§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. ANTONY HEAD'S STATEMENT
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The Army Estimates for this year ask for a gross sum of £628,500,100. That is a decrease of £8 million from last year's gross figure, but an increase of £9 million on the net figure. In so many words, the previous trend of an annual increase for the Army Estimates has been arrested, because in the previous years there has been a marked annual increase. The numbers of men are very much the same, although they do show a slight decrease. These combined demands of money, material and men upon the economy of the country provide a very large burden, and it is my job to explain to the House, as fully and as frankly as I can, the reasons for these very large demands.
The best way to set about it is to concentrate mainly on the chief problems which confront the Army, but in doing that I would ask the House to take into account the fact that many of these problems stem from the fact that the main burden of defence today falls upon the Army. The White Paper states that special emphasis must be placed on the Royal Air Force, and I do not quarrel with that. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Air, who is a member of that progressive Service, somewhat translated his speech by referring to the "pre-eminence" of the Royal Air Force, and I do not quarrel with that, either. If there is a war the Services should not bother about which of them is the most important; they should get together over it. But I would claim that in this uneasy moment of cold war, which may go on for several years, the burden on the Army is a very great one, and it is against that background that our problems should be viewed.
I hope those who consider defence matters closely will agree with me that 2451 the main problems of the Army today are four in number. The first, I would suggest, is to build up a strategic Reserve so as to restore the balance of the Army (between forces overseas and those at home. The second is to recruit into, and to retain in, the Regular element of the Army an adequate number of Regular soliders, particularly officers and long-service non-commissioned officers.
The third is to retain in the Territorial Army an adequate number of volunteers for its administration and training. The last—and I do not put it last because it is the least important—is to ensure that the Army is thoroughly up-to-date in its methods, organisation and weapons.
I believe those are the four main problems but, having had the advantage of listening to the defence debate, I think I must also deal with two problems which were very clearly in the minds of hon. Members, particularly hon. Members opposite. I refer to the necessity to reduce commitments and a plea that we should now reduce the period of National Service. Both those points form part of the Opposition Amendment.
May I deal, first, with the question of commitments? We had a number of speeches in the defence debate from hon. Members opposite about reducing our commitments. The hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), who I see in his place, made an eloquent and, if I may say so, brilliant speech on the subject, and he nearly achieved the impossible, despite the laws of gravity, by sweeping the House off its feet without having either of his own feet on the ground throughout his speech.
The fact remains that the hon. Gentleman was far from specific about his recommendations, except those for the Middle East, where, I agree, there may be prospects; but where we have commitments now, today. Right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench also made speeches on this subject but again, if I may say so, they were not very specific about where we should make these economies. The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) made a tour d'horizon, but neither he nor the Leader of the Opposition was very specific about how these reductions should be made. I feel that at the back 2452 of their minds they are perhaps thinking not so much of how we should reduce the number of divisions outside this country as of how they should reduce the number of divisions inside their party.
I do not wish to raise controversy on this question, however, for I should tell the House at the outset that no one is more anxious than Her Majesty's Government to reduce the number and extent of our overseas commitments. No one keeps a sharper eye, or is more anxious, on the subject than I. No one was more disappointed than I when our hopes of bringing back a brigade from Trieste were stultified.
No one was more disappointed than I when we got two battalions back from Austria and then had to send extra battalions to Kenya. No one is more disappointed than I about the delays, owing to Egyptian intransigence, in getting some satisfactory and lasting settlement in the Middle East. I would not say for a moment that there are not prospects of reducing our commitments, but there is no ground for making a fundamental alteration in these Estimates at present because of some anticipation that the commitments may be reduced. That, I hope and believe, may come.
The second important matter which arose in the defence debate concerned National Service. Many hon. Members said, "Have a manpower inquiry and then you will be able to reduce the period of National Service." I do not deny that there is scope, here and there, for some saving of manpower, but since I have been at the War Office we have had eight manpower inquiries. We have gone into this question time and time again and, although there may still be some savings to be made, it is not saving of a magnitude which would allow us to reduce the period of National Service. I assure hon. Members of that. We have combed the Army's tail and we are in a transitional stage so that, as far as there is any resemblance to tails, we are going away from the squirrel and getting much nearer to the guinea pig. It is our policy to continue in that direction.
Nevertheless, there are still hon. Members who say that the period of National Service should be reduced. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I see that I was right. It is therefore my duty to tell the House very briefly what the repercussions 2453 would be. Supposing here and now we were to reduce the period of National Service to 18 months. In 1956–57, that would cost the Army 50,000 men. In addition—and I think this is fair—it would have an effect on Regular recruitment, because the choice between three years and two years is a different matter from the choice between three years and 18 months. We estimate that to mean, at a guess—and it is only a guess, although I do not think it is a bad guess—15,000 men by 1956–57. That gives a total of about 65,000 men.
In addition, the size of the Army today is running down because in one year, 1952, we had an extra big call-up—five in one year and an extra 30,000 men. We have also had Regulars "unfrozen" and Reservists released, and future prospects, from the Army's point of view, reveal a worse birth-rate and a smaller field for National Service. Between all these factors we shall run down the Army, without taking action, to about 400,000 men.
If we deduct some 65,000 men following a reduction in the period of National Service, the total is brought down to about 340,000 men, which is 100,000 fewer than the present size of the Army. However strongly hon. Members may feel on this subject, to initiate now a step which would give the Army 100,000 fewer men, when 80 per cent, of die fighting units are overseas and when we have no strategic Reserves whatever, would be an act of irresponsible folly. I am certain that we should be wrong to do it. As was stated in the defence debate on this subject, it is the Government's intention to reduce the period of National Service by as much as possible and as soon as possible but, I say to hon. Members, not at this present moment.
So much for National Service. I said at the beginning that our main problem lay in the Regular content, and I know that at least one hon. Member agrees with me in that. This is a problem into which I must go in some detail. I do not want to weary the House, but it is necessary to give some facts and figures. In trying to devise a method whereby I could avoid wearying the House I noticed a headline in a newspaper which read, "Gas Board Makes Facts and Figures Fun."
2454 I read this item to see whether I could learn something, and I found that in their annual estimates they had published a figure of absorbing interest, which apparently is fascinating to everybody— but that is a course which is denied to me, because they had published the figure of Marilyn Monroe in the middle of their estimates.
The Regular Army comprises 180,000 Regular other ranks and 214,000 National Service men—that is to say, the number of National Service men is now larger than the Regular element. As the right hon. Member for Easington knows, that is not as the Army was planned when we introduced National Service, but it is as the Army has grown. The original purpose of National Service was to train reservists against a hot war. The right hon. Member for Easington looks puzzled, but that was the purpose. The situation overseas became such that we increased the period of National Service and its primary justification today is to increase the numbers of the active Army.
As a result, we have a much younger Army and a higher content of National Service men than was originally planned. This poses particular problems. If one compares the Army of today with the pre-war Army, I think it illustrates the point. Before the war, the annual intake was about 15 per cent.; today, it is 33 per cent. There is a very big difference. Again, in the pre-war Army the annual intake was about 27,000; in the coming years it will be 120,000. The average pre-war service was 6⅔years; to day, it is three years.
That young Army places a special strain on the Regular cadre. Therefore, this underlines more than ever the importance of retaining that cadre, and recruiting that cadre. Those two problems of recruiting and retaining the Regular cadre are the matters which make us think hardest and longest at present.
I will deal with recruiting first. There has been some criticism recently of our bringing in the three-year short-service engagement. I go back to the reason why we brought it in. After the war recruiting went down. It may have been due to the war. Mostly, I think, it was due to the introduction of a two-year period of National Service. A man who knew that he had to do two years National 2455 Service said, "I will see how I like it; why commit myself to five years?"
Therefore, down went the figures. The year before we introduced this measure they were down to about 23,000. We found, at the same time, that the Royal Air Force who had introduced the three-year short-service engagement were coining recruits in large numbers. The reason was that a man said, "I get full pay throughout and no part-time liability. It is worth while to do the extra year." Then we brought it in and in the following year the numbers were more than doubled. They went up to about 53,000.
I agree that in the last year they have gone down to 42,000, but that fall is not the catastrophe that some hon. Members make out, because the field from which we have been recruiting has got smaller. In 1952, of the total intake into the Army we had 29 per cent, on Regular engagement; in 1953, when there has been a fall, it has been 25 per cent.; so the total fall from a percentage of the field has been only 4 per cent. I do not believe that that is catastrophic.
I hope and believe that the measures we are bringing in now, and some other measures which I shall mention, will put it right; but I am absolutely convinced that we were dead right to bring in the three-year engagement. I do not regret it for a moment.
Some hon. Members will say, "Why not have a longer engagement as well concurrently and try to get some longer-service men?" First, why should a man come in for six years when he can come in for three to see how he likes it? Secondly, men who are discontented in the Army because they have a long-service engagement cannot be a great asset.
Then, because we have a bounty now, hon. Members say, "Why not give the bounty at the start instead of after six years?" The first people to attack me if I did that would be hon. Members opposite who would protest that a boy of 17½ years could go to a local office and the sergeant could say, "Here are £40 in lovely new £1 notes, sign your name for six years." I do not believe that ethically that is quite right. I personally believe that it would be wrong for us to do it. So much for recruiting.
2456 I agree with the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who keeps a sharp eye on these matters, that the crux is, "Will they stay on?" We have two considerations. First, there is the bounty. I remind the House that what we say is, "After three years' service, if you like to take on from three for six, we give you £40, and if you extend from six to 12 years we give you an additional £60." These bounties are tax free and are not deductible from the terminal grant or gratuity.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
What would it cost if we were to double these bounties? This is a trifling item compared with the cost of the Army.
§ Mr. Head
I am not enough of an actuary to tell the hon. and learned Member, but one of my hon. Friends has given the answer from behind that it would cost three times the present amount. I will try to let the hon. and learned Gentleman know, but I cannot tell him now. So much for the bounty side.
Then there is the question of staying on as regards the whole of the Regular element, and particularly the longer-service men. The cause of the drift out of the Regular element is, as hon. Members who have studied the matter know very well, due to the high proportion of the Army which is overseas; it is due to separation and the fact that of men on overseas service now no less than 60 per cent, are separated from their families. It is due to instability, to frequent changes of situation and the kind of thing I have mentioned in the memorandum—that we have four battalions which since the war have had only two months in this country.
