§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. John Profumo)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Perhaps I should start by warning those hon. Members who are considering staying in the Chamber that this will be a very boring speech indeed. I am presenting a Bill which is essentially a continuation Measure. It consists of a series of disjointed Clauses, most of which, though useful, are relatively minor amendments to the Army Act, 1955, and the Air Force Act, 1955. They represent the fruits of four years' experience and their generally minor nature is a compliment to the wisdom of the Select Committee and others who were very closely associated with the 1955 Acts. I cannot see any way of fitting together these disjointed Clauses into a polished Parliamentary performance. Therefore, there is nothing for it but to be boring, but as brief as I possibly can.
I want to say something about procedure first. The House will probably agree that the arrangements recommended by the Select Committee have worked and are working well. The Government certainly have no intention of altering the procedure. The Bill will go to a Select Committee once it has had its Second Reading. The Army and Air Force Acts have a wide scope. They embrace enlistment and terms of service, discipline, various financial penalties, billeting, requisitioning of vehicles, and other matters necessary for the control and command of an Army and a Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Before the Minister leaves that point, may we take it that when he says that the Bill will go to a Select Committee there will also be available a technical committee to advise the Select Committee if necessary? That was part of the original proceeding, it worked extraordinarily well, and I think that it should not be dropped.
§ Mr. Profumo
I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman for his inquiry 1199 Perhaps I can best answer it by saying that there is a difference between the procedure following the Second Reading of this Bill and what happened last time. We are not now discussing a completely new Army and Air Force (Annual) Act as we were then, and which the Select Committee considered; we are considering the continuation of two Acts that have been working for four years.
I can assure the House that our intention is that this Measure should go to a Select Committee and that, available to that Select Committee, there should be all the technical advice that is usual in Select Committee proceedings and which can be brought from the Departments concerned. If, however, during the course of discussion, that is found not to be enough, I shall certainly undertake to consider reverting to the previous arrangement. I believe that we may not need that, but we are not in any way trying to minimise the importance of the consultations that will take place in the Select Committee after Second Reading, if a Second Reading is granted.
There are bound to be a lot of teething troubles in the working of two Acts that have well over 200 Sections each, but we should note that the number of Amendments proposed in the Bill is rather small, and that they are minor in character. Clause 1 embodies the prime object of the Bill. It provides for the continuance of the Acts until the end of 1962, and thereafter to the end of 1966, by annual Orders in Council which, of course, require affirmative Resolutions of both Houses of Parliament.
Another main object of the Bill is to make provision from 1st January, 1962, for a man to enlist in the Royal Air Force initially on a pensionable engagement; that is, of twenty-two years. At present, anyone who wants to join the Royal Air Force can do so only for a term of up to twelve years or, if he enlisted as a boy, twelve years after reaching age 18. He has to wait until he has completed four years' man's service before he can apply to re-engage to complete twenty-two years' service.
The change is designed as a recruiting inducement. There is evidence from headmasters, career masters and parents that the present limited engagement acts 1200 as a deterrent, and that more would be willing to enlist if, at the time of enlistment, they knew that they could serve on to earn a pension, and would not be faced with the possibility of their service being terminated at the end of twelve years with only a gratuity. The objection to allowing young men to commit themselves to a long period of service when they do not know what life in the forces is like is met, I think, by a provision that gives them the right to take their discharge after a prescribed period, which will not be more than twelve years after reaching age 18.
We are taking the opportunity which the Amendment gives to correct a minor anomaly, which also applies in the Army. At present, men aged between 17½ and 18 enlist on an engagement commencing on the day of attestation. They do not, however, qualify for a pension until they have served twenty-two years from the age of 18. Such men, therefore, have to extend their service for a few months in order to complete their twenty-two years from the age of 18. This is administratively inconvenient. What is more important, it leaves some men with a sense of grievance, because the 22-year engagement is generally referred to as a pensionable engagement. This Bill now provides for a fully pensionable initial engagement for all men over the age of 17½.
Both in the Army Enlistment Clauses—Clauses 2 to 7—and in the Air Force Enlistment Clauses—Clauses 8 to 15—provision is made for those who enlist under the age of 18 to do so for a term of service up to the age of 18, and thereafter for twenty-two years. That means that there will now be a single, clear code, without the need to refer to the two earlier Acts, and it will apply to all those who enlist after the end of 1961 One of the aspects of the 1955 Act which the Army Council and the Air Council have had to study carefully has been the question of punishments. All the advice that we have had from the military authorities themselves—and, indeed, from the Judge Advocate General—has been to the effect that there is a gap in the scales of punishment as they exist at present. For officers, warrant officers and non-commissioned officers that gap occurs between forfeiture of seniority, on the one hand, and severe reprimand, on the other; and, for 1201 soldiers and airmen, between detention on the one hand and restriction of privileges on the other hand.
In each case, the higher punishment is often too severe a penalty, particularly for officers who, if they are made to forfeit seniority, may consequently suffer loss of pay over their careers as a whole because, as the House will see, they may lose increments or, indeed, their promotion prospects as such may even be affected.
We have, therefore, decided on the measure that appears in Clause 18, in order that this gap should be bridged and to give the necessary flexibility. We are not really doing anything new here. We are extending a principle that already exists in the Army and Air Force Acts. Forfeiture of pay can already be ordered for other ranks when they are on active service and, of course, they lose their pay while they are under sentence of detention.
Sentence of forfeiture of seniority on officers, warrant officers and noncommissioned officers may well involve them in a severe loss of pay, so the principle is already there. Clause 18 extends that principle, and provides a financial penalty that is at once more precise and less severe than forfeiture of seniority. In the case of other ranks, this means that we will now be able to dock a man's pay without having to be deprived of his services at the same time—and that is very important in certain circumstances.
The new punishment of… forfeiture of a sum from pay …may be awarded summarily or by court-martial, and will apply to all ranks, whether on active service or not. The power of a commanding officer or an appropriate superior authority to award the punishment will be subject to the accused's right to elect trial by court-martial. For a civil offence, the maximum, within a limit of fourteen days' pay will not exceed the maximum fine that a civil court in the United Kingdom could award for the same offence—
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
We are not extending the area of the crimes or misdemeanours? I suppose that they remain the same, according to Queen's Regulations?
§ Mr. Profumo
I am not now seeking to legislate for the misdemeanours. I only ask the House to consider the punishment for certain kinds of misdemeanours. However, from his experience, the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that there is a gap that is unfair to officers and other ranks in both services. I want to prescribe a punishment that it will be fair to award, and that will fill the gap for misdemeanours that are too serious for the lower award and not serious enough for the higher one. That is what we seek to do.
There may be some hon. Members, particularly those who were associated with the original Select Committee, who may wonder why my Department advised against the introduction of fines at that time, and yet here I am today proposing to insert a similar punishment into the Acts. Well, I think that there is a very real difference between what I am proposing and what was then under consideration. The earlier proposals were directed towards providing a considerable severer penalty than what we now have in mind. In 1955, the Select Committee concentrated almost entirely on the punishment available for officers. It was concerned with the question of whether there should be any form of punishment between dismissal and severe reprimand and, if so, what it should be. The Committee considered both reduction in rank and heavy fines up to a maximum of £200. The suggestion was even made at one time in the evidence that fines should rank as a more severe punishment than forfeiture of seniority.
Finally, the Committee came to the conclusion that neither fines nor reduction in rank were to be preferred to the well recognised and accepted punishment of forfeiture of seniority. We have now had four years' experience and, in the light of that, as I have just said, it has become quite clear—and my right hon. Friend and I are perfectly convinced—that we do need some sort of penalty between forfeiture of seniority and severe reprimand, for officers, war-ant officers and non-commissioned officers, and between detention and restriction of privilege for soldiers and airmen.
We have come to the conclusion that the best means of meeting this is what we are proposing in Clause 18. The 1203 relatively low maximum of fourteen days' pay, which, of course, excludes allowances, should ensure that there is no undue hardship.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
Would the right hon. Gentleman make one thing clear? Has he in mind that this would be not only an additional punishment, but would replace, to some extent, a great number of petty punishments—confined to barracks, confined to camp, and that sort of thing—or does it not deal with that category of offence at all?
§ Mr. Profumo
I think that it will be fairly clear when we send out the instructions later on that it is between the two categories. I am asking for legislation now, not for further punishment for the really petty offences, but that we insert this punishment in the scale between the really petty punishments and the more serious ones. If it is wished, this punishment can be awarded in conjunction with other punishment. That is the gap I am hoping that we shall plug. Thereby soldiers and airmen who commit offences which are a little more serious than petty ones will not either have to be given the petty punishments, or punishments which are much too severe. I hope that it will become clearer, as we discuss the Bill in Committee, that the aim is to plug the gap which my right hon. Friend and I believe exists between either too severe punishment or punishment which is not severe enough.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
At present there are three monetary penalties which can be awarded against a soldier. First, if he is absent without leave there is automatic forfeiture of pay. The commanding officer does not, as it were, punish by so doing; he merely informs him that, automatically, he is forfeiting pay. The second category is in the case of a soldier who, for example, damages a vehicle. He can then be awarded deprivation of pay, not to compensate the public for the damage involved but, as it were, as a warning to others. Then there is the third category, the case of drunkenness. This is the only case, as I understand it, in civil law, where a man can be fined if it is a second or third offence. In which category does the right hon. Gentleman place his new proposals?
§ Mr. Profumo
I am suggesting a new category altogether, something which has not existed, but which I would like to insert in the new Acts. It does not really cover any of the cases to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.
One of the best examples I can give is a motoring offence. If one looks at motoring offences, which take place in B.A.O.R., one finds that there is an enormous number that would be dealt with in a civil court by a fine and yet at present one has either to deal with them by restriction of privileges—which is not enough, in many cases—or by something very much more serious.
If one awards detention, there is the loss of pay which is, in effect, a fine, but there is also the loss of the man's services at the same time. So, for these crimes or misdemeanours, call them what you will, we wish to insert this new punishment which, on all the information we can obtain from the Armed Forces and the Judge Advocate-General will, we think, be fair.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
This is very interesting. Do I understand that, apart from some vague categories which are referred to in the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman proposes specifically to define the categories so that the officers and men will know beforehand, in the event of any misdemeanour or crime being committed, what the punishment is likely to be?
§ Mr. Profumo
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, when punishment is defined or is made legal, very clear administrative instructions are sent out. It is certainly the intention of my right hon. Friend and myself to see that most careful administrative instructions are sent out to commanding officers, courts-martial, and so on, in order to be quite sure that it is clearly understood what this new punishment is meant to do. I hope that the House will agree, when it considers the matter, that there is a need for some such punishment. However, we will discuss that later. Certainly, I will give the right hon. Gentleman that undertaking.
I will now run through some of the other Clauses as quickly as I can. For the most part these are minor refinements and I think that I need only describe briefly why the changes are considered 1205 necessary. The first is Clause 16, which concerns the enlistment and conditions of service of the Royal Marines, which are provided for in the Seventh Schedule to the Army Act. At the time the Act was passed the engagement structure for the Marines—and, indeed, for the Royal Navy—was a twelve-year engagement, followed by one of ten years.
The structure has since been altered to provide for three engagements of nine, five and eight years, in that order. It was possible to introduce the new structure under existing legislation but it is necessary to amend the Seventh Schedule to clarify the law and to simplify administration. The Amendments do not alter principles or impose any additional restrictions.
Clause 17 makes minor changes in the circumstances in which field punishment and forfeiture of pay may be awarded to other ranks under active service conditions. At present, field punishment and forfeiture of pay, may only be awarded when the offence is actually committed on active service. The main object of the Clause is to allow punishments to be awarded when the offender is on active service at the time when sentence is announced.
Clause 19 extends the provisions of Section 24 (1) of the Army and Air Force Acts. This makes it an offence for any one who is subject to military or Air Force law to furnish the enemy with arms or ammunition or with supplies of any description with the intent to assist the enemy. The terms "arms", "ammunition" and "supplies" have particular, well-known meanings in the Services and they do not cover the whole field of possible material assistance to the enemy. For example, a man could "flog" a tank to the enemy if he wanted to and we could not bring a charge against him under the existing Section—it is as simple as that. I think that hon. Gentlemen on both sides will realise that somehow we have to plug this loophole.
Clause 20 is designed to permit a charge to be preferred against a man who knowingly receives the proceeds of the sale of public property by another soldier.
Clause 21 will enable a commanding officer to order a man to revert to an acting rank lower than that held by him 1206 but higher than his permanent rank. At present, he can order only reversion to permanent rank and this, sometimes, can be over severe.
Clause 22 repeals Section 80 (2) of the 1955 Acts which prohibit a higher authority from referring back a charge for dismissal when the accused has elected to be tried by court-martial and has not withdrawn his election. This is to make it unnecessary to hold quite pointless courts-martial.
Clause 23 introduces a small change designed to benefit the defence in court-martial proceedings. The object is to enable the defence to put in a statutory declaration within seven days before trial if the commanding officer agrees.
Clause 24 deals with the review of summary proceedings. It often happens that someone is tried summarily and is found guilty of two or more offences and that one award is made by the commanding officer in respect of both findings. When that happens, the award must be quashed if any one of the findings is quashed. The new provision will enable the reviewing authority to vary its summary award by remitting in whole or in part any punishment awarded or by commuting the whole award.
With the run-down of the size of our forces, many more civilians are being employed, and in some Army and Air Force units only one or two serving officers are on the establishment. The remainder of the senior staff are civilians. We have now to provide, therefore, for civilians in the service of the Crown to be eligible to sit on boards on inquiry and to be members or presidents of unit inquiries. Clause 25 does this and, at the same time, it reaffirms the domestic nature of these inquiries by incorporating in the Acts the definition of those allowed to attend which applied before the 1955 Acts took effect.
I shall not delay the House very long on Clauses 26 to 34. Soon after the 1955 Acts came into force, it was noticed that fines imposed before men joined the Services could not be deducted from pay. This power had long been provided for under previous Acts and no change was ever intended. There have been complaints from magistrates' courts about this omission, and Clause 26 puts it right.
1207 Clause 27 corrects an anomaly. Under Section 147 of the Acts, a man can be ordered to pay compensation for loss of or damage to public or Service property by wrongful act or negligence, and the compensation can be deducted from his pay. Sometimes, in consequence of a court-martial sentence, a man has been discharged before such an order can be made. Clause 27 will enable recovery to be made from any credit balance in his account.
Clause 28 extends the power of the Army and Air Councils to enforce maintenance orders to include orders made in respect of children of the serviceman's wife who are accepted by him as members of his family. This follows the Matrimonial Proceedings (Magistrates Courts) Act, 1960.
Clause 29, in general, gives power to clerks of courts to sign certificates of arrest or surrender of deserters and absentees. The Amendment is necessary because not every court of summary jurisdiction consists of justices of the peace.
