HC Deb 30 October 1957 vol 575 cc209-11
47. Mr. Swingler

asked the Minister of Defence if he will make a statement on the future of conscription, with reference to the current level of recruiting to the Regular forces.

48. Mr. G. Brown

asked the Minister of Defence whether, in view of the continued decline in Regular recruiting as disclosed by the latest published figures, he will give an estimate of the effect this is likely to have on Her Majesty's Government's timetable for the ending of National Service; and what steps they propose to take to arrest the fall.

52. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Defence if he will make a statement giving details of the present position with regard to recruitment for the Armed Forces; what are the prospects for the immediate future in this respect; and if he will give consideration to an all-party investigation into the problem or give details about any other line of action that has been decided upon to deal with the situation and the ending of conscription.

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. John Hare)

I have been asked to reply.

Returns of Regular recruiting for July and August have been placed in the Vote Office. The return for September will be available shortly. The Government's policy with regard to National Service remains as stated in Command Paper 124. My right hon. Friend proposes to make a full statement about recruiting early in the new Session.

Mr. Swingler

While regretting the absence of the Minister of Defence and hoping that he will be soon fit again, may I ask whether it is not now absolutely clear that the assumption on which the Government promised to end conscription is not being fulfilled because of the decline in recruitment and, therefore, either the assumption will have to be changed or the programme will have to be changed? May we not, therefore, know immediately what the Government intend to do about it?

Mr. Hare

I cannot accept the hon. Member's assumption for one second. There has been, of course, an appreciable falling off in recruitment, but it would be quite unwise to make any of the conclusions that the hon. Member has made until my right hon. Friend makes his statement on recruiting early next Session.

Mr. Dodds

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that there is some feeling that there is too much complacency by the Government on this important matter? Without giving any secrets away, can he not at this stage answer that part of the Question which asks if the Government will give consideration to an all-party investigation? Can he say whether that has been considered or not, and if not, is there not something else being done in view of the very unsatisfactory position?

Mr. Hare

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that neither I nor my right hon. Friend have any complacency in this matter. Quite clearly, my right hon. Friend's statement on recruiting will show that various points raised both in the House and outside, such as the Question put down by the hon. Gentleman, have been considered. Beyond that I cannot say anything, except to assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no complacency on the part of the Government in this matter.

Mr. G. Brown

Will the Secretary of State convey to the Minister of Defence that this is exactly what now begins to be apparent to everybody but himself? So far, every month he and his colleagues are denying what is obvious. May I ask him whether the latest figures do not show that the Government are not within streets of reaching the figures on recruiting that are essential if conscription is to end by the date they have given? Is he not aware that, unless something drastic is done urgently, the Government will have to announce to the House that their programme has changed? Will he, at any rate, be less complacent when speaking to the Minister of Defence than when he makes his statements when talking to us?

Mr. Hare

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that I am complacent. I have just told the hon. Gentleman that I am anything but complacent, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend shares the same view as myself on this matter.

Mr. Shinwell

Will the right hon. Gentleman understand that, even if the figures are not satisfactory and remain unsatisfactory, the one thing we do not want on this side of the House is a resumption of National Service after 1960?

Mr. Hare

On that question, Her Majesty's Government's policy has, as I said in answer to the Question, been laid down clearly in Cmd. 124.

Forward to