§ Order for Committee read.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Bellenger.)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
In view of the remarks to which we have listened in an earlier discussion, I feel some embarrassment. I want to give the House, as fully as I possibly can, a survey in connection with the Army Estimates which I am presenting, and at the same time I want to compress my remarks into as short a period as possible, to enable hon. Members on the back benches to express their point of view. After all, with the present composition of the House of Commons, there are many Members on' both sides of the House who have firsthand war experience, and I shall welcome an expression of opinion by those hon. Members, if they are called, as will I am sure my advisers at the War Office. In the past few years it has been the custom of my predecessors in the office which I now hold either to dilate on the preparations for war, or on the deeds of valour of our troops while war was raging, or, as last year at about this time in the case of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chester le Street (Mr. Lawson), to tell the House what has been happening in the transition period, the change-over from war to peace. Although we have not entirely beaten our swords into ploughshares, nevertheless the main plans for the postwar Army are taking shape.
I should first of all like to call the attention of the House to the size in money of the Estimates which I am now presenting. Hon. Members will have seen the memorandum which I circulated with the Estimates, and no doubt they will have noticed that the net expenditure for 1508 which I ask for the year 1947–48 is £388 million. This is a substantial reduction from the Estimates for the current year, and reflects a very heavy run-down in the manpower of the Army. Even this large reduction of £294 million in the Estimates for the coming financial year, as compared with the present financial year, does not give a true reflection of the economies we have been able to make, because as I have said in the Memorandum we are this year disclosing in our Estimates the amounts which we shall pay to the Ministry of Supply and other Departments for services—equipment, stores and so forth—which they render to the Army.
Included in the net figure of £388 million are two items to which I should particularly like to draw the attention of the House, namely, the figure of £45 million which is for terminal charges, that is to say release benefits for soldiers being released from the Army, which of course will not appear in the same size or form in future years. They are what one might call a part of the liquidation of war. The other item is one of £15 million in connection with the maintenance of the Polish forces for which the War Office is responsible pending their repatriation or rehabilitation. Therefore I hope that as time goes on the House will not be troubled with figures of that nature. I am bound to warn the House, however, that nothing is included in these Estimates for the provision of new or modern equipment. At the moment we are living to a very large extent on our war stocks, but obviously that cannot continue indefinitely.
There is only one other item with which I wish to trouble the House in these introductory remarks, and that is the figure of £118 million included in the Estimates under the heading "Appropriations in Aid." The House cannot expect in future years that the figure which reduces our Estimates to their net proportions will remain so large. This is one of the winding up figures due to the war.
Before I deal with the future may I, with the permission of the House, say a few things about the immense problems which the Army has had to deal with and overcome in the past few years. I do not want to go into too many figures, but it will be necessary, in order to make my case adequately, to give the House a few. In 1939, the strength of the regular Army was 234,000. There were also 1509 407,000 territorials. In war, these figures were expanded to over three million. Or to put it another way, in different terms, in 1939 the Army had seven regiments of anti-aircraft artillery, and in war that figure was expanded to 311 regiments. Today, it teas been reduced to 62 regiments. In 1939 there were 140 battalions of infantry. I am giving these figures to my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite so that they can see in its correct proportion the size of the Army to come in relation to the size of the Army before the last war.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
Do these figures mean that the Army is now nine times what it was before the war?
§ Mr. Bellenger
If my hon. Friend will allow me to continue giving the figures, he will probably be able to make as good an estimate as I can, and draw his own deductions from it.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am endeavouring not to repeat what has been said in the Estimates, but to supplement those figures, in the best way I can, so that the House can get a balanced view of what we are asking for. From 140 battalions in 1939 the infantry was increased in wartime to 618 battalions, and today that figure has come down to 143 battalions. It is interesting to note that, of those 143 infantry battalions, 52 will by the end of this year be put into a state of suspended animation, with the result that as far as infantry is concerned there will be a substantial reduction in battalions as between the prewar Army and the postwar Army.
Since August, 1945, and the House will remember that I said we had increased it to over three million, we have released from the Army over 2,500,000 men and women. Let the House note this: we have done that in an orderly fashion, without the confusion created by the helter-skelter demobilisation which occurred after the first world war. By the end of the financial year 1947–48 practically the whole of these temporary soldiers with war experience, will have gone back to civil life. That creates some very remarkable difficulties and problems for the Army. It means in effect that, with this immense demobilisation or release, we shall be faced with a serious shortage of 1510 officers and men not only with war experience but with skill and training in military matters, and however many men remain they will be mostly the raw, immature young fellows without very much military experience. We have got to train them if the Army is to be in the state of preparedness for all contingencies which the House will expect.
It would not matter too much, of course, at any rate it would be of less moment, if peace were reigning throughout the world, but he would be a bold man who would assert that today there is peace. Therefore we can demobilise armies, not only in this country but in those other countries where very large military forces are being retained—
§ Mr. Bellenger
I will allow my hon. Friend to draw his own conclusions. It is often alleged that there is a good deal of idleness in the Army. I am entitled to remind the House, in order to rebut that allegation so far as I can, that soldiers perform other than strictly military duties. For example, in Germany, a good deal of assistance is being given to the civilian effort in this country, by felling and transporting timber which is urgently needed here for the building of houses for the civilian population. The House will remember that in the recent unprecedented wintry weather, the nation was very glad of the assistance which the Army was able to give because of its organisation, discipline and training. It was able to help the civilian population in the movement of coal. Finally, in that connection, I would remind the House that the Army has been engaged for the past 18 months or more in assisting in the disposal of surplus military stores. If hon. Gentlemen will look at the figures in the accounts of the Chancellor of the Exchequer they will see that a very large sum has been brought in for the taxpayer by the sale of surplus stores, largely due to the efforts of the Army in getting those stores into marketable condition.
The House will desire to know something about the Regular Army. The Regular Army is the backbone of our land defence forces. Many hon. Members are aware that in peacetime the normal method of entrance into the Army by way of enlistment is through the various corps 1511 or regiments. In peacetime, under normal conditions, there is no power to transfer men who enlist for a definite period in a particular regiment or corps from one part of the Army to another. That probably accounts for the fact that during the war very little regular recruitment was undertaken. From the beginning of this year, plans for the future have taken more definite shape in the minds of the War Office planners, and we can begin to see not only what the size of the future Army may be, but how it should be constituted and composed as between the different arms of the Service.
If the Regular Army were of the order of 250,000 men, we should require an average monthly intake of 2,800 regular enlistments, in order to make up for the deficiencies caused by normal wastage. The Army is not of the size of 250,000. It is now, counting all ranks, about 129,000 regular officers and men. Therefore, in order to recruit that Army to the size that it will ultimately be, we need every month an average of 4,000 enlistments. I will give the House in a moment some recruiting figures, so that hon. Members may see exactly what is happening. Because the Regular Army has run down through various causes, such as the casualties of war and the effluxion of time in regular soldiers' contracts, we have to recruit very heavily as soon as possible. We have had to inaugurate a short-service scheme to attract back into our ranks, or to keep those who are still serving in the Army, officers and men with war experience, fully trained, so that they might act, as it were, as an interim Army until we have recruited our main Regular Forces.
The figures of recruitment are in two parts. There are the normal regular engagements which will, of course, form the active regular Army. The total number of volunteers who have enlisted between 1st April last, and 31st January of this year, a period of about 10 months, is 21,000-odd or, taking the figures up to the end of February—perhaps that is the latest figure—a period of 11 months, 24,000 normal regular engagements. When we started the recruiting campaign it did not go too satisfactorily. Hon. Members may be interested, therefore, in the average monthly intake, During the period 1st April last to 31st January of this year, there were 2,146 1512 average monthly enlistments. Latterly, the figures have shown up better. In the last three months, up to the end of January, 1947, the average monthly intake has risen to 2,649. I do not want to be over-optimistic in that respect. It is always good to see curves rising—at least these curves—but I would urge hon. Members to take the cautious view, as I do, for the time being. I am hoping that the figures will rise to the number of 4,000 per month, which we must have if we are to maintain the Regular Army at the proper strength.
As to the short-service bounty scheme which, as I informed the House a moment ago, was for the purpose of keeping us going in the Army on a proper basis until we had recruited the Regular Army fully, the total intake to 31st January, 1947, from the date when the scheme was started in May last, has been, I think, 8,000 officers and 12,000 other ranks. Our planning target was 20,000 officers and 100,000 men. Hon. Members can see, therefore, that the recruitment figures for the short-service engagement have by no means reached the target which we have set out to achieve. Before I conclude this passage of my speech, and particularly as I see on the other side the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross), I would mention that a new scheme is about to be launched in Northern Ireland, to provide for two-year voluntary engagements similar to those undertaken by the National Servicemen in Great Britain. I hope that we shall have very good results from that effort—
§ Mr. Grimston (Westbury)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, may I ask whether he can possibly break down those figures among the different arms of the Service?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I have not that analysis with me at the moment, but if the hon. Gentleman places particular store upon it, possibly I may be able to get it for him before the Financial Secretary replies.
The length of service in the Regular Army is now from five years to 22 years. The first engagement which a soldier undertakes when volunteering for the Regular Service is five years with the Colours, and seven years with the Reserve. Later on he can extend that five years to complete the whole 12 years with 1513 the Colours, if he has given satisfactory service. Later, he can re-engage for a period of 22 years, which will entitled him to a pension at the end of his service, provided that nothing untoward has happened due to his own acts. The House will, of course, have seen the new Service pension rates which have been circulated in a White Paper a little while ago. Those rates are considerably in advance of the Service pension rates which prevailed before the war. I am mentioning these facts in order to emphasise the attractiveness of the postwar Regular Army for the young man who does not mind a little bit of adventure, and going away from home for a while.
We have brought down the overseas tour of service to three years. One of the reasons why it was difficult before the war to convince men, or as a matter of fact and more important to convince their womenfolk, of the necessity and desirability of enlisting in the Regular Army, was the long periods which regular soldiers had to serve overseas, parted from their families, relations and friends. We have brought down that overseas tour of service to three years. In the next two or three months we shall have arranged that the interval between successive tours of service overseas will be much longer in the man's period of Colour service and that, in the last year of his Colour service he will spend, we hope, the majority of it at home. That will enable him to get acclimatised to the home atmosphere and enable him to get ready to transfer from the Service to civil life with as little hiatus as possible. Now let me come to the shape of things to come.
§ Major Bramall (Bexley)
While my right hon. Friend is dealing with the conditions of service, will he tell me whether the system of buying out will be reintroduced at the end of the emergency?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am not in a position to say that the system of discharge by purchase will be reintroduced. It was a feature of prewar service. I should say that at some time it will be reintroduced, but certainly not so far as I can see in the immediate future. The requirements of the Service are so insistent.
§ Colonel Wigg (Dudley)
Is it not the case that the soldier in the Regular Army has a statutory right to purchase his discharge in the first three months of service?
§ Mr. Bellenger
No, Sir. I think that that is not the case. My hon. and gallant Friend will know that many statutory provisions which prevailed before the war went overboard during the war, under Defence Regulations or Measures of that sort. The fact remains, in answer to my hon. Friend, that the soldier cannot purchase his discharge at the present time.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
Is it not the case that by means of such a right, the soldier could defeat conscription?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I had not thought of that point. I am stating facts as I know them.
Now let me turn to the shape of things to come. We have as yet no guarantee of peace. Many of the peace treaties have not yet been signed, in spite of the valiant efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I therefore consider it my duty, as Secretary of State for War, to keep the Army in a state of preparedness, as far as I can, in order to meet any contingency that we can foresee.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Perhaps I should say something about the composition of this force, which will be a guarantee and something that we did not have before. I do not want to stir up old controversies, but perhaps if we had had it, there would have been no war. In so far as the Armed Forces can act as a preventive of war, then I think obviously it is my duty to see that the Army is prepared for war if war does come, and if as I hope it does not come, all the better. The active Army will be composed of two parts. One is the active Regular Army giving full-time service and composed of those officers and men with long term service engagements to whom I have just referred. Attached to that active Regular Army will be the National Service element which is provided for in the Bill now before the House and to which obviously I cannot make any reference today. In addition we shall have the Territorial Army. It will be on a part time basis as before the war but with certain differences. That Territoriol Army will consist of three elements. The first will be the permanent staff which will be on a more liberal scale in numbers than 1515 before the war, and will be composed of regular soldiers giving fulltime service, attending in the main to training and organisation. They will be freed from administrative jobs to give fulltime service to the training of the Territorial Army, in order that it may be ready to take its place at Short notice, if it should be necessary for it to be embodied with the Regular Army.
The second element will be the volunteers, and on them we shall rely very much indeed. The Territorial Army has given great service to this country during the 40 years since its inception. The noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) as father of the Territorial Army in this House, knows that well. Its volunteers will be the backbone of that Army. We shall begin recruiting shortly. We hope to open on 1st May. We had hoped to begin a month earlier, but for various reasons we have not found it possible to get everything tied up in time. We shall appeal on 1st May for volunteers in the shape of officers, N.C.O.s and key technicians, which we must have, before this Army assumes the proportions which it will ultimately take, due to the third element which I am going to mention—the National Service reservists. About the latter part of the Territorial Army I can say very little, indeed hardly anything at the moment except to mention that it is our intention to incorporate that element in the Territorial Forces of this country, but that will be a matter for debate later, when the National Service Bill comes before the House.
The original conception of the Territorial Army, as the noble Lord the Member for Horsham will know, was that it should be the second line of defence ranged behind the Regular Army, and in the first stages of its life it was to be for home defence only. Two world wars have shattered that conception entirely, and in the days to come, the Territorial Army with expanded administrative services, which it did not have before the war, will be enabled to take its place in conjunction with the active Regular Army should the time ever come when it will have to be embodied in an emergency. In other words, Territorial Army training and organisation will be such that it will run parallel and in joint harness with the active Regular Army, with this exception 1516 that the active Army will be composed of full-time officers and men, and the Territorial Army will consist of part-time individuals.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
Can the Minister say what he considers the minimum target for the Territorial Army should be?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I could not give the order of battle at the moment. I am trying to compress my remarks into very compact form. All those details can be given by question and answer or can be given by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary when he replies to this Debate, or they will be given when we give more publicity to our plans, as we shall do, when we start recruiting on 1st May. This year, it is our intention to run Territorial Army camps, but I am afraid they will be only on a limited scale, for various reasons, but from next year onwards, we intend that all units of the Territorial Army, as a climax to their year's training, shall go to camp. In this connection, I hope that employers of labour in all parts of the country will give very sympathetic consideration to those of their men who join the Territorial Army when those men will be required to attend camp. The equipment of the Territorial Army will be of the latest design as used by the Regular Army and that gives sufficient indication that it is our intention to make the Territorial Army a very real thing. There will be an A.T.S. element in it, as we found by practical experience during the war that these young women, particularly in the anti-aircraft batteries, were of great value in both operational and administrative capacities.
§ Brigadier Head (Carshalton)
Is it true that the Territorial Army are going to have up-to-date equipment the same as the Regular Army? Perhaps the Territorial Army will probably have up-to-date equipment in some aspects, and not in others.
§ Mr. Bellenger
They will have up-to-date equipment, but there is the question of the provision of new weapons, and as the hon. and gallant Member knows only too well, we must have time to adjust the experiences of the last war. Towards the end of the war especially there was a great expansion of revolutionary weapons, such as the atomic bomb and the rockets developed in Germany. But 1517 I would ask hon. Gentlemen, although I am perfectly willing to give way, to allow me to continue my speech as far as possible without interruption. There will then be more opportunity for them to get in afterwards. I do not of course want to evade any point.
As regards conditions of service, I have placed a copy of a Memorandum on that subject in the Library, and, therefore, I do not propose to go into details on that point although it is a very important one. As regards accommodation, I am afraid we shall start off very much restricted. We are dependent on existing drill halls and headquarters for units in different parts of the country, and as time goes on, we shall supplement and improve them as soon as we can get the available man power and material. But the fact remains that when we start recruiting for the Territorial Army in May, we shall be somewhat cramped for drill hall headquarters, and also for accommodation for married personnel of the permanent staff. We are doing our best, but the House must remember that the Army or the Territorial Army is only one part of the nation. We have to take our place in the queue along with those other units, which make up the population of this country and who have a demand to make on the nation's resources. I will conclude my remarks about the Territorial Army by inviting hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House to do all they can to assist us in recruiting this Force which has given such splendid service and which has such a wonderful tradition in peace and in two world wars.
I must hurry along as I am afraid, my speech has been somewhat delayed by interruptions. I should like to mention something about the grouping of the Infantry Regiments—a subject which has I know caused considerable comment in military circles and with which hon. Gentlemen will want me to deal. Hon. Members in all parts of the House will know that before the war, the organisation of the Infantry Regiments was in two linked battalions as they were called. One battalion was the battalion overseas, while one was at home and supplied the reinforcements for the battalion serving abroad. Even before the war, it was becoming difficult to keep up that system of the battalion at home reinforcing the battalion overseas from the same county or part of the country from which the men 1518 of the Regiment were drawn. In the last war there was a period when our communications through the Mediterranean were cut, and we found it impossible to reinforce particular regiments with their own men. We found that the system of two regular battalions and two war formed battalions was too small an organisation for that purpose, and as in the case of many other things that happened as a result of the war, we have had to revise our ideas, so that we are now organising the infantry in groups mostly based on their territorial affinity. Of course there are certain exceptions as in the case of the Rifle Regiments, the Light Infantry Regiments and so forth.
We have not done that without considerable thought and investigation. Indeed, we consulted commanders in chief and colonels of regiments, and got their assistance before it was possible to start what one may call a radical development in infantry organisation. We are not destroying the regimental traditions by adopting this method. We want to preserve as far as possible regimental traditions which have been the solid foundations of the infantry not only throughout the past few years and decades but even through the centuries. We hope that the Army will accept that as one of the things which has emerged in the light of new weapons, and as the result of the experiences of this war. In regard to weapons and development, all I would say is that this matter is being very energetically pursued. We have very eminent scientists, engineers and others, mostly concentrated in the Ministry of Supply, busily engaged on the adaptation of ideas which emerge from the war in relation to new weapons which the Army and indeed all three Services will need in the future.
I now turn to something which has a little less to do with what I would call the military machine. I turn to the human material—the flesh and blood which go to make up an Army, particularly the British Army. In that connection, I think the House would like me to devote a short passage to the method of the selection of future officers. For the Regular Army we started on 1st January a Military Academy at Sandhurst which I had the opportunity of visiting the other day. When I went down there I was particularly struck—as, I think, are all hon. Members who see our present day soldiers—with the youth and freshness of these 1519 young fellows who will form the backbone of the officers' corps of the future. Let me say here that the Military Academy at Sandhurst will not be any exclusive caste organisation. Students who go there will all, in the main, have to serve a period in the ranks. Talking with some of those young men who are now there, I was inspired by the enthusiasm which they showed. They are young men who are determined to assimilate the hard training and arduous studies which they will have to undergo before they will be accepted as officers in the British Army.
The period of their training at Sandhurst will last for 18 months, and they will be paid a wage while they are at the college. And, something which never happened before, their training and education will be free of charge to the students or their parents. Indeed, the pay which they will receive as cadets will be as much as subalterns received only a few years ago. The hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) will know that subalterns' pay was then as low as the rate which these young students are now receiving. From Sandhurst, will be selected what I might call the technical cream of the Army—the technicians who will have to understand and operate the highly intricate weapons which we shall have in the future. At Shrivenham we have set up the Military College of Science, and at this juncture may I say to my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite that if they are interested in either the Military Academy at Sandhurst or the Military College of Science at Shrivenham, I shall welcome them if they will pay a visit to either or both of those places to see for themselves what the Army is doing.
§ Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)
In regard to the Brigade of Guards, can the Minister say whether any type of means test or social or other test for admission into that Corps will be abolished?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I think that point has been raised before in a Question, and that an answer has been given already either by myself or by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office. I do not think that I should be diverted from the main part of my speech at the moment to deal with questions which can 1520 obviously be put to, and will be answered by my hon. Friend.
§ General Sir George Jeffreys (Petersfield)
Is the Brigade of Guards not acknowledged to be the most efficient body of troops not only in this country but in the world; and will the right hon. Gentleman abstain from interfering with them more than is necessary?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I hope my hon. Friend and the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite will not consider it impertinent of me if I suggest that the points of view expressed in those questions would be better expressed in Debate. I was saying that we should welcome hon. Members if they wish to visit Shrivenham and Sandhurst where they can see for themselves how the young officers are being turned out, and how the scientific and technical officers are being trained. With regard to staff, we found during the war that there was a great shortage of experienced staff officers with the result that we are now training three times more students at the staff colleges than we did in 1938.
When I come to the other ranks, I think that the training that we shall give them will be something that no peacetime soldier in the British Army has had before. The technical training which they will receive will equip them to go back into civil life at the end of their service far better able to obtain a well paid job than they were, perhaps, when they came in —as so many are coming in—labelled with various trade names but skilled only in repetitive processes in factories.
Concluding this passage of my remarks, I should just like to refer to three things concerning the soldier's personal equipment which I am sure will be received with pleasure by the House. Having served in the ranks myself, and known for a long period the amount of time which I had to spend in polishing my buttons to bring them up to the standard required by the sergeant-major, I feel certain that the House will be very pleased to learn that we have been experimenting in the Army with a button which does not need polishing. When we have finally produced that article and it is issued, no longer will the soldier have to use elbow grease and—as they used to say in my time, although I do not know whether they say it now—"old soldier's breath"—in order to get that high, 1521 scintillating polish on the buttons before appearing upon parade.
§ Brigadier Low (Blackpool, North)
Is the Minister aware that the Rifle Regiments have had these buttons for some time?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman is misunderstanding me. We are not going in for the dull drabness of the black buttons of the Rifle Regiments. With all due respect to the Rifle Regiments, we are producing a much better article than that. It will be a highly polished button which will not need repolishing.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I was just about to say, when my hon. Friend forestalled me, that webbing equipment will be treated in a similar manner. It has to be borne in mind however that the Army will still have its stocks and will obviously have to use them up before we can call on new supplies. We are also experimenting with a new type of kitbag.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Anybody who has seen soldiers pulling those kitbags about the London tube stations will know that they are not exactly an article which we should desire to keep if we could find a better one. Accordingly, we have been experimenting with a new kitbag on the lines of the air travel bag. When this is finished and successfully through its trials and we are able to issue it, I think the soldier, at any rate in his personal equipment, will have something a little more modern than he has had for 50 years or more.
I turn to the personal aspect of our postwar Army. The Army needs homes as much as civilians, and they need homes which are as good as anything the civilian can rightly demand. For many years past the barracks of the Army have been very much out of date. It is our intention either to rebuild, or certainly to modernise the homes—because they are their homes 1522 —of the British soldiers, both single and married. Not only that, but we intend to see that the furniture and equipment in those homes is of a standard such as is demanded by a reasonable citizen. It will not be an elaborate standard but will be something a little less Spartan than the soldier had to get used to during his prewar service. I will not say anything more on that subject except to ask hon. Gentlemen, if they are interested to see something of the prototype of the interiors of future Army barracks, to go to the Ideal Home Exhibition at Olympia because the Army is exhibiting a specimen there—in fact, I think, more than one.
As far as the medical side of the Army is concerned I wish to say nothing at this juncture, because I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest), who spent a considerable period in the last year or so visiting troops in different parts of the world in order to examine the medical side of the Army for himself, may be able, if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, to tell the House something of his experiences. May I add that my hon. Friend did not go at my request, although certainly with my approval. He went as a private Member of this House, quite unofficially, and as always, I welcome private Members impressions about the Army even though, sometimes, they are not entirely the impressions I want to hear.
I should like to refer to the building Vote because one hon. Gentleman did mention it when we were discussing business matters earlier this afternoon. The building Vote for 1947–48 is the same as that for the current year. A quarter of it is for compensation for the derequisitioned buildings which the Army have been able to give up during the year; a third is for building at home, and a third for building abroad. With regard to the plans which we have in the Army for improving accommodation for the soldier, I would urge hon. Gentlemen when making speeches, either in this House or elsewhere—and this applies equally to others such as military speakers perhaps—to remember that the building plan which must be undertaken is not a short term one, if we are to bring the Army up to any decent standard of living. It is a long term plan, and for obvious reasons we can obtain neither in money nor in labour and material all that is 1523 necessary to enable us to tackle the rebuilding programme which we have in view. Nevertheless, my predecessor was able last year to announce that we should build in that financial year 1,000 houses for married other ranks, and in the year 1947–48 we are making provision in the Estimates to build another 1,000 married quarters for other ranks. At the same time we are also hoping to build 750 houses for married officers whose conditions are, if anything, even worse than those of the married other ranks.
With regard to welfare, the House knows the remarkable standards we obtained in the Army during the war. Many hon. Gentlemen experienced this for themselves during their service in the Army. We hope to maintain those standards as far as possible, although obviously it would be impossible to continue in peacetime some of the welfare facilities on the luxurious scale in which they existed, particularly in Italy where I saw them for myself. We have to balance the requirements of the civilian population and the Army population. Nevertheless, I am determined that welfare facilities for the troops in all forms shall occupy a much higher standard than they did before the war.
I come now to the last portion of my survey, which is a very important part of it, namely, that of the education of the troops. No one will deny the necessity for education for our troops, but we are not primarily an educational institution. The War Office a little while ago, caused a survey to be made amongst various elements of the civilian population to try to find what was the reason for the reluctance of young men to join the Army, and, in particular, what was the reason for the reluctance of their womenfolk to encourage them to join the Army. That survey was carried out by a civilian organisation, and I caused copies of it to be placed in the Library. It is rather a voluminous document, but it would nevertheless repay Members to study it. It not only discloses the answers to these questions but also gives a very interesting survey of the national life of our youth. Perhaps the House will permit me here to interject two significant, remarkable and very unpleasant facts. We receive a certain number of illiterate young men in every Army intake. The 1524 figure ranges from 5 per cent. to 1 per cent.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The book is in the Library, and the hon. Member can look at it for himself. As I have said, 5 per cent. to 1 per cent. can neither read nor write, and 26 per cent. have a standard of education very much below the school-leaving standard of an elementary school child. I merely mention that as a fact which I have to deal with, in making plans for Army education. It is a sad fact, and I am sorely tempted to remark on the significance of this lack of education among such a large proportion of the young men coming into the Army. I never had the advantage of a university education, or even of extended education, but there was one thing I was taught in my elementary education, and one thing which was drilled into me, and that was a knowledge of the "three R's." I regret to say that many of our young people are lacking in what I would call the fundamental or basic principles of education. That is my problem, and I have to deal with it not only for the purpose of making good soldiers, but also in order to see that when these men leave the Army they will be better citizens than when they enlisted.
§ Mr. Bellenger
My hon. Friend is undoubtedly right that six years of war has knocked about our educational system, just as Hitler's bombs knocked about our houses. I do not accept that, however, as the sole reason why so many of these young men come into the Army in this state.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I think it would try the patience of the House too much, if I attempted to go into the causes. I am dealing with the effects. Let me tell the House how I am trying to cope with the problem. Those who are illiterate will receive six weeks' compulsory training in 1525 reading and writing in their early career in the Army. Later on, when they leave their primary training centres, their education will be continued, to see that the six weeks' training bears fruit, in the corps training centres and in the units. Two hours per week compulsory educational training in general subjects will be given to every man in the primary training centres. His period at the primary training centres will occupy about six weeks. Every man will receive four hours per week compulsory training during his corps training period, which occupies about 10 weeks. Later on, he will receive five hours compulsory training a week when he joins a unit, and of that at least one hour will be in citizenship and current affairs.
§ Mr. Swingler (Stafford)
The right hon. Gentleman has described what is in this document, which purports to be a new scheme to be carried into effect in the future. Will he tell us what they are receiving now?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I regret to say they are not receiving this at the present moment, but if the House wishes me to go into the reasons, I would tell hon. Members that the Army have released their best officers and men under demobilisation, and we have lost the instructors who can give these men the training. I am dealing with the shape of things to come, and these matters are taking immediate effect. The success of this plan depends on the quality of the instructors, and that is the reason why we have decided that the instruction in this compulsory education shall be given by members of the Royal Army Educational Corps.
So much for what I may call collective education. In addition, we are giving every facility for the individual needs of soldiers who want to continue further education, which they would have done in civil life under the new Education Act. We shall do this, as far as we can, by using the civilian facilities in this country. There will be some stations where these facilities will not be available, particularly overseas, and we shall have to rely on the Army formation colleges and educational centres which still exist. In those cases, we shall have to look after ourselves as far as we can. At home, we shall rely very much on the facilities of local education authorities. These facilities can be put at our disposal because this is 1526 really their function. It is only because these young men are in the Army for a certain period, that we have to supervise their training. We shall keep in close liaison with the Ministries of Education and Labour, particularly for vocational information, which soldiers leaving the Army find very useful in enabling them to resettle in civilian life.
§ Colonel Wigg rose—
§ Mr. Bellenger
I would gladly give way to my hon. and gallant Friend, but I must come to the end of my speech. I conclude this part by saying that we have made provision for the training of 2,000 Royal Army Educational Corps instructors in this year's Estimate.
I hope I have not taken too long, but I have tried to give the House as wide a survey as possible without wearying Members. When I first went to the War Office, as a junior Minister in 1945, and later on when I was appointed Secretary of State for War last year, it was borne in on me in no uncertain manner, that whoever was the political head of the Army—and I happen to be that head for the time being—he had other responsibilities than those of training. He has the responsibility for the moral and spiritual welfare of these young men, so inexperienced in the ways of the world, who are coming into the Army. I have a vested interest in this matter. I have one son who has just joined the Regular Army at the age of 18. What does he know of life? He will have to meet life in different parts of the world, and when he is sent overseas he will have to meet the temptations which lie in the paths of British soldiers in different parts of the world, which are all too evident to those who go to the Far East and into countries like Germany—devastated countries, where moral values do not seem to prevail any more.
I have considered that matter very closely. It would perhaps be out of place for me to say much about that part of the Army life which is really the main function of the Army chaplains, but it is nevertheless, my duty, and not only my duty, but the duty of every Member of this House, many of whose constituents are in the Army, to see that it is borne in on all officers and men that they not only have a military function to perform during their service, but that they have to increase their moral as well as their physical 1527 stature while in the Army. I do not know what will happen; one can only try, but I ask the House to believe me when I say that, whatever may happen in regard to the training of the Army in military methods while I am Secretary of State, when my time comes to leave this office, if I can say, as I hope I shall be able to say, that the moral and spiritual welfare of our young men in the Army has grown, I shall rest well content.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
Fortunately no controversy on any broad lines divides the House on this matter we are discussing. Even though that were not so, I should feel it my duty, even if there were controversy between us, to say that we have had a most agreeable speech from the right hon. Gentleman, which obviously showed his desire and intention to put very plainly and simply before the House the questions at issue. I think I am speaking for both sides of the House when I say, while one cannot always divorce personal predilections from political differences—and the right hon. Gentleman knows I am not effusive—he is very much the right man in the right place, as also is the Financial Secretary to the War Office. I, personally, am glad to see the Ministerial control of the War Office in the occupancy of two fighting soldiers of the two greatest wars in our history. Again without appearing to be effusive, may I say that information has reached more than one of us that the Financial Secretary's recent visit to the Far East has been of great benefit to the troops; in fact, visits by hon. Members in all parts of the House are of very real value.
I want to make only a short speech, which is an entirely voluntary action on my part because I do not believe in compulsion in these matters, though if I do detain the House rather longer than I had intended, it is because I must deal with one or two of the right hon. Gentleman's observations and I do not want to introduce an element of controversy. I think the right hon. Gentleman will be at one with me in saying that if speeches made from the front benches are often longer than some hon. Members like they are made longer when they are constantly interrupted.
I should like to begin by endorsing the appeal on behalf of all my hon. Friends, 1528 not only those sitting on this side but those who belong to the party, made by the right hon. Gentleman for recruits for the Army, and I hope that when the advantages of Army life become more fully known the intake, about which he gave us most interesting and valuable figures, will be greatly increased. Before I come to the question on which there will possibly be some collision between us, that of manpower in the Army, I wish to say a word on the Territorial Army. There will be an opportunity on the Compulsory Service Bill to deal with this matter in extenso, and some of my hon. Friends will deal with it in more detail than I do now, because I wish to ask only one or two questions.
The right hon. Gentleman made some reference to drill hall accommodation and was good enough to make a most friendly reference, which I greatly appreciate, to my long connection with the Territorial Force. I was a pioneer of the Territorial Forces Association. He must be aware that one of the difficulties is that although the ordinary pre-war Territorial drill hall may have been suitable for its purpose it is not suitable today, and so it is a question not merely of more accommodation but of enlarged accommodation if the Territorials are to get adequate training. If the Government are criticised for spending money when there is such a demand for houses I think they ought to have support, because it is essential that the training accommodation should be improved. I have information from high military sources, though I do not want to enlarge on the matter, that the Territorial Army on mobilisation will be most useful to the Regular Farces if it supplies a large number of technicians and of technical units. I think that is the general military policy. I want to raise a point on which I do not even ask for an answer today—it may even be undesirable to give it—but some of us have doubts in our minds as to whether it is not carrying economy, a little too far to entrust the anti-aircraft defence of London to a Territorial unit. We doubt whether it is possible in the time available for Territorial training to supply a unit which shall be sufficiently trained. I do not know, and I do not ask for information, I merely raise the point.
Now I come to the question of manpower in the Army. Obviously from the 1529 demeanour of hon. Members opposite and the Motion which has been put down there is going to be some internecine discussion on this subject on the benches opposite—I think that is the happiest phrase I can use—and I do not want to be a contestant in any friendly internecine contest, if there be such a thing; but I must make one or two observations on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends in this party. I would say, in the first instance, that whether we like it or not, the size of the Army must depend upon external policy in the widest sense. On policy in Palestine I shall have something to say so far as the position of our troops is concerned, because there is something which needs saying. If policy requires a big number of troops overseas, it is not fair to blame the unfortunate War Office for a large-scale Army. I think we should blame the policy. This is not the occasion on which to discuss policy in general, it would be out of Order to do so, but I think I can, when speaking about manpower, properly urge the Secretary of State to consider whether that manpower is being properly trained and used. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made that point in the Debate yesterday when he suggested, speaking with information which is at his disposal, that that was not the case. He said:I fear a very great degree of non-effective padding has been introduced into all three Servicesand he went on to ask, in the case of the Army,whether the proportion of righting men—which is, after all, the end and object of military force—is not getting continually smaller."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th, March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 1352.]I do not think the Secretary of State, dealt with that in his speech, and I should like to have an answer to the question which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition put yesterday: Is it or is it not the case that the proportion of fighting men to nonfighting men in the Army is getting continually smaller? I would sum up the manpower position by saying—and I think no one can disagree with this—that from a financial and economic standpoint we cannot afford either the manpower or the cost of today's Army, but it is equally true, and I press this view particularly upon the benches opposite, that we cannot afford a third time to sacrifice some of the best blood of the nation because this House neglects, as 1530 it neglected before 1914 and—I freely admit it, because I was a Member of some of the Governments—in the thirties, to vote the money and the manpower to make the Army a sufficient instrument for its purpose. We cannot do that a third time without such a denigration of Parliament as an institution as may easily destroy democracy. That is not a mere rhetorical statement but a matter of fact. If it is a small Army that is wanted, let the Government alter its external policy in Palestine and elsewhere.
It is important today that reference should be made to the position of the Army in Palestine. In justice to the British Army a word should be said on that subject. I should like to say, as one who took part in what I have previously described as a rather over-advertised campaign under the great Lawrence and others in 1914–18, that neither the Palestinean Arab as apart from the desert Arab, nor the Palestinean Jew, gave any considerable help in freeing Palestine. It was the much-abused British Army which did 99 per cent. of the fighting. The desert Arab fought magnificently, but the Palestinean Arabs and the Palestinean Jews—well, I can say from personal experience that their main contribution, whether Jews or Arabs, was to sell the products of the country at a very considerable profit to the British troops. During the 30s the British Army was subjected to attack by the Palestinean Arabs, although they had freed their country from alien Turkey—because the Turks were alien. Today we see the Palestinean Jews acting in exactly the same way except on a bigger scale.
