§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before we proceed to the Motion, may I ask your guidance? The Motion, of course, appeared on the Order Paper too late to be capable of having an Amendment to it put on the Order Paper in time. The Motion is embarrassing to some of us in that, while we are perfectly satisfied that the time has come when the period of service under conscription should be determined by affirmative Resolution every year, we are not at all inclined, as the Motion puts it, to acceptthe necessity for National Service in present circumstances.By reason of the way in which this Motion will be dealt with at the end of the debate, some hon. Members will find it very difficult to decide on voting for something of which they are in favour for the time being and voting for something of which they are not in favour; and, in those circumstances, would it be permissible to move a manuscript Amendment to omit the words,whilst accepting the necessity for National Service in present circumstances"?
§ Mr. Speaker
If the hon. Member submits a manuscript Amendment, I can, of course, consider it, but I have no such Amendment before me now. I would point out that the next Order on the Paper, which I understand is to be taken tomorrow, would permit a direct vote against the continuation of the Order.
§ Mr. Silverman
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, that would not quite meet the point, because the Motion today includes two things which do not necessarily go together. It is perfectly possible for hon. Members to be in favour of the main object of the Motion without accepting the parenthesis at all. Indeed, I understand that a great many hon. Members are rather in that position.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)
I beg to move,That this House, whilst accepting the necessity for National Service in present circumstances, nevertheless considers that the time has now arrived when the period of service should be determined by Parliament on Affirmative Resolution, not less frequently than once a year.We are obliged to the Government for affording us the opportunity of discussing the Motion prior to giving consideration to the Order which is on the Order Paper. Voting on an Order often places the House in the difficulty to which my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has just referred, in that it may be misunderstood. One cannot amend an Order; one cannot move a reasoned Amendment to it. The result is that a vote for or against it might be misunderstood.
For instance, an affirmative vote on the Order might be held to imply the acceptance of National Service at two years for the whole period of five years. I am aware that it can be varied, but I am saying that that is the impression which might be given. On the other hand, a Vote against the National Service Order might have most undesirable consequences in the international sphere.
We therefore wish to make our position perfectly plain. We have put down this Motion which affirms that at the present time we accept the necessity for National Service. That, I think, is a realistic position. On the other hand. National Service is a comparatively new thing in this country in time of peace, and we do not know with certainty how long it will be necessary. It is undesirable that the continuance even of National Service should be taken as a thing of course, and that it should be, so to speak, read into our constitution.
There are many developments today in all kinds of weapons, and no one knows what kind of weapons will be needed even in five years' time for the defence of this country. There are various suggestions, like the American suggestion of holding a line with very few people on atom guns, and so forth. I am not suggesting whether that is possible or desirable, but the fact is that there are these vast changes, and one does, from year to year, have to make a constant review of our defence arrangements.
1404 Then we come to another matter, the length of service. It is well to recall that National Service was introduced originally with the main idea of providing for reserves. The argument that was placed before us by our military advisers at the time was that, both in 1914 and 1939, there was a certain time given after the hostilities commenced in which one could bring up the training of the Territorial Army to full effectiveness, but that under modern conditions what was needed today was a fully-trained reserve. We accepted that argument, and from that National Service arose.
We were later faced with an altogether different position in that, owing to the disturbed conditions of the world, we had to send National Service men overseas, but the time available after their training in the period which they then served did not allow of their giving adequate and economical service overseas. As soon almost as they were out overseas, they had to come back. We increased the period in order to fill the gaps in what would formerly have been the Regular Army and to fulfil the duties of a Regular Army. But again, that was something additional to meet a particular emergency.
We have to consider year by year whether the period of two years is now needed. We discussed this matter in March, in the debates on the Estimates, and the Prime Minister deployed very strong arguments against our Motion. We then put forward the demand that there should be an annual review. The Prime Minister suggested that an annual review created great uncertainty in the minds of the military authorities. That is quite true, and I do not in the least criticise the soldiers—it is mainly the Army we are considering, because the extent of National Service for the Navy and Air Force is very small—for wanting certainty, but it is one of the incidents of our democratic form of government that military authorities have to have a degree of uncertainty.
Every year we pass the Army Annual Act. There is a degree of uncertainty to begin with. Certainly, in the days when that Act was first introduced, when the opposition to anything like a standing Army was very strong, that uncertainty must have troubled the minds of the 1405 military authorities, such as the Prime Minister's great ancestor. Then there are the annual Estimates which deal with manpower, but they deal also with munitions and supplies and everything else. I am quite sure that the military authorities were very troubled in their minds in a period, which I can remember, when the Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer and was engaged in clawing back from the Services all that he possible could for his Budget.
There is, then, always a degree of uncertainty, and I think it is right that there should be, because if we tell the military authorities that they will have so many men available and they expect to get them year by year, they will always find a use for them; and we always must have continual pressure in order to save that number of men.
The Prime Minister's other reason was that our Parliamentary system gives us other opportunities of raising this matter. So it does, and we raised it in the defence debate in March, but, in my view, one requires a special occasion for discussing this very big question of National Service. Anyone who reads the debate of last March will find that this question of National Service tended to swamp the discussion on all other aspects of defence. Indeed, the hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) was naturally indignant towards the end of the debate because practically nothing had been said about the Royal Navy.
That was one of the results of having to bring this question of National Service into a debate which should have dealt with all the wider aspects of defence. Furthermore, that discussion took place after the Estimates had already been brought forward. It is desirable that the question of the length of National Service should be discussed before the Estimates are finally settled. It is appropriate, therefore, that there should be a separate opportunity of raising this issue.
I said that we on this side accept the necessity of National Service now but that we have to consider year by year the length of service and to remember that the two years' period was something very exceptional. I do not propose to make all the points that I made in March, but we are bearing today a heavier burden than any of the other allied countries. One of the reasons—not simply 1406 the only reason—for the two years' service was that we hoped it might stimulate a greater effort among some of our Continental allies. But I do not think that has succeeded.
We have to remember that with this two years' service we are suffering a very heavy handicap. We have a greater amount of manpower taken away from industry than have these other countries, and we have to consider the bearing of that on our general economic situation in a highly competitive world. Just as from time to time with the Estimates we have to consider keeping a balance between defence and economic stability, so we have to weigh very carefully how far we can afford this two years' service.
Naturally, in considering this question, one has to consider our responsibilities. The two years' service came about in 1948 very largely because of the serious world position—the outbreak of points of danger all over the world and our necessity of sending troops overseas. I do not for a moment suggest that the situation is completely clear, but I am glad to observe a more optimistic note coming from the Prime Minister; the last was in a message to a candidate in a by-election.
On the whole I think there is a good chance now of a settlement in Korea, which, although we have not very many troops there, might mean an easing of the whole position in the East. I understand that negotiations are taking place with Egypt in which it is hoped there may be a withdrawal of our troops from Egypt. I am aware that there are voices raised on that matter, but I do not wish at the moment to raise any domestic controversy on the other side of the House. But we know that it has been a tremendous burden having troops shut up in Egypt. The number is something like 70,000, I think. It is almost exactly the equivalent of the number that, we understand, would be the saving if we went from the two years' to one and a half years' National Service. I quite agree that none of those things is yet, so to speak, in the bag.
We may hope, too, that there may be a settlement in Trieste. I thought that President Tito's proposal that we heard today was a useful and helpful one, but all these things, although they have not yet matured, are things that may be maturing in the next few months.
1407 Therefore, there is nothing to be said for trying to lay down that the two-year period has now become the normal; the two-year period remains as something abnormal. We consider that there should be this opportunity every year for review, and that, in fact, it should be the Government that would have to make their case. There is a difference there. At the present moment the two-year period continues, and the onus is on the Opposition to make the case for a reduction. We consider that the onus should be on the Government to prove a necessity.
There is a good deal of room for consideration of the use that is made today of the National Service man. One is disturbed still by a good many complaints about wasted time. One has to consider the effect of that on the nation. Everybody realises how difficult it is to keep people employed all the time in any military service. "They also serve who only stand and wait, but it depends on what they are doing while they are waiting. One has these complaints that men are not adequately employed.
There is also the further question, are they getting adequate training? We have a disturbing efflux of trained N.C.Os., and I understand that we are dependent now for the training of our National Service men on National Service N.C.Os. themselves. I think that is a serious position. It is common ground to all of us that we need a strongly-trained Regular Army both for overseas work and for training National Service men. If too many National Service men are coming in, the machine breaks down. I agree that a mere reduction will not affect the position with regard to N.C.Os., but at present there is a very large proportion of untrained as against trained men. There is, therefore, a case for a very careful examination being made of just what is happening under National Service. Of course, one gets complaints of individuals who have been ruined by National Service, but I believe they come from a minority. I do not believe that the great mass of our young men suffer from National Service; I believe a great many gain, but the matter needs to be looked into.
What I think is more serious, and what I should like to see investigated, is what 1408 effect the present National Service system has on boys in the year before they are called up. I do not want to prejudge the issue, but the suggestion is made that some of the increase in crime from which we are suffering today is due to the fact that, before their National Service, boys are at a loose end because employers will not take them on. The boys and their parents are making sacrifices by taking up National Service, and it is up to the employers to make sacrifices, too, and to give them the best possible chance. But it is a question of just when National Service begins and what is the best age to take them on. That, again, is a matter into which we should look very closely. There should be also an examination of the exact effect on industry.
I have said that we cannot get absolute certainty in this matter, and I have said that the military authorities must put up with a certain amount of uncertainty. I do not think a review once a year will really be so very dreadful from the point of view of uncertainty, But we say it should not be regarded as a normal thing for the boys of this country to serve for two years of National Service. We say that the Government should have to make their case.
That is why we ask for an affirmative Resolution. We should like the matter to come up on an affirmative Resolution from the Government, with a White Paper as informative as possible both on the conditions of and the need for National Service, because this is something that does affect the whole population.
I am aware that there are some people, including some in our own ranks, who are altogether opposed to National Service. I do not propose to argue with them. We have accepted National Service as a necessity at the present time, but it has got to be reviewed. It must not be taken as a matter of course, and that is why I have moved this Motion.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Sir Winston Churchill)
It looks as if we are going to have a quiet afternoon. I can assure the House I shall not try unduly to dim the prospect of such an agreeable, becoming and unusual situation.
This debate arises from the request of the Opposition to have one day on a Motion of their own before proceeding to the more limited debate on the Order in 1409 Council on National Service, which will be moved tomorrow. We have carefully considered the terms of the Motion, and it is with regret that we find ourselves unable to support it. We should note, however, that the Motion begins by accepting the need of compulsory National Service in the present circumstances. That, and indeed all the actions of the Socialists and Labour Party on this subject of conscription since the late war, is remarkable when we consider the deep, latent prejudices which have always existed against compulsory military service in these islands.
I believe I myself in my young days spoke of "the foul tyranny of conscription." Little did I believe that I should live to see not only Liberals but Radicals, and not only Radicals but Socialists, voting for compulsory service, not only in time of war but actually after victory and in time of peace. It shows how the force of events bites deeply into all our thoughts, principles and prejudices, and, of course, we have lived through the most extraordinary convulsions recorded in human experience. There is no doubt at all that they have left their mark on all our minds in an almost irresistible fashion.
There are two points of outstanding importance which have to be borne in mind today. The first is to keep this tremendous question as far as possible above the level of domestic party politics, and thus present to the world a spectacle of national unity on the grave and fundamental issue of National Service for national defence. The second is to avoid, at this moment perhaps above all others, giving the impression that we have changed or weakened our policy in national and international defence from what we inherited from our Socialist predecessors, or from what we stated it to be ourselves earlier this year.
These sets of arguments are to a certain extent in conflict with each other, but only to a certain extent, and I shall hope in the short time in which I shall trespass upon the indulgence and attention of the House to try to show, as the right hon. Gentleman has done to a large extent, the very limited character of the differences between us; also, secondly, notwithstanding the slightness of our differences, why we cannot adopt any change in the policy which we declared and voted upon in March in the sense of weakening 1410 it. Those are the two points, and I think that they both deserve careful weighing.
Let me first dwell upon the great measure of agreement which prevails between us. There is no doubt that the tremendous decision taken by the late Government five years ago, with our wholehearted support, to institute compulsory service for a five-year period and to embark upon an immense programme of rearmament, and the decision three years ago to increase the period of service from 18 months to two years—there is no doubt that these decisions have played a great part in preventing another major war, and certainly in building up the strength, security and unity of what we call the free nations. It has perhaps saved Western Europe from going the way of Czechoslovakia, and certainly it has increased enormously our influence amongst all the nations to whom we are allied.
History will not deny a high measure of credit to the British Labour Party, to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, to the late Mr. Ernest Bevin and to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), and to many others who sit on that bench and behind it this afternoon. This is all the more so because it was repugnant to many of their inclinations, and seemed in a way antagonistic to some of their ideals. In fact, the House of Commons five years ago revived, in spite of the bitter domestic controversy which was going on, the spirit which alone enabled us to save our lives and honour in the long years of war and for a while, with our Commonwealth and Empire, to keep the flag of freedom flying alone among the nations.
Now let us see what precisely are the differences which separate us in this debate, and that make it impossible for us to accept the terms of the Motion. They are exactly what I set out here on 5th March of this year and on which we voted in a Division. The House decided by a majority of 41 to adhere to the policy of the late Government, which was also our policy, and that is what we propose tonight. I do not want to exaggerate the importance of the Division tonight. After all, it is only repeating what happened nine months ago and it will, I trust, be followed by a united and overwhelming vote on the main issue tomorrow—if there is a Division at all, which I trust there will not be.
1411 Both sides were agreed last Session, as they are now, about the necessity for compulsory National Service, but the Opposition wished that the period of service should be determined at least yearly on an affirmative Resolution, whereas we considered that the ordinary procedure of the House gave ample facilities for annual, or even more frequent review, and for the will and power of Parliament to assert itself at any time.
Perhaps the House will forgive me if I quote, I am afraid at some length, what I said on that occasion. It is comforting to be able to say things over again, not merely because it saves labour, but because it gives one an impression of conviction, of sincerity and of consistency. Because it is absolutely relative, I will now venture, if I may, to quote what I said:I do not quarrel with the terms of the Amendment which the Opposition have placed on the Order Paper. The first part recognises very clearly the policy of the Government and in no way evades responsibility for the decision of our predecessors to re-arm on the largest scale and at the utmost speed possible. About the terms and obligations of National Service we are following their example, so far as the period for which we are now seeking powers is concerned. The original Act covered five years and also provided for its extension, if necessary, by Order in Council. We are availing ourselves of this in proposing to extend its operation for another five years. The House will be asked later this year"—I said this nine months ago—to pronounce a positive affirmation of this period.That is what we shall do tomorrow. I went on:That does not mean that the House is asked to commit itself to a prolongation of the two-year service during the whole of a five-year period. That must depend on the course of events, which, at the present moment, give no ground for expecting an early reduction. On the contrary, for the reasons I have mentioned, and to some of which I shall recur, this is a testing time for the free world, and any sign of weakening purpose would undermine what good has already been done by both parties at heavy cost to everyone. But the measures which we should in due course take in no way prevent the Government, this or any other, from reducing the two-year period at any time if they feel it can safely be done. And they can reduce it without legislation. It cannot be increased without legislation, but it can be reduced by an Order in Council at any moment this may be thought fitting by any Ministry which may bear the responsibility.Where, then, is there the need for an annual affirmative Resolution? The procedure of the House provides ample and recurring opportunities of challenging the Government of the 1412 day upon this or any other clear-cut issue, and of bringing it to the test of debate and of Division.In the debate on the Address the right hon. Gentleman reminded us of the Army Annual Act. It begins by saying that, whereas it is illegal to maintain a standing Army in time of peace in this country, let us have five million men under compulsion—or words to that effect. And all goes off quite smoothly.
I said:There is the debate on the Address; there are all the facilities which the House uses for debate and vote upon any Motion it may wish to discuss; there is the annual debate on defence; there are the Services' Estimates; and various other occasions. On any one of these the matter could be raised, threshed out, a Division could be taken, whether to terminate the two-year system or produce, in the words of the Opposition Amendment,"—that was the amendment of nine months ago—an 'affirmative Resolution' in its favour. The issue remains continually in the hands of the House.I have nearly finished my quotation:If we were to extend the period only year by year, as suggested, we believe that it would discourage our friends abroad and might well encourage the other ones. Above all, there would be uncertainty—uncertainty when so many aspects of daily life are affected—the daily life of great numbers of people is affected. Every year rumours, and the agitations following upon them, would spread: 'There is going to be a big reduction.' This would affect everyone who thought he was likely to be called up. Still more, it would make it difficult for the Service Departments to plan on a coherent and thrifty basis. For us at this stage—responsible Ministers—to shrink from definite approval of the two-year system would spread uncertainty throughout the Services, and would be, in our opinion, at the present time in no way justified by the international position."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 570–1.]That is pretty good, you know; but I have a point to add. I gave at that time many administrative reasons for the inconvenience and uncertainty of frequent changes, but I do not think that I need repeat them today. My plea to the House is simple. This is not the time even to toy with the idea of change. That is my case and my plea. Much though I welcome the great measure of unity—
§ Mr. Attlee
Does not the point which the right hon. Gentleman has made there imply that the Government will not change because, if there is any thought of their changing, the military and people 1413 abroad would be in a state of uncertainty? The implication of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, therefore, is that two years will remain without any change.
§ The Prime Minister
No, not at all. What I said was that this was not the time even to toy with the idea of change. I by no means exclude the possibility of change, but this is by no means the time for us to advertise and ventilate that all over Europe and the United States.
Much though I welcome the great measure of unity that prevails between us on this question, and much though I would like to remove what is really not more than a technical difference of procedure, I fear that this would be interpreted alike by friends and others throughout the world as a definite change in our policy. The change would not be large enough to produce beneficial results, but without in any way lessening our dangers it would weaken the confidence that is felt in us by our allies and our influence among them. The phrase in the Motion,… the time has now arrived …is really the reverse of the facts.
I thought that we were all agreed that our policy at present might be defined as, "Peace through strength," but a change of this character, small as it would be, though it might be understood in its proper proportion by hon. Members in all parts of the House, would have the effect abroad of being thought to be the beginning of a policy of "Conciliation by weakness," which we regard as most dangerous to peace. Certainly that would do us immense harm both ways. The Communist world might say, "There, the N.A.T.O. forces are breaking up. The British have introduced the thin end of the wedge. Why should we make concessions when we have only to persevere to win?" And the greatest of our allies, the one without whom the safety of the free world would be doomed, might be quite needlessly disquieted. I do not want to dwell on that too much.
As I said, and repeat, Parliament is supreme and its procedure gives it numberless opportunities for expressing its view or making its will effective. But surely we could not choose a worse moment to suggest a change of policy than now, when so much is in the balance 1414 and when we are actually on the eve of a tripartite conference at Bermuda. I ask the House to consider that. This conference is not in order to weaken our forces or our resolves, but to discuss ways of strengthening them, both morally and materially, and at the same time—where it is not inconsistent—to study the ways of reassuring the other half of the world that we mean them no harm and repudiate all intention of aggressive action and will study the best methods and occasions of making easy practical contacts with them and, even if we cannot solve our major problems, thus reduce the world tension. That at least is the sort of thing that I hope may develop from our talks.
I am sure that there will be much more chance of a favourable atmosphere if the Foreign Secretary and I are known to represent a solidly united Britain, than if it is thought that we are playing about for party advantage over here on this great issue—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and using these trifling differences in Parliamentary proc to set false hopes in motion. I therefore ask the House not to exaggerate the differences on procedure and to rest solidly on its existing rights and powers to review our military policy whenever it chooses; and above all not to choose this moment for making what looks like a change, however small, in what has so long been the solid policy of the country.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
There are two aspects of this debate. There is, as it were, the formal aspect which is connected with the Motion which the Leader of the Opposition has just moved and we on this side of the House support. That Motion deals on the surface with a procedural point which, as the Prime Minister has emphasised, may not seem a very broad one.
The Motion itself has two parts. In the first place, it lays down the fact that we on this side of the House believe that National Service for some period is a necessity at the present time. I think that the Prime Minister ought to recognise that when we put into our Motion the fact that we recognise the necessity for National Service at this time we are fulfilling our duty to all those policies 1415 of maintaining the strength of the West to which he addressed such a large part of his remarks. The right hon. Gentleman paid a glowing tribute to the defence effort of the Labour Government which preceded him, a tribute which could not be stronger, but should he not recognise that in the first part of this Motion, in which we continue to recognise the need for National Service, we on this side of the House are continuing to support the defence of the West, which we believe, just as much as he does, is a necessity today?
The other part of the Motion is the demand that not only the period but all the other conditions of National Service should be subject to an annual review and an affirmative vote by Parliament. This in itself may not be tremendously different from the present position. I do not think anyone would claim that it is. But my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made a completely watertight case that in a matter as grave as this there ought to be a regular annual occasion on which Parliament can review the situation.
There is not very much in the point about uncertainty for the War Office and other Defence Ministries; the Prime Minister himself has just said, in reading his speech of nine months ago, that in fact Parliament can alter the period of National Service at any moment. The position is even more uncertain without the annual review than it would be with an annual review. An annual review would at any rate fix attention on the matter once a year when Parliament could consider the period and all other conditions of National Service. I should have thought that thoroughly good Parliamentary practice.
I entirely recognise, however, that there is a far more substantial point in the minds of us all in this debate. That substantial point is the question whether the period of National Service, at present of two years, can or cannot be reduced. As the House knows, I have not felt able to advocate a reduction of the period of National Service to anything shorter than two years. I have not felt able to join those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have advocated the immediate here-and-now reduction of that period.
1416 Why is that? It is not because a reduction of the period to, say, 18 months would necessarily weaken our forces in their contribution to N.A.T.O., as the Prime Minister suggested. It is quite arguable that before 1950, when we had a period of 18 months' National Service, the total effort we could devote to divisions in Europe—to Western Germany and the rest—and our total defence effort, considering the more rapid build-up of reserves that that gave us, was quite as great. The justification—to my mind the necessity—during the past three years for this grievous two-year period of National Service has not been that. It has been to meet the distant overseas commitments of the Army. Those were the reasons which forced us, very much against our will, naturally, to increase the period from 18 months to two years in 1950. It was the sheer necessity of meeting the distant overseas commitments, above all for the Army.
Those commitments were piling up; there was the outbreak of the Korean war—the most distant commitment one could imagine, at the other side of the world—and, after that, the dispatch of very substantial reinforcements to the Middle East, on top of the other overseas commitments of the Army. In our view, it was impossible for the Army to meet those commitments without the sheer numbers of men which a period of two years would alone produce. That and that alone was the reason which forced us to raise the period to two years.
I, for one, take the view that so long as those commitments were in full force—they are not quite in full force even now—but so long as they were completely in full force—it was impossible to reduce the period again to 18 months, or any shorter period. For there seems to me one thing we must not do. We must not impose a whole series of extremely heavy, difficult and painful tasks on the Army and then deny it the men absolutely indispensable to perform those tasks. That is an impossible thing to ask of the Army. It is grossly unfair on the men who have to carry out those tasks to continue to impose them on the Armed Forces and then to deny the means for them to be carried out. Therefore, if and when we ask for a reduction in the period of National Service we must at the same time see our way clear to ask for a reduction in the tasks of the Army.
1417 The distant overseas commitments, which are the basic reason for the lengthy two-year period of National Service, are the real issue. There are other considerations of great importance, but those commitments are the basic underlying issue in this whole matter which, as the Leader of the Opposition said, is essentially an Army matter. The other two Services could certainly manage with a shorter period, but with these enormous tasks imposed upon it the Army must be considered in this matter.
Why do we on this side of the House consider that we may be rapidly approaching a point at which it should be possible again to reduce the period of National Service to what it was, for example, before 1950? One thing has happened; the actual fighting in Korea has stopped, and the outbreak of the shooting war in Korea was the last straw on the camel's back necessitating the increase to two years. Of course, that does not mean that the entire burden of the Korean expedition has been removed, but it has been reduced by the truce.
