HC Deb 17 November 1953 vol 520 cc1651-76

Order for Second Reading read.

7.50 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (Mr. Nigel Birch)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill was available in the Vote Office on 4th November, but the House has been familiar with the Government's intentions in this matter for some considerable time. The reasons which prompted the Government to bring in this Bill were set out in paragraphs 35 and 39 of the White Paper on Defence. These reasons were repeated and reinforced by the Prime Minister in the defence debate in March, and again by the Leader of the House in the defence debate at the end of July. I believe that the arguments adduced by my two right hon. Friends were in general accepted by the House; at any rate, nobody has so far attempted to refute them.

Before I again lay these arguments before the House it may be worth while for a moment or two to take a look at the background against which the Bill must be seen. In 1951, the late Government called up Z and G reservists for training. In 1952, Her Majesty's present advisers did the same. In all, some 330,000 Z reservists and 11,000 G reservists received training. All the Z reservists were from the Army—the Navy did not call up any of theirs—and all the G reservists were from the Royal Air Force.

The reasons which prompted both Governments to take this very exceptional step of calling up this large body of men for training were that in a grave emergency the reserves they could have called upon, other than the Z and G reservists, were inadequate in number, and not only that, but inadequate in skills and in experience. A large number of men got refresher training; and the Services, in particular the Army, got the benefit of a valuable mobilisation exercise.

Since the call-up of these men there has been some further build-up of the reserves. At present, the National Service reserve amounts to about 400,000 men; that is, National Service men completing their part-time training, including those serving on voluntary engagements in the Reserve and Auxiliary forces. The National Service Reserve will reach its peak of about 500,000 in the middle of next year when the first National Service men called up under the 1948 Act will be going out after completing their part-time training.

Obviously, it would not be in the national interest to give full details of all our mobilisation plans, but I can say that at its peak the National Service Reserve will be not nearly large enough to meet our needs in the early stages of mobilisation, and will also be deficient in officers, N.C.Os. and technicians of various sorts. At present, the deficiency can only be made good by calling upon Z and G reservists while, of course, the National Service man gets out of all further liability in his early or middle twenties.

We therefore have a contrast between the Z and G reservists on the one hand who, having borne the heat and burden of the day, are still liable, and, on the other hand, these young men who get off at a very early age. We believe that this must be wrong and in the words of the White Paper, it cannot be defended either on military grounds or as a matter of equity. The Government have, therefore, decided that for the next five years both the Z and G reservists and the National Service men who have completed their full and part-time training within the meaning of the Act must continue to be liable for call-out in the event of a grave emergency.

We have, however, thought it right to terminate the liability of the Z and G reservists at the age of 45. I do not want to make too much of that point. No men over 45 were called out for training, but at present there is no legal age limit and, in fact, a number of men over the age of 45 did receive screening notices. We should like, of course, to lower the age to below 45, but we cannot do it at the moment because there are a number of men in the 40 to 45 age group with whose services it is not possible to dispense.

We have thought it right to make this clean cut after the five-year period ending 30th June, 1959. The House may realise that the effect of this is as follows: National Service men finishing their part-time service towards the end of the currency of the Bill will have a lesser liability than was contemplated in the Defence White Paper, but after careful consideration we thought it right to make this clean cut. The House has just passed an Order prolonging National Service for five years. Therefore, in any case the House will have to consider matters relating to National Service before the five-year period is up. It will be up to the Government of the day, in the light of the circumstances then existing, to legislate—I repeat, to legislate—either prolonging the present scheme or substituting another one for it.

It is important for the House to grasp that this Bill only comes into play in a major emergency. In legal terms, men can only be called up in two cases, in the case of actual or apprehended attack on the United Kingdom, or in the case of imminent national danger or great emergency after a Proclamation. In the words of the Prime Minister, they can only be called out in a state of "the gravest war emergency." Men could not be called out for something less. They could not be called out to deal with some colonial embarrassment. It is not the intention of the Government so to use the Bill, and even if it was their intention they could not do so because the terms of the Bill do not allow them to do so.

In a national emergency we shall all be in it together, and it is certain that any Government would take equally great powers as were taken in 1939. Under those powers any man could be called up to serve anywhere for as long as the needs of the country required them. It may be said, "Very well; if you say that all these men could be called up under some such powers as went through on the nod in 1939, why is it necessary to have this Bill?" The overwhelming reason that we need this Bill is the time factor—the time that may be available to carry out mobilisation in modern war. How much time we should have, nobody knows. In the very worst case, mobilisation day and D day might be the same.

The Russian strength in Europe, both on land and in the air, is very much greater than that of the N.A.T.O. Powers. A bolt from the blue—an attack without Russian mobilisation—is always technically possible. Mobilisation is a complex problem. It is not simply a case, nowadays, of calling up a man with a rifle. What we have to do is to get the right man, with the right skill, to the right place at the right time—the man who can work an anti-aircraft predictor or operate and maintain a radar set—a signaller or a staff officer.

