HC Deb 12 November 1959 vol 613 cc621-40

4.26 p.m.

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Christopher Soames)

I beg to move, That the Army Act, 1955 (Continuation) Order, 1959, a draft of which was laid before this House on 28th October, be approved.

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the right hon. Gentleman, it might be for the convenience of the House if I followed my predecessor's precedent and said just a word or two about the rules of order relating to this debate on the Army Act (Continuation) Order and the Air Force Act (Continuation) Order.

The House will remember that last year, before a similar Motion to continue the Army Act was moved, my predecessor was requested to rule on the scope of the debate. In reply, Mr. Speaker Morrison repeated the gist of a Ruling he had given the previous year, stating that Only matters contained in the Act which it is proposed to continue can be discussed"— and that if hon. Members— treated the Army Act, 1955, as if it were a Bill and made a speech appropriate to the debate on the Third Reading of the Bill …they would be in order."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November. 1958; Vol. 594, c, 1120.] If hon. Members went on and made suggestions for Amendments, that would be out of order. My predecessor, when further questioned on his Ruling, ruled out of order discussion on operational matters, and laid it down that the words "terms and conditions of service" must be construed in the sense in which they are used in the Act.

Perhaps, as some hon. Members did not hear that, I must point out that there are pitfalls for the unwary, because when the Statute talks about "terms and conditions", all it means is the actual duration in point of time of the terms of enlistment.

I thought that it might be for the assistance of the House if I said these few words about the Order before we begin the debate.

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for reminding us about the rules of order.

The existing Army Act came into force on 1st January, 1955, and this is the third occasion on which the House has been invited to approve this Motion. Under Section 226 of the Act, the House will again be invited to pass a similar Motion for the continuance of the Act next year, and then, before 1st January, 1962, when the Act will have been in operation for five years, Members will have the opportunity, if they so desire, to put forward Amendments to the existing Act or agree to a revised Act which will come into force on that date; that is to say, 1st January, 1962.

In the meantime, as you have just pointed out in your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, the rules of order for this debate are narrow. There are, in fact, apart from the issue of discipline itself, not many matters of prime importance to the Army which can be said to arise directly from the existence of the Army Act, but I think I can, within your rules of order about the terms of service, give some facts about recruiting which may interest the House.

So long as a discussion of recruiting, albeit limited to terms of service, is within the rules of order, with all the importance that must be attached to the subject at the present time, I believe that the House will find any Army debate to be worth while. Indeed, from my point of view the relation of the recruiting problem to our other preoccupations is not unlike the rôle of Hamlet as he is to his supporting cast.

In its Report on recruiting, published just over a year ago, the Grigg Committee said that discipline in the Services was less of a problem than it had imagined it to be. So far as discipline is referred to in the narrow context of breaches of the law, this view is certainly confirmed by the experience that we have had in three years' working of the new Army Act. Discipline generally is good, and there has been a slight reduction in the proportion of court-martial convictions in the twelve months ended this September.

With regard to the justice dispensed at courts-martial, hon. Members will be interested in the work which has fallen to the Courts-Martial Appeal Court since it came into existence in 1952. From about 35,000 counts-martial in the last seven years, 191 appeals have been considered by the Courts-Martial Appeal Court, and of these four have been successful. The Army Act confers heavy powers of punishment in certain circumstances, and it is right that its operation should be' jealously watched, but on the basis of these figures I do not think that anyone can be in any doubt of the high standard of the administration of justice by courts-martial.

Courts-martial, of course, represent only one aspect of the Army's discipline, bearing the same relationship as cases which go before a judge in the civil courts do to the general behaviour of the civil population. It is only a very small proportion of soldiers, happily, who are likely to face a court-martial at any time during their military career.

To my mind, a much more important aspect of Army discipline is the way in which it bears from day to day on the great majority of soldiers who live ordinary, law-abiding military lives. Here again, the Grigg Committee had something to say, and it pointed out how much depends on the cult of common sense and the wisdom of commanding officers. This aspect of man management is not one that can be inculcated by detailed instructions going out from the Army Council. It can be done rather by the careful training of officers and non-commissioned officers and the use of extreme care in the selection of commanding officers.

This we try to achieve, but there is an area outside the discretion of the commanding officer, which does not require legislative amendments to the Act, where the Army Council can help, and I should like to tell the House of some changes which we are about to introduce in this respect.

