HC Deb 15 March 1955 vol 538 cc1220-34

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £19,600,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the Reserve Forces (to a number not exceeding 310,000, all ranks, including a number not exceeding 300,000 other ranks). Territorial Army (to a number not exceeding 324,400, all ranks). Home Guard (to a number not exceeding 55,000, all ranks). Cadet Forces and Malta Territorial Force, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March. 1956.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)

I shall be extremely brief and, I trust, completely in order. We are being asked under this Vote for money for the Reserve Forces, including the Territorial Army. In page 32 of the Estimates something is said about the organisation and the respective functions of the Territorial Army. We are told that it may provide a field force and that it is to support the Civil Defence organisation. Does this mean—particularly in view of what was said in the Memorandum on the Estimates—that an increasing number of men in the Territorial Army is to be trained to take part in Civil Defence and in that Governmental and, indeed, semi-political work which will be bound up with Civil Defence if this country should ever be subjected to attack by the worst of modern weapons?

Are we to see an increasing number of the Territorial Army engaged in training of that kind? I think that probably they ought to be so engaged, but would not that reduce the number who would be available as a field force? Therefore, I put the question, which was put when we first began this year to debate these Estimates, but which, according to my recollection, was not answered. In the event of a major war, and after that war has been raging for a limited period, are we still imagining that troops from our Territorial Army will be taken across the Channel to take part in a war in Europe? I do not believe that anyone really supposes that anything like that will happen. Are we still organising the training of the Territorial Army upon that out-of-date assumption?

I put these two questions which, I think, are cardinal to the training of the Territorial Army, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to say something in reply.

Major Legge-Bourke

May I continue this hunt for a Director-General of the Territorial Army? I feel that the training of the Territorial Army, which is covered by Subhead E of this Vote, is obviously a matter which is essentially the responsibility of a Director-General.

I wish to make the point, as forcibly and as briefly as possible, that I think it regrettable that there have been fairly frequent changes in the occupant of this post. It is important, especially now that the Territorial Army is undergoing big changes, that its training in its new rôle should be under the supervision of someone who, at least, has the benefit of some years' experience of the Territorial Army at work.

The Territorial Army has been—I will not say used as a dumping ground, because that would be a most ungracious thing to say—but it has, unfortunately, had as Directors-General officers who have served with distinction in other parts of the world, but who, perhaps it might have been thought, were in need of a rest. I can think of nothing more remote from the needs of the Territorial Army than a Director-General who needs a rest.

Today, the work of the Territorial Army more than justifies the sum of £7,030,000 which we are asked for under this Vote. I think it most important that we should get the fullest possible value for that money. I submit to the Committee that if we wish to obtain that value, we must have a Director-General who is allowed to plan in his job and to know that he will remain in that position for a considerable period. Although very distinguished officers have held this position, I regret that the changes have been so frequent. I know that many units of the Territorial Army hold the same view. They have respected their Directors, but they are disturbed because there have been so many changes.

8.15 p.m.

The hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) referred to the rôle which the Territorial Army will play in the future. The particular regiment with which I am most concerned is, naturally, the Cambridgeshire Regiment. On behalf of the officers and men of that regiment I wish to thank my hon. Friend for the attention paid by the War Office to the great traditions of the regiment when planning its future. I do not know whether it has been made public officially—it has certainly appeared in the local Press—but I understand that their future rule is to be that of an airborne unit. If so, I hope that the money which we are voting now will be used to the fullest advantage.

The Deputy-Chairman

I think that the hon. and gallant Member is now being a little ingenuous, because this is not covered by the Vote.

Major Legge-Bourke

Surely we are now voting money for the training of the Territorial Army and I am entitled to refer to the amount of money that a particular Territorial unit or group of units may require out of that sum. I am endeavouring to keep within the bounds of order, but if I am out of order I will, of course, sit down. I feel, however, that where a Territorial unit or a number of units are to make a considerable change in the rôle they are to play, it is most important that they shall not, through sheer parsimony, be retarded from carrying through that part of their conversion which causes the biggest expenditure.

