That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 523,000, all ranks, be maintained for the safety of the United Kingdom and the defence of the possessions of Her Majesty's Crown, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1956.
§ Resolution read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
One remark of the Under-Secretary of State for Air interested me, as it applies also to the Army. The hon. Member admitted that it was quite in order for personnel in the Royal Air Force to write to their Member of Parliament, if they felt so disposed. That principle was long resisted by the Army, and I think I can say, I hope in all modesty, that I helped to break down that opposition during the war by some of the articles which I wrote then in one of the national newspapers.
If the Services call up National Service men for two years, they must not look upon those National Service men as the Army used to look on the Regular soldier in the old days, namely, that they had got him body and soul for the period of his enlistment. I do not wish to encourage any of my constituents, or any of the constituents of other hon. Members, to send their complaints to their Member of Parliament. But quite often a man in the Services has a sense of frustration because he feels that his officer has not dealt adequately with his complaint and at least he obtains some relief by writing to his Member of Parliament about it.
Not all the matters which are brought to the notice of a Member of Parliament are taken up and referred to the War Office. The right hon. Gentleman will 1554 be glad to know that I submit only those complaints which I feel are justified. I am bound to add that the number of complaints received by hon. Members are few. That, I think, is a creditable reflection on the way in which officers are doing their duty towards their men, in attending, in the first instance, in a proper way, to their complaints.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) raised a point on the Air Estimates, and I believe that he has another point to raise in connection with Army matters. It is all to the good that these rare cases should be brought out, because, if they are justified in Parliament, it demonstrates to the public that the grievances of the soldier, airman or naval rating can be adequately dealt with by the Minister, if not by the usual channels.
It will not be long before we come to the end of our proceedings, and then the Votes will be dealt with in a way that sometimes happens at company meetings when the chairman gives his annual report—as the right hon. Gentleman did last week—in as soothing a manner as possible, and deprives the shareholders—few in number—of many of the facts on which they can judge whether the company is doing well or not, and then, at the end, a vote of thanks is passed to the staff and the meeting disperses, as we shall tonight at a not very late hour.
That being so, I propose to make only a few remarks about what I would call two or three salient points which have emerged during our previous debates. First, I think that the Secretary of State for War could give the House a little more enlightenment about the strategic Reserve than he has done hitherto. Reading again the remarks which the right hon. Gentleman made when introducing these Estimates in the House, I must confess that I am a little confused as to what the strategic Reserve is to consist of, and what its real rôle is to be.
Speaking on the Army Estimates, on 8th March, the right hon. Gentleman said that by disbanding the Anti-Aircraft Command, of which the vast majority were Territorials, and by disbanding eight new infantry battalions, he had saved about 66,000 men. It looks from that remark very much as though a large part of the Territorial Army is to be disbanded.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Perhaps I may be allowed to develop my argument a little further, and then we shall probably get some enlightenment from the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Head
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but perhaps I could help at this stage. What I think the right hon. Gentleman has left out, and which is most important, is the matter of redeployment from the Canal Zone. That is the main saving in relation to this figure of 66,000. As far as the strategic Reserve is concerned, the Territorial Army does not come into the matter at all.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I was going on to explain my point further.
We understood that in the Canal Zone there were about 80,000 all ranks; that, according to the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman last year, there were about 20,000 in the Korean area, and, as we know, there was a brigade in Trieste. Allowing for the deployment of one division in the Middle East, it seems to me that there ought to be more than 66,000 men coming into the pool, as it were, for the strategic Reserve. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can elucidate that point.
I am not at all satisfied that the strategic Reserve which the right hon. Gentleman says he wants and must have in this country, superimposed upon 12 Reserve divisions, which we were told in the debate on last year's Estimates were in this country, will not be too much. I am inclined to think that the right hon. Gentleman is over-estimating his requirements, and is thereby depriving National Service men of a reduction in their period of service such as we on this side of the House have suggested.
It is very difficult, in the short time that we have for our annual review, to get all these matters into their proper perspective. Therefore, I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) has advocated on more than one occasion from this Box, that there should be some better facilities provided to this House, or to those hon. Members who are particularly interested in military matters, to obtain the information without which one cannot form a proper, reliable and responsible judgment.
1556 As I said a few moments ago, I think that the right hon. Gentleman is asking too much in his estimate for the strategic Reserve, on top of all the other forces which he has in this country, unless he is going to disband a large part of the Territorial force, which he seemed to indicate when introducing the Estimates. That, of course, links up with the question of National Service. We on this side of the House have advocated that the period of two years of National Service is too long for the purpose for which the right hon. Gentleman requires these men.
What does he want them for? What is the purpose of calling up men for two years? We have already heard from the Under-Secretary of State for Air that he cannot fully utilise R.A.F. personnel in respect of their period of Reserve training. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) pointed out, that produces an inequality of liability as between the three Services.
For what purpose does the right hon. Gentleman want these men? Is it in order to train soldiers to be ready for any emergency? If so, there is, in my opinion, no case for the ordinary National Service man to do more than 18 months' service. It is a well-known fact that if and when the German Army is constituted, the Germans are not proposing to call up their conscripts for more than 18 months. The right hon. Gentleman knows from his own experience that the German Army is a remarkable machine in its training and fighting qualities. Therefore, on those grounds, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can ask for more than 18 months in which to train the ordinary soldier.
§ Mr. Head
Plainly, the right hon. Gentleman does not get enough information. I said very clearly and specifically in my speech on the Estimates that the reason for having two years' National Service was not for training for part-time service, but the necessity to increase the size of the active Army. I made that quite clear, so I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can complain about that.
§ Mr. Bellenger
If the right hon. Gentleman would allow me to make my points fully, then, perhaps, he would see what I am driving at. I am trying to demolish his case for having more than 18 months for ordinary training purposes. The right 1557 hon. Gentleman said that we required these men for our commitments, and that that was the real reason why we were calling up men for a period of two years. If the right hon. Gentleman denies that, let him say so.
§ Mr. Head indicated assent.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I see that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me. He is calling up men for two years in order to meet our commitments.
§ Mr. Swingler
It has been made quite clear by the Secretary of State for War that that is not true. The right hon. Gentleman made it quite clear that the reduction in commitments has released some 70,000 or 80,000 men.
