HC Deb 23 July 1957 vol 574 cc223-30
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will now answer Question No. 48.

Yes, Sir. In the first place, I should like to make it clear that the Government have no intention of merging the three fighting Services into a single defence force. The development of new weapons and new techniques of warfare will call for even closer co-operation between the Services in training and in the field; and measures for more effective co-ordination are being studied both in the command structure and also in the central administrative organisation. But each of the three Services will continue to have its separate rôle and function and each will continue to maintain its separate identity and traditions.

Within each Service, however, far-reaching reorganisation will be required in order to give effect to the reduction in total strengths which has been announced. The Army faces a specially difficult problem because of its structure of separate corps and regiments. But my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has devised plans which are designed to preserve the regimental traditions on which the strength of the Army is founded. These plans are based on the principle of amalgamation of regiments, rather than disbandment. Details will be given in a White Paper to be presented tomorrow.

In all the Services, the large reduction in numbers which is to be carried out over the next five years must mean for many officers and men, a premature end of their chosen career. For them the Government have undertaken to provide fair compensation which will take account not only of the curtailment of their service, but also of their loss of prospects. The terms of compensation will be announced in a White Paper which is to be presented tomorrow by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence.

The Government also have a special obligation to assist these men to find employment in civilian life. For this purpose the existing agencies are being linked in a Regular Forces Resettlement Service. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is appointing a board, including representatives of industry and commerce under the chairmanship of Sir Frederic Hooper, to advise on the development of this Service. The details of the resettlement organisation will be made known separately.

The radical reorganisation of our defence forces on which we have embarked involves, inevitably, a widespread disturbance of existing patterns—both for the Services themselves and for many individuals in them. We shall do our utmost to see that those who suffer by these changes are treated fairly and honourably. But let us not forget that the purpose of the new defence policy is to reshape the forces so as to enable them to discharge their task effectively.

None of the Services will be able to maintain its high traditions unless its officers and men are confident of its capacity to adapt itself to changing conditions. I believe that the new pattern of the forces—smaller, but better organised and equipped for their new tasks—will contiuue to afford fine opportunities for service for those who seek their career in the Armed Forces of the Crown.

Commander Maitland

Is the Prime Minister aware that there has been very considerable uneasiness in the Services as to their future, and that his very clear statement that they are not to be merged will be met with considerable satisfaction?

Mr. Strachey

We shall have to await the promised White Papers before we can question the Prime Minister on the details of these proposals but, meanwhile, I should like to ask him three questions. First, is he aware that its opening passage, while recognising, as we all do, that we cannot at this moment merge the three Services, does seem to set its face against any early and further integration of the Services, and that, in that respect, it seems to us to be decidedly over-conservative, if I may so express it?

Secondly, on the question of Army reorganisation, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, while we recognise, of course, that it is inevitable that certain regimental changes should be made, and that these will be painful, we trust that he will see that they are kept to the very minimum, and that regimental feelings—which are very important in this—are regarded to the maximum possible degree?

Thirdly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the whole of the Government's defence scheme depends on voluntary recruiting, and that nothing could so depress voluntary recruiting than that the Government's arrangements should give the impression that men were no longer wanted in the Armed Forces? In fact, they are wanted more than ever. Therefore, will he see, both by the terms of compensation and by keeping the axing of both officers and non-commissioned officers to the very minimum, that that impression is not given?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I realise that detailed criticisms cannot be made on either side of the House until the White Papers are published, but I thought that it would be convenient for the House to have this general statement, and to publish the White Papers tomorrow. After that, all the details will be open for discussion.

In reply to the three questions which the right hon. Gentleman has asked, perhaps I might answer the last two, because I think that, in a sense, the answer to them is the answer to the first. It is just because of the importance of maintaining the regimental tradition, of the Army in particular—where it plays such a tremendous rôle—that we have tried, and, I hope, successfully, to overcome the difficulties while maintaining the long-standing traditions to the best of our ability.

As to the right hon. Gentleman's third question, it is because we want young men—and their fathers—to feel that the Services are a good career—that, in their new shape and form, they will make a fine career for young men—that we hope that we have made terms of compensation that will be regarded as honourable.

I think that the importance of the last two questions is really my answer to the first, because if I were to suggest that there is to be a complete merger of soldiers, sailors and airmen, all to be clothed in some vague uniform, all operating in a joint service and with nothing to do with each other, we should never be able to maintain the high traditions of the separate Services, which are important.

What I hope the House will feel is that in the statement which I have made we have tried to keep a balance. There must, in our view, be three fighting Services—Army, Navy and Air Force. But, as I have said, we have already taken, and are studying, further measures of coordination both in the command structure and in the central administrative organisation, especially at Whitehall. I think that thereby we ought to be able to get some of the advantages of integration while maintaining the fighting and the other long traditions of our separate Services.

Mr. Langford-Holt

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that while everybody will agree that compensation is a very important matter, possibly resettlement is even more important and that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has already got organisations such as the Appointments Bureaux which have suffered not from the fact that the Minister of Labour does not support them, but because employers generally have not sought the help of these employment bureaux? Will my right hon. Friend seek, above all else, the help of industry and of employers generally?

The Prime Minister

I hope that the new board will be able to improve the situation. I regard it, as I am sure every Member of the House does, as of the utmost importance that we should take advantage of what is, after all, a period of high employment when it is easier than it might be in other times to see that all these officers and men are properly placed in civil life.

