HC Deb 10 March 1959 vol 601 cc1083-107

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £125,260,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray expense of the pay etc., of the Army, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1960.

3.31 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

I think that it will be for the convenience of hon. Members if, at the beginning of the debate, it is made clear that we have only until ten o'clock to discuss all the Service Estimates, including the Supplementary Estimates. That being so, hon. Members on this side of the Committee are willing to co-operate with the Government to ensure that the Navy and Air Estimates are also discussed. We thought that it might be convenient for our discussion on Army matters to take about three hours, thus giving an opportunity for the Navy and Air Estimates to be discussed in the remaining time.

With that in mind, I propose, in accordance with past procedure, to be brief and to ask a few questions on the Votes in which I am interested. My hon. Friends and other hon. Members will ask their own questions, and perhaps the Under-Secretary will be good enough to wind up at the end of our discussion on each Vote.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

On a point of order. Before my hon. Friend gets to the merits of his case, I should like to discuss our procedure, because it is a novel doctrine that there should be a private arrangement, presumably involving the two Front Benches and the Chair.

The Chairman

No arrangement has been made with me.

Mr. Wigg

In that case, can we be told about this arrangement to carve up the Votes in the interests of the two Front Benches? It is the historic right of back benchers to raise matters with which individual Members, the Services as a whole, or constituents may be concerned. This is an occasion for the redress of grievances. It is certainly the right of back benchers to speak on these occasions, and we should not be so lightly passed over in this way.

The Chairman

No arrangement has been made with me and I deprecate that accusation. I hope that the hon. Member will withdraw it.

Mr. Wigg

I made no accusation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] My hon. Friend referred to an arrangement and clearly said that the time of the Committee could be divided up. That could not be done unless there was an agreement, and any agreement must involve the Chair.

The Chairman

It is that which I cannot allow to be said. I am not party to any agreement, never have been, and never shall be. I hope that that accusation will not be made again, because it is absolutely untrue.

Mr. Wigg

In that case, I will say, first, that there is no accusation, and, secondly, that if there is, I withdraw it.

Mr. Mellish

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has made so much difficulty about this. The point is that we have only until ten o'clock to discuss all three main Estimates and the Supplementary Estimates. In fairness to those hon. Members who want to speak about the Navy and Air Force, it was suggested that we should talk about the Army for about three hours. That was done only to facilitate the arrangements of hon. Members and was designed to leave the remaining time to discussion of the Navy and Air Force matters. This is simply a way of making use of the time available democratically and to fit the interests of those Members concerned with other Services. If there is any Agatha Christie mystery about that, I am sorry.

We have not discussed the matter with the Chair. I discussed it with the Under-Secretary only with a view to facilitating business. If that does not suit hon. Members, the remedy is in their hands and we can talk about the Army until ten o'clock. In those circumstances, however, I hope that those hon. Members who do so will be prepared, after the House has risen, to explain their attitude to those hon. Members interested in the Navy and Air Force. Having said that, I now want to deal with Vote I, concerning the Army.

There is one general comment which I have to make on pay, and it concerns Cyprus. Some distress may be caused to many of our serving men there as a consequence of the early termination of hostilities in the island. I say at once that everybody is delighted that hostilities have ended, but it so happens that many of our men have become committed to longterm hire-purchase contractual arrangements, never suspecting that the Government would settle the matter so soon—and I think that right hon. Gentlemen opposite did not believe that it would be settled so early.

Many men have signed agreements to make payments over a very much longer time than that which now is avalaible to them, and I understand that pressure is already being brought to bear on some of them. This matter has been widely noted in newspapers, and I ask the Under-Secretary whether it has been brought to his attention and, if so, whether he proposes to do anything to help the men concerned.

On page 20 of the Estimates, there is a reference to National Service grants. It is estimated that in the coming year the amount of the grants will be increased by £½ million over last year, at a time when there are fewer National Service men in the Army. What is the reason for that increase? Is it that the grants have been more widely advertised, or that the Government expect much more distress in the homes of those concerned than has been the case hitherto?

On page 24 there is a reference to education allowances. The total of allowances for warrant officers, N.C.O.s and men is to be increased from £12,000 last year to £29,000 for the coming year. That is a very small sum for the vast number of men involved. With fewer men, the allowances in the R.A.F. are estimated at £90,000 for the coming year. It is suspected that that is probably because the allowances have not been fully advertised in the Army. It is important that the men should know what they are entitled to.

3.39 p.m.

Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)

When is it intended to make the way in which a soldier gets his pay more civilised? This matter has been raised several times. There is something undignified in a soldier having to salute and put out his hand to receive his pay. Cannot a soldier be paid as if he were in a civilian occupation, in which he would get a pay packet in the normal way?

