§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill (Woodford)
We have asked for this Debate upon demobilisation, because demobilisation is the foundation upon which, at this moment, everything else stands, and also, because tardy, inadequate demobilisation is the fountain-head of all our domestic difficulties. Whatever view may be taken of Socialism or free enterprise, surely it is common ground between us all, that we should get all the great wheels and the little wheels of life and industry in this country turning as soon as possible. For this we need the men. Without the men, and also the women, now held in the Services, there can be no speedy revival. The woeful shortage of consumer goods will continue. The Government will be afraid to allow people to spend their savings, for fear of undue rise in prices. Scarcity will be used as justification for controls, and controls will become the fatal means of prolonging scarcity. Get all the great wheels turning, and all the little cog wheels too. Let them rotate and revolve, spin and hum, and we shall have taken a long step forward towards our deliverance. In order to get them turning, we must bring the men home, and set the men free.
I am disquieted at the slow rate of demobilisation. I would have been ashamed to be responsible for the earliest declarations of His Majesty's Government on this subject. Even now that these have been markedly improved, I have no hesitation in saying that they fall far below what is both possible and necessary. His Majesty's Ministers have had an enormous windfall in the sudden end of the Japanese war, and of the cessation of fighting and slaughter throughout the world. There are no more enemies to conquer; no more fronts to hold. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] I mean of course in a military sphere. All our foreign foes 1689 have been beaten down into unconditional surrender. Now is the time to bring home the men who have conquered, and bring them back to their families and productive work. There is, we are assured, no lack of productive work. There is, at this time, no fear of large-scale unemployment. Every industry is clamouring for men. Everywhere are useful and fruitful tasks to be performed. I am sure that the restrictions and controls which would prevent men from getting work, and which would hobble and fetter the life energies of the nation, will be swept away once the men are back, and the whole great series of wheels will begin to turn. Do not let us be deterred by the fear of shortage of houses. Use billeting wherever necessary to the full; take the land for houses, if you need it—I say if you need it—as readily as you would have taken it for a gun site in 1940–41. Do whatever is needful and humanly possible to bring the men home and get things started again.
I would not go so far in urging the Government to these extreme efforts—I know their difficulties—if I were not prepared myself to run the risk of trying to make a positive contribution to our problems. There is some risk in a Member of the Opposition making a positive proposal, or set of proposals. I have no longer the power to "press the button" and obtain the exact information on any point. Still I have a general knowledge of our national life problem as a whole, particularly on its military side. For what it is worth, however, I am prepared, in good will and in good faith, to offer some definite suggestions to His Majesty's Government. We are told that the return of the troops and the members of the other Services is delayed or regulated by three conditions—first, our commitments—such is the term that is used—that is the military necessities; second, transportation; and third, the execution of the Bevin Coalition Government demobilisation plan.
I will deal with these three. First of all, commitments. This is a most dangerous ground for anyone not possessed of the latest information to venture upon. Nevertheless, I shall try my best, and, if the estimates which I make are shown to be erroneous, I shall be very ready to be convinced by the responsible statements of Ministers. I am going to submit 1690 to the House what I think should be the strength of the United Kingdom Armed Forces, which we should aim to reach with all possible speed. A year later these strengths could be reconsidered in closer relation to our long-term plan. I take the Navy first. On existing plans, allowing for intake, on 31st December of this year, the strength of the Navy would be 665,000, of whom 55,000 are women, so that the Navy would even retain 448,000 at the end of June, 1946. I am astounded that such figures should be accepted by His Majesty's Government. I know no reason why Vote A of the Navy should exceed the figure at which it stood in the Estimates of 1939,namely, 133,000. We had a fine Navy at the outbreak of war. I was sent to the Admiralty, at a few hours' notice on 3rd September, 1939, and that is what I found, relatively, to the Forces of other countries against whom we were at that time matched, or likely to be matched. I have yet to hear any argument which justifies our planning to maintain, or maintaining, at the present time—unlessit be in connection with the Fleet Air Arm—a larger naval force in personnel than we had at the beginning of the late war.
I remember that at the height of the Nelson period, in the war against Napoleon, we reached a Vote A of 148,000, and that, oddly enough, was the figure that I was responsible for reaching in August, 1914. Let us take, as a working figure,150,000. If there is some entirely new case to be unfolded because of new commitments, which I have not heard of, the Government should lay that case before the House. On the whole, although I think we should not be too precipitate in judging these matters, it would seem that new conditions might, at any rate in respect of very large vessels, tell the other way. But, failing some entirely new situation, of which only the Government can be aware, definite orders should be given to discharge all men surplus to the 150,000, and to make sure that the enormously swollen shore establishments are reduced equally with those afloat. I hazard the guess that at this time, there are nearly as many men of the Navy ashore as afloat. I should have thought that no great length of time would be needed for this operation, provided orders were given now, and enforced with real authority. At the same 1691 time, while this operation is going on, every opportunity should be given to men, entitled to release, to stay on if they volunteer. If there were so many volunteers that the number was exceeded, I think we should face that.
Here I will make a digression. It seems most urgent, and, indeed, vital, that the Government should put forward their proposals, in outline at any rate, for the permanent scale at which all three of our Armed Services are to be maintained, let us say, in the next 10 years. Men and women in all the three Forces ought to know, now, the conditions under which they can continue in the Services, or can transfer from "hostilities only" to longer or full-time engagements. I am inclined to agree with a remark which I saw attributed to the Minister of Labour and National Service the other day, to the effect that there is not the same universal general desire to leave the Services now, which was encountered after the first great war.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)
Would the right hon. Gentleman permit me to explain that that was a section of a statement which I made at Birmingham, and which was reported in the Birmingham newspaper, but the preceding sentence, which was of importance, was omitted from the Press statement?
§ Mr. Churchill
I am soixy—I thought we were making a link of agreement. It seems to me that there is a. large number of people in the Services who wish to continue voluntarily, and we all think that is a very good thing. After all, though this war has been terrible in many ways, we have not had the awful slaughter of the last war, or the hideous grind of the trenches. There have been movement and drama, and I can quite see that there may be some who would prefer to continue in the profession of arms. I think that if they were offered suitable terms, they would give a further period, voluntarily, of service abroad. But at present I am assured that no plan has been made, and no commanding officer in any of the Services knows how to answer the inquiries which are made of him. So while affirming and enforcing the principle of national service—of which I trust we are to hear from His Majesty's Government—it should surely be our policy to encourage the largest number of men to stay 1692 of their own free will. We ought to be very reluctant at this juncture to turn off any trained man who wishes to continue under arms. This digression applies to all three Services, but, returning to the Navy, apart from what I have said about volunteers, I submit that the figure should come down at once, as speedily and as quickly as possible, to 150,000 men on Vote A.
I come now to the Royal Air Force. I do not know what the Government's policy is about our Air Force. It may be that what I am going to suggest is more than they have in mind. I consider that the permanent Royal Air Force must be maintained on a very large scale, and in magnificent quality, with the very latest machines, and that they should become the prime factor in our island and Imperial defence. I may say I had thought that 150 to 200 combatant squadrons, with the necessary training establishments, and, of course, with the large auxiliary reserves which can be developed, should be our staple. This would involve about 4,000 machines under constant construction, the auxiliary forces being additional. If you have 100 men on the ground for every machine in the air you are making an allowance which, in my opinion, is grossly extravagant and capable of immense revision by competent administration. However, to be on the safe side, I would take that figure. It would seem to me that the personnel for the R.A.F. should be 400,000, as compared with 150,000 for the Royal Navy, and that it should now be brought down to that figure. The present plan for the Air Force contemplates 819,000 men and women being retained up to 31st December, and as many as 699,000—I might almost have called it 700,000—being held as late as 30th June, 1946.
I yield to none in my desire to see preserved this splendid weapon of the Royal Air Force, upon which our safety and our freedom depend, but, for this great purpose, it is all the more necessary to get the life of the nation working again, and not to squander our remaining treasure in keeping a large number of men in the Royal Air Force—who are not really wanted either for immediate needs, or for the permanent organisation—and to keep them lolling about at great cost to the public and vexation to themselves. I sub- 1693 mit to the Ministers whom I see opposite, that they should fix the figure of the permanent Air Force organisation and then cut down to that with the utmost speed. This also implies decisions being taken about airfields which are now being held and guarded, on a full war-time scale, by such large numbers of men.
I have dealt with the Navy—or rather, I have touched on the Navy, because one could speak for very long periods on these points—and the Royal Air Force. Now I come to the most difficult subject of all, the Army, and if I were to burden the House with all the reasonings which led to my present computation, I should, Mr. Speaker, far outrun the limits of your patience and, no doubt, of my own voice. For the occupation of Germany and the Low Countries a ration strength of 400,000 men should be the maximum. I say ration strength because all calculations in divisions are misleading. There is no need for general organisation in divisional formations, or for such divisions as are maintained to possess the characteristics and the armaments of divisions entering a line of battle in the heat of the struggle against the former German Army in its prime. It is a different task that they have to do, and different organisations are required to meet it. Mobile brigades, military police, armoured car and light tank units, sedentary forces for particular garrison duties—such are the methods to which military thought should be guided by political authority.
The task of holding Germany down will not be a hard one; it will be much more difficult to hold her up. The weight of administration must be thrown upon the Germans. They must be made to bear the burden. We cannot have all our best officers, scientists and engineers organising them, when we, ourselves, have need of those men's services. But I will not expatiate on this point. I say 400,000 ration strength—one half teeth, the other half tail—properly organised, with perhaps half of them fighting men and men for rearward service, and also for garrison work, would be sufficient. It may well be, also, that apart from this force, training establishments from Great Britain should be set up in Germany, where the young troops would learn their profession on soil which their fathers and elder brothers have at once conquered and liberated I understand that the United 1694 States are keeping about 350,000 troops in Germany, of which, again broadly speaking, one-half are fighting men and one-half administrative services.
In view of all the dangers that there are in North-Eastern Italy, in view of our obligations in Greece and all the difficulties developing in Palestine and the Middle East, I would hazard the figure of another 400,000 ration strength which would be required, at any rate, I think, until the end of 1946, and probably longer, in the Mediterranean theatre. In Palestine, above all, gendarmerie and brigade groups should supersede divisional formations with all their cumbrous apparatus. I would add to these figures, as a margin for War Office establishments in this island and India, as well as fortress garrisons outside the Mediterranean, another 200,000 men, making a total for the Army, in the period which lies immediately before us, of 1,000,000 men. I must emphasise that this 1,000,000 strength is a ration strength of United Kingdom soldiers, and does not take auxiliary or native soldiers into account. I may say that I came to this conclusion before I saw the figures of the late Government's plan which the Minister of Labour put forward, I think, on the 2nd of this month. I find that by 30th June, 1946, His Majesty's Government propose to reduce the Army to 1,156,000 men. There is certainly not much between us on that figure. I would not quarrel about it.
The question however remains, When is this total to be reached? Why should time be wasted in reaching that total? This is the vital point. Any unnecessary men kept by compulsion with the Colours hamper our revival here, and waste the money we shall need to maintain our Armed Forces in the years that are to come. Under the present plan, by 31st December there will still be 2,343,000 men and women in the Army, of whom 130,000 will be women. Considering that that will be nearly eight months after the German war ended, I say that the number is far too many. I am told that January and February are months when releases from the Army flag notably. In what way should we be harmed, if the Government total of 1,156,900 men aimed at for 30th June, 1946, were, by good and energetic administration, reached by the end of March? Should we not be very much 1695 better off? I urge that this new target should be at once declared, namely, to reach the June figure three months earlier. If we add 1,000,000 United Kingdom ration strength for the Army to 400,000 for the Royal Air Force and 150,000 for the Royal Navy, we have a total ration strength of 1,550,000 men, which, I submit to the House, if organised with due economy and contrivance, should suffice for our needs in the immediate future, and should give time for the long-term policy to be shaped in closer detail.
Now if we take this figure as a working basis, let us subtract it from the total numbers which will be retained under arms at31st December by the latest scheme of the Government. I understand that if the whole of their present programme is carried out, they will have 3,842,000 men and women in the Forces at that date. There are, therefore, potentially more than 2,225,000 men who are redundant and surplus, in my view, and who should not be retained in the Services more than one moment longer than is necessary to bring them home, or set them free, if they are here already. These 2,225,000 men who are redundant are unemployed. We publish the unemployment figures each week and rejoice that they are small, but they are an inaccurate return while there is this great pocket, this 2,225,000, unemployed. To have 2,225,000 unemployed, and unemployed under the most wasteful and expensive conditions to the State, and in many cases irritating to the men themselves, is intolerable.
The majority of these men are outside the United Kingdom. Nothing is more costly than holding the dumb-bell at arm's length. Every day counts. Even in June, 1946, eight months from now, and 13 months after the end of the war with Germany, the Government propose, with intake, to hold 2,408,000 persons in uniform in the three Services. I contend that the target to be aimed at should be 1,550,000 and that this smaller figure should be reached earlier. The maintenance of immense numbers of redundant forces overseas, and held here in this island, not only brings ruin to the Exchequer but also makes inroads upon our shipping for the feeding of the Forces overseas. These inroads are of a grievous character, and the most solid justification 1696 is needed to defend them. I regard the speedy repatriation and release of these 2,225,000 men as a supreme task which lies before His Majesty's Government at the present time.
I must, however, make one very serious reservation. In my calculations and estimates I have definitely excluded the possibility of a major war in the next few years. If His Majesty's Government consider that this is wrong, then it would not be a case of demobilisation at all but of remobilisation, because what has taken place and is going on has already woefully impaired the immediate fighting efficiency of the enormous Forces we still retain. I believe, however, it may be common ground that this possibility of a major war may rightly be excluded, and that we have an interlude of grace in which mankind may be able to make better arrangements for this tortured world than we have hitherto achieved. Still I make that reservation.
I shall no doubt be told that there is no transport, and that all our transportation both by sea and air is fully occupied on the existing proposals. So far as sea transportation is concerned, I do not believe it. When I recall to mind the immense magnitude of the supply fleets which were provided and prepared for the Japanese struggle in 1945 and 1946, and the fact that we are relieved of at least three-quarters, if not four-fifths, of the burden of maintaining an aggressive war at the other end of the world, it is incredible that there should not be now enough tonnage available, and that we should not be able to have an incomparably higher scale of transportation than any envisaged in the days when the Bevin scheme was framed, when we contemplated a prolonged war with Japan.
We on this side are well acquainted with the position as it stood when the last Government resigned. While transportation is certainly tight, it cannot be considered the first limiting factor. The releases of troops from abroad have been more restricted than the transportation to move them. In proof of this I have been told—I am willing to learn if I have been wrongly told—that we are carrying, or about to carry, a considerable number of French troops about the world, to Dakar or Indo-China or elsewhere, which, according to earlier plans were not to be moved by us until after 30th June, 1697 1946, but that they are now being taken earlier because British military and Air Force releases have not come up to the forecasted schedule. I am quite willing to be told that this is wrong, but let us be told if it is wrong. I do not wish to blame the Government. I know their difficulties. I have no doubt that they are doing their best, but if these facts are true they are very painful and they ought to be grappled with.
There are various suggestions of a minor character, but cumulatively of some notable consequence, to make about speeding up transportation by more ingenuity in the employment of the merchant vessels now engaged on troop movement. For instance, would it not be possible to bring into service the laid-up escort carriers with skeleton crews? Each of these would carry some 1,500 troops. Why should not the Medloc movement, that is the Mediterranean line of communications movement, which is well below the former planned target, not be doubled? For this purpose, and in order to secure the immediate release of more men from India and the Middle East, it may be necessary to expand the staging carries in Egypt. Surely this should not be delayed another moment. Again, is it not possible to make greater use of the trans-Canada route to bring home our people from the Pacific that way round? If we could do this we should use to the full on their return voyage, at least, the British ships now engaged on repatriating Canadian and American personnel from Europe. Together these measures would even now secure a substantial increase in the movement of troops in the first three months of next year. If these measures had been taken earlier that increase could have been gained on these figures by the end of this year. Surely even now not a moment should be lost in bringing into play these potentialities. There is also the Navy, which could move, with its own resources, some 6,000 men monthly—their own men from the Pacific fleet to Vancouver.
§ The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
We are doing so.
§ Mr. Churchill
That shows that we are not in dispute in the matter, but we have not heard about it. The right hon. Gentleman may indeed "do good by 1698 stealth," but he must not be vexed when he "blushes to find it fame." Are these men now being transported across Canada by the same rolling stock which is being used to take in the opposite direction the Canadian troops who have arrived in Halifax from Europe? These Navy men from the Pacific could then embark for home in ships which carry home to Canada, Canadian troops. Has that been arranged? These 6,000 naval ratings per month could then be brought home earlier than under the plan, even under the present rules. This would entail the release of a much larger corresponding number of the same age and service groups who are kept waiting for their release, and an appreciable acceleration would be brought about. These are points which I give only as instances. No doubt there are many others which should be studied with attention by His Majesty's Government. If they are already approved, it would give us great pleasure to hear that fact and credit the administration with it in the later stages of the Debate. We should be glad also of further information of the mass movement by air from remote areas, which seems to be of the greatest value and importance-.
But, after all, the great bulk of the troops and air ground personnel are over here at home, or only across the Channel in Europe. Sea transport does not enter into their return to any great extent. Ships of all kinds—well we know it—can carry troops either way across the Channel. No ships at all are needed for those who are now in this country. In the Debate on the Address I asked for the numbers of men in the various depots. They have not been given. There is no reason why they should not be given. They ought to be given. We request that they should now be given. Until we have the official figures I cannot, of course, speak with up-to-date accuracy, but I do not expect the assumption on which I am basing my argument will be very far astray.
I believe there are at least 400,000 more men than are needed for any useful purpose in what used to be called the 21st Army Group in Germany and in the Low Countries. That is not including the British Army in Italy or Austria, with which I am not dealing at this moment. Is it not true that there are here at home over a million men, the great majority of whom are absolutely redundant? Is it 1699 not true that there are something like, or over, a million men here at home? We expect to know. All these men, so much needed in civil life, are being kept out of the national economic and industrial recovery, not because of any military commitments, nor for any want of transportation, but simply because their turn comes later than that of a far smaller number of men who cannot for a considerable time be brought home from the East and the Far East. This raises grave problems of which I am well aware, but we must ask: Is it sensible, is it necessary, and can it on that basis be defended?
This brings me to the third and last part of this argument. It is a part with which I am deeply familiar, namely, the Bevin demobilisation plan. No one, I think, except its author, has more right to speak about it than I, for I was Secretary of State for War and Air during the whole demobilisation period after the last war, and well I know the perils and difficulties which beset that process. I have left on record in my book "The After-math" the complexities and shocking misfortunes in which we were involved in those days by the Addison scheme of demobilisation, which was felt by the fighting troops and those who had been out longest to be most unfair, and which was sprung upon them in a manner which gave it the least chance of favourable acceptance. I have, therefore, always been a strong supporter of the Bevin scheme. One must always try to carry the confidence and sense of loyalty and fair play of the troops. It must, however, be stated and remembered that this scheme was based on the assumption that the Japanese war would continue on a great scale for at least 18 months after a German surrender, and perhaps longer, and that large new armies would have to be sent to the Far East, going away from home at the end of this long struggle in Europe, while the process of turning over to peace conditions was in full swing through the country and through a very large part of the Armed Forces.
That problem we have, thank God, been saved. It is not the situation with which we are now confronted. We have a different scene, and a different problem. We must do justice to the case as it stands and to the facts as they are. I am sure it was right to frame this Bevin 1700 scheme and to make it our foundation and the first floor of our demobilisation. Nevertheless, I am inclined to think that Army opinion as a whole, convinced of the fairness of the intentions of the late and present Governments towards them, will be prepared to accept further considerable modifications in that scheme. Tidiness is a virtue, symmetry is often a constituent of beauty, but it would be a mistake to insist pedantically upon a rigid application of the Bevin scheme in the changed circumstances of to-day.
Let us take an extreme example. If, for instance, 100 men have to be kept idle in England, because 10 men higher up on the list cannot yet be brought home from Hong Kong, or Rangoon, or Calcutta, and cannot yet be placed in a category which entitles them to be brought home from these places, everyone would admit that that would be pushing a good principle to absurdity I would rather address myself to the 10 men and, by substantial additions to their pay or bonus or leave on release, and by special care for their future employment or otherwise, make up to them any disappointments which they may feel, not because they are not returning as soon as possible but because others lower down on the list have got out before them.
I am sure—and I do not speak without thought or some knowledge—that if the whole position were explained to the Army, and if substantial compensation were forthcoming to those kept longer than their time, with a proper proportion of compassionate cases, the men would understand and would accept the position. After all, does a Briton say to himself, "I am unfortunate; I cannot get home but I can bear it, because I know that 10 or 20 other men are being made unfortunate too, on my account"? That seems to me a sour and morose form of comfort. Might not a man prefer substantial compensation for himself instead of misfortunes needlessly inflicted upon others which can do him no possible good? Supposing every man was given double pay for every day that he was kept beyond his proper priority, that would be a small cost to the State compared with the enormous waste of keeping hundreds and hundreds of thousands of men out of productive work.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Is the right hon. Gentleman seriously preach- 1701 ing the Dukes plan—the T.U.C. speech suggesting compensation be given to the men in Burma if they stay out there a little longer? It was a speech by Charles Dukes at the T.U.C. which has been the subject of much correspondence in the various journals in the Far East.
§ Mr. Walkden
This is rather important. Is the right hon Gentleman aware that what he is now preaching has been condemned bell, book and candle by the men in Burma and that they have vigorously attacked it in correspondence to Members on both sides of this House?
§ Mr. Churchill
With considerable responsibility and after much heart searching, I am making a positive contribution to this Debate. It can be knocked about from all quarters, but I hope to see at any rate a foundation for thought and discussion on a matter in which we cannot afford to rest in a half paralysed deadlock. Supposing every man were given double pay for every day he was kept beyond his proper priority, that would be a small burden on the State compared with the enormous waste such as is going on now. Certainly a great effort should be made to solve this problem. If it makes possible a far larger rate of releases, the general rejoicing will sweep away many invidious reflections.
We are told that very large numbers of men here at home must be kept under arms because the men abroad would think it unfair that they should have the advantage of gaining employment before them. But nothing we can do will prevent men at home, who have the opportunity of moving about this country when on leave and furlough, from having an advantage in finding employment over men who are still kept beyond the oceans. Why should this difficulty be based only upon the uniformed men at home? Over 1,500,000 munition workers have been released from their war-time jobs. Only 50,000 of these, I understand, are to be used for the intake. They are being absorbed, I trust, rapidly in peace-time industry. Are not 1702 these munition workers having an advantage over men kept abroad and over the men kept in uniform at home? Are not they getting the first pick of the jobs in peace-time industry? Whatever we do, there must be heart burnings, but these heart burnings are more likely to be eased by paying substantial compensation to the sufferers than by inflicting suffering on larger numbers, so that large numbers can be brought home where they can find their own feet when they arrive.
I am well aware that in paragraph 5 of his recent paper the Minister of Labour and National Service has stated that once the release of a group has become due, the men in that group are let go at once and not kept with the Colours until the men abroad have been found transportation and have been brought to this country. That was a very reasonable concession, but it departs from the principle of absolutely equal treatment as between men abroad and men at home. Men in the same group may get out several months earlier merely because they are serving at home. We have been driven from the position of absolute abstract justice with reason and good sense, and surely, having departed from the principle with good reason and with good results, we should not exclude from our minds a further advance.
Now I come to the women. I have never admitted that the principles of the Bevin scheme of priority of release in accordance with age and length of service need necessarily be applied to the women in the three fighting Services. Whatever men in group A might feel about other men with less service being released before them, or the order of priority being broken to their relative disadvantage, they do not feel the same about women. The women do not compete with the men in the same way or to the same degree. Besides, the innate chivalry of British soldiers will not dwell long upon nice calculations of relative age and length of service as between men and women. If it can be proved that a woman is necessary for some indispensable task connected with our commitments or our demobilisation, let her be kept until the due time for her release arrives. More especially is this true if it can be shown that in any particular instance a woman is replacing a man higher up the scale who can be released as a result of her retention. 1703 But I am not speaking of this class. I am speaking of the very large numbers of young women in the three Services who have been kept doing nothing, fooling around with every kind of futile, fanciful task, to their own annoyance and at wasteful expense to the State. Every woman who is not irreplaceable in her present Service job, except by a man of higher category, should be released on giving a month's notice. The other day it was decided to keep a considerable number of officers longer in Germany than their class A group qualifications warranted. The reason was that the strength of the battalions had become so great that very large numbers of men were exceeding the proportion of officers, and, as the men could not under the present arrangements be demobilised, there were not the proper number of officers.