One criticism of the Army disciplinary code hitherto, and one which has some foundation, has been that commanding officers have not been able to employ a system of probation for first offenders comparable to that which magistrates can use in the civil courts. We propose to remedy this by a simple administrative change in the rules for the award of the mildest of all military punishment, that of admonition. In future, when a soldier is admonished by his commanding officer, a record of that fact will be attached to his conduct sheet for three months before being destroyed. So the previous offence will be taken into account if, within that period, the soldier is guilty of another offence. If he does not commit another offence, he will have a clean sheet again, provided that his sheet was clean to begin with.

In the second place, we have decided that confinement to barracks in the present day and age is more of an irritant than a corrective; that is, the punishment as we know it, with all that it entails. The traditional system, as perhaps many of us know to our cost, is for the soldier to be required to stay permanently in barracks, to answer his name at uncertain periods of the day and to be employed on the more unpleasant fatigues as much as possible. Now we are to replace "confined to barracks" by a new punishment to be known as "restriction of privileges." Under this restriction the soldier will forfeit his permanent pass and, with it, the right to wear civilian clothes. Although he will still be liable for fatigues, he will have to answer his name in barracks only at 10 o'clock in the evening and he will have to remain in barracks after that time.

In addition, successive awards of restriction of privileges will run concurrently and not consecutively, and the aggregate of successive awards will not exceed 28 days compared with the 42 days for which successive awards of C.B. can run at present. I am of the firm opinion that this will be an improvement on the old punishment of "confined to barracks".

Part I of the Act, comprising Sections 1 to 23, deals with the enlistment and terms of service of other ranks, and I think that it presents me with an opportunity to tell the House something of the progress in the last year. It is the terms of enlistment themselves which, with the possible exception of pay, have more to do with the recruiting of sufficient numbers of men for the Army than any other single thing. Ever since the Defence White Paper of 1957 was published, the question which has dwarfed all others is what the strength of the Army will be when at the end of 1962 the last National Service man has left the Army.

I can still give a confident answer to that question. I believe that the beginning of 1963—I base my thought on the evidence that we have had now over two years of the new terms of service—will find us with an Army with a strength of at least 165,000 all ranks, which was the target set in 1957, and I also believe that we shall in the majority of arms have exceeded the target and be on the way to reaching the higher ceiling of about 180,000 to which the Army was authorised to recruit early this year.

There is one particular difficulty in this respect in forecasting which cannot yet be resolved, and that is that we have yet to see to what extent as the best recruiting arms, the most popular recruiting arms, get filled up, intending recruits will be prepared to be persuaded to join instead other arms which have not reached their ceiling. It is true that Section 3 of the Act gives power to transfer men compulsorily between corps, but I must say that I can think of nothing more conducive to an unhappy Army and the collapse of regular recruitment than the application of these powers in peacetime; and we certainly have no intention of invoking them. The problem of persuading the recruit to join an arm other than that of his first choice is only just beginning to arise now when some arms are filling up, and on our success or failure to do so depends the speed with which we can fill the gap between our old target of 165,000 and our new one of 180,000.

Section 5 of the Act authorises the enlistment of men on 22-year engagements for initial engagements of three, six or nine years, and in this connection the House may be interested in a significant trend which is taking place this year. In November, 1957, six years replaced three years as the normal minimum engagement. In 1958, which was a spectacular recruiting year, there was a rush of six-year recruits. In the first nine months of 1959, six-year recruits are 18 per cent. down on the 1958 figure, but against that there has been a 33 per cent. increase in the number of men taking on an initial engagement of nine years.

As a result, although in the numbers of adult recruits we are 11 per cent. down on the 1958 figure, in terms of man-years recruited we are only 3 per cent. down. In view of all the aids to recruitment which we had in 1958, such as the pay review in the spring, and the Report of the Grigg Committee later—which produced an increase in the number of man-years recruited of no less than 70 per cent. in 1958. as compared with 1957— I think that we can be well satisfied that in 1959 we are only 3 per cent. down on the 1958 figure. Next year, 1960. is the year for the biennial pay review, and pay review years have hitherto been good recruiting years.

