HL Deb 03 June 1947 vol 148 cc28-116

Debate on Second Reading continued.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, after that very momentous statement perhaps we may return to the Bill we were discussing. It is obviously a Bill of very great importance, and it has had the advantage, not always in recent times enjoyed by major Bills passing through the other place, of having been the subject of a free and unfettered discussion in that other place. In the course of the debate which there took place it was discussed from many angles, from impassioned pacifism to impenitent conscriptionism. But, as I understand the Bill, it does not seek to impose upon this country—if impose be the right word—a permanent system of conscription. It is actually more limited, both in its scope and in its objective, and, as I see.it, is designed in the present unsettled state of the world to prolong into the immediate future, subject to considerable modification, a restricted form of that national service which has now been for some years a feature of the life of the country. I have said it is applicable to the immediate future, and from this point of view I think the years from 1949 to 1954 must be regarded as forming the immediate future, because the Services must know beforehand where they are likely to stand; plans must be laid in due time, and administrative arrangements be perfected in advance.

If that be the right approach, then I respectfully suggest that a general discussion upon the principle of conscription in itself is not germane to this particular Bill. I have never regarded conscription as being in any way a Party matter. There are those who hold it as a faith, perhaps as strongly as others hold pacifism as a faith—if you like, not as a matter merely of individual belief, but of individual conscience—but, in my view, that is not the question raised by this Bill. We are not called upon here and now to decide whether or not for the future conscription is to be a permanent part of the life of this country; nor to decide whether or not it is in itself a good thing; and, if it is a good thing, whether it should be absorbed into the national life. This Bill is, however, founded upon the principle of compulsion, and from that point of view, not unnaturally, it is as repellent to the pacifist as it is acceptable to the conscriptionist; the conscriptionist requires no conversion, the pacifist is not susceptible to argument. But in between those two extremes there lie, I think, the great majority of the people of this country, who take the view, rightly or wrongly, that conscription is not an advantage to the country in itself, and who are prepared to submit to it only if they are satisfied that an abnormal state of affairs exists. If that again be the right approach, we have to consider this Bill in the light of that view, because, after all, we are not entirely expressing our own independent and individual views in this House—we are, so far as Possible, representing and considering what we believe to be public opinion in the matter.

What is the question to which those very large numbers of people, who, in my belief, cherish the view which I put for ward, have to address their minds? It is surely this: In view of all the surrounding circumstances is it likely that by the end of 1948, when the present system comes to an end—unless it be prolonged—that the world will have so far recovered its balance and returned to what we once credulously believed to be normal times, that the country will be able to afford to rely entirely upon a voluntary system and to dispense with any wider source of trained reserves? Obviously there are difficulties in answering that fundamental question, and one of the difficulties is that extremely little information has hitherto been vouchsafed by the Government upon which we could form a studied judgment of the position. But, equally, one of the Government's difficulties is that, even in a democratic country, not every matter can be shouted from the housetops; and there are matters, especially in the realms of strategy and defence, which in the interests of national security it is obviously the duty of the Government, to some extent, to retain to. themselves.

It would be futile for me, speaking from these Benches, after the Conference of the Liberal Party which took place recently at Bournemouth, to pretend that there is no division of opinion in the Party upon this question. Obviously, those of your Lordships who may have studied the proceedings at that Conference will have seen that there was. Personally, I would rather see a difference of opinion voiced and voted upon than I would see it camouflaged by a plaster facade put up at forty-eight hours notice in order to preserve an appearance of unanimity at very considerable cost. We upon these Benches have to approach the problem from our own point of view, and we have, I think, to bear in mind this consideration—that this is a matter upon which it is immensely difficult to arrive at an informed conclusion without having the necessary material available. We have also to accept that the Government, perforce, have at their disposal—and rightly have at their disposal—far ampler material than is available to us, and far more skilled technical advice than is at the disposal of anybody else.

We have also to acknowledge another aspect. Obviously, unless they were afflicted by suicidal tendencies, no Socialist Government would launch out into a scheme of national service—or conscription if you prefer to call it by its perhaps still better-known name—unless they were satisfied and, equally, were prepared to justify to the country that it was essential for the future security of the country, that that scheme should be brought forward. We have to consider, also, that from the political angle they have much to lose and nothing to gain by bringing forward this scheme. And it is perhaps not a very rash deduction from those facts that they would not have done so unless they had been satisfied up to the hilt that there was no other way. We on these Benches have, I hope, in the quite recent past given some evidence of our interest in, and our desire for, the preservation of the liberty of the individual. At the same time all of us, however devoted to that principle, have to recognize that liberty cannot be absolute—except perhaps in a country populated exclusively by angels or anarchists—and that it must be, as Burke once said, that "liberty must be limited in order to be possessed."

We shall support this Bill, although I confess that we should have followed the Government lead more willingly if we had not been confronted with the singularly inept and humiliating antics which were performed in another place as to the length of the period prescribed. Speaking for myself—and I think for other noble Lords on these Benches—I would greatly have preferred to see the retention of the 18 months period rather than the 12 months. After all, 12 months is a pitiable period of time in which to attempt to produce anything like a trained soldier. What we have always to remember—those of us who in a humble and highly irregular way have had personal experience of it will know this—is that when you are training a man, his training does not finish when you have trained him as an individual. The vital part of his training is to make him not a person by himself, but a unit in a corporate whole, so that he knows, if the time comes, how to take his place, where to take his place and how to function as a unit of a machine, and not merely as a man who has been put through a certain number of drills and attained a certain standard of proficiency in musketry.

There again, those of us who have had some experience of Territorial soldiering have known the difficulties of trying to collect a few men and pretend that they are a battalion, or a few vehicles and pretend that they are a column moving along the road. You cannot get into a man that sense of membership of a corporate body unless you have the real numbers there to impress him with the fact that he does belong to that body. Therefore, the only way in which you will really get the man trained to act as a member of a corporate body is by the actual period of his consecutive service of 12 months. Had that been 18 months, it would, in my view, have made a very real difference to the standard of training of the man. Not only would his education have continued, in the military sense, but in the remaining six months he could have seen the application of the lessons which he had been learning during his early days, and come to realize the value and the necessity for what he had been taught, so that if he were recalled he would come back, not as a being in a vacuum but as a man with a background into which he could readily step in a moment of emergency. That, in my view, is the great and singularly regrettable weakness of having reduced the period from 18 months to 12 months. I confess that I find myself utterly unable to accept the thesis that this change took place as the result of prolonged deliberation and consideration of factors, military, economic and political, over a period of months, and by some nappy chance came to fruition in the space of forty-eight hours after some eighty of the more volatile and vociferous members of the Government—


Including some Liberals.


Including some Liberals if you like—the noble Lord is entitled to his point—had taken the view that they did not like the Bill and that 12 months was enough.

I think one must ask the noble Lord who is to reply to this debate to give us a little enlightenment on one or two questions, and to dissipate for us the idea that perhaps the Government were a little scared by this noise of thunder on the Left, and thought that the only way they could deal with it was by an act apparently of abject appeasement. I would like to know when this decision to reduce the period from 18 months to 12 months was actually taken. I would like to know what new information, not present when the original decision was made, had come to the Government's knowledge to produce that change in their minds; and if the decision was not taken during those fateful forty-eight hours—if it was not due to what had taken place on the previous day—why it was that in the earlier stages of discussion on the Bill no hint, suggestion or indication of any kind was given, either to the House or through the House to the country, that the Government proposed to reduce this period from 18 months to 12 months. Admittedly, I have not given the noble Lord who is to reply notice of those questions, but surely on a matter of this kind no notice of such fundamental questions is necessary. They must be known to every member of the Government, for they are indeed fundamental to this very important decision, involving as it did a marked change of policy which the Government announced.

I am glad that the noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading of the Bill laid strong emphasis upon the need to continue to stimulate and, if possible, to increase recruiting for the Regular Army, simultaneously with such steps as may be taken towards national service. For the Regular Army the long-service man must be the foundation, not only from the point of view of training those whose service is going to be concentrated into a pitiably short time, but also from the point of view of giving backbone and stability to the whole Force.

The aspect of reserves is of enormous importance. Some of us have twice seen the long, painful, discouraging process of trying to beat ploughshares into swords, and if it should, unhappily, ever happen that this country again found itself at war, there would, at least, be some insurance in the fact that we had trained reserves available and had not to start once more the business of bringing in men from all quarters, untrained to any degree in the handling of any weapon, and to try under the stress of conditions of war to turn them into soldiers, fit to take their places in the line of battle. I hope the Government will persist in their endeavour. It may be that, if the figures for voluntary recruiting increase, it will be found before the end of the period in 1954 that this system of national service may no longer be essential to the country. In that case the Government would, no doubt, take steps to repeal this Bill, and then would be the time to decide, after discussion, whether or not a system of conscription was, in itself, for the good of the country and therefore ought to be continued as an advantage.

This Bill will affect the lives of a large number of young men throughout the country. I think there was one sentence towards the end of the noble Viscount's speech to-day which was the first sign of any encouragement to these young men to face up to the obligations which might fall upon them under this Bill. The Government have—and I hope they will take it—a real opportunity on this Bill to make an appeal the youth of the coun- try and to say to them "You have now so much that your fathers never knew; you have a system of social security, pre-cradle to post-grave, maternity services, infant welfare, education, health insurance, unemployment insurance, old age pensions, family allowances, holidays with pay—


And funeral benefits.


Perhaps the noble Lord will restrain himself for the moment. "You have funeral benefits, and pensions for widows. These are now your rights as a citizen. But must you therefore take them for granted? Surely, if citizenship is to be worth anything, is to have any meaning and any value, it must carry with it not only rights but also obligations. If it is to be citizenship at all it must be responsible citizenship, with the responsibilities that attach to the privileges of citizenship."

If the Government would say that to the young men of the country, and not approach this question of the young men being called up for service quite so diffidently and apologetically as they often do, but say to them: "In return for all you have, here is your opportunity to render thanks by rendering service," there might be a chance that they would be able to re-kindle in the young men of this country something of the spirit of the volunteers of 1914, who flocked to the recruiting stations, not because they wanted to fight a war but because they wanted to serve a cause.

4.15 P.m.


My Lords, as has already been said, this Bill affects the homes of this country and will affect hundreds and thousands of our young men for many years to come, and, I think that perhaps it is right, therefore, that one or two observations should be made on it from these Benches. We dislike the idea of conscription, and we regret that it has been found necessary to introduce it in this country. In our country we have been free from conscription except in times of war, and we have been proud of that fact. I am quite certain that the Government have introduced this Bill with great hesitation and regret, and that they have introduced it only because they are confident that without con- scription it would be impossible for us either to defend our freedom or to make a contribution towards peace and order in the world.

We all of us detest and hate war, but, horrible as war has been in the past, we know that in the future, with the atomic bomb and with bacteriological weapons, war would be still more indiscriminating and horrible than it has been; and the question which we are forced to ask ourselves is this: Is war always the worst of evils, or may not a cruel tyranny sometimes be worse than even war itself? We also ask ourselves another question: What will best prevent war, a Great Britain unarmed or armed only with exhortations, or a Great Britain entering into conference with arms behind her? I, for one, feel certain that we shall be able to do much more for the preservation of peace if we are a nation which is armed, and I believe that those who are most anxious to see war abolished should realize that at this particular stage an unarmed nation with possessions is an incitement to war rather than to peace.

Before the last war I remember a pacifist in your Lordships' House whom we all respected but who is now dead—Lord Allen of Hurtwood—saying to me that though his own personal views remained the same he was glad that the Government were re-arming, for he was certain that their decision to re-arm was bringing a message of hope and courage to large numbers of smaller nations. I think it is possible that war might have been postponed or even averted if at an earlier stage this country had been armed. And if it is decided that this country must be armed, conscription seems obviously the fairest and most democratic way of bringing it about, when all classes, all men, irrespective of the social position or wealth of their parents, serve equally in the defence of their country. An exception, of course, must be made, and has rightly been made, in the case of conscientious objectors. Conscientious scruples have been respected in the past, and they will be respected in the future, and it is a remarkable thing that in the darkest days of the last war the utmost care was taken to safeguard the scruples of those who were conscientiously opposed to taking up arms.

There is one matter of detail to which I must make some reference, and it is a matter which affects the Church of England and other Churches. Under the Bill, candidates for ordination, like other students, may have their period of service deferred. If they become ordained before doing their period of service they are, as ministers of religion, altogether exempt. It is not the object of any denomination, by deferring its students and by ordaining them earlier, to obtain complete exemption from national service. I must make it clear that the Church of England did not want such an arrangement; indeed, there is a widespread desire in the Church of England that its candidates for ordination should take their place with all other young men in doing their period of national service. We do not want them to be treated as a separate class with special privileges; we hope they will do their period of service. But this will lead to certain disadvantages which must be accepted—including the fact that if they do their period of national service, they will then be compelled to do their subsequent period of annual training in order to take their ordination, while students who are deferred (and subsequently ordained) escape the whole thing. To that the Church of England does not propose to suggest any alteration; nor will any Amendment be moved from these Benches. I am anxious, however, to make it perfectly clear that it was far from being our own desire that this arrangement should be made.

I want now to make an observation on a much more important matter. One of the results of reducing the 18 months service to 12 months will probably be to enlarge the number of men, recently conscripted, who will have to serve in Germany or other places. I am not personally fitted to suggest why the Government so suddenly changed its mind, although I am bound to admit I have always been interested in the psychology of sudden conversion. I have always warned students that you must carefully distinguish between the reason which a convert gives, and that which possibly has been hidden in his subconscious mind. The two may be totally different. Whether the Government are right or wrong in this decision—and I am quite incapable of expressing an opinion on a technical matter like this—it means that if the period of service is to be only 12 months, prob- ably a much larger proportion of these younger men will have to be sent over to Germany almost at once. I have the greatest admiration for all that our armies have been doing on the Continent. They have made a great contribution to the restoration of order in these countries. I have been very impressed with the discipline and the cheerfulness and the kindliness of the men in the ranks of our armies, but that does not meet the position. One realizes that to send young men out to occupied countries does expose them to certain very great temptations.

Take, for instance, Germany. I am told that in the British Zone of Germany there are several million young women in excess of the number of men. Many of them are attractive; some of them—because of the circumstances of the Hitler regime—are over-sexed. If those responsible were to make inquiries from the medical authorities I am sure they would see the result of the temptations to which these boys—and many of them are only boys—are subjected. Nor are the temptations only sexual. More than once I have heard of young men of no sort of criminal or vicious tendency who within a short time of arriving in Germany have been caught up in the Black Market, simply through inexperience. I do plead that these young conscripts should be kept in England for some considerable time before they are sent to Germany, or elsewhere.

I cannot speak too highly of all that is done by our Welfare Organization, by the chaplains, the welfare officers, and others in Germany. It takes some time, however, before their efforts can have any real influence on these boys, who go out to a country inexperienced, young, and full of high spirits, and find themselves in totally different surroundings. Often when they commit some misdemeanour, or they fall into temptation, it takes place in the first weeks. Of course, I recognize that any young man, wherever he is, is exposed to various temptations; but my point is that in an occupied country these temptations are far greater than anything which they would have to face in England, where there is a certain standard of conduct, and where the men are near their own homes.

I know the Government may find it extremely difficult to deal with this matter, or to meet this plea. I make, and it may mean a great deal of re-organization to stop these younger men from going to Germany at once. But the fundamental difference, I think, between a totalitarian and a democratic state is this: The totalitarian State expects all its citizens to exist for its own sake; the democratic state exists for its citizens to enable them to live a full life, or—as would have been said in classical days—to lead "the complete and good life." It is because we are a democratic state that I make this plea that every effort should be made to safeguard the interests of these rather younger citizens who will be the flower of our manhood.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure my noble friends on the Government Bench who have heard the remarks of the most reverend Primate will have done so with considerable satisfaction. If I may follow up his first point, that in relation to the undesirability of having young soldiers in occupied countries, and the results that may follow, I would say that most of us on these Benches hope that as a result of future deliberations the period of occupation will be very greatly reduced, and that presently all the armies will be taken out of Germany. That would be the best solution in regard to that point.

Before I make the few remarks I intend to offer to your Lordships, may I make one comment on the remarks of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, when he spoke on behalf of those on the Liberal Benches? I always thought that the great Liberal Party carried on the tradition of the supremacy and the independence of Parliament. The reduction from 18 months to 12 months in the period of service, which so upset the noble Lord, Lord Croft, was a measure towards the conservation of manpower for work on the land and in the vital industries, and it was thought better to come down on the side of a balance of economic strength rather than on the side of military strength, and this was the direct result of the arguments used by members of another place on the Second Reading upon the Cabinet. The Government acceded to a strongly expressed opinion by Parliament. And, after all, Parliament is not merely a debating assembly; it is sovereign.


Are you suggesting that there are very formidable factors which were new at that stage?


No; but Parliament, after all, exists as a civilian assembly, and if there is a serious argument put forward the Government have to be prepared to answer criticism levelled at it.


May I interrupt my noble friend to say that I endeavoured to point out that Parliament decided by 380 votes to 80 in favour of the 18 months' period? I cannot quite see the noble Lord's point.


My point is that the effects of the arguments in the Second Reading debate were such as to cause the Government to find it possible to cut down the period from 18 months to 12. And why not? That is what Parliament is for.