§ Mr. Bellenger
That is why the right hon. Gentleman brings forward his programme for the strategic Reserve, in order to avoid reducing the period of National Service.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The right hon. Gentleman said something about the call-up for the period of National Service. He said that if we did not have the two-year period it would be difficult to meet our commitments. It is true that he linked that with the strategic Reserve. He said that we had been scraping the barrel all the time, and that we could scarcely meet our commitments. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley that the right hon. Gentleman is always changing front.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Member for Dudley has a genius for making remarks which are entirely contrary to the facts. In the last debates on defence and upon the Army Estimates—and also the ones before that—hon. Members opposite were absolutely unanimous in the view that what we must aim at was a strategic Reserve.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I would remind the House that the debate should be conducted by speeches on either side.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am afraid that my hon. Friend is like a red rag to a bull; he generally gets the right hon. Gentleman to his feet. Never mind what my hon. Friend says; I say that the right hon. Gentleman is constantly changing his front, and it is very difficult for us to advance arguments which he does not find some sort of excuse for demolishing. I am putting a point to which I hope he will pay serious attention.
Last year the excuse of our commitments was put up. This year our commitments are considerably reduced—by 80,000 troops in the Middle East, 20,000 in Korea and a brigade in Trieste—and yet, when we advance the argument that our commitments have been reduced, we are told that it does not matter, because we want men for a strategic Reserve.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I do not think much of the right hon. Gentleman's idea of a strategic Reserve in this country.
As I have said before, our front line is in Germany, and that is where our biggest strategic Reserve is. If the right hon. Gentleman is right in all that he prognosticates about a nuclear war, I do not believe that we should put all our eggs in one basket by loading up the already overcrowded depots and training establishments in this country with another 50,000 or 60,000 men, who are to be called a strategic Reserve. For what purpose are they to be used? They are to be sent to different trouble spots as trouble arises.
The right hon. Gentleman, in conjunction with the other Service Ministers and the Minister of Defence, should look at the world problem and decide what can be done with our limited manpower. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have all the men he wants, and we say that in that case he should make sure that the men he gets are the best. We say that he can get them if he will concentrate upon trying to create a Regular Army, which is the only possible Army to deal with such commitments.
1559 We shall continue to urge upon him the necessity for an inquiry into the question of National Service. We have never denied the Government the manpower that it reasonably wants, and we do not oppose the Estimates, but we are entitled to tell the right hon. Gentleman and the Government that if they have nothing to hide they should agree to the setting up of a Select Committee or a committee of inquiry.
They must surely want our good will. The right hon. Gentleman is constantly complaining—often using violent language—that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley and other hon. Members on this side of the House overstate the case, but how can we put the case properly if we do not know the facts? I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is concealing a great deal from this House about the question of manpower. My view is that he has too much manpower. The only possible way to resolve the question is by agreeing to an inquiry such as the Opposition has demanded. We cannot investigate these matters properly by debate here, in the limited time available.
In the debate on 8th March, I asked the right hon. Gentleman to tell us the size of the Regular Army at which he was aiming. He told us that he would be only too glad if he could get the required number of long-service troops. In reply to my question he said:I do not want to escape the question"—that question being the size of the Regular Army at which he was aiming—but to some extent the answer depends upon our commitments.There again he brought in that very convenient word. Our commitments have certainly been reduced since last year, but he still wants the men. He went on: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."—[OFFFCIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1955; Vol. 538, c. 185.]He was very careful not to tell me what was the size of the Regular Army at which he was aiming—but how does he propose to save those 100,000 men? His argument must be based upon the size of the Regular Army at which he is aiming, otherwise he would not give a figure 1560 of 100,000. Perhaps he will clear up those points.
§ Mr. Bellenger
That is the first time that we have ever had it stated so categorically that if the right hon. Gentleman can get a Regular Army of 320,000 he will not want National Service men—at any rate for a two-year period.
§ Mr. Head indicated assent.
§ Mr. Bellenger
That is a large figure at which to aim, and I do not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman can get it under present conditions.
I am not sure that he requires 320,000 men for his commitments. Some of those commitments are over-insured. I suggest that the way to deal with some of the trouble spots is by the use of police forces instead of Regular troops.
Certain of my hon. Friends have tackled the Government upon the question of the recruitment of colonial forces. I am not at all sure that more could not be done to provide a greater number of colonial troops, stiffened with some British troops, in the way in which the Indian Army used to be organised. The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Indian Army had three battalions forming a brigade. One of the battalions consisted of British and other two of Indian troops.
The right hon. Gentleman might explore the question of native manpower, and the possibility of using it to deal with various trouble spots. We had to rush out a battalion of troops to British Guiana to deal with a situation which should have been dealt with by the police. The right hon. Gentleman may dismiss this suggestion in a casual way, but he must remember that Parliament will not always continue to vote these large supplies of manpower—especially National Service manpower called up for two years as it now is.
Will the Secretary of State tell us a little more about the Territorial Army? If he is going to maintain it at its former size—and he seems to be aiming at that, to judge by what he said in answer to my 1561 assertion that he was disbanding part of it—what is he going to do with it, bearing in mind that it had a mainly anti-aircraft rôle? How would it be formed in units and formations?
What will be its new role? Will it be mainly in Civil Defence, as he seemed to suggest on 8th March, when he said:If such a war occurred"—that is, a nuclear war—then the vital and decisive factor would be the ability of the home base in these islands to struggle through… I believe that a determining or even a decisive factor in it will be the presence of a number of formations of trained, mobile, disciplined men who can be sent all over the country to help to the maximum extent in restoring order out of chaos."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1955; Vol. 538, c. 192.]He seemed to be saying that if such a war occurred many of the duties of the Territorial Army would be police duties and not those which we envisage as being suitable for men who have been trained for two years or more.
The right hon. Gentleman owes it to the House to tell us what is to be the rôle of the new Territorial Army, which, I imagine, unless he is more optimistic, will take a long time to reform. I have voiced my criticism of the absence of planning which meant that this well-trained volunteer element was suddenly told that it was redundant. I should like to hear what the right hon. Gentleman proposes to put into the place of the old Territorial Army.