Much more important than the numbers in the Korean theatre are Egypt and the Middle East. We have very nearly 80,000 men in the Canal Zone. As the House knows—I need not repeat it today—for a long time I have taken the view that, from a strictly British point of view, especially for British defence interests, the evacuation of the Canal Zone, after a reasonable working agreement with the Egyptian Government, was enormously in the interests of this country. I do not think that that was a view which was unanimously held when first I put it forward in this House, but it certainly does appear that the Government have come very much nearer to it today than they were, although that may not be true of all hon. Members opposite.
We do trust and believe that the Government are coming to an arrangement with the Egyptian Government which will free from that particular duty in the Canal Zone the immense majority, virtually the whole, of those forces. Of course, I do not say there will be a net saving to the Army of every man who is evacuated from the Canal Zone. That would be pushing the argument too far, but I do say that this would be the greatest single relief of the burdens on the Army which could possibly be made. It is incomparably the greatest, numerically, of our 1418 distant overseas commitments. Therefore, to a very considerable extent, the question whether the period of National Service can or cannot be reduced again, turns on the question whether we succeed in getting our arrangement with Egypt.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
Will the right hon. Member deal with the point he made on a previous occasion? That was his severe criticism of the fact that there was no reserve whatever. In the event of these commitments being reduced, from what source does he propose we should get a reserve?
§ Mr. Strachey
I was just saying that it would be pushing the argument too far to say that there would be a net saving to the Army of every man evacuated from the Canal Zone of Egypt, because the strategic reserve in this country has not to be forgotten. There is a very considerable saving, however, in keeping 10,000 or 20,000 National Service men in this country against keeping them overseas. There is the length of transit time.
§ Mr. Harvey
What is the point of the reserves if they cannot go anywhere when required? It is no use saying that they are not a definite commitment. They are potentially a very definite commitment.
§ Mr. Strachey
We cannot take that view. They have to go somewhere in time of war when everything is different and when the period of service is unlimited.
I was just about to say that I was far from suggesting that even when the Canal Zone commitment has been liquidated it will be easy for the Army to reduce the period of National Service again. It would impose great difficulties and problems on the Army to return to a period of 18 months, say, as against two years; but when that main step of the evacuation of the Canal Zone has been taken, the possibility of going down to 18 months is open. At that point the broader arguments in favour of a shorter period than two years—the effects on national economy as a whole and the social life of the country—become of almost overwhelming importance.
We did not raise the period to two years with any reference to the training of our reserves. [Interruption.] No, the 1419 training element in National Service does not for one moment require a period of two years, and nobody suggests that it does. Up to 1950, we trained our reserves on a period of 18 months' service, and no one said that it was impossible to do it in that period. [Laughter.] I do not know why hon. Gentlemen opposite laugh.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I must apologise to the right hon. Gentleman, but the right hon. Gentleman who is sitting very close to him said that it was never intended that National Service should be increased for overseas commitments but only in order to build up the reserves.
§ Mr. Attlee
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is referring to me, I reply that I said quite the other thing.
§ Mr. Strachey
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is completely mistaken. I heard what my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) said, and it was nothing of that sort. We agreed on the reason we gave on 15th September, 1950, when the Bill was introduced to increase the period of National Service. The reason was that which I gave just now, that the overseas commitments made that step indispensable.
I should like to recall that debate to the House, because it was of importance. On 15th September, 1950, when the period was increased to two years, questions were put by hon. Gentlemen who were then on the Government side as to our purpose in the matter. May I read a few words which I used on that day? They were:I most readily give that assurance, that we certainly do not think, either from the military point of view or the general point of view, that this period of two years' National Service is the right system for this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th September, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 1489.]That surely makes it clear that it was done entirely to meet the emergency of Korea and the other commitments in the overseas theatres, as was made clear today by my right hon. Friend in moving this Motion.
1420 The problems which will arise if and when it becomes physically possible to reduce the period to 18 months—which I again say will be at the point where this major overseas commitment of Egypt is liquidated—will be extremely complex. The whole question of recruiting for the Regular Army is a most important aspect of the situation. Our commitments are only one side of the story. To take the economic analogy, that is the demand side. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) concentrates on the supply side, and that is largely governed by Regular recruitment. The figures available to us are distinctly discouraging in this respect. While the Army Estimates and the Defence White Paper are based on an expectation of 100,000 Regular recruits, we have so far only about 65,000. I am not blaming anyone for that, but it is a serious position.
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Why not? It is the fault of the Secretary of State for War.
§ Mr. Strachey
It is not a thing easy to command. It is most important that Regular recruitment should not be neglected. It would be very sad if we felt that we had to maintain a period of two years' National Service in perpetuity because we had neglected our Regular recruiting. It would be incomparably better to give great attention, not only to pay and conditions but to all the other factors which bear on Regular recruitment, than to maintain a period of two years' National Service because we could not get the Regular Forces we need.
That brings me to the point that as soon as these appallingly excessive—I use the word advisedly—overseas commitments which necessitate the length of the present period are dispensed with, we ought to make the most urgent efforts to get back to the original conception of National Service as it was built up in the post-war years. The conception was to do the work of the distant overseas theatres by the Regular Forces and that the National Service man shall be brought in essentially for training and to be passed into the reserves as a trained man.
I would make one exception to that, the German theatre. We can regard the four divisions in Western Germany as in a kind of home station, a place in which the National Service man can undergo the latter part of his training. I see 1421 no objection to his being posted there. We ought to do our utmost to reshape our Army—because this is above all an Army question—in such a way that we can reduce the period of National Service to an essential training period, having adequate Regular Forces to undertake the remaining overseas commitments.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
To what extent did the right hon. Gentleman achieve his object of getting more people into the Regular Army while he was Secretary of State for War? The example was not good.
§ Mr. Strachey
The Regular recruiting during the period of the Labour Government fluctuated, but it was not at all bad; not if we compare it either with pre-war Regular recruiting, in very much easier social and economic conditions for the recruiting sergeant, or with what is happening now. We shall find—
§ Mr. Strachey
Yes, in many respects it was. The hon. and gallant Member should not fail to recollect that today very largely Regular recruiting is for the short period of only three years. In our time it was for a much longer Regular engagement. There may be something to be said both for and against the short-term period, but when the figures are no better and the period of engagement is much shorter the position is more serious. So I think it a great pity if the hon. and gallant Gentleman thinks he can make a party point out of that.
§ Brigadier Clarke
The right hon. Gentleman is trying to tell me that recruiting was better while he was Secretary of State for War. I maintain that it has greatly improved since he left and will go on improving as long as he stays away.
§ Mr. Strachey
I shall not bandy words any further with the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I was careful to say that I, at any rate, was not blaming my successor for the serious recruiting figures revealed this year. But they are serious and it is a responsibility which I am sure he feels that he has to face. But to try to make a party point about the level of Regular recruiting figures under different lengths of engagement at different periods is frankly childish.
1422 I was about to say that the conception of a Regular Army of a sufficient size to undertake reasonable commitments—and our commitments all over the world are not of reasonable dimensions today, and I believe we must reduce them—to undertake a reasonable degree of overseas commitments, and a National Service system which is essentially a training system—with the exception of Germany—that as I said, is surely the conception to which we should return.
If the Government think they can impose for ever on the people of this country a period of National Service of two years, and use it to meet these enormous commitments we have all over the world, they are deceiving themselves. The people of this country are patiently sustaining National Service. They certainly do not like it, but they are sustaining it. They agree as to the necessity for a period of National Service in present circumstances. But if they are made indefinitely to sustain a period of two years' National Service, in order to meet these commitments and not for training purposes, in the end they will revolt against it altogether.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Colonel J. H. Harrison (Eye)
If we cast our minds back nine years ago to the last year of the war we might then have not been looking forward to a debate such as this. We are agreed in the feeling that if we won the war we are not going to lose the present peace and at present we can only sustain that peace by vigorous action.
We in this country are in an extremely difficult situation owing to our geographical circumstances as the centre of an oceanic Commonwealth. We have many obligations, not only to maintain law and order, and to safeguard the economic trade routes on which we vitally depend, but to look after the people of all races and religions within our Colonial Empire who look to us for safety against any form of invasion.
We have those commitments abroad, and they included the hot war in Korea which, fortunately, has now come to an end. But we still have threats of a hot war breaking out again at any time because of Communists infiltration. We have to maintain larger garrisons at Hong Kong and Malaya—although we all 1423 rejoice at the fact that the situation is better now—than we did before the war; and we have many other commitments in addition to our traditional commitment of safeguarding our Empire. We can see that our resources are stretched to the limit by recalling that when the trouble broke out in British Guiana we had to send a battalion from this country and even remove a company of the Queen's bodyguard.
Are we to accept our responsibilities within the Commonwealth as a great Power, or are we to give them up? It would be quite easy to go back—as is sometimes implied by hon. Members who speak in this House—and become a small nation like Sweden or Switzerland, but there are many foreign countries who look to us to keep the peace in the world.
§ Mr. Swingler
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman extend that to the other member nations of the Commonwealth? Does not he think that in this matter of compulsory National Service the other members of the Commonwealth should recognise that they have the same obligations?
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Canada has an Army of some 40,000, but she has not one man under conscription.
§ Colonel Harrison
They are far smaller in numbers than we are and I am sure that in the Commonwealth they are realising their responsibilities—
§ Colonel Harrison
That is a difference of opinion, but I hope that by our example we shall lead them to play their full part, which I know they are determined to do.
One of our difficulties is the fact that all our material resources were shattered by the war. I wish to tell the House of a personal experience when going on a trip in the Middle East in countries such as Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, the Arab States and Persian and Iraq. When one is travelling commercially, trying to sell British goods, and meeting shopkeepers, wholesalers and retailers, and 1424 having to discuss these things over long and interminable meals, one gets down to what they are really thinking.
On different occasions one and all said to me, "We like to see Britain strong, because we look to her to maintain the peace of the world"—[Interruption]—yes, they do—"and we never mind where you send your troops because we know you have no aggressive intentions." That is a position we should not easily give up.
In addition to the present commitments of men actually serving in the Armed Forces we have a large mobile reserve which we have to maintain. Anyone who has visited S.H.A.P.E. headquarters and talked to Lord Montgomery has come away impressed with his views and how important it is to have a reserve fully trained and equipped and able to go into the front line in the event of war—which none of us want—quickly; not in a matter of months or years, but literally of days or of two or three weeks. Therefore, very rightly, starting under the late Government, we commenced to build up the new National Service Army, based on the old Territorial Army with an element of volunteers. Men are trained now, and I believe that a trained Army reserve is a very important factor. It is wise, however, to ensure that they are trained for specialist jobs and do not remain merely a large body of men.
I should like to consider this matter from the point of view of the boy who is about to serve in our Armed Forces. I have visited a large number of our big day schools, where boys stay until the age of 16, 17 or 18. I have talked to many headmasters. I speak specially of the day school rather than the boarding school, because the boy at boarding school is accustomed to going away from home. Day school headmasters say that it is the uncertainty of whether or not there may be deferment that plays upon a boy's mind in his last year at school.
If we stick to the period of five years, and that is known, that will bring a degree of certainty to the boys who are about to be called up. They will know that at any time within that five-year period they will have to go. Whenever I am asked by parents in my constituency to inquire about a boy's deferment I say, "If your boy could be deferred completely, well and good, but if he is to get deferment only for one or two years then, 1425 in my opinion, it is better for him to do his service when he is 18 rather than to wait to do it later."
The boys who enter into National Service fall, roughly, into two types. There are those who after leaving school at 15 work in a factory, on the land, in a distributive trade or in an office. They settle down to their jobs and start to learn them and they will return when their service is over. At least they have the right to go back. If they get a better job, good luck to them. They may have learnt something in the Army to make them more capable. On the other hand, there are a large number of men who are being trained as apprentices and there are those who stay on at schools and win scholarships or places to a university.
I hope that I shall not be misunderstood when I say that National Service is more of an interference to the latter class than it is to those who have already started work. It is from those who are training as apprentices and those who have won scholarships that we hope to find a high percentage of future n.c.o's. and officers. It is staggering to realise that a man who wins a scholarship to university where he may study for three years after having stayed at school until 18, may be as old as 23 before he starts to earn money after completing his National Service. He may even be as old as 26 before he can operate in his selected profession in which he can be of most use as a citizen.
I wish to comment on a pamphlet which has been received by some of us today. In it one is addressed as, "Dear Friend." I distinctly dislike being addressed as a friend by somebody I have never seen or heard of. This pamphlet is from a body called the "British Youth Festival Committee," which is an extremely misleading title for a body which expresses such views about the whole of National Service, on which we are all united.
§ Colonel Harrison
All right. There is a small minority.
If this pamphlet went to our Army, Air and Sea Cadet Forces it would get a strong reception. These forces are excellent places for our boys to go to, rather 1426 than being misled by a title of something British which seems to preach something totally different.
I was privileged to be a member of the delegation which visited Germany during the Recess, to watch our Army manoeuvres. I have heard it said that people are critical about the way manpower is used in the Army and, therefore, they condemn National Service. That comment has been made to me on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, our people do not see the best side of the Army. The reason is that we have to base our Regular Forces overseas. The ones who are left here are those who are doing the chores of the Army in the transit camps, etc., dealing with the men who come back from Germany and other places. They are the ones who go home on leave every other week-end and who say what they are doing.
§ Colonel Harrison
I said that we had at home that element in small units which have to do the chores. They are seen more at home than those who are in good units overseas, of which we saw many examples in Germany. The men in Germany have achieved a high standard of training, and their main criticism is about the price of many of the goods in the N.A.A.F.I. If it was possible to bring a number of our troops back from overseas for a strategic reserve at home, that would do a great deal to show ordinary people the standing of the Army.
As an example, I would point out that when the Regular unit of my own regiment, the Suffolk Regiment, came back from Malaya and visited the various towns of the county they were received with great enthusiasm because of the good work they had done. They were a good factor for recruiting and also for demonstrating that the work of the National Serviceman was worth while.
With the five-year period there is more certainty. It would always be possible for the Government of the day to introduce an Order to reduce the period. 1427 Nobody would be more keen than we on these benches if the state of the world justified such an action, and I am certain that there would be no delay by the present Government if that step was justified. I believe that our National Service men, as well as our Regulars, play an important part as ambassadors for this country wherever they go.
Certainly, that is true of Western Germany, where they meet the people in the cafes and in their homes. Our men are playing an invaluable part helping to show the people of Western Germany that their interests are linked with ours in the West rather than with anyone else's. Also, let us remember that in the last resort it is the intrepid spirit of our men which has saved us in the past and will save us again if our safety is challenged.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I rise to support the Motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition. His arguments lost nothing of their effect or strength by the moderation with which they were presented. I deeply regret that the Prime Minister and his Government are unable to accept the Motion.
The Prime Minister rightly pointed out that the apparent difference between us at the present moment is rather a narrow one. It may be narrow, but it is highly important. On one matter there is a complete consensus of opinion in all parties, namely, that the most cherished possession we have is our freedom and that we are all determined to defend it to the uttermost sacrifice anyone can be called upon to make. Where we differ at the present moment is in the degree and manner of control which should be exercised over those who are calling upon us to make such sacrifice.
The Prime Minister was right in saying that conscription is alien to our people. It has never been the accepted policy of any party. The Prime Minister was also right to remind himself and the House of the very strong language with which he used to denounce conscription. He made one mistake in referring to my party. He said that it had voted for conscription in time of peace and when there was no threat of war. That is not accurate.
1428 I would remind the House of the way in which the subject has been approached by the country on the greatest of all occasions. When we declared war on 4th August, 1914, upon Germany, Austria and Hungary, there was no conscription. The Prime Minister of the day felt that conscription could not be introduced, and he carried the whole of the people with him until the war had been going on for months. It was not until the following year, 1915, that he dared introduce it in the House, and even then, in spite of the great risks that we were running and the fact that our freedom was in danger, there was a certain amount of opposition.
I next come to 1939, when war was absolutely on the threshold. It was decided by the Government to introduce a measure of conscription in April and May of that year. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen of the Labour Party voted against it at that time. So did the majority of the Liberals. On the other hand, I thought that war was so near that we had no other option at that moment but to vote for conscription, and I did so. I have always felt that in time of peace conscription is wrong and undemocratic, because it forces people to do something which they would not otherwise voluntarily choose, but I consider that in time of war it is the most democratic method that can be devised for the defence of a nation. That is the attitude that I and my colleagues have adopted throughout.
To come to more recent times, the war practically ended in 1945, for Germany had been completely defeated and before the autumn of that year Japan had gone. Nevertheless conscription was continued, long after the war had ended, under the Act then in force, which was renewed by the Labour Government. I and my colleagues protested against that. The answer given at that time was that we were short of reserves and that men were leaving the Army, civilian amenities and pay being so much better that men would not stay in the Army.
The attitude I adopted at that time was, "If you want men to be in the Army, you ought to get them in for a long time." What is required today more than at any other time is a highly trained technical force. The technicalities of modern warfare are, I should imagine, 1429 far more complex than anything which has previously confronted an army, and the training cannot be given in a short time. That seems now to be recognised. I was trying at that time to induce the Government to make conditions better, to provide more amenities and to increase pay, especially of officers. We were again a minority in the House, and not much attention was paid to our voice, and the Government proceeded with conscription on the same lines.
When that Measure came to an end, a new Act was introduced which provided for conscription for a period of 18 months. I protested against that until the Korean episode started. One will always remember the anxiety throughout the whole world at that moment lest that incident should turn out to be the beginning of what we all dreaded, a Third World War. If that had been the case, we should then have had to develop and bring together all our resources without a reserve of any kind. On that occasion I and my colleagues voted for conscription and voted for the extension of the time from 18 months to two years. If our freedom was in danger, then there was no sacrifice that we were not prepared to make.
That is, shortly, the history. Then, in September, 1950, the Act under which we are now working came before the House as a Bill. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) then moved a new Clause on practically the same lines as the Motion now before the House; it provided that the Bill should continue until the end of 1951. We were saying to the Government, "If the needs of the country are such that it is necessary to renew the Act, come to the House of Commons and say what the position is. If you can make the case for it beyond a doubt and beyond a peradventure, the whole House will support you." That was the attitude we took, and I supported the Clause.
The Minister of Defence at that time would not accept the Clause, but he made it perfectly plain that he regarded conscription as a purely temporary measure. I should have expected that from a Member of the Labour Party. It may interest the House to be reminded of what was said by the right hon. and learned Gentle- 1430 man the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), who spoke for the Opposition. He asked me to withdraw the Clause. He said:I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) to consider whether he should press this new Clause in the circumstances of today. I should like to say for myself and for those who sit with me that we feel just as strongly as anyone who has given expression to the same view that this proposal should not be a permanent part of our national set-up."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th September, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 1504–5.]It is clear beyond peradventure that no one wants to regard conscription as a permanent part of our policy and Constitution. Therefore, what are we to do at the present moment? The letters which I receive from all parts of the country ask that conscription should end. Every post brings such letters. Many of them call attention to the fact that the situation is easing, to the speeches which have been made by the Prime Minister and to the fact that there is at present a truce in Korea. Naturally, I am greatly impressed by these letters, but, on the other hand, like the Leader of the Opposition, I realise what are our commitments and our tremendous responsibilities at the present moment in the Far East, South-East Asia, in Egypt, in Africa and in South America, commitments which are greater than any other country comparable with our own.
I think I am right in saying—either of the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench will correct me if I am wrong—that one of the matters which they had in mind when they raised the period from 18 months to two years was not only the danger in the Far East from what was happening in Korea, but the encouragement to countries on the Continent who are our Allies to do exactly as we did. Not one of them has done it.
This is a wonderful country with a wonderful people, and there have been no people in history who could have accomplished what our people have done. I know what our responsibilities are, and I do not ask that this system should be ended, but, if it is to be continued, I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to continue it for a period of five years or anything like that. Let him come down to the House and explain what the exact position is. Let him, as the Leader of the 1431 Opposition suggested, produce a White Paper setting out all the details each year, and let him explain at that Box what our real position is. If the House is convinced of the necessity for continuing this Measure, then, with the sense of responsibility which rests upon every one of us, it will say, "Very well, it shall be done." That is all we are asking.
I was sorry that the Prime Minister used the words "Do not toy with the idea; at the present, this is a pure technicality." We are not toying with it. This is not "a mere technicality." This is asking that the House of Commons should have control over the Government of the day and over the Ministers responsible exactly as we have always had with regard to the annual Army Act. What we are asking for is not a new thing in our annals. It is merely that the Minister responsible should come down to the House when he proposes to call up these young men and explain the necessity for it. If there is a necessity, it will be done, but, if the Minister cannot explain the necessity, it will come to an end. Those are the reasons why I support this Motion, but, before I conclude, may I ask one question of the Secretary of State for War, since he is in his place?
The Leader of the Opposition referred to the use that is being made of the time of these young men, and I want to refer to the position in the country areas. All the time there is a call going out for more food production, and yet these young men are being taken away from the countryside at the time when they are most needed. Unfortunately, we find that once they have been attracted away from the countryside, when they have finished their Army careers, they do not go back to work on the countryside, but instead go into the towns where there are so many more attractions. We are losing young men in that way, so that there is an additional reason for anxiety.
There is one other matter to which I should like to draw attention, and that concerns the distinction drawn between a boy who has remained on one farm and a boy who has moved from farm to farm. This is what is happening. The boy who remains on the same farm from the time he leaves school until of military age is not called up, but different treat-1432 ment is accorded to the boy who has moved from one farm to another and who is now in his second or third post after leaving school. Why should that be? In my own county, we have very few agricultural labourers. We are mostly family farmers and small farmers, and the finest tutor for a boy is his own father.
This is the kind of thing that happens. Let us say that there are two boys, the elder of whom leaves school and goes to work on a farm with his father, who trains him to be a really good agricultural worker. The second boy leaves school, and a neighbouring farmer says "I have not got a boy; will you let yours come and help me?" and the father agrees. In due course, that boy is called up because he has moved from his father's farm to another one, and, in the result, it is almost like applying the old Statute of Labourers of Edward III to present conditions to stop these boys moving from one place to another. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will look into that matter.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I support wholeheartedly the Motion that has been moved by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I am not, however, altogether in agreement with the statement that this is exclusively an Army problem. It is a little more than that. It is a problem which affects the whole of our national life, because we are now being asked to agree to the continuance of National Service, ostensibly for a period of two years, for a period of five years. In my judgment, that statement is incorrect. Unless the British Government and the country now examine with care the workings of the National Service Acts and their implications, this country will be undertaking the burden of compulsory National Service on a level not below two years for the rest of the lives of most of us here this afternoon.
The Prime Minister came down today full of the milk of human kindness and said, "Let us take defence right outside the realm of party politics." I spent the weekend reading all the speeches on this subject, including my own, since I came into this House, so that my own conscience is clear on this issue, though not necessarily on every other. What a differ- 1433 ent story the Prime Minister told today to the story he told when in Opposition. Then, nearly every right hon. Gentleman who was sitting on that Front Bench was a nitwit; they were rogues, or something very near to it. What a "muck-up" our defences were in. He said so, two years ago, in March, 1952, when he had undertaken responsibility as Minister of Defence, because he said:My first impression … was a sense of extreme makedness such as I had never felt before in peace or war—almost as though I was living in a nudist colony."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 434.]If the right hon. Gentleman was living in a nudist colony two years ago, he must be pretty cold now. Either he should have been charged with indecent exposure or he should have contracted acute penumonia.
However naked we might have been two years ago, what about our position now? The right hon. Gentleman spoke on 16th March, 1950, in this House—before he became Prime Minister—and charged my right hon. Friends with not being able to find two brigade groups to send overseas. Today, the right hon. Gentleman cannot even find a battalion. The British Army today is spread all over the world in penny packets, and, of course, it is perfectly true that, if one looks at this problem fairly in view of our commitments, we should not be having compulsory military service for two years, and certainly not discussing a reduction of the period, but should be discussing the question of increasing it.
