§ 4.36 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
I beg to move, That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.
This debate has got off to a rather late start, and I would say at the outset that I do not propose to cover the ground covered in the Memorandum on Estimates which I assume has been read by at least a proportion of hon. Gentlemen interested in these affairs. No doubt during my speech I shall omit certain matters of interest to hon. Members, but I hope that we shall be able to give them an answer before the conclusion of this debate.
Before compiling my remarks for this debate, I had the advantage of listening to the defence debate which took place last week. I could not help but fee! that this debate and the defence debate were exceptional for two reasons: first, because it was the first occasion on which the House had had an opportunity of discussing the implication of the thermonuclear or hydrogen weapons, and secondly, because it was the first occasion on which the Opposition had put down a Motion of censure against this Government.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
The right hon. Gentleman has started off with a mistake right away. That is quite untrue.
§ Mr. Head
I said during the period that this Government had been in power.
I am not suggesting for a moment that the two reasons are in any way connected, although in fact they both constitute warnings of the awful consequences of fission, be it nuclear or political. In the debate on defence, I think it was evident that there was a wide degree of anxiety and uncertainty about the extent to which we could both provide a deterrent and maintain conventional forces. Speaker after speaker asked, "Can we do 180 both?" Many hon. Members queried whether we could afford to have what one might term a conventional Army and also the deterrent of nuclear weapons, and I feel, therefore, that it is appropriate for me at the start of this discussion to say something about the justification and the likely rôle of an Army of the size which the Government propose in the White Paper.
There is no better way to start than to refer to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who, I think, made a deep, careful and exceptionally penetrating speech on the implications of the hydrogen bomb and other atomic weapons. He said that for the next three or four years it seemed likely that the preponderance of atomic or nuclear power would lie with the West; that after that period we might reach a situation of what he termed saturation, when both West and East had a sufficient quantity of these weapons to deliver a mortal blow, and when possibly every capital of the countries concerned would be under the direct threat of long-range ballistic rockets.
My right hon. Friend concluded that his message was not one of despair, but one of hope; partly because of the deterrent effect of the preponderance of these weapons in the West in the next three or four years and partly because of the ghastly consequence of initiating such a form of warfare when both sides had the ability to deliver a mortal blow. I felt that there was wide agreement among hon. Members that the deterrent was the best method of preventing war, and that there was a general acceptance of a message of hope rather than of despair. But I feel that it is wildly illogical to try to escape the inevitable conclusion of these perhaps encouraging deductions in thinking that, because the likelihood of nuclear warfare is reduced, at the same time there is less likelihood of the continuance of what we have come to call a cold war.
If we regard the policy of the Communist world in the last 10 years; if we do not anticipate—though pray God it may happen—a change of heart, it seems to me we are logically forced into the acceptance of the likelihood of the continuance or possible intensification of cold wars, whether they are of infiltration or of the type which took place in Korea.
181 If hon. Gentlemen will agree so far, and if one accepts that, it seems to me that, with a Colonial Empire which is worldwide and which touches on almost every trouble spot throughout the world, we cannot contract out of retaining adequate conventional forces to deal with the kind of situation which is likely to arise in such circumstances.
Nor, I believe, can we possibly imagine that the likelihood of another occurrence such as in Korea which, in effect, was a conventional war, or even something on a larger scale, may not occur, either in the next three or four years, or—and possibly with a greater likelihood—when both sides are evenly matched and Russia has a preponderance of conventional arms, and has perhaps reduced the likelihood of severe reprisals which would come with her present inferiority in nuclear power.
For both those reasons I think that it would be the height of folly to reduce the Army, on which the main burden of these tasks must fall, to a state below which it would be capable of meeting the demands which we have suggested would be made.
Hon. Gentlemen may agree with me so far and say that there may be a case for retaining an Army of that kind. But they may say—indeed they did say during the defence debate—that we cannot retain an Army which could play its part both as a deterrent and in the nuclear war itself. But if we were to escape or withdraw in any way from our commitments in N.A.T.O., that would probably be one of the most serious blows to N.A.T.O. which could be delivered. N.A.T.O. would be disrupted in the extreme, and I believe that it would be shaken to the foundations. If hon. Gentlemen will consider it even from the purely selfish point of view, to retain a shield so as to give defence in depth in Europe is, from the point of view of defence—even in a nuclear age—of paramount importance to this country.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
While entirely agreeing with what the right hon. Gentleman says, may I ask, when once N.A.T.O. has accepted that a European war must be a nuclear war, what is the object of the reserve divisions? That is what I find difficult to understand.
§ Mr. Head
No, but I would say that to suggest that conventional weapons can be dispensed with in the shield for Europe and in the same speech demand—as did the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan)—that there should be an undertaking that this bomb should not be used against a conventional attack, is the biggest non sequitur and illogical piece of thinking that I have heard in this House for a long time.
If the House will go with me so far, I would suggest that the Army, today and in the future, must be of a size to meet these commitments and must be of such versatility that it can play its part as a deterrent or even fight in a nuclear war, but can also fight in a conventional war and play its part in a war of infiltration or subversion. That is the basis on which the Government and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence have drawn up and decided upon the size of the Army outlined in the Estimates before the House.
It is a size which for the present asks for the maintenance of the present period of two years' National Service. This is a demand of which the House is rightly and properly extremely jealous. It is a very big demand on the economy of the country. It is, for those reasons, most unpopular in the country, and it is against our tradition. To be quite frank, it would be much easier if we had a wholly Regular Army which could deal with these matters. I feel that because this demand for a two-year National Service period continues, it is my duty to try to deal frankly and carefully with the question of manpower in the Army. Without doing so and without justifying it to the hilt, no Government can be fully justified in introducing Estimates which demand its continuance.
I think that the average hon. Gentleman, in the light of present events—[HON MEMBERS: "The average man."]—if I may make an average of them—will say, "We have recently reduced our commitments. We have redeployed in the Middle East. We have disbanded A.A. Command—of which a vast majority were Territorials—and we have disbanded eight new infantry battalions. In the light of that, why cannot we reduce the 183 period of National Service?" That question has been asked; it is a perfectly fair one, and demands an answer.
That agreed upon, disbandment has saved some 66,000 men for the Army. A reduction in the period of National Service to 18 months is estimated to cost about 50,000 men, and some hon. Members say that we therefore have 16,000 men left over. There are, however, two claims upon that saving, and two obstacles to the reduction of the period of National Service. The first is the run-down in the strength of the Army and the second the creation of a strategic reserve. It is my duty to say a brief word about each.
Dealing first with the run-down in the Army, the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and other hon. Members will remember full well that in 1951 there was a very serious shortage of manpower. The Government then froze Regulars, called up Reservists and, in 1952, ordered a greatly increased call-up of about 160,000 men instead of the average of 130,000.Since that time that increased call-up has been going out of the Service, and between April, 1954, and April, 1956, there will be a run-down of some 35,000 in the size of the Army.
In all the recent debates in this House I believe that there has been general agreement among hon. Members that we must aim to form a strategic reserve. During the past two or three years the Army has literally scraped the bottom, with hardly any forces left in this country. That is not merely bad for the Army; it is dangerous, and makes it difficult for us to meet our commitments. I am absolutely sure that in the future that now confronts us, with the possible demands made by wars of infiltration or even conventional wars, the existence of a strategic reserve in this country, capable of being lifted by air at short notice, is an inestimable advantage without which we should be ill-equipped to face our commitments.
The creation of that strategic reserve, the retention of certain A.A. units for the field forces and certain other units with which I shall deal later, together with the 35,000 run-down in the Army, take up the 66,000 saving which we have made by the redeployment and disbandment of units. Many hon. Members, in- 184 cluding my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) say, "What your aim should be is to create a larger Regular force which could meet our commitments, would save endless overheads in training so many National Service men, and would economise on movements. "That is an aim which should be taken seriously, because there is no doubt that we could meet our commitments less wastefully and with a far smaller amount of manpower if it could be achieved.
I have made a very careful inquiry into the recruiting figures and the strength of the Army between 1920 and today, excluding the war-time periods which are not typical. That inquiry is interesting, especially in so far as it shows that, whatever may be the relative position of Army pay to civilian pay—proportionately good or bad—and whatever the situation of the country—full employment or unemployment—by and large the strength and the rate of recruiting of the Regular Army has remained astonishingly level. It has stayed round about the 180,000 mark. I am not saying that that means that this possibility should necessarily be abandoned, but, having discussed this matter with very experienced officials in the Ministry of Labour, I feel that it suggests that there must be a fixed number of individuals who are prepared to join the Regular Army.
That may be a wrong assumption, but if we were to make a radical improvement in conditions of pay and service it would have to be upon an inter-Service basis and could not be confined to the Army alone, for reasons with which I am sure all hon. Members would agree. If it were to apply to all three Services, such an alteration would be very, very expensive. With the data available, and with the uncertainty of the scheme becoming effective, I say that we should be asking the country to take a very big chance in allowing that very large amount of money to be spent in a speculative attempt which might fail. Were it to fail, an immense amount of money would have been spent and we should still not have large enough Regular forces to dispense with National Service.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
If we are expected to follow the right hon. Gentleman's argument to its logical conclusion, he should give us some idea of 185 the numbers of that Regular Army which he thinks would be able to cope with our commitments and therefore, to some degree, reduce the necessity for National Service.
§ Mr. Head
I do not want to escape the question, but to some extent the answer depends upon our commitments. With our commitments as they are now. however, we could undoubtedly do away with at least 100,000 of the present force because of our saving in overheads and avoidance of waste in movements, and so forth.
§ Mr. Wigg
I want to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon having learnt lesson No. 1 after 10 years, but why does not he see the logic of the matter? If it is true that a constant number of men join the Regular Army, and that whatever one does will not affect the total number of men who will do so, why does not he appreciate that the question of paramount importance is for how long they will join and whether they will stay in after they have joined?
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Member is too anxious. I am coming to that point next. The hon. Member is very keen to intervene, but I hope that he will give me a little bit of a run, because I have a lot of ground to cover and I do not want to delay the House for too long.
Other hon. Members say, "The real answer is that your recruiting policy must be such that you put yourself in the position of recruiting sufficient Regulars upon a long-term basis. That is your best chance of eventually reducing the period of National Service." In relation to the matter of the three-year engagement, the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) is my deadly enemy. As it has become a matter of such controversy—largely due to the hon. Member's efforts—I must say something about it.
In 1949 the Royal Air Force found that it was in serious difficulty over recruiting. It was running at about 5,000 a quarter. In 1950 it decided to introduce the three-year engagement, and its recruiting went up to somewhere about the 10,000 mark—and it stayed up. In the meantime, I imagine that right hon. Gentlemen opposite who were then in the War Office were watching the movement with very great interest but, understandably, they decided to hold on because it was presumably 186 known that in September, 1950, they were to introduce really good and substantial pay increases. I am pleased to acknowledge the fact that we owe those to the right hon. Member for Easington, who was then Minister of Defence.
When those increases were introduced Army quarterly recruiting figures, which had been somewhere round the 5,000 mark, went up to 7,000, hovered there, and slumped back again to the 5,000 mark. The War Office watched the position for the best part of a year. An actuarial estimate was made of what would happen if the decline in recruiting continued, and it was found that the Regular Army, instead of being 194,000 strong, as it is now, would have gone down to 130,000. There would have been a net loss of manpower in the Active Army of about 30,000.
In those circumstances, and after very careful consideration, it was decided—I still believe that it was rightly decided—to bring in the three-year engagement. The interesting fact about that period of engagement is the figures for recruiting. In 1952 they were 49,000; in 1953 they were 39,000; and in 1954 they were 36,000. When the figures for 1952 were announced in this House, there was a certain amount of dispute as to who should claim the credit for them. Some hon. Members said that it was no good my preening myself, because it was the work of right hon. Members opposite. I did not dispute that, but I said that whoever introduced the scheme bore the responsibility, and so I did not see why he should not have the credit.
In 1954, when the figure of 36,000 was announced, hon. Members opposite said that recruiting had failed, that there had been a flop, and that the Secretary of State should go because he was "in a fearful jam." I am not complaining about any of those remarks, but will say about them what, I think, proves them to be illogical. In 1952 there was an intake of exceptional size—160,000. In 1954 it was 130,000.The main source of recruiting today is the National Service intake. Recruiting sergeants do not go out into the streets to recruit as they did in the old days. Those recruiting figures expressed as a percentage of the intake have not moved except by 0.6 of 1 per cent. They have remained steady at 25 per cent., so that it is rather illogical for hon. Members 187 opposite on one occasion to claim the credit and on another occasion to cry "Havoc."
§ Mr. Wigg rose—
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Gentleman is very quick to say things, but he should have seen his face on the last occasion, as I saw it.
What I wish to say about the three-year engagement is this. We are getting one in four of the National Service intake. The people at the Ministry of Labour are experts at this. In view of the keen competition from the civil market, I do not believe that those are bad figures.
However, we are quite agreed with the hon. Member for Dudley that the vital question is that of prolongations.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Gentleman should not be too cocksure.
