§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I beg to move,That this House deplores the decision of Her Majesty's Government to adopt the Belgian F.N. rifle for use by the British Army in place of the new British E.M.2 rifle.There can be few more important decisions to an army than the decision to change its rifle, and the last time that the British Army changed the standard pattern of the rifle was some 50 years ago. The rifle is still the fundamental infantry weapon. It is the personal and individual weapon with which, in the last resort, a soldier or even an airman on the ground or a sailor, must seek to defend himself. Even in this atomic age, though some of the weapons which might be used in a future war are gruesome and terrible in the amount of slaughter and destruction which they can cause, it will still be the infantry soldier who is left to hold a piece of ground with his own body or be driven off who will be the final decider of who is to win any war.
So it is absolutely vital not only that this personal weapon with which the soldier is to be equipped should be not merely good but the best possible weapon and that he should know that it is the best possible weapon that could have been obtained for him. It is essential not only for his morale but because, if another war came and we were faced by an almost overwhelming number of the enemy, it is vital that the soldier should have a weapon which can efficiently outweigh the numerical disadvantages from which he suffers. Quite apart from that, we have seen during this period of cold war not a few instances in which the infantryman has had to be used in his old-fashioned rôle.
So when a change is made, the Government have laid upon them a trust to provide not only a good new rifle for the soldier but the best possible rifle that can be obtained for him. It is our view that the Prime Minister has broken that trust, and there could be no more important trust than that laid upon him in this particular capacity. He has broken it because, first, he does not fully understand the issues involved. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh now, but I doubt whether they will laugh when 40 I have finished what I intend to say on this subject. The right hon. Gentleman has done it also partly because he has endeavoured to satisfy the Americans to an extent which involves a complete abandonment of legitimate and reasonable British interests. Further than that, having taken a decision which he knows to be wrong—as I shall show in a moment—he has been prepared, almost dishonestly, to try to rationalise the decision he has taken and which he knows to be a wrong one.
This decision to abandon the British E.M.2 rifle has been taken in the name of standardisation. What does standardisation mean? In 1945 the War Office began work on the designing of a new rifle and round to replace the rifle we had had since the Boer War. In 1947 we heard that the Americans were engaged in the similar work of trying to produce a new weapon and new round to replace their rifle, which was of much more modern design than ours but which they felt they wanted to replace. We decided that we would try to co-ordinate our plans with theirs, and at various conferences it was decided that a few years after 1947 there should be trials of what had been produced.
At that time the British were working on the .280 round. The first trials of the first developed rifles took place in 1950. Those trials were inconclusive, except to prove that the rifles which the Americans put in were no good. They were withdrawn and have never been put in again since. At that stage of development, in 1950, there was nothing much to choose between the Belgian rifle and the British rifle. In fact, it could have been said, if we had then immediately proceeded to the manufacture of a new weapon, that the Belgian rifle might have slight advantages because research and work on the Belgian rifle had gone on much longer than on the British rifle.
In April, 1951, further trials were held between the Belgian rifle and the British E.M.2 rifle. By that time there had been so much improvement and development of the British E.M.2 rifle that it was indisputably better than the Belgian one in all the military requirements put on a new rifle by the War Office. However, the United States were still opposed to having a British rifle. I shall come to that matter later on. This achievement 41 of British designers and inventors, in producing in less than four years a completely perfect semi-automatic rifle, can hardly be over-estimated. It was then announced by the War Office that the British would go ahead with the production and use of the E.M.2 rifle, and that they would adopt it as the standard rifle for the British Army.
However, a little later in the year—partly as a result of intervention by the Canadians, I understand—we were persuaded not to rush ahead with the production of a new .280 rifle, which the Americans had decided they did not want touse, but to wait a little longer to see whether it was possible to get standardisation at least of the round. The Americans were insisting on a heavier round, the .300 round. I do not want to go into these arguments about the round, because they are all over and done with, but, in the interests of standardisation and as a result of further talks, we met the Americans by modifying the .280 rifle to fire a .300 round. That is a very important central, fact and a lot of misunderstanding has taken place about it. The original British rifle was modified to fire the .300 round, and that is what it fires today. That is the standard round accepted for future use by all the N.A.T.O. countries.
We had met the Americans on the main point of standardisation at which we had been aiming. The Prime Minister does not seem to understand this point. He seems to confuse the issue of the standardisation of the rifle and the issue of the standardisation of the ammunition. If the Americans are using .300 ammunition, we are using .300 ammunition and the Belgians and everyone else in N.A.T.O. are using .300 ammunition, and if we then run short of rifles at any time we can take from elsewhere rifles of any other pattern, provided that they fire .300 ammunition. So the basic aim of standardisation is already achieved.
I believe that the Prime Minister is afraid that there could come a time similar to that when he was Prime Minister during the war, when there was a tremendous shortage of rifles in this country. He is very anxious to standardise so that such a shortage could be remedied by immediate imports from America. But he is quite wrong because, provided they are using the same 42 ammunition, we can certainly use any rifle which uses that ammunition and we can import from America if we need to do so. The whole of that standardisation issue is at an end, although the Prime Minister seems to think that the problem has not yet been solved.
Having solved the main issue of standardisation, we come to the question of the rifle. Of course it would be desirable for all to have the same rifle, but that is not essential; it does not very much matter. What we can now decide to do is to have not merely a good new rifle but the best new rifle and take no risk nor chance about it because 90 per cent. of the standardisation problem is solved. The fact is that the new E.M.2 rifle is technically better than the Belgian F.N. rifle, both firing the same rounds. In the first place, the British rifle is six inches shorter than the Belgian rifle. This was an important requirement laid down by the War Office as a result of experience in the last war and in looking to the future—to have the rifle as short as possible. Now that has been sacrificed because the Belgian rifle is six inches longer than the British rifle. The British rifle is ¾ lb. lighter than the Belgian rifle, which is the weight of the Lee Enfield, so we gain nothing by that. Yet that was the second major point laid down by the War Office, that not only should the rifle be shorter, but it should be lighter.
The next point which the War Office laid down was that the rifle should be able to fire the highest possible rate of aimed single shots—not automatic fire, but aimed single shots. The Belgian rifle will fire only half as many aimed single shots as the British E.M.2. The Belgian rifle, I understand from tests, only fires 40 to 60 rounds per minute aimed single shots, while the British rifle fires 80 to 100 per minute.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
If I may correct the hon. Member, he is wrong there. Both rifles on all tests and as standardised fire 60 aimed single shots.
§ Mr. Wyatt
Unless there has been some remarkable change since the earlier test between the E.M.2 and the F.N., I think the Secretary of State is mistaken. This morning we were talking to people whom he sent us to see who are users of the rifle and who admitted that the Belgian rifle had a lower rate of single shot firing. They certainly did.
§ Mr. Head
As this has been stated, although it is not entirely relevant to this discussion, we ought toget it clear. I cannot answer for what was said to the hon. Member or whether he heard it correctly. The fact remains that although a very careful classifying of the qualities of a rifle is important, 50 or 60 aimed single shots per minute can be fired by a trained soldier with both.
§ Mr. Wyatt
It depends to some extent upon who is firing the rifle at the time. It may be that there has been a lot of rather partial testing, a partial presentation of this case by those concerned to please the Prime Minister in the matter. I do not believe that to be an accurate test. I believe that the British rifle does fire—I believe that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply believes it, too—a higher rate of single round shots than the Belgian.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. A. R. W. Low) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Wyatt
In any case, even if that point is wrong, there are still quite enough left to prove that the British rifle is the better one.
The next point is that the British rifle does not need a flash hider—something to be put on the barrel in order to hide its flash in daylight. The flash is only the same sort as that of the present British .303. But the Belgian rifle must either have a contraption fitted on the end of it which makes it another four inches longer, making it 10 inches longer than the British rifle, which was a condition previously unacceptable to the War Office, or it must be fired with a fixed bayonet, and everybody knows that accuracy is lost in firing—the accuracy 44 of the rifle remains the same but allowance has to be made for the bayonet being fixed.
Again, we were told this morning at the demonstration, which was so kindly arranged for us by the Government in a last-minute attempt to prove that the Belgian rifle was better than ours, although the British rifle was not demonstrated under the same conditions at all as the Belgian, that the British rifle has passed trials in the Arctic and under Arctic conditions; the Belgianrifle has not. I understand that it is undergoing such trials now. But we have accepted a rifle which has not even finished its trials. That is not the only trial it has not finished. It has not even got an Arctic trigger. The British one has had an Arctic trigger for a long time.
Finally, I understand that tests show that, on the whole, the British rifle is more reliable than the Belgian rifle. Would the Secretary of State agree with that?
§ Mr. Head indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Wyatt
The right hon. Gentleman does not agree. But this is still the same rifle that won the competitive trials with the Belgian rifle in 1951. It is still the same rifle that the Prime Minister spoke about on 19th November, 1952, when he said:We still think that the .280 rifle is the best, and we have not in any way given up research and development on it.On the same day he said:I have always thought that the .280 might be useful for special tasks, such as paratroops and so forth, and we have certainly not abandoned our belief that it is the best weapon yet achieved."—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th November, 1952; Vol. 507, c. 1863–4.]It is still the same weapon. No fundamental change in design has taken place. The only thing that has been done has been to make it fire the .300 round.
The Secretary of State for War on 10th March, 1952, said:Nobody on either side of the House would argue, for one moment, that .280 rifle was not the best rifle in Europe or the world today."—[Official Report, 10th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 1203.]Since then he has become so lacking in patriotism in this matter, with the Prime Minister, that he is arguing that it is not the best. He is continually interrupting me to prove that the Belgian rifle is the 45 best. Yet nothing has changed since the day when he said it was the best in the world.
§ Mr. Wyatt
That shows how little the Secretary of State knows about the matter. All that has happened is that the E.M.2, while retaining all essential characteristics, has been modified to fire the .300 round. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply knows that that is so.
The most scandalous part of this new decision, which has been taken without any real technical advice, is that no comparative trials whatever on which technical and military judgment could have been reversed have taken place since the first comparative trials in 1951. I challenge either the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for War to say when the official full-length comparative trials took place between the new Belgian rifle firing the .300 round and the new British rifle firing the .300 round, who was there and where the trials were. [Hon. Members: "Answer."] Would the Prime Minister care to answer?
§ Mr. Speaker
Hon. Members cannot demand an answer just now. No doubt there will be speeches in reply.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
On a point of order. You have just admonished this side of the House, Mr. Speaker, for its noise. May I point out that we have had great difficulty on this side of the House in listening to my hon. Friend because of the noise of the conversation of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War, or, I might say, the noise of the Secretary of State for War while he has been trying to make my hon. Friend's arguments clear to the Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Speaker
I was really asking the House not to persist in demands for an answer when an hon. Member is speaking. He can have an answer later in the form of orderly speeches.
§ Mr. Hugh Dalton (Bishop Auckland)
On a point of order. Would it not be possible for the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War to cease their continuous conversation and pay more attention to the arguments being deployed by my hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Speaker
As it is stated in the Library, conversations, so long as they are not too noisy or prolonged, are in order.
§ Mr. Wyatt
The simple point is that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War are both on record as saying that the British E.M.2 rifle is the best in the world, that there is nothing else to touch it. Yet they have both connived at reversing a decision to use it for the British Army and they cannot say that there has been any comparative trial between the new British E.M.2 rifle and the new Belgian F.N. rifle to justify that decision. I am asking them whether they can give an answer instead of sitting gossiping like a pair of old women because they cannot give an answer.
There is another point. At one time, I understand, the Prime Minister actually gave orders that there should be some pilot production of the British E.M.2 rifle. What happened to it? Nothing has ever happened. There are only about 20 of these rifles in existence because the Government procrastinated year after year and have not even undertaken any basic pilot production.
Why has there been this astonishing decision to take a good but admittedly not so good a weapon into the British Army—a Belgian weapon, instead of a British one? I should have no objection if the Belgian rifle could be proved to be better than the British one. If it were, all the arguments would fall to the ground, because we are not against standardisation, we are not taking a narrow and parochial view. We are saying, "We will have standardisation, but let us have it on the best weapon and give British inventors a fair chance."
Why has this decision been taken when the Belgian rifle has still to go through all sorts of further trials to prove that it will be a satisfactory weapon? The reason is partly that the Prime Minister does not understand the point about standardisation of ammunition 47 and rifle, because if he does he has been laying a very curious emphasis on the importance of standardising the rifle. The truth is that he does not understand the fact that once the ammunition is standardised, we do not have to bother so much about the rifle.
He has shown a weakness quite unworthy of him towards the United States and their determination not to have a British weapon. From the start there has been among those responsible in America little attempt to conceal a marked anti-British prejudice on the question of this rifle. We have tried to meet them in every way, but every time another argument crops up. Their first argument was about the .280 round, and we met them over that. What was left? They then said the E.M.2 rifle does not look orthodox in appearance, and I suppose the Prime Minister began to think that the Americans—because the Belgian rifle does look more orthodox—wouldbe interested in having that.
The Prime Minister gambled on that, and I think he has made a mistake, because the Americans have never yet taken a foreign-made weapon into their army. We have taken foreign weapons, including the Vickers, the Lewis and the Bren guns. We do not object on the grounds of local or national pride to taking in a foreign-made weapon. The "New York Herald Tribune, "a very responsible American paper, made it quite clear on 21st January that the United States do not propose to take a foreign-made weapon as their new rifle. There is no evidence that they have agreed within the next five years, or even the next 10 years, to adopt the Belgian F.N. rifle.
They have not even agreed to the use of the new ammunition. They have only said that in the future, if they are having a new rifle, they will standardise on the .300 ammunition; but they have not said when they will do so. We are the only people who are launching out and having the .300 ammunition. The Americans have not agreed to it. Has the Prime Minister any information about the length of time within which the Americans have agreed to put into use either the Belgian F.N. weapon or the new .300 ammunition? The Americans are in no great hurry. They have a semi-automatic rifle which works, though not as well as they would like; but they are in no 48 great hurry, and are experimenting all the time with such weapons as the T.44 and other new weapons of their own.