Those two branches of the Semitic race do not seem to realise that British soldiers are the benefactors of both, since without their presence there would be wholesale slaughter between Arabs and Jews. In the last 30 years successive generations of British soldiers have shown a tolerance and patience in Palestine such as I do not believe any other Army in the world would have done when suffering attack from both sides. It is not surprising, and it is no evidence of general anti-Arabism or anti-Semitism, that in private, as I know from conversations—because, like the right hon. Gentleman, I have young relatives and friends in the ranks of the Army—that the average British soldier has no great liking for either branch of the Semitic race in view of what has happened to his fellow soldiers. By 1531 the way it should be known, it cannot be too often said, that no less than 80,000 British troops have been employed in Palestine, which is a very heavy drain on our manpower.
When it comes to the question of our manpower in Germany, which is a thing which most vitally affects this Estimate, I know I am raising a matter which is controversial and on which hon. Members opposite will not agree. I ask, Why cannot that portion of the Polish Army still in military existence be used partly to relieve British troops? It is a point which has been put from these benches. It might make possible an overall cut. I would ask also whether all is well with the British Army in Germany from the point of view of what I can only describe as the very disgraceful state of affairs which was disclosed when we recently discussed the loss of many millions of pounds. Has that loss been stopped? I know that some of it was not incurred through the Army at all. I do not want to attack the right hon. Gentleman because we all use incautious phrases at times—I frequently use them to my own disadvantage—but really this racketeering is not a mere "merry game" but a very serious thing indeed, and all of us in all parts of the House are really ashamed and shocked at what has happened.
§ Mr. Bellenger
That phrase has now stuck to me so thoroughly that I wish the House to understand—and certainly those not in the House who missed its context—that it was used in an ironic sense, and that it was a racket.
§ Earl Winterton
I think the phrase has been rather unfairly used against the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that he appreciates the seriousness of the matter. I have not on this occasion consulted any of my hon. Friends on this side of the House whom I normally consult when speaking on Army Estimates, but I would say that I think some past and present high officers in Germany had better realise that there are stories going about that they were not altogether averse to some of the things that went on, that they thought there was no great harm in it. They had better alter that point of view, because sooner or later there may be a very serious scandal and this business has got to be stopped.
1532 I come to the question of training. I am afraid it is the case, it is inherent in everything the right hon. Gentleman says, that the result of all these police and occupation duties is that there is little time for training and making the Army a better one. I should like to ask, Have we in this country any striking force today like the first and second Divisions used to be before the war? What is our weapon state? Has there been much improvement in the last 18 months as a result of war experience? I am told there has not been. When the right hon. Gentleman was speaking on the subject of the Army the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) asked, "Whom are you fighting against; who is the potential aggressor, the possible enemy?" Quite properly the right hon. Gentleman did not answer the question. I may say that I do not know and I hope there is not one. If I did know, it would be doubtfully in Order to discuss it on this occasion. But, if, instead of being a British ex-Cabinet Minister standing at this Box, I was an ex-United States Cabinet Minister, or a Republican or Democratic Senator or Congressman, I should have some pretty definite ideas on the subject. Equally, if I was a Commissar of the Soviet Republic, I should have some equally definite ideas, of a rather different nature, on the subject.
I mention these matters, which I cannot pursue on this occasion, to show that the state of the world is such that we cannot, as the right hon. Gentleman said, allow ourselves to get into a position of not being prepared to face an outbreak, however improbable that may be. Let us be frank about it, that must be the excuse for having compulsory service today. It would be hard for anyone to say who is right in their different points of view, but so long as they prevail, how can anyone say that this country should not keep a proper army. In 1914 and 1939, war was thought to be equally impossible. I remember making a speech in this House, as a young man, in 1910, when I suggested that we should have war within a few years, and I was shouted down by the Liberal and Liberal-Labour Party. They said "You Tories want to go to war." I remember that Will Thorne said, "You can take it from me that the working man of this country is not going to stand for war." That was the kind of attitude taken then, and I 1533 hope we shall never see it again. Will Thorne, like so many Members of his Party, was wrong on that occasion, and it was a great pity that he was not right. I say that the absence of a British land striking force, well trained for defensive purposes, is not a good thing at the moment. I think that any soldier, in whatever part of the House will agree with me. It is quite unfair to blame the War Office wholly for this state of affairs. The responsibility rests mainly with the general policy of the Government, to which I have referred. That policy may be inevitable, but it does not lessen the responsibility.
I should like to say a word in defence of the War Office. Like curates and mothers-in-law, the War Office is a part of standardised British humour, which is as boring and banal, as the spontaneous British humour of the man in the street or in the Army is fresh and amusing. There is much unconscious humour and typical British illogicality about the public's attitude to the War Office and the Staff generally. The British attitude to the War Office and to the Staff—if I may say so in the presence of the hon. and gallant Member behind me—and to the Generals in general, with some exceptions, is not very friendly. When a man, as a young officer, or in the ranks, fought at Mons, Le Cateau or Dunkirk, he was very properly regarded as a hero, the flower of the race. It is true to say that without him we should have been invaded in one or other of the two world wars. But has it been noted that when, by reason of his professional talents, he puts on red tabs and joins the Staff, that same young man who fought at Mons, Le Cateau or Dunkirk, a fortiori if he becomes a General or goes to the War Office becomes in the public eye a "Blimp"? The fact that he is the same man, with the same qualities of courage, initiative and endurance as he had when he was a regimental officer, does not avail him a bit. I say quite frankly that that is the harm that a talented cartoonist, perhaps unconsciously, has done the Regular Army. Yet I cannot help thinking that the embryo "Blimps" or the "Blimps" in the chrysalis stage who fought against stupendous odds and showed superhuman physical endurance in France and in Belgium in 1914, and again in 1940, will have a bright page in British history and will be remembered in the days of the 1534 future when perhaps even the name of the talented Mr. Low will have been partially forgotten.
This matter of prestige of the Army is very important in these days of universal service. It is very necessary that the Army should make a good impression on, and do good to, compulsory recruits. "Blimpery," if it ever existed, is now a thing of the past. It was invented very largely by people who wanted to do damage to the prestige of the Army. I was glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman had to say on the subject of what was being done for the new intake into the Army. It is very necessary, from the point of view of the new intake, that the prestige of the Army, now that we have universal service, should be as high as possible.
The right hon. Gentleman in his interesting remarks on education in the Army referred to the fact that in the intake there was a very apparent deficiency in ordinary educational knowledge, and the standards were lower than might have been expected. It would be out of Order for me to pursue this matter, but those of us connected with grammar schools—and I am chairman and governor of grammar schools—have had the same experience with the intake of boys, purely from an educational point of view, and not from the point of view of intelligence, which is perhaps higher than it was. A certain headmaster told me that, in his view, the intelligence of boys of 14 to 15 was probably better than it was before the war, but from the point of view of education it was 40 to 50 per cent. less good. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State for War was not criticising the hon. Member's profession or any profession, he was calling attention to this being a physical fact due to the war.
§ Earl Winterton
I cannot pursue that subject, but I must, in justice to the Secretary of State for War, say that he never said anything of the kind. What the Secretary of State said, very properly, was that we must use this period of 18 months to two years, during which young men are in the Army, to give them the best physical, moral and educational 1535 training, in addition to military training, they can have. No one could possibly differ from that point of view.
§ Earl Winterton
If I were to discuss the civilian schools I should be at once called to Order. There is one other matter to which I would draw attention in connection with education. I think that a great responsibility rests on the Secretary of State for War to see that the compulsorily-enlisted, young, ambitious man is both fit and able to earn his living when he leaves the Army. He must be fit to do so, but he will not be able to do so unless the trade unions help. The main trained—and I should like an answer on this point—in the many technical services in the Army should be able, when he leaves the Army, ipso facto to obtain a job if a job is open to him, and ipso facto become a member of a trade union. We, on this side, and I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite, will fight hard for that principle. I know that there are difficulties in the way of the Secretary of State for War, but I hope he will use all his influence in that way.
There is one thing about the likely impression which will be made on the mind of the recruit. I do not think that a good impression will be made if, when he enters the Army, he feels that sufficient attention is not paid to merit by the higher ranks. I think that there is a greater discrepancy between the pay of senior N.C.O.s and other ranks and senior officers and junior officers than should be the case. I do not know if that is a form of democratising the Army, but it is not going to do the trick. If you want a young man entering a profession to feel at home in that profession he must be made to feel that the plums of the profession are properly available. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to look into this matter. We, on this side of the House, feel that it is important. Anyone who visited the physical rehabilitation centres during the war will agree as to their value. They were I think one of the answers to all the nonsense talked about "Blimpery" in the Army. On the question of welfare, I agree with everything that the right hon. Gentleman has said.
With regard to what is being done for the young soldier generally in the Army, 1536 I am informed on fairly good authority that they are not much attracted by the "bedside lamp" idea. I doubt if that has done as much to popularise the Army as the fact that there are now much more reasonable leave rules, and a reduction of a lot of absurd restrictions. I would emphasise what the right hon. Gentleman has told us—and we on this side of the House equally agree with that point of view—that not only at Sandhurst, but in the ranks of the Army generally, there is a complete absence today of class-feeling or class distinction of any kind. Young men of varying classes make friends with the people they want to make friends with, and that is largely breaking down the class system, which may still exist outside the Army. The Army is a classless organisation today and that is a very good thing.
I cannot resist chaffing the right hon. Gentleman in one respect. In the old days, he and I occasionally collaborated, when we were both on this side of the House, on certain things. He was a beggar for attacking "spit and polish" in the Army. It was one of his constant themes. I will tell him something which may alter his opinion. The hon. and gallant Member behind me I am sure will not mind me saying that there is no branch of the Army in which "spit and polish" is more used, in a reasonable sense, than in the Brigade of Guards. And I think that the House should know that no branch of the Army has a higher proportion of voluntary recruits than the Brigade of Guards. Far more young men want to go into the Guards than into any other unit. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may ask why. The discipline is certainly stricter than anywhere else, but I think that its popularity, which reflects great credit on the Guards and on the youth of the country, is due to the imperishable fame of the Guards as fighting men, and to the esprit de corps and mutual regard, despite an iron discipline, between officers and men. The answer to the foolish attacks frequently made on spit and polish is, I think, to some extent to be found in this voluntary recruitment to the Brigade of Guards.
§ Colonel Wiggrose—
§ Earl Winterton
I cannot give way. Perhaps I might be allowed to finish my speech, and the hon. and gallant Member can criticise it afterwards. I say it makes 1537 nonsense of the sloppy and soppy talk about abolishing smartness, ceremony and tradition, urged by some temporary soldiers in non-fighting units, in this House and outside.
§ Colonel Wigg
The last thing I want to do is to cast any slur on the Brigade of Guards, to whom I have been attached, and for whom I have the highest admiration. I started my soldiering in a unit which was every bit as good as any battalion of the Brigade of Guards—
§ Colonel Wigg
Just this. The noble Lord's facts are not correct. The rate of enlistment into the Brigade of Guards is not higher than that of many other units I could mention. Furthermore, the rate of desertion from the Guards is among the highest in the Army.
§ Earl Winterton
That last statement I believe to be completely untrue, if I may say so. As regards the first statement—
§ Earl Winterton
The hon. and gallant Member must allow me to make my speech in my own way. He always assumes he is the only man in the House who has seen any fighting, or who knows anything about the Army. Some of the rest of us do. He is not the only fighting soldier in this House. I have no doubt he has a most admirable war record, and I am sure he was an admirable member of his unit, a most popular n.c.o., and a most popular regimental officer. But he is not the beginning and end of all knowledge of the Army. I propose to finish my observations on the subject of the Guards, and if I am incorrect in my statements I shall be very glad to have the hon. and gallant Member correct me. In fairness to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I must say I quite agree with him, that all units which have a high prestige and morale do get a good recruitment. I think he and I would be in agreement when I make this observation. There is an old saying that there is no such thing as a bad regiment, but only bad officers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad we are all in agreement about that.
I apologise for speaking so long. Both the Under-Secretary and myself have had one or two interruptions with which to 1538 deal. I should like to conclude on this note. I will not attempt to compete with the right hon. Gentleman in eloquence. If I may say so, he gave us a very eloquent finale to his speech, and it was very right that he should do so. It was an appeal on a high moral line. I wish to end on a slightly different line. Many have attempted to portray the British regimental officer and other rank in speech or print. Here is my poor attempt to do so. The British soldier and the British officer of the British Army are the bravest of the brave in war, indomitable and unyielding; and in peacetime, when doing garrison duty, however lonely or unpleasant, whether being stoned by mobs in India or attacked by terrorists in Palestine, they show a natural discipline and restraint unexampled in any other Army in the world. I think that fact should go out from this House this afternoon. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am grateful to have that assent from hon. Members opposite, because this is no party matter. Their patience, their sense of humour and natural kindliness contribute, perhaps more than any other single factor, to the enhancement of the prestige of the nation they represent.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kindly reference to myself. But I am afraid I shall have to disclose an interest in this matter, as is the custom in this House. It is not a pecuniary interest, however. It is quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that he did not ask me to go out. However, I am very glad he approved of my going; I certainly would not wish to have gone had he not approved it. I went in my capacity as chairman of the Medical Priority Committee appointed by the Minister of Health. One of the objects was to see what economies we could make in the Army, as far as doctors were concerned. In the middle of last year it became clear to the Medical Priority Committee, which deals with this particular matter of adjusting the demands of the Army and civilian needs in this country, that medical manpower situation was very acute, not only in the Services but in the nation. It is quite obvious that the demands of the Army must be met; and the Army is still very large. It is also quite clear that since the end of the fighting period the civilian services, quite rightly and properly, have been making heavier demands on the medical personnel 1539 available, from whom both civilian and service requirements must be drawn.
If the Services are to function properly it is essential that they must have a complete, skilled medical service. That is an inescapable obligation. We also have to remember that the National Health Service is beginning in 1948, and will make great claims. We have to balance the two. There is, further, the more serious and immediate difficulty in the problem of supplying the number of medical specialists who are required by the Services. Although what I say this evening must, of course, refer to Army Estimates, it is, in fact, the dilemma of all the Services. In the middle of last year the need for the recruitment of medical specialists to the Services was very acute indeed. In fact, it was so acute that the Services Committee of the Central Medical War Committee represented to my committee, the Medical Priority Committee, that they did not see how they could get from the pool of doctors in the country the necessary number of medical specialists to do the work which it was essential should be done in the Services.
Pressure was brought to bear on us from other quarters, and it was as a result of that that we made arrangements by which members of the committee went to all the major commands in which troops are employed in the world, to look into the medical arrangements. It so happens that now I, personally, have visited all the major commands in the world, and have myself actually spoken to about 50 per cent. of all the medical personnel; and seen a very large proportion of the hospital and medical establishments. These inquiries have been made in B.A.O.R., C.M.F., M.E.L.F., India and S.E.A.C. Reports, of course, have been made to the Minister of Health, and are confidential. But I can say, that as the result of our inquiries and the suggestions we have made as to economies, the needs of the Services can now be met.
I should like to give the House an indication of how the medical services are working. Perhaps it would interest hon. Members to know how the inquiry was conducted, because I believe the method of conducting the inquiry which we employed would be useful in other branches of the services. It is, I believe, the only way of securing a thorough examination 1540 from the outside. Certainly an examination of this kind is better done by parsons with the requisite background and experience of military service, but who are at the same time not in military employ but in civilian employ, so that they are not directly part of the military machine. The method we employed was this. Take, for instance, the most recent examination with which I, myself, have been concerned, that in S.E.A.C. We arrived at Singapore and had a series of conferences with the medical directorate. We saw maps of the command and lists of the locations of the different units, a complete statement of the manpower, a complete list of medical officers of all units, a complete list of all specialists and their specialities.
After studying these we had a meeting with the whole of the specialists—of the Army, Navy and Air Force; usually in two meetings, because they could not all be taken at the same time. At the meeting, each individual was asked about his duties, the time occupied by them, how he was employed daily, and also what criticisms he had to make or suggestions to offer with regard to the improvement of the services. There was a quite open and free expression of opinion. As I generally conducted the meetings myself, I used to ask all the doctors who were present—the senior officers were present at the same time—to express themselves with entire frankness and freedom, in order that we might know the whole story, to find out exactly what were their troubles and what they felt about it. Sometimes at those inquiries we discovered things quite unknown to the commanding officers, because the junior officers had not communicated them to their cornmanders—although there was no particular reason why they should not have done so. But in the ordinary way of Army life they had not done that. Very often this made a very big difference in any area we visited. It gave the medical officers confidence that their interests were being looked after by Parliament. It gave them a closer understanding of what was going on in this country, because, of course, we told them what was being done in this country, by the House of Commons, the medical organisations, the Ministry of Health and the Services. It put them info close contact with what was happening.
I believe that kind of inquiry might be repeated with very great advantage in 1541 other branches of the Services apart from the medical branch. We found, generally, a very high state of efficiency, although not invariably, and a very high standard of economy in the use of medical officers. As hon. Members on both sides of the House know, we have letters from constituents complaining that some particular medical officer, stationed in some particular place, has done no work at all. When I went to India I took with me a letter from a colleague on this side of the House, which he had received from someone in India, saying that he was doing no work at all. I made inquiries on the spot and found that it was quite true: He was doing no work at all. But I also found—what was unknown to him, but was known to me because I saw the background of the whole thing—that he was stationed on an airstrip in a particular area which it was intended to use, in certain contingencies, as a very important point for landing troops and picking up casualties. Of course, the medical officer did not know that. But that is the kind of thing which cannot possibly be avoided. A medical officer is part of the military machine, and his first duty is to do his job as part of that machine. It may be that sometimes he is sent to a post at which there is no work for the moment, but where there may be a very great deal of work at some future date when, if he is not there, very serious trouble will result.
The high standard of efficiency of the medical services in all the areas visited is, generally speaking, very marked. I should mention that the function of the medical services now is not only to give people pills, take their pulses, or perform medical operations, but is primarily in connection with hygiene in the prevention of disease, particularly tropical disease. There is also the question of personal fitness, which comes under the medical officers. The maintenance of a very high standard of personal fitness by all ranks was a great feature of the war. There was, of course, the treatment of casualties, which was admirably done—and is still being done, by the way, in Burma because of the dacoits, in India with the disturbances, and in Palestine. I happened to be present at Haifa when a Jewish refugee ship came in, and I saw how extremely efficiently the medical officers of the hospital there dealt with the casualties, and how kindly they did so.
1542 There is, further, the treatment of illness and there is rehabilitation. An important matter in which the medical department shares, and which has not been mentioned yet, is the selection of men to be officers, and this is now accepted as a very useful and advantageous method of selection. The net result of this is a great improvement in the morale of the troops. There is nothing better for keeping their morale high than for the troops to know that they have good medical services behind them. In the winter of Germany and Austria, and in the tropical heat of Malaya and Singapore, a high standard of efficiency is maintained. There is a high standard of efficiency in Palestine, India, Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong. In those and in all other places I visited it was the same. The committee have made recommendations for improvement of efficiency and economy of personnel. It is only in this way, I think, that any real economy in the present numbers of the Army can be made. I do not think it is possible to make any wholesale reduction in the numbers of the Army so long as our present commitments exist. It is not the business of the Secretary of State to make such wholesale reductions. He should not do it, and, as long as our commitments exist, he cannot do it. But it is possible to make economies by the detailed examination of the special services, such as I referred to just now, and which has been made by myself and other members of the committee in connection with the medical service.
Finally, I want to pay a tribute to the excellent work being done by doctors in the Army. Those who have sons or other relatives in the Army can be assured that the Army medical service is pre-eminent in its knowledge of the prevention of disease, especially tropical disease; and that if the soldier is wounded, or is ill in hospital, sick as a result of his service, he will find at his disposal, not only a hospital, but the latest and most up to date knowledge of medical science. I think we may congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War on the fact that he has in the medical service a corps of a special character on, which he can entirely and completely rely.
§ 6.18 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Bury St. Edmunds)
I, like my right hon. Friend who spoke earlier, do not 1543 want in any way to criticise, without putting forward a few suggestions which, I think, are, perhaps, valuable at this time when things are changing in the Army and when, of course, economy has to be the first consideration. We have to consider quality, as one of the things which will help to lead to economy. By that I mean that we want now, to see how much attractiveness, popularity, opportunity we can offer to the men coming in, so that we may draw the quality. I feel that the voluntary recruiting for the Regular Army does give a fair indication that the young men are still not feeling they are going to get opportunities. I know that it has gone up, but, as the Secretary of State said, it has not yet got to the figure necessary to maintain our voluntary force.
Why is that? There are, of course, obvious reasons. There is that after-war difficulty, that men do not want to do anything in uniform. But there are other reasons, and I think it is worth while mentioning just a few. My own son is now doing his recruit training. One talks to these young men, and one is able to get quite a good impression from them of the general feeling. There is a feeling that they do not know clearly what the period of home service is going to be. They say, "Oh, yes, there are three years' overseas service." But then they will come back and find, that before they have been back more than a week or so they are off somewhere else, particularly to Germany. It is no good telling the young men that home service includes service in Germany; they just will not take it. What they want to know is how much service they will get in Britain.
The Secretary of State touched just now on the question of purchasing of discharges. He said that could not be brought in. I think he has a fear that if it is brought in, he will lose too many men. I think, however, that he will miss getting the men unless he brings it in. Men change their opinions; unforeseen things happen in family life, and even the best may find he really must get out. If he cannot purchase his discharge, he becomes one of the malcontents and does far more harm to the Army than he possibly can do good by serving as an extra man.
A lot of these young men are talking about the educational side. I shall not 1544 say anything against the education for the low standard people. I think that that must go on 100 per cent. But the higher standard young men want somehow to get more learning of civilian trades. I know it is difficult in the Army, but I think it wants to be pushed on for all it is worth. There ought to be more distinction between the classes for the elementary education, and the classes for trade education. Another thing one hears almost every young man saying is that he must have from the Government a much better guarantee of subsequent employment. It is no good saying that we hope this and we hope that. It must be put fairly on paper by the War Office, what advantage and what opportunity a man will get when he comes back to civilian life in his trade. The men, particularly in the mechanical trades, are very well trained and up to a high standard. I do not think that that is clearly enough recognised in civilian life.
Discipline, I know, causes a good deal of talk at the present day. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is amazing to see the percentage of volunteers into the different types of the Service. The Guards have 110 per cent. I believe the R.A.C. is something like 85 per cent. We are told that in the Infantry it is almost the same. You get down to the Services and there are practically no volunteers at all. That, I think, is reflected in a large degree by discipline. The several branches of the Service have rather different types of discipline. I know that in the R.A.C. it is pretty strict, and by being strict we get satisfied men.
My son went from the ordinary primary training, straight up to the R.A.C. training centre, and the difference it made in him in a month, not only physically but mentally, and in every other way, was absolutely surprising, and made me, as a father, feel I had produced something pretty good. Certainly I did not anticipate it when he first got into uniform. Further, once he was working under strict discipline, he was happy. We were talking about the question of fancy living accommodation, and he told me he thought harm had been done by all the talk about separate rooms, bedside lights and so on. Instead of the War Office and the authorities saying, "This is our eventual plan, but there is no earthly chance of it for many years," the men 1545 were led to suppose from what was said, that they were going at once to have separate bedrooms, and lamps on their beds, and so on. These things did not materialise and men began to say, "What is the War Office talking about? We can't get all this." If, in the meantime, the War Office could get one or two simple improvements it would be a very good thing. They might allow the young recruits separate beds, and spring beds, not those double-decker things which they have now. There must be millions of spring beds which were used for hospital purposes in this country—far more than there are recruits.
I should like to say a word about welfare. I think, certainly, that during the time of my service the growth of welfare has been absolutely amazing. But I do think that, at the present moment, there is a little tendency, particularly for young officers, to start shouting the word "welfare." That, of course, is an absolutely fatal thing. The young officer is himself the welfare officer: it is his job to look after his men. He can go to the welfare officer on the bigger questions, but the smaller questions are the jobs of the platoon and company officers.
I should like to say something about short service re-engagement. We heard how disappointing the numbers were. I have taken up a case with the right hon. Gentleman of a man who took on for one year, and was then told he could not come out, because there was still a state of emergency. I have heard of other cases of the same sort. Nothing can do more harm, when a man has an idea that he is serving for one year, than the War Office turning round on him and making some excuse for keeping him longer than he contracted for. In this particular case the right hon. Gentleman gave way, and the man got out. But that sort of thing is bad for recruiting. This sort of thing will have an effect which will appear throughout the Service in the coming years, not only on the recruiting of volunteers for the Regular Army, but also on the Territorial Associations and the conscripts. We want to get these improvements done now, so that the news will get around and there will be no chance of the grumbler having real cause to grumble. We ought to put the matter right immediately.
1546 I should now like to say a few words about the T.A. Reserve. We see that there is going to be only 60 days' training in the whole of a man's time. How is he to keep up with his present work, and how is he going to remain up to date with what he has to learn? He is only going to have 2 per cent. of permanent staff. I know that this figure is more than we had before the war, but our weapons and our training are certainly more than twice as difficult nowadays than they were in the old days, and, if the T.A. man is only to have a short time each year for training, he will need to have a very big staff. I do not see how that is going to come about unless we can increase the permanent staff above the 2 per cent. We shall, of course, be taking a certain number of people away from the Regular Army, but I am certain that an increased number of n.c.o.s going to the T.A. for a period of service, will be of advantage to the regular Service itself. It will give them a very much better insight into the general life of Army service.
Finally, I would like to say a word on economy, I think it is obvious to everybody in the country that a great deal of waste is going on, in that men and units are kept in temporary hutment camps, while one can drive through the big old stations like Aldershot and Tidworth and find that they are nowhere near 100 per cent. occupied. The Secretary of State has pointed to the amount of money that has been saved by restoring back accommodation which had been requisitioned. I would like to say to him that there is still a lot that ought to go back, and that it does not take a lot of military personnel to do it. There is, for instance, a very large camp within a mile of my house which has stood empty for over a year. There is not a single door that shuts, because the locks are broken off, and most of the windows are broken. I walked through that area in the snow last week, and the tracks showed clearly that people had been going in and out of the huts, thus indicating what was going on. In a few of the huts, there were whole kitchen ranges just rusting to pieces, kitchen tables from which one or two legs were disappearing each week, and from which lighting fittings had been stolen—in fact, showing loss and destruction of the whole equipment of a big military camp which had stood empty and unoccupied for a year. It does not require any military labour, beyond one 1547 or two officers, to prepare these premises for sale, or return to the owner of the land.
§ The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. John Freeman)
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman be good enough to give me the name of the camp?
Yes. It is Fornham Park. I think that sort of thing does go against the general tone of the Army where it becomes known. People are inclined to say that the War Office is wasting money, while talking of economy. I think that, if some of these things could be inquired into, it would give the young fellow who is joining up, more incentive to become a regular volunteer than he has so far had.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Pritt (Hammersmith, North)
I hope the hon. and gallant Member will forgive me if I do not follow him in the remarks which he has been making, because I want to deal with one specific point which has a pretty general bearing. I have had a good deal of trouble, and felt a good deal of anxiety, at various stages since 1939, and even before, over the treatment of troops by officers, on a great many different things which have been connected, naturally, with courts-martial. I have heard too much about the treatment of troops by officers, even by high officers, who did not seem to treat them as human beings at all, and I am afraid that this has its reflection on recruitment and volunteering, and on the public attitude to conscription. It is sometimes called discipline, though that might be better served by more leniency. I had a good deal of trouble with a former Secretary of State for War, Sir James Grigg, about this matter. He seemed to take a natural delight in scoring off the troops. I hoped very much that, with a new Government, we should effect a very considerable change, but I am afraid that I have not seen very much of it yet.
The particular story which I want to tell is the story of a prisoner-of-war camp in the Canal zone. I went there to attend a court-martial, but I do not want to say anything about the case, which is still in process of being dealt with by petition to the Army Council. Evidence was given by a number of witnesses, who were not cross-examined, and the officers respon- 1548 sible were not called to contradict these statements, although some of them were available. This particular spot of trouble broke out at a prisoner-of-war camp for Nazi prisoners of war. It had in it a repulsive punishment block for particularly difficult Nazi prisoners.
§ Brigadier Head
On a point of Order. Has the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman anything to do with the subject which we are discussing, because many other hon. Members would like to speak?
§ Mr. Pritt
I thought the whole House knew that this is the traditional method of dealing with grievances. This, however, is not the grievance of some 25 men. It is a grievance of the whole public of Britain, because of the way these men have been treated, and because if it continues we shall not have any soldiers at all. This particularly repulsive punishment block for prisoners of war was left empty when the prisoners were moved out. There were plenty of other places elsewhere in the district where men could have been detained if necessary. When the prisoners were cleared out, somebody had poured the kitchen swill into the latrines and the place smelt abominably before the men got there. There was trouble at the camp because of the way in which a certain number of the men were being detained. On examining the evidence, I could see that there could be no doubt that the place was in an abominable condition. I found that a certain number of men had been detained, though they were innocent men, but only six of the men were ever charged, and of those six only three were found guilty. When the men were put into this place, they were interviewed by a brigadier, who took upon himself to give them a bit of military law, which I do not recognise, to the effect that, if they did not make statements, they would get seven years for not doing so. Later, I found that the brigadier had been promoted, though he had not gone very far away.
§ Mr. Freeman
Is the case which the hon. and learned Gentleman is describing the one which he has already told the House is sub judice, because it will hardly benefit his clients if he forces me to debate the question with him?
§ Earl Winterton
I should like to raise a point of Order, without any intention of discourtesy to the hon. and learned Gentleman. Is a court-martial case which is sub judice in the same position as any civil case which is sub judice, and which cannot be discussed in this House, because I think it would be very difficult for the hon. and learned Gentleman to refer to these matters without referring to this case?
§ Earl Winterton
The hon. and learned Gentleman has said that only three of the six people who had been court-martialled were found guilty. What I am asking is whether we can discuss a matter concerning a case which is sub judice at the present time, and whether that case is in exactly the same position as a case in a civil court.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think there is something in the point of Order raised by the noble Lord. There is a responsibility for courts-martial resting upon the Secretary of State for War, and, in any case which is still not settled, it would be seriously improper to comment upon the proceedings.
§ Mr. Speaker
If the case is still awaiting confirmation by the Secretary of State, then, surely, it is still sub judice?
§ Mr. Pritt
I think the real answer is that I am not discussing the court martial. All the incidents of which I complain happened before there was a court martial, and I am discussing the way the men were treated before that, and I should be discussing it if there had never been a court-martial at all. I should be discussing the way in which these men were treated by other people concerned, and I submit that that must be in Order.
§ Mr. Freeman
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman let me explain why I inter- 1550 rupted? He is discussing the conditions at the camp, with which I shall deal in my reply, but he also talks of pressure put on certain people. I believe that the subject of the petition surrounding this case may touch the responsibility of the Secretary of State, and I do not think it is right that I should be placed in the position of having to deal with points like that which have been submitted for the judgment of the Army Council.
§ Mr. Berry (Woolwich, West)
On a point of Order. Is it in Order, Mr. Speaker, for the Financial Secretary to the War Office to seek to hush up a matter of this sort?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the War Office was only suggesting that the matter might be sub judice, and should not be discussed in this Debate. But, as I understand from the hon. and learned Member that he is not proposing to discuss one particular case, as long as he complies with that, it is all right.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
Further to that point of Order. It affects another case also. If the sentence of a court martial has been promulgated and confirmed by the confirming authority, surely, Mr. Speaker it is then proper for hon. Members of this House to bring such pressure as they see fit to bear on the Secretary of State for War?
§ Mr. Speaker
If the sentence has been confirmed, then it is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for War, he being the confirming authority. After that, the matter can be brought to the notice of the House. It follows the same Ruling as that which I gave on the West African affair.
§ Mr. Pritt
I do not wish to embarrass the Financial Secretary to the War Office. The sentence has not been promulgated, and I think that I have already made that clear. From now on, I will talk about the dozens of men who were neither court martialled nor called as witnesses at the court martial; simply about other people. Those other people were put on some kind of a holding charge, and others were not put on any charge. That does not matter; it can be raised another time. What does matter was that they were taken to those cells, and placed in them. The cells had been vacated by Nazi 1551 prisoners of war some time before. I will describe the mess in which they left the place. The cells had practically no light, only tiny slits 10 feet high from the ground; they were originally intended for dangerous and recalcitrant prisoners. There was no artificial lighting, and no heating. The men were put into the cells in ones and twos. They spent 23 hours a day in them, with nothing to do, and nothing to read or smoke. For 13 hours out of the 23, they were in darkness. When it was necessary to feed them, their food was brought to the cells. It was always stone cold, bad and inadequate in quantity. It was brought to them by German prisoners of war who, when the men asked for more or better food—and who perhaps had been in the cells themselves—stood round and laughed, while the English guards did nothing to stop them. The men, of course, spent the night in the cells, with no sanitary convenience, except old toffee tins which leaked. They slept on the floor, and shared the place with cockroaches, bugs and mosquitoes. The latrines were absolutely alive with lice, so that they could not use them. The worst feature was the stink, which was absolutely intolerable.
There was no medical officer present until the cells had been occupied for eight days, and the latrines were not condemned until six days afterwards. None of these men was charged; they were all innocent. All that happened with great regularity was that they were taken to another place in the camp, a little way from the stink, so that it was possible for them to be interviewed. They were asked by the interviewing officer if they had any statement to make. They were given such encouragement as, "You are a mug to stay in here while the responsible people are outside. Why don't you get out." One officer, who got within range of the smell, said, "What an offensive smell; no wonder some of the lads are making statements." One by one, as they made statements, they were let out, and, two by two, as they did not make statements, they were placed in the cells. That is the way those men were treated in that camp.
I want to know, What was the reaction of the War Office? A lot of people in that district must have known all about it, and must have known that the men were sent there, when there were dozens of other places in which they could have 1552 been kept. As far as I can discover, nothing was ever done to check up on it, or to hold any sort of inquiry. But, on 19th December, 1946, five weeks after that business had begun, a Question was put down by an hon. Member of this House to the Secretary of State for War, who replied that he was not aware of any unusual means having been used for obtaining statements, but that he had ordered an immediate investigation into the allegations. On 27th January, another five weeks after the Minister had made that statement, I happened to arrive at the place, where I was treated with great courtesy and friendliness. There was not the faintest sign then that anybody had made an investigation of any description. To a discreet inquiry whether it might be possible for me to go to see the camp, I received the information that quite a lot of work had been done on the cells since the Question had been raised in the House, and that I should see nothing if I went there. Round about 1st or 2nd February, the bulk of the information which I have given to the House was given in a public court, where I happened to be, and, no doubt, some of it found its way into the public Press. But, as far as we can see, nothing had been done in the way of holding an inquiry. I do not say this as in any way a reflection on the Financial Secretary, but as a reflection on the people who informed him. As recently as 27th February, he committed himself in writing to another hon. Member of this House who had brought these complaints before him. He said:From information at the disposal of the war Office, it seems clear that the allegations are entirely unfounded.But they had already been deposed to an oath by 12 people, and not contradicted. I suggest that that gives the matter some foundation. On 2nd March, substantially all the facts which I have given to the House were published in a newspaper called "Reynolds," which, quite rightly, took courage to publish it, after other large newspapers had refused to do so. But still nothing happened. For example, I was not even approached and asked if I had anything to say. As a matter of fact, on 23rd February, or around about that date, I had a short conversation—which was about as short as my temper—with the Secretary of State for War. I told the right hon. Gentleman the substance 1553 of what I knew, because I thought he ought to know. His observation was that I appeared to be treating his officers with a great lack of charity. I said that I hoped I was. Finally, in answer to a Question yesterday, the Secretary of State for War after completely forgetting that he had announced in December that he was ordering an immediate investigation, told another hon. Member that he had ordered a court of inquiry—a court of inquiry four months after the incident had occurred, when this officer had been promoted, that officer had come home to England, and another officer had gone, and the men involved may have been scattered. [An HON. MEMBER: "Whitewash."] Yes, whitewash, if one likes. But, at any rate, there was none in the cells.
I hope that I have not taken too long in putting the facts before the House. I say, in all seriousness, that I want to be proud of the Army. There is a very great deal in the Army of which we can be proud. But I want the things of which we ought to be ashamed cleared up, and I want the Secretary of State for War to probe this particular case. He cannot do much for the men whom his servants put into that position, but he can see that such a thing does not happen again, and he can decide not to promote the people responsible. The observation I made to him was that, if he wanted to treat his officers with such fair consideration, he could put them into the cells. Finally, since he speaks about conserving the spiritual and moral welfare of the Army, I hope that he will not let his son go anywhere where an officer can put him into such a position.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ General Sir George Jeffreys (Petersfield)
Needless to say, I shall not endeavour to follow the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) on a subject of which only he knows anything. In the first place, I would say that I believe there is one point on which all sides of the House can agree, and on which certainly the taxpayer would agree—the statement in the Estimate that there is to be a reduction of expenditure for the year of £294 million. I think that will be welcomed by everybody. As regards page 2 of the Memorandum, under the heading "Establishment and Distribution of the Army," I would like to say 1554 that, whilst one can well understand that it is impossible, at present, to settle exactly what the conditions and final shape of the Army will be, I think we might be told a little more about what it is at present, a little more as to its present state, its present location, and its present organisation.