Mr. Shinwell

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that, apart from the reference to two White Papers, one dealing with the modest reorganisation of the regimental position affecting the Army, and the other dealing with compensation, he has said nothing at all about the content of the new pattern of the three Services? He has referred to co-ordination without giving any indication of what kind of co-ordination he has in mind. He has said nothing at all about the actual rôle of the three Services within the needs of the defence forces of the country, and in particular he has made no reference at all to the need for reorganisation in the Admiralty, which—

Mr. Pickthorn

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask what Motion is before the House?

Mr. Speaker

I think that the right hon. Gentleman was about to conclude his supplementary.

Mr. Shinwell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the very long statement made by the right hon. Gentleman—and it was a very long statement, about which I make no complain t—[An HON. MEMBER: "Come off it."] Mr. Speaker, I am in your hands and not in the hands of the mob on the other side of the House. I have known them for a long time. In view of the Prime Minister's very long statement, surely it is advisable that, to elucidate what the right hon. Gentleman actually meant, questions should be put. Therefore, I will refrain from arguing the point of order further, and I will conclude my question.

I was dealing with the Admiralty. In view of the absence of any information affecting the reorganisation of the Admiralty, may we have an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that very shortly, in addition to the White Papers to which be has referred, we shall have a White Paper or, at any rate, a statement from the Minister of Defence of his intentions about the reorganisation of the Admiralty?

The Prime Minister

I understand and welcome the deep interest which the right hon. Gentleman has in these matters, of which he has great experience. But he thought that my statement was already a little too long. Had it gone into these very large issues which he has raised, it would have been intolerably long. They are very great issues which, of course, have to be discussed on appropriate occasions.

It was represented to me—and I think it will be helpful to the House if I deal with this—that there were three major points which we must clear up if we are to start the recruiting campaign and the movement towards building up the Regular forces which we all want to see.

The first was a statement that, broadly speaking, there will be three Services for men to join. The second, with which I hope to deal in the White Paper, was what will be the compensation for those men for whom there is no future career; and the third was the question of the Army and regimental reorganisation. I think that if we can get those three questions out of the way we shall have made some advance towards dealing with the very big tasks which the right hon. Gentleman knows lie ahead of us.

Sir I. Fraser

May I ask three brief questions? Apart from inviting ordinary employers to give special consideration to the talents of these men, mostly young, who will be displaced, could my right hon. Friend ensure that in the Services which are directly or indirectly under Ministerial control—namely, the Departments, the nationalised industries and local authorities—some preference in employment is given to ex-officers and other ranks? Secondly, does the Prime Minister not think that these men deserve some preference from a grateful country? Thirdly, on this resettlement board representing both sides of industry and others, would my right hon. Friend include representatives of ex-Service men?

The Prime Minister

In answer to the first question, I think that the best machinery is that which the Minister of Labour has devised—that is, to have the existing agencies, to link them together in the Regular Forces Resettlement Service and to find a capable chairman who can help to direct the work. I will see that note is taken of the suggestions which my hon. Friend has made.

I am not informed whether it is proposed to have direct representatives of ex-Service men, but I will also take note of that point.

Mr. Wigg

Would the Prime Minister provide time between now and the Recess to enable the House to have an opportunity of debating the two White Papers? Everyone will wish the Government's reorganisation well, because a great deal rests on it. Will the Prime Minister give the House an assurance that he is satisfied, after careful examination of the facts, that the existing terms of Service rates of pay and rate of recruitment will be sufficient to provide enough men when the reorganisation has been completed?

The Prime Minister

No doubt the question of a debate will be discussed through the usual channels. Whether time can be found is a matter to be settled. They will have to be debated at some time, of course.

With regard to the second question, that is another, although a very important, aspect of it. What I was anxious to do was to clear up these three points which must be got out of the way first. I thought that it would be valuable to do so before the end of this part of the Session.

Mr. Sharples

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that those who are to be declared redundant will be told of their fate as soon as possible, instead of being left in doubt a moment longer than necessary?

The Prime Minister

I am sure that the Service Departments will do everything they can to expedite these rearrangements, but, of course, my hon. Friend will recognise that there are a good many problems involved.

Mr. de Freitas

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those who seek the closer integration of the Services on grounds of efficiency and economy will be extremely disappointed at the way in which the Prime Minister caricatured this by his reference to vague and indeterminate uniforms? That is not the point.

The Prime Minister

I still maintain—and I hope that when the hon. Gentleman, who takes a great interest in these matters, reads it he will agree—that this is a fairly balanced statement. There must be for all the time that we can see ahead three Services. But I did say there was a great deal of work that could be done in the integration of the command structure, administrative arrangements and all the rest.

But from the point of view of the men—and we are now thinking of the officers and men who are to join these Services—their great interest is in knowing whether they are joining the Army, the Navy or the Air Force. The other problems of centralised administration and the rest are more for us. I want to make it clear to them what kind of a Service they will be asked to join.

Mr. Chetwynd

In view of reports of resistance from individual Services to reductions in their particular arm, is the Prime Minister satisfied that the powers of the Minister of Defence are adequate to impose the overall pattern which he wishes?

The Prime Minister

I do not know the purpose of that question, nor its relevance.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker