§ Order for Committee read.
§ CAPTAIN MARGESSON'S STATEMENT.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Captain Margesson)
I beg to move, ''That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
In rising to move this Motion, I must crave the indulgence of the House for my many shortcomings. Although I have been a Member of this House for some 19 years, it is a long time since I addressed it formally. As a Whip, my contributions to Debates have been rare and impromptu; they have been made almost entirely on matters affecting the Business of the House during all-night Sittings, when the House, to say the least of it, has not been at its freshest or in its most critical mood. So to-day I freely confess that I am feeling some of the apprehensions associated with the making of a maiden speech. But this House has rightly earned for itself the reputation of being a generous Assembly, and I am encouraged to believe, when I ask it to be "to my faults a little blind," that I shall not ask in vain.
A year ago, my predecessor, in introducing the Army Estimates, confessed himself to be at a disadvantage compared with his brother Service Ministers, because the Army at that time had not been engaged in an active capacity. That disadvantage no longer exists. The history of the Army during the last 12 months has been full of action, much of it in adversity, but much also a story of brilliant military and administrative achievement. There is one handicap, however, which every Minister must face in time of war. In speaking to the House about the Army, I must be careful to say nothing which might give the enemy information, nothing that might help him, by piecing together this little bit of the jigsaw with that, to get a better idea than he already has of the complete picture. Hitler will have no such luck. I am not going to oblige him by satisfying his curiosity, and I am certain that hon. Members will have this point constantly in their minds when they come to speak at a later stage in the course of this Debate.
1050 As 1 have already suggested, I have one advantage which was denied to my predecessor last year. The Army no longer lies under the shadow of inaction. It has come out into the full light of achievement. I will not enter into a discussion of the series of events which led to the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from France. Much has been said and written about the events of those dramatic days, and it must be left to the military historians to put them in their proper perspective One fact, however, stands out clearly. Cut off from its bases, with both flanks in the air, relentlessly pressed and encircled on all sides, the British Expeditionary Force, by the sheer staunchness of its military quality and by the steadfast leadership and direction of its commanders and staff, in scenes of confusion unparalleled in the history of warfare, made good its retirement to the coast, and thanks also to the gallantry of the Navy and the Air Force, withdrew in the face of the enemy no less than 85 per cent of its effectives. I hope that the story of this battle will soon be available to the House and to the public by the publication of the despatches of Lord Gort, the Commander-in-Chief.
The operations of the Army of the Nile need no commendation from me. The world knows how, in a short campaign, the Italian armies have been driven out of Egypt and to the Western borders of Cyrenaica. In barely eight weeks from the beginning of the operation on 9th December, 1940, and by a campaign which will long be studied as a model of the military art, an advance of over 450 miles as the Spitfire flies was made by General Wavell against an enemy force of some 10 or 11 divisions equipped with every modern appliance of war. For three months the enemy prepared his defences in the forward area; Bardia and Tobruk, those bastions of Rome, were covered by very strong fortifications. Yet by 30th January four main positions had been assaulted and captured. The final capitulation of Benghazi on 6th February completed the capture or destruction of the whole Italian army in the East of Libya, estimated to exceed 150,000 men. What was the cost of this to us? Our losses in these and all other operations in the Middle Eastern theatre, including East Africa, between 31st November, 1940, and 11th February, 1941, totalled 1,774, 1051 of which 438 were killed, 1,249 wounded, and 87 are reported as missing. These brilliant successes owed much, and I should be the last to deny it, to the loyal and effective co-operation of the other two Arms. Without the help of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force they would have been impossible.
But, make no mistake about it, this battle has been a land battle, and our great successes have been primarily due to the Army. There has been a good deal of speculation as to what might have happened if we had been faced by German troops. No doubt the task would have been harder, but the weakness of the Italian position was not due primarily to a weakened morale, for, as I have said, the Italian armies were well equipped, strongly entrenched and numerically superior. It was due to the brilliant use of surprise and manœuvre by the British Forces under their commanders, and also to the superlative work of the administrative and supply services. Those services do not strike the eye. They do not get the headlines in the newspapers, but they are the basis of all successful operations in the field.
In East Africa, our successes, so far, have been equally striking. The higher degree of opposition encountered, due in part to the defensive advantages of a most difficult country, has slowed down our advance in Eritrea, Italy's oldest colony. But the rapidity of the advance by our Forces based in Kenya, has rivalled even the rate of our Libyan advance. Our Forces in this theatre were already some 350 miles in front of their railhead base when they began their advance across 100 miles of waterless desert to the Juba river. In four days they had captured Kismayu, and two days later they had forced the crossing of the Juba. Their advance soon continued and in a further eight days—that is, only 17 days from the beginning of these operations—Mogadishu, the capital of Italian Somaliland, 250 miles further on, had fallen. No pause was made there, and within 48 hours our patrols had penetrated to a depth of 150 miles north of that point. This was a most remarkable achievement, and in carrying it out so successfully we captured more than 10,000 prisoners. These operations are a prelude to greater struggles with our principal enemy.
1052 I should like to turn now to a consideration of the condition and equipment of our new troops and formations, which must, ultimately, bear the brunt of the land battle, wherever it may be fought. As the House knows too well, our great handicap since the beginning of the war, and before it, was lack of modern equipment, and in gauging the rate of our progress in regard to equipment, three main factors stand out. First, in the pre-war rearmament programme priority was rightly given to the Air Force and naval programmes. Both in time and in degree, Army equipment had to take third place. Secondly, since the war began, the Royal Air Force programme has had a large measure of priority over other programmes. Thirdly, in the evacuation from France, unhappily we lost nearly all the equipment which we had accumulated with so much toil and sweat and at such heavy cost. Our situation, therefore, in June, 1940, was a most unenviable one. The great bulk of the personnel of the British Expeditionary Force had been evacuated, but the problem of reforming them into units presented the most complex administrative difficulties. All these men had certainly had recent fighting experience, but they had no weapons except those which they had been able to carry away themselves. The remainder of the Army in this country had a few weapons but no fighting experience. The immediate task therefore was to undertake a complete reorganisation, and great credit is due to my predecessor, to the War Office and to the staffs in general, for what they achieved during those highly critical days.
In the matter of equipment, it was fortunate that a part of the war reserves of the British Expeditionary Force had been stored in this country, and we also got some stores away from our depots south of the River Somme. We found that we were able to issue some equipment to the Army immediately, and, in addition, stores ordered by France from America became available, and shipping on its way to France with these stores was diverted to this country. The transformation that was effected in this one month of June, 1940, is, perhaps, unequalled in the history of the British Army. By the end of the month, practically the whole of the original British 1053 Expeditionary Force had been reformed and the units provided with a quota of weapons and transport. But the amount of equipment available was very small indeed, and was not enough for any formations to be given their full outfit. The breathing-space which we have had since Dunkirk has been turned to good account. The wheels of production are now turning faster and faster, and the present position is that most of the major formations are comparatively well-equipped, and we are now able to form new divisions. In addition, large reinforcements of equipment have been sent to the Middle East. Dominion troops have been provided with weapons and transport, and we have been able to supply material aid to our Allies.
Let me here, if the House will bear with me, digress for a moment to pay my tribute to our gallant ally, Greece. After all, the Greeks were the first to stand fast; they refused to be cowed by the overwhelming: superiority of the Italians in men and equipment. Instead of being crushed in a month, as a great many people predicted, they attacked, and they proved once again that fortune favours the brave. They were the first to stop the rot. Those splendid troops have turned what at first sight appeared to be a magnificent stand, against overwhelming odds, into a triumphant advance over a most difficult country in the depth of winter. In doing so, they have shown their neighbours what can be done by a small country possessed of dauntless courage. The Free French Forces have already given gallant service in Libya, Eritrea, Italian Somaliland and elsewhere, and the Poles are only awaiting their chance to get at the enemy and once again to show their fighting qualities. The Belgians, the Norwegians, the Dutch and the Czechs are all contributing their quota to the final victory. They have all drawn equipment from our resources, as, indeed, have also the patriot Abyssinians.
To return, however, to the subject of equipment. Thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Supply—and the War Office is the best customer of the Ministry of Supply—the position has greatly improved since last summer and gives some cause for confidence, but in saying this I do not wish to give the slightest suggestion of complacency. What we are striving for all the time is to bring ourselves to the 1054 highest possible state of efficiency. We are still a long way from having all we would like to have, or all that we could put to good use, but what has been done already should be looked at in its true perspective. There are still gaps in some classes of our equipment, but every week that goes by sees those gaps closing, and with the aid of British, Dominion and Indian production, and with the growing output of America, I hope that the time is not far off when we shall have an Army, fully-equipped and fully-trained to use its weapons.
In matters of equipment, quantity is not everything. Never has clearer proof been given of the value of quality than in the operations in Libya. The training and courage of our men out there could have been of no avail if it had not been matched by the high quality of the machines which they used. The tanks, which covered 150 miles in 30 hours over bad country, to cut off the Italian retreat from Benghazi, and then fought a successful action against greatly superior armoured forces, had already covered hundreds of miles and fought many actions. Some of the tanks had become casualties; but these were used to provide spare parts for those that could still keep going—an armoured division form of cannibalism. Later in my speech I shall refer again to this question of quality of equipment. I hope that what I have said will hearten the workers in our factories and encourage them to turn out more and more equipment for the Army. The troops rely upon them, and they know they will not be let down.
The excitement of watching the news of our progress in Africa and of the development of military affairs in the Balkans and elsewhere abroad tends to draw away our attention from the position here at home. That is a tendency which must not be allowed to go too far. We are, naturally and rightly, encouraged by our recent successes, but we must never, for one moment, forget the perils nearer home. That is where the enemy has his gun pointed at our vitals. The danger of invasion of this country is a very real one, and I feel that the House is entitled to hear from me something of the preparations which we have made to meet it when it comes. It is obviously impossible for me to reveal to the House the operational dispositions upon which our plans 1055 are based, but there are some points to which I can refer without endangering the general security.
The troops in these islands can broadly be divided into two categories. First, there are what I would call the static defences: our coast-defence batteries and troops, and our anti-aircraft defence units. Then there are the field formations, our field army, whose duty it is to strike at and annihilate the invader wherever he may be found, whether after descent from the air or after landing by sea. The defence of aerodromes, depots and other vital points is also a responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces. Like other Members of this House, I find in my postbag day after day many letters asking whether this or that possibility has been allowed for. I welcome these letters. All these letters are considered; some of them produce new thoughts for which we are grateful. We are always ready to learn, and our plans are always fluid. I can say that every possibility open to the ingenuity of the enemy has been considered, so far as we can read their minds.
Our troops are continually being trained to meet any eventuality. About a month ago there was an exercise, a sham battle, which lasted for about a week. Both the civil organisations and the military staffs took part. This exercise was directed at meeting an imagined attack, and for its purpose we called in some of the most brilliant staff officers at our disposal and asked them to take on the mantle of the German General Staff and to make plans for an attack upon this country. That attack was duly launched. The German Staff was housed in special offices, and by a system of umpires and observers throughout the country the effect of the various waves of attack, whether by sea or by air, was checked, and many lessons learned. The ingenuity of this improvised enemy staff resulted in a scale of attack greatly exceeding in probability anything that the Germans could actually inflict. Every preliminary disaster which might conceivably come upon us was in the exercise given effect. There were many landings by sea and air, and the effect of continuous air bombardment of our central points was estimated to have caused a breakdown of many of the means of communication. Notwithstanding this assumption. of the worst, the defence orga- 1056 nisations, civil, naval, military and Air Force, came through the ordeal with great credit. I mention this exercise merely to show the House that we are not sitting tight in our defences, but are endeavouring to improve our system of static and mobile defence from day to day.
The training of the troops in this country has proceeded steadily and progressively, and, now that the long days and better weather are coming, it will be possible to put a finer polish upon it. I should like to give the House some idea, in particular, of the special training which is given to men who show qualities of leadership and are therefore selected for training as non-commissioned officers and as officers. When a man first joins the Army we do our best to use any special knowledge that he already possesses. All kinds of specialists are required in the modern Army, and men with specialist knowledge are as far as possible drafted to the appropriate units. The basic military training which every soldier must have is reduced to a minimum in these cases. Promotion to non-commissioned rank may take place very early in a soldier's career. If he shows the qualities of leadership, he is frequently given a lance-corporal stripe within the first month. [An HON. MEMBER: "Unpaid."] No, with pay for it. Thereafter, training within the unit or at corps or Army schools often results in promotion to the rank of sergeant very rapidly. There are many ways in which a man can find such advancement. He may, for example, prove to be a good instructor, and, alter teaching in his own unit, he may be posted as an instructor at a school. Or, again, he may show promise as a specialist, and may become a signaller sergeant in an infantry battalion. Or, again, he may become an expert in gas defence. During all this time he is eligible for selection to go to an Officer Cadet Training Unit, known as an O.C.T.U. I do not care very much for that word; it sounds too much like the Russian Secret Police—the Ogpu.
I should here like to mention a point which is very much in the minds of Members of this House and of the public. It is the question whether the system of selection of officers is really impartial. The figures which I now propose to give will help the House in deciding that it is. An analysis of the commissions given 1057 from a selection of infantry O.C.T.U.'s shows that for the period 27th September to 27th December, 1940, that is, a period of three months, 26 per cent. of the successful pupils came from what are known as public schools; the balance of 74 per cent. came from grammar, council or secondary schools, and of these about 9 per cent. had had a university education. Another period and a different selection of O.C.T.U.'s would no doubt give slightly differing results, but the figures which I have quoted will give the House a good idea of the general trend. An examination of the civil occupations of the candidates at these units for the same period is also interesting. They included a printer, a miner, tailor, docker, an optician, a labourer, a race-horse trainer, a rope maker, a grocer, a fireman, and a barrister— [An HON. MEMBER: "And a bookmaker."] —No, not a bookmaker; I said a race-horse trainer.
The selection of candidates to go to the O.C.T.U.'s is very strict. First the soldier must be recommended by his commanding officer. Then he must appear in person before a Selection Board. Even when he has got to an O.C.T.U. the would-be officer cannot take things easy and count on passing out with the rest. He has to prove that he really does possess the necessary qualifications to become an officer. If he cannot, then he must go. More than a quarter of the pupils passing through are eliminated, though some of these may possibly get a second chance when they have had more experience in the ranks. It is vitally important that the standard of our junior officers should be maintained as a high one. Once commissioned, the officer looks forward to becoming a squadron, battery or company commander. In order that he may be trained for this promotion, there are many different courses and schools of training open to him. For example, an outstanding 2nd lieutenant of the infantry may be sent to a company commanders' school. An officer in the Royal Artillery who has a mathematical or scientific bent may, after service in the junior rank, attend a technical course in gunnery and subsequently graduate as an instructor in gunnery.
The next stage in a regimental officer's career is command. For the purpose of training officers to take command there is the senior officers' school; and at all 1058 stages of an officer's career there are progressive schools through which he may pass, ranging from corps schools for platoon commanders through intermediate grades of rank up to the senior officers' school which I have mentioned. In addition there are establishments such as the administrative staff school, through which many business men have passed: a school for intelligence training, and also the Staff College. The pupils at all these schools also represent, roughly speaking, a very fair cross section of public life. Certain specialist officers can be commissioned direct from civil life. This applies to particular corps where technical knowledge is of great importance to the Army. In such cases it is obviously much more economical to take the scientist or technician and train him as an officer straight away from the start than to waste time by putting him in the ranks.
All the lessons of the war so far have emphasised the vital necessity of training, and we have set our faces against any demands for the use of troops in this country which would have the effect of depriving them of this primary need. But there is one matter in which we have thought it our duty to make an exception. I refer to the calls upon the Army made by the civil power as a result of enemy air attack. These calls we have answered to the fullest extent of our ability, and it is our policy to hold centrally bodies of skilled and unskilled troops which can immediately be sent to the aid of any area which has suffered from air attack. Take an example, the recent serious attack upon the city of Coventry. The attack took place on the night of 14th November. On 15th November 600 troops were in that city helping to clear the streets; 140 of them helped the police to control traffic and to keep order. On the 16th a further 670 arrived, and the total was later increased to more than 1,500. Of these, some 350 were skilled engineers, about half the rest were members of the Pioneer Corps and the remainder were infantry and traffic control personnel—a new body which has been raised since Dunkirk. These soldiers helped to repair water mains and to salvage essential technical gear, and they performed many other tasks. In addition to all this, 1,200 slaters and tilers were released from the Army to give first-aid repairs to houses and factories. I am glad to say that the 1059 prompt action of the Army in this case, and in others, has received the very grateful thanks of the civil authorities which the Army helped. Those who were there and who saw Alderman Halliwell sitting in the City Chambers in rubber boots and a pull-over, next to a big general in a brass hat and a British warm, realised that the old city of Coventry had still something new to tell the world.
I have mentioned the Pioneer Corps. This Corps, originally known as the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps, was created at the beginning of the war, and was composed of 15,000 Reservists. As the need for labour in the Army increased, recruiting was opened on a voluntary basis, and some first-class material became available, mainly old soldiers. Since that time the Corps has been greatly expanded, and some of the Army in take of the lower physical standards have been transferred to it. Further, its ranks have been thrown open to foreigners, and there are more than 5,000 alien subjects in the ranks at the present time. Splendid work was done in France by this Corps, of which 1,500 were foreigners, mainly Austrian, German and Spanish. I need not remind the House that, although Pioneers were enlisted for labour purposes, they proved their worth as fighting troops and suffered considerable casualties before and during the dark days of the evacuation. Their work in London in clearing debris and repairing and maintaining the vital services of the capital is fresh in the minds of all Londoners, and at this time more than 10,000 of these men altogether are engaged upon this very exacting work. We have all seen their cheerful grimy faces about the place, willingly undergoing discomfort at an age when they certainly had some right to expect ease. The need for Pioneer units is inexhaustible and their duties most important. Apart from the work which I have described, they erect Army huts, work on aerodromes, prepare defences and carry out a hundred and one jobs, which in their absence would have to be carried out by Field troops at the expense of their training. I hope that volunteers will continue to come forward and enlist from all over the country.
A survey of the Army to-day would not be complete without a brief reference to 1060 that fine body of men, the Home Guard. Raised in an incredibly short space of time, as a result of an appeal launched by my predecessor, this force still has some troubles, as I am well aware, and the general shortage of equipment does not make it easier for these keen volunteers to train themselves for the tasks which are allotted to them. There are also a good many details of administration which need to be tidied up, and I just want to take this opportunity of telling the House and the Home Guard that I am working at this problem as a matter of first priority, and that I hope soon that reasons for complaint will have, to a large extent, disappeared. The Home Guard itself will easily realise the difficulty of administering a force of over a millon and a half men distributed in small groups over the whole of the British Isles, and, if some of these units feel aggrieved that they have not yet received the full equipment which they have expected, let them remember that we must issue arms and equipment to those places which are operationally most important, and that the other localities must wait for a little. The Home Guard is doing a fine job The help which they have given to the Civil Defence Services after air raids has also been beyond praise. It is no light task after a long day's work to turn out for night duty and to give up week-ends to training, often with inadequate equipment.
I must say a word, too, about the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service. Everyone in this House knows the great value of the work which this corps is carrying out— work which is of particularly vital importance just now, because we have to use the man and woman power in this country to the best possible advantage. Every job in the Army which can be done by a woman releases a soldier for fighting, and I hope that we may find fresh tasks, maybe nearer the fighting line, to which we can gradually introduce the woman element. There are still great numbers of young women in this country who ought to join up. When they make up their minds to do so they will be warmly welcomed.
In all that I have said so far, I have concentrated upon training and equipment, and I have perhaps given the impression that the man who is to be trained is merely a cog in the wheel, is only a body without a personality. That is not the 1061 case at all. On the contrary, we fully realise that the Army of to-day is a citizen Army, quite distinct in its make-up from the Regular Army of peace-time. This Army of citizens has been called to the Colours to fight for freedom, to fight for what they believe to be right, against what they believe to be wrong. They have left their families and homes, often at great personal sacrifice. They have willingly submitted themselves to Army discipline, and for the past 18 months they have cheerfully put up with the daily routine of training themselves to be soldiers. But they know that however irksome this training may be it will stand them in good stead when they are called upon to go into battle.
I do not wish the House to misunderstand me. Training ought to be interesting, and we attempt to make it so, but it is useless to pretend, and it would be foolish to argue, that training by itself can fully occupy the minds and activities of men who have been accustomed to quite other ways of living in civil life. We all recognise that this question of the well-being and mental content of the individual soldier is one of our most difficult problems. There are two main aspects of this problem; first, there is the man who has just been called up, and, secondly, there is the man who is on his way to being fully trained. Let me take the recruit first. Thrown in haphazard among a number of other recruits whom he has never seen before, with entirely different outlooks maybe and different standards of living, he has to shake himself down into a new atmosphere. He must accept the fact of discipline; he must do a number of things, the immediate use of which is not obvious to him; and he must undertake for himself a good many tasks which in his civil life were done for him by his women folk.
What steps do we take to help him? Many of these men have been in a responsible or independent position in their private life. They may have run their own small businesses. They may have been members of the professional classes or the industrial classes. How do we help them to accept what many of them regard as rather a stupid and unprofitable existence? The 1062 last thing we want to do is to take away the soldier's reliance upon himself. I am one of those who think that there is a danger of doing too much for the soldier these days, but we must not, and we do not, forget that these men and boys have been wrenched away from the lives of their own making and from the friends of their own. choice. Their hobbies and their interests have been left behind with their civilian clothes. How do we try to help the new boys to settle down in their new home? That is where the officer comes in. It is a well-known maxim in the Army, and one which should continually be impressed on all young officers, that the first duty of an officer is the care and well-being of the men under his command. In battle the officer must lead: during preparation for battle he must be a combination of father, brother and trusted adviser.
Commissioned rank carries with it certain privileges which cannot be shared by all, but privileges carry with them responsibilities, and, as far as I can, I am determined to see that these responsibilities are not ignored. Every officer, then, has the primary responsibility of knowing his men, of knowing their troubles and of doing what he can to put them right. It is their business to help their men not only in their personal lives but in the lives of their families and dependants. Every officer should acquaint himself with the broad outlines of the regulations governing family and dependants' allowances, and so on, and should be himself in a position to advise the men under his command as far as he possibly can of what they should do to get what they are entitled to, and if he does not know the answer, to advise the men under his command where to get it.
Mr. Bellenǵer (Bassetlaw)
May I ask whether in the training of the junior officers with whom the men mostly come into contact, this procedure on which the Secretary of State insists is imparted as part of the training?
Yes, Sir. I believe that, broadly speaking, that is so, but I hope that what I am saying today in my position as Secretary of State will infiltrate down to those training units where possibly it does not exist at present. Perhaps I may here refer to the fact that we have been considering the 1063 effect of the Determination of Needs Bill on our dependants' allowance scheme. As the House is aware, that scheme does not purport to reflect in detail the conditions of unemployment assistance; it would not be appropriate that it should do so. The scheme provides for certain payments to be made to the dependants of soldiers having regard to the contribution which the soldier made before he joined the Army, to the hardship caused to the dependant by his enlistment, and to the ability of the soldier to make contributions from his Army pay. But it has this in common with the scheme for unemployment assistance, that, in deciding what is hardship, regard has hitherto been paid to the resources of all members of the dependant's household. In view of the changes which have been made in the scheme for unemployment assistance on this point, we shall modify the procedure of our dependants' allowance scheme on similar, though perhaps not necessarily exactly the same, lines. The details are being worked out and are nearly complete. When they are, I will have them communicated to the House in whatever may be the most convenient form. But I would remind the House that this is a very complicated matter: that changes in procedure throw a heavy burden on machinery which is already strained to the utmost: and that if the machinery were to break down under the load, it would result in hardship to those for whose sole benefit the scheme exists. The House will, therefore, appreciate that the introduction of the new principle must take a little time. I am glad to say that my right hon. Friends the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for Air are in full agreement with me on this most important matter.
