HL Deb 29 November 1960 vol 226 cc1004-17

2.56 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Army Act, 1955 (Continuation) Order, 1960, be approved. This is the fourth and last time on which your Lordships will be asked to approve the extension of the current Army Act. It is proposed to introduce a new Army Bill in the near future for the consideration of both Houses of Parliament, and this will come into force at the beginning of 1962. This new Bill will, of course, give your Lordships an opportunity, which is not available to-day, to consider the whole structure of the Army Act. All this Order does is to continue the existing Army Act in force for another year.

Broadly speaking, the Army Act covers two fields: first, the recruiting of men and women into the Regular Army; and, secondly, of equal importance, the maintenance of discipline. I should like to say a short word about both these aspects. First, with regard to discipline. During the last twelve months there have been about 3,400 courts-martial, a very small figure in relation to the total strength of the Army, and it has been a steadily decreasing percentage since the war. From these courts-martial, there were only seven applications to the Courts-Martial Appeal Court and in none of them was the finding reversed. I think your Lordships will agree that this small number is a tribute to the high standard of conduct of Army courts-martial.

But for most soldiers, the really important thing is the less spectacular part of their code of discipline with which they come into contact every day. As I mentioned to your Lordships last summer, it has been the intention, and remains the intention, of my right honourable friend and his predecessors, to do away with as many petty restrictions as is possible—for instance, restrictions on the wearing of plain clothes. Permanent passes may now be granted after sixteen weeks' recruit training; less time is spent on cleaning barracks and equipment, and, where possible, these tasks are performed during working hours. These reforms in themselves will not attract recruits, but the more it is possible to equate the off-duty conditions of the modern Army with civilian life the better will be the tale which the soldier tells of life in the Army to his friends outside, all of them potential soldiers.

Recruiting, however, is the aspect in which your Lordships no doubt will be most interested. I have very little to add to what I said in the summer when I told the House that the target which the Army has been set is to reach a volunteer strength of 165,000 by 1963—a target which my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State, indicated last week would be met—and an ultimate ceiling, or higher target figure, of 182,000 to which it is hoped to build up in due course. It is perfectly true, as broadly speaking it almost always is true, that recruiting figures for the Services are not as good as we should like, and the War Office are taking special measures to attract the maximum number of recruits. They are carrying out a further investigation to see what can be done, without prejudicing efficiency or discipline, to remove the drawbacks to Army life which discourage men from joining; and, as my right honourable friend has said, he is carrying out some experiments in television advertising which have shown that there may be considerable scope in this field. I can assure your Lordships that no effort will be spared in the drive for an all-Regular Army.

I should like to conclude, my Lords, by paying a tribute to the National Servicemen who are also subject to this Act. They and their predecessors have done a splendid job, and the country owes a great debt to them. They have borne a large part of the burden of the defence of this country, and we are grateful. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft Army Act, 1955 (Continuation) Order, 1960, be approved. —(Lord Carrington.)

3.0 p.m.


My Lords, the opening comments on this Statutory Order by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, were very much shorter than those of the Secretary of State in another place last Friday, but I cannot say, having read the speech very carefully, that in the greater number of columns they fill he said any more than the noble Lord who has just spoken. I have also read very carefully the rest of the debate in another place and noted the extraordinary anxiety which was displayed in all parts of the House as to what so far is the general result of the position, of the Army especially, since that monument to defence policy failure, the 1957 White Paper, was first published. The extraordinary thing is that although such a detailed case was made in another place last Friday, there was no real reply to it. I could find nothing in the reply of the Parliamentary Secretary which varies one iota from that extraordinarily brisk speech which the noble Lord has made, in his usual efficient fashion, in dealing with this Order to-day. This lack of really detailed reply to Parliamentary debate is something which always gives sound Parliamentarians real concern; and it does not matter whether it happens in another place or this place. Where Parliamentary debates take place on great matters of public policy, then detailed criticisms ought to be answered in detail, and that certainly failed to be done on Friday last.