Earlier this week I mentioned overseas matters, which the right hon. Gentleman dealt with; but I am not sure, in spite of what he said, that the three year's overseas service in Far Eastern stations could not be reduced. I was interested in the statement in the right hon. Gentleman's Memorandum, in page 14, that he has had two new troopships built. He has five other troopships, yet he finds that air trooping, by reducing the time spent by troops en route results in a manpower saving of one-seventh on the Far East route. So, out of 10,000 men moved in a year, we are gaining 1,400 or 1,500 effective manpower in the field. That is a very good result.
One other good result from trooping by air is the saving in cost. The right hon. Gentleman says that air passages to the Far East and Middle East are costing less 1562 per head than by ship. When we reflect that the passage to Singapore by troopship takes a month we can see how economies are made in manpower by air trooping. If we increase our air trooping, as we shall have to do in the emergency of war, we shall make many such economies.
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman other ways in which he might be able to save manpower. I do not know how many troops go out, but if he can save 1,500 on 10,000 men, he can save 7,500 on 50,000 men. He could well afford to look into this matter to see whether he could still further increase air trooping.
The right hon. Gentleman says that individuals are sent out mainly in units; I should like to know how many go individually as details and how many in units. I have an idea that a number of officers and other ranks are sent out individually to join units and do not go as units. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us the proportion between whole units lifted and transported, and individual details.
My hon. Friends want to raise other points, so I will not say any more than that we feel that the right hon. Gentleman should concede something to us if he wants our good will. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley told the House on one occasion that the whole question of recruiting for the Army is not a party matter and will never be settled in a party way. If we are to get the Army we want and should have, the right hon. Gentleman has to do something more than come here and make a charming speech, but putting off our serious questions as mere overstatements or something devised out of the imaginations of my hon. Friends.
What I am saying to the right hon. Gentleman applies in greater or lesser degree to all Secretaries of State for War. There are certainly considerations such as security matters which we understand very well, but, looking at the Army Estimates that we have today, and remembering the Army Estimates as they were presented before the war, we realise that we have very meagre information on which to base our debates compared with what we had before the war.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Yes, that is quite correct. I wish the right hon. Gentleman would put that map into the Estimates for every year, so that we could see where our troops are. If my memory is correct we had details of everything before the war. There may be reasons why we cannot have that information now, but the right hon. Gentleman should try to give more, as he attempted to do last year.
We shall not oppose these Estimates. They will go through, and the right hon. Gentleman will get what he has asked for. He has complained of misinformation; whose fault is that? It is not the fault of my hon. Friends but of the right hon. Gentleman himself. If he refuses to give us the information to which we are entitled he must not be surprised if some of our shots go wide of the mark.
§ Mr. Bellenger
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to stop my hon. Friends from puttings their points—
§ Mr. Bellenger
I wish the right hon. Gentleman would not be so adept at interrupting.
I have tried to put certain points to him this evening. Let him answer those points; that is enough to go on with this evening. I am not sure that the old couplet does not ring as true today as in the days of the Charge of the Light Brigade,Their's not to reason why,Their's but to do and die.We reject that principle. Army law, which remained in its ossified form for 60 or 70 years, or longer, has been altered. Why? Because of a joint operation between both sides of the House. The right hon. Gentleman will have saved himself some of the all-night sittings that we had in the past when we discussed the Army Annual Bill. We want the type of Army which I believe the right hon. Gentleman wants. The only difference between us is that he, with his military advisers, takes 1564 the easiest way of getting that Army, which is to call up men for two years' National Service.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I confess I did not understand the couplet of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), unless it has relation to certain proceedings in a Committee Room upstairs yesterday morning. It has certainly no application to the matter in hand.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the need for a joint inquiry into manpower, but I cannot conceive that such inquiry is necessary. All the information is now available to the Government. No outside body can discover any additional information or could come to the political decision which is now requisite. The Government will be inevitably faced with a major political decision on manpower before very long.
I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends that it is in the least necessary or wise to reduce the two years' period of conscription, because, as I pointed out in the defence debate the other night, those last few months—the 23rd month out of the 24th, the 22nd month and so on down to 18 months—are the most valuable months, and if the conscription period is reduced by six months we take away the most expertly trained manpower.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
The answer must be that the 18 months' trained soldier is not a fully trained soldier judged by the two years standard.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the strategic Reserve, and I have certain doubts and questions on this matter. We are told that 66,000 men are now going to be required for a strategic Reserve in this country, and they are found very rightly by the reduction of our overseas commitments. But I am not at all clear what the 66,000 men are going to do in the United Kingdom. If we are thinking in terms of providing mobile battalions for a nuclear war, they may well be needed, because we have been told of the dire rôle that they are going to perform in that ghastly eventuality.
1565 But I cannot conceive of the necessity for such a large number of men in purely colonial wars, which is the only other kind of war that we shall have to fight. We do not want such a large pool of men as that to reinforce our forces in Kenya or Malaya or in any Middle East activity in which we may be forced to take part. Already there is a large garrison in Cyprus for that purpose and it is not included in this home strategic Reserve.
We are told that barrack accommodation in this country is becoming heavily overcrowded. We are told that the congestion of young men being called up for National Service is now acute, and it seems to me that the Government will shortly have to come to a major decision about the call-up.
I suggested in the defence debate that the American system should be examined in order to try to find some scientific basis for the call-up which will take account of various factors which are not taken into account today, such as educational standards, medical standards, the need for deferment on grounds of business hardship, compassionate home postings and so on. If the Government jib at that, they are still confronted with the de facto situation of what I believe will be very severe congestion at home and the absence of suitable work for the troops—and when I say "suitable work" I do not mean just "brassing up," cleaning up and turning out smartly on the parade ground, but really doing something which will convince these young men that the whole operation is worth while.
What will happen if the Government decide, as the American Government have decided, to postpone a single call-up for a period of six months? The Americans are able to do it much easier because they have a complicated system of deferments and exemptions. But that sort of situation inevitably confronts the Government at the moment. There would, of course, be fierce dislocation if a call-up were postponed for six months. The training schools would have to close down. Men would have to be posted away from them, and all sorts of ancillary difficulties would arise. Indeed, it would create complications immediately, because a man, instead of being called up at 17½ or 18, would be called up at 18 or 18½ and all sorts of queries would 1566 arise at his school or university or business that he was due to enter.