As I visualise it, this new rôle for the Cambridgeshire Regiment will mean that some of the officers will inevitably be involved in a greater amount of travelling than in the past in order to carry out their duties properly. If that be so, I hope that we shall not have them perpetually bombarded from higher up because they are spending too much money in getting this new unit into as cohesive a condition as possible. I think hon. Members opposite would agree that the rôle to be played by this regiment is one fitting to the present situation, and is certainly in no way an attempt to win the last war—if I may use that expression.

I do not wish to steal the thunder of the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), who apparently proposes to raise points relating to the Home Guard. I am glad that he intends to do so, because there is no question that, unfortunately, east of the line from Flamborough Head to Selsey Bill the Home Guard has been less successful than west of that line, whereas it was required more in the east. We in East Anglia happen to be east of this line.

There appears to be an erroneous impression in the minds of certain officers—some of them senior officers—that the Home Guard is regarded as the Prime Minister's private army. I do not know where that rumour started, but I am almost certain that it started at somewhere about War Office level. If that be so, I think it wrong. Certainly, when the Home Guard was first created many of us considered it absolutely essential. In fact, I said so in my constituency before the Home Guard was created. I therefore consider it wrong to single out the Home Guard and describe it as the private possession of one person, even if that individual happens to be the Prime Minister.

The future of the Home Guard in East Anglia is causing a great deal of concern because the "overheads," as it were, the cost of administration, is extremely excessive in the light of what has been achieved by way of recruiting. There is no question that those who have joined the Home Guard have done so wholeheartedly. But, with the new arrangements mentioned during the defence debate, including the question of mobile columns and that sort of thing, I feel that we must ensure that the mobile defence columns and the rôle of the Territorial Army are complementary to each other, and that we do not become divided into too many little bits.

I hope we shall do everything we can to maintain local interest. I hope, also, that it will not be thought that just because we propose to change one unit of the Home Guard into a mobile column it should lose its regimental badge. Many members of the Home Guard are old soldiers, and the traditions of their regiments are considerable. We should endeavour to maintain the regimental esprit de corps.

If it is not possible to make a national change we ought not to assume that no changes at all can be made. The geography and characteristics of our country vary very considerably from place to place. Strategy and tactics will vary accordingly if war should break out. Therefore, let us do what is sensible from the military point of view in each area. If it so suits parts of East Anglia to have its Home Guard merged into mobile columns or an emergency reserve, let it happen, but let us not say that because we do it in East Anglia it should happen everywhere. We have to fight the desire of the War Office for uniformity.

I make a plea for local measures to suit local conditions, and that the men concerned should be able to take a real pride in whatever they are doing.

Mr. Wyatt

I now come back to my early speech which you, Sir Rhys, brought to a premature close during the discussion upon Vote 1. I understand that it will now be in order to discuss the pay of non-Regular officers serving in the Home Guard. This is one of the mistakes which the Secretary of State has made and to which he clings with such touching affection.

Mr. Head

It is also one of the hon. Member's old chestnuts.

Mr. Wyatt

It may be an old chestnut, and if it is considered to be a silly pastime to harry the Government because one considers that they waste money, I confess to the charge.

I think it important to go on protesting that they are wasting money, even if it bores the Secretary of State. We could mention new mistakes every week, but one is enough now, and that is the right hon. Gentleman's mistake about the Home Guard. He announced its formation with a great flourish of trumpets soon after he took office. He said that the Government would form a large Home Guard and that 100,000 men would be required east of a line drawn from Flam-borough Head to Selsey Bill and another 25,000 west of that line. Special tasks would be allocated in special areas where the Government considered likely targets to be situated.