Well, this was done, and they were delayed. I understand—perhaps I am wrongly informed—that it was thought necessary to hold their opposite numbers here at home, who are a much greater number, beyond their time. After all, the officers who are kept are kept because there is vital work for them to do while similar officers, whose release is retarded at home, are kept without useful work. There is a great difference between being kept to do something, and being kept to do nothing. As for the women, many of them want to stay, but surely those who have nothing to do, and are not wanted for any purpose under the sun, should be set free now.
I earnestly hope that the Government will give unprejudiced attention to the suggestions I have ventured to make. They are put forward in no spirit of controversy but in the general interest. If we do not get this country going again pretty soon, if we do not get the great wheels turning, we may lose for ever our rightful place in the post-war economic world and we may involve our finances in dire and irretrievable confusion. It is no party matter, but one in which the House as a whole should make its opinion felt in a way that will override all hesitations and obstacles which are found in the path. In order to bring us all together, I will end this practical discourse in a philosophic vein. The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of Socialism is 1704 the equal sharing of miseries. In the present case, where an overwhelming majority of Service men and women would gain the blessings, can we not unite on the broad democratic principle of "the greatest good of the greatest number"?
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)
Perhaps the first thing I should say, in speaking for the first time——[Hon. Members: "Speak up."] If hon. Members be a little courteous and wait a minute perhaps they will hear me. If that is the spirit in which we start it is a pity. The first thing that should fall to me is to express our pleasure in seeing the right hon. Gentleman back again in his accustomed health. Whatever may be our political feelings, we do like to see our colleagues recovered from illness and back with us again. In wishing the right hon. Gentleman back again there might be a little drawback so far as I am concerned, for I must admit that I am meeting a doughty opponent.
In reference to the peroration of the right hon. Gentleman, in which he said he wanted to end a practical discourse in a philosophic vein, and to what he previously said about making a number of new suggestions, I hope to show that none of his suggestions is new to the Government and that they have all been considered. Even his peroration is a bit stale and outworn. The right hon. Gentleman opened by referring to "Let's get the wheels turning," but with great respect I would suggest that the Government have endeavoured to get the wheels turning and that what we have to consider now is whether the best way to keep them turning is by giving them a push behind or by putting something down in the front of them. With great respect I would like to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I think his speech was most irresponsible and mischievous. I was just wondering whether it was intended to get the men out of the Services or to get the men out of temper with the present Government. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman cannot have read as many letters from men in the Services as some of us have read or he would realise that some of the suggestions that he made are suggestions that would be most unacceptable to them. He mentioned encouraging the men to stay in the Services. This Government 1705 desire to create a scheme whereby the country will have an Armed Service in its protection that will be based upon the desire of men to enter a career and not based upon men who cannot find jobs and are forced into the Army. That will be the line of policy which the Government will follow in endeavouring to get the Forces maintained on a permanent basis. [An Hon. Member: "When?"] Not to-morrow, at any rate.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the question of the number of men to be retained in the various theatres of war at the end of the war. I am not a tactician or so skilled in tactics myself as to be able to criticise the figures that are given to the Government by their skilled advisers, but we still have the same confidence in those skilled advisers as had the right hon. Gentleman when they were advising him some time back. Therefore, we must take some heed of what they say. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that the Forces in Germany are hanging about and doing nothing and that—
§ Mr. Isaacs
I was coming to the point where I think the right hon. Gentleman made a reference that is worthy of more careful examination. It was that if we have a great number of men in Germany or on the Continent who are redundant and not fully occupied, then it might be necessary to keep them there for military commitments and other contingencies; and that it might be a good thing to look into the question of establishing training centres there, as well as at home, so that those men might have an opportunity of being equipped or re-equipped to come back to their industrial life. That matter is under consideration, but it will now be pushed on.
The right hon. Gentleman said something about transport, and I would like to deal with some of the points which he raised, putting the case as the Government see it. He asked why there was a shortage and said that he did not believe it. He made some reference to the movement of French troops which, so far as I am aware, is news to the Government. He mentioned aircraft carriers; aircraft carriers are being used for the transport of troops. He mentioned the Cana- 1706 dian overland route and asked why we did not consider that. We have considered it and it has not only been considered, it is being used. Foremost priority is being given to prisoners of war so that those who have suffered so much might be brought home in advance of demobilised soldiers and those who are still living under the pledge of the Government that they should have leave. That source is being used and, if at all possible, it will be extended. Further, the Navy itself are helping considerably in bringing home demobilised soldiers and people on leave. The Navy has other plans, such as converting vessels to make them more useful for troop transport and thereby expediting the return of the men.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Bevin scheme and further modifications of it. Any modification that can be carried out in that scheme that will not destroy the fair basis upon which it is working will be introduced. We know only too well that the fellows abroad are very anxious that we shall not play about with the scheme and that they shall get their chance to return equally with others. I would like particularly to refer to one point mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman and that is that there are, so far as the Army abroad are concerned, arrangements that if a certain group is to be released within a certain time and by a certain day, the Army arranges with Commands overseas that those men due to be released on that date are selected, sorted out and dispatched home to Britain with the intention of their being home at the time that the other men in the group are released. So from that point of view an effort is made to prevent the retaining of men abroad or at home so that other men come out at the same time.
Another point in the right hon. Gentleman's speech to which I should like to refer is Service women. It sounds so easy to say, "Let all the women come out who want to come out." In the women's Service there are grades of jobs. There are nice, cushy clean ones; some are hard, and one or two are fairly dirty. We understand that some women are quite willing to remain in the Forces, but it is fair to say that those who want to remain are those who have the clean, cushy jobs. Those who do not want to remain are those who have the dirty jobs. The same kind of thing happens elsewhere, but someone has to do the dirty work in the 1707 Army as well as in industry. If we agreed to release those who are doing the dirty work, as soon as any others got on to the dirty work they would want to come out, and the thing would go on until there would be nobody left. We are convinced that the scheme as it stands is the best possible. I think we are all agreed that there must be an orderly system of release, understood by the Forces and acceptable to them as fair. So far as we understand, by direct contact, by communications and correspondence, by visits of officials and Members of the House to the Forces, there is a recognition of some of the drawbacks of the scheme but that it is better to suffer those drawbacks than to abolish or to completely change the scheme. We have stated recently, in the statement issued, that it is necessary to maintain military forces adequate to meet our national commitments.
The Government have another aim, in addition to those specified by the right hon. Gentleman, in desiring to release as many as possible from the Forces. We are anxious to save the State money by moving men out of the Forces and we are particularly anxious to get the wheels of industry turning so that we can find work for our men, goods for our people and overseas trade; but the factor that the right hon. Gentleman did not mention is that we want to get the men out in fairness to themselves. We want them all to return to their homes and families and we want to get them out of the disciplined and ordered life, back to the life of freedom. I am quite satisfied with the way in which we propose to do it, which was a way accepted by the right hon. Gentleman, who himself said, "If there is anybody, other than the present Foreign Secretary, who is responsible for the present demobilisation scheme it is myself. "We give him the credit for his idea, and we are going to stick to it.
§ Mr. Isaacs
No. There have already been one or two modifications which I hope to explain in a moment. If we can make them without upsetting the basis of the scheme, it will be done. That is the main thing.
The Chiefs of Staffs, in a very rapid survey, completed an examination of 1708 their military requirements, and they brought the figure down to2,250,000 by the end of June next year. I would make it clear that it is not the intention of the Government to say that that is where demobilisation ceases. This survey goes on and as soon as we have anything definite, in the light of military circumstances and difficulties all over the world, about the number of persons to be kept, the number will be brought down to that new figure.
§ Mr. Churchill
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us the distribution of the 2,250,000 men that the Chiefs of Staffs have recommended, among the various theatres? How many at home? How many in Europe, the Mediterranean theatre, in India and in the Far East? There is no reason why we should not have the figures.
§ Mr. Isaacs
I am not in a position to give those figures, but the right hon. Gentleman's request has been noted and will be considered. There are still one or two little problems knocking about in the world which might make it difficult to give all those details. It is my duty as Minister of Labour to deal with the demobilised people as they become demobilised, and I wish mainly to address myself to that part of the story.
The actual rate of release depends mainly on transport, but the Government have said, "Never mind what the transport problem is; get out the maximum numbers of men and make the transport to suit the men, and not the men to suit the transport." Every naval ship coming home is filled to capacity with men due to return; fighting ships are being used to convey personnel, and aircraft carriers are bringing home prisoners of war. A number of ships are being converted for trooping purposes. In addition to the demands upon transport for implementing the release scheme, transport is required for the repatriation of ex-prisoners of war, the repatriation of men whose overseas tour has expired, and the repatriation of Dominion and Colonial Forces. We are a long way behind in giving men their leave, and the pledge in regard to that must be kept. We have to provide transport, too, for moves of occupational forces, drafting of replacements, moves of Allied forces for occupational duties in the Far East, and for the repatriation of 1709 civilians and other civilian movements. All these cause a great demand on transport, and we are happy to be able to say that, through the co-operation of the United States of America, we now have the use of the "Queen Elizabeth," the "Aquitania" and other ships, which have been placed at our disposal to help us get demobilisation hurried forward.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
What does "placed at our disposal" mean? Are not these British ships?
§ Mr. Isaacs
Of course they are, but I thought hon. Gentlemen knew that there was a contract of some sort between ourselves and America by which they had the use of these ships.
§ Mr. Isaacs
Will hon. Members accept it from me that there was that contract, which was made some time ago when troops were being carried in the opposite direction? The American Government have now agreed to surrender those ships, in spite of the contract, to enable this movement of troops to go ahead.
The rate of relief is already being accelerated. The total number of men and women returned from the Forces between 18th June and 30th September was 431,309, of whom 361,279 were demobilised in Classes, A and B. There was an appreciable increase in Class B releases during September, when 9,651 men and women were released, making a total of 17,946 since Class B releases began. In the last two weeks of September, 54,000 were released under Class A, and 5,550 under Class B, which was over 10 per cent. I mention these figures because the releases under Class B are vitally important if we are to proceed with the primary work of reconstruction, houses and so on. The Class B arrangement was not very acceptable to the troops in the beginning, but the modifications which have been made have apparently made it more acceptable, and the releases are beginning to come in on the basis of the figures anticipated. We are faced with the problem that many of the men who accept release under Class B are in far distant countries, and it takes a little time to get them back.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Combined English Universities)
Is it true that men in Class B have been sent to India during the last three weeks?
§ Mr. Isaacs
I could not answer that without notice, and in any case it is a question for the Service Ministers. I should be surprised if such a thing happened except by accident. The method of choosing Class B releases is as follows. On the industrial side we are bringing out the men in building and civil engineering and ancillary industries, underground coal mines, cotton, food, wool, draughtsmen, gas, pottery and electricity. Under essential services, we are bringing out school teachers, university students, candidates for Colonial Service, theological students, university teachers, and miscellaneous classes to the number of 2,250. The industrial groups for women in Class B are wool textiles, laundries, cotton, boots and shoes, clothing, cigarettes, flax and jute. The essential services are hospital cooks, telephone and telegraph operators, and 600 in the miscellaneous groups. Added to these two groups are 10,000 men and women specialists. This gives us a target for Class B releases of 148,000. That target can be revised and increased as we see the flow of people under Class A. It is fairly evident that the only way to get the full resumption of industry is to get out as many men under Class A as possible, and it is the Government's aim to do that having in mind our military commitments.
The provisional programme for the release of women is 321,000 by next June, and 162,000 by the end of this year. The Government will be glad to see more women released, but they are satisfied that the figures cannot at present be increased. In addition to the fact I mentioned about various grades and jobs, many women in the Forces are doing work comparable to that of men, and an increase in the numbers of women released would keep back a similar number of men if we are to keep to our main target. For that reason, they are treated as near as possible on an equality with men and brought out under the same kind of scheme.
§ Mr. Isaacs
I have not made any personal investigations, and I can only accept the assurance of those who are doing the job that in the change-over there may be times when people have nothing to do, but every attempt is being made to utilise them. May I assure the House definitely that the Government will not keep in the Forces anybody if it is possible to get them out? If we can get them out, they will come out. Nobody is being kept in the Forces out of sheer cussedness.
Students who are eligible for release in Class B are: (1) University arts students of scholarship standard selected by their universities who are in age and service groups 1 to 49, to the total of 3,000; (2) Science students selected by their universities as being either (a) students of 1st class or high 2nd class honours standard selected as research students or three-year students, or (b) other students of high promise who were called up before the end of their normal deferment and before they had had the opportunity of taking an honours degree. They must be in age and service groups 1to 49. (3) Medical, dental and veterinary students recommended by their universities or the appropriate schools, who either (a) gave up their reservation to join the Forces, or (b) joined the Forces before the present conditions of reservation were in operation, but would have been reserved if they had been in force. Their groups will be 1 to 49. (4) Theological students with three years' service in the Forces, nominated by their Church authorities, up to a total of 1,500.
There has been some misunderstanding about block releases. Those released under block arrangements are building operatives, women for clothing, etc., in accordance with the lists I have read. I want to make clear to people in the Forces that, subject to any exceptional requirements of national reconstruction, these people will be placed in employment near their homes if reconstruction employment is available there, and with their old employers if they have suitable vacancies and work of the kind for which they have been released. School-teachers released, under the block arrangements are given freedom to choose their own posts within the teaching profession. Nominated releases are men who are nominated for release to a particular employer, and they are instructed by the Service authorities 1712 to report to that employer. In this connection, I would like to state publicly the need for more careful identification and location. We find that there are frequent delays in dealing with applications by employers for their men owing to incorrect details being supplied. A wrong number or initial, or the wrong letters of the Service in which the man is serving, are frequently incorrectly supplied. If, for example, a man is in the R.A.C. and the application states that he is in the R.A., it creates delay. We are anxious that people who nominate persons for release should be careful to give full particulars.
A number of questions have been asked from time to time about the means of getting people out of the Services. I am pleased to inform the House that arrangements have been made to issue a pamphlet setting out the typical questions on demobilisation which have been put to me and Service Ministers from time to time, in the hope that it will provide a ready source of information and will enable Members to answer their correspondents.
Demobilisation is not just a question of getting the men out of the Forces, important as that is. It is a question of helping them when they come out. The Government, through the Ministry of Labour, have carried out a scheme which was established by the Coalition Government for setting up resettlement advice offices in the various Ministry of Labour areas. The advice that is available to ex-Servicemen now is of considerable extent and is proving of great value and assistance. Advice is given on reinstatement in civil employment. On that point, I should like to say how cordial is the co-operation of employers in operating Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act. There are very few cases of complaints of employers trying to evade their obligations, but there are very many instances of their willing assistance. Advice is given on interrupted apprenticeship, vocational training, professional careers, resettlement grants, overseas settlement, disabled persons national insurance, pensions and unemployment assistance, on which we hope no one will want advice.
The resettlement advice offices are staffed by people, carefully selected and trained, who are fully competent to do their job. Judging from reports, they are giving advice of a friendly and welcome 1713 character. If a discharged soldier goes to a resettlement advice office and they are unable to give the information he wants, he is not fobbed off with a reference to somebody else. The office gets into communication with another department and makes an appointment for the soldier and gives him a note of introduction. Therefore, when we are unable to give him advice, we pass him to the section that can give it.
We are happy to know that this resettlement advice is not exclusively for what one might term industrial soldiers, the ordinary rank and file in industry. A number of organisations have offered to advise on special types of problems and I am most grateful for their assistance. Ex-Servicemen wishing to re-start or buy businesses on their own account can be referred to lawyers, accountants and valuers who give their advice free of charge when the applicant cannot afford to pay. Individuals of good will and standing, with long experience of business life, are also advising inquirers on these and similar matters. Then we have a further extension of the service to advice on professional careers, and this also is working very satisfactorily. In many areas with which I have made contact there is very satisfactory evidence that employers of labour are co-operating with the Ministry in its endeavour to see that men, who on entering into the Forces showed that they had brains and ability to absorb knowledge, are trained to take business careers in a number of industries. Some of us who have had something to do with the organisation after the last war of trying to find jobs for ex-officers of the Army will I am sure be glad to know that this is a service now undertaken by the Government and not left to odds and ends of organisations. I am quite sure it will be done satisfactorily.
I would like to say a word or two about the position as the Government see it. First of all, personally, as Minister of Labour and National Service, I welcome the co-operation of the other Departments in endeavouring to work this demobilisation scheme, especially the efforts put out by the Ministry of War Transport, who were told that they had to do this transport job although they would have nothing to say about the size of the job. I have every confidence that they can do what has been asked, and if we find that transport can do better than has 1714 already been asked, we shall not hesitate to ask the Services to speed up demobilisation even further, if only to utilise transport to its maximum capacity. Men and women have been taken from their homes and from their normal lives, they have given valuable services to the nation, and the best service we can do for them now is to restore them to their homes and families at the earliest possible moment. That, I can assure the House, is our aim. Industries have suffered and we must help them to recover, and by so doing we shall help the nation. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that all these factors have been in mind.
I would like to remind the right hon. Gentleman of something which some of us in this House will remember as long as life is with us. It was in the dark days of 1940. I am not sure whether our men were then out of Dunkirk, or whether they were still there, but those of us who were here on that occasion can remember the gloom in which the House met and our sense of disappointment and dismay at being left alone to fight the world. Then we heard a clarion voice, which said:We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall light in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th June, 1940; Vol. 361, c. 796.]The right hon. Gentleman then gave courage, and hope, and confidence to all of us and to the nation. The men we are speaking of to-day responded to that call. They went into the Forces believing that they were doing it to save their country, and it would ill become any of us now to say to them, "We called you from the hills and streets in the days when the country needed you, and now you have done your fighting you can rust until we want you home again." That is not going to be done. We shall try to bring these people back, and to serve them, in the spirit that was aroused in the nation by the right hon. Gentleman's words on that occasion. If I may refer to another statement which the right hon. Gentleman made, and perhaps extend it a little—after the battle he said something which I will change into the following: "Never in the history of the world did so many do so much in so great a cause"—the cause of freedom. And that means not only those who went into the Forces but those who stopped at home and did long hours of arduous work to enable the 1715 Forces to have the things necessary to keep the fight going. They have also lives to live; we have the country to carry on—when I say "we" I mean not only the Government but this House—and we have to face the necessity of letting the people of the world see that it is our intention not to maintain an unnecessarily large armed force, having now won the fight for freedom, which we have presumed to be a fight to end war. It is the intention of the Government, and in that I am sure we shall have the cordial co-operation and good will of all parties, to restore that freedom as rapidly as possible. That intention will be pursued with unremitting vigour.
Finally I would say that whilst the Government, whether they wanted to or not, could not shirk the criticism that comes its way, I do beg that that criticism will be based upon a knowledge of the facts and not upon surmises, that the words uttered here will be words of encouragement to our serving men and women to believe that the country is thinking of them, and not words that will offend and create disappointment.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Colonel Oliver Poole (Oswestry)
I have already, like so many others, begged the indulgence of this House on the occasion of my first intervention in a Debate, and my only justification for rising to-day is that I myself was recently serving in the Forces and am expecting, in the course of the next week or so, to go through the actual machine of demobilisation. I also think it is very important that those of us who were or are in the Services and have now been translated to another sphere should not too readily forget the anxiety with which we ourselves awaited this demobilisation scheme, or the emotion with which we received it. I am also very well aware that when we came here as candidates for the Election many of us were congratulated by our friends at having found a loop-hole in the scheme by which we could get out of the Forces more quickly, or at any rate spend the summer with our families even if we had subsequently to return.
I feel that speakers in this Debate have two very great responsibilities. It is most important that nothing should be said in any part of this House which will rouse false hopes or sow the seeds of discontent 1716 among the men who are serving at home or abroad, and that nothing should be said that will in any way embarrass our commanders abroad, who have a tremendous task to carry out and who feel that they can only do it if they have the support of the whole country behind them. There are certain features of this vast problem, which affects every aspect of our national life, to which I want briefly to refer. On 16th October a statement was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War regarding the release of certain categories of officers, and the point I want to make is that very great hardship has been caused to those officers by being put back at such very short notice. This affects not only their own plans but also the plans of various employers who had arranged to give them employment in civilian life. It is quite impossible these days for an officer to make suitable domestic arrangements, particularly in view of the difficulty of getting a house or of moving a family from one town to another.
It is equally impossible, as I know from my own experience since I came back, for an employer satisfactorily to plan his staff if he does not get long warning of when people are coming back. Even now there is considerable uncertainty. Only last night I was returning to London in the train from my constituency and one or two officers were talking. One of them had got papers advising him that he would be released on 20th November and he now understood that that release was to be held up. Another who thought that he would be out at the end of the year now did not know. There is a feeling of uncertainty, and I do urge that a full and comprehensive statement should be made as soon as possible covering the dates by which groups will be released during the next 12 months.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War also stated that the shortage of officers in the early period of the release scheme could be met in two ways. The first way to which he referred was by inviting officers to defer their release voluntarily. I would like to endorse what the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) said on that occasion, when he urged that the conditions of future service should be published as soon as possible, because there were many, both 1717 officers and other ranks, who would like to remain. But there are many officers who have now despaired of ever getting a satisfactory answer to that question and who have, therefore, in order to protect themselves, found employment in civilian life and are accordingly lost to the Service. It is too late, the damage has been done, and though many remain for periods of limited service the highest quality officers, who can most easily find employment in civilian life, have already done so and have been lost to the Service. The delay in issuing the conditions of service has resulted in a lowering of the standard available to the Service.
One last point on this particular aspect of demobilisation. I think we are entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War what are the circumstances which persuaded the Government in September of this year to agree that the military necessity clause could be put on whole groups and not only on specific individuals. In January of this year it was fully appreciated that the resources that would be available at the end of the war against Germany for the disbanding and disarmament of the German Army, and for such civil relief as would be necessary, would be totally inadequate. Representations were made to the Government that the demobilisation scheme should be slowed down in respect of officers and other ranks of certain categories. 'We received a categoric answer that in no circumstances would the military necessity clause be put on whole groups of people, but only on individuals. It would be true to say that subsequent events have proved the task greater than was thought.
It is very difficult to assess what forces are required for the occupation of Germany until the exact policy of the Government and of the Control Commission is known. But it is quite certain that if Germany is to be completely disarmed and her war potential completely destroyed, and if her army is to be completely disbanded, the resources of the British Army are totally inadequate. It is purely a question of degree, and nothing can have happened since to make the task seem greater. In fact, the very reverse is the case, as has been pointed out. Nevertheless, the reversal of that decision at such a late date has not only caused very great hardship to the men 1718 who were involved in it and who could have been told in May, but has also considerably affected the planning by the military authorities. What are the special circumstances that came along in September which were unknown earlier in the year and which led the Government to give way to the military authorities?
The next point to which I would like to refer concerns redundancy. Like every other Member of this House, I have been deluged with letters from men in all the Services who say their demobilisation is being held up, but yet they are kept in camp or barracks kicking their heels and doing nothing. I know very well that there are many explanations, but I also know, and I think every hon. Member on both sides of this House knows, that economy of man-power is not widely practised in any of the Services. I shall accordingly try to make two constructive suggestions for economy of man-power. The first is that the Government should order an immediate reduction in the size of headquarters staffs. Staffs during the war reached fantastic proportions, and I think the peak was reached in May this year. Reductions are being made, I know, but they are not being made fast enough, and it is as true in India and South-East Asia to-day as it was in North Africa in 1943 to say that never have so few been commanded by so many. It is no use asking commanders voluntarily to reduce their staffs. I have seen this done not once but many times. There are too many vested interests, and it is a case where the Government must use those compulsory powers that they have been so busily acquiring during the last few days. War establishments must be reduced and appointments downgraded. The reason I say that is that the higher rank officers get the more assistants they consider they require. I know that from my personal experience. I have been on the staff in this war. I have done the same work during the whole war, with one big difference. When I was a major or captain, I did it either by myself or with one assistant. When I became a colonel I had a large staff of lieutenant-colonels, majors and captains who did my work for me and to whom I issued orders to do it. The hon and gallant Member for Hitchin (Major Asterley Jones) can testify to that from his personal experience. The point to remember is that 1719 by reducing the number of staff officers, many of whom, I know, are quite unemployable in other spheres, a proportionate reduction is made in Royal Engineers, signalmen, cooks, batmen and so on, who are urgently required elsewhere.