Now, if I may, I will come to the technical arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Croft, which were far more important, I suggest, than the political part of his speech. With great deference may I say that I do not think, when it comes to the technical branches of the Services, that it makes very much difference whether you have a period of training of 12 months or 18 months? I do not think you can make a trained technical soldier in 18 months. You certainly cannot make a trained technical sailor in 18 months, any more than you can in 12 months. I imagine that in the future, for its trained and highly skilled technicians, the Army, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy will have to rely on their Regular long-term volunteer elements. Even in the 18 months' period which the noble Lord, Lord Croft, wants, you can only train men to make up the higher members of your gun crews and that sort of thing. That is the position so far as the Navy is concerned. You cannot, I suggest, make a seasoned soldier—and far less a seasoned sailor—in 12 or 18 months. The best you can do is to build up a useful reserve to fill up the gaps, so to speak, in an emergency.

Your Lordships will perhaps remember the conditions which prevailed with regard to some of the great conscript armies of Europe before the war. I believe that the period of services for conscripts in the German army was two years. The French made it as long as three years, and they once thought, I believe, of extending it to four. That was partly to get more men, but mainly to make up for their lack of numbers by more intensive training. I speak, of course, with all deference on Army matters, but on matters concerning the Royal Navy I can claim to speak with a little experience. I had a good deal to do with Naval training during the First World War: I was a member of the Grand Fleet Training Committee, and I have kept closely in touch with such matters ever since. I say, from such knowledge as I possess, that I do not think you will be able to do very much in either 18 months or 12 months in the way of making prime seamen. You can make very useful men for all sorts of duties but not prime seamen for the more skilled and technical jobs.

I am now going to make a few observations—of the purport of which I have given my noble friend notice, and on which I hope to have some information from him when he winds up this debate—with regard to the methods of training proposed for the Royal Navy. In wartime you can take an intelligent lad, put him aboard a ship and teach him to do a certain job. He can become a higher number of a gun's crew in a comparatively short time, and can even do such work as range-finding or sight-setting by concentrating him on that job. Later that boy goes into the peace-time Reserve, and if he is mobilized he may go to an entirely different ship from the one on which he has been trained, and everything will be entirely different. The only way to get over this difficulty as regards the Navy, I submit, is to increase the number of long-term volunteers. I did not hear any figures from the noble Viscount, the First Lord of the Admiralty, but I understand that recruiting for the Navy for long-term service is reasonably good. I am told that only about 25 per cent, of the men needed for the lower deck to-day are conscripts or compulsory national service men. The remaining 75 per cent., I believe, are volunteers. What are we going to do in the future?

I hope that the mistake will not be made—and here I speak with some knowledge of the facts—of trying to make sailors on land. You cannot do it. The only way in which you can use this comparatively short period to make prime seamen is to send them to sea. If you have them at Whale Island, Portsmouth, the Gunnery School, Plymouth, or other training depots, what happens from dinner-time on Friday to breakfast-time on Monday? There is, for that period, a sort of hiatus. There are all sorts of distractions for the men—shore leave, week-ends, and so on. The only way you can really get results from 12 months' training is to revive the old training squadrons. Revive these squadrons and send the recruits to interesting parts of the world. When they have had a real taste of the life, no doubt a great many of thorn will want to sign on for 12 years or whatever the period is to be for long service. If you try to make men into sailors in drill rooms, barracks and naval schools ashore you cannot do it in 12 months. To revive the training squadrons, of course, will cost money, but in the end it will prove to be true economy. So much for that side of the matter. Those are points about the Navy which have not so far, I believe, been referred to in any of the speeches made.

Another suggestion which I wish to make to my noble friend is that he will consider still further increasing the opportunities for advancement in the Navy, and especially of widening the avenue of promotion from the lower deck to the commissioned ranks. I believe that if that is done well, we shall get all the volunteers wanted. We used to be able to get all the volunteers required—indeed so plentiful was the material that we could pick and choose for the Royal Navy. I believe that this would apply also to the Royal Air Force. If you widen these avenues of promotion, as I suggest, you will get all the volunteers you want from the pick of the youth of the country. I hope that will be the aim of the Admiralty, and that they do not intend to rely to any substantial extent on these national service men.

With regard to the Army the situation is quite different. The Army, except for certain sections—and I hope that by saying this I am not hurting the feelings of my noble friend Lord Croft—is not, and never has been during our time and generation, a popular service with the British people. Boys go willingly into the Navy, but except in the case of the Territorial Army, they do not go anything like so willingly into the Army. How was the old voluntary Army recruited in practice? It was drawn from three particular categories of recruits. I are, of course, speaking now entirely of the rank and file of the Army under the voluntary system. First of all you had the category which was made up of a limited number of men who had soldiering in their blood. They came, very often, from generations of soldiers, and they had a natural inborn love of soldiering. They wanted to see the world and liked Army life. Another category went into the Army purely for patriotic reasons. That applied particularly to the Territorial Army. These men joined up because they thought it was their duty to do so. They joined up in answer to a recruiting campaign. They joined up so that it should not be said of them that they had let their county down.

In the case of till men from the Highlands of Scotland they joined up in order not to let the Highland Regiments down—or in order not to let their own particular well-loved Glen down. In addition to those two categories, there was a third very large category, consisting of men who were practically forced to enlist. In some cases, they were forced to enlist because of unemployment; in others because they got into some kind of trouble, which I will not specify, in their awn villages; or for some causes of that kind. The fact is that a great many of them were forced into the Army by economic causes. Now if we are successful, as we expect to be, in our policy of full employment (and I would remind your Lordships that that policy has been accepted officially by the Party opposite) the third category will almost disappear. If you rely on the voluntary system for recruiting in future you will not have men joining up under the compulsion of economic conditions. You will have only the men who have got into trouble in their villages, and the men of the first two categories that I have mentioned. Therefore, under a Socialist state, I do not see how the voluntary system can operate.

As some of my friends on these Benches are sincerely opposed to conscription, may I say just a sentence or two in support of this from the Socialist point of view? First of all, every Social- ist Party on the Continent of Europe is in favour of conscription. That is so even in the case of Switzerland. The arguments advanced in its favour on the Continent are that it is more democratic, and Continental peoples are afraid of the long-term professional Army. The long-term professional Army, they say, is very liable to become a class army, a political army, and a menace to the State. And that might happen here. After all, what is the history of conscription? The first modern conscript Army was raised in France by Napoleon in order to safeguard the gains —the very great gains as we now realize —of the French Revolution. One of my noble friends says they were raised to conquer Europe. The fact is that in the first place the conscript armies of France had to throw back invaders who were intervening with a view to restoring the Monarchy and the powers of the French aristocracy. I am surprised to find any dissent from the Liberal Benches to that.


No dissent at all. I am challenging the noble Lord's historical facts. I am still not convinced of the accuracy of his history.


Whether it was in order to conquer the rest of Europe or to destroy tyranny, the fact is that the first conscript army was raised in France after the French Revolution. I can foresee in the future, as a peaceful, economic revolution develops in this country, that we may need an armed force to defend the gains of that peaceful, orderly, economic revolution, not only against external threats. The Army has very important functions to perform; it must in certain circumstances come to the assistance of the civil power, and I would far rather in future have an Army raised in the way the Government now propose in this Bill than what would be in effect the highly privileged—because it would have to be privileged to get recruits—long-service corps d'élite which, as I say, might become a class army and might in certain circumstances be dangerous to the State.

Looking ahead many years—and this Bill looks ahead many years—there is from the Socialist point of view a case for conscription on grounds of fairness. It is not right for one man to sacrifice himself for patriotism for a neighbour who escapes, and we believe it is part of the citizen's duty in a Socialist state to render his mead of service to that State, and this is the fairest way of getting it. I only regret—I speak frankly, and only for myself—that the Bill does not apply to women. I see no reason why women who are claiming equal rights and privileges and pay with men should not also have the privilege of serving in peace time with the great distinction and value they gave us in war time. It is a small and personal point, but it is my only regret. I am convinced by all the arguments which I have stated and heard that I should support the Bill.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, the scientific way of life only exaggerates the natural disposition of a man of sense to speak only of what he knows. I should like to think that I have kept faith with that discipline during the short time I have been a member of your Lordships' House. In the Bill before us it is difficult to see where the provinces of the soldier, the doctor, the politician and the economist begin and end. When, too, a reasonable man finds himself in a small minority he must wonder whether his judgment is right. For those reasons I feel more diffident than usual in taking up the time of your Lordships' House.

The Government case for the Bill is based on two assumptions. In the first place, it is assumed that a certain number of men are needed in the Army; and secondly, that that number can be raised only by conscription and not by voluntary recruitment. May I take the second assumption first? It is said that voluntary recruitment has been tried and has failed. Has it really ever been tried? When a soldier leaves the Regular Army, what guarantee has he that he will get any work? There are charitable organizations, but he has no guarantee of any kind that he will get employment. Surely the reason why so many men in the past have not joined the Army is that there has been no security. The Army has not been as popular as it might have been, and the attitude of some people towards it in peace time has not been the same as their attitude in war. Even in the debates in another place, when appeals were made for higher pay for the soldiers there was an outcry. It appears that if he were paid sufficiently to provide for his family, he might lose his head. Those who wanted to pay him a living wage are told that we are trying to create a Pretorian Guard, a military caste, and to foster militarism. My Lords, there are great dangers threatening this country on every side, but militarism is not one of them.

I served for two and a half years in the first war with a line battalion which was stiffened in battle by a pride in arms which had its roots in its achievements at Albuera, and in the traditions of the 7th Foot. These men endeared themselves to the French and Belgian citizens with whom they were billeted by their consideration and kindness. More, and I think your Lordships will agree with me, the character of the British soldier on active service in two wars has shown to many lands the flowering of our civilization. I am certain that this state of insecurity regarding employment is shortly to end, and that very soon when the soldier comes out on discharge from the Regular Army he will have reasonable security that he will get a job. To make that position real, the Government, the national services and industry will have to make provision to fit these men into civil life. I understand that will be done.

Why am I so particularly keen there should be a voluntary Army? Although there are many excellent conscripts, the conscript is no substitute for the man who has given up the best years of his life to the Army. The Navy and Air Force, I understand, are not really interested in conscription because, in their jargon, the conscript does not "make the grade" they require. It is assumed that the Army can do with a lower standard. Is that true? The next war will be more unpleasant than anything we have known, and much more technical. Only a man with a head on his shoulders and a stout heart will be of any use. Even in this war when we had a particularly dangerous job to do we looked for volunteers to do it—air crews, paratroops and commandos. Even if the conscript has his heart in his job, will he have the training? Brigadier Head, a very efficient Staff officer, said in another place that in the war he had helped General Leese to convert an infantry division of trained and disciplined troops into an armoured division. He said that at the end of a year those troops were barely fit for battle, and he ridiculed the idea that starting with raw recruits, tech- nical formations could be trained in a year. It might be ready nine months or a year after the outbreak of war. There will be many more technical formations in our next war; even the infantry will be highly technical.

When the conscription period was eighteen months, many thoughtful soldiers were against it because it would not give time for adequate training. When it was reduced, there was a veritable landslide in Army opinion away from conscription. It seemed to be making the worst of both worlds; on the one hand getting an Army of half-baked conscripts, and on the other handicapping the regular Army in that it would have to provide picked officers and non-commissioned officers to train conscripts. The political world, which perhaps accepted conscription a little uncritically, is still supporting compulsion when all opinion that counts in the Army has condemned it.

The other assumption on which the Government's case rests is that a certain number is necessary in order that we may have security. Lat me say this about security straight away: that I shall have later to submit to this House details about venereal disease in the Army, and your Lordships may feel that this is a very serious social evil. You may still be persuaded that the invasion of this country and the ravaging of the land by rude and brutal soldiery of a foreign power would be a greater evil than for our sons to be eaten up with syphilis. Let me say at once that I would support conscription straight away if I were persuaded that conscription is essential for security. In regard to this number that is necessary for the security of the Army, who gave the Government that number? We have been told that the Chief of the Imperial General Staff submitted a number to the Cabinet, the Cabinet pruned it and returned it to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. I can only say that the strategic sense of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff was quite equal to the occasion. He seems to have left a generous margin for bargaining before he submitted his number. There are some risks we must take, but it is really a question of the correct balance of the economic, military, and moral risks; and, in that planning, some of us may feel there is very little risk of war in the next ten years, and that that is the time to get industry on its feet, which would be our real source of strength.

We may believe all that or not, but I think we may agree that it is asking too much to leave this question of the numbers required entirely to soldiers. We do not think we had a sufficiently encouraging response, when we pressed for the demobilization of doctors, for us to give the C.I.G.S. and the Army a blank cheque in this matter. When Germany surrendered, the Central Medical War Committee, which had for long been perturbed by the denuding of the country of doctors, said that if there were a winter epidemic there would be a breakdown of medical services They pointed out that with the surrender of Germany the centre of gravity had changed from the Army to the home front. But the Army said they could not keep armies in being unless they had the necessary doctors. The result was that nothing happened, and the Army were obdurate, until Mr. Churchill gave an order that I,600 doctors should be demobilized "forthwith." "Forthwith" was the word he used. At once word came from the Army that if the order were carried out it would prevent the Army from carrying out their commitments—a word which has a very familiar sound. The word "forthwith" was changed to three months, and in that time the order was carried out without any alarming consequences of any kind.

In explanation as to why this number is necessary, stress has been laid on security in the next war. We have heard that we have ceased to be an island, that we are part of the Continent in the military sense, that we shall have no breathing space in which to arm, that we must have a larger reserve, and, therefore, we must have conscription. Intelligent soldiers whom I know are quite convinced that there is no human probability of a war in the period covered by this National Health Service Bill which is before the House.


National Service, though National Health if you like.


It is the instinct of a doctor coming out. If there is no risk of war in that time, then clearly this Bill was designed and brought before the House not to give us security in time of war, but to furnish us with overseas garrisons which cannot be furnished without conscription. If that is the case we have a totally different state of affairs which ought to be looked at in a different manner. The Government ought to say: "We have a short-term policy to fulfil our commitments, and that means conscription because we cannot get the men for these overseas garrisons without it. We have a long-term policy which will remain when all our commitments are ended."

The Foreign Minister said the other day that our commitments would soon be less than they have ever been.


Our overseas commitments.


I should have said "overseas commitments;" and that is the point I want to make. If what the Foreign Secretary said is really true, what is happening? The Government have said this number is not necessary for security in war, but that they have a long-term policy which is designed to find out what is the proper way of protecting this country in a future war, if one should unfortunately happen. I have not presumed to come to this House trusting in my own knowledge of military matters. I have sought the advice of many soldiers and others whose judgment I learned to trust during the war, and I have found that they consist of two schools. There is the school which is so impressed with the effect of the new weapons during the last war that they believe they will dominate the next war. They refer to the atomic bomb bringing about the surrender of the fanatical Japanese race, and they say what is well known—that in the next war atomic power will be much more powerful and that the only real restriction of atomic bombs is the question of raw materials and whether we have enough raw materials to make these bombs. The answer to that is that we shall have enough raw materials if America is included.

Then other views of members of this school, to quote Sir John Anderson—who is Chairman of the Atomic Control Committee—is that bacterial warfare is as disastrous as, and more insidious than, atomic warfare. Not everybody would accept that at the moment, but everybody will accept that bacterial warfare in the next war. if it comes within the next ten years, will be as formidable. So we have this particular school of soldiers making the obvious deduction that England will be untenable in the next war. and, so far as their interest in conscription is concerned (and they are not very much interested) they say that the conscript will be only part of the security police, aiding the civil power in putting down rioting and in rushing food to people who are starving at the periphery, or who are hiding in caves—as the most reverend Primate mentioned in debate some time ago.

The other school admits that these weapons will dominate war, and says that it is only a question of when. They think it is premature to say that England will be untenable in the next war. I think this school contains some extremely able soldiers and scientists, but there is one great limitation with regard to the scientist: A scientist will form no conclusion unless every single one of the premises on which it rests is proved. War is a business of probabilities, and, therefore, I think this school may be too cautious in pronouncing judgment in the way it has done. I would point out that there is very little difference between these two schools. Both say that these weapons will dominate war in the future. The only difference is when. Both schools say that clearly these weapons will be used. They say that the next war will be a struggle for survival, and it is unthinkable that obsolete weapons should be used by any nation in such a struggle for survival. They say that the atomic bomb was used by the two most civilized nations in the world when the war against Japan was no longer in doubt, and it is simply putting our heads into the sand to say that they will not be used in the next war.

The anomalous position arises that we have a short-term policy which is being debated up and down the land for the supply of garrisons for these countries overseas, and we have a long-term policy which is to determine our survival as a country. That is where the real battle of conscription will come, even if this Bill passes this House to-day. It all depends on the potency of these weapons, and that decision has not yet been made by expert opinion. if I am right in all this, it comes down to this: that we cannot for a moment entrust this decision solely to soldiers, or even mainly to soldiers. I believe, personally, that, among the soldiers there are as many able men as in any other profession, and probably more.

I have recorded that often in talking to Staff Colleges. But this is not a question of ability at all. In every profession, as I know so well in my own. ingrained conservatism is very powerful. It is not only that the two weapons that govern this position—the atomic bomb and bacteriological warfare—are outside the experience of soldiers, but also this question of the ingrained conservatism of the professions. Radical change is accepted in the profession only at the hands of genius, or more slowly and gradually by the sheer pressure of events. These revolutions of thought are framed in the minds of a few, and work out their lonely course in the stratosphere of the human mind. In the soldier's craft there have been long periods of stagnation, but the appearance of the internal combustion engine, comparable to the discovery of anaesthetics in medicine, quite altered war.

We are face to face with another similar revolution. Is it any wonder that not every soldier accepts the implications of what it means? To whatever school one belongs, we have all decided that this revolution in the profession of arms, and particularly in the matter of weapons, has altered the whole position of this country. It has altered it both for the better and for the worse. It has altered it for the worse because, as a result of our small size and dense population, these weapons would be extremely destructive. As has already been said, we are very vulnerable. That, I think, is going to have an immediate effect. In medicine, in my time we have shifted the accent from curative to preventive medicine, and I believe technically speaking, that the soldier will concentrate no longer on the successful conduct of a campaign but upon the prevention of war.