We have the statement in the Memorandum that all active formations are now located overseas. That raises the question of the prospect of service at home for the Regular recruit. We have bean told by the Secretary of State today that three years abroad will be the normal length of time, and that, after that, it is hoped that a soldier will come home. But, with all the Regular active formations located overseas, that appears to be a little difficult in prospect. We are told that 38,100 officers and 530,100 other ranks are budgeted for this year. I would like to know if the Secretary of State can tell us what proportion of those are present with their units, and how many are detached on a variety of jobs, staff appointments and other employment of various kinds.
I should like to give one example about which I know. I admit that it is two or three months old. It concerns a certain battalion. That battalion's nominal strength was in the neighbourhood of 750 of all ranks. Of that number, more than 200 were away, either on Python or leave, and another 250 were scattered in various employments in different places along the lines of communications in Italy, and one or two of them as far away as Naples. At that time that battalion was certainly not in a position properly to carry out its policing and its occupation duties, with such a low strength and such a high proportion away. I suggest that many of the offices might well be dispensed with now. Many of the staffs have become overgrown and could very well be reduced. I would even suggest that the process might well begin with the War Office itself. We all know that the War Office has expanded and overflowed. It has offices in various houses in Eaton Square, Northumberland Avenue and all over the place. Is it not time that some move was made to get the War Office itself and headquarters of formations in the Army generally back to somewhere near their peacetime size?
I hope we shall not make the mistake that was made after the first world war by overdoing the reduction of our Forces. 1555 We must have strong Forces, not only so as to be prepared for a possible war but also to support and secure respect for our foreign policy, which must have the backing of armed strength. Whatever may be the power and range of new weapons, which I do not under-rate—I realise, as everyone else does, that they may alter the situation entirely—it is certain that for tasks of occupation, resettlement, pacification and policing we must have men, and those men must be trained, disciplined and organised. We have heard today something about the new system of grouped regiments, and the Secretary of State has said that there is no intention of destroying the regimental traditions. It is a fact that this scheme was put before Colonels of regiments, and that conferences were held, and I think most Colonels of regiments reluctantly came to the conclusion that they were bound to agree to this new scheme. But I think it may be difficult to avoid destroying regimental traditions, especially as a number of battalions are to be put into what is euphoniously called "suspended animation." I cannot help thinking there would not even have been reluctant agreement for this group system if we had known at the time what was to be the number of battalions put into suspended animation, and I gather that the number may possibly even be increased, until we shall arrive at a point where there will only be one active battalion in every infantry regiment. It is a very heavy blow for distinguished, and in some cases historic, regiments to have their battalions put away into oblivion in this summary fashion. I hope these reductions will not prove to be a penny wise and pound foolish policy which we may greatly regret in a few years' time.
I would like to call attention to subparagraph (iv) on page 3 of the Memorandum, in which it is stated that the fixed term national service men who are called up since 1st January, 1947, for two years with the Colours will have no reserve obligations after the end of the emergency. I believe that is a mistake. It is a waste to train these men for two years and then to let them go without any reserve obligation at all. An Army without reserves is an ineffective Army. Reserves are the means by which an Army is expanded from a peace footing to a war footing with 1556 reasonable rapidity, and with trained personnel. It is a mistake to enlist or conscript these men, whichever way one likes to put it, and give them no reserve liability at all. Incidentally, I would like to know how long this emergency will last. My noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) adverted to the question of collective formation training. I will only say that I entirely agree with him. He also referred to the necessity for the pay of senior warrant and noncommissioned officers to be higher in proportion to that of the junior non-commissioned officers and the rank and file. I myself raised that point in the Army Estimates last year, and I still feel most strongly that my noble Friend is right and that it would be good business to pay these warrant officers and senior non-commissioned officers more highly than we do. They are worth it all the time.
While on the question of pay, may I say a word on retired pay? On previous occasions I have referred to the grievance of officers who have retired under the provisions of the Royal Warrant of 1919 and whose pensions, after being reduced on account of the fall in the cost of living were stabilised in 1935 at 9½ per cent. below the basic rate of 1919. That has been a standing grievance among the officers affected. After the Pensions (Increase) Acts, 1944 and 1947, the lower grades of pensions did receive increases which, in some cases, made up for the reduction, but on pensions of £600 a year and over only a part of that reduction, and in many cases none of it, was made good. Yet the Royal Warrant in question provided in so many words that the rate should be subject to revision either upwards or downwards according as the cost of living should rise or fall. I asked a question on this subject a short time ago and I received the answer, which rather surprised me, that to make up to the basic rate of 1919 the full amount of the pensions of these officers who are still, so to spaak, out of pocket owing to this reduction, would cost from £180,000 to £200,000 a year for the three Services combined. A very small proportion of that, certainly not more than a third, would be in respect of the Army. This claim is not for an increase but for the fulfilment of an obligation and for an act of good faith on the part of the War Office and the Government. I am only too well aware that the real enemy in 1557 this case is the Treasury, but I suggest that the Secretary of State for War should stand up to the Treasury for these men for whom he is responsible.
Now for a word on the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. I am glad this Academy is now open. I am sure that the education which is given in it will be excellent, that the physical training will he good, and that the work will be hard. The work at Sandhurst and, I think, at Woolwich, too, always was hard. Whether it is going to be any better now I cannot say, but it was always hard work, especially indeed compared with our ancient universities. I have heard it said, however, that Sandhurst is, in some respects, being starved for money. I hope this is not the case, but I have been told that it is short of up-to-date equipment. I have also heard that there is a difficulty in securing the civilian instructors who are required to give the general education as distinct from the military education at Sandhurst, and that this shortage is not unconnected with the fact that houses are not available for them and that they are paid a not very large salary and expected to house themselves. I hope that may be gone into, and that if there are difficulties they will be dealt with as soon as possible.
I now turn to the Territorial Army, and I speak as a fairly old member and chairman of a Territorial Association. It has been stated in the instructions that the reconstituted Territorial Army is to be ready for service at short notice. We are also told that recruiting is now to commence on 1st May. I am quite certain that Territorial Army Associations—certainly I can speak for the Association in my own county of Hampshire—will do all they can to help reconstitute the Territorial Army. There is no question whatever about that, but I am not certain that it will not be a difficult business in some respects. If it were a case of reconstituting the former units only, I believe that a great measure of success could be very quickly obtained, but, to use the words of the Memorandum, "Many traditional units are being converted to other roles," and for those the old personnel will in many cases not be suitable, because they will not have the special training or at best they will be untrained. That is one difficulty, and I think it is a real difficulty if we are to get immediate short notice readiness for service.
1558 Then there is the question, which was also mentioned by my noble Friend, of the drill halls. Many of the drill halls, while possibly adequate for the units which occupied them before the war, may be quite inadequate and unsuitable for the more technical units to which they may be allotted now. I have only to give an example of an infantry battalion converted to an anti-aircraft regiment of artillery. When you have to get a gun whose nose would very nearly touch the roof of this House, into a drill hall with an ordinarily high sort of roof, it is a very difficult matter, and I think that sometimes adaptations will be very difficult.
Voluntary recruiting must mean recruiting ex-soldiers; that is absolutely certain, because youths who have yet to be called up will not first join the Territorial Army, possibly for a few months or less, and if they did the number of drills laid down for untrained recruits is quite inadequate to secure immediate readiness for service. I suggest that the Secretary of State might consider a system of volunteering by which such persons as students—we have heard a great deal about the difficulties of students who have to go for compulsory service when they would otherwise be going to the university or studying some technical trade—might be allowed to serve in the Territorial Army as an alternative to compulsory service. I would also suggest, if that idea were taken up, that they should have to do three months of compulsory training at the beginning. Looking back to before the war, it was very difficult to put training across to recruits who had often done no continuous recruits' training at all. They were only quarter-trained at best, yet one had to try to teach them some of the forms of higher training. The Territorial system could produce very useful soldiers provided every recruit had to do three months or thereabouts of continuous recruits' training first, so that he is fit to assimilate something of the higher training.
I suggest that the permanent staff may be barely adequate at 2 per cent., and finally I would like to mention that I asked a Question of the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently which elicited the fact that Income Tax will be charged on the pay, training allowances, and bounty of the Territorial Army. I seriously fear that this may be a deterrent to recruits. It will be deducted, presumably—in fact 1559 the Chancellor said so—by the "Pay as you earn" system, not a very popular system, and the Chancellor also said that the Army would be responsible for the collection and accounting of the money. The permanent staff is barely adequate, and in many cases this may have to be done by Territorial Army officers for whom it will be an extra and unpopular duty. I hope the Secretary of State will think sufficiently seriously about this to ask that this may be reconsidered and that, even if Income Tax is charged on pay—it is curious that it should be charged on training allowances—some other system of collecting should be considered.
One more thing I should say: We welcome the A.T.S. as Territorials again. The A.T.S., it is often forgotten, is the "Auxiliary Territorial Service." It was raised by Territorial associations entirely, and a great deal of its efficiency derived from that. I am very sorry that it should have been entirely separated from the counties, with which it had a very real connection at the beginning, and I am quite certain that the reconnection of the A.T.S. with the Territorial Army will be both popular and successful.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. H. D. Hughes (Wolverhampton, West)
I start by drawing attention to the form in which the Estimates are now presented. As a new Member of this House, it occurred to me last year, when we were debating the comparable Estimates, that this was the form in which for security or other reasons Estimates had always been presented to this House. But being of a curious nature I went into the Library and picked up, a few days ago, a copy of the Army Estimates for the year 1935–36—which I selected at random. Having done that, I began to feel that while now I see "through a glass darkly," in 1935–36 my predecessors were "face to face" with the real problems.
For the last few weeks there have been attempts, by questions and by interjections in Parliamentary Debates, by hon. Members on both sides, to find out something of the use to which the manpower in the Forces was being put, and a few crumbs of comfort have dropped now and again from the lips of right hon. Gentlemen. In a recent Debate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign 1560 Affairs gave us the number of British troops in Venezia Giulia, and in winding up the Debate the Under-Secretary let out of the bag the secret of the number of British troops in Korea. This afternoon, in introducing these Estimates, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War has given us a few more crumbs of information. He has attempted to break down a little the figures of the Armed Forces. He has told us that there were 140 infantry battalions in 1939, they went up to 618 during the war, are now down to 143 again, and 52 of them will disappear into suspended animation this year.
The point I wish to make is that in 1935–36 the Regular Army Estimates gave hon. Members the information they need on which to make up their minds intelligently about the use to which the Armed Forces are being put. On page 10 of these Army Estimates there was a complete breakdown as between cavalry, artillery, signals, tank corps, service corps, education corps, chaplains, and so on. On Vote A of those Estimates there was a complete breakdown of the number of men serving at home in each arm of the Service, serving abroad in each arm, and in each station, down to the numbers of men and the numbers of batteries and other units in Bermuda, Jamaica, Palestine, Ceylon and so on. In those days it was possible to come to some intelligent understanding of the use of men and their disposition. Today, Parliament is completely uninformed on these matters. We may be told that this is for security reasons, but we are at peace. In 1935–36, Hitler had been in power for about three years and "Mein Kampf" had been published for 13 years. We were faced with a much greater foreign menace to our overall strategy than any one can seriously state is the case today. Therefore, if we could be given this information in 1936, if it could then be given to the House, and thereby to Hitler, surely we can at least get back to a state whereby much greater information could be given to us today.
Yesterday, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), presumably as much in the dark as the rest of us, said that the teeth were falling out and the tail was getting fatter. He may be right, but no information has been given us by my right hon. Friend to enable us to 1561 make up our minds whether the right hon. Gentleman was right or not. In the dark as we are, we attempt to make up our minds on the way in which some kind of economy can be effected in the Army. All I can do is to ask a few elementary questions on this point. How many of the Forces are there at home? How are they organised? Is it the case, as some military writers have said, that the Army is consuming a great deal more manpower than it needs because the Forces are not properly organised as a mobile reserve or a striking force? Let me quote from a military writer who last week-end said this:The Services at home do not appear to be organised as a mobile reserve nor as a streamlined force, but rather as disjointed bits and pieces, used to fill up gaps.Later he said:The half million men at home are not organised for immediate action in a real crisis. The same is true of most other areas.I ask my hon. Friend when he replies to the Debate, to tell us whether those statements are true or not. I would like to ask him also what proportion of the men at home are under training and how much training is being done at home. After the initial six weeks' training how many men are sent overseas? We sent them overseas at a very early stage during the war, when they might have had to face active service. There are many overseas stations now where training of men, after their preliminary training, might be conducted without any danger to untrained troops.
My third point, on the manpower question, is this. We are often told that Army units are being cut down to a dangerous point and that their organisation is so reduced that they are not able to function. One case has been brought to my attention of a Territorial Regiment from my own local area. The first South Staffs Battalion is stationed at Agra. Various complaints were received of inadequacy of accommodation for the men. The points were taken up and were to some extent admitted by the War Office. The statement on accommodation is:Accommodation admittedly inadequate. This is due chiefly to reinforcements. The battalion is 50 over strength, and further reinforcements are expected.I do not know how far that may be said to be typical of units at home or abroad, but that is one concrete case which has 1562 come to my notice in which one unit is in fact over strength.
Leaving the general question on which I have had to anticipate to some extent the Amendment on the Paper, because I shall not again catch your eye, Sir, in this Debate, there are one or two detailed points on releases which I would like to raise. The age and service scheme as we know, has been fair to the men involved, but it has not moved as rapidly as one would like. There are one or two groups of men who are left out of the age and service scheme, and they feel that they have some little grievance. One extraordinary case was brought to my attention the other day. It was the case of a man who, when he was called up, volunteered, as he had every right to do, for service in the mines. At that stage his group number was 56. Later, he was released from the mines as unfit, and was called up into the Forces. He was given a group number 72. On the point being taken up with the War Office, whether service in the mines, which was optional, did not count for age and service release, the reply was given that if the man had been a Bevin boy his service would have counted, but because he had volunteered for the mines his service did not count at all. That is an extraordinary anomaly and I hope that my hon. Friend will look into it.
There are two other types of service to which I would also draw attention. The first is the case mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Clifton-Brown) relating to the purchase of discharge. I raised this matter at Question time with my right hon. Friend a day or two ago but we have got no further with it. My right hon. Friend today remains adamant on the question of not restoring the purchase of discharge. I will read an extract from a letter which shows the kind of hardship endured by some of these men:I joined the Army when 14 years old. In December, 1940, when I was 17 I volunteered for the Commandos. I served with them and also for two years in France, Holland and Germany. Now once again I am abroad. I have decided"—I am not defending this part of the letter, but it shows the state of moral of some at least of these men—that if the people concerned will not allow me to buy my freedom honestly, I shall take the only course left open to me and desert.I am not in the least defending what this letter proposes and I have written to the 1563 man strongly, telling him not to be so foolish. The point is that this writer joined the Service a boy of 14 in the prewar atmosphere. He has served his country throughout the war. He is now an adult with ten years' service to his credit. There is no possible way in which he can get out of the Forces for several more years. These people are no good to the Forces. I again very strongly put the point to my right hon. Friend that something should be done to meet their claims. There are others too. An hon. Member who spoke earlier referred to the end of the emergency. Many men whose release now depends upon the declaration of general demobilisation are in a state of uncertainty on how much longer they will have to serve.
In conclusion, I would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the Army education plan that he has placed before us today. It appears that it will do a great deal to build up the kind of educational scheme that we want for the postwar Army. That effort will involve a great deal of energy and enterprise to get it properly working. The release education scheme, as we all know, started with good intentions which were not carried out because of lack of personnel. How many men are being trained today for the education scheme? Very large numbers will be required. I visited the Army school of education the other day and it was by no means full. I know that there are difficulties. What are the limitations, for example, on the selection of men for the Army Education Corps? What are the medical categories that can volunteer? Is a real effort to be made to get the necessary personnel. I hope that my hon. Friend when he replies will give us some further information on all these points.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Ross (Londonderry)
I do not always share any sympathy with hon. Members opposite, but I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. Hughes) in that he does not seem to be able to find out very much about the Army. The only consolation I can give him is that the position in regard to the Army is crystal clear compared with that of the Navy. I wish to address myself principally to two topics and only two, although I am tempted to wander further 1564 afield. Those are two topics with which I have associations and about which I have a little knowledge. One is the military aspect of recruiting in Northern Ireland, and the other is welfare generally. An announcement was made regarding the two-year engagement and it is a thing which I welcome. There is a question, however, which I desire to put to the Financial Secretary to the War Office. Is the two-year engagement possible in Northern Ireland? Up to the present it was only possible to engage for voluntary service. My friends and I proposed to put down an Amendment that the short-service engagement could be taken in Northern Ireland. I should like to know if that is on the same terms as those described in page 3, of the Explanatory Note:The fixed term National Service man tailed up since 1st January, 1947, for two years with the Colours and no reserve obligation.That is what I assume it to be.
I would add this further suggestion, which has already been made in this Debate—if the two-year service man has no reserve obligation at all it is rather a waste of training. The expense of training a man in the Army is very considerable, and when the man has done two years' service and has no reserve obligation at all, it does seem to me to be a sort of waste of that period which he has spent in the Army. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might consider whether it was not possible to give two years' service and then a period of service with the Reserve, when the man would be of potential value, and where his training would not he wasted.
As to Northern Ireland, we had before this war, I think, the highest percentage of recruiting for the Army of any district in the United Kingdom. One of our principal exports during the war was successful generals so that I think we did make a considerable contribution. But the great drawback to recruiting, which I state quite frankly, was the experience we had after the previous war when men coming back from the Ulster Division and other formations, after service overseas, found their jobs had been pinched by people who came up from Southern Ireland, and took the employment of many men who were risking their lives in the Army. The consequence was that recruiting was not so good in Northern Ireland in this war. 1565 I think all of us who could do so, tried to give every example possible; even those of rather dubious age for the more active branches of the military forces enlisted and indeed in some cases suffered loss, to encourage recruiting in the Province. But we were always up against the complete lack of understanding of the peculiar situation in an area which has only voluntary recruiting, because Parliament had not extended the National Service Act to Northern Ireland. I actually told against my own party to prevent this happening, but that being the case, the then War Office never regarded it as a voluntary area should be regarded. Of course, we know that the War Office is full of clever and intelligent men but very often something comes over them when they get there. I have never understood why the War Office officer should be paid extra for the expense of living in London when the headquarters staff of the London district are not paid expenses of living in London. I suppose that is because they are supposed to do their work by remote control.
In the same way the whole question of Northern Ireland being a voluntary area was ignored. There were no special recruiting posters, no special efforts for voluntary recruits, and the thing which was disastrous was the treatment of families which had volunteered. What happened in some cases was this. The man of the family, the father, told his boys and girls to join up and said, "I will keep the firm going and you can come back when the war is over." However, during the war he died and efforts were then made to get one son out of the Army, because the competing firm next door, from whose ranks none had joined up, was threatening the family business. But the Army would not give up one person in such a case. That was all right in Great Britain where the system was that of National Service, but it was disastrous in a voluntary area. Again and again, I had cases of that kind. I tried to get someone out who belonged to a large family all of whom had joined up—a man, or even a girl of the Services, generally the Army, to save the firm or the farm against competitors who had not joined up at all. But the War Office did not regard the matter from the aspect that Northern Ireland was a voluntary area.
This affected recruiting for the Regular Army. Everything I could do and every- 1566 thing my friends could do we did. I addressed meetings in the open air in support of recruiting, and we got recruits, but I was up against this. When I appealed to them to join the Army a man would come up to me and say, "Yes, I will join the Army and serve my time, but when I come back here how am I treated? Look at the Services now in Northern Ireland. Whom are they employing? Men who have never served in any British Service, Army, Navy, or Air Force, and who are citizens of a neutral country, Eire." Yesterday I asked the Minister of Defence a question, and he told me that 86 United Kingdom ex-Service men have been sacked from their jobs since 1st January, but that the Services are employing some 70 citizens of Eire who have never served in the Army, Navy or Air Force, and of that class of men only nine have lost their jobs during the same period. That is what we, who try to get recruits for the Army, are up against.
The Services should give an example to private employers in the matter of preference and priority to the man who has served his country, but the Government are sending ex-Servicemen away and keeping on the citizens of a neutral country who have never served in the war. That is doing serious harm as far as recruiting is concerned. There is fairly widespread feeling on the subject amongst all branches of the British Legion in Northern Ireland, and I do not think I am overstating the case when I say it is one of the most difficult things to get over when urging people to join the Service.
I turn for a moment to the question of the Territorial Army in Northern Ireland. This Territorial Army will be more like that which we knew before the war than will the same thing be in Great Britain, because the Territorial Army in England, Scotland and Wales will, I understand, about 1950, get into its ranks those who have passed through the Army under the National Service Act. In Northern Ireland it will be entirely an army of volunteers, unless some alteration is made in the Bill which was presented yesterday, which appears to be a continuation of the application of compulsory service to Great Britain only. I would remind the Secretary of State that this is an entirely new departure for us in Ulster. We have never had a territorial force there at all except for one small 1567 unit in County Antrim which had been started not very long before the war. It is a new departure and quite a novel one, but that is no fault of ours because we were certainly prepared to have auxiliary forces of any kind, and there was the old kind that we had once called the Militia or Special Reserve.
It may well be that this force, differing in two material particulars from that in this island, will start by having some growing pains, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear that in mind if extra assistance is asked for temporarily in the shape of regular staff when we start territorial forces in Northern Ireland for the first time. I hope the Secretary of State will remember that it is an entirely new thing for us. We have had practically no auxiliary forces between the wars, since they were all shut down, and if the demand is made I trust he will treat it sympathetically and allow the extra staff as a temporary measure until things get on to their feet. There is one curious feature in the Financial Memorandum. I see that the functions of the Territorial Army are threefold—the immediate antiaircraft defence of the United Kingdom, a few units to bring the Regular Army up to completion on its mobilisation, and a field force of infantry. But there is no mention at all of draft-finding units. In some respects I think the Army which went out to fight the 1914 war was better organised than any other that has ever taken the field from this country. In particular it was very well organised as regards its reserves. They were not, perhaps, always as highly trained as they should have been, but we had the Territorial Army, which was to take the field formation, and the old Militia, then called the Special Reserve, which was the draft-finding organisation, and that kept the Army going all during the winter of 1914–15. Fortunately there was no period of extreme military wastefulness early on in the recent war and it was, therefore, not quite so necessary as it otherwise might have been, but I do ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that the one thing which breaks the heart of a unit is to split it up or use it for draft-finding purposes. The reserves of a regiment are comparatively small, and as far as I can see in the military organisation at the present time there does not seem to he any provision for draft-finding for- 1568 mations as they used to exist in the old organisation, including the third battalions, as they generally were, the Special Reserve, or, before that, the Militia.
I should like now to say a few words on the subject of welfare. It is very interesting to see how the war-time emphasis on the General Staff and on the Quartermaster-General's branch is fading rapidly into an almost exclusive interest in the work done by the Adjutant-General's office which covers so many subjects. Incidentally, I see on page 40 of the Estimates that the Adjutant-General's branch is only allowed one chaplain, fourth class. I think he will need all the spiritual assistance he can get and that we might at least give him a second class chaplain because it is at present the most important branch in the Service. We have heard from the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Clifton-Brown), what I consider to be as good an account of welfare as we could have from a regimental officer's point of view, because he pointed out that whatever welfare does it does not relieve a regimental officer of one iota of his duties towards his men. The only occasion when I think welfare has had a bad effect has been when officers have thought that they might relax the duty which they had to their men because there was a welfare officer. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Welfare is in addition to what the officer has as a duty and is in no sense a substitution. The properly trained officer should know his man, not only as an indispensible cog in the military machine but also as a person. He ought to know that Corporal McNutt, though a third class shot, is a terribly good husband and father—an entirely different aspect. If he fails in that he fails as an officer, and that cannot be too strongly emphasised.
A great deal has been said on both sides of the House about discipline. My experience in my office in the London district in this connection is rather interesting. No one need think that a welfare officer's duty is a light one. When I used suddenly to realise that I was responsible for the welfare of between 20,000 and 30,000 young women while some men found it difficult to look after the welfare of even one woman, it was a terrifying thought. There used to be about 7,000 personal interviews through that office in 1569 the course of a year and in addition, of course, many more were carried out by the welfare officers throughout the country. My impression, certainly, was that where discipline was good welfare was good. In those regiments which had a nigh standard and strict sense of discipline one found also a high standard of welfare. One had the officer, particularly the junior officer, being not only the soldiers' commander—and possibly somewhat of a curse in that respect—but also a friend when the soldier was in difficulties. We had very few cases from them, but in some corps which had not a particularly high standard of discipline we had quite a number of cases. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman particularly to bear in mind that quality in welfare is probably even more important than quantity. For instance, if we are going to have entertainments let us have good entertainments. Some of them have been really rather deplorable.
Then there is the question of legal advice. For Heaven's sake let us try to keep legal advice to the unfortunate soldier in the hands of someone who knows something about the law. I have known cases of the most tragic description where the most well intentioned individuals have given unhappy soldiers advice which was so catastrophic that—as the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) knows—their lives were misery ever after. So, when the Army offers legal advice, I do trust that the giving of that advice will be restricted to those who are in a position to give it aright.
There is to be a very substantial reduction in the Welfare Vote. I see that it is some £783,000, but it does not appear as if it were out of proportion to the reduction of the Army itself. It seems to me a not unfair proportion but I think that many of those responsible for welfare are having a little difficulty in being told to keep up the standard without sometimes having the means to do so. I know that in London the great reduction has made the work rather difficult, and the means available have not always been well used. For instance, the deep shelters South of the river and in Chancery Lane and Goodge Street are used for storing vast amounts of files accumulated by the Ministry. I think it would have been better to have allowed men into the shelters instead of putting files into them. 1570 The two important things are to keep up recruiting and to keep the men happy and occupied, which involves real esprit de corps and a good standard of welfare.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
We all admire the way in which the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) puts forward the views of his native land, and sympathise with him in the tremendous task he must have had in looking after 7,000 women—[An HON. MEMBER: "30,000."] — perhaps I have underestimated his capabilities. I am sure he will forgive me if I do not follow on his lines. If I seem to be somewhat critical in my remarks, I do not want my right hon. Friend to think I intend to embarrass him. I well remember the progressive attitude he took up in this House over the question of family allowances for the wives of young soldiers under 21 years of age. He must have had to fight the Treasury very hard to get that through. Any remarks I have to make are solely with the object of securing greater efficiency in the Service he controls. I must express my disappointment that this year is still a year of transition. I hope that by the end of the year we shall be in a more favourable position, and shall be able to establish the stable peacetime Army which, I am sure, my right hon. Friend would like to see.
In the few moments permitted to me I should like to deal with the composition of our Forces. It is clear that the greatest need at the moment is for an expanded Regular Army. We are all very disappointed, I think, over the inadequate response to recruitment for the Regular Army. I think something like 4,000 a month for six years was required, but in fact we have only just exceeded half that total. The consequence is that more conscripts have to be kept in the Army for a longer time. I should be grateful if we could be told what are the main reasons for this falling off in recruitment. I put it down to a hang-over from the war period. We are not naturally a belligerent race, and it takes an emergency to make the people of this country face up to their responsibilities as regards defence. If more attention was paid to the psychological fear that there is a distinction between officers and men, and to the rates of pay which are insufficiently attractive to recruit men into the Army, we should have an increased recruitment. 1571 My right hon. Friend asked us to do all we can to stimulate recruitment to the Regular Forces. We are all willing and prepared to do that, but it is very difficult in these times for any hon. Member in public to advocate increased recruitment to the Forces, which means robbing the productive services upon which the economic welfare of this country depends.
I understand that the target for the short-service bounty scheme is 100,000. I would like to know when it is anticipated that this target will be reached, if it is ever reached. Eight thousand a month were required, but the most favourable month showed a figure of just over 2,000 recruits. Is this because the bounty is not enough, and because there has been inadequate publicity given to the scheme? As regards the recent publicity campaign, the technique of the campaign was good. Its publicity was reasonably good, but the campaign was premature. If we could have a repetition of that campaign towards the end of this year, I think there would be more chance of success. I am more concerned about the man who is in the Army for the duration of the emergency. Most hon. Members will be aware there is still a considerable feeling that the rate of demobilisation is not swift enough. It is very easy for those outside the Services to consider demobilisation calmly, but for the men in the Services this question assumes overwhelming proportions. We are pleased to note the recent speed-up. I have been working things out, and so have members in the Forces been working things out from their inadequate information. It seems to me that we can increase the demobilisation rate, by June of this year, by probably more than three groups. It is clearly understood that every four-year service man conies out by 31st December this year, and that those men in the Forces before 31st December, 1946, have got to be released before the present conscripts. Bearing these facts in mind, and knowing the rate of recruitment and the rate of conscripts coming in as the War Office must know, it should be possible for them to announce the rate of demobilisation up to the end of this year. I hope my right hon. Friend will give more information on these lines.
I now wish to refer to the men coming into the Army under the fixed term of 1572 two years. I note that Field-Marshal Lord Montgomery was particularly struck with their physique and health. That should give comfort, because it contradicts the statement made in the Debate yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) about the health and nutrition of the people of this country. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with their physique? I know he is dissatisfied with education, and I note with pleasure that he is going to try and put that right. I should like to re-emphasise what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes) about the make-up and location of the Forces. If Vote A had been prepared with the expressed intention of trying to deprive Members of information, I do not think it could have been more successful. We are told that the Forces in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe number 590,000. I think it is pertinent to ask how many of them are located in Germany, and how many in this country. I put a Question on 4th March to this end, in which I asked my right hon. Friend whether he could give the strength of the Forces at home on 1st January this year. My right hon. Friend's reply was the one I expected, namely:It is not in accordance with practice to give the figures.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March 1947: Vol. 434, c. 49.]I asked a similar Question on 19th March, 1946, of his predecessor, and I got a reply, which I am sure was given by mistake. It told me:The total number of men of all ranks serving in the British Army in the United Kingdom on 31st January, 1946, was 774,302. Of these 75,281 were recruits under training.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March, 1946: Vol. 420. c. 324.]Why cannot we have that information now? A striking feature of the distribution of manpower is the apparently large contingent of men we have at home. Are we sure that the bulk of those men whom we see going off regularly on week-end leave—and no one begrudges them that leave—are not wasting their time throughout the week? How many of them are actually under training, and how many men does it take to train them? I put the figure of those at home—it is only my guess—at 300,000, and I put the figure of recruits under training at 75,000. Are we giving too much emphasis to the permanent staffs of all these training estab- 1573 lishments up and down the country? I should like an assurance from my hon. Friend that a rigid inquiry is going on into this position, and that the Committee that is set up to inquire into it will have power to make ruthless cuts in the manpower of these establishments. Going through the Estimates as well as I could I thought the headquarters staff of the War Office does assume a very bloated appearance in relation to the other figures. Could we be assured that there are no people sitting on their backsides—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."]—in the War Office who could be out in the field doing training or actual work?
My general conclusions are these: We have got to keep a proper balance between the demands of the Services and the economic needs of the country. We must agree that while large forces give us the appearance of strength and solidity, if they are not backed up by a proper economic system at home that appearance is really an illusion. It is my belief that if there is a reduction—I cannot give any figure—as a result of this probing it will result in greater efficiency and health for the Armed Forces. We were all delighted to hear the controversial "non-controversial" speech of the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). He made the statement that class distinctions had very largely disappeared from the Army. I should like to make a suggestion on these lines. In the interests of economy of manpower, in the interests of the democratisation of the forces, and in the interests of helping to improve recruitment, would it not be possible to prove that statement in actual fact by insisting upon communal messing for all ranks—officers, sergeants and other ranks? If we did that we should be able to prove clearly that it was a classless Army; but that would mean that there would have to be a revolution in the War Office. I believe we are here to accomplish a social revolution, and I can think of no better place to start it than in the War Office.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)
The House will forgive me if I embark on some controversial matters, but before I do so I should like to say how much I was struck by the note of humanity that underlay the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. The human note, particularly at the end 1574 of his speech augurs well, and I beg him to add to his humanity a courage in dealing with his military advisers, a quality which is needed nowhere so much in any Government Department as in the War Office. I have two short statements to make to show the House where I stand before I come to my main theme. First, I view with great foreboding the fact that in the current year the British Army will number over 1,000,000 men. I do not know whether that is necessary because of our commitments—that, it is almost impossible to judge—but I am very doubtful. Of one thing, however, I am certain, and that is that Britain's economy cannot afford it at the present time; that we cannot afford either the men, the materials, the man-hours of industry or the land necessary for this large Army. I say that if necessary, we should cut our commitments and then should reduce the size of that Army substantially and in a drastic way in order to make certain at least of our industrial recovery.
Bound up with the swollen size of the Army is the fact that young men called up while the war was still raging will not come out of it sooner than the men called up for National Service under the two years period. Those who have served from 1944 onwards for four years come out no earlier than those who have served for two years. I do not say that these National Service men should be called upon to serve any longer time—on the contrary—but I do understand the dissatisfaction which exists among those who joined in time of war and who in 1948 will still be in the Armed Forces. I say, Let us demobilise them quickly.
The second proposition I want to make is that I deplore most emphatically the perpetuation in peace time of compulsory military service after 1948. This is not the occasion to develop that theme, but I consider it a most unwarranted infringement of personal liberty which the Liberal Party will resist with all our power when the Bill comes before the House. I believe that even after a drastic reduction of the Forces, and after a review of our commitments, we could have an efficient and adequate Army well within our means, and I should like to see a Manpower Board or Manpower Commission, not necessarily appointed by the War Office, but rather by the Minister of Labour, looking into the use of manpower in the Army and the 1575 Armed Forces with a view to effecting economies and reductions wherever possible.
My main theme is that we can only build up a voluntary Army if we have the good will of the people, and never was it more essential for the Army to obtain the good will of the civilian population than at the present time. If it is important for the civilians to understand the Army it is no less important for the Army to understand the civilians. There is one particular matter which causes the most profound dissatisfaction among the civilian population, and that is the Army's perpetual hold on the land of this country, particularly in Wales; what is amazing is to find that they are still acquiring land, and by methods which are entirely unjustified.
On 25th February the Prime Minister made a statement in the House regarding the demands of the Service Departments for land for training and defence purposes, and in reply to Questions by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) the Prime Minister said that in all major matters there would be a public inquiry. He gave an assurance that a public inquiry would be held precisely for the purpose of obtaining the views of the people in the immediate district. That was the Prime Minister's own assurance. He had just announced the release of 1,500 acres of land at Harlech from military occupation. That was a very courageous decision, and one which was welcomed all over Wales. Before the Prime Minister's assurance on 19th February, however, a major-general at Western Command issued two notices to farmers in Ardudwy in my constituency, covering 7,900 acres of land, telling them that from 1st March until 31st August military exercises would be held over their land and live ammunition used. The military would have power to take all such actions as might be required for the execution of military exercises, the erection of encampments, the construction of military works, and the supply of water to persons using the land under the provisions of the Order. That Order was issued not by the Secretary of State, but by a military officer in the exercise of war time powers.
I consider it entirely unjustified that military officers should acquire rights 1576 over land under the Defence Regulations in time of peace. They gave only 10 or 11 days' notice. They issued it to farmers who were rearing sheep, at a time when thousands of sheep were starving and being lost in the snow, and when everyone should bear in mind that this country will need all the livestock that it can breed for our home consumption—yet a mere military officer, at that time, tells the farmers that in 10 days or so they will fire live ammunition over their land. They did not consult the local authorities, the interests of agriculture or the tourist industry and they did not ascertain any one's view, but peremptorily served these notices. I say that it is high time that the "brass hats" learned that the war was over; the War Office should teach them a lesson, and if the War Office does not, we in Wales will find means of teaching them.
