HC Deb 17 April 1957 vol 568 cc1929-81

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Amendment to Question [16th April]: That this House approves the Outline of Future Defence Policy set out in Command Paper No. 124—[Mr. Sandys.]

Which Amendment was, to leave out from "House," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: declines to approve the Outline of Future Defence Policy, Command Paper No. 124, which, despite the waste of money and resources in the past five years due to repeated Government vacillation, still lacks the firm decisions essential to an effective defence policy; further regrets the undue dependence on the ultimate deterrent on which the policy set out in the White Paper appears to be based; and recognising that international disarmament is the only real solution to the problem of defence, and conscious of the dangers to humanity of the continuance of nuclear explosions, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take an immediate initiative in putting forward effective proposals for the abolition of hydrogen-bomb tests through international agreement, meanwhile postponing the United Kingdom tests for a limited period so that the response to this initiative of the other Governments concerned may first be considered."—[Mr. G. Brown.]

Question again proposed,That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.

3.47 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

Except for a part of the speech of the Minister of Defence, yesterday the debate reflected the feelings of the country. In other words, it was a serious study of defence problems. Above all, the debate revealed the genuine wish of all hon. Members to find answers to the baffling questions with which we are confronted. We know that when it conies to defence we are all on the same island and, to put it crudely, if we go down in a thermonuclear death the ashes of a Tory will be just as radioactive as the ashes of a Socialist.

All of us, in the duties we have to perform, have difficult decisions to make, but in the sphere of defence they are certainly more difficult than in any other. One of the reasons is that the factors are changing so constantly. The experts of today are proved wrong tomorrow, and indeed, the suggestion of one day is the commonplace of the next. How many of us who came into this House in 1945 for the first time thought that, only twelve years later, we should be engaged in a debate one of the premises of which is that the aeroplane as used in war is on the way out?

During the last few years, speaking on things such as housing and capital punishment, I have risen to speak convinced not only of the case I was making but that I knew the answers to the other problems deep inside the subject. Today, I am convinced of the justice of the Amendment, but I am also convinced that in this matter of defence I certainly do not know all the answers. In other words, I am in the same position as most hon. Members.

Unlike nearly all Western Parliaments, we have not a Defence Committee, an all-party body with access to secret information on defence. Therefore, our task is difficult. The Government's passion for concealment makes it even more difficult. Those of us who are most concerned with defence have to rely on American and Dutch journalists to learn that our Canberra bombers, in Germany, were equipped to carry atom bombs. That is a measure of the difficulty that we are up against in dealing with this subject.

I understand that the Minister of Labour is to follow me in the debate. So much of our debate, since the Minister of Defence introduced it, has, naturally, been on guided weapons and press-button warfare that it is right that we should be reminded that men, real living people, are still the most important factor in a defence machine. Fingers, ordinary human fingers, have much more to do than merely polish the press-buttons. No doubt the Minister of Labour will remind us of this, and that there are many operations that can be done mechanically but at greater cost in the long run. Anyone concerned with labour and the production of complicated equipment knows that there is no complicated multipurpose equipment which, without planning, is produced so easily and by such unskilled labour as a human being.

So we have this fact: manpower is still the key to our problems. The Minister is to unlock the door and give us an explanation. I will not repeat what was referred to first by my right hon. Friend and then by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh), who wound up the debate from this Box last night—the points in the Minister's speech in July, to which particular attention was directed. All I can say is that it would be sheer repetition to go over it, but I confess that the Minister of Labour has a formidable case to answer. The case that we made was very strong and I hope that whatever the right hon. Gentleman does he will tackle these points himself.

The Minister of Labour and National Service (Mr. Iain Macleod) indicated assent.

Mr. de Freitas

I see the right hon. Gentleman nodding, so no doubt he will do so.

One of the points which we found very sketchy in the White Paper, and again in the speech of the Minister of Defence, was the control over the Service Departments by the Ministry of Defence. Ten years ago, when the new Ministry of Defence was set up, it never occurred to any of us, even the most junior Ministers in the Departments concerned or anybody else, that it would be possible, ten years later, for the three Service Ministries and the Ministry of Defence to survive almost unchanged.

It never occurred to us, in the discussions at that time, that the Ministry of Defence would remain merely an office round the Minister. It was always thought that, with the passage of time, gradually the three Service Ministries and the Ministry of Supply, having shed its non-military functions, would come together under a Minister of Defence.

During the past 12 months there have been staggering disclosures of the waste caused by overlapping and duplication among the Services. I shall quote the simplest matter of all, the provision of food. We learned during the last year that the Army sends food from Taunton to Plymouth while the Navy sends similar food from Plymouth to Yeovil. We learned that the naval air station at Ford, only about 20 miles outside Portsmouth, was supplied with food that came by lorry from Warrington, Lancashire, more than 200 miles away. That was obviously a distribution designed by Chesterton, the night he went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

If there is such waste in a field of supply where there is such a tradition of co-operation among the Services—the Army and the Royal Air Force have the same food supply system—what must the overlapping and waste be in fields in which there is a tradition of inter-Service hostility, for instance, between the Navy and the Royal Air Force in matters connected with the operation and maintaining of aircraft? No wonder the Select Committee reported a complete absence of co-ordination by the Ministry of Defence ". I was pleased to hear that the Minister of Defence had set up a committee. Will it look abroad at what other countries have succeeded in doing? If so, let it look particularly at India and Canada, countries which have our system of Ministerial responsibility and have had some of our experience.

I am extremely disappointed at what has been done about integration of the Services. Is it not a fact that we are still without a defence manual common to the three Services? Is it not true that there are still three separate war manuals? Should not we really have reached the stage when all officers of the Services, to whatever Service they may belong, if they have passed through the Imperial Defence College and the Joint Services Staff College, should be on a common Ministry of Defence list for reports and promotion?

Ten years ago inquiries were started into the possibility of amalgamating branches within the Services. A mistake was made by starting the inquiries with relatively small and unexciting branches, unimportant so far as military and war services are concerned, like the chaplains' service. It was felt, and, I think, rightly, that it was too early, and that we should wait until a generation of officers grew up who, although loyal members of their Service, thought of defence as a whole.

That generation of officers has now reached positions of authority, but the officers do not appear to have been encouraged or prodded by the Government to think constantly of integration. Again, there is a lot to be learned from other countries—it may seem strange, but I would say very small countries—who have never been able to afford the luxury of three independent Services.

In January I visited the Israeli Defence Ministry and the Army and Air Force in Israel, Gaza and Sharm el Sheikh, on the Straits of Tiran. I was impressed not only by the forces themselves, but with the degree of integration that had been achieved by their Services. Of course, an infantry officer is not expected to fly a Mystère and I believe that a fighter pilot is not posted to an infantry unit; but short of that, there is considerable cross-posting, especially in the technical and administrative branches. An officer may well, for some years' time, have to change from khaki to blue or from blue to khaki, but the point is that it is without complications to his career and promotion

When they consider integration I sincerely hope that the Government will not be frightened to change the traditional interests in the Services. One of the few encouraging things about the Minister of Defence is, I think I am right in saying, that during., the war he shot down an enemy bomber by rocket when the traditional "Ack-ack" people said that it could not he done

On integration, the Government must not accept compromise between the Services when it is not a real compromise. Suppose, for instance, that the Navy, the Army and the Air Force were required to plan to cross a river. Each would try to do it in its own way—to sail across, put a bridge across, or to fly across. The compromise might be to follow the Navy's solution on Monday, the Army's on Tuesday and that of the Air Force on Wednesday. Such a compromise would be acceptable to all three Services, but I am sure that it would be crazy military and economically

It is far better to have a realistic compromise. I apologise for mentioning it again in the House, as I did so a year or two ago when I referred to the Stalin compromise. Mr. Truman recalls that at Potsdam there was an argument between the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill)—whom I see in his place today—and Stalin, as to what should be done with the German Navy. For hours they argued. Stalin wanted it to be divided between the United Kingdom and Russia and the right hon. Gentleman said that the German Navy should be sunk beneath the waves because it was stained with infamy. At length Stalin said, "Mr. Churchill, you are English; you like compromise. Let us compromise; let us divide the German Navy and then you can sink your half.

So far as our Navy is concerned there does not appear to be a compromise of any sort in the White Paper. No attempt is made to harmonise the paragraphs headed, "Europe and Atlantic" and "Seapower." What is the future of the Navy conceived to be? At one moment the Government appear to have been impressed by Admiral Radford's calculation that 92 per cent. of the world's important targets lie within 1,200 miles of the sea. At the next moment the Government appear to regard the naval arm as relatively unimportant

A great deal is made of carrier forces, but if there are to be carriers what aircraft are they to use? Has the Navy any which are even comparable with the Hunter? What is coming to the Navy? What is the use of the many brilliant inventions—all of them British—angled decks, steam catapults, mirror landing aids and the blown flap, if the aircraft are not up to that standard? What about the design of carriers? Will the blown flap, or vertical take-off, lead to the development of much smaller carriers which would be less vulnerable and far less expensive

Yesterday, the Ministry of Defence told us that he foresaw no difficulty in recruiting Regulars for the Navy. Would it not be a good idea to take advantage of the great prestige attaching to our senior Service by expanding the Royal Marines to relieve the Army, which is finding it more difficult to get recruits? I return to this because it is the key to so much of the new look and the central reserve. Both the White Paper and the Minister of Defence have stressed the central reserve

I think it was the Manchester Guardianwhich referred to the danger of the central reserve of the Army which is to be available in this country becoming "a stationary military absurdity." Certainly, the White Paper talks about its mobility, but is there anything which a White Paper, Service Ministers or the Minister of Defence have said which indicates how mobile it really is? We must return to this as it is the key to the whole discussion. How is it expected that with the transport aircraft that are available these forces are to be able to be moved? Is it to be a question of fitting it in with B. E. A. or B. O. A. C., probably in the winter, when fares are cheaper, or something like that? We cannot rely on that

Thinking on the point about emergencies, I very much hope that there will be a link between the Service Departments and the Foreign Office. Even in a small operation like Suez the Royal Air Force dropped the wrong leaflets. They dropped leaflets calling for the overthrow of Nasser when the scheme had completely changed and the Foreign Secretary was saying that Britain had gone in to intervene as a policeman to keep peace between the two combatants. This is not a foreign affairs debate, so I will not say much about that, but Suez showed a lack of machinery and links between the Services and the Foreign Office