The point I would put to him about prolongations is this. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) will know, the War Office was aware, when this matter was considered, that inevitably there would be a query about prolongations. It was also aware that there had in the past always been a certain number of men prepared to join the Regular Army. The effect of offering a three-year engagement in lieu of a five-year engagement should not, it was thought, act as a deterrent to those who would join and stay in the Regular Army. The risk was taken. It was rightly taken, I believe. I believe, too, that the late Government, had they remained in office, would have done the same thing—though I do not say that in justification of what we did. The responsibility for the decision lies fairly and squarely on this Government.
The figures for prolongations, which are relevant in finding the trend, are not yet available. [HON MEMBERS: "Ah."] The hon. Member for Dudley is in an unholy haste to try to produce something to throw at me. The hon. Member has quoted the figures for November and December, which were entirely untypical and included a good many five-year engagements. He created a song and dance about them—not only in the House; he communicated it to the Press 188 as well, and with some effect. But it was entirely bogus.
We have to wait and see. We do not yet know. What we are doing is to have a special analysis made of these figures because, as the hon. Gentleman will realise, if a man can prolong his service at any period of his three years' service, there must be a special, detailed and very laborious study to discover which particular men have prolonged their service.
§ Mr. Head
We are doing that, not to please the hon. Member for Dudley. [Interruption.] I think the hon. Gentleman should let me have a bit of a run. He has had a very good run himself, and I have been silent for a year while he has talked the most fearful rubbish.
The result of that analysis will come to the impatient hon. Gentleman by May. What we do know about prolongations is that for January, 1953, to April, 1954, the prolongations to 12 years, which is an important period, were running at about 350 a month. In April, 1954, as I announced during the consideration of the last Estimates, the Government introduced special concessions and terms of service, and between April, 1954, and now the prolongations to 12 years have been running at 700 a month, which is double, and which is a very gratifying sign, even though it sticks in the gullet of the hon. Gentleman.
I should not leave the question of manpower, although I apologise for dwelling on it for a rather long time, without saying something on what for this House is the perennial question of the waste of manpower. That question arose in the defence debate, and has always been a matter of discussion. I would say at the outset that there is not one of the Services—if I may take the name of the other Services in vain—which can say that it is absolutely blameless as regards waste of manpower, but I say also that it is one of the main jobs of a Secretary of State to try to remedy that waste to the maximum extent possible.
In the last six or seven years there have been in the War Office eight major inquiries into manpower, specifically by the Weekes' Committee, the Harwood Committee, the Jacob Committee, the Templer Committee, the Callander Committee, the Reid-Young Committee, the 189 McLean Committee and the Kirkman Committee, and five of those inquiries have taken place since I have been at the War Office. In addition, there have been two further inquiries, one on the reduction of wastage through the speeding of the movement of people in the pipeline, and one on the organisation of schools and training establishments. In addition to that, I personally reduced the establishment of the War Office by an arbitrary cut of 10 per cent.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
How many of the Reports of those Committees are available to this House?
§ Mr. Head
I will send the hon. Gentleman as big a wad of information on them as I can.
The total of the savings since I have been at the War Office is some 12,000 men. I am not saying for a moment that there are not more savings that could be made, but I do say with absolute confidence—and I believe that right hon. Gentlemen opposite will follow me in saying this—that there is no dramatic and radical saving which can be made which would make a real and appreciable difference to National Service at the present time, or that would enable us to reduce the length of National Service by six months.
To all those hon. Members who say, "Let us have an inquiry into the Services and the waste in manpower," I reply that this is a problem of such complexity and such width that to go into the whole of it would be beyond the bounds of any one committee of the greatest genius. Even the Committee of Sir John Reid-Young, who is the business methods and efficiency expert of Vickers, and who visited the large dumps and depots, was not able to go into the problem of economy of manpower so as to cover the whole of the Services. That is beyond the power of any single committee. Therefore, I say that it is the job of a Secretary of State and the job of the House of Commons to watch jealously the use of manpower, but that it is entirely wrong to think that we could have an inquiry which would lead to a saving of the size that would make a material reduction in National Service possible.
I should next say something about the question of the reorganisation which has 190 followed on the disbandment of Anti-Aircraft Command. In December, 1954, the Government's decision to disband Anti-Aircraft Command was announced. That had, of course, been under discussion for some considerable time before. It will be appreciated that we in the War Office could not take any overt step until the decision was announced.
When it took place we had two clear-cut alternatives. We could have issued arbitrarily decisions to the units to be disbanded or amalgamated. Or we could have heard their own claims and complaints, and the views of the Territorial Army Associations, and so forth, Hon. Members may have differing views as to what we should have done. What we did, I believe, was right. Bearing in mind the immense part the Territorial Army Associations have played in the general organisation and the keeping in health of Anti-Aircraft Command, we decided to consult fully with them and to consider their views and the views of the units. This was a long job, and some very strong and powerful views were expressed in the process. It is always unpleasant to disband units with long traditions of service and with proud records. Finally we came to a solution.
Of all the Territorial units concerned only some 15 per cent. have been actually disbanded. The remainder will either be amalgamated into another rôle or amalgamated with regiments which are retained for anti-aircraft defence. I regret, and I am sure the House regrets, the winding up of a Command which has done great service for this country, and I am sure that the House would wish me to pay tribute to the members of the Command for their service before, during and after the war, particularly for then-effective and patient service during the war when they made such a big contribution to the defence of this country, especially against the flying bombs.
I must say a word about the personnel of this Command. This decision to wind it up poses a difficulty for the Regulars in the Royal Artillery, because the majority of the Regulars in A.A. Command will now be thrown back on the Royal Artillery as a whole. We have two conflicting aims: first, to avoid a block in the promotion structure of the Royal Artillery and, secondly, to avoid undue axing, which I think would have a most unfortunate effect not only in the Royal 191 Artillery but, by creating uncertainty, in the Army as a whole. I believe that there will be very little axing, and I think we can sort matters out. I should like to take this opportunity of stating that the policy of the War Office, and I believe and hope that it will remain its policy, in the re-organisation and changes which we must expect in this age, is one of re-absorption and transfer rather than of axing and the sudden termination of a career to which a man has devoted his life.
There are two other aspects of the manpower of the Territorial Army on which I will dwell briefly. First, there were many women in the mixed batteries, and we are offering them employment in other branches of the Territorial Army which, I think, will open up the opportunities for women in the Territorial Army. I hope many will transfer.
The other concerns that vital element, the volunteers in the A.A. regiments, who were, so to speak, the back-bone of the Territorial regiments. We have set up boards of officers who will offer employment to them in other Territorial units or in the Army Emergency Reserve, and I hope that as many as possible will again volunteer, because such service is invaluable.
There is another aspect of their employment on which I should touch. I hope that some or many of them will decide to serve in the new mobile defence battalions which are being created. Many hon. Members said, "Why did you not give the task of the mobile defence battalions to particular A.A. regiments and let them take it over lock, stock and barrel? "That is an attractive idea, but the whole basis of the creation of these mobile defence battalions is that they will gradually be built up and that each man will have a months 'training in those duties during his two years' whole-time service.
If we transferred a whole existing unit we should have a whole unit ignorant of those duties. I say to the volunteers, however, especially from units which have been disbanded and of whom very few are left, that if senior officers and N.C.Os. will get together and will volunteer to take over, or jointly to take over, one of these mobile defence battalions, then we will attempt to keep them together and I will also do everything possible to 192 ensure that there is some continuity of the traditions and name of their past regiment in the transfer to the new mobile defence battalion which they join.
I think I should now say something about a matter on which the right hon. Member for Dundee, West intervened—the rôle of the Reserve Army, which is the Territorial Army and the Army Emergency Reserve. There has been a lot of speculation about this, and many people in the Territorial Army and the Army Emergency Reserve have wondered what their rôle is to be in a future war. We are agreed that our main effort is to be towards a deterrent and towards the prevention of war. But it is no good our saying, "If that war should come, then we have had it and there is nothing more to do." That has never been the way in which the British have overcome their past troubles, and I am certain it is not the way to set about the next troubles.
If such a war occurred, then the vital and decisive factor would be the ability of the home base in these islands to struggle through. That will be a very grim struggle, but I believe that a determining or even a decisive factor in it will be the presence of a- number of formations of trained, mobile, desciplined men who can be sent all over the country to help to the maximum extent in restoring order out of chaos and in the general administration and running of the country. I believe that to be a task of paramount importance in which the Territorial Army, the Army Emergency Reserve and the Home Guard may well play a decisive part, and I should like to assure them that their rôle in that situation is an essential part in the pattern of our defence as we see it.
But, quite apart from that, because of our uncertainty about the form which war may take, I do not think we can exclude the use of Territorial Army divisions, either because of a far longer period of warning of the danger of war than we have foreseen or possibly because of an extensive conventional war. In addition, I suggest to hon. Members the possibility that after this fearful nuclear war has taken place there will be a crying need throughout the world for nations in a position to do so to send troops in order to sort out the mess, perhaps to stop the sporadic fighting which is taking place 193 and to restore order in a world which has been through a fearful experience.
I believe that the absence of trained formations to give such assistance might have fearful consequences, and I therefore strongly suggest to the House that in our present conditions of uncertainty to do away with these Reserve divisions would be an act of great folly.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
Has the right hon. Gentleman any idea of what the troops will do when they are restoring the order to which he has referred?
§ Mr. Head
Very much the same as they have done after previous wars, only more so. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Hughes) laughs at that. He may have forgotten that in every case immediately after the end of a war there has been a great degree of chaos in the defeated countries and that much civilian suffering has been avoided by the fact that the troops have taken over to restore order, run the services and get the country on its feet. It ill be hoves him to laugh at that because, if he had more experience of it, he would know that it is a fact.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Member has constantly said that if there is a nuclear war, then we have had it. He has said in such circumstances, "Let us pack up now." I do not agree with him, because it is that attitude which will turn this country into a Communist country, which may or may not suit the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Head
I will come to that at the end of my remarks.
I believe that today the main deterrents in the Army are separation—which I believe the strategic Reserve will do something to help; bad conditions overseas— 194 which I believe the re-deployment from the Suez Canal will do something to help; instability—which, again, I think the strategic Reserve will help. But, in addition, there is the question of barracks and of hospitals, in which I know the hon. Member is particularly interested.
I must confess that when I went to the War Office I was shocked by the condition of the barracks. I am not blaming that on any right hon. Gentleman opposite; I am blaming it on the fact—let us face it—that since about 1900 nothing much has been done. That is because in peace-time the Army has been starved of money and in war-time the money has been spent on warlike materials. This is not a party matter at all. It is a fact that the Army barracks must be improved, and it is equally a fact that no single Secretary of State could do it quickly. It is a long-term project.
Before it can even be started, we must have plans, and hon. Members will be surprised to know the amount of effort which has to go into producing the plans. We have got out a lot of plans and we are starting the work. It is our intention, as long as this Government remains in office—and I hope that whoever succeeds me will stick to it—to build up an ever-increasing programme of rebuilding and reconditioning barracks.
I should like to explain why I am making these remarks in this speech. It is because I want to beg and entreat any future Secretary of State for War or any future Government not to fall into the temptation, when they are discussing Estimates, of raiding the works Vote. That is the reason our barracks are in such a mess. If that continues indefinitely, there is a grave danger that the Army will become a race of slum dwellers. There could be nothing worse for recruiting than that.
I turn to the question of production in general. In the defence debate many hon. Members, among them the hon. Member for Aston, said—it is an easy thing to say—that the Government in such and such a year spent thousands of millions of pounds, but what had they to show for it? When the late Government introduced the programme in 1951 it was called the £4,700 million rearmament programme. I am not blaming them for that term, but it did mislead people 195 because a lot of people thought that money was for rearmament and all these vast sums of money would be spent on new weapons. So far as the Army is concerned, of our total Estimates about one-seventh is spent on the production of new weapons. The remainder is for clothing, feeding, moving, maintaining and housing the soldier and supporting him in cold wars, whether in Malaya, Kenya, or elsewhere. It is illogical and wrong to point to these astronomical sums and say that there is nothing to show for them. During the last four years an immense programme has been met in arming the Army with up-to-date conventional equipment and weapons.
§ Mr. Head
I am coming to that. It is really no good dismissing the necessity for conventional weapons. If we did so, our only recourse would be the bomb. The Army must have tanks and modern bridging, which would be of great importance if there were nuclear warfare, and it must have vehicles. Replacements have been made and a lot of leeway has been made good. In warlike stores and so forth we are nearing the completion of a phase. That is why, as hon. Members may see, practically the entire cut of £70 million in this year's Estimate has been taken off the production Vote.
I do not want to mislead the House or hon. Members into thinking that this year's production is either typical or one which can go on and will continue indefinitely. As weapon development proceeds and as the introduction of nuclear weapons proceeds, so the Vote will have to meet it. What I would say to hon. Members is that in conventional weapons our Army is a very well-equipped Army by any standards throughout the world.
I should now say a word about nuclear weapons. In 1953 it was decided that for ground-to-ground guided missiles the British Army should follow American research. That was a wise decision to conserve development and research efforts and scientific and technical skill by going together on certain projects. The Americans initially developed the weapon called "Corporal Mark I," and then "Corporal Mark II." We have decided to adopt the "Corporal Mark II" weapon, which is a 196 first-class ground-to-ground guided missile. It is, I think, ahead of any other ground-to-ground guided missile in the world. We are sending officer and N.C.O. instructors for these units over to America in April or May this year. The units themselves will be formed next year. The Army will then have something which will produce additional fire power, both to economise in conventional means of support and to increase immensely their strength. It is of course our intention that they should be produced for the Army in Europe.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
Is it the intention to introduce this atomic weapon into the armies in Europe?
