§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:this House, whilst placing on record its appreciation of the outstanding services rendered to this country by the Army, believes that the requirements of modern warfare call for drastic and far-reaching changes in the defence structure and urges the appointment of a committee to examine the organisation of the Army and to make recommendations.
I am encouraged by the welcoming cries from the other side of the House. The Amendment falls naturally into three parts. I anticipate that the first part, which draws attention to the debt which the nation owes to its Army, will meet with the universal approval of all hon. Members, whatever differences there may be between us about the rest of it. Throughout its long and rather chequered history the Army has suffered a good deal from its friends as well as its enemies. It has been abused in the past, and has suffered from the contempt of civilians. It has suffered even more from neglect, indifference and apathy. It has 1443 been from time to time the butt of music-hall jokes. I remember the famous Orderly Room sketch that went round the halls for some years and, even worse, the tear-jerking songs which were sung in music halls when the Army really had to be depended upon. It has suffered from well-meaning amateurs like myself, and from retired professionals like the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg).
Apart from its great record in the wars, it has played a tremendous part in peace, not only by virtue of the police actions which it has had to fight from time to time, but in the contribution it has made towards the maintenance of ordered government in different parts of the world. As the Defence White Paper says in page 5:By their mere presence they can contribute to the stability of the free world and the security of overseas territories…The Army has served, and is continuing to serve, in all parts of the world, in conditions often of difficulty, danger and discomfort, with a cheerful, if rather grumbling good humour, mixed with disciplined efficiency, which has become the hall-mark of the British "Tommy."
All hon. Members with any experience of the Army know that there have been many families—unfortunately, there are far fewer now than before—who have contributed three and sometimes four generations to the Army. It is the loyalty of families like these which has made it possible to run the Army for so long "on the cheap." I think the House will agree that the nation owes very much to all ranks in the British Army—Regulars and National Service men alike—far more than can be recognised by the award of better pay or any other material reward. It would be fitting if this debt were acknowledged by the House endorsing, as I hope it will, at any rate this part of the Amendment, inadequately though I have phrased it.
Perhaps I can hope to have equal approval for the second part of the Amendment, which says:that the requirements of modern warfare call for drastic and far-reaching changes in, he defence structure…That has been acknowledged already and partly dealt with by the Secretary of State in his opening speech. If we turn back to the events of the last century 1444 we see that certain notable changes have occurred in Army organisation. There were the changes that followed the Cardwell reforms—the Esher Committee recommendations of 1904, and the Haldane reforms which followed them. In the main, they sprang from a need to provide a well-balanced, well-trained Army that was able to mobilise rapidly, and that had a well-organised chain of command. Briefly, those were the sort of things which were covered by the reforms I have mentioned. They sprang from the development not so much of new weapons as of new tactics and strategies.
Today, the situation is rather different. The whole structure of defence is overshadowed by the nuclear weapon, the ultimate weapon—the answer to which appears to be only that of attack. There appears to be no real defence against it. If we ever have to use such weapons upon any scale, so far as we can ascertain it will mean near-total destruction for all the States engaged in war. We are therefore required to look at the whole structure of the Army with new eyes and to examine not only whether it is adequate for its task, but also exactly what is its task.
I hope that we all accept that the existence of nuclear weapons in strength has made a global war improbable, if not impossible. Probably we all also accept the inference in the White Paper that, if this deterrent is to remain effective, we must retain our power to launch an immediate and effective counter-attack with nuclear weapons. That is the main basis of the deterrent. We probably also accept the fact that we must have an Army which is able to play its part in a cold war by its mere presence on the ground, and which is capable of dealing with localised wars. We must have troops on the ground in certain strategic parts of the world in order to discourage any attempt at sudden occupation from which it would be very difficult to dislodge an enemy without involving ourselves in a nuclear war.
But the question which arises out of this general definition of the tasks of the Army is: what is the size of the force which is required to carry out all these tasks, and which will provide a sufficient deterrent? In referring to the deterrent, 1445 in paragraph 4, the Defence White Paper says:In the deterrent must be included an effective early warning system and the ability of the forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to hold the line by land, sea and air until the nuclear counter-offensive has broken the back of the enemy assault.What would, in fact, happen if N.A.T.O. troops were attacked? We are probably outnumbered on the ground in Europe by three to one. If an organised attack were mounted against the N.A.T.O. divisions deployed in Europe, what would be the reaction of the Allies? It is anybody's guess, but mine is that we should regard it as the beginning of total global war, and would therefore try to mount a nuclear attack not against the troops actually engaged in the fighting, but against the countries which initiated the attack, whatever countries they might be. The nuclear war would then, in fact, have started.
Does it matter whether we have fifty or ten divisions deployed there? Should we not still regard it as a major attack, launched against the Allied Powers, even if we had merely ten divisions deployed there, if they became subjected to a planned attack designed to occupy territory which is now occupied by our troops? This question affects our four divisions fixed in Germany. I ask whether they really ought to be fixed in Germany. What is the size of the force that we require if it is to play an effective part in the event of a full-scale global war? If, despite everything we can do and despite the deterrent effect of the nuclear weapons, some madman presses the button and we are involved in nuclear war, what is the size of the force that we require, and what can it do? I am not clear in my own mind what a military force can do in the event of a large-scale nuclear conflict.
I now come to the much more immediately practical point, namely, the size of the force we need to deal with cold and localised wars, which we are most likely to have to face, and are facing now. As far as I know, this question has not been fully answered. The Secretary of State for War said during his speech this afternoon that 300,000 was about the size of the Army we needed to meet our present commitments. Investigations were proceeding into what could be done with a force of 1446 200,000. I was not quite sure whether he meant Regulars only or with National Service men in addition. So far as I am aware, there has not been any definite answer about the size of the force we are aiming at to do the tasks which we think we have to face.
In answering this question, we have to take into account the tremendous strain in manpower and materials now imposed on our economic resources and we have to balance, which is a difficult operation. the relative advantages and disadvantages of diverting men and materials either to the military front or the economic front. In the latter connection I would rather use the term "economic attack" than "economic defence," because we must not be passive on the economic front. This process may well involve us in greater calculated risks than we have yet had to face.
On the question of the flexibility of our Forces in Germany, if it is understood that a full-scale attack mounted against a major defensive system of the Allied nations would constitute the beginning of a major world war, we would not require to keep on the ground in Germany all the Forces we could scrape together in a desperate attempt to hold the line against superior manpower. We could do with far fewer Forces. It might be possible to keep our Forces there as a strategic reserve and move them as required by operations, possibly having one or two divisions permanently stationed in Germany. I pose these questions, but I do not pretend to know the answers.
§ Mr. Warbey
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that this House should not have ratified the Paris Agreements?
§ Mr. Hall
I am saying nothing of the kind, but am merely posing questions about how and where to deploy our Forces. I am not attempting to give reasons.
These questions arise in one's mind. The Army must be clear on what it is trying to do. It must not prepare for a task which is obviously beyond its resources and the economic resources of the nation. Whatever views we may have about those tasks we should agree—this is the second part of my proposition—that the advent of nuclear weapons and the increasing strain on our economic resources call for drastic changes in the defence structure. Indeed, some changes 1447 have been recognised and referred to by the Secretary of State.
Let me come to the last part of the Amendment, on which there may be rather more disagreement. It calls for the formation of a committee to consider the organisation of the Army and to make a report. Why should we form a committee? We have outstanding Service chiefs. Everybody will agree that we have first-class men as our Service chiefs. Further, whatever the hon. Member for Dudley may say, we have a Secretary of State for War with courage and imagination. He is certainly not hidebound and has not a conventional approach to these problems. I should like to pay a tribute to my right hon. Friend for the way in which he handled a difficult speech under conditions of considerable physical disability. I hope that he will soon be able to throw off the ailment which is afflicting him.
The recommendations of the Cardwell and Haldane Reports were the recommendations of the Secretaries of State for War of the day—not of a committee. I have heard a committee defined as "a number of individuals who can do nothing individually but come together collectively to decide that nothing can be done." Committees are not always the best method of dealing with matters, but some of the reforms which I have mentioned owe their inception to a committee, the Esher Committee, which did valuable work for the Army. It consisted of a distinguished civil servant, an equally distinguished sapper officer and a famous sailor. Out of its recommendations sprang the present general staff system. I have no doubt that the committee did a very good job of work, which may now need to be brought up to date. Before deciding whether it is right to have a committee, let us consider what the committee would do and the subjects we would give it to think about.
A committee would have to consider the definition of the task of the Army and whether it was feasible. It would be instructed to consider the maximum possible reduction in manpower and materials commensurate with the production of the highly efficient fighting force. It would need to look at existing commitments and decide whether the development of air transport, air trooping and Transport 1448 Command might not make it possible to reduce the number of troops on the ground overseas, reinforcing them from the strategic reserve. It might consider raising troops in East and West Africa, although I am not very hopeful about this. It is a limited field, but some addition could be made to our Forces and it is, as the hon. Member for Dudley knows, a development of the Haldane principle.
We want an examination of the structure of the Fighting Forces. We know that this has been subject to experiment which may have gone as far as it can go. I am not sure, however, that we want to continue divisions of the same size in manpower as we have had, and I do not altogether agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharpies) that a division should be 10,000 or 12,000 men, apart from its tail. We have to look at the vehicle question. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say he was making an arbitrary cut in vehicle allocation, which seems to be the only way of getting a cut in vehicles.
We must pay special attention to the tail. "Combing the tail" is a familiar phrase, and the tail has been combed time and time again, yet we still have a 40 per cent. tail now as against 11 per cent. in 1938. It ought to be possible to make administrative economies. At the moment we have the R.A.S.C, the R.A.M.C. and the R.E.M.E., to mention three bodies concerned with maintenance; why not form them into one quartermaster corps? I know quite well that changing the cap badge does not do away with the job but some saving in administrative overheads might be made by merging those three Services into one and so reducing the danger of overlapping—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
We must examine staff establishments, starting with the War Office. This has been done before. I know from my experience as a staff officer that I could always find a reason why I should have a certain staff. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We may have to do with staffs what we have done with vehicles, impose an arbitrary cut. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am getting constant approval from the Opposition side of the House, and it makes me think that what I am saying is wrong.
Do not let us run away with the idea that the staffs, from the War Office downwards, are inefficient, that they waste 1449 their time and that they do not do the jobs they are there to do. Most of those I have come across are extremely hard working and have a lot on their plates, but it might be possible to improve certain parts of the organisation.
This Committee would have a vast field of research over the whole problem of recruiting. Why do men get "browned off" with the Army? I was asking a soldier the other day what he thought of the new pay scales. He said "The pay's all right, it's the Army that's all wrong." There is something wrong, of course, with the relationship between that man and the members of his unit if he has that feeling; but, as I have said before, it is something more than pay that keeps men in the Army.
There is a field for investigation there—what exactly makes people dissatisfied? Could we use living-out allowances more than we do? That would not only relieve the pressure on Army family accommodation, but would give a man more opportunity of civilian life. Provided the man was present and correct on parade, perhaps that could be done. Is the trouble that the quality of our young officers and N.C.O.s with insufficient experience, is not good enough? After all, it is well said that a good unit is the best recruiting agent we can have. There may be a good deal in the theory that, because of the strain in manpower, it has not been possible to give young officers and N.C.O.s sufficient training in man management. Perhaps this question of recruiting might be outside the scope of such a committee and might need to be considered by a separate organisation.
I do not think that the state of the Reserve Army is very satisfactory. I am sorry to say that. I do not think that a system which means that National Service men will spend only one camp with territorial units will help the Territorial Army. As for the Army Emergency Reserve it is practically dead—why not finish it off and give it a decent burial? If, as I hope, it becomes possible to abolish the use of full-time National Service, there may still be a case for part-time National Service in a Territorial Army system, because the only purpose for which we want a large reservoir of trained and disciplined manpower is in the event of nuclear war.
1450 We should then have small units or small groups of disciplined men whc could restore order out of chaos. We should have a third-line army spread all over the country, and if we did have the final horror of a nuclear attack with its consequent devastation we should, at least, have small groups of men who could concentrate on the local headquarters to help the local civil administration to maintain order and try to get things going again.
I would not disturb the second-line Territorial divisions which are really formed to bolster up the Regular Forces in any large-scale localised war. We should have to try to divert the National Service men, as far as practicable, to the third-line units. I think such a problem warrants investigation, but I do not want to develop it because my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey), who is to second this Amendment, knows more about that than do I.
There are, however, other matters which may be outside the scope of a committee of this kind—consideration might extend to matters of defence in general. Are we right in having three separate Services, Civil Defence and a Ministry of Supply? Should they all be merged under a Ministry of Defence, or should the Minister of Defence be given greater powers than he now has?
I have mentioned only some of the matters which I think would be a source of fruitful study. To sum up, such a committee would need to consider: first, the task of the Army; secondly, the most efficient organisation necessary to carry out that task; thirdly, how to do it with the maximum economy of manpower and materials; fourthly, how to increase the size of the Regular Army, with the eventual aim of doing away with National Service altogether—which everyone would welcome; and, lastly, the recasting of the reserve Army organisation.
I doubt whether such matters could be dealt with adequately by the Service chiefs themselves. In the first place, the Service chiefs are, naturally, absorbed with their daily task. They have not the time to sit down to this detailed study of methods. Secondly, I rather think that they have lived with the problem too long. One can get to the stage of not being able to see the wood for the trees.
§ Mr. Hall
This is not a purely military problem: political and economic considerations come into it as well. It is to those points that I have directed my mind and it is why I think that a committee could be of help. I have no fixed ideas about what form the committee should take. I rather like the form of the Esher Committee. It might be something like that, with an independent chairman. There would be representatives, perhaps, of all three Services—because each Service would have something to contribute. It might be that we should appoint an hon. Member from each side of the House to represent the political side. Alternatively, it might be decided to have a Select Committee, but I think that there are disadvantages about that. The only point I wish to make is that this is a subject which needs detailed examination by some sort of committee, and I should not like to say exactly what form it should take.
I submit the Amendment only as a very amateur soldier, but I am sustained in my view by Field Marshal Montgomery, who, when addressing the United Services Institute last year called for a complete revision of the existing war organisation, which he described as feudal and archaic. He also said that in his view, under the present committee system of management, it was impossible to carry out the kind of drastic organisation necessary. That is why I have referred to the possibility of giving the Minister of Defence more control and power than he now has. I think that the Ministry of Supply should disappear. It should be merged into the Services organisations.
It is a very large question. I certainly do not intend to press the Amendment, which refers specifically to the Army, if I can be told that the larger question of the whole defence structure is under examination. That is a bigger matter altogether and would itself absorb the question of Army organisation.
1452 I move the Amendment because I believe that the Army is not now organised for its task.
§ Mr. Hall
—and that we must have a complete review of the whole Army organisation as a matter of some urgency in an effort to establish a highly-trained, highly-efficient and fully-mobile Army, free of National Service men at the earliest moment, and in an effort to relieve our economy of the kind of burden which I do not think we can carry indefinitely.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
I beg to second the Amendment.
We are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) for raising this matter tonight, and I am personally most grateful to him for allowing me to second his Amendment. I find myself somewhat concerned that we are supported in our views not only by Field Marshal Montgomery, but also by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). That is, perhaps, the worst augury there could be for the future of this Amendment.
I should like at once to join with my hon. Friend in the tribute he has paid to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, not only for the work he has done over the past years, but also for the way in which he has conducted affairs this afternoon, because we know that he is labouring under certain difficulties.
There are two important considerations which prompt us to bring these matters to the attention of the House. They are, first, that with modern conditions defence is now total. I know that if I were to describe too far the totality of that defence I should be called to order, but this Amendment cannot be described in isolation from the major problem of defence itself, involving, as it does, all the other arms. I think it is reasonable that we should have raised it on this subject, because it is the Army because of the large number of people involved and the particular nature of its task which has the most effect on these problems confronting us.
1453 Secondly, formidable influences upon this subject are the social implications which affect military service at the present time. Many of these have been referred to in the debate, particularly by my right hon. Friend when talking about National Service and the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), who referred to them in some detail; and I hope that it will be in order for me to make some reference to those arguments in my observations on the Amendment.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House all realise the tremendous complexities with which all the Service Ministers are confronted because of the dual nature of the defence preparations they have to make. I am entirely at one with my right hon. Friend, who outlined this afternoon the necessity for maintaining conventional types of forces. I know it is suggested in some quarters that these can be dispensed with or cut down without any regard to our normal commitments in the world at the present time, but those who make these suggestions do a very grave disservice to the cause of peace for which we are all labouring.
The Army is concerned with the conventional defence picture. At the same time, the Army is also concerned with the unconventional and nuclear problems which have been discussed in some degree this afternoon. In considering the adjustments which have to be made—and undoubtedly adjustments have to be made—I want to emphasise, as my hon. Friend has done, that we do not move this Amendment with the suggestion that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has never made any form of adjustment. In fact, under his guidance there has been a great deal of forward thinking and forward action, but we believe that there is a demand beyond his scope and, I say with the greatest respect, beyond the scope of any single Minister, for thinking about matters in greater perspective, and it is the necessity for providing that greater perspective which compels us to put these points to the House.
We have already discussed the Army's rôle in the cold war. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest problems which is still unsolved is the necessity of speed and speed by air. That is a matter which I know is exercising the mind of my right hon. Friend, and, I am sure, the mind of my right hon. and learned Friend the 1454 Minister of Defence. Another very important question, referred to by my hon and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) in the debate last night, is that of air control.
The Army has to be protected overhead. It must be capable from time to time of controlling that form of defence overhead, and it is essential, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman pointed out, that that control should be speedy and effective, otherwise it can be of no use at all to the Army. I would suggest, as he suggested, that the measures which existed in war for co-ordination between the Army and the Royal Air Force on this matter are now far from satisfactory. They developed then because of necessity. Now once again one goes far too often, as I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) will agree, to military manoeuvres only to find that the Royal Air Force not only is not there but is not in contemplation at all. That is an unreal situation and one which is symptomatic of an attitude of mind which may be very serious indeed from the point of view of defence in the future.
The Secretary of State for War encouraged me this afternoon by disclosing the number of members of Anti-aircraft Command who are still in the Army. If I have proved wrong in this matter, I am glad to admit that I was wrong, and I am happy that these men are still available to the voluntary Army. He will probably bear me out when I recall the trouble which we had in Anti-aircraft Command of getting targets flown by the R.A.F., was quite extraordinary, and the damage which was done by loss of man-hours and training hours as a result of the lack of co-ordination and co-operation between these two essential arms was considerable. That ought not to be. I have raised these small issues because they have a bearing on the argument which we are presenting.
We have discussed tonight the question of organisation, and I think that it is unwise for those who see these things only in an amateur way to pontificate on the subject of what sort of organisation ought or ought not to exist. Clearly, we have not solved the formation structure and in particular the organisational structure of the division. I was glad to hear the 1455 Secretary of State for War say that the question of the armoured division is not yet settled, because I was afraid that it had been settled and that the solution was far from being satisfactory.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) referred to the administrative problems. The whole administrative supply problem in the cold war today is out of date and, in a nuclear war, would be quite impossible. He made the most important point that although it is true that the organisation we have for a cold war is quite different from any organisation we might have in a nuclear war, it must not be so different that it cannot be transformed as and when required. It is no good saying that it is a watertight compartment and that when the time comes we shall be able to switch over to the new form. That is a physical impossibility, and it will not work.
There are also other administrative problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe referred to duplication of services, and I think that there are tremendous possibilities for co-ordination of services not only within the Army but within all the Services. In a nuclear war, the great problem which confronts the Government—and the Minister of Defence referred to this in the defence debate—is the question of defence of the home front. I am particularly glad that the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is here, because he has profound knowledge of this subject, and I know that he agrees with the point of view which I have expressed on many occasions, that Civil Defence administrative problems are essentially civil problems and belong primarily to the local authorities.
The Civil Defence operational problem is essentially a military problem and cannot be divorced from the military. The White Paper on Defence makes it very clear that that is entirely accepted in principle. It means, if we accept the fact that the home defence problem is total, that it is a military problem, and we have to accept the fact that the Army will come into the home front defence far more than it ever did in the past.
What we have to consider, therefore, is how this extremely complicated alliance between the Civil Defence organisation and the military defence organisation is to 1456 be effected, and how it is to be prepared and organised in advance. That is something which will have to be tackled in the future, which cannot be tackled from a conventional Army approach.
What is the immediate problem confronting us? It is that the three-tier military system set up after the last war by the late Administration, and adopted and supported by this Administration and its predecessor, is changing; "a change of emphasis" is the phrase in the White Paper. It is changing primarily because there are not enough Regulars to maintain the system as originally planned. I believe that the Secretary of State for War has done a great deal to help in that situation. I do not claim that what has been done about pay and conditions will solve the problem, but it will help and it will maintain the Regular basis for our Army in the future, which is a very important contribution indeed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe referred to the second tier of that system, namely, the voluntary forces. We must face the fact that if we are to have a new-type military system which enables us to get rid of National Service. not only must we have the right number of Regulars—and the required number will be decreased not only by decreasing commitments but also by enabling fewer men to do more things, as a result of better equipment, better training and better movement—but we must also take away from the Regular and National Service forces some commitments on the home front.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend that the home front commitment is basically a voluntary manpower commitment and that we must consider how our voluntary manpower on the home front is to be organised in order to meet that commitment effectively. We have the Territorial Army. It was suggested earlier today that the Territorial Army no longer has a clearly defined task and that there is a tendency on the part of the members of the Territorial Army to feel that they have no future. That is not true. They have a great future—a great future in a new system in which they are the key to the home defence of Great Britain, thereby allowing Regular troops to be available to go anywhere and thereby coordinating the civilian element of home defence.
1457 That co-ordination is a very complicated issue which requires a new psychological approach. It requires co-ordination with other arms, particularly the arms of civil defence. We already have the mobile defence battalions which, I was glad to see in the White Paper, are making progress; but there, again, I feel that they are an unco-ordinated activity under modern conditions, and I am certain that if they can be more closely co-ordinated with the defence picture and if the home command can be given a great deal of responsibility for the general planning of home defence in any possible nuclear attack, we shall have the basis for a definite purpose for all this voluntary manpower which at the moment has in many cases been deprived of rôles which were essentially theirs in the past. The elimination of Anti-Aircraft Command is one example.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Does the hon. Gentleman anticipate that the home command will organise the evacuation of the 12 million people about whom we have heard?
§ Mr. Harvey
I think it will be able to play a hand in that; I do not think that any evacuation can take place without some reference to the military authorities.
The third tier with which we have to deal is National Service. I was very interested in the arguments put forward by the right hon. Member for Dundee, West. I still differ from him, as he must have seen, about his interpretation of the question of the two-year period, and I still believe that it is a question of effectiveness and not of convenience. May I make this plea most sincerely: it is essential from the point of view of the nation's security that National Service should not become a party issue, because if it did we should do very serious damage to the security of the nation, which would help no Government, whichever party was in power, I thought my hon. Friend made a clear case for this matter to be considered by some organisation broader than those which have been established for the purpose in the past.
§ Mr. John Baird (Wolverhampton, North-East)
National Service and the size of the Army depend on the answer to certain political questions and, therefore, must be a political issue. Those are such questions as Cyprus and Egypt.
§ Mr. Harvey
Some people would try to work a party political issue into the matter, but I think it is possible to avoid it. I know that some hon. Members have differing views upon these matters, but I should have thought that the consensus of opinion between the two major parties in the House would provide a basis for such a discussion.
My hon. Friend has made a case for these very important considerations for the future to be considered by and to be the responsibility of a committee of some kind. I agree with him about single-service loyalty. I am sure that my right hon. Friend and other right hon. Gentlemen who have served in Service Ministries recognise that there are tremendous Service loyalties and Service Ministry loyalties. That is a very healthy thing. I have a feeling that these loyalties are probably more pronounced than those which exist in some of the other Ministries.
This makes it very difficult for Ministers and Services to accept the arguments, views and demands of other Ministers and Services. My hon. Friend touched this evening on a matter which I should be out of order to pursue to any extent, except that it is very relevant to what we are discussing: the functions of the Minister of Defence as they affect the Army and all the other Services must be reviewed in the very near future. if there is to be co-ordination of these highly partisan bodies—partisan in the best sense of the word—someone must be in a position to do the co-ordinating and, if necessary, to give instructions. Unless a Minister has overall power to give those instructions he can only tender advice, and if partisan feelings are involved that advice will inevitably be rejected and we shall be back where we started.
I do not want to pursue this at any length because the subject is well known to the House, but I think the conclusions from it must be obvious to all concerned. I do not think we should shrink from them, even if it might mean a diminution of the individual authority of Service Ministers and Ministries, nor do I think we should try to solve the problem without regard to the social aspect and to the labour relations which are affected by National Service. The opinion of civil authorities ought, therefore, to be sought 1459 at an early date in this respect, particularly in view of the National Service implications and of the problems of Civil Defence.
As has been rightly pointed out on many occasions, defence is an instrument of foreign policy. In the main, I believe, we have been able to keep foreign policy on a bipartisan basis. It follows that defence ought also to be kept on a similar basis. In our discussions over the last three days, one of the obvious problems in all defence matters has been the very long period which exists between the drawing board and the hand of the user—sometimes longer than the life of a Government. If every time a Government changes there are automatic changes in military development, I do not believe that will be in the interests of that military development. Therefore, the broader the agreement that can be achieved on military policy and planning, the better it will be for the future of our Services. Because I believe that we cannot isolate Army policy from this matter, I think it quite probable that the solution is not in a single committee concerned only with the Army—in fact, I am sure it is not.
These subjects have to be considered in the broader perspective by all those concerned. I urge my right hon. Friend to give the matters we have set forth this evening consideration, because we set them forth in the earnest hope that they will be of assistance to this Administration in planning for the future.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) and the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey), who moved and seconded the Amendment, because it almost reconciles me to the antiquated procedure under which we still move Amendments on going into Committee of Supply. One of these days especially, if my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has his way, this procedure will be wiped out. This, possibly, may be the last occasion on which we shall have the privilege of enjoying ourselves in this particular way.
It is true that there is need for some investigation into Army organisation. The Amendment is necessary despite the 1460 announcement that has been made by the Secretary of State for War today. It is quite true that the Government, at long last, have agreed to some investigation. They are going to look at the use of National Service manpower in this country, but that represents only a very small section of the terrain that will have to be examined. There is a great waste of manpower and material and that brings the Army into disrepute. So long as that waste goes on we cannot expect the Army to enjoy the prestige and goodwill without which it will not be possible to create the kind of Army, based upon Regular long-service, which we all want to see, because it will bring compulsory National Service to an end.
Time does not permit, but I should like to have referred to the disastrous psychological effect on the public mind when instances of waste in the Army are brought forward. A first-class example of that is the 175,000 gallons of paint which are now to be disposed of. I have had a letter from an officer with much experience of Army ordnance who assured me:Whilst I am writing this letter, surplus goods are being purchased and are surplus even before they are ordered.That is something which ought really to be examined, and examined by people with experience of merchandising. The officer told me:I saw in a shop in The Strand today Army-issue socks, vests, etc. No doubt this week delivery will be made to the holding depot for those same articles.That sort of thing creates an unfortunate impression in the public mind and it is strengthened by the kind of film being shown in the West End of London, called "Private's Progress," made, I understand, without the co-operation of the War Office. The film is very amusing, very cruel, and, of course, it is not altogether true, but the effect of that kind of propaganda on the public mind may go so far as to outweigh the effect of the proposed Service pay increases. So long as we have an organisation in which the public feel that the scrounger or wangler gets away with it, and that people are doing foolish things and wasting public money, the task of recruiting must inevitably be made all the more difficult.
Such instances of waste do not help Regular recruitment on the scale the Government would like to see. It is very 1461 difficult to persuade the public that the old-age pensioner has to pay more for bread and milk when the taxpayer has to submit quietly to the waste, of which ample evidence has been supplied.
I am sure a responsive echo will greet the announcement of the Secretary of State that a War Office letter has been circulated to units asking them to cut out what is called "bull." That, of course, is a very comprehensive word. The letter will serve a useful purpose because far too much time is wasted on unnecessary ceremonial on drill and spit-and-polish. Some of us have been asking for such an investigation for a long time. I was very interested to see that last November, when General von Manteuffel, commander of a crack armoured corps in the German Army during the war, returned to Bonn after a visit to this country, he said as his considered opinion that British troops waste far too much time on drill and spit-and-polish. He also said that young officers, when commissioned, should have had at least a year's experience in the ranks. It seems that the views of General von Manteuffel have had more effect in War Office circles than the arguments some of us have been putting forward in this House for a considerable time.
The vital point is to make the man in the Regular Army feel that he is doing a useful job. If he does not feel that, we get all the undesirable consequences to which I have referred. I was interested to note that in Camp Robinson, California, where American recruits are trained, there are two ranges, each of a 1,000 yards, and each can take 125 men firing at the same time. Those hon. Members who from experience know how hours and hours are wasted on ranges by men waiting to do their firing practice will realise what a tremendous saving of time can be effected in this way. That kind of efficiency, with orders given by loudspeaker from control towers, impresses men very much more forcibly than does spit-and-polish and the waste of time which goes on at present.
I cordially support the plea put forward by the hon. Member for Wycombe in support of an all-party committee to investigate Army organisation. I am not going into questions which would be more relevant to the defence debate, but I hope the hon. Member will press his Amendment to a Division. He would find 1462 support in all quarters of the House for the very reasoned and cogent arguments he put forward. If he does not do so, I hope he will persuade the Government to go a little further than the announcement this afternoon of an investigation confined to the use of National Service manpower and to get down to a really thorough examination of organisation, because upon organisation depends morale, efficiency and many other factors which any responsible Government ought to take into account.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I feel great sympathy with many of the points made by the mover and seconder of the Amendment, the hon. Members for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) and Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey), and I should like to refer to a few of them later, but I wonder whether those hon. Members really suppose that a committee can be set up to deal with all the subjects upon which they touched. In addition to reviewing our own Army and defence system, it would surely also have to review the defence system of the Western Alliance and the Commonwealth, because one lesson we should learn is that we must have a co-ordinated policy with our Allies in the West if we are to make the most efficient use of our resources and provide an adequate defence against possible Communist aggression.
For my part, I can only say that a good many of the points raised should and could be dealt with by existing Ministers of the Crown. If they cannot be so dealt with, then I should have thought that many of those Ministers should have had their offices reorganised. Much the best thing that has happened to the Army for some time is this notable increase in pay and allowances, which required no committee being set up, but which has been urged upon various Governments for many years by many of us who have been saying that it is the only way to get an efficient Army. The only way to get a Regular Army is to pay it well, and now we have a Minister of Defence who has done that.
When the Secretary of State told us that he had seen a cartoon in an evening paper showing a soldier in bed with a bottle of whisky at one side and a cigar at the other, he should have gone on to say that, behind the soldier in the same cartoon 1463 was a pin-up of Rita Hayworth and the Minister of Defence. The Minister responsible for that increase has done more for the Army than anything that has been done for a very long time. I agree very much with the mover of the Amendment that we cannot regard the Army in isolation from the general condition of the country. However much we raise pay and allowances, while inflation lasts we shall never get the men we need for the Regular Army, who will always be drawn off by the inflated profits and salaries obtainable elsewhere, and I suggest that it is not so much a committee we need to inquire into this problem as the closest co-operation between the Minister of Defence and the Treasury.
When we come to conscription, I think there may be more to be said for an outside inquiry into the need for conscription today. Let us be quite clear about it. We are told by the Secretary of State for War that nobody in the Army or the War Office wants conscription. That we can well believe, but, nevertheless, conscription for politicians is a very easy way out. However much we may criticise conscription, it is in many ways easier for us to have it than to tackle the root causes that prevent us getting the proper long-service Regular Army, and in some ways conscription has become an excuse for the Government not facing the real problem which, as everybody agrees, is the provision of a properly-trained, long-service Regular Army.
Everybody also agrees that conscription is an incredibly expensive way of providing an Army. It would be cheaper to tackle the real problem than to go on putting men into National Service for two years, twelve months of which is spent in training them for the last twelve months. It was a defensible system, possibly, when its prime object was to build up a reserve, but it is much less defensible today, when it is a stop-gap method of filling the routine day-to-day duties of the Army. I know that, of course, the Army still looks to the National Service men for its skilled personnel and tradesmen, but there again it is surely an extremely extravagant way of providing such personnel to use a great proportion of the Regular Army to give them training so that they may give in return a very 1464 small amount of efficient service before they are demobilised and are lost to the Army altogether.
One or two things said about conscription must be repudiated. An attractive picture has been painted by the Secretary of State for War of generals and high officers coming forward and asking to be relieved of the men at their disposal. The right hon. Gentleman has always said that it is not the Army which wants to keep the conscripts. It may not be, but my own experience is that Army officers, and the higher ranking officers particularly, are very keen to have men. Generals and brigadiers are like stamp collectors—they cannot have too many of them—and it is straining our imagination altogether too far to ask us to believe that they will be eager to cut down the numbers at their disposal.
I have a little personal experience of this because I once served in a very junior capacity in the A Branch, and I became rather skilful myself in concealing men, in failing to carry out posting orders, and also in putting forward the most wonderful case for increasing establishments. There is nowhere in the world where men can find work for one another so easily as in the Army, and if any evidence of that is required we have only to look at the War Office itself. Where the number of staff employed was 970 before the war, we now find that it is 2,490. It is really asking too much to expect generals to agree readily to cut down their own staffs. It is like politicians saying that speeches should be shorter: they will all agree about it, but it just does not happen.
There are many other points on which I agree with the mover of the Amendment, particularly in regard to the Reserve Army and the Territorial Army. The Territorial Army received a very severe knock last autumn. It suddenly dawned on it that apparently it was expected only to take part in Civil Defence. Now Civil Defence, to the ordinary Territorial, means stirrup pumps and buckets of sand, and that is not what they expect to have to do, nor is it the sort of thing in which they are interested. It was a psychological error on the part of the Government not to inform T.A. commanding officers in advance of the public announcement what their new rôle in defence was to be.
Presumably, the Government did not do so because they did not know what 1465 that rôle was, and I sometimes think that they still do not know. Having heard what the Secretary of State for War has said this afternoon, I still do not know what the Territorial Army is expected to do about Civil Defence. It is supposed to evacuate 12 million people in the event of a nuclear bomb being dropped? If so, where will they put them? How will they do it? What is the Territorial Army to do in its active rôle? Is it for home defence? If so, it requires mobility and highly-trained personnel. It seems ridiculous to put National Service men in for twenty days' training in the Territorial Army. It does no goad whatever to the men, and certainly no good to the Territorial Army either.
I am afraid that unless the Government come forward and make the rôle of the Territorial Army clearer than it is at present, they are not going to get the voluntary recruits to join it, and we shall lose what I think has been a very valuable contribution to our Forces. It may well be that the Government intend to do that; they sometimes sound pessimistic about the future of the T.A. I thought the Secretary of State himself was pessimistic. If so, he had much better come forward and tell us so. He had better tell us, if he likes, that the Territorial Army is dead or destined for some other purpose. But the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that it had an important rôle to play, without making it clear what it was. That does not give the impression that in the War Office there is a real grip on our real defence requirements.
There is only one other thing I want to say, and it is on the subject of buildings. In these Estimates I see that £35 million is provided for next year for buildings. I quite agree with the Secretary of State about the need for barracks, because many of the barracks and camps in which the Army has to live are deplorable, but I wonder whether this is the time, in view of the economic state of the country, to spend £35 million on new buildings. I would suggest that the state into which many of our barracks have declined is deplorable. I suggest that the maintenance service ought to be looked into in order to see if something cannot be done to restore these buildings. At the moment, there seems to be nothing between a slum and a palace. There seems to be little effort to improve and keep in repair existing buildings.
1466 The Amendment has drawn attention to several questions of vital importance to the Army, but I should not have thought that the Government would need another committee to inquire into them. I leave with the hon. Member for Wycombe the thought that to be really effective our Army has to be integrated with the armies of our Commonwealth and Allies. No committee could be expected to tackle that question.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I cannot agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said. We had a debate on National Service as recently as the autumn, we thrashed it out at length in the defence debate yesterday and the day before, and now the hon. Member climbs back on to his hobby horse and canters up and down the Chamber on it again today. That horse must be getting quite lame and covered in splinters, for it has been exercised on this hard floor on a number of occasions.
I do not know what the hon. Member really meant. Does he mean that the war establishment of a battalion should be reduced, that the battalion should be at half strength, or what did he mean when he said that the officers want more men? Does the commanding officer want more men to bring his unit up to establishment, or what does the hon. Member mean? Does he want an efficient Army, or an Army that is no good whatever?
Does the hon. Member realise that one-third of the corporals in a battalion today are National Service men, that one half of the lance corporals are National Service men, and that from 60 to 80 per cent. of a battalion's strength is National Service men? I ask him to be a little careful before he talks about these things. The way to get rid of National Service is to attract, as we are trying to do, Regular recruits into the Army so that National Service will not be necessary. That is the only way. If we were simply to cut National Service today, not a single battalion in the four divisions of Germany would be fit to go to war.
§ Mr. Grimond
There are many things that this country must do today, but it cannot do them all. We cannot find the men, materials and wealth to do all that we ought to do. All I say is that there 1467 is something to be said in support of the mover of the Amendment, who speaks from the same side of the House as the hon. and gallant Member and who called for an inquiry into the question of whether these things could not be done with fewer men than is the case today.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
That point can be dealt with later.