How can that be done? I am not concerned with the education of public opinion throughout the world, though in the long run that will obviously decide. I am concerned merely with the technical position as it appeals to soldiers. The Prime Minister really answered my question because he has said that it would be utterly impossible for us to contemplate war with Russia when our resources are compared with theirs. If that is true, as I think your Lordships will agree it is, it means that conscription can never bring security in a war. We cannot compete with these nations in manpower. But when we come to the question of scientific warfare, England and America are so outstanding in this regard that no country will attack us if we develop our resources. In inventive genius and the application of science we stand apart, and our lead is such that, unless we give it up voluntarily, we cannot possibly be attacked.

What I am alarmed about is this. To ask the country to support scientific warfare is to ask a difficult thing, because it is asking the people to support something which it is difficult to make clear to them. I have not spoken about this to that distinguished soldier, our present C.I.G.S., but I imagine that if the alternative were put to him as to whether he would prefer these weapons or conscription, he would say that he would have these weapons. But a grateful country has given him both. Until we know the full possibility of these weapons, and when they will be available, it is wise not to discard the weapons that have proved effective in the past. I think that is true. But it is also true that it is generally thought that there will not be war for ten years, and we have to ask ourselves whether the slight risk we run in that time is comparable to the tremendous economic risk we run if we keep as frozen assets 200,000 conscripts every year. I cannot see recovery taking place under those conditions.

I have really reached the point where I feel the decision about conscription will not be made to-day, to-morrow or the next day. It will be made only when it is known what is the real potential of the weapons about which I have been speaking. Meanwhile, in the balancing of risks, I think there is great unanimity among really able soldiers that these weapons are as important as I have said; and if anybody thinks I have exaggerated the school which believes these weapons will dominate the next war, I would refer them to the Press report of yesterday, from which one learned that the Committee which President Truman set up to advise him on military training put it on record that they thought there was a definite possibility that entire American cities would be wiped out simultaneously overnight by atomic bombs. That Committee recommended that industry should be dispersed and that the factories should be built underground. So this is not the mirage of an academic mind, but a practical conclusion come to in a great democracy.

I return, if I may for a moment, to the short-term policy. I think it would be very difficult to condemn conscription if it were only to be used for garrisons overseas. At the same time, I think it is important to remember, as the most reverend Primate made clear, that there are great risks in employing these conscripts overseas. It is a policy which no democratic European Government have ever countenanced. Mr. Churchill said the other day—and he cannot be accused of any lack of sympathy for the Army—that it is a policy which neither our Army nor any other army could indefinitely maintain. I am concerned about the medical reasons which make this service overseas for conscripts so harmful. Last September there came into my possession certain statistics concerning venereal disease in the armies of occupation overseas. I submitted those figures to the relevant members of the Cabinet, because I was anxious that they should be considered by them in any discussion of conscription, without the obvious disadvantage of publication. That has not been done, and therefore I am compelled to submit these figures to your Lordships' House to-day. I realize that I may be criticized for so doing, but they were given to me without any condition. They were given to me probably, I think, because I was a member of a small medical advisory committee which advises the Secretary of State for War. I believe that one is a member of those Committees for two purposes: (I) to advise the Minister, if he requires advice, and (2) to reassure the public that all is well in medical matters in the Army. And if all is not well—and all is not well—then I think it is time to speak up.

In September of last year, in our Army in Japan, of every 1,000 men 228 had venereal disease. In another command alongside, 600 out of 1,000 had venereal disease—that is to say, more than half. In Germany at the same time the figure was 185 out of 1,000; in Austria and Italy 168 out of 1,000; and in Burma and Malaya 141 out of 1,000, The figure in the Middle East was 31 out of 1,000. I understand the reason for that lower figure was that there was really no mixing between the Army and the civil population. Those figures may alter from time to time, but I understand they are substantially the same now. The figure for the Army at home is 33 in every 1,000. That is very much higher than it usually is; it is generally in the neighbourhood of about 12.

The civil figure is almost impossible to get. Between 6o,000 and 70,000 had syphilis at home; but that has to be compared with the whole population. I am told that the figure works out at about 5 to 6 per 1,000 among the civil population. I would point out to your Lordships that we had the same prevalence of venereal disease in 1919, after the first German war when similar conditions prevailed. Then, the figure was 150 out of every 1,000 in the Army of the Rhine; while in the American Army in September of that year, of all the white American troops in Germany and France, 859 out of every 1,000 had venereal disease. I am quoting from Volume XV of Medical and Casualty Statistics.


May I interrupt the noble Lord to ask him whether, as he has given his source of authority for the figure for the United States Army, he would find it possible—I hope it is possible for him—to give the source of his authority for the figures he has quoted about the British Army in the various fields in which they have been serving? The reason for my interruption is that not only are the figures he gives entirely different from those which were given to me, but they are wholly irreconcilable.


I am extremely surprised at the substance of that intervention. The figures were given to me in September. They are in print, although I have not brought them with me. But they are in print, and they come from our official Army organization. Not only that, but I have confirmed recently that recent figures, though I do not know them, are substantially the same.


May I interrupt the noble Lord? He made a very startling statement about the American Army—859 out of every 1,000.


That was after the first German war, in Germany and France. It sounds an incredible figure, but you will find it in Volume XV of Medical and Casualty Statistics.

Leaving that figure for a moment, one comes to the explanation of these figures which is accepted by all those familiar with conditions in Germany, and my information on this point comes entirely from Germany. Those people are quite clear in their own minds that absence from home is the vital factor which leads to this high incidence of venereal disease. The longer a conscript is away from home, the higher rises the rate and incidence of this disease. A second point is that it is due largely to boredom and to the fact that the men have no healthy means of distraction. They lead a mechanical life, they have not enough to do and they are just waiting for the time to get out. This does not apply to all, but it applies obviously to the people of whom I am speaking.

These figures lend no support to the Prime Minister's attractive idea that the Army is a people's university at the present time, teaching men citizenship; and when the Leader of the Opposition says that one of the two reasons why his Party supported conscription was to sustain the moral health and safety of the people, one can only hope that his Party had better reasons than that for supporting the measure. When two men speak of England assuming the moral leadership of the world, I am sure they are not familiar with these facts which are so distressing and so mortifying to people like myself who have served in the Army and treasure its fine traditions. Noble Lords might ask whether these figures mean that the price of keeping an Army abroad is that one in every five or one in every six will get venereal disease; but I would point out at once that the times are abnormal in the sense that there are many men in the Army who have been there for several years and are in what might be called a "don't care" frame of mind. Furthermore, these figures will vary from time to time. But whatever qualifications you make you cannot get away from the fact that they supply an indictment of the conditions under which these men are living. Moreover, the most friendly critic of the Army must feel that these figures mean that during the conscript's time abroad his experience in the Army is a demoralizing experience. To segregate young men at the beginning of their life, under these conditions, is a very poor preparation for the more serious view of life which is so sadly needed at the present time.

Does all this really matter? Am I exaggerating the damage which may be done to mind and body of the conscript? Some may say that boys will sow their wild oats; that it is, of course, a pity that so many get into trouble in this way while they are in the Army when, as one senior soldier put it, the whole pother could be cleared up if there were licensed houses. Your Lordships may take a different view. You may feel, even from the practical point of view, that this is not the way to train an Army. Sir John Dill once made clear to me that the purpose of training an Army, and the real difficulty in so doing, was not to instruct men in tactics or the use of weapons, but to instil into them the will to fight—what is called morale. If that is the real purpose of training, how can we accomplish it in countries where these conditions exist, and where the very thing we are trying to build up—the morale—is being destroyed?

Your Lordships may want to leave it at that, or you may pass on to a less obvious and, I think, more serious view. You may say that not only does conscription prevent the efficient training of soldiers, but it may sadly interfere with the turning out of good citizens. During the last war it was very difficult to keep the boys at school keen. There was no incentive to work. They were going into the Army, so they said, "Why bother?" Recently the Chairman of a juvenile employment committee put it on record that the same state of affairs is existing now, since it became known that conscription would go on. He said that the boys are restless; they will not settle to anything; they do not want to become apprentices and they do not want to learn to become craftsmen or technicians. If this is all true, and if there is anything in education, surely it is disastrous. When they pass into the Army they find the same lack of purpose, the same "too-little to do"; and so they wait for the hour when they will get out. We are constantly sending into industry a stream of men of whom it may be said that for some years they have been ticking-over like a taxi looking for a fare. They have lost all power of concentrated work. Surely that is a great disaster.

I should have ended what I had to say at that point, had it not been for a previous speaker saying that the Government ought to make an appeal to our young men on more material lines. I believe you are not going to get anywhere by appeals. The practical man in our day seems never to have the capacity or the time to think anything out. How can a change of heart be brought about? For an answer I want to take you to Cairo, just before the battle of El Alamein. Mr. Churchill said to Field-Marshal Smuts: "As I get older I begin to see a pattern in things." General Smuts replied: "There is a pattern in history, but it is not easy to make out." He went on to speak of Gandhi. He said, "You and I, Winston, are mundane people. Gandhi is a man of God. He appeals to religious motives."

At that time, when things were pretty grim, there was every excuse for dealing with the thing which came to hand; but General Smuts, looking beneath the surface of things, saw that great changes were coming. He believed that when peace came patriotism would not be enough. He saw that there are times in the affairs of men when you must appeal to their deepest instincts, if they are to come through. This was not the utterance of a Prelate on fire with a consuming faith; nor even the words of a well-meaning physician. It was the pronouncement of the Prime Minister of a great Dominion, a man who had led armies in the field in two wars. Later, I received confirmation of the same thought when I was asked by General Paget to talk at the Staff College to the commanders of divisions, corps and armies in the Army at home. When I had done we sat discussing things, and more than one that night came to me and spoke to me on the effect of religion on the Army. It was the business of these men to get things done; they had striven to probe deeply into the springs of human conduct, and they had come to the same conclusion as General Smuts. Perhaps' they were seeking for a less material and sterile way of life, and with all the inhibitions of their kind, and race, they were fumbling for an answer to the demand made by the old divine: "Shall there be a God to swear by and none to pray to?"

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, if this Bill had come before us in the form originally introduced in another place we should have very little except praise for it, for the Bill in its original form combined a statement of principle and an attempt to carry that principle out in practice, which is not the case with the 13i11 as it is before us now. Let us think, for the moment, of the principle before we come to the practice. This Bill, I believe, is the first approach to realism in our preparation for war since the Haldane Reforms of 1908; for the first time an attempt has been made to put the Armed Forces into a proper state of readiness. As everyone knows, we were not ready for the First and Second World Wars, and now at long last His Majesty's Government have planned this Bill with the idea—which they have declared—of forestalling war, as opposed to the lower ideal merely of fighting a war and winning it.

This Bill deals only with manpower. It does not deal with other matters, such as the provision of equipment, which are equally important for our Forces if they are to be ready for war. And preparation for war does not consist merely in the recruitment of soldiers, or even in the training of soldiers who are recruited, but also in the provision of a proper amount of war rnaterial—which I have no doubt is being made at the present time. I was not going on to deal at great length with the case for this Bill because I thought that was amply made out. But I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Moran—who I notice is no longer in the Chamber—and at the risk of seeming to be impertinent, as an unscientific ex-Regular soldier I would like to make one or two remarks on some of the things the noble Lord said.

First, let us deal with the atomic bomb for one moment. Those who can carry their minds back to 1934, 1935 and 1936, will remember that there was a school of military thought, strongly supported by a well-known military writer, which told us that we poor "boobs" in the infantry were out of date, because the only thing that mattered was armour, and armour was going to win the next war—if it did not prevent it. Let us go on to the time of Dunkirk, when we found that every single man who was available was required to be trained—we came back to that in the last resort. It is our one solid insurance that everybody who is capable of being trained to arms shall be so trained. We then face the administrative and political problem of deciding, when the emergency comes, how and where to use those people who are trained to arms.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Moran, misdirected himself on two points. First, he did not mention that the atomic bomb is not an accurate weapon, and so long as it is not an accurate weapon, it cannot be used for the purpose of forestalling war. You cannot, for political reasons—apart from strategic reasons—make use of a weapon which kills the just equally with the unjust, for the purpose of forestalling war. The weapon to do that is still the rifle and bayonet, in the bands of a British soldier. The time may come when the atomic bomb is accurate. Very well; when that time comes no doubt there will be an Order in Council reducing or abandoning the demands of national service. But not yet.

The second point on which the noble Lord, Lord Moran, misdirected himself was this: there is a distinction between deciding to train the maximum number of people to arms, and the decision whether all those people are any time required to be used. You cannot improvise training, but it is a simple administrative matter to decide not to call up certain people. In the last war the Home Guard, who were part-time people in matters of defence, and whole-time in matters of industry and agriculture, were still required. Part-time military service from full-time munition and agriculture workers will still be wanted. It is politically impossible to start closing the stable door when someone is starting to take the horse away. I am glad that the Government are not paying too much attention to those people who, though they appear to glory in the name of Briton, do so only on condition that other people do the fighting. I am glad there is nothing more in this Bill than there has always been in the National Service Acts about the proper treatment of genuine conscientious objectors.

I am going to try for a few minutes to see what is going to be the effect of this reduction from 18 to 12 months service. There were two reasons given in another place for this. The Minister of Labour, when he introduced the Second Reading, put as the first reason the stiffening of the Regular Army. The Minister of Defence later on, and the noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading to-day, put the other reason—namely, the need to provide a trained Reserve. With great respect, I think that the noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading had the two reasons in the right order. The long-term policy is far more important. As to the Regular soldiers we agree that we are far from out of the wood. The numbers are rising, but they are not right yet; but after all it is within the power of the Government to offer sufficient inducement to bring enough people into the Regular Army. They can pay them all £1,000 a year, if necessary. There are also some other things that they can do, such as to press forward with the new number one dress, the walking-out uniform. I feel rather doubtful as to how that is proceeding, and I think that would be a real inducement to the peace-time regular soldier, who up to the moment has had to be content with two suits of battle dress. Although before the war a soldier could buy plain clothes, I doubt whether he could get the coupons now.

I mention that in passing to show that I think the power of the Government to attract the Regular soldier, or the Regular sailor, or the Regular airman, is not by any means exhausted yet. And I hope that the Government are concerned about the effect on the Regular soldier of the whole of this business of this reduction from 18 to 12 months. In the first place it will mean that so long as the Regular soldiers are not up to establishment, and their place is being taken by national service men—whether of this vintage or the vintage which will be produced—when you take the Regular soldier, the individual will be spending much more of his time overseas for the next several years; and certainly he will be spending a great preponderance of his time overseas so long as the Rhine Army lasts.

The national service man, under the 12 months arrangement, will not, I think, be available to go anywhere further afield than the Rhine Army, except possibly Gibraltar or some such place. Therefore so long as you have commitments further afield the Regular soldier will have to spend more of his time in the more distant overseas stations—perhaps with his family, perhaps not. Then I notice that the Minister of Defence in another place, when he was trying to minimize the difficulties of this reduction, said that he thought the job could be done in the time (referring, I think, to the Regular Army's part in instructing). Of course, it can, but I suppose that when thinking out and making their plans for the Regular Army the Government had in mind that the Regular soldier, like the regular worker in other industries, would want his five-day week and his statutory holidays. And, mark my words, my Lords, they will see very few Bank Holidays or five-day weeks if this job is to be done anything like properly. Really, it is almost fantastic to suppose that we can do a proper job of work with the national service man in 12 months.

I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that this period has been set by the soldiers. The Bill was introduced in the other place by the Minister of Labour, and administratively he has screened all these figures. It is difficult to imagine how any Government would pass figures of that sort unless he were absolutely convinced, as an independent arbitrator, of the soundness of the Chiefs of Staff's calculations. If you take your national service man in regard to corps training and primary training it is calculated that it will take less than six months, but I do not think it will take less than six months in practice, including draft leave, and so forth. Then the national service man will have to be taken overseas, and he will have to be brought back for his leave before he is discharged. In the middle of that he has to be educated, and various other things. Then he will go overseas, quite possibly having done only his primary and his corps training. He will not have done any collective training or battle practice, and unless he has a full year's cycle in the Regular Army and a period of duty with a Regular unit, he cannot carry out the full Regular training- There were about three months in Rhine Army last year where the whole Army was frozen up, and no training of any sort could take place; and that might be just the three months when the national service man appears. So, he cannot be fully trained and, whatever may have been the reasons for deciding on balance on the 12 months period, it does not add up. There is no need to try and lift the veil from what the Chiefs of Staff may have said or thought, because anybody—and there are noble Lords here in this House at the moment who have been concerned with the training of troops—knows perfectly well that it will not add up. The training will be a very poor substitute, and will not lead to readiness for war. There is no need to wonder what the Chiefs of Staff said about it. There are standards which everybody does not realize—standards of the training of the soldier. A soldier is not just a man in uniform, and in spite of what many people may think it is not: everybody who is put into uniform who can fight the King's battles. There are physical efficiency tests and weapon tests, and one wonders how the national service man with 12 months' service will face up to these tests. We may indeed have to ask if those tests are being preserved, and if there is any monkeying about with them in regard to preserving the percentages.

