HC Deb 15 January 1964 vol 687 cc200-1
17. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for War by what number he estimates the Army will fall short of requirements in the coming year; and whether he will give an assurance that he will not reintroduce conscription.

Mr. Ramsden

I cannot make an exact forecast, but I anticipate that by the end of 1964 the margin of some 5 per cent. by which the Army at present falls short of its target will be reduced to about 3 per cent.

We have no intention of reintroducing conscription.

Mr. Allaun

Yes, but as the Government, for obvious reasons, will not reintroduce conscription just before a General Election, will the Secretary of State give an assurance that in the unhappy event of this Government being returned they will not reintroduce conscription after the election?

Mr. Ramsden

The Government will do their duty in any circumstances without regard to the dates of a General Election, but the present circumstances do not warrant a reintroduction of conscription.

Mr. John Hall

Would not my right hon. Friend agree, in view of the recent statements about the defence policy which would be followed by the Opposition in the unlikely event of their filling the benches on this side of the House, that this particular Question might better be addressed to the Opposition Front Bench?

Mr. Speaker

It is not part of a Minister's responsibility to answer that.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Very interesting.

Mr. Paget

Could the right hon. Gentleman say how the 3 per cent. is distributed amongst the various corps—where he really expects his principal shortfall?

Mr. Ramsden

I would have to give the hon. and learned Gentleman the details.

Mr. Allaun

Are there not very serious manpower shortages in the hospitals, in the schools and in the transport services? Why should the claims of the Army alone be sacrosanct? As there are 432,000 men in the three Services, could not some of those, if necessary, be transferred to the Army?

Mr. Ramsden

What the hon. Member is saying, I think, is in support of our policy of raising the Army on a voluntary basis, where people have the opportunity of choosing what they wish to do.

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