The right hon. Gentleman also made special allowances in the Army Estimates for an enrolment figure of 165,000, and he referred to an overall ceiling of 175,000. Very few recruits arrived, and the Secretary of State was in a very sorry state about it. He began to say, "Not only have we the whole-time volunteers, but also other people in reserve," and he began to mix up the figures so as to make it difficult to understand which were whole-time and which were on the peacetime register, only to be called upon if war broke out. Even today he has estimated for only 12,500 officers and 42,500 other ranks to be looked after in the coming year. I think that that is well above the number he has now got.

Unfortunately, he got most men where they were least needed—west of the line—and least men where they were most needed—east of the line. Such is his obstinacy and that of the Government to which he belongs, however, that they still refuse to abandon this quite absurd and useless force. Although they have sent out a circular recommending that training should not be strenuous and frequent, and that things should be taken easily, they still continue to maintain this force, which can be of no value whatever in any future war which is depicted in the Defence White Paper.

It may be said that the men will be very useful for Civil Defence duties, but surely the right hon. Gentleman already has enough personnel at his disposal in the Territorial Army—about half of which could be organised much more efficiently upon a whole-time basis for Civil Defence work than could the Home Guard, whose members are at work all day. It is not to be expected that an enemy would so conveniently arrange his aerial attacks as to make Civil Defence necessary only during the night time. It will not be a part-time job, so, in any event, the Home Guard will have no function to perform in a future war.

Both the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister know this, but they dare not admit their mistakes, because they are not big enough to do so. They will not say, "We have made a mistake. We are now wasting £600,000 a year upon the Home Guard and we are going to stop doing so." They have spent £2 million already upon this force, which has done nothing except please the Prime Minister when it was introduced.

The adjutant-quartermaster in the Home Guard now receives £670 a year upon being first engaged, and an extra £35 every three years. I have here a letter from a man who served as adjutant-quartermaster in the Home Guard for two and a half years. He says: I realised what a racket it was. Referring to the adjutant-quartermaster, he says: His work can easily be done in 2–3 hours per day and he only normally has one evening parade per week, of approximately two hours, apart from an occasional shoot on the local range on Sunday morning generally, and not often in the winter. He goes on: The Officers' Pensions Society has an enormous number of retired Regular officers, of all ranks, not only fully capable of doing this job, but who, furthermore, would very willingly take it on for a nominal salary of, say, £150 or for their expenses, or even voluntarily. I think that that is true. It is clear that about 550 persons are being paid £670 a year or more for doing practically nothing. This really is a scandal.

In addition, there are 800 storemen clerks who receive £6 a week for doing less than an adjutant-quartermaster. My correspondent says, of Adjutant-Quartermasters: When they are away on holiday or through illness it is found quite unnecessary to engage a temporary substitute. Nobody bothers to get a replacement, and the storeman clerk takes over the work. It is plain that neither has very much work to do.

The Home Guard has been a complete fiasco. There are very few people in the battalions, and it is very stupid to continue with an organisation which has no function in the future, has had no function since the end of the war, and is simply wasting £600,000 a year.

8.30 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Fitzroy Maclean)

I will deal first with the points raised by the hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart), who asked about the future rôle of the Territorial Army. He mentioned page 32 of the Estimates which contains, needless to say, an accurate account, so far as it goes, of our intentions for the use of the Territorial Army. He also raised the question of Civil Defence.

There are two aspects of Civil Defence. All members of both the Regular Army and the Territorial Army, and, indeed, of the other Services, are to be trained to some extent in Civil Defence. In addition, there are the mobile defence columns, which will form part of the Army Emergency Reserve, and which, in the main, will consist of National Service men. So far as the senior officers and N.C.Os. are concerned, they will be drawn to some extent from the Territorial Army, and we hope to get a certain number of volunteers from the anti-aircraft regiments which are being disbanded. We hope that the officers and N.C.Os. from certain units which are being disbanded may volunteer en bloc for mobile defence columns. In that way we hope to be able to continue to retain and give continuity to the traditions of existing units which might otherwise have disappeared, and also to maintain the esprit de corps which is such an important factor.