I will give the figures of requisitional land which the Secretary of State gave to me in reply to a Question on 21st January. In Wales, 476,000 acres, in Scotland, 574,000 acres, in England, 954,000 acres. In terms of proportion, comparing all the land of Britain, 3 per cent. is held in England by the War Office, in Scotland 2.9 per cent., and in Wales 9.3 per cent. When the Prime Minister made his announcement on 25th February, I put to him the question if we could have an overall plan for Wales, so as to bring our proportion down to that of England, but he only said that he must consider the country as a whole. These training areas, particularly in countries like Wales, create an intolerable burden on the local people. In my constituency one cannot go a few miles without coming across these large training areas in some of the most beautiful parts of the country. In the Dolgelly rural district there are over six military camps, apart from the one now proposed to be established. The distressing thing is that this is still going on. I can say, speaking, I think, for the whole of the Welsh Parliamentary Party, that we shall not tolerate this taking of our land on such a large scale. There are uplands in England and grouse moors in Scotland where the well-to-do in this country shoot grouse from the 12th August onwards. Let this land be taken rather than the land in Wales.
I now wish to refer to the treatment by the War Office of the Welsh forma- 1577 tions. When the Secretary of State announced the formation of a Territorial Army he said that there would be a Welsh group of regiments and Welshmen would have a chance of joining those units. We heard rumours that certain battalions of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers were to be converted into units of Royal Artillery, and on 4th March this year, I asked the Secretary of State why these battalions were being so converted, by whom they were being replaced, and whether he would give instructions that Welsh troops would be given an opportunity of serving and staying in Welsh battalions. He merely said that the Territorial Army infantry battalions must be converted into other arms. He did not answer the part of my question which asked by whom these battalions were to be replaced. We now learn that two battalions of the R.W.F., the 6th and 7th battalions—and the 7th battalion covers my constituency and the adjoining county—of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers are to be disbanded. Two anti-aircraft regiments of Royal Artillery are to be established in these areas, and in the 53rd Welsh Division the North and South Staffordshire regiments will replace these two Welsh battalions.
Recruiting for the Territorial Army will begin on 1st May. Local men called up into these units of Royal Artillery may serve with them in Wales, but if they are called up for service there will be the maximum dispersal of the men. If the War Office wants recruits from Wales to go into the Army, and if it wants Wales to help it recruit for the Army, it must secure the good will of the people of Wales in an entirely different way. This mishandling, this apportionment of land, and this dispersal of Welsh troops does not, I believe, come from malice aforethought; certainly not so far as the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State is concerned—it comes from lack of understanding. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take the feelings of the Welsh people on this matter seriously, to teach the Army Council that Wales will and must be taken seriously, and only then Wales will play its part in the building up of the British Army.
§ 8.17 p.m.1578
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts
May I congratulate the hon. Member on his pronunciation, but point out to him that I represent Merioneth?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I beg the hon. Member's pardon; it is a part of the country which I learnt something about, and developed a great affection for, a few years ago. If some mishap had befallen the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) it would have been my hope to move an Amendment in connection with Army education. I am glad to see that nothing has happened to him, and in view of the fact that the Secretary of State for War devoted a generous proportion of his speech to this subject I shall try to make my remarks fairly brief. There is one difficulty in dealing with the subject as it has been presented to us, namely, that in spite of the fact that my right hon. Friend spoke at some length, the paragraph in the Explanatory Memorandum was extremely short and vague, and the plan issued by the Director of Army Education today, which is somewhat detailed, only reached the Vote Office just before this Debate began. Therefore, myself and other hon. Members have not really had time to study its full implications.
I was not entirely satisfied, either with my right hon. Friend's statement or with the plan issued by the Director of Army Education. I am aware that, so often in the past, at the end of wars, statements and pledges have been made, promising great improvements in Army education, and then the necessity for some economy has come and an "axing" process has taken place, and all these promises and pledges seem to have been forgotten. My right hon. Friend will recall that during the 1914–18 war some valuable work was done in the sphere of education in the Army. In 1917 a sub-committee was appointed by the then Minister of Reconstruction, to consider the provision for and the possibilities of adult education for technical or vocational studies in Great Britain, and to make recommendations. He will also remember that that committee included, at that time, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and that my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal was one of its joint secretaries.
The recommendations which it published in 1919, relating to education in the 1579 Armed Forces, have considerable relevance at the present time. They include the following three points. First, that in the Forces provision for education should continue to be made on an ample scale, and that educational training should form an integral part of the daily training of members of all Forces of the Crown. Second, that the teaching staff should stand in the same relation to the Army as the Army medical service. I consider that to be a particularly important point, to which I hope to refer again. Third, that non-technical studies should be given a very prominent place in the curriculum. Those recommendations which were made at the end of the last war, and which were followed by an assurance from the then Secretary of State very similar to that given by my right hon. Friend today—that education would be an integral part of the training of the Army, and so on—were not, unfortunately, followed by any very beneficial results in practice after a few years had gone by. As a result of "axing," education in the Army did in fact, decline in the period between the wars to very little more than the three r's—reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic—with a certain amount of map reading thrown in.
For that reason, I think, when the Military Training Act of 1939 was introduced into this House, my right hon. Friend the present Colonial Secretary, supported by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, moved an Amendment calling for improved educational facilities for conscripts called up under that Act. Although the Amendment itself was rejected, the principles were accepted by the then Secretary of State for War. But as soon as the second world war began Army education virtually ceased. I, myself, remember very well how much it ceased, because for the whole of my period of service in the ranks I never heard anything about education, and never saw an education officer, either regimental or belonging to the Royal Army Education Corps. Indeed, for a whole year the personnel of the Royal Army Education Corps were dispersed and put on to cipher and other similar duties. Subsequently, in the second and third years of the war, pressure was brought to bear by various organisations—the Workers' Educational Organisation, the Universities and so on—and Army education did begin to revive.
1580 In 1940 the Army Education Corps was reformed, and the Central Advisory Council was set up, and in 1941 the Army Bureau of Current Affairs started its very valuable work. Towards the end of the war the release period scheme came into force, with extremely valuable results. But that scheme, which is still largely in operation at the present time, was, I understand, designed entirely for equipping and adapting the outlook of the soldier who was due for demobilisation for his re-entry into civilian life. Today the problem has become entirely different. It has become different because we are now dealing almost exclusively, or at least progressively more so, with an Army composed of young conscripts who, had they not been called up at the present time, would have been able to enjoy the very much improved facilities for adult education which are provided for civilians of their age groups. My right hon. Friend, and I think other hon. Members, have referred to the fact that the present problem is very much complicated, because these particular age groups contain people who have had their studies interrupted by bombing, evacuation and the closing down of schools during the war. The results of those experiences have been very serious indeed.
My right hon. Friend gave some figures. I do not think, however, that he gave all the figures which have been quoted to me, which are that as many as 25 per cent. of the present intake of conscripts are semi-illiterate, and that 30 per cent. have a reading or writing age of under 14 years. That shows a deplorable situation. It shows what a big problem there is facing the Army education authorities. But there are some encouraging aspects. One is that these young men have come into a disciplined life just at the moment when they are most receptive to ideas and instruction on the vitally important subject of citizenship. I notice that some prominence is given in the plan of the Director of Army Education to instruction in current affairs and citizenship.
But, of course, the two most urgent problems are those of illiteracy and semi-illiteracy, which are, I think, brought satisfactorily into perspective in this plan. Paragraph to of the plan, which refers to individual education, is extremely important, but its importance is lessened because the kind of people in the Army who 1581 will take advantage of the co-operation of the universities and so on comprise only the upper 10 per cent. In fact, they will probably become instructors, in either the Royal Army Education Corps or other corps. Their need is much less important than that of the people at the other end of the scale—the illiterates and semi-illiterates.
My right hon. Friend referred to the difficulties in implementing this plan, and to the defects in the present situation, as having been due largely to shortages of trained personnel. I must say, I am horrified to note that even under the proposed scheme in this plan there will be only one qualified officer of the Royal Army Education Corps to every 2,400 personnel, and only one other rank in the Royal Army Education Corps to 144 men. I feel that that is entirely inadequate. In fact, at the present time the situation is even worse. There are only 400 officers of the Royal Army Education Corps actually spending their time on teaching duties. The other 400—there are 800 altogether—are working on administrative duties. Therefore, I hope that when my right hon. Friend or the Financial Secretary comes to reply he will say something about how he intends to tackle the problem of recruiting instructors and other members of the Royal Army Education Corps. Apart from the numbers of people who will be required there is another point which is, I believe, borne out by the recommendations of the committee set up after the last war. The Royal Army Education Corps should have the same relationship to the Army as the Royal Army Medical Corps. Our ultimate end should he to have one officer of the Royal Army Education Corps attached to each unit, and having the same relationship to the commanding officer of the unit as the medical officer. I also hope that the Royal Army Education Corps itself will be regarded in such a way that it will have great prestige in the Army as a whole and become, in fact a corps d'elite; because it is only in this way we shall get commanding officers in the units and the higher authorities of the War Office to take it seriously.
I am aware of the anxiety of my hon. Friend the Member for Aston to move his Amendment. But for that, I should have dealt with a number of other points. But the main point I want to make is this. I do not feel that assurances 1582 and promises given by Ministers in this House are enough, because exactly the same assurances were given after the first world war, and when we got to the beginning of the late war, there was nothing whatever in existence. I personally saw how little there was. Therefore, it is my hope that when the National Service Bill comes before the House, or in some other way, provision will be made by Statute for the part education has to play in the life of the Army; and provision, too, for expanding the Royal Army Education Corps. I hope that this present period of international uncertainty is going to disappear. When that happens, one of the major functions of the Army will be seen to have been educating men in citizenship, and completing the wider education of the young people now being called up.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House considers that a comprehensive scheme of reforms should be introduced into Army administration to increase the efficiency of the service thereby enabling a substantial number of additional men to be demobilised at an early date.When I originally tabled this Amendment the second part of it read:… to enable the immediate demobilisation of an additional not less than 250,000 men.That was on the assumption that there are now 100,000 men still in the Army with over four years' service, and up to 150,000, perhaps, with over three years' service whose immediate release could be obtained, I believe, by the reforms I am about to propose. But I understand that there is some uncertainty as to the exact figures. There may not be quite so many; and it may be possible that a greater number than an extra 250,000 could be demobilised at an early date. The chief difficulty that faces anyone who sets out to criticise the vast size of our Army today and to suggest reforms, is that the Government have taken the most elaborate care to conceal any information as to its whereabouts.
As has been pointed out by the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes), in 1936 the details and dispositions of our troops all over the world were given very fully; and, indeed, in 1938 they were given 1583 in exact detail all over the world, presumably, on the grounds that the danger of war was not so great then as it is today. But today we can have no figures at all, except those on the very broadest basis one could imagine. The Army Estimates that have been issued, represent the minimum the Government can possibly tell the country, instead of the maximum. But there is one figure which is certain, and that was given in the White Paper on Defence in February. The Army at the beginning of this year totalled 900,000 men. To get a sense of proportion in this matter, I think it would be worth reminding ourselves of how the Leader of the Opposition, when Secretary of State for War, introduced the Army Estimates in February, 1920, in this House. He apologised then that in April, 1920, or 16 months after the end of the 1914–18 war there would still be 220,000 men in the Army, an increase of 45,000 over the pre-1914–18 figure. He spent a considerable time justifying that increase because, he said, he knew he would be attacked for the great increase of 45,000 men over the prewar figure. Well, the increase we have today is nearly 700,000 over the prewar figure of 210,000, and this is 22 months, not 16, after the end of the war with Germany.
The Government, in the Defence White Paper and in other statements, justify the increase on the grounds that there are many additional commitments that have arisen as a result of the war, and which exist as the aftermath of the war. They do not tell the House how many men they require for the extra commitments. But in spite of that reticence—and I think it is important to analyse the composition of our Forces for a moment, before one can suggest reforms that could be introduced to cut them—in spite of that reticence, I believe it is possible to make reasonable guesses as to how these men are distributed. If some of these guesses are wrong, perhaps, the Government will be good enough to correct them for me. According to the White Paper, our extra commitments are in Germany, in Greece, in Austria, in Italy, excluding the area around Trieste, Japan, and various parts of North Africa. It is not my intention to question the necessity for those commitments. Indeed, everybody realises that some of them are necessary. But how many men do they take up? I 1584 assume that in Germany there are about 120,000 in the Army; in Austria about 18,000; in Greece, 15,000; in Italy, 60,000; in North Africa, excluding Egypt, about 30,000; and in Japan, 3,000; which makes a total of 246,000, only for our additional commitments, over and above those we had before the war; and I believe I err a little on the generous side to the benefit of the Government in these estimates. But if these rough figures are accepted, the result is that the soldiers for all our extra commitments must be less than 250,000.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but this particular Amendment really deals with the question of greater reforms. The question of the numbers of men could be discussed under Vote A, and can be mentioned here only as incidental to, or as the result of, the greater reforms which, I understand, the hon. Gentleman is to propose.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member's remarks must be governed by the terms of the original Notice of Motion. Those terms are, to call attention to the need for greater reforms. It is only as incidental to, or as a result of, those greater reforms that he may discuss the question of numbers and demobilisation, and so forth. I am sorry, but this is the position.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I did consult the Chair on this matter, and I have to show in the first place where our Forces are in order to show how the greater reforms can be effected—and that is what I am endeavouring to do now—I must, in the first place, show how these men are distributed. It makes it quite impossible to show how the reforms are needed, unless one can show how and where the men are used at the moment. I am coming to that part of my argument concerned with the reforms. I think you will then see, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, quite clearly that I am developing the argument logically. That still leaves an additional 450,000 1585 troops to be accounted for. The inevitable deduction is that those additional 450,000 troops are in the United Kingdom and in parts of the Empire and in other parts of the world which have long been considered vital to our interests, and where we have had troops stationed for generations. And, indeed, that is the case.
Examination of the copious Army Estimates for the five years before the war reveals some astonishing comparisons between the number of troops then needed to do the job, and the number now. In 1935 to 1939 there were 2,000 troops in Palestine, and, even throughout the disturbances, that figure never rose above the maximum of 5,500, even in 1939. Yet today the number of Army men in Palestine totals nearly 120,000. In the same period the garrison in Egypt never exceeded 10,000. Today it must be in the region of 60,000. In Malaya, the numbers have gone up from 3,000 to 15,000. In the United Kingdom from 1935–39 there were never more than 110,000 men in the Army. Today, there must be between 380,000 and 400,000 men. As to the forces in India and Burma today, they are slightly less than before the war, when they were 60,000. The answer is, then, that there are an additional 450,000 men looking after our commitments in the Near and Middle East—commitments which we have had for generations. In other words, it now takes 660,000 men to do the job that used to be done by 210,000 men before the war, even in those days of desperate rearmament. The House is entitled to ask why three men now have to do the job that one did, costing £382 million a year, as against £81 million in 1939; and the House is entitled to say that some reforms can be introduced to reduce that vast number, so that we can rapidly relieve the strain on our economy and assist our industry.
There can be only three explanations, or a combination of three explanations, for such a huge increase. The first is inefficient organisation; the second, a happy collusion with the Chiefs of Staff, who, for the first time in history in peace time, are now being given no ceiling, in dealing with our commitments, beyond which they cannot go; and third, the mistaken belief that the maintenance of such Forces in the Middle East and at home, which are so vast for us in our present economic condition and so tiny to the rest of the world, 1586 will be sufficient to achieve at a Peace Conference what diplomacy might fail to do. I do not propose to go into the third aspect tonight, except to say that such a Force cannot be an effective deterrent, but can only serve as an irritant, and we manifestly cannot support it.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am sorry, but I must ask the hon. Member to confine himself particularly to the question of reform. The question of the establishment or distribution of men and so forth is a matter to be dealt with on Vote A, and, if we are to have a Debate on this subject now, we shall have repetition, and that clearly cannot be the case. We cannot have a second Debate on the same subject. I hope the hon. Member will confine himself to the question of reforms.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I am trying to confine myself to the exact terms of my Amendment, and I will endeavour even more strictly to comply with your wishes in this respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I would rather concentrate, not on the third explanation, but upon the other two, which were touched on yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). Maybe, the right hon. Gentleman had his tongue in his cheek when making his criticisms, but I believe that he is right, whatever his motive. There has been gross inefficiency at the War Office in allowing us to have on our hands a force of 900,000 men, out of which only 250,000 men are required for our additional commitments, and in not being able to reduce that Force below 600,000 by 31st March, 1948, and 660,000 by the end of the year.
I now come to the first of the major reforms which I wish to suggest. Before the war, there was an Army Reserve and the Supplementary Reserve, and both together numbered 180,000 men. It was obtainable by the simple expedient of paying these men sums varying from 9d. to 1s. 6d. a day—to men who still had the second period of their 12-year engagement to fulfil—in return for which payment the soldier made himself liable to recall in an emergency on a Royal Proclamation. There were also minor inducements offered to the Supplementary Reserve, and, by these means, the Government had at their disposal a Reserve force of 180,000 men, all of whom were assigned to a particular unit or depot and who 1587 could be rapidly absorbed into the fighting machine, as, indeed, they were in 1939. In addition, there was the Territorial Army, which could be relied upon to supply up to 200,000 men. That is why there were only 110,000 men at home before the war—because the reserves were there, 180,000 trained or partly-trained men, plus another 200,000 men in the Territorial Army. The absence of these reserves makes a difference of 270,000 men in this country permanently under arms. It is no good to say that the millions of the demobilised now constitute a Reserve, because once a man has gone through a release centre, he is lost for all military purposes, and can only be got hold of again through the cumbrous machinery of the Ministry of Labour.
It is my contention that the War Office, by the end of 1945 or the beginning of 1946, could have instituted a scheme whereby as much as 2S. per day could have been offered to the men who were about to be demobilised, if they were willing to sign on for a liability to recall in an emergency, and that, if that had happened, we should now have had as large a Reserve as any militarist wanted. The Class A Reserve need not have been restricted to 6,000 before the war, and that Reserve was always liable to call up, whenever the Government felt it necessary and not by Royal Proclamation. It is the grossest neglect that nothing of this kind has yet been done. We are told that the maximum numbers of reserves provided during this year will be 71,000, but I shall be surprised if there are more than 10,000 today, if as much. It is not too late now to advertise for suitable men to sign on, and also to arrange for the men about to be demobilised to take up an undertaking of that kind. It would be accepted by many men knowing that they would have a specific unit to go to in time of emergency and that they would only be called up in an emergency. By that means, we could quickly provide ourselves with a Reserve of about 300,000 men. It is worth while noticing that that Reserve, before the war, only cost us £7 million a year, which is an absolute fleabite to the huge expenditure which we have to support now. We should only be paying the serving soldiers £10 million, at the same time as we paid £7 million for the reserves. By that means, we could 1588 now release 270,00o men, who are wasting their time "blanco-ing" their belts at home, and put them into industry. That is the first of the major reforms which I suggest to the Government.
The second—the charge of inefficiency—concerns the wholesale waste of manpower in the Army at present. At the moment, there are ordnance depots, record offices, pay offices, pay centres, schools, training establishments, and they are all cluttered up with thousands of men doing civilian types of jobs, and they are doing these jobs in antiquated ways which existed before the Boer War. If one goes to these establishments, one never finds any comptometers or accounting machines. I do not wish to go into great detail in this matter, because my hon. Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan) will deal with it when he seconds this Amendment. The second reform, therefore, is that the Army should overhaul all these Services rigorously, and should see that the tail of the Army is increased in efficiency, but reduced in numbers, and that men are substituted, wherever possible, by women and older men. There are many jobs being done by men in the prime of life which might be done by older men or by women. If the War Office cannot do it, and it seems to me that it can without difficulty, I suggest that a working party or committee should be set up, composed partly of civilians and partly of Army officers, who could show the War Office how to do it.
Another neglectful method in economising with soldiers is the failure to ask the Royal Air Force to assist our land garrisons. Are we really to believe that we need 100,000, or 120,000, men in Palestine today, when 5,000 were sufficient before, or that we need 60,000 in Egypt, where 10,000 sufficed before the war, and that we need all the other tremendous increases that go with it? By the use of, say, 7,000 airmen, it is quite possible to cover the same amount of ground for which land garrisons haw, to employ some 30,000 men. That is the third reform which I suggest that the Government should institute. They should call in the Air Force to help them in their land garrison duties.
§ Brigadier Mackeson (Hythe)
Would the hon. Gentleman explain to the House how he proposes that the Air Force should 1589 assist in the present trouble in Palestine? I am afraid that it would be a somewhat drastic intervention.
§ Mr. Wyatt
Perhaps it would be, but I do not wish to go into too many technicalities of that kind, because I still have a considerable amount to say.
I now come to the second explanation, which, I suggest, is responsible for the huge increase in the numbers in the Army. It is the failure to give the Chiefs of Staff a ceiling beyond which they cannot go. We have got this thing upside down today. Instead of seeing how many men can possibly be spared to industry in this terrible time of economic difficulty, and telling the Chiefs of Staff that they will have to cover their commitments with a particular number, as best they can, and thus stimulate efficiency, the reverse is done. I suppose that the Secretary of State for War sits down with his advisers, and determines the areas in which we must have troops, and. which need a strategical reserve, and that they then come to the conclusion that it cannot be done with less than so many men. Therefore, that number of men has to be earmarked from our industry. The high officials at the War Office have no complaint about that. No doubt some of their estimates have been pruned, but not pruned enough. How can they possibly want 500,000 men in the Army alone, in addition to what they had before the war, to cover the same area?
It is quite true that it is necessary to avoid the parlous weakness that we had in the 1930's, and it is quite true that our aerodromes may require more men to defend them, although I believe that, as the long-range bomber increases in its range, far fewer aerodromes will be needed. Surely, with the atom bomb and the improved techniques of warfare, an additional 150,000 men would have been enough at this stage? There is great uneasiness in the country about the demands of the Chiefs of Staff. It is not unreasonable to suppose they are getting it all their own way. It is well known that, during the war, some of them demanded an overwhelming preponderance of men before they would undertake to fight an action. But we simply cannot agree to that now. The home front is the front which needs the men, and not a potential war front. In any case, if more 1590 men are considered necessary for the Middle East, the Chiefs of Staff might consider President Truman's speech of yesterday, from which it would seem that he is quite willing to take over some of the obligations and the obloquies in the Middle East.
The next major reform to which I will refer therefore is the fixing of a limit for the manpower in the Forces, from the civilian end, instead of fixing it from the military end, so that the Chiefs of Staff can be told how many men can be spared, and that they cannot have any more, and must cut their coat to suit the production policy, and to stop cutting our throats, and, eventually, their own, by their demands on our manpower. But, in any case, the inevitability of mathematics is going to cut the Army for them very shortly. The Government have already promised that all men called up after January this year will be released within two years. They have also promised that any men serving before 1st January this year, will be demobilised before anybody called up after that. When the full effect of that is felt, the total call-up for all the Services will never amount to more than 180,000 men in any one year, out of which, perhaps, the Army will get 100,000. It may be, as the Secretary of State for War was hoping this afternoon, that the Army wily also get 24,000 more recruits a year.
In a short time, owing to these reductions, it will be quite impossible to maintain an Army of more than 450,000 men because there will be no replacements. We can only maintain an Army if we can replace the wastage. But the commitments will remain exactly the same, except for the areas of the additional commitments, which we have now, and from which, presumably, the Government hope to get this decrease of 300,000 in the Army by 31st March, 1948. Unless the Government are convinced of an acute danger of war within one or two years, they cannot justify the size of this mammoth Army. If war were to come within one or two years, it might be a sufficient deterrent to hold the fort until we could call up more men, or until some other Power came to our aid, But even that is doubtful. If it is not believed that we are going to have a war within one or two years—and I do not believe that we are—then why not cut the Forces to the size to which they have soon got 1591 to be cut? If the Government were to aim at an Army of 400,000 by 31st March, 1948, they could proceed at once with the demobilisation of at least 250,000 men by the end of the year, when they would still have, at that time, 200,000 more men in the Army than they had before the war. In my submission, that is a large enough number for dealing with Germany and Austria, assuming that large numbers of troops are still needed there, because, presumably, our troops will be out of Italy and other areas by then. That would still leave us with 150,000 more men for the areas where we have always had them. If the Government got on with the first major reforms—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I must insist on the hon. Member confining his remarks to the Amendment. He has transgressed time after time. He is not entitled to deal with all these questions of manpower in such detail, and with particular numbers in particular areas, and so forth. I have given him very great latitude indeed, and I must now ask him to confine himself to the reforms which are advocated in the Amendment. If he mentions the other matters incidentally, that is one thing, but he is continually going into detail, which he is not entitled to do.
§ Mr. Wyatt
Very respectfully, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I would suggest that I have stuck very closely to the Amendment; I cannot say why a reform is necessary if, at the same time, I cannot say what I am trying to reform. If I cannot say what I am trying to reform, it is difficult for me to suggest the reforms which I think should be made.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I must point out that, in my judgment, it is not necessary to go into the details which the hon. Member seems to think it is necessary to do. He can put the point shortly, but he continuously goes into matters of detail which if discussable at all are discussable under Vote A, which particularly deals with establishments.
§ Mr. Wyatt
The last words of the Amendment read:thereby enabling a substantial number of additional men to be demobilised at an early dateand that Amendment has been accepted as being in Order. If the Government 1592 proceeded rapidly with the first major reform which I suggested earlier in my speech, they could have a reserve force of at least 300,000 in a very short time, and that would be quite adequate for our needs, together with the additional Force we would still have. It can be argued that this is a very difficult reform to introduce, because if a large slice is taken very quickly from the Army it means that we shall do away with the trained and experienced men and n.c.os., which will reduce the efficiency of the units. I have no wish to reduce the efficiency of the Army. One of the objects of this Motion is to increase its efficiency. I remember at the beginning of the war and in the autumn of 1940 that where a battalion had an establishment of 35 officers, they had to do with ten, but they were still efficient. Such an arrangement, even though temporarily it may be difficult, would be adequate for our present situation. Many units might have to be disbanded, but I do not think there would be any great harm in that. The greatest economy and reform could come from altering the system which requires anything up to 10 men to keep one man in the front line.
This is a moment for drastic measures. Many men in the Army are in their prime of life, in fitness and health, and, as we need the greatest output per man hour in industry, we must be relieved of the intolerable burden of supporting men in what, in terms of productivity, is sheer idleness. The Government have made out no case worth looking at for demanding three men to do the job of one, and, even with these reforms which I have suggested, they would still have an additional 150,000 to 200,000 men above their pre-war force, giving them a force under arms of 400,000 men, an effective reserve of 300,000 men or, in other words, 700,000 men at their disposal, and slightly more than the Government estimated for the Army on 31st March, 1948. I urge, while it is not too late, to institute reforms along the lines which I have suggested and to consider the reduction of the Armed Forces, not in thousands but in tens of thousands. They have got to do that in a very short time, and I suggest that they do it now.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South)
I beg to second the Amendment.
1593 As you are ruling very tightly tonight, I shall tread very delicately, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Gentleman has no right to make any such remark. My Ruling is in perfect accordance with the practice of this House, and I must point out to hon. Members that their remarks are conditioned by the first part of this Amendment which was the Amendment of which notice originally was given. The latter portion has been added since. The original Amendment wasto call attention to the need for greater reforms in the Army,and not to move for reductions in strength here, there and everywhere, or to deal with matters of manpower which come under Vote A.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I withdraw my statement that you are ruling tightly. You are not ruling very tightly, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I shall still continue to walk delicately.
The hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes) made reference to the difficulty of getting facts. In my pursuit for information in order to secure greater reforms in the Army, I, too, found difficulty in getting additional facts to support my case. I support the hon. Gentleman's plea that next year's Estimate shall contain much more information so that when we come to suggest greater reforms in the Army next year we shall be able to know about what we are talking in more detail. The hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) referred to the incidents at Tel El Kebir. That is one of the reforms which can be put in hand and which I desire to see. There is considerable public uneasiness about this case, and I hope we shall have a full answer to it in the course of this evening.
It was a happy coincidence that my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) drew the subject of Army Estimates in the Ballot. My hon. Friend has taken a special interest in, and he has great knowledge of, Army affairs. He has drawn the right thing and he has made a powerful case for the Government to answer. Before coming to the critical part of my speech, I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary on being on the Front Bench and on the fact that he will have to reply to the Debate— 1594 [Interruption.] I gather he will not have to reply. I congratulate him on that, too. In our pursuit for greater reforms in the Army, I am glad to say that both he and Lord Pakenham have been introduced into the War Office. We regard that as something that will help us considerably. I would like, briefly, to say a word about the Army Education Scheme, which is another great reform that has been introduced into the Army. It is, as yet, in its planning stage, but it can be of very great value and of exceeding importance to the Army. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has taken a great interest in this matter and great pains with it, and I believe it will stand as a monument to his work at the War Office. It is not often that I say kind things about my right hon. Friend, but in a darkening sky, even the solitary star gleams forth brightly.
I want to speak about the waste of manpower in the Forces today, reform of which would enable us to demobilise a substantial number of men. My case is that in many depots in many arms of the Service soldiers are doing work which could be done better and more quickly by civilians. I will produce a few illustrations to demonstrate my point. First, I will take the case of the Royal Artillery Training Schools, where there are civilian employees. There have been civilian employees for a very long time, but an instruction was issued to the effect that civilian employees should be cut out, and replaced by Royal Artillery soldiers. What are we doing at' this stage—replacing civilian labour by soldiers who have become "available?" That is the euphemistic term that is used.
If it is argued, as it may be, "What is the difference between one soldier and one civilian?"—the answer is that the difference is very substantial. For one thing, a civilian is less costly to employ than a soldier, if one takes into account not only wages, but quarters, rations, leave passes, clothing issues, and so on. It has been demonstrated on an actuarial basis that a soldier costs more than the employment of a civilian. Because of the incidence of parades, lectures, courses and fatigues, one gets more work out of a civilian than one does out of a soldier in a clerical job. This is not related to the pace at which they work, but to length of time they can devote to their daily duties. Someone has suggested, on a pretty authoritative basis, that the ratio of 1595 efficiency between soldiers and civilians is that three soldiers will do the work of two civilians. There can be a net saving of soldiers if this reform is introduced in the Army, and that is the case on which I base my remarks. Moreover, it is true that one would release young, able soldiers who are serving in some of these depots, to which I will refer in greater detail later, who would be able to go back to industry to do the job which they were doing before they were called up.
Let me take, as another illustration, the Royal Engineers works services. There one has work which was done by uniformed soldiers before the war. During the war it was taken over by civilians. Soldiers have once again become "available." The result is that an instruction has been issued that 10 per cent. of the complement of the Royal Engineers works service shall from now on be soldiers. In Heaven's name, why? What determines the ratio of 10 per cent.? In any case, why should soldiers at this stage be taking over work which has been done quite satisfactorily heretofore by civilians?
There are even bigger illustrations, where many more men could be saved. The Royal Army Pay Corps is a classic case. In the Royal Army Pay Corps the permanent peacetime complement has been fixed. Recently it was fixed at 1,100 regular soldiers, 500 conscripts and 1,100 civilians. The War Office know that is what they are going to work down to. I have considered whether I should give certain figures to the House, but I can conceive of no security reasons why I should not do so. At present the Royal Army Pay Corps has something like 5,000 soldiers, 2,000 members of the A.T.S. and about 3,500 civilians. The House will notice that the ultimate peacetime complement makes no provision for the employment of A.T.S. At the present moment, there are something like 7,000 of them altogether.
What is the basis which decides that at the present time we shall have soldiers and civilians working side by side and doing the same job? Where is the dividing line drawn? May I make a suggestion for the sake of the Secretary of State? Why does he not reduce to the peacetime complement, on which he has already decided? Let him reduce to that number now, and 1596 make up the balance by employing civilians. For the reasons I have given I suggest that the employment of civilians would save us money and men and would in addition release young men to go back to the jobs which they have been doing.
I would like to give the composition of one of these Royal Army Pay Corps establishments. Recently, a draft of 12 conscripts went to do clerical work which before the war was done by young women aged from 15 to 16 years. Of the new draft of 12 conscripts, one was an electric welder, one was an apprentice bricklayer, one was an apprentice turner, one was a grocer's assistant, one was a plumber's assistant and one was a journeyman carpenter. They were doing work which was done regularly and consistently by young women of 15 to i6 years of age, and at much less cost. Here we are, taking men out of industry and putting them into this sort of occupation, wasting their time and doing the jobs relatively inefficiently, because someone in the Army Pay Corps had decided to do so.
In the Record Office I understand that the complement of military or A.T.S. personnel to civilian personnel is about to be increased from 5 per cent. to 10 per cent. Why, at this stage in our economic situation, are we increasing the complement in this way? I would like, if the House would bear with me, to give just one more illustration, this time of a compact little Army Pay Corps office, to show exactly the sort of people we have put into this clerical job. It is an office which employs 29 people. There are 29 uniformed soldiers, some of whom are conscripts who not so very long ago were called up to take their place in this office. Of those 29, doing jobs that were done by girls before the war—aye, and during the war—13 were clerks in civilian life, one was a plumber, two were engineers' apprentices, one was a student, one was a timber feller, two were cinema operators, one was an aeroplane cost inspector, one was a foreman carpenter, one was an articled chartered accountant, two were tool-makers, one was a sign writer, one was a labourer, one was a Press reporter and one was a market gardener. That is exchanging the spade for the pen with a vengeance.
That is not the worst of the story. In order to achieve this happy state of affairs the War Office have discharged civilians 1597 in order to make room for conscripts who are being called up, and when one asks what are the type of civilians who are being discharged one finds that they are to some extent middle aged women—the sort of women we are inviting to go back into industry—and some quite elderly men, who would not in any case go into any other industry or employment. This situation is quite intolerable in our present circumstances, and my right hon. Friend really cannot ask us to believe that the best use is being made of the nation's manpower in these circumstances. I do beg of him in his own interests and in the nation's interests to overhaul this state of affairs, which I assure him I have only illustrated this evening. I could give numerous illustrations, but I think that I have said enough to demonstrate what is happening.
We are going to face a very heavy time in connection with the Armed Forces. Those of us who think the Armed Forces should be maintained are having in our constituencies to deal with the natural reluctance of people to see their sons conscripted and taken away. We can only ask that if that should happen the administration will be such that everyone will be given employment for which they are fitted. I am not happy about the position at the present time. I am sorry to say this because normally I like to defend my party and not attack it. In that direction I have a pretty good record, hut we are our party's friends if we expose this sort of thing which is known throughout the country by every mother who has got a son, a journeyman carpenter or in some other trade now driving a pen in some Army pay office. We can get the Army an even greater reputation if we see that these things are brought to an end. If we could introduce these reforms and see greater efficiency in the Army it would release many more men for civilian life to do those jobs which are crying out to be done.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Brigadier Peto (Barnstaple)
The hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) who moved this Amendment seems to have had some considerable difficulty how he should frame it. I went to the Vote Office Yesterday and asked for a copy of the Amendment. I read in it that he was advocating an immediate demobilisation by certain reforms of a number of men which he put at 250,000. Today when 1598 I got my Order Paper I found that the wording had been considerably altered, whether on account of second thoughts being best or whether he thought that the inefficiency shown by the War Office was not as great as he previously supposed, I do not know, but it was modified to the extent that a substantial number of men can be demobilised at an early date. That wording is quite different, and I think there must be some explanation for it.
§ Mr. Wyatt
If the hon. and gallant Member was present when I was beginning my speech he would have heard me explain the reason for the change. I said that as there was some doubt as to whether as many as 250,000 men could be demobilised immediately or even whether it might not be more than that, I preferred to leave it an open question.
§ Brigadier Peto
Personally, I am not quite sure that that is the real reason for the alteration. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]
§ Brigadier Peto
No, Sir. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] My feeling is that if it was left so late as last night to alter the Motion there must be some other reason—
§ Brigadier Peto
I still contend that there has been a considerable change of plan at the last moment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]
Mr. Deputy - Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
I think it is only right that the hon. and gallant Gentleman should accept the assurance of the hon. Gentleman. I can give no Ruling on the matter, but I think it would be better if the point were not pursued.
§ Earl Winterton
While, of course, we always look to the Chair to suggest the 1599 form the Debate should take, is it or is it not your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the statement of my hon. and gallant Friend is out of Order?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I thought I said distinctly that I could not rule the hon. and gallant Gentleman out of Order, but that since the point was so small, it would be better if he did not pursue it but accepted the hon. Gentleman's assurance that the change was made two or three days ago.
§ Earl Winterton
Further to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I must confess that I cannot quite understand whether or not you rule that the hon. and gallant Member is out of Order. If not, I must respectfully suggest that it is for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to make his own speech in his own way.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I thought I made it quite clear that I did not rule the hon. and gallant Member out of Order, but that for the purposes of the Debate I considered that it would be an advantage if the point were pursued no further. The Chair has, obviously, a duty to try to direct the Debate along proper lines.
