§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
I beg to move,That, in the opinion of this House, the time has now arrived for a review, preferably by a Select Committee of this House, of the operation of the National Service Acts in the light of existing circumstances and commitments and, in particular, as to whether the period of National Service should still remain at two years.This matter of compulsory military service has been debated several times in this House, and once again the Opposition ask for an inquiry into the operation of the National Service Acts. On three previous occasions we have urged the Government either to reduce the length of conscription, or alternatively to hold an inquiry or to review the matter every 12 months. On every occasion our demand was rejected, and now we are making a further effort. I hope that we may achieve greater success on this occasion.
1075 Nobody will deny that this subject is of immense importance to the whole country. It concerns the lives and future of hundreds of thousands of our young men. It is a constant source of anxiety to many parents, in particular to the mothers of those young men. It is also related to our industrial and food production. Moreover, it raises the question whether much of the time of our National Service men is being wasted, about which many complaints have been made from time to time in the House. Nor can we ignore the disparity in the length of service among the North Atlantic Treaty countries, which shows beyond any doubt that a heavier burden is imposed upon our country than upon our Allies in the West.
These are matters which, in the view of my hon. Friends and myself, call for the closest examination in a democratic country. The demand for an inquiry does not mean that Labour's views on defence and the need for national security have changed. We shall always seek to reduce our defence expenditure and to adapt our military organisation to correspond with changes in overall defence strategy. Nevertheless, as long as there is any danger of war and while the channels of diplomacy are blocked, we shall continue to accept our responsibility with others for providing some measure of defence.
When the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) and the present Prime Minister were in opposition, they frequently assailed the Labour Government, and, in particular, the Service Ministers, on the subject of our defence measures and organisation. They expressed a lack of confidence in the Labour Government's Service Ministers and in all that we were doing, but when they became the Government the scene was immediately transformed. They immediately discovered that the defence organisation was in a most satisfactory state and went to the length, most remarkable indeed, of almost enthusiastically praising the Ministers whom they had previously condemned. This, of course, is the inconsistency, almost amounting to deception, frequently practised by the Tory Party, and no doubt it will be developed on a wholesale scale in the forthcoming Election.
1076 While the Labour Party prefers the voluntary system, we may agree that, provided there are proper safeguards and exemptions, either for those who are unable to serve or for those who for conscientious reasons are unwilling to serve, National Service is not inherently unsound in principle. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that many people are violently opposed to conscription. Even many of those who believe that there is a need for it object to its continuance when it seems to be no longer required or when the circumstances justify a shorter period of service.
I propose to pose a series of questions to the Government. The first is whether conscription is necessary at all and, if it is, what period of service is required? Should it be two years or 18 months or 12 months, or even six months? [HON. MEMBERS: "The right hon. Gentleman tried them all."] The Secretary of State for War pricked up his ears when I mentioned six months—and for a very good reason; because when he was in Opposition he subscribed to the following opinion, which, I think, ought to be placed on record:I am not certain that I would at present entirely jettison National Service but I would perhaps call on every man for a short period of, say, six months or less in which he would be given the fundamental training common to all three Services, …The right hon. Gentleman then added:There are I know, all sorts of difficulties, including that of policing Germany, … but they would be overcome."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1947; Vol. 445, c. 2028.]
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
That is such a favourite quotation of the right hon. Gentleman that I think I should remind him that when National Service was introduced it was introduced by the then Government for one purpose—to train reservists. It has completely altered now, in so far as it increases the size of the active Army. The circumstances, as the right hon. Gentleman knows full well, are entirely different. At one time it was a question of not placing a burden on the Regular forces for training reservists. I think it would be fair of the right hon. Gentleman if he admitted that.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman running away from this quotation. He is, of course, correct when he says that the original purpose 1077 was to train a large number of reservists, but in point of fact that has been the intention throughout National Service, except when international tension became more acute, arising out of the Korean War, when the period of service had to be increased.
It should be placed on record that the right hon. Gentleman is not alone in this matter, for the Under-Secretary of State for Air, whom I see in his place, said:This conscription is killing the Auxiliary Air Force.I do not know whether he has changed his mind. If he has, would he like to comment? All contributions are gratefully received.
I pose a further question: what is the reason for the shortage of Regular recruits and of non-commissioned officers? That is a very important question, as no doubt the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the Service Departments will agree. There is a further question: if the reason for increasing the period of service to two years was the Korean War, as undoubtedly it was, now that the Korean War is over, why not revert to 18 months or even less, should it be found sufficient for our needs?
Before I put a further question, I should like to add something which many hon. Members have apparently overlooked. Had it not been for the Korean War the period of service would not have been increased from 18 months to two years. At that time there was no demand from any quarter of the House, certainly not from the Tory Opposition as it then was, for an increase from 18 months to two years. That action was taken, it is true, by the Labour Government of the day, because of the Korean War and, in particular, because of the physical difficulty of sending men out to the Far East, leaving them there with sufficient time for training and any other activities required and bringing them back again before their period of service had expired.
Moreover—and in my view this is one of the most important questions of all, and one which certainly requires an answer—why should our men serve two years when scarcely any other country imposes the same burden? Here I must place the facts on record, and I will quote from the official figures. National Service primarily concerns the Army. The Navy is not very much concerned about it and 1078 the Air Force cannot have much anxiety because when the men have to be transferred to the Auxiliary Force we find that there is nothing for them to do and they are transferred to Civil Defence. We are thus concerned primarily with the Army.
What is the length of National Service for the land forces in various countries associated with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation? Belgium has 18 months; Canada has no compulsory military service at all; Denmark, 16 months; France, 18 months—at any rate, on paper; Greece, 18 months; Italy, 15 months—
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. and gallant Gentleman can shake his head until it falls off, but those are the facts. The figure for Italy is 15 months. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] Let hon. Members produce their figures. These are the figures for July last year. If there are later figures, let them be produced. I challenge the Minister of Defence to produce the figures and to show that my figures, taken from the records of last year, are incorrect.
Luxembourg—which does not matter much in this context—has a period of 12 months; the Netherlands, 18–21 months; Norway, 16 months; Portugal 18 months, and Turkey two years. We are the only other country in N.A.T.O. which has as long a period as that. The United States of America has a period of two years, but the system is run upon a selected service basis, which means that there is a vast number of exemptions of various kinds.
§ Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Scotstoun)
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would be prepared to add to his list—because it is important to consider the period of service operated by a possible adversary—the Soviet Union, where the period of service is four years in the Navy and three years in the Army and Air Force.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It may well be that the hon. Gentleman is correct about the period of service in the Soviet bloc, but I am concerned with the period of service among our Allies. As the hon. Gentleman must have heard when he was at the War Office, there has always been a demand for uniformity and standardisation. Why should our men have a greater 1079 burden imposed upon them than those of other countries in N.A.T.O.? That question demands an answer, and I suggest that it had better be left to the Minister of Defence rather than to the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) who appears to be amused, and whose knowledge of these matters is very imperfect.
What is the case advanced by the Government? I want to be fair, or even generous to them, and I shall endeavour to state their arguments in accordance with statements which have been made in the House from time to time. First, they argue that this period is necessary because of our overseas commitments. I do not seek to escape from this argument. These commitments, naturally, must always be a matter of anxious consideration; but what are the facts? Our troops are out of Korea, apart from a comparatively small number of men—and what they are doing there it is difficult to say; as far as I know they are not engaged in military activities. There appears to be no reason why any of our forces should remain there and, at any rate, the large number which we had there during the Korean War and for some time afterwards have been withdrawn.
The same situation applies in the case of Egypt. The argument adduced by the Government was that we required to have about 70,000 men, or possibly more, in the Canal Zone. Many of these men have already been withdrawn, and all will have been withdrawn within the next 12 months. That commitment has, therefore, also disappeared. The same applies to Trieste and, shortly, the same will apply to Austria. So one argument upon which the Government founded their case for retaining a two-year period of service has gone.
§ Mr. Shinwell
To the hon. Member who has interjected I would say that it is amazing how one small head can carry all he knows.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I advise him to be a little more relevant to the subject when he interrupts again, and also to remember that this is a very serious matter—as he 1080 will discover when the Election comes along. I would remind the Prime Minister that we have raised this matter upon three previous occasions, and we have as much right to introduce it at an Election as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to introduce an electioneering Budget—although that has gone off at half-cock already.
A further argument adduced by the Government, which has been used frequently by the Secretary of State for War, is that there is a shortage of Regulars. They always say, "There is a shortage of Regulars." Who is to blame? The Secretary of State for War used to say, "Increase the pay. Go on increasing the pay, and get all the men you want." So we increased the pay beyond the anticipations either of the Tory Opposition or of the men themselves. Whether the pay was increased to an extent consistent with what the men believe they are entitled to is another matter, but the pay was increased. Yet the shortage remains; indeed, the position has become very acute. We should be told why.
The best way to find out is not to ask the Secretary of State for War, who is, naturally, biased in these matters, but to ask a Select Committee of the House to inquire quite impartially into the shortage of recruits and of non-commissioned officers, and to inquire not only into the question of pay but of conditions, the way men are treated, and the misunderstandings—I use the term advisedly—to which the right hon. Gentleman referred the other day when standing up to a barrage of criticism by hon. Members on this side of the House. I need not retail the figures illustrating the rapid decline in recruitment, which is getting worse and worse. I will hand them to the right hon. Gentleman to make what use he likes of them.
There is also the argument that we need more and more reserves. I agree—but what are the facts? We already have more than 500,000 trained reserves as a result of the National Service Acts. We can still draw upon the Class Z reservists. Many of them have become older—
§ Mr. Shinwell
—and there is a considerable wastage, but there are still many who are available.
I agree that the position in relation to reserves is of fundamental importance. As has been pointed out, it does not so much matter how many men one has in the field; what matters is the number of reserves that may be speedily thrown into the battle line in time of trouble. I agree that the position is difficult, but we have vast numbers of reservists. Moreover, I am satisfied that we can train them in a shorter time. We do not require more than 18 months, except in the technical branches.
Another argument which is adduced by the Government, and which will no doubt interest the Prime Minister, is the state of world tension. They say, "Look at the international situation—with the cold war and the various possibilities." But the Government cannot plead, as their reason for maintaining a two-year period of service, that we are still in a condition of acute international tension and, at the same time, continually boast and brag that as a result of their diplomacy the position has considerably eased.
They cannot have it both ways. If the position has eased, and there is not so much danger of the cold war continuing, or a shooting war emerging, the Government can claim to have achieved something, in which case they must agree that it is time to have an inquiry into the operation of the National Service Acts, and to see whether the whole of our military organisation requires adjusting or reorganising. Either the position has eased or it has not; we can have one or the other, but not both. I suggest that the Prime Minister might give his attention to that matter.
Now it is argued further—and I saw this most interesting argument in "The Times" leader this morning—that we must have a strategic reserve. [HON. MEMBKRS: "Hear, hear.'] All right, but we have a strategic reserve. Usually, a strategic reserve is in the Home Command. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman opposite will challenge that. Germany is part of the Home Command. We have four divisions there. If it is argued that we cannot take men from that Home Command for the purposes of operating elsewhere, may I remind the Minister of Defence that only the other week I 1082 directed his attention to the fact that the French Government had taken from their forces under N.A.T.O. Command a large number of men for service in North Africa, with the consent of N.A.T.O.
Similarly, it could be done in our case. There is no real difficulty there. [Laughter.] Of course there is not. If it is good enough for France it is good enough for us, Does anybody suggest that France has no overseas commitments; or that their commitments in North Africa are not as important to the French as are ours elsewhere? Anyway, we are Allies and we have as much interest in North Africa as presumably the French—because they are in association with us in N.A.T.O.—have interest in Malaya or Kenya.
The Government argue that they have instituted frequent inquiries into this matter. By whom were they conducted? By biased persons who have an interest in the matter. If the Government want an independent inquiry, they should not ask the generals. They always want more men. I have never met a general at the War Office or elsewhere who did not ask for more men. The demands of generals are insatiable. We want a Select Committee of the House which would be presumably unbiased and would regard the matter objectively in the interest of the nation as a whole and not in the interest of the War Office.
The Government have said that the matter is under constant review. Of all the platitudes indulged in by the Government, that is the most trite. The Government talk about the need for security in military matters. If a Select Committee were foolish enough to allow private information of a security character to leak out, that would be bad, but I would be prepared to trust a Select Committee of the House to inquire and, when a subject related to security matters emerged, to by-pass, or, at any rate, deal with, that with the tact which I am sure hon. Members can use.
These are the arguments which are adduced by the Government. Nobody would deny that the situation has changed since the two-year period was adopted. I have already spoken about Korea and Suez but there is something more than that, which is familiar to every hon. Member as a result of recent debates and of what has appeared in the Press and in 1083 articles in military magazines and the like. Our military strategy is being speedily revised. That will not be denied by the Minister of Defence. If he does deny that, it is a very serious matter. N.A.T.O. has declared its intention to revise military strategy and to adjust itself to the emergence of the nuclear weapon.
I admit that the question whether, as a result of the advent of nuclear weapons and new N.A.T.O. strategy, it is possible to dispense with our land forces is controversial and not a very easy one to answer. Quite frankly, I do not believe that that is possible, at any rate for some time. I know that Sir John Slessor, a Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Captain Liddell Hart, and many other military experts have their theories on this issue. I may be right or wrong, but while there is some need for adjustment of our land forces, I am not sure that at present we can dispense with them entirely—and not because I accept what the right hon. Member for Woodford said about broken-backed warfare. If I may use an expression which I think the Financial Secretary to the Treasury used the other day, that is "boloney."
To dispense with land forces entirely is, in my judgment, inconceivable at present. We must see what can be done in respect of disarmament and what development takes place in the adjustment of military strategy in general, but surely this is a matter that can be inquired into. I know that we have debates on Defence and on the Service Estimates to which hon. Members on both sides of the House, and particularly those who are well-grounded in military matters contribute, but however well-informed they may be, it is quite impossible for hon. Members to express a competent opinion based on all the facts, taking into their stride the whole situation. It seems to me that we require a Committee capable of focusing attention on these matters so that the House and the country may be well-informed.
I have already stated what can be done in the case of reserves; and, by the way, our demand is supported by the Trades Union Congress. I should like the House to understand that. The T.U.C. has had this matter under consideration. It has 1084 looked at it not so much from the military point of view as from the industrial point of view and it has expressed very strong views about it. I agree that the T.U.C. has not made a declaration in support of a reduction of the period of service, but it has demanded an inquiry and its views are entitled to consideration.
If the Government reject our demand, which is supported by the T.U.C, what alternative have we but to appeal to the great body of the electorate? If the Government turn down an inquiry, if they are completely satisfied with the situation, if they are content with a declaration that the matter is under constant review and that they hope whenever possible to review or to adjust the period of service, that is not enough.
I utter this warning. We are drifting into a condition of permanent conscription. The Government seem to like it. They have become familiar with conscription. It is the easy way out. Then they do not have to trouble about recruiting Regulars. They will rely on the men who are forced into the Services. I would say that the divergence of view between the other side of the House and ours amounts to this, that hon. and right hon. Members opposite are satisfied with conscription and the two-year period—
§ Mr. Shinwell
—whereas we on this side have never regarded conscription as a permanent feature of our national system and are anxious to reduce it as rapidly as possible, because we do not believe it to be any longer necessary
§ Mr. Osborne
That is a very serious statement. What evidence can the right hon. Gentleman give for the statement he has made about this side of the House?
§ Mr. Shinwell
I only require to give the answer that if the Government believe it is worth considering whether there should be a readjustment of our National Service Acts; and if they find it impossible to agree to a proposal to reduce the period by six months immediately or within the foreseeable future, let them agree to an inquiry such as we have requested.
§ Mr. Osborne
That is not answering my question. The right hon. Gentleman made a most serious statement. I want to know, and he ought to say in fairness to the House and to the country, what evidence he has to justify his statement about this side of the House.
§ Mr. Shinwell
This is infantile on the part of the hon. Member. I credited the hon. Gentleman, despite his lugubrious appearance, with more intelligence. I am sorry that he does not reach the standard I ascribed to him.
We have to rely on the statements made by members of the Government, and we have to rely on the Amendment to this Motion, which indicates that the Government regard conscription on a two-year basis as essential for a considerable time to come.
I add this: whatever may be the opinion of the back bench supporters of the Government—and I prefer to think they like conscription on the present basis—it is certainly true that the Government's military advisers, having secured, as a result of world tension, a two-year period of service, are determined not to yield an inch. That is my opinion. It is my firm opinion that there is not a single one of the Government's military advisers who is prepared to give way on the question of having an inquiry of an independent kind, even by a Select Committee, or any reduction in the period of service.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the Government's Amendment to his Motion. Does he not appreciate the last words of the Amendment? They are:… the declared intention of Her Majesty's Government to lighten the existing burden of National Service as soon as circumstances permit.
§ Mr. Shinwell
With great respect to the Government and to hon. Members on the back benches opposite, I think that the Amendment is just a continuation of the kind of platitudes they have indulged in all along.
For example, the Amendment begins with an expression of gratitude to the National Service men. Is not that quite gratuitous? Does anybody ever complain about the National Service men? It is the National Service men who are complain- 1086 ing about the treatment they receive from the Government. As for the rest, the Amendment talks about lightening the burden of National Service as soon as possible. What does it mean? We know the kind of answer we get from the Government. We ask when something is to be done, and we are always told, "As soon as possible." What does it mean? Through the months and years we have got the same answer to our questions on this subject. That answer is not enough. The Government have to be very much more definite.
If the Government, in reply to our Motion, were today to say that in the course of the next six months, if they should be in power still—which I do not expect will be the case—they would reduce the period of service, or at any rate have the inquiry for which we have asked, it would be a different matter. They have refused every time, and we are entitled to reach the conclusion that the Government are quite content with the present system and intend to retain it. The military advisers are not prepared to recommend that the Government should yield. They will not yield themselves.
I therefore make this declaration on behalf of the Labour Opposition, that we intend to reverse the position. It is our intention, if we are the Government, immediately to institute an inquiry into the operation of the National Service Acts. I beg hon. Members not to treat what I have said with derision, because in a few weeks they may very likely discover that the matter is out of their hands.
Finally, I say this. We are not departing in any way from our views about defence. Readjustments are, perhaps, necessary. That, I think, will be generally agreed. However, we stand by our defence position as long as the international tension continues; but we do believe there is a case for some readjustment here. The Government refuse to accept our view. Then, clearly, it is either because they regard conscription as a permanent condition of our national life, or because they have not undertaken the inquiries to which they frequently refer. I ask them to depart from that attitude and to give us the inquiry we want, and to place the matter unreservedly in the hands of a Select Committee of this House and to accept whatever conclusions result.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:this House expresses its gratitude for the services rendered by National Service men in maintaining the safety and well-being of this country in the present world situation; and approves the declared intention of Her Majesty's Government to lighten the existing burden of National Service as soon as circumstances permit.I think it is common ground that the Government should be constantly considering the implications and the operation of the National Service Acts. I think it is right that the House should from time to time debate whether compulsory service as organised at present is the most effective use that can be made of these young men in the national interest. I therefore welcome this opportunity of examining the position, and I shall try to do that without undue polemics—though I must say that I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), in one or two of his remarks, rather let the cat out of the bag about the purpose of the Motion which he has moved.
When National Service was introduced, it is quite true, the then Government gave two main reasons for it. The primary purpose then was to build up large, well trained reserves for use in emergency. The second reason was the need to supplement the Regular component of the active forces with the National Service element, so that they could carry out their world-wide commitments.
The international scene then was very different from what it has turned out to be since, and the strategic background of global war was rather different. I quite concede that as time has gone on the emphasis has rather changed. At present, the emphasis is much more on the maintenance of our active forces, and that is the compelling need at the present time. Some of the quotations which the right hon. Gentleman made referred, I think, to a rather earlier period.
I do not propose to inflict many statistics on the House, but there are certain basic figures. At the beginning of April, 1955, the total strength of our Armed Forces was about 825,000. Of those, just under two-thirds were Regu- 1088 lars and just over one-third National Service men. During 1955, the overall numbers will be reduced by about 35,000, and the reduction will be in the Regular element. Therefore, by this time next year the same number of National Service men will be in the forces but their percentage of the total will be rather increased. So far as the percentage of Regulars and National Service men, Service by Service, is concerned, in the Navy the men are almost entirely Regulars; in the Army the number is about half and half; and in the Air Force there are three Regulars to each National Service man. Those are the facts at the present.
From them it will be seen how important is the contribution made by the National Service man, and I should like, and I think the whole House would like, to pay a tribute to the National Service men. I understand, and I think that all my hon. and right hon. Friends understand, the disadvantages of peacetime conscription. I think it is quite obvious what are those disadvantages, although it does not necessarily follow that, on balance, the consequences are harmful to the individual concerned. I am very conscious of the industrial argument, in particular, at the present time.
However that may be, this obligation has on the whole, I believe, been willingly and cheerfully undertaken. I had the opportunity, in 1952, of going with the then Minister of Defence to Korea, and I saw for myself the high morale and cheerfulness of units of which National Service men formed a considerable part. I think that our view once again should go on record, that these young men have made a vital contribution to peace and to the security of their country, and it is right that they, and their parents, should know that that is what we think about them and the work they have been doing.
On the other hand, we have to be very careful about how we deal with the matter, because the production of uncertainty, the raising of false hopes or impressions, may have the most unsettling effect upon morale and upon the way in which the obligation is undertaken.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman leaves the statistical part of his speech, would he be good enough to give us one figure for which we have pressed for many months? Will he be kind enough to tell 1089 us the number and percentage of men who are serving on the new three-year engagement in the Army and how many of them have taken on? This question and its answer are at the core of this matter. We have pressed for an answer over and over again, and we have been refused the information. We were promised it in the first weeks in May, but in a few days the House will be dissolved and there will be a General Election. Can we be told what this vital figure is?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I certainly cannot give it to the hon. Gentleman this afternoon, but I will see whether it can be given to him.
When examining this general matter, we have to consider British commitments and the international position. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Easington, who left the Chamber a few moments ago—who has now returned to the Chamber—devoted part of his speech to dealing with the international situation. That seems to me to be one of the difficulties about the Opposition's Motion, because a judgment upon those factors cannot be remitted even to a Select Committee of this House. Only the Government of the day can have the necessary knowledge on which to form a judgment as to the existing circumstances.
§ Mr. Shinwell
May I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there is a precedent for this? During the war, in 1941, the Coalition Government remitted to an independent committee an inquiry into the use of skilled manpower in the forces. In those circumstances, there can surely be no objection to having an inquiry now.
§ Mr. Lloyd
That is an entirely different matter, and one which does not seem to me to have been a matter of policy in the broadest sense bearing upon the international situation. As I say, only the Government can form an estimate of what the international situation is likely to be, and only upon such an estimate can realistic conclusions be arrived at.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that the whole structure of the Army, as it substantially exists today, was the result of the Esher Committee, which was appointed by this House?
§ Mr. Lloyd
We are dealing now with quite a different situation. We are now considering whether, in view of the international situation and of our commitments overseas, it is possible to reduce the period of National Service from 24 to 18 months. It is not primarily really a question of the formation of our forces, but a question of what forces we need to carry out our existing commitments.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington referred to certain matters. It is quite true that, comparing today with November, 1951, there has been a steady improvement and a steady development in the processes of pacification. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, there has been the cease-fire in Korea. That would not have happened, I believe, but for the Indian Resolution at the United Nations dealing with the forcible repatriation of prisoners of war. In procuring acceptance of that Resolution, British diplomacy played a decisive part.
I remember four or five anxious weeks in New York, and, but for the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at a critical point, I do not think that that Resolution would have been passed, and I do not think that the Armistice would have been possible. The war in Indo-China has ceased, and, whatever the uncertainties in the present situation may be, fighting has stopped and the grave risks of an extension of that war which existed at this time last year have been averted. The whole House has acknowledged the part played by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in that.
There has been the settlement with Persia, which has been of real benefit to Britain and British interests. I am developing the right hon. Gentleman's argument rather more fairly, perhaps, than he developed it. There has been a settlement with Egypt, and our forces have been freed of very heavy burdens there. Sudan has now decided to settle its own future. The Trieste problem has been settled in a manner acceptable to both Italy and Yugoslavia. All that, I think, has been due to British and American diplomacy.