I say that, given the present foreign policy of the Government and that pursued by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies at the present time, we ought to have three years' military service. Is there any hon. Member in any part of the House who was called upon to vote on the issue of National Service in 1947, 1948 or 1950, who would have held up his hand in favour of it had he known that by the time the Act came up for renewal we should have the better part of a division in Kenya with the prospect of more to go?
We have now got two battalions in British Guiana and every prospect, before the year is out, that Nigeria will be making its demands on our Service manpower. But there are no two brigade 1434 groups to go. They have all gone. As the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) said, when we were called upon to face the emergency in British Guiana we were forced to withdraw the company carrying out ceremonial duties at Balmoral. The Prime Minister talked about being naked in 1952, but he says not a word about it today.
Of course, as I say, the right hon. Gentleman is filled with kindness. He wants to get this through with the least possible discussion. As far as I am concerned, I accept the principle of National Service, and it is highly irresponsible for any hon. Member who accepted it in the past to suggest that today we could depart from it overnight. But I say that it is a job of the Government, of every hon. Member and of the Press and the B.B.C. to make the most searching inquiry into what is going on, because the muddle is not confined only to the Army.
Let us look at the overall problem. Do hon. Members realise that at the present moment there are 100,000 National Service men who have done their two years' service in the Royal Air Force, and that these young men, like their brothers in the Navy and in the Army are under the legal liability to serve three and a half years on the Reserve. But what do we find? We find that of the 100,000 Royal Air Force reservists in 1953, only 8,500 have done their Reserve service this year.
What would the Prime Minister have had to say if my right hon. Friend had been responsible for an administrative action which relieves 25 per cent. of these young men of the legal responsibility to carry out their Reserve service? Speaking in this House on 16th March, 1950—before he became Prime Minister—the right hon. Gentleman said something with which I entirely agree. He said:I believe that the method of choosing those who are required could be greatly improved, and I do not exclude the principle of selective service by ballot from a proper application of our National Service law.I think that the right hon. Gentleman was absolutely right when he said that in 1950. If the right hon. Gentleman held that view in 1950 before he became Prime Minister, especially when one examines the impact of National Service not only upon our military life, but upon our economic life, why does not he have an examination made of that solution and 1435 ask the House and the country for approval of it? In the same speech, the right hon. Gentleman went on to say:I am satisfied that conscription could be applied with less burden and with less expense, combined with greater efficiency, having regard Co our peculiar needs."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 1286.]The Prime Minister did not think that my right hon. Friend and the Labour Government were handling the matter of conscription as well as they might. Well, I have given an example this afternoon of the handling of the Royal Air Force reservists, and the Prime Minister has something to answer for on that account.
Now let us look at the Army. To say the least of it, I am not one of the great admirers of the present Secretary of State for War. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am sorry to disappoint hon. Members, and I hope that as a result of my words this afternoon some of them may begin to entertain doubts, and will, perhaps, succeed in doing what I have not been able to do, that is, get rid of the right hon. Gentleman.
In his first speech as Secretary of State for War—and if hon. Members want a pleasant half hour's reading they should read that speech and compare it with the one made by the right hon. Gentleman this year; all the bite and all the smart fellow-me-lad had gone out of it by 1953, because the facts were too much for him—the right hon. Gentleman reminded my right hon. Friend that his decision to increase the rate of pay had been taken much too late. He said that he had convinced himself—he always does—that the solution of the Army's problems was to raise the pay. Just raise the pay and the boys would roll in.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the pay, but, not satisfied with that, he also played around with the terms of service. I do not want to be unkind to the right hon. Gentleman, so I will give the House his own words. On 10th March, 1952, he said:In the future there will be no man in the Army who has a binding compulsion beyond three years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 1027.]The right hon. Gentleman has altered the terms of service of the Regular Army so that at the present time there is no Regular soldier who is under a legal obligation to serve more than three years.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
That is not right. Let us get it straight. I said "In the future," which is correct, but, of course, at the present time there are many Regular soldiers who have an obligation to serve longer than that.
§ Mr. Wigg
I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that those who have completed 12 years' service have the right to opt out. I agree that the right hon. Gentleman said that in the future we should reach that point, and if he wishes to take some credit for that I would not wish to deny it to him. It only means that the damage will not be fully completed until some time in the future.
What was the result of the steps taken by the right hon. Gentleman as set out in the Defence White Paper this year? The Government budgeted for 100,000 Regular recruits this year, but as my right hon. Friend said, the total number of recruits up to the end of September was only 65,000, with the worst three months of the year still to come. There is an absolute certainty that by the end of the year the figure of 100,000 will not be reached, and my guess is that the shortfall will be of the order of some 20,000.
In addition, the right hon. Gentleman is losing his warrant officers and his senior N.C.Os. It is a matter of some doubt whether the National Service men who have undertaken the three years' short engagement will, in fact, take on, and unless something like one in six of these men do take on after their three years' engagement then, for all practical purposes, the Regular Army will cease to exist. That is the core of our problem.
When we were debating this subject as far back as 1946 the case for compulsory military service was then founded, the right hon. Gentleman will remember, on the fact that the post-war Regular Army had sunk to a level of 100,000 and there was no quick means of obtaining sufficient recruits in order to build that number up. Whatever steps were taken, whether increased amenities, improved rates of pay, advertising, etc., it was bound to be a long job.
It is true that at no stage of our recruiting programme since the war have we ever got all the Regular recruits we want. 1437 But what the right hon. Gentleman and the Government failed to see was that the important step of increasing the rate of pay for the Regular Army introduced a differential, and it was the difference in the rate of pay for the National Service man as against the Regular which encouraged large numbers of National Service men to undertake three years as opposed to two. As I say, the step was then taken of playing around with the conditions of service before there was any chance of seeing how that worked out. That was an absolutely fatal step for which the right hon. Gentleman must take full responsibility.
The only quick way out of the difficulty in which not only the Government find themselves but in which the country finds itself is to examine the suggestion of an all-party examination of the selective draft, because the question of the selective draft is bound to be politically unpopular but I believe that if there is an issue which should be examined on a non-party basis it is this one. I put the suggestion forward very seriously to the Government as one of the ways out of the difficulties which have been created for them by the Secretary of State for War.
Here again, this is not quite the whole of the story. What the Tory Party say is that they will set the people free, that they are anxious to get rid of controls. What they will not face up to is the fact that the greatest and most severe control of all is the control of our young men, of asking them to undertake two years' compulsory military service. Unless it is wisely administered and firmly based all it can do is to bring us economic ruin in peace and military disaster in war.
Field-Marshal Montgomery made a speech a week or 10 days ago to a London rowing club, and said to those young people, "Enjoy your rowing for the next 10 years or so because that is all the time you have before the next party—before the next world war breaks out." If Field-Marshal Montgomery is to be believed—he is one of the Government's chief military advisers—we have only 10 years in which to undo the damage done in the last two years by the Secretary of State for War. It is not long enough. It will take at least 50 years to undo what he has done. [Laughter.] Yes, a subject for laughter if hon. Gentlemen wish.
1438 This year I went across to Germany with the hon. and gallant Gentleman for Eye, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) and other hon. Members, and I had an opportunity of seeing the Army; it is a very browned-off Army indeed today.
Let me go further. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War came to the House and boasted that as a result of two months of his administration seven new battalions had been formed. He was preceded a little in his announcement by the Prime Minister, who also announced seven battalions, which, in his words, had been "imprudently" dissolved, cast away, by my right hon. Friend. Of course they are seven "famous" battalions which had been re-formed. They were bound to be famous; the right hon. Gentleman would never re-form any ordinary battalions.
I wish to ask the Secretary of State for War—I have asked him before—whether he will tell the House tonight whether any one of those seven battalions is up to establishment? If he will not give the actual regiments or units, will he tell us tonight whether there are any units of the British Army of the Rhine which are up to establishment at present, whether any units at all outside Korea are up to establishment?
I do not rely for my information on the "Daily Herald." I go to that very good paper the "Daily Telegraph." General Martin, a great friend of the right hon. Gentleman, was given special privileges on the Rhine not accorded to any other journalist, including facilities to report my conversation at breakfast—
§ Mr. Wigg
General Martin was given special facilities by the right hon. Gentleman. What did he say, on 10th July? I quote:The problem is how to cut our military cloak according to the cloth. Already, at its present figure, the Army is over-extended. Its units—other than those in Korea—are underposted and under strength.Again one sees this military genius: he has established seven new battalions— 1439 seven new colonels, seven seconds-in-command, seven regimental sergeant majors—they are all there, but no troops.
The fact is that if one takes many of the units at present, particularly in the North of England—I am now talking about the Territorial units—they have not got a single sergeant and they have not got a single junior officer. And these are the units which are to fight in a question of days after war has broken out.
§ Mr. Wigg
Yes, in private. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen do not like it. Let them look at some of the right hon. Gentleman's own speeches in the House. I am not going to give away the source of my information any more than he did. In his last speech on these benches the right hon. Gentleman talked about the strength of an infantry brigade in Germany, and when challenged, he said, "No names, no pack drill." Why should I give away the names of my informants? No one dealt more with "leaks" than did the right hon. Gentleman; he ought to have been a plumber.
As I say, the Army is at present deployed all over the world in penny packets, the better part of it in Kenya, hopelessly under-posted, hopelessly under strength, short of warrant officers and N.C.O.s, with every possibility of that situation getting worse; and, so far as I can see, no way out of this difficulty except the way proposed or indicated by the Prime Minister three years ago. Therefore, I make that suggestion for what it is worth—it is the Prime Minister's suggestion not mine—and that it should be examined on a non-party basis.
I now wish to turn to one or two other aspects of the National Service Acts. Again, I am prepared to give privately to the Ministers responsible the names of the people whom I quote. I wish to refer to the question of the medical examination of young National Service men. I do not intend to be irresponsible enough to suggest that I think, or that anybody else can think, of any way round the medical board system, but I say that as it works in the Midlands—from Birmingham and 1440 Wolverhampton—it leaves a good deal to be desired.
I have brought down with me the papers of a young man—again, I am quite prepared to give the Minister particulars—who was called up for medical examination. He told the medical board that he suffered from T.B. and showed the operation scar on his back, but they would not listen to him. I have the actual Ministry of Labour grading here; he was graded A.1, although he told the board he had this tubercular kidney. After 45 days in the Service he was discharged. He is now dead. I have been to the Ministry of Pensions, on behalf of his widow, to ask for a pension. It was turned down on the ground that his service was not extensive enough.
§ The Minister of Labour and National Service (Sir Walter Monckton)
Would the hon. Member give way for a moment? I hope, when he thinks the time appropriate, that he will give the particulars, because I am sure they will bear me out that I am not slow to look at such matters.
§ Mr. Wigg
I had a personal interview with the Minister of Pensions and with his Parliamentary Secretary, and to the Minister I made exactly the points I am making now.
I can multiply this kind of case many times over, where men are being taken into the Army when they ought not to be taken in, and I again suggest that, before we leave this subject, it should be gone into.
I turn to the case of a young man—I shall not give names, but they are available if wanted—who was tried by court-martial. I saw the case in the newspaper, and as soon as I saw it I knew it was a "phoney." As it subsequently transpired, he had been tried for the wrong offence. Army form No. 1618 had been filled in, instead of Army form 1650. As a result, he got 15 months, which was subsequently reduced to 112 days. I then got a medical psychologist of great reputation, who, with great kindness, made a long journey from one end of England to the other to see this young man. He saw him, through the kindness of the right hon. Gentleman—after some persuasion. He made a report on him and sent it to me. Subsequently, I wrote to the Under-Secretary and asked if the War Office would like to see the report; 1441 they said they would, and last Friday the man was discharged from the Army, because the War Office accepted the report. But it is quite wrong that it should be left to the ordinary Member of Parliament to discover this kind of case. If the right hon. Gentleman were on his toes he would be looking after those things. It is a fact that the Army is not up to its job under his administration.
I turn to another case, which links up with the kind of case I have already mentioned. It concerns a young woman who is married to a National Service man. Both are without parents and she is living in a room. A baby was born to them, and she asked for National Assistance. It was turned down, as indeed it must be, because the man, being a soldier, is employed, and therefore she is not eligible for a National Assistance grant. She went to the authorities, inquiries were made, and she got a National Service grant.
The administration of National Service grants has got into the most unholy muddle. It starts off with the Minister of Labour. When the man first reports he should be fully instructed as to his rights regarding a National Service grant. If he does exercise his rights, the form is then sent to the Ministry of National Insurance and Pensions and they send it to the National Assistance Board to make inquiries, who return it to the Ministry of National Insurance and Pensions to pay and that Ministry then notify the War Office about the allotment to be deducted from the man's pay.
In those circumstances, is it any wonder that hundreds, nay thousands, of these young men are completely unaware of their rights as regards National Service grants. I have spoken to the right hon. Gentleman about it and, whatever the mistake that starts with the Minister of Labour and is carried on through various Ministries, the responsibility for seeing that the National Service Army recruit is looked after in these things rests with the War Office. I say that soldiers' commanding officers are not doing their job at the present time.
Let me say again that I agree with the Duke of Edinburgh, though I am not quite sure that he was wise to say it, that 80 per cent., or perhaps more, of our young men who go into the Armed 1442 Forces benefit from that experience. They come out fitter, they have been mixed up with other classes, their horizon has been broadened, they are better citizens, and they have the satisfaction of knowing that they are making a contribution to their country's defence. But it is the effect on the other 20 per cent. with which I am concerned.
It has already been indicated this afternoon that there is widespread concern about what happens to the National Service man in the first year of civilian life. It is true that very many of them cannot get jobs, and very many of them find difficulty in settling down in their jobs when their National Service is completed. Here I make no party point. A spokesman on behalf of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce has said that very many young men, on completion of their military service, find the greatest difficulty in picking up the threads again.
This must have very profound effects, not only on the military aspect of the problem, but on the country's social and economic life as well. I say that because many hon. Members, perhaps on all sides of the House, tend to forget that the cost of defence is not merely in the sum that is voted when the Defence Estimates go through the House. It does not just end with the amount of money involved. What about the production we lose by those men being in the Armed Forces? What about the permanent impairment of their skills and techniques, as a result of those two years? Our country is having a battle for independence and for economic survival. How can we compete with our sister-countries in the British Commonwealth of Nations if, while we have two years service, Canada has none and Australia has 12 weeks? How can we compete with them and with France and the Scandinavian countries, when not one industrial country in the world has two years compulsory service at the present time?
I stand where I stood in 1946. We have to have conscription, but the country has to see—and this is an all-party matter, and one on which the Prime Minister is right—that these National Service Acts work well and provide us with the trained military manpower we need, but it must not be at the price of economic disaster or social misfits.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
There is a great deal in what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has said with which I agree, and, not unnaturally, there is a very great deal with which I disagree profoundly, as he knows too well. But I do suggest that a very large portion of his speech provided even stronger arguments than I can adduce for the retention of the two years' National Service.
Having said that, I am quite certain that there are things going on today which ought not to be going on, and which the Army itself does not like. There are today in the Army a very large number of staff officers of the second grade who know perfectly well they are never going to be promoted. They are majors, and that is all they will ever be. They are in safe appointments and are just waiting for the time when their pensions will arrive. I have taken a certain amount of trouble over this, and in my honest opinion those people are not pulling their weight. They are doing a minimum amount of work to keep the pot boiling until their time comes, and it is true that it is at that level of staff officer that, very often, the mistakes are made that we hear of at Question time here, and at other times elsewhere.
I think the only cure is to jump on them like a ton of bricks and, if necessary, court-martial them for these mistakes, so that they realise that they cannot be allowed to get away with them. They are not dealing with the sort of people they dealt with in the old days in the Regular Army. They are dealing with the life of this nation, and that is a very heavy responsibility. I hope that my right hon. Friend will ensure that any cases of this sort which are brought to his attention are heavily dealt with.
I want to refer to the speech of the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey); unfortunately, he has now left the Chamber. He said that the necessity for National Service was in order to fulfil our overseas commitments. With that I entirely agree, but there was an expression of disagreement at the time when I intervened and said that the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) had said precisely the opposite and that the reason for the introduction 1444 of the two years' National Service by the Labour Government was to build up a reserve. I have the right hon. Gentleman's words with me. He said on 5th March this year:But, over and above that, we have achieved what we set out to achieve … we have achieved the main object, the building up of trained reserves."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 614.]
§ Mr. Attlee
Was he not referring to the reason why we had general National Service, and not just to the two years? He was saying that the purpose for which we had National Service had been achieved.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I am afraid that I have now closed my copy of HANSARD, and I have lost the place. However, the Leader of the Opposition will recall, I think, that his right hon. Friend the Member for Easington was the lone voice speaking in the wilderness in the defence debate in March this year, when he admitted that he was not speaking for his whole party, because they were not with him, but he had come to the conclusion that there should be a reduction in the two years' National Service. His argument was that the two years' National Service was introduced by him to build up a reserve, that the reserve had now been built up and there was no reason to continue the two years' National Service. That is a very small point, I admit, but it was an amusing interlude.
Reference has been made to Egypt, and I think that we should clear our minds on this point. If the 70,000 or 80,000 men are withdrawn from Egypt, then will be a grand opportunity for a reduction in military service; I have said so many times. But I would implore hon. Members to remember that at this moment we have not got a strategic mobile reserve of any kind. Every man in the standing Army is employed in some commitment or other. Surely we have learned our lesson from France which, at the beginning of the recent war, did not have a proper mobile strategic reserve. The Prime Minister has said repeatedly that one of the things which disturb him most in the present situation is that we have no strategic reserve. If our men in Egypt came back to England they could form a strategic reserve, and to destroy that reserve by reducing National Service would be abject folly in the present situation.
1445 It is really a very narrow point that we are debating. I should like to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Dudley, but I have not prepared a speech on such a wide basis. I wish to put forward a few arguments against reviewing National Service on a yearly basis. I know that both the War Office and the Air Ministry regard the suggestion with apprehension, because it is impossible to plan ahead properly if there is to be the danger every year that National Service may be reduced by this House. Far more important is how it would affect the parents and the men. Consider the state of uncertainty into which the men would be placed, from the point of view of planning their future. It cannot be done on a year-to-year basis, and this suggestion is most disturbing.
Surely hon. Members realise that all such people want is the certainty that the Government can reduce National Service at any moment they wish if the situation should so arise. It can be done by one Order in Council. Surely that is enough. There is no possible reason for creating this immense disturbance among families and Service Departments—the Air Ministry more particularly than the War Office—by debating this matter in the House, with the danger that, on a Division, National Service might have to be reduced.
As to what happened when the Labour Government were in power, let us remember the situation when only 18 months' National Service existed. We had a lot of men under arms but we had no divisions. What the hon. Member for Dudley said on this point was quite untrue. There were an enormous number of men—a hetergeneous collection—dotted about all over the place. One of the things that Field Marshal Slim did when he became C.I.G.S. was immediately to start forming these brigades and units into concrete divisions. That could never have been done under 18 months' service.
We have now got many units under strength, and that surely is an argument for the retention of two years' National Service. I cannot understand the argument of the hon. Member for Dudley that if units are under strength, National Service can be reduced. Our present commitments are such that, as he rightly said, there are no soldiers in this country; they 1446 are all abroad. I feel that this raises the necessity for discussing the Home Guard, if such a debate were in order, but as it is not in order, I shall not pursue it. Our standing Army is stretched like a piece of elastic to its utmost limits, and any reduction in the number of men under arms would reduce the commitments that we could cover. Can anyone put his finger on a single commitment and cross his heart and say that we could give it up? Could we get out of Kenya or Malaya? Could we bring back one brigade from Korea?
If we reduced the period of National Service, what effect would it have on the Regular Army? At the moment—I think the plan was being formulated during the time of the late Government—there is a system whereby men serve abroad for only three years in a regiment. Previously they had served abroad for three years only individually. Now an entire regiment serves abroad for only three years, and then the whole regiment is brought back. That is one of the finest things that the War Office has done. If National Service is reduced in any way, we shall have to say to the Regular Army, "We are sorry, but you will have to stay abroad for five, six or seven years. We cannot afford to bring you home now."
The result of that would be that Regular recruiting would fall, and we should have to re-introduce National Service, not for two years but for three years, to make up for the deficiency. In addition, what would be the effect on our allies? We all agree that they ought to have a longer period of National Service, but if we reduce our National Service they will say, "Oh, things are going to be easier, are they?" There is a strong fight going on the whole time at Supreme Headquarters to try to keep the Belgians and the Dutch up to the mark. There would be a serious weakening of the situation if we were to set the example ourselves and reduce our period of National Service.
On several occasions the Prime Minister has stated that he has seen an easing of the situation. The risk of a hot war appears to be receding. That is very often used as an argument against National Service, but precisely the opposite is true. The Army which is required for a hot war may be a totally different one from 1447 that required for this cold war. I implore hon. Members to think about this matter very seriously, and to read a pamphlet which has been written in connection with rocket warfare, so that they may realise what a future hot war may be like and, at the same time, that National Service at this moment is competing with the cold war.
It has not so much to do with the question of a future hot war—the risk of which seems to have receded recently—as to fulfil our commitments in the cold war. Every unit is abroad and the Army is stretched in a way in which it has not been stretched since I have known it.
If we could recruit a regular Army of the size we want, that would be the ideal. If we could raise the pay even more, make living conditions better and improve the educational facilities, then we might achieve that ideal. The matter of education is a point about which I feel very strongly, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider it. The disturbance of not being able to have one's children properly educated in foreign stations, having to send them home, and being separated from them, is one of the greatest deterrents to recruiting at this moment, and it is conducive to N.C.O's. and officers of the higher ranks leaving the Army.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend that, far too frequently, the really bright boy is sent to the Educational Corps. A schoolmaster, who was a supporter of hon. Members opposite, said to me, "What an appalling waste it is. It would be so much better if these intelligent fellows went into the fighting units, where their brain power would be effective in helping to win a war. Time after time these boys come back to me having had no experience outside the ordinary school. I consider that to be a very great waste of brain power." That was said to me by a schoolmaster who is a supporter of the party opposite.
As I have said in defence debates before—although I consider it to be out of order in this debate—if we are to economise in manpower we want far greater imagination with regard to the fire power of the infantryman and his mobility. We are still using some of the weapons of the 1914–18 war. The 1448 infantry are still armed with the same kind of rifle, and we have still not got the quick-firing light automatic such as the Chinese have.
It is high time that we got out of the heads of some infantrymen the idea that they must always walk from one place to another, and that they cannot be carried into battle on a tracked vehicle in the same way as they were in the last war. My brigade happened to be the first to do this, and it was done with overwhelming success. During a 24 hours' engagement the total casualties in the regiments under my command were one sergeant, who received a black eye through getting out of his vehicle too quickly, and one subaltern who got his fingers caught in the top of a tank. Those were the only two casualties we suffered. If we carry our infantry into battle on armed vehicles we not only save casualties but we do the same job with far less infantry than was necessary in the old days.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) has, perhaps unwittingly, put his finger on the spot which will reinforce many arguments put from this side of the House for a reduction in the period of National Service. One of our arguments is that National Service men are called up today and used in the P.B.I. fashion, instead of in the modern fashion which economises in manpower.
In his concluding words the hon. and gallant Gentleman gave part of the argument which can be advanced to the Government—an argument which we do advance—that they should not be given this Order extending the operation of National Service for five years in its present form. Although the hon. and gallant Gentleman says that the period can be reduced by an Order in Council, we know very well that it will not be reduced unless considerable pressure is brought to bear on the Government to do so. We say that they simply cannot make a demand on the nation's manpower which involves 200,000 men every year without substantial evidence of its necessity.
I regret that the Prime Minister—whose speech otherwise was conciliatory, 1449 although not very forthcoming and perhaps a little repetitive—should have thrown out the challenge that we are attempting to use this occasion for partisan ends. After the moderate and modest speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I should have thought that it must be apparent to every hon. Member that we are trying to formulate our arguments in a responsible way, taking into account the fact that in the very near future we may be the Government, responsible for the defences of this country, as we were for six years after the end of the last war.