Before I made that digression, I was referring to the special position of regimental officers. Within the limits of discipline the regimental life must be a family life. Only in this way will there be that confidence and understanding which are essential to a well-disciplined unit under fire. But the Army officer is only human. The ways in which he can help his men off duty are strictly limited, and that is where the Army Welfare organisation comes in. The general 1064 object of this organisation is to help men to keep themselves fit, mentally and bodily, and to save them from falling into the groove of routine. The work of the 1,000 voluntary Welfare Officers, most of them ex-service men, is beyond praise. The State is also contributing its share by providing money for wireless sets, mobile cinemas, lectures, books and for entertainments of all sorts. Perhaps the most important work of the Welfare organisation is that of bringing together the civilian public and the Army. Many thousands of soldiers, including, I know, a great many of our Dominion troops in this country, will always be grateful to the hundreds of public-spirited civilians who have entertained them in their homes.
Broadcasts and cinemas do not appeal to everybody, and many of the present-day soldiers want something a bit more solid. For them there is an increasing opportunity of attending lectures and organised classes. Last January there were 5,000 lectures delivered. In the same month there were 3,000 organised classes running. Men could study for most branches of professions and trades, and for commercial, military, and scientific subjects. In the units themselves, there are not only men who are anxious to learn, but there are others who are able and willing to teach. I expect to see a great development in these internal educational arrangements in the near future. There are also correspondence courses for men who seek professional qualifications. We have had over 4,000 applicants for enrolment in courses in insurance, law, banking, engineering, and other subjects. Finally, to give those who want it a rest from the clatter of the canteen and barrack room, which I think is very important, I hope to be able to provide a number of quiet rooms where they can read and write undisturbed.
I have spoken at some length about those members of the public who have joined the ranks of the Army. Let me now say something about those who are left behind. Perhaps the keynote of war is disturbance—disturbance of private amenities and private rights. This alteration in the basis of our home lives is inevitable and cannot be helped, the more so when the very existence of our homes is threatened by impending enemy invasion. But the disturbance of private 1065 rights does not mean their abolition, and' it is the business of the Army, as of the other Services of the Crown, to soften in every possible way the impact of war conditions upon the ordinary people of this country. The disruption of our method of life shows itself in many different forms. Some people are thrown out of their homes by enemy action; others are compulsorily evacuated because of the threat of enemy action; others again are turned out of their houses because the military must have them; and still others are compelled, very willingly I am happy to say in most cases, to accept officers or men from the Army as temporary guests.
Perhaps the most serious of these causes of disturbance lies in the Army's power of requisitioning. This power had to be exercised in the past in circumstances of great urgency and great danger. The colossal expansion of the Army and of all its services has meant that quarters have had to be found for many thousands of men in areas where hitherto only hundreds have lived. Many, of course, are found accommodation in new camps and existing barracks, but until the Army accommodation has been put up, we have had to requisition private property. I will not deny that in many cases this requisitioning has been thoughtless and needlessly harsh. But it was imperative to get as many of our men under permanent roofs as possible. Some Members of the House will remember the winter of 1914 and the quagmires in which thousands of men lived during those months. I hope that that will not happen again. I am glad to say that less than.3 per cent, of all the troops in this country are now under canvas, and the great bulk of these are in the air defence of Great Britain, where operational necessities make it more difficult to provide permanent accommodation.
Having said so much, I want the House to know that now that conditions have settled down after the first feverish days following upon the collapse of France, the method of requisitioning has been overhauled and the number of reasonable complaints has been reduced to a minimum. There are still, of course, some people who will not, or cannot, appreciate the needs of the Army and who will complain, however justifiable may be the requisitioning. But I am glad to say that these people 1066 are not in the majority—they are very much in the minority. In the main we receive help rather than opposition, even when people are in danger of losing not only their homes but their livelihoods as well. There are now over 100,000 properties requisitioned by the Army. More than 70 per cent, of all claims received have been settled, and I have no doubt that as the number of new requisitions diminishes, as it is now, I am glad to say, showing signs of doing, the unsettled claims will rapidly be cleared off. Besides requisitioned properties there are many claims for damage of varying kinds. The House will remember that last November my predecessor set up a special Claims Commission to deal with these and other compensation cases, and the constitution of this Commission, which includes the Chairmen of Lloyds and the Accident Offices Association, will, I hope, ensure that the interest of the public is not overridden by the purely military requirements.
Let me say a word about messing. Everyone knows, and many criticise the fact, that the ration provided for the soldier is more ample and varied than can be obtained by the private citizen. The reasons for that are obvious. We cannot expect men to be fit for fighting unless they get plenty of food, and so far as concerns soldiers who may go into the field at any moment, no one would object, I think, to that general theory. It is not so easy to explain the disparity between the military and civil ration in the case of those many officers and men who are occupied in sedentary tasks and whose duties are not likely to take them into the field. As a result of recent discussions with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food, certain reductions have been made. This subject is, I think, of very great importance. It typifies our whole attitude as against that of our enemies. There is no question with us of the Army seeking to set itself up as a special class with special privileges not to be shared with the civilian population. We are all in this business together. I know that the Army understand the problem perfectly well, and I am certain they will accept this cut in their rations without a murmur. But it is more important now than ever to see that the best use is made of every bit of food and that none is wasted due to bad cooking or faulty catering. 1067 The provision of the ration for the troops is only the beginning of the problem of feeding them, and one of our greatest difficulties early in the war, and indeed since war broke out, was to provide expert caterers and cooks for the enormously increased numbers who were concerned. Some indication of the size of the problem with which we are dealing is shown by the fact that at the outbreak of war we had 4,000 trained cooks. The number is now just under 40,000, and in addition we have 4,500 A.T.S. cooks. There are three main schools of cookery in this country and over 100 cookery training centres. In addition there are five training centres for messing officers, and the monthly output of these officers is 460. I informed the House last week that the monthly output of trained cooks is of the order of 3,500. I can say that, taken as a whole, it appears to me that the Army catering is pretty good. In a rapidly expanded force, with new units continually being formed and with many of them, particularly the air defence units, in scattered and inaccessible spots, there are bound to be cases where the messing arrangements are not wholly satisfactory, but improvements are going on all the time, and the reports of my officers experienced in this matter, who constantly visit all kinds of units and centres, lead me to the conclusion that there is no serious ground for complaint.
I am well aware that there have been cases of waste of food which give cause for scandal in various localities, and with my advisers I am doing all I can to limit, if not to abolish, this waste, which is inexcusable. But as a test as to whether our plans are producing any results, it may interest hon. Members to know that just before the war broke out the product of swill per 100 men per month averaged 25 cwt. To-day the average output is 8 cwt. Waste is not confined to food. The enormous expansion of the Army has resulted in the Quartermaster-General being the largest store-holder in the country. No large organisation can expand itself to such a degree and so rapidly as has the Army in the last 18 months without some people saying that it is wasteful and inefficiently organised. The Army is determined to do its best to see that the country gets good value for its money. There is, of 1068 course, no suggestion that scales of equipment shall be reduced below the standard considered to be necessary to keep the Army in the highest state of efficiency, but there is now felt to be scope for special measures to reinforce the existing safeguards against waste. Methods which save money also save material; and saving in material means a lessening of the strain on our shipping resources.
It is for all these reasons that I have recently decided to appoint under the Quartermaster-General a Controller-General of Economy, whose special duty it will be to see that the utmost possible economy consistent with efficiency is secured and that its great importance in the national interest is fully appreciated throughout the Army and right down to the individual soldier. This officer, whose headquarters will be at the War Office, will have complete powers to enter into any Army establishment or unit and to investigate whatever seems to him to hold out promise of economy or to show evidence of waste. The officer chosen for this very responsible position has had a wide experience in civil life in dealing with problems of business administration and commercial methods of handling stores, and since the war began he has been in close touch with the production and materials position so far as they relate to Army requirements. I am hopeful that as a result of his activities there may be real saving in expenditure and in methods of control.
Another field in which the drive for economy is being actively followed up is that of economy of time. Throughout the War Office, from the Army Council downwards, we are reviewing our office machine to secure, I hope, much greater despatch in dealing with official business. But, important as are these internal reforms, some already introduced and others to follow very shortly, the most important means of saving time is clearly by decentralisation. In the Northern Command, an experiment is already in hand designed to increase materially the independence of the Command in administrative matters. In this way I hope very much to cut out countless existing delays caused by continued '' reference to higher authority." This experiment was advised by a committee known as the Standing Committee on Army Administration. As the House knows, this com- 1069 mittee includes civil servants and soldiers of wide experience, and also very distinguished business men. Very broadly speaking, it continuously overhauls the administrative system of the Army. It has to be careful not to interrupt business, but, subject to that, there are no bounds to the scope of its work. Nothing is overlooked, big or little, which may lead to greater efficiency and to economy in administration.
I referred earlier in my speech to the question of quality as contrasted with quantity in the important subject of equipment. Before closing, J should like to make some further reference to this point in connection with less-known operations which have been subsidiary and complementary to our successful advance in Libya. The House may know that the Italian garrisons at Kufra, taken the other day by Free French Forces, and other desert posts, provided, among other duties, a link for the interchange of Italian aircraft between Libya and Italian East Africa. The Oasis of Kufra also constituted a potential threat to the Nile Valley. Soon after Italy came into the war, General Wavell formed long-range desert patrols with a nucleus of Englishmen who in peace-time made their hobby the exploration of the Libyan Desert. Within six weeks patrols composed of picked officers and men, including New Zealanders and men of the Royal Armoured Corps, started their activities. Later on they were joined by Rhodesian volunteers and they worked in conjunction with units of the Free French forces. In conditions of indescribable hardship these patrols constantly scoured the desert, shooting up convoys, destroying petrol dumps, and generally harassing the Italian desert garrisons. The immediate result was a stoppage of normal supply convoys, an increase in the Italian garrisons and a wholesale disturbance of their arrangements.
Having achieved their first object the patrols extended their sphere, and the story has already been told of the many posts captured. We provided these daring officers and men engaged upon this arduous work with vehicles of the highest quality. The total distance covered was over 500,000 miles, and not a single vehicle was lost as a result of mechanical breakdown. The House must remember that, for obvious reasons, the patrols wore 1070 unable to use the recognised tracks and had to find their own way over sand-seas, uncharted desert, outcrops of rock and other difficulties previously considered by the most seasoned explorers to be totally impassable. The lesson to be learned from this is that our men, if they are given fighting tackle of the first quality, will go near to achieving the impossible.
I have detained the House perhaps too long in the survey of some points, but those points do affect this great Army of ours, and if I need an excuse it shall be that this is indeed a very great Army, constituting a large part of the flower of our manhood. The gallant performances of the Navy and of the Air Force are constantly in our ears and before our eyes. The Army's successes so far have been more remote, but the stuff is there, and I would not see the colour fade for lack of encouragement. No one can tell what ordeals the Army will have to face during the coming year, but whether it is engaged in destroying the enemy here on our own shores or elsewhere, I am certain, and the House is certain, that it will give a magnificent account of itself and mightily uphold the glorious traditions of our past.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
It is rarely that the House has the opportunity of listening to a maiden speech of the high quality of that which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has just delivered. There was no need for him to apologise for his splendid staying powers. During the past few years we have heard many very able speeches from Secretaries of State for War, but those who have heard those speeches year after year will agree, I am sure, that the speech to-day ranks with the best of them, and, if I may say so on behalf of the whole House— using a time-honoured phrase, but speaking very sincerely indeed— the House will welcome the opportunity of hearing him often. Among the subjects dealt with by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the House must have been impressed by his description of the work which the Army has been doing in this country, first in regard to citizens who have been attacked by a ruthless enemy, for instance in Coventry and London. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman well said that this is a citizen Army. I do not think any praise can be too high for them when we remember the exceptional conditions in which 1071 the soldiers have been massed in this country. I suppose that more soldiers are packed into this country to-day than ever before in its history. Rural areas which hardly ever saw a soldier see soldiers in the mass to-day. Considering the conditions prevailing, the least this House can do is to pay its tribute to the general conduct of the men, for it is a fact, which I have had abundant opportunities of testing, that in spite of crowded conditions, the difficulties of accommodation and the inevitability, almost, of the citizen getting on the toes of the soldier and vice versa, there has been hardly an incident anywhere of which one could complain.