There has been an agreement with Iraq, and, as a result of our policy, it looks as if at long last, there may be a settlement of the Austrian Treaty. The 1091 Government's policy to clear up situations one by one has worked. I believe that considerable progress has been made towards peace. The direct consequence of this has been that we have been able to begin to redeploy and to build up a strategic reserve at home, which is where it should be.
I do not think it is sufficiently realised, particularly by those who listen to the kind of speech made by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, that in November, 1951, this country was heavily over-committed overseas, having regard to the forces available. Then there was practically nothing available in this country to send out by way of reinforcements or to deal with a new situation.
In March, 1952, apart from troops engaged in ceremonial duties in London and at base and training establishments, the only infantry battalion available with which to meet any further emergency was the demonstration battalion at the School of Infantry.
§ Mr. Shinwell
This is so inaccurate and deceptive that the right hon. and learned Gentleman ought to be ashamed of himself for saying it. Is he not aware that, at that time, we had more than 11 divisions overseas? The right hon. and learned Gentleman has already said that the state of international tension was most acute at that time, and to say that we did not meet our commitments—[HON. MEMBERS: "He did not say that."] That is what he said. He said that we had nothing left in this country. Even that is absolutely inaccurate, because, at that time, there were nearly 200,000 troops still in this country. How they were deployed is another matter, but the fact is that a very large number of troops were still in the country.
§ Mr. Lloyd
It seems to me that if they were improperly deployed, that was the responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman. But the fact of the matter is that in March, 1952, the only infantry battalion available to deal with any emergency which might very easily have arisen in the circumstances of the cold war, and so on, was the Demonstration Battalion at the School of Infantry. I agree that we may have had 11 divisions overseas.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I am sorry, but I must get on.
The fact of having no available trained reserves at home undoubtedly weakened our international position, both as regards friends and enemies. Furthermore, it was a great strain upon the Forces, upon their family life and upon their morale. It really was an intolerable situation.
There were these two aspects to it: as I say, in the world in which we live, the cold war is, unfortunately, a reality and the warm war a possibility. If we are not to be over-committed or overextended, we must have a strategic force at home capable of going to any threatened point. Secondly, it is of equal importance from the point of view of our Regulars that an undue proportion of their service should not be overseas service, because, if it is, we shall lose the Regular content of the forces. I maintain that, in present circumstances, it is entirely right to build up this strategic reserve.
Another matter arises in connection with the suggested reduction from 24 to 18 months. There is the question of the timing of a change. I think that, at the moment, we are entering upon a decisive phase in our attempts to pacify the world, and I think that there is a possibility of further negotiations. Reference was made in the House last week and again this afternoon to the point. I quote the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) because I thought he asked a very apt supplementary relating to Austria the other day, when he said:Would it be fair to describe this Austrian agreement as the first fruits of ratification, and does it tend to indicate that as a result of the ratification of the Paris Agreements it is now much easier to negotiate with the Russians?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th April, 1955; Vol. 540, c. 32.]That, in other words, is the maintenace of peace through strength. I am glad to have the hon. and learned Gentleman's support for that.
In addition to that, we have tabled far-reaching proposals on disarmament, and we still hope for progress there. In my submission, it would be folly just at this time to make a change in, or to indicate a new departure from, our National 1093 Service arrangements. If we were to cast away our present power to meet our cold war obligations, it might destroy the prospect of successful negotiations, because, after all, in spite of the improvements stated and admitted by the right hon. Gentleman, there are still many doubts and uncertainties about what the Soviet Union means by "peaceful coexistence." That is a question to which many people still do not know the answer.
I saw the other day a quotation from a pamphlet recently published by the Soviet Ministry of Defence, in which it was stated:Communists are against Imperialistic wars as being counter-revolutionary wars, but they are in favour of liberating anti-Imperialist revolutionary wars."Peaceful co-existence"—on those terms? That statement, of course, may have been only for internal consumption, but these questions, as to what the Soviet Union mean by "peaceful co-existence," we have constantly asked. Is it their purpose, while avoiding major military entanglements—
§ Mr. Wigg
On a point of order. As it is impossible to get any information from the Minister except what he cares to read from his brief, may I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker? I understand that the Motion before the House is on the rather narrow point of setting up a Select Committee to inquire into the operation of the National Service Acts. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman finds it more convenient to make a speech on foreign affairs. Has he by chance brought the wrong brief down to the House? Perhaps you can give us some guidance about that?
That is not a point of order. It is a point of debate. I think it is common ground between the two right hon. Gentlemen who have been speaking that the factor of the commitments of this country must come into any assessment of this problem. I did not hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is now addressing the House transgress the bounds of relevancy in that respect.
Order. The hon. Member must leave the matter of relevance to me. The Motion refers to "existing circumstances and commitments," and I think that was perfectly relevant.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
On a point of order. I should like to ask your guidance, in view of what has been said. Will it be in order, throughout the rest of the debate, for the rest of us to discuss what the Soviet Union means by "peaceful co-existence"?
§ Mr. Silverman
I apologise, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure it was actually my fault, but the hilarity with which your answer to me was received prevented me from hearing what it was.
The hon. Member can rest assured that its purport was that I could not give a Ruling on points of order in advance. If the hon. Member makes a speech, whoever is in the Chair will tell him whether it is in order or not.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) for his intervention, because I think it underlines what is one of the primary points in this debate, because whether it is coexistence or "peaceful co-existence" vitally affects the number and the disposition of the forces which we have to have available. That is the whole essence of the debate.
I was saying that it is very difficult to find out yet what is the answer to that question. I tried again and again with the late Mr. Vyshinsky, but I never got an answer from him on these matters. I am convinced that this is the wrong moment in the development of our international policy to make a change or a new departure.
We must examine, in the light of the terms of the Motion, what would be the consequences of a reduction in the period from 24 to 18 months. The strength of the forces would fall by over 80,000. With the reduced numbers, we could not meet our requirements; in particular, the Army could not build up a strategic reserve, and the R.A.F. could not man its existing front line. But it is not only a question of numbers. The last six months of a National Service man's time is by far the most useful. He is then 1095 trained. If he served for a shorter period, the time taken to train him would be just the same, but the period of efficient service would be substantially reduced, and that would particularly apply to men trained in medium skilled trades. It might not even be worth while to train him in certain trades.
The figures given in "The Times" today show the extent to which the Services, and the Army in particular, rely upon National Service men for officers, non-commissioned officers and tradesmen. Of the officers in the Army, 5,000 are National Service men, while 25 per cent. of the corporals, 50 per cent. of the lance-corporals and over 50 per cent. of Army tradesmen are National Service men. The latter part of their service is not only valuable to the forces, but, I believe, these junior leaders also derive considerable benefit themselves.
The loss of six months in present circumstances would directly affect the efficiency of the forces, and I think this is a consideration which not only the men in the forces themselves but also their relatives may have in mind. Efficiency, and indeed safety, in training and operations does not depend solely upon Regulars. It depends considerably upon the more experienced National Service men, and they must serve an adequate time with their units. We cannot build up the high morale which we have learned to expect from British troops if the personnel is constantly changing.
There would be other consequences. It would mean a shorter time of overseas service, which would increase the movement problem, and it would mean larger administrative staffs and would make it quite impossible to build up the strategic reserve.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Does not all this mean exactly what I have said? If the Government rely on National Service men in the fashion which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has indicated, does that not mean exactly what I venture to suggest—that the Government intend to continue with conscription for all time?
§ Mr. Lloyd
If the right hon. Gentleman will permit me, I shall come to the point of what the Government's inten- 1096 tions are. His inference is quite inaccurate and incorrect. I have said that, in present circumstances, as our forces are disposed, these would be the consequences, and nobody can deny that they would be the consequences at present.
It seems to me that no committee of inquiry could or should take the place of the Government of the day in assessing the international situation, and no committee is necessary to tell us about the consequences which I have just detailed to the House. But that does not mean that we think that the two-year period has come to stay for ever, and our intention is to reduce the burden of these obligations as much and as soon as possible.
I should like to quote what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War said in the House on 15th February of this year:The Government stated last year, and we state again now, that it is our object and policy to reduce National Service by as much as possible as soon as possible, but that depends on events, and events at present do not allow that it should be reduced by six months."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1955; Vol. 537, c. 169.]Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen may laugh at the word "events," but was it not events which caused the increase to 24 months? The right hon. Gentleman gibed about generals, but I have the authority of my right hon. Friend for saying that the War Office would be very pleased to do without conscription and have a solely Regular Army, if that were possible. It is the Government's intention to reduce the burden as soon as possible. The Opposition Motion suggests—
§ Mr. Paget
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has pointed out the Government's desire to reduce this burden as soon as events will permit. How can he react to events as they are occurring unless he has had an inquiry to see what effect various reductions would have on the forces? I should have thought that an inquiry was essential if the right hon. and learned Gentleman is to be in a position to react to events.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I will deal with the point about what this inquiry should do if the hon. and learned Gentleman would permit me to do it in my own way.
This Motion suggests a general inquiry into the operation of the National Service 1097 Acts in the light of existing circumstances, with the particular direction that the Select Committee is to consider whether the period should remain at two years or be reduced to 18 months.
There seem to me to be two objections to that. First, it would be too large a task for any Select Committee to undertake if it were to conclude its investigations within a reasonable time. I will develop that point in a moment. Secondly, this is really a matter of policy which must be for the Government of the day, and no Government should seek to shuffle out of their responsibilities by trying to shelter behind the opinion of a Committee upon a matter of this nature.
That does not mean that we believe there is no scope for inquiries into the efficient use of manpower in the Services, because I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that economies in the use of men obviously help to bring nearer the day when the period can be reduced. We are not opposed to examination or reexamination of particular aspects. All the Service Departments have standing machinery for reviewing complements and establishments. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman should wait a minute or two to hear what I have to say.
Small savings are being made all the time and they mount up. We welcome specific reviews with the help of outside experts on special matters, and notable help in these independent inquiries has been given in the past by people from both sides of industry. Since the end of the war there have been 21 of these inquiries in the three Services, covering a wide range of subjects. Many of them were set on foot by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I will mention a few of them. I can read out the whole 21 if the right hon. Gentleman wants it, but I will mention just a few.
In 1952, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) conducted an inquiry into the methods of maintaining ships in reserve and the method of maintenance by civilian contract. As a result of this inquiry, 5,000 officers and men were saved. General Templer made an inquiry in 1951 which, I think, was originated by the right hon. Gentleman—he is one of those generals the right hon. Gentleman was talking about—into the 1098 distribution of military and civilian manpower in the Army, and a saving of about 6,000 resulted from that inquiry. General Callander, in 1951–52, made an inquiry into headquarters and administrative units overseas with good results, and in 1953 Sir James Reid-Young, the managing director of Vickers Limited, Chairman of Vickers-Armstrong, and Chairman of the Advisory Panel of the Organisation and Methods Division of the Treasury, conducted one into static administrative installations in the United Kingdom. He found that, in general, there was an efficient use of manpower, but he did make a number of detailed suggestions.
In 1949, the then Secretary of State for Air, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) asked Mr. Quig, the Deputy Chairman of Imperial Chemical Industries, to examine the whole organisation of the Air Ministry. My noble Friend, the Secretary of State for Air mentioned in another place that promising experiments were being undertaken in organisation and methods in units of the Royal Air Force and he was hopeful of savings of thousands rather than of hundreds. Experiments were made possible in this field by the improved level of manning in the supervisory ranks and the most highly skilled trades.
There are many other inquiries, but I think I should refer to one more, and that is the Eighth Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, when hon. Members undertook a very laborious task. Here is the evidence of what was done in regard to one small aspect of the use of manpower in the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Lloyd
It did a substantial amount of good, and made several recommendations.
If another committee were appointed the whole point that I am making is that it could cover only a very small part of the field. Even with these 21 inquiries the whole field has not been covered, and if the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion is to set up a Select Committee to go into all these matters it would be sitting for years. Did I hear the right hon. Gentleman say that we should then have the matter out of the way?
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
I said that these inquiries have done a certain amount that will not require to be done again.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I do not think that that is in accordance with the facts, because some of these inquiries were several years ago and conditions have changed. It would have to be considered how, in the changed circumstances, any further examination would have to be done.
There is no doubt that any Select Committee charged with this task, if it were to be properly done, would be undertaking something which, I think, would tax its resources over a matter of years. Incidentally, in regard to the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates I think it is right that I should tell the House that there was very little in the findings that suggested there was any misuse of existing manpower in the Royal Air Force. I suggest to the House quite seriously that because of the nature of the inquiry no one committee could do the job within a reasonable time. We shall continue to appoint such inquiries as seem fit and proper to examine specific points.
One other point on these inquiries. I should say—because a great deal of time and energy is put into them—that it is essential that principles which are worked out should be applied in practice. The problem is one of management, and most commanding officers are fully alive to the importance of maintaining good morale. But in any large organisation such as the Armed Forces there are bound to be dull but necessary jobs, and the problem is to ensure that the National Service man who spends some time daily doing a fatigue or a boring job should not lose sight of the essential part he and his fellows are playing in the defence of the country.
The young National Service men in Korea were in no danger of losing their sense of proportion in that way. They were engaged in active operations, but I think it is very important that those in the Services should take every step to see that the young National Service man who has to spend part of his time on this kind of job should be kept interested and educated.
There is one other aspect of this matter to which the right hon. Gentleman 1100 referred and that is the N.A.T.O. aspect. It is true that the periods of service in N.A.T.O. vary, but the right hon. Gentleman is not accurate about the period of service in the Italian Army. The period is 18 months as he will see from HANSAKD of 3rd December. That of the United Kingdom, the United States and Turkey is 24 months, though Turkey may be rather more. The others are rather less. It is said because of that we should reduce our period. Upon that point, I have two observations to make. First, the United Kingdom has commitments far beyond those under the North Atlantic Treaty. We are an international Power with commitments all over the world, and what we do must be determined by our own needs.
Secondly, other countries have to decide for themselves. Her Majesty's Government have consistently taken the line that the period of service should be adequate to enable the country to carry out its obligations to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It is for each country to decide its own period in the light of its own financial and economic position and its commitments both inside and outside N.A.T.O.
N.A.T.O., after all, is an association of free partners and the essence of that partnership is that each State should decide for itself how to carry out its obligations. But I think it would be wrong not to record disappointment at certain decisions that have been taken. My hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison) made a relevant observation when he referred to the Soviet Army conscript. He is called up for 36 months counting from 1st January of the year following the call-up, and in the case of N.C.O.s and specialists the period is four years and some military training in addition is given preparatory to the call-up.
The N.A.T.O. point is a fair matter to raise, and I do not think it should lead us to reduce our own period of service at the present time, but rather to hope for a greater effort on the part of some of our friends in N.A.T.O. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the processes of persuasion or admonition or encouragement are much better carried out privately in a matter of this kind.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked our partners in N.A.T.O. to increase their period of service?
§ Mr. Lloyd
The matter has been discussed in N.A.T.O. privately, and as I said to the right hon. Gentleman—perhaps he was not listening—in a matter of this kind between Allies these processes of persuasion are much better carried on privately.
To sum up, the desire of Her Majesty's Government is to lighten this burden as much and as soon as possible. We understand the industrial argument, but to announce any such intention now would cast away many of the advantages we have been able to achieve. I believe that the Soviet Union deals in facts and not in words. Its leaders appraise what we and our Allies have the physical strength to do, and they make a hard-headed conclusion after examining the facts.
The shield of physical defence for the free world, built up during the past three and a half years or more, is a decisive feature in the present situation, just as the possession of an effective deterrent will be a decisive feature in the future. To reduce the period of National Service now would affect our power to play our part in the world. It would discourage our Allies and would encourage our enemies, and so far from reducing world tension, it might increase it.
I believe that the common sense of the British people will acknowledge the logic and the wisdom of what I have said, and that they will accept these obligations until it is safe to make a change. It is significant that in their Motion the Opposition do not recommend a change. When the change has to be made, it should be made upon the responsibility of the Government of the day. Therefore, we cannot accept this Motion, and I commend the much more realistic Amendment to the House.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Defence took a long time to come to the subject mainly under discussion this afternoon. We could not help feeling on this side that he was taking into his new office—on which we congratulate him—not so much thoughts of his previous office but of the office before 1102 that. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was taking his Foreign Office connections into his new office; and although in some senses they were relevant, we were relieved when he came to the subject under discussions.
When the right hon. and learned Gentleman came to it, it seemed to us that every word he uttered was directed to showing that this country must have a two-year period of National Service in perpetuity. I could not understand his argument as meaning anything other than that our present Forces are essential for our present commitments and that they could not be raised in any other way than by two years' National Service.
The most effective answer to that is not to go into questions of detail about the composition of the Forces but to remind the House that immediately before the Korean War, when our commitments were much larger than they are today, we managed with a period of 18 months' National Service. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman says it is impossible to have that now, how was it possible immediately before the Korean War? I can testify, my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) can testify, and all my other right hon. Friends who were in Service Departments can testify that at that time none of the military experts claimed it was necessary to increase the period of military service to two years.
It was only the Korean War which made anyone think of doing so. Now that the Korean War is long over; and not only so, but now that by far the biggest overseas commitment of all, that of Egypt, is being steadily liquidated, we are told that it is unthinkable and impossible to return to the period of National Service with which we managed perfectly well in the period before that war. This shows the great danger of getting stuck with these long periods of National Service, and it requires an answer from the Government.
The argument seemed to me so extraordinary that I could not altogether escape the impression that the Government contemplate, if they remain the Government, undertaking additional distant commitments which, of course, would enormously affect the period of National Service. The argument of the right hon. and learned Gentleman made me want to 1103 ask this question of the Prime Minister. In the event of his remaining Prime Minister after the Election, does the right hon. Gentleman contemplate the possibility of this country undertaking further and larger commitments in the distant theatres? Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to the statements, which are frequent now in the American Press, that in the event of the present Government being returned this country will undertake a commitment to maintain, with our Forces, the Government of Chiang Kai-shek on the Island of Formosa?
§ The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)
I do not want any currency given to that suggestion. There is no truth whatever in our having entered into such an engagement, or having contemplated entering into such an engagement, or having been asked by anybody to enter into such an engagement.
§ Mr. Strachey
That is reassuring as far as it goes, but may we have an undertaking now, before the Election, that if the Government remain the Government in no circumstances will they enter into a commitment to defend the Chiang Kaishek régime on the Island of Formosa? The Prime Minister can set all our doubts at rest if he will give us that assurance.
§ Mr. Strachey
The right hon. Gentleman will see quite clearly, when he reads the OFFICIAL REPORT, that his statement did not cover such an assurance as I am asking for, that in no circumstances would a British Government presided over by the right hon. Gentleman, enter into a commitment to maintain the Chaing Kaishek régime on the Island of Formosa. The Prime Minister is not claiming that he has given me that assurance, is he? Why will he not give me that assurance? Surely it is desirable to do so, desirable for him and for the country. It is extremely disturbing if the right hon. Gentleman will not give us such an assurance, because it is the easiest thing for him to do, and it is to his advantage. Why will he not do so?
Only yesterday we were told in the "Herald Tribune"—I quote from an article written by Mr. Stewart Alsop— 1104… the 'not a single Tommy for Chiang Kai-shek' line has been so successfully propagated in Britain that any British commitment of any sort to defend Formosa would be highly dangerous politically. For this reason it is most unlikely that any agreement will be reached before the British elections of May 26. But if the Conservatives are triumphantly re-elected, an Anglo-American deal on Formosa will certainly be up for most serious consideration.There are undoubtedly very great expectations on this matter on the other side of the Atlantic.
I say at once that some sort of guarantee under the United Nations for a neutralised Formosa on which the Chiang Kai-shek régime had ceased to exist, on the lines on which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition spoke, would be one thing; but there should be no guarantee such as is being proposed here to defend the Chiang Kai-shek régime of which one may say frankly that its only hope is to foment a third world war. Anything like that is something which I am sure the whole country would bitterly resent.
The Prime Minister should at once give the simple assurance that so long as he is Prime Minister he will not contemplate anything of the sort. No one can say that in the American Press we are not being told that that is precisely what is being contemplated; otherwise, it is so very difficult to understand the arguments of the Minister of Defence in which he quite clearly shows he cannot contemplate any cutting down of National Service to the 18 months period, which sufficed perfectly well for us before the Korean War, when we had much larger commitments than today.
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
How does that make sense with the right hon. Gentleman's appeal in the defence debates last year and in the year before that we neeeded in this country a large strategic reserve? He seems completely to have forgotten that in his calculation.
§ Mr. Strachey
I have not forgotten, but I shall come to that in the course of my remarks.
I next want to deal with a subject which my right hon. Friend touched on—the immense new factor of nuclear force which has entered into these calculations. When we discussed the Defence Estimates it seemed that the Government were beginning to try to make the enormous readjustment necessary in all 1105 our defence thinking in regard not only to the arrival of the atom bomb but of the hydrogen bomb.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
Is the right hon. Gentleman now really proposing that we should use the H-bomb on a cold war commitment?
§ Mr. Strachey
Where on earth did the hon. Member get that from? Where have I made a single remark that could bear even on the wildest interpretation a similarity to that? The hon. Member keeps nodding his head. All I said was that it seemed to me that the arrival of nuclear warfare made it absolutely imperative that we should readjust our defence thinking. I certainly said that in the defence debate, and I say it again today. I cannot understand what the hon. Member has in mind.
I certainly do think that the speech of the Minister of Defence today represented entirely pre-nuclear thinking. He seemed to be regarding not only our cold war obligations—there is sense in that, I agree—but our whole position as a member of the N.A.T.O. alliance, and the defence contribution of this country to a deterrent, purely in terms of land forces. Surely that is a fantastically out-of-date position. It is certainly not one that the N.A.T.O. Command takes today.
I would agree, and I shall give reasons for it in a moment, with my right hon. Friend who opened the debate that the arrival of nuclear forces does not mean that conventional land forces are out of date. There are, of course, very important reasons why they must be maintained. But surely the arrival of nuclear forces does totally change the rô le of the land forces—and sea forces for that matter, although that is not so relevant to this debate. Surely we must see that, but there was little recognition in the Minister's speech—far less than in the speech of the former Prime Minister in the defence debate—that these nuclear forces had made any change in our defence thinking at all.
This is not some wild dream of the future. We are speaking today in the presence of world forces like the United States Strategic Air Force, for example, which is equipped with hydrogen bombs and, I suppose—although I do not know—between 1,000 and 2,000 stratojets; a 1106 force with a power of destruction incomparably more terrible than anything the world has ever seen. The existence of such a force as that surpasses, in terms of world war, almost all other considerations.
For us, however, the most urgent question is not so much the existence of the United States Strategic Air Force but whether a parallel and equal force exists in Soviet Russia today. One gathers from the authorities that the accepted view is that such a force does not yet exist in Russia. Their lack is not so much that of an adequate stockpile of hydrogen bombs as of methods of delivery. One also gathers that the Russian lack of the power to develop a force of equal size and equal powers of delivery to the United States Strategic Air Force will not take more than two or three years to remedy.
It is the considered view of the N.A.T.O. authorities that in two or three years' time there will be in the world, on both sides, forces which can wreak destruction on a scale such as we have never before contemplated. I suppose that either force could destroy 100 cities a night in those incalculably terrible first few nights of any future war. If that is so, then to suggest, as the Minister of Defence has just been arguing, that the period of our National Service is particularly relevant to the question of a deterrent to a third world war seems to me to be a totally out-of-date point of view.
The argument for the necessity of the maintenance of land forces—and sea forces, for that matter—is surely a different one. It is that if we did not maintain those conventional forces we should be prepared for nothing except total war.
For this country, above all, that of course would be an impossible position. If we had only nuclear forces and weapons and the means to deliver them we should have no means of using a limited amount of force on a limited scale in a local situation. That would be the most terrible and the most unwise situation that we could get into.
If that is the real reason why we want conventional forces, let us face the fact that we do not really want them in terms of a third world war, or even as a deterrent, at all. It is an extraordinary thing to say, but it appears to me that the situation may well arise, if it has not already arisen, where conventional forces 1107 will become less and less relevant in terms of a world war; a situation in which they are appropriate for so-called cold war purposes alone. One almost catches one's breath in saying that, because it represents a military revolution of the most far-reaching character.