Even those of my hon. Friends who proclaim themselves as pacifists are not using this occasion for partisan ends.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I know that argument of old. I have been too long in this House not to have suffered myself. Nevertheless, we must leave it to the Chair to decide who is to be called. I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), whose pacifist case I was attempting not to make but to show some sympathy with, will at least do me the honour of listening to what I have to say about him and his friends. Even they are not attempting to use this occasion for partisan ends. They have persistently proclaimed their belief that there should be no military service. They have even gone to that extent while their own Government were in power, and they caused some little apprehension amongst Members of their own Government when they did so.
This afternoon I want to attempt to deal with this matter in a responsible way, and I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North that I shall not overstate my case or take too much time over it. The real issue between the Opposition and the Government, as I see it, is that we are not prepared to give the Government a blank cheque to continue National Service, in its present form, for another five years. That is what our Motion means, in effect.
I realise that, in saying that, I have to give some reasons if any regard is to be paid to the value of my words. I want to give my own reasons. How far they coincide with the reasons of my hon. Friends I do not know, but I have never 1450 hidden from the House my dislike of national military service. Even when I was in the position of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, and had to take part in framing the first 1947 Act, I did not hide from the House the fact that I did not like the task which I had helped to undertake.
Moreover, I should say that the same spirit that in the First World War was shown by the young men who responded loyally to the demand to serve their King and country, and showed their patriotism and belief in freedom by fighting to sustain it—I believe that same spirit is still there and has never yet been fully mobilised by any Government.
§ Mr. Bellenger
It is true that when we introduced the Bill we asked for 18 months' service. Before the Bill was an Act of Parliament we reduced it to 12 months, which was something I always had my doubts about, and, as will be quite obvious from my remarks tonight, I still believe that 18 months' service is the period—I should say the minimum, and I would make it the maximum period—for training National Service men for the job they have to undertake.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend is quite right in saying that the original Bill was for 18 months reduced to 12? Certainly I thought it was for two years reduced to 18 months.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I know only the advice that was given to me as Secretary of State by my military advisers. It was for a period of 18 months. Whether that was embodied in the Bill or not—I think it was—I cannot say now. However, I do not think it affects the force of my argument.
I am dealing with the Army because we must never forget that the Army is the main customer for the National Service men, if I may put it that way. It is true that the Royal Air Force takes National Service men, but I think that the Under-Secretary of State for Air, who is in his 1451 place now, will agree that two years' National Service is really not sufficient to train men for the Royal Air Force. I go further and say that two years' National Service is not sufficient to train men for the technical arms of the Army. I am not arguing for an increase in military service. What I am arguing is that we should have an Army of certain numbers—I think the number should be about 250,000—fully trained and completely mobile, which they are not at the present moment because the Army is not using mobile methods to transport men, certainly not as units, from one station to another. They should consist of career soldiers.
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) was quite right tonight. I, personally, thought that the Secretary of State for War was endeavouring to make a good job of the War Office. He started off, it appeared, on the right foot, as it were. It may have been the left foot with which he should have started, but at any rate he was certainly going in the right direction. He endeavoured to recruit a Regular Army on which he could really rely. He has failed in that task; whether entirely due to his own fault or not, I do not know. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has put certain arguments before the House tonight. The Secretary of State for War knows that today he is losing trained personnel too fast either for the Regular Army of the future or even for the future of the National Service contingent which goes into the Army.
It is easy enough to make that assertion, and those of us with some acquaintance with these facts—because they are facts—do know some of the story, but we do not know all of it, and it is difficult to elicit that story from any of the Service Ministers. Quite rightly, I think, they will not disclose their deficiencies to their enemies, and that is one of the reasons I personally have advocated in this House—and I still advocate it—having a Select Committee which will take this matter, if the Prime Minister is right, out of partisan politics. With a Select Committee of that nature we could get at the facts. We could demand the facts. No amount of speeches in this House or debates on the Service Estimates or debates on the Defence 1452 White Paper will give ordinary Members the facts on which we can base a responsible judgment.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
My right hon. Friend has a great deal more experience than I have of this House, but surely his personal knowledge of the Estimates Committee is such that he knows we cannot elicit facts from senior civil servants even in the Estimates Committee. If they do not want to give them they can always be excused.
§ Mr. Bellenger
That may well be, but I do know that during the war the Estimates Committee, or it may have been the Committee on National Expenditure—I think it was—was able to elicit facts which were startling, which formed the basis of more than one secret Session in this House, and caused considerable criticism, and enabled arguments to be made in the House which moved the Prime Minister of the day to energetic and speedy action. I refer in particular to the debates on our tank supplies.
I do not want to go on at any great length, and I want to pinpoint the salient points of my argument, which is directed to the need for reducing the period of National Service. Let us consider the impact of 200,000 young National Service men on the Regular Forces every year. Let us take the Army, which, as I say, is the main customer for these National Service men. It is only the trained soldier who can teach the untrained soldier, and a tremendous amount of the efforts of the trained soldiers is directed today to training the National Service men, but we have got to such a state that even National Service men are training National Service men, and I believe it is possible today for a National Service man to be promoted to the rank of corporal particularly for the job of looking after his untrained National Service comrades.
Of course, they do take part with their colleagues in units in a cohesive force, for example in Germany or in Korea, and let us say frankly and openly and aloud that many of these young National Service men who have been serving in conditions of war as in Korea have given a good account of themselves. Comparatively speaking, however, they are picked men. The vast number of National Service men we are getting in the Forces today, given two years' training and sent out into the 1453 country with three and a half years' reserve liability, are not, after two years or so, adequately trained to form part of the Regular Army if an emergency should arise and they should be called up.
One of my criticisms of the Secretary of State, although it does not apply only to him but the whole Government, is that, whereas we should base our defences on a certain number of Regular troops, backed up by a large number of trained reserves, able to be mobilised speedily and equipped properly on the outbreak of an emergency, we are not doing that today. To that extent I say we are wasting a lot of our money and a lot of our substance.
I remember a German general who was an army commander in the last war and engaged in very vicious battles in the East telling me that he could train German young men to take part in fighting in six months. I doubted whether he could do it. I think it is possible to train a National Service man to be a reasonably good infantry man, even with the obsolescent weapons about which the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing spoke, in 12 months, but I would prefer to see a much greater emphasis placed on reserve training than is being placed upon it at present.
We have National Service men scattered all over the country, many of them with very little revisional training, all having to serve an annual obligation. Instead of this annual period of training in the Reserve, I would prefer to see a month's intensive training of these men every two or three years—and I mean intensive training, with Regular Army formations on a divisional and perhaps on a corps basis. That, in my opinion, is the only practical way of creating an Army fit to fight and able to fight, as British Expeditionary Forces have shown they could do in previous wars.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) said that this matter is controlled by commitments. To a large extent that is so, but I do not base my argument entirely on commitments. If I did, then it would be comparatively simple, once we got rid of certain commitments, to reduce the period of National Service, at any rate as far as it concerns the provision of numbers of troops. If we need a given 1454 number of troops for the Middle East, the Far East and Germany, then obviously if those commitments are reduced, as I think they will be—in spite of the slight revolt which has taken place amongst hon. Members opposite; and I hope it will not go further and develop into a rebellion or a mutiny—we do not need as many men. If the Foreign Secretary can reduce those commitments, particularly the commitments in the Middle East, that in itself will be an occasion for reducing the period of National Service.
I do not agree with what the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing said about these men forming our strategic reserve. What is our strategic reserve? Will somebody kindly explain it to me? Sometimes the words "strategic reserve" are used as a phrase, as a talking point. I look upon the troops in Germany more or less as a strategic reserve. It is a home station. I know that we could not withdraw large numbers of these troops and send them to other parts of the world because they are part of the N.A.T.O. forces, but they could form our strategic reserve in Europe, and I hope that when the E.D.C. is brought into being and the German divisions come into the field, we shall look upon part at least of our forces there as a strategic reserve.
At present one of the two areas which take the bulk of our troops is the Middle East, where we are told there are 80,000. It is a very interesting reflection that the Suez Canal has been there a long time. Palestine and Egypt were troublesome areas before the war. Yet we seem today to need to maintain 80,000 troops there for somewhat similar purposes. I say it is the duty of the Government to convince us that they are absolutely necessary there. If the Foreign Secretary can conclude a treaty with Egypt, then it seems that we shall need only about 4,000 or 5,000 of our troops to maintain the installations in the Suez Canal area. I believe that that commitment in numbers could be reduced without imperilling safety—not only the safety of the troops out there, but safety in our foreign policy. If we are to believe the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) and some of his Occidental friends with whom he has spoken, Britain is welcome anywhere to keep the peace of the world because we are not engaged in aggression. How long can Britain keep up that rôle?
1455 We must face these facts. If we are in a time of war or near-war, then let the Prime Minister say so and let him cease sending messages to Conservative Parliamentary candidates saying that the tension has eased. He cannot have it both ways. If the tension has eased, then there is sufficient argument to pay serious attention to what we are saying in making our case for a reduction in the period of National Service.
Although it is impossible, as we are placed at the moment, I should like to investigate Anti-Aircraft Command, which is one of the largest Commands in the British Army, armed mainly with, comparatively speaking, pop-guns—because that is all they are, against the modern aircraft with which they have to contend. In my opinion, there is a tremendous amount of manpower wasted in Anti-Aircraft Command today, and that is because there is too much rigidity in the minds of our military advisers and, if we are to believe the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing, there is a certain element of it in those holding staff appointments.
I read the pamphlet to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred, called "Rocket Warfare" by Mr. Chester Wilmot. If that is anywhere near the truth, then it seems that we shall not want large armies, massed shoulder to shoulder, with their guns, fighting each other on what we used to know as the front line. If that pamphlet is true, it seems that the next hot war will be fought from hundreds of miles behind the so-called front line. I mention that only in passing to illustrate my point that much more economy could be made in manpower if we were to look at some of these problems from the point of view not of the last war but of the next war, if that unfortunately should occur.
Those of us who know the Service Departments know that, generally speaking, military officials and military minds make up their estimates in terms of hundreds of thousands of bodies. They say, "You have given us commitments here, there and somewhere else. We need so many bodies, so many policemen, to place there to safeguard the position." I am not sure that we could not do better with what I might call flying forces, able 1456 to move at a moment's notice by air, and not by ship, and to get to the required point quickly. Am I to be told that British Guiana needed all the accoutrements of an infantry division—artillery and all the rest of it? We do not need that; we need mobile policemen merely to keep law and order, and not to fight somebody.
The House might reflect that in the Far East in 1945 huge numbers of troops were mobilised. The whole of the Japanese Army, Navy and Air Force were mobilised in the mainland and its surrounding ring of occupied islands. Against them were being drawn up for battle huge numbers of ships, aircraft and men to finish the war with Japan. And two bombs finished it. I am not going to say anything about the moral aspect of the matter I am talking only in a military metaphor. We must have less in our mind's eye the thought of massed numbers of troops than of the modern way in which war will be fought.
I am not saying that I applaud the use of atom bombs, but I do say that if we consider war as war, as we know it to be, then we have also to consider all the ancillaries of modern warfare. Otherwise, this House, when it passes the Service Estimates, will be misleading itself. Approval is given to the Government to provide all these modern weapons of war and some of them coming into use now are very terrible. I say that by the use of these weapons as part of our military machine we should be able to economise in our manpower.
I would say, in conclusion, that we on this side have our doubts about the Government's bona fides. We have our doubts that the Government, in spite of what they have said, will reduce the period of National Service. It is so easy for them to keep it on and so difficult for them, in the face of some of their own supporters, to reduce it. It is because we do not believe in giving the Government a blank cheque today that we shall go into the Lobby and vote for our Motion.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
On a point of order. May I inquire very respectfully, Mr. Speaker, whether you have had an opportunity yet of considering the matter of the manuscript Amendment which I raised with you at the beginning of the debate?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have considered the Amendment and I have decided not to select it. It seemed to me that if it were literally carried out there would be very little difference in it from the original Motion, and for that reason I think that the interests of the House can be served better by a straight Division, if that is required, on the Motion now before the House.
§ Mr. Silverman
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Without wishing to debate the matter with you or to take up time about it, I feel a little surprised at your statement that if the Amendment were carried it would alter the Motion very little. I submit, with respect, that that cannot be so. The Motion, as it stands, contains two quite distinct and separate propositions. One is that the acceptance that National Service is necessary, and the other is the quite different and wholly distinct proposition that if we have National Service it should be reconsidered at intervals of not less than one year. It is perfectly possible to say "Aye" to the one and "No" to the other, and therefore I submit, with respect, that it cannot be the case that the Amendment would make no difference.
§ Mr. Speaker
It seems to me that if the hon. Member left in the original Motion, as he proposed to do, the proposal that the period of National Service should be determined by Parliament on affirmative Resolution once a year, that would be to all intents and purposes accepting to a limited extent the necessity, at this day and time, of National Service, and for that reason I have decided not to call the Amendment.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but it is a very legitimate point. You have considered, no doubt, Mr. Speaker, that you are now putting hon. Members of the House who happen to be anti-conscriptionist into the difficult position, if you refuse the manuscript Amendment, of being unable to register their opinion in the Division Lobby tonight.
§ Mr. Speaker
They will have an opportunity, when the main Motion comes up, to do that. I have given the matter very careful consideration in the desire to serve the interests of the House, and I have come to that decision.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) makes useful and non-party speeches on defence problems, and I think that the House listens to him with real attention. It seemed to me, when listening to him today, that the only basic difference between him and hon. Members on this side of the House is that he believes that 18 months should be the maximum and minimum period of National Service, whereas we believe that in the present circumstances two years should be that period. The difference between us is not, therefore, a very great one. I think the main fact overlooked by the right hon. Gentleman in his arguments is that it is during the last six months of the National Service man's two years' period that he is most valuable to the Army, particularly when serving overseas.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) is not here at the moment. I want particularly to deal with one point which he raised in what I thought was rather a rambling and at times a ranting lecture. He made one most unfair charge when he blamed the Conservative Government for the fact that we have now such large overseas commitments. He put the blame on the foreign and colonial policy of the Conservative Government, but the truth of the matter is that nobody can possibly say that more than 5,000 men in the Armed Forces are now overseas who were not overseas—I am speaking of numbers only—some two years ago.
There are only Kenya and British Guiana, where unfortunate incidents have arisen requiring the preservation of law and order, which have demanded military action by the Conservative Government, and I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman can expect us to draw the conclusion that, if the Socialist Government had been in power, Kenya would have been left to the tender mercies of Mau Mau or that British Guiana would have been allowed to fall into the hands of an extremist party known to be under the influence of Communist elements.
§ Major Beamish
The hon. Gentleman is trying to wriggle out of what I described as a very unfair attack. We are not talking about cruisers. My answer is a clear one, and any reasonable person can quite easily judge for himself. He knows that the overseas commitments which this Government inherited were inherited from the Administration he supported two years ago.
§ Major Beamish
With the two exceptions of Kenya and British Guiana. I doubt whether there are more than 5,000 regular troops in the two places together.
§ Major Beamish
I am not going to give way again. I was completely mystified by another of the hon. Gentleman's arguments. In his opinion, certain units of the British Army are not up to the required standard of efficiency as a result of their not being fully up to strength, but he thought it would make them more efficient if they were brought further under-strength by reducing the National Service period. That seems a mysterious argument which needs a good deal of understanding.
I see that the right hon. Gentleman the member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) is in his place, and therefore may I deal with a point that he made which struck me very forcibly? He seemed to be of the opinion that the last six months, or perhaps he was talking about the last year, because he did not commit himself to any period of National Service, in the Army—leaving the Navy and Air Force out of it—were not of any particular value so far as a man's training was concerned. I entirely disagree, and it came very strange to me to hear an ex-Secretary of State for War and a right hon. Gentleman with a lot of experience of the other Services making a statement of that character.
It so happens that I have with me an extract from a debate that took place on 7th May, 1947, when Mr. A. V. Alexander, now in another place, used words on this very argument of whether 1460 the time beyond one year is of real value in improving a man's training and, therefore, of value when he goes into the reserve. Mr. A. V. Alexander said:It is, of course, self-evident that for these purposes 18 months' full-time service would be more satisfactory to the Services. First, it would provide greater numbers of National Service men in the Forces at any one time than would the shorter period.We can all agree with that.Secondly, it would admit of National Service men giving a greater degree of useful service in units or ships in assisting the Regular forces in meeting our current defence commitments.We can all agree with that. But this is the point I want particularly to make:Thirdly, it would undoubtedly admit of a generally higher standard of training being reached by a National Service man before he is transferred to the Reserve."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1947; Vol. 437, c. 447–8.]I do not believe that anybody with one grain of military experience can deny that, not only the period from 12 to 18 months, but also the period from 18 months to two years, is of immense value to the man while he is in the Army in increasing his military knowledge and thus his value when he is transferred to the Reserve.
§ Mr. Strachey
What I said was that, in my view, 18 months was an ample period for training purposes. I certainly stick to that view. No doubt in many technical branches the training can be carried further the longer one is in the Service, but for training purposes and the building up and training of reserves I have never heard the view expressed that our former period of 18 months was not ample for the purpose.
§ Major Beamish
If the right hon. Member looks at his speech he will find that he was very careful, as many of his hon. and right hon. Friends have been, not to mention any period which he would now advocate as being the correct one. Every Member opposite who has spoken has steered carefully in and out of the periods of six, 12 and 18 months. No one on the benches opposite has so far gone on record in this debate as saying that 18 months was the right period, except the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw.
I was simply saying that it was accepted in 1947, when the National Service Bill was presented to the House, that the 1461 period after 12 months, when a man is supposed to be trained sufficiently to take his place in a fighting unit, is valuable in increasing his trained value when eventually he goes to the Reserve. In the same way, everybody knows that the time from 18 months to two years must increase the value of that man as a reservist. That ought to be self-evident to anyone who has served more than 24 hours in one of the three Services.
I should like to take up several of the interesting points which arose from the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. One of them—and it was repeated subsequently—was that one reason we should review the National Service provisions annually is that there are all kinds of new weapons in the Army. That was taken up by the right hon. Member for Basset-law. My opinion, for what it is worth—I have only comparatively little military experience—is that it is much too soon by several years to consider any alteration in the period of National Service simply because, as we all know, new and powerful weapons have been introduced. I do not think anyone with wide military experience would seriously differ from that. Certainly, in a few years' time we may have to review to some extent the way in which these new weapons have an effect on our formations and the way in which they are built up.
I express a personal view when I say that I do not think the time will ever come when the infantry in large numbers will not always be called upon to fight most battles and, at any rate, to occupy ground. This is not a purely military debate, but I do not see within the next few years any major differences in our fighting formations as a result of new weapons.
The Leader of the Opposition also told that when the two years' period was introduced it was brought in with the object of coping with a "particular emergency," and he said that the circumstances at that time were "very exceptional." The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that he had hoped that the introduction of the two years' period might stimulate a greater effort amongst some of our allies. This point has been dealt with on numerous occasions, and I have invariably failed to follow the arguments of anybody on the other side of the House who used words of that character. It 1462 seems to me, and it seems to all my hon. Friends with whom I have spoken, that the very fact that we have not succeeded in stimulating some of our allies to make as great an effort as we would like them to make is the most powerful reason why we should go on trying to stimulate them as long as the emergency continues to persist overseas, as it does. [Interruption.] My conclusion is, apparently, different from that of a good many hon. and right hon. Members opposite.
The Leader of the Opposition did not seem to think very much of the "uncertainty" argument. The argument is often put forward from these benches that if every year we are persistently to renew the National Service provisions, the military as a whole are left in a state of great confusion and uncertainty. That argument means a lot to me. We have had the constant vacillations of the party opposite. It was they who introduced the period of 18 months, reduced it to 12 months, put it back to 18 months, and then up to two years.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) was quite wrong, by the way, about the original National Service Bill. The period was 18, and not 12, months. I am surprised that, as one of the leaders of the revolution in the party opposite which sought to reduce the period from 18 to 12 months, he should have had such a mental aberration about it five years later.
§ Major Beamish
There will be plenty of chance for the hon. Member to speak later. I am being polite to him, and what I have said is quite fair.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
If the hon. and gallant Member makes a direct challenge, he must not grumble if it is taken up. I had nothing to do with the agitation to reduce the period from 18 to 12 months. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was a different revolt."] Certainly. I had something to do, not with the successful revolt in that respect, but with the unsuccessful revolt which was based on an objection to compulsory military service in peace-time.
§ Major Beamish
That is fine. If the hon. Member is happy about it, we can all be quite happy too.
1463 On the question of uncertainty, one aspect which is often overlooked but which ought to be well understood by the party opposite is the uncertainty which comes into every family which has a young man of military age who may be going to be called up during the next five years. It is far better, from an educational and career point of view, that it should be known by the boy's parents as far ahead as one can foresee exactly how he will be placed in regard to National Service. The annual review leaves every family in doubt as to whether the boy will go to a university or do any of a hundred and one other things as far as his career may be concerned. I am quite sure that the vast majority of people would rather know the worst about National Service than be kept in a constant state of doubt from year to year.
The Leader of the Opposition asked whether we could afford the two years' period of service. He went on to review, in rather cursory fashion, the overseas commitments that we have at the moment. He said that he thought there was a good chance of a settlement in Korea. I hope the right hon. Gentleman is right—we all pray that he is right—but everybody knows that there is at present a truce in Korea and that peace has not been signed. I therefore completely disagree with the right hon. Member for Dundee, West, when he said that in his opinion our commitments in Korea had been reduced by reason of the fact that there was a truce. Until peace has been signed in Korea, nobody should stand up in this House and say that our commitments are definitely reduced.
§ Mr. Strachey
Does the hon. and gallant Member suggest that the same burden which is upon a force when it is fighting is upon that force when it is not fighting?
§ Major Beamish
I certainly suggest there is the same burden on a force if hostilities are, unfortunately, renewed. If we were now to withdraw the British brigade from Korea, the first person who would have the right to complain in the House would be the right hon. Member, with all his military experience. He would have every right to complain. We differ. I am expressing my own view. Others may judge which view is right.
1464 The Leader of the Opposition said that there may be a withdrawal from Egypt. That is perfectly true. All of us would be happy to see a satisfactory solution to the problem of the Suez Canal, and if that comes, no doubt it will be possible for a major withdrawal from the immediate area of the Canal to take place. But it has not yet taken place. [Interruption.] I do not want to be drawn on the Suez Canal problem. I have very strong views on the subject. [Laughter.] I am sorry some hon. Members opposite find my speech so very humorous; they must be very easily amused.
The Leader of the Opposition also said that there may be a settlement in Trieste. Those are the actual words he used—and I am emphasising the word "may" in each case. It is perfectly true about Trieste, and we hope there will be a settlement there; but there has not been yet, and therefore it is fair to say that at the present moment this country is, from a military and economic point of view, stretched to its utmost limit. It is not fair to say that, simply because there may be a settlement in these three parts of the world, this is the time when we can reasonably consider a reduction in our overseas forces.
The hon. Member for Dudley, who has slipped out again, talked about the Army being "browned off." [Interruption.] He has now slipped in again. He talked about the Army being "browned off" and of units not being up to strength. To some extent the Army is always "browned off." I was a Regular soldier myself for 10 years, and the hon. Member had a longer period of service than I had. We know that there are circumstances arising from time to time which make the Army more "browned off" than usual. [Laughter.] I really think the House at this particular moment ought to listen to this, because it is a serious point, and I am making it in all seriousness.
Between 65 and 70 per cent. of the married men in the Regular Army are separated from their families. That inevitably makes them "browned off," and everybody knows that perfectly well. It is a direct result of our military commitments. At the same time it also ought to be known that somewhere in the region of 75 to 80 per cent.—I have not got the exact figures—of our fighting units are 1465 permanently overseas. That also is because of our overseas commitments. The suggestion of the hon. Member for Dudley is that this situation can be helped by reducing the period of National Service. But that would result in making these units even more under-strength, overworked and "browned off." Therefore, I do not follow his argument at all, for it does not seem to make sense.