Clauses 30 to 33 extend the Army Act to special offences relating to aircraft and aircraft material in the Air Force Act. Now that the Army is operating its own light aircraft, it is desirable that the two Acts should be brought into line on this matter.
Clause 34 makes individual members of colonial forces subject to military or Air Force law, as the case may be, when serving with United Kingdom forces anywhere outside their Colony and not only in the United Kingdom as at present.
Clause 35 is essentially an amendment of a technical nature but, because it impinges on the Act of Settlement, I think that the House would like to hear an explanation. Queen's commissions in the United Kingdom land forces have been given to British-protected persons who have then been seconded for service in colonial forces, because the Act of Settlement does not permit places or offices of trust under the Crown to be occupied by those who are not British subjects. This procedure is permissible, as Section 21 of the Acts allows a limited number of aliens to serve in the United Kingdom land and air forces. In present circumstances, however, it is undesirable to perpetuate this practice. Protectorates 1208 and Colonial Territories are rapidly advancing towards independence, and it is sensible that the officers in the forces of those territories should be commissioned in those forces and not in the forces of the United Kingdom.
Clause 35 is retrospective and covers a wide range, embracing British-protected persons who have or will have Governors' commissions or who have been promoted to warrant officer or noncommissioned officer. This is to remove all doubt, and it amends both the Army and Air Force Acts.
Clause 36 depends on an amendment to Queen's Regulations for the Army which we shall make to create the rank of lance-corporal and lance-bombardier. Lance-corporal and lance-bombardier have been and will continue to represent the first advancement in responsibility private soldiers make towards attaining non-commissioned officer status and, later, warrant officer status. It is a difficult change for many private soldiers since they have to move apart, consciously or unconsciously, in various ways, in the interests of discipline, from other private soldiers with whom they have been companions. The majority assimilate the change and become successful non-commissioned officers, but a greater proportion fail to succeed than in any subsequent promotion.
Our object is to make their assimilation easier by adding status to those who are promoted by making lance-corporal and lance-bombardier a rank and not an appointment. At the same time, there is the probationary aspect of this first promotion. Commanding officers at present have power to take away the appointment of lance-corporal. They must keep that power, because they are in the best position to judge suitability.
§ Brigadier Sir Otho Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
Will my right hon. Friend make clear whether he is referring to pay? He is referring to the paid appointment or rank and not to the acting-unpaid lance-corporal.
§ Mr. Profumo
I am speaking about the proper rank, the paid rank. They are paid for an appointment. Now, as my hon. and gallant Friend will understand, instead of being paid for an appointment they will be paid for a rank. It will become a rank. I am not talking 1209 about pay. Clause 36 allows commanding officers, as I say, to retain the necessary power to which I have just referred, if they wish I should tell the House that we have considered whether there ought to be an alteration to Section 14 of the Acts which deals with discharge by purchase, especially in the light of the fact that, in the Army at any rate, there is a disturbingly large number of men making use of this provision. We have decided that, on the whole, it is best to leave things as they are. It seems to me that, with today's standard of living, one would have to raise the purchasing-out sum very considerably to make it prohibitive and thereby to discourage people from buying themselves out by this means.
I do not think that this would be right. After all, in industry large sums of money are spent on trainees and, for the most part, they are perfectly free to leave whenever they wish. I think that it would be wrong and, what is more, I believe that it would be against the interests of recruiting, which the House has so much at heart, if it were felt that we were trying to hold a man to the forces against his will by making the price of purchasing out prohibitive. Anyway, if a man has made a genuine mistake in coming into the forces, I am not sure that it is not far better to let him go. We want willing soldiers, and we have every intention of making the Army more attractive to worthwhile recruits so that they will not want to purchase their own discharge.
The House may like to know that I have called for a comprehensive study by the Army Operational Research Group to find out why more recruits are buying their discharge from the Army within three months of joining up. Meanwhile, hon. Members will, no doubt, wish to know that we had decided to leave the Section as it stands. Incidentally, I will mention that the number of new recruits into the Army has encouragingly increased in December and January.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House the number of men who asked for their discharge during, let us say, the last twelve months?
§ Mr. Profumo
Without notice, I would rather not answer the right hon. Gentleman's question. There is some 1210 conflict in the figures, and I am having it gone into very carefully. I should not wish to mislead the House. The percentage is very much higher.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman and the House will forgive me if I am not accurate in my figures—I do not wish to mislead—but I think that, according to the last figures I saw, the percentage of those who purchased themselves out is over 10 per cent. This is a very serious matter. I do not think that we can cure it, or that we should be right to try to cure it, by making it prohibitive for Service men to buy themselves out. It is something which must be looked at. Not only do we wish to attract more recruits, but we want to keep them in. Perhaps our recruiting drive is so successful that we are inducing people to join the Army who do not really want to join and who may be bad soldiers. That is the sort of thing that I am trying to find out.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)
Is it possible for the Minister to find a method of obtaining the information after the men have actually left the Army? I am sure that he will find some reticence on the part of Service men in giving a truthful answer until the time has come when they have actually left. If he can do something in this direction, he may be able to hear something more like a truthful indication of why people leave by purchase.
§ Mr. Profumo
I take the hon. Member's point. We have no intention of marching a whole lot of men into a room and saying, "Why do you want to leave the Army?" That would not be the answer. The Operational Research Group will take quite a long time to do its work, because it will have to make a thorough examination. It will consider people who have left as well as those who are to leave. Many men who buy themselves out do so because their mothers or girl friends have "got at them" and said, "You can do better in civilian life".
On the other hand, many men have joined the Army—I do not know whether it is the same with the Royal Air Force—because they have had a row in their family and think that the Army is an opportunity to get away from it all. When they join they find that there 1211 is discipline, make up the row in the family and then out they go. I believe that we are best without people who genuinely find that they have made a mistake and will not make good soldiers. I do not think that we have to go into the by-ways and ditches to get the 165,000–180,000 Army. I have digressed to explain why I do not think it is wise for us to have £20 as the basic sum for which a man can buy himself out.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
Is the Minister prepared, after an examination, to reveal, perhaps in a White Paper, the reason why men leave the Army? As the right hon. Gentleman said, it may be that there are conditions in the Army, such as regulations, which prompt soldiers to seek their discharge. May we have an analysis at some stage of the position, including all the factors which are responsible for discharge?
§ Mr. Profumo
I prefer not to commit myself precisely to what I can do when I finish with this inquiry, but I will give the hon. Gentleman and the House this undertaking. The purpose of the inquiry is not merely to ask people why they are buying themselves out. It will be very comprehensive and will cover the point whether man-management is as it should be. I do not doubt that it is, but it will cover that. If, at the end of this operation, I find that I have some information which I feel would be of value to the House and nation, I shall not hesitate to make it public.
§ Mr. Wigg
In view of the right hon. Gentleman's liberal declaration that he proposes to stand by Section 14, and the rate of £20 established forty years ago, I take it that he has under consideration the rate of purchase after three months, which jumps sharply from £20 to £250. If that is not so, then his argument is nonsense.
§ Mr. Profumo
I do not think that it is nonsense—at least, I hope that it is not. I thought about it carefully knowing that the hon. Gentleman would be listening. I am concerned only with the question of purchasing out in the first three months. I do not want to put that up. That is the important point. The examination which I am having about recruits and man-management will cover the whole field.
§ Mr. Wigg
The right hon. Gentleman fails to understand that under Section 14 a soldier has a statutory right. It has nothing to do with the right hon. Gentleman or his military advisers. A man can say, "I will buy myself out far £20." On the completion of three months and a day, he has to say, "Please may I go?" and has to pay £250. There is a sharp change in the policy. If the right hon. Gentleman is impelled by liberal motives, he ought to have another look at the figure of £250.
§ Mr. Profumo
We will certainly look at the £250, but that seams to be a different problem. I am concerned with the statutory period during which a man is allowed to buy himself out, and whether we should still permit him to buy himself out or raise the sum to such an extent that it becomes not a statutory permission, but prohibitive. It will be better to discuss the details of this matter later.
I have no desire to delay the House. This is a Second Reading speech. I have had to go into detail because it is a strange Measure. I do not wish to detain the House any longer. No doubt hon. Members on both sides will want to raise points about the Bill and about my speech. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air will, as far as he possibly can, reply to those points at the end of the debate. I ask hon. Members to remember, however, that the Bill will go to the Select Committee, where the provisions can be considered in detail. I am sorry that I have spoken at greater length than I said I would.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich. East)
As the Secretary of State said, the Bill is an awkward one for Second Reading, because it consists of many Committee points. I think that he did himself less than justice in warning us that his speech would be boring and dreary. I would say that it was a low-flying speech, suitable to a former Lysander pilot. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, by flying low he presents less of a target to the other side. The details of the Bill are much more suitable for investigation by the Select Committee and for discussion during the Committee stage, which will take place in the House_ We welcome the appointment of a Select Committee in accordance with the 1213 procedure for which my hon. Friends were responsible. It is a tribute to my hon. Friends that the same procedure should have been in operation for five years, and, so far as I know, there are no strong objections to it from either side. We will carefully bear in mind what the right hon. Gentleman said about the technical committee. Undoubtedly, from everything I have heard, the Departmental Committee was of the greatest value to the Select Committee when the Army Act was being considered.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the Select Committee's work should be confined to the provisions of the Bill. As I understand it the Select Committee will range, if it so wishes, over the whole of the Army Act. Therefore, it may well be that there is a substantial job to do and that the work and assistance of the Departmental Committee will be useful to the Select Committee.
The right hon. Gentleman said that it was a tribute to those who formed the Act that there are so few amendments in the Bill. That may be so. Equally, it may be that the Government have not probed deeply enough into what needs to be done. It may well be that the Select Committee will find a number of constructive suggestions to make which should be embodied in the Bill. We must remember the mess which the Select Committee had to clear up because of the inertia of successive Governments, but we are aware that the Government have the last word in the changes which it suggests.
I am sure that it will very much fortify discipline and morale in the Army for the men to know that it is an offence to "flog" a tank to the enemy under Clause 19. We are also glad to know that, if required, a man can be fined for this under Clause 17. Even if he has left the Service, he can still be fined under Clause 27 of the Bill.
In general, I propose to leave the detailed Clauses to the Committee stage. Perhaps the most important part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was when he touched on the question of wastage. There is a great deal of concern on this side, and, I imagine, on the benches opposite, about this point. Coming fresh to this subject, in looking at the way the discussions have gone in the 1214 past, I have been surprised at the tremendous emphasis placed on the intake of recruits into the Army and the lack of attention which seems to be given to the wastage of recruits during the three months after they are taken in. The intake position is serious, although we were all cheered to hear what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about the December figures. The November figures were not much to be encouraged about, but the December ones are definitely better. That is something which is very welcome.
We must also consider the "leaks" in the first three months. The Minister said that there was over 10 per cent. wastage in the first three months, but the figures published in The Times recently showed that, of the 14,600 men who joined the Army for the first time in the twelve months up to October, 3,129 left in three months. That is a very formidable figure. Of these, most left through purchase-2,000 of the 3,129 left by purchasing for £20 their discharge—and the others left for medical and other reasons.
I was very struck, when paying a visit to Aldershot—I now express my thanks to the Minister for the facilities given to me—and asking about the reason for some of this wastage, to find the great difference of wastage between one unit and another. I hope that this is one of the matters which the inquiry will look into very carefully. It is natural, I suppose, for units which set themselves a particularly difficult standard to achieve to have a greater range of wastage than others.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I am putting this forward as an argument to show that, in fact, this does not account for the differential rate of wastage between units. I have been to parachute and airborne troops depots where the rate of wastage is 50 per cent. Of the recruits who leave the parachute and airborne forces within three months, 20 per cent. go to other branches of the Service, but 30 per cent. leave the Army altogether. That is a very disturbing and significant point.
At the R.A.C. depot, I found that out of 170 new recruits, only two had purchased their discharge. It is plain that if that record of wastage went throughout the Army our recruiting problem would be solved over night. I had the 1215 impression that troops had been marched into barrack rooms and asked why they were proposing to buy their discharge, and that the reasons given, in those conditions, had some family content in a very high proportion of the cases.
I had the feeling that, although the Army recognises the importance of acclimatising troops for unusual climates and conditions, it has, perhaps, not studied so much the task of acclimatising civilians to Army life during the first three months. This may be so. It does not seem to me that because a man is slow to acclimatise himself it necessarily follows that he will not make a first-class soldier once he has settled down. It may well be that this high rate of wastage, if it could be stopped, would lead to a number of people serving successfully and effectively in the Army.
I welcome very much the proposal to have a thorough-going inquiry by the Army Operational Research Group. I ask the Minister whether the Group has started work and, if not, when it will do so. Perhaps he will let us know later, a little more precisely, what its terms of reference will be. I am glad to hear that its terms are to be wide and that it will investigate why people leave the Army, and, I hope, why they do not, and why there is this differentiation between one unit and another. Perhaps it will be possible to pinpoint a little more accurately which kind of recruit makes the best soldier so that our recruiting propaganda can be a little more discriminating. All that would help.
We have to realise that the Army may have got used to dealing with National Service recruits who cannot purchase their discharge in the first three months. We can make a mistake about a National Service recruit and perhaps get away. with it, but if we make a bad mistake about a voluntary recruit we may lose a potentially good soldier altogether. For these reasons the inquiry will be of great importance. I am glad to have the assurance of the Minister that he proposes to keep the House fully informed on this subject. It would be particularly interesting to know what have been the overall rates of wastage in recent years, and what are the different rates of wastage in different units.
This problem of manpower is, of course, still absolutely crucial and one 1216 which, I have no doubt, will come up again in the debate on the Estimates and, perhaps, in the defence debate, as well. I ask that, either today or during those debates, we should be given an up-to-date picture of the number of battalions under strength, and what is meant by a battalion being under strength. I particularly noticed 'that in the debate last November, in reply to pressure from my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), the Parliamentary Secretary gave figures showing that 47 battalions were up to or over strength and 16 battalions were below strength. It would be good to have an up-to-date statement and to be quite clear what the Minister means by "up to strength".
Hon. Members will probably have seen, as I did, the disturbing report bearing on these problems in The Times last week, from its military correspondent, which said:… The Rhine Army will have to face the fact that it has too many units with too few men in them to be effective.That was the very serious conclusion of this article. The whole report seemed to confirm the worst misgivings expressed by 'both sides of the House on this question of manpower shortage. It gave a picture of an army capable of launching a devastating nuclear blow, but so equipped, organised, trained and deployed as to be virtually incapable of operating in any conventional rôle at all, and this not through lack of resources but, it appears, through policy.