What is the real picture of the position? I will deal with recruiting first, because the other part was quite satisfactory, though I will say a word about that afterwards. The position, surely, is one which must give very grave concern to all who are interested in the adequate defence of our country, and especially those who are knowledgeable as to what is the make-up of battle order for the Army side of our defences. When we look at the extraordinary change in the organisation, the training and the allocation of duties of the battle order in 1960 compared to 1914, when before the war we had a Regular Army of round about the same strength, I should say (I would not tie myself to hundreds), as the known strength of the Regular Army to-day, can you possibly undertake a battle order in 1960 to meet modern conditions with the same limited figures for land forces upon which you relied for your battle order in 1914? You have all the extra services, the expert mechanics, the different supplementary services.

What we were always being charged with in my day in defence matters was that now the Forces carried such a very long tail. A good deal is made of the fact that in modern circumstances more can be done with fewer men, by reason of those other services that is, by improved and more efficient mobile transport. I know that we have got rid of a lot of commitments (perhaps we ought not to have got rid of all of them) but in the light of our firm commitments, such as, for example, our pledge about occupational forces in Germany; our pledged responsibility under the fixed treaty of agreement between ourselves and Malaya; our known obligations to the Baghdad Pact Powers, and our known promises, at any rate—not quite such a strong position—under S.E.A.T.O. for the South East Asia region, plus the fact that the Government is also under the pledge given to the public at large in this country, that it will always maintain a home force containing within it a skilled reserve capable of being despatched at any given emergency to any part of the area of our commitments; and when you look at your numbers and rate of recruiting, I think the present situation must give all of us cause for anxiety.

Is there anybody who would contend that there has ever been a much more dangerous situation in the world—dangerous both to our various interests throughout our Commonwealth and in regard to the area in which we are in alliance? Has there ever been a more dangerous position? Could we say to-day that we are in anything like as strong a position to deal with it, as regards manpower, as we were when this fatal Paper of 1957 was introduced? There is the situation that I want the House of Lords to face up to.

If you come back to the question of numbers in the forces, to paragraph 48, which was quoted in the other House the other day, of the Statement on Defence for 1957, your Lordships will see there that a specific pledge was given that if the Regular recruiting campaign did not prove to be successful in getting the minimum numbers required, the Government would have to have recourse to National Service. I agree with the statement in that Paper three years ago, that it was the desire of all Parties, as soon as might be with safety, to go from National Service to voluntary forces. We were told that there would be substantial economies: that the reliance to a far greater extent upon the nuclear deterrent would enable us to cut the Forces tremendously. For example, we started on the course right away by cutting our Continental commitments. At the beginning of 1957 we had 77,000 men in Germany. That number was cut, in two stages, and I think the nominal figure of men there to-day is 55,000. But I told your Lordships the other day that we understood there was a regular tussle going on now between the Treasury and the War Office —and I think that was evident from a report in the London Times—as to whether that occupational force there should be reduced by a further 15,000 this year.

When we come to give consent to the continuance of an Act of this kind, which provides for recruiting, Parliament ought to be told more about what is the present situation in regard to these pledges and in regard to what forces we have actually in existence. It was pointed out in the other place again and again—and not from one side only, as I am sure the noble Lord will agree. I take two speeches particularly, the one of the honourable Member for Dudley, on the Labour side, and the one of the Conservative Member for Wycombe, Bucks, on the other side. These were not by any means the only critics of the present personnel condition of the Army who expressed their doubts as to the future.

It is true, as the noble Lord said to-day, that at the moment, as the result of a special T.V. campaign, in three areas only out of all your recruiting areas—I think the Midlands, Ulster and one other district, the name of which I have forgotten—there has been some improvement in recruitment over a matter of five or six weeks. On that, apparently, both the Secretary of State and the Parliamentary Secretary at the War Office felt that they could assure the other place that they were certainly going to reach, not the proper target but the lower ceiling, as it is called, of recruiting, of 165,000. I should have thought it would have been fairer to Parliament if, in presenting this last extension by a year of the Army Act and dealing with these figures, the Government had been prepared to tell us what is at this moment the actual strength of the Regular Army, and whether there is any variation from the actual strength of the Regular Army as foreshadowed in the statistics issued in the Defence White Paper for 1960. I have them here somewhere, but I will not hold up the proceedings to look for them now.