§ Major Beamish
I have been interrupted quite a lot during this speech and I do not think I should give way any further. It is perfectly fair in a debate such as this for points made on the other side of the House to be answered by hon. Members on this side, and I do not see why, every time an answer is made, the Member who originally put the point should spring to his feet and put his case all over again.
§ Major Beamish
I am not going to give way on this occasion. We have had so much of it. There are a couple more points I should like to make, if I may.
§ Major Beamish
Yes, the hon. Member can fall out—and fall out of the window if he likes.
There is one point I should like to make which arises out of an earlier point that I made. I think it is very curious for the party opposite to oppose the Government on this issue of providing for conscription for five years ahead, because we have always been told that the party opposite is a party of planners. A plan has been produced. It is a plan for five years, which relieves the Armed Forces, the Chiefs of Staff and in particular every family in the country where there is a young man who may be called up for National Service, of much uncertainty and anxiety about the future. They are now in a position to make plans on the Service and on the family level. We have enabled them to do that by producing this plan for conscription, and it seems surprising to me that the party opposite, which prides itself on being a party of planners, should take such exception to this.
So I conclude by saying that in my opinion such easing of the tension as 1466 there has been in the international situation is not of such fundamental importance that anybody can stand up in this House with his hand on his heart and say, "We should withdraw a brigade from A"—
§ Major Beamish
The hon. Member says we should draw a brigade from Kenya, and leave that place in utter chaos and in the hands of Mau Mau. That is an irresponsible suggestion to which very few hon. Members will subscribe.
I repeat that I do not believe that any hon. Member in this House could stand up with his hand on his heart and say, "A brigade must be withdrawn from A, B, C or D." To do that would be complete dereliction of duty on the part of the British Government. I do not believe that that is a suggestion which we could follow, and for that reason I find some of the criticism made today a little difficult to understand.
Naturally we expect criticism from those who hold pacifist views. I have here a pamphlet from one of the pacifist organisations to which a number of hon. Members opposite adhere. It is the No Conscription Council. On the top of this pamphlet in large type is the slogan, "The way to be safe is never to be secure." Hon. Members who happen to believe that are naturally opposed to the proposals of the Government being carried through, and I can understand that. Fortunately the number of hon. Members who believe in that slogan is very few.
In the same way I would expect that those who are commonly called the fellow-travellers opposite, who take their cue if not their direct line of action from others who hold even more extreme Left-wing views than they themselves, naturally oppose these conscription proposals root and branch. That follows from their political philosophy, and I can quite understand that.
§ Major Beamish
But I am of opinion that it should be clearly understood in the country that the difference of opinion between the great bulk of the party opposite—as much as 75 to 80 per cent.—and hon. Members on these benches is 1467 very narrow indeed. They accept conscription, for two years I suppose, in the present circumstances, and if there is to be a Division this evening on this very important question, I hope it will be clearly understood that the difference between us is one of degree and not of principle.
I am entirely satisfied from every point of view that the proposals made by Her Majesty's Government are proper and wise in the circumstances. That is endorsed by the majority of the Members of the House of Commons, and I hope it will be clearly understood by the country that, apart from this difference of opinion of degree rather than of principle, the bulk of Members of Parliament stand solidly behind Her Majesty's Government.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
I should like to assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) that whatever he may feel about differences of degree between him and some hon. Members on this side of the House, for my part it is a difference of principle. He introduced a party line into the latter part of his remarks, and I think it was very undesirable for him to do so.
I well remember from 1947 to 1951 when the Labour Government introduced a Control of Engagement Order that day after day and night after night hon. Members opposite made the most blatant attacks possible on that Order because, they alleged, it interfered with the liberty of the subject—it was outrageous; it was almost robbing us of our birthright. I also remember the Durham County Council deciding that it might be helpful if a few teachers who were not members of a trade union were to join one. What happened? Hon. Gentlemen opposite made a great outcry about this totalitarian bureaucratic council forcing non-trade unionists to become trade unionists.
In their attitude towards those two problems, as compared with their attitude to conscription, it seemed to me that they were straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. To my mind there is something indecent in protesting about sending a man to a job where at least he can sleep in his own bed, and where his family life is not broken up and at the same time 1468 saying to a lad of 18, who has never had a vote and who is not responsible for the situation in which the country finds itself, "We are not only going to take you away from home, and you will not only be unable to sleep in your own bed, but we are reserving the right to send you where we like, when we like, and how we like."
Recently I have been reading a report on forced labour. I cannot understand why, when we are all so aghast at forced labour in Russia or in any of the satellite countries, we agree with conscription, because what is conscription but forced labour? The young man has no choice. He is told the regiment he is to join, the depôt he is to go to, the job he shall do. He has no more choice than the boys and men living under totalitarian rule to whom we extend our sympathy.
Now I shall say a few words to some of my hon. Friends. I was brought up in the Hardie tradition. I was brought up to believe that if ever this country had to impose conscription, the only circumstance in which we should accept it was when wealth also was conscripted. In other words, no conscription of life without conscription of wealth. There is not a single member of my own Front Bench who did not stand for that at one time, and I should like to think that we shall stand for it again. I am aghast at the man who says, "Do not nationalise the land because it is terribly dangerous to do so," but is prepared to nationalise the lads; who says, "Do not nationalise the arms factories but nationalise the lads who have to use the arms." I do not understand the mentality which places material considerations above the human factor.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) made a reasonable speech. Well, it was good in parts, like the curate's egg. I want my hon. Friends to take note of what the hon. Member for Dudley said, because recently we had a conference at Margate at which we declared to the people of this country what we shall do when we again occupy the benches opposite, which will be quite soon. We are committed to these things: to extending National Insurance benefits by restoring the purchasing power to that of 1948, to a big extension in the educational field and to the re-establishment of a free and comprehensive Health Service. The other night I was looking at those items and I 1469 estimated that they would need another £300 million more than is being spent at the present time.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (Mr. Nigel Birch)
More than £300 million.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I think my arithmetic is better than that of the hon. Gentleman. At any rate it will be difficult for us as a party to honour the pledges which were made firmly at Margate unless we can do something about this problem of conscription and armaments.
I believe that I have no right to support this Motion as long as we have a Colonial Secretary who blunders about as our present Colonial Secretary does. It is not right that these lads should have to pay the penalty for the blunders and shortsightedness of somebody else. Also I do not think it right that these lads should be in the charge of Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery who talked about war 15 years hence as a "party." That is not the kind of man to whom I want my lad entrusted.
To speak of the next war in that flippant manner strikes a note of horror in the heart of anyone with any imagination. I wonder what the thousands of mothers think who do not want their boys to go into the Forces, who would give almost anything to keep them out, when they read about their boys having about 10 or 15 years before the next "party" comes along. Lord Montgomery said later in that speech:Five years ago, anybody who wished to attack us would have had a walkover. Now, through great international co-operation, we have built up enough strength to be an effective, if temporary, deterrent to war.In view of that statement, I say that the House can afford to come some way towards meeting my point of view. If five years ago somebody was so powerful that they would have had a walkover, I want to know why that somebody did not do it then if they intended to do it at all? I can only assume that Lord Montgomery was referring to a potential enemy in the East—to Russia or her satellites. And if five years ago they were so overwhelmingly strong that, in the words of our greatest military leader, they "would have had a walkover," if they intended war then, they must have the world's worst generals if they did not attack us 1470 then instead of waiting until we have built up our Forces.
I say quite frankly that there is no answer to the problems in the international field which beset this country and there is no answer to the problems which beset the world along the military line. I am glad that light is beginning to break through even in the military mind, because I see that General Sir George Erskine, Commander-in-Chief in East Africa, says now that there is no military answer to Kenya's problem. Kenya's problem is a problem of poverty. The problem of two-thirds of this world is a problem of poverty and there is no answer to that problem along the military line.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I believe that all this means that the time has come for some nation to give a lead. I should like to feel that our nation, which has given so much to the world, was prepared to take some risk with a view to bringing an insane world back to sanity, with a view to getting down to fundamental problems that are causing all the worry, anxiety, mistrust and suspicion in the world. If some nation were to give that lead it would not be without its response in other countries. It is very significant that today there is not a single nation of any concern in the world that is able to man its forces with volunteers only. It does not matter whether the country is totalitarian or democratic it has to force its men into the armed forces.
That reveals to me something which I believe is the hope of the world. It reveals that the ordinary common people in the world, irrespective of their religion or their politics, do not want to fight another. The ordinary people of the world are the victims of the statesmen who control their respective countries. They are made to do things not because they want to do them, but because the big men to whom they are supposed to look up with respect have blundered and have failed to solve their problems in the diplomatic field. The leaders therefore call upon the people from the mean back streets to settle the things which they have failed to settle.
I find this fact that no nation in the would can man its armed forces without 1471 conscription one of great hope. I believe that ordinary people, most of whom have lived through two world wars and are in a position to appreciate what a third world war with atomic weapons can be like, are determined that they will only go along the path to war as far as they are compelled to do so by their respective Governments, and that if it were left to them they would settle their differences without recourse to the methods of barbarians.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)
The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) made a speech with which I so totally disagree that it would take nearly all the time the House has at its disposal if I were to attempt to answer it. He said that he wanted this country to give a lead to the world by reducing or abolishing National Service. I may be very stupid, but it seems to me that this country is giving a lead to the world in peace. It seems to me that the best means has been adopted by the clever people of the Opposition Front Bench and the even more clever and intelligent people of the Government Front Bench in following a policy of peace through strength and giving a lead to the world on those lines. Stupid though I may be, that kind of policy appeals to me more than the policy of leading the world to disarmament by our single example, as suggested by the hon. Member for Jarrow.
The Opposition Motion seems to me to be very narrow and the division between the two parties in this House extremely narrow, too. I am wondering what this debate is all about. In moving the Motion, the Leader of the Opposition admitted, as is stated in the Motion, that he accepts the need for National Service at present, presumably for two years as it is today, and that all he wants is an annual opportunity for Parliament to say that National Service should be continued or not.
What opportunites are there already? The Prime Minister has detailed them. There is the Army Annual Bill, the Army Estimates and the Supply Days when we can discuss all these things. It seems to me that the difference between the two parties in this House is so small as not to warrant a Division on such a narrow issue tonight. I know that a few hon 1472 Members opposite would like to move an Amendment that would more clearly define their attitude. I wish that it had been possible for them to do that, because then both sides might have been able to agree to give them a chance to express their pacifist views.
§ Mr. Silvermanindicated dissent.
§ Captain Duncan
Well, pacifist-Communist. I will leave it at that.
On one point of vital importance I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and disagree with the Opposition—that is on the effect that this Motion would have abroad if it were carried. It is absolutely essential at this key moment that there should be a feeling of complete unity at home, with the exception of a small minority opposite, in the face of the world situation. We have peace talks in Korea. The war is not over; it is only a cessation of the fighting which we hope to goodness will not start again. The situation there is in the balance.
Things are going better in Malaya, but there are still 80,000 of our troops in Egypt and talks are going on. We have also the Bermuda Conference, and all the time we have the mysterious attitude of the Soviet Union. I do not say that she does not want peace, but she does not give evidence to that effect. We are in a critical situation where we might be on the road to peace. The Prime Minister says that the situation is easier. I can only look at the facts as I see them in the newspapers. It seems to me that there is no easing of the situation, but my right hon. Friend has information that I do not possess. At any rate he is going to Bermuda. It may be the dawn of a new era; we all hope it is.
At this time it seems a great mistake on the part of the Leader of the Opposition to press a Motion like this on the House rather than to discuss the next Motion on the Order Paper which we shall discuss tomorrow and upon which we shall agree except for the small pacifist opposition in this House. That would give a much clearer opinion abroad as to the unity of purpose we have and the 1473 vital necessity of a policy of peace through strength.
I did agree with the Leader of the Opposition about the necessity for certain inquiries. I see no reason, consistent with the policy of hon. Members on this side of the House, against having certain inquiries into various aspects of National Service. There is the question of the incidence of crime among adolescents between the time of leaving school and call-up. I do not pretend to be an expert, but one sees in the Press a large number of cases of adolescents who may be just filling in their time before call-up by taking part in crime instead of getting down to a job and taking an interesting place in society.
There is the question of the employment of National Service men during their period of service. One is always hearing from constituents that their son, or a boy they know, is peeling potatoes in the Army. I have no idea whether it is true or not—[An HON. MEMBER: "It is true."] Well someone has to peel the potatoes, and the people who complain may be the people who have to do it. I hope there will be strict inquiries into all these cases when they are brought to Ministers by Members of Parliament.
The most important type of inquiry I should like is into the question of the call-up of agricultural workers. I take the view that there should not be a blanket deferment for the farmer's son or the farm worker, but that they ought to play a certain part in the national defence of the country and the Empire. I think the average farm worker or fanner is prepared to accept that. When the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) was Minister of Defence he said he did not anticipate that more than 30,000 farm workers or farmers' sons would be called up at any one time. That is roughly 15,000 a year on a two-year call-up. I ask my right hon. Friend whether that 30,000 has been achieved. I do not think it has, but from such figures as I have seen the average call-up, with deferment and postponement, would be more in the region of 8,000 a year than 15,000 a year.
Another matter is the Regular engagement. I am not quite sure what effect the Regular engagement has on the total amount of labour available on the land. 1474 The recruiting sergeant is waiting at the office of the Ministry of Labour when men are called up and says to the boys, "You are in the Army for two years anyway; you might as well make a good job of it and join for three years as a volunteer. You will get treated better with better pay and we will make a man of you." A lot of fellows are falling for that. I want to know whether the figure for voluntary enlistment for three years from the farming industry, plus the National Service intake, exceeds the 30,000 which the agricultural industry accepted in the time of the Labour Government. I hope that it does not exceed 30,000. If it does, something ought to be done about it.
There are one or two detailed aspects of the call-up which need reconsideration by the Government. We have all had numerous cases, but I will deal now with only two. One is the case of a smallholder. I will not go into all the details, but I have the papers with me. This man learned his trade as a smallholder while an apprentice to a market gardener. He had a holding of three acres, which he was developing for intensive production of pigs, poultry and vegetables. He was called up and, in spite of everything I have been able to do, he has gone into the Army. The reason given by the Ministry of Labour in this case—which is a Scots case—was that the Department of Agriculture considered they were unable to recommend deferment on the ground that the size, about three acres, and production of the holding was not such as to justify his full-time service throughout the year.
§ Mr. Speaker
I wonder how the hon. and gallant Member is relating that case to the Motion before the House, which is concerned with whether there should be a review yearly or at the end of a further period?
§ Captain Duncan
I am relating it in this way, Mr. Speaker. The Motion wants a yearly review of National Service. I am not accepting that, but I am suggesting that there should be an inquiry into individual cases and individual categories of cases as time goes on, not necessarily at yearly intervals. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) dealt with one or two cases in his speech, and I hope I shall be in order in dealing with one more case.
§ Mr. Speaker
A case might be used to illustrate a particular argument relevant to the Motion before the House, but I could not myself understand how this case was relevant to the Motion.
§ Captain Duncan
I have explained that I do not want aperiod of service … determined by Parliament on Affirmative Resolution, not less frequently than once a year.I am prepared not to accept that on condition that inquiries are made into these categories of cases as and when they occur from time to time. It was on that basis that I was hoping to give one more illustration of the type of case which has occurred because of rules made by the Ministry of Labour under the present system of deferment and call-up. This other case is of a man who entered agriculture after February, 1951. For domestic reasons, he went back to his farm where he was born and brought up. He had been apprenticed as an engineer and was an apprentice in February, 1951, but he went back to the farming industry and asked for deferment; but deferment could not be given because of some rule the Ministry had made saying that anyone born in 1933 could not get deferment unless he was in agriculture in February, 1951.
It is those sort of rules I want revised. If on those occasions the Government will revise the rules, look at them afresh and see if we can get more fairness for the farming industry as a whole, I oppose the Motion. I hope it will not be carried, not only for the reasons I have given, but also on the grounds that I think it would be a great national mistake if we forced a Division on this matter in these critical times.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. R. W. Sorensen (Leyton)
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member for Angus, South (Captain Duncan) will not mind if I do not attempt to deal with the two concluding issues he raised, as I know I should be entirely out of order if I did so. I thought that the hon. and gallant Member was a little less than fair in assuming that those on these benches who have already indicated their opposition to conscription must necessarily be either pacifists or Communists, because I am quite sure that there are in this House and elsewhere large numbers of 1476 people who oppose conscription on grounds of principle.
Let us not forget that in the first Great War, for instance, when one would have thought that conscription was an obvious necessity from a military standpoint, the then Sir John Simon resigned from the Cabinet precisely on the ground that he disagreed with the application of conscription. We must agree that there are those in this House and elsewhere who oppose conscription on such grounds and, therefore, are neither pacifist on the one hand nor Communist on the other.
I have received several letters from my constituents, and some from other parts of the country. I have also received a number of petitions signed by, I suppose altogether, 200 or 300 people. They have indicated their opposition to conscription. I took the trouble to call on some of those who had signed these petitions, and to reply personally to the letters sent to me. I must confess that when I talked to some of my constituents who had signed such a petition, and asked them exactly why they had signed it, I received a wide variety of answers.
There was, of course, a general dislike of the idea of compulsion, which was very well put by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) in his speech this evening. There were others who pointed out the alleged moral dangers of conscription; others who spoke of un-happiness arising from the severance of young boys from their homes, all of which, I pointed out to them, have really nothing very much to do with conscription, because one could object on that ground just as much to voluntary service.
That is not to say that I did not appreciate the deep feelings existing in the hearts of my constituents. All I am trying to suggest is that one must certainly appreciate how people who sign petitions have not necessarily in all cases thought out the implications of their signature. I am afraid that that is certainly true of large numbers of petitions that are sent, though I am speaking of one particular petition at the moment.
That is why I did not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow when he rather suggested that there was no choice on the part of the youth of this country who were compelled to join up. 1477 Obviously if they object to military service on grounds of principle, if they think it wrong to fight, if on deep religious grounds they are convinced there is some other way by which evil should be overcome, if they are what I call believers in advanced Christianity, standing for the type of Christianity which will probably be very popular in 100 years' time, then they will not fight. Those of that type can say "We shall not join the Forces; and as conscientious objectors we have, and will accept the alternative of going before a tribunal."
If, on the other hand, they do not take that position, they are obviously in the dilemma of believing armed force to be necessary and are haunted by the question of what they intend to do about the obligation which they recognise to be necessary. Similarly, another observation on the part of my hon. Friend was to the effect that because in all countries compulsory military service is now more or less the rule, that indicates that the ordinary man does not want to fight and is, therefore, on the high road to peace, and that if left to himself he will make peace in the world.
I cannot agree with that argument. We know full well that large numbers of people are perfectly prepared to avoid what they know to be their duty. The simple test-rule is to say to the petitioners who appended their signatures, or to the writers of letters, or to those to whom my hon. Friend referred, "Do you really want an Army, or do you not?" Let us make that the test. If that question were put, I venture to submit that the great majority of those who, on many grounds, do not want conscription or are anxious it shall be abolished some day, will say, "Of course we do not want to abolish arms all together."
That is, in fact, the question which I put to many of them. I said, "Do you really mean you do not want arms at all?" They said, "Of course not. We must have an Army, Navy and Air Force. We must have defence." A further question I put to them was, "If that be so, do you think it is altogether democratic and fair to want Armed Forces but to avoid facing the responsibility of serving in those Armed Forces yourself?" I put that question sympathetically because it is a question to myself as well as to every- 1478 body else. It is a certain question to all pacifists and to all who take what I think is the Christian standpoint.
I can only conclude, as a result of my own reflections, and without suggesting other people should do likewise, that my own conviction is that for the 95 per cent. or more of the people of this country who want arms compulsory military service seems to be a far fairer and more democratic method than relying on voluntary effort, which is often accomplished by bribes on the one hand or very questionable means on the other.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
Is my hon. Friend advancing the point of view that he is a delegate here and must, therefore, try to gather majority opinion in his constituency, and advance it?
§ Mr. Sorensen
I am surprised at that observation. It was not my argument at all. My argument was that as the great majority of people—not merely in my constituency—want arms, we should not encourage those who want arms to dodge what they believe is an obligation. It has nothing to do with my constituency.
My friends in my constituency know full well where I stand, know my religious conviction and know what it has been from the very beginning. I am simply asking, in a very friendly way, what is the answer.
§ Mr. Sorensen
I believe everyone should be true to his convictions but one has no right to try to impose one's personal convictions on others. The interjection is irrelevant to the principle of being true to one's convictions. Indeed, we have to encourage others to be true to their convictions and I cannot see how one assists people to be true to their convictions by saying, "You believe in arms but we will do our best to see you do not use arms but rely on somebody else using them for you."
I wish to make my position clear. I feel that, apart from the provision for pacifists and others who have, on religious or moral grounds, a strong and deep conviction that they cannot join in military effort, conscription for the rest seems entirely democratic and fair. Having said that, I would also state that I think it is a remarkable testimony to this country not merely that there is provision for the 1479 small minority of pacifists but also that no extra burdens are loaded on the pacifists when they have performed what, generally speaking, is regarded as their alternative service. There is scarcely another country so generous as this one to this particular minority, and it is a wonderful testimony to this country's tolerance and wisdom. It helps to vindicate and enrich the character of this country and the quality of the freedom in which we all believe. May it long continue and may it be extended to the other minorities as well.
If I had any suggestion to make at all I would say that while there is provision for the religious and the moral objector, in existing circumstances there is little provision made for the purely political objector, that is, for the one who may say, "I do not disagree with all wars. In some circumstances I would participate in a war. I would defend the union of England and Ulster against any attempt to take it away by the rest of Ireland, or I would defend a Socialist State, but there may be a particular war which I cannot endorse."
No provision is made for that type of conscientious objector and I would ask the Government to consider making provision for those, who may be Conservatives or Socialists or of other political beliefs, who genuinely believe that in certain circumstances they could not conscientiously participate in a particular war; just as some Conservative Members of this House, for example, would not have participated in a war against Ulster years ago and on that occasion would have been conscientious objectors. It would have been a wrong thing to compel them to take up arms in a war in which they did not really believe. Could not we therefore recognise that principle and apply it now, and appreciate the fact that there are not only religious objectors who object on Christian and moral grounds, but also political objectors who have a conscience relative to specific occasions of conflict?
§ Mr. J. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
Is not the statement made by the hon. Gentleman regarding Ulster a little far-fetched? Is it not the case that they were offering to lead an insurrection among the troops in Ulster and not objection to being conscripted to the Services?
§ Mr. Sorensen
No. There are further aspects of that matter but I do not wish to be drawn too deeply into it. If the Government of the country at that time had called upon certain Conservatives in the Armed Forces to take up arms, against what might have been the law of this land, to unite Ulster in a nationalist Ireland they would have been the first to say, "We cannot do so. We must conscientiously object."
My second suggestion is that we might well consider raising the age of enlistment. Some indirect reference has already been made to this by the Leader of the Opposition. I know the difficulties. I know also that at the present time those difficulties do not prevent a large number of students and apprentices from deferring their service until they have finished their training or education. If that be so, and the difficulties are not insurmountable in that case, I suggest the option could be given to young men of 18 either to undertake their military service at that age or to postpone it to the age of approximately 21 when they are of more mature judgment.
I say that for several reasons, and for this one in particular. There is substance in the argument that if a young man is not entitled to vote at 18, if he is not recognised as a responsible citizen, obviously, logically speaking, he should not be required to enter into the Armed Forces. In those circumstances I submit that there should at least be the option for young men to postpone their entry into the Services until the age of 21, when they might be in a better position seriously to consider all that is involved in the service they are to undertake.