The report said that last year there were no major exercises at all by B.A.O.R., except on the assumption of the use of nuclear weapons. I have no doubt that other hon. Members and I will return to this point later, in further debates, and also to the tasks which the Army has in parts of the world other than in Germany. Our aim will be, in general, that the task given to this Army shall be fairly matched by its resources. That has not always been the case. It was not the case in 1956 and in 1939. If we are to have an Army at all, it is, I know, the view of hon. Members on both sides of the House that it must be properly trained, properly equipped, properly organised and deployed. That will be the aim of my 'hon. Friends and myself in carrying this Bill further in Committee.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)
I was very interested in what my right hon. Friend had to say in introducing the Bill. He dealt with a whole series of Committee points. But this is particularly the time when the Government should come to the House and justify our having a standing Army in time of peace. My right hon. Friend did not give one reason why we needed a standing Army in time of peace. Judging by the size of the Army, and the reported reduction in some of the units and the withdrawal of units, I think that it may be symptomatic that he does not believe that a standing Army is justified today.
There are three very important reasons why we need a standing Army at present. We have the very obvious reason that we need it to defend ourselves. We need it to take our share of the obligations that we have in various regional pacts to which we belong; our obligation, for instance, in N.A.T.O. I think that he could easily have justified our having an Army by telling us that we have an obligation in N.A.T.O. for about 55,000 troops and that we probably have not at the moment 50,000 troops in the British Army of the Rhine. At the same time, those troops are distributed not in units that can pack punch, but in a number of units that are fine on paper, but of which I would think that practically none is up to strength and capable of engaging in an operational rôle immediately.
There are reports that British troops will probably be withdrawn from the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve in Malaya. One of the justifications for our having an Army is that we should be able to have troops in the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve to fulfil our obligations in that part of the world. I have been glad to hear of the denial by my right hon. Friend that the Far East is to have a reduction in troops, but there seems to be doubt whether Malaya is part of the Far East.
There is justification for having part of our Army to look after our interests in, for instance, the Eastern Mediterranean. We have had many debates in the House about the vital importance of a garrison in Cyprus. My right hon. Friend might have mentioned something about this, or is it possible that Cyprus is 1218 now becoming merely a store dump with simply a few troops to maintain the stores and to look after the airfields?
The second important reason for having an adequate Army—I am glad of the opportunity to make the case, as my right hon. Friend omitted to do so—is the necessity of dealing with certain emergencies that may arise from time to time outside our larger international obligations. For example, if an emergency arose—I do not envisage it, but it is always a possibility—in some part of the Colonial or Commonwealth Territories where we were required to help, we would need to have troops immediately to go and do a job to protect British persons and property.
A third reason, which is as important as any, is the stability that a standing Army by its mere presence can give in certain areas. If we are to pursue our existing colonial and Commonwealth policy, which I wholeheartedly support, it is essential that Mir troops are seen to be in certain of these areas to ensure that emergencies do not arise. It is all very well to say that we can fly troops out to Kenya, for example, but unless troops are seen and known to be at Kahawa and Gil Gil, so that they can deal with an emergency should it arise, they are not doing their most important job. If they are there, the emergency is not nearly as likely to arise. For these three particular reasons, I should like to see the Army Act carried forward another year and I feel that we are justified in having a standing Army.
I am delighted to hear that my right hon. Friend is investigating the problem of leakage. It is a most important one and should have been investigated long ago. Two or three years ago, it caused concern to a number of officers and it should have been looked into from the War Office sooner.
I hope, too, that before long, my right hon. Friend will consider the size that is required of a standing Army to carry out the tasks that face it and that by next year, if not sooner, he will be able to come to the House and show that there has been some rethinking about the size of the Army that is needed in these times and, furthermore and more importantly, how he will get those men to have a standing Army to justify.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
Regrettably, there are few ex-National Service men, as opposed to ex-Service men, on this side of the House. I speak as one and, before I deal with the Act, I should like to say that I welcome the ending of National Service. I have always believed that it was a great waste of time, not only for the men concerned, but for the Army. It was a great waste of the Army's resources.
Nothing is more demoralising for a unit than to have a large percentage of National Service men. Great tribute has been paid to the work they did. I was one of them and I accept the tributes which have been paid to us, but there is nothing worse than for a platoon of 30 or 40 men to have 15 or 20 National Service men each chalking up the number of days to their release. How could a National Service officer be expected to participate in his commanding officer's efforts to retain the men in his unit when they themselves, as in my case, were counting the days to their discharge to civilian life? I hope that never again in time of peace will we have compulsory military service.
The figures of 165,000 and 180,000 men have been bandied about in previous debates on the Army and the Government have indicated that if one of these figures—I am not sure which—is not arrived at, "some special measures", to use the words of the Secretary of State, may have to be taken. I hope that this will not mean the reintroduction of National Service.
With the abolition of National Service, one thing which is obvious—it may sound platitudinous, but I do not think that its extent has been appreciated—is that less manpower will be needed to train National Service men and, therefore, the Regular soldiers can be better deployed. Nothing is worse for a platoon sergeant or corporal engaged in a course of weapon or any other kind of training of instruction to have a new draft of two or three men joining him every few weeks and having to restart his course of training time after time. That will be obviated.
I am, however, seriously concerned whether the best use is made of the men in the Army. I was glad of the indication given by the Secretary of State that 1220 more civilians are now being used for the tasks previously performed by soldiers. A large number of Regular soldiers are employed in extra-regimental and regimental duties which were not exactly military duties. These men could be better deployed than they are today.
Not many years ago, I was one of a number of men who were employed as hewers of wood and drawers of water for the Territorial Army, the Army Cadets and the women's Forces. The first battalion of the fine Welch Regiment came back from Hong Kong. I had the privilege of joining it. The battalion was posted to a place which had no training facilities whatever and when the summer came, the whole battalion was split up. Two companies were sent to one part of Wales, another company was sent 200 miles away and another was sent elsewhere a distance away to service the Territorial Army.
There is nothing worse for morale than that a whole battalion should be split up in this way. Again, there was nothing more demoralising than the work that they had to do. It is always to be expected that some men in every unit have to perform tasks which are not directly of military or tactical relevance. but when a whole battalion was split up to perform largely menial duties it was a complete waste of time both for the National Service men and the Regular soldiers. The commanding officer when he came back from Hong Kong was glad to be able to boast that not one court-martial had been held during the previous year, but as soon as the men started languishing in Pembroke Dock that wet winter the rate of offences began to soar and absence without leave was a normal rather than an abnormal event for a large number of men every Monday morning.
It was interesting to look at the employment of these men. In a company in which I served, twenty men were deployed to put up tents for the Territorial Army. This was their sole occupation during the whole summer. How could one expect men in this unit to continue to serve and re-enlist or try, when they got home, to persuade men to join the Regular Army? That unit was part of the country's reserve, but who could suggest that after this whole year of doing nothing the unit could have been regarded in any shape or form as a 1221 fighting force if it had been called upon as a fire extinguisher in any part of the globe?
I seriously ask the Secretary of State to consider how many men are deployed in the country today in activities of this nature, servicing other units and not participating in training but carrying out menial tasks. This was not the only unit that was so employed at this time. The Scots Greys, as well, had a couple of squadrons performing similar tasks. A large number of the standing Army in the country may well be still deployed in matters which are not strictly necessary and indeed are demoralising for a unit and for the Army as a whole.
At the time of which I speak there were National Service men who could boast that at the end of 18 months' Service they had spent some time in training at brigade headquarters, some time in holding, companies waiting for the regiment to return, then more than a year doing no training whatsoever and may be the last months of their service receiving some training as soldiers for battle. I am afraid that there is a great deal of waste of this kind still going on.
As for recruiting, pay is not the be all and end all of a soldier's life. The conditions of his work are equally important, and I am not speaking about physical conditions but that aspect of conditions which is concerned with leave and off-duty hours. A man in industry has a reasonable certainty of when he will have his annual holiday, but the soldier has no idea when he will get his leave. Obviously, because of the exigencies of the Service, it is not possible to forecast with comparable accuracy a man's leave as a man's holiday when he is engaged in industry. I have known cases where men have planned their holidays only to find their leave cancelled at the last minute. I know that it is not possible to introduce standards into military life similar to those in civilian life in this respect. but I hope that when the Minister attends to recruiting he will go into this question of some degree of reasonable certainty for the soldier.
As for the enlistment of boys as young soldiers, I am glad that the term of enlistment for 22 years is to be brought up to the date of attestation rather than 1222 to the age of 18 years. Now, when pressure is brought on industry to give young boys and girls time off to attend day classes, I hope that, even though Army education officers do a good job, in units where advantage can be taken of suitable classes run by local authorities these young boy soldiers will be enabled to participate in them.
On the subject of discipline, I welcome the introduction of forfeiture of pay as a punishment. But where in the past there has been, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) indicated, a forfeiture of pay for doing something to a vehicle or losing kit or things of that nature, there has been in practice a limit to the amount of pay of which a man could be deprived. The practice that I knew of was that men were allowed to keep some of their pay. Nothing is worse than that a man should be left with nothing at all in his pocket. There should 'be a limit so that he should have a few shillings left at least. When the regulations are made for the forfeiture of pay, I hope that a whole day's pay will not be taken from any man.
I appreciate the amendments which have been made to the court martial procedure even though they are minor. If I may declare a very remote interest as a lawyer in this matter, I should like to ask what the position is nowadays in the matter of defending men who are charged with serious offences. I understand that the Army has a scheme whereby a soldier can obtain legal advice and assistance. I have heard of counsel going to Germany and elsewhere to assist in the defence of prisoners.
Today we have in our ordinary criminal courts an extension of the scheme for legal aid defence certificates. The important point is that the fees for that kind of work have been raised considerably in the last few months so that criminal legal practice has been made more worth while than it was in the past. The advantage of this is that the ordinary accused person can avail himself of a wide range of solicitors and counsel. I hope that the remuneration of counsel who defend accused persons in the Army will be made commensurate with the pay that they would receive for doing similar work in the civil courts.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Julian Amery)
Just exactly what is the point that the hon. Member wants answered? Does he want to be sure that counsel available to soldiers or airmen are of comparable standing to those available under the legal aid scheme at home? Is that right?
§ Mr. Morris
In general, it is. I would not like to comment on the standing of my brethren in the profession, but I would say that if the remuneration were comparable it would be of some assistance in getting people of the same standing. Then in this matter not only would justice be done but it would be seen to be done. I should not like to be tempted further on this subject.
The other point on which I wish to comment is a practical one. I am not sure about this, but I understand that when counsel go out to B.A.O.R. to defend prisoners they are not instructed by solicitors but are assisted by serving officers in the unit. This is a very bad practice. The men should have the assistance of solicitors, who should also go out to help counsel in the preparation of the case. I do not know the extent of this scheme, but does it compare in gravity of offence with the legal aid in the ordinary criminal courts? Would a person who committed a similar crime in civilian life get assistance comparable with that provided in military life?
I welcome Clause 25. As one who has sat for innumerable hours on endless courts of inquiry, I welcome the inclusion of civilians as members. For many serving soldiers these courts of inquiry are a complete waste of time, because they often refer to "Q" matters which civilians would frequently best be able to deal with. There should be a thorough inquiry to see how far jobs of that nature—and, indeed, a far wider range of jobs—could be carried out by civilians. If we found that many jobs could be done by civilians, we could carry out our other commitments with the Army at the figure suggested by the Secretary of State, or even less.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
It has already been pointed out in the debate that, technically, it is in order to discuss whether or not we should have an Army or an 1224 Air Force. I am not at all convinced that there is a case for the indefinite continuation of the Air Force, but I will not develop that point. I wish to deal with four points which were very much discussed when the Naval Discipline Act, 1957, was under consideration, and which bear upon our discussions today.
Hon. Members who served on the Select Committee which considered that Act will recall, in the first instance, that pressure was put on all of us to produce a Chinese copy of the disciplinary Clauses of the Army Act, amplified, where necessary, in connection with flying by the diciplinary Clauses of the Air Force Act.
The Select Committee, which eventually had its way, made four rather important modifications. Why have these modifications not been applied to the Army and Air Force Acts now that these amendments are being made?
The first change was in the language of the Act, or, at any rate, in that of the Clauses which defined various offences. It was felt that there are some advantages in having the offences worded in such a way that an ordinary layman can understand what the Clauses mean. That is not so, as anyone who has read the Army and Air Force Acts will agree, in their case. I make a plea that the House should consider whether some of the Clauses that define specific offences could not be reworded in such a way that the ordinary soldier could understand what those offences are.
The second point, which is perhaps of greater importance, concerns what is the "omnibus" Section dealing with offences. This is Section 69 of the main Act, and it is the well known one that goes:Any person … who is guilty of any act … to the prejudice of good order and military discipline …Under that Section an offender is liable to up to two years' imprisonment. My objection to it is that it may be used, and is used, as the supporting Section for almost any charge in case the person drawing up the first charge make a mistake. The offender can always be caught on the second charge under that Section.
The original Naval Act, drawn up in the seventeenth century when there was 1225 greater respect for the rule of law than today, had some additional words of vital importance. It included the words:… breach of good order and naval discipline not hereinbefore mentioned.After a tremendous battle in the Select Committee—in which, it is right to say, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) played a great part—we got those words inserted into the current Naval Discipline Act. Why has this not been done with this Bill, since the matter was ventilated and debated at some length in the House?
The third point is a smaller one, and concerns flying offences. My recollection is that there are three—dangerous flying, low flying, and flying to annoy—although they are worded in a rather more complicated way. In the Air Force, all three are punishable by imprisonment up to two years. In the Naval Discipline Act, after a great deal of discussion, it was decided that imprisonment on conviction for flying to annoy was a bit over the odds and punishment in that case was reduced. It might be worth while bringing the Air Force Act into line with that change.
The last point is the most important. When the Naval Discipline Act was under consideration we asked the Departmental Committee under what authority what are called "consequential penalties" were imposed. The first answer was that they were imposed under the same authority as in the Army and the Air Force. It is a well known fact that any soldier, sailor or airman who commits a civil offence is liable to be punished a second time on the ground that he has brought disgrace and discredit on his uniform. Furthermore, this second punishment is not, I understand—it was certainly not so in the Navy—the result of a trial, but is an administrative act. Not one word is to be found in the Act about the authority under which this is done.
On pressing the matter, we on the Select Committee were eventually told that it was done under prerogative powers. Accordingly—again, after a very considerable debate—a new Clause was inserted into the Naval Discipline Act restricting the powers to punish a man a second time for a civil offence 1226 after he had been sentenced by the magistrate.
I attach very great importance to this point. It is extremely undesirable that there should be any idea that a man can be punished twice for the same offence, particularly when his second punishment is not the result of a proper trial. I do not wish to mislead the House, however. The final version of the Naval Discipline Act makes provision for trouble for a man convicted of a civil offence. There is power to discharge him, or to reduce his rank. But the power to inflict any other punishment is removed. It would not be a bad idea if the same policy was now followed in the case of the Army and the Air Force.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
If there had been any previous doubt about the scope of the debate, it has been settled by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett). It was clear that we could discuss the continuance of the Army and the Air Force in time of peace, and now, apparently, we can discuss the Navy as well.