The hon. Member asked whether this would mean a reduction in the field force, and whether this would affect the Territorial Army's rôle as a field force. The answer is that there is no reason why it should. In certain circumstances, the Territorial Army and, indeed, the units of the Regular Army might find it necessary to give a hand with Civil Defence, but that is no reason why they should not be perfectly ready, in other circumstances, to fulfil their rôle as a field force.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether the Territorial Army would, in fact, ever be sent overseas. The answer is that in certain circumstances it is conceivable that it would, and we should be taking a great risk if we were to ignore the possibility of it being needed as a field force. My right hon. Friend went into all this in considerable detail in his speech last week.

One consideration, and a very important one, is our obligation towards N.A.T.O., which we should not be able to fulfil if the Territorial Army did not exist. I think that it needs to be emphasised that in the event of a thermonuclear war—a hydrogen bomb war—that it is naturally very difficult to foresee with any accuracy the course of events, but if one thing is to be more useful than another it is trained bodies of men, and I think that that applies to the Territorial Army and also to the Home Guard. There is no doubt that trained bodies of men with initiative and discipline will be able to help, if anybody can.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) raised the question of the Director of the Territorial Army. We fully appreciate the importance of that job. It is sometimes suggested that we do not attribute sufficient importance to it, and that he should be made a Director-General. The answer is that he does already fulfil extremely well a very important rôle, and the importance of his r ôle is fully realised. I think I am right in saying that the present occupant of the post has held it for three and a half years and his predecessor for three years, so, as far as continuity in appointment goes, that is really quite a good record.

I was grateful for what my hon. and gallant Friend said about the Cambridgeshire Regiment. We were very glad, in that case, to be able to preserve the continuity which I mentioned just now in connection with the Territorial Army as a whole. We were glad to be able to maintain the great traditions which the Cambridgeshire Regiment has continued for a great number of years in different rôles. I am sure that the regiment will distinguish itself in its new rôle which should appeal to it, no less than it has in its past rôles.

Wherever possible we have tried to preserve the identity of regiments, and even where it has been necessary to disband a regiment we have kept on batteries which will continue the regimental tradition and the possibility—where this has not been practicable with regiments—that officers and N.C.O.s might volunteer in groups to serve in mobile defence columns and preserve the identity of regiments, most of whom have extremely distinguished traditions.

The hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) made his usual spirited attack on the Home Guard, which he described as an absurd and useless force of no value whatever. I dispute that very strongly indeed. I have been very much impressed by what I have seen of the Home Guard since I have been at the War Office and—

Mr. Wyatt

Where did the hon. Gentleman find it?

Mr. Maclean

I found a lot of it, spread all over the country, on both sides of the line.

The figures are not as discouraging as the hon. Member tries to make out. There are 37,000 enrolled men and 39,000 on the reserve rôle; that makes 76,000 men, being an increase of 14,000 over last year's figure. The hon. Member is always talking about waste of money in this connection. The outlay is remarkably small for the value that we get. We should be extremely grateful, instead of carping at them like that, to these public-spirited men who give up their time to do what will prove an extremely useful job. I have been very much impressed by the high standard of training and by the keenness and forward-looking attitude of Home Guard units that I have seen.

The hon. Member attacked, in particular, adjutants-quartermasters. I have seen and talked to several adjutants of the Home Guard. They seemed extremely valuable and were the pivots around which the whole thing centred. They seemed to be fulfilling a very useful function extremely well. The hon. Member makes a great mistake in underestimating the possible value of the Home Guard in any future war or emergency. It is always possible to say, about any weapon or formation, that if it sustains a direct hit from a hydrogen bomb it will not be much good. The hon. Member would not be much good if that were to happen to him, but the fact remains that in any sort of war the value of a trained and disciplined body of men, which the Home Guard undoubtedly is, can be considerable.

Mr. Wyatt

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what the Home Guard is going to do, extra to the 500,000 men already in the Territorial Army? What is to be its function?

