HC Deb 31 January 1956 vol 548 cc737-40
19. Mr. Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will consider stopping immediately the sending of National Service men to Cyprus, Kenya and Malaya.

30. Mr. Malcolm MacPherson

asked the Secretary of State for War how many recruits have been sent to Cyprus after only ten weeks' training; and how many it is intended to send in the near future.

31. Mr. Bence

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that National Service men of the Highland Light Infantry are being sent to Cyprus after ten weeks' training; and if he will alter his regulations so as to prevent this.

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)

The rules governing the eligibility of both Regulars and National Service men for posting to these theatres were introduced in 1947 and have continued unchanged except for Korea and the addition of acclimatisation training in Kenya and Malaya. Men must be not less than 18 years, 3 months, on embarkation and have completed not less than ten weeks' training, and a total of twelve weeks' service in this country. Most soldiers do more than this minimum. Long experience, and the record of the men themselves, have shown that these rules have worked.

Without very great clerical effort I cannot say how many of all the men now in Cyprus or previously sent there had completed only the bare minimum of training and service. The proportion was not large.

Mr. Allaun

Is it not utterly immoral to send lads of 18, too young even to have a vote, to kill and to be killed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and, as in the case of Cyprus, not to defend their own country but to deny freedom to others? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Does not the Minister appreciate the feelings of parents as their sons are drawn into this dirty mess created by our own Government?

Mr. Head

Nobody wants the necessity for National Service or desires that people should have to serve at that age. It has been done very often in the past. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have served at that age in various wars. All I can say is that both sides of the House—I am not trying to shift the responsibility —have given this matter careful thought. I can assure the hon. Member that this is the only way of working it. I am satisfied from my experience that, though nobody wants to do it, it does work and it has worked and I believe that it is the best method.

Sir A. Gomme-Duncan

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the great majority of National Service men and their parents very much resent this idea that they are hot-house flowers who are not to go into danger like Regular soldiers, and that they wish to do their full tasks?

Mr. Malcolm MacPherson

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us some idea of the proportion of time used by these men in continuing their training after ten weeks in this country and the proportion used for other matters which are not training?

Mr. Head

That varies according to the country they are in. If they go to Kenya or Malaya they have a period of acclimatisation training. It depends upon what job they are in. By and large, I would say that the average unit spends quite a large proportion of its time in training, even in operational theatres.

Mr. Bence

Will the Minister investigate certain charges that were made in a Glasgow newspaper that National Service men are being offered by their officers the alternatives of going to Cyprus or signing on as Regulars?

Mr. Head

That is a very old question. It has come up before. I have stated, and I say again now, that any question of that form of what one might call blackmail recruiting is frowned upon by me. I am against it.

Mr. Shinwell

Will not the right hon. Gentleman reconsider this matter of sending young lads overseas after only ten weeks' basic training when they are expected to engage in active service? Would he not make a distinction between places where, as in Cyprus, men are expected to engage in active service and, say, Germany, which is regarded as a home command, or any other part of the Middle East?

Mr. Head

The identical problem confronted the right hon. Gentleman himself in the Canal Zone, Kenya and Malaya, and he came to the same conclusion as we did, that if we extend beyond the minimum regulation that is necessary for those doing National Service we get into very great complications. This period of ten or twelve weeks' minimum service has worked in the past and is working today. I have not found any instance where difficulty is caused by lack of training.

Mr. Nairn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a great many National Service men prefer to do their service overseas—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—are proud to serve their country in dangerous areas and are pleased to have the opportunity of seeing a great deal of what goes on outside this country and not to be confined all the time within the United Kingdom?

Mr. Head

I think that is so. I should like to add that these young men with comparatively little training have done frightfully well wherever they have served.

Mr. Shinwell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in 1947 and during the period of the Labour Government men were not sent overseas after ten weeks' basic training unless it was clearly understood—this was stated in the House on several occasions—that a suitable time should elapse before they were acclimatised and that they were not expected to engage in active service in Malaya or anywhere else?

Mr. Head

In fact the acclimatisation training rules in Malaya were brought in much later than that. It does not alter the fact that in the disturbances in the Middle East at the time when the Labour Government were in office the same rules obtained.