The most pathetic fact of all is that, by adopting the new Belgian F.N. rifle, we have not even achieved standardisation with the Belgians, because within the last two years the Belgian Army has been re-equipped with the new F.N. rifle which does not fire .300 but .30/06 rounds as used by the Americans in their present rifle. Unless they withdraw all the new rifles issued in the last two years and reissue with the new type rifle—which is unlikely because such a procedure would be expensive—we have not even achieved standardisation with the Belgians. So we are left in the position that we have not a standardised rifle with anyone, not with the Americans, the Belgians, the Canadians—nobody. We have launched out alone and sacrificed a much better rifle to take this one, in the forlorn and hopeless hope that the Americans may perhaps in the future—goodness knows when—adopt this new rifle. The E.M.2 is the same British rifle which the right hon. Gentleman once described in such glowing terms and which he has now abandoned.
I come to the last part of the charge against the Prime Minister. He has set about rationalising his decision in a way which is almost dishonest. What does he say about the new British rifle? He agrees now that it is unorthodox in appearance. He does not like the look of it. It is not like the rifle he used to know in the Boer War. One could hardly find a more classic expression of the Tory outlook than this clinging to a rifle because its shape is familiar, and not adopting a new type of weapon because theright hon. Gentleman does not like the look of it. What was he saying about it last Tuesday? He said it is better to carry on the march. It is not. It is no easier to carry on the march than the E.M.2. It has to have an additional carrying handle which the British rifle does not. The right hon. Gentleman may remember the little carrying handle at the side of the Belgian weapon.
The Prime Minister said it was nicer to use on manual exercises. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that future wars will be won by P.T. squads demonstrating manual exercises with the rifle, that is 49 the most childish argument we have heard advanced against the British rifle. On 19th January he said:…the Belgian rifle is considered by our military and expert authorities to be more suitable. It has proved itself to be equal in performance to the latest British pattern, and the fact that it is simpler in design makes it quicker and easier to make and maintain."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th January, 1954; Vol. 522, c. 834.]I say that is not true. There have been no comparative tests by which that could have been ascertained, and the E.M.2 is still the same weapon which the right hon. Gentleman once thought the best. I do not believe there is much in the point about it being quicker and easier to design, because owing to the dilatoriness of the Prime Minister and the inefficiency of his Government, none of these weapons has been made on a large scale. There has been no tooling up for the purpose, and until that stage is arrived at it is impossible to tell the differences in cost and ease of production.
I do not believe there is much in the question of cost one way or the other. I ask the Prime Minister to look into his heart for a moment. Is it not true that he told the Army he wanted to have the Belgian rifle as the standardised rifle, and got the view from the Army that the Belgian rifle was the most suitable by first letting them know that it was the one he wanted to have?
His final point against the British rifle is the most ludicrous one of all. He says that the Belgian rifle has a butt which, he added, is very useful if you run out of ammunition. Does he really think we are going to have periods of hand-to-hand fighting in the next war? The Prime Minister, by looking up the records, will find that the number of times a butt was used during hand-to-hand, fighting in the last war were very few.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I do not know. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The Prime Minister can tell us. In any case would it not be more useful to have a bayonet on the end of the rifle and use that?
If the Prime Minister had ever bothered to examine the British rifle properly, which is something he has not troubled to do, and if he had shown a 50 little interest in this product of our most brilliant British inventors, he would have seen that there is a metal plate on the butt. I should be very surprised if he preferred to be hit over the head with an E.M.2 rather than with a Belgian F.N.
There is one further technical point about the Belgian weapon. There is a structural weakness in the butt of the F.N. and if you hit too many people over the head with the butt it will crack. In order to strengthen the butt it would be necessary to make the rifle still heavier, which would be a further disadvantage.
The Prime Minister is prejudiced and does not desire to have a change. He says that the E.M.2 does not look like a rifle. Nelson did not want naval guns to be altered to include rifling in the barrels. He argued that if that were done, ships would no longer come together at close quarters, there would be no further grappling and the boarding of one ship by the crew of another. The Belgian rifle is the last development of the old style of rifle and the British rifle represents a move into the future. The Prime Minister wants to meet the new jet age with the butt end of a rifle.
This deliberate scorning of British inventors and designers has struck a tremendous blow at the morale of British inventors. The Government as a whole are guilty in this matter, because no interest has been taken by anyone in this weapon since it was finished, or in the efforts of the inventors who have done a fine job. If we are to survive, not only must we have the most efficient rifle, but we must encourage our inventors to be the most efficient. We shall not achieve that if our inventors perform every task put upon them and are then ignored on the basis of prejudice and without adequate investigation of their efforts. I understand that, over the last year or so, some designers have been leaving Government service because they are tired of being frustrated by this kind of attitude.
Cannot the Prime Minister, even now, reverse this decision? All the troop trials of the Belgian rifle are not yet over. We have taken so long over this matter—there have been two years of procrastination—that surely we may take a little longer? Why does he not give the British rifle invented by Englishmen a fair chance 51 of a trial against the Belgian rifle which he has accepted without a comparative trial? Why do not we wait a bit longer and have adequate trials? The Americans are not going to accept the Belgian rifle. If we wait a bit longer we shall be losing nothing. The Prime Minister has already told us that the danger of war has receded and there is a lightening of tension. We do not need the rifles quite so urgently as at one time we might have thought.
Probably we shall keep the same rifle for another 50 years. Is not it worth waiting a little longer to make sure that we have got the best rather than, on rather shady political grounds, sacrificing the best rifle for something which is not so good? I ask the Prime Minister even now to look into the whole matter again, to reverse the decision, and to go back to his earlier and better thoughts.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Sir Winston Churchill)
This is an interesting controversy and it is one which, I think, is very properly made a subject of debate. Certainly the dispute is not one about which there should be ideological cleavages, party feeling, bad temper, or even insulting language.
We have a common interest in taking the right decision. No party interest is involved in any way, and I really do not think that the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) should assume that he is in the presence of a villainous plot when all that has happened is that the best focusing of the latest and best expert advice we can obtain has governed the decisions which have been taken. The hon. Gentleman was fairly moderate this afternoon in what he said, but a week ago in "Reynolds News" he used this sort of language:Sir Winston Churchill announced the biggest betrayal of British designers and inventors in political history. It was also the shameful abandonment of the British soldier and of British interests.The nearest he got to that today was to say that I was lacking in patriotism and guilty of dilatoriness.
I have only a fairly simple tale to tell this afternoon, but before I come to the 52 tale I should like to make a few general observations arising out of what the hon. Gentleman said about the rapidity of fire. He said the new British rifle fired 80 shots as against 40 by the Belgian. As a matter of fact, these two rifles, if used on automatic gear, can fire at the rate of over 600 rounds a minute. Both can fire by semi-automatic gear, that is to say, self-loading but trigger-pulling for every shot, 50 or 60 rounds a minute. That is what I am advised is the case.
I doubt very much whether there is any real military advantage in these extraordinary rates. It seems to me incredible that a human being can give individual thought and aim to 50 or 60 decisions a minute. Even if a very highly trained expert soldier could achieve such a result in peace conditions, I am sure that the ordinary rank and file, especially in these short service days, would simply be wasting their ammunition if they tried to pull the trigger 60 times a minute. In the stress and excitement of battle, the soldier would be far more likely to fire away his limited amount of ammunition, the supply of which is always a main interest especially on the move in the front line.
It is remarkable and indeed odd that the more efficient fire-arms have become, the fewer people are killed by them. The explanation of this apparent paradox is simply that human beings are much more ingenious in getting out of the way of missiles which are fired at them than they are at improving the direction and guidance of these individual missiles. In fact, the semi-automatic and automatic rifles have already, in a certain sense, gained their triumph by largely putting an end to the very mass attacks they were originally devised to destroy.
But those are only general observations upon the point that it is, I think, an error to try to think only in purely technical terms, and that the practical usage and experience and qualities of the human being must be brought in to all these questions of modern weapons with their ever-increasing improvements. One of the recurrent military problems of the last 100 years had been the ever more rapid progress of scientific invention in all countries. In that condition the difficulty has been to choose the moment when to change from research and experiment in major weapons to what the French call production en série which 53 for the benefit of those who have studied ancient rather than modern languages, I will venture to translate as "mass production."
The period of transition, perhaps 10 years, in the rifle must be one of awkwardness and anxiety, but to have two different rifles in the Army at the same time is a serious disadvantage. To hold on to an obsolescent type too long may lead to disaster if war comes. On the other hand, to plunge into a new type too soon is to cut oneself off from the further improvements of invention which have now become perpetual.
I am not a technical expert, nor am I attempting to speak as one. I certainly should not have taken part in this discussion but for the fact that I was involved in it during the period when we sat on the other side of the House. I thought it was a mistake of the late Administration to take a plunge into the .280 rifle in April, 1951. That was not because it was not a very good one and a great advance on our well-proven but obsolete .303, but because we might find ourselves all alone with this new rifle for what at that time was mentioned to me as a 10-year transitional period at the very time when our supreme aim was the building up of a grand alliance and a common front between the nations of the free world.
Even if the .280 was the best rifle in the world, which we do not think it now is, I would rather that we were not the only country with it in a longer period of transition. When the various patterns of rifles are all so narrowly matched, it is wiser to keep company with the largest possible number of allies, but it would be a foolish boast to say that we had the best rifle in the world when we had in fact complicated and confused the whole standardisation of the allied arms on the common front, of which common front we form only about a quarter on the Rhine and about one-tenth on the whole N.A.T.O. front.
To simplify and unify ammunition supply on a common front must be held to rank very high in military policy. It has been said that the general wins who makes the fewest mistakes, and it is very tiresome when ammunition is brought with difficulty and suffering to troops in mortal peril and it turns out to be the wrong kind. Therefore, when competing
54 types are neck and neck, it may well be that standardisation claims priority.
§ Mr. Wyatt rose—
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentle man had better wait. He will get a chance later. Let me point out that when the decision to go into production with the E.M.2 in isolation was declared by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) on 25th April, 1951, at that time the problem of finding a common type of ammunition had not been solved and the British pattern rifle had not been devised, as it now has been, to take the .300 round. Therefore, I asserted—this is the only reason I am speaking in this debate—that such policy was a great mistake, but I do not impute any evil motives to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am glad to feel with Pope that:To err is human; to forgive, divine.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me instantaneously if I venture to interject and to remind him that, although provisionally a decision was taken on the date he mentioned, in April, 1951, we engaged in discussions at Washington with some of the other N.A.T.O. countries much later in the year and were prepared to consider any suggestions made by the other countries, and it was only because of the American intransigeance that we were unable to reach some agreement.
§ The Prime Minister
As I say, the fact remains that the right hon. Gentleman very authoritatively adhered to the .280 round at the time when no arrangements for production of a common round had been made.
The House might be interested to know how it came about that the .300 round was selected. In August, 1951, following an appeal by Canada, which was worried that Britain was what was called "going out on a limb" with the .280 round, a Defence Ministers' Conference took place in Washington between Great Britain, the United States, Canada and France. At this conference the right hon. Gentleman, who was then Minister of Defence, offered to show the ammunition to N.A.T.O. on trial. This offer was accepted, and the trials of our .280 round with American .300 round took place in September, 1951. A vote was taken after the trials, at which 55 the United States and France came down solidly for the .300 round, and Canada, while appreciating the efficiency of the .280 round, considered that the .300 round met all requirements.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman again, but we had better get the facts right. I was present at that Conference and took part in the negotiations. The position of the United States was as the right hon. Gentleman has stated, the position of France was that she had no opinion at all, and the position of Canada was as stated by the then, and, I think, present, Minister of Defence, Mr. Brooke Claxton, that he was quite unconcerned about the size of the round or the type of rifle as long as Canada had the opportunity of producing whatever rifle or whatever round was decided upon.
§ The Prime Minister
All I say is that a vote was taken after the trials, and notwithstanding the vote, which I have described, the British representatives decided to adopt the .280 round and go ahead alone.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that there was a vote of Ministers at that Conference?
§ The Prime Minister
No, Six. Notwithstanding the fact that that was the opinion of the different countries at the Conference, it was decided to go on with the .280 round and to go ahead alone. This was a grave decision, and such was the position which we found when we came into office.
There is another aspect affecting the production of the rifle itself. Uniformity of type is not only important on the battlefield but the whole process of manufacture can be simplified and expedited if it is undertaken on a great scale by many allied countries at the same time. Above all, it was, and is, very important to us if possible to keep in step with the United States. Canada certainly never would have adopted a different round from that of the United States, but if both Canada and the United States were making the same rifle and round as Great Britain, that would be of enormous advantage. We should be in a really gigantic pool, meaning not only speed and ease of manufacture but vast reserves capable
56 of transference between allies if the emergency of war rendered it necessary. It was these general reasons and not any claim to expert knowledge of the types involved that led me when in Opposition to intervene.
In October, 1951, when we became responsible, I, as the then Minister of Defence, reversed the right hon. Gentleman's decision of 25th April of that year to proceed with the .280 round and rifle in isolation. I take full responsibiity today for that.
In January, 1952, I visited Washington and conferred with President Truman on the whole subject. I should have been perfectly ready to go forward with the .280 E.M.2 rifle if he would have agreed to adopt it for the American Army. But the overpowering need was to find a common round between us both, or, better still, a common round for N.A.T.O. It was not until September, 1953, that the common round was achieved.
Now I come back to the rifle and the reasons why the Belgian was adopted instead of the British. The British and Belgian rifles, both then of .280 calibre, were first tested in the United States in 1950. British and Canadian representatives were present. The conclusion then reached was that the Belgian rifle showed most promise for development. They were tested again in America in 1952, when the Belgian rifle was considered preferable to the British.