I saw recently a remarkable instance of the fine temper and the gentlemanly behaviour of our troops. We now know that a short time ago the North had one of the most devastating snowstorms which it has suffered for half a century. I think the old people were a little "peeved" that when the younger ones asked them whether they had ever seen anything like it they had to go back to 1866—and some of them would, if they could, have gone back to 1066. But it is a fact that it was a snowstorm of unparalleled severity. Whole villages were shut off, telephones were out of service, there were no means of communication. Then the soldiers turned out by the thousands and, working side by side with the civilians, cleared the roads, doing this rough and ready work so zealously that the average citizen could hardly find words in which to pay an adequate tribute to them. There is also the fact that many of the soldiers were in tents until quite late in the winter of last year. It is really remarkable to find among them such an evenness of temper in the conditions prevailing.
I was glad to hear the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say that the War Office is giving attention to the new situation which has been created by the Determination of Needs Bill. I was wondering what the Army and the other Services were doing about it. I take it that the House will have an opportunity, if necessary, of discussing the War Office interpretation of its duty in regard to that Bill, and I hope the time may soon come when we shall see the Secretary of State for War or some other representative of the War Office and the Minister of Pensions sitting side by 1072 side on the Treasury Bench in order to give some explanation of the fact that men who, when they entered the Army were classified asA1, are afterwards discharged and both the War Office and the Ministry of Pensions repudiate responsibility as regards any pension. I warn the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that the matter is going to be raised.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman expressed the feelings of the House when he paid his tribute to the Army for the brilliant victories which have been achieved in the Near East. In this country we have been living and keeping tight lips under extraordinary conditions, almost unparalleled in the history of any nation. I had almost given up looking for help from any other part of the world. When the news of the victory came, it was a very powerful tonic to us, and I am sure that the House appreciated the tribute paid by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. Not only hon. Members in this House but every citizen in the country would like to have cheered when he said what he did. The same can be said about the Greek victories. We had ceased to expect help.from anyone. An ordinary chamber of representation would take steps, I suppose, to give a vote of thanks to these people, but we are solid and phlegmatic, and we do not do those things. We take things for granted. We should recollect that the Greeks have practically restored the ancient Greek spirit by the way in which they met the Fascist challenge, and we might well consider giving them a vote of thanks publicly, ' on behalf of this House and the whole country. The position in which we find ourselves compares so well with our position last June that the Defence Services and the workers of this country are worthy of, and entitled to, the gratitude of the House of Commons and of the country in general.
Years ago I read Gibbon's epic description of the bloody and brutal deeds of Attila and Genghis Khan, and I used to say to myself— I was working in the pit at that time—that the day for that kind of thing was over and that we had passed away from that sort of ancient brutality. Last June we were, undoubtedly, faced with something that made those old brutes and barbarians look like mere schoolchildren, because of the mass of material and of fighting and destructive power that 1073 was at the disposal of our enemy. I looked through the windows at dawn wondering when the landing would come, but the ordinary citizen in this country, with his courage and his imperturbability, certainly did not realise that we were defeated. The Germans, curiously enough, in a broadcast, used the old saying about which we have been boasting for so long, namely, that we were beaten and did not know it. The danger was very great indeed, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman might well say, as he did, that our lot was an unenviable one. We were almost defenceless, and we had very little, apart from the Navy and the Air Force, with which to defend ourselves. Perhaps I had more opportunity than the average citizen of seeing what was taking place, and it is remarkable to remember the courage that our people showed in the face of that situation.
Things are, of course, much different to-day, and I want to put certain questions to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. He spoke about the citizen Army. I would remind him that this is a totalitarian war. Is he sure that the War Office have accepted the full logic of totalitarian war? In a totalitarian war the citizens are in the war as much as are the soldiers. I remember how the Home Guard was formed. The War Office did not form it; it formed itself. People were knocking at the door long before the War Office called for volunteers. I remember a young man saying to me: "Mr. Lawson, there is a dozen of us. Can you get us arms? If you can, we will pay an officer and an N.C.O. to show us how to use those arms." That kind of thing was going on all over the country. The Home Guard has done magnificently in its development and training. One can scarcely believe that men could find so much time for training after their ordinary work. The development has been very great.
Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman sure that the Home Guard is as well armed as he would like? There has been a great increase in the number of rifles and other arms since last June, but is the Home Guard getting sufficient ammunition? I am just putting the question, and do not desire to stress it. Is the Home Guard getting plenty of material in order that its members may become completely familiar with their weapons?
1074 I put the question and leave it. Probably the Home Guard, instead of being auxiliary, will be almost the first line, if an attack is made. If there are to be crash landings and parachutists, the Home Guard will have to hold these men and arrest them, dealing with them until such time as the Regular Army can come to their aid; but the enemy will certainly use civilians as a shield, if allowed to get into position. The destruction of enemy forces landing in such conditions will be inevitable, when they are handled by the regular Army, yet it will be very bad if, on landing, the enemy is allowed time to pull himself together and get into touch, and to use civilians as a shield for his purpose. From that point of view the efficient arming of the Home Guard is of greater importance than now appears to be the case. In crowded centres, such as in the Northern Command, for instance, I have been very pleased at the standard of efficiency of training, at the spirit of the men and at their arming generally, but I should like to know whether that is the case in all the rural areas throughout this country.
There is another matter that I want to raise. Is the War Office taking all the steps that it might in order to mobilise the sympathy of what I might call some of the chief public men in every area? They are important. Northern Labour Members who are here will bear me out when I say that the Command in the North has been wide open, and they have invited Members of Parliament to see even the defences. They have talks not only with Members of Parliament but with public men, giving a rough indication about possible lines of movement. Without giving anything away, there are certain steps that can be taken to make the civilian leaders—the officers of the civilians—understand something of what they are likely to expect and what might be useful action to take under the circumstances, so that when an attempt at invasion comes the public man, whoever he may be, will be an understanding citizen, knowing something of the personnel of the Forces in that area, and ready to give advice to those around him. I hear questions and statements in this House at times which lead me to believe that Members of Parliament are not in quite such close contact as they might be with 1075 the leaders of the Armed Forces. I do not know that they can take all the steps themselves. Those responsible for Civil Defence can be helpful in the matter. I hope that that point is given some consideration.
Then there is the other aspect of the civilian side. It is a Civil Defence side, I know, but it is also a War Office side. When is the civilian to get instruction as to what he has to do in case of landings? I hope that that instruction is given very soon, because Hitler has made his position clear. He said, according to the writer of "Hitler Speaks":As far as civilians are concerned, I shall shrink from nothing. No so-called international law, no agreement would prevent me from making any use of any advantage that offers.Anyone knows that in the countries which he has attacked he has made no bones about it. I am hoping it is clearly understood in all the instructions that are given to civilians that they will be as much combatants as far as the enemy is concerned as the soldiers themselves, and, quite frankly, I hope that they will be given instructions to help the soldiers as much as possible if they are ever in such a situation as that.
There are many Members who want to speak, and, although one is tempted to take time on a day like this, I would say in conclusion that we in this country today are all in good heart. It has been moving beyond words to go among the people, to find that they have never flinched, that their spirit is admirable and that they are ready at any time to deal with any attack that is made upon this country. When I was going round the defences I was struck to hear men say what I should not have believed had I read it or heard it from some enthusiast or from some officer. As I went round the defences, time after time I found men — ordinary working-class men— as they almost stroked their guns, saying, "I wish he would come." I think the general temper of the British people as well as the British soldiers is one of '' Let him come,"and if he does not come very soon, of this I am certain, that we shall be in sufficient temper and sufficiently strong to attack him in his lair. The situation in the Near East may be real, it may be a diversion, but ultimately Hitler 1076 has got to attack this country, and if he does not do it very soon, the British people will be on his track, and he will go the way of all the rest of the mad conquerors.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
I should like to pay my tribute to the very great speech which we had from the Secretary of State, especially his description of the victorious campaign of General Wavell in Africa and his account of the training that is going on in this country. I felt, however, great as the speech was, that some of it, when he dealt with administration and the welfare of the Army, was more a speech of a great war Minister in peace-time than of a great war Minister in war-time, and that is not intended as a criticism of him. I believe it to be a criticism of the Army administration that he has to handle and that his predecessors have had to handle.
I must admit that 19 months ago I should never have dreamt of speaking in an Army Debate. I had no knowledge or experience of the Army, and now I realise that I have experience of the Army only in war-time. I have no experience of the Army in peace-time. I have had this experience: For some months I was an adjutant of a battalion in this country and in France. I served in the administration in the General Headquarters of the British Army in France. I served in the administration of the War Office here, and for the last six months I have been serving in the administration in a division. Those are my references.
After that experience of 18 months in the war, my conviction is that no civilian business could possibly be run on Army lines without going bankrupt in a very short time. The amount of paper, of time and of man-power that is wasted fill me with tremendous alarm. To-day we have an Army which, in training and fighting, is absolutely magnificent, but yet we are detracting from its value by making officers and men undergo Civil Service methods and red tape that binds them up throughout the whole of their Army career. I therefore very greatly welcome the small crumb of comfort which the Secretary of State held out regarding the Standing Committee for Administration which, he said, was practising decentralisation. This problem is one in which we have to adopt not 1077 the old methods of committee inquiry, but revolutionary methods if we are to solve the very real problem which exists in the Army.
I shall give the House three cases, which have to be anonymous, but which are true cases which at any time I could show to the Secretary of State as evidence of what I mean by this waste of time. A postal order was sent to a paymaster before Dunkirk. That was in June. The battalion later wrote to the paymaster, who said he had never received it, and it did not in fact arrive. The paymaster decided that authority must be sought to write it off. The battalion thereupon wrote to the brigade, the brigade had to write to the division, the division had to write to the command, and it was not until November that that postal order for£ 111s. had been written off at a cost far exceeding the sum involved. There was another case just after Dunkirk of a warrant officer who had not proved himself a sufficient leader of men for those very trying times, and in June his company commander was anxious for him to be tried in a less onerous position. The recommendation went up from the company commander to the battalion commander, from the battalion commander to the brigade commander.— none of them are allowed to take any action on this matter— from the brigade commander to the divisional commander, from the divisional commander to the corps commander, from the corps commander to the Army commander, and eventually to the War Office. During the whole of that time the warrant officer remained with his unit. Everybody knew that there had been these reports against him, and it was not until February of this year that a letter was received saying that the War Office had agreed to the course that had been suggested last June. That is not good for the Army. It is a system which is sapping its vitality, and I ask that something should be done urgently on this matter. I appreciate the experiment that is being made, but really it is time for quicker action than that.
For training in the Army, training grants are allowed. But if the divisional commander wants to get any printing done for the purposes of training, he is not allowed to spend any of the money without asking for authority, because the War Office says that that is stationery and not training. For that purpose, therefore, the 1078 divisional or brigade commander has to make application to the corps commander, who makes application to the Army commander, who makes application to the War Office. That rigmarole has to go through time and time again, and the papers pile up higher and higher in our offices while it does so. Could we not have that red tape cut? As a result of all this paper and of all these channels that have to be gone through, there is a tremendous number of staff officers. I am one—and I know that nobody would be happier than I if there was one less— but it is no good merely cutting out the staff officers; you have to cut out the work before you can do that. I notice that quite recently that a slight experimental cutting-down of staff officers has been made. I cannot give the numbers involved without helping the enemy, but I can say that this cut did involve 1 per cent, at command and 9 per cent, at corps. I thought that that was all to the good until, going through some papers about a week later, I found that 2 per cent, had been added to command.