If we are to get the right men in the right places at the right time it is not good enough simply to recall men by classes. The Government mobilisation plans, therefore, depend upon recall by individual notice. But if we are to recall by individual notice we must have the power to serve on men screening notices such as have already been answered by many hundreds of thousands of Z and G reservists. Screening notices asking them where they live, what they are doing and what are their skills—information relevant to whether they should be called up or put into a reserved occupation.

Military opinion is increasingly coming to the view that in a modern war it may be the first month or two that will prove to be decisive in the end. The crucial fact is that speed in mobilisation is vital. When we are thinking of this, the most dramatic way to force it upon our attention is to think of the danger from the air. In certain parts of our anti-aircraft defence we depend to a certain extent on Z and G reservists and National Service reservists. I can take as an example the control and reporting organisation. That is the radar screen on which we depend for warning of air attack, for the control of our fighters, the control of our antiaircraft artillery, and, ultimately—when we have them—the control of guided missiles.

The radar screen is in existence, it is manned, and a watch is kept, but it is not manned on anything like the scale or intensity that would be necessary in war. All the G reservists who received refresher training were trained in some part of our control and reporting organisation. Our anti-aircraft artillery is not fully deployed in peace time, but it is still, and will long remain, an essential part of our defences. If anti-aircraft artillery is to operate at full efficiency it will require Z reservists, many of whom have received refresher training, and also a number of highly trained National Service men who will be finishing their part-time training during the currency of this Measure.

The responsibility for seeing that we are not caught unprepared weighs very heavily on the Government, and it is a terrible responsibility. Hon. Members may remember the lines in "Childe Harold": A thousand years scarce serve to form a State, An hour may lay it in the dust. In Byron's day these lines might well have been attributed to the exuberance of the poet. Today, I think they are too near the truth for comfort. The responsibility in this connection rests not only upon the Government but, to some extent, upon all Members of this House, because if we were to refuse reasonable measures to ensure quick mobilisation, and if the worst came to the worst and we were caught unprepared, I do not know what we could say in our defence.

I have been talking about this Bill mostly from the point of view of air defence, but we have other obligations—obligations to our N.A.T.O. allies and to our own men on the Continent of Europe. We must ensure that reinforcements in all arms and, perhaps more important in the early stages, in all technical supporting units, reach our men in time to be effective. This is not simply a matter of obligation, honour or duty; it is a vital national interest.

Depth in defence has always been important. With the development of modern weapons it is more important than ever. If war should come, it is vital that the line should be held as far to the east as possible, and we must play our part in this task. We also have to put our active and Reserve Fleets into a state of readiness. At the moment, the Navy do not use many National Service men, but the ones they do use are very important. They are junior officers, air crews and trained artificers. They would certainly need these men, and to work at full efficiency they would also need some of the highly experienced Z reserve officers, petty officers and technicians. To sum up, we want this Bill because we must ensure that we can get the right men, with the right skills, to the right places at the right time.

I now turn to an examination of a few of the provisions of the Bill. I shall not go into great detail at this stage because there will be other opportunities, but there may be a few of the more important aspects of the Bill to which it may be convenient to the House to refer. Clause 1 defines the two main classes of men affected. They are, first, National Service men and National Service volunteers. Secondly, the Z and G reservists. The National Service man is simply a man whose full-time and part-time service within the meaning of the 1948 Act has come to an end. The National Service volunteer—a term defined in the Interpretation Clause for the purposes of this Bill—means a man who took on a voluntary engagement when, if he had not done so, he would have been called up for National Service.

The second class—the Z and G reservists—are simply men who served in any of the Armed Forces between the beginning of the last war and the coming into effect of the post-war National Service Act at the beginning of 1949. That is, and always has been, the accepted definition of them. The Clause goes on to make certain exceptions and qualifications.

Those public-spirited Z and G reservists who joined the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces when they were reconstituted after the war are exempt from the provisions of the Bill. This is in accordance with the practice, for example, in the Territorial Army, when a man who joined up and was a Z reservist was automatically discharged from his liability to recall as a Z reservist. We intend to continue this practice until this Bill becomes law, but we do not feel it right to go on absolving Z and G reservists who join the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces. We have already lost a good many men, but the number affected in the future will not be very great.

There are two other points in connection with Clause 1. The first is in connection with discharge by purchase. Hon. Members will notice that no man who obtains his discharge by purchase after 30th September this year is exempt from the provisions of this Bill. Every man who has purchased his discharge since that date has been warned of the liabilities he may incur under this Bill. We do not think—and I think the House will agree that it is right—that men should be able to buy themselves out of this obligation. Secondly, it would be wrong if the House got the impression from Clause 1 (2) that a lot of men have been discharged from the Z and G reserves. A few men have been discharged for unfitness, but apart from the men discharged because they entered the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces the number discharged is not significant.