I suggest that the scientific way to reduce the call-up is to accept those difficulties and meet them by refusing to take the men. That is perhaps an improvement on the suggestion I made the other night. Postpone the call-up for six months, and then, when the difficulties arise, meet them by exempting or deferring the men.
I should like to know whether the Government have begun to consider questions of this kind, because I feel sure that the need to do so will arise. The desire progressively to reduce conscription is by no means confined to the opposite side of the House. We on this side are as much concerned about it as hon. Members opposite. I am provoked into these observations by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw. I rose more for the purpose of voicing the anxiety which exists among the civil technicians of Anti-Aircraft Command. I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will be good enough to say something about that tonight.
I have had certain cases brought to my attention. They have been not only individual cases; they expressed a group anxiety. These are highly-paid men, very skilled in their work, who are entirely civilian trained and paid for out of the Service Vote. They maintain predictor equipment, radar apparatus and the various other machinery which is associated with anti-aircraft guns. If they were Service men they would probably accept the disbandment of their corps in the usual robust way in which Service men accept the charges and changes of Service life. These men are civilians with homes and families in this country. Very often they have to find their own houses, and they cannot easily get rid of them. They are worried about the future.
They want to know what is to happen to them. We know that the general purposes of Anti-Aircraft Command in the future, as science advances, are to be taken over by the R.A.F. and the ground-to-air missiles will be under R.A.F. command. Will an invitation be given by the R.A.F. to these technicians to cross the floor, as it were, from the Army to the R.A.F. and to enlist in the new command, whatever it is, of the R.A.F. which will be developing these new techniques? If 1567 that is so, I hope that the invitations will be issued soon, so that the anxiety and uncertainty of these men may be brought to an end.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Driberg
In the debate on the Air Estimates, I ventured to re-state the constitutional right of Service men to communicate with their Members of Parliament. I was very well satisfied with the reply which the Under-Secretary of State for Air gave me, and I hope very much that we shall have an equally satisfactory re-statement of that fundamental principle from the right hon. Gentleman, together with the assurance that there is to be no victimisation of any Service man who exercises this right.
I must preface my remarks, as I did in the earlier debate, by the qualification that I fully accept the official position, that it is better that the usual Service channels should be used whenever possible or, at any rate, first. None of us wants to be deluged with frivolous complaints from the Services, but, as everyone knows, those Service channels do sometimes get clogged. There have been a number of occasions, both at Question Time and in debate in the House, and still more frequently by letters to the Ministers concerned, when the consequence of a letter from a Service man to his M.P. has been the useful clearing up of some difficulty.
In the past I have often had occasion to praise the War Office for the humanity with which it deals with individual compassionate cases and other cases. I hesitate to say this, but my impression—and I do not put it higher than that—is that in the past year or two there has been a slight falling-off in comparison with the Air Ministry. In particular, I do not like the new War Office practice of refusing to investigate a case unless the hon. Member who raises it will provide the name, number and identification of the soldier concerned.
I quite see that in many cases there may be a practical difficulty in checking and identifying the complaint unless this identification is provided, but if the unit is sufficiently identified and if the Member of Parliament makes himself responsible for the allegations contained in the letter which he sends to the Minister, I suggest that the War Office ought to go ahead 1568 and investigate the complaint and not insist on being provided with names.
After all, Service men sometimes do not want their names furnished in such cases. There is a formal guarantee that there will be no victimisation. If there is victimisation, and it comes to the right hon. Gentleman's knowledge—of course I accept his bona fides—he takes severe action against those who are responsible, but there are subtler forms of victimisation which are difficult to deal with, and there is also occasionally—and I am happy to say that it is just as rare in the Army as it is in the Air Force—a serious case of quite open victimisation; and it is such a case which I want to bring to the right hon. Gentleman's attention tonight.
In February I asked the right hon. Gentleman a Question which excited a good deal of interest, and, I am afraid, some derision from the opposite side of the House—a Question about a cocktail party at the Packway Mess, Larkhill. I am not now arguing the merits of that case, about which I am still in correspondence with the right hon. Gentleman, but, incidentally, I am still convinced that I was right on the main point which I made, that a large part of the expenses of that party were not authorised by the preliminary mess meeting.
That, however, is not what I am arguing about tonight, nor am I making any general attack on the commanding officer concerned, although he has been quite free with his comments in the Press. So far as I know, he is in all respects an admirable and efficient commanding officer, although I believe that his old-fashioned ideas of hospitality are more agreeable to those officers who can afford to live up to them than to those who cannot.
It was indirectly from some of those officers who cannot, and who objected to the ad hoc use of accumulated mess funds for a purpose not approved by a mess meeting, that the complaint about the cocktail party came to me. But it came to me directly from the senior chaplain of Larkhill Garrison—I name him—the Rev. J. P. Stevenson.
In one of the letters which I have received from him he states his point of view thus:Last November I was approached by members of the Packway Mess, Larkhill, who complained about the spending of a large sum out 1569 of mess capital on a cocktail party, without the prior authority of a mess meeting. I had not then, nor have I now (apart from HANSARD and the Press), any first-hand knowledge of the truth or otherwise of these allegations; but I have always made it a guiding principle of my work as an Anglican priest to help those who come to me, to exercise any legal rights to which they may be entitled. It was for this reason that I passed to you the complaint…Regular officers and their wives have a deep-rooted prejudice about communicating with M.Ps., and I therefore agreed to act as broker for these unnamed clients.Mr. Stevenson goes on to say, in the same letter:From the time the Minister's first inquiry reached Larkhill, Lieutenant-Colonel Harington (who commands the 18th Medium Regiment) began a system of intensive screening to find out which members of the mess had communicated with you.Mr. Stevenson, being a man of candour and courage, not wanting even to seem to be doing anything surreptitious or underhand, and out of loyalty to his own Department—the Royal Army Chaplains' Department—dropped a note to the Deputy Assistant Chaplain General, Salisbury Plain District, to indicate that he was responsible for the Question being raised.