These circumstances combined have produced a drift out of the Army. On careful analysis it is not so bad among the men with from 12 to 22 years' service because they have committed themselves, so to speak, to the Army. It is most marked in those round about the five year mark. They are 23 or 24 years of age. Being a very technical Army, the men are well qualified for civil life and their wives say, "Either get a new wife or a new job." There has been a drift out.
What is to be done about that? The easy thing to do, and the solution of all our troubles, would be to build up a 2457 strategic reserve, to get half the Army at home and half overseas; and then half our troubles would be gone. I have explained why that is not possible at the moment. Alternatively, the thing would be to have more married quarters so as to avoid separation, but the pinch comes in two areas, the Middle East and Kenya. In the Middle East there is only a fraction of the number of quarters we need for the inflated garrison there, and in Kenya there are few. For me to embark on an expensive and ambitious scheme of building married quarters in Kenya and the Middle East when our tenure there is uncertain would be grossly extravagant. I cannot do that.
The point is that one must think of some way of meeting this. The only way of meeting it that I know is by trying to supply, while these conditions continue to obtain, something in lieu of the amenities which one should normally offer to these men. Thanks to the collaboration of my Service colleagues and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we propose to do that.
We shall introduce measures which will become effective on 1st April to help in this situation. I should like briefly to outline them to the House. First, all Regular soldiers in Kenya and the Canal Zone who have been separated from their families and have been in the theatre for more than nine months will be allowed an annual free leave home and they will fly home and back.
§ Mr. Head
For the normal leave period, whatever they are entitled to. The time will vary, but it will be 28 days or more.
Secondly, there are quite a number of officers and men who have their wives with them overseas but who, for educational or other reasons, are separated from their children. We will allow the children to fly out to join their parents every two years, with a free flight out and home, for a holiday of not less than 28 days.
In Europe, families are not allowed to come home for their leave. They have their leave locally. Because Europe counts as a home station for the Army, that often entails long separation from this country. In future, families in 2458 Europe will be allowed one free trip home and back during their tour of duty. There are other matters which are somewhat detailed, but I can give an indication of what they are about.
At present soldiers have to have a certain period more to serve before they can have their families out with them. We have now reduced that period to six months. We cannot make it too short a period. At present, if a wife goes out to join her husband and she has not a passage entitlement, the couple cannot draw the local overseas allowance. We have now made it that if she goes out —provided one or two minor requirements are complied with—they can have the local overseas allowance.
We have also introduced a relaxation of what is called the "disturbance allowance," where a man moves from one house to another and has to pay for the storing of his furniture. He will now get more to cover the amount of the disturbance which goes on.
Those measures for these special circumstances will, I hope and believe, do something to make the men realise that Her Majesty's Government do appreciate their difficulties and want to do something to help them. These men deserve it, and I am glad they have got it.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Is the free transport to be provided in the case of National Service men?
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Can the Minister give us any idea of the cost of these concessions?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Can the Minister say how these concessions will affect the Scottish soldiers in British Guiana and who have been a long time in Malaya?
§ Mr. Head
I will tell the hon. Gentleman in detail if he will meet me behind the Chair. I am glad to see that the 2459 hon. Gentleman takes such an interest in the soldiers in British Guiana, and I hope that they are encouraged by it.
I have mentioned the question of bounties and the question of special concessions. Certain pay increases were recently announced which, I believe, were brought in on the right policy. By that, I mean that the Government were highly selective regarding the pay increases they made. It would have been a mistake to spread them wide over the whole Army, and to have had really a small increase.
These increases make an appreciable difference. For instance, a sergeant with 12 years' service and no technical qualifications gets about £73 a year extra. A lance-corporal with first-class qualifications in one of the Group X trades qualifications gets about the same rise, and a warrant officer Class I with 20 years' service gets a rise of £91 a year. These are quite worth-while rises. I noticed a criticism in one of our leading newspapers to the effect that a second-lieutenant would be getting less than the sergeant. That happened in the Army before these rises were announced. It is not a novelty.
We have only a limited amount of money, and we have put that money, as far as the officers are concerned, where we think the pinch will come, namely, where they have a family. I am sorry about the second-lieutenant, but we cannot have endless money. I believe that the sergeant with 12 years' service and the captain and the major will need it most. After all, there are four members of the Army Council who are paid more than I am, and we still seem to get along all right.
There are only two other very small items that I wish to point out to the House. First, we have set up a committee—which will shortly be reporting —to see what we can do for the wives of Service men who are left behind in this country. There are some living in their own houses or with relations, some in Government quarters, and some in hostels run by the Army. We want to do what we can to help them in their separation.
The other thing we are trying to do is to get the local authorities to help the soldier to get a house when he has finished his service. The Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Housing and 2460 Local Government have been most cooperative in this, but it is a difficult problem. Some local authorities are good about it, but some are not so good. The difficulty is that a man cannot always put himself down for a house many years before he leaves the Service for the simple reason that he does not know what his civilian job will be. He may come from Essex and be a fitter in the Royal Armoured Corps, and may eventually get a job in Huddersfield. If he puts down his name in the wrong place, he will be in difficulty.
The trouble is that it is not a matter which can entirely be solved by any Ministry or any Government. It is dependent upon the good will of local authorities, and anybody who can say a word for all three Services will be doing a very good turn in that respect.
§ Mr. Head
The War Office has been very good about evictions, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to have a row about that, perhaps he will do it again behind the Chair.
I have outlined the steps which we are trying to take for the retention of the Regular element in the Army. I think I ought to deal briefly with a problem of almost equal importance, the retention of volunteers in the Territorial Army. The Territorial Army has grown very much in the last year or two. Its present strength is 192,000 part-time National Service men, and there are 60,000 volunteers who have no compulsory obligation whatever. In addition, there are 126,000 National Service men in the Army Emergency Reserve who are compulsorily part-time, and only 10,000 direct volunteers.
May I stress here and now that the Army Emergency Reserve is a very large and very important force which is very short of volunteers. Part of the reason for that, I think, is because people do not know very much about it. Many people have never even heard of it. I appeal to all hon. Members, to the Press, to industry and to the nationalised industries to encourage and to allow people to join the Army Emergency Reserve because it provides all sorts of technical and specialist units which back up our forces in war, and, particularly, which back up at short notice our forces in Germany.
2461 The Territorial Army is faced with the problem that it has grown very rapidly indeed. Whereas in January, 1952, it had a strength of 142,000 men, at present it has a strength of over 250,000. That has placed a great strain on the volunteers. Many of these volunteers have gone on since the war doing an immensely important job in their spare time, and the nation as a whole really owes them an immense debt of gratitude.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
What are the numbers of volunteers now as compared with previous years?
§ Mr. Head
I thought I said a total of 60,000. To be quite frank, I have not got the figures, but I will tell the right hon. Gentleman, if it is the kind of thing he is after, that during last year 1,300 officers and 16,000 other ranks left the Territorial Army, and that during the same period we recruited 1,000 officers and 9,000 other ranks who had no obligation.
I am not saying that that is good, but I am saying that it is very gratifying to have recruited these numbers. If the Territorial Army is to work in the future, we must not only get these volunteers, but, because they will grow old, we must also encourage part-time National Service men to take on that job afterwards. If they do not, it will mean that we shall have to divert N.C. Os. and officers, whom we can ill spare at present, from the Regular Army.
It is a remarkable fact that we are the only nation in the world that has National Service and that runs its part-time Army on a voluntary basis. We ought to be very grateful for that, but we ought also to do everything possible to encourage the volunteer. We are going to bring in certain measures for the Territorial Army, about which I should like very briefly to tell the House.
They are these. We intend to try to limit the number of drills which they do in a year to 50 drill nights. We have found that up to now some of these volunteers have been doing far more than that because the part-time men attend at frequent intervals, staggered and in small parties, and therefore, the volunteer instructors are being overworked. We are to have a four-year training cycle in which the first and third year will be for individual and unit training, and the 2462 second and fourth for brigade and divisional training.
I do not think it is a good thing for the Territorial Army to do too much divisional training. It will also mean that as far as possible in these two years of individual and unit training, the camps will be somewhere near the territorial location of the units concerned, which, I believe, is all important to the Territorial Army.
We intend to try to simplify—indeed, we have gone a long way to doing so— the paper work and the administration of the Territorial Army, because paper is the burden of the volunteer. We have relaxed travelling regulations such as those relating to officers staying a night away at home, and kindred things, including people getting from one place to another, so that they will not be out of pocket.
We are allowing extra officers into the Territorial Army so that every minor unit will have one officer full-time, either a Regular or ex-Regular re-employed, and every major unit will have three officers, with possibly one of them an ex-Regular re-employed. We are to give the Territorial Army extra clerical assistance, and that is because so many of the units are burdened with so much paper which, however much it is simplified, burdens the Territorial Army.
§ Mr. Head
We are also widening somewhat the field of commissions in the Territorial Army. Lastly, I have set up under the Under-Secretary of State a committee which is going into the whole question of the administration of the Territorial Army in conjunction with the Territorial Associations. Those, briefly, are the steps which we have taken to help the Territorial Army.
§ Mr. Head
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I had forgotten something. All volunteers and part-time volunteers for the Territorial Army will qualify for the new increased rates of pay which have recently been brought in.
2463 Before I leave this question of manpower, I should like to pay a tribute— and I am sure a good many Members will join with me—to those public-spirited and unpaid volunteers who have made the Home Guard a going concern. They have got down to it. Their total numbers are now 34,000 enrolled men and 28,000 on the voluntary reserve roll. They have been allotted their tasks. They have done a lot of training, and they have provided an invaluable nucleus for the defence of this country if there should be a war. For myself, I am extremely grateful to them for the way in which they have done that. So much for manpower.
What I ought now to deal with is something about which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) —he is not here at the moment—had a brush with his right hon. and learned Friend the former Secretary of State for Air—namely, this question of reduction of expenditure. I think he said that the expenditure for the Air Force should be slightly increased and that it must be got back from the Army. I think that I should deal with this question of reduction of expenditure.
I would say, first of all, that the best way of reducing expenditure in the Army —and it is something which we are really trying to do very hard—is to bring back those elements of the Army which are a very long way from home. What costs money is having units and formations a long way from home. Perhaps I may illustrate what sort of a problem that is.
Take, for instance, the cost of keeping a battalion in Korea. To keep that battalion going, including those who were training locally—the National Service men who have to get used to the conditions—the reinforcement locally, the men in the pipeline and the men training in the depôt, the backing alone is over 500 men for that battalion. If that same battalion were in Germany the number would be 70 men.