If that is the case, then it must affect enormously the method by which we raise our conventional forces and the character which they should have. What does it mean? One cannot tell what sort of forces one will want until one knows for what purpose they will be needed. I suggest that on inquiry we would find that there are three main purposes for which we want, at any rate, land forces today.
One is to form, at least for the moment, a screen across Europe, largely I think for psychological reasons; but these psychological reasons are very important. Then there are what are called Commonwealth purposes—discharging our commitments in the Commonwealth. The character of the forces we want for this purpose is surely very different from anything which we used to consider suitable for a regular army. I was impressed by the suggestion of the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) that this sort of obligation—the Kenya type obligations, the Malayan obligations—are better discharged by a special corps raised for this purpose which is not equipped with heavy equipment like Conqueror tanks but is a force raised for that special purpose. I realise the very great difficulties and complications, but I still think that there is a good deal in the suggestion.
Finally, we need forces for limited and local conflicts within the Korea level. That is the third purpose and for that, of course, a strategic reserve in this country is the obvious answer. I entirely agree with that. I put it to the House that if those are the three purposes for which we want regular land forces today, it is fantastic to suggest that a period of two years' National Service is the best way to raise such forces. A two-year period of National Service may be the appropriate way of creating a great mass reserve for an old-fashioned mass army, such as existed in previous wars, but which will never exist again in a future war. On the other hand, it leaps to the mind that a long-term, highly 1108 professional army, limited in size, but highly mobile and well equipped, is the answer for the three purposes I have mentioned.
I am not suggesting that we can pass to that immediately. Of course we could not abolish National Service tomorrow. I do not think anyone on this side has that illusion; but all the evidence is pointing in that direction, and an inquiry as to whether we cannot start moving in that direction by a reduction in the period of National Service is the very least for which we can ask. In some ways I regret the fact that the evidence does point in that direction.
In many ways the concept of a universal, citizen army is very fine and democratic. But we really cannot continue imposing a two years' period of National Service on the people of this country, if that is not the best way of discharging our defence obligations. I suggest that prima facie the case that this cannot be the best way of discharging those obligations is becoming stronger and stronger. The very least for which we can ask is a most searching inquiry into the matter.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I feel that the suggestion for an inquiry by Members of the House of Commons on this supremely important matter of National Service is a very dangerous suggestion indeed. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Defence has pointed out, it would be impossible for any Government to entrust to a Committee decisions which have to be taken on this most vital and tedious business which has to be undertaken by all young men in the country.
There are considerations which involve not merely military decisions, not merely decisions of strategy, but decisions of technology, of the economy in general, of employment and other factors making it perfectly impossible for any Committee, except a Cabinet Committee responsible to the House, to undertake such an inquiry. For hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to go campaigning in the country on the ground that they want a reduction on National Service by allowing the House of Commons to have a Committee to investigate it is asking the Government, or the next Government 1109 returned, to abrogate their responsibility as the Government of the country.
Some of the arguments put forward this afternoon have not been convincing. The right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) tried, not very successfully, to trail his cloak about the Formosan situation. "Whose finger on Formosa?" is to be the next little bit of campaigning, I suppose. However, it is fair to say that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has done far more to ease tension in the Far East and has done far more than the rather foolish statements made by the Leader of the Opposition when he returned after his fly-hunting expedition in the Far East.
Let the right hon. Member for Dundee, West pose to himself the questions on commitments which he tried to pose to the House and say where commitments at this stage could be cut down. He compared the pre-Korea and the post-Korea periods. The outstanding fact of the pre-Korea period was that on the whole Russian armaments were not increasing at the pace at which they have been increasing since about 1950. No hon. Member more than the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt)—whose political demise nobody regrets more than I—has pointed out again and again to both Governments the immense armaments programme in conventional weapons which was going on in the Soviet Union.
Since 1950 or 1951 the amount of conventional weapons available to the Soviet bloc and the numbers of new divisions raised by the Russian and Chinese armies have been out of all proportion to any advance we have made here. Right hon. Gentlemen in replying to the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Defence have to make perfectly clear which commitments they believe can be cut down. They have to make it clear that the advice of General Gruenther and others in charge of N.A.T.O. makes it absolutely clear that while these Russian conventional armies continue at their present scale Western Europe has, if anything, to do rather more than less.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, West took up my point on colonial forces. What I said was that as a preventative measure it would be a good thing to divide colonial police forces into two sections, those who were normal police 1110 and the gendarmerie. The right hon. Gentleman has been on patrols in Malaya, he has been in the jungle and he knows that at this stage it would be absolutely hopeless to attempt to reduce our commitments in Malaya, as it is in Kenya. We are committed there through the fault of various reasons, but there we are committed. To reduce the commitment is extremely difficult.
The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) made no serious suggestions on these matters. The right hon. Member for Dundee, West suggested that in the distant future reductions might be possible. On this side of the House we, too, believe that. We believe that the success which the Government are having in international affairs is based not only on skill and patience, but also on the strength we are developing. We believe that when these activities reach fruition, when it is possible for the Disarmament Commission to go further—it may be that happy results will flow from the Big Four meeting—then will be the time for the Government to discuss having a special Committee of the House to see how our commitments can be reduced and how, in turn, the term of conscription can be lowered.
Surely no Government, whatever Government it may be, could be other than desirous on the eve of a General Election of being able to say to the people that they propose to reduce the period of National Service; but today in this state of world affairs what could be more irresponsible than the attitude of Her Majesty's Opposition?
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
On a point of order. Am I to take it that the only Members to be called from this side of the House are to be Members of the Privy Council?
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
Our case for an inquiry has not yet been answered from the Government benches. I urge whoever concludes the debate on behalf of the Government to try to meet the point which is being put from this side of the House. It is true that in 1111 arguing our case for a Select Committee or a committee of inquiry of some sort we must submit reasons to show why we think it is necessary.
I cannot accept what was said by the Minister of Defence or by the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser). Why on earth is it improper to have a Select Committee of this House to inquire into matters of this sort? In the United States of America, France and Western Germany they have military affairs committees of their respective Parliaments. To each of these committees evidence is given—it is true that it is in secret—which affects security matters, and a similar inquiry could be held here.
§ Mr. H. Fraser
The American system is different. There the Ministers are not present in Congress. The system is completely different.
§ Mr. Bellenger
It is not in Germany or France where the Ministers are elected members of the lower Houses. I cannot understand why the Minister of Defence should assert—because he offers no tangible arguments to prove his case—that it is not right, or that it is improper, for this House which, after all, in the last resort governs supply without which the Government could not carry on either in manpower or finance, to inquire into matters of this nature.
Indeed, there are many precedents which show that Select Committees and other committees have gone into questions just as vital as this. There was the May Committee which investigated matters of great secrecy and importance to this country; namely, the state of our financial reserves. If that evidence had been disclosed to the world it would have done irrevocable harm to the country. In advancing our argument today we do not want to stress too strongly that National Service can be reduced by a certain period. Many of us, including myself, think that the present period of two years can be reduced. Indeed, there is evidence from statements by Ministers about how it can be done.
It is obvious that we have to concentrate on the Army. A Written Answer given by the Under-Secretary of State for Air yesterday shows that only a very 1112 limited number of National Service men is wanted in the Royal Air Force; so, in this respect, the R.A.F. is not a customer for National Service men. The First Lord of the Admiralty knows that the Navy requires very long-term ratings to run the Service. Therefore, in the last resort, this demand comes from the Army. The Under-Secretary of State for Air said yesterday, in reply to a Question:There is a limited number of vacancies for National Service men in the Royal Air Force and keen competition for them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th April, 1955; Vol. 540, c. 63.1The whole case is reduced to the Army. It is appropriate that the Secretary of State for War should be here to listen to the arguments which we advance against his Department.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I know, but surely my hon. Friend knows that we have argued in this House that that is merely a facade in the R.A.F.; that it does not use its men as the Army does, or, as one might sometimes say, as the Army misuses them.
§ Mr. Bellenger
It may be that the R.A.F. has that number, but we had yesterday the statement of the Under-Secretary of State for Air that there is a limited number of vacancies for National Service men in the R.A.F. If there are 67,000 National Service men in the R.A.F. then it would be appropriate to ask the Under-Secretary what they are doing. But that is the whole point; we should have an inquiry into all these matters. We cannot go into details of how men are being misused, or uneconomically used, in certain of the Services. The inconsistency between the number of National Service men in the R.A.F. and the statement made by the Under-Secretary yesterday is obvious.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. George Ward)
The word "limited" in that sense does not mean that it is necessarily a small number. It means 1113 that there is a limit to the number of people taken in. Our quota is 66,000, or whatever it may be, and we cannot take more than that number. It does not mean that it is a small number.
§ Mr. Bellenger
That is a glimpse of the obvious. That is a simple definition of the phrase used by the hon. Gentleman yesterday.
§ Mr. Bellenger
We have discussed this question on innumerable occasions. My point is that the Army is the biggest customer for National Service men. Therefore, we must concentrate our attack, because that is what it is, on the War Office. In trying to show that it is necessary to set up a Select Committee or a committee of inquiry we must deal with the Department of the Secretary of State for War. As the Under-Secretary of State for Air knows, there are many differences between the two Services. For example, the hon. Gentleman has the means of air transport and therefore that method of transport is used far more effectively in his Service than it is used in the Army for transporting men about the world.
It is true that the Secretary of State for War is using more air transport for trooping than he was before, but it is part of our case—and he has admitted it himself—that if he were to use more air transport he could reduce the number of men that he requires. I think that he stated that in the Memorandum attached to the Army Estimates or in the White Paper issued by the Ministry of Defence. I believe that it was in the right hon. Gentleman's own Memorandum that he showed quite conclusively the economy in manpower which would result from the use of air transport for trooping.
§ Mr. J. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
My right hon. Friend dismissed the 67,000 National Service men in the Air Force and said that the Service was not using them. Did he mean that these men were not put to any specific task? If so, that would be a very serious allegation, and I think that I could rebut it.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I do not say that they are not put to any task. Part of my 1114 argument is that they are not really required in the Air Force to the extent that they are there.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Exactly. The whole point being made today by the Minister of Defence is—and he makes the assertion—that we cannot cover our present commitments unless we have these men for two years. On the other hand, we on this side of the House say that the Government can do it. If the Government are right, will they reply to the challenge of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). Have our commitments to be reduced still further in order that we can reduce the period of National Service?
The Secretary of State for War has told us that by the reduction of certain commitments, in the Middle East mainly, and the disbanding of Anti-Aircraft Command, he has now 66,000 more men available which, he says, he will use for the purposes of the strategic reserve. I do not want to repeat what I said in the debate on the Army Estimates, but I do not believe it is right from the strategic point of view to have those 66,000 of all ranks in this country.
I do not believe that a strategic reserve of over two divisions—which I believe the right hon. Gentleman proposes to organise—should be kept in this country; because, should war occur, the concentration of such a number of troops here would make it almost impossible for them to be mobilised and sent overseas. A case could be argued from the point of view of the desire to make life more bearable for Regular soldiers by giving them home and not overseas service. But I do not think that is the case which will be advanced by the right hon. Gentleman for forming a reserve in this country.
It has been mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), and I think by the Minister of Defence, that when National Service was introduced after the war by the Labour Government it was done for two purposes. The two purposes which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned were not the only ones. At that time we had a large number of men still serving in the Forces who had served for long periods during 1115 the war. I was Secretary of State for War at that time, and I remember saying that one of the purposes of National Service was to enable new men to be brought in to relieve some of those who had served for long periods during the war.
I think that the first National Service Act was brought in in 1947, and it was not until some time later that the age and service system of demobilisation had worked itself out thoroughly. But I am quite sure that was one of the reasons, in addition to the necessity for having large numbers of trained reserves. When that Bill was first introduced there was no attempt from the Service Departments—certainly not from the War Office military chiefs—to ask for anything more than that. Indeed, I believe that they would have been content with less than 18 months' service.
§ Mr. Head indicated assent.
§ Mr. Bellenger
So they were. As a result of some agitation on the Labour benches, it was moved that the period be reduced to 12 months and Field Marshal Montgomery, then the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, accepted that term. The House must bear in mind that I am concentrating my remarks on the Army, because I believe the Army is the chief customer for National Service men. The then C.I.G.S. accepted 12 months as being an adequate period for training soldiers for the purposes then required.
The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) will remember that even at the beginning of the last war men were receiving proficiency pay after six months' of recruit and soldier service. They received proficiency pay because they were trained to be soldiers up to a certain standard in six months, and I believe that proficiency pay was paid after six months—
§ Mr. Bellenger
That may be, but I was saying—and my hon. Friend cannot deny it—that proficiency pay, I think it was 6d. a day, was paid to a soldier after six months' service. Let my hon. Friend deny that if he can—he has longer service in the ranks than I have—but I still maintain that 6d. a day proficiency pay was paid after six months—
§ Mr. Wigg rose—
§ Mr. Bellenger
No, I shall not give way again. I prefer to make my own case, whether I am right or wrong about that—and I still maintain that I am right.
I say that 12 months' service was accepted as sufficient training by the then Chief of the Imperial General Staff for the purpose required, namely, to train a soldier sufficiently for him to go into the Reserve and carry on his Reserve training. Now we have gone further. The period was increased to 18 months by the Labour Government and then to two years. There is no doubt that it was mainly for the Korean commitment that that was introduced.
It may be true that we were overextended. My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington talked about 11 divisions overseas. It may be that they were wrongly deployed. It may be that all our commitments were wrong. But the fact remains that it was for the Korean war that the period was increased to two years. I am saying that that commitment has been whittled down to practically nothing. The commitment in the Middle East of some 80,000 troops has also been considerably whittled down, and commitments in Trieste and other places have been reduced.
The Government deny the legitimacy of our argument for an inquiry into the period of National Service, or, indeed, into the whole system of National Service. I ask the Secretary of State to tell us what release of commitments will enable the Government to reduce the National Service period. The Government will not tell us. They are keeping this matter secret. They are saying it is something that the House of Commons must not know. They assert that they are the only ones who ought to know. It is true that the Government are in possession of more vital facts than we are. By what right do the Government keep Her Majesty's Opposition in the dark?
1117 We have the right to deny supplies to the Government. We used to assert that right by voting against the Service Estimates before the war. We do not wish to pursue that course now. When we did it before the war we were told that we were most unpatriotic in so doing. But it is the inalienable right of the Opposition to deny supplies to the Government if they are not satisfied with the Government's case; and so far the Government have not given us a watertight case proving why the period of National Service should be two years.
We do not wish to vote against the Service Estimates, as was said by my right hon. Friend. We accept the principle, indeed we introduced it in peace time. But we are not satisfied that it is being carried out properly. I have said that I believe the whole system of National Service should be investigated. What is happening at present? How many men are being called up who are eligible for National Service? Miners are deferred and even exempted. Men in the Merchant Navy are deferred, and certain classes of agricultural workers are also deferred, now we are asked to defer up to 2,000 police cadets from National Service. Of course, there will be other classes of citizens who will desire deferment. For example a case is being made out for the deferment of teachers.
All these things provide good reasons for looking into the operation of the National Service system. I am not sure that the system as it is operated at present, namely for military service, is right. It is obvious, and it has been stated time and again by Ministers, that should war occur the home base, that is, this country, would need to have more than National Service men in order to maintain the different civilian services and to keep the military Services going overseas and provide them with supplies. Therefore, it seems to me that if a committee of that nature is set up, one of the things that should be considered is that National Service should be National Service and not, as I allege it is at the moment, selective military service.
I have never been in favour of conscription as such, as I have said time and again, both in this House and outside. I was a volunteer when I had to do military service in the First World War, and I have urged my own sons to volunteer and not 1118 to wait until they are called up. But I recognise, as I did before the war, when the situation was so grave, that some form of National Service is necessary. I say, however, that thousands of young men today are escaping a liability which they ought to undertake if their country is in such grave danger as has been made out by Government speakers so many times.
Why on earth should not civil defence, which is now to assume much larger proportions in our defence system, also be part of National Service? Of course it is being used to cover up the inability of the Royal Air Force to use its National Service reservists. Therefore the Air Force is giving some of the men, which presumably it would want in the event of a hot war, over to civil defence purposes. At least that was the purpose of the Bill the House passed quite recently. My contention is therefore that the committee which ought to be set up should investigate not only the period of National Service in relation to our commitments, but also the whole system of National Service as it is now being operated.
It is evident from what the Secretary of State for War has said and from what was said by the former Minister of Defence, who is now the Foreign Secretary, in his recent White Paper, that numbers are really not the answer to the 100 Communist divisions which could be mobilised in a short space of time in the event of a war or aggression, or to the 400 Communist divisions which the former Minister of Defence said, in the White Paper, that the Communist forces could eventually mobilise.
It is obvious that the forces of N.A.T.O. are incapable as far as numbers are concerned of dealing with that menace. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West has suggested in his cogent remarks, the whole conception of military defence and civil defence must be reconsidered. Indeed, we were given to understand that the Government are surveying that whole question and in May, so we are told, we should know something about their considerations. But if, as I believe, the large hordes of Communist forces which could be mobilised against the free nations cannot be contended against by the puny forces such as N.A.T.O. can mobilise, it seems to me that our whole conception of National Service, with two years' training, is completely out of date.
1119 We are told in the Defence White Paper that the only way of meeting that threat of aggression is by nuclear weapons. I should have thought, if that were the way of meeting that menace, that we needed, not short-term conscripts of two years, but that we needed much longer-service personnel to maintain and operate those very intricate weapons. I am talking now of weapons and not of the hydrogen or the atom bomb, which would be left to the Royal Air Force. I am referring to nuclear weapons, some of which are in evidence in Germany and which belong to the United States forces.
I cannot believe that the answer to that menace is National Service men, despite the Minister of Defence's remark that 50 per cent. of our National Service men in the Army are today utilised as Army tradesmen. I do not believe that that is the type of personnel that we want for those weapons which, make no mistake about it—we all know this—will be coming into operation or into use in ever-increasing numbers as time goes on.
Therefore I say in support of the point we are putting that a committee of inquiry should be set up—as sweeping, for example, as the Esher Committee, which completely reorganised the War Office in those days—that what we want are larger numbers of Regular soldiers. Of course, the same remark applies to sailors and airmen also.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Exactly. The hon. and gallant Member asks how we would get them. I do not know that it would be appropriate to go into that point in this debate, but according to what the Secretary of State himself said in the debate on, I think, the Army Estimates, he is making some progress in the number of re-engagements.
§ Mr. Bellenger
That was what the right hon. Gentleman said. I wish that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) would point his attack at the right hon. Gentleman and would make that attack in debate. If my memory serves me correctly, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned a figure of something like 700. Whether it was per annum or per month, 1120 I forget. A certain figure was given by the right hon. Gentleman indicating that there was an improvement in the numbers of men re-engaging for longer terms than three or five years.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The right hon. Gentleman merely confirms what I alleged he said. In a serious debate like this, the right hon. Gentleman should not merely do his best to cause dissension between two Members on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for supporting my point of view. It is seldom that he does that.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley is the oracle on all military matters, but I hope that he will at least permit me to have a few points of view of my own and to express them in this House.
In support of my case for the need for long-term Service men rather than short-term conscripts, I was illustrating my point by a remark of the Secretary of State, in his own speech during the debate on the Estimates, that he was making progress in that direction. It may be small progress, but at least he will not deny that he needs that type of man.
§ Mr. Head indicated assent.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The right hon. Gentleman does not need the short-term conscript if he can get that type of man. When the hon. and gallant Member challenges me as to how the Secretary of State is to get that type of man, I say that more could be done to get him. I do not say that the right hon. Gentle- 1121 man will get 320,000 Regulars all at once—that is the figure which, he said, would be sufficient to undertake his present commitments; but what I do say is that the right hon. Gentleman can do more. It may be that he will have to pay the men considerably more—and there are various other ways that I should like to illustrate if I had the time—to get a longer-term Army. If he fails in that, what has he left? What is he going to do if he cannot get his Regular Army? Is he going to depend on National Service men? There is a limit to what he can get there and to the numbers which can be called up. Or is he to extend the period of service to maintain the Army if the numbers of Regulars shrink?
There is a case to be made for an inquiry, which I submit could be dealt with on an all-party basis. I should regret very much if this should become a partisan matter used for electioneering purposes. It has never been so used, neither by the Trades Union Congress nor the Labour Party. Why is that? It is because we have been responsible for so much of it in the past and therefore the whole principle of National Service is conceded. All I am trying to say is that that principle is not being properly implemented at present. For that reason and many others which I could adduce—although I am afraid I would incur the impatience of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley—
§ Mr. Bellenger
I have been in this House much longer than my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, and I have heard more nonsense talked in that 20 years than I care to remember. It has not been limited to one side of the House, or one particular class of individual M.P.s. We each try to put our case as best we can. If my hon. Friend disagrees with the case I am trying to put, let him say so. In certain particular details I may not be accurate. I do not claim infallibility for myself, as I hope my hon. Friend does not claim it for himself, but I often have the impression that possibly he can put the case much better than anyone else on this side of the House. There I will leave it.
1122 I say this to the Government and, in particular, to the Prime Minister, who I understand is to wind up the debate. He has been in charge of a Service Department and knows the need of the War Office. Also, as Prime Minister, he is Chairman of the Defence Committee and understands that position very well indeed. What I think he does not understand and what I do not think those on the Government benches understand is the discontent that is arising, not only from these benches but from thousands of parents. Particularly in view of the point of view which is going to be put by the Government that they alone can produce peace or better international relations, thousands of parents, not limited to one class or political party, cannot understand why their boys should be called up for two years service.
If the Government want to maintain the good will of the people of this country—the organised ranks of labour and the trade unions—they must do something better than constantly assert in this House that only they know what should be the correct period of National Service. We want to know, and the only way we can find out is by investigating the matter and having access to evidence, which has been denied us, but which could be given us if we had a Select Committee of this House to go into it.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
We always listen to the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) with sympathy and respect, because we know he speaks with sincerity. Today has been no exception. I believe that before he occupied the high office he held in the Labour Government he wrote a column in a newspaper entitled, "Forces' Letter Box." I have a feeling that some of the wrong letters got posted in the letter box before he made his speech today. I have some sympathy with the expressions of disagreement which came from the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg).
On the question of the RA.F. National Service men, the RA.F. is not unable to absorb National Service men over the two-year period; there has never been any question of that. The problem arises when the R.A.F.'s National Service men go for their Reserve period of service. I think the Minister of Defence 1123 made that situation quite clear when he defined the needs of National Service to meet immediate or potential commitments. The right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) touched on this. The reserve period has nothing to do with immediate commitments.
I thought there seemed to be a certain amount of disagreement between the right hon. Member for Dundee, West and the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw on the subject of the holding of a strategic reserve. The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw said that we must not hold a strategic reserve in this country because it would be too dangerous in the event of hot war, but the right hon. Member for Dundee, West said that a strategic reserve was no longer required for a hot war but for cold war purposes. I am inclined to come down very much on the side of the right hon. Member for Dundee, West, for once, in this matter. I think we have got to have a strategic reserve.
Here I would challenge the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). I am amazed that anyone who has held so high a position of responsibility in Government as he did should say that troops employed at present holding an important commitment in Germany can, under any circumstances, be regarded as a strategic reserve. That is absolute nonsense.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It is the easiest thing in the world—I have heard it done so often in the time I have been in this House—to say that what someone opposite says is nonsense, but that is not relevant to what we are saying. I pointed out that we are partners in N.A.T.O. So are the French. The French decided, with the consent of N.A.T.O., to take some of their forces out of Germany for service in North Africa. That was a commitment. I say that should be open to us as well.
§ Mr. Harvey
I suggest that our commitment in Germany is of the greatest possible importance. I agree with the Minister of Defence that this is a matter which should be—we are given to understand by him that it has been—discussed privately in N.A.T.O. I do not believe it would be reasonable at this time of tension to undertake a radical reduction of our forces in Germany and certainly would not be right from the point of view of this country to regard those forces as a strategic reserve.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Member is quite right. It would not be right to take any of our forces out of Germany at this stage, but suppose we were placed in a position similar to that of the French. They, having trouble in North Africa, had to withdraw troops with the consent of N.A.T.O. Suppose we were having trouble in some part of the Middle East. Is it not conceivable that N.A.T.O. would agree in the circumstances that we should withdraw some troops from Germany?