My second suggestion is that the number of officers and other ranks employed on the strength of depôts in this country should be investigated. I think the House would be interested to have the figures. I am informed that there are something like 8,000 other ranks on the strength of the R.A.C. base depôt alone, and the same applies to every other base depôt in the country. What do they do? I speak as an unemployed officer myself, but then, I know that I am militarily unemployable. What are these large numbers of unemployed men doing at the moment?
The next point I want to raise is one that has been raised before, but it is so important that I do not apologise for raising it again. It is very discouraging that no improvement has been made in this direction. I refer to the question of how alterations to the demobilisation scheme are put over to the Services. It is just as important that the men should think the scheme is a good one as that it should be a good one. When the scheme was originally put out, it was put out as being the only fair scheme. Personally, I believe it to be so. Therefore, every amendment to the scheme calls for, at the same time as the amendment is made, a statement and an explanation most carefully worded and most carefully put out, because it must not be forgotten that statements made in the House and to the Press very often get quite a different interpretation when they are discussed in canteens and messes abroad. For example, take the statement that was made by the Under-Secretary of State for Air when he was discussing the speed of release in the Royal Air Force. I know there was considerable substance in the explanation he gave. I know that from personal experience, quite apart from what the hon. Gentleman said; but in his anxiety not to raise false hopes, in his anxiety also to emphasise his arguments, he cast gloom and despondency over many R.A.F. stations both in this country and abroad. I know that to be so from correspondence I have since received. I fully appreciate 1720 the difficulties, but I believe it is just as important that the amendment should be properly put over as that it should be right in substance.
In conclusion, I believe the future of this country depends a great deal upon the success of the demobilisation scheme. I believe that the age and service group scheme is the best that could have been devised. I deplore any amendment that has had to be made to it. I urge the Government to keep to the scheme as closely as they possibly can, particularly as it affects men serving in the Far East. I believe that to increase Class B and compassionate releases would cause more dislocation and dissatisfaction than would be the case if the scheme were adhered to.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Garry Allighan (Gravesend)
My good fortune in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, gives me the opportunity and privilege of addressing the House for the first time, fortified by the assurance I have of the good will and good nature of the House, which are both traditional and instinctive. My only justification for intervening in the Debate is that I am engaged, and have been during the war years, in active journalistic work on behalf of the Services, during which time they have honoured me and cumbered me with their confidence and their confidences, sent to me every week in the shape of thousands of letters in which they tell me their thoughts, their aspirations and their hopes, and very often the fears and indignation which they might not express through the normal channels. During that period I have learned from them of the things that are concerning and worrying them; and since the present Minister of Labour made his first rather depressing statement on demobilisation, they have doubled the number of their letters to me and asked me a great number of questions which still remain unanswered in their minds, unless something goes out from this Debate this evening to give satisfactory and satisfying replies to them. Therefore, I thought it might be helpful to the House, in considering the subject of demobilisation, if I mentioned one or two questions that I have managed to distil out of the very heavy bulk of correspondence during the past eight months. 1721 One of the most dominant questions, and the question that is very germane to what has already been said in this Debate, is this: Is the principle of age and service being properly observed? I am presumptuous enough to dare to take issue with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition on one of the points he put forward in his speech. He suggested, as had been suggested before by a member of the T.U.C., that it would be advisable and advantageous to release men in a group stationed in this country without waiting for men in the same group to be brought from overseas for simultaneous release. That suggestion may be popular with some hon. Members, but I can assure the House it is thoroughly unpopular with the men in Burma and the 14th Army generally. It would be most unwise if that suggestion were to go out to the men in the Far Eastas having received any serious consideration by the House or the Government, because the principle of age and service means simultaneous release for all men in a given group. Some of us were engaged in supporting the Service authorities, when the scheme was first issued, in putting the scheme over to the men in order to ensure their acceptance of it on the ground that it was fair and reasonable. In the end, after an intensive campaign by the welfare officers, public relations officers, and those writing on Service subjects in the Press, the men accepted the scheme practically unanimously, as being fair and reasonable, because everybody had explained to them that its operations were on a unified conception.
No one explained to the men in the Forces that there would be fundamental exceptions to the application of this principle. No one of authority, for instance, explained to the R.A.F. that the scheme, while it applied to the other two Services on a strict age and service basis, would not apply in the ultimate to men in the R.A.F. on the same strict age and service basis; so much so that they are now beginning to ask themselves whether it is not a fact that instead of its being a question of age and service it is not a question of age and which Service, because it applies with different emphasis to the men in the R.A.F. I think it would have been more honest and sincere to the men in the R.A.F. if they had been told, when the scheme was first produced for 1722 their contemplation, exactly how it would operate in the R.A.F. I have received hundreds of letters from men in the R.A.F. during the last few days, summing the matter up in this way: If they had been told that the R.A.F. would be assessed on a different basis from the Army and the Navy, they would not have voted the scheme fair and reasonable. We must either justify or alter the scheme to make the men in the R.A.F. feel that their suspicion that it has been unfair to them is not justified.
Even now we are waiting for someone in authority to say to the R.A.F. that, as far as the R.A.F. is concerned, the principle of age and service has, to a considerable extent, been modified. An airman can have all the qualifications that would put him into a given group down for release, but he docs not get his release if he happens to be a clerk, a cook, a photographer or a musician. I can understand the necessity for keeping clerks back a little while, because they have to prepare the papers to enable other fellows in the same group as themselves to be released; I can understand cooks being kept, because they have to prepare the last supper for the men who are being released; but I cannot understand why it is necessary to keep photographers, although there may be a very good reason for that. The question of keeping musicians back may arise from a desire that they should provide those strains of sweet music that soothe the troubled breast, or something like that. But the hold-up in the case of clerks and other trades in the R.A.F., as distinct from the general release of the groups in that Service, is considered by the men to be due to a lack of foresight on the part of the Air Ministry in the past, that lack of foresight which reduced the establishment for accounting clerks, transferred clerks and remustered clerks into one trade and another, and also allowed men to be transferred from the R.A.F. to the Fleet Air Arm and the Army, as well as refusing to accept A.T.C. recruits into the R.A.F., all of which have resulted in this serious bottleneck in the R.A.F. that is causing men to be held back.
It is very difficult to give answers to the men's questions. It is very difficult to invent reasons for this remarkable disparity between the Services. They still want to know why at 1723 the end of June next 2,134,000 men will have been released from the Army, but only 505,000 from the R.A.F. They still want to know why the Army is releasing 63 out of every 100 men, while the R.A.F. is releasing only 39. They still want to know why it is that so many are being released from the Army that by the end of June the military strength of the country will have dropped to 37 per cent. of its previous strength, while the strength of the R.A.F. will have dropped to 61 per cent. I hope that before the Debate ends some statement will be made that will enable us to give satisfactory replies to the men on these points.
Another question that the men are asking me is whether they can rely on the figures that are given to them in official statements and from official sources. As was rightly said by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, these men have much idle time on hand in which to study the figures that are being issued, and as figure succeeds figure so their confusion gets more confounded and their suspicion of the bona fides of official figures increases. During the past few days further cause for this has been aroused in their minds. On 2nd October the Minister of Labour issued a statement in which he gave the total figures of releases to take place in a certain number of specified groups. Nine days later a reply was published in HANSARD from the same right hon. Gentleman, giving the totals of figures in every group of the three Services. The men in the Forces have discovered that those two sets of figures do not match and that there is a serious and bewildering discrepancy between them. On 2nd October the Minister of Labour said that, during the present three months, there would be released from the Navy a total of 372,000 men in certain specific groups, but on 11th October the same right hon. Gentleman stated that in those specific groups there were only 324,000 men, so that there are going to be released, according to those sets of figures, 48,450 more men than there are in the groups. In the Army the same discrepancy arises, only more so.
The figures given by the right hon. Gentleman on 2nd October were that Groups would be released between now and the end of June next which would 1724 result in 1,785,000 soldiers being demobilised from the specified groups, yet those specified groups only contain 1,593,000 men, or, in other words, according to these sets of figures, nearly 200,000 more men are to be released from those groups than those groups contain. These men look at the figures and wonder whether it is just a mathematical miscalculation on the part of some Minister or expert, or whether it reflects a haphazard view of man-power resources and the treatment of the men, these being so unimportant that, for the whole of the three Services, a miscalculation of 261,000 men has been made.
The only other point I wish to raise is that the men are asking why it is necessary to hold in the Forces men who have served overseas and who are now between the ages of 35 and 45, while men of just over 30 who have been in sheltered occupations during the war are not being called up. Some of us have taken great care, and have written, and worked in order to prevent two groups or populations developing inside the working classes in the factories. We have tried to prevent two conceptions of the man who did his service in uniform, and the man who did his service not in uniform, but this kind of discrimination is calculated to encourage that artificial bifurcation of the people, which is bad for the nation in every sense. In equity, it can be said that the age limit imposed on calling-up should be the age limit imposed for the retention of those who are already in the Services. I hope that we shall hear some comment on this aspect from the Minister who is to reply.
There is one method available which has not been touched on by any speaker and one under which the Minister need not change the system as it now stands, and need not touch the basic principle of age release. It is a method by which the operation of this system could be improved and humanised—namely, to allow Class C release to be extended and regarded more humanly and with greater understanding. It is a remarkable fact that during September, Class C, which has been introduced for the very purpose of releasing men on compassionate grounds, was able to release only 3,270 men—of the 5,000,000 men in the whole of the Forces—on compassionate grounds. Every Member of the House knows how small a proportion that is of the number 1725 of cases that we could all submit, and that seems to produce prima facie a case for generous and charitable action on the part of the Ministry. Class C is not being used extensively. By the use of Class C, this system could be humanised a great deal more.
I appeal to the Minister and to the Government to adopt a new spirit in the operation of the scheme. In the War Office they employ a remarkable card-index system by which every man and woman in the Army is indexed under name, age and occupation, and by touching a couple of buttons, all the cards of a given group, age and occupation tumble out and the numbers can be ascertained at once. That is the mechanical device in the War Office. It is that sort of thing that I hope the Minister of Labour will get rid of. It is no good to approach the question of demobilisation with a card-index complex. These men are not cards in an index but human beings. They represent a great human value in every home in this country, and I hope that, as a result of what has been said here, and will be said, the Minister of Labour and the Ministers of the Service Departments will adopt a more sympathetic attitude in their approach to this problem.
It is not for me, a newcomer to this legislative assembly, to say that legislation consists of two parts, but certainly the Ministry of Labour has magnificently carried out the strict letter of the law. It is still held that the "letter maketh the law, and the spirit maketh the life," and my appeal to the Government is that they will adopt this new spirit in regard to demobilisation—the human spirit and the assessing of the schemes of demobilisation in relation to the human values involved.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Major Renton (Huntingdon)
It is a generous and welcome tradition which enables a Member addressing the House for the first time to appeal for mercy and to know that he will be granted it, and this I do out of dire necessity. I recently had the good fortune to be released from the Army with my release group, and I would like to pay my humble tribute to the efficiency and imagination of those who organised that pleasing valediction They made us feel that the Army was proud of us and grateful to us and sorry to part with us. The clothing issue was particularly well organised. 1726 One got a suit of which one will be glad this coming winter, good shoes and a most beautiful raincoat. Unfortunately, however, though there was a large choice of ties, one could not find a tie which one could wear on this side of the House.
The Government, when they first came into office, must have counted themselves very fortunate in having, by way of a solution of one of the major problems of the day, the Class A release scheme which met with almost universal approval; and I think most of us heaved a sigh of relief and thought it would go through all right. We thought that the only difference of opinion would perhaps be dictated by circumstances and would be a difference of opinion as to the speed with which the scheme would apply; and the scheme most of us thought to be fool-proof. But three months of the application of the scheme have shown that it is capable of losing much of its advantages. When we find that, already, after only three months there are disparities between the three Services, between the various commands, between ranks and between specialists, we realise that the scheme is capable of being misinterpreted. Let us not lose hope, however; and may I as a very insignificant Member of an insignificant but bold minority put forward my plea to His Majesty's Government that they will try as fairly as possible, especially in view of the encouragement given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) to-day, to retrieve the situation and to get back as nearly as they possibly can to the strict application of the scheme. I suggest that as far as the application of the scheme is concerned there need be only two limiting factors, military necessity and availability of transport; and as far as departure from the scheme is concerned, nothing justifies wholesale departures from the scheme, and individual and particular departures can be justified only by way of Class B and Class C releases.
May I make a few observations upon each of these four factors—military necessity, availability of transport, and Class B and Class C. With regard to military necessity, naturally we all wish, in Tennyson's words, that the Government could:Ring out the thousand wars of old;Ring in the thousand years of peace.But looking round the world to-day one is compelled to realise that it might be several years before we can reduce our 1727 Forces to the pre-war peace-time level. I am not going to be so bold as to say whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford or the Government is right about the precise forces which will have to be kept alive; but the fact that those Forces will, in any event, be considerable is the strongest possible argument for ensuring that the morale of those Forces is sustained by the fair and strict application of the release scheme.
On the question of military necessity, I would remind the House that it is not the military necessity of war-time, it is not operational necessity, with which we have to deal to-day. It is the military necessity of troops in occupation, of troops in training, of troops doing garrison duty and of troops at rest. That is a very different thing, and it should compel the Service Departments to concede as much as they possibly can in the national interest in order to secure that the application of the scheme is as fair and strict as possible. I share the views of the hon. and gallant Member for Oswestry (Colonel Poole) on the question of the deferment of officers. It was well known that during the war, even when units were having very heavy casualties indeed, the officer training units were getting on with their job at such a fast rate that replacements came along, not always as everybody would wish, but at not too bad a rate. One wonders what is happening now to the officer training units. Are they still in existence? Have they a reduced rate of output? What has happened? Are officers being trained? Perhaps when this Debate is wound up this is another question to which we can have a reply from the Government.
I do not wish to cover ground with regard to transport which has already been covered; but we are told on many occasions in this House in answers to Questions, that a thing cannot be done because there is not the transport available for it. No doubt, sooner or later our patience will be exhausted by that reply; but even now outside this House, in the country, I feel sure that there are a great many people who are getting rather tired of it. After all, ships are not working in convoy now. We no longer have large convoys of ships bound for abroad with arms, munitions and men. We no longer have to supply vast Forces overseas. It is a continuously decreasing 1728 number of troops which we have to supply; and, surely, if these factors are borne in mind, we might reasonably hope that, in the very near future at any rate, the limiting factor of availability of transport will cease to be material in the consideration of this matter.
While mentioning these two questions of military necessity and availability of transport, may I refer, because I feel that they are essentially intertwined with these matters, to the subject of length of service overseas and leave from overseas? For too long now, those three old-timers of the military stage Python, Liap and Lilop, have been boring their audiences to tears. Python has been doing a most macabre performance, torturing his victims for as long as possible without actually killing them, while Liap creates a diversion by prancing to and fro across the stage, waving a ticket in a leave ballot, drawn by a glamorous A.T.S. and Lilop raises hopes in the next victims of Python by putting them on board a ship for England, which, however, turns out to be on a revolving stage, and so they came back again. I would ask the Government very seriously—and I am being serious over this—to consider the position of these people who have been overseas for four or five years. The Secretary of State has candidly admitted that they are there; and many of them are veterans of the war in the desert and the jungle, who settled down to what are mainly administrative jobs, either because they could go no further, or because it was felt they could do an administrative job better or for one reason or another. The medical authorities, to their credit, have insisted that three years is quite long enough in those climates for anybody. I know one case of an officer, who joined the Territorials in 1936, served continuously from the beginning of the war, served in France, went out to the Middle East in 1941, took an administrative post under Civil Affairs, and who is still in the Middle East. Not only has he had no home leave since then, but his release has been deferred. We know that, in the national interest, there must be exceptional cases; but I know of my own knowledge that there is quite a considerable number of officers and men in that position, and I would most earnestly, on behalf of those officers and men and in the interest of fairness, ask for the most special consideration for them. 1729 Now I will deal with the question of compassionate releases, about which it is very difficult to talk dispassionately. There are people of the older generation who have been keeping small businesses going throughout the war years. They have been doing so single-handed in many cases, and they have coped with the great difficulties of filling in forms and handling ration cards, and have served their particular neighbourhood very wonderfully throughout that time. Six years of this struggle are beginning to make them feel very old before their time. That is particularly true, I think, of the people in the rural areas, who are pretty dogged. They will not give up. They know that, if they stopped supplying meat or milk or whatever it may be, there is nobody else to take over. There is another point about it, which is that, unless they do go on until their sons come back from the Forces, the sons will not have a business, which to them is a job, to which to return. While demobilisation is going on, one might have hoped that the Government would have been generous to these people.
I feel that some Members of the Government are really doing their very best to help in this matter; but I have sent a good many letters to them asking that something should be done, and, frankly, I was a little surprised when, in my mail this morning, I found that what I was doing was apparently wrong, in that it was said to confuse the usual method of dealing with these matters. If the usual channels are dealing with these matters satisfactorily, I would be the first to desist. I should probably lose a vote every time I did desist, but that would not matter. But are they working properly? The figures for September as given by the Secretary of State for War show the following compassionate releases: Army, just over 3,000;Royal Air Force, just over 30; Royal Navy, just over 30. The Army figures, in the present circumstances are meagre enough; but something really disgraceful seems to be happening to the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. Perhaps one of the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench will clarify this.
On Class B releases, there is only one short point which I wish to make. As the scheme seems to be working at the moment, and it may be the only way in 1730 which it will work, the principle seems to be that the men are "hand-picked"; that is to say, when there is to be a block release of men in a particular trade, say 1,000 individuals, they are picked out by the War Office and pulled out of the Service. But the men who are eligible to be picked out under block releases naturally take it to heart when they see other people going home before them. It may well be that this is unavoidable, and I am not criticising the War Office; but, as the hon. Member who preceded me has pointed out, it is most important that the scheme should not only be fair, but it should be explained to the men as being fair. They must be told about these things, or they will feel a sense of grievance and their morale will suffer.
I conclude by repeating my inadequate plea on behalf of thousands of small shopkeepers, small farmers, and small builders who are growing old too soon, and on behalf of young wives who have been lonely for too long, and I ask the Government to do everything they possibly can to speed the return of these men who have been so long awaiting it, after serving their country so well.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
On a point of Order. Speeches of great force and fluency are being made on matters relating to the War Office. Where is the Secretary of State for War? Where is the Financial Secretary? Where is the Parliamentary Secretary, or any representative of the War Office? Is it not treating the House with some discourtesy that this should happen?
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
On that point of Order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would it be in Order to move the Adjournment of the Debate having regard to this fact?
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Strachey)
I have to sum up this Debate, and I will endeavour to deal with all the points which have been raised concerning the War Office.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
Does the hon. Gentleman move the Adjournment of the Debate?
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Do I understand, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it is in your discretion whether to accept that Motion or not. and that you have accepted it?
§ Mr. Strachey
I cannot accept for one moment the statement that there is no one here capable of answering for the War Office. I think that is discourtesy. I may be inadequate—of that the House will have to be the judge—but I cannot possibly admit, before I make a statement, that I shall be inadequate to deal with these points.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay
I am not supporting the Motion, but I am very much disturbed. Several times, while hon. Members on the Front Bench have been talking to their colleagues on the bench behind them, excellent points have been made in maiden speeches by hon. Members who have come back from the war.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
I would like to know, on a point of Order, to what the hon. Gentleman opposite is speaking, since you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, have not accepted the Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate and have not called the hon. Member to speak.
§ Mr. Hogg
Further to that point of Order. The hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Air has misunderstood me in supposing that I was suggesting any limitation whatever of his powers of debate. The point to which I am inviting your attention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is that the Noble Lord behind me has drawn attention to the fact that there is no representative of the War Office present at this Debate. He complained that points were being put forward concerning the Army—the most numerous of the three Services—without anybody being here to represent the War Office. I have asked you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in accordance with the well-established custom of the House, whether you will accept at this stage a Motion for the Adjournment of this Debate, which 1732 I understand is a matter for your discretion and is a perfectly well-established practice of this House, should you, in your discretion, decide to accept it.
§ Mr. Martin (Southwark, Central)
Is it not also a well-established precedent that when the Opposition draw attention to the fact that a representative of the Government is not present, it is usual to allow time for the Minister's attendance to be obtained?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That is so, and I think I should now inform the House that I do not propose to accept the Motion.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
As you have decided not to accept the Motion, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would you indicate in what way we can secure the attendance of a Service Member of the Government?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Might I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should—to use an old phrase "Wait and see." Miss Jennie Lee.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I quite appreciate your point of view in ruling that you cannot accept this Motion, but we have had no assurance from the Government side of the House, so far as I am aware, that a representative of the other Service Departments and a Cabinet Minister will attend this all-important Debate. If we had received that, we might have received your Ruling with more grace.
§ Mr. Strachey
I would like to say that it seems to me most important that the Member to whose lot it falls to reply to this Debate should be present because, whatever other Member of the Government is here, I have to reply, and I am here making a careful note of the points which are being raised, and that is the essence of the matter.
§ Mr. Butler
On a further point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. That is a most extraordinary statement just made by the Under-Secretary of State for Air, who thereby betrays a lack of knowledge, which is quite understandable, of the general procedure of this House. There is absolutely no question of discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman himself, who is obviously taking every trouble to pay attention to the Debate. The point is that 1733 this is a vital Debate for the Government and for the country. There is no Cabinet Minister here to support him, and none of his Service colleagues, as far as I am aware, are here to support him either. That is most unusual in a Debate of this character, and I think this side of the House, and the House in general, deserves some indication from right hon. Gentlemen opposite, on this point.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I propose to accept your advice that we should "wait and see," and I share the general hope of the House—for, after all, we are a House of Commons, not just a combination of political parties—that later in this Debate Members of the War Cabinet will be present. However, I myself have perfect confidence in the ability of the Under-Secretary of State for Air to answer the questions that I wish to put to him. I am very delighted that he is here, because I am quite sure that he will not miss any of them, and that is a very high compliment indeed to be paid to him.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Huntingdon (Major Renton) made a maiden speech and, in accordance with the courtesies of this House—I am very pleased to see that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has just entered the House; we are glad to see him.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. J. J. Lawson)
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am very pleased to be of such interest to the House. I have been here all day, but I went out for a cup of tea—and it was a cup of tea.
§ Miss Lee
I hope we are now all perfectly satisfied with the representation in the House. I was saying that it gave me great pleasure to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon on his maiden speech, because, above all, he stressed the gentleness of the British temperament and our concern, in all circumstances, to see that the needs of the individual will not be overlooked. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Air will satisfy me, and another most able maiden speaker the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Garry Allighan) on this question of compassionate releases. Of course, every one of us is receiving letters 1734 which call for our sympathy, and we are indeed anxious that our Government shall function in a way which will never lose sight of the individual, while, at the same time, guarding the collective good. I, too, am concerned with compassionate cases but, unless my post-bag is unrepresentative, the Government have already made considerable improvement in that respect. Perhaps at the end of this Debate we might be given the figures from mid-June, so that we can have precise information to guide us as to how many Service personnel have been released under this category. To-day, I am particularly concerned with Class B releases, but before proceeding to those, I would say a few words about Class A releases and the general speed of demobilisation.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) is now in his place and as we know, and all the world knows, when that right hon. Gentle man uses figures referring to the Army, Navy and Air Force, in view of his record and his experiences those figures carry very great weight. The right hon. Gentleman in this House to-day said that he believed 1,500,000 would be an adequate peace-time establishment to meet all our commitments honourably in every part of the world. That is indeed a great statement, and I do not want, in any way, to sound personally discourteous if I say that I have a certain scepticism about that figure. I remember that at a time when the people of this country first began to feel that the war was ending, that peace needs could begin to have priority, the right hon. Gentleman over the air promised to soldiers and civilians alike 500,000 temporary houses, and we have knowledge now that that figure of 500,000—
§ Mr. Churchill
I think it is a year and a half ago that I expressed myself strongly in favour of plans being made to create 500,000 temporary houses, but that was not promising these houses on any given date. [Laughter.] There is nothing to laugh about. It depended on the ending of the war and the bringing home of the builders.
