§ Notwithstanding anything contained in the Army Act or the Air Force Act there shall be set up in every unit and establishment of the Army and the Royal Air Force a welfare committee composed of representatives of all ranks elected by ballot sitting together with the commanding officer or officers nominated by him to provide for the free discussion of all matters affecting the general welfare of the men in each such unit or establishment and their amenities.—[Mr. W. Wells.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. William Wells (Walsall)
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
In order not to raise the expectations of hon. Members opposite too high, I think that I should start by explaining that the purpose of this Clause is neither to overthrow the Government, nor to introduce some kind of strange new institution into the Services which will subvert all discipline. My hon. Friends and I who have put down this new Clause were all in the Services during the war; we all held commissioned rank, and we all appreciate the importance of this Clause. Our object is a much more modest one—that of bringing Army and Air Force practice into line with what has now been announced to be the practice of the Royal Navy. In introducing the Naval Estimates, on 18th March, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, when referring to the Canteen Committees which exist in the ships of the Navy said:We now intend to replace them with Welfare Committees with the object of providing machinery for the free discussion between officers and men of matters affecting the general welfare of the men within the ship or establishment concerned and their amenities. The members of the Welfare Committees will be democratically elected by ballot, and will sit together with a small number of officers nominated by the Captain. In this way, we hope that every man in the Navy will feel that he has a part in the creation of the best possible conditions on board his ship."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1947; Vol. 435, C. 221.]1300 It is precisely with the object outlined by my hon. Friend in that last sentence that my hon. Friends and I have been actuated in putting down this Clause. It has not always been the fact, in the history of the Services, that the Navy has been first in the field with reforms, though it has always held pride of place in the affections of the nation, and I would say that, at least in welfare matters, the Army has probably led the other Services. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] That remark might, perhaps, be contentious. It obviously is, but I have said it, and I stand by it. I think that, at the outset, we are confronted, not by the difficulty, but by the fact that the Army Act, as at present drafted, and also the Air Force Act, which deals with this matter in almost identical terms, restricts anything in the nature of collective complaints. The Army Act says that the only way of dealing with complaints is that the soldier has to go to his captain, or, if he wants to complain about his captain, to the commanding officer. The "Manual of Military Law" adds this note:Complaints may be made respecting any matter, but can be made by individuals only. Combined complaints, therefore, can never be permissible, but should not, if well founded, be treated as mutinous, where it is plain that the only object of those making the complaint is to secure redress of the matters by which they think themselves wronged.I, personally, regard that note to the Manual as highly objectionable, but it is not a matter which is directly affected by the new Clause now before the Committee. The object of the Clause goes much further than merely dealing with complaints. Its whole object is to prevent complaints from arising, except in so far as they may be purely individual and personal ones. It has been proved in the past that collective action of this kind has been frowned upon by the Service authorities, and has been regarded as being a halfway house towards mutiny. That is clear from the footnote which I have just read.
I do not want to waste too much of the time of the Committee in generalisations about the changed nature of the Services, and all those things, about which we have all heard so often in this House and elsewhere But it is a fact that we are now dealing in the Services with a very different type of man from that with which we were dealing 100 years ago, and, although the need for 1301 discipline still exists, the methods by which it is enforced must be adjusted. We cannot apply the same kind of discipline to members of a well educated citizen Army as was applied to the victims of the press gang and to the poor, wretched, uneducated men who were driven by desperation in past years to take the King's shilling. We are always being told of the need in the Services for explaining to the men the object of any particular action which it is proposed to take. When we have given the explanation, we then give the order, and they are carried out. I believe that that is perfectly sound, but I also believe that that obtains just as much in matters of discipline and administration as it does in operational orders.
My hon. Friends and I would not deny for a moment that the commanding officer must remain responsible for the welfare and discipline of the unit he commands. Our object in moving this new Clause is to help him to discharge his responsibilities in a modern and democratic way, by following the words of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, and making every man in the unit feel that it is part of his duty and responsibility to create good conditions and a good atmosphere in his unit. This Clause is put forward in the utmost seriousness, and I hope that the Government will be able to accept it.
§ Mr. H. D. Hughes (Wolverhampton, West)
I have much pleasure in supporting the new Clause which has been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Mr. W. Wells). As he has said, those of us on this side of the Committee who have put our names to this Clause have done so with no intention of weakening the discipline of the Forces. In fact, the intention of the Clause is to strengthen it, by getting the positive co-operation of the men. A document entitled "Improvements in the Way of Life of the Soldier," issued by the War Office on 30th August last year, says:Discipline must, in the view of the War Office, be based on mutual confidence and respect, rather than on rigid rules.We feel that the spirit of this new Clause is very much in tune with that sentiment.
We are also anxious that there should be greater co-ordination than there has been in the past of the way in which these matters are treated in the different 1302 Services. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall has pointed out, the Navy, in this respect, is far ahead of the other Services, as far ahead, I think we may say, as it is far behind in the democratic selection of its officers. The Air Force falls some way behind the Navy, with station committees dealing with welfare matters, the members of which committees, I understand, are nominated, rather than elected. On the question of the representation of suggestions and complaints, the War Office comes a good way behind the other two Services. We hope that, as a result of putting down this Clause, both the Army and the Air Force will come up to the standard announced for the Navy.