§ Mr. Head
Yes, that is correct. I know the anxiety of my noble Friend. I repeat what I said before, that the decision whether or not such weapons should be used remains with the political heads of nations.
I do not think I could leave the question of production without mentioning two other matters. One is the rifle and the other is aircraft. I thought perhaps we had finished with the rifle—
§ Mr. Head
Yes, the Royal Marines will have this rifle in due course. The hon. Member for Aston, all sparkling in the new authority of promotion to the Front Bench, in the defence debate accused the Government and me in particular of what one might term dropping the rifle. I could not help feeling that he might have turned about and used a bit of his authority on hon. Members behind him. I let that pass. What he said, in effect, was that there were no rifles. I wish to say something briefly on this subject.
197 In 1951 the then Government announced that they were going to adopt the .280 round rifle. Considerable alarm was expressed by the then Leader of the Opposition, the present Prime Minister. Two conferences were held, a tripartite conference at which the Canadians expressed great alarm that we were to adopt the .280, and a N.A.T.O. Standing Group meeting, at which both France and America also expressed alarm. The right hon. Member for Easington attended those conferences. The Government seemed to have given him a general instruction on policy which might be summarised as to ignore those expressions of alarm. One might almost say it was a question of, "Manny get your gun." The right hon. Member persisted in the face of great opposition, came back, and said we were to stick to the .280.
In October, 1951, the present Government took over. The Prime Minister said that in a matter so basic, so fundamental, as small arms we must attempt to reach standardisation. There were then drawn up the N.A.T.O. characteristics, which were the requirements for a standardised round. It took some time for agreement on what the round should be. After that time had elapsed, it was finally agreed by all the N.A.T.O. Powers that we should standardise on the .30 round. That was a considerable achievement. At that stage we had to choose between the FN. rifle and the rebuilt altered E.M.2 to fit the .30 round.
That was where the hon. Member for Aston took out a neat saying of mine, embellished it and made it look very misleading. What I said then and say now is that if we had gone in for the new E.M.2 we would have added to the delay. We would have had to tool up to make the rifles so that there could be troop trials, whereas with the FN. we could buy the rifles and go on with troop trials. Troop trials will finish this summer, and by June we shall have had delivered to the Army in Germany 10,000 FN. rifles. We shall have got standardisation throughout N.A.T.O.—[HON MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—standardisation of the round. The hon. Member may decry it, but it is a most important development. We shall have got the Commonwealth with us, and against that we shall have lost between 18 months and two years.
I say with absolute certainty that that deal and that agreement to go for a 198 standardised round—this rifle—and to get the Commonwealth with us was well worth that delay, particularly as having 10,000 rifles of the FN. calibre in Germany by June this year more or less balances the production which would have occurred had the decision been taken in 1951 to manufacture the 280.
§ Mr. Wyatt
Would the Secretary of State not agree that the question of the standardisation of the round would have been settled anyway and the British rifle could have fired the same round as the present FN. rifle? What has now happened is that the Belgian rifle has been redesigned according to the inches measurement and, therefore, the new British rifle will not have parts fully interchangeable with the Belgian rifle. Consequently, that important matter of standardisation has gone.
Would the right hon. Gentleman not further agree that my right hon. Friend the previous Minister of Defence made it quite clear in the debate a year ago that the Canadians had said they were quite happy to have the British E.M.2 rifle provided that they could get an order to supply it? So we would have had standardisation of the Canadian rifle anyway and we would also have had it with the other countries.
§ Mr. Head
As regards the interchange-ability of parts of rifles, as the hon. Member probably knows, it is an offence in the Army to put the bolt from one rifle into the breach of another. The parts of rifles are individually made. Anybody who has learnt on the FN. rifle can fire a Belgian, Canadian or any other FN. rifle. One does not go about in the field changing parts of rifles for the parts of other rifles. That is a military offence.
The hon. Member mentioned the Canadian undertaking. There has been absolute consistency by the Canadians in that they wished to go on to a rifle which there was a reasonable chance that the United States would take, and they have been constant the whole way through on the FN.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the interchangeability of parts as if it were of no importance or was even undesirable.
§ Mr. Stewart
If there was any meaning in what the Secretary of State was saying, he was rejecting the importance that my hon. Friend attached to the interchange-ability of parts. Does the right hon. Gentleman not remember that in our important debate on the rifle some time ago, great emphasis was laid on the interchangeability of parts which, it was said, would accrue from the Government's decision to have the Belgian rifle? He seems to be arguing that interchange-ability of parts can be produced as an important and valuable point if it can be used on the Government side in argument, whereas when it cannot be used in that way the right hon. Gentleman writes it off.
§ Mr. Head
We are having a long debate, and I do not want to speak indefinitely. The hon. Member has made his point. The protagonists of the two rifles will never come together. They are like Catholics and Protestants; they are absolutely determined in their support of their respective views. But I have been carefully into this question with the small arms experts in the War Office, and the question of interchangeability is not a matter of vital importance. The vital importance in this matter is that a man who has learnt to use the FN. rifle and can fire it is equally capable of firing one that is manufactured in Canada, in Australia or in Belgium. The technique is known—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I do not see how any point of order can possibly arise, but I will listen to it.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That is not a point of order. The hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) will be given an opportunity of speaking later. He had no right to raise that as a point of order, knowing full well that it was not one.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I understand that the hon. Member wishes to speak later. If he keeps on interrupting, he will not be called.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Is this a Ruling that you are now giving us, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that if an hon. Member interrupts he will not be called? If so, could we be told what is the quota of interruptions necessary to prevent a Member being called?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am here to try to keep order, and I will do it to the best of my ability. The hon. Member is asking me to give a Ruling on something which is quite impossible, but I hope we will have an orderly debate. Hon. Members should not go on interrupting each other like that.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I fully appreciate that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I fully accept that you are here to keep order, but if you are introducing a new Ruling, it would be as well if we understood what was meant by it. I therefore ask, with respect, whether if an hon. Member, on any side of the House, feels that he has been misrepresented and, in natural indignation and heat, makes a number of interruptions, it then follows that he is to be denied the right of speaking at a later stage in the debate.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
When that situation arises, I shall judge on it. I cannot possibly judge on it in advance.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I very much appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's courtesy. This is what he said, answering me, on 1st February, 1954:It ought to have dawned on the hon. Gentleman that, if the Government had two rifles in an Army, it would mean two different lots of spare parts. That makes a difference."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st February, 1954; Vol. 523, c. 97.]Now, the right hon. Gentleman says that it does not make a difference.
§ Mr. Head
I am very glad that I gave way to the hon. Member. If ever anybody was bowled a half volley, that was it. The two different lots of spare parts were the spare parts of the E.M.2 and of the FN. For the hon. Member to compare a statement about one rifle of exactly the same type drawn in inches and in millimetres with a remark which was made about the E.M.2 and the FN., is quite ludicrous. The hon. Member ought to know that.
§ Mr. Head
We all want to go to bed tonight, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East does too.
On the question of aircraft, I particularly wish to mention—and I hope I shall not be treading on the toes of any of my hon. Friends—that to an ever increasing extent in the future, the aircraft will play a more and more important and intimate rôle in the Army's structure and organisation. That belief underlies any consideration of the future of the Army.
It is in three rôles that aircraft will play their main part. The first is in air trooping. One of the preoccupations of a Secretary of State for War must be that the standards of the aircraft used in air trooping remain up-to-date and efficient.
202 As aircraft get more and more expensive, there will always be a problem that types and methods in air trooping fall behind current civilian practice; and that is undesirable.
Some progress has been made in that respect. In the coming spring, Viscounts will come into service on certain routes for air trooping. In addition, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Supply recently announced to the House, the Government have decided to buy three Britannias, Mark II, for operation by the independent air operators, and they will come into Service use for air trooping as well.
§ Mr. Head
They will be operated in the same field. Both of these acquisitions will not merely improve air trooping, but in emergency will be a valuable adjunct to the strategic air lift. The strategic air lift, which now is equivalent to a lift of about one brigade, will itself be improved also by the gradual re-equipment of Transport Command. It will be still further strengthened by the introduction of the Beverley Baxter. [Laughter.] No, my hon. Friend the Member for South-gate (Sir B. Baxter) is not here and there was no intention of making a bad joke. I meant, of course, the Beverley Blackburn. This is probably the best large freighter aircraft in the world today. It will take 94 men with their equipment. Twenty-four have been ordered and eight will be in service this year. In addition, it is a most valuable means of evacuating casualties. The prospects of the strategic airlift are good.
The next matter that I would mention is the part which fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters would play in the supply and administration of the Army, especially in war. As the House knows, we are starting an experimental unit to study techniques. The unit opens in April, and I hope that some hon. Members will wish to go to see it. Our policy, and we are being loyally supported in this by the Royal Air Force, is to introduce as much air transport and air administration into the Army, as quickly as possible, but there are considerable difficulties.
The first is that the medium helicopter which carries a higher load has presented 203 some very considerable difficulties in development, both in the United States and in this country. Furthermore, it is a very expensive aircraft. There are, however, very good prospects as well in the conventional, fixed-wing aircraft such as the Pioneer or a development of the Pioneer type, which can land in a very restricted space. I have flown in a Pioneer in Malaya. It is astonishing in what a small space they can come down. There are very promising developments going on in this respect. Whether the future of this technique of supply and evacuation in the Army lies with fixed-wing aircraft or with helicopters, or with a combination of both, I do not know, but I assure the House that the War Office is absolutely united on the need to bring them in as early as possible and on the dependence of the Army on this form of assistance in any war of the future.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Gentleman surely knows that we have a Parachute brigade and a Territorial Army Parachute division. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will leave me alone for a moment. After all, he no doubt will have an opportunity to make a speech.
I now come to the last fence. I should like to say a word or two on the future policy of the Army and about the organisation of formations. At least I know that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) will have waited patiently for this, because it is a matter in which he is particularly interested.
What is the task of the Army in the future? As I suggested at the start of my speech, it must have great versatility. It must be capable of fighting a nuclear war and a conventional war, and of taking part in the kind of operations which 204 are now going on in Malaya and Kenya. If one considers first the requirements of a nuclear or atomic war, the point that was mentioned many times in the debate on defence was the need to eliminate to the maximum extent what many hon. Members called a "clutter" behind the Army.
An Army of the last war is now desperately vulnerable, because of what I might call the long tube of administration which is behind it consisting of large fixed depots, of ports, of masses of vehicles and large headquarters. Something drastic must be done about this. We have worked out in the War Office a new organisation for what one might term the nuclear formations. That is to say, it is an organisation in which one has been quite ruthless in eliminating everything which will add to the administrative clutter.
Starting from the front, the man himself must be lightly equipped. His weapon system and the weapon system of all fighting units must be simplified, because diversity of types means an increase in administrative effort and complexity behind. In addition, it is obvious that the number of vehicles must be reduced drastically. That means, quite apart from simplification of weapons, that the soldier can no longer go to war with the standard of living with which he has been to war in the past. That has got to go.
In addition, headquarters must not only be reduced in number but must be abolished wherever possible. Large dumps and depots are sitting ducks in this type of warfare. They must be eliminated by dispersion and the maximum use of local resources—a matter which is now being gone into in Europe. Ports cannot be relied upon. To overcome that, we are carrying out reconnaissances of very small ports and sheltered anchorages. It is our aim to introduce air transport, not at once but in the future, to the maximum extent in the whole of the administrative and supply system, because that will give flexibility and the power of switching and a reduction in the number of vehicles on the road. Vehicles themselves must be occupied to the full extent of capacity and in the development of cross-country vehicles there are very good signs.
This kind of formation has been drawn up. Two formations in Germany have 205 been earmarked and, during the next training season, will become experimental formations. They will try out this very drastic revision of the organisation and see how it works. We have had a good go at it, but it would be folly to change the organisation of the whole Army until we have studied the results. I hope that some hon. Members will see the results for themselves, because I have sent out invitations to hon. Members to visit the formations sometime in August or September. This review will be of great significance and of great importance to the Army. It is a really drastic review in which radical changes have been made.
Hon. Members may say, "These changes may suit the nuclear age, but what about the other duties of the Army?" We have already said that there must be versatility. It so happens that when one compares the requirements of Malaya with what we are doing for nuclear units, one finds that they are not divergent but to a large extent complementary. One finds that the requirements of the air-transportable, lightly equipped men one employs in the cold war and in infiltration and so on are very much the same as one would require for the nuclear formations. In that respect, I have very high hopes that the versatility required of the British Army can be maintained. Indeed, already we have reached the stage where large quantities of normal, conventional weapons are abandoned in jobs like those done in Malaya and Kenya, and men are not trained in the use of them until the units are back in an area where they are needed.
I have tried to explain the position of the Army today and what it is planned to do in the future. I have said nothing about the Army itself, but I have written something in my Memorandum relating to the Army Estimates which I hope some hon. Members have read. I feel that some hon. Members, and indeed the Press, often get a rather misleading view of the Army. Hon. Members receive many letters from disgruntled men called up for National Service, but there are some 200,000 National Service men and there are bound to be a few disgruntled men among them.
