§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
I beg to move,That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to prepare forthwith a four-year plan for the ending of National Service, with the last call-up in December, 1958, and for the building up of Regular Armed Forces; to discuss this plan with our Allies at the December meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Council and, in the light of that discussion, to take their final decision on its implementation: and, further, calls for a substantial cut in defence expenditure.I have read all the words of the Motion to the House because, from some of the discussions which have gone on outside—in newspapers, and elsewhere—about our debate today, it seems to me that there is a great tendency to comment without having read exactly what it is that comment is invited upon. One might get the impression either that we were proposing that the Government should act unilaterally, without consulting N.A.T.O., or were calling upon them to end conscription this year. Indeed, all kinds of weird and wonderful things might be imagined from some of the comments made by the newspapers.
In fact, as those who have read the Motion, or have heard me read it, will see, we are asking for none of those things. We are proposing that the Government should embark now, without any further loss of time, upon what is bound to be a long-term operation—an operation which, in our view, is bound to take four years to bring to fruition. Unless it is embarked upon at some stage the ship will never come home at all. Therefore, we think that it should begin at this stage, and without any further loss of time, because so much time has already been lost in facing the essential issues—of which this is only one—of our defence planning.
1168 One of the reasons why we are so anxious that the House should pass a Motion setting out a time-table which should be adhered to and indicating the amount of time involved, rather than the very vague—however excellently worded—Amendment of the Government, is simply that if we stick to the sort of vague proposals which are outlined in the Amendment we shall go on doing what we have been doing up till now, making a lot of statements which mislead many people and incline them to the view that we are going to do something when we are not, and ending up with even more time lost than we have lost already.
Of course, it is open to be argued that what is happening in the Suez Canal area at the moment in some way makes the timing of this debate open to question. If, next week, we are faced—as we might be—with a very ugly international situation, arising out of what has happened in the Suez area, the Government, the House and the country will have to consider our whole position in the light of that situation. We all hope, of course, that it will not come to that. If it does not, the position will not have to be faced, but, if it does, then it will have to be faced, and so we accept it like everybody else.
Since we all hope that it will not come to that, and since there is no reason for declaring at this stage that it will, and since, in any case, it will inevitably be a long-term operation on which we invite the Government to embark, there seems to be every reason for continuing to discuss the merits of this long-term operation. I should have thought that it was open to argument that one of our problems about defence in this country is that we have made too many stops and starts and changes in course, because of changes of wind, and as a result we have never continued on a chosen course long enough to get the benefit from that course. I should have thought that, for all these reasons—and I personally do not accept the argument that there is any reason why we should delay the necessary preliminary discussion of this objective—when dealing with the use of manpower in the forces, our object is to make it more effective and less costly than it is now.
Let me say one other thing by way of preliminary. I do not start, and I do not 1169 invite the House to start, from the view that in changing over from half-conscript and half-Regular forces to wholly Regular forces which would be smaller in total number, we assume that that means that we would then get a weaker defence effort as a result. If I thought that, then, as I said in the debate in February, I would not myself accept it.
Indeed, I think it is very much open to argument that, so long as one can see one's way through the difficulties—and I will be quite frank and mention some of them in a moment—the ultimate result of the operation, once carried out, will be a much more effective, much stronger and keener, as well as possibly less costly, defence service than we have at the present time. That is an additional reason for not assuming that this is something from which we can withdraw the moment the climate is unfriendly outside. If I am right in my conclusion, it is something with which we should push on, rather than withdraw from.
This debate does not start on its own, out of the blue, on the subject of manpower. I do not propose myself to discuss this as a mathematical operation in which we have a lot of sums based on a lot of figures, most of which are conjectural, on which one may make assumptions upon the basis of the sums one has done. It is not that kind of debate or that kind of operation. This debate springs out of and continues the one we had in February this year.
In that two-day debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), who opened it, and many of those who took part in it, made a number of criticisms which were received not at all badly in the House and outside. They were criticisms of the way in which the Government had been carrying on their administration of our defence services. In particular, we criticised the amount of money that was being spent, not of itself, not as being wrong to spend that amount of money necessarily, but for the lack of results it was producing either in the forces, in equipment for the forces, in the mobility of the forces, or in any of the things that really mattered.
We asked in that debate that the Government should take action, not just waffle and dither along, but take action. 1170 Among the things which we asked them to do was to overhaul the defence planning and defence direction here in Whitehall, to take real steps to get an effective defence direction and planning organisation, and to make up their minds on their attitude to the implications of the nuclear weapons that are now coming so much more easily; and I use those words in the sense of meaning just that, because they are much easier to hand, much more easily transportable, and can be used with much smaller deliverers.
We asked them to get down to the possibilities of the kind of Air Force they wanted, and the kind of equipment, in the shape of planes, rockets, and missiles with which they wanted that Air Force to operate. We pointed out that we were very likely to get the appropriate missiles without the appropriate planes to fly them, or, alternatively, we might have the planes without any particular weapon system that should be used with them. Finally, among other things, we asked the Government to make up their minds on the question of National Service.
I do not think it will be unfair to say that the Government reply to that debate was ineffective in the extreme. The Minister of Defence, whose absence we all deplore today—I understand that he is unwell, and we are all sorry about that, because the right hon. and learned Gentleman is one of the most liked men in the House—had to plead that he had had only a few weeks in his office at that time, and, obviously, could not have been expected to know all the answers.
The Secretary of State for Air will forgive me for recalling that, when he wound up the debate, there was virtually a complete collapse, and we had no reply at all. From the point of view of the Government Front Bench, it was a most ineffective answer to a debate which was generally thought to have been, on the whole, useful and of a very high standard.
We are, therefore, entitled to ask the Government today, and this is the point from which we start, what they have done since they failed in that debate to show us any real answer to our criticisms. Virtually six months have gone, and during that period we have been spending about £700 million at the present annual 1171 rate of expenditure. Have we got anything better at the end of it, after having added £700 million to the already largely wasted expenditure of £4,500 million? Have we anything better to show for the additional money and the time that has passed since then? We have only to ask the question for the answer to become obvious.
Have we reorganised the aircraft industry, which, everybody agreed, needed reorganising so urgently? Have we cut down the large number of contractors, each of whom was using too small a labour force? Has the Air Force overcome its aircraft troubles? Has the Air Force got a fighter plane which can use missiles when available? Have we got the rôle of the Royal Navy clear since then? It looks to me to be a little optimistic to say that we have, in the light of some of the statements that have come from the Admiralty. Has the defence organisation been put right? Are we still operating with a Chiefs of Staff Committee and with a chairman who, as chairman, as was said by my right hon. Friend, is, as it were, the chairman of the other club, co-operating against the politicians in charge?
One only has to ask the questions to see that the answers are obvious. No change has taken place at all in any one of the things about which hon. Members in all parts of the House asked the Government to do something rather urgently so that we might have an effective defence system in this country in keeping with the danger of the times in which we live, with the needs of the times, and with the need to render an effective contribution to the alliances with our Allies?
I am quite sure that nothing has been done, and that is where we begin this debate. We shall proceed to concentrate attention on one particular aspect of this matter, but I beg the House to realise that this is one of a number of major defence issues, which the Government have burked, are burking, and, to judge by the Amendment on the Order Paper, show every sign of continuing to burk, so long as they continue to occupy their present position.
We are really in great danger of repeating some of the worst mistakes of the 'thirties. This business of a Defence Minister who looks more and more like a 1172 Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, such as we had before the war, and less and less like a Defence Minister, ought to worry everybody in this House and outside it, too. This is not a question of the personality of the Minister. It is the nature of his appointment, the nature of his responsibilities and the obvious way in which he simply appears either as a post box or a co-ordinator, whatever that may mean. I regard that as the paramount change which the Government have to make.
Something else has happened during those six months which transcends the dither over these major issues, and for which I think that Ministers are guilty. We have had a succession of waffling speeches in the country in which the speakers held out what I consider were quite unjustifiable hopes of rosy changes—speeches in which we were told that we could have all this and heaven, too, in no time at all. Speeches made by Ministers gave the impression that they were hoping, or intending—and one could read into them which interpretation one pleased—to get rid of National Service at an early date, and there was no reason why people should not assume that that would happen. We have had speeches about making large cuts in the cost of defence, of reducing the level of defence spending, which must have led people to assume that something would happen.
The worst of them all was the speech made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Foreign Press Association. I looked again last night at the hand-out of that speech from his Department. Unless the Minister of Labour and National Service has a concrete announcement to make today, it is fantastic that a four-page document of close type should be issued by the Press Office of Her Majesty's Treasury with the whole, or nearly the whole, of the first two pages entirely concerned with discussing what would happen if we could get our percentage of expenditure on defence down to 5 per cent.; if we saved £700 million beyond what the right hon. Gentleman called spare resources, and then applied that £700 million to other things.
On reading it one assumes that it is to be done and one has to read all through it before one finds, right down near the bottom of the second page:Of course, these calculations are a pipe-dream. We know we cannot have it.1173 What is the point, when a Chancellor not only spends his lunch-time saying this but, in days when he is supposed to be looking for economies, turns on the whole Press machine of the Treasury to issue this document, presumably for everybody to print, and then says, "Of course, it is all nonsense. We know we cannot have it and we do not intend to"?
Not only is it silly and, I think, rather cheap, but it is very dangerous. When this is reported and circulated round the country the qualifications and reservations attached to it are not always apparent. People assume that a Chancellor who goes to the trouble of making a lunch-time speech and issuing a handout about saving £700 million is on the verge of doing so, or wishes to try to do so. They get the wrong idea about the possibilities in defence spending and the wrong idea about the political situation.
As the House will know, I do not always agree with what is said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). But I thought that he was absolutely right when he told the Secretary of State for War the other night that one part of the recruiting problem is the confusion caused in the minds of those who would have been the sort of people to recruit by these implications of vast changes.
Ministers, in my opinion, must bear a large measure of the guilt for having approached this matter in an inadequate, impossible and misleading way. They have confused our people at home and frightened our friends abroad. Part of the problem which has arisen in Germany, and the complications there, result not from Motions put down by the Opposition, but from the fact that our friends overseas do not know what the Government may be up to. They are disturbed by what they read about what Ministers are saying.
Instead of doing this kind of thing, the Government should have been giving a sensible and sober lead towards bringing about the much overdue and much needed N.A.T.O. reappraisal. In the last few months we have had so many stories put out about the alleged weakness of N.A.T.O. that we are doing serious harm to an alliance which is of absolute and paramount importance to us and our friends on the Continent. There are aspects of the N.A.T.O. alliance which 1174 are the only bright pieces in the picture at all in the world today.
We have the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, in which all the Atlantic Powers are involved, and which is of tremendous importance. Instead of gradually and insidiously weakening it, by stories about its weaknesses which are allowed to gain currency while the Government talk about other things—which makes it appear as though the alliance will be weakened still further—the Government ought to have been taking the lead in bringing about the reappraisal of N.A.T.O. which we are told is needed.
We hear a lot about the "trip-wire" strategy. The "trip-wire," apparently, is to lead to massive retaliation. Many people discount that strategy—Sir Richard Gale was talking about it the other day—and say that we have to be prepared to fight in a conventional way, with conventional forces and weapons. All this must be made clear. I do not think that the position may be viewed in terms of black and white, and it may well be that there are confused ideas about the things for which we have to be prepared. But we have to know something about the sort of operations for which we are being prepared, for we cannot prepare 100 per cent. for everything. If we go on trying to do everything we shall end up by doing nothing at all adequately.
If the "trip-wire" strategy is the correct one, how thick is the "tripwire"? How many men are needed on the ground? What fire power is required? Do weapons take the place of men or not? All these things need defining and making clear. It is most important in connection with the position we are discussing today. At present we have a commitment to place certain forces at the disposal of N.A.T.O. Here let me make myself absolutely clear so that I shall not be misrepresented at any stage. None of us on this side of the House is thinking in terms of "welshing" on that commitment at all—
§ Mr. Brown
At any stage. If the hon. Member will listen to me, instead of holding up a piece of paper, he will find that the argument is in what I am saying not on paper. At no stage do we envisage 1175 "welshing" on what is very much our commitment on this side of the House. We regard it with pride and importance. Neither before nor after 1958 do we contemplate "welshing" on it.
I admit that the corrollary of what I have said is for me to show that the commitment can be met after 1958 as before. But let us be clear about what is the commitment. It does not mean that a certain number of bodies are committed to the Continent. It is a commitment to place at the disposal of the Supreme Commander four divisions and a tactical Air Force or what, in his judgment, is the equivalent in fighting capacity. We must recognise that conditions change and, of course, military conditions change like all other conditions. We do not live in a static world, and the number of bodies needed to meet that commitment may change.
Changing weapons; changing forms of organisation of the troops in the field; the cutting out of some of the "tail" they carry; less reliance on the dumps behind them—which they may never be able to reach in the conditions of an atomic war—and more on their own resources as they move about—all these things may well make a difference to the number of bodies essential to carry out our commitment in full. Therefore, I say that we have to get the N.A.T.O. reappraisal going so that we can see what is the nature of our commitment in the relevant circumstances of the day, rather than rely on something which, in some circumstances, may be quite irrelevant.
We have only to think back for seven years to realise how much now exists which was then hardly dreamed of, much less thought of as practical possibilities, to realise how irrelevant many of the decisions made then may be in the circumstances of today. I am not putting up a back-door argument for weakening our commitments. I am saying that the present-day nature of the commitments must be decided in the light of present-day circumstances.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
I have followed the argument of the right hon. Gentleman with great interest, but I would like to have a point made clear. If there is to be a N.A.T.O. reappraisal, which is very reasonable, would it not be 1176 wiser to wait for it before arriving at a conclusion?
§ Mr. Brown
I was going to deal with that point shortly but I will deal with it now.
Let us remember that N.A.T.O. is not the "three wise men", but is a collection of fifteen Governments. For fifteen Governments to reappraise their outlook they must have ideas of their own in accordance with which their representatives can discuss and operate. They cannot go there in vacuo. They must have national ideas to pool, out of which to formulate a common policy.
The Motion which we are discussing has been carefully worked out. There is no need for anybody to smile at the word "carefully". Care is something you should always use on defence. We are suggesting that we should try to make up our minds about the right policy with which to make our contribution to N.A.T.O. We can take that policy to the discussion as our contribution to the final decision. If we go there with nothing at all, nothing will come out of the discussion, because everybody will have to go back home and consult his home Government again. A point must be reached where one Government will try to get the others to go with them.
What I am saying about our commitments may not be the only circumstances in which a change will be made. The difficulties in getting a N.A.T.O. reappraisal may be too great and we may have to consider renegotiating our share in our original commitment.