I am sorry to say that it was at this stage that the affair began to take a rather unpleasant turn. The D.A.C.G. came to see Mr. Stevenson on 7th February in what Mr. Stevenson has described in one of his letters to me as "a highly excited state." He added that the D.A.C.G.:In the course of the next hour and a half expressed, not without repetition, his feelings.Among other things he said that Mr. Stevenson must think in terms of resigning his commission and, to quote again from the letter, the Deputy Assistant Chaplain General, Salisbury Plain District, said:finally that I was to write a letter to you (which he would post, to make sure it went) … to say that I was 'satisfied' that all the information I had given you was untrue, and to beg you not to rise when the Question was called.This was just before the Question came up in this House.
He said he was prepared, on that condition, to do nothing in the matter; "otherwise he would take such action as he thought fit." Mr. Stevenson adds:I did not write the letter.I am very glad he did not. Quite apart from the constitutional question involved, 1570 it seems to me to have been a quite abominable interference with the integrity of a priest, by one of his fellow-chaplains, to suggest that he should write a letter containing what, so far as he knew, was a series of lies.
§ Mr. Driberg
Because I only got it in the past day. I am not quite sure whether this would be a prima facie case of Privilege or not, but I am raising it at the earliest possible moment now.
§ Mr. Driberg
I do not know whether you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would regard it as a matter of Privilege?
§ Mr. Driberg
The next incident after this very unpleasant visit from his senior fellow-chaplain on 7th February was on 10th March when, for reasons I really do not think I can go into, although I am quite prepared to tell the right hon. Gentleman about them privately—they are rather delicate—the commanding officer concerned visited the garrison chaplain—Mr. Stevenson's assistant, his "curate," as it were—to discuss one or two matters with him. As I say, I do not want to disclose what these matters were, but he was in a position to bring a certain amount of pressure on the garrison chaplain, and in the course of that visit the garrison chaplain confirmed to the commanding officer that Mr. Stevenson was the man responsible for communicating this matter to me.
Two days later, on 12th March, the commanding officer telephoned to the Deputy Assistant Chaplain General, the same man who had come to see Mr. Stevenson a month earlier, and—I quote again from Mr. Stevenson's letter—Without reference to me, Colonel Harington then rang up my Deputy Assistant Chaplain-General and indicated that he wanted suitable action taken against me. The D.A.C.G. came to see me … and said that I was to expect a posting away from Larkhill in about a week's time.This morning, I discussed the matter further by telephone with Mr. Stevenson, 1571 and I learned from him that the latest development is that he has been summoned for an interview either today or tomorrow—I am not quite sure which—with the Army Commander himself, the G.O.C.-in-C. Southern Command.
The matter is obviously of rather serious importance. I maintain—and I hope very much that the Secretary of State will agree—that an officer, and even a chaplain, is just as entitled as a private soldier to the constitutional right of communicating with Members of Parliament, and to protection against victimisation if he exercises that right. I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us when he replies that he will instruct all those concerned—even, if necessary, including the Army Commander himself—that they must not take any action whatever, by way of posting or otherwise, to penalise Mr. Stevenson for exercising his constitutional right and for doing what he conceives to be his duty as a chaplain and as a priest.
I am not arguing whether I was right or wrong about the cocktail party. It is not really relevant to my case about the main point whether the information sent me by Mr. Stevenson was correct or incorrect. He sent it in good faith. Obviously, he must be protected against victimisation.
The only other thing that I would ask the Secretary of State to consider doing is what the Under-Secretary of State for Air told us he has done in the Royal Air Force: that is, to circularise all commanding officers to remind them of the existence of this constitutional right. It is a matter which needs reaffirming from time to time because of the constant attempts that are made, by those who forget about it, to whittle it away.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
A number of points have been raised in the space of time that has been available to us. As it is fresh in the memory of the House I should like first to deal, out of sequence, with the points which the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) has just raised.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not regard it as a question of Privilege. It cannot be raised at this stage.
§ Mr. Wigg
With respect, there is a precedent for raising it at this hour of night. On 19th December, 1953, I think, I raised a question of Privilege with Mr. Speaker, in accordance with the rules of order that I should raise it at the earliest possible moment—that would be the day before the Christmas Recess—and Mr. Speaker was kind enough to hear me at about this hour of the evening, and gave his Ruling next morning.
What is important here, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is not to make a formal submission to you, but to take the earliest opportunity of bringing it to your notice. If my hon. Friend has received the letter only very recently, I should have thought that here was a case which required to be submitted to Mr. Speaker so that we could get his Ruling. There is a precedent for raising it at this hour.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not think it should be raised now. In any event, it has not been raised at the earliest opportunity.
§ Mr. Wigg
On the evidence supplied by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon, he is raising the matter at the first opportunity. The only point which we are now submitting to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is that there is a case here which would require to be submitted to Mr. Speaker tomorrow morning. In these circumstances it may affect what the right hon. Gentleman has to say.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I cannot accept the submission now. A submission can be made to Mr. Speaker, but not now.
§ Mr. Swingler
I want to be perfectly clear about your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Are you ruling that this matter can be raised with Mr. Speaker at the next opportunity?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am ruling that it cannot be raised now. Nor do I think that it has been raised at the earliest opportunity.
§ Mr. Driberg
I did explain, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I had only just received the letter during the past day. I could not have raised the matter at Question Time today. I understand that what 1573 you have just ruled does not rule out the possibility of the matter being raised tomorrow?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The matter can be raised with Mr. Speaker, but not with me in the middle of this business.
§ Mr. Head
I was about to say that the hon. Gentleman has brought forward what are undoubtedly very serious charges. I hope that I am not in any way prejudicing the hon. Gentleman's rights to raise this as a matter of Privilege. On his account, I would say that the situation which has been described is not the kind of situation which I or anyone connected with the Army would wish to occur. I am not in any way imputing anything against the hon. Gentleman, when I say that I hope that no one in this House or elsewhere will jump to conclusions about the matter until it has been investigated. I do not think the hon. Gentleman or any hon. Member would wish to do so.
We know that situations arise in which, even with the best will in the world, an individual's view may become warped. A situation can obtain, as has happened on occasion since I have been at the War Office, in which the general circumstances have gradually changed or become warped in an individual's view. I am not saying that that is what has happened in this case, and I am not imputing anything against the hon. Gentleman, but I would ask the House to await an investigation. That is all.
