HL Deb 10 December 1957 vol 206 cc969-72

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, and I would say no more than this. He did indeed give me notice, and I attempted 'to answer the question he put and to do so in such a way as to make perfectly clear to the noble Lord and to the House the importance which I, as spokesman for Her Majesty's Government, attached to the matter he raised. It is not for me to tell him or to advise him whether or not it is in order, for that would be impertinence on my part. I attempted to answer the general point raised by the noble Lord, and I answered it as fairly and clearly as I possibly could. I feel that to try to quote from memory figures from papers on a subject about which I was given only five minutes' notice (although I am quite familiar with them and aware of their importance) would not be a service to your Lordships, to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, or (not that that matters) to myself.

As your Lordships may by now have guessed, the new procedure for prolonging year by year the life of the Air Force Act is precisely the same as that applicable to the Army Act, some aspects of which we have just been considering. I hope that your Lordships will not expect me to rehearse the matter again. I will make it my business to have at my finger tips, when required, every available figure. But precisely the same considerations apply here, save that the Air Force Act has only 224 sections to the Army Act's 226 sections. I beg to move.

Moved. That the Draft Air Force Act, 1955 (Continuation) Order. 1957, be approved.—(Lord Mancroft.)


My Lords, in order to preserve the rights of this House, and of the Opposition in this House, may I say this? As I understand it, the Motion to approve these Orders provides the only opportunity, very often, which private Members have to discuss Army affairs. If this occasion is now to be "written off," so that all we can discuss on the day on which the Army Act is considered are merely technical details as to how many sections there are in the new Army Act and how many there were in the old, then another right of Parliament 'has gone. I should have thought that a word on that aspect might have come from the massed ranks opposite, and that some objection might have been taken by some Parliamentarians opposite. But since they have not spoken out, I will speak out.

I will say once more that in my view the situation as regards the Royal Air Force also calls for comment. I cannot speak with any authority on the Royal Air Force because I know very little about it, so I will merely say this. On their own figures (which, as my noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough has pointed out, have been in the Printed Paper Office for at least a week, though obviously they have not yet reached the Ministry of Defence, or at any rate the Ministers), a serious situation arises, because recruiting has gone down from 2,703 in October, 1956, to 1,942 in October, 1957. The three-year engagements have fallen from 1,013 to 533; four-year engagements from 201 to 117, and five- to eight-year engagements from 536 to 235. Nine-year engagements have gone up, with a slight increase from 249 to 301. So, while there is a slight increase in the nine-year engagements, all the other figures have fallen disastrously.

Here again, while I do not wish to detain the House at any length, there is a matter of most important inquiry. Do Her Majesty's Government think that the Royal Air Force will be able to fulfil its duties when National Service has expired? If they do not, what are they going to do? It is of no use to complain of "crying from the house-tops." We want to know what steps Her Majesty's Government propose to take to provide the Armed Forces with the men who will be required when National Service ends. That is the question.

The fact is that recruiting for these Forces is seriously diminishing. I am not "crying from the house-tops", but I am asking, in Parliament, a perfectly pertinent question. What are you going to do to stop the drift? What are you going to do to get the recruiting that we need in order to have a voluntary service in the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force? Surely that is our duty. Anybody would think that we were traitors trying in some way to prevent people from going into the Services. We are doing nothing of the kind. We say we should like a voluntary service if we can obtain it, but there does not seem to be any chance of doing so. What are you doing to obtain that voluntary service? That is the question the Government have not answered. All that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has done is to emit a lot of steam—the old type of Parliamentary answer that was given when a Minister did not know what the answer was. That is the way he has treated us. It is really not 20th century Ministership, and it does not answer us on this most important question, about which we are very worried.


My Lords, I am sorry but I cannot accept that rebuke. I will not allow a Parliamentary tactic, which, if I may say so, does not do the noble Lord a very great deal of credit, to permit the suggestion to get abroad that Her Majesty's Government do not take the recruiting situation extremely seriously. They do, and well the noble Lord knows it.


With what results?

On Question, Motion agreed to.