I think this may be the moment when I should say something about the position of officers under the Bill. An officer will not be a man of the appropriate Reserve as long as he holds his commission. The reason for that is that he is a member of the Services apart from the Bill, and has a technical liability to be called up in the same circumstances as the Z and G reservists. We have, however, thought it right to regularise the position of officers. Our intention is this. We are going to proceed by Royal Warrant in the case of the Army and the Royal Air Force, and by other means in the Navy. The Navy never does anything the same as anybody else. These will set out the conditions for officers on this new engagement. The officers in question are mostly holders of emergency commissions or National Service commissions. They will be invited to serve on those conditions.

I must make it perfectly clear that an officer is not put in a privileged position. If he does not want to consider serving as an officer, or for any reason relinquishes his commission, he automatically becomes a man of the appropriate Reserve as an other rank. Therefore, he is not noticeably better off than he would otherwise have been.

Clauses 2 and 3 deal with the appropriate Reserves into which men will go. These are, in general, existing Reserves. The liabilities of these reservists are laid down in the Royal Naval Reserve (Volunteer) Act, 1859, and the Army and Air Force Reserve Acts, 1950, as modified by Clause 3. As I have said, men are to be called out in two conditions. In the event of actual or apprehended attack on the United Kingdom they can be called out for home service without a Proclamation.

In the case of the Army, "home service" means exactly what it says. In the case of the Air Force, home service includes the case where a man, though he may fly over foreign territory, starts from a base in this country and returns to a base in this country. These considerations do not apply, and never have applied, to the Navy. A ship which could not call at a Commonwealth or foreign port would not really be of very much value, and, therefore, in the case of actual or apprehended attack, the sailor may go anywhere.

The second case is imminent national danger or great emergency. If a man is to be called out it must be done by Proclamation, and that Proclamation must be reported to the House before issue, if the House is sitting. If the House is not sitting, then the House must be summoned within 10 days. If men are called out they will get the benefit of all the protection of civil rights that now exist for Service men. In particular, they will get the protection of the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act, 1950, and the protection of the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces (Protection of Civil Interests) Act, 1951. So they are reasonably well looked after as far as that goes.

Clause 3 applies the diminution. Under Clause 3 it is laid down that no man can be called out for training. That is in accordance with the pledge we gave in the Defence White Paper, and we also thought it right to lay down that it would be wrong to call these men out in aid of the civil power. I think the House will agree with that.

Clause 4 is the only operative Clause as far as the men themselves are concerned in peace time. I should like to emphasise that to the House. The only thing a man has to do in peacetime is to answer screening notices truthfully from time to time. These screening notices will be much the same as were served on the Z and G men, and they will ask questions which are relevant to decide whether a man ought to be called up or not, or ought to be reserved. Postal arrangements are the same as in the case of the calling of National Service men for medical examination, and on the whole they have worked quite reasonably well.

I do not think the House will consider the penalties excessive. The penalties are £5 for refusal to answer a screening notice, and £50 or three months' imprisonment or both for deliberately making a false statement in the answer. The rest of the Bill is simply a little legal tidying up, and the Interpretation Clause. I do not think it calls for comment at this stage.

I commend this Bill to the House. It has often been said that the margin of permissible error allowed to this country in both economic and military affairs has narrowed a great deal in the last 50 years, and I think that that is true. Perhaps, it has narrowed nowhere more than in this question of the need for accuracy and speed in mobilisation. All we are asking of these men in peace time is that they should answer questions from time to time truthfully.

If war were to come, then these men might be called up in anything from a few days to a few hours earlier than they would otherwise have been, but if war comes, or if there is imminent danger of war, it will be the days and even the hours that count. Even a slight disorganisation, even a slight delay in our mobilisation might have fatal consequences. We cannot afford muddle in our mobilisation. If muddle is to be avoided we must have this Bill.

8.18 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)

I am quite sure that Members on both sides of the House will not disagree with the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary as to the background of this Bill. We all hope and pray on both sides of the House that during the lifetime of this Measure, between now and 30th June, 1959, international tension will be relaxed and international conference strengthened so that we need not contemplate having to face any such grave national war emergency to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred; but surely it is far better to be prepared, so far as we can, in case we do have to face up to such an emergency. I am not going to deviate on to another aspect of defence, the fact that we are on the threshold of another type of war, the atomic war and the rocket war. We have to take the world as we find it today and take our precautions in the light of the situation as we see it today.

Before I deal with the Bill, I should like to express the hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary quoted from the Prime Minister's phrase about a grave national war emergency and then referred to the obligations which we had to our Allies in N.A.T.O. he was inferentially, at any rate, including any grave emergency which might come upon us as a result of carrying out our obligations under the Charter of the United Nations.

