§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. John Hare)
I beg to move,That the Draft Army Act, 1955 (Continuation) Order, 1957, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th November, be approved.This is the first time, Mr. Speaker, that such a Motion has been moved. I feel, therefore, that the House will expect a short summary of past events which have led me to put this Motion before the House today.
Nothing is more deeply rooted in the parliamentary tradition of this country than the will of the House of Commons to control the standing Army. The way in which the House has exercised this control over the centuries has fallen under two main heads. First, it has held the purse strings, and, secondly, it has required that its authority has to be sought annually for the continuance of the military code of discipline, without which a standing Army cannot exist.
Until 1879, this control of discipline was achieved by the passage of successive Mutiny Acts. In 1879, there was passed the Army Discipline and Regulation Act, which was succeeded two years later, in 1881, by the Army Act. Since then it has been the practice of Parliament to control the discipline of the Army by the passage of an Army (Annual) Act which has been known in more recent years as the Army and Air Force (Annual) Act.
In 1952, long and stormy debates accompanied the passage of the Army (Annual) Bill, and this controversy resulted, I think, in a general realisation on both sides of the House that the Army Act of 1881 was outmoded, and needed to be thoroughly revised. I have no doubt that they were right. The Acts contained no fewer than 920 Amendments to the original 1881 Act. But even with all these Amendments, nineteenth-century thinking prevailed right up to the day that the Act ceased to function in Parliament.
If we look at Section 104, it will be seen that the liability to provide billets excluded private houses, and also the houses, to use the language of the Section…of any distillers kept for distilling brandy and strong waters.221 On the other hand, ale houses were all right so long as they were not off-licence, in which case they were excluded.
In the Second Schedule to the Act there is another example of this language and thought. Those who provided billets were responsible for providing 10 oz. of meat per soldier for the mid-day meal. If one remembers meat rationing, such a provision is rather laughable; and even with our improved rations of today the soldier nets only 8 oz. of meat. In other words, the Act talked in terms of a soldier's diet consisting of bread and "marge," meat and potatoes, and very, little else.
To put matters right, a Select Committee of the House, under the chairmanship of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), examined in detail the provisions of the old Army Act, and presented to the House the draft of a new Act which altered the existing law in many respects. I think that the debt which this House, the country and everyone concerned with the Army owes to this Select Committee was handsomely recognised on all sides two years ago. It produced in the Army Act, 1955, a piece of legislation which, subject to minor technical and drafting Amendments only, Parliament was able to accept, and which formed a vast improvement on the old Army Act.
The new Act came into force on 1st January this year. This Act, therefore—to use the words of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg)—was born from party controversy and was made possible by the hard work, the good sense and the good will of those who served on this Select Committee. I am glad to see some of them in the House today.
Few people realise the vast amount of work which the members of that Committee put into their job. The size of the task can be shown by the fact that the documents I am holding now represent a summary of the evidence and of the proceedings in which they engaged. They certainly undertook a Herculean task, and we owe them a very deep debt of gratitude.
One recommendation of the Committee, which is expressed in Section 226 of the new Act, is the reason behind this present Motion. The Committee first considered whether there should be a permanent 222 Discipline Act for the Army similar to the Naval Discipline Act. They decided against this but, at the same time, felt that the new Act, unlike the old, should not be subject to amendment every year. That would merely have meant that in the course of time the new Act would have had incorporated in it the conglomeration of unco-ordinated amendments to which the old Act has been subject.
On the other hand, the Committee considered that the traditional control of Parliament over the Army's discipline should not be relaxed, and that the opportunities for hon. Members to ventilate questions affecting Army discipline should not be more restricted than they had been in the past. It therefore recommended what I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee. West (Mr. Strachey) described as an ingenious solution. In passing, may I say that I know that the House will join with me in expressing our very genuine regret that the right hon. Gentleman is not with us today. We wish him a speedy recovery, and we hope to see him with us soon, because we look forward to his experienced contributions in matters affecting the welfare of the Army, and also, of course, on all aspects of defence.
To return to Section 226 of the new Act, this provides that the Act shall expire twelve months after coming into operation, but that it may be continued in force for a year at a time by Order in Council, subject to the approval of the draft Order by Parliament. Unless Parliament otherwise determines, the Act may not be continued beyond the expiration of five years from the date when it came into operation. The consequence is that, as the Act now stands, it will be necessary to pass a new Act by 1st January, 1962.
Coupled with this procedure was the proposal made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley that there should be a Select Committee every five years. For a variety of reasons, it was agreed that this suggestion could not be embodied in legislation or in a Standing Order of the House, but the Government gave an undertaking on 17th March, 1955, that it was their intention to have a Select Committee at the five-year period to review the Act. So far as I know, this is a unique procedure, and I should like to pay tribute to the ingenuity of the hon. 223 Member for Dudley for thus making what I believe to be parliamentary history.
We have your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, made a few days ago, that, for the purposes of this debate, Members will be competent to discuss anything which is in the Act and that a Third Reading speech on the Act would be in order.
The new Act has now been in force for almost a year. I am pleased to be able to inform the House that the change from the old Act has taken place with remarkable smoothness. There are, I think, three reasons for this. First, the drafting of the new Act and the transitional provisions Act had been done with such skill and care by the Select Committee that the military officers and authorities whose duty it is to administer the new Act have found very little difficulty in switching from the old to the new code.
Secondly, adequate time was allowed between the passing of the new Act in May, 1955, and its coming into operation on 1st January, 1957. Time was given for the revision and publication of all the relevant regulations, as well as a new edition of Part I of the Manual of Military Law and a new Unit Guide, I believe that those responsible in the War Office deserve great credit for the efficiency and imagination they have used in all this very detailed preparatory work.
I am sure that to have tried to rush things faster would have been a great mistake. The Act itself required the making of no less than 100 different rules and authorisations ranging from a new set of procedures down to the instruments of delegation of powers from the Army Council to subordinate authorities.
In the third place, time was necessary, also, because the officers of the Army legal service had to make a success of a widespread series of lectures on the new Act to officers in the Army in 1956.
We have for almost a year now been administering a new Act far more fitted to present day conditions than its predecessor. I should like briefly to draw the attention of the House to some of the important changes in the new Act.
There are changes in the law relating to mutiny and the death penalty. There are now two categories of mutiny, and it is in the more serious category, involving 224 only violence or refusal of service in operations against the enemy, that the death penalty is introduced. In other cases, the maximum punishment is imprisonment for life. Rather surprisingly, drunkenness has received a definition for the first time. In future, the prosecution will have to prove that an accused was drunk within the meaning of the definition laid down in the Act. There have been a good many changes also with regard to the punishment which can be awarded for particular offences. With minor exceptions, punishments for which officers and other ranks are liable for, offences under the Act have now been brought into line.
There have been far reaching procedural changes. Rules of procedure governing the conduct of courts-martial have been completely rewritten in line with modern requirements and, incidentally, in a much more logical fashion than hitherto. Instead of the old courts of inquiry, there will be boards of inquiry to deal with more important matters and regimental inquiries for the less important cases.
There have been several changes in the rules relating to forfeiture and reduction of pay. Two points in the soldier's favour are that, in future, there can be no forfeiture of pay unless it is authorised by Act of Parliament, and the anomaly whereby a soldier under arrest awaiting trial was liable to forfeiture of pay has been removed. Finally, I will mention that War Department civilians, with the full support of the Whitley Council, may now be tried by court-martial overseas instead of by the civil courts. I shall return to this later.
There have been, of course, no amendments to the Act so far, but I will remind the House that some of the provisions of the Act covering the enlistment of recruits have been altered. The new Army (Conditions of Enlistment) Act, 1957, which governs the enlistment of men on twenty-two year engagements from 1st October this year necessitated the making of further regulations by the Army Council. These were made on 27th August this year and were promulgated to the Army in September last. They are of first-class importance in that they lay down, as the House will remember, the minimum period of colour service which soldiers 225 enlisting for twenty-two years must perform. It is now six years, with only a few exceptions, whereas it was formerly three years.
The Army Council can, by amending the Regulations, vary the terms of Colour and Reserve service during the first twelve years. Thereafter, the soldier has, under the Act, the right to break at any three-year period without reserve service. These regulations, of course, were made under the Army Act, 1955, which we are discussing, and the Army (Conditions of Enlistment) Act, 1957.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
The right hon. Gentleman has dealt with recruitment or enlistment for varying periods. In view of all these Regulations which have now been embodied in the Act, can he explain why it was necessary to appoint a special Committee, under the chairmanship of Sir James Grigg, to consider precisely the matters which have been dealt with in the Act?
§ Mr. Hare
No, Sir; I think that these conditions are not contained within the Act. I was just saying that we have laid Regulations, which we were empowered to do under the Act and under the Army (Conditions of Enlistment) Act, 1957. I would have thought that, with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that was hardly a relevant interruption at this stage.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am quite sure that it was a relevant interruption, otherwise I would not have made it. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am quite serious about this, and that my point is embodied in the Act. Apparently the War Office came to the conclusion that certain rules and regulations should be contained in the Act which relate to recruitment, the length of service and a variety of other matters affecting recruitment and conditions of service. If the War Office is competent to deal with those matters and regards itself as competent, why was it necessary to set up a special Committee?
§ Mr. Hare
I think that the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that all that is laid down under the Act are the new terms of service in the form of whether it should be a three-year engagement or six-year engagement. The Committee which he is referring to has been set up to go into far wider subjects, 226 and those include how to get men to make use of the various terms contained within the Act. The right hon. Gentleman knew the answer before he asked the question.
May I continue by saying something about courts-martial. There has been always a suspicion in the public mind, perhaps going back to the days of Oliver Cromwell, about the workings of military law. During the five years since the Courts-Martial Appeal Court began to operate we have had an independent outside authority of unimpeachable qualifications, consisting of the Lord Chief Justice and judges of the High Court, which sits from time to time as the Court of Appeal.
I think that the House would like to know that there have been, so far, 170 applications to the Court arising from Army cases. In only three cases, involving four persons out of the 170, have the findings of the court-martial been upset. Such a record must surely bear comparison with that of any courts anywhere. In fact, the Lord Chief Justice has authorised me to say that all the judges who have sat with him in the Courts-Martial Appeal Court have been impressed at the way in which judge advocates sum up, and that he is quite satisfied that there is no ground for supposing that courts-martial act otherwise than fairly and satisfactorily.
One further outstanding departure from tradition in the new Army Act which I mentioned briefly earlier is the subjection of civilians accompanying the Army overseas to military court for certain offences. The Select Committee was satisfied that it was preferable to make the relatives of soldiers and other civilians with the forces subject to certain parts of the Army Act rather than, as in the past, to have to rely solely on local civil jurisdiction or, which is even worse, have a complete jurisdictional void. So far this year three civilians have been tried by courts-martial and there have been six summary trials. In all cases except one, where the finding was manslaughter, fines have been imposed. To sum up, while we have not had—
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
On a point of order. Would the right hon. Gentleman, before he makes his peroration, allow me to put this point to him? He has given what I consider to be an 227 historical survey of the Act itself. Mr. Speaker's Ruling, as I understand it, permits us to refer to matters within the Act under what one might term a Third Reading debate. If, in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, we refer, shall we say, to recruiting and discuss, for example, the figures of recruiting—I do not know whether we shall be permitted to do that, but it seems to me that the only purpose of continuing this debate is to raise matters within the Act—it seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman has lost his right to reply to what may be a very important subject raised by hon. Members except, of course, with the permission of the House.
May I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman—as he will not be able to make another speech like this next year if he is still in office—whether, when the Order is introduced next year to continue the Act, it will be purely a formality, or whether the right hon. Gentleman will refer briefly to certain outstanding matters such as he would refer to in his Estimates speech and which, I submit, would be in order and of importance in a debate like this?
§ Mr. Speaker
I think I might intervene to say that the right hon. Gentleman has moved a substantive Motion which, in this House, gives him the right of reply. Therefore, there will be no difficulty if the right hon. Gentleman desires to speak again.
As regards the general Ruling, while it is true that we can discuss matters referred to in the Act, I think that it would not be proper to go into figures too much on matters like recruitment. I think that the general subject is referred to and can be discussed. It is a question of degree as to how far we can go. One must listen to what is being said before one knows what is intended.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Thank you for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will now reply.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Further to my right hon. Friend's point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister, as, no doubt, you have observed, has referred to the authority of the Army Council. Without the authority of the Army Council and all the rules and regulations, the Act itself is merely a skeleton. 228 There is no substance in it at all. It requires the authority of the Army Council in relation to periods of service, recruitment, and so on. These matters vary in the Department from time to time. The Army Council has the right to appoint committees. The right hon. Gentleman is a member of the Army Council. In those circumstances, have we not the right to debate the appointment of committees by the Army Council, their composition and the like?
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not know that that would be in order. I should have to consider that.
As regards regulations. Section 22 of the Act says:The Army Council may make such regulations as appear to them necessary or expedient for the purposes of, or in connection with, the enlistment of recruits for the regular forces and generally for carrying this Part of this Act into effect.I think that covers the regulation-making power of the Army Council. As to its committees, I am bound to say that do not know.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Are not the general powers of the Army Council embodied in the Act? Surely they must he. Surely the authority of the Army Council is required in the appointment of a committee. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the Army Council can delegate its authority. To whom? Obviously to subordinates, the Under-Secretary, to an official or a committee appointed by the Army Council and operating under its authority. In those circumstances, surely we are entitled to debate the appointment of a committee.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Are we not getting into some difficulty, Mr. Speaker, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) has not drawn a strong enough distinction between the powers contained in the Act and the powers which the Secretary of State exercises, or the exercise of the prerogative? What we are concerned with today is the powers contained in the Act.
There is one further point in your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, which troubles me. 229 I trust that you will forgive me for raising it, but it is the first time that you are giving a decision and it may be binding for a long time to come. In discussing the regulations which the Army Council make under Section 22, is it not obvious that one must discuss how those figures work out, not only this year but in future years?
If the Army Council decides, in the exercise of its wisdom, on one form of engagement and produces one result, the House may wish to comment on that, because it may indicate that the policy should be changed in another direction. Therefore, without abusing the opportunity in any way, it seems to me that it would be in order, both on this and on future occasions, to discuss the application of the Order in terms of the specific results which the Government achieve.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
Before you give a Ruling, Mr. Speaker, may I draw your attention to what happened on the Second Reading of the Army Bill on 25th January, 1955. when exactly this point arose? My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) began his speech by dealing with recruiting and the then Secretary of State for War, the right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head), said:I should be delighted to engage in a debate on recruiting, but, as we are dealing with the Army Bill…I cannot see that there will be an opportunity to reply…My hon. Friend then said:…the Bill deals with conditions of service and with terms of enlistment, and I should have thought I was in order in dealing with what is in the Bill.At that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker said:I should have thought that it would be an encouragement to join the Army if the Bill were satisfactory."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th January, 1955; Vol. 536, c. 55–6.]I very much hope, for the same reason as my hon. Friend has said, that in giving your Ruling on this debate, which will cover all future years, you will, at least in the first instance, incline to generosity in the restrictions you lay upon us.
§ Mr. Hare
I cannot anticipate your Ruling in these matters, Mr. Speaker, but I imagine that, so far, I have been in order. I also imagine that it will be difficult for you to decide which hon. 230 Members will and which will not be in order.
In answer to the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), I would say that this is the first time that this procedure has happened. I thought it only courteous to the House that I should move the draft Order; I thought it proper to do so. I am certainly prepared to take lessons from what happens in this debate. I assure the House that it will be treated with all courtesy and that either my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary or myself will reply to the debate. I hope that with that assurance, I can satisfy the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Speaker
It is important that we should try to get the position straight. This is the first time that this procedure has been resorted to for the Army Act and I am anxious not to lay down any rule which is wrong. The way I look at it is that, broadly speaking, the subjects which are covered by the Act are those which, in general, are discharged by the departments in the War Office of the Adjutant-General and the Quartermaster-General—what the soldiers used to call "A" and "Q" matters. Therefore, in my judgment, matters applying to the General Staff, operational matters, the strategy of the Army and even foreign affairs in connection with the Army, are completely out of order on this debate. There are, of course, borderline questions and I should hesitate in advance to lay down a rule about them.
In so far as the Act makes provision for recruitment and for the terms of engagement of the Regular Army, and in so far as it can be shown that these conditions militate against recruiting or harm recruiting or are successful in attracting recruits, I think that that would be in order.