§ Mr. Harvey
I think it is conceivable, but I think it would be unfortunate. I think the example of France proves that we should not regard the situation in Germany as providing a reserve, and it is a very solid argument against the recommendation made by the right hon. Member for Easington this afternoon.
§ Mr. Wigg
I think that the memory of the hon. Member is playing him tricks. Surely the present Prime Minister, when he was Foreign Secretary, committed four divisions to Germany in perpetuity and specifically made the reservation, by agreement with N.A.T.O., that we could transfer forces to meet our policing commitments. If that reservation is there, it is, in fact, a strategic reserve.
§ Mr. Harvey
It is a strategic reserve with considerable limitations. I think that the hon. Member for Dudley will agree with me that, from the military point of view, if it is to be really effective it should have no other commitments and that there could be no greater encouragement to those who rely on creating commitments than that there should be a reserve of that kind.
It is weakening. I surely did not understand the right hon. Gentleman 1125 aright in that he is encouraging this Government to endorse a policy which has an inherent weakness in it. The right hon. Gentleman showed himself somewhat ignorant about these matters when he said that before the Korean situation arose there was a large number of troops of this country which constituted a reserve and then went on to say that it did not matter how they were employed.
§ Mr. Harvey
They were employed very largely in the formation and in organisations operating services which have absolutely nothing to do with an operational strategic reserve.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Gentleman knows nothing about what goes on in the Departments. I happen to know a great deal about it. At the time when I was Secretary of State for War, as well as when I was Minister of Defence, we considered how the services of these men were being used. I tell him frankly that the services of many of these men were not properly used. We had inquiries as the result of which there was some reduction in waste. More inquiries are required, but this time what we want is an independent inquiry.
§ Mr. Harvey
Since the right hon. Gentleman is telling me things frankly, perhaps I may tell him something frankly. That is that in view of his considerable knowledge of what goes on in the Departments, and of the high office he once held, his speech this afternoon was particularly mischievous.
§ Mr. Harvey
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, whose observations indicate that the operation being conducted at this moment is, in fact, contrary to what the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw said. It is entirely an election operation. It is really no good the hon. Member for Dudley, who, I am quite certain, has the Services sincerely at heart, shaking his head, because the right hon. Gentleman has just referred to Harrow, which has nothing to do with National 1126 Service and a great deal to do with the next Election.
§ Mr. Harvey
I am sure that the right hon. Member for Easington will try to show that there are votes in National Service.
§ Mr. Harvey
The right hon. Member says, "Quite right"; I hold him to that. He made the mistake of saying that the generals are insatiable. The argument brought forward time and again by right hon. Members opposite is that military commitments are, in fact, created by the military. The whole essence of our case today is that our military commitments are constituted by the honouring of our commitments under foreign policy.
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw asked why it was that the Opposition could not know what the Government know. It is for exactly the same reason that when this party was in opposition it did not know what his Government knew at that time, and that is the confidential foreign policy considerations which govern defence. It is for that reason that we believe that to make a reduction at the present time under the circumstances which have been outlined by the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends would now be to encourage disaster.
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
The commitments have gone down—they have been reduced.
§ Mr. Harvey
My right hon. and learned Friend made it plain in his speech that foreign policy commitments are affected by the potential aggression which may at any time occur in the world, and it is very largely due to the efforts of the present Prime Minister that that tension has been reduced. It would not have been reduced if his foreign policy had not been backed by adequate defence measures.
§ Mr. Harvey
Many existing commitments have been reduced, but that does not say there are no potential commitments. These potential commitments can be reduced primarily only by a reduction of tension by a skilful foreign policy conducted upon the basis of peace through strength.
Let us turn for a moment to the arguments which were used with regard to the nuclear effect upon our present forces structure. I challenged the right hon. Member for Dundee, West when he was speaking, because he argued that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence was making a pre-nuclear speech. The logical conclusion of the argument of the right hon. Member for Dundee, West was that if we were prepared to use nuclear weapons in the cold war, then we could, in fact, reduce our conventional requirements.
§ Mr. Strachey
The hon. Gentleman will, I think, agree that after he had put that point I made it as clear as I possibly could that, in my view, the nuclear weapon is an essential matter in terms of deterrent of a third world war and it was absolutely essential to maintain non-nuclear forces, so-called conventional forces, for cold war and non-great war purposes. That is my position in a nutshell.
§ Mr. Harvey
Quite a large nut shell. The position is not altered by the right hon. Gentleman's explanation, because that means that for cold war purposes the nuclear weapon does not exist, and, therefore, it is the use of conventional weapons for the holding of cold war commitments that matters.
§ Mr. Harvey
If that is the case, it must be a matter of reducing our cold war and potential cold war commitments.—[Interruption.] Unlike the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw, I am not used to being attacked from several sides at once.
§ Mr. Strachey
There is one other comment which I should like to make. I agree on that, but the main burden of my argument was that no one when they had once arrived at that position could suppose that a two-year period of National Service was the right way of providing these conventional forces for cold war purposes.
§ Mr. Harvey
I think that may be true but it assumes that we are not very much concerned at present with the time factor. It has been admitted during the course of the discussion that, as things stand at present, there is no really radical change in that situation. I believe myself that there is a case in the future—and the not-too-distant future—for a review of this situation, but I do not think that there is a case for it to be done by a Select Committee. Defence is an instrument of foreign policy, and it must be reviewed by the Government of the day and debated on the Floor of the House. It is not a Select Committee matter, and I think that case was clearly made out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Defence.
§ Mr. Harvey
They can be used perfectly well for the isolation of a conflagration. On this question of Korea, I would suggest that this was the first indication of a type of cold war policy with which we are now well acquainted. It was not the type of policy which the right hon. Gentleman anticipated, and we do not blame him for not anticipating it.
Let us be quite clear about this: nobody wants National Service.
§ Mr. Harvey
The right hon. Gentleman really must stop his electioneering performance or it will have to be charged up as an election expense. I sometimes wonder whether he knows the difference between a bombardier and a brigadier.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Judging by some of the brigadiers in this House, the difference is sometimes difficult to determine.
§ Mr. Harvey
Perhaps if he had been more aware of the difference the right hon. Gentleman would have made a better Minister of Defence; but I will not carry this point any further.
No Government, not even the Government of the right hon. Gentleman, want National Service, which is a strain on our manpower and a drain on our economic resources. Obviously, if Her 1129 Majesty's Government were electioneering they would offer reduction of National Service as a prize, but because they are a responsible Government, and are determined to maintain the foreign policy for which our Prime Minister has worked with such success, there is no attempt to bribe the electorate.
§ Mr. Harvey
I would be out of order if I attempted to take up that interruption. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. If he had been present at our Budget discussions he would have heard his hon. Friends call it a very mean Budget. That is not electioneering.
It has been stated that the National Service man is wasting his time everywhere. There may be cases of National Service men who might be more fully employed. They are exceptions. I have heard that aspect of the matter criticised. I have also heard criticisms of the British Army of the Rhine which are totally unjustified. These men constitute the finest peacetime Army that the country has ever had. A great deal of credit is due to the National Service men who are members of that Army.
A clear case has been made out for the reduction of National Service as and when defence and foreign policy permit. It means a responsible policy. Foreign policy without defence cannot be fully implemented. The case for that has been made out. I believe that the case can also be made out for discussing these matters at the highest level, on the Floor of this House, with the Government of the day. This is not the function of a Select Committee. I trust that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War will carry this view to a successful issue tonight.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am genuinely seeking your guidance on this matter. Can you tell me what qualities hon. Members of this House should have if other than Privy Councillors are to catch your eye?
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)
Recognising that many other hon. Members want to speak, I shall cut my remarks as short as possible, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. In total, I do not think they will exceed the interjections which have already occupied some of the earlier part of the debate.
The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) said that we were irresponsible in our attitude, and that the Government were responsible. If we were irresponsible we would have put down a Motion calling for reduction of National Service. Nothing would have been easier, but we did not do it. We put forward a perfectly reasonable Amendment, asking that the Army should make a case for its demands in the same way as industry makes out a case for its demands. This matter chiefly concerns the Army, from which the main demand for National Service comes, although I know that the Royal Air Force also want it.
In spite of what has been done by either Government there is still a great need for houses and schools and for the development of the export trade, about which we hear every day from the Chancellor of the Exchequr. Apparently all these things have to go by the board without question, as long as the Army thinks that it needs a certain number of people. That is what we object to. We object to unquestioning acquiescence in the demands made by the Army.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), and other hon. Members, made an observation which cannot be made too often. It is that we are in a situation altogether different from that which existed when we first had a two-year period of National Service. We have had the end of the Korean War and the coming of the H-bomb, which have created a new situation demanding re-examination, and that at a very high level.
The Army's needs appear to me to be two. First, a relatively small, highly trained force in peacetime. Secondly, a large and not so highly trained but partially trained force for expansion in wartime. They are the two principal needs. The Secretary of State for War shakes his head. I should have thought that what I have said was 1131 not in the least bit controversial and, indeed, very obvious. How are these two requirements to be met? The most sensible way in which to obtain a standing Army in peacetime is by increasing pay.
The basis is now comparison with civilian rates. I am not attacking the present Government. I know this matter was arranged by both Governments on the same system. The cheapest solution is to pay a rate which will bring men into the Regular Army rather than to have National Service for a long period, and to use some of the people at the end of their service to increase the size of the Regular Army. That is what the Secretary of State for War is doing today. He made that abundantly clear this afternoon when he said that National Service was needed to increase the size of the Regular Army.
It is very much better to pay a proper rate to the Regular Army and not a rate fixed by comparison with civilian work. It should be the rate fixed so as to attract people to come into the Army, rather than a system in which we rely on the National Service men, after they have carried through their main work of being trained for war. The latter method, which the Secretary of State is advocating, causes the maximum amount of dislocation in industry. It would be very much better to have increased pay than to carry on with this extremely expensive method.
The second need is for wartime expansion. How is this to be met? It has been proved that we shall want a very large number of people in wartime, but how many we do not know. But we shall be able to use nothing like the numbers which are being trained today, because many of the men will be wanted in reserved occupations. It is very likely that many more occupations will be reserved if it comes to war. We cannot imagine that everybody will be taken out of industry and suddenly put into the Services. Men will be kept back in many industries other than the obvious ones of agriculture and coal mining, and we shall find that we have trained more people than we can usefully employ in wartime.
This training is having an effect on the peacetime Army. The mere work of training all these people for war is using an enormous amount of time and energy 1132 and employing large numbers of instructors and other men responsible for their welfare. If we realised that many are being trained for work which they will not have to perform in war we could very much reduce the number of instructors, who would be released for normal work as Regular Army soldiers.
We could, of course, reduce the numbers by reducing the length of service, but I want to suggest an additional method which has not, I think, been mentioned on either side of the House so far. The Minister of Defence said that the United States had 24 months' service, but he added in fairness that the United States had a system by which only some people were called up. Why is it necessary for us to call up every person? Why cannot we have a ballot or drafting system so that only a limited number of people need be called up?
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
The subject has been discussed at very great length in this House at different times. The right hon. Gentleman is referring to the selective call-up, which was an experiment carried out by the Americans. Does he know what a mess they got into over it, and how long it took them to get out of it?
§ Mr. Dugdale
Such a scheme may not be possible, but it seems an extraordinary state of affairs that we should have to call up more men than we need do in order to avoid having unfair discrimination. We should not call up men who are not needed simply because we feel that it is necessary to call up everybody.
These are a few tentative suggestions that I have made, and they are the kind of things which might well come before the Select Committee that we propose. All we say is that there is need for an inquiry. Unless there is such an inquiry, none of these things will be considered, and the Army will continue, as it has done for many years, to get the number of men it wants regardless of the needs of the rest of the country.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I apologise to the House for not being able to stay to hear the winding-up speeches. I have an appointment elsewhere after I have spoken, and, therefore, I shall not be able to show the House the courtesy which I should normally wish to show it by remaining.
1133 Many of the speeches that I have heard today have contained, not logical arguments, but intensely political arguments. I cannot help wondering whether the debate is not a political escapade rather than a sincere effort to examine and improve the efficiency of the defence forces. The right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) both argued that, as the war in Korea had now stopped and as the large forces previously locked up in the Middle East had been redeployed, we could now probably have a reduced period of National Service. However, both right hon. Gentlemen began using these arguments about National Service years ago soon after they discarded the responsibility of office and at a time when the Korean War was going full out and we had tremendous commitments.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That is inaccurate. During the debate on the increase in the period of National Service from 18 months to two years my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), who was then Secretary of State for War, and I, as Minister of Defence, gave an assurance to the House on behalf of the Government that we intended to reduce the period as soon as the emergency passed. It was after the Korean affair that we asked, first, for an inquiry, but that was rejected. We then asked for an annual review, and later for an affirmative Resolution. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's point is that we acted only in relation to the Korean War and gave an assurance of a possible return to the 18-month period. When the hon. Gentleman argues that we have used this for political purposes, I would point out that it is the fourth time in four years that we have raised the subject.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
The right hon. Gentleman says that he did not advocate that, but on 4th August, 1952, when the Korean War was at its height, he said:There is no reason why men should be called up for two years … a year would be enough and I hope it could be reduced more in due course.A few days later he said:I suggest we begin by reducing the period of service to 18 months, then in 1953 take a further step …1134 and that in 1954 there should be a further step. The right hon. Gentleman was not then relating his arguments to world events or our commitments in Korea or the Middle East. It was purely a political maneouvre.
Curiously, the right hon. Member for Dundee, West also played this tune. On 15th August, 1953, he said:A period of one year's national service would be amply long enough …
§ Mr. Shinwell
I suggest to the hon. Member that his speech should be included in his election expenses and that he should send me a copy so that I may use it in my constituency during the General Election.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
It does not do you great credit, because just a few months after leaving the responsible position of Minister or Defence and after making some—
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member must remember that he is addressing the Chair. I have never been Minister of Defence.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
It is a shock to some of us that such speeches as these should have been made and that the right hon. Member for Easington should now come here and relate his new call for reduced National Service to a reduction in our commitments in Korea and the Middle East. He was putting forward the same arguments when the Korean War was blazing hot and our military forces were dangerously overstretched.
The right hon. Gentleman argues that a Select Committee should consider the matter, but I believe that it must remain a Government decision, as it was in the right hon. Gentleman's time. The Measure providing for a period of National Service of 18 months was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman's Government on 31st March, 1947. Seventy-two votes from the Labour Party were cast against it, and within 48 hours the Government decided to reduce the period to 12 months. There was no Select Committee to consider our world commitments; it was an instantaneous decision 1135 by the Government of the day. Later, world events were such that the Labour Government were forced to go back on the decision and increased the period first to 18 months and later to 24 months.
Another argument used by the right hon. Gentleman which was equally fantastic was that about equal shares. It is a staggering argument that because some are doing less than their fair share for the defence of Western Europe we ought also to do less than our fair share. He did not compare, as I am sure he would desire to do, like with like. Apparently he was misinformed about the length of service when he replied to a Question by the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) on 3rd December. But, apart from the length of National Service, he did not consider in his opening remarks today, the commitments of the different nations which he quoted.
It is no good saying that Belgium has 21 or 18 months' National Service and that the Netherlands has a slightly reduced period of National Service compared with ours, without considering the world commitments of the nations concerned. I feel that it is highly illogical—in fact, fantastic—to suggest that we, a world Power with Commonwealth responsibilities scattered right round the perimeter of the world, should have a period of National Service which accords with Western European nations who have not got such commitments.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, West told me, in response, in an interruption to which he graciously gave way, that he would deal with this question of the strategic reserve, but I have heard very little about it today. I have sat through every defence debate for the last three years, and the point has been made on both sides of the House, including the Treasury Bench, that at the earliest possible moment, if we were to meet our commitments in a cold war, we must have ready in this country a strategic reserve which could be whipped off to any part of the world, preferably by air transport.
Now that we have been able to withdraw troops from Korea and redeploy troops in the Middle East, we hope to form that strategic reserve. Therefore, this is the last moment suddenly to cut the strength of our Armed Forces, and particularly the Army, by 50,000 men, 1136 which would result if the period of National Service were cut from 24 to 18 months.
I cannot support the request for a Select Committee. I think this is far too large a subject for any Select Committee to consider. This must remain a Government responsibility, advised by the Chiefs of Staff. But I do hope that the Government will continue to hold independent inquiries. I should support any measure which would produce narrow inquiries on all sorts of fronts. Civil firms might well take over some large projects, as has been done in the Middle East area, where civil contractors, employing their own labour, are carrying out the maintenance of bases.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Our world commitments might well be carried out on a similar basis in other parts of the world where native labour is also available. It may be possible to save manpower in that way, and I think it is worth investigating. I consider that it is equally worth investigating the number of movements, the time wasted by movements, and particularly the time saved by air trooping and the necessity to move people so often for such long distances. I should like an investigation on that sort of narrow front.
I should like an investigation into how we are to get the skilled men who will be absolutely essential if we are to maintain the more complicated equipment which is now being devised for our Armed Forces. Those are the sorts of inquiries which should be undertaken. We might well undertake an investigation into where time is wasted by National Service men, but I cannot think that this is a subject which should be dealt with by a Select Committee. It could certainly be dealt with by smaller committees, confined to narrower terms of reference.
I should like my right hon. Friend to tell us whether we could be informed, as a House, when such committees are set up. Both Governments have said during the last five years that they have investigated certain points, but I think it would be to the benefit of the House, and especially to hon. Members who take a special interest in this matter, if we knew that a committee was investigating this part of the problem. With that, I hope 1137 the House will accept the view that a limited inquiry should be set up, and reject the suggestion that a Select Committee is the right weapon to use on this occasion.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
After the very high-ranking officers who have been speaking on this side of the House, it may be somewhat of a change and refreshing to have a speech from a more junior Member. I think we shall have to look into this problem of so much time being taken up by four right hon. Gentlemen. I think they might well exercise a self-denying ordinance in future and speak somewhat later in the debate. That is just a suggestion; it docs not indicate a civil war on this side of the House, but I hope that note will be taken of my suggestion.
There has been some argument about whether the appointment of a Select Committee is the right approach to this problem. All I would say is that the Government are very quick to appoint a Select Committee into matters to which they do not want an early answer. They have considered a Select Committee as the appropriate means of inquiry into the nationalised industries, and I should have thought there was a strong analogy between the two problems. The Government are not bound to accept all the findings of a Select Committee. Decisions on policy still rest with the Government, but we consider that the period and the conditions of National Service are so important at this stage that we are right in pressing for a Select Committee or some such body to make investigation.
There can be no suggestion that this matter has been raised for political purposes, because as far back as 16th November, 1953, we moved a Motion which said:That this House, whilst accepting the necessity for National Service in present circumstances, nevertheless considers that the time has now arrived when the period of Service should be determined by Parliament on affirmative Resolution not less frequently than once a year.The answer given by the Government was that it was not necessary to accept that Motion because we had ample means year by year of raising the question. Today we are using one of the means of raising the question, and when we do we 1138 are attacked for our effrontery in raising it. Therefore, there does not seem to be a lot in that argument.
I am glad that the Minister of Defence is here because his speech was a clear example of what we have been saying, that the Government have no intention of reducing this period of National Service, in spite of what they say in their Amendment. The Government asked the civil servants to find all the reasons why this should not be done. When a Minister puts a problem to his Department, he can ask them to give the reasons why a thing should be done or why it should not be done, and in this case the Secretary of State obviously used the second technique, for every argument has been an argument why this should not be done and, indeed, why it could not be done. That is a significant feature of the Minister's attitude. He has obviously proved far too much for his case, because he declares that the Government cannot do with a period of less than two years' National Service.
What does the Amendment mean when it says that the Government willlighten the existing burden of National Service as soon as circumstances permit"?It is just over a year ago that we unanimously accepted a Motion in this House that there should be immediate talks with the leaders of the four Powers for the easing of world tension. Those talks have not taken place yet. If "immediate" means something over a year and a half, what does "as soon as possible" mean? It probably means something like five, ten or fifteen years ahead. It is clear that this Amendment is a face-saving device to protect the Government from the wrath of the people.
In the debate in November, 1953, when we discussed the question of the Government bringing forward this matter each year and making their case for the continuance of National Service, our main point was that we thought it undesirable to regard the continuance of the two-year period of National Service as automatic. What has happened since then to make us press this issue again and ask for a committee of inquiry, preferably a Select Committee, into the operation of the National Service Acts in the light of existing circumstances and commitments, and, in particular, to ask whether, at this time, the period should remain at two years?
1139 I think that this is the first time that we have actually queried the length of National Service. As far back as November, 1953, we agreed that in existing circumstances at that time the period of two years was right. But since then there have been enormous developments in weapons, and we are bound to ask whether we need the same kind of Army today in the light of thermo-nuclear weapons, tactical atomic weapons, and so on, and whether we need the same large numbers of men in our Army or whether we need a different kind of organisation. I think my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) was on the right lines when he asked for a smaller, more compact force to take the place of the present large force.
Consider, for instance, the changes brought about by the abolition of Anti-Aircraft Command, which was perhaps the greatest user of National Service men. Now that it has been abolished, what is happening to those men? Where are they going? Does it mean that, without Anti-Aircraft Command, we need to have fewer men called up for National Service?
We all admit that the problem which we face is, in the main, an Army problem, although there is also the question of the use by the Air Force of their trained National Service men on reserve. Perhaps we could have some information about how that scheme is working. It would help us to make up our minds.
There has been talk of the cold war and the hot war and the place of the hydrogen bomb. I thought that the whole idea of the hydrogen bomb was that it would act as a deterrent in the cold war. If there were a hot war, then the question of its use might not be for us to consider, because I doubt whether we should be here. But the main purpose of its use is as a deterrent in the cold war.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
Not to use it, but to have it; that is surely the whole purpose of it, and that was what the Prime Minister was speaking about. He said this was a deterrent which was so horrible that it might make a hot war unthinkable. When I spoke of the use of the hydrogen bomb as a deterrent I meant that to possess it was a deterrent.
1140 The extension of the period of National Service from 18 months to two years arose specifically out of the Korean War. Had it not been for that war we would not have increased the period, and had it not been for an undertaking at that time that two years was to be considered as an abnormal period, I doubt whether the proposal would have gone through the House even at the time of the Korean War.
We all know that that war has ended, that the evacuation of Egypt has released large numbers of men and that the changes in Trieste and, very soon, in Austria will release more men. We are getting rid of these commitments. Had we been in office we would have been told that we were "scuttling" from these places. We have quite rightly been getting rid of commitments all over the world, and that seems to me to make a considerable change and to justify our attitude in asking for a review of the situation.
The point is that a situation arose in the Korean War which could be met only by extending the period by six months. But it must be remembered all the time that our original purpose in introducing National Service in peacetime was to form an adequate reserve. I think the time has come when we should get back to that original purpose of using National Service to create an adequate reserve and also for our policing operations in the world.
I have seen the National Service men in Kenya and I should like to pay my tribute to the work which they are doing there—work which they are doing without any thought of praise or reward. We are all convinced of that and it is not necessary to state it in the Amendment. We are all sure that when these men are called into National Service, although they may grumble and kick, they are nearly all determined to do their best while they are there. But I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that almost every one of them is counting the days until the time when he comes out. One recently told me that he had 191 days to go and that every day that goes by he crosses one off the number. He will now have about 170 days to go, but he will know the exact number and he will be waiting for the day when he gets out of the 1141 Forces. Nevertheless, while he is there he is giving his best service to the Forces.
Another point which has been raised is that we are bearing more than our fair burden, in the allocation of periods of National Service, in comparison with our Allies. We have accepted a period of two years and they have accepted what perhaps they think is the right period for them, but I believe the Government gave a guarantee that they would use their best endeavours to persuade the other countries to build up their period of service to something like ours.
That has not happened, and I think we are entitled to go back to these countries and to tell them again that we in Britain are bearing a greater proportion of defence under N.A.T.O. than are other countries. We are entitled to say, bluntly, that if they will not increase their proportion of the defence, we must reconsider our position. I do not think there is anything wrong in that.