What is the present position in the Army? On 22nd October, 1946, it was stated in this House by the Financial Secretary to the War Office, when he made it clear thatcomplaints through the normal Service channels may be made about any matter affecting the individual. Such complaints may be made by an individual only, but need not be confined to matters affecting him alone. The soldier is told he has only to apply to his officer to seek redress, and this method is well known throughout the Army."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1946; Vol. 427, c. 1454.]That may be an arrangement for seeking individual redress but we are not primarily concerned with this today. In the document from which I have already quoted the War Office announces the institution of "request hours," to be held at company or battalion level, and it explains thatthese hours are not intended for complaints, which are to be submitted in the normal way through the established channels to the subunit commander. Their object is for the soldier to have the opportunity to put forward constructive suggestions for the improvement of his unitand for his own benefit and the benefit of his fellows. It is our submission that this system of request hours falls short of requirements, and we say this because we feel that it is a matter left largely to individual initiative. If it is intended to have "request hours" at which an officer is able to meet other ranks altogether, there is still the feeling that no individual is responsible for representing the collective grievances of his fellows. One will tend to get the meetings used by the "barrack room lawyer," or 1303 secondly, the ordinary man will think that this is not a matter for him and that there is no reason why he should take any great part or why he should get up and take precedence of his fellows.
The third method of dealing with welfare for the ordinary man is through the welfare officer or by the section officer. The work done by welfare officers is of very great value and importance and we are anxious that it should continue successfully. But it is only successful—as we often demonstrated during the war—where one has good officers. Some of my hon. Friends will agree that there is often a "Charity Organisation Society" attitude in which the officer gives the impression that he is doing "something good for the lower classes." That is not the democratic spirit which we want to see introduced. We want to see a fully adequate system of welfare, and we want regular meetings of representatives of the men at a company or a battery level. We also think that the representatives of the men should be elected, for some of us remember the old system of holding messing committee meetings in the past, in which the sergeant-major went round saying "You, and you, and you will serve on the messing committee, at such and such an hour." If there are to be representatives of the men they should be elected representatives, men who are thought to be fitted for the duty and who are fully willing to serve, and they should go with full opportunity to consult their constituents and to report back on what takes place at the meetings. We also think that these meetings should be properly minuted and that there should be a proper order of business. The minutes should be fully accessible to the other ranks and should be inspected regularly by higher formations.
In the good unit such things as this may have been done, but in the bad unit the system breaks down, and so long as there are bad units, higher formations should inspect regularly and take up the matters raised at welfare committee meetings. I want to quote briefly an example of the kind of thing which was not only most unfortunate, but which would have been avoided if there had been proper arrangements in the Army in these matters in past years. I refer to the Kluang incident, which led to something tantamount to mutiny and for which sentences were 1304 passed which later had to be suspended when the whole facts became known in this House. It was clear that the men were, in the words of the note which my hon. Friend has already read out,trying to procure redress in a matter in which they felt they were wronged.Many of the other matters in which they felt they were wronged were subsequently redressed. As a consequence of the incident, improvements were made, camps were cleaned up, many tents were condemned, roads were made, sanitary arrangements were improved and so on. But that was only after a severe act of indiscipline brought the matter to the attention of this House and the world. This was a case where welfare officers apparently were not fulfilling their functions.
The men should have been able, under proper machinery, to have had the opportunity of ventilating their grievances. But the men had to make an orderly protest by parading on the sea wall to present their grievances to the commanding officer. When the commanding officer arrived he did not give them the chance to inform him of their troubles. On 8th October the Secretary of State informed this House thatafter the men had moved to the canteen they were there addressed by the commanding officer to the effect that they should air their grievances in the proper way, that he could not entertain collective grievances, and that if they refused to return to duty they would be guilty of mutiny."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th October, 1946; Vol. 427, c. 38.]Had some machinery of the kind that we are advocating been in existence at that unit the grievances of these men would have been apparent to the officers in time for them to be dealt with and there would consequently not have been indiscipline such as finally resulted.
We are building, it is important to remember, an Army of citizens in uniform—a people's Army. We believe the men of this people's Army should have the right of self-expression about their welfare conditions and their grievances. We believe this kind of machinery should exist for complaints and also for positive suggestions; and we submit that the Army and the R.A.F. should follow the example which has already been set by the Senior Service in bringing other ranks into democratic consultation with their officers to improve the conditions of their way of life.
§ Mr. Mikardo (Reading)
I intervene in this Debate with very great humility, because I am not by any means an expert in Service matters. I have not the advantage of my hon. Friends who put their names to this new Clause, of great experience in these matters. But I think I can contribute something relevant, from a sector of experience which is different from that of my hon. Friends. We have had reference today to the fact that we are dealing with the present day Army, with a clear understanding of the fact that it is a citizens' Army. Both my hon. Friends who have spoken on this new Clause have mentioned that. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) also rested an argument on the valid point that what he was saying applied to our present-day Army, because it is composed of a cross-section of the citizens. In this and in related matters, we must have regard to the fact that we have a citizens' Army. Surely the new men coming into the Army will expect, and certainly will hope, to find in it something of the structure and duties and responsibilities of citizenship, outside the Army. They will, clearly, on first going into the Armed Forces, begin to compare the arrangements in the Armed Forces with the arrangements in comparable matters in their civilian life.