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
I do not disagree with much that the right hon. Gentleman has just said, but it does not seem to follow from his earlier argument, when he said he was uncertain whether the new weapons were coming along. He now says that so great will be the hitting power of the new weapons in four years' time that we can cut down their number.
§ Mr. Brown
All I am uncertain about is whether the Government are getting those weapons at the rate at which we need them. One of the corollaries of not adopting this policy is that the Government may try to keep 360,000 men immobile and ill-equipped, but we cannot do that for ever. The fact that we 1177 have so many men may lull us into doing it for a time, but once we get down to 200,000 men, or thereabouts, the need that they shall be mobile and air-transportable, and the need for new weapons, becomes inescapable. One of the arguments about starting this operation of doing away with National Service is that it will force a reluctant Government to think of action which they do not want to take under their own steam.
Let me make it clear that nobody in this country has ever accepted the proposition that we have conscription here permanently, but the logical ending of much that is being said today by those who oppose the Motion is that, in some form, conscription is here for ever. If that is the view of the Government, or of any Government, that Government should go and tell the people. Nobody has ever accepted that this is a permanent business, but if it is not permanent then at some stage the operation of getting rid of it and replacing conscription by Regular forces has to be faced.
For many reasons, which I may mention soon, we say that this may well be as good a time as we shall get for starting this operation. For the moment, I am simply saying that it is no use meeting my argument with an argument that really means that we are going on with conscription for ever and shall never be able to get rid of it, unless we are prepared to go to the country and say so.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I am sure that my right hon. Friend wants to be fair, and I want this to be a good-humoured debate. Let me point out to my right hon. Friend that it is wrong to say that all those who oppose him want National Service for ever. If my right hon. Friend will take the elementary trouble to read the original debate, which took place in 1952, he will find that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) and myself who told the House of Commons that certain things were necessary. Nothing was done. It is my right hon. Friend and his hon. Friends, by failing to act for many years and by coming forward now with this preposterous proposition, who are fixing conscription on this country for ever.
§ Mr. Brown
If my hon. Friend makes that speech too often by way of interruption we shall all be tired of it when it comes in its proper place in the debate. It is a perfectly proper view and one that my hon. Friend holds. It is one from which I have departed only after considerable argument with myself and with others, I have said that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley is entitled to that view, but he is not entitled to make it repeatedly when he thinks that I am not accepting it. He need not advise me to take the elementary trouble; I have already taken that elementary trouble. It is the more difficult and advanced trouble which I am now taking. By all means let us have a good-humoured debate. I did not say that my hon. Friend wanted conscription for ever, but whether he recognises it or not, conscription virtually permanently is the inescapable logic of the speech that he made here on Monday night of last week. He may not think that, but it is so.
I was very interested in the new partnership between my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for War. It looked almost as strange as the partnership which existed during the war between two right hon. Gentlemen who were known as "Arsenic and Old Lace". Having listened to the debate and having read it, I now realise that there is no partnership even on that basis. The Secretary of State for War let my hon. Friend down very badly, even though my hon. Friend was going into action on the right hon. Gentleman's behalf. There was a considerable difference between them. I would not say that the logic of what the Secretary of State said in that debate on Monday of last week was that we are to have conscription for ever, but I say that it is the logic of what my hon. friend said, and that had better be faced. My hon. Friend may be right or wrong, but it has to be faced.
There are certain things that everybody accepts about National Service, and I will state some of them now, so that the assumptions I am making are known. One is that the operation of National Service is extremely wasteful of men. I do not think that anyone will deny it. The right hon. Gentleman has several times said so himself. The number of men in the forces, the Army in particular, is staggeringly larger than the number 1179 we had before the war, even including the Indian Army, remembering that we have now a much reduced commitment, and that we have Allies here who were not here in those days.
However we look at it, it is very difficult to get the picture clear. I hope that the Secretary of State, at some stage and as a digression, will consider being a little less secretive about the situation in the Army and the disposition of our forces. After all, an enemy agent or agent of a foreign Power, if he is worth his salt, can find out the facts, because they are on the ground. The only people who cannot find out without tremendous trouble are ourselves. It is time we got the kind of information which was available before the war.
I have had this matter looked into by people who know and who can assess these matters. I find that, even taking into account nuclear development, the fact that we have the United States here in N.A.T.O., as we used not to have, and that we have fewer overseas commitments as the result of political changes since the war, we have a staggering number of men in the Army compared with what we had then. I think that must be evidence of the fact that it is by its very nature extremely wasteful of men.
Secondly, I think that everybody accepts—although I do not think that people give adequate attention to this in their arguments when they are doing their sums—that it is by itself, perhaps, the most complete deterrent to Regular recruiting. The Secretary of State for War said in the House earlier this year:After having thought a good deal about all the various reasons why we cannot get more and longer Regular recruitment, it is my conviction that the biggest single deterrent to Regular recruitment and retention in the Services is National Service itself."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 1388.]Nothing could be firmer or clearer than that. But then the Secretary of State seems to run away from doing anything about that fact. However, I think that we all accept that that is so. It is wasteful. I myself feel, too, that the existence of National Service is a great inhibitor of progress in defence thinking. The very fact that a large number of Service men are in this country or elsewhere cushions us against doing the thinking that we would have to do if we had not got such a large manpower cushion behind us.
1180 National Service is probably the only real source of economy in money that we have open to us. We are talking much too loosely about the possibilities of money economy in defence. Whatever we do, whether we keep National Service or whether we do not, the bill for weapons and for mobility is bound to rise, as the Minister of Supply could tell his colleagues if they were in the slightest doubt.
It is no use talking as though this is a sensible defence arrangement as an alternative to National Service. It is not. There is no point in having men under arms at all if we cannot get them to the places where they are needed, and we cannot get them about in this modern world, in view of the trouble that we are having about overseas bases, without costly air transport. It is no use talking about men unless they have relevant weapons when they go into action. Irrelevant weapons are of no use. The bill for them is bound to rise.
§ Commander J. W. Maitland (Horncastle) rose—
§ Mr. Brown
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will listen to the arguments as they build up as a whole, and then see if there are any gaps at the end, he will save a lot of time. The point of the last part of the Motion is that we ask the Government to put forward their specific plans for cutting costs in money. [HON. MEMBERS: "Substantial."] We ask the Government to put forward specific proposals to obtain a substantial cut in expenditure. I hope that hon. Members will not try to trip me up at this stage.
I have just said that National Service is probably the only real source of real economy open to us in the absence of any substantial change in the world situation. Of course, if we had a controlled measure of disarmament it would alter all that. But the Government are in this jam. If the Government reject the abolition of National Service on the 1181 ground that it is impracticable, or for any other reason, where else are they going to make the economies that the Chancellor and other hon. Members opposite have been talking about?
What I am trying to say is that we are assuming opportunities of money economies elsewhere in the defence effort that may well not be there, whereas this is one that is there if we are prepared to take it and do what is required to get it. It is the Government who are in difficulties about these cuts in expenditure—not us. We are prepared to face up to this situation and take the necessary steps to make the saving. We have no doubt in our minds that National Service ought at this stage to go.
I am being absolutely fair. There are, of course, other possibilities of economy which do not lie wholly in our hands. If our constant pressure for more effective pooling arrangements between us and our other Allies in N.A.T.O. were successful, a good deal of wasteful expenditure could be saved there. Equally, if the Government would take the decision about which of the new weapons they are not going to make and which of the conventional weapons they are going to discard, there would be opportunities for saving there. But the first does not lie wholly in our hands, and so far the Government are flatly refusing to do anything about the second, namely, about deciding to cut out certain weapons, either conventional or non-conventional. Subject to that, the real form of money saving which is immediately available to us seems to me to be National Service, and we should be prepared to take that opportunity.
My approach to this problem is that since we want a less expensive defence system and at the same time a more efficient one than we now have, we have got to accept the fact that we must make these manpower economies by getting rid of National Service. I say this frankly to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley so that he understands where I stand. To some extent, I am proceeding from the view that we ought to get rid of National Service now for a whole variety of reasons. In other words, I do not do the sums first and then make my decision in the light wholly of the sums. Equally, I am not entitled to ignore the sums altogether. But I think this is a 1182 matter of policy. It is a matter of political decision. I start from the decision that, having looked at all these other methods, getting rid of National Service would be the right thing to do, and then we should look into the sums and see how the matter works out.
Clearly we do not need 350,000 to 400,000 men in the Army in present military circumstances. I do not mean the political circumstances; I mean in view of the military possibilities. Certainly we shall not want the number of men that National Service would make available to us after 1961 when we get the effect of the bulge in the form of the number of men available for call up. We certainly would not want that.
In my view, postponement of the call-up cannot go on for ever. We cannot go on trying to met this situation by simply pushing back the call-up. I think the present postponement is bad. It creates more uncertainty than is good. Whether I am right or not, certainly if we did this for another year it would be a very serious thing indeed. We should have people hanging around much too long.
The only other alternative for dealing with this problem of having too many men available is to have a form of selective service. I see that the newspapers which a month ago were so confidently forecasting that the Government would abolish conscription are now forecasting that the Government are going to adopt selective service in its place. In my view, selective service—that is, compelling some people to do all the National Service—is worse than anything else that we could have. A Regular voluntary force, although consisting of a few people, at least consists of people who have volunteered. To compel one man to do two years or perhaps three years in the Forces while others are outside doing nothing at all is bound to create resentment, complications and disunity among people—all sorts of problems which will destroy the whole arrangement.
The great point of a citizen Army, of universal National Service, was that there was universality and that, therefore, most of us were playing a part. Gradually we have weakened that principle of universality, but the fact that we have weakened it is not a good argument for continuing to do so. It might be a good 1183 argument to stop doing it. I think we have gone too far in breaking the universality for the conscription arrangements to stay. I think that is another reason why they have become unfair and unacceptable in the sense that they worked when virtually we had everyone available.
I beg right hon. and hon. Members to realise that not only shall we have these political complications, upsets and unrest, but we should not think that this can be a way in which the unskilled men in industry can be made to bear the burden. Selective service would have to be selective in the sense of selecting skills as well as selecting technicians. We would not save graduates that way nor technologists that way because many of them are the fellows whom the Forces would want. This might work the other way round and take out more skilled and technically trained people from civilian life.
I reject that proposal on the ground that it is unacceptable politically, unacceptable on the human basis, because I think it would work extremely badly and, finally, I think it is a coward's way out. At best, it is a way of avoiding taking an open decision to make conscription permanent. By bringing in selective service, we would narrow the point at which the burden is borne and, because one narrows that point, one thinks that politically one can get away with that without having to explain it as one would have to if it were made permanent. It is a back-door method of doing something which I think should not be done.
In our view, a firm decision to rely on Regular voluntary forces only is the right course, is the inevitable course to follow, and it had better be followed now than at any other time. The difficulties of carrying out the operation will not get less by waiting. They will not be any less if we wait another ten years before doing it. The difficulties of doing it will always be there at the moment of doing it. It seems to us in some ways that this might be the best time to do it.
§ Mr. Brown
I suggest that the hon. Member is not doing himself justice in talking about the Chinese invasion of Burma. We have little information about 1184 what has happened there yet. Unless what the Prime Minister said is to be falsified in a very few days, that is very unlikely. I think that generally speaking we must advance on the basis the Prime Minister put forward in this House the other day as his general reading of the political situation in the world. It would be an absolutely regrettable "stumer" if he had to explain that speech away because the world had gone sour within three or four days. Generally it is accepted that the tension is rather less at the moment than it was either when we put on conscription after the war or at any of the intervening times. It may be easier to face the decision now than at any other time. Certainly with the emergence of new weapons and decisions that have to be made about them this is inevitably a moment of change, a moment when changes have to be made. If we can dovetail it in with a moment when we are making other changes it would be a more acceptable and attractive time to do it than any other time.
That, in my general view, is the case for getting rid of National Service. What are the objections to it? So far as I can see, only one has been put forward—that we cannot get enough volunteers to cover our needs and commitments when we do it. That was the argument of the Secretary of State for War the other night.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
It might help if I cleared this up now. What I was saying was that if we were left with the period between 1961 and 1965 we would have too few, but I did not at all exclude the possibility after a few years had elapsed.
§ Mr. Brown
The right hon. Gentleman said:The 1961 figure will, I hope, be considerably exceeded by the end of 1965. That is so speculative, relating to a time ten years ahead, that I shall not give a figure; but I hope and believe that it will be considerably in excess of the 1961 figure.I would welcome it if the right hon. Gentleman would give an indication—he certainly did not give an indication—that in his view there would be enough in the Army, voluntarily, by 1965 to be able to do without conscription then. If hon. Members want to take that line, may I suggest that it would be fairer if today they gave us their idea of what the timetable can be? We have given our idea and if we are wrong about it and the 1185 time-table is being questioned, why do not the Government state their time-table and the number of years they want to take over the job and how they would do it?
So many people are figuring about National Service and the size of the Army that one gets absolutely dizzy. People use different figures which suit them. Everyone has to make certain assumptions and certain guesses, and the final figure becomes different according to the assumptions and guesses made. The right hon. Gentleman said the other night that, in his view, by 1961, assuming we finished the call-up in April, 1958—which is not the proposal we make, as we propose finishing the call-up at the end of 1958 and there would be a couple more registrations in between, which would not make a lot of difference but a little difference to the calculation—we would have in the Army in 1961 a total of between 120,000 and 130,000. The words used by the right hon. Gentleman were:a total in the Army in 1961 of between 120,000 and 130,000."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1956; Vol. 557, c. 174.]I do not think he meant to use the words "total in the Army". If we refer back to what he said earlier we see that he was talking not about the total in the Army but the total of male other ranks in the Army. Therefore, we have to add to the 130,000 10 per cent. to allow for officers and also to allow for women and boys, many of whom do jobs which, if they were not there, would be done by soldiers. Therefore, starting from a date earlier than the one we suggest, we get a figure of about 150,000, perhaps even plus, by April, 1961. That is without having done anything either to pep up recruiting between now and then, to deal with objections to prolongation and recruiting in forms of accommodation, amenities, feeding standards in the Army and the general atmosphere in the Army which make it unattractive to many people and without doing any of the constructive things. We are left with 150,000, or thereabouts, in April, 1961.
I do not accept that figure, because if we were to do the operation, obviously it would not simply be a negative procedure. It would be constructive also, and we would start putting money into the raising of amenities and raising standards to increase the attractiveness of the job, which is something which we have 1186 to do whenever we end National Service. Of course, some part of the saving in getting rid of conscription will have to go to paying for the Regular Army, That would cost not by any means the whole of that amount, but it would take a part of it. We would be doing both operations. Therefore, I say that the figures given by the Secretary of State are the most pessimistic we can get and that the out-turn would be much more optimistic than that.