I am still most doubtful whether, on the present basis of your strength and with fluctuations around the kind of recruitment you bad in the last twelve months, the figure of 165,000 wild be reached in 1963. Of course, the figure of 165,000 was projected in one place in the White Paper on Defence in 1957 as likely to be reached by the end of 1962. It seems to me that we have all the way through been behind the figure of Regular strength which has been relied upon.

The other matter that you ought to get cleared up, so far as the Army's contribution to the overall picture is concerned, is the Government's target for personnel for all three Forces, because the Army has a certain function to perform within those Farces. We want to know what the total is. In the White Paper on Defence in 1957, the target which was projected by the then Minister, Mr. Duncan Sandys, was 375,000 for the three; but there have been such variants since then that I have seen figures rang-Mg between 375,000 and 405,000. What is the target for the three Services, and what is to be the final target for the Army? Is the figure of 165,000 to be treated in the spirit of the language of the speech of the present Minister for Defence only a short time ago, I think down in Wiltshire—that if we get 165,000 and cannot get any more we must make do? Alternatively, is the overall target for the whole of the Services to be about 400,000, and is the contribution that the Army is to make to that figure to be 182,000 or 165,000?

It seems to me that there has been far too little examination, even yet, of what we are going to do about these things. It is perfectly true—I grant this to the noble Lord—that it cannot be many weeks now before we shall have to consider the now White Paper on Defence for the year; but before we give approval to this Statutory Order I think we ought to have the real views of the Government at the present time. We now have commitments that must be met from day to day—commitments which make it imperative, so it seems to me, that when a unit is sent to do an emergency job or merely to cover for us in an area in Which danger may arise, it is not sent in under strength. Yet we have seen again and again in the last few years battalions sent in under strength. As was mentioned by one speaker yesterday in another place, even when what was thought to be the whole regiment of Irish Guards was sent, they were so under strength that a company of Welsh Guards had to be sent with them to bring the unit up to proper Army strength.

If we take the reports as well as the rumours that we have had from time to time With regard to the expedition to Suez in 1956, and if we take the general anxieties expressed, not always perhaps in what the Government would regard as the proper and most pukka terms by senior commanding officers at regimental dinners, and the like, about the dangers of the situation, I think Parliament and the public require a far greater reassurance on the fighting efficiency of the Forces to-day, including the Army—and the Forces are on a much higher budget and at a greatly reduced strength, compared with only three years ago. Those are the facts. I hope that we shall get a more detailed answer than was afforded in the other place yesterday.

Finally, I would say a word upon discipline. We can all agree with what the noble Lord said about the disciplinary position. I think that what was said the other day is perfectly true—that where, for various reasons, you find this one or that one in a particular unit at a particular place now and again jumping over the ropes, all the publicity seems to be given to it and not to the enormously high percentage of the Forces of the Crown who are just ordinary, day-to-day, good citizens, doing their job, perhaps working under what is sometimes a strict and almost repressive discipline, even though that code of discipline has been altered in recent years. I think that the Forces themselves deserve considerable credit for that state of affairs.

As regards the position of the National Serviceman, I am glad that it has fallen to a Conservative Service Minister in this House to pay the tribute that he has paid to National Service. I am the guilty culprit who, in 1947, had to engineer through the Houses of Parliament the National Service Scheme. I am glad that a Conservative Minister, in the Government which now feels able to do without National Service, is content to pay such a tribute to the services rendered. Without the action which was taken in 1947, in some of the most difficult days of the cold war, sometimes extending over large areas of conflict like Malaya, and had it not been for the provision to the Services of the numbers of personnel required—even though perhaps there were sometimes grounds on which they could be criticised—we could not have achieved the amount of peace and general prosperity that has been achieved in this country in the last twelve years. So I make no apology in that regard to-day. What we ought to know now is whether the Government are certain to get not merely the 165,000 to make do with, but the proper total that they themselves and their advisers admit is required—the higher number—as the minimum strength for the Army. But if they cannot get them, let them tell the country what steps they propose to take to make up the deficiency.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, there is one aspect of recruiting on which everybody is agreed: that it is not as good as we should like. When it comes to the causes of its being not as good as we should like, there are, I have no doubt, as many opinions as there are Members of your Lordships' House. I favour the view that the most important influence on potential recruits is the mothers, wives and families, and therefore the most important thing is to satisfy those families that the soldier in the Service and his wife get a square deal. In the last few months I have had two instances come to my notice that throw an ugly light on some of the conditions.