I wish the House, however, to distinguish between the debate on this Motion and the debate which it will have later in the Session on the Army Estimates, which is not affected by our new procedure. There are matters which the experience and judgment of an hon. Member will tell him are more suitably discussed upon Supply than upon a Motion to continue an Act, which is all that we are dealing with today. While it might be essential to permit references to 231 many matters of a Supply character for the purpose of illustrating an otherwise relevant argument on the Act, I think that it would be better to defer matters of figures, exact computations of figures and the like, to the Supply debate, when we really can get down to it without fear of being out of order.
I hope I have said enough to indicate to the House what is in my mind. Let us not make this a Supply debate; it is not that. It is not a debate on the general administration of the Army as such, but only in so far as it is definitely covered by the Bill or can be reasonably and fairly linked up with the provisions of the Act.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The House will be most obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for the explanation that you have just given. You will, however, recollect that in previous years, before the Army Act, 1955, was passed, the House could put down specific Amendments to the Act and, therefore, we were able to link up our arguments and, if necessary, give figures on the Amendments that we move to the Army Act. We are prohibited from doing that now, according to your Ruling which you gave to me the other day, as Amendments to the Army Act can only be done by way of a Bill, I think you said.
I hope that as the debate proceeds, if an hon. Member wishes to deal with a matter such as recruiting, which may be urgent in relation to the Government's promise to cease conscription altogether in a short time, you will allow sufficient latitude for the hon. Member to argue his point that by virtue of something contained in the Army Act, the Government will be precluded from observing their faithful promise, which they have given to this House, to cease conscription in a years or two's time.
§ Mr. Benn
Since we are, at this stage of the debate, Mr. Speaker, drawing the limits of what is in order, may I raise one other point on the general question covered by the Order? I refer to the old question whether we should have a standing Army or not. For the reasons which have been given, in so far as the present continuation Order is the new form of the old Army Annual Act, would it not be in order for those Members who wish to deal with the old question 232 whether we should have a standing Army to raise it on the Order? Does that not raise a rather larger question than the detailed administration of the Army?
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think that the terms of the Motion are identical with passing or refusing to pass the old Army Act. The terms of the Motion confine our discussion to the Act which it is proposed to continue. The 1955 Act substituted the present procedure, which we are trying to work, for the old Army Act procedure.
The Act is described asAn Act to make provision with respect to the army.A general argument that we should make no provision with regard to the Army might conceivably be in order, but it would not be possible to import into such an argument questions of conscription, and so on. It would merely be the question that we should have no Army at all.
§ Mr. Wigg
It is important to settle the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). Has he not overlooked that the old Army Annual Act, which we passed up to 1952, authorised the maintenance of a standing Army and gave a specific number which the Government must not exceed? We have now altered our procedure. By the Government obtaining Vote A, the numbers are then established and Parliament is then authorised to continue a standing Army. By the exercise of the Prerogative, which first has to be approved by the House, the Army is continued in being. That is what we are engaged upon today when we are asked to approve a draft Order, which subsequently has to be presented to Her Majesty. What we are doing today is continuing in a different form the procedure which has gone on since 1689.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that the hon. Member is right. That was what I was trying to say when I said that certain matters were more suitable for discussion on Supply than for discussion on the Order continuing the Act. Vote A is the point in Supply when we decide the number of men in the Army. An argument such as the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) put to me—namely, against the whole of the Act continuing at all—would be a very arid and academic one. I do not think that 233 it would carry him any further. The better course would be to await a Supply Day, and then to say that we wish or do not wish to grant the supplies necessary for the forces.
§ Mr. Wilfred Fienburgh (Islington, North)
What we are really discussing is the Draft Army Act, 1955 (Continuation) Order, 1957. Presumably, it could happen that the House would wish to vote against this Motion, thereby bringing the Act to an end. Presumably, therefore, it would be in order—I put this purely for the sake of clarification—for a Member to argue, for example, that in his view, because pay in the Army is inadequate, the Army ought to be brought to an end. I take it that within your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, as an hon. Member has the right to argue that the Motion should not be passed, he may adduce the reasons why he thinks the Motion ought not to be passed.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I always understood that the value of the Army Act was that it was the means by which discipline was imposed on the Army. The Act deals with discipline. It has nothing to do with Vote A. Apart from the Army Act, we cannot impose military discipline on any unit. A private would be perfectly entitled to tell the sergeant-major exactly what he thought of him, and in his own language, and apart from an appearance at a magistrates' court for using obscene language, or language likely to cause a breach of the peace, there would be no remedy against him.
I hope that nothing that is being arranged under the new procedure will prevent discussions on the way in which discipline as such may be administered in the Army, or prevent the scales of punishment, and so on, from being discussed upon the Measure.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that that is so. What the Act is for is, undoubtedly, to impose a code of discipline and so render the Army possible, because it is common knowledge that without discipline an army cannot exist. That is what I was trying to indicate when I referred to the argument of the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Br. Benn) as being somewhat arid. Merely to argue that there should be an Army, but no discipline, would leave us very much in the air. The Army would not then be an army, but would 234 be an undisciplined gathering of men—not, therefore, an army in the strict sense. I think that if anyone wishes to argue against the establishment of the Army it should be done on Supply.
Meanwhile, as this is a Motion to continue the Act in force, hon. Members should argue that it should or should not be continued for reasons which are relevant to the Statute which is the subject of the Order.
§ Mr. Hare
In asking the House to give approval to this Order I think I have shown that we are asking for approval of an Act which is infinitely preferable to any similar Act that has been approved by this House for many years past. Though we have not had a year's complete statistics, on the evidence so far available I do not think that there is anything at all to indicate that the operation of the new Act has caused any difficulties. Nor, indeed, has it occasioned any increase in the number of courts-martial or in the number of cases going to the Courts-Martial Appeal Court.
The Army is now regulated by a disciplinary code which is up to date in standards and outlook, and which is blessed by informed opinion on both sides of this House. There is conclusive evidence that this code is being administered with a high degree of justice and impartiality which, I hope the House agrees with me, reflects great credit on those responsible for the administration of justice in the Army. It is, therefore, with full confidence that I commend the Order to the House for its approval.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfred Fienburgh (Islington, North)
First, I would sincerely associate this side of the House with the expressions of good will which the right hon. Gentleman has uttered towards my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), whose absence from these benches today we very much regret. I would also associate myself with the Secretary of State in agreeing with him that the people, including my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who did such sterling work in the Select Committee which considered this procedure, and the Army Act are to be congratulated on the work they did. I agree, further, with the Secretary of State that it has 235 come into operation smoothly, due in the main to the various stages by which this Act has been applied and to the informed spirit in which it has been accepted by the Army.
However, it is not enough simply to embody a new code of military discipline, which is supposed to be related to the conditions of the day, and then leave its implementation to people who, in many respects, seem to be at variance with the general spirit of the Act. I agree with the Secretary of State when he says that there have been remarkably few incidents arising, for example, out of the new courts-martial procedure, this new code of military law, this new manual. That I accept, but it is still true that one bad instance of the abuse of military discipline and authority which receives a large amount of publicity in the Press outdoes, in the public mind, all the good which has been done by the reconstitution of the Act, by the reorganisation of the procedures of military discipline.
I have no doubt, for example, that the garrison commander at Chester could justify his recent actions four-square within the corners of the Act as it stands. The House will remember that only a very short time ago the garrison commander at Chester issued an order that the soldiers in Chester, being lax in their duty of saluting the commander's car, should be pulled in by the military police, and for this purpose the military police were to follow the commander's car in a patrol wagon, and every soldier who failed to salute the commander was to be arrested.
This order was reversed immediately, and the area commander himself decided that this was a bad thing. He overruled his own garrison commander in Chester. In consequence, the order was rescinded. However, in the short time during which it was in force, even though it was never actually operated, it did a great deal of harm to the general public's conception of the Army and, incidentally, to the atmosphere in which the right hon. Gentleman hopes to recruit his new Army.
My argument is simply this, that the code is admirable, that the work of the members of the Select Committee was first-class, and that now the Act has gone smoothly through its transition, but that 236 all this can be overclouded in the public mind in a very short time by the exercise of some small piece of military stupidity on the part of a commander somewhere or other in the country. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear this in mind.
The Army Act and the regulations lay it down that illegal punishments shall not be applied by commanders, yet only the other day a commander ordered that for every day's "jankers," or confinement to barracks, to which he sentenced a soldier, that soldier would also lose one day's leave. This order was reversed. It was pointed out that that officer was acting in an illegal way.
The point is that the Press, following its proper duty of reporting on the follies of mankind, reported this issue, and again there was a deterioration in the general public's regard for the Army. If we are to have an Army, no matter how immaculate the Act may be and how immaculate its execution in general, these are examples and issues which will have a severe effect upon recruitment, and it is in the right hon. Gentleman's interest to see that they do not happen.
We are here perpetuating the Army Act, but to have an Army requires more than the perpetuation of the Act. We in the House can legislate to our heart's content, but all we can do is to establish a body of law to which soldiers, once enlisted, will be subjected. All we can do is to clarify the terms and conditions upon which they will be engaged should they choose to join the Army. But the first prerequisite is that people should join the Army, and that, unfortunately, is simply not happening in large enough numbers today.
I am fortified by Mr. Speaker's Ruling, in which he said it would be proper in the course of the debate to discuss in general terms the problem of recruitment. We have had not only regulations under this Act but the Army (Conditions of Enlistment) Act, which we discussed recently, the aim of which was to provide the basis of a Regular volunteer Army for the country. It would be out of order for us to discuss the size and possibly the purposes for which we require this Army, but it seems to be in order for us to discuss the degree to which the regulations under this Act and the terms under the Act are bringing the volunteers forward into the Regular 237 Army. On that, we have a very dismal story to tell.
I should have thought that it would have been in order for the Secretary of State for War to discuss this matter in his speech, instead of giving us a no doubt interesting historical summary of military law. I wonder why he chose to disregard this matter which, on the Ruling of Mr. Speaker, was in perfect order, and why he gave us a history lesson instead of dealing with the facts as they are today under the Act and the prospects as they may be tomorrow. Is it perhaps because he is worried and afraid that the results will not be such as he led us to suppose when he introduced the new legislation only a very short time ago?
Thanks to the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, we have the answer to a question about the intake of Regular recruits into the Army in October, 1957, compared with the monthly average from January to September this year, and compared with the figure for October, 1956. It really is a most dismal and dreary picture. It is a frightening picture. It is a serious picture—so serious that I think the right hon. Gentleman, since it was in order, might have spent some time either in justifying these figures or explaining their or telling the House what he proposes to do about them.
In October, 1956, he had an intake of 3,663 Regulars into the forces. The monthly average up to September was 2,628. There is a drop of about 1,000 per month in the intake compared with the figure for October last year, but the position is even worse if we take the figure for October this year. That figure shows an intake of 2,123 Regulars into the Army, which is a drop of almost 1,500 on the figure for the corresponding month of last year, and a severe drop over even the monthly average for the first part of this year.
The Minister might have paid some attention to this point in his speech. If these debates are to have any purpose and validity when we come to them annually in future, then, in view of Mr. Speaker's Ruling that recruitment is a proper subject for discussion in them, we must expect a reply from whoever winds up the debate today on behalf of the Government.
238 We cannot discuss an Act which we intend to perpetuate for another year without paying attention to the general conditions and the general military context in which the Act is sought to be perpetuated. We have it on record that it is the Government's plan to put an end to compulsory National Service. Obviously, it would be out of order in this debate to discuss the general question of whether we should have a conscripted Army, a partially conscripted Army, or an Army based on part-volunteer and part-selective draftees.
In view of the Rulings given, it is most likely that that would be out of order, but I am surely allowed to approach this matter from another angle. Here is an Act which lays down the terms and conditions of enlistment. In view of the Government's pledge to end National Service, is the Section of the Act with which we are now concerned adequate to provide them with the sufficiency of Regular soldiers which they require to substantiate that pledge? Judging from the figures before us, the answer must be, "As of this moment, no."
We on this side of the House, of course, have agreed that National Service must be brought to an end. We have argued that, by following a four-year programme, it will be possible to obtain a sufficiency of Regular volunteer soldiers under this Act and that at the end of that time we can see the end of National Service. But it is simply not enough to make a pious declaration in the House, which is all that the Government have done.
If the Government are firm in their intention, and they really mean what they say, and really intend to get rid of National Service on the time-table which they themselves have announced, it is time now that, under this Act or under the regulations, they brought forward some constructive proposals for giving us the Regular Army which is required as the first basis from which we can get rid of National Service. All we have had so far is alibis. We have been told that, because of the disturbed state of the Army as a result of the reorganisation of regiments, volunteers have felt too diffident about their future to be willing to come forward in large numbers. If that were a valid reason, then, surely, now, when reorganisation is at least 239 known if not completed, that disadvantage would have been removed.
The soldiers who volunteer now know to a very close degree in what corps they will be able to serve and in what part of a regiment they will be serving. The disability on the part of the volunteer in trying to make up his mind, during the involved and prolonged process of discussion of the future of the Army has now gone. Therefore, the Minister's alibi has also gone.
But the figures are worse than they ever were before. One is led to the rather unpleasant conclusion that either the Government have no intention of fulfilling their pledge, or that they are confident that they will not be in power when the time comes for the fulfilment of this pledge and that the consequences of what they are failing to do now will be thrown on an incoming Labour Government.
There is an appalling record of delay and confusion in taking the steps which are necessary to create a proper full-time volunteer Army. Only a month ago we had a general debate on defence. I am not proposing now to embark on a general defence debate, but to try to relate some of these factors to the enlistment and recruiting sections of this Act. On 7th November, the Minister of Defence himself listed some of the factors which he thought might lead to improvement in Regular recruitment. He said:Service pay is obviously a factor which influences a man's inclination to join the forces…What was happening about Service pay? The Minister said that it was under review.
The right hon. Gentleman then listed a large number of small anomalies which were causing some perturbation among soldiers and their families in Aden and the Middle East, and now, one month afterwards—yesterday to be precise—he announced some small changes in the allowances and regulations aimed at correcting some of these anomalies.
The right hon. Gentleman said that another factor which influenced a young man to join the Army was the quality and calibre of his uniform. What did he say about that? He said:
Another matter to which we are giving attention is the improvement of uniforms…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1957; Vol. 577, c. 341.]240 The Minister spoke of the inadequacy of service accommodation and voiced a pious intention to proceed with a steady programme of improvement. He spoke of the general conditions of Service life in all its aspects and announced that he was proposing to set up a committee to consider these matters.
What, in fact, has he done? He has said that something is under review. That is Service pay. He has said that some small anomalies will be mopped up. He has said that uniforms are being considered. He has said that in Service accommodation some improvement was intended and that he would proceed steadily. As for the main subject, that is, the general conditions of Service life, he has set up a committee. We have here practically the entire grammar of delay and dither; almost every cliché possible has been used, except the one about turning over every stone to see whether one can find anything underneath it. The Government will not find a soldier under the stone.
We are entitled to say, having made the decision to end National Service, that it is now surely time that right hon. Gentlemen opposite should be able to come to the House with clear, precise and, indeed, dramatic proposals to create the conditions under which it will be possible to recruit a Regular Army in adequate numbers under the Act which we are now discussing.
We have nothing against the appointment of this Committee. The answer is that this Committee should have been appointed a long time ago. Another point is, of course, that hon. Members opposite could get most of the answers which will finally be brought forward by the Committee, if they were just to move around themselves among commanding officers, warrant officers and senior N.C.O.s. This Committee will not find anything new. It will not make any new outstanding sociological discoveries. It will find out that certain things govern a man's inclination to join the Army. We know what they are. In part it is pay, but not entirely pay. If a man can expect a reasonable prospect of a career in civilian life, at present rates of pay, he is entitled to expect from the Army not much more than this but the equivalent in pay, plus what I would call the "being messed about element"—an additional 241 element of pay to compensate him for the inevitable disturbances of Service life.
We do not need a committee to tell us this. Any soldier would tell the House and the Minister that pay is a factor in recruitment. Several factors come into play later in the life of a soldier. Pay may be an inducement to bring him in, in the first place, but after he I-as been in for some time it is the object under these regulations—and the regulations are specifically framed to provide for this—to encourage him to stay for a further period. Pay is, perhaps, not such a big factor at that stage. A bigger factor is some of the other matters which are "under consideration", "being thought about", "being discussed" but never being acted upon by the Government. There is the problem of accommodation, the problem of married quarters. We have been through all this before.