Many of these men will have come into the Army or into the Royal Air Force from commercial or industrial institutions in which there has grown up a very firm and continuous practice of joint consultation between managements and men on all matters affecting the welfare and the interests of the workers. Some of them may have come into the Royal Air Force from civilian air bases where they now have, as a result of the passage of the Civil Aviation Act, excellent arrangements whereby the voice of every man of whatever rank at the civil air base can be heard in all matters affecting the welfare of every one at the air base. That man, coming from a civil air base into the Royal Air Force, into a type of life not very different from that which he has left in regard to the work, will naturally ask what is the parallel in the Service for the type of structure which he had in civil air transport, and in which he got a voice, at any rate, in settling all those matters which affected his welfare.
1306 If we have a citizen Army conscious of the privileges of citizenship, the man will not overlook the fact that one of the privileges of citizenship which he has now to a high degree, and which he takes absolutely for granted, is that in his place of work unilateral decisions will not be made by those who manage him about his interests and welfare. Since my hon. Friend the Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes) mentioned the difference in Army welfare in good units and in not so good units, may I say that industrial experience goes to show that it does not matter how good are the material welfare conditions which are offered by managements, they are still resented by the workers if those conditions are decided unilaterally by the managers. The worker on the shop floor will object to good welfare conditions—and, in my view, rightly—just as much as he will object to bad conditions if, however good they are, they have been decided unilaterally and he has had no say in the matter. Many managers have said to me, "I cannot understand why the workers complain about their environmental conditions in my factory; they are the best in the country." My answer always is, "Your workers are not satisfied to have you think you know what is good for them; they want themselves to have a say in what is good for them." Irrespective of how keen the officers in the Service concerned are about welfare conditions—and many of them are very keen and do a great deal of work, thorough, conscientious, and well-meaning—they will still not get real satisfaction from the other ranks as long as the decisions are unilateral.
The point I want to contribute for the consideration of those whose Service experience is infinitely greater than mine is that when this type of joint welfare committee was first set up, there were very many managers who feared—as, no doubt, many officers would fear if this Clause were introduced into the Bill—that while the welfare committees might do good work, they would necessarily involve a lowering of the power of discipline of the managers. There were many who feared that sincerely, and could not see how they could sit in consultation with their men about matters of this sort without losing the power of discipline over them. Experience has shown that, far 1307 from this fear coming into effect in practice, quite the opposite has happened, and that joint consultation has meant, not a weakening of managerial discipline, but a strengthening of it, and that, moreover, this strengthening is greatest where the managers enter into joint consultation in the most open way with their workers. Man management is no different in the Services from what it is in industry. We have recognised that in recent years by applying to the Services the same techniques of industrial psychology and vocational selection and training as we have applied for a long time in industry.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I must correct my right hon. Friend. I agree that when the Army caught up with it, they took it up very rapidly, and in some respects outdistanced industry, but the Army started these techniques 25 years after the first people in industry started them.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Possibly my hon. Friend, not having had Servicee experience, does not know that this technique was originated in the Armed Forces, not only in this country but elsewhere, well over 30 years ago.
§ Mr. Mikardo
This is a detail, and I do not want to quarrel with my right hon. Friend, but I have gone into the history of it very closely, and I assure him that he is quite wrong. The first application of these techniques took place in a steel works in 1866. I can give my right hon. Friend chapter and verse for this if he likes, but the point is not a major one, and I will not quarrel with him about it.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Bucklow)
The hon. Member said that these committees have resulted in an improvement in the managerial function and an improvement in discipline. I understand these committees have developed very largely over the past six years. Is the hon. Member telling us that managerial discipline at the present time is stronger than it was six or seven years ago?
§ Mr. Mikardo
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue, he will see the point I am making. First, it is not true that 1308 this type of consultation has developed only during the last few years.
§ Mr. Mikardo
In many industries it has been going on for a very long time. The point I am making is that people always work best when they work most happily, and they always work most happily when they understand, not merely what they have to do, but the reason they have to do it. They always work most happily when, if they feel themselves aggrieved, and if, in fact, they are aggrieved, through circumstances over which nobody has any control, that fact can be explained to them. The hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd), who has experience in industry, will know that on many occasions workers run round the shop floor fretting over what they believe to be stupid actions on the part of the management, but when the reason for the actions is explained, they are quite happy. There has to be machinery for the explanation.
I am sure there must be many occasions on which soldiers think that decisions taken by officers with regard to welfare are ridiculous; yet there have been reasons for those decisions which the men would accept, if the reasons could be put to them. Surely, this important technique of man management is no different in the Services from what it is in industry. Therefore, I feel that, in the same way as grievances have often been anticipated in industry, before the scratch has become a festering sore, by an explanation of what was about to happen, in precisely the same way we could get a greater degree of satisfaction in the Services which would help the officers no less than it would help the men. In case it should be felt that this would result in a weakening of discipline, I would point out that all our industrial experience shows that is not true, and that where matters are approached in a most candid and open way, the effect is the opposite. On those grounds, I think I have a right to suggest to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that this is a matter which he might take actively into consideration.
