HL Deb 25 June 1947 vol 149 cc271-9

3.38 p.m.

Amendments reported (according to Order).

LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY moved, after Clause 21 to insert the following new clause: 22. Within six months of the passing of this Act the Service Authorities shall lay before Parliament a comprehensive scheme showing the manner in which persons called up for full time or part time service under this Act are to be employed in each Service.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Amendment which stands in the name of Viscount Bridgeman and myself. In doing so I would like to tell the House that it is not in any way our intention to withdraw our support from the principle which underlies the National Service Bill. I think noble Lords who sit on the Government Benches will agree that we, on this side, have given them consistent support in what they have brought before the House, but in the principle of national service there is an analogy to taxation. We have agreed to give power to the Government to raise a revenue in men but we have been singularly trusting in the matter of its expenditure, or at any rate in the details of its expenditure. There is a duty laid on Parliament not only to raise the men but to investigate the way in which those men are to be trained. Parliament has a duty to the nation in this respect, and I believe the Government will find a much readier and much more willing response from all who have to take part in service, and their families, if they can lay before them the scheme in sufficient detail to make it appear a watertight and reasonable scheme. The Government should take the nation into their confidence.

I think I can fairly say that so far very little—I will not say nothing—has been said about the manner in which national service men are to be trained We know something about the Army. We know that the national service men in their part-time service are to be incorporated in the Territorial Army; and we know that it is intended that national service men shall do part of their training in Regular units, and possibly engage in occupational duties. I do not think that is a sufficiently detailed statement to satisfy the House. But nothing really has been said which will throw any light upon the manner in which the Navy and the Air Force are going to use their national service men.

I do not intend to traverse once again a matter which has been fully debated in both Houses—that is, the proper length of service—but I think there can be no doubt that by reducing the length of whole-time service from eighteen months to twelve months there must necessarily have been a great reorganization of the plans of the three Service Ministries. It has been said by way of apologia that there were two schemes prepared, and they took the alternative. Whether that is true or not, I do not know. If it is true, and if there is in existence a comprehensive scheme for the training of national service men for both whole-time and part-time service, then I think the House ought to know about it. If, on the other hand, the alteration in the period of whole-time service has caused the Service Ministries to recast their plans, and they are in the process of so doing, then I think it is reasonable that we should ask that there should be a new clause placed in this Bill to provide that the Government shall lay those plans before Parliament within six months of the passing of this measure. I do not think there is anything unreasonable in asking for such information. It is the duty of Parliament to ask for that information, and I would urge the Government to take the House and the country into their confidence in this matter. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 21 insert the said new clause.—(Lord De L'Isle and Dudley.)

3.43 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill has gone through almost entirely as an Army affair, very largely because, as the last speaker said, no details have been given as to how the men in the Navy are to be trained. It is most important that something on the lines of this Amendment should be inserted, in order that Parliament can keep their eye on what is going on. It is much easier for the Army. They live ashore, and members of Parliament, and others, can go round. I do not wish to cast any doubt upon the Sea Lords, or upon their desire to train, and I do not suggest that they will not do all possible in that direction. But they are under political control, and they may have to cut the costs. One thing that does cost money, when you come to the Navy, is sending men to sea. If you are to have a reserve of men you must have them ready to go to sea and do their job when the flag falls and war starts.

Up to the outbreak of war I was in command of a fleet, and we used to have frequent exercises. We were continually being torpedoed by submarines which got in under the screen. At that time a very prominent Minister was taken down to the School of Anti-Submarine Instruction. He was taken into the Channel, and he was shown how, with the asdics, the submarines were always picked up at once. Why was that? The reason was that they put their best asdic operators on the instruments when the Minister came down, and the submarine was located every time. The anti-submarine vessels went out, they knew there were submarines about, they knew what time luncheon was fixed for ashore, and they could almost say what would happen. That Minister later stood up in public and said that we had the measure of the submarines. As I say, when we were at sea the submarines frequently got through. Why was that? It was because the young asdic operators suddenly found themselves boxed up in a small cabin in a heavy sea, and in many cases they were very seasick and could no more attend to their instruments than fly.

From a naval point of view, I hope that we shall be told what the national service men are going to do, and how long they are to spend at sea during the one year of service. I hope that when they go to sea they will be able to carry out their functions, and will not be capsized by practical experience of what the sea can do to the inside of a man. There are so many Reserves now that it would be interesting to know how they will dovetail together. There is the Royal Fleet Reserve, the Royal Special Naval Reserve, the Royal Naval Reserve, and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. They all have their different parts to play, and it will be interesting to know how they will all dovetail together. I would like to support the Amendment, and I do hope that the Amendment, or something of the kind, will be accepted.