But the gravest defect of this extra six months, in my view, is the effect which it is having on industry in this country. We are dependent on increasing productivity for our very livelihood and at present there is not an adequate pool of manpower in the country to meet that demand. The signs of increasing productivity are not as great as they should be, and one of the few remaining places where we can turn for the right kind of person to go into industry is National Service. The people we want are spending this extra six months in the Army. The Government would be making a tremendous contribution to our industrial needs if they reduced the period of National Service to 18 months so that we could have these men in industry for six months longer.
We must keep a balance between defence and a sound economy, and I believe that our defence would be stronger if we concentrated more on the industrial side and less on the National Service side, because I am convinced that industry cannot afford this two-year period of National Service.
I have pointed to the change in our commitments and to the change in the nature of our defence. I am convinced that the two-year period should be regarded as abnormal, but I am not satisfied that the Government so regard it.
1142 On the contrary, I am convinced that they look upon it as the normal period. In my opinion, the onus is on the Government to prove tonight that the two-year period is necessary. They are not entitled to keep these men away from their normal pursuits and away from industry for two years unless they can make out an overwhelming case for it.
An inquiry could also look into the complaints which we receive about the use of manpower in the Forces. I hope that whoever replies to the debate will be able to tell us what is being done in the Forces to secure an economy in manpower. We all know of the wasteful movement of troops which takes place day in and day out—wasteful movements which are costly in money and extravagant in the use of time. If we tell the Army chiefs that they can have these men for only 18 months, I am quite sure that they will be able to make better use of them while they are in the forces. I am certain that a more adequate and perhaps more concentrated training programme could be introduced—one which would fit these men well for the tasks which they have to perform.
We must get back to the original concept of National Service as a means of producing an adequate, trained reserve. While accepting the principle of National Service, we must do so with two reservations; first, that it is not to be regarded as a permanent feature of our life and, secondly, that it is to be as universal in its application as possible. I am not satisfied that all those who are deferred are subsequently caught up in the machine and called up for service.
I believe that if we can assure people that National Service is not to be permanent and that a Select Committee will see whether a reduction in the period is possible, we shall have a more contented and more satisfied National Service man.
We have had conscription for 16 years, in peace and war. We have had it for 10 years in peacetime. That means that the men who are being called up for National Service today can scarcely remember a time in their lives when the Army has depended upon Regular recruiting for its manpower. In my opinion, that is endangering our way of life in this country by creating a permament National Service. I hope that we shall at least receive an undertaking from 1143 the Government tonight that they will not simply watch the position but will take active steps to see whether, in the light of our present commitments, an immediate reduction in the period is possible.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I do not feel that I can take up very much of the argument of the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd), because he has not been quite so controversial as some other hon. Members. The suggestion by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) that the four divisions in Germany—which are virtually front line divisions—should be used as a strategic reserve is at least novel if not very sound. The right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) came back to his argument that the troops from the Canal Zone could be used, as it were, for the reduction of the period of National Service. He did not take that view in 1953. On 16th November of that year, speaking in relation to exactly the same matter, he said he wasfar from suggesting that even when the Canal Zone commitment has been liquidated it will be easy for the Army to reduce the period of National Service. It would impose … difficulties … to return to a period of 18 months … "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1953; Vol. 520, c. 1418.]So he has changed horses just before the Election.
§ Mr. Strachey
The hon. and gallant Member really must not be allowed to get away with that. At that time I was saying that as soon as the position in the Canal Zone was liquidated it would be possible to reduce the period of National Service. It is quite true that I put in those qualifications. I said that even then it would not be easy to do it. I said quite clearly that although I did not think that it was possible at all then, I thought it was possible when the Egyptian position was liquidated.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I do not want to pursue this matter for too long, but I am quoting verbatim from HANSARD. The right hon. Gentleman said:I am far from suggesting that even when the Canal Zone commitment has been liquidated it will be possible for the Army to return to a period of 18 months.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
No; "possible" is the word that he used. That is on record in HANSARD.
The right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) made the very revolutionary suggestion that troops should be highly trained in peace-time, but that it was necessary for them to be only partially trained in time of war.
§ Mr. Dugdale
What I meant was that we do not expect soldiers, at the end of a period of training of 18 months or even two years, to be as fully trained as Regular troops who have had years and years of training. Nobody would ever expect that. They are trained to a certain extent, and that training is useful to them when they are called up in time of war.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I quite understand what the right hon. Member means, but he is wrong, because it was proved in the last war that troops who had good training for two years were as good as others who had been trained for eight years—provided that the two years' training had been an uninterrupted period.
I have always said that even before the advent of the H-bomb hot global war was becoming increasingly unlikely in direct ratio to the increasing strength of N.A.T.O. forces. I believe that the H-bomb has now become the supreme deterrent, and that the likelihood of a hot global war has almost disappeared. That is not to say that we must not continue to be prepared, or that the object of Russian foreign policy is not exactly the same as it has been for the last 150 years, namely, world domination. The only difference now is that it has the adjective "Communist" attached to it. Russia will take the shortest cut to achieve her objective. Provided that we do not lower our guard and provided that we have the deterrent of the H-bomb and adequate forces, the shortest cut to world domination is not through a global war. The Communists will continue to infiltrate as they have been doing, to start up little fires upon the perimeter of the Iron Curtain and, both politically and militarily, to carry on the cold war as we know it. This is both a political and a military problem, and it must be tackled upon both those bases.
In my view the commitments involved in a cold war are wider, more varied and 1145 less foreseeable than those in a hot war. Over the last few years it has given me the shivers to realise that we had no form of strategic reserve in this country, where it should be. We had the appalling lesson of France's weakness at the beginning of the last war, through not having a strategic reserve, and I begin to breath a little more freely now that we know that we are to form one.
It has been argued that with the abolition of the eight battalions and our withdrawal from Suez we could provide enough people to make possible a reduction in the length of National Service. That is a fallacy. Those eight battalions which were disbanded were very largely swallowed up in the rather excessive run-out which took place as a result of the extra call-up in 1951. We have all heard the argument about the balance being used for a strategic reserve.
§ Mr. Strachey
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not want to misrepresent me. I have just referred to HANSARD of 16th November, 1953, and the passage to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred reads:I was just about to say that I was far from suggesting that even when the Canal Zone commitment has been liquidated it will be easy for the Army to reduce the period of National Service again."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 16th November, 1953; Vol. 520, c. 1418.]There is no doubt about it. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman was reading propaganda printed by his Central Office, perhaps he will have the word corrected, because it is just misquoting HANSARD. I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman would not wish to do so himself.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having taken the trouble to refer to HANSARD. What I have was typewritten from HANSARD, and it is conceivable that my secretary made a mistake.
§ Mr. Strachey
It is not only conceivable; it is the case. If the hon. and gallant Member puts it like that, I must ask him to withdraw, and to agree that the word in HANSARD is "easy."
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I most certainly do withdraw, if the right hon. Gentleman wishes me to do so. I have not the relevant copy of HANSARD with me, but I take his word that that is what he said.
1146 I want to refute utterly and absolutely the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Easington that hon. Members on this side of the House have always been in favour of National Service and the retention of the period of two years. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to quote any extract from HANSARD, from any hon. Members who have spoken in Army Estimates debates or defence debates and who have said that. I can show him quotations to precisely the reverse effect. If he reads every speech that I have made since I became a Member in 1945—not that he will—he will see that I have said exactly what I am going to say now.
I dislike National Service and conscription. I would far rather see a professional volunteer Army, if that were possible, and I believe that everything should be done towards that end. But we must never forget that ever since 1920 the number of people who have been prepared to join the Army upon a voluntary basis has remained precisely the same. It has been 180,000 irrespective of whether there was unemployment and irrespective of the raising or lowering of pay. That is apparently the number of people who are prepared to join the Army on a voluntary basis.
We must face that fact, and until on that basis we can fulfil our commitments abroad we have unfortunately to continue with National Service. It will not be until these commitments, in the interests of world peace, are not just reduced here and there but radically and permanently reduced that any responsible Government Would dare take the risk of reducing National Service.
The Opposition repeatedly says that we must reduce our commitments, but we have not yet had it out of any hon. or right hon. Member opposite which commitment we should reduce. Do they suggest that we should get out of Malaya or leave Kenya at the present moment? Do they suggest, for example, that the redeployment in the Middle East is wrong9
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I have not heard the hon. Member say that, but no doubt he will now say it if he is called upon to speak.
The fact that before the Korean War our Army was so stretched that the period of National Service had to be increased.
1147 Not only that—and this is an earnest of how far stretched it was—the Army had to call up Reservists and maintain in the Army Regular soldiers over their period of Service. Therefore, it is no good saying that it was only the Korean War which affected this question of National Service—and we have gone on having the Army stretched to the utmost ever since.
I hope that hon. Members opposite will really listen to my next point, coming as it does from somebody who has served 30 years in the Army. The effect of reducing the period of National Service would be twofold. First, unit strength would have to be reduced by very nearly half, and any of those who served in those appalling days when we used flags to represent machine-guns and had only skeleton platoons knows the heartbreak of it. To ask a conscript service to undergo that in these days would be quite wrong.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
Most of the period I served between the two wars. The matter was put right after the defeat of the Socialists in 1931.
Non-commissioned officers and officers are the people on whom one has to rely to look after these National Service men, to see that they get proper attention, training and welfare to which they are entitled. The strongest argument of all against reducing the period of National Service is that the Regular element of the Army would have to serve longer than three years abroad in foreign stations to make up the deficiency. The immediate result of that would be a further run-out of N.C.O.s and officers, because they would not face it. The Regular Army would be reduced in strength in consequence and that would mean the immediate reintroduction of the longer period of conscription. I hope and pray that the people of this country, being sensible, will realise that these are the reasons against a reduction or abolition of National Service.
It was put to me recently by an hon. Member opposite that we must accept a reduced standard and that we cannot go on expecting the high standard which we have expected of the British Army for so long. But the Army is not like a factory. It does not mean that if one 1148 accepts a reduced standard one's financial gain will be so much less. We would pay for a reduced standard of efficiency in the precious currency of men's lives. These men are trained to fight and when it comes to fighting the one soldier or the other gets killed. That is how one pays for a reduced standard of efficiency. I hope that people will think a great deal before they again suggest that we should reduce the standard in the British Army.
The policy of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has been fully vindicated. I know that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) will not agree when I say that the three years' engagement has shown throughout a steady 25 per cent. of re-engagement.
§ Mr. Wigg rose—
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I know the point which the hon. Member wishes to make, but I should like him to listen to me for a while. This policy has shown a 25 per cent. re-engagement, or taking on for a three-year period, having regard to the number called up. The hon. Member for Dudley, of course, can quote figures to show that in this or that year the number showed a tendency the other way, but in doing so he would be disregarding the percentage of total call-up. He will find that overall the figure has been roughly 25 per cent.
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. and gallant Member, of course, is quite wrong. This re-engagement arrangement was not introduced until November, 1951. My hon. Friends and myself have put Questions over a period since last November to try to find out the rate of re-engagement. We have not yet been told. We were given a forecast by the Government in March, 1953, and we were told that it was hoped that it would be 33⅓ per cent.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
Exactly, but I am talking of National Service men who when they come to the end of their service re-engage for three years. I say that that figure has remained at 25 per cent. throughout, and that is very encouraging. We will come to prolongation in a moment. That is quite a different matter.
1149 I believe that it was the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) who said inadvertently that the figure in that case had risen by 700 a year. In fact, the number has risen from 300 to 700 a month, which is very encouraging. Apart from this, what can we do to raise the voluntary intake which has remained more or less the same since 1920? If, as was suggested by the right hon. Member for West Bromwich, one should raise the pay even further still, I would ask him to go into the figures, because it would have to be done for the Navy and the Royal Air Force as well. It would involve a colossal amount, and it would be taking a risk in the present state of our finances, because one would not be certain whether it would have the desired effect.
I frankly confess that in opposition I kept asking the then Government to raise the pay of the Forces, which they finally did. We all agree, on both sides of the House, that the result of that decision has had a certain effect but that it has been slightly disappointing. The raising of pay is not the only factor. Many other things are involved. The chief factor—and I shall return to this subject in the new Parliament—is the question of the education of the children of officers, N.C.O.s and men. The Ministry of Education, the War Office, and even more the Chancellor of the Exchequer, must get down to this problem, because it is one of the chief reasons why men do not join as volunteers or, having joined, get out of the Army again as quickly as possible.
As to the question of an inquiry, I agree with my hon. Friends. A Select Committee would not cover this vast subject adequately, unless it took three or four years to do its work, by which time the whole thing would be out-of-date. Whatever party is returned to power after the General Election, I am not sure that someone will not have to have an inquiry not only into the question of National Service in the Army but into the whole question of the manpower of this country in the light of new strategic weapons.
It would have to be a vast inquiry. An inquiry is long overdue into the whole question of part-time manpower, of voluntary manpower, of assessing how 1150 many are available for each of the various demands and of deciding how the channel of operation should work. Immediately we come back to the House after the Election, we should be doing something like that and not carrying out the very narrow suggestion contained in the Motion which we are discussing today.
Finally, I also, as does the Amendment, would pay tribute to what the National Service men have done. Frankly, I have been amazed by them and by what they have done. I always said that I was against conscription, against National Service compulsorily acquired. I formed that conclusion very largely from having seen the French Army before the war. It is really quite fantastic the way these boys have put their backs into it and adapted themselves to the Service and made themselves a part of it, whether originally they liked it or not. It was particularly remarkable in Korea, where there were young N.C.O.s of 14 months' service going forward on patrols, working wireless sets for reporting, and firing the guns behind. A commanding officer said to me, "I would not have believed it possible if I had not seen it for myself." I join with all those who support the Amendment in paying a great tribute to these young men.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
So far the Government have made no case whatever against our plea for a Select Committee to inquire into the length of National Service. Indeed, everything they have said has been in favour of our proposition. The Minister of Defence, for example, spent a long time telling us that we have had 21 committees of inquiry into the subject of manpower since the war, many of the committees consisting not only of soldiers but of civilians as well. He then said that we did not want another. However, one more would not do any harm, even on the right hon. and learned Gentleman's own showing. It certainly could not do any harm, and it might do some good. I thought that argument of his a feeble one.
The Minister of Defence seemed very insulted at the suggestion that the Government should be advised by people not actually members of the Government, but certainly that was done before the First World War. The greatest reforms ever 1151 carried out in the British Army, reforms for the very reconstruction of the British Army, were suggested by the Esher Committee, which was a very high-powered Committee, containing Members of Parliament, generals, civilians, and including civil servants, too. We are not asking the Government to go quite as far as that. We are asking them to have an inquiry by a Select Committee, of the sort which examined the Army and Air Force Acts, which worked very successfully, which summoned all sorts of witnesses before it and worked in harmony with the Departments.
The next argument advanced against our proposal by the Minister of Defence was that it would somehow involve telling the Select Committee secrets it ought not to be told because only the Government could know our commitments. I thought the whole burden of the Government's song was that we knew exactly what our commitments were and that they were very proud of having reduced them, and extremely proud because over the last three and a half years they had managed to lessen the amount of tension in the world so that our commitments were not so great. Is there some secret commitment which they do not want to tell a Select Committee about? That is the only conclusion that we can draw.
I thought all our commitments were well known. I think it is well known that we have recently reduced some of them. Nevertheless, the only argument one can accept as valid and logical which was put by the Minister of Defence against our proposal for the Select Committee was that it would involve telling the Select Committee secrets about commitments which he did not want to tell it. It seemed to me an extraordinary argument.
I quite agree with the proposition made by—I think it was—the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser), that if we tell the Government it is possible to reduce commitments we ought to tell them how to reduce the commitments. I should like to accept that challenge. It is not very difficult, because the Secretary of State for War has already told us how to reduce our commitments. He did so during the debate on 8th March on the Army Estimates. He then told us that the redeployment of our forces in the Middle East, the removal of them 1152 from the Suez Canal Zone, the disbandment of Anti-Aircraft Command, the disbandment of the eight new infantry battalions introduced by the Government and then cancelled by the Government, meant that the Army would save some 66,000 men. He gave us the figure—that is an inescapable figure—and the figure he gave us was 66,000 men.
I should say that, in addition to those commitments that he told us had already been liquidated, we could probably save some 10,000 men at Hong Kong, where, I believe, we have still a division and where we have far more soldiers than we need. We really require no more than a brigade for police duties in Hong Kong. If the Chinese Communists proposed to take it over by force, certainly our resources there would not enable us to deal with such an attack, and if they do not propose to do any such thing we do not require any forces of any size there. Therefore I think we could probably save another 8,000 to 10,000 men there. Thus we could save 76,000 men.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I do not think it is an argument which invites disaster. Let my hon. Friend consider the situation of a little coastal town on the coast of China. If force is used against it, then it is absolutely at the mercy of the Power on the mainland. I am not suggesting that force will be used. I do not think it will be. If it is not used, then we do not require any troops there, only a token force for police purposes. If it is used, we require far more than a strategic reserve stationed here to deal with it.
§ Mr. Tomney rose—
§ Mr. Wyatt
I shall not give way again if my hon. Friend does not mind.
It is perfectly true that some of the savings in the Middle East have to be redeployed in the Middle East, but I do not think that redeployment would take up more than about 15,000 of the troops there at present. That should be an ample number for stationing in Cyprus. Suppose we were to do that, that would still leave, on the Secretary of State's own showing, a saving of 61,000 to the Army, provided we also reduced the number of troops in Hong Kong.
1153 The Secretary of State also told us in that same speech that between April, 1954, and April, 1956, there would be a run-down in the Army of some 35,000 because of the exceptional year when we had five registrations for call-up, which, of course, cannot be repeated. Therefore, there would be a total loss to the Army of some 35,000 in that period. However, it will not all happen at once and will not be complete until April, 1956. That means that the total savings over the period are going to be cut down by another 35,000, reducing the saving to 26,000. This is on the Secretary of State's own showing.
During that period it would be possible, I believe, for some of our troops, perhaps 8,000 or so, to come out of Malaya. I say this because we have just inaugurated a new Government in Singapore, and there are elections under way on the mainland of Malaya which are going to produce a new Government in Malaya itself. I believe that with this substantial advance towards self-government it may be possible to remove the emergency regulations during that period and reduce—of course, by no means eliminate, but certainly reduce—the number of troops we have there. It may be possible. If it were not, then clearly other arrangements would have to be made. Perhaps we could fall back upon an exceptional call-up if we needed to. But there probably could be another saving of 8,000, making the total saving for the Army in that period about 35,000.
What has to be done with the saving? This is where we part company with the Government. An extraordinary campaign has suddenly begun in "The Times." "The Times," obviously inspired by the Government and by the generals, for these views bear all the hallmarks of the inspiration of the War Office and of the Chiefs of Staff, has begun a campaign to demand that we should have a strategic reserve not merely of one division but of two divisions. We have not had a strategic reserve of two divisions since the war, but now "The Times," under the inspiration of the War Office, is demanding a strategic reserve of two divisions. It did so in a special article published only yesterday and again in its leading article this morning.
It is a most extraordinary suggestion. First, I query altogether the need for a 1154 strategic reserve. We have not had one in this country since the early part of 1951, and yet the last four years have been the most dangerous years in peace since the end of the war, but we have not had to call upon a strategic reserve at home. If we did not need a strategic reserve at home in the four most perilous years in the post-war world, why on earth do we need a strategic reserve now at the very moment when the Government tell us the tension has been relaxed and they have done so well in smoothing down the international scene?
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
The hon. Gentleman is asking a question, so may I give him the answer? We needed that reserve more than ever at that time, but it could not be afforded, and it simply did not exist, but anybody who had any inkling of what the situation was, as I said when I made my speech, felt a cold shiver down his back because we did not have that strategic reserve.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I dare say that the hon. and gallant Gentleman did have a cold shiver down his back, but he survived, and nothing has happened to disturb him in any way. We have got through that difficult and dangerous period without any difficulty. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman says that we have not got through it, what does he think he is doing sitting here tonight?
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon
We got through the difficult and dangerous period, but not without difficulty. As the hon. Gentleman should know, the difficulties of that time were extreme.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I have no doubt that they were, but we managed to get over them without having a strategic reserve at home.
The whole argument of the Government today is that we have done so well in our foreign policy that the international scene is far smoother and clearer than it was when they took office. Yet, despite that, they say that they are going to institute a strategic reserve which did not exist when they came to power, and which has not existed since. Backed by "The Times," and inspired by their own inspirations in "The Times," the Government are not going to have a strategic reserve of one division, but of two divisions, which is quite incredible and quite unnecessary.
1155 For what shall we use such a reserve? This afternoon the Prime Minister was extremely evasive when he was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) what was the nature of our commitment or of his approach to the situation in Formosa should Formosa be attacked by the Chinese Communists and should America ask for our assistance in helping the Americans to defend Formosa. Instead of saying that under no circumstances would he be willing to have British troops used for the defence of Chiang Kai-shek, the right hon. Gentleman simply said that at this stage he had not entered into any agreement about it.
That is one use to which a strategic reserve could be put, although I do not believe that any British Government would do it, because they would be thrown out very quickly if they did. Nevertheless, it is alarming that the Government should want a strategic reserve of two divisions although they have not had such a reserve for the last four years. For what do they want it? It could not be of any use in an atomic war. We know that. It is suggested that it might be used for colonial purposes, to be flown from one part of the Commonwealth to another in order to deal with outbreaks by colonial people.
But that is not a proper use for a highly-trained modern division. That is a police task, not a task for highly-trained soldiers with up-to-date modern equipment. It is absolutely a wrong policy to have a strategic reserve of two divisions in order to fly the men to the colonial areas of the Commonweatlh. Of course, what we need—and this is something with which I agree, and which I myself advocated during the defence debate—is a sufficient airlift which would enable us to send a division to any part of the world where it might be needed. It is one of the failings of the Government that they have not produced that airlift.
If we had such an airlift, the division could always come from Germany. There were many shocked expressions from hon. Members opposite when the point was made earlier today, but I do not understand why. It is clearly stated in the Paris Agreements that we have the right to take out a division whenever we think it necessary for our purposes else- 1156 where in the world. If a threat to this country arose in Germany, we should not, of course, want to take a division from that country, because that would be the proper place for it. But, if the threat came from elsewhere, it would not do any great harm to take a division or less away from Germany for the necessary time. I cannot see what argument there is against that.
I believe that the whole concept today of having a strategic reserve is pre-atomic. It makes no sense whatever now that we have come into the nuclear period of war. My right hon. Friend and other hon. Members, including myself, recently visited S.H.A.P.E. where we talked with General Gruenther. It was quite clear from all our conversations that S.H.A.P.E. has abandoned all hope of building up conventional forces and weapons in sufficient number to avoid the use of nuclear weapons should the Russians attack in the West.
All the talk at Lisbon about 50 divisions has ceased completely, and it is absolutely clear that S.H.A.P.E. has abandoned any hope of raising a sufficient number of conventional forces to avoid having to use nuclear weapons if attacked by the Russians. The "Manchester Guardian "points out today that there are only nine effective divisions under the command of General Gruenther, four British and five American. It also points out why the French and other divisions are not up to the standards required in modern warfare.
I think that what it says may well be true. General Gruenther is certainly under the impression that the only possible course for the West if attacked by the Russians—and he has said this publicly—would be for it to use nuclear weapons. If that is so, then there would be no possibility of sending a strategic reserve from this country to reinforce our troops in Germany, because, by that time, the ports would all have been atom bombed. What we require in Germany is a shield, and a comparatively small shield, to hold up any attack long enough for an atomic target to be presented. That is the accepted military theory today, and it rules out any argument for having a strategic reserve.
The new Chief of the Imperial General Staff, as we were told again this afternoon, once headed a committee which 1157 inquired into the possibility of saving manpower. My right hon. Friend and I were at the War Office at the time, and I well remember that committee. General Templer suggested that one way of saving manpower would be to cut down the size of our divisions. The suggestion was not agreed to at the time, but I think that there was a great deal in it.
This is the only country today which relies on such large, clumsy and inefficiently constructed divisions. The new German Army is going to have divisions of only 10,000 or 12,000 men, whereas our divisions have something like 22,000 at least. Were we to reduce the size of our divisions to 10,000 or 12,000, we should be able to have not four but five or six divisions and still save about 10,000 in manpower in Germany. That, added to the number of the saving about which we have already been told by the Secretary of State for War, would give us a saving for the Army as a whole of some 50,000 men.
