§ LORD CROFT
had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government whether in order to remove the grave uncertainty as to future careers and anxiety, as to the duration of service, they can make an early statement as to the period for which men are being conscripted into the Forces; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I want to assure the noble Lord that in submitting this Motion I hive done so only in the hope of obtaining elucidation in regard to the one specific point mentioned, and I should like also to assure him that I am in no way critical. Of course I would not be critical of the call-up of various men to the Services at the present moment, because we all realize that that call-up is absolutely vital if we are to continue to occupy the enemy territories, guard communications, preserve peace in the areas, replace those men who have been serving for five or six years in the Services and who are ripe for demobilization, release the Regular Army for police and garrison duties in the Empire overseas, and, above all—which I am sure will appeal to the noble Lord himself—fulfil the obligations which we are called upon to fulfil in connexion with the United Nations Organization. Therefore, I have no criticism whatever to offer of the call-up. My only fear would be, or my only wonder would be, as to whether in fact we have sufficient, because I know the extreme pressure upon all Commanders to find enough men at the present moment to fulfil their duties; especially, I think, is that true of the Army.
It is simply on this one point, the length of time that men are to be retained in the Services, that I ask for clarification. I know, and very likely the noble Lord will say, that this is all tied up with the need for men in every respect. In that connexion I would say that I, personally, was glad, although it was at a very late hour, that at last we got the conditions of the Code for Service allowances in the Army, because I believe that we have lost an enormous number of very valuable trained men, who, had they known the conditions a little earlier, when they were doubtful as to whether they were going into civil life or not, would have 867 stayed on. We do need these trained, skilled young leaders at the present time, just the same as we did during the war.
With regard to officers, I should like to take this opportunity of saying that I hope the noble Lord did not think me guilty of any discourtesy when I last raised that question, because the feeling was that during this month we were going to hear what are the conditions of officers, and I was most anxious not to detain your Lordships with any second speech. I regret I did not acknowledge the fact, as the noble Lord told us, that although we missed many buses with regard to this matter, he is going to catch the last bus, anyhow, this month, in giving us the conditions with regard to officers.
These questions all hang together, and the last thing in the world I intend to do now is to deal with the wider subject. I believe that at this very, moment—in fact I have already seen a copy, although I have not had time to read it—there is a wider statement out with regard to policy, and it would be improper for me, I think, at this juncture, to deal, or to attempt to deal, even if I had made a study of it, with this matter. But can we have some assurance from the noble Lord that these men who have been conscripted into the three Fighting Services may have some indication as to how long they have got to serve? Is it for two years, three years, four years, five years, or is it for the duration of the peace, because it is a matter which is exercising the mind of every young man, certainly of every ambitious young man, who wants to get on in life.
Take the case of those who are preparing for the law, for architecture or accountancy, for forestry or agriculture, or wanting to take degrees, going up to the universities, or young working lads who are determined to get on and who want to know when their apprenticeship is going to begin, or how they are going to work out the scheme of their lives. I do feel they are entitled to know how long the State will have need of their services, and it is for that reason that I tabled this Motion to-day. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give us an assurance on that subject now, if possible, but, if not, at the very earliest possible date, because I hope he will believe me when 868 I say there is the very gravest anxiety in the very widest circles on that particular subject. I beg to move for Papers.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, I have only one word to say in support of the noble Lord who moved this Motion. I get a great deal of correspondence on this subject, and I do earnestly ask the Government, even if they cannot act for a long time—I am not going into the question of having or not having conscription—that boys joining to-day should be told that it will not be more than two years or something like that, so that they and their parents can make some sort of preparation. Whether they are working or whether they are men who are going up to the university, it is of vital importance to the family, to the boy himself, to his brothers, and so on, to know whether there is a limit to his service, subject, of course, to an emergency.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ LORD NATHAN
My Lords, it is obvious that there is, and must be, in a matter of this kind, anxiety amongst all sections of the population to know, at the earliest moment, how their young men and boys are going to stand in relation to military service. I can say at once that His Majesty's Government entirely share the desire expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Croft, in his Motion, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that as soon as possible all uncertainties should be removed about the period of service of then called into the Forces. The Government have set before themselves the object of bringing about a situation in which all men who are serving will be serving for a definite term of years.
§ LORD NATHAN
Who will be serving for a definite term of years; but with the best will in the world it is not yet possible to announce—and I am not in a position to do so—a definite decision. Through 869 out 1946 a very large programme of demobilization will be in progress, during which over 2,000,000 men will be released. The size of the Forces is to be brought down to the lowest figure compatible with the fulfilment of our various commitments as set out in the White Paper, in the statement regarding defence, which has been issued this afternoon. Even so, there will be serving in the Forces at the end of 1946 a considerable number of men with over three years' service. The reason for this is that the number of men on Regular engagements has fallen very severely during the war, so that a large proportion of the men in the Forces at the end of 1946 will be conscript.
While demobilization on a large scale is still in progress, it is naturally essential that young men should be called up, so as to facilitate the release of those who have borne the heat and burden of the day. It is not yet possible, however, to say how long men now being called up will have to serve. It depends upon two things: first, upon the satisfactory liquidation of many commitments arising out of the war—this will permit the total size of the Forces to be steadily reduced—and, secondly, the extent of the response to the new terms for Regular Service. The faster the Regular strength of the Forces can be built up, the shorter can be the period which conscripts must serve. Various measures are under examination for increasing the number of men on volunteer engagements. His Majesty's Government, therefore, hope that before very long it will be possible to announce a date after which all new entrants to the Services under the National Service Act will be called up for a definite period, and to say what that period will be. Assuming that all goes well it should be possible progressively to reduce that period.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
May I ask the noble Lord whether it is possible for the Government to say now what the maximum time is in the case of these boys who are being called up to-morrow?
§ LORD NATHAN
No. I was anxious to make it clear that, whilst I cannot say that today, and whilst that is the position, His Majesty's Government are conscious of the necessity of making such a statement at the earliest moment, and it shall 870 be made at the earliest moment. I should perhaps refer the noble Viscount to a statement on this matter in the White Paper.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
I think perhaps there is a misunderstanding between us. What I am asking is this: is it not possible for the Government to say what will be the maximum period? You said "the period," and there is a great deal of difference. If you could say to a boy that he will not be called up now for the duration of the peace, as somebody said, but that you can give a period of two years or three years and that that shall be the maximum, you could easily work out the numbers that would bring in, and then give a period as soon as they come in.
§ LORD NATHAN
My Lords, I am fully conscious of the force of the arguments which the noble Viscount has in mind, and I was hopeful that I had made it clear that, as soon as they are in a position to do so, the Government will state the period far which young men will be called into the Forces; but I am not in a position to state any such period to-day.
§ LORD CROFT
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the answer he has given to my question. It is something for us to know that at a fairly early date a decision will be arrived at on this matter. I should like to emphasize what the noble and gallant Marshal of the Air Force Viscount Trenchard has said, that it is impossible very speedily to make up the mind of the Government. I can quite understand it, because there are many complications throughout the world as to the exact date, but will he consider whether a maximum date could not be given, something which would at least be the most they would have to fear? I am not pressing for the answer now, but I would like to know the maximum period of service; it would be a great comfort to the men. I know that it would be very difficult to work these details out, but if he could give an assurance that the maximum will not be more than "x" number of years, that would be a great comfort to them. I hope he will give every consideration to it. I beg to withdraw.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.