HC Deb 14 June 1961 vol 642 cc407-9
7. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Minister of Defence what measures, other than those now in operation, he proposes to adopt in order to bring the numbers of the three Services up to the strength required.

Mr. Watkinson

Recruiting prospects in the Royal Navy and the R.A.F. are broadly satisfactory. Recruitment for the Army is going better than in 1960, and I am confident that this improvement will continue. I am in close touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War about future action.

Mr. Shinwell

While I am reluctant to blame the right hon. Gentleman, because I know how difficult is the position, would he not agree that there has been some vacillation and some indecision? Is he aware that in another place a representative of the Government—I think a Cabinet Minister—said the other day that the Government had an alternative scheme in the event of failure to obtain the necessary number of volunteers? Can we be told something about this?

Mr. Watkinson

This is primarily—as my Answer made clear—an Army problem. The Navy and the Royal Air Force look to be able to meet their targets reasonably easily. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War set out clearly in his Estimates speech, firstly, the list of a great number of things which we were going to do and which he hoped would improve recruiting—and this is already happening—and, secondly, he made the proper observation that, of course, if we fail we must have some alternative plan. I have said today, and I believe this, that as things are going we shall succeed in meeting our target on the due date. That is what we must concentrate all our efforts upon.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the Minister aware that at the Royal Tournament, apart from the splendid show put on by the Royal Marines, the two exhibitions of the Royal Navy comprised one which was concerned with cutlass fighting and hornpipe dancing of the time of Nelson and the second was a field-gun exhibition of the time of the Boer War? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the Navy that if they are to get more recruits they must put on something more up-to-date?

Mr. Watkinson

The hon. Gentleman has made a perfectly proper point, but it is equally fair to say that perhaps the most effective display was that of the Royal Marine Commando, which is still part of the Navy. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with that. This is a difficult problem, and it is my wish that on all these Service occasions we should try to show the Services as they are today, with modern weapons, doing a worth-while job. But it is equally fair to say—and I saw the Royal Tournament last night—that I think the balance this year was fairly and easily achieved, despite the cutlass drill, which drew one of the biggest rounds of applause.

Mr. Strachey

One of the things that can be done, if the Army has greater difficulties relative to the other two Services in getting recruits, is the further integration of the tasks of the Service by which many of the cold war tasks can be performed by Royal Air Force regiments and by naval commandos. Perhaps this could be carried a good deal further?

Mr. Watkinson

I do not disagree with that at all. We are forming another Royal Marine Commando now. We are developing the Commando carrier concept. All these things will help to bear the burden. But none of this takes from the Army its proper long-term tasks, and it must make a success of its Regular recruiting to fulfil them.