§ Miss Lee
The right hon. Gentleman is distinguished for using words which convey exactly what he means to convey, and I can assure him that he gave an impression, both to the Services and to civilians, that 500,000 temporary houses 1735 could be built in a relatively short space of time. Since then we have had reason to know that that figure was used without any definite reference at all to the building material or the building labour available. In other words, it represented the right hon. Gentleman's wishes but not any established and checked set of circumstances. Now, to-day, in this House, we are told that for some mysterious reason, not yet explained, the love for soldiers and sailors and airmen on this side of the House is so much greater than the love of those opposite for them that this Labour Government are seeking to maintain a larger military service than the circumstances require. I should be very glad indeed if, in replying to this Debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Air could give us an authoritative statement, telling us why one man or woman should be reserved in the Services unless there is an absolutely unanswerable case for keeping them there.
In the meantime, without any personal discourtesy, I retain a strong grain of scepticism about the right hon. Gentleman's figure of 1,500,000. However, it is not in my power to judge those figures as a military expert. We all know that the over-all figure and the commitments behind it have to be decided at the highest possible political level or I would venture to say that if our Government will lead world opinion—in particular will lead American opinion and Russian opinion, French opinion or, indeed, all our Allies—in insisting that the atomic bomb, instead of being held as a sinister threat over the heads of the entire world, should be shared knowledge and shared responsibility, I think, on the level of policy, we would be creating a situation that would help us to speed up demobilisation.
On another issue of general principle, I would say that I hope the Government will make even more articulate than it has already done its break with old Imperial notions so that, whether it is India or Burma, or any part of the British Empire, or the Dutch, French, or any other Empire, we can say to coloured people, "We accept you on terms of complete equality; we do not want a single British soldier or any other soldier to be kept in the Forces for old, evil, Imperialist reasons." Perhaps in that way, too, on the grounds of the highest policy, we can 1736 speed up the reduction of our over all forces.
My particular concern this afternoon, however, is not with Class A releases—although, of course, I share the hopes of every hon. Member that as many men and women will be released as soon as possible—but with Class B releases. I completely fail to understand, not only the figures but the principles upon which we are working in relation to Class B releases. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Air will give us the exact number of men and women who have been released since mid-June under Class B.
§ Miss Lee
We can do that little addition and subtraction sum ourselves, but I would like to know if 10 per cent. releases under Class B have been realised. I do not want the figures for any short period, I want the broad picture from mid-June as to whether 10 per cent. releases under Class B have been realised. That figure is of at least equal interest to us and to the country with Class C releases, in respect of which we are very often dealing with incidents of personal tragedy. We wish to do everything in our power to help, but under Class B releases we are dealing with commando troops for the reconstruction of the people. Class B releases, more than any other group, will determine the speed with which our houses, our hospitals, our reconstruction of mining—all the things that mean a good peace-time life for our people—will be rebuilt. I want His Majesty's Government to retain the principle of age plus length of service as far as that is possible and in the interests of the Servicemen, of civilians and of the country. We are all living under the shadow of the mistakes made by hon. Members opposite after the last war. We know the nepotism that existed, and we know the mistakes made then. So this time we want every man in the Forces to feel that there is fair play as between man and man, and that if anyone is released ahead of time there must be a cast-iron reason given, a reason that transcends his personal circumstances and is based upon the country's needs. Now, in regard to this category Class B, I would diffidently suggest to the Government that they might 1737 consider the wisdom of leaving it to the individual man in the Services to decide whether or not he should accept Class B release. I know that that is the situation at the moment, and I ask the Government to consider maintaining that position. Class B men are being asked for because they are the shock brigade, the commandos, the men and women who have to go ahead into the vital points of industry and, by priming the general machine, make it possible for us to give employment to the main volume of Servicemen and women when they return.
Suppose I find myself a serving soldier somewhere in Europe, or in India or Burma, who, because of my peace-time occupation, is offered Class B release. If the Government say to me, "You can come out under Class B if you wish," that is surely not the way of impressing upon me that it is of vital national importance that I should accept that form of release. Indeed, I suggest that the Class B Service people are being put into an indefensible position both in relation to military necessity and peace-time needs. The Class B soldier is told, "You are not indispensable for the military machine, and if you want to you can go home." A Class B soldier is told, "You are not indispensable for post-war reconstruction and if you wish you can remain in the Forces."
I suggest that this type of Serviceman would have much greater peace of mind if we said to him, "Here is the pay due to you, and here is your gratuity. There is an S.O.S. You are needed for civvy street immediately and urgently." While by temperament and political conviction I am the last person to seek to impose forceful methods on anyone I would have fewer scruples in bringing men out of the Army than in putting them into it. We took military necessity so seriously that we said to our men, "You must go in the Services, you must fight and you must face death or mutilation." If anyone dared say that we were taking undue rights with the liberty of the individual our answer in those circumstances was, "We ourselves are under a necessity, because either we must behave in this way or we must risk being defeated by military enemy."
I ask, if soldiers who are coming out under the ordinary demobilisation regulations one year from now are going to feel that this House has their highest 1738 interest at heart, it has really carried out the spirit of the principle of fairness as between man and man? If I meet someone in Staffordshire who is demobilised one year from now, and who has no house, no job and inadequate schooling and other facilities for his children, and he says to me, "Why is it taking so long?" is he going to be pleased with my reply, "Maybe we ought to have had more builders, more architects and more teachers out. Maybe we ought to have had more key people to prepare the way for you, but we wanted to be fair to you and our idea was to stick as strictly as possible, to the 10 per cent. Class B releases"? I hope I can be enlightened on the mystical value of this 10 per cent. Is it as important in present circumstances as it was when the scheme was first drawn up, or ought we not, in Class B releases, to relate the number of men to the job which has to be done in industrial reconstruction rather than to the sum total of the Armed Forces?
I have no wish to ask questions that would be unnecessarily awkward, for I spend my life trying not to be awkward. I am always being taken by surprise when asking what seem to me to be quite rational questions, on being told that for some reason or other they ought not to have been asked. This is the British House of Commons; we are not voting on this issue. We are meeting together as a Parliament, and our common interest is to discover the facts so that we ourselves may know those facts and then, knowing them, possibly convince our constituents and friends in the Services that we are doing everything possible to bring them back speedily and in competent fashion to the post-war world. If I have spoken in this way it is because, above all, that we do not want, in three months, six months, or one year from now, to have to admit that our problems of reconstruction were rather more serious than we had at first imagined. The people of Great Britain are in very good humour towards this Government; they know it is their Government. They are content at this moment not so much with the record of work already done, because they know that with a Labour Government they need have none of the fears that would have harassed them if Members opposite had been in power. If Members opposite had been in power there would have been a profound fear and suspicion 1739 that demobilisation was being held up, that reconstruction was being sabotaged, for selfish financial interests. It is a great relief to the people of this country not to have to worry at least on that level. They know that this Labour Government is a people's Government—
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
May I say, with the same sincerity as the hon. Lady, that never have letters to Members of Parliament been so critical of a Government as those we are receiving now.
§ Miss Lee
Honourable, but not right. If the hon. Gentleman had been with me during the recent by-election at Smethwick, on the eve of the poll, he would have discovered that the criticisms of and questions to the Labour Government are being asked in a friendly spirit—something which perhaps he does not realise.
§ Captain Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
If the hon. Lady had been with me and some of her colleagues in Germany recently, she would have found that the troops who supported the Labour Government at the Election have now quite a different impression of that Government.
§ Miss Lee
On those matters we must agree to differ. I am entirely tranquil about our men in Germany, because they know that the job being done by this Government is one which will not be finished in a month but will only be adequately begun in the next four years. We have sufficient confidence in one another that we can openly, in public Debate in this House, ask one another questions in order that, good though our Government may be, we can bring our collective experience to bear in such a way that on occasions they may still be better.
I do not wish to delay the House much longer, except to make two further points to which I attach great importance. I am anxious that demobilisation should be speeded to the utmost but at the same time I appreciate that during this winter a vast number of Service personnel will be stationed in Great Britain. A figure 1740 1,000,000 has been mentioned, and if that is not accurate I should be glad to have more accurate estimate. It does seem that even while we are waiting fuller demobilisation something should be done, in the interests of soldiers and civilians, by determining now the food ration they need according to the type of job they do, rather than the type of clothes they wear. The war is over. Men and women may be wearing military uniform yet actually be engaged as typists. I hope the Government will consider making a new allocation of food so that in this emergency winter there will be the same ration for the soldier and civilian doing light work and additional food for heavy manual workers, miners in particular, who believe they are entitled—an opinion which I share—to an extra allocation rather than that the food should be given to Service personnel who are doing light jobs, and who are marking time in this country until their date of release.
There is another minor, but important, issue. Are the Government satisfied that women are doing essential work in the Services? I do not know the answer to that question, but from letters I have received, and from going about the country, I have the very definite impression that there are women in the Services who could be released. My private conviction is that many women ought never to have been in the Services, that they could have done their job equally well as civilians. But that is another matter. The relevant point at this moment is whether the Government will give us an assurance that no woman who could be released is being kept in the Services.
Finally, I would like to say this in justification of the questions which I have put. We want the Forces and our civilian population not only to believe, but to know from our actions, that we place the same insistence and the same priority on peace reconstruction as we do on war reconstruction. I do not want us ever to have the tragedy of looking back and remembering the early months of our Labour Government as leading to a peace-time Dunkirk. I believe it is better to express any fears, any doubts, one might have, now in order that our imagination and will may travel ahead of events. If the Government is satisfied with the present rates of release, particularly in Class B, I can say no more, but 1741 I beg of them to explain to me why the figure 10 per cent. is sacrosanct. I ask them to consider whether men in Class B category ought not to be told: "You are needed now as much on the peace front as you were on the war front; we not only ask you whether or not you are prepared to come back, but we do mean what we say when we say that you are needed here, and send you an S.O.S. We want to give you the pleasure and privilege of being right in the front of the battle for the reconstruction of Britain, "which we know our Government will carry out, and all that we on this side are anxious to ensure is that it shall be carried out in the minimum of time.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Mackeson (Hythe)
I crave the indulgence of the House for this my first speech. I have listened with great attention to many maiden speeches made by hon. Members who have had experience in speaking in other places, such as councils and law courts. I have no such experience, as I am a regular officer. It has been a great relief to me that in this Debate up to now we have heard no irresponsible demand for one-sided disarmament. We must be quite clear that the Armed Forces retained by the Government must be sufficient to meet any commitments which they may have to undertake. I believe that these commitments are not only of a military nature, and that this winter the Government will have to take drastic action, to meet famine and disease abroad as they have done to meet the Nazis in the field. I hope that a Government spokesman will come to this House very soon and tell us the total number of British Forces which the Government need and the extent of the Forces which the other United Nations are going to keep. If any nation declines to give that information, then let the world know. I hope that when these figures are given arrangements will be made for observers and attachés to know what is happening, because during the war some of our Allies—I will not quote examples—did not give our observers all the information which they could have given. We cannot tolerate that in peace. You cannot disarm and demobilise unless you know what is happening elsewhere in the world. I would strike a note of warning about that now.
There are one or two constructive and non-controversial points which I should 1742 like to put before the House. The hon. and gallant Member for Oswestry (Colonel Poole) mentioned the extent of headquarter staffs. I would like to support him, and in particular what the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) called the reorganisation phase, rather than the organisation of the fighting, mobile troops, the Air Force and the Navy. A feeling has grown up in our Armed Forces that one man only commands three or four subordinates. You will find throughout the Armed Forces that number employed: three platoons to a company; three companies to a battalion; three battalions to a brigade, sometimes four. When you are fighting, the commander has many more attached to him, but under peace-time conditions commanders do not get these numbers increased for training and administration. If a lance-corporal who is a basic unit can command seven or eight men in his section, I submit that we should consider very closely having more sub-units in a regiment on static or holding establishments.
I must issue a word of warning. You cannot economise in staff unless you economise in paper work, for which another word is used outside this House. It is essential to economise in that. I have seen commander after commander issuing orders about that and failing. The reason they fail is because under peace-time conditions the commander-in-chief has not the same responsibility and everything is held in tight by bureaucracy and the Service Departments. If you can decentralise that, you will save a large number of officers and men sitting on their seats writing papers. I could quote hundreds of examples, such as 25 letters written about one article costing 3s. 4d, and an officer responsible for £10,000,000 worth of equipment who is not allowed to write off £10 in cash. I would ask the Socialist Government to prove to the world that these controls should be dispensed with. It has never been done in the history of the Services, either by the Duke of Wellington or anyone else. Will this Government decentralise responsibility, and get rid of red tape, or are they to be committed to bureaucracy and control? I think we shall see whether or not they cantake the broad outlook as the post-war Services develop. With regard to publicity, I feel the Government have let down the private very badly. Surely with 1743 public relations officers and a Ministry of Information we should be able to get down to the man in the ranks and tell him what is happening, as the Prime Minister promised to do. Unless this can be done, they cannot be doing their job efficiently.
Another suggestion which I would make in connection with saving manpower, is that British equipment is too complicated. A British tank takes far more man-hours to construct than an American tank. Have the Government any command over specifications—and I know they have not—to ensure economy in man-hours? It is not practical in war, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that in future, for training purposes, we must have simple equipment and not make £10,000 vehicles to teach Private Tommy Atkins to drive. It is an important point that we cannot afford to maintain highly expensive equipment for training.
There is one other small point. Officers are driven about in 30-horse-power cars with chauffeurs, and when they come out of the Army they are lucky if they have 8-horse-power cars to drive themselves. Let us give the Foreign Secretary a 30-horse-power car by all means—he thoroughly deserves it—but cannot officers be allowed to drive their own cars instead of keeping men outside headquarters, hour after hour, wasting time? On the question of overheads, there is nothing that the Serviceman hates more than the "chores" that are involved in housekeeping. At least 30 men in every squadron or company to-day have been on fatigues—peeling potatoes, carrying coal, dealing with sanitation and doing a thousand and one other jobs. A great improvement has been made as the outcome of the advice the War Office have received on catering, but further improvements and economies could be made by consulting civilian industrialists and caterers in order to stop this frightful waste of man-hours.
I would also like to ask the Government how they intend to use Colonial manpower. I know that in Europe a lot of foreign man-power is being used, but could not more be used to relieve this desperate need of labour? What part is the Colonial Empire to take in our post-war Armed Forces? We have very few 1744 Maltese, and I would like to know whether there is to be a Maltese infantry battalion, and whether the people of Malta are being invited to take part in the defence and policing of the world or not. In the West Indies 400,000 men came to help us, and they could be invited to assist in many ways. I believe that the Army and the Air Force could use Colonial stewards to assist in jobs which are not actually technical. On the aerodromes, there are literally hundreds of men involved in administration. Could not the Government go to the Colonial Empire and invite their co-operation to send a number of men who are trained, so that this country may not have an unnecessary number of men taken for training purposes? It takes one man to train four, and this is very expensive. I am quite certain there is one thing that we cannot afford and that is to waste time. I am not happy about what is happening. I feel that there is lack of co-ordinationand decision either by the Ministry of Defence or the Ministry of Labour, otherwise I cannot see why men are not flowing rapidly into the Air Force both from civilian life and the other Services. I hope the Government will take wide and sweeping decisions now, and release as many men and women as possible, because we cannot afford to waste the time of British men and women at this stage of affairs.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Major Symonds (Cambridge)
Like the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hythe (Lieut.-Colonel Mackeson), who has just preceded me, I crave the indulgence of this House for a maiden speech. Having discussed housing last Wednesday, and now demobilisation to-day, we are covering, I think, two matters which most concern the people of this country. I know quite well they are the two matters which most concern the constituency I have the honour to represent. The borough of Cambridge has its housing problem and its demobilisation problem, too, and the particular aspect of the latter which is causing the most feeling at the moment—that of the delay in the demobilisation of the R.A.F.—is a particular concern to Cambridge, in that so many of its youth have been, or are still, in the R.A.F., both on the airfields which surround Cambridge, and farther a field.
I am quite sure that both these acute problems are going to be solved by this 1745 present Administration, and I am quite confident, therefore, that Cambridge will not have any cause to regret having beaten Oxford in yet another sphere—not the Boat Race this time, but the race towards political enlightenment. As a maiden speech is expected to be not too controversial, and also brief, I must refrain from making many comments I would like to make on the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). I propose, therefore, to confine myself to constructive remarks, and to say what I can to help improve the present demobilisation scheme, the basis of which is still, I am sure, accepted as a fair one by most people in the community. I will confine myself to two general comments and, in conclusion, to one or two particular comments on this vexed question of delay in demobilisation of the R.A.F. as compared with the other two Services.
My first general comment is with regard to information and publicity. I am quite sure that all hon. Members would have been saved a great deal of correspondence if, for instance, the statement made by the Under-Secretary of State for Air in the Adjournment Debate of, I think, 12th October, had been made at the time of the announcement by the Minister of Labour on 3rd October. Surely it was too much to expect, in view of the figures given in the Minister of Labour's statement, that the R.A.F. would have no comment to make and no questions to ask. The mere exposition of figures is not enough. There must be explanation and full explanation too—explanation given at the time and not several days later, as though under pressure. This country, and the men in its service, will face disappointments, perhaps better than those of any other country in the world, always provided they are taken into a Minister's confidence, and are given a full explanation of what is expected of them. This lack of information and explanation only produces cynicism.
I remember, in the days of 1942, when Cairo was filled with innumerable branches of the General Staff, who seemed to exist for no purpose at all that any ordinary mortal could understand, it was common talk that the real reason why Rommel stopped at El Alamein was because he realised that, with G.H.Q., Cairo ahead of him, he was up against 1746 superior numbers for the first time. In those days, a full explanation of that fantastic organisation G.H.Q., M.E.F., and why many of its departments were necessary, could not be given for security reasons. To-day, I see no reason at all for withholding explanations of this kind. The two main reasons adduced by the Under-Secretary of State for Air to explain the delay in the demobilisation of the R.A.F. were, first of all, the immense transport commitments of the R.A.F. in the next few months, and, secondly, the use of the R.A.F. in an occupational role to economise in man-power. They are both very weighty reasons, but I suggest that they would have carried far more weight with the men concerned if they had been given with the original announcement on 3rd October instead of almost as an afterthought. And, with with regard to these explanations, I am not at all sure that the detailed figures, as given, have been given enough explanation in this matter which is of such concern to the R.A.F.—the fact that the Navy proposes to demobilise some 17 more groups than the R.A.F. up to next June.
I do not think sufficient publicity has been given to the fact that the proposed Navy releases are only average, and not all-in, as, for instance, the Army's are, and there may be considerable exceptions to those. Not enough stress, too, has been laid on the comparative numbers involved. Those extra 17 groups in the Navy, Groups 31 to 45, which caused the R.A.F. so much heartburning, when the total numbers involved are taken together, are less than the single Army group 25 or 26. In fact, they are less than one-fifth of the total Army releases in the same period, although the Army only gets to Group 31. These Navy releases are only just one-third more than the R.A.F. groups 25 to 28 to be released in the same period. These facts, I feel, should have been explained, and explained early on. Service Ministers, one knows, have enough on their plates—to use a colloquialism—already, but I suggest that it would save them and their Departments, not to mention hon. Members of this House, a great deal of time and correspondence if each Service Minister, or his Under-Secretary, gave a short broadcast talk—a different Ministry each week—and devoted some 15 or 20 minutes to the explanation of the problems of demobilisation, and to answering some of the hundreds of queries 1747 which we get. It could be called the "Demobilisation Half-hour." If we had, say, a Service Minister every week for three weeks, we might then round off the month with, as a sort of pièce de resistance, the Minister of Labour explaining the mysterious workings of Class B.
My second general comment is with regard to war establishments. So far, in answer to Questions, neither the Secretary of State for War nor the Under-Secretary for Air has looked particularly favourably on, or expected many early results from, the suggested civilian commissions to go round depots and stations to comb out surplus personnel. We are told that high-ranking officers are already engaged on that task, and are checking up on war establishments. With great respect, I suggest that high-ranking officers are not the right people for the job. Some people, I know, suggest that certain officers are holding up war establishments, holding people back, in order to preserve their ranks. It may be so in isolated cases, but I do not believe it is generally true. I think they are equally as patriotic now as they were during the war, and I am not basing my argument on that. I am basing my argument on the fact that the main emphasis of what is the vital national interest has changed. In the war, Service needs naturally came first, but now civilian and industrial needs are paramount. The officers know what the Services need, but not what industry needs. Only the civilians can know that, and I feel that only civilians are in a position to do this combing out process.
Perhaps I may give one very small example to show why this is necessary. When I was in the Army I had three clerks to deal with my correspondence. Now, as a full-time clerk myself, and a part-time legislator, as one hon. Member has so aptly put it, I have no clerk at all, but my correspondence is far greater in volume than it was then. My successor in my Army job, whoever he is and wherever he is, still has those three clerks, I am quite sure, because there are three on the war establishment. Service officers can see to it that war establishments are not exceeded, but only a civilian, I suggest, can have sufficient knowledge of the urgent needs of industry to weigh up the claims of war establishments as against civilian requirements. By Service 1748 methods it is almost impossible to change a war establishment. It is easier to make a camel pass through the eye of a needle, or for myself to find a hair restorer that will work. I suggest, therefore, that civilians with knowledge of the needs of industry, and preferably civilians with Service experience, so that they cannot have the wool pulled over their eyes by Service officers, should be empowered to go round stations and depots, and, particularly, of course, headquarters, to see what jobs personnel are actually doing, and if they find them not employed, or under employed, to comb them out. This method would go quite a long way towards easing the particular problem of the R.A.F., with which matter I wish to conclude.
One hears of stations, still with the same headquarters establishment, now dealing with two squadrons where, originally, they dealt with eight. Hon. Members will have heard of similar cases from their correspondence and I need not labour that point. That is one method, I suggest, of evening up things for the R.A.F.—the combing out of surplus personnel. Then, from another point of view, there is the matter of R.A.F. intake. Between now and the end of the year, published figures show an intake, for all Services, of 160,000. Of this figure the R.A.F. only get 45,000, just over one quarter, the Navy get 30,000, and the Army get 85,000, more than half. Surely, in view of the extra burden to be borne by the R.A.F., these proportions should be altered in their favour. If there is any reason why they cannot be altered and why they must remain as they are, I think that this House and the men in the R.A.F. are entitled to a full and detailed explanation.
My final suggestion for easing this matter for the R.A.F. relates to transfers from the higher groups of the Army and the Navy to the R.A.F. This would simply reverse a process which had gone on earlier in the war, when men were taken from the R.A.F. into the Army and Navy. We are told that retraining is required and that it cannot be done in time to affect the next few months. The difference in time of release between the Navy and the R.A.F. can amount to a total of 34 months. To suggest that that is not time enough for retraining needs a little explanation. Quite apart from 1749 that, a very high proportion of the duties in the R.A.F. have no direct connection with flying. I am quite sure that motor drivers, mechanics, mess and cook house personnel and clerks, even accountancy clerks, could be transferred from the Navy or the Army to the R.A.F. and so ease the position.