Meanwhile, trials were also taking place in Great Britain. In 1951, the Belgian and British rifles were compared—I am giving the information which is given to me by the War Office, and which has been most carefully sifted and examined—and the conclusion reached by the British Trials Board was that the Belgian rifle F.N. (Fabrique Nationale) was technically and most efficient on the score of dependability, functioning and accuracy. That was the view. I am not going into the specially technical aspects as to where they were almost neck and neck, but that was the view taken by the British Trials Board in 1951, and the right hon. Gentleman did say in one of his interventions this afternoon that he had begun to modify his views because of the later information which had reached him.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I was at Washington and took part in the discussions about the rifle. We were not adamant about the round at Washington. We listened to the discussion, took part in it ourselves and came away from Washington with an open mind about the possibility of making modifications in the round, just the same as other people. This is the point I want to take up with the right hon. Gentleman, because it seems to me to be the most important point in these discussions: Are we to understand, from what the right hon. Gentleman had just said, that the British Trials Board, only a few months after they had decided that both the round and the rifle were the best yet produced, actually changed their minds to decide in favour of the Belgian rifle?
§ The Prime Minister
Yes, Sir. Various modifications were thereafter incorporated in the Belgian rifle, and, in 1953, it was subjected to further tests, when it was judged to meet our requirements.
§ The Prime Minister
On a point of order. I demand an apology for that extremely discourteous remark. To say that a Minister dealing with a highly technical and complicated question and endeavouring to give the House information is deliberately falsifying his statements is, I think, unparliamentary in its character.
§ Mr. Wyatt
If I have said anything that I should not have said, I naturally withdraw it and apologise, but I am afraid that in this matter the Prime Minister is endeavouring to put a very partial view on certain trials that have taken place and is not giving the whole truth about them. If I used one brief unparliamentary word to describe that, I am sorry and I withdraw it. May I now come back to the point?
§ Mr. Wyatt rose—58
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I understood that the Prime Minister complained of something that was said, and that he gave the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) the opportunity to withdraw, which he has done. The Prime Minister has the Floor of the House, and unless he gives way the hon. Gentleman cannot rise.
§ Mr. Wyatt
On a point of order. The Prime Minister gave way to me, and I began to say something to him, and he took violent objection. I was never able to say what I wanted to say. The point is this. The Prime Minister said that certain trials had taken place. What we are trying to find out is when, where and under whose auspices. The Prime Ministerreferred to two trials in America under American auspices, and we know that they were prejudiced against the British rifle, and, not unnaturally, gave a report unfavourable to the British rifle.
It is in the recollection of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) and myself that other trials took place in 1951 in Britain which conclusively showed that the British rifle was the best. I am now trying to find out from thePrime Minister what was this other mysterious trial and where it took place, because nobody on this side of the House—and we were then the Government—ever heard of it. When and where did this trial take place?
§ Mr. Head
This is a purely factual matter of some detail, and it is one about which I should be responsible for knowing something. In answer to the hon. Gentleman, there were two trials. First, the British technical board in April, 1951, made a trial after which their unanimous conclusion was that the F.N. rifle was efficient in all conditions in the point of view of dependability, functioning and accuracy. That was in 1951. In the same year a user trial took place, after which the verdict was three all. Those were the only two trials that took place with the two rifles in 1951.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The more I listen to this debate, the more I am staggered at what the right hon. Gentlemen opposite have said. Either they have been badly briefed, or there is something very wrong with this business. I am wondering what 59 is behind it. May I put this to the Prime Minister? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, when I went to Washington in 1951—not in April, but much later in the year; I think it was September or October, but it was towards the end of the year—to conduct negotiations with the United States, French and Canadian representatives on the question of the rifle and the round, I was accompanied by men who were regarded as the best military experts in the country on small arms, and by no less a person than Lieut.-General Whiteley, whose reputation, I think, is very high. If at that time I was advised by the War Office that this was the best rifle and the best round, and this was the advice of these military technical experts, supported by the Ministry of Supply experts—and I challenge the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply to deny that; let him look up the records—if that was the way I was briefed, surely what the right hon. Gentleman has just said about the military experts changing their minds indicates that there is something very far wrong?
§ The Prime Minister
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is going to wind up for the Opposition. I think he would be well advised to keep that lengthy speech for incorporation in his reply.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he was briefed by his experts and by the War Office. I, too, on these technical matters, have been most carefully briefed by them, and I have most carefully checked up, and I am not going to say what I do not believe to be true. I really do not think we should do well in a debate of this kind to start calling each other liars, or as near as we can get to it in Parliamentary language, and I shall certainly not myself be drawn into those depths this afternoon.
§ Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)
We have just been given some information about what occurred in 1951, but the date or the month was not given. I should like to know what time of the year it was.
§ The Prime Minister
The conclusion reached in 1951 by the British Trials Board was that the Belgian F.N. was 60 technically the most efficient on the score of dependability, functioning and accuracy. Various modifications were thereafter incorporated in the Belgian rifle, and, in 1953, it was subjected to further tests, and was then judged, in 1953, to meet our requirements.
The greatest objection to the isolated production of the .280 or E.M.2 at that time had been removed. The E.M.2 was now a .300, and we had achieved a common round among the N.A.T.O. Powers. Those were great events, but, in the interval, the Belgian F.N. rifle, which had on several occasions over a long period of years been preferred by certain international expert boards had, in this interval, while we were reaching a common round, been still further improved. It was generally considered more suitable, and as far more likely to be widely adopted than any other competing weapon.
In these circumstances, on 30th October of last year, 1953, the Army Council, taking a different view from its predecessor two years before—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]—but not under pressure—taking a different view why, do hon. Members suppose? Because things had happened. [Hon. Members: "Yes."]—decided to recommend the adoption of the Belgian Fabrique National, the Belgian, rifle. On 4th November, 1953, the Secretary of State for War formally requested authority to proceed with its manufacture, and I should add, with the large-scale troop trial which is necessary. This was approved and supported by the Ministry of Defence, over which Earl Alexander then presided. I accepted his advice.
§ The Prime Minister
I was Minister of Defence when the present Government began, and after a certain time my Noble Friend, Lord Alexander, became Minister of Defence. It has been quite a frequent event to happen with Governments that offices are changed during their continuance. I accepted this advice, which was given to me through the regular channels without any initiation by me, in my dilatory condition, as the hon. Member opposite said, after studying the papers and arguments submitted. The policy received 61 final Cabinet approval on 1st December last. I gave the House, in answer to a Question on 19th January, the main reasons for that decision.
Let us look once more at the procedure in this case. The responsibility for deciding the intricate technical questions. I have described rests in the first instance with the War Office, subject to the approval of the Ministry of Defence. The adoption of the Belgian F.N. rifle was formally proposed to me on the authority of both those departments. I was very glad to find that the weapon was in harmony with certain important practical and tactical conceptions to which my own lengthy experience has led me, but which I should not have dreamed of using as a ground for basing such far-reaching decisions of policy, or deciding such highly complicated matters.
Perhaps I may just mention that, because a lot of Members have experience of actual warfare, and they must know perfectly well that everything is not settled exactly by technical and mechanical considerations. For instance, while beingfully up to date in ease and rapidity of fire, a rifle should be carefully safeguarded against too rapid expenditure of ammunition, leading to exhaustion of any supplies which soldiers, or platoons, or even companies, can carry to the front. This is at any rate partially achieved by preventing our new rifle being used as an automatic weapon, unless individual weapons have been specially converted by the field armourers on superior orders, for some particular contingency. The private soldier cannot do it himself. Thus the terrible danger of a convulsive grip pouring away hundreds of precious cartridges is averted. This is quite important, although I have not heard it mentioned.
§ The Prime Minister
I only say that that is one of the reasons why I personally like what I have been able to learn about this weapon. I do not pose as a technical expert, but I pose as a man capable of seeing what a disaster it would have been if we had gone for a round which no other nation in our alliance was sharing.
Secondly, the handiness and simplicity of the firing mechanism and the general 62 maintenance of the weapon are deemed superior to the E.M.2; that is the advice I have received. Thirdly, although it is about 1 lb. heavier than the E.M.2. a fact which should not be overlooked, the F.N. is approximately the same weight as our present Lee-Enfield rifle, to which I have been so long accustomed. The troops have handled that for a long time. The Belgian F.N. is considered to be a more soldierly weapon on the march.
§ The Prime Minister
Why should the hon. Gentleman say that? I do not suppose the hon. Gentleman has carried a rifle very far.
§ The Prime Minister
I do not withdraw at all. I see nothing invidious or insulting in speaking of the length of time that people have carried a rifle. Certainly not. I do not feel at all ashamed to say that the F.N. is a more soldierly weapon on the march and is more suited for use in manual exercises—[Hon. Members: "Ah!"]—which hon. Members opposite mock at, but which are very important for discipline and morale. I am assured that it is also easier to teach soldiers how to use this rifle, and that is important in these days of short service. Last, but not least, I repeat what hon. Gentlemen opposite so foolishly mock at, that the F.N. is a better weapon both with the bayonet and with the butt and is capable of giving confidence to a soldier in a mêlée.
Those are not the reasons for taking the decision. The fact that this rifle, chosen and recommended by the War Office and the Ministry of Defence, seemed to me to embody all those and many other important characteristics, gave me confidence in the wisdom of the professional advice I was receiving.
§ The Prime Minister
As hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House are always looking round in every controversy, even in this one about rifles, to try to find 63 fault with the Americans, I suppose if I were to say that the Americans had accepted it, the hon. Gentleman would regard it as a further argument against the rifle.
I will sum up. I have been interrupted by about seven hon. Gentlemen on this occasion. Really, it is not usual to do so, especially on a matter so complicated and technical. What is trying to be worked up, I can see, is prejudice and hostility and partisanship to cover up what was a gross and scandalous act of folly, namely, embarking on the .280 rifle before achieving a common round.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
If the Prime Minister will not tell us whether the Americans have accepted the Belgian rifle, will he tell us whether anybody has accepted it? Have the French? Have even the Belgians? Are we not alone?
§ The Prime Minister
I am not in the least alarmed by being shouted at. In fact, I rather like it. The descendant of Paget's "Examen" will, I hope, be very careful and precise in his facts, and be careful in not misrepresenting and misquoting and otherwise defaming other people. He was a great defender of my ancestor.
§ The Prime Minister
I really did not know that the hon. Gentleman came into this. I saw the former Secretary of State for War, I saw the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt); the Leader of the Opposition has a great responsibility, and there is the late Minister of Defence. I thought that they would all have a claim to have a whack, but I do not see why, in a short debate like this, the hon. Gentleman cannot take his chance of rising when he is called.
I wish to conclude. I would have concluded long ago but for the extraordinary rowdiness and malice with which I have been received. I do not ask for any favours of any kind from hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I must say I think they show themselves very unsuited to have calm judgment on a complicated matter of this kind, although I must admit that the hon. Member for Aston did not allow his prejudices or malice against the Belgian rifle to prevent him from making a 64 most remarkable score with it this morning. I hope he will live up to that principle, being a faithful seeker after truth, whatever use he makes of information he is able to obtain.
The British rifle was a fine piece of work, but it would have been fatal to adopt it in isolation, and in the three years that have passed the rival weapons have been continuously improved. We are very lucky to have escaped the isolated inheritance of the .280 calibre and to be able to stand on a general front as well as on a sound foundation.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
It is reported that my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) made a good score this morning. He certainly made a very good score this afternoon, because never has the Prime Minister made a worse speech in answer than he has made today. He had to fall back on a couple of hoary old gags, and at the end of his speech it has become quite clear that his objection to the E.M.2 is not that it is not a good rifle, but that it is too good.
It is an extraordinary complaint to come from the Prime Minister, who, after all, held high office in the Government who were in control of the affairs of this country in 1914, that the E.M.2 might have a too rapid rate of fire. As the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, the British Army of 1914 out-marched, out-fought and out-shot the German Army from Mons back to the Marne, and they achieved all this because the .303 was a real part of the Infantry's being.
The same argument used today by the right hon. Gentleman was used by the Blimps in the War Office in 1914 against giving an establishment of three or four machine guns to our infantry battalions. It was said that transport was incapable of carrying the rounds with which to sustain the rapid rate of fire of machine gun fire. It was untrue to argue in 1914 that the rate of fire was too rapid; it is more odd that the right hon. Gentleman uses the same argument today.
We do not have to go very far to find a clue to what has gone wrong with the Government's thinking and with their decision. When the Prime Minister answered Questions on 26th January, he said that he had taken the decision under 65 the advice of the War Office and of the Ministry of Defence. Today he has said the same thing. I say to him that I do not believe that the War Office is competent to take a decision of this kind.
The Army Council does not itself possess sufficient technical knowledge to enable it to make up its mind about the efficiency of what is, after all, a precision product of our engineering industry. If the right hon. Gentleman had told us this afternoon, or when he answered Questions on 26th January, that the Government had taken their decision after consultation with the Ministry of Supply, I might then have thought there was a possibility of their being right.
Of course, it is perfectly true that the Secretary of State for War went to the Army Council with whatever data he wished to put in front of it.
§ Mr. Head
I do not think the hon. Gentleman should say that kind of thing. It is absolutely untrue. The Army Council had full data at its disposal when it discussed this matter, in the same way as it had before. It is ridiculous for the hon. Gentleman to say that I put "phoney" data in front of it.
§ Mr. Wigg
I have not said that the right hon. Gentleman put "phoney" data in front of it on this occasion. What my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) said was that before he went to Washington in 1950 he was briefed by the Ministry of Defence—because he was Minister of Defence—by the War Office and by the Ministry of Supply. He had the advantage of the best technical brains in the country. Therefore, he was able to put forward a balanced point of view, which not only took account of the military aspect of the problem, but also of the very important aspect which is only within the knowledge of the Ministry of Supply.
We have heard from the Prime Minister this afternoon that on this occasion the Ministry of Supply was excluded and that the Army Council gave a different decision than it gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) a couple of years ago. My right hon. Friend, who was then Secretary of State for War, was given advice to the effect that the best thing to do was to adopt the E.M.2 because 66 it was the best rifle, and the military aspect of the problem was also taken into account. Now we are told by the Secretary of State for War and by the Prime Minister that they have taken the decision exclusively on military grounds.
§ Mr. Head
I think it is as well to get this right. The advice of the Ministry of Supply was given on both occasions, but what was said previously when the hon. Gentleman was speaking is still perfectly correct. The only trials held on those two occasions were first the one of the technical board, which was in favour of the F.N., and the second on which there were three on each side.