There was a battalion disbanded, and in consequence its personnel were posted to other battalions out of London. The wives were not allowed to accompany their husbands to the new posting, for lack of married quarters. That is quite understandable, but those wives are not being allowed to remain in their married quarters in London. There we get a number of families put to great trouble, distress and anxiety for what seems at least a piece of quite unnecessary bureaucracy. There was another case. When pay and allowances were increased some time ago a great deal of publicity was given to it. What was not publicised, however, was that there was a change in the method of assessing electricity bills in married quarters, so that all those in married quarters had to pay at a much higher rate for the current they consumed. What was given with one hand was taken away with the other.

I quote those two instances to show that there are grounds for families discouraging their young men from joining up. When will Whitehall learn that petty meannesses are the most important deterrent to men joining the Forces? As I said the other day, the Army not only must be a good employer but must be seen to be a good employer.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, I want to say only a few words on what has fallen from noble Lords opposite. I agree with the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition that the situation in regard to recruiting gives no ground for complacency; but we shall not help the situation by failing to approve the Order which my noble friend is proposing. It was good news that district courts-martial figures are so good, for that, in its turn, shows that the type of recruit is good; and good recruits will encourage more recruits to join the Army. Where I believe we are in a certain amount of difficulty is with regard to recruiting, but this is a situation which has been plain to those of us who think we understand the position, ever since the 1957 White Paper was produced. We knew that we should go through a period of two or three years during which it would be anybody's guess whether the measures we were taking in a period of full employment would or would not provide the recruits.

This is a free country and men can join or not, as they like, and there are ample opportunities for doing jobs elsewhere. The good soldier will never be news, any more than the trade unionist is news unless he goes on strike. That is something we have to put up with. What we have to do, if we wish to avoid at a later date the special measures which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State envisaged, is to do everything we can by public support to help my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War to get the recruits. We want, if we can, to avoid an atmosphere of criticism and to take as constructive and helpful an attitude as we can, in and out of this House. I am not saying that because I necessarily mean that a destructive attitude is being taken but because, as I have said, it is so easy to criticise and so boring to praise people.

Unless we want to be faced with the problem so many of us have seen looming in the distant future if the recruiting target fails, we have to do everything we can to see that the public relations and advertising measures that my noble friend has just announced really succeed and are given their full effect. But in that connection may I say that I hope that the advertising will be advertising of goods which are for sale, and that the Army will not be represented to be anything it is not.

I should also like to say how glad I am that attention is being paid to the families of Servicemen. But my noble friend must not mind if I hark back to the debate we had on Wednesday last and remind him of certain suggestions we then made on pensions. There it is. The Army is going through a very testing time. As the noble Viscount has said, if we are not careful the shortage of recruits will produce a state of affairs where the number of men in the Army is not sufficient to make good the order of battle. It is not easy to talk about that now, because we have not the figures or the facts. No doubt those will appear with the annual White Paper accompanying the Army Estimates, and we shall have a chance to talk about them and have a good deal more knowledge than we have now as to whether the number of men actually in the Army is or is not overstraining the order of battle. Meanwhile, let us do everything we can, inside and outside this House, to help the Army get its recruits and thus avoid a situation where stronger measures have to be taken which would be as bad for Parliament as it would for the Army.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful for what has been said by my noble friend who has just sat down. I agree wholeheartedly with him. I thought I was rather taken to task by the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition for having made so short a speech in introducing the Order. I confess that one is a little confused, because I understood that many of your Lordships who sit on the Front Bench had been told they spoke too long; so I am rather surprised to be told I have spoken for too short a time. At any rate, I hope your Lordships will not judge the content of a speech by its length.