So far as I can see, no one seriously disagrees that we would require something like 200,000 men as our Army to do the job, if it were a fully Regular Army, which the Army of nearly 400,000 is being asked to do at the moment. I have done this sum in all the various ways I can, and the answer comes out about the same whichever way I do it. The 200,000 is the most pessimistic figure we can get because it assumes no cuts in manpower arising from the changes which I have mentioned. It assumes that we shall continue to have 80,000 or 90,000 men in Germany, whereas we may well find that we can get equivalent fighting power with fewer men. It assumes the maintenance, spread all over the world, of little pockets of troops. Heaven knows what they are all doing. There are 11,000 in Hong Kong and 18,000 in Cyprus, and, of course, 14,000 in Malaya. Some of them have to be there but I doubt very much whether all these pockets of men can be justified militarily.
We reach the 200,000 on the assumption that no reductions are made in the light of the new strategy, new tactics and new weapons. At the same time, we reach the figure of 150,000 on the assumption that we make no improvement in recruiting. In other words, it seems to me that we have nearly the two most pessimistic figures that we can get in order to create that gap of 50,000 which the right hon. Gentleman said would make him say that he could not face the abolition of conscription by 1961.
I think that some economies in the deployment of our forces might well prove possible, just as some improvement in the rate of recruiting would certainly be possible. I therefore conclude that while there would certainly be a risk in any decision to end National Service at any time, we can afford to face it. The only person who can argue about this is the person who will say that he will never 1187 accept the abolition of National Service. Anybody who pays lip-service to the abolition of National Service must accept that at any time of its abolition there will be a period of calculated risk, a trough which will ensue from the time National Service is abolished until we have built up strength again, having got rid of the deterrent which exists in National Service.
The question is this: will this calculated risk be so great in 1961 that we cannot do the job that we suggest in out Motion? In my view, if we make up our mind to do the job, the degree of calculated risk need not be so large that we must refuse to take it. If we make up our minds to do the job and assess the amount of risk we are taking as realistically as we can, and then prepare to raise pay if necessary and certainly to raise the standard of amenities, we can reduce the risk.
There are many things to be done if we make up our minds to do the job. There is the question of housing and of career prospects. My view is that if we make up our minds to do the job, the risk which we have to take is one which we can afford to take. If we are prepared, for example, to order a fleet of Britannias and large freighters to make the Army much more mobile and much better equipped, I think it would be even more possible for us to face whatever risk is involved. In fact, even during the period of risk, it would be a much more effective Army, in some ways, than that which we have at present.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth) rose—
§ Mr. Brown
I cannot give way. I have spoken for much too long. The hon. Member can make his point later. It is quite likely that I am wrong about this and it is up to the hon. Member to prove that I am wrong, but for the moment I am assuming that I am right.
The answer to outbreaks of brush fires in the world cannot be a mass of immobile men taking in each other's washing in this country—which is what must be happening to a large extent now, on the basis of the present figures of 267,000 men in this country. We know that we have not the transport for their use. It is very difficult to see what they are doing, except for training each other and the new recruits, apart from taking in each other's 1188 washing. That cannot be an effective answer to outbreaks of brush fires. The answer to a major war, a global war, if it ever occurred—which heaven forbid—cannot possibly be 267,000 immobile men in this country. We should never get them out of the country to take part in it. The answer must be a highly mobile, highly equipped, crackerjack, small Regular Army; and the sooner we try to get it the better.
Our proposal, therefore, is that the Government should now state that it is their intention to work out a plan to end National Service over a period of four years. Let them say that they are not in favour of keeping conscription for ever; that it has to go; that when it goes it will be a four-year operation, or more—and let them say so, if they think it will take more than four years, since that is one of the matters we can discuss; that they propose to bring out a plan now based on, in our view, four years, arranging for the gradual run-down and for ending the call-up after two years. This plan would provide for the gradual rundown so that by the end of four years we should have completed the operation and got rid of the National Service half—or rather less than half—of the Army.
Let the Government produce this plan. I suggest that they should incorporate in it the various means by which they will run down the Forces. In our view, a cut in the period of National Service is one of the methods which might be considered, but there are others. Having produced the plan, let them put it to N.A.T.O., as in our view they are bound to do, in order to obtain a re-appraisal and to build up the habit of effective consultation among allies in the N.A.T.O. organisation. Let them consult N.A.T.O. about all its implications for them and for us—for our contribution and for their arrangements. Let the Government, in the light of that discussion and consultation, make their final decision as to the date of the operation and its implementation.
Meanwhile, let the Government set about the positive side of the operation—the reorganisation of the Forces and the defence system behind them. Let them get the equipment, the weapons and the transport which such forces would need and raise the standards of service to make it more attractive.
1189 I ask the House not to be bulldozed by simple dates. There is nothing sacrosanct about a particular month. Dates of operation can be discussed. There is room in our Motion for that. I ask them not to be misled about N.A.T.O. Our Motion and our plan are quite clear about that. I ask the House to reject the Government's invitation to go on being vague and woolly and uncertain and to say that since this has to come at some stage, the Government should now desert its normal liking for vague and unspecific commitments and should enter into a commitment to produce the plan and to put it to our Allies in order that we can get rid of this wasteful service and replace it with a much more effective and perhaps less costly small Regular force.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey
On a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman made a statement of facts which is of great interest. He said that there are 267,000 men in this country doing each other's washing—
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ The Minister of Labour and National Service (Mr. Iain Macleod)
I beg to move to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:affirms its support for Her Majesty's Government in their declared aim of seeking in concert with their Allies a reduction in the demands made by the defence services on the manpower and material resources of the country so far as is consistent with both the safety of these islands, the Commonwealth and the Colonial and dependent territories, and the effective discharge of their international commitments.The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has made a very long and important and, if I may say so, attractive speech to the House. I am bound to say that I think it has two great weaknesses in it, and I do not believe that his essential argument stands up to close examination.
I should perhaps begin with an apology, because, as the House knows, the Government's case was to have been presented by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Defence, who is away because of illness, which we all hope will be of very short duration.
1190 I think that the exchanges on Thursday between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition—and, indeed, the words of the Motion—clearly show that much of this debate is intended, as the right hon. Gentleman indicated, to be devoted to the question of manpower, leaving the wider debate, including weapons, until later on in the Session. I think, however, that it is right that we should try to put this matter in a rather wider setting, because only if we do so can we put these manpower problems into perspective. I believe that it is worth while, particularly at the present time, to look rather closely at what common ground there is—and there is more than might appear at first sight—between the Motion and the Amendment. I shall find it necessary to be critical of the Motion on the Order Paper, but I hope not in any captious sense.
We start with this. It is common ground between the House—and it was made clear on both sides in the foreign affairs debate, and notably by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary—that the possession of the thermo-nuclear weapon makes global war less likely in the years immediately ahead of us. That is the first point. Secondly, there is a growing necessity to preserve our political and our economic position. I think that it would follow from that, and that we would all accept it, that there has to be a reappraisal, which, although it must be realistic, need not be an agonising one, and that the economy in defence which we seek—and again this would be common ground—must be consistent with not "dropping our guard," to use the Prime Minister's phrase.
The defence White Paper stresses, and I am certain rightly, that with the precarious economy that we have we just cannot afford to over-insure, and it follows, therefore, that we must be ready to take certain risks. We have to balance the demands of defence against the claims of industry. Let us remember that the size of the forces affects directly the numbers that we can employ in industry. So our attitude is enshrined in the Amendment. We want to see the demands of defence on our resources reduced, but if, and only if, that is consistent with our own safety and with the discharge of our duty, both to our country and to our friends.
1191 Secondly, the major point surely on which there is a good deal of common ground is the importance of consultation with our Allies, which is implied in the Opposition Motion. In this country we have special responsibilities for defence all over the world, and it is that which makes unreal many of the comparisons which are made with the National Service demands of other countries and which they are able to make upon their nationals. As a general proposition, what is vital to this country is vital also for the free world. It follows that we cannot plan, indeed we dare not plan, alone. We must plan with our Commonwealth, with the United States and with our other Allies, particularly, as the Motion indicates, with N.A.T.O.
I think that what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper said about N.A.T.O. was of great importance and was very welcome indeed. It was good to hear him stress the paramount importance of that Alliance. N.A.T.O. is only a little more than seven years old, and in that short time it has gone forward from what at first looked like just a brave experiment to become an established institution and pillar of our foreign policy. If today the world is at peace, I believe that is largely due to N.A.T.O. The conclusion surely is part of the common ground between us, that we must cling to that alliance and make it vital and strong. My first major criticism of the Motion which we are invited to accept is that it does not follow out the logic of that conclusion. Surely, if that is so, then consultations with our N.A.T.O. Allies have to precede and not to follow disclosures of our own thinking. It seems to me that that is a cardinal point in this matter.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw) rose—
§ Mr. Macleod
May I be allowed to finish this point? I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman who is to wind up for the Opposition a question on the Motion. It seems to put first a manpower plan which is based on an arbitrary assumption and to leave our commitments later to follow and fit into that pattern. I believe that the right way is as set out in the Amendment before the House, and that is to examine with our Allies the double problem of our national and international 1192 defence commitments, together with the demands which they make upon our resources.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Are we to take it that the Government consulted our Allies when they decided to reduce the numbers called into the Services by staggering the call-up age?
§ Mr. Macleod
Obviously sovereignty remains with a country in all its particular decisions. But the important and very real difference between the Motion and the Amendment is that if it is agreed that on this sort of matter there should be consultation, we believe that it should precede and not follow a major decision of this particular nature.
I confess that I am a little happier since the right hon. Gentleman spoke about precisely what this part of the Motion means, but I should like to put a question directly to the right hon. Gentleman who, I believe, is to wind up for the Opposition. This Motion has in part its origin in a decision, very properly of course, of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and it was quite remarkable, as the right hon. Gentleman said, what differing views were put the next day upon the decisions that were taken. I will briefly quote some of them. The Daily Telegraph said:Mr. Gaitskell, the party leader, emphasised that cuts should be made only in agreement with Allies.The Daily Herald said:… It was made clear that this would be consultation and not, necessarily, agreement. Britain would have to make her own decision.The News Chronicle said:All this should be done in consultation with N.A.T.O.The Daily Worker said:It was made plain by Mr. George Brown, … that these demands were conditional on their acceptance by N.A.T.O.—so that if the Americans object, the demands drop.I am sure that one of these at least is quite inaccurate. It is really rather important—and hon. Members opposite must remember that we on this side were not at that party meeting, nor were the Press—that four different newspapers with utterly different points of view should put completely different interpretations on what was said.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he envisages that these 1193 matters or decisions, if that phrase is preferred, are taken to N.A.T.O. in December for information or for true consultation because, as I have emphasised, it is our view—and there is some considerable confusion of thought at least in the Press on this matter—that we must have full and close consultation with our Allies on this wide range of problems, and I should like to be assured that the same point of view is taken by the Opposition.
Before I deal specifically with manpower problems, perhaps I can follow the right hon. Gentleman in making one or two observations about the broader problems of economy in defence expenditure.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
As I understand it, our commitment to N.A.T.O. is four divisions and a tactical air force. Any consultations which we have with N.A.T.O. would surely be upon that subject; and the provision of that force, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, does not preclude what we propose.
§ Mr. Macleod
Yes. As I said, I am more content with that since I heard the right hon. Gentleman's explanation of it, but I think it is important to know whether it is in the Opposition's mind that this decision—let us call it that for the moment—which is enshrined in the Motion is a firm decision with which the Opposition intends to go ahead whatever representations may be made about it, or indeed, whatever the realities of recruitment may turn out to be.
The main deterrent, of course, and our contribution to it, is as important to our Allies as it is to ourselves, and in everybody's thinking it still comes first among our priorities. It follows then that this is not a field in which the pruning knife can be casually or impetuously wielded. Nor can we do without conventional weapons. I have always thought that the term "conventional" is an absurd one. The one certain thing is that weapons are never conventional. They change all the time. In the last few years battleships have gone out of date, antiaircraft and coastal artillery have been virtually abolished, and the Army division reorganised.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
The Minister of Labour has quite properly 1194 asked my right hon. Friend to say whether the Labour Party Motion implies agreement through consultation, but may I put the same question to him? Does the Government Amendment imply that the Government will accept any decision reached inside the N.A.T.O. Council as the basis of its own policy?
§ Mr. Macleod
No, indeed, it does not. I said earlier that sovereignty in these matters remains. The point I make on this Motion is a valid one. Is it a flat decision of the Labour Party that, if it, has the power, it will do this, whatever the future position may turn out to be?
The Motion calls… for a substantial cut in defence expenditure.I am bound to say that this was the only part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech that I found most confusing. I hope that tomorrow he will read the actual tail to this Amendment and see if, in fact, his words bear out the interpretation he put upon them.
The position is, of course, that in this present financial year we expect to spend a little over £1,500 million—£1,512 million to be exact—towards which we hope to receive about £50 million in American aid. The rearmament programme on which we embarked at the time of the Korean war, although it has run its term, is still producing its fruits in the number of weapons, which is rapidly increasing.
§ Mr. Macleod
It is wholly wrong, and the right hon. Member for Belper put this point clearly enough, to suppose that if we left the present forces where they were, with an unchanged programme, we should hold expenditure at £1,512 million. We should not. Expenditure would, of course, increase, because in all the economies we have to think about we have to remember that we are starting from a rising curve of expenditure and not a flat level.
It is important, secondly, to remember that one simply cannot get drastic changes rapidly in defence expenditure, because the Armed Forces all over the world are a very complex industrial and social organisation, and there is an 1195 enormous momentum which simply cannot be redirected suddenly without most serious dislocation. It follows, surely, from that that a very large proportion of next year's expenditure is, in fact, committed this year. One just cannot close down a base or a depot or even cancel very large production orders or disband a unit and expect to get large savings at once.
I do not want to go into the detail of this proposal. I see that the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), the Leader of the Liberal Party, is with us. We have had a rather remarkable bid from him—I believe that it was £500 million—by way of reduction. I am sure, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the House will very much hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will catch your eye and explain how this conjuring trick is to be performed.
The bulk of the speech of the right hon. Member for Belper was on the subject of National Service, and here I must try to put, if I may, though rather quickly, a somewhat close argument to the House.
The two figures on which consideration of National Service depends are perfectly easy to define but very difficult to estimate. The first point is the size of the forces that we need to do the things that have to be done; the second is the size of the forces that can be obtained by voluntary recruitment alone. Those are the two key figures. If those two figures are within measurable distance, if the gap is at all small, then any Government would do everything they possibly could to arrange matters so that National Service came to an end. But if, as is my belief—and as, I believe, can be shown—those figures are a long way apart, it seems to me that one is, however reluctantly, driven to an acceptance of National Service, at least for the immediate years ahead.