3.40 p.m.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

The point that I raised with my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) is not an academic one. Up to the outbreak of war it was the custom of the Committee, when debating the Army Estimates, to divide on every Vote. There was a very good reason for that. In the time of the Civil War, in the seventeenth century, it was the practice of the monarchy—and that practice has been carried out on many occasions since then—to spend upon pay money that had been voted for rations or quartering. That was when Parliament won its battle with the Crown by limiting the number of men who could be raised in any one year. I understand that accounting procedures now are such that it is a crime against the financial Holy Ghost to spend on pay money which has been voted for rations. That is why the Votes are put down as they are.

The powers of the Executive in these matters are already strong and, following the Report of the Select Committee on the Army Act, they were further strengthened. I was a member of that Committee, and I always understood that the Service Ministers, together with the Opposition Front Bench, would play the game vis-à-vis the back benchers. A back bencher who wishes to discuss a matter concerning the War Office cannot ask for Vote 3 to be placed on the Order Paper. The Votes which are put down on the Order Paper are selected by the Government, and only by the Government.

It is true that the Opposition can make certain requests in the matter, and that those requests are often granted, but the back bencher has no right in the matter, and the one right that he did have has been given up—and I was one of those in the forefront in suggesting that it should be given up—namely, that the Government did not move the Closure on Vote A, so that the discussion upon it could go on for as long as any hon. Member wanted to raise matters concerning it. In such circumstances, sittings went on well into the next day.

I am raising this matter as a House of Commons man, and because I am concerned for good government and for the Army. I can appreciate that some Members who want to get on with the business may say, "Let us get rid of Vote A and move on to the next Service Department Estimate at 6.30 p.m.," but I am not a party to that sort of thing. I have not been consulted about it, and I think that it is a bad procedure. Although I am not against conversations among the two Front Benches, it is wrong for them to be brought into the open in this way.

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

I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend, and I accept his reasoning, but can he tell me what restriction has been imposed on our debate?

Mr. Wigg

It has been said from the Floor—and we heard it today for the first time—that the discussion on the Army is to end at 6.30 p.m.

Mr. Ellis Smith

If my hon. Friend and other hon. Members are determined in the matter, and if there is any real indignation about questions concerning the Army which they feel should be reflected in speeches in the House, no one has the right to prevent them from speaking, even if it means going on into the night.

Mr. Wigg

I am obliged to my hon. Friend, particularly as he is a member of my constituency.

I am saying that it is unfair to be put into the position of appearing to shut out those who want to speak upon the Navy and the Air Force. None of the debates on the Service Estimates has gone its full time this year, and there has been plenty of opportunity for questions to be raised about the Navy and Air Force. The same consideration applies to the Army, I agree, except that I had the good fortune to catch the eye of the Chair in previous years.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

My hon. Friend will remember that the debate on the Army Estimates ended before the time allotted to it had expired because my hon. Friend and other hon. Members were not here to raise the points they had in mind.

Mr. Wigg

I agree, but I explained that I was ill when we had the defence debate. Further, I cannot stand the atmosphere of the House for long nowadays without going out to get some air, and I did not come back after 11 o'clock.

Mr. Brown

We can understand why my hon. Friend could not stay here on the day in question, although he talked to me during that day. I want to make it clear that the arrangements made today were made to take care of the very point he is raising.

Mr. Wigg

I am obliged for my right hon. Friend's consideration and sympathy. What really matters is the House of Commons. An arrangement which, even if made, ought to be made behind the Speaker's Chair, ought not to be used in such a way as to enter into the permanent scheme of things. The point is that what is accepted without challenge this year becomes a precedent to be quoted in future years.

Mr. Mellish

That is exactly why we did it this year. It was done last year, and my right hon. Friend then took part in the debates. If he reads the reports of the debates of last year, he will see that that is true. There is no precedent here.

Mr. Wigg

I am sorry, but that is not true. This is the first occasion upon which I have taken part in a debate on the Service Estimates that I have ever heard of an arrangement of this kind having been formally entered into by the two Front Benches. I have heard of informal arrangements, but not of formal ones.

The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Hugh Fraser)

It is an informal arrangement, made for the convenience of the Committee.

Mr. Wigg

In that case it should not have been mentioned in the Committee. That settles the point. Perhaps I may now comment upon some aspects of the debates which have taken place.

I want, first, to refer to a report in the Daily Telegraph, which said of the White Paper in general that the Minister of Defence did not invite arguments about principle, and that this year he very considerately let sleeping dogs lie. I do not think that sleeping dogs should be left to lie; they should be brought out into the open. There is a very good reason for this. There is no doubt that the power which our country can demand, by land, sea or air, is very much less than it was in the past. It is also true that the consequences of that fact are not appreciated fully by the Committee or the public outside.

There is a good example which I shall remember for years to come. On the day of the publication of the defence White Paper there appeared in the Evening News the words: Blue Streak Wins, Macmillan goes to Moscow and will now talk from strength. There never was greater nonsense than that. Neither Moscow nor the Prime Minister was impressed.