§ Mr. Head
It is nothing to do with civilian labour. These are men going into the battalion. They are nothing to do with the administrative tail. I am referring to the righting units, the pure 2464 battalion. It has nothing to do with civilians. The right hon. Gentleman got the wrong end of the stick.
To ship a ton of stores to Germany costs £5 10s. To ship a ton of stores to Korea costs £22, and we have just discharged our millionth ton of stores to Korea. I think that illustrates the problem. To send a soldier to Germany costs £3 10s.; to send him to Korea costs £90. We now have annually 299,000 men moving overseas each way. That again illustrates the strain in money and in wastage of manpower. We send overseas every week three-quarters of a million letters. The size of this Army is immense.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) is not here, but I thought I would mention for his benefit that annually we send overseas 9 million kippers. The enemy of economy today is the dispersal of the Army all over the globe—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and Her Majesty's Government agree just as much as hon. Members opposite on the desirability of reducing our commitments.
§ Mr. Head
Hon. Members opposite are very fond of quoting Bermuda, because it is the one subject on defence on which they are all united.
The favourite theme for economy in peace-time when the Army is short of money, and in war-time when the Army needs practically nothing but explosives and weapons, is always the Works Vote. As a result, the barrack accommodation situation in this country is frankly deplorable. Of the total barrack accommodation one-third is permanent and two-thirds are temporary. Of the one-third that is permanent, half was built more than 50 years ago. Hon. Members will see that only one-sixth of the barrack accommodation in this country has been built in the last 50 years. It is, 2465 frankly, lamentable that the first introduction of a young National Service man to the Army should be, as happens in one-third of Catterick Camp, into 1914 temporary huts. Something has to be done about that.
We are now introducing a plan whereby over the next three years the money spent on barrack accommodation in this country will rise very steeply. To do that, we have to have extra staff to produce the plans in time to get that work done—and not only the plans which we intend to implement—but to have a reserve of plans so that whenever there are labour and materials to spare we can quickly put those plans into effect.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
Since we all hope that there will not always be a large standing Army, could not the right hon. Gentleman consult the industries which have produced very successful prefabricated and relatively short-time buildings, in order to provide hutted accommodation which could easily be dismantled when necessary?
§ Mr. Head
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that even if peace broke out all over the world and we could go back to a small Regular Army, we should have a lot to do for that small Regular Army. There is no question of erecting so many barracks that when we are able to reduce the size of the Army we shall have a surplus. That is a problem which I believe must be tackled, and I say sincerely that I hope that during the next three years, whoever may be doing my job, will not break that important plan. It is always a temptation, but unless the problem is dealt with on a long-term basis the conditions of our barracks in this country will become scandalous.
I am sure that this must be done. On the credit side is the fact that we are well on the way to breaking the back of the problem of the married quarters. The credit for that lies fairly and squarely with right hon. Gentlemen opposite. They started the scheme, and it has made a lot of progress, and we shall soon start modernising and repairing married quarters that are falling into disrepair.
§ Mr. Crossman
What are the plans about quarters in Germany? When the Germans rearm will they take over their own barracks? Are we to put up brand 2466 new barracks? Or are these questions being left to be answered when German rearmament starts?
§ Mr. Head
I could talk half an hour on that subject, but the House would not want me to. I think hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will agree with me that there are not any great savings possible on works. That leaves the question of production. We have tapered off the production programme for what is called the long haul. I would call the right hon. Gentleman—or was it his predecessor who was responsible originally?—Jack, not in familiarity, but because this undertaking was like the story of Jack and the beanstalk. We have had to estimate a lot about that programme. It had not been held in balance. There is a level of production below which nobody in my job can allow it to fall.
This is where one takes a risk, that if there is a war the active formations that have to fight will not be sufficiently equipped to enable them to have a fair chance. It is the job of everybody to see that they are proficiently equipped. I do not believe that we can go below our present production figure, but I should be the first to admit that we have to watch very carefully, as the production programme flows, that we do not produce too many weapons that are becoming obsolescent. It is a question of reconciling: continuity with new developments, which is always a difficult thing to do.
That is our object. The weapons now coming in, like the 35 inch rocket launcher and the recoilless gun and the Centurion tanks, for instance, are first-class weapons, the best of their kind, and there is no prospect of their becoming obsolescent in the next few years. Nobody has invented anything better.
I said at the beginning that there were four matters that I should mention, and I come now to the fourth, the question of keeping the Army up to date. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Brierley Hill 2467 (Mr. Simmons) made a speech the other day from which I deduced that his view of the Army was that it was a large sort of animal that had failed to move with the times and keep up to date, a cross between a dinosaur and a brontosaurus. He seemed to visualise me as a demoralised jockey sitting wobbling on its back, waffling amid the mists of obsolescence, and cheered on by a lot of brainless blimps or what the hon. Gentleman called "top brass." That was, roughly, the hon. Gentleman's idea, and I reject that image of his entirely.
I would address a few remarks to the subject of up-to-dateness. There are many people, not only in this House, who say that this is the atomic age and that it is not an age of men, and that we should, therefore, cut down the size of armies because the future lies in the air and with the atom. That may be true some years ahead, but in these Estimates we are dealing with the situation now— today. There is no prospect in the immediate future of there being a kind of atomic curtain that can protect Western Europe—an atomic curtain with people with press-buttons behind it. There is not enough fissile material, and it would not be practical.
Even with full use of the air in defence, men of the other side will filter through, and where they come through they have to be met by men, not necessarily on foot, but in vehicles, tanks, and well armed. For the defence of Western Europe we still need men, and the defence of Western Europe is part of the defence of this country, an intimate part, just as important as the Channel. Therefore, we cannot, because of these new weapons, today radically alter the structure of our Army.
Some may say, "The Army has police duties to do overseas, in Kenya and Malaya, for example, and, therefore, you reject all change." That is not true. If new weapons or developments demanded change we should change, and modify the change, to suit the secondary function of policing throughout the Empire. That moment has not arrived.
The Leader of the Opposition was saying that weapons have more fire power, vehicles are more mobile, and that, therefore, we could reduce the numbers of 2468 men. However, as a result of having better weapons and vehicles, formations have greater manoeuvrability, and so a division can cover a wider front. We have not so far such large forces in Europe as to feel at all satisfied that we can afford to reduce in that respect.
This question of keeping up to date is one about which the War Office thinks a great deal. I have stated in the Memorandum accompanying the Estimates that we plan to introduce a ground to ground guided weapon with an atomic warhead. An atomic weapon of fissile material will not, anyhow in the foreseeable future, become an intimate part of the lesser tactical battlefield. To put fissile material into things like 25-pounder guns or rifles or light automatics will for many years to come be a terribly extravagant and wasteful way of using fissile material. Therefore, the use of atomic missiles against armies in the field is still comparatively remote. When I say remote, I do not mean in time; I mean in direct contact, direct use in things like guns. Atomic missiles may be used against a bridgehead, but not against formations on the lesser, tactical battlefield.
There was a study made of this question of the impact of atomic weapons on the whole tactics and strategy of armies. It was held for four days at Camberley, and was attended by experts of many countries and also many scientists, and its lessons were disseminated through Commands to fighting units. There were two things, in particular, that came out of that study. The first, which, of course, is obvious, like so many things seem to be after a close study, was that the introduction of atomic weapons places a premium on dispersion. It will be very dangerous to collect close together, and yet sometimes we have to. Therefore, the need for dispersion and the need for rapid concentration puts a further premium on communications and control, and we are introducing into the Army a new V.H.F. wireless set with very good speech night and day. It is hoped that we shall overcome the necessity so many hon. Members have at different times complained about of the endless line laying that goes with permanent communications by means of introducing a radio relay system.
There were many things that emerged from this study, but the other thing I 2469 specially want to mention was that the large fleet of wheeled vehicles, which has become the necessary accompaniment of modernised armies, will be vulnerable. A very close study has been made to see to what extent the lift in wheeled vehicles can be carried by air. It may sound, at the moment, unrealistic, but the helicopter and the slow flying freighter aircraft that can be landed in a confined space can make a big contribution to getting the lift off wheels. It is some way ahead, but it is our aim to introduce helicopters to the maximum extent. Anything we can do to reduce that very vulnerable mass of wheeled vehicles, which is the lifeline of the forces, will be invaluable to a modern army when atomic vehicles are used.
The soldier, the officer, especially the bright officer of the future, must think in an up-to-date way. The days when the cavalry soldier thought it very fashionable to know nothing about what was under a motor car's bonnet are over and past.
§ Mr. Paget
While the right hon. Gentleman is giving his lesson on atomic warfare, would he also agree that the kind of concentrations which the Russians found necessary in the last war would be quite impracticable in an atomic war, and the advantage of numbers, as they were used then, has to a very considerable extent been cancelled.
§ Mr. Head
I would agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. I am sure that he is right.
I was saying that we must get officers thinking about the development of scientific and technical matters, and to that end we are trying now to get all officers who are about to go to the staff college or have just left the staff college to go through a short course at Shrivenham. When I first went to the War Office, there were only about 280 officers 2470 at the Royal Military College at Shrivenham, and by next year it is hoped to have about 440. We must keep the officer in touch with science and modern thought, and thinking about their application to war and the probable effect which they will have.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the other ranks should also know about this?
§ Mr. Head
The other ranks do have a great many technical courses and, as the hon. Member knows, we have increased very much the amount of scientific knowledge which they are given in the form of courses.
I have talked mostly about Army problems and I have said very little about what the Army is doing today all over the world. I have published a fairly full account of that in the Memorandum, and I think that it is a story of which the Army and the House can be very proud. On this I should like to quote the noble Lord in another place, who belongs to the party opposite, Lord Pakenham, who, speaking in praise of the three Services, said this:The Royal Air Force are doing a wonderful job, and they do not hesitate to tell us so: the Royal Navy are doing a wonderful job, and they wait for us to tell them so; the Army are doing a wonderful job and they would be astounded if anybody told them so." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 16th April, 1953; Vol. 181, c. 870.]There is a certain amount of truth in that. I would say that the Army, in spite of economy and manpower, has done a great deal, and I think that it has earned its keep, when we think what would have happened to our economy if South-East Asia had gone Communist, if the trouble in Africa had spread, and if the defence of Western Europe had been organised without our troops of four divisions.