I want to make one comment on the question of pay and allowances, and I make the point strongly. One item which has not so far been referred to is the taxation of education allowances for families in England. It is agreed that the educational allowance for families abroad is adequate, but in England it is taxed because it is part and parcel of some archaic tax law. The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) will remember that during his term of office, the bounty for Territorial Army officers was made free of tax. If the bounty could be made free of tax in those days, it can be done by my right hon. Friend today, although I know that the only way of doing so would be via the Finance Bill. There is, however, that precedent from the time of the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw, and I hope that something will he done about it.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
A better precedent was the time when all allowances were free of tax. We ought to make them free of tax as soon as possible.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I would only remind the hon. and gallant Member that when pay was increased when his party was in power the allowances were taxed, which was a great pity.
It must be pointed out to people in the various Ministries that the Civil Service cannot be compared with the Armed Forces in these matters. We must get rid of the differential which is maintained between the Civil Service and the Army. That is one of the things of which the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are frightened. The Chancellor realises that if he agrees to an increase in the pay of the Forces, he will immediately be confronted by a claim for an increase of salary for the Civil Service. This attitude must be broken down somehow.
1468 My right hon. Friend gave figures to show that the Worcesters have moved ten times since 1948 and the H.L.I. have moved eleven times. Think of the disturbance and cost to married families of this kind of life. They should be compensated for it in some way. It is an excellent move that my right hon. Friend has set up a committee to inquire into whether National Service men's time is being wasted. I am sure that examples of waste will be found. At the same time, it must be remembered that the chores must be done, whether they be peeling potatoes or washing floors. We cannot have dirty floors, and potatoes must be peeled. Nevertheless, we all know that there are examples of waste. The results of the inquiry should spike for ever the guns of those who are trying to make mischief and to denigrate the Army and the Services.
Nobody was more keen on "bull" than I was, as everybody who has served with me knows, but I hope it was never carried to the extent of polishing the soles of boots. It goes to those lengths because of competition. The moment that competition is introduced, away people go. A stick might be given to the best man on guard, or points awarded for the best company or squadron. When this is done. anything may get polished! On the other hand, I hope that no one would advocate a sloppy Army.
I come now to the serious aspect of discipline. People do not seem to understand why it is necessary to drill and to do this, that and the other which comes under the heading of discipline and which most young National Service men when they first enter the Army do not like. One hon. Member opposite once said, "The railways work all right without that kind of discipline. They do not have square-bashing." I remind hon. Members that the two things cannot be compared.
"Square-bashing" trains a man to control his muscles with his mind in case he is ever called into battle. If he has to spend three days on a snowy mountain top with very little food, and if he is dog tired and can hardly put one foot in front of the other, he will be able to control his body and so not only save his own life, but the lives of his comrades. I have seen badly disciplined battalions in battle—not ours—and I have seen men who, with 1469 the best will in the world, would have obeyed the order they were given, but were incapable of doing so because they had lost control of their bodies. To see a man who has lost control of himself is very alarming. That is the root cause of this so-called "square-bashing." It makes a man control himself for the greatest test that any human being can be asked to face.
One matter into which an inquiry, if it is set up, should go into very seriously is the simplification of the Army's equipment. There is one point which I really cannot understand. I should like to know whether one piece of equipment was asked for with great force by the War Office, whether it was the bright idea of the Ministry of Supply or whether it was the result of a little vested interest on the part of industry. But who suggested putting a Rolls Royce engine in a jeep? The new jeeps have this engine, and of all the fantastic ways of wasting money I think that that takes the biscuit.
One knows examples of other things in which an absolute Rolls Royce standard is demanded and produced at vast cost. One has the perfect example of the comparison between the Sherman tank and the Crusader tank in the war. The Sherman was a good old piece of agricultural machinery which a butcher's boy could get into and learn to drive in a week and it won us battles in the desert, whereas the Crusader was engineered up to one hundred-thousandth of an inch and went wrong every time a man put his foot on the brake. I urge the Minister to resist people who demand that sort of thing. There are, of course, things in which accurate engineering is vitally necessary. We cannot have a telescopic sight which is too good, and we cannot have too good a contrivance for rotating the turret of a tank, but I hope that these matters will be looked into by a committee of inquiry.
I am in sympathy with the remarks of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland about headquarters staff. I know that the moment peace came my own brigade headquarters was doubled, and in all conscience it was big enough already. Because I dislike having a lot of people about me, I managed to run my brigade in battle from a Daimler scout-car with a brigade major and a signaller. I left my brigade headquarters miles behind. The people there were 1470 called brigade rear headquarters, but I do not know what they were doing all that time, though it is true that they had to see to vehicles and equipment coming up the line. However, generally, there was a great amount of waste of manpower and vehicles.
On one occasion I happened to capture my opposite number, a German brigadier. I took him to rear headquarters to give him dinner, as was the custom in those days, in the hope of trying to get something out of him. As we were going back, the German brigadier looked round him and said, "What in heaven's name are you doing with all these vehicles?" Why do we not try to learn something from the Germans and find out how they managed?
I know that Rommel's headquarters comprised two captured British scout cars, a couple of 25-pounder guns and one or two odd vehicles. He turned round and commanded the whole operation in that way. If he could do it in that way, we could do it, though I rather think that the Germans looked upon their staff officers as expendable material. If one dropped by the wayside they could always get another one. We need not go so far, I hope, but this is a matter which should be investigated.
As to the "fire brigade," I think that should be a division equipped and ready to go out, and it might even have to be more elastic in its constitution. But is it really sensible to have Transport Command aircraft sitting on the ground doing absolutely nothing, waiting for the day when they might have to move a brigade or a division? Is it not much more sensible to say to the aircraft industry, "You will manufacture your civilian aircraft so that they can be altered to take either paratroops or ordinary troops and heavy equipment"? It would be much cheaper to charter from the charter companies or from B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. This is another matter for an inquiry such as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland mentioned.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman who spoke about the use of the Territorial Army did not know that two divisions have been earmarked for the support of N.A.T.O. and that they are aware of it? In that connection, I am not sure that it would not be a good idea, and would keep men on their toes, if we rotated that duty 1471 around the various divisions of the Territorial Army throughout the country. This suggestion is made "off the cuff" and I do not know if it is practicable. But if we have X number of Territorial divisions, why not keep two of them in rotation ready for N.A.T.O.? This would keep up the enthusiasm of the rest of the men in the Territorial Army who otherwise will say, "We are only here for home defence, to help the Civil Defence boys with their buckets and stirrup pumps."
I believe that a uniformed soldier is the last person to fight the kind of disturbances which have taken place in Kenya and Malaya. I have had to do it myself and I know what a dreadful task it is. I had to do it in Ireland, and we lost more officers there than in the last six months of the Great War. The man in uniform is a sitting target; he has no idea who his enemy is. For instance, in Ireland we discovered that the man who delivered our meat at the mess each day was the local batallion comander and was responsible for shooting one of our officers. Each day he shook us by the hand, said we were jolly good chaps, and took our money. We found out afterwards who he was—and so did he.
That is the kind of problem the uniformed soldier is up against. I believe that we want to cut at this thing before it starts. We want to play the enemy's game better than we have done in the past. All those who have been out to Kenya know perfectly well that five, six and seven years ago the district officers were sending in reports to the Governor that this business was brewing. Those reports were, apparently, ignored. I believe the time has come when we should have properly trained agents on the spot who can report direct to the Governor when there is the slightest inkling of these things happening, so that they can be nipped in the bud.
Finally, I do not admire the way in which the Black and Tans worked, I admire immensely the way the Palestine gendarmerie worked. They are similar organisations. In this country there is a nucleus of people who will not join the Regular Army, but if a job with a specific object like that is offered to them, with some extra pay, they will come like flies, many of them ex-Service people. I be- 1472 lieve that we could save a lot of manpower in our Army by using such gendarmerie for these tasks.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
Hon. Members may have observed that a debate on the Army Estimates affords an opportunity for ex-brigadiers, ex-colonels, ex-sergeant majors, even ex-privates, to indulge in reminiscences. Even ex-Secretaries of State for War are inclined to place on record the past events in which they played a more or less prominent part.
I am sorely tempted to regale the House with some of my escapades and adventures when I was a member of the Palace of Westminster Home Guard, but it seems to me that it would be more to the advantage of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, and certainly to the advantage of the nation, if we returned to the important topic raised by the hon. Members for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) and Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey).
I say without any reservation that their speeches will be regarded as two of the most important, most thoughtful and most arresting contributions to the subject of defence that we are likely to hear in the course of the discussions on this subject, whether they arise from the activities of the Ministry of Defence, the Army, the Navy or the Air Force. They have gone right to the heart of the problem, not that their views are original. They would not expect me to say that, because, after all, any views which we express are the result of an evolutionary process.
We listen to what others have to say, we base our contributions on past experience and, presumably, that is what the two hon. Members opposite have done. Certainly, hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree in complete accord that we ought to create a committee of some kind to engage in an exhaustive inquiry into the objective of the Army, the purpose of the Army, its structure, the kind of organisation we require and the number of men the Army should have at its disposal, although there could be consideration about the nature of that committee. A committee of that kind would be valuable, but whether the Government would agree to it is quite another matter. I have my doubts.
According to the Secretary of State for War, the Government have decided to 1473 set up a committee to consider possible waste among the men who are engaged in National Service. It may well be that the waste having been discovered, nothing will happen. National Service will continue, because, even if there is waste—and I think that can be demonstrated even without recourse to a committee—nevertheless. there may be other reasons why, in the judgment of the Government, National Service should continue, because of commitments, apprehension about limited wars, or the need to deal with incidents such as have occurred in Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus. I do not expect much from that.
We have to address ourselves to the question of what should be done here and now. not as a conclusion that should be reached about Army reorganisation, or reorganisation of defence, but rather as a beginning of a solution to this very intricate problem. The Secretary of State for War dilated at great length this afternoon—of course, he was interrupted from time to time, and no doubt that prolonged his speech—on his proposals for the reorganisation of the Army, but I am bound to say that at the end of his speech I came to the conclusion that there was precious little reorganisation about it. Indeed, to use the English translation of a well-known French proverb, the more things change the more they remain the same.
That is really what it means. I do not blame the Secretary of State for War, as, indeed, I said yesterday about the Minister of Defence and the Secretary of State for Air. I have been a Service Minister. I was a Service Minister way hack in 1929 and I have been a Service Minister and Minister of Defence, and I know what goes on inside. It is very difficult to resist the demands made by the Service chiefs. They, in turn, find it very difficult to resist demands made by their subordinates. It goes right through the scale.
We who are responsible for the disposal of the taxpayers' money ought to have our say about what should be done, and we should bring pressure to bear on the Government to make a beginning in the right direction. I think it was the hon. Member for Harrow, East, who said that this was no party matter. We can inject partisanship into these issues, but I am bound to say that defence has never appeared to me to be 1474 a party matter—on the assumption that we think defence is necessary.
If we do not think it necessary, we become partisan, but if we believe it to be necessary, if we believe that because of the state of international tension which confronts us some precautions seem to be required, then, clearly, we want a measure of defence preparation. On that assumption, how can we inject any partisanship into it? It is what is good for the nation that matters. Where the partisanship enters is when it comes, first, to the question of how much should be spent, what we can afford having regard to the national economy and to the nature of our resources, and, secondly, how the money is spent. That is where we part company.
Let us see if we can come to some kind of agreement on these matters. But before we can do that, it seems to me that we must decide on the kind of structure which is required, both as regards defence preparation and the organisation of defence that may be forced upon us in the event of war. I return to what I said yesterday about the Ministry of Defence. It is all very well for the Secretary of State for War and others to declare that the system works all right. Nearly all systems work all right, although we could disclose defects in those systems. The question is whether we can produce a much better system.
I know that the Minister of Defence is inhibited in many respects. He can obtain co-operation from his colleagues, from the Chiefs of Staff, from the Government as a whole. He may be inhibited by Treasury decision from time to time. But that is not enough. I wish to be as short as possible, because other hon. Members wish to make their contributions which are just as important as mine and, may be, even more important. But I wish to say that we have to place in the hands of the Minister of Defence power to decide the kind of organisation required.
As to the basis of that decision, we can argue that out. But if we have a Minister of Defence who has to wait until his Service colleagues come and tell him what they want, who has to argue it out with them and then has to argue it out with the Chiefs of Staff, with the Treasury, with the Defence Committee of the Cabinet and with the Cabinet itself, 1475 it takes a very long time before a conclusion is reached. That is what is wrong.
I do not wish to inject too much criticism into the debate. I am accustomed to doing that, though I do not want to do it in this context. But when I hear the Secretary of State for War speaking about the progress we have made—undoubtedly we have been making some progress and moving in the right direction, but ever so slowly—I think of what was said four-and-a-half years ago and about the demands made in army debates, in naval debates, in air debates and in defence debates. There were demands from all quarters of the House. The trouble is that things proceed so slowly, when they do proceed at all.
Therefore, I repeat that we have to place power in the hands of some person who has the power to allocate resources, to come to decisions about what the Service Departments should receive and, to a large extent, to decide the nature of the policy upon which they operate. As I said yesterday, and I will repeat it, that does not mean that the Minister of Defence would interfere at every point in detailed administration; for example, concerning how chaplains should operate, whether we should have some kind of social function associated with the personnel at the War Office, or that he would interfere at Kneller Hall with the arrangements about the bands, the musicians, the conductors, and so on.
These are matters which the respective Service Ministers could handle quite well. The Secretary of State for War could handle the Territorials quite well. He could go round and meet them and engage in their social activities. All that sort of thing might be done. The First Lord of the Admiralty can wear a double-breasted blue suit and a naval cap at an angle of 45 degrees; he can call himself a vice-admiral or a rear-admiral and be piped aboard some of Her Majesty's vessels if he likes. I do not mind that. What is important is that the policy, the direction, the urge and the impetus should reside in the hands of one person, who, of course, should take counsel and the advice of experts.
I leave that subject now because it is a big one, and we shall be returning to it from time to time. I am glad that the Minister of Defence listened carefully to 1476 what was said yesterday, because I believe that he is a resilient, responsive and receptive man, and it is not at all unlikely that he will endeavour to pursue some of these matters to their logical conclusions.
I now come to the other point which I wish to make, and which formed the central theme of the speech of the hon. Member for Wycombe. I listened to that speech with great attention. I have thought about its subject very many times myself. I was glad to hear it expressed much more fluently and logically than I can express it. I say that quite sincerely. I have an admiration for others who can speak well and express their thoughts clearly. The hon. Member asked what were our objectives.
We are discussing all these matters in the context of a possible nuclear war. What kind of Army do we want? It is not a limited war that we are talking about; we shall probably never have a limited war again. If we do, however, I concede that we should adopt the course which has often been expressed in the term which was derided by the Secretary of State for War this afternoon, namely, the course of streamlining our Forces. We should not abandon them, but should streamline them; we should organise them more cleverly and astutely, and use our resources more wisely. We may require forces to deal with disputes and disturbances which occur in Colonial Territories or other isolated spots.
But we have to deal with this matter in the context of a possible nuclear war, and in such dire circumstances, which we all hope will never occur, I cannot imagine that in anything in the nature of "broken back" warfare, the use of divisions—whether heavy, as one hon. Member said we should have, or light as other hon. Members have suggested, or broken up, or split—would be of the least value.
Why do I say that? I beg hon. Members on both sides of the House to understand that, confronted by the terrible and formidable military power of the Soviet Union—I am sorry to say it—we have not a chance. That is not my view alone; that view has been quite clearly implied in speeches and declarations of those who are associated with N.A.T.O. Why did they come to the conclusion that they would have to use nuclear weapons? They did so because they knew that we are 1477 not strong enough in the conventional sphere either to mount an attack or to resist one. They have said it over and over again.
That is the position which we have to face. What do we mean when we talk about streamlining our Forces? I have heard the question discussed over and over again, and I have been present at exercises carried out in this connection. What we mean is that instead of having large divisions comprising 16,000 or 18,000 men, with a long tail—a divisional slice; military hon. Members will understand the term—of 38,000 or 40,000 men, we should reduce the size of our divisions and, having done so, split them up into battalions, brigades and combat groups. That is the line for us to take. It could be used to deal with trouble in Colonial Territories just as effectively as our battalions. We are not using divisions in Malaya, Kenya or Cyprus, but small bodies of troops, not so highly mobile and well trained as they might be, perhaps.
In limited war such as we had in Korea—we hope it never happens again—we do not require large divisions. For the purposes of Korea we had a Commonwealth division of 20,000 men. How was it made up? There was a Commonwealth brigade and small pockets of troops welded into it, but operating far apart. The conception of a division of 18,000 or 20,000 men all strung along a line of four or five miles and four or five miles in depth is simply nonsense.
The Secretary of State for War dealt this afternoon with a point I made yesterday about National Service, when I recorded that he said in a broadcast that in order to dispose of National Service he required 300,000 Regulars. He seemed a little shamefaced this afternoon, as though he had been found out. In point of fact, I did not hear the broadcast, but I heard about it, and so I asked for a typescript. I read it. There is no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman said it. He may have been caught napping. That happens sometimes with broadcasts. At any rate, he said it.
What is the position? If the right hon. Gentleman said, or if anybody here or outside says, that we must have 300,000 Regulars before we can abolish National Service, we shall never abolish it. We shall not get them and we ought not to 1478 aim at that. If, as a result of the new pay code, we can get 200,000 Regulars and then reorganise those forces—not too long a tail, not too much administrative activity—by cutting down and building up strength, striking power, mobility, manoeuvrability, and the like, and with the right kind of weapon, 200,000 men could do all that we want. Then we could abolish National Service.
That is why we need not wait for two years to complete the job. In twelve months, when we have 200,000 Regulars or something like that number, we can proceed to cut down National Service. I do not believe—I said so yesterday—that merely cutting down by six months is of very much value. We have to aim at the complete abolition of National Service.
Let us not imagine that in this matter of defence there is any question of success. There is none. To some extent, yesterday I derided diplomats, ambassadors and foreign offices and their conception of foreign policy, but there is nothing else upon which we can rely. We depend upon the diplomats. If they fail, nothing but disaster will occur. All the defences in the world will not help us. Because of that we have to give attention to Civil Defence. That is regarded with derision. In the defence debate, some of my colleagues appeared to think it fantastic when the Minister of Defence talked about evacuation. It is. In point of fact, the Labour Party has produced a Report on Civil Defence. I was a member of the committee that produced it—but not the only one. The other members sit on the Front Bench below me—people in high places.
§ Mr. Shinwell
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) must be careful. If he says they are not there, I might retort that in an important debate of this kind it might be wiser if they were there. However, I do not want to be provoked and have arguments with my own Front Bench, loyalist as I am.
§ Mr. Shinwell
You are quite right, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Let us dismiss this, but let us seize upon any possible devices, first, to prevent war, and, secondly, if war should come, to afford some protection for our civilian population.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
If I may I should like to begin by congratulating the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) on his speech. I do not think I can recollect any speech he has made on Service matters with which I have agreed more. I should particularly like to take up the point with which he began—the machinery of Government in relation to defence. We are all deeply grateful to my hon. Friends the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) and Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) for having provided us with this Amendment, which gives the armchair strategist a free run on any subject he likes to raise. We have certainly had a good many subjects raised this evening, and I shall not attempt to follow all of them, but of all the matters that are absolutely essential to the working of a sound defence policy, the machinery of government comes very high on the list indeed.
When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington suggested that what we need is a Minister of Defence who is able to make a decision, I would agree with him—with this proviso. There was a time when we had a Minister who was styled Minister for Co-ordination of Defence, and I think that that is always looked back upon as being one of the most disastrous appointments—as an appointment, and without any reflection on the individual concerned—which have ever been made, because apparently no one knew who was to take any decision and all too few people took any.
I have a very vivid recollection of the last Army manoeuvres before the 1939 war. I remember so well the results of having a Minister for Co-ordination for Defence in providing anti-tank guns. As far as I remember, towards the end of 1938 the total production of the two-pounder anti-tank guns—which was regarded as being the most magnificent thing provided to protect the infantry from tanks—was two. There were two two-pounder anti-tank guns. The last 1480 thing we want is a repetition of that. The Minister of Defence should be given one power above all others—the power to say to the Treasury at any time, "This decision has been taken by the Defence Committee of the Cabinet as a result of consultation with the Chiefs-of-Staff and it must be implemented without you holding it up."
There have been times when the Treasury has exceeded its duty of keeping a general check on expenditure and avoiding unnecessary waste and has positively prevented the implementation of policies agreed at a very high level. I do not think it is ever right for the Treasury to be in that position. If any hon. Members doubt what I say, I ask them to read a book by Lord Chatfield, "It Might Happen Again," in which he gives the most vivid description of the impact of that type of thing upon the Navy between the two world wars.
It seems to me that it might already have happened again and that the Treasury is starting to exercise this form of control again. I wonder whether the Departmental ordering of materials for manufacture into armoured fighting vehicles or aeroplanes or anything else is subject to it and whether the Treasury is exercising pressure at official level to prevent the implementation by the Ministry of Supply, the War Office or any of the other Service Departments, of decisions taken in the Cabinet Defence Committee.
I warn my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that when his predecessor occupied that office, and on the last occasion I mentioned the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, a message was sent that on no account would he say anything about it in replying to the debate; and I realise that what goes on inside the Defence Committee of the Cabinet is sacrosanct. All I am saying is that when any review takes place of the Government machinery a most important point to bear in mind is that once a decision on the defence of the country has been taken by the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, nothing the Treasury can do should hold up the implementation of that decision in the most efficient way.
There are signs that we are again creeping back to the colossal power which the Treasury exercised between the wars, 1481 all dating from the days of the 10-year rule, when nobody thought there would be a war for 10 years. I ask hon. Members to bear in mind the state of affairs in 1939. We never want to see it again.
In dealing with the thinking on defence matters and my right hon. Friend's responsibility for it, I am convinced that we are well provided with good thinkers on these subjects. What matters is how that thought is transformed into results. Hon. Members must realise what enormous power the Treasury can have in holding up the implementation of decisions unless we keep a watchful eye on it.
I want to say a word about the changing era in which we live and what might happen in the future in reorganising our defence forces on a more economic basis, particularly the Army. This picks up a point mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer). My own feeling is that the time has come when we are moving into a stage where there may well be a place, which at the moment is occupied by the Army, which could be taken by a new service altogether—a Commonwealth police force.
I am concerned about the suggestion contained in the Amendment that this could be decided by a committee set up by the House, because my view is that if we completely revise the whole defence policy we must bring the Commonwealth into it. If we do that we at once face the problems which always arise over autonomy. We pride ourselves that the British Commonwealth is a self-governing autonomous association of nations. If we were to set up something which would have a direct effect on the defence of the autonomous Dominions, I think that they would be perfectly entitled to say, "This affects us too much and you must consult us before you go any further with this idea."
If we are not careful we may, by following to the letter the wording of this Amendment, find that we are treading on the toes of the Dominions, and they may feel obliged to try to tread on ours, which would be a great pity. Many of the alterations for defence which may become possible in our lifetime and which will certainly become possible in a future lifetime will inevitably involve the Commonwealth, and I hope that we shall 1482 bring the Commonwealth countries along with us in everything that we do.
As to the idea which I have mooted about the Commonwealth police force, I think that it would have to be armed, but I do not think that it would have to be trained in quite the same way as the Army is trained, any more than our own police force is trained in that way here. The sort of life that that service could offer to young men might very well attract them in far greater numbers than the Army attracts them. I know that the British police force is desperately short of manpower, but I do not think it is for the same reason that the Army is short of manpower. It may be because of the fact that our police are permanently stationed in England that they do not attract as recruits those who would be interested in going overseas. At the same time, the Army does not attract all people who may want to go overseas because many do not like the idea of rigid military discipline.
By trying to establish a major police force throughout the Commonwealth, we would be able to relieve the Regular Army of some of the enormous burden which it has to carry today. If we can do that we shall greatly ease this awful problem of conscription. I am with the right hon. Gentleman absolutely in saying that we want to get rid of it as quickly as we can. I sensed in his remarks today that he has changed his view a little about conscription and is now wondering whether cutting it down to eighteen months would be effective. I was glad to hear him say that. If we are to have it at all, let us have it long enough to get real value for the money we have to spend and try to prevent it from becoming any more wasteful than it is already.
Many hon. Members want to speak on this Amendment, so I will not delay the House very much longer. I know that there are quite enough committees already to deal with these matters. if we are to have a new committee, let it at least be one which will do the work which cannot be done by any other committee already in existence. That is why I think that if we set up a committee of this kind it ought to be an all-embracing Commonwealth committee. I hope that in that way we shall be able to get very considerable advance in thought and action and economy for our defence. 1483 I congratulate my right hon. Friend for what he and many other hon. Members have done. I think he has very greatly improved the organisation of the Army since he has been at the War Office. I hope that he will never be static in his thinking for the future, because I believe we are in one of the most interesting stages of military development that the world has ever known. The power of armies to deter war is no longer really relevant. What deters war now is the fear of what will happen if war once breaks out. Personally I welcome that. I would sooner have it that way because there is a place in man's thinking for some awe. I believe that as a world we now have a sense of awe of the hydrogen bomb and will have a greater awe for anything that develops from the hydrogen bomb. If that awe leads us to peace and the total abolition of global war, I do not think we shall have anything of which to complain.
To keep local peace and to deal with civil disorder and that sort of thing throughout the world will be far more economical than ever before. I am quite convinced that my right hon. Friend is not the sort of person to lose any opportunity in taking full advantage whenever that occurs.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
We are all indebted to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), who moved the Amendment. He said that he wished to cut the wood from the trees. I am not so sure that the wood has not reappeared in the latter part of this discussion.
The Amendment is very wide and we have had a very searching debate. It has so convinced me that I shall go into the Division Lobby in support of the Amendment. I certainly think we should have a committee appointed, but I should like to know what kind of a committee it is to be. It is to be an all-party committee, but I think we should have some reservations about that. We should exclude from it all garrulous brigadiers and all ex-Ministers and Privy Councillors. It would be an impartial, objective—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) need not run away, he need not retreat, because I intend to refer to him. I do 1484 not wish to get out of order by interfering with the internal controversy between Front Bench and back benches.
Right hon. Members who have spoken in this debate appear either to be in the "Shadow" Cabinet, or in the shadows. They are far more convincing and far more informative when they are in the shadows. I suggest that this Committee should be appointed. It should not be a sham committee, but what I suggested many years ago—a committee of business men.
So many familiar arguments have appeared in this debate that I wish to point out that I was a pioneer of the ideas contained in the Amendment for, in 1949, when the right hon. Member for Easington was Secretary of State for War, I took part in the debate with the present Minister and made this suggestion. I believe it was about four o'clock in the morning. I made the suggestion that we should have an independent committee composed more or less of objective Members of the House, preferably business men, who were not likely to be intimidated by the Service Ministers. Back in history, on 10th March, 1949, I am surprised at the way I anticipated the arguments in this debate. I then said:I want to know when these brigadiers are going to forget Sandhurst and learn something from the London School of Economics, because we cannot possibly have an enormous economic machine going, trying to recover our export trade to build up our economic status in the world, and at the same time have these millions of men in the Army.That was in 1949, when the right hon. Member for Easington used to read out the official speeches from the Dispatch Box. I had the support of the present Secretary of State for War. I used to compete in those days, Mr. Speaker, to catch your eye, and the right hon. Gentleman came to my support rather doubtfully and said:If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my speech, he would have recognised that the whole point was how to succeed in stimulating military recruitment so as to give something back to the economic manpower by gearing down on the terms of service of the National Service men."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 10th March, 1949; Vol. 462, c. 1567.]So we both appear throughout the years to have been consistent.
As for the right hon. Member for Easington, who was formerly Minister of Defence, at that time he was very keen on recruiting campaigns, and I used to 1485 express grave doubts whether we would get the British Army recruited by the method of exhortation. The right hon. Gentleman believed in exhortation, and carried this out to its logical conclusion. I remember drawing attention to the fact that these recruiting campaigns were rather expensive, but not very effective.
I gave the report of a speech which the right hon. Gentleman had made in the course of a recruiting campaign in Aberystwyth. The right hon. Gentleman did his best. He went to Aberystwyth to get recruits for the Army, at an expense of £40 6s. to the taxpayer, and he had a magnificent response. He got two A.T.S. girls. It was not his oratory that got them; it was his sex appeal, and a year after that, they both got married and he lost the lot.
One suggestion I would make is that this committee should inquire into the way of getting recruits.
§ Mr. Hughes
I have a far greater opinion of the right hon. Gentleman today than I have had for years.
§ Mr. Hughes
The right hon. Gentleman has contributed very interesting ideas on strategy, which I believe he has acquired from studying the speeches that I delivered in 1949. He did his best by the method of exhortation, but where is the recruiting campaign today? Nobody believes in recruiting campaigns today. Even if we held recruiting meetings, the people would not come to them, any more than they come to the political meetings of either party. The young people on both sides would say that they do not see the difference between the two parties. The forces of one side are set against the forces of the other side, and the most effective kind of warfare is guerrilla warfare, and that is where I come in.
I want to give a reason why I do not think that brigadiers should be allowed to serve on this new committee. It is because they do not take an objective view of the national finances of this country. I turn to page 13 of the Memorandum, which contains a passage which should be examined by a committee on which no one higher than a lance-corporal should sit. Let us see what this committee has done for the nation. Here 1486 we are told about pay. After giving us the exhortations and the recruiting meetings and all that, the great idea—the Beethoven theme—running through all the time was "Give them more pay."
When the Secretary of State for War was speaking, he said "Wonderful rates of pay." But what about inflation? If we inflate the Army bill, we set an example to every organised worker, and so the vicious spiral continues. We have the amazing fact that for a fortnight the Government have denounced inflation, and now they come along with the biggest wage increase we have had for a long time.
I do not mind the wage rates of soldiers going up for the lower paid ranks, but when we say to the average worker, "Do not ask for more wages because it will result in inflation," how are we to justify the increase in pay of the brigadiers? I do not quite know how to compare brigadiers with the other ranks in industry. It is difficult to assess exactly where the brigadier would be in industry. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shop steward."] No. I have come to the conclusion that to get a reasonable comparison, we should compare the brigadier to the shotfirer in the coal mine.
§ Mr. Hughes
They both do something of the same kind. What would happen to industry if we paid the same wages as we are now paying to the higher ranks in the Army? We are told that a married brigadier will get £2,619 instead of the present £2,108. What is the reason for giving a brigadier £500 a year more? There is no lack of brigadiers, no lack of competitive co-existence.
Then, we come to the retired pay and terminal grants. The White Paper tells us thatThe improvements in retired pay are equally satisfactory. For example, the standard of retired pay for a major will in future be £625 instead of £500 a year and for a brigadier £1,150 instead of £1,000 a year.That is not so bad, but it adds:Hitherto, the grant has been £1,000 for all officers. It will now be raised to £1,875 for a major and the higher ranks will get bigger terminal grants. A lieutenant-colonel will get £2,400 and a brigadier £3,450.What will the Government say to the hard-headed business man about these rates of pay? When the T.U.C. or the 1487 Transport and General Workers' Union came along for an increase for their members, if they asked for anything like this the Chancellor of the Exchequer would say, "For goodness' sake, stop. That is encouraging inflation and ruining the country." Therefore, I am not at all keen about the rates of pay for the higher ranks. I believe that they are inflationary. I believe that if we had a committee of businessmen, with a sprinkling perhaps of well-informed journalists—[An HON. MEMBER: "Ten shilling widows."] I would not mind co-opting the 10s. widow—there would be some attempt to get Army and military expenditure into proportion.
The hon. Member for Wycombe asked what our Forces were doing in Germany. That is a point which I should like to be referred to the committee. We are told that there are four divisions in Germany, and the situation has changed so kaleidoscopically since we made the Paris Agreements that well-informed people are now asking what is the exact function of these divisions. The Manchester Guardian, for example, asks what exactly is the function of the Forces which are now in Germany. I should like an independent committee to go to the root of this question. The Manchester Guardian tells us, and when the Manchester Guardian advises us in a leading article to ask certain questions we are entitled to ask them in the House—
§ Mr. Hughes
Yes, but nobody has yet quoted this opinion from the Manchester Guardian. Therefore, I think that it should go on record. It was through asking this question a year ago that I was temporarily ejected from the Labour Party. The leading article states:It is fairly certain that none of our Continental allies will raise conscription to 24 months or provide enough money for the recruiting of adequate Regular forces. Is it not time that this was recognised? It ought to have been admitted and openly discussed at the last annual review by the North Atlantic Council, but apparently everyone fought shy of so agonising a subject. As a result, Britain continues to spend a large sum on providing General Gruenther with his best contingents, although there is now little hope that his command will ever be brought up to strength. It is a matter which ought to be raised this week 1488 in the House of Commons, which debates foreign affairs today and defence on the next two days.What are these troops doing in Germany?
General Gruenther says that they are no longer effective and the Manchester Guardian asks whether the time has not come to withdraw these troops from Europe altogether, which is of course coming to the conclusion that the attempt to operate the military clauses of the Paris agreements has, from the point of view of military usefulness, been abortive.
We should apply the remit of the proposed committee of inquiry over all the different spheres of military activity mentioned in the Memorandum to the Army Estimates. The Secretary of State for War told me the other day, for example, that we are to invest in military installations and barracks in Cyprus a sum of £29 million. That is a lot of money, is it not? We are cutting down capital investment at home. We are cutting housing and the capital investment of nationalised industries and investing it in barracks and military installations in Cyprus. I do not see how any impartial committee of business men could approve of that.
My hon. Friends argued for years that it was a waste to stay in Suez, and suddenly the Government agreed that it was a waste of money to stay there. Now we have shifted the military base in the Middle East away from Suez because, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) told us, we were afraid of atom bombs; and we are now nearer by 300 miles to the Russian bombers and are left with exactly the same problem. I regard the whole military expenditure in Cyprus as a colossal waste of money from every point of view.
I do not associate myself with the remarks which my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) made about the Highland Light Infantry. I do not blame the H.L.I., because they just do what they were told. They have been sent out and are carrying out operations in very disagreeable circumstances. They have to operate tear gas against school children, for instance. They have to do many disagreeable things, and the cost is £200,000 a week. According to the Secretary of State for War, 7,800 of the 15,000 there are National Service 1489 men who have not had six months' training.
We are hearing a lot about the minorities in Cyprus. I want to stake a claim for the Scottish minority in Cyprus, the soldiers of the Highland Light Infantry. The best service we can render them and the Gordon Highlanders is to bring them home. I wish that had been made much clearer in the speeches from the Opposition benches.
I do not wonder that the Army does not get recruits. Ask an intelligent student of eighteen to read the reports in HANSARD of these debates and see for himself the conglomeration of ideas coming from right hon. Members on both sides of the House. They cancel each other out. The Government have tried exhortation, they have tried conscription, and now they are trying bribery. The soldier will say, "If we are to get so much money at the beginning, what is to happen next year? What is the meaning of this nine-year business?" It is a curious business. The Government are trying to solve the problem of manpower by giving soldiers superannuation at the beginning instead of at the end.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Wycombe talked about war, and the Prime Minister said this week that if we go into modern war it means oblivion. Everybody knows that this country is in tremendous danger, because it has become America's aircraft carrier in Western Europe. When we ask the Minister of Defence to where he will evacuate 12 million people he cannot tell us. Does any hon. Member know the answer?
§ Mr. Hughes
I suggest that this is a question to be referred to the suggested committee. What is to happen to the 12 million civilians who will be displaced by modern war? No attempt has been made to answer that question. Naturally, the soldier who thinks, says, "If I join up for nine years, I shall be sent to Cyprus or to Malaya." What is to happen to his folks at home? Are they to be amongst the 12 million people to be evacuated or not? I do not wonder why the Army does not get recruits. We do not deserve to get recruits for the Army, because the whole conception of modern war is an insult to anybody who has read about the scientific possibilities.
1490 I believe that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has broken down hopelessly in Germany. It has become hopelessly confused and contradictory at home, and the question of such an alliance is another subject which should be investigated impartially by the committee which it is proposed to set up—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The committee is to look into the organisation of the Army. Nothing has been suggested about it looking into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
§ Mr. Hughes
But, Sir, I understand that the Army is in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. That ruling reminds me of one given by a previous Speaker on the Air Force Estimates. I could not refer to the atom bomb then, because it was not in the Air Force Estimates. I managed to get into order, only by asking if it was to be delivered by the Ministry of Transport.
A committee set up to inquire into the future of the Army in this country must inquire into the whole paraphernalia of this military organisation. That is absolutely urgent and vitally necessary. I hope that the Secretary of State for War will announce that the committee will be given a free hand to explore all the possibilities outlined in the speech of the hon. Member for Wycombe. I hope the committee will be able to take evidence. I am quite prepared to submit a memorandum to the committee. I tried it on the Labour Party, but it rejected my memorandum. I hope the committee will be more impartial and open-minded. I am in favour of it. Let us all go into the Division Lobby to support the setting up of a committee, and I am quite sure that, when it reports by this time next year, we will get a very different debate.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
On Saint David's Day it would be inappropriate for me too obviously to differ from another ex-patriate Welshman. Only other Welshmen could understand some of the remarks he made because of their similarity to flights of fancy from time to time. I particularly appreciated his suggestion that he might be willing to serve on a committee and to co-opt a 10s. widow. That conjures up very pleasant pictures and figments of the imagination.