So lot us leave that, for time is short. I would say one word about the T.A. because this is the long-term issue. Here, fortunately, the effect will not be so serious as it is with the Regular Army. It will be a real boon to the Territorial Officer to have full ranks, and to feel that he is a real fighting force, and is being given the men to train with. The great proportion of these national service men will do part-time service in the Territorial Army, but my feeling is that the Navy and the Airmen will take their full batch of conscripts, whatever anybody may say. Let us think of the Territorial Army in relation to what was achieved in the Home Guard. The proper handling of these national service men means keeping a proper balance between their private affairs, and their status as private citizens; there will be the. strain on the senior officers and N.C.O.'s in the Territorial Army as there was in the Horne Guard, but that strain can be very much minimized if sufficient latitude is put in their hands.

I was rather surprised to notice that there has been no reference so far in any of the debates in another place to experience in dealing with the conscripted Home Guard. There are a great many lessons to be learned in dealing with the Home Guard, as many of your Lordships will know. We have to strike a reasonable balance between insisting on a certain standard of efficiency and having regard to a man's personal claims or the claims' of industry or agriculture, and I suggest that what was done for the Home Guard will very largely be successful with the part-time national service man.

Those, I think, are the chief points at this stage. I would like to appeal to any who are concerned with writing or talking about national service to resist the temptation to represent the national service man as being discontented and frustrated. With the Home Guard we were concerned to inspire them, and the people who are concerned here should give the show a big hand. With the slightest encouragement from my noble friends in front of me, rather than see this Bill on a far worse footing than it was originally, I would go into the Lobby to put back the eighteen months, not so much on political grounds, but because I believe, as I have tried to explain, that the twelve months is a military nonsense. I would add, however, that it would be a far worse military nonsense, for the reasons I have tried to explain, to reject the twelve months which is in this Bill. If this Bill receives a Second Reading, as I hope it will, that will not be the end. We have to watch constantly that this provision which Parliament is about to make is a real provision designed to forestall war, and therefore we must watch constantly the standards of efficiency and see that there is no backsliding to any imaginary standard a efficiency. If we do not do that the scheme will be worse than useless, and I wonder whether the Government have not already started on that "rake's progress."

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to keep you very long this afternoon so I will confine my remarks to what seem to me to be two major arguments. I think it is obvious from the debate, so far as it has gone, that the House would agree that the most urgent and the most essential task before this Government is the establishment of peace. The noble Viscount who introduced this Bill said that the main object of it was to prevent war. If I could believe that, then a great deal of my opposition to this Bill would fall away. I believe that the first aim of this Government is the establishment of peace, and that it is the first aim of our Foreign Secretary. I further believe that that aim has the support of the whole of the people of this country.

But I am not at all sure that it is understood that, if we are to attain world peace, all our efforts and all our policies must be governed by that aim. There occurs a conflict frequently between the policy to be pursued to achieve world peace and the policy to be pursued in the hope of achieving victory if war should, unfortunately, be forced upon us. I think, therefore, that the first thing that we have to do is to make up our minds as to which is to have first priority—the pursuit of world peace, or the pursuit of preparation for war. In view of the atomic bomb and developments of other aggressive weapons, it is coming to be much more generally recognized than it has been recognized in the past, that peace is infinitely more important than victory if war should come.

In spite of what has been said by one or two noble Lords who have spoken in this House to-day, I still believe that it has been proved, again and again, that war cannot be prevented by armed force —much less abolished. However we build up our armed forces, however we arrange out strategic frontiers, whatever strategic bases we acquire, whatever alliances we make with other States, those things are always regarded as a challenge or a threat by other nations and they reply in kind. Immediately, we are involved in a race for power, a race for defence as it is called, and sooner or later that race always ends in war. And it always will end in war. Great armed forces are not a defence of peace; they are a menace to peace. They produce fear, which is the greatest cause of war. I am very much afraid, indeed, that that race for re-armament has already begun. If that is so, then, in my opinion, the most important thing to do is to stop it.

But if we are going to stop it, we must make up our minds whether or not peace is going to be our first priority. There cannot be an equal priority between peace and defence, because the more we pre- pare for war the less success shall we have in pursuing our aim for peace. To build peace requires a sense of confidence and mutual trust, and preparations for war destroy that mutual trust. That is my first ground of opposition to this Bill. In my opinion it will increase distrust of our peaceful intentions. We find it exceedingly difficult to understand how anybody can possibly distrust our present intentions. We are so certain that they are right, and in the interests of every other country in the world, and yet they are distrusted; and this Bill will, in my opinion, increase the distrust. It will, therefore, make our great task of building world peace more difficult, if not impossible. I believe that, perhaps, there are two groups of people in this country—those who believe that world peace is possible and those who do not. I am definitely one of those who believe that it is possible to eradicate war from the world.


One day.


I believe it is possible to build up a world order, such an order that every nation in the world will have more to gain by maintaining that order than by breaking it. That, I hold, would be the basis of a world peace. I understand that a great deal of work has been done already by the United Nations and by a lot of other bodies, in preparation for the building up of such a world order. But progress has been very slow; there have been a great many very serious set-backs, and I think that those setbacks and that slowness of progress have been due very largely to the fact that every nation has been thinking rather more of its own particular defence than of putting world peace as its first priority. Every nation, in my view, is seeking to ride two horses—the horse of world order and the horse of national advantage. I believe that this National Service Bill will add to the causes of distrust and the difficulty of building this world order.

Nevertheless I do believe that we can build such a world order, that we can build an order which would guarantee to all the peoples of the world a fair share of the opportunities of the world, a fair share of the food stuffs and raw materials, and a real prospect of a rising standard of living. And I believe that our Foreign Secretary is working to the very utmost of his capacity to that end. For this country, it is an exceedingly urgent thing that the economic life of Europe, including that of Russia, Should be restored. It is vitally important to us, and I feel that it is equally, though perhaps not so obviously, important to all the European nations—even including Russia itself. I do not believe that there is any European nation—and again I include Russia—that can afford to waste manpower at the present time in making preparations for war.

To accomplish the colossal task of building up their economic life they cannot afford the waste. This Bill adds one more bad example to the plenty there are already in Europe of nations that are devoting more manpower than they can afford to preparations for war. Therefore it is going to make our Foreign Secretary's task more difficult than ever. I feel he should press definitely upon the nations the abolition of conscription, and press definitely on the nations a real measure of disarmament. I wish that having made such a proposal, this Government would set an example by withholding this Bill.

As I see it, we British people have presented to us one of the greatest opportunities in the history of our country of leading the world to peace. Our peculiar situation. economic and geographical, has taught us more dearly perhaps than any other nation has been taught that the nations of the world are all inter-dependent one on the other, that the good of each depends on the good of all and that we in this country are more deeply concerned to build a real co-operative world commonwealth than is any other nation, though fundamentally that co-operative world commonwealth is as important to every other country as it is to us. You may think that America could stand outside, that America could stand on her own feet for the next 100 years. For the next two or three years perhaps America may; but sooner or later she is going to realize that she is as inter-dependent upon the other nations of the world as we have realized ourselves to be. There is no single nation that can stand separate from the whole. Therefore I believe we have something to contribute to the world in this matter because we have learned this lesson so much more clearly than the other nations have done.

One great stumbling block to the new world order is the clash of ideologies and the fear that these clashing ideologies bring with them—Capitalism and Communism. Well, we stand between the two. We are engaged in a task of building the common weal without violence and without sacrifice of the essential freedom of the individual. I believe that that great experiment is of incalculable value to mankind, and I believe that this introduction of compulsory service is a false note in that great experiment. Conscription has been the basis of every totalitarian State. It prepares the mind for the denial of the rights of the individual. No totalitarian State could have come into being if its way had not been prepared by conscription. In the totalitarian States—and I think that the most reverend Primate has said this—individuals have no standing, they are merely pawns; whereas the basis of democracy is the recognition of every individual as an inviolable entity.

These two ideologies that are in conflict have two bases of morality. The one has the basis of respect for the individual personality, often more honoured in theory than in practice for the vast majority; the other has the basis of the good of the community. Both of these are true but they are only half truths, and it is because they are only half truths that they are in conflict. We used to have a dear old vicar in the village in which I lived who used to say that all heresies were part truths taken as whole. These two are part truths and it is because they are only part truths that they clash so violently. The respect for the individual under capitalism has become the license for the strong. The good of the community under Communism has become the good of the State and the well being and freedom of the individual has been sacrificed. In this country we take the two together as complementary to each other, and we are seeking to build a social order on the reconciliation of the whole truth, its two parts linked together. Success depends on the recognition of both those principles in the foundations of our social order by both Government and the people.

I believe that this reverence for the individual is absolutely an essential part of the teaching of Jesus, and I am opposed to this Bill because it is contrary to this reverence for the individual in that it compels him to train to kill, which is a grave moral decision which every man should be free to decide for himself. I believe there is a spark of Divine life in every man. I believe that that is the most sacred thing in life. The very purpose of life is the growth and nurture of that spark of Divine life, and that society is great which encourages that growth. I believe that compulsion in an issue of this moral seriousness is a violation of that Divine spark within every individual. I believe that that Divine spark grows by sacrifice and service.

Therefore, I do not say that all military service and all military life is inimical to it. I clearly recognize that there is much that is noble in military life. It is a shame upon us that there is more comradeship, more devotion to a cause, often more sacrifice in war, than there is in civil life. That must be recognized, but it must also be recognized that there are many men to whom this compulsion to kill others is a violation of all that is best within them. I do not think for a minute that the clauses exempting conscientious objectors cover the difficulties at all. For every man who stands out as a conscientious objector because he has a clear religious faith, or because of his family upbringing, or because he happens to have a clear mind—


Might it not be because he is afraid of being killed or hurt?


For every single man of that kind there are many who have not been able to form their views, their faith, or their philosophy, who are too young to have formed them as yet, and yet to whom it is a terrible tragedy to have to train to kill other men. I am, therefore, opposed to this Bill because I believe it will weaken both parts of the double foundation of our Socialist commonwealth: the common good and the respect for the individual. The common good depends upon peace—and this Bill will make peace difficult; and it denies respect for the individual in applying compulsion on a grave moral isue.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, as one who, in the years immediately before this last war, repeatedly pressed for the introduction of compulsory military service and, indeed, on whom was conferred the privilege of asking your Lordships the formal question to which "Conscription" was given as the answer, I feel compelled to take some part in this debate. I can assure your Lordships, however, that I shall not speak without my eye upon the clock. It is not easy, when one feels strongly about a matter, to assess the strength and sincerity of the arguments of those who are opposed to it, nor, indeed, have I found it easy to follow the noble Lord, Lord Darwen, who has just spoken, when he says that the task of the Foreign Secretary is made harder by this Bill. Has the noble Lord asked him? He does not answer me. I wonder what the Foreign Secretary's answer would be. The noble Lord suggested that the totalitarian Powers owed their strength to conscription. Would he be sitting here to-night if we had not had compulsory military service in the First World War and the last war?

I endeavoured to follow the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who, unfortunately, is not now present. In so far as I appreciated it, I gathered that the noble Lord supported the theory that the voluntary principle would give us the men we need. Is that the case? What is happening? We now have inducements to serve which, as noble Lords here with wide military experience will tell us, have never before been offered, never equalled, and certainly never excelled. What is the result? A mere thin trickle of recruits, barely enough to give us the equivalent to our scanty pre-war forces, and by no means enough to carry out the obligations to which we are committed overseas, or to provide trained reserves for home defence.

In this connexion I am indeed sorry that His Majesty's Government have reduced the period of training from eighteen months to twelve. I will not pursue that argument so skilfully developed by my noble friend, Viscount Bridgeman, and other noble Lords. All I would say is this: that in my view this Bill, as far as trained reserves are concerned, gives the bare irreducible minimum of what we need. Nor without it can we carry out the duties abroad to which we are both in honour and by treaty bound. Without a measure of this sort our words will carry no weight in the councils of the world. I have sought to examine the other objections to conscription. There are those who suggest that conscription—I see no reason to call it by any other name—is a denial of the democratic principle. But does the democratic principle imply that one is ever to receive and never to give anything in return? What is there contrary to democracy in suggesting that each man, without regard to rank or station, should be obliged to give something in the way of service to the State? Rather would I have thought that that was a lofty purpose, a noble ideal, in which every man should be proud to share. But conscription is not merely some altruistic concept—it is the only policy which common honesty and common sense allow us to adopt. Without it we should be for ever taunted with the reproach that we fought to the last drop of an alien soldier's blood. We should be for ever haunted—those of us who reflect—with the reproach that we have survived as a result of the sacrifice of those who freely laid down their lives in service to the State.

There are others who say they support the principle of conscription in the hour of need but are opposed to it at all other times. I find that, if I may say so, an argument that is both difficult to support and dangerous in practice. To be logical one must, if one adopts that argument, say that one remedy. and one alone, has been proved by experience to be effective. One must indeed go further and say that if the crisis should be repeated again, the same remedy shall be again applied. Then one turns round and makes one addition—the remedy is only to be applied when it is almost certainly too late. If we adopt that argument, then we have to remain idle and inert till the enemy is at our gates, and then struggle swiftly to repair our defences, relying on the sacrifice of our bravest while we strive to hold the enemy at bay. I am reluctant to introduce a personal note, but in order to see if my views have changed over the years, I looked at some letters I wrote as an officer of no very exalted rank at the time of the Battle of Loos. The first letter I picked up said: After the battle the General said: 'If only we had had the men we might have advanced.' I wonder how often these words, poignant in their pathos, have been uttered. Who can calculate what countless numbers of lives might have been saved, or what course the history of Europe might have run if, in the years before this World War and the First our right arm had been strong and the nations of the world had been conscious of its strength? I have no desire to strike a note of exalted sentiment, nor have I any wish to utter words which may cause others pain, but I think most of us would feel that we owe something to those who have laid down their lives in these two Great Wars. If we owe them anything. it is, surely this: that never again should we allow their country to be so shamefully betrayed.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to keep you very long because there are a great many speakers and it is getting late. I should like to make a few criticisms, not in any way from a Party point of view, but from a general point of view. As many of your Lordships know, I have always advocated that, so far as possible, defence should be a non-Party matter. That is why I myself always, speak from the cross Benches.

If before this very important national. step had been taken—it is not a political question and it affects everybody of all Parties—the Government had taken the Leaders of the other Parties into consultation, I do not think we should have had the rather unedifying debates and arguments in the Press about a Bill for the safety of this country, because the Government would have been stronger, just as they are stronger to-day in their foreign policy because the Foreign Secretary has the nation as a whole behind him. But defence not being a Party matter, we have to look at it from a different point of view. Governments of all Parties are suspect, and have been suspect, on guarding the safety of the country. We have a murky past, and there is no Government which have ever led the country into war without prejudicing our young men in their chance of victory by lack of preparedness. So it is right to-day, in the present political circumstances, that the Government's Bill and all Defence Bills that any Government may produce should be looked into and carefully criticized so as to safeguard the country and give the people confidence that they will not again be let down.

On the whole I think the Bill is a good one. I do not hold the views we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Darwen, although I am sure we all respect the noble Lord; he holds those views and it is right that he should voice them. I think the noble Lord makes the mistake of trying to get what he wants too soon. Because there is war in the world, there is fear. That is the reason why we have wars. If you disarm, you are not going to remove fear from the world; you are going to increase it. You will not remove the fear of burglary from London by removing the police; nor does the existence of the police encourage burglary. If you gradually remove fear, disarmament will follow; but you will not remove fear by disarming, but will increase it.

I want to confine my remarks to this question of the length of service of the conscript, not from the point of view from which so many noble Lords have spoken, as to whether the time now settled is too long or too short, but from the constitutional aspect, and the manner in which the change was carried out, which gives me some disquiet. Let us take, for instance, the position of the Chiefs of Staff, which is particularly interesting to myself, having been a Chief of Staff for many years. Did they agree to this change or not? Some noble Lords have said this afternoon that that is not a question we should ask. That depends on the circumstances. There is a great deal of difference in the Chiefs of Staff saying: "We wholly agree that it is quite safe to make this change," and their saying: "We consider this change may seriously affect the safety of the country." Has not Parliament the right to know broadly which attitude they took? In the interesting debate that took place in another place on May 7, we were told all the arguments in favour of reducing the period from eighteen months to twelve months—the economic, the financial, and the manpower arguments, and why we should benefit generally in the country if we reduced the time. But the balance was not fairly struck, because the arguments as to why we should not reduce the time were not stated. That, I feel, was wrong.

I know very well what is the position constitutionally of the Chiefs of Staff—they are merely advisers. Their position has been weakened recently, because they are now only advisers on the Defence Committee, whereas when it was originally started they used to be members of it, as they were also members of the Committee of Imperial Defence. That, of course, throws an enormously increased responsibility on the Minister of Defence to represent them accurately in what they say and what they do. If the Chiefs of Staff give advice on important matters, as they do every week, or they used to, and if the Government reject their view —which they have every right to do—and if the decision consequently rests with the Cabinet, then it is quite right that nothing more should be heard of it. The problem has been properly considered from the military, political and financial standpoints, and the Cabinet have made a decision. But it is not the same thing if the Cabinet do not make the decision. The Cabinet had to go to another place, put their views before the Members of that place, and ask them to support them. How could the other place consider the question properly if they were told only one side of the question, as they were? I have read the debate, word for word, most carefully, and the speeches which were made by Mr. Alexander, the Minister of Defence. There was not a sentence to say what were the military risks in not maintaining the period at eighteen months. Indeed, the Minister said that we are taking risks.

I feel that to bring a Bill before Parliament, not giving all the facts, and to pass that Bill through the House, is fair neither to the country, to Parliament nor to the Chiefs of Staff. Those noble Lords who have read the debate which took place in another place may remember that the Government spokesman said: "We are influenced, and rightly influenced, by Parliamentary opinion". I have not noticed in the debates I have listened to in your Lordships' House that that principle has always been strictly applied. Anyhow, if the Government are to be affected by Parliamentary opinions, then surely it is necessary that those opinions should be good opinions. It is not the quantity but the quality of opinion which counts, and it is impossible for Parliament to give a properly qualified opinion if the facts on which it must judge are kept in the cupboard.