But that is the kind of statement that is made and accepted by the more unthinking sections of the community, and when the Government, of whatever political complexion they may be, want to follow policies of conciliation not for moral reasons, but because they cannot command sufficient strength, they are prevented from doing so by the illusions of grandeur which persist in our society.

There is no better example of this than our handling of our colonial problems and international policies. I wish to keep within the rules of order, and I am talking on Vote 1, which is the focal point of the whole of our defence policy. The whole of Government policy rests upon the switching over to higher rates of pay, thereby getting further recruits, and organising and equipping those increased numbers so as to give us the conventional forces which we need if we are to meet our problems.

With Vote A is tied up the question not only of recruiting, but of our colonial forces, and I want to deal with one aspect of them. I read the reports of the Army and defence debates, and noticed one or two old-fashioned arguments for using our Colonies as reservoirs of manpower for our forces. That argument was not a starter when the Government were in opposition, and it is not a starter now. Even if it were, it would require many years to implement, as we found during the war. One of the first decisions that has to be made concerns the adoption of a training lingua franca. If we want to expand and raise considerable forces in West Africa, for instance, we must recruit among the various African-speaking tribes, and we are forced back upon English. In Kenya, where the people speak Swahili, Chinyanja and Hausa, that policy is adopted, in the face of the vast experience of, and wise advice from, people like General Giffard, who was Inspector-General. They have fallen back on that policy instead of using Swahili and Hausa. I make that general point.

Dealing with the current problem of Nyasaland, as I understand two battalions of the King's African Rifles were raised in the territory. Each battalion has about 40 Federation-based Europeans, of which probably a number are British and a number may have come from Great Britain and joined the Rhodesian forces on arrival. There are seconded to this regiment a number of British officers and N.C.O.s who are members of the British Army and for whom a contribution is paid back into Vote I.

I wish to know from the Minister the conditions under which they are employed. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the report of the debate which took place on the Ghana Independence Bill, when the question of what was to happen to War Office-controlled forces and the 500 British officers and N.C.O.s seconded there was raised, he will see that the Secretary of State for the Colonies said: Under the terms by which their secondment is arranged Her Majesty's Government reserve the right to withdraw British personnel from service in the Gold Coast if conditions should arise where it would be considered that such action should be necessary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1956; Vol. 562, c. 321.] Those are the terms of secondment laid down for Ghana. which has obtained independence and is a Dominion. Will the Minister tell the Committee what are the terms of secondment of British officers and N.C.O.s serving with the King's African Rifles? Is there any difference? May we take it that the leaving of these British officers and N.C.O.s with the King's African Rifles means that the Government approve of the action taken in the Federation and. therefore, accept full responsibility for the policy adopted there? If there is a difference, will the Minister explain what it is? There is no need for me to labour the point. We are in Committee, which gives me the opportunity of saying something further if the reply of the Under-Secretary of State is unsatisfactory.

I wish to turn to another and very important matter, the question of recruiting and the organisation of manpower. Judging by what was said during the defence debate and the debate on the Army Estimates, it seems that all hon. Members are completely satisfied with recruiting and, therefore, the measures introduced by the Minister of Defence about two years ago were wise. Indeed, it was said by one hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite that what has happened had been planned for and that it revealed the best of all possible worlds.

I take the opposite view. Nothing that I have seen has caused me to change it. I wish, first, to draw the attention of the Committee to a few facts, which cannot be contradicted. The Grigg Report said that in December, 1957, when the Committee first met the Deputy-Secretary of the War Office, he made plain that recruiting at that stage was running only at 50 per cent. of what would be required to give the estimate of 165,000 men. It is also clear from what has happened since that this figure of 165,000 was not based on military considerations, but was a figure decided on to meet the political convenience of the Minister of Defence.

During the debates on the Army Estimates, the Secretary of State for War made one or two rather revealing statements. He said, of the establishment of the infantry—for the purposes of my calculations I am presuming that the right hon. Gentleman meant what he said, infantry of the line—that if the ceiling for 165,000 was to be fixed at 635 men, that would be the establishment of an infantry battalion.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that as a result of raising the ceiling from 165,000 to 180,000 the figure of 11.000 would be the turnover for the purpose of raising the establishment. There are 49 battalions of the line. For easy calculation we will call that figure 50 and if we do a division sum with 50 it gives us a figure of 220. Therefore, we have established, first, that the figure was taken when recruiting was running at half of what it should be, which meant that the total was at least 15,000 below what the Minister knew that it ought to be for military reasons. So that the establishment was fixed at 635 when it ought to have been 835.

Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing) indicated dissent.

Mr. Wigg

The hon. and gallant Member shakes his head. I hope that he will have an opportunity to tell me that what I have said is wrong. The Minister referred to the figure of 11,000 which, with 50 battalions, would mean 220 on the ordinary establishment.