§ Brigadier Head (Carshalton)
The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) told us that, in his opinion, there is little or no difference, in regard to man management, between industry and the Army. Whatever view one takes of this new 1309 Clause, it is very important to realise at the outset that there is one essential difference between man management in industry and in the Army. The reason for the Army, and the reason one has a lot of men organised together, is in order that they will remain together and be controllable in moments of extreme fear. That is the object of the whole structure of the Army, and it is something which does not come into industry. That basic conception must be always at the back of our minds when we are considering any suggestion like this.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman contest the statement that the system works quite well in the Navy?
§ Brigadier Head
If the hon. Member will let me go on a bit further I shall come to the Navy. When I read the hon. Gentleman's proposal I felt I wanted to say like Doctor Joad, "It all depends upon what the hon. Gentleman means by welfare." The proposal seems to mean that there should be a representative body which can present collective grievance. The hon. Gentleman referred twice to collective representation. Therein lies the main danger in this proposal. However friendly the process is and however good one says it is, the collective grievances system will become very inconvenient when the Service gets into difficulties, under active service. The Navy always goes about with its shell, as it were, on its back. It is always in its ship. On active service, if the ship is sunk, this matter of the collective airing of grievances does not matter very much. Apart from that, more or less reasonable conditions obtain, which do not alter largely. The Navy is going about in its own barracks. On the other hand, the Army, continually, has of necessity very bad conditions. It is my contention that the only way in which to overcome the difficulty which the proposal is designed to meet, is to have in each unit officers who know what is going on.
Quite a good point was made by the hon. Gentleman that in good units, welfare is already looked after. I am suggesting that in bad units this innovation will not help to improve matters. In my opinion, units are bad, not because of the men but because of the officers. There is no such thing as a bad soldier, but there are bad officers. Bad officers, coupled with the 1310 system now proposed would lead to most appalling situations. You would get representatives of the men airing collective grievances which the officers would not know about, and before long the feeling would grow up that the men were to a large extent trying to do the commanding officer's job for him. It might be asked, "Why do we not get those difficulties in the Navy where we already air grievances collectively?" I see a representative of the Navy on the Front Bench opposite me, looking rather smug. I suggest that the Navy is not a parallel case. Anybody who has had much to do with the Navy—I had quite a lot to do with it in the last war—will be aware that the Navy has quite a different form of discipline from that of the Army. Secondly, the Navy has a particular problem, which is to keep a lot of grown men huddled up in close proximity to each other in a boat, and to avoid explosions.
When I say that, the hon. Gentleman looks a little puzzled. He may have another think. The whole principle of the present proposal is to prevent the explosion of grievances by giving them air and to see that grievances in those small, crowded communities are ventilated. In the Army, if this system were restricted to giving ventilation to grievances it might be all very well, but if the men got into the habit of using this system of representing grievances collectively to their officers, precedents would be set up which might give rise to extreme difficulty on active service. The whole foundation of the system of collective representation of grievances would tend to break down at the very moment for which all the organising, training and instituting of the Army had been carried out.
I should like to say a word on this matter of the necessity for a different form of discipline now that we have a citizens' army. The hon. Gentleman reminds me of the series of very illuminating articles which appeared in the "Daily Mirror" in the year 1937, or 1938. Hon. Members may remember the great cry that went up then that we now would have an intelligent Army, and that the old forms of discipline would now be regarded as nonsense. The articles were very strong on this idea, and they advocated the abolition of drill. The whole discipline and spirit of the Army would be much more intellectual. There would be much more bonhomie in the citizens' army, 1311 and everything would be all right. What happened after Dunkirk? Such a cry for drill sergeants from the Guards went up from all the units in the Army that the supply was not sufficient. That kind of experience has been reported from the Russian Army and the American Army, as well as our own Army. When there is a bright and brainy citizens' Army, the cry goes up that discipline is outmoded. I believe that some of the biggest advocates of this citizens' discipline will agree that when everybody is extremely frightened, and does everything instinctively, the chap who has been chivvied around a bit by a dose of good strong discipline, reacts in the way that we want him to react. That is an inevitable part of Army training.
§ Mr. William Wells
I do not quite understand what the hon. and gallant Member means by citizens' discipline, but will he tell me what conflict there is between maintaining the strictest discipline on the parade ground or the battlefield, and welfare committees in administration?
§ Brigadier Head
The hon. Gentleman opposite referred to the new Army and said that we were now dealing with a very different problem, that we were now to have a citizens' army and that the whole existing system was outmoded and out of date. I do not think that the system is out moded or out of date. The Army will change, and is changing all the time. It is my belief that if the proposal now made were acceded to, it would mean undertaking a rash and unnecessary experiment which would do no good. Potentially, the system of collective bargaining might well undermine the whole system upon which the Army is based.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South)
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman say what is the difference between the system in the Navy and the system in the Army? Why would this experiment be such a catastrophe in the Army when it has been so useful in the Navy?