There were two arguments I would refer to, which have been used before, as to why the period should be reduced. One was that we shall save a lot of money —that was used by the Minister of Defence, and I think he said "millions." I suspect all such arguments, especially when made by my friend Mr. Alexander. They are the old arguments which were given continuously from 1920 to 1938. Even in that late year the Chiefs of Staff were told that the financial dangers of the country were greater than the military. To the layman, the financial dangers will always seem greater than the military, because he is able to understand the financial dangers but he is not educated to appreciate the military ones.

The other arguments which were used were the technical arguments. It was said, for instance, that you can train men in war in a very short time. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has referred to this point this afternoon. It was said: "If you can train men so quickly in war, why all this fuss about reducing the time to 12 months in peace?" In war you can take a man from the plough, take him, to an anti-aircraft battery, show him a shell, and say, "Pick up that shell and put it into that gun." He does so, and you say, "Do it again." He does it again, you make him do it twenty or thirty times, and you make him go on doing it for a week or a month, when at last he becomes a really good man to put a shell into a gun. But you cannot do that in peace, because you do not know whether the gun to which he goes will be the same, or whether he will be able to be drafted at all as a gun number—although it was stated by the Government in another place that steps would be taken to enable the men who have been trained in a certain way to be sent to a corresponding unit in war. I would say that it would be absolutely impossible to fit that into the mobilization pattern.

I do not wish to try arid tell your Lordships whether the 12 months period is a good one, or whether it is a dangerous one, because I have not the knowledge to do so. There are very few people in this country who have the knowledge to judge how long that: time should be. To begin with, generally speaking, they must know how we are going to make war next time—and who knows that? They must know what weapons we are to have in our three Services, how much will be done by a scientific technique and how much by manual labour. We do not know that, and I do not think we can judge. Anyhow, I certainly would not presume to try and tell your Lordships whether it is right for it to be 12 months or not. Training in peace is always difficult. I should have liked to ask the First Lord himself if he could tell me—although I am afraid he is not going to reply to the debate— whether the conscript Reserve will be relied upon to man the fleet units, or whether they will be used only wholly or partly to supplant the admirable Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in our gunboats, minesweepers and patrol vessels. I do not know whether the noble Lord can tell me that, but this question of training makes a lot of difference as to how the conscript is to be used and what responsibility is to be placed upon his shoulders.

I said just now that it was the duty of the Minister of Defence to stand up for the Service Ministers and also for the Chiefs of Staff. I must confess, reading the speeches which were made, that I did not feel it was satisfactory that he should have ignored the military standpoint. When I was Minister of Defence I was asked whether I would back up the Treasury; whether I would stand by the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in their conflicts with the Services. I said that that was not my view of the duty of the Minister of Defence. If he is any good at all the duty of the Minister of Defence is to stand up for the Services; unless he does that he is useless and had better be abolished.

We all realize that the financial and economic position of the country to-day does affect matters. We are poorer to-day— gloriously poorer—than we have ever been. If you have the income of a Balkan State then, unless you make great sacrifices, you must have the normal armed strength of a Balkan State. You have to make greater sacrifices, if you want to be strong when you are poor. We are all happy when Mr. Bevin goes to the United Nations debates and speaks as the British Lion should speak, but one must remember that if the British Lion roars, then the people at whom he is roaring are apt to look at his claws to see whether they are still as sharp as they remember them in the old days. To-clay there is no immediate need, in my opinion, for great military strength, so long as we are sure that we shall not be forced to quarrel with our old Allies, and so long as we remember that it takes years to alter defence policy. You cannot change your strength rapidly.

There is another corollary to weakening your first line of defence, and that is that it makes the reserves far more important, both in their training and in their numbers. I feel that not only is it the personnel reserves, but also the material reserves. The material reserves in this country are shrouded in an impenetrable mystery. No one knows what our first-line strength is. We have no idea how many ships we have, how many aircraft we have, or what we have in reserve. We do not know whether steps have been taken to maintain our factories and dockyards, so that we can recover our strength in a certain period. We know nothing about this at all. Now we have doubt cast on the efficiency of our reserve personnel, and I think it is right that the Government should be cross-questioned.

The Minister of Defence said—I quote from Hansard—on May 7: If the international position worsens in the next two years, and we were again threatened by imminent war, the Government of this country would have to consider whether the plans they had made for building up the Forces were adequate for a new and changed defence situation. That is a most extraordinary statement: that when war is imminent, you are then going to consider whether you must take some different steps. You cannot defend the country in that way. It is impossible.

All I would say in conclusion is this. I think that the cause of the trouble that has arisen over this conscript question is due to a lack of education on the part of the ordinary citizen and of the Parliamentarian too. So long as the public remain ignorant of their responsibilities or the responsibilities of this country, and of the dangers that this Empire has to face continuously, then they will clamour against defence. It is always a trial of modern government that it is struggling against the ignorance of the people on defence matters; and the ignorant are always the most strident, the most self-confident, and the most equivocal of arguers. So we see, or seem to see, a democratic Government reverting to type and giving way to the popular vote. They give way, they start on the downhill road; and once you start on that road you almost always go on along it, and even- tually it leads, as it has led before, to the precipice and disaster.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, unlike the noble Lord and great sailor who has just spoken, I shall not indulge in criticisms but merely state facts. When in May, 1940, to use the words of the former Prime Minister, this little island "stood in the gap alone," I was employed by Lord. Beaverbrook to arm aircraft factories in Great Britain. We had at that time only 1,000,000 rounds of.303 small arm ammunition in the country. We had an Army largely untrained, inexperienced, and from the modern soldier's viewpoint, armed as it were with bows and arrows. With invasion imminent the L.D.V., or Home Guard as they became, were rapidly organized, and in the factory defence sections we formed an L.D.V. specially tied to the factories who could not be called out at his own sweet will by any Colonel Blimp.


Until better tactical ideas prevailed.


Until, as the noble Lord says, better tactical ideas prevailed. There were plenty of years ahead for them to do it and plenty of younger leaders forthcoming in the Home Guard. But the shortage of ammunition was so dreadful that we had to arm the factory defence sections with shot guns and Page-Croft pikes (which I myself have used with good effect), Molotov bombs and such automatic weapons as we could get flown over from America and spared from the dumps where they were cast to be repaired.

These factory defence sections, like the Home Guard, were amazingly efficient because they believed so thoroughly in that democratic freedom which had been our right, and is still our right. Those people do not really believe in conscription except in time of emergency. They realized that we must have conscription for some years after we had won—they never imagined defeat. They thought of conscription in a dwindling form until we were able to look round and take stock; and that is exactly what the Government are doing to-day, taking stock. That stocktaking has revealed that there is a great shortage in manpower. Our productive manpower is woefully short. What every one of us knows and what none of us is able to alter is this. We know that perhaps 20 per cent, of the Armed Forces are in what is called the white collar brigade; if you add, say, to the 1,250,000 we now have mobilized, the army of clerks, typists, civil servants, temporary and permanent, and inactive Polish uniformed Service men and women, you will probably find that 400,000 people are an inactive white collar brigade attached to the Armed Forces of the Crown.

I suppose it may seem somewhat hateful to put the Armed Forces in the category of "white collar brigade," but one has to do so if one faces facts. Having listened to all the arguments this afternoon, I feel that the reduction in the term of conscription from 18 months to one year, though most regrettable from the Service point of view, is really justified when one considers the low figure to which the nation's productive manpower has fallen. The shorter period of conscription is certainly advantageous to the young men who have chosen industry for their life's calling. Much as I dislike saying it—though those of your Lordships who served in one of the three Fighting Services know that it is true—there is a great deal of enforced idleness in the three Services and a great deal of time wasted.


Not in ships at sea.


Ships are not always at sea; they are sometimes in harbour, especially when there is a fuel shortage as to-day. However, what we want to-day is industry, not idleness. We are with our backs to the wall in industry. So far as this reduction in conscription time is concerned, our foreign policy, after all, is based on the United Nations organization. If U.N.O. fails—U.N.O. which is humanity's greatest hope to-day —it may be the end of civilization. We have taken a great deal of trouble over U.N.O., and if U.N.O. were to cry out and say that its success would be jeopardized by the reduction of conscript service to 12 months instead of 18 months, or to say that the Armed Forces of 1,100,000, that we shall have in March next year were considered inadequate to support U.N.O., then there would be a clear case for re-examination and reconsideration.


Would the noble Lord say how U.N.O. can express such an opinion with regard to the British Forces in particular?


Yes, Mr. Trygve Lie, the Secretary-General of U.N.O., could write to all those he knows—and believe me they are many—in this country. I think if he wrote to the Minister of Defence and said that the success of U.N.O. was being jeopardized by our reduction in Forces, we would certainly listen to him. Recently in your Lordships' House my friend Lord Strabolgi called attention to conditions in Russia. He told us how terribly apprehensive and almost timid Russia had grown because of her great losses through the invasion. Actually he did not tell you this: that the Russian losses amounted to 20,000,000 civilian population. Due to the German invasion, 20,000,000 wore killed—I have that on the highest Russian authority which I can give you if you wish.


Might I interrupt the noble Lord? I understand that 8,000,000 Service people were killed and the remainder were civilians. Has he a different figure from that?


My figure was given me shortly after invasion by Mr. Maisky, who was then Ambassador. It may be different since. We do not always disclose our losses or our gains in war time. However, the dissidents in another place emphasized the Russian losses very strongly, and we might emphasize here that Russia can well be suspicious when certain noble Lords have tried to secure the adoption of a Motion to bring over 20,000 German children to this land, to clothe and feed and educate. I cannot understand the logic of the dissidents who want to do away with all conscription, when Russia has at least four times as many men under arms as we have. Generally, we do not intend to be a conscript nation if we can possibly avoid it, and we do not intend our productive manpower to be handicapped more than is absolutely necessary.

I ask your Lordships, if you have the opportunity, to consult those from overseas who have visited the recent British Industries Fairs in London and Birmingham, and hear how amazed they are at what Britain can produce; but afterwards listen to how sad they are that there will be such a delay in delivering the goods that we have exhibited. I do not ofte[...], speak in your Lordships' House, but I listen, and I have found that there is a great danger in our debates of discouraging youth—our youth which is looking for leadership in a land which is crying for freedom, for order, and for peaceful prosperity. There are many people, inside and outside this House, who are driving youth into joining what I call the "Let's all be gloomy Brigade." It would be far better if we united and taught them from our great history that a butter motto would be: "Hats off to the past, and coats off to the future. We are not dead yet."

6.50 p.m.


My Lords, I want to ask one brief specific question which is susceptible of a brief and specific answer. I notice that the noble Lord who is answering the debate is absent from his place, and I trust somebody will draw his attention to the point. This Bill lays down that every British subject who is ordinarily resident in this country and is between the ages of 18 and 20 is liable to call-up for military service. What then is the position of those tens of thousands of people who are planning now, or in the next few years, to emigrate to the countries of the British Empire? As your Lordships all know, there is an assisted scheme of emigration to Australia now, and no doubt other such schemes are being worked out at the moment. If a man plans to spend the whole of the rest of his life in Australia, is he to be restrained from going by carrying out his military service in this country?

This same question was raised last April on a debate that we conducted in this House on emigration. The noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, in answering, said that he could go no further at that moment than to say that the Commonwealth countries had agreed not to receive as emigrants those who were liable for military service in Britain. He laid that down as a general working measure. This measure was then being discussed in another place, and he promised to elucidate the point later. There has as yet, to my knowledge, been no elucidation of it. I would be very grateful, therefore, if the noble Lord who answers this debate would give us a clear ruling on this point under these headings. First, is an intending emigrant who falls within that age group to be made to do his conscript service, either the one year full time or the further period of part time as well; secondly, as I imagine that the call-up notice arrives at a respectable period before he reaches the age of 18, is he to be restrained in his going by the fact that he is one week from being 18, or six months, a year, two years or five years? I would be very grateful if the noble Lord could answer that specifically, because, as His Majesty's Government know very well, there are tens of thousands of families who would be grateful for an answer on this point. Moreover, the Commonwealth Government themselves I would imagine would like to know exactly how the matter stands.

6.50 p.m.


My Lords, this is a very unhappy day for some of us. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Darwen, will sympathise with me when I say that to speak for the first time in my political history in opposition to the Party of which I have been always an extremely happy member, is something which I never thought would fall to my lot. And it is something which I regret with a depth of feeling that I cannot describe to your Lordships. This Bill is one which seems to me to be utterly and completely contrary to everything that I have believed in. I could not have believed that the Labour Party would ever sponsor the imposition of conscription in peace time. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, if I understood him rightly, on behalf of the Liberal Party, accepted this Bill as a temporary measure. I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, comes to sum up at the end of this debate he will assure us that it is the Government's policy to treat this imposition of conscription—I prefer to use a word which is in common use in describing the imposition of military service—as a temporary measure. But I cannot feel certain that it is a temporary measure, for, if it were, I do not see why His Majesty's Government should have found it necessary to introduce this Bill at all. Under the Bill which your Lordships passed last year, they already have the power to impose conscription until 1949, and they have also powers by which they could have extended that period had they deemed it to be necessary. A certain point of view has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Darwen, and, if I may say so, I did very much regret the intervention of the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery. I think that he, too, if he had thought it over, might have felt he had reason to regret it. He suggested that conscientious objectors were people who were just cowards. I think that if the noble Earl will think it over for one minute he will agree with me that it would probably be easier for him to speak in your Lordships' House with the certainty of support from all sides of the House than it is for Lord Darwen or myself to speak in a House where one knows there is very little sympathy for our point of view. Similarly, I would say that it is far easier to be a conformist in life than to refuse to accede to the dictates of society as a whole.

I myself have not had a very extensive experience, but in the Service of which I am a member I had personal contact with a certain number of conscientious objectors who were prepared to give their services to the country, not in the military forces but in the Fire Service. I can assure your Lordships that amongst them were some of the bravest men I have ever known, and, believe me, one was thankful to have had such men at one's side when the bombs were falling. I can assure the noble Earl that, although cases of the kind of which he speaks undoubtedly do exist, it must require a cowardice which is a kind of inverted courage to withstand the general trend of the society in which one lives.

If I have understood the arguments of the noble Viscount who opened the debate correctly, they are based fundamentally on two things—security and the need to fulfil our commitments. So far as security is concerned I feel that my case—the case against the Government—has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Croft. It seemed tip me that when he described the probable outbreak of the next war, with atomic bombs falling without warning, it became clear that the reserves, to build up which it is suggested this Bill is being introduced, would be completely useless. What use would be reserves of any size? You might have reserves of millions but would they be able to arrest the atom bombing rocket? It seems to me that this Bill is envisaging not the next war—indeed, hardly the last war—but the war before the last war. And in the circumstances I cannot find, that the need for security will be met by the introduction of conscription, and the building up of great Armies.

Again, we have begin told that we require large Forces in order to fulfil our commitments. One of the speakers this afternoon—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord. Moran—has already mentioned that the Prime Minister said that at the present time we are reducing our commitments so that in a fairly short time they will be less than they were before the beginning of this war. That seems to me to be patently true. We are drawing out of Burma and out of India. We have nearly withdrawn from Greece, and we are leaving the Middle East. We are to withdraw, as soon as treaties are signed, from Austria. We have in Germany very large Forces, but the size of those Forces is not, I suggest, related to the needs of garrisoning Germany. For that purpose a mere fraction of the Forces we have there at the present time would be adequate.

I believe that His Majesty's Government's policy is explicable only on one of two premises. Either they are anticipating another war within a comparatively short period, or they believe that it is only if the Foreign Secretary is backed up with larged Armed Forces that he will carry the weight which we should all desire him to carry at international conferences. I do not believe that the first possibility is indeed a possibility at all. I do not believe that His Majesty's Government are, in fact, planning for a war this year, next year, in five years' time, or even in ten years' time. If they were, then, as I have already said, I do not believe the type of Forces we are intending to build up by means of conscription would be of the very least use to them. I think the noble Lord, Lord Moran, was right when he said that to obtain security what we need is scientific research, so that we might have better and more fearsome weapons of the most modern type.

I am forced to conclude that the basic reason is the same. There is here, I feel, a really serious fallacy in maintaining Armed Forces of this size. We are, in fact, crippling our economic system to withdraw 200,000 men annually from industry. That represents a loss of something in the neighbourhood of 60,000,000 working days every year. When the Act is in full operation the period of training that every man will undergo will represent on the average something like 10,000,000 additional working days lost. This is a truly fearsome prospect to a country like our own, which is at the present moment crying out for manpower in its essential industries, especially, and above all, in order to build up our exports. It is a curious reflection that the cost of the maintenance of our overseas forces at the present time is almost exactly the same as the adverse import-export balance. I believe that in this matter the Government have pursued a mistaken policy. They have gone to the Chiefs of Staff and have said to them: "This is our policy; these are our commitments. How many men do you require; what forces do you need in order to sustain these commitments?" Naturally the Service Chiefs have placed their estimate high. They would naturally and quite properly calculate on the widest possible margin for security.

I believe that that was fundamentally the wrong approach. What I suggest should have been done by the Government was to draw up a manpower budget to decide what we need for production—and in passing let me say that in modern warfare the industrial efficiency and equipment of a nation is far more important than the size of its military forces. They should have decided the maximum military forces we could afford. They should then have said to the Military Chiefs: "This is the maximum we can withdraw from productive labour; this is the number with which you must do the work entrusted to you." The Military Chiefs might well have replied: "In that case you must cut your coat according to your cloth, and you will have to reduce your commitments."