To sum up, whatever can or cannot be done, I plead for a full and detailed explanation which the men in the Services can understand and appreciate, and for such explanations actually to be brought home to the men, not simply published in Orders. From my own personal experience I know to what use copies of routine orders are often put. I plead for civilian investigation into the claims of the Services now for their war establishments, because civilian needs are now paramount and only civilians can judge of these. Finally, I plead for an evening-out, as far as possible, for the R.A.F. to preserve the age and service scheme as it was originally intended, by giving the R.A.F. priority of intake and by transfers from Army and Navy higher age groups into the R.A.F.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George (Anglesey)
I am sure I shall carry the whole of the House with me in congratulating first the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Lieut.-Colonel Mackeson), who made a maiden speech full of practical suggestions, and secondly, the hon. and gallant Member for Cambridge (Major Symonds), who has just made a most admirable maiden speech. Making one's maiden speech is an ordeal which no Member can even recall without a tremor. I am sure the hon. and gallant Members to whom we have just listened can be satisfied that they have acquitted themselves with much credit. We shall look forward to hearing many contributions from them both in future.
The principle of age and length of service has, in the main, been approved by all political parties and by the Forces, and it has, in the main, been vindicated by speakers of all parties in the Debate to-day. Some of us were not enthusiastic about it in the first place and said so, but the Forces regard it as a pledged policy, and I am perfectly certain that we cannot go back upon the Bevin scheme without unfortunate consequences, both 1750 to morale and confidence, among the troops. The answer is rather a speeding up of the whole of general demobilisation. Hon. Members have their own postbags to testify that there is a growing feeling of dissatisfaction and irritation at the way in which the Bevin scheme is working, and with the rate at which it is being operated. I would like to return for one moment to a point raised earlier in the Debate about the discrepancy in the actual working of the Bevin scheme as it is today, particularly the discrepancy which exists between the releases from the Army and Navy and from the R.A.F. As has been pointed out, by June next year the Royal Navy will have reached Group 45, the Army Group 31 and the Royal Air Force only Group 28. I do not know how such discrimination can be justified. I would like to quote a sentence from one of the very many letters, which, in common with other hon. Members, I have received on this matter. It is from a serving man who says:This means that the 45's in the Navy will have served approximately three years, whilst I and most of the 27 and 28 Groups in the R.A.F. will have served six years.I do not think that anyone can regard the explanations that have been given up to date, whether by the Under-Secretary of State for Air or by any other Member of Government, as satisfactory on this particular point. I hope we shall have a further explanation to-night. There is a feeling that the R.A.F. has been slow in adapting itself to changed circumstances. I think all the Services have been, but the R.A.F. seems to be particularly backward. There is a feeling that the R.A.F. establishments have not adjusted themselves to meet the reduction in operational effort, and that they could be reduced considerably without in any sense impairing any operational efficiency likely to be demanded of them in the future. Take, for instance, what is happening in the bomber squadrons which are now being used as Transport Command. They still carry two air gunners and a bomb aimer. What for? In the light of these facts it looks to me very much as though the R.A.F. scheme was out of date, and was in fact based on full war strength. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Cambridge in his admirable suggestion that it is no use sending high-ranking officers of the R.A.F. around to see what is hap- 1751 pening. What is wanted is a man-power board to look into the circumstances of each unit and recommend proposals for their reduction and reorganisation.
These complaints are not confined to the R.A.F. There is a general feeling in the Navy that the basis for release is not age and service but age and service plus branch of service employment. That bears very adversely and heavily upon certain classes in the Navy, particularly supply, engine room, secretariat and sick bay branches. In the light of these circumstances it cannot really be said that the demobilisation scheme as it stands to-day, without any modification, passes the test of fairness as between one Service and another or one man and another, and that after all was the chief reason why it was accepted by the Services.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition expressed grave concern at the slow pace at which demobilisation was proceeding. It is perfectly true that the men are disappointed, they are sore that the rate is not more rapid. They feel somehow that there has been no radical change in the scheme since the war with Japan was concluded. Great numbers of them have been away from home for three, four, five or even more years. They are strangers to their homes, they are out of touch with their growing children; what is more they feel that they have done the job which they were sent out to do, and they want to get home and to start on what is, for most of them, a new life. No one will deny for a moment that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour has a very difficult task. I do not think any one will envy him his job. He has a great many considerations to weigh in the balance. The Leader of the Opposition told us that military considerations were not now very important. But the Government have to decide what military needs are likely to be, what forces we shall need for garrisoning, and they have to decide the reserve we may need against eventualities which may arise in Europe and the Far East. When the right hon. Gentleman was speaking to-day I wondered if he remembered how, following the last war, after the first scheme of demobilisation had broken down and demobilisation proceeded at a very rapid rate indeed, it was found that when trouble broke out in one place or another in the world we had not sufficient 1752 forces to deal with it. The Minister and the Government have to weigh these things very seriously. But even taking these factors into account we cannot be satisfied with the rate at which demobilisation is proceeding. The Minister of Labour has told us that by the end of this year, 1,500,000 men will have been released, and that by June next year 3,000,000 will have been released. Is it impossible to improve on that?
Criticism of the experiences after the last war has been expressed in one quarter of the House or another to-day. Certainly mistakes were made, but the Government of the day learned its lessons very quickly. If the present Government want to do as well as that Government did they have to catch up by four months in their demobilisation rate, because last time, in less than six months after the Armistice, 3,300,000 men had been demobilised. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour says the restricting factor is the lack of transport. The answer of the men is that the difficulties were overcome to get them out there, and that the difficulties could be overcome to get them back. They remain thoroughly unconvinced by that argument, as far as we can tell from the correspondence we receive. The right hon. Gentleman says, "We intend to deal with this transport problem as we would deal with an operation of war." What does he mean by that? What standard is he setting?—300,000 evacuated in a week from the Continent, large-scale landings in Africa, are these the standards which he intends to set in this matter of demobilisation? We would like to know, and I hope we may hear a little more about it in the reply we are to hear later in the Debate from the Government.
I would like to say something about Class B releases and about the percentage which the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) has so rightly described as the "mystical 10 per cent." I believe there must be modification in releases under Class B, that it should be done and can be done and without upsetting the general scheme. The White Paper on which the whole of the demobilisation scheme was based was drawn up at a time when it was thought probable, at any rate, that the Japanese war might go on for a year, or possibly 18 months. The release of key men for reconstruction, although it was important, was not as urgent and pressing as it has become 1753 to-day. The situation has indeed completely altered. Have the Government radically modified their scheme in the changed circumstances? The Leader of the Opposition spoke of the need for getting the wheels of industry turning.
Last week we had in this House a Debate on housing, and Members in every quarter of the House urged the Government to drive on with their housing programme. But what is the use of urging the Government to drive on with the housing programme when key men in the building industry are locked up in the Forces? We must face the fact—and this is the first fact that we have to face—that the housing programme is being seriously held up in the early stages because the local authorities have not the technical staff to assist them to make their plans. Since 1st August 156 technical officers and 16 other officers have been released. What are 156 technical officers among 1,400 local authorities? How far does that get us? We cannot even make the roads or cut the first sod or lay the first brick without these technical men, and unless we get them to assist the local authorities now, the whole of the plans for next year will be held up and there will be a time lag which we shall find it difficult to make up. If we want the housing programme to get under way we must get them out as soon as possible. No one can get the houses built without them—not even the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health with all the powers of rhetoric and drive which he undoubtedly possesses—very formidable qualities, particularly when they are Celtic in origin. No one can get the houses built without these men—not even the former Minister of Health since he has been in Opposition.
But that is only one side of it. There is the wider question of the building operatives under Class B. Everyone knows there is a shortage of key workers, such as plasterers and plumbers, and that that shortage is holding up the building programme and the bomb damage repair work. At the moment there are only 500 men engaged on permanent house building in this country. Does it look as if the releases under Class B have been very great? I hope very much that when the Under-Secretary replies tonight we shall have the figures of the building operatives who have been released and the rate at which they are 1754 going to be released in the next few months, and also, I would add, the rate of release of technical men in Class B.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
Might I interrupt the hon. Lady? She has been pressing for an extension—and many of us will agree with her—of releases under Class B, especially for housing. At the same time she told us that she wanted—
§ Mr. Speaker
I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to make a long intervention. There are a number of maiden speakers, and I am getting rather anxious about the time.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Might I continue, if I am in Order, because it is an important point? The hon. Lady started her speech by saying that she wanted to maintain the structure of the Bevin scheme. Like many of us, she has made a close study of the problem, but does she believe that one can extend the releases under Class B while at the same time maintaining the structure of the Bevin scheme? That is a crucial question, I think.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd-George
I believe the rate of demobilisation should be speeded up. What I would like is to have the relationship between the general demobilisation and Class B releases increased from 10 per cent. to a higher figure. It will benefit all. There is no one after all in greater need of housing than the troops when they return home. I understand that the Minister of Health has been successful in speeding up procedure with regard to the release of Class B men, and that the Prime Minister has now issued a directive whereby when the Minister of Health vouches that a man is essential for building work that man is released forthwith, and without any further inquiry. I hope the Minister of Works will be given similar power to cut out as much as possible the red tape and "passing the buck" from one Department to another. We have to face this issue fairly and squarely. Either we speed up the release of these technical people and building operatives, or we do not begin to get the houses we urgently need. Let us be honest about it. Let us tell the public that; let us tell the Forces that, because it is, in fact, the truth. I believe the principle of the White Paper was good when it said that the arrangements for the release of men from the Forces must be 1755 such as will be readily understood and acceptable by the Forces. I know perfectly well—and we have had the experience of last time to testify to it—that they will not tolerate nor understand the release of dummy shop window directors, but they will readily understand, and I believe approve, the release of bricklayers who are going to make houses for them and for their fellows to come home to. That is a principle which will carry out the spirit of the White Paper and will be readily understood.
In conclusion, I would say that I believe the Government have an extremely difficult task, but not more difficult nor more complicated than many of the operations organised in the conduct of the war. I hope that they will tackle this problem in the same spirit and by the same methods. Here is the first opportunity that this Government and this Parliament have had of showing in a practical form the debt they owe to the men for saving not only our liberties but the liberties of mankind. I hope they will take hold of this opportunity in a bold, enterprising and imaginative way.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Brigadier Low (Blackpool, North)
I, like many others who have spoken to-day, am speaking in this House for the first time, and I ask, as I have learned to expect, that kind indulgence which this House always gives to maiden speakers.
I say at once that I hope the Government will stand by the "age and length of service" principle. There may have been a time when it was possible to consider the wisdom or otherwise of allowing groups to be released before men in those groups could have arrived back from far distant theatres, but I believe that as a result of the visit of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War to Burma—a visit which I believe the whole House applauds—and of the experience which he got there, it is no longer possible even to suggest that the age and length of service principle to that extent should be given up.
I am convinced that the scheme will work. I believe that its success depends primarily upon three main points. The first is the degree to which the Government are successful in weighing up correctly and balancing the conflicting needs of our Forces on the one hand and the 1756 needs of reconstruction at home and of industry and export on the other hand. In the course of what I have to say I will refer to that conflict as a conflict between military necessity on the one hand and industrial necessity on the other hand. I do not thereby mean to indicate that I consider that the claims of education, etc., should be placed in any way second, but I will treat the whole matter under the heading of industrial necessity.
The second point, which is absolutely vital to the success of the scheme, is the maintenance of fairness between man and man. As has so often been stated, it is not enough that the Government should think that the scheme is fair and not enough that this House should approve of it as fair; it is essential that it is proved fair to the Forces and also—something which is at times overlooked—to the families and the people at home. The third point, to which I will not refer again, is the necessity of administrative efficiency in the scheme. In that part of the scheme which I have seen, it seems to be living up to the highest standard of efficiency. Many people have complimented the Government on the success with which it is being carried out. It has not yet fallen to my lot to go through the release machine, and it will not be my lot for some time, as I am in one of the delayed release groups.
The points which I wish to raise have been put before me in letters which I, like other hon. Members, have received, and also in conversations which I have had in the train in the course of my journeys to and from my constituency. A not unpleasing boon which has been brought to this country by the influx of our American cousins during the war is that they have taught us how to speak to each other in railway carriages. The first point which is confirmed in all the letters I get, is in connection with the R.A.F. I take courage to address the House on this point, even though I may have more particular knowledge of the Army. It is quite clear that the fundamental reason for the unfair delay of release in certain groups of the R.A.F., as compared with the corresponding groups in the other Services, is the decision taken by the Government to maintain an Air Force in June next year at a figure far higher in proportion to the other Services than seems justified. If we compare the strength of the 1757 Forces in June, 1945, the R.A.F. is to the Army as one to three. If we compare the projected strength in June, 1946, it is as one to two. From the many statements which have been made by our Service commanders and experts at the conclusion of the war it was understood that we had reached the correct ratio between ground and air forces. It is up to the Government now, and I would ask the Under-Secretary of State to explain, when he closes the Debate, why it is necessary to keep such a large Air Force in June, 1946, as compared with the strength of the other Forces.
The hon. Gentleman did give some explanation in his speech of ten days ago; he referred firstly to transportation and secondly to the decision that Air Forces would play a predominant part in the occupation. I understand the first reason, but I do not understand the second to the full, because I believe that the duty of occupation forces has, perforce, to be carried out in a somewhat humdrum way by the soldiers, who have to stand on sentry, to carry out patrols and to wait ready in a mobile reserve. The Royal Air Force has a definite part to play, but I do not understand how the Government can justify a statement that it has a larger part to play in ratio to the Army than in ordinary mobile warfare. The success of this scheme in connection with the R.A.F. seems to depend on what is decided to be the final relative strength of the Forces. We shall have to wait for the decision of the Government before we can look for any chance of relief for the many airmen who are, quite reasonably, all writing to us with many complaints.
There is one small point about the complaints. Many have understood from the statement by the Minister of Labour the other day that, in making their complaints, they were being treated as isolated grumblers. I do not think the Minister wanted to convey that impression and I hope he will reassure the airmen that their reasonable complaints—as many of us think them—are not the complaints of isolated grumblers. Many members of the R.A.F. were transferred last winter from the R.A.F. to the Army. I have received one letter which would indicate that such transfer is still going on, but I have disregarded it altogether. I see the Under-Secretary of State nodding his head. I suggest for his consideration that there might be re-transfer of some 1758 of those men who belong to the highest age groups. In that way we might fill some of the key positions in the Royal Air Force, and allow some of its present members to be released. There may be administrative difficulties and there will, no doubt, be a charge of subjecting these men to many chops and changes. They may make complaints which cannot be put easily into Parliamentary language, but I think hon. Members will understand. There is also the question of intake which has been raised by other hon. Members. I just mention it because it can play some part in righting the balance between the R.A.F. and the other Services.
In the letters which I, like other hon. Members, receive, the next point which is put to me is that there are too many men in the Services doing nothing and too few men building houses and playing their part in industry. It is a point fundamental to the whole scheme. I confirm, as I started, by saying that I consider that the "age plus length of service" principle of the Bevin scheme can still be adhered to, while some readjustment can and should be made between military necessity on one hand and industrial necessity on the other.
I would suggest, first, that the needs of the home machine, the needs of reconstruction, the needs of building, are fully stressed to all members of our Forces abroad, and particularly to the highest commanders. Only in that way will we get the economy in staffs, in units and in personnel which we require and the full co-operation of the heads of our fighting Services in reaching that end. The balance that has to be struck between our needs at home and our needs abroad is a difficult balance to strike when we have the expert opinions of our field marshals, air marshals and admirals, who state their needs, and whose fame is such that their very statements may well be given the colour of final truth. Perhaps it is wrong, but I cannot help comparing the state of affairs that might have risen if my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) had been faced with these experts. I hope the Government will assert not only that they have confidence in the decisions of the military experts, but that they have challenged them and fully inquired into them, and that they fully understand them.
From my own experience in a corps headquarters, I know that the Army can 1759 be uneconomical in many ways in the provision of establishments for its staffs and for its units. Though in war-time that lack of economy may be justified because the Army is working 24 hours a day, when we come to occupation forces we are not working 24 hours a day but only working half that time. Before I left my own headquarters, when the troubles had quietened down in Austria and the war had finished, I was struck by the fact that, instead of the size of the headquarters being cut, it was miraculously doubled. That was done for purposes of occupation. I very much doubt whether that is necessary now, and I should like to be reassured that that large increment has evaporated.
The second way in which I think we can help to achieve a proper balance between these two necessities is by extending Class B release. That has always been frowned upon on the ground that it will upset the whole basis of the Bevin scheme. I believe that if we raised the figure of 10 per cent.—this mystic figure—by 5 per cent., it would result in the total of the releases in the first six months of next year being increased by 75,000. That is about one week's work for the release machine. I cannot help thinking that all the men of the Forces, wherever they may be, would fully understand a postponement of one week in their release if they realised, as the Noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd-George) has so well described how advantageous to their homecoming the release of such men as builders and so on would be. It has often been stated that one of the reasons why such an extension of Class B would upset the Bevin scheme is that key men, particularly builders, belong in the main to one or two age groups. Let us remember, however, that, though the may belong to one age group, they may not belong to one age and service group, because they did not all come into the Forces at once. I suggest to the Government that they seriously consider the extension of Class B by either 5 or 10 per cent. that is to 15 or 20 per cent. of the total during the first six months of next year.
The third point which is put to me, which is put by constituents and by many friends because they realise that I have some interest in this matter, concerns the 1760 Army officers whose release has been delayed, that is, the officers of Groups 21 to 24. Had my constituency Blackpool, which has perhaps the best knowledge and understanding of hon. Members opposite, both individually and in the mass, not been reasonable people and elected me, I should have been held in the Forces under the recently announced delay. I can well understand, not only the disappointment of the officers concerned, but the disappointment of those at home and the whole upsetting of any plans that they might have made. I would put forward one or two points for consideration in connection with these officers. Many of them are between the ages of 28 and 31 and joined up at the beginning of the war, if they were not already in the Territorial Army. Many of them, when they come back, will be responsible for employing others and will, perhaps, be the only means of reinstating a large number of men whose reinstatement cannot take place until they are back.
The necessity or otherwise of keeping these officers in the Forces is a subject upon which the military experts, with, I believe, the assistance of a man-power committee such as other hon. Members have suggested, can best decide. During the early part of the war, however, and during some of the toughest fighting, both offensive and defensive, many of us served on staffs and in units which did not even have half their proper complement of officers. The Army can function, although not so well or happily, without a proper complement of officers, and if anybody ought to be cut to the knuckle at the present time, it is not those at home but the military forces abroad. I should like to refer to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. He set out clearly the figures upon which the future of the Forces in this country might be based. We are all hoping, not only that the future strength of the Armed Forces, but the conditions of service, will be soon published. When these factors are known, I am certain we shall have a larger proportion of volunteers among both officers and men than we have at the present time. I urge the Government, as they have been urged by many others, to come to the House as soon as possible with a full statement about the future of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force and their conditions of service. 1761 To revert to the scheme which is before the House in this Debate, I have striven to stress the two essentials of fairness, and the example I gave was the R.A.F. I have also stressed the need to balance correctly between the requirements of the Forces and the requirements at home. I do that with a full sense of the importance of maintaining our Forces at a proper vigorous strength. Our Forces must not be starved of the men and equipment they need. The question now is, What do they need, not only when their own requirements are take in relation to their job, but when those requirements are balanced against the requirements, so important to all of us here as well as in the Forces, of industdy at home?
My final plea to the Government is that they wall really honour the promise which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister gave in this House on 16th August when, replying to the hon. and gallant Member for Watford (Major Freeman) in the Debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, he promised that he would let the Forces have the facts. The Forces are not having the facts, we in this House have not got the facts, neither have the people in the country. Let us have these facts. We are fully capable of understanding and appreciating them. Let us too, in any way we can, help the Government in distributing the facts, and the reasons for the various decisions they have to take in order to keep this scheme going. I am quite certain that this scheme can meet the needs of the nation at this time, but it is vital that we retain a sense of balance. Morale has played a big part in the war not only in the Forces abroad or at home, but amongst the civilians. Morale has its place in peace too. Without it we shall not get the full vigour of this country put into the task of reconstruction. That morale depends to a very large extent upon the confidence which the people of this country and the Forces have in the Government's execution of the Bevin scheme for demobilisation.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Captain Baird (Wolverhampton, East)
I hope the House will bear with me in this my first speech in the Chamber. I have just returned from a visit to my constituency, and while I was there, although I did not meet any man who had a residence in Blackpool, I met many who had 1762 spent a few days there, and I am very proud to say I represent those people in this House. While I was in my constituency I was surprised to find that the interest of the people in political matters was growing. There was a growing understanding of political problems and, what is more, a growing understanding of the difficulties of the Government. Whatever hon. Members opposite may say, I am convinced that the great majority of the people in this country have complete confidence in the Government. It is rather strange to hear the protestations of hon. Members opposite, and to see their sudden interest in the welfare of ex-Service men, especially when one considers the history of the last 25 years in that regard. During that time the ex-Service man has had to rely on charity. I am confident that whatever this Government may do it will not leave the ex-Service man to rely on flag days for his welfare.
Though I want to make one or two small criticisms of the Government's demobilisation scheme, I should like to do so in the same spirit as another hon. Member, namely, in a spirit of family criticism, because I am confident that the Government will give every consideration to any criticisms which may be raised tonight. I should like first to mention Class B releases. We have been told, and I agree, that building is the first priority in the Government's policy and that the chief bottleneck in the building programme is man-power. Building trade workers are not coming out of the Services quickly enough. I have in my hand a sheaf of correspondence which I have received from my constituents—some 30 or 40 letters—within the last few weeks. If I send these letters to the Ministry of Works I get the reply that it is "not their pigeon" and that I should have sent them to the Secretary of State for War. If I send them to the War Office I am told it is not their pigeon, and that I should send them to the Ministry of Works. I suggest to the Government that in future when any constituent writes to a Member and the Member, after going through the letter, takes it up to the Ministry, the Ministry should give personal consideration to it. As building is a class 1 priority I would suggest that the B scheme should be extended. As a Service man myself I am confident that there is no one in the Services who would object to seeing comrades going home ahead of them if they 1763 knew they were going home to provide the houses which they will need when they are demobilised. Therefore, I urge upon the Government that this question of B releases should be reconsidered. Whatever number of men the Minister of Health requires, he should get that number immediately.
The second point I want to raise is that there is a feeling in the Army that men are being hidden away. In saying that, I do not wish to cast any reflection on any individual officer, but under the present system rank is based on establishment. If the establishment—that is the number of men in a unit—falls, the rank falls. It is only natural that under a system such as hon. Members opposite advocate, in which everyone is out for his own interests, officers should try to retain as high a rank as possible, because as a result they retain a higher wage. The present system of promotion based on establishment encourages officers to retain as many men under them as possible. There is an old Army game which I, as a Serviceman, have played along with many others, of hoodwinking your superior officer about how busy you are and what an important man you are. I should therefore suggest to the Minister of War that he immediately takes a census of Army strength to find out where the men are. There are many ways of hiding personnel within the Army. I myself can speak with experience. Before I went overseas, and after I went overseas, I was attached to a reinforcement holding unit with not one or two but some 60 other officers, including technicians such as engineers, medical officers and dental officers like myself. For six months I did not do a stroke of work—from July, 1944, until January, 1945. That was under the Government in which the majority of hon. Members opposite served. It was not the Labour Government. That is the type of thing which happens in the Army at the present time. For six months some 60 officers in the unit to which I belonged did nothing, we were unemployed, and I am not convinced that the position has been altered considerably since that time. The present Government have been in office for only three months, and anybody who knows anything about Army organisation, cannot expect them in that time to eradicate that inefficiency, 1764 based on Conservatism, which has lasted so long. I hope there will be a change in the near future.
With regard to transport, which has been referred to a great deal in the Debate, I want to raise two points. First, there has been a big outcry in the Press recently about the English wives of American soldiers being sent home. I hope the Government will not consider lending any ships to either Canada or America until every English soldier due for release has been sent home. The second and more important point is this. In numerous letters which I have received recently I have been told that one of the bottlenecks in the transport system from the Far East is the lack of transcontinental transport between the South of France and the North of France. I believe the train service between the South and the North is entirely inadequate. There is, for instance, only one train a day from Toulon to Calais. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air has told us that that is adequate, but my information is the exact opposite. I believe that if that train service were increased we could speed up the number of men coming home from the East.
