardship, and I say that for this reason.
Service pensions are a part of the attractions of the Service, and they should be the result of the service given by the soldier and his success in it, judged by the rank he attains. I think the time has gone past when we should tell the man who, in civilian life, is able to be successful and by his own ability command a wage or salary higher than others, that, because he has been successful in private life, he will, therefore, not get the increase in pension as justified by the pensions increase warrants.
I believe that a good employer in civilian life with a group pensions scheme grants a pension according to the services which the man has given and according to the salary which he earned in the last few years of his service, and I therefore see no reason why the Services should not treat the pensioner in the same way.
Equally, as far as the wife is concerned, if it is a question of avoiding hardship, I would not argue that £2 per week is not justified from that angle, but there are plenty of analogies today for excluding it. There are many who agree—even the Treasury—that the wife's earned income should be separated to at least some degree from that of the husband's.
226 I have one particular case in mind, particulars of which I will give briefly because I think it is a very telling example. It is the case of a man who spent 24 years in the Sappers, finishing up as a C.Q.M.S., and who has a wife and four children. The children are quite young, the eldest being 11 years of age. The wife is a fully qualified nurse who, because of the shortage of skilled nurses and in spite of her family duties, is doing three night shifts a week at Broadmoor. But because of the money she earns by coming to the help of Broadmoor with her skill and energy, she is, in fact, depriving her husband of the increase he would otherwise have received under the pensions increase warrant.
Does my hon. Friend really suggest that in the national interest it would be better if that woman stayed at home and looked after her children instead of helping the State in this way? I suggest that my hon. Friend should look at this particular point from three angles. First, can he do away with the limitation of income? In an answer to a Question about six weeks ago he told me that as far as the Army is concerned this would cost £150,000. From that we can to some extent judge the total cost for the three Services.
If my hon. Friend does not feel inclined to do that, will he consider excluding the wife's income, which must cost considerably less, and, if not—and I feel he is bound to accept this—will he exclude the wife's earned income?
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
I do not intend to indulge in the quarrel between the Brigade of Guards and the other arms of the Service except to say that, in my opinion, some of the old county regiments took some beating in the First World War. The discussion of these Estimates on the Committee stage was cut short at the rather early hour of 4.30 a.m. when most of us on this side were as fresh as daisies and quite prepared, being quite mentally alert, to go on a good deal longer in order to deal with the problems invoved.
We feel that more time ought to be provided for the discussion of the Army Estimates because they concern the welfare of 554,000 men. That is 100,000 more than the other two Services put together which is itself a justification for 227 the time we take in discussing these Estimates. Once they are passed and go out of our control we are debarred for a further 12 months from raising problems affecting 554,000 of our fellow citizens in such a detailed and intimate manner as we can on the Estimates.
It is fortunate, however, that on Report we have Vote A, which gives us our last opportunity, for another 12 months, of considering the adequacy of the numbers, the disposal of the men, the use of their time and their general welfare, which is what some of us want to do this afternoon.
One might be charged with stretching the imagination if one referred to British soldiers as "marauding bands," but as a matter of fact Army and military dance bands have been invading the territory of civilian musicians, and I have no doubt that some of my hon. Friends will deal with these marauding bands in more detail than I can during the course of this debate. If we allow these Army and military dance bands to usurp the functions of civilian musicians, where will it stop? Why not, for instance, use the doctors and the nurses of the R.A.M.C. to man our civilian hospitals? This is a very interesting field of discussion, but I will leave the details to be dealt with by some of my hon. Friends.
The number of 554,000 under Vote A includes National Service men. We hope that many of these National Service men will consider Regular engagements during or at the conclusion of their National Service because, as we on this side have said on many occasions, the more we can build up our voluntary recruitment the nearer will be the day when we can do away with compulsory military service, which none of us on this side and many hon. Members opposite do not like.
I think it is germane to inquire whether the National Service grants given to the families of National Service men are sufficiently adequate to keep those families happy and contented, because if there are grouses from the home front concerning the economic position while a man is doing his Service he is less likely to be a contented National Service man and a possible recruit for Regular service.
The Ministry of Pensions are responsible for the administration of these 228 National Service grants, and when I was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions I often felt that the grants were inadequate. There is an overriding limit of £3 a week. That limit, I take it, is of comparatively long standing. I wonder whether, when the Under-Secretary of State for War replies, he can tell us whether there has been any increase in the overriding limit to cover the increased costs which the National Service man's family has to meet.
As Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions I often felt that this was a very harsh limit and that in administering it one could not fully carry out the traditions of humanity and kindness which that Ministry has built up over the years. After nearly 18 months of Tory Government the conditions of the National Service man are much worse than they were, and, therefore, there is a very strong case for revising this overriding limit.
I realise, of course, that it is not intended to be a subsistence allowance, but is intended to meet hardship. But hardship increases with the increased cost of the commodities which are necessary to many of these Service families. Quite a number of National Service men are young men who have just married and who are then called up for Service. It is up to us to see that the homes which they set up are preserved for them when they return to civil life.
The main subject with which I want to deal this afternoon is the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, a matter on which I went on the rampage during the last debate on the Army Estimates. This is a matter which has been giving considerable concern to those who want to see the administration of pensions integrated in the best possible manner in the interest of war and military pensioners of all kinds. I took the opportunity of raising this matter 12 months ago. Nell Gwynn, with her bewitching ways, charmed the merry monarch so much that he did something for the old soldier. Though Nell sold oranges, the answer I got was a lemon.
Chelsea Hospital overlaps the Ministry of Pensions, as one can see from the notes in the Estimates. For instance, we are told that the Ministry of Pensions are responsible for death or disability pensions due to service since 3rd September, 229 1939. Pensions before 1939 are apparently administered by Chelsea Hospital, who are responsible for awarding all pensions payable to soldiers under Army Regulations. The explanatory notes also show that, in some instances, the awards administered by the Ministry of Pensions include an element in respect of length of service. So we have a muddle here. We get a disability pension plus a Service pension, some pensions being administered by Chelsea and some by the Ministry of Pensions. We ought to look into the matter and consider whether integration could be achieved.
The authorities at Chelsea are concerned with soldiers in receipt of Ministry of Pensions awards who can be admitted as in-patients to the hospital. The activities mainly controlled by Chelsea are covered in the Army Estimates by a Vote of £18 million. These activities have nothing to do with defence or preparedness. This sum of £18 million, which is ostensibly for defence purposes, is, in fact, for the purpose of social services and it ought to be dealt with by a Ministry which has been designated to deal with social services.
I suggest, therefore, that instead of disintegrating the most humane and successful Ministry in the Government—the Ministry of Pensions—an attempt should be made to integrate the work done by the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, with the work done by the Ministry of Pensions, and the Minister of Pensions allowed to go on with his job. The Minister should discuss this matter through the usual channels to see what can be done to coordinate and integrate the treatment of the ex-Service and Service pensioners. There is very little gap between them. Neither still wears a uniform and both have been in the Service, so surely one Ministry should be able to deal with the problems of both.
I am sure that it will be found that the services covered by this £18 million ought to be the responsibility of the Ministry of Pensions, who have more of the sweetness of disposition that fits them to carry on the tradition of "Sweet Nell" than the most amiable "brass hat" ever to wear red tabs. From the points of view of humanity, good administration and getting the Service man and the ex-Service man dealt with in the most effective manner, the Minister might consider 230 handing over these social services which come under the Army Votes to the Ministry that is best suited and equipped to deal with them.
I regret that time does not permit our dealing with many of the points that we would like to raise. There is, for instance, the question of family allowances with which some of us are very dissatisfied. There are also the family pensions for the Forces. A White Paper was published on this subject, and if ever there was a class document surely that was it. A field marshal receives an increase of £200 a year, a general an increase of £200, a colonel an increase from £100 to £220, which is over 100 per cent.
When we come down to the ordinary men, the chaps who do the donkey work, the privates and sergeants, we find that when they have served 37 years they may, if they are lucky, get 12s. 6d. a week in the case of a private and 15s. in the case of a sergeant, compared with the field marshal's £500, the general's £425 and the brigadier's £250 a year. The Government should look again at these proposals for Forces' family pensions and consider whether they can build a few Bailey bridges across the gap between the top "brass" and the lads who do the work.
During the Committee stage I raised a case to which the Minister was not able to reply. It concerned the situation at Bordon Camp, Hampshire, where a "blimp" of a colonel started the idea that senior N.C.O.s should lay out their kit. Apparently some of the senior N.C.O.s who live in married quarters had to carry their kit over a mile and lay it out. A newspaper article on the subject quoted a senior warrant officer as saying that the word of a senior N.C.O. should be taken that he has all his kit. He is reported as saying:It seems as though we are not trusted.The newspaper correspondent asked whether officers would be required also to have their kits checked. Hon. Members are familiar with the procedure— knives, forks and spoons, socks and all the rest of it, laid out for inspection.
§ Mr. Simmons
It was suggested that the officers should be asked to arrange a kit inspection of their own kit. I do not know whether or not the privates 231 would inspect the officers' kits. The answer to the question about an officers' inspection given by the adjutant, who is, I suppose, a man who knows his p's and q's was:They could be ordered one, but, of course, it is not done.It is the "done thing" for the privates to have a kit check. I have been through a good many in my time. One stands there for perhaps a couple of hours until all the "paraphernalia" come round. They cast their eyes on the kit display and pass by, and one has had all that work for nothing. They do not find any deficiency.
§ Mr. Simmons
I was sufficiently astute to camouflage my kit so as to make it appear to have no deficiencies.
Why should it be only the ordinary common or garden private who should be subject to a kit inspection? Why should he be less trusted than an N.C.O. or an officer? The newspaper report also said:Corporals and below … grinned gleefully through their barrack room windows as the inspection party moved towards the sergeants' quarters.I hope that some attention will be paid to this report in the Press of what happened at this camp. The senior N.C.O.s, who were mostly men in married quarters, had to carry their kit more than a mile to camp. This is an indication of some of the archaic things which still go on in the Army. I hope that the Under-Secretary will have some inquiries made as to what was behind the mind of this colonel when he ordered this particular sergeants' kit inspection. I do not know whether he has a mind to have anything behind, but there we are.
These are one or two of the points which we wanted to raise while these Estimates are still under discussion. I conclude with the plea that next year we should have more time to discuss the Army Estimates. I do not think that 4.30 a.m. is the time to do it. At that time, during the Committee stage, we were lively enough to raise a number of questions on these Estimates, which had an enormous amount of meat in them.
§ An Hon. Member: We did not stop it.
§ Mr. Simmons
Someone, during that debate, suggested that the Patronage Secretary was going to move the Closure and the Patronage Secretary nearly burst a blood vessel, and said "That is not done on the Army Estimates; we never move the Closure on the Army Estimates." Yet, as soon as Vote A had been disposed of, he moved to report Progress and ask leave to sit again, knowing full well that there was no opportunity to sit again. It was a back-door method of doing something which he did not want to do by the front door.
These Estimates are very important. They concern the well-being of 554,000 men—100,000 more than the other two Services put together. They are the one opportunity we have of going into details on the treatment of these men, both during their service in the Army and after they have finished their service.
I hope that on the next occasion we may have the opportunity of a two or three days' debate on the Army Estimates, so that these very meaty Estimates, giving us so much information and leaving so much to be desired, can be fully discussed by both sides of the House.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
I hope that the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) will forgive me if I do not follow him too closely in what he has been saying. What I have to say in the next three or four minutes deals with the question of morale. I rather imagine that he was dealing not only with the morale of pensioners and those who have indulged in kit inspections, but also with the morale of the back bench Members who were hoping to take part in the debate shortly before dawn. However, he brought in a fairly smart barrage some time before the late hour to which he was referring.
