HC Deb 13 March 1958 vol 584 cc693-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £5,380,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of miscellaneous effective services, including a grant in aid to the Council of Voluntary Welfare Work, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1959.

7.44 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I want to ask some questions concerning the expenditure on publicity and the recruiting services. I should like to know what supervision the War Office exercises and what consultation it has with the Central Office of Information upon the general question of Press advertising. I know that the big sum is paid for by the Central Office of Information, but there must be somebody at the War Office who acts as a liaison, and in an advisory capacity, on the whole question of recruiting.

I want to know whether there is sufficient supervision to make sure that the money we are spending on this recruiting service is justified. I cannot understand why, on Friday, 21st February, 1958, there appeared in the Manchester Guardian a whole page advertisement appealing for officers of the Queen. I can understand the necessity for recruiting, but I cannot understand what sort of appeal the advertisement made. Last year I raised a question on the same Vote, when an advertisement had appeared showing a huge picture of the explosion of an atomic or hydrogen bomb. I wondered how many recruits that would bring in. I do not know how many it brought in, but it seemed a very curious sort of publicity for attracting recruits.

The War Office now seem to have gone from ultra-modern times back into the past. I do not know whether my remarks last year had any influence, but the War Office has gone back at least a couple of centuries. The advertisement consists of four pictures, which were supposed to attract recruits. The first shows a captain of the Honourable Artillery Company in the days of Queen Elizabeth I, dressed in the curious costume of that time, the most conspicuous feature being what, in Victorian times, were called bloomers. He is shown armed with a pike. I do not see how the normal young reader of the Manchester Guardian could be attracted to join the Army by contemplating that picture.

The next picture shows a grenadier officer of Queen Anne's time, dressed like the advertisements we used to see on packets of Quaker Oats. Hon. Members have often appealed for an attractive walking-out dress, but if any potential recruit thought that this was to be the walking-out dress of the British Army he would be driven away.

The third picture is of a Hussar colonel in Queen Victoria's Army, mounted upon a ferocious horse. I thought that the cavalry were obsolete, but anyone looking at the advertisement would imagine that a young recruit would be able to ride about the country on a horse.

Then comes the hors d'œuvres. The fourth picture shows a young Royal Armoured Corps subaltern in the British Regular Army. That was the nearest approach to modern times that the advertisement reached. It is an impressive picture of a young soldier in a tank which, I understand, was obsolete about five years ago.

All this led up to an invitation to the potential recruit to write to the War Office and ask for a special form PA. 6 b, which would give him further particulars. I am a great supporter of the Manchester Guardian and I do not mind it receiving advertising revenue, but I also have a duty to scrutinise War Office expenditure, and I fail to see how this advertisement serves the War Office. The explanation might be that the War Office thinks so much of the Manchester Guardian that it wants to subsidise it, but I cannot see the purpose of the advertisement if it is intended to attract recruits. Potential officers, presumably, are advised to join the Regular Army and the field for the Regular Army recruiting appears to be the Manchester Guardian.

There has been another advertisement in the Daily Express, not for officers but for soldiers of the Queen. Officers read the Manchester Guardian and soldiers read the Daily Express. I do not know whether the authorities have been optimistic or hopeful enough to advertise in the Daily Worker; but in the Daily Express there is a different kind of appeal. The picture of the obsolete tank is still there but underneath it there is a picture of a facsimile letter. I will let the hon. Gentleman have my copy afterwards. I was hoping that he reads the Daily Express. I will lend my copy to him and he may come to the same conclusion as I have. We differ fundamentally over many things, but I feel sure that he will be in agreement with me about this.

Here is a facsimile letter supposed to have been sent home by a soldier serving somewhere. It does not say exactly where and only page three of the letter appears. I wonder whether the War Office will make some inquiry to find out whether this is a bona fide letter, or just a fake. I have the impression—I may be wrong, it may be my suspicious mind—that this is a fake. The letter begins as if it is a continuation from page two. But neither page two nor page one appears, and so I do not know what is said on them. No name is given, neither does the name of the recipient of the letter appear, but only page three, where it states: keep pretty fit as you can see from the sailing club. We are down at the sailing club most weekends"— I am not sure whether this is an advertisement for the Army or the Navy, or whether they have got mixed up; or whether there is not sufficient co-ordination, and the publicity of the Navy has got mixed up in the Central Office of Information with the publicity for the Army. The other bloke is Pete Roberts, my gunner/op". Then the letter continues with this rather curious statement: Life is pretty good out here and you sure get a lot more excitement and fun than ever I found in civvy street".

Mr. Chetwynd

Or in the House of Commons.

