HC Deb 08 February 1956 vol 548 cc1668-70
52. Mr. Allaun

asked the Minister of Defence if, in the light of the recent Services review, he will reconsider his refusal to reduce or abolish the period of National Service.

The Minister of Defence (Sir Walter Monckton)

The policy of Her Majesty's Government remains as set out in the White Paper on National Service (Cmd. 9608).

Mr. Allaun

Does the Minister appreciate that conscripts and their parents would greatly prefer a substantial cut now to vague remarks by the Prime Minister about what might or might not happen in 1958, and that they would greatly prefer bread now to a promise of pie in the dim, distant future?

Sir W. Monckton

I have to bear in mind the prospects of recruitment to the Regular Army and the commitments which the Services have to perform, and that is the deciding factor.

Mr. Shinwell

Is the Minister aware that the United States Government have now decided to reduce the period of national service for their draftees from 24 to 18 months? Does not that make any impact on his mind?

Sir W. Monckton

The reasons which induced us to retain the 24 months were fully debated on 2nd November. I have no reason to change the view which I then expressed.

Mr. Strachey

Will the Minister bear in mind the Prime Minister's recent declaration that it is the Government's aim to abolish National Service altogether? Surely he does not think that that can be done in one step from a Service point of view. Ought the Minister not, therefore, to consider the prospect of reducing the period instead of the Government's present very unsatisfactory scheme of raising the age of call-up?

Sir W. Monckton

One considers these things all the time, but the Prime Minister made it clear that what he was talking about was the first of the two qualifications which I made earlier, namely, the growth of regular recruitment. If we have that we can measure up to our commitments and that will make all the difference, but it is no good making promises in advance.

53. Mr. Zilliacus

asked the Minister of Defence whether he will limit the duty to serve of National Service men strictly to national defence and liberate them from Imperial or international police duties, that is, from serving in colonial or United Nations wars, unless they volunteer for such service.

Sir W. Monckton

No, Sir.

Mr. Zilliacus

Is the Minister not aware that under the military service legislation of Belgium, France and the Netherlands conscripts are exempt from colonial service unless they volunteer? Is it not an anomaly that in this country, in which peace-time conscription is an abhorrent novelty, we should show less respect for human rights and be less scrupulous about exercising the tyrannous power of the State than the old conscript countries?

Sir W. Monckton

We must not call it so much of a novelty. It began in 1949, and there has always been since then a world-wide liability. If we altered it we should reduce the efficiency of our forces.

Mr. Nairn

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the implications of this Question will be strongly resented by many National Service men of all shades of political opinion?

Mr. Wade

Does the Minister not agree that the attitude of mind implied in the Question is very insular, and that there is little hope of maintaining permanent world peace unless and until there is created some form of international police force?