Whatever we say about National Service, I know that we all feel that the National Service men have been, and are doing, here and abroad, a vital and important job in our Armed Forces. At the same time, I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said about the influence that National Service has on Regular units. I believe that that is important. If there is a rapid turnover of men in the units there is an enormous training problem, and if there is a flow of men constantly 1196 going through—if there is always a pull to "Civvy Street"—it is very difficult indeed to get that pride in the unit which is at the back of discipline, and discipline, in its turn, in my view, is at the back of efficiency. I do not think that we would dissent from the difficulties that National Service causes. Those are the inevitable results of a large body of men in the Services serving for only two years. I merely add that those difficulties would be accelerated if the two-year period was reduced.
What about these figures that I have mentioned? First of all, there is the requirement. That has to be determined by the strategic assessment of the tasks to be performed all over the world. Of course, it is always true that we should try to find ways of doing the same job with fewer men or, at any rate, with fewer men in uniform. We should do everything we can, no doubt, to see if we can get increased—this is a hideous word but it is fashionable now—civilianisation on the part of our forces. I believe that publicity and ridicule are very important weapons in the fight to avoid waste of manpower and man-time in the Services.
Particularly, we must do everything we can to ensure greater mobility because, of course, at any one given time a great number of people are, in effect, out of the real field of use in the Services. I do not think, however, that any of these things—nor do I think that any hon. Member would so argue—affect the main argument. We must pursue those objectives as vigorously as possible, but they, in themselves, will not make the difference between National Service and no National Service.
Perhaps I may now give a few figures. The right hon. Gentleman rather ignored arithmetic which, no doubt, is the right thing to do if it happens to be particularly inconvenient, as it is in this case to the right hon. Gentleman's case. We know that it was announced last October that the Government are planning for a progressive run-down to 700,000 all ranks, by March, 1958. That figure includes officers and women and boys. The comparable figure for male other ranks is about 600,000, and that is the figure I propose to talk about during my short argument on the figures.
§ Mr. Macleod
I am speaking only about British troops. The present figure is about 660,000, and the run-down on which we have embarked is well up to schedule. We now have the figures for the first effective quarter of the response to the very large pay increases, amounting to about £67 million, which the Government introduced a short time ago.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
Would the right hon. Gentleman explain to us, because we genuinely do not know the answer, why he takes the figure only in terms of male other ranks, except for the reason that it does, of course, suit his case very well to do so?
§ Mr. Macleod
I do not think it suits my case at all. As regards recruitment, to which I am coming later, it would suit my case better to include officers, because officers have, in the end, to come from the same pool of young men reaching the age of 18.
There is another, and very genuine, point, which the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has dinned into the House over and over again, that it is not only the men that matter, but also the number of years the men serve, the length of time one may hold them, the effective man-years they give to the country's service in the Regular forces. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper talked about a figure of 200,000 men, and we have, I think, the authority of a recent Adjournment debate for that being the sort of figure—and I am sure it is—which has been in the minds of those in the Opposition who have been making various calculations on this matter.
§ Mr. Bellenger
That is the figure my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) gave as the level likely to be reached.
§ Mr. Macleod
It is rather interesting, and I will give what I think may be the result of recruitment in a moment. I am not opposing his figure in any way; I am only taking it as my starting point. Indeed, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) knows, the strength of the Regular Army has been about the same for a long time; it has remained constant at that figure not for a year or two, but since about 1860, except for a few years 1198 at the turn of the century. That is the sort of figure of Regular recruitment there has been.
I do not think we should speak solely of the Army in this matter, because we have got to get our men for all the Services. If we talk in rough terms of 200,000 male other ranks for the Army, that will mean about a total of 450,000 for the whole of the Services, and that itself, if it is possible, is a very dramatic reduction on the figure of 600,000 which I gave to the House a moment ago. It follows, therefore, that if we assume an average of ten years' service—and I believe this to be generous—we must find about 45,000 men a year to meet this particular commitment.
The next thing to do, quite clearly, is to see how big is the pool from which those men must be drawn. At present, rather more than 310,000 young men reach 18 each year. If we assume the same medical standards, and they certainly will not be lower for the Regular forces than they are for National Service, which means, in effect, excluding Grade III, 26 per cent. of that number will be unfit. That leaves 220,000, and that figure includes men in the coal mines, men in the Merchant Navy, all apprentices and students, for whom I have made no allowances at all, In effect, what this proposal then means is that, out of that pool of 220,000 men, we have to find about 45,000 men.
Does any hon. Member in the House really believe that it is realistic to assume that 20 per cent. of the young men coming up to the age of 18 today, in times of full employment, will elect for Regular service in the forces on a 10-year engagement, without a background of National Service? I believe that to be a wholly impractical thought. Nor is it any good looking to pre-war experience; we have an utterly different employment situation, and utterly different demands from the Services, particularly from the R.A.F. which made a very small demand indeed in the years before the war. One can bring these figures into the realm of possibility only by assuming that the three-year engagement is a true Regular engagement. But it is not. It is, as has been shown over and over again in this House, an extension of a National Service engagement, and the vast majority of those men we shall lose.
1199 We have now the evidence of these three months. Of course, one is bound to get a surge upwards when pay is increased, and it is possible that the effect will be short-lived. It may be, on the other hand, that one has got a more permanent effect and will be able to prophesy fairly closely what the final level of recruitment may be. But I am certain of this, that it is quite useless to make a calculation until at least we have seen another quarter's recruiting figures.
There is a special reason for that. The April/June figures, which are the only ones we have seen, and which I do not think the Opposition had even seen when their proposal came out, because they were issued a few days later, are figures for a period of sluggish recruiting. It is the next period, the July/September quarter, which is one of the best periods of the year, which matters, and which will be the best test of whether this sort of operation is at all feasible.
§ Mr. Macleod
That is quite true, but the July-September quarter, so I am told, gives a much better figure, or, at any rate, a better figure, leaving out the word "much", if necessary, than the quarter through which we have passed.
The figures seem to show that there has been a reasonable improvement both in outside recruitment and in prolongation. Compared with the same quarter of last year, recruitment was up by about 18 per cent., although the R.A.F. dropped rather below that figure. Both in the Army and in the R.A.F. there was a higher proportion of men who signed on straight away for more than three years.
The hon. Member for Dudley has, I know, been inquiring recently whether the Government are yet ready to revise the figures—and this is a most important point—which we put before the House in the Statement on Defence, paragraphs 53 and 54. The answer is that we are not ready to revise those estimates, but we are reasonably confident that they will not go up; we think it likely that they will go down, particularly in the R.A.F. 1200 That adds force to the case which the hon. Gentleman has been presenting to the House.
§ Mr. Macleod
No, it is more than assumption now. The men are coming in the whole time. Prolongations of service as well have, on the whole, gone reasonably well in the quarter, although one has again got to remember that if a man is going to prolong, it pays him to do so as soon as he possibly can, because, of course, he at once gets the benefit of the new, higher scale. The most important conclusion, I think, is that although these figures show improvements on last year, whereas the years before have shown a steady decline, they do not, in the view of the Government, provide sufficiently firm ground on which to contemplate the abolition of National Service.
I am not prepared at this stage, with the meagre information which is all that is available after three months, to tie myself—I recognise that this is the key figure which is left in the calculations I have been making—to a figure at which Regular recruitment may level out. It may be—I put it no higher—a figure of about 32,000 men a year, which is the best estimate we can make at present, for other ranks for all Services, or perhaps a total Regular force of 320,000. That will be only when the shake-out is complete, and it will take some time.
If that figure is right, there is a gap between it and the calculations of the Opposition of 130,000, which would be-quire an intake of 65,000 men a year for two years' National Service. That is as good an estimate as I can give to the House of the gap that we believe exists. If we could not meet our commitments with a figure of 450,000—and nobody has suggested a substantially lower figure—we would need to call up more men than the 65,000.
Therefore, making every possible allowance for the advantages of all-Regular forces, which I admit, and the better use of manpower, I cannot see how the number of Regulars could be within measurable distance of the total number that is required.
§ Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
The Minister thinks that we want 45,000 men and that we shall get 32,000. 1201 Has he ruled out completely any changes in weapons or in commitments to make up for the difference of 13,000 or is it not the case that he is now making an argument that National Service is here for ever?
§ Mr. Macleod
No, I am not. I will come specifically to the hon. Member's question. It is, I recognise, of great importance.
The figure of 450,000 is not mine. I am not saying that we can do our commitments with that. I am saying that that figure is the natural conclusion with a Regular Army of about 200,000 and that even on that figure there seems to be a gap of 130,000. If we cannot meet our commitments with 450,000 men, clearly we would have to call up more National Service men.
In short, I simply do not believe that the Motion is a practical proposition. It is for the Opposition to justify it. It is an Opposition Motion, put forward in Opposition time. I saw a weekend speech from the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler), on these lines and, I believe, an article in the New Statesman and Nation by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu), saying the same thing. The Opposition must tell us either that they believe, in the face of the evidence that we can produce, that they could get these recruits, or which commitments they are prepared to abandon so that that gap would be closed. I do not believe that the Opposition can responsibly put forward this attitude unless they are prepared to do one or the other; and I see that some hon. Members at least on the opposite benches would accept that.
To come to the point made by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd), I am not for one moment arguing the case that National Service must stay for all time, nor that it must make even the same demands on manpower as in the past. As I see it, the practical problem which confronts us is that if the calculations we have made are right, we will need to supplement the number of Regulars that we are likely to obtain but not to the extent of calling up all the men who become available from an age class.
1202 It is worth while, therefore, to discuss the various ways in which such a limitation of the numbers to be called up each year might be achieved. There have been a number of suggestions in the Press and it is, of course, true that the Government have been considering this very closely indeed.
§ Mr. Stokes
Before the right hon. Gentleman deals with that aspect, will he deal with the important point raised by my right hon. Friend, who pointed out that there were 136,000 troops abroad and about 264,000 in this country? We are constantly told that there are no forces here. What are the 264,000 doing?
§ Mr. Macleod
I will leave the details of what the troops are doing to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, when replying to the debate.
In discussing these methods of service, I want to make a few comments about each of the main possibilities. As far as I know, we have never fully debated these issues and the Government would very much welcome, in this debate, the views of hon. Members on them. The present plan, I think, commands public acceptance on the whole, because it takes account of the individual circumstances of the man and fairness between man and man, the needs of the Armed Forces and, in so far as we can take them into account, the needs of the civilian economy.
Our position at present is that we are calling up only three-quarters of any age class and we are allowing the age of call-up to rise. That is a policy that cannot go on for ever, but under it every fit young man, except about 10 per cent. mostly in coal mining and the Merchant Navy, is ultimately called up.
The only alternative way to maintain universal liability is a cut in the period of service, which was the policy some little time ago that the Opposition were urging upon the House. The reasons why the Government have not adopted that suggestion have been debated more than once and I do not intend to go into them again: The arguments for and against are well enough known. The problem, therefore, becomes one of choosing which young men should do their National Service and which should be exempted.
First, we could contemplate the indefinite deferment of men as long as 1203 they were employed in certain industries or occupations, which would have to be defined, on the grounds that those occupations were essential to the national need. The difficulty in this connection, of course, is the difficulty of definition. Secondly, we might extend indefinitely the deferment of those who are equipping themselves by a training course to render skilled service to industry and to the community.
Another system, which has been discussed a good deal in the Press, is a system of allocation and of quotas, rather similar perhaps to the American method, for different regions or counties, the decision about which young men should be called up being left to individual boards in the areas. There is, however, an obvious difficulty of differentiating between individual men without being able to justify it by any clearly established principle that could be represented to the country.
A possible line of approach might be the personal circumstances of the young men; that is to say, the medical or educational standards required could be raised. Whatever scheme has to be adopted, if one must be, we would have to consider whether cases of serious hardship might themselves justify, not simply postponement, but indefinite postponement of call-up. Although there may well be room to move, as I believe it would be right to move, in what I may loosely call the social field, we must not delude ourselves that that would make any enormous difference to the numbers.
Then, there is the method of the ballot, which is a method of selection the advantages and disadvantages of which are known to everybody and are obvious. For that reason, I need not comment upon it. It could be done in various forms but, generally, the idea would be to give a cross-section of the young men to the Services.
The view of the Government, and their very strong hope, is that the day will come when National Service can be ended, but they cannot see that day at present in the light of the known' facts about recruitment and the commitments that we have to face as a country. It seems to follow from that that National Service has got to continue, although we have good reason to believe that we may be able to reassess the respective needs of 1204 industry and of the forces. I think that in those circumstances it is right that our minds should turn not to the direction of abolishing National Service, but towards consideration of the schemes that I outlined to the House a moment or so ago.
The right hon. Gentleman opened his speech by making a reference to the timing of this debate, and saying that he did not accept the view, put forward by some newspapers, that it was an unhappy time to have a debate like this. The position is surely this. We have before us a Motion which has been moved by the Opposition and an Amendment to it which has been moved by the Government. We can, of course, at the end of the day decide the matter in the Division Lobbies, and I dare say that both sides of the House will be here in strength to do so; but I am sure it would be a relief to many Members on both sides of the House if we could have the argument now but not try to take a decision by a vote on this matter tonight.
When we come back in the autumn we shall have a good deal more information before us. We shall know the recruiting figures for the quarter to which I have referred. The right hon. Gentleman said that if the Opposition did not launch this ship—or words to that effect—it would never come home. On the other hand, if the Opposition are really determined to go to sea in this craft they may as well make sure that it is not a sieve in which they are putting out to sea. All the same, whatever decision is taken by the Opposition at the end of this discussion, whether we should or should not vote on this matter, I must give advice to the House on the proposition we have before us.
To sum up, I believe that this Motion starts from the wrong point, and that it ought to start by considering our commitments as they are, and, indeed, as they may be, before it starts making assumptions about manpower. Secondly, I believe still that it is vague in its reference to consultation with our Allies, although, as I have acknowledged, I am more content now after hearing the right hon. Gentleman's explanation of that part of the Motion. Thirdly, I believe that it flies in the face of the known facts about recruitment. I should be very interested indeed to see the case that I have tried to make today, and the case put by the hon. Member for Dudley in a recent 1205 Adjournment debate, demolished by the other side of the House, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper got nowhere near demolition of that case, and seemed to me to have no basis of fact for the Motion he was putting forward.