I cannot possibly, as hon. Members will see, comment on this matter at this stage without notice. I did not know that the hon. Gentleman was going to raise this matter. All I would say is that, in my opinion, from my knowledge of the chaplains and of the commanding officers of the Army, the kind of situation which the hon. Gentleman has described would in the British Army be extremely rare, even if this case should prove to be as he has described it.
§ Mr. Driberg
I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but I would remind him that the complainant is, after all, a senior chaplain at the important garrison of Larkhill—a man, presumably, of considerable status.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman is right, and that, 1574 even if the facts are established to have been as described, this is not a case likely to exist, except in very isolated and special circumstances. Therefore, as the right hon. Gentleman must be concerned about the reputation of the Army, would it not be much better for him to say nothing about it now but to give an assurance to the House that he will if necessary set up a court of inquiry under the presidency of a senior officer? I would urge that course upon him very strongly, because the facts may reveal the necessity for taking disciplinary action. Therefore, it would be better for him to say nothing about the matter at the moment.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Gentleman is most helpful—[Laughter.] This is a serious matter, and I do not want even to seem to treat it lightly, but the hon. Gentleman is most helpful and has come almost half-way to this Box in dealing with the case. However, it would be wrong of me to give at this stage any undertakings about a court of inquiry. I have not the particulars of this case.
All I am saying at this stage is that the hon. Gentleman has put forward serious charges, and has described a case which, from my knowledge of the Army, can be only a very rare occurrence, even if this case is as he has described it. But, as I say, at present I know nothing about it, and, therefore, I cannot usefully comment upon it. With all respect to the hon. Gentleman, it would be most unwise for me to give any undertakings about courts of inquiry or anything else. What we have to do now is to go into the matter and see what lies at the bottom of it.
I will tell hon. Members what I am anxious about. I am particularly anxious because, during the four years that I have had experience in this office, I have found that hon. Members have got up in the House and made in good faith very serious accusations against the Army, and then, as happened some time ago—I will not mention any names—they have been entirely disproved. The fact that they are disproved is of little or no importance to the Army; the headlines are there and the bad effect on the Army's reputation remains.
I am making this point because I think that hon. Members—again, I am not getting at the hon. Gentleman—have to be terribly careful before laying a charge 1575 against the Army which, with great respect to the Press, is news. Even if it is later disproved, as happened in one or two cases previously, it is then too late, for a denial is given nothing like the large headlines indicating a major scandal.
§ Mr. Driberg
The right hon. Gentleman will also agree, I hope, that charges made in this House have sometimes eventually been proved correct, even when originally denied by him.
§ Mr. Head
I am not denying anything. All I am pointing out—I think hon. Gentlemen will agree that it is fair—is that a charge has been made, which, if it were proved, would be a serious one, and all I am doing is asking hon. Members, and perhaps the Press, not to jump to conclusions before we have gone into the matter.
§ Mr. Wigg
Surely the best way for the right hon. Gentleman to deal with the matter is to say that he will investigate it, and if, on investigation, it is necessary—[Interruption.]—The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) may not like it, but if he understood the matter he would not be in such a hurry to interrupt me. The right hon. Gentleman can say that a case has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon, that he will investigate it and, if necessary, will appoint a court of inquiry, and, if it is necessary, when the court of inquiry reports to him, will take disciplinary action. What we want is an assurance of action, if necessary, and no whitewash.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Gentleman really has an immense facility for saying the same thing twice. He has said nothing different from what he said previously. If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would have realised that I had said that the matter must be gone into, and that 1 cannot say at this stage whether there will be a court of inquiry or not. The hon. Gentleman has taken some time to say the same thing twice, but I am sure that he did not mean to waste anybody's time.
I should like now to turn from that matter to deal with the general question of the Report stage and the speeches which have so far been made. During the year since the last Estimates the hon. 1576 Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and others have had full opportunity to criticise the Army, and during that period they have made full use of the opportunity. The same is true of the Press. That is all quite correct, and as it should be.
During that time I have tried, as impartially as I am able, to watch for constructive criticisms as to what we ought to do. I can tell the House frankly that, with very few exceptions, I have found extraordinarily little constructive criticism about how to run the Army in a better way. That has been my experience during the year. I have heard lots of insults, and I have heard what is wrong with the Army, but I have found extraordinarily little in the way of constructive comment.
As to comment on my Estimates speech, I have heard extraordinarily little as to how people would improve on the policy laid down in that speech. I have listened to suggestions which have been made during the debates on these Estimates—I will deal with some of them in a moment—but, without trying to be over-wise on the matter, I should like to point out that we have a problem today which hon. Gentlemen opposite have constantly stressed.
It is a two-fold one. The first aspect of it is the recruitment of as many Regulars as possible. The second aspect of the problem is to reduce the size of the Army as much as possible in line with our commitments. Those are our two main problems.
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) questioned the need for a strategic Reserve.
§ Mr. Head
The right hon. Gentleman says "that size," but he also complained that I did not tell him what the size was. It is a fact that we indicated that our strategic Reserve would be around the two division mark.
The right hon. Gentleman questioned the need for a strategic Reserve in this country, and this is the crux of the problem. Most hon. Members opposite say that without a strategic Reserve, whether in Germany or not, we could do way with National Service.
§ Mr. Head
I wrote down the right hon. Gentleman's words. Of course we shall read his speech in the Official Report. He said that we should count on the strategic Reserve being in Germany, and that a strategic Reserve in this country was not really necessary. That is how I understand it.
The essence of the strategic Reserve is that it is free of commitment in the event of crisis. That is to say, we have a long term commitment in Western Europe and it is there against either a major war of the conventional kind, or thermo-nuclear war. In addition we have world-wide commitments in what has come to be called the cold war. That embraces the Korean type of war, or the Malayan type of war.
As I tried to explain in the debate on the Estimates, we consider, on past experience, that to reach a situation where there are only one or two battalions in this country is not only very bad for the Army, but very dangerous if an extreme emergency crops up. Moreover, I do not believe that one can retain an Army indefinitely with practically all of it overseas. I do not believe that the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw can ask me why people do not sign on, and why there are not more Regulars, and then expect these Regulars to stay on when 80 per cent. of the fighting units are overseas. It does not add up.