The House has now got accustomed to talking of man-years when it discusses these matters. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has always been a great exponent of this, and this must be the first debate on Army matters which he has not attended for many years. We all regret that illness keeps him away, and I hope that he will soon be quite recovered.

The figures for adult recruitment are fairly satisfactory, but what causes us more pleasure are the figures for enlistment of boys on the terms provided for in Section 4 of the Act. In their importance to the Army of the future the new junior leader units and apprentices' schools rank with Sandhurst. There is nothing more important to an all-Regular Army than to have a strong element of soldiers who have come up from boy service to adult service. We rely on these units for the majority of warrant officers, senior non-commissioned officers and skilled technicians. For the boy who passes through them, the way to commissioned rank is open.

The numbers coming forward have been such that we had to open a new junior leaders' unit at Tonfanau in the summer, and a fourth apprentices' school is to be opened in Carlisle in January, despite the fact that we have raised our selection standard. We are gaining both in quantity and in quality. Next spring there will be about 4,000 boys in the junior leaders' units—over twice as many as in 1957—and there will be 3,000 in the apprentices' schools. These places are the seedbed of the Regular Army of the future, and nothing in the general picture is more encouraging than their present flourishing state.

I should have liked to go on to say something about other aspects of Army affairs, but I fear that if I were to do so I should be transgressing the rules of order. Further matters must await the Estimates debate in the spring, but. in passing, I would mention that although we have a long way to go before we can provide modern accommodation for our troops in all theatres, with married quarters to match them, the building programme is going well, and I think that I can assure the House that the power given to me under Section 174 of the Act, to bring billeting regulations into force, is unlikely to be used during the coming year.

I ask the House to agree to the continuance of the Army Act for the year 1960.

4.44 p.m.

Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)

As the Minister has just said, we are again considering the new procedure of the Army Act, which supersedes that historic procedure which went on over the centuries and which dated from the days when the British people had a profound distrust of the standing Army. That distrust is now entirely a thing of the past. and the new procedure much better reflects our present attitudes.

Under Mr. Speaker's Ruling the debate is a narrow one, and we cannot enlarge upon many of the questions which we should like to raise, but we shall get an opportunity to do that in the debate on the Army Estimates next year. There are really only two subjects to concern us in this debate, both of which the Secretary of State has touched upon, namely, discipline and recruiting. They are very interesting subjects, which are profoundly important to the Army.

We shall have to go into the question of discipline a good deal more deeply in the quinquennial review which will come along in two years' time, and I hope that we will look at the detailed working of certain Sections of the new Army Act to see if we can still further improve on them. But that is not our job this year, and it cannot be.

I am glad to hear from the Secretary of State that, judging by the number of offences committed, discipline has been good. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Appeal Court. I am always interested in that subject, as I had the honour to pilot through the House the Bill setting it up. Although in only four cases has a sentence been reversed, the existence of the court has abundantly proved its worth. I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees, and I am also sure that it is a comfort to him that he has this court, because formerly the Secretary of State had an uncomfortable responsibility, to say the least, in that there was no Appeal Court which could consider the sentences and decisions of military tribunals.

The only point I want to raise in connection with discipline is that which we discussed last spring, namely, the question of the old Army prison at Shepton Mallet. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will tell us what will happen about that. I realise that the prison is very soon passing out of Army hands, and I believe that the arrangement is that long-term prisoners will be accommodated in civil prisons. I am not very happy about that, because of the great overcrowding in civil prisons. It would certainly be a serious matter for the Army if accommodation were not adequate for its long-term prisoners. I should like to know what are the prospects.

I now turn to the two changes which the Secretary of State has announced, which I am sure my hon. Friends very much welcome. It seems a very sensible idea to institute a procedure analogous to the system of probation in civil courts. Under the new procedure admonition becomes a temporary offence, for three months, during which period the man is, in effect, on probation. That seems an excellent arrangement. The other change is even more welcome. It is good to know that confinement to barracks is a thing of the past. The substitution of a restriction of privileges is more logical, milder, and thoroughly sensible. I do not pretend fully to have grasped the exact nature of the new arrangement from what the right hon. Gentleman said, but as an old university student it would seem to me to be very much like being "gated". I have been "gated" myself when a student, and I remember how very inconvenient it was. But it is certainly much preferable to being confined to barracks, in the old sense. That is a small but very welcome change.