I do not want hon. Members to think that the generals have only one idea, and that is to get hold of more National Service men. From the Army's point of view, the organisation, training and staffing would be much easier and simpler without National Service. This is forced on us by events and forced on these young men by events. We have 214,000 National Service men in the Army today, mostly against their will. Some of them dislike it, and, unfortunately, they are the ones 2471 who write to Members of Parliament and to the newspapers.
But there are very many of them who, although they do not want to do it, make a thundering good job of it and come out of the Army, many of them, better men than they went in. That is due to the Regular cadre which has to train and absorb them. The Regulars are under strength and they are often separated from their wives. I think they have done a very fine job indeed.
The hon. Member for Dudley said the other day that on the solution of these problems both the Army's future and the reputation of the Secretary of State for War depends. But he said, "I do not mind about the reputation of the Secretary of State for War; I mind about the Army." I should like, if I may for once, to agree with the (hon. Member for Dudley. Secretaries of State for War come and go, and the Army transcends their importance very much indeed.
I have tried to do what I can for the Army and explain to the House what I have done. For the rest of this debate I shall rightly be criticised for what I have left undone and for the mistakes I have made. But I appeal to the unity of the House in this: where the Army itself is concerned, spread all over the world, it has done a difficult and dangerous job magnificently well.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
The Secretary of State for War has given us a detailed, able and interesting survey of the work of the Army and its prospects, as he does year by year. It was full of facts and full of points, and he would not expect me to be able to comment on every one of the facts and points he made.
There are, for example, the announcements he made of concessions in respect of the Territorial Army and the concessions abroad—most welcome announcements—and I hope he will not think me ungrateful when we say that we would rather like to have had them in the Memorandum so that we could have studied them. It leaves the House in rather a difficulty if we have to hear of them without seeing them in print.
I think that I must follow the right hon. Gentleman, in this respect at any 2472 rate, that I must concentrate on one or two main topics. I think that he will see that the topics which I wish to concentrate on, although I take them from rather a different angle, are the same ones as he took. They are three in number: the manpower problem of the Army; its commitments, and. finally, its strategic Reserve.
I will take the manpower situation first. Our whole problem of manpower is governed by the fact that the Army today works under a new system of engagements. It is a totally new system, introduced just over two years ago, and it amounts to a virtual revolution in the terms of engagement under which every Regular soldier serves. We are getting this year, for the first time, a sight of both the advantages and the disadvantages of that system. The Secretary of State for War approached the problem, but it could be put perhaps a little more vividly by calling the attention of the House to the recruiting figures which he gives us in the second appendix of his Memorandum. There we see in 1951, 26,000 recruits to the Regular Army, and then the figures appear to double in the next year to 53,000 and then to decline to 42,000, which is still enormously above the 1951 figure. Why is it, the House will rather naturally ask, that the Secretary of State in his speech, and more particularly in his Memorandum, takes a rather grave and concerned view of the manpower problem of the Army?
Certainly, if one did not know the explanation, this would be strange. After that apparently unexpected doubling of the rate of the Regular recruitment, we are told in the Memorandum, in paragraph 82, that the strength of the Army will inevitably fall during the coming years, and the Secretary of State hinted at that in his speech. Of course, the explanation is a quite simple one, that under the new terms of engagement nearly double the number of recruits were recruited only, in effect, each of them for three years. Some were recruited simply on three years' engagement, some on 22 years' engagement; but all of them had the option to leave the Army at the end of three years.
I am not criticising that new system. The Secretary of State, in his first Estimates speech two years ago, was, if I 2473 may say so, rather anxious to claim that new system as entirely his own. Whoever introduced it, I think it would be fairer to say, as the right hon. Gentleman said today, that it was the brain-child neither of himself nor of myself. It was really copied from the Royal Air Force. But whoever thought of it, it is a revolutionary new system, and I still think that on the whole it was right to introduce it. For it is a liberal and up-to-date method of engagement in which the man will remain a volunteer in the sense that he stays in the Army of his own choice through his military career.
Of course, we must face the consequences of that. The consequences are that even a rapid increase in the rate of recruitment may not give any increase in the numbers in the Army. What we are really concerned with is not numbers of men, but numbers of men-years of service in the Army. It is a simple matter of arithmetic to see that the 1952 rate of recruitment, for example, of 50,000 men for three years' service in the long run gives no larger an Army than a 25,000 rate of recruitment for six years' service. In fact, it would give no larger an Army, and a considerably less efficient Army.
We have all been reading that remarkable article by Major General Cobb in Brassey's Annual, which puts out as clearly as anyone has done the problems of manpower which the Army faces as a result of the new terms of engagement. General Cobb calculates that a doubled rate of recruiting under the new engagements gives only a 15 per cent, increase in the total numbers in the Army. That all depends on what assumption he takes as to the numbers of men who extend on each three years' period. But if General Cobb is right—and it is a most able article—it certainly poses a formidable problem of manpower. Above all, it brings us face to face with the fact that everything depends from now onwards on the rate of the prolongation of the men's service.
That brings us to the problem of what is called technically, in the jargon of the subject, internal recruiting of the Army in all its forms. "Internal recruiting "' simply means the problem of inducing men who are already in the Army to stay in the Army. Now that they are free to go—and all of them are free at the end of every three years' period—that is perhaps the biggest question for the 2474 Army. There is the question of inducing the National Service man to sign on for a term of Regular engagement. There is the problem of inducing the short-service man to take on the 22 years' term of engagement instead of the three years', and there is the problem of the man who is already on the 22 years' term of engagement to go on with his service every three years.
Those are all the aspects of the problem of internal recruiting. They mean that the size and, above all, the quality of the Army will depend in future, under our new arrangements, entirely on inducing a sufficient number of men to make the Army their life career. All future discussions of the Army's manpower problems will have to face that issue.
That is the reason for the increases in emoluments, of which we were given information during the recent debate on defence policy in general. Those increases in emoluments were very welcome indeed. They will help undoubtedly. The bounties to stay on will help, and the increases in pay to N.C. Os. and senior men will undoubtedly yield results. It is arguable whether the same amount of money spent on these increases in pay, rather than the bounties, would not in the long run have given an even greater inducement. I expect that the bounties will give a better shock effect, but I am not sure that in the long run the same money used in straight pay increases would not have done better.
It is of the utmost importance, as the Secretary of State will agree, that the whole question of the eligibility of the life of the men in the Army should be faced, because it will not be exclusively by emoluments that we get men to stay in the Army. It has got to be a worthwhile life in two respects. A man must feel, he has got to know, and it must seem to him as a reasonable, sensible man, that wherever he is stationed, all over the world, he is doing an indispensable job for the country. Secondly, that job has to be done in conditions which are not too intolerable. The man must not be separated virtually for the whole of his career from his wife and family. He must not be in a position in which he cannot bring up and maintain a family properly, and he must not, above all, be continually changing his station from one part of the world to another. All these things, now that we have in that real sense an Army which is permanently 2475 voluntary and which can leave every three years, will be of absolutely crucial importance.
I share the concern which the Secretary of State evidently displayed as to the numbers of men who will extend or re-engage in present circumstances. This will be tested next November, which is the first time when the three years' period comes to an end. I believe it to be true that we must get something like 33⅓ per cent, to prolong their engagements to meet the Regular needs of the Army.
If all the Army were in the situation, for example, of the man at home or in Germany, one could say that the Army presents a life which, for the man who likes it, compares well and favourably with the alternative life in civilian circles. But when I look at the real position of the Army today, through no fault of its own, with 80 per cent, of it overseas and with so much of it so far overseas, in such difficult circumstances and conditions, we are bound to feel great concern at the manpower position and to wonder even whether the concessions of visits from families, leave at home and the rest, which was announced today, most welcome as they are, can be anything more than a palliative.
That brings me to my second theme of the commitments of the Army. They are most directly related under the new scheme of engagements to the question of the size and, above all, the quality of the Army and of retaining those comparatively long-service men, from whom alone we can get the senior N.C. Os., the most experienced technicians and the like—the men whose presence converts an Army from a disorganised rabble into a really organised force capable of carrying out its tasks.
I take it that during the debate both on the Motion and on the Amendment we are going to hear a great deal about commitments, and about the major commitment of the Army overseas today, which is the Suez commitment. I put it to the House that today we must look at that commitment mainly as an example, and no doubt the biggest and most crucial example, of the overseas commitment of the Army. I would urge hon. and right hon. Members opposite on the back benches, whose views on this subject we know well, to look partly, at 2476 any rate, today upon this as an Army matter, a matter in which not only the welfare of the Army in the ordinary sense of its whole happiness and well-being, but also its efficiency is bound up. Because as I see it, if too much of the Army is kept too long in intolerable conditions, then it will not be there at all, because it has the right to go away today under the three-year engagement scheme.
But, of course, there is one thing on which we are all agreed in this House. If we take the view that keeping 80,000 men in the Canal Zone—60,000 of them in the Army—is indispensable to the security and welfare of the people of this country, then the Army will continue to carry that burden indefinitely. There will be no help for it, and we will all join in saying that that commitment must be carried. But those of us—and we have given the reasons for this on other occasions—who are completely convinced that, in principle at any rate, the maintenance of a substantial part of the British Army in Suez today is far from the national interests, and that the presence of troops there is not serving the true interests of the nation, must weigh very carefully in our minds the inevitable consequences to the Army of keeping troops there.
No doubt from the other side of the House we shall be told that the instabilities of the Egyptian Government at the moment make it impossible to consider this matter. I would only like, in passing, to say of that that it is undoubtedly true that, if we decided to remain, we could by force stay in the Canal Zone indefinitely, and because of that the Egyptian situation could be kept most unstable and no solid Egyptian Government would emerge. What I should ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite is, do they think that is to the advantage of this country? I think it would be a most profound disadvantage to this country, because the position of the present Egyptian Government would be made impossible and it might be succeeded by the Moslem Brotherhood, the Communist forces in Egypt, or some force of that sort, and that would be one of the worst things that could happen, and certainly would not be in the national interests of this country. Therefore, is not instability in Egypt one more sign of the advantages of a settlement there?
2477 I want to look at this question essentially from the point of view of the Army, and from that point of view Suez is simply the largest, and worst and, as I have endeavoured to show, the most dispensable of the overseas commitments of the Army. What is Suez today? It is:… tents, sand, barbed wire and flies.If those words seem more eloquent than those I generally use, I can only explain that they are the words used by the Secretary of State in his Memorandum, which by now we have all read. Suez is today little more than a concentration camp in which an enormous proportion of the overseas part of our Army has to spend at least some of its overseas service. It is bound to have a most deplorable effect upon the morale, well-being and contentment of the British Army.