I am doubtful if that would have been true. It seems to me we shall have military forces far greater than we are able economically to stand. We are at the present time living on our American Loan, which is running out with terrifying rapidity. I have seen it stated publicly by those who should know that by this time next year the Loan will be finished. What then will be our position, for clearly it is only that Loan at the present time which has enabled us to continue to exist with our present adverse trade balance? The answer, surely, will be that we shall have to cut our military commitments or find support for them from other sources. In other words, we shall have to ask for yet another Loan. I do not believe that the people of this country will desire to ask for a Loan in order to maintain swollen Armed Forces. Moreover, what will be the reaction of foreign Powers to our position at the conference table? They will know, as well as we know, that we are unable to maintain those Forces with our own resources. As the Americans can see there are clearly no other sources from which we can obtain the necessary equipment and support, they will ignore completely this armed might which is behind us.

What will be the Russian attitude? Their attitude, it seems to me, will be different. They will say to themselves, "Great Britain clearly cannot maintain these forces herself. They can only be maintained with American support." They will therefore conclude that British policy is, in fact, American policy. It is only by supporting American policy that we shall be able to maintain our Armed Forces and our position in the world. We shall, therefore, not increase our influence at the conference table but, owing to the fact that we have these vastly swollen Armed Forces, we shall tie ourselves to a policy with which we may not agree.

I do not wish to be misunderstood on this matter. I am not criticizing American policy or the policy of the Government, in so far as it has an American flavour, shall I say, because it is perfectly clear that not only have we emotional reasons, because they are our kith and kin and speak the same language, but we are also closely tied by economic reasons to the great nation across the water. It is inconceivable that in any dispute this country should ever find herself on the side opposed to the United States of America. This seems to me to be a perfectly sound policy, and it is not one I shall criticize. What I will criticize is that owing to the fact that we shall have to depend on the American Loan in order to make our Armed Forces efficient we are tied to American policy, right or wrong. There is between the Americans and ourselves, as members of one family, a depth of blood friendship, that, however, does not preclude differences which are argued out more or less amicably within the family circle. My protest in this matter is that by tying ourselves in the way we are doing at the present time we are making it impossible to argue.

In the matter of Armed Forces we must look first to our manpower. Surely it is evident that far more dislocation in industry will be caused by a general call-up of men for a short period. I will not enter into the comparative merits of a long-service period or a conscript army; that is something which military opinion holds as already settled. But no system can possibly be as dislocating as calling up all and sundry for a short period. I have at various times lived in countries which have conscript armies. The expense of maintenance of conscript armies is not limited to immediate expenditure on training and equipment. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, made a point which we have heard made by educationalists, that the young men who anticipate a fairly early call-up lose their interest in their education. They fail in that critical period to put their full energy into the requirements of the training which they will require in their future lives.

I have also observed that the end of expenditure on a man does not occur when he is discharged. No doubt his period of service does have an extremely unsettling effect, and again and again I have seen young men called up for foreign service who have done their term, returned home and been quite unable to settle down for quite considerable periods. It is, after all, an experience which we ourselves have had in this country since the end of the war, and, therefore, the loss to the community is an immeasurable one and one which is quite impossible for us to conceive at the present time. It is clear that, from that point of view, it will cause very much less dislocation to take the number of men wanted by voluntary methods than by the method of conscription.

This is a matter on which I feel very deeply. I believe that His Majesty's Government are making a serious mistake. We in the Labour Party consistently opposed conscription right up to the beginning of the war, and I cannot accept the argument that conscription is democratic. It is riot democratic to take two men of entirely different natures and different outlooks and thrust them into an army. Moreover, it is an argument which dismays me when I hear it on the lips of the Leaders of my Party because, after all, if conscription is the democratic way of raising our Forces, then it is the way which we should adopt, and this Bill should not be a temporary but a permanent measure. I believe, and I hope, that that argument will not be repeated by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, or the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, because if it were true, then we should have to adopt conscription as a permanency in our institutions. As a matter of fact, I will confess that I found the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, similarly contradictory when he said that the Government had adopted this reluctantly. If it is reluctantly adopted and, at the same' time, a good thing, I do not quite see what the noble Viscount's argument really is.

I do not wish to detain your Lordships, but I would like to make an appeal to members of my own Party who feel, as I do, that a grave error has been committed. I would like to appeal to them not to lose their faith in the Party. There have been many who have come to me and said, "This thing is so frightful, it is so contrary to our beliefs; can we remain in the Labour Party, can we believe any further in a Party which has denied our beliefs?" To them I would say: "You are part of a great movement. You are part of a revolutionary movement, a movement which is pointing a new way of life to the world in general. It is pointing the way in which the new, inevitable economic order can be combined with democracy. Stay in this great movement, and bring it back to the faith which inspired you, and inspires you still." To my noble friends on the Front Bench, I would say: "Do, I beg of you, conceive that you may be mistaken."

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a great many contributions to this debate, and there are more to come, so I will be as brief as possible. May I take the words which were uttered by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, when he said he conceived the introduction of this measure was to prevent war? I agree with him, but I have always believed that the first duty of any Government, of whatever complexion, was to preserve the independence of their country, and I believe it is necessary on these grounds. After all, if we are to accept the doctrine which was very eloquently and persuasively put by the noble Lord, Lord Darwin, that peace was more important, then we might have accepted that in 1939 and saved ourselves great bloodshed and expenditure. But, without any question at all, the nation at that time thought that peace at any price was not what they wanted.


May I interrupt? I said "world peace." The argument you are using is, therefore, rather altered.


I may have misconceived the noble Lord's argument, but that is how I understood it, and I hope I have not misrepresented him. But I understood him to say that there was a conflict between world peace and the policy of security. I thought the noble Lord was going to say that we must take risks for peace. I remember that phrase very well in the 1930's, but that phrase was not used, though it came very much to the same thing. I do not believe that now, or at any time, the country will accept the doctrine of peace at almost any price. If it is, as I believe it is, the first duty of a Government to preserve the independence of its country, so that the people can, if we like, dispute among ourselves as to what is the best form of policy for our country, then we must all agree that we must take the necessary measures and assume the necessary burdens for that end.

I believe there are two convincing reasons why we should give a Second Reading to this Bill. I believe that to preserve the independence of this country and, I hope, to prevent war, it is necessary to have a higher state of readiness than we had before. I can speak with some personal experience, since I was a member of the British Expeditionary Force in 1939–1940, and I saw, at first hand, the consequence of the unpreparedness of this country. The second reason is the reason the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, gave. It is impossible, for political reasons, to introduce such a measure in a deteriorating international situation. You always shut the stable door after the horse has been stolen. I do not think His Majesty's Government will have any difficulty in persuading at least a majority of noble Lords in this House that it is right to agree to conscription in principle, even though we may consider, as I think we ought to consider, that it should be regarded as entirely a temporary measure in the sense that if the situation alters and the question of atomic energy affects our, defence arrangements, then it ought to be reconsidered.

But we must not be led into giving a Second Reading to this Bill altogether uncritically, because the effectiveness of a Bill of this kind depends upon the details which are retained in it. It would be intolerable to impose what is acknowledged to be a very onerous obligation not only upon the nation but on one section of the nation, unless we got corresponding advantages from it. It is not by any means proved that merely by reducing the period of conscription the burden on the country is reduced. If the period is reduced below that which is practicable and which gives good results, then a burden may be placed upon the country without getting a corresponding advantage. I shall confine myself principally to one point which affects the Army, which is the Service in which I had the honour to serve, and I hope the noble Viscount will bring this to the attention of his colleagues in the War Office. May I say it is a matter of great regret to me that there is not a spokesman of the War Office on the Front Bench of this House. Certain noble Lords of all sections of the House have taken a keen interest in the welfare of the Army, and it would be to the advantage both of the Government and ourselves if there were someone who could answer, not for another Department, but for his own Department.

What I am frightened of at the moment, if the period of compulsory service is too short, is not only that we shall reduce the effectiveness of the trained man at the end of his training, and therefore have a Reserve which is not ready to be called up if the emergency occurs, but also that we may seriously tamper with the Regular Army. I will explain why I feel that. It is this point that I hope the noble Viscount will put to his colleagues. Noble Lords who have served in the Army will realize that in the course of training a Regular unit (if I speak of a battalion it is only because it is the arm with which I am most familiar) there is a well demarcated annual course of training, divided up, starting, let us say, in October or November with the individual training, and working up gradually to the higher collective training which necessarily takes place in the autumn after the harvest.

The soldier in a Regular unit is trained in his company, or his platoon, or his section, throughout the year, His Commanding Officer, his company commander, his platoon commander and the non-commissioned officers, all become familiar with their men—their characteristics, their feelings, and so on—and by the time the higher collective training is reached you have team work; you have a unit, and the Commanding Officer receives his proper training in commanding that unit. If you turn the Regular units into training units, you will completely ruin the Regular Army. If we had 18 months' service, I conceive that it might have been possible to give a man six months' primary training—which is not too long—and then to put him through his annual training in a Regular unit through all the different stages. This will not be possible if for a short period of two or three months, or six months at the most, he is placed in a Regular unit.

Therefore, I suggest that even if the conscripts serve overseas, they should be put in training units and not in Regular units. I do know that the Regular officers are most apprehensive about the effect upon the Regular Army of this proposal. They see themselves turned into permanent instructors. No man of ambition, no man of military qualities, and no man who wants to become an efficient soldier, can contemplate with equanimity becoming a permanent instructor. I believe that now we have upset the balance—which we have done by reducing the period of compulsory service—we must contemplate whether we shall not have to reorganize our Regular Army as well, in order that the training units can be created, and, if necessary, cadres, outside the field force units.

We have at some time to consider this further, and I give fair warning to His Majesty's Government that I shall pester them about it on a later occasion, because I have the strongest conviction that nothing could be worse for our Army than to undermine the Regular field force. It has stood us in very good stead in two wars; it has stood between us and destruction. It has been the efficiency of the Regular officer (l was not a Regular officer myself, so I can praise those who were), the efficiency of the Regular non-commissioned officer, and the Regular trained soldier, which has got us over those very awkward periods, such as the retreat from Mons and Dunkirk. We shall lose far more than we gain if we disturb that great tradition.

7.33 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to speak at any great length, and before I come to the subject under discussion I must refer to the strictures passed upon me by the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon. The noble Lord will admit that I accepted them very meekly, and I did so because I was sorry that I interrupted the noble Lord, Lord Darwen. If he were in his seat I should like to offer the noble Lord an apology for my discourtesy.

I rise with rather mixed feelings, because I want to congratulate the Government very much on having introduced this Bill, but also I want to express regret for certain shortcomings as they proceeded with it. I certainly feel that every citizen in this country should bless the Government for having at last faced up to realities and grasped this nettle, which should have been done many years ago. It is certainly long overdue. Three times in the lifetime of the majority of the members of this House have we seen the result of being ill-prepared and not having reserve forces to reinforce our Regular Army when hostilities broke out.

Remember South Africa, when we were forced, in the words of the poet of that day, to fall on the young of the nation who could shoot and ride. The young of the nation were sent to shoot and ride, but that was not enough. Then we sent out a lot of half-trained and ill-equipped youths, who were captured by the Boers, and thereby the war was prolonged. When Lord Roberts toured the country afterwards, and advocated some form of national service, he was frowned on by the Government of that day, and it was even hinted that his pension should be stopped. But he was right, and those who thought like him have been preaching the same thing ever since. If a fair history of the period is ever written, it will be that it was not the fault of the Services that the country was not prepared, but the fault of politicians, who would not face up to reality. After the Second World War the issue was funked and we fell back on unilateral disarmament. The noble Lord, Lord Darwen, spoke really in terms that might have been heard at Chatham House twenty years ago.

I am not going to enter into detail on the question of the length of service. I have always been interested in the training question, and I think a tremendous lot can be done with any young man if you give him 12 months' training. But it must be training, and not lounging about in barracks, shifting coal or doing any other duty that other people are not called upon to perform. And he must be sent away from his home. Do not let us have the local M.P. jumping up and asking why Tommy is not allowed to go to his sister's birthday party. With regard to training you can, if you have the right incentives, get a termendous amount out of a man in 12 months. Many of your Lordships may remember the Spectator Company that turned out in six months a very efficient company of men who started from scratch. But it is to be deplored if we give this training for six months, and then send these immature boys out to form part of our Army of Occupation abroad. The duty of an Army of Occupation is really police work, and it is not fair to young boys to put them in that position. It is not a duty for young boys, but for grown men, if you do not want unpleasant incidents to occur. You have only to compare a group of young soldiers in the streets to-day with a group of German prisoners to see the disadvantage they are at. They are men in one sense, but boys in another, and boys will never rule men.

Had the Government, in the first place, said that they had considered the question and, while they thought 18 months was enough, in view of the facts that had been put forward as to the financial situation and the manpower situation, they could not manage 18 months, but only 12 months; and had they appealed to the Services to train the men fully in that period, I am sure the Services would have accepted the position. It would have appealed to them on patriotic grounds and, as always on those grounds, they would have responded nobly. What are they to do now? Because a body of men in the Cabinet (who are really the only ones with all the information) came to the conclusion that 12 months was necessary, are the Services now to believe that their Chiefs of Staff "ratted" in twenty-four hours? Why was the Minister of Defence put up to conduct this retreat? Surely, if the Ministers of the Service Departments are going to be overruled it should be done by the Prime Minister, or somebody else. They look to their Minister as a stalwart who, having agreed with his professional advisers on what the right policy should be, will stand up for it. They do not expect to see him treated in the way the Minister of Defence was treated on this occasion.

There also was an agitation by a political minority, many of whom are always wrong. Not only are they always wrong, but they are the men who have themselves spoken against conscription. They expressed different motives for it; they were not actuated by the same ideas at all, and they were contradictory. I think it was a fatal mistake to undermine the trust of the Services in their own Ministers. They ought to believe in them, as I do in the First Lord of the Admiralty, knowing that he will always stand up for the naval point of view and never give an inch if he can help it. They would then think that their Ministers had been overruled but they would say, "They are good chaps, and they put up a fight."

There are those whose views we have heard this afternoon who say, "What is the good of training along these pre-war lines? They will be wiped out by atomic bombs, rockets, or weapons of that description." If you get the men formed into units you can always transform them into anti-rocket corps, or anything you like, far quicker than you can train new recruits. It is everything to have a man at hand for a task and ready to do it. It has been done on so many occasions recently. Every member of your Lordships' House who takes an interest in these matters has seen the yeomanry turned into cavalry, infantry turned into anti-aircraft units and cavalry turned into tank men, and so you see how easily men can be changed from one Service to another. That is because they have the fundamental training upon which all the Services rest.

The noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, has had long experience of this matter, and was a Chief of Staff, which I never was, but I disagree with him about Chiefs of Staff. I do not think it right for the Minister to say what the Chiefs of Staff have said. The Chiefs of Staff cannot say what the Minister has said to them, but it would probably be far more interesting. The Chiefs of Staff should be allowed to express their views and opinions and, if overruled, they must do their best to implement the Government policy with the means placed at their disposal. I am not going into any further questions to-night. There are several upon which I should have liked to express an opinion, but I will do so on the Committee stage, and I will not detain your Lordships any longer.

7.34 P.m.


My Lords, I do not think that there are many people in this country who really welcome a Bill which brings in conscription in peace time and thereby rends the great tradition of voluntary service which has never yet let us down, even if there may be groups of people who think that conscription is necessary. We have heard the different views Which people hold on conscription. There is the pacifist who will not tolerate it in any circumstances, and then there is the man who is diametrically opposed to him and wants it at all times. But the greatest number of people who definitely agree that conscription is necessary at some time or another, only differ as to when it is and when it is not necessary. My own view is that at the present time conscription is not necessary, and in saying that I am not coming down on the side of the pacifist who will never tolerate conscription, and it is in no defence of these people that I want to address your Lordships for a very few minutes this evening.

We have heard very many arguments raised both for and against the Bill. There are a considerable number of us who served in the recent war, and who saw war-time conscription, who are against this Bill for two practical reasons which may have a very serious consequence in the country. First of all, there is the unfortunate effect that this Bill will have on the outlook of the youth of the country between the age of leaving school and the age of being called up into the Forces. This unsettled feeling is already having its effect and becoming quite apparent. The nearer a young man gets to the age of eighteen, the less interest he appears to have in the job he has got. When manpower is so urgently needed, it appears that a man does not ready start serious work until he reaches the age of nineteen. In fact, it really means that conscription is becoming a deterrent to work, when good work is so very urgently needed. The second reason is the effect that this Bill will have—and is in fact already having—upon the voluntary services, both Regular and Territorial, through the threat of its becoming law.

I do not think it is necessary to go into figures because the figures of the Army and Royal Air Force were quoted by the noble Viscount at the beginning of this afternoon's debate. I think that if the figures of the Territorial Army were disclosed, after this first month of our attempt to regain the numbers of the Territorial Army, we would have a very serious shock indeed, and I do not think anyone could possibly be satisfied. But this shortage of volunteers, temporarily caused by the automatic reaction after six years of war, has been given no chance whatsoever of a recovery, mainly because this Bill has been brought up now when it is not coming into force for over eighteen months. If the Government had devoted this year to a serious and honest attempt to get back to voluntary service, I believe that it cow I have beam done. I also believe that on will never get the number of volunteers you require while you have conscription.