§ Brigadier Head
The hon. Gentleman was not in the Committee when I dealt with that point. I do not want to weary the Committee by going over it again.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Shackleton (Preston)
I do not propose to follow the line taken 1312 by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head), or to enter into a controversy as to which is the most progressive of the Services. I am afraid that I must put the Air Force point of view. I support the proposed new Clause. The Air Force took the lead in setting up not just welfare committees, but station committees whose job was to consider all aspects of station life. In the orders which were issued, it was made clear that representatives of the men were to have an opportunity to discuss and have explained to them the various station orders. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Air will have an opportunity to make it clear that the only point in which the Navy took the lead was that representatives on their welfare committees were elected. The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) pointed out in an analogy how works councils and joint production councils in industry work, and I think it is very desirable that we should make applicable in this case, as I believe they are applicable, practices that are well established in civilian life.
Hon. Members who have experience of committees already existing in the Services, such as the mess committee, would agree, I am sure, that the underlying principle is right. If grievances are real, it is desirable to get the people who have those grievances to have proper representation on the committees. If they are imaginary, it is all the more desirable that those who are making the noise should be brought up to the committee and given the opportunity of shouldering a little responsibility. I hope that the Secretary of State for War will bear in mind a marriage between the proposals of the Navy and those of the Air Force, and that the outcome of that marriage will be adopted by the Army. The Air Force have led in this matter, and I suggest most seriously that the Army should adopt the whole idea of the balloting principle, which has been in operation for so long in the Air Force.
§ Lord John Hope (Midlothian and Peebles, Northern)
May I say first that I think all of us who have had experience of the Service and leadership, however junior, will have sympathy with what was said by the hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. W. Wells) who moved this Clause. But it is clear to all of us that no good officer in any Service would allow a situation to arise which the mover of the Clause envisages. All good officers always see that 1313 grievances are attended to. Bad officers do not and the remedy is to get the bad officers removed and to improve the standard of officers. I believe strongly that leadership of men in peace time, and very much more of course in war time, is the highest test of character which can be found. If we are to carry this Clause to its logical conclusion, we will certainly be lowering the standard of obligation to which an officer must attain if he is to be an officer worth the name. For that reason I believe that it would be wrong to accept the Clause.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
I feel that Members opposite have got an entirely wrong idea about these committees. I can assure them from the Navy, where we have worked them for years—and it is as good a Force as it always has been—that these committees are not engaged entirely in airing grievances. The amount of time which is spent on grievances and complaints is practically negligible. At a meeting the question of rations may be raised, and the committee debates what it would like best. Then there is the question of sports and sports gear. Occasionally grievances are brought up, discussed and then a remedy is arrived at. In all the committees on which I have sat I have never known of a question taken to a vote. We always reached agreement. I have never known a case in which a grievance was not settled to the satisfaction of everyone. It has been pointed out that this thing is more urgently necessary in the Navy because people are pressed together more. None the less it is urgently needed in the Army and can be adopted to suit the Army. It has worked well in the Navy, and we have had a long experience of it.
§ Lord John Hope
The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) cannot teach his grandmother the proverbial lesson in that way. He must accept it from those who have had experience in the Army of these things that they have been done in the Army for many years and it is not necessary to have an official committee of this sort to get them done. He is right, these things have got to be done, but they have been done before and if necessary grievances can always be dealt with.
§ Mr. Grimston (Westbury)
I rise to express the hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War will resist this new Clause for two reasons. First, I think the proposal really postulates the deteriorating standard of officers; and, secondly, I am certain in my own mind that when one comes to examine this new Clause it will undermine discipline. Let me take the first case. Running through the speeches of the mover and supporter of the new Clause was the view that this would not be necessary where there are good officers. It seems to me, therefore, that we are attacking the problem in the wrong way. We are attacking it not by getting the good officers, but by providing the machinery to bolster up the bad officers.
§ Mr. H. D. Hughes
I think I am speaking for my hon. Friend when I say that our argument was not that the scheme would not be necessary if there were good officers, but rather we thought it advisable to get democratic participation from the other ranks. Our argument, too, was that a good deal of welfare was done under the present system.
§ Mr. Grimston
What the hon. Member means by democratic co-operation by the other ranks I do not know. On the question of discipline I wish to say a word or two. I believe it is perfectly true that it was the experience of welfare officers during the war that their services were not required in good units except in the exceptional case when an officer brought a case to them. I was under the impression that one of the first things an officer had got to learn was that the welfare of his men was his first charge. If machinery is going to be provided to relieve him of that responsibility I believe that is a retrograde move.