We have to get these officers from staff jobs out to the men. The personnel in the Army, from the private to the general, is very fine, but I have noticed, and I think that those who are serving to-day will agree with me, that there is a shortage at the moment of what I call the "middle-piece officer"— the senior company commanders, who are vitally necessary in both the old Army and the new one. The middle-piece officer is at the moment too young and the reason for the lack of this most essential part of the modern Army will be found in the offices up and down the country. The staff officers, the more brilliant young Regular officers, go to the Staff College and are then put into the staff, and under the present system in war-time they remain there the whole time until they get a command. I venture to make this appeal to the Secretary of State. He has only recently assumed his high office, but I ask him, in view of the urgency of this matter, to decentralise at once and not merely to decentralise to command, but to decentralise right down to the divisional brigade. A divisional commander is trusted with the lives of 15,000 men, but is not trusted with a postal order for £ 1 us. I had one letter to deal with which took from November to February 1079 in connection with a sum of 9s. that had been paid to a camp reception station a year before. Everything involving any money has to go to the War Office, and the Financial Secretary to the War Office has no power to delegate to the divisional or brigade commander, both of whom have to be leaders of men and have to have a knowledge of accounts to get to their position. I used to trust far more financial responsibility in peace-time to my farm bailiff than can be entrusted to anybody less than a corps commander in the British Army.
The other trouble which I can see is this: We have at the moment largely what the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) well described as a citizen Army. It is something rather different from the old pre-war Regular Army. In the old Army in peace-time it was possible for officers to have a wide knowledge of military law, and they could afford to spend a lot of their time on dealing with cases before courts-martial. At the present time, I have worked out that in my division one-fifth of the A staff time, one-quarter of the brigade staff time, and a great deal of the time of the regimental officers in the division is taken up by courts-martial. The processes of these courts-martial do cause great anxiety to the average officer. Officers who take not the slightest heed of shells or bombs are absolutely terrified when faced with the Manual of Military Law and have to preside at a court-martial. I think it wrong at such a time as this to take up so much of the valuable training time for court-martial work. When the officer has gone through all the legal technicalities— and there are far more of them than in any legal work that I ever did in civil life when I was practising at the Bar, 15 years ago—it has all to be reviewed by people who know something about it, in the Judge-Advocate's Branch. I ask the Secretary of State to abolish that system of court-martial, and to introduce instead a system of stipendiaries, of legal officers, going round on circuit to do the work. It will not increase the number of officers, because you have them at present at headquarters reading through this voluminous mass of paper. These officers could travel around, as judges do now, having with them on the bench a regimental officer to put the regimental point of view.
1080 The records of every court-martial in a battalion go to the brigade; from the brigade they go to the division; from the division they go to the corps; from the corps they go to the command; from there they go to the Judge-Advocate's Branch, and then to the Judge-Advocate-General in London. Hon. Members who are either lawyers or business men would never tolerate such conditions, even in peacetime. We are a nation at war, fighting with our backs to the wall; yet we have tolerated this so long. At one time it was said that there was too much paper used, and too many returns. As a result, instead of sending returns in quintuplicate, we had to send them in in triplicate. That arrangement lasted for a very short time. Extra copies were called for; and soon, instead of sending them in in threes, we were again sending them in fives, and then in sixes. It is an awful waste of time.[An HON. MEMBER: "And paper."] Yes, and of paper. Every week we have to give a description of every vehicle in the division. That takes two officers on the staff two days a week. Every week each unit has to say exactly how many vehicles it has. How much easier it would be to say that there is no change; or, if there is any change, to say what the change is on another return. Every officer's full name has to be written out, even if there is no change. That used to happen every week; now it happens every month.
There are two other points. One is the question of pay and allowances. The Secretary of State made a very wise appeal, and said that he hoped officers would explain to the men all the regulations regarding pay and allowances to which they were entitled. I wish some really clever officer would also explain it to me, because I have been concerned with this matter for 18 months, and I find that not only I, but the War Office, are in great difficulties. I will give one example of something, which is against the officer's own interest, which ought to be put right. If you are stationed in this country, living with your wife in quarters, you are allowed higher allowances than if you have not the comfort of your wife in quarters, and when living in a barn, or somewhere like that, are allowed field allowance. I do not see why in such a case the benefit should be less, and why officers living apart from their wives should be penalised. Again, if you are in a unit where, let us say, a chair, or any- 1081 thing else, is provided, you cannot draw field allowance. Every time an officer goes away for four hours from his station on duty, he can claim 4s. Some do. Part of my time is wasted in studying these claims. We are at war; not at peace. Let us abolish that system of allowances. Let us pay an officer, or a man, a reasonable living salary, and not make this close study of regulations necessary in order that one may find out under what particular Article one can claim a little more.
Let me turn to the men's pay. In France I was so disturbed about the state of the men's finances that I took the opportunity of coming back to attend the House to see the War Office about it. Men there never knew the state of their finances for four or five months, and they got into debt. Cannot we simplify the system? Is there any business in this country which would have this Army system of paying its men? Business men say at the end of the week, "Here is what you have earned," and then, if the man likes to put it into the bank or into National Savings Certificates, well and good. Similarly in the Army, every man should draw the pay he has earned for the week on the one pay-day. That would abolish the system under which one finds men, frequently through the mistake of the regimental paymaster, getting as much as £ 30 into debt, when they think that they are in credit. The men are in good spirits; but this question has, since the beginning of the war, been a burning question.
The Secretary of State may say that he has appointed committees. I met an economy committee at my headquarters lately, and I talked to them very much as I am talking to the House to-day. One of the committee said to me, "I am in this difficulty. I have three on my committee: one is a colonel, I am a business man, and the other is a financial auditor." I do not think you will get much good out of that committee. It is rather like having on the Court of Criminal Appeal one Judge and two convicts, to decide whether a man should be sentenced to death. The financial auditor is the bugbear that we have always to fight in the Army. He is a staff officer who says that the Army is not to be trusted with money. That is the secret of the whole of the trouble of payment— the Army is not to 1082 be trusted to spend money. That may be all right in peace-time, though I doubt it, but it certainly is not true in war. You can trust the divisional commander with £ 1 11s., and indeed to administer large sums of money, just as you trust him to administer the lives of men, and I ask that that shall be done. It is also, I think true that all the Army formations like to have their little bit of commanding and administering. You let the platoon commander arrange his own dispositions, but you do not let him administer the same or have any responsibility. It has all to be vetted by this long chain of commands.
When I talk of that long chain, there is one problem about which I hope the War Office will exercise itself. I do not like mentioning figures concerning strength, but there are staff officers at corps headquarters in large numbers. They have just touched three figures, and at the same time you have perhaps nearly 50 per cent, of that number in what are called area commands. They are both administering the same bit of country, and I never quite see why we should have staff officers administering corps and staff officers administering areas and doing the same work. In our office, if there is a knotty problem, we always try it on in this way. We telephone to the corps, and ask the answer to the knotty problem, and they say that they are sorry, but it is for the area to give an answer. We again take up the telephone and ask the area, whether they can tell us, and they say that it is the corps and not the area that should deal with the matter, and so it goes on.
Is not the line of demarcation between the area and the corps the static troops in the area, and field troops in the corps?
§ Mr. Turton
That is true in operational work. The corps have the role of operational field force, and the area, the role of static troops, but in administration there are other immediate problems that lie half-way between each. They double themselves all the time.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for War (Sir Edward Griǵ ǵ)
Will my hon. Friend let me know of what command he is speaking?
§ Mr. Turton
I am speaking of the Southern Command. I did not know whether I should be allowed to give an indication of my location to that extent. I do say that corps and area should be separated. I do not think that in this country you need any staff officers at the corps except a few staff officers for training. The whole of the rest I consider to be a tremendous waste of man-power. This great increase in staff officers has meant a tremendous delay, not only for the Army, but for the civilians. The Secretary of State mentioned how he had appointed a Claims Commission, and I would like to give an example of the work on the question of claims and compensation in order to show what is happening. In July last the only lorry owned by a firm came into collision with some of our defences and suffered very badly. We were not allowed to settle the claim. We held a court of inquiry immediately, which said, naturally, that the lorry had been damaged through military necessities and that it could not be helped. The court of inquiry forwarded it to corps. Corps referred the matter to the corps compensation court, and that was duly held and came to the same conclusion. The motor driver expected his money. He has been writing to my office every month since then, through the usual channels, and I have been sending on his letters through the usual channels. But he has not had his lorry back, and he has not had his money.
I am afraid that my remarks have been rather disjointed, but I hope that I have said sufficient to convince the War Office that something must be done very soon. I have been reading a little book by André Maurois, and I should like to remind the House what he says:No one had ever thought of worrying about the defence of Douai, or Vervins or Abbeville or Amiens. The colonels and the generals in command of these places, close as they were to the front, were amiable old men who had long since been retired from service and had been recalled at the outbreak of war and had been trusted with posts which the Army considered administrative sinecures. Never had these honest bureaucrats, submerged as they were under waves of papers, considered what they would do if enemy tanks or motor cyclists armed with machine guns should present themselves at the gates of their citadel.It is different here, for we are now prepared, but we have still this same waste 1084 of paper. I do not like to say that we have still these old men. But I regard myself as an old man, and I certainly regard most of the work I do on the administrative side as a terrible waste of time. I feel that I am hindering the war effort. Do not think that the staff officers are gilded. That is what I thought at first, and I know that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) felt that way until he got on the staff. We work 16 hours a day turning out paper, hindering the war effort, all because we are ordered to and are in the Army. Cannot we have this red tape cut away, so that the Army can be free to do what it is meant to do, and not to be half-clerk, and quarter-lawyer, but free to do what it is really meant to do, and that is to fight the Germans back from this country and to send them back into the sea, which they so much dislike and fear.
§ Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)
The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) for the very valuable speech he has made, and T imagine that there is not one of us who served in the last war but would say that precisely the same sort of thing was complained of and brought to the attention of the authorities in the last war, and little or nothing had been done. From what little experience I have had recently, I am not at all sure that some of the administrative obstruction has not been increased rather than decreased. Some of us have almost given up the job of trying to get any improvement, but I suppose,Hope springs eternal in the human breast,and I hope, as I am sure we all must, that what has been said by the hon. Gentleman will receive some attention from the powers that be. I would join with my hon. Friend who spoke from the Front Bench in congratulating the Secretary of State for War upon his speech. It was interesting and live and, if I may say so without offence, it surprised some of us in that it showed a remarkably progressive, enlightened and receptive attitude of mind on the part of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. I was also glad to observe that he had not lost his power of command. He appears still to command the particular situation with which he is charged. In times gone by he used his capacity— again, if I may say so without 1085 offence— in a perhaps less worthy task, and one is glad to know that the Army is now under the charge of a man who, at any rate, knows his own mind, as I believe the Minister does, and one who is determined as far as in him lies to have his own way.
Much has been done, but I am sure that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will be the first to recognise that there is still a great deal to do in the better administration of the Army. Before I deal with the question of our men who are prisoners of war— a subject which has not been ventilated to any great extent in this House except by question and answer—I wish to deal with two points, to which I would like to draw the attention of the War Office. Firstly, I want to call attention to the methods of medical examination of entrants into the Army. It would be interesting if we could have the figures showing how many of those recruited in the Army are invalided out in, say, one year. I imagine that the total must be very surprising, because we all know any number of cases of men who have enlisted in the Army, having been passed as fit, and have then been invalided out in a short time. I am told that one medical officer stated that he had 25 men in one of his batteries who should not for one moment have been accepted. He spoke of a man with a paralysed arm who was medically examined and passed for service. I myself know of a man who was accepted who had had pleurisy four times, and had a collapsed lung. It is not only a matter of the mere acceptance of unfit men, which is an obvious handicap, but a question of the claims for pensions, which arise later, causing difficulty and delay in all directions. It is often said, "Fit for service, fit for pension." It seems that medical officers can find physical disabilities but are hopeless in diagnosing cases which would easily break down under strain or which suffer from deep-seated complaints.