It has been suggested during the Debate that the men in the factories have had preference over the men in the Services in demobilisation. During the last few weeks various soldiers have told me that the factory worker has been having all the advantage. I want to point out, first of all, that the men in the factories have been in the front line in this war just as much as the men in the Army, and were, indeed, more so during the blitz in 1940 and 1941. I know there are certain elements in this House and in the country who desire to split the great mass of the workers from the Servicemen, but from my experience, both as a soldier and as a representative of an industrial constituency, I am convinced that the men in the factories and the men in the Forces think alike. It should also be said in this House that the men in the factories have done a good job in looking after the interests of the men in the Forces; through the trade unions they have safeguarded the standard of living of the great mass of the workers, and when the men in the Forces come back they will come back to a standard of living which has been defended for them by the men in the 1765 factories. The interests of the men in the factories and the men in the Army are the same. It was suggested by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) that the record of the Government on demobilisation is not as good as the record of the Government after the last war. I agree that there were perhaps more men demobilised immediately after the last war than after this war, but what was the result? I do not say that there was unemployment, but the result of suddenly throwing large numbers of men on to the labour market was that labour became cheaper and the wages of the workers fell. I am glad that mistake is not being made after this war.
There is one over-riding factor which influences demobilisation. It is the condition of Europe and the Far East. Hon. Members on this side have been accused time and again of being internationalists, and hon. Members opposite have told us that Germany and the ex-enemy countries must be kept down. I suggest that the only way in which we can get our men out of the Forces is by applying the principles of internationalism to which we adhere, to the problem of Europe. It is only by encouraging the peoples of the Continent, including Germany and Italy, to come back into the comity of nations that we can release our men and bring them back into civilian life. It is only by the rebirth of democratic methods in Germany that our men can be released. It will be a great contribution if we can bring back, to help in the reconstruction of a new life in this country, a large number of men and women of this nation who are at present walking around Germany witnessing havoc and devastation. In regard to that policy, I have every confidence in the Government. I have every confidence that the Government will tackle the problem of reconstruction in Europe in such a way that, within a very short period, the great mass of the men and women of this country who are at present in the Forces will be back among us helping with the problems of reconstruction.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Grierson (Carlisle)
I am sure hon. Members will appreciate my somewhat nervous feelings in addressing the House for the first time. Since I was privileged to become a Member of the House, I, like other hon. Members, have been inundated by letters from men in the Forces 1766 asking me to urge upon the Government the need for a speed-up of demobilisation. The tone of these letters has indicated to me the disappointment of the Service men at the present time. The men who have complained are men with experience and a high standard of intelligence who are fully conversant with the present demobilisation scheme. I have had repeatedly brought to my notice the tremendous waste of man-power which is taking place at the present time, and I feel that the Government, when the opportunity presents itself, will deal with this very important problem. While travelling home to my constituency I have on many occasions come into contact with various Service men and I have always encouraged them to discuss with me their problems, and particularly the problem of demobilisation.
Six years of war is a long time. I am sure hon. Members appreciate the great sacrifices that were made during the war by the boys in the Army, the Navy and the Royal Air Force. I now feel that every step ought to be taken to speed up demobilisation in order that our Service men may return quickly home to their own firesides. It is extremely difficult to convince the men in the Forces that demobilisation cannot be speeded up. Vast numbers of Service men have been married during the war and they are looking to the Government to see that they are released from the Forces very soon. I hope that will be the case. Parents also have felt the strain, and are losing touch with their families. We all recognise the work that was done by the industrial workers and by the men in the Services during the critical period of the war.
I have listened with interest to the various speeches in this Debate. I believe that the practical aspect of this important problem has been discussed, but there is one point that ought to be emphasised. It was the point mentioned by an hon. Friend behind me to the effect that, unfortunately, the Services have no organisation by means of which they can bring their point of view to the quarters that really matter. There are trade union organisations which can send deputations even to the House of Commons. They put the point of view of the various industrial workers, but, unfortunately, our Servicemen are not in that position. 1767 I would like to know when the Government intend to develop the post-war Service scheme. I feel that, if they would submit their proposals and they were reasonable and attractive, they would tend to help in speeding-up demobilisation. I hope that they will give the matter their very serious consideration. I am very pleased to have this opportunity of addressing the House on behalf of the people, and particularly the Servicemen, who sent me here. I feel there is an urgent need for the speeding up of demobilisation. I am confident that the Government will do all that lies within their power to see that that is done.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
It falls to my lot to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low), the hon. and gallant Member for East Wolverhampton (Captain Baird) and the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Grierson) on the excellent maiden speeches which they have made. I am sure that the House will agree that they have acquitted themselves with great distinction and will look forward to the time when they make another speech in this House and take part in our Debates.
In the years that I have been in the House I have never heard a more dispiriting and gloomy speech than that made by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour to-day. It is in broad contrast with the promises that were made by many of the candidates of the Socialist Party at the General Election. They were given to understand, rightly or wrongly, that demobilisation would be speeded up. Last week when dealing with the Bill relating to controls we were told that five years' extra powers would be needed for demobilisation. At the end of the right hon. Gentleman's speech to-day I felt that, indeed, it would be a good five years before he got his demobilisation plans through.
I am sure that the country is certain that this problem can be tackled with success, and that demobilisation can be speeded up far more than we have been given to understand in the announcements from the Government. I am going to suggest the three main lines along which I think it can be done. First, it can be done by getting men in the Services to continue on regular engagements. I 1768 remember that after the Battle of El Alamein all units were circularised, asking officers and non-commissioned officers to say whether they wished to continue in the Army after the war. I have checked up on those I knew personally, who had given in their names, but no use has been made of those names. All those who wished to stay on, and who survived now feel that they have no future in the Services, and they are pressing to get out. I believe that if the Government took time by the forelock—and it is three months since we finished the war against Japan—and offered attractive conditions for post-war services to the men of the three Services it would improve the demobilisation position.
Another point which has been mentioned by many speakers to-day is that we must cut down our war-time establishments. I do not think that Members who have not been in the Services realise what has been happening on the question of war establishments during the war. I want to give two figures which I think can now be released. If I should not have given them, the Secretary of State for War can rebuke me. When General Wavell was driving back the Italians, the staff of General Headquarters, Middle East, consisted of 353 officers and 871 other ranks. Two years later, when the war had swept right out of Egypt and Cyrenaica, and right across Tripolitania, and with Cairo a very long way from battle, when an Army group in Tripolitania was conducting operations, the total war establishment and ancillary establishment, General Headquarters, Middle East was 1,155 officers and 2,950 other ranks, a rise of 330 per cent.
I asked the Secretary of State for War last year what cuts had been effected since that date. He gave mew hat figures he could, and related them to different times and stated that the cut amounted to 35 per cent. If my calculations are incorrect through the difference in time, I hope he will correct me, but that does mean that we have still 2,668 personnel in Cairo on General Headquarters. That is more than double the number that Lord Wavell had in 1941, when he was driving the Italians out of Egypt. Members on all sides of the House will agree that if those facts are true, something radical must be done with regard to General Headquarters, Middle East.
1769 I have not been there for a year or so but I have pretty good contact with officers who served with me and I have asked them if there has been any reductions. I have asked them that question for 18 months now and always it is the same story, that matters are exactly the same as when I left—new faces but all the same. Why is it that in Cairo there are General Headquarters, Middle East Headquarters, Headquarters British Troops in Egypt, and Headquarters of the 17th Area—all in this Eastern town doing the same work; all "passing the buck," all passing the papers? Has not the time come to cut down these headquarters of which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Blackpool spoke. I was interested in the suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Member for Cambridge (Major Symonds) who suggested that civilians should now go into this question of establishments and see if they could not be cut down. Surely, the function of Parliament is to see that there is due economy in the country, not only of finance, but of man-power.
I believe that a case has been made out to-day for an inquiry by Members of Parliament into the establishments of headquarters, whether in Germany, Egypt or elsewhere. I believe that hon. Members from both sides of the House should go out and see what establishments are, in their view, justified. It is very difficult for the Service chiefs. I remember my experience of war establishment committees in various parts of the world during my own service—committees which have to decide what officers were required and what ranks. They are not the best people in peace-time to make these decisions, and I thought myself, when I was serving, that they are not the right people in war-time. I do ask the Government to consider the question of setting up a Committee of this House to go into this question of establishments and to cut them down, in order that we may have quicker demobilisation. The House should remember that these headquarters often have one officer to every two other ranks. There is a great shortage of officers, I understand, in the British Army. I think I know the reason why.
Hon. Members have said that we must adhere to the Bevin scheme. I entirely agree, but, surely, we left the Bevin scheme some time ago. I remember, in 1770 1944, the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for War getting up from these Benches and asking about men being withheld from the Bevin scheme on the grounds of military necessity. On that occasion the present Foreign Secretary replied:I have been asked a Question about withholding on grounds of military necessity.That was the question asked by the present Secretary of State for War, and the Minister said:I am advised that it will be the exception and not the rule to withhold men."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1944; Vol. 404, c. 2023.]I seem to remember that there was an interpolation from the then Secretary of State for War that it would be a very rare exception. What is the position to-day? The whole of the officers of Groups 21 to 24 have become essential on grounds of military necessity. Several trades, meteorological observers, clerks and others, have become essential on grounds of military necessity. I appeal to the Government to get back to the Bevin scheme in order that men shall be released, in fact, by their age and service groups.
I have spoken about the Army chiefly because I know more about the Army than the other Services, but I must say I am very dissatisfied with the explanation given by the Under-Secretary of State for Air on the Friday before last. He has not really explained to us why, in the first three months, he can release 197,000 out of the R.A.F., and, in the next three months, only 140,000. In my constituency there are a great many aerodromes. I cannot believe that it is still right, from the point of view either of man-power, industry or agriculture, that you should have many of these aerodromes, in Yorkshire and throughout the country, manned by surplus R.A.F. personnel keeping the airfield on a care-and-maintenance basis. I believe the reason why the R.A.F. makes such large demands for man-power is partly due to the fact that they are trying to keep within their grasp too many of the 600 airfields they own in this country. I hope that, if there is a review of Army establishments, here will also be a review of R.A.F. establishments.
Hon Members have generally agreed that age and length of service should be the accepted method of demobilisation. I 1771 have not heard any hon. Members except the hon. Member for Carlisle give the position in its complete picture. What about the men who served in the munitions industries? I understand that 1,500,000 have been released, and that—the Minister of Labour will correct me if I am wrong—in the next three months, out of the 1,500,000 released, only 35,000 are going to be recruited for the three Services. If there is a need for these large numbers of men to be retained in the Services, surely demobilisation should be speeded up by taking a greater percentage of men from the munitions industries to the armed forces? I am not going to deny that munition workers have done great work throughout the war, but, after all, they have not been separated from their families as these men in the Services have been. We were always given to understand that, under the Bevin scheme, these men from munitions would be called up to speed up demobilisation. The right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary, speaking in the same Debate said:We thought the best thing to do in the interim period was to go on calling up, under the National Service Act, the young men. The more we called up and trained for the duties of the armies of occupation and so on that may be required in later stages, the higher would be the number of those with long service who would be able to come out, increasing thus the numbers in Class A."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1944; Vol. 404, c 2020–1.]I hope the Government will really get down to this problem. Men in the Services do believe that they should be relieved at this date, and especially in the Army of Occupation, by some of the men who, during the war, have been in reserved occupations and have not been in the Services. The figure of 35,000 is a very small number out of 1,500,000. If that were increased by 10 times, it could alter the whole of the Class A demobilisation scheme. It will be said that we cannot accelerate the Class A demobilisation because of the bottle-neck of shipping in the Far East, and I would like the Under-Secretary to consider this. There are two main streams from the Far East—men who are being demobilised and men coming back on Python. I understand that the Secretary of State has speeded up the tour of service so that men will only serve three years and four months in the Far East. Is not the result 1772 of that going to be that fewer men will be coming back for demobilisation? I am sure that if the men in the Far East were given the choice of more men coming back on demobilisation under Class A and Python remaining at its present level, they would choose more men coming back under Class A.
What is happening to the men who come back under the Python scheme? I see them in my constituency in very large numbers. They come back some three or four months before they are due for release, they remain in their depôts doing nothing, losing their morale, receiving no training at all for their civilian life. They have not long enough to wait to be of any use for Army purposes, and that is doing great damage to young men who have achieved much for our country. I would much prefer to get men back from the Far East and demobilise them directly they come back. You might have to make exceptions in the Bevin Scheme in their favour. If a man has served in the Far East three years and eight months and comes back, unless he is in a high group, which is very unlikely, he should be demobilised directly on arrival. We may differ in many matters in the House, but I believe that on this we are in complete unanimity.
There are great difficulties confronting the nation. I am quite sure that if the Government and the Ministers speak to the men of the Services and tell them the facts, if they can prove to the men that they are indispensable in their jobs, then, however irksome it is to wait in the Services, men will do it with as good heart as they waited for zero hour before action, but it depends on the Government, not in giving promises they cannot fulfil, not in casting inspissated gloom, as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour did to-day, but telling the bald facts, telling the men why they have to be kept in, proving that they have to be kept in, and showing that there is no waste, then I believe you will have less trouble and we will have fewer letters.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Flight-Lieutenant John Haire (Wycombe)
I thank you very much, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for the honour you have done me in allowing me to speak this evening on what I consider to be a non-controversial subject. Certainly I think we 1773 can all accept the peroration of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) this afternoon when he said that he felt it was the desire of all hon. Members to do the greatest good to the greatest number in the Forces. We certainly accept that as our wish. It seems to me that many of the hon. Members on the benches opposite have assumed that nothing at all has been done so far in this matter of demobilisation and, indeed, it is they who speak in terms of gloom about the progress which has been made. May I remind them that when the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour first spoke on demobilisation in September he was giving us information which was based largely on the situation which existed before the close of the Japanese war. As a result of that statement we were all made very much aware that this subject of demobilisation would be a controversial one in the Forces, and since then we have had to reckon with many letters. Many hon. Members on this side of the House were very concerned during the Recess, and had consultations with the Minister of Labour, as a result of which, and of a very thorough investigation of all the problems, we were happy to note that when the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour made his statement in early October, considerable progress had been made, and that an additional 400,000 men were to be released from the Forces by the end of this year. Let us acknowledge that, but let us not believe that the speed-up in demobilisation must end there, because many anomalies still exist to which many hon. Members have referred this afternoon.
One of those anomalies which weighs most heavily upon me, and upon many of my constituents, is that which exists in the Royal Air Force, and I can perhaps speak a little more intimately of that than can some hon. Members who have spoken here to-day. The Royal Air Force feels that the recent speed-up has been at its expense, and it points out that whereas there is an increase until the end of this year, the ratio seriously decreases in June of next year. The Air Force points to the fact that in June of next year it will be 17 groups behind the Royal Navy in demobilisation, and is uneasy on this matter. Recently I had occasion to visit several Air Force squadrons in South Italy and I found that they were all very con- 1774 cerned about the delay in demobilisation next year. Some of us heard the reply which the Under-Secretary of State for Air gave recently to this question, and I must say that I was not entirely convinced. The two answers he gave were that the Air Force had been chosen to take on the problems of occupation because it would be more economical for squadrons of aircraft to carry out this work than divisions of infantry. Now it is clear to us that to some extent that must be an exaggeration, in that it does not pay any respect whatsoever to the fact that we are now confronted with the discovery of the atomic bomb and, if it is a police force in the air you are looking for, a few Mosquitos with a few atomic bombs can carry out any job of policing Europe or elsewhere. The second reason given was the question of transportation. We were told that many bombers would be converted to transport aircraft, and that all of these would be used to bring back as many men from the East as possible. We were told that, in fact, the Air Force was taking on the greatest job of transportation in history—1,000,000 men would be brought back before next June.
In deciding on this it appears that the contribution which might have been made by the Royal Navy has been somewhat overlooked, for, though we are told that aircraft carriers and other fleet units will be used when returning to home waters to transport Servicemen, we are not given information as to how they are making use of all their resources. If, in fact, the Air Force is making use of bombers and coastal command aircraft and others, can we ask the Government to explain to us whether it is using all those many small craft which were taken out there and which should surely now be returning? Can they, in fact, adapt these small craft, such as L.C.I.'s, tank landing craft, and others, for purposes of short relay services? If the Admiralty would undertake some responsibility in connection with the increased numbers required to be brought home, then it might relieve the pressure on the Royal Air Force, and that would be received with acclamation at the present time.
I wish to turn now to the question of officer deferment. Recently I visited the Army Commander of the South Italian Command and spoke to him on this matter. He said, "In my headquarters 1775 I have four majors and seven captains. At the present rate of release I shall have, by the beginning of November, one major and three captains." He further said, "I cannot carry on my administrative work with a depleted staff, because I do not see where reliefs for these men are coming from." The problem is there, and we all recognise it as great. Nevertheless, was that the way in which we staffed our Services back in 1940–41? I remember that I came into the Royal Air Force at a time when officers were being recruited at the rate of 500 a week and that we were being trained for our administrative jobs and special duties inside one month. There does not seem to be the same urgency now to find officers to take on these administrative jobs. I believe that at the end of this year there will be 160,000 officers in the Army. I cannot accept the suggestion that that represents too few for administrative purposes in our areas of occupation. So I seriously ask the Government to think again about the deferment of officers in certain groups, which is causing very serious concern to them and to their relatives.
Several Members have referred to-day to the contribution which could be made to the demobilisation problem by an early statement on post-war conditions in the Forces. I, too, believe that that would be a considerable contribution. I see in many Air Force stations posters saying, "Join the Regular Air Force," but that is only the beginning of publicity. The men concerned want to know what sort of Regular Air Force it will be. They have not been told yet. I would like the Secretary of State for Air to let us know as soon as possible many things with regard to our future Air Force, and other responsible Ministers to let us know the same things with regard to the Army and Navy. In the Air Force particularly there are many young men who came straight from school and who were among the "few," who would be prepared, I feel sure, to join the Regular Air Force if they understood what their conditions of service were to be. Can I ask the Government to let us know in regard to all the Services what will be the conditions, pay and promotion, and what opportunities there will be for establishing the rank which they now hold? Are they going to lose their 1776 acting ranks? What is to be the position with regard to overseas tours and periods on home stations and—very important—what are to be the family arrangements? Will they be allowed to take their families with them? Are there to be married quarters in the barracks? What educational opportunities will there be for their children? If you told them these things I have no doubt that many would not hesitate to remain in the regular Service, and in that way make a contribution towards solving the demobilisation problem.
To turn to the question of Class B releases, I do not believe that it has been the success which the Government hoped it would be. The responsibility for that is largely their own. I find from my experience of Class B releases—and the applicants are nearly all building operatives—that there is, for some reason, a hold-up. I had a case the other day of a man who applied in June for release. I heard two days ago that his case had been reconsidered, and that he would be released. But, in fact, his release under Class A occurs in three weeks' time, so would he not be extremely foolish to accept Class B release, with all the disqualifications that that includes? Of course, he has asked to be released under Class A. In the meantime, considerable work has been done in some Department with regard to his release, all of which has been lost. I therefore ask the Government to consider expediting the procedure of Class B releases. I would be glad to see an arrangement whereby men could apply to their own units and applications were sorted out at headquarters, so that when a Department required releases they could apply to one of the Service Departments and get 10, 20, 50 or 100 at a time. The whole machinery is too cumbersome, and must either be improved or thrown overboard altogether. I would go so far as to open demobilisation at once to all men in the Forces who can make a contribution to our building work. I would be glad to say to all men who can do a job of work in the building industry, "We will give you demobilisation now if you will take it, under terms of Class A release." Then we would be making an urgent contribution towards the solution of our housing problem.
I believe that the Services are anxious to get all the information they can with regard to demobilisation, but I do not 1777 think they are getting it. I was astounded to find that at some C.M.F. stations I visited I could not get more recent information than was to be found in newspapers 10 days old—and then they were not always the right kind of newspaper. I was anxious to read a statement made by the Minister of Labour on 2nd October, but I had to go to many messes to find it, and it was not until 10th October that I finally saw what he said. The Services must undertake to let men in the Forces know what their plans are, because I am convinced that if we can talk to them, explain our problems and show we recognise theirs we will have them on our side in this question of demobilisation.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I am particularly pleased to have caught your eye for the first time, Mr. Speaker, in a Debate upon a subject which is so very near to the interests of those who with whom I served before coming to this House. It calls at this time for an approach which, if not controversial, at least must be realistic. I am sure that at this stage of the Debate a great deal of what has already been said has been noted by the Government, yet there are one or two further points which I hope will prove useful. I feel that in this matter there is no place for party prejudice. After all, as the Foreign Secretary himself said, we were all in this war, and I believe we are all in this demobilisation. I feel that the Opposition can serve a useful purpose—as was so very well put in a American magazine which I read the other day, and which said:It is recognised that His Majesty's Opposition performs a high function in the State. It exposes blunders, demands explanations, keeps those in power on their mettle and illuminates the political scene for the benefit of the public, which has a right to know what is transpiring since government is its business.I feel that the way in which we must approach demobilisation is to treat it as if it were a very dangerous drug, because that is what it is. If you promise it to a man he has great visions at once of what it can do for him. Once he has the faintest experience of that drug, he will want to repeat it. I think what we find, in the hordes of letters which have been pouring in on all hon. Members, is that the drug has been tasted but the dose has not been repeated. It has not been allowed to provide what the 1778 recipients hoped that it would provide. I believe that any demobilisation scheme would have been approved that was the result of careful foresight and had some promise of feasibility. Therefore, this Bevin scheme, which has been accepted on the age plus length of service basis, can, I believe, be over-glorified. I am not going, at this late stage, to suggest that we should forsake the principle laid down in that scheme, but I do believe one thing very sincerely: that we must realise that scheme was a re-allocation of man-power immediately after the end of the German war. It was not, and never set out to be, a final, full and complete demobilisation scheme. It was merely a re-orientation of the Forces.
It had that one great principle in it, which I believe is a very great principle, age plus length of service, but I ask hon. Members to realise that it is largely a matter of trying to adapt that scheme, if it is possible to adapt it, without being unfair to the men who have already been through it. I believe there are several ways in which there could be some development of that scheme. My first suggestion is that a new class should be created. Every hon. Member, I imagine, has, time and again, received letters complaining bitterly of men having no jobs to do, and of having to hang about in the Forces. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) to-day showed that he too realised that, and I believe the Minister of Labour also realises it. What I suggest is this: Why not collect by trades all the men who are hanging about in this country and not really doing a useful job of work in the Services, and form them into trade units, which can be employed to bolster up those particular trades which need them? That need not interrupt Class A releases at all. I believe that such units can be run on minimum administrative staffs, and that there are plenty of places available for them in the country—places which are filled with unnecessary stores, or aerodromes which have just been closed down. We could find places for these men and that would be one way of keeping them fully employed. I heard the other day of a unit where the men had been confined to barracks between 10 and 12 in the morning because there was no work for them to do, and it was considered not a good thing to have them wandering about the streets. 1779 If that is the case, there must be men available, and I think that the suggestion I have put forward, although it obviously needs very careful consideration, should, if it has not already been considered, be taken into account by the Government.
There is one aspect of this demobilisation dissatisfaction which I feel very strongly could be overcome, largely within the Services themselves. I think it only right, in view of what the Minister of Labour said earlier to-day—how he hoped that those who had experience only would speak about this subject—that I should tell the House that I have been for eleven years a regular soldier. I have known the lot of a troop leader in the extremely ignominious role before the war of being obsolete from the day Herr Hitler rose to power. We were always promised equipment which never arrived, and the nearest we ever got to it, for quite a long time, was when we read in the papers of the fulminations of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). I feel very strongly that I have grounds for speaking from the point of view of discontent and irritation inside the Services. I have also had some experience of O.C.T.U., instructing young officers, and for the last year I have been trying to put a polish on the men of armoured car regiments before they went out to Western Europe. I say that in spite of the danger of being something of an acid drop between the marzipan and the butterscotch that some of us read about on Sunday.