I want to refer now to the thing which was said by the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo). He spoke of experience of man management in industry. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) that we cannot compare industry and the Army, because, as he has said, the Army has got to operate masses of men who may be under a sense of fear and has got to provide a different sort of management for that than is provided for the civilian living at home under different conditions 1315 and operating in normal everyday life. I do not think that the two things are comparable. Let us look at what we want an Army for. I take it that we want an Army, if necessary, to win battles and to win them with the minimum of casualties. It will be the experience of anybody who has served in either of the wars be it in the Air Force, the Army or the Navy that where we get good discipline there will certainly be fewer casualties. It will also be their experience that where there is a tight corner or a battle to be won the unit which the commander in chief will bring in to deal with the situation is the best disciplined unit he can find. When it comes to this question of discipline I would refer hon. Members to the end of this new Clause where it says:…to provide for the free discussion of all matters affecting the general welfare of the men in each such unit…What is meant by "the general welfare of the men"? Let me give an illustration of what I mean. Suppose a commanding officer decides that he will have a parade for physical jerks in the morning. Under this Clause that may very well come under the heading of the general welfare of the men.
§ Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)
Just to clear the mind of the hon. Gentleman, may I point out to him, that those words are, of course, a quotation of what was said by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty?
§ Mr. Grimston
That may well be so, but I am speaking about the words which should go into an Act of Parliament, and I am afraid that whatever the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty has said would have no weight when those words come to be interpreted after they have been put into an Act of Parliament. As I was saying, general welfare might well cover physical training in the morning or at any other time. An order might be issued to a certain unit that this should take place, and that order could then come up for discussion under the heading of general welfare at one of of these meetings. That leads on to the discussion of orders by troops and the questioning of them and discussion as to whether they are good or not. Nobody will make me believe that that sort of thing is not subversive of discipline in the 1316 unit. I am not looking at the matter from any reactionary point of view, but from the point of view that if one interferes with discipline then when it comes to war and the function for which the Army is really intended—our defence—it will not be such an efficient machine for its job if it has bad discipline. I think that the instance I have given is sufficient to show that under this particular Clause, in circumstances which are bound to arise, discipline would be interfered with.
§ Mr. Paget
That very question did arise in the Navy. We had an order that everybody on landing craft was to do physical exercise. Many rather elderly petty officers and leading seamen who had been excused physical exercise as over age on other ships objected. They came and talked it over, it was pointed out that this particular job of landing troops required special fitness, and what would otherwise have been a grievance was explained and talked over and willingly accepted.
§ Mr. Grimston
I am afraid that that instance does not satisfy me at all. That may be. There you had a case in which an order was given—under active service conditions incidentally—and was discussable. I believe that to be wrong in the interests of discipline, although it may have worked out in that particular case.
§ Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)
Surely, orders will lye discussed in any case, whether openly or otherwise? The thing is to have satisfactory co-operation and companionship between the officers and men.
§ Mr. Grimston
I daresay that orders are sometimes discussed, but it is a very different thing to discuss them on this kind of basis. In any case I should say that in a well-disciplined unit they are not discussed. The hon. Member for Reading mentioned the question of explanation, and here I come back to the point that any good officer will explain the reason for things to his men. I heard of a case in the R.A.F. during the war—I will mention no names—where there was trouble because leave boats did not arrive and one commanding officer did nothing about it. Feeling became very bad and the morale of the unit deteriorated considerably. Another officer came along, found that this was the case and summoned the men and explained the reason to them. He said, "The trouble is that we 1317 are not getting the number of leave boats we should. I can tell you what I believe to be the reasons for that, and I assure you that I am pressing the proper authorities and will do all I can to get the leave boats." In this way the matter was settled, but what I am saying is that it should not be necessary to set up this kind of machinery which may undermine discipline. What we have to do is to concentrate on obtaining the right type of officer, and that is the line the Government should pursue instead of producing machinery to bolster up the bad type of officer. It is really chiefly on those grounds, and because of the obvious defect in the drafting and the omission of any definition of welfare that I very much hope that the right hon. Gentleman will resist this new Clause.
§ Mr. Mikardo
Since he mentioned what I had said, would the hon. Gentleman reply to one question before he sits down? While it is true that good officers explain to their men when they realise that there is something which is agitating them, is it not a fact that even the best officer, unless he is a seer, cannot always know that something is worrying his men if he has no means of having the fact reported to him? Would it not be of advantage to the officer if the men could tell him what was worrying them instead of his having to guess very often?