Now let us turn to the actual recruiting figures. The Minister has had a little bit of luck. I am never opposed to anyone having a little bit of luck so long as he does not whine or blame it on to the Almighty when that element of luck turns against him. The first bit of luck was that the Government took the advice which has been given them so frequently from this side of the Committee and switched over to the long-service engagement. It is stated that the introduction of the minimum six-year engagement has been fully justified by results. In reading the Explanatory Statement of the Secretary of State, it is fascinating to see that at long last man-years are quoted instead of the numbers of men, which shows that even Conservative Governments can learn.

I have never held the view that when the present Minister of Defence took office the Almighty moved over on to his side, although the right hon. Gentleman seems to think so.

Brigadier Prior-Palmer


Mr. Wigg

The right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), to whose eloquence I pay tribute, and which I can never hope to emulate, referred last year to the statement by the Minister of Defence in paragraph I of the White Paper that the world was poised between the hope of total peace and the fear of total war—between Armageddon, on the one hand, and the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, on the other; and I agree. Our state in this sinful vale of tears is not always a choice of Armageddon or total peace, but somewhere in between. We should face that fact when organising our defence policy and so organise ourselves as to command sufficient power that our people may live in dignity and earn their daily bread by the sweat of their brow and by their courage and brains.

As I see it, the result of our defence policy will mean that we shall still have Trooping the Colour, our troops will still be armed with the same old "bundook" which their forefathers carried during the South African war, and our women and children will be hauling rickshaws up and down Whitehall so that Chinese ladies and gentlemen may witness the ceremony. That is what will happen if we do not realise that we are not now faced with the cold war with which we were faced two or three years ago; that we are poised between total war and peace and must make the best use of our limited resources, which is something we are not doing.

That is why we have to fall back on the kind of illusions in which hopes are based on Blue Streak, about which there has been no decision taken to produce. The basic problem is that of raising sufficient manpower so that we may be able to deal with problems which may be presented in Nyasaland and the Middle East even before they arise. What people do not seem to understand is that a brigade group moved into an area after the trouble has started is no substitute for a battalion on the spot, because the presence of such a battalion would have prevented trouble.

There is no better example of the hopes of the Minister of Defence than in the Government's statement about recruiting policy. I have never been able to convince myself that the Minister of Defence had found the secret of recruitment. I have looked at the figures over and over again, irrespective of the Grigg Committee's calculations, and I have always made the problem come out, as the Committee brought it out, with all the advantages of the services of a great Department of State, that we had to get one in four of our young men to enlist.

From my further studies I reached the conclusion last year that there was another factor at work. About last December there was the normal impact which follows an increase of pay. If one looks at the alterations in the rates of pay and alterations of terms of service one can find a direct correlation in recruiting, but in the passing months the impact wears off. In other words, I have always held the view, and I hold it now, that there are in this country only a given number of young men who find satisfaction in service with the Armed Forces.

The oddest thing about it is that we can increase the rates of pay or even reduce them, as happened twice between the wars, and the long-term effect on recruitment is almost negligible. It is like taking a piece of elastic. One pulls it out and lets go and automatically it will contract to the same size again. I am not convinced that the Minister of Defence has struck a recruiting "gusher".

I kept on studying this problem, seeking to understand it, and talking to people likely to have the same interest as myself, and I put a Question to the Secretary of State for War, the Answer to which is to be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT of 24th February. The Answer to my Question received very distinguished notice from my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who is, unfortunately, not able to be with us today, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). They all looked at the Answer and, like myself, they were struck with the significance of the recruiting returns in 1957–58.

What is it, for example, that makes more young men in Stoke-in-Trent tend to join the Army whereas in Surbiton only half the number of young men joined the Army in 1958 that joined it in 1957? I have always found it difficult to establish a direct and explainable correlation between recruiting and unemployment. In fact, I have always failed to do it. I studied the Appendix to the Grigg Committee's Report, which reached the same conclusion that one cannot explain it in this way. I think myself that the explanations are these.

First, we are dealing with a different age group. The unemployment statistics which one gets from the Ministry of Labour deal with an age group from 18 to 21. In dealing with the age group concerned in joining the Army, apart from the National Service, it is from 20 to 27. The other difficulty is that the recruiting areas are not the same. If we take a place like London, with its very great recruiting centre at Great Scotland Yard, we find that the men come from a very wide catchment area. They come from all over the British Isles and they are very catholic in their choice of an arm of the Service.