If we saved 50,000 men—and in the debate of 8th March the Secretary of State for War told us exactly how to do it—we could cut conscription by six months. It may be that we should not quite save 50,000 and that we might have to be content with a cut of five or four months, but we could certainly cut it. I understand that those responsible for advising the Secretary of State, and, indeed, for advising the Government as a whole, recognise that today we have more men in the Army than we actually need. They know that, and the Secretary of State has explained that to us. What they are saying is that it would be much better if we kept the same period of service and yet had a selective system of call-up just as they have in America.
I can understand the Government's reluctance to accept that proposition, because I think that it would be politically unpopular as well as unjust and unfair. It certainly does not attract me. The generals want to keep National Service at two years for the sake of efficiency and for its military value in overseas stations and to save waste in the pipeline. They are absolutely right, but we cannot deal with the matter only from that point of view. That could certainly be done, or there could be a straight cut of four to six months in 1158 National Service. The Government know that and the Secretary of State explained why that is so by illustrating to us the savings that we should have.
§ Mr. Wyatt
Exactly, but unfortunately the Secretary of State for War has not heard all I have said. I explained why I think a strategic reserve is unnecessary in this country. I quite accept the proposition. If we agree that we do not need a strategic reserve at home, we certainly could have cuts, and I accept that we do not need it at home, because we have not had one for four years, and we have managed to get on quite successfully without it.
An overwhelming case has been made out for a cut in National Service. All that we have asked for is that we should have a Select Committee to inquire into that, and I cannot understand why the Government do not accept our Motion. It certainly could not do any harm, and it might do a great deal of good. The only reason which I think they can have for not accepting it would be that they have some ideas about commitments which they do not wish to tell such a Select Committee, because I have always thought until this afternoon that all our commitments were well known, and that there were no secrets at all about them.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)
I should like to follow for a moment the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Wyatt) on the matter of a strategic reserve. The hon. Member argues that it is not necessary in this country. Whether by that he implies that it is not necessary at all, I would not know. The hon. Gentleman also argues that the use of such a strategic reserve, wherever it may be based, would be wrong for any insurrection within the Empire, such as the troubles going on today in Kenya and in Malaya. How he would deal with these countries the hon. Gentleman did not go on to explain. I think he has left a great many gaps in his arguments, which do not seem to follow one another in proper logical sequence.
1159 There was one other point which I noticed in the hon. Gentleman's speech. I do not think the people of the Crown Colony of Hong Kong would be very pleased to hear their Colony referred to as a little coastal town on the verge of China.
The right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) mentioned the question of further pay increases as a possible incentive to Regular recruiting. While I would admit that more money is always welcome in all quarters, I do not think that a further pay increase would go very far, if any way at all, to get us out of this difficulty of Regular recruiting.
In recent months, in fact, I have spoken to a good many officers and men, in all three Services—men in all ranks—and have put that very question to them directly. On almost every occasion, they have assured me that they are quite happy and satisfied with their modern rates of pay. The things which do make them unhappy are certain conditions of service, lack of amenities, and so on, which have been impressed upon me time and time again.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) seemed to be confused between the terms of the Motion, which refers to a review by a Select Committee of this House, and the words, which he may have used inadvertently, "a committee of inquiry." To my mind, the two are quite distinct and separate things. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Defence told us today that in 21 cases in the recent past there have been these committees of inquiry looking into various aspects of service in all three Services, and I have no doubt that they have served a most useful purpose.
To suggest that a Select Committee of the House should be set up to look into the operation of the National Service Actsin the light of existing circumstances and commitmentswould mean that a number of hon. and right hon. Members would have an almost endless task dealing with the three Services in the rapidly changing conditions of the modern world, spread out from the United Kingdom to Germany and other parts of Europe, to Gibraltar, 1160 Malta, Cyprus and the Middle East, to Aden, Kenya, the Far East, including Malaya, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea, and then going to the other side of the world to the West Indies and British Guiana.
To carry out that task properly, they would have to travel all over the world, split up into sub-committees and investigate all three Services. I think we should be very lucky if we got an adequate report from them within two years, by which time I am sure we all hope that world conditions will be so improved that it may be possible to do something about a reduction in the period of National Service. Therefore, I think that such a Select Committee would be most likely to be overtaken by events before ever it reported.
Let us not, however, dismiss the opportunities that do occur for appointing committees to investigate specific matters connected with National Service, and, in fact, matters connected with all three Services, whether concerning National Service or Regular service.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) seemed to get slightly confused between the cold war and the hot war, and I have noticed the same confusion among hon. Members opposite. I know that it is open to argument, but I think we can say that the contribution of the National Service man in Korea was most likely an effective deterrent to a third world war, or, at any rate, that it contributed to that deterrent.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the point, which was borne out by something that was said by his hon. Friend the Member for Aston, that it is a waste of manpower to use our Regular and National Service forces in the campaigns in Kenya and Malaya in combating the terrorists. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that we should use special forces for the purpose, but did not suggest where the manpower for such forces was to come from. Quite apart from that, I contend that these campaigns against the terrorists, both in the Far East and in Africa, are providing extremely useful training for both men and specialised equipment in rather specialised conditions.
I am certain that to all of us conscription is quite repugnant. It is not a British idea. It is a system of obtaining men to 1161 defend us which, for many years past, we have eschewed. It has only been forced upon us in recent years.
Mr. Shinwell: Has the hon. and gallant Gentleman ever heard of the press gangs?
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon
The press gangs did exist certainly, but not to conscript people as it is done today. It was a rather more selective and perhaps more disorderly form of obtaining men. I do not think that anybody could say that the methods of the press gang were entirely accepted, although they may have been winked at, by the Government of the day.
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon
It is obvious that in certain conditions there may be a waste of time by National Service men. It need not be so, and where there is evidence that that is happening then committees of inquiry could serve a useful purpose. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) seems to have started electioneering rather early. He referred to the praise which hon. Members on this side of the House had given to previous Service Ministers who were in office when his party was in power. Perhaps I might suggest that it was the faint praise which sometimes damns.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the necessity to keep this matter under constant review. That brought to my mind the remark which was made to me by a Dutchman when we were having the many changes that we did have in the period of National Service under the previous Administration. He suggested that this was some form of weathercock which showed how the climate politically was faring in England. There may have been something in that, but, inevitably, events overtook the system that was employed, and to save the situation in Korea we had to adopt 24 months as the period after many quite frequent changes. It was difficult at that time, when a man was liable to be called up, to tell him for how long it was likely to be.
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon
There is one last aspect of this matter which I should like to mention tonight, and I 1162 do not think that anybody so far has made any allusion to it. I am referring to the impact that National Service has on the agricultural community. There is deep feeling among farmers about this. They have often come to me and said, "My man "—or son, or whoever it may me—"is to be called up. I agree that National Service training and defence is necessary, but if a war were to break out that man would in all probability be exempt and would carry on on the land. So what is the use of calling him up as a National Service man in order to train him as a Reserve soldier?"
That argument is valid up to a point, but, on the other hand, we are not so much dealing there with what the future may hold in store. We are trying to contend with the difficulties of the present time, and to maintain our forces at their proper strength it is necessary to call upon all men, irrespective of what sort of work they are doing, with a few exceptions, such as those employed in the coal mines.
I feel that although that attitude is right, the rules could be modified in certain cases and perhaps not interpreted with such strictness. I have had one or two slightly unusual cases brought to my notice in my constituency, and I have no doubt that hon. Members on both sides of the House have experienced similar cases. There is one particular one which comes to my mind—the case of a farmer who is the father of three sons. The eldest has completed his National Service and has gone into business in some other part of the country. The second son was in the Merchant Navy and the youngest son is now undergoing his National Service. Fairly recently the farmer fell ill and had to go to hospital with a very nasty circulation complaint, thrombosis. How long he is likely to be there we do not know, but he is quite incapable of either managing or working on his farm.
The second boy, who was then in the Merchant Navy, was first of all released on compassionate leave to help his mother, the other two sons being away. Then, finally, he was released altogether by the shipping firm which employed him. As soon as he got his final release he was eligible for call-up and he has managed so far only to get postponement. That case is a particular and a special one, and I feel that it and cases like it should receive rather special consideration.
1163 I hope that the House will reject the Motion, which seems to me quite irresponsible. Coming in advance of a General Election, as it does, it is always suspect, but there is also the point about the reduced tension which is already evident abroad. By our recent foreign policy and our recent rising influence in the world, we are beginning to see things looking just a little bit better. Now to start squabbling among ourselves about the strength of our forces and how they are to be maintained would be most unwise and mischievous, and damaging to our efforts to maintain world peace.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)
This debate has been like many others: it has produced a great number of specialists on each side of the House. I think that all hon. Members who have spoken have had Army experience of high or low rank. I cannot lay claim to having any Army experience at all, so perhaps I will bring a new point of view to bear upon this debate. I want to speak about it from the industrial standpoint and the allocation of manpower according to priorities in a changing and developing world where new techniques are bound to apply equally to industry and the Army.
Before I do so, however, I want to refer to the point made by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that a Select Committee would take so long to report that its conclusions might be out of date. On this issue the terms of reference could be quite narrow. The best brains we can command upon the vital problem of changing techniques in warfare could crystallise the points on which the Select Committee could give a policy decision, so its terms of reference need not be so wide as is usually the case for Select Committees of this House.
The nation is marking time as regards the efficiency of its manpower and resources and it will be fatal for us if progress is not made within a given period. Through our educational system we are producing a new type of individual who is sharper mentally than the young people of 20 or 30 years ago, who is stronger physically than they were, and with whose mental approach to the technical questions of today I wish to deal.
Some of the questions raised in the House about techniques and strategy, 1164 especially the latter, can become obsolete because, if new techniques are applied to modern warfare, then the older strategy becomes obsolete. Many hon. Members have spoken from their previous experience as brigadiers, and so forth. They have argued from the established programme of Army drill and front line service as they knew it. No one knows exactly what modern weapons will do, what their scope will be, and whether they will be used in the first stage of an attack or as a deterrent when an attack has been made on the forces who have to defend themselves.
All those questions of strategy have to be worked out on the basis of the policy of the Government in office and bearing in mind world strategy. We have to ask ourselves in this debate, therefore, whether the established conception of large Armies and strategic reserves of 11, 12 or 13 divisions will be necessary in the future. It is a question which none of the experts can decide. Have the experts sufficiently elastic minds to discuss these questions without bias? We cannot and should not attempt to separate these questions from our economic and industrial position.
As a nation, we have taken gladly more than our fair share of burdens since 1945 in defence of the free world. We are now reaching a point economically when our national survival is a matter of urgent consideration for everybody in the country. It will depend upon the size and the character of the forces we can maintain. The quality of the personnel of our forces will depend upon the technological advance of our industries. All these things must be dovetailed and interlocked. To try to separate them would lead us into a wastage of manpower either of the forces or of industry.
Therefore, a Select Committee would do what is required, namely, investigate that aspect of the national position. It would determine with the Chiefs of Staff, or with those advising them—if they were not too stereotyped about conventional methods of Army procedure and warfare—what should be done. It would bring new light to bear upon this subject and would confer with industry as to where men should be trained and placed. I believe that the conventional parade-ground, "square-bashing" soldier is a thing of the past. Our technological 1165 industry is holding its own with the rest of the world in some spheres, but whether it can hold its own on price with the rest of the world, including Germany and Japan, we do not know. In the use of our manpower, however, we must have a concrete policy in conjunction with the Armed Forces so that there is no wastage.
The question we have to ask ourselves in deciding whether there should be National Service for two years, 18 months or 12 months, is this. Can we produce soldiers within a shorter period and by some means, educational or otherwise, through trade schools or through industry, teach them their jobs as technicians and armourers or whatever it may be? Can we give them valuable experience, through night schools, and so on, which they can apply to the techniques of the Army should they be required as full-time soldiers? That is what the country must consider urgently because, in our dire economic position, we cannot afford to waste manpower in the Services or elsewhere. The problem is not insoluble and it is one for a Select Committee to consider, because only a Select Committee could take a decision on it.
Recently, I went overseas with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon). We visited Jordan, where I was surprised at the standard and quality of the soldiers in the Arab Legion. I was more than surprised when I was told that some of these men on a three-year engagement were recruited from Bedouin tribes and, at the time of their engagement, were not able to speak English. In the space of three years they had learned not the full mechanisation and maintenance of the complicated electronic equipment which the Army uses, because I do not suppose much is there, but they learned quite efficiently the ordinary day-to-day maintenance and servicing jobs required for the Army in the field.
That is quite an achievement for men with such a background, and it opened my eyes to the potentialities of people in the Commonwealth whom we have regarded up to now as not being able to shoulder burdens in areas where there has been unrest and insurrection. It is worth considering whether we should develop the technical reserves here and leave the native soldiers to shoulder local problems.
§ Sir Harry Mackeson (Folkestone and Hythe)
May I say how much I agree with what the hon. Gentleman has just said?
§ Mr. Tomney
I believe that the Army must offer trade apprenticeships of the same quality as private industry offers, with shorter terms of engagement and with better pensions. There is no reason why that should not be done if we require an Army of technical experts. Every man joining on that basis would have a better chance to lead a normal civilian life where he was stationed in having his wife and children there and in being better able to educate his children.
We visited two stations in Jordan, those at Akabah and Amman, both at the back of beyond. I could see no reason at all, except a political one, for men being there. Akabah has a shark-infested beach and a cinema giving three shows a week. The position at Amman is more acute because the cinema which gives three shows a week frequently breaks down and the films date from 1936 and 1937, which is not good enough. A healthy National Service soldier of 19 or 20 said to me, "If Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe are right for the civilians in England, they are a vital necessity out here." The married quarters at these stations are not up to standard. The two units there are the Yorks and Lancs and the Queens. As a famous commander once said, "There are no bad armies; there are only bad commanders."
We must face the situation relating to the requirements of industry and the Army which I have been trying to outline. As hon. Members know, I have been as pointed in my defence of the foreign policy of my own party as anybody with regard to the cold war; I have not given an inch on any commitments. However, if we raised the period of National Service to two years at the time of the Korean War, a most acute period, it follows naturally that the position is not so acute now, and, therefore, there is reason for having an inquiry. If the inquiry vindicates what has been suggested, it will have done its job. If it deals with the vital matters which I have mentioned, it will have done more than its job.
Listening to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer), I was surprised 1167 to learn that, notwithstanding the figure of unemployment, we have each year a total of 180,000 National Service men in the forces. To me, that is a surprising number for a nation which believes in free choice, freedom of action, and so forth.
It should be possible to obtain from that 180,000 a nucleus with which to build up a technical reserve, even from the school-leaving age, which would have full Service conditions, including high pensions, married quarters, and leave. If we do something like that, we shall have taken a step towards reducing the National Service period. That is what we are all aiming at. We have put our Motion forward today because we realise the necessity for industry also to have as many men as possible at the age when they are developing faster, particularly in view of the competition which we have to face in world trade.
I have no Army experience, not having had the good fortune to be in the Army. I probably could not tell a brigadier from a lieutenant-colonel, and I do not know what a company or a brigade is. However, if we disregard the requirements of the Army and of industry on the technical side, we shall be asking for trouble. If a Select Committee is appointed to investigate the matter and gives us the answer that we seek, the Motion will have been justified.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I am sure that I shall be expressing the view of the whole House if I congratulate the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) upon his speech. If all the speeches from the Opposition had been as constructive and thoughtful as his we should have no cause for complaint.
I am very glad that the hon. Member has spoken as a civilian. National Service is essentially objectionable to civilians. That is not to say that it is attractive to the Regular Service man. Not at all; in fact, I should say that the Regular Service man dislikes the whole conception of conscription. However, where it hurts most is in the civilian field, and there it hurts most of all the home of the man concerned.
1168 If any of us wanted to do a bit of cheap electioneering, there would be no quicker way than saying that we would abolish conscription as soon as we returned to the House. It would be the surest way of winning the sympathy of every mother. In the agricultural constituencies, in particular, there is often a very great upheaval in the family as a result of conscription. I have noticed—I do not suppose that it is particularly popular with some people to say this—that the employee and his family tend to resent his children going into the forces less than the employer does. I say that knowing perfectly well that in certain places it is not likely to be very well received. I find, however, that there is a sense of wanting something which is absolutely fair and affects everybody in the same way. What most people are suspicious about is that certain people are getting favourable treatment. It must always be our aim to see that the system is as fair as it can possibly be.
When we come to an industry as vital to the survival of the country as agriculture is, and when we realise that farms, like factories and other forms of industry, require management, it is extremely difficult to do what looks fair even though we are, in fact, doing what is fair. There is misunderstanding and always will be misunderstanding about this matter. If someone gets deferment, it will be regarded as an unfair advantage over somebody else.
As this is probably the last debate upon National Service that we shall have in this Parliament, I think we might pay tribute to those who have tried to work the system of deferment. It cannot be an easy matter. I have had many letters, and so have other hon. Members, objecting to the decisions of tribunals and asking that the Minister should intervene. However, the tribunals and committees have worked extremely hard and have tried to be as fair as possible. I am certain that none of them is weighted in favour of any one section of the community. I sincerely offer my congratulations and thanks to them for what they have tried to do. I suppose that, being human, they sometimes make mistakes, just as we do. Of course, those who have suffered directly from mistakes sometimes feel a very burning resentment.
1169 I listened to what the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) had to say today. I wish he had heard the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North. There was a marked difference in approach to the problem between the two speeches. One has sensed a little preparation for the General Election on the part of some hon. Members opposite who definitely want to state in their Election address that they will recommend a reduction in the period of National Service. Other hon. Members opposite, perhaps those who have been in office, were a little more guarded about it and perhaps the Motion on the Order Paper is a compromise between the two points of view.
The argument of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North is a very good argument for setting up a committee rather different from that suggested in the Motion. His argument was very similar to that used by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer), when he said that after we were returned he would like to see a thorough examination of the whole manpower problem of the country. That is a very difficult matter and I do not believe that a Select Committee could do that. I do not believe that a Select Committee is at all the right instrument.
Such an inquiry falls almost within the category of a Royal Commission, although a Royal Commission grinds exceeding slow and, of course, one would like whatever was done in examining this problem done as rapidly as possible. But, the difficulty here, as has been pointed out by hon. Members from this side of the House, is that the problem is exceedingly comprehensive, because it is so closely linked with foreign affairs. All the time one has to keep in the picture the nation's commitments and alliances and the state of progress in building up the other contributory forces of N.A.T.O.
I agree at once that it is fair to say that we are doing more than some of the other members of N.A.T.O., but I have never thought that the rô le of this country was to be laggard where the peace of the world was concerned, but well to the fore. We ought to congratulate ourselves on having taken a lead on this matter in Europe rather than waiting for everybody to get into step with us.
1170 It is worth remembering that some countries like Belgium and Italy have not the overseas dependencies that we have and have no long exterior lines of communication.
Some of us remember being told during the Korean War of the enormous number of men in the pipeline in any one day. I think that it was 30,000. Perhaps at the end of the debate we may be told how many men are in the pipeline today. It would be interesting to know, because there was an incredibly large number coming from and going to varous parts of the world. I hope that when all this shifting round and redeployment in the Middle East is finished and we have our men—as I hope they will be, if the Russian approach on Austria is what it seems to me and we have the battalion home from Austria—collected into our strategic reserve, we shall have a great saving of manpower from the men who are in the pipeline.
Hon. Members who seriously suggest it may be possible to cut down the Army by 50,000 men today, just like that, should look at the problem a little more closely. One cannot just take 50,000 from the total strength of the Army. One must make sure that the men are taken from the place where it matters least to the efficiency of the Army itself. Since the new C.I.G.S. took over it has become clear that there is a great deal of re-thinking going on about how the Army should be organised.
I do not believe that that re-thinking has by any means been completed. It is very important that before we start to decide how many men we shall allow in the Army we should have found out more about the organisation for hydrogen warfare. As I understand, the trend now is that we are trying to cut down the tail a great deal and to make each man, especially the infantryman, far more self-reliant and self-contained with his equipment, with the baggage side of the Army curtailed. That seems to me to be an excellent idea. I do not believe that it has been finally decided how a division should be formed, and until the most desirable and efficient form of a division is found—whatever the formation may be—it would be just as well for us not to embark on deciding the number of men we want for National Service.
Some hon. Members now present were in the House when the first conscription 1171 Bill in peacetime was introduced by the late Government. I took part in that debate and I very well remember following one hon. Member who, I think, has since died and who certainly had pacifist sympathies. I remember very well that there was nothing I disliked more than having to support a Bill to promote conscription in peacetime. Nevertheless, I felt that the then Government ought to be congratulated on having the courage to go contrary to all their old principles and to introduce that Bill.
I shall not withdraw my congratulations to right hon. Gentlemen opposite on that occasion. They deserved it. If I may say so, it was contrary to the philosophy of Socialism—
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Oh, yes. It was contrary to the traditions of the British Labour Party, which may be a different thing from Socialism. It is certainly true that the truly totalitarian State reserves the right to say to one man, "Go," and to another, "Come," and if he does not go, he is pushed and if he does not come, he is brought. That is perfectly true, but the old conception of the British Labour Party was based on the brother-hood-of-man idea that armies ought to be unnecessary and that one did not want conscription of any sort at any time, or in fact any armies. It was primarily a pacifist outlook.
I congratulate those who thought like that and who had been brought up to think like that, but who had the courage of their convictions to do what was necessary in the interests of the country at that time. All I ask, in return, is that they should give us the credit for being as unsympathetic with the idea of conscription when it comes to theory, but just as anxious as they were to do what we regard as being in the interests of the country when we have responsibility for dealing with the matter.
There can be nothing more irresponsible today than to suggest that it is now possible, at this stage, to reduce National Service. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Defence went as far as one, honestly, truthfully and sincerely could go, which was to say that we shall reduce National Service as soon as and as much as possible. That seems to 1172 me the only safe line to take. If we look around the world and see what an improvement there has been in world peace, we must agree that it is due to the fact that this country, together with its Allies, has had the courage to face the fact that the Soviet Union respects strength and exploits weakness.
Why we have achieved what we have achieved is because we have had the courage to do something unpopular, which has made us strong. We have by no means solved the whole problem of world peace. If we want to solve that problem, let us not take any step which is likely for one moment to give the Soviet Union the impression that we are so weak that we cannot carry on the policy we have so well started.
I say to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that the General Election will be a free-for-all, but I hope that occasionally throughout the campaign they will realise that when they are speaking on subjects such as conscription which involve foreign affairs they are not only talking to the British electorate: they may well be talking to those outside this country who are watching us. Some will be friendly, others will not. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite give the impression that we are becoming fainthearted about standing up to Communist domination and tyranny, they will not merely do the Conservative Party harm but they will harm the whole country, including themselves, and I believe that they know that in their own minds.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Maldon)
It is extremely tempting to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) in his excursion into Socialist philosophy, but I am afraid that I must resist that temptation—except to say that, as I think he probably realises, although we respect pacifists for their conscientious convictions, pacifism has never in fact been the accepted policy of the Labour Party as such. The Labour Party always stood, before the war, for collective security, which is a very different thing from pacifism. There have also always been in the Labour Party and in the British Socialist movement, from the old days of the Social Democratic Federation, quite a number of people who have belief in what used to be called the "citizen army "—who believe that, so long as there have to be any Armed 1173 Forces at all, it is, in a way, fairer and better that they should be recruited by a form of universal national service of some sort rather than through the old recruiting weapons of hunger and unemployment, which we hope we have got away from forever. However, I must not enlarge on that aspect of the hon. and gallant Member's speech, because it is not really immediately relevant to what we are talking about tonight.
He and the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon) dealt with the subject of the agricultural call-up. I agree that it is an extraordinarily difficult problem. I agree that one does not want to create any sense of unfairness in the country. Of course, it would be a somewhat easier kind of thing to wangle than, for instance, the deferment of coal miners, because coal miners are so very much more clearly distinct in their job from the rest of the community around them than people working in agriculture.
All the same, it seems pretty absurd that somebody who will almost certainly not be called up if there should be a war has to go through this business of National Service. It seems rather a waste of public money and time as well as the time and effort of the individuals concerned.