§ Mr. Wigg
The right hon. Gentleman must not apply his favourite trick by trying to wriggle out of the point which I am trying to establish.
When my right hon. Friend took his decision, he acted on the advice of the Army authorities and the Ministry of Supply. On this occasion the decision was taken on the basis of what the Army Council said. The Prime Minister has said that the Army Council came to a decision and, very rightly, he took that advice. Though the substance of the Prime Minister's case has been on the military aspect of the problem to the exclusion of the technical side, he has told us over and over again that he does not understand the technical problems but does understand the military side. That brought in the question of rapidity of fire. He said that I had never handled a rifle on the march, and when I laughed he spoke about troops carrying the rifle.
In my judgment, the clue to how the story runs is to be found in an article in "The Times" a week ago which said that the Belgian rifle had been taken to the Tower of London and that the rifle's drill aspects had been gone into. To whom does the right hon. Gentleman go to for advice on drill aspects? To ask the question is to answer it—the Brigade of Guards, which has great influence and great experience in these matters, and also has its point of view. The rifle regiments, which have a different drill, also need to be consulted.
It is said—and the House and the country ought to know this—that we are to keep the .303 for drill purposes. Whatever my views may have been about the E.M.2, I am in great danger of ceasing 67 to use Parliamentary language when I think of the possibility of the National Service man—a point made by the Prime Minister—being given the .303 for drill purposes and the Belgian rifle to fight with. Was there ever a greater piece of fantastic nonsense than that? I have fired the E.M.2, but I suppose I am the only Member of the House who has fired the .303 in order to earn my proficiency pay, which is very much more than any right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite has done, I think.
§ Mr. Wigg
Of course, my service started with the .303, but my point is that I had to be proficient in its use, and one becomes proficient in the use of a weapon not only by firing it but by handling it every day and using it all the time.
The E.M.2, of course, is completely unorthodox and, unlike the .303, it will be very difficult to evolve a drill for it. It looks more like the weapon associated with Chicago gangsters than a military weapon, but that does not alter the fact that, when my right hon. Friend was making up his mind, the advice given to him was that it was the best weapon in the world. Now we are probably going back, not to the first or second, but the third best, and are going to adopt it because it is six inches greater in height, has a butt, and is more acceptable to the Brigade of Guards' influence on the Army Council.
I think that the real responsibility for this appalling decision does not rest with the Prime Minister at all. I thought he made heavy weather this afternoon, but that he had a very bad brief. The real responsibility lies with the villain of the piece in military affairs, the Secretary of State for War, who can only think, after all, in purely conventional terms. We can see the light-hearted and rather frivolous side of the argument if, as is said, the Brigade of Guards and the Army Council have decided on the retention of the .303 for drill purposes, but that attitude has had a very serious influence on the military affairs of this country in the past.
It was not until 1927 that we withdrew the lance as a weapon. For eight years after the First World War—after the 68 massacres of 1914–18—we still retained the lance as a weapon, and for a time during that period when the Prime Minister was Secretary of State for War. Why did we keep the lance? Because it enabled the Cavalry tradition to flourish at flower shows. Of course, we cannot have Trooping the Colour and military tattoos unless we have precise ceremonial drill—so we keep the.303.
The retention of the lance until 1927 may be a joke, but we paid a terrible price for it in men's lives in the last war owing to the lack of mechanisation. Once again, I fear that our young men—called up for only two years—are going to find themselves in an Army for which, under the Minister of Defence there is no strategic reserve but which is committed in all quarters of the world. It is the only Army in the world without a personal automatic weapon; the only Army whose infantrymen carry a completely out-of-date rifle. And now, once again, we are going to keep that out-of-date weapon for drill purposes, which means that these young men are going to be far short of the proficiency they ought to possess in the use of a new, modern but admittedly more complicated rifle.
I hope that one of the by-products of this debate will be that, before it ends, the Secretary of State for War, under the authority of the Prime Minister, will tell us that, even if he persists in his own particular nonsense of keeping the Belgian weapon, at least the .303 will go out as soon as the Belgian or some other weapon comes into production and that we are not going to have one rifle for ceremonial, and one for other uses.
I do not believe that the Government are going to survive long enough to put the Belgian into production, and I hope, too, that my right hon. Friend when he replies will make it clear that, when a Labour Government returns to office, it will put the national interest first and introduce our own weapon.
§ Commander J. W. Maitland (Horn-castle)
Do I understand the hon. Member to say that were the Labour Government to return to office they would restore this weapon even if the Army Council advised them not to?
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Mackeson (Folkestone and Hythe)
I do not intend making a long or controversial speech, nor to speak as an expert on the matter. I am now reduced to the level of shooting for the House of Commons, though I did once shoot for the Army.
I think that Her Majesty's Government have had to make a very difficult decision and that, technically, there is very little difference between the two weapons. I fully accept the point made by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) about weight and height, but I think that the Belgian rifle is slightly more robust. I believe that it is slightly better, also, because it has a stock—not that a stock is particularly important for ceremonial purposes or for knocking people on the head, but because the recoil of the British rifle is rather more likely to cut a man's cheek. That, I know to be the view of experts.
I also feel that the flash elimination of the Belgian rifle is slightly better than that of the British, out, apart from those points, I believe that the difference between the two, as personal weapons, is negligible. I can assure the hon. Member that the point about the rate of fire is not valid. I fired this weapon today. I have had a good deal of experience in firing automatic weapons, and I can guarantee to fire 60 rounds a minute with this rifle and be perfectly happy. That is quite as fast as one wants it if one has to face a mass attack.
I believe that some of the arguments over this rifle—and I hope that the Secretary of State will listen to this point—are due to the fact that there has been a change of muzzle velocity in small arms. I believe that the velocity has gone up from 2,200 to 2,800 f.p.s. That may have caused some confusion in the minds of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I should like the Minister to confirm that, but I think that I am right.
When the Secretary of State was with Lord Mountbatten; when I was Chief of Staff to General Martell, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing 70 (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) was commanding an armoured brigade, we were all greatly perturbed at the different types of ammunition and apparatus which had to be carried. At that time, when I was B.G.S. of the Royal Armoured Corps, a troop might have to carry flame-throwing equipment, 17-pounder ammunition, six-pounder H.E., six-pounder A.P., a Besa, .303 rifle ammunition, revolver ammunition, smoke grenades, hand grenades, two-inch bomb throwers and oerlikon ammunition. We must try to standardise these things. The effort to get a universally accepted .300 weapon is highly desirable.
If I thought that this rifle was not as good as any which could be got for the British Army, I should not hesitate to say so. Like many hon. Members on both sides of the House, I shall have a boy in the Army in due course. It is essential that our boys should have the best possible weapons in Kenya or anywhere else. This is an excellent weapon. I think that everybody who saw it today agrees with that I agree with the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) that we should get off the .303 as soon as possible. I believe that the .300 will be a great success. We should make sure that nothing said in this House shakes the faith of the British infantry in their weapons.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
This has been a somewhat curious debate. I am sure that the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir H. Mackeson) will agree that hon. Members on both sides of the House are anxious to get the best possible rifle. Hon. Members on this side are also anxious because we believe that we are not getting the best rifle. The Prime Minister has many endearing characteristics. One is that when he either does not understand the issue or knows that he has no case, he assures us that the matter is one in which no party issue can arise. He gave us that assurance today, in his normal form.
But he has another endearing charactertistic. He is very constant in both his likes and dislikes. Once he has made friends, either with a person or an idea, nothing will shift him from that allegiance. He has the same loyalty or persistence in his dislikes, and he took an 71 initial dislike to the British rifle. I think he took that dislike to it because he did not really understand it, or because he was somewhat prejudiced against anything which was proposed by the Labour Government in April, 1951. At any rate, he took a dislike to it and I believe that has been the foundation of the trouble which we have been in since.
He said that it would be a disaster if we were to find ourselves all alone in developing a new rifle. What has happened since? Nearly three years have passed while we have dithered, avoiding the disaster of developing a new rifle either alone or with anybody else. We have done nothing. Now what has happened? We now find ourselves alone committed to a new rifle. We are in the very position which the Prime Minister feared in 1951 and which led to the rejection of the British rifle.
He was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) whether the Americans had accepted the new Belgian rifle. He would not answer. The Americans have not accepted it, and nobody with any knowledge of America thinks there is the slightest chance of their accepting the Belgian or any other European rifle. Congress would never agree to it. The French have not accepted this rifle. Even the Belgians have not accepted it. They have just re-equipped their Army with the F.N. .306, adapted to present American ammunition, and having done so there is not the least likelihood of their suddenly reverting to this weapon.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I am referring to the weapon the hon. and learned Member has just described.
§ Mr. Paget
That may be when they adopted it, but they had not finished 72 equipping their troops with it 12 months ago. Having equipped their troops with a new rifle of that semi-automatic description, there is little likelihood of their adopting this one. The Prime Minister has leftus in precisely that position which he described as a disaster. We, alone, are committed to adopting a new rifle.
The unfortunate thing is that in the view of hon. Members on this side of the House this is not the best rifle. It may be said that although we are alone with the rifle we are not alone with the ammunition, but even in this case we are alone. The Americans have said—and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to correct me if I am wrong—that when they settle on their new rifle they will try to adapt it to take a .300 rimless round. Have they said any more than that? Knowing how this sort of decision is taken in America, to what extent can we be sure that the endeavour which they have promised to make will be realised—particularly if the .306 is important, from the point of view of mass production, to the armament industry of America? The Belgians still have the .306. The French are not on the .300. Where are we going to find this concentration? The very dangers on the basis of which the Prune Minister rejected this rifle have, after a delay of three years, been realised with a rifle that does not appear to be so good.
§ Commander Maitland
The hon. and learned Gentleman says it is a rifle that does not appear to be so good. Can he give reasons for saying that? The Army Council apparently says it is good. Does he set his own judgment against the Army Council? Does he say the Army Council is bogus? What does he think?
§ Mr. Paget
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has anticipated the next part of my speech. I shall try to substantiate that. I would substantiate it upon this. No trials, and no competitive trials, of these two rifles have taken place since 1951. Since April, 1951, there have been no competitive trials with this rifle. Since 1951 this rifle has been converted to the .300. Since its conversion to the .300 there have been no competitive trials with these two rifles. Indeed, putting competitive trials aside, the Belgian rifle has not yet completed its ordinary trials. It has not had Arctic trials, and it has not had quite a number of other trials. It is a weapon that has not completed its own trials, but there have been 73 no competitive trials since 1951. It is on the 1951 trials that the Government appear to rely, those 1951 trials being trials with a different weapon, the .280.
What were the results of those 1951 trials? We are told that in one the Belgian rifle came out best, and in the other it was the .303. If that be so, why in the world were not the Secretary of State for War and the Under-Secretary of State for War and the Minister of Defence at that time told about this result? Why were they sent to Washington briefed by the Army Council, by the Ministry of Supply, and by everybody in a position to know, that this British rifle was clearly and outstandingly the best weapon? Why was it that their successors, the present Secretary of State for War and Minister of Supply and the Prime Minister, who had the information which was then available, assured this House that the British weapon was clearly the best weapon? The Prime Minister gave us that assurance. That assurance was based on a trial that happened in April, 1951. There have been no competitive trials since then.
There was argument as to the speed of individual shots. Of course, in a sense the speed of individual shots simply depends on the human factor, on how fast one can pull the trigger; but that is not what is intended. What is meant by the speed of individual shots is the speed by which one can bring and keep one's sights steady on one's target between each shot. That depends on the steadiness of the rifle when it is fired. I have not fired either rifle; I am not sufficiently expert with a rifle, nor could I be without months of training with both these rifles, to make up my mind as to that degree of steadiness which enables aim to be taken.
However, I am told that the experts with the E.M. rifle could get aimed shots—that is, could hit the target—at 100 to the minute, whereas the Belgian rifle, I am told, has a bigger "jink" and takes a longer time to get back on to the target. Nobody is suggesting that the ordinary National Service man will get up to 100 or 60 or anything like that rate of fire, but the rate of fire he can achieve will be proportionate to the experts', and, indeed, to an inexperienced man a steadier rifle will probably be of greater advantage than to the expert. It 74 is because of the effect of that human factor—and it is a human factor—that the ordinary man can get a better rate of aimed fire with the English than with the Belgian rifle.
I conclude with a very odd point, and it is the Prime Minister's belief that it is a great advantage in hand-to-hand fighting to be able to have a butt with which one can club an enemy. I can only say that if anybody tries to use a rifle as a club, taking it by the barrel, I will take him on with an umbrella, with my hands, for anybody who takes up a rifle like that is open to a knock out blow on the chin or to the solar plexus; it is easy to get inside his guard. In Commando training the one thing one was taught was not to use a rifle as a dub. One was taught to thrust with it, and the thrusting power of a rifle does not depend on whether it has a butt or not. So we may, perhaps, dispense with that little bit of nonsense.
So we find ourselves committed largely by the stubbornness of the Prime Minister, because it boils down to the personal factor. We are committed by the stubbornness of the Prime Minister, who, progressive as he is in some ways, has equally odd prejudices. He is not in favour of a rifle whose parentage he did not like and whose look he did not like. Having taken that dislike nothing will shake him, and thus we are committed to what I believe is an inferior weapon, what certainly is a foreign weapon, a weapon to which we are committed in complete isolation, the very thing the Prime Minister feared.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
The final argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was about a use of the rifle that the Prime Minister and nobody else has ever envisaged. In my early days we were taught that the rifle held with both hands, as a quarter-staff, before the body could be used defensively or offensively, and a blow could be struck with the butt, but nobody has suggested what the hon. and learned Gentleman has, taking it by the barrel and hurling it about like a lacrosse stick.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am glad to hear the hon. and learned Member say that, because I looked at this rifle this morning and I fired it, and there is no doubt that in the argument to which the hon. and learned Member refers the Belgian rifle is infinitely superior to the British rifle. I think the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) mentioned the possibility of using the E.M. rifle as a club. In my opinion, it has very great disadvantages in that respect. If we were to use that rifle as a club, without ammunition, we should probably have to use it in the manner which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton demonstrated. While a man is doing that he is left exposed to the sort of blow which the hon. and learned Member suggested. On this argument, therefore, the Belgian rifle is superior every time. Perhaps we should leave it there.