§ Brigadier Peto rose—
§ Earl Winterton
I really must pursue this point in the interests of the whole House. Do I understand you to say, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the Chair directs the form which the Debate shall take?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The noble Lord has completely misinterpreted what I said. I do not think there is any advantage served by the noble Lord and myself having an argument over the matter. May I just clarify the situation? It is, as I see it, that although I do not and cannot rule that the hon. and gallant Gentleman should accept the statement of the hon. Gentleman, I think that in the interests of the Debate it would be an advantage if the matter were pursued no further. I did suggest that one of the duties of the Chair was to try as far as possible—not to insist on certain lines of argument—but to direct the conduct of the Debate.
§ Brigadier Peto
I have decided to withdraw any allegation and to accept the 1600 statement of the hon. Gentleman. I propose to follow the hon. Member for Aston in some of his remarks, but before I do so I should just venture to point out, with all respect, that he has set himself up as a critic of the War Office not for the first time. I remember a speech that was made by the hon. Gentleman in November, 1945, in which he criticised Field Marshal Montgomery for the same thing as he criticised him for today without mentioning his name, namely, that he was apt to go to battle with many reserves of men and materials and never went to battle without them.
He said again today that he feared this was one of the reasons why the Army was such an enormous affair at the present time. In November, 1945, he also criticised many generals, who, he said, should be nameless, and criticised the Service chiefs of the Army. In fact he criticised practically everyone in the Army, with the exception of brigadiers, whom he dammed with faint praise. [An HON. MEMBER: "He made a mistake there."] He may have made a mistake, but he did say that brigadiers were only human beings. I remember the expression very well, because several of my hon. Friends shouted, "Are they?" He has set himself up as a critic, rightly or wrongly, of people who, after all, know a great deal about it. It is a great deal easier to adopt the role of a critic than to be the man responsible for action. The hon. Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan), who supported this Amendment, to the best of my knowledge served most of his time in the Navy, and his criticism of the War Office is, therefore, slightly beside the point.
Hon. Members may think I am standing up for the War Office because I have some vested interest. I have no vested interest. I have never served in the War Office, and I never shall. I agree with several remarks which were made with regard to reforms. I criticise the Secretary of State for War for not having given us the necessary details on which to form a proper opinion and make a properly thought out appreciation of what should be done under the present circumstances. We are absolutely in the dark. There is no Member here, other than Members on the Government Front Bench, who knows one thing about the way this figure of over one million is split up. All I know from observation is that, whereas in prewar 1601 days we had a division in Aldershot training and trying out all the modern weapons, absolutely keyed up and ready for action, today we have no such formation, and not even a brigade. If we had a big formation at home, there might have been much more reason for criticising the size of the Army, but as we have no such formation, it is presumably true to say that those divisions we have are being adequately and efficiently used in the many countries in which we have commitments. We do not know, or we are not supposed to know, where these divisions are placed. We do know that prewar we had no commitments in the Far East which ate up large Forces, we had a large potential reserve Army in India, which we are rapidly about to lose, and we had no commitments of the same size in Palestine. The figure of 100,000 has been used rather loosely in this connection by Members on all sides of the House. I, personally, very much doubt whether that figure is accurate. At any rate, it is at least 20 or 30 times as big as it was before the war. We had, before the war, no commitments in Cyprus, or in Greece, or in Germany.
I have tried to illustrate why we have had to use a vast number of troops who were not so used in the Army prewar. In my opinion, the Army today has two main roles—first, to clear up the mess left by the war and, second, to prepare to take their part in whatever system of defence is involved by the United Nations organisation. Of the two, the first is the one that occupies our attention at present. I doubt very much whether our Army is being trained with modern weapons, in experiments in modern warfare, and the history and results of the last war. I doubt very much whether much training is going on in that respect. I do not know, and I should be glad to hear from the Government, to what extent there is an immediate striking force should there be a war. I have a feeling that our Army is being frittered away on police and occupational duties. That may be unavoidable, but I ask the Government to enlighten the House on the many points about which we do not know anything. We are kept completely in the dark. In wartime there was an excuse, but there is no such excuse now.
The Secretary of State said that he would gladly reduce the Army, and he congratulated himself on the number of 1602 swords which he had turned into ploughshares. I believe him. Any Secretary of State in any Government, but particularly in a Labour Government, must see that the Army is reduced to the essential minimum. But I also see that if he has not done so it is for a very good reason. He knows the facts, and we do not. The hon. Member for Aston guessed that there were 450,000 men in Britain and in the British Empire doing nothing, but I completely doubt that figure, so much so that I ask the Government to refute it. If it were true that we had 450,000 men in Britain, and the Empire, doing no active service or police duties, or training as a striking force, it would be obvious that they were being wasted. The hon. Member said that there were three men doing the job of one, and that the swollen tail meant that 10 men were keeping one man in action. I think those figures are much nearer the mark. I believe that the swollen tail is apt to grow out of all proportion to the teeth, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) mentioned last night. My right hon. Friend said that there was a danger of the tail swelling and the teeth falling out.
If that is so, I am entirely in favour of cutting down the total to the greatest extent possible. With the manpower saved we have to see that our teeth are sharp, at full strength and ready for action. The hon. Gentleman also said that he considered that the organisation was inefficient. He criticised the War Office for not having instituted a plan for the formation of a supplementary reserve of those leaving the Army, and estimated that 300,000 men would now be available at call had such a reserve been formed. Without knowing the facts, I feel entirely in favour of such a reserve. I think that it would be a useful thing, and that there must be some good reason why it was not done. If it were a financial reason, I would disregard it; if it were any other reason, I would not disregard it. I hope that whoever is to reply will give us a reason why no supplementary reserve was formed of the men leaving the Army.
The hon. Gentleman also said that he would like to see the administrative side of the War Office overhauled, and he suggested that modern calculators, and so on, should be installed in the various pay offices 1603 and other branches of the back areas. I think that there is much to be done in this respect, but I do not blame the War Office for not having instituted these reforms. I would have expected to see them introduced as a policy initiated by the Secretary of State. It is his responsibility to initiate some big reform of that sort and so to bring the whole of the administrative machinery up to date. I do not think that it is up to the War Office, who are there to carry out Government policy, to do it on their own. I think that it is question for the Government to say, "We will cut you by so many men, and you must replace them with efficient machinery."
Another criticism was made of the failure to have an adequate Air Force which would save 100,000 men or thereabouts in Palestine. I believe that this was tried out. Actually it proved to be a complete failure from the point of view of internal security. How could an Air Force, with not too well disciplined ground staff, act as internal security troops, without using bombs?
§ Major Cecil Poole (Lichfield)
On what does the hon. and gallant Gentleman base kids assertion that the ground staff is not too well disciplined?
§ Brigadier Peto
From my knowledge of ground staff and in comparison with the Brigade of Guards, I would call them not too well disciplined. Further I know that there is a battalion of the Brigade of Guards at an air port in Palestine where they have inculcated a considerable improvement in the discipline of the ground staff, by their very example. No Air Force could possibly take on the internal security and the proper policing of Palestine without the use of bombs. If they did use bombs, it would be wholesale murder, and I think that those hon. Gentlemen who are apt to interrupt on these occasions would be the first to cry out against the use of such an Air Force.
Lastly, there was a suggestion that the Chiefs of Staff are getting it all their own way. If that is so, I say that it is entirely up to the Minister responsible to see that he imposes his will, as our great wartime leader my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford did during the war. If the Leader of the Government is not man enough to be able to impose 1604 his will on the Chiefs of Staff and give them a ceiling, then it is his look out, and one more confession of failure.
As the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State remarked in his speech, there is no certainty that we are at peace; there is no world peace yet. That is a remark worth keeping in mind. When Lord Linlithgow was speaking in another place on 16th December, 1946, he referred to this very fact; that when we stood by and watched, all too painfully, the dissolution of an Empire, we were watching the creation of a vacuum into which somebody else will be only too pleased to step in as we step out. We saw only last night, and we shall see as the days go on, this only too true remark gradually bearing fruit. There was the speech of the President of the United States, from which it appears that they are making plans to fill the vacuum caused—
§ Brigadier Peto
I naturally accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but at the same time I would remark that peace is by no means assured. Until such time as peace is assured, I am in favour of no reduction in the Army, except in the tail of the Army if that can be achieved. I have suffered myself, all too often in the past, from successive Governments reducing establishments directly war is over. I am not in favour of any further reduction in our teeth, if it can be avoided, but I am in favour of a reduction of our tail.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Colonel Wigg (Dudley)
British Army history over the last 200 years has a common theme: successful war, followed by years of neglect, the Army getting out of date, another war, and then, at the price of men's lives, the Army carrying through great schemes of reorganisation, bringing itself up to date, then victory, and the whole thing starting over again. I think the trouble is due to the fact that the Army has never been held in as high regard as the Navy. It has been a second line of defence. Its victories and exploits have been far from the public eye. The consequence has been that the Army, finding itself isolated, has tended to turn inwards, with a too loose contact with the 1605 outside world. As a result of the neglect from which the Army feels it suffers, it has become completely cut off and much less efficient.
But I want to say that the Armies that entered into action in 1914–18 and at the outbreak of the late war would have been much less efficient than they in fact were—and heaven knows they were poorly equipped—but for the vigilance exercised in this House, and the control over money and men exercised by hon. Members on both sides of the House at different times.
One of the things that worries me most about the Estimates we are looking at tonight, is the fact that we are being given much less information than we have ever been given in the past. Thus it becomes almost impossible to criticise, or, indeed, to discuss in any constructive way the numbers of men, the amount of money, or, indeed, the reforms which one knows, from one's own private experience, ought to be made. I have given notice to the Secretary of State that, later tonight, I propose to take the opportunity of discussing Vote A, because I feel that if this House gives up without a challenge the form in which these Estimates are presented, it will be doing a pleat disservice to the Army and to the nation, which may have extremely deplorable results in the years that lie ahead.
I consulted King's Regulations this morning. Hon. Members can read them for themselves, and they will find the responsibility for the preparation of Parliamentary Estimates lies with the Permanent Under-Secretary of State. I do not believe that these Estimates were exclusively prepared in his Department. What I think has happened is, that for some reason they have strayed over and been dealt with by the General Staff. I think that, as a matter of fact they are an exercise produced by the camouflage department; they are deliberately designed to conceal information, and to hamper hon. Members in the task of putting forward proposals.
I am old enough a soldier not to be led away by popular fears. I do not believe that the overriding consideration, when discussing Army Estimates, or the Estimates of any of the Armed Forces, is that one should have to look, on the one hand, at foreign policy and then do a sort of balancing trick with the Estimates. I do not believe that the secret of the large Army which we are being called upon to 1606 sustain is to be found in commitments. In order to be able to put forward reforms, practical reforms, constructive proposals, one must find some basis of comparison. I am not going to wander all round the world indulging in guesses. I have used a pencil and paper this week and done all sorts of sums. The only thing I have managed to prove to myself is, that almost every military writer on the subject is wrong, though that does not guarantee that I shall be right. I am not going to follow that course. What I want to do is to draw a comparison with the comparable period at the end of the last war, and see what requirements were put into operation then with a view to limiting the size of the Army.
Fourteen months after the end of the last war the Estimates were presented to this House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), in my judgment one of the great Secretaries of State for War. I think the test of a great Secretary of State for War is not what the House of Commons thinks about him; it matters what the ordinary chap in the ranks thinks about him, and whether the reforms he institutes really reach down to the ranker, to the man who has taken the King's shilling. I also think it matters what the War Office thinks about him. I think of the great Secretaries of State for War, and I can think of only three in this century—Lord Haldane, the right hon. Member for Woodford, and Mr. Hore-Belisha. The reforms which they introduced got right down to the private soldier and the War Office, from top to bottom, hated their guts.
In 1920, when the right hon. Member for Woodford came to the House of Commons, his first words were that, on the 31st of the following month, that was, March, 1920, conscription would be abolished, and that, one month later, every man in the Armed Forces who was conscribed during the war would be released. His second point was that the process of demobilisation had been speeded up, and his third was that the strength of the Army, exclusive of men in India, had been reduced to 220,000 men. What were our commitments then? [An HON. MEMBER: "Russia."] After all, in paying my tribute to the right hon. Gentleman, I must not forget that he had his black moments. There were North 1607 Russia and also South Russia, and, indeed, there were a good number of men there. In Ireland, 35,000 If some hon. Member murmurs "Palestine," I answer with "Mesopotamia, 61,000," and the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Brigadier Mackeson) challenged my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) on the words he used.
These are the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford. I am sorry, but I have lost my place and cannot quote them, but this is what he said. The General Staff had said to him that we must hold 61,000 men. What followed? By 1927, the last British soldier had left Iraq, and a few R.A.F. squadrons and native levies held that country against a revolt in 1941. That is clear proof that, by the use of humane methods and the mere presence of an Air Force, it is possible to maintain law and order. I do not want to pursue the question of commitments. I want to establish the point that, in 1920, our commitments were every bit as great as they are today; indeed, one might say they were greater. They are certainly greater now than in 1939. At the end of the last war, we had 16,000 men occupying Germany.
Where are we to find the remedy for all this? The first reform is the most detailed examination of the Estimates by this House of Commons, based on accurate information supplied by the Secretary of State. We must remember what happened during the war. When war comes along, control is no longer exercised by Estimates, but there is a packet of money handed over by the Treasury, with people putting in their hands and taking what they want, while everything is subjected to the winning of the war. That means, if I may use a slang term, that the "G" boys really get on top. Regulations, and all the administrative action flowing from regulations, go into the limbo. The war ends, and back come the regulations—control by regulations. I would say to any who ever hope to get promotion, "For goodness' sake never forget this A.C.I. or that Order," because, if they do, not only will they get their pants dusted, but they will never be forgiven. We are now back in a sort of twilight, where the "G" boys are controlling policy, and where the regula- 1608 tion aspect has not been fully reintroduced. We have to make up our minds where we stand on this issue. It is not a new one. The battle was fought out after the last war.
Through the kindness of the Librarian of this House, I have been able to borrow a copy of the lectures which, I remember, were given over 20 years ago by Sir Charles Harris, at the London School of Economics. He posed this very problem of the lack of control by any known method inside the Army. The question of the selection of Army Orders and A.C.Is. is not an effective control at all. It means, therefore, that the Army, lacking a firm hand, slips more and more out of control. Even those who have passionately devoted their lives to it—men of the finest minds—are quite incapable of keeping this machine under control. He founded a reform which was introduced into the Army. But what happened? In the first wave of economy somebody came along and cut it out, and we were back to regulations again.
The other evening the House became very indignant, and rightly so, about the £58 million lost in cigarettes. What was that due to? It was due to the lack of effective control. But what happened then has been happening all down the years. If one studies the Estimates, one finds an item entitled, "Balances Irrecoverable." On the latest occasion it happened to be marks and cigarettes; on a previous occasion it will be found to have been decayed flour in West Africa, and, tomorrow, Army stores in another place. I remember being in hospital in Baghdad some years ago. The hospital library had been completely stolen, and the only books left were a few years' copies of command orders. So I sat down and read the command orders. I became very interested, because it was like reading the crime statistics. There was court martial after court martial; the boys had evidently done themselves very well indeed. That, again, was through lack of control. We get very excited when £58 million is lost, but what we want to look at is the underlying defective principle which allows these things to happen.
The other night, I am afraid a little unkindly, I jibed the Secretary of State for War for not knowing what is going on in his Department. Of course he does not 1609 know what is going on there; it needs a thorough overhaul—another Haldane. I had hoped that the Secretary of State was cast in that model, but, after looking at his Estimates, I must say that I have my doubts. It is vital to the well-being of this nation, because we cannot afford to give the Army an unlimited number of helpers. Before I sit down, I should like to turn to one other thing that has to be done. For a long time I have been interested in Army education conditions. I, like many other hon. Members in this House, and many people outside it, have for long been anxious to get the education scheme going. We have pressed time and time again for this scheme to be brought in. But I think it is less than courtesy to this House to produce a scheme of this sort this afternoon, because we are not able to make constructive proposals. I hope we shall have an opportunity—indeed, I propose to seek an opportunity on the Report stage, not having had it now—to discuss Army education.
I urge the right hon. Gentleman not to take the War Office for granted. Look through these Estimates and see what is happening. There are 12,000-odd today, whereas there were 3,000-odd in 1939—a wholesale swelling of the numbers serving on its staff. It is very much less efficient, and there is every cause to worry about the whole system. I hope the Secretary of State will look at these problems, and that next year he will say that he has pruned the War Office and has determined to follow in the steps of the hon. Gentlemen whose names I have already mentioned and add lustre to his own name by giving us an Army of which the nation can be proud.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
The hon. and gallant Member for Dudley (Colonel Wigg) always speaks with considerable practical experience, and I think tonight he has given us a good deal of food for thought. There is one point in the early part of his speech with reference to policing by the Air Force, which I would like to take up. He cited Iraq as an example. I think there is something in what he said, although I would ask him to remember that to police a country like Iraq is entirely different from policing a country like Palestine. It has been proved that to use the R.A.F. in Palestine does not work. Today we are faced with 1610 a situation in Palestine which is deplorable, and we have had many Debates on it. I believe that if today we were to hand over the policing of Palestine to the Air Force we should exacerbate the situation.
§ Colonel Wigg
I was not advocating the use of the Air Force in Palestine. I do not know enough about the situation in Palestine. I only want to put the other Services in to bid.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I think it will be agreed that Central Europe, Greece and Palestine are all rather similar in that respect, whereas Iraq presents rather a special problem. The contributions from the other side of the House reminded me of the picture which appeared in one of the weekly papers recently of the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd). I remember a very fine picture of him exercising his muscles in an inverted position in the gymnasium. Hon. Members opposite have been trying to put an inverted slant on this problem. I think it was the ancient Greeks who first enunciated the theory that before one can have prosperity one must have peace, and that before one can have peace one must have justice. Today we are in a state which is far from complete justice. We have a long way to go before peace is on a firm foundation, and I am certain there would be nothing more disastrous at this moment than for us to produce reforms in the Army, as this Amendment suggests, simply and solely with the object of cutting down numbers. I do not believe that should be our first objective. There is a far more important objective, which is to make the Army as effective as possible, and then to consider what our commitments are and whether we can meet them with a smaller Army than that which we have perfected. That is the way we ought to go about the matter, and not to say, first of all, that we will cut down the numbers, then make the Army efficient, and finally see what we can do about our commitments. I feel very deeply that to do that would be to follow a fatal course. I am sure that nothing would be more disastrous than to do that. I have not had the good fortune to go to Europe since the end of the war, but from what I have heard, to put it mildly, our troops in Germany and Austria are extremely thin on the ground. If they were cut down, it would he an 1611 invitation to those people who might feel that now was their opportunity to do what they wanted and then either to stay on or to go away again. We do not want that to happen. Let us in Europe maintain peace while we have it, and not turn those countries into another Palestine.
I have been studying the Estimates carefully to see how exactly we are to utilise the men who will be in the Army in the coming year. In looking at some older Estimates, I have found some figures which may interest the House. Last year, both at home and overseas, there were 12 men for every officer in the Army, but this year, according to the Estimates, there are to be 14 men at home and nine men overseas for every officer. Going farther back, to 1920, one finds that the figures were 13 men per officer both at home and overseas, and in 1936, the first year of the increased Army Estimates between the wars, the figure was as high as 15 men per officer. It seems that the average over a considerable period is approximately 12 or 13 men per officer. Yet, this year, there will be abroad only nine men per officer. I do not know what is the reason for that. This matter very much affects the Amendment which the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) has moved. It has been said today that it is not a question of a regiment being bad, but of having too many bad officers. If we are to have an enormous number of officers per so many men overseas, it seems to me that we shall be running the risk of having a rather high percentage of bad officers to too few men. The role which the Army has abroad today is an extremely tricky one, and I certainly sympathise with the Army in the difficulties which they have at the present time. They are having to cope with demobilisation, new trainees, and with the job of policing. At the same time, although there is no mention of it in the Memorandum accompanying the Estimates, they have to get in training and to keep up-to-date.
§ Mr. Christopher Shawcross (Widnes)
Was the hon. and gallant Member referring to commissioned officers only?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I was referring to commissioned officers and including the warrant and non-commissioned officers among the men. I should have referred to "other ranks." The great drop in the 1612 proportion of other ranks to officers overseas, from three to four, may be occasioned by excessive headquarters staff.
I am worrying rather over what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Brigadier Peto) said. There was a time when the Army was not prepared for war, in regard to its weapons or in regard to its services, and I do not want that situation to happen again, but we have to be careful. The hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) and his seconder mentioned the Royal Army Pay Corps. I do not know whether they have had the same experience as I have had. Since the original flood on demobilisation I have received more letters of complaint in regard to the matter of pay than on any other matter, so it would be stupid to disorganise that Department, even temporarily.
Many of the jobs which the troops are doing is pretty lowering to morale and, without seeking to be acrimonious about it, I think we all would agree that things are not exactly right in this country for the men when they come home. There are many causes of disgruntlement without adding to them complaints about pay. Many of the reforms which those hon. Gentlemen mentioned are interesting and deserve further study, but I do not think that this is the moment to carry them, out. Later, in due course, to quote an official phrase, further consideration might be given to those matters. Any reform in the Army pay offices which resulted in further delay in the settlement of men's accounts would be disastrous. I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman will resist the Amendment. Improvements can be effected in many other ways. The most important reform concerns the training of officers. I had experience at Sandhurst for about six months during the war. I would now say something which might give a wrong impression, but I feel strongly about it. It is that I am convinced that the more officers are drawn from sources in ordinary life, where they have not held responsibility, the more inadequate will be the handling of the men. That principle has been borne out during the war.
We must get this matter of leadership right. It is a matter concerning young officers in particular, and it deserves very much greater attention than it has had. I hope I shall not be misunderstood in saying that it is obvious that, if people from 1613 a very early age have been brought up to have responsibility and have been accustomed to giving orders, for instance, to servants or whomsoever it may be, they obviously fit more kindly into a position where they have to do the same thing, as a matter of discipline. It does require far more concentration on the part of those who have not had that sort of upbringing. I do riot know how it is to be done. I have thought over this matter very carefully and I am quite convinced that with the men who passed through Sandhurst during the war it was in the course of "men management"—an abominable term—that they were the worst trained. This is a technical matter, and perhaps we had better leave it to the men in the Forces but I do ask the right hon Gentleman to give every attention to it, because it is of vital importance. We have to be prepared at any time, to do anything in the Army and as I see it, that must require a higher standard of training and leadership than in war, because in war the whole thing is so quick and there is the encouragement to get at the enemy, that it automatically makes the problem much easier. In peace time, it is limited, and while it may be said there is more time in peace for a young officer to get to know his men I would, at the same time, say that there is a great difference in dealing with Regular soldiers and with National Service soldiers. More attention has got to be given to that rather than to academic training.
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the Army is no longer going to be one of "spit and polish." I hope he will not make it one of "spit and polish" because the advertisement which it is proposed to put out, and which I hope is going to be withdrawn, is not very encouraging, as was said in a certain journal. I heartily support what was said about it. I saw the poster before I saw the article and the thoughts that were in the article came to my mind too, on seeing the poster. The type in the poster was an unfortunate choice as being typical of those to whom the Army is now to appeal. As the right hon. Gentleman may know, an essay competition was held recently, in a unit stationed in London, asking for recommendations on the way to improve the lives of our soldiers and make the Army more attractive. It is interesting to point out that the majority of those who wrote in in connec- 1614 tion with the competition—and they were private soldiers and upwards—said as one of the first things that, unless the Army had good discipline, it would not be attractive. The entrants represented an interesting cross-section of the Army. No doubt the paper to be put in the Library will further enlighten us on the matter, but I am quite sure that that is one of the things that ought to be concentrated on. Let us get the manpower we have as efficient as it may be and then let us try to get it down. Do not let us begin to get it down until we see what our commitments are so that we may know that we shall be able to meet those commitments.
§ 10.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Swingler (Stafford)
Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House seem unable to make up their minds on their attitude to this Amendment. While agreeing up to a point with the attitude of hon. Members on this side of the House in regard to the wastage of manpower, their first instinct is to support the Army, however large or however small, and leave it to the War Office to look after it in every respect, despite what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) said yesterday. I want to return to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) in order to make it clear that those of us who are supporting it do want an efficient Army which is imbued with the democratic spirit, and one which is commensurate with the size of the population of this country and reflects the skill and character of the British people.
In calling attention to the need for greater reforms in the Army at the present time, why have we concentrated on the most important reform of all—the economical use of manpower by the Army? On 31st December, 1946, we had an Army of 896.000 men. The two main reasons why we have criticised the Secretary of State for War in his presentation of the Estimates this year are, first, because he has not presented the facts which enable Parliament to exercise adequate control and to come to a true judgment as to whether there is wastage of manpower in the Army or not and, secondly, in comparing the manpower in the British Army at the present time with comparable periods and commitments at other times. We consider that it is a most important duty of hon. Members of this 1615 House—particularly at the present time, in the case of all usage of non-productive workers, and particularly also because the Army is raised, and is to continue to be raised, by a system of conscription—to examine this question of the economical use of manpower in the Army and the need for reform in using manpower as we have put it forward.
Reference has been made to comparable periods in previous times. I want to be brief and do not want to go over again too much of the ground that has already been covered, but a number of hon. and gallant Members on this side have drawn the attention of the House to the fact that when we look back and consider the situation after the first world war and compare it with the situation after the second world war in relation to the strength of the British Army, we find that in 1920, when, as was mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dudley (Colonel Wigg), the right hon. Member for Woodford presented his Estimates, the strength of the Army at the comparable period was 434,000 regulars with 62,000 territorials, by comparison with the 896,000 who were in the Army on 31st December, 1946. As we go through the years between the wars we find that in general the size of the Regular Army supported by the people of this country at that period of time varied between 130,000 and 250,000, backed up by a Territorial Army of some 140,000 to 150,000. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dudley has mentioned the fact that when we compare commitments after this war with the period after the last war—
§ Mr. Speaker
Since the hon. and gallant Member for Dudley (Colonel Wigg) said that he intended to raise this matter on Vote A, I trust that we are not going to discuss the same thing all over again. It is a matter which, strictly speaking, would be more appropriately discussed under Vote A than on this Amendment.
§ Mr. Swingler
Naturally, I bow to your Ruling on that point, Mr. Speaker, and I pass on, therefore, to another point connected with the question of economical use of manpower. That is the only other comparison we can make, on the facts presented to this House, between this country and other countries and the question of whether we are maintaining the 1616 same standards of efficiency and economy in the use of manpower as are other countries.
To put it briefly in statistical form, we find, taking the date of 31st December, 1946, that whereas this country had an effective strength of 896,000, the United States had 1,225,000, and France an. estimated strength of 450,000. When we take these figures in proportion to the total populations involved, we find that whereas Britain had 1.9 per cent. in the Army, in the case of France the figure was just over one per cent., and in the case of America.87 per cent. I do not want to make a great deal of this point, but the fact that Britain has such a disproportionate number of men mobilised in the Army provides a strong case for criticism when we have not been presented with the estimates of the dispositions of the Forces. The burden falls on the Secretary of State for War to prove that he is not wasting manpower, that it is necessary to maintain this disproportionately high number of men in the Army, and that he is not a squanderer of manpower in this respect.
I now turn to the subject of education. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) stated, on 11th March, that:One of the weaknesses of this system of compulsory military service for two years is that there is not sufficient in it of the educative process. If he could make young men feel that after their two years they were in some way better trained or better educated, he would make them much more content in joining up."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1947; Vol. 434, C. 1254.]That is why I believe the question of education, which I have previously raised in this House, is of very great importance in the continuance of compulsory military service. It is also of fundamental importance to the efficiency of the Army that there should be a raising of the educational standard.
This aspect has been presented from two points of view. In the first place there is the question of literacy. There is an extraordinarily high percentage of illiteracy or semi-illiteracy owing to the breakdown of parts of the educational system during the war. Secondly, there is the question of the development of a democratic spirit by means of freedom of discussion, training in citizenship, and in the raising of the educational standard generally. I protest against the fact that after two years of con- 1617 sideration of an educational scheme for the Army, it is only today at three o'clock, before the presentation of the Estimates, that the Secretary of State for War, despite Questions by Members during the past 12 months, produced this sheet explaining the new Army educational plan. I believe that the way in which it has been presented shows there is a great need for reform in Army administration. As I have said, it has been under consideration since before the end of the war, and during that time the Royal Army Education Corps has been run down, and the best men with the best experience have gone out of the Army. As a result of that policy of delay, many improvisations and many experiments in the educational world in the Army, in the formation of colleges and so on, have been wound up.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
On a point of Order, may I ask your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? We are discussing a most important matter, but there is no Minister present who has any responsibility at all for any of the matters under discussion.
§ Mr. Swingler
I trust that some attention will be given by the Secretary of State for War to the history of this Army educational plan since the end of the war. I should like to have heard from the Secretary of State some explanation of why it has taken a period of twenty months for the War Office to produce what is explained in this document. When I look at this sheet that has been produced for us today, and compare it with the report on Army education during the war, or go back and compare it with the report on education in the Forces which was produced in 1919–1920, I think it is a disgrace that this plan should be presented to this House as explaining the new Army educational plan and as part of a justification for the continuance of compulsory military service.
In connection with that I want to draw attention to a particular case—I have consulted the hon. Member concerned. I want to draw the attention of the House to a Debate which took place on 21st February relating to the question of the transfer of a certain private in the Army who was called Private "S" to the Army Educational Corps. An argument arose 1618 between the Secretary of State for War and a number of hon. Members about the question of the type of personnel to be granted commissions in, or to be taken into the Army Educational Corps. There was an explanation given about this particular individual, but I regarded the explanation as highly unsatisfactory. The Secretary of State said he was maintaining the essence of education, which he described as the imparting of knowledge in an impartial manner, without any strong views either way. Two points came out in that Debate. One was the question of maintaining freedom of discussion in the work being done by the Army Educational Corps, and the principle that there should be no discrimination in granting commissions or transferring personnel to it, but that it should be done on the basis of the capacity of the individual as teachers and instructors. The second point that came out in this Debate was that this individual who desired to take a commission in the Army Educational Corps had worked in engineering during the war. The Secretary of State for War said:I consider that somebody who is a skilled engineer, as Private "S" was—his service was deferred for some time for him to work in engineering shops—and has such academic qualifications, ought to be used in a more suitable manner than he has been so far."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st Feb., 1947; Vol. 433; c. 1653.]There was a misuse of manpower in this case. Yet, yesterday, in a reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. C. Smith) the Secretary of State for War said:I find that he has no engineering qualifications or experience which would justify his employment with a technical corps of the Army. I propose, therefore, he should continue to carry out his present duties, and I am satisfied that his experience will thus be adequately utilised."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 159.]What is his present duty? His present duty is a unit education instructor—a job for which it was said he was not suited. I believe that that discloses a very serious state of affairs in regard to the conduct of the educational system within the Army at present. It shows a serious state of affairs in relation to the way in which these cases are inquired into. This case had been raised as far back as October, 1945, in the War Office. As far back as that time, the Secretary of State for War could say that this man was a skilled engineer; yet only a few 1619 days ago, he had to admit that the man was not a skilled engineer, and had no qualifications for a technical corps. I do think that Shows a great need for reform in the administration.
§ Mr. Bellenger
My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. John Freeman) will reply generally, but I think I ought to say in explanation that, when I said I would look into this n.c.o.'s special engineering qualifications, I did so because I understood from him that he was an experienced engineer. I now understand that the man has no engineering qualifications. So, I am acting in perfect good faith in continuing him in an educational capacity.
§ Mr. Swingler
I am not challenging that, but I say that the right hon. Gentleman was misinformed in this matter. Therefore, it tends to show that there is something wrong in the administration in that, although this case was under consideration at the War Office from October, 1945, the right hon. Gentleman had been given such information that he got up in this House on 21st February and said that this man was an engineer, with technical qualifications. Now, we understand he is not a skilled engineer with these qualifications. That, I claim, shows that there is something wrong about the way in which the inquiries were made. The hon. and gallant Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low) challenged the right hon. Gentleman whether the Army got proper information as to a man's qualifications when he joined up, and the hon. and gallant Member was assured by the Secretary of State for War that that was the case. I think that this calls for a reform in the administration, particularly so far as it affects the development of the educational scheme, which I consider to be of vital importance in the continuance of compulsory service.
I apologise for having gone on rather longer on this case than I intended, but I would say that we on this side should support the idea of an Army of free citizens who can understand the orders which are given and can discuss freely together. We believe in an Army in which there are continually improving standards of efficiency of both officers and men. We want to support that, and we believe that this House must maintain effective control over the affairs of, the Armed Forces. 1620 But we have not been sufficiently informed, to exercise our right to do this.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)
The hon. Member who has just sat down wants an Army imbued with a democratic spirit. I do not object to that, but surely the first requisite of an Army is to be imbued with the fighting spirit. Before we start suggesting reforms of any sort we want to make up our minds that such reforms are not allowed to detract in any way from what, after all, the Army is there for. The hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), who seems to have disappeared from his place in the House, would, I think, be on stronger grounds in criticising the size of the Army in Palestine if he were equally prepared to criticise the policy which makes that Army necessary. On a more suitable occasion, he and I may find ourselves in the same Lobby. But we are discussing tonight the reform of the Army, especially those reforms which will lead to a reduction in manpower.
I want to suggest two reforms which I do not think any hon. Member has so far put forward. First I would ask whether something cannot be done even now to recruit back to the Army some of the Poles whom we have disbanded. To me it is a very sombre thought that we could take 150,000 men out of the British Army today if we had not been so crazy as to demobilise General Anders' Polish Army. We did it, I suppose, to please the Russians; and a fat lot of good it has done us, because they have abused us even more heartily since that happened than they did before. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman quite seriously, that we might try to recruit on a voluntary basis, at least one division of Polish men to go to Germany and relieve our own troops, who could be brought back home. It is rather late, but perhaps it could be done.
The other suggestion is with regard to raising a Colonial Army. The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon said nothing at all about that, and little reference is made to it in the Estimates. For the last three days, this House has been discussing the general economic situation of this country, and we are all agreed that one solution is to increase our manpower. Hon. Members on all sides of the House tonight were concerned with the size of the Army. We are trying to satisfy ourselves that the numbers of men in the Army today are 1621 necessary, and that they are being efficiently used. But here in our own Colonial Empire we have a vast reservoir of loyal, brave, and efficient manpower. They stood by us during the war, when no one else was prepared to stand by us. We recruited men from parts of the Empire which had never before provided soldiers; and what a wonderful and astounding record it was. If we look in the Estimates tonight we see that the number on the books last year was more than 300,000 men. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is quite possible, and fairly easy, to raise within a short space of time 100,000 men from the Colonial Empire—from East and West Africa, from the West Indies, from Ceylon and Malaya, and from Hong Kong. If the right hon. Gentleman has the imgination we can go a bit further than that. I would like to see the country raise a regiment of Imperial Guards, men from all parts of the Empire, who would have a spell of service here in London to guard Buckingham Palace and the King, a symbol of their common loyalty.
All over the world we have our forces today, some as part of the field army, some as part of the garrison army. I think the Minister will agree that those men who are doing purely garrison service today are getting very little real training, and few opportunities of being brigaded with other troops. Here we can call on the reservoir of the Colonial Empire not merely for garrison troops, but for field troops as well. That would be a benefit not merely to ourselves, but to people from the Colonial Empire. Because one of the few good things that has come out of the war is the opportunity given to troops of East and West Africa, not merely to go overseas but to acquire a mechanical training and experience which they have never before had. A spell of service in the Army would be of the greatest possible use afterwards to the men from the Colonies. What I ask the right hon. Gentleman is: Are the Government going to do anything about it? As he knows, I have put down Questions more than once during the past year, when I have been given the usual formula: "It is under consideration", or "active consideration".
There is now a wonderful opportunity not merely because we want our own men out of the Army because we are short of manpower, but because we have this chance of utilising officers from the Indian 1622 Army who will be disbanded next year. If the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to make his plans now it will be possible to expand the Colonial Empire Forces more quickly, and far more efficiently, in the next 18 months than he will be able to do in two or three years' time. There are the two suggestions I put to the right hon. Gentleman: first, with regard to the Poles; and secondly, with regard to the Colonies. I hope that when he replies he will tell the House whether something can be done in both or either of those directions.