As there are obviously two sides to this problem, I should have thought that it was pre-eminently the sort of problem which could very well be considered by a Select Committee of the kind suggested in the Opposition Motion. Several hon. Members opposite, while condemning the proposal for a Select Committee, made speeches which really provided very good arguments for it. The hon. and gallant Member for Isle of Ely referred to his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) and his interesting suggestion of a general review of manpower. I agree that that would be a very big thing indeed, obviously much bigger than a Select Committee could tackle; but I should have thought that a useful preliminary to it might be a Select Committee to look into this special aspect of that problem. Such a Select Committee could very well consider a number of the specific matters which have been raised this evening, especially by the hon. and gallant Member for Wells.
1174 I agreed with the hon. and gallant Member for Wells when he said that grievances and complaints among National Service men, and among Regulars for that matter, are not nowadays mainly about pay so much as about conditions generally—some of the conditions that have been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) who spoke of men serving in remote desert stations and the really appalling conditions they sometimes have to put up with there. I think that this is especially true of the Royal Navy.
There is also among National Service men one continuing sense of injustice not so much about pay in itself as about disparity of pay between National Service men and Regulars. Here I should like to come to the main point I want to make. It arises out of a Question which I put to the Secretary of State for War last Tuesday, and some answers which he then gave me.
The Question related to an incident in an officers' mess of the 2nd Basic Training Battalion, Royal Army Ordnance Corps, Blackdown. The incident may seem rather petty and trivial to some hon. Members. It related to a National Service officer who was ordered to leave a regimental dinner on 5th April, and served with dinner in his own room, because he had arrived at the dinner wearing battledress.
I drew attention to this incident and asked about uniform allowances for National Service officers. The Secretary of State, quite rightly, replied that the question of uniform allowances did not arise in this connection because no officer is required to purchase mess kit, No. 1 dress or Service dress. He added:It is customary in many units for officers to change for mess either into mess kit, No. 1 dress, Service dress, a dinner jacket or an ordinary suit, but it is not compulsory.Of course, this is formally true. It is one of those truisms, or half-truths, like the famous dictum that the Ritz Hotel is open to rich and poor alike. It is not compulsory, according to Queen's Regulations, for an officer to have mess kit, No. 1 dress or Service dress, but in a mess in which such a thing is customary, as the Secretary of State says it often is, I ask him if that does not make it in effect compulsory. When a young National Service officer goes into a mess for the 1175 first time, just having got his commission, rather overawed no doubt, and considerable moral and social pressure is brought on him and he is told, "Well, we all wear this dress in the evenings here," is not that practically compulsion?
This is a rather awkward problem. I do not suggest that it is altogether undesirable—it is obviously picturesque and agreeable—that a special dress should be worn in the evenings if officers wish to do so. But if young National Service officers are going to be required as a matter of custom to do that, even though it is against Queen's Regulations, as it obviously is, and as the Secretary of State confirmed that it is, then the War Office should provide an extra uniform allowance to enable them to live up to the social requirements of the unit in which they happen to be.
There is a considerable disparity here. The National Service officer has a uniform allowance of, I think, £36. The Regular officer has a uniform allowance two or three times as large as that. The National Service officer simply cannot afford out of his allowance to buy this special Service dress, No. 1 dress, or whatever it may be, that is required in some messes, unless he has private means. I am quite sure that all hon. Members opposite would agree that nowadays it is utterly wrong that a young National Service man who is fit to hold a commission on merit should be debarred from doing so merely because he or his parents cannot afford to buy an expensive extra ornamental uniform. I cannot see any hon. Members opposite challenging that point of view.
Having made this point at Question Time the other day, and having been assured by the Secretary of State that this officer was absolutely in the right and that those who had penalised him were wrong, I might have let the matter rest, but I have learned since then that, unfortunately, the Secretary of State was himself misinformed about some of the facts in this case and accordingly had made a number of factual mis-statements in his answers in this House. I have already spoken to the Secretary of State about this. I gather that he is not winding up this debate, but I thought that I ought to take the earliest opportunity of airing the matter, because no Minister wants to mislead the House and if the House has 1176 been misled and there have been factual mis-statements they should be put right. Accordingly, I shall put down Questions which the Secretary of State can answer next Tuesday to clear the matter up and correct the wrong information which he gave us last Tuesday.
After the Secretary of State had said what I have already quoted, I asked him one or two more questions. The right hon. Gentleman said that I wasdrawing a very wide deduction from one incident.Then he said that there was a mess meeting, and he went on to imply that there had been just one isolated mess meeting at which, as he later put it:I suppose they decided what they were going to eat, who was going to attend and what they were going to wear."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1955; Vol. 540, c. 760 and 762.]This really is not in accordance with the facts of the case, because I have here, and will send to the right hon. Gentleman, a copy of the mess rules of the mess concerned. These are standing rules. It is not a question of just one isolated decision at one particular mess meeting. These are the standing mess rules dealing with organisation, mess meetings, subscriptions, guests, monthly accounts and so on. At one point there are rules dealing with dress on dining-in night and on regimental guest night, dining-in night being a regular occasion once a week and regimental guest night once a month. It was a regimental guest night which, I think, was the occasion of this incident.
The rules of this mess state quite specifically:Dress for dining-in night will be:—Uniform (excluding battledress except for newly commissioned officers who do not possess any other uniform).
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
It is not clear to me how the details in this particular case fall within the terms of this Motion which deals with the administration of the National Service Acts.
§ Mr. Driberg
I quite accept that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I thought that I had tried to link them sufficiently at the beginning, but I will explain again. The debate has ranged very widely, as you will appreciate, and in my opening remarks I referred to observations by 1177 other hon. Members on a wide variety of topics, including Socialist philosophy, conditions of service in the desert of Arabia and a number of other things. I then came specifically to the grievances of National Service men and the operation of the National Service Acts in so far as they relate to pay, allowances, and conditions. I said that one of the particular points which caused some feeling was the disparity in pay and allowances.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member is now repeating his speech. This Motion deals with the administration of the National Service Act, with particular reference to the period of service.
§ Mr. Driberg
May I with great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, draw your attention to the fact that since that Motion was moved an Amendment has been moved whichexpresses its gratitude for the services rendered by National Service men … and approves the declared intention of Her Majesty's Government to lighten the existing burden of National Service as soon as circumstances permit.I am going into one of the respects in which National Service is a burden to those who are engaged on it.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member is entitled to touch on the burden of National Service and he is in order while he restricts himself to dealing with the burden of National Service, but to give details of a particular burden is out of order.
§ Mr. Driberg
I am endeavouring to ask the Government to lighten the burden in this respect at least—either by providing a larger uniform allowance for National Service officers who are required to purchase expensive additional dress for wearing in mess, or, on the other hand, to insist that Queen's Regulations should be strictly observed, as the Secretary of State would feel bound to say they ought to be observed, in every mess in the British Army. I was merely, by way of illustration, pointing out that, in the case to which I have referred, the right hon. Gentleman, who was I am quite sure genuinely misinformed, had to some extent misled the House about the facts of the matter. I have quoted sufficiently from the mess rules—
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, may I ask him a question? I was most interested to learn that he had managed to obtain a copy of these mess rules. I should like to get a copy of the mess rules of a large number of regiments. May I ask him—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. This is the very thing to which I took objection. These mess rules do not appear to me to be relevant either to the Motion or to the Amendment.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
On a point of order. Am I not to be allowed to ask the hon. Gentleman how he obtained these mess rules?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not see how these details can be pursued on the Motion. It is not in order to read the mess rules.
§ Mr. Driberg
I am glad to say that before you intervened, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I had made almost all the points I wanted to make.
§ Mr. Driberg
Either the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) must be restrained from interrupting, or I must be allowed to answer him.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think I made my observations quite clear. If the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) prides himself on having got in his remarks before I intervened—
§ Mr. Driberg
With great respect to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I was trying to explain how I had thought this matter relevant to the "burden of National Service," which is referred to in the Amendment, but if you think that it is more out of order than the philosophy of Socialism and various other matters which have been discussed very freely in the debate, I will not pursue it further. In view of your Ruling, I cannot reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing except, of course, to say that I very much hope that his intervention did not suggest that there was anything wrong—
§ Mr. Driberg
—in any officer or Service man writing to a Member of Parliament, because that right has been emphatically re-affirmed in recent weeks by the Secretary of State and his colleagues.
I have, however, made my point sufficiently; I will communicate privately with the Secretary of State for War; and I will put down Questions for next Tuesday which will enable him to clear the matter up.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
It is usual to congratulate an hon. Member when he makes his maiden speech. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) intends to speak again before tomorrow week, but if he is not, I should like to say that, while hon. Members on this side of the House may disagree with his views, we shall miss his way of manœuvring round the Rulings of the Chair. Much as I should like to do so, I shall not be able to follow his argument because you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, have made it quite clear that he was out of order. I apologise for not having heard all the speeches today.
My feeling upon this matter of National Service is the same as it was when I spoke in the debate some years ago, when it was introduced. At that time I felt that it was a non-party issue. I considered that the Government of the day knew best, for obvious reasons. They knew what the commitments were at 1180 home and abroad, and also the temper of foreign relations. I take that view today. The Government must know best. It must be very tempting for any Government, upon the eve of a General Election, to go to the electorate and say, "We are going to chop off three or six months from the period of National Service," because nothing would win more votes. On the other hand, I believe that if a Government put their case to the electorate honestly and fairly their point of view will be respected, even if it may not be popular.
I want to raise the question of agricultural workers. It is generally agreed that, today, a skilled agricultural worker is as highly skilled as any other man in any other industry—and probably more so. He has to know not merely one trade and work upon one machine in a workshop; he has to turn his hand to a number of jobs and be quite a specialist. With the present difficulties of earning our keep and the balance of payments problem, I should have thought that there was a very strong case for obtaining the maximum possible production from our land by making use of the knowledge of young men who have had four or five years' training at a farm or at an agricultural college.
I hope that this matter may be reviewed—and not merely as its affects agricultural workers. I should like to see the principle applied to men working in aircraft factories and other factories of strategic importance. Such men may do five or six years' apprenticeship, knowing perfectly well that in the event of hostilities they will not go into the Army, Navy or Air Force, but will continue to work in a factory, producing strategic materials. At the present moment, at the end of their apprenticeship or study at college they have to do two years' National Service.
As time goes on, it is becoming increasingly plain that we must live by the brains of our workers. We must use as little material as possible and the maximum amount of brain power in our exports—and those exports have to be backed up by home industry. There are not sufficient men getting higher technical training at the present time, and if they are to be taken out of their industries—which may be ancillary to the armaments 1181 industry or some other vital war industry—to do two years' National Service, those two years are lost to the country and no real value is gained. I do not suggest that we should adopt the American method because it has many anomalies, and I do not believe that it works very well, but the time has come for the matter to be reviewed. Men who occupy key positions should be exempt from National Service.
We are supplying not only drawings but jigs and tools for the manufacture of the Hunter aircraft in Belgium. I do not believe that it is generally appreciated that we are rendering that type of assistance to the N.A.T.O. countries. In our discussions with other Powers that fact should be taken into account in considering the contribution to be made by way of National Service.
The movement of troops by air has already been mentioned. This could be extended a great deal. I consider that all movements should take place by air, throughout the British Commonwealth. Living conditions in most troopships are dreadful. Men and their families are herded together for weeks on end. After four weeks in a troopship the men lose the benefit of their training in this country. I hope that the Government will ensure that every effort is made to transport every soldier, sailor and airman by air, in the quickest possible time.
I make the point, which I have made many times in this House, that one cannot have cheap government and one cannot have cheap fighting forces. The day has come when the men in the Services must receive more money. It is no good, whatever the Government in power, saying that they cannot afford it. The real answer is that high-grade technicians, such as radar mechanics, will not consider signing for long-term engagements when they can leave a Service in which they are earning £4 or £5 a week for £14 or £15 in industry.
If we want good fighting forces we must pay the men something comparable to what they can earn outside. The Americans are doing it. They are getting men into their forces because their rates of pay are very near to what is paid in industry when one considers all the amenities that go with the pay.
1182 When one reads about strikes and one notes at the same time that all that a jet pilot earns today is £6 or £7 a week in an occupation in which the rate of casualties is extremely high, it is quite disgraceful. It is true that we have had two or three adjustments of pay in recent years, but the men should be paid the rate for the job. Why should a pilot officer, the lowest commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force, receive, except for a few shillings a day, more or less the same pay as a second lieutenant in the Royal Army Service Corps? I am not casting any aspersions upon that Corps, which has a very creditable record, but a man in the R.A.S.C. does not risk his life every day in peacetime. These remarks about the jet pilot in the R.A.F. go for the submarine service and the Fleet Air Arm as well.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will give an assurance that the whole matter will be looked into. I would not be certain that a Select Committee is the right body to undertake an inquiry, but a very high-powered, competent committee should go into the whole matter. I am told that this subject is under consideration all the time in the Services, but we want a new approach to staffing, to manpower, to movements and to revision of pay, and in a short time perhaps we might be able to consider some reduction in the period of National Service.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
Government supporters have been plugging the line that the subject matter of the Motion which we are considering is an election stunt on the part of the Opposition. The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) went so far as to produce in the House the printed ammunition which will be used by the Conservative Party in the coming General Election and to quote it in extenso in this debate.
The call for an inquiry into National Service is quite consistent with what has been the policy of the Labour Party for a considerable time. Traditionally, the Labour Party has always been against conscription, and I call it by the proper name and not by the fancy name of "National Service". We on this side of the House, of course, admit that conscription was a necessity during the war.
1183 Tribute has already been paid by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) to the Labour Government for their courage in continuing conscription during the emergency which followed the war. But definite pledges were given from the Labour Front Bench that conscription would not be regarded as a permanent part of our way of life.
I was rather surprised that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) said that the principle of National Service had been conceded. The principle of National Service for the emergency had been conceded, not the principle of National Service as part of our way of life. For hon. Members on the other side it is a matter for scorn that we maintain our principles when we are in opposition, and maintain our principles even on the eve of a General Election. We believe that we should take every possible step to ascertain, first, what is the earliest moment at which we can reduce the National Service commitment and, next, when we can eventually abolish it. Is that a matter for scorn?
Apparently, it is not, and, one would not expect any opposition to that object from hon. Members on the other side of the House, because Member after Member on the opposite side has got up with his hand upon his heart and sworn that he does not believe in the principle of conscription, that, indeed, he abhors it. This has been done by brigadiers, majors, colonels—[HON. MEMBERS: "Even privates."] Yes, even privates on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Simmons
I myself did not rise any higher than a private first-class.
There appears on the surface to be general agreement in the House that it is not desirable to have conscription, if we can defend our country by means of an Army which is recruited on the voluntary basis. The Government, therefore, ought to accept our Motion. There is nothing in the way of their doing so. Instead, they have moved a sloppy kind of Amendment to our Motion, an Amendment which is a lot of eyewash about gratitude to our National Service men.
1184 That goes without saying. Everybody is grateful to our National Service men, and that gratitude ought to be expressed by more than an electioneering Amendment moved in the House of Commons. If the Government want to express gratitude to the National Service men they could raise the pay which they give to their dependants; they could raise the National Service grants; they could give the National Service men civilian suits to wear when they finish their National Service, because the clothes which they wore two years previously, by the time they finish their National Service—the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams), whom I defeated at Brierley Hill in 1950, is sneering at me from beyond the Bar. I do not know why. I do not see what there is to sneer at. I know what I am talking about. I have lads in National Service.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
I was observing to one of my hon. Friends a moment ago at the Bar that I thought that the debate was going to finish earlier than, in fact, it will. I was not sneering.
§ Mr. Simmons
I have sat here all through the debate, and at least I have the right, I should say, to five or six minutes to speak before the big guns start firing to round off the engagement.
National Service men expect gratitude, and they are entitled to a better expression of it than that contained in an Amendment moved for electioneering purposes. In their Amendment the Government talk about lightening the… the burden of National Service as soon as circumstances permit.Many hon. Members opposite have said we should have little inquiries here and there to deal with this aspect or that of the matter, but that we must not go too far, that we must not commit ourselves too far.
I raised this question in the debate on the Army Estimates. I have to thank the Secretary of State for War for a courtesy. We have frequently had to cross swords with him, but I have always regarded him as courteous, and he showed his courtesy yet again by sending me by post information with which he could not supply me during the debate on the Army Estimates. That information shows that we have had seven inquiries into the working of National Service and the Army.
1185 There was one presided over by Lieut-General Sir Ian Jacob. That was on the question of the organisation of the War Office, and was to recommend improvements, or modifications in that organisation for the sake of proficiency. That was a very high-powered committee. Its members were all C.M.Gs., C.B.Es., K.C.M.Gs., and they all came to the conclusion that they were only checking the organisation of the office. They had no idea of reducing or examining the establishment.
Then there was a committee headed by Sir Gerald Templer, with a long string of appendages to his name, and all the rest of the members of that committee, with the exception of one, were major-generals, lieutenant-colonels and a major, and one more civilian who I suppose, would be the clerk. Their terms of reference were to see what economies could be made in the ratio of fighting troops to be increased at the expense of non-fighting troops. The old teeth and tail story. That committee achieved a saving of 5,897 in all ranks, and it actually saved 764 by reductions in the scale of cooks and butchers. I suppose that was at the expense of Tommy's tummy.
Then there was another committee, presided over by Sir Colin Callander. The members of that committee were also major-generals, and the like. There was the permanent civilian, but all the rest were major-generals, colonels, and so on. This, again, was a question of the teeth and the tail. That committee saved 6,323. I do not know whether that figure is included in the previous figures.
Then there was a W.R.A.C. committee set up to deal with the ladies in the Army. It comprised a lieutenant-general, a major-general and two Dames. Its conclusions were inconclusive. Then there was a working party on reducing the non-effective manpower in the United Kingdom. That, again, was a teeth and tail job. Its members included three civilians. Its report said:The measures already taken have enabled a considerable manpower saving to be made in most of the categories of non-effectives. This matter is now, and will continue to be, the subject of constant attention.There was yet another committee on the Command and District Organisation of the Army in the United Kingdom. Its members included a major-general, a 1186 brigadier and a Mr. Hooker. That committee said:The savings of both military and civilian manpower that have been achieved are roughly equivalent to those which would have resulted if the number of command headquarters in the U.K. had been reduced by one (i.e. about 300 persons).Then there was the last committee entitled, "Committee on Survey of Certain Army Administrative Depts." That was a one-man band—Sir James Reid Young. That Committee found that… the use of military manpower is as efficient as could be expected and great credit is due to the Commandants and their staffs.Here we have a record of inquiries which have proved ineffective.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Gentleman has had an enjoyable time, and he has made a most amusing speech, but I think it would be wrong if I let it go entirely by default. These inquiries have resulted in a total saving of about 15,000 men. That is a very well-worth-while saving. In addition, there have been others, and we can say that those who conducted these inquiries were most able, knowledgeable and skilled men in their job. Both the Army and this House owe them a considerable debt of gratitude. One or two of these inquiries go to the credit of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I think it would be incredible if we supposed that they were as ridiculous as the hon. Gentleman tried to show.
§ Mr. Simmons
I am sorry if I have given a wrong impression; I did not intend to do so. I was leading up to my main point, which is that the inquiries were held by people who had a vested interest in getting as much manpower as they could for the Army.
§ Mr. Head
This point is the crux of the debate. Everybody talks about the vested interest of the man who knows the job, or of the poacher not turned gamekeeper. I would say, and I believe that other hon. Members with experience will agree, that it is impossible for a person who knows nothing of Army organisation, or of any Service organisation, to inquire into the highly tchnical use of manpower without a great deal of that knowledge.
§ Mr. Simmons
The right hon. Gentleman is trying to ride off on something which will not bear examination. We are not suggesting that these people should not be used, but that they should be used as witnesses, who should bring then: papers and information. We only say that these people should not have the final judgment on the matter. Those who ought to have the final judgment on it are unbiased people who have no axe to grind, people who have had public experience and service, such as Members of Parliament on a Select Committee, who are equally as capable of weighing up the evidence as lieutenant-generals, major-generals and all the rest.
We have been told that the party opposite does not believe in conscription, but we on this side believe that the best method of defending this country is the old traditional method of a volunteer Army, and not a conscript Army. We believe, with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale), that we need a small, efficient, stream-lined Army for the purpose of doing the old job of the Regular Army, and that we should build our reserves on the lines of the reserve we had before the First World War.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend who scorned the six months' training. I was in the old special reserve, in which we had six months' training and one month in camp every year. I have said it before in this House, and I shall keep on saying it, that the lads who went from the special battalions, some of whom were at Mons, gave equally as good an account of themselves in the Army as any National Service man with two years' training could be expected to give today.
I think we have made a fetish of two years' National Service, and I believe in the old method of proper, efficient training by which this special reserve had six months' training in barracks and a month in camp every year. Added to that, there should be the old Territorial Army on the county basis, by means of 1188 which we can make good use of local patriotism to secure recruiting and efficiency and get on with the job of providing a really effective reserve in this country.
I believe that we ought to press for this inquiry into the whole question of National Service, and that we should bend our energies to making our Regular Army the backbone of our Armed Forces.
§ 9.4 p.m.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, East)
I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) say quite frankly and openly that Labour's traditional attitude had always been against conscription. I am quite certain that that is true, but it would be wrong to suppose that that attitude is peculiar to the Labour Party. In view of the observations made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) in opening the debate, I feel that I must begin by declaring a prejudice—that I have always expressed, both in my Service life and since I retired, the strongest aversion to conscription in time of peace. Nevertheless, I recognised its necessity, just as I recognised its necessity in 1946.
I certainly respected the political courage of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite when they held responsibility in introducing it into this country for the first time as a peacetime measure. I also recall, and I think it is fair to recall, the rather nervous intolerance of the Labour Government of that time to the slightest public criticism of National Service, conscription—call it what we will—as opposed to voluntary methods.
I well remember that as a serving officer one had to be careful what one said or one was accused of taking part in politics, even such a platitude as one volunteer being worth three conscripts was taboo. One understands the reason and that was that the Government of the day were very anxious to keep this subject outside party politics. In that desire they enjoyed the most loyal support of the then Conservative Opposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Oh, yes; it it fair to say that. I myself cannot recollect any Conservative speaker—
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
—of note getting up and opposing those 1189 measures once they had been decided upon. I submit that it remains to this day desirable if we can to keep this particular issue outside party politics, and I am bound to say that although debates on this matter are always of great interest and great value, none the less at this particular time, with a General Election pending, I would regard the debate as untimely.
I dislike the line that has been taken by the Opposition in this matter for quite a different reason. We were brought up to believe that comparisons were odious and a great deal of harm has already been done to the three Services—I do not blame the Labour Party for this; it started before its time—by overdoing the idea of exact equality between the three Services. Anyone who has served since the war knows that we have many officers and men who have got into the rather jealous habit of always looking at supposed advantages being enjoyed by their opposite numbers in other Services. If we are not very careful we shall find our National Service men being encouraged to compare their lot with that of their Allies, which, I think, would be a most undesirable thing.
As I see it, an inquiry might achieve two objects. It might allay any public anxiety—and I think public anxiety on this subject has been somewhat exaggerated—and, secondly, it might bring to light some valuable ideas and proposals. But we are all agreed that neither of these objects could effectively be pursued by a Departmental inquiry. We have had a great many as we know, but the real question is whether a Select Committee would be more fitted to achieve it. I think that if there were to be an inquiry it would have to be an independent inquiry with its report published in due form—an inquiry by civilian experts in the various fields which cover the Services with representatives from the trade unions, and so forth.
We all know that the debate takes place against the background of a gradually increasing agitation for a reduction in the period of National Service. I remember sitting up in the Gallery of the House listening to the defence debate before last and hearing a number of Opposition speakers quite openly demand a reduction. Then we had a debate at 1190 the Trades Union Congress last September when, incidentally, the motion on this topic was defeated, and almost at the same time the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) published an article in the "Daily Herald" demanding a reduction in National Service. I well remember these two things appearing about the same time, because I made great use of them in my by-election campaign. It is no new proposition. Personally, I am glad that the Government have stood firm and have not made concessions at this moment. I can imagine nothing worse than entering a General Election with a kind of Dutch auction about the length of National Service.