I think all of us were a little astounded when the Opposition put this Motion on the Paper. Even those of us who have been in Parliament for only a year or two know that when the House of Commons starts talking about a technical subject—and the design of a rifle is a technicalsubject—it is heading either to make itself look ridiculous or else, in the end, to talk about something completely different. Today we have quite clearly taked about a good deal which is well off the technical point. Perhaps that is as well, because I think we should all get bogged down on the technicalities. I do not pretend to have enough technical knowledge to justify my speaking about the technical aspects.
This morning I saw the Belgian rifle for the first time. I have not fired a rifle at a target for at least eight years, but on this occasion I managed to get a group of which I should have been extremely pleased when I was in the Army. [An Hon. Member: "A foolproof rifle."] I should have been extremely pleased with such a group.
§ Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)
The hon. and gallant Member should be careful not to awaken the hon. Member alongside him.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
There were so many interruptions at that point that I did not hear any of them clearly. I think those hon. Members who fired the Belgian rifle this morning were probably sur- 76 prised at their own success, to a greater or lesser degree, in hitting the target. There could be no doubt whatever left in the mind of anyone who fired the rifle this morning that it is an extremely fine weapon.
§ Mr. H. Hynd
Could the hon. and gallant Gentleman speak a little less loudly in case he awakens his colleague?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am in some sympathy with my hon. Friend because there were several occasions earlier in the debate when hon. Members opposite were speaking which might have tended to dull my hon. Friend's perception of the point I am trying to make. [Hon. Members: "Wake him up."] As time has been given for this debate, I think we are in duty bound to pay the subject under discussion rather more attention, without constant interruptions.
I think all hon. Members who fired the rifle this morning would agree that the Belgian rifle is a very fine weapon. By saying that I do not necessarily mean that the British rifle is any less a fine weapon. As for the conferences and tests which have taken place, there is only one sort of information which can be regarded as reliable, and that is the information from the Government Departments concerned at the time. I shall not attempt to sort out the difference of opinion which appears to have arisen between the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War. All I would say is that, judging from past declarations, I would prefer to take the opinion of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State rather than that of the right hon. Member for Easington.
Nothing which has been said in the debate so far, least of all that said by the hon. Member for Aston, has in any way upset the case made that, for the purpose for which it is required, the Belgian rifle is the best weapon.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington) rose—
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I have been interrupted enough. This is a very difficult subject and I shall not give way again. 77 I think the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has disclosed a good deal of the reason why the hon. Member for Aston was so venomous this afternoon. Those who went to Mill Hill this afternoon heard the hon. Member for Aston ask many of the questions which he repeated here and, moreover, we heard him given pretty satisfactory answers to them. Listening to his speech this afternoon, I could not help getting the impression that it is not the Government who are prejudiced in this matter but the hon. Member for Aston, who wentto Mill Hill with a pre-conceived idea in his mind that the Belgian rifle was not as good as the British rifle. He was determined to make that case, whatever the answer to his questions, and he was determined to repeat it this afternoon, whatever resultshe saw from the Belgian rifle when shooting it or watching others shoot it. He went to see it this morning with his mind quite firmly made up, determined not to alter his opinion, no matter what he saw or heard.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
It was made quite clear this afternoon that the original Belgian rifle and the British rifle had been tried out together.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
In 1951. I think they were then tried in competition with each other. Since then the Belgian rifle has been improved. The data about the British rifle are already known, and what we want now is data about the new Belgian rifle. All the data show that it is a rifle which, at its worst, ranked equal to the British rifle. Since then improvements have been made which presumably must have made it superior.
Perhaps I may return to the subject of the hon. Member for Aston and the purpose of the debate. The hon. Member for Dudley has disclosed one of the purposes of this debate. We all know that the hon. Member for Aston has lost very few opportunities since the war to write articles attacking, particularly the Brigade of Guards. This afternoon he 78 was wise enough not to attack them himself, but the hon. Member for Dudley made another attack against them.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
It is all part of the same game. We have had this on repeated occasions, and each time the hon. Member for Aston has written an article on the subject he has been found to be wrong. Now the hon. Member for Dudley seeks to carry on those arguments. The hon. Member for Aston has made the most outrageous suggestions about the Prime Minister, particularly in implying outrageous motives and conduct to the Prime Minister, such as that of not telling the House the truth. It seems to me that that is a pretty cheap method of making party cracks or cracks against those sections of the Army which some hon. Members do not happen to like. What hon. Members risk in doing that is the confidence of the British Army in a weapon with which it is about to be supplied in considerable numbers.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
It is no good hon. Members opposite all shouting. To start with, I am deaf in one ear; and in any case, if they all shout at once I cannot hear what they say.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I did not suggest that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) had been shouting. I know it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that occasionally he should interrupt a speaker, but I will absolve him this time.
It seems tome that of all the hon. Members who were least qualified to open a debate of this kind, the hon. Member for Aston was one. I believe that he will have done a great deal of harm to the Army in the public mind if he is taken seriously. Fortunately, I think that he has a limited clientele who do take him seriously, and I hope that it may grow smaller as the years go by.
With the record of the party opposite, it seems strange that they should attack the Prime Minister for trying to hoodwink the British Army and trying to prevent it from being armed with the best 79 weapon. When I was a Regular soldier before the war, I remember that right hon. and hon. Members opposite voted year by year against the Service Estimates and doing their best to ensure that when war came we were as ill-defended as possible.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I know that the hon. Gentleman who has just interrupted has military experience, and I take my hat off to him for that. I am talking about the years when I was a Regular soldier before the war, as many of my hon. Friends were, and we know that the official Opposition of those years were doing their best to ensure that the Army went into action without some of the equipment which it needed.
I say this debate is nothing short of a party racket to try to make capital out of something which hon. Members opposite know perfectly well the public cannot be fully informed about because it is such a technical subject. I say that they are trading on people's ignorance and that if they were successful in doing what they are trying to they would undermine the confidence of the British Army in one of the best weapons ever produced. The Government are to be congratulated on having made this change. I am quite certain that the step they took was a wise one, and I ask hon. Members opposite to consider whether the line which they are trying to follow is a wise one.
Would it not be better to try to give the British soldier confidence in this weapon rather than to try to undermine his confidence in it? Hon. Members opposite since the war have shown some recognition of the situation in which this country finds itself. I ask them to think again on this matter and not to press it to a Division. This seems to me to be an important matter in which we should have a little harmony. Perhaps I have not contributed greatly to that this afternoon, but I ask all hon. Members to realise their responsibility in this matter and that this issue is one which may, if we consider it in the wrong way, have a most disastrous effect on the whole morale of the British Army, the whole morale of N.A.T.O. and perhaps of the world. That is why I hope that we shall direct a little more reason to this matter and a little less abuse.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
This debate up to now has expressed the opinions, I think, of commissioned officers or ex-commissioned officers. I want to be very brief and to put, as I see it, the "old sweat's" point of view—the point of view of the private, of the man called upon to use whatever weapon he is provided with.
I have probably fired all the rifles that have been mentioned this afternoon. In the middle of the war I was asked to demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the Americans, even their own weapons of warfare. I have taken part in the demonstration, referred to this afternoon with regard to the .280 and .300 rifles, and I say here and now that I am not going to suggest for one moment that this new Belgian rifle is a bad rifle. It is an extremely good rifle and an extremely accurate one. Even people who, it is suggested, are not in their right senses were able to put 12 out of 15 shots very close to, if not actually on, the bull. That went for most of us. It would have been a let-down for those who instructed us if it had been otherwise; it would have been a smirch on British prestige.
I should like to pay tribute to the gentlemen who entertained us this morning. They met us as officers and gentlemen in the way that the Army does, and some of them were probably from the ranks and some of them not. They set out this morning to sell this new rifle. They made no bones about that; that was their job. Their job was to convince the Parliamentary deputation that this was "it"—this was the article, and there was none better anywhere in the world.
Some of us asked rather pertinent questions. I hope that our hosts did not think that we were rude. We asked questions which, in our opinion, were important. My own personal opinion is that, as an instrument of death and destruction of the common enemy, this rifle is inferior to the .280 rifle. I know that there is a prejudice against the British product because it is too much like a killer. It is too much of a gangster article, short and stubby, with no butt and no ceremonial potential attached to it; but it is a killer. I remember the trials which took place in this country. I was selected as one of the umpires to examine the targets after they had had 81 shots punched into them. This Belgian rifle was not subjected to the tests to which the British rifle was subjected. We did not have to fire it on the open range and we did not have to punch holes in targets at 600 yards, as two years ago we saw the British rifle do easily. We did not see the trajectory of the bullet, ease of loading, etc., operating. I want it to be quite clear that it was only after an adamant request from one of our party Members this morning that the British rifle was produced.
I hold one thing against this new Belgian rifle. It is suggested that part of the Army or N.A.T.O. Forces should be armed with a rifle which fires only individual shots and part of the troops should be armed with a rifle which can be automatically fired. In the event of the colonel or corporal in charge, as the case may be, deciding that there is about to be a mass attack, these rifles can be converted in a few hours from independent to automatic shooting. By that time all our troops might be dead. We might find ourselves confronting troops armed with automatic, rapid-firing rifles while our own troops could fire only independent, single shots. My experience of the battle front was that steadiness, calm and cool firing was the thing that mattered. The British rifle, by simply touching the button at the side, can be converted to independent shooting or automatic shooting.
Then there is the question of ammunition. I am certain that it could easily be arranged for N.A.T.O. to have the ammunition that would suit the new .280 rifle. We know for a certainty that normal divisional transport can carry some hundreds of thousands more rounds of ammunition for the .280 than for the .300. That is important. I shall be told that I am an old soldier, that 1914–18 was a long time ago, and that now aircraft and helicopters can be used to drop weapons and ammunition. But I am all for the fellow who wants the ammunition having it when he wants it, and not when it is too late.
I believe that this new rifle would be easy to produce, but we have heard not one solitary word—I hope we shall hear from the Minister of Supply if he takes part in the debate—about the production of this rifle. We have heard not one word about the technical difficulties in the 82 production of the .280. It is a first-class technical job; it has been modified and improved.
Please God that none of us will be called upon to take part in a war. It is a sad reflection when we stand in the House to think that those of us who took part in the so-called war to end wars are talking about something more efficient to destroy the other fellow in a future war. It is a sad reflection that it has to be done, but we have to face facts as they are, and facts are very stubborn things.
I believe that there has been a compromise. I believe that the ugly killer British rifle has been condemned on the ground that it is not a nice-looking article. Even if it has not been condemned, it has not been accepted quite so easily. I believe there has been a compromise and an effort to bring the best of the British rifle into the Belgian rifle, together with the stock and all the necessary appurtenances so that it can be used for ceremonial work.
If this rifle is to be produced for war, it should be produced for that job. We heard the opinion given on the trials by the Americans, Canadians, Japanese, Hindus, Indians and our own people that the British rifle was second to none at that time, better than anything they had ever seen before. It was thoroughly and completely tested. It was subjected to the sandblast test, the sandbox and water and moisture tests. We saw none of that this morning. If this rifle can come through those tests as well as the British rifle, then I should be prepared, in addition to saying that it is a good rifle, to say that it is a jolly good rifle.
The job of this House and the country is to give to British troops, wherever they may be and at the time they are needed, the best possible instruments with which to defend themselves. My own conviction, speaking as one who has used them all and who has tried in his limited capacity to assess the value and technical difficulties of them all, is that our own rifle, had it been adopted internationally and had the ammunition question been settled, would have been acclaimed still today, as it was at the time by the Prime Minister, to be the best instrument in the world for the purposes for which it was designed.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I should like to follow the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones), who, I believe, is a fellow cavalryman, in some of his arguments. I am quite convinced that if a test were carried out in regard to penetration, a .300 bullet would penetrate further than a .280. This was part of the gravamen of the American argument, that they preferred a rifle which had greater penetrating power than the .280.
I thought that the whole case from the Opposition today was that the British rifle had been adapted to change over to a .300 round. If the hon. Member was arguing in favour of a .280 round, the whole of the case of the mover of the Motion falls to the ground.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
What I said was that I saw a .280 demonstrated at 600 yards and penetrating British helmets, the best in the world. That is good enough. It kills the fellows who are wearing them.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I agree, but I do not think anybody ever fires a rifle at 600 yards in these days.
As it stands before it is modified, the Belgian rifle can fire either automatic or single shot. It should be a case of discipline whether it should be used as a single shot weapon or not. A lot has been said today about tests, but my information is that when these tests were carried out, the Americans categorically said at the time that if they were going into production on either of the two rifles, they would eventually prefer the Belgian rifle. But they did not at that time say that they were going into production on either of the two.
There is a history of this, and I am one of those who was in on it from the beginning. I was very much in favour of the British .280 rifle, as the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) knows. A panel was set up in 1945 to go into research on a rifle of this nature; it produced its report in about 1947. Then there was a period of three years of development. That was the time, during those three years, that the right hon. Member for Easington, as Minister of Defence, should have had consultations on a high level with other N.A.T.O. Powers; but no consultations of any sort took place, and this bombshell was 84 suddenly thrown into the House of Commons that the British Army was to adopt the .280 rifle.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply asked the right hon. Member for Easington, when in office, on 6th July, 1951, whether Ministerial discussions had taken place, and the reply was "No" and that a working party had been working on it. Since then, the N.A.T.O. Powers approached the right hon. Gentleman demanding that there should be discussions on a Ministerial level. And "The Times" of 3rd December, 1953, said that that was the time when discussions should have taken place. That is to say, during the period of three years discussions on a Ministerial level should have taken place. That is the back history. The then Government were at fault in not realising that it was a question not only of a rifle which would suit the British Army, but of standardisation, both of ammunition and of equipment, throughout the whole of the N.A.T.O. Forces. A lot of time and trouble would have been saved had the Government at that time had earlier consultations at a higher level.