During December, at Question time, I drew the attention of the Secretary of State for Air to the fact that Israeli aircraft in the attack bore the Anglo-French special invasion markings of yellow stripes on a black background. A week or so later, the Foreign Secretary told me that he did not know Israeli aircraft had our invasion markings. Can it be correct that the Foreign Office did not know what every airman—and, I should imagine, every journalist in the theatre —knew, that in that operation the Israelis, the French and the British all had the same markings on their aircraft

During the last year or so, time and again in debates on supply and air, the role of manned fighters has been increasingly and seriously questioned. Did the Minister of Defence or the Minister of Supply do anything about it? They did not. At the beginning of this year the British aircraft industry was burdened with more fighter projects than the huge United States industry. The much smaller British industry had nearly half as many again imposed on it. Yet it must have been obvious that the role of the manned fighter was certainly being questioned. Surely, if any Minister of Defence had stayed long enough in his job, or if any Minister of Supply had applied himself to the problem, there would have been a gradual slackening off over the last year or so instead of the sudden lurch that we have today

What is the result of this lurch? Obviously, there is a very great waste of money. We know that Regular officers and men in the Services are faced with sudden violent changes in their careers. Further, there is the dislocation of the industry and the workers therein. Surely the Government should have foreseen these big changes. Those of us without any of their sources of information could foresee them

It was reported on Sunday that several hundred R. A. F. officers had asked to resign. The Government have certainly treated them with little consideration. I have protested before at the way in which senior officers—members of the Air Council, who could have devised plans to ease the transition—were kept in the dark by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence so that the policy of the Government could be continued to be announced, as it were, in newspaper headlines. These Regulars have served the State well and should have been treated as such. Apart from the human problem, they will certainly be the Government's worst recruiting agency, yet with a little foresight the position could have been completely different

The White Paper does not emphasise enough the important role of research and invention in defence. Of course, it is a truism today that our future defence will be closely tied to the future of our education in science and technology. Until recently we patronisingly thought of the Russians as being technically inferior

In case we should think that now, they give us almost daily reminders that they have the atom bomb, anyway. As late as 1949, when the first Russian atom bomb was exploded, I was told by a well-known atomic scientist that it could not possibly be a scientifically controlled explosion. The Russians were said to be incapable of that, and that it must be accidental, probably caused by a moujik tripping over a wire in far-off Siberia. Now, the mood is different and one hears dismal tales of how far ahead the Russians are

Surely there is a balance in this, that if we work closely with the United States of America, together we have a great contribution to make. The Americans, with their vast resources, are likely to lead us—we would wish it was otherwise—in development and production, but we shall probably lead them in sheer inventiveness, especially if they, like the Russians, tend in the years ahead to follow a god of conformity, with the resulting suppression of unusual and unpopular ideas. I think that with our inventiveness we will have a very important role to play in this partnership

The White Paper does not give encouragement to the possibility of nuclear defence. Has not considerable work been done already on the possibility of using guided missiles with atomic warheads in a defensive role to destroy attacking missiles? During the next decade this may come, utterly fantastic as such a thing seems today. Again, we must think in terms of such possibilities. As I said earlier, what would have been our reaction if, in 1945, we had been told what the atmosphere of debates here relating to manned war aircraft would be twelve years later

If we are to hold our own in the coming century, we must see that the next generation is not as scientifically illiterate as we are. In no sphere is this as important as in defence. We cannot have any more of the looking down on the technicians. Our officers must be twentieth century officers. I wish that the Government would always show that they had caught the twentieth century mood

It is a considerable achievement for a country to hold, at the same time, the world's speed records for land, sea and air, but I wonder how many members of the Government realise that we hold all these records. When we gained the air speed record last year, Ministers did not go out of their way to boast about it. Records like this are one of the things that are great about Britain in a technical age

Because so much of this technical education and changing mood is required in the future, I do not want to imply that there are not other things that we can do in the Services even before technically-minded officers arrive. We can right away—today—do much more to bring the benefits of modern techniques to the administration of the Services. There must be more computing and mechanised accounting in the Services. The United States Army estimates an annual saving of 100 million dollars from a new computer which will keep running records of motor spare parts stored in the depots. The savings will come from the reduced stocks required to be held. The cost of the machine is very heavy—millions of dollars—but the savings will be great

Of course, the Americans had their financial arguments, but I beg the Government to consider what I have said. I remember that the Treasury was horrified at the expense when it was suggested that the Royal Air Force should fly out spare aero-engines to forces abroad. The Treasury needed a lot of convincing that it was infinitely cheaper to fly them out than to have a large number of unused aero-engines on the long lines of supply and not seen. For personal records and statistics generally, the computer has a great part to play and I suggest that the Government really should consider this. It can easily be done by the three Services

I think it is generally agreed everywhere that we need a revision of the United States' law relating to the passing of information on atomic matters. Unfortunately, Suez, anti-American speeches and anti-American Motions have all postponed that day. Meanwhile, we are in the humiliating position of having to set up and maintain the United States guided missiles with our skilled manpower while the Americans control the warheads

The Americans make no secret of their policy of using local manpower as far as possible, but keeping the decisive control in their own hands. They have designed a guided missile with a range of 1,500 miles. They do not want it in their own country or in Mexico or Canada—of course not. Where else can they use it except in this country? We are fitting into the pattern of American oriental outposts in Korea and Formosa. There is nothing very oriental looking about a guided missile, but at this rate of assimilation to Formosa it will soon be difficult to tell one Minister from another. The story should be different from this

I have a suggestion to put to the Prime Minister. To have the guided missiles handed to us under the two conditions which I am about to suggest would make all the difference. Although the warhead was stored under United States control it could, in fact, be stored on the end of the missile and, secondly, our forces, and not the United States forces, could feed the data into the machine—that is to say, the British forces would keep the guided missiles constantly fed with the target and direction information; in other words, we would direct their line of flight. Is there any chance of these conditions being agreed? I hope that the Prime Minister will tell us something about "Thor" and "Jupiter"? Have they had any successful flights? I see in today's newspaper that certainly "Thor" did not do too well. In any case, when shall we have them

During the debate, most hon. Members who have spoken, have referred to N. A. T. O. Next year, N. A. T. O. will face many strains. Surely it should be for us to work to strengthen that alliance. Instead, the way in which our allies were told of the drastic decisions indicated in the White Paper has done a great deal in the other direction. I have spoken to members of defence committees of two different Continental countries. Under the Continental system, details of defence planning are known not only to Ministers, but to members of these defence committees. I was told that the "take it or leave it" manner in which our changes were announced upset our allies very much

We must not underrate the advantage of the alliance. The White Paper is actually based on alliance. More than that, however, technically we depend entirely on the work of our allies for any early warning that we may get. if we are to have the advantages of an alliance, we must develop confidence in each other and this can be done only by consultation. It is no wonder that the Washington correspondent of the Sunday Times could write that everywhere in Washington Her Majesty's Government were being charged —this is a serious accusation—with "the break-up of N. A. T. O." Those were his words

My hon. and right hon. Friends and myself regret very much that a Service Minister is not to intervene in this debate. We are entitled to answers from Service Ministers, particularly because we have to debate the White Paper without having the Service Estimates before us. It is quite an extraordinary position that after five and a half years, with all the professional advice available, the Government are in such confusion that they cannot even draw up the annual Service Estimates. Why is not one Service Minister to speak? Is it because the Service Ministers have been so much in the dark that none of them knows enough about the White Paper at all? Of course, even if that had been so, we should have had an opportunity of hearing the Minister of Labour on the very important aspect with which he has to deal

Although my party is confident that it is better equipped than the Government to deal with matters of defence, because it feels that in the twentieth century a party born in the twentieth century may have a considerable advantage—although we claim that with confidence, we do not claim to know all the answers to all the problems

Successive Governments have been banking on developing the deterrent. There was the belief that the possession of atomic weapons by both sides would produce a military stalemate and that the way would be open for peace by negotiation. But is this correct? There are men and women everywhere, in all parties, who are worried. For instance, there are some who believe that by concentrating on the deterrent we have left ourselves open to attack in limited local wars and that we cannot afford conventional as well as nuclear forces. I suppose it is a question of balance. We must have some conventional forces, but the point is that we must not lurch too far one way or the other

There are many people, again in all parties, who wonder whether there is any purpose in continuing with the policy of the deterrent now that the smaller countries may become nuclear Powers, too. With all the doubts and worries only one thing is certain; that the world needs a breathing space. In our Amendment we ask the Government to postpone the tests for a limited period and to make a great effort now to reach international agreement

I need no convincing of the awfulness of nuclear war. I saw the devastated waste of what was once Hiroshima. I wish that everyone could realise what total destruction is like, and then we might enter an age in which the rule of law would reign supreme. For the first time, we would reach a stage in which statesmen could go to the conference table knowing that compromise and concession would not be taken by their people as a sign of weakness but as a sign of realism. For the first time in history, statesmen of great Powers could go before a tribunal knowing that, if they lost their case there, they could not gain their point by a minor war—because between great Powers there could not be a minor war

I believe that there is still a chance that the awfulness of the deterrent may give this world something it has never had before, and that is the rule of law. Paradoxically, it would then be that the scientist would have turned out to be the law River and the lawyer merely the technician.

4.24 p.m.

The Minister of Labour and National Service (Mr. lain Macleod)

I found much with which to agree in the interesting, although mild, comments, and the occasional criticism which the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) launched at the White Paper. I want to start with a sentence which he used near the beginning of his speech, when he said that manpower is still the key, because what I have to say this afternoon, although essential to our defence planning, is, in some ways, a little way apart from the main stream of the debate.

I want to deal with three matters; first, the effects on employment of the defence economies; secondly, the question of civilian employment for Regulars who leave the Forces; and, thirdly, our detailed plans for the final years of National Service. Of course, the changes of policy announced in the White Paper will mean that the volume of defence work, and particularly of defence production, will be curtailed. It follows from that that many people will have to find new jobs, and that some will have to move.

I am sure that the House would accept this: that we should take this position as an opportunity and a challenge rather than as a calamity. Therefore, I should like to tell the House, as far as one can see at this stage, the broad effect on employment of these policies.

Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)

In this process of change, has the right hon. Gentleman in mind anything about compensation, in the same way as Army officers will be compensated?

Mr. Macleod

The question of compensation in relation to Regular officers was dealt with yesterday. I will have a specific point to make later on the transfer of workers.

The first thing that we must be quite clear about is that there is nothing very new in the situation that faces us. The volume of defence production has been declining for some years now and, in fact, bigger reductions in the numbers employed have taken place in previous years than are expected this year. Indeed, in the last four years. the numbers employed on defence production have been reduced by 200,000, including a fall of no fewer than 70,000 last year. It is probable that the reduction this year will be a good deal less than that.

In so far as I can give the figures, it is expected that during the next 12 months the numbers employed in the Royal Ordnance Factories may be reduced by about 5,000 or 6.000, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply is conducting a review of the capacity of these factories. In the aircraft industry, about 15,000 workers will be affected in the next 12 months, and the process of reorganisation will, of course, continue. As a result of reductions in Admiralty contracts. about 7,000 further workers will become available.

Our economy, and particularly our export trade, is bound to gain from the reduction in the burden of defence expenditure, but I recognise that there will be concern about the effects on employment, particularly in areas where alternative work is not easy to find. We have, therefore, made arrangements for close consultation between the Supply Departments, the Board of Trade, and my own Department so as to ensure that workers who are released by cuts in the defence programme are, if necessary, absorbed into other employment as quickly as possible; and that, where there is scope for choice in deciding where cuts shall be made, labour considerations shall be given the fullest possible weight.

Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge) rose

Mr. Macleod

I should like to get on with this part of my speech, if I can.

Some workers will, of course, remain at their place of employment even after they lose their present jobs, depending on the success of their firms in attracting civilian contracts. But where there is no alternative—and to this I attach great importance—except to make significant reductions in the size of the labour force, we are trying to arrange that the longest possible notice will be given by the Supply Departments to the Board of Trade and to my Department so that we can, perhaps, make special arrangements with the firms and find new tenants, if appropriate, for the factories.

Mr. Beswick

Is an attempt being made to assess the number of men within the aircraft industry who will simply turn from the construction of airplanes to work on guided missiles? I wondered whether the figure of 15,000 was net, after allowing for the additional employment in the industry provided by the guided missile programme.

Mr. Macleod

These figures are very tentative but, as I understand it, it would be a net figure in that sense. The figure is not very far from last year's, which was, I think, about 10,000 or 11,000.

Mr. Beswick

The right hon. Gentleman cannot give a figure for the changeover?

Mr. Macleod

I am quite confident that the great majority of these people will be quickly absorbed into other employment. If we start at the top level, a recent report, which I am sure hon. Members will have seen, estimated that employers in the manufacturing industries would need no less than 37 per cent. more scientists and engineers in 1959 than they did in 1956. There are now 4,000 vacancies for draughtsmen—thirteen times the number of those unemployed.

For skilled engineering workers there are nearly 20,000 vacancies—four times the number unemployed—and for metal-using industries over 40,000 vacancies. I know that hon. Members will say that these vacancies are not always in the right places. That is true; I accept that. The pegs never fit precisely into the holes. Also, of course, there will be local difficulties. I would not deny this, because it is a vast operation, but the figures that I have given of production in recent years show that this problem, properly tackled, need not be too formidable.

As the House will know—and Midland Members have been particularly anxious about this—I have been considering arrangements to assist the temporary transfer of workers from areas where there is a redundancy of labour which is not expected to be permanent. I have undertaken to the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) that when I am ready to announce that scheme I shall do so in response to a Question from her, as she has been particularly active in pursuit of this matter. I am not quite ready to announce the details of the scheme, but I hope to do so soon, and I think it may make a useful, though limited, contribution towards solving the problem of mobility of labour, which is essential.

The last of the points that I want to make on this, the first of my subjects, is this. The prospects for production are good. Opportunities exist for a further expansion of our exports, and the proportion of our resources which has been devoted to investment has increased steadily since 1952. We can, therefore, look forward to further progress in this field, and if this progress is forthcoming the engineering industries are sure to be in the forefront of those activities. It therefore seems clear that there are fairly favourable conditions at this time for the changeover to civilian production.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

I believe that the right hon. Gentleman's attention has been drawn to the fact that these changes may affect certain ranges which have been established by the War Office and to which people have been attracted. Some are in Wales, and there are others elsewhere. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that this matter is receiving his consideration?

Mr. Macleod

Yes, if we can help through the sort of machinery which I arranged earlier—consultation between the Departments, including my own—we shall, of course, do so.

I want to turn to the second of my subjects—the question of civilian employment for ex-Regulars of all ranks, especially those who have to be retired from the forces under the plan for reductions announced in the White Paper. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence yesterday gave the figures and said something about compensation. I want to fill in the other side, because it seems to me an essential part of a sound recruitment policy—indeed, it is our only chance of getting the recruits at all—that there should be fair treatment for the Regulars and that, at the end of their service, they should have an excellent chance of a successful second career.

In 1950, under the Labour Government an advisory council was set up to advise on the relationship between Service and civilian life, and it was under the guidance of this Council that the Ministry of Labour negotiated a series of agreements with different industries which secured special arrangements to provide for the employment of ex-Regulars, for example, by allocating a quota of vacancies to them.

Negotiations between the trade unions and the Services have resulted in the recognition of Service training and experience in a wide range of trades as qualifying these men for membership of the appropriate trade unions. I know that in the future we shall have the same cooperation from the trade unions as we have had in the past.

All Governments have tried to play their part in this, too, as many right hon. and hon. Members opposite will know. For many years certain posts in the Government service have been almost wholly reserved for ex-Regulars. In some Civil Service grades a proportion of vacancies is reserved for ex-Regulars and there are special examinations for them. For almost all Civil Service posts filled by competitive examination, ex-Regulars can deduct their period in the forces from their actual age for the purpose of the age limit. In addition to this, special arrangements exist for training ex-Regulars, and we train annually over 1,000 at the Government training centres run by my Department.

It is not possible today to describe in full to the House the work that has been done particularly in relation to the placing of other ranks and N. C. O. s, but I can show quickly what a success story it is. In 1956, for example, more than half of the other ranks who registered with the local offices of my Ministry were placed for employment before their terminal leave expired, and most of the others shortly after the expiry of their leave.

Out of the scores of thousands who left the Services over the whole country, only 97 had been unemployed for more than 12 weeks on 9th January, 1957. These were chiefly in country districts or seaside resorts where employment opportunities are limited. In a difficult year—and we must remember that 200,000 Regular other ranks left the Services in the last two years—that really is a splendid achievement and it should be widely known.

The problem of finding suitable employment for officers is more difficult. Resettlement information which is circulated in the Services is available to officers as well as to men, but, speaking from my personal experience, I wonder whether the officer is as well briefed as the man. I wonder whether all the information does get through to him in the way that I am sure it should do.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent. South)

Too true, it does.

Mr. Macleod

My experience at the end of the war—and I think that many hon. Members would confirm this—is that although infinite care was taken through organised classes, and so on, to see that all this information was given to the men and the N. C. O. s, I am not so confident that the information gets to all the officers as effectively as it should do.

For example, in planning for the future an officer should obviously think not only of where he will live but of what he will do there. It does not follow that Camberley or Cheltenham are the best springboards for an industrial career. I am, therefore, consulting my colleagues to see whether there is some way in which we can bring this information more 'closely and more effectively to the notice of the officers concerned.

Naturally, these officers tend to look for employment at a managerial or executive level—

Mr. Ellis Smith

Anything but do the work.

Mr. Macleod:

I know that the hon. Gentleman did not mean that wholly seriously, but that is a most unfair remark.

Mr. Ellis Smith

It arises out of my experience.

Mr. Macleod

All I can say is that my own experience is very different. The arangements which have been made, following the closing of the three appointments offices, to provide an employment service for persons seeking employment at this level at about 40 of the larger employment exchanges throughout the country will be of considerable help to those men and will mean that more specialised knowledge is available within comparatively easy reach.

As the House knows, another method by which we try to help ex-officers is through the Ministry's business training scheme, which helps a number of officers with either practical or theoretical experience.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that whether they be officers or other ranks, if they are sufficiently young and fit for the purpose they should have an opportunity of university or technical college training, as occurred at the end of the war?

Mr. Macleod

As the Minister of Defence said yesterday, the people with whom we are immediately concerned are not particularly young men, and I do not think that for this immediate problem the hon. Member's suggestion would help.

I should like to pay tribute, as I am sure would all those who have studied this matter, to the work of the Officers' Association and the National Association for the Employment of Regular Sailors. Soldiers and Airmen. They work in a specialised field but they do fine work, and employment exchanges give them every possible assistance.

One more problem which affects ex-Regulars of all ranks is the provision. of housing. Very full advice is provided by the Service authorities to help ex-Regulars solve their housing problems, including advice on how they may best secure or try to secure a council house and how they can set about trying to buy a house, if they wish.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

By cutting the housing subsidies?

Mr. Macleod

Over 90 per cent. of the local authorities, 1,330 out of 1,467, have said that they are prepared to relax residential qualifications for ex-Regulars who have found employment in, or near, the district, or who have family connections with it.

From that very brief review of the machinery that exists and has been built up by all Governments since the war I think it is clear that what is required is not the establishment of new machinery but the adaptation of the machinery that already exists. We are arranging to have those plans looked at by an inter-Departmental committee of officials. I would add that the Government are prepared to give careful consideration to any measures for expanding the volume of training or the placing machinery which seem necessary to give adequate assistance to the ex-Regulars from the forces.

It is an essential part of the Government's conception of the Regular forces that the man making a career for part of his life in the Regular forces should have confidence in his ability at the end of his service to obtain suitable and congenial work. That is of the greatest importance.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

If the right hon. Gentleman is to set up an inter-Departmental committee to consider this matter of resettlement, would he be good enough to consider the co-option of serving warrant officers and N. C. O. s who, I am quite sure, would, in a commonsense way, make available to him some of the grievances from which the other ranks suffer, and which could be put right, without the expenditure of any public money, by a little good will and common sense?

Mr. Macleod

I should be very glad if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to discuss that with my Service colleagues. In any way in which we can make use of practical experience we will do so. What is needed is permanent co-operation between the Services, my Department and industry and it is the intention of the Government to see that that co-operation exists.