§ Mr. Head
Oh, no. The people who are inclined to make news are those who 206 do not get on, or who misbehave. They are the ones who catch the eye of the Press. The side of the Army in this country which we see in this way is the least convincing and the least glamorous. But if hon. Members in this House had been able to see the active Army on the job in Malaya, in Kenya, in the Middle East and in Germany, as I have been able to see it, they would have a great deal of admiration for its efficiency and for what it does.
I claim none of the credit for that. The credit belongs to the Army, and it is not the job of the Secretary of State to seek either political popularity or public esteem. Indeed, if he seeks it it will be most unlikely that he will get it. It is his job not to be gun-shy of sniping at him by hon. Members or by the Press, but to take note of the well-aimed shots which are the true ones and not to worry too much about the others; to concentrate on his job which is primarily to see that the Army gets a square deal and the public gets good value for money; to see that the Army's size is not cut below the minimum for the safe defence of the country; and to make a full contribution to the defence effort as a whole.
So far as I am able within my limited capacity, I have tried to do something to achieve that. I feel that someone in my position does a better job if he is not so much Secretary of State for War as Secretary of State against war.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
With the exception of the skirmish which the right hon. Gentleman had with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and the small arms engagement with my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), I do not think the right hon. Gentleman could complain of the reception given to his speech of one hour and 15 minutes, which was favourably listened to but not so favourably received.
I had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would have told us a little more about the nuclear side of the Army's preparations. He left that to the last, to what I thought was the more exciting part of his speech, and it may be, of course, that he himself knows very little about it. It is interesting to hear that we are for the first time going to get some of the "know-how" on the "Corporal" weapon from our American Allies.
§ Mr. Bellenger
It follows that if we are going to adopt a weapon we are going to get the "know-how." This is the first time that the British Army has had any "know-how" on that level from our American Allies about the progress that has been made by the United States in atomic weapons.
Last year during the exercise "Battle Royal" in Germany, several hon. Members went from this House as guests at General Gale's headquarters, and we saw there the 280 millimetre American guns which are also atomic weapons. It was difficult to follow the briefing given from time to time by staff officers to hon. Members. Although we had an opportunity of looking at the 280 millimetre gun, nevertheless no one in the British Army seemed to know much about it. Although I have very little knowledge of it, I thought that that gun was on the way out. First, it seems to me that if there is any sitting target from the air that weapon is it. It is 84 feet long and weighs 84 tons. I am bound to admit it is an easily manœuvrable weapon and a wonderful piece of machinery.
I should like to say this, in passing, to the right hon. Gentleman. I wonder whether he or his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State could tell us whether a staff directorate has been set up at the War Office to study nuclear weapons, some of which, as the right hon. Gentleman told us this afternoon, are to be adopted by the British and other N.A.T.O. armies.
On the question of information for hon. Members, a speech was made last week during the debate on the Navy Estimates by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) which I am bound to echo this afternoon. In any discussion of Service Estimates today, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are to a large extent in the dark, and I believe that even staff officers in the British Army and other N.A.T.O. armies have very 208 little opportunity to study weapons, which we have been told by the Deputy Commander for S.H.A.E.F. will be used if aggression takes place in Europe.
It is not the slightest good the right hon. Gentleman coming to the House today and telling us at the tail end of his speech about the preparations which are being made for the use of these atomic weapons unless the Army is trained in the use of them. So I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to get all the information he can from the Americans, who undoubtedly have made much more progress in this matter than we have.
I have referred to a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln, and I wish it were possible for this House to take the steps which he recommended in that speech and set up a Committee which could be given valuable information under pledge of secrecy. That would enable hon. Members on both sides of the House to assess the proper value of Ministers' statements.
This afternoon I want to sketch the strategic and tactical position as I see it. We have got to use the material that we have available to us, and that contained mostly in what the right hon. Gentleman said this afternoon and, up to a certain point, in the informative Memorandum which he has issued. The whole picture is drawn by the Ministry of Defence, and the Services have got to fit into that jigsaw puzzle.
But it is interesting to note that when it comes to a matter which is primarily an Army matter, namely, the disbanding of Anti-Aircraft Command, it is the Minister of Defence who comes to this House and, with a metaphorical wave of the hand, cancels that Command, which is really part of the Army. I should have thought that the Secretary of State for War would have told the House about it. It may be only a coincidence, but this momentous decision was made after the change of Minister at the head of the Ministry of Defence from Field Marshal Lord Alexander to the right hon. Gentleman who now holds the position.
It was apparent to hon. Members on both sides of the House that Anti-Aircraft Command was nothing more than a facade in home defence. Yet millions of pounds were being spent on maintaining that very expensive Command in both manpower and weapons. I think we are 209 entitled to be suspicious of this incident. It may be a coincidence that we had at the Ministry of Defence then, a field marshal susceptible to the Service point of view. Obviously there was in the War Office a reluctance to do away with that Command. It may be for that reason that Anti-Aircraft Command was kept in being much longer than it ought to have been. I do not want to probe too deeply into that subject. I mentioned it only to show that in spite of all the right hon. Gentleman's fine words this afternoon, there are vacant spaces in his speech which ought to be filled.
First I shall try to penetrate the somewhat indefinite assessment of the advisers of the Secretary of State. As any right hon. Gentleman who has been in charge of a Service Department knows, many staff officers are trained rigidly to conform to rigid rules. This is often highly desirable in battle but it tends to produce a static type of mind. For example, there was the controversy which raged for years in the Navy about the dreadnoughts, and rages now I believe, about the aircraft carriers. I do not believe that the advisers of the Secretary of State have as flexible minds in this modern type of warfare as they ought to be able to bring to bear in assisting the right hon. Gentleman to come to a right decision. And whatever decisions he makes, he is taking a risk—whether he places more reliance on nuclear or conventional weapons or on a conventional Army.
We concede to the right hon. Gentleman the importance of the maintenance of a conventional Army because it is obvious to anybody who has studied the warfare in which we have been engaged since the last war that a so-called conventional Army is vitally necessary to deal with a conventional situation. It cannot do any more than that, because, if it came to open aggression, that would involve us in conditions far beyond the scope of these Army Estimates.
What has the right hon. Gentleman got to prepare for? As I see it, the situation resolves itself into three parts. First, there could be aggression in Europe by a conventional attack. It might consist of an eruption of forces in East Germany which, never let us forget, under Soviet control, are fairly well armed, and not only with small arms either. As I say, it might occur by an eruption of those forces into 210 West Germany. That is what I would call the conventional attack, and under those circumstances the attack could be held by a conventional Army. Of course, if the attack was with nuclear weapons, the situation would be changed, and no preparations that the right hon. Gentleman has in view would deal with it adequately.
The second point which the Minister has to bear in mind is aggression elsewhere in the world, such as we have had in Korea. Obviously that should only be met by conventional warfare because, once nuclear warfare is launched, the pot is boiling and it does not just stay so. Lastly there is cold warfare everywhere at all times.
Let us take the second case. Here it would be possible, I believe, with a properly equipped and trained conventional Army, to hold the situation while diplomatic channels were used. Never let us forget that if diplomatic channels had been able to operate in time, the First World War would not have occurred. After all, it was started by a minor incident, the murder of an Archduke.
No doubt, there was a much more important and insistent policy behind that assassination; nevertheless, in these days, I believe that the diplomatic channels can operate if only some sort of peace can be kept. It was evident, listening to the Foreign Secretary this afternoon that he is of the same opinion. Also the classic exponents of warfare—for example, Clausewitz, who is still worth reading today—explain that war is only the following on of diplomatic negotiations which have failed. Therefore I have come to the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman is right when he stresses the necessity for conventional forces.
What does that mean? It means not National Service troops but, in the main, Regular forces. Therefore, it would be well worth the right hon. Gentleman's while, even if it means a greater expense, to consider whether it is not possible to recruit that Regular Army which the right hon. Gentleman told us today would result in the saving of 100,000 men who could be turned on to productive effort—although he did not tell us the size of the Regular Army he wants.
Here I shall diverge for a moment to deal with a subject which has not been mentioned in the Memorandum or by 211 the right hon. Gentleman in his speech. It is a matter which is an important part of every Service Ministry, namely, psychological counter-attacks. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) will know well the value of the psychological weapon during the last war. I believe that we have dropped its use today to a large extent, although, of course, there are the intelligence and counterintelligence services.
The use of the psychological weapon can be a potent help to the Army, and it does not cost much manpower or, comparatively speaking, much money. I regret very much, therefore, that the Government have pared down the expenditure on the B.B.C. Overseas Services. The dividends that would be produced by that expenditure would far outweigh the effect of many things which the right hon. Gentleman thinks are necessary now in manpower and weapons. I will give the House one simple illustration.
There is the matter of German rearmament as it is called. I do not want to discuss the pros and cons of that, but why have we allowed the Russian Communist propaganda machine to give the impression, by stressing German rearmament continually, almost ignoring that those in the Eastern Zone of Germany have no clean hands in this matter? All our debates, and the division of opinion in this country, in France and in many other countries, turn on the question of whether the rearmament of Germany is a moral thing or not.
If it is a moral thing for N.A.T.O. countries to protect themselves against aggression, it is just as moral for Germany to take a hand in protecting her homeland against aggression. Put in that form, the argument might assume different proportions, but what have we done about it? Comparatively little. We have allowed the Soviet propaganda machine to get away with it.
The right hon. Gentleman may not want to say too much on that point, so I am only suggesting that he should not overlook the value of this secret weapon, if I may so describe it. The right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of Defence should look into the effect of this weapon because, here again, I believe that our American Allies are much more advanced in those methods than we are.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
At the beginning of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman complained that the Minister of Defence had made an announcement about Anti-Aircraft Command which should have come from the Secretary of State for War. Would he not agree that all he has just been saying, which is important and interesting, really concerns the Minister of Defence and should not be answered by the Secretary of State for War?
§ Mr. Bellenger
Yes, in the main that is so, but obviously the Army will have to operate a part of psychological warfare, and I am calling the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to it, because he said nothing about the subject to us, in the absence of the Minister of Defence, who, obviously, will have to co-ordinate inter-Service methods.
Let us come to the kernel of the situation. As I see it, the right hon. Gentleman has to build deterrent forces which our enemies will recognise as being sufficiently strong so as not to be ignored with impunity. That is what I might call the active army. Secondly, he has to ensure the defence of the home base, because I think that on him and his troops, whatever the Home Office may do about Civil Defence, will fall the ultimate responsibility if we are ever attacked in this country with nuclear weapons.
In the earlier part of his speech the right hon. Gentleman admitted that he would like a highly-trained and sufficient Regular Army. He has never told us, nor has any other Secretary of State ever told us, what the size of that Army should be. I have ventured my opinion before in the House and I will do so today; and it is that it should be 250,000 Regulars, all ranks.
It is interesting to note, when we consider the difficulty of recruiting this Regular Army, what the War Office Publicity adviser, Mr. Sidney Rogerson, wrote in "The Times" yesterday. It surprised me. He wrote that whatever publicity we do to recruit Regular troops this fact remains constant:The only certain moral is that each year between 25,000 and 35,000 will be willing to accept the Army as a career irrespective of any pressure from publicity, patriotism, or even Peace Pledge campaigns, irrespective also of whether there is widespread unemployment or full employment, or whether the Army is the 213 120,000 voluntary one of the 1900s or the 450,000 voluntary-cum-national service Army of today.If that is correct, I should have thought that it might be possible for the right hon. Gentleman over a period of years to build up a Regular Army which would relieve the burden on the National Service men. It is true that it might cost more money. On the other side of the balance sheet, it is true that he would lose National Service men, but those National Service men would go into productive work in this country, and we are told by all sorts of authorities that unless Britain can keep up its steady progress in production the time will come when we may not be able to maintain our Services as they are today.
I merely put that before the right hon. Gentleman, and pose it as a question which I think he ought to answer. It is not sufficient for him to come here and give the stock answers of his military advisers. We have heard them time and again. I am bound to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I do not think he will be able to build up that Regular Army, even if the facts which I have read to the House are true, on the present system of periods of engagement for the Regular Army. I do not believe that the 22-year period, with breaks at three-yearly intervals, or even the three-year short period of service will give him the Regular Army that he wants.
Certainly it will not produce the type of non-commissioned officer and warrant officer which the Army needs. I am fortified in this view by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, who has devoted a great deal of study to the question, and who cannot be brushed off by the right hon. Gentleman merely because he has intervened and said that the Secretary of State ought to go. Many of us on this side of the House think that not only the Secretary of State but the whole Government ought to go.
I have given a figure of 250,000 for the Regular Army. Of course, it is not enough merely to think of a figure and then to advance it to the House. Might I, therefore, offer some evidence of what such a Regular Army could do and what it has done in the past? We had four Regular divisions, which formed the British Expeditionary Force, in 1914. There was no strategic reserve in those 214 days—just four divisions in this country. They formed the British Expeditionary Force, and they held up the whole of the right wing of the Kaiser's armies and stopped his armies from getting the Channel ports.