For all these reasons, I cannot recommend this Motion to the House. Although I am sure that we shall have an interesting and good-tempered debate, I hope that at the end of it the Amendment which I have moved will be accepted by the House without dissent.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
It is, of course, a pity that we should be debating this matter in the climate of Egyptian intransigeance. We are, in a fashion, debating what may be regarded as an abstract issue, one not of extreme urgency, and in the discussion many hypotheses are bound to emerge; whereas tomorrow, as already announced, we are to have a debate on a matter which is immediate and realistic in its nature.
Clearly, whether we like it or not, the events of the past two or three days are bound to colour the views of hon. Members. They may make some impact on their minds and the opinions that they are likely to express. We, the Opposition, are not responsible for what has occurred in the last few days. That will be debated tomorrow, and if any blame is to be imputed it will be laid at the appropriate door.
I am bound to say, having listened to the speech of the Minister, that he seemed to me to be arguing, perhaps with some reluctance, and with certain inhibitions, that National Service, considering the facts available and the figures presented, was likely to be a permanent institution in this country. He did, of course, suggest that there was some common ground between the Government and the Opposition. The fact remains that the Opposition Motion is specific in character; it makes a specific demand—whether rightly or wrongly is, for the moment, beside the point: whereas the Government Amendment—I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman may not care to agree—is as nebulous and as ambiguous as it can possibly be. Therefore, there can be no common ground between us on that issue.
1206 The right hon. Gentleman urged upon us that there should be a reappraisal—he added, not an agonising reappraisal—of the N.A.T.O. position and, presumably, the defence organisation. Really, was not that going a bit too far, since the Government have been in office for five years? Surely, during that period, opportunities presented themselves for a reappraisal of the defence position. Indeed, to some extent there was a reappraisal embodied in three or it may be four White Papers, presented to the House preparatory to our defence debates. Hon. Members will recall references to the emergence of nuclear weapons, of broken-back warfare, of the new look, of a changed strategy; and all the while, if the right hon. Gentleman's statement is correct, that we now require a reappraisal, the defence organisation has remained static. That is not good enough.
Primarily, it was intended, although it was not universally agreed, that this debate should rest upon the subject of manpower with which, of course, the right hon. Gentleman, as the Minister of Labour and National Service, is undoubtedly familiar. It is a pity that the Minister of Defence was not able to speak in the debate, because he would have spoken with authority on defence. How anybody, in any quarter of the House, could assume that it was possible to discuss manpower except in the context of defence organisation and preparation, I cannot understand. It is impossible to dissociate the two. I should have thought that that was obvious to everybody.
There has been some harsh criticism of the Government from my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). I think that it has been quite justified, but I hope I may be forgiven for not pursuing that path. It seems to me that recriminations and harsh judgments are of little value if we are to come to a considered conclusion as to whether we require defence and, if we require it, what is the nature of that defence, what manpower we require and, what is perhaps more important, having regard to our extreme economic position, how much we can afford. I hope, if I can, to furnish a few constructive proposals which may help right hon. and hon. Members to make up 1207 their minds. I say that with modesty. I have had some familiarity with the subject, as hon. Members know.
To begin with, let us take the question of manpower. What is the argument presented by the right hon. Gentleman and accepted by many of the newspapers and embodied in leading articles and, I should not be at all surprised, held to some extent on this side of the House? It is that, taking the figures and the facts as far as they are available, it will be impossible to abolish National Service at the end of 1958 so that the whole scheme would come to an end two years later. But surely that leaves out of account certain factors which must be familiar to hon. Members, namely, that it has been proved beyond a peradventure that the N.A.T.O. countries have never equitably shared the burdens of defence in respect of either manpower, research or weapons.
Moreover, the Minister gave me the cue. He spoke about Commonwealth defence. What is our interpretation of Commonwealth defence? It is that the Commonwealth countries make a contribution to the pool. But that has not happened. It is true that there have been indications of late that Australia has been prepared to share some of the burden of the Malayan defence position but, as far as actual, realistic, concrete Commonwealth defence is concerned it is, and has been for several years, conspicuous by its absence. On one occasion, as Minister of Defence, I presided over a Commonwealth defence conference when I ventured to indicate what should be done. Little has happened since then.
I suggest, as one of the constructive proposals, in order to lead up to the question of how soon we can deal with the abolition of National Service, that there is no reason at all why now, with an eased position in Malaya, the Australian Government should not take full charge of the situation in that territory. There is no reason at all. Australia is quite capable of doing it. Nor is there any reason why the Commonwealth countries should not accept their responsibilities as Commonwealth countries and as partners in other parts of overseas territories, for example, in Kenya or, if trouble should emerge, in the Middle East. The Union of South Africa, for a considerable time, has declared its intention, if trouble 1208 should emerge in the Middle East, of rendering substantial help to the Commonwealth.
These are only a few of the ideas that relate to the subject of Commonwealth defence. In the measure that N.A.T.O. shares the equitable burden of defence so far as manpower is concerned, and the Commonwealth countries equally, it is possible to make an approach to the abolition of National Service within a specified period.
Here I want to reinforce the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper as to our intentions. There are, of course, bound to be various interpretations of the Opposition Motion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear".] Confusion is not confined to the opposite benches. Naturally, on the subject of defence there is bound to be an element of confusion and, shall I say, agreeable misunderstanding in Labour ranks. We have, for example, what are called the extreme pacificts who, I am bound to say, are the most logical of all. They say, "Defence is useless, anyway. War does not solve any problem." But they ignore public opinion and the emotions of those people, however humble they may be, however lacking in intellectual quality, or in political consciousness who say, "The nation must have some defence, because we want security." After all, it is an insurance policy. The fire may never break out; nevertheless, one goes on paying. If the fire breaks out, one gets compensation in some form or another.
§ Mr. K. Zilliacus (Manchester, Gorton)
The Government admit that if war breaks out this country cannot survive for 24 hours. What kind of insurance policy is that?
§ Mr. Shinwell
If I believed everything that the Government said it would be a different matter, but I have never believed all that the Government say, and that makes all the difference. In any event, I can deal with that matter on some other occasion. I have other fish to fry.
As I was saying, the extreme pacifists are logical. They say, "Away with it all." But I cannot understand the person who says, "Let us have defence because we require security, but cut down your defence costs." If we are to have defence it must be adequate and 1209 efficient, otherwise better have none at all. I am in favour of defence. I do not want to see any weakening of our defence organisation. Why? I shall put it in a sentence, though so much could be said on this head—and I am not referring to the Secretary of State for War.
The world, strangely enough, is full of surprises—as we have just found out. Last week, the Prime Minister, speaking in a foreign affairs debate, said that the danger of war was receding. I doubt whether he would say that now that we have the Egyptian trouble and when Chinese troops have invaded Burma. We never can tell. With the best will in the world; with all our magnanimity in relation to the desire for peace, trouble could occur, and we have to be prepared for it in some form or other. Therefore, I do not advocate any weakening of our defence. But what I say is this: that we ought not to spend a single penny more than is absolutely essential, and that we ought not to waste the time of any man if it can be avoided. That is my indictment of the Government.
It could be argued against me—and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who takes perhaps a different line from myself on this matter, although I have trained him to the best of my ability—
§ Mr. Shinwell
Well, I hope that when the next Labour Government is formed, I may be elevated to the dignity of a Parliamentary Private Secretary to my hon. Friend who, no doubt, by that time will be Secretary of State for War.
In 1952, some of us put the case for a reduction in the period of National Service. May I relate, shortly, the historical narrative relating to this matter? Five years ago some of us—it is true, only a few of us—asked for a reduction in the period of National Service. Why? Because when there was tension in Europe, very high tension indeed, and when the Korean war broke out, we increased the period of National Service from 18 months to two years, but with a promise made by the Prime Minister of the day and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), who was then Secretary of State for War, 1210 and myself that at the end of the emergency we would revert to the 18 months' period.
So, in 1952, we said that the time had arrived when it was opportune to revert to 18 months' National Service. However, on no occasion did I venture to make a speech calling for a reduction in the period of National Service without demanding, at the same time, the re organisation of our defence preparations, and also demanding an exhaustive inquiry into the defence Services, because these two things were related.
Now the situation has changed. Let me indicate how it has changed. It has changed—and this is the view of the Government equally with the view expressed by this side of the House and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper this afternoon in the opening speech. There is a changed strategy. Of course, we want to retain conventional weapons and conventional ground forces to some extent, but there is a changed strategy which indicates that, should a major war emerge—I say a major war—whether we like it or not, and, of course, we do not like it; we deplore it and we certainly would deplore it if it ever occurred—there is no escape from what is much more than a possibility, the probability of nuclear weapons being used, no doubt causing wholesale devastation. We have to face that.
Conventional forces, therefore, are required only for what might be called a cold war, skirmishes, incidents of various kinds. Surely, however, it has now dawned upon the Government that for this purpose they do not require large bodies of ground troops. Why, even the leading articles in the newspapers, many of the writers of which have condemned the Labour Party for presenting this Motion, admit that there is no longer a case for large ground forces. Highly mobile, highly trained ground forces, yes, but this is not an original idea. We discussed this matter four or five years ago, and what has been done?
I said at the outset that I would not indulge in recriminations and in harsh judgments of the Government, but, really, they have not done too well. It may be the fault of their military advisers but, as far as one can gather, they have made no efforts to present a new policy based on the new strategy; and what is the 1211 use of always talking about the new strategy, the new look, and the power and might of the new weapons in the event of war and, at the same time, doing nothing?
I say, therefore, that it is advisable to face up to the question of the abolition of National Service within a specified period, but I qualify that and, if necessary, I am prepared to place my own interpretation on the Opposition Motion, and make a further qualification. I do not say, and, frankly, I do not think that anyone in his senses can say with certainty, that we can abolish the call up in 1958, because we do not know; we have not got the information. What I do say, however, is that the Government ought to have a plan.
If the Government have a plan, for heaven's sake let them produce it so that we can examine it and debate it. But there is no such thing. For example, let me indicate the confusion which exists on the benches opposite. A few moments ago the Minister of Labour said that we require about 200,000 Regulars in the Army. But it is not so long ago since the Secretary of State for War, in a broadcast, when asked, "How many Regular men do you require in the Army if National Service is abolished?" replied, "Three hundred thousand."
§ Mr. Iain Macleod
I made it quite clear, both in my speech and again in response to an interjection from a back bench, that 200,000 is not my figure. I am not giving that. I adopted that from the Adjournment debate in which it was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), and from the opening speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). It is not a Government figure in any sense of the word.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I do not like this adoption business. There is an element of illegitimacy about it. It seems to me that it would be far better for the right hon. Gentleman to make up his mind on the basis of information furnished to him by the Ministry of Defence and his own Department, and then tell us what he really expects.
The fact is that there is confusion. All that I want, and I am sure all that my hon. Friends on this side of the House want, is that, having regard to all the factors 1212 involved—the question of finance, the waste of manpower, and the like; I do not want to go into details, because that is unnecessary—the Government ought to have a plan, a target. It is no use talking about a plan and a target which is nebulous in character—perhaps some day, if certain things happen, they may happen or they may not happen, then we will abolish National Service. It is not good enough. Present the plan. Perhaps the Government cannot present a plan? Well, more is the pity.
I leave the subject of manpower to come briefly to the second part of the Motion, dealing with the reduction in costs. I do it hoping to be forgiven, but if I am not it cannot be helped. On the general issue raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper—I am sorry that he is not present, but he will hear about it—when he was arguing, as so many people do, that we can abolish National Service, get the Regulars required and pay them more—because that is all part of the picture—and, at the same time, reduce expenditure, I cannot agree. What is even worse, what I cannot understand—perhaps someone will explain it to me—is that the cost of weapons is rising all the time, and the right hon. Gentleman endorsed the point. Yet we are going to reduce expenditure. If that is so, then that simply cannot be done.
I will tell the House how it can be done. Indeed, that has been the challenge to us all the time; people have asked, "How are we to reduce expenditure by the £500 million suggested by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies)?—and I have used the similar figure myself. I do not say that it is a certainty that we can reduce defence expenditure by £500 million or by about 6 per cent. of the national income by 1958. I do not say that it is certain, but I say that it is a target worth aiming at.
How can it be done? A number of people, in a number of leading articles, have said—these quidnuncs and wiseacres know so much about military matters—that the rockets, guided missiles and supersonic aircraft are bound to cost very large sums of money. Of course, it depends on the quantity one purchases or the number one needs. Does not everyone understand that one may produce a guided missile today and that 1213 tomorrow it may be almost obsolete? Has that not been learnt in relation to aircraft? Is not that the case against producing too many aircraft? I do not agree with many of my hon. Friends and other people who say, "Go on producing bombers and swept-wing fighters" when I know as a result of my experience that not long after one has produced them something else comes along. One has to exercise caution and discretion in producing weapons of this kind because vast changes are taking place all the time.
As for the guided missiles, ballistic rockets and supersonic bombers, is it not time—this is not an original idea; it has been said very many times—that we allowed the United States to produce a lot of them which might ultimately be to our advantage instead of our burdening ourselves with the financial disadvantages? Why must we go on producing everything the United States has? We might emulate them in some things, but there is no reason why we should, in the end, bring upon ourselves financial disaster. The same thing applies to research.
I now come to the subject of N.A.T.O. N.A.T.O. in the military sense is deplorably weak. I had something to do with the emergence and development of N.A.T.O., and I deplore the fact that it is weak. What are the facts about N.A.T.O.? Why is it weak? It is weak today for precisely the same reason that it was weak when I was Minister of Defence, namely, the inability of the French to meet their European obligations. I am not complaining about that; the French have Algeria to deal with. We may have views on whether it is right or wrong to engage in the Algerian dispute, but the French, nevertheless, have that on their hands. Algeria has absorbed so many troops that France is quite incapable of making a reasonable contribution to N.A.T.O. In those days when I was Minister of Defence in the Labour Government, we had a similar difficulty with France, because France put ever so many divisions on paper, but that was where they remained.
I will tell the House something now which has, perhaps, never occurred to it. What was the primary reason for the proposal for German rearmament? It was a bolt from the blue. It was because 1214 it was realised by the Foreign Ministers concerned, and by the Defence Ministers who were called into consultation, that the French could not meet their commitments, and we had to look for an alternative. That is why the suggestion about German rearmament was first made. I am bound to say that, after all these years, German rearmament still seems a long way off, and it is doubtful whether, when it emerges, it will be a suitable alternative to the French divisions which we thought at the outset we were likely to get.
Nevertheless, N.A.T.O. is a potential of great strength if, some day, a nuclear war should occur. I repeat that we all hope that one will never occur, but if it should, there is a potential. Do not let us forget that N.A.T.O. has been responsible for some remarkable achievements. The Berlin airlift came just about the time when N.A.T.O. was being created. As the right hon. Gentleman opposite rightly said, N.A.T.O. has, perhaps, held off the danger of war.