My third point is that much more should be done than has been done now during the time of that service to prepare young men who have not had previous training or education to enter some worth-while vocation in which they could settle down in civil life and for which they could in some measure be prepared before they leave the Services. I agree with the plea for efforts to be made to reduce the term of service, but that is largely a technical matter. I have listened carefully to the arguments adduced by hon. Members on both sides of the House who have had experience of Regular service in one or other of the Armed Forces and I have come to the 1481 conclusion that it is not for me to say categorically whether at the present time it is possible to reduce the two-year period. Though I should like it to be so and would urge most earnestly that everything should be done, both by limiting our commitments and by developing a constructive foreign policy, to see whether in existing circumstances we need have such a large force and to reduce the two-year period to 18 months and possibly ultimately to a year at the outside.
What I have said I have said because I feel I ought to say it, because I believe that some people who actively oppose conscription have not thought out the matter fully. That does not mean that I do not appreciate the attitude of those who say, "There is another way than the way of war and I will take part in that alternative." They themselves may not always have thought of all that is involved, including the arduous discipline and sacrifice. Nevertheless, I believe the more who can be brought to think along those lines the better it will be for the Christian Church on the one hand and the State on the other.
Just as in the past the Christian Church lagged behind for centuries and at last accepted that which lonely pioneers had proclaimed in regard to slavery and feminine subjugation, social justice and much else, so it may well be that the views of those who stand for this other way, which I think can only be understood on religious grounds, will eventually be accepted by Church and State. Meanwhile, it remains for me to beg the Government to realise the very deep even if confused feeling that there is upon this matter, and not lightly to brush it aside. Beneath it lies a passionate love of family life, of liberty and an equally passionate desire for lasting peace in our fear-stricken world.
§ 7. p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Hitchin)
I hope that the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) to whose most eloquent and sincere peroration we have just listened, will forgive me for not interfering, as it were, in the internecine argument opposite on the principle of conscription generally. Instead, I wish to get back to the terms of the Motion and, in particular, to the words:… the time has now arrived when the period of service should be determined … not less frequently than once a year.1482 In support of that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition inferred, if he did not actually say, that the international situation is now better.
§ Mr. Fisher
The Leader of the Opposition certainly endorsed it, and his endorsement was a great compliment to the efforts of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in their work.
The question is whether, despite those efforts, the situation is sufficiently better to justify the terms of this Motion. Many of us on both sides of the House had great hopes of a genuine change in the Russian attitude following the death of Marshal Stalin. But were those hopes really justified in the result? Have the present rulers of Russia really shown a change of heart? I am afraid there is little evidence of it.
Even taking the most optimistic view possible that all the trouble in Korea, Kenya and in Malaya is shortly to be resolved and that all our Armed forces in those areas are shortly to be withdrawn, and also of course in Trieste, Austria and the Canal Zone, even if we take that super-optimistic view, there still remains with us this central problem of the attitude of Russia. There will still be the need to defend Western Europe and for a strategic reserve here at home which at the moment we so lamentably lack.
§ Mr. Swingler
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that what the Prime Minister said on 11th May was not true, or what is his real view of the possibility of relaxing in the matter of defence?
§ Mr. Fisher
This attitude was supported from the hon. Gentleman's own Front Bench. I am merely arguing from the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. I am entitled to take up that point; but it does not alter the issue that there would still be the need for a strategic reserve here, which at the moment we lack, and for the need to defend Western Europe. I could not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) when he implied that the troops in Germany are in fact a strategic reserve. I should have said that they were in the front line of Western defence and not a reserve at all.
1483 Our foreign policy under successive Governments has been, and is, peace through strength, as the Prime Minister said. We have hoped to negotiate on equal terms with Russia instead of from a position of weakness which, experience has always shown us, dictatorship countries tend to exploit. But our position would not be strengthened today if we accepted the Motion. Everyone agrees that conscription in time of peace is not a system which we care for, though it may not be such a bad thing for the individual as the individual sometimes thinks.
I do not think that six years in the Army did me any harm, and I do not think that two years service would do quite a lot of people any harm. [Interruption.] It is all very well to laugh, but the Leader of the Opposition said today that many young men would gain from National Service. He is probably right. There are all sorts of considerations, such as pride in wearing the Queen's uniform, pride of regiment, discipline and so on which may well bring out in a young man qualities of character which might otherwise have lain dormant.
That comment was in parenthesis. The truth is that none of us likes the system. We all agree that it is only justified by necessity. Surely, if we are to retain conscription—and there seems to be not a universal but a general acceptance that it is necessary today—then we must retain it in such a form that it will work as effectively as possible. I should have thought that any military plans and preparations, training schemes and efficiency, would be somewhat prejudiced by the question of an annual review. That must be clear to any one with experience.
Even the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition admitted that there would be uncertainty, though he seemed to think that uncertainty was good in itself. That was the implication of his remarks. That may be perfectly good democracy, but I cannot think that it is an attitude consistent with training or operational efficiency from a military point of view.
Another point on which I disagreed with him was when he said complainingly that we were bearing a heavier burden 1484 than other countries. He said that he thought the others would perhaps have followed our example and adopted a two-year term of conscription but, unfortunately, "that had not come off." That is a very odd argument. If we really believe in adequate Western defence then that argument is all the greater reason for us to maintain our own contribution. After all, if everybody is to be governed by the sort of theory that the lowest common denominator is what we must all go for—the lowest possible contribution—we shall be faced with calamity.
§ Mr. Fisher
Why should we not bear the burden we believe necessary instead of having this business of a sort of Dutch auction going downwards. It is a nonsensical argument. If we believe in the policy we must do our best to implement it.
As for the argument of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) that seemed to represent a plea for conscription of perhaps three or four years. His arguments were not addressed to the question of an annual review but to the idea of increasing National Service rather than anything else.
§ Mr. Crossman
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that a reduction of the two-year period would seriously impair technical training, will he say whether he regards the present period as a permanency or not?
§ Mr. Fisher
I do not think that it should be regarded as a permanency, but it is well known that the period is subject to review at any time by all the Service Departments, the Ministry of Defence and by the House of Commons itself.
I now come to a matter which I regard as of great importance. It is the reaction abroad to any change, however small it may seem to be. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), in March, 1950, said:… the existence of National Service is not only necessary to meet our responsibilities but is recognised as clear evidence of our firmness of purpose and readiness to play our full part with our Allies in the defence of our common interests."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 1273.]I agree, but I believe that this clear evidence might well be prejudiced if we 1485 accepted the Motion proposed by the Opposition. To say the least of it, our Allies would be discouraged and their confidence might well be undermined.
§ Mr. Crossman
One of our Allies is Australia. The Australian Tory Government last September, preparing for the election, reduced their term of service from four and a half months to four months. When we have a period of two years, and one of our Allies, Australia, reduce their period from four and a half months to four months, what will the hon. Gentleman do to the Tories in Australia?
§ Mr. Fisher
It is not for us to suggest to the Australian sovereign Government how they should run their own affairs. Two wrongs do not make a right.
What is the point of this Motion? Without it the position can be reviewed at any time by the Government and by the House.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
I have been trying to understand what the hon. Gentleman is driving at. He says that the position can be reviewed at any time. If it can be reviewed at any time, which may mean in a matter of weeks or of a few months, why does he object to the Motion which asks for an annual review?
§ Mr. Fisher
I really do not see the point of putting the Motion down. Obviously a matter of this importance is always under review by the Government and indeed by the House of Commons. I do not want to enter into the realm of controversy, but I have been interrupted considerably. The question is why put the Motion on the Order Paper at all? I do not want to be uncharitable, but the explanation may be found in the need of the Opposition to frame some form of words which would create some sort of unity on their own benches. It may be that the party opposite are as concerned today with the always precarious unity among their own ranks as they are with the efficiency of the ranks of the British Army.
§ Mr. Swingler
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that this Motion has been put on the Order Paper only because the Tory Government have produced an 1486 Order in Council which six years ago they pledged themselves not to produce?
§ Mr. Fisher
I am well aware that the debate arises out of the Order in Council which the Government have introduced.
§ Mr. Fisher
The Motion did not arise automatically; it was put down at the initiative of the Front Bench opposite. I hope very much that even now the Opposition will not press the matter to a Division. In dividing the House I am very much afraid that they may at least give the impression of dividing the nation too. This has been a national policy, above and beyond the party. We supported the Opposition when they introduced the principle. In the past they could always count on our support on these issues of defence.
There is obviously no difference of principle between my party and the Front Bench opposite; I know there are some hon. Gentlemen opposite whose difference of principle is a sincere conviction, but that is another issue. It would be a great pity to risk misleading the public, and perhaps our Allies abroad, by dividing the House of Commons on the Motion, and I hope that even now the Opposition will reconsider their decision.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
In opposing the Motion, the Prime Minister said that now was not the time to raise this question, and the same theme has been heard in several other speeches. It seems to me that right hon. and hon. Members who argue in that way have not really considered the Motion before the House. There is no proposal at the moment to reduce the length of National Service. We are on the eve of being asked to continue for a period of five years the power of the Government to have any National Service at all. What we say is that, if that grave power is to be continued for five years, one of the conditions of its continuance should be that the period for which young men are called up should be subject to annual review.
At what time would it be proper to introduce a Motion of this kind except at the time when the Order in Council 1487 is brought forward? If the present is not the time to raise the question, it never will be the time. Indeed, the present, when the House is about to be asked by the Government to continue the power of call-up for five years, is exactly the moment when we ought to consider under what conditions, and following what procedure, that continuance of power ought to be granted. If we let this opportunity go by, it could be said afterwards that Parliament had accepted without discussion the continuance practically indefinitely of a two-year period of National Service. It is as well that the House should know exactly what is the question before it.
It is an extremely grave matter that so many years after the war we are accepting the continuance of National Service and that nearly all of us are recognising that for the moment the two-year period cannot be reduced. I do not think it was in the minds of any of us when peace-time National Service was first agreed to after the war that so many years later we should be obliged to accept a position of this kind. It is a position of very great gravity reflecting on the state of mankind at the present time.
The occasional remarks that we hear about the relaxation of international tension seem to me to be the kind of remarks in which we should place very little reliance. We cannot tell at present what the realities of the international situation are. We perceive only the slightest movements on the surface. It does not seem wise to base argument either way on supposed alterations, either for better or for worse, in the international situation. Something much more decisive in the international field will have to happen than has yet happened before we can argue on those lines.
The position being so grave, and what we are about to be asked to do—to continue for five years the power to impose conscription on people—being so grave, we ought surely now to ensure that Parliament and the nation have proper safeguards against the waste of manpower which National Service represents and against the improper and imprudent use of that manpower.
I could not bring myself to agree with many of the things that my hon. Friend 1488 the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) said, but I was extremely glad to note his reference to the Government's colonial policy. A most unhappy situation is created in that we have the present temper of policy at the Colonial Office side by side with the knowledge that there is this reservoir of armed manpower, which two-year conscription brings to the Government, which can be drawn on if no other way can be thought of to solve colonial difficulties.
One of the things that a democratic country ought always to consider when it is discussing the length of conscription is whether the presence of organised power will encourage Governments to seek solutions by the use of force when better solutions could be found by other means. I do not say that that will always happen, but it is something against which a democratic Parliament should erect safeguards. That aspect has not been understood at all by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have spoken from the Government benches.
We must also safeguard ourselves against an attitude of mind which begins to take the two-year period for granted. It is clear from some of the arguments which we have heard from the Government benches that some hon. Members opposite are beginning to take the two-year period for granted. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) said that the possibility of a hot war was receding but that that was no argument for cutting down National Service. If anything, he rather suggested that it was an argument the other way. If the situation were undoubtedly that the possibility of a hot war was increasing, what would the hon. and gallant Gentleman have to say then? Surely he would say, "Now is not the time to talk of reducing National Service." If we followed his line of argument, whatever happened in the international situation he would be able to prove to us that it was unwise and impossible to reduce National Service.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) spoke of the importance to training of a two-year, rather than an 18-month, period. There is no doubt that a man is a better trained soldier at the end of 24 months than at the end of 18, but if 1489 it is to be argued that we need a 24-month period in order to train a man adequately, that is an argument for making 24 months the period of conscription in an indefinite future.
The speeches of those hon. and gallant Gentlemen, and those of other hon. Members, showed that they have begun to take the two-year period for granted. I do not believe that the nation is prepared to do that. The nation is prepared to face immediate necessity, but it does not want us to slip into the habit of taking the two-year period for granted. That is why at this moment, on the eve of a proposal to continue the power of call-up, we ought to consider very carefully whether Parliament has erected an adequate safeguard against having the two-year period taken for granted.
What is the safeguard that we propose? It is a fixed annual review of the period of call-up. What arguments have been advanced against it? There have been two arguments. One has been that we do not need an annual review because we can review the matter at any moment, that at any moment the Government and Parliament can decide to alter the length of National Service. The other argument has been that it would be impossible to consider the question once a year because that would put the military advisers in a position of impossible uncertainty.
It is impossible logically to advance both arguments at once. Of course the Government's military advisers will not welcome the prospect of periodic review of the length of National Service. If one asks a professional soldier his view on the matter, he will, naturally, say, "Give me a period of National Service which is fairly long and fix it into the future indefinitely, and after you have fixed it, do not monkey with it." If one asks the ordinary civilian, he will say, "The moment you feel you can cut it down, for goodness' sake cut it down." Governments trying to face the situation soberly must attempt to reach something between these two extremes.
We have put forward the fixed annual review as a reasonable attempt to reconcile the minimum needs of the military chiefs with the proper desire of the people in the country that we shall not drop into the habit of taking the two-year period 1490 for granted. We are told that the matter can be reviewed at any time, but everyone's business is nobody's business, and a matter that can be raised at any time is therefore most likely to be a matter that is never raised at all at any time.
What has happened so far? Whenever this matter has been raised before, it has always had to impinge on a debate that really ought to have been used for some other purpose, and that, in effect, is still happening. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who advance this argument intend that it should go on happening, because, when they tell us that we can raise the matter at any time, if they really mean that they would be extremely worried by the uncertainty which that would impose on the military advisers, their insistence that the military advisers should not be left in uncertainty means, in effect, that they do not want the matter raised at any and every time.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument very carefully, but I should like to ask him if, in fact, he would not be able to move an Amendment on the Army Estimates?
§ Mr. Stewart
Surely it would be possible, and, indeed, I trust that it will be done, but the reason for not stopping at that is the gravity of the matter. This is a matter on which the Government ought to be invited to make their case for continuing the two-year period, rather than that the Opposition should be invited to make a case—necessarily with a less complete knowledge of the facts—for reducing it.
I ask the hon. Gentleman, if that is all that divides us, why the Government are opposing this Motion, and what his line is going to be when the Division comes? If he is prepared to envisage the fact that it will be perfectly possible for an Amendment to be put down on the Army Estimates in order to discuss this very matter, is there so very much difference between that and putting the Government in the position in which they would have to make the case? I believe that, because of the gravity of the matter, the Government ought to make the case. If they are not prepared to envisage the annual review proposed by the Opposition, the hon. Gentleman cannot seriously press his objection, when the Division comes, to 1491 the proposal for an annual review in which the Government have to make their case.
§ Mr. Harveyindicated assent.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me, and I hope that he will accompany us into the Lobby this evening.
On a matter of this character, we must not let our military friends run away with us. I say again that, if this argument about uncertainty is really believed in by those who advance it, they are saying that we ought not to raise this matter at any and every time, and their assurance to us that we can raise it at any and every time is meaningless. We say that a better way of dealing with that matter is to make clear, in view of the gravity of the matter, its effect on individual liberty and on the whole international and colonial policy of the Government, and that the Government ought to be required to make their case for the period of National Service year by year.
In such an annual review, what should we expect of the Government? I think we should expect them to tell us what progress they have made during the preceding 12 months in reducing, or endeavouring to reduce, the very heavy commitments we are bearing at the present time. I think that, if Ministers knew that they had to do that in order to defend the period of National Service, it might have a stimulating effect both on foreign and colonial policy at the present time. I think that they might also tell us in such an annual review what efforts they had made to persuade our allies to bear a burden somewhat comparable to our own.
This matter has been raised several times before, and if the Government were in the position in which year by year they had to defend the period of National Service, they would not be able to get away with that evasion, because we should be able to say explicitly, "What have you done since the last annual review, incidentally, to get our allies to redress the disparity between their National Service and ours, having regard to the very great burden which British National Service inflicts on the people of this country?"
Again, in such a review, we could ask the Government what steps they had 1492 taken in the preceding 12 months to secure economy of manpower and to encourage Regular recruiting. There again, in the course of former debates, many suggestions have been made to the Government as to how they might secure economies in manpower. I myself made a whole speech on that subject, but I do not propose to quote it at any great length on this occasion, because very few speeches bear repetition of that kind, and one usually bores oneself and everyone else as well. There were a great many proposals about which the Secretary of State for War and the other Service Ministers may refresh their memories by looking up HANSARD. We have really had no detailed reply in this House by any of the Ministers concerned on these suggestions for possible economies in manpower, and if they had to justify the length of National Service to this House year by year, they would not be able to get away with it.
We could also consider—perhaps in a less controversial way—the effect of National Service on the young men themselves and on the various aspects of the national life. There has been a great deal of discussion on the effects of National Service on these young men and on their character. I am bound to admit that what I am going to say now may sound somewhat obvious, trite and hackneyed, but I cannot forbear expressing my amazed admiration at the incredible tenacity and heroism with which these young men defend the policy of this country in places remote from their homeland and in circumstances which must have seemed well outside their imagination. I think we all do well to remember that, without such a spirit on their part, the whole of our effort for the defence of Western civilisation and in resisting aggression would come down like a house of cards.
We ought, then, to say that it is not too much to ask that there should be a special day set aside in Parliament on which the Government would be in the dock and would have to defend their action in imposing the period of National Service on these young men. We should have the opportunity of raising many particular points concerning the life of the National Service men today, and the hon. Gentleman opposite, who had difficulty in keeping his remarks in order, would be able to do so if we had an annual review of this kind.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I must sit down in two minutes.
Finally, there is the effect of National Service on various aspects of the national life. The point has been raised whether the imminence of National Service militates against a man settling down in steady employment in the years after leaving school, but the very slight evidence that has come my way does not suggest that that is a very serious problem, though quite obviously it is one on which it would be useful to have further evidence put before us. Again, an annual review could cover questions of that kind.
If hon. Members opposite and the Prime Minister really believe that the difference between us is so narrow, why are they not prepared to do something about it? The argument about uncertainty has no validity at all. What I think is really dividing us is that on that side of the House hon. Gentlemen are far too prone to accept the arguments of military and Service people simply because they come from that quarter and allow themselves to get into the habit of taking them for granted, accepting the harsh necessity for the time being of what has been imposed upon them; whereas we on this side of the House are, I trust, maintaining the historic Parliamentary tradition of asserting that in the last resort, the military chiefs are subject to this House and to the nation.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm McCorquodale (Epsom)
I think that we are to be congratulated that upon this very important, and, indeed, inflammable subject we have had from both sides such a quiet and responsible debate, and I believe the country will endorse that view.
I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) in his close dialetic argument, though I thoroughly endorse, as I believe the whole House does, his warm appreciation of the heroism shown by our soldiers, sailors and airmen in parts remote from this country and in circumstances alien to what they might expect. I thought that a considerable amount of the hon. Gentleman's speech was very valuable, but I 1494 must say that it seemed to me that when my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) interrupted him with regard to the Army Estimates, it rather punctured a great deal of his carefully built up argument.
We in this country can congratulate ourselves that in these difficult days the basic national unity of the country is so strongly shown on the great international questions of the day. Indeed, the fact that the great political parties are both united on the necessity for National Service at this time is, I think, a matter on which we can congratulate ourselves as one of the greatest importance.
It seems to me that the only argument between the two sides of the House is as to the method, not the principle, by which Parliamentary control should be exercised over this very important commitment. After listening most carefully to the well argued speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, I must say that, nevertheless, I was entirely convinced by the final argument put forward by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister which was, so far as I appreciated it, that the grave international implications of any possible suggestion in the minds of other nations, whether friendly or not, that there was a weakening of resolve in this country at this particular moment would be little less than disastrous. We must all do our best to see that such a contretemps, however mistaken it might be, should not come about.
I was glad that there was little special pleading in this debate, as there has been in the past, for the exemption from National Service of special groups of supposedly very important people from the national point of view. I believe that exemption from National Service should be strictly limited to those working underground in the mines and to merchant seamen. In my view, it is absolutely necessary, if we are to keep the country with us over this matter of National Service, that the most scrupulous fairness should be exercised as between man and man.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
Indeed, I believe that even in cases of hardship, which 1495 have the sympathy of us all, the principle of fairness and equality of treatment as between man and man, whatever their professions or positions, must be maintained, and I am sure that, in the main, the House agrees with that. I hope that we shall have no more special pleading on behalf of certain agricultural groups.
Now a word about the medical examination. There have been, and, of course, there are bound to be, a few mistakes made in this matter. Medical people are no less prone to make mistakes than are others. What we have to do, and what I believe the authorities already do to the best of their ability, is to keep down these mistakes to a minimum. I am also sure that if mistakes are made they must be suitably acknowledged and suitably dealt with.
One further question on the medical examination. Are the regulations regarding those considered fit to be called up too strictly drawn? I think we should bear in mind that military service should, and indeed does, improve the health of the Service man by giving him a vigorous open-air life. I should like to see medical opinion in the Forces turn its attention to whether any of those who are at present rejected through any weakness are not the very men who might most benefit from a careful period of National Service. There are a considerable number of less violently vigorous jobs in the Services today, and I wonder whether the nation is not losing some of the health benefits from National Service which it might otherwise gain. I throw that out as a suggestion.
§ Mr. McGovern
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are many diseases lying dormant in the human body that only develop when the individual starts to lead an active life.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
Much as I admire the hon. Gentleman, I would rather trust the medical profession than him in this matter. I did preface my remarks by saying that I should like this matter studied by the medical profession.
We had a most interesting debate in the spring on the subject of the Royal Naval Dockyards. During that debate, a 1496 suggestion was made by myself and supported by other hon. Members that it would be a very good thing if apprentices in the Royal Naval Dockyards were to do their National Service in the Navy. I have not heard whether that suggestion has been followed up in any way, but I hope it may be investigated.
May I add my voice to those raised in the House which have emphasised the loss of these young men to industry at the present time? Not only do we lose their production for two very valuable years but inevitably in the Armed Forces the young man loses that rhythm of industrial life to which he has to return. I mean the rhythm of steady work for steady periods each day, to which one has to become accustomed. A break of two years means that when the young men come home they need some time to re-orientate themselves to an industrial or an agricultural life. We therefore lose not only the two years but also that period when they are re-acclimatising themselves and regaining the skills which may have grown rusty while they were doing their service.
In these grave times I think no one in industry, in management or on the trade union side, grudges the sacrifices entailed, but I believe we should continue to remind the military authorities at all times how very valuable are these young men whom we have entrusted to their care. We must beg of them to remember at all times not to waste the time of these young men. Give them as much chance as possible to maintain their skills, give them a chance to develop their intelligence and knowledge, to improve their health and fitness, give them an opportunity which I believe they will greatly enjoy to become proud of their unit and the service which they are performing.
Then, I believe, all sides of industry will do everything they possibly can to ease for these young men their return to civilian life. But let us remember the sacrifice of production which is made by a period of military service and make sure that it is minimised as far as possible.
I shall conclude these remarks as I began, and, indeed, this is the point about which I feel very strongly and which I wanted to emphasise tonight. I believe that the very great majority or our people, from all walks of life and all levels of society, understand the basic situation in 1497 the world today. I believe that they realise the necessity for military service at the present time and that very nearly all sections support it. In so doing, I believe they not only give concrete evidence to the world that we are an adult and united nation but also play their part in keeping the peace, the maintenance of which we desire so much.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. W. T. Proctor (Eccles)
I have listened to all the speeches made from the opposite side of the House and I have not discovered any valid reason advanced as to why hon. Members opposite should not support our Motion—that is, on the assumption that everyone desires to reduce the period of service from two years at the first opportunity. If they have no intention of reducing the period of service from two years, then I can quite understand them opposing this Motion.