§ Mr. Grimston
I think that if the commanding officer does not know what is going on and what is felt in his unit he had better look round to see whether he ought not to sack some of his junior officers.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I think the manner in which my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Mr. W. Wells) moved this new Clause was admirable and restrained. He explained quite fully and clearly that its purpose was to ensure that the welfare of the men was adequately safeguarded as far as was possible with the machinery which he advocates. He also explained that in moving this Clause he had no intention of advocating any slackening of discipline. As he told the Committee he has served in the Army during the war when, on many occasions, as he knows, discipline saved the situation. I have experienced this myself and one does not see it in any better circumstances than 1318 in a retreat. It is easy enough to keep up morale when constantly advancing against the enemy, but another matter in retreat, which, I suggest to the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo), is not at all comparable with the more or less sheltered factory conditions in which many civilians work. It is difficult enough in retreat to save the situation, and I maintain that a well-disciplined unit shows at its best in those circumstances. But as I say, in moving this new Clause my hon. Friend said that his whole purpose was not to undermine or relax discipline but to ensure that the men's reasonable welfare requirements were properly met. When discussing welfare in relation to a fighting service let me say this. An army has, unfortunately, to fight battles—and this applies equally to the other Services—which are entirely different from the conditions in which factories, with which my hon. Friend has a great deal of experience, have to produce goods.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reading said that the joint consultations between management and workers is, on the whole, conducive to a strengthening of discipline. My experience is not as great as his, and I am prepared to accept what he says, with this qualification: Civilians in factories, if they disagree with the management, have one final weapon in their hands under our law, in that they can strike and do strike. That is one of the freedoms inherent in our Constitution, but there can be no such weapon placed in the hands of military forces, because if that were so, we might just as well not have any military forces at all, as they would cease to be a disciplined force ready to encounter the foe, and would become a rabble. If my hon. Friend is right in what he says, he might apply his suggestion not only to the armed forces, but to the police forces and other organised disciplined bodies of men who are prepared to enforce law and order in circumstances which may lead to the use of weapons, as happens amongst armed forces. I say to my hon. Friend who moved this Motion, that I have considerable sympathy with their object. Indeed, before they came to this House I was trying to improve, in my humble way, the welfare of the citizen army, and I think I met with a considerable amount of success, 1319 together with those who fought those battles while the war was raging.
I am not going to decry the motives my hon. Friends have in putting down this new Clause. It has given them an opportunity to express their point of view, and many of these expressions are not dissimilar to what I want in the Army. I cannot accept this new Clause, and it is not necessary for me to do so. There are opportunities for setting up welfare committees, without a Clause of this description being embodied in the Bill. We already have a similar system in mind, and we have sent out instructions to formation commanders that welfare committees shall be set up in units. I am concerned not so much with the shadow as with the substance. In other words, what I want is what the hon. and gallant Member opposite stated, to see that responsibility for welfare, order and discipline is placed on somebody. I do not want to put it on committees, but to place it where it lies, on commanding officers. Commanding officers who neglect to do their duty in this respect will receive short shrift from me. When we talk of commanding officers, we generally think, as one should, in relation to the unit which the commanding officer commands, namely, the battalion in the case of an infantry unit, and the regiment in the case of an artillery unit, and so forth.
To get the best welfare arrangements in any unit, we have to start lower down, and come to the level of sub-units, such as the company in the case of the infantry, and the battery in the case of the artillery. In sub-units we have a much smaller body of men, and a much more intimate relationship between the officers and men, than in the case of a battalion commander who is, to a large extent, unavoidably remote from day-to-day contact with his men. I, therefore, place greater emphasis on the junior officer doing his job. Junior officers have got to keep this close day-to-day contact with their men, and if they are doing their job properly, I am certain—although I have no objection to welfare committees—that the necessity for welfare committees will recede.
§ Mr. H. D. Hughes
My right hon. Friend has made an important announcement. He has stated that instructions have been sent out to units advocating the formation of welfare committees. 1320 Will he say how these committees are composed, how often they are to meet, whether they are available to other ranks, and so on?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I should not be surprised if the procedure will differ from unit to unit. I am dealing with the general proposition put by my hon. Friends and I am not concerned so much about details—whether more or less emphasis is placed on keeping minute books, and so forth. I place emphasis on the machinery which is available, through close contact between junior officers and men, or through the welfare committees in regard to which the Adjutant-General has issued these instructions. Sometimes the means to the end may be quite different, but I think it is more important to see what the end is and how to achieve it. Great play has been made by some of my hon. Friends with the conditions in the other two Services. Since I have been at the War Office, I have always tried to get the co-operation of my two right hon. Friends, to see that the three Services march in step. Mention has been made of some procedure which the Navy has or are adopting. I am not so fully conversant with their procedure as I am with that prevailing in the Army. I should like to have an opportunity, the case having been put quite forcibly, to talk this matter over with my two Service colleagues. Conditions vary from Service to Service, and what is applicable in the ships of the Navy may not be applicable or suitable in the case of the Army. Having admitted that I am in sympathy with the object this new Clause sets out to achieve, perhaps my hon. Friend will permit me to discuss the matter with my two Service colleagues, to see whether we can evolve a system which will be every bit as good as the system of the Navy or the Royal Air Force.
My hon. Friend twitted me with what the Navy are doing. I am very jealous of the reputation of the Army, and I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, who fearlessly stood up against his confederates, and said that the Army have, after all, led the way. Although I shall, no doubt, be challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan), who belongs to the Navy and so often speaks on the Army, I believe that the Army has led the way. However, we are prepared to learn wherever we can and to get information from wherever we can. I was not 1321 fully aware of the arrangements the Navy are adopting, and I will certainly do my best to see that the Army do not lag behind, as some of my hon. Friends seem to suggest in their speeches.