§ Mr. Bellenger
In 1939, the expeditionary force consisted of the same number of divisions. The so-called "Contemptible Army," as the Kaiser referred to it, proved itself, although, I am afraid, at terrible cost in casualties, to be an Army fit to challenge the highly-trained Army which the Kaiser was able to put into the field against it. That "contemptible little Army" proved its worth, and I believe that if the right hon. Gentleman has to build up a conventional Army today he must revert to that system.
He may say, of course, "We had unemployment in those days, which was the recruiting officer"; although he may not say that because of its damaging effect to his own party. But according to Mr. Rogerson, his own publicity adviser, throughout the years, at any rate since 1920, we have had this constant recruitment of 25,000 to 35,000 men whatever happened in the way of unemployment or full employment.
Of course, the four divisions which we have in Germany today are in effect the British expeditionary force. We have agreed, by Treaty, to keep them there. They are the forces at the right spot to deal with any act of aggression coming from those quarters. Indeed, I still believe that the main theatre of war, if it should come, will be Europe. That has proved to be the case in two world wars through which many of us have lived, and if we go back further into history we will find other examples.
There are other factors involved, I know. The right hon. Gentleman may remind us that in 1914 we had the Indian Army. That is true, but we are not entirely without allies today. We have a magnificent brigade of Gurkhas who can still give a good account of themselves in Britain's battles, or, as I like to term them, the world's battles. We also have an Ally whom we did not have in 1914 because, mobilised under N.A.T.O., we 215 have the Turkish Army, probably consisting of 24 well-trained and well-equipped divisions. On our right flank we have Greece, with no mean Army, and we have Yugoslavia, too, as far as we can judge—an Army and a nation which in two world wars has proved that it can fight. And if it comes to war, we want allies who can fight.
Last of all, we have something which we never had before—the U.S.A. divisions in Europe. I suggest that the situation is not as bad as the right hon. Gentleman's military advisers perhaps make out to him. They do that, I think, in order to bolster up their own preconceived ideas. Last year it was a question of the commitments. This year the commitments have gone, but they still want the men. That is not quite good enough. Those arguments are not likely to convince Her Majesty's Opposition or the trade unions, on whose good will the right hon. Gentleman is dependent if he is to maintain National Service in its present form.
Let us take the commitments. Last year the right hon. Gentleman published, with his Memorandum, a very useful map. He did not publish one this year because the picture would have shown a remarkable change. I have the map here. Let us consider the picture which it showed, because we do not intend to take the right hon. Gentleman's own assessment of the situation. We must be convinced of the situation if we are to give him what he is seeking in the Estimates.
This map shows the disposition of our forces all over the world. There was then one brigade in Trieste—and that has now gone. There were two divisions and one brigade in the Canal Zone, now in the process of going, with the exception of one division, which the right hon. Gentleman says he will re-deploy in Cyprus and Libya. There were 20,000 British troops in Korea and Japan. I do not know how many are there now, but I think that that commitment has considerably shrunk. On top of all that he told us last year that in this country there were 11⅔ Territorial divisions, elements of the Regular Army and other Reserves.
Now his advisers tell him—unless these 11⅔ Territorial Army divisions are to be disbanded, which is not likely to be the case, because he told us only 15 per cent. would be disbanded—that in addition we 216 are to have troops brought back from overseas stations, from commitments which have now disappeared, and imposed on this country. Why? It is merely to satisfy the demand for what is called a strategic Reserve, which as the right hon. Gentleman rather naïvely said would make service in the Army much more tolerable for families who have been separated.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The strategic Reserve should be for one purpose and for one purpose only. If we are to make life in the Army more tolerable, we must do it irrespective of the strategical or tactical situation. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman how he can do it, and he might take a look at the sister Services, the Navy and the R.A.F. They do not have a period of three years' overseas service. By using aircraft, the R.A.F. is able to make the period much less.
In bringing these troops here and imposing them on the barrack situation—which the right hon. Gentleman has already told us is intolerable—we shall create that very thing, a slumdom, which he deplores. Where will this strategic Reserve be put? I go further; why should it be in this country? If one looks at the map of possible areas of aggression, one will see that the Reserve could just as well be put into areas like Germany, where we are keeping four divisions, and in areas where aggression is likely to take place.
Moreover, if the right hon. Gentleman and others who have spoken in previous debates are right, and we have nuclear warfare, what would be the good of a strategic Reserve piled up here at that time? We should not be able to get it away to where they would be wanted. The right hon. Gentleman should think this out again. He should read, as no doubt he has read, a report by the military reporter which has appeared in "The Times" today. It is about married quarters for the Army.
He will see, if the article is true, that the War Office is seriously concerned about the accommodation problem not only for single soldiers, but for families. The article says that the imposition on already limited quarters of troops returning to this country, will result in some very strange anomalies. Some Service personnel may be turned out of their quarters, and wives who are separated 217 from their husbands who are serving overseas may have to leave their quarters. I will say no more than this about it, that the whole conception, in its present form, of the strategic Reserve being based in this country should be reconsidered.
That brings me to the question of National Service. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that that should not be dealt with in any irresponsible or emotional way. When the subject came up at the Labour Party's Conference last year, no less a person than Mr. Arthur Deakin—who as hon. Members may know is, with all his alleged faults, a responsible and powerful trade union leader—asked the Conference to refer back the various motions and resolutions on National Service, some of them calling for the cessation of conscription, to the National Executive Committee for further discussion.
I have never been enamoured of National Service, yet in 1947 I was one of the Ministers who helped to introduce the first National Service Bill in peacetime. The right hon. Gentleman and other Members of the Government cannot complain at the responsible way in which the Labour Party in all its constituent parts has dealt with this subject since it was introduced in 1947. But the right hon. Gentleman must not ask for a blank cheque, because we shall not sign it.
My opinion is that the period could be reduced. I think that it should be reduced to 18 months. When I was at the War Office, 18 months was considered ample for the training of troops, and their Reserve period was considered ample to keep them up to scratch. Nothing longer than 18 months was ever considered. It was only because of the Korean incident that the period was extended to two years. That incident is not of the same intensity that it once was. I do not say that incidents like it could not break out again. But the right hon. Gentleman told us that we are keeping large numbers of men—50,000 was the figure he gave as the number which would be involved if we reduced the period to 18 months. We should not keep these men unless it is absolutely and vitally necessary.
I could give much evidence which I have investigated myself as to why that period should be reduced, but all I say on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends 218 is this. We demand that the Government shall permit an inquiry into the subject. We do not want to peep behind the scenes to see what is happening in the War Office, but even in the war a committee was set up to consider the utilisation of manpower in the Army, and that was in the days when we needed millions of men and women. Surely it is not too much to ask that a responsible Opposition, such as we are, backed by a responsible Trades Union Congress, should not be denied the opportunity of having this matter properly thrashed out and investigated.
I think that a Select Committee would be the best way of doing that, because with a Select Committee we can ensure at any rate reasonable secrecy, so that security matters would be safeguarded to a large extent. Nevertheless, I say to Her Majesty's Government that this matter will not be allowed to rest, and that this question of the utilisation of our National Service men has to be investigated by somebody outside a Government Department. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he has had quite a number of committees at the War Office. Perhaps the whole trouble has been that he has had too many of them. Let the House have one for a change.
This all links up with something which hon. Members in all parts of the House must admit is undermining the whole purpose and the obligations and guarantees of the National Service Acts. We are not today discussing the R.A.F. Estimates, but in passing I should like to say—and this will no doubt be taken up in the discussion on the R.A.F. Estimates on Thursday—that there we have the deplorable situation disclosed in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). It was that out of 136,000-odd National Service men at the end of December, 1954, fewer than 9,000 had fulfilled their obligations of having training in their period of Reserve Service.
So far as the Army is concerned, it looks as though out of 177,000-odd, only 127,000-odd had whole-time training in 1954. It is obvious that the Reserve situation has got out of hand. That is an illustration of what I have been trying to say, namely, that National Service is not working as it should and that the House is entitled to have the matter properly investigated.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
During the war, a number of my friends in industry made a special investigation into this matter, and I respect the valuable work which they did. Sir George Bailey and Mr. John Little and two or three others carried out this investigation, and put on record what they had to contend with from vested interests in the War Office and in military circles. Is not such a committee of investigation wanted now?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am not at odds with my hon. Friend as to the sort of committee which is needed. I am asking that we should have a committee to provide us with the appropriate information which, so far, we have not received from the right hon. Gentleman. We have had from him a series of assertions, but there is no real factual evidence to show that the Army in its present form needs as many men as he is asking for.
Let us look at Anti-Aircraft Command, to which I have already referred. The situation there is nothing short of a scandal. For 10 years after the war we kept in service weapons which hon. Members who know anything about Anti-Aircraft Command will know were nothing more than popguns, peashooters, against the high-flying, speedy jet aircraft with which we should have had to contend in the event of aggressionin the last few years. Those 3.7 guns or 4.5 guns would have been useless against attack by high-flying, speedy aeroplanes.
Yet the Army blandly kept that Command in being, and only when we had a change of Defence Ministers was that Command dismantled. And how was the Command dismantled? The right hon. Gentleman may have qualms about it, because, in a moment, to tell the largest part of the Territorial Army that they can go home or be utilised in other occupations is just the same as industry firing its redundant men; and industry today knows that it cannot dismiss a large number of men without taking them into its confidence and trying to find for them proper opportunities of being employed elsewhere.
I regret to say I suspect that we shall lose the services of a large number of those men and women who were in Anti-Aircraft Command and who bore the heat and burden of the day. I say that without fear of contradiction. Let hon. Gentlemen opposite who have had real 220 experience of the Territorial Army deny it. Let the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) or the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) tell us something about the dismantling of that Command which took place in a night. I think that it should have been done with more consideration for the service which these men and women have valiantly given, and would have been prepared to continue to give, but may not be prepared to give under the conditions of alternative employment which the right hon. Gentleman is offering to them.
I do not know the size of that Command, I can only suspect, and I suspect that many thousands will be involved. In answer to a Question, the right hon. Gentleman told me that 30 per cent. of them would be maintained for antiaircraft purposes. I think that figure has dropped somewhat, and I can only assume that the dispersal of the rest involves a considerable army in itself. I think that the right hon. Gentleman should be condemned for allowing such a situation to blow up.
There is one other matter, that is our home defence. I put this problem into two parts, the active Army, and the defence of the home base. Is there any defence of the home base today? I wonder. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Supply told us something which seemed to me to be rather startling.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman was being questioned by hon. Members on this side of the House, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) asked him this question:Is it not true that in the White Paper the Government have declared that our aircraft are capable, in the event of night attack, of putting up a performance better than any other defensive aircraft in the world?The right hon. and learned Gentleman replied:That is most certainly true."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1955; Vol. 537, c. 879.]Pressed to say whether it was better than the American defence system, he went on to say that of course it was—but not in that language.
I am not an expert on matters of defence by night fighters. I can only go by what I read in different journals. I was interested to note that in "The 221 Times" there appeared this report from the Washington correspondent.Mr. Selwyn Lloyd's statement in the House of Commons last week that Britain's night fighters were—as the Government White Paper had already claimed—superior even to their American counterpart, has occasioned here a few derisive, though unofficial snorts.I wonder whether those who snorted are so wide of the mark? Is that what we call the defence of the home base today? Is that all we have, with the dismantlement of the obsolescent Anti-Aircraft Command?
The right hon. Gentleman himself may not remember, but the Minister of Defence certainly will remember the attacks which used to be made on the Chamberlain Government by the present Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman who is now, I think, the Minister of Housing and Local Government. In those days, they alleged that the defence of this country against Hitler's bombers was practically negligible. And so it appeared at the beginning of the war; we know it now.
Although the situation may not be so serious today, I assert that we have very little real defence against the bomber—and I am not talking about the nuclear bomber—which, of course, will always get through. I do not say that the Anti-Aircraft Command would have given us that defence, but I do say that this twin problem of aeroplane defence—fighter defence if hon. Members like—and ground-to-air missiles, guided or otherwise, should have long been thought out; that we should have had in production something which would offer some hope. I doubt whether today we have anything in the way of ground-to-air guided missiles or otherwise. That, as I see it, is the situation. Let the right hon. Gentleman or any other right hon. Gentleman deny it if they can.
We are told something about weapons in the Memorandum. I do not propose to get involved in an FN. rifle engagement today. I will leave that to my hon. Friends who know far more about it than I do—at any rate, they were more recently at the War Office than I was. But I wish to say something about another statement of the right hon. Gentleman. In paragraph 53 of the Memorandum, he saysThe main weapons for which we shall have to make provision in the immediate future are the Conqueror tank, the L70 light anti-aircraft gun. the FN. rifle and the new sub-machine gun.222 I take it that the new sub-machine gun is what used to be known as the Patchett gun and is now called the Sterling gun.
If we can judge from recent Press statements, that is the weapon to replace the Sten gun. I have shot one of these guns, and it is a handy weapon. It is interesting to note that it was developped from an original German weapon, or at any rate, a German pattern. It has been brought to a pitch which the Army considers to be very fine, because the Army has accepted this sub-machine gun as the weapon to replace the Sten gun.
That is all very well, but how many Sten machine guns are there in the Army? I do not know, but I will hazard the guess that there are about 500,000. There were about 2 million during the war. According to Press statements, the factory which is making the Sterling gun is manufacturing it at the rate of 250 a week, and hopes to increase its output to 1,000 a week at some period this year. Moreover, this weapon has been accepted by certain other N.A.T.O. countries as the weapon they want.