I should like to speak on a very narrow point—and that is the question of morale in the Territorial Army. My right hon. Friend, when he was speaking in the debate on the Estimates, did touch on this point. He said that it was a very 233 serious trouble and worry that these public-spirited people who came back to the Territorial Army when it was re-formed after the end of the war, and who came back both in the ranks as senior N.C.Os. and also as officers were now beginning to leave, and their place had not yet been taken by the National Service intake.
There is not enough experience in the National Service intake. Many of the National Service men—I believe I am right in saying approximately 27 per cent. of them—have volunteered to go into the Territorials but, nevertheless, most of them are too young, in the case of officers, for the senior officer side and, in the case of the ranks, for the noncommissioned side to become warrant officers or non-commissioned officers. Therefore, it seems to me all the more important that everything should be done to maintain the morale of the Territorials. From that point of view, I wish to bring to the notice of the House what I think is an example of crass stupidity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant) referred to his membership of a very well-known regiment of the British Army—the Honourable Artillery Company. I suppose that, because of his accustomed modesty, he did not pursue this matter much further. He said that he had belonged to two regiments, one in the First World War and another in the Second World War. I can beat that. I belonged to two Services, one in the First World War and one in the second. In the second, I belonged to a regiment in the Brigade of Guards, the Rifle Brigade, the Reconnaissance Corps and the Parachute Regiment. [An HON. MEMBER: "All at the same time?"] No, one after another. One has to be sacked from one before one can join another.
I do not want to be too light-hearted about this, but the Honourable Artillery Company is, I believe, the oldest regiment in the British Army. There was some talk of the Coldstream Guards being older, but I gather that they were disbanded and re-formed after the Honourable Artillery Company. At least, the Honourable Artillery Company is a very old regiment with great and fine traditions. One of these traditions is its ancient privilege of mustering in full 234 strength at the Coronation. That was amplified and confirmed by King Edward VII just before his Coronation. I cannot remember his exact words, but he definitely referred to their ancient privilege. That privilege was denied them, unfortunately, I think, by Lord Kitchener at the time of the Coronation of King George V.
At the time of the Coronation of King George VI, for certain reasons which I will not amplify but which I think all hon. Members of the House will realise, they did not seek to claim that privilege. For this Coronation they left things in the hands of my right hon. Friend and of the War Office. The War Office, in my humble submission, have completely let them down. They are now allowed to have certain representation, but they are not allowed to parade in their full strength. Their full strength, I should like to add, is 300 volunteers—300 ordinary people who have joined the Territorial Army and joined the Honourable Artillery Company. They most certainly will not be able to parade at that strength.
I understand that two reasons have been put forward. One is that it would upset the Royal Navy, who would be next to the Brigade of Guards. The Honourable Artillery Company was formed before the Royal Navy was heard of. I joined the Royal Navy after that. The second point is that it would be expensive to fit them out in their uniforms, but I am informed that the question of the cost of the uniform could and would be taken care of by many old soldiers of that regiment if they were allowed to do so.
I would ask my hon. Friend to look into this matter again, even at this late hour, to see whether he can reverse the decision made by the War Office. There is no better way of bringing new recruits into the Territorial Army than looking after the morale of the units, particularly the oldest units, not only of the Territorial Army but the British Army itself.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
To remove any discontent on the back benches I assure the House that I intend to intervene only very briefly. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) that a great 235 many matters are embodied in the Estimates, and that much more time is required to deal with them effectively. However, it is not my intention to cover the very wide ground that appears to be open in this debate.
As I said yesterday, when we were discussing the Supplementary Estimate for the Ministry of Defence, in these debates we discuss many matters which are relevant to the Estimates but spend very little time on the subject of defence itself. I was much interested in what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) about the effect of the run-down of armaments expenditure this year, next year and probably in succeeding years, and particularly its effect on the equipment that will be available for the reserve divisions. But that is not a matter into which I can go at this time.
We were told recently by the Prime Minister—and his statement was subsequently confirmed by the Secretary of State for War—that seven mobile battalions have been created. I am very glad to hear that that is so, but perhaps the Under-Secretary will be good enough to tell us the composition of these battalions. Are they made up of Regulars, with a number of National Service men—
§ Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison
I want to answer the right question. I am not clear whether the right hon. Gentleman is referring to a mobile column such as that at Mons Barracks or the seven straightforward battalions which were formed last year. They are quite different.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am very glad the hon. Gentleman has intervened, because there appears to be some confusion about this matter. At any rate, I am somewhat confused. When the Prime Minister made his original statement I was not quite clear whether we were considering the seven mobile battalions or those that were being made up in the various depots or barracks. What have the War Office in mind? Are they building up a reserve force capable of dealing with an attack from the air? If so, what is the nature of that force and how is it made up? We ought to have a little more information about it.
My second point concerns the antiaircraft position. We heard very little 236 about it in the defence debate or during the Committee stage of the Army Estimates. The hon. Gentleman can correct me if I am wrong in thinking that one of the reasons very little is being said about the state of our anti-aircraft defences is that there is an assumption— hardly a conviction—that anti-aircraft defences on the present model will not be required but will be replaced by guided missiles.
That strikes me as much too optimistic. I do not believe that guided missiles in an effective quantity will be available for a long time to come. We have heard of the progress made in the United States and something of the progress in the United Kingdom, but while I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to furnish any specific information on these matters, because there is an element of security involved, I should like to be assured that there is some other reason for not furnishing us with more information about the state of these defences.
I know that considerable progress has been made with the new anti-aircraft weapons, but we should be assured that in this vital field of home defence our anti-aircraft defences will be accurate. We know what happened in 1939. There was then a most unsatisfactory state of affairs and it was a long time before sufficient guns were made available. We should be assured that if an emergency arose there would, at any rate, be some measure of protection from the air.
I want to mention two other small matters, although they are important from the point of view of the people who are primarily concerned. The first is in connection with National Service men who, having completed their two years' service, are called up very soon afterwards to undertake their Territorial liabilty. A man released in February or March may be called up at the end of April or the beginning of May for his 15 days' training.
§ Mr. Hutchison indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I have had communications about this. I am surprised to see the hon. Gentleman shake his head. There must be some cases—this may not be the general situation—where men are called up rather too soon. There should be a reasonable time between the men being released from active service as 237 National Service men and their call-up for annual training.
The other point has a bearing on what the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) said about the Territorial Army. I was surprised to learn from the Memorandum to the Army Estimates that very little progress has been made in the buildup of the volunteer forces for the Territorial Army. When I was Secretary of State for War some years ago the War Office were very much concerned about this situation and began a campaign, which was more or less successful, whereby many devices were employed to build up the volunteer Territorial force.
In view of the reduction in the figures, I have come to the conclusion that the present bounty is most satisfactory. I know that money does not always count in these matters and that there is also the question of service. Many of these men render service in a voluntary capacity, for which we must pay them tribute, and now that we ask men to undertake 30 or more drills a year with an occasional weekend campaign, and 14 or 15 days' annual training with all the inconvenience that is entailed, the bounty should be increased. These men have to sacrifice something of their home life and sometimes have to abandon opportunities for working overtime, which means a loss of remuneration. The present bounty is £9 a year made up to £12 on the understanding that men complete the whole of their drills in their annual training.
I would go so far as to suggest that the bounty ought to be increased to at least £30 a year—at the very least. I do not think that that is excessive, nor do I think it would be over generous on the part of the War Office to pay £30 a year. Moreover, I believe that we should succeed in enlisting a far larger number of men than are now available to the Territorial Army—and do not let us forget that most of the men are ex-Service men, who are experienced, who have had training in active warfare, and who include a large number of n.c.o.s capable of training other men.
I believe that, as a result of an increase in the bounty, we should succeed in building up the volunteer section of the Territorial Army to a much greater extent than at the present time, and I would beg the hon. Gentleman to give the 238 matter consideration. I do not expect that he will be in a position now to give me a firm answer on this matter, on which the Treasury would have to be consulted, but I am satisfied that unless something of this sort is done it will be impossible to hold the men in the Territorial Army. The War Office must not rely unduly on the number of men who are being transferred from National Service to the Territorial Army, service in which, of course, is an undertaking with which they have to comply as a result of the National Service Act.
Those are the matters upon which I should like information. There is a great deal more that could be said, but I know that many of my hon. Friends want to speak, and I shall content myself with the time I have had.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I should like to say how much I agree with the general purport of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) has said, although I think I part company with him when he suggests that extra money would be a sufficient inducement to service in the Territorial Army, although, of course, all of us realise that those who are offering their services to the Territorial Army are facing considerable financial problems; at any rate, many of them are. However, I have a feeling that what is more likely than the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion to answer the problem is to equip the Territorial Army better than it is today, not only with weapons, which are obviously of vital importance, but also with amenities for the units.
Many of the county regiments in the Territorial Army are today extremely hampered by lack of amenities. This particularly affects "Ack-Ack," which is, of course, considerably restricted in the type of weapons with which it is training. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will be able to tell us a little bit more about Anti-Aircraft Command than he has. Of course, one of the most difficult things for an army or any part of an army is to give the impression of being really up to date during a process of transition, and that is really the position in Anti-Aircraft Command at the moment, which is moving out of the old searchlight and gunfire method of action 239 into a new phase, the nature of which we do not yet really know.
It seems to me that it would be a tragedy if, because we cannot provide all the up-to-date equipment, we were to lose men who would otherwise be ready to serve, and I would certainly agree that there should be more money devoted to the better equipment of the Territorial Army, and its provision with the latest types of equipment, although we know that the range of that equipment is not yet complete. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say something about that.
I would agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington that in these debates on the Service Estimates we have not spent a great deal of time on discussing the general problem of defence, and I should like for a few minutes to touch on one aspect of that—one which, I think, is of vital importance since the decisions made upon it will affect the general rearmament programme very considerably. One of the things I was trained to do as a soldier —and I suppose that everybody else who was in the Army was trained to do this, too—was to reflect, first of all, when considering what one ought to do oneself, what the enemy might do. I have sometimes wondered whether we have really done that in this general matter of defence, in the light of the Prime Minister's remarks earlier about the need for home defence both by the Home Guard and by Civil Defence.
I have often felt that we may have reached the stage in military history at which the next enemy we in this country have to stand up against—the next European enemy, that is—will break all the precedents and begin the war by attacking these islands rather than the Forces we have on the Continent. I certainly think that if that were to happen, considering the position we are in, the position would be an extremely disturbing one. Those who have disagreed with the setting up of the Home Guard at the present time, and with the preparation of Civil Defence, have not really faced up to that issue—that there is always the possibility that an aggressor determined to seize Europe will attack these islands first.
If that were to happen there would be few more important organisations in this 240 country than our defence organisations, and notably the Home Guard. Presumably, the way such an enemy would come to this country would be by air. Whether he would come by gliders or by parachutes is another matter; but he would come by air. Probably there would be small parties of the enemy—doubtless, a good many of them—arriving all at once. The man who will be of the utmost value in that case is the man who is armed with a personal offensive weapon of some sort. I believe that since the war we have placed far too much reliance upon those far more expensive weapons which are designed for major, set piece battles, and not enough on the personal weapons, offensive and defensive.