We have come to a tin to now when, if we are going to have peace in the world we will have less and less military commitments abroad. I do nut want to go into that fully, because it has already been mentioned, but in India Palestine, Greece and even in Germany, we shall have far fewer liabilities than we have had recently, Surely that in itsel is a good opportunity of giving the vol[...]ntary service a real chance. I do not think anyone would be prepared to compare a conscript with a volunteer, because ever. if the conscript works hard—and I am afraid I have very great doubts about that—a year is not long enough. The noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, referred to one of the few things about which I am in a position to argue with him, and that is a s to how long it takes to train a gun number in art antiaircraft battery. I should have thought that if there was one perfect example of the impossibility of training anyone in a year, it is in that very technical side of the Army, the Anti-aircraft.

I think we are in danger of putting this country in the same position as was France in 1939, when their Army was utterly demoralized. That resulted in something of which I need not remind your Lordships. I, too, was in the Army in France in 1939. I saw these French soldiers and saw how useless they were. That was an example of a conscripted nation. Next time you will have the numbers, but will you have the spirit that will win you the war, and will you have the spirit that will teach these young people self-discipline, which is really the first thing you have to teach them when you get them in the Army? I fear that the mass of these troops will have quite an unpleasant memory of the years of compulsory service and very little memory of what it is to be a real soldier.

To sum up, if we have conscription now and if we have it for only twelve months, then I think you will be providing in this country a Force that is inefficient, unpopular, and a liability rather than an asset in any future war. Will you get those numbers at the cost of individual liberty? I still think and believe that given reasonable opportunity you will get enough volunteers both to serve you abroad and, mainly through the Territorial Army, to serve you in England. I am not an historian. A noble Lord earlier this afternoon put forward an argument about Napoleon. I am a little doubtful about this; but I believe it is true to say that no country that has practised conscription in peace time has ever yet won a major war. I think that by having conscription now you are killing that voluntary spirit which has carried us safely through two major wars.

7.42 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to call attention to the opportunity given by this Bill for posïtive and constructive training. We have, for the first time in times of peace, all the youth of the nation together at a very receptive age and at a time when they have no very fixed or set ideas. Let us therefore aim at making our Armed Forces a training ground for democratic citizenship and a moral element in the nation. This is, I believe fully realized by those in authority. The Secretary of State for War, speaking in another place on the Army Estimates on March 13, 1947, said that the political head of the Army had a moral responsibility for the spiritual and moral welfare of the young men who were coming into the Army, and went on to say later: It is my duty and not only my duty but the duty of every member of this House … to see that it is borne in on all officers and men that they have … to increase their moral as well as their physical stature while in the Army. I am profoundly grateful for that important and encouraging statement and believe that it is one on which noble Lords of all Parties in this House would be agreed.

The time in the Armed Forces could be well used, first as a training ground for the youth of the country in the meaning of democracy, its history and traditions, and in the application and value of moral standards and leadership in public and private life, in responsibility for communal, civic, national and international affairs, apart from Party politics, and to inculcate the necessity for absolute honesty and due care and respect for the property of the Forces and of the nation; secondly, to demonstrate team work (as has been mentioned), efficiency, and esprit de corps; thirdly, to make the men ambassadors for their country when abroad, a responsible uniting force carrying with them liberating ideas wherever they find themselves. This, it seems to me, is very important for the British Forces at the present time.

For this it is necessary to study the basis, standards and values of the ideology of true democracy, which is, I believe, Christian, as compared with that of other material ideologies. I believe that all this has to be caught quite as much as or even more than taught, and will depend on the personality, the tone and the example of those in the commissioned and non-commissioned ranks of the Forces. For myself, I am convinced that the qualities required can best come from a Higher Source. There are many in your Lordships' House and in the country, therefore, who will welcome this opportunity for a nation-wide scheme to make the Armed Forces such a training ground for democratic citizenship and a moral element in the nation; and I trust that those responsible will be convinced of the need, confident that it can be met and determined to meet it.

7.46 p.m.


My Lords, after listening to the noble Lord opposite and those behind him, I cannot believe that this Bill can possibly be a real source of satisfaction to them. I feel that it will for ever remain on the Statute Book as a monument to the Government's unconditional surrender, about two years after the surrender of Nazi Germany—their unconditional surrender to their own irresponsible tail. With the noble Viscount the First Lord, I sat in the gallery of another place, and I think we were the only two members of your Lordships' House present at that time, listening to the noble Viscount's former chief at the Admiralty and my former chief in the Service proposing the Amendment to reduce the period of national service from 18 to 12 months. I am bound to say that I thought, surrounded as I was by naval tradition, that that was indeed an un-Nelsonic effort on the part of the former First Lord, and that if the long line of British Admirals could only have listened to and watched this event, they would have shaken their heads in bewilderment. There, down below us, was a man who had justly earned the unbounded admiration of the Navy in time of war, surrendering before their very eyes. I could almost hear them murmuring, "Will politicians in power in peace time never remember and never learn?"

When I read over the Minister of Labour's speech in introducing the Bill in another place I came across this sentence: We hope that it may be possible—and as I shall explain, there is power in the Bill—to shorten the period of service. There are two ways in which this may be achieved. In the light of subsequent events it would surely have been much more appropriate if he had said: "There are just two days in which that may be achieved." It is incredible to me that, after the serious and well-marshalled arguments of the Government in support of the Bill in its Second Reading, arguments which went really outside the scope of the Bill itself—they referred to our commitments overseas and the international situation—the term of service under this Bill should have been so ruthlessly slashed.

The Minister of Defence stated that the Chiefs of Staff had been consulted. Quite rightly, he did not say whether they had agreed or disagreed, and I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, when he says that should be stated. I think the Minister of Defence was quite correct: but there are many ways of consulting, and at this juncture, when the Bill had passed its Second Reading in another place by a large majority, the Chiefs of Staff must have been slightly bewildered to be asked not by the Opposition, but by the Government themselves, radically to change the scope of the Bill. If a question of such paramount importance to the safety of the nation can be altered in forty-eight hours, after many months of preparatory work to ascertain the numbers of men and the standard of training, the Chiefs of Staff can hardly be blamed if they did not object to the reduction. I suggest that after the precipitous retreat of the Government in the face of their own irregular forces, the Chiefs of Staff might well have considered themselves fortunate in stopping the retreat at twelve months.

If the truth were known perhaps they heaved a sigh of relief when the Third Reading was passed and the Bill was passed in another place without any other and further disastrous Government amendments. To turn to other points in the Bill, when I read the debate, I, like the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi—and I do not agree with him in many things—was struck by the fact that, apart from pacific speeches, the argument largely turned on the difficulties that are to be faced with the Army, and that the Navy was left out in the discussion. As a Naval Officer who had a good deal to do with training at a certain period during this war, I should like to say that I did find that in that Service a man could be trained for one task reasonably; that I agree. He remained efficient in that job, once he was trained, but when he was taken to do another, and perhaps yet a third job, then the difficulties really commenced.

Therefore I think that, particularly in the Navy, by reducing the period of service from 18 months to 12 months—by a whole third—it will be necessary in that Service to keep men who are training under this Bill in water-tight compartments in order to obtain any efficiency whatsoever in that short time. But that is more than ever undesirable, and must inevitably lead to great administrative difficulties, if the Fleet were ever to be mobilized. Unless that training for men is done in water-tight compartments I cannot see how on the outbreak of war there would be anything but chaos. Therefore (and the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, mentioned this point also) from a naval point of view, I feel this reduction of one-third in training may have disastrous consequences.


If the noble Earl would permit me I would agree to every word he has said, but would he be very much better off with 18 months?


I was coming to that point in developing my argument. I cannot answer it immediately, but if he will excuse me I will follow it up in my argument.

As has been said before, figures are extremely difficult to obtain from the Government at this moment, but I believe that there are to-day about 200,000 men in the Royal Navy, of whom—and the noble Viscount said this in his opening speech to-day—90,000 are Regular components of the Navy. Therefore in those circumstances over half in the Navy to-day are what are commonly called "conscripts." Before the war it was thought that three years was barely sufficient time to train a man to be a seaman, and I see no reason why that time should be shortened now. Therefore when you consider the numbers of conscripts in the Services to-day you can imagine what will be the efficiency in the future.

I have spoken to several officers in seagoing ships who have told me of their difficulties, but they have also told me—I am coming to Lord Strabolgi's point, and it is common knowledge throughout the Fleet—that if once they could get men away for a commission, or even part of a commission, they made those men very much keener and more efficient. But surely by shortening the time of service you are very much limiting the possibility of getting those men to sea after their initial training, except in the Home Fleet and in their training squadrons at home. They will have little chance to become a component part of an active fighting ship on a foreign station, and that, I think, answers the point. The noble Lord has said that by this reduction you are limiting the possibilities of getting the men to sea and thereby of making them as efficient as they should be. Later on, per- haps, as it is too early to ask now, with the end of the debate just coming, the First Lord will say during the passage of this Bill how long he expects these men to be at sea with only twelve months' service.

If these are the troubles of the Navy it does not take much imagination to see what the appalling difficulties would be in the other Services, because, as we know, the Navy has a far greater volunteer Service than the other two. In my humble opinion, therefore, this Bill contains a very potential danger for the future, because we shall be led to believe that we have efficiency where in fact no efficiency really exists; we shall be told in years to come that we have a great reserve of trained men only waiting to be called up. I can already hear the Minister of Defence, the First Lord and others, quoting large figures which will have very little relation to fact, because mere numbers to-day do not constitute defence.

In these days of complicated and highly specialized warfare, training will be the decisive factor, and so I feel that by this reduction of time this Bill has been altered in a most dangerous fashion. If we have any enemies, they cannot have done anything but gain comfort by the vacillating way in which the Government surrendered to a large number of their Party who were not even of one view. The First Lord concluded his introductory remarks by saying that this Bill was to prevent war. I should not describe it in that way; I should say that it was for our own preservation. But be that as it may, I have no doubt that, presented as it has been, it can have done very little to impress other nations of our earnest endeavours in this country, and may probably have done harm and weakened our strength in foreign affairs.

8.0 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships at any great length this evening. The time is getting late and we have had an extremely full debate. Moreover, I think it would be generally agreed that this is not a Bill the general purpose of which has caused any wide differences of opinion in your Lordships' House. There have been individual dissentients, but, broadly speaking, the principle has been accepted. Indeed, I thought that the First Lord of the Admiralty, in his opening speech, clearly showed the need for the Bill, and certainly, as my noble friend Lord Croft has already said, we on this side of the House will not oppose it. I do not say—and here I would agree with what was said by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading—that the general principle of compulsory military service is one that is ever likely to arouse wild enthusiasm in any Party of the State in this country.

I say this with some little trepidation because I read the other day in the newspapers that when an eminent Admiral made a rather similar remark he was accused by his local Member of Parliament of being a neo-Fascist. Why, I was not quite clear. I have never regarded any passionate attachment to the voluntary principle as being a particular attribute of Fascism. On the contrary, I should have thought any dislike of compulsion was definitely anti-authoritarian. That is why it has always been an age-long characteristic of the British people. It is and always has been symbolic of our love of free institutions. I would prefer—as I should think all other noble Lords here would prefer—that a long-term professional Army, Navy and Air Force, based on the voluntary principle, should always remain the main core of our Armed Forces. I do not think that there would be any difference of opinion about that. But, of course, to any general principle there must be certain exceptions and modifications to meet exceptional circumstances, and this, I honestly believe, is one of those occasions.

If we are to preserve our liberties in the world as it exists to-day, we must be prepared to defend them; and if, in certain circumstances, that may involve certain temporary sacrifices, we must be prepared to face that hard fact. That, as I understand it, is the underlying principle of this Bill, and I should have thought that it was one with which no one could seriously quarrel. Indeed, if I may quote from my own personal experience at the Foreign Office, I would say that we must face the fact that in The world, as it is now, the maintenance of adequate Armed Forces is not merely necessary to secure the liberties and independence of this country, it is not even merely necessary to enable us to fulfil our obligations to the United Nations should an emergency arise. The maintenance of adequate Armed Forces is really necessary— and I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, whose interesting and sincere speech I am sure we all enjoyed—if we are to have any foreign policy at all. Unless we can show that there is behind our policy some backing of armed strength, no one will pay the slightest attention to what we say. That is the hard fact which we ought to have learned by our own melancholy experiences in the years before the war.

It was the noble Lord, Lord Darwen, I think, who in a speech of patent sincerity said that the main aim of the Government must be to preserve peace. He seemed, I thought, doubtful whether the existence of Armed Forces in the hands of law-abiding nations would be of any assistance to that end. Would he and those who agree with him say that it would be the best method of preserving domestic peace to do away entirely with our police force? Surely he must know that the only result of that kind of action would be to encourage lawless persons to snap their fingers at the Law. The purpose of a police force—and this applies whether in the domestic or in the international sphere—is not merely to put down disorder once it has broken out but to make it absolutely clear to potential trouble-makers that they are bound to be defeated if they break the peace. The same is equally true in the international sphere as in the domestic sphere. The forces of order must be stronger than the forces of disorder.

While, therefore, I listened to the noble Lords, Lord Darwen and Lord Faring-don, with the respect which their sincerity deserved, I did so, I must confess, with a feeling of some despair. There they were, these two noble Lords, who have lived through the last twenty years, who have seen Hitler and Mussolini and all the events which led up to the last appalling conflict, and they remained just like the Bourbons; they had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing. They were just where they were in 1939—and that was not in the right place. These noble Lords, I think, both believe in collective security. But surely the lesson of those years before the war is that while collective security, backed by armaments, is a valuable contribution to peace, collective security without armaments just means nothing at all—it is a snare and a delusion. The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, seemed to argue that the more Armed Forces we have the weaker will be our international bargaining position. If he had had, as I have had in a small way, to negotiate with other countries, I am sure that he would very soon have altered that view.

We all hope that the time will come when the world will be so law-abiding that all armaments will be unnecessary. But I am afraid that that time is still very far off—rather further off, indeed, than we used to think when we were children. Look at Russia. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, spoke of Russia. Russia is a country which many of those who have opposed this Bill in another place profess to admire. But she has millions of men under arms. Look at the United States. She is maintaining armed power vastly above her pre-war standard. And we, who have far-flung territories and commitments all over the world, surely have greater need of Armed Forces than she has. If we could obtain these men we need by voluntary means, of course that would be better. There is no difference of opinion about that. But it appears that we cannot do so. In such circumstances, I am sure that any Government. whatever the Party to which it belonged, would have to take steps such as the present Government are taking in this Bill. To refrain from doing so would he to neglect their most vital responsibilities.

I think that most of us, this afternoon, indeed ail of us who heard it, listened with great interest to the powerful and thoughtful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Moran. In that speech, as I understood it, he expressed doubt as to whether military manpower, in the sense I think of what General de Gaulle used to call La masse—manpower as a whole—was any longer of importance. Lord Moran said that we lived in a scientific age and that it would be scientific weapons which would dominate a future war. He scouted the idea that nations would not use these weapons, and pointed out, with great truth and force, that the most-civilized nations in the world, ourselves and the United States, did not hesitate to use the atomic bomb, even when the issue of the war against Japan was no longer in doubt.

I would suggest to the House, however, that there is one other factor which ought to be taken into account which I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Moran, did take into account, in considering the probability of the use of these new scientific weapons. He was no doubt right in saying that moral considerations rarely prevent leaders from using any weapon when nations are fighting for their lives. The anxiety to save the lives of their soldiers overrides every other consideration. But what is equally true is this: that there is another more effective deterrent—that is the fear of reprisal. In the case of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima that deterrent did not exist. The other party had not got the bomb and could not retaliate. But take gas. It is almost certain the Germans would have used gas against the Russians in this war: but they were deterred by the very firm declaration made by President Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill that Great Britain and the United States would certainly use it as a reprisal in Germany. As a result gas was not employed in the last war. It seems to me that the more formidable a weapon is the greater is the deterrent value of this fear of reprisals.

I do not say we can build too much on that argument. One cannot tell what human beings will do in the last moment of despair. But I do not personally feel certain that these weapons will be used. And if they are not used, the importance of manpower remains. It was manpower, in spite of all the new scientific weapons used in the late war, which brought about the final victory of the Allies: it was manpower that made possible the landing, in France on "D" Day; and we cannot even now assume that manpower has lost its importance. Your Lordships will forgive me for having ranged rather widely, but I have now said all I have to say on the broad general issues. I should, however, like to say one or two things on points of detail in the Bill.

One of them relates to obligations of service. As I read the provisions of the Bill—and I shall be corrected if I am wrong—the obligations of part-time service imposed on the compulsorily called-up men are less onerous than those imposed on the Territorial Force voluntarily enlisted. The period of part-time service for compulsorily enlisted men—I prefer that to the word "conscripts", because I feel it is less offensive—is sixty days over a period of six years. I understand these sixty days may be served in camps or on daily parades. The part-time ser- vice for the Territorial Force is to be fifteen days in camp for four years: that is sixty in all. That, it may be said, is just about the same as the other if you add the periods together. But, in addition, the Territorial Force man has to attend training parades of forty hours a year, in the case of untrained soldiers, and thirty hours a year, in the case of trained soldiers, over the whole period of four years of their part-time service. I must confess that it seems entirely wrong that the volunteer should be penalized in this way. It will be only too liable to cause friction between the two types of soldier and will certain tend to impair the efficiency of the Armed Forces. I do not ask for an answer on this point this evening, but I hope the Government will examine it before the Committee stage.

Another point, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, concerns the position of minors who migrate to the Empire. We know from what the First Lord of the Admiralty said in his opening speech that miners are to be exempt from military service. I do not object; I state that as a fact. But what about those men going out to play their part in cementing the bonds of Empire? The present position might easily cause a great weakening of the desire to migrate and a great lessening of the desire of other Empire countries to receive these young migrants. It cannot be left as it is. My personal view is that it is so important that we should have an interchange of population of the Empire countries that I should like to see these people exempted from military service. It would be well worth our while. But whatever the position is to be, the Government ought to clear it up.