One of the most disastrous things that has happened in the Services during the war has been the introduction of welfare officers inside units. I know these welfare officers have done a great deal of good, but they have also done a great deal of harm, unfortunately, by taking away from the regimental officer and the officers in charge of headquarters administration that essential thing to any officer who is taking his men into action, and that is a full understanding of his men. There is a horrible expression called "man management," which means the same thing, but man management and the full understanding of your men's personal needs are of the greatest value when it comes to being in a base area, on lines of communication, and in roles such as that, where there is little to do except to find something to do. 1780 I do not know how it has affected other hon. Members, but, so far as I am concerned, I can truthfully say that every letter I have had complaining of the demobilisation scheme has come from lines of communication troops. I suggest that it is always worth while to look and see what the address of your correspondent is. I do not believe it is entirely the fault of those troops, who find themselves on lines of communication, that they should be producing those letters more often than anybody else. I do not think the officers can be blamed for, perhaps, not paying quite so much attention to the welfare of their men as they should, because those officers are very often highly trained, peace-time technicians in uniform, men whose heart and soul are in the perfection of their trade, and their own ability in that trade. They have never understood, and have never had to understand, what it means to look after men's interests. I am not blaming them for the fact that there is dissatisfaction about release, but I am saying that much of the dissatisfaction can be eased by action which those officers could take.
What is essential to any man in the Army—and, I suspect, in the Navy and Air Force—is that when he is told anything, it should be, as far as possible, the whole truth. What is worrying a great many men to-day is the fact that they have not been told the whole truth; they feel something has been kept back. I do not believe it has been necessary to keep back as much as has been kept back. I think a great deal more could have been told them. There is a tendency, in these days, for the Service Departments to fall into the trap which Cohen's wife fell into, according to a story told to this House, I think on 22nd June last year, by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). Cohen was very worried about a debt which he owed, and could not sleep, and told his wife about it. She opened the window and shouted to the creditor, who lived across the street, "Isaacs, Cohen owes you £100 and cannot pay it." Shutting the window, she turned round to Cohen and said, "Now go to sleep and let Isaacs worry about it." I think perhaps, the Service Departments have been falling into that trap.
I particularly welcomed the statements made on 2nd October, I think it was, and 12th October, by the Under-Secretary of State for Air, and the right hon. Gentle- 1781 man the Secretary of State for War, concerning various aspects of this demobilisation scheme. I did not welcome what they said, but I did welcome the fulness with which they gave it, because it is reports of that magnitude and detail which are required. There has been a good deal said to-day on the matter of the dissemination of information. I do not believe it is necessary to take a wand and mutter "Abcacadabca" in order to get stuff put over. In the Forces you have a channel through which orders are given, which is quite capable of explaining any problem, in absolute detail, to any sub-unit you like. If it were not so, I do not believe we should have won this war, because every operational order ever issued has always had some information and intelligence in the leading part of it. There exists in units to-day a system for putting over exactly what you require to put over, and it has been my experience—I am sure other hon. and gallant Members will agree with me—that the soldier, and, I daresay, the airman and the sailor, too, do not have very much use for reading serious stuff. There is always one man in any sub-unit a little bit bookish, but the majority like the picture papers best, and like to have done with their reading as quickly as possible.
Surely the answer, then, is that, if you want to put a scheme over, it is no use relying only on literature. I do not believe in such answers being given to a man as: "You know where the notice board is; go and look at it, and read what is there." The best way in which this scheme can be put over is by a proper system of verbal orders. I do not say that they should be given as orders, but we should get the men together, as though they were going into action—instead they are going into demobilisation, back to Civvy Street—and tell them, and make sure that every man turns up. The trouble with notice boards is that they are apt to be passed by, unless there is something very interesting on them. If a long screed about the latest demobilisation scheme is put on a notice board, it is not likely to be read very thoroughly. In every case you have to know all the details about these demobilisation schemes; and it is no good knowing one part and not the other. That is one of the things the Service Departments might concentrate on, because if they did, I believe that much of the discontent would be solved. 1782 I have talked a good deal from the point of view of the man inside the Service, but I am not trying to make a loophole for the Government, and I do not believe things are as satisfactory as they should be. It must have been clear to all right hon. Gentlemen opposite to-day that there is wide dissatisfaction with Class B.
I feel that I must ask certain questions. They arise, particularly, in connection with Class B. The first is: How exactly have our commitments varied from the original assumption made at the time of the drawing up of the release scheme? It seems that there has been an alteration in these commitments, and I think it is of great importance, if there has been an alteration, not only that an explanation should be passed on, but the reason given why that alteration had to take place. The British soldier is a very reasonable man, and, if you put the argument over quite fairly to him, he would pay attention to it and understand it. I am sure that would go for the Royal Air Force also, though I cannot speak with personal knowledge on that. The next question is, What exactly is the situation, as regards industry, with manpower? I believe that we should have published, not only the 1938 figures of industry, but what they are to-day, and what the Government hope they will be, say, next year, and certainly by June, 1946. I should like it to go even further than that.
With regard to Class B, I hope it will not be made too rigid, and I think it is very important that we have put quite clearly what are the priorities of industry. A great deal has been said—and this interests my constituency, the Isle of Ely—about food production. Food production, we have been told, is of vital importance, yet the Government will not, apparently, release men under Class B to agriculture. Something should be said on whether or not the list of industries is in its order of priority, as it was put numerically in the Minister of Labour's statement of 3rd October. We should know what exactly is the priority of these industries and where unfortunate agriculture comes in. Lastly, there is the matter of production targets. What are they to be, because if men are needed for industry that has to be balanced against commitments overseas, and if we are to reduce our commitments overseas right down, 1783 how many men will be employed in industry?
It is only natural that I should speak from the point of view of the Regular soldier. I would like to say a few words about the future of the Regular Forces, because I had a letter the other day from a sergeant-major who is a Regular soldier. He says:I feel I could do a lot for my regiment if I knew a little of the situation and, of course, it affects myself. My question is, could you tell me anything about how the Regular soldier stands now? The reason I ask is because that everything is being done for these civvy soldiers, but if there is going to be some sort of programme for the Regular soldier I could get a lot more to sign on, but at the moment they are frightened because they do not know what might happen.The Regular Army has had a raw deal in the past. It has always interested me that hon. Members opposite have shown that when it comes to the Forces, they have taken a great interest in the individual, but not quite so much in the corporate body, but when it comes to Government it is usually the other way round. This whole matter of the future commitments of the State and the future oil the Regular Forces is extremely difficult for the Government to decide as yet, but I beg them to be as speedy about it as they possibly can, because otherwise a lot of men will be wasted. The days have changed since Sir Alexander Keogh, who was then Director of Army Medical Services, stated upstairs to a Committee of this House, which was sitting in 1915 to consider the resettlement of men on the land after the last war, this of the Regular soldier:The careless creature who has not made a very good thing of life and who goes off to be a soldier in time of peace. The vast majority of men in the Regular Army are of that class.That is what was said in 1915. I believe that that Gentleman was wrong then. I am absolutely sure he would be wrong to-day. I ask hon. Members on all sides of the House to remember that the Regular Forces between the wars had a wretched deal. The Navy sometimes had to do unpleasant jobs with empty gun breeches; the R.A.F. had to find its Spitfire and Hurricane through the Schneider trophy awarded by private enterprise, and the Regular Army had to represent its nonexistent anti-tank guns by yellow flags. When it came to the great disaster in 1784 Europe at the beginning of the war the honour at least of this country rested safe and sure in those men's hands:Many of them fell…Those suns are set,O rise some other suchOr all that we have left is empty talkOf old achievements and despair of new.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Captain Swingler (Stafford)
I rise for the first time to address this House, and I trust that the House will accord me the indulgence customary on these occasions. I rise with some diffidence at this point in the Debate, because I am well aware that most of the points have already been covered. Perhaps the House will permit me to summarise briefly some of the principal points I wish to put to my right hon. Friends the Ministers of the Service Departments. On two things I think we are all agreed. In the first place we all want to see men and women of the Forces back home as soon as possible, to re-establish themselves in civil life, to renew their family circles, and to create the homes of the future. In the second place, we need the man-power back to restore the prosperity of our industry and agriculture. We need the men to dig the coal, to cultivate the land, and build the houses. On those things we are all agreed.
I hope too that we can also agree that this time we will ensure that in the process of demobilisation we do equal justice to all, that as a result of any decisions we take and the schemes that are operated the men and women coming out of the Forces may feel that they have had a square deal. The fairest principle in any demobilisation from the Fighting Forces is the principle of "first in, first out"—the men who have been the longest away from home, who have done the longest service, should have the first chance to get back into civil life. We in this country have adopted a scheme which is based on that principle. We have also taken into account the factor of age, in view of the additional responsibilities, particularly family responsibilities, which increased age brings in its train. It is absolutely essential that we stick to that age and service principle, and for this particular reason: that principle does not take into account the amount of a man's service that has been spent overseas. Everyone will recognise that there is a vast difference between service in 1785 Burma and service in Britain, but the age and service principle does not take into account in any way the proportion of time during which a man has been far away from home, where there is no leave or likelihood of leave, and where contact with home is very difficult. Precisely because the men and women in the overseas Forces are not to enjoy any advantages, so we must ensure that they suffer no disadvantages in the operation of this scheme. It is for that reason that I wish to congratulate the Government in the first place for sticking as far as possible to the principle of the Bevin plan, in view of the fact that men and women in the overseas Forces who are furthest away from home are the men and women we should take most into consideration.
In the second place, I would like to congratulate the Government on the speed up announced by the Minister of Labour on 2nd October, to which an hon. Member on this side has already referred. This was a considerable increase of 37 per cent. more men and women to be released from the Forces by the end of the year in comparison with the announcement which the Minister of Labour made last August. It is noteworthy, as many speakers have pointed out in this Debate, that that speed up is being achieved only by increasing the disparities that exist in the rates of release between grades and trades in the Services and between the three Services themselves, so that it is estimated that by the end of the first six months in 1946 there will be anything up to 15 or 16 groups of difference in the Services; and, what is more important, as between, let us say, the Royal Air Force and the Army with the average age group, there will be a disparity of some three or four groups. The point I wish to make about that is this. The crux, as I have pointed out, is that the age and service principle does not take into account overseas service, and the real grievance arises with a man, let us say, in the Royal Air Force who has done the majority of his service overseas, and who sees a man who has done the majority of his service at home, and who is four, five or more groups above him, getting out first. That is where there is a justifiable grievance.
I appeal to my right hon. Friends the Ministers of the Service Departments immediately to do what has been suggested by a number of hon. Members in this Debate, that is, to undertake a serious 1786 man-power investigation inside the Services to see whether, by remustering and transfers of personnel within the Services between trades and grades, and between the Services, it is not possible to reduce those disparities as the process of demobilisation goes on. Everybody who has served in the Armed Forces in this war knows that there are still considerable wastage and misuse of man-power. It is also obvious that the people at the top of the Services are not always cognisant of what is going on down at the bottom. I think—and the suggestion has been made by one hon. Member—that an independent inquiry by qualified civilians into the position that exists in the Services, not only at headquarters stations but throughout the units, not only here but in the B.A.O.R., would reveal considerable possibilities of transfers and postings of personnel within the Services and between the Services, to enable the Service Ministers to reduce these disparities in the rates of release.
The second point on which I want to appeal to the Minister of Labour is in relation to the Class B releases. I have the honour to represent the Borough of Stafford which, like many other boroughs, has been waiting since the conclusion of hostilities for the return of its town planning officer and of several other technical men who are vitally needed for proceeding with the housing programme and the development and reconstruction work in my constituency. I think a great deal more should be done to speed up the machinery for the Class B release of these essential people required by local government staffs for building, as also for the coal mining industry, in order that our reconstruction work can be under-taken. I do not agree with the point put forward by some hon. Members, that there should be an increase in the numbers of Class B releases. I believe that every effort should be put into increasing the rate of releases in Class A. At the same time, I believe it should be possible to speed up the operation of the machinery in Class B releases so that important technical personnel could be made available for building firms and local government staffs.
Thirdly I would like to support the point that has been put forward by one hon. Member in regard to compassionate releases. One of the grievances arising, 1787 and about which there is some correspondence, in regard to the large number of compassionate cases that exist in the Services, is the different attitude taken by different Services in regard to compassionate cases. There is a great difference between the attitude that exists in the Army, by comparison with the attitude in the Navy, towards compassionate leave and compassionate release. His Majesty's Ministers should consult together, with a view to adopting a similar attitude. I agree with the Instruction issued by the Ministers that compassionate cases should be dealt with first of all through the usual channels in the units. It is the job of the welfare officers and of the commanding officers to deal with those cases. The trouble is that in a large number of cases the commanding officers and welfare officers do not know what attitude they should take towards compassionate cases. Therefore there is considerable delay, and a sense of grievance among the men and their families, at the way in which many of the cases are held up. Those are the points in which I believe that the operation of the demobilisation scheme can now be greatly improved.
Finally, I have listened to many speeches in this House depicting the dangers to individual liberty in this country arising from the Government's power of controls. I believe that, for the vast mass of the people of this country, real freedom, from want and fear, and from drudgery and boredom, consists not so much in the absence of controls as in the presence of opportunities created by the efficiently planned use of man-power and natural resources, and I appeal to the Government to ensure, in this process of demobilisation, that the men and women in the Services, and their families at home, have every opportunity to understand fully the nature of the plan; in the second place, to appreciate the obstacles and difficulties in the path, and, in the third place, themselves to participate in trying to improve its execution.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
My first and pleasing duty is to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford (Captain Swingler) on his first speech in this House. He referred to what is to us in this House perhaps the most important freedom, which is freedom 1788 from boredom. If he speaks frequently on the Floor of this House he will assure us freedom from that dangerous disease, and I hope that we shall often hear him again. My hon. Friend who preceded him also made a maiden speech, and he referred to demobilisation as a drug. I can assure him that during the very short period when I was Minister of Labour I learned to take small doses of this drug. Unlike any other drug of which I have taken small quantities, I have never been able to take too much of it. It has neither soporific qualities nor does it lull one into a false sense of security. If it be a drug, I shall not find it difficult to adhere to the strict principles of my upbringing never to touch drugs of any sort. I should like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) on his first speech in this House. One like myself, who has served, with all modesty, on the home front during the whole course of this war, feels a certain lack of knowledge and ability in speaking on this subject, upon which so many Members have spoken who have records of war service of which they may well be proud. Many of them have made their first speeches in the House to-day. I refer in particular to those who spoke from the other side of the House: the hon. and gallant Member for Wycombe (Flight-Lieutenant Haire), the hon. and gallant Member for Cambridge (Major Symonds), and the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Garry Allighan), who used to make me feel very frightened when I was Minister of Labour. On my side of the House, there were the hon. and gallant Member for Oswestry (Colonel O. Poole) and the hon. and gallant Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low). I am sure we are all very grateful to them for their first intervention in Debate; it makes one like me feel very modest in speaking on this subject.
It is largely for that reason that I propose to devote the opening portion of my remarks to the needs of the home front, a matter upon which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour will have strong views, which are not, I hope, much different from my own. Before I consider the needs of the home front, let me sum up the Debate as I see it from this side of the House. We claim that a case has been made for a positive statement from the Government on 1789 the ultimate size of the Armed Forces of this country. We consider that if the hon. Member who is to reply is unable to make one to-night, this task should be undertaken by a responsible Minister at the earliest possible opportunity. I feel sure that the country as a whole and the House in particular will be grateful to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for the forecast he has made of the necessities of this country in the Defence sphere, speaking as he does from a life-long and unexampled experience on this subject. We consider also that a case has been made on this side of the House for a marked acceleration of the demobilisation scheme.
I should like to address a preliminary question to the hon. Gentleman who is to reply. Why is it that the rate of release up to Christmas runs to something like 80,000 per week, and why is it that after Christmas it sinks to something like 60,000 per week? The hon. Gentleman made great play on 12th October, when answering a. question on R.A.F. releases, with the point that the Air Force must be used for transportation purposes. If transportation is the excuse of the Government, things must get better as men are brought home. If transportation be the excuse, why should the rate of release slow down after Christmas and, in particular, the rate of release for the R.A.F. itself?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give a full and frank answer to that question, because to us on this side of the House the position seems quite incomprehensible. We must express gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) for mentioning this matter, to which we on this side attach great importance. I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman a question which I will develop more fully. Why does the Service for which he answers in this House appear, in the demobilisation scheme, to have transformed a scheme of age and length of service into a scheme which the Forces now describe as one of "age and which service"? They describe it as that because the rate of release in the R.A.F. is so markedly behind that in the other Services. I shall develop the case for a larger demobilisation of women, and here again follow up the lead given by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, since we 1790 feel that the Government can go further with the release of women than they have done hitherto.
I come without further ado to make the case for the long-suffering home front. In our view, our whole future as a nation depends upon the adoption of a militant attitude somewhere. If it is not to be adopted on that side of the House, it will be adopted on this. It is the attitude that the home front and home industry come first. The hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss J. Lee), whom we are all glad to see back in the House, said there was confidence in this Government because it is not run by the finance interests of this country. We heard enough of that sort of nonsense in the period preceding the election.
Our conviction is that this Government has disappointed its own supporters, particularly its own supporters in the Services. They consider that this Government is handling the demobilisation question with an excess of caution which ill accords with the wild hopes aroused prior to their election to office. There is a conviction among Service men and women and in the country that priority is still being given to the Service Departments and not to the needs of the home front. There is, in fact, a conviction in the country not that we are being submissive to financial interests and brass in the city, but that this Government has become the mouthpiece of brass hats in the Services. I am convinced that the hon. and gallant Member opposite who referred to military establishments will reinforce that view. People feel quite definitely that this Government is not sufficiently in earnest in getting the ordinary men and women out of thse Services.
Now I come to the needs of the home front. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour, speaking on 6th September, used these words, with which I cannot quarrel and upon which I congratulate him:Our very serious manpower shortage is only too well known. Our export and civilian industries have been drained of their man-power to provide men and women for the fighting Forces and for war production.He then proceeded to deal with the very serious situation on the home front and with our industrial problems, and went on to say: 1791In this situation, we have put the revival of our export and civilian industries, and our industries for building homes, as our most urgent and important task.He proceeded:An increase of about 5,000,000 workers will be needed on the home front, made up as follows: metals and chemicals, 928,000, other manufactures over 2,000,000, building and civil engineering 644,000, distributive trades 912,000 and other industries and services 457,000.I ask the Government how far they have got in achieving that programme. I want to remind them that this statement by the Minister of Labour, frank and correct as I believe it to have been, did not take into account the need for improving upon the pre-war level. As I understand those figures they do not take into account the need for raising our export trade by 50 per cent. If that is the case it means that a very considerably enlarged number of men and women will be needed in the industries mentioned in order to achieve that increase in our export bade to which the Government is tied and to which this House attaches so much importance.
These are great and impressive statistics. What does the ordinary man or woman think of them? What experience are they having? Can the ordinary woman buy boots or shoes for her children? Can the ordinary person buy clothes? Can the ordinary school become equipped with teachers? Can we say, crossing our hearts, that we are satisfied with the Government's handling of the housing problem and the return of labour to build our homes for the future? Emphatically, the answer is "No" to all these questions, and when ordinary men or women consider this matter they get a simple and personal view of the demobilisation problem. They not only feel that their own relatives are away, but they feel that the vital needs of the country for consumer goods, to which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition referred, are short of fulfilment, and desperately short. In fact, I go so far as to say that the whole future of this country depends upon the success of the Minister of Labour in redrafting people back to the vital home industries of this country.
It is not a question of a parade in some foreign parts. It is not a case of policing Singapore. It is not, at the moment, a case of pride in our Empire. It is a case of saving the home front and the homes 1792 of this country, and I beseech the right hon. Gentleman to fortify his arm and fight his Service colleagues, between whom I see him sitting so amicably this evening. I assure him that in that fight he will have the support of the Opposition.
I want to raise some questions about Class B. I have in my hand the latest statement, issued to-day, of the Minister of Labour in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Allighan) and it appears that up to the end of September of this year the Class B releases are definitely below the 10 per cent. level, amounting to only 17,946 releases. The total releases amount to 431,309. I believe that figure has not been brought out in this Debate, and it is most important that the House should be seized of it. The Class B releases are not coming up to the standard laid down. In fairness to the right hon. Gentleman and the Government, it should be pointed out that only a few weeks ago the figure was 9,000. There has been a marked improvement of some 5,000, since the middle of September, in Class B releases. The conclusion to which I have come, in absolute fairness to the Government, is that they have had to wait a very long time before the Class B men come out, and they are now getting the fruits of that policy. I presume this is due to transportation. But I must ask the Government to give some reassurance to the country that the Class B scheme is working, because I consider that the figure for the end of September is very disquieting. It is up to the Government to reassure those who are in doubt about Class B relases. Personally, I have been very interested in Class B releases because of the vital needs for example, of the teaching profession.
I regretted the right hon. Gentleman's answer the other day in which he said it was impossible to give a statistical answer about the number of Class B releases by different professions and trades. I fail to see why that is the case. The country wants to know what proportion of building operatives are coming out under Class B. People want to know whether the Minister's statement on 2nd October has had the desired result, as he claimed in his speech to-day, namely that the new terms and conditions offered for Class B are having a result. They want to know that the Education Act has a chance of 1793 working properly as a result of the release of the requisite number of teachers. I strongly urge the right hon. Gentleman not to give a further answer such as he gave the other day, that the Government are unable to give the figures of the numbers of Class B releases in the different professions and trades. We shall certainly press him from this side of the House with a view to finding out whether this scheme is being worked properly. I do not mind telling him that, from my short experience, I often wondered whether the Class B scheme would not be overtaken by the avalanche of Class A release. If that is the case, the whole object of the Class B release scheme will have fallen flat. I seriously recommend the Government to accelerate and expedite the Class B release scheme so as to make it worth while. If they can give us any information on that subject to-night we shall be grateful.
I want to ask a further question about the home front. Almost exactly eight weeks ago the Minister of Labour told us that 1,000,000 men were to come out of the munitions industries. It is almost eight weeks to the day, and I confidently expect the Under-Secretary of State for Air, who is to reply, to tell us what has happened to those 1,000,000 men. You cannot lose 1,000,000 men in a haystack. I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some information on what has happened to them. Where are they? Are some of these 1,000,000 men still under the same roof in the same factory making different products, that is to say, making motor cars instead of munitions? Did some of them decide to go quietly home and stay there? Have some of them left for another industry? If so, what is the general allocation in the distribution of these men?
Are some unemployed and, if so, what are the Government doing to meet the position in the various industries? We are entitled to know what has happened to this million men. I should like to know whether the Government will be in a position in the immediate future to make a statement about the further release from the munitions industry. We must not concentrate this Debate solely on demobilisation from the Services, but should also remember that there must still be in this country a great deal of quite unnecessary work being done in the munitions industry and that there is still 1794 great need to demobilise great numbers from it.
A further point I want to raise is the intake of young men from industry into the Services. If we take Appendix IV of the statement of the Minister of Labour on 2nd October, we see that the intake from 1st July to 31st December, 1945, amounts to some 160,000. It is; of course, vital to have an intake into the Services and for all of us, on all sides of the House, to stand up to those businesses and industries which say that no young men in important positions shall be called up from industry at all. You cannot have a demobilisation unless you prime the pump by pouring some water down it in the form of intake, so that I hope the hon. Gentleman who is to reply will understand that I am not trying to maintain that there should be no intake. I want to put this point to the hon. Gentleman, and this again arises from the needs of the home front.
As I understand the position, a large proportion of this intake of young key men is from the engineering industry. The engineering industry is being asked to tool-up all sorts of other industries, to make machinery, to re-equip such an industry as the carpet industry and so on, and it seems impossible to take out absolute key men from the engineering industry and expect the home front to get going. If the right hon. Gentleman, or the hon. Gentleman who is to reply, could make a responsible statement on the subject either to-night or at a future date, it would be very reassuring for the engineering industry. I have not put the claim too high but I hope I have illustrated that this is a serious matter for the re-equipment of British industry.