I suppose that the best news given to us in our debates on the Army Estimates has been the news that personal anti-tank weapons have been issued to the infantrymen. I only pray that they have been issued in adequate quantities and quickly enough. Here at home we want something rather different from that. We want something which will be a first-class personal weapon, so that our men here can attack the enemy when they arrive, and as soon as they arrive, before they have time to organise and are ready to start attacks themselves.
I hope, therefore, that attention is being given to that, and that we are not assuming that the old rifles will be enough—or that most dangerous weapon, the old Sten gun. I do not think those weapons are likely to be adequate, because I do not think that they are violent enough.
I certainly hope we can have some good news soon about recruiting for the Home Guard, and that hon. Gentlemen opposite will, perhaps, feel inclined to support it with more strength than they have—which is about the most generous description I can give of their attitude towards it so far.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) raised a matter which, I know, is very dear to his heart—pensions—and particularly the Royal Hospital pensions. He made some play with the suggestion that those pensions ought to be regarded as social services rather than matters for the War Office. I would say that it would be a sorry day if the day came when we were 241 told that the War Office had ceased to take any interest in those who had served the Army well in the past. I hope the War Office will continue to take trouble about those who have served the Army and the country well.
One of the things which has disturbed and appalled me—and here I touch on one of the points mentioned by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), namely, advertising—has been the poster, which has appeared in many newspapers and on many hoardings, saying "You're somebody now in the Army," with in the background two old Chelsea Pensioners sitting on a bench. I have often wondered whether the Chelsea Pensioners as a body were ever consulted before that poster was published, because I should hate to tell a Chelsea Pensioner that he was nobody when he was in the Army. I am inclined to think that he was "quite a chap."
Those who have served in the Army, in whatever rank, would be the last ever to admit that they were nobodies when they were in the Army. I hope that that poster, which I consider to be extremely offensive, has been withdrawn. Otherwise, the Army publicity under the heading "Soldiers of the Queen" has been very considerably improved over the last year or so, and I hope that improvement will continue.
The idea of men joining the Army or any other of the Services simply to get something out of it for themselves instead of being prepared to do something for their country and for keeping the peace of the world seems to me deplorable. I should have thought the Army was in a position to make an appeal to men of all ages other than that they will be trained as civilian tradesmen by the Army. We must, of course, always consider the personal aspect, but I believe that in these days there is a higher purpose in joining the Army, and in the past some of the Army publicity has been a little shy of drawing attention to it.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Aston is not in his place, because when he was speaking this afternoon—and it is not the first time he has spoken in this vein, as we all know—I was reminded of something which appeared in a book which is in the Library, and which I went out to fetch while the hon. Gentleman was speaking. I hope he did not 242 think I went out because I could not stand what he was saying any more.
This book was published during the war, and I dare say the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) has read it. It was called, "Armies and the Art of Revolution," by K. C. Chorley, the K standing for Katherine—a good lady who had a foreword written for her book by no less an authority than—and I am sorry the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is not here, because I know that he regards this man with the greatest reverence—Captain Liddell Hart.
This book has in it some rather interesting views under the heading of "The Political Character of Armed Forces." When I hear the hon. Member for Aston and others trying to run down the Brigade of Guards I always suspect that they have another purpose in saying what they do than merely trying to defame the reputation of those regiments. The hon. Member for Aston made it clear today that he admits they are an efficient fighting force, so I suspect there is some other reason in what they say, and I am wondering whether this quotation from this book has got anything to do with it:It is essential that a citizen army, true to its name, should reflect the political will of the nation at large. Thanks, then, to its political liveliness, it will be the finest instrument of power that any government based on popular support can hope to control, and the surest guarantee against aggression on the part of any party bent on the destruction of liberty.I sometimes wonder whether the remarks of the hon. Member for Aston are made because he believes that the Brigade of Guards is a political menace to the type of progressiveness he thinks he himself represents. If he does think that —and I rather suspect that at times he may—I only ask him to bear in mind that, if he has read this book and bases his remarks on it, the premises upon which some of the statements in the book are made certainly do not obtain in fact.
From my experience in the Army I have found that the surest way to make oneself unpopular in any officers' mess is to start talking politics. At least it used to be, and I sincerely hope it still is. There is always a risk when people with political minds are brought in and a careful check is not kept on them, of getting the barrack room lawyer holding forth, and trouble then starts. I am sure 243 that trouble will start far more often if there are in the Army those who feel that their first duty as an officer is to promote the political regime which happens to be in power in the country at any one time.
One of the best things about the old regime in the Army—I cannot speak about the new one because I have not been in it since the new one took over —was, I should have thought, that politics were ruled out, both in the barrack room and in the officers' mess. I sincerely hope that that will long continue to be so, because the surest way of undermining the discipline of any army is to encourage the officers to be of one political thought or another in the course of their duties. What they do when they vote at General Elections is a matter for them.
There is one other quotation I should like to give from this book because it seems to sum up what appears to be in the mind of the hon. Member for Aston when he makes these remarks. Referring to the long-service Regular army and not the citizen army, it says:The officers are never apart from politics in any genuine sense, and the rank and file can be so conditioned that they will only be roused from their apathy in rare circumstances. From the standpoint of progressives, the danger of this long-service professional system is therefore as a double-edged blade. On the one hand, it means that a progressive Government in office can never rely for certain upon its own armed forces to defend its policy, nor can a progressive party intent on winning power expect support from the army, either moral or physical, unless the corps of officers is to some extent disillusioned and disaffected with the old régime†. On the other hand, it implies that a reactionary Right party, making a drive for power, would probably be able to command the assistance of the army, even against the expressed will of the people.I do not know whether those are some of the fears in the mind of the hon. Member for Aston, but some of the things he sometimes says about the Brigade of Guards make me feel that that is how he regards the Brigade of Guards. I only say what I said to him in print on another occasion, that no matter how rude he is to the Brigade of Guards, no one outside the Brigade of Guards—or in the Household Brigade, as far as that goes, although I can speak only as a past member of the latter—can ever be as rude to one as one's own adjutant during 244 the course of one's service. On me, therefore, his remarks do not make much indentation.
I should like to make one aspect of this matter clear. I tried to do so during the course of the earlier debate on these Estimates, but the hon. Gentleman would not allow me to get beyond my third sentence. I should like to say a few words on the subject of the selection of officers as I have seen them selected during the course of my time as an instructor at Sandhurst in the past. I cannot accept for one instant that officers who are selected for the Brigade of Guards have not been judged on their merits when compared with other candidates for other regiments at Sandhurst at the same time.
I know for a fact that considerable respect was paid to all the colonels of the regiments concerned—and it is very laudable that that should be so—on the part of all the cadets at Sandhurst. I will not accept for one moment that when those colonels came down to interview candidates for their regiments they were not meticulous to see that the candidates they selected were making the grade in the general run of candidates at Sandhurst.
I know that the hon. Member for Aston takes the view that they all turn out to be public schoolboys, or boys who have had money spent on them privately for their education.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Even supposing it were true, what is the standard at which State education has been aiming the whole time? Has not the object been to give to everybody the excellent education which is available to those whose parents pay for it? Is not the whole idea to try to get our State education up to a high standard? What is the point of getting it to a high standard if, because of a political policy, we prevent some people getting a reward which they have earned? That is the object of hon. Members opposite who decry the fact 245 that the majority of officers in the Brigade of Guards happen to have had a private education of some sort.
What they seem to overlook is that if we want to encourage people to take an interest in education, we should not at the same time as a matter of political policy and political prejudice deliberately deprive those people who have had the advantage of the best type of education of the things which they would otherwise on their own ability be able to achieve. That seems to me to be the only answer I can offer to the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Keenan
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has completely missed the point. Nobody has suggested that the Guards are not as efficient as he says they are. The point is that nobody who is not qualified by either public or private education of a certain class has ever been selected for the Guards. Why not abolish the Guards, change the name and make it a more democratic regiment?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I have not got the figures, but I hope my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has. The argument of the hon. Member for Aston has been changing. Originally, he argued that the officers in the Brigade of Guards were all Harrovians or Etonians. When that suggestion was successfully challenged, the argument was that nobody who had not been to a public school could become an officer in the Brigade of Guards.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
No, but the hon. Member implied it in an article which he wrote not long ago. That suggestion has been fully answered, and I am not surprised that he does not want to refer to it again.
In reply to the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan), even supposing it were true that every officer who has ever served in the Brigade of Guards had a public school education—I am sure it is not true, judging from my war experience—I still do not see how hon. Members opposite can ally these two points. If they say that the education of the country should be of the highest possible standard, how can they, at the same time, deprive those who have had that educa- 246 tion and have made the grade in that education, of the things which they would otherwise on their ability achieve?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I heard the hon. Gentleman's suggestion the first time. Hon. Members opposite say that there is no class prejudice behind this question. The hon. Member for Aston said so today. But we all know that there is. Whether or not it is in their minds, this campaign which they have been running for so many years is similar to the campaign which the "New Statesman and Nation" has run year in and year out since it has had the present editor, and its purpose is to undermine everything that is stable and lasting in this country.
That is how I interpret their action. It is merely another nail in the coffin of anything that is stable. They do not like the corps d'élite. They do not like the idea of the Prætorian Guard. In the 1945–50 Parliament an hon. Member opposite—I do not think he is now a Member of the House—made a long speech about the dangers of having a Praetorian Guard.
I do not believe that it is possible to alter the construction of the Brigade of Guards without at the same time losing two things for which this country will always be grateful to the Guards. One is an absolutely unchallenged and unparalleled battle record, and the second is the provision of State ceremonial which is unsurpassed in the world. If we start playing about with the Brigade of Guards and with those troops who have so often set the tone for others to follow, the country will lose something which can never be replaced once it is lost, and the country will curse those who have been responsible for its loss.
No doubt some hon. Members are sincere in their belief that there is a horrible type of privilege in operation here. I know they think that, and, of course, one cannot but respect their feelings, although one pities them for not understanding the matter more thoroughly. But if anybody joins any of the regiments in the Household Brigade imagining that he can be cock-a-hoop for the rest of his life he gets the 247 biggest jolt that he could possibly wish for soon after he joins. Certainly, it is a much heavier jolt than he probably expects.
By the time he finishes as a second lieutenant, fully trained, I am prepared to say that there is no young officer who has been better trained or has been through the mill more severely than that officer. I should have thought that hon. Members opposite, who profess such an interest in the well-being of the Army, ought to be proud of that fact. As for the hon. Member for Aston, if he really feels as strongly as he pretends he does, why did he not do something about it when he was at the War Office?
§ 5.18 p.m
§ Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
I do not intend to talk on such high levels as that of the Guards. I must confess that I do not understand the very fine differences of opinion which seem to exist. I want to speak on the Class A Vote relating to the welfare of the Services, the disposal of the Services and things which concern the men in the Services.
If incentives have to be provided to persuade men to join the Armed Forces as Regulars, we want to be sure that when men do join the Forces their wives and relatives may be certain that they get proper justice, and that if they receive punishments those punishments shall be proper according to Army Council Regulations. I do not generally intervene in debates of this sort, because I believe that those connected with the work of the various branches of the Services know far more than I do about the subject.
But there are times when the men in the Forces reach the limit of what they can stand; when they have no one of their superior officers to whom they can turn with any idea of receiving the sort of justice to which they feel they are entitled. Sometimes in desperation they take the initiative and write to their Member of Parliament.