1491 This afternoon hon. Members have continued to its logical conclusion the statement made by the Prime Minister on 25th October, 1955, and if I read a short passage from that statement the House will see what I mean. The Prime Minister said:I am also making it clear that the Minister of Defence's responsibility for the apportionment of available resources between the three Services extends to a responsibility for seeing that the composition and balance of forces within individual services meets the strategic policy laid down by the Defence Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th October, 1955; Vol. 545, c. 34.]That is very much what the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) was saying.
Like the right hon. Member, I feel that that statement of policy has thus far not been carried out. There is a grave suspicion that, although the general lines of policy have been stated, in fact the supremacy of the Minister of Defence over the three traditional Services has not yet been established as a fact. I think that it is right to voice suspicions such as that. It may be that the cause of the failure to implement the stated policy is that the re-shuffle in the Government took place so near to the formation of the estimates and the outlining of policy for the current year. It may be that the Minister of Defence has, in fact, exerted the influence which my right hon. Friend earlier today said he had, but nevertheless there is a feeling that there is continuing rivalry and compartmental and Departmental attitudes in the three Services which prevent full co-operation.
One need only look at the topic of aircraft supplied to the Royal Air Force and also supplied to the Army. Even now, there is doubt whether the Army could be adequately transported today. There is grave doubt whether men could be moved, even when they are on the spot, from the centre of the strategic reserve to the place where they are to be needed. In supporting the Amendment it is worth while mentioning the possibility, to which the Defence White Paper refers, that local forces from the Colonial Territories should be called in aid for building up the strength of our whole Armed Forces.
I should like to develop that point later. All I want to say quite shortly—and I hope that I shall not be out of step with the House in making a short speech 1492 —is that I wish to see the policy outlined in the Prime Minister's statement of 25th October, 1955, implemented and seen to be implemented. I also want to see it carried to its natural, logical next step of making the three Service Ministers more obviously subordinate to the Minister of Defence, however much politically that may be disadvantageous to certain individuals.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
During these defence and Estimates debates we find ourselves each year more and more circumscribed in making our examination of the Estimates. This House is supposed to have the last word so far as Supply is concerned, but I see that the only Vote which is down for discussion when we go into Committee is Vote A, which circumscribes detailed examination of the Estimates. So I suppose that we are in order in ranging fairly widely within the scope of the Estimates on the Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The debate was opened, and has continued, at a very high level. I appreciated the recognition by the Secretary of State for War that I am present. He had not been speaking two minutes when his eagle eye alighted on this bench and he said, "Oh, the old soldier"—much in the tone as if it were the proletarian "blimp."
§ Mr. Simmons
I quite agree, and if my thinking and my ideas had remained static I should certainly be entitled to be called a "blimp." But one can be an old soldier and still progress as far as ones ideas and beliefs are concerned. I hope that at any rate I have done that, and that my ideas of the Services today are not the kind of ideas that I had round about 1911 and 1912 when I first knew the Services.
This year we are getting our debates on defence and the Services in one dollop, I confess that on this third day I have become a little bewitched, bothered and bewildered about the purpose of the colossal expenditure in these Estimates. I am not the only one, for last night the Secretary of State for Air launched guided missiles which turned out to be 1493 boomerangs. The right hon. Gentleman mixed up dukes with earls, and after asking for thirty-five minutes in which to reply, ran out of amunition in fifteen minutes, and was reduced to firing blanks for the rest of the engagement.
This debate, following the one on foreign affairs, has not clarified the muddled situation caused by the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, the three Service Ministers, to say nothing of the Ministry of Supply, all having some impact on defence. I think that we are entitled to ask who co-ordinates whom? Which of the Ministers can say, "This is our defence policy, and that is your part part in it"? When I say "our defence policy," I mean the policy of the nation. Until we decide that, we shall have chaos as far as defence is concerned. Is the Minister of Defence or the Foreign Office running the Army, the Navy and the Air Force? Is the Ministry of Defence a paper façade or an effective co-ordinating and directing machine? We have the right to know.
Reference was made earlier to the fact that a Minister for the co-ordination of defence was a complete failure. Is this Minister of Defence any more powerful and has he any more authority than the old Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence in the past? We ought to know in order that the Army Estimates can be discussed against their proper background.
With the coming of the atomic-nuclear age, experts tend to talk in the air, right above the head of an old sweat like myself, and others who once struggled to master the intricacies of the Vickers Maxim machine gun. I remember those days, when we used to have all the parts of the gun out on ground sheets in front of the sergeant-instructor, and we had to put them altogether in a very short time. The sergeant always had his watch out. An hon. Member opposite talked about the value of competition. I do not know whether he was decrying it or supporting it. We had that in the old days with the Vickers Maxim machine gun.
We are a little mystified about all this talk of an atomic warhead. It has been presumed by some to be a reference to the present Secretary of State for War; it could never refer to the Secretary of State for Air after his speech last night. We do not even know if the subject of 1494 atomic warheads can be discussed in the Army, Navy or Air Estimates, or all of them. The Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Supply are now also involved, and this makes the subject all the more complicated.
Even the terminology of war is different. In the old days there was straightforward talk of defence and attack; today the abracadabra word is "deterrents." Apparently the idea is that we have to hold these deterrents over each other's heads until our arms ache, and obviously an explosion will come if one of the nations holding the deterrents becomes too tired or too impatient to hold it any longer. What a ghastly prospect for humanity—to live for as long as we can all under the shadow of the as yet unexploded deterrents. That prospect was described by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) in last year's debate, in these words:Then it may well be that we shall by a process of sublime irony have reached the stage in this story where safety will be the sturdy child of terror, and survival the twin-brother of annhilation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1955; Vol. 537, c. 1899.]Paragraphs 64 and 69 of the Memorandum refer to the development of new missiles. Paragraph 64 mentions the "Corporal" in despatches. It is not the old corporal that we knew—the chap promoted from the rank of "lance-jack, unpaid," but a new kind of corporal. In paragraph 53 of last year's Memorandum he was unnamed—conceived, but undelivered; just a surface-to-surface guided weapon—but in this year's White Paper he is promoted to corporal. I am not clear whether or not he is possessed of an atomic warhead. We are left in the dark about that. A flash from the Front Bench opposite could illuminate the position.
Paragraph 69 describes instruments which are essential to the safety of troops after the detonation of an atomic weapon. Does this refer to the A-bomb, the H-bomb, or both?
§ Mr. Simmons
One wonders what the word "atomic" embraces in these days, when things are moving so fast.
One thing which is clear from the Army Estimates and the Memorandum is that these deterrents are harking back to the 1495 words of the right hon. Member for Woodford. How much security do these deterrents provide, in the opinion of the Secretary of State for War? What kind of future are we facing, even with all the preparations we are making, and with all the deterrents we are preparing? Do we not just replace that tragic bundle of bloody rags and putrefying flesh, hanging on the barbed wire in no-man's land in the First World War with the Japanese fishermen condemned to a lingering death by contact with radio-active substances?
Are we not just moving from the time when one single enemy missile penetrated the Palace of Westminster in the First World War, through the time when this Chamber was destroyed by enemy action in the Second World War, to the time when not only the Palace of Westminster, but cottages, villages, towns and palaces will be all wiped out?
What defence against that is provided for in these Estimates? In conformity with the policy of deterrence we have, on page 10 of the Memorandum, statements about developing mobility and flexibility, which are the new watchwords. I presume that we are to get an Army which would be unrecognisable to soldiers of 1914–18. We welcome that, because that is proof that we are moving with the times. In war as in peace, new times demand new measures and new men. What are the new measures provided for in these Estimates and where are the new men who will give effect to them?
I am mystified by the arguments over the new rifle. I suppose I shall be charged, once again, with being an old soldier of a past age. I used the Lee-Enfield, which was a very good rifle. It was an old British type made by the B.S.A. in Birmingham by British workmen. Now we have something made in Belgium. In my early political days, the Conservative Party condemned local authorities who bought Belgian steel rails for tram tracks. They said, "Support the British steel industry. Do not buy Belgian steel. Buy British steel." That was part of the old Tariff Reform campaign. Are we now to allow British gunsmiths to become unemployed and lose their craft in idleness while Belgians supply us with rifles?
§ Mr. Simmons
If we are to let Belgians supply us with rifles, it is obvious that the people who have been supplying them will be out of work. That is common sense and logic.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
The anxiety of my hon. Friend on this score may be excessive, because we have been waiting for four and a half years for the Belgian rifle and production has not started yet.
§ Mr. Simmons
Then the British craftsman may be doing so well with the British rifle that there is no necessity for us to turn to the Belgian rifle. The Government are so concerned about the possibility of atomic warfare that it mystifies me why they bother with a new rifle at all. The rifle which has served the British Army for all these years might surely serve it for a bit longer while the Government get on with bigger issues which they regard as more important.
§ Mr. Glover
The rifles in 1914–18 were so good, and the rate of fire was so rapid, that the Germans thought they were automatic.
§ Mr. Simmons
The old soldiers always knew how to look after their rifles. That is why they were so good.
In paragraph 70 of the Memorandum there is the information that we are to reproduce maps in the field to the N.A.T.O. standard size. That is revolutionary, but why not be revolutionary on a larger scale? Why stop at maps? If everything used in N.A.T.O. was on a common, international basis, if all our resources there were pooled and everything was manufactured to a common standard we might achieve full efficiency and economy in our Forces.
1497 Does anyone think that we are living in times of peace? We old soldiers of either war well remember how we used to long for the time when the war would be finished and we would be back in our native land in time of peace. What dreams we had of the difference there would be between the world at war and the world at peace. But can we say that we have a world at peace today?
Let us look at pages 3 to 8 of the Memorandum attached to the Estimates. Under the heading "Operational," it will be seen that we are practically out of Egypt. We are out of the Sudan. We have fewer men in Korea. We are still in Germany, but we are now paying for our board and lodgings. And we are actively supporting the right of self-determination in Cyprus. I am second to none in my praise and appreciation of the British soldier abroad. He makes friends with the children abroad—he gives them his sweet ration, and his other rations as well.
The British soldier is one of our finest finest ambassadors, and if we sacked the whole of the diplomatic service and gave the job to the British Tommy we would have a far happier world than we have today. The British soldier abroad usually conducts himself like a gentleman. He is a gentleman, whatever his rank.
§ Mr. Simmons
Do not let us split hairs. The hon. Gentleman well knows what I mean and he is only trying to be funny.
The British soldier acts as a gentleman when abroad and exercises great restraint under great provocation. But it is very hard on him when, in the course of military duties, he is expected to take action against school children, as he is in Cyprus. I am not condemning the British soldier for that. His job is not to reason why—at least not openly, but he cannot be put in "clink" for thinking.
§ Mr. Simmons
I have no doubt that the hon. Member opposite will be able to make a long and sparkling contribution to the debate. If, instead of just splitting hairs and taking me up on tiny little points he was to perfect his notes and prepare to follow me, we would have a much wider and more interesting debate. 1498 I suggest that it is grossly unfair to subject our soldiers to such humiliating situations as those in which they find themselves in places like Cyprus today. The military authorities should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for using our soldiers in the way they have been used.
The National Service content of the Army is still well over 50 per cent. We have heard today something about the great advance in thought on the question of National Service. Nobody wants it today. Looking back over the last ten years in this House, it is really remarkable to find opinion unanimous in no longer wanting National Service. It is nothing but a nuisance. I give away my age and the era in which I live by saying that I can remember the time when the Conservative Party was campaigning actively up and down the country for what it called National Military Service—or conscription. That was before the First World War. Lord Northcliffe was one of the pioneers. Bob Blatchford, an ex-Socialist who went over to them, and, of course, Horatio Bottomley, wanted that.
Today, we have agreement that National Service should be got rid of as soon as possible. I believe that we should have one thing or the other. Do not let us monkey about with it. Let us have either two years' National Service or abolish it altogether. I believe in abolishing it altogether. I think that the Government are going the right way to provide an incentive to Regular recruitment. It is only by building up an effective efficient Regular Army that we can do away with National Service. The new pay increases should do a little by way of incentive to building up our Regular Forces.
We have said again and again in debates in this House that pay is not the only incentive. Living conditions, food, amenities, a sense of importance are all contributory factors. I hope that the Army will get on with its slum clearance programme and that provision will be made for the families of those men who make the Army their career. When one makes the local government service a career and is moved from Birmingham to Manchester, or Manchester to Glasgow, one expects the local authorities to help one to find a home. The soldier should be given the same privileges and have the same rights. He should be 1499 guaranteed a home if he makes the Army his profession and takes his family with him.
I hope also that nothing will remain of the old practices which once undermined the human dignity of the soldier of whatever rank he happened to be. The officer's batman and the soldier "skivvy" to the officer's wife ought to be things of the past. In spite of what the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) said, I still think that is all wrong—all this personal service based on class distinction of the officers having privates as batmen. The whole question of this "skivvying," as I call it, for officers' wives and of acting as menial servants to the officers should be done away with.
§ Mr. Simmons
If the hon. and gallant Member did not mention that particularly, I apologise to him, but the tenor of his remarks was in that direction. If we give the professional soldier pay equivalent to that of outside employment, it must be accompanied by living accommodation of like standard. If we want soldiering to be a profession we must provide—for want of a better term—atmosphere that engenders self-respect and pride in the job in hand.
If we are to vote these Estimates we must be sure that the money will be effectively used for the right purpose—to preserve the peace of the world. If we rely on the deterrent alone, neither these nor the associated Estimates are sufficient to save the world from the horror threatened by the ultimate weapon. It is no use saying that we do not need to crave co-existence, being haughty and disdainful and keeping up the pretence that our defence programme will enable us to ease up on talks and negotiation; that will not prevent catastrophe from overtaking us. Paragraph 2 of the White Paper on Defence reads:The Soviet leaders have reaffirmed their belief in the eventual triumph of Communism throughout the world.Of course; they are Communists. Whatever we may think of them, they believe in their creed. Do not we also proclaim our belief in the democratic way of life? Of course we do.
1500 Cannot we co-exist with them while holding fast to our ultimate beliefs? Do we not co-exist in the House? We fight like Kilkenny cats over some things, but on other things we can co-operate in the interests of the nation. If, in certain circumstances, the two sides of the House can co-operate in the interests of the nation, why cannot two sets of nations with different ideologies and different ideas co-exist in the interests of peace?
If we cannot do that, then sooner or later the deterrent will be of no effect at all. As a condemned man craves pardon or a reprieve, the peoples of a fear-ridden world crave co-existence in preference to universal death. The Government are entitled to go to the stake in their self-righteous belief that craving co-existence is not British, but they have no right to drag all humanity with them.
If what I have said seems to strike a note of despair, I am sorry. There is yet hope if some nation will cast aside fear and preconceived ideas about the other side and make a determined effort in the direction of disarmament. We must get out of the habit of turning down out of hand every gesture made by the Soviet. We must accept their sincerity if we want them to accept ours and test it as we would expect them to test ours. We know that there is greater danger in delicately poised deterrents than in mutual disarmament. We also realise in addition that the economic burden of armaments at their present and possibly higher levels will cripple our economy sooner than that of the Soviets.
Can we effectively counteract Communist infiltration by the force of arms? Those subject to Communist infiltration are, in the main, hungry or disillusioned people. If they see in Communism the hope of salvation it is not because of the military strength of Communism but because of the propaganda of Communism; an ideal has been held before their eyes and has dazzled them. The awakening will come, but it may come too late.
Democracy can give the world a greater ideal and a greater security, but they do not know it because we do not take enough trouble to speak and act in such a way as to convince them. If we gave them fewer troops and more bread, fewer readings of the not act and more proclamations of self-government, we should stem the rising tide of Soviet imperialism 1501 much more effectively than by threats of armed force.
I never vote for Defence Estimates with pleasure. No ex-soldier could. We know too much from personal experience what it means. But I feel more uneasy than ever on this occasion because I am convinced that the Government have no real policy of co-ordinated defence, have an inflexible mind on the possibilities of real progress in disarmament and are so paralysed by the fear of Communist infiltration that they are incapable of presenting to its victims the alternative ideal which alone can destroy the power of Communist influence in those quarters which provide the most fertile soil.
§ Mr. Nigel Nicolson (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I did not want to interrupt the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) when he was speaking, but could you give an indication of the width of the debate permitted on this Amendment? It seemed to me that, with all the latitude one would wish hon. Members to have, the last speaker went rather wide and that it would be of guidance to the rest of us who wish to speak if we could know how far we can go.
Perhaps as there is so much difficulty I may answer the first point of order. The Amendment is very wide, and I think the idea is that the debate on it would cover the Estimates. The plan, which has been arranged, I gather, is that we are to carry on with the debate on the Amendment and, when that is dispensed with, it will have covered the Estimates.
§ 10.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
In the early part of this debate a great deal of attention was paid to the quantities of our troops in different parts of the world and to the question whether 200,000 of the Regular Army would suffice to fulfil our commitments. I want to deal, not with quantities, but with quality and, in that connection, to refer in particular to the younger element, to the boys in the Army and in the cadet forces to which 1502 they belong before joining the actual Services.
I start with the Army regimental boys and Army apprentices. Unfortunately, I had to go out of the Chamber before the end of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I understand he told the House that a number of the N.C.Os. and officers associated with those boys have been sent to share in the instruction at the Outward Bound schools. Here, perhaps, I should declare an interest as chairman of the management committee of the Trust responsible for those schools. I should like to welcome the interest in that type of training which quite obviously the War Office is now showing and, secondly, to pay a tribute to the quality of the service rendered by officers who come to those schools.
A former adjutant-general, describing the characteristics to which the Services should pay prime attention, put them in this order of priority: character first, intelligence second, and knowledge third. There is little doubt that that advice is being increasingly taken by those responsible for affairs at the War Office. A number of these boys this winter are to take Outward Bound courses and that is greatly welcomed. Later, I am informed, it is the intention of the Army to set up something of the same type under its own auspices and to provide something of the same type of training. That also is greatly welcomed, but I want to make the comment that if the course is to be of one week's duration it will be too short The experience we have had with a very large number of boys of a similar age and type is that it requires not less than a month to make the impact which is necessary.
I readily concede that the type of boys referred to in the Army are in a much better state to benefit from such training than boys coming from factories. The boy in the Army has been subjected to considerably more discipline and is much fitter. Therefore, I do not claim that as long as one month for that type of course under Army auspices would be necessary, but I urge the Secretary of State to look into the plan to see whether it could not be for longer than one week. I would hope that three weeks would be taken as the right length of course for the real impact which is desired to be obtained.
I say that for two reasons—not merely because it is obviously the intention by 1503 this means to encourage and discover leadership, than which nothing could be more important, but, in addition, I have no doubt that it is the intention that young people shall discover themselves by being presented with a series of challenges, the overcoming of which will enable them to realise, may be for the first time, that they are capable of a very great deal more than they ever thought possible. If that second experience is to be really valid, I think that nothing less than three weeks will suffice.
I turn to the cadet forces, and, first of all, the Army Cadet Force, which, of course, is made up of individuals scattered all over the country, much less easy to organise and more difficult to introduce to the type of character training to which I have referred. Here, I should like to draw attention to a particular opportunity of which I very much hope the Army Cadet Force will take full advantage, and that is the scheme recently announced in the Press and known as the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme.
Perhaps this is not the time to go into the details of the scheme and what it provides, but it is in effect an opportunity for a boy to test himself in four types of activity—rescue, athletics or fitness, expedition and hobbies. There are to be three grades—from 15 to 16, from 16 to 17 and from 17 to 18. If this opportunity is taken with enthusiasm, by those responsible for the Army Cadet Force, I have no doubt, this scheme could greatly improve the enthusiasm and the quality of that Force.
The second section of the cadet force is the combined cadet forces, and I want to quote an extract from a document published under the authority of King George's Jubilee Trust, which some hon. Members may have seen, and which is entitled "Citizens of Tomorrow." In particular, I want to quote from the report of the Working Party under the chairmanship of General Sir Bernard Paget, referring to life in the Services. The reference I have in mind concerning the combined Cadet Force reads as follows:The development of his character and especially of his self-confidence and initiative prior to National Service is of the greatest importance. Much of the time devoted to 1504 training of a military nature in the various Cadet organisations is largely wasted.The report goes on to say, in the recommendations:Lack of self-confidence and initiative are the predominant deficiencies in character of young men on joining the Services. The development of character and stamina is of much greater importance both to the nation and the Services than the attainment of an elementary proficiency in drill and weapon training.I was shocked to discover from my own son, at present at school at Eton, that during a boy's career there under present circumstances, for no less than two halves, as they are called, three afternoons every week are devoted to the activities of the corps, and that the bulk of that time—
§ Mr. Summers
My right hon. Friend shakes his head. This is not the time to quarrel with him on a detailed point. I can only say that after the debate I will be happy to provide some of the details in support of the statement which I have just made.
§ Mr. Summers
I hope that my right hon. Friend will be proved correct, but it is only two days since I discovered that what I previously thought were two afternoons were, in fact, three. If I prove to be in error, I shall be happy to withdraw.
Whether it be three afternoons, two afternoons or one, a very great deal of the time of people in the combined cadet forces is occupied with weapon training and drill, and little opportunity is taken to develop initiative and leadership and the qualities that are needed in the Services. I am glad to find that a start is being made to change these arrangements by a special course for selected members of the force. Under existing conditions, it is small wonder that there is little enthusiasm for joining the combined cadet forces. I am quite certain that if the type of training for which I am pleading were introduced, the cadet 1505 forces would be much keener and would be greatly welcomed.
I know that in much of what I am saying I am pushing at an open door in urging that the quality of the individuals and character training should play a big part in the development of the young soldier by the military authorities, but the door is as yet only ajar. I want to push it a bit further so that more may go through it.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
So that I shall not detain the House too long, I do not propose to follow the remarks made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers). I welcome the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) and I hope that the committee which he proposes will, in fact, be set up, for there is certainly a good job of work that it could do. In addition to the matters listed by the hon. Member for Wycombe, there are one or two other things that I should like to be investigated.
Two or three years ago, I raised in the House the question of political discrimination against National Service men who had all the intellectual and physical capacity, and qualities of leadership for becoming officers, but who were being turned down on political grounds largely due, in my opinion, to interference by M.I.5. I discussed one case during the Estimates debates. The man concerned had attended two selection boards, but had not passed. After the matter was raised in the House, he was accepted and became a commissioned officer.
That kind of thing has continued. We repeatedly hear of young men who possess all the necessary qualities to hold commissioned rank but who are rejected not because of anything that can be held against them personally, but because a member of the family is not perhaps subscribing to political views and associations of which the Conservative Party approves. If the same test was set for hon. Members as is made to National Service men seeking to become commissioned officers, there are some who would not be allowed to sit here. We have no right to withhold from any National Service man who has the appropriate qualifications advancement in the Services merely because of the 1506 political connections of a member of his family.
Another thing which might be looked at is promotion in the Services, which, the Minister of Defence said yesterday, depended upon the numbers in them. He claimed that there was not one high-ranking officer who wanted to retain conscription for its own sake. If we were to recruit another 50,000 to 100,000 Regulars, bringing them up to about 250,000, should we still need the same number of commissioned officers? We now have one to each eleven other ranks, among whom will be corporals and other N.C.Os. No wonder a National Service man said that the trouble with the Army was that there were too many bosses. If the proportion were anything like the same in industry there would be a lot more industrial friction.
§ Mr. Glover
These figures for officers include professional people such as doctors and dentists, and may give the hon. Gentleman a false picture, especially with units dealing with tanks and artillery.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I am happy to get that information, which does not alter the fact that all those officers have to be saluted or can put the ordinary soldier on a charge. Should they all be retained in that capacity when the total forces are reduced?
Yesterday, the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) spoke about "floating majors". I was in conversation with a "floating major" in a train, and learned that his job was to allocate garages, which only became vacant every twelve months. I do not know how many "floating majors" there are, but if the £67 million is to be well spent it is not necessary to encourage redundancy of that kind.
In round figures, there are 33,000 commissioned officers and 368,000 other ranks. The officers will receive about £5 million in extra pay and the other ranks about another £13 million. That seems to be a little short of fair shares.
When the rearmament programme was introduced, in 1951, I am sure no one believed that in 1956 we would be asking for roughly £480 million for the Army. Everybody thought that the programme was for three years, and that thereafter it would tail off. Those "in the know" conveyed the impression that by spending 1507 roughly £4,500 million over three years we would have that position of strength and security which everybody today knows we have not got.
One of the tragedies of this position is that we always tend to look at these Estimates in isolation. We discuss them without reference to the overall economic position of the country. Last week we listened to the new Chancellor of the Exchequer revealing in most sombre language a bleak and foreboding future unless we reduce our expenditure and generally improve our trading position.
The position is so serious that school building has had to be postponed, housing is to be slowed down, local authorities have to be made to bear a much heavier burden. Whatever is said I am certain that the biggest contribution to the economic difficulties facing this nation today is the fact that we are carrying an arms burden which is too heavy for the economy. Unless we can reduce this heavy burden, the country's economy will continue to stagger from crisis to crisis.
I would not like it to be thought that I was criticising the increases which are to be given to the Service men. I believe that there are two categories of people in this country the nature of whose employment is such that they are entitled to the best possible financial rewards that society can give them. They are the members of the Armed Forces and the miners.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I did not include Members of Parliament, although I am sure that there are some hon. Members who are much more in need of a substantial increase in their salaries than the hon. Gentleman.
As I have said, I believe that these increases are justified, but I do not believe that they will solve the problem of recruitment, just as I do not believe that, no matter how much we increase the wages of miners—and I am all for them having the best wages we can give them—the solution of the problem of recruitment for the mines lies in increased wages. A time will always come when a man will say, "I am not prepared to go there for an extra £2, £8, or £10 1508 because of the amenities available for the majority of citizens in other work."
There is no question about it. Those connected with the Services are subjected to much inconvenience, to a lot of moving about. They are not able to get their roots deep down; they are on the move all the time from one spot to another; if they make friends, within a matter of months they are moved to another part of the world, with all that that means—parting from wife and children, or the trouble of settling them if wives and children are taken and the necessity, once again, of making new friends.
I do not believe that in a period of full employment it will be possible to recruit for either the mines or for the forces the manpower which we require. We can make improvements in pay which are perfectly justifiable, but they will not solve the problem. It may be that as a result of the economic policy which is being pursued by the new Chancellor we shall see this country gradually led into unemployment. It may be that if the numbers going to the employment exchanges grow, the forces will grow; but I beg hon. Members opposite to remember that at the same time that they are able to recruit the manpower required for the Services to defend themselves against aggression from Communists abroad they will be creating the very conditions in which Communism will arise internally. There will be no easy way to solve the problem of increasing the Regular Forces.
While I gladly support the increases in the rates of pay for the Regular Forces, having regard to the high cost of living, there is no section of our community which is being treated more shabbily and meanly than the National Service men. To give them an extra 6d. a day hardly pays for the extra Purchase Tax which they have to pay on toilet requisites—as a result of the policy of the last and of the present Chancellor. To treat these young men in that fashion is not only to exploit them but, in many cases, indefensible.
I want now to refer to conscription. Conscription is a moral issue. It is a question whether the State has a right to take young men and, irrespective of their own feelings, to send them where the State likes, when it likes and how it likes—and the least protest and the men find 1509 themselves in the guard room. I cannot understand the attitude of hon. Members opposite who seem to think that there is something very immoral in the Labour Party standing for the nationalisation of certain industries, while themselves having no scruples about taking over young lads.
Why should they object to the State taking over, for instance, the aircraft industry, or the chemical industry, but make no objection to taking over the lads of the nation? I cannot understand it [HON. MEMBERS: "We do."] If they object, why did they not prevent these young men being forced into the Army?
§ Mr. P. Williams
Surely, during the years from 1945, the Labour Party had something to do with conscription.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Of course it did, but the difference is that my hon. Friends on this side of the House do not think that there is anything immoral in nationalising an industry. In that respect, they do not put the material things before human flesh and blood.
§ Mr. John Hall
There is one fundamental and perhaps important difference, and that is that while a nationalised industry tends to remain a nationalised industry, anyone who is called up for National Service has to serve two years before he becomes a free citizen.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
That is the most he has to serve—provided that the Government can keep us out of war, but that is a very important qualification. No man who has done his two years is now guaranteed that he will not have to do another two. In any case, I say quite seriously and frankly that for people to object to the State taking over material things, and not getting boiled up about them taking over human flesh and blood, is something that I admit I do not understand.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
The answer is quite simple. Whereas we on this side are not opposed to nationalisation if it is in the national interest, the hon. Gentleman and his friends believe nationalisation is a good thing in itself. We believe that any degree of nationalisation, whether of industries or manpower, is a bad thing in itself and must be justified on its merits. That is what hon. Gentlemen opposite do not believe.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
If the hon. Gentleman admits that, I am prepared to go on and argue. The hon. Member has, unfortunately, made me lose my couple of cuttings. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I apologise.
I welcomed, in the opening speech of the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, his promise that some of the "bull" was to be cut out. I believe that nothing has been more irksome, and that nothing will do more to make happier the lot of the National Service man than the cutting out of a lot of the stupid, unintelligent and wasteful things that he is compelled to do. I hope that the new electric sweepers and cleaners that are to be introduced will remove, once and for all, the idea that an officer who has had a row with his wife in the morning can make a man scrub the guardroom with a toothbrush, and cut the grass of the lawn with a pair of scissors. [Interruption.] I have travelled in trains with men who have told me of many of these things.
§ Mr. Wilfred Fienburgh (Islington, North)
They must have thought that my hon. Friend was a Royal Marine.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I have here some cuttings from a newspaper, the history of which my hon. Friend wrote. I could quote from these cuttings and then perhaps my hon. Friend, as a journalist, would believe them when he does not believe me.
The truth is that there are scores of National Service men who have had to do the most stupid things; and if anyone believes that that is discipline, or that it encourages them to sign on for nine, twelve or twenty-two years, or whatever may be the period, they do not move in the circles in which I move. If it was not being done, the right hon. Gentleman would not have said this afternoon that it was being cut out. He would not have sent a letter to all the commands stating what they should not do in the future regarding these duties, or whatever term one likes to give them, which have been imposed on National Service men.
I wish to raise another matter which I have raised before during our debates on the Army Estimates, and about which we were given a complete assurance that it would not happen again. It is the question of the intimidation of the National Service men with a view to getting them to sign on for longer periods. It has been 1511 repeatedly brought to the notice of this House that officers have, by threats of one kind or another, tried to compel National Service men to sign on for longer periods—
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
Is the hon. Member saying that officers use threats to make men sign on?
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I am saying that if a man is told that he will be sent to Malaya if he does not sign on, but that if he does sign on he will stay in Germany, that is equivalent to a threat.
§ Mr. Head
This is a rather important point. I know what the hon. Member has in mind. We went into this matter on two occasions, one of them when it was mentioned by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). When I went into it I found that the information given to the soldiers was factual. It was that if they became Regulars they would, as Regulars remain where the group was stationed—I cannot remember the exact place—but that a draft was owing to a battalion, I think it was overseas, and that the draft was composed at this time of National Service men. So the information was factual; that as National Service men they might go overseas but as Regulars they would, at that time, remain at home. That was stated and it was perfectly correct that they should be so informed. But because that was stated, it should not be interpreted by the hon. Gentleman as a threat to recruit National Service men.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
The right hon. Gentleman ought to know that that does not apply to men in the Royal Air Force. I was able to prove that men who would not sign on for three years were sent home and told to await their call-up to the Army, and when I asked whether they would be compelled to do three years in the Army I was told that they would not. We had a debate about this three years ago. I ask the right hon. Gentleman now, what would have happened if all those men had signed on? Suppose the National Service men had all signed on for three years. Would all of them have been kept at home? Of course they would not. It is obvious that some men had to be sent away to Malaya, and this was one of the methods by which an attempt was made to get the necessary increase in the Regulars.
1512 With the standard of intelligence of the British people being what it is, I do not believe that we can ever compel, dragoon or "press gang," as it were, men who do not want to make the Services their career into signing on for longer than is absolutely necessary. It must be done by other methods, by providing better accommodation, better education facilities for their children, and all the other things which the Regulars are most keen to have. We must try to meet them and not measure the cost. Therefore, if we do not have to measure the cost, we must think in terms of smaller numbers than we are now catering for.
I may be an innocent abroad, but in this House my opinion is as important as that of any other hon. Member. I have never believed that the Russians intended to try to conquer the world by military methods. Looking at the history of the Russian people, with the 1914–18 war, the Revolution from 1917 onwards, the famines which followed, then gradually dragging themselves up by their bootlaces to 1940 and 1941, being involved in another war, with tremendous casualties and the scorched earth policy pursued by the two armies—their own in retreat and the Germans when pushed back—plus the famines which again followed and the fact that they built the Iron Curtain around themselves, which I think was an iron curtain of fear—fear that the rest of the world should see how poor and destroyed they were—I do not believe that a people who have had that experience within thirty years could be bullied and dragooned by all the Stalins in the world into waging war again so soon after that experience. It may be wishful thinking, but it is my opinion.
Furthermore, Lord Montgomery is on record as saying that if the Russians had marched in 1948 there was nothing to stop them—we had nothing. If the Russian generals, assuming they wanted war, were so stupid that when they were so powerful and overwhelmingly strong in relation to the West they did not march, I cannot believe that they are likely to march when they see the forces which have been built up now.
I believe, as I believed right from the beginning of the cold war, that the struggle against Communism will be won in the social and economic field rather than on the battlefield. I should like to 1513 think that we as a nation recognise that fact. I should like to think, with my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) that we were making equally big sacrifices to provide the material and technical assistance to those backward races and countries which so desperately need this help. I should like to think that we were making that sacrifice as willingly, gladly and generously as we are prepared to make sacrifices for the Service Estimates.
I believe that the greatest hunting ground of Communism today is the perpetual hunger and disease which faces almost three-fifths of humanity. Unless we can do something about this, I do not believe that we can build peace. No matter what anybody else might say, we see Russia applying the policy of economic penetration and assistance. It is already paying rich dividends in Asia, because the Asians feel, rightly or wrongly, as it appears from such reports that we have, that they can get assistance from the Russians without any strings attached. In the case of the West it always appears that there must be military bases or some other concession before somebody helps us.
I look forward to the day when Estimates will be just as big as they are today, but not for the purpose of sending divisions of British soldiers to Cyprus, Malaya and Kenya, and other places, to wage local wars. The Estimates will be as big for the purpose of sending out doctors, teachers and technicians. They are the only people who can help to win Asia and Africa for the West. Asia and Africa will never be won over to the values of the West by the use of force; but it might be possible, provided effort is made in time and the sacrifice is large enough, to induce those tens of millions of people who, for the first time, are groping their way to a new and higher life, to come over to our way of life and our values.
Time is short; there are other runners in the race; we have some leeway to make up. Therefore, I hope that next year the Estimates will be considerably reduced, and the money saved devoted to the purposes which I have outlined.
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Hughes-Young (Wandsworth, Central)
I hope that the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) 1514 will forgive me if I do not follow what he said too closely, because I wish to take a different line of argument. I warmly welcome the new scales of pay which have been announced in the Estimates. I think they bring the Army much more closely into line with civilian standards, and I am certain that they will encourage young men to join the Armed Forces. Not least, they will produce contentment among the Regular Forces, and contentment is one of the finest means of securing increased recruitment from National Service men.
I wish to make three brief points; two are concerned with the young soldier, and the third concerns the middle-aged or the career soldier. The first matter I wish to put forward concerns the method of reckoning the pay of the Services. Service pay is reckoned in terms of net cash. I will quote from page 13 of the Memorandum, in which, having discussed increases made to men in the Services, it states:These figures exclude the accommodation, food and other issues which the Army makes in kind, and which a civilian would have to buy for himself.We all know that civilian pay is assessed in gross terms, and I feel that this comparison places the soldier at a disadvantage. Men go on leave and meet their civilian friends in the public house. They exchange mutual experiences. The civilian will say that he is earning, say, £8 to £10 a week, and when he asks the soldier what he is earning, he has to say that he is earning less, probably £5 or £6, or not even that. Therefore, he is immediately at a disadvantage compared with his civilian opposite number.
What the soldier has not explained, although he probably knows it, is that he has been talking in terms of his spending money whereas the civilian has been talking in terms of the gross cash which he draws in and has not said how much he must pay out next day for board and lodging, fuel and light or housekeeping to his wife. The soldier is probably much the better off, but comes off worse in the argument.
I should like my right hon. Friend to see whether he can devise a method whereby the soldier is acquainted every week with the gross pay which he has earned. I have discussed this matter with various regimental commanding officers, 1515 who have agreed that the soldier should have his pay explained to him in terms of his gross earnings. Some have even gone so far as to say that they would like to see the soldier paid, in cash each week, the gross amount which he has earned and then have money for board and lodgings, and so on, withdrawn the next day over another table.
I was surprised to hear that, because I thought it would be administratively an impossible task, but they told me that since my day in the Army members of the Royal Army Pay Corps have been attached to battalion and company headquarters. I was certainly encouraged lo hear that commanding officers attached so much importance to letting the soldier know what is his full earning capacity and that they were prepared to go to so much trouble to bring it to his notice.
The second question is that of a National Service man taking on a Regular engagement. If a National Service man wishes to sign on for a further period his Regular service counts from the time he signs on. I think that is unfair and, what is more important, the men in the Services think it is unfair; and I suggest that that is a point to which my right hon. Friend should give attention.
I suggest that the National Service man who decides to sign on for a Regular term, provided he does so in the first half of his National Service, should be allowed to count his Regular service from the day he was called up. At least that would give the Regular Army one additional year's service from that man—and a very valuable year, because he would be a fully trained soldier. I realise that this suggestion would be difficult to introduce in view of the new pay terms, but I am certain that if my right hon. Friend were to accept it he could easily devise some method of reconciling it with the new pay code.