If the right hon. Gentleman is seriously telling us that the Army is going to adopt this weapon in place of the Sten gun because it is the best machine gun, why does not he work at greater speed? When does he think that the Army will finally be equipped with these weapons? I do not suppose that the first order of 50,000 has been made. If the Minister of Supply were here he might be able to tell us. In mentioning these facts, I am merely trying to show the House that all is not such plain sailing as the Secretary of State would have us believe.
I now wish to refer to the Conqueror tank. I think that it is a very good piece of armament. It is a very heavy tank—heavier than the Centurion, which is a good tank. But during the exercise "Battle Royal" not one Centurion tank did I see off the roads. If the Conqueror tank is to be produced in large numbers, I believe that it will become immobilised in the type of warfare which is visualised in the right hon. Gentleman's Memorandum. No doubt this weapon is very useful for a strong point, but I do not think that the type of warfare we shall see in the future needs large numbers of Conqueror tanks. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman does not mean to order large numbers; perhaps he is 223 merely putting a few in his shop window, just as was done with the 3.7 anti-aircraft gun before the war.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
The right hon. Gentleman said that he had never seen a Centurion tank off the roads. I do not know what he means by that.
§ Mr. Bellenger
That they are not mobile. They were either brought up on the carriers or were on the metalled roads themselves. The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) must know that these Centurion tanks, to say nothing of the Conqueror tanks, will not be able to move in ploughed-up areas unless they can keep to the roads.
§ Mr. Head indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Bellenger
If the Secretary of State says that I am wrong, perhaps he will tell me in what way. He knows a great deal about armoured warfare from the last war.
I think it is a fact that except, in the desert campaigns, these tanks had to keep to the roads. [HON MEMBERS: "No."] Some may have gone across country when it was dry, but it is not always possible to fight one's battles in dry country. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman does not require large numbers of these tanks. The Navy has decided that it is not going to have so many battle cruisers and battleships, but will depend more upon speedier and lighter, although powerful, armaments.
§ Mr. Head
The Centurion tank is one for which we have a considerable market. It has a very great reputation, and I should not like anything said against it to go by default. The reason that the right hon. Gentleman saw these tanks on the roads during manœuvres was probably because they were trying to avoid damage to the crops. These tanks can go all over the place, in frightful conditions, and it is entirely misleading to suggest that they are in any way roadbound in a country like Germany.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The right hon. Gentleman may be right: that may be why I saw these tanks mainly on roads.
But he has said himself that the whole essence of any future warfare, if nuclear 224 weapons are used, is dispersal and not concentration. In that case these tanks will have to get off the roads, and I still doubt whether they will be able to do it in circumstances which I have outlined. However, that is my opinion, and if the right hon. Gentleman can show me why we should have large numbers of these Conqueror tanks, I shall be prepared to listen to him.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes rose—
§ Mr. Bellenger
I should like to give way to my hon. Friend, but there are many hon. Members who wish to speak after me. I have dealt with various features of the Estimates, and there are obviously many other matters connected with them into which we could and should probe, but I do not believe that Front Bench speakers should monopolise the time of the House in these debates. Obviously, speaking for their party, they are expected to say quite a lot, and they are probably put there to do so because they know a good deal about their subject. That is not to under-estimate the knowledge which many hon. Members on the bank benches on both sides of the House will have to contribute to the debate.
I have tried to pin-point only a few of the outstanding features of our Army. I do not want to create any alarm or despondency. The right hon. Gentleman can never allege that against me or, indeed, against my party in the main, because the Labour Government, with all the faults which the right hon. Gentleman can attribute to them, did accomplish many good things for the Services—not least the housing loan which my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) passed through Parliament, and which is now alleviating much of the distress which was caused to married families in the Army in the past.
I do not think it is necessary to assure the House—although I do so—that we are just as concerned as the right hon. Gentleman with recruiting forces which will act not only as deterrents against war, but which, if we are involved in war, will give as good an account of themselves as our Armies, Navies and Air Forces have done in the past. If we attempted to deal with this matter in a partisan way we should rightly stand condemned. I only hope that the House will concede that in 225 all my criticisms I have tried to be constructive. That is the purpose of Her Majesty's Opposition.
The right hon. Gentleman was a persistent critic of the Labour Government when he sat upon these benches. The only thing that I can say about him is that in those days he used to put his points more cogently than he does today—but that is because he has to speak from a brief prepared for him by the War Office. In those days he had to search out his own weapons and his own shot and shell.
§ Mr. Bellenger
That is an allegation which I shall leave my hon. Friend to develop. He probably has more evidence about it than I have. The right hon. Gentleman is a very fluent speaker. I have tried to show that when he was in Opposition he was not only fluent but was sometimes very offensive—to use the term in its military sense—in his attacks, and, looking back now, I would not say that he did not occasionally get a shot or two through our armour. But fine words butter no parsnips, and the right hon. Gentleman must offer us something more than fine words.
Listening to him as I have done on many occasions—not only in debates upon the Army Estimates but in answering Questions—I have the impression that he is often very plausible but not always too precise. I hope that I have raised in the minds of some hon. Members some of the doubts which exist in all parts of the House and which, arising out of the right hon. Gentleman's own words, seem to me to show lack of decision in vital aspects of Army defence. In politics, as well as in war, that is fatal.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Hurd (Newbury)
I want to continue for a few minutes the discussion of National Service in the Army. I welcome what my right hon. Friend said this afternoon, as I welcomed the sentence in the Defence White Paper which put very clearly and in straightforward words the attitude of Her Majesty's Government to National Service. The words in the White Paper were: 226The Government would therefore be failing in their duty were they to propose, at the present time, any reduction in the current period of whole-time National Service.I do not think that any hon. Member would disagree with that view or with the words that were chosen to express it.
As the prospect of our future defence plans grows clearer we should begin to prepare for the day when National Service can be limited and its form altered. The Army is by far the biggest user of National Service men, taking 130,000 out of a total of 198,000. The Navy and the Royal Air Force take their pick, and the Army absorbs the rest. It does not have the opportunity of selecting the men as the other two Services do.
I always think it is a bit unfair when all the criticisms of National Service are levelled at the Army, in distinction to the Royal Air Force and the Navy. It is not at all surprising that we hear complaints about National Service from parents and from the lads themselves about dreary routine and wasted time during National Service in the Army. Industrialists, personnel managers and welfare workers say that some lads have to be reconditioned for civilian life at the end of their National Service in the Army, which taught them to waste time and to watch the clock. The lads had somehow lost the zest for work and the initiative which they had before they went into the Army—
§ Brigadier Christopher Peto (Devon, North)
I am sure that my hon. Friend does not want to represent the Army as a place where generally young soldiers waste their time so that they have to be reconditioned upon returning to civilian life again. That would be a gross misrepresentation
§ Mr. Hurd
I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will allow me to finish my sentence, and make my point. Let me continue. Those about whom we hear complaints are the small minority. The Secretary of State takes that view, and I share it, but let me repeat for the benefit of my hon. and gallant Friend who interrupted me that I do not blame the Army, because they have to take all sorts of men whereas the other two Services have their pick. I hope I have put this matter into its proper context.
The great majority of the lads who do their service in the Army gain in stature, 227 particularly if they see service overseas. I had the privilege, and I call it a privilege, of mixing with our National Service men in Malaya last August. I never want a chance of talking to a finer body of young chaps than those who are fighting the battle of freedom in Malaya. I endorse what is written in the Memorandum which the Secretary of State has given us in presenting these Army Estimates, in which he says:Our National Service men as well as our Regular soldiers have distinguished themselves in this tough and demanding type of warfare.Previously he says:Such operations place a great mental and physical strain on the men taking part.Having talked to a few of them, I know that the strain is almost more than some 19-year-old lads should be asked to bear.
I feel, again in the words of the Memorandum, on the subject of Malaya:Although the situation has improved there is no room for complacency, and I cannot yet foresee any reduction in the number of troops committed to operations in Malaya.That is true. We have still a cleaning up job to do there and it may take some years yet. I believe, with the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, that it must be our constant aim to see that the Army gets, by voluntary recruitment, all the men required for N.A.T.O. forces and police jobs in the Empire, in which I include Malaya and Kenya. We must never let up in pursuing that aim.
On the question of terms of service in the Regular Army, not only pay but allowances for wives and children and the married quarters, I have discussed with officers who have had personal cases put to them by men concerned the problem of why more men do not prolong their Regular service in the Army. Time after time it is because a man has either just got married or is just going to get married and his girl does not fancy Army life. She feels that it will mean a broken life, and that the opportunities she will have for enjoying the company of her husband will be all too few. Therefore she says, "If we are to get married let's try to make a job of it. You must come out of the Army."
My right hon. Friend has told us that he puts a high priority upon improving 228 conditions for married men in the Army. I am sure that he is right to do so, and that this House would not grudge the spending generously of public money to put that side of Army life right. If my right hon. Friend has further proposals I believe that the Minister of Defence and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would lend a ready ear, and that the House would give full and ready endorsement to them.
We may be nearer than we think to the day when our National Service training can be for a very short, concentrated period of 14 weeks or so, followed of course by periodical camps to keep men handy and up-to-date with weapons and in their ideas. I mention 14 weeks because that is the period which is in operation in Australia and New Zealand. Those Commonwealth partners have promised to give us more help in Malaya.
I discussed the Australian defence contribution with Members of Parliament in Canberra in September. I found they had no idea that we had two years' conscription in Britain. They have just 14 weeks, which does not give an opportunity for much more than to get into uniform and get handy with weapons. There is no attempt to maintain a standing reserve with national service men.
Through their Prime Ministers, those countries have recently declared their willingness and determination to help us further in the defence of South-East Asia, particularly in Malaya. I welcome that very much. No doubt they will do it by improving the terms of service of their Regulars rather than, as we have done, by prolonging the period of conscription so as to provide from conscripts men who are expected in normal times to do police jobs in the Empire. I believe that Australia and New Zealand will somehow or another get the extra men they have promised to put into the Empire defence pool by improving the terms of service for volunteers.
To return to our problem in Britain, I have always felt, as, I suppose, have most hon. Members, unless they have actually served in the War Office, that the mind of the War Office is apt to run in a rut. It is so easy, of course, to feel, "Two years' National Service produces the men, so let us leave well alone, "but all is not truly well, either for the War Office, or, in my opinion, for the general public. I 229 believe that the administrative machine of the Army is overloaded because there are too many misfits among the lads doing National Service in the Army. When I say "too many" in the Army, I remind my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto), I mean not the majority but a small minority; but a small minority can be too many.
The House should ask for a fresh review of the training and employment of National Service men in the Army. It is, after all, effective manpower, not only bodies, that are wanted for this job. My right hon. Friend said again today that many problems of the War Office would be simplified if we could rid ourselves of so great a reliance on National Service. I ask the Minister of Defence whether he himself does not think that a fresh look by people outside the War Office into the methods of training and employing National Service men in the Army would be well worth while? I think it would, so that we could be ready to make changes in the system as soon as we can safely lay aside two years' conscription as essential to our defence. I am not an expert in these matters, but I have a feeling that that time may come sooner than any of us can at present foresee.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
Like the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), I should like to approach the Army aspect of this enormously complex defence problem from the angle of National Service. I wish to do so because I think it is apparent from all the speeches that we have heard today that that is what is very much in the mind of the House.
It seemed from the speech of the Secretary of State that what he said on this subject was of some gravity, because I could not regard the implication of his speech as any other than that he was thinking of a two-year term of National Service in perpetuity. That seemed to me a very grave issue to be facing the House and the nation.
§ Mr. Head
I may have given that impression, and until I have read the Report of my speech I cannot say whether I did or not, but it was certainly not the impression I meant to give. The Government have always said that it is their 230 intention to reduce National Service by as much as possible and as soon as possible, but that in the situation which confronts us at the present time we feel we cannot reduce the size of the Army below its present level.
§ Mr. Strachey
I have no doubt that that is the aspiration of the right hon. Gentleman, but the implication of his argument, as I hope to show in a moment, seemed to me quite inescapable, and that was that there would be two years' National Service as far ahead as anyone could see.
That is the more serious because this year, it seemed to me, the situation, technically, of our defences, including the commitments, was unusually favourable to at any rate an attempt to begin the process of reducing the period of National Service. There was the very great saving on commitments, which the Government made, and upon which I congratulate them, and to which the Secretary of State referred, and there was also the nuclear revolution which will inescapably in a few years' time make the kind of Army which we are building today completely anachronistic. So the serious matter seemed to me to be that if we could not look towards a reduction of the period this year in those circumstances the prospect of our ever being able to do so was bleak.
I could follow the arithmetic of the Secretary of State, and it was very interesting. He saved 66,000 men, he told us, by reductions in commitments. A cut of six months in the period of National Service would cost him 50,000 men. Then, on the other hand, there had been a total rundown in the Regular content of the Army of 35,000.Therefore, he could not afford to make any reductions.
That is perfectly true if he thinks in terms of the present Army and the present commitments and the discharging of the present commitments in the present way. But he was the first to say, at the start, that if he could have a Regular long-service Army, a professional Army to deal with the commitments in the present way, and even commitments of the present size—I shall come to that in a moment—he could do it with 100,000 men less. We at once see the possibility of very great savings by way of movements and the rest; but he was right in saying that that in itself would not be enough, 231 because the Regular long-service Army, all experience shows, would not be big enough to do the job even on a more economical basis.