248 Because this has happened to me within the last week, I wish to say something about the situation. I am referring to the Lancashire Fusiliers. Everyone seems to have a favourite regiment. If they have been in a regiment, that is the best. If they have not, they think that some regiment is not as good as another, or is better. I have not been in any regiment, but a number of my constituents are in the Armed Forces.
I receive very few complaints, at any rate desperate complaints, about the treatment meted out to men in the Armed Forces generally, but now and again one hears of something which rather takes one's breath away. I wish to place on record, by reading the whole of it, a letter I received from the 1st Battalion, The Lancashire Fusiliers. If the sort of thing referred to in the letter is actually going on a full and detailed inquiry should be made, or else it will have a serious effect upon recruiting for the Regular Forces.
Following the receipt of this communication, I also received a number of letters from mothers of the boys concerned, who are themselves concerned about the grumbles coming from this battalion. I am not taking the Under-Secretary by surprise because, so serious did I consider this communication to be that I had it duplicated—I hold the original— and sent to the War Office for detailed investigation.
I would say also that I took off the 12 names which appeared on the letter, because I am one who does not trust some of the officers in some of the Departments not to take certain action against people who make statements the authorities do not wish to be made public. My reason for raising the matter now is that one of the signatories to the letter is a constituent of mine. I have checked his name and address and know it to be correct. In view of the fact that the communication I have received is perfectly genuine, I think it ought to appear in HANSARD for future record.
It is dated 8th March, 1953, and it came by registered air mail. It is headed:1st Battalion, the Lancashire Fusiliers, British Forces Post Office 10, Kenya, East Africa.
§ Everyone knows what is happening in Kenya. Everyone knows that a high 249 standard of conduct and treatment of the British Forces there is of the utmost importance from the point of view of the morale both of the men in the forces and of the people of Kenya. The letter states:
§ "DEAR MADAM,
§ As serving soldiers of Her Majesty's Army and believing ourselves to be human beings we would like to bring to your notice the injustice and humiliation that is meted out to personnel in this Battalion which in no way compares with the Regulations as laid down by the Army Council.
§ Before starting to disclose the true facts of the Battalion, we would like to point out that we have in some small way infringed Army law and have been duly tried and punished for our offences. But in this Battalion our punishment does not cease on release from the unit guardroom, all personnel being set free from detention have to complete three months intensive training which is supposed to reform us. but after the undermentioned training agenda, as re-published below for your perusal, we are sure that you will agree with us that it is three months' penal servitude, not training.
§ Up to date of this letter being compiled, four men released from the guardroom have been sentenced to this special platoon, total service between these four men is 32 years, two of them having served during the war. The following daily agenda is re-published below and is repeated the same, day after day for three months.
§ 06.30 hours, reveille; 07.00 hours, breakfast; 07.30 hours, parade with starched KD"—
§ The House will excuse me reading as it appears in the letter, as I do not understand the meaning of these technical terms—
§ 'and full marching order for inspection by the R.S.M. This is followed by ½ hour's drill in full marching order under the R.S.M.
§ 08.30 hours, parade in same dress as 07.30 parade for inspection by the Adjutant. Dress to be immaculate even after having just done half-an-hour's drill in a temperature of an average of 98 degrees.
§ 08.45 to 10.00 hours, drill under the R.S.M. Dress, Angola shirts, denim slacks, full marching order, rifle, bayonet, etc.; 10.00 to 10.15 hours, weapon cleaning and returning arms to stores; 10.15 to 10.45 hours, break (kit to be cleaned during this period); 10.45 to 12.00 hours, specialist weapon training; 12.00 to 13.00 hours, break for dinner.
§ 13.00 to 15.00 hours, route march at 140 paces to the minute. Dress, full marching order. At the end of the march a slit trench has to be dug by every individual and then filled in again.
§ 15.00 to 16.30 hours, advanced P.T. in full marching order; 16.30 to 17.00 hours, clean arms and return to stores; 17.00 to 17.45 hours, tea break.250
§ 17.45 to 19.30 hours, cleaning kit, and Regimental history; 19.30 to 21.30 hours N.A.A.F.I. break; 21.30 hours, roll call, every man stood by his bed; 22.00 hours, bed and lights out.
§ To make things rather more awkward every other night this special platoon is to be sent out on raids and patrols in the Kenya jungle, and still to appear on parade the following morning, in a smart and soldierly-like appearance.
§ The following amenities are granted us, I, all men sentenced to the platoon are to sleep in small tents which hold a party of six, up to date 18 men have been sentenced to join this platoon, only one tent has been erected, and to top it we are at present having the African long rain period; 2, there are no beds, bedding is just laid on the ground; 3. no lights are available; 4, no man is allowed to leave camp any time during the three months' training period, this alone is a punishment on its own.
§ Do you not consider that after doing a maximum period of 28 days' detention (the average period per person), and losing the 28 days' pay for this period, to be sentenced to this three months of hell under maniacs who are undermining British prestige and appearance by making us appear in front of Colonials in a manner worse than any slave period known.
§ This idiotic and fantastic notion was started without warning and came after the great disappointment of the battalion Python being extended until August, that being the C.O.'s fault entirely this being admitted by the C.I.G.S. on his recent visit to Kenya. If this platoon is allowed to continue it will antagonise men to do things wrong and will only lead to drastic finale.
§ The Battalion is well below fighting strength and yet the men who are at present undergoing detention and nominees for the special platoons are experienced men who were flown from M.E.L.F. to combat Mau Mau, not to start primary training all over again.
§ No man living can do this three months of bestial training and remain a sane man, we even doubt if the instructors can do it, in fact on the route march the instructor follows in a jeep.
§ Therefore, as human beings and furthermore true British citizens who have been brought up to fight for the rights of man and upholders of the truth, we appeal to you to state our case for fair play and justice. We thank you for your kind attention in perusing this letter and hope that it meets with your kindest consideration and attention.
§ We remain, injusticed by others who fail to treat us as humans but unbiased against those who are willing to fight for us and of whom little or no notice is taken."
§ When a Member of Parliament receives from a constituent, with his signature and the signatures of other men in a regiment, a letter of that sort, he or she might be excused at not at first understanding the significance of it. Those who know 251 something about Army training and Army service will understand a little more than I do what it means. Nevertheless, I believe that it is in the interests of the men that the punishment that is being meted out to them and the other matters mentioned in the letter should be taken notice of, and that some investigation should take place as to what has happened.
§ Although I have sent a copy of this to the War Office, I purposely have raised it here and hope, for two reasons, that a full inquiry will be instituted. First of all, if it is true, then somebody who is in authority needs reprimanding; and, secondly, if it is not correct, then some action must be taken to prevent wrong statements being sent out.
§ I believe these statements are correct, knowing the type of person from whom they come, but at the same time, if men are asked to go into the Forces, then they and their relatives expect that they will receive the same British justice as we insist upon having at home. In other words, if they do wrong under the regulations they should be punished, and usually they take that punishment without any grumble. But when things are added to that punishment which appear to be irregular and which make the soldiers small in the eyes of the people of the country in which they are and to whom they are supposed to be rendering assistance, then I say it is time that an investigation was made.
§ That is the main reason I raise this matter. I felt very upset when I received that letter, and I feel it ought to be dealt with. I have taken the opportunity of these Army Estimates to read the letter. If what is in that letter is true, then whoever is responsible, whether a guard, an officer, a colonel or somebody of the highest rank, should have his rank taken from him as a punishment for injustices that were inflicted on the men who have joined to serve their Queen and country, and who are giving of their best wherever they happen to be.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
I am sure the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) would not expect me to follow her in what she has said and, as the matter is under investiga- 252 tion by the proper authority, it is better that it should be left there. I wish to deal only with three matters, and although I am raising them on the Army Estimates the subjects apply to the other Services as well.
In the first place, the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) raised the question of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea, and I think that that is a matter which for many years has required consideration. I am quite sure that he would not like it to go out from this House that he has in any way criticised the manner in which the Royal Hospital affairs are conducted. I know he will admit that the Governor, Deputy-Governor and those who assist them carry out their duties, which are very difficult, with satisfaction to everyone. The Royal Hospital is a very old foundation, and I hope that any changes which may be made will not in any way alter the possibility of old soldiers finding a place to rest at the end of their days in reasonable conditions.
§ Sir R. Glyn
I entirely agree, and I think the hon. Gentleman made that clear. He and his hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons), who has had experience of the Ministry of Pensions, know that since the formation of the Ministry the old regulations about the Royal Hospital require to be investigated to fit into the general scheme. I trust that when that is done it will be done in a comprehensive manner without interfering in any way with the traditions of the place.
I want to deal with two other matters, both of which are of great importance. One concerns the position of the Territorials. I served for many years on a County Territorial Association, and I feel it is a pity that there is not somebody on the Army Council to speak for the Territorial Army. The Under-Secretary of State has long service in the Territorials, and, therefore, in a way he is able to represent them at the Army Council and to see that the Territorial position is fully understood.
I found that one's experience of the Regular Army, in which I served, was totally useless in assessing the needs of 253 the Territorial Army. It is something altogether different. That is something which the War Office should always remember in dealing with the Territorials. They should never treat them as if they were the Regular Army, because they are totally different. They have rendered wonderful service. Immediately after the war the response that was made by officers to rejoin the Territorials was extremely good, but unfortunately it became very largely an establishment of officers with very few men and not very many non-commissioned officers. Therefore, everything ought to be done to recruit to the Territorials the right type of individual, because they are responsible for accepting the National Service men for continued training on termination of their service.
When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who was so long at the Ministry of Defence and at the War Office, suggested a bounty of £30, I thought that in these days of stringency it was very difficult to agree with such a large jump. However, I feel that something will have to be done to reward the men who give up so much in the National Service. They deserve a little more consideration.
On the subject of the camps, it is difficult to fit in the training at the right time to suit everyone. There is one aspect of the matter to which I should like to draw attention, and that is that some of the very best men in the Territorials are very often skilled engineers serving in industry. Very often they give up the whole or a large part of their statutory fortnight's holiday, and I have always thought that that is something which also ought to be remembered.
Further, I think another appeal might be made to the employers in order that the men who are in the Territorials shall not suffer too much because they have joined up, and that they shall be given other leave. Many of them are married men and their wives naturally object when they are not taken away in the summer by their husbands, who, when they go to camp, cannot take their wives with them.
§ Mr. Shinwell
This is all very interesting, and when I was at the War Office I was particularly interested in this subject. I have always felt that the Territorial Army was treated, so to speak, as an 254 amateur force, which is quite wrong in my judgment. Nor do I accept the view that it would be a mistake, even from the standpoint of economy, to increase the bounty to, say, £30 a year. I think it would pay dividends in the long run.
§ Sir R. Glyn
That is a matter which I hope will be considered by the War Office, but it is very difficult to raise the money so as not to add to the burdens on the Treasury at the present time.
The next point concerns the 12 reserve divisions, and proper equipment. This is a matter of tremendous importance. It is not often understood that we stand today in a very peculiar position as regards arms and equipment. Two Reports of the Estimates Committee have pointed out that it was necessary to retain a lot of arms and equipment after the last war, pending the time when research and development enabled other weapons to be ready for use. There is always the question of how long we are to hold things in mobilisation stores for issue, with the certainty of issuing something which is up to date and will be the answer to what the troops would have to meet if unfortunately they had to play their part in battle.