How does Suez react on the manpower problem? It reacts in two inter-relating ways. It is the great obstacle—I am convinced of this from all the information that I received when I was at the War Office and since—to the growth, and the maintenance even, of the Regular component of the Army. By being a great obstacle to those things, Suez is the greatest "dis-recruiter," if I may put it that way, for the Regular Army, and that in turn makes it an enormous factor in the necessity for the promulgation of National Service, because it prevents the building up of the strength of the Regular Army. I should say it was the biggest single factor in that matter.
In turn that reacts in this way. It makes the Secretary of State for War come down to the House and tell us that there is no possibility of reducing the period of National Service. That will be so, in my opinion, so long as we maintain commitments on this scale. I make an opposite deduction from that than he does. I make the deduction that it is not only possible to reduce that commitment, but that it is indispensable for the Army and, therefore, in the national interest to begin the process of the curtailment of our commitments, and to begin with Suez.
It seems to me indefensible that we should continue to drag on the present position of crisis and uncertainty. After all, since we debated this matter a year ago the Front Bench opposite has fully conceded the principle of the complete evacuation of the Fighting Forces in Suez, 2478 as I and my right hon. and hon. Friends suggested a year ago. We know that there have been negotiations for nine months and, having agreed to that, it seems to me quite indefensible, above all not in the interests of the Army, that the negotiations should drag on on two points which, though no doubt of some importance, are relatively of minor importance when compared with the principle of whether or not we should evacuate.
I have spoken these words on the commitment in Suez because it is obviously the key situation. But I should not like it to be thought that Suez is our only commitment. We have commitments in the Far East which, as the Secretary of State so graphically pointed out, are a greater strain in proportion because they are more distant. It is the old question of bearing the weight on an out-stretched arm. It is infinitely more burdensome, and if it is possible—and I should have thought it had become possible—to diminish those commitments in Korea and in the Far East, they would proportionately afford even greater relief.
The third topic which the Secretary of State dealt with, and which I want to deal with too, was the one of strategic reserves. There are really two problems here. Although the right hon. Gentleman did not ask us to face it today, those of us who are in favour of a reduction of the period of National Service are asked to face the question of the need of a strategic reserve, and I think it is a fair point.
In the sense of a strategic reserve to meet some sudden new commitment in the Commonwealth, that has been referred to by various Members of the Government in terms of a brigade. What I would call the cold war strategic reserve has to be a Regular brigade of men serving fully with the Colours, and instantly available. I should not have thought it impossible to produce such a force. No doubt a reduction in the period of service, even after we have cut our commitments, would make it more difficult, but I should not have thought it was unmanageable. If, however, we take the other aspect of a strategic reserve as we have argued it before in this House, a strategic reserve in terms of our N.A.T.O. obligations, in terms of potential general war, that is a far bigger question, in which a 2479 brigade is hardly here or there. That is something which we cannot attempt to meet by means of Regular Forces, the active Army with the Colours. We know the nature of that problem.
It is the problem which faces General Gruenther today in Paris, the problem of the flow of divisions to that defensive screen which he has succeeded now, on behalf of N.A.T.O., in throwing across Europe. It is there, but it is thin, and, in the event of general war, it would need a steady and immediate flow of reserve divisions to maintain it. And, of course, in terms of deterrents, which are the terms that are really relevant, the fact that good reserve divisions were available to flow out rapidly after D-day to that screen would be, and I am sure is, of immense importance in terms of deterrence, and therefore in terms of the supreme object of all of us, the object of avoiding a general war.
General Gruenther put his problem extremely graphically and, if the House will permit me, I will read a few words. In a recent speech he said:Our regular forces have the job of holding the enemy forces as much as possible. But they could not carry out the task alone, if the reserve units (the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker from Lyons, from Courtrai or Canterbury) were unable to be mobilised, equipped and organised within a few days.He puts it very sharply in terms of a few days.
What have we done to meet that commitment? We have, of course, the Territorial Army, and the Secretary of State spoke about it today. We have also the Reserve Army in general, which includes not only the Territorials but, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly reminded us, the Army Emergency Reserve, which is a large and important part of it. Together they form a force of something approaching half a million trained men today, which is in itself substantially a fine reserve force, and I think some of the information he gave us about it is decidedly encouraging; for example, the information in his Memorandum that 30 per cent, of the National Service men doing their Reserve liability have become volunteers in those forces. That is decidedly encouraging, and I am sure that it is far and away the strongest 2480 reserve force which this country has ever possessed.
What gives me concern, and I imagine gives us all concern, is the question of time, because time here is the essence of the contract. It would surely be a difficult thing to come even near to meeting General Gruenther's time-table with our reserve forces; indeed, we must face the fact that it would be impossible to meet that time-table with the forces today.
We must look at the other side of the matter. I, for one, would be entirely against attempting to impose any greater obligations on the Territorials today. I think the Minister agrees with me; in fact, he was at pains to announce a series of alleviations of those obligations, and he was right to do so. We could not impose still more on the National Service element, still less could we impose further on the volunteer element, which is carrying a great deal.
What we might do there, and I urge this on the Government, would be something about the old question of the Territorial bounty. After all, £9 is very mean these days. It is a battle which we have all fought, and it is something which could be done additionally for this vital part of our Forces. Of course that in itself would not meet the problem I am putting to the House and to the Secretary of State—the question of how soon the flow of reserve divisions could start out. The only glimpse of a solution which anyone has seen so far is by a process of selection. As we all know, four Territorial divisions have been selected as the first Territorial divisions as it were. Those are the divisions which we filled up with the Z men under the old Z Scheme. Now, of course, they have been replaced by National Service men who are performing their Reserve obligations, and they are the divisions which will receive the cream of the new weapons.
Is there any way in which the first, second, third and fourth of those divisions can be made potentially ready at a considerably earlier date to go overseas and be the first reinforcement which would reach General Gruenther's screen? Because it seems to me, although I do not pretend to have a solution for a moment—I am only posing the problem —that it is the improvement of a part, at any rate, of our reserve forces—not 2481 their improvement, as such, because 1 think they are already excellently trained men, but in the improvement of their state of readiness—which is really the heart of the strategic reserve problem in terms of general war. That is really the intractable problem which the House faces. The period of National Service has little to do with that because it would not affect the readiness of those early Territorial divisions one way or another.
Now I come to my conclusion, which is simply to attempt to relate the views we are expressing on the Army problems today with the views which we expressed on the question of defence and of the level of defence expenditure and its character as a whole during the defence debate. The House will remember that the view we took on this side of the House was that there had to be some curtailment of defence expenditure. We believe that the contribution of the Army to that can be made essentially by a reduction in the period of National Service. If it were to be a reduction of six months it would mean a reduction of some 50,000 men, not immediately, but after a couple of years. In the end this would mean a proportionate reduction in the annual budget of the Army because, in the long run, general expenditure follows, largely, the level of the manpower in the Forces.
Thirdly, we admit, and indeed we have pointed out ourselves, that that means some contraction of these enormous commitments which we face today, and we point to Suez as by far the most important and most urgent of them. These are modest proposals for keeping the Army side of defence expenditure within bounds Some of my hon. Friends thought during the defence debate that they were much too modest, but I do not believe that much more can be done than that today. But surely something must be done, because it is of the logic of defence expenditure that unless efforts are made to keep it down it does not stay where it is. It grows and grows, and we must surely regard the present position into which the Army has been forced as a profoundly unsatisfactory one.
As the Secretary of State was at pains to point out, this is a very large Army. And it is today inflicting, quite involuntarily, a very heavy burden on the economy of the country Yet. because of its spread throughout the world, it is 2482 able to provide only a very small measure of security for the people of these islands. The Prime Minister put this point during the defence debate with a force of which perhaps only he is capable. The House will recollect his words when he said that this isthe only country in the world that ever had two years' national compulsory service and not a brigade to defend its own land."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March. 1954; Vol. 524, c. 1141.]It is true that he went on to say that that was a very honourable position. It may be honourable, but I do not think that it is very sensible.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I have been itching to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, and now he has got to a point at which I simply must do so. In one breath he suggests that bringing the troops back from the Suez Canal Zone would bring home 70,000 men, yet in the other he says that if the period of National Service were reduced to 18 months there would be a reduction in the numbers of our total forces of 60,000. Therefore, if we bring back the troops from Suez but immediately cut the period of National Service, we shall still not have a brigade in this country.
The hon. and gallant Member's figures are not right. By reducing the period of National Service we lose 50,000, not 60,000 men, and by the evacuation of Suez we add very considerably more than that number to the total forces in this country. If he were here, I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Air would agree that there are 20,000 Royal Air Force men in Suez, and there is no reason why the intake of future National Service men should not be adjusted between the Army and the Air Force. I maintain the view, which I have already expressed, that a strategic reserve in terms of something like a brigade is possible even with a reduction of six months or so in the period of National Service.
What is not possible, and I readily agree that it is a perfectly fair point if hon. Members opposite like to make it, is to have a strategic reserve for a general war on these terms. But neither is that possible with a two-year period of National Service. That has to be tackled in terms of the Reserve Army.
2483 This is the position which the Army has to face and which we must face on its behalf, because this is very much a matter of political, foreign policy and defence decisions. We must find a way to provide conditions in which our Army can live and thrive or else under the new terms of engagement we shall not have an Army at all. We must create conditions in which the Army can avoid being too heavy a burden for the economy of the country to carry. And we must enable it to give the maximum possible measure of defence and security to the country.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Stanley (North Fylde)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War and the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) have covered a very wide field. I shall only speak about the Territorial Army. I have heard and seen during the last week so many new experts on the Navy and the Air Force that I do not think that one more new expert will make much difference. I am very worried about the Territorial Army. Most of the facts which I shall give in this debate will come from the West Lancashire district. There people have very great fears about the future of the Territorial Army.
One problem concerns officers. At least one-third of the National Service officers live in the South of England and never turn up for battalion work at all except when the Territorial Army goes to camp. Anyone who knows anything about the Service knows how hopeless it is when a battalion has officers who do not see their fellow-officers or their fellow-men for the greater part of the year. That, in turn, imposes a much greater strain on the local officers, but I do not quite know what my right hon. Friend can do about it.
My right hon. Friend experiences difficulty about recruitment. I believe that it has been shown that the best conditions to encourage recruitment to the Territorial Army are either those in which there is the feeling that we might have to fight a war very soon, which, thank heaven, no one at the moment believes likely, or conditions in which service in the Territorial Army is made a rather amusing spare-time occupation with plenty of work but also plenty of fun. 2484 If an undue strain is placed upon local officers by the absence of those who are not appointed from the area, there inevitably will be a drift away from the Territorial Army.