As far as production is concerned, the hon. Member for Rotherham said that it had not been mentioned. I understand, however, that one manufacturing unit can produce six of the Belgian rifles to five of the British rifles. When magnified into hundreds of thousands, this makes a very great difference indeed and is a great argument in favour of the Belgian rifle.
As far as firing 60 shots a minute is concerned, a lot of rubbish is talked about this. I had the honour of having infantry battalions under my command in the war, and I have had commanding officers come to me and say, "Please, sir, may we leave our rifles behind?" The reason for that was that the .303 was out of date and heavy. It was quite useless in the sort of rat-hunt which took place on an objective after it had been captured.
Firing a rifle as was done in the Boer War, or even in the 1914–18 war, at long range no longer occurs, because of smoke from bombing and artillery fire and smoke put down either by the enemy or by our own troops. What our troops need is something that will kill a man at 30, 40 or 50 yards in a haze of smoke, and kill him quickly, and something that 85 will fire quickly. But I pray that our men do not fire 60 rounds a minute. They would very soon be out of ammunition, and nobody would be able to produce sufficient for them in the front line for their ammunition to be maintained.
There is one aspect which applies to the British rifle but is not common to the Belgian rifle. If one fires the British rifle off the left shoulder, all the ejected cases come out in one's face, which would be a most painful procedure. Anyone who has served knows perfectly well that a large proportion of men fire off the left shoulder. This is a great handicap to the British rifle which does not apply to the Belgian rifle.
There are indications that Canada is prepared to go into manufacture of the Belgian rifle. There are very certain indications that America is much more prepared to go into the manufacture of this rifle than of the British .280 rifle. It is inconceivable that we should arm our Army with a rifle which can be manufactured only in this country. If we can persuade the Americans to adopt this rifle—the Canadians have already said that probably they will go into production of it—that is a conclusive argument for deciding on the Belgian rifle, even if our own was better.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
The argument which the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) has just adduced would have been conclusive if, on the one hand, there were no standardisation on the British rifle and if, on the other, there were no real prospect of standardisation on the Belgian rifle. But my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) has dealt with the important aspect of the standardisation. The point which neither the Prime Minister nor most of those hon. Members opposite who have spoken today—and certainly not the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke)—seemed to gather throughout the debate was that we have no sort of guarantee at all that, as a result of the decision of the Government, there will be any standardisation. It is necessary, therefore, to remind the House of some of the very important questions put by my hon. Friend.
86 First, are the Americans going to use the rifle? Are the Belgians going to use the rifle? To put it more plainly, is it within the certain knowledge of the Government that they are going to use the .300 round; and who, in the certain knowledge of the Government, is going to use the Belgian rifle? It is not sufficient to justify this decision by saying, as the Prime Minister did as recently as last week, that Canada is very interested. That is the utmost of the final pronouncement about standardisation. That is why I press the question, not as to what the Government think and hope, but whether the Secretary of State for War can positively tell us that other countries will use this round and this rifle? That is a point which was not touched upon by any hon. Members opposite who have spoken in this debate.
We were told by the Secretary of State for War—I hope he will correct me if I am misquoting him—that in April and May, 1951, tests were performed, one of which showed the Belgian rifle to be better and the other of which showed it to be equal. Why, then, in March, 1952, did he tell the House that the British rifle was undoubtedly the best in the world, and why did the Prime Minister say the same thing? Let him look up the debate on the Army Estimates in 1952 and the Secretary of State will see that, after those tests, he was saying that undoubtedly the British rifle was the best in the world.
If we stick to that latter statement, either the 1951 tests must be discredited or they have no relevance to the matter. In either instance they cannot be quoted asan argument in the case advanced by hon. Members opposite. The Prime Minister said only last week that he had tried very hard to get the .280 adopted by N.A.T.O. after the tests in 1951 had shown that there was not a superior weapon in existence. That is the kind of statement that we have to set against the vague and conflicting information which we have had today.
Without any disrespect to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Worthing, I would say that the information which he claimed to have about the comparative production of these two rifles would have carried more weight if it had come from the Prime Minister. I cannot think that, if the right hon. Gentleman had been possessed of such 87 information, he would have refrained from bringing it forward, because it was most relevant to the discussion. If the Prime Minister had known about it and it was correct, which I very much doubt, he ought to have brought it forward for the House to consider. The fact that he has not done so makes us feel that the Government do not believe they have a solid case.
There is no doubt that the British weapon is shorter, lighter and handier than the Belgian rifle. On the question of the rate of fire, what we were told this morning was that an expert practitioner could fire off 100 with either of them. The average practitioner will get a high rate of fire with the British rifle. Indeed, it was at one time agreed by those favouring the Belgian rifle that a slower rate of fire was a positive advantage. That is what we were told by those whom the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State appointed to describe the rifle to us. Now he must tell us another story. That is why it is almost impossible to have confidence in the Government's decision.
We have got a longer, heavier, and less handy weapon with a slower rate of fire, a rifle on which, according to any information we have been given, there have been no comparative tests with the British rifle except one in 1951, after which the right hon. Gentleman said that the British rifle was the best. This Belgian rifle is a rifle the tests of which are not complete yet, and of which there is apparently not even a likelihood of its universal or even widespread adoption.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) on the cogency and brevity of his speech. This debate is expected to conclude round about 7 o'clock, and the Secretary of State for War and I are expected to share the remaining time. The celebrated military experts on the other side of the House have the advantage of me. They profess a familiarity with small arms technicalities which I do not possess. I have to rely, as I did when I was Minister of Defence and Secretary of State for War, on the advice tendered to me by technical experts channelled through the Army Council and other appropriate Govern- 88 ment bodies. That is the correct procedure for a member of the Government to follow.
But the Prime Minister oddly thinks otherwise, as indeed do some hon. Members opposite, particularly hon. and gallant Members. They have conceived the notion, as the Prime Minister has done, that testing the rifle by firing it themselves, is sufficient for the purpose. Take an example. The Prime Minister told us one day last week in reply to a Question, that he had actually fired this Belgian rifle and had found it very satisfactory indeed. What did that mean? That it was satisfactory to the Prime Minister having fired the rifle, and no more than that. It did not prove, not by as much as a hair's breadth, that the rifle he had fired was superior to the rifle he was alleged to have fired 12 months ago. The same applies—I speak without intending any offence—to other hon. Members.
This morning there was a trial arranged by the Government, and several hon. Members from both sides of the House were invited to attend. They had the opportunity of firing the Belgian rifle. Some of them have pronounced it excellent; some are not so sure. Some believe it requires further modification. What does that mean? It only means that hon. Members who have fired the rifle have been more or less satisfied. That is not the kind of test we require before we embark on production on a large scale.
§ Mr. Shinwell
What I am saying is that there is an impression in some quarters—it has been ventilated in the course of this debate and previously—that if hon. Members and the right hon. Gentleman fire the rifle and regard it as satisfactory, that is sufficient for our purpose. [Hon. Members: "No."] Very well, I accept the denial. We will dismiss that and we will come back to the point that we must rely on our technical experts.
Before I deal with the recommendations of the technical experts, may I say that some hon. Members have expressed the view that this debate was unnecessary, that they could think of many other subjects much more important. I agree 89 wholeheartedly but, having heard some part of the debate, they will probably agree that it is worth whole, on the assumption that there may be another conflict, that we must equip our men with the very best weapons, and that we must ensure that they are provided with the best rifle. I think that will be accepted, and I think they will also agree, having heard the speech of the Prime Minister, that the Government have no case.
The right hon. Gentleman began his speech by rebuking my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), who made a remarkably able speech. It was factual, argumentative, occasionally a little disturbing to the right hon. Gentleman, but, after all, what does that matter? The right hon. Gentleman rebuked my hon. Friend for using what he described as insulting language. That comes strangely from the right hon. Gentleman when I recall the language he used, the picturesque, colourful, turgid, lurid—I could find many other adjectives with which to describe his language—with insults to the Service Ministers in the Labour Government, when he expressed no confidence in them, thus exposing his prejudice as he did against the Labour Government as a whole. So the right hon. Gentleman is the last man in the world to talk about insulting language. Perhaps that is the reason he has adopted this attitude on the Belgian rifle—he dislikes the British rifle because he disliked the Labour Government who were behind the British rifle. Is that the trouble? Perhaps we can be left with our suspicions. [Interruption.] I was hoping that I might evoke a reply from the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman founds his case on two items. The first is that this rifle has been tested by technical experts under the supervision of the War Office and, therefore, it must be accepted by the Government. The second point he has made is that this rifle will lead to standardisation. At this point I might tell the story of the Washington conversations and what led to them.
It is perfectly true, as the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) said, that over a period of time from 1946 experiments were being conducted by the small arms experts in order to produce a rifle superior to the Lee-Enfield in common use for the British 90 Army. Those experiments were naturally prolonged, which was desirable, because we must not reach hasty conclusions about the production of important weapons of this kind. Eventually we were informed at the War Office that trials had been undertaken internally and that the rifle was regarded as a satisfactory one.
It was in 1951, probably a little before April or May, that it was decided that the rifle should undergo what we regarded at the time as its conclusive trials. As a result it was recommended by the military experts, and was accepted by the Army Council, by the Minister of Defence and the Government, as the best rifle which could be produced. We were not unaware of what was happening in other countries. We knew that the authorities in the United States were contemplating a modification of the Garand rifle. Indeed, so dissatisfied were they with it that they had produced a carbine which was largely in use in Korea instead of the Garand rifle itself.
We were also acquainted with the fact that the Belgians were promoting tests with their new rifle. Nevertheless, with the knowledge we had of what was happening in other countries in regard to these tests, we still maintained that ours was the best. This is a reply to the right hon. Gentleman, who spoke as if we acted in isolation. The knowledge of what was happening not only here but in the United States, in Belgium and perhaps elsewhere for all I know, reached N.A.T.O. and it was suggested that there should be ministerial discussions. Naturally we agreed. We did not want to push this rifle without some consultation. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, in reply to an interjection, referred to a decision reached in April or May, 1951, and made quite a song about it. That was a provisional decision. No firm undertaking was given at the time to the War Office or to the small-arms experts that we would enter into production of the .280 on a large scale. Indeed, the Ministry of Supply were behind us in that respect.
What happened when we went to Washington at the end of September, 1951? It took some time before that conference could be arranged, but that usually happens. The Americans were there with all their experts, there was a Ministerial representative from France 91 and, I think, a technical expert. With no disrespect to the French, however, they were not vitally interested because it was quite clear that they had neither the money nor, in their view, the need for any new rifle at that time. The Canadians and ourselves were there. The Belgians were not represented. I do not know whether the Prime Minister is aware that the Belgians were not represented at the Washington conference. We knew, of course, what they were doing.
The Prime Minister talked about a vote being taken. Of course, there was no vote whatsoever taken of the Ministers there. What had happened at the trials which were undertaken a few months before was reported to us. Those trials were conducted in the United States and, to begin with, it was the American technical experts who reported. The leading American technical expert was Colonel Stuedler. He had served in the German Army in the 1914–18 war and had gone to the United States and had become one of the leading technical experts. I do not say this out of prejudice. I state the fact that I never saw such an exhibition of prejudice against anything British as I saw on that occasion. Indeed, it was so bad and directed against our own technical experts that I was bound to take up the cudgels on their behalf. I did so without any nonsense about it, much to the discomfort of Colonel Stuedler and some of his friends.
Our technical experts at that conference, Lieut.-General Whiteley, one of our most able generals, Brigadier Gordon and Brigadier Barlow, who represented the technical arms in the Army, advised us that we should stand by the .280. As I have said, no vote was taken, but, far from being adamant about one aspect of the problem, I was inclined to consider, as indeed I did, the question of what kind of round should be accepted. I was influenced to some extent by the argument about the round, although I would not yield on the question of the rifle. When I came back to this country I stated my views. But we did not agree then to enter into production on a large scale. I answered questions from the Front Bench. In the course of them I said to hon. Members who interrogated me on
92 the subject that all that we intended to do was to engage in a token production. All this can be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
What has happened since then? All that has happened is that the Government have changed their minds. There is no difficulty whatever about the round. If I may perpetrate a pun, it is accepted all round. No objection is taken to the .300 type of ammunition. That can be used in any of the rifles. That is an important consideration. That is where standardisation comes in. It does not matter so much about the type of rifle—I make that concession—so long as the round is satisfactory to all the parties concerned.
What about the question of standardisation? The Prime Minister, and the Government and the Secretary of State for War, will have a case if the Secretary of State says to us that the United States, who obviously will be he largest consumers, are going to accept this rifle. They accept the round, but in accepting the round it is not certain that they will use it. They object to the British rifle. I am sure that the Prime Minister will acquit me of any prejudice against the United States—I have never expressed myself in that fashion—when I say that somehow or other I gathered the impression at the Washington conference, and have thought so since, that the American authorities, certainly the technical experts, perhaps inspired by somebody or other, were determined that whatever they did they would not accept the British rifle. I say that honestly and quite objectively.
The Prime Minister said that this was not a party matter. As far as I am concerned, it is not a party matter at all, but it has been largely made into a party matter by the rather obdurate attitude of the Prime Minister. I was about to use another word, but I drew back just in time. I do not want to insult the Prime Minister. It is not necessary. I want to put him right for the good of the country, for the good of the Army, and for the good of his own soul.
Where does standardisation come in? The French have not expressed their willingness to accept it. What about Canada? The Prime Minister talked about Canada and I said in an interjection that I had had discussions with 93 Brooke Claxton, the Minister of Defence. He said to me, "I am not going to take sides. What we are concerned about is who is going to produce the rifle and the round."
I appreciate that Canada is a great producing country. She is concerned about production. She wants to be a universal provider, and good luck to her. Canadians were not going to consume the rifle on a large scale. They have not the troops and do not intend to have them in future. They have other ideas about how to conduct military operations, but I cannot go into that now. So there is no standardisation except in the acceptance of the round itself. The question with which we are left is which is the best rifle to use this round.