To try to explain this problem, I asked the research department of the Library of the House of Commons—and I should like to pay tribute to the help which it always readily and efficiently gives—to take eight centres where recruiting rose and eight centres where it fell. The difficulty that came out of this is that one finds that in places where recruiting fell, unemployment rose. We cannot get a direct correlation. We find that in places where recruiting fell, like London, Surbiton and places with great naval and military traditions, like Chatham, Brighton, Bournemouth and Reading, the one thing which they all had in common was that the number of unemployed in those areas was comparatively small. That is to say, in every case the number of unemployed was under 3,000. There again, I am not suggesting that there is a direct answer or a direct correlation, or that one can prove it.

In my efforts to establish the facts, I have been to the Ministry of Labour and it says roughly what the Grigg Committee's Report says, that it is unable to find this correlation that one would expect to find, that it is reasonable to assume that some young men join the Army when they cannot get a job. We cannot prove it. The factor operating is opportunity and density of unemployment in relation to the total employed in the areas. This is what seems to accord with the common sense of the problem. A young man who is working and perhaps drawing overtime pay then goes on to short time and finds that the job which he thought was a reasonably secure one, offering an avenue for promotion, is a dead-end job. He is young, ambitious and vigorous and seeks opportunities elsewhere. He cannot find them and he joins the Army.

I see that an hon. Member opposite shakes his head. I am not saying that I am right. I am not sure. What I am certain of is that neither is the Minister of Defence sure. While I may be wrong, I want the Committee to face up to the fact that if I am right the Minister of Defence is wrong. We have established that the right hon. Gentleman took a gamble because he did not know that this was going to happen in December, 1957. It happened afterwards. It happened even before the pay increase was given. We cannot establish that the recruiting figures are going to improve.

We have been told by an hon. Member opposite that the Minister of Defence had planned it. If he had planned it, it means that in December, 1957, the Minister of Defence knew that the Government's policy was directed towards producing unemployment. That is what the Government have to face up to. On the evidence of the Grigg Committee's Report, the recruiting figures were 50 per cent. of what they ought to be. By the Government's own action the ceiling of 15,000 is less than it ought to be. Anyone who has studied this problem knows that the minimum number of men required for the discharge of the commitments which the Government are carrying is at least 200,000.

Over and above that, there is the evidence which I have dug out and which must be well known to Ministers. They have to face up to the fact that f I am right, they have given an increase of pay and pushed the charge on Vote 1 up to the very limit of the ceiling at the expense of equipment.

What are the prospects of getting these recruits? This is an old story. I have always held the view that the greatest curse from which an Army can suffer is to find itself with units under strength. I had thought that in the Government's scheme of reorganisation they had at least learned the lesson that if they were to try to carry all the burdens on the basis of 49 battalions they would make sure that those 49 battalions were up to strength.

One of the major causes of the disaster of Suez was under-strength battalions. If we wait until the emergency comes and then try to build up unit strength, it will need on present form several months before a battalion is at its full fighting efficiency. If we had had 49 battalions. teeth-armed, highly trained and highly efficient and up to establishment, it might have been different.

It has always seemed to me that the Government's policy means this: half of the Strategic Reserve is in Germany, always available to be flown out here or there, according to where trouble may occur. It gave me a great shock to study this White Paper, after looking at the facts on which it is based, and to realise that not only had the Government gambled with the past but that they were gambling with the future.

I have said many times before, and I repeat it now—I hope that I am wrong, but even if I am the only voice in the Committee I shall not say I am wrong—that I was right in 1952 about the recruiting figures. After all the efforts which I have been able to make I have found nothing that refutes the basis of an assessment of recruiting on something like the lines of Appendix A of the Grigg Report. We have found the formula which pushes expenditure up to a maximum while the resulting defence is at a minimum.

4.12 p.m.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

I cannot follow the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) in his commentary on rickshaw strategy, in which he is expert. I want to raise two simple matters concerning my constituency and the Territorial Army.

The Government are responsible for the staffing of one of the largest ordnance depots in Great Britain, at Donnington. It is a combined ordnance depot. From time to time there have been reports that there would not be sufficient finance to maintain this depot and it appeared that changes were envisaged. I was not surprised at the sort of charge or remark being made by a Member of the Opposition. That is quite agreeable to me if it has any foundation in fact. This debate provides an opportunity for me to ask the Minister whether it is Government policy to reduce the garrison and staff at the Donnington depot. These people have given a great deal of their Service life to the Army. Their sons go into the Services, and Donnington is a very good place for the recruiting of Service personnel. It would be a great pity if changes were made now.

I am glad to say that about a year ago a new system of equipment for accounting and a new punch-card system was installed, at great expense. The redundancy that threatened at that time turned out to be one clerk. I hope that the Minister will tell us a little more of what he intends to do about this combined ordnance depot. The people there have spent nearly thirty years in the area. The depot is commanded by a brigadier.

It is always extraordinary at these depots that when one goes into a number of huts one sees Army equipment being broken down. This is the system of recovery. Large quantities of old wireless equipment cannot be sold, for example. It must be broken up and reduced to brass and waste. I hope that the Minister will bear in mind that the charge often made against the Department is that the people at the depot are wasteful. It is unfounded. When one goes into the larger stores one is appalled at the vast sort of equipment that the Army requires at any moment.