Perhaps I might for a moment go into the history of this Bill, because we are linked in a very long chain which goes back some 300 years. Up to 1879, there was no permanent legislation, and control of the Army was secured by the annual passing of the Mutiny Act. From that time, there was a permanent Act, kept in being by an annual Act which, by 1952, was very considerably out of date. As a result, a Select Committee was set up and, at the end of its long deliberations, it agreed on the form in which future legislation should be considered. The point was made that, under the Bill of Rights, it was unlawful, without the permission of Parliament, to maintain an Army in being.
It therefore struck me as odd that today we should have had from the Secretary of State for War a catalogue of amendments and nothing about the maintenance of our standing Army in peacetime. The right hon. Member did not have the advantage of being a member of the Select Committee. We, the members of the Select Committee, including Mr. Speaker, thought that we would have some difficulty with hon. Members on both sides of the House because we were asking the House to forgo great privileges and the 1227 passing of the annual Bill, which was exempted business, a fact which compelled the Government to surrender in 1952, because if they had not set up the Select Committee the business of the House could have been brought to a standstill. That right was foregone, and it is perfectly clear, as Erskine May shows, that the House controls the numbers in the Army through Supply and money through the Estimates.
In this debate we should have had a discussion introduced by the Government on the position of the Army in time of peace. Instead, we have had a catalogue of piffling items all of which have to be considered first by a Select Committee and then, on the assurance of the Government, brought back to a Committee of the whole House. It is therefore misunderstanding the purpose of the Select Committee's recommendation that we should have had from the right hon. Gentleman the kind of speech he made today.
My hon. Friends have kindly followed up a question which I put to the Leader of the House last week about the establishment of a technical committee. I gave the Leader of the House notice of my question, because on his answer depended the kind of committee which we would get. He did not feel it possible to give me an answer at the time but, with his usual courtesy, he has since written to me explaining that there was not to be a technical committee and giving his reasons. I think that on the whole he is right, but I want to ask another question. Are the Parliamentary Secretaries of the Air Force and the War Office to be members of the Select Committee? They were on the previous occasion and their presence gave a guarantee that the Select Committee would have the technical services of the Departments available. In essence, the difference in procedure between a Select Committee and a subsequent Committee stage on the Floor of the House is that in a Select Committee witnesses can be called. The presence of Ministers to give guidance is, therefore, of paramount importance.
I do not suppose that I shall be a member of the Select Committee, but my rights will be fully safeguarded, as will those of all other hon. Members, by the proceedings when the matter comes before the House or on Committee in 1228 its usual way. If there is any matter which any Member wants to have raised or examined, it can then be dealt with, and it is not those matters of detail which we should be dealing with today but the broader question of principle as on any Second Reading debate.
Let us consider the current background to this subject, comparing the period 1952–54 and today. Since 1952 we have had Suez and the intervention in the Lebanon and the decision of the Government and Opposition to get rid of National Service, and the decisions which have flowed from that. In considering the Bill, we are taking very far-ranging decisions, because the country's ultimate capacity to fulfil its obligations to N.A.T.O. and the Commonwealth depend not on political decisions, but on the terms of enlistment of the various parts of the Armed Forces.
An illustration which I have often used is that the best Army this country has ever sent out was the Army of 1914. Its quality depended on the old Army Bill and on the Cardwell reforms of many years before. I believe that the great differences which have stricken the Opposition stem from the fact that the Opposition agreed to a short-service engagement which made an easy transition from conscription to a voluntary Army almost impossible. Indeed, it was only in 1957 that the Government took the policy decision of getting a long-service Army.
It is no good for us, the French, the Americans, the Germans or even the Russians, to say that we will do this or that unless the structure and organisation of our Forces are framed in such a way as to enable us to do so. I find myself in constant difficulty with some of my hon. and right hon. Friends. At the time of the defence debate a year ago, I was absolutely sure that we had said goodbye to an independent British deterrent, but we have now come full circle, the only difference being that for Blue Streak one should read Polaris, plus the fact, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), until recently a spokesman for the party, has pointed out, that we are committed to the maintenance of four divisions in Germany.
I listened with interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. 1229 Morris), who gave the House his experiences of National Service. He hoped that National Service would never return in peacetime. I do not know whether he is a unilateralist or a multilateralist, but I do not know how he can take such a view when the Americans in February will have 6,000 inductees taken into their Armed Forces, making a total of 2½ million men under that scheme since 1950, and while the Russians continue to have conscription.
The trouble is that the policies which have been pursued since the 1955 General Election have involved this country, whatever one may call oneself, in unilateral disarmament. We have in fact disarmed, and we have done it in such a way as to give an absolute guarantee that we shall have no political advantage from that act. We of the Opposition have even denied ourselves the moral advantage of having taken that step, because we argue that we have not taken it.
The Defence White Paper is to come out in a fortnight. There is one figure which it will contain for certain. It will show that £15,000 million has been spent on defence since the present Administration took office, a fair sum, especially compared with the cuts in the National Health Service. We have had an election in which we were told that we had never had it so good, but immediately after the election the Opposition said that it agreed and that things would get better and better.
However, let hon. Members recall the speech of President Kennedy this week when he said:I speak today in an hour of national peril…He said that each day the crisis multiplied and added:Meanwhile, this country has continued to bear more than its share of the West's military and foreign aid obligations'He said that in the, current year the bill once again had exceeded the estimates by a sum of no less than £700 million.
We have been told by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition that we had the nuclear deterrent in the hydrogen bomb and organised our Forces on the lines of the 1957 White Paper in order to speak from strength and in order that our voice should carry weight in the councils of the nations.
1230 Let us look at what we have done. Let us pause for a moment to see where the Army and the Air Force have got us. Where have we got as a result of these policies? The United States has about 2,000 bombers of the V-bomber class. How many have we? The answer is 190 if we are lucky. The first squadron of Mark II bombers, No. 83 Squadron, is just being formed. We have got rid of National Service. The Americans have kept it.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he is going rather wide of the scope of the debate. It does not cover the whole strategic position.
§ Mr. Wigg
It is not my intention to discuss the whole strategic position. I will not talk about the Navy or the Naval Discipline Act, but it is the policy of the Government and of the Opposition that we must strengthen N.A.T.O. and 1 am discussing the position to which the present policies have brought us. The Americans have 2,000 V-bombers. We have 190. The Americans have kept National Service, and take in 6,000 inductees a month. We have got rid of it. Mr. Kennedy says "Our mobility is insufficient. It must be speeded up. I must have a report on our forces as a matter of urgency by the end of February". He says "I can only lift a division". We could not lift a battalion. When we had the operation in Libya last year, they did not take the artillery because they could not lift the ammunition. To our great distress, when the Ghanaian troops were going into the Congo they were conveyed by Russian Ilyushins because Royal Air Force Comets did not turn up on time.
We are now faced, and this is an appropriate time to consider it as the White Paper is on the verge of being introduced, with the fact that in July, 1957, the Government reorganised the Army. We are to have 49 battalions of the Line, eight battalions of Guards, and three battalions of Parachutists. Hon. Gentlemen who have walked past Wellington Barracks during the last week will have noticed that the sign of the 3rd Battalion of the Grenadier Guards has been taken down and been replaced by the sign of the 2nd Scots Guards. On 7th February of this year the regiment of the hon. and gallant Member for 1231 Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean), the Camerons, will amalgamate with the Seaforths, and the operation will be complete.
We are asked to keep 17 battalions in B.A.O.R. and three battalions in Berlin, and then there are seven major units in Hong Kong, five major units in Malaya, a regimental group in the Cameroons and a battalion in the West Indies, plus, of course, units in the Mediterannean, Africa and the Persian Gulf. All this has to be done within a total of 160,000 or 165,000 men.
As far as I am concerned, the argument about National Service is over. The last man has gone in. It is interesting to note the steps that the Government took a year ago. Quite arbitrarily they decided not to call up 60,000 men. Then the right hon. Gentleman decided to let some of them out before their time, and last week it was announced that some more men were going out from the Army.
Why? Have hon. Members stopped to ask themselves why? The answer is because we cannot afford to pay for them. The policies adopted by both Front Benches of pushing up pay and improving the conditions—all of which had my support—have had one inevitable consequence. Over 50 per cent. of our Estimates are going in pay and improving conditions. That element is so high that we cannot afford either to maintain units at correct establishment or to provide them with equipment to enable them to fight. This is where we have got to in the name of strength.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his first speech on this subject from the Front Bench. He spoke about always being in the forefront of maintaining the nuclear deterrent. He is beginning to learn by reading the excellent articles in The Times. He knows that the Rhine Army can fight only one sort of war, and it cannot do that very well. It is now organised in such a way that it is trained only in terms of fighting a nuclear war. That is what some of us have been saying for the last five years. We have said that ultimately the defence policy of this country would be dictated by the number of men and the amount of money available at any time, and that we would be forced to organise ourselves in such a way as to depend 1232 on the nuclear deterrent. In my view there is no effective nuclear deterrent within our own possession.
Our capacity is less than 3 per cent. of the Americans, and that includes our entire V-Bomber force. We can arm it with Blue Steel. We cannot arm it with Skybolt because that is not ready. We can take into account guided weapons and 8-inch atomic howitzers but our capacity will still not be 3 per cent. of the American capacity. Whatever the figure is today, it will be less in a year's time, and yet President Kennedy said that day by day the crisis increased. Day by day the defence of the free world is called into question.
Until now we have been told by both Front Benches that everything in the garden was lovely. There was complete unanimity when the 1957 White Paper was published. What did it do? This is the time to take stock. It got rid of National Service. It ran our total forces down to 375,000 men. It got rid of the V-Bomber, the bomber which today is extolled as a great virtue. Above all, it was going to save money. It has not saved the money. We are now trying to find a successor to the V-bomber, and we are now trying to make do, not with 375,000 men, but, as regards the Army, 182,000.
The real question which hon. Members on both sides must ask themselves is whether conscription will come back. What we and the country have to face is the consequence of the policies adopted during the last five years. There is now no way out. One can bemuse oneself, and persuade oneself. One can extol the virtues of Polaris. It is perhaps a little belated, but one notices that both the Americans and ourselves—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but I think that he is going far beyond the scope of the debate.
§ Mr. Wigg
With respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I have not so far mentioned the Navy. I urge, with great respect, that as long as I do not follow the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East in talking about the Naval Discipline Act I am in order in discussing the functions of the Army and Air Force in time of peace.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think that that goes rather beyond a debate on the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I agree with the hon. Member that he can discuss the maintenance of a standing Army, but he cannot go into questions of foreign and defence policies. This is not a defence debate.
§ Mr. Wigg
It has not been my purpose to discuss foreign policy. I am merely discussing the inadequacy of the training and organisation of the Army in relation to the task, not that I lay on it, but which the Government lay on it, the expenditure on it, and its organisation. All those features are related to the maintenance of an Army in peace time, one of the requirements of which is the maintaining by treaty of a considerable force in Germany. My view is that those forces are not there. The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) cast doubt on the fact that we had a standing Army. I do not go as far as that, but there is evidence to show that our standing Army is nothing like so strong, as well organised, or as well equipped as the Government would 'have us believe.
If you feel that the point I am trying to make is a little wide of the Bill, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, perhaps I may make one which is nearer home. By following in my hon. Friend's footsteps I shall keep in order. To start with, there are five major units in Hong Kong.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
On a point of order. For the guidance of the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may we be told clearly whether it will be in order to discuss the deployment and adequacy of our Forces? If so, many of us would wish to join in the debate, which we had thought was closed to us.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
We cannot have a general discussion on the defence issue, but references may be made to the state of the standing Army.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Under the Bill we are discussing whether we should have a standing Army and, if we have one, what 1234 is to be its nature and size. It seems to me that we can cover quite a lot of ground in discussing those three items. But if we are not discussing whether we should have a standing Army, what are we discussing?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
We are discussing, among other things, whether we should have a standing Army, but there is a limit to the scope of the discussion. It would be going far too wide to go into the question of defence.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Let us suppose that the Opposition were strong enough—and it may gather strength in the next hour or so—and the Government, on the other hand, found themselves in a weak position, and it was decided that we Should not have a standing Army. What would be the position then? Surely we should discuss the matter adequately before coming to a decision.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman is quite entitled to discuss whether or not we should have a standing Army.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
Some of us are very anxious to speak in the debate. Were you deciding, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that if we talk about the trivial details of our standing Army we shall be in order, but that if we raise the basic question of its nature and function we shall be regarded as going wide of the argument? I am puzzled why you should feel that that is the proper definition of the scope of the argument. We have heard a great deal of trivial argument advanced about the standing Army. We are now hearing the first speech which seriously raises the issue of its justification. I am deeply disturbed that you should feel that you should stop this speech, which seems to be the first one which is relevant to the basic reason for the debate.
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) is greatly handicapped because he has only just arrived. If he had been here before 1235 he may have heard this point argued. Perhaps his affairs keep him so busy that he cannot always be in the House. They apparently keep him too busy to enable him to read the Report of Select Committee or Erskine May, which, on page 743, says:By the procedure laid down in the legislation of 1959, the Commons, in addition to their control over the number of the naval, military and air forces, and the yearly sums to be appropriated for their support, reserve to themselves the power of determining whether a standing army shall be kept in being in time of peace.'On that basis I should have thought that I might be allowed to continue my speech.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
The point the hon. Member makes—that he should be allowed to discuss whether we shall have a standing Army—is valid, but it does not follow that he is right in saying that he should be allowed to discuss whether the standing Army, as it exists, is adequate for its purpose in matters of deployment, size and the tasks which lie before it. The only question affecting the standing Army which we are entitled to discuss is whether the discipline of the Army is properly practised, and not whether there are two, three or four battalions in Hong Kong. Therefore, the general question should be whether we shall have a standing Army at all, and we should not be allowed to go into detail as to whether we need four-and-a-half or five battalions in Hong Kong.
§ Mr. Wigg
It is obvious that the hon. Member has read neither the Select Committee's Report nor Erskine May He cannot have read the Act, either, because Part I deals with enlistment, and if he says that we cannot talk about the terms of service it is clear that he would be much better employed in reading the Army Act and not troubling the House with his childish, asinine and rather ignorant comments.
§ Mr. Kershaw
I am sorry to interrupt the eloquent speech of the hon. Member. I rather like his speech. I have now heard it about seven times, and I am looking forward to hearing it again during the Defence debate. My only regret is that when he makes it during the Army debate he usually does so so late that I cannot be here to hear what he says. When I referred to the Act I 1236 should have referred to the Bill which is before us. If the hon. Member knew more about military affairs he would have realised that that was a slip of the tongue on my part.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I hope the hon. Member will stop his debate with the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw).