My Lords, I would like to say a word or two in regard to this Amendment from the point of view of the Royal Air Force. I think the one danger the R.A.F. sees in this Bill is that the men will be employed purely on what are called general duties. That is what the R.A.F. want to discourage, so far as possible. They want to make it quite clear that these men will be trained in proper duties, so far as it is possible to provide for it in the Bill. For that reason, it would add a great sense of confidence and encouragement if the men realized that they were not coming in simply to be—to use a word so often used to-day—"stooges," but are coming in to be taught a real job of work. It is true that in the course of the major trades—what are called the B Class trades—it is not possible to train men properly in the period; but I know that the R.A.F. authorities are anxious that the fullest opportunity should be taken in the time to train these personnel. For that reason, I feel that a great service will be done if it is shown clearly how they are to be trained.


My Lords, let me say, in response to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, that I fully appreciate the most helpful and co-operative spirit in which noble Lords opposite have conducted the discussions on this Bill in all its stages. We have, indeed, a common object upon which we are united. I fully realize that the noble Lord who moved this Amendment, and other noble Lords who have supported it, are solely concerned, as I am, with the interests of the Services. Let me say for the Government that we fully realize the anxiety of your Lordships, and the country generally—which we regard as natural—to receive some assurance, not only that the best use will be made of the national service men, but that it will be possible in the training time allowed to bring them to the required state of efficiency, and that they will be trained, to use the phrase of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, to do a real job of work.

I would earnestly suggest to the noble Lords whose names are appended to this Amendment that they might consider again whether the proposal that they now make is really in the interests of the Services. They have great knowledge and experience of what is involved, and I feel sure that on reconsideration they will be likely to agree that the promulgation of a comprehensive scheme of training during the next few months would, in the long run, be of no advantage to the cause which I know the noble Lords and all of us have in mind. Let me say for the Government that the Government, for their part, would not feel justified in calling upon the Service Departments at this relatively early date to commit themselves in any great detail to their training arrangements from 1949 onwards as regards the whole-time national service man, and for a period that will not begin until 1950 for the part-time national service man. Moreover, it will be realized that requirements will differ in different corps, and owing to the need of industry there may well have to be various means of tackling the problem in different parts of the country. But I must tell your Lordships' House that the general framework, and the broad principles are, of course, already determined. It is the detailed plans which are still being considered and they must, for some time, remain fluid; they must be subject to modification. Indeed, they will continue on that basis throughout, because improvements must be introduced as necessary in the light of actual experience as time goes on.

The Service Departments are determined, not necessarily to be bound by the past, but to explore thoroughly in the light of new conditions the best means of getting training value out of the limited training liability of sixty days during these six years. But I can here and now give your Lordships some general indication of the lines upon which these Departments propose to work. Naturally, the first consideration during the period of whole-time service will be given to the provision of adequate training, but in some cases—and particularly as far as the Army is concerned—it will be necessary to post a large number of national service men to the nearer overseas stations for part of their whole-time service. The training arrangements in the Army will be designed with that fact in mind.

The men in all three Services will undergo the usual period of primary or recruiting training, and after that they will begin to specialize. The nature and length of their individual training will vary a good deal according to the Service or branch. In the non-technical branches of the Army men will be posted to active units at an early stage, and they will complete their individual training in special sub-units engaged solely on that task. After that, they will continue with unit and collective training in the normal way during the remainder of their whole-time service. Many of the units will be overseas. In the more technical branches of all three Services, the primary training will be followed by a period of technical training which will vary according to the nature of the trade, and this will be carried out in training centres or other establishments set up for the purpose in this country. It is intended, by careful selection, during the primary training, to allocate men to those branches of the Service for which they are most suited and best qualified, so as to ensure that the highest possible standard is reached before the end of the whole-time service.

In the Army, national service men will be accepted for all types of trade, and it is anticipated that they will reach the journeyman's standard in all cases. Where this type of training takes up most of the twelve months period, the collective training will be given during the subsequent part-time service in the Territorial Army. As to the Royal Air Force, to which the noble Earl referred, national service men, unless they possess some preliminary qualifications, may not be eligible for certain of the more skilled trades, and those requirements will be covered in the main by Regulars. Special arrangements will also be required as regards air crews. The noble Earl, Lord Cork, asked about the Royal Navy. In regard to that, let me say that it is hoped that the individual training will be complete in most cases in time to enable the man to serve for a period at sea.