I referred at the beginning of this part of my speech to the Advisory Council set up by the Labour Government in 1950. On that are representatives of the Services, of the B. E. C. and the T. U. C., and it was extremely successful in securing special agreements with industry. This Advisory Council provides a convenient means of securing co-operation and I intend to have the Council convened in due course so that it can consider the new position and see whether a further approach to industry is required.

Notice was served on the Government yesterday by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland), my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Sir W. Anstruther-Gray), the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) and others that they intend to watch carefully the actions of the Government in this field. Many newspapers, notably the Daily Mail,over the last few days have been taking an admirable interest in this matter. May I say, on behalf of the Government, that we very much welcome that interest which, I know, will be maintained in the House of Commons and that we will do our best to satisfy it?

I come now to the third of the three matters that I said I would put before the House, and that is our decisions in relation to National Service,. We had a debate on defence and manpower last July and it was then already clear that the needs of the forces for National Service men were less than the numbers that could have been called up. We were then, and we had been doing so over the previous year, calling up only three-quarters of an age group each year and thus raising the age of call-up. That was a policy which, in the absence of a firm decision to end the call-up on a given date, could not continue indefinitely.

The position now is different in two important respects. First, the ultimate size of the forces is substantially less than then envisaged and, secondly, we have set a date for ending the call-up altogether. I should now like to refer, as I was invited to do, to some of the remarks made yesterday by, in particular, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and the hon. Member for Islington, North in relation to my speech in the manpower debate of July last year.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper addressed me with such ferocious cheerfulness about this that I thought he would end up by asking me to dinner. He invited me to compare some of the remarks I made then with some of the calculations we have made now and the hon. Member for Islington, North, in what I thought was the only over-rehearsed part of what, if I may say so, was otherwise an admirable speech, made some similar references. I do not think that we are, perhaps, quite as far apart as we think. I will take the point fairly briefly partly, because it is always tedious to the House of Commons to re-fight old HANSARD battles when only two or three hon. Members in the House know what we are talking about.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper advised me "to come clean" on this matter and said that the House was always very understanding and forgiving when one said that one was wrong. That is quite true. It is one of the attractive things about the House that the more often one says one is wrong, the wiser the House thinks one is, I have no particular objections, therefore, to that process, although I might offer, in about three minutes' time, a similar opportunity to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper, if he would like to take advantage of it.

The real difference between us, apart from something which arose out of a mishearing by the right hon. Gentleman of a figure which I gave in an intervention last night, comes from the simple fact that in these matters of recruitment we must always talk in the same currency terms. I learned this lesson very carefully from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). I said a dozen times in that debate—so often that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) asked me why I was using this particular term, which I explained to my satisfaction but not to his—that I was speaking throughout in terms of male other ranks. I said: If we talked in rough terms of 200,000 male other ranks for the Army, that will mean about a total of 450,000 for the whole of the Services."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st July, 1956; Vol. 557, c. 1198.] I went on to argue that we could not recruit, by Regular recruitment alone, 200,000 other ranks for the Army or 450,000 other ranks for the Services. I said that then and I am sure that it is right now.

I then went on to say that I thought that the figures one might get of Regular other ranks was about 320,000. But, in fact, the figure in the White Paper, 375,000, includes officers, and if we take away about 50,000 officers we find that the calculations are very similar to—indeed almost exactly the same as—those I made last July.

Secondly, so far as the Army is concerned, although a precise figure has not been given for its future size it is substantially less than the 175,000 which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned yesterday. Again, if one puts it in terms of male other ranks it would be a figure under 150.000 and, therefore, the gap is not 25,000, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, but more than 50,000, which I am quite confident it is impossible to bridge by Regular recruitment. It will be hard enough as it is to recruit the number required for the Army, and there is a complication in regard to the outflow of the three-year engagement, into which I will not go now.

I think I have shown that, whatever the right hon. Gentleman may have said in his speech a year ago, what I said was in no way inaccurate. Indeed, looking back after the interval of a year, I am astonished at my own accuracy.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

What I gather from all that is that what I said, in column 1185 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of that debate, that we would probably get 130,000, to which we had to add 10 per cent. to allow for officers and also allow something else for men and women and boys, was right, and that, starting from a date around April, 1961, we should have 150,000. That was my figure. I was right in July, on the figures that the right hon. Gentleman now has, in April this year.

Mr. Macleod

I am sorry; the right hon. Gentleman really cannot ask for the sight screens to be moved after his middle stump has been knocked away. I do not know whether he made a good speech or not. Often he does, and perhaps he did. What I am saying is that the calculations I made a year ago are, in fact, very similar to the calculations on which we have based certain conclusions in the White Paper.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

Both are right.

Mr. Macleod

That is a very satisfying solution.

Before I explain our proposals, I should like to underline what was said by my right hon. Friend yesterday, that all action is proceeding on the basis that the call-up will end in 1960. That is the problem to which I will now address myself.

It is important that firm decisions should be announced so that young men and their parents can plan for the future and so that universities and colleges may know what to expect and the country and industry may see the pattern of the future as clearly as possible. It is only if our expectation that plans to build up Regular recruitment will provide us with the number of long-Service Regulars we need is falsified, that we shall have to consider the need for a limited form of compulsory service of the kind indicated in paragraph 48 of the White Paper. In those circumstances, in the classic words, a new situation will arise. But we regard that as a quite separate problem which could be dealt with only if and when it arose.

Under the existing National Service Acts, I have power to call up men born before the end of 1940. This power continues so long as they are within the age limits of liability. But I have no power under existing legislation to call up men born after 1940, and the Government have decided that it is not necessary to amend the present Acts to give me that power. Men born in 1941 or later will not, therefore, be brought into the call-up field. We are thus left with the men at present liable.

We estimate that we could, if necessary, call up between now and the end of 1960 570,000 men. There will be that number of fit men available. Of that total, 330,000 have not yet registered for National Service, and the remaining 240,000 are older people who are either in process of being called up or will become available following a period of deferment which has, in many cases, been given them so that they may increase their skill or knowledge. I hope that the House will bear the figure of 570,000 in mind in this argument.

Against that total of 570,000, we have to set the total demand of the forces for National Service men over the same period. The exact figure depends on the run-down of the forces and the rate of Regular recruitment, but it is unlikely, as far as we can foresee at the moment, that we shall need much more than half the potential pool. That leaves a surplus of at least a quarter of a million, and probably more.

When I spoke in the debate last July, I outlined to the House the various forms of selective service which might be of help. But this is an utterly different problem. The solutions, or most of them, put forward then would not be applicable to as wide a gap as this. For example, it would be impracticable and unfair to try to meet the situation by a wholesale extension of deferment on industrial grounds. Therefore, unless we can find a way of maintaining the long-standing principle of universal service while reducing the surplus to manageable proportions, we should have to rely on a ballot.

Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)

I thought for the moment that the right hon. Gentleman said a "battle".

Mr. Macleod

No, a ballot.

I shall not argue the merits or demerits of a ballot now; they are perfectly obvious. All I would say is that the Government would contemplate a ballot only if there were not a practical alternative. Now that a date for the end of call-up has been fixed, we believe that there is such an alternative, and, in consequence, we reject the ballot as a solution to the problem.

As things stand at the moment, men born before October, 1938, have already registered, and those of them who are due to perform National Service are either on deferment or in process of being called up. We intend to rely to a considerable extent on those men who have enjoyed the advantages of deferment to complete their training or studies, whose contemporaries—we should not forget—have been called up for military service. But if we were to rely on them alone, these rather older and more highly skilled people, quite apart from the fact that the numbers are not sufficient, there would be one obvious difficulty.

In the terminal years of National Service, if we were to follow that policy, all or nearly all the people called up would be skilled or trained men. Very many of them would have to be employed on routine tasks. The country would, I think, regard that as a wasteful process, and, moreover, the Services would not have a balanced intake. We intend, therefore, to supplement them by younger men, of whom about 30,000 become immediately available from each quarter's registration.

Men born in the last quarter of 1938 are due to register next month, that is to say in May, and we shall call as necessary on men born in 1939, who have, of course, not yet registered. I cannot tell the House and the country yet exactly how far into the 1939 age group it will be necessary to go. As far as men born in 1940 are concerned, we are planning on the assumption that, although they remain legally liable for service, they need not expect to be called up.

I should like to summarise the position in regard to these three years. I have no power, and I do not intend to ask for power, to call up those born in 1941 or later years. Secondly, although they are liable, I do not intend to call up the 1940 class. Thirdly, the 1939 class will be needed, though I cannot yet say if we will need them all—probably not.

Those decisions, given in exact terms to the House, show again, if I may say so, how trivial is that part of the Amendment which complains that our policy is not based upon firm decisions. Whatever criticism can be made, that certainly is not one.

Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)

The right hon. Gentleman will know that special arrangements were made for young men to anticipate the date of their call-up in order that they might be clear of military service in order, let us say, to synchronise with the start of a university term two years thereafter. It they were not clear of military service commitments by the time such other courses began, they might miss quite a long period of training. There will now be some doubt as to whether men should ask for anticipation of their call-up, and they may as a result miss the university terms. Could the Minister say something to remove these doubts?

Mr. Macleod

I can clear away part of the hon. Gentleman's doubts in the next part of my speech. All the arrangements for early call-up will, of course, remain.

What we have to try to do is to strike a balance and to maintain a due proportion between men coming off deferment after completion of training and other men posted to the Forces, and we have to decide what that proportion will be. It may be, and indeed it can be, varied as time goes on, but we shall register sufficient men to ensure that whatever proportions are decided on can be maintained.

This is how we propose to carry out the scheme. We shall separate the register from which men are posted to the Forces into two sections. The first section will comprise men who have had deferment and who become available for call-up after successfully completing their courses of training or studies. The second will consist in the main of younger men not eligible for deferment. This separation of the register into two sections will enable the predetermined proportion to be observed as we post men to the Forces in the terminal years.

Apart from this, the process of calling men up will not be affected, and I particularly want to emphasise that within each section of the register call-up will proceed as it does now. There will, therefore, be no new element of selection and, similarly, existing arrangements for deferment will continue. Indeed, as the House knows, I have been prepared in a number of cases recently to extend the arrangements in this connection—for example, those in connection with hardship, as recent regulations which I laid before the House will show. Only yesterday, in response to the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), I made some important and valuable relaxations to meet the problem of some people doing part-time and other studies who might not have been able to complete their studies. I have shown, and I state again, my willingness to move in this matter, provided the grounds are sufficiently strong.