I want to emphasise once more that the time has come for a general review of the size and shape of formations. As fire power increases, so is it absolutely essential that the manpower in the different formations should be adjusted to the new capacity of modern weapons. The larger our field formations—divisions, brigades, etc.—so inevitably larger become the difficulties of the tail in relation to supply. The more automatic our weapons and the higher the rate of fire, the greater is the problem of supply. I cannot believe, after the experience of the last war in the re-equipment of the Services with new weapons, that the time has not come for very serious consideration of the build-up of formations, the size of units, whether or not that rather clumsy unit the brigade group is something permanent, and whether that is to be its permanent title.
One of the most interesting papers I have read was a report by General Lattre de Tassigny on the re-organisation of the French Army. He made it clear that it was ludicrous to go on increasing the size of battalions and regiments in the French 255 Army, in view of the power of modern weapons and training, and he said that they had very largely modified their formations. The United States Army is incredibly difficult to handle from the point of view of size because there are so many extra services, like laundries, that go about with the formations and add to the difficulties. Great economy would result if a review were made now of the size of formations.
My last point is one which has been emphasised in Reports of the Estimates Committee over the last six years in regard to standardisation. I happen to know that the right hon. Member for Easington did all that he could to hasten standardisation when he was Minister of Defence. It is of the utmost importance, because economies would run into millions of money if the initiative could be taken, and some force used perhaps, to enable the Services to adopt a degree of standardisation.
I remember when the Expenditure Committee had a deputation during the last war from the Sheffield cutlery trade, who asked whether there was any reason why the cutlery for the Army, Navy and Air Force should not be the same. We found that the cutlers were having to alter their dies and change everything all the time, simply because one Service wanted to have its own cutlery. I cannot conceive that it is impossible to have a common standard in a thing like that, as well as in furniture, and, a much bigger question, in mechanical transport.
It is difficult for any one Service to take the initiative in this matter, which is one for the Ministry of Defence. I see my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence on the Front Bench. His Department might well take the initiative to see how much money might be saved. Suggestions have been made about having a central purchasing plan. Great economies could be made if a lot of requirements common to the three Services were obtained through a purchasing agency. It would save a great deal of manpower and would be of great assistance to those now charged with purchasing such things as textiles for uniforms, food, and personal equipment.
Two years ago the Estimates Committee published the findings of the Standardisation Committee, and the document is 256 worth looking at. It was published in the Report, but it deals only with a very small number of things. The Committee has been sitting continuously, as far as I know, for four years, and it has only brought out this rattier small number of items. I am certain that more money could be saved by tackling this matter than in almost any other way.
There is this question of weapons, and common user of weapons. The Minister of Supply has a colossal task, especially at this time when research and development are far ahead of production. We should always remind ourselves that it takes a tremendously long time between the stating of requirements by the Service concerned and, after the prototype, actual production and issue to the troops. Developments that are taking place are about 15 years ahead of production. That is the real problem. Where are we to draw the line? How can we be sure that what we are ordering is the most up to date. It is a problem of much complexity that the House ought to congratulate the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Defence Committee upon the extraordinary way in which they have been able to determine when to say to the development people: "Stop there for the moment. Let us get on with it." Otherwise those people tend to say: "Don't take that. In a year or two we shall have something much better."
What matters is what we are to hand out to the men in the Services, and when to do it. I am satisfied that the reserve divisions will be adequately armed. It is much more difficult to know whether the period of training which we are able to give under National Service will enable us to train men to handle these arms efficiently.
For the taxpayer, the cost of armaments now is absolutely prodigious. I do not know whether the House appreciates it, but taking into account the barrage defence of London as it was at the end of the last war, it would cost over £3½ million each time if there was a barrage in London today. How can any country afford anything of that kind unless it can develop an alternative to the old form of barrage which is proving so hopelessly expensive?
The only hope, therefore, lies in the development of something so much better, possibly a guided missile, that we 257 can get a better result with less expenditure. However, until we get through this difficult period when we are still living on the stores of the last war, which are quite efficient if kept in good order, and arrive at the new developments which are on the way, it is difficult to say exactly what is the most up-to-date equipment we could issue.
All we can do in this House is not to cavil at those people who are charged with this immense responsibility, remembering that there is a limit to what this country can afford. It is not only the cost of the new weapons, but also the cost of the training to handle them and the supply afterwards. The time must come when there should be a complete review of the system of supply as we know it now through the Ministry of Supply. The Ministry of Defence ought to take a far more prominent place and do more effective work, although I know they do what they can. At the present time allocation as between one Service and another, and the enormous problems of the war potential, are handled by the Ministry of Supply. In addition there are the Service Estimates, which we are considering today, as well as the enormous development that is going on all the time and is consuming a large amount of manpower in producing the weapons that the Services must have.
I am certain that we shall not get the economy or efficiency we must have until the character of the Ministry of Defence and the organisation of the Ministry of Supply are considered with a view to trying to effect quicker working and quicker decisions, which would be to the benefit of all the Services.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn). I say that because he speaks with the utmost sincerity and with great knowledge of the Forces. I thought he put his finger on the spot when he raised the question of training men to handle the new equipment. In my judgment, one of the major points which has come out of the defence debates this year is this question of the training of reserves, and next year and the year after it will be an issue of paramount importance, not only in respect of the length but also in regard to the quality of training. I join 258 with the hon. Baronet in his plea that the Government should face up to this question of reservist training.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) mentioned the question of young men who finished their Army Service and, after a few days back in civil life, receive a notice calling them up for training. There is another side to the picture. In the Air Force thousands finish their two years' training and are never called up again. This is a waste of the capital enshrined in the cost of their original training.
I listened with great disquiet to the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) who revealed to the House a state of affairs in the Lancashire Fusiliers which is most disturbing. I think she did the right thing in coming to the House and reading the document in addition to sending it to the War Office. The hon. Lady asked for advice. If she would accept mine, I would tell her that if there is any question of these 12 men being proceeded against by the Army authorities for disclosing to her what amounts to a major breach of Army Regulations, she should forthwith raise the matter as a question of Privilege. Once that matter has been raised in this House, it is part of the proceedings of Parliament and there are well-established precedents for such happenings being given protection.
I hope that the Minister will tell the House this evening that he will undertake an early and stringent inquiry into what amounts to the setting up of a penal platoon of the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers. As he is well aware, it is a direct contravention of Queen's Regulations. Paragraph 589 says that an officer will not introduce or adopt any system of punishment that is in any respect at variance with the Regulations.
I should have thought that the House would not only want an assurance that there is the fullest inquiry into what has happened in the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers but would also want a categorical assurance that if an officer, however senior his rank, has authorised the setting up of this punishment platoon, and thereby himself became involved in a breach of the Regulations, that officer will be proceeded against under the provisions of the Army Act. Furthermore, 259 I hope the hon. Gentleman will ascertain that what has happened in the Lancashire Fusiliers is not happening in any other unit of the Army. One is always disquieted about these things. I do not believe it has happened on a wide scale, but certainly the document cited by the hon. Lady demands immediate inquiry.
I have given the hon. Gentleman notice of two or three points that I want to raise. The first was touched upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons), namely, the administration of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. The facts are that the law, immersed deep in tradition, lays it down that an Army pensioner is technically either an in-patient or an out-patient of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. This affects other ranks below the rank of warrant officer. I do not think that a Regular soldier with 22 years' service has any legal right to pension. He gets it by grace and favour. This goes back to the good Nell Gwyn, who not only dispensed oranges but devoted some of her time in charming the King into establishing an institution to look after old soldiers. In those days there were no pensions, and so it was a question of grace and favour that those wounded in the wars should be looked after.
I am not now commenting on the administration of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, itself, but on the administration of pensions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington instituted a major reform. After inquiry, he authorised the handing over of the payment of disability pensions from the Army Votes by the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, to the Ministry of Pensions. That was an enormous step forward, but I would have gone much further. I would have handed over the payment of all pensions from the Services to the Ministry of Pensions. They have the machinery, they have the experience and they also have a humane philosophy, which is not unimportant in dealing with these matters.
Now we find the Government going back in their tracks, proposing to abolish the Ministry of Pensions and to merge it with the Ministry of National Insurance. What is to happen to the disability pensions of the post-war soldiers? Are they to be handed back once again to the tender mercies of the War Office? I hope 260 that the Government have done some thinking on this point and have faced up to the difficulty.
I should have liked to see a contrary policy, with the Ministry of Pensions dealing with all Service pensions, whether due to length of service, disability, or a combination of the two. The House may not be aware that there are two or three ways of receiving pension. If one happens to be in receipt of a disability pension, it comes from the Ministry of Pensions. If one happens to hold a rank below that of warrant officer, class I, and it is a Service pension, one gets it from the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. If, on the other hand, one is a warrant officer, class I, or an officer, it comes from the Accountant-General. All this needs to be tidied up and brought under one roof, and I hope that that one roof will be the Ministry of Pensions. Will the Under-Secretary tell us who is to administer these pensions in future?
I turn now to another matter, of which I have given the hon. Gentleman notice. That is, the question of Army bands. In days gone by, Army bands played a considerable part in recruiting. The more recent Army Council Instruction 221 of 1949 lays it down thatThe purpose of band engagements is to bring the Army to the favourable notice of the public, whether at home or abroad, to afford the conductor and bandsmen an opportunity to perform before discriminating audiences, thereby raising their standard of performance and broadening their experience….An Army band plays an important part in maintaining the morale of the unit and also in bringing the Army to the good attention of the public, and thereby gaining recruits.
It is my suggestion that during the passage of time, regardless of what is written in these A.C.I.s or War Office letters, the Army bands have been a means of providing band-masters with a rate of income far in excess of that of the commanding officers of the units concerned. As I understand it, the conductor of the band gets an original "rake off "of some 20 per cent. before anybody touches a penny. This unquestionably has an adverse effect upon the payments received by civilian bands. We have the spectacle of the soldier during the daytime or, perhaps, in the evening being engaged in a military band and the fee coming back and being divided out 261 amongst the band, with the bandmaster taking his share.
There is also the other problem of the individual bandsman going out and undertaking a private engagement, which he does on the same basis as a civilian musician, and there is no objection to that. The Musicians' Union, who look after the interests of civilian musicians, are also looking after the interests of the bandsman, because some day that man has to return to civilian life.
The crux of the matter is contained in a War Office letter of 6th April, 1949, reference 103/Gen/8184, which says that:Paid orchestral and dance band engagements will, if carried out on any large extent, interfere with the efficiency of the band and deprive the regiment of important welfare amenities. Commanding Officers and Officers administering bands will, therefore, keep this type of engagement to a minimum. They will take care to avoid displacing a civilian combination that has a long standing record of previous employment for the particular occasion.The policy is quite clear. The purpose of the bands and orchestras is, as the letter says, to provide important welfare amenities for the particular regiment. When one finds that the bands are going out and competing with civilian bands, organising their own dances, in order to rake in money from which individual officers get a "cut," a most disquieting state of affairs is disclosed.
This problem has been with the Army for a very long time. There were occasions before the First World War when, on the day that the Army Estimates were debated, the Musicians' Union hired barges, moored them on the Thames and serenaded the House as a form of protest. There were occasions, too, when they marched alongside and countermarched against military bands in the street. Those days have gone. We move into less picturesque times, and the musicians are using this House as a legitimate means of registering their protest.
I hope very much that the Undersecretary, who has been given adequate notice by myself and my hon. Friends, will assure the House that the principles laid down in the Army Council Instruction and in the War Office letter which I have quoted are to be strictly adhered to, and that we shall not get Army bands 262 being used merely as a means of private money raising, which has the regrettable feature of putting large amounts of money into the pockets of a few bandmasters.