The subject of recruiting, dealt with by the Secretary of State, is exceedingly interesting and, as he said, the most vital question of all to the Service today. I think there is no doubt that we are still within Mr. Speaker's Ruling because the adequacy of recruiting today turns on the terms of service in the strict sense of the duration of Service and the degree of long-service men that we are getting.

The Secretary of State is, on the whole, on sound ground when he points out that the figures for this year, which I studied before this debate, although slightly disappointing and alarming when looked at at first sight, are not by any means so disappointing and alarming when analysed and looked at in the proportion of longer service men compared with shorter service men. There is a net fall in man-years even there. As the Secretary of State said, it is only one of 3 per cent., and considering the extraordinary year with which we are comparing it, when the recruiting reckoned in man-years went up by no less than 70 per cent., I would be unduly alarmist if I charged him with complacency in not feeling that there was anything very grave about the fall of 3 per cent. this year.

It is a remarkable fact that some of us, although not all of us, on this side of the House ventured to predict that if we got the pay and conditions of service roughly into line with the pay and conditions in the civilian world, and into something which the men felt to be in line, the task of recruiting an all-Regular Army, upon which the Government are engaged, would be possible. So it has undoubtedly turned out. The Secretary of State is almost certainly justified in his confidence of getting 165,000, and it looks as if he will get the higher figure of approximately 180,000 which he has now set himself and which, I think, is none too large for the Army and all its requirements.

There is the further point, which he made, of whether he will get the right kind of man in the right place—in the right arms and the right branches of the Service. That is a much more difficult question. Experience, as I think he indicated, will have to decide it. I agree with him that compulsion is really unthinkable, because it would defeat its own ends, and that we must try persuasion.

I suppose that if there are some branches of the Service which are obstinately unpopular compared with others, differential inducements of some sort will be necessary. There, again, I see obvious difficulties. We must recruit a balanced Army, which is probably the most difficult question he will face in the immediate future. At any rate, it is a good thing that it is the teeth arms that are popular and the tail arms that are not. We should certainly deplore it if it were the other way round. Nevertheless, in the modern Army, the tail branches are in fact just as important. The teeth arms cannot operate without them. Therefore, it does not relieve his problem very much. It is one on which I think we cannot congratulate ourselves on having solved yet, and it is one that he will have to face.

The Secretary of State spoke about the excellent recruiting to the boys' institutions. Of course, the figures do not tell one so much because it is an uneven entry, but they seem to be fairly satisfactory. He spoke of the way to commissioned rank being open to these boys. I do not know whether we can have from the Minister figures as to the number of these boys who are getting commissions as they come up to the age group in which this arises and later. I hope that it is sufficiently open. I realise that it is open. No one is suggesting that it is not and that there are not some commissions from this source, but I hope that it is open in the sense also that opportunities to reach the necessary educational standard for commission are fully open.

I should have thought that there was very valuable material there for officers, who, after all, are needed. We cannot go into the detailed figures today, but I think that it is on the side of the officer corps rather than the other ranks that he should feel some anxiety at the moment in recruiting, so every source for that is of importance.

This is all that I can say within the compass of the debate, but we on this side who took a prominent, perhaps even a marked part, in the institution of this new procedure of the Army Act, which came out of a fairly stormy Parliamentary exchange, are certainly rather glad to see that the new procedure is justifying itself.

4.57 p.m.

Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)

I want to say a few words and ask one or two questions on a point which, I hope, is in order under the narrow rules of this debate. I refer to the administration of those parts of the disciplinary code which relate to the public expression of opinion on professional matters by serving personnel in the three Services and particularly by senior officers.

I apologise to my right hon. Friend for not having given him notice that I wanted to raise this matter, but I was inspired to do so only when I read a leading article in today's Times.

Under the Act, very wide powers are given to the three Service Ministers and their Departments to prohibit any form of public discussion by serving personnel on matters of politics or of policy. I do not think that anyone would question the correctness of the general interpretation which is placed on these regulations, or question that the powers given under the Act are justified and wise. At the same time, I would not for a moment suggest that quite the same rules apply to the principal professional advisers in the Service Departments and the principal commanders-in-chief as have to be applied to the generality. Obviously, very high officers are public figures and cannot retire behind the cloak of anonymity as civil servants can, and it is, I suggest, in the interest of discipline and of the morale of the Services that their views should be known and understood by their subordinates. From the point of view of the public at large, the public are entitled to believe that the officers at the top and the principal advisers should at any rate be in general agreement with the policy of the Government for the time being. If this were not so, I think it is fair to say that the public would expect them to resign and to give the reasons.