§ Mr. Wigg
Clause 1 of the Bill continues the Army Act, 1955, and the Air Force Act, 1955. Both those Acts are renewed by that Clause. If the hon. Member is bored because, as he says, I have made the same speech seven times, I apologise to him, but I think that what I am saying is true, and I shall go on saying it because it will become more true. It may be much more novel to pick up Polaris as if it is a child's toy and extol its virtues, even if one does not know one end from the other, but I shall go on pointing out that the decision to get rid of National Service was a wrong one, and that the country is now faced with the consequences of that decision.
My argument that the country lies in a position of great danger is underlined by what President Kennedy said this week. We should be idle and irresponsible men if we did not take note of what that man says. He has called for a report on the defence forces of the United States, which are incomparably greater than ours, and he wants that report in a matter of days, whereas we are ambling on with another White Paper which merely spends another £1,600 million.
When I was interrupted I was about to deal with the situation in Malaya. At present we have five major units there. One hon. Member opposite raised the question of the Secretary of State's denial that some of these units are to be moved. He said that he did not quite know whether Malaya was in the Far East. At any rate, he welcomed the denial of his right hon. Friend. I was very interested in that denial, and I was also interested to see the Minister's face and the shaking of his head when he disagreed with the hon. Member's remarks.
The report that the Malayan military force was to be cut by a number of 1237 major units—and I suggest that the number is three—was first mentioned in The Times on 9th January. It appeared in no other newspaper except the Daily Telegraph. I spent 2s. 1d. in buying all the editions of the Daily Telegraph for that day, because I was sure that it had pinched the item from The Times. I found that it appeared only in the later editions of the Daily Telegraph, and had obviously been borrowed from The Times. On 17th January there was a report that the Secretary of State for War had said that that Press comment was pure speculation. Then, on 30th January, under the heading, "Role of the W.R.A.C. may be enlarged", he said that the Army Council had this under review, referring to the Far Eastbut reductions in the Far East that I have seen mooted do not exist".It would be out of order—it would be very wrong in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman—to say that he was not telling the truth. But if he is telling the truth, he does not know what is going on in his own Department. Events again will show. There are proposals afoot not only to cut down the garrison in Malaya to three units but to make cuts in Africa as well. It is clear, of course. that the Government have not 55,000 men in Germany. They are committed to seven brigade groups, and the pretext is that we are honouring our treaty obligations. Our treaty obligations are four divisions and the Second Tactical Air Force. They were cut down by successive stages to 45,000. The present Minister for Commonwealth Relations had to go back on that and had to claim that he had 55,000 when in actual fact there were 13 regiments of armour. 20 battalions of infantry in N.A.T.O. and three battalions in Berlin which are outside N.A.T.O.
We have been told from both Front Benches that the one thing we must do is to stand by N.A.T.O., and when from time to time some of us this side of the House have suggested that all was not well it was regarded as an attack. Yet what happens? I will not weary the House, or strain your patience, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, by quoting again at length from President Kennedy. But he says that our aliances are in disarray. He says that they must be re-examined, and of course they must. At the present 1238 time the Germans are getting on to their eighth and ninth divisions—not very high quality troops; they are only—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but I think he is going far beyond the scope of the debate.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. We are not discussing the safety of our troops in Germany. That would be an appropriate subject for a defence debate.
§ Mr. Wigg
We are discussing the terms of enlistment. The Government have gone back on National Service and have failed to raise sufficient numbers. They are supposed to have a nominal 55,000 troops in Germany when there is not that number, and—this is the point—they have no services. The Germans are providing services, and it is because of this that, for example, when our foreign Secretary engages in discussions at N.A.T.O. or with other foreign countries about the organisation of our forces, he has to argue for a short war because we could not fight a long one. This is the fact, we are without the essential services—
§ Mr. Wigg
Again, with respect, my point is that what the House and the country have to face is that the situation on the Rhine is in disarray. We have such an enormous bill, such a tremendous drain on our manpower, that we in this country are placed in a position of great peril. I think this a state of affairs which cannot continue indefinitely.
Here, again, I address a special warning to my hon. Friends, that in actual fact the policy of disarmament in this country having gone so far and so fast, and having in the first instance been a policy of unilateral disarmament, not conventional—
§ Mr. Wigg
With respect, again may I say that I have not talked about the Navy, I have not talked about the Naval Discipline Act at all, and I should have thought that so long as I addressed—
§ Mr. Wigg
With respect, I have talked of the Army Act all the way through, and I have talked about the first part of that Act, because the first part of the Army Act is concerned with enlistment, it is concerned with the raising of the Forces. And if the proposals of the Government are so inadequate as not to produce the men necessary, it is my argument and my assertion that those terms of service ought to be altered.
The only point I want to make in this section of my speech is to indicate that the situation existing in N.A.T.O. will not continue indefinitely. President Kennedy also is concerned about the safety of his troops, and the Germans are going to be concerned about theirs. The only country—notice—the only country that at the present moment is insisting or is forced to organise in the way we have done, is ourselves.
We are forced to have an atomic deterrent because we cannot do anything else. Ultimately when President Kennedy counts the score, and the Germans count the score, the situation will be resolved to our disadvantage. I think we are a stabilising factor in Europe, but only on one condition: only on the condition that we honour our commitments. If hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House think that merely by passing a Defence White Paper, with its expenditure of £15,000 million since 1951, we are blurring over what are the consequences—if they imagine that merely by sending this Bill to a Committee they have resolved the defence problems of this country, I believe that they are living in cloud cuckoo land.
I do not wish to weary the House any longer. I apologise to the hon. Member for Stroud for having said this seven times. If it is only seven times I have not been very diligent, because I have been trying to do so ever since I came 1240 into this House. There is one thing I will not do, at whatever cost to myself—I will not play politics with other men's lives, and I have said that before. I will not, for the simple reason that at various times in my life I have been on the receiving end. I have seen what it has meant. We ought to declare where we stand on this.
I hold the view that this country cannot discharge its obligations either in the Commonwealth field or to N.A.T.O. nor can it hold up its head or demonstrate its will to defend itself—it cannot even be a Switzerland or a Sweden—unless it does demonstrate its will, and that to my mind means some form of National Service. I want to say that if the Government introduce a Measure for selective service, I should leave the Labour Party and vote for it. That is my view on that, and I will not play politics with it.
A country which is in a weak position is like a poor man, it has to pay its insurance policy premiums promptly and in advance. It may be interesting for hon. Gentlemen to say that they hope National Service does not come back. But the Soviet Union is not saying that. I cannot follow the multilateral argument which says that so long as Russia has the hydrogen bomb, and so long as the Russians have atomic weapons, we must have them too. What about the argument regarding enlistment? The Soviet Union has National Service and keeps 22 conventional divisions in Europe. What about that argument? We do not face that, and of course, as a matter of fact, it is very convenient to hide behind this multilateral argument. I protest—even if it be for the seventh, the seventieth or the seven-hundredth time. I protest that the defences of this country have been used as a plaything in the battle for personal power. I do not know who wins, but I know who will lose, and that ultimately it can only be Britain.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
I am sure that the whole House will always wish to pay tribute to the sincerity with which the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) holds his views and the pertinacity with which he puts them forward. I take the opportunity of doing so myself be. cause I know how undoubtedly sincerely 1241 he holds them, but I think that he ought to continue to make that kind of speech, because the next eighteen months will be a "field day" for him to do so. That period will be while National Service is running out and before we get the full value from Regular service.
If, in eighteen months from now, the position has been restored, I know that the hon. Member, to whom the welfare of the Army is so dear, will be willing to "eat his hat".
§ Mr. Kershaw
Also, while that period goes on we are entitled to ask how big an Army he would like, what it would cost, and what good any sized Army completely without atomic weapons, would be? Those are the questions to which to address our minds. According to the different answers we give, we shall find ourselves supporting or not supporting the lion. Member's thesis.
I turn from that argument because I feel that I could not skate so delicately over the thin ice as he could, and I turn to more humdrum matters. I see that the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) has left the Chamber, but I wish to refer to his remarks about the legal service and the way in which barristers are sent to B.A.O.R. to defend soldiers at courts-martial. When I did that sort of thing some years ago—I have no interest to declare in it now—I was paid ten guineas a day, plus my ticket. Whether or not that would qualify me in the estimation of the hon. Member for Aberavon as a distinguished member of the profession, or just a member of the profession, I do not know, but that is what the payment was.
I very much doubt whether public money involved in sending solicitors as well as barristers would be justified. Most courts-martial are largely dealing with questions of fact and questions of law seldom arise. To have two men paid on that scale, with journey money paid as well, would be an unreasonable public expense. Members of the Bar have often wondered exactly what purpose solicitors serve in those circumstances. It is possible, in the case of courts-martial, to go direct to one's client and get on with the job fairly easily. Two men are not 1242 needed. It is a matter for discussion when court-martial cases go to appeal—as they can do now, although they seldom do—whether or not it is necessary to have solicitors as well as barristers engaged at public expense. Presumably, in that situation there is a point of real substance which ought to be gone into carefully. That differs in no way from ordinary civilians in the courts.
Secondly, I want to ask for a slightly further explanation, if possible, by my right hon. Friend about Clause 35 of the Bill. I did not quite understand from him what was the purpose of altering the terms of enlistment of officers and non-commissioned officers in the forces of Protectorates and present Colonial Powers. If it in any way makes more difficult the raising of forces of the British Army from sources of recruitment outside this country, I should regret it. It might be a retrograde step. If, however, it is designed in some way to enhance the efficiency and local patriotism of some forces already in existence, I have nothing further to say about it.
I apologise that public duty may take me away from the House when the questions I have put are answered, but I hope that an answer can be given.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
Although my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) impinged upon matters which seem more appropriate to a defence debate, nevertheless he succeeded in transforming the nature of this debate. He imparted a sense of reality into our discussions.
We ought to be asking ourselves: what is the purpose of such a debate? We should not only be asking that question ourselves, but expecting the country to ask it. We are considering whether this country should have a standing Army. I should have thought that was a matter of vital interest. There are some people who ask, "Why have an Army at all?", but the majority of us disagree with that concept. Note what has happened. We are discussing a matter of vital importance in a comparatively empty assembly.
In this morning's Daily Telegraph there appeared a report of a private meeting which took place last night in this House. I can refer to it because it was reported in the Press. There are fewer people in 1243 this assembly this afternoon considering whether we should have a standing Army than were present at the Defence Committee meeting of the Labour Party last night, which was not considering defence, but a quite different subject. I regard that situation as exceedingly disturbing.
Of course, if we proceed on the assumption that it matters very little indeed whether we have an Army or not, what is to be the size of the Army, its nature, its purpose and primary objective, that is another matter, but, if we claim to be interested in this topic, we ought at least to give it our undivided attention.
However few are the hon. Members on this side of the House, hon. Members supporting the Government have little to brag about.
§ Mr. Kershaw
The right hon. Member will know that there is a very important meeting connected with this side of the House going on upstairs and that it is usual for that to happen at this time on Thursdays.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ House counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. Shinwell
I hesitate to comment, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but with great respect, most of the hon. Members who have come in are outside the Bar of the House.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I accept your decision, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
It is an amazing situation when my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has to demand that a quorum should be present to continue a debate of such an important character. It may very well have been that the House was comparatively empty because I managed to catch your eye. That could happen, but I am not alone in that respect. Other hon. Members, and even right hon. Gentlemen, have had to address a House which was so empty that one could detect the echo without any difficulty.
The debate is undoubtedly overshadowed by three factors which have emerged in the course of our discussions.
1244 The first is the size of the Armed Forces. The second is the wastage. The Secretary of State dealt with that subject very fully. The third is the commitments imposed on the Army. These are the overriding factors with which we are concerned in the debate.
All hon. Members who heard the Secretary of State must have been surprised when he informed us about the wastage due to purchase from the Army during the first three months after enlistment. The figure was about 10 per cent. That is an astonishing percentage. I do not doubt that it has varied in the last few years until it has now reached the stage when, while more men are enlisting than leaving, taking it all in all, with wastage due to purchase and wastage due to other factors, there must be almost as many men leaving the Army as going into it. That is a serious situation.
Following on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley said, we must consider, in this connection, whether we want conventional forces at all, or whether we are satisfied that the number of our conventional forces is bound to remain inadequate, and, therefore, incapable of meeting their obligations, and that we must transfer our affections to the nuclear weapon. That is the problem which faces us. We cannot escape from it.
I agree with much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley said, but I profoundly disagree with him about the need to return to National Service. Politically, it would be a disaster. Technically, I am not satisfied that it would serve the best interests of the Army. It was well known to my hon. Friend and myself when we were associated together at the War Office and at the Ministry of Defence that it requires a vast number of highly trained Regulars to train National Service men. Regulars are undoubtedly required to train Regular recruits, but far more are required when National Service is in existence. Therefore, both politically and technically it would be a mistake to revert to National Service.
My hon. Friend said that in the event of a scheme being formulated for reverting to National Service, not necessarily the normal method of National Service, but a method akin to it, he would 1245 support it even if it meant disaffiliating himself from his present political connections. I doubt whether he will be called upon to do that. If he is called upon to do it, I hope that he will change his mind.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That is precisely what I propose to do. What I have been indulging in is in the nature of a digression in order to come to the point of real substance. That is whether the number of men now in the Army is capable of meeting our normal commitments. If our commitments were of a normal character and some acute emergency developed, there would be a change in the situation immediately. We should no doubt have either to revert to National Service, or rely exclusively on the use of the nuclear weapon in association with our allies. That is not the situation in which we find ourselves today. We have commitments in Malaya and other parts of the Far East—for example, Hong Kong—on the Rhine and in various other parts of the world.
We must consider where we can best withdraw our forces without losing the capacity to meet our commitments. I will explain what I mean. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley was right in the point he made about Germany. He has always been right about this ever since we began to debate this question. We have never been able to meet the full commitment of four divisions in Germany. We have never been able to provide the necessary battalions at full strength. That has been said over and over again in Army and defence debates.
The reason was that we had not sufficient men even when there was National Service, because they were employed in various parts of the world. Large numbers of National Service men were performing tasks of a menial and useless character. The useless tasks could have been undertaken by civilians if the Army had cared to employ them, as it is now doing to a greater extent than heretofore.
1246 We must consider what we have to do with our forces in various parts of the world. I would not withdraw the troops in Malaya. I consider that that is a vulnerable spot, a focal point of danger. There is some advantage in retaining the troops in Malaya. I should withdraw a large number of our forces from Germany.
There are several reasons why I believe that to be desirable. First, it is suggested now that German forces should be trained in this country, presumably because there are insufficient training areas in Germany. Rather than bring German troops here to train in this country, an idea which is anathema to many of us and which is also unnecessary, it would be more advisable to bring some of our troops back from Germany and train them in this country. We could thus make available the areas where our troops are now training in Germany for the use of the German forces if they so desired. That is one reason for my belief that we should withdraw some of our forces.