Another factor which might help in the running of Territorial battalions would be an arrangement whereby senior officers could stay in the Service a little longer. Unlike the case in the Regular Army, those who serve in the Territorial Army do not expect that when they go into action they will be going in company with those with whom they are serving at the present time. I believe that at the beginning of the last war comparatively few battalion officers took their men abroad, and few of those who did had their men serving under them for very long. If the older, more mature officers were retained in charge, they would be able to make the training and the general welfare arrangements more entertaining and more like the conditions associated with a Territorial Army battalion than a Regular battalion. That would be a great help to the Territorial Army movement.
I was delighted to hear the various proposals which the Secretary of State said would reduce the hard work required of the men in the Territorial Army. It would be very helpful if the man in the Territorial Army could be told, "You have done your camp duty and for two months you can have a complete Territorial Army holiday." Also, these men could be given a free month or so at Christmas or Easter. If we provided relaxation of that kind, it would definitely help. Obviously hard work would have to be done between March and camp.
Another problem is that of the amount of training that can be carried out. At the moment Regular commanders are looking after the Territorial Army areas and they are very hard worked. I cannot help feeling that, however much sympathy they may have for Territorials, they cannot make up their mind what is a fair period of work for a Territorial.
Let us face it. If someone is going into the Territorial Army there must be reasonable work to do. If only a committee of the War Office could look into the question I think we could knock out a lot of training which is not 100 per cent, essential. I was only a war-time 2485 soldier, but I have heard of a lot of things which I think are a waste of time. There is the classification of weapons on long ranges which means that every year officers, N.C. Os. and everyone concerned gets physically cold and bored. I cannot believe that it really matters for this to be done every year.
Another thing which I am delighted to hear that the Secretary of State has done is the cutting out of administrative duties. We all know what a lot of paper work one has to get through. It is all very well in the Army, and it has to be done then, but, if one goes into the Territorial Army to try to help other people, it is not much fun to have to sit at a desk and wade through War Office papers, 90 per cent, of which one does not understand.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, West spoke about T.A. readiness. I agree with him that they are not really operationally ready, but their readiness should be to move on mobilisation. If that is the case, surely it is not necessary to have quite so many fitness tests and peace-time work of die Army for the Territorials to carry out. Obviously it would not be contended that any Territorial battalion would be physically fit enough to go into action. Therefore, they would have to be given a toughening up course when actual mobilisation came. We should be able to give a little relief in some of the drill periods.
Returning to the question of the officer situation, the commissioning system under National Service has not worked because it has not produced enough officers. Most of the officers come from the South. I should be astonished if anyone denied that we could get full complements without help from the South. Naturally something has to be done about N.C. Os., because in quite a few battalions it is very hard to get good recruits to take their places. I trust that something can be done about that.
The fulfilment of the Territorials time is in the camp. People sacrifice to go to camp for 14 days, and we cannot expect them to go on absolutely flat out soldiering for 24 hours a day. I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State say that they are only to have divisional exercises every four years. I am thankful to think that it will take four years to come round because I am afraid that last 2486 year people took very little interest. There were divisional exercises and the officers and N.C. Os. did not know what was going on. It was a very gloomy period. I have not great military knowledge, but I cannot feel that when training Territorial armies we get much benefit by having anything larger than battalion exercises. I know that we have to teach officers how to work and have to teach inter-communications how to work in the bigger exercises, but would it not be better to do that by cadre courses than to seek to do it by battalion exercises?
If we could get these camps better run and made more interesting, we should do something towards getting National Service men to join the Territorial Army. At the moment they look upon it as a fatigue and they say, "I have to do 14 days more in the Army." They do not take an interest. If we could give them an interest and we could show them that they could enjoy themselves and were helping the country, I believe we should get a number of these men to sign on. There is a small point in connection with the Regular Army with which perhaps a number of hon. Members will disagree, but which I think has to be faced. That is the conditions of the National Service man when he comes out of the Army after two years' service.
I have spoken to a lot of people about this. They say that the National Service man who comes from Korea or Malaya is a first-class man to employ; he works very hard and is very good. I am afraid they do not say the same about others. I think that understandable when someone has been in the Canal Zone and had to go on guard for 48 hours and then 24 hours rest. Everyone knows that, while in some ways doing guard is not physically hard work, mentally it is soul destroying. One has to accept the view of these people. They come out and say, "How can I get off guard? Where can I get a cup of tea?" When there is something boring to do and a man has four or eight weeks to go before the end of his service, the tendency is to say, "Let us send those people. We do not want to instruct them; they will soon be going out of the Army. "I suggest that the Army could have a four or six weeks' course on which these men could go before leaving the Army. They would then get into a far better frame of mind before returning to civilian life.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I wish first to say a word of thanks to the Under-Secretary of State whom we are all very happy to see restored to health. We feel extremely grateful for the way in which he has dealt with our personal queries throughout the year. I should also like to say something about the Select Committee on which he is the representative of the Government. That Select Committee has been behind him and working with him throughout the year. That has been in no small measure owing to the modesty and tact with which he has presented the point of view of the Government. As a member of that Committee I am grateful to him on that score also.
Another small point concerns an individual in another context. It is too early to go into it in any detail now, but in Kenya today a court-martial has concluded. At an appropriate time I shall want a lot of information as to why a gentleman who, according to the evidence, was responsible for a number of murders, has been charged with comparatively trivial charges.
I now want to go on to the wide issues with which we are concerned in regard to the Army. There is no point in making preparations for a war in which we cannot take part, and we cannot take part in a full-scale atomic war. There is no more object in making preparations for what we are going to do in a full-scale atomic war than in preparing for a planetary collision. It is something which does not concern us. We are a small, over-populated island.
It is within the power of the enemy to obliterate our ports. Our communications would be destroyed. It would not matter much how many people were killed because it would only mean that there would be fewer left to starve. Not only should we be unable to carry on a war, but we should be a geographical situation in which it would be impossible to reactivate. Doubtless the war would be continued from Canada to eventual victory, but it is not a war which would concern us as a political entity
We are seeking to guard ourselves against that sort of atomic war by providing ourselves with the power of retaliation. We are—quite rightly— 2488 creating a strategic bomber force in the profound hope that we shall never have to use it. I do not believe that we shall. I do not believe any nation will be so insane as to invite retaliation upon the scale now available to both sides, and therefore I believe that if there is to be a war, of necessity it will be a limited war, confined by certain restraints imposed on both sides.
There have been many attempts in history to abolish war and they have always been unsuccessful; but the attempts to limit war have been vastly more successful. It has been a habit to gibe at The Hague Convention, but in point of fact the Articles have been honoured far more than they have been broken. At the beginning of the last war the Germans took the view that the Russians were not a party to The Hague Convention. Whether that decision was right or wrong I will not go into now, but it was one of the causes for the war there being conducted on a much more horrible scale than in the West. At any rate, today and in the course of the last war, the Russians claimed to be parties to The Hague Convention and, therefore, we should take the Articles seriously.
In the 1914–18 war the Germans, very stupidly I think, broke The Hague Convention by using gas. They found—and this is the essential sanction of any rule of war—that the use of gas gave no decisive advantage, but inflicted great suffering on both sides. Having learned that lesson, they did not use it again. In the last war we took what I believe to be a very bad decision. We broke The Hague Convention with regard to the bombardment of open cities.
I do not think that that decision will be repeated, because the last war and the destruction which we have had to face in peace-time has demonstrated the folly of it. It is a folly which would be vastly inflated by atomic weapons. I do not believe it will be done again. I have noted down the terms of Article 25 of The Hague Convention:The attack or bombardment of any kind whatsoever of undefended towns, villages, dwellings or buildings is forbidden.That is the obligation by which we, the Russians—all of us are bound. For heaven's sake, let us make it clear that it is an obligation which we take seriously, because our very survival and 2489 existence depends upon it. And let us make this clear to the Americans, too.
I make no apology for raising the question of The Hague Convention on the Army Estimates. The Convention comprised military rules negotiated by soldiers who understood the realities of war, and were confined within the limits of what was practicable. They should be negotiated at a technical level by soldiers in order to clarify them and to bring them up to date. The Russians are not difficult to negotiate with on the technical level. We have not found them difficult to deal with at the top level, but here is a technical subject, the reinterpretation and classification of the existing Articles of The Hague Convention. I believe it would be well worth while to go into that matter and see what we can do about it; at least, show that it is something we take seriously.
Again, within the hypothesis that we are only interested in a limited war in which general atomic bombardment does not take place, I would say that it is quite futile to go in for an Anti-aircraft Command in this country. We have not the smallest chance of stopping anything and the only excuse for such a Command, I am told, is that the people will not feel that they are being defended if they do not hear guns going off.
I believe that the Chinese work on the same principle and let off fire crackers to ward off thunder. To waste a substantial part of our limited defence capacity upon this utterly futile gesture seems to me quite insane. I hope it will be cut out, and that we shall realise that the only defence is the capacity of atomic retaliation. While we have that no one short of a lunatic is likely to invite it.
While I do not for a moment believe that atom bombs will be used for the indiscriminate destruction of cities, they are a highly important armament which will be used tactically upon the battlefields, and in conceiving the army we require we have to do so in terms of an army to be used with atomic weapons, and faced with atomic weapons. The creators of armies have always been faced with the problem of balancing arms against men. As the arms are elaborated fewer men are available because from the fighting ranks must be subtracted those producing, servicing and supplying 2490 the arms. It is always a question of maintaining that balance.
In the last war, our problem was to get at the enemy. We could only get a few men at the enemy; either in the desert or in Normandy, and, therefore, it paid us to put a tremendous lot behind every one of those men. I think there were about 70 or 80 men behind every man who fought. In the special circumstances of the last war that procedure was probably right. The Russians had the opposite problem. They had a vast front with the enemy at them everywhere. They required a tremendous number of men in the line, and they had to make do with much more primitive equipment and supply. That, again, within the terms of the last war, was what suited them. Now, in any foreseeable war, they are on a vastly shorter front, and yet they are still going in for masses which it will probably be quite impossible for them to deploy on any foreseeable battlefield.