The arrangements which I have described, involving the division of the register, will come into operation on 1st April, 1958. During the current financial year there is no particular problem, because a reasonably balanced intake can be achieved by relying, first of all, on the 60,000 men or so who will come off deferment this year, secondly on those in process of being called up, and thirdly on those who will register next month, in May. It is unlikely that men born in the first quarter of 1939—that is, the next group we shall call up—will be asked to register until early next year.

I would make one last point on a rather specialised matter. The recruitment of medical and dental officers from the National Service field will need separate consideration, and we shall organise that, as we do now, on the advice of the professional medical and dental committees which handle this matter.

Mr. George Isaacs (Southwark)

I wonder whether in all this process of selection and sorting out, in a scheme which I think will be quite operative, any steps will be taken to change the relation of the Services to the conscientious objector? Is it still intended to go through the process of making him go to the courts? The attitude towards the conscientious objectors has always been sympathetic, but will a little more sympathetic attention be given to the man who is a genuine conscientious objector? Will he be freed without having to go to the courts and through all the other present procedure?

Mr. Macleod

I am not today announcing any changes in that respect. In any case, much of that would require legislation. I am prepared to look at any cases at which hon. Members want me to look for general relaxations in this matter.

Mr. Wigg

As I understand it, the right hon. Member does not intend to call up before 1st April the men who are due to be called up in the first quarter of next year. That means that the principle contained in his White Paper, Command 9608, National Service, by which the age of call-up would have reached nineteen in April, 1958, will be extended.

Mr. Macleod

Certainly. I am coming exactly to that point. I shall not duck it.

It is true that at the end of 1960 there will be men within the field of call-up who will not be called up, but the House must realise that that is part of any scheme which plans to end National Service on a certain day. Indeed, it is part of a ballot. It is inescapable. But I hope it will be possible for me, long before the end of 1960, to make an announcement that it is not necessary to call up any further men beyond those who, at that moment, are in the process of being called up.

Replying to the hon. Member for Dudley, I do not claim that this scheme has no disadvantages. We cannot halve a number, such as 570,000, without having disadvantages. I will state quite frankly to the House the two main difficulties. The first is that men are likely to have to wait rather longer than they might have expected to wait before being called up. The second is that the age of call-up will continue to rise above its present level of 18 years and 9 months. Of course, that is true and we shall do our best to help where we can by continuing the existing arrangements whereby men who ask to be called up without delay are given special precedence.

I have considered as far as I can all the possibilities, in any event all those that I can think of, and I put this scheme to the country and the House as the fairest and the most practicable means of meeting the call-up problem between now and the end of 1960. The right hon. Member for Belper was good enough to say yesterday that with the very efficient Ministry of Labour—which, of course, is true—he thought it likely that the call-up scheme would be sound and workmanlike. I believe that it is, but we should very much welcome comments on it from the House and from the country. It is of course, difficult to pick up all the details in a speech, and no doubt hon. Members would like to study the scheme.

I said at the beginning that what I had to say was a little bit apart from the main stream of the debate, but it also pinpoints to some extent the dilemma which exists for every hon. Member. It is not a particularly easy dilemma. I am bound to say, if I can do so with all friendliness—which is a little different from modesty—to the right hon. Member for Belper and other right hon. and hon. Members opposite that we cannot escape this dilemma by going round waving a banner on which is emblazoned, "See what a responsible party we are; we all think differently". It is not possible to escape it in that way, because they cannot be a Government and cannot claim to be an alternative Government on a basis like that. It is not leadership to hawk a piece of paper round the House, to accept Amendments from everyone one meets, and then to pretend that the resulting document is an effective act of policy.

Mr. Ellis Smith

The right hon. Gentleman has spoiled a good speech.

Mr. Macleod

It is not possible to escape the dilemma in that way. Without comment, I put the dilemma in this way: if we refuse to rely on the deterrent, we cannot at the same time urge the abolition of National Service. Secondly, we cannot urge the abolition of National Service unless we are prepared either to rely for our protection for all time and in all circumstances upon a foreign but friendly country or are prepared to take the grim decision to make the bomb, and implicit in that decision, surely, is the decision to test it, too.

That is, of course, an awful decision, but, strangely enough, I do not believe that it is a particularly difficult decision. Many of the gravest decisions are, in fact, the clearest cut and the easiest to take. I think that is the reason that there is no dilemma on this side of the House, and that is why, when the Opposition have no answer to this eternal and haunting dilemma, we on this side of the House believe that we can find our answer in the courageous realism of the White Paper.

Mr. Robots

Apparently, it is not necessary for any regulations to be introduced to deal with this matter. It will be dealt with under existing powers. In view of that fact, does the right hon. Gentleman propose to issue a White Paper on this scheme in order that the House may have the opportunity of examining it and possibly debating it? Will he at the same time give some indication of the method by which the physical transfer of displaced workers, to which he referred in the first part of his speech, can be carried out in relation to their employment elsewhere in the country? This question of the call-up and the changes involved is of such importance that it calls for a White Paper to develop some of the points which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, particularly in relation to the call-up of the 1939 class. The House will wish to give consideration to it and, I hope, to help him in producing the best possible scheme and one which is fair and equitable all round.

Mr. Macleod

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I will consider with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence what help we will give the House, and if the House would be helped by a White Paper on this matter, we will do everything we can.

5.10 p.m.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

I thought the concluding references of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, in which he referred to a party occasionally yielding to pressure groups, applied materially to the party of which he is an honoured member, because recently we have had evidence of the effect of pressure groups on the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman's speech contained many interesting, although some disquieting, features. It may be that these disquieting features are temporary in character, yet it did seem to me that they were the inevitable result of the decision to curtail our military expenditure. We cannot have it both ways. If we insist, as we do, that the economy cannot sustain the heavy burden of military expenditure or the absorption of manpower for military purposes, then clearly we must face the inevitable consequence, namely, that even though temporary, there is bound to be some redundancy and dislocation in industry. As I see it, that is inevitable.

This is no new problem. We were faced with it during the period of the minority Labour Government between 1929 and 1931. I was myself then Financial Secretary to the War Office and was engaged in the process of curtailing military expenditure. We had to consider how far it was possible to switch over from military production to civil production, and I recall how, on behalf of the then Government, I approached the Director of Services of Woolwich Arsenal to ascertain whether it was possible in that establishment to engage in civilian production. It all seems very simple. "If you produce a tank," they say, "you can produce any ordinary vehicle. If you produce a military machine, you can produce one for civilian purposes."

It is not as simple as all that. It requires the gearing-up of factories, the provision of new tools and all the rest of it. This is a slow process, and in that process we have to accept the consequences of the decisions we take.

It seemed to me as I listened to the right hon. Gentleman's speech that we require considerable study of these proposals before we can actually make up our minds as to their validity and efficacy. I noted with gratification the Minister's decision, in response to a question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), to consider the production of a White Paper setting forth the details and amplifying the speech and the proposals which he made this afternoon. It is much too early to decide upon the details of his proposals, and it occurs to me that many debates will be required and many more explanations will be necessary before we can reach a final conclusion.

As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, the subject was very important indeed. All these aspects, in the sphere of possible redundancy, in the reoccupation of all ranks in the Services into civilian life, in the provision of compensation and so on—all these are very important subjects indeed; but I should like to turn to the subject of defence, and which I think should be debated when we are confronted with a Defence White Paper.

It seemed to me, and I speak only for myself, that the Minister of Defence gave us yesterday an exposition of the White Paper which I thought bore all the evidence of clarity. I took no exception to the speech or the White Paper on that account. Naturally, he took the opportunity to taunt the Opposition because of the divergence of opinion within the Labour Party. That is familiar technique. To quote one's political opponents is a practice of which most of us have been guilty at some time or other, and indeed we will exercise our right to do it in future, as we have done in the past. It seemed to me, however, that the right hon. Gentleman over-reached himself. It seemed to me that he was like a misguided missile. His targets were not the best of targets, and his aim was not particularly accurate. However, we expect that sort of technique, but, if I may say so, it has very little to do with the subject of defence, and that is the subject under review, to which I now turn.

I want to make it abundantly clear that, in my view at any rate, and I hope in the view of hon. Members everywhere, the difference between the official view of the Opposition—please take note of what I say—and the official view of Her Majesty's Government can be narrowed down to a very simple issue indeed. Let me explain. The official view of the Labour Party has been declared repeatedly at our annual conferences, and the annual conference of the Labour Party is the supreme authority. We accept its dictates, although sometimes we kick against the pricks. Nevertheless, there it is, for what it may be worth.

The avowed and declared objective of the Labour Party is clear—the Labour Party has officially accepted the need for a measure of defence; let there be no mistake about that. Of course, there are differences of view about the principle of defence, whether there should be any defence at all, and different aspects of defence, such as the cost, the nature of defence and the like.

Nevertheless, the principle of preparing a defence organisation, in view of an emergency arising at some time or other, is accepted. We must provide what people believe is a measure of security in the event of a conflict, so the Labour Party has accepted the principle of defence; but, equally, the Labour Party has accepted—and it is on the record; indeed, the Minister of Defence made reference to it in his speech yesterday—whether we like the merits of the decision or not, the need for the production of the hydrogen bomb. I do not comment on it at the moment, but merely state the fact.

The same applies to the testing of the bomb. The Labour Party Conference has not complained about the need for testing the bomb, once we have agreed about its manufacture. There are differences of opinion as to whether the bomb should be tested once it has been produced, but, nevertheless, the Labour Party has not rejected the idea that, once the bomb has been produced, we should try it out to see whether it is of any value or not.

Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Was there not a second resolution of the party which objected to a continuance of the tests?

Mr. Shinwell

My hon. Friend is quite right in one particular, by which I mean that the Labour Party sought in its resolutions universal agreement with a view to the abolition of tests; but that is quite another matter. There is no quarrel about this. That is the position of the party.

The only difference is that the Parliamentary Labour Party has asked the Government whether they would agree to postpone the Christmas Island test for a few months—for a limited period—to ascertain whether the U. S. S. R. and the U.S.A. will make a favourable response and approach to universal agreement.