What are we to do about N.A.T.O.? I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what ought to be done, and I hope that he will tell the Minister of Defence. There ought to be discussions with N.A.T.O., and these discussions should take the form, first, of deciding whether we can build up an adequate defence on the basis of equity between the countries in proportion to their strength, their financial position and the like.
Secondly, there must at long last be a pooling of research and standardisation. We have waited for it a long time. France should be told that it is no use her producing Mystèe aircraft if we can produce a suitable type of aircraft. Equally, we ought not to be producing bazookas and armoured vehicles when we know that the French can produce a better bazooka than ours and an armoured vehicle far superior to anything produced here. That is the way to handle it. Then we should have a real N.A.T.O. organised for the purpose for which it was intended.
I have a final point to put about N.A.T.O. Even if N.A.T.O. fails in a military sense, the fact that we can bring together fifteen countries, although they may sometimes be confused and troubled in their minds, and although they may sometimes disagree, is a great achievement in itself for the purposes of real 1215 peace some day and for the purposes of social advancement throughout Europe as a whole. That is why we want N.A.T.O. I know how weak it is in a military sense, but I do not make a song and dance about it. N.A.T.O. ought to be encouraged, and we should use it for the purpose of reducing our expenditure and reducing the need for such vast manpower requirements.
There is the case, and that is why the Motion is justifiable. The Motion says, in effect, "We do not expect you to do this at the end of 1958, but we hope you will plan towards it. We do not expect that you will be able to reduce your expenditure by a substantial amount, much less by £500 million, but we think you should aim at it, and, if you have not an aim, it is better that you should get out altogether." After all, that is not a harsh judgment on the Government.
The right hon. Gentleman opposite challenges us on the basis of figures, almost arrogantly, saying, "If hon. Gentlemen opposite can prove their case—". The right hon. Gentleman says that only because he does not really understand the case which has to be put. He has had figures presented to him, and thinks that that is all that is required. On the basis of figures, one can prove anything at all, particularly in relation to the Army. One can leave it to the generals. One has only to put a case to them, and they will produce the figures. I had an instance in 1929, when I was asked by the Secretary of State for War, Mr. Thomas Shaw, to bring about a reduction in armaments expenditure. I went to the generals, and we had a committee, and they proved that I was completely wrong, although I got my way in the end. The reason why I got my way was that I knew nothing about figures. That is my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley.
I submit to the right hon. Gentleman that there is a case for the Motion, and it ought to be accepted by the Government. If the Government had been wise, they would have said, "The Motion is not, after all, so specific in character as some people have made out. We must put a liberal interpretation upon it, and we will accept it." We should then all be good friends for the time being, and we could face up to the new problem which 1216 has emerged in relation to Egypt. That is what the Government should have done, but they have failed to do so, and we shall go into the Lobby against them tonight.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. John Maclay (Renfrew, West)
I must confess that when one realised that a debate on this subject was to take place this week one had an impression that there might be an air of unreality about it. I cannot say that any speech made so far has completely removed that impression.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), in a very effective speech, set about making it cleat that the way any normal person would read the Opposition's Motion was not the way in which the Opposition's Motion was meant to be read. The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) came valiantly to his rescue at the last possible moment. For a long time I could not make out what he could do for the right hon. Member for Belper, but he managed to screw himself up to say that it was a good Motion and should be accepted.
The right hon. Member for Easington made one point with which I agreed very substantially. That was when he was dealing with the possibility of certain reductions in defence expenditure which could come from better standardisation and a better division of labour among the N.A.T.O. Allies. I remind the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members opposite, as well as the Government, that it is not only in N.A.T.O. that there are possibilities of standardisation. N.A.T.O. is not the only structure for working on standardisation. I suspect that certain work can be done in this country itself, but there is also the very important Standing Armaments Committee of Western European Union about which there was a lot of talk some years ago but which too few people now remember. That Committee, working with seven nations, may well do better work on standardisation than N.A.T.O. can with the larger number of nations, and the maximum possible use should be made of it.
I will detain the House for only a very short time, because this is an extremely difficult time rationally to discuss the detail of manpower and defence. The 1217 point I am anxious to stress in intervening is that the rumours, the reports in the Press and speeches by hon. Members, possibly on both sides of the House, over recent months have produced a fairly dangerous state of affairs abroad. The one reason I welcome the debate today—I assumed even before the events of the last few days that it must be an unreal debate at this stage of this year—is that it has given the Government an opportunity to make it absolutely clear that in Britain we do not intend to take unilateral decisions on defence matters without the fullest consultation with our Allies and without full consideration of the implications of any revision of strategy which becomes possible in the near future. There has been doubt about that in the country and abroad which has done great harm.
I also welcome the explanation of the right hon. Member for Belper of the Opposition's Motion. When the Motion appeared it came as a climax to the kind of talk which has been causing so much trouble all over the world. Reading the Motion, without a running commentary from the right hon. Member for Belper, would lead one to believe that the Labour Party's intention to fix a date for the last call up is as clear as can be. That conclusion has been picked up by the Press, particularly when coupled with reports of a Labour Party meeting issued, I believe, in the form of a Press release. I have read in one newspaper, which is very friendly towards the other side of the House, the statement that Labour will cut the period of National Service. That kind of stuff is believed. I am told that the Motion does not necessarily mean that, but even the explanation of what it meant by the right hon. Member for Belper led him into some very strange byways of argument.
He made it clear—and I respect him for it and welcome it—that the Labour Party does not wish to make unilateral decisions on National Service until there have been discussions with our Allies. However, in the latter part of his speech it was extraordinarily difficult to find out just what those discussions were to do. I will confine myself to emphasising the kind of damage which has been done abroad by these rumours.
Whether we like it or not—and we should be proud of it—Britain remains the 1218 focal point of the moral strength of the free Western Powers and with the Commonwealth we are the essential link between the United States and the other free Western nations.
On what we do in a period of very difficult ad critical reappraisal may well depend what all the other nations of Western Europe do, and on our action may therefore depend the future of world peace. Do not let us forget for one minute in our domestic squabbles on politics and our desire to take up political positions on these matters of defence that, above all, the whole world is watching Britain. It will continue to do so, unless we show that we are unworthy of our position in the world.
The temptation to Britain to ease off in her defence preparations at this time must obviously be very great, but do nor let us make suggestions such as one which has been heard too often in recent weeks that because the French do not have their full strength on the Continent, because they are engaged elsewhere, we should not keep four divisions in Germany. That is as damaging as the kind of rumour that Britain intends to weaken her full obligations in Europe just because one of our European Allies is having difficulties in her overseas possessions.
§ Mr. Maclay
I am not accusing any individual hon. Member of saying that, but no one will deny that there has been a lot of talk about it in Press articles and the like and it has been a too easy line of approach to solving some of our problems.
§ Mr. Paget
The right hon. Gentleman and I have a very great interest in this debate. I agree that our N.A.T.O. obligations are sacrosanct. There is no question about that. I certainly believe that we can fulfil our N.A.T.O. obligations and strengthen ourselves by doing that. That is the difference between us.
§ Mr. Maclay
I think I made it clear that I very much welcome what has been said, but I am stressing the damage done by the kind of rumour which has got about in past weeks. It is very widespread, and any hon. Member in touch with Continental matters will agree that the mood there has become that Britain is seriously thinking of a reduction of its forces.
1219 I should like to say a few words about our commitments with N.A.T.O.—the commitment of four divisions and the Tactical Air Force. We must remember that that commitment was made as an integral part of the Paris Agreements. We have further to remember just what those Paris Agreements were intended to do. I have had to argue this in the House once before, although today there is no argument on the subject. It was not just a question of getting 12 German divisions. The Paris Agreements were not created for that purpose, although it was undoubtedly extremely important. The Paris Agreements and the British commitment which made them possible also involved the whole French attitude to any form of rearmament in Germany. Our commitment of four divisions was involved in that.
Another, and, I believe, the most important, element in the Paris Agreements was the long-term effect on Europe of the fact that Britain was formally committed to the continent of Europe in a way which had never been seen before in peace time. Had the European nations been certain in 1912, 1913, or 1914 of what Britain would do in the event of an outbreak of war, had we had troops there in 1934, 1935, 1936, or 1937, it is not going too far to say that the chances of both those wars happening would have been substantially reduced.
Do not let us believe that because there is an argument—I will not say more than that at the moment—that the immediate risk of physical aggression in Europe has diminished, there is therefore a case for our reducing our commitments. Having said that, I of course entirely agree that four divisions and the Tactical Air Force are not necessarily the final word on what we should have on the Continent in terms of manpower. Clearly the governing words in the Paris Agreements are those which the right hon. Member for Belper has already quoted. I want to emphasise what the exact wording is. It is:Her Majesty The Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will continue to maintain on the mainland of Europe, including Germany, the effective strength of the United Kingdom forces which are now assigned to the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, that is to say, four divisions and the Second Tactical Air Force, or such other forces as the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, regards as having equivalent fighting capacity. Her Majesty undertakes not 1220 to withdraw those forces against the wishes of the majority of the High Contracting Parties who should take their decision in the knowledge of the views of the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.I have quoted that in full because I regard it as necessary to re-emphasise the nature of that commitment.
It is possible—and I sincerely hope that it will happen quickly—that there will be a more effective reappraisal of the way to implement those words. All I would say upon that is that we should be certain that our Allies in Western Europe, in addition to those on the other side of the Atlantic—and I mean not merely the Governments but the peoples of those countries—realise that if there is a change in the divisional strength, it will be one which is fully acceptable to the military technicians who have been carrying out the reappraisal of the way in which we can most effectively implement the spirit, which is what matters, of the Paris Agreements.
I have only one other very brief comment to make. Very few people in this country wish to see National Service prolonged for one day longer than is necessary, but I have been unable to convince myself that it is reasonable or sensible to give a date for the last call-up, in the foreseeable future. This question has various angles. I am going to leave alone its effect upon our own Forces, but I want to say a word about the effect abroad of any kind of talk that we are putting an end to conscription.
We have to remember that the idea of many of our Continental Allies as to the best way to maintain an effective peacetime military strength is based entirely upon National Service. I have had many talks about this matter with my Continental friends, and have found the greatest difficulty in getting them to understand that here, in Britain, the theory of how to get the most efficient fighting force with the minimum waste of manpower, and at the minimum cost is ultimately, and always must be, founded upon a voluntary basis.
I beseech hon. Members on both sides of the House to remember that that point of view is not shared by many of our Continental Allies, whose history for many years past, of producing military strength in peace-time has been based upon National Service. Therefore, when 1221 our Continental Allies hear talk of the abolition of National Service, unqualified by very careful reservations as to how we shall maintain our strength, the feeling develops that Britain is going to run out of her commitments. I say in all seriousness that the combination of the rumour of the end of National Service in this country with the rumour of the withdrawing of divisions has caused very serious trouble throughout Europe.
With the removal of some of the fear of Russian aggression in Europe—an attitude which I believe may well have gone too far, because, quite apart from the events of the last few days, one must not discount the possibility of Russian infiltration movements in Europe—new dangers can develop. We are anxious to cut down defence expenditure and to economise in the use of Service manpower. So also is every nation in Western Europe. If it is thought that the rumours to which I have referred have real substance, then there is the gravest danger of action in other nations which could leave Europe virtually defenceless.
I urge all hon. Members to remember that in talking of what we all so much desire—economy in manpower and cost in meeting our defence needs—what goes out from this House and what is published in newspapers as intelligent guesswork is being watched with the utmost care abroad, and can create a completely wrong impression of the determination of hon. Members on both sides of the House to maintain our obligations to our Allies up to the hilt.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
It is, no doubt, very comforting for some of those Allies to whom the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. J. Maclay) has just referred to look to Britain to carry all the burdens, both physically and morally, but the fact remains that they are not carrying a fair proportion. If we are to accept the principle of National Service—which the Labour Government enunciated after the war, for the first time in peace time, as a vital principle—it seems to me that some of our Continental Allies have failed very badly. And not only our Continental Allies; what about the British Commonwealth? Is that to sit back and deliver 1222 lectures, such as the right hon. Gentleman told us he has listened to from his friends on the other side of the Channel? Has New Zealand or Canada got conscription?
Where is Britain expected to stand? Are we to provide the wherewithal to fight the battles of the world, which are just as much the battles of our Continental Allies and Commonwealth relatives? Whatever the right hon. Gentleman may say as to the effect of what we say in this House, we all represent our constituents, and most of our people are discontented and to some degree resentful at the fact that National Service, which is selective and is at present limited to a comparatively small proportion of young men, is apparently to continue in perpetuity. Our constituents want that situation ended as soon as possible. The only question is when it should be ended.
Is there any difference between the Government and the Opposition in this matter? If so, let the Government say so. Do they want to perpetuate military conscription and the direction of labour, or not? If not, they have come somewhere near the point of view which we are putting. The only difference is as to the timing of the ending of conscription. That is what our Motion refers to and what the Government evades by their Amendment.
I was really entranced by the figures given to us by the Minister of Labour, and the way in which he manipulated them. I believe that at one time he was a bridge expert. The essence of writing about bridge is that one shows the hands of all four players—North, East, South and West—in the same article. But today he kept very nicely hidden up his sleeve some of the hands and some of the trumps. He knows that in taking a guesswork figure he has not disclosed to us the assessment of the Chiefs of Staff. All he has done is to take figures which have appeared in the Estimates, which are based upon what the Chiefs of Staff say they want in order to carry out the commitments, and then proceed to say that it is not possible to have a minimum of 450,000 men in the three Services without National Service.
My argument is that we do not want all those men. The right hon. Gentleman will say, "You are pitting yourself against the General Staff." I should not think of doing so for one moment, but 1223 I should like to hear what are the assessments of the General Staff, which we have not heard yet. The Secretary of State for War has been very coy about telling us what are our real commitments. I wish to refer to the speech he made a few nights ago. In spite of all that the Minister of Labour said, this is an Army matter. In confirmation of that statement, I should like to quote the Secretary of State's own words when my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) "jumped the gun" the other night, on 23rd July. He said:It is true that the main user and the main justification for National Service at present is the Army."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1956; Vol. 556, c. 171.]I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can accuse me of unfairness if I base my arguments upon the Army position. I can certainly argue better about the Army than about the other two Services. I think that many hon. Members are beginning to doubt whether the claims made by the Royal Navy are justified, but I am not capable of putting arguments for or against that. Perhaps it might be better if it were put in the defence debate which we are promised when we come back.