§ 10.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Crossman (Coventry, East)
In the first place, I should like to welcome the last suggestion made by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans), and to add to it one or two further reasons, which he did not give, for this excellent suggestion for the development of the Colonial Empire. I think it is extremely important that we should learn one thing at least from the Red Army and from "Red" China, namely, that the only modern way in which anybody can combat mass illiteracy is by putting people into an army, in the first place, to give them a basis of democracy—which consists in boots, food, reading, and the necessary technical training. I believe hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that the disbanding, which is recorded in these particular Estimates, of some 350,000 Colonial troops, or their reduction to a far smaller number, is one of the major tragedies, not merely for our armed strength but for the cause of developing democracy in West Africa.
I have one other general observation. I think this Debate, and the Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), have finally disproved that the Conservative Party has a monopoly of interest in the Armed Forces and the detailed organisation of the Army. A whole series of extremely illuminating speeches has been made from this side of the House.
It was, to me, remarkable that the only two speeches which showed dismay at the Motion for drastic reform, coupled with drastic reduction of the Army, came from the other side. While listening to those two speeches I could not help looking back to the history of France and Germany between the wars. It is well worth while remembering that France, in her weakness, kept a gigantic army: and, 1623 as the result of keeping a gigantic army in her weakness, went down in 1940. Whereas Germany, as a result of being forbidden to keep a gigantic, old-fashioned army, by being constrained to have only 100,000 men, each of whom became equal to a sergeant-major, produced the cadres of a brand new army of the future. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the real purpose in moving this Motion was to suggest to him that reform and drastic reduction really go together in the modern world. We must cut away the dead wood, and prevent ourselves from preparing for the last war over again; and that, without a defeat, the sort of thing that happened to the German Army must happen to our Army.
It is a sign of weakness in a nation to rely simply on numbers. I believe that the basis of the criticism which has come from speech after speech from this side of the House is, that because this Government is composed of men who, for many years, fought the very existence of an army; men who, in certain ways, are shy of there being an army; for this reason they do not fully realise that large numbers are not the main thing in an army. The mere belief in numbers is a sign of profound moral weakness in the civilian Ministers who allow it, and, often, of military weakness in the Army itself.
The third point I would put is this. We have been told, "Oh, well, it would be a good thing to do some of these things, but not now." I suggest that now is the only time when they can be done. The next two or three years is the only time in which we can say with certainty that there is no great chance of war. The real danger of war is coming five, six, eight or ten years ahead. It is coming when the Russians have discovered the atomic bomb, and when the Americans have piles of atomic bombs. There will be tension at that time. We have three or five years when no one is going to think of starting a major war; and it is now, that drastic reforms can take place in our Armed Forces with relative safety. We may not rule out the possibility, but we can rule out the probability of war in the immediate future.
We discover in the Defence White Paper that the reasons given for the gigantic and inflated Forces are the dangers and responsibilities we have. In what year will the danger be said to be over? The 1624 nearer we come to the days of tension the more difficult it will become to make drastic reforms—which must provide the foundation on which to build the new army; the new army for the next war, and not merely the old army preserved from the last.
§ Brigadier Head (Carshalton)
I should hesitate to take the part of the Government Front Bench, which seems to be quiescent, but is it not true that the reforms at the moment are not designed for the purposes of which the hon. Gentleman is talking, but for the policing of our commitments overseas?
§ Mr. Crossman
I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. That was one of the things of which I was going to talk in the next point but one. One of the major criticisms of the present situation is, that the Forces ought to be organised to fight; and if they are not, they should be put on the Foreign Office Vote and not on the War Office Vote. Or they could be put on the Colonial Office Vote.
§ Brigadier Head
We are now getting down to fundamentals. It is a very facile point for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that our Farces in Germany, Austria, and Palestine should be put on the Foreign Office Vote. That is an entirely novel suggestion. But the point is that there is no mechanism or organisation whereby that could become so. It is a rather facile debating suggestion, which is quite out of court.
§ Mr. Crossman
I must apologise for displaying a sense of humour which, apparently, was not enjoyed on the other side. That was not a serious observation. It was reductio ad absurdum that I hoped the hon. and gallant Gentleman would appreciate. What I meant was, if our Forces are placed in positions where they are not intended to fight, but may have to fight if there is a fight, it is an improper way of disposing of them.
Our major difficulty at the moment is that the House is not permitted to know the complete Estimate from which we can criticise, not only the disposition of the Forces, but the basis of the strategy and the commitments of our Armed Forces. I must protest, as other hon. Members have done, against the form of this Estimate, and, particularly, of that of Vote "A". It is simply a concealment from the House of the information without which it is impossible to know how these Forces are 1625 divided into combatants and non-combatants and where they are placed. I wish all hon. Members could turn back to the normal Army Estimate of 1936 or 1937, to see how these facts are being concealed from the House.
Am I to believe that Russia is going to learn more about our Armed Forces by studying these Estimates than by the usual methods by which Powers obtain information about each other? There is only one group of people who are being fooled by these Estimates, and that is this House of Commons. I appeal to the Minister to stop this nonsense and provide the details that will enable the House to have sufficient information on which to form a responsible judgment. This method was good enough for wartime, but, today, we have to meet conflicting claims, and these Estimates give us no basis for weighing the conflicting claims of the Services and the Civil Departments or between the separate Services themselves.
I turn now to the other important principles by which I suggest right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench might be criticised in dealing with the Estimates for the Departments for which they are responsible. The first principle is the belief that mere numbers of men are a substitute for a strategy, and here I come to Palestine. I agree with hon. Members opposite that it is idiotic to believe that Palestine could be held by the R.A.F., but it is equally idiotic to believe that pouring in thousands of men into Palestine is any substitute for deciding what we are going to do. Palestine is the perfect example to disprove the assertion that no single man is being wasted. What are the 100,000 troops in Palestine doing? They are really providing targets for terrorists and not being permitted to deal with them. If I happened to be the G.O.C. Palestine, under the sort of directive which he receives, I should throw the job in. But it is not only in Palestine where that is the case. We have the same sort of thing in every part of the world where British troops are. The idea seems to be just to pour in units without considering the conditions of actual fighting, and not to bother about a policy or a strategy. It is a policy of weakness, and it does not impress anybody except the people who employ it.
The second principle on which our Army should be based is that no Army should be over-committed on insufficient strength. 1626 Who can say, after talking to any G.O.C., that he has sufficient men for his commitment, if the worst actually happened? You say that nothing is going to happen, but, if nothing is going to happen, why are they there? And if it might happen; should they not be sufficiently prepared to carry out their job?
I choose the instance of Greece—[An HON. MEMBER: "And Palestine."] Palestine is different. There we have too many troops, but no policy. The two principles are illustrated in different aspects of policy. Let us take Greece as an instance of the second principle. There are a few thousand men in Greece. There are sufficient of them, so that, if there were a war between Greece and Yugoslavia, we should be in it; there are insufficient of them to play any effective part if a war actually occurred. Seen from a strictly military point of view, and not from a Foreign Office hope, the position of these troops is indefensible. The sooner they are out, the better, because they are a more diplomatic weapon in a position where the general cannot really carry out his military responsibility.
The fact then is that we have a vast strategic over-commitment at the moment, far beyond our strength, even though we have gigantic numbers of men. There we see the full contradiction of the two principles. I shall probably be told that, as there is not going to be a war, why worry. If that is so, why have so many men? I would like to have an answer to that dilemma from the Front Bench.
My third point is that raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dudley (Colonel Wigg)—the lack of strategic planning. Compare what happened in 1920, when the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was Secretary of State for War. Like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dudley, I also happen to have been working on that, and I have the quotation with me which he was unable to read to the House, but which I will. It was about manpower in 1920. May I introduce it by saying that it was a most uncertain situation at that time? There was Russia with a civil war, and other troubles. There was uncertainty in the Middle East, and there was the Arab trouble. The right hon. Member for Woodford said: 1627Up to the present, the General Staff has not been able to offer any solution to the problem of Mesopotamia, except the employment of a military garrison, the cost of which will crush the country.That was the language he talked in 1920, and we were a great deal richer then than we are today. He went on:It may be by changing fundamentally the point of view and by employing an entirely new line of thought a great saving in annual expenditure might be effected. I propose to invite competitive tenders from the Air Staff.And out of that novel conception came the air control of the Middle East, which proved itself so astoundingly successful. In 1941, with a couple of squadrons it successfully beat down an Iraqi rebellion.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
As the hon. Gentleman is referring to the rebellion in Iraq in 1941, does he realise that the Syrian levies who were associated were a much greater factor than the air force in defeating the Iraqi rebels?
§ Mr. Crossman
I am delighted to hear the hon. and gallant Gentleman mention that, because it enables me to say to him that the Arab legion was also a saving in manpower, and made it unnecessary for us to have 2,000 British soldiers in the Middle East, as we have at the present moment.
§ Brigadier Head
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to interrupt him again, because I think it would be a pity if any inaccuracies were recorded. I do not think that anyone will gainsay the fact that the Iraqi revolt was beaten down, partly by the Air Force, but, to a greater extent, by the 1st Cavalry Division.
§ Mr. Crossman
I agree. My reference to 1941 was highly inaccurate. But I think that hon. Members will agree that the air control which we used between the wars was an extraordinary economic way of controlling the Middle East. The point is that in peacetime air control can be used in certain areas. I am only begging the Minister to have that novelty of conception and to take that attitude which was taken sometimes in the war, and say "You are giving me a crushing burden; I will see if the Air Force can do it."
The main fault does not lie with the Secretary of State for War. He is in a terrible situation. The right hon. Gentleman on his left, the Minister of Defence, is certainly more responsible, and we shall be discussing his Vote next week. I would 1628 say to him that the basis of any reform in the Army is to decide what war the Army is going to fight, and on whose side. One must decide if the Army is to be an adjunct of an American Army, to take the first shock and impact in the Middle East and elsewhere, to hold the forward positions until the Americans have had their Pearl Harbour. If that is its function we can start discussing these Estimates, and decide what sort of Army will be of use to the Americans or not. That has not yet been decided by anybody, and that is the trouble. It has not been decided by the Minister of Defence whether that is to be our strategy or not. The trouble is that no one knows what our strategy is, because no one has made up his mind, and so they say, "Let us have as many men as possible as a substitute for strategy." But if we have not got a strategy we might as well reduce the numbers, because everybody else will know we have not got one, and it does not make us any weaker at the moment to reduce these inflated numbers abroad.
If we reduce the numbers we have to think seriously, improvise, and have new ideas, new techniques and new developments. It is untrue that the great reforms of the War Office or of strategy have been made by soldiers alone. The two greatest reformers were civilians, and it always will be so, because the civilian must say to the soldiers, "It cannot be done that way," and the soldier needs the outside stimulus of the mind which comes in and says, "Try this, try that." That is the function of the Secretary of State for War; it is not to be popular with the War Office, not to give way to his generals but to fight them tooth and nail. As for the Minister of Defence, he has got to be unpopular with all three Departments instead of beloved by all three. That is a very dangerous situation for a Minister of Defence. But still, we will leave that till next week.
Meanwhile, all I would say is this: Do not let us blame the Secretary of State for War because he has not got a strategy or a policy or any idea of what his soldiers are there for. Let us urge that if he has not any of those ideas he should at least have fewer men so that we can have a little coal next winter.
§ 11.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Grimston (Westbury)
There is no doubt that this Amendment has raised 1629 an extremely interesting discussion, but on one or two occasions I really have rubbed my eyes. First of all, the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), who moved the Amendment, started by saying how much better these things were managed in 1938 under "Tory misrule."
§ Mr. Grimston
I thought the hon. Member said a little more than that. Then the hon. Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan) made a very telling indictment about the misuse of manpower. I hope we may hear something about that. It reminded me of a remark by a Secretary of State in the Coalition Government. He told this House that in the Air Force they never put square pegs in round holes; they did exactly the opposite. The hon. and gallant Member for Dudley (Colonel Wigg) then spent some time in eulogising my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) for what he did in 1920, which I was very pleased to hear. Then the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Swingler) got on to the democratisation of the Army which, I must confess, is a phrase I have never quite understood. But I rather gather from what he said that, to some extent, it means that everybody should discuss orders. I do not want to detain the House very long, but I would refer to an article which was written in "The Times" about the Red Army office. It appeared, I think, in 1943. It was written by the Moscow correspondent of "The Times," and I would like, for the hon. Member's benefit, to read out one or two passages, because he will remember that at that time, Russia was right "up against it," and she was, at least to some extent, being pressed to remodel her Army during the war. This shows the lines on which the Russian Army was being built at a time when Russia was fighting for her life. The article says:Perhaps, as in no other land today, young Russian officers look back to the past for guidance.Then it goes on:In catching up many strands of Russian tradition snapped abruptly by the revolution, the type of regular officer is taking shape again. These may have welcomed… a smarter coloured uniform. They have gladly taken up a fuller authority given to them by the relegation of political officers to positions subordinate to those of the military command. Recent regulations, tighening up 1630 the saluting of officers, dress and bearing in public places, the re-introduction of officers' orderlies and officers' clubs, have seemed to them quite a natural development.I merely quote that in order to show the hon. Member and those who think like him, that at the time when that country was in the greatest danger of all, Russia moved back to the old tradition rather than to what may be termed "modern ideas" in discussing orders. I think that the highest military decoration which the Russians can bestow on their officers is called the Order of Suvarov—not the order of any modern or new idea, but an order named after one of the greatest Russian Marshals of the old days. However, that is by the way. The hon. Member for East Coventry (Mr. Crossman) made a remark which interested me very much, and one which, I am sure, we, on this side of the House were pleased to hear. He said this Debate tonight had shown that interest in the Army is no longer the monopoly of the Tory benches. We are delighted. One of the troubles before the war was that the question of the Armed Services had become a party political matter. We are very glad that that has ceased to be so, and that interest in the Armed Forces and determination to see that they are now efficient, is to be the concern of all sides of the House.
The Member for East Coventry also introduced matters which in my humble submission would be better discussed in a defence Debate, for they raised very wide issues. But I think this evening the Debate has brought out a case which does need answering by the Secretary of State. All sides of the House are agreed that within our economic powers now we must maintain the best fighting Services that we can. We are not happy that the present administration is doing that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford in his speech of yesterday, which has been referred to more than once in this Debate, remarked that the tail had got too fat and the teeth seemed to be falling out. To be fair, I do not think that we have got enough information in these Estimates to form a judgment. I do wish, therefore, to reinforce the plea that has already been made that we should be given far more information. I hope that the Secretary of State will do so in his speech tonight. There is no doubt that the information which we have been given is not enough to enable us to come to a proper judgment upon the matter, and I think 1631 it is the duty of the Secretary of State to give us that information now. I propose to give way to him, but before I do so, may I reinforce the request he has received because he has a case to answer. This Amendment raises an extremely important issue. Lest he should be a little nervous about answering the case which has been made, I would remind him of the words of the hon. Member for South Cardiff that while hon. Members behind him criticise with their voices, they will support him with their votes.
§ 11.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I rise to answer the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), and I will, in so far as I can, deal with the welter of figures which he adduced in support of his argument My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office will deal later on with the various points on general matters which have arisen in this and the proceeding Debate. My hon. Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan) said that he would have to tread delicately, and as his speech proceeded we saw why. It seems to me that I myself have to proceed warily because, listening to the speeches which have been made in connection with the Amendment now before the House, I seem to be getting more and more involved in jungle warfare. There seemed to me to be constant references to the tail and the teeth. I shall proceed to answer that specific point presently. Then the hon. Member for Aston introduced a mass of figures, which might have been more appropriate on Vote A, in pressing for reforms that would have the effect of reducing the Army by something like 250,000 or at any rate some substantial figure.
I think the House ought to look at this matter from a responsible angle, and consider what the effect would be if the demand of my hon. Friend were acceded to. I have no hesitation at all in saying that if the numbers for which I am asking were reduced, the result would be to cripple the Army. I have a suspicion that my hon. Friend knows this only too well, since he was a staff officer in the last war. He alleged it would be efficient if we reduced it by a substantial number, but in fact this would make the Army totally inefficient. I may give one illustration in substantiating my assertion. During the time we were demobilising, 1632 and when we speeded up demobilisation, as we did during a certain period, we found that by releasing men in an orderly fashion, in their age and service groups, we had unbalanced many of the units in different parts of the world to a point where they were operationally unable to carry out their proper duties. The result of this was that we had to defer, as operationally vital, a number of officers and men in different corps or units. For example, the result of the even working of the age and service release scheme, upset the signal communications of certain parts of the Army. I quite agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Coventry (Mr. Crossman). It is no good having armies at a certain spot, unless they are able to act as armies. Because the release scheme had this unbalancing effect, we have had to defer men in order to get the various parts of the Army properly integrated, and working efficiently. What would happen if, on top of the present release scheme, which has beer, set for the first half of this year, we speeded up the release to the extent of releasing another 250,000 men? I leave it to the House to judge what the effect would be. There would be sheer complete chaos.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I do not know what has happened in America, I often wonder what is happening in America. I am only concerned, as Secretary of State for War, with what is happening in this country. Our Army is doing a job in Europe which, I venture to say, the American Army is not doing in the same way, although they have a job of policing, as B.A.O.R. has, and other armies in Europe.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Combined English Universities)
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that the Army is being maintained at its present size in order to keep a balance?
§ Mr. Lindsay
A balance in the number of n.c.o.s and officers capable of training the men who are coming in.
§ Mr. Bellenger
We are asked whether the Army has any striking force. The striking force must be related to the balance between all the particular parts. It is obvious to those who understand military matters, that we must keep a 1633 proper balance between the different parts of the units, if they are to be effective.
A substantial point made by several hon. Members, and a point with which I have some sympathy, was that they were in the dark because they were not able to form a balanced judgment, on whether there were too many men in the Army or not. They went on to say that the figures had not been broken down into the different component parts. Quite frankly, though I have no doubt I could do that now with a good deal of effort, the picture I presented one day would have very different proportions a month hence. The reason is that with demobilisation going on at the present moment and with something like 300,000 men leaving the Army this year from all parts of the Army, the proportion between the infantry and the artillery, and so forth, changes from month to month. I cannot hold out any hope to the House of giving these details and figures in the Estimates this year, and perhaps not even in those for next year. I cannot give them until the Army becomes a more stable and more balanced peace-time force.
§ Mr. Crossman
I think that I am correct in saying that the old figures, before they were broken down, were maximum figures. Could not we have these given to the House?
§ Mr. Bellenger
Yes, what the hon. Member says is correct. But he must remember that then we were dealing with about 200,000 men. The minimum and maximum allowed only a small range.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Well, I think that I had better answer these points. I have listened very patiently to what hon. Members have said.
§ Colonel Wigg
Will my right hon. Friend look back to what happened after the last war? If he did so, he would see that his argument has no basis whatever.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I suggest, with great respect, that my opinion is just as good as the hon. and gallant Member's on this subject. [Interruption.] I am very sorry but for the moment I am out of gear—deflected from my course. That is an Army term.
Perhaps the House would like me to deal with the interesting speech by my 1634 hon. Friend the Member for East Coventry because I think he got down to realities. Some of his points constitute my particular problem, and one of the most significant of his points was that we are in time of peace. He says there is no danger of war for a year or two. He says the danger of war will come in five or six years' time when Russia has found out about the atom bomb. Then, he says, we should mobilise and equip our forces. But what will be the position of the British Army? It would be a struggle between the United States and the U.S.S.R. Does my hon. Friend think that we should destroy the efficiency of our forces now? Because that is what is suggested.
§ Mr. Crossman
I really must protest. I am accused of having said exactly the opposite of what I did say. I said that unless we are prepared to undertake, now, the drastic reform and reconstruction which are needed in the Army, and scrap the Army of the last war, we shall lose the next war, because we shall not have an Army prepared for the next war.
§ Mr. Bellenger
He says, "Scrap the old Army, and build the new." The Amendment to which I am addressing myself says "Scrap the Army." My hon. Friend has given so many figures that he is losing sight of the Amendment. The hon. Member for South Cardiff, I thought, did make an honest attempt to buttress up his demands, for a drastic reduction in numbers, by trying to show how we could do that by making certain reforms in the administration of the Army. I will apply myself to that point of view in a few moments. But I was going to say this, that if the hon. Member for East Coventry is right, that there may be a danger in five or six years' time, then the greater is the necessity for us to get on with the job of training our Army. I say that this radical demand for a substantial cut in the numbers of the Armed Forces over and above the demobilisation of something like 300,000 this year, which we have already announced, will produce quite the opposite effect to that which he appar- 1635 ently desires. My hon. Friend asked why it is that we are keeping an Army—and he gave figures which I will not attempt to answer—of such large size in Palestine. I would only say this, that apart from the fact that the Army is trying to defend itself from all quarters in Palestine—from the front, from the rear, and from the flanks—it is at any rate keeping law and order for those who live in Palestine. It is too infrequently recognised that the comparative peace and freedom from war, as one hon. Member said today, and the right to live in comparative peace in Palestine today, enjoyed by both Arab and Jew, is maintained because British soldiers are in Palestine. I would be only too glad myself if it were possible to reduce the Army still further this year. Indeed, I will make every effort, and so will my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence, to reduce these forces as speedily as we possibly can; but such reduction must be consistent with the national requirements in all spheres.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I must point out to my hon. Friend that it is not quite my province to produce foreign policy. The hon. Member must address his remarks on that subject to the Foreign Secretary. My task is to administer the forces entrusted to me as economically and efficiently as possible. I hope the House will believe me when I say that I occasionally become unpopular in the War Office, though not to the same extent as those famous Secretaries of State for War who were designated by one of my hon. friends. But my hon. Friend must not believe that either the generals or civilians have it all their own way in the War Office. The hon. Member for Aston made the suggestion that we were all upside down. Perhaps, indeed, we are. But I think he lost his equilibrium somewhat when he said, as he did tonight—
§ Mr. Bellenger
I do not know, but that was his expression. I was going to say that I thought he lost his equilibrium when he said that we give carte blanche to the generals. It is a fantastic idea, remote from actuality. I am surprised that my hon. Friend did not acquaint himself more 1636 with the facts before making such a statement. After all, we cannot disclose the way the whole machinery works. But if my hon. Friends are serious, let me tell them just how these particular things are worked out. Certain commitments are the responsibility of His Majesty's Government; the Chiefs of Staff are then invited to say what they think their numerical requirements will be in order to meet those commitments. His Majesty's Government then get to work. It may surprise my hon. Friends to know that what the Chiefs of Staff have asked for has not been acceded to in numbers, and that those figures for which the generals have asked—which I am told I should repudiate—have had to be cut down. I assure the House that possibly by next year the requirements of the Army will not be met, and we shall have a shortage of manpower in the Army in relation to the requirements which the Chiefs of Staff have set out. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Coventry, we can take risks, but they must be reasonable risks. We must not take the risks that were taken before the war, otherwise we shall be heading straight for another war. And that His Majesty's Government are not prepared to do.
I do not think I ought to detain the House too long. However, I should like to say, in reply to the general point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cardiff and the detailed argument—as far as I could understand it—of my hon. Friend the Member for Aston, that I am not averse to examining constantly the requirements either of the War Office, in the way of staff, or of the establishments of units, formations including ordnance and supply depots throughout this country or overseas. Indeed, we are doing that at the present time. I hope I can satisfy my hon. Friends, at any rate partially, when I tell them that in relation to the ordnance and engineer depots and workshops, a special War Office committee is just completing a review of their manpower. In addition to that, an experienced commercial accountant—a civilian, not a military man—is examining the whole system under which ordnance and engineer stores are managed. Hon. Members opposite and particularly the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) yesterday, made great fun of the tail and the teeth of the Army. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the teeth 1637 falling out and the tail growing fatter. That is a most facile expression. The right hon. Gentleman is an adept at using expressions like that, which have no substance behind them. He, of all right hon. Gentlemen in this House, with his experience, ought to know that a modern army must have an efficient administrative staff. Hon. and gallant Members opposite have had some practical experience during the war. How do they think the Battle of Normandy was fought? Do they really think that it was fought only by the teeth, the fighting, front line units?
§ Mr. Bellenger
Behind those teeth was a very efficient administrative tail, which was able to keep those fighting forces supplied, daily and hourly, with the stores they required. I do not know whether hon. Members have ever been down to one of the finest supply depôts in this country, at Cirencester. That is the depot which was the main base, which kept the fighting Army, the teeth, going in France. What was the result? The result was complete efficiency; at any rate, greater efficiency than the mighty German military machine had. If hon. Members will take the opportunity of going to see for themselves the personnel running this establishment, they will find something almost equivalent to a modern industrial undertaking. It was the envy of American staff officers, men themselves, some of them, with industrial experience, when they were over here, working in what is called the "tail" of the Army.
The House must believe me when I say that a constant watch is being kept on the establishments of all units, fighting or otherwise, in the Army. It would be a false economy to run down our striking force, the operational units. The hon. Member for East Coventry said there would be a danger in five or six years. As far as we can, we mean to prepare for that danger, if it should come. He was rather pessimistic. We would not put the danger point so near as that. But I am merely discussing the argument he advanced. We have what is called the Peace Establishment Committee, which, during the war, was the War Establishment Committee; and it is constantly reviewing all the units and formations and commands overseas, to see if they can cut their manpower requirements.
The War Office is very susceptible to the opinions expressed in this House, and 1638 so am I. If I find I can speed up release from the Army, I shall do it. Already, in the first half of this year—and I hope the House will give us credit for this—we have speeded up to the extent of releasing three additional groups by the beginning of July—three additional groups, which may mean little to some men in the Forces, but means to the Army a loss of perhaps 50,000 men. I hope that in the second half of this year we shall be able to carry on that speeding up, and I hope that very soon it will be possible to announce the release groups for the second half of the year.
I am afraid it would take me much longer to argue in detail the various points that have been put. I hope I have shown that, generally speaking, we are very much alive to what hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House have expressed tonight. I hope that, even if they have not got complete satisfaction from me in answering their points, they will understand that very careful and close attention will be paid to them, when we read this Debate. All the particular and specific points put by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House will be looked into and we shall do what we possibly can, by pruning here and pinching there, but without destroying the efficiency of the Army. I hope that, in these circumstances, my hon. Friends will find it possible to withdraw their Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)
I feel that one should start by offering one's sympathy to the Secretary of State for War in the trying ordeal of which mention has been made. I feel he will emerge as a practical master of all-round defence, with some knowledge of what it is to be overrun from behind. I do think that all of us on this side of the House welcome the interest that has been shown by the opposite benches on these matters. I think we can congratulate ourselves on the very high degree of non-Party approach to this matter which has been achieved. It has been suggested that we, on this 1639 side of the House, are the natural defenders of the War Office; that is not so: I spent a good deal of my service saying privately and directly what I. thought of it, not always in complimentary terms. But I think there has been a great deal of very facile criticism of the War Office in this Debate, when, in my view, we should have some degree of diffidence in what we say because we do not really know the facts. I think also we should put on record our tribute to what has been achieved by the War Office. I do not consider the other administrative achievements of this Government have been so conspicuous that their supporters are entitled to criticise the War Office very much. Under conditions of very great difficulty, the War Office have done very well.
The size of the Army has already been widely debated, and it raises a very serious matter. I have had very serious misgivings about the size and method of raising this Army of the future. There is a great danger of getting into the Army people who have been frustrated from the age of 16 to 18, who spend most of their time at menial tasks until 20 and who might then go back to civilian life thoroughly disgruntled and not very well qualified for it. We should consider very carefully indeed the method of raising this Army of the future, and I hope the Secretary of State will pay attention to the alternative suggestion for raising manpower put forward by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans), but hon. Members opposite must realise that, if we are to economise in manpower, we shall have to spend money, and, if there is a really lavish expenditure of money on the Army, we might be able to achieve a very substantial reduction in personnel, and by making it more attractive, keep it on a voluntary basis.
With regard to the Explanatory Memorandum, one can divide one's comments into what might be called military and civilian points, and, on the military points, I speak with diffidence, because I do not know the facts, but I am not quite satisfied with what has been said in the Memorandum on the question of inter-Service co-operation. There is a tendency on the part of people who write about the war to say that we ended the war with an absolutely magnificent degree of inter- 1640 Services co-operation and that there is nothing to worry about for the future. In fact, the efficient degree of inter-Services co-operation that was achieved was only arrived at by a good deal of blood, sweat, toil and tears. It is an extremely difficult thing to obtain, and it requires constant study and training, and I feel myself that the only real solution is the creation of what should be a joint staff. I feel that we ought to go a long way further than I believe we are going in the matter of the joint training of staff officers in the three Services.
The next military point is that dealt with on Page 7 in regard to research and development. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) in his place, because I am not satisfied with research and development being left in the hands of the Ministry of Supply. I do not want to enter into the tank controversy. But this paragraph is rather vague, and rather optimistic. It is a matter on and about which I would like a great deal more information and a great deal more knowledge before being satisfied.
With regard to the civilian points, the first thing for which I would press very strongly, is a revolution in the living conditions of the army. I spent a certain portion of the war in what, I suppose, one can describe as a "middle-aged" barracks. It was a most uncomfortable place, and, from a labour saving point of view, was old fashioned. The number of men who had to be used on ordinary household tasks was completely out of proportion to the standard of comfort achieved. Many of our barracks are like that; they require a disproportionate amount of manpower to keep them clean and to make them comfortable. One practicable method of arriving at a saving of manpower would be to modernise and make more comfortable the barracks in which the men have to live.
The next matter I want to raise is the question of housing. This may be a more temporary problem, but, at the moment, I am told that, so far as regular personnel are concerned, they never do more than 18 months' service at home. At any rate, that is the most they can expect at the moment. Most of them have never known family life. The older ones may have been overseas for as long as seven and a half years. The difficulty of getting houses or rooms is a most serious matter for them, even if they remain in the same place all 1641 the time. But, in fact, in many cases they are being shifted about from place to place, and the domestic problem is a very serious one indeed. It is leading to matrimonial troubles and expense, and is a very serious deterrent to volunteering. I suggest that it should be the duty of every station to see that there is a certain number of houses and rooms kept available for service personnel. I think that an allocation of temporary structures should be made for that purpose. It is very important that the War Office, or the Minister, should stick up for their Service on this point, and should be tough with the other demanders of priorities, because I am sure it will have a very direct effect on the number of volunteers for the Army.
My final point is with regard to the Territorial Army, on which I have three things to say. First of all, I hope that, in future, the Regular Army will give to the Territorial Army of its best, both in personnel and equipment. Without being unkind about the past, I believe that everybody will agree that, in the inter-war years, for various reasons, the Regular Army did not always give of its best to the Territorial Army. It is extremely important, if we are to get the new Territorial Army off on the right leg, that the Regular Army should be prepared to give the best personnel to take over duties assigned to them in the Territorial Army.
The second point is that I understand the Secretary of State said earlier that a recruiting appeal is to be launched on 1st May. I hope there will be a proper degree of co-operation from all sides of the House with regard to that recruiting appeal. In that respect, I think that hon. Members opposite can do almost more than we on this side of the House with regard to putting the new Territorial Army to the public in its proper perspective. I hope that is a matter which will not be a party issue, but one on which we can all join.
The third matter I wish to mention on the subject of the Territorial Army is the statement in the middle of page 7 of the Memorandum, about the conversion of units of the Territorial Army. It says:With the loyal co-operation of Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Associations, this has been possible with the minimum disturbance of traditional and deep-rooted Territorial Army geographical connections.In saying that, the fact has been lost sight of that there have been substantial changes in population since these traditional deep-rooted connections were first 1642 made. I speak here with a definite personal grievance. The unit which was raised just before the war in my own constituency, 149 R.H.A., which fought from 1941 to 1945, first of all in the Desert, then in Italy and finally in Greece, was for a long period the anti-tank regiment of the 4th Infantry Division and had a magnificent fighting record. It came back with something like 200 of its original personnel still with it, with tremendous prestige—consisting of local men who were just the sort of people who could start a new unit extremely well. That unit was to be transferred or converted into a heavy A.A. unit. I have made representations already; and, in fact, the role has been changed to that of a light A.A. unit which, I suppose, is a measure of improvement.
I think it is a question of tradition, and if it had had a fine fighting record as a light or heavy A.A. unit—and many of those units had very fine records—it would have started off well as an A.A. unit under the new system. But, with that tradition built up in the recent war, particularly in a new and growing area of population, that unit should be allowed to continue in its old role. Although every endeavour will be made to make the people in the locality respond to the appeal for recruits, it has had a bad psychological effect. I know there are Order of Battle difficulties, but I cannot believe there is any Order of Battle difficulty which could not be remedied even at this late stage. I hope the War Office will prove its flexibility on this question, and even yet permit that unit to revert to its original role. I agree with a great deal of what has been said on the other side of the House. The Army is going through a difficult time, and if we can give it support and get the public to give it support, its reorganisation and the revolution which is now going on in it will be successfully achieved.
§ 11.58 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence two nights ago, in one of the less controversial parts of his speech, expressed the opinion—presumably he was speaking on behalf of the Government at the time—that he would welcome at all times suggestions from either side of the House as to special economies which may be obtained here and there. He cannot complain that there has been any shortage of 1643 suggestions in the course of tonight's Debate, and I hope he will take into account the suggestions that have been put forward on both sides of the House. One remark has been made in the course of tonight which I am surprised my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War did not immediately repudiate, and that was the suggestion by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) who is not now in his place that the recruitment of officers should be limited to a particular class which, in his view, had proved themselves most capable of discharging that particular kind of obligation and duty in the Armed Forces. If any statement is likely to affect adversely the recruitment campaign upon which the Government are about to engage, that kind of antediluvian advocacy of the old school tie principle will damage it irretrievably. I hope that at some time or other there will be a very clear indication on the part of Government spokesmen that this attitude towards the appointment of officers is relegated to the forgotten past.
§ The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. John Freeman)
The Secretary of State in his opening statement this evening repudiated that suggestion categorically in a way from which we cannot escape. If the right hon. and gallant Member reads his speech tomorrow he can have no possible doubt about it.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
I may be doing the Secretary of State an injustice. I listended carefully to his speech but it may be that I overlooked that part of it. I am very glad of the assurance that has been given by the hon. Gentleman.
The universal complaint has been that the form in which the Estimates have been submitted does not make an intelligent criticism possible. It seems anyhow that it has not cramped the style of most of the speakers who have taken part in the Debate. Notwithstanding the complaints that have been made on this score this House is still without that adequate degree of information to which it is entitled and on which alone it can arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. I take a rather different view from what has been expressed by previous speakers who feel that the Army is perhaps inflated and too large and that it ought to he reduced. It may well be that if we continue to accept the 1644 commitments outlined in the White Paper on Defence the Army envisaged in these Estimates will be too small.
There was a very startling admission made by the Secretary of State for War in his reply when he gave some information as to the way these things had been discussed and how decisions had been arrived at regarding our commitments. He pointed out that the question of numbers had been put before the Chiefs of Staff and their requirements had then been cut either by the Secretary of State or the Minister of Defence. He went on to say that next year there will be a shortage of manpower in the Army on the basis of existing commitments. In my view that represents a very serious admission as well as a very serious state of affairs, because if we are going to embark upon commitments when we know that in 12 months we will not have the manpower to carry on those commitments we are faced—and I speak with feeling on this matter—with an intolerable situation. I very much hope the Financial Secretary will be able to clear up that particular point, because if in 12 months' time we are endeavouring to discharge commitments for which we already know we have not got the manpower, now is the time to bring those commitments within some reasonable and manageable compass.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and gallant Member cannot discuss the commitments. He can only discuss manpower. I do not think he should discuss those commitments of these Estimates.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
I accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and I will leave that point and proceed to the next. I want to say this in connection with recruitment. As I have already tried to point out, we must adjust our commitments to the size of the Army and not the other way round. On the subject of recruitment it is quite clear that our overseas liabilities whatever they may be can only be met in the long run by recruiting a professional long-service Army. The sooner we realise that, the clearer will become our general attitude towards this whole problem. I regret that the suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Clifton-Brown) that some guarantee of civil re-employment after long service ought to be vouchsafed to regular soldiers was not met. It would do much to improve recruitment for 1645 the regular army. That was a matter which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State overlooked.
§ Earl Winterton
I should like to put this point to the hon. and gallant Member. How can that employment possibly be guaranteed unless the Government and the Secretary of State will come to a formal agreement with the trade unions in this country that they will allow a man who learned and worked at a trade or craft in the Army to join the particular trade union immediately he leaves the Army?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
I hope that that point will be borne in mind by the Government, because it should not be overlooked in connection with the proposal that a guarantee of civilian employment should be given to those discharged from the Regular Army after long-term service. I am merely suggesting some form of guarantee in that direction as it would greatly help recruiting.
