HC Deb 16 February 1954 vol 523 cc1788-90
8. Mr. Simmons

asked the Secretary of State for War how many private soldiers, non-commissioned officers and officers were employed in non-combatant service on 1st January, 1954.

16. Mr. Peart

asked the Secretary of State for War how many men, National Service men and Regulars, respectively, are engaged in non-combatant tasks.

Mr. Head

All ranks of the Army are trained in combatant duties. The borderline between combatant and non-combatant service is necessarily so arbitrary, and indeed controversial, that I can give no worth-while figures.

Mr. Simmons

That is an amazing reply. The right hon. Gentleman himself was one of those who complained bitterly about the tail of the Army. May we know whether the tail is growing or diminishing? Cannot the right hon. Gentleman give us any idea at all?

Mr. Head

I remain as one who is always opposed to the tail, and I should like to get more teeth and less tail. I would point out that the hon. Gentleman is asking me for an exact percentage, and it is extremely difficult to say at what period in a division someone stops being a tooth and starts being a tail.

Mr. Peart

Surely the Minister should reconsider the position. Cannot he answer Question 16, which deals with National Service men and Regulars, because I am certain the figures are available?

Mr. Head

If the hon. Gentleman will define to me what is a non-combatant, I will try to answer the question.

Captain Duncan

Is it not an insult to the Army Catering Corps to describe Army cooks as menials?

Mr. Dugdale

Canthe right hon. Gentleman explain these difficulties, which he has rightly stressed, to his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has talked constantly about this question of the tail?

Mr. Head

No, Sir. I have talked about the tail. I interpret the tail to be large headquarters and unduly big administrative units. If I were to give an arbitrary figure, I think that the ratio of the teeth to the tail is 1.3 to one, but I do not think that is an entirely fair one.

9. Mr. Simmons

asked the Secretary of State for War how many private soldiers were employed at batmen, cooks, waiters and in other menial services, designed to add to the personal comfort and convenience of officers, on 1st January, 1954.

Mr. Head

Batmen and cooks and orderlies for officers'messes are provided oil scales designed to meet essential needs with all possible economy. The scales are below the pre-war ones.

Mr. Simmons

I want the numbers of all those people engaged in the Army who look after someone else's personal comfort. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider abolishing these menial duties for men engaged as soldiers and employ civilians to do the job?

Mr. Head

I am limited as to the number of civilians that I can employ. I would point out that these organisations have to go overseas and fight, and one cannot have civilians cooking for officers and looking after them if they have to go and fight in Malaya. It just does not work. We have to have these people. Hon. Members have cooks and waiters in the House of Commons, and I do not see why officers should not have them.

Mr. Simmons

Why should there be cooks for officers in the front line, when Tommy has to cook his food in his mess tin; why cannot the officers do the same?

Mr. Head

The hon. Gentleman, to whom I pay great tribute, was engaged in static warfare in 1914, and I have no doubt that what he says was correct then; but at the present time, in mobile warfare, we have special cooks to cook for him.

Mr. Shinwell

The right hon. Gentleman has raised the question of the number of cooks and waiters in service in the House of Commons, but if he asked a Question as to how many were employed in this staff, he would get a correct reply.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Would my right hon. Friend make it clear, because there seems tobe some misunderstanding, that these are not menial jobs and that these men, in addition to doing these jobs, are fully-trained soldiers?