Even after the extremely clear exposition of the Bill which the Parliamentary Secretary has given us, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not expect me to accept his speech without further comment. I agree with a great deal of what he has said. I believe that this is a useful Bill and one of considerable importance in the pattern of our system of national defence. As it makes clear, the Bill merely seeks to increase the number of Reserves available for call-up in the event of war. I was glad that the Parliamentary Secretary emphasised the practical effects of the Bill. If I may put it in another way, the Bill imposes no actual duty on the individual National Service man except to supply the particulars which are required for the screening of those who are affected by the Bill.

The Bill also does not impose any actual training burdens upon the individual. Indeed, between the passage of the Bill and June, 1959, it is quite possible, and we hope most probable, that unless the international situation goes sour on us, no single individual will be called upon to don a uniform under the provisions of this Bill. But the Bill has the effect of bringing the National Service men into line with the Z and G reservists and, as this year's White Paper stated, that is only just and equitable. In other words, it imposes no greater liability on the National Service man than on the G or Z reservist. The liability is no less and it is no greater.

The real value of the Bill lies in the fact that it seeks to increase our national preparedness in times of emergency by embodying in the appropriate Reserve between 400,000 and 500,000 National Service men who have received their two years' service with the Colours. I wonder if I am very far from stating the actual facts when I say that in addition to that 400,000 or 500,000 there are between one million and two million members of the Z and G reserves. All these people will have this liability imposed upon them, but that liability, however, will only crystallise in the event of a great emergency; and if this Bill were not passed no doubt another Bill would have to be brought in immediately to impose that liability upon them.

A ration strength of two million or three million reservists is only one aspect of our defence requirements. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to our mobilisation plans. I do not think that he told us very much about them. I do not know any more now than I did before he spoke as to what are our plans for mobilising and training these reservists who come under the provisions of this Bill. This is a matter of vital importance. "The Times" in a leading article in December of last year expressed the view that our mobilisation plans should be scrutinised according to the yardstick laid down by the late Lord Haldane which was to this effect—"What purpose do you serve in war?" And the Parliamentary Secretary, I imagine, would reply by referring me to is statement about putting the right man with the right skill in the right place at the right time.

But this emphasis by "The Times" on the need to scrutinise our mobilisation plans is not only the view of a leading newspaper. Time and time again attention has been drawn to the importance of Reserves and the need for quick mobilisation by the military leaders of N.A.T.O. with whose forces, as the Minister indicated and as is stated in the Defence White Paper, our own forces are indissolubly linked.

I am sorry to have to refer back to a. speech made by the late Commander-in-Chief of N.A.T.O. nearly 12 months ago. Speaking on 15th December, General Ridgway said: Some of the divisions "— I imagine that he was referring to reserve divisions and I deal with this point because we are now dealing with reservists and must concern ourselves with the use made of them in the event of a grave emergency arising— at present available were incapable of real resistance—they would take more than 30 days to mobilise—and they would still be under-equipped and under-trained. His 50 divisions were more like 35 and unless a strenuous effort were made to arrange a steady supply of equipment and of reserves "— which of course this Bill seeks to do for this country— the force would give little trouble in the event of a massive aggressive threat. More recently. General Gruenther, speaking on 27th September, made this statement: The building of these reserve divisions constitutes one of our major headaches. He went on to say: We shall continue to urge the member Governments to solve the problem of reserves. Field Marshal Lord Montgomery, speaking on 11th October, had something to say about reserves. He said: If war should come, the superior potential of the free nations must win in the end—provided they are not overwhelmed before they can develop their full war potential…. While the air offensive is being carried deep into the enemy country by our strategic air forces, our land armies and associated tactical air forces have got to prevent the enemy from penetrating into the homelands of the N.A.T.O. nations…. This is a formidable task and the battle would probably sway backwards and forwards for some days. Much will depend on the speed with which we could get our reserves into action. I suggest that the Government should also take the House and the nation into their confidence and tell us frankly whether they are satisfied that our mobilisation plans are adequate to deal with the vast number of reservists affected by this and other legislation. The Parliamentary Secretary said that speed in mobilisation is vital. As a statement of a desirable objective I do not think anyone could quarrel with that, but can we be told whether or not the Government are satisfied about this great mass of reservists? It is necessary for them to be organised into battalions, brigades, divisions and corps if they are to be of practical value. We are told by General Ridgway that some may not be available for more than 30 days and the Parliamentary Secretary indicated that it may only be a matter of days before a serious situation might arise. Can we be satisfied that the mobilisation plans are sufficient to secure what he calls speed in mobilisation?

Then there is the question of training. General Gruenther has emphasised again and again the need for trained reserves. The Lisbon Meeting in February, 1952, agreed to a target of 50 division and 4,000 aircraft. Last December the Meeting of Ministers decided to concentrate on quality rather than quantity—a very laudible objective. Can we be told what is the present target for the divisions of N.A.T.O. and what is the present target for the number of first line aircraft of N.A.T.O., including of course Greece and Turkey?