The third point affects the middle-age or career soldier. I should say that the career soldier nowadays is fairly well satisfied with his pay under the new pay code and also with his retirement terms. I do not think that his worry today is financial. His worry arises over his family's security. My right hon. Friend quoted the Wiltshire Regiment, which had had ten moves since 1948.
§ Mr. Hughes-Young
The Worcesters. Imagine the position of a soldier with a family of children of school age having to make ten moves. That is an impossible situation for any man. Despite all the disturbance allowances he receives, he must be very much out of pocket. Many men in the Services have told me that provided they can get a reasonable amount of leave, and can be flown home fairly often, they would prefer to have their families, when they have growing children, in married quarters at home. I am referring to decent married quarters for permanent use while the husband is abroad; and the husband should be flown home at regular intervals.
Since the war, the country has spent very large sums of money in building married quarters which have since been evacuated; and, most seriously, I put it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War that a sizeable sum might be saved from the building of married quarters overseas by concentrating on building them at home. Families could live a settled life, and men could be brought back to their families.
These points are not necessarily points which I have thought of, but have been put to me after long consultations with commanding officers of regiments who are, after all, most closely in touch with military opinion. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will say that he can give them his attention
§ 11.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Dodds (Erith and Crayford)
For some hours I have listened to hon. Members and have wanted particularly to congratulate the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) on what, in my opinion, was one of the best contributions that we have had to a debate of this type. He raised some important matters, and his presentation of his case will, I feel sure, be long remembered. I hope that the Government will be persuaded to take serious note of what the hon. Gentleman has said for, if it does, the job of those who have to deal with the Services will have been made much easier.
Apart from anything else, I wonder whether the hon. Member knows what success he has already obtained in that, for the first time in many years, he persuaded my hon. Friend the Member for 1517 South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) to agree on at least one thing which has been said in this debate—the desire for a committee of investigation. That was an achievement. It was refreshing to hear those two warriors in wordy warfare agreeing on that particular point, to which hon. Members on both sides have made reference.
However, what concerns me is that while so many intelligent hon. Members on both sides have tried to solve the intricate problems, a simple person such as I am wonders why they did not try to solve some of the very easy ones. For example, I would like to raise a matter of considerable importance, but it is not one for which it is necessary to set up a committee of investigation. I am convinced that in this new-found desire to make the Services attractive this one matter appears to have been ignored; and, before I put it before the House I should like to say how much I enjoyed the speech by the Secretary of State for War.
Of all the matters which are discussed on the Army Estimates, I am interested in the tremendous effort to make the Army an attractive organisation where men can be men and not, as in the past, simply "skivvies." To night we are discussing the Army, and the increased rates of pay; and there is information about getting rid of some of the fatigues and "spit and polish" which I never expected would have been got rid in my days as an hon. Member of this House. Labour-saving devices are being installed. Some of the old "brass hats" would have turned in their graves these last few days if they could have known of the changes which have been made and that things which for so many centuries have been thought absolutely essential for making a man a good soldier have been dispensed with.
I wish to follow up a point made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). He referred to the deplorable state of our barracks. I am aware of statements recently made about getting rid of the Army slums, and, had I not personal experience, not only of seeing some barracks recently, but of correspondence with the War Office, I should have been quite satisfied that great things were happening. I can 1518 only assume that this transformation in thinking has come about in the last few days, and that the correspondence which I received was written before the change of mind.
Priorities are mentioned in connection with getting rid of the Army slums, but Woolwich Barracks do not figure among those priorities. Those barracks are not very many miles from this House, and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for War will take the trouble to visit them and see their condition for himself, I am sure that while many men in the Forces will be rejoicing at the new state of mind which has come about, those using Woolwich Barracks will be very sceptical about the new idea of making conditions attractive.
One hon. and gallant Member mentioned a conversation which he had with a serving soldier. The man said, "The pay is all right, but the Army is all wrong." That is the view of the men at Woolwich Barracks. Whatever has been done about pay cannot satisfy those who have to put up with the deplorable conditions at Woolwich. The building of those barracks began in 1782 and was completed in 1802. On 7th February, I asked a Question about the Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich. I asked when the rebuilding of the barracks would begin and when it would be completed. The Secretary of State for War replied:We plan to start in 1958.I then asked what was to be done in the intervening period to make the conditions in the barracks tolerable for the men who would have to stay there until the barracks were rebuilt. The Minister replied:We are spending about £100,000 a year on the maintenance of those barracks and I believe that to increase that figure too much would be a waste of money when we intend to rebuild the barracks in two years' time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th February, 1956; Vol. 548, c. 1482.]I was appalled at that answer and the frame of mind behind it. I have had the opportunity of visiting several prisons, and I claim that the conditions in those prisons are infinitely better than those in Woolwich Barracks.
With a little imagination and a little money, the conditions could be altered and the barracks made habitable. So could many other places. A few com- 1519 bustion stoves would alter the whole aspect for the people now condemned to use Woolwich Barracks. In the very cold weather, the towels which are put on the rail in the mornings are frozen stiff when the men come back in the evening. When the weather is cold and damp the men cannot use the underwear that is left in the barrack building because it gets too damp.
The hot-water system in the barracks is one of the most ancient I have ever seen, yet the War Office had the audacity to tell me that the gas water-heaters are suitable for the job, because they work. One small gas water-heater serves 30 men and the maximum hot water from one heater before it runs cold is two buckets. That will suffice for only 10 men out of the 30. In the morning it is the first 10 who get the warm water; the rest have to go without. There are at times 60 men to use one gas water-heater. What an astonishing state of affairs for barracks in the largest city in the world.
There are intelligent men in those barracks who might have been attracted to Regular service, but as it is no amount of money in pay would make them stay on for more than their two years. A little imagination would transform the situation. The windows, so high up in the building that the men cannot clean them, are thick with cobwebs. We have recently heard in this House about nearly a quarter of a million gallons of paint being sold as surplus. A little of it would transform the barracks, but it is surplus and it has to be sold.
I could go on talking about the conditions at Woolwich. I apologise that my lack of command of the English language does not enable me to give an adequate picture of the horrible conditions that are there. Some hon. Members may think that I have overstressed them. I am, therefore, grateful to the Kentish Independent which, a few days ago, reported a speech by the Commanding Officer of the Barracks, Brigadier R. H. Hudson, D.S.O., A.D.C. He is reported as saying:You have heard that we are going to be rebuilt in 1958. I would say that that can be taken with a pinch of salt.He went on to refer to the places I visited, and to me. He said:The places he went to were, naturally, the worst.1520 Nevertheless, he felt that the remarks I made would provide a chance of more money being allocated to improve the conditions. An ex-bombardier referred to the place as, "a rat-infested, damp, unclean and uninhabitable pigsty." I thoroughly agree with those remarks. With a very limited amount of money conditions could be made tolerable until the barracks are rebuilt, but because of complete lack of imagination these deplorable conditions continue at Woolwich Barracks.
This afternoon I got a Written Answer about the rebuilding of Woolwich Barracks. They are to be completed in 10 years after the start in 1958, which means 1968, and only then, as the Answer says, if we are lucky. It is absolutely wrong that the War Office does not now provide elementary amenities by the use of a little imagination and not a lot of money, so that the men could make use of the barracks in the meantime.
Tonight I have to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), who has taken up a speaking engagement of mine so that I could get this question of Woolwich Barracks "off my chest". He being a good comrade, asked whether I would do something for him while he was working on my behalf outside the House. He asked me to bring to the attention of the House a question which he has raised with the War Office and he hopes that in this matter, too, there has been a change of heart in the last few days.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West is a constituent of mine and lives close to Woolwich. The fact which he has brought to the attention of the Under-Secretary of State for War concerns a state of affairs which, in these enlightened times, might be altered by eliminating some of the "spit and polish" which has been mentioned. The traffic problem in Woolwich is bad because the streets are busy and, as it is a garrison town, groups of two, three or four soldiers are moved frequently from one part of the town to the other; and they are quite a nuisance to the traffic as they have to march along the roads.
This is what the Under-Secretary of State for War wrote to my hon. Friend:Drafts vary in size from one individual upwards, and drafting procedure requires complete drafts to move about the depot and garrison area to attend the medical inspection 1521 room, etc. It is, I am afraid, quite impracticable to have small drafts moving about the depot and garrison area uncontrolled and to allow this to happen would, I fear, invite many more complaints from the public of the unsoldierlike way troops in Woolwich amble about the garrison area '. Drafts of up to three march about in single file, up to six in files of two, and over six in columns of threes.My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West believes that if two or three soldiers want to go from one part of Woolwich to another it is wrong, in the prevailing traffic conditions, for them to take up the roadway under the charge of a lance-corporal, bellowing out orders. The general public does not think more of the Army because of two or three men being marched along the street, holding up the traffic, when they could be trusted to walk from point to point alone on the pavements.
I ask the hon. Gentleman why this is necessary for the discipline of the Forces? If the excuse is that complaints come from the public about the sloppy appearance of the men, then I can tell him that it is nothing compared with what the public thinks about the stupid regulations which insist that this should take place in the crowded streets of Woolwich. I hope, therefore, that there will be a change of heart in this matter.
I want now to refer to something which, I regret to say, was not referred to by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech, namely, the awful conditions of married quarters. It is possible, of course, that this was overlooked or the right hon. Gentleman's speech was considered to be long enough. In Woolwich, there are some married quarters attached to the barracks. Any hon. Member can see for himself the conditions under which senior N.C.Os. and their families have to live if he cares to visit the married quarters in Brookhill Road, Woolwich. The front doors have no knockers or bells. There are not even letter boxes and postmen have to try to push letters under the doors and, of course, under the carpets. There are not the elementary facilities which a human being would expect, and the insides of the houses have to be seen to be believed.
Those are conditions in which married men have to live. The men probably applied for married quarters from 100 or 150 miles away and it was not until they arrived that they found the horrible con- 1522 ditions in which they and their families would have to try to live. With a little imagination and a little money, the conditions could be altered. Together with the increases in pay and the changes about "spit and polish", it is vital to improve living conditions, especially when it is known that quantities of paint and whitewash which could have been used on barrack accommodation and married quarters have been sold.
I hope that in referring to Woolwich I have drawn attention to conditions which must apply in other parts of the country. While there is room for congratulating the Government on the efforts to he made in getting rid of slum barracks, in the meantime the utmost should be done to ensure that barracks and married quarters are treated with imagination, so that they may be made inhabitable. Without that, it will be more difficult to get the required Regular Forces and get rid of the wasteful National Service. Far too little attention has been paid to these problems.
§ 11.32 p.m.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
I followed with interest the remarks which the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) made about accommodation. I feel that much of what he said applies to parts of the Army's accommodation in places other than Woolwich. I bear in mind that in my constituency, Aldershot, there is still a barracks which has accommodation for troops above and accommodation for horses below. No horses are there, but apparently that is the only purpose for which that accommodation is available.
I believe very strongly indeed that the recent pay increases—I should like to congratulate the Secretary of State for War on being able to bring them in—by themselves will not be enough to obtain the men necessary for an effective Regular Army. It is not sufficient for my right hon. Friend to say that the Government are going ahead with a building programme which will be completed in twenty years. That is much too long a time in which to seek to build the accommodation that is so necessary.
The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford was right in saying that a little ingenuity would make the barracks better and would improve conditions for the soldier, but I am not satisfied that the 1523 position about married quarters is as satisfactory. I have had an opportunity of looking over various kinds of married quarters. The modern ones are excellent, but the old ones are shocking. I do not think that anything, except wholesale gutting, would possibly achieve the results that we want. If that is so, I beg the Secretary of State for War to treat this matter as one of urgency and, if necessary, of competition with the ordinary necessities of civilian housing.
Time and again, I get the most pathetic stories from people connected with the Service, the wives and relatives of Service personnel. It should not be possible for this sort of thing to happen: the wife of a sergeant who has been posted to Korea is told that there is no accommodation for her, and that in a week she will become what is called an "illegal occupant," and she will have to pay an additional 12s. a week until such time as the court makes an order for her to go. That is a case which occurred just a day or two ago, and is the sort of case that does so much harm. It is hard to believe how pay of any kind can really compensate for that sort of thing. I therefore beg the Secretary of State for War to pay particular attention to pressing forward particularly for married quarters.
I desire to make only one other point, but I think it is one of substance. The second most important thing after accommodation is certainty of employment. A man who goes into the Service really wants to feel that he has a job for life and that he will, if he does his job well, be employed during a useful life and will not be turned out at 40 to 45 because there is not a job for him. That has to be done if one is to engage people of the right type to come into the Services.
There is no security of tenure for people, either other ranks or officers, under existing conditions, and I would think that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Defence would be particularly concerned with this matter, in view of his close study of such questions when he was Minister of Labour. One gets a man like a caterer warrant officer who, at 42 or 43, is told that he will be out of the Service in another year or so. He writes to me, saying, "Can you do anything to ensure that I, as a 1524 fit man who has always had a good record, can find employment after 44 or 45?"
I write to the War Office and I am told that there is no employment for him. Again, that is most frustrating, though that may be an inadequate word for it. But when it is known generally that that sort of thing can happen it does not make the right sort of men anxious to go into the Regular Service.
Nothing much has been said so far during this debate about the 300 Royal Artillery majors who are being got rid of—and I do not say that in any unpleasant sense, but merely because they are redundant to requirements. It is very hard for a man not to know what is his position. They vary in age between 40 and 45 and they do not know what will happen to them. It may be that they will be out of the Service with no guarantee and this is very important—that there will be no employment available for them. This bulge applies to other ranks as well as to that of major, because the opportunities for promotion are so much less now; for during the war, thank goodness, there were not so many casualties.
The Secretary of State should do a great deal of thinking about the officer position. The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) said that there were too many officers and, for different reasons, I agree with him in regard to junior officers. It used to be described by the phrase, "The base of the pyramid is too large." It would do no harm, in my opinion, if, instead of having five officers to a company there were two or three. That would provide more opportunity for promotion for junior officers in the future and I do not believe that the Service would suffer. It would be a good thing if a special effort in that direction were made by the Minister of Defence with a view to getting a satisfied Regular Army.
Some other form of Government service should be found for these men of 40 to 45, who are probably quite able and fit. I believe that we have taken a right step in increasing the pay, but I beg the Secretary of State not to think that is all that needs to be done. He should look on it as an instalment with the hope of more to come.
§ 11.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
In October, 1951, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) and I were disputing about who should represent in this House the then constituency of Fulham, East. I am sure that it did not occur to me then that I should find myself supporting an Amendment he had moved, and still less did it occur to him that he would find himself moving an Amendment which a Conservative Front Bench is extremely unlikely to accept. But I can assure the hon. Gentleman—I speak not only for myself, but for other hon. Friends of mine—that, provided he does not allow himself to be either bullied or deluded into withdrawing the Amendment, he will not have to go into the Lobby alone in support of it.
In arguing his case for the appointment of a committee, with very wide terms of reference, to inquire into the Army, the hon. Member raised the question of what the function of the Army is imagined to be in the event of a war waged with nuclear weapons. It is an extremely important question, and I doubt whether anyone at present could give a firm answer.
A little while ago, through the courtesy that is extended to hon. Members of the House by the War Office, some of us were able to see certain manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain. "Southland", "Westland" and "Redland" waged mimic warfare against one another. In the old days, I believe, the "Reds" were always our own forces and the "Blues" the enemy. I think it has been changed about in recent years.
One of these great "Powers" fired off an atomic cannon—or, since it was an exercise, it was deemed to have fired it off. It is true, also, that the umpires deemed that the shot had landed on a place already occupied by a large concentration of their own forces, but none the less the whole thing was extremely impressive. That happened, I think, because the forces had got there before it was expected and they were quite prepared, as a matter of sensible military action, not to fire off the atomic cannon, but by that time half a dozen Members of the House and a large number of military correspondents and attachés had arrived, determined to see what the mock 1526 explosion was like, and as a matter of courtesy it had to go on.
§ Mr. Stewart
Seriously, there was something to be learned from the exercise. Many of us who watched it went away wondering whether all this was on the assumption that warfare would be waged with troops over a vast terrain, of the size of the Continent of Europe, with both sides, presumably, firing off atomic cannon but the use of nuclear weapons stopping at that point. If war is ever waged on that scale, in an area like that, with both sides already beginning to use atomic weapons, it seems to me extremely unlikely that it would stop at that stage.
That is one of the reasons for my saying that I do not believe anyone can give a firm answer as yet to the question of what the purpose of the Army is likely to be in the event of a major war, or if, indeed, it could have any function other than that of rescue and an attempt to preserve some semblance of ordered life in a stricken country. If the matter were examined by a properly constituted committee, we might well get an answer that might make our military planning more satisfactory.
But if we are not sure about that. I think we can be quite certain what the rôle of the Army is in what is sometimes called limited war and sometimes cold war. I am never quite sure of the exact definition given to both these terms. It is like the Near East and the Middle East, which now occupy a totally different place on the map from what they did when I learnt geography at school.
We are all quite certain what the rôle of the Army is in that kind of conflict, and a very important and useful rôle it is. Indeed, to those of us whose both Service and political experience has been with the Army rather than with the other Services, it is rather gratifying today to find that it is no longer the Army that is considered to be the completely outmoded and "Blimpish" Service. The Navy appears to be cast for that rôle at present, and some of us derive a certain amount of gratification from that.
I want to address myself to the question of the rôle of the Army in the limited war, or the cold war. By these terms I mean a conflict in which it is clear 1527 that the people waging it are not going all-out to raise the stakes to the use of nuclear weapons. We have had in recent years striking examples of what is the function of the British Army. I will give one instance: We have recently had in this country representatives of the people of Malaya, carrying through the final stages in the achievement of self-government for that country.
How has this become possible? Some of the credit must go to my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and to his predecessor at the Colonial Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones), for the policy of beginning to advance the Malayan people towards self-government. Credit must also go to the present Government for continuing that policy.
Soon after it was known that the British Government were resolved on an operation of this kind in Malaya, a campaign was launched with the deliberate intention of frustrating our policy. It is significant that there are plenty of imperial territories in the world, worse governed than any under British rule, which are left untouched by Communist propaganda and subversion. It is known that these territories can be left for a decade or so, when they will still be as ripe for the creation of unrest as they are today. On the other hand, there are parts of our Commonwealth and Empire which, if left alone for a decade, would then be standing on their own feet, immune from subversion.
Thus a campaign of murder and terrorism was launched in Malaya. It would have been impossible to have reached the present stage of advancement if that campaign had not been held in check. That had to be done largely by the use of British troops. Much credit must also go, therefore, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), who were at the War Office during that time, and who had to cope with the ugly, unhappy task of seeing that men were available for that kind of work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) said he hoped that the Estimates would increase, but would take 1528 the form of Britain sending out doctors and teachers to parts of the world for which we are responsible. I share that wish. I would only ask who were the most deliberately chosen victims of terrorism in Malaya? They were the teachers. They were the people through whom the advance of the Malayans to self-government could be achieved. What happens at the present time in Kenya? It is possible for a teacher to go into a school and to find scrawled on the board "Anyone teaching in this school after next Monday will be killed."
§ Mr. William Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that in Kenya it is Communist subversion as well?
§ Mr. Stewart
No, we have to struggle against two enemies: deliberate Communist subversion in Malaya, and in Kenya, the force of Mau Mau, which is not a voice from the present or the future, but from the past; it is the rejection not only of British rule but of the whole of twentieth century life. It seems to me that there is no possible future for the people of Kenya in a movement of that kind. My argument is that while it is of desperate importance to have a just and progressive policy in a country such as Kenya, it is necessary to prevent that policy from being frustrated by terrorism and cruelty.
Of course, the people to whom most credit is due for the progress which has been made in our Imperial territories are the young men in the Forces, without whose determination and valour none of this could have been achieved. That is a large part of what we are discussing tonight. It is a great reason for which it is important that these young men should be properly housed, properly clothed, properly trained, properly paid and enabled to live as self-respecting human-beings.
I have justified in certain circumstances the use of force, but let there be no doubt about this: the use of force anywhere is an ugly and brutal business, and whenever it is being used it is always possible to pick out particular incidents or to take particular photographs which high-light public attention on the fact that a large part of the government of mankind is still a nasty and brutal business. It is no good trying to pin the blame for that on a particular Government, and still less 1529 on a particular regiment or a particular soldier.
Let us turn to the question of some of the conditions which govern the life of this soldier. I am afraid that what I have to say will be very much bits and pieces, but, I hope, bits and pieces not without some value. On the question of weapons, I want to raise a point about the FN rifle, about which we have argued so much. It will not be disputed that the major reason given for preferring the Belgian to the British rifle—and many of us considered that the British rifle, apart from our natural predilections for it because it was British, was the better weapon—was to achieve standardisation. It was not merely a question of the standardisation of ammunition, which could have been done with the British rifle, which was adapted to meet the point. The whole object was to get standardisation of the rifle.
We understand now, as we understood last year, that Canada is using this rifle. I ask—and I hope the question will be answered at the end of the debate—who else is using it? What other nation has adopted it? I am not interested in what anyone hopes or expects may happen; I want to know simply in order to compare the answer with that of 12 months ago. Is anybody else, other than Canada, using it at present? If the answer is, "No," the main reason that this rifle was preferred to the British rifle has been shown to be a delusion.
Let me turn to some other matters which the Secretary of State mentioned in his interesting speech. I am very glad to hear that we are to have an inquiry into the possibility of waste time in the Forces. I have always held the view that there is no one golden remedy, no one stroke of policy, which will end the waste time in the Forces. This abuse will grow and grow unless it is constantly guarded against, and if a new committee and a set of fresh minds looking at it will help, so much the better.
May I suggest one aspect of waste time which may be considered and which is not usually mentioned? When waste time is mentioned people usually think of soldiers in the ranks or National Service men wasting their time on fatigues, and no doubt that needs to be investigated, but I am of the opinion, as I have said before, that insufficient use is made of 1530 the energy and abilities of junior officers, particularly junior National Service officers. For example, I have been reading the magazine of a school which contributes a considerable number of National Service officers; practically all its boys who do their National Service get commissions. They were asked about their experiences in the Army and practically all of them complained that they had not enough to do. That is a point which this committee could look into.
I was glad to hear about the Army Council letter to the effect that while discipline on essentials must be strict it must be confined to essentials. One must not go ordering a man about for the mere pleasure of giving him orders. The idea that it does a senior person good to order a man about, or that it does good to the soldier himself, is simply nonsense. I was very gratified to learn that, because I ventured to say exactly the same thing during discussion of the Army Estimates in 1952; and the idea which I put forward then that we can keep the Army in being even if we inquire whether there is not too much "spit and polish," was greeted by hearty laughter from the benches opposite.
One may be tempted at times to wonder whether it is any use making speeches here at all, but I am encouraged now because what I said four years ago has now been incorporated in an Army instruction. Another thing to which I referred in my speech of four years ago was the desirability of improvements in the buildings and organisation of the Army apprentices' schools. The reply which I received to that was simply that I might have attended to it during the years when I was myself at the War Office. That, if I may say so, was obviously not a very constructive reply, and there were some other matters of very real importance to attend to in those years; among them, we were then engaged in "breaking the back" of the married quarters problem.
However, I am glad that the buildings and organisation of the Army apprentices' schools are now regarded as matters of importance. I should like to say more on this topic, but fear that I might land myself in trouble with my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds), who was worried about labour and resources for the rebuilding of 1531 Woolwich Barracks. But he did not seek much labour or many resources for these barracks, and said that he was indebted to his hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell) who, I am sorry to say, cannot join us in this debate tonight.
But perhaps I might here say that we shall shortly be joined by another of our friends on this side of the House; for I learn that 13,388 people have voted for him in West Walthamstow as against 4,184 who voted for the representative of the party opposite, and the 3,037 who voted for the Liberal candidate, and the 89 who supported an Independent. This shows, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West remarked earlier today, that we must not always suppose that the British people are always wrong in their judgment.
However, I must address myself seriously to the Secretary of State for War and his Under-Secretary for the amount of attention which they have given to inquiries, both oral and written, which some of us have addressed to them in recent months on the question of the Army apprentices' schools. I thank them, but there are some questions which I want to press.
First, the nature of the discipline in these schools. Unless a change has been made recently, it can happen that if a boy commits what would be regarded elsewhere as an ordinary breach of school discipline, he will find himself on a charge in the same way as would an ordinary adult soldier, and he will find that he can be punished by being put into detention. There has been a report on this subject, but we do not know from any available information whether this kind of thing has yet been stopped.
I am quite sure that it ought to be. So far as it is necessary to use punishment at all, it ought to be the kind of punishment that would be used in any good school. The general method of enforcing discipline ought to be modelled on a good school and should not be a dwarf-like imitation of adult Army discipline. I think that one has to begin from that understanding.
I also asked earlier—and, again, I am sure that I am right in saying that I have not received a specific answer to this—whether the recommendation that these schools should be inspected by the 1532 Ministry of Education has yet been put into force. I am sure that it ought to be. It is important for the Army to get good educational opinion from outside. After all, the Army cannot be a repository of the best educational knowledge—that is not what an army is for—any more than one would go to the Ministry of Education for advice on how to manage the Army; at least, I hope not.
How far would it be possible to go in getting civilian instructors for these schools? I ask that in no denigration of any work being done at present, but I am inclined to think that, in the long run, this work would be better done by civilians. If I understood aright, some of the N.C.Os. at this school are to be sent for a week's course to the Outward Bound School. Am I to understand that they will be boy apprentices or some of the staff at the school? I think that they will be the boys.
It is an interesting proposal. I am sure that it cannot do any harm, but I hope that the Minister will not imagine that it is going to do very much good. It is not possible to produce any serious effect on anybody's character in a week, or even a month. There is no royal road to creating the atmosphere of a good school in a short time and without spending a certain amount of money. If these schools are to be what they ought to be, we shall have to get proper staff and proper buildings.
On the question of buildings, I wish to refer, in particular, to the Chepstow school about which the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary, has already been extremely obliging in writing to me at great length. I understand that the last obstacle to the erection of new buildings for that school has now been removed. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman can give a date by which the school will be able to open in its new buildings. In the meantime, will he look yet again at what is needed to be done to make the existing buildings reasonably habitable even for the period between now and when the new premises are available?
I know that a good deal of money has already been spent, but I wonder whether the War Office satisfied itself that during the recent very cold weather the rooms in which the boys sleep were really at a tolerable temperature, whether the money which had been spent, among 1533 other things, on stoves had resulted in enough stoves in the right places to make it possible to get through that very cold period tolerably. I wonder, too, whether the hon. Gentleman would look at what can be done to improve the quality of the cooking at the school
One other thing about Army apprentices schools. I know that this is an extremely vexed question, but I am of opinion that one must look again at the question of boys who get into the Army and, later, want to get out of it. I know that they can buy themselves out, or that their parents can, if they are inclined to do so and have the money; and that allowance is made for the fact that some parents have only limited means. I am not sure whether we ought not to abandon the principle of buying out as far as boys are concerned. There are risks and dangers, and the practice is liable to abuse by parents who find it convenient to hand their boys over to the Army to feed, clothe and educate and then feel that they have no further obligation in the matter.
I wonder whether the amount of abuse would be so great. I do not like the idea of a boy being kept in a regimental unit, or in an apprentice school, or as a band boy, against his will. I am not talking about a sudden burst of disinclination when something has gone wrong, but when it is apparent that the boy hates the life. I doubt whether we ought to argue with the parents about only being able to let him out if a sum of money is forthcoming. I know that the matter has been looked at before and that a satisfactory solution was not found, but now might be a time to look at it again.
We hope that the boldly conceived new pay code will have the success which we have in mind for it, but that will be all the pay increase for some little while. We must, therefore, look next at conditions of all kinds and at all the little points which seem so silly when we bring them up in this House but which affect the kind of life that soldiers have to live.
§ 12.12 a.m.
§ Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)
I am sure that you will excuse me, Sir, if I do not emulate the example of many hon. Members by making a long speech. 1534 I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) on the way in which he introduced his Amendment, which I am pleased to support.
We have been asked by the Government to restrict spending and the banks have imposed a squeeze of 10 per cent. on their customers. We are discussing Estimates running into about £472 million of which £91 million relates to civilian labour. My right hon. Friend should make an attempt to cut civilian labour in the Army by at least 10 per cent., because a great deal of it is not being properly used. It is widely known that there is waste of this manpower. It would be difficult for any commanding officer in charge of any camp to deny that there are many cases of three people doing the work of two. Industry would be only too willing to absorb civilian labour from the Army. We have heard that suggestion that we should have a Regular Army of about 200,000 men. It is estimated that there are 210,000 civilians employed by the Army; so it will mean that we shall have rather more than one civilian to look after each soldier.
Another great economy for my right hon. Friend today would be to cut down the purchase of paper by one-third. The paper has to be printed on, someone has to send it out, and someone fills up forms and sends them back. I doubt whether a great deal of the paper sent out by the War Office or by the commands is seriously read by anyone who gets it. I hope, therefore, that during the coming year my right hon Friend will make every attempt to see whether he cannot cut the civilian labour by at least 10 per cent.
§ 12.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
To those hon. Members who have been accustomed to attending these debates on the Army Estimates in recent years there seems to have been a remarkable consensus of opinion expressed in this debate up to now. I find the situation to be astonishing. It is due in part to the outstanding speech of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), whose realistic and candid tone seems to have made it difficult for hon. Members who have so consistently opposed any idea of an independent or 1535 continuing investigation into the structure and organisation of the Army to express themselves.
I recall, not in any churlish way, that not long ago the majority of the House rejected completely the idea of having such an investigation. In spite of the fact that the same factors, the discovery and universal possession of the hydrogen bomb, then existed, with, therefore, the lack of necessity to build up any further reserves, and the consequent obsolescence of weapons, nevertheless, only twelve months ago, the view was generally taken that no such investigation as this was required.
Now we find, on almost all sides apparently, that it is agreed, and enthusiastically propounded, that there should be a continuing inquiry into the question of not only the structure and organisation of the Army, but into the basic policies and purposes underlying it. This is in tune with certain other remarkable developments—remarkable to those who, perhaps small in number, have followed these affairs in recent times. Of course, it was not long ago that we were told by the present Secretary of State that there was no case for a civilian inquiry into manpower wastage in the Army.
There were some unpopular hon. Members who agitated to draw attention to certain features of Army life which they thought were obsolete and contrary to the principles of national economy, and they customarily received the answer, at Question Time, that there was nothing at all in what they said, that everything was all right at Wellington Barracks, or wherever it might be. There was resistance to any idea of having civilians brought in from outside to inquire into the alleged wastage of the employment of Service men. This, of course, was on a par with the idea that the introduction of the three-year engagement would solve the problem of recruiting for the Regular Army. It was forecast that this was the key to success, that the short-term engagement would enormously increase the volunteer element of the Army so as to enable us to dispense with conscription.
Tonight, I feel in a sufficiently generous mood to welcome these features of the Secretary of State's new policy, namely, to appoint some civilians to inquire into 1536 manpower wastage and the admission that recruiting policy has been an almost a total failure in the last few years and that, as is described in the White Paper on the new pay proposals, an entirely new policy involving entirely new departures has had to be made.
Those things enormously reinforce the case made by the hon. Member for Wycombe. If the demand for an investgation made by some hon. Members some years ago had been met we would have avoided some of the difficulties of Army and defence policy which are now apparent, and which now compel present defence Ministers to change their policies. We might have achieved something already. Such inquiries did achieve something during the war and during the period of the Labour Government. It will be recalled that a number of such inquiries were held between 1945 and 1950.
I do not wish to make any partisan point. There had to be agitation for those inquiries and hon. Members had to kick up a row; but that series of manpower inquiries achieved something towards getting greater economy in the use of manpower and suggesting necessary reforms in the structure of the Army. I welcome the decision of the Secretary of State to establish on a small and limited scale a new, civilian manpower inquiry, because I am sure that something will be achieved in that sphere.
I very much welcome the new pay proposals. They bear out the criticisms that have been made over the last three years about the three-year engagement. I am bound to say that although hon. Members may have different views about the things said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), on this occasion he can certainly appear in the rôle of a prophet. Those hon. Members who have followed these affairs—and those who have not can refer to the debates on them—will know that some time ago my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley forecast exactly what has happened. He forecast that the offer of a short-term engagement would not result in accretion of the necessary man-years to the Army to enable it to tackle what is, to so many hon. Members, the really serious problem today.
Having dealt with the two unwelcome features of the Secretary of State's policy, 1537 which so much reinforce the case for inquiry that has been made in this debate, that brings me to the very grave disappointment that the right hon. Gentle- man is still unable to do anything about conscription. The fact that his policy has saddled the country with conscription for a number of years is causing an increasing amount of anxiety and hostility among the people. I believe that the Government should not under-estimate the feeling on this question. I am convinced that there is a very strong feeling among the masses of the people that there has been a breach of faith on this subject of conscription.
So often have politicians talked about "this temporary measure" of National Service and the extension of the period of National Service for a "temporary period", but it has gone on year after year, and the various excuses and reasons for continuing it have changed over that period. There is a very strong feeling that the country simply cannot afford this burden of two years' conscription and the inflationary pressure of the Army's demands.
There is a strong feeling that the leaders of the two main political parties committed themselves, at the time of the outbreak of the Korean war, to the idea that as soon as the emergency, as it was called, was over there would be a reduction in the period of National Service, and that constructive measures would be taken to dispense with the necessity for conscription. These measures have not been taken, or, rather, such measures as have been taken, such as the introduction of the three-year Regular engagement, have been futile. They have not achieved the result intended, of putting the Army back on a voluntary basis.
The result, therefore, is that today we are, unlike so many other countries, still carrying this very heavy burden, with all its problems of interference with family life, industrial training, education, and all the rest, with very little real hope of doing anything about it. That is a very grave disappointment at a time when it is clear that the commitments of the Army have been seriously reduced over a period of years.
One of the principal reasons which is so often put forward for the necessity of conscription has been undermined. It 1538 is now fairly fully revealed—perhaps this is part of the reason for having an investigation—that the continuance of conscription is due to the failure of the Government's recruitment policy, that it is not due so much to these commitments, to which reference is so often made—though a more progressive colonial policy might relieve us of some of the military necessities in that respect—but to the fact that the Government have not pursued a successful policy of voluntary recruitment; and they are now adopting proposals to rectify their errors.
I wish to turn from that to another subject which I think should be in vestigated, that of the selection of officers for the Army. From time to time in these debates we have discussed the question of getting a more representative and efficient method of selection of officers in the Army. We want to ensure that those who become officers are selected on their merits. We want to take measures to get rid of the financial obstacles as well as the social snobbery which has so confined the selection of officers for the Army.
I am disturbed very much by evidence of the introduction of political bias into the selection of officers for the Army. A number of cases have been raised in the House recently, to do with the procedure of the War Office selection boards and particular individual cases. I have the permission of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird) to mention one of them. His, son is at present serving in the Marines, and a short time ago he was recommended to go before a War Office selection board.
I have no idea whether he is qualified to become an officer, but I have a very strong belief that officers in the Services should be selected on the basis of their mental and physical capacity and their capacity for leadership. It is not disputed that when he went before the board for an interview he was cross-examined as follows. He was asked, first, "Is your father a Labour Member of Parliament?" He was then asked, "Is your father a Bevanite?" Thirdly, he was asked, "What are your politics?" I think that is a very shocking system of cross-examining candidates who have been recommended to go before a War Office selection board to be considered as officers.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
If that is true, I am horrified. But can the hon. Member prove it? Has he written evidence of the questions?
§ Mr. Swingler
This is the evidence of Marine J. K. Baird, and it has not been denied. It has been taken up with the Under-Secretary of State for War, and it has not been denied that these questions were put to him in that form. Indeed, in a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for War an attempt was made to justify them.
§ Mr. Swingler
He was recommended from the Marines to go before a War Office selection board for a commission in the Army, and it was before the War Office selection board that this took place. The matter was taken up with the Under-Secretary of State, who did not attempt to deny that these questions about politics were put, but attempted to justify it, in these terms:It is not unusual to discuss controversial subjects with a view to eliciting a candidate's independence of thought, range of ideas, personal convictions and ability to express himself.That is quoted from a letter from the Under-Secretary dated 7th February. It is not denied that these questions were put.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
The facts that my hon. Friend is stating are of such great public importance that I should like to ask him the name of the examiner who asked those questions. It should be made public.
§ Mr. Swingler
I do not have the name of the examiner or the particular War Office selection board, but that can easily be established. All I can say is that the matter was taken up by the Under-Secretary of State for War, who, after the rejection of my hon. Friend's son by the board, attempted to justify the putting of these controversial questions about politics to him in the terms I have quoted. The Under-Secretary of State for War further stated that he was not able to give the reasons why my hon. Friend's 1540 son had been failed by the board, but gave an assurance that it had nothing to do with politics or political bias.
I take very strong exception indeed to the putting to a candidate who goes before a War Office selection board for a commission questions about his father's politics or political activities. I should have thought that it was totally undesirable, indeed scandalous, that a candidate for commission should be politically cross-examined about his father's political behaviour and convictions. It is, quite clearly, impossible for anybody to believe that no element of bias arises when a candidate of that kind is rejected. I should like the authorities to imagine the effect upon the candidate himself when he is rejected after such questions have been put. It is impossible to divorce it from the political considerations—
§ Mr. W. Yates
Is the hon. Member suggesting that because the officer asked these questions the result of the board was affected?