We have had one new idea brought out in a recent debate, again by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, to which I should like to draw the attention of the House and the Minister once again. That is, instead of confining Army families to Army married quarters, with all the trouble that arises every time a unit moves, consideration should be given to helping the soldier to pay for a home of his own where he can base his family, and have a firm base to which to look forward in the future.
That is the kind of consideration which comes into play and which affects a man's inclination to stay in or get out of the Army when he has been in for some time. Pay is the initial factor, the subsequent factors are the conditions and qualities of the family life which the Army allows him. That means finding a house for his family, educational facilities for his children and giving him opportunities for promotion and advance. By that, I do not mean simply promotion up the ladder to warrant rank alone, but promotion from warrant rank at an early age, when he may have some prospect of further promotion up the commissioned ladder.
We do not need a committee to tell us all this; to find out what needs to be done. That is what right hon. Gentlemen opposite know. That is what we on this side of the House know. What 242 we need now is somebody, who, knowing this, is prepared to do something about it. The Committee which has been set up will merely come forward with a list of grouses and grievances, but the main job will then remain with the Army Council and the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry, the job of devising methods of meeting these grievances and getting rid of these grouses.
But, as I have said, as we know these things now it would have been much more sensible if the Minister had come to the House with a list of proposals of what he is intending to do, instead of implementing the classical delaying tactic of pushing it all on to a committee. The Committee will not report for six months at the very earliest. By that time, after six months, some of these appalling recruiting figures will be worse and we will be getting closer and closer to the date when a decision will have to be made by the Government as to whether it intends to extend National Service, produce a selective draft, or really make an attempt to recruit the voluntary Regular Army which we still believe, based on a four-year programme, can be recruited to remove the need for the National Service element.
As I have said, pay is a factor here. I should like to ask one or two questions about what is happening now about pay. The Minister of Defence himself said that it was under consideration. There are many leaks going on from the Exchequer at the moment. Whether they be inspired or not, perhaps Sir William Haley could tell us. But there are two suggestions and I should like to know whether one is right or whether both are wrong. This said, on the one hand, that there is to be no increase in pay in an attempt to encourage Regular recruitment and that all that will come out of the bag is the £1 million, announced yesterday, by way of improved allowances in certain restricted circumstances.
Is that all that is to happen, or is it a fact that it has been ruled that the Army will have a ceiling of expenditure and that if it wishes to improve pay, as an inducement to recruitment, it will have to find the money required by economies in other sectors of Army administration and expenditure? We should like to know whether that is so.
243 If it is so, it opens up some very horrifying prospects. We have been told in debate after debate on the Army over many years that the Army's tail is being combed to get rid of unnecessary entanglements, that the Army is being streamlined, that the administrative machine is being refined and cut down. If it is now to be possible to have a further cut-down of the administrative tail to save more money so as to increase pay, then, of course, that is a categorical condemnation of a failure to do this job in the past—a job which, as I have said, we were assured in debate after debate was being done and, indeed, had been done.
If it is not possible to save the money within the ceiling, by further economies in administration, does it mean that the money will be found by economies in the provision of weapons? Are we to get back to the position of the Army during the 'thirties when, after a series of pay increases, although the soldier may have been relatively well paid, he was unarmed? Are we to have a repetition of the picture of the tactical exercises and manœuvres which used to take place on Salisbury Plain before the war, where one man ran about with a flag and, when asked what he was doing, said, "I, Sir, am an anti-tank gun"? The only difference today would be that he would say, "I, Sir, am an atomic cannon." Shall we be without the atomic gun as we were without the anti-tank gun in the 'thirties?
We want an answer to this question. Unless we get one, unless we are told clearly what the Government are proposing to do to raise the level of Regular recruitment, other than the setting up of committees; unless we are told, and it is proved to us, that action is being taken along these lines, then the only deduction we can make is that the Government are confident that they will not be sitting on those benches when the bill has to be paid.
It may sound as though I am challenging the good faith of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. If it does so, then the charge must stand. I am not imputing this charge directly to the two right hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite me at the moment, but I believe that unless evidence is produced to the contrary we on this side of the House are entitled to assume that the Government have decided that they 244 can get more electoral advantage out of a specious claim that they will end National Service than they are concerned about the strength of our defences.
Is it really that the Government are confident that they will not be in power when a decision has to be taken on what to do about creating an Army of the size which is felt to be necessary for our defence, and that this decision will have to be taken by a Labour Government? If so, it is a serious charge, and I am making it because all the evidence to date proves that on this issue the Government have been more concerned to play party politics than to safeguard the welfare and the defences of the country.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I want to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War on his historic survey. I will not go over the ground again, because the Minister covered it admirably, and it was also covered in the interchanges which took place when we were endeavouring to define the scope of the debate. I shall, therefore, merely underline one thing which the right hon. Gentleman said.
It was clear that when the Select Committee had done its job, and when the Bill had passed through all its stages in this House, only a part of the work had been done and that the most important part remained to be carried out. The right hon. Gentleman told us about the work undertaken by his Department, and in the last few days I have endeavoured to acquaint myself with what has happened in practice by looking at some of the orders and regulations which have been produced. I started by looking at the Manual of Military Law.
During our debates on the Bill, I made the point that it was of vital importance that the Manual of Military Law should be rewritten in scholarly fashion and that the footnotes should be adequate and comprehensive. I said that because, when the Bill became an Act, it would be put into practice by officers all over the world whose only knowledge of military law would be that contained in the Manual. Therefore, I congratulate the Minister and, through him, those who are responsible for an absolutely first-class piece of work. I wish that every aspect of the War Office work was as 245 competent and as well done as has been the preliminary work of putting the Act into operation. If that were the case, we would have a much better Army than we have got.
Not only have the right hon. Gentleman and the War Office produced a first-class Part I of the Manual of Military Law, but they have gone a stage further. The sections of Part II which have been published show an imagination which is rare. They have also produced an admirable Unit Guide for those at the lowest level. I am not speaking in human terms but, in terms of the military hierarchy, of those who have to do the job. This admirable document creates a first-class broadsheet of the Act. As less than a year has passed since the Act was put into operation, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is much too early to look for snags. Some may be revealed in the next three or four years. If so, I suppose that the procedure will be to set up a Select Committee in 1960 or 1961, which would provide an opportunity for examining any snags.
We must never forget one thing. Here I must remind hon. and right hon. Members of something I said in the Select Committee. We are not only producing an Act of Parliament and an Army code. We are producing a code of living. We are producing something which is much more important than pay in the life of the soldier. The Army Act creates the atmosphere or the framework in which the entire Army functions. Of course, pay is important—particularly on Thursday night—but the provisions of the Act are also very important in determining the kind of Army we are to have. So I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and the War Office on what I regard as an absolutely first-class piece of work.
In one respect we are in difficulty in discussing recruiting and the terms of service. The provisions of Section 22 are themselves clear—they give the Army Council power to issue regulations. The regulations under which we are working are those which were irregularly revealed to the House on 5th July. I have read and re-read the report of the Second Reading debate on the Army Enlistment Bill, and I have never read any debate which was more out of order since I have been a member of this House. I 246 am astonished that such irregular procedure could have occurred.
I regret to say that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) was deputising for me on that day. I do not congratulate him on his work, for had I been here I would certainly have raised my voice in protest against the House being informed on the Second Reading of one Bill about regulations which the Secretary of State had not then laid before the Army Council and which were not then promulgated. I have paid the right hon. Gentleman the courtesy of checking what was said on that day with the draft of the regulations and, as far as I can see, the picture is reasonably clear.
There is a new 22-year engagement—new in the sense that the right to opt out every three years was withdrawn from those who enlisted after 1st October, 1957, but inside the framework of what is essentially now a long-service Army. The right hon. Gentleman retains the three-year provision for a number of categories. As long as National Service is with us, men who are liable for call-up can enlist on a three-year engagement. The Brigade of Guards also retains historic privileges. This applies also to the Army Catering Corps, certain sections of the Royal Engineers and the Corps of Military Police.
But we have moved on within the framework of a twenty-two-year engagement from a three-year engagement to a basic engagement of six years. This is of the utmost importance. Hon. Members may want to follow the example of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) and see how the enlistment regulations will work out in the years ahead, and they should do this not only in terms of the specific commitments which the Government have undertaken in the Defence White Paper, but also in terms of the commitments which my right hon. and hon. Friends have entered into—commitments which I do not share.
The difference between the two Front Benches is very narrow. The Government entered into commitments the implications of which they did not understand. As the weeks have gone by and turned into months, as Christmas draws near, the Secretary of State for War no longer believes that we shall get rid of National Service. The truth has dawned 247 on him. There is no longer any belief in Government circles that we shall get rid of the National Service Regulations by 31st December, 1958.
It is the same on this side of the House. I want to be not less charitable to the Opposition Front Bench than I am to the Government Front Bench. Neither side is composed of crooks. They are all honest, honourable men. What is wrong with them is that they are just plumb stupid. They indulge in the higher mathematics when they have not learnt the multiplication tables.
Let me deal with the number of men who will join the Forces. Anybody who cares to look at the matter can see what I am about to say. One does not need to be the editor of the Daily Mirror to discover this, for the figures are all available. The size of the Regular Army that we shall get—there is no copyright here; I must be saying this for the millionth time—will be the number of men recruited multiplied by the number of years for which the men join.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North is a comparatively young man, and today he comes to the Dispatch Box and leads for the Labour Party for the first time. I congratulate him, but I wish he would do his homework. He makes exactly the same mistake as Front Bench speaker after Front Bench speaker has been making in every debate since my right hon. Friend and I first raised this subject at Whitsuntide, 1952. The test of the recruiting figures is not the number of men who join but how many man-years we recruit.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on having obtained a reply to an Oral Question tabled by me before I received it. However, if both are members of the same "club", naturally, both speak from the same brief. I am aware of this, and I took the precaution of getting a copy this morning, and, therefore, I am not at any disadvantage. I guessed what would happen. It happened in the debate in November. I table the Questions and some of my hon. Friends get the answers. However, there is no copyright in all this. I put down a Question because I wanted to know the answer to the problem of the recruiting figures. When I received the answer, although I was not given quite as much opportunity as my hon. Friend, 248 I hope I examined it a little more intelligently for comparisons. I should have thought that my hon. Friend would first have noted that the answers given were not really what I had asked for.
§ Mr. Fienburgh
We much admire the arrogance of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), although at times we find it a little tedious. I am perfectly capable—my hon. Friend knows it quite well—of exercising a multiplier which he and I have discussed time and time again. If I had been deploying a general argument in relation to commitments, I should have given the multiplier and saved my hon. Friend the trouble of going into his calculations as to how many man-years we have. But I was deploying an argument about the psychology of inducing men to join the Army, in which case the relevant point is how many men out of the general intake one can persuade to join the Army. That was the figure about which I was arguing. The way in which I used the figures was perfectly proper. If my hon. Friend wants it, I will give him the multiplier in about two minutes' time.
§ Mr. Wigg
I do not want to occasion my hon. Friend any inconvenience, If I am inconveniencing him, he has a remedy. He can leave the House. I have not asked him to stay. I do not remember a particular discussion about the matter between us. In any case, I propose to go on giving the answer. I hasten to add that this has nothing to do with commitments. Therefore, if my hon. Friend was speaking in terms of commitments, he needs to do a little more homework. What I am getting on to is not in terms of the multiplier. That is for the babies' class. We are moving on from the babies' class to Standard 3, in which the people have done their twice times table and have moved up the table.
I should have thought that if my hon. Friend wanted to deal with a Question of this kind he would have been experienced enough to read not only the Answer but the Question. My experience has taught me that if I ask a Question and the Minister gives me a little supplementary information, something that I have not asked him, I wonder why.
I originally asked the Minister to give me the recruiting figures for July, August, September and October, 1957, and those 249 for July, August, September and October, 1956. I first got an answer relating to the three months, July, August and September, in each of those two years. Only now have I got the October figures. I did not ask the Minister to give me an average. The fact that the right hon. Gentleman now supplies me with the average over the last four months gives me the clue. The answer I have now got is in addition to the answer that I got on 8th November, and the real comparison is not between October this year and October last year, but between October and September this year.
When the figures are looked at as part of a continuing process, if one turns them into a graph, the first conclusion that one comes to is that every year October is bad, November is bound to be worse and December will be even worse than that. However one converts the figures into man-years, the comparison is between 11,000 man-years in October, 1956, and 7,000 man-years in October, 1957. That is a devastating drop.
That is not all. In October—in presenting his case, my hon. Friend did not make this point—a big change occurred We were departing from the tradition of the three-year engagement, one of the most foolish steps taken by anyone pretending to understand the subject. We are moving from three-year engagements to six-year engagements. My hon. Friend said that he would give me the multiplier in two minutes, but the truth is that no one knows the answer. I can estimate it, and we can all estimate it. In my arguments with my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), whose absence I very greatly regret, and whose recovery I hope will be speedy and complete, I have used a multiplier of ten. That is only because, characteristically, I wish to be generous to the right hon. Gentleman, for ten is not the multiplier at all, but I wanted to give him everything on his argument. If one multiplies by ten, it proves that the number that he is taking is unutterable nonsense. The multiplier before the war was eight. Those figures can be discovered on the briefest examination.
I had thought that the move from the three-year to the six-year engagement in the Army would produce a sharp rise in recruiting figures for the Navy and for the Air Force, but that has not happened. 250 Navy recruiting has increased from 206 men on a nine-year engagement in September to 270 in October—no great rise there. Royal Air Force recruiting on a three-year engagement has risen from 380 to 533; on a four-year engagement from 99 to 117; and on engagements of five to eight years, from 231 to 235, and on the nine-year engagement from 266 to 309.
There is no wonder that the right hon. Gentleman has evaded the subject. In September, 1,927 men enlisted in the Army on a three-year engagement, but in October the number fell by 900 to 1,020. The six-year engagement recruits numbered 133 in September and 489 in October, quite a sharp rise, but the nine-year engagement fell from 199 to 156. I am at all times prepared to put my figures to the test. One of the charges made against me by my own Front Bench—and I take it all in good part—is that I am guilty of wild exaggeration. What my hon. and right hon. Friends never do is to say where my figures are wrong or that my forecasts are incorrect. There is no particular cleverness; it is a very simple matter needing only diligence plus a little interest to produce the answers.
The moral of these figures is clear. Gresham's Law applies to the Army—the bad drives out the good. When we had the three-year engagement, it affected the number of recruits for a six-year engagement, and now that the three-year engagement has gone, the six-year engagement is affecting the nine-year engagement. The characteristic of all the figures is a rise in the numbers on six-year engagements with the move from nine-year engagements to six year engagements.
Although my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North said with great daring that he could give me the multiplier in two minutes he cannot do so, and I am sure that my multiplier of ten was wildly generous and it is more than likely—and here is the warning for the Government—that the multiplier is between six and eight.
For what it is worth, I venture to make a prophesy. In the Army at present, there are about 160,000 men, of whom about half are on three-year engagements. The right hon. Gentleman was kind enough on 5th July to say how many men he thought would be retained on a 251 three-year engagement when National Service ended; in other words, to how many his amended three-year engagement applied. He said that it would be about 1,000 a year.
On the basis of those recruiting figures, the country is looking forward to a Regular Army of not more than 70,000 other ranks. It is perfectly clear that the 1,020 men now undertaking a three-year engagement will do so only for as long as National Service remains. The Secretary of State, who has better resources than I, says that the figure will be 85 men per month.
I want to refer to what the future holds for us. I worked out these figures with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head) on 24th July, 1956, before a debate in which I dissented from my party, as I still dissent. My only interest in this matter is to try to get hon. Members and the rest of my fellow-countrymen to recognise facts which cannot be disputed. I have pleaded with the Government, and I plead with them again to publish a White Paper giving the facts so that there is no dispute between me and my right hon. Friends and no dispute between the two parties so far as the facts are concerned.
First, I want to refer to the Committee appointed yesterday. I was astonished that my own Front Bench did not react to the speech of the Minister of Defence on 7th November. The Government had committed themselves to the abolition of National Service—they had taken the decision in the early part of the year, and the decision is now almost a year old. It is true that the Secretary of State for War, on 31st July in a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, repeated what the Government said in the Defence White Paper—that they hoped to get the recruits. If they did not get the recruits, they left their hands free to get the numbers by other methods.