What the Secretary of State further told us was that the Army would far rather have fewer men and an all-Regular Army. I agree, and I suppose most of us would agree. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that the Army would be far happier and healthy if it was an all-Regular Army. I agree there, also, and that is about the limit of my agreement with the right hon. Gentleman. I would only ask why, if that is so, he does not get on with it and produce an all-Regular Army?
The right hon. Gentleman says that he cannot get the recruits even under the improved conditions, but he has not told us once what is the minimum number of his Regular Army and what number he can do with. Small surprise, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has to hazard a guess. He talks about 200,000. I talk about less, and I am going to try to show that we can do with less, if we compare today's strength with what we had in pre-war days.
The real reason why we have National Service is because of the saying, now over 1224 150 years old, that the big battalions count. I believe it was Napoleon who said it, but he was the originator of conscription, and the whole hierarchy of generals and general staffs ever since have based their claims on the same maxim, that the big battalions count, and have, therefore, said that they must have the largest possible number of men. I do not blame them. Obviously, if one has a large margin or reserve of manpower, it is much more possible to win battles. I agree that in warfare that maxim may be true, but in peace-time it cannot be true, because we have not got the economy which can stand the complete mobilisation of manpower such as we have in the Army.
Hardly ever has the Army attempted to economise with manpower such as civilian employers of labour have had to do in different branches of industry. What the Army has been doing, and it has been doing it for ten years or more, since the end of the war, has been working on maximum figures instead of on minimum figures. I regret to say that many industrialists have been doing the same. That is probably why we are having some of the trouble today, when this system is being reversed under pressure from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and industrialists are being forced to "cough up" a lot of that surplus manpower which they got at the expense of the consumer, just as National Service is at the cost of the taxpayer.
The whole trouble does not lie with the General Staff. It lies with Governments, and I make no distinction between this Government and preceding ones. Obviously, the staffs say "What is it that you want us to do?" and the Government—and I regret to have to include previous Governments—have asked for an outsize suit to be made. The military tailors have, therefore, said, "Very well, then, we want so much cloth." The commitments which the politicians and the Government have placed on the Services have caused the Services to demand the largest amount of cloth. It is quite obvious, and it must be so, that we cannot hope alone in the distant stations to try to police the world, because that is what Britain is trying to do.
We are not producing the best form of defence. We have only to look around 1225 the world. In Cyprus, we have 16,000 or 17,000 men, and they are not even producing law and order there. Twelve of the 14 major units about which the Secretary of State was speaking in the debate on the Army Estimates are being used to try to maintain law and order, and are not able to do it.
Something must be wrong somewhere, because, as far as I can judge, there are no tremendous military forces arrayed against our troops in Cyprus. Their opponents are largely rebellious civilians, many of them amateurs, even in their bomb making and bomb throwing. So it seems to me that there is something entirely wrong with our military system, which forces us to keep in different parts of the world large numbers of men merely to maintain law and order.
I have not the time to go into the question of how it can be done, but I should like to remind the Minister—not the Minister of Labour, because it is outside his sphere, but perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for War—that we were able to recruit a large and efficient Indian Army by brigading British troops with local troops, a system which, as hon. and gallant Gentlemen will know, was to have one brigade of British troops with two brigades of Indian troops forming the division. I am not at all sure, although I have no doubt that the Secretary of State for War will say that we have argued this matter almost ad nauseam, that that system could not be operated with many of the colonial populations in order to maintain, not perhaps a fighting Army, but certainly a very good gendarmerie to maintain law and order in these territories without us having to send large numbers of British troops to scattered parts of the world.
I want now to concentrate on a comparison which I maintain is relevant and certainly germane to the present situation. Before the war, what was the size of the British Army? I have here some very interesting figures, which I had prepared when I was at the War Office. They are figures which disagree with those which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley gave the other night. My hon. Friend referred to a Regular Army of 180,000 or 190,000 before the war. I think, from the figures which he showed me, that he included the British element in the Indian Army, but the 1226 figures which I have here relate to between 1923 and 1927, when we had fewer than 150,000 all ranks in the British Army. From 1928 to 1937—and let the House note that this is four years after Hitler came to power, with all the trouble that he was causing us—the British Army never exceeded much more than 134,000 all ranks—a Regular Army. We had no conscription in those days.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that Hitler did not cause anybody any serious trouble until 1937, but that, when he did start, the fact that we had not the necessary military strength contributed to the successes which he gained?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I have a memory which goes back before the First World War—which dates me somewhat—but the symptoms were much the same, and the British Regular Army was much the same then as it was according to the figures I am now giving to the House.
We had the Kaiser and the German military junta creating trouble, and everybody knew that war was almost inevitable; and we knew the same when Hitler came to power in 1933. The only unfortunate thing was that most hon. Gentlemen on the Government side of the House in those days would never admit it. I will give the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) some figures. The hon. Gentleman talks about 1937, when Hitler first became really dangerous. The average number of Regulars of all ranks in the British Army during 1937 was 134,043, and it was only in 1938, when we first brought in conscription, or the militia, as it then was, that the figure rose to 210,000. Right up to 1937—this is the point I am making-Britain, with her commitments all over the world, and with trouble brewing in Europe, managed to have an Army of only 134,000 all ranks.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod
Surely the important thing is that whether males are serving in the Army, the Navy or the Air Force at home or abroad, so long as they are British troops they come from the same pool of young men coming up to 18. From there, we have to meet all the commitments of all the Services.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I maintain that the right hon. Gentleman has proved too much. Where did they come from in 1227 the period from 1923–1937? Were the age classes much different in those days? I think that the number of young men reaching the age of 18 is higher now. I do not know, but the right hon. Gentleman can confirm that or deny it. I am saying, and the right hon. Gentleman has confirmed it, that right back to the 1860s the pattern of Regular recruiting has been the same.
All that the right hon. Gentleman is saying is that today circumstances have changed because we have full employment. I admit that, but I say that there is a similar situation in France. According to The Times military correspondent the size of the French regular forces, at any rate at the beginning of this year, was no more than 28,000 officers and 112,000 other ranks, a total of 140,000. What did the French have to do in order to fight their colonial war? They had to call up the reserves.
I suggest that, rather than keeping a large number of National Service men, which the Secretary of State for War has told us makes the Army unhealthy and unhappy, it would be far better to get rid of them. If the occasion arises—I will not say that it will not, because it has happened before—we could call up the reserves. Why do we have all these reserves? The purpose of the original National Service Act, passed in 1947, after the war, was to create trained reserves. We must have hundreds of thousands of reserves.
If the situation becomes really serious in the Suez area, we shall have to call up the reserves. That would be in addition to National Service which does not provide, even today, the Army needed to deal with those commitments about which we were only told in part. What conclusion do I draw from these facts and figures which I have given to the House? On 23rd July, the Secretary of State estimated that were the call-up dropped in 1958, as we are asking, we should then have about 120,000 to 130,000 Regulars in 1961. The right hon. Gentleman is on record as having said that, and no doubt he will remember it. He said:That would give us a total in the Army, in 1961, of between 120,000 and 130,000."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th July, 1956; Vol. 557, c. 174.]1228 The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that the tank would not be full until 1965 and, therefore, on his own argument, the figures for 1965 should be larger than for 1961. So, over the ten years because it is roughly ten years, the right hon. Gentleman is sure—so far as he can be sure of anything—of more than 143,000 all ranks. His figures referred to other ranks and I am allowing 10 per cent. for officers, which he said was the ratio between officers and other ranks.
By 1965, we should have at least 150,000 in the Regular Army. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman; would he not rather have 150,000 well-trained, efficient, men in a "healthy" Regular Army instead of what he has today, an Army half of which is composed of National Service men, which he himself admits is a deterrent to Regular recruiting? If one talks to any officers—well, perhaps not the senior officers, but officers of the rank of company commander and perhaps even brigadier—what do they say? I am not referring to the brigadiers in this House, because they are retired. I am referring to the serving brigadiers. They say, "We would far rather have Regular troops, even with smaller units, than National Service men, who cause considerable discontent among our Regulars, especially the married men." I can well believe that.
The other day my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley mentioned something about household troops, a battalion of the Brigade of Guards I think it was, being glad to increase its strength to 550—
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am sorry if I have transgressed the bounds of propriety so far as party politics is concerned, but this is not such a secret as my hon. Friend may think, because he said it outside the party meeting.
§ Mr. Bellenger
My hon. Friend admits that a Guards' battalion was glad to get its strength up to 550 because it knew, as I know, from the experience of two world wars that one volunteer is worth 1229 three pressed men. Let hon. Members think back to the First World War. What was produced by the numbers of men to which I have referred? Strangely enough, four British divisions were produced to form the British Expeditionary Force and look what an account they gave of themselves against the hordes thrown at them by the Kaiser's Army.
I am asking the Secretary of State to accept a smaller number of more contented men in a healthier and Regular Army. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman will not have such a large number of men to squander in the way he is doing at present, all over the globe. I am not so much worried by the commitment in Germany. I think it could be smaller, but I do not mind a large part of our Army being in Germany. I look upon the British contingent in Germany as being home-based, because that is what it really is. There are far better training grounds for them in Germany than they are likely to get here, and far better barrack accommodation than in this country.
When we brought back the troops formerly in the Canal Zone, what did we do with them? We had to put them into sub-standard barracks which are already overcrowded. If they were asked most young soldiers, National Service men as well as Regulars would say—certain other things being equal such as home ties in certain cases—that they would far rather be in Germany than in this country.
The British Army in Germany is probably the best part of the Army in the world. I do not wish to deny the usefulness or efficiency of other forces which are being hard-pressed in Kenya, Malaya or Cyprus, but I say that as a fighting machine the British Army in Germany is probably the best we have had for a very long time. Therefore, I do not mind those troops being in Germany. All I ask is that the number be reduced, and it could be reduced. The coming into operation of the German troops will make a tremendous difference. All along I have supported, first, E.D.C., and, later, the Paris Treaty, sometimes in disagreement with or opposition to members of my own party, because I foresaw the time when the German Army would be resuscitated and become a first-class fighting force.
1230 The Russians know it. They are not likely to try any tricks in Europe as long as the German forces are there. At the end of this year, five German divisions will have come into being under the conscription law passed through the Bundestag. They will be in cadre form and consist of Regular troops. By next year it is hoped they will have about ten divisions, not fully complete. As one of my hon. Friends has said, the British Army is not by any means up to full establishment.
In giving these comparisons between pre-war and post-war years, I maintain that the situation has not changed. We know about the 175 Russian divisions, but if we have to keep that in front of us constantly and use it as an argument, we shall never do away with National Service. Indeed, we shall need far larger forces than we have at present. We can never hope to cope with them. We must take risks. If the Russian armies were to march now they could come straight to the Channel ports.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that they could. Soldiers of the status of General Gruenther have told us so. General Gruenther said that with the 12 divisions of the German army we could hold such an attack by the Russians. We cannot separate our problems of manpower from the support given by our Allies. If we attempt to argue this matter in isolation, as we seem to be trying to do today, the Government will have it all their own way. I do not attempt to argue the matter in that way.
We have two things today that we did not have before the last war. We did not have the substantial quantities of United States troops, aeroplanes and equipment which are here, ready to meet any attack or act of aggression. I ask hon. Gentlemen not to under-assess them. We must rely upon our Allies to do part of this job. Secondly, we have a German Ally. Our soldiers know that the Germans can fight if the occasion arises. We hope that it will not arise. I hope that these forces will prevent war. If war comes, let us make no mistake; these puny forces will have to be increased.
There is one matter which affects the command of B.A.O.R. which comes under the Secretary of State for War, and which makes me suspicious of some of 1231 the arguments of the General Staff. Matters of policy should be decided by the Government. It should not rest with military commanders, even as eminent as General Sir Richard Gale to make statements like that which he made on 24th July in an interview which he gave to The Times. I suppose that most hon. Members noticed what he said. It was that the German Chancellor, Dr. Adenauer, was quite right in his assessment of the situation. He said a lot of other things, too.
It is wrong for a serving officer to endorse the policy of a foreign government when it may embarrass his own Government, as it would if our Motion were carried. When I put a Question to the Minister of Defence on the matter today, his answer was:It is not the customary practice for my authority to be sought for what is to be said at interviews of the kind referred to by the right hon. Gentleman.If General Gale had views on those matters, he should have represented them to the Secretary of State for War or to the Army Council. He should not broadcast ideas that conflict with those of many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in this House and may conflict with those of members of his own Government He should keep them for the proper channel.
Whatever hon. Gentlemen may say about the size of our Forces, let them remember that if we give the Army the cloth it will tailor a good military suit, even though small. It has always done so, and will always be able to do so. The trouble is that Governments ask the Army to make an outsize suit of clothes with inadequate cloth. Most of the Army is today resisting the claims that are made about what it should do with the National Service men.
I say to the Government, "Get rid of conscription, whether by 1958 or 1960." I support the Motion on the same ground as does my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper. We must get on with planning the abolition of National Service at some time. I know that we have to do it in consultation with our Allies, but many of them have done things without consulting us, and none of them has two years' military conscription today. The new German Army will do no more than 18 months. The case which I have put—and which, in regard 1232 to the Army, is based on the arguments advanced by the Secretary of State for War on the Adjournment Motion the other day—are worthy of consideration.
If the right hon. Gentleman says that our commitments need more than 130,000 or 150,000 men, let him come out into the open and say so, and tell us what minimum he needs. Then we shall be able to assess the position. We have not been told it tonight despite the display of figures, which may mean a lot or little, which was advanced by the Minister of Labour in trying to demolish all our arguments in favour of our Motion.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Brigadier Sir John Smyth (Norwood)
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) has made an extremely interesting speech. I am very much in agreement with many of the things that he said. But it was not a valid argument to take the strength of the British Regular Army before 1914 and again before 1939, and to deduce from that what the size of the Regular Army should be today.
I was interested in one point he made about the Indian Army, in which I served for many years. He was speaking of the dilution of units. But when he mentioned the strength of the Regular British Army between the two wars, he did not mention that we then had a very large and efficient Indian Army which could provide an expeditionary force of four divisions, quite apart from internal security troops and other troops that remained behind in India and Burma.
§ Sir J. Smyth
The big factor was the expeditionary force of four divisions.
I am very impressed with the unanimity on both sides of the House today on most of the important questions of defence. We differ on this rather rigid question of the doing away with National Service definitely by a certain date. The Government are asked to end the call-up in December, 1958, irrespective of the military situation at the time and of how we fit in with the arrangement of our Allies. That is a big point of difference. Otherwise, as the Minister of Labour has said, there is a great deal of agreement on major policy.