Under the National Service Acts each National Service man has two years with the Colours and three and a half years part-time service. What proportion of National Service men who have completed their two years Colour service are being called up for training during that three and a half years? I ask that both as regards the Army and the Royal Air Force. If, as I understand it, the whole of the available numbers are not being called up, could we be told whether the proportion called up is sufficient to ensure full mobilisation in respect of the infantry divisions and in respect of squadrons of the Royal Air Force?

Are the Government satisfied that in the event of these National Service reservists being called up they have been adequately trained? I have raised these points because I think they are germane to consideration of this problem in view of the fact that this Bill places in the appropriate Reserves of the three Services certainly 400,000 to 500,000 National Servicemen and I imagine I am not far wrong if I say well over one million of Z and G reservists.

We on this side of the House give general support to the Bill. The availability of adequate trained reservists will strengthen the defence forces of the West against possible aggression and at the same time make a direct contribution to the policy of negotiation through strength to which the Prime Minister referred the other day, and which we hope will lead to that relaxation of present international tensions, which will make this Bill a useful piece of legislation but will never require it to be put into operation.

8.36 p.m.

Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)

The views expressed by the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) indicate that there is very wide acceptance of the wise and necessary measures in this Bill. The building up of reserve forces of all three Services is clearly a very real and vital part of our contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

My intention is to raise briefly only three points tonight in respect of certain classes in the Bill itself. In the reference to rapid and efficient mobilisation in the event of what is called "actual or apprehended attack" there has been mention of the anti-aircraft defences and the position that might arise in the event of such an emergency. I wish to make a point in respect of the call-up of those who are reservists within the terms of the Bill and those who, as a result of having joined up in the Territorial Army after 1946, are not included in the provisions of the Bill but either are or will have ceased to be members of the Territorial force by 1959.

The reason is that in the Territorial Army, not only in the anti-aircraft units of it, there may well be people who belong to both these categories, that is to say persons who are within the scope of this Bill in the sense that they are reservists within its provisions and those who are Territorials and who are in consequence exempted from it. I hope that whoever is to reply to the debate will tell us, because I think it is interesting to Territorials at present, how far the call-up of reservists under this Bill is aligned with the arrangements for calling-up the Territorials, particularly the anti-aircraft units, in the event of an emergency.

Perhaps I might recall to the House the position that arose at the beginning of the last war. Then of course nearly all antiaircraft personnel were Territorials and certain provisions were made prior to September, 1939, whereby those persons should undertake an extension of their training, and the Territorial Army was embodied on 1st September, 1939.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

Twenty-fifth August.

Mr. Neave

My impression was that it was 1st September, 1939, when the actual embodiment occurred. The hon. and gallant Member may be right, but I understand that I have some support for my view that it was on 1st September that the actual embodiment occurred.

A different state of affairs exists today, and it is very important for Territorials to know just how they would stand, because the embodiment of the Territorial Army would come under the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act, 1907, and arrangements for their terms of service and liability for call-up come under Section 5 of the Auxiliary and Reserve Forces Act, 1949. On the other hand, it seems clear that persons who belong to anti-aircraft units who are within this Bill as reservists can be called up without any Proclamation. It is very necessary that the anti-aircraft units should be called up at a time when there is an apprehended emergency. I mention that matter because I feel that it would be of great value to Territorials to know how they stand in relation to those who come within the provisions of this Bill.

Clause 4 of the Bill suggests that reservists should give certain information to the authorities. I think it also fair to say that it is desirable that the authorities should give certain information to them. Over the course of years men who come within the provisions of this Bill may change their occupation and circumstances from time to time and it would be very desirable for them to know—since for one reason or another they may wish not to be in purely fighting units but o go into technical units as a result of a change in their civilian job—the type of job they might have when they become liable to call-up in the event of an emergency. May we be told to what extent the Service authorities will keep in touch with these men over the period under review?

The third point I wish to make in a sense takes the House back to the position regarding an apprehended or actual emergency. Is it clear that under this Bill certain specialist personnel, such as those who may be engaged in the distribution of weapons and equipment from mobilisation stores will be called up at the right time? We are all aware of the necessity for an efficient and rapid distribution of stores from what are called "mob stores." It may well be that such part of the Army as is concerned with mobilisation stores or depots would be glad to know that it is clear that such people as storemen and technicians at Ordnance depots can be called up within the provisions of this Bill. There is not much doubt that they can be but I suggest that would be helpful information to them.

In view of the fact, as I have already mentioned, that the building up of a reserve army and other reserve services is vital to our commitments overseas, it is perfectly clear that the measures contained in this Bill are not only wise but essential at the present time.