I want to make a practical suggestion in connection with this matter. It is that each man called up for his medical examination should have to bring with him his medical record. Most of them are insured under the National Health Insurance scheme, and the first thing the Ministry of Pensions does when a claim for pension is made is to obtain the man's; medical record from his approved society 1086 or elsewhere. It seems to me that this is a matter which can easily be arranged, and that it would save a great deal of trouble, expense and hardship if my suggestion could be adopted. I therefore cordially recommend it to the War Office.
The other point I want to make is that many men are invalided from the Army before the Minister of Pensions has given a decision as to their entitlement to pension. When that happens there is a gap between the cesser of pay and the receipt of pension or sickness benefit under National Health Insurance. The soldier obviously suffers by not receiving any sickness benefit, and I think it could be quite easily arranged that the Army could continue a man's pay and allowance until the Ministry of Pensions had given a decision as to his pension. If the Ministry granted a pension, they would take the pensioner over from some date, and from then the War Office would cease paying allowances. If a pension was not granted, the man would be entitled to ask and receive sickness benefit by way of National Health Insurance. There would be no gap or hardship, and it could be done by the Secretary of State for War simply giving an instruction to regimental paymasters to continue payment until a decision was known as to whether a man would or would not be entitled to pension.
Now I come to the question of prisoners of war, of which I speak from painful experience and I must say that I was rather sorry that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman did not think the matter of sufficient importance even to refer to it in passing. I recognise that he had a very wide field to cover and that no doubt there were many questions he would have liked to discuss. But this question has been rather in the public eye. Over 40,000 of our men are prisoners of war in Germany, and I hope some arrangement can be made whereby the Financial Secretary can deal with the matter in his reply. It is an important question and may have an effect on the morale of our people and those who are in the Army. I happen to be the Chairman of the Services Committee of the Parliamentary Labour party, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has been good enough to give to the Committee and to me certain facilities for obtaining information on this question of prisoners of war. We 1087 are greatly obliged to him and to the Directorate of Prisoners of War and others, including the Red Cross, for helping us forward with our inquiries. I do not think the facts regarding our prisoners of war are very much in dispute, but they do disclose, at any rate in part, a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. I daresay that the House knows that the treatment of prisoners of war is governed by the Geneva Convention of 1929 and that there are channels for securing its implementation. One of these is through the protecting Power which, in the case of our relations with Germany, is the United States of America. Another channel is the International Red Cross Association, and from such information as I have been able to obtain— most of it having come through these channels—one has the impression that, generally speaking, our prisoners of war are now reasonably well treated. The accommodation is moderate but improving, and the general amenities, though not very numerous, are by no means bad. There are, however, serious complaints in certain directions.
The food in the prisoners-of-war camps, whether for officers or for men, is quite inadequate from the British point of view and not of the standard to which we are accustomed in this country. This fact lends greater importance than might otherwise be the case to parcels, because it was my experience—as, no doubt, it was that of others who were prisoners in the last war—that when parcels were available, one relied on them, and did not take advantage of the food, such as it was, provided by the Germans. The matter of parcels is, therefore, one of extreme importance. It is also clear that clothing, boots and shoes, which again are the responsibility of the Germans, have not been sufficient, and this, also, gives importance to the consignment of those articles from this country. Let it not be forgotten that food, clothing and footwear are the responsibility of the detaining Power. I venture to assert that they have not carried out their obligations in those respects under the Geneva Convention, with the result that for some time past, and certainly up to the receipt of parcels, our men who are prisoners of war in Germany have suffered very considerable hardship.
1088 I noticed that Field-Marshal Sir Philip Chetwode, in a broadcast speech a little time ago, said that the Germans are playing the game to our prisoners of war. With every respect to Sir Philip Chetwode, I submit that he was wrong, and ought never to have made such a statement, which was not in accord with the facts. The right hon. Gentleman the former Secretary of State for War said last November that the Germans were not keeping to their obligations under the Geneva Convention. Therefore, it was wrong for the head of the Red Cross to make a statement of that sort, which I have no doubt was broadcast all over the world, and gave comfort to our enemies. It may have given some little comfort to the relatives of our prisoners of war, but when it is disclosed later that it is not strictly in accord with the facts, it is likely to cause more disappointment than satisfaction. It may be that the food is sufficient in calories, and so forth, but from such information as I have been able to obtain, it seems clear that the Germans are not supplying the appropriate quantities or kinds of food. Under the Convention, it is their duty, as it is ours, to provide prisoners of war with nearly the same food as is supplied to the detaining Power's own depot troops. I venture to assert that the Germans are not doing that in respect of our prisoners of war. To satisfy myself, I made inquiries, and I am sure that, as far as we are the detaining Power, both in this country and in Canada, where a good many German prisoners have gone, we are complying with the Convention and giving to the German prisoners of war the rations which our depot troops have and which, needless to say, are much better and more considerable in quantity than those supplied to our men in German.
With regard to clothing, there is no excuse for the Germans not supplying sufficient. I am informed that at Dunkirk, and in the fighting prior to Dunkirk, they captured sufficient clothing to clothe twice over all the prisoners of war they captured. That raises the difficult question of what our Government can do in these circumstances. Clearly they can make representations through the protecting Power, and they can press the Red Cross to assist wherever they can by way of inquiry and by ensuring an early and prompt despatch of goods. I am assured, 1089 although I have not had an opportunity of checking it, that representations have been made to Germany through the protecting Power, although I do not know the nature and the extent of those representations. One is bound to say in fairness that the protecting Power has its own difficulties in present circumstances and is not perhaps in a strong position to make very powerful representations to the German Government. I gather that our authorities think the Americans have done their best in this connection and we are grateful to them. Now I come to the question of parcels. I wish to make it clear that responsibility in respect of parcels for prisoners of war —
§ Lord Apsley (Bristol, Central)
On a point of Order. Is not the hon. and gallant Member going beyond the scope of this Vote? Surely he is touching on the Foreign Office and Post Office Votes in referring to this matter?
§ Major Milner
The responsibility is that of the Government. So far I have not mentioned the Post Office, but I propose to do so in a moment. There has been a good deal of discussion in the Press on this matter, and to some extent I feel that the Red Cross organisation has been unduly blamed for what is really a War Office responsibility. The War Office gave the Red Cross a monopoly in dealing with the provision of parcels, and probably that was the right thing to do. But the War Office does not seem to me to have kept a hand on the situation. In the first place there was no Directorate of Prisoners of War set up until 1st June last year— nine months passed before any steps were taken. It is typical of the slackness of the Government which then held power. The Directorate has been much overburdened. No sooner was it appointed than the question of aliens came along, and since that time there has been questions arising in regard to our own prisoners. Then the enormous number of Italian prisoners has also involved the Directorate in a good deal of work. I am not quite satisfied, however, that everything possible was done. They had the responsibility to keep both the Red Cross and if necessary the Post Office up to concert pitch. I am not satisfied that the
1090 War Office did discharge its responsibility in this matter.
What is the position regarding parcels for our soldiers who are prisoners of war? The figures are not altogether clear, but it would appear that from 27th July to 28th December something like 610,000 parcels were packed by the Red Cross organisation and collected by the Post Office and only 120,000 of them were delivered at Geneva. Not quite all of those had got to the camps by the end of December, but, no doubt, shortly afterwards they arrived. That, surely, shows that only one parcel in six got to the camps in six months; that is to say, an average of less than three parcels per prisoner of war, for the great majority of our men were captured in June, and up to the end of December they had an average of less than three parcels each. That is simply not good enough. They were entitled, of course, under the proposals of the Government and the Red Cross, to one parcel per week. It is true that certain quantities were supplied in bulk by purchase in Switzerland, but that did not make a substantial difference to the net result. Very naturally one inquires what is the reason for the shortage and the consequent hardship which must have been caused to our men. There are several reasons. The principal one is the undoubted difficulty of communication.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It is obvious that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is getting on to something which is outside the War Office and definitely inside the business of the Post Office and the Transport Department.. He is justified, no doubt, in asking the War Office to explain or to reply to any criticism he may make with regard to their part in the delay, but he must not go into details of Post Office arrangements.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That is so, but, having talked on that for some time, I thought the hon. and gallant Gentleman was now getting on to details of methods of transport.
§ Major Milner
I was only pointing out in passing that, whether it is the War Office, the Red Cross or the Post Office,
1091 there were, of course, considerable difficulties in the transport of parcels. The ports from the North Cape to the Spanish frontier are all in the hands of the enemy, and communications via Lisbon, Marseilles and Switzerland are necessarily slow and difficult. I will not pursue it in any greater detail. The second reason for the fact that only one parcel in six in six months was delivered is the sudden burden of 40,000 prisoners of war thrown on to the Red Cross at short notice. They did their best, but in my submission they were rather amateurish in their methods, they had no adequate system, and they got information from the War Office only very tardily indeed. They had to improvise, but I do not think there is any doubt that they did not in fact send off enough parcels, and they established no reserves in Geneva. Then both the War Office and the Red Cross seem to have depended too much on the Post Office. In my submission, the Post Office very largely let them down.
That brings me to the third reason. The War Office had agreed that the Post Office should see to the conveyance of the parcels from this country to Geneva. It was the Post Office responsibility to collect them and get them there. After the French capitulation almost six weeks passed before the mails got going again, and even at the present date communications are disorganised and letters and parcels take some weeks in transit. Throughout I have formed the impression.that the Post Office did not "put their backs into this matter." They never had representatives, or at least capable representatives to check things up and push the mails on all along the line and eventually, with the acquiescence, apparently, of the War Office, gave up the job altogether. Then the Red Cross had to take over the transport of parcels to Geneva themselves. They had to charter neutral boats to proceed to the Meditterranean, a duty which, of course, was primarily that of the Post Office. I regard the Post Office as very greatly to blame for the difficulty which has arisen in the delivery of parcels to our men.
I apologise for keeping the House, but there are two other things on which I should like to say a few words. First, I want to emphasise that the responsi- 1092 bility for prisoners of war is primarily that of the War Office. There are a number of things they ought to do. They ought to represent the deficiencies which exist in the treatment of our men in Germany to the German authorities, through the protecting Power, for all they are worth. They ought to ask the protecting Power and the International Red Cross to appoint more visitors and inspectors to the camps. A month or two ago there were only five inspectors. There ought to be better co-ordinating machinery. To-day when fresh arrangements have to be made about parcels to prisoners of war quite a number of Ministries have to be consulted—the Ministry of Economic Warfare, the Minis try of Shipping, the War Office and the Post Office and others. The obvious thing to do would be to set up a small co-ordinating committee. Finally, I say that the War Office ought to see that both the Red Cross and the Post Office do their job, and that includes looking ahead. The public of this country will not —
§ Sir P. Hannon
I only wanted to say that in this Debate some 15 hon. Members wish to speak and that the hon. and gallant Member has absorbed a great deal of time in making his long speech.
§ Major Milner
I said a moment ago that having regard to the number of hon. Members who wished to take part in the Debate, I did not propose to speak at any great length, but this is a matter which has not been ventilated hitherto, and this is one of the few opportunities of doing so, and I understood that it was the desire in certain quarters of the House that it should be ventilated. I have set out the position as it was up to 31st December, 1940. The figures since that time are not available, or are not known in detail. In fairness to the War Office and to the Red Cross, and as some reassurance to parents and relatives, I ought to say that it does appear that conditions are gradually getting better. It would appear that the Red Cross are sending the correct number of parcels each week and that, under the manage-
1093 ment of Mr. Stanley Adams, who has recently been appointed, the Fed Cross is now building up a sound organisation. If the War Office will take the steps I have suggested—as is their responsibility —and if the Post Office will also assume and carry out their responsibilities. I have every confidence that a very different state of affairs will be created. Instead of our prisoners of war in Germany suffering, as they have suffered, from hardships, they will be provided with some of the amenities of life, in addition to the necessities which it is the function of the Red Cross to provide.