§ Mr. Swingler
I am suggesting that it was wrong for these questions to be put. In my view, it is quite wrong that a War Office selection board should put to candidates for commissions in the Army questions about their fathers' or parents' political views or activities. That has nothing to do with the merits or demerits of the candidates. What have the political convictions or activities of parents of candidates who are put before War Office selection boards to do with the qualifications of those candidates for commissions in the Army?
It is impossible, therefore, not to think that prejudice is inevitably introduced in the minds of the examiners. Certainly, reactions are introduced into the minds of candidates by the putting of such questions about the political tendencies or loyalties of their parents. As hon. Members know, this is not an isolated instance of War Office selection boards introducing political tendencies and political bias in their examinations of candidates.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
I would like to ask this friendly question. Let us suppose that the report the hon. Member has had is correct, and that these questions were asked. I am not saying that they were wise questions, but I cannot help thinking that it would have helped that boy to get a commission if it had been known that his father was a Member of Parliament, on either side of the House. I put it to the hon. Gentleman: if he were an officer examining a boy whom he knew was my son, would it not be very difficult for him to turn that boy down unless he was not up to standard in some way? The hon. Member would say, "Old So-and-So is a colleague in the House. Here is a decent boy; let him go forward for a commission." I suggest that these questions, far from prejudicing a boy, might help him.
§ Mr. Swingler
The hon. Gentleman has supported the view I wished to propound. I say that it would be utterly wrong that a boy should get a commission in the Army because his father was an M.P. The introduction of the whole idea of questioning a boy's parentage, or the politics of his parents, is wrong and irrelevant. It is the boy's physical and mental capabilities that matter, if he is to be an officer in the Army.
A candidate should not present himself for a commission because his father is an M.P. or a company director. He should present himself on the basis of his own qualifications. The War Office selections boards should only be concerned with his capabilities. It is a very dangerous tendency to cross-examine a candidate about his parentage or the political views of his parents. This is only another form of the "old school tie", that because a boy went to a certain school he should have a commission, whereas if he went to another school he should not have a commission.
We need to combat this tendency. I thought that the selection boards had made progress in this direction and were considering candidates on their own merits. I ask that an instruction be sent out to War Office selection boards that questions concerned with a candidate's parentage are of no concern, and, in particular, that the politics or other convictions of the parents of candidates are irrelevant matters. I hope we shall have 1542 an assurance on this subject from the War Office, because it is disturbing to find that there are an increasing number of complaints from hon. Members about the selection of officers and a number of cases in which disputes are going on.
In considering the Estimates in general, I feel that we have still many lessons to learn. That is one reason that I enthusiastically support the Amendment. In spite of the fact that the Secretary of State has agreed to a civilian inquiry into manpower wastage, and in spite of the new pay proposals, which, he hopes, will stimulate voluntary recruitment, we find that the Services continue to overestimate and underspend. They continue to try to draw too much on the resources of the national economy.
The Minister of Supply told us airily the other day that we knew four years ago that we had adopted programmes which the country could not afford, but still, year by year, when presented with these Estimates, we are asked for sums of money and manpower which we know are beyond the resources of the country and beyond what is necessary. We still find, certainly in some Service Departments, that at the end of the year—this has been true for the past three or four years—they say, "We are sorry, but we are unable to spend the money you voted because the supply of aircraft was deficient, or the programme flopped, and the calculations were wrong." We are continually presented with a fraudulent prospectus.
It is time there was a thorough and independent investigation into these affairs. If we had such an inquiry it would assure those outside who have to pay the money that Parliament means serious business about the control of the Services. We might then be able to avoid the tremendous wastages of time and money which have, unfortunately, resulted from the defects of the present Secretary of State's policy.
§ 12.48 a.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
I am glad, Mr. Speaker, that you called me immediately after the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler). When he began to speak about the War Office selection boards my first reaction was one of alarm, despondency and worry, but when we think of a board in operation we realise that the picture is 1543 not nearly as frightening as he tried to paint it.
First, I should tell him that my godson and nephew, who went to a public school with, as my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) would say, all the characteristics of the "old school tie", who was a school prefect and in the school XV, and who went to a War Office selection board, came back with his tail between his legs because he had not been selected to be an officer. I believe that the War Office selection board was right. I know my nephew very well. He is a very nice, charming boy. But as the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) would agree, in different walks of life different characteristics are needed, and I think that he would have made a bad officer.
§ Mr. Glover
The hon. Gentleman must not think that these boards last for half an hour, or an hour; they last for about three days, and the people who make up the boards have personal interviews with the applicants. Certain tests are carried out, and then, there is a period of social activity, during which it is for the individual members of the board to get to know the fellow when his guard is down; when he is "natural" and behaving differently from what he would if on parade. Then it is that members of the board get to know his reactions, and I must say that hon. Members opposite suffer from a great sense of inferiority if they think that, if it comes out in casual conversation that an applicant is the son of an hon. Member of this House, that fact will work to his disadvantage. That is not true.
This is the sort of thing that happens. These people are together for a day, and one of the selection officers may have come from that part of Scotland—because Scotland is a great officer-producing country—and he says, "Your name is so-and-so; are you a relation of so-and-so, M.P. for so-and-so?" Then out it all comes.
§ Mr. Glover
I do not see why that should be anything to stop an applicant from getting a commission.
But to pass to the major subject; and I am sorry that this red herring has been drawn across our discussion at this stage of the night. This is my third Army Estimates debate, and there has been some reference to "bull" in the Army. I have heard less "bull" during this debate than for a long time. Hon. Members appear to have been seized with the problem of trying to get a better Army. Difficulties are bound to arise from time to time in the Army, but do not let us impute the worst motives when they do arise.
I should like to refer to the question of manpower—and I am delighted that the Government has acted in the matter of pay. The hon. Member for Dudley has been likened unto a prophet in this matter. I do not know if that means that he will not only have to wear a wig, but also a beard, like his hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), in order to carry out his duties here in future.
On the question of manpower, I believe that these pay increases are vitally important in getting a first-class Regular element into the Forces. But before we scrap everything else, we should remember—and I know that the hon. Member for Dudley agrees with me on this—that the British people are a peace-loving nation. I am very doubtful whether it is a question of £ s. d. and whether it is not a question of mentality. I am not at all certain that £ s. d. will make all that difference to recruiting. The chap who wants to see the world, who wants to go with the Colours and have the excite-men, have drums beating, joins up irrespective of pay.
Where the new pay increases place the emphasis on long-term service they will help the serving man to stay in the Forces—that is what we want—but I do not know that they will result in inducing 1545 more to join the Forces. If that is so, it behoves us to look at the future of the Army with great care, courage and without prejudice to see where we can save money on it.
In presenting the Estimates, my right hon. Friend informed us that we had four divisions in Germany, that is, 80,000 men. I will be quite honest and frank in saying that in the changing situation of war today I do not believe that we can continue to allot 20,000 men per division. I know that the figure includes headquarters staff, L. of C. personnel and the whole of the ancillary services.
We may have to deal with a "limited" war. What do we mean by that? I believe that if a war reaches the stage where we start firing atomic cannon at each other then we are, in fact, fighting a nuclear war. If we are not doing that, then we are, in my view, engaged in what is a minor or major police operation, a glorified Malayan campaign, or perhaps a campaign doubled up on that, where we should want brigade groups operating as a co-ordinated force. That, I believe, is increasingly going to do away with the value of the divisional unit.
If we are to have the Army in brigade units, with the idea that we can concentrate it into divisional units, that will be all right but we should only want some divisional headquarters with their ancillary services, perhaps, for service in Europe. We may want one Reserve divisional headquarters for movement to other theatres of the world where a limited war may have arisen, but I cannot see that the whole of the British Army needs to be made up into divisional units.
In the near future, I cannot visualise more than two or three divisions operating at one time. I can see us operating a vast number of brigade groups in Western Germany and other parts of the world, but if we are not going to use more than two or three divisional buildups, then I am sure that the many ex-Regular and other soldiers in the House and anyone with active service experience will know that that will release a number of L. of C. personnel. It will also release signals, R.A.S.C. and command staff. I believe that there is a very worthwhile case for the Imperial Staff having a look at that and considering whether we cannot have two or three divisional 1546 headquarters to which these brigade units can be allotted when needed. It is not necessary, for instance, to have the whole of our Forces organised as four complete divisions as is the case in Germany at the moment.
What we heard about barracks and married quarters was very important. What crossed my mind was that it is a pity that the building industry is not laying 1,000 bricks per day instead of 600. That would enable us to speed up the programme, and there would be a sense of urgency about attending to buildings for the Regular Army. That would help recruiting and would help to put the Regular Army on a sound basis.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
We are now using all the available brick production. Where would the increased production of bricks come from?
§ Mr. Glover
The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) was not in his place when I referred to his speech, the first part of which was, to use an expression often used today, "bull" of the first water. If we could use extra bricks I guarantee that the British brick industry would produce them for us.
§ Mr. Glover
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. We should not need extra buildings if we could get the existing ones all modernised more quickly. Like a chain of command, the factors join on to each other. If we increased the productivity of the building industry, and so got better quarters for the Regular Army, we should increase the numbers of the Regular Army, and then we should not need National Service. The men would stay in industry and the productivity of the nation would go up still further.
This is a national problem. The whole nation should be seized of the urgency for increased productivity. Upon that increase of productivity throughout the national life depends the abandonment of National Service at the earliest date, as I have shown. Increased productivity would bring about a better standard of life. If the hon. Member for Dudley can help to bring that about he will be indeed a prophet.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler), by cogent argument and startling facts, strongly supported the admirable Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) and eloquently seconded by the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey). The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Glover) has made a singularly unconvincing and unpersuasive speech, which contrasted sharply with the excellent speeches made in the debate. His speech was full of non sequiturs. He failed to answer the reasonable interventions which were made in it, and, I am sorry to say, he has tended to spoil a debate which has been conducted otherwise on a very high level.
Like most Army Estimate debates, this has been made the occasion for speeches on high aspects of military organisation and administration. The Amendment seeks to investigate in a big way Army administration and organisation, and seeksdrastic and far-reaching changes in the defence structure.I am glad to support the Amendment. It is not only good in itself, but the reasons adduced by its proposer and seconder must appeal to all who have the future of the Army at heart.
I shall confine my few remarks to one small aspect, but I suggest that it is an important aspect, of the life of the young soldier. I want to say a word about the health, care and comfort of the young National Service man who comes to what is called the London Assembly Centre which, in my submission, is a dangerous place for the young soldier.
I submit that it is futile to select physically suitable men for National Service, to train and fit them for arduous campaigns, and to bring them to that centre the night before they embark, and there incarcerate them 150 feet below the ground in a place which is dangerous to their health, and which may go some distance towards negativing the good feeding and the good training they have been subjected to previously.
I feel that it is my duty to direct attention to this undesirable manner in which young troops are treated at the London Assembly Centre, which is underneath Goodge Street Station. This is a place 1548 in which troops moving by air to and from this country have to spend one or more nights, and, therefore, it should be of a character which would conduce to the comfort, health and happiness of the young soldiers about to undertake arduous duties in Cyprus, or Kenya, or elsewhere. They do not get that treatment. Instead, they are penalised by being placed in unsatisfactory conditions which may have a deleterious effect upon their health and, indeed, may endanger the services that they are about to render across the seas.
I want to present an argument about this of which I think the House will approve. Complaint about this centre was made to me to the effect that young National Service men in the Gordon Highlanders, were among the soldiers obliged to sleep in this centre in unsatisfactory conditions. These Gordon Highlanders, like other National Service men in other units, are clean young men, are strong and hardy young men, trained for the arduous campaign upon which they are about to embark. They are a cross-section of the community, they are coming in the main from decent homes, they are going to serve in the foreign field, and it is right that they should be decently treated by the War Office in those circumstances. I regret to say that the facts show that they are not so treated.
I have had communication on this subject by letter, and by Question and Answer, with the Secretary of State for War, and from these facts two things emerge: one is that the Secretary of State for War is tonight not taken by surprise in my making public this matter and the other is that the facts of the case ire common to him and to me. I have clearly put to him the complaints of the young soldiers. I shall now put them to the House and I shall tell the House of the unsatisfactory nature of his reply.
On 2nd February, I wrote to the Secretary of State for War pointing out that the London Assembly Centre is a disused air raid shelter; he admitted that. It is 150 feet below the ground; he admitted that. It is underneath a noisy railway station; he admitted that. It is down 200 steps, down and up, which the young Service men have to carry their baggage; he admitted that. It is unsuitable for the purpose for which it is used; he admitted that.
1549 There were two things which he denied. He denied that it was badly ventilated and he denied that it was hot, stuffy and dirty. I believe that the House will agree that he has admitted enough to be found guilty of dereliction of his duty to these young soldiers. I believe that the House will agree that it is a disgraceful thing that these young soldiers, coming from decent homes and about to embark upon an arduous campaign—which may, indeed, be their last campaign in life—should be incarcerated in a makeshift assembly centre 150 feet below a noisy railway station. It is not right, and I ask the House to express its disapproval of it.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Would not my hon. and learned Friend agree that it would have been much better for the health of the Gordon Highlanders if they had not been brought dawn here, but left in Scotland?
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I am sorry that he has already made his own speech so that he is unable to enlarge on that topic. I shall later touch upon it.
I was about to say that it is particularly wrong that these young Service men should be treated in this way in London, a gigantic city, full of amenities, with plenty of barracks, plenty of hotels, plenty of possibilities for getting decent accommodation for young soldiers. This affects not just a few Gordon Highlanders, but thousands of young men, because the Secretary of State for War admitted in his letter to me that these men come night after night and that all the young men who are on their way by air to foreign fields spend a night or two there.
It is putting it mildly to say that they are not properly treated. The Secretary of State for War, by his letter of 10th February, admitted to me that the Assembly Centre is under Goodge Street Station, which is a noisy place; it is a deep shelter: it is built for purposes other than those for which it is used; it is used almost every night for troops going abroad; it is unsuitable for its purpose. I quote from his letter:We do not pretend it is otherwise".He should be ashamed of himself. I quote another of his phrases:We shall not be out of it before 1957".1550 How many hundreds of troops will pass through it between now and 1957? One would think that we were living in a desert, where there were no other houses, no barracks, no hotels, no other accommodation for these young troops. It is a disgrace to treat them in this way, if London is destitute of other accommodation for them, then find an assembly centre in the country. Surrey, Berkshire, and Sussex are full of fine mansion houses and hotels.
§ Mr. Hughes
Accommodate the young men in some of the mansions of the rich, or in some of the great hotels, where they could stay on their way abroad.
The Minister goes on in his letter:In the meantime we are doing what we can to make the people staying there as comfortable as the structure of the place permits"—As the structure of the place permits! If they were in a hovel, if they were in the Black Hole of Kosti, he could say, "As the structure of the place permits". Is he not convicting himself when he says that? In these circumstances, it was not surprising that I put down a number of Questions to the Minister. I have them here now; they are down for 27th March, but if he will choose to answer them now—and he must be fully conversant with them because they have been on the Order Paper for some time—I will make a bargain with him. If he will answer them now I shall withdraw them handsomely.
My first question is: how many troops belonging to which units, have been accommodated, and for what periods, in the London Assembly Centre in Goodge Street deep shelter; when it was first used for this purpose; and, in view of its admitted unsuitability, when he intends to discontinue its use for this purpose?
My second Question is: will the Minister state the extent and the nature of the sanitary, sleeping, eating and other conveniences at the London Assembly Centre in Goodge Street deep shelter for the troops accommodated there from time to time?
I am sure that the House will agree that it is a public duty which the Minister owes to the mothers and fathers of these young men, as well as to the young 1551 men themselves, to relieve them from anxiety by giving the full facts about where the young men are to spend their night or nights in London. He should tabulate all these facts. My third question is: What steps has the Minister taken, and is taking now, to provide alternative and better accommodation for troops than the London Assembly Centre in Goodge Street deep shelter, since I wrote to him?
As I have said, this matters affects thousands of young National Service men, and it is right that I should remind the House of something which old soldiers know already. My hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons), now sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, spoke as a gallant old soldier, but he is not the only old soldier in the House. I am afraid I am myself a very old soldier of the First World War.
All old soldiers will know that there is authority for the questions I am asking. They will know of that authoritative handbook called Lindsell's "Military Organisation and Administration". In it is stated categorically details for the maintenance of satisfactory environments for the young soldiers and the care of their health. It appears in page 158 of the handbook and in the following pages, under eight heads with which I shall not trouble the House. But I wish to remind hon. Members of one relevant portion. Under the heading, "The Soldier's Accommodation," it states:Whether in barracks, camp or billets, this must be sufficient. Overcrowding should be prevented, quarters should be well ventilated and sufficiently lit, and adequate arrangements are necessary for warming.How can that injunction be carried out in this 150 feet deep shelter underneath the railway station at Goodge Street?
Important questions of principle are involved. They relate not only to the selection of recruits, but to the maintenance of satisfactory environment for soldiers and the prevention of disease. [Laughter.] I submit to some hon. Members opposite, who seem to find this a laughing matter, that it is no laughing matter; it is serious for these young soldiers. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme spoke about anomalies in the selection of officers. Perhaps hon. Members opposite are 1552 laughing because I am speaking about young private soldiers rather than officers, young National Service men. We do not laugh about young National Service men on this side of the House. We regard these problems as serious and grave, and I hope that the House will reprove those hon. Members who treat this as a laughing matter.
These young men have been carefully selected for their good health and fitness for service. They have been trained and physically developed and well fed, and they are about to embark on a serious and arduous campaign. It is quite wrong that at the last moment they should be put in a hole like this which may endanger not only their health, but their effective service overseas.
§ 1.24 a.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
This is the seventh debate on the Army Estimates which has taken place since I have been an hon. Member of this House and the first in which I have taken part. I hope I shall be forgiven if, even at this late hour, I spend a few minutes discussing a subject which no one else has mentioned except my right hon. Friend. It is the abolition of the coast artillery. My excuse for raising the matter is that I served in it for a couple of years during the last war.
I do not think that anyone, whether he served in it or not, can be surprised at the decision to abolish it, or, in the words of the Secretary of State's Memorandum, to put it into a state of "suspended animation," whatever that may mean. Even in the last war the heavy guns of the coast artillery were obsolete, and the Royal Air Force and the Navy could do exactly the same work that these guns were intended to do. In any case, coast artillery batteries are very vulnerable to air attack. I think I am right in saying that most of the German coast batteries on the Normandy coast were wiped out by the Royal Air Force early on D-day and hardly fired a shot at our invasion fleet.
There is, however, one coast artillery weapon which might still be useful. That is, its latest weapon—at least, its latest weapon during the war; I am out of date as to whether there has been a later one since. It is a gun called the twin six-pounder.
1553 My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Defence has envisaged local wars in which atomic and nuclear weapons would not be used, and that is an eventuality in which this weapon might be useful. A twin six-pounder is very effective and was proved so during the last war against vessels like M.T.Bs. and midget submarines and other small craft which rely on speed and surprise to attack shipping in harbours.
One of the lessons in this respect which those of us who served as officers in coast artillery during the war were taught was the story of an attack on Malta on 25th July, 1941, when the Italians decided to attack the island to destroy shipping which they thought was in Valletta Harbour following a reconnaissance which had taken place four days previously. Unfortunately for the Italians, a convoy had left the day before the attack, so there was very little in the harbour when the attack was made by M.T.B.s and midget submarines. Five or six of these were sunk by shore defences, which consisted mainly of twin six-pounders, assisted by some Bofors and a few L.M.G.s. A few of the ships were sunk by Hurricanes in daylight afterwards and one or two, I think, were captured.
The significance of the raid was that the flotilla of M.T.B.s and midget submarines got within 300 yards of the shore defences of the island without being spotted. They were only spotted then because one of them, in accordance with the Italian plan, blew up a viaduct or part of a breakwater. As a result, all the coast artillery searchlights were promptly exposed, and then one of the twin six-pounder gun lookouts spotted an M.T.B. only 300 yards away.
Had there been no coast artillery in Malta at that time, and, certainly, if there had been no twin six-pounder guns, one wonders whether those M.T.B.s would have been spotted before getting inside the harbour. Not much shipping was present at the time, but if there had been any shipping a good deal of damage might have been done without the raiding vessels being stopped. As it was, the only damage done was by the one that blew up the viaduct before any of the others were spotted, and the rest were all stink or chased away and did no damage.
Obviously, we must do away with obsolete weapons, but I am wondering 1554 whether there is any weapon which is quite comparable with that twin six-pounder for dealing with a situation like that, bearing in mind that one could not expect Royal Air Force aircraft or the Navy to be necessarily on the spot and ready when the alarm was given with the raiders only 300 yards from the shore. Similarly, Bofors guns or L.M.G.s or other infantry weapons equally might not be ready.
I should also like to ask my right hon. Friend whether the decision virtually to abolish coast artillery applies only to this country or whether it applies also to some of the Colonies, like Gibraltar and Malta, and Aden and Hong Kong, which have substantial coast artillery establishments, not only with twin six-pounders, but with 6-in. and 9.2-in. guns. I think I am right in saying that in the Colonies the troops who man these guns are mostly Regulars, whereas in home coast artillery they are mostly Territorials.
It is clear that just as many soldiers were sorry when cavalry became obsolete, perhaps 50 years ago, so will many regret the passing of coast artillery. It is a fascinating arm of the Services, being military with a naval or shore aspect, also. Nevertheless, we must be up to date, and this is something that must be accepted.
§ 1.31 a.m.
§ Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)
I think that a very satisfactory result of the debate on these Estimates, as in the Defence debate, is the fact that hon. Members are thinking in terms of trying to end the system of compulsory National Service. I have always thought that the words "compulsory" and "service" do not go together. If a duty has to be performed and it is compulsory, it cannot be a service. I have listened to so many hon. Members who have advocated the ending of conscription. This is happening on both sides of the House. Ten years ago some of us were battling against the introduction of conscription. I believe that there was then a great opportunity to have tried to persuade United Nations to accept the international abolition of conscription.
I think, in times like this, of my old friend Rhys Davis, who battled so much against conscription. Today, we find hon. Members on this side of the House, who 1555 have previously been in favour of conscription, now taking the other view. On the other side of the House it is to be welcomed that in speech after speech hon. Members are saying that we should get rid of this system of compulsory national service.
One of my first actions in this House was to move an Amendment to the Gracious Speech. I was then informed by my own Prime Minister, now Earl Attlee, that my Amendment was a vote of no confidence in the Labour Government. That was my first introduction to the constitution of this House, and to the rule that one cannot disagree with any one part of the Gracious Speech without it meaning a vote of no confidence in the Government. But the arguments I used then have been used today very frequently. Even my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) thinks he was the first to have used them; but some of us were in the House before he came here.
The Secretary of State suggested that a committee should be set up to inquire into the waste of manpower, but he has not done so without an overwhelming case being made by hon. Members. Some of us, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. George Craddock) and myself included, went round a number of Army camps both in this country and in Germany to obtain personal knowledge of the opinions of the men. I therefore welcome the Secretary of State's decision to have this inquiry, but I think it is a great mistake to confine it, as I understand it is to be confined, to this country. I realise that it would be extremely difficult to have a committee wandering all over the world, but I believe Germany ought to be included because several hon. Members, both today and yesterday, have raised the question of Service manpower in Germany. We shall find that there is considerable need for investigation into the situation in Germany.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire, earlier, said that nobody had quoted from the Manchester Guardian and proceeded to quote part of it which I wanted to quote. There were two interesting articles in the Manchester Guardian, one on 18th February and the other on 27th February. The earlier 1556 article was headed "Missiles and Money" and began by saying:You cannot buy a grand piano for the price of a harmonium, and that is what the Government seeks to do in its defence programme.It goes on to say thatunless General Gruenther's forces are to be built up to an effective strength we should reduce our troops in Germany to a token force. At present, we fall between two stools. We have more troops in Europe than are needed to act simply as a burglar alarm, but the failure of Europeans to adopt two years' conscription means that there are not enough troops in General Gruenther's command to halt an attack. If the Europeans will not raise their contingents it is time to reduce ours. If the Rhine Army is cut to one division National Service can be dropped sooner than 1958. But the Government must first put the position to their allies.The article from which my hon. Friend quoted was on 27th February, and after his quotation we read:There is no point in spending large sums of money in maintaining ineffective military forces in Europe.Anyone who has been to Germany must know that at present the civilian population there are more and more hostile to foreign troops on their soil, and that that has created a number of problems. If, in fact, with the change of structure in the Army and the change of methods, there is not need for examining the German question I shall be very surprised; and, if that is so, it will mean that we shall have to look again at the Paris Agreements. Like my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire, I was in some difficulty because, like him, I thought it was wrong to conclude those Agreements. Does any hon. Member really believe today that we can keep the Agreements in force for 44 years? If so, I do not believe it.
I have asked the Secretary of State for War to look at the question of manpower in Germany. One hon. Member suggested tonight that the Army should reduce its civilian manpower. I would ask him to look at the thousands of Germans who are being used for civilian work for our Army in Germany. If hon. Members are sincere in their desire to end compulsory National Service, they will, of course, not only try to improve conditions for the men in the Forces, but they will also try to remove what is a source of considerable friction. If one sees the Army manoeuvres in Germany, with the tanks and other vehicles going 1557 over German land, then one can also see the hostility among the many thousands of Germans who resent it and who wonder when militarism will be removed. I therefore think that in Germany there is a case for examination into the waste of manpower. Our men should be withdrawn.
The Secretary of State mentioned an Army Council letter which was being sent out to suggest that the Army should revise its methods. The Army Council does not believe that the Army is completely blameless in the matter of the kind of discipline which has been forced upon it and which is, in my opinion, somewhat outmoded. I should like to mention one or two points, because I do not believe that if you reduce a certain amount of irksome duty in, say, blancoing and other things, then nothing more is required. I believe that there is a very considerable antagonism to the kind of orders which are given to National Service men, particularly in the Army today; men who, in many instances, come from good homes and the high schools and grammar schools; men who are sometimes more intelligent than the person giving the orders.
I welcome, of course, the decision to improve the rates of pay, though the National Service men will not benefit very much from the increase. They will receive only a very small additional amount, and the Government will find that this will not be sufficient to induce many National Service men to become Regulars. I admit, of course, that the pay offered to Regulars is quite different.
There are many other aspects of Service life to which the men object. I have heard numerous objections to men being charged barrack-room damages. I was told, when visiting Catterick Camp, that the men have to pay anything from 1s. 6d. to 3s. 6d. a week for barrack-room damages. A lance-corporal made some complaints which rather shocked me, and I was very interested to learn that the Under-Secretary of State for War had been to Catterick Camp, covering the same territory that I had covered. I also learned that the lance-corporal in question had been made a corporal. I think that that will give encouragement to other men who are afraid to make complaints.
1558 Men doing their 15 days' reserve training complain even more than the National Service men about the time that is wasted. In one camp which I visited in Devonshire I saw a man peeling potatoes. He told me that he did that job from 8 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. for the whole of his 15 days. He was a warehouseman in civilian life, and when I suggested to him that he would probably rather be doing his civilian job, he replied, "Well, I am not particular, you know." He did not complain, but it seemed to me to be a waste of time to place a man on a task of this kind for such a long period.
There are a few cases which I wish to bring to the attention of the Secretary of State for War. I want to ask the War Office to show a little more humanity when dealing with cases of great distress. Hon. Members in all parts of the House raise these cases from time to time. There seem to be no exemptions for hardship in the sense that there are no regulations laying it down that the only son of a widow shall not be called up for National Service, or that not more than one or two of a family shall be asked to serve. I have had one or two cases of distressed families brought to my notice. There was a case of a large family where the eldest son was taken away. I have cases on which I am now in correspondence with the Department.
Here is the case of a Birmingham Service man, one of a family of nine. His father is mentally defective, and so is the eldest son. The second son would, naturally, have been of value to the mother. There are a girl of 15, three girls at school, two under school age, and baby of 12 months. The mother is ill. The eldest son was recently found to be suffering from loss of memory.
We have submitted a doctor's certificate to the Minister recommending that the second son, who has been called up, should be discharged. I do my best, but I cannot get the Minister to agree either that the man shall be stationed near to his home or shall be discharged. I cannot see the value of a National Service man who is in constant anxiety about his home and is writing to and receiving letters from his home. The Minister brought the man to Wales, which was a little nearer, and agreed not to send him abroad for the time being, but there is still danger that he will be sent abroad. 1559 We cannot get any real human understanding about the circumstances of this large family.
I put another type of case to the Minister. I received a letter from a retired colonel mentioning a National Service man and commenting on statements I had made about Service conditions. He suggests that it is not the War Office but Parliament which is to blame. I must accept what he says as to some extent being correct. He writes:On the attached sheet you will see the case history of a young Regular soldier who left the Army with great bitterness. This young man has influenced as many people as possible not to join the Forces and he will do so until his last days. So would I, in similar circumstances. Wouldn't you?I come to the case of a Lance-Corporal Gilbert, who was serving in the Middle East. His father became seriously ill and died. The Army refused to help him to go home to England, and he was told that if he wanted to do so it would have to be done at his own expense. The result was that he did not return. Later, his mother died and he was still unable to go home. Frankly, I think that the War Office was inhuman in refusing help in such a case.
I put this question as a matter of principle to the Minister and he merely replied to me, on 16th January:The rules which govern the grant of compassionate leave for soldiers serving outside the United Kingdom and North-West Europe have not changed for the last few years and would have applied at the time in question.If they have not changed, it is time they did so. Although I am questioning the action of the War Office now, it is no more than I have done through every Labour Secretary of State for War since 1945.
The letter continues:They provide that soldiers serving overseas should be given compassionate leave in the event of the dangerous illness of a parent, wife or child. Compassionate leave in the event of the death of a relative would not be authorised unless the domestic circumstances were such as to make the presence of the soldier concerned essential to the well-being of the family.The result in this instance is that a Regular soldier, who could have continued to serve for an extended period, comes out at the earliest possible moment 1560 in great bitterness. I have been in communication with Lance-Corporal Gilbert, and he confirms that the facts as stated by the colonel are correct.
I suggest that the War Office should reconsider its attitude to compassionate leave. Also, when dealing with these cases, I hope that the War Office will be more expeditious in replying to letters. All hon. Members know that we have a serious grievance against it in the length of time taken to answer our letters. Ten years ago I raised the matter with the then Prime Minister, Earl Attlee, and an inquiry was made. Afterwards, I was informed that an hon. Member might expect a reply to his letters within two weeks. Yet we are having to wait six and eight weeks. Indeed, I have been reduced to putting on the Order Paper for next Tuesday a Question on a matter about which I am still awaiting a reply to a letter which I wrote on 30th December. Something should be done about that.
The general health of National Service men is another topic I want to raise. I am not at all satisfied that the Army medical authorities are acting as quickly and as wisely as they should. I am not at all satisfied that National Service men feel completely free always to make their complaints, for the medical officer is generally suspicious and believes that he is dealing with malingerers. I was very surprised to note in the Medical Journal, some months ago, that the highest proportion of men discharged from the Forces had psychiatric disorders.
I have seen some of these cases of men in the Army suffering from psychiatric disorders. I am not very happy about so-called psychiatrists in the Army. I was very surprised, in questioning one or two, to find how little they really knew. In prisons we have some expert psychiatrists. Very often people object to modern psychiatry and the amount of money that is spent on it, but in the prisons where psychiatry is practised most scientifically the result is that an increasing number of prisoners who go from such prisons never return to a life of crime. That is very important. It is important that National Service men, in particular, should not have to go to a point of considerable suffering before some action is taken.
1561 My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South and I visited a detention camp at Colchester where, at that time, there were no fewer than 158 soldiers who had been found guilty of being absent without leave, or desertion. We could get some very interesting stories about that. What disturbed me when I visited that camp—and I have been there on at least two occasions—was the way in which those soldiers were being treated. When I visited Colchester, a short time ago, some soldiers were on No. I Punishment Diet, which is bread and water. I do not believe in that kind of thing. In Germany, my hon. Friend and I went into a camp and the commanding officer was amazed when I expressed my detestation of putting men on bread and water for three days. How one can expect to rehabilitate a person by injuring him mentally as well as physically I do not know. I should like to see less of that sort of thing taking place at Colchester.
It was frightful to see the men herded into their little, so-called dining rooms, with no adequate space in which to eat, and I thought that the food was most unsatisfactory. I am told that the food is always the same, every day, and that there is no variety. They say that that is the punishment, but I do not think that this is at all a scientific way of dealing with men who have fallen away in one way or another, and who are going to a corrective establishment. It is the wrong kind of atmosphere in which to try to reform or rehabilitate those who have gone wrong.
Finally on this point, I wonder why conscientious objectors should be sent to camps like that? I raised the case the other day of a conscientious objector being sent to Colchester detention establishment, and although the Minister himself tried to gloss over the idea that a man had been treated in an undignified manner, at some time he was.
When I was going round one of the camps, the commanding officer said to me, "I wonder why we cannot deal with a difficult case such as is presented to me today? Here I have a man in the Forces who discovers that he is a conscientious objector, he finds that he cannot continue, and he takes this view on religious grounds. I have discussed the matter with him very fully, and, although I am capable of knowing when 1562 people are 'swinging the lead,' in this particular case I feel that the man has something, and I do not know what to do with him. The only thing is that, as he has gone into the Army, he is obliged to refuse to accept an order and then go before a court-martial. Then he must get at least three months' imprisonment before he can go before a tribunal to see whether or not his conscience is sincere, and is accepted."
I met this young man, I talked with him, and I could not understand why he had gone into the Army. He pointed out to me that all his friends were against him, that pressure was brought to bear on him, and when he went in he thought that he would not be expected to do anything that seemed to him to be against his conscience. When he was actually in the Army that is what he discovered. So he went before a court-martial; he was sent to Shepton Mallet detention establishment for three months; he was brought before a tribunal, and the tribunal decided that he was a genuine conscientious objector.
Then I found that he had a brother, who, after serving his time in the Army, decided that this was really all wrong and that he would have to make a definite stand that he could not even do his 15 days' training. But then he was court-martialled and was given only 56 days' detention for refusing to do his 15 days' training. Therefore, because he got only 56 days' detention it was not sufficient to justify him going before a tribunal to decide whether he had a conscientious objection, so that he should not be called up for another 15 days the next year. This is absolutely absurd. I do not know why the Army wishes to hang on to men who have deep and fundamental conscientious objections.
I have spoken far longer than I intended, but I feel that there should be a change in this type of thing. I do not think that we should insist on men having to go to prison for three months before their consciences can be tested. I do not believe that men with deep religious convictions should be sent into a prison with people who have stolen or committed other crimes. I wish to ask the Minister to adopt a more humane attitude in cases where there is hardship. Let us have a better and more reasonable approach to the question of the conscientious objector, 1563 and remove the deep-seated feeling that some people have about the treatment they receive in the Army.
It has been said that the Army is democratic. One hon. Member said that the principle that guided the Army was still, "Yours not to reason why." For ten years I have been trying to discover how the Army practises the principles of democracy, and I have not found out yet. I am certain that if the War Department could devise a way whereby not only outsiders, such as a committee, could find out what was going on, but some machinery could also be established whereby the soldiers themselves could express their grievances, a great deal of information would be obtained.
The Secretary of State has emphasised that Members of Parliament who visit camps find the few people who grumble. I have spoken to large groups of soldiers and I have found that if one got up and made a wrong statement the others put him right. On one occasion, in Devonshire, I spoke to a meeting of over a hundred soldiers. The commanding officer told them that there was a Member of Parliament present and that they could say what they liked. One man made a statement with which the others did not agree. He was trying to say that things were not so bad after all. But the rest of them put him right, one after the other. We were told about the sort of duties they had to perform.
My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) has said that there are too many bosses. These men told us all about that, about the corporals and lance-corporals and sergeants and sergeant-majors, and all the rest of it, and the orders which they gave. I do not know whether this kind of atmosphere is inherent in the Army. I do not know whether it can be changed, but certainly we should feel that the Army was more democratic if the soldier could express himself, or take his shop steward to the commanding officer. I do not see why he should not do so.
The Government may increase the Army's pay, but there are conditions about which men feel deeply. We are paying nearly £500 million for the Army, and there is talk about inflationary pressure. When speaking on the radio, 1564 the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked us to think about everything we demand and about whether it has the effect of putting up prices or making burdens.
It is an eye-opener to go to Germany and see the Armed Forces and the camps there. If the country wants a professional Army—I am not saying whether I agree with that—which is not dependent upon the compulsory principle there is something more than pay to be considered. Conditions ought to be changed, and it ought to be a little more democratic.
I want to see an end of this interference with the liberty of the individual. I am opposed to conscription because I believe it is a fundamental denial of freedom. I say that as a Socialist. I have never believed in the direction of labour. In fact, I moved a Prayer in this House to annul the Notification of Vacancies Order. I object to any interference with the liberty of individuals, and I have no doubt that things would be extremely difficult for me in some countries, including Russia, where this principle is not recognised.
We in this country have been distinguished because of this conception of freedom. Since the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) made his speech about "setting the people free," time and time again I have asked the fundamental question: when will the youth of the nation be set free? The freedom of the individual is something moral and spiritual, and I look forward to the time when that comes.
Some of my hon. Friends have asked whether the Government might be considering the abolition of National Service for electoral purposes. I am not concerned whether they have electoral purposes in mind. If the Government are abolishing conscription I shall welcome it whenever they do it, but the sooner it comes the better. Then, we shall be able to get back to the deep fundamental, spiritual feeling of the country when we speak of fighting for freedom. The last war was fought for freedom, the previous war was fought for democracy, but we ended the last war only to find that those with whom we had been fighting had been freed from the shackles of conscription whilst we put the chain around our own youth. Now we are doing our best to go back upon all that by trying to chain the German youth to the military system again.