§ Mr. Swinglerrose—
§ Mr. Head
We still have a debate on the Royal Navy before us, and we have had some very long debates, and I believe I know what the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) wants to say. This is not a contentious point. The hon. Member may disagree with me. I am stating my view, and I believe that it is shared by practically everybody who has studied the Army's affairs. Quite apart from our commitments, for which I believe a strategic Reserve to be essential, we must have a 1578 proportion of our Forces stationed at home.
§ Mr. Thomas
On a point of order. The Minister suggests that I have just come into the House. I have listened to the whole of his speech.
§ Mr. Thomas
I know. But the point I am raising is—[Hon. Members: "Oh."]—The Minister has given way. What is the proportion he is suggesting should be kept at home?
§ Mr. Head
I am answering the hon. Gentleman if he will listen. I have told him that about two divisions in this country was what we thought necessary. I have said that before.
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw accused us of withholding information. He said that we did not give enough information about the Army. He did not specify what he wanted to know, but I would say this to him. Since I have been at the War Office, I have been at great pains to give to the House the maximum possible amount of information. It is my belief that we are engaged in a war of deterrence. Were we engaged in a secret campaign of aggression against someone, there would be a good deal to be said for disguising the true size of our forces. But if the object is deterrence, if we are building up forces in order to prevent a war, I believe that undue security is wrong.
When I was in Opposition, I watched closely how much we were told by the 1579 then Government, and I say that we have told hon. Gentlemen opposite a very great deal indeed. It is easy to complain about not receiving enough information, but I have had few specific questions about what people want to know. I think we have told hon. Members opposite as much as possible. We have given them the numbers reduced by disbanding A.A. Command, and a map of where everything is. I will seriously consider any information which the right hon. Gentleman desires to know. It has been my intention to give the House all the information possible without doing anything stupid. Although I am well aware that the complaint about lack of information is often made, I hope and believe that to a large extent it is rhetorical rather than actual.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the colonial forces, and asked why we did not build them up to a far greater size and thereby economise in our manpower. I dealt with that at considerable length during the Committee stage, and I hope—
§ Mr. Head
I dealt with that at some length during the Committee stage. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was in the House at the time, but I think it would be repetitious to say it again now.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the rôle of the Territorial Army in a nuclear war. I said then, and I say again now, that if a nuclear war occurred, there is nothing more to say about the role of the Territorial Army than I said in my speech on the Estimates. If thermonuclear weapons were dropped on this country, it would be a struggle for survival, and I cannot believe that the presence of disciplined, ordered, controllable and armed men would be anything but of inestimable value, and might even be a decisive factor.
§ Mr. Head
That is the rôle, if there is a thermo-nuclear war. But there are endless permutations.
We might have the threat of a conventional war, or even a conventional war. Or there might be a period after a 1580 thermo-nuclear war when we had perhaps defeated the thermo-nuclear efforts of, say, Russia, and in which we had to save the world. There are endless possibilities, and I do not think that the House would desire me to go into them at great length.
As was said by the Prime Minister—and this interested the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)—if we reached what is termed saturation, when neither side would dare to initiate a thermo-nuclear war, because they both had the capacity, possibly, to finish off civilisation, we should tend to get back to what I might call the pre-Hiroshima stage, when the power and the ability of one side to be stronger than the other would tend to rest once again on conventional weapons.
If thermo-nuclear conditions got to that stage, we should tend to return again to conventional weapons. It will be some considerable time before that might happen, and I am only arguing on a hypothetical and long-term proposition. But if the right hon. Gentleman thinks it out carefully I believe that he will agree.
I know that the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South feels strongly that we ought to think very hard about how we can reduce the period of National Service. I agree with him on that. I know that at the back of his mind, and at the back of the minds of many others, especially of hon. Gentlemen opposite, there is a feeling that the Army, in particular, and I myself, are quite prepared to say, "We have got two years' National Service. Do not let us worry about economy of manpower. We have got all we want."
I can assure hon. Gentlemen that that is not the case. It is very hard indeed to convince hon. Gentlemen of that, and I almost feel like circulating the papers on the manpower question. We have made very close inquiries into the question of manpower and National Service. I agree with the noble Lord that to reduce from, say, two years to 18 months is very difficult. I would not deny that, as time goes by, it might be possible to make some gradual reduction in the period, not of months, but of something.
That is the dilemma that the right hon. Gentleman opposite knows and which the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), who has been an Under-Secretary of State for 1581 War, knows. It might be something which would not amount to much, but which might fit into some restriction in the call-up. But there one is at once in a dilemma. We can either have a restriction on the basis of a ballot, which is really not a very good thing in a small community, or on the basis of exempting certain classes, it may be by exempting highly technical or agricultural classes. There are lots of candidates for this particular exemption.
Partial exemption, whether by ballot or by particular classes, must present a major problem to every Government, Can the hon. Gentleman think of a class which he could exempt? He would have a fearful job with others who would have an equal claim. That is the problem. I also believe that any form of ballot for National Service is probably not worth while introducing, unless, so to speak, the bookmaker's odds against drawing a lucky ticket are fairly good. I do not think that such a ballot would be popular in this country. It would just seem to be a fluke for a very few, and would annoy people.
I can assure the noble Lord that not only have we our eye on this matter, but that the Government have their eyes very firmly on me and on the War Office. The pressure which hon. Gentlemen opposite seek to put upon me is, I think, not half so strong as the pressure put upon me by my own Government. Anybody who thinks that the Secretary of State for War can just walk down to the House and say, "We will retain the two years' National Service," is quite wrong. That is a matter which is scrupulously examined all the time.
I have already referred to the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Maldon. I did so before I made the rest of my speech. But the hon. Gentleman made two other points. The first was that he wanted me to reiterate the undertaking given by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air that there was no victimisation of Service men who raised matters with Members of Parliament. The hon. Gentleman also suggested that we should, perhaps, once again circularise the Army.
I really think—and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will believe me—that, at the moment, there is no need to circularise 1582 the Army about this matter. We have an immense correspondence of this kind. It is only too well known among commanding officers. We have a far greater mail on these questions than the Royal Air Force has ever had.