§ Colonel Colville (Midlothian and Peebles)
I would like to join in the congratulations that have been offered to my right hon. and gallant Friend upon the presentation of the Estimates. For some time his have generally been midnight utterances, intended to smooth troubled waters. I am sure everyone will agree that his utterance to-day was a felicitous presentation of the Estimates, and one which held the interest of the House from start to finish. I might almost claim a little indulgence on my own behalf as I have not spoken here for some months, owing to my Service duties. For more than nine years before that, I was not allowed to speak without some fatherly Department putting a brief into my hands and making sure that I did not stray from it, but to-day I speak "on my own."
I should like to follow what was said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), in the point he made about prisoners of war and their comfort. I would press upon my right hon. and gallant Friend that the War Office should give every possible assistance in this matter to the Red Cross. The War Office should not only encourage the Red Cross but help them with extra personnel. In certain quarters it is rather fashionable to decry the Civil Service. I have had experience of the Civil Service for a number of years and I know what a muddle we should be in without it. The War Office can help the Red Cross with personnel, which could be attached to the Red Cross for this duty if necessary. I represent a very different part of the country from the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but it exists in my constituency also, this anxiety about our prisoners of war.
1094 There is doubt whether the Red Cross, with the best will in the world, is equal to the great task which has been put upon it, without extra assistance in the way I have suggested.
The Secretary of State gave a review of the events of the past year. Undoubtedly, one of the two which stand out, from the Army point of view, is the successful withdrawal from Dunkirk. That operation was, unfortunately, necessary, but was carried out successfully, owing to the wonderful discipline and control of our troops. It should never be forgotten that, while the work of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force was wonderful in the assistance it gave to our Forces, the discipline and control of the troops contributed largely to the success of the operation. Against a withdrawal one is happy to be able to contrast an advance, and the second great event is, of course, the brilliant offensive action in the Middle East. It resulted in the capture of valuable objectives and a huge quantity of prisoners and ammunition. It put heart into our well-wishers in all parts of the world, and notably in the United States. Therefore, I regard that operation not only as enormously important in itself and in what it achieved on the ground, but also in its wide result on morale as a whole, as showing that our Army could advance magnificently if given the word
The Secretary of State referred to other great tasks which the War Office and the Supply Departments working with them had to face last year. He referred to the immense task of reorganisation and equipment. First of all, there was the re-equipment and the reorganisation of the British Expeditionary Force. That, in itself, was an enormous piece of work. In addition to re-equipment of the British Expeditionary Force on its return, there was the equipment required all the time for the new intake into the Army which was coming through the training centres. On top of that, was the creation of a vast new army, the Home Guard, which had to be armed and equipped from scratch. If one adds the fact that the enemy was doing his best all the time to destroy our centres of production by bombing, I think we may claim that the achievement of equipment, so far as it has gone, is truly remarkable and reflects great credit on all, and not least on the workers in the factories concerned.
1095 I do not say that there are not certain articles of munitions and equipment that we still want. I will use other methods of pressing these upon my right hon. Friend, for reasons which he properly outlined in his speech, but I think that he is well entitled to say that the situation to-day can give us confidence but not complacency, and that if we were able to tackle the task last year, we should be able to carry on in the future. My right hon. and gallant Friend said that he was giving first priority to the consideration of equipment and armament for the Home Guard; that he would expect the House to agree with him that there were certain areas in the country which were, operationally, more important than others, and that therefore priority in the issue of munitions and certain types of equipment would be given to those areas. I think that we would all agree with him there, but I would stress one point, that with the possible coming of air-borne troops it is no longer right to regard a strip up the East Coast of England as the only part which is vulnerable. Cities, if they have landing grounds near them, may well be regarded as coming into the category of priority for equipment and munitions for local defence. These considerations, I know, are well in the mind of my right hon. and gallant Friend, but I think it well to touch on them again. As I say, I shall take other opportunities of going into details about them.
I would like to say a word on the training which is given by the Regular Army to the Home Guard. My task for the past month has been concerned with responsibility for training in a certain area in the country, and in that area the Home Guard is affiliated to five Scottish regiments. Those regiments are so famous that I will not mention their names. In most cases the regiments are represented by battalions or other formations in the area, and I want to pay a tribute to the work carried out by the commanding officers of these regiments in looking after their "foster children" in the Home Guard who carry the same badges and are determined to uphold the same positions as the Regular regiments. They have given great assistance in training and in the provision of courses of instruction for platoon commanders and section commanders in the Home Guard. I 1096 think I can give one figure with safety. In the area for which I am responsible, over 1,000 platoon or section commanders have been put through these courses with the Regular Army and, of course, they go back with much more confidence to their Home Guard commands to look after their training. In addition to that, of course, there is the training of the regular instructors who are engaged whole-time in the work of training the Home Guard. In addition to these regiments which are affiliated to the Home Guard in the counties, there are other military formations temporarily stationed in the area, and here again I would like to pay a tribute to the commanding officers of each formation who vie with each other in finding instructors to help the Home Guard, of arranging exercises, which are very important indeed, between Regular troops and Home Guard units. I raise that point in order to ask for an assurance from the hon. Gentleman who is to wind up the Debate, that the policy of assistance by the Regular Army to the Home Guard will be continued. I appreciate that the first charge on all instructors in regular units must be the instruction of their own men. That goes without saying, but as far as it is possible for them to give help, I hope it will be the policy of the Department to ensure the continuation of that system.
In my experience, which covers association with a large number of men in one area, there need be no fear of any falling off in the enthusiasm of the Home Guard, on account of being drawn closer to the Regular Army. People use the term "militarisation," and sometimes suggest that the drawing together of the Regular Army and the Home Guard in the way I have suggested, will cause a falling-off in the latter. The contrary has been my experience. The association has been welcomed and the assistance given has invariably been valuable and has resulted in great benefit to the Home Guard. I have seen the Home Guard in Scotland generally, grow from a mass of unarmed though enthusiastic men, to a great army, not yet I agree fully trained and equipped, but even now capable of offering formidable resistance in depth all over the country if they were called upon, and with the very great asset of close knowledge of their own piece of country, whether it is a highland glen or the outskirts of a great city. That is an asset 1097 which no one can take away from the Home Guard; it is an asset which we must cultivate to its very fullest. The Germans swamped several countries on the Continent, notably Holland, by the attack in depth— attacking all over the country at once, attacking vulnerable points with air-borne troops. We can answer that by the defence in depth, and the true defence in depth can, I think, be the Home Guard in all parts of the country offering a stubborn degree of resistance, reinforced by regular units and the field formations which will smash up the enemy if he comes here. I am glad the right hon. and gallant Gentleman paid a tribute to the Home Guard, and I again ask for an assurance of the continuance of the policy of assistance from the regular troops.
One word now on a different subject. I understand that we are passing to the Army agricultural scheme and as I shall not be able to speak again I would like to say a word on that subject now. I hope that in furthering the agricultural scheme every effort will be made to let the farmer himself cultivate the ground as far as possible, rather than attempt to do it by direct methods under regimental arrangements. In many cases, of course, these direct methods may be necessary, where small strips of ground around huts are put under potatoes and vegetables. I am thinking however of instances in which a large amount of ground, perhaps 100 acres, is taken for the formation of a camp and in which the huts, for the purpose of protection from the air, are sited around the hedgerows, leaving a big piece of ground available for cultivation, in cases of that sort, and there must be many, it is much better to let the farmer — who, after all, is the expert—cultivate that ground himself with all the help we can give him rather than attempt to do it ourselves under Army arrangements. I hope in considering this scheme my right hon. Friend will give some thought to that, aspect of the matter.
There are many other hon. Members who wish to say a word on the Estimates and I will conclude on this note. We stand now in the early days of 1941, and before the Army Estimates are again presented it may well be—I think it will be—that the British Army and indeed all the Imperial Forces of His Majesty may have had an opportunity of writing the greatest 1098 page in their history. There can be no doubt about the confidence and determination with which these Forces face the future.
§ Major Vyvyan Adams (Leeds, West)
I hope that the Government will heed very closely what was said by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). He said a great deal that I should have liked to say myself. To save myself time and the House tedium, I will not repeat it; but when I think of the manner in which these waves of paper stand between us and the open air, all I can say is that we have another name for them than "waves of paper." I have probably made more speeches in this House than the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, but I am sure the House will agree with me that there was no need for him to feel apprehension to-day. If I may say so, he should have held an office of this kind long ago. The truth of that statement has been proved by the stirring and informed speech which he made in introducing these Estimates. As a very obscure member of the Pioneer Corps, let me thank him for the generous, but not too generous, things he said about that Corps.
Perhaps I may risk his displeasure in congratulating him upon having exchanged the Whips' Office for the War Office. The qualities which made him the world's worst Whip should make him a superb Secretary of State for War. Nine years' experience in that office across the Members' Lobby should enable him to knock together the heads of any recalcitrant generals who exhibit the least indiscipline or independence. If he will consult me, I will readily give him a short list of the most deserving. I am sure that he has learned from his brief experience; it the War Office that rigid discipline in all ranks of the Army is as vital as it is contradictory—an enervating, emasculating— and, indeed, a disastrous contradiction—in a free Parliament. Rigid military discipline to-day has to be practised in order to secure the civic freedom of each one of us. The recent successes of our armies have coincided with the reintroduction of a proper measure of discipline into the Army, which I would define as mutual respect subsisting between the ranks, and resulting in instant and unquestioning response to orders given by those in 1099 whom their subordinates have confidence.
It is not for Cabinet Ministers or generals that I would briefly claim the attention of the House to-day. I want to raise the lot of the private soldier and his wife, the private soldier, upon whom, as the Secretary of State said in his opening speech, the weight of any land offensive that we may undertake against our foul and terrible enemy will fall, with greater or less shedding of his blood.
Let the House appreciate one or two points suggested by the Secretary of State, We have now a conscript citizen Army. Only a minority of our Army are volunteers. With every new intake there are massed together heterogeneously men of all types, until some are, as it were, riddled out into the Officer Cadet Training Units or promoted to the Sergeants' Mess. This new system, for better or for worse, is established in the modern Army. It may involve the masking of talent and delay in its recognition; but, no doubt, as I have heard contended by very senior officers, the compensating advantages are considerable. Because this is, in the truest sense, a people's war, we can rely wholly upon the eventual steadfastness of the human material when it comes to be tested by discomfort and danger.
The Government cannot work magic. It could not, even if it were necessary, manufacture different human material. Happily there is no need to. What the Government can do is to promote the efficiency, fitness and welfare of that material. All will agree that a man will fight and work best if his mind is at rest; if, as far as is humanly possible, he is relieved by the War Office, and more generally by the Government, of anxieties about those who are dependent upon him. I am bound to say, with the experience that I have crowded into the last few months, that one of the worst distractions is the anxiety with which a man is often beset about what will befall his wife and family if anything should happen to him. It damages that very mental content of which the Secretary of State spoke so eloquently to-day, and it is one of the most frequent causes of those absences without leave, about which commanding officers have to take the very gravest view. If they did not take stern disciplinary action, their units would disintegrate.
1100 No doubt the soldier's pay is much better now than it once was, but nobody is able to say that it is a generous rate of pay. A married soldier makes an allotment to his wife of 7s. a week, and to that the Government adds 18s. She is expected to live upon 25s. In order to avoid complication I omit any question of the children. The civilian worker on munitions, or perhaps upon shipbuilding, collects to-day between five and ten guineas a week. The fact is—and it has not been sufficiently stressed in this House.—that these rates have been brought about purely because the trade unionists are able to exact those terms. The difference is not made up by the clothing, housing and feeding which are freely given to the soldier. They are all good, and they are all of a high standard, but nobody can say that the whole of the difference is made up by them. Rarely is it possible for the private soldier to save anything. Nobody on the Front Bench could deny that because I know it from close quarters. On the other hand, trade unionists are to-day earning more than they are able to spend. Young boys engaged in industry below military age are drawing is. or 1s. 6d. an hour and then working overtime at the end of the day. You really cannot be surprised if there is some heartburning when Pioneers or Royal Engineers, many of whom are still volunteers, are set to do a piece of work in company with civilians who are earning four or five times as much as the soldiers.