1565 I believe that conscription is not only fundamentally wrong from a moral and spiritual point of view, but that it is also an instrument of war. As such, it is not calculated to inspire confidence in the international sphere. Let the War Office now get down to this problem; let it prepare the way for freeing the youth of this country and for removing some of the irksome and inhuman conditions to which I have referred tonight.
§ 2.21 a.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Nicolson (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)
The hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) apologised to the House about a quarter of the way through his speech for its length. I do not think he need have done so, because a lot he said in the latter part of it was not only interesting but valuable. I think it is obvious, however, that he has never commanded troops, and, perhaps, evident that he has never been a soldier: if he had, he would have soon discovered that the Army is not supposed to be a democracy, and would never work if it were. It is a benevolent autocracy, and not ashamed of being so. But let me emphasise the first of those two words—benevolent.
I was a very bad soldier and, I am sure, a very bad officer; but at least it was drummed into my head, early in my service, that my first duty was to understand my men and to exercise towards them not only the function of command, but ordinary human sympathy. Although I won no medals, I at least gained the confidence of the handful of men put under my command by exactly that method. I have found, since returning to civil life, entering this House and having dealings with the War Office, that the same principles still apply.
The hon. Member for Ladywood has had unfortunate cases to deal with, and I think that the cases he has quoted to us are deserving of sympathy. But this has not been my experience with the War Office; I have not had to wait six or eight weeks for replies to my letters. Only the other day, as a last chance, I attempted to get a young Service man home from Malaya because there was a danger of his wife running away with someone else. To my astonishment and delight that man was home within three days of my writing to the War Office. I would like to pay tribute to my right hon. 1566 Friend the Secretary of State for War for the spirit that permeates the War Office, not of democracy but of the benevolent autocracy of which I spoke.
§ Mr. Nicolson
It is a simple case of a young man who married a German girl a week before he left for Malaya. After three months' separation, this girl ran away with a married Englishman. Through S.S.A.F.A., I was approached to see whether the War Office would agree to this boy's return so that he could rescue his marriage. I made the approach, the application was granted and the marriage is saved. Those are the details.
§ Mr. Nicolson
I do not know whether he has gone back to Malaya, although I think not; this took place only a fortnight ago.
The hon. Member for Ladywood also referred to the continued presence of our troops in Germany. It was a little unfortunate that he should take the view that the presence of our troops there is a mistake, that they are wasting their time and that they have no job to do, because if that opinion goes out to Germany as the opinion of an hon. Member, and especially as the opinion of the hon. Member for Ladywood, who is well known there, it can only be discouraging and it can do no good.
I do not wish to enter into the background to this enormous subject, but the hon. Member must know that there are military, psychological and political reasons for the presence of our troops in Germany. If we were to remove them we should not only be breaking our word, but should be undermining the confidence of our allies in Europe. It would do tremendous harm. Our men in Germany must be made to realise that, even though they are bored from time to time, their presence is of incalculable value to the future and peace of the world.
§ Mr. V. Yates
The hon. Member must realise that this is not new. I opposed the Paris Agreements which imposed this condition and I am afraid that I got into some trouble from my party. I voted against the Agreements, so it will not be new to Germans that I am opposed 1567 to British troops being on German soil for 44 years. I merely said that very many people there are showing increasing hostility to it.
§ Mr. Nicolson
As long as the hon. Member makes it clear that he is speaking for himself, and that his party do not agree with him on the subject, then I think his views are purely personal and not shared by more than half-a-dozen hon. Members.
§ Mr. Nicolson
I wish to make my speech on a very different subject and I will make it short. I want to ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State whether it is desirable that the War Office should continue to own and to acquire land in this country for the purpose of military exercises and ranges. I must make it clear at the outset that I am not one of those who go about the country crying that the land is being ruined by gunfire and that the Army has no right to train. If we had to choose between a fully trained Army and the maintenance of our land unsullied by the military, the Army and training must obviously come first.
Nevertheless, it is startling to find that the War Office is now the owner or lessor of 360,000 acres—160,000 acres more than in 1939, even though the number of our troops at home is now much less than before the war. To be fair to the War Office, the reason it needs more land is, first, that it operates with more tracked vehicles, which might destroy ordinary agricultural land; secondly, because the range of its weapons has increased; and, thirdly, because it thinks it necessary in modern conditions of training to practice with live ammunition, It is also true to say that when, immediately after the war, it worked out its requirements of land for this purpose, it put them at 650,000 acres, almost double what it holds at present.
All these facts and explanations are very much to its credit; but, on the other side of the picture, is the tremendous waste of land which occurs through Service occupation when we need it so urgently for agricultural and other purposes. Further, by a natural coincidence, the land most needed by the War Office 1568 is also that which is of the greatest amenity and scenic value. We all know of such cases, but the most appalling, I think, is that land near Lulworth Cove which has been converted into a tank firing range. The loveliest bit of coast line in Dorset has been destroyed; not only that, for access is now denied to visitors.
But, worse than that, we find that huge areas in our National Parks are under War Office occupation although the Army had arrived before the area had been designated as a National Park. An area of the North Lancashire moors is an example of that. Sometimes the Army has come afterwards, and that applies to about 2,700 acres in the Peak District National Park, to about 3,000 acres of the Brecon Beacons, and 5,000 acres of the Dartmoor National Park; and, in that particular case, it is now unfortunately true that a quarter of Dartmoor is now in Army occupation.
It was only this morning that I read in the Press that a new rocket station has been set up on the borders of Northumberland, adjoining Hadrian's Wall and within the area of the National Park.
§ Mr. Nicolson
Yes, but the War Office has taken very little land in Scotland. Land in the Highlands which, one might think, would offer very good training ground, is neglected because it is too wet and too hilly.
The Army should keep its requirements for these purposes to the minimum; but it is interesting to note that in the opinion of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England the Army has a better reputation than the other two Service departments. But if a real effort was made, now that the size of both the Regular and the Territorial Army is diminishing, to reduce the amount of acreage which it seals off, I am certain that it could achieve a lot.
The vast majority of our troops should do their training overseas, particularly in Germany. A number of units are employed on active service which, paradoxically, is the best training of all. I should like to ask some questions and should be glad if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary could give some answers. Do the commands share their training 1569 areas and arrangements? Do the Services share them? Do the different forms of weapon of the three Services share the ranges, or does each Service set up its own ranges for its own weapons? I believe that, on that last point, that is the case, although I admit that I do not know the details.
Do they train all the year round, or stick to that old military fetish that the training season is in the summer or autumn? Do they, for instance, train at this time of year? Finally, why must the War Office own all the land upon which troops train? It never was so until after the last war. I can understand that in exercises with live ammunition an area is needed which is clear not only of human beings but also of animals.
Exercises with live ammunition can only be carried out by comparatively small units. One could not imagine a brigade exercise being carried out with live ammunition unless it was so carefully planned that it would cease to be an exercise. Only a company or a squadron exercise could be carried out with live ammunition, for which purpose huge acreages of land would not be needed.
Some of my hon. Friends who are military men tell me that it is astonishing what little damage three divisions, including an armoured division, will do when moving across agricultural land on manoeuvres. I found that myself even during the last war, when we were advancing very quickly in Italy with not three, but twelve, divisions. We could motor through country through which we had passed the preceding day in full conditions of war and scarcely know that troops were there.
I believe that the training of our soldiers would be better if they were not constantly put in the hills or on the moors to do that training, because such conditions are not typical of every campaign. It would be better if our troops could train over the ordinary agricultural ground and round the villages, and even the towns, because they would then get better practice and become more versatile in their training.
It was General Gale who said the other day that there was an almost fatal lack of inquisitiveness about the British soldier. That is not to be wondered at if he is put upon the same type of ground 1570 to do his training and allowed no real opportunity for the exercise of his own initiative on the more complicated ground of developed territory. For those reasons, I ask my hon. Friend, who was good enough to supply me with many of the figures which I have quoted, whether, now that the demands of the Army are being reduced and so much of our Service men are permanently overseas, the War Office could not in some cases release to the public and to the farmers the land which it was right to take immediately after the war.
§ 2.39 a.m.
§ Mr. John Baird (Wolverhampton, North-East)
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) and I am astonished at the figures which he gave the House about the amount of land occupied by the Army. He said that it was estimated that 650,000 acres would be required, but that actually only half that area was occupied by the Army. In our defence Estimates, therefore, we have to consider not only the amount of money spent, but also the amount of land lost to the cultivation of valuable food in this country owing to Service needs.
It is an astonishing state of affairs. I sometimes feel that if we were to look at the various factors of the defence Services, we should find that the cost was much higher than the actual figure quoted in the Estimates.
Before coming to the general question of the Estimates, I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) for raising a matter which is very personal to myself, the question of Marine J. K. Baird. For the sake of the record, I only want to say that my son, Marine J. K. Baird, did not come squealing to his parents when he was turned down by the War Office selection board. He did not mention it at all and we did not know anything about it until many weeks later. He was happy to be turned down. He is proud to be in the Marines. He was afraid that if he passed his selection board he might be sent to what he called a "pongo" regiment. He is now in Cyprus, and is happy to be there as a marine.
I welcome the Amendment. It would be a good idea to have an all-party committee of inquiry, and the sonner we get 1571 it the better. Hon. Gentlemen on the Government benches have been advocating that we should have an inquiry into the nationalised industries, but there is more waste in the Services than there. I take objection to the argument used by the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) in seconding the Amendment, that defence is not a party issue. He wanted us to agree to that. He went further and said that foreign affairs were not a party issue. Defence, and the amount of money that we are to spend on the Army, are primarily party political issues because the size of the Army depends upon how we are to tackle the political issues facing the country.
Why do we need this large Army? The two major reasons are that we have large colonial commitments and secondly that right hon. Gentlemen in the Government—and, after listening to the Defence debate, I must admit some right hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House—believe, that we need large defence forces to prosecute the cold war. These are both political issues.
Many of our soldiers are now stationed in Cyprus. No one can argue that that is not a party political issue. From this side of the House many of us argued years ago that we could not retain in the Suez Canal Zone a base which was surrounded by a hostile population, and advocated that we should withdraw from the Zone. Today we are creating the same conditions in Cyprus. As I have said, my son is out there. Of course that is a political issue. In Kenya, though the Mau Mau problem may be resolved, as it may be in a few months, the same kind of problem will again arise so long as there is a colour bar in Kenya. The present constitutional proposals will not solve the problem. In the long run, we should save money if we evacuated all the white population from Kenya and sent them back to England: and we shall have to face that problem.
We have heard a lot of talk about the free world and fighting for freedom. We are supposed to be the free world fighting for freedom, yet when British Guiana gets a Government which does not agree with the capitalist system we send British soldiers out to that country to destroy that Government and to set up a dictatorship. Therefore, let us realise that the reason why we have this large 1572 Army, the reason why we have conscription, the reason why so many of our young men are in the Forces, is because we have failed to face up to this colonial problem and to give the people of such areas the right to govern themselves.
I remember hearing a story many years ago. It was supposed to have been told by Lord Grey, but if I may paraphrase it I would like to tell it again. It was of a young Japanese who was supposed to come to this country. He attended a cocktail party and met many leading British statesmen. He was asked by a prominent statement, "What do you think of this great Western civilisation of ours?" He replied, "In the past, when we in Japan were content to live at peace, isolated from the rest of the world, away from war, without any army or navy, then we were called barbarians, Now that you have taught us to build battleships and tanks and aeroplanes, we are civilised." The attitude of hundreds of millions of people in the world today is the attitude expressed in that story.
§ Mr. John Hall
I am interested in the reference to Japan and the change in attitude which occurred, apparently, after the Japanese came into contact with Western civilisation. Has the hon. Gentleman not heard of the warrior caste which existed in Japan before it was open to Western civilisation, and the kind of wars and conflicts that occurred between them then?
§ Mr. Baird
Of course I have heard of it, but I am saying that the attitude today of the people of India, Burma, Ceylon, many in Japan, China, British Guiana, Kenya and other areas is that they no longer accept the values of Western civilisation. We must face the fact, because if we do not we are finished.
The other reason for the country's huge defence programme is that we must prosecute the cold war. I suppose I shall be accused of being a fellow-traveller for saying what I want to say now. In the debate on the economic situation which we had last week, and on which we spent two days, I do not remember any hon. Member on either side of the House pointing a finger to the major cause of our economic troubles, which is the huge armament programme we are sustaining today. I do not remember anybody emphasising that argument. 1573 Yet we must all admit that it is the size of the armament programme more than anything else which is the cause of our inflationary situation.
This week the House spent a day discussing foreign affairs and two days discussing defence. What a queer sense of proportion the House has, because surely the whole problem of defence is dependent on our foreign policy. I believe—and I know I am in a small minority in my party—that we are tackling this problem all the wrong way.
I remember going, five or six years ago, on a deputation from this House to N.A.T.O. We went to Paris to meet General Eisenhower, as he then was. We spent two days there listening to lectures by Field Marshal Montgomery and General Eisenhower. During those discussions we tried to ask them what the aim of N.A.T.O. were. After some argument they replied that the aim of N.A.T.O. was to liberate the captive countries of Eastern Europe, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Roumania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and so on. It then seemed to me, as it seems to me today, that our sense of values in this House and in Western Europe—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
The hon. Member is now developing an argument more fitted to a debate on foreign affairs.
§ Mr. Baird
That may be so, but I do not see how it is possible to discuss the size of the Army without relating it to foreign affairs. I suggest that the size of the Army cannot be reduced until there is destroyed the conception, possessed by many hon. Members, that it is necessary to prosecute the cold war.
The majority of hon. Members think that Communism is an evil thing. I do not believe that that is true. Communism is a system of government in the same way that capitalism is. They both have good and bad points, and the world will have to face that fact sooner or later. If it does not, there will be a war which will end all wars. We are all always trying to paint the picture too black or too white. I believe that the cold war is a "phoney" war, and the sooner we recognise that the better.
I do not like to say these things, but we must know in our hearts that we have no defence for this country if a major 1574 war breaks out; and the sooner we face that the better. I fought the last General Election on a policy of advocating that we should withdraw from N.A.T.O., send the Americans home, close the American bases here, and carry out a policy of active neutralism.
§ Mr. Baird
Having said that, I want to argue that only in that way, only by facing up to the realities of the international situation, can we ever hope to reduce the heavy expenditure on the Armed Forces, especially the Army. Until we have a realistic approach to the problems of the modern world, we can never hope to cut our defence costs and solve our serious economic problems.
I have recently travelled in many parts of the world, and I am convinced that if Soviet Russia wants to dominate the world she will do it without armed forces. I have seen some of the economic aid she is giving to China and India and I have seen some of our own production. If Soviet Russia wants to dominate the world she will do it by economic means, without recourse to war. I believe that the danger from Russia, if there ever was such a danger, has receded into the background. If there is a danger, it is a danger from economic competition.
I beg the House to wake up and realise that we are wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on sustaining Armed Forces which are completely unnecessary. If, instead, we spent that money in competing with Russia and in helping the subjects of the poorer nations of the world, it would be a much greater contribution to peace, to our own security, and to the good of the world, than we are making by sustaining our present large Army and large defence programme.
§ 2.55 a.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I promise not to detain the House for more than a few minutes, as I know the hour is late, but some of the statements which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird) has made are almost so far out of order that I shall not have a proper opportunity to pursue them.
I hope that some of the views that the hon. Member expresses are not the 1575 official Bevanite point of view on colonial policy. I believe that wherever a thing like Mau Mau breaks out, both against European and African, it must be the British Government's duty to protect our colonial people; and the same applies to the Communist movement in British Guiana. The hon. Gentleman says he thinks that Communism is a good thing. In that case, more than the gap across the Floor of this House divides us.
I want to say a few words about the question of air transport, a subject which, I think, has been raised by many hon. Members today and during othe defence debate.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
On a point of order. Is not an Amendment dealing fully with air transport to be moved during the Air Estimates, next Monday?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not know whether the air transport to which the hon. Member is referring has anything to do with the Army, but we are not yet on the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Fraser
Yes, this is the air transport of our Army. Obviously, the further we reduce the size of the Forces, the more mobile and flexible they must become.
The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), who was Under-Secretary of State for War, referred to the question of the Colonial type of police operation. There is also the other type of operation, not impossible without involving us in a major war—the Korean type of operation. Undoubtedly, an enormous number of troops would have to be made available, and we have to ask ourselves, and the Under-Secretary of State, how they are set at this stage for availability of aircraft for the movement of troops. It is quite clear that Transport Command, as such, if it becomes too large, will become an uneconomic unit. Nothing is more expensive to the taxpayer than a large aircraft eating off its head, and the taxpayer's head, while it is not given full use. Utilization must be the main objective, and major utilization is the only way in which money can be saved. I believe we must see that all available aircraft can be—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The question of air transport is due to be discussed on 1576 Monday. If this is really under the jurisdiction of the Army it may be in order, but—
§ Mr. Wigg
With respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, paragraph 31 of the Secretary of State's Memorandum on the Army Estimates deals specifically with reinforcing by air, and this afternoon the Secretary of State referred to the fact that a number of Beverleys were being brought into use in April. I should have thought, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman was substantially in order.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If he is referring to the Army he is in order, but if he is dealing with air transport which comes under the Air Ministry I do not think that that would be in order.
§ Mr. Fraser
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, we have been talking today about the movement of the 24th Infantry Brigade, and of other troops, by aircraft. Also, according to the Estimates, money is paid by the Army for the use of aircraft for troops.
From what some hon. Members have said it would seem that the demand for, aircraft for the movement of troops may be large. Reference has been made to the Territorial divisions which may have to be moved by air if they are part of the N.A.T.O. Forces. I hope that the Minister will use his influence with his colleagues in the Cabinet to see that the maximum boost is given to civil aviation. That is the only way to ensure that there will be a sufficient fleet of aircraft available.
I hope that the Ministry will remember, when giving contracts, that contracts should be given for a longer period than is the case at present. There is a tendency for the War Office to charter aircraft for short periods and to go to the cheapest market, which means that not the best aircraft are used. There are only about 90 first-class aircraft, from Argonauts upwards, in this country which may be used for troop carrying, apart from those in the various Royal Air Force commands, and it is important that when the Ministry spends its money on charter aircraft it should spend it well.
The Minister should consult his colleagues about the necessity of having a sufficient number of aircraft for carrying out large-scale operations. That is a wider question which my right hon. 1577 Friend should address to the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation. At the moment, charter companies are limited to air trooping and the nationalised airlines, B.O.A.C. and B.E.A., cannot compete. In the same way, chartered companies cannot compete on liner services. Thus utilisation and availability are reduced. This leads to the problem of providing first-class passenger aircraft for the movement of troops. I do not mean first-class in the sense of luxury, but in availability, speed and economy.
We talk glibly about the necessity for flexibility and of troop movement by air, but we are also talking about an availability of aircraft which cannot possibly meet the needs of the Forces as things are today arranged. I hope that, in addition to examining his own contracts with the charter companies, the Minister will raise with his colleagues the necessity of a civil aviation policy which will assure the availability of aircraft on a massive scale to carry out any large movement of troops which may suddenly become necessary.
§ 3.4 a.m.
§ Mr. George Craddock (Bradford, South)
I wish to bring the House back to one or two important points made by the Secretary of State. He gave us certain figures and mentioned that this year the Army was costing £472 million, including £26 million on the pay rise. The Army figure, for National Service men and volunteers, is 485,000 men. These are tremendous figures and should be carefully examined. It is very doubtful whether this expenditure is necessary and whether it is necessary that we should have all these men in the Army.
The Minister discussed manpower and reorganisation. This is important, and I want briefly to refer to it. He said that attempts were being made to recruit as many men as possible on long-term engagements. Several matters arise from that statement. He said that by 1958 it was expected that the call-up age would have reached 19 years. He said, further, that a special committee had been set up to deal with complaints about men being "browned off" and all the rest, and being made to perform duties and respond to orders which seemed to many people to be quite ridiculous. I should like to consider the question of organisation in the barracks and in the camps, 1578 for it is in this direction that matters could be brought to a head for the benefit of the men. I am certain that, notwithstanding the pay rise, unless men are treated decently and properly, there will be no response to join the Forces.
If we are not in an age of real peace, at least we are living in an age of comparative peace, and 485,000 men seems to me to be a huge number. I do not know whether all these men are necessary in the Army in an age of comparative peace. I feel that the cost of the Forces has been a heavier drain than our economy can bear. Therefore, I am all in favour of the examination of manpower and reorganisation.
Various things could be done to help members of the Forces in the camps. In addition to the sons of widows, many young men who have been the breadwinners have to leave home to serve in the Army. Although the Under-Secretary of State for War has been very helpful in quite a few personal cases, my hon. Friend the Member for Lady-wood (Mr. V. Yates) was correct in what he said about the delay in replying to correspondence when we have put difficult cases before the Minister.
I have been to the Catterick and Honiton reception camps, and have visited barracks at York and at Halifax. The buildings at York and Halifax are very old, the one having been built in 1875 and the other in 1884. In my opinion, they are ready to make way for new buildings. Not long ago the Minister suggested that the Treasury would grant £17 million for this purpose. I am pleased about that, for it is high time that something was done with these old buildings and they were replaced.
In the reception camps, there are many difficulties. I cannot understand why young men, when called up and sent to reception camps, are kept there for three or four weeks without being allowed out. To me, it is unreasonable. These camps are in distant places. It is nonsensical to say that they should be kept there until they are able to dress themselves correctly and go outside the camps as real soldiers. When one goes to Honiton and Catterick, and considers the circumstances around these camps, it is nonsense to say that the men have to stay inside for a month before they can go out and enjoy the social life in the district.
1579 It seems to me that when a complaint is made by a soldier, it is made to the N.C.O. immediately over him in rank, and that then it goes to a senior N.C.O., to a warrant officer and to a junior officer. Reasonable complaints sometimes never reach the right person. That is a complaint we are getting all the time. There is one way in which this matter could be tackled. I have had letters from all kinds of people supporting the idea of having camp councils, which I advocated a little while ago. I see no reason why these could not be instituted. I have a letter from a man who took part in the formation of these councils at two R.A.F. camps. Some commanding officers have agreed to the idea, and I understand that where it has been put into operation it has given tremendous satisfaction to the men.
I suggest to the Secretary of State that barracks and camps should have these councils set up to deal with complaints by the men. I suggest that the camps should be based on the principle of the Whitley Council. Officers, N.C.Os. and the rank and file could be represented. I put this forward as a practical proposition and as something which, outside the Services, is part of our English way of life. If extended to the Army, it would be as helpful there as it is among the trades unions and elsewhere.
It was interesting to me to learn that the Secretary of State, the Army and the generals have now been converted to the point of view that we must get rid of conscription as soon as possible. In these days, I think there is no reason why we should not get rid of it and have a volunteer professional Army. This will never be done by merely giving the men more money; but we shall get sufficient volunteers if, when they are in the Forces, they are treated like men.
I have had complaints recently from parents in Bradford whose sons have written to them complaining about their mail not reaching them in time. They also said that when first taken to Catterick Camp they had N.C.Os. standing over them all the time. These men are called up at 6 a.m. for exercises. My hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood and I found these same young men cleaning windows and sweeping huts at 8.30 and 9.30 p.m. We were told that their 1580 day's work or exercises were supposed to have been completed at 5.30 p.m., but going round the camp late in the evening, after having had a meal, we found that they were still doing chores. They were fed up to the back teeth.
§ Mr. Craddock
It is wrong that young men should have this feeling and I do not see why it is necessary to give them these ridiculous orders stretching from 16 to 18 hours a day. I suggest that the Secretary of State should set up Army Camp Councils which will make things run more smoothly. There is no reason that the Army should not have up-to-date machinery The fact that we have always done things in a certain old-fashioned way is no reason for continuing to do them in that way.
The Secretary of State ought to have come to the House with a proposal to reduce conscription by at least six months now. In my opinion it should be abolished in the next year or two. I very much regret that he has not made that proposal, because the young men and their parents are waiting for it to happen. The time has come, in these days of comparative peace, when we can step out of the rut in which we have been since the Korean troubles, reduce the period of conscription and, at the earliest possible moment, get rid of it altogether.
I do not regard conscription, especially in peace-time, as the hallmark of a free society but as something very bad indeed. The Secretary of State has a great opportunity and I hope that before long he will take steps to get rid of this blot on our society—the continuance of the call-up of men to the forces at this very early age. The parents as well as the young men themselves deserve this consideration and I hope that before long it will be given to them.
§ 3.19 a.m.
§ Mr. W. Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)
My hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, South (Mr. George Craddock) and Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates) have made a plea for the democratisation of the Armed Forces. The hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) said, earlier, that that was quite impossible. He said that the Army was a benevolent autocracy. I 1581 agree that it is an autocracy. Sometimes it is benevolent; sometimes in my experience, which has been shared by many others in recent years, it is malevolent; and often it is incredibly selfish.
It really is about time that this myth that all officers are instructed in, and accept as their first duty, the care of their men, was exploded. Although I had the honour and the privilege of serving alongside people who were kindly and considerate, there were always those who were selfish. I do not understand why hon. Members do not accept that, for exactly the same applies in civilian life and there are the same characteristics among all the community.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I thought that the hon. Member's observation was that the emphasis was on the benevolence of the autocracy. Personally, I believe that that is very much exaggerated, and if it was possible to apply the solution suggested by two of my hon. Friends tonight I think it would be a very good thing; because we shall never solve the recruiting problem solely with increases of pay. There is need for attention to the moral aspect which, in the long run, influences a man's decision more than any financial inducement.
There are two matters to which I should like to refer, before I come to the Motion, and the first is that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) about the operation of War Office selection boards and, in particular, the operation of that board which was mentioned in relation to Marine Baird. As I understand the charge made against it, it is that the members of that board asked the candidate a series of questions concerning the political views of his father, and saying, in effect, "If your father is a Labour M.P., who are his friends; and are you yourself a Socialist?"
I have in my hand the letter sent by the War Office to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird), and these charges are not specifically denied. The letter states:It is not uncommon to discuss controversial subjects with a view to eliciting the candidate's independence of thought, range of 1582 ideas, personal affections, and an ability to express himself.I agree that those are admirable qualities for a leader to possess and it is right that the War Office should assess a candidate's capacity in them; but to ask a young man what are his father's political views, or his own, is surely not necessary as a test of self-expression. I should have thought that a much wider field would have been chosen.
I have, as no doubt have other hon. Members, appeared before a War Office selection board. In my case, it was in Cairo, just before the end of the last war, and I recall some of the questions. One, for example, asked me to describe to an audience which, it was assumed, had never seen them, a whole series of simple objects. One was a Primus stove, and I thought that that was a very difficult test for the vocabulary, and for powers of self expression especially when the audience had never seen one. But it was at least a much better test of powers of self expression than asking, "Is your father a Labour Member of Parliament?"
I think that the War Office has a really serious case to answer here. The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) intervened earlier in the debate to say that, on the whole, he thought it was an advantage for a candidate to have his father in the House of Commons. He seemed to approve of it being an advantage. With respect, I think that that was a deplorable observation.
§ Sir I. Fraser
I did not quite say that. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish me to be misunderstood any more than I would wish it. It seemed to be suggested by an earlier speaker in the debate that some unfortunate young fellow was perhaps overlooked or put on one side because his father was a Labour Member of Parliament. I then suggested that I did not think it would work that way at all. I suggested that, if anything, the fact—when it became known—that the young man's father was a Member of Parliament, on either side of the House, or, indeed, if he was a trade union official, a doctor, or any man who had shown himself to have taken an active and competent part in affairs, would help and not handicap him in getting the position.
§ Mr. Griffiths
That puts the point much more clearly. I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman.
But the case that we are here making against the War Office and the explanation that we want from the Minister are these. We are not concerned about the fact that the candidate in this instance had a father who was a Member of Parliament. Whoever his father was, he may have been completely unfitted for selection. We all understand that. What we want the Minister to say is whether he regards it as proper specifically to ask a candidate his father's and his own political views. What possible help could that be to the board in deciding the capacity of the candidate?
I hope that the House will not allow this matter to pass without a thorough explanation and a repudiation by the Minister of the tactics employed in this case.
§ Mr. Strachey
I should like to add my voice to my hon. Friend's request for a definite answer on that point, because I think that we on these benches feel very definitely that both questions—the question about the father's political affiliation and that about the candidate's own political views—are, prima facie at any rate, wrong questions to ask in those circumstances. They are bound to raise suspicions, even if those suspicions are unjustified, and we should like it to be recorded that, in our view, they are not proper questions to ask.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I now turn to a second matter which arises from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), which speech, if my hon. Friend will allow me to say so, I regarded as one of the compensations for sitting through these long hours of debate. I enjoyed it very much indeed.
When my hon. Friend was speaking, I made a friendly intervention because I wanted to understand his point of view on Kenya. He spoke with eloquence and passion on the military defence of Malaya and Kenya. It occurred to me that it is quite different when we use troops to intervene in a British Colony when the people, who have been granted a constitution, have expressed themselves at the polls in a way of which the British Government do not approve.
1584 The hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) supported about police action in British Guiana because he believed that the people had chosen a Government which had a Communist complexion. That is a deplorable point of view which, I am sure, would be repudiated by some of his hon. and right hon. Friends on those benches. If we do not accept the right of people in the Colonial Territories to determine their own form of government we are doing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham said, what the Communists were trying to do in Malaya.
The hon. Member also said that the terrorist movement in Malaya was designed to take effect before the full results of self-government there could jeopardise the future success of the Communists. I accept that argument, but we must equally regard it as desirable that when we have granted a Constitution, as in British Guiana, we do not send troops out there when they choose a Government with which we do not agree.
Suppose the new Federation of Malaya were to choose a new form of government which was anti-British and pro-Communist. What would be the attitude of Government supporters to that situation? Would they spend more of the taxpayers' money to send troops and overthrow the régime?
I welcome the Amendment. I heard the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall). Many of my hon. Friends had said that they enjoyed his speech and that it gave them a useful opportunity of supporting him and accompanying him into the Lobby. All we have heard today, and in the two-day defence debate, proves the need for a cautious reassessment of the whole of our military approach. One thing which stands out a mile was the doubts and hesitations which characterised the speeches made from both sides of the House. That is not surprising when we consider the history of defence expenditure in the last six years. We are faced with a situation which is fraught with enormous difficulties. Defence programmes have for years imposed upon taxpayers a cost which it was not right to expect them to bear.
Perhaps I may illustrate that by something referred to in the debate yesterday, 1585 relating to the last nine months of the period of office of the Labour Government, in 1951. Then, we embarked upon a three-year defence programme, which the then Prime Minister, now Earl Attlee, announced to the House of Commons early in 1951, was designed to spend £4,700 million over the subsequent three years—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order, order. We are only dealing with the Army Estimates, not with the entire defence expenditure.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Thank you, Sir, but it is my purpose to illustrate and relate the argument that I am adducing on defence expenditure in general to the need to examine a portion of that defence expenditure as laid down in the Amendment, and that I shall hope to do. If I am not allowed to refer to the global sum that was envisaged as being necessary to be spent in the three years from the beginning of 1951, at least I shall be in order in saying that a large amount of that sum was designed to be spent upon the Army.
I understand why it was necessary to spend large sums on the Army at that time. After all, there was a war in Korea and the Government were faced with an international situation fraught with considerable difficulty. They had to make some assessment of the position. Certainly, everybody on these benches should support this Amendment strongly because the money proposed to be spent on the Army in 1951 and in subsequent years involved us in certain budgetary consequences which inflicted hardships and shortages upon our people that most of us, certainly on this side of the House, would have sought to avoid.
It does not lie in the mouths of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to criticise us now, because at the time of which I am speaking, the first period of the last five years, there was not a breath of criticism from the opposite side of the House about the financial consequences of the Labour Government's defence programme and expenditure upon the Army.
Last night, we were told by the Secretary of State for Air that if the Government had not cut back considerably the expenditure on defence and upon Army Estimates in the past few years the expense to the taxpayer would have risen sharply. If that be true, it is another reason why we should have the inquiry 1586 which the hon. Member for Wycombe has suggested.
In a situation when weapons and their uses are new, when people have real hesitations and doubts as to how these should be deployed, it would be wrong in 1956, to rush hastily into an appreciation of the situation with all its consequent budgetary and inflationary consequences, as, in my view, was done in 1951.
I want to protect the House from a repetition of that situation because, Sir, if I may illustrate the point, it is within our recollection that it brought lamentable consequences. For example, in a year when the cost of living rose extremely sharply because of the size of the Army Estimates, it was impossible for the Government of the day to shield the poorer section of the community, such as the old-age and disabled pensioners, from the worst consequences of that rise. I agree that the rise was not caused primarily by the defence programme. We were right in saying that it was due to the deterioration in the terms of trade arising from the Korean war.
Nevertheless, we could not defend our people, because of the size of the defence programme and the Army expenditure on which we had embarked at that time. I have been here a long time and I have been very anxious to make this speech, but the hour is getting late and I will not weary the House with repeating too many examples—although there are many—of the social and political consequences, certainly to us on this side, of that hasty embarkation on a defence programme which we want to avoid repeating in 1956.
There is another thing. I do not know—and I do not think that the House has been told—how much of what has been spent in Army Estimates in the past few years has been squandered. Many of my hon. and right hon. Friends have had guesses. What designs of productions have proved ineffective when tested; what equipment to make them has proved unsuitable and, today, is probably rusting in ordnance factories, or being disposed of at knock-down prices?
§ Mr. Griffiths
Or sold to Egypt.
This is a melancholy story and it has continued for year after year from the 1587 time I have chosen to start the story. Today, we are discussing the Army Estimates in the light of a two-day debate on the Defence White Paper which, among other things, rightly said that the burden of defence could not be allowed to rise to a level which would endanger our economic future. In my submission, it has done so already. The country faces an economic crisis. The Chancellor tells us that we all have to save—everybody, except the generals. We have to do without television sets, washing machines, and vacuum cleaners, unless we can put down one half of the cost price. Local authorities have to cut down on all those desirable and long overdue improvements—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I do not know how the hon. Member attaches all these things like washing machines, and so on, to the Army Estimates. They seem to me to be very remote.
§ Mr. Wigg
With respect, Sir, the Secretary of State announced in his speech today that he was purchasing just those articles for recruits and there must be a conflict in a shrinking market if the Secretary of State for War seeks to divert washing machines and similar articles to the use of troops. My hon. Friend is in order in continuing to bring out these facts.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I was trying to demonstrate the fact that the burden of the expenditure on the Army has been allowed to rise to a level which is endangering our economic future, and I was seeking to show that that was so by relating it to the examples in the day-to-day lives of the people we represent in the House of Commons. I seek to argue that if the Army Estimates were different it would be possible to buy television sets and washing machines more easily than it is now.
I had a list of other consequences of this programme and of the Government's misunderstanding of the whole position, but, Mr. Speaker. you have been extremely generous to me and I do not want to trespass on your good nature. However, it is the fact that if I collect the milk on my way home, as a result of this defence policy I shall have to pay more 1588 for it than I would have done a week ago, and the same applies to the bread we eat. With all this, we are still spending £1,500 million on Defence-12s. 8d. per head of the population per week. We are now to find another £70 million for our occupation Forces in Germany.
We are coming to the end of the debate. If I dare repeat myself, there has been clearly demonstrated the need for an inquiry such as that envisaged by the hon. Member for Wycombe. Speaking for my own party, I feel that we should have the opportunity of sitting on a committee and thinking very carefully about what we are to propose. There was a time during defence debates, and debates of this kind, when I used to hear hon. and right hon. Gentlemen arguing that in the forseeable future we should reach a position where we would be able to negotiate from strength, a political solution would be found, and that it might be possible then to scale down the amount of money to be spent on the various Services.
Today, we do not hear anything about negotiations from strength. Currently, in all the documents that are put forward it is envisaged that this burden will be with us in the forseeable future, and it is clear from speeches made in the House that there is some real doubt about this mater. For example, the other day, my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) was arguing about the need to use certain weapons in certain strategic and tactical situations, and if his view be the one to be accepted by this party and by the House it would influence my judgment as to how much money should be spent on the Army Estimates, because there was a considerable difference between the point of view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper and the Minister of Defence. For example, if I may quote, my right hon. Friend said:I find it very difficult to conceive a limited war with conventional forces in Western Europe. I just cannot see how we could have such a conflict with such forces in this field. It seems to me that, faced with the overpowering Russian conventional might in terms of manpower and weapons, we would be bound to use tactical atomic weapons in such a situation.Later, my right hon. Friend went on:The Minister"—1589 that is, the Minister of Defence, speaking about the ultimate deterrent—said that we shall never be the first to use it. Many people have said that, but I have never said it. It seems to me to be challenging fate an awful lot.Later in the same debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) expressed an entirely different point of view. I assure the House that I am not quarrelling at this moment with either my right hon. Friend or my hon. Friend. I am only trying to illustrate the real difference of opinion which exists, and to illustrate how unwise it would be to rush into expenditure and further hasty changes without adopting the procedure recommended to us by the hon. Member whose motion is on the Order Paper. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington. North was arguing about this theory of graduated deterrents. There is a great deal of jargon used in these arguments which I, for one, do not understand.