We then had the announcement that Sir James Grigg was to preside over a committee of inquiry. I have a tremendous respect for Sir James Griggs, who was a great war-time Secretary of State for War. He may have been a bad House of Commons man, but he was a civil servant who answered the call of duty with no regard to his personal advantage. I have 252 always thought that it was among the meanest acts of the war-time Coalition Government that they did not provide for the payment of his pension, for one of the consequences of answering the call of duty which he suffered was that he forfeited his Civil Service pension rights.
I have tremendous respect for him, but for reasons of which I half approve and which I certainly understand, if there was one man responsible for a great number of difficulties in the post-war Army, it was Sir James Grigg who was Secretary of State during those critical war years. Of course, the war had continued for six years and he was faced with all the problems of an Army fighting a war. Yet it was perfectly clear that inquiries should have been made and policies begun, so that as soon as the war ended recruiting of a post-war Regular Army could have been begun. Those measures were not put in hand.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) will remember that when he was Secretary of State for War I badgered him about the re-establishment of Section A of the Army Reserve, the establishment of a supplementary reserve, and about the use of leaves and inducements to get men to stay in and to join the Regular Army all on the lines of what happened after the First World War.
To appoint Sir James Grigg, who stood as a Conservative, as a senior supporter of the Conservative Administration, to be in charge of the whitewashing is monstrous. I was astonished at the appointment, but no protest came from my hon. Friends at the conclusion of the debate. Because of that, I nestled close to the grapevine and tried to find out what was happening. I put down Questions asking who were the members of the Committee, what its terms of reference were, and, above all, when it would report.
The 64,000 dollar question is: When will it report? Even if the committee were composed of the wisest men ever—men who knew all the answers to every question—and if at the tinkling of the bell they had met in a room, produced the answers and handed them to the Minister of Defence, and if, forthwith, with an alacrity unheard of in Government circles, the proposals were put into operation, is there any hon. Member who would say that any recommendation 253 by that committee could have any effect at all upon the problems now facing the Government?
The existing National Service legislation expires on 31st December, 1958. The Government have one year. It will be monstrous if they go on gambling with young men's futures after 1st January, 1959. At the moment, every young man born after 31st December, 1940, has been told by the Government that he will not be called up. Yet the conclusion to be drawn from the recruiting figures points only in one direction. Unless the country is prepared to accept an Army of less than 100,000 men, some form of National Service must continue.
Yesterday, I put down a Question asking who would serve on the committee; what were its terms of reference; whether its report would be published, and when it was expected that it would report. I got an Answer, which appears in HANSARD this morning, the concluding sentence of which is:I cannot say how long it will take the Committee to prepare its Report, which will, of course, be published."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December, 1957; Vol. 579, c. 16.]That is a bit of a staggerer. My view is that even if it had reported yesterday it would not have had any effect. But I was anxious to find out about it, and again I nestled close to the grapevine and rang up the Ministry of Defence and asked if they would be kind enough to hand me the hand-out that they had given the Press that night. I hold in my hand the results of my inquiry, sent to me with the compliments of the Private Secretary. It contains one sentence which is ruled through, but which I can read, and which says:It is hoped that the Committee will be able to report in about six months' time.I do not know what happens in the War Office or the Ministry of Defence, but if this had happened in my unit somebody would have had his hat off on the following morning. It is not clever for the Minister to say that he cannot tell me when the Committee will report and then give the Press a handout which says that the report will arrive in about six months' time. I hope that hon. Members will see the significance of this.
I read the newspapers this morning. One—the Daily Mirror—contained the statement that the Committee would report in six months' time. What an 254 inconvenient date! The Estimates will have gone; the Defence White Paper will have gone, and then Sir James Grigg and his committee will report. It will report a strange conclusion, namely, that the social trends are such that the Government will not get their recruits. On the eve of the Recess a draft Order will be brought in to extend National Service, and we shall all go off on our holidays and that will be that.
That is the picture. When I examined the composition of the Committee, I was staggered. There was one name that I certainly thought would have been there—the name of Mr. Sydney Rogerson—a very distinguished man who, when the Government came to power in 1951, gave his services free of charge to the War Office at the personal request of the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). Mr. Sydney Rogerson, for whom I have the greatest respect, is an honorary colonel of a Territorial unit and a distinguished writer and thinker in connection with military matters. There is not a man in this country who knows more about the Army and its public relations and the problems of getting recruits than does Mr. Rogerson.
Why was not he invited? I suggest that the Government did not invite him to serve because he knows the truth. He has been in the War Office and has left it to go back to industry. The Government, therefore, invited the editor of the Daily Mirror—Mr. Hugh Cudlipp. I hope that he will like it. Prominence is given to this Committee in the Daily Mirror this morning. Mr. Cudlipp is the biggest stooge in Fleet Street. He has been put on to the Committee to provide acceptable answers in order to get the Government out of an awkward spot.
The controversies which surrounded the Bill were party ones. I played a small part in them, together with a former Member—I hope that he will soon return—Mr. Geoffrey Bing. He did the theory and I did the practice. He was in charge of operations, and I was working in the cookhouse. I was not even one of the P.B.I. This was just a humble job, but it did the trick. I must say that I would sooner be a stooge to Geoffrey Bing than to the right hon. Gentleman. At least I should be pursuing the cause of truth and not seeking to disguise it.
255 This country is in a difficult spot. How difficult it is hon. Members will find if they read the Annual Reports of the Army, the last of which was published in February, 1939. The Government were in difficulties about recruiting then. Various suggestions were made and various results obtained, but at what a price! Came the outbreak of the war and there was no barbed wire, no entrenching equipment, and few armoured fighting vehicles. The Army, the calibre of whose men was as good as it was in their fathers' time, was short of equipment.
And what about Suez? The day before the Suez operation I said that those on both sides of the House who cheered should be ashamed of themselves because they were asking men to fight in Suez—with what? With insufficient tank landing ships and not enough air transport. We get terribly wound up in our debates about the atomic bomb, but we do not know the difference between a B.47 and a B.52, and we do not care. Do we stop to think what the present infantryman is armed with? Ours is the only infantry which is still armed with the weapon that its fathers fought with.
In our defence and Service debates we become stratospheric; the further we get from reality the better we are pleased. That is why I fought like a tiger to get these debates on the Service Departments nearer and nearer to reality. That is the only way out. I have a profound belief in the genius of my fellow countrymen. My view, reading from as much history as has been afforded to me, is that throughout our long history when we have seen the truth we have never failed to act. What the House has done in the twelve years that I have been here is to act as a filling for the pillow. Any soporific is good enough, or any escape from reality. What we want is the naked truth. We do not want to hear recruiting figures produced this afternoon.
I criticise my hon. Friends because they are as far from reality when they talk about getting rid of National Service inside the framework of the four-year plan as are hon. Members opposite. The only difference between them is that hon. Members opposite now know the truth. The Minister does not believe that he 256 will get rid of National Service, but my hon. Friends still believe that he will. The truth is that the Government cannot do so.
Of course we should try to get rid of National Service and try to produce the best defence we can upon the most economical terms. That is why I was proud to serve with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shin-well). When we started out together in 1952, we said that if no other countries inside the Commonwealth or N.A.T.O. would undertake a period of two years' National Service, we could not do so indefinitely. We have to get rid of conscription, and we can get rid of it, but do not let us have any "slush" about getting rid of it in four years. It will take ten years at least, even if we start now. Do not let us buttress the Government in these slimy efforts to appoint committees to produce answers which will have an irrelevant result.
I make this suggestion which I have discussed with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington, although I have not his authority to say it. The House should submit its Estimates, and even this Bill, for annual confirmation to a committee of secrecy. The precedents are contained in Erskine May. Matters could be submitted to such a committee after consultation between the two Front Benches, and the committee should be composed of hon. Gentlemen from both sides of the House. They would be free to consider the Estimates and kindred matters free from the trammels of public opinion, and would be given an opportunity to place duty to the country before any political advantage.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I had not intended to take part in this debate unless I felt absolutely obliged to, but I did not visualise that we should be allowed to go so wide as the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has taken us. I do not regret it and I agree with the concluding statements in his speech. I would criticise the hon. Member only of trying to monopolise the subject. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is the only person who does not wish to see the same things recurring as occurred in 1939 and, to some extent, in 1914. We do not wish to see an Army inadequately equipped. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) said, and I 257 agree, that the last thing we want to see are men running about with flags and calling themselves "atomic artillery" or anything else.
Having acted as "soldier's friend" at courts-martial on one or two occasions during my military service, I join with hon. Members who have congratulated the Secretary of State and those in the War Office on being responsible for eliminating at last those sheaves of amendments which one used to stick in volumes of the Rules of Procedure and the Army Act and in Part I of the Manual of Military Law. They have rendered a great service to all ranks in the Army, although I sometimes think that even in this House we are apt to pay too much attention to courts-martial and not enough to those who behave themselves, because courts-martial are usually concerned with those who have not behaved too well.
I remember an occasion during the last war, at one of the more base areas—"base" is a word which can be used in more senses than one about that part of the world—someone came from the War Office to try to raise our morale, and said that one of the great difficulties about home leave was that eight people were awaiting court-martial and could not be conveyed home. They would have to be taken home before anybody could be sent on leave, no matter how long he had been in the desert. That attitude of mind on the part of the Adjutant-General's Branch is not uncommon and I feel that it is always to be deplored.
I join with hon. Members who have congratulated my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) and the members of his Committee who did such wonderful work in amending the Army Act. They have done a service to the Army and to this House. I have no wish to intervene in the internecine strife which has been raging on the other side of the House this afternoon. I believe that neither the hon. Member for Dudley nor the hon. Member for Islington, North have really faced the issue. Is it inevitable that, were we to raise the rates of pay sufficiently to attract enough men into the Regular Army, it would set in train a wave of inflation which would be quite uncontrollable by Parliament?
258 The hon. Member for Dudley has taken the view for a long time that pay, no matter how high it be, will not get enough men initially. So long as pay was not put above what the man was getting in civil life, the hon. Gentleman is probably right. But what has never happened in the history of this country is for the Regular soldier to be paid more than he would get in civil life. I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, North that it is pay which gets a man into the Army initially, but that it is the amenities which keep him in once he has been recruited.
To have a Regular Army of a size sufficient to meet our commitments, we need men over and above the proportion of the younger section of the community who will always join the Regular Army. I am forced to the conclusion that the only way to get them is to pay the soldier not as much as, but more than, he would receive in civil life. That is why I say that the hon. Member for Dudley is being a little unfair in trying to monopolise this matter. I should be prepared to do that, even though it meant telling the Trades Union Congress that wage claims would not be granted for the next three years.
I believe that the only way to defend this country is to ensure that our Regular Army, particularly the infantry, is of sufficient strength to enable us to play our full part in keeping the peace. To me, the important point seems to be the keeping of the peace. Today my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that he hoped the day would never come when the various agreements over the use of nuclear aircraft in this country would have to be put into force. I agree. The important thing is to prevent war from happening and the best way to do that is to have a sufficiently large infantry. Above all others, the infantryman is necessary, even though he be equipped only with weapons similar to those with which his grandfather was equipped. That is better than having none at all. The real problem is whether we are prepared to pay almost any price for men and materials to preserve the peace. That is the issue before the country.
§ Mr. Wigg
Before he differs from me would the hon. and gallant Gentleman look at this problem not as an academic exercise, but as a practical problem? Let 259 us assume that the Government were willing to do what the hon. and gallant Gentleman says and pay the same rates—or even more—as a man could receive in civilian wages. Whatever rate it decided on, does not the hon. and gallant Member appreciate that we are working on the basis of a six-year engagement and that it would be six years before we got the full result? The Government are faced with the problem of waiting, not six years, but one. The Government are overlooking the time factor. I do not think that they can put it right, but even if they could, they could not do it before 31st December, 1958.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I appreciate what the hon. Member says about the problem of man-years. I agree that whatever be the time, whether six years or eight that was the bracket the hon. Member gave in his speech—the problem at the end of the period will depend a great deal on whether we have the initial recruits. That is a resolution of the difference between the hon. Member for Dudley and the hon. Member for Islington, North.
We can have all the theories we like over this matter, but if we have not tile men joining the Army who believe that it is a good profession to join, then we shall be in difficulties. The argument of the hon. Member for Dudley boils down to the fact that the few men we get will produce a certain low figure at the end of the period for which they are prepared to join.
§ Mr. Wigg rose—
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I would rather not give way again. I listened to the hon. Member's speech with great attention. He has had a good innings, and I do not want to delay the House by constantly giving way.
May I return to the theme which I was discussing before the hon. Member's intervention? There has always been a great misunderstanding among parents and young people of what pay a soldier receives when he joins the Army. The trouble is that so much of it is in kind. I am a little concerned about the announcement made yesterday of improvements in allowances. I welcome this measure of improvement and hope 260 that there will be a chance to make further improvements, but I take it that these measures are primarily designed to retain in the Army men who have already joined rather than to attract others into the Army. Whatever the intention, that will be the effect.
I still believe that the one factor which will encourage more men to join is that of pay. That is the primary factor. I know that some hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that if we put up the pay of the Army the floodgates will nave been opened which will make it impossible ever again for the Government of the day to control inflation. In my opinion, the choice before the country is clear. To this extent, I agree with the hon. Member for Dudley. Either we shall have to increase the pay of the soldier or we shall have to continue National Service, in other words, conscription, in one form or another. I honestly do not believe that we shall get enough volunteers unless the pay is raised very substantially.
If the price of putting up that pay were to be opening the floodgates of wage claims all over the country, and if the trade unions said, "Because the pay of the Army has been increased therefore our basic pay must go up," then I do not think that any Government could face that situation and hope to keep the economy under control. That is the issue before the country.
I wish it were possible to pay the British soldier the rate of pay which ought to be paid to anybody who is prepared to sacrifice everything he has to keep this country properly defended. Nevertheless, we must face the reality that the rest of the country is not prepared to do that at the moment. What distresses me most is that apparently no acclimatisation, no attempt to change that attitude, is being carried out by the Government or anyone else. I have made speeches in the House year after year trying to make this case and I frankly admit that there is very little support for the view which I have expressed.
I believe that that is a pity, because it means that the people's sense of proportion is so unbalanced that they do not understand that the best way of preventing a third world war is to ensure that there are men on the ground to keep the peace. The best man to do that always 261 has been and will continue to be the British infantryman. Equally, if war broke out, with all the atomic weapons we can think of, I still believe that, ultimately, the ending of that war, the maintenance of the peace which one hopes would follow it and the elimination of confusion during that war would again fall on the British infantryman more than upon anyone else. Yet he is the man to whom this country is not prepared to pay the wage that it ought to pay.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Would the hon. and gallant Member pay to the soldier the wage of the highest-paid miner?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Personally, I think he is doing just as good a job for this country, if that is what the hon. Member has in mind. If that were the only way to get him into the Army, I should pay it.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
It may be. I honestly believe that the British Army is quite as important to the safety of the country as is the coal mining industry. There are grades in the coal mining industry just as there are ranks in the Army, and, rank by rank, I should certainly be prepared to pay the soldier quite as much as the miner is paid. Let us not forget that, to the best of my knowledge, there have never been overtime rates in the Army. Of course, there have been special allowances for overseas service, in the same way as in some industries there is danger money.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I know that the hon. Member has very close experience inside the Army. I believe that the strongest conscientious objector in the House would find it extremely difficult to work a system of overtime in the Army. I believe that the hon. Member and I are on a frivolous point and I do not wish to pursue it with him. I enjoy having an interchange with him now and again, but let us try to be serious about this for a moment.
The point I am trying to make is that the country must face up to this situation. If it is not prepared to pay the Regular soldier, to get him into the Army 262 in the first instance, a wage which will attract him, then, unless we have a major change in the feeling of this country and have a voluntary restriction over the years in all the other civilian interests, there can be only one answer in the end—and I believe that that is to have some form of selective military service in the future.
When the declaration was made that we should end National Service and work towards that end—I know that the Minister of Defence made it clear that if the policy does not succeed then some other form of recruiting is inevitable—I hoped that it would mean that for the first time the British Army would be adequately paid. I have a horrible feeling now that it does not mean that. The reason it does not mean it is that, if it had meant it, it would also have meant that the floodgates of inflation would have been opened wide again, simply because this country has such a warped sense of proportion that it does not see the importance of preserving peace by having an adequate Regular Army.