The Royal Artillery Band, which I admit is a special band, had 188 engagements from June, 1951, to August, 1952. This represents a considerable sum of money, and it is inconceivable that those 188 engagements undertaken by the Royal Artillery Band are in any sense in keeping with the spirit and letter of the Army Council Instruction and the War Office letter which I have read. I have also another example of the use—
§ Mr. Wigg
I am referring to the whole of the Royal Artillery Band. At one stage we started off with military bands, but from that beginning have come string bands, dance orchestras and all sorts of musical undertakings by which engagements are undertaken in competition with private enterprise. That ought to shock hon. Members opposite and is a form of private enterprise which seems to benefit a remarkably few people.
I have with me a poster advertising the engagement of a band of a very famous regiment. I cannot think that the Under-Secretary could imagine that this announcement is in keeping with the dignity either of the Army or of the regiment in question. It certainly has nothing to do with the amenities of the regiment, and certainly has nothing whatever to do with recruiting or giving the Army a very high standing in the public eye.
I want to refer to one other matter. When the Secretary of State was introducing his Army Estimates, he made an announcement about the formation of new colonial battalions. I am not a respecter of the Secretary of State's statistics, and whenever he gives figures I always do my own simple additions and check them. I asked the right hon. Gentleman in what Colonies the new battalions had been formed. He said:I told the House last year that in conjunction with the Colonial Office we had plans "—that was in the future—to form five new battalions….263 Later that evening, the Under-Secretary said:The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) asked about the recruiting in the five colonial battalions. The answer to that is one infantry battalion of the Malay Regiment, one battalion of the Malayan Federation Forces, two battalions of the Malay Regiment volunteer forces, and the equivalent of a battalion from units raised in Singapore, West Africa and elsewhere."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1953; Vol. 512. c. 862–1035.]I then checked what the right hon. Gentleman said a year ago, and what I found was this. He first apologised to the House and to the country for the change in policy between what the Conservative Party when in Opposition had said they would do, and what they were saying now that the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State for War. The right hon. Gentleman had plenty of reason to apologise. He said:I would first say that two battalions are now being raised in the West Indies for service throughout the Caribbean. In Malaya, where the Malay Regiment recently raised a fifth battalion, they are now in the process of raising a sixth. In East Africa they are in process of raising two battalions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 1034.]In other words, what the Under-Secretary said in answer to my question during the Estimates debate this year had no relation whatever, except in one minor respect, to what the Secretary of State said a year ago.
I at once communicated with the right hon. Gentleman, and I have had a letter from the Under-Secretary of State which seems to make the position much worse. He now reveals that the two battalions that the Secretary of State talked about in 1952 are now in process of being raised with the fifth and sixth battalions of the King's African Rifles, which, the hon. Gentleman now admits, were formed in the 1951–52 financial year. That is to say, the Secretary of State for War had the impertinence to come to the House to swallow all that he said when he was in the Opposition benches, and then to boast as part of his programme for 1952–53 two battalions which we had raised in 1951–52. It now transpires that the two battalions which he said in 1952 were being raised in the West Indies for service in the Carribean have not been raised and there is no immediate intention of raising them.
264 The right hon. Gentleman has not deceived me; I know him far too well. Anything he says needs to be checked. When he says he has formed seven new battalions I want to know the strength. When he says he has formed 502 mobile columns, I want to know how they are formed, and when he says five colonial battalions, I want to check what he says— [An HON. MEMBER: "Wonderful!"] There is nothing wonderful about it, but long experience of listening to what the Conservative Party say shows the need for checking what they do. I hope that the country will realise that what I am saying is true and that they will be as "wonderful" in checking. The Secretary of State for War has been bowled out once again, and I regret it. He is not here to explain the shortcomings; that unfortunate task rests on the Undersecretary of State, and I hope that he will do something to explain the position.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Brigadier Christopher Peto (Devon, North)
Following on what the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said, I personally am on the side of the bands and bandmasters. I take a different view from him. My view is that a band is entitled to take engagements provided it does not undercut the rate payable to civilian bands. I am of the opinion that a band of a regiment cannot be kept going efficiently unless it is enabled to earn a little more than by its normal engagements. It has to buy its own music and scores—which are expensive —and to keep up its instruments. The amount allowed out of ordinary Army funds for instruments is quite inadequate.
I want to raise a different point on the question of value for money. The question is what, if any, liability to service there is on an officer when he gets a Regular commission. So far as I know, entry into Sandhurst is from two categories, the R candidates, who are going to Regular commissions from school, and the E candidates, who are going from the ranks and are already serving on an engagement, either Regular or non-Regular. In both cases the boy or man has to go for a period of preliminary service.
In the case of the R cadet the boy enlists for his period of service during the preliminary service prior to going to the R.M.A. at Sandhurst. Directly the R 265 cadet leaves Sandhurst that term of enlistment ends, as it is automatically cancelled. The E cadet goes before a War Office selection board and to a school of cadet training. Then, during the time he is at a cadet school, he goes before a commissions board. In due course he also arrives at Sandhurst and will get a commission.
From the moment the boy is commissioned, he is, so far as I know, under no liability to continue in the Army should he not wish to do so. I may be quite wrong, but I know that I shall get the correct answer. All I can find about this question is a pamphlet issued recently by the War Office. The reference is 100-CANDS/9016/AG 1 (Officers) C and there is no date, except 1952. That pamphlet says:d.On appointment to a permanent commission in the Regular Army, cadets will automatically be discharged from the engagement they entered into as other ranks.Under paragraph e, it states:Candidates will be required to serve as an officer for at least five years."—not very good English!
What does that in fact entail? Does it entail any liability to serve when the wording is, "will be required," or can the officer leave at a minute's notice to suit himself should he be offered a better job in civilian life? If that is the case, I hold that the Regulation should be altered, so that an officer, on getting a commission, should give value for money. It is not cheap to train him at Sandhurst, nor to send him on a course in the Army, nor to equip him, nor give him his training and make him efficient. I hold that the minimum period of training for a Regular officer should be five years. Under five years he is still a liability.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you be so kind as to indicate whether or not other hon. Members will be allowed to take part in the debate on the Estimates after my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) has spoken?
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
We have had an interesting discussion on this stage of the Estimates. First, I naturally wish to associate myself with my hon. Friends in deploring the absence, through illness, of the Secretary of State for War. It is extraordinarily bad luck that he is still laid up at this season of the year. I also associate myself with the tribute which has been paid to the efficiency with which the right hon. Gentleman's deputy has carried on.
There has been a great deal of interest in these Army debates. That is a sign of the times, a natural sign, and a good thing, because it is a very large Army in which a large proportion of our fellow citizens serve, and it is right that this House should take a great interest in it. I will not detain the House for long and will only add a word or two to the numerous points which have been raised from this side of the House.
The question of Army pensions was raised, and I have nothing more to say on that except to underline the pertinent questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). It seemed to me that his case may be summed up by saying that we want to know what the new system will be like. Clearly the payment of Army pensions will be effected by the reorganisation of the whole national pensions scheme which the Government are undertaking, and we should very much like to know how Service pensions are to be fitted into the new scheme.
There was also the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) on the subject of T.A. call-up for part-time service. I also have had letters on this subject. Some of the men, when they come out from full-time service, feel that they are snatched back almost immediately into a camp or some rather onerous form of part-time service, and that seems bad psychologically, to put it no higher. We should like to know what the rule is and whether some consideration can be given to this matter.
The vexed question of the Guards has been raised again this afternoon. I really would ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to believe that when we raise this issue—my hon. Friend the 267 Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) raised it today—we do not do so out of class prejudice. The issue was put rather neatly by the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) who interjected in my hon. Friend's speech that we seemed to want a corps d'élite which was open to all, and he said that he felt that that was a contradiction in some ways. But that is exactly what we do want.
We see the point of a corps d'élite, and we think that the Guards are a corps d'élite, and a very fine one indeed, but we think that the selection of their officers should be on the widest possible basis and on merit alone. In other words, we are opposing not a corps d'élite but a hereditary corps d'élite. That seems to us to be a conception which would have been old-fashioned in Napoleon's day.
§ Mr. Strachey
I dare say that it still existed in Wellington's day in this country, but it cannot really logically be defended, and hon. Members opposite who have begun to try to defend it have enmeshed themselves in extraordinary inconsistencies of logic.
My hon. Friend adduced that, as a matter of fact and experience, no such thing as a Guards officer who has not been to a public school or had an equivalent type of education has ever existed. That is a very remarkable fact. Surely it cannot be right, because it shows that a corps d'élite of this kind is a most archaic institution, and we do not think that it is the right corps d'élite for the British Army. After all, it is not so much a corps as a club, and that seems to us to be out of keeping with the whole of the rest of the Service.
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) is not in his place, but, in the hope that he will see my remarks in the OFFICIAL REPORT subsequently, I should like to ask him if he really believes what he suggests is in our mind. It really is not the far-reaching and sinister political purpose which he attributed to my hon. Friend the Member for Aston. After all, the Commissar for Aston is not a very likely figure to appear in the House.
268 The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely and other hon. and right hon. Members opposite will recognise that in every other sphere of the national life, in business, the professions, the Church, politics, the rest of the Army, the Royal Air Force and the Navy, men who have not been to public schools can reach the top; it is only in the sphere of the recognised corps d'élite of the Army, the Officer Corps of the Guards, that they do not. We think there is something wrong in that.
I do not think it is something which could probably be altered by Act of Parliament—I am not suggesting that—but I echo the plea made by my hon. Friend that it is surely something which could be altered by the voluntary action of the Brigade of Guards itself. Really, it is a change of attitude of mind rather than anything else which is required here. I do not know whether it is a complete and satisfactory answer or whether it would satisfy my hon. Friend if we were asked, "Why did you not change the system while you were at the War Office?"
I am not sure that it is something which the War Office, or the political heads of departments, or, indeed, the centre at all, can change, but I believe it is something about which we can appeal for self-reform, and I should have thought that my hon. Friend was justified in making that appeal. That is all that we are saying about the Guards, and I think it is worth saying. I do not think it is a world-shaking point, but it seems to me that it is something which might really be looked into.
I also wish to say a few words on the broad issue, which was also referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston, of defence and the anxiety which we feel, and which we voiced in the main debate, about the shape of rearmament especially as it affects the Army, which the Defence White Paper, the Defence Estimates and the Army Estimates all show. The Government are rightly giving a lead to the country in revising and reducing the rearmament programme. The Secretary of State clearly says, in paragraph 77 of his Memorandum, that it is being done without any reduction in numbers and entirely by means of a reduction in equipment.
As he frankly says in that paragraph, this must mean that more and more of 269 any given total is spent on mere maintenance and less and less remains available for rearmament in the narrow sense of that term. I was not convinced by the intervention of the Under-Secretary on this point. He says that all we are doing is postponing matters and that sooner or later rearmament will catch up and there will be new arms and equipment for all our new divisions. It may be so, but it does not follow logically.
Whatever it says in the Defence White Paper, and whatever is meant by "holding the rearmament to a lower peak"—we will not quibble about what the words mean—the arithmetic of it surely is that if any limited and given total that we spend or intend to spend over, say, the next five years is stretched out to cover, say, eight years, a lower proportion must be devoted to new arms and equipment and a higher proportion to maintenance. It is obvious that the maintenance charge rises with any extension of time, and if we re-arm more slowly we shall have less out of any given total for new arms and equipment and more must go to the mere maintenance of our existing Forces.