I put it to my right hon. Friend and to the Parliamentary Secretary, who I imagine will reply, that all these exceptions surely apply only to officers who may have to fight a battle. In administering this part of the Army discipline, does my right hon. Friend draw distinctions from the nature of the appointment? We have had a recent case which has attracted a lot of attention. According to the Press, this officer is employed in an administrative capacity. I should like to ask whether it is necessary for special latitude to be given in such cases for officers to indulge in what are very highly controversial discussions in public.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and gallant Member, but I am concerned all the time whether he is in order. It would help me if he could state the Section of the Act to which he is referring when he talks about these regulations.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I am bound to confess that I cannot quote the Section offhand, but the Act empowers, and I think requires, the Army Council in this case to make regulations for the proper conduct and discipline of the Services. It has always been accepted that one of the rules is that officers of fighting services do not indulge in politics. I do not think that is seriously open to question.

Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)

Possibly I may be of assistance in this matter. I think that the question is covered by Queen's Regulations. Would not that be part of the Army Act itself and therefore in order for discussion in such a debate as this?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I imagine that if it is covered by Queen's Regulations it would be under the Army Act.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

It is certainly covered by Queen's Regulations. I thought you were asking which Section of the Act deals with these regulations, and I was afraid that I could not answer offhand. There is no doubt that it is a disciplinary matter, and I submit that it is in order.

I do not raise it in a very critical spirit, but there has been a certain amount of public anxiety recently about these excursions into political and policy matters. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend what general principles are followed before permission is given for public statements by senior officers on controversial matters of policy and politics.

5.3 p.m.

Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)

I should like to support what has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes-Hallett). I wanted to refer to the same subject. This is a question of discipline, and discipline is provided for in the Army Act. I forget which Section is involved, but there is no doubt that the Army Act covers discipline of the Army. Whether it be a general officer or a much more subordinate officer or, for that matter, an other rank, they are all limited in what they can say in public on various matters. The special reference to that, I think, is in Queen's Regulations.

Mr. Soames

On a point of order. I am not attempting to say whether this is in order or not, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but in view of what you said a few moments ago, I must point out that Queen's Regulations are not related to the Army Act. They are part of the Prerogative.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am sorry. I was misinformed on that point. We have to see whether what we are debating comes within the Army Act.

Mr. Bellenger

The Army Act concerns itself with discipline, and it might be a question of discipline if an officer or an other rank made statements in public contrary to the policy of his commanding officer or his superiors. Indeed, he might be subject to court-martial on occasions. I do not know whether you were in the House at the time, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but just before the war the present Minister of Aviation made a statement and the Secretary of State for War at that time endeavoured to have him court-martialled because it was a statement about military policy. In the case of the general officer who gave a lecture which was mentioned in Questions yesterday, we learn from the leading article of The Times this morning that the War Office itself cleared that lecture before it was given. I want to ask the Secretary of State, is that true? Did he have cognisance of what this officer intended to say?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That does not arise under the Army Act.

Mr. Bellenger

It leaves a very bad taste in the mouths of many more humble members of the Army who on occasion have done something contrary to discipline and—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That may be so, but it is not within the scope of this debate.

Mr. Bellenger

I am bound to submit to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I should have thought that the whole question of discipline could be discussed on this occasion. That is what the Army Act is for. I believe that a breach of discipline has been caused and I think that the right hon. Gentleman should give the House much more information than he has given so far and not hide behind some technical defect this afternoon. If it is not possible to discuss this matter this afternoon, I hope that at any rate the right hon. Gentleman will give the House more information than we have at the moment.

5.7 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

I apologise to my right hon. Friend that I was not here the whole time he was speaking, owing to other duties. I wish to ask a question which I have asked before without obtaining very much of an answer.