That is the tragic position today. For my part, all I can do is to continue to give my support to those who believe that the Army has never been adequately paid to get the men we need to do the job. The miracle is that year after year after year men of the high quality that we see in all ranks in the Army have joined. The problem now is not to get such men as these, who will join in any case, but to get the additional men.
Things being as they are today, the only factor which will attract most young men quickly is the rate of pay which they will get when they join. When the young man looks at what he will get in the Army and what he will get if he stays in civilian life, the answer is obvious. There is a difference of several pounds in cash each week. Unless we are prepared to put up the pay of the private soldier, when he joins, by several pounds a week, we shall not get the number of men we need. For that reason, it seems to me that the country must wake up quickly to the choice now before it: either it will pay its Army or it will have National Service until kingdom come.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
When the Secretary of State was considering in the quietness of his office what he would 263 say today, I do not suppose he imagined he would have to listen to a debate such as we have had. Our regret is that, even within the limited confines of such a Motion as this, the right hon. Gentleman did not take the opportunity this afternoon to give a lead to the House. He appears on television and he allows himself to be questioned by soldiers who want to stay in the Army and by soldiers who do not want to stay in the Army—what sort of propaganda is this?—and we are therefore entitled to ask why, on an occasion when we are being asked to continue the Army for another year, he cannot tell us something about that Army and how he can maintain it.
After all, we are being asked today to keep an Army in being, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg, tells us that the recruiting figures are going down and down and will reach rock bottom. I am perhaps not in possession of the multiplier of all these mathematical terms, and I do not believe that the Army will disintegrate to that extent. I am one who believes that under certain conditions we can get more recruits than my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley suggests, It may be that he is right—I do not know—I only go on my belief. I know what was happening before the war when, under Lord Nathan, recruiting drives and meetings were held and all sorts of people got together in an effort to increase the numbers in the Territorial Army. Hon. Members may say that those methods are old-fashioned, but to those who have studied how the Army was recruited in the old days, the interesting thing is that there was a more or less regular pattern all through the years to the middle of the last century.
I know that recruiting was based on the agricultural industry in those days and that the low rates of pay of agricultural labourers caused them to go into the Army to better their chances. I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman would have taken the opportunity this afternoon to tell us something of the difficulties he had and to invite us to help him. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley. His has been one of the lone voices, cutting right across the party lines we generally follow in this House and advocating some all-party group or committee 264 to investigate these problems. Many of us do not know the negative side of them, although some of us can imagine it, and I am certain many hon. Members do not know a lot about the positive work that is being done at present to induce recruits to the Army.
The other day I had the opportunity of going to Windsor to see the modern barracks there for Household troops. If those hon. Members interested in Army matters saw some of the modern barrack accommodation which is being offered, I am sure that they would be satisfied that at least in that respect in so far as it is being got on with quickly, the Army is trying to do something which will help to induce recruits to join or stay longer than perhaps some of the other methods which have been advocated, methods which I am bound to say to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) are fantastically impossible. It is not the slightest good talking about paying the Army more than the highest rate of pay in civil life. That is not the answer, unless we are to have inflation running riot.
There is a point to which I would draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. It is one which I thought very topical, which he could have mentioned on his own initiative. I am very concerned with discipline in the Army, and we are discussing a disciplinary Act. What has the right hon. Gentleman to say about his forced amalgamation of regiments? Here we have a situation in which two famous Scottish regiments—I will not say they are almost in revolt, because that would be an extravagance—are now engaged in wordy warfare—
§ Mr. Wigg
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. While being in no way unfriendly to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), are we not establishing a precedent which is clearly out of order? I submit that it is out of order to discuss the amalgamation of infantry regiments, because such amalgamations are not carried out under the provisions of the Army Act.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I was not present when Mr. Speaker gave this Ruling, but, for greater accuracy, he has given me a copy of it. A and Q is in order, and general staff matters are not in order. National Service men are not to be discussed, except in regard to discipline, and pay is out of order because it is governed by Royal Warrant. I did allow a little discussion on pay, because that is linked with the question of not getting recruits, but if the hon. Member said it comes under A and Q, it is in order.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Mr. Speaker ruled that A and Q matters were in order, and I should have thought that this matter was in order.
§ Mr. Wigg
I thought Mr. Speaker gave a definition of matters which come under A and Q because he wanted to make it clear that G matters are excluded. As this matter is of some importance, not only for this but for future occasions, while I have not the slightest wish to obstruct my right hon. Friend, would you be good enough. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to submit the matter to Mr. Speaker, because there is no provision in the Army Act for the matters my right hon. Friend wishes to discuss?
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I think there is great danger here. This is going to be used as a precedent for many years to some. This is the first time we have had a discussion of this nature. I would appeal to you earnestly, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to consider very carefully about establishing a precedent which may become wider and wider as years go by. I entirely support the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) in this matter, I do not believe that under the disciplinary Army Act which we are discussing the amalgamation of regiments should come under discussion.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I will certainly pass on to Mr. Speaker what has been said, but in my view it is in order to discuss amalgamation, and I am going to allow it.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am obliged to hon. Members who have attempted to limit this discussion, because I am sure that 266 next year the right hon. Gentleman would expect us to accept this on the nod, but we want him to be a little more forthcoming when he is asking for very wide powers as he is asking today. I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman would have been fully cognisant of the danger to discipline in the Army of incidents like this which have occurred because of the amalgamation of two famous Scottish regiments. I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman and understand his difficulties, but, having heard a little about how the matter is being discussed and how the C.I.G.S. had to go to Edinburgh for three days to straighten it out,—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I understand that recruiting is affected by the Act we are discussing. Certainly where I live I think recruiting will be affected by the amalgamations suggested, and I think they are just as well within order as discussions about pay which affect recruiting.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I apologise if I have taken the name of the C.I.G.S. in vain, but there is no doubt that inside the Army there has been considerable ferment about the amalgamation of these two regiments. I understand the difficulties, but here we have a sort of coalition between both sides of the House in which Labour and Conservative M.P.s beard the right hon. Gentleman in his own den—I hope I am not exaggerating—and try to represent that point of view, which I believe is widely held in a certain part of Scotland, that he should not do this. I read in the newspapers—I cannot be quite sure whether my information is correct—that there was a meeting, attended by something like 20,000, to protest against this amalgamation.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
As one who represents one of the regiments concerned, may I acquaint my right hon. Friend with the fact that this trouble has not been inside the Army but has been fomented from outside? May I also bring into this matter some sense of proportion by saying that in the last three months no large crowds have attempted to join the Army in Glasgow but only 15 people?
§ Mr. Bellenger
My main concern in mentioning this matter is about the effect upon discipline in the Army of incidents such as I have just related. Whether the right hon. Gentleman can avoid them, I do not know, but I should have thought it possible to appeal to the patriotism, the loyalty and the discipline of people to discuss these things in quieter circumstances and not in the full blare of publicity, as has happened.
I remember when amalgamations took place before. We had a reference today to the nomenclature of some of the armoured regiments. The hon and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) will know more about this matter than I do. Famous regiments were amalgamated, and they have accepted the position because it was the best for the Army. I do not know whether there is tight on the side of those two Scottish regiments, but I suspect that the A side—if I may use your expression. Mr. Deputy-Speaker—has not operated as efficiently as it might have been able to in other circumstances.
The right hon. Gentleman must recognise that, although it may be unpleasant to bring this subject up on the Floor of the House, it is disturbing to all lovers of the Army's reputation for disciplined loyalty to the orders that go out from the Army Council. There was a feeling in my day that what the Army Council did was always right, but I shall not say that we must follow the old precept of Crimean days of not arguing, the soldier's duty being, "not to reason why but merely to do or die". My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley and I have advocated for many years the setting up of a military affairs committee. The idea was rejected, particularly by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) when he was Prime Minister. Like my hon. Friend, who is not weary in supporting lost causes, I shall still continue advocating it.
The future of the Army is not to be made or unmade by desultory debates like this on recruiting without any lead whatever from the Secretary of State. I believe, with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, that hon. Members who are interested in these matters we can see how many there are by looking around the Chamber on any occasion when we are discussing military matters 268 —should get together, irrespective of party, and form a committee to investigate such matters as the problem of recruiting. It could see whether positive suggestions could be made. Again, like my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, I do not believe that the Committee which has been set up under Sir James Grigg will produce a better solution than the House in the debates it has had on previous occasions.
I hope that the Minister will in future take the opportunity of an occasion like this, when he is asking the House to give him the power to set up or to carry on his Regular Army for another year—whether it is a small Army or the larger Army which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has set himself to achieve—to use it as a method of publicity and propaganda, by telling the House the form of Army he wants. I will not add "the size he wants," because that consideration is outside the confines of the debate and is more appropriate to the Estimates Committee at the beginning of next year. The right hon. Gentleman could deal with matters like the amalgamation of regiments, which is causing a lot of disturbance in the minds of people inside and outside the Army, and what he is doing to overcome the difficulties.
Today's debate lays the foundation for the procedure to be followed in future years. I would be the last one to wish to expand our debates into something much wider, but I recognise, as we all must, that the Motion is narrowly drawn. Many hon. Members do not recognise that the House is being asked to do something more than merely to approve an order; we are being asked to set up and carry on the Army for the following year. The right hon. Gentleman should give a lead and not wait for it to come from the back benches. His historical survey was appropriate, but he cannot repeat it every year when he moves this Motion. The House is entitled to something more than a historical survey such as that which the right hon. Gentleman has given us.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
If the Motion that we are debating today is to be brought in every five years I cannot find any provision laying down 269 what is to be done during those five years, particularly by way of appointing a committee so that at the end of the five years the appropriate Amendments can be made. These annual discussions will be of guidance to those who are interested in these matters so they can make the necessary Amendments at the end of the period.
§ Mr. Simmons
I am aware of that, but I do not know whether that pledge which has been given on behalf of one Government will be carried out by any other Government, and whether it would not have been better, from the point of view of the Army, to have in the Act some reference to the matter. The explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman is an indication that another Select Committee will definitely be set up if it does its work as well as the last one we shall all be perfectly satisfied.
The Minister has already told us that alterations have been carried out, and this raises an important point in my mind. Are we to have a lot of amending Acts and cross-references? Could we not have a statement from the Minister that really up-to-date documents will be put into the Library? I receive from the House of Commons Library copies of Army documents which are a disgrace, as being completely out of date. Could we not have copies of all regulations, including the Queen's Regulations and Orders? Can they not be made available to hon. Members in the Library of the House so that when we are considering amending Orders under the Army Act, 1955, we shall be able to go to the Library and obtain the references that we want?
The suggestion that, if necessary, there might be alterations was emphasised in the Report of the Select Committee, where it is rather interesting to read:In reviewing Part I of the Army and Air Force Acts and the other Sections above referred to, Your Committee have had particularly in mind throughout that the Regular Army and Royal Air Force no longer consist solely of volunteers but now comprise large numbers of young National Service men, doing their compulsory training. Your Committee have also had in mind that the Army and 270 Royal Air Force are no longer confined to men but that women are full members of each Service, both as commissioned officers and enlisted persons.Having regard to these two points above, it will he appreciated how different the Army and Royal Air Force of today are from the armed forces of the Crown for whom the code of discipline embodied in Part I of the Army and Air Force Acts was originally intended. Your Committee have, therefore, found it necessary to recommend very considerable changes in the clauses which they have considered.If the Government's plans are carried out, and if my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) proves to have been unduly pessimistic, we shall again be changing the Act to deal with an Army composed entirely of volunteers, it has, therefore, become very important that year by year we should go thoroughly into the 1955 Act in order to give the necessary guidance to those who are to have the task of amending it after five years.
Perhaps I may point out that of the 224 Sections in the Act, only 23 deal with enlistment and recruiting, on which we seem to have been concentrating so much this afternoon, but there are other matters in the Act to which the attention of the House should be drawn. We want a broader and wider discussion of this Measure, rather than just a series of speeches which would be more appropriate to the Army Estimates.
The Act deals with the discipline of the Army as well as with recruitment. As has been said earlier, an Army without discipline would be of very little use to those commanding it or to the nation. For instance, billeting is mentioned, and in this context the necessity for that might be absolutely useless were we to suffer an atomic bomb attack and towns and villages were razed to the ground. Although there might have to be provision for the holes to be tested for radioactivity, an atomic war would entirely change that part of the Act dealing with billeting.
I want now to ask a few detailed questions, because I think that we should probe conditions in the Army, and improve them from time to time when we are revising every five years. In Section 3 (3), we are told thatA soldier of the regular forces may at any time be transfered by order of the competent military authority from one corps to another.271 And subsection (4) reads:Where, in pursuance of the last foregoing subsection, a soldier of the regular forces is transferred to a corps in an arm or branch of the service different from that in which he was previously serving, the competent military authority may by order vary the conditions of his service.…That needs looking at very carefully. What right have we to transfer a man from one corps to another without his consent? After all, when a man enlists in the Army, there is a contract, and a contract should be kept by both parties. There cannot be just a one-way traffic here, so that when it is convenient for the Army to shove a man out of the Royal Army Medical Corps into, say, the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, or from the Royal Army Service Corps into another corps, it can be done without so much as a "By your leave."
It must be remembered that the Army we visualise is one in which a man will enlist for nine, twelve or twenty-two years. In most cases, the man will enlist as a craftsman, and his time in the Army will fit him for his later return to civilian employment in his trade. Why, therefore, should we lay down in the Army Act that the contract entered into between the Army Council and the soldier can be broken by the Army Council, but not by the soldier? If the soldier breaks the contract, it is called desertion, absence without leave, or something like that. That is a matter that should be looked into by the Secretary of State.
Section 57 (1) lays down the penalty forany person subject to military law who refuses to swear an oath when duly required by a court-martial to do so.Has a soldier no right of affirmation? It is not mentioned here. When a new Member goes to that Box to be introduced, he has the right either to take the oath or to affirm, and I think that the same right should be given to an enlisted man when appearing before a court-martial. Is there any Order in Council, or Order of the Army Council that makes that position clear?
Section 57 (1, d) tells us of what happens when a witnessrefuses to answer any question which a court-martial has lawfully required him to answer.That, again, raises an important point. In the Army, we believe in comradeship. 272 If a man wants to shield his friend and keep a discreet silence, why should he not be allowed to do so?
On the other hand, he may not have legal representation before the court-martial. I do not know whether the Secretary of State would lay down that the soldier's friend in the proceedings should be an accredited legal representative, but I think that he ought to. If, at a court-martial, a man has no legal representative and has to answer any question put to him, he may be tricked into saying something that he should not say.
Section 57 (1, e) refers to the person whowilfully insults any person…".What is the definition of "insult"? When I was in the Army I knew of something called dumb insolence—the raising of an eyebrow, the twitching of an eye, or the shrugging of a shoulder. Let us have a better definition—
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
Referring to the hon. Gentleman's query about the oath, Rule of Procedure No. 34 says that a person is permitted to make a solemn affirmation instead of swearing on oath.
I am very much obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but there, again, we have the Rules of Procedure and we have the Army Act, each dealing with different obligations. There should be some cross-reference—a footnote.
§ Mr. Simmons
But, Mr. Speaker, you will not allow me to discuss the Manual to Military Law. I am speaking of the Army Act, and we here considering putting the Army Act into operation for another twelve months. We ought to make sure that those whose only reference will be to the Army Act are made fully aware of all the facts and put in possession of the information given by the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer). There should be a footnote in the Army Act, to lead to greater clarity.
§ Mr. Simmons
It is a long time since I was there, of course, and things have probably altered. I never found a copy of the Manual of Military Law in the depôt library.
§ Mr. Simmons
Yes, but when I was serving the pay was 1s. a day, and 15s. would have been more than two weeks' pay. I do not think we shall get very much further in that direction. I ask that something should be done to make the matter clear in the next copy of the Army Act, which will come up for discussion twelve months' hence.
In Section 64, I come back to an old "King Charles's head" of mine. The Section provides for an officer to be cashiered if he behaves in a manner unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. First, why should there be one law for the officer and one for the private soldier and N.C.O.? Why should the punishment given to the officer be, "All right, you can clear out", a thing which many an ordinary "Tommy" would be only too glad to be told. He does not get a chance; they send him to the "glasshouse," where he trots round for so many hours a day. The officer can just slide out.