I speak subject to correction, but, as I see it, for this purpose there is really no difference between a postponement in time and a reduction of the total, for they have the same effect. I feel real anxiety here. I do not say it has got to the point, but it could get to the point where we should get a larger and larger but weaker and weaker Army by attempting —this is the root of the whole thing—to meet impossible commitments. Thus, we could have large bodies of under-armed and under-equipped men, or, if it did not get to that length and all our Regular standing formations were adequately equipped, we might not get round to the equipment of what the House will agree are all-important, the reserve divisions of the Territorial Army and the Reserve Army.
I do not know whether the Undersecretary can answer these questions tonight, but we are bound to press them. Can the hon. Gentleman first tell us whether all the divisions planned will ultimately be equipped, and will he also tell us the target date when they should be equipped. We are bound to feel anxiety about that. This is not only a question of the actual importance for 270 national security of these reserve divisions being adequately equipped. There is the question of the reaction on their morale. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely on that point. I am sure that Territorial recruiting and the whole state of the Territorial Army depend to an important extent on the progress made in the re-equipment of the reserve divisions.
I understand how the Government have got into this position of a higher and higher proportion of the total being spent on maintenance and a lower and lower proportion on new equipment. These reserve divisions will be equipped more and more slowly, and we shall get less and less effect. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely that the defence of these islands is probably the highest defence priority of all today.
I would not join him in saying that I thought that the Home Guard was the essential element in that defence. Of course, a Home Guard properly raised, and raised at the proper time, can no doubt play its part. But I should have thought that, first, the establishment at long last of some fighting Regular formations of the active Army stationed at home—a Commonwealth strategic reserve —and, second, the earliest possible equipment of our reserve divisions, were the two cardinal points in establishing the security of the home base.
I agree with what the hon. and gallant Member said about the need for personal weapons. I should have thought that for all these Forces, Regular, irregular and Reserve, the provision to each man of the very best personal weapons was of the greatest importance. This brings me back to my old complaint about the scrapping, or the long postponement, of the.280 rifle which is in my view an incomparable personal weapon for all these purposes. I can only once more record my deep disappointment that the Government have put off the production of that rifle.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Home Guard. Would not he agree that one of the great advantages of the Home Guard as distinct from the reserve divisions is that they would be there ready for the defence of various localities if an attack materialises, as I tried to visualise? The Home Guard 271 will have an immense advantage over organised called-up troops.
§ Mr. Strachey
I appreciate that.
The Government of which I had the honour to be a Member showed themselves far from indifferent to the question of the Home Guard. We took all the steps preparatory to its organisation. We stated our view and took the necessary steps. Of course, in the event of war a Home Guard would be a national necessity. But rightly or wrongly—and I think that it has been proved rightly—we took the view that it was premature to launch a scheme for recruiting a Home Guard. We did not think that public psychology and the actual needs of security at present made this the right time to launch an appeal to fill out the cadre, but we did establish the cadre. I agree that in the event of war a Home Guard would be of great importance. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us something about the major issues of defence, because we have some anxiety about them.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison)
Before I do my best to answer the enormous variety of questions, I should like to correct something which might have left the impression of a misstatement by myself in connection with the earlier debate on the Estimates. When an hon. Member opposite interjected that they had had much more to say, I said that we had not in fact stopped or sought to curtail the previous debate. I was then asked if I would withdraw that remark, but I cannot withdraw it because in fact it is true.
My right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary stated quite categorically that he had no intention of closing the debate. Hon. Members were left to go on for as long as they wanted without any attempt by myself or by him to try to close the debate. It was only when we came to the end of Vote A that Progress was reported. Therefore, I do not feel under any obligation to withdraw what I said then.
Having said that as a sort of hors d'œuvre, I will try to deal with some of the questions. Many of the points discussed were common to a number of speeches by hon. Members on both sides. 272 First there was the question of the Army pensioners and the future rôle of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. There is to be no change for the Army pensioners. The position was correctly stated by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). There are categories of pensioners handled by Chelsea and categories handled by the Ministry of Pensions. Those which were handled up till now by the Ministry of Pensions will be handled by the Ministry of National Insurance.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already given an assurance that the interests of the Service pensioners will have special attention. The problem has been thought about quite often. We do not want to dissociate the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, from the responsibility of looking after its own. In any commercial concern where there are pensions schemes, it is normal for the concern responsible for the employment of the people to be responsible for the administration of the pensions scheme. I cannot see that there is any advantage in the changes which I think hon. Gentlemen were not really advocating but wanting to have discussed.
I am not aware of complaints that the Chelsea Hospital has mishandled or not handled with consideration, within the limits of the regulations which are laid down by a much higher authority, the men under their care. My answer is that we do not propose to make any change in the present arrangements. Until we see some evidence that a change will do good, I suggest that we are right to leave the matter as it is.
The next point with which I should like to deal is concerned with what I can only describe as this Guards phobia. The thing is becoming almost pathological. Hon. Members opposite try to find a reason for interfering with something which is going perfectly well. If I could see that the composition of the Guards Battalions was causing any real trouble anywhere I could understand why all this happens. In fact, we have had it generally admitted that the Brigade of Guards are absolutely first-class fighting material. I have had nobody come to me and say "I would like to get into the Brigade of Guards, but I cannot, because it is a closed shop," but, even if that were true, there are endless absolutely first-class regiments into which they can go.
273 Another thing which might help to prove that this is a rather synthetic anxiety is the fact that there is a constant flow of recruits and demands for admission into the Brigade of Guards by the rank and file. If that is so, what was the difficulty? If there was such a closed shop, would we expect to find a waiting list of men wanting to get into the rank and file of the Guards Regiments?
§ Mr. Frederick Peart
Would the hon. Gentleman answer this question? He has mentioned the flow of recruits into the ranks of the Guards. How many commissions are given in the Guards to recruits who go into the ranks?
§ Mr. Hutchison
I would be prepared to dispute the interjection of the hon. Member for Dudley straight away.
§ Mr. Hutchison
Certainly, yes, I cannot see what this is all about. If there was something that was doing harm to anybody—
§ Mr. Hutchison
What I cannot understand is that the hon. Gentleman claims that they have privileges in the Brigade of Guards. What is the privilege? Is it an easier time? Nobody pretends that. Is it more money? No. Probably, men have a harder and stiffer time when first they go into the Brigade of Guards than those who go into other regiments. I think the right hon. Gentleman opposite, so far as any remedial action is required in this matter— and for my part I fail to see it— is on the right lines. It is a question of self-purification, or some such phrase, but there is certainly no action that we 274 are prepared to take at the War Office at this stage.
§ Mr. Hutchison
I stand firm on what I have said, until I am shown that there is need to interfere with something which everybody admits is going perfectly well, and on which at present I see no reason for interfering.
§ Mr. Hutchison
There is another matter on which I shall be accused of being evasive, and that is the question of the equipment of the reserve divisions of the Army. If I am evasive, and I will try not to be, it is not that I want to hide anything from hon. Members opposite, but that one has to be extremely careful on the security side of questions of this kind. To begin with, it is a subject that strays beyond the confines of my responsibilities, but I cannot follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) in thinking that, automatically, because we hold our expenditure to a lower peak—that is to say, instead of going to a high peak at one time, we level it out over a longer period—it must be assumed that some of the programme will never be completed. I think that is a quite wrong conception.
According to the present plan, that programme will be completed. Of course, it may change according to alterations in weapons or according to changes in formations, but the general principle is that it should be completed. We are in a period of re-armament and re-equipment at the present time, and, that being so, it is obvious that such new weapons as come out of production must be issued in some order of priority, and the order of priority in which they are issued is one which I think would be regarded as perfectly normal—the Regular Army first, then the more important contingents of the Territorial Army and lastly the remainder.
We have made much progress in this direction already, and my right hon. Friend, in his speech, instanced a family of anti-tank weapons, and certain vehicles and tanks on which progress is being made. We intend to see that those formations which will have to take the first shock in any war, including the Terri- 275 torial Army formations, are armed with up-to-date weapons and will have enough ammunition to enable them to take the strain.
That must not be allowed to leave the impression in the minds of hon. Members that formations which do not receive weapons in these early priorities are to be left with obsolete weapons so that they are incapable of fighting in modern warfare. That, in fact, is far from true. But the present policy could not be otherwise, unless we assume that weapons are never going to change, because it must automatically follow that new weapons will get into the hands of some individuals or units earlier than others.
There, I am afraid, I must leave it. But I will answer another question which the right hon. Gentleman asked me at the finish of his speech. Of course, we appreciate the importance of home defence, and I can say quite categorically that the divisions planned will, sooner or later, be equipped with new weapons as they flow through, and that there will be no question of "cardboard" divisions or small divisions improperly armed.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I do not think the hon. Gentleman has cleared up the matter even now. If he is right, what does this sentence in paragraph 5 of the White Paper on Defence really mean?There was also good reason to doubt whether, even after the plan had been completed, the cost of maintaining the forces which would have by then been built up and of keeping them equipped with the most up to date material would have been within the country's resources.That means, and it can only mean, that the total amount that was to be spent has been lowered because it would not have been possible to have gone on maintaining them at the high level originally intended.
§ Mr. Hutchison
I think the hon. Gentleman must allow me to leave the matter where I have left it. Without comparing this with all the other statements made, which would be difficult and perhaps misleading to the House, I cannot say more, but I can tell him that that is the plan, whatever impression this might have given. These weapons will flow through in that order of priority, and, ultimately, all the formations will get them.
276 My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant), who also joined in the issue of the Guards Brigade, asked me whether the pensions increase warrants should be limited by any hardship test. I say straight away that there is a great deal more that we should like to be able to do, but these increases have always been regarded, not as by themselves a means of livelihood, but as giving assistance in a situation of difficulty. Although I will undertake to have a word with my right hon. Friend about it, I do not think there is any likelihood at the present, in the financial position of the country, of these tests of some kind being removed entirely.
Now we come to the question of dance bands, which I think was answered quite satisfactorily by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto), who said that one could not run an efficient band merely on Army engagements. The hon. Member for Dudley mentioned a figure—which I have not got—of 180 odd engagements by the Royal Artillery band. My figures show something very much less. If we were to try to compartmentalise the activities of the bands of members of the musicians union and those of the Army bands so that each as it were, played only in their own area, the civilian bands would suffer much more than the Army bands. In other words, private bands invade much more frequently what might be called Army territory than Army bands invade their territory in regard to outside engagements.
The regulations which the hon. Member mentioned are, broadly speaking, those which we maintain, and if he will give me some concrete examples in which the present regulations are not being adhered to, we will look into them. We neither intend to undercut nor indeed do undercut private or civilian bands. Generally speaking, our charges are higher.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am not suggesting that there is any financial undercutting, but at the same time I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's assurances. I take it that the existing regulations, which, of course, include the War Office letter which I quoted, are the basis of War 277 Office policy, and that if anything not provided for in the regulations is happening the hon. Gentleman will look into it
§ Mr. Hutchison
I will undertake to look into it, although I am not sure whether the letter is part of the regulations or not. Having said that, I hope the hon. Gentleman will allow us to blow our own trumpet. It is an attitude which I am sure he will understand and with which he will have some sympathy.