8.43 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

The reason why I interrupted the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) about the date on which the Territorial Army was embodied is because I happened to be in the Territorial Army and I have a vivid recollection of getting £5 embodiment money on 25th August, 1939, which would seem to indicate—

Mr. Neave

I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman must be referring to antiaircraft units only. I, also, was in an anti-aircraft unit and the date he mentioned is correct regarding them. But I think the whole of the Territorial Army was embodied on 1st September.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

I accept what the hon. Member says, but it would seem to me to be the case that some of the Territorial Army was embodied on 25th August and that those who were did not include merely the anti-aircraft personnel because I have recollections of other units being embodied on the same day. However, I imagine that for the purpose—

Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)

I would corroborate what the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) has said. He may be distressed to learn that I was one who was embodied on the earlier date. I received £5 and was sent home. I was subsequently embodied again and received another £5.

Lieut.-CoIonel Lipton

The hon. Member did even better than I did. I certainly was not allowed to go home on 25th August, although I would not say that my services in the first few days after that embodiment were of any great value to the country or to myself.

The fact that we are able to discuss the Bill at all should not lead us to overlook the consideration that we have more reserve forces in the country today than we have ever had before in peace-time. That is a tribute to the previous Administration which deserves to be paid. It is sometimes overlooked that the very large number of men in the reserve forces is the result of various measures adopted by the first Labour Government.

I was especially glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence say—and it is included in the Bill—that provision is being made to apply to reserve forces the provisions of the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act, 1950. That will help to remove one source of anxiety from the minds of many of the men who may be called up under the provisions of this Measure.

It is even more satisfactory, perhaps, to note that the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces (Protection of Civil Interests) Act, 1951, will also apply to these men. After all, in emergency men are hoisted out of their civilian environment in the course of which they have undertaken liabilities of various kinds, and it is only right and proper that the various civil liabilities into which they have legitimately entered should not operate to their prejudice or disadvantage if and when they are called up. During the last war I think we called it the Civil Liabilities Act, or something of that kind, but this is more or less the same thing.

I should have liked to talk about other matters which have been the subject of previous debates during the last day or two, but it would be presuming upon your generosity, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I did that. I wish to associate myself with what was said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) about this Bill which, the Government will be glad to know, is not regarded by the Opposition as of such a controversial character as some of the other business which we have discussed in the last two days.

8.48 p.m.

Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, in his interesting speech, began by making some reference to the Z and G call-up schemes which, he said, were valuable. Some of us on this side of the House derive some slightly wry amusement from this description of the schemes. We think they were valuable, but we remember having had to defend them most strenuously at the Despatch Box in our day.

I am very glad that they are recognised now to have been a valuable stopgap. Of course, they were no more than that; but I think that they were that. Now that gap has been largely stopped by the fact that the National Service men completing their National Service are coming near to and will, so the Parliamentary Secretary tells us, reach peak level of the National Service Reserve as such by the middle of next year. I take it that it is the intention of the Bill to regularise, as it were, for the next five years our further Reserve position. I fully see the necessity for that. It is a sensible and wise step to take.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence quoted Byron to us to reinforce his plea for the immense amount of security needed and the peril that this country would be in if it was not well organised. I can only return to him Virgil for Byron and quote" Tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem." Roughly translated, that means "How vast a work it was to found Rome" or "the Roman race." The work of preserving the safety of the British realm in present day conditions is certainly one which, as he emphasised, is no light responsibility on anybody's shoulders.

As I understand the hon. Gentleman's explanation, and as I read the Bill, the purpose is to improve two things, the accuracy and the speed of our mobilisation. There cannot be any doubt about the need to improve both. He emphasised the need for speed, and it is only too painfully obvious to us in terms of our expectation of any possible future emergency.

The Parliamentary Secretary was interesting and correct on the necessity for accurate mobilisation. As he pointed out, the old type of mobilisation of whole classes of men is out-of-date today, for it will not fit present day circumstances. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) pointed out, it is no use calling up millions of men unless we know exactly what we are going to do with them, and anybody who has any acquaintance with the Services today knows that they are almost terrifyingly complex in their structure. Far from their being homogeneous masses of men, they are enormously elaborate and complex structures in which practically every man has to be fitted into the place necessary for him.

While we could not, for security reasons, expect the Government to say exactly how they are to do that, it is important for the House to be given all the information which is possible, not on the mobilisation plan, and not on the Government's timetable, because that would be impossible, but on the way in which the fitting in process is to be tackled, because I am sure the Government will agree that it will be of immense difficulty.

How will the Bill help in that process? I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for War will correct me if I am wrong, because it is important that when we discuss the Bill at further stages we shall know what the intention really is. As I understand, it will help in the accuracy of mobilisation. It is intended to help, and I think it will help, in two ways. The first help is the legal powers for the sending out of screening notices, the sorting of the men into different categories of skill, age, health and everything else.