There is one other aspect which I should like to mention and which I do not think was dealt with by previous speakers, and that is the policy of the Government towards the Army Cadet Force. There we have a potential source of supply for the Army which if rightly handled and encouraged would do a very great deal to facilitate the recruitment of a professional army. I see in the Estimates that grants for the Army Cadet Force have been cut from £724,000 to £641,000. If there is any section of the Army Estimates on which there should not be any cutting down it is the expenditure on the Army Cadet Force. It is really deplorable that in all the cuts that have been made that cut above all cuts should be imposed.
It does not square with the assurance given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) when he introduced these Estimates last year. He said:… the Army Cadet Force is in a most healthy state, and we intend fully to support it in the future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1946; Vol. 420, C. 1309.]Those are his exact words, and I am afraid that that the Estimates this year do not show that that pledge has been carried out. The hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), referred to inter-Service co-operation. That is a matter on which he is well qualified to speak and I have no particular qualifications to add anything of value but the point I should like to make in connection with inter-Service 1646 co-operation is this that in these Estimates we see no sign of that unifying influence which we thought was going to emanate from the establishment of the Ministry of Defence. If there is going to be some unifying influence and some form of Service co-operation which is going to reduce overheads and economise in manpower it can be carried out in respect of such services as transport, engineering (mechanical, electrical and constructional) and medical services, the chaplains' department, welfare, legal aid, Service pay and allowances, courts-martial and so on. These are branches of Service activities which do not essentially require separate establishments in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. In every one of the Service branches I have quoted, the Army is the largest user. Why, then, should not the Army take over these services from the Navy and the Royal Air Force and run them for all three? That is the suggestion I throw out, and it is a suggestion which, if carried out, would bring about substantial economies.
Reference has been made to the state of affairs that exists in the record and pay offices, and the fact that Service personnel are being employed there upon work that could be just as effectively carried out—if not more effectively—by civilians. In that connection I note with some alarm that the sum of £519,000 less is being allocated for the employment of civilians at pay and record offices. It is rather unfortunate that this should coincide with the fact that at the beginning of the financial year of 1947–48 an extension of Pay-As-You-Earn to all ranks in the Forces is going to be put into effect. That will, I am sure, impose a substantial additional burden upon the pay offices. Regimental paymasters will have to notify the Code number and notify the correct deductions that have to he made from time to time to indignant Servicemen who want to know why a particular amount has been deducted from their pay. It will also throw an additional burden upon orderly rooms, where, I have no doubt, there will be much sulphurous language on the subject of P.A.Y.E.
In conclusion, may I quote a very brief extract of what was said in a previous Debate on the Army Estimates in this House. These are the words:Although in the present emergency the country places implicit reliance in the wisdom of the Government in the larger demands made upon its resources than perhaps any 1647 previous Government ever required, still the country feels that economy ought to be exercised in all public departments of State to the utmost extent consistent with efficiency and good order.This particular sentiment will, I hope, find an echo in this House tonight. They were uttered by a Member speaking on the Debate on the Army Estimates on 1st March, 1847. It is taking a long time to achieve the very worthy object set out in this speech made 100 years ago in this House. Hon. Members of opposition parties, which have enjoyed power for most of that period, have apparently failed to achieve this object. I very much hope that in a few more years of Labour rule we shall at last find ourselves as a legislative assembly in full control over our Services and other Departments, so that we can discharge efficiently those duties which the electorate has placed in our hands.
§ 12.14 a.m.
§ Mr. John Morrison (Salisbury)
I do not want to keep the House very long at this late hour, and I hope the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down will forgive me if I do not follow him in detail. Members on this side of the House welcome the fact that he deprecated the cut in the amount granted to cadet forces, which help young fellows so much in their general training for life.
I want to refer very briefly to one or two points which the Secretary of State made in his opening speech, now some hours ago. He referred to the fact that there was no new equipment being used by the Army at the present time. In a number of the speeches that have been made it has been emphasised that it is no good having a large Army unless it is an efficient one. While I quite appreciate that at the present time we cannot expect a mass of new equipment to be issued to the Army, I think it will be in the minds of many people as to what is going on with regard to the inventing of new equipment and weapons. That is an important point. I believe I am right in saying that in the war years there was a new invention every four months. Well, of course, I would not expect the Front Bench opposite to mention secrets across the Floor of the House, but it is an important point which should be borne in mind that these scientists working for the Army are of the greatest importance to the technical side of modern 1648 warfare, and I hope that they will receive adequate remuneration for their tasks. Their work is of increasing importance in relation to the warfare of the future, and we do not want those who might be producing weapons for the future, to be driven away from their jobs because of not getting adequate pay.
Another point I would raise briefly is concerned with the fact that the Secretary of State for War prided himself that he had, by the sale of surplus Army material, brought in a considerable saving to the Exchequer. I would reply that in my part of the country there is a big dump, and there has been some unfavourable comment lately because nearly all the Army motor cars have been sold by auction and have been found with split cylinder blocks and radiators through lack of maintenance. A lot of money could have been saved if there had been proper maintenance in these cases.
Reference has been made to the accommodation necessary for the Army. Apparently it is in short supply. Tidworth is not one of the most beautiful, but is certainly one of the most modern of our barracks, and it is nearly empty. I think that a little money spent on the war damage there would produce some of that accommodation which is wanted so much. On the subject of the Territorial Army, I think the Secretary of State for War said it was divided into three elements. There is first the permanent staff, which is more liberal than it has been before. But in the White Paper we read that the Vital permanent staff will amount to approximately only two per cent. of the overall establishment of all units in the Army. On this I would like to give two quotations from a letter which has been written to me by a newly appointed commanding officer who has a job of helping to reconstitute the Territorial Army. He writes:While in prewar days we had the use of eight official drill halls, we will now have only five, and it is well to remember that modern training equipment requires far more looking after, while the staff of P.S.I's has in point of fact been reduced. There are insufficient on the establishment of permanent staff to keep equipment in good working order.I think that that is in accordance with my own view because of the increasing technical tendencies, of the Territorial Army in particular.
I conclude by saying that the Territorial recruiting staffs, which start in May, 1649 deserve every success in that recruiting, and I would quote the second extract from the letter to which I have referred before the Financial Secretary replies. It reads:You cannot have it both ways. You have either got to accept the principle that the Territorial Army is bound to require further training after embodiment, or provide a far larger permanent staff who are numerically and proficiently able to train the Territorials
§ 12.20 a.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
I will not follow the hon. and gallant Member in his politics, but this House must realise that we are approaching this question of recruitment in a different atmosphere entirely from that in which we approached it in 1913 and before the last war. Unemployment and poverty were the things which threw our young men into the various Forces. The Forces were looked upon as places, where they could get their food stakes, and the tendency was to look down on them. But, during the war, our education system did something to raise the technical and other efficiency of the men and women who fought for this country. A large percentage of these men and women came from the ordinary secondary and grammar schools, and had to work their way up from an elementary standard of education to university and technical standards, and thereby they contributed technically to the winning of the war. I want these things to be remembered in relation to the new Army. Our strongest defence is not masses of men floating from Continent to Continent without a policy, but a concentration of efficiency, and behind that efficiency a second army working in the factories of Britain, so that our technical skill, our machines and retooling will be second to none in the world. We can have a million, or two million, of men in an Army, as the hon. Member for East Coventry (Mr. Crossman) pointed out when he gave the analogy of the French Army, which collapsed because there was neither the fibre nor the industrial core behind it to keep it in the field. Consequently we cannot, in this manpower crisis, afford to miss that fundamental point.
There is no similarity between this crisis and that of 1931. It is not a crisis arising from our inability to find money, but a crisis of flesh and blood. The issue is manpower. I believe that my right hon.
1650 Friend, the Secretary of State for War, tonight has seen that on both sides of this House, there is a demand for an overhaul of the situation, so that we can economise to the utmost in this issue of manpower. I would like to draw the attention of the House to the statement of the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans), that it was not the democratic spirit which came first; that it is the fighting spirit that we wanted to build up. I believe that Cromwell, in forming his "New Model" Army, realised that men must know for what they are fighting. The men of the democratic countries of the world fought well when their backs were to the wall, and in fact, that lay behind the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) when in his appeal to the nation he offered nothing but blood and sweat and toil and tears. He believed in the general democratic fibre which indeed created the fighting spirit of this country. I think the hon. Member for Hornsey was making a mistake in emphasising the fighting spirit in contradistinction to the democratic spirit.
To keep the democratic spirit it is more important than ever to see that we have a first-class educational system. I would like also to say that I am in agreement with the hon. Member for Hornsey, and with other hon. Members, including the hon. and gallant Member for Dudley (Colonel Wigg), who in Colonial Debates has mentioned this, that we have not yet explored the possibilities of using Colonial troops. By using them properly, we could contribute to the raising of the standard of life in those countries. The troops I saw working in India and Burma who came from East and West Africa, when they went back to those countries must have made, and ultimately will make, a great contribution to raising the standard of life there. Cannot we use these troops intelligently, for policing and other purposes, on the borders of the Colonial Empire, and if we still think they are needed, build them up and have a democratic Commonwealth Force? In this crisis of manpower, 76 per cent. of the Army at present is 25 years of age and under. Here is the virility of the nation, its life blood; and that is the tragedy of it at this moment, when we want to galvanise the nation, which is tired after the war, into energy and 1651 enthusiasm, to build up again our industrial activities.
This Government must break down the old unpopularity of the Army. A paradox of British history is the fact that the Army has not been looked upon favourably since the days of King Charles I. We have it in our Constitution; we have it emphasised in the Bill of Rights, in the Mutiny Act, and in the voting of funds for defence. That unpopularity is often forgotten. If the social history of this country is analysed, it will be seen that that unpopularity was built upon what happened in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Army was used as an instrument of coercion, and as an instrument of despotism against the British people during the period of the Industrial Revolution, during the Peterloo period and at other times. I believe we have now got rid of that. We must use our Forces to support what we believe will be a system of collective security.
This is my third point. Have we a policy with regard to the United Nations organisation in relation to world affairs, and in relation to construction and the Security Council about which we talk? Do we really mean what we say so far as the United Nations organisation is concerned, or are we still perturbed about focal points, power, routes, markets, areas of investment, and oil in the Middle East, as would appear from what I thought was a dangerous discussion that took place tonight? It seemed from that discussion that hon. Members on both sides were expecting another war within a measurable period. What is the matter? Have we forgotten, in this scientific age, that there is a different type of warfare—atomic warfare? What do land manpower and large forces mean in relation to atomic power? While I want our Army to be efficient for the defence of democracy, I say that to talk in terms of a million or a million and a quarter men in an atomic age is just wasting time when we should be building up scientific research and an industrial background. A British people's Army, far from being lax and easy going, would he an Army that would lend itself to democratic discipline. An hon. and gallant Member opposite used the words "democracy" and "discipline," and linked the two. How can we have democracy and discipline? We are asking for democratic 1652 reform in the Army; we are not asking for licence. We are merely asking that the men should be treated as men, and not treated in the manner pointed out by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), in connection with certain courts-martial.
I came to the House today expecting to find a first-class statement on Army education. I, as a Member of Parliament, had pushed into my hands a thing that looks like a Sunday school syllabus—12 lessons for 12 weeks. And that is supposed to deal with the principles and classification of education, preliminary and general. That is what is put into the hands of Members of Parliament 10 minutes before they are to discuss the issue of education. Consequently, it is practically impossible to discuss Army education in relation to these issues intelligently. I say nothing about the magnificent work done by the universities, civilian organisations and the advisory councils in the six years of war. What is the relationship of the universities to Army education? What relationship are the advisory councils to bear? A point h should like followed up is: Are there to be full-time civilian lecturers on the advisory councils? If so, will there be a superannuation scheme for these men, civilians, who are to give up their time permanently for Army education?—because the need for civilians is there. That is a point which should be noted by the Secretary of State. In the very near future I should like to have something much better than two sheets of cyclostyled paper dealing with Army education. I think it is right at this juncture, when, in a transitional stage, a new Army is being formed, that the basic principles of its structure and its life should be examined by this House, and that the educational service in the Army should be examined, with special emphasis on the work done by the Advisory Council this last six years. It is Army education that can build up an understanding of what the Army should do to defend the country that it loves, in relation, I believe. to true democracy.
§ 12.30 a.m.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
I listened with interest to what was said by the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies). I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him more than in saying, that I do much agree with him in what 1653 he said about the recruiting of Colonial forces. I hope the recruiting of Colonial forces will be encouraged, and I hope that some other fighting races will not be omitted. I believe it will be possible, even after we have left India, for the Ghurkas to be recruited to our Army; and some of the finest troops with whom I ever served were the Assyrians in Iraq, to whom I referred earlier in the Debate. We have also benefited in the past from foreign legions of European troops, particularly in the Napoleonic Wars.
I rise only to make one point. I do not want to do more at this late hour. I want to raise the question of the accommodation of our Army in Palestine at the present time. The greater part of that Army is under canvas. There are two types of camps, the permanent camps and the deployment camps. I believe progress towards providing comfort in the permanent camps has been made, but it is progressing very slowly indeed; terribly slowly. Some of the troops' tents have still no electric light, though it was agreed in November, 1945, that it should be supplied. The latrines and washing accommodation are still very inadequate. Standings for vehicles in many camps are still not completed. The deployment camps are supposed not to be occupied all the time, but actually, in the present conditions, they are, in many cases, permanently occupied, too. There are only the bare necessities of life in them. There are no N.A.A.F.I. services, or dining halls; and, in many cases, the tents have no floor boards. I think anybody who has lived in tents for any long period knows how much they require floor boards, and the discomfort the absence of them means. They know how difficult it is to be clean and tidy if kit is being mixed up in the sand all the time.
I believe that all this is not the fault of the local military authorities. I think it is due to that old excuse so often put forward—the lack of labour and materials. I am asking what it is due to, because then we shall be half way to having it corrected. What is distressing is that the Royal Air Force accommodation is much better. Their camps are mostly lit and hutted. Why should there be this difference between the Services? I feel strongly that this should not be the case. One does not expect a very high standard in what is practically a state of war, but I think that things could have been improved by 1654 now. People are very apt to think the climate of the Near East is a lot better than it is. Those who have been there know better. In Iraq I have experienced a difference of 100 degrees between summer and winter temperatures in the same camp; and everyone, knows the difference between the day and night temperatures. There is heavy rain in Palestine at times, and the dust storms are nearly as unpleasant. I believe that a reasonable standard of comfort should be provided, if at all possible. I do not think that a man is any the better soldier for having sand in his food, having to strain his eyes reading by a hurricane lamp or being unable to sleep because of being cold and wet, and I hope the condition of these men will receive attention.
§ 12.35 a.m.
§ Mr. Wilkes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
I am extremely grateful for being able to take part in this Debate, even at this late hour, because I am one of the few hon. Members who have made not the slightest intervention in this Debate so far. I was extremely pleased to hear so many hon. Members in the last hour and a half make reference to the role which Colonial troops could play, in helping to solve our manpower problem and in the solution of the problem of Imperial defence. These War Office Estimates are really subordinate to the whole of our defence policy and very largely dependent upon it, and I was grateful to the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) for pointing out that that the Estimates showed that it was not only the British Army with which we are dealing, but a Commonwealth Army. The Defence Estimates published in February, 1946, had one paragraph on the contribution which the Commonwealth and the Colonies could make towards our burden of Imperial defence. But the subsequent Defence White Paper of 1947, recently published, made not the slightest reference to the contribution or co-operation that might be expected in future from the Dominions. I should like an assurance from the Financial Secretary that the omission in the last White Paper, and the one tardy paragraph in the White Paper of 1946, are not symptomatic of the attitude of the War Office to this problem.
The War Minister and the Financial Secretary have had Many questions put to them today, some of which they have not answered very convincingly, but I 1655 should like an assurance on one point. The Colonial Forces are being reduced from 330,000 to 87,000. At the same time, the Colonial Office have had in the War Office for the last 14 months a proposal that the King's Regulations which prevent, in peace time, an African or a West Indian from taking a regular engagement with the British Forces should be abolished. For 14 months, this Colonial Office recommendation has remained in the files of the War Office. I would like the Financial Secretary to take his courage in both hands and tell us quite frankly whether or not the War Office is prepared to utilise the services of our Colonial friends, in exactly the same way as the Royal Air Force has already decided to do, when it discarded the colour bar some four or five months ago. There is a great fund of good will towards this country in the Colonies, and speakers in both Houses of Parliament in recent months have spoken at some length on the role which the Colonial troops might play. Speakers like Viscount Trenchard, who have devoted some attention to this matter in another place, have rather tended to look upon the Colonial troops in terms of pioneer activities. I do not think that is the right attitude to adopt about this problem at all. We want the African to have the entree to Sandhurst. We want the African or the West Indian, or any member of the Colonies who shows sufficient aptitude, to have the proverbial field-marshal's baton in his knapsack. Not until he can make his contribution upon an equal basis of dignity and citizenship with the white soldier, will we get that willing Colonial contribution. There is a vast reserve of manpower and of good will, and I hope that the War Office, and especially the War Minister, is going to stand out against any obstruction in the War Office to the proposal that the African and the West Indian should come in on an equal basis, and share our defence responsibility.
I am extremely in earnest when I say this. For an Empire with our responsibility, and with our burdens and commitments, I believe that it must either be defended by its citizens, black, brown and white, on a basis of equal citizenship, or that it is indefensible. We are a fine people, but, in some ways, we rather lack imagination. Whether we like it or not, this business of having the entry in 1656 peacetime, as distinct from wartime, to the King's Commission, is taken in Africa, and in the Indies, as a kind of symbol of equality. We should do ill, I think, to under-estimate what this issue has become in the eyes of many of our Colonial subjects, who, especially after serving in the 1914–18 war in commissioned rank, were, as a result of the institution of the colour bar after that war, not even allowed to appear on the reserve of officers—men who had served loyally and gallantly. I suggest that we want no repetition of that kind of nonsense.
The other point which I wanted to raise very specifically was one in the Memorandum. headed "Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst." It is stated that the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, has now been constituted as the normal mode of entry for commission, except in certain technical services, such as the Royal Army Medical Corps. It is stated that there are two types of men who are to have entry into the Academy: the first class, those who satisfy the Commissioners that they are worthy, after a short preliminary service in the ranks, to become officers; and the second class, those who show a capacity for leadership, judgment and responsibility in the ranks. But the extremely serious qualification, especially in regard to this latter group, is that the upper age limit for candidates of both types would be 19½ at the time of entry. I put it to the Financial Secretary to the War Office that it is, indeed, a little hard on people of 19½, especially those who have probably not had the benefit of as good a start in life as they might have had, to show the qualities necessary for a commission at that early age. I want some kind of assurance from the Financial Secretary that the age unit will be raised in order to allow men who, later in life, show signs that they will be able to take a fair responsibility of high commissioned rank, to do so.
The next point that I want to mention is the basic question of our manpower. As at present envisaged, in April of next year the Army will be taking 1.90 of our total population. In America, the total will be only 0.87 of the whole population. Can we allow this immense commitment of the Armed Services to make much greater inroads into our manpower than, obviously, even the United States of America think that they can bear?
1657 I should have thought that the correct way of trying to get the right balance between civilian production and the Armed Services was for the Manpower Committee of the Cabinet to determine what was the minimum amount of civilian productive labour necessary to keep us on an even keel, and then go to the Defence Chiefs and say to them, "There is your maximum. That is all you can have. Show us your position and strategy with that total figure which we allow you." Instead of which, if the Secretary of State for War is correct, we took the estimates of manpower, we pruned them down—how much I do not know, because we have not had the facts—and then we accepted them. I had some years in a machine gun regiment in the course of the war, and whenever I was asked what I wanted, whether in terms of men or equipment, I always put my requirements at about twice as high as what I actually wanted. I did that always because I knew I would get less than half of what I asked for. That is the way things work in the Army. Therefore, I suggest that we put the cart before the horse and, instead of asking the Defence Chiefs what was their minimum, we should have told them, after making our civilian estimates, what was the maximum.
The last point I wish to raise is that in letters which I get, as most hon. Members get, from all over the world, the constant plea is, "Why cannot we have the same amenities as the Americans?" I suppose hon. Members get letters from Japan especially, and it may be impossible for this country to afford its troops the amenities which the Americans and even the Australians afford their troops, but, at least, I was glad to see in the speech of the Secretary of State for War an end to that tradition in our Army that almost anything is good enough for the ordinary soldier. I was always shocked to discover the attitude in the early days of the war that almost anything was good enough for the private soldier. The private soldier was always expected to sleep in his shirt, and was always expected to put up with N.A.A.F.Is. which were in a filthy condition and which sold very little apart from undrinkable tea in the early days of the war. Although we may not be able to give our soldiers the standard of life in the Army which the Americans can afford, at least I was glad to see 1658 as an omen in the speech of the Secretary of State that we have now got over the stage that anything is good enough for the British soldier.
§ 12.48 a.m.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
While there is a necessity for discussion on defence it is essential that we, as a House of Commons, should give all support to those in whose hands defence and matters which relate to it lie. I agree partly with the beginning of the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Dudley (Colonel Wigg), and I trust that the state of training and of equipment in which we were at the beginning of both wars, to which he referred, will never occur again. I see signs already of that happening. It has happened twice before, and I see no reason at the moment, unless things are altered, why it should not recur. The reasons are still there, and unless they are watched very carefully it will happen again. It will mean a repetition of what we have seen so often—men without experience and knowledge being poured into uniform. God forbid that there ever should be another war, but if there is, it will again be against a highly organised, highly equipped and numerically superior enemy.
There are, therefore, a few constructive proposals which I propose to put before the House as shortly as possible as a result of my experience. I personally do not consider that numbers, as has already been said, are the only criterion in these days of mechanisation and highly efficient warfare. Money matters more, and always in the past the Treasury has been the stumbling block in providing training equipment and proper facilities. I hope that the Secretary of State will fight hard for the soldiers in that matter on every opportunity that arises.
I should like to ask one question regarding experimental establishments. During the war they rose to a high standard and I hope they will not be allowed to deteriorate. Not only is money required for these services, but money is also needed to see that the civilian brains employed in them are given adequate remuneration, so that they will not be tempted away to private industry. Let us not forget the lesson of the war—the vital necessity of the users' suggestions in these matters. It is the user who knows what he wants. Whether it can be produced is, maybe, a matter for the expert, but it must be 1659 his view which is the basis of discussion. It was only in the latter part of the war that we got that particular aspect working properly. I know the case of a sergeant-major, who was in my own regiment, who invented the flare tank in 1940. He put it up to the authorities, but nothing more was heard about it until some Colonial troops used it a few years later. That was a perfect example of what I am trying to bring before the House.
I would also like to mention the mortar. We ended this war using the same mortar with which we started the 1914–18 war. Not that it is not a good mortar but it has been used for many, many years. It was our only weapon against the German modern weapon which could be moved quickly when heavy fire forced its movement, and in a new position could in a short time be firing accurately on our lines. I hope that something will be done for the infantry in that connection. In regard to training, it will be necessary to train our men for much longer periods than in the past, and I am convinced that training will be absolutely valueless without the use of live ammunition after the elementary stage. Furthermore, it is quite wrong to train unless it is done in co-operation with all three Forces and not as has been the case in the past at the high levels, but right from the bottom. The level should be the platoon, even if there is only one gun and one aeroplane. The thing must be done from the beginning with the Navy and Air Force co-operating so that when the junior officers become senior officers, they will know the basis of the whole setup and it will not be the case as it was in times past that we had to go on our hands and knees to get things done. They will know instinctively how it is done, and what is wanted. The man on the ground, will know instinctively what are the limitations of the man above.
As far as training areas are concerned I have only one suggestion to make. Until the White Paper is issued, one cannot criticise, but clearly it is useless to have an Army unless it is trained, and as we cannot train abroad, because the Territorials cannot go abroad, certain areas of this country have got to be handed over to the military to be used for training purposes. The suggestion that I have to make arises from an experience which I had in Yorkshire during the war. I was taking my brigade to moorland in Yorkshire for 1660 training, and I met with appalling opposition from farmers and others. Even one Member of Parliament suggested at a meeting that I should take my men and train them on the sands at Bridlington. The brigade had never been in open country before, and did not know how to find its way across open country, and yet that was a suggestion made by an M.P. in my hearing. I got up at the meeting and I let fly on that subject. It required a few words of explanation before we got working on that moor. Eventually, the local people welcomed the troops wherever they went. Incidentally, the Ministry of Food estimated that the damage to the crops would be about 80 per cent. but in actual fact the farmers told us it was never more than 25 per cent. The suggestion that I want to make is that, when training has to be done in such areas, senior officers should be sent down to explain the situation and they will find as always that the British people are very sympathetic.
We are all disappointed with the figures for recruitment. I have one suggestion to make in regard to that and it is largely a question of pay. I still do not believe that our Forces are being adequately paid and I will give the House one example. It is not a question of comparing the pay now with the pay before the war but rather with civilian rates. If a man can get more pay in civilian life, he is not going into the Army and that is the crux of the problem. In the new code of pay there is a 69 per cent. increase over the rates of pay in 1938, but the "Ministry of Labour Gazette" shows that there has been an 80 per cent. increase in civilian wages in the same period. Take the figure for the first-class private soldier. He gets 49s. plus 20S. home service allowance, which gives him a total of 69s. a week. What does the runner at the War Office get—the ordinary civilian runner? His wages, I am told, are 81s. a week. Then there is the industrial worker, and according to the "Ministry of Labour Gazette" he gets 121s. a week. How can we expect men to want to join the Forces under conditions of pay like that? The whole of the White Paper on Pay wants recasting and investigating again.
There is one other aspect of the matter which I must mention. Throughout the whole scheme progressively as one goes up the pay is proportionately less. That is not going to encourage men with drive 1661 and initiative who want to get on. I suggest that there should be proper reward in the Army for initiative if we hope to encourage men to come in. There is one small word which has been very close to my heart for 30 years of my life. There are great misconceptions about this word all over the country, and in this House of Commons. The word is "discipline." Discipline does not mean just cleaning buttons and barking at men on the barrack square. Discipline means the finest cookhouse in the whole brigade, the finest latrines, if you like, in the whole brigade. It means the finest and the most comfortable barrack rooms. It is always in the Brigade of Guards where one sees the men best looked after. It is the Brigade of Guards officer who will go and fight it out with the town major, to get what he wants for his men. That is what I call esprit de corps. It is not just a matter of cleaning buttons, and I am glad to see the new rule about buttons. I am glad to hear of any added time being given to the men in the Army for leisure. They should not have to spend time polishing buttons so long as the buttons look smart. There is nobody who likes turning himself out well, more than the British soldier, so long as it does not entail hours of drudgery. Discipline is designed to make a man keen control of himself under the greatest possible stress that a human being can be asked to face.
I would like to say just one word before I sit down about the training of the Territorial Army. It has already been stated that they deserve the very best equipment. They did not get it before the war; in fact, they did not get any equipment at all. I was adjutant of a Territorial regiment for four years, and I had to fight like a tiger to get a single rifle rest. In these days they want the finest sort of equipment and, furthermore, they must be given the best n.c.os. from the Regular Army, and not the indifferent ones as they were before the war. Personally, I do not think the proportion is sufficient; they ought to be given more than was stated in the White Paper. They must also get their drill halls back again, and not a day must be wasted. I asked a supplementary question of the Minister on this question the other day, and I understand it is under active consideration. I hope the consideration will be more active than it is on some of the 1662 other matters of which we have experience. I suggest that the ordinary Territorial officer requires training in administration. I saw some very fine Territorial commanding officers at the beginning of the last war who failed entirely. They were good leaders, but they had not the vaguest idea of ordinary Army administration, and they were thrown out on their neck, and became town majors and so on. It was first-class material wasted. I conclude by saying there must be esprit de corps, good discipline, and good officers—I do not care whether the officer comes from a grammar school, a public school, or no school at all, so long as he has the qualities of leadership. There will then be a happy regiment and a happy Army.
§ 1.3 a.m.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
Several hon. Members who have spoken recently have apologised for detaining the House at this late hour, but I really do not think such apologies are necessary. Their speeches have been useful and practical and brisk, and, after all, this is the one great occasion in the year when we can examine all these matters of Army administration, and when we can obtain, or try to obtain, redress of grievances. I think we should not apologise to each other for detaining the House. I am sorry if it is inconvenient to hon. Members or to the staff, but that is entirely the fault of the Treasury, which bungled the late night transport from the beginning.
§ Mr. Driberg
I was greatly impressed by the vigour and sincerity of the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken. I wish he had given us the name of the egregious Member of Parliament who gave such bad advice to his troops. His speech reminded me of a speech which Members of the last Parliament will remember—the rather sensational speech made in the secret Debate on tanks by a then hon. and gallant Member, Major Anstruther Gray, which held the House entranced and, to some extent, appalled.
1663 I would like to refer to two points raised by an hon. and gallant Member on the other side. One dealt with the Territorial Army. I should like in this connection to commend one of the proposals which the Government has made, namely, that the county Territorial Associations should be drawn from much wider variety of professional, social, and economic strata than they have hitherto been; from headmasters, professional people generally, local trade union leaders, those connected with youth organisations and so on. The second point with which I agree is his remark about the design of modern barracks. I hope when the Financial Secretary comes to reply that he will enlighten us a little about this subject, because it is something about which one knows absolutely nothing. What sort of modern barracks will be built? Who will be the architects, and what kind of architects will they be? Are the barracks to be really modern, light buildings or are they to be in the Crimean War period style? I hope not.
In the main, I want to raise, as one has the right to do on these occasions, one particular case—a particular grievance, less serious than the matter raised by the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), earlier this evening, a case concerning only one soldier, but involving also a principle of, I think, some interest. I want to raise the case of the British soldier in Cyprus, Gunner Hall-Longmire, who has been sentenced to 28 days' detention for a letter which he wrote, and which was published in the local Press. The sentence, I hasten to add, in view of Mr. Speaker's Ruling earlier tonight, has been confirmed. I would say at once that I have no sympathy whatever with the views expressed by this soldier in the local Press in Cyprus. Those views seem to me to be completely nonsensical—"piffle and poppycock," to use the immortal words of the Minister of Defence. This soldier associated himself with the views expressed recently by the American senator who thought it would be a good idea if these islands became the forty-ninth, fiftieth, and fifty-first states of the Union. But that is not the point. When hearing of this, my mind immediately went back to an episode in this House in 1943. Before I quote it, I must ask my hon. and gallant Friend to reaffirm tonight the fact that serving soldiers have the right 1664 to write articles and letters for newspapers and magazines, without permission or censorship, provided that such articles or letters are not concerned with military matters arising out of their service, and provided they are not propaganda for any particular political party. That leaves a wide field to cover, including general, political and international affairs.
The incident to which I have referred, which occurred in this House during the last Parliament on the 16th and 23rd March, 1943, was the occasion of some piquant—indeed, rather acrid—exchanges between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), and my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Health. I need not go into the details or the substance of those exchanges. The crucial point, for my argument this evening, is that at the end of the second occasion, when the then Prime Minister had modified some part of the statement he had made on the first occasion, I asked him:Can we still take it, in spite of the modifications which the Prime Minister has just announced of what he said last week, that serving officers and men can still write for the Press without censorship on all matters other than military or 'literature in furtherance of the purposes of any political organisation or party'?To which he answered:That is so until and unless any further statement is made as to the tightening-up of these rules, which may be necessary if an agitation is going to be started or efforts are made to break through them. One had hoped the good sense which has hitherto prevailed would continue."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd March, 1943; Vol. 387, C. 1597.]That seems a perfectly reasonable and sensible statement; and, so far as I know, good sense did prevail and has continued. At any rate, I have heard no complaint of its breaking down, nor any complaints of editors being inundated with political articles by serving men. Nor have we been told by the representatives of the War Office, at any time during the last or the present Parliament, that there has been any tightening up of the rules, such as the right hon. Gentleman said would only be necessary if the practice was abused.
§ Earl Winterton
May I ask a question? In justice to the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Woodford (Mr Churchill), I must say that I heard the statement, and I am sure he never contemplated for 1665 one moment that his decision should cover such a case as that mentioned by the hon. Member. In that case, a member of an occupying force, for that is what this man was in fact, writes a letter to a local newspaper in a country where there is acute political controversy, suggesting an entirely new form of Constitution for the country. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman never meant that. What he had in mind was the type of letter described in the answer, which might be written to an English newspaper in this country.
§ Mr. Driberg
With all respect, I do not see how the noble Lord can claim to say what the right hon. Gentleman had in mind. I have here what he said. I have read through the whole debate very carefully, and I have given fairly the substance of what the right hon. Gentleman said. Furthermore, after all, he said that in wartime. There is now at any rate a partial peace. Incidentally, the occasion on which this arose was a highly controversial occasion. I need not go into the details of it now, but that also was a case of a country with a very inflammable political situation. The right hon. Gentleman laid down the principle very clearly in the words I have quoted. Therefore, I cannot accept the noble Lord's version of the affair.
I certainly do not like to think that under a Labour Government, in peacetime, and under the benign and liberal administration of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War and his immediate predecessor, there would be any recession from the new attitude developed during the war, about which so much has been said tonight, in the speeches of my right hon. Friend and others in regard to A.B.C.A. and army education and all that—the attitude that, so far as possible, the soldier should not be cut off from his general civic and political interests and responsibilities. He is a citizen in uniform. After all, it is one of the valuable liberties of our citizens to be able to let off steam now and then by writing to the Press. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will be able to reassure me about this matter. I do not want to put it too high. Obviously nobody wants serving soldiers to deluge newspapers with letters all the time. Certainly, they must keep within the regulations—which I also took the trouble of looking up, and in my view the interpretation of them by the right hon. Gentleman the former Prime Minister 1666 was perfectly correct. Moreover, if this particular soldier had merely been reprimanded for writing a nonsensical letter to the paper I should perhaps not have troubled the House with the matter. But, after all, he is serving 28 days' detention for an action which we in this House had been assured was not contrary to the regulations. Therefore, I think the matter should be ventilated, and should be investigated by my right hon. Friend and his Department.
§ Brigadier Head
Could the hon. Gentleman tell us what was the charge for which the soldier was given 28 days' detention?
§ Mr. Driberg
So far as I know, it was merely the straight charge of writing a letter to the local Press, which apparently was misunderstood in Cyprus to be a breach of King's Regulations—which, of course, it is not, if one reads the two relevant regulations, 541 and 547, carefully.
§ Earl Winterton
I really must pursue this matter. Does the hon. Member really seriously suggest that, based upon the ruling given by my hon. Friend, a soldier stationed, for example, in Greece could write a violent letter to a local newspaper suggesting some drastic alteration in the Constitution of Greece? Could anything be more calculated to bring the Army into disrepute than for a soldier stationed at a place like Greece, or on an island like Cyprus, to take part in a local political controversy of that kind? That is the worst possible thing for the Army.
§ Mr. Driberg
The noble Lord is criticising the ruling and the assurance given by his right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Driberg
Yes, when he was Prime Minister. I can read the noble Lord the whole of the Debate if he likes. Naturally, I have taken the trouble to look up both the Debate and the relevant King's Regulations themselves. I can assure him that what I am saying is correct, and is in accordance with King's Regulations and with the ruling laid down in this House by the present Leader of the Opposition, which, so far as I know, was never abrogated. It may be that my hon. and gallant Friend has already initiated inquiries into this matter, of which I gave him such short notice as I could. If he has not, I should like an assurance from 1667 him that he will at once initiate such an inquiry telegraphically, since this man is serving detention, as I maintain, unjustly.
Further, unless the letter contained other matter than that which I quoted, which was completely nonsensical—and I freely admit I have not seen the full text of the letter—which brought it within the two forbidden categories, then I suggest this man ought to be released at once, and his sentence expunged. Finally, will my hon. and gallant Friend make clear to all the authorities concerned that they should not act in such an arbitrary and illegal way—a way, as I maintain, quite contrary to King's Regulations?
§ 1.19 a.m.