The Temporary Chairman (Sir James Duncan)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will confine his remarks to Vote I, which is on the pay of military staff and has nothing to do with civilian staff or equipment.

Mr. Yates

The military staff are in command of the Donnington depot and a reduction in its numbers would reflect on the rest of the military establishment. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will bear this in mind and tell us that there is to be no reduction in the military staff or in the security of the military personnel at Donnington or those who work under military orders.

The second problem concerns the garrison in Berlin. Recently, a Parliamentary delegation went there and we met the Army commander of the garrison. All of us were particularly struck with the remarks made by the people in Berlin, that is, the West Berlin citizens, about how much they admired the calibre, standard and the way in which Her Majesty's troops in the garrison in Berlin had been conducting themselves over the last four years. This is a great credit to the Army. We should realise that the people in West Berlin consider that our garrison there is one of their main outposts of freedom and one of the things which gives them a real sense of security. I would not like to hear that Her Majesty's Government intend to make any alteration whatever in the garrison in Berlin. The tributes paid by the West German politicians in Berlin, and in Bonn, to the British Army are justified. I hope that the Minister will answer these two points which I have raised.

4.19 p.m.

Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassatlaw)

I wish to make only a brief excursion into this subject. The Committee should recognise the consistency and persistency of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) in the matter of recruiting. It will be churlish of us to deny that he has been right on the question of the short-service as opposed to the long-service engagement.

At one time I was rather enamoured of the short-service engagement idea, particularly of the three-year engagement. Now, looking back after the event, I think that my hon. Friend has been proved right. I only wish that the Government, who have access to all the information, had come to this conclusion before. They are recruiting a Regular Army. From the beginning we have never liked conscripts. We did not like them, although they were a necessity of the war.

My second point—and I say this in relation to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) in opening the debate—is that I am not at all sure that the innovation that we have made in cutting down the Service Estimates debates like this is the right one. I suggest to the Government and to the usual channels that they might reconsider this. Before the war, of course, we did not have a Minister of Defence and we were able to discuss the Service Estimates in all their phases and in all their details. Judging from the debates we have had this year, it seems to me that we have now come to, as it were, the conclusion of the debate, which will not be very effective.

Hon. Members may get answers to some of the points which they raise, but these seem to me to be taken out of their context. The proper context should be the Minister presenting his Service Estimates. That might mean that we would have to go on a little longer, but judging by recent events it looks as if we are now settling down to the concise manner of dealing with Service Estimates that we had before the war.

I wish to pay a tribute to the War Office for the glossy part of its Report. It may be that the War Office has taken notice of certain other glossy publications and is now giving illustrations of what it is trying to say in typescript. I would welcome more of this, in the same way as I have always welcomed the opportunity for hon. Members to visit the three Services and see for themselves on the spot what the Services are talking about. I dare not say anything about equipment at this stage, but at least, in that way, it would be possible for hon. Members to know what the Services were talking about concerning equipment.

That is all I wish to say. My only reason for speaking today is to ask the Government to consider afresh whether the system that we are adopting now, and which was in the nature of an experiment, is the right system to achieve the best co-ordinated debate on the Service Estimates.

4.22 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Hugh Fraser)

I should like, first, to thank the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) for the compliment that he paid to the War Office. That is a building in which compliments are not as frequent as brickbats, especially when delivered from the House of Commons. Secondly, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) for the proper tribute he paid to our forces in Berlin.

I will try to deal briefly with the various points which have been raised. The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) raised the question of hire-purchase agreements of soldiers in Cyprus who may be moved and will leave behind equipment which they cannot take with them and on which they have incurred debts. In the first place, the movement from Cyprus is not yet clear. As the hon. Member said, we are extremely gratified that the settlement should have been reached, but we are not yet certain at what rate individual units will move. Secondly, we do not have exact details of the scope of the problem, but it is being investigated both by General Darling and by his staff in Cyprus and it is being considered from our point of view here with other Departments and we have it well in mind. It is impossible to go further at this early stage.

The hon. Member for Bermondsey asked about the National Service grants and pointed, rightly, to the fact that these will rise this year by £500,000 although fewer National Service men will be called up. The answer is fairly simple. The extra £500,000 results partly from the fact that with improved standards of living, there tends to be a rather larger allotment per capita. What is more important is that at this stage we are calling up a large number of men who were deferred and who, during their deferment, have undertaken various obligations, including marriage and children.

The hon. Member, quite properly, compared the sums paid out by the Royal Air Force for education for other ranks and the amount paid by the Army. The answer is that we trust that the change is growing. The amount doubled last year. In discussing last year's Estimates, the hon. Member asked for the figures to be presented in the way that they are presented today. I am glad that the hon. Member has raised the point. This debate will draw attention to it.