Nor can it be argued that the country cannot afford to pay the soldier more. Vast enterprises which will not permanently enrich the State are now being undertaken to sustain our war effort. They are necessary, in order to get through this present crisis and emergency. They are expensive largely because of the rates of pay successfully demanded by the trades unionists. The State has to pay the bill. My contention is that the civilian, who cannot spend as much as he earns because of the limitation of supplies, the Purchase Tax and so on, should take a lower rate of pay, and the soldier should receive more, just as now the civilian and military rations are at last being properly equated. This disparity between the civilian and military worker seems to me to be a particularly bad instance of politics gone awry. I cannot' see why private soldiers from the 1101 Mother Country should receive less than the wonderful and magnificent troops from the Dominion of Australia. They incur the same risks and they are inflicting the same defeats upon the enemy. The soldier is entitled, so far as the Government can make it so, to a carefree mind. The warrior who is most regardless of danger is the happy warrior.
May I draw the attention of the Secretary of State for War to the amount of compensation paid to a widow of a soldier who is killed? First, let me remind him, by way of comparison, of the pension paid to widows of officers. The wife of a subaltern receives on his death through enemy action £.90 a year. A captain's widow receives £100 and a major's widow £ 140, and so on by steep jumps, until the widow of a general gets £450 and the widow of a field-marshal £600. Some of us, of relatively humble rank, will indeed have to make haste up the ladder of promotion. [Hon. Members: "You are not doing so badly."] Compare these figures— which I admit are not fully analogous but which I quote by way of rough comparison— with the plight of the widow of a private soldier. If she is 40 years of age or over or has children she receives the princely sum of 22s. 6d. a week, with a further pension in respect of each child. If, on the other hand, she is under 40— and this is the point I was making at Question Time to-day— and has no children she will have a pension of 15s. 6d. a week. It is absurd for the Minister of Pensions to ride away by speaking of the national effort and the need for every scrap of woman-power being available in war-time. That cannot be applied to a special instance like that of the woman who may have made this tremendous sacrifice. She may have given the best years of her life to her man, and may lose him when she is 38 or 39 years of age. She has not in the nature of the case the same chances, or indeed the same inclination, to re-marry as has a much younger woman. Therefore, how can you expect her husband, receiving not over-generous pay as he does in the Army, with his wife getting the small allowances I have mentioned, and with the prospect of this terribly small pension, to go blithely into battle, treating danger with contempt and setting very little value on his own life— 1102 the spirit by which we win battles and dismay and defeat the enemy?
It would not do for the War Office to say that these matters are exclusively the concern of the Ministry of Pensions. These two Departments overlap. Pensions, as is recognised in the Estimates, directly affect our military effort. It is often said by officers who enjoin me how to control and exercise care for the welfare of my men that you can do anything with the British soldier provided you keep him warm, dry and well fed. I, in turn, impress these facts upon the subalterns under me. But you must do more for the man who, to quote a phrase used by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, is wrenched from his home to fight for its security and the freedom of his country. You must, I submit, do more than that. You must give him a consciousness that he is being as well treated as the civilian whose work is as necessary as his own training. And he must be aware, too, that whatever happens to him, if he has to lose everything— and he cannot lose more than his life— his wife and children after him will face a future that is not wholly devoid of security and is not entirely barren of comfort.This is the happy warrior, this is he That every man in arms should wish to be.
§ The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Richard Law)
I am extremely sorry to give the appearance of curtailing the Debate, but the House will realise that we have to get this Vote, and that the Amendment has yet to be taken; and I think hon. Members will also feel that the War Office has been the target of criticism, which is usually its lot, and has a right to reply to the Debate. Nobody can object to criticism, especially in a Debate of this kind. If there had not been criticism of the War Office
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. If this is to be the end of the general Debate, is it right and proper that no Opposition speaker should have been allowed to take part in the discussion, when there are so many matters relating to conscientious objectors that one wanted to raise?
§ Mr. McGovern
I want to raise with you, Sir, the point that this vague opposition that is taking place in the House now is preventing the real Opposition from taking part in the Debates. There were very many things of a vital nature connected with conscientious objectors that I wanted to raise in the Debate, and I have been prevented from doing so because of the collaboration which takes place to suppress those who are opposed to the Government.
§ Lord Apsley
Is it not the case that the Service Estimates are exempted business, and that when taken in Committee they can be debated over and above the time when the House usually rises?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is not the case. We are bound by the Rules of the House, unless the House itself makes an exemption. The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) has raised a question which really is beside the point. I try to give an opportunity of speaking to all hon. Members who catch my eye, and I do not think I am unreasonable; but I cannot help it if all Members who wish lo speak cannot do so in the time at our disposal.
§ Mr. McGovern
The point I am making is that, instead of being able to raise briefly some points, we are compelled to follow the rather distasteful course of packing the Order Paper with Questions generally objecting to brutality towards conscientious objectors, when probably an assurance from the Minister would be sufficient.
§ Mr. Law
I was saying that no one could object to criticism of the War Office, especially in time of war, and if there had been no criticism I would not have considered that everything at the War Office was right, but that everything was wrong with the House. One great advantage which we have over our enemies is that these matters can be freely debated. There are no debates on the Army Estimates in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy, and that gives an illusion of a perfection which I very much doubt to be real, the illusion of a well-oiled, perfectly geared, perfectly tuned, piece of machinery. There is one difference between the British Army and the German army, quite apart from any question of size. In the case of the German army, or the Italian army, whatever weaknesses there may 1104 be are hidden, but in the case of the British Army, whatever weaknesses there may be are brought into the sterilising light of day, and, we may hope, are cured as a result. There never has been a time when the War Office has not been the target of criticism, either in this war or in any other war. But the War Office, curiously enough, does in the end produce the kind of Army which wins wars, and that is more than can be said of the War Office of either Italy or Germany.
The Debate has not been altogether of a critical nature, and I think my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for War may feel very gratified with the response given to his speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) justly complimented my right hon. Friend upon his speech, and he reflected quite clearly the sentiments of the House as a whole. The hon. Member, who in his own day has been at the War Office, was perhaps kinder to us than some hon. Members, probably because he better understands the difficulties. Nor was my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Lieut.-Colonel Colville) unduly critical. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that it was a long time since he had spoken to the House and still longer since he had spoken without a brief. I am sure that the House is very glad to hear him speak, whether he has a brief or not. He asked for an assurance that the affiliation between the Home Guard and the Regular Army would not be interrupted, and that the Regular Army would continue to be in the closest association and liaison with the Home Guard. I can give him that assurance categorically, and the best guarantee I can give of that is the very high value which is put upon the Home Guard by the Regular Army Command. The House realises by this time that the Home Guard is regarded by the Regular Army Command as an essential part of the defence of these islands, and there can be no question whatever of its being sidetracked or pushed aside at this stage.
In most War Office Debates sooner or later we come to the subject of "Red tape." The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) devoted the whole of an extremely interesting speech to the subject. I cannot help feeling 1105 that more nonsense is talked about red tape than on almost any other subject under the sun. Although I would not like to show any disrespect to this House, I cannot help saying that I have heard a good deal of that nonsense spoken about it in this House. Let us consider for a moment what red tape is. Red tape is, essentially, the system of control and regulation which any organisation, which is so big that it is beyond the direction of a single hand, must have. People say, as the hon. Member said, that there is no red tape in the business world. But, of course, there is. In big business and in big industry there are mountains of paper-work, and the rules and regulations which have to be obeyed are not so different as one might suppose from the conditions obtaining in Government Departments or in the War Office. Red tape, wherever you find it, has this characteristic, that in any individual case the slashing of red tape is an advantage but in the sum of individual cases you cannot do without it. If you slash it, throughout the whole organisation, you do not get the beneficial revolution which my hon. and gallant Friend has asked for; you get absolute chaos. If you take an engineering factory, for example, if anything happens to an automatic lathe, if a tool breaks, the obvious and direct thing for the tool-setter to do is to stop the machine, go to the tool store, pick out the tool he wants and get the machine going again. He can do that at once. What he docs in practice is to fill up a form, probably in quintuplicate, which has to go through the usual channels and eventually he gets the tool; he may have wasted a quarter of an hour of the machine's time. In his particular case that has been a needless delay. But if every single setter of a machine took the direct line of fetching his own tool there would be absolute chaos and every machine would stop working. No one would know where the tools were or what new tools to order.
It is the same in a Government Department. A Government Department is under this additional disadvantage. A big business has been built up over a considerable number of years and every man in an administrative post knows what his job is. He has been trained to it and knows exactly what to do. The War Office is not like that. It springs 1106 into being almost overnight, at the beginning of a war, and a number of administrative posts, probably the great majority, are filled probably by people who have no experience whatever of the work they are called upon to do, and obviously you must give them very strict regulations to work under. If you did not, as the saying is, clutter them up with red tape the whole machine would break down, because they would not know what to do. The War Office differs from a business also in this respect. A business has to think only of profit. That is a simple, straightforward standard that any business can work to, and that in itself is a sort of long-term guide to the operations of a business.
But the War Office does not think at all of profit. It has to think not only of military efficiency but how to fit this enormous Army into the civil structure of the country. It has to think of reconciling civilian rights with the safety of the State, and all these things again mean more red tape and more regulations. You cannot get away from it. It is true that in an individual case red tape means obstruction and delay, but in the sum of individual cases you cannot get away from what is called red tape. One might put it rather succinctly by borrowing a metaphor from theology and saying that red tape in a Government Department is purgatory but a Government Department without red tape— without regulations— would be just plain hell. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) said that in the last war, too, he was conscious of this oppression of red tape. We may take some courage from that. In the last war the War Office was as much abused as it is in this and the British Army came out on top, in spite of it.
My hon. and gallant Friend spoke on the subject of parcels to prisoners of war and complained, rather curiously as I thought, that this topic had not been ventilated in the House. As one who has sat on this bench at Question Time three days a week for some months I can assure him that it has been ventilated very considerably here. It was not very clear whether my hon. and gallant Friend directed his criticism against the Red Cross or against the War Office, but I think finally he came down on the side of the War Office, and thought it was the 1107 War Office who were to blame. The general line of his argument was that by handing this problem over to the Red Cross the War Office were in some way shirking their responsibility. I am sorry if I have misunderstood him. The reason why the work of sending parcels to prisoners of war has been handed to the Red Cross is a very simple one and a sound one. If a Government Department, and of all Government Departments the War Office, were to take on directly the work of sending parcels into Germany and through Germany—, though that would be patently impossible in itself—, it would put the Protecting Power in a very difficult position. The reason we have used the Red Cross is that according to international usage the Red Cross has something of the position and the status of a neutral and that, obviously, the War Office could not have.
§ Major Milner
The hon. Gentleman has really misunderstood my point. I entirely agree with him. My complaint is that the War Office did not see that the Red Cross and the Post Office did their job.
§ Mr. Law
I did not intend to misrepresent the hon. and gallant Member, but was only explaining for the benefit of the House why we had to leave the work to the Red Cross and could not do it directly ourselves. I hope the House has not got the idea that the War Office does not regard the problem of our prisoners of war as one of the utmost gravity. We do, and I think we have made it clear from the beginning that we regarded it as a problem of the most serious character. But the House and the country must realise what the problem really was. The collapse of France was an earthquake which swept over the whole of Europe and which metaphorically, and to some extent literally, destroyed every line of communications there was. When people talk, as they do sometimes rather loosely, of the parcels forwarding system having broken down, that gives an entirely false picture. It was not that the system broke down but that it had to be built up from scratch on the ruins of the earthquake, and that was a very great task. The hon. and gallant Member quoted a number of figures which seemed to show that there had been tremendous delays in the dis- 1108 tribution of parcels, that parcels were lost and that only one in six ever reached its destination.
§ Mr. Law
But when we are considering this problem it is essential not to take any particular period, because the impression one then gets is false, and must be false, in view of the long time it takes to get information from Germany and to Germany. The mere fact that out of so many parcels sent only one in six had arrived at a particular date does not mean that a very much larger number have not arrived while we are speaking in this House. There has been a great deal of comment about one particular camp.