The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) was right in suggesting that that ought to be a two-way traffic. The reservist ought to be able to communicate with the appropriate Service Department in order to tell it how changing circumstances have altered his capacities, skills, and so on. It is an administrative point and I do not necessarily want it mentioned in the Bill, but I should have thought it worth while for the screening notices to invite reservists to volunteer information of that sort.

Then, on the basis of that screening process for which the Bill provides, that, in turn, makes possible mobilisation by individual notice instead of by Proclamation and wholesale call-up. I have no doubt that, for these alarmingly complex modern Services, mobilisation by individual notice, calling a particular man to a particular job as the most suitable for him, is an absolute necessity, and we could not get effective mobilisation quickly in any other way.

So that we, on this side of the House, could not possibly object to this Bill. It adds certain obligations for a number of years to a very wide section of the population, but they are reasonable obligations. They are such that no sane man who wishes to serve his country will have any objection to undertaking them, because, short of war or an emergency, they are really only obligations to give information, and to that we could not take any objection in principle. Therefore, at this stage, we do not intend to oppose this Measure.

8.56 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison)

We have had a placid, interesting, short and welcome debate on this small but important Measure, although at this stage it has not occupied our attention for very long. We had on the earlier Motion, which is a sort of twin to this one, a very long debate, and most of the guns have already been fired, so that the batteries of Brierley Hill, which I am so used to having to face, were silent, and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who must have been representing Colne during the earlier debate, suddenly remembered that he also represents Nelson and that Nelson would not approve of his opposing this Measure.

Although this is a short Bill, nevertheless, in the view of the Government, it is a vital one, and, although we are getting through this stage easily, we are under no misapprehension that, when we get into the labyrinth of details at a later stage, we shall find it quite so simple. There is little that I can add to my hon. Friend's comprehensive and graphic review. He has drawn a clear picture of the urgent reasons which compelled the Government to come to the House with this Measure, underlining, as has been accepted by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, the essential importance of speed. After all, we live in an age of speed today which leaves many of us almost permanently mentally out of breath trying to catch up with the many changes which follow on the heels of one another. Critics have sometimes said that this country had a masterly way of muddling through, but I should like also to remind the House of the comment of H. G. Wells when he said that, no doubt, the last dinosaurus probably thought that he was muddling through.

The need for these reserves stems from the needs of the Forces, and the needs of the Forces stem from the tasks which Parliament sets them. It really was a curious doctrine to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easing-ton (Mr. Shinwell) yesterday that the commitments and tasks of the Army were found by the Army itself. I must take the chance of joining issue with him on that point, because I know that our highly placed advisers in the War Office showed great anxiety as to how we were going to find the troops to meet recent commitments which we have been called upon to meet. There is, indeed, nobody more anxious to limit these commitments than the military advisers in the War Office.

The House has clearly grasped the graphic and vivid picture of the needs behind the Bill which my hon. Friend has given. We are now left—I am left—to descend from the high plateau of intention and purpose behind the Bill to something nearer to the complicated undergrowth of detail into which we shall eventually have to plunge, but there are nevertheless points in the Bill which come mid-way between detail and broad pur- pose and which it might not be altogether amiss to mention.

In all our considerations on this Bill we must bear in mind that the Bill only fixes the time and the individuals who will be called up. There is little doubt that, if another emergency occurs, the nation will be called upon to make available every man that can possibly be spared, so it is not really a question of men escaping call-up so much as fitting them into the right places at the right time. In order to do this—and this answers some of the questions which have been put to me by hon. Members—we have instituted this system of screening notices. They are not intended to be merely inquisitive nuisances but are required, first, for the simplest possible working, under those tragic circumstances, in the interests of the community. They are designed to avoid unnecessary interference with the industrial and national life in the tumult of the first days of war.

Secondly, they are in the interests of the reservist himself allowing us to know who can be taken and who can be left. They will also be invaluable in placing a square peg into a square hole. In this matter of screening notices we are in close co-operation with the Ministry of Labour and National Service, and the Ministry of Labour and National Service in their turn are in co-operation with the National Joint Advisory Council. The screening notices which have been sent out in the past—they were sent out in the call-up of the Z and G reservists—may, in a few instances, have been ignored, but I emphasise once again that it is not only in the interests of the nation that these screening notices should be completed and returned but in the interests of the man himself.

Although by no means all reservists will be called up, we do not propose to institute a general discharge of those not wanted, and for the following reasons. When hon. Members think these reasons out, I do not think they will want to press that a man should be informed when and whether he will be called up, or that his employer should be similarly informed. First, the general needs of the whole situation may change. Secondly, the reservist's own occupation may change. Thirdly, there would be certain security considerations, if that broad picture were to become known by such disclosures. Fourthly, it might tend to prejudice one man and advantage another in their employment. Clearly, if two individuals, one who is known to be going to be called up and another known not to be called up on the early stages of a future emergency applied for the same job, it would need a very great deal of self-abnegation by the employer to forget about those two different sets of circumstances.