Let us discard all this silly nonsense, this piffling stuff about using the rifle for ceremonial purposes, or about using the butt end of the rifle, because even the Prime Minister admitted that it was irrelevant. On the assumption, which I hope is falsified, that another conflict emerges and our men have to enter the conflict, we are concerned with the fact that they want to be provided with the right weapon. It is not for the Prime Minister to determine whether it is the right weapon, or for some hon. Members to determine it because they are more familiar with the use of a rifle. It is for the military technical experts. [Hon. Members "Hear, hear."] But the technical experts decided that the .280 was the best, and the technical experts have decided that any rifle could be used, including this very satisfactory British rifle, with the new .300 round.
§ Mr. Shinwell
But it is now accepted. We make that concession to the Prime Minister. We have that part of standardisation agreed upon. Therefore, I say to the Prime Minister, "If we accept the .300 round, you accept the British rifle. Fair enough? And do not yield any longer to American pressure."
§ The Prime Minister
I have not had any pressure of any sort or kind on the subject from the United States.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That is strange. I have some notes here which I have not used 94 so far. They are that the Prime Minister said he had gone to Washington and he had discussed the matter with President Truman who had expressed his disagreement about the acceptance of the British rifle. That is what the Prime Minister said. I do not know what that denotes, except that he accepted what the President said. That is the difference between the Prime Minister and myself. I went to Washington and they did everything they possibly could to persuade me to accept a modification of the Garand rifle. They did their utmost to persuade me to abandon the project of a British rifle. I did not yield to American pressure. That is the difference between the Prime Minister and myself.
I am bound to say that this is a very sad afternoon for the Government, not only because of their rejection of a British rifle but because their readiness to accept a rifle designed by somebody from another country, in spite of the fact that our experts recommended the use of our rifle. Is it not strange that on the same afternoon they should be castigated—and quite properly—because of their trade agreement with Japan? Is it not strange to have these two subjects in an afternoon exposing the Government for what they are? It is about time they were exposed.
I am going to make a suggestion to the Prime Minister—[Interruption.] I will give the Secretary of State time to wind up the debate. I suggest that just as there was not a firm decision to enter on mass production of the British rifle there is no firm decision by the present Government to enter on mass production of the Belgian rifle. Why can we not wait? Why can we not have further trials conducted in this country—not the kind of trials we had this morning, but under various conditions—dust trials, trials affected by the weather, whether it is hot or cold? Why not have trials in Belgium, in the United States, in the Colonies?
There is no hurry about this rifle; we are not going to enter production at once. I suggest that we conduct further experiments with both rifles and with the .300 round—I accept that. That would be fair to both sides, and in particular it would be fair to the British Army. I hope that the Prime Minister will accept that. I know that it would mean yielding a little, but, after all, if the Prime Minister could 95 yield to the Americans, he might yield to somebody in this country. That would not be a bad thing.
§ The Prime Minister
I am told that I yielded. All that happened was that I could not persuade the President of the United States to accept our rifle.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Did ever a man give his case away so readily as that? Now the Prime Minister says that he could not persuade President Truman to accept our rifle, so he is accepting the Belgian rifle. Did not the Prime Minister try to persuade President Truman to accept the British rifle? Oh yes, he did; he must have done so, because he thought it was the best rifle. I want hon. Members to notice the time. This occurred during the lifetime of the present Government. The Prime Minister went to the United States and spoke to President Truman. He said, "Mr. President, here is a splendid rifle, tested by our experts. We want you to accept it, we want standardisation." President Truman said, "No, we cannot accept the British rifle," at which the Prime Minister said, "Well, I am very sorry. I shall have to go back and tell them in our country and we shall have to get another story from the War Office in order to convince the world that the British rifle is not as good as we thought it was." What a shocking state of affairs.
I tell the Prime Minister that this is a squalid affair. Nobody knows better than the Prime Minister what a high respect I have for him. I say that quite sincerely; but he ought to feel a little ashamed of himself for what has happened in this connection.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The Prime Minister should. As for the Secretary of State for War, I do not bother very much about him. I will tell him why: there have been so many blunders, irrevocable blunders, at the War Office that he ought to be ashamed to show himself in this House.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) has cut me very short of time—[Hon. Members: "The Rule is suspended."]—and I hope 96 that the House will not force me into too many discussions along by-roads. At the start of my speech, I should say to the right hon. Gentleman that he may ignore me, but neither when he was responsible nor since have I ignored his own actions, and I have been shaken, during both periods, by some of the mistakes he has made—
§ Mr. Head
—not the least the speech he has just delivered.
The right hon. Gentleman quoted his conversation with Mr. Brooke Claxton. What he did not say was that Canada has bought 2,000 of these rifles for troop trials with a view, if successful—the same as us—to making that rifle in Canada under Belgian licence. That is very relevant. The right hon. Member also did not quote another, and perhaps the most important, remark by Mr. Brooke Claxton. Mr. Brooke Claxton was responsible for the conference which the right hon. Member attended. When the right hon. Member had decided to go unilaterally for production of the .280 inch E.M.2 and the conference started, Mr. Brooke Claxton said that N.A.T.O. had received no greater setback than failure to agree on that standardisation in small arms which the present situation demanded. That was the start.
Let us get it straight from the beginning. What are the real points of difference between the two sides of the House this afternoon? One side of the House, as I understand, says that the E.M.2 is the best rifle; it has British invention and prestige behind it. Now we have standardised on the .300 round, why not give the E.M.2 a.300 inch calibre, because we have overcome the problem of standardisation? This side of the House says that if the difference between the two rifles is marginal, surely it is common sense to standardise on the F.N. rifle because we then have the prospect—I put it higher than the prospect—of manufacture of this rifle under licence in Canada and production in North America, outside this country. I maintain that in any future war a Government which felt happy about having the whole of their rifle production in this country would lack vision.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Surely the right hon. Gentleman is aware that Canada could produce the E.M.2; there is no difficulty about that.
§ Mr. Head
Of course, but the right hon. Member is rather ingenuous. The point is that Canada has stated that for her Government to manufacture a rifle which has been turned down by the United States—[Hon. Members: "Oh."]—Hon. Members cannot have it both ways; why do they not face facts?—would be a course which they could not accept. They state that, if the rifle is satisfactory, they intend to manufacture under licence. That brings with it North American production, outside this country. I say to hon. Members in all parts of the House that that is a cardinal consideration in this problem. In the last war the small arms factory at Birmingham was damaged and for a period our rifle production was in jeopardy. In the next war, with atomic attack, does the right hon. Member think we could rely on the production of rifles entirely in this country?
§ Mr. Head
It ought to have dawned on the hon. Gentleman that, if the Government had two rifles in an Army, it would mean two different lots of spare parts. That makes a difference.
We are on a controversial subject, and I should like to deploy my case, if the House will allow me to do so. What I am indicating, to sum up the discussion so far, is that if the difference between the two is marginal, the advantages of standardisation, especially for production outside this country, are of paramount importance.
98 There are those who will not accept that because they say, particularly as the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) has said, "We want a rifle that is British-invented and is a triumph for British inventive powers"—and no one can deny that. I say that the precedents for these things being judged solely on their merits are numerous. There are the Besa, the Bren, the Lewis gun, the Maxim and the Vickers—all foreign inventions. The initial idea for what is new in the E.M.2 was the work of a Pole. Do not let us make too slavish a business of sticking to British prestige. We all like it and want it. But this is a matter of such vast importance that we must follow the right course.
Supposing we say, despite the fact that the Americans and Canadians have expressed a preference for the F.N. rifle, "We are not coming with you, we are going to adopt the E.M.2." [Interruption.] Where hon. Members are false in the deployment of their case is that they express a preference which opens no prospect of production in America, if they say that on no account will they manufacture the F.N. That problem is a very important one. I am saying that to take that course would be to deal a blowat efforts of standardisation in N.A.T.O. The strength of the forces of the N.A.T.O. countries will be increased immensely if the principle of standardisation, not only in arms but in procedure, can be widened and can progress. We now have an example to show other countries. What will be the result if we, of all countries, over the most important matter of standardisation of all, set an example of completely unilateral action? I say that it will be disastrous.
The other day I saw General Gruenther. I asked him, "How is standardisation going?" He said, "It is difficult because inevitably every nation thinks that what it makes itself is the best." There had been a conference to try to standardise the "jeep." Everyone said, "Ours is the best." General Gruenther said that the stage which they had then reached—I hope it is better now—was that the only thing standardised among the "jeeps" was the wind in their tyres.
Our example in this matter is important. Therefore, if the differences between the two rifles are marginal, these considerations suggest that the right thing 99 to do is to go for the rifle which offers the maximum prospects of standardisation. I now wish to consider the relative merits of the E.M.2 with a .300 inch calibre and the F.N. with a .300 inch calibre. Before doing so, I would say that when the right hon. Member for Easington said that there was no hurry he was absolutely wrong. This is a matter of the greatest urgency to the British Army. We are still equipped with an out-dated rifle and the sooner we get into production with a new rifle the better.
These comparative and competitive trials have been going on for a long time and the only thing that has been and is really absolutely typical of such trials is a disagreement between those who show their rifles. Let me mention this question of trials.
§ Mr. Shinwell
In view of the statement the right hon. Gentleman has just made, I would recall that the Prime Minister said that this was not a matter which could be said to be urgent as it would not affect our position for a good many years to come. [Hon. Members: "What date?"] Nineteen fifty-one. I ask the right hon. Gentleman this question: was it many months ago when he and the right hon. Gentleman came to the conclusion that the Belgian rifle ought to be proceeded with? If so, why has nothing happened since about production?
§ Mr. Head
The right hon. Gentleman must allow me to make my own speech. As for the Prime Minister's remark, that was made in 1951. It is now 1954, and to go into production with this rifle under present circumstances is a matter which has now become urgent.
There were, in 1951, these trials which have been discussed. At those trials the British technical board who undertook them said, as the Prime Minister has already said, that the F.N. rifle was the more efficient of the two. User trials took place. There was a difference of opinion, three voting for the E.M.2 and three for the F.N. It is perfectly correct that the then Secretary of State for War, theright hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), and the right hon. Member for Easington were advised in favour of the E.M.2.
I only said that this was the result of the only trials held in 1951. I quote this 100 to show that the idea that the Belgian rifle is immensely inferior to the E.M.2 was not at that stage based on any trials. That is the fact.
§ Mr. Strachey
The right hon. Gentleman should explain to the House the extraordinary mystery that, according to him, the only trials made show that on balance the preference of expert opinion was for the Belgian rifle, but he then agrees—he has just admitted it—that the Army Council promptly took the decision to recommend to the Government of the day that the British rifle was the better. Not only so, but the Army Council gave exactly the same recommendation to the right hon. Gentleman when he came into office, and also gave the same recommendation in favour of the British rifle to the Prime Minister, who took that recommendation with him to Washington. How can the right hon. Gentleman account for that if the trials had all been the other way?
§ Mr. Head
The trials were exactly as I have stated. If the right hon. Gentleman had waited for a moment, he would have heard that I was going to continue by saying that the result of those trials was not agreed to by the then Director-General of Artillery, and the Army Council recommendation must have been made as the result of that.
I believe it to be a most significant and important point that the problem which confronted this Government was, assuming we standardised on .300 inch, should it be the F.N. rifle or the E.M.2? An exactly similar problem had confronted the right hon. Member for Dundee, West and the right hon. Member for Easington. That problem was that at one stage the United States agreed to standardise on .280 inch, and at a Joint Board meeting they said to us "What are you going to do?" On 19th January, 1951, a signal was sent from the War Office to the British Joint Services Mission in America. The War Office said that they agreed to standardise on .280-inch and develop the F.N. rifle; that is to say, they made a choice then between the E.M.2 and the F.N., and they chose the F.N.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is quoting from 101 a Cabinet paper. [Interruption.] I shall not run away from any body from that side of the House, I can assure hon. Members. I am not accustomed to doing that. If the right hon. Gentleman is quoting from a Cabinet paper to which I have not access, perhaps he will lay it on the Table.
§ Mr. Head
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman, if he will not be so impatient. I am stating that War Office policy as stated to the United States was, "We will standardise on .280 inch." Whether or not the right hon. Gentleman knew I do not know, but he cannot have it both ways. He was Minister of Defence; he ought to have known. The right hon. Member for Dundee, West was Secretary of State for War, so I presume that he did know.
§ Mr. Strachey
The right hon. Gentleman is saying that during our period of office a decision was made to standardise on the Belgian F.N. I think he is completely misinformed.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. It is all very well to have foolish laughter, but the right hon. Gentleman has quoted a signal which he alleges was sent by the War Office and he has indicated that right hon. Gentlemen on this side—including myself—are responsible. I should like to have information whether in those circumstances the papers and all the details should be laid on the Table?
§ Mr. Speaker
There is a general rule to the effect that the House is entitled to the best evidence in a disputed matter, and that if documents are cited they should be laid on the Table. But there are exceptions in the case of documents which, by their nature, are secret, and so on. I do not know enough about this document to be able to pronounce on it.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Further to that point of order. I do not know, Mr. Speaker, whether you are aware that in order to fortify myself with information on this matter—as it is some considerable time since I occupied the position of Minister of Defence—I was in communication with the Ministry of Defence one day last week. I asked whether a certain telegram could be made available to me, a telegram sent by the Minister of Defence to Washington, to our representative there. I was informed that the Permanent Under-Secretary declined to allow me access to the telegram. If we are to be refused access to documents of this sort, then I deny, with great respect, the right of the right hon. Gentleman to use documents of that kind.
§ Mr. Strachey
Further to that point of order. I think that if the right hon. Gentleman is including documents of this sort he must explain to the House—if it is so, if the War Office had come down in favour of the Belgian rifle during our period of office—why, months after, the Prime Minister was pleading for the British rifle. How can that possibly be so?
§ Mr. Head
I think part of the trouble of the right hon. Member for Dundee, West is that he is not allowing me to develop my argument to show what happened with the United States after that was done. The point I was making to the right hon. Gentleman is that after they reached the decision—[Interruption.]—I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman thought—[Interruption.] The fact is that the War Office said at this period that their object, the object of the British, was to standardise on .280 inch and the F.N. rifle. That is a fact.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am sorry, but is it not a serious accusation against the War Office that the War Office—
§ Mr. Shinwell
Is it not a very serious allegation that the right hon. Gentleman is now making, that while the War Office were advising the Secretary of State for War and the Minister of Defence that the Government should accept their recommendations, at the same time they were advocating another course in representations to Washington? Is not that a very serious accusation?