1233 The debate takes place in the shadow of the Suez situation. It is a good thing that it has come now because it dovetails with the debate tomorrow on that situation. It should be brought home to everybody—if it is not already appreciated—that whatever our arrangements may be with regard to a global war, we ought to believe even more firmly than before that adequate conventional forces are absolutely essential today. Great wars, like great fires, generally start from small beginnings, and I am firmly of the opinion that if one can deal with these small conflagrations in their early form we shall avoid a great deal of trouble that we have failed to avoid in the past. The lesson of Suez is: let us always try to be one jump ahead and not two jumps behind.
I am also of the opinion that security and strength in the conventional weapon war, or the cold war, or whatever one likes to call it, depend very much on having central reserves which are uncommitted to any other rôle and which can be air transported to any threatened area at the shortest notice. It used to be said that a tank force exerted its greatest strength when it was out of sight over the horizon, and I think that is very true in a situation like Suez. The little Hitlers of this world do not start anything unless they think they can get away with it. I think that is a very important factor to bear in mind.
The points on which I think we are in absolute agreement on both sides of the House are these. First, I think we all agree that security and the preservation of peace are all important to us and to the rest of the world. They are our first priority, and we must continually bear that fact in mind. Nothing is of any value—our efforts to improve our standard of life, to help the backward peoples, or anything of that sort—if we are living under the threat of any sort of war. Our British defence must always be a compromise between what we would like to have—100 per cent. security—and what we can afford. That has always been and still is the case today.
The second point on which we are all agreed is that the defence budget as it is today in money, material and manpower is a very grievous burden to this country and weighs very heavily upon us indeed. I know that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the 1234 Exchequer have that fact very much in mind, and we all want to do everything we can to reduce that burden.
The third point on which I believe there is general agreement is National Service. I do not believe there is any difference on either side of the House. We all want to do away with National Service at the earliest possible moment, as soon as the world security position permits. National Service in peacetime is contrary to our British tradition, and we have had it for over ten years. Also it is entirely inefficient in this modern age. It is a waste of manpower. It takes a lot of men to keep the National Service men trained, and they in themselves create a waste of shipping which is needed to take them to and fro. We cannot call them up for less than two years, and there is no doubt that we all agree that we should do away with National Service as soon as possible.
National Service does not fit in with our modern defence problems. In the old days, to which the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw was referring, one wanted to build up large reserves. That is not the case today. I believe that the bulk of our goods must be in the shop window if we are to prevent a war, and not merely to try and win one once it has started.
The problem before us today is how we in the British Commonwealth, with our Allies, can reduce our expenditure on defence and yet increase its efficiency. I agree very much with the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) who said that we do not want to reduce the strength of our defence; we want to increase it by different methods.
We live in an age of the H-bomb deterrent. I want to talk only for one moment on global war, because that is a subject which is rather apart and on its own. All I would say about the deterrent is that it must be effective. The deterrent that we have must be absolutely up-to-date and thoroughly tested. That is why I think it is poor economy not to have proper tests of our H-bomb. I appreciate the fears that we all have in this respect, and, having tested our H-bomb, for goodness sake let us come to an agreement with the other world Powers which have this weapon to limit our test explosions. The arrangements for the use-of the H-bomb must be perfect, and in conjunction with the United States and our 1235 other Allies the arrangements must not only be perfect but known to be perfect.
I believe that a global war is far less likely to occur today than at any time probably in our memory. But our object must surely be to prevent any sort of war from starting, because from small beginnings a great war may start. In this age of the deterrent I think that a shelter is provided for the little Hitlers, the Nassers and dictators who take advantage of the fact that this is a hydrogen bomb age and who think that they can commit acts of aggression which we shall be either too humane or too preoccupied to deal with or which we shall not have the conventional forces to counter.
The right hon. Member for Easington mentioned a matter of Commonwealth defence in which I found myself in considerable agreement with what he said. Just before the end of the war, I wrote a little book on this subject. It is now out of print and is of no significance, but it was called "Defence is our Business". It was a treatise on that very subject of Commonwealth defence—how can we use the forces of our Commonwealth to increase our overall strength and reduce our British commitment in manpower? My scheme was that we should have three bases—in Great Britain, in the Mediterranean and in the Far East—and that in each of these bases we should have a minimum number of men employed in static defence, tied down to the ground, and the maximum number for use in a mobile rôle.
I do not think we are really doing that today. I agree with the right hon. Member for Easington. Every member of the Commonwealth ought today to have a certain number of brigades, even if only one or two, equipped and ready to play their part in this rôle of mobile defence by means of air transport which could enable them to join up with other units. It is, of course, a tragedy today that our magnificent Indian Army that was such a strength in the Eastern part of the world is making no contribution to the maintenance of the peace of the world. That, to my mind, is a great tragedy. We all know the reason. It is that they are unable to resolve the quarrel over Kashmir. The result is that both India and Pakistan are maintaining forces greater than they can really afford, which 1236 are making no contribution to peace but simply glaring at one another from either side of the Kashmir border.
I was very disappointed that, so far as I could see, at the meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers no progress was made on that vital problem. I hope that if they can resolve it India and Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada could all contribute a brigade or two brigades to create a mobile, central reserve, not committed at any particular task but ready to move at immediate notice to any part of the world. I believe that would reduce our own British manpower commitment and bring the day of the end of National Service nearer. It is something we should bear very much in mind, and I hope my right hon. Friends will take note of it.
I also feel that today there should definitely be two types of division in the British Army. We should have the type of division, perhaps heavily armoured and heavily armed, such as we have in N.A.T.O., but our other divisions should be very much smaller in size and manpower, more lightly equipped, and the essential point is that they should be able to move. Our defence today is terribly rigid. It is difficult to avoid that because we have so many commitments and such a large proportion of our available troops are tied down to various places and various tasks. Until we can somehow get away from that and make our defence forces—British and Commonwealth—more flexible and more mobile, we shall never be able really to exert the strength in world defence that we ought to be exerting today.
I finish with the point on which I started. I am sure we would all like to do away with National Service. From every point of view I think it is unfortunate, inefficient and a waste of money and of manpower, but I cannot see at the moment that it can be done away with. I am quite certain that it cannot be done by an arbitrary date. The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), in what I thought a most excellent opening speech, took the other line and wanted to do away with it because he said that would be a good thing to do. I admit that it would be a good thing to do, but I think we have to put the horse before the cart—not say 1237 that we will do away with it and then see how it works, but examine it from the opposite point of view.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
It is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth). He always puts his case so fairly and reasonably that he carries hon. Members on all sides of the House largely with him.
I shall be very short in my speech this evening for the reason that I find myself in such complete agreement with what was said by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). His approach to this matter is exactly the approach which, with far less knowledge and experience, I have made. I want very shortly to express my personal view on what I consider may happen.
First, like the right hon. Member, I say that the most precious possessions we have are our mode of life, our independence and our liberty. Everything needed for the defence of those possessions must be done, cost what it may. That has always been my view, which I have expressed in this House now for nearly a quarter of a century when any question of defence has arisen. The question is whether today we are using the very best methods for our defence. It is to that point that I shall address myself this evening.
Let us consider what is the position today compared with that of a few years ago. When I listened to the Minister of Labour it seemed as if there had been no change whatever in the situation, certainly during the last five years. The amount of money which had to be spent was much the same, and the number of people who had to be in the Army was much the same; in fact, there was not much change at all. Compare that with what we heard on Monday of last week from the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister came to the House and solemnly assured us, with all the experience and information he has, and immediately following the Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers, that in his view the danger of global war has now gone. He said, "I am sorry I cannot say it has gone forever, but certainly it has gone for the present." [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian 1238 Harvey) wishes to refer to that, I have the statement here, and that, shortly, is what it means. If that is so, we have to re-examine the whole position.
When the war was over many countries demobilised, perhaps demobilised too quickly. We certainly came down from about 5 million to about 650,000 or 680,000 men. America came down to about 1 million and Russia stopped at about 4½ million. I could never make out why in those early years it was necessary to retain National Service. The answer then given by the Secretary of State for War and the Minister of Defence was that it was necessary to provide reserves. That was the only reason why it was kept on. It was admitted by everyone at the time that conscription is contrary to the whole attitude of this country in defence of itself. It is something to which the country strongly objects at all times except when there is actual war. When war is on, not only is it necessary, but it is the best method at that moment for dealing with the situation. When war is over, most of us condemn that system. As all Members have said, it is wasteful, unsatisfactory and a bad use of manpower, not only of the men themselves but of the Regulars.
We went on like that until the Berlin airlift, and thereupon undoubtedly there was a different attitude in this House and in the country to the whole matter. There was a realisation that we were not out of danger yet, but the total amount of our defence programme was only somewhere between £700 million and £800 million.
It is impossible to discuss our defence problems while limiting the discussion to manpower alone. That is sheer nonsense, it is equally wrong to limit the debate to the Army alone or the Navy or the Air Force alone. We are anxious about what our defence is and whether we are having the best and most efficient defence possible.
Before I proceed with the history, as it seems to me, I would point out that the figure of £1,500 million does not represent the full cost of defence to the country. We are removing from normal production in the country between 700,000 and 800,000 young people who would be adding to the ordinary production of the country—an addition which is very much needed. We are also using about three times their number in production in order 1239 to provide for them. In addition, we have to bear in mind the materials which are required. All that is taking resources from the ordinary needs of the country for itself or its production, and the figure of £1,500 million is only a part of the tremendous cost which we undertake.
Returning to the history, we then proceeded with N.A.T.O. It was absolutely essential that the free countries of the world should come together and assist one another as best they could in the defence of the one common thing which matters to us all, our own independence and freedom. Without doubt the formation of N.A.T.O. has saved us. No single country was strong enough to stand alone—not even the United States. Very rightly, therefore, we decided to come together.
Unfortunately, we seem to have left it there. We do not know what plan was made in the first instance, but we know what it was at Lisbon in 1952. We know what was stated to be necessary for the safety of us all to deal with the main danger, which was in Europe, and it was 30 divisions. Those have not appeared. We, on the other hand, have carried out our undertaking and have put four divisions in Germany. As has been pointed out, France, through no fault of her own but because of the situation, has been unable to carry out her promises. N.A.T.O. has not worked as we thought it would work and is not working today as we expected.
In the meantime, these tremendous costs have continued until in the last five years we have been spending roughly one-third of our Budget income on defence. Is that necessary today? That is what we want to know. I approach the question by asking, first, what is necessary? We are different even from those who are our allies in N.A.T.O. for we, more than any of them, even France, have obligations outside Europe. Most of the others have their obligations confined within their own continent. We have our international obligations in conjunction with all the other free nations.
That being so, we ought to work together, to pull together, to plan together and to share together. Is that being done today? We all know that it is not. We do not even do research together, we do not even tell one another what is the 1240 result of our research. Each one of us goes about our business independently as if all were well. Apart from not giving us the strength which we should have, it is extremely wasteful. Surely it could be ended.
If the Prime Minister is right in saying that global war no longer threatens us, has not that made a difference? If we read the Amendment we see that even the Government recognise that it has made a difference and that the whole of our strategy must now be reconsidered. Is it necessary today to have a Navy in its present form? I know the affection which we have for the Navy and how much we have depended upon it in the past, but the battleship has been out of date for a considerable time and we must ask, "What about the other ships?"
What is the position now that we have guided missiles? Is it necessary that we should continue to spend the vast sums which we are spending now upon Bomber Command, when apparently America is concentrating upon the guided missile? If one is right, why should the other continue along this line, when we are all out to help one another in common defence?
What is the position with the Army? Is has been recognised time and again that the present way in which we are calling up these young men is the most wasteful way. If global war has disappeared, has not a change come about in the whole of our strategy, or are we still in the same position as when we first formed N.A.T.O.? If there has been a change, it is the duty of the fifteen Governments which form N.A.T.O. to come together and see what is needed. If that is done, can it be said that there will be no saving whatever in material, manpower, and expenditure on research in the various services which we have to use in the Navy, the Air Force or the Army?
That is the way in which I look upon our general obligations. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood and the right hon. Member for Easington: why should the fifteen of us bear the tremendous burden of protecting the freedom of the world? Where are the others? Why should we, all the time, make this great sacrifice? Why should not the others be called in, not only the Commonwealth but other nations who owe their very freedom to the sacrifices 1241 which this old country has made? Is it fair that we should continue to carry this burden when we face such tremendous economic problems?
Conventional weapons are, of course, still needed, but it seems to me that they are not needed because of considerations of a global war. Apparently we have reached the position when, if there is a global war, somebody will start to use these terrible bombs and there will then be retaliation by those of us who possess these weapons, like Samson pulling the whole thing down and saying, "If we have to go, let us all go together".
There will, in addition, be small troubles—small compared with the global war—such as we face today. What is needed for those? I should have thought that what we needed was the most efficient small Army, small Air Force and small Navy possible, all of them reaching the greatest height of efficiency and capable of being moved quickly to the scene of the trouble, being so efficient that they would stop the wrong-doer because, knowing full well that they could be used so quickly, he would not dare to move. What was needed for such a purpose, I should have thought, was not men called up for service for a short period. I agree with the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) that we should look not only at the number of men but at the length of training. I should have thought what was needed was an Army of the highest technicians we could possibly find. They are making this their career. Why should not they be treated better than any of us, because they are prepared, not only to do their duty, but possibly to offer their lives as a sacrifice. That is what I mean by carrying a small, efficient force in all three Services in order to deal with a situation such as that.
That being so, can it be said that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington and I are wrong in saying that we cannot save, when we consider all these matters together, a mere matter of 1242 6 per cent. of the national income or that that would bring us down roughly to the kind of expense which we were needing when the threat happened with regard to Korea? Up till that very moment, the amount that we were spending—and we thought that it was quite enough—was about £780 million. We could call that in today's terms, because of the fall in the value of the pound, £1,000 million. Today, we are spending £1,500 million without the others coming in and doing their share.
I should have thought that the right thing to do, and it ought to have been done in 1952, when the plan was seen not to be working, was to call the others together, take our own plan, and discuss it with them. In that way, I should have thought that there would have been the most efficient defence and at the same time a saving of money to this country which is so heavily taxed. I think, as the Prime Minister said, that the global military war has now passed away, but I am perfectly sure that there is an economic war starting and that we must be ready for it. That is one way in which we shall need all our men and resources.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
There is one point which we have been waiting with some anxiety to hear. I understand that it is the policy of the party of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is so distinguished a Leader to reduce defence expenditure by about £500 million. I assume that that is not an airy-fairy figure but that it is based on sums. Can we have the sums?
§ Mr. Davies
I said that I agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington. Surely it is there in that form. One can go through the various items of expenditure on the Army, Navy and Air Force and make various cuts in them. What we want to do is to make up our minds on what is needed and discuss that with our Allies. Then I am perfectly certain that the cut which I have mentioned could be made.