Mr. Ellis Smith

On that we are completely united.

Mr. Shinwell

There is no difference there. I shall come to the merits of the matter in a moment. The right hon. Gentleman taunted us about our differences, but let me tell him something. He is unaware of the history of the Labour Party. For me it is not a matter of reading the history of the party; I have lived it right from the beginning of the century.

I recall the internecine strife within the Labour Party, the quarrels between Keir Hardie, the advocate of peace, and Robert Blatchford, the militarist editor of the Clarion.I recall the differences between the pacifist Independent Labour Party and the Social Democratic Federation, advocating the Citizen Army. I recall during the First World War when the Labour Party officially was in favour of prosecuting the war and the Independent Labour Party, led by MacDonald, advocated peace by negotiation.

It is as well that it should be known —it is important, and it has a bearing on this subject of defence, especially because of the taunts in which the right hon. Gentleman indulged against the Opposition. In the inter-war years there were acute differences of opinion on the subject of defence. In my judgment, there always will be. Why not? There are strong emotions in the Labour Party, and no matter how logical we are there is no use quarrelling with an emotion. It is of no value.

The Minister of Defence (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

The right hon. Gentleman has several times referred to the fact that I taunted the Opposition about their dissensions yesterday. What I am surprised about is that the things I said yesterday, which were primarily concerned to show that the official policy of the Labour Party on the hydrogen bomb was the same as the policy of Her Majesty'3 Government, should be regarded as taunts. This is precisely what the right hon. Gentleman has been repeating in his speech today, referring to the same resolution which I quoted yesterday.

Mr. Shinwell

It is one thing to state a fact objectively, and it is another to state it maliciously. As the right hon. Gentleman is fully aware, I am completely without malice. I would never dream of exposing differences in the Tory Party or of saying a word about the disappearance of the Marquess of Salisbury. I never say one word about the differences on Suez or about anything that concerns the policy of the Government. I should not dream of such a thing. But the right hon. Gentleman has enough on his plate without indulging in that kind of political by-play, which does not help us when we are considering the subject of defence which, for the moment, is our primary consideration.

I return to the matter which I said divided us—the question whether the Government would be justified in asking for a postponement of the test. I accept it as a gesture. I do not quarrel with it. If I had any difference of opinion with members of my own party, it was not because I thought that this was an improper gesture. It may be a feeble approach, but nevertheless it is a right approach in the circumstances. Any approach is valuable if we can escape from the danger to which we are exposed in the international situation, because of the ideological quarrels, and the dread possibilities inherent in nuclear warfare.

Therefore, I accept it. If I had any difference at all, it is because I prefer the virtue of consistency. Once having made up one's mind, one should stand by one' decision. That is effective leadership. To come to a decision one day and to forget about it the next is not very good leadership; but I welcome the gesture.

This brings me to the most redeeming feature of the White Paper, and that is its emphasis on the need for promoting disarmament. It is not necessary to convince hon. Members in any part of the House about the dangers that lie before us in radio-activation, in strontium 90, about which I have heard so much but about which I know nothing. We are familiar with all this. I dare to challenge hon. Members opposite: are not they, equally with those of us on the Opposition benches, profoundly anxious to seek the opportunity to promote universal disarmament in order to guard us against these dangers? Of course, they are.

I do not believe that there is one hon. Member of this House who wishes to proceed with the manufacture of the H-bomb or the testing of that bomb, or with the manufacture of further nuclear weapons, if it can possibly be avoided. It would be insane to take a contrary line. This must be obvious. Is it really worth arguing? It should be accepted by everybody. Nevertheless, I emphasise that there is a great deal in what the Opposition asked for when it pleaded with the Government to suspend the Christmas Island tests for a limited period so that we might discover what is in the mind of the United States authorities and the Government of the Soviet Union. That is all that has been asked.

I come to the question of the deterrent. This is another salient feature of the White Paper. There is a dilemma facing every one of us, and I confess that it is not easy to resolve it. No matter how much thought one gives to it, it is not easy to reach a satisfactory conclusion. If one gives a great deal of thought to the subject of defence, one does not reach an immediate conclusion. On the other hand, those people—of course, I do not mean right hon. or hon. Members—who reach speedy conclusions do not seem to have given the subject much thought.

The dilemma amounts to this. The question is whether we are to rely almost exclusively on the deterrent of the nuclear weapon or whether we should discard this so-called deterrent and rely on conventional forces. Another aspect is whether we can afford both so-called deterrents.

I venture to pose this question to the House. It seems that there is some advantage in retaining conventional forces. I want to see them streamlined, of course, but that is nothing new. There is nothing original in that demand. I have ventured to express it in almost every speech I have made on defence since I relinquished the position of Minister of Defence. When I was Minister of Defence and the military were engaged in an exercise, I ventured the opinion that the divisions were unwieldy in size. I never pretended that I had any more knowledge than other hon. Members have, although some may think that they have more; but we cannot trouble about that. Right throughout the years since 1950 I have argued in favour of streamlining the Forces. The right hon. Gentleman was right to reduce the forces in N. A. T. O., even in spite, as is alleged, of the opposition he encountered from some of our allies. They had made a much less worthwhile contribution than we had throughout the years. We bore a heavy burden in manpower and expenditure.

The question is how the right hon. Gentleman is going to streamline the Forces. We have had very little information. Indeed, the only information we have had was given at the end of the Army debate recently when the Financial Secretary to the War Office, in a very casual fashion, told us about the Government's intentions. We have been given very little information about the formation of divisions, whether they are to be large or small, whether they are to be combat groups or brigade groups, and of what size. We are entitled to know. In other words, what is to be our contribution to N. A. T. O.?

I return to the point which I made. I prefer to rely as long as is possible and practicable on conventional forces, and I give the reason for saying that. When I listen to hon. Members talking about future strategy, I wonder whether they realise that they are completely in the realm of conjecture. Who can tell what the nature of a future war will be? What we know is that we do not want another war. But what sort of war is a future war going to be? Would it be a war in which the deterrent is bound to be used? I am not certain about that.

I can imagine a situation—it is purely speculation on my part, but my speculation is as good as anyone else's—in which some incident would give rise to a minor clash between rival forces in which we were involved. I am going to say something now to hon. Members which may startle them. They may accuse me of cowardice when I say it, but I say it nevertheless.

Let me preface what I am going to say by saying that when one is young one is apprehensive and full of fear, but that as one reaches an advanced age, such as I have done, fear disappears entirely—it matters no longer. I can imagine a situation where, in a conventional war, it might be more endurable to suffer defeat, even humiliation, even if it means survival on a limited scale, than to use the nuclear weapon and be completely destroyed. After all said and done, we do not want to commit suicide. If anybody does, he has my consent, but I do not particularly desire it for myself.

It seems to me that we must be extremely careful not to place undue reliance on the deterrent if that is what is meant by it. Therefore, I beg the right hon. Gentleman to proceed with his conventional forces and his conventional weapons. I am not speaking of the tactical atomic weapons. Let him proceed with the conventional method, but let him streamline the Forces and give them the ability and the striking power to be effective if they are ever needed. That is the approach. Let us keep in the background the dread possibility that we may some day have to use this so-called deterrent actively in retaliation. Retaliation, in my judgment, is complete nonsense.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the matter yesterday when he spoke so feelingly and with such knowledge and understanding of the Russian position. I have no particular faith in Russian philosophy. I dislike it intensely. I prefer our own philosophy. It has its defects, but I prefer it nevertheless. All the same, it is my opinion—and I am sure it is the right hon. Gentleman's opinion—that the Russians do not want war. They also have the deterrent, but they do not want war in spite of ideological differences, and I cannot imagine that intelligent people in the United States hold a different opinion. I do not think anyone wants war in those circumstances. What is it that causes all this tension? It is only fear but having weapons at our disposal which we call deterrents and say that we are never going to use, but which some mischance, some incident outside our control, forces us to engage in what is called retaliation may mean the eventual destruction of humanity.

I am not speaking in an emotional sense at all; I am speaking quite objectively, and, I believe, logically. If that is the position, then we have to consider how we can best build up our defence because, as I say, some defence is essential. I believe it is essential, not because I think that it should be used some day, but because I have the feeling that if we said to the people of this country that we were going to abandon our defences entirely they would not accept it.

I believe that if I went to my constituents—and I think that I understand them as well as any other hon. Member —and said that we were going to abandon all defence preparations, they would not be inclined to accept it. They have the feeling that there must be some safeguard. It is a kind of insurance policy. A fire may never break out and the house may never be burgled, but it is worth while paying the premium. However, we must see that the premium is not too costly. That is my line of approach.

I now come to two final considerations. The first is N. A. T. O. I referred to it in passing, but I now want to say something more about it. I have been very suspicious of the position of N. A. T. O. for several years, and I have expressed my views very strongly both here and overseas. The right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) once talked about 90 divisions for N. A. T. O., and he used them as a stick with which to beat us. I remember the Council of N. A. T. O. when it talked about 50 active divisions and 50 reserve divisions. I was present at a lecture given by General Norstad when he talked at large about the forces at the disposal of N.A.T.O.

Those of us with some experience of Service Departments and of N. A. T. O. find it quite unacceptable. We want to know far more about what is going on in N. A. T. O. Is it a strong organisation? Could it resist any kind of aggression, even conventional aggression? If it cannot, we ought to be told. Are we not placing ourselves in the position, without knowledge of the strength of N. A. T. O. —if it possesses any strength at all—of being compelled, whether we like it or not, to rely on the deterrent, the nuclear weapon?

That is a hopeless position for us to occupy. That is the first point. I could amplify it, but I leave it where it is, and I beg the right hon. Gentleman to give more attention to N. A. T. O., to see that it is a worth-while organisation, that it is effective, that it is not wasting its substance, and that the other countries are making an effective contribution just as we are.

Now I come to my final point; it is about our relations with the United States of America. I understand that we are allies of the United States, that we are partners. I venture the opinion that a partnership means effective co-operation.

Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)

Not the double-cross in the Middle East.

Mr. Shinwell

I prefer to leave that bone alone; it is inclined to be a bit troublesome. I am speaking of our relationship in the military sphere. I cannot understand for the life of me why the United States authorities boggle at our demand that we should have the "know-how" in relation to the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Why should they conceal information from a partner, more particularly as now, whether we like it or not—and it is an inescapable fact that we should emphasise and proclaim from the housetops—this country is a launching site for United States guided and other missiles? That is a very great risk we have undertaken and is a great danger to which we are exposed.