The right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) made the point about a two-way flow of information. We should like to consider that point and to see whether something can be put into the screening notices to that effect. Another rather more detailed word on the question of the protection of civil rights to which the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) referred. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is no doubt aware of what these Acts do in fact protect, but I do not think it would be disadvantageous for reservists in general to know just what protection is given to them under those Acts. For example, protection is given in the matter of the legal right of a man to reinstatement in civil employment at the end of a period of emergency service. The reservist also has certain protection in the case of failure to pay debts owing to the performance of service, and against the eviction from their home of his dependants. There is also a safeguarding of his civilian pension rights.

I now pass to the questions put to me by the various hon. Members who have spoken. The right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) asked whether we were satisfied that the mobilisation plans which are on paper are satisfactory and would meet the situation. Of course, it would be a very definite answer to say that we were satisfied that everything was perfect, but I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the plans are under constant examination. If he wants evidence of that, he will find it in the measures taken by his own party for the calling up of Z reservists in 1951 and 1952, in order to fit the men into the positions in which they would go when called up and to let them get to know the team mates with whom they would work when called up.

Mr. A. Henderson

I was drawing attention to the various statements made by the military commanders of N.A.T.O. who keep on stressing in all the speeches they make the need for speed in supplying reservists to divisions which will be under the command of the Supreme Commander. I realise that the present Government are following the lead given by the late Government in dealing with reservists so far as the individual is concerned, but are they satisfied that everything possible is being done to ensure that the cry constantly made by the military commanders for the quick supply of reservists is likely to be met?

Mr. Hutchison

That, of course, is a matter which is constantly under review and one which is constantly being experimented with in an endeavour to improve it. I only mentioned the calling up of Z reservists in 1951 and 1952 to show that these thoughts were in our minds. Of course, it involves other questions, such as the call-up of those who are to distribute mobilisation stores and how the stores themselves will go round, and hundreds of other questions concerning rapid and efficient mobilisation. The Bill itself will facilitate the answer to the very questions which the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also asked what was the proportion of National Service men called up for part-time service who, in fact, actually do that service. The answer to that question is that in the Army virtually the whole lot do it, and that in the Royal Air Force all those required for that tremendously important section of that Service's activities, the controlling and reporting organisation, do it, and that, for the rest, sufficient for immediate mobilisation are called up and get training. Therefore, the answer is, in short, that in the Royal Air Force all those required for immediate mobilisation are called up for part-time service.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

Would the hon. Gentleman be good enough to say how many of the Royal Air Force reservists were called up?

Mr. Hutchison

I am afraid that I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's question without notice, but, of course, there will be opportunities for him later on to put that question to one of my hon. Friends.

Mr. Wigg

Does the hon. Gentleman deny the accuracy of the figures I gave yesterday, that out of 100,000 reservists only 8,500 were called up during the present year?

Mr. Hutchison

I would not deny or confirm it. I understand that, under the plan which I have disclosed to the House just now, about one in six of the National Service men in the Royal Air Force were, in fact, called up for this purpose to complete those needs.

I pass to the other question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). I think the best way to answer his first two problems, if I understood them correctly, is to say that, since individual notices can be sent out to individual men at the time it is considered to be necessary in order to get mobilisation functioning satisfactorily, he can be assured that those considered necessary to be treated first will be so treated, by individual notice. He also mentioned the question of the two-way traffic between the authorities and the man being summoned under the screening notice. We will certainly consider that.

Then there was the short speech from the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton, who, together with the hon. Members for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) and Abingdon, delighted the House with reminiscences of the Second World War. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) then gave a Roland for the Oliver, if I may so put it, of my hon. Friend. My answer to that is another quotation, arma virum-que cano, which I am afraid I cannot translate. [HON. MEMBERS:"Oh."] I can come pretty near to it, but I am not sure—" Of arms and men I sing."

Having answered, I think, most of the detailed points that have been raised, I should like to refer to a more general point before I conclude. We have, from time to time, heard criticism as to why it is that, after eight years of war the emergency cannot be declared to be officially ended. We have, perhaps, become conditioned to living in emergencies, but nevertheless a great many people would heave a sigh of relief if the 1939–45 emergency could be considered officially over, done with, and buried. Unfortunately, each piece of emergency legislation carries its own conception of the period of emergency and its aftermath and, for the purpose of some of them, the emergency still lingers, unwelcomed. on.

This Bill ends the emergency, from the point of view of power to hold men in service, to recall them, or to fix any further Service liability upon them. Therefore, a lump of the emergency is dead, and the Bill represents, at least, a limited emergency exit through which quite a number of people will be permitted to pass. May I, along with my hon. Friend, commend this Bill to the House. I am delighted to note that the commendation is scarcely going to be needed, because there has been so much commendation from hon. Members opposite that there is to be no division over it. I leave the Bill in the hands of the House.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.