As an opponent of conscription, I see great danger in any premature reduction of the length of service. One reason why I would be against it is because I believe that there would be no more certain way of perpetuating the system. It is not a simple thing like reducing the standard rate of Income Tax. If we reduced the length of the compulsory commitment under National Service we would immediately affect the number of volunteers for the three-year service. That is something to which all hon. Members who are genuinely anxious to see conscription come to an end should pay close attention.
Finally, it seems to me that this is one of those matters on which the two parties should work together if possible. It would be deplorable if the Election were fought to any great extent on this issue. Should National Service become a direct Election issue, then, no matter what is the final outcome, it cannot fail to damage and to weaken both the discipline and the contentment of the Services.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
We have been abused by some hon. Members on the Government benches because they say that this Motion has been introduced as a political manœuvre and is part of an election campaign.
§ Mr. Robens
The hon. Gentleman says "obviously." He confirms the view I have had after listening to his hon. Friend, and it is something which the 1191 hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) has also said. And this despite the fact that at the time the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) was making this attack upon us and saying that this was a political manœuvre he himself was reading an extract from the Conservative's book on how to win the General Election, and despite the fact that this is the fourth time that the length of National Service has been raised in the House by the Opposition. Surely it cannot be the case that as soon as the Prime Minister decides to have an Election the Opposition shall forfeit its right to go on doing its job as an Opposition by introducing subjects which have no political content.
What we have to discuss this evening is our Motion and the Amendment put down by the Government. The Motion expresses the opinion that the time has now arrived for a review of the operation of the National Service Acts. It says "preferably by a Select Committee of this House." It does not say that it must be done by a Select Committee but that the time has arrived when there should be a review. My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) adduced the argument for a review, but, when the Minister of Defence followed him, the right hon. and learned Gentleman spent a great deal of time in drawing our attention to the heavy commitments of this country, making the case that no reduction in the service was possible and, ipso facto, that there was no necessity for a reduction.
I could not understand why the right hon. and learned Gentleman spent so much time upon foreign affairs and the commitments arising out of our international relations. Later I began to think I had discovered the reason. The size of the Armed Forces depends not only on present commitments but upon the commitments which the Government of the day may think they will have within the near future. Surely that must be the case.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) drew the attention of the House to reports in the American newspapers about the China position. He read what had been written by the well-informed columnist, Stewart Allsop, of the "New York Herald- 1192 Tribune", that, while before the General Election there would be no commitment with the United States on the defence of Chiang Kai-shek in Formosa, it was clearly on the cards that such a commitment might be entered into if a Conservative Government was returned.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
The right hon. Gentleman said that there would be one million unemployed at the end of the first year of a Conservative Government, and that was wrong, too.
§ Mr. Robens
Does the hon. Gentleman want to discuss unemployment or the full employment policy, or the rather serious matter that we are now discussing and the point that I am making in relation to the Prime Minister's statement? If he regards it as a matter for fun and games, let him do so, but he does his party a great disservice. I am ready to deal with any statements that I have made in the House or in the country. What the hon. Gentleman might do is to look at HANSARD and obtain the correct quotation. We have had the example of the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer), who today deliberately misquoted my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West, completely changing the meaning of the sentence that he was using. I do not doubt that the hon. Gentleman would do the same with my speech or anybody else's, but I merely ask him to look at HANSARD.
I was saying that my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West drew attention to statements in American newspapers about a possible commitment by a Conservative Government in relation to the defence of Chiang Kai-shek in Formosa. I tie this up with the speech by the Minister of Defence, who talked about commitments and made it perfectly plain that there was no intention on the part of the Government to review the National Service Acts or in any way attempt to reduce the two-year period. The Prime Minister was quick to rise to his feet—the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) might listen to this, because it concerns his Prime Minister—and to make it perfectly plain that he had not been invited to enter into a commitment and that he had not entered into a commitment. My right hon. Friend then said that he had—
§ Mr. Robens
That was the real point. The Minister of Defence now says that the Prime Minister said that he had no intention of entering into such a commitment. That is precisely the question which my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West put to the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister sat silent.
§ Mr. Robens
I invite the Prime Minister when he replies to state categorically that it is not his intention in the future if his party is returned and he is the Prime Minister to commit the country to the defence of Chiang Kai-shek in Formosa. That will give the Prime Minister an opportunity to make good the deficiency of this afternoon when he sat silent and refused to answer that question which now, apparently, the Minister of Defence has answered for him. The tone of the speech of the Minister of Defence was one that indicated that there was no chance whatever of the Government's deciding to review National Service.
The Amendment which the Government have put forward is, of course, pious poppycock. It says:… this House expresses its gratitude for the services rendered by National Service men …Of course we are all grateful to the National Service men for the work they do. It goes on to say that it is… the declared intention of Her Majesty's Government to lighten the existing burden of National Service as soon as circumstances permit.Leaving no stones unturned; exploring all the avenues; having the matter under constant review; that is the sort of thing we have had time and time again on almost every matter on which we have had to challenge the Government.
The fact is that as these last years have gone by there has been an enormous change. The Services today—[Interruption.] I do not know what the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), who comes from the countryside, is talking about when he says "Because we have been strong." Had he been in the House during the whole of the debate he 1194 would have realised that we were trying seriously to discuss the question of National Service and the wise use of manpower.
§ Mr. Robens
I do not think I will, because the Prime Minister wants time to make his speech. I will gladly give way to hon. Members who have attended the debate.
§ Mr. Robens
I do not propose to give way to the hon. Member for Leominster who has just come in for five minutes in the whole debate.
§ Mr. Robens
I say that the Government have no intention of even reviewing the subject of National Service, and I say that over these last few years the whole scene of the use of manpower, whether in the Services or in industry, has completely changed.
The use of electronics in industry and in the Services and the higher development of scientific devices has changed the scene so considerably that, quite frankly, unless a really efficient Army is backed by an efficient industry, the very size of the Service will be of little avail. The Services today have to be backed by a higher degree of technical skill in the workshop and the factory than ever before. What we are asking is whether, in view of these great technical changes and the commitments that we have and the possible commitments of the future, we are in fact using the manpower at our disposal in the most efficient, most economic and the best possible way. That is the argument and only that.
As Members of Parliament we have a very great responsibility for this, because every one of us who supported the idea of conscription must carry with that decision and the vote we gave the responsibility of making absolutely certain that the men we take from their studies, their factories and their homes and put into the Services are looked after and that the service they are rendering is efficient service and not time wasting. Any Member of Parliament, having taken 1195 a young man from his home and having decided that the body then so taken is then passed over to the Services, who says that it is no longer his responsibility to give that individual any consideration is shirking his responsibilities as a Member of Parliament.
One of the most serious things that we do in this Chamber is to take hold of human beings and say, "For a period of two years, whether you like it or not, you go into the Service." None of us in this House can leave it at that and say that we then have no further regard for these people. Anyone listening to some of the speeches today would get the impression that, having passed the Act which made two years' service compulsory, that was the end of a Member's responsibilities and that it was a matter for the Service chiefs to use the services of these men as they thought fit.
§ Mr. Robens
I agree that it is nonsense if people believe that, but I say that one would get that impression from some of the speeches.
The whole argument is whether we are getting the best use of the manpower. So far no speaker from the Government side of the House has proved the case, which I think the Prime Minister must prove, that we are in fact making the most efficient use of manpower. If we look at the history of National Service and examine the aguments adduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington, we see that today we have moved away from the earlier conception of conscription, because then it was to provide trained reserves and today we are told by the Minister of Defence that it is not just to provide trained reserves but that we need these men because we need the size of the Armed Forces.
I agree with those hon. Members from both sides of the House who have said that they prefer the volunteer professional army to the conscript army. I say to the Prime Minister that it is far too easy to go on pumping men into the Services without forcing those people responsible for running them to face the fact that they ought to be making the Services sufficiently attractive to get people to volunteer to be professional Service men.
1196 There is some case for pay improvements, but pay is not everything in the Services. Conditions matter a great deal. While we continue to pump men into the Services there will be less regard for the conditions in which those men work than there would be if the Service chiefs had to manage with less men and had to make their Services much more attractive to the professional soldier.
There is not one hon. Member who has not received from time to time letters from constituents, whether they be National Service men or their families, indicating the gross waste of time and misuse of manpower after the first six months' training has been completed. Usually the first six months is accepted by the National Service man as the time when he has to go through the spit and polish period and when he has to get the rough edges smoothed down. He is active during that six months, but we hear of the most amazing misuse of the service of these men after that time.
Not many months ago the Incorporated Association of Headmasters had a conference at which they discussed the idle and bored lives led by some National Service men. Major-General G. W. Lathbury, the Vice-Adjutant-General, attended the meeting and dealt with some of the criticisms. He said that he knew where the shoe pinched and he hoped to put it right. He admitted that many National Service men were living idle lives and were bored and that there was a great misuse of their services.
Mr. Allan of the Wallasey Grammar School said that 20 or more headmasters had written to the Association about reports that they had received from some of their old boys in the Armed Forces, and this highly respected body said that as a result of that they could not escape the feeling that all was not well with the training and the use of the National Service men. As I say, Major-General Lathbury himself indicated that he knew where the shoe pinched.
Now we hear and read in the newspapers from time to time of the odd cases—I do not say they are general cases—of the gross waste of time of National Service men—Army batmen who are used for baby-sitting, trimming hedges, serving tea in officers' billets, and there was one case in the newspapers a little while ago 1197 of a National Service batman who had to wash the officers' wives' undies. I admit that these are odd—
§ Mr. Robens
Not the undies. I understand that these are odd isolated cases, but the fact that they can happen at all is a clear indication that there is no really efficient use of the manpower which is being turned into the Services by a decision of this House.
All that this Motion that we have put down says is that the time has now arrived for a review. May I ask the Prime Minister to tell us why the Government are not prepared to have a review of the National Service Acts—we have said preferably by a Select Commitee of this House? That is an indication of our preference of the type of review. What he ought to tell the House is why so far from the Front Bench opposite there has been a clear indication that the Government have no intention whatsoever of making any review of the National Service Acts.
Quite frankly, we cannot expect the people of this country to go on year after year calmly accepting the idea of two years' conscription without making some protest. They are entitled to know that from time to time there will be a review of the National Service Acts. It has been promised in this House from time to time when we have discussed the matter, and yet the Government steadfastly refuse even to accept the idea of a review. Instead they pay a tribute to the National Service men and say that some day they will lighten their burden.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey
Since the right hon. Gentleman is challenging the Prime Minister, and in view of this Motion, will he tell us why so few Members are behind him in this matter, and will he state whether he proposes to divide the House on this subject?
§ Mr. Harvey rose—
§ Mr. Robens
I cannot give way again. We have about 280,000 National Service men. Assuming that service were reduced to 18 months, this would mean a reduction of about 70,000 men. There are in 1198 industry between 130,000 to 135,000 vacancies to be filled. The reduction of National Service to 18 months would save something like £25 million. Has the Prime Minister considered the advantage to the country's economy of the additional service that these 70,000 people could give in industry, building up the industrial efficiency and total national production, against the commitments for which he has to provide?
Is it a fact that a review would reveal that there could be no reduction at all? Why has the Prime Minister so far refused even to look at the problem from the point of view of a review? Does it mean that he feels that in the future the commitments will be very much greater than those which we have at present? He has himself said from time to time that there has been an easement in the international situation, and from that one would conclude that the review might reveal the possibility of a reduction in the period of National Service.
If a review showed that such a reduction was possible, would not the Prime Minister agree that it would be a good thing to have the reduction? Is he wedded to a period of two years merely because it is two years? Does he not agree that if it were possible to knock off even six months from the period of National Service it would be a good thing all round? How can he know whether two years is the right figure without holding a review? There must be a review from time to time, and that is all that the Motion on the Order Paper asks of the Government.
But the Government's Amendment indicates that they are not prepared to accept the idea of a review. It seems to us that there may well be something in what has been said this afternoon—that, whilst publicity may not be given to it before the Election, it may well be that we shall have even greater commitments when the Election is over. [HON. MEMBERS: "Warmonger?"] Well, the Prime Minister has the opportunity of saying whether that is so or not.
What we cannot understand is why the Government have turned their faces against a review. There is not a single industrialist in the House or in the country who does not regularly review his organisation. The most efficient industrialists do it as a matter of course. Why 1199 should not the Government review the question of National Service upon which so much depends?
We need these people in industry and we need men to be left in agriculture-no matter how few the numbers may be. Every individual who can remain in industry for a longer period is useful to the economy of the country. I should have thought that that at least would have had some weight with the Government. Industry needs these people. If the Services' need is also vital, then a review would show which need is greater. I invite the Prime Minister at least to consider the arguments which have been put to him and to his Ministers, to withdraw his Amendment and to accept the Motion calling for a review.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)
Both the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) have dealt with the Formosa situation. Both of them completely ignored the statement made in the House yesterday by the Foreign Secretary in reply to a Question from the hon. Member for Leeds, South-East (Mr. D. Healey)—a statement which could hardly have been more specific.
The Foreign Secretary was asked,… what new commitments Her Majesty's Government have accepted concerning the defence of Formosa.He replied:Her Majesty's Government have no commitment, other than such general obligation as might arise from their membership of the United Nations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 27th April, 1955; Vol. 540, c. 911.]Today, if I understand the charge, which I must say I am amazed to hear from right hon. Gentlemen in this House, it is that although my right hon. Friend made that statement yesterday—a statement of which both right hon. Gentlemen must have been fully aware—and although my right hon. Friend said that we have no commitment, in fact we have a commitment which we are going to carry out only after the General Election. Does the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth nod his head? Does he think that that is the sort of people we are?
§ Mr. Robens
The answer to the last question is "Yes." Election promises about food subsidies were broken. It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman asked that rhetorical question. The real point is that his attention has been drawn to the report of the well-informed correspondent of the "New York Herald Tribune." We have given him the opportunity of making perfectly clear where the Prime Minister of Britain stands.
§ The Prime Minister
What the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, and what the right hon. Member for Dundee, West has suggested—if their words have any meaning—is that although we have no commitment today we are, in fact, committed to a policy which will emerge after the General Election.
§ Mr. Strachey
I did not say anything of the sort. If the Prime Minister will refer to HANSARD, he will find that I did not say that. What I asked the Prime Minister to do was to give an assurance to the House and to the country, now, that after the Election he would not enter into a commitment to defend the Chiang Kaishek régime on Formosa That is a very different thing. I did not allege that he was committed already, but I asked him to give an assurance that he would not commit himself in the future.
§ The Prime Minister
That is the difference between the two right hon. Gentlemen—to which they are welcome.
I should like to make the position perfectly plain to the House. This Government would not—and I would go so far as to say that no British Government would—enter into an agreement with another country, the effect of which would not be made known to the electorate until after the election. The implication behind the right hon. Gentleman's words—and he did not deny it—was that we were in some way committed in respect of the United States, and the commitment would emerge later. We are in no sense committed to anybody at all.
Perhaps I may add that our support of the Amendment is not due in any way to any intention on the part of Her Majesty's Government to undertake any new commitment in respect of Chiang Kai-shek or anybody else in the Far East. We have no such intention. Does that please the right hon. Gentleman?
§ Mr. Robens indicated assent.
§ The Prime Minister
We have one commitment in respect of Formosa and that area—the same commitment as right hon. Gentlemen opposite have—and that is to support the United Nations in any action which it may think necessary from time to time to maintain peace or to resist aggression in any part of the world. That is our commitment, and it is our only commitment. I am not entering into any other commitment during the General Election campaign, to face hon. Members with it afterwards. I do not really believe that they think that I would do anything of the kind.
Even in that commitment we are the sole judges of our contribution. That is the position upon which we stand. I am amazed at the two right hon. Gentlemen raising this question when they must be perfectly well aware that the S.E.A.T.O. Agreement specifically excluded the Formosa area. They know that quite well. Do they think that in the face of that I would enter into a new commitment of which the House would not be aware?
I should have thought that our whole policy in the Far East deserved quite a different approach by the two right hon. Gentlemen. They know the efforts that we have been making to try to bring about a cease-fire in that area, and if they read the report of "The Times" correspondent in Bandung they will know that the only country not criticised by any single delegate for the part it played in trying to bring peace was our own. I think they were more generous at Bandung than was the right hon. Member for Dundee, West today.
But let us come not to what I would call the rather disagreeable excrescences of this debate, but to the essence of the Motion and the Amendment. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) made a useful examination of what can be done in a technical way to improve the use of manpower and the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) also referred to that point. A great deal has been done and not only by the present Government. I give the right hon. Gentleman a share of the credit for this. Since 1950, which includes in part 1202 his administration as Minister of Defence, it is interesting to notice how the total manpower per division has been reduced. The average strength of divisions remained about the same, 12,500, but the total of men per division was 51,000 in 1950, 38,700 in 1953 and 38,180 in 1955. That shows how these progressive efforts made by successive Governments have resulted in reducing the backing for each division and shows the effort made to try to prevent waste.
If the doctrine is that we are being asked to accept that after the Election there is a case for some investigation into the use of manpower by a committee set up in one way or another, that will be one issue but, with respect, that is not what is on the Order Paper. What is on the Order Paper is what is to me an entirely new constitutional doctrine—and it was implied in the speech of the right hon. Member for Easington—that this Select Committee will advise as to the length of the service which should be our National Service over the next few years. I cannot possibly accept that. I cannot conceive that any Government could accept that. The right hon. Gentleman must know better than anybody that there is only one committee that can accept the responsibility of deciding what the length of service shall be in the light of the international situation, military commitments and everything else. That committee is the Cabinet.
§ Mr. Shinwell rose—
§ Mr. Shinwell
I quite appreciate that, and I do not want to interrupt unduly, but is it not quite possible for a Select Committee, or any kind of committee, to ascertain the facts, taking into account expert advice, military or otherwise, and to make recommendations to the Government, and then it would be up to the Government to decide whether to accept those recommendations or not?
§ The Prime Minister
That is really not the issue in the Motion, and the burden of many speeches made today was that the Select Committee should pronounce on the strength of forces, the number of squadrons and divisions and so forth.
§ Mr. Bellenger indicated dissent.1203
§ The Prime Minister
Yes. If the right hon. Member for Easington does not wish the inquiry to deal with the length of service, and does not wish to take responsibility from the Government, he is at perfect liberty to take our Amendment, which safeguards the constitutional position.
Then we are asked why our commitments are so heavy. The right hon. Gentleman and others said that the Korean War is over. Mercifully, it is over and we are all deeply relieved at that, but I should have thought that hardly an hon. Member would say that the Far Eastern situation is yet so stable and so settled that, for instance, we could reduce our garrison at Hong Kong. I should have thought that it would be the greatest possible mistake to reduce out garrison at Hong Kong at this time. When it was suggested, I was delighted to hear the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) interrupted and corrected by one of his hon. Friends.
It would be completely misread if we were to make a substantial reduction in that garrison now, just as it would be the greatest mistake at this particular psychological moment, when we hope that discussions will open with Russia, with three years' national service, to announce a reduction in our National Service. I am sure that to do so would not strengthen our hands in our diplomatic discussions, but would seriously weaken them. I am certain that no Foreign Secretary, not the late Mr. Bevin, or anybody else in the late Socialist Government, or in a future Socialist Government, if such should ever stand here again, would willingly do anything of that kind.
It is true, of course, that some N.A.T.O. Powers are not doing as much as we are. I wish they were. However, we have wider responsibilities than most of them. We have responsibilities in Malaya, for instance. I was there the other day, and I saw our forces there. They have done a magnificent job in recent years. As a result, the country is opened up. Whereas, five years ago, when I was there, one could not move without an escort of armoured cars, without the greatest possible difficulty, now nine-tenths of the country is open, and one can move about in it, and our forces have made a great contribution to that. We do not want that situation to deteriorate again.
1204 Of course, I agree in time we should build up native forces—[Interruption.] Of course, that has got to be done. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite did not do much about it when they had the chance, and now they come along and lecture us for not doing things they never even dreamt of doing in their six years of office. For the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington to point a finger at me does not alter the facts. The right hon. Gentleman knows it is true that in the present situation it would not be possible to reduce the number of National Service men we have in Malaya. Then there is the Kenya situation, of which the House is aware.
There is another matter which has been mentioned and to which I want to refer, the question of a strategic reserve. I hope that I shall not be thought very rigid if I say that I have always thought it right, and still think it right, that we should have some form of strategic reserve in this country. I remember a speech which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West made. I am sorry to give him so much attention tonight, but, after all, he gave me quite a lot.
§ The Prime Minister
No, but he gave me a lot of attention. On 5th March, 1953, he said:We have 11-plus divisions, and not one of them in this country, but scattered all over the world. Was there ever any State which had dispositions of that sort before?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 632.]I sympathised with that remark at the time, and I agreed with him, and now we are trying to mend precisely that state of affairs.
I admit that we have not done much yet. He may make that charge. We have not got even one division complete as a strategic reserve, but by the end of the year I hope that there will be a material improvement in that respect; and even what has been done is, I suggest, something gained. It is better for our safety that we should have a strategic reserve, and it is better for the Army that it should have a chance of serving at home.
If we can reduce the period of service, of course, We all want to do so. Hon. and 1205 right hon. Gentlemen opposite pretend that we on this side love National Service and would like it to go on for ever. They would not have said that except on the eve of a General Election.
§ The Prime Minister
Nobody in this House wants, few people, if any, in the country want, to see National Service perpetuated, and we do not want it for two reasons. The first is that those who care most for the Army prefer a voluntary Army. The Regular soldiers always have preferred a voluntary Army. For the rest, as the right hon. Gentleman said, we want our men in industry, and we want them to go into industry and to start their careers as soon as they can, and to continue them without their having this interruption.
We want all that. But when can it be? I must say, with the responsibilities which I now carry, that that must depend on the international developments of the next few months. Suppose, for instance, there were a real settlement in the Far East, a settlement which would justify our doing what I do not consider we are justified in doing now. Then some reduction might be possible, as a result of that alone. If we thought we could do that we should take the responsibility for doing it and tell the House so, and we really should not have to wait for the help of another committee of inquiry to assist us to make up our minds.
But this is not the moment at which the future is sufficiently certain. We believe that the conversations which we hope shortly to go into will depend largely on our allied unity and strength. We think that for any leader of this nation now to announce a reduction in the terms of service would be to weaken our hands in those negotiations.
If we can secure any further reduction in international tension, we shall certainly be able to fulfil our commitments abroad and keep a small strategic reserve at home, perhaps with a shorter period of National Service. In that event, we should not hesitate to reduce the period. But I would not, nor would my colleagues in the Cabinet, take the responsibility of making such an announcement now.
§ The Prime Minister
The Motion seeks to give a Select Committee power to deal with these things. I am not prepared 1206 to entrust a Select Committee with that responsibility. It is the responsibility of a Government and one which a Government must have in the light of all that they know, and it is a responsibility which we do not share. Whatever it might cost, electorally or otherwise, nothing would induce me tonight to make any commitment of any kind beyond what I have said, because I believe that it is my duty to speak as I have spoken in this House. I therefore ask the House to accept our Amendment.
§ Mr. Paget rose—
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. P. G. T. Buchan-Hepburn) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Mr. Bellenger
On a point of order. An hon. Member was on his feet when the Closure was moved, Mr. Speaker. Is he not entitled to catch your eye, Sir, before the Question is put?
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman is in error about that. I should have thought that he had been here long enough to know that if the Motion, "That the Question be now put," is made it can be put at any time. It was made and I accepted it.
§ Mr. Paget
Yes, Mr. Speaker, I am rising to a new point of order.
When the House is within the ordinary rule and the debate ends at 10 o'clock, and when, within four minutes of ten o'clock, an hon. Member who has been rising throughout the debate wishes to speak, is there any precedent for accepting the Closure four minutes before the end of the debate?
§ Mr. Speaker
I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that there are many such precedents. I have known them myself.
Question, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question, put accordingly and negatived.
§ Question, That the proposed words be there added, put and agreed to.
§ Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
That this House expresses its gratitude for the services rendered by National Service men in maintaining the safety and well-being of this country in the present world situation; and approves the declared intention of Her Majesty's Government to lighten the existing burden of National Service as soon as circumstances permit.