§ Mr. Head
Not only more men, but higher numbers proportionately, too.
There is another psychological difference. Everyone who goes into the Royal Air Force is a volunteer. More people want to go into the R.A.F. than that Service can take. Therefore, there is an element of approach—I will not say of good will. The Army takes all the badboys, the Teddy boys, the Borstal boys and the approved school boys. I am not complaining; many of them make very good soldiers. But we have a very great number of them, and I can assure the hon. Member that the Army is very well used to soldiers writing to their Members of Parliament. The hon. Member would be surprised to know the great number of officers in the British Army who know him well by name, if not personally.
He also asked why we would not take up cases when the names of the complainants were not given. I am afraid I must stand pat upon that rule. If the hon. Member tells me that the sergeant of the 20th Something Regiment, stationed at so-and-so, did something frightful, but the hon. Member does not want to give the name of the person concerned because he is afraid that he might get into trouble, I have two alternatives. I can either say that I cannot take the matter up unless the name is given, or I can take it up without knowing the name. If I take the matter up and it is found that the complaint is unwarranted, I have caused a great stir up in the unit, there has probably been a proper blowup, and perhaps the sergeant or the N.C.O. concerned has got into trouble.
I should not blame the hon. Member, because he could not possibly know that the complaint was unwarranted, but if I once started taking up such cases when the man who makes the allegation remains anonymous I should stir up immense trouble, very often quite unfairly; and this is a rule upon which I shall stand pat. I know that the hon. Member will say, "Surely if the Member of Parlia- 1583 ment will guarantee that the facts are correct you will take it up?" but there again the average hon. Member has not time to visit the unit and establish that the facts are correct.
§ Mr. Driberg
If one happens to have some personal knowledge of the complaint, and if it refers to such a thing as alleged bad cooking in some identified canteen—for instance, in a camp in Shropshire—why should not the matter be looked into?
§ Mr. Head
I do not think that there is any valid case for withholding the name of the complainant in a case of alleged bad cooking.
I do not want to mention my personal life in detail, but I know that many of my friends have made startling complaints, in moments of irritation and frustration which, upon investigation, have been found to be grossly exaggerated. Investigations into anonymous complaints made to Members of Parliament would lead to much trouble, and might even lead to disaffection in units, upon grounds which might not be justified. I stand pat upon that, and so long as I am here I shall refuse to investigate anonymous complaints.
§ Mr. Head
I apologise for having reduced the Navy to such very short straits.
I conclude by saying, just for the record, that it is my opinion that the method we have adopted this year for dealing with the Estimates has been a very considerable improvement upon that which we adopted last year, when we sat up until nearly lunch-time. I hope that, if hon. Members opposite feel the same way about it, the present system will be retained.
§ Mr. Swingler
The right hon. Gentleman made a very serious statement tonight about the four divisions in Germany. He rested his case for the strategic Reserve which he required in this country upon the nature of Britain's commitments in Germany. Is he interpreting the nature of the commitment of four divisions in Germany as being such that he thinks he will not be able to move units from Germany to 1584 other places where they are required in an emergency? If that is his interpretation, it is a new one. So far as I understand it, the argument hitherto has been that the four divisions in Germany constitute a commitment in case of an emergency in Europe, but that does not mean that the Secretary of State is unable to move troops from Germany to other parts of the world if required. I thought that, in that sense, they formed a strategic Reserve.
§ Mr. Head
That is an important point, but it has been discussed before in the House. We have a commitment in Germany, and whether or not that commitment is pinned or not is dependent upon the situation at the time. The true definition of a reserve is something which is not pinned.
Those four divisions in Germany are there for a specific purpose. If the situation becomes more tense they are automatically committed. Therefore we have not a Reserve for other purposes. The strategic Reserve in this country is not committed. It has no specific task. That is why I differentiate between the four divisions in Germany and the two divisions to form the strategic Reserve in this country.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
I wish to turn the attention of hon. Members from the high matters which the Secretary of State has been discussing to one on which I feel strongly and which is of importance to the Army, namely, the question of barracks. Whether a soldier be a National Service man or a long-service soldier, he has to live in barracks or in married quarters. In raising these points, I am saying nothing against the present Secretary of State for War, because the question goes back not only for 50 years but for much longer even than that. Nevertheless, it is not one that we can pass over lightly.
When called up, National Service men are put into barracks which, as the Secretary of State himself told us in his Estimates speech, are usually a disgrace. When long-service soldiers are moved from one station to another they are likely to be put into married quarters into which they cannot honestly and decently ask their wives to go. On page 132 of the Army Estimates a sum of £135,000 is provided for barrack services. Whether that 1585 is for keeping them in repair or building new ones, I do not know. On page 154, no less a sum than £2¾million is charged in respect of rent by married officers and other ranks as payment for accommodation occupied in married quarters, which are Army barracks. The sum seems quite out of proportion.
In the very few minutes which are now available, I have not an opportunity of taking this House on a tour of the barracks within my own constituency and the constituencies of other hon. Members. Many of them were built in the year 1900. A large number of the barrack rooms have no water. The main services are quite impossible, and it is also impossible to keep the rooms clean. I have no knowledge, but I dare say that these remarks will apply equally to the Royal Air Force and to the Navy.
The Secretary of State took on the heritage of a large number of years, but I ask him to do something in a big way to put right some of the barracks in which are obliged to live the troops about whom we have been talking. These barracks make a very bad impression on young soldiers who are called up, and a worse impression still on the long-service soldier who needs accommodation for his wife and family.
If my right hon. Friend wants an improvement, I hope a beginning can be made by providing proper barracks for the troops in this country. Recruiting would then be made easier for the Army as well as the signing on for fresh service of married soldiers. Very often they are prevented from so doing in the present circumstances by their wives because there are no proper married quarters.
§ It being half-past Nine o'clock, Mr. Speaker proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16 (Business of Supply), to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the Resolution under consideration.
§ Question, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution, put and agreed to.
§ Mr. Speaker then proceeded to put forthwith, with respect to each of the following Resolutions come to by the Committee of Supply and not yet agreed to by the House, the Question, That this House doth agree with the Committee in that Resolution.