Training during part time service will vary considerably according to Service and Arm. In the Royal Navy it is intended, in a large number of cases, to divide the sixty days full-time training into three periods of about twenty days each, spread over the six years during which the man will be serving on the Reserve. I understand that it is hoped that about half that period will actually be spent at sea. In the Army, the pre-war Territorial system of periodical camps and a number of drills, plus week-end instruction, wilt be continued for the great majority of the units, but there are certain specialized units, for instance anti-aircraft units, which will do the bulk of their part-time training by means of evening or week-end instruction, which is more suitable for that particular class of work. In the Royal Air Force, the call-up for training during part-time service will be much more on an individual basis. The training itself will generally be carried out during camp periods.

I hope noble Lords will, for the time being, be satisfied with this general view of the situation which, I think I may fairly claim, indicates more than has been said on any previous occasion. The preparation of detailed plans is well advanced, but we must preserve and maintain a certain flexibility both in the interim period and during the operation of the Act. I hope noble Lords in general, and those who have particularly interested themselves in this matter, will feel that I have given them, as I wished to do, fully and frankly as much information as I am able to at this stage.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question before he sits down? Is it the intention that this period of training should count toward apprenticeship in the appropriate cases? I am talking about craft trade unions. This period naturally comes in the middle of the apprenticeship period, and I would like to know whether this will count towards qualification for trade union membership.


I do not think that the apprenticeship will necessarily be interfered with, but I should not like to give a categorical answer to that technical question. I will certainly furnish the noble Earl with a reply.


My Lords, we have some weighty matters ahead of us and therefore I do not wish to take up the time of your Lordships' House by making a long speech just now. I would like to say at the outset of my remarks how very grateful my noble friends and I are to the noble Lord opposite for the statement he has made which, as he has indicated, takes us a good deal further in this matter than hitherto. After all, no one wants to tie the Service Departments down to any detailed procedure which they may have to adopt in circumstances they have not foreseen. But there is a very great distinction between flexibility on the one hand and vagueness on the other. It was our opinion, until the noble Lord spoke as he did just now, that the picture was much more one of vagueness than of flexibility.

One must say that a certain amount of special pleading has been done. If we had not been over the alternatives which we have discussed so often about length of service, I have no doubt that the Service Departments would have produced a scheme in a good deal more detail than we have now, it would have been gone through by the Service Minister and by the Minister of Labour, and not until those details were thoroughly probed would the Government have brought in the Bill. If there had been no changes in the Bill, I should have been disposed to say the Service Departments were greatly to blame in that the details were not more clear and more precise than they were when the Bill was introduced. Now I should quite accept what the noble Lord has said; I would be prepared to put it that they must now make up for lost time and try to put the pieces of the scheme together and adapt it to fit the twenty-one and sixty days. We are very pleased, I think, to hear that the full-time service is apparently to be spent in actual units. It will make a great deal of difference to the Reserve service. It will make a great deal of difference to the man himself, because we all know it is very much easier to soldier properly in a properly formed unit than in a depôt, or something of that sort, and that applies to the other Services as well. I am equally sure that my noble and gallant friend the Earl of Cork opposite was pleased when he heard that the naval ratings were to go to sea.

I am not absolutely certain how good an answer we have yet had, either to-day or in previous debates, about the real impact of this national service on industry. I read again the noble Lord's remarks on the Committee stage of this Bill where we were told that everybody considered it very carefully and we were told that sixty days was the right amount and industry could not stand anything more than sixty days. If we had been told that industry could not stand more than so many days a year or that industry could not stand more than so many days full-time service a year, I would have understood it, but I do not understand this statement that sixty days spread over six years is a really firm figure. I should have thought—perhaps it is too late, but I put it forward for consideration—that it would be very much better to say "Industry can stand up to so many days in a year and industry can stand up to so many days of full-time service." I know that in the Home Guard we were doing part-time service and we fixed the figure at forty hours in four weeks, but that was in the middle of the war when everybody was working overtime. To say now that part-time service in the evenings is really going to affect industry does not seem to me to represent that precise and detailed planning which noble Lords opposite ask us to associate with the schemes that they put forward.

Now I have one word to say about Anti-Aircraft. I should like to say with great respect how much I agree with the proposal to spend more time in part-time training in Anti-Aircraft and less time in full-time training. That really does represent a realistic approach to the problem and no doubt that will be the start to the approach to the problem of training the technical units of the Territorial Army about which we have heard lately and about which I think we should hear more. Their importance now is so much increased compared with the pre-1939 days, because they have to carry so much more equipment. We are grateful, as I have said, to the noble Lord opposite for lifting the curtain, not very far but far enough to cause us to withdraw our Amendment. I am not saying that we shall leave the subject. Obviously it is one of the greatest interest to noble Lords on all sides of the House. We shall hope to go on watching the problem with the intention of co-operating with noble Lords opposite and with others who are concerned in the matter of seeing that the best is done for the Service Departments and therefore for the country. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.