Mr. Maclean

First, we have to remember the very great value of local knowledge, local contacts and local traditions. I was very glad that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely drew attention to that in what I thought a very valuable contribution to our debate. I saw something of what could be done by local citizens during the war. In the resistance movements in Europe there were men below, or far above military age fulfilling extremely valuable functions because they knew the country "Backwards." They could act as guides, knew exactly where an ambush could be placed, and knew the moment any stranger arrived in the district. They knew what he was doing and how to deal with him.

I have been guided over mountains by old men of 70 who were extremely active and knew their way around, and by quite small children. To say that the Home Guard would be no good at all in defeating attempts at sabotage and defeating surprise landings by air-borne troops is to take a very negative view. I think there is no doubt that the Home Guard have a most important potential rôle in the defence of this country. It fits into the whole comprehensive picture of home defence along with the Territorial Army, the Regular Army and the mobile defence columns.

Mr. M. Stewart

I am sure we are all much interested and encouraged by this picture of the Home Guard as the resistance movement in future in this country. That is a rôle not previously outlined for it—

Mr. Head

It was, definitely.

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman has described very graphically how he was guided over mountains by old men and young children. Does he believe that, from his experience, to do that kind of work they need to be trained by adjutant-quartermasters, at £670 a year?

Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)

Before the hon. Gentleman replies to that question, may I ask him about the air-borne troops which are to be dropped and against which the Home Guard are to act? Are they to be dropped before thermo-nuclear weapons, or afterwards to help us clear up the mess?

The Deputy-Chairman

That question goes beyond the Vote.

Mr. Maclean

I am sorry, Sir Rhys, that by your timely intervention you prevented me from discussing the question of whether enemy parachute troops are likely to be dropped before or after the thermo-nuclear bomb and whether they would land in the same place, or somewhere else. Obviously, that is a subject we could talk about indefinitely.

On the questions of whether or not training makes troops more useful, whether, having a certain amount of administration behind them, makes them more useful either for resisting sabotage or for making themselves a nuisance to enemy forces of occupation, or enemy forces attempting to occupy this country, I have no doubt whatever in saying that I think the sort of administration and basic military experience which these adjutant-quartermasters can give—most of them have had a long and distinguished military career—can do nothing but good.

8.45 p.m.

In the Resistance movements in Europe, most of the old men of 70 whom I have mentioned had fought vigorously in one or more wars earlier in their lives. What they had picked up in those wars was of extreme value to them. I am surprised that the hon. Member should ask whether they are any good: it seems to me that they were.

We have covered most of the points that have been raised in the course of the debate on this Vote, and I do not think we should take up any more of the time that belongs to the Royal Air Force.

Mr. Wigg

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman that the time of the Committee belongs to any one Service. I trust that he will not say that again. He does not mean it, I know, but that was the sort of intervention that we had from the Admiralty, when a political atmosphere was introduced. The time of this Committee belongs to the Committee, and we should be failing in our duty if we did not go into such matters as we think right. On Thursday, on Report, we can, and we shall, examine the Royal Air Force.

Hon. Members can give what undertaking they like, but they completely misunderstand—

The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

We had better come to the Vote.

Mr. Wigg

With respect, Sir Rhys, if hon. Gentlemen, even under their breath, intervene, I surely have a right to reply.

Mr. Head

Underneath your breath?

The Deputy-Chairman

We must keep the debate relevant to the Vote that we are considering.

Mr. Wigg

I am coming to the Vote, when I am allowed to do so.