The wording of the Section is nauseating. It is class-conscious poppycock. It assumes that only officers can be gentlemen, and it should be taken out of the Act altogether. I ask the House to listen to the words:Every officer subject to military law who behaves in a scandalous manner, unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman, shall, on conviction by court martial, be cashiered.Why "an officer and a gentleman"? Why should those words be in the Act at all? What is the inference—that only officers are gentlemen? I beg the Secretary of State to consider whether the wording of it could not be made more in line with modern thought and ideas than the nauseating snobbery and hypo- 274 crisy that we have in the Section as it stands.
§ Mr. Robert Jenkins (Dulwich)
Would the hon. Gentleman extend that condemnation to the custom in this House of referring to Members as "honourable Gentlemen"?
§ Mr. Simmons
We all refer to each other as hon. Gentlemen. There is no class distinction, party distinction or rank distinction at all. In the eyes of Mr. Speaker, we all have equal rights, except that, if we are Privy Councillors, we have more than equal rights—a thing which many hon. Members have referred to in the past.
I come now to consider field punishment. I did a certain amount of work in attacking first field punishment. In my day, No. 1 field punishment in the Army was the most barbarous kind of punishment ever devised. In Egypt, I have seen men pegged out on the sand, by rope and tent pegs in the form of a cross, for no greater crime than having a dirty cap badge or losing a water bottle. I have seen men crucified to the gun wheel. In those days, on active service, such punishments were inflicted for the most trivial of offences. For men to be confined in those conditions under shell fire was nothing less than sheer murder.
I should like to know what in the Act modifies the old form of No. I field punishment. I exposed it on the public platform when I came out of the Army towards the end of the First World War, and I was sent to prison for three months for daring to do so. It is a thing very dear to my heart to wish that the Army today should be humanised to the fullest possible extent. The old barbaric form of No. 1 field punishment has gone. At least, I believe that to be so.
§ Mr. Simmons
Yes, I looked at that, but I found it rather ambiguous. I should like to have more detail about what this field punishment is. I will leave it there for the moment.
In Part III are the provisions relating to forfeiture of pay, and by Section 144 (1) it is provided thatNo forfeiture of the pay of an officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or 275 soldier of the regular forces shall be imposed unless authorised by this or some other Act, and no deduction from such pay shall be made unless so authorised or authorised by Royal Warrant.May we be told what other Act is contemplated? Here again, there is a case for a footnote or an appendix so that those who have only this Act when dealing with these matters can make the necessary reference.
Next, I come to barrack damages, another "King Charles's head" of mine. I am opposed to collective punishment, and barrack damages, in my opinion, are neither more nor less than a big swindle, because nobody knows what the cost of the damage is, it is arbitrarily assessed, and arbitrarily filched from the pay of the soldier. Could not barrack damages be done away with altogether? Surely, if the discipline of the corps is so bad that damage is done to barracks or to equipment, the blame rests not upon the soldiers but upon the lack of discipline exercised by those who are supposed to command them. If barrack damages are to be imposed, let them be imposed upon those who fail to maintain discipline rather than upon those who break it.
I hope that more hon. Members will devote their attention to the detail of the Act. We are tonight setting a precedent for the future in these annual discussions, and I consider that our annual discussion on the Army Act should deal with the provisions of the Act itself as they affect the ordinary serving soldier. I come now to Section 197 (2), which provides thatAny person who purchases or takes in pawn any naval, military or air-force decoration awarded to any member of Her Majesty's military forces…shall be guilty of an offence against this section unless he proves that at the time of the alleged offence the person to whom the decoration was awarded was dead or had ceased to be a member of those forces.I remember that at the end of the First World War there was a gentleman who became a Member of this House and who had a pawnbroking business. Not many months after the end of the war his place of business was full of soldiers' medals. They had been pawned. It is a sad commentary that soldiers have to pawn their medals, but if they want to pawn them why should they not be allowed to do so?
There was the case the other day of a grand old soldier who was a high-ranking officer in the Worcestershire 276 Regiment and who won the V.C. At the age of 83 he was appealing in the newspaper for £100 to pay his debts. A V.C. is intrinsically the least valuable of the medals the Army awards, but in sentiment and in real value it is the most valuable, if that old soldier wanted to pawn his V.C., why should not he have done so? It would have been a terrible wrench and would have broken his heart, but if he were facing penury, as he was, why should he be prevented from doing something to alleviate his distress? What is the reason for this Section in the Act? May we have an explanation?
I have never been before a court-martial, but I was very near to one once. I have no personal knowledge of them. I have no experience of the law, but I believe from what I have heard that the procedure has improved for the ordinary soldier.
I should like to say a word about the position of the conscientious objector. I have searched through the Act to find any reference to the conscientious objector. I remember that on Second Reading, when the Bill was introduced from the Front Bench, we were told that this would be dealt with administratively. Can the Minister give us some information about this? When he said that it would be dealt with administratively, he must have been referring to the Bill, but I cannot find any mention of it in the Act.
Technically, a conscientious objector is an enlisted man, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) knows. They enlist him and he is kept in a guard room. Technically, if we deal with enlisted men, then we also deal with conscientious objectors. I know that the conscientious objector is a nuisance to authority. That is what he intends to be, but the law is that he has the right to his conscientious objection and I hope that we can have some guidance from the Minister as to what Sections of the Act are applicable to the conscientious objector and how he will be dealt with under the Act.
§ Mr. Wigg
I know that the hon. Gentleman has sincere views about this matter. Perhaps I can help him. When the point was before the Select Committee we discussed what happened to the boy who joined the Army on a Regular 277 engagement and, whilst serving, developed conscientious objection. There was a move by hon. Members on this side of the House who thought on the same lines as my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) that there should be provision in the Act for such a man to go before a tribunal. When the Select Committee considered it, and when it was subsequently debated on the Floor of the House, it was ascertained that there had never been a case of a boy developing conscientious objection during his boy's service. The then Secretary of State for War, on behalf of the Government, gave an assurance that if, in the future, such a case should ever arise it would be dealt with administratively along the humane lines that my hon. Friend has suggested. No provision was made in the Act because no case had ever arisen.
§ Mr. Simmons
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that explanation. It still leaves the position that the ordinary conscientious objector I am not dealing with the man who has already enlisted as a Regular—is an enlisted man.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member. If this point is not in the Act, I do not see how he can pursue it very much further. I was not aware of this, but we have been told that it was not dealt with in the Act because there was an assurance that it would be dealt with administratively. If it is not in the Act I do not see how the hon. Member can say more than he has.
§ Mr. Simmons
But does not the administrative action stem from the Report of the Select Committee upon which the Act is founded? By giving an assurance in a debate that something would be done to deal with the question administratively, did not the Minister bring it within our debate? I realise that it is a difficult position. I suppose we could raise this matter when the Army Estimates are discussed, and I will leave it until then.
These annual debates upon the Army Act, 1955, are, in effect, a fairly good substitute for the old debates on the Army Annual Act. I am disappointed to see from the attendance that so few hon. Members are interested in the enlistment, recruitment, and terms of service and conditions of the men and women 278 in our Army and Air Force. I will not include the Navy, because the Navy has a more barbaric system. We owe our existence to the heroism and courage of the men who died in two world wars. It is a sad commentary upon our remembering them that when we discuss the conditions of service and the conditions of life of those who are their successors, so little interest is shown. I hope that in future annual debates on the Army Act hon. Members will take part in them in the interests of the serving Service men and women.
§ Mr. Wigg
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During your absence from the Chair I made a submission to Mr. Deputy-Speaker, who said that you had instructed him that any matter falling under the broad provisions of A. and Q. were in order. It seems to me that that Ruling should be given further consideration. I respectfully submit to you that if all matters that come under the heading of A. and Q. are in order we shall find ourselves discussing supplies of ammunition, bridging material, married quarters and so on.
It was my understanding that you gave that Ruling in order to exclude General Staff matters or foreign affairs. My submission to Mr. Deputy-Speaker arose from the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) was discussing transfers, or, in short, the amalgamation of units. In my submission, transfers between corps or between arms of the Service are obviously discussable because they are governed by Section 3 (4) of the Act, which provides thatwhere a soldier of the regular forces is transferred in times of peace against his will it can be done only by the authority of the Army Council.The amalgamation which my right hon. Friend had in mind was the amalgamation of infantry regiments inside the same corps. They were, therefore, outside the scope of the Act. I did not make this statement in any pedantic way and I certainly did not want to obstruct my right hon. Friend in any way. He continued with his speech. At the same time, it is very important that this point should be established, and I therefore winder whether you would be kind enough to give a Ruling either now, or perhaps at some later stage at your convenience.
279 A further submission which I wish to make is that another hon. Member discussed pay at some length. I did not interrupt him, but I submit to you that pay and the conditions of pay are dealt with by Royal Warrant, by the exercise of the Prerogative, and that, therefore, they are clearly out of order. Again, I have no wish to interfere with anyone's speech or to circumscribe the debate in any way, but it seems to me, for the reasons which I made clear when seeking your guidance earlier, that these points should be established.
§ Mr. Speaker
Perhaps I ought to say something about it. I was not in the Chair when the Ruling to which the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) refers was given and I wish in no sense to criticise the Ruling given by Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because these matters depend very much on how the point is put and how it is linked with something which is relevant. I therefore express no criticism of what Mr. Deputy-Speaker said.
Perhaps I should make it clear for myself, however, that when in an earlier Ruling I used the term "A. and Q." I used it as meaning to exclude those matters which pertain to the General Staff, so that the discussion should keep within the terms of the Act. I can imagine that there are many matters, perhaps of Q. in particular, which are not comprised in the Act, but I prefaced what I said by pointing out that the discussion had to be relevant to the Act before us. I think that that should prevent any misunderstanding in the future.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I shall make a very short speech tonight, because in my view the appropriate time to make a reasonably long speech on this subject is on the Army Estimates, when we can cover the ground fully and have the whole night at our disposal.
I want to refer only briefly to what was said by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) when he replied to my right hon. Friend's opening speech. I do not think that in his own heart he believes—if he does he is not fit to be sitting on the Front Bench—that one of Her Majesty's 280 Governments, I do not care which complexion, would quite deliberately do nothing about recruiting because they knew perfectly well, or thought they knew, that they would lose the next Election and that in this way they could embarrass the new Government.
The hon. Member's remark was the sort which I should have expected to hear in a private school debate, not in the House of Commons. I do not think that the hon. Member does himself or these debates any good by making that sort of crack. We have had a reputation in Service debates in the House of talking constructively and positively and without party rancour, and I hope that we shall not hear that kind of remark again.
On the other hand, I could not agree more with the hon. Member about his comment on the way in which some officers carry out their duties. The situation is the same in every walk of life. We cannot expect every officer to be a first-class officer. There are some who may not be quite as intelligent as others and who may lack imagination. Because they are without imagination and not intelligent, they are in the type of job which is performed by the officer to whom the hon. Member referred. He is probably not competent to be anywhere else.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House want us to be very careful that we do nothing to reduce the standard of men who are coming forward to be officers. We want the very finest people we can get, and I very much regret to say that in these days the right type of leader is not coming forward for Her Majesty's commission. I have inside information about this which I will give in the Estimates debate, but I should not be allowed to talk very much longer about it now.
The topic about which I want to speak has dominated practically the whole debate—and quite rightly, because it is the burning topic of the moment. It is that of trying to get an adequate number of recruits to carry out the pledge which the Government gave to the House in the White Paper. I am in sympathy with and to a very large extent in agreement with the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg); as things are at the moment, I cannot see how we can do it in the time available. As my right hon. Friend the 281 Minister of Defence stated quite candidly at the time, there is the saving paragraph in the White Paper that if, by any chance, we did not succeed in getting enough recruits, there would have to be some form of conscription or, as I prefer to call it, National Service.
Hon. Members opposite have been screaming for year after year that there was only one way to end National Service, and that was by taking the plunge. They said that it was useless to try to work out schemes beforehand and to put the abolition of National Service off indefinitely. There was only one way to do it, they said, and that was to take the plunge and to see whether it could possibly be made to work; and, if not, we could have a saving clause that some form of selective service might eventually be necessary.
If I may be quite honest with my right hon. Friend, I am not very happy about the Committee which he mentioned. Here I am very much in sympathy with what hon. Members have said today. Heaven knows, we all know the answers, do we not? I think that the series of articles by Majdalany were excellent, but even he told us all the things that we already knew, or most of which we already knew. If its terms of reference are no wider than this, I do not believe that this Committee will produce anything which we did not know before.
Publicity is one aspect which is weak. There has been a prejudice against the Army ever since the days of Cromwell, but there has never been a prejudice against the Navy, which can always get all the recruits it wants. One of the reasons is that life in the Navy is very exciting and is the greatest fun. That is what attracts people as much as anything else. Much nonsense has been spoken about discipline being a deterrent. That is absolute rubbish. There could not be greater discipline than in the Marine Commandos, the Paratroops and the Brigade of Guards, and they have the highest recruiting figures in the Army.
What the young man wants is the promise of excitement and of something thrilling. That is why young men join the Paratroops and the Marine Commandos. The ordinary, dreary battalion training on the old basis in a line regiment is enough to put anybody off. We 282 need a little more imagination and a little more of the Boy Scout stuff, if hon. Members like; we need more rubbing stones together to make a fire—or is it sticks?
That is the basis, and we must give it all the publicity that we can. These men need outdoor excitement such as mountaineering, sailing and tough exercises. Those are the things which these men like, not the ordinary exercises on one of the plains of this country, with blank ammunition. Furthermore such training will not be a waste of time, because in eight cases out of ten that is precisely what they will be called upon to do in the police warfare, or the small wars, whatever we call it. In my view, it is extremely unlikely, provided that we keep our safeguards, that the deterrrent is still there, and that we are not frightened of telling the enemy of what the deterrent is, that there will be a major war, fought with major arms. These men have to be taught through a different kind of training, through exciting training—
§ Mr. Speaker
To prevent any misunderstanding, I ought to point out that I do not think that the prospect of a future war comes within the Act, and I hope that the debate will not diverge into these rather abstruse matters of foreign politics, and so on.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I am very sorry, Mr. Speaker, that I was a little carried away. I was trying to advocate a different system of training, but I will leave that for now.
What is entirely about recruiting is this other battle which I hope my right hon. Friend will continue to wage against the maintenance of the differential between the Civil Service and the fighting Services in such things as pay, allowances and amenities. It is a battle which has been going on for years. It is the root of half the evil of the difficulty of recruiting for the Army that whenever soldiers get a rise in pay there is a comparable rise among the civil servants. It is because of that that the Treasury refuses suggestions for rises in pay or allowances or for improvement in amenities in the fighting Services. That differential has to be broken down if we are to get recruits.
There is no comparison whatever between a man who is prepared to leave 283 his home and to be sent to any part of the world at a moment's notice and to be messed about—incommoded—and a fellow who locks his office every day at a specific time and goes to his own home and his own family. It is monstrous to compare them. We shall not get recruits unless this differential is broken down.
One part, in particular, of this battle that I hope my right hon. Friend will succeed in winning very soon is the provision of assistance to soldiers in educating their children. One of the greatest difficulties in recruiting lies in the problem of the education of the soldiers' children. We have won half this part of the battle by getting this provision given to troops overseas. Now the other half must be won if we are to get recruits. We must extend that provision to the soldiers at home.
A little publicity on the amount of leave a soldier has would do much to help recruiting. It is not just the fortnight's leave that an ordinary civilian gets, and I believe that, were it much more widely kown, the amount of leave a soldier has would in itself be an incentive to recruiting.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons), I am greatly surprised that so few hon. Members have come to discuss the problems arising in this debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), for example, has referred to the effect on Army discipline of the action of the War Office in merging the Highland Light Infantry and the Royal Scots Fusiliers. In view of the great publicity which was given to this controversy in the early part of this year, I should have thought that the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Walter Elliot), who led a deputation to the Prime Minister about it, and the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore), who took a prominent part in the campaign of criticism in that controversy, would have been present tonight to put their criticisms on the Floor of the House against the Government.