How far is it the Government's policy to allow arms which are able to recruit more officers and men to go ahead and do so? Is it intended that the increase from 165,000 to 180,000 will be obtained by an increase in what one might call the popular arms, or is it the Government's policy that a rigid balance should be maintained between different types of unit? In other words, if a popular unit is able to increase its manpower, will it be prevented from doing so? I have in mind, in particular, the recruitment to the cavalry and armoured forces, which has been cut down recently, with the result that many old and famous regiments have lost their identity. That process is continuing. I have the impression that it would be easily within the recruiting possibilities in this country for it not to be necessary to disband these ancient regiments. I believe that would be a very good thing because if my information is correct—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt again, but the hon. Member is not in order.

Mr. Kershaw

I am sorry for getting out of order; it is difficult to stick to the general and not sometimes to particularise in order to illustrate one's meaning.

What is the recruiting policy? Will there be a possibility in future of recruiting into the popular units being allowed greatly to increase, or is the recruitment policy rigidly to adhere to a balanced force as seen in the War Office? I should like an answer with particular reference to the armoured units.

5.9 p.m.

Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

In view of your series of Rulings, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I think that I shall have trouble in keeping in order. I have three cards up my sleeve, and I will try them all. In the earlier part of his speech the Minister referred to discipline, and I hope to carry both you and him with me in suggesting that discipline and morale are directly related and that therefore questions affecting morale are in order.

The Deputy-Speaker

Morale is not in order in this debate.

Mr. Snow

That being the case, may I put it in a slightly different way? If there are factors affecting discipline in the Army at present which come within the ambit of the debate, I suggest that the Minister looks at the hardship which is sometimes experienced by married soldiers and their wives where unnecessarily short notice postings are put into effect. Some months ago I drew to the Minister's attention a case which I investigated at Whittingdon Barracks in my constituency where a soldier had been brought home from Cyprus to attend a specialist course so that on his discharge he might be qualified to follow a civilian job. Do I carry you so far, Mr. Deputy-Speaker?

The Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member is not in order on this point.

Mr. Snow

Very well. I will now produce one of my other cards and try to raise that matter on another occasion.

My next point concerns housing.

The Deputy-Speaker

Perhaps I can save the hon. Member time by warning him in advance that housing is out of order.

Mr. Snow

Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is the housing of soldiers in so far as it affects discipline out of order?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Housing is out of order. Discipline is in order.

Mr. Snow

Precisely. I am trying to suggest that when a soldier on discharge is confronted with an impossible housing situation for his family because he has no territorial or local claim on a local authority the discipline of the Army is thereby affected.

The Deputy-Speaker

I am afraid that cannot be in order on this limited subject.

Mr. Snow

I will therefore come to my third card. In the course of producing an efficient Army the Minister will, I hope, agree that it is important to try to maintain a general standard of instruction which will appeal to the man temporarily taken away from civilian life and put into the Army. A great deal more attention should be paid to understanding civilian psychology when attempting to secure efficient military training of individuals. Although there must be different forms of instruction to deal with the different arms, there is a common denominator by which there could be put into effect a much better understanding of the civilian psychology of these men who are recruited, many of them against their will, into the Armed Forces.

Having said that and in view of your Rulings, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I fear that I must resume my seat.

5.13 p.m.

Mr. Soames

Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I with the leave of the House mention one point? I do so only because the subject was raised and talked about at some length by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) and by the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellinger). I hope that I may be permitted to do so. It must have been marginally within order, for both those hon. Members talked for some time about the individual speech which was made recently at the R.U.S.I. by Lieut.-General Cowley.

It is a rule within the War Office that, if a senior officer is to make a public pronouncement, he should discuss it with me before so doing. To judge each particular speech or lecture on its merits, I take into account its content, the type of audience to which it is being delivered, the degree of publicity and the like. This was done in this case by General Cowley. I judge each case on its individual merits. The general began by saying that it was an expression of his personal views. It was put forward to promote discussion in the Royal United Service Institution, which is a quasi-professional body and, as such, I sanctioned that the lecture should be given. That does not mean in any way, as my right hon. Friend said yesterday, that it represented the official policy of Her Majesty's Government. It did not need to do that That is represented by Ministers.

As my right hon. Friend also told the House yesterday, from now on when it comes to officers making speeches about defence policy in general over the broad field of defence policy, as opposed to matters concerned merely with the individual service from which the officer comes, those speeches will not only be cleared by the Minister responsible for the Department, but also will be sent over to the Minister of Defence.