The Under-Secretary is in some difficulty, for, of course, there is a case for the Home Guard. The Labour Government laid the preparations for the Home Guard should the necessity ever arise. In 1951, the introduction of the Home Guard Bill was a piece of nonsense which happens to fit in the faulty appreciation of the Prime Minister. In consequence, we wasted a lot of public money and the time of a lot of public-spirited gentlemen. I hope it will not go out from the House of Commons that we are criticising their efforts. The people whom we are criticising are those on the Government Benches, but I do not include the Under-Secretary

In the light of the hon. Gentleman's wartime experience, there is a case for the Home Guard, and if ever we found ourselves in trouble it would be an overwhelming case, and it would bring a great response. I have no doubt that, just as the elderly gentlemen and the little children whom he talked about came to the aid of their country, the elderly gentlemen and children of Britain would play their part if the need should come. What we are now criticising is the waste of public money and the waste of time of citizens who are doing nothing more than serving the 1951 political stunt of the Prime Minister. Having said that we ought not to keep a Home Guard, let us remember that the money has been spent and let us make the best of it. That has been my attitude. I fought the Home Guard Act, but I am not now denigrating those who give their time to that service.

I am sorry if I am cutting into any kind of undertaking, but there are one or two important matters which must be raised. On 1st January, we had no fewer than 76,000 volunteers in the Territorial Army, 59,000 volunteers from National Service and 320,000 part-time National Service men. I wanted to find out what the Army and the Air Force were doing with these men, and the Army seems to be doing fairly well. I had a written answer on 4th March showing that the Territorial Army was substantially using the services of National Service men and volunteers.

It was just a little suspicious, however, when I asked for the numbers who underwent part-time training, during 1954, and was told that: The Army does not maintain records of numbers out-of-camp training." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1955; Vol. 537, c. 310.] I am always suspicious when the Army cannot get or give information. I am sorry, but I am just a little suspicious. I believe that the full-time training is all right, but I am very doubtful about the part-time training—especially when I look at what goes on in the Royal Air Force, which has a black record. That is my answer to my hon. Friends who want to get on to the Air Estimates.

Anti-Aircraft Command has gone, and the whole future of the Territorial Army is in the melting pot. It is being reconsidered. I ask the Secretary of State for War one question. Is it the intention of the Government, by administrative action, to whittle down the part-time obligations of the National Service men? I asked the hon. Gentleman—he may remember it—at Question Time recently whether it was the intention to introduce legislation to reduce the period of part-time service, and at once, rather quickly, I thought—he took the bait rather too swiftly—he said that it did not require legislation to do that. I knew that, and the fact that he answered so quickly made me think that, after all, this was what he had up his sleeve.

It is highly inconvenient for the Government to admit that, in part, the National Service Acts are not working, but we know they are not, because of the figures of the Royal Air Force. Is it the intention of the Secretary of State during the coming financial year, the period covered by these Estimates, to play down the call-up of men on a part-time basis'? Are we to find that the number of men called up for annual training is less than the number of men available?

I ask one question. It affects 500,000 young men earning their livelihood, who want to know if they are to be called up. Are they to be called up during the financial year covered by these Estimates? Or is it the intention, by administrative action, to have only a haphazard call-up, so that Tommy is called up and Harry is not?

Mr. Head

Perhaps I can save the hon. Gentleman from becoming too indignant by saying that nothing whatever has been announced, as he well knows, about any change in the present scheme. Nothing whatever has been announced about any difference in the scheme of part-time service which has obtained, I think I am right in saying, ever since National Service was introduced. Nothing to that effect has been announced.

Mr. Wigg


Mr. Head

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) says "Ah," but he might just as well ask me if I have in mind any changes in the Army next year or the year after that. It is absurd to ask for a categorical assurance that there will be no change in this, that, or the other.

The hon. Gentleman would mislead the Committee and anybody else who listens to him if he were to assume, because I will not give that assurance, that there is some idea of making a change or that there is not. It is never possible for any Minister to give an assurance about policies in the future. That must be obvious to anybody. As I have said, and as I say again, there is no intention to change this scheme at the present time. If there were such an intention, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it would have to be announced at once, for the camps are starting almost immediately.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £19,600,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the Reserve Forces (to a number not exceeding 310,000, all ranks, including a number not exceeding 300,000 other ranks), Territorial Army (to a number not exceeding 324,400, all ranks), Home Guard (to a number not exceeding 55,000, all ranks), Cadet Forces and Malta Territorial Force, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1956.