The next point, raised by the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons), was, in fact, the one I have already dealt with, whether to his satisfaction or not I do not know. The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the Chelsea Hospital some time ago, and he received an answer from my right hon. Friend which he described as a lemon. We will change the diet tonight, and perhaps he will regard my answer as a raspberry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) said that he was anxious about the Territorial Army volunteers and told us that 27 per cent. of the National Service men were volunteering. That is true.
Regarding the H.A.C., I defer to nobody in my admiration for that great regiment, the oldest, as I understand, in Britain with the most tremendous traditions. This question of their representation at the Coronation has already been represented in the highest quarters by Field-Marshal Lord Alanbrooke. It does not rest with me to alter the decision given, because there is a Coronation Committee dealing with these multifarious problems. The matter is again being looked into at the present time. As I understand it, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War is studying it at the moment. The question has already been most ably ventilated by a number of hon. Members and by Lord Alanbrooke.
The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who was good enough to tell me that he would be unable to be present when I replied, was in some difficulty about the question of the seven battalions recently raised and the mobile columns. He got badly muddled about them. There is, in fact, no connection between them. The seven battalions are new battalions, some of which are already playing their part overseas and others are 278 still at home. They are part of the general fighting units available for carrying out our responsibilities.
The mobile units are very different things. They were formed last year at the instance of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and are made up of a variety of components such as the officer cadets at Mons and Eaton Hall Officer Cadet Schools and men from depots and headquarter staffs, and so on. Some of them did, in fact, move as mobile columns over quite a considerable distance last year when carrying out training.
The conception is that they are to be available as immediate striking forces to counter any parachute landing which might take place. They have not, of course, got all the striking power of an ordinary formation, but some of them at any rate move with their own artillery. The idea is that they should move from their own headquarters in a limited radius and be able to deal with attacks of that kind.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman and one of my hon. Friends were a little unfair about what they called the lack of information about the Anti-Aircraft Command. Indeed, in the debate on 9th March I said quite a lot about this. The field of anti-aircraft defence is one in which considerable research is going on, but weapons are still being issued to the Anti-Aircraft Command. As I said, until radar equipment is more effective than it is now, searchlights are necessary in order to pick up low-flying aircraft, for without them the short-range guns would not be able to tackle them.
If the right hon. Member for Easington will look at the report of the debate on 9th March, he will see that I said quite a lot about the question of antiaircraft defence. I do not want it to go out from here that the Anti-Aircraft Command is a Cinderella or is in any way being neglected.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey
My hon. Friend is referring to his reply to my interjection in the last debate and, as the right hon. Member for Easington is not present, perhaps I may put the point which we are trying to make. The policy of the Government, as clearly stated, is that we must avoid committing ourselves too fully to equipment which may soon be out of date. Very many of us feel 279 that this equipment is out of date. We realise the problem, but we want an assurance from the Government that they know this and will investigate the matter to see that too much money is not being spent. I do not want to bait my hon. Friend, but what he has said about searchlights and about light anti-aircraft guns will not convince those who know something about the matter. Therefore, I ask him to look at this question most carefully once again.
§ Mr. Hutchison
As I said a moment or two ago, this is an area in which intense research is taking place. Unless one has a very stupid planning organisation, one does not issue to any unit a whole lot of equipment which may be replaced in the near future.
The next point raised was the question of the call-up for annual camp of a Ntional Service man as soon as he has finished his two years' service. There is a minimum period after his whole-time service during which he cannot be so called up, and this is three months. As a rule, it is longer than three months, but it depends on when the training period of the unit to which a man is posted takes place.
It was said that we should greatly increase the bounty for the camp period of the Territorial Army. We will think about that, but I am not sure that to double a bounty is really the whole answer. I would like to think that other factors which are not exclusively financial are taken into consideration before a man comes to a decision of this kind.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) mentioned the importance of the Home Guard, with which we entirely agree. He spoke about the Sten gun, and I quite agree with him. He will no doubt already know that we are in process of producing something better than the Sten gun, a weapon known as the Patchett gun, which will find its way in due course to the Home Guard.
Then my hon. and gallant Friend was glad, and I think that he was quite right to be glad, to learn that the Chelsea Hospital was in fact looking after its own. He told me a story about a poster which I will not answer now. I will see whether there is anything particularly repugnant in that poster. I do not think that there 280 was anything particularly repugnant in the poster which the hon. Member for Dudley displayed, and in order that hon. Members may judge for themselves, perhaps he will place one in the Library.
The hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) made a forceful intervention; what she said was serious and, if accepted in that form, disquieting. I received her letter only on 13th March, and all I have been able to do has been to signal to Kenya to find out what was the position. I was asked that if an officer had broken any regulation appropriate steps would be taken. There are, of course, appropriate steps laid down, and those will be followed. For the moment, I am content to say that this battalion has always had a fine reputation. Let us leave it like that and wait and see what information I receive.
My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) raised a number of extremely important questions. I am not sure that I agree with him on the first of his questions about having on the Army Council a member to speak specially for the Territorial Army. But, although the Territorial Army is most important if that line is followed, logically there might soon develop a demand that there should be a special member representing National Service men, the Army Emergency Reserve and the Home Guard, and one would begin to have an Army Council split up into functional appointments rather than one able to take a broad view of all problems.
§ Mr. Hutchison
I do not know that that custom ever went as deeply as I fear would be the case if my hon. Friend's suggestion were followed now. On another question which my hon. Friend asked I think he was lucky and I was happy that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence was here at the time. It was really a problem for my hon. Friend and the Minister of Defence rather than for us at the War Office.
A great deal of standardisation is going on, but as I said in a previous debate, it takes more than one to standardise and unless other parties to a possible agreement are prepared to come in with one, 281 not very much progress is made. But we are trying to standardise a great variety of things, among them several which my hon. Friend mentioned and we are making progress.
I want to join issue with the hon. Member for Dudley on another point. To begin with, I think that he was throwing a quite unjustified accusation at my right hon. Friend in connection with what my right hon. Friend said about colonial units. The hon. Member must really get his addition right and should take notice of what my right hon. Friend really said. It was: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 9th March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 862.]Up to that point the addition is right.
§ Mr. Hutchison
We are in different years, but in any case, whether they were there then or not, the total of these five plus 14 makes 19. Nineteen in three years is not bad progress so the hon. Gentleman's case is really a case of its being advisable for people living in glass houses not to throw stones about too wildly. What is the exact position? The hon. Member cannot claim all the credit for the year 1951–52—
§ Mr. Hutchison
The hon. Member did, in effect, claim some credit. In the year 1951–52 two battalions of the King's African Rifles were formed. I should like to say here how well they are doing in Kenya. They are sometimes less in the limelight because of the other units out there, but they are doing a very good job. Then the battalion of the Malay Regiment was raised. There are also the two West Indies battalions which we had the intention of raising but on which we have run into discussion on financial problems.
§ Mr. Hutchison
They were in process of being formed I suppose that as soon as one says, "I will form a battalion" and then one goes on to discuss who is going to pay for it, the process has started of forming the battalion. When my right hon. Friend was speaking he was taking a proper and correct line.
§ Mr. Hutchison
One must have a little flexibility in these things. But I must not either mix my metaphors as badly as I am being led to do, or let it go out that the intention to raise these two West Indies battalions has been dropped. It is all a question of having the financial situation cleared up.
I have noted the points which have been made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Devon, North. I am glad to say that he was on my side on the question of bands. He asked whether we were getting value for money out of the Regular officer. I should like to check up on the five years' minimum period of service to which reference has been made, but my hon. and gallant Friend knows that no Regular officer can resign his commission except with Her Majesty's consent. If we thought that we were not getting value for money we would not allow an officer to throw up his commission at an early date, except in special circumstances. But I will look into the question of the actual minimum and let my hon. and gallant Friend know the result of my investigation.
I believe that I have dealt with all the points which were raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West although perhaps not with actual reference to his name—because they were all raised earlier. I hope that he will not find that I have missed a number of them. We have had a long debate which we on this side of the House had no intention of curtailing. The questions asked have been of an unprecedented variety. I am sure that the Secretary of State for War will have regretted missing this debate. I have certainly regretted that he was not here, and I know that he will appreciate the kind remarks made about him and the references to his illness.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
I will not detain the House very long, but there is one point to which I must refer. It is a matter which I could not have raised on the Estimates before today because the information concerning it was made public only last night. It relates to a rather sudden and unexpected windfall that has fallen into the lap of the War Office. It relates to the 300 men or thereabouts who applied for their pardon under the amnesty but who have been declared as not coming within the prescribed dates and who find themselves either under close arrest in various military depots up and down the country or at least liable now to court-martial proceedings.
I know that the Under-Secretary of State cannot make an official statement on the subject here and now, because according to reports the fate of these men who have applied for a pardon under the mistaken impression that they are eligible for the Coronation amnesty is a matter that is so complex and difficult that it has gone before the Cabinet.
What I should like the Under-Secretary to do is to act as a messenger and convey my remarks to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. Then perhaps the Secretary of State may convey the message to the Ministry of Defence; the Minister of Defence may then have a word with the Prime Minister, and eventually some decision may be taken upon this rather difficult problem.
It strikes me as very odd that as a result of an amnesty, about one out of every four of the deserters who have applied for a pardon under the amnesty will find themselves either in close arrest or subject to court-martial proceedings. Some 300 men in this category have so far made application to the respective Service Departments and, on the law of averages, the bulk of them are almost certainly Army men. It strikes me that the application of this amnesty is in such a mess that some official, authoritative and concise statement should be made in the near future to clarify the position.
What has a deserter to do if he wants to acquaint himself with the exact terms and conditions? First of all, he has to examine a statement which was made by the Prime Minister on 23rd February. 284 Then there was a supplementary statement made by the Attorney-General on 2nd March. There was a further statement made on 17th March by the Home Secretary who always seems to be brought in when the situation becomes sticky. At no point in the course of the complications that have arisen as a result of the so-called amnesty has there been provided for the general public a separate leaflet or pamphlet setting out exactly what the whole thing is about. As a result of the statements, supplementary statements and further elaborations of the position, the situation has obviously become so confused that 300 men find themselves, as a result of the Government's statement, in far worse trouble than they were before.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will convey to his right hon. Friend the suggestion that this amnesty, which has got into a very messy state, should be tidied up. Otherwise we shall never get rid of this problem of the men who deserted from the Forces during the war. We ought to finish with it once for all. Yesterday I appealed to the Prime Minister to wipe the slate clean, to which he made no reply. That would be the simplest way out of the whole situation. Why should it be necessary to have all this elaborate documentation and adjudication of individual cases in which all the three Service Departments have got to indulge before the certificate of pardon is granted and things get back to normal?
One curious feature of the Prime Minister's statement was that men who apply for the pardon will then be transferred to the appropriate Reserve to which they would have been transferred if they had been demobilised in the ordinary way. Among those who have applied for a pardon are a number of people resident in the Irish Republic. What is the good of posting to the Reserve men who are known to be in the Irish Free State when we have not got the slightest power to do anything about it if we want to call out that Reserve? That is one of the minor points arising from the slipshod way in which this amnesty has been arranged and announced.
I hope that the public may have some assurance on what is going to happen to these 300 unfortunate men who, as a 285 result of the very garbled way in which the amnesty has been announced, in dribs and drabs, are in a worse position than they were before. I hope the Undersecretary will convey what I have said to his right hon. Friend in the hope that the Prime Minister, or whoever is in charge of the situation, will eventually make a clear statement.
Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.