During that controversy I suggested that if the hon. and gallant Members who were critical of the Government put down a Motion of censure of the 284 Government for their action in merging those two regiments it would be an appropriate Parliamentary way of attracting attention to the matter. I said, moreover, that if the occasion arose to press such a Motion of censure upon the Government for merging those two regiments I should have, reluctantly, to support the Government. However, after all that hullabaloo about the tremendous disaster would would occur if the Highland Light Infantry were merged with the Royal Scots Fusiliers those hon. and gallant Members are not here. They are—
§ Mr. Hughes
—deserters, and I am the only one of those disputants who has attended the debate in order to discuss the special problems of the Highland Light Infantry and of the regiment which is recruited in my constituency.
I must say, much as the War Office may regret it, that I am on the side of the War Office, and I wish to dissociate myself from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw, who blew his trumpet and then deserted the battlefield, because he seemed to argue that the discipline of the Army, as affected by the Act before us, has been affected also by this controversy in Scotland.
I represent the area in which the Royal Scots Fusiliers are recruited. I take a great deal of interest in the public problems which arise in my constituency, and when I received a green card from a general who wished to lobby me about the fate of my regiment—although I thought he was optimistic in lobbying me—I listened very carefully to the argument of how the morale of the Army would be affected if the H.L.I. were merged with the R.S.F. In spite of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw said about this having an effect on recruiting for the Army, I wish to give my personal testimony that during the whole of this controversy affecting Ayrshire I did not receive one communication at all from Ayrshire. The only person who made any representation at all to me was that optimistic general who wrote to me from Windsor Castle. So I suggest that my right hon. Friend's argument that the War Office did something to damage recruiting and to demoralise the Army in West Scotland is absolutely without foundation.
285 The Secretary of State for War, or the Under-Secretary of State, will remember that I wished to find out what were the facts and during the summer I put to them a written Question about the number of soldiers who were being recruited into these two Scottish regiments. The figures show that in the whole of Scotland there were not sufficient recruits for all the different regiments to form one decent regiment. I do not wish to burden the House with a recital of the figures for the different Scottish regiments. However, to show that my part of the country was not more backward than others, I will say that in the first nine months of this year the total number recruited to the Royal Scotch Fusiliers—
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
—was 59. I will give figures for the last three months for which figures were available. I was told by the War Office that the number of recruits attracted into the Royal Scotch Fusiliers—
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Yes, but it does not make any difference to the number of recruits whether I say they are Scots, Scotch or Scottish Fusiliers.
The number who joined in the three months ending October was 19.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw talked about huge demonstrations and a great display of public feeling in Glasgow for the Highland Light Infantry. He seemed to indicate that the War Office was at fault. But the figure, for the three months ending October, of the number of people who joined the Highland Light Infantry, even after these enormous sentimental demonstrations, was only 15 out of the population of the City of Glasgow, which I believe is fewer than the number of hon. Members who are taking an interest in the future of the Army at the present moment. That puts the matter in perspective.
If only 15 young recruits joined the Army from Glasgow, the second city of the Empire with a population of about one million, and only 19 joined from the normally pugnacious population of Ayrshire, there is something to be said from the point of view of the War Office for merging the two. Even if the and the R.S.F. were merged, according to the 286 present rate of recruitment based on this three-month figure they would not have a sufficient number of recruits to fill a decent bus, let alone a regiment.
§ Mr. H. Hynd
Is it not possible that the reason for the small number of recruits is that, under the reorganisation, they would not be allowed to wear the kilt?
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Member has a point there, but he will find that the number of recruits into those regiments which are allowed to wear the kilt was even fewer. I do not think that the wearing of the kilt makes the slightest difference. My hon. Friend may think that putting the whole of the British Army in kilts will bring recruits, but I do not believe that the Secretary of State for War can solve his problem in that way.
I have every sympathy with the War Office because I believe that it is trying to face a very difficult problem to which there is no answer. The young recruits are not joining the Army today because the young men whom the Minister wishes to attract are simply realising that there are better opportunities in industry.
Hon. and gallant Members on the Front Bench opposite have done their level best to attract recruits into the Army and they have failed. If there were a transposition of Front Benches and the Opposition became the Government tomorrow it would have the same problem to face, and I am quite sure that the results would be the same. I do not believe that spokesmen on the Opposition Front Bench have any ready-made solution to the problem of attracting recruits into the British Army. There is no such solution. It is no use the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) advising the Government to spend more on publicity. They are already spending a considerable sum. In order to attract recruits into the Army the Government have spent £50,000 in Scotland alone in the first nine months of this year.
§ Mr. Speaker
This argument would be more appropriate on Supply. There is nothing about publicity in the Act. There are certain provisions in it about recruitment, and the hon. Member ought to relate what he has to say to those provisions.
§ Mr. Hughes
I apologise, Mr. Speaker, but I think that in your absence from the Chair every speaker has been dealing with the recruiting problem. If I have erred, I apologise, but I have only been following the lines of the debate. I will merely add that I should like to know how much the £50,000 spent on publicity in Scotland worked out per recruit.
The argument has been advanced in the debate that if the recruits are not obtained the Government will have to resort to conscription and the continuation of National Service. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) suggested, as he has suggested before, that there should be some kind of coalition between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party in order to continue conscription when the recruiting campaigns break down. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley in some things, but I regard this as a rather sinister suggestion because I do not believe that the people of this country want a continuation of National Service. I believe that any attempt by the two Front Benches to co-operate in order to enforce National Service would be bitterly resented.
I do not know whether I am in order when I refer to the point made by one hon. Member about the committee formed to assist the Government in recruiting, a committee on which the editor of the Daily Mirror will be a distinguished member, but I do not think that this committee will solve the problem because I do not believe that publicity is the answer. In an age of full employment, when the Government do not know what soldiers and the Army are for, and when decent opportunities are provided in civil life for ordinary men and women to obtain useful and intelligent occupation, I do not believe that we shall have recruits for the Army. I believe that we shall have to adapt our military and foreign policies to that plain, unmistakable fact.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
I should like to add my words to those words of regret already spoken about the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). It is some time since I ventured to address remarks to the House on Army matters 288 and, indeed, I do not think that I should be doing so today were it not for my right hon. Friend's absence.
This debate was introduced by a genial speech by the Secretary of State for War, a speech to the subject matter of which nobody since has paid any attention at all. We moved off briskly, under the leadership of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh), to discuss what was really the main issue in our minds—the question of recruiting and its relation to future national policy about National Service. I do not propose to detain the House very long, because the Under-Secretary of State for War, who is to follow me has quite a large assignment. He has to answer the points made about this main issue and the numerous points of detail about the Act which have been made in the debate, notably by my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons).
What I have to say will be concerned mainly with this main issue, and on this matter it is well to remember that the Government are bound to the statement in the Defence White Paper in which they say that they are planning on a basis that there will be no further call-up under the National Service Acts after the end of 1960. Nothing that has been said by Ministers, either before or since the publication of that White Paper, has in any way weakened the validity of the commitments into which they entered there. Indeed, the remarks made on television a little time ago by the Minister of Defence if anything strengthened and deepened the nature of the Government's commitment to see that there is no further call-up under the National Service Acts after the end of 1960.
It is clear that a commitment of that kind makes a great demand on the Government and the nation in the field of Regular recruiting. The Government are committed. The nation as a whole, in a sense, is committed to the view that it is possible, by Regular recruiting, to obtain a sufficient number of people to enable this policy to be carried out. The Government have fixed the end of 1960, which would mean that by the end of 1962 there would be no more National Service men in the Army. That is roughly a period of five years from the time that the Government made the announcement.
289 We on this side of the House suggested a period of four years, but I do not think that the difference is sufficiently large to be worth much argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said that it could not be done in four years or anything like it, but that it is a ten-year job. The point that I want to make is that, whatever view we take on this question of how long it takes from the moment we resolve to get rid of National Service to the time when the last National Service man is out of the Army—whether it is four, five or ten years—what matters is the starting point.
We are no further in starting on this problem now than we were last April. When we on this side of the House suggested that the job could be clone probably in a period of four years, we were assuming that we started it at once, and vigorously, with an announcement of the major positive measures it was proposed to take to stimulate recruiting. On most of the major issues that have to be settled if recruiting is to be stimulated, we are no further forward than we were when the Government issued the Defence White Paper last April. That is why I say that, even more important than the question, "How long will the job take?", is the question "When are the Government going to start?"
What are some of the decisions which have to be taken if one wants to stimulate recruiting to the point where it will be possible to dispense with conscription? I think that there is by now, not only in the House but in the country at large, fairly general agreement on the answer to that question. The factors which are mentioned over and over again in the argument are: pay, accommodation, nature of Army discipline—and I hope to comment on the interesting remarks made on that point by the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior Palmer)—the possibilities of a reasonable family life for the Service man, his opportunities for promotion and his position when he returns to civilian life.
I think that everyone is agreed that those are the major matters which help to determine whether a man will join the Army or whether, having joined it, he will stay in it for any considerable period of time. The question I am obliged to ask is, "Can the Committee of very eminent persons, whom the Gov- 290 ernment have appointed, really tell us any more about any of these factors than we know already?" There is already room for argument on the comparative importance of those various factors, but I doubt very much whether argument of that kind, which after all is a matter of judgment and opinion, will ever be resolved by the report of a Committee, however eminent. We are still not at all clear—perhaps the Under-Secretary will be able to help us on this—what is expected from the report of this Committee. In what way will it enlarge knowledge and in what way will it make it easier, after six precious months have gone by and its Report is issued, for the Government to get the necessary recruits?
I would say a word on the various factors which I have mentioned. On the question of pay there is one point which we want to get cleared up. We understand that there is to apply to a number of Government Departments what some people have called the Thorneycroft formula, that if we pay more to the individual Government employee we must keep the total amount of money we spend at the same level by some other kind of economy, possibly by employing fewer persons.
Does that principle apply to the Service Departments or not? If it does, it puts them in a very odd position. Presumably, if they are to pay more to their employees it is for the purpose of getting more employees, and if the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells them that the condition of paying more is that they must have fewer employees, the whole object of the exercise is defeated. We want to know where exactly this wrangle between the Chancellor and the Service Departments stands at the present time. I do not propose to pursue the question of exactly how important pay is in comparison with the other factors. I am myself fairly sure that it is a major factor in getting people to join in the first place.
On accommodation, it ought really to be possible, with the diminishing total number of people in the Army, to make very considerable improvements. I remember that during my own years at the War Office the number of men that we had to maintain under arms made it extremely difficult to accommodate all of them, let alone accommodate them in reasonable quarters. The Government 291 have now a much more manageable problem on their hands. I hope that we shall not have, as there used to be some years ago, ridicule of any attempt to make the quarters in which soldiers live more agreeable. There is no reason at all why a man who has to put up with all the other very serious drawbacks in a military life should be required to live in accommodation which is not up to the civilised standard which people normally expect in this country.
On the question of discipline, I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing that it would be quite absurd to suggest that we are more likely to get people into the Army by suggesting that there would not be any discipline in it. There is a point, however, to which, I am sure, more attention ought to be given. There will be an increasing demand from the kind of men we want in the Army that the discipline to which they are subjected shall be a discipline that makes sense.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North, speaking first in the debate from this side of the House, quoted one instance of men being badgered about over something that was of trivial importance. Contrast that with something which we read in the Press a little while ago when, apparently, in one unit, for two or three weeks before men were due to go out of the Army, because their departure from the Army was approaching, no one worried particularly about what hour they got up in the morning. That is an error in the reverse direction—failure to bother about something that is important. It is vital to see that discipline is strict on matters that are important and not to waste time and energy on badgering men to do things which may have had some importance or connection with morale half a century ago but which really have no relation to the way in which people think and behave at the present day.
The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing spoke of the need for excitement in Army life and instanced a kind of "Outward Bound" training. I think that that might well have its appeal for the very young man. I am not so sure that it is as relevant to the man of 30, the skilled engineer or skilled craftsman in some other field, who is making up his mind whether to continue in the Army 292 or not. I doubt whether that kind of approach is so appropriate to him. I think that what he is concerned with is, "Does my life in the Army give me a reasonable opportunity to use the skill I have and which in civilian life certainly would be used to the full?" Different things appeal, of course, to soldiers of different ages. The common factor is whether it appears to him that what he is doing makes sense. In view of the general increase in the level of public education and general knowledge, that question is asked far more emphatically and more shrewdly today than it was fifty years ago.
I had prepared, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in case there should be rather rigid Rulings from the Chair as to what was and what was not in order, a sheet of paper with numbered Sections of the Army Act, on which pegs I could hang all the points I wished to raise. There is a Section about maintenance orders on which I proposed, if necessary, to hang a reference to family life in the Army. However, that degree of ingenuity, owing to the kindness of the Chair, has not been required.
There again, with decreasing numbers it ought to be possible completely to dispose of the problem of married quarters, and to give to the soldier almost as much assurance of united family life as the civilian enjoys. Of course, I include in united family life the question of proper provision for the education of children. We have made some progress on that matter, but I am sure that something further could be done.
I will mention also promotion. It is an essential part of the scheme of our Army that there are two promotion ladders and that, broadly speaking, one group of men move up from private or craftsman to N.C.O. and to warrant officer, and that another group of men enter the Army and become, at quite a youthful age, commissioned officers. There is also some provision for men who have gone up the first ladder to move on to the second in certain circumstances. I wonder whether that provision is adequate? Ought we to consider being able to offer the men who join the Army in the ranks extended opportunity for promotion, such as there is in many other professions, possibly right to the top?
I am not suggesting that we should eliminate completely the two-ladder 293 system. If we wanted to argue that, it would be a much larger question, and I do not know the answer. I assume that we should keep our present set-up in the main, but I think that opportunities for a man to work up through non-commissioned and warrant ranks to commissioned rank might be expanded with advantage.
Then there is the question of return to civilian life. It is a hard thing for a man, having taken up a profession which, even if he serves in it as long as any man, he will still leave when in the prime of life, if he has to go out with very little certainty of what is to be his occupation or even where he is to live. Will not the Secretary of State get at his colleague the Minister of Housing and Local Government again about this matter? That Ministry issued a circular to local authorities on the question of the housing of ex-Regular members of the forces. That circular was of no effect whatsoever. It was in the nature of the case that it should not be effective because it was nothing more than a pious exhortation.
It should not be too difficult a problem because, after all, the numbers are very small compared with the total numbers of persons on housing registers throughout the country. If we are told that public opinion will not tolerate some degree of preference for ex-Regulars, then we must ask the nation what they do want in the way of an Army. Will they say. "We will not have National Service and we will not help in any way to make the life of the Regular soldier attractive"?
If we can get the right answers to these questions, we shall then have to convince the potential recruits that we have got the right answers. I do not know how long it is since the War Office overhauled its machinery for recruiting. When did it last consider where the recruiting offices are sited; what methods are used to attract men; and how its efforts are related to those of the other Services? It is some time ago, and I do not charge it against this Government, that I passed by a large hoarding with many advertisements on it. At one end was an advertisement saying. "Join the Regular Army" and giving the reasons for doing so, while at the other end was a large poster saying, "You will do better in the Navy".
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I saw a hoarding recently on one side of which was a recruiting poster which read, "Join the Army", and on the other side, I read, "Trust the Lord Jesus Christ and he saved".
§ Mr. Stewart
Yes, but I do not think we can blame that on the Government.
In conclusion, the constitutional purpose of this debate is to give the executive, the Government, the opportunity to justify before the legislature their claim to be allowed to have a standing Army. The original atmosphere in which the predecessor of this procedure was created was one in which the Government would be inclined to say, "We need an Army for the defence of the country", and the legislature would be inclined to say, "Yes, but how do we know that you will not use an Army in order to deprive the country of its liberties and use it as an instrument of tyranny?"
It is the job of the Government to show that an Army is necessary to defend the country. Incidentally, if I may say so with respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, this was why I was a little puzzled by Mr. Speaker's Ruling, that it would not be in order to discuss the possibility of a future war in this debate. I say that because, historically, if there had never been any fear of a war, Parliament would never have been persuaded that there was any need for an Army. That is the reason why we call the Army Office the War Office, because nobody supposed that an Army was wanted unless there was the fear of war.
Today we do not seriously suspect that the Government will use the Army to deprive the country of its liberties. We may think that the Government are proposing to do that by other means—by deception, by propaganda, by the ringing of bells and so on—but we do not expect them to do it by the actual use of the Army; so the modern form of the argument is that the Government have to show that the Army is necessary for the defence of the country. The legislature has to ask, "Are you sure that you are not merely keeping on an Army out of habit or for prestige, or because you have not been able to think of the proper modern form of our defences?"