The whole question of the call-up of young men raises the question of the future of National Service in this country. Before I come to that, which is the matter upon which I wish to end, I want to address some of the general considerations on the subject of the statement of 12th October which I raised at the opening of my remarks to the hon. Gentleman who is to reply. If the arguments in this statement are sound—a statement which has been criticised from every side of the House to-night and by hon. Friends of hon. Gentlemen, and others—I would like to ask him when he proposes to carry out the undertaking he gave in which he said: 1795We may find that it is possible, looking ahead to the first six months of next year, to get a review of the world situation, and it may be possible to lighten that burden of occupying and policing functions which is falling heavily on all our Forces, and especially heavily on the R.A.F."—Official Report, 12th October, 1945; Vol. 414, c. 658.]Will he give an indication when he can make such a statement and will he answer my opening remark as to why the rate of release becomes less after Christmas if the transportation is in full swing before Christmas? I would like to remind him of one or two human considerations. There is no doubt that there is great feeling in the R.A.F. on the subject of release from that Service. I have received, like everybody else, many letters, of which the following is an example. It was written from the Far East immediately after the broadcast of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour. It is a very short extract, and this is what he says:I have just listened with amazement to the broadcast statement by the Minister of Labour on the subject of demobilisation, with the release classes as he gave them. May I point out that many men in the R.A.F., who enlisted at or shortly after the outbreak of war, will be compelled to serve from six to seven years, and, secondly, my counter-part in the Navy at 32 will secure his release after 2½ years' service, while my service will exceed 5 years?I want to ask the Government what is the reply to that sort of complaint, and whether, now that it is clear that there is a disparity of release, and if, as he claims, his reasons, for national purposes, are sound, will he then attempt to explain to the R.A.F. why there has been this vital departure from the principle of age and length of service.
I want now to raise one or two detailed human cases, and first, the case of the Royal Air Force Accounts Branch. The Accounts Branch has suffered very considerably and I think it deserves special mention. It would appear that, even after the recent acceleration, the Accounts Branch will be some seven or eight groups behind by December, and I think that that is surely a matter of great interest to all hon. Members in this House, and one upon which we have all received letters and upon which the Government ought to reply. I am further informed that married W.A.A.Fs. in the Accounts Branch are almost the only women not released from the Service on marriage or request, and 1796 I should like the hon. Gentleman to reply to that point as well.
That leads me to the question of women. I see that my right hon. Friend has championed the cause of women; I rather expected he would. There are to be releases amounting to a very considerable number, but I cannot help thinking that a further 38,000 reduction on the tables issued could be effected by cutting down the number remaining in the Service to 100,000. If the Minister could manage that, I should be very grateful, because I believe in following up what he said, in reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, that the release of women, many of whom do not seem to perform either full or useful functions in the Royal Air Force, should be accelerated at the utmost speed. I also want to refer to the case of the Territorial Army officers and other ranks who served before the war and whose service is not taken into account. I hope the hon. Gentleman will reply on that point as well.
These are all practical matters which the Government has it within its power to alter, and, if it alters them, to retain the confidence of this House. What we want, and what I believe the country wants, is a sharper definition of the ultimate objective of the Government, a greater drive in carrying out the demobilisation scheme, a greater conviction in their utterances and less muddle as between different Departments and as between rival statements of Ministers. I believe also, and this is a matter on which I should like a reply, that the younger generation in this country—and students have been referred to in this Debate—want to know what is the ultimate national policy in regard to National Service. As the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said, we, on this side of the House, absolutely support the need for compulsory military service. What we want to know is what the terms of that service are going to be. The whole of our case ties together. You cannot know what needs you have in National Service unless you know the ultimate size of the forces, but, until you know the ultimate size of the forces necessary to guard this country, you cannot exactly define what future National Service may be required from our young men.
You cannot define what intake will be necessary from industry, and you cannot reach a further computation of the final 1797 total of demobilisation and remobilisation on the home front. Therefore, in the interests of the young apprentice, in the interests of the young man who is to take up military service, in the interests of the student, and not only in the interests of the younger generation but of their fathers and mothers, I would ask the Government to make at the earliest possible date a statement on the future needs of this country for national service.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Strachey)
I am not addressing this House for the first time as so many hon. Members have done in this Debate and done so well, but I am addressing the House for the first time on so considerable a Parliamentary occasion as this, and therefore I would ask for some, at any rate, of that indulgence which the House so readily gives to beginners.
I want to say one or two words about the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) who opened this Debate. He gave us some extremely interesting suggestions as to the size of the permanent post-war Forces which this country should have. Now the suggested figures which he gave may be too small, or they may be too big, but I think the House ought to realise one thing about them at any rate—that they have very little relevance indeed to the question of demobilisation over the next few months at any rate [Hon. Members: "Why?"] I am just going to say why. The right hon. Gentleman took a very buoyant and optimistic view of the world situation. Let us hope he is right, but I do not think he would claim that the world situation in the next few months is likely to have settled down to that state of permanent peace to which we certainly hope it will have settled down in the next few years. Therefore, any level of our Forces which was appropriate to the period of permanent peace could not possibly be appropriate to the period of the next few months, with all the responsibilities which we are bound to have during that time.
The release of men from the Forces may be governed in the next few months by many factors and over all, of course, by our commitments. Therefore the size to which they will in the end be reduced has 1798 very little to do with the actual matter under debate at all, and I rather fear that, having mentioned those figures for our permanent post-war Forces, the right hon. Gentleman may be giving the impression—unwittingly no doubt—that they are a possible target in the next few months, when obviously, as he himself gave quite other figures as to the next few months in another part of his speech those figures for the permanent Forces can have no relevance.
The second thing which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford did in his speech was to suggest that the "age and service" principle, on which the present scheme is firmly based, should be undermined and at what I venture to say—and many Service Members with great experience will bear me out—is its most sensitive point, namely, the point of parity in the rate of release between men at home and in the overseas theatres. [An Hon. Member: "What about the rate of release between the Services?"] I am coming to that later, but for the moment I am dealing with the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman about parity in the rate of release between the men at home and the men in the overseas theatres. To do what he suggested is, I suggest, tampering with the "age and service" principle, at a point where it would be most dangerous to do so, and I am most strongly fortified in that opinion by words which put it far better than I could that were written by the right hon. Gentleman himself when he was describing the situation as it presented itself to the then Secretary of State for War at the end of the last war. I would venture to refresh the memory of the House with a few passages from that admirable account in the volume of the right hon. Gentleman's work, called "The Aftermath":On 10th January I quitted the Ministry of Munitions and became responsible for the War Office on the 15th. I was immediately confronted with conditions of critical emergency. According to the logic of the release scheme then in operation the first men to be released were called "key men." These were picked out by their scores of thousands from all units of the Army, and hurried back across the Channel. But these key men who were the first to come home had been, in many cases, the last to go out.Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to describe the dismay, despondency, and 1799 alarm which this situation created in the Forces. He went on:The fighting man has a grim sense of justice which it is dangerous to confront.Then the right hon. Gentleman describes the prompt remedies which he took, and went on to say:If the cause was plain, what was the remedy? First, soldiers should, as a general rule, only be released from the front in accordance with their length of service and age.Now I submit to the House that we here stand on that principle, which the right hon. Gentleman introduced in 1919 to meet a situation exactly analogous to the present one. The right hon. Gentleman said to-day that the Bevin scheme was introduced to meet a situation of redeployment of Forces while the Far Eastern war was still going on. But there was no Far Eastern war going on in 1919. It was a situation analogous to the present one, and the right hon. Gentleman was driven to adopt a principle which we must adhere to now—the principle of release by age and service.
Now I pass on to a subject which has concerned us very closely in this Debate, and which obviously concerns me because it is relevant to the Force for which I speak in this House—the Royal Air Force. I would ask the House to notice that the real trouble—and I do not minimise the fact that there is real trouble—which we have got into in respect of the Air Force, is precisely because men feel, and have reason to feel on the facts before them so far, that the "age and service" principle has been perceptibly departed from at the point of parity of release as between the three Forces. When the recent announcement of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour was studied it was found that in his forecast for the releases during the first six months of next year, the rate of release from the Air Force fell seriously behind the rate of release from other Forces, and that only Group 28 of the Air Force was to be reached, as it appeared, in June of next year. As against the background of the very considerable increase in the rate of release which was given to the other two Forces, that, naturally, caused very considerable alarm and despondency in the minds of airmen and airwomen. 1800 I do not deny for one moment that in the field of presentation, the public relations field as it were, we were not altogether wise before the event, because we did cause this doubt and despondency in the minds of these airmen and airwomen quite unnecessarily. We did so by attempting to give exact figures of group numbers too far ahead. It would have been better to have stuck to what we had always done up till then, promulgation up to three months ahead. When you try and look nine months ahead in promulgating group numbers as apart from overall figures, you have many unknown factors to take into consideration; your forecast is nothing more than a forecast, and it is always made on the ultra-conservative side, in order that no one should be disappointed because there is no possibility of being able to fulfil it.
What were the two unknown factors which made us give this extremely conservative forecast of the groups which could be reached by mid-summer next for the R.A.F.? They were that there had to be taken into consideration the possibility of unforeseen and unfavourable developments in the world situation. Secondly, at that time, and even now, for that matter, the exact size of the intake into the three Services in the new year, had not been fixed. As that forecast was made, I think it legitimate and right that we should make another forecast to-night, in which we assume—and I think that it is an assumption which is almost certain to be fulfilled—that we—the R.A.F.—receive our fair share and goodly share of the intake which there must be into the Forces in the new year, and that we are not faced with any grave and unforeseen development in world affairs. On these two assumptions, I am able to tell the House that the R.A.F. releases will reach by midsummer next not Group 28 but Group 32. In other words, four more groups in the great majority of trades, at any rate, will be reached during that period. By doing that, the level of R.A.F. releases in respect of groups will reach one more actually than that of the Army, and so I proclaim, most definitely, that the "age plus service" principle, far from being abandoned at the point of parity of the rate of release between the three Services, will be maintained in its integrity during the next six months.
1801 May I digress to say a word on the subject of intake, which concerned considerably the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler). Here we have two considerations both of which have been given a vigorous expression to in this Debate. On the one hand, a series of Service Members, have expressed the feelings of the Services that the call-up must be rigorously and strictly pursued, and that men up to 30 must be brought into the Services to release the men who have "borne the burden and heat of the day." On the other hand, you have the consideration put by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden who says that the recovery of industry depends to an appreciable degree, as no doubt it does, upon retaining specialists, key men and engineers of importance in industry, instead of allowing them to be called up. These two considerations must be balanced, and surely the principle must be that, just as in the war we deferred men whose services would be of greater value to the nation in their factories, than they would be at the front, so, in the changed circumstances of to-day, that same principle must be preserved. It cannot be the wish of the individual, his inclination. It must simply be: Where will he give his best service to the nation in the present phase of the struggle? So that pre-supposes that the intake will be governed by those considerations.
I have dealt with the comparison of the rate of release in the R.A.F. in the new year with the rate of release in the Army, as by groups, and I think, as some Members interjected although not very audibly, "What about the Navy's Group 45 by June next?" I ask them to look into these figures very carefully because they are not altogether simple. It is quite true that in some, and, I dare say, in a great many, trades, the Navy will be able to reach Group 45 by midsummer next, but does that mean that the R.A.F. rate of release, and the Army rate of release, also, will lag far behind that of the Navy? The answer is that it will, if you reckon only by groups, but observe the other figures of the percentage of the total forces which will be left in these Services by mid-summer next. In the case of the Navy, although Group 45 will be reached in many trades, 52 per cent. of the V E-Day strength will still be with the Colours. In the case of the R.A.F., under 1802 the earlier proposal, when Group 28 only was to be reached, 58 per cent. of the R.A.F. would be left with the Colours. Under the decision which I have announced to-night, when Group 32 will be reached, subject to the provisos I made, some 50 per cent. of the R.A.F. will be left with the Colours, while in the Army, which only reaches Group 31—the lowest group number to be reached—only 36 per cent. of the men will be left with the Colours. Therefore, while the R.A.F. rate of release will be slower than that of the Navy, in terms of groups, it will be a little faster in terms of percentage, and while it will be a little faster in terms of groups than the Army, it will be appreciably slower in terms of percentage. These figures are complex, and work out like that, because of the uneven numbers in each group of the Services.
If hon. Members like to look at the Official Report, in which a long answer was circulated by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, they will see that the situation is really governed by the immense size of the half dozen Army groups, from 23 to 28, where you get groups running at200,000 and over, compared with subsequent Army groups which go down to 30,000 and 40,000, and with R.A.F. groups, running fairly closely through all the late 20's and 30's, at 30,000 and 40,000, and with much smaller Naval groups. It is that uneven size of the groups which produces these curious figures. One Service may be a little ahead in rate of release as reckoned by groups, and a little behind as reckoned by percentage, but, I submit to the House, the figures I have just quoted show substantially, and as far as is humanly possible, that the principle of parity of the rate of release between the three Services will be maintained during the next year.
§ Mr. Butler
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but these higher mathematics are clear to him, although not to me. I want to be sure that, in total numbers, he can say the principle of the length of service will be maintained, leaving aside these numbers of groups.
§ Mr. Strachey
Yes, substantially. The Army will have a higher percentage out than either of the other two Services, although it will actually have only reached the lowest group, No. 31. But these figures are complex, and that takes me 1803 to the next point which a number of hon. Members have made, and, I think, one of the greatest importance, namely, that we should, to use a colloquialism, try to get the whole situation over to the public and, above all, to the members of the Forces. That is, of course, very largely where hon. Members themselves come in. By their questions, and their pressure, they force us, and, in forcing us, give us the opportunity to make these statements, and to amend our schemes as we have done. That is certainly true, too.
§ Mr. Strachey
The figures have already been given. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman was in the House when I said that this was subject to the share of intake we shall receive in the New Year, but it will make a reduction in the total of the order of approximately 50,000 or 60,000. These figures, as I have said, are complex. The situation is one which needs constant explanation to the Forces, and it can be given directly in answer to questions and to the pressure of hon. Members here.
But other methods are also being devised by which to inform our own men in the R.A.F. Yesterday a new series of signals was devised which are to be called "Demob forms." These will be sent out by the Air Member for Personnel to all R.A.F. stations. If I may, I will read to the House an extract from the first, in which he describes the new series:The following system will be introduced for this purpose. A new series of signals will be introduced under the prefix 'Demobform,' of which this is the first. These signals will be from the Air Member for Personnel and will be addressed to all R.A.F. units at home and overseas. As a general rule they should be in the hands of unit commanders within 48 hours of despatch from the Air Ministry. They are intended for the information of Commanders in Chief, Air Officers Commanding and Commanding Officers, and the information contained in them should be made known to all ranks.That is an important point, because in my experience, and I go round to R.A.F. stations as frequently as I can, airmen and airwomen are sometimes confused, because they are unable to distinguish between official information on which they can rely, and speculations and discussion which they see in the Press. I am making no complaint of the treatment 1804 of demobilisation by the Press. They must discuss it and do discuss it to the fullest possible extent, and with the utmost freedom, but it is difficult sometimes for the individual airman or airwoman on the station to distinguish between what is official and can be relied on, and what is mere speculation. I hope that these "Demob forms" will meet that need to some extent.
§ Mr. Strachey
That signal has gone off, but if there is any difficulty on that score, it can be remedied.
I think I should deal next with the question of why there remains, as hon. Members will not fail to have noticed, an appreciable difference between the overall rate of release, reckoned by the percentage left in the Force, in the R.A.F. and in the Army, but not in the case of the Navy, as at midsummer next. I must repeat the two reasons which I gave once before in a statement on the Adjournment, as to why that is so, though the gap has been narrowed. The two reasons are what I would call economic, or the fact that for a given occupational or policing type of task which our Forces are engaged in all over the world to-day, it is more economical over all in man-power, to do the job with a high proportion of R.A.F. forces of squadrons and a lower proportion of Army forces of Divisions; and that the Chiefs of Staff, in striving, as they did in their last review of the situation, and as they will at any subsequent review—they will review it again, of course, more than once—at the same time to meet their obligations and release the maximum man-power, are driven towards retaining a relatively large R.A.F. and a relatively small Army.
The second point is the obvious one, of the task which faces the Royal Air Force in the field of transport home of airmen. I think one or two Members in this Debate have rather sought to minimise that task, but we, at any rate, on the Government Bench, do not see how the task of bringing men home can be faced without the full effort of the R.A.F. In bringing men home to meet the rate 1805 of release which has been announced, to meet leave—many hon. Members have stressed the importance of that, and I could not agree with them more—and—this has not been mentioned but it is a most important commitment—the return of men at the completion of their tour of overseas duty, however great the influx of shipping may be—and we hope that our shipping position will become much easier in the new year—the Royal Air Force will be called upon to transport 1,000,000 people over varying journeys of varying distances between now and June next. That is a transportation task, largely over a very long haul back from the Far East which is going to tax our resources to the very utmost. It is not merely a task for Transport Command with its aircraft which are well adapted to that purpose; it is a task to meet which, we have to throw in a very large part of the aircraft of Bomber Command, and they are not the most suitable aircraft for the purpose by any means. A great deal of that has to be done by quickly adapted Stirling bombers. Nobody will regard that as an aircraft exactly suitable to do a job of that sort.
In performing that task, it is necessary to have the aircraft adequately maintained, to have the services adequately run, to have the aircraft adequately flown and, above all, to ensure the factor of safety, about which I, certainly, even as things are, feel some anxiety. The House should face the fact that, do what we may, there will be a certain rate of accidents in that operation. If we do not keep with us the key personnel for that service, not only in pilots and navigators but, equally important, fitters, riggers and the maintenance men on the ground, I feel the utmost apprehension that the rate of accidents would rise to a figure which would be utterly unacceptable to this House, and the whole vital element in our release plans, represented by the Royal Air Force transportation scheme, would break down. Those are the two reasons why, in spite of the alteration and modification which I have been able to announce, the rate of release in the Royal Air Force does, as far as we can at present see, still lag behind the rate of release in the Army in the new year.
I pass on to the question which a number of hon. Members have raised, that of Class C and Class B releases. To take Class B releases first, I was asked by the 1806 hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Jennie Lee) to give the figures. They have been given before, but I will repeat them. So far, from 16th June, Class B releases have been 17,946. Of those, 9,000 alone have been in September, so that the rate of Class B release is going up fairly rapidly, but I share in some degree the apprehensions which the hon. Member expressed on Class B, and I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour would wish to close the door to modifications in terms to Class B release if suitable ones can be devised. We are on dangerous ground here. In Class B we are beginning to modify the "age and service" principle at still another point, and there must be a limit to the degree to which the scheme can be modified.
As to Class C, I was asked to give figures of the compassionate releases. In the Army, the figures to-day are8,081. For the Royal Air Force, there are not, as the hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon (Major Renton) said, 30, but 1,764. For the Navy there are only 163, because, I understand, the Navy have given long periods of compassionate leave rather than complete compassionate release. In the case of the Royal Air Force, as I expect most hon. Members know, modifications have been recently made in the regulations and terms under which compassionate release under Class C can be given. Therefore, again, we must keep it within certain limits, or we undermine once more the "age and service" principle, on which the whole scheme depends.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
Before the Minister leaves Class C, would he say a word on the one-man business releases?
§ Mr. Strachey
Yes, that is the modification to which I referred. Until recently, in the Royal Air Force, compassionate grounds, such as grounds of business necessity, had to be established by the airman or woman before there could be releases. Under the recent modification, if it can be shown that it is a matter of real, desperate urgency to the business, release can be obtained.
§ Mr. Strachey
That is the principle, but if compassionate releases were increased beyond a certain point, a great number of people not getting compassionate release would feel that others were getting out of their turn through that door. That is why they must be kept in over-all relation to the general picture.
I would like to put before the House, in conclusion, the situation which confronts us now, in comparison with that which confronted us at the close of the last war. I submit that difficulties and anomalies are bound to exist, when you are dealing with millions of human beings. We—and by "we" I do not mean the Service Departments and I certainly do not mean the Government. I mean the British nation—are dealing with this immense task of demobilisation in a most successful manner. Demobilisation as a nation in arms is no small business. It has been done only once before in this country, and the right hon. Member for Woodford himself spoke, in his opening remarks, of the difficulties, disorders and dangers to which this country was subjected during that process, and to which there is no parallel at all. That is because we have had from the outset a scheme—we know we inherited it from the last Government—a definite principle of age and service, a principle of release to which we have adhered and to which we shall adhere. It is not an absolutely rigid principle. It must be flexible, it must be allowed to meet changing circumstances. It was, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford said, devised not simply as are lease scheme, but as a scheme for the re-deployment of our national forces in the new situation which was then envisaged as the end of the European war and with the Far Eastern war continuing. I fully accept that, but now, in the situation, when both wars are over, I suggest that we need a scheme, not simply of release, but of the re-deployment of our national forces to new tasks.
The truth of the matter is that we are faced with a situation in this country in which the wars are over, but the national emergencies are by no means over. When I look back on recent years, I suggest that we have been through three phases in a very long national struggle. That national struggle, a struggle for survival, began in 1939 at one of the lowest points to which this country has ever come in our 1808 national history. In the closing years of the Administration of Lord North, an equally low point was reached, but that was the only one. From that abyss of danger this country has slowly clambered up, and we see now that there were three turning points in that process. The first, when the tide turned, and the process of slipping back into impotence and ignominy was arrested, was when war was declared in September, 1939. The second was in the Spring of 1940, when the Chamberlain Government fell and the Coalition Government was formed. That was undoubtedly a Government which we may say rode the tempest and was never shaken. It was a Government which sufficed to solve the problems of war and to bringing us to military victory. Now we see that this Summer of 1945 was another turning point, a new phase in our struggle, when between the endings of the two wars, that against Germany and that against Japan, a General Election placed the first majority Labour Government in power in this country.
I submit that we have now got the executive instrument which is alone suitable and adequate; indeed, I go so far as to say that to perform the peculiar tasks which face us to-day, it is the only possible executive instrument for this country. In the tasks we are meeting, we have the absolute assurance of final national triumph and survival. Those tasks certainly are more complex than any we had to meet in war, and those tasks can only be met by planning, and by Socialist planning. Part of that planning is an orderly and equitable system of the demobilisation of the Forces. We have such a system, and we can carry it out. In carrying it out we are confident that we fulfil the will of the people.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I want to tell a story about the Army and to quote a letter from a member of the R.A.F. Before doing so, I desire to express my regret—I do not want to use a stronger term—that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition should be prepared to take advantage of the present situation to indulge in typical Tory tricks on this vexed question of demobilisation. The right hon. Gentleman gave us a few practical proposals, but the practical proposals had nothing to do with Tory politics. He tells us, for instance, that 1809 we might double the wages of the men who are kept overseas. When was it the policy of the Tory party to double wages? Of course the right hon. Gentleman is not in a responsible position now, and—what is money anyway? The right hon. Gentleman who concluded the Debate for the Opposition is concerned about the home front and told us that mothers could not buy clothing and boots for their children. When did the Tory party become concerned about that? Under the Tory Governments between the wars, millions of mothers could not buy clothes for their children. Were the Tories ever concerned? Not in the least.
I wish to give the House an instance which concerns a young friend of mine. He and his chum came home from the Mediterranean and got nine days' leave. Then they had to go 50 miles to report to their depot. When they reported, there was nothing for them to do, so they got a further fourteen days' leave, and a pass back to their homes. They went back home and had their 14 days' leave, and then went to report once again. Again there was nothing for them, so they were given fourteen days' leave and a travel warrant back home. There was nothing for them, when they reported at the end of that 14 days, and they were given another 14 days, and a pass back home. They were not the only two—they were 1810 just two that I know personally, and they represent a very large number of men who are similarly idle. I have received letters, day after day, from R.A.F. men, but here is one I received on Thursday from an R.A.F. man in S.E.A.C. There were 20 words in it:A thought for to-day: Join the Navy and see the world; join the R.A.F. and become an exile.That is the feeling of many men in the R.A.F. I am quite convinced that the Government are doing, and will do, their best to get these idle hands into useful employment. I am convinced that the Government are doing, and will continue to do their best to get these lads brought back from exile to their homes in this country; and I am quite certain that the Government, having got the Tories down, will keep them down, so that they will never raise their ugly heads again.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for To-morrow.
§ Resolved: "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Mathers.]
§ Adjourned accordingly at Nineteen Minutes after Ten o'clock.