My hon. Friend said:The acid test is to try to apply the theory of graduated deterrents to any part of the world which might he the scene of a local war. Let us stop arguing in theory and put the problem on the ground. Is it possible, for example, to use a system of graduated deterrents in the Middle East? Let us suppose that there was an attack on the Northern Tier organisation of the Baghdad Treaty Powers. Would it be possible to use thermonuclear weapons there in the hope of keeping the battle limited to that sphere?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th February, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 1211–1260.]My hon. Friend went on to say that if we did that the first casualty in any attempt to use technically atomic weapons would be one of our allies. I think that is absolutely right, but it is at variance with the view expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper.
I close on that. I have deliberately chosen two points of view, expressed from this side of the House, which are in conflict with the view of the Minister of Defence. One could go through HANSARD for the past three days and demonstrate how right hon. and hon. Members are puzzling out this matter. For these reasons, and recalling the unfortunate history of defence expenditure in the last six years, I hope that the House will agree to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wycombe.
§ 3.51 a.m.
§ Mr. Wilfred Fienburgh (Islington, North)
I shall not attempt to follow the references of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths) to the War Office selections boards. I was fortunate enough to be commissioned into the Rifle Brigade before this diabolic organisation was invented. My wife went before one, failed, and spent the rest of the war as the private secretary of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). On the whole, therefore, I have mixed ideas on these selection boards.
Neither shall I follow my hon. Friend in the able way in which he managed to combine speeches on the Estimates, economics and foreign affairs in one. I wish to revert to the problem raised in the defence debate, and which it is proper to raise again today. I wish to attempt to analyse the commitments with which our Army is charged at the moment. This is one of the first debates on this matter in which we have been able to lift the veil and see precisely what are these commitments. Previously, when we have challenged the size of our Armed Forces we have been faced with the mumbo-jumbo that we have our strategic commitments to face; that we must show the flag; that we have a responsibility in all these various parts of the world. In a cathedral-like atmosphere we have stepped back and said, "Oh, yes, there are, of course, these very important commitments. Do not let us press for an analysis of them."
Today, following the efforts of members of my craft, the journalists, who have developed an excellent intelligence service, particularly in The Times, we have a reasonably detailed analysis of our defence commitments which has not been challenged by the Minister. I was distressed at the flippant way in which he treated this question, which is, after all, at the root of the whole problem. He said, "Dear me, wouldn't it be nice to have that man from The Times in the Intelligence Corps."? Making all due allowance for his disability and state of health, I think that was rather a silly way for the Minister to treat this matter. Therefore, I am seriously pressing the Under-Secretary of State for an answer on some of these points.
1591 What are these commitments? Is it necessary, sensible or reasonable, for political or strategic reasons to have, for example a battalion in the Caribbean Seas, in Bermuda? That is not strategy, it is flippancy. It is not the deployment of forces, it is playing soldiers as we used to do on the carpet at home when we were younger. This is not organised military direction, this is "duck-shoving" troops round the world for no reasonable, obvious military or strategic purpose, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will reply to that point.
Several battalions are committed to Hong Kong, with several regiments of gunners. What will they ever do there? They would be finished without firing a shot if the reservoirs were knocked out, which would be a simple operation from the mainland. Surely we have learnt enough to know better than to commit forces to unsupportable areas, particularly in that part of the world. It may be necessary to have a flag showing in the island, but the obvious way to show the flag with the maximum economy of force is to have very few men with a very large flag instead of a large number of men who have practically no reasonable hope either of defending themselves or extricating themselves should the worst happen.
We have a rifle company—not much, but these things add up—and an armoured regiment in Jordan. I saw those units when I was in Jordan as the guest of the Arab Legion, at Easter. They were far away to the south, stuck in areas from which it appeared to me that they would have the greatest difficulty in moving in any direction if they were required to do so. I asked why they were not on main lines of communication but were tucked away down to the south instead of in the north; they were supposed to be meeting any threat from Russia, I supposed, and not from Israel. I was told, We had to put them there because if the Jordanians see them around in the populated areas, they get irate and we have to hide them out of the way."
What a silly way of disposing of our troops. There is nothing they could do. It is not even necessary for them to show the flag there, because we have a £7 million per annum commitment with the 1592 Arab Legion in that area; how long we are able to retain control of it is another matter. It is another instance of what I call the "duck-shoving" about of soldiers.
Next, Cyrenaica and Tripoli. Why have we several thousand troops, including the King's Royal Rifle Corps, in that part of the world? Surely there is no military threat there. If there is, where is it coming from? Are they there to support the monarchies which have been just created? If so, I suggest that that is not a proper task for British Armed Forces to undertake at this time. Therefore, again I ask the Under-Secretary of State for War what strategic purpose there is in the placing of troops in that area.
The garrisons in Gibraltar are to be run down, I sincerely hope, now that coastal artillery is being disbanded. The major point is our commitment in Germany. If it were a strategic or military commitment, it might be supported, but it is neither. It is a political commitment, designed not to protect either Germany or France against any advance from the East, but designed to protect France from her fears of Germany. It is a purely political commitment which, so far as I can see, no real fundamental strategic purpose in the H-bomb age.
We all know the general theory of operations in that sphere, should the worst happen. The general idea, I understand, is that certain areas of potential advance will be contaminated by thermonuclear attack. Therefore, the advancing forces will, one assumes, be canalised into the clear areas, where they will be knocked to pieces by atomic artillery. In which case we have to ask ourselves whether it is sensible to leave those troops there and whether they are serving any purpose.
I admit that if the German Army is recreated, the French may well have grounds for perturbation, and it may well be proper that some troops of ours should be in that area, if for nothing other than to reassure the French. But there is no German Army. It will be a considerable time before there is one. My view is that the Germans, who have always been extremely proficient in one of the first maxims of war—that is, the economical use of their strength—have realised that the most economical use of strength is to use somebody else's.
1593 They are making no immediate attempt to gear their economy to the production of an army or of arms. There will probably be large-scale tax concessions in Germany in the forthcoming budget. They have large reserves of funds with which they could possibly have created an army, but I think they realise that in the strategical and tactical considerations governing the fighting of a war in central Europe, there would not be much point in them having the 12 divisions anyway. There does not seem much purpose in our being quite so heavily committed in that area at this time. If we could reduce that commitment we could do away with National Service.
I want to deal with two contradictory statements in the speech of the Secretary of State yesterday. In the first place he said that National Service had its value because it encouraged people to sign on for longer engagements, and then he said that one of the difficulties of getting people to stay in the Army was because National Service men were more able to get home. So we have the conflicting picture presented of National Service being an inducement to people to stay on in the Army, and, at the same being a deterrent. If that is a measure of the amount of thought being undertaken on this vital subject in the War Office, I ask them to sit for a little longer over their hot coffee, with cold towels around their heads, and to try to co-ordinate at least two thoughts in one speech. If they cannot do that, how can they co-ordinate a policy over the whole field?
I will now leave the broad issues and get down to brass tacks on a subject with which I am fairly familiar, the Territorial Army. I do not expect the Under-Secretary to answer these points. I put them forward because they are exercising the minds of those in the T.A. My authority for speaking on this subject is that, at the moment, I am, I think, the only serving T.A. officer in the House. I do not think that I shall be for much longer, however; with the reconstruction of the T.A. people, like myself, who cannot devote much time to it, should leave it to people who can spend more time on it.
First, the state of the Territorial Army is utterly deplorable and chaotic at present, because few units have any conception of what they are supposed to be doing. So many commanding officers are 1594 just hanging on and do not know what their rôle is going to be. There is no excuse for that state of affairs. It is now some considerable time since A.A. Command was disbanded and the idea of having a large reserve army was abandoned.
The second point relates to National Service men. When the general conception was that we would have a large reserve army, with many divisions exportable to the European theatre, it was possibly a good idea that National Service men, on completion of service, should do annual camps with the Territorial Army. But I do think that it is now feasible to abolish entirely this commitment of National Service men. For one thing, it is extraordinarily difficult to know precisely what to do with them when they arrive at these camps.
In any trouble in the future, most of the Territorial Army will be engaged in backing up the Civil Defence forces. If that is to be their rôle, there is no need for extensive annual training. They will not have new weapons to master, nor will they have to practise tactics; it will not even be necessary to have the bodies there in order to exercise the commander in the disposition and employment of his troops. With the exception of the Royal Engineers, who presumably will be doing a certain amount of bridge building and sewer draining, and things of that sort, most of these troops will be engaged in fairly humdrum, easily manageable operations, such as clearing streets and houses, getting bodies out, and all the other horribly gruesome things in which we should be involved as the aftermath of a thermo-nuclear war.
Those are not duties which call for a great deal of training. We understand that such training is being given as part of the National Service man's training any way. It therefore becomes a complete waste of time to call the troops up for even a reduced annual commitment, and I feel that economy could be achieved by dispensing with it altogether.
May I ask a question relevant to officers? This is a small technical point, and I almost apologise for raising it from this side of the House. It is monstrously unfair that so many National Service officers and volunteer officers in the Territorial Army who are giving up so much time and making so much effort—after 1595 all, the Government are asking them to do it—should receive no bounty for it. It appears that under the new pay code it is much more profitable to be an N.C.O. in the Territorial Army than to take the responsibility of a commission. I feel that some bounty ought to be paid, at least to the junior commissioned ranks in the Territorial Army.
A secondary point which arises on roughly the same ground. It concerns No. 1 dress. The desire to wear it in a unit mess is understandable, and the desire of a commanding officer to have all his officers looking tidy in the mess wearing No. l's is also understandable; and if we combine the two we find that although the Army does not lay it down that young, and often, in civil life, poorly paid Territorial Army officers should buy No. 1 dress, the psychological and mess pressure is such that they can hardly avoid buying it in most Territorial Army units at the moment.
There is no grant for this and there is no provision for it. In my own unit it was financed by a hire-purchase scheme. I am not asking for a grant, because I regard these uniforms as fripperies for which it is quite unnecessary that a grant should be paid. But at the moment the Territorial Army officer cannot even get the cost of No. 1 dress counted as an expense for Income Tax purposes. If he says, "I am a Territorial Army officer and I have dolled myself up in all this beautiful clothing; can I have it counted for an allowance for Income Tax purposes?", the answer is, "No. You are not compelled to have it. The Secretary of States does not instruct you to have it. It is not laid down that you should possess it. It is not obtained necessarily and exclusively in the course of your duties". In fact, it is obtained necessarily in the course of his duties, and it might be better if the Secretary of State were to issue an instruction on the subject, because No. 1 dress is being bought in any case. If he issued an instruction it might enable these officers to get at least some of their money back through an Income Tax rebate.
I want now to rush to the other extreme and to have a tussle with the absent Secretary of State on the general issues of the rôle of the Army in any 1596 future operations. He sneered gently at those of us who dare to discuss these problems by referring to us as "armchair strategists". He is not an armchair strategist; from some of the ideas he has brought out this afternoon I would say that he is a sedan chair strategist.
Of course it is not necessary to sweep the dispatch box, the volumes and the Mace from the Table, put a sand table on it and start a series of tactical exercises without troops on the Floor of the House. But it is proper for non-professionals to discuss these matters in a political atmosphere, because no longer can we say that the strategic deployment of armies is purely a military factor; it is now a function of politics. I do not mean that in the old sense of the phrase that all wars are an extension of foregin policy by other means. But it is bound up with politics because, through political considerations, we impose certain limitations on the uses to which our Armed Forces are to be put; and, therefore, one has to say that the politician has a right to discuss these matters.
I hope that hon. Members will not think that I am recapitulating the speech which I made this week in the defence debate; for one thing, my hon. Friend has just done me the honour of reading out great slabs of it. I can only hope that it sounded as good when I said it as when he read it. But what I was going to say was that I do not believe that we shall start a thermo-nuclear war ourselves in reply to local aggression elsewhere. In reply to major aggression, yes; but not in the case of local aggression.
I think it is true that, should any of the trouble spots around the perimeter of the Soviet area or elsewhere flare into warfare, this country would find it practically impossible to say, "Right, off go the V bombers to Moscow because some troops have now crossed the frontier in some limited area". Of course not, because we know that within a day or two other bombers would be over here and we should be suffering a thermo-nuclear counter attack. So we have to find some way of dealing with a local outbreak without making it into a wholesale nuclear war.
We discussed during the defence debate the subject of what we call graduated 1597 deterrence, and I said that it was not feasible. But that does not mean that nothing can be done. I think that it is the Army's rôle to be available in those circumstances. Once we start using aircraft to drop thermo-nuclear weapons we shall have crossed a dividing line over which it will be extremely difficult to retrace our steps. So it should be the function of the Army, with atomic artillery if one likes, to take this kind of stop action: because it is possible to distinguish in kind between atomic artillery and even a "teeny-weeny" atom bomb dropped by an aircraft.
If that is true, and I believe that it is not only true but feasible, then we have to look at the structure of our Army. In the circumstances, the structure should be something like this. Instead of the core of the Army being the tanks or 25-pounders or infantry, the core becomes the atomic cannon: and the function of the other Services is to provide a defensive screen of some sort which would protect it from counter-attack.
I do not argue that forces of that sort could in any way fight out a limited war; but it is because I do not think there will be another limited war on the Korean pattern that I am advocating this line of thought. I believe that should that kind of aggression occur, the best that we shall be able to do is to take action for a while on the lines I have suggested, a kind of stop-and-think-again policy before we go right over the brink into complete thermo-nuclear warfare. Therefore, I suggest that serious thought should be given to the reconstruction of Army units on these lines.
In his slighting remarks about armchair strategists, the Secretary of State produced one of the silliest similes I have ever heard. He described this House as being stripped of its benches and said, "Just imagine a situation in which we could not possibly deal with advancing hordes of soldiers by the use of atomic cannon. Imagine this House of Commons being invaded by ants and our trying to stop them with hand grenades". That is why I describe the right hon. Gentleman as a sedan-chair strategist. No one these days would dream of trying to stop advancing hordes of soldiers by tossing explosives here and there. If one wanted to stop advancing ants, one would bomb the ant-hill, and if one 1598 wanted to stop hordes of soldiers one would deal with the centres from which they came, nothing indiscriminate and slapdash, like trying to stamp out hordes of ants.
If, as I think the right hon. Gentleman was arguing, we really still required conventional forces to do that task, then consider the size of the conventional Army that we should need to stop advancing hordes in that way. It would not then be a question of an Army of 200.000 or 300.000; in the face of any serious threat we should need an army of 4 million. We should have to go back to the policy which this Government have already rejected, the policy of the large reserve Army.
Quite rightly, the Government have rejected that policy and have said that it is no longer possible to envisage fighting a war in those terms. To my mind, the mistake which the Government have made is in not continuing the process of thought a stage further in order to try, first, to decide the action that would have to be taken in the event of local outbreaks to prevent them from spreading, and from that to the type of Army that we should need to do that job. It is time that those things were done. It is no use the Secretary of State for War saying that it is not proper to discuss these matters and that they must be left to sand-table exercises at the military staff colleges. These are not merely military, but military-political problems which we must discuss, and on which the Government should have a policy to announce to the House.
§ 4.18 a.m.
§ Mr. K. Zilliacus (Manchester. Gorton)
I shall not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) in discussing the details of graduated deterrents versus massive retaliation, local wars versus universal wars, the Territorial Army, the Home Guard, and all the rest of it, because, for the life of me, I cannot take it seriously. I believe that these defence plans will work all right in peace-time but that when the hydrogen bomb comes there will not be any of us left to operate them.
I intend to pursue the subject which my hon. Friend raised so interestingly, that of our commitments, and I shall try 1599 to put before the House some fresh considerations on that point. In the meantime, I should like to say something about conscription. I am speaking not as a pacifist. I am not a pacifist. I agree that when the existence of the State is at stake, the State must have the right to command even the lives of its citizens. But I object to conscription today for pretty much the same reasons that I spoke and voted against the conscription Bill when it was introduced by the Labour Government, namely, because I do not think that if we had a defensible foreign policy we should need conscription to uphold it. Today conscription is of no use in war, as is almost officially admitted, and it is retained in peace for purposes to which I have an objection in principle to using conscripts. For a good many of those purposes I have the strongest objection to using British Forces at all, or to accepting any military commitment.
The National Service White Paper pretty well admitted that conscripts were no use in war. True, it said that "the reserve and auxiliary forces would be called upon to play their essential part in the event of a nuclear war." But it said that they could no longer be sent abroad; they would be wanted at home to maintain the life of the community and to deal with raiders and saboteurs.
What they will do is not at all clear, except that they would need only 20 instead of 60 weeks' training. Since the Prime Minister told us in Geneva that war would mean utter annihilation for us all, and since N.A.T.O. air manoeuvres last summer revealed in military detail that war would be short and horrible and over in 48 hours in this country, I do not see what National Service men are to do to maintain the life of the community when we are all dead, including the National Service men. Nor do I see who is to raid radio-active rubble-heaps, or what would be left to sabotage when everything would be smashed up. We seemed to glimpse for a brief moment that the hydrogen bomb would put an end to all this; now we are talking in let's pretend terms. We hear that 12 million people are to be evacuated, that it is all settled except where they are to go and what to do with them when they get there.
1600 There was an example last night of make-believe which is almost pathetic. An hon. and gallant Gentleman with a naval record—he was an admiral—said, wistfully, "If the hydrogen bomb left enough people alive to carry on the war, and they still felt like carrying on the war, the Navy would be of vital importance." It was a cry from the heart by a Service man who sees that his pet way of destroying human beings has been superseded by the march of civilisation.
I object to conscription, apart from its uselessness for war, because of the terrible waste of time and life in peace. The waste begins before the military service. It was stated in the report "The Citizens of Tomorrow" that the gap beween school-leaving age and call-up age hasa positive adverse influence upon young people. For far too many it is a time of wait and see'…A time in which irresponsibility can become a fixed habit of mind…A time even of deterioration in which boys forget so much of what they knew when they left school, that those who receive them into National Service are discomfited to find that some of their new recruits are barely literate.The gap has to be filled up with blind alley jobs. Some youngsters get the firm habit of waiting for something to turn up. It breaks up their lives and can turn them into spivs and drones.
Then there is the waste of desperately needed skilled and trained people, for instance, apprentices, who waste two or three years of the time that they should be perfecting their trades by serving in the forces. And, of course, there are all the scientists also.
There was a letter in the Manchester Guardian of 22nd February from an irate parent which puts the matter colourfully and pithily:What a pother about the shortage of young scientists: Ministers, M.P.'s and Russophobes, and Uncle Tom Cobley and all falling over themselves to tell us that Britain is doomed unless she can snare more of these rare birds. I would like to do my little bit to save the Empire from ruin, and if no Russians are listening I will tell Sir Anthony Eden where to find quite a sizeable bunch of Honours B.Sc.'s, M.Sc.'s and even Ph.D.'s. He will find them in the British Army and Air Force, peeling potatoes and square bashing, eating their hearts out with aggravation while their brains go rusty and they lose contact with the rapid developments in their subjects. My own son, having taken his Ph.D. following research in a subject which is an American monopoly, will soon be with them…The 1601 trouble with these youngsters, of course, is that they did not spend their six years learning the best way to shovel muck off farm carts. Then they would have been of some use to a Tory landowner and exempt from call-up.It is a wicked waste, and it does not make sense.
Then there is the demoralising effect of conscription. I know that conditions have improved and that we do our best in all conscript countries nowadays to provide a certain amount of education and training in trades as a kind of by-product. But, after all, the main object of conscription is to learn how to kill one's fellow man, and whatever we do to dress it up, it is still a brutish and stupid and boring business, an interruption of normal life and art inversion of the values of normal life.
Military service is heartily disliked by most conscripts in most countries, and although there are a few bright interludes—and when people look back they remember what is nice and forget what is bad—it is not really fun to be a conscript. When it comes to garrison duty, it is even worse.
There was a despatch in the Manchester Evening News on 15th October describing graphically a major flare up among our National Service men in Hong Kong. Some of them were "Teddy Boys". This afternoon the Minister told us that everyone comes in, including the "Teddy Boys" and the reform school and approved school boys, and a few of those are like a ferment and can turn a lot of youngsters wrong. These boys had been getting into trouble. The trouble had been started by the "Teddy Boys" drinking too much and annoying Chinese girls, starting riots and shindies. The boys explained that they knew they were drinking too much but that they were bored, they had nothing to do. They were fed up, browned off. They were not invited into homes and officers' clubs. They were left to amuse themselves in the streets, in the music halls, in the pubs, far from home. It is not a good idea to put youngsters into those conditions.
My strongest objection of all is to the use of conscripts for colonial wars and for so-called international police duties. I asked a Question about that of the Minister of Defence on 8th February. I asked whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman would give an undertaking that conscripts would be exempt from service in colonial wars and in United 1602 Nations wars unless they volunteered for such service. Of course he said, no. Then I asked:Is the Minister not aware that under the military service legislation of Belgium, France and the Netherlands conscripts are exempt from colonial service unless they volunteer? Is it not an anomaly that in this country, in which peace-time conscription is an abhorrent novelty, we should show less respect for human rights and be less scrupulous about exercising the tyrannous power of the State than in the old conscript countries?I received a soothing but, of course, not very satisfactory reply from the Minister. Then came the most extraordinary comment from the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Nairn), which made me think once again that some of us do not live in the same universe of discourse. He asked the Minister of Defence:Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the implications of this Question will be strongly resented by many National Servicemen of all shades of political opinion?I tried to work that one out. It seems to mean that National Service men are so mad keen to get sent out to jungle warfare in Kenya or Malaya—where they risk being disembowelled and butchered in a nasty way and where they have the horrible and disgusting job of shooting their fellow men, or otherwise doing them to death or being sent to Cyprus to deal with schoolboys and others—where they also run the constant risk of being shot, stabbed or bombed—that they resent not being compelled to go and, instead, asked to volunteer. I have never heard anything like it since the favourite argument of fox hunters that the fox likes being hunted so much that he resents being deprived of his involuntary share in the delights of the chase.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) put the late Liberal point of view. He asked:Does the Minister not agree that the attitude of mind implied in the Question is very insular and that there is little hope of maintaining permanent world peace unless and until there is created some form of international police force?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February, 1956; Vol. 548, c. 1676.]To begin with one does not create an international police force with conscripts. In the second place, the only international police that I recognise would be one formed under the Charter and directed by the Security Council of the United Nations. One cannot even begin 1603 to form such a force until one can arrive at a settlement with the Soviet Union and unless the great Powers co-operate and pull together to keep the peace. Once they do that, a token force is quite enough and conscription is wholly, utterly and wildly unnecessary for any such purpose.
The really interesting thing about the comment of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West was his utter obliviousness to the central issue, which I should have thought would have been a liberal issue, the rights of the State over the individual. His cavalier disregard of that issue must have made generations of old-time Liberals revolve in their graves. Conscription is the most tyrannous and extreme form of the exercise of the power of the State over the individual, going all the way to killing and being killed.
I recognise that that right exists and must be used in certain circumstances. But just because it is so extreme, it should be used with the utmost scrupulousness and restricted to the narrowest and most imperative necessity, and not abusively extended. It is a paradox that we take this more lightly than the old conscript countries, which make it perfectly clear that conscripts may not be used for colonial service, unless they volunteer. In France just recently they have got around this by the technicality that Algeria ranks as part of Metropolitan France. Because France's very existence as a great Power is practically at stake, they have sent reservists. But even that has been so bitterly resented that there have been six or seven major riots and minor mutinies.
The practice of using National Service men for politically controversial purposes that have little or nothing to do with national Defence really degrades the youth of our country to the position of a blood bank on which incompetent politicians can draw cheques for lives to pay for their imperial and international blunders. It is an evil and wicked practice and should be stopped. If this issue leaves cold latter day Liberals and even some of our own side, not to mention hon. and right hon. Members opposite, it does not leave cold those who are directly affected.
There was a letter in Reynolds News of the 19th from six mothers, which may 1604 be the beginning of an important revolt. It said:We are mothers of conscripted sons, some of them serving in Malaya, Kenya or Cyprus, and we have come together to do what we can to stop the tragic waste of young lives. We do not want our sons to be sent abroad to kill or to be killed. We know there are thousands of mothers who feel as we do.They have got together, have started getting in touch with people, and have started meetings and so on. I would suggest on this that we come into line with our continental Allies, cut down the period of conscription to 18 months, with a time limit as short as we can make it—two or three years at the most—for abolishing it altogether, and in the meantime immediately put a stop to the use of National Service men in colonial wars, for so-called imperial or international police duties, unless they volunteer.
Now I turn to what is my greatest concern of all—our military commitments, that is the purposes for which the Army, whether conscripted or professional, is to be used. These commitments are outlined in the Defence White Paper and in the Army Estimates. In the Defence White Paper, on page 5, paragraph 8 (ii), we read that our Forces must play their part in the cold war, thattheir presence can contribute to the stability of the free world and the security of overseas territories whose peaceful development may be threatened by subversion, whether overtly Communist or masquerading as nationalismThat is a pretty wide and generous programme. Again, on page 7, para. 15 (ii), we read:The Army will be primarily organised so that it can bring force to bear quickly in a cold or limited war. Balanced forces must be retained overseas to meet cold war requirements and to hold the line until reinforced if limited war should break out. Strategic reserves must be maintained and must be capable of rapid transportation to the scene of trouble for cold or limited war tasks.If we want a little more light on that, we must turn to the Defence White Paper of last year, which had an illuminating paragraph on that point. It says, on page 6, para. 15:The existence of the nuclear weapon may discourage overt armed intervention by the Communist Powers, such as occurred in Korea, because of the risk that it might develop into unlimited war. But equally it may encourage the indirect approach through infiltration and subversion. We shall therefore, in parallel with our effort to develop the deterrent and to prepare against a major war, strengthen by all 1605 means at our disposal, including where necessary the maintenance of adequate conventional forces, our defences against this method of attack. We must play our part with the other countries of the Commonwealth and with our allies in resisting the spread of Communism throughout the world.So our conventional forces—our Army—are to be used for cold wars and limited wars all over the world, to combat Communist infiltration and subversion "even when masquerading as nationalism." That is a pretty broad programme. It is carried a step further in the Baghdad Pact. Paragraph 5 of the Communiqué issued after the first meeting last November of the Council of the Baghdad Pact, read as follows:The five governments reaffirm their intention to work in full partnership and with the united purpose to defend their territories against aggression or subversion,So here again we undertake an international military obligation, to combat subversion in some Middle Eastern countries.
S.E.A.T.O., of course, works on similar lines. Article IV, para. 1, of the S.E.A.T.O. Treaty talks about concerting measures against aggression. Paragraph 2 of the same Article says:If, in the opinion of any of the Parties, the inviolability or the integrity of the territory or the sovereignty or political independence of any Party in the treaty area…is threatened in any way other than by armed attack…the Parties shall consult immediately in order to agree on the measures which should be taken for the common defence.So here again we have something less than aggression, the undertaking that some political measures are to be met by military measures on our side.
Mr. Dulles at the time made the point a little clearer in a speech at the Manila Conference, when he said he had a sense of common destiny with the countries concerned in opposing the spread of Communism. He regretted the absence of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam from the Manila Conference, but hoped that some "mantle of protection" could be thrown over those States as a result of the conference. It was. The Government in South Vietnam is a military dictatorship which the Americans have helped to establish and which they are aiding and which they are committed to defend, thus having made impossible the unification of the country through free elections. If civil war breaks out as a result, 1606 they will undoubtedly treat that as an act of aggression under the S.E.A.T.O. Treaty and try to drag the rest of us in; and so far as I can see we are militarily committed by the S.E.A.T.O. Treaty to do that very thing. In that case, it would be a second Korean War.
The Defence White Paper goes a little further than that. It gives, as a reason for maintaining our Forces, the following argument. It states on page 2:The Soviet Government continue to believe in their right, indeed in their mission, to impose political and economic systems on other nations and to withhold from them the right to choose their own future.That links up with the phrase in the Declaration at Washington about the millions of people of different blood, race and traditions forcibly incorporated in the Soviet Union, and the ten States in Europe which were once independent nations and are now compelled against their will to work for the glorification and aggrandisement of the Soviet Communist State.
The Potomac Charter makes the point even clearer. It was reaffirmed—
§ Mr. Zilliacus
It is an attempt to analyse what are our commitments. The Potomac Charter definitely states that we are committed to make peace only on the basis of restoring their sovereignty to States deprived of their independence and not to be parties to any treaty or arrangement which would confirm or prolong their unwilling subordination. That in effect equates the present position of those States vis-à-vis the Soviet Union with the position of these States vis-à-vis Hitler during the war and pledges us to continue the cold war until we have liberated those States.
There is a similar commitment in the case of Formosa, where the Government have made it clear that if war breaks out between Chaing Kai-shek and the Chinese Communists they would be prepared to join that war. If the United States came to the Security Council of the United Nations and said that that should be treated as international aggression, our Government would say so—
§ Mr. Zilliacus
I will come back to the Defence White Paper, or rather to N.A.T.O., which is part of the commitments referred to in the Defence White Paper, and one of the reasons why we have a defence programme.
Our commitment under N.A.T.O. was described by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer when he was Foreign Secretary in a speech in this House on 12th December when he pointed out thatthe westward march of Communism"—after the war—seemed likely to overrun the whole of Europe. This was prevented by the courage and foresight of those statesmen who called a halt and began to organise resistance.That is N.A.T.O.This salvage operation was covered by the protecting shield of American atomic power. Now the Soviets are halted in the West…We believe they may, with steady pressure upon them, be forced sooner or later, to give ground in Eastern Germany. But this temporary stability…is not the outcome of the bomb alone. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is, of course, primarily a military alliance, but it is more."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1955: Vol. 547, c. 831.]In other words, our military commitment under N.A.T.O., in this view, is to push the Russians out of Eastern Germany. It seems rather a tall order. But it is not by any means the whole of our commitment.
On every occasion when Czechoslovakia has been mentioned, either by the Government or by hon. or right hon. Gentlemen opposite, they have always treated it as a case of Soviet aggression. This has a direct bearing on Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which is part of our military commitments. Article 4 provides thatThe Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.The American Secretary of State Dean Acheson, at a Press conference at the time the North Atlantic Treaty was published, when asked whether Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty authorised the United States to intervene in the event of a revolution like that in Czechoslovakia in February, 1948, replied thata purely internal revolution should not be regarded as an armed attack. But that it would be quite a different matter if internal revolt was fomented from outside; and therefore, 1608 revolutionary activity in a member country inspired and assisted from outside would be considered an armed attack.Of course the Government, judging by their pronouncements on the point, have always regarded the case of Czechoslovakia, which I believe was a purely internal revolution, as a case of indirect Soviet aggression and as in itself sufficient reason for building up N.A.T.O. and presumably, therefore, the kind of case in which it would be not only our right, but our duty, to have a policy of armed intervention.
I think I have made a fairly clear-cut case, based on our official commitments, for the view that those commitments are excessively large and dangerously vague and ambitious, and that they amount to what I call an aggressive and interventionist policy of interfering by armed force in the internal affairs of other countries to put down social revolution, or even social unrest, and to prop up or restore reactionary regimes, even at the cost of civil war and at the risk of world war, and all this in the name of combating Communist infiltration and subversion.
I do the Government the justice of believing that they have not entered into these dangerous, foolish and sweeping ill-defined military commitments of their own free will. I believe that our military commitments are so inflated because we have been subjected to inflationary political pressure from Washington. It is Mr. Dulles who stepped up the original policy of containment of Communism to what he himself called the "drastic and dynamic" policy of anti-Communist liberation. It is to that policy that we are committed on paper, and it is that policy which makes our military commitments so dangerous and so sweeping.
Mr. George F. Kennan, whom I have quoted recently, in his book "The Realities of American Foreign Policy," which appeared in September, 1954—and, as hon. Members know, he was formerly head of the Policy Planning Staff of the State Department and United States Ambassador in Moscow—had this to say about the policy of anti-Communist liberation:The term 'liberation,' as most frequently used in this country, and particularly by those who regard themselves as its strongest protagonists, seems to me to have two main implications. First, it implies the violent 1609 overthrow of Communist power in either all or a portion"—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have warned the hon. Member several times that he is going far beyond the Army Estimates, and if he dos not accept my Ruling I shall ask him to resume his seat.
§ Mr Zilliacus
Very well, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
Our Army Estimates, and defence expenditure generally, need drastic pruning if we are not to suffer economic ruin. They can only be pruned if we cut military commitments. We can only do this if we revise and clarify the purposes for which we think we need the Armed Forces, and particularly the Army. Do we want them for a policy of anti-Communist liberation? Do we want them for anti-Communist crusades, including armed intervention in the internal affairs of other countries? If so, there is no limit to the expenditure and no peace at the end of the road.
Or do we want peaceful co-existence? Did the Prime Minister mean it when he said that we based our relations with Eastern European countries on the Charter of the United Nations—which means we are pledged not to interfere in their internal affairs and that we have to respect their political independence and territorial integrity? If so, our commitments can be defined and limited and we must repudiate the dangerous talk about liberation and intervention in the Potomac Charter and the Bagdad Pact.
Again, does the Government mean what it says in the Defence White Paper about dealing competitively with little wars? Competitive dealing with little wars is the road to a big war and is contrary to our obligations under the United Nations. The alternative is what the Prime Minister said at Geneva: to deal with little wars in conjunction with the Soviet Union, under common obligations to that end. They already exist in the United Nations Charter. We, and the Russians, as permanent fellow-members of the Security Council, are pledged to work together on that basis. The Charter vests the responsibility in the Security Council for that purpose.
Along that road alone can we lighten the ponderous burden of armaments, keep our commitments to reasonable limits and enter the paths of peace.
§ 4.53 a.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I rather suspect that the quality the House will want from me is brevity. After fourteen hours of debate, I think that the House deserves it.
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will convey to his right hon. Friend, the Leader of the House, and to the Patronage Secretary, that although our discussion has lasted almost fourteen hours, it would have gone on much longer had it not been our good fortune in having before us a skilful Amendment, very widely drawn. In other words, we have not had the usually footling interruption at about seven o'clock. I say that because I am not alone in thinking that the procedure on these occasions ought to be looked at. We have now had a practical example, as a result of the skill and good fortune of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) in being able to have this Amendment on the Order Paper and to demonstrate how much better the debate can be if it is not interrupted.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey
I should like to say that that is the point of view held by many hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. The Leader of the House has now come into the Chamber, and I am sure he will take note of that.
It is quite clear that the Amendment has caught the mood of the House. The hon. Member for Wycombe, in moving it, was more critical of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State than I have ever been. He described the Reserve Army as chaotic. I have never gone quite as far as that. Allowing for the strength of his feelings, I am sure that I can say on behalf of all hon. Members who had the good fortune to listen to his speech that he most admirably summed up the Army's place in our defence position, and made out an overwhelming case for an inquiry of some kind. I very much hope that in his reply the Under-Secretary of State will not dismiss it, for there is a substantial case to answer.
I will not argue about the form which the inquiry should take, but looking back and remembering the history of the last fifty years—one can see that there 1611 have been moments when it has been crystal clear that the most careful inquiry was necessary into the purposes and structure of the Armed Forces. Such a moment came in 1904, with the Esher Committee. I will not quote at length from the Report of the Committee, but it is clear that the men responsible for setting it up realised that the functions of the Army and the Navy had so changed that their structure needed careful investigation. What emerged from the inquiry borders, I think, on genius.
I do not disguise the fact that I have always had a great admiration for the late Lord Haldane, whose writings I have constantly recommended to the Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman would have been much wiser if he had studied extensively what Lord Haldane said. There is one lesson from Lord Haldane which we should constantly keep in mind: he learned that one cannot reform the Armed Forces on a partisan basis. One must get the co-operation of both sides of the House. Together with my hon. Friends, I have striven to achieve that end. Even when we have perhaps appeared to be most partisan, we have never forgotten our objective. We have always had the serious purpose of getting the most effective defence we could, for the least possible money—to get economy in a real sense. I speak for all my hon. Friends in supporting to the full not only the written intention but also the spirit of the Amendment.
May I turn for a few moments to the speech of the Secretary of State for War? I am sorry that he has become a casualty and has had to go home, but I am sure he would not expect me to pull all my punches; indeed, I am not capable of such a complete act of self-abnegation. He will, I hope, read my speech, and I hope that it will help to make him better.
I shall not harp on the question of the three-year engagement or the terms of service, except to say that it is abundantly clear that even now the Secretary of State has not come to grips with this problem. He was caught up in an argument whether he wanted 200,000 or 300,000 regulars in order to do without conscription. I listened to his broadcast and, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), I got a copy of his script. The point was reached at 1612 which the Secretary of State was needled by the gentlemen of the Press into saying, "We have 200,000 Regulars now. If only we had 300,000 it would be all right."
That is quite the wrong answer. The number of men has nothing to do with the question. What matters is what are the terms of service of these men. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has been reading his brief and not quite understanding it, because in 1954 he told the House that the average length of service of the Regular soldier before the war was 61 years, which gave the Army nearly 1,400,000 man-years. Engagements of that kind would enable us to hold our strength with a recruiting figure of about 27,000 a year, whereas nowadays when we recruit in terms of the three-year engagement, we require considerably more recruits each year.
Perhaps I may refer to the figures used by the Secretary of State a year ago; these were the basis of his argument, which I certainly accept, that the strength of the Regular Army since 1920, excluding the war years, remained almost constant at 180,000. If the Regular Army of 180,000, is recruited on the basis of a three-year engagement, there is a need for 60,000 recruits every year; whereas, if the recruiting proposals of the Secretary of State succeed and we get the men to serve for six or nine years, then the problem becomes manageable.