The most interesting, lively and, I think, representative speech made from the other side was that made by the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish), who said my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) had put forward the Labour policy urging a reduction in the period of service from two years to 18 months, and then added, "We believe that it should be two years." I think that is the atmosphere in which hon. Members opposite are approaching this question; as far as they are concerned, it has now become a matter of belief and faith in a period of two years.
The hon. and gallant Member went on to chide us for believing in planning and yet not being ready to accept a great plan when it was put in front of us. His idea of a great plan was that two years' service should be inflicted upon us as a nation for five years. I say, it is in that atmosphere that hon. Members opposite approach this question, and that is the only reason they can possibly have for refusing to support our plea that this special matter of the length of time which conscription shall take out of the lives of our young men shall be debated once a year and shall be subject to the decision of the House of Commons. I think that this is a most reasonable proposition to put forward, and that there is no valid reason against it, provided that it is the intention of the Government to reduce the period of two years at the earliest opportunity.
1498 National defence is, I think, the oldest of our nationalised industries. We have given careful consideration to it this evening, and the opportunity which we have had of listening to the arguments and of giving the facts of individual cases is, I think, in itself an overwhelming argument in favour of the Motion. In my view, defence has ceased to become a purely national matter. It is now an international matter. It is not possible for any one country in the world at the present time to defend itself. The only possibility is group defence, and the contributions that each nation makes to group defence should be related to its own resources and to the resources of the whole of the group. Now is the appropriate moment for us to ask the rest of the free world to consider the immense burden that is being imposed upon the British people, to consider it in relation to our resources and the resources of the other nations concerned, and to review this matter in that spirit.
American liberty and American national sovereignty may easily depend upon the decisions we take in this House. The liberty and safety of India and the East may depend on what we do in matters of defence, and the future of the whole free world may once again depend on what we do. I think that on the grounds of common interest and common sense this matter should be reviewed at a higher level than the national level and that we should put our case before the whole of our friends and Allies to see whether or not we can get a basis of collective defence that would lesson the burden imposed on the people of this island, which is too great for us to carry at the present time. I think that the Bermuda Conference, at which the Prime Minister is to represent this nation, is an admirable opportunity for the whole of the facts concerning the defence burden of this country to be placed before our friends and Allies and to be the subject of further consideration.
At a time when we undertook as a British Labour Government and as a British Labour Party the great decisions which have been referred to with regard to defence, it appeared to many of us, and to me, that there was no time to consult and to argue. We had to make great decisions and, rightly or wrongly, they were made. At that time I held 1499 the view, as did those hon. Members with whom I came into contact, who were responsible for making these great decisions, that this was a collective matter, and that the great burden placed upon us should be related to our national resources. It is quite possible that one or other of our friends and Allies in the collective group would be able to produce more arms than its own resources would enable it to sustain, and I think it is absolutely necessary that we should look at this matter from that point of view. It is in our interest and in the interest of the free world that our economic position should be safeguarded.
One of the disasters in living in times like this—times of danger, difficulty and war—is that the military men tend to be in charge of military affairs. That is always a great disaster because they have only just ceased their faith in cavalry, and their faith in tanks is unbounded at the present time. I do not think that they will ever reach the atomic age because we shall attain peace or they will be blotted out before they have time fully to appreciate the nature of the devastating new weapons which have been created. The period of National Service that is necessary should be carefully considered. A new review should take place and a reduction made as soon as possible.
The basis of the Labour Party Motion is that the civil power is supreme. It should be borne upon every military commander and every representative of military affairs that the House of Commons once a year is to decide what shall be the policy and the actions to which they should conform. The idea that once a year Parliament should decide upon the question of conscription, in principle and as to the length of service, is absolutely necessary if we are to uphold the belief that the civil power is to be supreme. I commend that suggestion to hon. Members opposite. It is vital, even in these difficult times, that we should make certain, not only that we understand that the civil power is supreme, but that every military commander and military man who has anything to do with the military machine should understand it also.
1500 Let me say a word upon the position of the world as a whole. When we consider the immense effort that is being made by the military side of the free world and add to that the tremendous military effort being made by the Soviet world also, we realise what a huge waste is taking place in human labour, materials, resources and everything else.
Above all, not only in questions of military power, but in questions of political strategy and political common sense, we want to try to lift ourselves above this and to make an appeal to the Soviet world to make all these things so much nonsense in the hope of ushering in an era of peace and prosperity in which all these resources could be used for a great era of reconstruction that would make everything else that we have accomplished look small. We should utilise all these resources for the benefit of humanity and not for the purpose of destruction.
For that purpose, I call upon the House of Commons and on the Government to consider having a careful inquiry into this whole matter as far as the military effort of the country is concerned. We should certainly review the colonial position as to what effect our colonial policy is having upon our military affairs and see whether we could not on a political basis find a solution that would be much easier than one on a military basis. We should certainly look, as a House of Commons special committee, at the country's industrial position and see what effect conscription is having upon industry. Let us ask the industrialists for their experiences and how output and the efficiency of those who return from military service is being affected.
Next, we should look carefully at the whole military position. I should like to see non-military men examining it, because one of the greatest benefits of an investigation is to have new minds from outside. If someone was to examine the use that was made by the Army of manpower, we should have some startling revelations that would wake us up and cause us to make definite changes.
Then, we should look also at the effect of new weapons upon military strategy. During the debate there have been references to uncertainity, but one thing that is more uncertain than anything else in the modern world is whether the military weapons that we produce today will be of 1501 any use tomorrow. We should carefully consider that. One thing that has happened—it happened, perhaps, as a result of the actions of my right hon. Friends and of the Labour Cabinet when we were in power, and it has had responsibility for this more than anything else—is that overnight we have become an atomic power. That has made an immense change in the military position in the world, and it is something which should be given very careful consideration.
I am surprised that hon. Members on the other side of the House, especially the Prime Minister, have not paid greater tributes to the Leader of the Opposition for taking the action which led to the great advance in our military preparedness and which turned us into an atomic Power. Every time the Prime Minister has spoken of it in this House, he has wrapped any tribute in a couple of sneers. I say that those who made these great decisions that have meant such a change in our military position are due for praise and thanks for what they have done.
Opportunity today should be taken to build up our military power and military defence and we should also attempt some agreement with the Soviet Union. I am going to end on this point. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for his efforts to contact the leaders of the Soviet Union, but so far he does not seem to have had much success with the Soviet Union or with the members of his own party in supporting that policy. I want, therefore, to appeal to my right hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench. They have their responsibility as well as the Government, and I think they should get in touch with the Social Democrats of Europe with the idea of approaching the Russian leaders in order to reach a settlement of outstanding disputes by peaceful means.
I remember that on one occasion Stalin gave an interview to an American business man. He said, "I am always happy to deal with capitalists because the capitalists are always there but the Governments that I deal with pass away very quickly."
§ Mr. Proctor
We are in a better position to reach some understanding with the Russians because they know that Social 1502 Democracy is the Government of the future, both in Europe and here. So I appeal to my right hon. Friends to accomplish Social Democratic unity in Europe, and then approach the Soviet Union with a view to settling outstanding questions.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
I hope that the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his argument, but I intend to speak briefly. I am very glad that the hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) has returned to the House, because I want to assure him that I have no intention of accepting his invitation to go into the Lobby with him. I wish to put to him a point covering the arguments which he has put forward, and which were very cogent in support of his point of view, though not very convincing.
The suggestion I put to him is that there is a perfectly legitimate and normal way for any Opposition to challenge the Government on their policy. First of all, there are the Army Estimates. The hon. Gentleman gave a long list of items which he thought the Government ought to outline in connection with their policy, but there exists every year, as he knows perfectly well, a White Paper on Defence which is debated by the whole House. The only argument that I could deduce from his speech was that this subject is of such importance that it ought to be singled out for quite a different procedure.
I do not deny—and I am sure no hon. Member in this House will deny—the great importance of this subject, but I cannot believe that the safeguards which already exist are not strong enough for the purposes involved. I do not accept the principle that the Government must justify every year the policy for which they legislate over a period such as the one with which we are now concerned.
As to the practical proposition on this issue, the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that conscription is as unpopular with us as it is with anyone else. Electorally it is not a popular thing to go to the country and say, "So long as we are the Government we guarantee that you will have two years' conscription." Obviously we shall reduce it as soon as we possibly can. Yet this Motion says, "the time has now arrived." I suggest 1503 that we have heard nothing in this debate to indicate that the time has now arrived for a change in our normal procedure.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
Surely why the time has arrived is that we are now being asked to continue the power of conscription for five years.
§ Mr. Harvey
The circumstances with which we are confronted at present are in no way different from the circumstances which existed when conscription was brought in originally. I am aware that from the other side of the House suggestions have been made that the situation is already so much better that we can relax these preparations. It is clear, however, that because at any one point in the world at the present time tension may have eased, it is within the power of those forces who have been mainly responsible for the tension to put the pressure on again. We should look ridiculous if we reduced our preparations today and in a year's time were forced to alter the decision again. I am well aware that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have some experience of that kind of manoeuvre, but it was not particularly convincing and it was not a particularly good example either to the country or to our allies, and that is the next point I want to make.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said that every post brought a letter complaining about National Service. I sympathise with that, but it is the function of those who are elected to lead the people to set an example and to give the reasons these measures must be taken. If we gave way to every letter that arrived, I doubt whether we should have coherent legislation of any kind.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), a former Secretary of State for War, seemed to be at variance as to the reasons National Service was introduced and the basis upon which it has been operating. The right hon. Member for Easington takes the view that it is a question of training and the right hon. Member for Dundee, West takes the view that it is a question of commitment. Perhaps we may be told 1504 tonight which is the official view of the Opposition?
The right hon. Member for Dundee, West made some odd remarks on the subject of reserves. In a former debate he complained bitterly that the Government had provided no reserves. Now, when an opportunity may be presented for those reserves to be provided, his argument would appear to be that we should not provide them. It was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), who also at one time was entrusted with the position of Secretary of State for War, that the forces in Germany were a reserve, and he asked whether somebody would give him an explanation as to what was a reserve. It is regrettable that one who has held that office should not know what a reserve is, because quite clearly a reserve is one that is not definitely committed to any one theatre.
I agree with the argument that we ought to have a tactical and strategic reserve, and now is the time, if our commitments are reduced, to have that reserve available. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that, of course, our forces are not completely committed at any one time, but until we are satisfied with the international political situation obviously it would be foolish not to have these reserves.
I suspect that this Motion, asking for an affirmative Resolution, like one that we had a little while ago, has been devised by right hon. Members opposite to try to obtain unity in an otherwise disunited situation. I am prepared to believe that this Government with their advisers will plan in the future resources that can meet the commitments with which we are then confronted. It is no answer to ask this or any other Government to justify their action every year with an affirmative Resolution of the kind suggested in this Motion. Furthermore, from a planning point of view, such a procedure is bound to lead to confusion and not to efficiency. I am absolutely convinced that as early as possible, compatible with the commitments of this country to the United Nations, this Government will make a reduction in the period of National Service and I feel sure that the House will show its confidence in the Government by not agreeing to this Motion.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
I should be glad to follow the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) if there were anything substantial to follow, but I am afraid that I must leave him to disentangle his own arguments, except to say that he touched on one point which deserves a reply. He seems to object to consideration year by year of any important issue because it might interfere with planning. I would remind him and other hon. Members that the defence programme which is based on a three-year plan can be debated in the House every year and that these debates, which take place in consecutive years, apparently do not interfere with the plans devised by our military advisers.
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has declined to accept our Motion. It is couched in extremely moderate terms and, in my view, could not do any harm but might conceivably do a lot of good. Why the right hon. Gentleman has refused to accept it is quite beyond my comprehension. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman's arguments were both feeble tnd fallacious, and I doubt whether he believes in those arguments himself. So far as time permits, I shall reply to some of the arguments advanced by the Prime Minister, but before doing so I want to refer briefly to the position of the Labour Party on this very important issue.
After listening to speeches from that side of the House, I am not so sure that there is no fundamental difference on this issue. The Labour Party accepted National Service not because they liked it but owing to the short-fall in Regular recruitment, and also because of the increased international tension. I want to make it quite clear beyond any possibility of doubt that the Labour Party do not accept conscription as a permanent factor in our national life. In theory, at any rate, it would appear that there is no difference between this and the other side of the House, but, to judge by speeches of hon. Members opposite, there appears to be an essential difference.
Hon. Members opposite have not only argued that this is not the time to make the change, but appear to be arguing that for many years to come no change will be possible. We reject that entirely. I 1506 think that is the fundamental difference. The Labour Party regarded the two-year period as a temporary expedient. What were the reasons? There is a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding among hon. Members as to the reasons which persuaded the Labour Government to embark on the two-year period.
Before the Korean affair, no question was raised of extending the period at all. We had an 18 months period of National Service and, so far as I can recall, not in the War Office, certainly not in the Admiralty, nor in the Air Ministry, and certainly not in the Ministry of Defence—for which I had responsibility at the time—was any question raised of increasing the period of National Service from 18 months to two years until the Korean affair. Therefore we must assume that until Korea 18 months was regarded as an adequate period for the purpose of training men who had undertaken National Service. It was not only sufficient for training purposes, but it was regarded as sufficient both for building up our Forces in the West, in Germany, and also for the Middle East.
The question did occasionally arise as to whether, because of the distances to be traversed, the time taken for initial training and the like, 18 months was sufficient for men who had to go to the Middle East. But, when we discovered that it was possible to cover the distance by air rather than by sea, that question no longer arose. So it was for the purposes of Korea, among other things, that we decided to increase the period of service.
Here again is a misunderstanding among hon. Members. I have heard hon. Members opposite speak in the course of today's debate as if we had vast numbers of Regulars and National Service men in Korea. Of course there is nothing of the kind. On the other hand, we have 80,000 men in Egypt. Nothing like that number has ever been in Korea. We have a Commonwealth Division there consisting not only of British troops but also of Commonwealth troops, and we have some elements from the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy.
The right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but I doubt whether at any time we have had more than a division and a half in Korea. If we take a division at 15,000 to 18,000 men—again the right hon. Gentleman 1507 will give us the facts if he cares to—I assume that at no time did we have more than about a third of the number of troops in Korea that we have had and have at present in Egypt. When hon. Members talk about the extraordinary resources that have to be called upon to deal with the Korean situation, it is a complete misunderstanding of the position.
Let us look at the Egyptian question. We have, as I have said, about 80,000 men in the Canal Zone, and we have to ask ourselves the question—quite a proper one—why do we require that number of men there. Again, some hon. Members have assumed that an additional force was sent to Egypt because of trouble in Egypt itself. That was not so. It largely arose out of the Abadan affair, because we were apprehensive of possible aggression in some quarter at that time. It was not because of Egypt; it was because of the wider issues involved.
The question arises as to whether we require 80,000 men in the Canal Zone. The answer is surely in the negative. Before the trouble occurred that caused us to send those extra forces, we had about 26,000 men in the Canal Zone; they were not all combatant troops. They were fortified by Egyptian civilian labour. The number was, however, very small, and at present, unless the assumption is that we are to go to war with Egypt or that we apprehend serious trouble in the Middle East, there is no reason at all why we cannot withdraw 50,000 men from the Middle East. I know that it would take some time to undertake a task of that kind.
I am not suggesting that if we withdrew 50,000 men from the Middle East and reduced the numbers to what they were before the additional forces were sent we should not require them for some other purposes. Here I wish to touch on what seems to me to be a fallacious argument. I am sorry to say that it has been used by hon. Members on both sides of the House, quite unwittingly, I think. It is that if we could reduce our commitments we could reduce the period of National Service. The answer to that is that, if we are to rely on our military advisers, there will always be commitments. That is the trouble. If the right hon. Gentleman were to consult his 1508 military advisers at the War Office, he would discover that if we brought men back from Egypt and Korea there would be some commitments which would make a similar drain on our manpower resources.
The fact of the matter is—I say this in no spirit of offence against the military advisers; I have always found them excellent people to work with—that they always want more men, they are never satisfied. It is very natural, after all, if they are looking ahead and thinking in terms of possible aggression and defence, that they think in terms of numbers of men, and we must be very careful not to allow ourselves to succumb to blandishments of that kind.
I wish to turn to the original purpose of the National Service Acts. It was, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in opening the debate, to produce a large body of trained reserves. I could quote from statements made by Mr. A. V. Alexander, who was Minister of Defence at the time, and right hon. Friends of mine in subsequent debates. I think the House will agree that that was the original purpose. The question which we must ask ourselves is whether that object has been achieved. That is fundamental.
If that object has not been achieved, it is a different matter. If, however, we have produced a large body of trained reserves, which was the original intention of the National Service Acts—[Interruption.] I think I am familiar with this subject; I had to deal with it. If we have achieved what was the original intention, then clearly the time has come—I shall not go so far as to say that there should be an immediate reduction in the period of service—for a review of the whole position of National Service in this country. That is what we are asking for in this Motion.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The noble Lord says that is what we are doing now. I am sorry that he has not been participating in this debate, either vocally or from his seat. Otherwise he would know that we are not reviewing this question now; we are merely asking the Government to agree to an annual review of the National Service Acts.
1509 There are some hon. Members even among those with military experience, who seem to think we are short of men. There is not time for me to go into details on that subject, and I do not suppose the Minister will have time to do so either, but this matter will come up again. We shall have to leave it to the next defence debate, or when we discuss the Service Estimates. Obviously this matter must come up again, because it has a bearing on the whole question of defence. The right hon. Gentleman knows that we have vast numbers of men at our disposal at the present time. The Regular Forces amount to nearly 900,000 men for the three Services. I think the estimate was rather more than 900,000, but there has been a short-fall this year, unless there has been some change in the situation in recent weeks.
What about the reserves? We have been taking in the National Service men—I am using that term in no offensive sense—since 1948. Before that, hon. Gentlemen must understand this, between 1945 and the termination of hostilities and the inception of the National Service Acts, a large number of young men were coming into the Forces, and all these men have a Reserve liability. I wish the right hon. Gentleman would tell the House exactly how many Reserves are at our disposal. I know that some of the Class Z Reserve are no longer eligible and that there is an annual wastage which we must take into account. But the number of Reserves is now more formidable than ever in the peace-time history of this country, and, what is more, far more formidable than in any other N.A.T.O. country. If that is challenged let us get the facts, and in order to get them we ought to have a proper review. We are not getting a proper review now, we are merely arguing about the need for one.
I beg hon. Members to understand that we are not now in a vulnerable position so far as conventional forces are concerned. We may be in respect of atomic warfare, but there is not time to discuss that. And, by the way, the time is coming—the right hon. Gentleman and all those associated with the Service Departments, as well as the Foreign Secretary, who has a grave responsibility in matters of this sort, should understand this—the 1510 time is coming when we have to adapt the military organisation, technique, tactics and strategy, to the emergence of the atomic and hydrogen bomb. That has a bearing on manpower and should be considered.
I wish to turn to the Prime Minister's case, such as it was. I am not proposing to emulate the right hon. Gentleman by repeating a speech I delivered in March last on the occasion when we discussed this question, except to say in passing—this may sound impish, but I cannot refrain from saying it—that I have heard that speech repeated by other hon. Members on quite a number of occasions today. I will leave it there.
What did the Prime Minister say? He said that the matter can be reviewed at any time; that there are facilities, and the procedure of the House is available at any time to enable this matter to be considered. For example, it could be considered in the defence debate. He even went so far as to say that it could be considered during the debate on the Address. That, I suppose, is next year. We have a little time to wait for that. That would be an occasion for this annual review for which we are asking.
What does this mean? If the Prime Minister thinks it desirable to have an occasional review in the defence debate, or when the Service Estimates are under consideration, or during the debate on the Address, then in heaven's name why is he objecting to the annual review for which we are asking? What is the fundamental difference? If we can have a review at any time which, according to the Prime Minister and hon. Gentlemen opposite can create uncertainty, which may interfere with training; because we do not know what will emerge from that review and the discussions in the House, why cannot we have an annual review? I cannot understand why the Prime Minister objects to this proposal.
Incidentally, a great deal has been made about the question of uncertainty by hon. Gentlemen opposite. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition admitted that there was an element of uncertainty involved. But hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite should not forget that if there is anything which creates uncertainty so far as the defence of the West is concerned it is the delay in coming to a conclusion about the European 1511 Defence Community. Nobody can claim that what we are asking for in this modest proposal is calculated to cause anything like the uncertainty which prevails because of the delay in that connection.
The second argument advanced by the Prime Minister was that this might be regarded—I quote his words—as a sign of weakening of purpose. He said that this is not the time for a change; that we must not give the impression that we have changed. Why should not we change if it is necessary to change? Why should other countries associated with us in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation complain if we modify our position in respect of manpower resources when that is what they have been doing themselves?
There has been some discussion about the efforts we made to persuade other countries to follow our lead. I will not deal with that—as a matter of fact I conducted the negotiations and it may be that I was the cause of the failure—except to say that the Prime Minister and his friends said that when we were out they would have sufficient influence which could be exerted on our associates in N.A.T.O., and that the result would be that they would step up their manpower organisation at once.
But they have also failed. We have failures all round in this respect. The reason is the obstinacy, the obduracy and the unwillingness of some of our friends associated with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. They have no reason to complain. Belgium accepted two years and then, under political pressure, and the pressure of public opinion, they reduced the period to 20 months.
Not only that. There have been conducted recently by the United States manpower examinations and investigations. Representatives have been sent by General Eisenhower and the Pentagon to Europe and other places where American forces are to consider whether there is not a misuse of manpower. If they are doing it, why should not we do it? That is precisely what we are asking for. There is a further point. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary is wedded to the principle of E.D.C.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Eden)
I inherited it.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. Gentleman inherited it, but he is now wedded to it. I shall not go into the personal implications involved. I should love to do it, but there is no time and I shall leave it at that. If the right hon. Gentleman believes in E.D.C. and the planning and technique of E.D.C. and their use of manpower, is he aware that they have planned for 18 months for the forces in E.D.C.? We are to be associated in a loose form with E.D.C. If 18 months is good enough for E.D.C., why do we require two years? That question must be answered.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It does not matter who arranged it. We did not arrange the 18 months. That has all been done in the right hon. Gentleman's time.
There is a further consideration. Not only have we increased our Forces beyond expectation, but the Prime Minister praised some of us on this side for what happened. I find that every time the Prime Minister praises me I get into trouble. I must provoke him to adopt a different technique. Everybody agrees that we have stepped up our manpower resources and we have made other contributions all because we believed there was a national necessity. We should not have done it otherwise. We on this side are as much inured to the well-being of this country in international affairs as are hon. Gentlemen opposite.
Look at the progress of N.A.T.O., or is there no progress? The right hon. Gentleman will say, "Of course there is progress. N.A.T.O. has made remarkable progress in weapons, manpower, formations, planning, strategy and the like, all military considerations." If that is true, the position is vastly superior today to what it was when we decided to increase the period of service from 18 months to two years, and, therefore, it is time for a review. Yet, to show how modest we are, we are not even asking that the review should take place at once. We merely ask that there should be an annual review. Surely it is a most moderate proposal.
Incidentally, what has happened during the last two years? What have right hon. Gentlemen opposite been doing for 1513 the last two years? All the Secretary of State for War has been doing is to get himself into more and more trouble, from which I have done my best to extricate him.
The right hon. Gentleman wants time—he will need it, too—to reply to the debate, but I must occupy a little more time in asking one or two questions. Is manpower properly used? Can the right hon. Gentleman put his hand on his heart and say that the manpower in the Army is being properly used? Everybody in the House, and many people outside, are well aware that there is far too much waste in the Army and the other Services. Why do I say that? Perhaps hon. Members opposite will note this, if they are not already aware of it. Half our force, at least in the Army, consists of tail. Do hon. Members know what tail is? It is not the teeth of the Army; it is not the biting power of the Army. It is the non-combatant section of the Army, the waiters, the batmen, the nursemaids and the gardeners. Let us have an inquiry into that, for we shall then make some remarkable discoveries. [Interruption.] The last person in the world who should interfere in the debate is the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne).
