HC Deb 10 December 1947 vol 445 cc1007-8
54. Mr. A. R. W. Low

asked the Minister of Defence whether the strength of the three services will be reduced to 700,000 by 31st March, 1948; and what will be the strength of each service at that date.

Mr. Alexander

No, Sir. The position remains as stated by me on 23rd October last, when I said that the revised estimate of the strengths of the Forces at 31st March next was 147,000 for the Royal Navy, 527,000 for the Army, and 263,000 for the Royal Air Force, giving a total of 937,000 for the three Services.

Mr. Low

While I express gratitude for that statement, may I ask if the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that the Secretary of State for War does not mislead the public in his week-end speeches, and, therefore, that he does not cast more doubt upon the whole of this important question than is necessary?

Mr. Alexander

I think that the Secretary of State for War has already issued an explanation showing the fallibility of some of the reports made, and that he was referring rather to the trend of reduction than committing himself to figures.

Major Legge-Bourke

Can the Minister say whether he has anything in mind with a view to co-ordinating the three Services?

Mr. Alexander

We are following up the policy which we laid before the House when the White Paper was discussed 12 months ago in regard to certain Services upon which we required convincing, and we hope to deal with the matter in the White Paper to be laid before Parliament in a few months.

Brigadier Head

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that this type of statement by the Secretary of State for War, even in the form of a forecast, has a most disturbing effect on the people in the Services, and has it not become something of a habit of the Secretary of State for War to do this sort of thing?

Mr. Mellish

On a point of Order. Are hon. Members entitled to ask questions on a statement which has been officially denied? Have they the right to question a statement which the Secretary of War did not make?

Mr. Speaker

Hon. Members are entitled to clarify any doubt that they have in their minds. Some hon. Members may not have heard the Secretary of State for War deny it.

Mr. Eden

I do not want to discuss what the Secretary of State for War may or may not have said. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is quite clear that the policy laid down previously in the White Paper is unchanged, whatever the Secretary of State for War may or may not have said?

Mr. Alexander

Yes, Sir, of course. No detailed conclusions of the Government with regard to the financial year 1948–49 can be stated before the Estimates for the year have been settled, and the White Paper laid before Parliament.

55. Mr. Low

asked the Minister of Defence what changes he intends to the National Service Scheme whereby the strength of the active Army, including the intake, will be only 300,000 in 1949; or whether he has now decided that the regular strength of the Army is to be less than 200,000.

Mr. Alexander

Final decisions regarding the strengths of the Forces for 1948–49 will be taken by the Government in considering the financial provision to be made in the Defence Estimates for that year. Those decisions will be announced in the Defence White Paper, and I would ask the hon. Member to await its publication.