There is another reason. Never at any time—and I make this affirmation, and challenge contradiction—since N.A.T.O. was first formed have the other countries in Europe made the contribution to the forces in the West, under the control of the Supreme Commander, that they promised to make. That applies to France, it applies to Belgium, to Holland, to Norway, and to the others. I say that to show that we have made our contribution, and that if we should now withdraw some of our forces from Germany for the purposes I have indicated—and for several other purposes that I have in mind which, I am sure, are well known to the War Office and the Air Ministry—it would be because the other countries that made those promises have never kept them.
That being so, we are entitled to withdraw some of our forces. After all, if we have the aircraft that are necessary—and that is a matter for the Government to consider, if they have not considered it already—to provide the essential mobility for the transport of the forces, we can take them, as necessary, to danger spots if those danger spots should emerge at any time. That may seem slightly out of order in this debate.
1247 as it may have been in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, but let it not be forgotten that President Kennedy, the other day, referred to the need to step up the number of transport aircraft to take troops to danger spots.
I therefore suggest that as the Army is not likely to reach its target, and that, even if it did reach its target, would be incapable of meeting all its commitments, we should withdraw some of our forces from West Germany and return them to this country. If that were done, we would not require the numbers that some people think are essential to meet our commitments. It may be said that even though we bring them back here we shall still require them, but let us not forget that they can be serviced more easily in this country, without supporting forces, than they can in Germany and, more particularly, without the civilian support that is necessary there.
In my view, we want a standing Army more and more to counter the need for nuclear forces. At any rate, we need to make a contribution of a conventional character to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, if necessary, or to some other form of alliance—I care not what it is. But, in parenthesis, I must say that the more I see of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation the weaker it seems to be, and I am not at all sure that in the course of the next few years we shall have that Organisation at all. Perhaps, in part, M. Spaak is resigning because he is beginning to realise how weak the Organisation is.
I want to turn for a moment to some more mundane matters. Some weeks ago I received a letter from a soldier in Germany, who made several complaints about the conditions in his battalion. I sent, not the letter itself but its contents to the Secretary of State for War—I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not now present, but no doubt the Secretary of State for Air will inform him of what I say. I received a rather curious reply. The right hon. Gentleman said that, ordinarily, he would not give any consideration to an anonymous letter. I would have replied to him, but he had gone to the Far East and I missed the opportunity.
That attitude undoubtedly militates against recruitment. There is no reason at all why the War Office or the Air 1248 Ministry should not deal with anonymous letters. We always did when I was in office. If an anonymous letter was sent to the War Office, or came through a Member of Parliament, the circumstances were always inquired into as fully as possible. I hope that when the right hon. Gentlemen concerned receive anonymous letters they will ascertain whether the facts are as set out in the correspondence.
One subject that has not so far emerged from this debate is the position of the remaining National Service men in the forces. Some years ago we dealt with the remuneration of the National Service man as compared with that of the Regular soldier. We decided then that there should be a differentiation. I think that in the then circumstances that was a wise decision, because the idea was to provide an incentive for National Service men to become Regular soldiers. Whether or not it succeeded, is beside the point.
The situation is now different. There are fewer National Service men, and I can see no reason why, in the final months of their service, there should be that differentiation in pay—and, if it enters into the matter—of conditions as between those men and the Regulars—
§ Mr. Wigg
I am sure that my right hon. Friend would not like to get out of order—and he knows how anxious I am that the debate should take a regular form. As pay is controlled by the exercise of the Royal Prerogative I should have thought that the one thing that we could not discuss in this debate was pay.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I think that this is a case of Satan reproving sin. Not only in my view, but in the view of the Chair and of other hon. Members, my hon. Friend's speech was 75 per cent. out of order. When, for the first time, I seem to transgress, he raises an objection. I feel that there is no substance in his objection and, even if there were, I prefer to await the decision of the Chair.
As I was saying, the Government might consider whether it might not be desirable, in the final months of National Service, to step up the remuneration of the remaining National Service men. It would be a very fine gesture and, in view of all the laurels that have been placed upon their brows, they are entitled to some consideration.
1249 We must have a standing Army. We have to build up our conventional forces, and those forces should be adequate and well equipped. We should not stretch them too far by impossible commitments. I suggest that we might begin by withdrawing some of our forces from Germany, thereby giving the German forces the opportunity to train in their own country—which, no doubt, they would prefer to coming to the United Kingdom. We should train our own troops in the United Kingdom, while providing, at the same time, or as soon as may be, the necessary transport to enable them to be sent to any part of Europe or elsewhere to deal with what might be called normal emergencies. If that suggestion were adopted, I think that it would be a very wise step.
Obviously, we shall have to debate these matters all over again, not merely in the context of the Army and the Air Force but in the context of the Government's defence policy, which, in my judgment, for many years past, has been very expensive, but not of very great value.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am calling the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) to move his Amendment if he so desires.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
That is a pleasant surprise, Sir.
I beg to move, to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day six months."
I do move this Amendment because my objections to the Bill are, perhaps, more fundamental than some of the other arguments which have been put forward in the debate. I do not want to see the Army Act continued. I believe that if there were any substantial measure of support for this Amendment the Government would be forced to realise the profound discontent that there is in the country over the whole question of the expenditure on the Army, Navy and Air Force. The Navy is excluded from this debate and I do not wish to follow the example of the honourable, gallant—and missing—admiral, the hon. Member for Croydon., North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) who tried to bring in the question of the Navy.
1250 We have had very definite admissions from the Front Bench that there is wastage and that there is an inquiry to be set up to consider causes of wastage; why people do not enlist, why people are enticed into the Army and, after three months, disappear. All this is a confession from the Army and Navy Ministers that there is wastage. I suggest that if there is wastage it is the business of the House of Commons to probe it and to get the Government to alter their policy. The Government ask for a very large sum. Last year's Army Estimates, for example, increased—
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman reminds me, perhaps on the Army Estimates he might be in order in discussing that topic, but it is very difficult to do so on this Bill.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am discussing the question of wastage in the Army and I respectfully suggest that if there is a wastage in the Army there should be some room for economy in the very large sum we grant every year. I am not going into the details of the Army Estimates except to say that in these two Estimates we are discussing today, which affect this Bill vitally, there is a total expenditure—
§ Mr. Speaker
That really is wrong. We are not discussing any Estimates; we are discussing the Army and Air Force Bill. I do not think the actual figures of the cost of it all, prima facie, are in order. I will hear the hon. Member about it, if he wishes.
§ Mr. Hughes
I will have to postpone these arguments until the Estimates come to be considered.
It has been announced as a part of Government policy that there is a definite wastage in recruiting. In an article in The Times of 13th January, 1961, there are some interesting statements about the amount of this wastage in recruiting. That is the problem with which the Government are concerned. The article begins by stating that the position which has been illustrated by the Minister today is mush more serious than the Government has indicated.
The Minister said that the wastage in recruiting is in the nature of 10 per cent. but The Times, in its article, says:It will come as a shock to many people to learn that about one-fifth of the recruits 1251 who join the Army as volunteers direct from civil life are back home again within three months of enlisting.If that is the situation—if all the enormous expenditure on recruiting results in people being attracted into the Army and then having to leave it three months afterwards—it constitutes a very considerable wastage in manpower.
In spite of the very attractive literature sent out by these Departments, which has absolutely no relevance to the military situation of today, the Government are failing to get their recruits. The Government have abandoned National Service and are now in this dilemma. They are to ask a Select Committee to meet to find out the causes of wastages in manpower. Surely it is a wastage of manpower if you have an enormous publicity and advertising campaign and attract men into the Army and the Air Force and, three months afterwards, they buy their discharge and go out of the Army.
I commend to the Minister the article in The Times on the problem with which he is faced. It put some very interesting aspects of the whole question of recruiting. It points out, for example, that much of the wastage is due to the inevitable outcome of the Government's quantitative approach to Army recruiting by measures such as television advertising. It is quite clear that the Government spend a considerable amount of money on television programmes to attract people into the Army and that when the recruits have been attracted into the Army they have found that they have been imposed upon and have been deluded into it by fraud.
The Times makes what seems to me to be a very interesting statement. It asks about training in the Army and goes on to say:The present tempo is geared to the production of the trained National Service men, who, being a true cross-section of the nation, are of higher average intelligence than the average regular recruit.To me, that is a remarkable statement. The people who are attracted into the Regular Army are of a lower average intelligence than the people who do not go into the Army. If that is so, the personnel of our Armed Forces is composed of people who are of a less normal intelligence than the people who, 1252 I believe, have the sense to keep out of them.
This is a rather strange state of affairs. The Times goes on to say that the remedy for this is to be found in the attitude to recruits and suggests that recruits find that they are bullied in the Army by the non-commissioned officers. A very curious and novel discovery. I understand that that has been going on for the last 300 years. The Times says thatThe recruit will quickly become bored if he is mainly confined to the barrack square. Let him shoot with his rifle, however inexpert he is, and get out into the country on exercises, however chaotic, so that his interest is engaged.That is a very strange remedy, that recruits ought to do something—that they ought to shoot although the shooting is not to much purpose and they ought to do exercises which are irrelevant to modern war.
I come now to the question about enlistment. Why do not young people enlist? Why is it that only 3 per cent. of National Service men go back into the Army? I submit that the reason is that we are an intelligent democracy and that our people are more interested in what an Army is needed for in the world. They say to themselves that they will not go into the Army because, from the point of view of serving any useful purpose, a life in the Army is not an occupation into which they ever wish to be induced.
We cannot blame the young people if they do not roll up to the recruiting offices to swell the ranks of the Army when they discover that, even in the House of Commons, the Members do not turn up. I had to call attention to the fact that, when an ex-Minister of Defence was speaking, the Chamber was almost empty. When young people who are expected to join the Army, and give their lives to it for twenty years, read in the newspapers tomorrow that only a dozen or so Members of Parliament were here for this debate, what encouragement will that be?
I am not enthusiastic about a standing Army at all. What is the attitude of the young person to whom the Minister makes his appeal? The average young person of today is not the old illiterate, not the old soldier, of pre-war days. He listens to the radio and he looks at television. Naturally, he asks himself, 1253If I am to go into the Army, what shall I be in the Army for, and what am I going to fight for?". Then, for instance, he considers the discussion which is going on in the Labour Party, and he finds that there is great confusion in the Labour Party. He says to himself, "If there is all this talk about unilateral disarmament and multilateral disarmament, why should I go into the Army?". It is a perfectly relevant question to ask.When he turns away from the Labour Party, he may look, for example, at the writings of a distinguished military man like Lord Montgomery. I read Lord Montgomery's articles with very great care and, I am surprised to find, with a great deal of agreement. I read in last Sunday's Sunday Times what Lord Montgomery had to say about the military situation. He makes statements there which will not entice anybody into the Army for twenty years of his life. Lord Montgomery is not nearly so enthusiastic about N.A.T.O. as my right hon. and hon. Friends who speak from the Opposition Front Bench.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am very sorry, but my duties do not allow me to permit the hon. Member to continue in this fashion. The Act deals with enlistment and terms of service. These moral or literary considerations which might influence recruits seem to be very far from the Bill.
§ Mr. Hughes
They are not moral reasons, Sir, but are reasons affecting the young man in Sandhurst or at Eton, perhaps, who is thinking of a military career. He would, naturally, look for advice to Lord Montgomery. He would ask, "If I am going into the Army, who am I to fight?". Lord Montgomery poses this question, which is. after all, a very important one. It is important, if one is in the Army, to know whom one is to fight. It is generally assumed in the organisation of the Army, and it has been assumed in the speeches made in the debate today, that the Army and Air Force are needed to fight the Russians.
Lord Montgomery does not think it is necessary to fight the Russians at all. He says that the Russians do not want to fight and do not want an aggressive 1254 war, and neither do the Chinese. Naturally, anyone reading these statements is not—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The difficulty is that Lord Montgomery was not confined by the rules of order. The hon. Member is. It really does make a difference. I must ask him to address his mind to the issues arising in the debate on the Bill.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not know whether Lord Montgomery will be asked to give evidence before the committee on wastage of manpower, or how to get recruits into the Army. I suggest that when this committee is set up it might ask Lord Montgomery to give his views on the position. I am quite prepared to give my limited experience to the committee. I know the reason why the Minister is not finding his recruits. The younger generation is completely sick and tired of the futility of modern war, and he will not get his recruits.
It may be said that the right hon. Gentleman will get them only by conscription. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have said that we must stay in N.A.T.O. I do not see how they will get the troops to swell the N.A.T.O. armies. Conscription will not bring in the soldiers, because neither of the political parties dares go to the country and say that conscription must be imposed, and neither will the policy now being followed by the Government produce the necessary recruits.
I suggest that this committee which is to be set up by the Government, if it is to do its job thoroughly, will have to go into the deeper reasons why people are not enlisting and why there is so much waste of manpower and money. At a time when we are asked to cut the Health Service, I suggest that we should devote some attention to the enormous wastage of £1,000 million on these Estimates, which are quite unjustified.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have already told the hon. Gentleman that we may not discuss the Estimates now. It is out of order.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. R H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
In addressing myself to the Amendment and the Bill before the House, I think it worth while to call 1255 attention to the fact that I am, I think, the third Member in succession to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, on this side of the House, because of the extraordinary deficiency on the Government benches. It is a remarkable fact that, during a debate on the Army and Air Force Bill, a Bill of considerable importance affecting our defences, there should be this absence, which we were told, three-quarters of an hour ago, was excused by activities elsewhere, but which can be explained now only by lack of interest.
The debate has been extremely important and we who have sought to take part have been right, for two reasons: first, the importance of the subject itself; and, secondly, the importance of this particular debate for the House of Commons. I think that you will agree, Mr. Speaker, that in the old days we had each year on the Army Act a chance, with unrestricted time, to discuss enlistment and training in the Army. That was a right which the House had under the old procedure.
It was not the intention of the Select Committee, when it put forward the improved procedure, to deny the House the same kind of debate on the general structure, function and enlistment of the Armed Forces in relation to our standing Army. It was important that we should have a debate which justified itself in terms of the importance of the subject—which did not confine itself exclusively to the important amendments the Government want, but which dealt with the Bill itself and the function of our standing Army.
I want to make some remarks on the function of the standing Army and the reasons for the enlistment of soldiers. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) have pointed out, even ten years ago it was much easier to define the justification for the British standing Army than it is today. Ten years ago, when the Labour Government were about to leave office, no one could question what was the function of the Army. It had a dual function. It provided the cadres of Regulars, and these Regulars' second task was to train our National Service men, for then we believed in a large Army. In addition to the standing 1256 Army, we believed that we should have National Service. The Army was the defence of this country.