In conclusion, and in defence of my own Service—if I may be permitted to defend it—we in the Army were the first to issue what are still known as "Notice board bulletins." My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, who spoke about consultations between management and labour, may be interested to know that Army Council Instructions, on which are based so many of the rules and regulations which govern the Army, were secret even from Members of the House during the war, and that on more than one occasion I endeavoured to get the Secretary of State to put those Instructions in the Library, so that we could see them. I advocated that he should give a lot of information, which was not secret from the security point of view, to the ordinary rank and file, so that they could know and understand what the Army Council were aiming at. As I say, during the war these notice board bulletins were issued, and they embodied many of the orders and regulations which were incorporated in Army Council Instructions. I think that my hon. Friends have had a very good outing on this new Clause, and I regret that although I cannot accept it I do accept its spirit.
§ Mr. Willis
When my right hon. Friend consults the First Lord of the Admiralty will be also look into— as this is important in relation to the question of the welfare of the men—the operation of the corresponding representatives of the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust, which does fine work in the Navy in helping to alleviate men's domestic difficulties? Will he also inquire as to the manner in which canteen committees assist men when they are in difficulties, including financial assistance, which, I understand, is at present forbidden by the rules governing the use of Unit Funds?
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South)
We shall, in due course, proceed to dispose of this Clause, but I should like to offer a few further observations about it. The Secretary of State has made an important announcement tonight. He said that 1322 he has issued instructions in connection with welfare committees. I think it would be unfortunate if we were to let this Clause slip through, without having some more information about the way in which these committees will operate. The Financial Secretary is here; we have not heard from him yet, but no doubt he will be able to give us the information if my right hon. Friend is not able to speak—
§ Mr. Callaghan
With great respect, it is precisely what the new Clause is about. The Minister has said that he accepts the spirit of the new Clause, but not its wording. If we are satisfied about its spirit, we should be delighted to delete the wording.
§ The Chairman
The details of the instruction as to welfare committees is a matter to be discussed on another occasion, and not now. That is a matter of administration.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Well, I have other things to say about this Clause. The hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) told us that if this Clause were passed, it would undermine discipline. That, as he knows, has been the argument in connection with every Army reform in successive years throughout the whole of last century. If he looks up the Debates which took place on the proposal to abolish flogging in the Army, he will see that it was said, categorically and clearly, that it would undermine discipline. If he looks up the Debates which took place on the question of the abolition of the purchase of commissions, in 1870 or 1880, he will see that it was said that it would undermine discipline. There has never yet been a reform, in connection with the Army, on any matter at all, where the critics have not said, "This will undermine discipline." Here, we are not proposing to do such a dreadful thing as to abolish flogging, or the purchase of commissions. All we are asking is that something should be done which is already being done in the Navy, and which the Minister has said he will do in the Army. Here, once again, we have been told from the Front Bench opposite that this will undermine discipline.
§ Mr. Grimston
In spite of the strictures of the hon. Gentleman, I must retain my opinion. But I would remind him that I also said that in this matter the mistake would be to bolster up the not so good officer. I was glad to hear the Minister say that this should be concentrated on the officer, that he should be the fellow who should have responsibility.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I think there is a great deal in that point. While the Minister was speaking I was trying to think what we meant by discipline. No doubt that question has been answered many times before, by more competent people than myself, but I hurriedly wrote down my own definition. I suggest that real discipline comprises willing and unquestioned subjection to the orders of those in whom there is complete confidence. The willing and unquestioned subjection of the—
§ Mr. Callaghan
I submit that I am in Order. This point was raised on many occasions; it was said that the reason why this Clause should be turned down was that it would undermine discipline.
§ The Chairman
I fully agree, but that does not entitle the hon. Member to enter into a discussion of what does or does not constitute discipline.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I submit that if we are to say whether something does or does not undermine discipline we must be clear as to what discipline is. I put up my own definition, and from it I want to say that if that is a workable definition for this purpose—that discipline is willing and unquestioned subjection to the orders of those in whom there is complete confidence—I see no reason why the introduction of welfare committees should do anything to lessen that confidence.
§ Mr. Grimston
I would not quite accept that definition of discipline. I would not like my silence to suggest otherwise.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I can understand that, but I want to put this point to the hon. Member. When he says that these committees may be the means of bolstering up the inefficient officer, would they not also be the means of exposing such an officer? Would they not also be the means of revealing that a man has not the capacity 1324 for real discipline in his unit? My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary believes that the leadership of men, and not the driving of men, is what must be done to get their following. The Minister has made this important announcement tonight. We do not necessarily want to incorporate the wording in the Bill if he accepts the spirit of the Clause. I think it is a great pity that he did not go into further detail, and tell us more as to how these committees are to be worked. No doubt he will take an early opportunity, in response to Questions, to give us that information. We should be very happy indeed to have it.
In those circumstances, as we cannot go into those details, I will conclude by saying that announcements of such a magnitude as this, and of such vital importance, could be made, perhaps on rather more appropriate occasions when we could discuss them in some detail. If we were able to discuss their procedure and method of setting up, it would be a great advantage to this Committee. However, we cannot discuss that, and we must leave it, but we can content ourselves by knowing that, thanks to putting down this Clause today, we have learned of the existence of this order which has been sent out. That is an advance, because it is doubtful whether we should have known about it otherwise. In those circumstances, we shall be able, on other occasions later on, to press for further information as to how it is being operated.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.