But our main regret on this side of the House, as has been emphasized often this afternoon, is that while they were about it the Government did not make the term of service of those being trained one which would be of greater value to their country. It is surely a classic example of spoiling a ship for a ha'p'orth of tar. In the Bill as originally drafted there was to be at least eighteen months training. Why has it been found desirable to shorten the period of service? The Minister of Defence, Mr. A. V. Alexander, has given two reasons. First, in a statement made, perhaps rather prematurely, directly after the Second Reading, he indicated quite frankly that it was the result of the opposition of a powerful section of Government supporters. Then there was a rapid volte face, and he gave an entirely different reason, that it was the result of economic circumstances. Why was it necessary for the Government to go through these extremely painful gymnastics? I do not think their switch of reasons convinced anyone, either among their own supporters or among any other section of opinion in the country. In spite of the extremely tortuous arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, the Government case for twelve months was absolutely riddled to-day from every point of view by those best qualified to speak. Indeed, if the truth be sail, the Government riddled it themselves by their orginal arguments in the Second Reading in another place.

Possibly they have taken the general view that when one has a bad case two reasons for doing what one intends to do are always twice as effective as one! But there is nothing more dangerous than to give too many reasons for any course one decides to embark upon. They are only too apt to tumble over each other and discredit each other, and I am afraid this is what has happened in the present case. If the first explanation of the Minister of Defence sounded rather feeble, the second argument sounded definitely shifty, and did the Government no good. The Government would do much better to face the fact frankly, that they have allowed themselves to be blackmailed by an irresponsible minority of their own supporters who have acted, some from respectable if mistaken motives, but some from motives less respectable.


There is the case of a Conservative Government having to give way to its own supporters. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Croft, forced the Government to give way before this.


I think that would be called a hypothetical question. To return to 1-he subject under debate, these gentlemen have now recognized their power, and I am afraid the Government are likely to have a good deal more trouble with them. That is only too commonly the case with black-mailers. But that is the Government's headache, not ours. So far as the Opposition are concerned, we regret this volte face of the Government. We believe it was not in the interests of the country. We believe it will make the task of the Foreign Secretary infinitely more difficult. A crowd of raw or half trained troops will not be an impressive advertisement of our armed strength in Germany and other countries to which they are to be sent. Nor, as the noble Earl, Lord Cork, said, are young troops well fitted to perform the police duties which are the main function of an Army of Occupation. I still hope that, if not now, at any rate later, the Government will re-consider the period in the light of further experience. But, in the meantime, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, said with all his authority, twelve months is better than nothing. That, I think, is generally agreed on this side of the House, and it is on that basis that we shall support the Bill to-night.

8.20 p.m.


My Lords, in the dining room of your Lordships' House I usually sit at a table opposite a portrait of Lord Roberts. I never do so without recalling a public school camp at Aldershot upwards of forty years ago, at which the little but famous Field-Marshal came on his famous white charger to address the boys from the various schools. This left an ineffaceable memory upon my mind, especially as the tears rolled down the famous soldlier's cheeks when he listened to the cheers of the youth of the day. Since that time, many who were in that company served in one war, and some survived to play their part in the Second World War. I think Lord Roberts would have been unfeignedly surprised had he been able to look forward forty years and to know that one of the survivors would be standing at this box in your Lordships' House to commend to your Lordships a National Service Bill on behalf of a Labour Government. For the sentiment generally animating the Labour Party in those days, as my noble friend the First Lord mentioned in his opening speech, was that exemplified in the speeches made to-day by the noble Lords, Lord Faring-don and Lord Darwen. However deeply I may dissent from them, I have the greatest respect for all opinions that are firmly and sincerely held, as I know theirs to be. But the world moves along at a pretty smart pace, and the sentiments of the Labour Party have changed to the degree which brings me to this box to-day in support of this Bill.

In all the speeches to-day there has been a general unanimity of view that the Government were well advised to bring in some such Bill, and that national service is a requisite of the times in which we are living; and I, for my part, would adopt, in support of that view of the Government whose spokesman I am, much of what was said by the noble Marquess, the Leader of the Opposition, in his speech just now. I do not think, with the feeling of the House on the broad aspects of the Bill being what it is, that it is necessary for me to dilate at any length upon them at this hour. I find myself very much in agreement with the speech made by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, who has an entitlement to speak upon this subject with great authority, for he has commanded the Inns of Court Training Corps, and in the last war he was also engaged in the training of troops—I know that because I have seen him at it. He thus has an entitlement to make the points which he put so clearly and acceptably to your Lordships' House.

I was greatly moved by his peroration, in which he made clear the view he holds (and which I share, as I am sure do many of your Lordships) that citizenship carries high obligations—very heavy duties, but they are high obligations—and that we must appeal not merely to materialistic objectives but to idealistic objectives also. I feel sure we must direct our mind to that approach. As some of your Lordships know, I had some experience in recruiting for the Territorial Army, especially in the years immediately before the war, and I am sure that the appeal that was made by me then was one which appealed to men as involving the obligations of citizenship to which the noble Marquess referred, and the protection of the country on patriotic grounds in times of danger.

This is not quite so easy now. The emotional approach is more difficult, and the intellectual approach is not always simple to bring home, but I am sure that it is capable of being done. The Service Departments will certainly direct their minds and efforts to that end, for I wish to make it clear to your Lordships, on behalf of the Government, that we do not regard the National Service Bill as in any way exonerating the Government from the responsibility of endeavouring to raise an adequate and highly trained Army by voluntary methods. We also look to the Territorial Army, reconstituted in its new shape, as the linch-pin of the whole business of national defence. So we shall do all we can, bearing in mind the advice we have received from your Lordships and which we have received and may receive from elsewhere, to ensure that there is an adequate in-coming both to the Regular Army and the Territorial Army. The voluntary system has much to provide for the welfare of the country and the wellbeing of the Forces.

Of course I agree, as I am bound to agree, that if one were to regard this whole difficult problem of defence or of the Services in a vacuum, it would be preferable to have a longer rather than a shorter term for a national service-man, for training and serving in the Forces after training. But we cannot deal with this matter as if all we had to contemplate was a vacuum. We have to look at this particular problem against the background of the facts as they are. My noble friend, Lord Mountevans, brought that out with great clarity when he indicated the fact, remarkable enough, I think, that while much has been said in your Lordships' House in the course of this debate as to the effect upon training of a shorter period of service, nothing has been said of the effect upon industry of a, longer period of service at a time when industry is shouting because of the shortage of manpower.

I listened with interest and respect, as I always do, to what was said by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, on the question of the reduction in the period—a matter which very naturally, and, indeed, inevitably, has been mentioned in most of the speeches of noble Lords sitting on the Benches opposite, though I must say it was mentioned on the whole in a most friendly way. I am a little troubled, in view of what the noble Marquess said about a variety of reasons, as to whether I should attempt an explanation. But the noble Marquess and noble Lords will not overlook the fact that here is a Bill which affects the daily life of every family in the country, and of the young men in all families. It is of very great importance that in a new movement of this kind, affecting so many people so drastically, there should be a general volume of consent from those who are affected.


May I take it that the noble Lord accepts the first explanation of the Minister of Defence, and not the second? I understood the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, took the same view when he interrupted. I understand he belongs to what may be called Codex "A."


I was subtracting nothing; I was only attempting to add. The period of twelve months is one which will have to be used, of course, with much more concentration, if one is to get from it the same results as might have been expected from a period of eighteen months. Noble Lords will accept it as axiomatic that the Government had fairly in mind the problems which have been indicated by noble Lords in the course of this debate, in deciding what I will call this marginal question and, after making a full survey, they ultimately came to the conclusion indicated by my noble friend the First Lord to-day, that on balance of national advantage, as it emerged after discussion, this period of twelve months should be adopted rather than the earlier period be maintained. We shall see how it goes. I observed what the noble Earl, Lord Beatty, said as to training being the key. I was greatly interested to hear the speech of the noble Earl because I remember—I do not know if he does; I do not think we have spoken in this House in the same debate since we have both been members of it—that when he made his maiden speech in another place it fell to my lot to congratulate him upon it. I am glad to hear him here to-day.

The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, asked me a question very similar to one which had been put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, in regard to emigration. I think it is, as he justly said, a matter of importance, and although I do not propose this evening to detain your Lordships with detailed answers, I think I should deal with that question, so far as I am able just across the table. I was asked whether a man of military age will be allowed to emigrate to the Dominions before doing his whole-time and part-time service, and whether a man approaching 18 would be restrained from emigration.


That was put by the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir.


Those were questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, but a similar question was put by the noble Marquess. The answer is that no obstacle will be placed in the way of a man leaving the country before an enlistment notice is issued to him, in the normal course. If, however, he left the country after an enlistment notice had been issued, deeming him a member of the Forces, he would place himself in the position of an absentee.


If he had not had his enlistment notice he would not receive one? He would be regarded as having migrated to another country, and he would thereupon be exempted from the scheme? If he had received the enlistment notice he ought to wait in this country until he had done his enlistment service.


The noble Marquess understands that I am dealing with the question as best I can across the table. Subject to any correction that may have to be made, the noble Marquess's understanding of the position is also mine. I would add to that that an enlistment notice would not be issued if a man informs the issuing officer that he is on the point of departure. But the calling-up machinery would not he interfered with on account of a man's declared intention to leave the country at an unknown future date. It must be something imminent. I think it will be agreed that that is reasonable.

I was also asked a question as regards passages assisted from United Kingdom funds. The Dominion authorities have agreed not to accept a man who has reached the age of eighteen. It would be anomalous for the Government to assist a man to avoid his obligations under the National Service Acts by making a grant. But a man who has done twelve months' service, and has been placed on the Reserve, will not be prevented from going overseas. I would also add that no steps will be taken to prevent a man leaving the country before he is eighteen, even under a scheme of assisted passages paid for by the United Kingdom Government. I think that covers the point mentioned sufficiently for this evening's discussion.


I think my noble friend has fallen into an ambiguity of language. He spoke about men leaving the country. Surely, if a man was going to live in France that would not exempt him. Does it not mean in the Empire?


I was discussing this matter in the context in which it was put to me.


"Abroad" means to the Empire, surely, and not some foreign country.


I am obliged to my noble friend. It was in that context that I was making the statement, and I should not like it to be interpreted as extending beyond that. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, then raised a question about the difference in obligation between a national service man and a member of the Territorial Army. There is the difference to which he refers. The part-time obligation of a national service man is for six years, with a maximum obligation of sixty days, of which a maximum of twenty-one days will be in any one year; whereas, as the noble Marquess has said, there are heavier obligations imposed upon a Territorial. But the Territorial has taken upon himself those obligations in a spirit of public service voluntarily, and if he fulfils those obligations he gets a money bonus, which is not attached to the national service man. If a question arises on that, we can no doubt discuss it at a later stage. That is really the short answer to the point.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, asked me one or two questions arising out of the naval position. He asked how we are to train sailors in twelve months, and suggested that as much time as possible should be spent at sea. The noble Lord also suggested the revival of the old training squadrons. The best methods for training the naval ratings who will serve one year's whole-time service under the Bill is, of course, a question that is being studied at the present time with a view to achieving the most satisfactory outcome. It is certainly intended that they should spend as much time as possible at sea. With regard to the proposal to revive the old training squadrons, there are already sea-going ships in home waters entirely devoted to training, and the possibility of devoting further ships to this purpose is naturally one of the questions which is being investigated at the present time. Another point raised by my noble friend I should perhaps reply to by saying that it is possible that the Navy could achieve the manning of the peace time Fleet on a voluntary basis, although this is perhaps doubtful. But it is not regarded as possible thus to achieve reserves of a sufficient size, or of adequate training, to take their part in manning the Fleet on mobilization. The pre-war voluntary reserves, such as the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, were of great value, but they were very small, and with the greater complexity of modern weapons achievement of the necessary technical skill can no longer be relied upon purely with part-time training alone. A period of full-time training is necessary for that purpose.

The most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of York, raised a question—which was also the subject of some observations from the noble Lord, Lord Moran—as to young men being sent to Germany, as an instance of occupied territory. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, also raised wider questions of policy, to some of which the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has referred. I will not detain your Lordships by dealing with the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, except to say that if they were accepted I think there could be no doubt that this country would be left naked and defenceless to the world.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, must have startled some of your Lordships—he certainly startled me—by some figures he gave as to venereal disease amongst British troops. Those of your Lordships who were in the Chamber at the time will recall that, without in any way raising an argument at that moment, I asked if he would be good enough to give me the authority for his statement. The answer, as if understood it, was that the information had come to him in his capacity as a member of the Medical Advisory Council of the Secretary of State for War, and that those were the figures which he was submitting to your Lordships. Whether figures issued in such a way are available for public use in such a manner is a matter with which I have no concern, and is no doubt one which the noble Lord will discuss with the Secretary of State for War. But I was staggered—I think that is the right word—by the figures, and let me remind your Lordships what they were.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, said that in September of last year in our Army in Japan of every 1,000 men 228 had venereal disease and in a Command alongside 6oo out of a 1,000—more than half. In Germany at the same time the figure was put at 185 out of 1000, and for the Army at home 33 in every 1,000. The noble Lord was good enough to give notice that he was raising this question, and very careful figures had been prepared by the War Office for my information. in order that it the question were raised I might advise your Lordships' House as to what the facts are. I was taken aback by the figures used by the noble Lord, not merely because they were different from the figures which I had before me, but because they were of an entirely different order of magnitude. It did not seem to me possible they could relate to the same subject matter, and if they had not emanated from one so erudite as the noble Lord I should have said that: this was another case of those "damned dots" I can scarcely believe that, but I believe I have the explanation; and because the figures are so different they do need an explanation.

I have had the figures given to me this morning checked and counter-checked since the noble Lord made his statement. Not only that: I have had the figures prepared independently by different means, and they give the same results as those I am about to give to your Lordships. I believe that what has happened—I do not know, but I suspect it is so—is that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, has taken the figures for the number of treatments, whereas the figures I am about to give to your Lordships are the figures of actual cases.

I am advised that I may, properly and deliberately, tell your Lordships that these are, without ambiguity, the correct figures for the quarterly rates per 1,000 strength from January, 1946, to March, 1947. I will not take all those periods because it would weary your Lordships, but if I may I will give you the highest and the lowest. The highest figure for the United Kingdom forces for the third quarter of 1946 was 9.6 per 1,000, and the lowest was for the latest quarter, 5.3 per 1,000. In the British Army on the Rhine, the highest figure was the third quarter of 1946, 44.6 per 1,000, and the lowest figure, the last quarter, 30 per 1,000. In the C.M.F. the largest figure was 39.5 per 1,000 in the second quarter of 1946, and 22.8 per 1,000 is the lowest figure—being the figure for the first quarter of 1947, based upon January and February only. In the M.E.F. the highest figure is 9.4 per 1,000 for both the second and third quarters of 1946, and the lowest was 4.1 per 1,000 for the first quarter of 1946. In S.E.A.L.F. the highest figure was 37.6 per 1,000 for the first quarter of 1946, and the lowest figure 31.2 per 1,000 for the first quarter of 1947, based upon January and February only. Those are the figures which I am advised that I may properly and authoritatively give to your Lordships as being the correct figures.


May I interrupt the noble Lord to make clear what I think has happened. I was quoting from A.M.D. 5 Statistics, September, 1946, which is from the Army Medical Department Headquarters. I think the misunderstanding has arisen because I said 228 out of 1,000. It is nothing to do with treatments at all; it means, 228 on an annual rate. I said it was a fifth and that would mean on the annual rate and not a quarterly rate. That must be right, because otherwise it would mean that far more cases occurred than I,000. These figures were officially given by the Army Medical Department in September. They were annual rates, and I think that that should be made very clear, in case I did not make it clear before. I thought it was quite clear, because if it had been quarterly it could not have been a fifth, because it would have been far more than 1,000.


I am grateful to the noble Lord. I do not desire to quarrel with him, but I do not want there to be a misleading impression on this important matter which affects the feelings of people. I may say that my figures have been checked this afternoon.


If the noble Lord is giving quarterly figures he will see that if he multiplies them by four he will get a figure, not the same, but not so very different. I was giving the yearly figures and he was giving the quarterly ones. Is that not so?


I think that might be an error in statistics, if I may say so. I am giving the actual number of cases there are in any particular quarter. It may be only ten cases a month or thirty cases in three months—I cannot tell you. I am giving you the statistical outcome as I have it. I would be very glad to discuss it in detail with the noble Lord, but I am not concerned to do it across the Table now, except to clear up what I think must have obviously been a misunderstanding.

On one question there is no misunderstanding, and that is that this question of venereal disease is a serious one which has to be dealt with properly and promptly. And I should wish that your Lordships' House and the public should know that this is a matter in which the Secretary of State for War takes a personal interest, as well as the Adjutant General (Sir Richard O'Connor), and General McCreery, who is Commander-in-Chief of the British Army on the Rhine, and who has devoted intense thought and labour to try to get this thing put right. It is not an easy question. Admirable work has been done, and will continue to be done, by the chaplains, the Educational Service, the Welfare Service, all commanding officers, and regimental officers in general; but on the whole we must rely upon the reflection in conduct abroad of what these young men learn at home. It is the correct upbringing of these youngsters to which we must look, in the final instance, as being the corrective to these unfortunate activities.

The noble Lord who opened this debate, and who has sat through it so assiduously must, with his long experience of the Army, be pleased to feel that some of the things he has urged and wanted are in some degree at least now about to be carried into effect. All that remains for me to say is that such matters as I have not dealt with here I shall be very willing to deal with in the further course of this Bill, which I now ask your Lordships to allow to be carried to its Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.