295 The task of the Government, therefore, is to show that the Army makes sense from the nation's point of view, and from the point of view of the young men whom they hope will serve in it.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Julian Amery)
I would like, at the outset, to say that I share the regret of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) at the absence from our debate of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). I am sure, however, that when the right hon. Gentleman reads his hon. Friend's speech in HANSARD, he will feel that his party's view has been put admirably, if I may say so without presumption.
The greater part of our debate has been devoted to recruiting, and it is on that subject that I shall make most of my remarks. But, as the hon. Gentleman has reminded us, this occasion has a significance beyond the immediate and burning problems which we have been discussing, for it has raised in a new form the principle—fundamental in our constitutional theory—of Parliamentary control of the Armed Forces.
I think that Macaulay held the view that the question of who should control the Army was the one issue between the Crown and Parliament which could not be resolved. Certainly, if we look at other countries we find there is little doubt that where the Armed Forces have not been ultimately controlled by the elected representatives of the people, their free institutions have had a very short run.
The first question, therefore, which we must ask is this: has the new Act adequately and fully safeguarded the principle of Parliamentary control? I think that we can say without hesitation that there has been no gag on the width of this debate. Indeed, a number of hon. Members have suggested that, if anything, it has gone too wide.
There remains the question of future procedure for amending the Act, if amendment should prove necessary. The hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) asked about that procedure. As my right hon. Friend made clear, the Government have undertaken that a Select Committee will be set up when the five-year period has elapsed. This Committee 296 will consider the form of the new Act which will supersede this one. Presumably, in the discussion of that new Measure, there will also be opportunities for hon. Members to put forward Amendments.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head), when Secretary of State for War, explained the difficulty of one Parliament trying to bind another. That is why we cannot write provisions into the Bill setting up the Select Committee and making specific provision for the future.
§ Mr. Simmons
if one Parliament cannot commit another, neither can the Government commit their successors, so what is the point of saying that a Select Committee will be set up in five years?
§ Mr. Amery
It is a question of good will between both sides of the House. I have no doubt that the procedure will prove to be adequate. The hon. Member for Brierley Hill spoke about the need for Amendments in future. In fact a new Act will emerge. So it will be a question not so much of inserting Amendments as of producing an entirely different Act, although the greater part of it will be on very much the same lines as the present one.
The purpose of the Act—the hon. Member for Fulham referred to this matter—is to enlist and maintain an Army, that is to say, a disciplined body of men trained to fight on land, The Act sets out the contract defining the rights and duties of the soldier in so far as they differ from the general law.
With the exception of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) it is generally accepted that we need to have land forces. I know that the hon. Member doubts it. I can only say to him what King William III said a long time ago, in 1697:The circumstances of our affairs abroad are such that I think myself obliged to tell you…that England cannot be safe without a land force; and I hope we shall not give those that mean us ill the opportunity of effecting under the notion of a peace that which they could not bring to pass by a war.That is a fairly sound proposition today.
The question we now have to answer is how far the instrument is sound. I shall consider it under its main heads, dealing first, with enlistment and terms of service, and so with the main issue of recruiting.
297 The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) and the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) took my right hon. Friend to task for having emphasised the historical perspective of the debate and for not having said more about recruitment and other immediate problems of the Army. From what they said, I suggest that their memories are short and I remind them that it is less than a month since, in winding up the defence debate, my right hon. Friend dealt in very great detail with the problems which are confronting the Army today, problems which remain with us, but which have not changed so very much in the four weeks which have elapsed since that debate.
The hon. Member for Islington, North expressed himself in very pessimistic and almost violent terms about what he called the appalling delay and dither in the way we were setting about our task. He and the hon. Member for Fulham and others who have echoed that criticism forget the immense job which the Government undertook in the course of the summer—the working out of detailed plans for reducing the Armed Forces to about 50 per cent. of their present strength while meeting our commitments at the same time, the reorganisation of the British infantry, the provision for redundant officers and N.C.O.s, the whole question of civilian establishments. This has been a huge task which has been tackled with what the public at large has regarded as a great measure of success. It is very difficult against that immediate background of reductions to make a dramatic advance in positive recruitment, but I have no doubt that the groundwork has been well and truly done.
The recruiting figures are not as grim as the hon. Member for Fulham and the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) suggested. It is very difficult to make a comparison, because the six-year engagement was introduced only just over two months ago. We have only just got the figures for October and it is not easy to assess their exact significance. They inevitably contain a certain hangover from men enlisted in September, and, in any case, October is traditionally a bad month for recruitment.
Nevertheless, comparing like with like, the figures for long-service Regular 298 recruits for October, 1957, are an improvement upon those of October, 1956.
§ Mr. Amery
I do not have the breakdown geographically.
There was an improvement in October, 1957, over October, 1956, in terms of long-service Regulars, by which I mean six-year men and nine-year men. I suppose that to bring October, 1956, into line with October, 1957, we must take into account about 10 per cent. of the three-year men. If anything, my impression is that the figures since then have been improving slightly, but I cannot give any details to the House, so I do not want to make too much of the point.
§ Mr. Amery
Perhaps the hon. Member would like to do the sum. In October, 1957, there were 489 six-year men and 156 nine-year men. In October, 1956, there were 105 six-year men and 193 nine-year men. One also has to make some allowance, to bring the figures into line, for the three-year men who might be disguised long-term men. Even so, that does not bring the total for long service for 1956 up to the total for 1957. If the hon. Member would like to consider the matter in greater detail, perhaps we could discuss it later.
The overall picture is not one which allows us any possible grounds for complacency. But it is not as grim as saying we will not get an Army of more than 70,000 men. In loose terms, our estimate 299 is that, even on present levels of recruitment, we should get substantially more than 100,000. Of course, the longer the upward thrust is delayed the higher and quicker it will have to go to reach the target in time.
The Government are not complacent about the recruitment problem. We are determined to make every effort to secure an all-Regular Army of 165,000. We believe that the job can be done. But, equally, we have made it perfectly plain that if we fail, paragraph 48 of the White Paper will come into effect. That makes the position unmistakably clear.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
Can the hon. Member say whether, on present evidence, he sees any reason to modify what the Government said in the Defence White Paper?
§ Mr. Amery
It is far too early for me to try to look into the crystal and say exactly what will happen. I do say that we are not complacent. We shall make every effort, and we believe that the job can be done.
The question is: how do we improve the position, which, as I say, is not satisfactory at present? There are two sides to a recruiting drive. There is, first, organisation, which includes propaganda and, second, the actual positive inducements which can be put before the potential recruit. I want to say a word about the organisation which exists at the moment. This may be useful as background information for future thinking.
The staff which undertakes the recruiting consists at present of 107 officers and 274 non-commissioned officers. Some of these are retired officers and others active, and the same is true of the N.C.O.s. We are having a considerable overhaul of the recruiting organisation. Active consideration is being given to new offices, to a new look to existing offices, and to instituting mobile offices. In each command we have two officers who serve in what we call the advisory service to youth. They receive excellent co-operation from youth employment offices, from most directors of education and from many education authorities. I think that the success of their work is borne out by the very good figures for boys' recruitment. We have also for some time 300 past had mobile exhibition trailers which exhibit the merits of different corps in rural areas, and our plan is to extend this service in the future.
In each command we have appointed expert consultants in exhibitions, office window displays, and so on, while recruiting officers and N.C.O.s are given salesmanship courses. This year, four new films showing the merits of the Army have been produced, and we have also organised visits to Army boys' schools by headmasters, local education authorities and boys themselves. This does not by any means exhaust the list of items of action on the organisational side. But it may give the House some idea of what is being done, and may dissipate some of the criticisms that the War Office does nothing to meet this problem.
But the great question remains—the problem of inducements, upon which most of the debate has turned. There are, first, the material inducements. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence announced improvements in the ration scales earlier this year, and the House will no doubt have seen from the newspapers the improvements in quality which we are trying to bring about. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend announced the correction of certain anomalies, which marks the first step in securing more justice for the soldier.
The whole problem of pay and allowances has been discussed at some length by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Islington, North tried to draw me upon the subject by suggesting different hypothetical courses which might be considered by the Government at the moment. I would only say to him nowSufficient to the day is the evil thereof.I cannot be drawn into anticipating what will be considered reasonable by the Government on this point.
On the subject of accommodation my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has always given the highest priority to improving the accommodation of the soldier. I think that the House knows the position with regard to married quarters. Over 11,000 have been built since the war and over 2,000 modernised. During the last twelve months 876 have been built. There are 62,000 families 301 who are entitled to married quarters, but about 14,000 of those are still without them. The hon. Member for Fulham suggested that with the run-down of the Army we should be able to ease the married quarters situation to some extent. I do not know how far this will be so, because married quarters are almost exclusively occupied by the Regular part of the Army. So the run-down, which mostly bears upon the conscript element, will not ease the position all that much. The question of dress and uniform is also under consideration, as the House knows.
Just as important as the material inducements are what might be called the psychological or moral inducements, the interest in adventure, whether it be with technical weapons or through travel abroad, and the question of ambition, to which both the hon. Member for Islington, North and the hon. Member for Fulham referred. They dwelt upon the subject of promotion from the other ranks. The Regular Commissions Board already singles out almost every able young man who goes into the Army as another rank, catches him young and gets him transferred to the officer net.
I think that hon. Members have underestimated the importance of idealism in this matter. When they take on a job, young men, particularly at that age, think a good deal, not only of material inducements and attractive considerations, but, also, whether the job is worthwhile.
§ Mr. Amery
I am not at all sure that this idealism will not be one of the inducements that will make them join. It is a very striking thing that in periods of danger, like Munich and Korea, young men flocked into the Army. Hon. Members who hold a different opinion in these matters should be careful not to pour scorn on the loyalties which make young men join up.
§ Mr. George Craddock (Bradford, South)
The hon. Member has touched upon the question of pay. Cannot he give us a specific statement? How can we reasonably expect young men to engage for a long period of years for 30s. or 35s. a week? I do not think that any hon. Member would do that. How, therefore, can we expect these young people to do 302 so? If we declared that it was our intention to treat these young men as skilled workers in industry we should probably have more people rallying round to join the Army, but they will not join for 30s. or 35s. a week.
§ Mr. Amery
If the hon. Member has been carefully following the evolution of the Army reorganisation over the last few months he will have seen that the Minister of Defence has upon more than one occasion—yesterday was the latest—announced that the whole question of pay is under review. The hon. Member will, therefore, appreciate that it would be wrong for me to try to anticipate what the conclusion of that review will be.
It is very difficult to assess the relative importance of these different factors to each other. Our hope is that the Committee under Sir James Grigg will help to define the order of priorities. Meanwhile, the War Office is making a good deal of research into the matter. The hon. Member for Islington, North said that we could get more information by going round the units. That is exactly what we do. We do not just sit in the office. The War Office has been conducting public opinion polls for some time, both directly, among serving soldiers, and indirectly, among young civilians, their parents, girl friends and their school masters, who know something about them.
Some of the most modern techniques of public opinion survey are being used, as they have been used before, in 1954 in Germany, in connection with the three-year engagement. On the whole, the information which has been elicited has proved remarkably accurate.
§ Mr. Wigg
I have now done the sum that the Minister set me. I hope he is satisfied with the result, because if he bases his Army on the recruiting figures published today, which he finds so satisfactory—and this month will 303 certainly be better than the succeeding months—he will have an Army of 52,000 when National Service ends, to which can be added the bonus of 12,000 men under the three-year engagement, so he will have an Army of 64,000. I hope that he will be satisfied with it.
§ Mr. Amery
I would ask the hon. Member not to say that I find the figures most satisfactory. On several occasions I have said that I do not—but I do not find them quite as unsatisfactory as he does. I do not agree with the conclusion which the hon. Member has drawn.
The hon. Member for Brierley Hill referred to conscientious objectors. The question of boys who develop conscientious objection scruples after enlistment in boys' units was dealt with on my behalf by the hon. Member for Dudley. Soldiers who develop conscientious objection scruples after enlistment in the ordinary way have the right to go before a tribunal under an Army Council Instruction. The great majority of conscientious objectors never come to the Army. Their cases are dealt with by the Ministry of Labour and National Service.
The hon. Member asked about transferring from corps to corps. This can be done with the approval of the Army Council, and is done only on grounds of real necessity. Conditions of service may be changed, but there is no question of a longer term of service being imposed.
§ Mr. Amery
I do not think that it comes to this House, but the matter is subject to the ordinary procedure at Question Time.
The hon. Member for Brierley Hill asked whether soldiers had the right to affirm instead of swearing an oath. Section 225 (1) safeguards that matter and will, I am sure, give him satisfaction. He raised some objection to the phrase, "officer and gentleman" and thought that it revealed class-consciousness. I think it does not. It is the fact that "officer" and "gentleman" are written in separately, suggesting that an officer is not necessarily a gentleman. I think it was in a scene from an Oscar Wilde play that 304 the butler announces, "Sir, there is an officer and a gentleman downstairs." The master of the house replied, "Show them both in."
§ Mr. Simmons
I do not think that that passes muster. "Officer and gentleman" mean one and the same person in the Section to which I was referring and I do not know why we cannot say "soldier and gentleman" as well.
§ Mr. Amery
All that is meant by what is said in the Act—as I think the hon. Member will agree upon reflection—is that if an officer is entrusted with the responsibility of authority over men, he must not only be technically qualified, but have the qualities of a gentleman as well. The hon. Member also referred to No. 1 field punishment. There is nothing ambiguous about paragraph 73, as he will find if he reads it carefully, and he need have no fear that any of the punishments to which he referred can be imposed under the present Act.
The hon. Member for Islington, North told us that he thought the "credit side" of the Act, the good side, was outweighed by unfortunate incidents to which reference was made in the Press from time to time. He talked a lot about "bull". The Army Act is a code of discipline, that is to say, it lists certain "do's" and "dont's". But no code can cover everything and a great deal of discretion must, in the nature of things, be left to commanding officers, officers and non-commissioned officers. Through the years the majority of these officers and N.C.O.s have been shown to be thoroughly responsible individuals.
We all agree about the importance of smartness and the maintenance of high standards. But we in the War Office recognise as well as anybody else that sometimes this can be carried to excess. How, then, do we use our influence and authority to prevent "bull"? An Army Council letter, written on 17th February, 1956, gives guidance to units on this subject. The key of the matter is really man management and it may be of some reassurance to the House to know that at Sandhurst twice as many periods on man management are given to officer cadets as before, and similar courses have been introduced for N.C.O.s.
305 Since this was done the number of complaints about "bull" have dropped. We are always on the watch, however, and there are a good many safeguards. There is the supervision of the War Office, the good sense of officers and N.C.O.s, public opinion and, though I do not wish to add to my already fairly large correspondence, there is always the possibility of intervention by hon. Members of this House.
Referring to Section 44 (1), the hon. Member for Brierley Hill asked what was intended by the words "or other Act". This refers to the Income Tax Act, 1943, the National Insurance Act, 1946, and the Bankruptcy Act, 1914.
By and large, it will be found that our provisions have been sound, and steps taken to make them known have received the commendation of the hon. Member for Dudley. The manual of Military Law, Part II, is being drafted on very much the lines suggested by the hon. Member. The assistance of three Oxford professors has been obtained to write the chapters on the history of military law and the history of the forces.
If it is felt in some quarters that there is too much emphasis on Oxford I can only refer to the advice given in Baedeker to the visitor to this country to be sure to visit the amenities of Oxford and Cambridge and then, in brackets, "If pressed for time, omit Cambridge." 306 The Army is part of a living community and, clearly, the Army and the community must march in step. I suppose that one of the most valuable contributions made by Lord Haldane and, later, by Lord Hore-Belisha was to bring the Army more in line with the civil customs of the day. The pressure for a Select Committee was generated by the fact that we had a citizen Army, and the House felt it important because of that to bring the customs and law of the Army in line with civil practice. I think it all the more necessary as we move towards an all-Regular Army, because the claims of justice are, to some extent, reinforced by expediency. All have to be persuaded if the power of compulsion is abandoned.
I believe that this Act is in line with the general customs of our national life and is, therefore, on a good foundation. But the law is not everything and the greater part of our work must depend on its application. Debates such as this will make for improvements in the application and, if need be, prepare the way for amendment. We therefore ask the House to approve the Order.
§ Question put and agreed to.