Again, the mass attacks of the Russians, which involved achieving a six-to-one or eight-to-one superiority before they attacked, has become impracticable in an atomic war because those sort of concentrations cannot be developed in face of the atom bomb. Therefore, we have a vastly better prospect in Europe because the advantages of great numbers are to a very great extent nullified. On the other hand, I believe that we have made the same mistake of once again thinking in terms of the last war and going in for equipment which involves support, supply and production upon a scale which leaves us with an inadequate supply of men available for fighting.
Take the tank. The tank is by no means the first armoured vehicle which war has seen. There have been armoured chariots at various times throughout the history of war. There has always been one result. Armour has been developed until it has reached the point where it has become too cumbersome to be worth its protection, and then it is thrust right away. I believe that we have come very near that sort of position today.
Armour has become developed to the point where it imposes such a demand upon supply, bridging, communications and maintenance that the protection which it affords is no longer worth the cost because on the battlefield the means 2491 of piercing the armour have been advancing much faster than its ability to protect.
We have now the bazooka which, as an infantry weapon, is highly effective at ranges up to 200 or 300 yards. We have the recoilless gun, weighing 2 or 3 cwt., mountable quite easily on a sort of jeep chassis, which, I believe, has now developed to the point of being quite deadly against tanks up to 2,000 yards and effective at greater ranges than that. We have now also the atom. Whatever else the tank will protect against, it will not protect against the atom, because there is nothing better calculated to become radioactive.
I feel that we have reached one of those turning points in history where, with the circulating development of arms, the protection supplied by the tank as an offensive weapon is no longer worth the burden which it imposes on an Army, and the armoured vehicle function will become an artillery function.
Turning again to the infantry, I believe that the future lies with the foot soldier, as it has so often done in the past, but he must learn to be able to work in much greater dispersion than he does today
There is another point in connection with armour. I do not think it has ever been any good, or will be any good, to try to mix armoured and unarmoured troops in attack. Where one has armour, the man who has not got armour feels that it is not up to him to advance. The existence of armour in such a situation has a destructive effect on the morale of the man who has not got armour, and that is one of the big problems.
The mixture of armoured and unarmoured forces is not a method which has proved successful except on rare occasions. I know that the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) has a great deal of experience in this matter, particularly of bringing up infantry in armoured vehicles. Where he could strip a Sherman and put the infantry inside he could get the infantry up to work with his tanks, but where there is a mixture of these forces, I believe that the presence of armour to a very great extent destroys the morale of the infantry. I believe that we have to develop sections, probably 2492 with the recoilless gun as their basic weapons—certainly at platoon level— capable of manoeuvring in very small packets on a very wide distribution.
Thanks to the Minister, I attended the manoeuvres in Germany. The problem there was a rapid advance and a retreat under pressure to a bridgehead. I went out at night to watch the attacking forces coming up as the people from the bridgehead were retreating. I noticed the congestion on the roads at night caused by the movement of the divisions. If a few sections or platoons equipped with bazookas, recoilless guns and weapons like that, had been left behind hidden in the woods on that retreat and had come out of the woods at night, they would have done terrific execution on those roads.
But that is not in contemplation at present. We must accept the idea that sections and platoons may be overrun and surrounded and that they can maintain themselves and make their way back in the sort of fluid war in which troops are widely dispersed, which we shall have in the atomic age.
If we are to have this type of infantry, in which I believe the future lies, it has to be much more highly trained than any infantry that we have yet known. It must be able to work far more independently. It will to some extent have to be a picked corps. I very much doubt whether, so long as we have to man our Regular Army with National Service men, we can do it with people whom we have for less than two years for their training and development. We may be able to do with far fewer men, but I very much doubt whether, save at the cost of an efficient Army, we can do with men for less time than that.
That is one of the things which I believe an inquiry which we asked for ought to investigate. It ought to provide us with the real answers to that sort of problem, and problems concerning the curtailment of the size of our forces in relation to the cutting of commitments. I profoundly believe that an efficient Army will be vastly more valuable than a Canal Base when we know that the Canal Base can only be kept at the price of an inefficient Army.
When we do reach the point at which we can cut down on numbers we shall have to consider very seriously whether 2493 to do it on the American method of selective drafts or drafts by ballot or whether, while maintaining an efficient Army, we can reduce the period.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Brigadier Ralph Rayner (Totnes)
I shall not attempt to follow the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in all his various detailed criticisms of armaments. I hope that he is right as regards the next war, and that it will be a limited war, but we cannot take a chance on it.
§ Brigadier Rayner
We cannot. The world is still governed by force, whether we like it or not. It is governed by such instruments of force as the scientists have devised, and we have to accept the idea that we may have to run up against any sort of armament. We have to arm ourselves for the future as well as for the past. We hear that the chance of war has to some extent receded, but again we cannot take a chance on that. No doubt it has receded to some extent, as the forces of N.A.T.O. have become powerful enough to compete with any sudden move from the forces of the Soviets. But that recession can come to an end in two or three weeks, and we have to be ready for all eventualities.
I listened to the appreciation of my light hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War with the greatest interest, and also to the appreciation of the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) with a great deal of interest. On the question of heavy armaments which he raised, I rather wonder whether we might not cut down on some of our heavy military equipment. As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence said the other day, we have to take a chance within the defence budget. We cannot produce a slap-up Army, a slap-up Navy and a slap-up Air Force, and some of us wonder whether we might not economise on some of the heavy tanks and other heavy equipment.
As Germany begins to pull her weight —and I hope there will be no doubt about that—can we not say to our Western Allies on the Continent: "We will produce a certain number of divisions, but you must produce most of the ground Army and most of the main, heavy, military equipment. We will look 2494 after the seas as far as we can, and we will produce an absolutely unbeatable Air Force, but you have to remember, you allies, that towards the end of the last war the one thing that stopped the Russians more effectively than anything else was low-flying aircraft with rockets. We will produce those on the ground in a very short time." One rather wonders—
§ Mr. M. Stewart
We surely were not fighting against the Russians in the last war? The hon. and gallant Member spoke of stopping the Russians.
§ Brigadier Rayner
It is an absolute fact, proved by all the evidence that has been produced, that the way the Germans most effectively stopped the Russians in the last stages when they had not much behind them was with aircraft armed with rockets. That will be a very effective weapon in the next war, whether we have atomic bombs or not.
§ Mr. Crossman
Is it the hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument that because the Germans rearm we shall feel that we should reduce our land forces in Germany? Is it his view that we should now tell the French that our idea is that when the Germans rearm we shall leave the French to their fate with the Germans? Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman think that that will encourage the French?
§ Brigadier Rayner
That is equally what the hon. Gentleman suggested himself in the defence debate the other day. I am suggesting nothing of the sort. I am saying that we shall produce the number of divisions that we are supposed to produce, but that it might be possible to depend upon the Continent for the really heavy armament. That is perhaps an economy that we might consider.
I listened with great interest to the right hon. Member for Dundee, West, who said he regarded the Suez commitment as of relatively minor importance. Many of us do not so regard it. We hope that our Government will decide in the end that we cannot completely evacuate the Canal. We cannot regard it as of minor importance, for two main reasons. We feel that British prestige has suffered so heavily over the last few years that it cannot afford another complete evacuation in the face of threats and violence. We feel also that, in the foreseeable future, we cannot really trust in the ability 2495 of an Egyptian Government to keep their word or to give proper protection to British nationals. Therefore we rather hope that although we may be able to remove a great many of the present forces from the Canal we shall be able to keep enough troops there to keep open a port and an aerodrome installation, and to be able to defend themselves.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
My hon. and gallant Friend stated that we cannot trust an Egyptian Government to keep their word. Is it not very foolish in that case to reduce the garrison?
§ Brigadier Rayner
I do not agree with my hon. Friend. There is every argument for reducing the garrison. The base as it stands now is altogether impossible to maintain. I do not see why one country should keep the Canal open for the civilised world if the rest of the civilised world does not help. I am suggesting that we should keep in Egypt a force sufficiently strong to protect itself, and there are 40,000 Britishers from all over this country and from the Commonwealth who have served in Egypt and who would feel that that would not be a very formidable task.
On the question of National Service, my right hon. Friend gave very cogent reasons why we cannot reduce the call-up. There is another reason which I have not heard mentioned in this House. The way of life of every nation is reflected in its armed forces. The Welfare State has undoubtedly saved thousands of weak or unlucky people and their dependants from disaster, but it has put a premium on self-reliance. In the old days the average British recruit used to roll up, with self-reliance as his trade mark. Today jobs are so easy to find and so easy to hold, with the Welfare State in the background ready to perform 101 services, that very many recruits serve in the Army with very little idea of what self-reliance means. It is easy enough to teach self-reliance, if chaps are good, and most of them are, but I do not believe they can be taught self-reliance under a couple of years. That is one other very good reason for (keeping the period of service as it is now.
I should like as a Territorial to make one tentative suggestion on National 2496 Service. Would it not be possible to bring forward the period by six months? After all, the difficult time as every parent— and many magistrates—knows it between leaving school and joining up. No doubt there would be rather strong medical arguments against it, and of course it would mean that a National Service man had to go abroad—and might indeed have to fight—at the age of 18 years.
But many of us on both sides of the House were in the trenches at the age of 18, or even before that if we gave a wrong date of birth. It has not done us any harm. Every young man wants to get busy on his life's work and get out of the forces as quickly as he can; and a six months' advance on dates might be worth consideration.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Your argument is that two years in the Army develops self-reliance, but surely you cannot develop self-reliance in an institution in which you always have to do what you are told?
§ Brigadier Rayner
You and I have both been in the Army, Mr. Speaker, and so has the hon. Member. We know perfectly well that one is given many jobs in which one is left entirely on one's own. My eldest son has only been a National Service man for three months, but only last week he was given the job with three other boys of going 100 miles across country and reporting on certain things at the end of it. They are taught self-reliance all the time.
I want to speak very briefly on officer entry. There is no doubt that we are not getting enough potential officers, particularly from the Northern schools. We badly want them from the North, too, because that is where we get some of the best stuff.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a book which he produced only two or three weeks ago, called "The Queen's Commission." In the Territorial Army I have a good deal to do with National Service men, but I only found that book by chance yesterday. It is one of the best things on the Army that I have ever read, and I think it should be very widely circulated. Will my right hon. Friend do his best to get it more widely read.
2497 I am sure that the average good chap from every class will want to join the Army if he feels that it is a worth-while and honourable occupation. As my right hon. Friend said in opening this debate, there is no doubt that the Army is taking the weight at the present time. I am sure hon. Friends in the other Services will forgive me if I point out that at the moment the Army is doing far more than any other Service.