Last year it was evident that the Secretary of State had brought himself to the point of realising that the number of fit men in this country who liked a military life remained much about the same, taking one year with another. Indeed, he has himself used that argument so I feel somewhat ashamed to point out, that if the number remains more or less constant, that the policy must be to get men to come in for as long as we can and to persuade them to stay as long as possible. That is the principle which has now been introduced.
I sympathise with the Government for having been forced to accept the three-year engagement; but when, by January, 1953, it was crystal clear that we were not going to get anything like the number of extensions which the Secretary of State thought there would be, we caught a. glimpse of the plight in which we now find ourselves. It is splitting hairs for 1613 the Secretary of State to claim that I put words into his mouth by saying that he wanted a 33⅓ per cent. increase; I accept that he was putting forward an optimum figure. But it became clear two years ago that we were not getting the extensions required, and that the figure was well below the 33⅓ per cent. aimed at by the Secretary of State. It was, in fact, 4½ per cent.
So the charge is not that the Government introduced the three-year engagement but that, when it became clear that that policy was a failure, the Government did nothing about it. What did the Government do? This bill of £67 million is not the only expenditure which the country has to face. During a defence debate in 1954 it was stated that £16½ million was being given in new bounties so that, altogether, a sum of over £80 million has been spent.
I can understand why the Secretary of State is a little chary about giving figures in the circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman claims that I have misrepresented him, but it is not only my curiosity which seeks to be satisfied. That is of little importance, but the House and the country want to know whether this new policy is going to succeed. There is a lot of hope in linking pay with length of service; but having already expended a lot of money, if the recruiting figures then do not rise to the Government's modest hopes of 81,000 recruits this year, and men continue to go at anything like the rate at which they have been doing so, we shall be in a very serious situation.
No Minister could want a more sympathetic debate than we have had since yesterday afternoon, but I must emphasise the need for more information. We have to rely on wireless broadcasts and the ingenuity of Pressmen; we get precious little from the Secretary of State. For example, in a very able broadcast a few nights ago, General Horrocks told us that of the 167,000 Regular other ranks in the Army, 90,000 were committed for only three years. We have never had that figure from the Secretary of State. We could have put. down Question after Question without getting that answer.
Without pressing for an answer tonight, I ask the Under-Secretary of State to say to the War Office that it is in its own interest, in the interest of the Army and even the interest of the Con- 1614 servative Party, to take the House into its confidence and to tell hon. Members when things are going well. We shall cheer when they go well, because we know that when they go well enough we shall either get rid of National Service altogether or see it reduced. On the other hand, if things go badly, the Government should not try to hide the fact until the position becomes desperate, as it has now become.
Having made that plea and said a word or two about National Service, I want to turn to another matter. I thought that the Secretary of State was a little testy and perhaps a little unfair when my right hon. Friend pressed him on the score of information. My right hon. Friend drew attention to the article which appeared in The Times a couple of days ago on the impact of falling strength on future commitments, and asked where our troops are. It is stretching language a little to say that there is any serious security consideration in this information. The Russian intelligence service is far more able than that. The identification of units is the kind of thing they will take in their stride. It can quite easily identify the units.
Any hon. Member who takes the trouble to read The Times, the Manchester Guardian and similar papers can from time to time make notes of the movement of regiments overseas. For example, a number of units went to Cyprus recently. Every one of them was identified. One has only to take a note over a long enough period and a reasonably accurate picture will be built up.
There is no reason why the information given in The Times should not have been included in the Army Estimates. A couple of years ago we had a very good map in the Estimates on which was set out the deployment of British troops on a world basis. It is true that not every unit was identified, but, given a map and a careful study of the numbers, that information could be easily acquired. I do not see that any useful purpose is served by giving the minimum information. After all, if one reads the American papers, one finds that the amount of information which the American people are given by their Service Departments is considerable compared with the meagre trickle that we get.
1615 My right hon. Friend said yesterday that the best-informed people in the British Isles are the Pressmen. I believe that the worst-informed people are Members of Parliament. It is a little odd, because when we started these defence debates in the 1945 Parliament, the present Secretary of State for War joined with us in pleading for the maximum amount of information. I think that hon. Members are entitled to be given this information, always bearing in mind security considerations.
I wish to make another point about the right hon. Gentleman's Memorandum. I think that the Secretary of State ought to be a little more careful in his claims. He would run into very much less trouble than he has done in the past if, in describing what is happening in the Army, he had an eye on the present rather than in making claims which do not stand up to examination.
We got involved in a slight controversy over his independent brigade. I think it is a first-class idea, and I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) that it should have been established a long time ago, but if it is to be worth anything obviously the question of its transport is of great importance, and it is clear that when recently there were two quick moves to Cyprus—particularly the move of the Highland Light Infantry and the Parachute Regiment—our air transport was considerably strained. Somebody has said that troops were strap-hanging. That may be stretching the facts a little, but they were packed into Shackletons and that could not have been comfortable.
In paragraph 31, the Secretary of State makes a point of how the Royal Norfolk Regiment and the Gordon Highlanders went to Cyprus, and adds:This is a foretaste of the much more rapid and extensive air reinforcement which will be possible as soon as modern transport aircraft, such as the Britannia,' become available…That borders on incompetence because the Britannia will not be available for two or three years. I learned that from the Secretary of State for Air. We were told today that twelve of the 56 Beverleys which have been ordered will be ready in April. So, in the paragraph dealing with mobility why not tell us about the Beverleys which will soon be 1616 available and leave the mention of the Britannias until they become ready in two or three years' time.
Then the Secretary of State told us about the formation of the 24th Infantry Brigade and said that a flight of light aircraft to support it would be made available. Again we have to rely on The Times, which told us that this was the twin-engined Pioneer. Today we learned it is not the twin-engined Pioneer for the Minister tells us that it is the single-engined version. But if he can tell us that today with no security worries, why did he not put that information in the White Paper? It is this inaccurate and loose handling of information which makes us distrust him.
We have had to press the right hon. Gentleman again and again to get information about the Territorial Army. We learned from a statement in The Times of 11th January that the two divisions which are to be earmarked for N.A.T.O. were the 43rd Wessex Infantry Division and the 53rd Welsh Infantry Division. I put a Question to the Secretary of State, but he would neither confirm nor deny it. So we had to wait from 11th January to 1st March before getting confirmation of information which The Times had given us.
That is not good enough. It is not a question of satisfying my curiosity. One of the troubles in the Territorial Army at present is uncertainty. That is the result of the major reorganisation in which, to use the words of a senior officer, "it is bound to be messed about". But if it has to be messed about, it need not be mucked about, and it has been mucked about extensively.
On 1st December, 1954, it was announced that Anti-Aircraft Command was to be wound up. Goodness knows how much pressure and how many Questions we had to put down before the Secretary of State, on 20th December, gave us an outline of the reorganisation of the Territorial Army and the standing down of the Home Guard. Now it is 1st March—sixteen or more months since the original decisions were taken. It is straining the voluntary spirit of the Territorial Army to the limit to treat men in that way. Officers and men are giving their best, and it is neither courteous nor efficient to treat them in this way. The natural chaos of the situation is intensi- 1617 fled, and a considerable number of good men are lost because of this uncertainty.
The right hon. Gentleman will not accept that view, but his trouble is that the job of Secretary of State for War is not one for a Regular soldier. I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman because he starts off with a great disadvantage which cannot be overcome. This is a job in the Haldane tradition—a lawyer if you like, but at all costs let us have no more Regular soldiers there. I hold the view strongly that the Service Departments, particularly at this stage, need the first-class administrator and not the Regular soldier, who is far too emotionally committed to these problems. He must be able to lake a detached view.
The mood of the House all through the debate has been critical, not with irresponsible criticism but with the realisation that things are not as well as they might be. We have not an unlimited amount of money, and resources have to be used to the best advantage.
I sympathise with those who are responsible for the reorganisation of the Army. We tend to forget that it is not yet five years since the first of the new divisions was formed in Germany as part of the N.A.T.O. shield. I remember going over there with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington in April, 1951, to see the four new divisions formed. I remember the right hon Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) speaking in terms of eighty divisions in the West. That was a pipe dream. Later there was talk in terms of forty divisions: we were going to put four in and twelve more were to be rapidly available if the worst happened.
I remember crossing swords with the hon. Member for Wycombe two years ago about how the twelve territorial divisions could be got across to the Continent and be supplied. Doubts were beginning to come into our minds then whether the original N.A.T.O. conception of a shield behind which the West could mobilise was valid. But though that the conception is now outdated the Government has been landed with an enormous bill and mighty little defence. The Bill was vast though much of the equipment was obsolescent almost as soon as it was delivered. That was nobody's fault. We cannot freely criticise Ministers for not having the second sight to see how the 1618 development of thermo-nuclear weapons would completely outdate the whole N.A.T.O. conception. Meanwhile, we had been landed for political reasons with a commitment to keep four divisions in Germany and with the further responsibility to commit two reserve divisions should the need arise. It is very costly, even if we try to run it down as we are finding out in the Canal Zone in respect of storing and looking after large quantities of obsolescent stores.
We have been caught with a considerable commitment from which we cannot escape, at the very moment when our Service manpower structure had gone wrong. The justification for our policy is that in the months following the Korean War we may have saved the peace of the world. In my judgment it may have been saved by the brigade group that was put in by this country, for the fact that it was is Korea strengthened the hand of my right hon. Friend Earl Attlee when he went to Washington to make the voice of this country heard at a decisive moment. One cannot judge Armed Forces merely on what they cost and without taking into account that to have averted world war may perhaps have saved the whole of civilisation.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
Would it not have been even more effective if, when the thing started, we had told the Americans that we should veto any application of coercive action, unless they admitted China to the Security Council and dropped Chiang Kai-shek?
§ Mr. Wigg
I do not think that it is profitable for me to continue an argument with my hon. Friend, because what we are doing is looking back and seeing the whole panorama of the story. To be accurate we must see how it developed.
It was an anxious time. I lived through it with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington when he was Minister of Defence and, so far as I could, I shared his anxieties. If the hon. Member wants my opinion; we got into a jam, because General MacArthur was a very poor commander and went up to the Yalu with both wings, leaving his centre open, causing a military disaster to the United States and to this country. In those circumstances, the United States might have taken an extreme measure and the only reason that that extreme measure was not 1619 taken and the disaster was prevented was because of our influence. It was made perfectly clear to the United States that if it bombed north of the Yalu, we should withdraw our brigade group. That was absolutely decisive, and that in itself the complete justification of the defence policy of this country, under both Governments from the time of the Korean war to the present.
Another factor which my hon. Friend must face is that he lets his imagination run away with him when he says that all this expenditure is purely on the debit side. If political and economic chaos descended on Malaya, the economic position of this country would become deplorable.
§ Mr. Wigg
It was equally true about Persian oil. Another set of circumstances operated.
The point I want to make is that to see this country in the rôle of an international bully is fantasy, because we have not the strength. However, we have a part to play in the world and, unfortunately, we live in a world where military power counts; it is an influence that matters.
Therefore, if our position is much weakened as the result of fighting two wars, we must have a military power which is efficient, which does not break our economy and which still, in fact, enables us to hold up our heads with self-respect and also to make our voice heard at the councils of the nations. That above all is the object of our policy. It is a policy accepted by the whole House, and the Government are to be congratulated that the House is as sympathetically critical as it is at present. If they do not use that sympathetic criticism to make sure that the reorganisation of the Army, which has been forced upon them by events, is carried through speedily and efficiently, they do not deserve to be responsible for the Army for one day longer.
§ 5.24 a.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Fitzroy Maclean)
Considering how long it has lasted, we have had an enjoyable and extremely interesting debate, and we should be grateful to my hon. 1620 Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) for the occasion which he has provided by his Amendment. I hope that he will not allow the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) to steal the credit for the Amendment by suggesting that he had the idea some years ago.
I should like to begin by making a preliminary and general observation about the Amendment. I think, first, that it would be doing those who are responsible for our defence policy less than justice to assume offhand that they were not aware of the changes which have taken place, and are taking place, in the nature of modern warfare, and were not doing anything about it. Secondly, it is worth saying that committees and commissions are excellent in their way, but they are not, as is sometimes assumed, the answer to everything.
In the course of the debate, the various rôles of the Army have been enumerated and various results have been arrived at as to two, three, or four different rôles. I think it is easiest to distinguish between two rôles: first, the function of fighting the cold war, and, second, the need to be ready to fight, and to show that we are ready to fight, in a global war; and, between the two, the need to be ready for a limited war. What sort of job is the Army making of it?
First, in the cold war, I do not think anyone would dispute that the Army has given a very good account of itself under extremely difficult circumstances, and I think that is something which cannot be said too often. I was very glad of the generous tribute which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) paid the Army in this connection.
§ Mr. Maclean
In extremely trying conditions, our troops have in a surprisingly short time mastered the technique of jungle and anti-guerilla warfare and are now beating the terrorists on their own ground and at their own game. In Cyprus, perhaps, they are having the 1621 hardest task of all, for they have had to play the unwelcome part of anti-riot police, and they have played it with efficiency and restraint.
§ Mr. Maclean
I sometimes wonder whether the extent of the Army's achievement is fully realised, because to operate against irregular forces is perhaps the hardest thing that Regular troops can be required to do. Like the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, most of my own experience has been on the side of the irregulars or the guerrillas, so I cannot speak in this respect from personal experience.
The task of the guerrilla—and I think that this will help the Home Guard to straightforward. It is to do all the damage and to make all the trouble that he can. But I have talked to Germans and to others who were on the other side of the hill, and I have talked to our own soldiers who fought in Malaya and Kenya, and they have told me that they prefer the heaviest ordinary fighting to operations against guerrillas—not knowing when one will be attacked, by whom, or how, having no firm target against which one can hit back, having an enemy one cannot see, who fades back into the forests or reconverts himself into a seemingly peaceful civilian.
I was interested to hear my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer) confirm that that had also been his experience. Under the conditions I have tried to describe, it is very easy for bad troops to do one of two things: either to lose their nerve altogether, or to institute a reign of brutality and terror which can have only one result—to bring the whole of the civilian population out in arms against them.
That is precisely what our troops have not done. They have kept their heads and not lost their nerve. They have steadily perfected the technique of jungle warfare and evolved entirely new techniques, like parachuting into the tree-tops right on top of the guerrillas. The result has been that they have successfully pinpointed the bandits and isolated them from the civil population and they are beating the terrorists at their own game on their own ground. That is all the more remarkable, because the 1622 result has been achieved without losing the respect or goodwill of the civil population in the countries concerned. I agree with the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) that the British soldier is the best ambassador we have.
It would be optimistic to assume that we are approaching the end of the cold war, and we cannot do otherwise than go on preparing against its continuance. That we are doing, and my right hon. Friend gave some indication of the steps we are taking. The Army is giving the best possible account of itself in this connection, and no basic changes are necessary in organisation or tactical methods, although changes of detail may be necessary from time to time.
My right hon. Friend has dealt at some length with the extension of a limited war to a full-scale nuclear war, and whatever some hon. Members may have thought, I consider he explained convincingly why it is that troops are likely to be needed on the ground. The course of any future war, let alone a global war, is not easy to predict. No one in the whole of military history has succeeded in predicting what the next war would be like, and I do not see why it should be easier to do so now than in the past. It would certainly take a very bold military theorist to say with certainty that in any such war there would at no stage be any use for organised ground forces. I thought that the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) showed himself a great deal bolder than when he was in office in advocating all kinds of far-reaching measures of reform, and I was amused when the hon. Member for South Ayr-shire pointed that out to him. The Americans and Russians and other great Powers seem to have reached the same conclusions as we have to judge by the conventional forces they find it necessary to maintain.
The question once again is how far our existing ground forces are suited to the conditions of warfare they are likely to meet, and what further steps should be taken. My right hon. Friend has spoken of the new infantry division, the new trial armour division and the new family of weapons. It is possible to have a number of theories on this subject, and some interesting theories were advanced in the pamphlet issued by the Army League. We at the War Office 1623 have an advantage over other theorists as we have the finest expert military opinion to advise us on these subjects and we have been able to test and try out new formations and new weapons to our hearts' content. They have been evolved and produced as a result of long and careful planning and testing. I think there is no doubt that the changes will make our formations more flexible, more mobile, harder hitting and more self-contained, which are qualities which are bound to be of value in any foreseeable set of circumstances.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) spoke of the Air Force and the need for better co-operation with the R.A.F. My own feeling is that relations in co-ordination and co-operation with the R.A.F. could hardly be better than they are now. Whether any closer integration is possible, I am not sure. It must be remembered that since the war, the range, ceiling and speed of aircraft have increased enormously. That makes it a very different problem from what it was at the time when my hon. Friend was engaged in active operations.
A good instance of our co-operation is the Joint Experimental Helicopter Unit. I am sure hon. Members will be interested to know that that unit will engage in the task of supplying troops in the field at the manoeuvres in Germany this year. That is an important step forward in the direction of cutting down in vehicles, which, I think everybody is agreed, is one of our most important tasks.
My right hon. Friend spoke of the reorganisation of the Reserve Army. All the measures that have been taken under this heading in the last year or eighteen months—the disbandment of Anti-Aircraft Command, the disbandment of coast artillery, the creation of the mobile defence corps and the appointment of a full-time Commander-in-Chief U.K. Land Forces—are the results of our reappraisal. They are all steps forward in the reorganisation of our Forces as a whole.
In many ways it has been an agonising reappraisal. It has obviously been painful both for us and for the units concerned to have to disband or to amalgamate or to change the rôle of many fine units, but these steps have been dictated by as 1624 spirit of the strictest realism. Several hon. Members have said that there was uncertainty as to the future rôle of the Reserve Army. I was glad when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing said that there was no reason for this because the House had already been told perfectly clearly what the future rôle of the reserve Army was to be as far as it is possible for anybody to tell under present circumstances.
The question of how the whole of home defence was to be co-ordinated has also been asked. The answer is that it will be done by the newly-appointed full-time Commander-in-Chief U.K. Land Forces. That is why he is there. We have in General Mansergh an extremely experienced commander who has got down to the task with great energy.
As far as the future rôle of the Reserve Army is concerned, quite clearly it must be ready for several possible eventualities. In almost any eventuality there is bound to be a use for trained, disciplined and well-led units and formations, whether they are required to fulfil civil defence tasks, or whether, as is possible, they are called upon to supply essential services. Here I think the Army Emergency Reserve, with specialised technical knowledge, can do very useful work indeed. They may also be called upon to repel raids or to deal with sabotage, and it is finally conceivable that they might, in certain circumstances, be mobilised to take part in a limited war. That is one of the reasons why we thought it necessary to keep 20 days' training—including one camp—for National Service men, because we feel it would be of the greatest help for men joining their units to have that opportunity of getting to know each other and to have a certain amount of training. We think that this is definitely worth while.
While on the subject of reserve forces, I would like to say something about the Home Guard. We were reluctant to take the decision to place the Home Guard on a reserve basis, and the reaction of the Home Guard has fully justified my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's dictum, "The better the regiment, the bigger the yell." There has been a very big yell indeed. I would make it quite clear once again that the Home Guard has not been disbanded. It has been placed on a reserve basis.
1625 Our feeling is that there is an important rôle for the Home Guard to play in almost any future war. What I have said of the Territorial Army applies to a great extent to the Home Guard. There is bound to be a use for trained and disciplined bodies of men with, in this case, local knowledge, which, in what is known as the "broken back" period, is bound to be of great value. For this reason we have retained the Home Guard but on a reserve basis. We have made allowances for an annual concentration of members on the reserve rôle. We are providing ammunition for rifle clubs and we hope that this will help the Home Guard to be ready to mobilise quickly.
One hon. Member asked whether it would be possible to send out some formal recognition of the very great services rendered by members of the Home Guard. I am glad to say that a certificate, signed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, is at present on its way to units and will probably have reached the first units by now. I would like once again to take this opportunity, on behalf of my right hon. Friend who intended to do it himself, and on behalf of the Government, of thanking members of the Home Guard for their keen, efficient and loyal service, so generously given during the past four years.
Before leaving the subject of tactical changes, I want to say something about airborne forces. Here also there have been great changes of concept. There is little doubt that under modern conditions of warfare to drop anything more than a brigade group would not be practicable. In training, therefore, much more emphasis is placed on smaller scale operations to be carried out by anything between a section and a battalion against limited and specific targets outside the main battle area. In the future the rôle of our airborne forces will lie somewhere between that of the old airborne division, designed to go into battle as a formation, and that of the Special Air Service Regiment, trained to operate in small parties at considerable distances behind the enemy lines. That applies both to the Territorial Army Brigade Group and to the Regular Brigade Group.
Following my right hon. Friend, I have tried to give the House an idea of the 1626 tactical changes taking place in the Army. It is a continuous process and I think it can be said that we are successfully keeping abreast of the times.
I come now to the question of manpower. It has been suggested that we are not making the most economic use of our manpower and that we should be able to cut, if not abolish National Service. It has also been suggested that generals and Service Chiefs as a whole are not the people to decide this because they have fixed ideas and vested interests. My own experience of generals has been that their ideas are often more flexible than those of many politicians, whose minds sometimes seem to run on painfully fixed lines. But if the generals have a fixed idea it concerns the need to abolish National Service altogether and to go back to an all-Regular Army. As the Prime Minister has said, that is also the Government's aim, when the situation permits.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said that politically it was much easier to retain conscription. My short experience at the War Office has shown me that politically nothing is more difficult. I think it has required great courage on the part of the Government not to abolish conscription before from a political point of view. Nor is it easy militarily to abolish conscription, and quite clearly it must depend on two things—our commitments and Regular recruiting.
For the reasons given by the hon. Member for Dudley, we are aiming at long engagements. Clearly they are the more desirable. As my right hon. Friend said, however, the three-year engagement, for which we to some extent share the responsibility with the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) has stood us in very good stead and served a very useful purpose.
Some right hon. and hon. Members opposite, including the right hon. Member for Easington and the right hon. Member for Dundee, West, have suggested that we could do the job with 200,000 men. They seem to ignore the question, what job? In other words, what commitments does this allow for? After all, hon. Members opposite should remember their own experience with the Korean war, which made 1627 it necessary for them to increase conscription to two years. Although I agree with the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) that the action of the Government of the day in its prompt and courageous action in joining with the Americans in Korea did make an invaluable contribution to the cause of world peace, it is a fact that conscription had to be increased. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington accused us of doing nothing but "holding on to what we have got". That, I think, is a bit unfair; a bit unjust when this year we are reducing the strength of the Army by 30,000 and by more next year. Whether we can make further cuts depends on our commitments and on Regular recruiting; and thus on the pay increases which I think the whole House, with one possible exception, has welcomed wholeheartedly for helping recruiting.
Another important consideration is bound to be stability. It has been said that National Service is a deterrent to Regular recruiting. That may be so, but what would be a worse deterrent would be a reduced period of one year or 18 months. National Service means that the Regular soldier has to train men who, almost as soon as they are trained, go out, and nothing could be more frustrating. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Hughes-Young) pointed out, the Regular soldier has to spend a tremendous amount of his time abroad, and that is one of the chief reasons why we are losing him. But we should lose even more of his kind if National Service was reduced.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West refused to say that it was more than a "convenience" for the Government to have two years of National Service. But that is not going far enough.
A great deal has been said about Field Marshal Montgomery. Like other prophets, he has a word of comfort or of discomfort for everyone. I heard his lecture just before our debate on National Service; and I was very glad to hear him come down wholeheartedly on the side of the two years' period.
§ Mr. Maclean
No, not naturally. He even said something about Army accounting which gave great pleasure to the hon. Member.
There is a strong case for abolishing National Service as soon as circumstances permit, but there is no case for reducing it to 18 months.
Now I should like to deal with individual points which have been raised by hon. Members.
§ Mr. Maclean
As the Prime Minister has said this week that it is the intention to abolish National Service as soon as circumstances permit. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not cut?"] I do not know that I am in a position to commit the Government on this, but my own view is, for the reasons which we explained in the debate on National Service, that to cut to eighteen months would do a great deal of harm to the Regular Army.
§ Mr. Maclean
I think that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is perfectly wide awake and knows exactly what is going on.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I should like, if I may, to interrupt my hon. Friend and say that I heard only too well what the hon. Gentleman said, and the admirable speech of the hon. Gentleman and a great many speeches before that. I think that my example should be followed by other hon. Members.
§ Mr. Maclean
The hon. Member for Dudley complained a certain amount about information. He complained about the information which he did not get and about the information which he did get. On the whole, I do not think that he does badly. He manages to ask a number of extremely skilful and often rather troublesome Questions which, I should have thought, elicited almost all the information that he needs. However, if he finds that he is short of information 1629 on any given subject, I hope that he will come and see me when, as far as security permits, I shall be only too glad to give it to him.
As regards the newspapers, I really think that the hon. Gentleman should not believe everything that he reads in any newspaper. He should not take it for gospel even when it appears in The Times. He surely had his lesson over the twin-engined Pioneer Which both he and The Times managed to get wrong. He then complained when he was given the correct information by my right hon. Friend.
The hon. Gentleman also complained that the Territorial Army had been left in a state of uncertainty about its future. That is true in the sense that both in the case of the disbandment of Anti-Aircraft Command and also in regard to the latest changes and reorganisation, we have thought it preferable not to impose a dictated solution on the Territorial Army, but rather to put forward a number of tentative changes which can then be discussed with the units, the formations and the Territorial Associations concerned. That has a disadvantage in that it means a longer period of uncertainty, but certainly in the case of Anti-Aircraft Command it worked out very well in the end.
The hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Dodds) raised the question of Woolwich Barracks, but he has not stayed for the answer. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) has also gone, as has the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). My hon. Friend the Member for Wands-worth, Central, on the other hand, is I think still here.
§ Mr. Maclean
I shall be delighted. The question of barracks in general has been answered by my right hon. Friend who spoke about the 39 projects which we have in train for rebuilding barracks in the present financial year and of the programme which we have for the next 20 years. I hope that any future Administration will carry on the good work and not abandon it, as has been too often the case in the past. It is largely a matter of priorities. My hon. Friend 1630 said that we should treat it as a matter of competition. We do, all too much. The competition is very hot indeed.
He mentioned the case of a soldier's wife who was evicted or was required to leave a married quarter after her husband had been sent abroad. These are difficult cases. We always try to allow a reasonable delay, in some cases as long as two years. We have to remember that married quarters are designed for soldiers and their wives together. When a soldier is posted abroad we are not very often able to leave his wife in possession of the quarter if she is unable to join him abroad.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central made interesting suggestions about pay. He suggested that pay should be given in gross, with, as I understood him, deductions for accommodation, etc. That would involve us in increased administrative expenses and would present awkward problems. For instance, what charges would we make according to the varying standards of accommodation from jungle bed and tent to the very best barracks or married quarters? He also suggested that the Regular soldier should have a year in which to decide whether to prolong or not, and then his pay should date back. One of the things that we pay for is for a man to make up his mind early.
My hon. Friend also suggested that married quarters should be provided for wives who stay behind, and that special leave should be given to their husbands to come back and visit them from time to time. We have not anything like enough married quarters to make that possible, and even if we had it would present all sorts of awkward problems.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) and several other hon. Members raised the case of the son of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird). This case is well known to me. I have looked into it carefully and personally. It is true that his son was asked one or two questions about his own political convictions and whether or not his father was a Bevanite. I have tried to explain in my letter to the hon. Member how these questions came to be asked. It was because the examining officer was trying to get on a sort of basis with the hon. Member's son and discuss questions in which he might 1631 be interested, and because controversial questions are not excluded from these discussions.
At the same time I think it was an injudicious question to ask. It reminds me of one of my own constituents who was a civil servant in the Ministry of Food when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West was in charge. When she went before a promotions board, the first question she was asked was what was her opinion of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not know if he remembers that incident? I made a fuss about it at the time. This was equally injudicious.
I can give a personal assurance, and I hope that the hon. Gentlemen concerned will accept it, that Marine Baird's failure to get a commission had nothing to do with this question whatever. It is something which happens to the sons of hon. Members on both sides of the House, as I know all too well, and in almost every case the proud parent is pained and surprised. But it has nothing to do with whether or not the hon. Members in question are Bevanites, nor has it anything to do with whether or not they have been to a public school.
In the case of Marine Baird, I think he fulfilled both these conditions, and neither had the slightest influence on us. It is worth recalling that we on this side of the House do not feel so strongly about Bevanism as do hon. Gentlemen opposite. What is interesting is that the one fact which has not emerged from this discussion is whether the hon. Gentleman is a Bevanite or not.
§ Mr. W. Griffiths
We are not concerned with what the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends think about the label that has been attached to some hon. Members on this side of the House, but we would like an assurance from him that, in addition to telling us that in his opinion the officer in question put an injudicious question to Marine Baird, War Office Selection Boards will have their attention drawn to this case and that no such stupidity will be perpetrated in future.
§ Mr. Maclean
Yes, I did that as soon as the case was brought to my attention. I drew the attention of the officer concerned to his mistake, and I took steps to ensure that it would not happen again 1632 in any case, and that was some weeks ago.
A good deal has been said on the subject of time-wasting and about soldiers being "browned off." Although I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Fulham that this is something which has to be watched all the time to see that it does not recur, I think that the steps announced by my right hon. Friend cover that completely. In my time I have polished everything from the nails on the soles of my boots to boot polish tins, and I am determined that other soldiers—
§ Mr. Maclean
I have never whitewashed coal. I am determined, and know that my right hon. Friend is too, that this sort of thing shall not go on.
The hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) has disappeared, I see. He did not ask any questions, but he made a remark which I should like to repeat. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that at long last there had been an inquiry into manpower. I should like to remind him that during the last eight years—and right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite can claim some credit for it—there have been eight major inquiries into manpower at the War Office.
There has been a lot of talk about businessmen, hard-headed and otherwise. We have also had inquiries about dumps and depots by a businessman who, whether hard-headed or not, is a great expert in these matters, Sir James Reid Young, who is the business methods and efficiency expert of Vickers. His report has been extremely useful. As a result of increased mechanisation, we have produced remarkably good results at these dumps and depots. For instance, in an eight-hour one-man shift, where before four tons were loaded, ten tons are now loaded. That is a remarkable step in the right direction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe and the hon. Member for Ladywood asked some questions about Germany and asked why so many troops are tied up in Germany. "Tied up" is not the right phrase. It is an ideal testing and training area, as we have shown. The experiments with new divisions have 1633 been carried out there far better than they could have been carried out in this country. The hon. Member for Lady-wood suggested that the German population was hostile to our British troops. I was there at the same time as he and that is certainly not so. I talked to many Germans and many British officers and not only did I find no trace of hostility, but a very good feeling and great appreciation of the promptness with which the British troops paid compensation for any damage done to crops in the course of manoeuvres.
§ Mr. V. Yates
I did not say that they were all hostile. The nearer one gets to Hamburg, the more hostile the population becomes. British troops complain that they do not get the access to German homes because of that hostility.
§ Mr. Maclean
That was not what I heard.
As to why we are in Germany; the right hon. Member for Dundee, West answered that during the defence debate when he referred to the screen across Europe and to what Sir John Slessor has called the trip wire. The purpose is first, to fulfil our treaty obligations—and that is supported at any rate by the official Opposition—and, secondly, to leave neither our Allies nor any potential agressor in any doubt that we are in earnest.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) mentioned coast artillery, a subject of which he evidently possesses a considerable grasp. He asked what had happened to coast artillery; the answer is that it has been disbanded, both at home and abroad, because we found that its functions could be better carried out by the Navy and the Royal Air Force. I should like to take this opportunity to thank all those who served in coast artillery for their loyal service. It was a sad day when the history of coast artillery, which goes back to the Napoleonic Wars, came to an end.
The hon. Member for Ladywood mentioned the case of two conscientious objectors. One of them was given 56 days' detention at his court martial, but my right hon. Friend decided, and said in the House, that he would not be called on again for training. He was serving in the Army Emergency Reserve, 1634 and had a change of heart well after he had got into the Army. In the other case. the man was duly sentenced to three months' detention; he was sent to a detention barracks rather than to the military prison at Shepton Mallet. That was a mistake in that case, and it was quickly rectified. That has been explained to the hon. Member already, in answer to a Question in the House.
My hon. Friend, the Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) asked about the land which the War Office holds. That is something which we subject to the most constant scrutiny. We are particularly anxious for every possible reason not to hold any more land than we absolutely need. He asked why we have more land than we had before the war. but he answered the question himself to some extent by explaining that the vehicles we use are heavier, the range of weapons is greater and more room is needed for manoeuvre. He spoke of the damage done to agriculture, but out of the 310.000 acres that we own or lease, 148,000 are used for grazing and 132,000 for other agricultural purposes, so the land is not entirely lost to agriculture. He asked whether we shared ranges. The answer is that we share them between different arms, and with the Ministry of Supply and the other Service Departments.
The hon. Members for Ladywood and Bradford, South (Mr. George Craddock) mentioned individual cases which they have taken up with the War Office, and I was glad to find that they did not entirely agree on the question of my humanity or inhumanity or that of the Army. The hon. Member for Bradford, South was kind enough to find me more humane than did his hon. Friend. In these cases, the Army is not lacking in humanity, but we have to make certain rules and, in order to be fair, we have got to keep to them. Any hon. Member who has been at the War Office would surely agree to that necessity. But if hon. Members at any time do not like the decision that has been reached, I hope that they will come to me and put those considerations, because I am only too glad to see them myself in such cases. and, if new factors emerge, I am always ready to have another look at the case concerned.
1635 The hon. Members mentioned the time taken to answer letters. I was glad that the hon. Member for Bournemouth. East and Christchurch, came to my rescue and quoted one or two quick and satisfactory answers which he had had. Some inquiries are bound to be longer than others because they involve investigation, the examination of witnesses sometimes a long way away, medical examinations and correspondence with overseas commands. But in general we keep a very close check on all these letters and do all we possibly can to expedite an answer.
I wish now to deal with the interesting and, as usual, thoughtful speech of the hon. Member for Fulham. He asked what other countries were using the F.N. rifle. Belgium is using it, Canada is tooled up to use it, Australia will probably follow suit and the United States and some other countries are at present considering it.
The hon. Gentleman asked a question about the apprentice schools, and I am grateful for his interest, because he is an expert both on the Army and on education, and he can make a valuable contribution. It is hard to lay down hard and fast rules, but our policy about discipline is that boys' battalions and apprentice schools approximate to schools rather than to Army units, and discipline is being brought into line with that idea. Inspections have already started. It is the teachers and not the apprentices who go on the Outward Bound courses, the idea being that they shall pass on what they learn. I feel that that is an extremely good idea, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, who has done such good work in connection with Outward Bound, for his useful advice on that subject, which we shall certainly investigate. Civilian instructors are already starting to work.
The target date for the completion of the new buildings at Chepstow is four or five years, but we already have new classrooms and new ablutions. I will look into the questions of heating and food, and, if necessary, do anything I can to improve matters.
The hon. Gentleman asked about boys who want to get out of the Army. Our policy is that we do not wish to keep boys in the Army against their will. The object of these schools is to provide us 1636 with good Regular long-term soldiers. Clearly the boy who hates the whole thing is no use to us and the sooner he gets out, the better. On the other hand, we have to guard against boys who do not know what they want and who, with a little encouragement, will stay on and make good soldiers. But if any case is brought to my attention of a boy who genuinely wants to get out, and his parents want him to do so, I will always look into it and if necessary give him a free discharge.
In conclusion I come to what we have been discussing now for I think about fifteen hours, the suggestion that what we need to settle all these problems for us is a committee. It has not been absolutely clear what kind of committee is envisaged, and there have been various suggestions, but a number of hon. Members are agreed on the need for a committee.
§ Mr. Maclean
No, I wish to finish my speech.
As a Department, we are not afraid of committees. Between 1854 and 1904 there were no fewer than 577 committees set up to inquire into the organisation and administration of the British Army. We have had a great many more since. None of those committees has, to my knowledge, done the Army any serious harm, and many of them—I mention in particular the Esher Committee—have made very valuable contributions. We expect valuable results from the various committees which are now studying various specific questions on our behalf. A number of them have been mentioned during the debate. Another committee which performed very valuable work indeed was the Select Committee on the Army Bill, in which the hon. Member for Dudley gave such valuable help.
I make no apology for reminding hon. Members that times have changed since 1904, when the Esher Committee made its Report on the Organisation of the Army. The problems involved have become infinitely more complicated and more technical. I have no hesitation in saying that although committees can give valuable help on individual problems, the scope of this particular problem is far beyond the powers of any one committee, 1637 however talented and well chosen its members might be.
Basically, these problems have to be worked out, as they are being worked out, by experts, who have at their disposal a great mass of technical material and technical and expert experience. When these problems have been worked out and conclusions arrived at, when the results have been considered by the Army Council, by the Chiefs of Staff Committee, by the Ministry of Defence and by the Defence Committee, and when recommendations have been made, the ultimate responsibility must be taken by the Government of the day, and by no one else.
I hope that in view of these considerations and of the various assurances which have been given, both by my right hon. Friend and myself, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe will agree to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Mr. John Hall
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) pointed out that the Amendment was, widely drawn. The debate has shown that it was drawn even more widely than I originally thought. Having listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, although I am not altogether satisfied that he has completely addressed himself to the theme of the arguments deployed by my hon. Friend and myself, nevertheless I have come to the conclusion that this matter is rather wider and affects not only the Army itself, and that an examination of the whole of the defence organisation is perhaps required. For that reason, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Question, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question, put and agreed to.
§ Question, That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair, put and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]