§ Mr. Head
That would be a most serious accusation, but I think the point which the right hon. Gentleman has overlooked is that this is January, 1951. The period when the right hon. Gentleman decided to go ahead with the .280 inch and the E.M.2 was later, when the Americans went back on their recommendation that they should standardise on the .280 inch. The point is this. At one period the Americans said "The .280 inch," and we said, "All right, F.N." Later the Americans said, "Wash out .280 inch, we are going to have .300 inch." We then said, "E.M.2." I am not saying that was right or wrong; I am stating the fact.
That, I say, has a significance to this debate and the significance is this: that the question which then went before the War Office—accepting standardisation on .280 inch, shall it be the E.M.2 or the F.N.?—is the same question we had. At that time the same result obtained. They went for the F.N. just as we are going for it now. I agree, and I grant the right hon. Gentleman that later the Americans said, "We overrule the previous decision about .280 inch and we are going over to .300 inch. "The decision was then altered and we decided on the E.M.2 and .280 inch. That was the time about which the right hon. Gentleman was thinking. But the fact remains that in January, before the later decision in April, the decision was to go for the F.N. and the standardisation of .280 inch was made.
§ Mr. Shinwell
On a point of order. Does the right hon. Gentleman now assert—[Hon. Members: "Order."] I am making a point of order. Does the right hon. Gentleman now assert that in January, 1951, there was a decision of the Army Council to the effect that he has indicated? Will he answer that?
§ Mr. Shinwell
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have been led to believe that the right hon. Gentleman was quoting from a document—[Hon. Members: "Nonsense."]—conveying instructions from the War Office to the American authorities. That was what we were led to believe. Now when I ask him to read out the whole statement, he informs us that he has not the document before him. Is there any means of obtaining protection from this kind of tactic employed by the right hon. Gentleman?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is hardly a point of order. If the Minister is quoting from a document the right hon. Gentleman ought to be allowed to see it, with the exceptions which I have mentioned. But there is a great difference between quoting from a document and merely stating its purport. I did not hear the Secretary of State quoting from any document and I think that the fact that he has not it with him shows that he was not quoting from it.
§ Mr. Head
I have not the document, but it is unlikely that the War Office would tell me this if it were incorrect. [Interruption.] I am telling hon. Gentlemen facts and they do not like them. I repeatThe U.K. object remains complete standardisation on the F.N. and the .280 as recommended in the Joint Report.That is quoted direct from my brief from the experts. 105 What I should like to say is that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have made their points. They have done their best to prove that they are right. What I would say is that this rifle is a really fine rifle. [Interruption.] I have been interrupted. I regret just as much as hon. Gentlemen opposite that I am detaining the House. I have been interrupted a great deal. It is only right that I should have a chance to answer the case.
If we adopt the F.N. rifle, hon. Gentlemen should not overlook the following advantages. First, we should gain a year in production. Secondly, it is easier to make. Thirdly, it has a simpler mechanism as hon. Gentlemen who went to shoot it today must have seen. Fourthly, it is simpler to maintain. Fifthly, it is simpler to teach as, again, hon. Gentlemen who went to fire it today must have seen. Sixthly, there is less recoil. Seventhly, I want to point out to hon. Gentlemen that one of the great objections made by the hon. Member for Aston was concerned with the flash. The overcoming of flash both in the E.M.2 and the F.N. has the same remedy—the bayonet. [Hon. Members: "It has not."] I say that the remedy is the same—the bayonet. Both rifles have flash and, at night, the bayonet is the flash suppressor.
Practically every battalion in the last war had it as a standing order that any man shooting a rifle at night should put on a bayonet, and a very wise rule it was. It is not great hardship to put the bayonet on at night to prevent flash. This rifle has slightly more than the other, but the remedy against flash is identical in both cases.
I would also point out to hon. Gentlemen that the rifle has undergone most extensive user trials recently to be quite certain that it was all right and wise to buy 5,000 for troop trials. Hon. Gentlemen opposite said, "Why not have another set of competitive trials all over again?" The last lot took nearly two years. I believe that if we had more we should probably have a very inconclusive report. What the experts have advised us, and what I believe to be sound, is that the differences between the two rifles are marginal: the advantages of gaining standardisation are great.
106 Provided we satisfy ourselves by user trials that this rifle is all right, let us go for it. It has been thrown from towers, buried in sand, put through cold temperature trials, and it is doing arctic trials with the Canadians of which reports are extremely successful. The arctic trials are not completed but the Canadians, who know something about Arctic conditions, have ordered 2,000 for troop trials. It has got an arctic trigger, and it has been through the whole of our cold temperature trials.
The rifle has come out of this with flying colours. That is the fact. If we have competitive trials all over again between the E.M.2 and the F.N., what will happen? People who love the E.M.2 are like Catholics against Protestants. They will never give up their belief in the E.M.2. We shall have terrible disagreements and waste more time, with the British Army, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aston said, left on something of a limb as the last Army with a bolt-operated rifle.
I would say to the House that in my job as Secretary of State for War the one thing I want to do is to get into production on an automatic rifle. We are satisfied, and the experts are satisfied, that to buy 5,000 of these rifles for troop trials is now justified up to the hilt, and that is what we intend to do.
What I beg of hon. Gentlemen opposite is that if they feel that this rifle, as I have told them, is a reasonably adequate one, cannot we in the House tonight forgo a division? This rifle will be fired by the sons of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, and the best send-off for any rifle is for the House to feel that it is a good one. I am absolutely convinced up to the hilt, and I have told the Prime Minister so, that this is a first-class rifle justified by expert opinion. People say that the rifle is the soldier's best friend. The best thing we can do in the House tonight is unanimously to commend a new friend to the British soldier.:
§ Mr. Strachey
Before the right hon. Gentleman finally resumes his seat, will he say whether he will or will not lay the signal about which he has spoken? He has told us he has given the substance of it, so there can be no security question. We would like to see what the 107 document was, whom it was sent from, and to whom, and what its real purport was.
§ Mr. Head
As I have said, if the right hon. Gentleman is challenging my facts, I would certainly take up the question on the facts. What would be unwise would be for me now to undertake to give a signal the contents of which—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] Hon. Gentlemen do not like this at all. The point I am making is that I do not know whether or not that signal might have said something which could have been interpreted, say, as discourteous to the United States. I do not know. I cannot guarantee to publish it in full, but what I will do is either to publish it in full or establish up to the hilt the facts which I have given to the House.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
The Government published the telegrams sent from the Foreign Office to Washington in connection with the question of bombing over the Yalu River. If it was possible to lay those telegrams, why is it not possible to lay this one?
§ Mr. Shinwell
Before the right hon. Gentleman finally resumes his seat, may I put this to him: was it not in his opinion a trifle unfair not exactly to quote from a document but to convey the impression that he was quoting and, at any rate, to prejudice the case against this side of the House by speaking about this matter and declining to lay the document on the table? Was not that a little unfair? Would he not reconsider the matter? If not, I am afraid that we shall have to take this very much further.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I presume that the right hon. Gentleman has seen the document himself. [Hon. Members: "No."] If he has not seen the document, that makes it very much worse. At any rate, will he not reconsider the matter and try to satisfy hon. Members about the contents of this document?
§ Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)
Would I be in order, Mr. Speaker, in suggesting that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, as a Privy Councillor, should show to the other right hon. Gentlemen the terms of the signal in so far as it might be confidential and that he should publish that element of the signal which he himself has said he will publish?
§ Mr. Callaghan
In view of the Secretary of State's continued refusal to say whether he has seen the document or not, we on this side of the House are quite clear that he cannot have seen it. In those circumstances, does he think that he is living up to his responsibilities when he comes to the House with a quotation from some document which he has not seen, and when he does not know to whom it was sent or the circumstancesin which it was sent?
§ Mr. Head
Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are making very heavy weather over this. What I said to the House—and I never said anything else—was that the policy decision was made in the War Office. A policy decision was made. I said that quite clearly. I never said anything about the Army Council, as hon. Gentlemen will see when they read the Official Report. I stated that a policy decision was made and the object was standardisation of the F.N. 280 inch as recommended by the Joint Report. I stated that as a decision of policy. If I am informed by the War Office that a policy decision was taken, why on earth do hon. Gentlemen think that either I or the War Office want to tell them the wrong thing? That is a factual statementon a policy decision which was made. Who made it I never stated. What I said was that I imagined that the right hon. Gentleman would know. I merely stated that it was a policy decision.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 232; Noes, 266.113
|Division No. 25.]||AYES||[7.20 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Albu, A. H.||Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)||Parker, J.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Hamilton, W. W.||Pearson, A.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Hannan, W.||Peart, T. F.|
|Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Hardy, E. A.||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Hargreaves, A.||Popplewell, E.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.)||Porter, G.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Hastings, S.||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Baird, J.||Hayman, F. H.||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Bartley, P.||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis)||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Herbison, Miss M.||Reeves, J.|
|Benn, Hon. Wedgwood||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Reid, Thomas (Swindon)|
|Benson, G.||Hobson, C. R.||Reid, William (Camlachie)|
|Beswick, F.||Holman, P.||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Houghton, Douglas||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Hoy, J. H.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Blackburn, F.||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Ross, William|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley|
|Bowden, H. W.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Short, E. W.|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)||Shurmer, P. L. E.|
|Brockway, A. F.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)|
|Brock, Dryden (Halifax)||Janner, B.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford)||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Burke, W. A.||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent)|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Slater, J, (Durham, Sedgefield)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)|
|Carmichael, J.||Keenan, W.||Snow, J. W.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Kenyon, C.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Champion, A. J.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Steele, T.|
|Chapman, W. D.||King, Dr. H. M.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Clunie, J.||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Collick, P. H.||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Stross, Dr. Barnett|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Cove, W. G.||Lewis, Arthur||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Lindgren, G. S.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||Logan, D. G.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||MacColl, J. E.||Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)|
|Daines, P.||McInnes, J.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||McLeavy, F.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Thornton, E.|
|Deer, G.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Tomney, F.|
|Delargy, H. J.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Viant, S. P.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Wallace, H. W.|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich)||Mason, Roy||Warbey, W. N.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Mayhew, C. P.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Edelman, M.||Mellish, R. J.||Weitzman, D.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)||Messer, Sir F.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Mikardo, Ian||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Fornyhough, E.||Mitchison, G. R.||West, D. G.|
|Fienburgh, W.||Monslow, W.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Finch, H. J.||Moody, A. S.||While, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)||Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Follick, M.||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Foot, M. M.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S)||Wigg, George|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mort, D. L.||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Freeman, John (Watford)||Moyle, A.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Mulley, F. W.||Willey, F. T.|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Don V'll'y)|
|Gooch, E. G.||O'Brien, T.||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)|
|Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Oliver, G. H.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||Orbach, M.||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Oswald, T.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Grey, C. F.||Padley, W. E||Wyatt, W. L.|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Paget, R. T.||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Palmer, A. M. F.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hale, Leslie||Pannell, Charles||Mr. Royle and Mr. Holmes.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Marples, A. E.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell||Maude, Angus|
|Amory, Rt. Hon. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)||Maudling, R.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Glover, D.||Medlicott, Brig. F.|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Godber, J. B.||Mellor, Sir John|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Gower, H. R.||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Baker, P. A. D.||Graham, Sir Fergus||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Gridley, Sir Arnold||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Grimond, J.||Neave, Airey|
|Banks, Col. C||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Nicholls, Harmar|
|Barber, Anthony||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)|
|Baxter, A. B.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||Nield, Basil (Chester)|
|Beach, Maj. Hicks||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P.|
|Beamish, Maj. Tufton||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Hay, John||O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Heath, Edward||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare)|
|Birch, Nigel||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Osborne, C.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Higgs, J. M. C.||Page, R. G.|
|Black, C. W.||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Boothby, Sir R. J. G.||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Perkins, Sir Robert|
|Bossom, Sir A. C.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Bowen, E. R.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Peyton, J. W. W.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Holt, A. F.||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|Braine, B. R.||Hope, Lord John||Pitman, I. J.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Cmdr. Sir Gurney||Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Horobin, I. M.||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Profumo, J. D.|
|Bullard, D. G.||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Hulbert, Wing Cdr. N. J.||Redmayne, M.|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Hurd, A. R.||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A (Saffron Walden)||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'rgh, W.)||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Carr, Robert||Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.||Roberts, Peter (Heeley)|
|Channon, H.||Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.||Roberston, Sir David|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Sir Winston||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Clyde, Rt. Hon. J. L.||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Russell, R. S.|
|Cole, Norman||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.|
|Colegate, W. A.||Kaberry, D.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Kerr, H. W.||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr Albert||Lambert, Hon. G.||Scott, R. Donald|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Lambton, Viscount||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Leather, E. H. C.||Shepherd, William|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)|
|Crouch, R. F.||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Llewellyn, D. T.||Snadden, W. McN.|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Longden, Gilbert||Spens, Rt. Hon. Sir P. (Kensington, S.)|
|De la Bère, Sir Rupert||Low, A. R. W.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Deedes, W. F.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Stevens, G. P.|
|Digby, S. Wingfield||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||McAdden, S. J.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Donner, Sir P. W.||McCallum, Major D.||Storey, S.|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond)||Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry||Studholme, H. G.|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||McKibbin, A. J.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir D. M.||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Erroll, F. J.||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Teeling, W.|
|Fell, A.||Maclean, Fitzroy||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Finlay, Graeme||Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter (Monmouth)|
|Ford, Mrs. Patricia||Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E.||Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.|
|Foster, John||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Turner, H. F. L.||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Turton, R. H.||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.||Wills, G.|
|Tweedsmuir, Lady||Watkinson, H. A.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Vane, W. M. F.||Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.||Wellwood, W.|
|Vosper, D. F.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Walker-Smith, D. C.||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)||Sir Cedric Drewe and Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith.|
|Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|