The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), whom we are pleased to see here today, in spite of the slight fracas he seems to have had with the higher and lower command of his own military sections on the benches opposite, raised various points. The hon. Member is the most ingenious of all Parliamentarians. At one moment, I thought that we would be able to have a debate on Nyasaland on Vote 1, Subhead F, but I must resist that temptation.

The first point made by the hon. Member about colonial forces was the abandonment of the teaching of English and the use of Hausa, Swahili and Chinyanja as the lingua franca. That is an inevitable tendency under the present movement of these various peoples towards self-government and the training of these forces has become the responsibility of the Governments in the Commonwealth and the Colonial Territories.

The hon. Member raised the wider issue of British officers and other ranks in the Nyasaland battalions. I am informed that there are two medical officers attached to these battalions and three warrant officers. The Ghana Agreement is not applicable. These men are not seconded; they are merely loaned.

Mr. Wigg

I would be obliged if the hon. Gentleman would tell the Committee what is the difference between loaning and seconding.

Mr. Fraser

This is a more informal arrangement; loaning to a Colonial Government as opposed to seconding to a Commonwealth country. It is a technical difference. The main point that the hon. Member sought to achieve was that there was some difference of policy on the part of Her Majesty's Government concerning the employment of these soldiers. Of course, there is no difference. Technically, the responsibility for law and order in Nyasaland is the responsibility of the Governor. The Governor sent for the Federation troops and the Federation troops therefore arrived to deal with the emergency.

The hon. Member then dealt with recruiting. The fact that he was a prime mover in the movement away from the short-service to the longer-service commission should never be forgotten on either side of the Committee. I still consider that the points that the hon. Member was making are not borne out by facts, as he is usually the first to admit. The hon. Member spoke again of his suspicions for the reason. If his suspicions are proved correct, it would, indeed, be an unfortunate and untoward situation. All the evidence in my possession points in other directions. After all, one's decisions and judgment can be based only upon the evidence available.

The hon. Member spoke of the establishment of infantry battalions. I should like to correct his reading of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence. The actual figure used by my right hon. Friend was 11,000 for all fighting units. Of those 11,000, about 8,500 will be going towards infantry teeth arms and the remainder will be employed in teeth units other than infantry.

The hon. Member attacked my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence concerning the change in the establishment. Like my right hon. Friend, the hon. Member, with his great experience, will realise that one's thoughts in this direction must be a harmonious process of finding what is best to be done and what is the most efficient size of the individual unit.

The hon. Member then went on to the question of the relationship between unemployment and recruiting. In 1955, an exercise was carried out by the Director of Manpower Planning at the War Office, considering figures of unemployment and recruiting over ninety-five years. He found precisely the same absence of any relationship between these figures as the Grigg Report showed in Appendix A, to which the hon. Member referred. One can have a great deal of fun with the figures which the hon. Member procured from the Ministry of Labour. One of the more mysterious is that while the number of unemployed at Omagh has risen by 58, the number of recruits has increased by 104.

This soft of figure can prove anything or nothing. One must go back to the long-term trends over the ninety-five years' examination which we carried out and also the examination between the wars shown at the back of the Grigg Report. The present figures show that during 1963 we shall be well over 180,000, extracting an average over the last few months and projecting the current figures.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin asked a question which was more or less out of order, and perhaps I may refer to it more or less in code. Perhaps I can simplify the proceedings by saying that he need have no fear; there is no redundancy, and the question of the small redundancy which we expected has been settled.

Mr. Wigg

I am not altogether satisfied with that reply. Dealing with the question of Nyasaland, the Minister cannot escape the problem by saying that in one case it is a loan, in another case it is a secondment, and there is a technical difference between them. In Ghana there is a military adviser, a very distinguished officer, Major-General Paley, who has done yeoman service in the cause of his country and in the way in which he has carried out his duties since Ghana became a Dominion.

It is explicitly laid down by the Government that if the Ghana Government ever follow politics which are not acceptable to Her Majesty's Government they can withdraw Major-General Paley. The Minister can say that he is loaned or that he is seconded. Indeed, the Minister can stand on his head about it. The fact remains that there was an arrangement which enables the Government to withdraw him if they do not accept the politics adopted by Ghana.

It is highly inconvenient for the Minister and the Government to discover that there are British officers in Nyasaland. It does not matter whether there are two or three, or 200 or 300. The situation arises even if there is only one, because the fact is that Sir Roy Welensky has declined to accept the services of a British battalion in Nyasaland.

Mr. Fraser

That is not true. On what does the hon. Member base that statement?

Mr. Wigg

I base it on a statement in The Times that the K.A.R. had been offered and had been put under six hours' notice, but that Sir Roy Welensky had said, "I do not want them".