Mr. Strachey

Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be a great loss to the country if these rules were interpreted too rigidly? Whatever we may think of the speech made by Lieut.-General Cowley, it was an extremely interesting speech. I, for one,—I think that most of my hon. Friends and, I dare say, most hon. Members opposite will agree—think that it would have been a very great pity if the rules had been interpreted so strictly that such a speech could not be made. I cannot help feeling that, whether we agree with the general or not, he has started a controversy which may be of real value to the country.

Mr. Bellenger

Will this disciplinary procedure be applied to general officers only, or will it apply to all officers and, for that matter, other ranks? Will any officer or other rank in possession of certain important information be able to submit his manuscript to the right hon. Gentleman or, as the case may be, to the Minister of Defence, as we heard yesterday, and then deliver a lecture, not necessarily to the R.U.S.I.?

Mr. Soames

It is a matter of degree, emphasis and common sense. It is up to the Minister responsible for each Department to act. Each case has to be judged on its merits at the time.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

What happens if a general, or a private in the wet canteen, conducting a military discussion with his pals emphasises in every sentence that what he is saying is the view of the Ministry, so much so that in the end it becomes quite clear that it is not his view?

Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that when the Labour Government were in power the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) had on more than one occasion to denounce speeches made by Field Marshal Montgomery?

5.18 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State and Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Hugh Fraser)

It falls to me to answer some of the points which hon. Gentlemen have steered past your very determined Rulings of what was in order. Mr. Deputy-Speaker

On the general point raised by the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), I think that the right view was that indicated by my right hon. Friend a short time ago. Obviously these things must be interpreted in common sense, both by those who are under orders from Ministers and by the Ministers themselves, with a view to reaching a happy arrangement. I think that the matter can be safely left there.

I very much regret that the three aces of the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) proved to be stumers. I am sure that that did not happen during his election campaign. It is a rash thing to say that you have aces up your sleeve when you have not. If the hon. Gentleman will write to me on his three points, I will certainly answer him.

The right ron. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) raised various points on which there was general accord. The right hon. Gentleman raised one specific point about Shepton Mallet. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, this military prison will cease to exist by 1962 and the Prison Commissioners have agreed to take from the Armed Forces those men who are condemned to prison and discharge with ignominy. There are about 80 men involved, so it is not such a very large number—I had that figure checked a moment ago.

The right hon. Gentleman also raised the question of getting the right man into the right place, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw).

In so far as my hon. Friend was in order, I, too, hope to keep in order. Of course, the size of the Royal Armoured Corps must now be tailored to the military needs of the Army as a whole. As a result, there has been this programme of amalgamation which, unfortunately, has been inevitable. But, as the right hon. Gentleman said, we have to look at this problem as a whole. Certain of the tail arms are recruiting extremely well, especially where a mechanical aptitude is needed. We have to look very much at fitting men into the right situations and, as my right hon. Friend said, compulsion cannot be used. It must be a matter of persuasion or of substitution, where we can do that, either by civilianisation or by other means, such as using members of the W.R.A.C. and Q.A.R.A.N.C.

I was asked about the number of boys and apprentices who had achieved commissions. I am glad to say that of the present total of Regular and short service officers, 1,344 are ex-boys or apprentices. That is quite a high proportion of an officer strength getting on for between 17,000 and 20,000. This is overall, but the rate at the moment is rather higher. I think, though I have not checked this, that the figure may be as high as 40 per cent. in one year for commissions from the ranks.

As the schools develop—and, as my right hon. Friend showed, they are developing at a very fast rate—the number of apprentices is increasing. For instance, the number which this year stands at 2,400 will next year be over 3,000 when the boys go back at the beginning of their summer term in April.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about further education and the matter, I think, was also raised by another hon. Member. Of course, this is something which is important to discipline and to the Army in general. We have progressed in the advanced courses of education which soldiers can now take. I hope that if any hon. Members raise this matter on the Estimates we shall be able to give them a good report of the increased standards which are available.

Various other points were raised by hon. Members, but I think that I have covered all those that were in order. If any hon. Member thought that he would not be within the bounds of order and therefore felt unwilling to run the gamut of your strictures, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I hope he will write to me, when I will give him the best answer I can.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Army Act, 1955 (Continuation) Order, 1959, a draft of which was laid before this House on 28th October, be approved.