My Lords, let us be quite fair. I think I am within the recollection of the House in saying that the speech of the noble Lord covered as much ground as a much longer speech in another place; so why complain?


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Viscount. That was exactly what I tried to do: to paraphrase what had been said in another place, and to say what was necessary and no more; because your Lordships have a lot of business this afternoon and, as the noble Viscount said, there will be an opportunity to discuss at very much greater length in the near future the whole of the Army Estimates. Having listened to the speech of the noble Viscount, however, I am satisfied that I answered all his questions before he asked them. Indeed, I believe that I answered word for word most of those he asked. I got a very different impression from that which he got of the debate in another place. I thought the debate there was not so much critical of the Government and of Government policy but very helpful about the recruiting aspects. I think the speech of the Under-Secretary of State at the end of that debate indicated how grateful Her Majesty's Government were for the suggestions on recruiting which had been made.

The policy of Her Majesty's Government on recruiting and the size of the Army is, I believe, quite clear; and I deplore efforts made by some people—not the noble Viscount—to confuse it. Since my words at the beginning of this debate do not seem to have been sufficient, perhaps I might quote the words of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War in another place on that occasion. He said this [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 630 (No. 19), col. 1457]: My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture"— that is Mr. Soames— said in the summer that we should on current trends reach our lower target in the early days of 1963. I am sure he is right. The lower target is 165,000. He continued: Even the latest recruiting figures which have been published, and which are regarded by some as being depressing do, I assure the House, show clearly that this is still the case. I do not want to speculate in any precise terms, but I believe that we may well be able to do better than our minimum target by 1963 if we go flat out—and we mean to go flat out. So perhaps, to put it in a phrase already used before, the floor target of the Army is 165,000 and the ceiling is 182,000.

I will look at the points which the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, made, and I will write to him about them. But in conclusion, before I ask your Lordships to approve the Order, I would assure the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition that there is no complacency about recruiting or the size of the Army. I believe I said in opening that recruiting is never very good and that we seek to do what we possibly can to improve it. I know that with the help of the noble Viscount and any suggestions he has to make, and with the help of the proposals already put before another place by my right honourable friend, we shall in fact achieve our target of 165,000 at the beginning of 1963.


My Lords, I wanted only to say one thing. I do not want to do more than raise the point now, because many of your Lordships speak with far greater knowledge and authority on this subject than I do. The noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty will be aware that in the last few days there have been some very interesting comments in the Press in which it is assumed that, if Her Majesty's Government do not get the lower figure of 165,000, they will use the door which was opened, I think, in the 1957 Statement, and which was not closed, by once again applying some measure of obtaining men by compulsion. No doubt the noble Lord will bring to his colleague's attention the fact that this statement has been made in the Press and that there has been no answer to it.


My Lords, if I may have the leave of the House to speak again, I think this point was actually made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State when he said that if we do not produce the numbers required for the Army exceptional measures will have to be taken.


I thank the noble Lord.


My Lords, that seems to leave us to assume that there may be a general or selective reapplication of National Service. But what was said at a later stage did not, I thought, quite support that. Of course, we shall have to wait and see in the Defence White Paper exactly what is meant by that. But what I should like to ask, before the Question is finally put, is whether we might take as correct the figures estimated in Annex 1 in the Defence White Paper for 1960: that the strength of the Army on April 1 next year, 1961, would be Regulars 166,600 and National Servicemen 57,000. Are those figures still holding for April 1, 1961?


My Lords, would the noble Viscount repeat his question?


My Lords, I am quoting from Annex 1, which states that in the case of the Army an estimate of the active strength by April 1, 1961, would be 166,600 Regulars, 57,000 National Servicemen and 6,500 women. That brings the total of the Armed Forces to 230,000. Is that still the estimate of our strength on April 1?


My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Viscount. I have almost every other piece of paper except, the one he was reading from. However, I can tell him—though I cannot teal him the exact date—that the total strength of the Army now, both officers and men, is about 230,000.

On Question, Motion agreed to.