Two-thirds of the Air Force is serving at home; while two-thirds of the Army is serving abroad. In the cold war the Army is performing far more arduous tasks than either the Navy or the Air Force. In Korea k is the Army which has borne the losses and the discomforts. In Kenya and Malaya it is the Army that is at grips with the bandits in the jungle. In British Honduras it is the Army that has now established order. It is a very honourable service indeed, and the more my right hon. Friend can publicise that in pamphlets such as I have referred to, the better it will be.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)
T thought that the hon. and gallant Member for Totnes (Brigadier Rayner) showed extreme confusion of thought. I do not understand his suggestion that our way of life is reflected in the Armed Forces. I believe that the Armed Forces reflect the policy of the country, but not the way of life. He said that self-reliance is the quality we would find in the Army. I am bound to say that, judging from the letters which I have received from members of the Forces, the Army is still not democratised. The soldier still cannot take his shop steward with him to see his commanding officer. He still has no right to challenge an order, whether or not he believes it to be right. In effect it is still the same old:Their's not to reason why,Their's but to do and die.During the nine years that I have been in the House I have been waiting for the improvements that have been suggested from time to time from people who believe that the Armed Forces provide that kind of character training which even the Secretary of State for War likened unto the training of a university.
I agreed with the hon. and gallant Member when he disagreed with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for 2498 Northampton (Mr. Paget), who I regret is not at present in his place. I do not understand why he assumes that in the event of a future war atomic bombs would not be used, when in fact they were used in the last war.
§ Mr. Crossman
In fairness to the hon. and learned Member, who is for the moment absent, he said that, if atomic bombs were used, this country would not be able to play any part in the war. It was therefore no good our preparing for war in which we would be exterminated.
§ Mr. Yates
He used the words that we should concentrate on a strategic bomber force but said that he did not believe we should need to use it. That is an awfully dangerous doctrine. From facts which I obtained in the United States of America, I got the impression that atomic warfare was a very real danger—and we must face it.
To some extent we are limited in this debate. The policy contained in the White Paper on Defence has been discussed. But I am alarmed and appalled at the bill we are asked to meet. The Whole defence expenditure amounts to £1,639 million, which is 11s. 6d. per week per head of the population—
§ Mr. Yates
Probably more, but I am taking into consideration the aid from America. Even so, it amounts to 11s. 6d. per head per week, which means that a man, wife and three children contribute 57s. 6d. a week towards Defence. That is an intolerable burden.
We are asked today to approve an expenditure of £561 million for the Army. I object to this. It amounts to £535 million after American aid has been deducted. What is the purpose of the expenditure we are providing for the Armed Forces?
§ Mr. Yates
The hon. Member ought not to engage in such enormous expenditure to save my neck. I am quite sure he cannot justify it in the country. In 2499 the 1953 White Paper on Defence we were told that the supreme object was to prevent a third world war, and that the effort which we were making would fall broadly into two parts—our overseas obligations and commitments in resisting the Communist campaign in the cold war and, secondly, our preparations, together with our Commonwealth partners and allies, against the risk of a direct Communist attack.
That is not the aim today. The 1954 Defence White Paper defines our aim very clearly, and it is different from what it was last year. We are now told that the cold war will continue for a very long period. Paragraph 9 says:First, we must maintain our resistance to World Communism and Communist adventures.…When I read that paragraph I began to rub my eyes and wonder whether I was in the United States of America. The greatest fallacy in the thinking of the United States is that the great danger which the world is facing comes not from Communist manoeuvres but from world Communism, and that the way to destroy it is by the strength of armed might. I do not believe that war can destroy Communism. If there is any military aspect in Communism it is a symptom of the disease and not the disease itself.
World revolution is being brought about because of the poverty and hunger of the masses. Poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy have created that revolution and, as Mr. Stringfellow Barrs said in "Let us join the Human Race":If all the Russians in the world died this evening and if all the Communists of whatever race were to commit suicide at noon sharp tomorrow the world revolution would not stop.As long as two-thirds of the world is under-nourished we shall have uprisings and dissatisfaction.
The Minister has issued a very clear Memorandum relating to the Army Estimates and their aim. I entirely support his tribute to the Armed Forces. They have earned the gratitude of the nation. In the concluding paragraph, however, the Minister says:I think that they "—the Army—have earned the full gratitude of the nation and indeed of the western world with whose 2500 forces they have co-operated to make a vital contribution both to our security and the cause of peace.The most extraordinary thing is that our potential enemies claim exactly the same thing. Mr. Lipinski, writing in the "Soviet News," which is published by the Press Department of the Soviet Embassy in London, had this to say about the Soviet Army:The Soviet Union did not create its Army for the sake of seizing foreign territories and enslaving foreign nations. The task of the Soviet Army is a straightforward one, to safeguard efficiently the freedom and independence of the Soviet people.He went on to say:Bearing in mind the existence in the world of aggressive forces the Soviet Union is maintaining and strengthening its Army in the interests of peace and progress. The Soviet Army is the mainstay of peace and the security of the people.I do not agree with the Soviet view, and we are very illogical when we say, as we do in the White Paper, that the £561 million which we are spending is for peace and security, while the money which is being spent by those with whom we differ is not for peace but is a sign of militarism.
Looking at the map which is contained in the Memorandum, we see that from London to Hong Kong over 32 garrisons are stretched all over the world. It struck me that this map is similar to one which I saw in the United States "News and World Report," which shows the Soviet Union, coloured in red, with the various American bases all the way round. The article contained in this publication states that bombers can reach Russia within two hours with atomic bombs, and it tells us about the American Strategic Air Command.
I should like to know what the Army is going to do in the circumstances which will be created in the event of an atomic war. I have been in Omaha, in the centre of America, where there is a highly-trained group of 150,000 Americans, which is called a "fire brigade." The article tells us exactly how they propose to work. They have:… voluminous…files of more than two million pieces of information about vital Russian areas, they have learned the terrain and the best approaches.They propose to go into action at the word "Go," if one bomb is dropped on 2501 any ally. We are told that three or four of these bombswill destroy almost any Russian city. H bombs, when available, will assure total destruction over a target area with a radius of 10 miles from the centre of the explosion. One of those will destroy Moscow or any other Communist target.It is a terrible prospect. At the end of this American article, these words appear:The big aim of course is to prevent war, to deter any Russian aggression.I assume that its purpose is peace, but what an illogical situation. Everything we do is for peace, however much destruction it may cause.
Some years ago there was a celebrated comedian who gave us some amusement on the halls. I took a cutting from the Press of one of the amusing things he said, because I thought it illustrated the paradox in which we find ourselves. He said:The most paradoxical thing of the lot Is the way that the nations behave,It appears from the speeches of prominent menThat peace is the thing they all crave.Yet the factories are working all day and all nightAnd the atmosphere's getting more tense,They're turning out tons of munitions and gunsAnd they say it is just for defence.To round off the joke they say we're all broke,But for armaments millions they've raised.If it's just to take part in a war that won't start,Then I'm more than surprised, I'm amazed.That was Sir George Robey. What he said was printed in the "Daily Herald" on 28th October, 1936. How apt it is today.
§ Mr. Fisher
That was a most unfortunate quotation, because it concluded with the date—1936. The hon. Member will be aware that there was a war, so that the quotation is not very apt.
§ Mr. Yates
There was no war in 1936. We did not enter the war until 1939. In any case, the remarks apply today. What we are being asked to do is to approve expenditure which, it is assumed, will bring peace, whereas in fact it is creating even greater fear. When I was in America I was greatly impressed by the attitude of the population towards the view that we could not achieve peace except by the strength which in fact has always brought us war.
2502 I want to say a few words about National Service. From the time we opened the Parliament of 1945 I and many of my hon. Friends have expressed ourselves totally opposed in principle to National Service. I am convinced that we cannot build a Regular Army as long as the generals are free to bring into their ranks all these young men without having to use their brains and advertising capacity to recruit them. I have been writing to the Secretary of State for War trying to get a man into the Army. That may sound a strange thing for me to do, but nevertheless, under the previous Government, I pointed out more than once how bad is the Army organisation.
Mr. E. Femyhough (Jarrow)
I wonder if my hon. Friend's constituent is like a friend of mine who, when asked why he did not join the Army, said, "They had no vacancies in what I wanted to be." Asked what he wanted to be, he said, "A field marshal."
§ Mr. Yates
So far, I have not come across such ambitious constituents. The Army is an organisation which has not been able to make itself attractive to the nation. It has not sufficiently advertised its goods. We have heard about the huge sums spent on advertisements, but the Army has to be allowed to take into its ranks every young man from the age of 18. The War Office can do this without using its brains at all.
The most reactionary proposal which has come from hon. Members opposite was the suggestion that boys should be called up before they are 18. I hope the House will resist that infamous proposal. The Secretary of State for War has told me that it costs £10 to £12 a week to maintain a National Service man, and I therefore assume that he is paying £3 million a week to maintain all the National Service men. We have had conscription for 15 years, and for 15 years we have had, at the same time, problems which arise very often as a result of this kind of training. If we train people to fight and to kill we must not be surprised if, in ordinary civilian life, on their return from the Army, they do things which We do not like.
Before I can support this expenditure I must know more about the Estimates. In an earlier debate my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) made a statement with which I fully 2503 agree. It was similar to a statement which I had made previously, but my right hon. Friend has not always agreed with me. On this occasion he said:Here I want to touch on what seems to me to be a fallacious argument. I am sorry to say it has been used 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1953; Vol. 520, c. 1507.]The Minister shakes his head. I was shocked by his statement this afternoon. He told us that the Government want to reduce conscription as soon as possible and as much as possible, but he gave no hope whatever to the mass of the people. There are many more opposed to compulsory National Service than the House realises. It is unfair to snatch young men away from civilian life at the most impressionable period of their lives, and in my judgment we have no right to ask, as a price of our security, that these men should forgo their liberties. I am aware that my views are very unpopular, but that will not prevent me from continuing to express them.
I believe the time will come when people will demand an end to conscription. Many hon. Members did not have their lives interrupted as OUT young men's lives are interrupted today. I cannot believe that this expenditure will bring the peace that we desire. It would be much better to be more constructive in our efforts and in our approach. We should not try to frighten our opponents into further efforts of defence, and thus poison the prospect of negotiations. I am not satisfied that we are right in giving this permission year after year for an expenditure which is absolutely abnormal and which in the end will lead the nation to destruction.