Mr. Fraser

The hon. Member is making a very serious statement. He has said that Sir Roy Welensky said that he did not want this battalion. The reason was that he had sufficient forces to cope with the situation. There is no question of objecting to British battalions.

Mr. Wigg

At the time that federation was being discussed Lord Salisbury told a Press conference that the position of the King's African Rifles was unaffected by federation.

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I think that the hon. Member is getting some way from Vote 1. I do not think that the King's African Rifles are on this Vote.

Mr. Wigg

It is not for me to come into conflict with the Chair, but under Vote I and Appropriations-in-Aid the Government pay a contribution here. I am talking not about the K.A.R. as such, but about the British officers and N.C.O.s whom the hon. Member euphemistically said are "loaned." I am using the word "seconded", but we are talking about the same thing.

The Temporary Chairman

It is not in order to discuss Appropriations-in-Aid. If the pay of these officers comes from the Colonial Governments or from the Federal Government, it is not under this Vote.

Mr. Fraser

These officers are paid by this Government and, in return, we receive money from the Colonial Government.

Mr. Wigg

That is the point I was seeking to make. They are borne on this Vote.

What I want to establish is that when I use the word "secondment" and the hon. Member uses the word "loan" we are talking about one and the same thing. For the purpose of my argument, it does not matter whether there are one or three, 300 or 3,000. The fact is that the existence of British officers and N.C.O.s in Nyasaland makes the Government responsible for the defence policies which are being pursued. That is a very awkward position, and the hon. Member cannot laugh it off.

I want next to turn to the question of lack of precision in the use of English by the Secretary of State for War. I am not responsible for it—he is an Etonian —and I can only regret it. The fact is that he talked about infantry. I was fair enough to say that I assumed that he was talking about infantry of the line. If he talks about infantry and then about fighting units, with my board school education as opposed to his public school education am I making a wild guess when I assume that he is talking about the same thing?

If he is not, and I am in error, what is the difference between us? It is not one of principle. The Under-Secretary of State says that the figure is not 11,000, but 8,000. There are still 50 battalions for that purpose, and the figures of the establishment were reduced not by 220, but by 160. If that is what he says, I am prepared to accept it. I am prepared to accept the proposition that the Minister of Defence knew full well that the minimum establishment for the infantry of the line should be 800 but that for political reasons he fixed the ceiling at a point which meant that they could have only 635. The Minister of Defence therefore gambled with the security of this country for the political convenience of his party. If the hon. Member accepts that, I am satisfied.

Mr. Fraser

The hon. Member's second charge concerned battalions on active service and on reserve being below strength. What matters is that by being able to raise their strength we can avoid all the horror and trouble of cross-posting, and the efficiency of the Army is greatly increased. There is no change in the number of major units which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence established.

The hon. Member also tried to make the case that the position of British troops in Ghana and the position of British troops in Nyasaland is the same. In the one case sovereignty must rest in this country in respect of the Colonial Territory concerned. The position is different in a Commonwealth country. In one case I have used the word "loan" to a Colonial Territory, whereas in the other case I have used an alternative form of words. There is a big difference because in one case there is an agreement with an independent Government in Ghana while in the other case we are dealing with a Colonial Territory.

Mr. Wigg

The hon. Member is now admitting that Her Majesty's Government have a direct responsibility for law and order and the defence of Nyasaland.

Mr. Fraser

I explained in my previous speech that the Governor of Nyasaland is responsible for law and order in that territory. As is well known, he accepted the offer from the Federation of troops to go to his support. That is a clear situation. I have said nothing different in this speech.

Mr. Wigg

It also follows that if the Government are not satisfied with the way in which volunteers from Southern Rhodesia are behaving they have the right to withdraw the British officers and N.C.O.s who are there.

Mr. Fraser

Of course the Government have the right, but is it likely that there would be conflict when the powers of the Government here are delegated to the Governor in Nyasaland?

Mr. Wigg

I sincerely hope that there will be, because in his behaviour Sir Roy Welensky is qualifying to take a place beside Goering, the only difference being that one set fire to the Reichstag and the other discovered a plot.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

A number of allegations have been made about the character and conduct of the Federal troops now serving in Nyasaland. Is there any evidence to show that the conduct and character of those troops should be thus stigmatised?

Mr. Wigg

That question was presumably addressed to me.

The hon. Member has come into the Chamber a little late. What we are here establishing is that the Government's alibi that they have no responsibility for events in Nyasaland is very thin. There are British officers and N.C.O.s serving in Nyasaland for whom the Government are responsible. Therefore, there is no need to go to the artifice of putting down Motions regretting that Her Majesty's Government did not protest. The Opposition have the right to challenge the Government directly on Nyasaland, because the Government are responsible for the safety and security of British officers and N.C.O.s serving there. That is the simple point.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £125,260,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the pay, etc., of the Army, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1960.