The strategy imposed by the Government has substantially destroyed the old justification for a standing Army. First, the abolition of conscription—I shall not discuss the merits of it now—knocked out half of the function ten years ago, which was to train. That was an essential function now destroyed by the abolition of conscription.
The second function was to provide sufficient troops suitably trained and equipped for our overseas commitments, not only in, but outside, Europe. No one has been able to pretend in this debate that the second function is in any way adequately performed by our standing Army today.
I now turn to Europe. In Europe, the functions of the Army, as we understood it, the justification for the standing Army, has been largely destroyed by the new theory of substituting a deterrent force for a defence force. In the Sandys doctrine of thermo-nuclear strategy, the only function of the Army is to guard the bases from which the nuclear weapons are sent—to stand around the launching pads and to make sure that they are safe. Every other function, which has been previously that of a defence force, has been absorbed into the simple concept of the deterrent.
Many of us pointed out the dangers of this destruction of the Army. In debate after debate, a few of us on this side predicted that if we undermined the Army in this way we would not achieve any defence at all. I think that we have been largely justified, because during the last three or four years the whole theory that we could substitute deterrence for soldiers has been abandoned even by the Government. The Sandys strategy relied on the thermo-nuclear deterrent plus "streamlined nuclear forces". I remember that phrase. In White Paper after White Paper it was said that we were not to have an old fashioned Army, Navy or Air Force any more. We were to have "streamlined nuclear forces". Alas, we did not own these new weapons. What we were doing was getting rid of the soldiers and our conventional equipment and our armed strength before these nuclear weapons had appeared or been actualised.
1257 As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley pointed out, we have had, since 1954, a period of unprecedented unilateral conventional disarmament—the virtual destruction of the standing Army as we had known it before. Then, after three years, when this was seen to be nonsensical, we had a new theory which no longer relied on the thermonuclear deterrent. It declared that we should substitute for the conventional soldier, conventionally trained and armed with conventional fire power, an atomic tactical weapon which would take his place on the battlefield.
Instead of having so many battalions, divisions, or ground troops, we would dispense with what were called the mass armies of the past and would substitute for them these weapons. In this way we would produce as much destructive power through the presence of those weapons on the battlefield as was produced by whole divisions of old-fashioned troops. That was the famous theory of atomic tactical weapons.
For a long time we on this side, and, in particular, those below the Gangway, were able to attack the Government on the ground that the tactical weapons were not in existence and that it was a very dangerous thing to introduce a strategy which relied on them before we had them. But this year they are just coming into existence. They are beginning to be present in Western Europe. I should like to ask two specific questions of the Secretary of State for Air about this attempt to substitute tactical atomic weapons for ground forces. Is it a fact that they are now below divisional level in the British Army of the Rhine, right forward?
Secondly, is it a fact that the Russians have not done this? Is it a fact that the Russians have kept their nuclear weapons well back whereas we have put ours well forward as a substitute for adequate conventional forces? If so, I should like to ask the Secretary of State for Air whether he regards this as a wise method of defence? Is it not time that we recognised that the only sane thing that we can do is to go back to the idea that we should rely on conventional forces forward; and that, if we have to have these weapons, they should be as far back as possible? They should be 1258 pushed right out of Europe if possible, but in any case, they should be taken right back and we should rely on the old-fashioned function of the Army which is to provide our main defence line.
I turn to another point which my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington raised. It is true—and I agree with my right hon. Friend—that once conscription has been abolished in peacetime, it cannot be brought back. Nobody is stupid enough 10 think that that can be done. But I agree with him. Once we have abolished conscription, and thereby fundamentally changed the function of the Army, we have to face the consequences. It does not seem to me that in this debate the Government are prepared to face the conseequences. My right hon. Friend has made a practical suggestion to them. He says that since we have fundamentally destroyed our Army, let us face the fact that we can no longer carry out the commitments to which we are solemnly pledged.
I remind my right hon. Friend that, before one accepts his view that one can solve this Army problem by withdrawing roost of our troops from Germany, it is as well to remember that the only reason why our allies, the French, agreed to the rearmament of the Germans was a solemn pledge that we would keep four divisions in Germany. At the time, some of us pointed out that this was a tremendous obligation and that it would require the maintenance of larger standing forces than this country liked. Some of us said, "For goodness' sake, do not go in for commitments if you are going to 'rat' on them in a few years' time. Then it is better not to undertake them." But it seems to me a serious thing for this country that, only a few years after this undertaking, we should go back on it. I can appreciate it if my right hon. Friend says that we should train these men in England but that they should be allocated to the British Army of the Rhine.
§ Mr. Shinwell
At the time that the French agreed to the rearmament of Germany as the United Kingdom also did, the French Government promised a substantial contribution to N.A.T.O. in the form of troops, but that promise was never implemented.
§ Mr. Crossman
I do not think that the best way to maintain an alliance is to say that, because someone else has not fulfilled his obligation, we have the right not to fulfil ours.
May I remind my right hon. Friend that, although he is right about the first case, I was referring to a more important moment, the moment when the final treaty was signed, when West Germany was established as an independent country as an ally of ours when we ratified the German Army as distinct from the European Army. That was when Sir Anthony Eden solemnly pledged four divisions. Without them the French Government would never have consented to the creation of a West German state with an independent Army.
And that is why our single most important commitment is to maintain our full contribution in Western Europe. Here I come back to the central issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley. If we are to maintain that commitment, we must be realistic about it and maintain it adequately. It is agreed that it is no maintenance of our commitment to substitute or to believe that we can substitute atomic tactical weapons for our troops, for the simple reason that the Russians have them, too and, therefore, they cancel out. We have to build up the same level in conventional weapons as well.
If that is true, we come back to this thought, that our Army is designed for two functions. One is to play its rôle in N.A.T.O., and the second is to carry out our large overseas commitments of a strictly British character—our commitments in the Middle East, in Africa, in the Far East, in Malaya and Hong Kong.
Does anyone seriously contend that the Army we are to get, a professional volunteer Army, of 165,000 or 180,000 men, can possibly carry out our contribution—four divisions in N.A.T.O. and our full contribution in Malaya, and Hong Kong, and to be ready if a crisis were to come in Rhodesia or Kenya? Does anyone believe that if there were a crisis in the Persian Gulf as well, we could deal with it?
Already it is a fact that only one major incident abroad would require something tantamount to general mobilisation to get our reinforcements there. This was a fact at the time of Suez, and 1260 it is a fact now. One major incident would require something approaching general mobilisation, owing to the weakness of our standing Army. Consider what this country has done in making itself dependent on nuclear weapons, although all the commitments our Army is likely to be engaged in are such that they could never be used. Who can tell me that our nuclear Air Force will be of great assistance in Rhodesia, in Kenya or the Persian Gulf, or in Malaya or in Hong Kong, or anywhere else? Then you see the full futility of this so-called policy of "streamlined nuclear forces". It is a delusion and a dream, for the sake of which a fine Army was almost totally destroyed.
Those are the things that we want to put to the Government on this important Bill. I am very glad that on this first debate on the Bill we have been able to put these views to the Government in the most serious possible way, and use the debate in the way in which it should be used as a serious consideration of the function and structure of the Army.
Basically, there is a tremendous dilemma. Either the extra manpower has to be found or our commitments have to be cut. That is not the job of the Opposition. It is the job of the Government. It is the duty of the Opposition to put this up to the Government, to say, "You made these decisions; you canned conscription and destroyed the Regular Army, substituting for it atomic weapons. You have taken all these decisions, you have got us into this jam and now you must make up your minds. Because the one criminal thing to do is not to make up your minds, but to float along with the commitments but without the ability to carry them out."
Nothing is more dangerous in politics than to undertake to maintain commitments without the strength to do so. If it is impossible to get the manpower, we must trim our commitments to our actual strength. As a Socialist, I believe that it is unrealistic that the British should ever again fight an action in the Far East. I think that it is unrealistic to think that if 'trouble came there, our friends the New Zealanders would not rely on America rather than on us. It is a delusion of grandeur to maintain such strength east of India. But we do have genuine commitments in the Middle 1261 East and in Africa, and they already exceed our strength. Even that limited group which no one would be prepared to jeopardise, in addition to N.A.T.O., Even our vital interests in the Persian Gulf and in Africa today far exceed the strength that we are likely to get in the next three or four years.
We are using the debate today 'to make an initial attack on the Government to centre attention on the weakness of the Army and on our appalling dependence on tactical nuclear weapons. In particular, we call attention to the fact that if the tactical nuclear weapons are, as the Secretary of State for Air will not deny, right up forward, if the B.A.O.R. is totally dependent on tactical nuclear weapons and cannot fight without them, it is either an impotent Army or a perilous Army, or both.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) has made a characteristic, thoughtful and challenging contribution to our debate. I shall perhaps refer to some of the points he made a little later in my remarks, but I would first like to underline that he made it very clear that his points were matters for the Government to answer and that, unlike those of some of his hon. Friends and my hon. Friends, they were not wholly directed to the Front Opposition Bench.
I think there is broad agreement in the House that the procedure under which the Army Act and the Air Force Act were enacted in 1955 was extremely satisfactory. There is agreement that we should follow that procedure and, as I understand the assurance of the Secretary of State for War, we shall have the advantage of a departmental or technical committee. I did not myself serve on the Select Committee in the years before 1955, but I understand that all the Members of that Committee thought that this procedure was extremely good.
While it may be that at the present time, because of the excellence of the work done in 1955, it is not necessary to have quite the far-reaching consideration of the problems that we had then, it would be wise to preserve for the future the precedent that, when we come to look at the Army and the Air Force Act in this way, there should be 1262 the same procedure as in 1955. I was rather sorry to learn from my hon. Friend the Member far Dudley (Mr. Wigg) that he did not anticipate that he would serve on the Select Committee. It is not, of course, a matter for me to nominate members of the Committee, but I was rather distressed that he felt that he would not be available, because I make so bold as to say that no other hon. Member has done more than he has done over the last fifteen years to bring to the Floor of the House of Commons matters concerned with the welfare and conditions of our Service men.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State in opening the debate was batting on a rather narrow wicket. he did not make a wide case for the maintenance of the standing Army or the Royal Air Force. While some hon. Members have said that the matters contained in the Bill—and I imagine that they would extend the reference to the subject matter of the Army and Air Force Acts—are trivial and mundane, I do not take that view. It is wholly right that we should discuss on the Floor of the House matters affecting discipline and enlistment and other material issues concerning the services. For that reason, because I feel that the procedure that is devised is a satisfactory one and because the House of Commons should concern itself with these matters, I propose to support the Second Reading of the Bill and not the Amendment.
When the Secretary of State for Air replies, I should like him to give an assurance, which, I hope, the Government will give readily, that now that National Service is coming to an end, there will still be clearly maintained in the Services the right of the individual Service man to come on a point of grievance to his Member of Parliament. The House will recall that it is only in the post-war National Service period that we have had this relationship between the House of Commons and the Services, between the Service man and his Member, which is very desirable. I hope that Ministers who have political responsibility for these great Services will not content themselves with simply issuing a general instruction that all Service men shall have this right, but will see within their Services that this right is made widely known to Service 1263 men and stamp very hard on such intervening officers as attempt to dissuade individual Service men from exercising it.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)
While entirely agreeing with what my hon. Friend says, I must say to him that this has always been an absolute right and was exercised freely during the war as well as the post-war period.
§ Mr. Mulley
I was not wishing to suggest that that was never the case, but my experience at the beginning of the war was that a Regular soldier regarded it as a more serious crime to write to his Member of Parliament than almost any other crime listed in the Army Act. I was talking about that attitude of mind rather than the legal position then prevailing.
While we may have different views—not only, unhappily, between the two sides of this House, but sometimes we find differences of opinion on this side on matters of defence policy and strategy—as to how soldiers and airmen should be deployed, we all agree that people in the Services, whether Regular or National Service men, have done, and are doing, a magnificent job.
In approaching the general question of Army and Air Force discipline, we should see as far as we can that the regulations are fitted to the modern Army and the modern Air Force, which are increasingly highly professional and technical forces. One of the problems always is to try to keep the Armed Forces in tune with the society of which they form part. Mr. Correli Barnett, in his otherwise rather controversial book about the Western Desert, has some passages on this theme. His view was that one of the difficulties at the beginning of the war was that the then Armed Forces were completely out of tune with the society from which they came. When considering the Amendments that we should make to the Acts, we should always try to ensure that as far as possible we get the discipline and regulations in tune with the outlook and attitude of our general civilian society. Nobody would suggest that it is possible to run a military force on exactly the same rules and regulations as one organises a civilian force in a factory or in some other wholly peaceful occupation.
1264 I will deal only shortly with the points made by the Minister in introducing the Bill, because, broadly, they are matters for further discussion and consideration in Committee. I should like to say straight away, however, how much we on this side welcome the provision that the Air Force will have the possibility of a twenty-two year engagement and that men can join the force with the object of a full career with a pension in the same way as already exists with the Army.
We shall have to explore in detail the problem of fines. In principle, the idea of introducing a monetary fine is excellent. It attunes to the outlook of society. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is in line with the treatment of motoring offences in a civilian court, where people are fined a sum of money, and why not have a similar procedure in the Army and Air Force, too? I was not clear how this would fit into the gap between the petty offences which lead only to punishment by curtailment of privileges and the more serious offences entailing detention, forfeiture of seniority, and so on.
In reading the Bill, I imagined that the intention might be to get away from the old-fashioned idea of confinement to barracks, people getting up in the morning and running round with packs on their backs, or manual potato peeling in these days of mechanical potato peelers. One reason why it would be a good thing to reduce this kind of petty restriction is because it is unevenly enforced. Being on "jankers", as it was called in the Army, varied very much from place to place and according to the sergeant-major, orderly officer or whoever was in charge of discipline. While it is important that the forces should know the scale and the maximum if monetary fines are instituted, it is equally important to have a uniform procedure, as far as it can be arranged, throughout the Service.
It has been suggested, quite properly and wisely, that the maximum limit of fines should be fourteen days' pay. There should also be the provision, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) spoke, that a man should still have something left in his pocket no matter how big his fine happened to be. In case of the possibility of commanding officers fining people frequently there might also need to be a maximum 1265 in time as well as in amount. I am thinking particularly of boys and apprentices. A commanding officer might find it effective to fine them 5s. for being late on parade and to do it several times a week, but on their low levels of pay these people would have hardly anything left. This would not be an inducement to them to make a full career in the Service.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Abera von was speaking and making clear his view that National Service was a waste of time, we had a well informed speech on Army matters and I could not help thinking that we had another hon. Member in the House who would take an interest on these questions, not only this year, but in the future. Although in other respects my hon. Friend seems to have been unfortunate in his Army career, at least the House of Commons may benefit therefrom.