§ Mr. Price-White (Caernarvon Boroughs)
Speaking at this hour, and following speeches of a standard of excellence which we have not had for some time, I feel I am, very largely, emulating the contraption which follows the Lord Mayor's Show. Nevertheless, I wish to touch on and to endorse certain points mentioned by several speakers tonight concerning the future Territorial Army. In common with other hon. Members, I am delighted to know that 1st May will see the resurgence or rebirth of the Territorial Army. Whether or not we are living in a fool's paradise in thinking in terms of an army or not remains to be seen. But while we are bound to the principle of a Regular and a Territorial Army, it is the duty of us all—which I am certain we shall carry out to the full—to see that we have both a Regular and a Territorial Army of the very highest standard. If I in some form adopt the air of a critic of the past, I am sure I shall be forgiven, although I am certain that what I have to say will be strongly objected to by certain hon. and gallant Gentlemen on this side of the House. It is unusual, I appreciate, for a Member on this side of the House to recall and criticise what happened between the two wars; that for long has been the drill of hon. Members on the other side.
Nevertheless, I, as a long serving Member of the Territorial Army, was never very happy about the attitude of the Regular Army towards the Territorial Army. I am in no way decrying the glory of the Territorial Army, which formed the major portion of our forces in the dark days of 1939 and 1940 in France 1668 and Flanders. What they overcame, with the handicaps they endured, faced, as they were, with the then overwhelming might of the then finest army the world had ever seen, no one who was not there can ever appreciate. They suffered from lack of liaison, co-operation, administration, and, above all, understanding of the outlook and background of the Territorial Army, from those who were primarily responsible for their training and administration.
I am making no charge whatsoever against those very gallant and, certainly, excellent Regular officers who were concerned with individual Territorial units. But I do feel that the very system of the training of our Regular Army in the past has been such as to render them incapable—or they were incapable—of distinguishing the difference between the full-time professional soldier and the part-time professional soldier. In some ways it revealed all the evils and dangers of a closed shop. I am certain from my own experience—and this, I know, is true of a good many of my fellow Territorial officers, n.c.o's. and men—that there was a very regrettable failure to appreciate to the full the potentialities of the spirit of enthusiasm of the Territorial Force in the past. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) touched on the point from the Regular officer's point of view, as did the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. S. Lloyd) from the Territorial point of view.
There is no doubt whatever that, in spite of their glorious achievements, too many Territorial soldiers felt a sense of bitterness and injustice, and that they were the ugly ducklings or the Cinderellas of the Armed Forces. One has only to refer to the files of the "London Gazette" for late 1939 and early 1940 to find a large number—a disgracefully large number, in my view—of Territorial officers who were given urgent postings, which was the euphemistic description of what is better known as the "Irishman's rise." Whose fault was that? Was it the fault of the system, or of individuals of the Regular Army responsible for their training and preparation for war in peace time? One remembers an official of the department of the War Office known as the Military Secretary's Department, one of whose functions was to interview officers with a sense of personal grievance. I am certain that if the records of the 1669 operations of that department were examined one would find that a very large number of those who were seen there with justifiable personal grievances were Territorials.
I am not for a moment saying that the standard of efficiency and the type of officer and man did not vary very considerably in the Territorial Army. Some were, in peace and war, excellent units of the highest possible standard of efficiency; others, quite frankly, were of a deplorable standard of efficiency. I know that, all too often, officers entered the Territorial Army under the mistaken impression that it gave them certain social standing, and I feel that, if our future voluntary Territorial Army is to be a success, that state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue. There must be, within the Regular Army, special training and careful selection of Regular personnel who are to be responsible for the training of our future Territorial Forces. I endorse to the full the views of those hon. Members who feel that the proportion of 2 per cent. is all too low if we are to attain what we intend our Territorial Forces should be.
There should also go forever the feeling that certain appointments to Territorial units were in the nature of plums. There were certain jobs in which men would work in depressing conditions, and certain others which were much sought after because certain social amenities and sporting opportunities were afforded for a comfortable period of three years, and certainly, under those conditions, the best Territorial units were not produced. The right hon. Gentleman must be on his guard to ensure that there is a complete overhaul in the future for the co-operation, and, above all, the understanding, between the professor and the pupil, and I look forward with great interest, as will all hon. Members, to the first figures on 1st May showing what the result of voluntary recruitment has been. I suggest that, through our mistakes and misunderstandings of the past, the right hon. Gentleman may be a little disappointed with the return to the Territorial Army of those who were Territorials in prewar years.
I should like also to refer to two other points which have been mentioned already, and which are, possibly, the inevitable result of the progress of modern 1670 war as we knew it at the end of the last war; no one would attempt to describe what a modern war today would really be like. The day of the infantry battalion has gone, and, inevitably, as a result, many fine old county regiments are going, too, but I would make a special appeal on behalf of the 23rd Regiment of Foot, better known as the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Monday next is not only the day of the patron saint of our country, but the 258th anniversary of William III's authority to Lord Herbert to form the 23rd Regiment of Foot. I am sorry there are no Irish Members present, because the 23rd Regiment of Foot, 258 years ago, was one of 12 regiments specially formed to go to the deliverance of Ireland from the predatory hands of James II. I have always believed that it was singularly appropriate that a Welsh regiment should go to the deliverance of the Irish from one who, I believe, was an Englishman. Nevertheless, in the absorption, particularly of Territorial battalions into antiaircraft regiments, there is a grave possibility that the name of the Royal Welch Fusiliers will disappear, and I am making this special appeal to the Minister because the Royal Welch Fusiliers are not a county regiment, as such; they are a national regiment.
Theirs is the fame that well befits one of the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom, and we hope that it can be saved, not in the form of "bracket on," "bracket off," as is the Army form, but as a full name. As a member of the Royal Artillery I see no reason why infantry regiments should not be absorbed into our regiment, but I appeal for everything to be done to safeguard the name, "The Royal Welch Fusiliers." I also appeal on behalf of the 53rd Welsh Division, which, as all hon. Members know, covered itself in glory in the last war, as did the 38th Welsh Division in the 1914–18 war. There is now a proposal to absorb into the 53rd Welsh Division a regiment of Staffordshire. It is not that a Welshman objects to Staffordshire men, but, if there are other Welshmen available, his choice is naturally for them. Therefore, I ask the Minister to retain in the 53rd Division an entirety of Welsh units. We heard this afternoon the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) refer to the long sittings and to the afternoon sittings of the Standing 1671 Committee on Scottish business. I suggest that it would sit morning, noon and night if there was ever a suggestion of English units going to the 51st Highland or Lowland Regiments. But we are not, perhaps, as pugnacious in Wales, although we wish the Welsh entity and the complete Welsh personality of the 53rd Division to be saved.
I would end on a note in support of the outburst and protest of the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. E. Roberts) who warned the Minister of the unity of protest in Wales against the comparatively undue acquisition of acreage for Service needs in Wales. It is perfectly true that here is a matter which has aroused a unity of protest in Wales that is quite unique. But it should not be necessary for a person to subscribe to that view, and to advocate the view in Wales that the Services should not come there at all. I do not subscribe to that view at all. I feel that we should take our fair proportion, with other parts of the United Kingdom, of the liability to provide training areas for the Services. But, when we get it in the ratio of 10 per cent., as against 2 and 3 per cent. elsewhere, we feel that we are being unfairly dealt with. This is a matter which is causing grave concern and protest in Wales, and, unless the demands are acceded to, or at least looked at with a far more sympathetic eye than they are at present, I feel that it is my friendly duty to warn the right hon. Gentleman that there is even further trouble ahead for him in the future.
§ 1.33 a.m.
§ Brigadier Low (Blackpool, North)
I am not going to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon Boroughs (Mr. Price-White) by putting up such a vigorous case for Blackpool as he has for Wales. I am going to turn my attention to the general matter. I would like to say to the Financial Secretary that I think that we on this side of the House have asked him a sufficient number of questions to give him some relief, at any rate, from a crick in the neck, which his right hon. Friend was obviously in danger of getting when he spoke a little earlier in the Debate.
This Debate, both on the Amendment and on the general question, has turned very largely on the important matter of 1672 economy in manpower. The whole House is alive to two overriding requirements when we debate the Army Estimates. First, we must have an Army capable of carrying out the tasks allotted to it in the overall defence plan of the nation; second, we must have an Army in which there is no waste of men, money or materials. I believe, as do hon. Members on both sides of the House, that it is very difficult for us to give a true, balanced judgment on the first point, until we have had a full Debate on defence. It is a great pity that we are having it in the wrong order. I am glad, however, that we are having a Defence Debate. It looked at one time as if the Minister of Defence was so upset at not having made his Defence speech before that he had to introduce it into the Economic Debate. I have no doubt, however, that he has another speech for us.
§ Mr. Callaghan
As a matter of history, the hon. and gallant Gentleman ought to be aware that it was his Front Bench who were responsible, and not us.
§ Brigadier Low
I was aware that that argument might be put forward. As a matter of history, it is worth while pointing out, as I have been challenged on this argument, that in the course of the Debates last year hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House stressed the value of the sequence—Economic Debate, Defence Debate, Estimates Debate. I might remind the hon. Gentlemen, in case he has forgotten, that yesterday—or, rather, the day before yesterday, as it is now Friday—was the last day of the Economic Debate. So that on his own side's argument, yesterday—that is, the day on, which this Debate began—was the first day on which we could have had a Defence Debate. Perhaps before he next gets on his feet and challenges my Front Bench he will bear that in mind.
I would like the Financial Secretary to tell us whether I am right in saying that arguments of hon. Members who say that the Army is now of a strength of over a million are slightly wrong. They appear to have muddled up the figures given in the Army Estimates for the total men in Vote A, for whom the War Office is responsible, with the total men in the British Army, and they are two different 1673 things. In fact, the figure we are dealing with is slightly under 900,000 men. It is, of course, true to say that we in this House are quite unable to justify that figure or really to criticise it, but if we just lie back and make no criticisms we shall hardly be doing our duty. Perhaps at a later stage in the discussion on these Estimates we shall be given a full Vote A. I have here the Army Estimates for 1938, and from them I can see exactly how many units of the various branches of the Service there were at that time and where they were stationed. It would seem advisable in the interests of the House and of the country that the War Office should reconsider this matter, even this year, and perhaps on the Report stage we might have, if possible, a Supplementary Vote A, giving the full details to which this House was accustomed before the war.
I would like to detain the House for a short while on the question of teeth and tail. The Secretary of State earlier yesterday evening told us of the importance of the tail in the fighting in Normandy. It is obvious that in order to support a vast fighting machine which has to be capable of going thousands of miles forward at any moment, we need an enormous tail, but to keep and garrison battalions in various parts of the world, and, in addition, to keep a striking reserve, which I will come to in a moment, we do not need such a large tail on the establishment. In the 1938 Estimates one can work out the proportions of the fighting units represented in the total strength of the Army. One finds that the infantry units were 55 per cent. of the total strength. I know that conditions have changed. The Royal Armoured Corps is 7 per cent., the Royal Artillery 7 per cent., while the Engineers and the Signals represent another 9 per cent. In addition to that we find from the figures before the war that there was one infantry battalion for every 1,570 men in the Army.
We were told by the Secretary of State that next March there will be only 91 infantry battalions. We have also been told by the Minister of Defence that there will be at that time 590,000 men in the Army. That is one battalion for 5,373 men. In other words, there has been a cut in the proportion of infantry battalions from 1938 to about one-quarter. That is a very big cut and it shows a great change of policy which has never been fully ex- 1674 plained to this House. It may be justified purely from the point of view of the actual fighting machine, but I put it to the Financial Secretary that as a result of this change of policy we may, in fact, be carrying too big a tail in our Army today. If it has been decided that in a balanced Army today the number of battalions must be so many fewer, then it must be decided that something else must be so much more. On the other hand, from the nature of our commitments we do require a large number of infantry battalions, and I put this question to the right hon. Gentleman: As a result of that large number of infantry battalions are we at the moment carrying an enormous tail to, keep the Army at a balance we do not need? He may not be able to answer that question straight off, but I think that it is worth his consideration.
The noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) asked what we believe is the most important question—is there any Imperial Strategic Reserve in being today? If so, where is it, and what is it? We are entitled to know about that. It seems to me vital, whatever view we take of the likelihood of war in one, two, three, four or five years, that if we have an Army at all we must have some kind of striking Reserve somewhere from which it can be moved without upsetting the whole equilibrium of the country.
There have been arguments from all sides of the House about the Reserves. The hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) used as one of his arguments the establishment of an immediate Reserve in this country. The right hon. Gentleman himself will remember that that was one of the points put forward energetically from this side of the House last year by the hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Corbett). I hope I shall get an answer about the actual plans for both an Imperial Strategic Striking Force Reserve and about the personnel Reserve.
In his opening speech the Secretary of State for War referred to what I believe is now described as the Auxiliary Army, and he referred in particular to the territorial part of that Auxiliary Army. He made no mention of the regular Reservists. I cannot help believing that he must have some plan for regular Reservists when they have finished the active part of their engagement He has a lively 1675 interest, as we on this side of the House have, in the Territorial Army. One of the points on which I do not think he was so explicit was the relationship between the Territorial Army and the Regular Army. It has been stressed from all sides of the House how important it is that that the Territorial Army and the Regular Army should co-operate better than they did before the war. I can speak with some knowledge of what happened at the beginning of the war. I know that even in my own unit and regiment the cooperation was not as good as it ought to have been We have been promised what I think the right hon. Gentleman described as a liberal amount of the permanent staff.
§ Brigadier Low
I hope that it is a larger amount than the number of Liberals who have attended at this most important Debate. It does seem a great pity that the only Member of the Liberal Party who was interested in this Debate is not here at the end.
There are one or two more comments which I should like to make on the Territorial Army, because it is a subject in which I am particularly interested. The right, hon. Gentleman said that he hoped to make it ready at short notice for active service, at much shorter notice than his predecessors were able to do in 1939. I warn him that in these days the training that is required in a fighting soldier, whether he is a foot slogging infantryman or not, becomes more and more complex every day. I hear that the right hon. Gentleman has the excellent intention of giving liberal regular assistance to the Territorial Army, but I am also told that he will not always be allowed by his friends at the Treasury to secure as much assistance as he would like. At a later stage in the year we shall be able to probe more deeply into the allotment of regular assistance to the Territorial Army. Two per cent. may be all right for an infantry battalion, but is it all right for the rather more complicated technical Royal Armoured Corps, or the even more technical units of the Anti Aircraft and other units of the Artillery?
The Territorial Army require cooperation and help not only from the Regular Army, but it also requires, in just the same degree, co-operation and help from the employers and trade 1676 unions. I know that the right hon. Gentleman hopes to get that by the enormous Territorial Army Associations which are just coming into being. These associations are, I am told, really vast things, where 100 or 150 men may have to gather together in order to do the business of the association. I would ask the Financial Secretary to give an assurance that he is satisfied that these inflated associations will be able to function, even though they may be more representative, as well as the slightly smaller ones did in earlier days. There are many ways in which the employers and trades unions may give help to the Territorial Army. It is particularly important that their help is available when the recruiting campaign starts. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will try to get some understanding before 1st May of what employers will be able to do in connection with the period spent in camp. Holidays with pay are now given; can employers afford also to give the necessary two weeks with pay to their men who go and spend this valuable time in camp? This is a matter which obviously has to be settled.
There is one other matter in connection with recruiting which was mentioned either by the hon. Member for Aston or the hon. Member who supported his Motion. At this time the larger the reserve force we can get—and the Territorial Army is the only form of reserve we now have—the more easy will it be for the right hon. Gentleman to cut down his active Forces without feeling he is letting the country down. Moreover, the more and the better men we get for the Territorial Army at once, the more efficient will the training cadre be, and the large Territorial Army, when it comes into being as a result of the National Service Act. I am certain that by good information and good instructions the hight hon. Gentleman can relate his recruiting campaign to the shortage of manpower and the crisis in industry through which we are passing at the present time. I am sure the recruiting campaign for volunteer service which starts on 1st May this year must be related to the domestic circumstances in which it is carried out.
May I pass from there to the Regular Army? We have been given the figures of recruiting. I know that both the right hon. Gentleman and the Financial Secretary have taken a lot of trouble in trying to find out what it is that makes recruiting not go so well as they would wish. I 1677 have not read the large, fat, and voluminous survey which he has produced—I do not know whether he has read it himself—but in the course of my journeys to the Far East and India I have made inquiries, and there are still a number of things which are deterrents to men taking on a Regular engagement today. The first is the small amount of home service, and I do hope we shall stop this—I will not call it poppycock—bunkum and piffle of describing service in Germany and Austria as home service. It may be that the War Office will have to say to these men, "You will have only six months' home service, two-and-a-half years in Europe, and then three years in the Far East," but they should not try to hoodwink the soldier; it will not do any good. I trust that the Financial Secretary can hold out the hope that, in a year or two, he will be able to say we have some active formations in England. It may be necessary, eventually, for experimental reasons; it may be necessary for security reasons; but for morale reasons, for getting volunteers into the Army, it is necessary today.
The second point to which I want to refer is the expense of living overseas. The Financial Secretary knows about this; he gave an illuminating address on his return from the Far East to an all-party meeting. The expense of living in the Far East is simply tremendous. Some of the other ranks are forced to spend their pay to buy food, and they have no chance to go to a cinema in the special transport provided, or to do anything out of the ordinary.
Then there is the question of pay. That is bound up a little, of course, with the cost of living. It is most important that, in working out his career, a young man going into the ranks may look to a future which is well paid. He will be able to look to a good immediate future as a private soldier, or a young officer, but the increments he ought to get as his proficiency extends and his service lengthens, are not given in full measure today, not in the same measure as before the war, and not in the measure in which we think that they ought to be given. Then there is the question of pensions, which vitally affects the honour of the War Office and the Government. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) is continually pressing this case about pensions under the Royal Warrant, 1919, and I would ask the Financial 1678 Secretary to give us some hope that this small amount of money—not half a million pounds—to set this matter right, will be allowed at some time in the next year.
With regard to building, we were told that it was planned to build a thousand married quarters. He said "planned," he did not say that they had in fact been built. Have they been built or not? In a Supplementary Estimate which we discussed a little time ago there was a decrease in the amount of money allotted to building, so that some of the buildings projected last year cannot have been built. Although I agree that labour and materials for building in this country are in short supply I suggest that there may be spare labour and materials in other parts of the world where the Army is stationed, and I should like an assurance from the Financial Secretary that if that is so he will switch money saved here to the overseas areas.
The last point with which I want to deal is that concerned with new weapons of war. I had hoped that the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) would have given us a racy speech on this subject, but I see he is not in his place. It seems to me that for the right hon. Gentleman to stand at that Despatch Box and admit that, nearly two years after the end of the war there has been no new weapon of any kind was a grave admission. When one considers the progress of the invention of infantry weapons, tank weapons, guns, the scientific equipment in connection with guns and communications, which went on throughout the war, and which was referred to by the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison), one is rather amazed that there has been no progress since the war. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman in particular this: in Palestine we have a large force which has been trying to deal with the terrorist menace for at least a year, and possibly more than a year in many cases. Have they not invented any new weapon, or any new equipment, to deal with this problem? In my view, it is unlike the Army, if it is given a chance, not to have some bright, new ideas, and to want to put them into force. It is not only the scientific gentlemen who sit in Whitehall who make inventions for the Army. It is often the private soldier who, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, produces those excellent things which save life and money, materials and manpower.
1679 This seems to me very important, particularly at this time, when I imagine that the thoughts of all of us who are interested in the purely military side of the Army more or less as a machine, must turn to the effect of the latest atomic weapons upon the land forces as a whole. We have heard very little about it, because it must be kept secret. But then we heard very little about the new tanks and guns at the beginning of the war, and from the Tank Production Committee White Paper which came out last year, it is quite clear that all was not well. I wonder whether the War Office has considered the possibility of some committee of this House being set up which might be given some information on the effect of atomic weapons on the land forces, upon their weapons and their equipment. I put forward this idea because it is a matter in which we ought to be most closely interested and concerned. I hope to hear further from the Financial Secretary on that point.
I would like just to close on this note. I was never a Regular soldier, but I do know that the whole future of the Army, the future of the land forces of this country, depends upon the efficiency of the Regular officer and the Regular man. I hope that as conditions and other preoccupations allow, the Army Council will turn its full attention to the improvement of the training of the young officer, and of the middle-aged and older officer, in the Regular Army in arms and his own technique; that it will look to the full equipping and manning of the Regular units, to the housing and well-being of the Regular soldier, and the Regular officer and his family. I am sure that if we look after the Regular soldier, in particular, we shall also be looking after the men who go into the Army under the National Service Acts, and their training by Regular officers and N.C.Os. In that way, we shall obtain contentment throughout the Army. I am sure that under today's difficulties, because of the many changes and the many moves caused by the shortage of accommodation, they are struggling against many hardships. That will soon alter.
I am very much concerned, as many other hon. Members have been, at the way in which promises are sometimes held out—promises which cannot be fulfilled in the immediate future. I am sure that we have confidence in the staff of 1680 the War Office, presided over by the right hon. Gentleman and other members of the Army Council, in going ahead with this kind of reform. I should like to see a clear statement put out to the effect that improvements will be made, but not for so many years, for the reasons given. I should also like to see that that statement definitely reaches the troops overseas, whom the Financial Secretary has himself visited, and who have misunderstood some of the promises made—and I say this quite sincerely—I think wrongly made, by serving officers in the Army. I hope that in the coming year it will not be necessary for the C.I.G.S., or other officers in the Army, to have to stand up and make promises which should be rightly made by politicians, who are paid for that purpose.
§ Brigadier Low
My noble Friend corrects me—by Ministers, who are paid for that purpose. I do not think it does the Army any good when commanders-in-chief and military members of the Army Council are put in a position where they announce to the world projected reforms which they are unable to carry out. I hope the Financial Secretary will be able to answer as many as possible of the questions that have been put to him, by both sides of the House, and I gladly sit down so that he may be able to do so.
§ 2.7 a.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. John Freeman)
It gives me great pleasure that the Conservative Party should have chosen the hon. and gallant Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low) to wind up this Debate on their behalf. I, and I think most of my hon. Friends, have the greatest respect for his military record and his judgment in these matters. He has made a most thoughtful speech, which we will study with the utmost care. In due course, I will endeavour to answer one or two of the points he has made. At this hour the House will not expect me to make a detailed reply to the bombardment of questions which has been going on since quarter-past four. I will select some of the points that seem to me to be of importance. I can assure the House—and I mean this entirely seriously—we will take careful note of what has been said. Where questions have been asked which obviously require specific answers 1681 I make myself responsible for seeing that hon. Members receive such answers as quickly as possible.
The Opposition opened this Debate with a speech from the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). The noble Lord is sometimes a rather incalculable factor in our Debates. Today we were very grateful to him for the kindly way in which he dealt with the Estimates, and for the kind words which he addressed to both my right hon. Friend and myself. No one could have been more sunny and good-humoured. I wish to address myself to one or two of the points he brought out. First, he asked—as many hon. Members have done—about the position of the Territorial Army, and—quite rightly, if I may say so—emphasised a good many of the difficulties we shall encounter, as we are very well aware, in the near future. He mentioned particularly the difficulty arising over Territorial drill halls. That has been mentioned by a number of other hon. Members on both sides of the House, as has the question of the relation between the Regular Army and the Territorial Army, and the question of the provision of instructors and permanent staff for the Territorial Army.
I want to dispose of all those questions with a general assurance. My right hon. Friend and I are fully aware, in the first place, of the paramount importance of making a success of the Territorial Army, and, in the second place, of the great difficulty which we shall have to meet in doing it as early as this. We have determined to open general recruiting for the Territorial Army at the earliest date possible. We recognise that, in doing that, we shall have to meet all sorts of difficulties which, probably, we should not have to meet if we left it a little longer; but we do realise that the importance of getting public response in getting that Force re-formed is so great that we should not delay, and we have accordingly chosen 1st May for opening recruiting, in full knowledge of the difficulties. I can only say we shall undertake, somehow or another, in co-operation with the Territorial Association, to overcome those difficulties. I say, frankly, there will be times when we shall fail; and I have no doubt there will be times when hon. Members put down Questions to us and point to cases where the difficulties have overcome us instead of the other way round. But we shall see that those occasions are as 1682 few as possible. We do rely upon the co-operation of the whole House, and of the whole public that wishes well to the Army, in trying to do everything possible to make the Territorial Army an outstanding success.
The noble Lord asked one or two questions which became general questions during the course of the Debate. I should like to turn to some of the more important questions now, and answer them in general terms. First, there has been some criticism on both sides of the House of the form in which these Estimates have been presented. I shall seek to meet that criticism, if I can. In the first place, I hope hon. Members, in reference to the matter of Vote A, will study very carefully what my right hon. Friend has said tonight, and study it with a due sense of responsibility. It is perfectly obvious that, in a matter of presenting Estimates, where it has been decided for one reason or another, that certain information should not properly be given at any given moment, it would be childish to take such a decision, withholding the information when questions are asked about it, and then, at the same time, print the Estimates in such a form that all those questions were answered. There are points of high policy concerned here, and I do hope my right hon. Friend's words will be carefully considered.
As to the difference apart from Vote A, we have made the change in the form of presenting this Estimate, partly for the sake of convenience in accounting, partly because we feel there is a good deal to be said for the new form, and that it might, indeed, be for the convenience of the House. Before making that change we consulted, as we were in duty bound to do, the Select Committee of this House on Estimates, and also the Public Accounts Committee; and both those Committees have authorised for this year the form in which the Estimates have been presented, and both have reserved judgment for future years. Thus the right of the House to make its opinion felt is fully safeguarded.
Many hon. Members very understandably have expressed interest in the education scheme which my right hon. Friend announced yesterday afternoon. It has been suggested that some discourtesy has been shown to the House in that, shortly 1683 before my right hon. Friend rose to introduce these Estimates, a rather unprepossessing paper was placed in the Vote Office, and that hon. Members have not had sufficient time to study that paper before taking part in the Debate. No one regrets that more than my right hon. Friend and myself, but the fact is that we have had extreme difficulty in getting this scheme prepared in time to present it with the Estimates. We had just succeeded in doing so, and it occurred to us that it would be the greatest pity to withhold it until after the Estimates, thereby ensuring that hon. Members could say nothing about it at all, rather than bring it in at short notice. After all, education in the Army is not going to disappear overnight, and there will be full opportunity to discuss it, and we shall welcome full advantage being taken of such opportunity.
In general terms, may I say very much the same about the education scheme as I did about the Territorial Army? There are all sorts of administrative details to be worked out and difficulties to be overcome, and one of them is the major difficulty of making sure that we get an adequate and properly trained staff in order to administer this scheme, which looks very nice on paper but which would break down completely if not properly run. I will give the guarantee to the House that we will, with due regard to military necessities, take whatever steps are necessary in order to ensure that this scheme does become a success. I have carefully noted points of detail such as that put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), who raised an interesting point about superannuation for full-time lecturers. All these points we will go into with great care.
I cannot sit down without referring to the speech which was made much earlier yesterday evening by the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt). I do not quarrel with your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, that that speech was in Order. Nevertheless, I must place on record that, in making such a speech, the hon. and learned Member has placed me in a position of acute personal embarrassment. The facts of the case, as I understand it, are as follow. The hon. and learned Gentleman was briefed to defend a series of soldiers at a court martial in 1684 the Middle East, and he went to the Middle East, and, as I am sure he will be the first to admit, with the fullest co-operation of the Department which I represent. While there, he discovered certain things which, in his opinion, had been done wrong, and some of them were relevant to the case in which he subsequently appeared. Others of them were merely matters of accommodation and the treatment of certain men who were being held, but were not matters strictly relevant to the trial. When news of this state of affairs arrived here, my right hon. Friend immediately made inquiries off his own bat to find out whether or not there was truth in what has since been alleged, and the evidence which we received, and which may not have been conclusive, did not at that time suggest that there was any high degree of truth in the allegations that were made. Since then the hon. and learned Gentleman has returned to this country, and has written in a Sunday newspaper an article, which was very widely read indeed, in which he has expanded and emphasised the allegations he has made.
Immediately on his return, my right hon. Friend directed that a court of inquiry be assembled in the Middle East to investigate the whole of this problem. I cannot, obviously, make any further comment upon it until I have the report of that court of inquiry, but I must say that, until I receive that report, I do not and cannot accept the suggestions which the hon. and learned Gentleman has made, and, in particular, I do regret the suggestion which he made, at least, by implication, if not openly, that pressure had been brought to bear on certain soldiers to give evidence. I regret this, not only because the case is not finally disposed of, as the hon. and learned Gentleman is still interested in it, but also, and this is where I am acutely embarrassed, because the time will very likely come in the near future when I shall have to exercise a capacity which is, or at any rate similar to, a judicial capacity, in this case. Therefore, I am utterly debarred from saying anything further to the hon. and learned Gentleman than I have already said.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think that we can discuss this any further. The hon. and learned Gentleman has exercised his right to speak, and the Financial Secretary has made his reply, and I do not think that we can pursue the matter as, otherwise, it is going outside our procedure.
§ Mr. Pritt
On a point of Order. I wanted to ask the Minister if he would correct an assertion he has made, an assertion of fact. If I might, without prejudice, Mr. Speaker, tell you the nature of the point I wished to put to him, it is that he has said that, after I came back and made my allegations, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister immediately made investigations. The Minister actually promised me that he would make the investigations five weeks before I went out there.
§ Mr. Freeman
I stand on HANSARD, which hon. Members can read in the morning. I believe I made it perfectly plain that, when the allegations were made, my right hon. Friend had inquiries made—that is five weeks earlier; and, when the hon. and learned Gentleman repeated the allegations, a formal Court of Inquiry was ordered.
§ Earl Winterton
I quite see, of course, that the case must not be reopened, but the matter is really of great importance, and I want to ask very definitely whether the charges made by the hon. and learned Gentleman in this Debate tonight will be taken into consideration, and whether we shall eventually be informed of the true facts, because the matter affects the honour of this House—as to whether there is any truth in the allegations or not.
§ Mr. Freeman
I have no doubt whatever, that in view of the very wide publicity just given to the allegations, my right. hon. Friend will consider it incumbent upon him to inform the House of the conclusions he draws from the Court of Inquiry, but I cannot make any promise that he will make the proceedings of the Court available to the House.
§ Mr. Pritt
I think I ought to be allowed to say this. The noble Lord has suggested that I have made allegations, and that, in some way, my honour and that of the House are impugned. I do not 1686 worry about my honour, but I think it ought to be made clear that every single thing I have told the House tonight, with the exception of trivial details, has already been deposed to on oath. They are not my allegations, but the allegations of 10 men.
§ Mr. Freeman
I really feel some regret that, perhaps, I have been responsible for bringing this matter up again. But, in view of what the hon. and learned Gentleman said earlier, I felt that it should not pass without Ministerial comment.
While on kindred subjects, I would turn for a moment to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), about the gunner who has been sentenced to detention for writing a letter to a newspaper. I do not want to go into this in great detail. At the present moment, I am not in possession, any more than is my hon. Friend, of the details of the case. However, I have taken steps to have them brought to my notice, and I should like him to realise that I took those steps before he gave me notice that he was going to raise the matter. When I have details of what the offence was, what the charge was, and also of the circumstances surrounding it, I will make a statement as to the attitude of the War Office.
I am certain that my right hon. Friend has no intention whatever of going back on any promise which has been given in this House. I will only remind my hon. Friend that there are circumstances—and I am not at all sure whether this may not be one of them—where, notwithstanding the alleged right of a soldier to write a letter on certain subjects to a newspaper, it might still be an offence under Section 40 of the Army Act. I merely bring that to the notice of the House because I can conceive circumstances where that may be so, and I would ask the House to suspend judgment in the matter until I have the details.
There are not many more points which are of sufficient general interest to deal with in this brief survey. One or two remarks have been made particularly by hon. Members opposite about the Treasury and about our relations with the Treasury. While the Financial Secretary is here beside me, I want to take this opportunity of putting on record the fact that the War Office has received the 1687 utmost co-operation from the Treasury over the last year. I do at the same time, in all [...]eriousness, want to re-emphasise what my right hon. Friend said earlier, that there is a shortage of almost everything at the moment. The Army is only one element in our national life and, clearly, it has got to take its turn in the queue with a great many other component parts of life in this country.
On the subject of research, science and weapon development generally, we attach the greatest possible importance both to learning what lessons may be learned from the recent war and also to researching as actively as we can with the help of our men of science in the future. My right hon. Friend did not say—and I do emphasise this—that no investigation of new weapons was being made. What he did say was that we had made no provision in this year's Estimate for re-equipping the Army with new weapons coming off the production belt. Hon. Members who have thought about these things will realise that there is a very great difference between the two statements, and I think, perhaps, that is as much as it is advisable to say about it at this moment. But I can assure the House—and anyone who doubts my interest can read a speech I made on this subject a year ago—that these things are being carefully and imaginatively attended to.
Perhaps before closing it would be right to make one brief reference to the Welsh, because, in the eloquent way in which the Welsh always do, two hon. Members have pressed their national claims for consideration. We do attach the greatest possible importance, first of all to making certain that Welsh recruits go into Welsh regiments as far as it can possibly be done, and, secondly, to ensuring that Welsh component units go to make up Welsh formations. I cannot in the present fluctuating state of the Army and manpower difficulties give a categorical promise that there will never be a Cockney in a Welsh regiment, but I do assure the hon. Member for Caernarvon Boroughs (Mr. Price-White) that we attach at least as much importance as he does to tapping this great source of national vitality and exuberance which we believe we can turn to our advantage as much as he does.
1688 The hon. and gallant Member for North Blackpool referred very specifically, and I thought with point, to the remarks which were made the day before yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition about the teeth and the tail. The bark of the Leader of the Opposition is sometimes worse than his bite, and in the case of the present Army I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that our teeth are sharp and as reasonably prepared as they could possibly be at this moment. He asked me some particularly searching questions about the ratio of fighting troops to administrative troops. It has not been possible in the short time at my disposal to give him quite as comprehensive an answer as I would like to, but I have here a figure which I think will interest him. If we group together the infantry, the Royal Armoured Corps, the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers, which is quite a solid block of the fighting element, the ratio of the administrative to that part of the fighting Army is at the moment 2.2 to one. The one represents the fighting element and the 2.2 is the administrative. That is the only figure which my statisticians can give me at the moment, but we believe that that is approximately the ratio that will remain throughout this financial year.
In regard to the reduction of infantry, the infantry is an arm of the Service which does tend to fall at this particular moment. In the first place, we have an Army which is largely mechanised; in the second place, we are looking forward to the possibility of removing troops from a good many places where they are at present engaged in purely infantry occupations, and the fall in the number of the infantry battalions does not entail any thickening of the tail. What it does imply is a change of balance inside the fighting part of the Service. I am very conscious that there are a number of questions with which I have not had time to deal. But I believe that it would be the general desire of the House that I should bring my remarks to an end reasonably quickly, and I want to end them with one or two general remarks on the subject of quartering and building.
I have been very properly asked by the hon. and gallant Member for North Blackpool whether we have in fact carried out the programme that we made at the beginning of the current financial year, and the answer is we have not. I am hopeful that the programme which we made for 1689 this financial year and the programme we are tonight making provision for in the coming financial year, will by the end of the coming year he carried out. There are not only the married quarters referred to at home, but there is the programme overseas, and I am extremely conscious of the leeway that has to be made up overseas. There is no question whatever at this moment of financial stringency in these overseas commands. There is only one command I know of in the world where there is a shortage of money rather than a shortage of labour and materials which is holding up buildings, and in that particular command, which is a small one, peculiar circumstances lead to the delay. All over the world there is a shortage of labour and materials preventing the carrying out of the programmes as quickly as we should hope.
We have had an excellent day's Debate, and it is quite clear on all sides of the House that there is a fund of good will to the Army without political distinction. We may not agree that when hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power they ran the Army as they should have done, and they on their part may think that we are not running it today entirely as they would like to see it run. However, transcending all these differences is a feeling of appreciation and good will towards the Army, and I think it is right that to those feelings expression should he given. When I was travelling and visiting different stations recently I had the great good fortune to meet one of the most distinguished of living soldiers, the great American General MacArthur. In the course of a private conversation he made a remark to me which I believe, were he here, he would not object to my quoting. Coming as it did from a witness not only impartial but one who might be presumed to some extent even to be biased against the British Army. I was profoundly impressed and moved by his remark. He was telling me how admirably our troops in Japan had behaved under his command, and he used these words about the British soldier:He is conducting himself in peace with the same nobility of character he showed in war.I cannot think of a more magnificent tribute to the work of the Army, or of one from a source which the British Army would better appreciate.
§ Mr. Wilkes
Before the my hon. Friend sits down will he deal with the extraordinarily important point of the revision 1690 of the colour bar by the Army one year after the Air Force has scrapped it, which prevents a good deal of our coloured population from taking a part in our defence? If that is not a question of general importance I do not know what is.
§ Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Major MILNER in the Chair]