There is no doubt that a reduction in the period of National Service or its virtual abolition as the hon. Member for Newbury said just now, would mean that we should have to have an Army of about half the size of that which is with the Colours today, and if we are even to move far in that direction it seems to me that we shall have to look once again at our commitments. Surely the nuclear revolution which we are all facing in defence gives us an opportunity to do that?
I wish to put some questions to the Secretary of State and to the Minister of Defence that I put in the defence debate. Just as an instance, take this new commitment on which we are embarking, the commitment in Cyprus. There are two commitments in Cyprus from the Army point of view. There is the commitment of Dekalia and the commitment of the Middle Eastern base in another part of the island called Episkopi.
There may be something to be said for the Dekalia base. I admit I have a weak spot for it because it was started when I was at the War Office. It is a very attractive place. I had the pleasure of visiting it with the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinching-brooke) the other day, and a very attractive place it is. There may be something to be said for it if we are to station an armoured division in the Middle East. It is certainly a very nice place to put part of it. I do not doubt that, but what the purpose of that part of it is ought, I think, to be explained to us. In the nuclear age we can use—
§ Mr. Strachey
The Minister of Defence is confusing two things. Dekalia is a station, and he is confusing that with Episkopi. I am trying to clear his mind on that point. Dekalia is a locality, shall we say?
§ Mr. Strachey
We are having a fascinating running commentary from the 232 Minister of Defence. I am not complaining about that, because he is displaying a certain ignorance of topography and military matters which is not damaging to me, but which I think is damaging to him.
The fact is that it is proposed to station half an armoured division at Dekalia. It is a very nice place to put it, and very nice barracks are being constructed there, but it should be explained to the House what the purpose is to be, in cold or hot war terms, of that armoured division in the Middle East. I am extremely doubtful, in the nuclear age, whether an armoured division in the Middle East is serving any Commonwealth or N.A.T.O. purpose in that area. It may be a defensible proposition, but we have not heard a defence of it.
I pass to the other and much larger establishment being built in Cyprus, at Episkopi—a vast headquarters on which£8 million is to be spent, not for stationing any fighting troops there, not for putting any stores there, but as a vast headquarters much more vulnerable than the vast headquarters in the Suez area. The Prime Minister gave very good reasons for evacuating Suez in the nuclear age. And yet we are building at Cyprus this vast base which would be a perfect target for atomic or nuclear attack. What do the Government think we are going to administer there and what do they think we are to command from such a base?
The Secretary of State said some excellent things about the necessity of carrying on future wars without these enormously elaborate headquarters—these elaborate, ganglia of signals, which are, of course, very convenient and which in the past have been thought to be necessities. We must learn to do without them.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
The right hon. Gentleman will agree that, from the point of view of nuclear attack, Episkopi is not much less insecure than Aldershot. Would he not also agree that it is a joint headquarters with the R.A.F.?
§ Mr. Strachey
It is a joint headquarters of all three Services. The noble Lord makes a fair point—that the bases in this country are extremely vulnerable, too.
May I say a word in that connection about the Reserve Army and the strategic Reserve? Is not the real lesson that which the Secretary of State began to 233 mention—that we must learn to do without these nerve centres which can be paralysed by one bomb in any future war? It seems to me to be a very grave thing that we are spending great resources in manpower—because thousands of officers and men are to be in this great base—from our very limited resources in this way.
I merely give the example of Cyprus because I have had the opportunity to see it; and I do so from the view that when we reassess our position in the quite new circumstances of the nuclear age, we see that there are still overseas commitments which are not only extravagant in manpower but no longer serve any useful purpose at all. I therefore believe that in this field also the argument that we cannot meet our commitments unless we carry the load of two years 'National Service in perpetuity begins to break down, because those commitments are seen one by one to be becoming purposeless too. I simply gave the Cyprus example.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey
No one has ever said "in perpetuity." In fact the Secretary of State made it quite clear that he wanted to reduce the period at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. Strachey
We all want to reduce it; I am quite sure of that. But I repeat that unless we make a start fairly soon, if not now, we shall never get a more favourable opportunity. That is the point I am making.
I come to the other overseas commitments and to the overwhelmingly important commitment of N.A.T.O. in Western Europe. There again, surely, the appearance of nuclear warfare has revolutionised the position. We debated last week the whole question of the N.A.T.O. commitments, and all I wish to add today on that subject is that we do not know what kind of aggression, what degree of aggression, we may meet in that area. The Minister of Defence almost said as much in his concluding speech in the defence debate.
I repeat the view which I expressed in that debate—that it is folly to commit ourselves in advance on hypothetical situations. I am quite certain that it would be folly to commit ourselves not to use particular kinds of weapons in particular situations, and equally I believe that it would be folly 234 to commit ourselves to use them, because these situations are unforeseeable.
The great disaster, it seems to me—and I say this with great respect for them—was when the generals and field marshals in N.A.T.O. began to make speeches which appeared to give hard-and-fast commitments about hypothetical situations. I think that the more the Government look at the matter the more they will regret that that has ever been done, and will wish that we should simply revert to the position of building our own deterrent and reserving, as all Governments hitherto have reserved, the question of its use to a particular situation when it arises.
Having said that, I would stress that the whole tendency of warfare in every field—air, land and sea—is to become nuclear and to have nuclear weapons put into it on both sides. I have never attached very great importance to the hypothesis that we might be attacked by the Russians in a major war without their using nuclear weapons. I should have thought that that was a most remote hypothesis which grows more remote almost hourly, because they have tactical nuclear weapons, and I should have thought that they were almost certain to use them if ever they began a third world war. I therefore think that these are all rather remote hypotheses.
But it means, of course, that land warfare is becoming nuclear. I do not ask the Government to tell us much about that, because they could not do so, but I saw in the American Press, for what these unofficial reports are worth, statements that very soon the American forces will be armed with eight-inch howitzers firing fission weapons. If that is anything like remotely true it shows the extent to which the land forces are becoming revolutionised.
Surely if that is true a far more drastic reorganisation of our land forces is necessary than any we have heard about today. It cannot be done in a moment. We should not dream of expecting the Government to have done it. But as far as we can see, they have not begun seriously to think about it—to think about it in an organised way. Surely this revolution points to a far smaller Army, far more of a long-service professional Army, in order to use the gigantic multiplication of firepower which is obviously to be 235 made available to us. It will demand great professional skill in its use but much smaller numbers to use it.
Of course we must have a screen in Europe; no one doubts that. But surely no one doubts that that screen will not be the decisive factor in any future war. The decisive factor would be the exchange of thermo-nuclear weapons by air. There I come to what seemed the least satisfactory part of the speech of the Secretary of State—the part dealing with the Reserve Army and the Territorial Army.
I admit that he has a most terrible problem, but he did not seem to tell us what the purpose of the old form of the Reserve Army would be. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart), my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), and I, knew at the War Office the concept of building up 11 or 12 Reserve divisions in this country which could be sent out one by one to reinforce the screen in Europe. But surely that whole concept must now be a thing of the past.
One has only to think of what the Secretary of State said about ports and bases, and to think of Antwerp—think of the base we are developing there and the remoteness of the possibility of sending troops through Antwerp in any future war. Surely we must be told—and soon—what is the purpose of the Reserve Army today. The Secretary of State began to give a hint in his speech that it was Civil Defence, home defence services. There may be something in that, but that matter requires far more careful thought and discussion today.
I am not denying the need for a screen in Europe, but I am frankly sceptical about this whole conception of land armies using nuclear weapons in Europe. At any rate, our interest in such a battle, if it occurred, would be largely posthumous. I think a military revolution is needed in our thinking, and it must go far deeper than it has so far. It must take account of the fact that the whole Reserve Army, the build-up of which is the underlying purpose of National Service in its present form, needs drastic revision.
I know very well that these questions are much easier to ask than to answer, but we have a right to ask the Government in these Service debates this year 236 to show that they are beginning to face them. Instead—I must call the attention of the House to it again—we have that fatal phrase in the White Paper that:… the thermo-nuclear weapon does not radically alter the rôle of any of the three fighting Services.
§ Mr. Strachey
Each has a contribution to make to the three main aims of our defence policy—to build up the deterrent against aggression, to fight the cold war, and to prepare for a major war in case it should come to that.That does not seem to alter the sense at all
What we want the Government to do is to tell us what that contribution is to be. Of course, each of the fighting Services has a contribution, but we are sure it is going to be a radically different contribution than heretofore. To do the Secretary of State justice, his speech today was in flat contradiction of that sentence in the Defence White Paper, for he began to show that he was giving some thought to this question.
§ Mr. Strachey
No, I would not altogether blame him in not beginning to do anything yet. But the question should be faced, and faced far more drastically.
We ask the Government, in this defence field—which, as the other day they re-emphasised, is of such vital importance—to do far more basic thinking, and to show the House that at any rate they are grappling with the truly terrible problems which face us. I do not deny that they are ghastly problems. But the Government should be showing some sign of realising what is in front of us, and not merely carrying on the Defence Services in the old way because they are afraid to face the revolution in front of them.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
When the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) asks us to do some basic thinking, I must confess that it could be hardly more difficult to do any thinking at all on the two entirely different 237 approaches to the problem by two ex-Socialist Secretaries of State for War. They have really expanded the wish of my right hon. Friend that as soon as possible conscription should be diminished.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ House counted, and, 40 Members being present—
As I was attempting to show, if there be a confusion, the two ex-Secretaries of State for War have made it worse confounded. The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) was of the opinion that tanks were not efficient enough, and the right hon. Member for Dundee, West was of the opinion that tanks were not worth while at all.
§ Mr. Fraser
The right hon. Member was referring to the armoured division in Libya. It is lucky that we have not the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) with us, whose views on defence would seem to lead one either to the position of never firing the atomic bomb, or of building up such an overwhelming force that conscription would have to last in this country for seven or eight years per man. What emerges from the speeches of hon. Members opposite is that at this stage when the atomic bomb as a deterrent is becoming almost obsolescent and when the hydrogen bomb in the hands of the Western Powers is an effective weapon for delivery, we are inevitably in a state of change and revolution.
I must disagree with the right hon. Member for Dundee, West, in all seriousness, when the "Economist" has referred to the White Paper on Defence and the Memorandum accompanying the Estimates as the first real and definite attempt made in this country to try to meet these problems. I believe that newspaper spoke truth. It is extremely difficult at this stage to be absolutely clear on all the things which will have to be done. I think that at this moment it would be extremely dangerous if hon. Members started a hare in the country by saying that the time had come to abolish conscription or to reduce it heavily. At this stage it would be extremely irresponsible and dangerous to our security.
238 I think the rôles declared by my right hon. Friend for the Army might be described as three. First, there is the rôle in the area of probability—there is nothing more one can say than that it is a probable rôle—which may occur or need to be fulfilled by an Army in this period. The first of the three is in the area of what might be called the main deterrent—that is, Europe. I think there is no question but that if there were a major attack by the Soviet Union in Europe there would be a nuclear war. Most people in the House who have read the statements made from N.A.T.O. can make only that interpretation. I believe that that is the right interpretation and that the clearer it is made the greater probable chance there is of peace.
There is, secondly, the area of what one might call the area of war, or of defence by proxy. We have seen it in Indo-China, where the Chinese or the Russians—certainly the Chinese—made war through other people. We have seen it as a defensive rôle in the defensive rôle with which the Americans are helping to defend Formosa. We have seen it in Korea. We have seen these areas, although probably in the future it will not be to the advantage of any major Power to unleash atomic or nuclear warfare. This second area must be an area where a large number of troops would undoubtedly be used.
Let me remind hon. Members that to toy with the question of nuclear warfare as such is an extremely dangerous consideration for the people of this country. I believe that there must be a peripheral area where the minor war, so to speak, might take place.
Thirdly, my right hon. Friend has dealt clearly enough with what one might call the rôle of British troops in an area of subversion, revolt or revolution. It is in these last two peripheral areas—the area in which there might be war by proxy and the area of subversion—that political considerations must be of first importance. Indeed, one part of the White Paper deals with those matters. In these areas, it is more than ever necessary that the totality of factors should be considered.
As regards the wider area in which our bases have an impact upon the situation, everybody will welcome the elaboration of the S.E A.T.O. Pact which my 239 right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has helped in achieving. Secondly, there is the point raised by the right hon. Member for Dundee, West about the armoured division which is stationed, according to the White Paper, either in Libya or, partially, in Cyprus. This country should welcome the Iraki-Turco defence pact, and I believe, therefore, that some time, under the umbrella of a Middle East defence pact, which is necessary and is seen now to be necessary by people in the Middle East, it may be possible that that armoured division might be located in a more strategic position than merely occupying the Libyan sand.
It is mainly the problem of subversion of which I shall endeavour to speak this evening, and I address my remarks chiefly to the Colonial Territories, to Malaya and to Kenya. Subversion, of course, can take many forms. It need not necessarily be Communist. Indeed, I feel certain that the rulers of the Kremlin, so long as their revolt shows some measure of success, remove as far as possible any contact with the revolt, otherwise there would be embarrassment for them and, possibly, to those engaged in the subversion. But in the minds of those who are trying to win the cold war against us, there must be two special areas: the Colonial Territories, where they believe there is a chance for upsetting our rule, and secondly, the vital area of the Middle East oilfields, which today produce 20 per cent. of the world's oil and which contain some 60 per cent. of the world's reserves.