I agree completely with what was said about the general point of purchasing discharge. The Minister is quite right not to want to restrict further the statutory right of a recruit to buy his discharge within the first three months. It is a very bad principle to try to keep in the Service people who right from the beginning feel that they do not want to stay. My inclination would be at all stages to make discharge in appropriate circumstances easier rather than to keep people in the Forces against their will.
One perhaps can carry that principle rather far, but all of us who have served in the Forces have had the experience of how one disgruntled man in the barrack room or in a platoon or section is able to colour the outlook towards the Service of six or seven other people who perhaps were reasonably content until this one man managed to sow the seeds of discontent. If there is someone like that in the Service it is perhaps better to let him go than to make things difficult for him.
As a point of curiosity rather than of principle, I should like to know why there is provision now for a lance-bombardier to be an effective rank in the Army whilst the Royal Air Force is not coming forward with the same corresponding rank. I understand that the L.A.C. is a craftsman's rank and not really equivalent to the lance-corporal or 1266 bombardier. Is there any reason why not, or is it impracticable or unnecessary for this amendment in the Army Act to be accompanied by a similar provision in the Air Force?
The Government should also realise, as I am sure they do, that the specific proposals in the Bill are not necessarily all the matters that the Select Committee will want covered. I was very impressed by the points made in the debate by the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett). I thought, though of course it was not a matter for me, that he was completely in order in his remarks, unlike some other hon. Members who seemed to think that he was straying rather far.
I hope that it will be possible to incorporate these improvements from the Navy Discipline Act into the Army and Air Force Bill. In particular, I think it a matter of principle that if possible, we should provide that a man should not be punished twice for the same offence. Not to do so seems to me to be quite contrary to the spirit of the 1955 Act.
Much has been said in debate about the fact that in examining this problem we cannot escape from the wider problem of the size of the Armed Forces and, in assessing the size, from the problem of the purpose for which they should exist. I regret that the Secretary of State for War did not give us a little more information about the state of Army recruiting and about the extent to which the War Office now thinks that it will reach the targets for the Regular Forces I hope that in reply to the debate the Secretary of State for Air will not only be able to answer some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), but also that he will be able to tell us something about the recruiting situation and the expectation of reaching the target in the Royal Air Force. Earlier this week the right hon. Gentleman said that the particular problem was the recruitment of aircrews. It would be of interest to the House if he could enlarge on these points tonight.
Since, quite properly, a good deal was said both by the Secretary of State for War and my hon. Friend the Member for 1267 Woolwich, East about wastage in the Army, can the Secretary of State for Air tell us what the wastage rates are in the Royal Air Force in the first three months? We should like to know whether the Air Force has exactly the same kind of problem. If wastage rates are very much less in the Air Force, perhaps it would be a good idea if Air Force practices were copied by the Army.
I appreciate, of course, that the Army's job in recruiting is much more difficult than that of any other Service, but after all a man must have said that he wanted to join the Army—though some may think that perhaps he was not in his right mind at the time—and if he comes out within three months there must be something wrong. We all welcome the very serious attention that the Secretary of State for War is giving to this problem. The House looks forward with interest to hearing from him when we debate the Army Estimates or on some other occasion what progress is being made in its examination.
In view of the fact that there is other business tonight, I do not want to follow completely the points made about the size and function of the Army by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East. It is perhaps unlikely that we shall have the full answer to these points from the Government tonight but this debate, inevitably going rather wide as it has, may at least serve the purpose of indicating the kind of points that hon. Members will want to raise and have answered in the debates on the Defence White Paper and on the several Service Estimates.
I attach a great deal of importance to the point so effectively made by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East about the conventional capacity of our forces in Germany. This, and the rôle of the tactical nuclear weapons, not only in Germany but in the Army as a whole, will attract a good deal of attention in the debates on the Defence White Paper and the Army Estimates.
1268 It will also be interesting to hear about the conventional capability of the Royal Air Force. Can the Secretary of State for Air say whether, if it is necessary, both strategic and tactical tasks can be undertaken with conventional weapons by the Royal Air Force? Are the men still trained in conventional as well as nuclear attacks? The answers would be of extreme interest because, as the House knows, these are matters which are exciting a great deal of interest and controversy among military commentators in all parts of the N.A.T.O. alliance.
I made some observations on this subject in the Army Estimates debates both last year and in the previous year. I say all this although some of my hon. Friends who are concerned are not present, because they are on the record and I ought to be briefly on the record as well on this subject. The Opposition has not concerned itself only recently with the desire to have a larger Army than we appear to be getting and also with the desire that the Army should be able to discharge its obligations fully. It is wrong to ask the Opposition to say how many men there ought to be and how those men ought to be obtained. We have not the restricted, secret information and not the detailed information about how the existing men in the Forces are used and to what extent civilisation might be carried further.
We do not know about the wastage of which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon gave examples. Unless we have the power to go into all these questions it is impossible for us to say that there ought to be "x" thousand men in the Forces. It is equally impossible for us to say how they are to be obtained. But I say, and I understand the whole of the Opposition says, that we hold the Government responsible for seeing that the numbers in the Forces are sufficient to defend the country and carry out our responsibilities.
If the Government fail to obtain these numbers for the Forces, we hold them completely responsible. If they say, "We are sorry but our present policy and our policies over the last few years have failed and we cannot get the men as we thought we would get them" and they raise the question of cutting our commitments or raising additional numbers in some different way, they must tell the 1269 House and the country what their problems are. We will then assess them on their merits and answer fairly whether we think they are good or bad. There must not be the idea that, somehow or other, every time we speak on defence matters we must say, in precise detail, how we should do this or that.
We shall be coming back to these matters on other occasions and, therefore, I say in conclusion that I welcome the assurances we have been given that the procedure for examining this Act will be followed as for the 1955 Act, and I look forward to the proceedings of the Select Committee.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Julian Amery)
This is the second time only that I have come to the Dispatch Box to speak for the Air Ministry, but I hope that from the ripeness of this experience I can congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) on his first appearance at the Opposition Dispatch Box to speak for the Opposition in these matters. I welcome his speech and look forward to many duels, or otherwise, with him in the months ahead.
I think that there has been general agreement that the Select Committee did its work very well when the first Act was framed. Some anxiety has been expressed, in more than one speech, that the Select Committee should have access to all necessary advice and information from the Departments. I can confirm what has already been said—that it is our wish that the Committee should have all the usual arrangements for obtaining Departmental information, and that if it were to find this information inadequate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War and I would do everything we could to strengthen it.
This has been a curious debate, both in its timing and in its course. It has fallen between the annual debate on the affirmative Resolution, which we had last November, and the Defence Estimates, only just ahead. Naturally, therefore, it tended either to repeat what was said in November, or to trespass on the wider issues which we shall be discussing at the end of this month.
I shall not attempt to answer all the points which have been raised. Indeed, it would be wrong for me to do so, as a 1270 good deal of them were of greater concern to my right hon. Friend than they were to my Department. I will, however, do my best to deal with some of them.
My task is made a little more complicated, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park recognised, by the appearance of some differences between some of those who spoke from his side of the House. There was the Front Bench view; there was the view represented by the hon. Members for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man); there was the view represented by the former Minister of Defence, the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shin-well); there was also the view represented by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). It is not easy to take all these collectively and reply to them as if they represented one coherent counter policy, The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park said, in the early part of his speech, that our Armed Forces before the war had been out of tune with society. I want to comment on that, because it is not altogether fair to Mr. Leslie Hore-Belisha, who was Secretary of State for War and did very great work in bringing the Army up to date in the years immediately before the war.
Nevertheless, I agree with the principle underlying what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park said—that it is very important that the Armed Services should be in line and in tune with the standards of the society which they serve. The hon. Member said that it was the Government's responsibility to decide what manpower was needed, and that we must not expect the Opposition to make concrete counter-proposals all the time. We accept that, but we expect the Opposition to give us their support when they are satisfied that the courses which we are pursuing are sound in themselves.
I am sorry if I chop and change a little from big to small issues in my reply, but it is inevitable in such a debate. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park spoke of the importance of the soldiers' and airmen's right to appeal to their Members of Parliament. I can give a categorical assurance that we shall uphold this. The number of letters coming via Members of Parliament from members of the Armed Services is still voluminous, and I have no doubt that 1271 hon. Members on both sides of the House would soon see to it if, for any reason, any obstruction were to be put in the way.
§ Mr. Mulley
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman quite understood my point. Because of the National Service element in the Armed Forces, the habit and tradition of Service men approaching their Members of Parliament is well established. I want to ensure that, with the ending of National Service, there does not, instead, grow up the tradition that the worst crime in the Army's calendar is to approach a Member of Parliament. I was looking to the future rather than to the present.
§ Mr. Mulley
If the men felt that they dared not approach their Members of Parliament, how could we tell the Service Departments?
§ Mr. Amery
I have no doubt, from what I know of the ingenuity of the Service man, that he would find a way.
The hon. Member asked me why there was no equivalent rank in the Royal Air Force to that of lance corporal or lance bombardier. We have never had an equivalent rank in the Royal Air Force. Our structure is different. We do not organise units in the same way. The rank of lance corporal is a traditional one in the Army, but the need for it has never arisen in the Royal Air Force.
The hon. Member asked me about confinement to barracks. This punishment was abolished twelve months ago. The restriction of privileges punishment, put in its place, does not create purposeless duties such as running round the square but gives extra duties in normal tasks. He also asked me whether the Royal Air Force is still trained for conventional tasks. The answer is that it is. Training is given in the use of conventional weapons in a wholly limited war.
§ Mr. Amery
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) asked me a number of questions. He asked, particularly, whether the Royal Air Force is needed at all. I shall not attempt to deal with that matter, though I could, in private, reply to him in kind.
My hon. Friend was anxious that we should not lean too much upon Section 69, which provides for conduct to the prejudice of the Service. There is a good deal in what be says. We must avoid putting too much weight on that "public mischief" Section. It reminds me of the juvenile deliquent who, when told that he was making a public nuisance of himself, said that it was better than being a public convenience.
My hon. Friend also referred to the offence of flying to annoy. It is some years since I was doing that myself. I was guilty of it before the war, but there was certainly no imprisonment at that time.
The hon. Member for Dudley raised a number of issues which could more adequately be answered in the Defence and Estimates debates. The prophet is not without honour, save in his own Committee, and I have no doubt that what he said will be carefully read in the War Office and the Air Ministry.
The hon. Member asked about the Congo airlift. I made inquiries about it, and I am advised that the great bulk of the airlift from Ghana to the Congo was undertaken by the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Amery
I am giving the hon. Member the best information I have available at the moment. His question has been noted. I am told that the great bulk of the airlift was undertaken 1273 by the Royal Air Force. I gave figures in answer to a Question on 30th November to show what we had done. At present, Ghana's forces in the Congo are sustained almost entirely by the Royal Air Force airlift, which is continuing.
The hon. Member for Coventry, East gave us his views in a speech which one of his colleagues described as thoughtful, challenging and characteristic. I endorse at least the last comment. He asked a number of questions about the use of tactical weapons by ground forces. I am not in a position to answer and no doubt the hon. Member can pursue that matter with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for War and the Minister of Defence.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park asked me if I would say more about Royal Air Force recruiting. I have not much to add to what I said on 25th November. Broadly speaking, the most important change we have made is to allow a shorter engagement for aircrew with a break at five years. We have just made that arrangement to make good the deficiency in aircrew, to which I referred in a public speech the other day, and already the number of applications has risen sensationally in the two months since the shorter engagement was introduced.
The right hon. Member for Easington suggested that we should keep a stronger reserve at home. I will not go into the details of the arguments about deployment at home and overseas, but I assure the right hon. Member that our transport forces are being expanded all the time and I hope that there will be figures in the Air Estimates Memorandum which will be of some comfort to him.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) asked me about wastage and discharges and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park asked what the Royal Air Force wastage was. It is 2.7 per cent. in our case, although we get much higher wastage figures in the training of air crew, not through voluntary discharge but through inability to reach the necessary standards. Both Services feel very strongly that they do not want any "reluctant heroes", and I think that that is the feeling of the House.
§ Mr. Amery
The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), asked about the remuneration of counsel defending airmen. The Bar Council has given as its opinion that the fees we pay are reasonable. Men in Germany can ask for any counsel to go to the command to defend them. That counsel is then approached to see whether he can go, subject to his other commitments. If the accused does not name counsel, he is given a short list from which to choose. In the United Kingdom an accused is normally defended by a solicitor, but if the case is very complicated counsel may defend him.
The hon. Member also asked about forfeiture of pay and emphasised that soldiers or airmen should not be left without money in their pockets. It is intended to provide by administrative orders that sums paid by forfeiture of pay should be spread over a period when the offender cannot pay immediately. The hon Member also asked whether there should not be a limit to the number of forfeitures of pay imposed in a certain time. That would be a little difficult.
One could easily get a situation in which a man had paid a number of forfeitures of pay and would then be free, as it were, to make mistakes and not suffer that punishment. However, I have no doubt that, in practice, as the hon. Member would be the first to recognise, if a man has committed a number of mistakes which would normally attract forfeiture of pay as a penalty and that penalty has proved to be an inadequate deterrent, his commanding officer would think of something else.
The hon. Member also asked about leave in the Services. It is perfectly true that there is not the same certain knowledge that there is in civilian life that one's leave will come at a certain time, but an airman serving at home is assured of 30 days' leave each year and twelve extra days may be granted to warrant officers and airmen engaged on flying duties, and to a number of other categories—instructors in parachuting, mountain rescue teams, apprentice and boy entry schools, and so on. Although there is not the same certainty as to the 1275 time, the amount of leave allowed is a good deal more than it is in industrial life. In addition, there is leave on public holidays and there are many week-end opportunities.
§ Mr. Morris
I was asking whether an effort could be made to have more certainty. I appreciate that it is impossible to have a certainty comparable with that in civilian life, but could not some effort be made, especially when a Service man has made plans to take leave at a given time? Could his leave not be kept to that date if that is at all possible?
§ Mr. Amery
As the hon. Member will appreciate, my right hon. Friend and 1 and our predecessors have always tried to see that there should be as much certainty as possible. I do not think that the relative absence of certainty is a deterrent to recruiting, because in many ways the amount of leave is a good deal better than it is in civilian life.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) asked about Clause 35. The object of that Clause is to enable protected persons to hold the Queen's commission in the forces of their Protectorate or Colony.
I have not tried to reply to every comment made in the debate. It would have been impossible and often out of order to have done so. Many of these matters will arise as general issues in the bigger debates ahead. I have no doubt that everything we have said will be studied by the Select Committee, and even that is by no means the end of our inquiry into the matter. There will be the ordinary stages of legislation in the House and in another place so that there should be ample opportunity for us further to consider any matters on which we are in doubt and for further constructive suggestions to be made.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on my suggestion about the remuneration of National Service men in the final months of their service?
§ Question, That "now" stand part of the Question, put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Select Committee.—