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Member has not been in the House all day and he has no right to interrupt now.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Let us not go into that. Let us not be unfriendly in these matters. After all, the Prime Minister's plea was for friendliness all round, for unity and for harmony. In fact, he was almost arguing for a Coalition. It seems to have become an obsession with him, but we will discuss that at some other time.
We ought to know how many combatant troops we have. We are entitled to some information on these matters. I do not expect the right hon. Gentleman to be able to deal with all these matters this evening, but all these items add up to not a case for an immediate reduction in the period of service—speaking for myself, I think it could be undertaken, on technical ground alone; that is my view, but I do not press it—but a moderate case for an annual review.
1514 I know very well that the right hon. Gentleman will probably say, "After all, you had a five-year period under the National Service Act. Why should you object to a five-year period now?" The answer is that when we undertook a five-year period under the National Service Act the situation was quite different from what it is today. We had not the trained Reserves, and we had not N.A.T.O., for it began some years later. We had not the formidable strength that we have today, although it is not as strong as many of us would like it to be. We are asking that we should have the opportunity of giving consideration to this subject annually, in order that the Government should prove their case for retaining National Service for the two-year period. That is the case we are presenting, and I am surprised that the Prime Minister and the Government are unable to comply with our modest request.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) made an entertaining and, in some respects, a rather surprising speech, especially in regard to his new rôle—with which I am only guardedly reassured—as my extricator from trouble, but I shall refer to the right hon. Gentleman's speech in a moment.
May I start by saying that, having listened to the majority of the speeches in the debate, many of which contained most interesting points, I could not help feeling sorry that there was to be a Division tonight. I could not help feeling in a way that for the Opposition to put down this Motion was, judging by the speeches, making much ado about nothing, because there has been in so many speeches from both sides of the House so much agreement.
It seems to me that the whole House is unanimous in one matter, and that is that everybody wants to reduce National Service, or even to get rid of it, as soon as events allow. That is true, I think, of both sides of the House. I think it is also true that everyone, except the pacifists, whose opinions we respect, agrees that at the moment National Service is inevitable. I believe also that the whole House is agreed that we would like in some way to 1515 reduce our overseas commitments, and yet in not a single speech that I heard was there a single constructive suggestion as to how that was to be done.
I ask the House what it is then, fundamentally, that we have been arguing about which has caused such criticism and division. It seems to me that, to generalise, the points are three in number. The first is over the question whether or not there should be an annual review; the second centred on whether or not the present period of service is to be two years or less; and the third was rightly concerned with whether or not the Services make the fullest use of manpower and whether or not there is waste and misuse in that respect.
So far as the question of the annual review is concerned, I noticed that the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) all seemed to blame the Government because, they said, the Government were asking for a blank cheque to have two years' National Service for the next five years. On behalf of the Government, I say that is absolutely not so. What the Government are asking is that, for the next five years, the Act shall be continued, and they have given their pledge that, within that period, should events allow, it is their object to reduce the period or even to abolish it just as soon as events allow.
The arguments and assertions do not seem to have convinced the House, but I find it hard to understand why hon. Gentlemen opposite are doubting the Government's intentions in that respect. What is the effect of National Service? Firstly, it is politically unpopular, and secondly, it interferes most seriously with our economic condition. Nobody would deny those two facts. What is the object of any Government? To be quite frank, it is political popularity and economic recovery. Would any Government that was not insane retain for longer than necessary a Measure inimical to those two considerations? Is it really wise and best that every year the whole House should say that it is up to the Government to state whether or not National Service should continue and for what period?
1516 I say to the Leader of the Opposition and to the right hon. Member for Easing-ton that if by some freak of fortune they were to win an election, for instance, next year, and were to form a Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am not giving any time; I am merely asking right hon. Gentlemen opposite a serious question. Supposing that the party opposite were to win the election and that their Cabinet were convinced that a certain Measure was necessary, it might well be that, in order to feel that they had the full support of their party, some influence might be allowed to creep into such an annual review which would lead them to introduce a Measure which was not in conformity with the considered view of the Cabinet.
Some hon. Members may say that that is nonsense, but it is well within the recollection of the House that the former Minister of Defence, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, came to this House and assured us that the minimum period of National Service was 18 months. The hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) and others raised a cry about that, and within a matter of a very few weeks the period had been reduced to a year. Is it really right that a Government should be forced to have such an annual review when the subject is one which should be considered by the Cabinet in the light of the advice of their military advisers?
As regards the present period of two years' National Service, there has been only one speech today which recommended any change in the period of service, and that was the speech of the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger). It seemed to me that in many of the speeches, including those of hon. Members opposite, if one followed their arguments and translated them into acts and effect, the tendency would not be for National Service to be two years, but longer. The speech of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) was one of them.
I think there was unanimity on the point that this necessity for National Service at the moment was due to our commitments. Everybody, I think, regrets that our commitments are so extensive, but to say that the time has now arrived to cut down the period of National Service seems to me to be entirely at 1517 variance with the facts of the foreign situation today.
§ Mr. Attlee
May I correct the right hon. Gentleman, because I think he has quite misunderstood the Motion? The Motion does not say that the time has now arrived for a reduction; it says that the time has now arrived when the matter should be reviewed annually.
§ Mr. Head
The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct, and I do not wish to misrepresent what the Motion says. But there is the phrase "the time has now arrived" which suggests that there is something in the present situation which differs from the past. [Interruption.] That is a perfectly fair translation of the English used. I am saying that in no speech today has anyone suggested that present events justify any marked alteration of policy. In fact, I would say that the contrary was the case.
Many hon. Members have referred to the present situation in the Canal Zone, and the right hon. Member for Dundee, West and several other speakers suggested that if agreement could be reached in the Middle East then that would have a direct impact on this problem and would probably allow of some reduction in National Service. I would only say this to the House: that it is in no way possible or right, or indeed responsible, for anyone to suggest that a solution in the Middle East would mean that the whole of the men now in the Middle East could return to this country or that their services would no longer be needed. We have to retain a garrison in some area in the Middle East unless British prestige is to be irreparably damaged.
Secondly, we have to have some forces in this country. At present the Army, which is the Service most committed, is, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) said, over-stretched and over-strained. We have no strategic reserve at home, and for the first time in the history of the British Army in peace-time 80 per cent. of its fighting units are overseas. If we are to redress the balance in that direction, then when there is some easing in our commitments it must be our object to redress it by building up a strategic reserve at home which will give increased security and will give some balance to the Army.
1518 The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw said that he wished somebody would explain to him what is a strategic reserve. He even suggested that the four divisions in Germany constitute a strategic reserve. Those divisions in Germany are committed through the fact that if there is a war they would be in the very forefront of the battle. I would say they were the exact opposite of a reserve. My conception of a strategic reserve is forces held in this country or some other area which are free of an operational commitment and which can be moved at short notice to an area which is seriously threatened.
§ Mr. Head
The point is that the four divisions in Europe cannot be shifted into Europe; they are there already and are committed already. As I have said, it is the desire of the Government to reduce the period of National Service as soon as defence allows, but at the present time the outlook is not bright. If I may once again take the example of the Army, which I know more about than the other Services, we are tightly stretched all over the world; and in the Army today we have 435,000 men.
According to our actuarial estimates, by 1956–57 we shall have run down to 400,000 men. Unless the commitments are very drastically reduced, that run-down does not provide high hopes for any reduction in the period of National Service. I would add that this run-down, contrary to what the hon. Member for Dudley suggested, cannot be attributed to failure in the recruitment of Regulars. The figures of Regular recruiting, excluding short-service engagements, are: in 1950, 19,000; in 1951, 23,000; in 1952, 49,000; in 1953, up to September, 30,000. Those are not figures of which I am prepared to be ashamed in any way.
The right hon. Member for Easington talked, if I may say so, with justification, about the importance of ensuring that we do not waste manpower and that we do not misuse it. Many hon. Members suggested in their speeches that there should be an independent inquiry into the whole question of the use of manpower in the Forces. To be quite frank to the House, I said the same thing myself when I was on the opposite side. The hon. Member for Dudley, with his assiduity, has taken note of that fact. But to ask for an 1519 examination of manpower throughout the three Services comes very easily off the tongue. I am not trying to stand in a white sheet over this, but trying to explain the problem to hon. Members.
The hon. Gentleman ought to know that any independent inquiry into the manpower in the Services would have to include civilians as well as men in uniform to cover the total number of well over one million employed in the three different Services in a vast variety of complex and technical organisations. No one committee could have sufficient knowledge of that vast field to be able to recommend measures which would have any drastic effect. [Interruption.] Hon. Members are not convinced, but I would say this to the right hon. Gentleman.
We had the Weeks' Report in the War Office, which was instituted by the right hon. Gentleman, and it ended solely with the recommendation that more detailed study of certain aspects should be made by the Department itself. That is as far as inquiries can go. I say to hon. Gentlemen that the incentive to economise in manpower in the Services is stronger now than it has ever been before. If, as the hon. Gentleman says, units are underposted—
§ Mr. Head
I have said they are—and if our manpower is running down, is there any incentive to any sane Service to waste manpower?
Since I have been in my job more of my thoughts have been directed to economy in manpower than to any other subject. We had, following the Templar Committee Report, that of the Callendar Committee and between the two they saved about 10,000 men. I cut the War Office by 10 per cent. We have inquired into all the training organisations at the present moment. The non-effectives are being reduced. We have had an inquiry into the Command and district organisations, to save manpower there.
Other static and administrative installations have been examined by the efficiency expert of Vickers Armstrong, Sir James Reid Young. After that examination, his main recommendations were that no marked waste of manpower existed, but further mechanisation would have a good 1520 effect. "Then why not do it?", hon. Members would say. It is extremely expensive to install widespread mechanisation in this vast number of depots. I only give these rather technical examples from one Service to try to convince hon. Members that no one is more against wasting manpower than the Services today, because they are short of manpower.
Apart from the waste there has been criticism during this debate about misuse. I have not had the time to go into that in detail, but I dare say that the Minister of Labour will have something to say about it. Trained apprentices who come to the Army almost all go into their calling unless they are the very rare ones like rhododendron grafters and chicken sexers, but the remainder go into their calling. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is no good hon. Members saying "No." I suggest that one of the reasons they say "No" is the letters they get from their constituents saying, "I am an apprentice and I found myself in quite a different job." I get many such letters and on inquiry I find that a very high percentage show that, although the man was perfectly correct that he was an apprentice, he was not a qualified apprentice, and the unqualified apprentices vary from those who failed, those who could not go through with it or those who did not want deferment. The unqualified apprentice cannot expect in the Army or in any of the Services always to go into the particular trade of his choice.
There is one other question about manpower which I should mention. One hon. Gentleman talked about potato peelers and others who, he said, were wasting their time and doing non-military jobs. There is in the Army an absolute necessity to have men in depots as cooks and waiters, and to do all kinds of menial jobs. The hon. Gentleman said this was unsuitable for National Service men. If I filled all these jobs with Regulars, the whole of the balance of the Army—half and half—would be upset. Much though we try to fill these jobs with civilians, it is absolutely necessary that some National Service men should be employed in that way. If any hon. Member can solve that problem for me, I shall be obliged to him; and to the National Service men who do it I say that I am sorry, but that they are doing something which is essential to the Army, although not very glamorous.
1521 The hon. Member for Dudley always has certain criticisms of myself and is fond of quoting Army orders. In this case he quoted one which dealt with an eviction order. In doing so he used a series of arguments, some of which were rather tortuous. As one hon. Member said, the hon. Gentleman "wiggled." He said that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had said that never before, until taking over Government, had he felt so naked.
§ Mr. Head
Until now. The hon. Member said that when we sent a force to Guiana, we had to take off the Balmoral guard, and then went on to accuse me of having formed seven new battalions. How much more naked would we have been without those seven new battalions? The only greater stage of nudity I can think of would be a bald nudist whose head was without a wig.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, West stated that National Service was largely an Army matter. I cannot let that go without reminding the House that that is far from the truth. The Royal Air Force at present has within it 75,000 National Service men, and no less than 27 per cent. of its total strength is drawn from National Service resources. It would be quite wrong if the House gained the impression that the main user, the justification and the cause for National Service was solely the Army. The Royal Air Force has the greatest use for these young men and it depends upon them to an overwhelming extent on mobilisation.
The right hon. Member for Easington said that our military advisers—to whom he paid a tribute, I agree—make commitments. He said that they wanted more men but that as soon as they got them back from Korea the military advisers would make more commitments. I entirely differ from the right hon. Gentleman. It is neither the job nor the practice for our military advisers to make foreign commitments. That is the responsibility of the Foreign Office and a matter in which the military advisers would never interfere. I entirely reject that accusation.
The right hon. Gentleman said he would not say that National Service should be reduced to 18 months, but that it should be reviewed. The right hon. 1522 Gentleman is making progress in the right direction. He said that he was embarrassed by the praise, the verbal bouquets, which he received from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but he should have been much more embarrassed in his less fortunate speeches when the bouquets ceased to come from my right hon. Friend and started coming from the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I am glad to see that he is no longer deserving of those particular bunches of daffodils.
The right hon. Gentleman attacked my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary about E.D.C. and certain other matters. That does not form the subject of this debate, but it is only fair to say that my right hon. Friend was dealing with plans which he had inherited from the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members opposite. It is not entirely fair to make those accusations against my right hon. Friend in that respect.
§ Mr. Head
This debate has naturally and rightly been directed towards criticisms of the faults, the failures, the misuses and the possible alteration to National Service. I am aware, nobody more so, that as far as the Services are concerned, our mistakes, misfits and failures are news and are the subject of letters which hon. Members get and of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member of Montgomery said he had too many. They are the subject matter, too, which we read in the Press.
As Minister responsible for the Department that is allocated the majority of the National Service men, I expect the severest criticism, and my expectations have not in any way been disappointed. But I would remind the House that National Service is not all black. We are apt in the House to refer to the worst side, as do the writers to the Press. It should be remembered, however, that there are a large number of young men who return home after two years of National Service more independent and more self-reliant than when they left their homes.
I think it is a fact that—and I believe that those who have served in the Forces will agree with me—very many men gain a sense of comradeship, of helping each other and of what the Army calls "mucking in," which is of lasting good to them- 1523 selves and to the civil community when they come out. The philosophy which is described as "every man for himself"—as the elephant said as it stampeded among the chickens—is not encouraged in the Army. We are very apt to forget that the influence of the Services is one for good, on the whole, to many of the youth of our nation. The last war left gaps in the education of many. The necessity for evacuation removed parental care. The Services have done a lot—and I do not believe that hon. Gentlemen recognise it—in educating the illiterates and helping those whose discipline in life was not assisted by parents looking after them.
I am aware that National Service places a great responsibility on all three Services. They have in their charge almost all of the youth of this country for two years at the most impressionable period of their lives. That turns them almost into a national university. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I said "national university," and whether or not hon. Members like it, that is a fact. I am not talking of it in an educational sense, but in the sense of the influence that it has on their characters. I would suggest to the House that despite the mistakes and failures, on the whole the way in which the Services have discharged their responsibility is deserving of the recognition of the House.
There is not one hon. Member who does not hope that the foreign situation will so develop that we can abolish National Service or reduce it in the near future. I do not know whether or not that will come about soon or not for many years, but if it does not come about and if it is necessary to retain this measure for several years, then the system of government that we have in this House will be under the most severe test. It seems to me that democracy has tried twice to prepare before a war and twice it has failed, and for the first time we have taken measures
§ that seem to give a reasonable chance of preventing a war. But the problem before us is how long we can sustain this effort.
§ Our problem, as I see it, is that it will always be open to the people of this country to install a Government pledged to confer on them an easier present at the price of a risky future. That, I believe, is a danger which we must face, and if we are to steer a course whereby we avoid failing in maintaining our purpose about defence, it will need great courage and integrity from government and great understanding and patience from our own people.
§ I do not know how this will go in the future, but I say this to hon. Gentlemen with all sincerity, because it is my absolute belief: if we are to avoid a war, if the foreign situation continues to be difficult, it will need from every hon. Member in this House a clear examination of his own conscience as to whether, in this subject of defence, he is going to consider votes or the safety of the country and the preservation of peace. I am not accusing any hon. Member on either side of anything in that way, but I do suggest that the temptation will get stronger as time passes on.
§ Therefore, I say to hon. Members that, although we criticise all these measures on defence, though we are rightly jealous of taking these young men away from their jobs for two years, although we rightly resent the interference it has with the economic situation, although naturally any Government would like to abolish such an unpopular measure, nevertheless, before we talk, suggest or even propose a reduction which is not justified by events, we should take very clear stock of our consciences; because if we do not do so, I believe we shall fail, and to meet the challenge I believe will prove to be the price of peace.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 261; Noes, 304.1529
|Division No. 6.]||AYES||[9.58 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Blenkinsop, A.|
|Adams, Richard||Bartley, P.||Blyton, W. R.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J||Boardman, H.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Bence, C. R||Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.|
|Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Benn, Hon. Wedgwood||Bowen, E. R.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Benson, G.||Bowles, F. G|
|Awbery, S. S.||Beswick, F.||Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Brook, Dryden (Halifax)|
|Baird, J.||Bing, G. H. C.||Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.|
|Balfour, A.||Blackburn, F.||Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Hubbard, T. F.||Reid, Thomas (Swindon)|
|Burke, W. A.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Reid, William (Camlachie)|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Rhodes, H.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Richards, R.|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Carmichael, J.||Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Champion, A. J.||Janner, B.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Chapman, W. D.||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Ross, William|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Jeger, George (Goole)||Royle, C.|
|Clunie, J.||Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford)||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Coldrick, W.||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley|
|Collick, P. H.||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon E.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Short, E. W.|
|Cove, W. G.||Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Shurmer, P. L. E.|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)|
|Crossman, R. H. S||Keenan, W.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Kenyon, C.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Daines, P.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent)|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||King, Dr. H. M.||Slater, J. (Durham, Sedgefield)|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Kinley, J.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Snow, J. W.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Sorensen, R. W|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Deer, G.||Lewis, Arthur||Sparks, J. A.|
|Delargy, H. J.||Lindgren, G. S.||Steele, T.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Logan, D. G.||Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||MacColl, J. E.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich)||McGovern, J.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||McInnes, J.||Stross, Dr. Barnett|
|Edelman, M.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)||McLeavy, F.||Swingler, S. T.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Mainwaring, W. H.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Mallalieu, E. L, (Brigg)||Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)|
|Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)|
|Fienburgh, W.||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Finch, H. J||Manuel, A. C.||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Follick, M.||Mason, Roy||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Foot, M. M.||Mayhew, C. P||Thornton, E.|
|Forman, J. C.||Mellish, R. J.||Tomney, F.|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Messer, Sir F.||Turner-Samuels, M|
|Freeman, John (Watford)||Mikardo, Ian||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Mitchison, G. R.||Usborne, H. C.|
|Gibson, C. W.||Moody, A. S.||Viant, S. P.|
|Glanville, James||Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.||Wade, D. W|
|Morley, R.||Wallace, H. W.|
|Gooch, E. G.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)||Warbey, W. N.|
|Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Mort, D. L.||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||Moyle, A.||Weitzman, D.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Wakefield)||Mulley, F. W||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Murray, J. D||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Grey, C. F.||Nally, W.||West, D. G.|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||O'Brien, T.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Grimond, J.||Oldfield, W. H||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Orbach, M.||Wigg, George|
|Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)||Oswald, T.||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Hamilton, W. W||Paget, R. T.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Hannan, W.||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Willey, F. T.|
|Hardy, E. A.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Hargreaves, A.||Palmer, A. M. F.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.)||Pannell, Charles||Williams, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Don V'll'y]|
|Hastings, S.||Pargiter, G. A||Williams, W. R. (Droylsdon)|
|Hayman, F. H.||Parker, J.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Healey, Denis (Leeds, S. E.)||Peart, T. F.||winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, G.)|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis)||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Popplewell, E.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Hewitson, Capt. M.||Porter, G.||Wyatt, W. L.|
|Hobson, C. R.||Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton)||Younger, Rt. Hon. K|
|Holman, P.||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth)||Proctor, W. T.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Houghton, Douglas||Pryde, D. J.||Mr. Bowden and Mr. Pearson.|
|Hoy, J. H.||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Aitken. W. T.||Amory, Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J||Astor, Hon. J. J.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Arbuthnot, John||Baker, P. A. D.|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Gough, C. F. H||Manningham Buller, Sir R. E.|
|Banks, Col, C.||Gower, H. R.||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Barber, Anthony||Graham, Sir Fergus||Marples, A. E.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Gridley, Sir Arnold||Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)|
|Baxter, A. B.||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Maude, Angus|
|Beach, Maj. Hicks||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Maudling, R.|
|Beamish, Maj. Tufton||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Harden, J. R. E.||Medlicott, Brig. F.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Hare, Hon. J. H.||Mellor, Sir John|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Monckton, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter|
|Bennett, William (Woodside)||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir Thomas|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Birch, Nigel||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Black, C. W.||Hay, John||Neave, A. M. S.|
|Boothby, Sir R. J. G||Head, Rt. Hon. A. H||Nicholls, Harmar|
|Bossom, Sir A. C.||Heald, Sir Lionel||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Heath, Edward||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Nield, Basil (Chester)|
|Braine, B. R.||Higgs, J. M. C.||Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P.|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N. W.)||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Nutting, Anthony|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Hirst, Geoffrey||Odey, G. W.|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Holland-Martin, C. J.||O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Hollis, M. C.||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.|
|Bullard, D. G.||Holmes, Sir Stanley (Harwich)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Hope, Lord John||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare)|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Osborne, C.|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Horobin, I. M.||Page, R. G.|
|Campbell, Sir David||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Carr, Robert||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Channon, H.||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Peyton, J. W. W.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Sir Winston||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Hulbert, Wing Cdr. N. J.||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)||Hurd, A. R.||Pitman, I. J.|
|Cole, Norman||Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Colegate, W. A.||Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh, W.)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.||Profumo, J. D.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Jennings, R.||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Redmayne, M.|
|Crouch, R. F.||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Kaberry, D.||Roberts, Peter (Heeley)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Keeling, Sir Edward||Robertson, Sir David|
|De la Bere, Sir Rupert||Kerr, H. W.||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Digby, S. Wingfield||Lambert, Hon. G.||Robson-Brown, W.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Lambton, Viscount||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Donner, Sir P. W.||Langford-Holt, J. A||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Russell, R. S.|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm||Leather, E. H. C.||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond)||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L||Lindsay, Martin||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.|
|Duthie, W. S.||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Scott, R. Donald|
|Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir D. M.||Liewellyn, D. T.||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)||Shepherd, William|
|Erroll, F. J.||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Fell, A.||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Finlay, Graeme||Longden, Gilbert||Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Low, A. R. W.||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)|
|Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Snadden, W. McN.|
|Fletcher, Sir Walter (Bury)||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Ford, Mrs. Patricia||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O||Speir, R. M.|
|Fort, R.||McAdden, S. J.||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)|
|Foster, John||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)|
|Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||Mackeson, Brig, H. R.||Stevens, G. P.|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell||McKibbin, A. J.||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Gammans, L. D.||Maclean, Fitzroy||Storey, S.|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Glover, D.||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Studholme, H. G.|
|Godber, J. B.||Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Summers, G. S.|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)||Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)||Tweedsmuir, Lady||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Teeling, W.||Vane, W. M. F.||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)||Vosper, D. F.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)||Wills, G.|
|Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)||Wakefield Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)||Walker-Smith, D. C.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter (Monmouth)||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)||York, C.|
|Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Tilney, John||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Touche, Sir Gordon||Watkinson, H. A.||Mr. Buchan-Hepburn and|
|Turner, H. F. L.||Wellwood, W.||Sir Cedric Drewe.|
|Turton, R. H.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)|
Question put, and agreed to.