This period of transference of power by this country to the colonial peoples is not necessarily a period of peace. It does not necessarily follow that because power is being handed out by the present Government as it was by the previous Government, and because people are being encouraged more and more to govern themselves, that necessarily ensures a period of peace. It is all the more important that in these new Constitutions we and the Crown should retain to ourselves the powers of defence and of the police force until such time as an individual Colony actually attains full self-government as a member of the Commonwealth.
When we look at the questions which have come upon us—the defeat of subversion, for instance, either in Malaya or 240 in Kenya—and the immense amount of money and numbers of troops which have had to be involved from this country, this House must occasionally think that perhaps more should be done. I suggest that the rôles which have to be fulfilled in those areas as far as the Armed Forces or the Governments are concerned are, firstly, prevention and, secondly, cure.
I suggest that more should perhaps be done in the prevention of some of these outbreaks. This is a purely personal belief, but I believe that if our intelligence work had been more efficient both in Kenya and even in Malaya at an earlier stage, it would have been possible for some of the leaders to have been apprehended before they developed the full strength of war in the jungle. After all, Champin from Malaya paraded through the streets of London in the 1945 Victory Parade. We should, therefore, look seriously at the question of preventing these outbreaks or preventing the need for the Government of the day to use the fire brigade or to use troops, and so on.
Much has been done in the last few years in organising the colonial police, but I believe that more should be done. The vital need is to see that those colonial police forces are efficient and highly trained and get into touch properly, as policemen in this country do, with the people of their country. I believe that the basis of friendly relationship between police and people is the basis of all effective police work and produces the information.
I believe, therefore, that a step might be taken to set up a gendarmerie in the Colonial Territories separate from their police forces. The essence of all intelligence and C.I.D. work depends on good relations between the population and the police. The gendarmerie force would not take part in day-to-day activities but could be used in the event of trouble, as has just occurred in Mombasa. That is the kind of occasion when a gendarmerie force could be used without disrupting the normal relationship between population and police. It would also be a saving to British troops.
I do not question the action taken by any Colonial Government, but it might not be entirely necessary for minor strikes to be broken by British troops. That should be a task for the gendarmerie, and I believe that something 241 could be done to establish the gendarmerie separately from the regular police.
§ Mr. Fraser
I would leave that to the Colonial Office. I would say that probably each Colonial Territory should raise its own gendarmerie force. The only point is that these things cost money and the House should be aware of some of these problems and should be able to give support to the Secretary of State for War. It must be in the interest of the Secretary of State for War to see that these outbreaks do not take place. The first answer is the prevention of the outbreak, and the first means of prevention is a more efficient and effective police force.
§ Mr. Fraser
That is a Navy point. We are discussing the Army Estimates.
I am sure that a "fire" could be put out if there were a more effective organisation, and I am certain that there is no one in the House who does not welcome the appointment of Sir Gerald Templer to. advise the Minister of Defence on colonial forces. I believe that that is an extremely popular and valuable appointment.
The problems of the colonial forces have been dealt with in greater detail in the Statement on Defence than in the Memorandum relating to the Army Estimates. We are moving through a period when the colonial peoples are achieving self-government, and naturally the question of officering arises, the question of officers who are Malays and Chinese in Malaya, and Africans in Africa. In the next 30 or 40 years we are bound to see an Africanisation or Malayanisation of part of our forces. There is also the outstanding question of the use of colonial 242 manpower, which is excellent material. No one who has been in Malaya or East Africa can have anything but the highest praise for the Fijians, the West Africans, the East Africans, the Ibans and others in Malaya, and the contribution made by these people. There is the possibility of further development. It may not come for a considerable number of years, but inevitably one day these forces will be officered by their own nationals. Already there are African junior officers in West Africa.
The central political and military problem of the colonial forces is to ensure that they have the best possible officers from this country. I know that this is difficult. I know that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who have worked in the War Office know of the great shortage of N.C.Os. and officers. That is one of the problems which Sir Gerald Templer will have to work out, and I am sure that the whole House will wish him luck. It may be that officers from Anti-Aircraft Command and other officers of distinction and ability will be able to take part in this work. We certainly have in the Colonies a large reservoir of first-class fighting troops. Whatever assumption we make of the type of warfare in which we may be engaged—and on that point my hopes tend to rise—in Africa we have large numbers of men who could be employed as most effective troops.
As to the problem of maintaining law and order in the Colonies, everyone must pay tribute to the Secretary for War upon the success which he has achieved and, I believe, is about to achieve in the reorganisation of the movement of troops by air, which he forecasts in his Memorandum. That is of vital importance, because obviously British forces from this country will be essential in those areas. To these troops no higher tribute can be paid than was paid by the Foreign Secretary today. Undoubtedly, as the Secretary of State for War said, the training which they receive in Malaya and Kenya is of great importance. It needs no confirmation that co-operation with the civil power is now working extremely well in Malaya, though more could be done in providing language classes for Regular forces. There is also the problem of teaching special techniques, such as parachuting, engineering and air supply.
243 The big problem remains whether in time of war the movement of troops can be carried out sufficiently speedily from this country and whether it may not be necessary to have some form of base in East Africa. There is a base there at the moment because of the Mau Mau troubles and because a large number of British and African battalions are employed there. It is not impossible that in the future we may need something of a base in East Africa, and in Kenya there is a suitable climate for Europeans. The base might be needed for the training of African contingents over the next 20 and 30 years, and African officers and higher ranks of non-commissioned officers. It might also be required as a strategic base because of the possibility that we might find trouble or danger in the Persian Gulf area.
I may have a slight mania about the Persian Gulf, but it seems to me that that is an area which is an extremely ripe and rich target for anyone who wishes us ill and that in that connection it is not impossible that the existing East African base may play an important rôle in the future.
I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on a powerful speech, delivered without a note, which shed considerably more light on these matters than did the speeches of the two ex-Socialist Secretaries of State for War.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu (Huddersfield, East)
As I am an ex-seaman, I do not intend in this debate to speculate in the strategic stratosphere. I should hesitate to do that about my own Service, and I certainly would not do it about a Service which is comparatively strange to me. Instead of trying to discuss the future of the Army as a whole, I should like to discuss in a few minutes the present of a certain section, about which the facts are more easy to ascertain.
As the Secretary of State for War knows, I have had the chance in recent months of visiting a number of Army hospitals. I want to address my remarks to the condition in which I found those hospitals and to make some comments about the Royal Army Medical Corps as a whole. I begin by saying a few words about the doctors, both Regular and National Service who serve in the Corps.
244 In the main, we had the habit in the Navy during the war of trying to avoid getting into the clutches of any active service surgeon whose rank was lieutenant-commander or above, because we felt that anybody who was reasonably senior in the Navy had spent so much tune in the Service that he was out of touch with the medical world. Those fears would be completely unnecessary to anybody in the Army today. It seemed to me that the standard of the Army doctors was at least as high as the standard of the civilian doctors. That had been achieved by several means. In the first place, in Army hospitals nowadays all types of people are treated. Men, women and children coming in for attention so that there is ample opportunity for Army doctors to get a variety of experience.
There has also developed an increasing liaison between Army doctors and civilian doctors, in that from time to time Army doctors are seconded to civilian hospitals where they can pick up the latest information. As far as I was able to judge, the medical attention given to soldiers today was absolutely first-class. But it is frequently given in conditions which are not fair either to the patients or the doctors.
One of the Army hospitals that I visited was a hutment hospital at Catterick, which was rushed up as a temporary job in 1914. It will be no surprise to anyone who knows anything about the Service to know that it is in full use even today. The whole series of huts is linked together by very long corridors. I found that as a result of the length of corridors in this hospital there are altogether two and a half acres of linoleum to be kept clean. That was only one of the difficulties for the men in charge of the hospital. It is a tremendous problem to keep these vast unnecessary spaces clean.
The second problem was to try to keep these hospitals warm. At the Connaught Hospital at Hindhead there is a corridor three-quarters of a mile long. In order to keep that warm the wretched officers there have to anticipate a cold spell by a week, because it takes a week to get the air out of the pipes before the heating system becomes efficient.
At Catterick, because of the spread of the huts over a vast area, instead of having one boiler house looked after by perhaps two men dealing with the oil fires, 245 there are 42 separate boiler houses requiring the attention of some 15 men to look after them at enormous expense. The problem of heating for those who run these hospitals is obviously immense. So are the problems of cleaning.
In meeting these problems, those responsible are not being given the equipment that a modern hospital should have. A lot of the floor polishing is still done by hand. There are very few floor polishing machines. There are comparatively few heated trolleys to keep the food hot on long journeys from the kitchen to the wards.
I should like to speak now of the delicate subject of bedpans. I do not know whether hon. Members in this House have ever handled a clean bedpan by hand. It is a long and most unpleasant job, but a number of medical orderlies and nurses have had to do that job by hand in British Army hospitals because those hospitals are not equipped with bedpan washing machines. I understand there is only one Army hospitial equipped with such machines. That particular hospital cannot use the machines because the bedpans do not fit into them. It has got a stock of these bedpans, and until they are finished and broken up the War Office will not let them get the new type of bedpan which can be used in these machines. That is the kind of difficulty which the staffs of these hospitals have to face.
On the top of the bad conditions in the hospitals, the staffs in some instances have themselves to live in appalling conditions. I have seen officers sleeping in unhealed rooms, some of which were damp with water coming through the roofs and over the walls and taking off the decoration in the process. Most miserable and bleak places they were, and these were for officers. The other ranks I have seen in places where the dormitories—or whatever the Army term for them is—are long distances away from the lavatories and from the washrooms. The men have to walk in the cold, through the dark, often through mud, to get a wash.
Worst of all, I have seen nurses, of whom the Army is so very short, living in huts which were temporary and meant for men. These huts were bleak enough for men in war-time. They were absolutely miserable for the girls in peace-time. I have seen in that particular hospital 246 where the living quarters were so bad girls having to go as much as half a mile through the dark from their sleeping quarters to the main recreational room, a sort of central community room.
In spite of the conditions of the hospitals and of the living conditions, the service that the men and women in these hospitals give to the patients is quite astonishingly good. I went round a number of them. I was allowed to talk to the patients without anyone else being present, and I cross-examined and, indeed, almost bullied them into expressing complaints about their treatment. But I got none at all. In every instance the patients said they were getting wonderful treatment; but they are actually getting that treatment because of the quite extraordinary devotion, well above the line of duty, of the men and women working in those institutions. I do not think it is fair that we should trade any longer upon that devotion.
There were three proposals that I wish to make to the Secretary of State. The first is that a commanding officer of a hospital should have each year a sum of money officially allocated to him for spending on small types of equipment. At the present moment a commanding officer has not one halfpenny of official money that he is able to spend. If he wants suddently to get a floor polisher or something like that, his only hope is to get it out of the gifts made by patients or out of the profits of N.A.A.F.I.
I was told a terrifying story of something which I must emphasise happened a long time ago. In an Army hospital the officer commanding was in desperate need of some piece of equipment. He had no money to get it, so he "flogged" a piece of equipment belonging to the War Office on the open market. It was, in fact, a water cart. Having "flogged" it and got the money, he bought himself the essential piece of equipment and then put in a chit to the War Office asking for permission to write off one lost water bottle. Two weeks later he followed up this chit with another, saying: "Referring to my previous chit, for 'bottle' read 'cart'. "In that way he managed to get away with the fact that he misappropriated War Office property.
I am quite certain that commanding officers in Army hospitals today do not use that particular trick, but it is possible that they are being forced into 247 dodges of their own. I think it is wholly wrong that that should be so and I ask the Secretary of State to consider the allocation of a small sum of money to each commanding officer to cover expenditure on equipment of that kind.
The second thing I want to propose is that attached to each hospital there shall be a small works party. At present, when the commanding officer wants anything done he has to apply to the sappers and then wait his turn in the long queue. It may well be that after the sappers have done a lot of decoration at a hospital and have gone away to do another job, an accident occurs and the decorations are spoiled perhaps because the roof of a ward has begun to leak. As a result that hospital will have to wait seven or eight years before this minor repair is made. If, however, each hospital had its own works party, it could get on with such minor repairs straight away.
My final proposal is a much bigger one. It is that in future Army Estimates we should allocate a sum specifically for the maintenance and construction of Army hospitals. As I understand it, at present the commanding officer of a hospital who needs a new operating theatre or an extension, has to put in his application which goes all the way to the top and is then set off against applications from other branches. Hospitals are desperately important, and inevitably they grow. A hospital is not merely built and then found to be completely satisfactory in 50 years time; it grows all the time because of the changing needs of the Service. So I would like to see a regular annual allocation of money specifically for hospitals.
May I repeat that the service given by the Royal Army Medical Corps, as I saw it in my limited experience, was remarkably good. But it was good despite the conditions which we offer to the men who serve in it and I do not think it is fair, either upon the patients or upon the medical officers, the nursing staff or the orderlies, that we in this House of Commons and the public should continue to trade on their great devotion.