Mr. Hughes

The House of Commons would be a poor advertisement for recruiting. We have been discussing these Estimates with only twenty hon. Members in the Chamber. The last thing hon. Members would like would be a recruiting poster comprising a picture of the House of Commons discussing the Army Estimates.

There must be a limit to the credulity of our young people. After all, they are fairly intelligent these days, and as we learn from debates in the House, the impression created in this advertisement is not the general experience of National Service men. If life in the Army is more exciting, and people get more fun there than in civilian life, the National Service men who have been in the Army should be its best recruiting officers.

I do not know how much was spent on the advertisement in the Daily Express. The Daily Express is, after all, a democratic paper and must have some kind of popular appeal, but next year, if the Under-Secretary of State for War is still in the same office, I should like him to remember my remarks and try to find out how many recruits were obtained as a result of the advertisements in these different papers. I think that intelligent young men are being asked to believe a little too much.

I pass from Press publicity to ask a question about whether the War Office has any intention of reviving the old kind of recruiting campaign.

Mr. Mellish

May I ask my hon. Friend—I am sure he will understand—to bear in mind that it is the intention to discuss the Air Estimates at eight o'clock. I am sure that he will want to talk about the Air Estimates as well.

Mr. Hughes

That is certainly an incentive to me to finish my speech and I can assure my hon. Friend that I will finish before eight o'clock. If the Minister does not wish to encroach on the trine to be devoted to the Air Estimates, he can reply to me in writing; if he does so I shall get more information then ever he gave me in a speech. I do not wish to offend against the conventions, but I shall finish in five minutes although, after all, a few seconds either way does not matter very much when we are spending £500 million.

I wish to ask the Minister about the old-fashioned recruiting campaigns which used to be conducted in the time of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell)—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I am surprised that he is not here. When he was Secretary of State he started organising recruiting campaigns which were not very successful. I remember that he went on one famous recruiting expedition which cost the War Office £40 and he brought back three A.T.S. recruits. They got married shortly afterwards and so he lost them. The right hon. Gentleman is regarded as a most patriotic Member on this side of the Committee—a man with a great demagogic appeal. Why not utilise his services again. I am sure that were he sent to Glasgow to appeal to the students of Glasgow University, and faced the barrage of opposition which he would get from the students, that would be a good try-out for the recruiting campaign. I throw that out as a suggestion, although I do not ask him to invite me to take part in such a campaign.

In my part of the world recruiting has almost ceased and yet considerable amounts of money are being spent in Scotland with very meagre results. There has been a controversy between the H.L.I. and the R.S.F. over the question of amalgamating the two regiments. During that controversy we were told that the kilt had a great appeal and that if we put soldiers in the kilt, they would rush to join the Army. But kilted regiments, like the Black Watch and the Gordon Highlanders, are not getting results either, and I wish to know what sort of recruiting initiative is contemplated for the West of Scotland. The latest figures referring to Glasgow show that the H.L.I. gets six recruits a month or one-and-a-half a week, and the figures for other regiments are about the same. I should like to know whether this considerable expenditure on recruiting in Scotland is justified at the present time.

I do not know the answer, but I suggest that the most successful slogan for recruiting was given last year by Lord Montgomery when he said that the Army will be the safest place in the next war. A good recruiting campaign could be built up on that, although nothing is said about what will happen to the wives and children of the soldiers. I have kept my promise and I am finishing my speech before eight o'clock. I am prepared to give the extra minute to the Air Force. I do not ask the Minister to reply to me now, but if he will send me a written answer I shall be obliged.

7.59 p.m.

Mr. J. Amery

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has made a speech which I thoroughly enjoyed, I cannot agree with his approach, and I am sure that he would not expect me to. Of course, we have a say in the organisation of publicity and its administration and we act in close co-operation with the Central Office of Information.

The hon. Member is quite wrong in discounting the strength of the historical appeal in matters of advertising. The hon. Gentleman knows very little of his own countrymen if he does not realise how often their imaginations have been moved by precisely the kind of appeal which these two advertisements contain.

One of our great difficulties has been to recruit the necessary number of young officers. One of the reasons why that is more difficult to do than it has been in the past is that so many elements in our national life, like the hon. Member, have denigrated the appeals of loyalty to Queen, country, Empire and Commonwealth, which have in the past played a very great part in getting young men to dedicate and devote their lives to service in the Armed Forces.

I rather agree that the Manchester Guardian is an unusual organ to choose for this type of appeal, but the advertisement itself seems excellent. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Recruiting figures have gone up and are increasing, not only south but north of the Border. I do not believe that the hon. Member's efforts will be able to interrupt that progress.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £5,380,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of miscellaneous effective services, including a grant in aid to the Council of Voluntary Welfare Work, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1959.