I shall not quarrel with the concept underlying it, but I ask that for what we do, if we are to be a launching site or an aircraft carrier, the United States should give us something effective in return and not conceal from us knowledge which will be of great value for us not only in the military but in the civil sphere.

Mr. Hobson

Oil for pound notes.

Mr. Shinwell

We must press on with the demand for a greater degree of knowledge provided for us by the United States authorities.

The next point I shall mention will not divide us. It is something on which we can be completely united; it can be even a bi-partisan policy. Let us seek with all desperation, might and influence to promote disarmament. I know that something is being done in that direction. I listened with great pleasure to statements about the approach made by Mr. Stassen, a modest, minor approach, but nevertheless one in the right direction. I listened to what the Foreign Secretary said today in reply to questions on the subject. Perhaps the Minister of Defence could use his influence with the Government. I know that if he makes up his mind about anything he will press it with all his power. I beg them to be more resilient in the sphere of disarmament discussion.

I believe that it is sometimes possible to progress by compromise, and here is a subject replete with the possibility of compromise and one where it should not be rejected. We should make every possible endeavour, even if occasionally we have to give something away, to secure disarmament. I know that risks are involved. One inevitable consequence of disarmament is the risk of unemployment, but, with great respect to my hon. Friends, I would prefer unemployment rather than take the risk of utter destruction.

The White Paper on Defence is reasonable enough. It makes the proper approach within the Government's limited capabilities. The Minister of Defence means well. Naturally, he has a great deal to learn, particularly about the need, not for integration—I will not use that misunderstood term—but for more effective co-operation between the Service Departments. We wish the right hon. Gentleman well. Meantime, he would do us a favour which we would esteem very greatly if he would try to persuade his colleagues in the Government to agree this far with us and postpone the Christmas Island tests in the hope of obtaining a favourable response, if possible, from the country with which we are now engaged in what is called ideological warfare.

5.42 p.m.

Sir Henry d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Walsall, South)

I am a newcomer to these debates and I think that I should congratulate the House, first, on the great galaxy of talent assembled here to discuss this subject. I should also like to pay particular tribute to the extraordinarily fine speech that we have had from the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). The particular interest of the Defence White Paper to me and one in which, to my mind and, I think, to the minds of all hon. Members, will differentiate it from its predecessors, is the categorical undertaking that it gives in paragraph 47 that no further call-up under the National Service Act is contemplated after 1960.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service has detailed the way in which this undertaking would come into operation, but there is an enormous difference between the general effort made year after year to economise in manpower and to reduce the call that we make on our resources and this particular, firm undertaking which the Minister of Defence has obtained in collaboration with the Chiefs-of-Staff and Service Ministers to end the call-up. That, surely, is the most notable contribution that this year has brought.

There is one element which appeals to me. It will not be beyond the recollection of hon. Members that by the time this effective date is reached we shall have fought a General Election. I can think of no more disheartening thing to put in front of the public at a General Election than failure to fulfil this undertaking. Equally, this undertaking cannot be considered as in any way an attempt now to obtain support, because undoubtedly the public will have forgotten when it was given and, by 1960, it will be taken for granted if it is successfully fulfilled. Therefore, I should like to pay tribute to the courage and determination which inform this decision.

I have not been very greatly impressed by the attacks on the waste that has gone on in the Armed Forces since the war. The Services have had to take on limited operations in a very large number of fields. They have been engaged in Korea, in Kenya and in Malaya and all these operations have been completely successful. The fact that, at the same time, they had to prepare themselves for much worse ordeals and much greater tests has obviously meant the sort of waste to which reference is now made.

If I may use a simile from another field, I believe that the Government are in the position of having a racehorse in their stable which they trained to run in the Derby during the summer and in the Grand National over obstacles in the winter, and eventually, when the poor beast comes to its end, there are complaints from the public that it does not make very good eating. I submit that that is a reasonable comparison with the criticism that is now directed against our Service Departments.

Our real problem is how to make the best and most economical use of our reduced manpower. Many suggestions have been made about integration, though there has been no strong lead on the subject. I know how unpopular a subject this is with the Service Departments. In this connection, an interesting letter was published in The Timesyesterday from Sir Frederick Bovenschen, former Permanent Secretary to the War Office.

The Army accounting system has come in for some hard criticism recently. Sir Frederick pointed out that In 1923, a committee under Sir Herbert Lawrence recommended that the new system should be continued and should be accompanied by a complete change of army administration whereby administrative responsibility and accounting were decentralised to individual establishments and regimental units. This is the sort of thing that many people have been demanding for years.

Sir Frederick added: After further committees had examined the detailed application of the Lawrence Committee, the Army Council decided to revert to the traditional accounting system, retaining cost accounts only for certain operative establishments, e.g., workshops. They could not accept the far-reaching changes in Army administration involved in the Lawrence Committee report; they found the cost of the new system (£300,000 a year) excessive and the economies claimed for it not proved; and there was grave doubt whether the system could work in war. Accordingly, after reference to the Treasury and discussion at the Public Accounts Committee, the experiment was abandoned in 1926–27. Frankly, I think that it is the fate of most experiments to try to bring some new thinking into our Service Departments. Such experiments may perhaps increase expenditure temporarily by relatively small figures, and immediately zealous people in the Treasury drop on it and say that it is not to be tolerated.

I have a few suggestions to produce on the question of integration. The first thing we might look at is the tail of the fighting forces. After all, we have men who have to fight the enemy and, also, as we know to our cost, we have a much larger number of people who have to produce various services for the fighting men. I want to examine some of the services which are provided.

First, there are the medical services. It will not surprise the House to learn that at the moment there are in the United Kingdom 17 Army hospitals, four Royal Air Force hospitals and three Royal Navy hospitals. I cannot believe that there is any over-riding reason why the Services should be segregated in their hospital treatment. Indeed, I will go further than that—I cannot see why there should be entirely different arrangements for the collection and transport of casualties to the place of treatment. Even in Germany there are seven Army hospitals and two R. A. F. hospitals. Why must we have separate R. A. F. hospitals in Germany?

The next thing I want to mention is transportation. On land, the three Services, naturally, require transport vehicles. It may surprise the House to know that all their transport vehicles are different, all three Services having their own types. They train their own drivers, they carry out their own repairs and they have separate workshops. I am certain that if my right hon. Friend addresses himself to this point a fuss will be raised somewhere, and figures will be produced to suggest that there will be no immediate savings if we try to co-ordinate these services, but I suggest that this might be tried.

The next thing is accommodation. Why could not there be some inter-Service organisation to standardise the requirements of the Navy, Army and Air Force on land? Next, stores. The recent Report of the Estimates Committee on the Army accounts produced some remarkable figures about the amount of cubic feet of air that is stored in Army depôts. I have no information yet as to the amount of cubic feet of air likewise stored by naval and Air Force depôts here. I have no doubt that this will be obtainable, and I shall do my best to obtain it. I think we shall get some remarkable figures of the air storage space occupied by our separate Service arrangements in this country.

Now, air trooping. At present, we work on the system that much of the Army's air trooping is carried out by civilian air transport companies, and when an emergency arises these aircraft are sometimes requisitioned. If we are to build up R. A. F. Transport Command in the way the White Paper indicates, one use for it might be to take on the air trooping and so be relieved of having to pay civilian aircraft to do the work which our R. A. F. Transport Command would be particularly suited for, and especially well equipped to do.

I see the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) in his place, and now I come to education. I wonder whether, in the future, when we have an entirely volunteer Army, we shall have the same need of the Army Educational Corps that we have had in the past? I would be unwilling to decry its work in any way, but I wonder whether, if we had a volunteer Army, an Army of picked people, its work could not equally well be done by civilian teachers.

Mr. Wigg

If the hon. Gentleman wants an answer to that question, I suggest that he should continue his military researches. He will then find that every Army reformer, starting with Sir John Moore, has found that he has had to educate the Army to put it right. That is as true today as it was then.

Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid

I am glad to have that help from the hon. Gentleman. I understand, on the authority of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, that the Army Educational Corps has the 1945 General Election in its battle honours. With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I would say to him that we are trying to build up a new model Army, perhaps more like the model army of Cromwell, and I do not think that the Army Educational Corps featured amongst Cromwell's Ironsides.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether, having abolished the Army Educational Corps, he would abolish the chaplains as well?

Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid

I have no suggestion to make for abolishing the chaplains, although I think that the Minister of Defence made a mention in his speech, or some other hon. Member did, about amalgamating the chaplain's services of the three Services. [Laughter.] I see nothing to suggest that this is a particularly humorous point.

Mr. Emrys Hughes


Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid

That is all right.

Still thinking in terms of the new model Army that we are trying to create, I want to suggest how we can do it. We have to recruit. How can we attract the people whom we want to recruit? The first point is pay. I have no doubt that this will have the attention of other speakers. I want to make the particular point that if we amalgamate some of our stores and workshop arrangements, particularly on the technical side, we shall be able to offer opportunities for technical employment to people of high qualifications. One of the great troubles about the Service world in recent years has been that the people with the highest technical qualifications are often called to take on work of a minor and rather menial nature. I am hopeful that if we think on the lines that I have suggested we shall have technical store men to whom we can afford to give rates of pay comparable with those obtainable in industry.

Next, I suggest that we might have a contributory pension scheme in the Services. In this period, when pensions and insurance are in the thoughts of everyone, I see no reason why only those in the Services should be prevented from indulging in them.

Further, adequate attention should be paid to the needs of the man leaving the Services. One important point is: why should there not be a system of loans for the retiring Service man, exactly as has been made possible in the United States and other countries?

Mr. Emrys Hughes

At what interest?

Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid

It is clear to anybody who looks at this question seriously that the status of the Service man must be lifted. We will have to say of a man not "He is good enough for the Army", but "Is he good enough for the Army?" Unless we achieve something on those lines, we shall not be able to meet our commitments to our allies with our reduced numbers.

Finally, although we have had much talk about the nuclear deterrent and the other appalling disasters which scientific war has waiting for us, I am slightly cheered by the thought that in the last war we never had to undergo the rigours of poison gas. I am cheered by that, because we were told by officers at all levels that there was no likelihood of the Germans not using gas if they were on the point of defeat. They were defeated and did not use gas. Therefore, the assumption that all wars are to be nuclear wars is not borne out by past experience.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

We used the atom bomb.

Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid

There is an old Latin quotation to the effect that when the gods fall out then, whatever they fall out about, it is the Greeks who get the blame and have to suffer.

I will put that into English and make it intelligible, and say that when it comes to war it is the P. B. I. who have to carry the burden. Whether they are Russians, carrying 18-pounder shells to the front, or the English soldier like the Bruce Bairnsfather character, it is upon them that we have to rely. The Duke of Wellington, on the eve of Waterloo, walking in the gardens of Brussels, was asked by Mr. Creevey what the result would be and the Duke of Wellington, pointing to an English soldier with his arms round a couple of Belgian girls, said, "It all depends on that article."

There is no question about it; it still depends on that "article". That is why I welcome the White Paper, why I welcome so emphatically its promise of relieving us from National Service so that we may once more have the volunteer Services under which this country has prospered in the past and which is the only way in which it will succeed in the future.

6.12 p.m.

Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)

If I have understood the point which the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) has just made, it was that he was relieved at the thought that because gas was not used in the last war, nuclear weapons would not be used in the next.

I do not think that that will cheer the Minister of Defence a great deal, for I remind the hon. Member that before the last war we did not decide to spend all our money on gas and cut down on every other form of weapon, on the ground that we would be able to rely on gas as a deterrent. If we had done in terms of gas what the White Paper has now done in terms of nuclear weapons, we should have been in a desperate situation in 1939.

I want to put to the House the reasons why I have come to the conclusion—and I do not pretend that anybody can possibly know for sure—that, on balance, the right defence policy for this country is to renounce not only the great deterrent, but all nuclear weapons. I am saying this not as a pacifist—I am not a pacifist, as my hon. Friends know—but on the basis of a calculation of risks. As one of the people who, two years ago, supported the production of the hydrogen bomb, I believe that the lesson of the last two years is that if we want to secure peace we shall have more chances of doing so by renouncing nuclear weapons than we shall by having them.

This is my one issue tonight. I add one thing. I believe that it would be essential to seek to do this in collaboration with France and Germany. With all the nations of Western Europe behind us, we should opt out altogether of the nuclear arms race. If anybody objects that what we have been doing over the last two years is preparing a nuclear weapon, I should reply as follows. The world is observing for the first time that the slogan, "If you want peace, prepare for war" has been abandoned by a British Government. For preparation for war must, in the age of the "Great Deterrent," mean preparation for fighting a local war.

So the great precept of the White Paper is that we should not prepare for war, but prevent it by making deterrents. We have decided not to prepare for the kind of wars which we are likely to fight, but to prepare for wars which we cannot possibly fight, by making the "Great Deterrent". So the deterrent should be regarded not as a weapon, but as a political instrument. It is there to try to persuade somebody else to behave in a certain way, provided that we do not use it. My contention is that we might persuade them more effectively to do what we want by not having the deterrent than by having the deterrent.

There are three arguments for having the deterrent and I want to summarise them as fairly as I can. The first is the one which persuaded me two years ago. It is that we are living in a nuclear age and that it would be as futile in a nuclear age not to adopt nuclear weapons as it was not to adopt gunpowder in the gunpowder age. The argument was, "In this nuclear age you must equip this country with the best weapons of that age." That is a very serious argument which I have to meet.

Yet when I heard the Minister of Defence yesterday, trying to tell us exactly how we would use nuclear tactical weapons. I found his arguments for adopting these weapons utterly disastrous. If what he said is read in Germany, most Germans will want to make peace with the Russians tomorrow and opt out of N. A. T. O. We on this side are not the only people who are having difficulty about this. The Government themselves —if I may say so to the Prime Minister —do not seem to have made up their minds on the proper use not of the deterrent, because by definition that is not used. but of tactical nuclear weapons in semi-conventional war.

The second argument is economic and it has been used several times already in this debate. It is that unless we are prepared to nuclearise our forces we shall have to continue with conscription and a huge defence budget. It is a very striking fact that the Tory Government should defend a Defence White Paper mainly on the ground of economy. I want to deal with economy later and now I only register that the second argument in favour of nuclear weapons is that they are cheap. We can get out of spending so much on defence by adopting nuclear weapons and getting rid of conscription and winding up overseas bases we can have defence on the cheap if we concentrate on weapons which we cannot possibly use. [Interruption.] I know that we could use them, but we have to consider what happens to us if we do.

The third argument is political. It is that we need these weapons not to defend ourselves against the Russians, but to achieve independence of America. This argument was used by Earl Attlee very persuasively and many hon. Members on our side of the House believed him when he said that we could get rid of American bases in Norfolk if we had British bombers to take their places, equipped with hydrogen bombs. When we had that, his argument ran, we could say goodbye to the Americans.

This argument has nothing to do with defence, but is a matter of independence. It is a political concept and is sometimes amplified by saying that we must be able to choose the target on the first day of the next war. I observe that if one spent £300 million for the privilege of choosing the targets on the first day of the next war, one might overdo the expenditure.

Those seem to be the three arguments marshalled by the Government: (1) that we need nuclear weapons in a nuclear age; (2) that we could make savings by "going nuclear"; and, (3), that we could retain our independence of America by making H-bombs. I want to look briefly at each of those arguments and say why they do not convince me.

The first argument is about the "new look." It was put very clearly by President Eisenhower who, in a Press conference last week, congratulated the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence on doing in Britatin what the Americans had done two years ago, by giving a "new look" to the U.S. Armed Forces. I remind the House that when that" new look "policy was introduced by Mr. Dulles, it was called "massive retaliation at places of our own choosing." At that time we regarded it as a bad policy for America. I did not hear anybody in the House, two years ago, saying that we should adopt it for ourselves.

It is a very striking fact that we should now be told, two years later, that Mr. Dulles was right to introduce that policy and that we are now coming into line with Mr. Dulles by not relying on conventional forces. If we should have a limited war we are told that we should rely not on conventional forces but on a tactical big bang in places of our own choosing. I should have thought that before coming into line with Mr. Dulles on this issue the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence would have looked at what has happened to Mr. Dulles since he introduced the "new look." There have been occasions when it could have been used.

A famous case was Indo-China. The trouble in Indo-China occurred in the first days of the "new look" policy, when America was cutting down her conventional forces and relying on atomic tactical weapons. It is no secret that American aircraft carriers were in the area, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), pointed out, the Americans and the French preferred to lose the war in Indo-China than risk world war. The issue was not the use of the H-bomb, but the use of atomic tactical weapons at Dien-Bien-Phu.

It is a striking fact that even the Americans, who are a great deal more impetuous in these matters than we are, have not got complete certainty about the use of these weapons. It was said in the House last night, on behalf of the Government, by the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Major Anstruther-Gray) that we must have the weapons and be completely certain that we shall use them if they are to be any good. If that is really so, that is the reason why they are no good. No human being can be absolutely certain about these matters, but I am as certain as I can be that except in the circumstance of the threat of direct Russian attack on this island those weapons would not be used by British forces.

These weapons were not used by the Americans at Dien-Bien-Phu. They were not used, to be a little crude, at Suez, which was an ideal place for a little experiment in the use of atomic tactical weapons. Why were they not used? I know why. It was because we were not prepared to take the risk involved. This makes me think twice about whether we should be militarily stronger for scrapping all conventional force and nuclearising ourselves.

Here I am not concerned about the "Great Deterrent." I have in mind the problem of atomic tactical weapons. The Timesand the Manchester Guardianagree in their leading articles this morning in saying that the Government must give us an answer this evening on this crucial issue. I take it that atomic tactical weapons are to be introduced in N. A. T. O. to counterbalance the overwhelming Russian manpower strength in conventional forces. Or perhaps I should put it as the overwhelming Chinese manpower strength in the Far East and the overwhelming Russian manpower strength in Europe.

Of course, I know that the situation which obtains in Western Germany today arose two years ago. There are already American atomic tactical weapons there which the Americans might use. But I want to emphasise that it is now clearly indicated in the White Paper that all our British forces are to be equipped and trained in the use of the "clean bombs," as they are called. This morning I was reading the Minister of Defence's contribution to our debate in February, when he remarked: Atomic weapons of the power of the Hiroshima bomb are now regarded as primarily suitable for tactical use by troops in the field."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February. 1957: Vol. 564. c. 1311.] It is only since February that that sentence has struck me as having a great deal of significance. It chimes with the GÖttingen Manifestoof the 18 German nuclear scientists. They must have read the speech by the Minister of Defence. Germany happens to be the place where the "troops in the field" are to be. The Minister of Defence has now told us officially that our "troops in the field", in Germany, are to use atomic tactical bombs of the strength of the Hiroshima bomb in German fields.

Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)

Surely the American forces have been in that position in Germany for a long time.

Mr. Crossman

It is not the first time that I have pointed out in the House the appalling danger that we are facing as a result of the American decision to arm their men in Germany with these weapons.

However, what we are now getting is a further stage. The White Paper commits us to the equipment and training of British forces with these weapons. We cannot stop the Americans, but we have to take responsibility for our own actions. Moreover, we must now face it that the German forces, too, are to be armed with these weapons.

This announcement has not had the effect of making every German feel loyal to N. A. T. O. On the contrary, the announcement, if it is prosecuted, will make it impossible to have Germany as a loyal ally, for it says, in effect, that several hundred of these weapons are to go off in any local European war since these are the only weapons available against the conventional forces on the other side. [Interruption.] Yes, of course. We are told that because we have only 12 or 16 divisions and if we do not have these weapons these divisions will be unable to undertake even a minor local action.

I would put to the Prime Minister the problem worrying every German—what will happen if there is a rising in Eastern Germany? It is a terrible danger. We know that if men in Eastern Germany were free to express their feelings they would do what the Hungarians did, rise and try to throw out their oppressors. Sooner or later, there is a risk of a rising occurring, because one cannot always keep people down. What is to happen then? What military action will be taken?

It was simple while it was a case only of occupying forces, because we could say that we were not going to help, but when there is a German part of N.A.T.O., are the Germans to be told, "Stand by doing nothing at all", or, "One hundred atomic bombs are to go off in the liberation of Eastern Germany"? These are the alternatives. Both are unattractive to Germans.

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